The fight for control over women’s bodies, the softening up of culture warriors, imaginary friends, and an interview with Samhita from Feministing—all on this week’s Reality Cast.
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This week on Reality Cast, a look at how culture warriors try to take the edge off, and some state battles over who controls women’s bodies. Also, an interview with Samhita from Feministing, and the place of imaginary friends in the anti-choice canon.
Sometimes you never know what will take off virally. A few people not that long ago got the idea to start donating money to Planned Parenthood in Sarah Palin’s name, and then email their friends and suggest they do the same thing. The chain took off.
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The estimated amount of money generated by this completely grassroots campaign is estimated to be above $800,000.
Thanks to Lisa Simeone at Cogitamus for pointing me towards a brilliant Slate article by Melinda Henneberger and Dahlia Lithwick about what they call e Harmony voting, where people are more interested in validating candidates for being someone they’d like to have as friends than as someone whose policies and leadership skills fit the qualifications the voter would like to see. Voters of every stripe are guilty of this, from urban liberals who see themselves in the Obamas to soccer moms cozying up to the Palins to grumpy old men who think McCain is clearly the best choice. As the authors note, no where is this attitude more prevalent than in the women who supported Hillary Clinton and can’t get over their bitterness that she lost, projecting all their problems onto her candidacy.
But there’s another way that the personal above the political is used more and more, and it’s a way to soften up the culture wars for the moderates who run far away from the ugliness that invariably springs up in the clash over how much control the government should give your puritanical neighbor over your bedroom and family life. More and more often we’re seeing culture warriors make appeals to their own personal charm or tolerance in order to convince skittish moderates that they aren’t so far to the right. Mike Huckabee highlighted his sense of humor and his willingness to play some rock music. And now we have Sarah Palin contrasting her political views with her personal charm.
The tactic may have reached a new level of strangeness when it was revealed that Sarah Palin, in order to convince people she’s a true believer in "love the sinner hate the sin", claimed in 2006 that even though she’s hostile politically to gay rights, she’s got gay friends. The problem, as Dan Savage noted, is that these gay friends haven’t surfaced. To highlight the absurdity of this strategy, Dan made a video offering to be Palin’s gay friend.
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Other submissions immediately came in of people who were facetiously offering to help Palin moderate her image by hanging out and being her friend. This guy’s was pretty damn funny.
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But it wasn’t just the guys offering. Here’s another from Danielle.
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Of course what really matters is not who you are friends with, but what your policies are. I just finished reading "The Nine" by Jeffrey Toobin, and there is one interesting juxtaposition that shows exactly how ridiculous trotting out the gay friend gambit is. Justice Thomas is described as being very affectionate to a former clerk of Justice Stevens who is a lesbian, and he has a picture of her and her partner on his desk. This personal affection for actual gay people in his life didn’t stop Thomas from dissenting on Lawrence v. Texas, which extended the basic right to have a private sex life without the threat of jail to gay people.
You’re seeing this same level of confusion on the political/personal aspects of choice. In Palin’s personal life, there’s a lot of choice to bear children going on. And she’s getting praised by people who are hostile to choice for her choices. Like talk radio show host Lee Rodgers using Sarah Palin’s supposed moral superiority to bash women who don’t make choices he agrees with.
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Once again, people are pretending that policy has nothing to do with this. No, there’s no way that women could have political disagreements, no siree. We’re just all a bunch of cats clawing at each other for personal choices!
Look, contrary to the claims of anti-choicers, making the choice to carry a pregnancy to term after learning the baby will have Down’s syndrome isn’t a de facto expression of willingness to deprive all women everywhere of choices. Palin was anti-choice before she made her choice, and would be anti-choice even if that never happened. Michael Berube, blogging at Pandagon, mentioned the way this personal choice is getting politicized in relation to his and his wife’s choice to have a child with Down’s. Quote "But guess what? Janet and I are pro-choice in theory and practice. And if you choose to have a child with Down syndrome, we’ll support all the educational, medical, and vocational programs you and your kid will ever need." End quote.
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Now for your semi-regular reminder that activists who claim to be "pro-life" aren’t that at all, but mostly interested in using the law to control women’s bodies, and sexual and family choices. When it comes to white women, of course, the anti-choice movement stands as one. White women, especially middle class white women, need to have more babies whether they like it or not. And they need to get married young and just generally stop agitating for equality with men. Simple, really. But when you start getting into situations involving lower income women and women of color, it starts to get hairy. Suddenly it’s not so obvious that more and more babies are desired, but the urge to control stays strong.
The Colorado personhood for fertilized eggs amendment that’s coming up on the ballot in 2008 is a perfect example. Activists put together a panel explaining how this maudlin concern for "life" doesn’t extend to the lives of the most oppressed women in our society, and not to their children’s lives either.
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Faced with realities such as this, the anti-choice activist on hand decided to do what they always do with inconvenient facts. Deny them outright. Hey, if you can claim that the Earth is only 4,000 years old and that the birth control pill works how you say it does, instead of how doctors who know what they’re talking about says it does, then smaller level lies are no big deal. And that’s what we get here.
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I’m sure the extent of his research was asking a bunch of other anti-choice friends what they should tell the press if this comes up. Because it really only takes a little work to find the multitude of ways that the state looks to interfere with basic choices. And yes, so-called pro-life women get mistreated, too. At the National Advocates for Pregnant Women conference, one of the speakers was against abortion rights, but she had tasted the other side of this when she was forced under court order to get a C-section. A quick Google search of "forced c-section" shows many other examples.
It’s more than that. There’s risks that these laws will be used to harass women, especially women of color, for perceived misuse of their own bodies while they’re pregnant. We could see an escalation of putting women in jail for using drugs while pregnant or even not taking prenatal vitamins. And there’s no way white, middle class women will be monitored as much.
It gets worse. Louisiana State Representative John LaBruzzo has decided that the best way to address the images of misery after the non-evacuation of New Orleans in the wake of Katrina would be to try to bribe poor, black women into not reproducing. Ever. Rachel Maddow was on it.
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Let’s take bets on where LaBruzzo stands on a woman’s right to control her own body? Any guesses? Okay, I won’t play with you. LaBruzzo identifies as "pro-life", which clearly means anti-choice, because he’s not pro-you making life if you’re in the wrong socioeconomic group or race. Once again, the desire to direct and control women trumps any inclination towards life.
And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts. This American Life League video about a memorial day to mourn women’s right to abortion revealed an aspect of anti-choice fantasizing I’d never considered.
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Is this really a powerful argument for anti-choicers? That there’s all these people that would have liked them and totally been their friends if it wasn’t for reproductive rights? Are they that lonely that they think the only cure is to increase the number of people by force so that maybe someone can be their friend? I’d hate to think so, but then why is he using that argument?