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16 and Pregnant, Season 5, Episode 1: The Recap

20 Apr

We’re recapping 16 and Pregnant, Season 5!  The first episode of the season starts with Maddy, who’s 16 and from Tinley Park, Illinois. You can watch the episode online here

 

MTV

Megan: Should we start by talking about why we wanted to write about this, besides that we secretly love watching reality television?

Chanel:  I always feel like a terrible reproductive justice activist when I watch this show. I think one of my reasons for wanting to recap is to place an RJ lens onto it, if that’s possible.

M: I totally agree. I think there is a lot of possibility, and when I watch it I always find myself rooting for the moms to be able to make their own decisions without the adults in their lives telling them that they’ve messed up. But when I was thinking about us wanting to watch this for those reasons, I was also thinking about why this show is still on and why so many other people watch it? What do we see in that narrative put out by MTV to scare and shame young people? Why are we fascinated by that as a theme and willing to watch it happen over and over again? Why do people want to see that and not the story we see through our frameworks?

C:  We need to see young women as being incapable of making good choices. Like,  no matter what, I’m not sure M could have made a choice that would have made the audience feel okay about her getting pregnant. Sex is wrong and terrible, and young women are stupid and irresponsible. I think that’s pretty ingrained into our narrative.

One thing MTV has done is bust up the idea that it’s young women of color who get pregnant as teens-the girls on this show are mostly white.

M: That’s true. But while they’re defying the stereotype that it’s only poor girls of color who are getting pregnant, it’s also blocking those girls from seeing their own experiences. So we’re also choosing the narrative of middle-class white girls over low-income girls of color.

C: AGAIN. And perpetually.

M:  As Gretchen Sisson says more eloquently than I have stated here: “Teen Mom will depict an argument with a romantic partner in great detail, but consistently overlook the real sources of struggle that lots of young mothers face: constant stigma and ridicule, lack of social support, and the challenge of accessing public benefits.”

On that note, let’s get into it.

C: The Other Baby, Maddy’s half sister Alyssa, has ears that stick out and is therefore a full on distraction for me.

M: Oh poor thing! One night stand. That is rough. Wait…haven’t we already had a baby named Aubrey?

C: SO MANY Aubreys. I think this is 3?

M: I hope this guy shows up to the doctor’s appointment. It’s such a positive thing to have the boyfriend at the ultrasound appointment. Can you even imagine being 16 and then getting pregnant with someone you just met and then having to figure out what you’re going to do? Like, I couldn’t even deal with just figuring out how to dress appropriately and what to decorate my locker with, let alone plan my entire future family. I don’t think I could have handled it.

C: Cody-“I should have paid more attention in health class. I should have used a condom.” Now would not be a terrible time to mention that it’s also  important that the girl be able to say, “Hey, maybe put on a condom?”

M: Wow, Mom is laying on the shame here.

C:  Oh my gd, Maddy’s mother. SHE CAN STILL BE A LAWYER.

M: Here’s the thing, it’s not going to “be a long time” before she’s going to get to do what she wants to do. Because right now she wants to be a mom. Maddy is more “responsible”-sounding than Mom at this point. She’s able to hold both that she did something she would consider a mistake and also own up to that she can’t change the past and now sees a new vision for herself. That’s a pretty adult thing to realize. But Mom is stuck in this “either/or” thinking.

C: There was an episode a few seasons ago where the girl’s dad was also like, “Hi, just because you’re pregnant doesn’t mean you have to live with the dude.” Also, here we are again with the “He ruined your life.”

M: Yeah. I just want to yell at them, “YOUR LIFE IS NOT RUINED”. And then give them hugs. I know I’m going to just keep saying this over and over but how responsible are these kids being? They are not romantically involved but their relationship has evolved to be this mutually-beneficial partnership where they are trying to figure this out together.

C: The word “responsible” in these situations always scares me. There are a lot of ways to be responsible, right? Abortion and adoption  are also examples of being responsible.

M: So true. We throw around that word like there’s a morally right and wrong way of being and no gray area. When I was 16 I couldn’t even function in my own home let alone move to an unfamiliar environment with a baby. That is scary shit.

C: Other Baby is the real star here. Sorry, Maddy.

M: What is the plot I’m supposed to be paying attention to? Adorable Baby? Staring at camera?

