Abortion and Pregnancy Loss: A Pro Choice Critique of Pro Choice Language

By Robin


 

I’m going to start this off by clarifying up front that I am, and always have been and will be, fiercely pro choice. If you’re reading this hoping that my personal tragedies have helped me see the error of my wicked feminist ways, you are on the wrong blog. However, in the wake of both my miscarriage and stillbirth in the past year, I have come to realize that the pro choice movement has a serious language problem that is likely causing us to lose significant numbers of people who might otherwise support reproductive rights.

Just over a year ago, prior to finding out about my first pregnancy, I read Life’s Work, by the incredible Dr. Willie Parker. If you haven’t read him yet, stop and go do that. He talks about this issue more eloquently than I will ever be able to. An abortion provider who has dedicated his life to ensuring that women have access to safe abortions, Dr. Parker discusses his journey through medical school and practice as a black man with deeply held religious values, and how this led him to view abortion rights- being pro choice- through a moral rather than scientific lens. He talks about how he feels it is morally necessary to provide women, especially poor women, women of color, women who are oppressed in intersectional ways, with the same opportunities that men are given to determine the course of their own lives. This stuck with me, and I thought about how many times I had used scientific arguments to debate with people about abortion rights. What good does this do in a world where science increasingly has little power to dissuade people from their strongly held (incorrect) beliefs? (Looking at you, anti-vaxxer, climate change deniers, and Flat Earthers.)

“It’s just a clump of cells.” “It wasn’t viable outside the uterus.” “It’s a fetus, not a baby.” I’ve used these phrases myself, and I’ve used them often. And they’re true. But they’re also not true, at least not when you’re the one experiencing loss of a wanted pregnancy. I have listened to people I like and respect say things like “I was always pro choice until my friend/my sister/I had a baby, and now I just don’t know.” And I didn’t understand how that could be. Then I lost one pregnancy at twelve weeks, when the risk of miscarriage is supposed to be at its lowest. When I was supposed to be able to relax and be excited and start planning for my baby and announce my good news to everyone I knew. And sitting in the ER bleeding through my pad and underwear and pants, passing blood clots the size of my fist, in excruciating physical and emotional pain, it didn’t feel like I was losing a nonviable clump of cells. I was losing my baby. I lost all of the hopes I had for being a mom, I lost the ability to take it for granted that pregnancy is a time of joy and excitement, I lost the ability to smile and nod my head in the future when someone asked “is this your first pregnancy?” I struggled with that for a little while, because of course I still believe that my fetus didn’t have rights that can or should supersede mine. I don’t believe that the heartbeat I heard that changed my whole life and broke my heart into pieces when it stopped means that everyone who finds themselves pregnant should feel the way I felt. But I did feel left out by language that dismissed my loss. And I can see how someone with less strongly held convictions could be pushed away by that.

In my second pregnancy, I was very vocal about the impact my first loss had on my perspectives on pregnancy and reproductive rights. It was a relatively easy pregnancy, but it was also terrible in the way that all pregnancies are terrible. I felt vulnerable every moment of every day. My body kept changing in ways no one tells you to expect. I kept a running list of symptoms that no one tells you about, and told all my friends to seriously reconsider pregnancy if they were on the fence, because even when it’s desperately wanted it fucking sucks. I was fatigued beyond anything I’d ever felt before. I couldn’t eat for three months because of nausea and severe food aversion. I lost weight, I had round ligament pain, I couldn’t sleep. I bought a pregnancy pillow and fought every instinct in my body to force myself to sleep on my left side. I avoided deli meats and ibuprofen and counted kicks and went to so many appointments I lost count. I had to pee constantly, which made my demanding job even harder to manage. My brain got so foggy I made serious mistakes at work, and I had trouble holding up my end of conversations. I was constipated and my whole body was sore and my nose was constantly stuffy and I was coughing all the time. My skin dried out, my feet and ankles swelled so much I had to buy and wear compression socks. My gums bled every single time I brushed my teeth. My hands fell asleep throughout the day due to carpal tunnel syndrome. I constantly worried about childbirth and the permanent changes it could bring to my body, both cosmetic and functional. And I was afraid, the entire time, that something would go wrong. That I would have to see another still, silent sonogram. I hated all of it, and the only thing that got me through it was that I loved and desperately wanted my baby. I told anyone who would listen that no one should have to endure  this unless it was one hundred percent their choice. Because no one should. Pregnancy is not just a thing you go through and then go back to your life unchanged, regardless of whether you go home with a baby that you need to care for.

