The Elephant in the Closet

Who knew my response to Burwell v. Hobby Lobby was going to turn out to be a tetralogy? It’s like I’m channeling Douglas Adams when So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish came out. (pour one out for my homies)

Where was I? Oh yeah, the unexpected tetralogy. The elephant in the closet.

prochoiceMy other posts and link roundups have said a lot about the bad science and reasoning in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision, about the slippery slope of its implications for other targets of prejudice, and the catastrophic implications of the decision insofar as what it suggests about women’s rights and women’s bodies. But I’ve (unconsciously) sidestepped the hot-button issue at the heart of it all: a woman’s right to have an abortion.

Yes, the Supreme Court precedent of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby is now being used to challenge a women’s reproductive rights right pretty much across the board, but the case started with the dividing line the Green family wished to draw between most contraceptives and the four they (incorrectly) believed to be abortifacients. Yes, that belief is factually incorrect, but it does starkly highlight the moral boundary that the Green family (and many other individuals) wants to live within. “This far, but no farther. Preventing pregnancy is okay, but we will not support abortion.”

I’m sure I could find my usual bouquet of articles to quote and synthesize in that way I do when I’m thinking through an issue and saying my piece about it. But that’s not where my head and heart are at tonight.

Instead, a highlighted link to one single article on A is For by actress Martha Plimpton. It’s a long read, and a rich one — Plimpton interweaves the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision with McCullen v. Coakley in a way I have thus far been unable to do, and uses both of these SCOTUS decisions as backdrop for a longer discussion of the state of, and absolute need for, abortion rights in the country. Rather than trying to summarize it all, I’m just going to recommend you head on over and read it in its entirety. (Content note: the article includes the famous post-mortem image of Gerri Santoro first printed in Ms. Magazine in 1973. Be prepared.)

I’ll just pull one quote over to here:

So many of us seem to have forgotten what life was like before Roe v. Wade, when women were dying in pools of their own blood. Or were being interrogated on hospital gurneys by police while they were bleeding out during a miscarriage. Or being raped by hack abortionists in unlicensed offices. Or needing hysterectomies because of botched illegal abortions. Or having to wait until too late in their terms because they couldn’t get an abortion in time, being forced to abort in filthy, unsafe, terrifying, life-threatening situations.

So many of us are deluded enough to believe—or have been duped into believing—that advances in women’s rights are the result of a curious flight of fancy that some ill-informed, hysterical woman made us think was a good idea for a minute, and not the excruciating reality of life for women before them. “That buffer zone? That was silly!” “That right to terminate a pregnancy? That was just your imagination, you thinking you need that.” “That contraception mandate? Why, you foolish ninny! Who told you you could have that? A LIBERAL? Ha ha! Rights, schmights. Don’t you know your body is public property?” Ridiculous women and their “needs” fucking up everything for all the fun people.

In the Salon piece I quoted a few times yesterday,* Dawn Johnson reminds us that.

The typical American woman wishing to have only two children spends thirty years, three-quarters of her reproductive life, seeking to avoid unintended pregnancy.   Half of all pregnancies in the United States (more than three million a year) are unintended.  More than half of American women will experience an unintended pregnancy.

So you need to be vigilant for a few decades of time, and hope that you don’t end up on the wrong side of those 50-50 odds of  unintended pregnancy.

I was four years old when the Roe v. Wade decision affirmed a woman’s right to have an abortion. I may have a few more years of (hypothetical) reproductive life in these old ovaries, but the basic truth is that for all of my sexual maturity, I have known that I had access to contraception and abortion services if I needed them. Yes, the courts have been chipping away at this right almost since the Roe v. Wade decision was first issued, but the core essence of this right held up for all the years I personally had need of it.

On the other hand, my niece recently turned 18. I don’t know if she’s sexually active yet — and all my over-protective aunt instincts are rising in me to say “I hope she’s not sexually active yet!” But I intellectually understand how, even if she isn’t sexually active right now, she could be soon. Or if she isn’t, she has friends and classmates and future college room-mates who are/will be.

The pace of attacks on abortion rights has only been accelerating in the last few years. Exactly what tattered cloth of choice will my niece and her age cohort be inheriting? They are at the start of those thirty years of reproductive life, and I would guess that most of these young women are starting this journey from the perspective of trying to prevent unwanted pregnancies. But they are doing so when access to contraceptives and abortion services are as difficult, as barrier-laden, and as INaccessible as they have ever been in my lifetime.

What sort of compromised freedom are these young women being forced to inherit? And thirty years from now, will their daughters and nieces have any rights left at all?

