Thursday, January 10, 2008
Some words on abortions, pronouns and oppression
I'm covering two controversial units in my Women's Studies class this upcoming week--the use of gender neutral pronouns and oppression. The two units are often dismissed by a lot of students. Most people shun the use of gender neutral pronouns as impossible. And students are uncomfortable with my main claim about oppression--that only women and men of color and working class can be oppressed. At the very least, the arguments provide hours of interesting class discussion and provoke some new thoughts for my students. I feel a little like my students as I read about this new concept in the abortion debate--"changing abortion's pronouns" to include the fathers' experience. The LA Times reports that counselors are encouraging women to say we had an abortion rather than I had an abortion. Further, men are being treated for post-abortion syndrome. The article tells the story of Jason Baier whose past relationships have resulted in four unplanned pregnancies that all ended in abortion. Baier speaks of the pain and regret he feels over having "four dead children." The article mentions Chris Aubert who now protests at abortion clinics with a sign that says "I regret my abortion" (although in the article he also mentions how he wouldn't have the fantastic life--filled with a happy marriage and four kids--had his ex-girlfriend not aborted her pregnancy). *head spinning*

So the article creeps me out. First let me say, I recognize the power of getting men involved in abortion rights. Further, I think men should be involved in abortion
support for their significant other(s). Aubert admits that on the day his girlfriend underwent the procedure, he played softball and stuck a $200 check in her door. He called a second abortion "irrelevant" in his life. That attitude is problematic. As is the further reflection by Aubert in which he admits that he hasn't thought of the subsequent pain his ex-girlfriend may feel over the procedure. So when Aubert says he regrets HIS abortion, he means HIS not OURS. This isn't making the abortion debate more inclusive. Rather, it shifts the debate in a way that excludes women. Women should be front and center in the discussion of abortion. They should be the first to receive counseling (if they want it) and they should be the first to share their stories. Their bodies, their choice, their regret (or lack of regret). Do men experience feelings about abortions? Most certainly. Do they deserve to have the same claim to pain and experience as women? No. Feminist theorist Marilyn Frye argues that white men cannot be oppressed. They can feel pain. They can suffer from unfairness but it should not be conflated with the oppression that women and other people of color face. Similarly, males should not be able to claim as much of the abortion "pain" as this article suggests.

Most problematic is that the fathers' regret is turning into just another anti-choice argument by the right. Throughout the article the men refer to their lost "babies." One even has named his "lost son." They all "dream of the children they'll never know." This is yet another instance of humanizing the fetus while the women's material reality remain invisible.

There has to be some middle ground
(hey look everyone! i'm offering up something moderate!). There has to be a way to include men in the discussion AND keep women front and center. Some may accuse me of wanting only the men who will agree with my pro-choice position to join the debate. Um, obviously. But I think there can be moderately positioned men who agree with me. There can be men who think that abortions need to be performed less and who take responsibility to ensure that happens. However, they can simultaneously believe that when their partner chooses to undergo an abortion they'll be there to support her and offer up his emotional support.

Read more from Salon

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Anonymous Cole said...

aI want to write this in all caps, but I will try to calm down enough to write something sensible about this outrageous "movement." (forgive me, Bethany, for I have sinned with the above quotation marks)

Two things make me outraged:
1. The concept of forgiveness therapy for men - as if men are the victims of abortion. This paints women as calculating (popular image of women today, I guess) and evil. The men, I assume, are not in therapy to forgive themselves (what did they do wrong afterall?) - but to forgive those evil witches who robbed them of fatherhood. This again shifts abortion to a realm of insanity. What?!?! Women like having abortions?

2. Why do journalists frequently bring us into the world of crazies? Honestly, this movement is very small and it is one that is clearly outside of the mainstream. Why dont we use this craziness as am impetus to have an honest and careful discussion about birth control (ie abortion prevention). One man suffers the pain of four abortions in one relationship? I bet most readers would say "um...condoms?" We must take these instances of utter craziness to help us have more complicated discussions about how to prevent abortion in the first place. I think that this type of journalism only adds fuel to the fire of abortion politics and contributes to the misperception that America is deeply divided on this issue. Americans are more moderate - more conflicted than these crazies. Lets listen to them instead.

Stepping down from and deconstructing large soapbox now.

Blogger bethany said...

Cole: I'm pretty sure those quotationmarks are appropriate.

Kristen: I am also incensed at the way these men (and by giving them circulation, the writer) erase the women from these stories. Isn't it amazing how sometimes pronouns tell the whole story?

Anonymous Anonymous said...

So GLBTQQ white middle-class men are not oppressed?

Blogger kristen said...

Cole and Bethany:
Agree with all of what you say. I hope, hope, hope this movement is a small one. But wouldn't we be much better served by having a discussion about a (small but powerful) radical pro-choice group. As IF we need more male pronouns!

This is a complicated question. My basic answer is yes people of a variety of sexual orientations can be oppressed due to our homophobic society...however, I doubt very much that a white "questioning" man is a victim of oppression. I think it is likely for a gay white man to "pass" thus allowing him to bypass much of the oppressive structure that holds women and people of color down (because of their obvious physical markers).

Anonymous Alicia said...

Simone de Beauvoir turned 100 years old today. Thought you'd like to know.

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