October 10, 2006

The Personal: Still Political

A woman was having sex with her boyfriend and the condom broke. She tried all weekend to find an emergency room doctor who would give her a prescription for emergency contraception, but she was told by every nurse she talked to that unless she'd been raped or was married, she'd be wasting her time to come in. She had to wait until Monday, at the end of the window where EC is effective. Now she's pregnant and seeking an abortion because the cost of having another child would put her and her three sons out in the street. You may have heard of her because she posted about all this on her blog, where she writes about feminist issues as the Biting Beaver, and a bunch of demented freaks started sending her death threats, a couple of 'helpful' emails purporting to give her recipes for herbal abortifacients that were actually deadly herbs, and messages from people who said they wanted to see her raped and brutally murdered. She summed it up here and you can find out how to help here. (h/t Crooks & Liars)

There's a tiny clump of cells in her body that have never had the capacity to think or to feel pain and so her life and needs are meaningless. She has been judged in the minds of some people to be comparatively worthless.

Maybe the sick vermin who wrote BB that he wanted to see her raped and tortured meant to make her suffer like the women in the Congo, who are being raped when they're as young as the age of three at the rate of at least 100 a week and often further brutalized afterwards. Maybe the people who wanted her to die for her sins think it would be great if women were stoned to death for adultery, like they are preparing to do seven women in Iran. The messages sent to BB should be a reminder that the only reason to think it's 'normal' for such horrific violence to take place in a non-white country is racism. Because people with inclinations every bit as harmful live here in America as part of our mainstream society. They live here in America and are members of the racial and religious identity groups, Whites and Christians, that dominate every major sector of the most powerful country on the planet.

And if they knew I existed, they'd probably think I'm shrill. And I wouldn't care, though not only because shrill is the new black. It's because I'm no more of a person to them than BB, and in the same circumstances, they'd be as glad to see me die. They'd be as glad to throw the first stone. It's because members of their serried ranks of peeping, pustulant, peurile perverts came preaching and smiling to the center of my campus with a sign that called me a Nazi because I think women have the right to make decisions about our bodies. Like we were adults. Like we were men.

So we should always know that it isn't the cars and the skyscrapers that separate civilization from violent chaos. It's how we decide to treat each other, in spite of the fact that we're still essentially the same species we were before the invention of the wheel. Civilization, along with its advances, pours out its greatest blessings in proportion to the amount of personal liberty members of a society agree to grant each other. Because the gene fairy didn't make creativity, intelligence and talent linked inextricably with the genes for being strong, fast, male, straight, clear-skinned, socially competent or skinny. When we throw away people's liberty, we throw away their gifts.

For women, there is no real liberty without control over reproductive decisions, the ability to decide whether or not to take on a nearly two-decade task for which society will hold you disproportionately responsible without generally being inclined to help out. Not that it's bad to have a child, but it's a bigger decision than buying a house. And everyone always tells you to wait and buy a house until you're sure you're really ready, because the consequences of a bad choice can be pretty severe. In real estate.

Someone recently suggested to me that the issue of abortion was separate from the issue of sexual freedom and I would say to anyone that no, it isn't and probably never could be. Clearly, the medical establishment in the area of rural Ohio where BB lives thinks that if BB doesn't have a sex partner approved by law or if she hasn't had her agency taken away by an act of violence, she shouldn't get to decide to have sex without 'consequences.' That she should have to choose between going to a clinic to face a horde of vicious protestors or having a child whose birth would impoverish her family.

And isn't that a beautiful way to think about a pregnancy, as a consequence. A punishment for deciding that you were free to take advantage of decades old medical technology and share a pleasant and intimate experience with someone you care about. A consequence you should have to face if you're too poor to afford better medical care. A consequence you should have to face if you're a dirty slut who'd have sex of her own free will. Like an adult. Like a man.

To paraphrase my favorite saying of the Supreme Court, there are no rights without remedies. Because if you can't exercise a freedom in practice, it hardly matters if a piece of paper somewhere says that you have it or if no one has even considered depriving you of it by law. Women in the Congo, for example, no longer have the right to safely leave their homes. It doesn't matter what the law may or may not say, they don't have that freedom anymore.

What could be more basic to a notion of freedom than the right to make determinations about your physical integrity and have them respected by those around you? Anyone who doesn't think a woman should have that right has automatically forfeited my respect for their opinion. Which is only fair, because they'd clearly already made up their mind that I should be treated as a child, or possibly a criminal, in the eyes of the law.

Posted by natasha at October 10, 2006 07:43 PM | Civil Liberties | Technorati links |