Friday, January 28, 2005

Today Was the First Day I Considered a United States Without the Right to Legal Abortion

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush told abortion foes on Monday he shared their support for "a culture of life" and claimed progress in passing legislation to protect the vulnerable.

"We need most of all to change hearts and that is what we're doing," Bush said as anti-abortion activists marked the 32nd anniversary of the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion with a day of rallies, protests and other activities.

I finally decided to start thinking about it. I've been fobbing it of and fobbing it off for a long time now. I didn't think he'd outlaw partial-birth abortion, either. I don't seriously think he can get away with overturning Roe.

But I considered what I would do if that happened.

I've discussed before the great fertility of the women in my family. My fertility has always been a big issue for me, and I've negotiated all of my sexual encounters knowing just how great my risk of pregnancy was. I've never slipped up. I've never had to get an abortion. I never engaged in unsafe sex - not once.

But that doesn't mean that there won't be a future "oops" pregnancy. And no, I wouldn't hesitate to get an abortion if I got pregnant, say, in the middle of law school.

And today I seriously considered it: what happens if Roe's overturned?

Well, I'd spend a day or two sobbing in my bedroom, probably, out of sheer anger and frustration. All that hard work trying to get the world to see me as a person and not the incubater of some guy's sperm - all that work trying to change people's ideas about what children really are: they are created of a woman's body, a woman's breath. Yes, a man contributes half the potential child's DNA, but at the end of the day, the stuff that goes into the creation of heart and lungs and fingers and toes comes out of my body, is nourished by what I eat, how well I sleep.

So what would happen if I got pregnant without wanting to, without choosing to?

Well, likely, I'd take a trip to Canada. I'm one of those lucky people who could afford to take off to Toronto for the weekend if I had to. I could afford to stay in a hotel, afford to pay for the procedure. In fact, Canada would likely have a nice little business providing reproductive health services to American women hopping over the border.

I would be OK. I'm intelligent, I'm well-off.

But Roe V. Wade is about a bigger issue than just the abortion part. It's not about protecting life or fetal rights or any of that bullshit (again, if this was about life, we'd be putting all that energy into childcare services).

Overturning Roe V. Wade, making abortion illegal, is about controlling women. Always has been. Always will be. You won't convince me otherwise, not with all of your arguments about sacred egg meeting sacred sperm: a couple of DNA strands slathered in proteins that have about as much self-awareness as a can of coke.

So when I hear Bush & co. make these broad statements about "life" about "championing life" what I'm actually hearing is an old rich white guy telling me who has control over my body - his sperm. His agency. I will be forced to labor against my will producing a child of my body for nine months. Anyone who has given birth, whose wife has given birth, will be the first to tell you why it's called "labor." Making babies doesn't come easy, doesn't come without cost.

And that cost is not my biological burden to bear against my will. It is not something to be forced upon me by men, by women, by the President of the United States.

So though I will travel to Canada, fly over the heads of poorer women who cannot afford the luxury and instead submit themselves to risky and dubious back-street procedures in their god-given, natural right to control their own fertility, I will come back to a country whose laws still view me as vessel, as no better than an empty jug in want of filling.

That is what the laws will say I am. That is what all this talk of life, and packing courts with judges, means to me.

It means I go back to being a dumb body, a thing, a sperm receptacle, a baby vessel, and NOTHING else.

And soon after I will begin reading even more "studies" about how I can't do SCIENCE because ovaries get in the way of learning, and SCIENCE is bad for babies. I will be told I cannot drive a car, because I don't have the spatial reasoning skills. And if you're not careful, if you're not careful, if you begin to view us as things instead of people, if we become a means to an end instead of an end, an asset, in and of oursevles, then you begin trading women for cattle. Men begin hiding us from view like their best possessions. Men begin encouraging us to go back to finding our strength and identities in men, no matter if that man is weaker, stupider, more spineless than we.

Movie heroines will easily slide back to telling their beaus, "You'll have to think for the both of us!" and they'll mean it.

These gains, these little steps that women have taken toward being considered "real" people, are not very old. There have certainly been other times and places where women were treated as people, but none in our recent cultural memory, the Judeo-Christian one that most of the US comes from, and given any excuse, given fear, we'll slide back very easily to equating women with possessions, because it seems so much simpler, so much easier, so logical, so reasoned.

Life. Yes. We're protecting life. We're protecting the 50s ideal that never existed, the one we all pretended was truth, and was nothing so much as a bald-faced lie that everyone told themselves they wanted to live, they should live.

I want a life where I'm treated like in intelligent, informed, responsible person. I want a life where people look at me and see not a vessel, not untapped fertility, but just a person, just this, me. Not my womb. Not my ovaries.

It is never "one" thing. It will not stop at the outlawing of abortion, just like he didn't stop with outlawing Dilation & Extraction. It will not stop.

It will not stop.

This is why this issue terrifies women. Until you have grown up knowing that old men like these have the ultimate control over your body and what you do with it, over your labor, over how you choose to spend your body's breath and blood, you won't know this terror, this uncertaintly, this screaming, terrified anger at the co-option of all that you are for use by the state.

The closest male equivalent I can think of is the draft: being forced to fight a war you did not vote for, for a cause you did not want, at a time in your life when all the world's possibilities are spread before you. And there is no honor in it. There is no medal. Because you will be told that your purpose in life is just this: to live or die for the state. That is your biological burden, and if you survive this war, you will be forced to take home with you a burden far greater than merely serving the state: you'll be given a child that is yours, whose future, whose mental and physical health, whose deeds, will be forever your responsibility.

And there is no conscientious objector clause. There's no medical leave. There's no reprieve if you're mentally ill.

If a man has sex with you, and you become pregnant, you're consigned to the will of that man and his laws.

Your life is no longer yours.

That's the battle women fight. That's why it's such a brutal battle, and that's why we get so violently passionate about the abortion debate. Because what we're talking about is the co-option of our bodies, our lives, for the state. We're talking about giving up our rights, our bodies, to the will of men and their wants and desires.

And we're fucking tired.

We're not going to be non-people again in the eyes of the law. We're not going to be second-class, second-best, by virtue of birth.

Never again.

56 comments so far. What are your thoughts?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

..I'm an old man. I probably don't have any business posting here. But thats my point. I'm an old man. I don't have any business telling a young woman what to do with her body. Unless you want old men doing that you better fight kid. You better get the word out. Because thats damn well what is happening. In fact it may be too late already.

....I'm gone 

Posted by Snuffy

Anonymous said...

We'll fight. We'll fight when youre too tired to fight, we'll fight together, we'll fight apart, we'll fight articulately, we'll fight screaming, we'll fight softly, we'll fight sobbing, we'll fight speaking clearly, we will fight. We will produce a new ethic. We will stick togther. We will combine the best of ourselves with the worst of ourselves, and we will produce somethign that saves us(and the children we may have, as well as our sisters, mothers, aunties, nieces and other loved women) from ignorance, hatred, fear and degradation.
We will fight.  

Posted by Sweetie

Anonymous said...

First I'd like to say WORD to your whole post - not particlarly eloquent but it gets across my meaning. Secondly I'd like to say that I'm applying to law school scholarships pretty much on the basis of this issue. Writing the damn essay has become excrutiatingly hard simply because I get so angry and emotional about it.

My current state of residence is Virginia and I've been following the legislation that has been introduced this term and it's scary. Virginia is way past outlawing abortion and is well on its way to criminalizing contraception and miscarriage. I've actually started writing to my legislators about these bills. They're terrifying because they make it obvious that the goal is not to save the lives of the "pre-born" (and no, I will never get over that term) but to ensure that women's fertility is completely controlled by the state.

