Anniversary of Choice (Canadian Edition)

So right at about the same time as the American anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, yesterday, we hit the 20th anniversary of the Morgentaler decision, which stands as the precedent for defining the right to acccess an abortion here in Canada.

So I will take this opportunity to note a couple of things about the reality and the discussion of reproductive justice in Canada.

One: I’m really grateful that the legal case setting out the terms of the issue rests on the principle that not granting it is a threat to a woman’s “life, liberty and security of person”, not on the nebulous and tangential concept of “privacy”. It’s nice that if we’re going to be talking about the legality or lack thereof, at least we’ll be talking about the actual point, and frankly, at least it’s easy to understand, whereas I can get very lost very quickly in discussions around the finer points of the Roe v. Wade distinction.

Two: I used to find it disconcerting that we in Canada had no actual law with respect to abortion, but the more I looked at it, the more I appreciated that not defining restrictions or terms is the only way that this:

An abortion is now treated like any other medical procedure and is governed by provincial and medical regulations.

…can be true (quoted from the linked CBC article). And is the way it should be. And while I have absolutely no faith whatsoever in our current Conservative federal government with respect to…well, anything, I tend to trust the courts in Canada, and while I think the Tories are perfectly willing to play rhetoric games with abortion issues, they’re not going to make any steps toward legislating against it, because they’d lose when it hit the bench.

Three: The problems with access to abortion in Canada are just that–access. Unsurprisingly, pretty much the same problems that plague every other aspect of our health care system, though the time sensitive nature of the need for this particular procedure would seem to emphasize the need to improve provision. Some notes:

  • medical schools are barely teaching the procedure these days. Several of the major schools in the country teach it only at a very high level of specialization.
  • women outside of major urban centres, especially in the North, essentially have no access at all. This is also the case in the US, but the kinds of geographical barriers we’re talking about here really need to be understood. Morgentaler has been talking about open “a” clinic in the territories to help meet this need (and good on him, because not having said it yet, it’s worth noting that this man is awesome). Look at a map and talk to me about the size of those territories. When I was living in Edmonton, we had a number of our research consultants come in from small towns/reserves in the NWT, and they considered it par for the course that there were literally no roads into town (have to fly out), especially in the winter, and that it would cost at least $1500 round trip per person just to get to Edmonton.
  • The other thing that has to be stated is that when we in Canada are talking about “Northern” issues, we are also inevitably talking about issues that are wrapped up with First Nations/Inuit issues. And I don’t think I could possibly do justice to the extent to which medical care on reserves/in the North is, to say the least, limited, and to which the debate around it is entwined with heavy post-colonial racism

Making the link between those three points, it seems to me that the most important thing the Canadian medical establishment could do right now with respect to choice issues would be to start teaching abortion procedures to GPs in medical school and encouraging more remote placement. The latter part needs to be focused on for the purposes of all kinds of medical care, but given the geographical reality that a GP may be the only kind of doctor any individual is able to see on any kind of a time-appropriate basis, that doctor needs the skills to meet a patient’s needs. Well, that doesn’t really link in the last point I made about the racism, but suffice it to say that I think it would be awesome if we could stop withholding medical care by using racist justifications.

(posting with no time to preview, forgive any typos, spelling errors or lack of brilliance accordingly)

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Another Lightbulb Moment on WOC & Feminism

Courtesy, as is often the case, of brownfemipower at La Chola, this time via this post + comments.

I could see immediately why certain aspects of Katha Pollitt’s petition would induce anger–such as, for example, the patronizing and self-satisfied tone inherent in talking about just how well white American feminists have advocated for Muslim women while completely neglecting to credit or even acknowledge the women who live these experiences and who speak out at much greater personal risk in order to bring them to the attention of the broader public. Or the way that WOC are right in perceiving these arguments claiming to support the struggles of the non-mainstream, non-white, non-American women as somewhat disingenuous given that somehow it’s only in Muslim countries that this dynamic needs to be criticized–skipping Africa, skipping Latin America, skipping the American border control policies, skipping the differential treatment of WOC, including First Nations women, in the US and other industrialized countries…skipping, basically, the things that are much harder to get the dominant culture to talk about.

But somehow I couldn’t quite understand the level of anger and frustration that was being expressed. That happens a lot, and I tend to feel really stupid when it does, because I know there’s something I’m missing. And in this case, it took one sentence in the comments for me to go “boom”.

