Monday, November 13, 2006

When They Say "Responsibility," They Mean "Punishment"

I was recently browsing links from Respectful Insolence and happened upon a link to a blog by a doctor (unfortunately I've since lost the link and can't find it again) in which the doctor had a long and very gentle, but ultimately rhetorically warped, judgemental and terribly misguided apologia for why he's (he's) anti-abortion (or pro-forced childbirth, as I like to say). To point out exactly how rhetorically-warped this blog entry was, he referred constantly to anyone involved in both seeking or performing abortions as "abortionists," and referred to those of us on the pro-choice side as "pro-abortion," and referred to the people on the anti-choice side (the pro-forced childbirth contingent) as "pro-life." He also insisted that there was no debate whatsoever about whether a fetus was technically "alive" (I think PZ Myers, a developmental biologist, might have something to say about that), and that he'd be willing to compromise with the "abortionists" if only we'd agree that abortion "kills" something.

I don't compromise with people who don't respect my bodily autonomy. I don't even let them have the first premise. I don't take their rhetorical framing. I especially don't take advice on what I should do with my reproductive organs from people who will never be in the position of facing, up close and personal, an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy.

Further, while I rejoice to respect the wishes of any given woman who may or may not be pregnant in the matter of what she intends to do with her reproductive organs, I am pro-abortion. Abortion is often the best possible answer to a difficult question. As this thread on Pandagon mentions, the abortion rate might indeed go down were circumstances different -- more access to birth control options, less violence against women, including less social stigma and shaming behaviour directed towards abortion-seekers, emergency contraception-seekers and single or unmarried mothers; not to mention French-style perquisites for parents and children. So far, no place in North America is very far through that checklist.

However, the most important thing there is that we be pro-choice. As commenter Kyra at Pandagon explains:

We are not pro-abortion in the way that pro-lifers are pro-life. To compare the two phrases, to speak of them as though they are equivalent to each other, is to accuse the pro-choice movement of being anti-birth, of pushing abortion as the only choice. This is patently untrue and everybody, no matter how deluded, knows it.

The right to an abortion would mean little to a woman who wants to give birth (unless of course she were to suffer complications to her pregnancy that would threaten things that she holds in greater value, such as her life, health, ability to care for living children, et cetera), yes? Similarly, the right to give birth would mean equally little to a woman who wants an abortion. The right which matters is the one a person chooses. Hence, pro-choice. And, we support choice for another reason, specifically that there is one reason having the opposite choice means anything to a woman of either persuasion: the ability to choose has value in itself—even if you’d never consider the other option, the fact that it’s there means you have the ability to make the choice freely, you are not forced to take one option or the other, your choice is free of the stench of force and slavery. Doesn’t pretty much everyone prefer to be asked to do something rather than commanded to do it?

Incidentally, this is not exactly a new idea.

This is a passage from the medieval poem Ragnelle, about the wedding of the famous medieval hero Sir Gawain to Dame Ragnelle, the "loathly lady."

"Syr," she sayd, "thus shalle ye me have:
Chese of the one, so God me save,
My beawty wolle not hold —
Wheder ye wolle have me fayre on nyghtes
And as foulle on days to alle men sightes,
Or els to have me fayre on days
And on nyghtes on the fowlyst wife --
The one ye must nedes have."

"Alas!" sayd Gawen; "The choyse is hard.
To chese the best, it is forward,
Wheder choyse that I chese:
To have you fayre on nyghtes and no more,
That wold greve my hart ryghte sore,
And my worship shold I lese.
And yf I desire on days to have you fayre,
Then on nyghtes I shold have a simple repayre.
Now fayn wold I chose the best:
I ne wott in this world what I shalle saye,
But do as ye lyst nowe, my Lady gaye.
The choyse I put in your fyst."**

The happy ending to the story is that by allowing Ragnelle to choose her fate, the curse is broken and the loathly lady becomes a lovely lady. (My question is, if someone in the fucking fifteeth or sixteenth century had the answer to the question "What do women want?" -- which is, "Go ask them, one at a time" -- figured out, why are we still having trouble with this five hundred years later?!)

Another area this blogger doctor was very adamant about was that people take "responsibility" for their actions. He said he is more than happy to write prescriptions for birth control, for which I commend him (I'm still not going to him for gynecological examinations, however), but at the same time judgementally maintains that all those abortions are for "birth control" (yeah, what else would they be for? Certainly not for fun, as most people who are into having surgery for fun like nosejobs and tummy tucks and yet another round of liposuction, and so on), and insists that "the condom didn't break all those times."