C: “The only time we ever left his house was to buy a pregnancy test.” Real talk.

M: High school dates: Still as awkward even if you having a baby together.

C: HERE COMES (MORE OF) THE SEXISM. “What kid do you know who has his mom’s last name?” CODY. PLEASE GET IN THE TIME MACHINE AND COME BACK FROM THE SIXTIES.

M: After Maddy raises her baby and takes her first gender studies class she is going to be so impressed by the way she handled this situation and refused to submit to the patriarchy.

C: There’s always stuff on this show about girls going from size zero to size 14 or whatever while pregnant. No one is ever a size 14 originally.

M: Yeah, and the size difference is always talked about like it’s the worst possible thing.

C: Here I will apply my creepily encyclopedic knowledge of this show and point out that Jamie in season 3 asked her doctor  if her stretch marks would go away when asked what she was most worried about. It’s normal, I know, but the emphasis is still bothering me.

M: Is this the appropriate time to mention that my cats really are into this right now? Or they want dinner. It’s one of those.

C: Cats love MTV.

M: You’re really missing out on this nail polish commercial where models rub their hands all over men’s faces.

C: Is it disembodied hands? Or can you see the models’ faces?

M: Disembodied, obviously.

C: Of course. Faces are superfluous. Especially on women.

M: As soon as you see faces, you think “people” with “minds”.

C: Just cut to the chase! This is about nail polish! AND MEN..

M: Not just any men, “alluring men”, says Youtube. I don’t know about you, but I’m sold.

C: I will be buying a lot of this nail polish. You are working, capitalism.

M: You just get me, MTV.

C: Oh, here comes Cody’s patriarchy induced temper tantrum.(re: Maddy wanting Aubrey to have her last name.)

M: The way that the men/boys act and fight about the last name stuff just reminds me about how the patriarchy hurts everyone. It makes people feel like they have to hold to these systemic ideals, and when those ideals are not met it makes people feel bad, like something is being taken away from them and like they’re not in control.

C: Yes! And not being able to show that something (a lady, a child, etc) is YOURS is threatening. It undercuts your masculinity.

M: Now is the only part where I feel old and yell, “Are you seriously telling them you’re not moving in via text?” Is that what the kids are doing these days?

C: Ughh. This makes me want to get a lawn so I can tell kids to get off of it.

M: I support Maddy in her decision to do what’s best for her and move into the environment where she feels most comfortable and supported, but if I were Cody and his mom, I would have preferred receiving that information in person. But I am not 16 so what do I know!

C: What do we know about on line classes in high school and if they keep ple from dropping out?

M: It seems like a great model to me, but I’d be interested to hear more about it. There must be data on it somewhere.

C: I really like M’s dad pushing her to do what’s best for her. And I’m reminded of how much of a role class plays in all this. I mean, her dad has an extra room in a house.

M: Yeah, an extra room and enough income to be able to feed two additional people!

C: Do we think Maddy’s jeans came with those holes?

M: I like how we’re not judgemental about teen moms but we are judgmental about teen fashion. And methods of virtual communication. And baby names.

C: I mean, I’m not made of stone.  So, do we have closing thoughts?

M: I guess mine are that the show is trying to paint Maddy as an irresponsible teenager who got herself into a serious and terrible situation that she can’t get out of, but I think there’s another more powerful narrative that she faced getting pregnant as a challenge instead of an obstacle, was able to stay true to herself, and has a solid vision of what she wants her future to look like and what she can accomplish.

I think we should end by sending some love and well wishes to Maddy and baby.

C: Agreed. (Maddy, I’m sorry about what I said about your jeans.)

 

We’ll be back with another recap next Sunday! 16 and Pregnant airs Mondays at 10/9 c. 

 

The Round Up

28 Mar

Here’s what some of us at Abortion Gang have been paying attention to lately:

Anna:

Most of my reading has been for classes but this week we are talking about conscientious objection and with the Supreme Court cases coming up this has been one of my favorite break downs of what’s at stake in this decision: http://kff.org/womens-health-policy/issue-brief/all-eyes-on-the-supreme-court-more-than-birth-control-at-stake/

Kaiser does a great job of outlining how this case isn’t only about contraceptive coverage and religious freedom, but also whether corporations should be considered people and the implications this case could have on corporate law.

