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Posts Tagged ‘choice’

Hi everyone! I’ve been away for six months, so to celebrate let’s do something cheery and Talk Abortions. Recently there was a thread about abortion on Feministe, which discussed a terrible man in funny robes excommunicating a health-workin’ nun for giving the green light to an abortion that was medically necessary to save the life of a woman with some awful gravidly-aggravated disease. Obviously this excommunication was a cruel and stupid thing to do, but the comments section of the post illustrated perfectly my distain for most feminist/reproductive justice conversations about terminating pregnancy. Being this unimpressed by the level of arguments offered by feminist blogs is unusual for me. Usually even if I disagree with the post, there are a few commenters who come along and save the day with cutting insight, or pictures of cats playing the piano.

As far as the issue gets discussed by my internet feminist contemporaries, it usually centres on two arguments: firstly, that fetuses cannot be considered persons and are therefore exempt from the usual considerations having to do with mur-diddly-urder, and secondly, some gnarled and incomplete yelling about bodily integrity that doesn’t mention the fetus at all. Both of these are stupid and wrong.

You are probably furrowing your brow with some indignation right now, and I do not blame you. I too am shocked by the cavalier way in which I am dismissing the foundational arguments of decades’ worth of passionately shouted slogans. HOW INFURIATINGLY UNGRATEFUL, you are saying. HOW RUDE AND DISMISSIVE. IF I’D KNOWN SHE WAS SECRETLY A PRO-LIFE MISOGYNIST I NEVER WOULD HAVE COME HERE AND PUSHED HER PAGEVIEWS INTO DOUBLE DIGITS.

But the thing is, I am frustrated. I’m frustrated because I am pro-choice. I am pro-abortion. I want abortion to be legal, safe, and free. I want all doctors to know how to perform abortions. I am in favour of abortion on demand, and late term abortion. I am, like many women, absolutely scared shitless of not being able to have an abortion. Even typing that sentence makes me want to rush out and get a D&C just in case. STAY OUT OF MY ENDOMETRIUM, ZYGOTES, WITH YOUR SNEAKY LITTLE UNDERDEVELOPED GRABBY-HANDS. I just made a face so threatening and horrible that I bet zygotes everywhere are inching back up the fallopian tube from whence they emerged.

However! I also think that fetuses are people from the moment of their conception. Now, I have carefully situated this statement directly after the part where I told you I was pro-choice, because every time I say it out of the blue people assume I am some kind of brainwashed Mormon who has twelve Sister Wives and an assload of laundry to wash. By hand. Down on the banks of the compound’s baptisin’ stream.

And really, I have extreme difficulty with anyone who thinks this isn’t the case. Of course fetuses are people. All humans are people. Tiny humans are people. Humans with flippers are people. Humans without immediately recognisable cognition are people. There is nothing inherent in a fetus, at any stage of gestation, that renders it a non-person. They don’t just magically attain peopledom when they hit air, and the idea that peopledom is rendered by some gestational developmental stage is also stupid because it reduces all humans who lack those qualities to the status of nonpersons. I remain unconvinced that any developmental stage used to assess personhood in a fetus is present in every adult human.

In addition to being factually incorrect, pretending that fetuses aren’t people strengthens pro-life arguments. Every time someone uses the phrase ‘clump of cells’ or ‘wad of goop’ to describe a fetus, a pleasurable shiver runs down the spine of an abortion clinic picketer, because it shows that they are successfully defining the scope and terms of the debate. It is a lot easier to win arguments when you are using emotive terms like ‘unborn child’ to your own advantage. Try it in your next friendly debate, even if it’s not about abortion. ‘Well you may be right about the per capita GDP of Venezuela, but fuck you, baby killer.’