Well, so what if the condom didn't break, or there wasn't any condom? Me, I would much rather someone had an abortion than had a baby they didn't want, or even a pregnancy they didn't want. Goodness knows there's enough abused, maltreated, and unwanted children out there, and it certainly isn't your place to pass judgement on what someone else wants to do with their own, living, breathing, adult, consenting body, or why. Certainly having an abortion is more responsible than bringing an unwanted baby into the world, and either raising a child you don't want, or putting it up for adoption (a rather uncertain prospect even at the best of times).

But this debate isn't about ethics, or cleaning up after yourself. This is about agency, and control, and punishment. If you have the temerity to insist that you, as a female, have enough agency to be able to manage your sexual and reproductive life without submitting to the control of the approved social institutions (such as heterosexual marriage or the moral bloviatings of male doctors and other patriarchal authority figures), you deserve punishment. And that is exactly what they mean by "responsibility." If you don't do as the benevolent doctor tells you and use your birth control exactly as directed, and you wind up pregnant, well, sucks to be you, and you, according to him, don't get an out. The real Talibornagains, as we all know, take this at least several steps further: If you don't submit to a male-dominant heterosexual marriage in which you are expected to bear every child you can conceive, and you wind up pregnant, well, not only should you be forced to have a baby you might not want, but you should also pay various heavy social penalties for it.

This, of course, stands in stark contrast to every other technological means of control over ourselves and our environment human beings have ever devised, which are generally welcomed eagerly and enthusiastically by even the wingiest wingnuts, everything from modern medicine to weight-lifting to plastic surgery to the various "externalizations of the senses" described by Marshall McLuhan (which would include the Internet). Each one of these things represents a further separation between the human condition and the "natural" condition.

But as soon as the issue of women's control over their sexuality comes up, whoops, back to the Stone Age we go, and the attempt at control is dismissed as "unnatural." Astute historians will note that there have been recorded methods of [attempted] birth control since the beginning of recorded history; this isn't exactly a new debate either, much though the opposing side would have us believe it is. It may very well be "human nature" (such as that is) to attempt to separate sex from reproduction; certainly we seem to be wired to want and be able to control and change our internal and external environments more or less at will. (This also, I think, explains why the side that wants control to reside externally to the women in question prefers to use the word "contraception" or the odious neologism "contracepting"; it so nicely obfuscates the meaning inherent in the simpler term birth control, that is, that any form of birth control allows women to take charge of whether and when they give birth. Simple!)

Five hundred years ago we had this figured out: People want to be (able to be) in control of themselves. Part of that control, for women, is the ability to decide whether or not -- and when -- to give birth, as it has always been. Those who want to punish women for wanting to exert that control might well want to look at what kinds of control they themselves have, and punishments appropriate thereto.

___________________

** "Sir," she said, "So shall you have of me:
Choose between the two, God save me,
My beauty will not hold --
Whether you would have me fair at night
And as foul during the day to all men's sight
Or would you have me fair in the day,
And at night have the foulest wife
That one might have?

"Alas," said Gawain, "The choice is hard.
To choose it best confounds me,
Which choice that I choose
To have you fair at night and no more
That would pain me greatly
And I should lose my worship of you.
And if I desire to have you fair during the day,
Then at night, I should have a poor respite,
Now gladly I would choose the best
I don't know what in the world I should say
But do as you like now, my Lady fair,
The choice is in your hand..."

13 Comments:

Blogger aus blog said...

World estimations of the number of terminations carried out each year is somewhere between 20 and 88 million.

3,500 per day / 1.3 million per year in America alone.

50% of that 1.3 million claimed failed birth control was to blame.

A further 48% had failed to use any birth control at all.

And 2% had medical reasons.

That means a stagering 98% may have been avoided had an effective birth control been used.

People have to stop using abortion as birth control.

I'd like to see effective birth control made available to all who can't afford it.

10:54 PM  
Blogger Interrobang said...

Do you have citations for those numbers, or are you pulling them out of the sky?

Secondly, abortion is birth control. It probably shouldn't be someone's primary means of birth control, but that's (again) up to them, and it's not up to you to dictate what people "have" to do with their own bodies.

Thirdly, what are you going to do about people who can't or won't use other methods of birth control? Just decide by fiat that they should be forced to bring to term any fetus they might conceive?

I'd also like to see effective birth control made available to everyone, regardless of their income situation. I think it's shameful and scandalous that some insurance plans in the US cover Viagra but not The Pill, for instance. I get my hormonal birth control subsidised by the state, because I'm lucky enough to live somewhere where the system isn't in the grips of the medico-industrial complex.

However, as I've stated at least twice now, abortion falls under the umbrella of "birth control," whether you like to pretend otherwise or not.