I'd also like to point out (and this is not an attempt to downplay your message in any way) that if Roe gets overturned abortion will not be outlawed everywhere in the United States, just those states that have chosen to pass anti-abortion legislation. The split will most likely fall somewhere along the Red/Blue divide from the last election. I don't think an amendment is feasible (at least not any time soon) so there will be some anti-abortion states and some abortion states - most likely falling somewhere along the old slave/free divide (and isn't that an interesting thing to note).

I was on the phone a few months ago with my mom, crying about the fact that other women will not have my freedoms, my assurances based solely on their poverty and geography. The rich will always be able to get whatever they need be it condoms or pills or abortions. Those women living in the blue states will also have some access, restricted though it will be by lack of government funding. Poor women in the red states on the other hand... they'll be fucked. And it's them I'm worried about. Especially if Congress passes a new version of the Mann act (prohibiting transportation of women across state lines for immoral purposes - it's the most aptly named act ever) which would criminalize crossing from a red state to a blue state with the intention of having an abortion.  

Posted by Rebecca

Anonymous said...

" Especially if Congress passes a new version of the Mann act (prohibiting transportation of women across state lines for immoral purposes - it's the most aptly named act ever) which would criminalize crossing from a red state to a blue state with the intention of having an abortion."

Planned Parenthood sponsored 'trips to IKEA', anyone?

Find out which herbs and other home preparations can terminate an early-stage pregnancy (or "induce menstruation"). Buy them. Keep on hand in case of Gilead. 

Posted by Maureen

Anonymous said...

I can't even let my mind go to a place where Choice isn't an option.  

Posted by Roxanne

Anonymous said...

This is a fantastic post. 

Posted by Anne

Anonymous said...

WORD! There are so many of us that will be out there fighting with you. 

Posted by Andrea

Anonymous said...

I recently got into a fight with a female friend of mine about abortion. She is completely against it like I used to be. She, like me when I was "pro-life," has not had the experience to know how scary unintended pregnancy is. This is something that really scares me. I wonder how many people are like this. Completely against it until they finally get scared into the reality. I worry that women who have not had this experience in some way will not understand the utmost importance. Until they realize, as I did, why people would see this as a viable option they are going to be adversaries as well. The first scare I had I was engaged and although unfortunate, it would have been plausible to keep a baby. The second time it would have been a complete nightmare. This second time is what it took to make me fully understand. If the outlawing of abortion ever happened we are going to need to stick together for the good of ourselves because no one else is going to do it for us. People like my friend are people who make me want to fight harder, because when she finally goes through a pregnancy scare she will understand. She will realize why we fight so hard and why it matters so much. She needs to have all the options I have had, because it is her body, her life, her labor therefore her decision. Even when it turns out to be false pregnancy scares make you realize the implications the US without abortion holds. That seemingly approaching state terrifies the hell out of me.  

Posted by Halie

Anonymous said...

I'm one of those optimistic people who don't think it could happen. Call me naive, but I'd like to think the judges wouldn't be stupid enough to throw the country into that kind of turmoil, because the very second they even hint at overturning it, I would wager there will be a national migration of a million women to protest in front of the supreme court. 

Posted by Simon Owens

Anonymous said...

I was linked here off the feminist LJ community...

... that was amazing. 

Posted by Sarah

Anonymous said...

Breathtaking. Thank you. 

Posted by Kate Orman

Anonymous said...

I seem to remember a certain communist country in which abortions were illegal. Women still had them, unsafely, sometimes dying over them... but they were illegal.

Apparently, somebody hasn't been paying attention in history class. 

Posted by Alex

Anonymous said...

Er... ... ... Before anybody takes me the wrong way, Bush hasn't been paying attention to history. Just heading off any misunderstandings. Oops. ^^ 

Posted by Alex

Anonymous said...

Well, I'd spend a day or two sobbing in my bedroom, probably, out of sheer anger and frustration.If they got enough of this, enough women suffering and crying and powerless, they'd have what they wanted; women who are frightened to take control of their sexuality least they end up the same way. Women who have sex only in marriage, women who submit to their husbands. Women as second class citizens.

Great post. 

Posted by thisgirl

Anonymous said...

This was a kick ass post. It was just... incredible. Thank you for bringing it to light.
I'm canadian, thank GOD.... but things that happen in the US effect us drastically, half due to proximity, half because our government is full of sheep.
American Women will always be welcome here. Know that. We open our houses, our hospitals(bring your nurses with you ^_~) and everything else. We're a big country, we can handle it. 

Posted by Syianna

Anonymous said...

This is an amazing voices views I also hold far more eloquently than I've ever seen. Bravo, and keep up the fight. 

Posted by Em

Anonymous said...

That was a beautiful post. I think it's something everyone should read and know so that history doesn't repeat itself. Unfortunately, too many people disregard history as unimportant, and that couldn't be further from the truth. Too many women don't realize that the fight isn't over, there's still so much more to do, and I think your post is definitely a wake up call. Please, try to get this published in a newspaper and get the message out to the public. I think they really need to read this. 

Posted by Maple

Anonymous said...

Alex, do you mean Romania? They had some absolutely nightmarish things going on in regard to reproductive rights -- not just abortion. I recommend Googling it. 

Posted by Anne

Anonymous said...

I'm curious, Kameron--for you, what form does the fighting take?  

Posted by jp jeffrey

Anonymous said...

To anybody who is still feeling optimistic about the matter, check out what's going on in the State of Mississippi, even though RvW is still in effect:

Image what could happen if it weren't.


Posted by jp jeffrey

Anonymous said...

RE: fighting

You know, it's not only "give money to places who will fly women out to Washington to protest in front of the Supreme Court" and "fly me and my friends out to protest in front of the Supreme Court," but it also means, going to Law School to learn the language that my body's being negotiated in so I can fight on the same playing field in the court rooms or provide advice to women fighting those battles, but it also means that... in the long run... well, you know, you go the peaceful route as long as possible. After that, well, I'm aquainted with the power of guerilla fighters.

It should never get to that point. We shouldn't allow it to. But yea, if I had to, I'd totally go there.

And I'm also starting to get to the point where I realize that nobody else is standing up as a powerful, charismatic fighter to lead this "movement," and if we don't get one... well. I'd like to be at a point in my life where I was secure enough in myself, in who I am, in my relationships with others, that if a group of women believed in me... There's only so many times you can lament about not having anybody speak for you, not having anybody to rally behind, before you have to go, "OK, you wanna bitch about it on the internet all day, but you won't step up? What kind of a coward are you? Step up, let women decide if you can do it. If you can't, maybe you can pave the way for somebody more appropriate. Or, hell, *inspire* somebody else to step up who's more appropriate." I don't feel that I have the strength of presence, the charisma, to do such a thing, but I'm also tired of waiting for somebody else to do it.

What the women's movement is missing in this country is a charismatic figure. Somebody to rally behind. And somebody will need to take it up. I'd prefer not to. I just want to write books. But if I had to? If people urged me to? If it ever got to that point, would I do it?

I think that's something every woman should ask herself. You can only bitch on the internet for so long, write so many letters, before you have to fucking get your shit together.

Just musing. 

Posted by Kameron Hurley

Anonymous said...

RE: fighting. Actually, I think I'll write up a post addressing this.  

Posted by Kameron Hurley

Anonymous said...

Fantastic, Kameron. This made my breath catch and tears come to my eyes, because I haven't let myself think about it that deeply either. You better believe I will fight. And my mom and aunts will fight. Probably the men, too. 

Posted by Beverly

Anonymous said...

With regard to the Draft, if it is reinstated for Iraq [or whatever other axis of evil country we go after], you can bet your ass it will include women this time.

Great post, Kameron. Thank you. 

Posted by Chari

Anonymous said...

