Archive | September, 2011

The Other American Exceptionalism: “Rape, incest, and mine”

8 Sep

Conservative thinkers have long embraced the idea of “American exceptionalism;” that is, the idea that the United States, as a nation, is qualitatively different from other nations: we are, by virtue of being one of the first Western nations founded on ideas of liberty and equality (you know, for White, land-owning men), somehow unique in history, in the eyes of God, or by whatever standard the person invoking the term deems credible.

The idea is derived from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (1831), but it’s more recently become a recurring trope used by Republican presidential candidates:  Mitt Romney writes, “This reorientation away from a celebration of American exceptionalism is misguided and bankrupt”; Sarah Palin’s America by Heart has a chapter entitled “America the Exceptional”; and Rick Santorum preaches, “Don’t kid yourself with the lie.  America is exceptional.”  Get it?  We’re different.  We’re better.  We’re the exception.

Of course, none of these candidates were talking about abortion when they made these statements – but the idea of exceptionalism is surprisingly consistent in both areas of Conservative rhetoric.  It seems to me like the “My country is the best and most exceptional country in the world” is just a step removed from the “My abortion is most necessary and my reasons are the most valid, and my abortion is the one acceptable abortion of all the abortions ever.”

Our blogger Lauren has previously written here on the Abortion Gang about “The Exceptions” and why the “I’m-pro-life-except-in-cases-of-rape-and-incest” or “I’m-pro-choice-but-not-after-X-number-of-weeks” frameworks are so problematic.  But the personal exception takes these even further. Because, don’t kid yourself, anti-choicers get abortions every day.  And each one of them in “the exception.”

I recently finished reading Carol Joffe’s Dispatches from the Abortion Wars, and she illustrates this concept perfectly:

The palpable sense of isolation and corresponding lack of solidarity with other patients were for me one of the most interesting things to emerge from this study. “I am a Christian – I am not doing this casually,” clearly suggesting that others in the waiting room were not so thoughtful and moral… Perhaps the starkest example of isolation came from one woman’s response to the question of whether she would “ever consider being part of a group that supports people who get abortions.” Her answer was an emphatic no.  As she put it, “I wouldn’t support them because… it [might become] a habit for everyone.” The speaker was a twenty-year-old mother of one, about to have her second abortion.

Even more extreme were those stories of clinic protestors who then showed up inside the clinic when they or their daughter had an unplanned pregnancy: “The provider community wrly describes this unique patient group as ‘the women whose three acceptable exceptions for an abortion are “rape, incest, or mine.”’”  For even more examples, please read Joyce Arthur’s excellent essay “The Only Moral Abortion is my Abortion.”

Perhaps the most startling example of such exceptionalism is from “Don’t-kid-yourself” Rick Santorum.  Days after discovering her fetus had a fatal defect, Santorum’s wife Karen came down with a fever, an indicator of a dangerous infection.  Inducing labor at 20 weeks gestation – nearly a month prior to viability – was the only sure way to save Karen’s life.  So, the Santorums did what nearly any family would do: they decided to save the mother’s life and proceed with inducing labor, even though that would assuredly cause the fetus’s death.  One might call this procedure a partial-birth abortion.  Except, Santorum wouldn’t call it that because he’s opposed to abortion, believes abortion providers should be jailed, and calls exceptions to save the mother’s life a “phony exception.”  Unless, of course, the life being saved is that of his wife’s.  Because his reasons were different.  Their reasons were better.  Their case was the exception.

Unfortunately (and ironically), it is not the tenets of liberty and individual freedom that Conservatives claim as the basis for American exceptionalism that translate into their stance on abortion, (as such beliefs would necessitate freedom of choice and access to abortion) but the idea of superiority and self-righteousness that endures.  What unites these paradigms is the stubborn unwillingness to acknowledge the validity of experiences outside of one’s own.

When it comes to abortion, there are no exceptions to the rule; the exceptions are the rule.  Every abortion is different.  Every person seeking an abortion has their own reasons and their own story.  No exceptions.