In response to a commenter who noted:

I don’t see. Anyway, KP was defending “white feminism” against Anne Applebaum and her ilk, not criticisms coming out of the POC community

brownfemipower responded:

funny how that keeps happening isn’t it?

Fuck. And that’s it. There’s all this talk among mainstream feminists, both second and third-wave, of just how frustrating it is to have to hear the right-wing pundits calling them self-centred, ignoring all the words they pour out in support of liberating oppressed Muslim women and the tyranny of Islam/Sharia law, and how exhausting it is to have to point out, time and again, that of course they care about these women. But, frustrating and exhausting though it may be, time and again, they do it anyway. And they get published for it.

Translation: when criticism is brought forth by exactly the oppressors that we’re battling, it’s worth responding to, even if it’s been said before and ignored before and even if it’s probably futile to say again. Even if it feeds into the dominant political discourse and the broader Islam=bad, war-justifying narrative, and you kind of know you’re being baited to add to the voices saying exactly that. But when criticism on this or any other topic is brought forth by the oppressed on whose behalf you claim to be speaking, people with whom it’s actually still possible to have a dialogue (unlike the aforementioned pundits whose criticism is far more about political strategy than about making progress), it goes unnoticed, it goes ignored, or worse, it gets shot down with hostility and condescension and self-defense and accusation.

Boom.

Fuck.

An All-or-Nothing Proposition

I’ve been chewing on these thoughts for a while, but having had my head violently shaken by every aspect of the “Yes Means Yes” fiasco, I haven’t been able to read the “A-List” feminist bloggers without feeling the bile rise in my throat (side note: I also recently went back and checked out the infamous P’gon book cover thread; if I hadn’t been kind of insane back in August, I likely would have had my breaking point then).

This Hugo Schwyzer post has been thoroughly eviscerated by many more intelligent than I, but I’ve still been mulling over exactly how to say what seemed exceedingly obvious the minute I read it. First, the incredibly condescending “popularizers vs. purists” concept almost sums the exact problem that I have with the whole dynamic at play here–the cool kids are engaging in social competition and defining the terms of belonging vs. not.

But more importantly, quoth Hugo:

I said, quoting others before me, that I’d rather 97% of the world grasp 3% of feminism than have 3% of the world grasp 97%. That’s not a false dichotomy, that’s realism. 97% of the public will never read bell hooks or Helene Cixous. 97% of the public can, however, get the idea that women are of equal worth to men. 97% of the public can eventually accept the idea that biological sex is no barrier to any form of public or private achievement. 97% of the public can come to terms with the idea that “no means no” and “yes means yes”, and that we need to do everything we can as a culture to make certain that the “yes” is never coerced.

Since reading that, this thought has been in the back of my mind throughout all my real and virtual meanderings. I’ve always struggled to counter arguments of “realism” and “pragmatism” because I recognize myself to be…decidedly not pragmatic. I can barely do my dishes. And I’ve always been hesitant to be overly decisive or come off as arrogantly thinking that I’m right all the time, which is exactly what I’m criticizing in others (or a big part of it, anyway). But, you know…fuck all that.

Feminism is an all-or-nothing proposition. Mattbastard’s totally simple answer to the question “why vote for choice” smacked me in the head with this. Human rights are absolute. They are, or they are not. They are real, or they are not. They matter, or they do not. Feminism is about recognizing that women are human beings and therefore deserve human rights. Those rights include bodily autonomy and integrity and full and equal economic and political participation without added barriers. We can debate the methods of attaining those rights, and we can debate the specifics of what the barriers are and how to begin their dismantling, and we can have different priorities with respect to those rights.

But there is no feminism spectrum. There is no 97% of feminism, and just because Helene Cixous and bell hooks are complex writers and therefore maybe less accessible to a mainstream audience doesn’t make them more-feminist-than-thou, nor does it mean that the ideas they espouse should be excluded from the dialogue (for fuck’s sake, Cixous wrote in French, the idea that we should be translating the ideas seems kind of intuitively apparent, though honestly, I’m not that fond of what Cixous had to say).

The idea that “women are of equal worth to men” is not 3% of feminism. That, plus the idea that the social reality does not currently reflect that equal worth, is the sum total of feminism. That’s all there is to it. If you believe that–and I mean, believe that, not just say it because you know you’re supposed to, then proceed to write an article about how a lady voice coming out of the cockpit makes you all nervous, as in the link in my previous post–then “yes means yes” is not even an issue.

