Sunday, July 03, 2005

Roundtable V: abortion, control, our bodies

Ava: The roundtable this edition is on choice. Participating are Ty, Jess, Jim and Dona of The Third Estate Sunday Review, Mike of Mikey Likes It!, Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude, Betty of Thomas Friedman is a Great Man, Kat of Kat's Korner and C.I. of The Common Ills. Open question, what's the biggest surprise to you about Sandra Day O'Connor's announced retirement?

Jim: That we're surprised. I was surprised but I shouldn't have been. This is the justice who had a fit when the predicition on election night 2000 was that Gore had won.

C.I.: I'm jumping in because I'm pissed off, mad and unable to do an entry which is why I suggested a roundtable. In 1991, Anita Hill testified before the Senate Judiciary Committeee. It is fourteen years later. In 1991, the committee was composed of all white males. Fourteen years later, the best we can do is one female? That's unacceptable.

Dona: Who's the one female?

C.I.: Diane Feinstein.

Kat: And Biden still sits on the committee.

C.I.: Exactly. He was chair of the committee in 1991. The committee that refused to call supporting witnesses for Hill. What he's still doing on the committee is anyone's guess.

Betty: I saw the note on the Sunday Chat & Chews and how all the guests who could offer opinions were male.

Jess: Yeah, wasn't that disgusting?

Rebecca: What's more disgusting is the way that vote went. And it should be noted that Democrats controlled the senate in 1991.

C.I.: Correct. And one of the strongest voices for Hill was Paul Simon who's now deceased. There's something really clear if you read those statements from the Senate floor. The issue, and Bob Somerby could do a strong critique of this, wasn't Hill's statements. Republicans and some Democrats made the issue, "How did the press get ahold of this! I'm outraged!" And on the Democrat side, you had senators more concerned with making sure everyone knew it wasn't them that leaked than fighting the battle.

Ty: You're saying they, the Republicans, made a charge and made the battle about that.

C.I.: Yeah, you can't go back and read the statements without that coming through loud and clear. Of course Thomas tried to set it up as "If you don't vote for me you're lynching me!" And that's commented on a great deal. But there's another thing going on, the constant attacks on the leaker and the constant refrains of "It wasn't me." The nomination should have never left the committee. And all the two faced [John] Breauxs who felt the need to not just vote in favor of Thomas but to endorse him from the Senate floor --

Ty: Okay, I'm sorry but Democrats controlled the Senate? I'll be the one to say, "I'm too young to remember."

C.I.: Yes, they did. And the chair of the committee was Joe Biden and they couldn't stop Thomas.

Betty: Who got away with claiming he'd never given any thought to Roe v. Wade.

Ty: So if they couldn't stop Thomas who was clearly anti-choice even with Anita Hill stepping forward to talk about the sexual harrassment, what does that mean today when the Democrats don't have the majority in the Senate?

Dona: And when they've been good lap dogs and allowed themselves to be painted into a corner on the filibuster.

Kat: It means this is war. Kim Gandy [President of NOW] and others aren't just making rhetorical statements. You've had appointees since Thomas but they've came from Clinton. If Rehnie had stepped down it didn't mean shit. He's not a Roe vote. O'Connor was one, not a strong one, but Roe wouldn't be overturned by her vote. Now we're in a position where Roe may very well be overturned. And if you've forgotten some of the male Dems have made public statements about how that wasn't a reality in the recent past. They've made charges of fear mongering on the part of feminist groups. This isn't fear mongering, this is reality.

Dona: Look, I've never not voted Democrat. We lose Roe, I'm Green. I'm not kidding.

Jim: Which is a good point because if the Democrats do not get behind Roe they can't hold it over anyone's heads ever again. They've often played the Roe card. Vote for us if you want to preserve Roe. Then they've fulfilled that aspect to a degree but gone off and trashed other issues that we believe in. If they let O'Connor be replaced by an anti-choice judge, they've lost a huge number of voters.

Kat: Amen to that. I do vote Green locally. But on national offices, I have voted Democratic. They give away Roe they lose my vote.

Betty: I'm honestly shocked that we're sitting around talking about this because a week ago I wouldn't have even thought it was possible. I mean this is really, really frightening.

Jess: And people need to realize that Roe is just the most obvious right to privacy case.

C.I.: Right. Toss out Roe and then you go after Loving, Griswold, Lawrence . . . Just go down the list. These assholes aren't concerned with your right to privacy, they want to destroy your right to privacy.

Rebecca: Perfect example, the hideous John Cornyn.

C.I.: John Corny, famous, infamous, to community members for replying to a constituent's concerns over J-Ass's destruction of civil liberties with a letter saying, "I've forwarded your letter to John Ashcroft."

