The Vagina Demagogues

The Vagina Demagogues June 19, 2012


decorum, n. Dignified propriety of behavior, speech, dress, etc.

draconian, adj. rigorous; unusually severe or cruel (from the harsh law codes of Draco)

vagina, n. (Anatomy) The passage leading from the opening of the vulva to the cervix of the uterus in female mammals

The Toronto Star reports on today’s “Vaginas Take Back the Capitol!” protest in Lansing, Michigan, during which a crowd of some 2,500 gathered to hear portions of the play The Vagina Monologues read aloud by playwright Eve Ensler and two members of the Michigan state legislature, Democratic Reps. Lisa Brown and Barb Byrum. The event was held to protest the two legislators’ having been issued a one-day censure by the Republican house majority leader in response to what Republican leaders claimed were violations of decorum committed by the women during debate over a bill proposing new restrictions on abortions.

Specifically, Rep. Byrum attempted to continue speaking after her objections to the bill—and her proposed counter-amendment requiring men to undergo restrictions on obtaining Viagra or vasectomies—were gaveled down. Rep. Brown expressed her opposition to the bill by comparing government regulation of abortion to rape, saying “I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but No means No.” A third Democratic woman, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who was not censured, had proposed a statewide sexual boycott a la Lysistrata, with women refusing favors to men if the bill passed. Rep. Tlaib urged her male colleagues to allow unrestricted access to abortion “for the love of your wives, your daughters, and mothers.”

Within hours of word of the censure, Rep. Brown hoisted the vagina flag, appearing on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show to declare that in the war on women, the battlefield had moved to the dictionary. Asserting that her freedom of speech had been curtailed because she dared to use an anatomical word—a charge denied by the Republican leadership, which noted that the violation of decorum applied to the women’s refusal to be gaveled down, not the words they used—Rep. Brown said, “Frankly, using the word vagina—that is what this legislation is regulating.”

In the days since, the whole V-word Thing has gone viral, touted by abortion activists as one more example of men’s need to control women and flee from their Icky Bits. Headlines referred to the women’s courage in resisting Michigan’s “draconian” abortion regulations. Thus today’s protest, and playwright Ensler’s high-flown rhetoric:

Ensler said she was thrilled to be involved and likened the punishment meted out by the Republican leadership of the state House to “the Dark Ages.”

“If we ever knew deep in our hearts that the issue about abortion . . . was not really about fetuses and babies, but really men’s terror of women’s sexuality and power, I think it’s fully evidenced here,” Ensler told The Associated Press by phone.

Oh, Eve. Oh, Reps. Tlaib, Brown, and Byrum. Oh, headline writers. Oh, Ezra Klein, substituting for Rachel Maddow the night of Rep. Brown’s appearance, who felt the need to apologize for violating viewers’ decorum—“I apologize, but it’s going to get difficult here”—by referring to the Michigan law’s requirement that physicians issue fetal death certificates in the event of late-term abortions, and “in the case of women pregnant more than 10 weeks, make what amounts to funeral arrangements for the so-called ‘fetal remains.'”

The problem here is not the V-word. It’s all the other words used with so little understanding, with such bizarro-world, Humpty Dumpty kraziness. Thus my dictionary definitions, and a little vocabulary review:

Eve Ensler, abortion is always about fetuses and babies. If men (and, I gotta tell you, women) are terrified here, it’s not of women’s sexuality and power—it’s of some women’s single-minded need to define themselves solely by the freedom to kill their own offspring (and that of the biological father), at any stage of development, for any reason, answering to no one. You want to talk Dark Ages? I am as adamant a supporter of women’s rights as anybody, but if that’s the definition, count me out.

Rep. Tlaib, how the love of men for their wives, daughters, and mothers is demonstrated by abortion is beyond me. Utterly. Whatever happened to a box of chocolates and a dozen roses?

Rep. Byrum, Viagra and abortion are apples and AK-47s. You can only make your sauce-for-the-gander amendment work by adopting the fiction that both of these are vital health services. You can keep shouting it long after the gavel’s banged down, but even you know how stupid that is.

Ezra Klein, they’re not “so-called” fetal remains. They’re fetal remains (at the most politically correct scientific minimum), and the product of two people’s DNA, and need to be disposed of differently than medical waste from a woman’s body. When a death has occurred, a death certificate is generally required. So sorry that you and your viewers had to have your sensibilities offended by these painful reminders that abortion = death.

And Rep. Brown, let me ‘splain somethin. Your vagina is not what is being regulated in Michigan, or anywhere else. What the law does is make it just the tiniest bit more difficult to end the life of an unborn child, just the slightest bit more inconvenient to commit the unusually severe cruelty of killing a child in the womb. It’s late-term abortion that’s draconian, not the Michigan legislation.

Do I sound angry? I am. Excuse me, because it’s going to get difficult here. Six months ago I was reluctant to support the March for Life because I believed so much of the anti-abortion rhetoric I heard was anti-woman, anti-sex, anti-equality. And I don’t believe—because of my own experience and that of other women I know—that considering abortion or even going through with one is always an act of casual and conscious evil. But listening to the way women of my party and my background and my age have made abortion the One Value Worth Preserving, I’m sickened. You all have made a prolifer out of me in spite of myself, damn it.

I’d like to say it was my newly revived Catholic values and a deeper understanding of natural law coming to the fore. But no, I’m not that virtuous. And maybe I’d have stayed as quiet as a censured legislator had this all been about termination in the first 6 weeks, or maintaining access to termination in cases of medical emergency (the way Rep. Bynum wanted to do with vasectomies in her satirical amendment); I’m not proud of those waffle-y bits on my part, but give me time . . . my position is evolving. In the end, sadly, my beef with the Vagina Demagogues is not on moral grounds, but semantic ones. I just can’t stand to see the the decorum of the language violated in such a draconian fashion.

If you tell me the only way I get to call myself a liberated woman, a Democrat, or somebody who loves my mother is to sign on to abortion without limitation, I’ve got just three words to say: No means No.

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