At 36 weeks exactly (two weeks ago today), I was worried about decreased fetal movement. I went in for a checkup, and there was no heartbeat. My entire world shattered in a way I’m barely beginning to come to terms with. I went through two days of induced labor and finally a C-section, which again, are things no one should have to endure unless it is unequivocally their choice. And I delivered my son. My baby. Who died. Except he wasn’t, legally speaking, a baby. He was a fetus, according to all the hospital records and state forms and funeral home contracts. And while I understand and agree that this is necessary, it’s still a special kind of pain to realize that my baby, who I held and kissed and grieved for and will spend the rest of my life mourning, was not a person.

So the next time you talk to someone about why abortion rights are critical, think about the language that you’re using. There are people who feel that a heartbeat at six weeks means that fetus is a baby, and you’re not going to science them out of that. Talk about how even though my son was viable and desperately wanted, at the end of the day I am a person and he was not, and that even though that is painful it is necessary. Talk about the morality of forcing a woman to endure nine months of her body not truly being her own, and putting herself through pain and the risk of death for a choice someone else made for her. Think about the way you use language, and how deeply it can wound even the people who are on your side, and how quickly it can shut down those who aren’t and make it impossible for them to listen. There is room in this debate for feelings and morality and grief and loss. There is room in the pro choice movement for people who believe that a fetus is a baby. There is room for us to acknowledge the complexity of our arguments. There is room for nuance.

Maybe don’t show your dick to women, and other things men need to fucking do right now


By Casey


 

I’m frequently reminded of the September 2016 Reductress article, “10 Men We Can Still Admire, As Far As We Know,” in which the brilliant satire website lists ten* male celebrities who, as far as we know, haven’t committed any heinous acts against women. It’s just one of many times where their brilliant writing team manage to blur the lines between reality and fiction because, on the whole, cis men are trash and I’m tired of the overwhelming majority being varying degrees of awful, yet riding on the coattails of a noble few who aren’t. It’s like they’re back in college, having to complete a group assignment, but instead of having a group full of people who don’t pull their weight, it’s just a bunch of cis dudes showing their dicks to unsuspecting women, while one dude is just there, treating women with dignity. By no means is this a recent phenomenon, either, it just seems like maybe possibly there might be something resembling consequences for deplorable acts committed by beloved people.**

I looked this post up again after Thursday’s brilliantly written New York Times piece about the five women who bravely brought forth sexual misconduct allegations against comedian Louis C.K., which was then followed up by his pseudo apology on Friday. These allegations, now confirmed by the comedian himself, aren’t particularly new–other outlets, including the now defunct Gawker, picked the story up a few years back. I do and did find this particularly galling because Louis C.K.’s comedy was a useful tool for helping powerful people better understand their privilege. His bits on White privilege and, both tragically and ironically, how men are single handedly the most dangerous threat to women made me want to believe that he was one of the good ones, fighting the good fight for the oppressed. Unfortunately this, combined with his talent and the half apology, will be what will allow otherwise decent allies to turn a blind eye once again.

I know that it’s psychologically satisfying to separate the artist from the artform. For fuck’s sake Woody Allen manages to keep having his projects greenlit year after year, despite allegations of sexual abuse from his adopted daughter, actually marrying his stepdaughter, and generally writing different variations on the same, tired ass stories again and again. If that’s what helps you sleep at night, that’s on you. But at what point do we start listening to victims? At what point do their lived experiences take precedence over a film, a joke, a book, a song? Why does the merit of their contributions outweigh the safety and security of their victims? I’m over the apologists and the Devil’s advocates out there, crying well actually, and not all men. I have a better idea: stop abusing people. Stop showing people your dicks. Stop groping. Stop harassing. Stop excusing bad behavior. Stop silencing anyone who speaks up. Start holding each other accountable. If you don’t, kindly get the fuck out of my way because I’m done with you.

 

*This list includes acclaimed astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson about whom sexual assault allegations resurfaced last month. To date, Dr. Tyson hasn’t made any sort of statement confirming, denying, or even acknowledging these claims.

**I shan’t hold my breath for anything resembling consequences for acts committed against marginalized communities–women of color, the LGBT community, poor people, anyone experiencing mental illness or substance issues, etc. With exception of a precious few, this is receiving attention because predominantly White women have come forward with these allegations. This doesn’t invalidate their accusations or  make their experiences any less heinous, but it does require us to have a deeper conversation about why every marginalized voice isn’t being heard.