I am a woman. I am pro-choice. I am Canadian. I dislike George W. Bush. However, I believe you are full of it. "It means I go back to being a dumb body, a thing, a sperm receptacle, a baby vessel, and NOTHING else." Wow, what a spew of feminist garbage. 

Posted by Anna

Anonymous said...

Huh. Funny. Why does it bug you? Not a history buff?  

Posted by Kameron Hurley

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I believe I said this elsewhere, but to reiterate:

I think that in a perfect world, I'd be pro-life, and when I was younger, I was pro-life. I didn't think of it as being anti-woman or anti-choice, because I knew that if I fooled around and got somebody pregnant, I had the responsibility to marry the woman if she'd have me and make child-support payments if she wouldn't. I firmly believed that it was a new life that had been created, and that stopping that new life because it was inconvenient for me at the time was incredibly selfish.

Now that I have a two-month old child, I am pro-choice and never looking back. Not that I don't love my son. Not that I wouldn't kill to protect him. Not that I'm not massively thankful for every day I have with him. But after seeing the health risks, even in today's United States, after seeing what my wife went through, even with a good job and excellent medical coverage and a lot of helpful websites... it's dangerous, and it's difficult, and it can affect your body for the rest of your life. And while men should not have control over women, women do not have control over men, and there are a whole lot of women who have to go through this stuff alone.

And I can't even imagine how difficult that is for them. I know how difficult it was for my wife, and she had me -- that's not a big ego-plug on my behalf, but I was there and could make dinner, massage her aching back, hold her during hormone-induced mood swings, and so on. A woman who does not have somebody there for them during that period has either made some horrifically bad choices or, more likely, has been failed by society.

Watching my wife's pregnancy progress made me extremely angry at the medical world in general, which has obviously been created by men and has men in charge of the areas of specialization. There are so many doctors studying rare diseases, and so few working to make pregnancy a more livable experience (not ssying OB/GYNs are bad, but if the medical system had been created by women, or if men got pregnant, there'd be a whole lot more shit out there about making it easy and painless).

And then social stuff. In some societies, a woman who has a baby has no other responsibilities for the first few years of the child's life. She just feeds the child and rests and takes care of herself, while everyone else helps her out. In our messed-up society, we tell guys to go play around, tell women never ever to do that thing that feels good, especially not with birth control, and then the inevitable social stigma of pregnancy drives away the father and leaves the mother-to-be with no social support network, no place to turn, and no real options.

When society has been altered so that two people who conceive a child can be asked to accept the consequences of their sexual act without those consequences amounting to ruining their lives -- excellent medical care, easy adoption, no social stigma -- then I could go back to being pro-life. But right now, if you're going to refuse to teach about safe sex in schools and then condemn the women as whores when they get pregnant while slapping the guy on the wrist or ignoring him completely -- or, for that matter, when a woman going through pregnancy has as much shit to deal with and as paltry a guaranteed support network as any pregnant woman has these days... pro-choice, all the way. 

Posted by Patrick

Anonymous said...

Here via Livejournal as well. I picked the link up from Twistedchick.

I printed your thoughts out to share with my office mates and friends in other departments. You are a hit in eastern Washington.

I want to compliment you on your words. This is the best written explanation I've seen. Pro Choice doesn't mean Pro means Pro CHOICE...including the choice to NOT bear children.

Thank you. 

Posted by Frogmajick

Anonymous said...

Here from Livejournal.

I'm a Canadian woman (abortion in Canada, you may know, is neither legal nor illegal. There ARE no abortion laws, because our politicians are currently doing a good job of completely avoiding that can of worms, but it's a precarious thing...) and I support you American women 100% in your fight. I just wanted to say that I thought your post was spot-on, and I hope the women will band together to take back your bodies. Don't let them win.  

Posted by kayte

Anonymous said...

All else aside, patrick, I have to disagree with you when you say " A woman who does not have somebody there for them during that period has either made some horrifically bad choices or, more likely, has been failed by society." A woman who doesn't have "somebody there for them during that period" could have very well seen the difficulties and decided that it was worth it; she may have made a good choice. 

Posted by jp jeffrey

Anonymous said...

Consider it amended to, "who doesn't have somebody there for her during that period when she wanted someone there for her".

That said... I by no means think that all mothers need to be married to men, or in relationships at all, but if someone's best possible choice is going through pregnancy and childbirth and caring for the baby alone, with no partner, no friends, no family, nobody to take the baby for a few hours so that she can sleep, nobody to get her a drink and rock the baby to sleep when mom is so frustrated and exhausted that she's one step away from shaking or hitting her child... I still maintain that that's a lousy situation. Not an unwinnable one by any stretch, not one that automatically dooms the baby or anything... but still lousy.

I understand that folks feel the need to make a lot of things empowering, but I think that this is one that the feminists should consider closely before taking as part of their platform. There's an important difference between "I don't need a man" and "I don't need anyone". The first is an empowering statement of self-identity. The second is fucking stupid, especially if you're trying to have and raise a baby.


Posted by Patrick

Anonymous said...

I'm a single mother of a 4 month old baby. I am also an adopted child so I have some insight to the choices facing a woman who has found herself pregnant. I keep to keep my child after lots of thought. I did consider abortion and in the end I couldn't do it. However, that was my decision to make. No one should but me had the right to make that decision. For women who do chose abortion I understand, it is a completly overwhelming situation. I thank god every day that I was lucky enough to be college educated and have a well paying job. I also had lots of support from family and friends. Without these things I would have chosen something else. No one pro-choice or pro-life can know what it is like to find out you are pregnant when it is not in your life plan. I just think it is a personal decision and should be left to each individual to make.

Also Patrick I do agree with your comment. A strong support system is critical. This is the hardest thing I've ever done. I can't imagine being without some sort of support. 

Posted by Megan

Anonymous said...

I don't get it, Patrick. You've gone from saying that a woman who chooses to have a kid alone "has either made some horrifically bad choices or, more likely, has been failed by society" to saying that she is "fucking stupid".

Sure, best case scenario is that lots of people are around to help--but that doesn't mean that deciding to have a kid in the absense of such things is fucking stupid. 

Posted by jp jeffrey

Anonymous said...

I'm an American living in Toronto. If you ever need to make a visit, I have a couch.


America is getting scarier and scarier every day. I look at the newspapers and what just what the fuck has happened to my country? 

Posted by Michelle

Anonymous said...

JP: Actually, if you read carefully, you'll note that I said that the idea of "I don't need anyone" is fucking stupid, especially in the context of having a raising a child.

The IDEA is fucking stupid, not the woman. A woman may be quite intelligent in making that choice, and have that be the best possible choice under the circumstances, because of the way society is currently set up -- which is why I'm pro-choice. Because that's a lousy way for society to be set up -- that is, set up with that fucking stupid idea in place. Society should not be set up so that raising the child without a support network, which may or may not include a spouse, is the best possible solution. Because it doesn't work.

I mean, really. Do you want to debate this? Are you now or have you ever been raising a child, or is this a kind of vague hypothetical where anything a woman does is empowering, and you're speaking without any actual experience on the matter, attempting to insist that for a single woman to give birth to, raise, and meet the financial needs of her child without the assistance of a support network is a perfectly good and fine thing? 'Cause if you are, well, I hate to break it to you, but you're completely and totally full of crap in all relevant respects. I mean, I agree with you on the pro-choice-ness, and I believe that women should be independent and utterly on par with men in all areas, which is what I believe you believe as well. But you are, near as I can tell, cranio-rectally impacted with regards to the requirements of raising a child.