Which brings me to the second abortion argument, the ‘it’s my body, it’s my choice’ argument. This is, on the whole, a better argument. Everyone should be able to control the medical procedures they undergo, particularly women, whom the medical establishment has a history of letting, you know, die. This goes triple if you’re a woman who’s a couple of rungs down on the ol’ kyriarchy. For some reason people with lots of social privilege think it’s ok to sterilise those they consider beneath them. I mean to me, the tiny dominant group neutering everyone they think inferior kindof sounds like the plot of an interesting dystopic film where they then figure out that they’ve all got some kind of disorder that causes them to die, leaving the normal, less awful people to inherit their wealth. That I think this is a function of being a white woman living in Australia because some women think being forcibly sterilised is something that could actually happen to them. Like, tomorrow. Which I’m sure just adds a crunchy layer of awesomeness to interacting with the medical establishment. Ever. Jesus everything is terrible.

Anyway, yes, making medical decisions is something that we should all be allowed to do. Unfortunately, if you have accepted my first premise, the peopledom of fetuses, we can no longer justify abortion with reference only to the body of the mother. There is another person inside her. Obviously the woman and the fetus have a unique relationship, and I do think it’s far to call the fetus a parasite, in a totally biologically descriptive sense of the word. The fetus is using her resources without contributing much of anything back to her own health. They’ve turned up in her lounge room, eaten all her Doritos, and now they want to redecorate the whole place in upholstery denim.

Now, if an adult came at me with some kind of diabolical weapon that instantly conferred upon me the conditions and risks of pregnancy, I’d feel justified in killing them, if that were the only way I could save myself. If a tiny cute toddler in an ice-related rage tried to shank me with the same weapon, I’d kill them in self-defense. Of course this is assuming that all pregnancies are sneak attacks. Some are not. Apparently young people nowadays are just too shy to talk about contraception. Even if you’re a lady who just likes the peen too much to put a wrapper on it, even if you’ve got a high degree of choice and privilege in this situation? Consenting to unprotected sex is not consenting to pregnancy. Much the same as, when you’re an American Apparel employee, working for them is not consenting to being sexually harassed by Dov Charney! Even if you know that activity A may lead in some cases to result B, consenting to A is not consenting to B.

Unless you are wearing American Apparel, which I will interpret as a sign of consent to me punching you in the junk.

So this is the correct formulation of the argument from bodily autonomy: no person is allowed to use my body without my consent. No person is allowed to force me to continue supporting the person using my body. That is what we like to call ‘sexual slavery’, and it is frowned upon in polite societies. Fetuses are people too, and they are therefore subject to our rules about asking nicely before you put someone under nine different kinds of considerable risk and stress.

And that is how I justify abortion! This formulation is neat. It allows you to justify all abortions, not just the abortions of nice white girls who got attacked in the dark on their way home from Chastity Club. Axiomatically, if you were pregnant, your abortion was justified. There is no need to make women prove they’re in emotional, physical, or financial danger, because if you are pregnant, someone is using your body without your consent and you should be able to stop them. Sorry, fetuses! Sorry, Right to Life movement, for rendering your name and slogan irrelevant! Sorry, incorrect pro-choicers, for laughing at you when you say fetuses aren’t people! Maybe all of you should get together for a drink, okay? Or, you know, maybe not.

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I’m probably already on the record somewhere as saying that marriage sucks, but I thought I’d have another go at it, given that some hatemongering scumracket judges in California decided that homos aren’t allowed to get married to eachother. As indicated by the first half of that sentence, I too do not think homos should be allowed to get married, although my sentiment is only coherent for a highly specific value of the word ‘marriage’ (and yes, I do happen to love discussing highly specific values of otherwise everyday words). I know saying that you’re against gay marriage, in the leftist world, is commensurate with vomiting into a large tub every day for five years and then flooding a happy rainbow unicorn land with your saved up puke, but give me a minute to make a list of some stuff.

