What We Talk About When We Talk About Choice*

When it comes to the issue of choice, there are an array or terms flying around.  Pro-Choice, Pro-Life, Anti-Choice, Anti-Abortion, the ever absurd Pro-Abortion.  Since election season is upon us, I thought this was a good time to check our definitions.

See, in my lovely state of Oregon, we have a very interesting governor’s race going on right now.  Democratic candidate and former governor John Kitzhaber is running against Republican candidate and former basketball player Chris Dudley.  Clearly, there is a vast difference in experience there.  Early on in the campaign, Dudley was labeled a pro-choice candidate, because he supports the principals of Roe v. Wade.  But he’s for abortion restrictions.  And abstinence only education.

So what does it mean to be Pro-Choice?

To be Pro-Choice means one believes that women have the right to decide when and how they have children.  That, in the event of an unplanned pregnancy, a woman has the right to make the decision that she sees best, and that all options must be safe, accessible, and legal.  Being Pro-Choice also means that you believe people should have access to contraception and comprehensive, medically accurate, sex education, so that they can make healthy decisions for themselves.

Abortions restrictions, such as parental notification, mandatory biased counseling, mandatory waiting periods, requiring women get a sonogram before getting an abortion,  and other laws that make it more difficult for women to access abortion, while treating them as though they’re children who can’t possibly comprehend the situation, are Anti-Choice.

If you support abortion restrictions and do not support comprehensive sex education, you are not Pro-Choice.

The issue of Choice and reproductive rights has a lot to do with trusting women.  In many of the conversations I’ve had with pr0-choice men, they will cite the women in their lives, recognize them as smart, capable individuals, and declare they believe all women have the right to make their own decisions about their health.  It always puts a smile on my face because they get it. As a Pro-Choice feminist, I believe the right to decide when and how to have children is essential if women are to truly be equal in society, and that we must have the resources to make our choices.  I do not believe you can be Anti-Choice and still be a feminist.  You cannot be pro-women and not trust women.  This is the number one reason I’ll never believe Sarah Palin when she labels herself a feminist.  I think it is possible for a person to be personally against abortion, but believe each woman should make her own decisions when it comes to an unplanned pregnancy.

The great irony is that the Pro-Choice movement does more to prevent the Anti-Choice movement (I don’t use the term Pro-Life because I find it absurd; who isn’t for life?  Plus, the only lives they really care about are those of fetuses).  The way to prevent abortion isn’t to block women from obtaining one.  The way to prevent abortion is to prevent unplanned pregnancy, which happens when you give people the tools to make healthy sexual decisions.  I believe you can support comprehensive sex ed and access to contraception and be against abortion.

So no, Chris Dudley is not Pro-Choice, even though he let the media label him as a Pro-Choice candidate.  It’s deceitful and insulting.  It’s insulting because he seems to think it take so little to be called Pro-Choice.  For me, the issue of choice is essential.  I don’t want to vote for someone who doesn’t respect my right to make decisions about my reproductive health.  Those are personal, private decisions and should be respected as such.  It’s not a lot to ask for, but we have to work so hard to even have that right.  And I’m certainly not going to elect someone who wants to erode my rights.

*apologies to Raymond Carver, but it was too good of a title not to

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Happy 90th Anniversary!

On August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment passed, granting women the right to vote.  The fight was a long one.  The Seneca Falls Conference, which was the first conference on women’s rights in the U.S., took place in 1848.  This is where The Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, which spelled out all of the injustices towards women, following the form and style of the Declaration of Independence.   Only one woman who the declaration signed the was alive on election day in 1920.  Her name was Charlotte Woodward Pierce, and when she was asked if she would vote, the 90-year-old responded, “I’m too old and too ill.  I’m afraid I’ll never vote.”

There are too many women to thank.  There’s Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Alice Paul, of course, as well as the Grimke Sisters, Lucretia Mott, Martha Wright, Lucy Stone, Ernestine Rose, Ida B. Wells, Sojourner Truth, Victoria Woodhull, Virginia Minor, Julia Ward Howe to name a few.  Frederick Douglas deserves a special mention, as he was one of the only men to return his energies to women’s suffrage after the abolition of slavery.

Celebrate the work and sacrifices of the suffragists today by reading up on the upcoming elections in your area, and raising a little hell.  Also, Iron Jawed Angels is a fun movie about the passage of the 19th Amendment, and great to watch while drinking with friends.