11:12 PM  
Blogger olvlzl said...

if someone in the fucking fifteeth or sixteenth century had the answer to the question "What do women want?" -- which is, "Go ask them, one at a time" -- figured out, why are we still having trouble with this five hundred years later?!

They don't like the answer. Very fine post, Interrobang. Especially not compromising
" with people who don't respect my bodily autonomy. I don't even let them have the first premise. I don't take their rhetorical framing. I especially don't take advice on what I should do with my reproductive organs from people who will never be in the position of facing, up close and personal, an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy."

Even accepting the entirely unrealistic way they frame the issue is a bad idea. It's unrealistic and it allows them to gain the upper hand. That's a mistake the left has made over and over again.
Conservatives are, partly, conservative because they don't think very well.

5:09 AM  
Blogger Interrobang said...

I know there are certain people in the left community who don't like George Lakoff, but I was a George Lakoff fan almost a decade ago, back when he wasn't some guy with his own liberal think-tank and a couple books about politics, he was just a leading thinker in the fields of metaphorics and rhetoric. I particularly remember him as an outstanding metaphoricist, which is what informs his ideas about framing (this isn't a new concept, but he's done a lot of new work with it).

I really ought to write up something about Lakoff, and framing, and being a rhetorician who's passionately interested in things like metaphor and narrative and how they impact politics and post it here, but it's nearly 3AM here, and I do need to go to bed sometime. My client could call me in as little as six hours.

Was "aus blog" trying to scare me with big numbers, do you think? First of all, I think those numbers are out by an order of magnitude at least, especially for the US. There is no way that there are 1.3 million abortions per year in the US alone -- assuming a population of 300 million, of which 150-couple million are female, and of those, approximately 50 million are of childbearing age, that would mean that approximately 1 in 47-50 women has an abortion in a year. Considering that somewhat less than 1 in 3 women ever have abortions (according to the latest Guttmacher report) over their lifetimes, I think that "statistic" is a bit high, don't you?

Sheesh, smarter monkeys, please. I'm a practically innumerate piker who stopped taking high school math after Grade XI, and took it at the General level, to boot.

3:08 AM  
Blogger aus blog said...

If conception is NOT when life begins,and a clump of cells is just that and not a living human being.
Then at least concider this-

Soon after you were conceived you were no more than a clump of cells.
This clump of cells was you at your earliest stage, you had plenty of growing to do but this clump of cells was you none the less. Think about it.
Aren't you glad you were left unhindered to develope further.
Safe inside your mother until you were born.

3:11 AM  
Blogger aus blog said...

Those figures should have read over 3,500 per day and over 1.3 million per year.
Do a little research, find out for yourself.

3:18 AM  
Blogger Interrobang said...

Cite your sources.

5:41 PM  
Anonymous Terry C, American Once Again said...

No one would want to fuck these anti-choicers in the first place.

"3,500 per day / 1.3 million per year in America alone."

I wish people like you would worry about the living instead of blastocysts.

8:32 PM  
Blogger aus blog said...

You were once a blastocyst......

10:06 AM  
Blogger olvlzl said...

aus blog said...

You were once a blastocyst......

Was I? Was there an "I" back then? How do you know? Maybe it means as much as to say, "You were once a bunch of meals that your parents ate,". or "You were once single cellular animals in the time of the Burgess Shale fauna,".

I doubt that there was an "I" before there was any mental activity, any personality.

8:39 PM  
Blogger DavidByron said...

You seemed to want to direct me to your blog with the comment you left at Digby's. In my experience feminist sites cannot survive if they don't censor critical views. Feminism is such an authoritarian anti-liberal sexist movement that it must viciously attack and censor anyone who points out the Emperor has no clothes. Since I don't want to waste my time replying only to have you delete anything I say here if you want me to comment you'll have to issue assurances.

Assurances you will break anyway of course; there's not one feminist site on the internet that doesn't censor. But I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you don't know that about yourself yet.

Specifically you were asking me to comment on why your views saying women should get reproductive rights but men should get no rights is sexist.

4:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Soon after you were conceived you were no more than a clump of cells.
This clump of cells was you at your earliest stage, you had plenty of growing to do but this clump of cells was you none the less.
Think about it.
Aren't you glad you were left unhindered.... to develope further.
Safe inside your mother's womb until you were born.

Shouldn't they all be so lucky ?

12:42 AM  
Anonymous Mentat said...


Aren't you glad you were left unhindered to develope further.
Safe inside your mother until you were born.


In a sense I am glad; however I can also honestly say that if "I" had not been left unhindered, "I" would not now be the slightest bit upset about it.


Shouldn't they all be so lucky ?


Shouldn't every egg and every sperm be so lucky? Yes, yes they should. So many unfortunate gametes, denied the personhood they deserve.

4:06 PM  

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