 

Megan:

I’m reading my friend Tiffany’s post on why she’s fasting to support immigration reform: http://365breakfasts.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/fasting-for-families/

Steph and Chanel’s piece  on abortion stigma and culture change at Cosmo: http://www.cosmopolitan.com/celebrity/news/these-women-want-to-change-the-way-you-think-about-abortion

Latest Hyde blog post from Andrew Jenkins at Choice USA: http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/healthcare/200991-abortion-hyde-and-the-presidents-2015-budget

Taja Lindley on RH Reality Check about queer women & sexual health: http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2014/03/18/exam-rooms-bedrooms-navigating-queer-sexual-health/

 

Sara:

I’ve been reading about abortion access in Latin America using resources at the Guttmacher Institute and an article from RH Reality Check called The Politics of Abortion in Latin America.

I’ve been watching the hysteria from the anti-abortion zealots over the coathanger necklaces from the DC Abortion Fund , and am giddy at the thought of how much DCAF has been able to capitalize on the negative publicity to help women in need. Looking forward to being able to spot fellow supporters on the street and be able to match up our necklaces like a secret handshake. This is my personal favorite blog post I’ve seen.

I’ve been reading up on the Hobby Lobby birth control case, and am looking forward to standing outside of the Supreme Court in DC on Tuesday with other women’s healthcare supporters as oral arguments are heard.

In NC, we had a hell of a year in 2014 with a Motorcycle Vagina law that threatened to close every clinic but one, a wonderful clinic in the furthest corner of our state called Femcare (if you have a short memory or live under a rock, catch up on Motorcycle Vagina here and here.)  With the 2014 session starting in less than two months and NC feminists waiting at the doors to find out how our general assembly will continue their path of destruction, Femcare’s owner has decided to retire and put the clinic up for sale. Planned Parenthood has announced plans to open a health center providing abortions in the same town and we await further developments.  There is a lot of uncertainty and some genuine concern about making sure one of our most dedicated NC providers is treated well.

 

 

File Under “Things I Could Not Make Up”

26 Mar

 Just now, on a walk in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I found this on a building:

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The flyer before I wrote “THIS IS NOT A THING” on it

Not even a foot away was this:

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Strategic Hipster irony? You decide.

 

 

Remembering Dr. Tiller: Creating Safe Spaces for Abortion Providers and Patients

7 Jun

Four years ago last week, Dr. Tiller was murdered while ushering at his church in Wichita, KS. Dr. Tiller was most well known for providing abortions after 24 weeks for patients who couldn’t be seen elsewhere; his clinic was one of the only places in the country where people who needed abortions in the third trimester could go to receive safe abortion care.

What’s happened to the landscape of later abortion care since Dr. Tiller’s murder? In a political environment where some states are trying to restrict abortions at 12 weeks, it’s no surprise that there are now only two states where it’s legal to obtain an abortion after 26 weeks. Who are the clinicians providing this care? What are their stories?

The movie After Tiller attempts to answer this question by profiling four abortion providers–Dr. Leroy Carhart, Dr. Warren Hern, Dr. Shelly Sulla, and Dr. Susan Robinson–who’ve pledged to carry on Dr. Tiller’s work of providing later abortion care. The movie is beautiful both in aesthetics and in spirit. We see each provider grapple with the moral complexity that sometimes comes with providing abortion care, and yet the movie isn’t really about whether abortion is right or wrong, but rather how these clinicians treat their patients. We see them comfort and coach their patients through heart-wrenching circumstances, even providing patients with language to help explain their pregnancy loss to family and friends. We see them talk openly about their own moral struggles in performing later abortions, how they decide if they’re able to perform an abortion for someone, and what happens in the circumstances where they cannot. We see them emphasize time and again that they believe that women can struggle with complex moral and ethical issues, including a ending a pregnancy in the third trimester.

While watching the film, I kept waiting to hear more from patients. All we see of them throughout the movie is their clasped hands or messy ponytails. We hear their shaky voices, but we never see their faces. I can imagine that Martha and Lana, the film directors, probably asked patients if they wanted to be filmed head on, and they declined. They have every right to do so. When you take into consideration the risks involved in putting a public face to later abortion—possible community condemnation, judgment from friends and family, not to mention harassment from anti-abortion activists—it makes sense to keep a low profile. In a cultural context where abortion even in the first trimester is so stigmatized, it makes sense that a family pursuing an abortion in the third trimester wouldn’t want their experience or their faces to be made public.

