(Content note: Abortion, misogyny.)
Welcome back from Turkey Day! Today I want to talk briefly about something that happened last week over at Ex-Communications and what that situation tells us about where we are as a society.
I Belong To Me is a brilliant post about self-ownership and consent as it relates to Christianity’s culture of toxicity. It’s no surprise that the religion’s more abusive elements have a real problem with consent, and Dani Kelley (whose blog is here) outlines dozens of ways that Christianity struggles to align itself with that new value. Consent is a very important topic to me–I’ve written about it here, here, and here, among numerous other posts. So you can bet I took particular note of what Dani had to say.
I want you to take a look at her post–not just because it’s brilliant but because it also illustrates something I think we need to look at here.
Out of the entire post, which is about 2000 words long, Dani mentions ONE SENTENCE about abortion, which she backs up with a citation regarding the tragic death of Savita in Ireland:
When women are forced to carry pregnancies to term against their will, Christianity has a consent problem.
That’s it. That’s the one mention she made in the entire post. As a percentage of total output, chances are I talk more about abortion in a given week than Dani did in this post. She talked quite a lot about how women are viewed as property and how children are viewed as possessions to be treated worse than animals sometimes, about how toxic Christians want rights over other people’s lives while remaining free of any oversight at all themselves, oh yes, but the one thing that got some of the post’s readers hopping was–you saw this coming, right?–that one line about abortion.
There’s an internet law that runs thusly: “The comments on any blog post or news article online about feminism justify the existence of feminism.”
And I think we can add to that law: “The comments on any blog post or news article online about abortion justify the need for safe, legal, on-demand abortion.”
We could extend this saying very easily to something else that happened recently, a sort of anti-Dani event wherein Rafael Cruz openly called for the ushering in of a “theocracy” headed by right-wing conservative Christian fundagelicals, the first of whose plans is to totally criminalize abortion. Their rhetoric is painfully familiar (and even more painfully inaccurate–I’ve never wanted a “citation needed!” tag more than I do now):
Fifty-seven million women are walking around with the emotional scars of abortion, that only Jesus can heal. That’s the real war on women, we need to turn it on them. When they talk to you about the ‘right to choose’ who chooses for that baby? We cannot acquiesce to their rhetoric.
The link very clearly calls out this misogynistic thinking for what it is: the insistence that Christian-right leaders have, this delusion they enjoy so grandly, is the idea that they have some right to ownership over the bodies of American women, some say in what violates us or does not violate us, the right and obligation to strip us of our liberty and rights the second they think someone else needs our bodies, some calling to take away our bodies’ car keys and drive for a little while because we’re just too stupid to be trusted with our own bodies. It should not surprise us to hear that they think that the “person” making the demand upon a woman’s body–be it a man or a fetus–takes precedence over the consent of the actual owner of that body, because they literally do not think that people own their own bodies anyway. And that was the whole point Dani was making in her post.
The second women’s independence and autonomy becomes a hassle for someone else, the second toxic Christians think someone else needs our bodies’ use, then all of our rights can be just whisked away… all for our own good. We’ll thank them in the end. Our consent is absolutely irrelevant in the name of that greater good. The ends justify the means. That they disguise this utter contempt for both decency and American ideals as compassion for anybody just makes such a display of pure, unmitigated evil all the more grotesque and disturbing.
Really, the most obscene thing here is the evidence of the newest tactic forced-birthers are using: manipulating language to try to make Americans think that the real “war on women” is the one abortion-rights advocates are waging to try to make sure that women have access to all the reproductive options they need. The pure cognitive dissonance here is mind-blowing, but that’s where we are now: if they just say something often enough, it will magically become true, and catchphrases like that–uttered by their biggest names, like Sarah Palin (who insists alternately the the real “war on women” is the lamestream media laughing their asses off at her family’s drunken brawl recently and abortion rights, depending on how picked-on Princess Quittypants feels this week)–stick very easily in minds that are gloriously uncluttered by simple things like compassion or facts.
And we saw some of that attitude in evidence in the reaction to Dani’s excellent piece.
There’s a kneejerk reaction among forced-birthers by now about abortion. It’s a bit like how Creationists get riled up about any mention of evolution or the age of the universe–the second they see anything about abortion at all, they’re already queuing up talking points to zing off. But most of us don’t tangle with Creationists all that often; they tend to be fairly insular. Not forced-birthers. They’re everywhere. And worse, they genuinely think–despite all the evidence to the contrary–that the anti-abortion fight is about babies or fetuses or women’s health or whatever their Dear Leaders are saying this week, and those are of course very important and grand causes that require internet warriors to fire salvo after salvo any time those causes are threatened by ignorant baby-killing feminist sex-hungry sluts.
