Both Sides Are Blah Blah Yawn

by Shaker TC

[Comment Note: This post contains discussion of anti-choice narratives and violence.]

I have mixed feelings about the public radio show "This American Life," but a segment in their Nemeses episode on the abortion debate in Boston made me nauseated to the core of my being. (The transcript is here; bring a barf bag.) "This American Life" decides to double down on the Jon Stewart-eqsue "both sides do it" meme for the abortion debate. Ira Glass is oozing with unacknowledged privilege as he talks about the attempt for the two sides of the debate to find common ground. The frame of the entire piece is that both sides of the debate are equally responsible for the dynamic.

Here's the kicker for me: This "both sides do it" frame is in the context of an abortion clinic shooting.

Along with Ira Glass, the host of "This American Life," the key commentator on the issue is white male academic Peter Coleman from the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution at Columbia University.
Peter Coleman: I think the pro-life movement was ashamed and infuriated by what had happened. I think the pro-choice movement was terrified and traumatized. And so the governor, the archdiocese, called for dialogue.
Notice that the people directly affected by the shooting weren't calling for dialogue with a movement with which the killers identified and were affiliated. But they were nonetheless obliged to participate in unwanted bridge-building to make the patriarchy feel better.

Naturally that bridge had to be built on the backs of women. All of the folks involved in the dialogue were women—on both sides of the debate. According to ivory tower academic Coleman, one of the two men discussing this enforced dialogue between women, the worst thing that could happen is blame and responsibility, because that's for mean harpies.
Peter Coleman: At first, the conversation was hard. Even though they agreed to some guidelines and how to have this conversation in a way that they felt would be constructive, it was hard to hold to those guidelines initially.

Ira Glass: And you write about that, that there was a lot of finger pointing back and forth. Everybody thought, we're not going to do any finger pointing. But in fact, they couldn't help themselves is what you write.

Peter Coleman: It's what they did. It's what they had been doing. They were used to doing it. They knew the talking points. And it was so hard to try to put those away.
So, the abortion rights supporters, whose community is being terrorized, are disallowed from feeling that members of a movement with which a terrorist was involved could or should be held accountable. That's just finger-pointing.

Then Ira Glass decides to play clueless person of privilege by framing the whole thing as a silly conflict that people were irrationally holding onto—as if there weren't VALID REASONS for animosity toward anti-choice proponents like, I don't know, people who shoot people associated with abortion clinics.
Ira Glass: These are precisely the conflicts that Peter Coleman studies. They're the conflicts where whatever the original dispute happened to be about, everybody has moved past that long ago. And things have snowballed. And people started to organize their identities around the conflict.
As an abortion rights activist, I know damn well what I'm fighting for. It's not some long-held grudge. It's the bodily autonomy of women. Refer to any one of Melissa's awesome posts on Jon Stewart on why this attitude of "stop the bickering" when it comes to issues of human rights is so nauseating. If Ira Glass believes that the issue of abortion rights is based on some petty grudge that everyone has moved past, he has the empathy of a rock.
And then comes the mother of all victim-blaming.
Peter Coleman: Because what did happen is that the rhetoric changed. The conversations that would happen publicly around abortion, around pro-life, pro-choice, lost a lot of the edge and the vitriol in the community that it had had prior to the shooting and prior to the dialogue process.

Ira Glass: Because these women were leaders in those movements on both sides and—

Peter Coleman: They consciously decided that part of what they had done is contribute to the conditions where an event like this could take place.
Yep, apparently, abortion rights folks share responsibility for an anti-abortion shooter coming into their offices. The pro-choice advocates had to do some real soul-searching to see how they contributed to a shooting happening in their clinic to their clients, I'm sure.

There's a whole lot o' privilege playing out in this entire piece, from the unacknowledged point that the people pushing for dialogue were patriarchal institutions, to Ira Glass' characterizing an issue of the bodily autonomy of half the population as something people have "moved past," to the piece saying that both sides saw they had a role in the shooting. Poor Ira Glass, his only wish is that the layDEEEZ play nice.

This was completely nauseating and further proof that the "liberal" public radio is pretty damn unfriendly to progressive women.

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