Mind you, as I said, the support network doesn't have to be a husband who makes lots of money (I'm not; my wife makes the money in the family, and the plan was for me to be the stay-at-home dad). The support network can be her lesbian life partner. The support network can be her platonic lifelong friend. The support network can be her family (hell, my wife's mother came out to stay with us for three weeks after our child was born, and we couldn't have made it without her). The support network can be a shitload of nannies, cleaning services, laundromats, and take-out restaurants that this independent mother makes enough money to pay for -- when rich unmarried actresses have children and "raise them on their own", they get a support network a lot like this, and there are days when my wife and I would just fucking LOVE for a cleaning service to come vacuum and a restaurant to drop dinner off at our doorstep while we have quality time with our child.

So it's possible that we just have differing opinions of what kind of support network we're talking about.

But fundamentally, if a woman is put into a position where raising a child without a spouse, some dedicated friends, helpful family members, or enough money to pay for a shitload of labor is the best possible solution she has -- that's lousy. It is, in my opinion, usually going to be the case that this is society's failure, not the woman's -- that a lack of legal and social accountability on the father's part, a lack of social services that make single motherhood easier and more manageable, and the bullshit social crap that tells women that getting a man to want to fuck you is the key to self-esteem, saying no to a man will make him stop loving you, and getting pregnant out of wedlock means that you're a hopeless slut with no future have combined to leave the woman with no real choice except to try to make it on her own. And if she has no other option, then choosing to try it that way is indeed courageous. But that's not a life choice we should be applauding. Her courage, yes. That situation, no.

Kids raised in that environment have some serious strikes against them. Are you doubting this? I had just assumed that this was kind of a given, but apparently you want to argue this with me. Apparently you've concluded that because a few powerful women can make it without spouse, friends, family, or an income large enough to pay for an au pair, that the process of raising a child as a single parent is a completely valid one that shouldn't be judged.

Which, really, is like saying, "Well, after he got hit by the car and spent six months learning how to walk again, he came back and took a silver medal in long-distance running. Therefore, getting hit by a car is a brave and empowering act!"

Bullshit. Praise the courage of people stuck in that situation. Don't praise the situation. The situation sucks. The situation needs to change. The situation -- the social framework that puts the responsibility on single women without giving them any help in making that possible -- is one that contributes directly to women being pushed into baby-maker and baby-raiser roles, and any thinking feminist is going to want that situation to change. It needs to change socially, so that stay-at-home dads are as normal as stay-at-home moms and single mothers are not denigrated by conservative society, which controls many of the most powerful grass-roots support networks (churches, rotary clubs, etc). It needs to change legally, with government services that give single parents of either gender the resources they need to give their child just as good a chance as the kids from two-parent homes or homes with other strong support -- but with programs and services, not tax incentives, which can be seen as pushing women into having children. It needs to change, and in order for it to change, we need to admit that it's a bad thing.

Posted by Patrick

Anonymous said...

Ease off there, gentlemen.

Debate the issues, please. Watch the personal attacks about relevant IQ of fellow posters. i.e let's try to steer clear of the "you're fucking stupid" stuff.

You may want to reserve the ire for more worthwhile opponents. ;) Relax a bit.


Posted by Kameron Hurley

Anonymous said...

I've already stated my thoughts. But since I'm in a situation that is the topic of debate, let me state my opinion again.

Unless you are single and have a child you will never fully grasp what it is like, and how hard it can be. The one thing that I didn't like about the orginial post was it seemed to belittle women who decided to have their baby.

I respect a woman who choses an abortion, it's a tough decision. But I hope a woman can equally respect me for deciding to keep my child. He brings joy to my life and is a happy healthy baby.

That being said, it is hard. There are nights that I wonder if I can do this. But thankfully I do have friends and family. I just think it easy for people on both sides of the issue to say "this is what is right" without ever really being there.  

Posted by Megan

Anonymous said...

I love your WTF '04 button. I'm stealing it. 

Posted by Charone

Anonymous said...

Protecting life, saving fetuses, killing Iraqis and executing criminals. Aren't we versatile? 

Posted by Charone

Anonymous said...


In retrospect, I shouldn't have repeated Patrick's language, because part of my point is that it didn't belong in the discussion. Sorry about that.

I'll (mostly) ignore the whole 'cranial-rectally impaired' thing, pretty much just because I think attack-language like that is too often used in the place of an argument. Still, I think I'll just say a few things.

First of all, I think that, despite your attempts to the contrary, you're being classist (who said anything about an au pair?) and also doing a sort of classic maneuver that people do when somebody disagrees fundamentally with them--accusing their opponent of not even BEING ABLE to understand--in this case, accusing me of not being able to understand your point of view if I haven't been a woman raising a child alone without a support network. I have news for you--neither have you.

I never said that YOU should think it's the best way to raise a kid. I was claiming that I think it's perfectly allright for a woman to choose (or a man, frankly) that way to raise a child. I may not think it's the best way for me to raise a kid, and you certainly don't think it's the best way for you to raise a kid, but my point is that IT'S NOT YOUR CHOICE, for anybody but yourself, precisely because you're not the one who has to deal with the consequences of that decision (directly, anyway).

And there's one more possibility that you didn't consider, regarding my ability to disagree with you (please, please, please keep in mind that just because a person disagrees with your position, that doesn't entail that that person is an idiot, or somehow misses some fundamental point--it's up to you to SHOW that): My mother had and raised me with no such support network, and no au pair, and no college education. Now, I wouldn't have made that decision for myself, but for you to claim that a woman like her made her decision because she was let down by society (or that she just made a horribly bad decision) is to ignore the fact that she, in fact, had lots of options, and chose the one she did for what she saw (and still sees) as good reasons. It's not up to you to decide what those good reasons are or are not, which was my original point.

In short--she didn't think the situation sucked, and I don't think that you have any right to tell her, the woman who made the decision and lived with the consequences, that it did/does.

Now, regarding Megan's point, I don't think that a person has to have 'been there' in order to empathize in a serious way--we have all experienced oppression in some way, even the whitest, richest man--and to whatever degree we ruminate on that, to whatever degree we cause ourselves to come into contact with others who have been oppressed, we can 'get it,' even if we haven't been through it. We won't get it AS IF we had been through it, but that, to me, doesn't mean we won't get it at all. 

Posted by jp jeffrey

Anonymous said...

Hey Jeffrey,

Apologies for the language. Since Kameron gets to swear, I didn't see it as a bad thing. And a large measure of my snippiness came from the snippiness I perceived in your post -- but since I was using strong language, it came off harsher than I intended. Apologies for the ad hominem attack.

That said, I still disagree with you. I still feel that you are unintentionally contributing to the problem by refusing to admit that a situation is a problem in the first place.

My actual argument is pretty minor, especially when I take out the swearing. My argument is that a child being raised by a single parent without a support network is at a pretty big disadvantage in life. (I've offered my definition of "support network" a bunch of times, so I'm going to assume that I don't have to do it again.) And that that is bad for the child. (As bad as a child growing up in an abusive home, or with two parents who hate each other and stayed married only for the child, thus giving the child a massively warped conception of what marriage is like? No clue.)

If there IS a support network, then that situation does not relate to the argument I'm making. If the rest of the family is involved, if the single parent (not always a mother, but since this stemmed from an abortion conversation, we can assume it is in this case, and not a widower or that rare father who wins the custody battle in a divorce) has friends who come over and play an active role, or if the single parent has the means to purchase the equivalent of a support network, I've got no problems.

But to be honest, your argument strikes a nerve with me, and my completely off-the-cuff opinion is that your argument is one of the reasons that the conservatives have so much power. I see your argument (not you, just this particular argument) as well-intended, but ultimately, I think it plays right into the hands of conservatives. Here's why I believe that:

This all starts with conservatives saying that "the only real family" is a husband and a wife raising a child together. Single parents are possibly okay if they WERE married but the spouse died, but really, that widow or widower should try to marry again as soon as possible, so that the child grows up with somebody of both genders in the house. Same-sex couple raising the child? Nope, the child is scarred for life. Single parent due to divorce? Scarred for life. Single parent with no intention of marrying? Scarred for life. Heterosexual couple that is not married? Scarred for life. This is, in a nutshell, the hard right conservative argument, that the children are going to be severely damaged in their upbringing if the parents are not married straight people.