Now let’s add in the oft-made and yet oft-missed point that none of us is free unless we are all free, which is another all-or-nothing proposition, and how the hell does it become okay to talk about 3% of feminism being enough? This is in the context of a conversation where certain individuals with power, in whatever limited sphere that power is relevant, are also deciding which 3% comes first, which 3% is going to matter, and frankly, which 3% of women are going to be the ones to get their rights granted by that oh-so-generous 97%. You want to draw up that scale and decide what the most important 3% of feminism is, you’re also telling everybody else what falls outside of it, and in some (even many) cases, what falls outside is going to be exactly the need that is missing in someone’s life, exactly the human right that has been taken away from an individual, or a group-within-the-group. And it’s okay not to have time to talk about everything, and to focus on what you know, but it’s damn well not okay to shut everybody else up from mentioning that other 97% or all those silly, pesky human rights that aren’t being met.

This is all-or-nothing, this feminism thing. I know there are a lot of specifics I don’t know, and I certainly get that a lot of the particular dynamics of racism, heterosexism, ableism, fat-phobia and classism escape my notice because of where I’m situated, and I’m willing to debate how best to fight and what, exactly, needs a good fightin’, but if you aren’t 100% on this idea of human rights and on the definition of “human”, then I don’t really see how there’s a conversation to be had, here.

This is another one of those things that I suspect is really obvious to everyone but me, but my wishy-washy, equivocating Canadian ways (such are they are), and my desire to not be a fundamentalist, all-or-nothing kind of thinker have kept me from saying it until now.

For Future Reference…

I’ve had this article open in a tab for a couple of days now, not quite able to figure out exactly what I want to say about it. In all honesty, an article entitled “I’m a FEMALE male chauvinist–and proud of it!” kind of speaks for itself, but part of me was trying to find a slightly funnier way of marveling at the fact that she really thinks she’s being radical, when the only thing unique about her is a slightly above average level of self-awareness.  At least she recognizes that her sexist bullshit is sexist, if not that it’s bullshit.

So in order to let myself close the tab without having that link fall into the bookmark folder of no return, let me just link it here for a future reference point in all those discussions in which some variant on the phrase “I’m a woman and *I* don’t think that’s sexist, therefore you’re just crazy” comes up. And highlight the following passage:

[My position] is one that is sincerely felt and which has become increasingly apparent to me as more women advance into professions that were once the sole preserve of men.

So am I being treacherously disloyal to my own sex? Well, before the braburners start hurling the embers of their lingerie at me, you need only to take a long look at the world at large to realise my latent male chauvinism isn’t operating in isolation.

God, I love it when they make our arguments for us. Leaving aside the stereotype-baiting and the essentially meaningless rhetorical question, we can find solid common ground in recognizing that this “latent” sexism is caused by forces much larger than the individual, has an impact beyond the relative irrelevance of what some lady on a plane feels like when turbulence hits, and that this kind of attitude is rampant. Welcome to 1973.

I have a legitimate argument festering in my brain about the point that “this is sincerely felt”–a statement that is often raised in conversations, especially among feminists/other anti-oppression types who talk a lot about validating personal experiences, in order to justify saying offensive things. The weekend approaches, and unlike most of the rest of the world, that’s generally when I get/take real thinking time. Bate breath accordingly.

So Which is It? Selfish or Not?

A few months ago, I wrote a bit about selfishness and included an anecdote about a relative who said it was “selfish” for two women we know to have chosen not to have children. He’s a pretty extreme example of head-up-ass syndrome, but the general theme of childlessness equating to selfishness pisses me off. Even people who are expressing a desire to remain childless (at least for the time being) are inclined to say “I think I’m just too selfish to have children right now”.

Since the responsibilities of child-rearing fall disproportionately onto the shoulders of women, and since the status/identity of an individual woman is affected much more greatly by motherhood/lack thereof, and since people are perfectly inclined to pressure and analyze women’s lifestyle choices far more than men’s, this kind of dialogue fits in to the “how to sustain a patriarchy” handbook. That’s not obvious to everybody, which is why it’s nice to see an article like this one, which turns around and argues that liberal feminist working woman mindsets, which lead to decisions to remain childless are…not selfish enough. Because now, these women have neglected to account for the fact that they will have no one to care for them in their old age, they haven’t planned ahead like a good grasshopper should, and now nobody’s going to visit them in the nursing home.