Yet this disappearance of the full selves of patients makes me uneasy. It gives the impression that these patients were victims, and that doctors were their saviors. These wonderful, brave doctors got to have faces, full stories, moral complexity. Patients didn’t even have names. I don’t think the filmmakers intentionally created this dichotomy. Of course, with all the rampant negative stereotypes about abortion providers, “savior” may be a welcome label. Yet it doesn’t leave room for these physicians to be just that—doctors who are following their conscience and taking care of their patients.

Maybe I am asking for too much. Abortion providers, especially providers of abortion in the second and third trimester, are frequently victims themselves of vicious anti-abortion smear campaigns, not to mention under the near-constant threat of violence. This film is explicitly about showing the compassion and empathy inherent in providing abortion care, particularly later abortion care, and it does a remarkable job. Perhaps it’s not the right space to tilt the camera up and allow patients the same room to talk about empathy and compassion in ending their pregnancies. As I watched the movie I found myself wondering what other abortion providers would think. Do they think of themselves as “saving” their patients? Do these four providers in the film think of themselves as heroes? In fact, on a panel with the four profiled providers after the movie, one of them explicitly said that she doesn’t like being referred to that way.

There’s no doubt in my mind that After Tiller is a significant film. Everyone who can see it should. It lets the audience go behind the curtain of the political debate on abortion and into the realm of personal experience. I hope we can continue to explore personal experiences with later abortion care, and find ways to include the voices of people who obtain abortions, too. Dr. Tiller said that he was a “woman-educated physician.” I’d like to think that part of honoring his memory is figuring out how address the risks of sharing personal experiences with abortion so that the people who educated him can educate us, too.

Why it’s totally cool for Farrah Abraham to go to Pace University, and why her “haters” need to get a life

5 Jun

A guest post by anonymous.

Recently, Farrah Abraham, of Teen Mom/sex-tape/DUI fame, decided that she wanted to go back to school. She picked a relatively well-known, but not super high-profile school: Pace University. She’s planning on majoring in Business, because she eventually wants to run her own restaurant. With an Associates in Culinary Arts, the combination makes sense.

What does not make sense at ALL is the backlash that the public has had over her decision to better herself through higher education. First of all, if the girl has got the grades (she does, though she may not speak like it), being in a porn isn’t a reason to deny someone their education. Because, and this may be news, porn stars are people too. Some are very smart people. And these very smart, open, honest people enjoy having sex and enjoy making money to do it on camera. Good for fucking them. Seriously.

Second, many of the comments left on the original TMZ article call this woman “too ugly” to be a chef and business owner. Wait… what do the looks of person cooking your food or running the restaurants you go to matter? That’s the most ridiculous thing we’ve ever heard. When you go to a restaurant, do you refuse to order until you can undress the chef with your eyes? Um, no, you don’t. Because that’s stupid and irrelevant. You really just want to make sure that your steak is well seasoned, or that your vegan curry mayo is spicy enough. Not to mention that her looks have nothing to do with her culinary ability, or with how intelligent she is, or how well she will do in Business school.

Third, the responses from the Pace University traditional student population have been disappointing. A few sample tweets:

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Pace seems to pride itself on acceptance. From their Center for Community Action and Research to their LGBTQA center to their Young Republicans club, they seem to have mastered the art of making everybody just be cool. With a campus in the middle of downtown Manhattan, it would be super challenging to run a school that allowed for hate. There are just too many different people that live in NYC, and like nobody would tolerate that shit. So why is it cool to hate on Farrah? Because porn and perceptions of porn stars (as seen above, totally unfair and awful).

So, with that, we’d like to take this moment to ask that everyone just stop. Farrah made a great decision to go back to school, and we wish her success in that endeavor. At worst, she will earn a bachelors degree so that she can open her own business and support her daughter. At best, she’ll be super successful with her restaurant and not only prove her “haters” wrong, but give Pace the best kind of press.

Good luck, Farrah!

