Telling Abortion Stories and Joking About Rape


Steph Herold will be on to talk about her new project chronicling women’s abortion stories. Mississippi’s battle over the last abortion clinic ends on a strange note, for now, and the nation actually has a somewhat productive conversation about rape jokes.

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Not fair to deny women coverage

Mississippi abortion clinic gets a reprieve

Louis CK on Daniel Tosh rape joke

Melissa Harris-Perry Show on rape jokes

Sarah Silverman shows how to do a rape joke

Clap harder and sex will go away!

On this episode of Reality Cast, Steph Herold will be on to talk about her new project chronicling women’s abortion stories. Mississippi’s battle over the last abortion clinic ends on a strange note, for now, and the nation actually has a somewhat productive conversation about rape jokes.

President Obama explained the reasoning behind his administration’s requirement that insurance companies cover contraception, even for women whose employers want to get in the way because they disapprove of their private sex lives.

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Not fair. That’s basically it. Most women get to have their health care without having to involve their employers in their sexual decisions. Just because you’re a nurse at a Catholic hospital doesn’t mean you should lose that basic right.

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As has been covered on this show and elsewhere, the state of Mississippi is embroiled in a huge struggle over the last remaining clinic in the state. Lawmakers have been trying to shut it down for years with various TRAP regulations, and finally the one that looked like it was going to work was one that required doctors have admitting privileges to a local hospital. The doctors are from out of state and two of them don’t have these privileges, and political pressure from anti-choicers is making it so that they simply can’t get them. Hospitals have to be mindful of terrorist threats, after all, so this puts them in a terrible position. The whole thing has been drug out in court for a long time, and on July 13th, the judge managed somehow to split the baby.

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The whole thing is very confusing. Part of the problem is that in theory, the clinic could continue to be open if they could just get these privileges in place. However, the reality of terrorism plus political pressure makes it highly unlikely that hospitals are going to want to have anything to do with this. Still, the judge basically centered the decision around allowing the clinic more time to try to comply with the law, saying, “We do not yet know whether the clinic will obtain admitting and staff privileges.” Presumably there could be a point in the future where this law is revisited. In other words, the judge kind of punted it, and who could blame him? The law is clearly unconstitutional both in its form and in its intent, but simply striking it down would create a massive backlash against the judge.

Even though the decision seems a tad anticlimactic, supporters of the Mississippi clinic are basically claiming victory. The Maddow show contacted the owner of the Jackson clinic and asked for comment, and she was happy.

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It’s more than a little irritating that the whole thing has turned into a bureaucratic battle over phone calls and pointedly ignored applications, when the big picture here is that Mississippi legislators are trying to run legal abortion out of the state. Which was, as has been previously reported, their expressed intent and not even an implied intent. Not to unload on everyone, but it gets frustrating how this entire discussion gets mired in this stuff instead of having a larger debate about what it means to cut women off from access to legal abortion. What it means is not that they won’t get abortions, though of course that’s bad enough when you’re talking about a basic human right to control your body.  What’s at stake here is access, and we have ample evidence to show that if women don’t have access to safe, legal abortion, they instead seek out unsafe and illegal abortion. The anti-choice side mostly talks around this issue, though one legislator, Bubba Carpenter, did deal with it and made it clear that he just doesn’t care.

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Yeah, yeah, women will be mutilated and even killed, but Bubba considers that “moral values”. Which is a nice, refreshing admission that they think that no amount of harm is too great for a woman who has broken their sexual rules.

The question is, “What now?” The clinic owner had her opinion:

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Of course, even if the clinic is successful, all that’s happened is the day of reckoning has been put off over this question. Anti-choicers will continue to try to eliminate women’s access to not just abortion, but all sorts of reproductive health care with nickel and dime regulations, most of which don’t seem so bad on their own but collectively can make providing this care legally impossible.