“The biggest enemy of the Catholic church is a woman that thinks, reads and votes”: On Pro-choice Catholicism

7 Sep

It is easy for activists, writers,  and lovers of everything pro-choice to speak on what must be done in the movement, ways organizations can improve, and how politicians and law makers can stop being so damned patriarchal. There are a lot of “musts” right now, no one doubts that, but sometimes a woman’s voice can be lost in the rhetoric and seemingly never-ending campaigns. This is by no means something that is done deliberately, but I have recently come to the conclusion that I must shift my personal pro-choice activism to include more emphasis upon women’s lived experiences from their  own perspective.  I think the movement will ultimately be better for including regular, every-day–woman stories, mundane as they may seem.

In my effort to reach more voices and documenting more real experiences, I took the liberty to reach out  to a woman very dear to me, a person I’ve looked up to for years, and ultimately a feminist woman who’s story I knew would be good. She graciously agreed to talk about her beliefs surrounding abortion, contraception, her time in Africa in the 1990’s  and being a teen during the late 1970’s. What follows is an endearing, fascinating, heart breaking and eye-opening  conversation about abortion and birth control in the 1970’s, religion, and one woman’s journey to find her happy median between her Catholic and pro choice beliefs.

Sophia : Thank you for agreeing to sit down with me! First I would like to start by asking, in general, what type of things were common-place in your teen years sex wise? And when exactly were you a teen?

Lisa*: I graduated high school in 1977 when I was 17, so  my whole teen years were during the onset of the Gloria Steinem era, the ERA, and the advent of birth control. Honestly, I was not sexually active until I was a year out of high school, because back in those days you got a reputation as a girl.  Boys had a reputation, too, though.  If a guy wanted sex from you right away, he was known as a “wolf.” I don’t think most of the girls in my high school went all the way until they were going steady, you know, they had developed relationships. Most of the time-and there were obviously one on one relationships- what we did, we did in groups. There were a few stereotypical king and queen of the prom, football player and cheerleader kinds of things, but because  we were graduating in the 70’s a lot of girls wanted to go to college and didn’t want to get married right away, there were other avenues for us.  I grew up in a military city, San Diego, so the Navy just started recruiting women for more leadership positions and  title 9 passed when I was a senior so the idea of women’s athletics was really coming on. There were a lot more ways for women to be independent and take a different route.

Sophia: What was common birth control?

Lisa: Condoms, foam, and contraceptive cream.

Sophia: What did that do? What did you do with that?

Lisa: It’s , you know, you put it up your vagina…

Sophia: Like Mono-stat?

Lisa: Yeah, you gotta wait 15 minutes (laughs) … Do do dooo…everything’s very hot and heavy and you gotta wait. And then douching was really big, lemon juice and water, vinegar and water, pepsi,  anything that you knew was acidic. Women would do that before [sex] and after. We had a big joke when I was in high school that we were the “pepsi generation”. We were told we couldn’t get pregnant standing up, and a big thing was that we couldn’t get pregnant when you have sex on your period.  So if a guy was down with that , girls thought it was okay.

Mostly, contraceptive wise, girls depended on a guy to pull out or to have a condom. Most girls didn’t go all the way but  they would do the petting. Petting was a big thing,  because if you got pregnant you were doomed because you had to go to a pregnant girls place, you had to leave town. Nobody, nobody,  kept their babies. Even as cosmopolitan as [California] was, no one kept their babies.

Sopha: What did women do for abortions?

Lisa: A lot of girls went out of state, or they went to Puerto Rico or Mexico, a lot of girls went to Arizona.  We had the back alley abortion, coat hanger abortions or  you would go to a midwife, or  a guy that was in second or third year of medical school. Or you would go out of state , or you go to Mexico. It was just a 6 hour drive from were I lived in San Diego.  The idea was you went away for a long weekend and you came back and nobody was the wiser.  When I was a senior in high school and then after high school, , it was the  advent of planned parenthood and free clinics and stuff, so when I went to college I was on birth control and it was great.

Sophia: Can you talk a bit about when you learned about sex and STI’s ?