What The Onion Said About Rihanna and Chris Brown Was Wrong

7 May

Trigger warning for domestic violence

The Onion’s attempt at satirizing Chris Brown’s attack of former-girlfriend Rihanna is triggering, dangerous and hurtful. There are some here at Abortion Gang that feel what The Onion wrote was brilliant, but I disagree. The Onion’s use of violent imagery and triggering language in the title and article remove the focus from Chris Brown and place it squarely upon the survivor, Rihanna. I also contend that writing stories about Chris Brown under the guise of satire is exploitative and perpetuates the dangerous notion that in the years post-abuse, jokes and commentary are fair game when in fact, they are almost another attack on the survivor.

1) The Language Is Triggering 

The article read like torture porn, like a sadistic turn through the author’s sick mind, a demented stroll through the horrible way women die from an attack. The title was triggering enough, “Heartbroken Chris Brown Always Thought Rihanna Was Woman He’d Beat To Death,” because nothing triggers flashbacks of abuse like “beat to death,” and I guess that is what gets the clicks, too. Everyone knows what Chris Brown did to Rihanna that night, he beat her savagely in a close and confined space. She was unable to get away as he sped about in the car . As a person who’s been there, in that passenger seat withstanding another attack, that space is a special kind of hell. The one where you consider throwing yourself out of the speeding car to get away from the flying fist and vicious words.

2) Not Everyone Knows This Is Satire

The Onion fantasized about another attack that ends in death without adding a trigger warning. (Yes, a trigger warning. And if you read the preceding sentence and fix your mind to type, “but you know it’s satire and you know The Onion is dark… just don’t click,” do not type. You’re victim-blaming.) I think there are many, many people, survivors and otherwise, that do not actually know that The Onion is satirical news site. WIth a click and without realizing it, a person reading an article that says, “Despite all the ups and downs, I was so sure Rihanna was the one I’d take by the throat one day and fatally assault…” could be triggered. They may not realize what they’re reading is a dark satirical take on Chris Brown’s re-acceptance into mainstream popular culture after such a savage attack. That hurt that results from being triggered, a small reliving of the abuse a survivor has endured is pain I never wish upon anyone.

The Onion doesn’t always distinguish itself from the other douche-bag jokesters on twitter and facebook with their sexist jokes and vapid commentary on current events. And yes , I do recognize that the vapidity they espouse is a satirical representation of our social response to many of these current events, but that’s not something many are going to get.

3) The Article Is Exploitative

Instead of focusing on Chris Brown, The Onion’s target of the satirical piece was Rihanna. This directly contradicts what my counterpart Kaitlyn has written. If The Onion was truly brilliant, they would find a way to write satire about Chris Brown being an abusive boyfriend without typing one word describing another attack on Rihanna. Because the whole article was about the ways Rihanna could have died by Chris Brown’s hands the satire is lost and the joke’s on Rihanna. She’s re-victimized . This is exploitative and it disgusts me to no end.

4) It’s All For the Clicks

Readers are triggered, and The Onion knows it. While Kaitlyn maintains that The Onion has gone to a dark place after Newtown, I think the shift has been meticulously planned and executed. The Onion is trolling for clicks and attention. The more outlandish stories they publish, the more buzz–both bad and good–they generate. I think they have realized that the more pointed and critically brilliant satire loses many of their readers and they are releasing increasingly inflammatory material to appeal to the least common denominator in readers.

Do we really want to support a publication that consistently publishes hateful language about black women ? Do they really deserve a pass when they publish a fictional account of a black woman’s death-by-beating ? Absolutely not.

The Onion says it is humor, some argue it is satire, but an article about Rihanna being beat to death by her abusive ex-boyfriend is triggering, exploitative and not critical commentary. I support satire and criticism of Chris Brown. I do not support and fail to find the satire from a publication that editorially fantasizes about the beating death of a black woman.

The Onion Piece on Chris Brown is Brilliant

7 May

This piece in The Onion, “Heartbroken Chris Brown Always Thought Rihanna Was Woman He’d Beat To Death,” was brought to my attention by fellow Abortion Gangsters, many of whom are offended and some who were triggered and hurt by the language used. I take the position that this piece is brilliant.