Anyone coming to Kam's blog for a reason other than trolling or knowing thy enemy probably disagrees with the argument given in that last paragraph. :)

But here's where I believe that the liberal side makes a mistake. They counter with "Who are you to tell me how to raise my child? I'll raise my child any way I like! There is no right or wrong way to raise a child!"

(This is an oversimplification, yes, but I believe it's a fundamentally accurate reading of what you wrote. You're telling me that I can't make a judgment about how someone raises her child.)

And this argument pretty much loses any moderates who have children and were conflicted over which way to go, because the truth is that you can make a judgment about how someone raises a child. We do it all the time, every time social services takes a child away from an abusive parent or a family court judge decides which parent the child gets to go live with. Real life is about making judgments, and language that expresses a refusal to make judgment does not sound open-minded to the moderates -- it sounds like the exact same argument given by the father whose whippings leave scars on his son's back because he was trying to instill discipline. "You can't judge me. I'll raise my child any way I want to."

On the level of rhetoric and argument, the conservatives have succeeded in lumping gay parents and unmarried single parents in with child abusers. And the moderates obviously get this message, given the state of the laws in the United States.

My opinion is that the key to winning this particular fight is to redefine the argument, make it something closer to the truth. When the far right says, "A girl raised by lesbians will grow up unable to relate to men because she has no male role models," don't counter with, "You can't tell me how to raise my child." Counter with, "Our child has uncles and close male family friends that provide guidance and serve as wonderful role models, and if you look at her grades, you can see that she has grown up strong and self-confident, without feeling like she has to dumb herself down to conform to an outdated stereotype." Or, if you're feeling toothier, counter with, "Based on this survey, daughters raised by same-sex female couples are no more likely to identify as lesbians than daughters of straight couples. They are, however, less likely to be abused by a boyfriend or husband or be victimized by date rape."

When we can turn "help the children" back and make it work for our side, the right will lose the moderates. Right now, though, the "you can't judge the situation until you've experienced it" line that most of us liberals develop as a reaction to the conservative rhetoric that makes us so angry only serves to give the conservatives more power. On one hand, it is true, to an extent -- because getting hit by a car might kill you, might injure you, or might in some very rare cases realign your spine and get rid of that nagging back pain you've had for years, it is technically true that we cannot say with ABSOLUTE certainty that getting hit by a far is ALWAYS bad. But if we say this, we sound silly, because the average person's experience contradicts this. Especially if that average person has been hit by a car.

By the same token, you are right, in that one cannot say with ABSOLUTE certainty that a working-class single mother raising her child without the support of friends, family, or government-supported services is disadvantageous to the child -- but I don't believe that your argument will go over well with the majority of America's parents, because they will look at their own experiences and say, "That guy doesn't know what he's talking about." At this point, you sound like someone without practical experience in the area, an idealist tossing around hypotheticals that don't relate to the real lives of the ordinary people you desperately need to win over for any real political climate change to occur in the United States.

Have exceptional hard-working single mothers sacrificed a ton and raised children on their own, without help from family or friends, and then seen these children go on to do great things? Sure. Definitely. No argument there. Statistically, that's gonna happen. But on average, children raised in these situations don't perform as well in school, and they're more likely to get into trouble with the law.

I'm not judging the women (or, less commonly, the men) in these situations. I'm judging the situation and saying that it's bad, and that we ought to do something to make that situation less likely to happen -- not because the women were bad for choosing this, but because most people would agree that most people wouldn't pick this situation, and if it's happening this often, it's probably not because that's what the women in question want. Liberals need to start judging, too -- we need to start making judgments about the effects of intolerance, abuse, a lack of social services, and being raised in families with parents who hate each other, and we need to those judgments back in the face of the right as the only valid means of talking about "the welfare of the child". An open mind is not the same as a fear of making judgments. The former is good and powerful and a way to explore new options. The latter is... not a good idea.

Posted by Patrick

Anonymous said...

As a woman and as a feminist, your post surprised me. Not because of the possibility that roe may be overturned, but rather by the fact that you regard yourself to be a feminist, and yet espouse such unfeministic views.

Are you not inherently equal to men? Is your identity and your femininity wrapped up in a law? You talk as though women need abortion to be equal to men. But we don’t need abortion to be equal, we already ARE equal.

You said you’d cry into your pillow for a few days if the government took away your right to choose abortion. Do you cry just as intently that you are denied the right to choose to drink and drive? Does your life loose its meaning because you are restricted in where you can park, how late you can make noise in your neighbourhood, and because the government denies you the legal right to use your body to torture a toddler?

Give me a break! Your identity and your life are not – or at least should not be – wrapped around your uterus.

Also, your comparison to pregnancy as a draft, along with your allusion to the “old men controlling and owning your body” is insulting to women. The ability to nurture and give life is unique to the female gender – a natural beautiful state of a woman, not one invented by men, and certainly not one we ought to be ashamed of. Every time a woman submits herself to a masked man in a clinic, she is playing into patrimonial hands that dictate that a woman can only get ahead in career and in life if she is non-pregnant and most like a man.

True feminism is about rejecting the male world-view of might makes right, rejecting the competitive rules of the patriarchy through which abortion pits women against their children; and rejecting the equally patriarchal practices of treating unequals unequally, and of accepting violence as a legitimate solution to social problems. Protecting the weaker is the maternal/matriarchal way. There is a reason the early feminists including Susan B Anthony were pro-life - abortion very much goes against all that feminism stands for.

You want the world to recognize your value as a person? Then stop degrading yourself by allowing the existence of a medical procedure to dictate your value. Embrace womanhood for all it is and learn to fight for societal support and respect, for the pregnant body as for the non-pregnant ones. 

Posted by Kristine

Anonymous said...

Hey Kristine.

Actually, abortion, contraception, control over a woman's fertility, has historically been a women's practice. Until the medicalization of birth and abortion in the this country these "procedures" were largely handled by midwives, by women. And there are still women in these professions today, and more moving through the training to join them.

Different cultures have sought to control women's fertility in different ways, and what you'll see, going all the way back to when women figured out which plants made good abortificants and aided in the prevention of contraception, is that *women* have gone through enormous pains in order to control their fertility. Women have done and continue to do just about anything to keep from being pregnant at the wrong time. There's nothing that engages the concerns of all women so much as the issue of fertility.

Pregnancy resulted in the deaths of about 20%-25% of women in Greece and Rome. Bearing a child meant risking death. Older, more knowledgable women planned accordingly. In fact, one of the reasons many men preferred marrying younger women was also because she was less likely to know more about how to control her fertility. As women got older, they got wiser, and fertility would drop as women got together in groups and talked about what worked and what didn't.

Having knowledge and control over one's body, actually, is something I see as being a basic principle of feminism, of equality, of... hell, humanity. Restricting knowledge and control over a woman's right to choose to bear children or not is one of the basic ways of controlling women.

As for pregnancy, I agree on one level: bearing a child is the coolest thing in the whole world. Anybody who's been to the birth of a child can tell you that. It's fucking amazing. There's nothing like it. It's the closest most of us will ever come to seeing a miracle.

But it's called labor for a reason. And you can't force somebody to labor against their will. We did that legally for a while here in the US, and called it slavery.

I don't know that there's anything more "pro-woman" more "women's rights" more "down with the patriarchy" that giving women back the knowledge and control over their own bodies.