Lisa: In 6th grade, the girls went with the girls and the boys went with the boys for the sex ed classes. The Kotex company supplied the female teachers with pads,  have you seen a sanitary napkin, um, belt?  (Laughs again and stands up to demonstrate.) Well, you had an elastic belt and you snap the pad on in the front and back and then you put that between your legs. That’s all we had, we couldn’t use a tampon because we could break the hymen, that was a big deal. I didn’t start my period until I was 16, and it was just awful.It was like wearing an oven-mitt between your legs. You couldn’t do sports with this big wad of stuff underneath you. If you were on the swim team you couldn’t practice or you were forced to use a tampon. The technology for us was not as good as you all have it.

But regarding the sex ed, we learned how babies were made. The girls could ask questions and boys could ask questions, at a young age (6th grade)  we really got good information.  Later on, In biology class  in high school we had the information about STD’s and how to prevent pregnancies.  My parents were really good about [talking about sex] too.

Back in my day syphilis and gonorrhea were the two sexually transmitted diseases, we didn’t have chlamydia or HIV. Growing up in a Navy town you knew that people had multiple partners were more susceptible. We were taught what to look for with gonorrhea and syphilis and the public health department was great because they would treat you for no charge and clean you up… but that was back in the glory days.

We had a lot of romantic movies but no one ever told us how to have an orgasm or anything like that. It just wasn’t anything anyone ever talked about. The Feminine Mystique and Our Bodies, Our Selves came out and Woodstock was in ’69 so that whole decade was the advent of feeling good and the Joy of Sex, all of that. So more emphasis on feeling good was made.  Prior to that though, it was all about pro-creation, it wasn’t about being pleasurable or a woman’s pleasure.

With the birth control pill, we could hook up with somebody and once we didn’t have to worry about pregnancy, we thought, ‘this is it, really?’  I had a boyfriend in college, and I just adored him, we had a great sex life, but the  thing I enjoyed the most was the hugging and kissing, the preamble, but initially I was like, ‘um okay…’  We knew what the clitoris was from a physiological standpoint but we didn’t know anything about pleasure centers or anything like that.

Sophia: Did you ever learn anything about homosexuality or trans-identities?

Lisa: No, it wasn’t taught. We had stereotypes associated with homosexuality, but there wasn’t anyone out because being in a military town you couldn’t be overt about being gay. At that time, gay men were stereotyped to like drama, theater and thought to dress really well, for lesbian women they were considered to be athletic tom boys. But there wasn’t this thing that we see now where gay men are considered pedophiles or the idea that all homosexuals are predators.  The only time we saw or heard of a trans person or cross-dresser was only with the drag queens down on Broadway. We didn’t hear about trans youth.

The big thing then was a show hosted by Phil Donahue. He had on “men who dress as women” and he had reproductive rights as a topics. I remember his show was on in the afternoon and I would come home from school and watch it with my mother. I feel like that was the sort of start of talk radio, talk shows, and all of that.

Sophia: So, switching topics a bit, would you consider yourself a feminist?

Lisa: Yeah, I joined NOW (National Organization for Women) as a sophomore in high school, that would have been 1974. I was on the debate team and I always argued why Colorado should be the state that tipped the ERA into law. I was a big supporter of Planned Parenthood.

Sophia: Are you still a Planned Parenthood supporter, being that you’re very religious?

Lisa: Well, I was very religious then, too.

I was brought up cradle Catholic, but my parents taught me that the church is an institution and I learned pretty fast that it was just a patriarchal thing. But remember in the 70’s and 80’s, American nuns were speaking out so I had a good model for that. I remember Pope Paul VI   came on a tour of the United States and spoke to a bunch of religious orders and four or five  nuns stood up and turned their back to him the entire time in protest.  It was a great.  I knew there were other Catholic women that felt like I did.  The Bible is full of stuff about talking care of your brother and feeding children and taking care of widows and orphans… So you know , I never had problems with supplying people birth control.