The Onion has gone to a very dark place since Newtown, and I really appreciate it. They used to live in the ridiculous, the truly out there and funny and bizarre. I considered them occasionally satirical, but not satire. Following the Newtown shooting, it has appeared that the staff snapped. “Reality has become ridiculous, so we’ll just live here.” The Onion has gotten mean. This piece on Chris Brown is mean. The stuff they’re saying about the NRA is mean. Vicious even.

I love it.

They’re targeting the people with all the power who get away with claiming to be victims: of “society,” of “people,” of “opinion,” of “the media.” They’re targeting those with way too much power to be victims of any of those things who are allowed to lay claim to pity and sympathy. The target here is Chris Brown. His behavior, the way in which he’s been allowed to frame that behavior, to narrate that behavior. And it is dead on. It even reclaims the tone he himself uses to reclaim the narrative of what he’s done – which is beat a woman near to death and then go on TV and explain why that experience really helped him grow as a person. This is vicious, pointed satire in a way we don’t see anymore because people with power have been allowed to wallow in faux outrage and shock (ALL people with power) until true satire is no longer socially acceptable.

Here’s a definition of satire I find to be accurate and encompassing, via the all-knowing Wikipedia, with vital points highlighted:

Satire is a genre of literature, and sometimes graphic and performing arts, in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridiculeideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement.Although satire is usually meant to be funny, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit as a weapon.

A common feature of satire is strong irony or sarcasm—”in satire, irony is militant”—but parody, burlesque,exaggeration, juxtaposition, comparison, analogy, and double entendre are all frequently used in satirical speech and writing. This “militant” irony or sarcasm often professes to approve of (or at least accept as natural) the very things the satirist wishes to attack.

I know everyone’s heard of it, but has everyone actually read A Modest Proposal? It’s mean, it’s pointed, it’s harsh and cruel and it is aimed SQUARELY at those with power. You could glance at it, especially at the time, and say that it was trivializing the problems the Irish and the poor were facing, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t about them.

That is the key to this. Satire is not about the people who suffer. As advocates and activists, when we talk about abuse, we start from the abused: what they need, what they deserve, how we can help. We then turn to the question of the abuser, always with the needs of the abused still in mind, even in that context. Art – and I argue here that satire is art, I argue even that this Onion article, in what it does, is art – does what we as activists and advocates cannot effectively. It goes for the jugular. It says, “I will destroy this so we can rebuild something better.” It is destructive, not constructive. By these means it makes our problems brutally, painfully clear.

As advocates and activists some of our work obscures the reality of abuse by necessity. The reality of abuse is that abusers have all the power. In this instance, Chris Brown, the abuser, has a power far beyond that of the ordinary abuser, but only in that it is amplified. As the abuser, he not only got to tell the story of what happened, he got to tell it on television, to millions. He was not only given back his career, he was given back his million-dollar-plus career. He is a public example and he has largely been a public example of how to beat someone and get away with it with community service.

We make problems about the people who suffer. Satire makes the problem about the people who cause the suffering.

Does this make it right? Does it make it good? No. But it is productive in the sense that it produces. This piece produces outrage, anger, a grim knowing smile – it produces feelings, something all of our millions of collective hours of work on behalf of survivors often fails to do. And without that production, our fight stands still. I honestly believe this is brilliant. I believe this short piece could do more work toward changing our society than a thousand shelter hours. Does “brilliant” mean “good” or “wonderful” or “gives me immense enjoyment”? No. It means none of those things. It only means it may change the whole conversation. Whether or not you think it’s worth it is up to you. That’s a value judgment the reader gets to make.

“Victim” is a Tetchy Word When We Are Talking About Rape

30 Apr

I just read Erin Matson’s new piece on how to talk about rape, and I like it a lot. For anti-rape and anti-violence activists it’s a primer, but as the post notes, the basic things she’s talking about doing – don’t use language of consensual sex to describe rape, don’t victim-blame, don’t use the passive voice in a way that makes the rapist themselves disappear from the dialogue – are still huge problems in terms of how we talk about rape, especially in the media. I wrote an entire Master’s thesis on how the media communicates rape and I barely scratched the surface, that’s how big a problem it is.

I realized while reading it, however, that I find the word “victim” in the context of rape really jarring. It startles me to see it there, over and over. The word is being used to give really excellent advice, but I still struggle with it. I’ve shifted from domestic policy to international human rights work in the past year, and we almost never use “victim.” We describe someone as a “victim” only in the context of the legal case itself – the victim went to the police, the victim experienced these specific things, etc. After that, we only ever use the word “survivor.”