Obligatory and Important Discussions of Modern Indian Identity and Passing Privilege

By Casey


“If you walked into my office I would just assume you were White.”

That was what a man at a domestic violence conference in the Midwest felt the need to share with me while I was presenting at a conference four years ago. My presentation topic? The prevalence of domestic violence in Indian Country. It’s a good time to note that my entire (admittedly relatively short) career has been in domestic violence advocacy and prevention services. The overwhelming majority of research and writing I did in graduate school was on domestic violence in Indian Country. At that time I had been in my job for close to a year, working as a DV program coordinator in a Tribal community. Not to mention I am, you know, Native American. I wouldn’t venture I’m some sort of expert in much of anything, but I definitely know my shit well enough to speak with some sort of authority on the topic. Without a doubt I know way more than he ever will, yet he still felt the need to interrupt my presentation with that bit of White nonsense. I knew then, as I know now, that I shouldn’t let it bother me. I should be confident enough in my own skin, even if that skin isn’t what some people consider “Indian” enough. That the myth of the vanishing Indian keeps us stuck in the past—revered for our bravery, but gone the way of the dinosaurs, the dodo bird, and the black rhino. Yet four years and countless microaggressions later, I still cringe whenever I’m reminded of this moment.

Fast forward to June 2015, when Rachel Dolezal, a woman who had built an entire life and career around her Black identity, was outed by her very White parents as being White. Around that same time, the internet also caught wind that Cherokee scholar/activist Andrea Smith was not actually Cherokee, after a now-deleted Tumblr post by Washington State University graduate student Annita Lucchesi entitled “Andrea Smith is not Cherokee” went viral. This last bit wasn’t particularly newsworthy. Andrea Smith taught at and was denied tenure by my alma mater in 2008. I took a few of her classes and was somewhat familiar with her from the Native community on campus. I was kind of under the impression we all silently agreed we didn’t think she was actually Cherokee, but decided to be polite and not talk about it. Both these incredibly bizarre instances of ethnic fraud gave me a lot to think about. Two years later, I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the motivations for claiming (and ultimately profiting from) identities that don’t actually belong to you. What I find most galling about all this how it silences marginalized voices. For all the Pretendians out there, there are, doubtless, actual Native Americans, fretting over whether or not they’re “Indian” enough—whether or not they’re doing enough to preserve their language, protect Native families, learn their cultural teachings, make badass regalia, and if they can even be taken seriously doing these things because they don’t look, talk, or act “Indian” enough. White privilege is being able to float in and out of different cultures without consequence, while those within the cultures feel they have to fight every day to defend our rightful claim to that culture.

This isn’t to say those of us more phenotypically European Indians don’t experience some unearned White privilege. In order to hold others accountable, we must also be held accountable and called out from time to time. Thanks to my father, likely the most South Boston-Irish man to ever live in the Midwest, no amount of melanin from my olive-skinned Potawatomi mother will ever make it okay for me to go out in the sun without some SPF-30 on hand. Despite my penchant for back sassing strangers, it’s also highly unlikely I’ll ever be the victim of police brutality, get pulled aside for a random bag check by airport security, or followed too closely by retail associates in stores because I fit the profile of someone they think would shoplift. My skin tone wasn’t a barrier for me moving into the upper class neighborhood I’ve lived in for the past three years, and my problematic AF neighbors will likely never call the police on me for suspicious behavior. I also have a Master’s Degree from an elite institution. Based on how abysmal educational outcomes are for Native American students, this is kind of a big deal.

Identities are incredibly complex. The important thing to remember is how to be secure in your own without appropriating one that doesn’t belong to you.

Not My Patronus: Why JK Rowling is No One’s Ally


By Robin


No matter when you’re reading this, there’s a decent chance that JK Rowling has made headlines this week. Maybe she’s retroactively made another “dramatic” reveal about some side character in Harry Potter, or maybe she’s signed off on yet another spinoff movie, play, or textbook-turned-novel. Most likely, though, she just tweeted something. Oh, forgive me, JK Rowling never just tweets. She “comes to the defense”, she “shuts down”, she “slams”, “blasts” or “brilliantly takes down”. She’s “epic”, “perfect”, and a “savior”. Except, she isn’t.  Look, we all love a good Twitter burn. It’s satisfying, it’s funny, and I think we can all agree that Black Twitter is a gift from the heavens. But tweeting alone is not activism, and it is especially insulting from someone who has the financial and social means to create actual change.

