Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The War on Women

This blogger has been suffering from writer's block.  The problem is, when I think about opening up a page and writing, there's one thing that's been on my mind to write about.  And when I think about that one thing, I've been so boggled and amazed by what's going on that I can't find a way to write coherently.

So, about this war on women...

Now, I can appreciate and respect a pro-life position.  It's theologically consistent, and has a clear and hard line: life begins at conception, and so abortion is murder.  Unless the life of the woman is at stake, so that it's one life vs. another, or unless the fetus is not viable, murder cannot be justified.  That makes sense to me as a stance to take.  I don't agree, but I respect it.  I understand that what the Republicans are trying to express is, in part, the perspective that while rape is horrible and wrong, it doesn't change that abortion is horrible and wrong. 

But there are whole other levels going on here which are not just about whether or not abortion is murder.  That may be what they're trying to express, but they're also expressing a lot more.  What's going on is, at best, a complete lack of understanding of women from certain politicians, or just paternalism mixed with disregard for them, and, at worst and perhaps more likely, a deep misogyny. 

Let's start here at home, in Michigan, where State Rep. Lisa Brown was barred from speaking in the house because of her statement, "I’m flattered you’re all so concerned about my vagina, but no means no."  This barring her wasn't about her being disrespectful (there's plenty of disrespect being thrown around there all the time)--this was about discomfort with women's bodies, and silencing a woman's voice on the issue.  It really was about the word "vagina," and a belief that talking about women's bodies is, well, dirty and bad.  Rep. Mike Callton said so clearly: "It was so offensive, I don't even want to say it in front of women. I would not say that in mixed company."  We can't really talk about women's bodies--or rape (no means no)--EVEN when the bill on the floor is about abortion.  In fact, when the bill was in front of committee, they allowed no women to speak to it, and only three men (including my feminist UU colleague the Rev. Jeff Liebmann, who gives his account of it here).  This is a paternalism that says women are not capable of making decisions for themselves, and, what's more, they don't really have anything that we need to listen to to say about themselves, either.  To be fair, the press secretary for Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger said, "It was his judgment at the time that when she finished her statement by referencing her vagina, and then saying ‘no means no,’ that was drawing in a rape reference, and he felt that crossed the line."  So if it wasn't really discomfort about vaginas (and it so was), well, it was talking about rape that was over the line.  And we want to keep rape out of abortion debates, just as we want to keep women's voices out of debates about abortion--and probably just about always.  In all, it's important that we not allow women to be the ones to talk about rape.  That's a man's job.

You can draw a straight line from the situation in Michigan to the statements from Pennsylvania Senate candidate Tom Smith.  Tom Smith was asked how he would tell a female relative who was raped and pregnant from that rape to keep the child.  Tom Smith said he had a "similar" situation in that a female relative had gotten pregnant out of wedlock and had chosen to keep the baby: "I lived something similar to that with my own family. She chose life, and I commend her for that. She knew my views. But, fortunately for me, I didn’t have to ... she chose they way I thought. No don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t rape."  I wish he had finished that sentence in the middle--he didn't have to what?  There's a clear underlying understanding there of that he, the man, is in charge, and fortunately the woman, the lesser being, followed his wishes.  Her decision seems to have been about his views, in the way he sees it, despite his saying it was "fortunate" for him.  When pushed by the reporter if the situations of pregnancy from rape and other non-intended pregnancies really were similar, he said, "No, no, no, but put yourself in a father's position, yes. It is similar."  So what's similar?  The father's perspective, not the woman's experience.  I don't actually think he thinks rape is similar to consensual sex for a woman.  But that's immaterial.  We know and understand that for many people, and it's now in the platform of the Republican party, that rape is immaterial to the abortion issue, because abortion is just wrong, period.  But I really believe Smith is saying more than that.  He's saying that from a father's perspective a situation where a daughter gets pregnant from rape is similar to a daughter getting pregnant from consensual non-marital sex.  The experience of the woman, i.e. rape, is immaterial to his experience, which is all about the results and not about the experience of the woman, the wishes of the woman, the trauma of the woman, at all.  It's straight-up paternalism at its most extreme.  The man, the father, knows what's best for the woman, and her experience, knowledge, wishes, are immaterial.

What's the right answer to the question of what you would say to a daughter who was raped and was now pregnant?  The right answer might be that you wouldn't say anything at first--you would just listen, and care about her experience and her thoughts.

3 comments:

villemezbrown said...

I think you are spot-on about the extreme paternalism of Smith's attitude. I also see it as a perfect example of something that was illuminated to me just recently by a feminist blogger: the dicotomy between how religious conservatives tend to divide sex acts into "not ok" and "ok" and how liberals separate "ok" from "not ok" when it comes to sex. Here is the blog post: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2012/08/rape-thats-a-kind-of-premarital-sex-right.html

Adele

Cynthia Landrum said...

Hi Adele,
That blog post was spot-on and a very helpful framework for understanding the way progressives and conservatives are just not working with the same framework here. Thank you for sharing it!

politywonk said...

Thanks for describing the inner situation that has almost shut down my own writing as well... except all the political self-affirmation of my Facebook friendship threads these days.

At bottom, it's really about fear. This election is too close to call, and the ramifications are huge but unknowable. Both sides are terrified, because we have already seen things worse than we had imagined would appear in our lifetime. Whether one is liberal or conservative, the idea that it can get worse just really shuts down rationality.

So we're all just deer in the headlights... and we don't know who the car will hit as it rolls through us all.