We use the word survivor instead of victim because that is what the women we work with become following the immediate aftermath of rape and sexual assault. They don’t want to spend their entire lives identifying or being identified as a victim. Survivor, for obvious reasons, has a different and much more empowering set of connotations.

Matson’s piece is mostly about communicating that immediate aftermath, and the use of the word “victim” in that context is appropriate – it helps classify what happened as a crime and the person it happened to as in need of medical and legal attention. But it occurred to me that I rarely see the word “rape survivor” in US media. Why is that?

Part of the reason is likely that, while rape is an overwhelming epidemic here, it’s a “domestic crime.” It’s a “private crime,” it belongs in a soft, female sphere in terms of how we classify criminal acts, and we’ve had to work incredibly hard to get it recognized as a criminal act at all. In an international context, however, rape and mass rape are often a weapon of war, or occur in waves following climate disasters that the countries in question don’t have the infrastructure to address in a timely manner (Haiti’s tent cities and the mass rape that occurred there following the earthquake a few years ago are one example of this). Political unrest and attempts to up-end life for political gain in that context are another example – that happened inGuinea a few years ago. At that point, follow-up is about much more than an individual person; unlike survivors here, these are large groups of survivors easily identifiable as having rape in common, and what happened to them and how it is dealt with in the long-term has implications and consequences for the entire country. Rape survivors here are not given the sense that they are a unified group. Rape in the US is viewed as an individual’s narrative, while in many other countries, the narrative is a group narrative. The media follow-up is longer term.

In the US media, once someone is no longer a victim, but a survivor, once the immediate aftermath has passed, there’s no follow-up. The woman who was raped by two police officers in New York City, whose trial was in every paper in the country every day for months, has disappeared. I have no idea what happened to her, and I’ve never seen an article on her again, although the rapists still show up in the news occasionally, mostly to complain about how raping a girl really ruined their lives. The Steubinville rape case – will we ever hear another word about the girl who survived it? In our quest to give the victims privacy – which is something the media only even pays lip service too, repeatedly releasing the names of even underaged victims – are we failing to create a space for people to become survivors? Rape survivors sometimes carve out their own space for that, creating support groups for themselves and for one another, making preventing rape and changing the conversation a mission. Another woman raped by a New York cop is doing just that. But the media is only interested in them  -certainly most interested in them – for as long as they’re a victim. Once a victim becomes a survivor, the story disappears.

It isn’t that way with every crime. The victims of the Boston Marathon Bombing are already survivors, with stories of their courage and their determination to move forward at immediate, lightning-speed already dominating the coverage of their experience, that moment when they were victims already relegated to a yesterday so long gone we can’t remember it. We can only remember that they’re survivors, and that makes us all stronger.

Is there room for that in the conversation about rape? Do survivors want to talk? Can we make their stories heard? Do we want to hear? Most of all, I think it’s fascinating how many experiences that are largely had by women – abortion, rape – have such clearly defined, narrow, and limited permitted narratives. What are we allowed to talk about, what are we encouraged to talk about – and what do we actually want to talk about?

What Admission misses about adoption

3 Apr

The most surprising thing to say about the adoption plots in Paul Weitz’s new film Admission (starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd) is, really, how routine they seem. Six years ago — before Juno – it would have been remarkable to find a movie revolving around a birth mother and her story. But now, after Juno16 and PregnantTeen MomGleeThe Baby Wait, a birth mother story seems run of the mill. In fact, while waiting for Admission to being, there was a premiere for The Big Wedding, (starring Diane Keaton, Robert DeNiro, Susan Sarandon, and many others) whichalso features a birth mother meeting her son’s adoptive family for the first time. Have we had enough of these stories?