There’s a lot more to say about that article in itself, but mostly I just want to highlight the way the mainstream will argue out of both sides of its mouth, as long as the basic point is that a certain *kind* of woman, family and relationship is the best kind and will make everybody happier in the long run.

Where’s June’s Redemption Song?

So I love Johnny Cash. Adore. Love his music. Love the old outlaw Cash, love the gospel singin’, 12-steppin’ Cash, love the American Recordings comeback cover Cash. Love the mythology. Love the “Man in Black”. Love the recovery story, love the faith.

Love the “Redemption Song”, both metaphorically and literally (the song of that name, which he covered as a duet with Joe Strummer).

But watching a documentary called “The Gospel Music of Johnny Cash” yesterday, I wondered–what’s June’s story, faith-wise? I can think, off the top of my head, of about a dozen major male singers who have dealt very publicly with recovery from addiction and/or alcoholism, and who are held up as great and powerful stories of faith and grace. And, you know–yay. Love it. Go faith and grace. But then that gender-analysis brain of mine kicks in and leads me to two major questions.

The first is the one I mention above and in the title. In the mythology of Johnny Cash (and especially in the movie “Walk the Line”) June Carter is held up as the saviour-woman, the beauty for whom Johnny decided he would commit to living better, the light through which he finally saw the joy that might actually be available to him. Her troubles are defined in terms of struggles caused by him, and the narrative requires that she was a good Christian woman from the beginning, never discussing any personal struggles with faith or with commitment to God, even as Johnny himself had slips and periods of “has-been” status. He got better, and her life was fine.

This is the narrative because Johnny’s story is what matters, and Johnny’s the one who needed to be saved, but of course it doesn’t actually work that way. As is covered in “Walk the Line”, June’s the one who wrote the song “Ring of Fire”, and she wrote it to express the pain and turmoil she felt falling in love with this man who was so clearly destructive. She’s being constructed (narratively speaking) as something of a victim, and certainly as a woman of great strength and virtue. But it takes some serious damage to genuinely fall in love with someone in the state Cash was in, and it does a lot more later on to live with someone like that through all his ups and downs and relapses. She’s got a story of her own, and it’s a story of redemption and forgiveness and grace and gratitude and what the hell she felt like after that whole “Ring of Fire” thing. She’s not just a vehicle for faith and grace, she’s someone who had to experience it in her own right. But culturally, we don’t give that to women like her. She’s just the vessel, Johnny’s the story, Johnny’s the one who had to be lifted up, brought out of the darkness, led out of the cave.

This is an objectifying narrative. “Objectifying” not because she’s been overtly sexualized or because we see too much skin, in that classically reductive way of understanding objectification, but because she’s been stripped of subjectivity, of a role as the lead character in her own story, affected by all elements of the human condition and requiring exactly the same amount of grace and forgiveness that was needed by her much more famous and much more dramatic husband. “Objectifying” because the image of June as the patient, suffering bearer of salvation is an image that puts her outside of humanity and outside of the need for grace.  She becomes someone no one can relate to, someone who doesn’t really need help of her own, someone who hasn’t really had any experiences at all that are worth talking about–she’s just something there to admire and to exalt.

I want to hear June’s story, and I want to hear it now.

The other thing that strikes me when I think about narratives like Johnny’s is that I can’t really think of any female versions of that tale, which is certainly not because there’s a lack of female alcoholics or drug addicts out there in need of salvation or who have experienced recovery. I think immediately of someone like Lindsay Lohan, who is apparently going into and out of rehab and recovery and all of that. But she’s being met with scorn, mockery, cynicism, doubt and constant scrutiny. Is this because we’re in a different media age? Maybe partially, though the extent to which these women are followed is unquestionably greater than their celebrity male counterparts. In these narratives, it’s also only the failures by the women that are seen as noteworthy. Lindsay Lohan’s attempt to get clean and sober is worthy of scorn and ridicule, Johnny Cash’s is a noble statement of faith and is part of what has turned him into an icon. Lindsay’s is not a story of recovery, it’s the downward spiral that matters. Maybe she’s a bad example because she’s young and doesn’t seem to have actually managed to have much success at recovery just yet, but I also have to question just how much of an impact it may have to see a media that is titillated, excited and intrigued by your failure on getting a sense of hope that there’s something of much greater worth on the other side of the decision.

