Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Sex and Women=Still the Dark Continent of Our Thought

Obviously abortion and abortion politics preoccupy me at the moment. I have been thinking, in particular, about the following three comments that were posted in response to the Joplin Globe articles.

"Yes, a woman has a choice. But that choice comes before the act is done. A woman has the choice to abstain (which in those days I believe was the general practice) and today there are all sorts of pills and devices to keep a woman from getting pregnant. But once the act is done, her choice should end. The good doctor was a murderer and should not be praised for what he did. What has happened to the morals of this society?"


"The title to this story should be: 'God giveth life but man taketh away.' There is no reason for abortion - just a selfish excuse. Most of the fathers of unwanted babies would take them and raise them, and if not the father, the grandparents would take them in a heartbeat. This is proven with all the grandparents who are raising their grandchildren now. Then there is always adoption. Some people want children - hard to believe, isn't it? Women should come with instructions that say: 'For natural birth control, cross legs tightly and remain in this position.' "


ROHO writes:
I am very much a "vocal anti-abortion proponent" as described in wayne roberts' comment. We WANTED children and purposed to have them, AFTER we were married. We've been a big part in helping to raise all of our Grandchildren (who were also very much wanted). And we have taken in children as foster Parents. I would say to wayne roberts: It's easy for you to have a calloused heart (hatred for children)and an opinion on abortion because your Mother chose NOT to abort you. Killing babies just to avoid taking the responsibilty to care for them is a selfish, cruel, condemnable act. If some people are going to run around having sex like dogs do, then they should be spayed and castrated like dogs. That would solve most of the problem.

I have highlighted the particular sentences that disturbed me. These are among the most ruthless criticisms of not only our work in Grove, but also the practice of Doc Henrie. What leaps out is the sort of assumptions being made about the type of woman who needs an abortion.

I have found that the most vocal opponents of abortion are those who believe that the woman seeking one is irresponsible and irrepressible. The question is how did this particular image of the woman-seeking-abortion came to stand in for all women who are seeking abortions? I have to approach this question carefully, because I do not want to grant the point that an irresponsible and irrepressible woman should be saddled with a pregnancy that she is not fit to carry out. I also question the very premise that such a female, tout court, exists. [Here is where my straightforward liberal credentials kick in (See Maynard on this point over at Creative Destruction).]

If young women are putting themselves at risk for pregnancy and recklessly engaging in risky sexual behavior, there are multiple players that bear some responsibility. First of all, nowhere in the comments above do I see any consideration of the responsibility of men to prevent pregnancy. For example, "sad" suggests that there are pills and devices "to keep a woman from getting pregnant," but no specific mention of what men should do or how they should behave. ROHO does seem to be a bit more gender-neutral, but his solution is to "spay" and "castrate" irrepressible young people. The metaphors and language used by these posters betrays a sickened portrait of human sexuality, with a heavy emphasis on women's sickening behavior: "cross legs tightly and remain in this position." I cannot help but worry, profoundly, about the character of people who would utter such things--whether in private, among their buddies, or in public forums. What underlines this characterization of the woman-seeking-abortion is heartless and hateful background assumptions about the nature of women.

And, as long as there are deeply entrenched attitudes that women are sickening sexual fiends--particularly if they "open their legs" or "run around having sex like dogs do"--then we will find ourselves coping with the social problem of women engaging in risky sexual behavior. This is another of the "multiple players" that bear some responsibility here. Sure, men and women of all ages engage in reckless sexual practices from time to time. Women, however, bear the stiffest consequences of that behavior.

But, what are the social conditions in which we find young people engaging in risky sexual behavior? It seems important to remember that many parents are utterly incapable of having a grown up conversation with their children about sex--without resorting to silly names for body parts, outright lies, stiff admonitions against sex without explanation, or finally, condemning an judging attitudes toward their children who find themselves with intense sexual urges. Then, consider, that young people grow up in a culture that is inundated with sexual messages and outright pressure to be sexual for social approval. A young girl, for example, who defies cultural expectations to look and act feminine--coy, flirty, helpless, pretty--is ostracized. A man who refuses to objectify women is gay.

We have a whole mess on our hands when it comes to typical views about sex. Sex, like women, still persists as the dark continent of our thought.