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Insert interview

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I was going to avoid doing a segment on this show on the blow-up over Daniel Tosh telling a heckler that rape is always funny and that it would be hilarious if she was gang-raped right now. It initially seemed like one of those situations that allowed misogynists to preen like they’re big victims and pretend that feminists don’t have a sense of humor, though an amazing and admirable number of feminists came forward with videos of genuinely funny rape jokes they like because these jokes don’t make light of rape itself or make victims the target of abuse. But I am going to do a segment on it, because I think in many ways what happened was that an actual dialogue opened up and a lot of holes were punctured in the usual narrative. In many mainstream media sources, there was a real examination about why so many people think there’s nothing funnier than kicking a rape victim while she’s down and why being opposed to bullying doesn’t mean you’re opposed to humor, even genuinely cutting humor.

Louis CK got a lot of attention for going on the Daily Show to clarify that a generic “you’re funny” tweet sent to Daniel Tosh during all this had nothing to do with the controversy, which CK didn’t even know was going on when he wrote the tweet. CK reverted to a lot of tedious stereotypes about men vs. women on this, but he did at least manage to advance the dialogue some by saying this:

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Again, most of what he said was kind of useless and not helpful in pushing the dialogue forward. But it was legitimately remarkable to hear a man go on “The Daily Show” and lay out one of the primary things feminists are talking about when we talk about rape culture in such clear, concise terms. I’d even take this a bit further and point out that it’s not just the fear of rape that causes us to police things like going out at night. It’s also that other people are eager to use the specter of rape in order to scare women into complying with other things that they want us to do. They find our miniskirts offensive, so they use the threat of rape to scold us about them while pretending to be concerned about us. They want to police our sexual choices, and since calling us a “slut’ is too obvious, they insinuate we’re asking to be raped. And so on and so forth, all of which results all too often in rapists being let off the hook in court because the jury was too worried about policing the victim to hold a rapist accountable for rape.

Melissa Harris-Perry used the occasion to gather a bunch of comedians and pundits together to talk about it, and lest you think that the dialogue is a bunch of humorless people sitting around talking about this humor thing we don’t understand, Jamie Kilstein’s rant put it all to bed:

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Lizz Winstead followed that up by making some really important points about what it means to truly embrace free speech and to really come to grips with what it means to be an artist. I think her comments really are something that everyone should come to grips with, even those of us who don’t find it alluring to mine violence against disempowered groups for easy laughs from people who think nothing is funnier than bullying.

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And Elon James agreed, pointing out that there’s just something really cowardly about all the whining and trying to silence women who offer their honest opinions about why making fun of rape victims just isn’t funny.

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That’s one reason you know that this really wasn’t a joke, but just bullying. The crybaby reaction from Tosh and his defenders makes it clear they don’t actually have a defense of the joke. They can’t defend it as humor. If they could, they could be funny about it. Instead, what you’re seeing is the wah-wah reaction that bullies get when their victims punch back. They’re mad because they see you as someone whose job is to sit and take their abuse. It’s much more reminiscent of the moaning and wailing you get from right wing nuts who flip out if someone calls them out on their nonsense than of comedians defending an actual joke.  But hey, Sarah Silverman said it in a much funnier way than I’m doing here, so I’ll give her the floor.

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And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, you know me so well edition! Michelle Fields of the Daily Caller went on Fox News and made this claim about those of us who dare notice the war on women:

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I guess it’s Opposite Day, because in the real world, if women don’t have to worry about how they’re going to get and afford reproductive health care, they actually have more time to think about other things. Though I suppose Fields is suggesting that if we just clap really hard, women will stop having sexualities, which, and not to be cheap, was way more awesome to hear her say while wearing the big hair, heavy make-up and nightclub outfits common to female pundits on Fox News. Of course, in conservative land, one can be outrageously sexy without ever having an actual sexuality, because women are sex objects, not you know, actual people with actual sexualities themselves.

Follow Amanda Marcotte on twitter: @amandamarcotte