I’m all for Hollywood to keep trying, since I feel like none of these representations have quite gotten it right. This isn’t surprising — movies are about being sensational and dramatic, and less about real-life complexity. The problem with Admission is that it manages to make adoption both a narrow and overwhelming part of the story. When Portia Nathan, an admission counselor at Princeton, discovers that an applicant might be the son she placed for adoption, this possibility seems to tap into some innate, essential well of motherly imperative. She begins empathizing with the frantic parents of other applicants, trying to hold random babies in stores, and bulldozing her way through the admissions process (without even a nod to professionalism) to ensure that her son will be able to attend Princeton. It looks and feels like an implosion, but the viewer is left to wonder if this is because of a recent breakup in which her boyfriend left her for his pregnant mistress, because of some unnamed and unrealized desire to parent, because of her own fractured relationship with her mother, because of her inability to know her own biological father, or because of watching her new romantic prospect interact with his adopted son. The adoption is addressed directly only occasionally, and often frantically, so we don’t have a clear understanding of what the impact has been on Portia’s life. What is the movie trying to say about adoption? Even after watching, I’m not sure.

What it does do, however, is place adoption in the context of a bigger sense of the unknown. Portia does not know her father, nor does she know her son. These disconnections prevent her from connecting with her mother in any meaningful way. We don’t know if Portia wants to be a mother, and perhaps she doesn’t either. In the end, it was this rootlessness that came across most strongly, and contrasted most sharply with the repeated classification of Portia’s life as stable and boring — but it was also what was glossed over most frequently for the sake of comedic purpose. In the end, the metaphor, whether intended or not (and it probably was), between adoption reunions and the college admissions process is at least partially true: the sense of putting oneself out there, of hanging one’s future on an unknowable verdict rendered by an unknown person, highlights how vulnerable adoption can make people.

Here’s hoping that the next birth mother movie — because goodness knows, it doesn’t seem like we’ll have any shortage of them — will find a way to give more space to this complexity.

Abortion in a “civilized society”

19 Mar

Recently, because I am an idiot, I agreed to go on a Christian television talk show and “debate” a well-known national (Canadian) newspaper columnist on the relative merits of MP Mark Warawa’s proposed Motion 408, which would “condemn discrimination against females occurring through sex-selective pregnancy termination”.

One of the many things that really bugs me about this motion is that Warawa doesn’t even want a change in the law; he just wants the Government of Canada to condemn this particular choice. It’s unclear what form this official snubbing would take, but the idea that people would want to simply codify our disapproval, as a nation, of this choice is almost worse than just making it illegal (in principle, anyway).

The talk show experience was an absolute gong show, but that’s another story. What really surprised me was my debate opponent’s perfectly clear and confident assertion that sex-selective abortion was the immigrant community’s problem, and that it is our duty as Canadians to teach them Canadian values like gender equality. After I was done sputtering in shock at the explicit xenophobia, I managed to respond that we do not, in fact, value gender equality in Canadian society. Both my debate opponent and the host of the show seemed genuinely shocked that I would believe such a thing.

The whole exchange was so strange, so surreal. I felt very conscious that I had said something impolite – that it was uncivilized to talk about gender inequality in Western culture, just as it was uncivilized to engage in sex-selective abortion. We must greet such transgressions with the very strongest, WASPish disapproval we can muster. I am certain that the two very civilized ladies sitting on that set with me would not have opposed a motion to condemn speaking up out of turn to accuse one’s elders of obliviousness to inequality.

I feel the historical context of the word “uncivilized” perfectly encompasses the mindset behind wishing to condemn a practice that is mostly carried out, in this country anyway, by women of Southeast Asian origin. Being civilized has been a cage both for women – in the way we are expected to behave – and for people of colour, in the way their cultures do or do not align with Western standards of order and propriety. A civilized society does not speak about vulgar things like sexuality or reproduction. A civilized person does not veer from the path prescribed to her based on her station in life.

I am thinking about this because in North Dakota, Republican Rep. Bette Grande – the prime sponsor of a bill banning abortion based on genetic defects and gender selection – said that such abortions have “no place in civilized society”.

I wonder about civilized society. Is a society civilized, that cedes control of women’s bodies to the government? To be civilized, must a society force women to carry to term pregnancies they do not want, of children whose needs they cannot afford to meet, without providing a sufficient social safety net to facilitate care for those children? Does a civilized society include poverty? If it does, does that mean it also excludes talking about it?

Can one even talk about what makes a civilized society without being, oneself, somewhat uncivilized?

The positive connotation of “civilization” to many of us is progress. Surely a civilized society would abhor the enslavement of its citizens, in body or spirit. Surely a civilized society demands forward movement.

Surely a civilized society can do better.