Friday, 29 June 2012

We need to talk about misoprostol: on talking with pro-lifers

The hippie-dippy pollyanna-scented idealist in me desperately wants to believe that if we could all just get together and talk about This Stuff, surely we could work it out. I mean, if I got my chance to explain exactly why I support the right to abortion, surely every pro-lifer within hailing distance would gasp, clasp their hands against their hearts, and thank me for opening up a whole new world to them, right?

Well no, obviously. Because they think exactly the same thing about me. There seem to be some issues which cut too deep, which seem so self-evident to us, that there is virtually nothing anyone can say to change our minds on them. It's like arguing about religion with a devout Christian: it's not like there's one fantastic line of argument that will make them see the light. (Or, rather, the lack of light...)

EdinburghEye has engaged in a blog-swap with a pro-life campaigner in Ireland. They've given each other the chance to explain their views calmly and fully at each other's sites, and then discussed points where they, ah, differ somewhat. EdinburghEye's is here, CoraSherlock's piece, which I'm mostly going to focus on, is here.

They've both stuck to the brief astonishingly well: gone through their points of view, how they arrived at them, and how they would respond to counter-arguments; all without resorting to name-calling or even colourful language. (Me, I would have got through about a paragraph before trailing off into "BUT BUT IT'S JUST REALLY FUCKING MEEEEEAN, ARGH TITWANK".) Things get rather less congenial in the comments (didn't see that coming, did you?), especially when a nice lady named Jean started calling everyone bigots for objecting to her calling us "Dumbies". But for the most part, it's basically the best way this conversation could have gone.

And I don't think anyone involved has changed their views one iota.

I may not live up to these high ideals, but I do try to base my beliefs on objective evidence. So, for example, pragmatic reasons I support the pro-choice position include:

  • Studies consistently show that the rate of abortion remains fairly stable whether or not it's legal - illegality just makes it more dangerous
  • Every reputable medical authority in the known universe agree that "Post-Abortion Syndrome", a sort of PTSD/depression hybrid, does not exist
  • When performed safely and legally, abortion is one of the safest medical procedures you can experience - just to pick a random example completely out of the sky, it's safer than carrying a pregnancy to term.
So I was trying to think of some evidence that would actually change my mind on this issue. Leaving aside the philosophical/moral arguments for a moment, what practical evidence would make me think that abortion should not be legal?

I've got nothing. Even if a water-tight, impartial study demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt that women who had abortions were more likely to experience mental illness (although, more likely... than whom?), even if it were proved that abortion is more dangerous than having a tooth pulled... fuck it, even if the hardcore antis were right and abortion does cause breast cancer: I would still defend its legality. There are a million things which are legal and yet bad for you, we just let people make their own damn minds up. If someone knew all of that and still couldn't stand the idea of continuing with her pregnancy? No one should stand in her way.

Which, incidentally, was the thinking behind the two landmark legal decisions of the late 60s - legalising abortion and homosexuality. It wasn't that the decidedly unswinging Parliament had taken a collective chill pill and realised that, hey, gay people are just people! And women need to be able to control their fertility if they're ever to achieve equality! Rather, they went along with the prevailing social mood, which suggested that private decisions - like who you fuck, or how big your family should be, were not proper matters for the state to intervene on. Mainstream opinion still held that gay people were poor, sad individuals - just that they should be pitied, rather than locked up. And it still held that abortion was a dreadful thing, but better a woman make that decision with two responsible and logical and probably male doctors, and have the procedure in a clean and competent environment, rather than jamming a knitting needle into her own cervix.

There is one pro-lifer who I've managed to have a meeting of the minds with, though. She believed that abortion ends a human life and would thus never have one herself. However, she realised that this was a belief: not a fact. Being a libertarian and not a fan of outlawing stuff in general, she also believed that she - or indeed the government - had absolutely no damn right to make that decision for anyone else. Which ultimately becomes a pro-choice position (because, hey, we're not actually pro-abortion), nicely demonstrating that the two don't have to be mutually exclusive.