I remember when the birth control pills became readily available, the Catholic church made a big bru-hahah over that, about how women should not take birth control because they were thwarting God’s plan. So there was a lot of this new medicine, technology was better, women were out on the streets…liberating themselves saying, ‘I’m not going to be chained to stove anymore’ but the Catholic Church just had a conniption fit.  At every turn (of new reproductive rights and medical technology) there was ‘no you can’t do that,’ and you would go to hell for ‘killing your baby,’ if you had an abortion.  But I knew from a scientific standpoint that it wasn’t [murder]. Having that knowledge of how a fetus develops…I knew that at 12 weeks or whatever, that’s not a life.

I love me some Jesus, but you know, I really don’t love the church. I learned in the 70’s that the male hierarchy of the church would do everything in their power to keep people in a box and ignorant. I mean, in terms of the Church’s position on when life begins the Bible says that Adam wasn’t viable until God breathed life into him. So you have to breathe to be a life, that’s what I believe.

I go to a Convent for mass now, it’s all women and the Nuns there are great. They do a lot of great things social justice wise there. I brought your dad there once and he was  totally outnumbered, it was great, now he knows how women feel.

For me, at the end of the day, I think the biggest enemy of the Catholic church  is a woman that thinks, reads and votes. So they do what they can to prevent that.

Sophia: So, you lived in Africa, what was abortion and reproductive rights like there?

Lisa: There was a lot of folk medicine that women would ingest if they wanted to miscarry because in my part of the third world you wouldn’t want to go to the hospitals there.  It wasn’t an option. It was that  bad.  I was in Cameroon, West Africa, for 2 years with the Peace Corps from 1990 to 1992.

From a family standpoint, it reminded much of the US in 1800’s where women helped other women with the children and the work. So the idea of having a lot of kids wasn’t necessarily a hindrance. But,  those women didn’t really have any other options either. In that society, the more children you have the more virile, and thus successful,  you are, for the men.  So there was that motivation to have lots of kids, from  the man’s perspective of course.. Also, most families didn’t name their children until 5 or 6 years old because infant mortality was so high.

There were definite roles for women but the society is very tribal, like 23 tribes in Cameroon (which is the size of California) and heavily Muslim in the north. They got a lot of support for having kids, most women had about 5 kids and there wasn’t any stigma if you had a baby out of wed lock. Also, because there was not social welfare for people in old age, for women, the kids were like a security blanket to take care of them in old age. Still,  one of the things we did was teach women how to use condoms and foam, that’s all they had, and say, ‘you know, you don’t have to have any more kids if you don’t want them.’

In terms of birth control, they had, like, a crude IUD, where they would put lemon seeds or something in the uterus and they use a lot of herbal medicine. But like the woman in Idaho burying her fetus, if they didn’t have resources for a baby they just had, they would put it in the jungle or if the woman had a twin they would pick which one they wanted and put the other one in the jungle. That was readily accepted because you had to live, you can’t afford to keep the baby, you had to live.

I would like to conclude with a heartfelt  thanks to Lisa for agreeing to talk so openly about her experiences.

* Name changed to protect her privacy.

Where do 2012 presidential candidates stand on reproductive rights?

6 Sep

With the 2012 elections fast approaching (less than 430 days until we cast our ballots) the perspective presidential field is becoming clearer.  With potential nominees like Donald Trump, Tim Pawlenty, and Mike Huckabee having already decided against running, the nomination is wide open.  Currently there are 4 or so people who seem to be the “front runners” in the race, and their views on reproductive rights are nothing short of alarming.

Ron Paul

Before entering politics in the 1970’s, Paul worked as an OB/GYN.  During his time in the medical field, he delivered more than 4,000 babies.  He says that this experience has led him to his view that life starts at conception.  Paul says that he is “an unshakable foe of abortion” and claims that he has never dealt with a pregnant woman who medically needed an abortion.  He was the prime sponsor of HR300, a bill that would overturn Roe v. Wade and put the power to regulate the legality of abortion in the state’s hands.  While Paul’s 2012 campaign has received more support than his 2008 campaign, it still seems unlikely that he will be able to secure the nomination.

