Thursday, August 30, 2012

The New Jim Crow

The new UUA Common Read book for the year is The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, and I, for one, could not be happier with the choice.  I read this book and preached on it last year after reading a Leonard Pitts article about the book.  The book was revelatory, even for someone who thought she was pretty liberal on this issue.  Two other people who I encouraged to read the book have had the same response.  I was so pleased to have the opportunity to hear her speak this year at General Assembly, and the experience in the room was electric.  She didn't have to say it out loud, even, but the thought that the New Jim Crow applies to the immigration system as well was surely at the front of everyone's mind. I'm looking forward to the Discussion Guide that the UUA will put online in October.  There is a discussion guide written by a UU, but it's the discussion guide to a discussion guide written for Christian churches--a guide of a guide, and, as such, I think is more limited in its usefulness than what the UUA will hopefully provide. 

As someone whose church is in a "prison town," I look forward to the conversations that may occur as a result of this Common Read choice.  This is an issue that would be good for UUs nationally to turn our attention to.  If you haven't read the book, go read it, even if you think you know what it says.  It will still open your eyes even further.

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.