As of this writing, Rowling’s net worth is unknown. We do know that she gives a fair amount of money to charity and that at in 2012 she dropped off of the  Forbes list of billionaires (although it was more due to taxes  than her charitable donations, and she was not, as was widely reported, the first billionaire to do so).  I will just take a moment to point out that paying one’s fair share of taxes according to the law is not heroic, but a fucking legal requirement. I don’t care that other rich people find shady ways to dodge their tax responsibilities, she’s still just doing what’s mandated. It’s “heroic” in the same way a man not cheating on his wife on a business trip even though all his coworkers cheat on their wives all the time and this hot woman TOTALLY flirted with him is heroic.  You know what? I’m not impressed that Rowling donated 16% of her fortune to charity. I’m not impressed because she made that money by refusing to stand up for her alleged ideals, and is now using Twitter as a way to pretend she’s down for the cause. I’m not impressed because she made that money by appropriating other peoples’ cultures and perpetuating stereotypes and keeping LGBTQ people and people of color out of sight.

My annoyance with Rowling as a self-styled ally began way back when she first amazed her loyal followers by announcing that she had “always thought of Dumbledore as gay”. Well, cool, but she didn’t write him as gay. She didn’t share this headcanon with the actors portraying him, or with LGBTQ fans desperately looking for representation in mainstream media. And this was in 2007. Harry Potter had been a cultural force for years. The fifth movie was out, and Rowling already had a massive fortune. To say, long after the fact and only after you can be reasonably sure that your personal finances won’t be affected, “oh yeah, he was always gay, totally” is not being an ally. Rowling did the same thing in 2015 when she responded to a woman of color being cast as Hermione in a play by implying that she intentionally left Hermione Granger’s race unspecified in the books. Again, it’s great (I guess?) that she accepts a WoC take on Hermione, but there’s a world of difference between saying “well, I never said she HAD to be white” and actually writing a black character. Oh, and where was she when it was time to use her considerable clout to have a WoC cast as Hermione in the MOVIES? Where was she when Lavendar Brown was recast as a white girl after having been played by two black actresses? Rowling could have used her influence to demand that the casting of the movies match the incredibly progressive image she supposedly had of these characters (Neil Gaiman recently did so for the adaptation of American Gods). Hell, she could have at least insisted that a known abuser not take a major role in the film adaptation of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”. Instead, she quietly took her money and declined to say anything on the matter unless someone else said it first and it proved popular. This is not what allies do.

I could go on with countless examples of how Rowling contradicts her actions with her tweets (like when she denounces sexism but signifies silly, stupid, or evil women in her books as liking pink and being girly, or when she “comes out against fat-shaming” but continues to use being overweight as lazy writer’s shorthand for being cowardly, sloppy, or greedy), but I’d rather discuss the more concrete ways she enriches herself at the expense of others. The most egregious example of this is her recent foray into straight up colonialism in her webseries “History of Magic in North America”. When informed by actual Native American writers and activists that her representation of their cultures was offensive and inappropriate, her response was SILENCE. Silence, from a woman so ready to troll the president of a country she doesn’t live in, so ready to say “sure, why not?” when others read a radical agenda into her work, so willing to tweet to her 10.8 million Twitter followers about definitions of a travel ban in another country (which conveniently allows her to ignore devastating immigration policies where she actually lives), rather than do anything concrete to help the estimated 65 million refugees and displaced persons in the world. This is not an ally. This is an opportunist looking to maintain a certain public image without doing the work of an ally.

I could go on, but I think this is a good summary of my biggest beefs. So, what’s the takeaway? Why do I spend my energy and time ranting to anyone who will listen about this? Because everyone needs to be held accountable. Because it’s exhausting to see “Dumbledore’s Army” used as a rallying cry for resistance to injustice while knowing that the mind behind that literary resistance doesn’t actually care about the things she preaches. It’s exhausting to hear my peers fawn over their latest Pottermore personality quiz results without knowing or caring that their entertainment comes at the expense of Native communities. And it’s exhausting to see someone whose primary weapon lives exclusively in a tiny bubble of social media be held up as a shining example of activism. If you’re going to be an ally, look to actual marginalized communities for ways to help. Fight for others’ rights all the time, not just when it’s convenient. Listen to the perspectives of women of color, queer women, poor women. Make sure you are actually being helpful, not just preserving your own image. Look to anyone but yet another rich white woman.  And, maybe, don’t join Dumbledore’s Army. Resist in a way that includes everyone.