Michele Bachmann

Michele Bachmann is the only woman being considered for the nomination, yet is one of the most anti-choice.  During her congressional campaigns she was endorsed by the Susan B. Anthony List, an organization that promotes women in politics who oppose the right to choose.  She also signed the “2012 Pro-life Presidential Leadership Pledge” which states that if elected president she will only nominate “pro-life” appointees to the Supreme Court and certain Cabinet and Executive Branch positions.  By signing the pledge she also promises to defund Planned Parenthood and advance anti-abortion legislation, if elected president.  At a recent debate she was asked if abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest, and in response she told the crowd that she was 100% pro-life.

Before getting involved in national politics, Bachmann and her husband volunteered as “sidewalk counselor” and frequently prayed outside abortion clinics.  She has spoken in support of other sidewalk counselors and worked to stop tax dollars going to hospitals that perform abortions.  Like Paul, Bachmann’s chances of getting the nomination are unlikely.

Mitt Romney

After an unsuccessful 2008 run, Mitt Romney is back to try for 2012 and seems to be the most likely nominee.  Romney has the experience, political support, and money to orchestrate a successful run– he is also the most moderate, but tends to flip-flop on important issues.

Until 2005 he identified as pro-choice and even made donations with his wife to Planned Parenthood.  While Romney stated that he personally opposed abortion, he strongly supported the right to access abortion services.  In 2005 though he did a complete flip-flop and vetoed a bill that would expand access to emergency contraception.  While not directly affecting abortion access, this signaled a change in his position on the matter.  It is still unclear what his specific views on abortion are.  He opted not to sign the Pro-Life Leadership Pledge that Michele Bachmann and other candidates signed, so this could be signaling another change in Romney’s personal views.  Even so, it seems unlikely that he would be able to gain the support he needs from the Conservative Republican leadership if he came out as pro-choice.  

Rick Perry

Aside from Romney, Rick Perry is probably the most likely candidate.  He has the power and connection to do it, and being Governor of Texas (as George W. Bush was before he was elected) doesn’t hurt either.  Perry also happens to be the most outwardly anti-choice of any of the candidates.  He too signed the Pro-Life Leadership Pledge, but that was almost unnecessary given the laws he’s been putting in place in Texas.  Earlier this year Perry labeled a new abortion regulation law as an “emergency”, pushing it into debate ahead of truly pressing issues like Texas’s unemployment and healthcare problems.  Recently key portions of that same law— which would have forced women wanting to have an abortion to see the fetus on a sonogram, listen to a heartbeat, hear a scripted anti-abortion speech read by their doctor, and wait another 24 hours before being allowed to have the procedure done— were struck down by a judge.  Perry has also worked to nearly eliminate all family planning funds and keep Texas schools teaching abstinence only education (even though it doesn’t work).

What about President Obama?

While we may not always be happy with how President Obama is representing the pro-choice movement, I think we can all agree that he is better than any of these people.  He may not always listen to our ideas, or react the way we would like him to, but there’s no way that any possible Republican nominee would be better.  It is important that we not blindly follow him, but it is also important that we look at the competition and realize how much worse it could be; and that is why I will be voting for Barak Obama in the 2012 elections.

The $11,000 Convenience

5 Sep

A couple weeks ago I had a girls weekend with 2 very good friends. Both of them would describe themselves as feminists. My one friend was recently married but doesn’t expect to have kids any time soon. We were discussing birth control and sex, as we are wont to do. My married friend and her husband are very careful and use hormonal and barrier methods; I just use hormonal. She pondered what would happen if she got pregnant now. I piped up and told her that if she wasn’t ready for kids, she could have an abortion. She was quite taken aback by my suggestion that she have an abortion “for convenience.” In her mind, she is married, she has a house, they have jobs, albeit her job is as a TA while in grad school – she and her husband could afford a child, and thus an abortion would be for mere “convenience.” As I am wont to do, I stated in no uncertain terms that if I got pregnant before I was ready, I would have an abortion.