1. Under the current system, all marriage sucks. It’s an inherently exclusionary way of validating one kind of highly specific relationship and awarding it benefits based on outdated criteria. It rests on a set of heteronormative assumptions (possibly the most heteronormative assumptions of all, unless you count the ones in ads for washing detergent), mostly to do with the production of children. Married hetero couples, it is assumed, produce the most and the best of society’s children; therefore, the union itself must confer special, glittery benefits upon its partakers. Of course, those of us with giant communist brains realise that unmarried hetero couples, unmarried homo couples, single men, single women, polyamorous people, and various combinations of the above all take care of children in our diverse modern society. Some would suggest that taking care of children may be the best criterion for assessing whether a person should receive benefits for taking care of children, but shh. Don’t tell Family First.

2. Marriage privileges some kinds of interdependent relationships over others. Namely, ones in which the participants are assumed to be fucking. This is a clever social fiction that I don’t fully understand, and which mirrors another, more deeply rooted (lol sorry) social fiction: if you don’t fuck eachother, it’s not a real relationship. It’s funny and/or absurd to think of two people getting married who don’t fuck eachother, isn’t it? To think of two people living together, declaring next of kinship, having children, and demanding social recognition of their interdependence, without fucking eachother? I find this attitude totally bizarre. What if two siblings, or three or four siblings, want to raise children together, or just live together? A group of female friends? A couple and their friend? A polyamorous relationship with three people, one of the partner’s parents, and a cousin from interstate?

All of these are de facto possibilities, and, I think, possibly better possibilities. Who knows how many people would be happier in some kind of alternate arrangement that didn’t involve a socially compulsory man-fucking-a-woman, or, in places with gay marriage, person-fucking-ONE-other-person. Hey, kids, guess what? It’s okay to  have kids with whomever you want. It’s okay to not fuck that person, it’s okay to not fuck anyone, and it’s okay to live by yourself, hate kids, and use your fertile years to build giant sculptures of zombie pirates out of Lego. 3… 2… 1… go.

3. Marriage at the moment is a weird, squishy consolidation of church stuff and state stuff. Instead of bitching about that, check this out: France has a pretty good solution, even if it’s in its infancy and has a while to go before you can let it out of the house on its own. The idea is that “marriage” is definitely a religious thing, and specific religions can impose whatever wacky norms they want on it. Civil unions, on the other hand, are definitely a State thing, and imply, socially speaking, nothing about whomever is seeking to be a party to one. You can have one, both, or neither, depending on what you had for breakfast this morning.

Obviously, the glaring omission in the French version is that only two people can enter into it at a time, and it suffers from conflating adult interdependency with caring for children. I think the solution is that someone smarter and more hard-working than me has to invent either a new kind of union, or a modified Civil Union, that specifically refers to the responsibility of spooning mashed veggies into a snotty infant after 1.5 hours of poor quality sleep.

4. The gay marriage movement ignores many of its own. It ignores many of the reasons gay people might want to get married. ‘Gay people can’t marry eachother for immigration status!’ Well, maybe you should think about reforming your shitty immigration system. ‘Gay people can’t access their partner’s health insurance!’ Stop me, but maybe you should reform your shitty health insurance system. etc. It ignores polyamorous people, and in fact seems to spend a lot of its time refuting the conservatives who say that it might lead to poly marriage. This is pretty stupid, because they’re right: consenting adults, blah blah blah. It ignores the rights of trans people, who might have a lot more complicated and traumatic legal bullshit than cis gay people if they want to get married. In short, it’s pretty fucking bourgeois.

So that’s why Eleanor Carnivore is against gay marriage. There’s another post in here somewhere about whether or not gay marriage can be seen as a kind of baby step on the way up to something that actually resembles equality, but I’ve got dinner to eat and an assignment that was due yesterday to write. Also: I’m officially asking for submissions for another Ask Aunt Carnivore, which appears to have been my most popular post. So, are you bored? Gassy? Lonely? Angry? Email me at shesacarnivore@gmail.com ! I want to turn your problems into a mildly amusing and ideologically motivated blog post help!

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I’ve been in an imposed non-blogging period, mostly because I can’t find an internet plan costing less than $4860986094 per month and I’m not willing to mortgage my sister to pay for my blog. Consider this a brief reprieve from the drought, motivated mainly by disgust.

