A friend of mine and fellow blogger* has, upon occasion referred to herself as an “unfunny feminist“–riffing on and mocking the dismissive “Can’t you take a joke?” bullshit that so often erupts when we dare to read some bit of cultural quote-unquote fun through an anti-kyriarchal lens, only to observe (quelle surprise!) that said fun isn’t really fun or funny, and instead just reinscribes some horrific piece of the miasma of misogyny in which we all soak daily.
Now, I’m not gonna steal my friend’s slogan from her, but I gotta say that I am definitely feeling the “unfunny feminist” vibe today. (Maybe I’ll call my own expression of this kind of sentiment the “Humourless Hag” chronicles.)
The Supreme Court wasted no time in delivering a message to anyone who thought its Hobby Lobby ruling was limited to religious objections to coverage of purported abortion methods:
The day after handing down the Hobby Lobby decision on Monday, the court issued orders pertaining to six pending cases in which employers claimed religious objections to allcontraceptive services required under the Affordable Care Act. The court either ordered appeals courts to reconsider their rejection of the employers’ claims in light of the Hobby Lobby decision, or let stand lower courts’ endorsement of those claims.
With Tuesday’s orders, the conservative majority has effectively endorsed the idea that religious objections to insurance that covers any form of preventative healthcare for women have merit. . . . The cases that must now be reopened aren’t even based on junk science, just general pious resistance to women’s health services. And at least one of those cases is only tenuously about religious freedom. “I don’t care if the federal government is telling me to buy my employees Jack Daniel’s or birth control,” Michael Potter, the founder of Eden Foods told Irin Carmon. “What gives them the right to tell me that I have to do that? That’s my issue, that’s what I object to, and that’s the beginning and end of the story.” As one judge wrote, “Potter’s ‘deeply held religious beliefs’ more resembled a laissez-faire, anti-government screed.”
So, to take John Stewart one step farther, not only does the sincerely-held-but-factually-innacurate belief of an abstract business entity matter more than the legal and reproductive rights of actual human females, so, too, does the self-serving faux-belief of someone who’s parroting religious language as a justification to deny employees part of their compensation package. (See here for more about the issue of health insurance as earned compensation rather than a piece of corporate largesse.)
It’s enough to make me want to run screaming through the streets. Party on, Amurrica, with your false narratives of Independence Day and freedom, while you light off sticks of brightly colored dynamite. The country will never be free until all its peoples are free and we’ve got a long damn way to go on that score.
But I digress. Ahem. Where was I? Oh yeah, having a screaming pigtails moment about the lying liars who talk about this case as if it were about religious freedom rather than misogyny. Me and Ann Friedman, both:
There are two competing narratives about the Hobby Lobby case and how big of a deal it is. To hear the all-male Supreme Court majority and many legal analysts tell it, this . . . will result in a minor inconvenience for a small number of women who work for certain employers or have certain insurance plans or wish to use certain forms of contraception. It may not even be about women at all. . . .
Then there’s my own interpretation, . . . most accurately expressed as an outraged scream, sort of a combination groan-wail, issued while beating my fists against the desk on either side of my laptop.
I love the vividness of that description, and how on-point it is for my own sometimes-inarticulate rage around all many layers of awfulness in this decision. And around the casual misogyny of those out in the public I’ve seen supporting the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision as if it’s a good thing.
There’s not enough time left in the evening to try and point-counterpoint everything that could be said about the misogyny at play here, so I will content myself to a few main threads.
One: “What are you so upset about? This is just about 4 specific contraceptives!”
Except, as the lede above discusses, it took less than 24 hours for the scope of implication to expand well beyond “4 specific contraceptives.” The LA Times refers to 100 pending cases that have been given fresh life with this ruling, while MSNBC links to a list of 149 companies whose cases to limit women’s reproductive freedom are active and pending somewhere in the court system. Some of these companies and cases object not only to all forms of contraception, but also to any sort of medical counseling about contraception or abortion. To quote the LA Times, “The floodgates aren’t about to open–they’re already open.” (At the risk of being too self-referential, I said much the same last night.)
And, even if it were just about those “4 specific contraceptives,” there would still be something very wrong with this decision. From Salon:
Women choose among available methods of contraception based on a range and a combination of factors that may change over the course of their lives, including their particular life circumstances, health needs, economic resources, and religious and other beliefs. Contraceptive methods vary dramatically in their effectiveness, which provides another contributing factor in women’s decisions. Hormonal IUDs can be forty-five times more effective than oral contraceptives and ninety times more effective than male condoms in preventing pregnancy, based on typical use.
Forty-five times and ninety-times more effective, y’all. That is statistically significant, as they say in the research biz. Also, Cynthia Greenlee in The Root explains the various reasons — biological, cultural, societal — that the contraceptive methods specifically targeted by Hobby Lobby are often the best choices for women of color. Meaning that the negative ramifications of the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision are likely to be most painfully felt by women who are doubly marginalized in the kyriarchy, particularly women of color and those of low socio-economic status.
No, that’s not even remotely a little bit surprising. But it’s still appalling. Which brings me to…
Two: “What are you so upset about? Women can choose to work elsewhere!”