Antis love to talk about how women have abortions for “convenience.” The definition of which is a moving target depending on which anti you speak with. I am currently reading Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine. While little of it surprises me, it is very eye opening. She references hundreds of studies that have been done to discredit any notion that gender is innate. Many of these studies illustrate how women are constantly subjected to moving targets. In a series of studies, researchers demonstrated how participants would mould a job that was traditionally male in such a manner so as to make it fit the strengths of a male applicant. For example, when the job was as a construction manager, 1 applicant had more education and less experience and the other had more experience and less education. When sex was not mentioned, 76% of male undergrads strongly preferred the more educated applicant. When sex was mentioned, 75% preferred the better educated male candidate over a female candidate with more industry experience. But when the female applicant had more education, only 43% preferred her over the male with more experience (Norton, Vandello & Darley, 2004). In a similar study involving a police chief position when the applicant was a male, participants placed greater value on whatever skill he possessed more of, be it education or experience, more than the skill he possessed less of, so as to mould the job to fit his skills (Uhlmann & Cohen, 2005). As the researchers wryly stated, it is not a matter of picking the right person for the job, it’s picking the right job for the man. No matter what, when a job is traditionally male, women face a moving target that cannot be met.

When discussed in relation to motherhood notions of gender are even more punishing for women. In a study using identical resumes for 2 women, participants consistently rated the mother as 10% less competent and 15% less committed than the non-mother. Only 47% of mothers compared with 84% of non-mothers were recommended for hire as head of the marketing department for a start-up communications company. Not only that, but the mother was docked in her salary by a whopping $11,000 (Correll, Benard & Paik, 2007). When antis discuss abortion as a matter of convenience, are they considering that a mother is less hireable and worthy of significantly less salary than non-mothers? How can $11,000 be considered a matter of convenience? In a follow up study, employers were sent resumes for 2 applicants, both of the same gender. Men, whether they had kids or not, received the same number of call-backs. But women who had kids were subjected to a significant “motherhood penalty” and received half as many call-backs as their identically qualified childless counterparts (Crosby, Williams & Biernat, 2004). And the kicker? Women are punished for displaying “masculine” traits such as aggression just as much as they are punished for displaying “feminine” traits such as compassion (eg. Bolino & Turnley, 2003, and others).

Nothing about those statistics is a matter of convenience. I do not believe that any abortion can be said to have be done for mere convenience sake when mothers face this sort of discrimination. This is not even about career advancement, but simply hiring. The fact remains, if you are a mother you are less likely to be brought in for an interview, less likely to be hired, and you are going to be paid less. How can the inability to get interviews, get hired, or get paid be considered matters of convenience? The fact is abortions for convenience sake are a myth.

Abortion and “The Fly”

2 Sep

Recently I watched “The Fly” (the 1986 version) for the first time. I have had this film on my shelf for almost two years now; my reason for avoiding it was that I am obsessed with Jeff Goldblum and I was afraid that seeing him all gross and decomposing would make me love him less. I know how ridiculous that sounds.

The thing about being completely in love with Jeff Goldblum is that, unlike many other stars to whom I am attracted, he tends to, in general, make pretty good movies. I think this must be difficult as an unconventionally attractive person, particularly one with a very distinctive cadence, so it is all the more admirable that the Goldblum ouevre has very few misses. So I was fairly confident that “The Fly” would be good.

For those who haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it – but I also recommend staying away from this post until you have seen it; I know it’s ridiculous to post spoiler warnings for a 25-year-old film, but I do plan to discuss a plot point that I did not know about before watching and I just want to make sure you’re prepared. Also I find it tiresome to do plot summaries so if you haven’t seen it and want to keep reading, better start googling.

“The Fly” has been understood in some circles as a cinematic metaphor for AIDS, although David Cronenburg was reportedly surprised by this interpretation as he had intended the film to be about disease, aging and death in general. In the cultural context of the 1980s, though, even an unintentional reference to AIDS makes a lot of sense and the interpretation has stuck – even I thought that was what it was about, going in. What I didn’t know was that this film deals unflinchingly with the abortion issue and more generally with bodily autonomy.