When you want to control women, reproductive freedom is one of the first things to go... And it's the first thing that small groups of women will start addressing. They'll share knowledge with one another, they'll figure out how to control their fertility on their own, as they get older. But the younger women will suffer, and they'll play a game of catch-up while bearing children they may not want.

And there's nothing more tragic, to me, than seeing a woman bear children she does not want. It's not fair to her or the children.

In fact, I don't believe that abortion "pits women against their children" at all. I don't know how it can, as my definition of "children" certainly isn't the male-centric view of "it's a kid as soon as the sperm meets the egg." I have a very different definition of "life" than the one I see a lot of "faith"-based groups preaching.

When it comes down to it, I do, in fact, believe that my rational choices, my personal decisions about the next nine months of my life, the next 20 years, the entirety of it, constitutes far more of a "life" than a handful of cells dividing in my uterus.

Giving precedence to those cells, as opposed to my life and my choice about what to do with those cells - whether or not I choose to continue to "nurture" them - that of a living, breathing, independent woman, is one of the most pro-patriarchy, anti-woman positions I can think of. It's far more uterus-centric, I think, to place precedence on what my uterus can do instead of allowing me control over what I'd like to do with it.

Men and women are certainly equal as human beings, whether society treats them that way or not is another matter. But there's a big difference between men and women, which you'll hear me bring up all the time as being the only difference that I can honestly say with certainty is true:

Most women can bear children. Men can't.

Because of that, particularly on the issue of abortion, of controlling fertility, women have been treated differently, because both sexes recognized early on that it was ultimately up to women whether or not they would have children, and with whom. In response, we've gotten an entire social system centered around giving men more control over women - and yes, their uteruses - because of the control that women already have.

Having a system of laws that recognizes that I am a free, thinking individual with the ability to decide what to do with my uterus is incredibly important to me, because forcing laws to treat women as free, thinking individuals is a big step in women's equality. When you start treating women as stupid, as incapable of controlling their fertility, when the state begins to step in and forces a woman to give of her body to bear a child, what those laws are saying is that I become a secondary person when the magic sperm meets the magic egg.

And I will not tolerate a set of laws that makes me second-class the moment a bit of man's DNA fuses with mine.

Will I be a "real" woman in my own mind, in real life? Will I still be "equal," a human being, in my own mind?

Well, of course. Of course women are people, and men are people. But one of the fights toward getting everyone to remember that, to remember that women are not *only* their fertility, we must have a system that *treats* women like people.

And that means allowing us to control what we do with our bodies, when, and with whom.

Posted by Kameron Hurley

Anonymous said...


Thank you for responding to my post, I appreciate your comments. I think deep down in spirit you and I – and in fact the majority of pro-woman people out there – are really not all that different. As far as wanting equality and better options for women, we speak the same ‘language’; but it seems that we end up loosing each other in the dialect.

I am all for women controlling their own fertility and empowering women to make wise choices regarding pregnancy. That’s why I’m currently studying to be a doula. Every woman should be taught how to understand her cycle and to use tools such as daily mucus checks and temperature readings to gain a better comprehension and control of her fertility, and so use contraceptive measures accordingly. Likewise, for providing education and options for birth. Bearing a child doesn’t have to be so risky or such a terrible ordeal if it is done with patience, and with respect for a woman’s intelligence and natural awareness of her own body… but I digress.

Ultimately, I don’t believe abortion is pro-woman. For the reasons I mentioned in my previous post, as well as for the fact that most women who choose abortion do so like an animal chooses to gnaw off its own leg to escape a trap. How many women have you known who have joyfully skipped into an abortion clinic with complete loathing for the being growing inside them? Most women would like to have their child. As abortion advocates are proud to state when they are accused of being pro-abortion: “no woman *wants* to have an abortion, but sometimes the circumstances...” So why not offer her real choices and help her remove ~the obstacles~, instead of leaving her no choice but to remove ~the child~ from her life.

You are totally right about more effort needing to be put towards childcare options. Add to that, greater tolerance of pregnancy in the workplace and in school, better financial support to low-income parents, more open adoption and better temporary foster care options… society needs to change in order to embrace women in their maternal state. But so long as we keep abortion as an acceptable backdrop to society’s problems, we loose the urgency to seek better options for women. Society isn’t ideal, but that’s no excuse for us to herald abortion as the acceptable solution.

When a woman facing challenging circumstances tearfully chooses an abortion in desperate attempt to escape, it is a sign that we have not done enough to elevate women. Abortion is a tragic last alternative to many women who would have loved to have the child were their situation different. From a feminist perspective, this is not something to be celebrated, but rather mourned.

“Sweeter even than to have had the joy of caring for children of my own has it been to me to help bring about a better state of things for mothers generally; so their unborn little Ones could not be willed away from them.”
Susan B Anthony, 1889.

"When a man steals to satisfy hunger, we may safely conclude that there is something wrong in society - so when a woman destroys the life of her unborn child, it is an evidence that either by education or circumstances she has been greatly wronged."
Mattie Brinkerhoff
The Revolution, 4(9):138-9 September 2, 1869  

Posted by Kristine

Anonymous said...

Hey Kristine, thanks for the thoughts.

Ultimately, I think we differ on a couple of points, the first being our definition of "life." I don't believe a "life" begins when sperm and egg meet. I don't beleive "life" begins with the implantation of the egg in the wall of the uterus. I don't believe "life" begins with a heartbeat. I believe life begins with self-awareness, self-consciousness, and as we're unable to determine exactly when that happens, I'm fine with the idea that a baby becomes a person when it's no longer dependent on the body of its mother for survival, as children are ultimately the result of woman's body.

This is why Roe v. Wade allows for laws against abortion in the third trimester, the time at which a child could, if removed, live on its own.

The second disagreement I can see (as you said, we do agree on many points, which is great, but I'd like to just look at these) is that I don't agree that every woman who gets an abortion feels shame, and makes that choice tearfully.

In fact, I've known many women who feel an unabashed sense of *relief* - and they're made to feel bad for feeling that way because of the way abortion is spoken of by those who are against the practice. They're told they're committing "murder" when they make the decision to terminate their own pregnancy. They're told they should feel shame. I don't think it's any wonder that many women just don't talk about it, for fear of being looked at as an object of pity or derision, instead of as an active, intelligent woman making an informed decision about her future.

I also don't think that every woman wants to have children. I don't think that every woman has a "natural" urge to do so. Many women certainly have a "natural" inclination to engage in sex with men (yet... not *all* women have even this "naturaL" urge, which gives one something to think about regarding what we believe to be "natural"), but actually *wanting* children, physically desiring pregnancy, and bearing a child to term, raising children, does not happen "naturally" for all women.

Though there are certainly women who can't view their lives as fulfilled unless they have children - there are many women like me who really have little to no desire for children, and more still in that wishy-washy "maybe" camp who may not be so inclined but feel socially pressured to do so.

In fact, when given the choice, many women find that they would rather *not* have children - again, this was a big problem in Rome, when high-class Roman matrons decided they only wanted 2 children, much to the anger of the Roman state, who saw the poorest classes "outbreeding" upperclass Roman women, and instituted a state-sponsered program including tax cuts to encourage women to have more children. You'll find the same sort of back-to-the-cradle re-socialization of women after WWII, when women were told that it was now better for them to be at home having babies instead of in the factories where "men's" jobs were... the same jobs they'd been encouraged to fill during the war, and told was medically great for them to do, biologically sound. If these were "natural" urges, I don't know that a government would have to take such an especial interest in encouraging pregnancy.

