For a very long time, Democrats' agreement with progressive women was this: Vote for us, and we will be your champion. In practical terms, despite important pieces of legislation like the Violence Against Women Act and the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, being women's champion has largely meant making sure that progress women made wasn't allowed to backslide by standing between progressive women and the enforcers of the Patriarchy in all their guises—conservatism, religion, tradition.
But decades have passed with women on average still making less than men, still widely and primarily victimized by sexual violence (and still vanishingly unlikely to see justice for those crimes against them), still disproportionately affected by the nation's failure to provide a comprehensive and robustly funded social safety net, by unemployment, by food insecurity, by the lack of universal healthcare, by the lack of equal opportunities, by the lack of sensible and fair family-work policies. What social progress does happen frequently comes at the expense of women's reproductive rights.
Women who have multiple axes of oppression—women of color, women with disabilities, women in same-sex partnerships, women who are trans*, fat women, poor women, et. al.—are at increased risk of being marginalized and under-served by their government.
A government whose national legislative body, meant to be representative of the people, is still less than 20% female.
In recent elections, the Democrats' promise to progressive women has been reduced to ensuring (and only when it's politically expedient) that Roe vs. Wade would not be overturned, even as the GOP diligently works to render that ruling an empty statute.
Last spring, Shark-fu and I were talking about the blitz of anti-choice legislation in state legislatures across the nation, and she was telling me about lobbying in Jefferson City, Missouri—one of the many places bills limiting abortion rights are being considered. (The following has been published with her permission.)
Shark-fu: Jeff City was a train wreck. SEIU and others were there trying to stop the right to work bullshit. We were there trying to stop the 20 week abortion ban. And a whole bunch of losers were there showering the House and Senate with praise for giving it to the works and taking away women's rights. Ugh. I had a state Senator tell me that he "has" to vote for abortion restrictions so he can get other stuff done. The price of entry into negotiations with the MO GOP is women's reproductive freedom. I'm disgusted and dreaming of Canada.
Liss: "The price of entry into negotiations with the MO GOP is women's reproductive freedom." This is so depressing. I just don't even know what to say anymore. As I'm sure you know, the same legislation is making its way through the statehouse in Indiana. I'm not only dreaming of Canada; I'm dreaming of menopause, so I don't have to worry about the possibility of ever needing an abortion.
Shark-fu: OMG, it's so funny that you mention menopause! On the drive back yesterday I decided to write a post about how amazingly liberating it is to no longer have a uterus—every time I read a heinous bill I realize that they can't touch me. Sadly, plenty of the bills still apply to my post-hyster self. But they can't force me to get pregnant and that's so damn liberating it's sad.
Liss: If the fact that diminished cis female reproductive capacity (whether via hysterectomy, menopause, or elsewise) feels liberating for feminist women doesn't plainly expose how TOTALLY FUCKED UP the GOP's war on uteri is, I don't know what possibly could.
And then we lolsobbed forever.
This, then, is the situation in which we find ourselves: We are demoralized to the point of imagining, if only in passing, life in another country, or in another body, because we have been abandoned by the only one of the two nationally electable major parties who were even ostensibly on our side, who have negotiated away our alliance because doing so is the price of entry into doing business with the other party.
There is a presidential election coming up. The Democrats will not only want our votes, but expect them. And male partisans, having not learned the lessons of the last election, will admonish any feminist/womanist voter who does not axiomatically promise to give her vote to the Democrats that she is a fool who doesn't even understand her own rights or recognize her own best interests. We will be excoriated for even considering abandoning the Democratic Party, as if the Democratic Party did not abandon us first.
But this is not a post about voting. This is a post about the way reproductive rights are regarded—by the women who are actually affected by them, and by the party who purports to be our ally, and the cavernous divide in between.
My right to control my reproduction—and the respect for my bodily autonomy, agency, and consent that is embedded within that right—is central to my sense of self and my worth to my community and country. I can't put it any more plainly that that. The value of my very humanity is predicated on that right.
That right is not some piece of shit bit of legislation to be used as a dangled carrot during elections and used as a bargaining chip to be negotiated away in between.
And I'm angry that the party meant to champion women's rights doesn't see it the same way. I'm angry that there are so many male Democratic partisans (and not a few women) who claim to be progressive and yet think that whether I am trusted to make the best decisions about my own reproduction isn't a big fucking deal. Or want to lecture me about what a Big Fucking Deal it is when they're trying to bully me into voting for the party whose indifference allows the GOP to chip away at the scope of that right.
If it's not a big fucking deal to you every fucking day, then don't come shouting at me about it every four years like you're Professor Roe V. Wade, foremost expert in Abortionology at Gliberal University.
And if it is a big fucking deal to you every fucking day, then get busy getting involved.
Believe me, I know: Getting involved stinks. You're forced to deal with people who, on the best end, are deliberately obtuse bullies and, on the worst end, spam your inbox with pictures of dead fetuses. These are not pleasant folks, and I'd like to avoid them myself.
Unfortunately, that would necessitate closing up shop, putting down my teaspoon, and going silent. And then, somehow, magically not being a woman who lives in a patriarchy anymore.
This is the hard truth for progressive men who care about reproductive rights: When you leave the public fight to others, you're leaving it mostly to women.
I'll give you a moment to contemplate the many ways in which treating the feminist/womanist fight for reproductive rights as "woman's work" is some fucked-up irony, right there.
Now here's the other thing about leaving the reproductive rights fight to the ladies: Misogynists don't respect women. They don't listen to women; they won't acknowledge a woman's authority on her own lived experiences; they're not going to learn anything from women, and certainly not feminist/womanist women.
Misogynist anti-choicers who believe women to be less than need to hear that they're terribly, infuriatingly, and demonstrably wrong from men. Publicly. Passionately. As loud as the loud, so very loud, voices on the other side. One of the ways their self-reassuring bullshit works is via the effective void of male dissension, which supports their erroneous belief that they are the "objective" arbiters of womanhood.
They count on feminist men never showing up en masse for the main event.
They count on the Democratic Party being too squeamish, too spineless, too unprincipled, too apathetic to stand up for reproductive rights, unyieldingly.
They count on reproductive rights being the first bargaining chip on the table.
They count on the still almost entirely male leadership of the Democratic Party and the vast number of male Democratic partisans giving themselves permission to not get publicly involved, or to get publicly involved only when it's convenient and not all that risky and not all that hard.
They count on men trading on that privilege of not having to get involved.
They count on Democratic partisans being more interested in hectoring dispossessed progressive women than in being their allies and fighting this fight alongside them, every day.
They count on reproductive rights being treated as Woman's Work, and thus being devalued as woman's work inevitably is.
They are trying to overwhelm and demoralize the (mostly) women to whom this work is being left.
If the Democratic Party wants to retain its alliance with women, they'd better send reinforcements. And soon.
By way of suggestion, I recommend that the allegedly feminist staunch defender of reproductive rights, President Barack Obama, who happens to be currently seeking reelection, give some of his fancy speech-making on behalf of the 52% of the nation whose rights are being eroded. The states enacting a record number of abortion restrictions last year seems like it warrants his comment. Ahem.
[This piece was originally published in similar form April 4, 2011. It's particularly relevant again lately.]