This is a short summary of an article that appeared in the SMH’s weekend life and style supplement, the core message of which was that married men with higher libidos than their wives should be allowed to have sex with them whenever the fancy strikes.

A woman, 54, from Hobart spent the first 10 years of her marriage fighting about sex, always nervous about an unwanted advance. “He’d be snoring loudly and I’d still lie there worrying that the hand was going to come creeping over.”

This is the “issue”: women in heterosexual marriages being undesiring of sex with their husbands. This poor woman, who lived in acute and daily fear of rape, is characterised as being in possession of a Serious Fucking Problem, a “low libido”. I just, for the life of me, cannot understand how someone’s brain could read her experiences and immediately peg her as the problem. What about her disgusting rapist husband? That’s her Serious Fucking Problem.

I can’t even do the rest of the piece justice, it contains so many violently misogynist tropes. It presents women as the deviant, their bodies as commodities and possessions, strips them of bodily sovereignty, ignores their sexual pleasure, ignores non-het relationships, justifies extreme male privilege, advocates rape. It’s like someone presented the author (who is a woman) with a lucky dip of woman-hating and she decided to steal the entire bag and run for the hills.

All of this illustrates, I suppose, that the Herald is less a daily broadsheet and more a dissemination tool for sick social hygiene messages from 1952. Yay.

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This oldie-but-goodie is a classic argument against radical feminism, which is often vilified for refusing to “listen” to oppressed women when they claim they are not oppressed. Just look at any comment thread on this blog where I’ve stated that tiny handbags, or marriage, or prostitution, or the nuclear family are tools of the patriarchy. Holy armadillo quadruplets, do otherwise sensible women ever love high heels!

But the thing is, radical feminists do listen. It’s just that what we hear is not the dulcet tones of liberated personhood, but the doth-protest-too-much keening of Stockholm Syndromettes sticking up for their captors. Unlike Campbell, radical feminists have answered the clue phone. We know that within a patriarchal paradigm, women, as an oppressed class, do not, from the git-go, possess fully human status. Our “choices,” therefore, are not real. We are manipulated by the system to embrace false constructs as truth.

This is a (rather extended) quotation from one of my all-time favourite feminist blogs, I Blame The Patriarchy. Many an evening have I spent on the couch, balancing dinner on one knee and the IBTP archives on the other, slopping curry on myself while I kick my feminist lens up a focal notch and absorb Twisty’s no-bullshit critiques of misogynist reality. She embodies many of the traits that I find lacking in the rest of the femoblogocube; she’s funny, erudite, and every time I read her, I feel like my eyes have been opened a tiny bit further, and I’m about one centimetre closer to understanding the way the world really works.

But there are two sentiments she frequently expresses that I find offensively simplistic. So simplistic and silencing, in fact, that whenever she writes something about them, I want to compose her a letter on fifty feet of cardboard, deforestation be damned, tape the cardboard to myself, go round her house, knock on the door, and stand there pointing at myself until she’s read it. I find that these two views are endemic to the radical feminist community, which makes me uncomfortable. I like radfems. Most of the time, I feel in sync with radfem politics. It’s snuggly and comfortable and, I find, reflects reality in a hammer-to-my-forehead-moment kind of way.

The first objection I have is about religion. She loves Richard Dawkins, and his dogma; I think he’s an unmitigated dickhead who wilfully ignores his own field and perpetuates harmful, bigoted, and repellently ignorant understandings of religion AND atheism. I’m not going to go into that, though, because it angries up my humours and I want to relax tonight instead of secretly plotting to put him in the Total Perspective Vortex.

The second is reflected in the preceding quotation. Lots of feminists bang on about ‘choice’, reflecting totally different understandings of the concept. The anathema of Twisty’s view was summarised a while back by Heather Armstrong of Dooce.com, whose face I want to lick (she’s not talking about Twisty in this extract, just to be clear):

So I went and read some of her work online, and she’s always careful to point out that by claiming that we’re making a choice to stay at home we are only copping out, that somehow the choice to stay at home is invalid. Wow! As a mother I’ve never heard that before! My choices are wrong! She should write a book about how she knows which choice is the best one. Oh wait! SHE HAS!