Betty: What a man, what a man, what a sorry, sorry, sorry man.

Jim: What's the easiest way for Bully Boy to get an anti-choice nominee confirmed.

Rebecca: Little to no paper trail on the nominee.

Ty: Person of color.

Kat: I don't think the Dems have it in them to filibuster. I hope I'm wrong, I'll gladly be wrong, but I don't see it happening. By the way, let me go on record here, I had an abortion.

Dona: You talked about that in the gina & krista round-robin. I was just reading that this morning.

Kat: I posted on it. I didn't go into it in my post. I just said I had one. I also linked to Mike's post this morning.

Ava: Which is Mike of Mikey Likes It! A community member of The Common Ills who just started a site recently and is joining us for his first round-table.

Jess: Be prepared to jump in Mike.

Mike: Well I was just listening. C.I.'s really angry.

C.I.: I am. The treatment of Anita Hill enraged me in 1991 and for many years after. Going through the transcripts today, it brought it all back and when I look to the members currently on the judiciary committee and see that after Anita Hill we're apparently supposed to be thrilled that one woman, one woman, sits on the commmittee . . .

Dona: That is nonsense. The Republicans have no respect for women, but Democrats are supposed to be different.

Rebecca: Which is what we'll see by the way they handle the nominee. Can the committee bury it?

C.I.: A nominee? As I understand it, any member of the committee can put a one week hold on any nomination without providing a reason for the hold.

Kat: If it leaves committee, it's war. Dems will have to filibuster.

Mike: I got a nasty e-mail today already on being pro-choice. Not from a right winger. Guy says that it's destroying the party and something about Casey somebody.

Betty: Little Junior Casey who's anti-choice and set to run against mad dog Santorum.

Jim: Casey Junior polls well early on but that's early on. The biggest mistake the Democratic party made was getting behind that jerk.

Dona: It's the big tent bullshit. "We don't have to agree on all issues, come into the tent."

Ty: And the issues the big tenters always trash are the rights of women and minorities.

Kat: John Kerry, and I'll say it, made a huge mistake by being silent on choice.

Dona: Oh, I agree! And that's what you heard on campus. "Is he for abortion?" If he'd come out strongly in favor of choice, he would have had more votes.

Betty: Because this effects women's lives. I've never had an abortion but I have the right to that option. It's nobody's damn business.

Kat: I made that point in my post. Maggie, a friend of mine, was making the point Betty's making. She is pro-choice. She's not had an abortion but damned if anyone's going to determine her rights for her.

Betty: Exactly. Who do they think they are? It's my damn body, keep your leglislation off it. It's my business and no one else's.

Rebecca: Until privacy rights are chipped away and then you have no right to expect anyone to stay out of your business.

Mike: It's been surreal at my house since yesterday. My parents are both firmly pro-choice and they can't believe how in one day so much has changed.

Ty: It really has changed. You woke up on Friday and it seemed like your average day, who knew how it would go. You wake up Saturday and you're living in a different world where suddenly you and everyone you know is at risk. I don't want to make O'Connor out into a hero, she gave us Bully Boy after all, but compared to the other zealots, she was someone you maybe had a chance with. Maybe affirmative-action had a chance, maybe abortion had a chance, maybe gay rights had a chance, just go down the list. Now we're living in a completely different landscape. I called home this morning and talked to my mother and was asking her if people back there get what it at stake. She said she was surprised but that everyone in the neighborhood got it.

Ava: Is it a multi-racially neighborhood?

Ty: No, it's all black. And we get what's at stake. We know what Bully Boy thinks of us. We know, in my neighborhood, that after they dismantle Roe the next step will be to go after other rights and to destroy any hope of an even playing field.

Rebecca: Roe is the first line of attack for the fright wing. And once they topple it, everyone is in danger.

Betty: I don't, I've never gotten, the opposition. You don't want an abortion, don't have one.

Ava: They would say "it's murder." For readers, I'm firmly pro-choice, but stuck playing moderator.

Betty: Well let God decide that. What kind of churches did these freaks go to because the stuff that spills out of their lunatic mouths isn't like anything I've ever heard in my life and, I mean, my family is huge on church, I'm from the south, and I've probably missed a Sunday five days in my entire life. Everyone of those times I was sick except for once when I was in labor. But then my church has a long history of social activism. We're not all about building the bowling alley to supposedly glorify God. Their statements are disgusting and their mistaking a place of worship for a mini-mall is disgusting.

Jess: Well --

Betty: To me! I better add that. Sorry, Jess.