What I loved about the abortion theme was that there was no hemming and hawing over the politics of it; it was simply a choice that Veronica needed to make, and once she made it even the slimeball ex-boyfriend was fully ready to help her out. If this film was made today I am certain that either the pregnancy storyline would have been cut altogether, or there would have had to have been some obligatory consideration of the “pro-life” viewpoint before she could ultimately go ahead with it. How dreary it is that we have regressed so much.

There are moments in the film that were so real, I felt as if Cronenburg (and Geena Davis) must have spent some time hanging out in the counselling offices of abortion clinics. When Veronica sees Seth in the last stages of deterioration and decides she needs to go ahead with the abortion immediately, Stathis reminds her that it is the middle of the night. “I need it out of me! Now!” she screams. What clinic staffer hasn’t seen that level of desperation before? I know this is Goldblum’s star-making role but I think Davis was note-perfect. Her whole story is a woman who falls in love with someone who changes, and becomes something different than she thought – whether from disease, or obsession – and when she finds herself pregnant, she has to decide how much of that man she wants in her life through the potential child. Also it might end up being a giant maggot. We’ve all been there. And Seth’s fear that the child might be all that is left of the pre-disease him…I have a friend whose partner died, and at the funeral his mother said to her (my friend) that she had hoped she might be pregnant, that her son might have left her with a part of him to carry on. This is a real thing in the world.

I was thrilled to find this plot in “The Fly” – it’s not unlike going back to rewatch “Dirty Dancing” and finding the abortion part, that I didn’t understand as a child, is actually amazing and realistic and integral to the story and themes. It’s not so much about films showing abortion as it is about them portraying it realistically. Everything about “The Fly” is a total mind fuck (this is Cronenburg after all), so finding this ridiculously straightforward, unquestioned abortion plot is such an unexpected gem.

Of course, after Veronica decides to have the abortion, Seth kidnaps her from the operating table and brings her back to the lab, where he wants to fuse himself to her and the baby, creating “the perfect family”. Holy social commentary, batman! At this point I may have been reading too much into it but I really think there is a lot going on here regarding not just Veronica’s immediate physical safety and that aspect of bodily autonomy, but also the idea of the nuclear family and gross antichoice dudes who won’t “let” their girlfriends have abortions. And the idea of marriage as a solution for unintended pregnancies. It’s 1986. There is a lot going on, friends.

Obviously there are a lot of themes interwoven throughout “The Fly” and it is not just a straight up horror movie, but I think bodily autonomy is one of the main ones and it manages to deal with a lot of complex issues around that, possible because it buries them in horror. It’s like Frankenstein! Or more contemporarily, it reminded me a lot of “District 9” (upon which it was clearly a huge influence). But it really can be viewed as a complex narrative of the abortion decision: the feeling of violation, the uncertainty about who the baby might be if it is born, the complicated emotions of the men involved, the urgency – it was all there.

Nothing delights me more than when I consume some pop culture that is unexpectedly feminist. And best of all, the makeup effects were so good I could barely even tell it was Jeff Goldblum under there, so my undying love emerges undamaged. Good movie night.

Gloria Steinem and Why Most of What You Hear About Abortion on TV is Bull

1 Sep

Gloria Steinem speaks, and as much as possible, I listen. That’s because Steinem does not mince words, and in one five minute video clip of a speech at the 2009 Rashbaum Ceremony, she puts words to the feeling I’ve had for more than three years, “No matter how hard I tried to feel guilty… I couldn’t.” She’s talking about her abortion in the 1950’s, before the procedure was legal, before she found feminism, before she became who we all know her to be today. She only felt, she said, “free” and that all was “at peace within the universe.”

By saying she “felt at peace with the universe,” Steinem is talking neither about terminating a pregnancy nor being a mother at that point in time. She’s talking about the rightness of her universe being found in her ability to make her own choice, take responsibility for her own life, and beginning to know herself as a human and woman. She says in this video clip that women and men should have the ability to make their own choices about their bodies, “from the skin in,” and she’s right. When she felt at peace is when she was able to do just that.