So I want to see that story, too. I want to hear about a female icon who has been rescued and revitalized and recovered from whatever form of hopelessness it was that plagued her. I want to hear about how she desperately needed that amazing grace, that forgiveness, and about how grateful she is that she wasn’t beyond redemption. I want to hear about her humanity. If I’m making the order, though, I would really prefer for this not to be a Mary Magdalene story, because that version…well, it kinda misses the point, really. Hope that’s not too much to ask.

On being a Christian feminist, Part 3: Popularity & Politics

So in light of what I was writing yesterday, I want to continue by asking which one is more “politically correct”: being Christian or being feminist. By the standard definition, feminism (and all that other anti-oppression stuff, but feminism is convenient in that it has a recognizable and frequently used concrete noun-form for individuals who believe in it) is the epitome of political correctness, and Christianity is full of all that stuff that offends people.

Disclaimer: the people at my church are most emphatically not the cliché of American right-wing Christianity, and probably wouldn’t be able to watch CNN, let alone FoxNews, if you paid them. And yet every so often I’ll hear something that sounds an awful lot like the sort of “victim complex” mentality that drives the “War on Christmas” fervour. These are genuine people, they’re loving people and they spend an awful lot of their time and energy ministering to the poor, both globally and locally.

One of them just casually mentioned a few weeks ago that it’s tough these days being Christian, in that people react to the declaration of one’s Christianity or some associated, potentially unpopular, political opinions with some level of disgust. I hate to call out this conversation like this, because this person in particular is someone completely genuine and whose love for the world drives his every action. Also someone with whom I can disagree politically without getting particularly upset. And I know he means it–he means that he wishes for a world in which he could declare his love for Christ and the church and everyone would share it, and everyone would by extension share in joy and peace and all those shiny happy abstract nouns that go around at this time of year, only with actual meaning attached instead of bows and sparkles.

But I call bullshit. And I call bullshit because I declare myself both a Christian and a feminist, and I’m well aware of which one causes the worse reactions in everyday interactions. I’ve been contemplating actually going about and documenting verbatim what people say when I use each of those terms to describe myself, or otherwise make it clear that I belong to each of those groups (eg. by mentioning that I go to church every Sunday). The basic principle, however, is that in the vast majority of cases in which I’ve simply stated that I’m Christian, people have not batted an eye. Sometimes I’ve done something like invite someone to church for whatever reason, and they’ve politely declined and said that Christianity isn’t really their thing; on a few occasions, people have started some sort of conversation about why they disagree with Christianity/the problems with religion and in very rare circumstances those conversations have been aggressive (usually someone very young defending why s/he is most certainly *not* going to hell and resent the implication that s/he is).

Saying I’m a feminist is a far more noteworthy act. The following comments have all been made to me, in response to that simple statement of fact, within the past month:

  • Really? Why?
  • Huh. And to think I used to respect you.
  • Oooh (eye roll). Now I understand why you always disagree with me. (implied: now I can stop listening to your opinions, however well-thought-out they appeared before you used that word).
  • (In response to my suggesting that a friend’s toddler should get a baby “This is what a feminist geek looks like” t-shirt) Hahaha–Ah, no. Not in my lifetime.
  • Guess you’re not as smart as I thought you were.

The second and final comments were said teasingly to me (ie. I do know that the people who said them still respect me and recognize my intelligence), but they weren’t joking about not respecting feminism as a concept or ideology. Now, a lot of people genuinely don’t respect Christianity as an ideology, but they’re a damn sight less inclined to say so to the face of someone who self-identifies as a Christian, especially if that person is being polite and non-confrontational.

I recognize that this point is ridiculously obvious to the few people who read this blog, but it’s far from obvious to most of the people I know in real life, many of whom are sympathetic to feminist or anti-oppression arguments, but would never really start talking about them or self-identify in that way. It’s partially because of exactly this dynamic that I think it’s really important to do so, and that I wanted to write one of my usual, far-too-wordy pieces of meanderment in order to spell it out, regardless of how simplistic a point it is.

I would, however, really like to hear what happens to other people when they use such terms to describe themselves, and in what context (also, whether it changes based on who that person is–ie, if they’re female or male, straight or gay, conventionally attractive or not, etc etc etc).