My reaction then, I guess, is that here is my middle finger and here is me waving it at Linda Hirshman. This IS my choice. It is mine. I want to be at home with my child, not because my husband said I had to want it, or because my mom said that I had to want it, or because I am blinded by society’s bias toward women and their role in the family. I had the option of going to work outside the home or staying at home with my kid and I made a choice. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything more fundamentally feminist than exercising that choice.

There is some seriously monochromatic contrast between these two positions. They speak past each other in new and perplexing ways, when I think the most correct and pragmatically stable position, both personally and theoretically, is a sweet and enchanting bouillabaise of both.

I agree with Twisty’s basic premise. I jive with it, if you will. People gender-assigned ‘women’ do not have free choice, simply because society coerces us into various situations and practices that are designated ours, as a class. I don’t think ‘women’ would, were we not sorted into this category, naturally seek to perform the million and one oppressive practices associated with the feminine construct. I take a reasonably Butlerian view of sex, gender, and sexuality, and I identify strongly with her notion of performativity:

Butler says: ‘There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; … identity is performatively constituted by the very “expressions” that are said to be its results.’ (Gender Trouble, p. 25). In other words, gender is a performance; it’s what you do at particular times, rather than a universal who you are.

This is a little squiddly description of performativity, obviously, and if you have the time or interest, I urge you to borrow a copy of Gender Trouble from the library, or from your closest femiwonk egghead.

I also agree with Dooce, and I am, generally speaking, far more optimistic than Twisty about the capacity of most women to tell when they’re being oppressed. Dooce directly acknowledges the patriarchal structure of society. She’s not stupid, and yet she chose to stay at home with her child rather than go out to work. I believe her when she tells me that this is her choice, and I believe her when she says it makes her happy. There are moments when I think I would be happy staying at home with my progeny. Admittedly, those moments aren’t very long, but I am hyperaware of social pressures to conform to shitty gender expectations, and it’s still something I find appealing. I would probably find it even more appealing if there were less vomit involved.

Unlike both Dooce and Twisty, I do comprehensively entertain the idea that, although my preferences and behaviour have undoubtedly been moulded by coercive cultural standards, I own those preferences, and I think it’s okay for other women to own theirs, build a pink frilly tent around them, if they want. Here’s my point: society is inherently coercive. All human customs and practices are coerced, and there are probably few parts of my identity, or anyone else’s, that aren’t a result of societal pressure. Rebelling against those pressures is also a reaction to and therefore a result of them. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with identifying and criticising those pressures, obviously, or I wouldn’t be a feminist. Unravelling the complex pattern of mutual contracts that constitute human interaction is crucial to the synthesis of a new, less oppressive system. IT’S ALL A RICH TAPESTRY, OK.

But the pervasive tone of condescension that Twisty, and many radfems, have towards women who make patriarchally acceptable choices, really burns my cookies (gasp! My feminine, stain-resistant apron is showing!). Twisty tends to acknowledge that women “do what they have to to get by”, characterising femininity as a survival technique. But I think it’s okay to enjoy those survival techniques, whilst acknowledging that they’re at least partially the result of societal coercion. Everything’s the result of societal coercion; it’s not a big deal to do things in accordance with it. Resisting those forces through personal behaviour works for some people, and it works for me a lot of the time. It’s cool. But if wearing marriage and eating makeup genuinely, thoroughly makes you happy, fucking go for it, for the love of god. Embrace it. Cover your hat in high heels and nuzzle all the pink shit. I’m certainly not going to judge you, and I don’t think you owe it to feminism or anyone else to do anything you don’t honestly enjoy.

Guilt is bad for you. brb, I gotta go and adjust my lacy underwear.

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