So, though it looks like we're both very concerned with women's rights, women's agency, it looks like those are the two or three big contention points - we differ on our beliefs about what constitutes a "life" and what exactly it is that women feel about abortion (many women feel many different things about it - and many of those feelings are going to come into disagreement with the popular "social" opinion about how they *should* feel about it, resulting in a lot of neurotic behavior, which is crummy, actually) and about how many women are really terribly eager to see through every pregnancy they have.

I don't see women as childbearers first. I see women as people first, mothers second. The "mother" part being the choice. The "person" part being by virtue of being... a member of the human race.

Posted by Kameron Hurley

Anonymous said...

I'd tell you how good the post was, but that's been said already and more eloquently than I could say it.

Have you ever read "Gender Shock: Exploding the Myths of Male and Female" by Phyllis Burke? It's definitely worth reading. Some of the thoughts in your post and in the comments made me think of it. Some of the descriptions in the book of how children are forced into rigid sex roles from the moment of birth - how pervasive and subtle that conditioning can be - made me cry so hard I had to stop reading.

I was a young single mother and raised a brilliant daughter who's now in college, I had an abortion, and I'm a happily married middle-aged mom of two more strong little daughters. Sometimes I grieve for my baby that never was, but I have never once regretted my decision, and I can't even imagine not having the right to make that choice. I'll fight to make sure that right doesn't get taken away from my daughters. 

Posted by bluesmama

Anonymous said...


I don't have time to respond at length just now, but I wanted to say one quick thing. When you say, "You're telling me that I can't make a judgment about how someone raises her child," I'm going to resist that assessment of my argument. I was claiming that you can't tell a woman who decides to have a child in the absense of a support network that she's made a 'horrendous decision.' There are all sorts of judgments that any of us can make about having and raising children--for instance, almost everybody could agree that it would be bad to raise a child in an abusive household, all else being equal.

But that's the thing that I think you're ignoring: It is never really the case that all things are equal. If a woman has to decide whether or not to have a child given that she doens't have a support group, it's up to her and I don't think you can say that she's either made a horrendous decision or society has let her down. Maybe society didn't let her down--maybe the circumstances just suck. And maybe she still thinks it's the best thing for her to have a child.

See, I think that what you now claim to have said is something fairly simple, "All else being equal, raising a child with a support network is better than raising one without a support network." But I don't think that's all you said, originally. You added that if a woman decides to have the child without a support network, then she either is making a horrendous decision or society has let her down. It's the second point that I have a problem's up to her to decide whether or not a support network is a necessary condition for her to raise a child. I think your wanting so badly to decide for others how they ought to raise their children (or whether they ought to) has it's roots in a desire to control, and given that you started talking about this in terms of abortion rights, I think it has its roots in a desire to control women in this regard.

Sure people can talk about what the best way to raise a child is--I'm not claiming that it can't be discussed. What I'm claiming is that it's not up to you to judge the particular woman (as having made a poor choice) when she judges that it's a good choice. You can complain that you wouldn't have done it that way, but to extend it to condemning her for making such a choice is to go past the basis of your argument, I think. 

Posted by jp jeffrey

Anonymous said...


You say now, "I'm not judging the women (or, less commonly, the men) in these situations."

How is saying that a woman has made a horrendously bad decision by having a child without a support network not judging her? Seems the epitome of judging her. And if you back off to say, 'I'm not judging her, I'm judging her situation' or some such, I think you're ignoring her agency. 

Posted by jp jeffrey

Anonymous said...

Just want to note that I think Kameron is pretty close to sainthood for responding to Kristine's baited attacks with grace. First Kristine comes in guns ablaze " Then stop degrading yourself by allowing the existence of a medical procedure to dictate your value" and then, once she is responded to with some calm, intelligent discourse, she wants to back it off. I don't really get that sort of 'persuasion,' but I appreciate your ability to deal with it, Kameron. 

Posted by jp jeffrey

Anonymous said...

Hey Jeffrey,

It's entirely possible and probable that I mistyped -- or, more likely, that I wrote faster than I was thinking, or vice versa -- but you're reading my argument slightly differently from the manner in which I thought I was writing it. When I made the remark about either "horrific life choices or failed by society", I'd like to clarify it in two ways:

1) I was trying to state it as the far-less-common reason, and did a bad job of doing that. I didn't want to just say "Has been failed by society", because some folks do an excellent job of cutting off their family and friends and turning their backs on their potential support networks. Hence, horrific life choices. Which I'll address more below.

2) The horrific life choice to which I was referring was the choice to cut off the support network, not the choice to have the child. I'm not sure how you read it, but some of your remarks lead me to believe that I didn't state that clearly.

All that said, I think we disagree, and I think we're likely to continue to disagree. You made a very thoughtful post, and I appreciate the time you took to clarify your points -- but ultimately, while I believe that you believe what you are saying, and while I believe that all situations are indeed nuanced and individual and that you can't say that anything is true ALL THE TIME in EVERY SITUATION... I don't think that this argument serves the greater purpose. I'm not arguing that there isn't gray space on either side of the line -- that gray space on either side of the line is the all-important area where individual cases should be decided. But I think you're arguing about the gray space, and I'm arguing about the fundamental existence of a line.

As for "maybe society didn't let her down -- maybe the circumstances just suck", I'm going to disagree with that. I think you're splitting hairs here. Come up with ten situations in which you and I agree that a woman is raising a child alone, and I suspect that I'd classify nine of those "circumstances just suck" as "failed by society". Compared to societies where a woman who chooses to have a child is taken care of by the entire village and has her needs tended to for most of the pregnancy and, if I recall correctly, the first year of the baby's life, our current society has defaulted to "Have the child and then take care of it yourself, unless you can work out some private arrangement with family/friends/day-care," for the most part. Maternity leave is shaky in many states and has enough loopholes that a company with a mind to dodge it can usually do so. You can still be hassled for trying to breast-feed your baby in public. Our society is not geared toward making it easy for new parents.

Are there, hypothetically, women who might decide to raise a child without any help from friends or family, without making a ton of money, and without a partner, and who would do just fine? Yeah, sure. Definitely. There are also folks whose weight and metabolism will let them drink twelve beers over a two-hour period and not be legally drunk while driving, but I still think "Don't drink and drive" is a useful generalization. And I still think "a woman who is put in a position where the best option is to raise her child without help from anyone else has been failed by society, (excepting rare cases where she has made bad decisions that put her there" (rewritten to remove the hyperbolic inaccuracy and cloudiness from when I first wrote it) is a useful generalization.

"I think your wanting so badly to decide for others how they ought to raise their children (or whether they ought to) has it's roots in a desire to control, and given that you started talking about this in terms of abortion rights, I think it has its roots in a desire to control women in this regard."

Well, that's about the politest personal attack I've come across lately, but to respond:

1) I hate a gut-level disagreement with Kameron about abortion being, in an abstract sense, a women's rights issue. I don't disagree with her that it's an issue in our society, because my personal belief is that our society is putting women in danger and deliberately refusing to give them the tools to intelligently avoid or deal with this danger. So it's a bit of a twisty disagreement on my end -- in this world, it is totally a women's rights issue, but I don't believe that by its very nature it has to be.

Part of that is being raised Catholic and growing up with "life begins at conception", which I'm sorta so-so on even while being pro-choice. Part of that is having the experience of having my child recognize my voice in the womb, differentiating it from other voices, which sort of muddies the water on the awareness/memory area. And part of that, as I try to muddle through it, is tied to the notion that the child is as much the father's as the mother's, and some of the women's rights rhetoric attacks that notion to advance the logic that women deserve control over what happens to the fetus. I agree with their goal, but I think that the argument they use alienates a lot of potential supporters. That's all a side issue, though.