Jess: No problem. But the thing is, the movement to legalize abortion included churches. We don't know our own history because we're not told of it and all the networks want to do is put on some money grabber with some mill school divinity degree claiming to speak for Jesus while he fleeces the flock. If you're living it up, got the high life and the big house, there's no excuse for anyone in your congregation to go wanting but the reality is a lot of these assholes are rich beyond belief and the people scrapping together pennies to send in will continue to struggle.

C.I.: "Oh come let us adore . . . me." Joni Mitchell, "Tax Free" off the Dog Eat Dog album.

Jim: We're doing a Joni Mitchell thing this issue. I don't know what's going to happen. But, and I could be wrong, I think Democrats in the Senate get how important this is. I'm not arguing that they care one way or another. I am saying that they must realize that this is the card they play and if they let Roe be overturned, they've got little else to play.

Mike: C.I. had a thing that I loved, so did my mother, about reactions on the news. There was a thing in there about framing choice right out of the picture.

C.I. Right, Katha Pollitt. Writing for The Nation. "If the Frame Fits . . ."

Ava: Which I grabbed from the print edition. I wanted to read the second to last paragraph from that:

There's a word that doesn't show up much in the new abortion frames: women. Maybe it doesn't poll well. "Reframing" abortion is actually a kind of deframing, a way of taking it out of its real-life context, which is the experience of women, their bodies, their healthcare, their struggles, the caring work our society expects them to do for free. Lynn Paltrow, the brilliant lawyer who runs National Advocates for Pregnant Women, thinks the way to win grassroots support for abortion rights is to connect it to the whole range of reproductive and maternal rights: the right to have a home birth, to refuse a Caesarean section, to know that a miscarriage or stillbirth--or simply taking a drink--will not land you in jail. The same ideology of fetal protection that anti-choicers wield against abortion is used against women with wanted pregnancies. More broadly, Paltrow argues that the right to abortion would have more support if it were presented as just one of the things women need to care for their families, along with paid maternity leave, childcare, quality healthcare for all, economic and social support for mothers and children, strong environmental policies that protect fetuses and children.

Kat: Which goes to the core of it. We've got male leadership that's uncomfortable around the topic. But what aren't they squeamish on when it comes to women's medical procedures? They may not think that the female body is dirty, they may though, but I know men who will go on and on about their prostate exam, but turn squeamish if you discuss a pap smear.

Rebecca: Exactly. Or, for all their love of breasts, and obviously, Kat and I are speaking of straight men here, if you talk about your breast exam.

Kat: But put a woman in stirrups and suddenly they're wanting you to describe that or wondering if the gynocolist would let them watch.

C.I.: For no other reason then to toss something out, Michelle Phillips doctor did let Warren Beatty watch when they were an item.

Rebecca: Woah. And I felt sorry for him when Madonna was walking all over him. Anyway. I have a hard time believing that it's not because in that scenario, a woman is "restrained." But Kat's exactly right. They'll give lip service to motherhood but they are truly squeamish about anything having to do with women's bodies.

Betty: Which applies historically to the medical establishment as well which historically has focused studies on white males.

Ty: Which leavs you out twice.

Betty: Right. As a black woman, I'm left out twice. And I think Kat and Rebecca are right, it does go to a hang up with women's bodies. There are men I grew up with, for example, who will never eat pasta unless it's cooked by their wife.

Jess: What? Why?

Betty: Because of some idiotic superstition that women will use menstrual blood in the sauce to snare a man. This is, this is . . . This is the kind of fear and hatred that's out there about women's bodies. A man will go piss in the snow with his buddies. They'll write their names in the snow. But, and I'm serious about this, they'll refuse a tomato sauce for pasta because of this idiotic superstition. And a word on those men that I know who are like that, they are no prizes and they are kidding themselves if they think that any woman who could trap them would want them.

Ava: We're all kind of silent. I don't think anyone had ever heard of that before.

Betty: It's true. About the superstition being believed.

Kat: I believe you but I'm just shocked. So, I'm guessing, if they'll eat their wife's pasta, they're either not concerned with the blood itself or feel that their wives aren't interested in catching them?

Betty: I guess. It makes no sense to me.

Ty: I actually had heard that before. From my cousin but I thought he was joking. He grew up and lives just outside of Shreveport so I'm guessing it's a southern black thing. I'm surprised Ludacris or Killer Mike haven't already done a rap called "What's That in the Pot!"

Betty: But it's the "curse." Menstruation. I feel like I'm harping on that word.

Ava: Feel free to use it as much as you want. It's a natural body function.