Anyway. I still firmly believe in Talking About Stuff. This might be my arrogant/optimistic side, but I think that the majority of people in Britain are pro-choice - and probably more pro-choice than they realise, and that, if we talked about it more, if we had a nice, calm, level-headed discussion such as the one EdinburghEye and CoraSherlock are attempting, we could move on. We could remove the ridiculous two doctors rule. We could help Northern Irish women win their fight for the same healthcare (for the same taxes!) as everyone else in the UK. We could put a stop to Nadine Dorries' campaign against anyone having sex, anywhere, ever again, and chuck her insulting counselling proposals in the midden where they belong. (This would involve the Daily Mail staying out of the debate, though.)

There are a lot of issues which debate can solve, or at least ease. There are some issues on which some people will just never agree. But that's okay; people can believe what they want, as long as they extend the same courtesy to others. I suppose that's sort of the point.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Cultural fetishisation of interchangeable generic 'oriental' cultures LOLZ!!

This would be so funny if 'feng shui' was pronounced 'feng shooey'. (It's closer to 'fun sway', since you ask.)

And if feng shui was Japanese.

Cultural fetishisation of interchangeable generic 'oriental' cultures LOLZ!!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

built like a wound that won't heal

In a world where elected representatives in Michigan are prohibited from uttering the word "vagina" while legislating on that self-same organ, I suppose I shouldn't really be surprised when a company which has built an entire business model on vag-related squeamishness hides behind cutesy euphemism. (While feigning some cursory 'love your body' message: "Make sure you love it! As long as it smells like flowers and sunshine and pixie dust!")

If you can't bring yourself to say it, don't legislate it. If you can't bring yourself to say it, don't try to make other people feel bad about the fact that their vagina smells like a vagina, in order to sell them a product that will almost certainly give them a yeast infection. (And we all know that yeast infections smell exactly like rainbows!)

I'm tempted to run a poster campaign with the strapline

Woohoo, my cunt.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

The existential crisis of bisexuality: do we exist at all?

There is a great tradition in the British left which can best be encapsulated by the word 'splitter'. This refers to the tendency for any given left-of-centre political grouping to split along ideological lines into two groups, which split into four groups, which split into eight groups, and so on and so on ad nauseam until each group is entirely politically pure and agrees on absolutely everything because it is composed of only one person. (Cf. the Judean People's Front.)

I like to think that this intra-group self-criticism is borne of the fact that we are in this because we want to do the right thing, and it's hard to agree on exactly what the right thing is - whereas the right have less to fight about, because they're in it to get power. But then I am something of an idealist.

So I try not to spend too much of my time and energy in castigating other feminists for not being feminist enough, or doing feminism wrong, because we're all doing our best. We're all on the same team.

Julie Bindel, however, might in some narrow, limited way fall under the category of 'feminist', but by god she is not on my fucking team.

Apparently "bisexuality is being promoted to lesbians as the latest fashionable trend". Gee, I wish I'd got the memo; I didn't realise me and my equal-ops fancying-people policy were the height of fashion! "This has," apparently,  "resulted in lesbian politics, namely feminism, being passed over for sexual hedonism, where the only thing that matters is sexual pleasure and desire". Because we all know that there is nothing political or revolutionary about pleasure and desire; politics can't possibly be fun, and if your liberation involves any amount of joy, you're doing it wrong. 

Bindel cites research which "found that a substantial number of bisexuals prefer to hang out with lesbians instead of other bisexual women" and that  "[s]ome bisexual women actually doubt whether bisexual women exist at all." Given that the research is not available online, I can't comment on its veracity, but I can criticise Bindel for presenting these findings with zero context! What questions elicited these answers? What percentage is "a substantial number", let alone "some"? How did the researchers take into account the comparatively tiny size and low visibility of the bisexual 'scene'?

She then outlines her views on making a political choice to be a lesbian - which, hey, is her prerogative, and all power to her if she's having the sex she wants with people she fancies. But it sure would be nice if she could accord me the same courtesy. Surprisingly, she doesn't: apparently if I had "an ounce of sexual politics, [I] would stop sleeping with men".