Special thanks to Beverly Hudson-Wirtz, her awesome U.S. Women’s history class, and easy-to-follow lectures.

An Open Letter To The 8th Grade Girl From The Bus Last Spring

Dear 8th Grade Girl From The Bus,

I’m not sure if you remember me, but I remember you.  I was riding home from class, reading a biography of Margaret Fuller, discussing it was a young man sitting across from me when you  plopped down in the seat next to me and said, “Did you know that Courtney Love hired a hit man to kill Kurt Cobain?”

Now, you didn’t know this at the time, but I really like Courtney Love.  I think she’d kind of a badass.  But I merely dismissed your statement and tried to ignore you and your classmates the rest of the ride.  While there are many things I wanted to say to you that day, like “stop reaching across me,” or “calm the fuck down,” there is one thing I really wished I had said, one thing I’d tell you if I ever ran into you again: Someday, you will like Courtney Love.

See, I know the phase you’re going through.  I’ve been there.  You are a Smart Girl, maybe even a Smart Cool Girl.  That’s what you want to be, and how you want others to see you, at least.  You’re friend group is equal parts girls and boys and most of the girls are other Smart Cool Girls.  And you notice that not all girls are treated the same.  There are the Other Girls, those who aren’t necessarily know for being Smart or Cool, and you want to separate yourself from them.  The best way you see how to do this is how you treat boys.  They are your Friends, people you prove your Coolness or Smarts against, but that’s it.  And, as you slowly learn about Cool People of the Past (because, trust me, learning about past subcultures is a great way to learn to be Cool, especially if you’re kind of a nerd, like me), you’ll learn about the Crazy Girlfriends.  Courtney Love,  Yoko Ono, women that kept Men from Greatness.  You and your friends will demonize these women and you will decide that you will never become one of Those Women.

Oh, and your friends’ girlfriends will often be Those Women, at least in your eyes, and especially if your friends are in a band.

But something will happen Little One.  You’ll get hungry.  You will become starved for women; women voices, women narratives, even just women’s presence.  You will start noticing how sexist Those Who Used To Be Cool often were, and it will grow annoying.  Maybe it will be Jack Kerouac who tips the scales for you.  For me it was Hemingway.  And then the day will come where you find media for Smart Girls, girls like you.  Then, one day, down the road, you’ll wonder why exactly you were so opposed to Courtney Love all those years ago.  She acts like a rock star and people freak out because it’s a woman doing it instead of a man?  Plus, she’s a legitimate musician, and has a great style.  And really, it’s silly to think that Yoko Ono was the one factor that broke up The Beatles.  Did John Lennon have no agency?  Would the band have continued on forever if the two never got together?  Plus, Yoko Ono’s art is pretty interesting.  And she did break a lot of ground for women and artists…and next thing you know a teenager is trying to tell you how Courtney killed Kurt.  (I kid.)

Because here’s something you might not have fully realized about Those Women, the ones who kept Men From Greatness: we all have the potential to become one of Those Women, simply because we are women.  Society has always used women as scapegoats.  Eve got Man kicked out of paradise, after all.  Pandora ruined a peaceful existence for mankind when she got curious and opened that box.  Woman keeping Man from Greatness (all thanks to her pesky curiosity) was used to explain why humans suffer by both the Greeks and western religion (Judaism/Christianity/Islam).  Those Women, and despising them, is written into our culture.  And there is no reason for you to play along.

We live in a sexist society and, I’m sorry to say, no matter how much of a Cool Smart Girl you are, there is still the possibility someone will label you a Dumb Bitch.  Don’t feed into it.  Fighting with and despising other girls is just a way to keep you from working together, from being able to be seen as the Awesome Unique You and more than just Some Girl.  Remember that the Crazy Girlfriend is more than just a girlfriend, she is a full, developed person.  Don’t buy into the bullshit and don’t be afraid to call it out.

Well, it’s been a while since that day on the bus.  You’ll be starting high school soon.  Hopefully, this is the time when you’ll find your Smart Girl Media, maybe Jezebel or Feministing.  I started with Bust, which I’d suggest, along with BitchVenus also used to be cool.  But I know it’ll happen one day, Little One.  The day will come when you like Courtney Love.

Just embrace it.

Sincerely, Ann