Whenever abortion gets brought up, people claiming to be lawyers and medical types crawl out of the woodwork to offer their opinions about why abortion should be outlawed and why women’s consent is irrelevant. It’s so disheartening and dizzying and discouraging: how can these forced-birthers not understand that what they are basically saying is that they own women’s bodies and are claiming for themselves the right to make women’s personal, intimate decisions for them and force those women to take medical risks against their will? How do they not know that what they are doing is condemning women to a 24/7 imprisonment on behalf of an almighty fetus, generally as punishment for having had unapproved sex? How can they not see that what they’re really doing is penalizing poor women, who face the greatest obstacles in a society that condemns abortion and makes it harder to access, while wealthy women will, as they always have, access the care they need in other ways and escape zealots’ grasp? How can they not see that they are making women’s lives riskier and more dangerous by talking like this, when the evidence has piled up into a tsunami wave that making abortion harder to get kills women?How can they not see that what they are really saying is that they want sex to be insanely risky so women will quit having it, that what they’re admitting is that they really just want the right to punish women who have consensual (and sometimes even non-consensual) sex? How obvious do they have to make it that they are infuriated that women might move beyond their punitive grasp? In reserving for ourselves the right to abort women have thumbed our noses at these controllers’ attempts to punish us, and nowhere do we see their fury in evidence more than in how they react when a woman–when any woman–dares to assert her freedom from their control.
I’m glad that Dani talked about what she did. I’m glad she included that line about abortion. It is very clear to me that obviously this was something that needed to be said. This is something we should be talking about.
One of Christianity’s most toxic legacies–and one of its most enduring, damn it–is this idea it pushed into our culture that women’s bodies are public property and that women’s most intimate personal decisions are therefore up to adjudication, judgement, and ultimately negation if someone else finds those decisions inconvenient or counter to the narrative that person holds about women. If someone else needs our body, be it a partner wanting to fuck it or a fetus wanting to gestate in it, we are expected to take second place and let the violation occur no matter how we feel about it. Hell, I’ve seen entire articles–which I will not list here because fuck them in the necks about how women should just roll over and fuck their (male, obvs) mates on demand because it makes men feel happy to have sex on tap and OMG WON’T SOMEONE JUST THINK OF ALL THOSE SAD, FORLORN LITTLE BONERS GOING TO WASTE? Curiously absent from these pieces are statements from decent, moral, compassionate men who would rather die than discover that the women they love are unwilling and only fucking them out of a sense of obligation. Toxic Christians live in a world where it is far more preferable to gain forgiveness than permission, and where they would rather wreak their odious wills on an unwilling person than not get their way at all.
Men simply don’t face that same level of oversight–and why should they? They’re men. While they too face a certain amount of ownership/slavery talk, their very bodies and self-ownership rights do not regularly land on the chopping block to be negotiated and adjudicated, their sexual histories pored over, their private decisions negated–unless they too fall outside the narrative by being transgender or gay or acting in perceptibly non-stereotypical ways.
But women are a whole other matter. Women’s physical bodies are possessions; under the Christian narrative we belong to someone at every stage of our lives–to a father, to a husband, to a god–in the person of a male pastor, of course–and ultimately to the state if nothing else. We don’t just get to decide what we will or won’t do with our own bodies. That’s a downright dangerous level of self-ownership and self-determination. It threatens absolutely everything about the hierarchical patriarchy that toxic Christians hold dear, and they know it.
Ultimately, you know why the one line that forced-birther commenters seized on to talk about in Dani’s post was about abortion?
Because self-ownership is the wellspring from which all the other things she discussed leap. If someone doesn’t think that, ultimately, all humans own their own personal bodies, then nothing else there is going to make a lot of sense. If toxic Christians can preserve the notion in our society that someone always owns a woman’s body and can always override her personal decisions, then that clears the way for a lot of other equally-grotesque injustices.
That’s why they sprang upon Dani, and why indeed they spring upon any woman who dares to assert the unthinkable: that she owns herself, and that she refuses to negotiate that ownership, to concede a single iota of ownership to anybody else, or to discuss any carving-away of her ownership to maintain peace with people who will not be satisfied with an assassinated Archduke at Sarajevo and will settle for nothing less than a total steamrolling of Europe. As Rafael Cruz has so foolishly said in his out-loud voice, what his tribe wants is total dominion over the rest of us, and that’s going to be a lot harder to achieve if we all go thinking we own ourselves. They have nothing less in mind than bringing back the 1950s by way of the Victorian Age, where strong-jawed men provided for families containing sweet, submissive, pretty wives and docile, bright-eyed children. They have this idea in their heads of the Happy Christian Nation, and it all hinges on the idea of society working best as a rigid hierarchy where someone’s value is based on skin color, gender, sexuality, and wealth.
That’s why they paint women’s self-ownership in such stark and negative terms.
So… sorry, forced-birthers. It doesn’t matter if the entity wishing to use my body is a boyfriend, a husband, a stranger, a doctor, or a fetus. It doesn’t matter if what is violating my body is a person’s sex organ, a medical instrument, or a fetus. Every single use of my personal and physical body requires my ongoing and enthusiastic consent, which I can withdraw at any point for any reason or even for no reason at all. I’m not even required to tell you why I’m refusing or explain myself to anyone.
I will not negotiate my rights with anybody. I will not concede one single inch. I will not back down. I will not wrangle. I will not argue. I will not make concessions in hopes that maybe one day I’ll get my full and equal rights with men. I saw how well that tactic worked for African-Americans and LGBTQ people and I refuse to make that mistake now.
I own my body. It’s that simple.
And it blows my mind that it’s almost 2015CE and someone still needs to say this shit.