* Okay, I’m linking to more than one article. You can take the scholar out of school, but you can’t take schoolish habits out of the scholar…

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Image credit: http://www.gender-focus.com/2013/08/13/my-reality-my-abortion-experience/

 

Of Conversation and Community

fremont-troll-bridgeI’ve been thinking about comment policies today. You see, there’s  a comment sitting in the mod-queue for yesterday morning’s post about Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. It’s mildly snarky, not particularly offensive in its content — no slurs, hate speech, or anything like that. But the one-liner is also sufficiently, provocatively disconnected from the facts and the issues at hand that I keep asking myself: “Are you someone trying to have a sincere disagreement, or are you just a troll?

To borrow an operative definition from Hubspot:

Trollers are people who leave comments on posts to try to get a rise out of either the author, or other commenters. The best practice for dealing with trolls comes down to one easy-to-remember phrase: Don’t feed the trolls. This means the more you engage with trolls, the bigger and stronger they become — that’s what they want! To get a rise out of you.

So the distinction I’m trying to spot is whether A) the would-be commenter strongly disagrees with my politics but is wiling to have a substantive discussion, or if B) the sole purpose of the provocative one-liner is to be a shit-stirrer. And of course, with nothing but words on a screen and my regrettable lack of psychic insight to go on, that is a very hard distinction to distinct.

Are you human or troll?

It’s a little bit of a conundrum. Do I delete the would-be-comment and take the chance that I’m silencing someone who’s coming from a real-person rather than a trollish perspective? Or do I approve the comment, respond to its reality-disconnect, and take the risk of getting dragged underneath the troll bridge? It’s a tricky, charged decision. Not because of this one specific comment on its own — again, let me acknowledge that it’s more a snarky one-liner than anything else — but because my choice today carries the weight of creating a precedent for how I may address disagreement, dissension and doucehoundery on JALC in the future.

I’ve been thinking about the aggressively clear commenting policies at two of the feminist communities I’ve long-admired: Shapely Prose (where I participated) and Shakesville (where I’ve not participated but look admiringly from afar). Both of these documents are the result of years of community-building, resulting in a vibrant commentariat and also an astronomically high frequency of trolls and bigots targeting their posts and threads for attention. Obviously, JALC is a baby newborn blog, with a teeny-tiny readership and an even smaller community (if that term can even legitimately be applied.) So a lot of what those policies contain aren’t on-point for me. I do not have or need a group of co-moderators to keep up with the comment traffic, nor do I yet have an establishing commenting culture I need/want to protect.

And yet, there are value statements in those policies that ring true to me.

Whether you can comment at Shakesville is ultimately at our discretion—and plaintive, angry, or accusatory wailing about free speech will be met with yawning indifference. This isn’t a public square. This is a safe space. (Shakesville.)

I am not a representative of the government; when I tell you, directly or indirectly, to shut up, it does not in any way violate your Constitutional rights. If you want to speak freely, the fine folks at WordPress will be happy to provide you with the exact same kind of platform I use. . . . [W]e have probably, on occasion, banned or berated a perfectly decent person who might have eventually blossomed into the kind of commenter we can’t wait to hear from. And you know what? We’re okay with that. We’re not proud of it, and we certainly don’t set out to exclude bright, interesting people from the conversation here. But if it happens every now and again, oh well — because overall, our being hardasses helps keep this blog readable and only rarely crazy making. (Shapely Prose)

All of this is resonant with the sort of community I would want to create, if I am ever so fortunate as to have JALC (or some future endeavor) blossom into becoming an online community. And you know what? Even though I feel an embarrassing level of grandiosity in modeling my choices after these communities that have literally changed my life for the better, there’s another, more immediate lens through which I’ve been contemplating my decision.

If nothing else is certain, I know the would-be comment is an anti-feminist statement. And there are so many other places in the world where the patriarchy and the kyriarchy hold sway as the dominant discourse. (Exhibit A: SCOTUS and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.*)

Do I really need to give that perspective untrammeled sway in my own digital living room? No, no I do not:

My blog is my living room in my home. I set the rules. I determine the tone. I determine the topic of conversation. When you post a comment on my site, you agree to abide by my rules, you stick to the topics I determined, and you keep the tone I deem OK to be used in my home (imagine reading out loud your comment in front of my wife, mother and kids). I have the right to warn you and to kick you out of my home – it’s my party, after all. You have no right to be here, no right to say anything – it is up to me to welcome you here, and up to you to ensure you are welcomed. (A Blog around the Clock)

So, ultimately, would-be commenter: I’m sorry not-really-all-that-sorry, but your comment will not be getting airplay this week. It’s not as if I’m setting a zero-tolerance policy for anti-feminist speech here on JALC. (Not yet, at least.) But anti-feminist speech that looks a bit more trollish than human?

Just not worth the odds.

* And also McCullen v. Coakley. (But as far as the June 26th decision goes? I can’t even, right now. Not enough spoons.)

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Image credit: http://mystrangefamily.wordpress.com/2013/09/04/under-the-bridge-with-the-fremont-troll/