I love the by-your-bootstraps boner that so many (predominantly white, male) social conservatives have. We all have free choice on everything, it is said, but then every choice has its associated consequences. You can chose to work somewhere that gives you more contraceptive choices, but then you have to sacrifice the more-than-minimum-wage that Hobby Lobby pays its employees. Or, you can take the higher salary but then you have to live with the paternalistic reproductive oversight of an abstract business entity that has more legal rights than you do as a living, breathing woman.*
An in an abstract, college-freshman Philosophy 101 kind of way, there is some sliver of truth there. We all have choices, and choices have consequences. But to my eyes, this abstracted notion of choice gets very messy once you have to confront the fact that in the really real lived world, it is marginalized (and multiply marginalized) individuals who more frequently face hard choices or have to feel the most devastating consequences of those hard choices. To return to NY Mag:
This idea — that women can always find another way to get the coverage or care they need — underpins just about every recent restriction on women’s health. What’s another 24-hour mandatory abortion waiting period? To a woman who lives 25 miles from the nearest provider, it’s everything. What’s one more tweak to a law about the width of clinic doors? To a clinic that can’t afford to remodel, it’s everything. What’s a minor policy change that means you have to pay full price for that IUD? To a woman who makes $14 an hour, it’s everything.
A choice isn’t really a choice when you can’t find another job, or when it’s the end of the month and the checking account is empty and the morning-after pill costs $50 without insurance, or when the only approved birth control methods won’t work for you. For decades, activists have invoked a woman’s “right to choose” — choose when it’s the right time for her to have children and when it’s not, and to choose which contraceptive method to use in the meantime. In theory, women are still allowed to make these choices in America. In practice, though, to choose you must have options. Health insurance is one of the things that guarantees options and access. Freedom, as the conservatives say, isn’t free. For a choice to be a true choice and not a default, sometimes we have to subsidize it.
Almost one-third of women report that they would change their choice of contraceptive method if cost were not a factor. That’s tens of millions of women. . . . Especially for women of limited economic means – like the full-time minimum wage worker to whom Justice Ginsburg referred who cannot possibly afford a month’s salary for an IUD – the religious views of their bosses (or the bosses of their spouse or parent) may now trump their own religious beliefs, as well as needs that flow from their own health, family, and life circumstances. . . . Justices and their families, one expects, will not struggle with the choice between an IUD or new shoes and a winter coat for their children. Or confront the inability to purchase any of the above. But thanks to the Court’s ruling, more women are likely to experience such harms – at least unless and until the other branches of our government act to protect women from the imposition of their bosses’ religious beliefs.
(Quick word nerd sidebar. Isn’t it just so fun when legal and social positions that are all about restricting women’s choices and freedoms get couched in the language of “Everyone has choices”?!? More screaming pigtails for me.)
And speaking of choices, let’s move right along to my third and final thread, before I run out of gas.
Three: “What are you so upset about? Just keep your legs closed!”
Ah yes, here’s the final nail in the choice-consequence coffin. Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and its limiting of contraceptive options is to be praised because it means that immoral women will no longer be able to indulge in the sin of consequence-free sex.
Lest you think the phrasing in my header there is offensively overwrought, check out this piece over at Cosmopolitan** which excerpts many, many offensive comments and tweets that say things exactly as rude as “just keep your legs closed” — and many, many ruder things besides.
Demanding that women close our legs and calling us whores for planning our pregnancies confirms the feminist suspicion that opposition to contraception and abortion is less about “life” than it is about a sense that sexually active women are doing something wrong and should be chastened for it. . . .
For women, having an opinion on the Internet virtually guarantees you’ll face abuse, often the sexualized kind. But it’s especially rich seeing misogynist and sexually hostile commentary come from the very people who claim women are just being hysterical when we characterize the Hobby Lobby case as misogynist and hostile to sex.
If nothing else, the virulence of this rhetoric helps ensure the misogyny and retrograde societal values at play show through whatever veneers are being used as covering. To return one last time to Ann Friedman in NY Mag:
My rights feel very much scare-quoted — not rights at all, but a veneer of choice. The medical care that is critical to my ability to live and work — and, yeah, have consequence-free sex — was dismissed by the Supreme Court as relatively unimportant. . . . You don’t choose to need a liter of new blood. You do, however, choose to have sex — if you’re a woman. And so contraception, the majority of justices say, is different. The implication is that women can freely choose to either abstain from sex or have lots of children, which most of us understand is not a choice at all.
Or, as my friend Alice Isak observed: “You women, with your slutty, slutty bodies. Always thinking you should get to use those bodies as you see fit, just because you happened to be born in them!”
So, given all of this, is it okay for me to upset now?
Oh never mind, I don’t need anyone’s permission: I’m upset. More than than, I’m justifiably outraged.
* Yeah, I’m repeating myself. That’s ‘cos the stupidity of this detail especially pisses me off. To quote John Oliver’s response to the question of whether corporations are people who can exercise their religious rights, “No, no they’re not. Okay, we’re done. Are we done here? Are we done? I feel like we’re done. . . . Apparently, we’re not done.”
** Okay, I will betray my own prejudices here in saying 1) I never thought I’d be linking to anything from Cosmo, and 2) if Cosmo is deconstructing and analyzing the misogyny in something, then that something is pretty epically fuckin’ misogynistic.