Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Abortion Crutch

I got into a little tussle on Feministe yesterday in regard to where the right to abortion comes from and what it's good for. I wrote up a comment that I thought merited a post here on f-words, so if you feel some context is missing, check out the thread, or leave me a comment if I said something that seems insane, evil or confusing.

The major cultural problem I’m talking around - of which abortion is just a facet - is the recognition (or not) of female autonomy and its larger part in achieving gender equity. Disallowing women to choose abortion is a symptom of a paternalistic culture rather than a cause.

Some pro-choice advocates will argue their position not from the freedom of choice perspective, but from a freedom from pregnancy perspective. What I hear is that pregnancy and childbearing is a hassle/tragedy for women, and that women need access to abortion to circumvent this hassle/tragedy and really have power in society. Maybe I mishear, but that sounds like it’s heavily relying not on the way in which people think of women, but in the physical ability to erase problematic aspects of femaleness, to achieve equality. It’s not the fact that women aren’t always pregnant that makes it wrong to discriminate based on gender. We as a society should know enough about the moral equality of every human being that even if abortion were impossible, we could make progress on the front of gender equity. Abortion is used as a moral crutch where we make women more like men instead of appreciating the fundamental equality of the genders. Women being the ones who manufacture babies may have contributed heavily, in more ignorant times, to inequality but I like to think we’re not so ignorant now. For instance, we know goddamn well that women do not need to be the assumed primary caregivers, but the idea persists. It needs to be disattached from the fact that women are the child-bearers, because one does not imply the other. Relying on abortion/birth control to level the playing field keeps the ideas linked.

Idealism aside, I realize that I can't sit down and talk everyone into gender equity, and that's why reproductive rights are so important in the present; in a backward society, being a child-bearer is a disadvantage, and often a major one. (For the record I personally derive a huge benefit from birth control, so there's also that reason for my championing of it. But I'm speaking here in terms of its function in the acheivement of equality.) Women deserve the ability to fight for themselves and their happiness with whatever is available, and that's why I am so staunchly pro-choice and vocal about reproductive rights. But in the end, it's convincing the world that women can and should have the power to exercise those rights that's important, less than the specific things you do with them.


The Scarlet Tree said...

Hi, I too am pro choice, and have a little boy 20 months old. Since having him though, my perspective has changed somewhat in regards the idea you mention of primary caregiving. I had strong notions of equal caregiving and parenting, but now find myself feeling...what word would I choose...advantaged?
By my primary care role (although my partner is a very active and caring father). I sit here trying to think how I am advantaged,other than the fact that I enjoy my little ones company immensly! I suppose its because the primary caregiver (me) is the one that largely makes decisions regarding the childs care. When having invested so much physically, emtionally and mentally into one little person - I need that sense of being able to exercise my rights as a mother who sometimes really does know best. But that said, my choice has its spanners. Trying to run a business, a life and care for a child is more than most of our male counterparts ever have the opportunity to experience. (Going to work was a breeze compared to chasing after a sticky fingered almost two year old)
Abortion though - Pro choice through and through.
Hope I din't bend your thread too much from the point

Sara E Anderson said...

I didn't mean to say that being primary caregiver is a bad thing. When you've got a pretty much unfettered choice (comfortable economic situation, a supportive spouse, etc), it's a fine way to make your life. I can completely understand why a person would go for it. It's the assumption that the mother will be the primary caregiver that is what I have a problem with. It sets women up for problems in their professional and personal life that men generally don't have to deal with, and it's unnecessary.

Does that clarify anything?