Betty: There was an episode of Roseanne where Becky or Darlene got their period and that meant so much to me because it wasn't "Oh, this nasty thing has happened to you!" That attitude really is still out there.

Kat: It is. It's a fear of the female body. It's why people want to take power over it, men want to take power over it. It leads to terms like "unclean" and to things like wearing burkas.

Rebecca: I'm going to go completely off topic here but when Ava and C.I. reviewed One Tree Hill they were making jokes about Chad Michael Murray's nipples. Am I the only one who finds male nipples sexy? I bring it up because it goes to "cover the woman's body!" A lot of guys, and these are the kinds of topics that put the "sex" in Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude, seem to think when they're parading down the street shirtless that anyone looking is checking out their pecs and thinking, "Ooooh, muscles." I'm checking out the nipples. I'm fascinated by male nipples.

Kat: We're so hung up on the female form in this country. It has to be this size and not that size, it has to be covered to this degree or you're a slut. Mike had a thing about his father popping his brother on the back of the head and I was really glad you put that in there, Mike. Because while I'm sure your brother was just mouthing off and being the smart ass you said he was, that attitude does exist.

Mike: Really? My mother read it and asked, "Why did you have to put that in?"

Kat: And I can understand where she's coming from. Mike's father has sat him down for a birds and bees discussion and his older brother --

Mike: Jack.

Kat: Jack is there and Jack's piping off throughout. And when his father explains about abortion and that their family is pro-choice, Jack pipes off that it means "If you knock up a slut, don't worry." I don't know Mike's brother and he may have just been going for a cheap laugh but that attitude is out there and I'm glad it was in Mike's entry and I was really glad that Mike's father pops Jack in the back of the head when he makes that idiotic remark.

Dona: Which gets us to another topic which is the whole slut thing. You had sex, you should suffer the consequences whatever they are.

Kat: Right the whole "you got what you deserve libertine now live with it."

Dona: Pregnancy as punishment and that's something I will never understand. On the one hand they're making these fluff remarks about how wonderful motherhood is and on the other this "noble" feat is punishment to be handed out as well.

Ava: Which is something that comes up in a lot of e-mails. People get really uncomfortable when we talk about sex.

Rebecca: Yes, they do. I get so many e-mails telling me that I should basically be a good girl and not talk about sex. I'm really glad Mike's started blogging because I enjoy what he writes but I'm also glad that I'm not the only one in the community discussing sex. And this need to keep sex hidden goes straight the fear of the female. They're hand in hand in my opinion.

Jim: And it's interesting because Mike's getting e-mails and his mother gets a little uncomfortable when he talks about sex but otherwise it's really just one person complaining.

Mike: Ma didn't want me to be smutty. She's okay with it but likes it best when it's funny.
And I'm not using "penis" and words like that. And that probably is more adult but I don't know anyone my age, of either sex, that uses "penis" except to get a laugh. And I've never heard a guy say, "Oh, my testicles hurt." It's my nuts, my balls.

Rebecca: I love what Mike's doing. But I do think that if he's talking about the heat and how it's making his cock stick to his balls, it's received in a manner that anything I could write about wouldn't be. Even if I were writing about the same thing. I could write "It was hot, the sun was beating down. Christian Parenti grabbed his package through his pants because his cock was sticking to his balls" and the e-mails would come in from all the freaks who keep complaining about the sex talk but keep, apparently, coming back.

Kat: Because you're a woman. I think Mike's cute as hell and he makes me laugh like crazy. But Rebecca makes me laugh as well and I know that a lot of people don't look at it the same way, as bookends. They think, "Oh Rebecca, don't be naughty." But with Mike, it's "He's such a guy." I don't mean that as an insult to Mike. He's doing a great job. But I do mean it as an insult to the people who gripe about Rebecca but chuckle when Mike's written something. It's more palatable for them if it comes from Mike because he's a male. He can talk about a vagina and probably not raise an eye brow because he's a male. But if a woman does the same thing, and think about Eve Ensler's play and all the uproar and protests over it, it's "For shame!" and "How dare you!" Because we aren't supposed to talk about our bodies. That's what a lot of people think. It's uncomfortable to them. And from their discomfort comes the desire for control.

Dona: And the control manifests itself as an attack on what they fear. Sex-ed, to offer an example, the objections to it, that's not about concern that little Johnny --

Rebecca: Little Mikey!

