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Soraya Chemaly

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Is it Your Body or Not? Draw The Line, People

Posted: 10/09/2012 8:02 pm

If you are reading this then you are using your body.

If you vote, you do that with your body, too.

Actually, let's skip the dualism, your body is you. Somehow, a large percentage of people in this country have forgotten that idea. That their bodies are theirs but that yours is yours.

These people remember.

Sometimes people just need a simple reminder so you might want to pass this, and the one below, along. And another lest-we-forget, in order to get and keep jobs and earn money and participate in the economy, women need to control their reproduction, safely and legally, and have access to health care that includes their reproductive organs. You know, the ones in their bodies. Even if men don't have the same ones in theirs.

If a person cannot control her own reproduction, well, really what can she control? What good are all your other rights if your right to control your own body and reproduction is denied? How else do you think we are ever going to deal pervasive gender inequities in the business world? Pathetic representation of women in government? You know what "glass ceilings" are held up by? Systemic complementarianism enabled by legislatively enforced reproductive injustice. There are so many people so deeply bound to a conservative, religiously-inspired belief that women exist only for men's sexual pleasure and to bear their babies and men exist to have authority in all other areas, even though it flies in the face of reality, that we can't see straight. And, I know that people think this is a "single" issue that ignores all the other "really important" ones. But, those same people assume that we aren't grappling with the basics, when for women, we clearly are. That -- equal access to fundamental rights regardless of gender -- is the single issue. It is indeed a good time to draw a line.

Draw the Line -- Sign the Bill -- SPREAD THE WORD is the name of this video which is part of a Center of Reproductive Rights campaign to educate people about why reproductive rights are human rights.


Do you think these issues are unrelated to jobs, to health, to freedom from violence, to the economy? To democracy?

You might think people like me are being dramatic. I'll make you a deal... if paying attention to the news isn't making you think about moving to another country for a while, consider reading It's Even Worse Than It Looks. Or this. Or this. Or this. Or this. If you still think the same thing, I will happily vie for a statue of a naked man coated in gold on a shiny black pedestal thingy.

I'm really trying to understand what people who don't think this is important and necessary to address are thinking? To try and answer this question, I've been doing things like grilling my conservative friends relentlessly and asking people in check-out lines, "Do you think it's important for a woman to decide when she can and should have a baby?" or unsuspecting joggers, "Do you really think Viagra should be covered by insurance companies, but not birth control pills?" or taxi drivers, "Should legislators, who don't know what "trans" means and can't say the word "vaginal" be mandating medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds for women?" I'm just curious. I found out a few things anecdotally but very consistently:

  1. People think that a person's reproductive decisions are private. Imagine that.
  2. People don't understand that Republican legislators don't agree with this idea if the people in question are women. They don't know the degree to which, state-by-state, Republican legislators have systematically attacked women's rights to privacy, bodily integrity and autonomy through the introduction and passage of more than 1200 bills and laws in the past 18 months.
  3. People are not getting the information they need to make informed decisions. They don't know about mandatory ultrasounds, waiting periods, taxes on abortions, rapists with the right to sue for custody, "legitimate" rape laws, the impact of violence against women, the reality of unfair pay. They think MItt Romney's strapping the dog to the roof story to drive to Canada is not true. It is. Really. Ask Gail Collins.
  4. People don't believe we can go backwards. They don't take threats to Roe v. Wade seriously, despite the explicit intent of radicals in charge of the GOP "social" agenda, they don't understand the implications for women's personhood and equality of personhood-for-fetus inflused legislation (also embraced by the GOP platform).
  5. People cannot even imagine a world where women actually have access, unfettered, to control of birth. Does it not strike anyone as just plain wrong that men can control their reproduction by running down the the corner store and spending a pittance, but that women need doctors, prescriptions, scary small print, friendly pharmacists, clinics, deep pocket books, time, tarot cards, perfectly aligned stars and government representatives who aren't personally scared of women's sexual freedom?
  6. People are so immersed in seeing the world through male norms that they don't understand the effects on work, insurance and health care decisions. Effectively, the way we live now, women are just non-men and pay a high price.

I mean -- if you are a man -- imagine some of these scenarios: people comparing you to animals while they decide what you can and cannot do with your very own penis and testes? (I can use those scientific and anatomically correct words outside of U.S. legislative chambers, so it's OK.) Or, your government mandating a trans-rectal probe that is not medically necessary as a way to shame and intimidate you out of a decisions? Without your consent? How about saying that producing sperm is in effect a "pre-existing condition?" Or that doctors can lie to you to make sure you don't do something you want to do with our body? Or making you pay through physical assault, or pain of death? Or that pharmacists can simply refuse to sell you condoms when you've run out to by them in a pinch. It's too absurd for words -- unless you are a woman in a Republican-led state in the last year and a half. Actually, it's really 30+ years, but that's a whole other story.

What people seem to believe is that women are morally incompetent children who need to have their decisions made for them. So, they find ways to make sure that this most fundamental human right is constantly being mediated by others for women -- legislators, doctors, pharmacists, police officers, nurses, legislators who were vets, legislators whose fathers were vets, legislators who were farmers, legislators who fancy themselves doctors, legislators who think they are stand-up comedians, legislators who think they're divine kings -- you know, pretty much anyone but the woman's whose body is involved in the decision.

As Lori Day recently pointed out it is more important now than ever to call people on everyday sexism, racism or whatever form of bigotry they're masking in a perverted patriotism -- especially when these things become manifest in laws. People need to stop being polite and have difficult, open conversations. Or we're in for a shock. Last week, at an excellent Amnesty International XX Factor Town Hall on Women's Rights, Jenni Williams founder of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) said that we should not take our rights for granted and needed to stand clearly in defense of those rights. She wasn't talking about Zimbabweans, but Americans.

This is why the first presidential debate's complete ignorance, in both ways, of "women's issues," was so stunning. I don't know what President Obama's team of crack strategists was thinking. It was beyond ridiculous. Jobs? Health care? Work? The economy? Fundamental rights? Both candidates talked about these things as though we all have equal access to them when we don't. That fact has been a central theme of the election cycle. The entire performance was a surreal denial of the reality of women's lives in this country. And bad for the Democrats. And so for the polls.

As Zerlina Maxwell put it the day after in The New York Daily News: "A debate that was supposed to be focused on domestic policy seems to forget that women's rights -- affordable access to contraception, preventative health care, the right to choose -- are domestic policy. Women are half the country but largely forgotten about in last night's debate. It seems that everyone participating in last night's debate, including debate moderator Jim Lehrer, forgot that women have the right to vote." And, I would add, men who understand the implications.

If you are really feeling clickavistic today, pass these videos along and support the American Association of University Women's Twitter campaign to get @MittRomney and @BarackObama to talk about women in the debates. In addition, several organizations, such as Ultraviolet, have set up online applications where you can submit your own questions to the candidates. But really, sit down and talk to a Republican voter who thinks of themselves as moderate and honestly believes that today's Republican party is the same one they voted for in past years. Because it not and we will all pay the consequences.


 

Follow Soraya Chemaly on Twitter: www.twitter.com/schemaly

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