Because nothing says 'liberation' like not having satisfying, consensual sex with people you're attracted to!

Given the amount of time I spend thinking, talking, and writing about gender and feminism and sexuality and reproductive justice - as everyone around me can attest; typical conversations start with lines like "HEY I've been thinking about the virgin/whore dichotomy!" - I do find it unendingly hilarious that there is someone in the world who can take one look at my sexy choices and conclude from this slim evidence that I have not "an ounce of sexual politics". But then I guess I am a product of this "post-modern, queer-focused world" (LOLZ) which is trying to move away from the idea that who you have sex with defines who you are.


Anyway: I am adopting "if you had an ounce of sexual politics" as my new catchphrase.

IF YOU HAD AN OUNCE OF SEXUAL POLITICS, you would agree with everything I say!
IF YOU HAD AN OUNCE OF SEXUAL POLITICS, you would donate to the Abortion Support Network immediately!
IF YOU HAD AN OUNCE OF SEXUAL POLITICS, you would go and make me a cup of tea post haste!
IF YOU HAD AN OUNCE OF SEXUAL POLITICS, you would leave other people's sexuality the fuck alone and also stop being such a transphobic bigot-machine!

Yeah. Take that.

NNAF Conference 1: In which I do not chew my own tits off

I arrived home from an eight hour flight, having started my journey thirteen hours and several time zones ago, jet-lagged, confused, and utterly exhausted, to my housemates:
Dave: "Hello fuckface."
Debbie: "I've fixed the shower, and painted the bathroom."
and Kate: "I'm training to be a GLBT helpline volunteer and they've given me loads of paperwork about rimming!"

I have the best housemates ever. How can I leave them? My gentleman friend is very nice, but will he be able to meet their high standards of affectionate swearing, DIY expertise, and long chats about BDSM and buttfuckery?

The big red one says "mind your own uterus"
So where have I been? Chicago is where I have been! Because I chose to spend my holiday time at the National Network of Abortion Funds conference, learning about fundraising, self-care, abortion stigma, volunteer recruitment and retention, and Appalachian clog dancing. (This last was during the talent show, which also featured such songs as "Don't Stop Funding", to the tune of the Journey classic, and a reworking of Miley Cyrus entitled "Abortion Funding In Eastern MA".)

Also: there was a Catholic priest conference taking place in the same hotel. For real.


Sometimes I am so socially awkward I want to chew my own tits off. Then I think that maybe social situations are awkward because I use phrases like "chew my own tits off".

So I was thinking about male privilege. (All my best stories start this way.) Specifically, the 'dominating conversation' aspect of it: the innate confidence that what you have to say is important, accurate, and worth listening to, and that everyone else will agree on this.* And after four days being the only English person around - and a reserved and shy English person, at that, albeit one who favours phrases like 'buttfuckery' and 'chew my own tits off' - I realised that the above description could pretty much apply to most Americans.

Which is not going to descend into some kind of xenophobic snobfest about how terribly uncouth those bloody colonials are, what ho chaps anyone for tea - I envy that confidence enormously. If I could get out a sentence without prefacing it with a self-defeating apology, "this is probably completely wrong, but..." or "I'm so sorry to presume to interrupt your very important life with my inane and frivolous pointlessness, but...", I would give myself a medal.

And clearly not all Americans enjoy such a happily high estimation of their own self-worth. And this particular expression of male privilege affects American women as much as it does their English Rose counterparts, if the dozens of blog posts I've read on the topic are anything to go by. But the scales are calibrated differently: a confident English woman would be shy by US standards. Even when we're using the same language to describe the same dynamic, it's easy to forget how different the US is. It's familiar to us from a hundred TV shows and a thousand movies and a million songs, but in deeper and important ways, it is utterly foreign to the UK.

* Yes, this is a generalisation; no, not all men have this; no, I don't think it's a genetic thing but rather the result of people generally paying more attention to men and encouraging them to talk more and have confidence in their own opinions.