Dona: Little Mikey's going to go out and have sex with a girl. It's expected that he will. If he doesn't, then there must be something wrong with his physically -- get him to the doctor -- or else he must be gay. This isn't new, this is the double standard that's been around for years. So attacks on sex-ed aren't about the males, they're about not wanting women to be informed. Because if they're informed they might have some, key word again, control over their own bodies. Or, like Rebecca, they might talk about sex. And I love what Rebecca does for so many reasons including the fact that it says "I'm a woman and I think about sex." And it's not in a "come complete me way." Or in a "I will lay back and be proper." I also love that she talks about [Christian] Parenti or Dahr Jamail or any other guy on the left in terms of sex because I can remember being a young girl watching Family Ties with an aunt who was a teenager and she was going on and on about how sexy Alex was. Not how sexy Michael J. Fox was, but how sexy his character Alex was. The uptight prig. And I mean that's not how I see the world. Or you'll hear what a wonderful baby face William Pryor has, I had a professor who made that statement, and I'm thinking, "What the hell? Do you need glasses?" Rebecca is like other women I know. Whether they are straight or lesbian, they talk about sex. That was probably Jim's biggest surprise when we got together. I don't think he'd ever been with a woman who told him he had a great ass.

Ty: Feed his ego!

Dona: Right. I'll leave it at his ass to avoid feeding his huge ego but Jim's sexy and the first time it came up was when you [Ty] and Jess were ragging on him about that hideous pair of pants and that eye sore shirt he used to wear. He asked my opinion and I listed off his hot qualities, I won't feed his ego here, and explained how everyone of those except his eyes were destroyed with that outfit.

Rebecca: Were you surprised, Jim?

Jim: Well . . . yeah. Dona was graphic which didn't surprise me because of the language but I was kind of surprised that she knew every piece of my body the way she did let alone had an opinion on parts. Let's say it was a consciousness raising experience.

Ty: And ego lifting! Dona, you should have heard him come back to me and Jess with talk of how you thought this and you thought that.

Dona: I can picture it. I can picture him sitting in a chair and holding court on the topic. His lack of modesty is frequently his least attractive quality.

Rebecca: But no woman had ever said anything like that to you?

Jim: No. I guess I kind of thought they look and they think "nice" or "ugh" or whatever. But it was a surprise to find out how studied my body had been.

Rebecca: And that's because women are used to being picked apart. Your ass, your thighs, your breasts, your ankles, every part of the body. But men seem to think that if they are rated, it's in a pass or fail type of way. And I'm willing to bet that Jim had an opinion on every part of Dona's body and any other woman he was with before Dona. And, I'm not picking on Jim here and great that Dona could open him up to reality, that's because the male gaze can linger but the female gaze if it exists at all has to be fleeting. It's a denial of our sexuality. My ex-husband had the most amazing wrists. I just found them fascinating and sexy and he never got that.

Betty: Because, we're used to being picked apart, because we're expected to be used to the male gaze. In high school, I was with this guy on the track team. He was really good at track and I went to all the track meets and he was just surprised that I was there not because I was so proud to be with the star runner but because I thought he looked really hot in those shorts. He told me, "You're not supposed to talk like that."

Kat: Because God forbid a woman think of anything other than "some day my prince will come --"

Rebecca: "and give me a shiny kitchen!"

Kat: Right. It's a refusal to admit that women have desires. And by outlawing abortion, the hope would be that the wanton women would either curb their behavior or suffer the consequences. "Maybe I can't control your behaviro but I can make you suffer!"

Ty: I think, my theory, the reason abortion is supported by African-American women I know is because they grasp the control issue. They're well aware of how women who were brought over as slaves were bred by slave owners. It was about control over a woman's body and they can connect it to today and the attacks on reproductive freedom.

Betty: And I've got your back on that, Ty, because that's a point I've heard so many of my pro-choice female friends make. And we're not about to surrender the rights of our bodies to anyone. My grandmother's the perfect example of that. She shocked me once by saying she could never have had an abortion under any circumstance and I said, "But Granny, you're pro-choice." And she replied that she made her personal decision but no one else was going to make it for her.
The issue of "breeding" hasn't been forgotten by any of the women I know.

Ava: Jess is quiet.

Jess: I was just thinking that about C.I.

C.I.: Sorry, I was listening. And thinking about an article I read. In LiP magazine.

Rebecca: What is that?

C.I.: A magazine a member recommended. Wally in fact.

Mike: Wally is so cool. He should blog.

C.I.: He should. But he recommended it and I'm always looking for additional resources. There's this really great article by Susan Faludi entitled "Porn, Dignity & the Masculine Mantle."
I was listening and thinking about that.

Rebecca: Are you going to write up something on the article?

C.I.: Probably. If I don't, I'll pass it on over to you.

Rebecca: Pass it on over regardless. The title's intriguing and I loved Backlash.

Ava: A book that sadly never goes out of style. Sadly because it's still describing too many things that exist today.

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