Fundamentally, I disagree with your assertion that I have a desire to control women -- except in as much as I'm as disturbed by the absurd caricature of women saying, "We don't need you, man -- we'll take your sperm, dump you, and then abort the fetus or raise it without you, and you're just a sperm donor not entitled to an opinion!" as women are of the patriarchal old man saying, "Women should do what we tell them, and if we tell them to shut up, sit down, and have babies, then that's what they're going to do, no matter what they want!" Both cases are extreme and unlikely to happen in the real world -- although, unfortunately, the latter isn't as extreme as the former.

2) We're just gonna disagree on what constitutes working toward creating a better standard of living for children and what constitutes telling people how they ought to raise their children. You've demonstrated that you're prepared to take any statement I make, apply a reductio ad absurdum argument to it, and conclude that I'm trying to tell single women how to raise their children. The fact that at least one single parent in this comment area agreed with my statement that a support network was absolutely critical doesn't seem to make any difference in your view. So be it.

3) We'll just disagree over whether your argument is what I say it is. I maintain that your argument puts such a stigma on judgment that it's impossible to say that any situation is good or bad, and that makes coming to a solution for some situations nigh-impossible, since convincing people that the situation needs to change is a vital first step.

Anyway, longer than I intended to write. Best of luck,

Posted by Patrick

Anonymous said...


I'm glad we're having this opportunity to dialogue. If feminists everywhere could join together to make this world a more receptive place for mothers and women in general, we would be so much farther ahead in fostering a society built on matriarchal values.

First of all, I'd like to point out that I didn't say that "*every* woman who gets an abortion feels shame, and makes that choice tearfully" I said that *many* do. Take a look at some of the abortion stories sites and you'll find average every day low income women and students repeating again and again how if the circumstances had been different they would have wanted to have the child. A lot of women genuinely want to have children, but circumstances force them to "gnaw off their leg to escape". And rather than help her find the tools to open and escape from the trap with both the leg and the rest of the woman intact, we celebrate her choice like it's a grand thing. But if a woman chooses because she feels trapped and like she has no other choice - this isn't liberation at all! And if she feels relief, why does she feel relief? Is it because she can now go on and fulfill her dreams as planned, without the burden of a child? Why could we not help her fulfill her dreams without having to give up her child?
Consider this article and some stats which reiterate my point:

Now you stated that you "believe life begins with self-awareness, self-consciousness, and as we're unable to determine exactly when that happens, [you're] fine with the idea that a baby becomes a person when it's no longer dependent on the body of its mother for survival"

I guess you are already aware that such a defining line for personhood is rather arbitrary/risky. After all, you're saying "I don't really know if there is life/self awareness in the womb or not, but I'm willing to take a chance and assume it starts at birth" That's not unlike some city workers in NYC who after the WTC fell, wanted to immediately start up on cleaning efforts, without knowing for sure whether there was life left in the rubble. If you really don't know, you can't take a chance of possibly destroying human life.

I'm sure we could debate at length the definition of life, as has been done on debate boards everywhere. I would like to keep this simple and friendly, and for your sake not overwhelm your personal blog with what may already be familiar rhetoric to most; so I'll simply point to a few principles of basic biology:

When sperm and egg meet, two parts of others' bodies join together, both die and fuse to form a new 'thing'. What is this thing? We know that this thing due to its size and level of development is biologically dependant on its environment for survival, and we know that it is living, insomuch as it is growing and taking on a certain shape. Turning to science we learn the principle of biogenesis: "Every creature reproduces after its own kind" and we learn that it is biologically impossible for two human beings to create something outside their own species. We also learn that living things don't change species in the process of changing their form - rather they take on a certain form because of the kind of species that they already are. We can safely conclude that a fetus therefore is a member of the human species by pure basis of its biology.

But, many argue, the fetus is not a person: they are neither self aware, nor self conscious. Fair enough - yes the fetus is not a mature human being, in fact it is hardly developed at all. But since when is one's level of development a factor for personhood? Are infants less valuable than toddlers? Is a teenager more of a person because she can reproduce whereas the toddler cannot yet do so? If stage of development is not a factor in anyone else's personhood, why should it be a factor in that of the unborn being? Again yes, the early fetus is not self aware... but since when is self-awareness a factor to one's personhood? Do the temporarily comatose, and the patients under anaesthesia whose self-awareness is debatable loose their personhood while they are out? If we won't deny personhood to any of these, making self-awareness the marker of a true person is pure arbitrary discrimination.

Society used to (and often still does) discriminate against race, against religion, sexual orientation, and against gender. Today we discriminate based on size, location level of development and degree of dependency. .. Like race and gender all are conditions that are outside of the control of the one whose personhood is being questioned, and all are not morally relevant when it comes to defining pershood (we don't use them as a measuring stick for the persohood of any other member of the human species).

True feminism opposes the patriarchal chain of might, that categorically and arbitrarily denies personhood to those who stand in the way of advancement goals and power. So for us to turn around an exhibit such discrimination against our own unborn offspring is a slap in our own faces. That's one of the reasons why early feminists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton opposed abortion:
"When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit."
Letter to Julia Ward Howe, October 16, 1873, recorded in Howe's diary at Harvard University Library 

Posted by Kristine

Anonymous said...

Hey Kristine. Yea, I've heard the "what is a life" debates before - lots - and unfortunately, it looks like this is one of those places where we'll have to agree to disagree.

You touched on what JP and Patrick are arguing about, too, the idea that if we lived in a perfect world, more women who wanted to have children would have them. This may be true - there are *some* women who'd like to have more children and can't do so because of their financial situation, the state of their health, etc.

Of course, we don't live in a perfect world. And, even if we did --

The problem with this, as I see it, is that *some* will never be *all*. And as long as one is imposing one's belief about what is "life" - at what point does a woman's body cease to be hers, at what point does she cease to exist, and the "rights of a potential person" supercede her own - one is going to be forcing another human being to do something with her body, her body's resources, against her will. If a woman doesn't want to devote her body to the development of a child, she should not be forced to because of when others "believe" her body is no longer hers.

The reason I believe in a right to abortion at *all* times - even if this were a "perfect" world, and those women who wanted to have children and didn't due to financial problems, lack of social support, etc, is because there will never be a point at which *all* women want to bear a pregnancy to term *all* the time.

And they should not be forced to. My womb, my body, does not exist for the state. I am not here to fulfill my biological duty to bear children, if I choose not to.

*That* is the choice - control over my fertility is an awesome, wonderful choice, and I'm happy every day that I have it, because without it, I become somebody else. I start seeing myself as only a mother, a bearer of children - which is a wonderful aspect of a woman's life, and great and lots of women love it - but it's never *all* of what a woman is, and my fear is that imposing one's beliefs on the bodies of other women is stifling, controlling, and narrowing women's lives, so they feel they must be and do only this *one* thing.

And we'll drive people half mad that way. You'll see a rise in women freaking out because they've got so many kids, because they've spent 20 or 30 years of their lives pregnant or nursing, and find themselves tied to their bodies.

I do find a great freedom, a powerful sense of self, in the control over my fertility.

And I would not give that up, give up the rights of my body, to anyone.  

Posted by Kameron Hurley

Anonymous said...

As a side note: I find it interesting that (and I'm generalizing here, of course) that people who use phrases like "true feminism..." and then give their definition as if it's not controversial at all are also the people who tend to say things like "Like race and gender all are conditions that are outside of the control of the one whose personhood is being questioned," unaware of the fluidity involved in these concepts, as well as in the concept of feminism.

Parasoxes be damned: Essentialists always piss me off. 

Posted by jp jeffrey

Anonymous said...

whats up girl...
its me the red line writer..
i stay by foster and broadway/by jewel
didnt know you were a neighbor//
ha ha. what is your message
i would be happy to paint your message on a train..
,,with your permission of course// email..(eponym) 

Posted by graffiti artist/chicago