So when anti-abortion voices, media outlets, bloggers, and so forth contend that “abortion hurts women” or that “post-abortion mental trauma is real,” it’s nothing more than their adjusted campaign to strip women of their (already eroded and not complete) right to make their own decisions about their own bodies.

Susan Faludi, author of the well known book Backlash, suggests that movements against women’s advancement in areas such as reproductive rights have not been overt in suggesting women should lose autonomy; rather, the “backlash” movements reinvent themselves to appear “pro-woman” or akin to “woman’s empowerment.” When we see anti-choice groups say they are “pro-women,” it’s not that they really think they’re “pro-woman,” they just know that type of language is endearing to masses of people and deceptive in a very non-aggressive way.  When something is cloaked in “positive” rhetoric, it must be positive, right? Well, that’s what anti-choice proponents want you to think.

Aside from the vast medicalization of women’s bodies in the past few decades, which lead in part to the “diagnosis” of “mental illness” after a woman has an abortion (which studies have completely dis-proven, by the way), anti-choice groups have increased their “pro-woman” rhetoric, re-framing their cause to look like they care about women in a number of new ways. They want to “help” women make the “most informed choice” by forcing them to have ultrasounds and look at the screen before having an abortion. They force women to go through a waiting period before an abortion in order to ensure women “make the best choice.” They picket on corners outside clinics to “persuade” women from making “wrong choices.”

But here’s the best example: anti-choice proponents say abortion causes guilt so intense a woman’s life after abortion is rife with suffering and depression, thus, outlawing abortion is necessary because they “care” so much about women. The problem here is that overwhelmingly, when researchers, doctors, counselors and the like actually ask women about their feelings post-abortion, the most common response is relief.

Just as Gloria Steinem says in the video above, she felt no guilt, only a sense of rightness in the universe. Asking women what they feel and respecting their choices is actually caring about women, not cloaking discrimination in words that sound pro-woman.

What causes the guilt is not a private medical procedure, rather social forces that tell women over and over again that making decisions about their own bodies is wrong. Anti-abortion proponents capitalize and exploit this guilt, making offensive and inaccurate claims like abortion is “murder,” that abortion isn’t “normal,” even though 1 in 3 US women has had an abortion by the time she’s 45, and the legal medical procedure has been around for thousands of years and has only recently (last 100 years) been controversial.

Faludi wrote Backlash in the post-70’s era; the 80’s and 90’s are the subject of her thesis. Yet, today the backlash can be seen in the countless attempts in state and federal governmental bodies across the nation to de-fund abortion providers, place harsh restrictions on access, and spread misinformation to the media and constituents. Swaddled in “pro-woman” rhetoric anti-abortion proponents continue to get vast amounts of air-time locally and nationally to spread their misinformation and lies about the “guilt” that abortion inflicts on women. Of course, no one asks women, “how do you feel?” Anti-abortion folks project the theme and set the tone of the debate, forcing people to internalize the lies and misinformation as fact, and thus, succeeding in demonizing abortion.

But what about the facts? If one were to actually ask the public, the majority of adult respondents to a 2011 Time poll have said they either agree that women should have the right to terminate an early pregnancy or mostly agree (45% and 19% respectively). A 2011 Gallup poll shows that adults agree that women should be able to terminate a pregnancy and abortion should be sometimes legal. The same poll found the majority of respondents considered themselves pro choice by 49% percent. And CNN 2011 poll found that 65% (a vast majority) think that funding for abortion should continue.

Gloria Steinem never felt guilty, instead she felt rightness in the universe. This is incredibly powerful not only because Gloria said it, but because it shows the necessity for women to have the ability to make their own reproductive choices. The amount of Backlash-themed pro-woman language cloaking the sinister aims of anti-abortion proponents is disturbing and has in many ways worked to erode the rights Faludi, Steinem and many others worked to secure.

Asking women how they feel about abortion, knowing women disproportionately don’t feel guilty after the procedure, and listening to a woman’s experience are all crucial in continuing to wade our way as activists, patients, pro-choicers, and women through our time’s backlash.