Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Legitimate Children of Rape by Andrew Solomon

Andrew Solomon has a piece in The New Yorker entitled The Legitimate Children of Rape. I really, really recommend that you read the entire thing; it isn’t very long. The focus of the piece, children born as a result of a women being raped, is still a highly sensitive topic, both personally and politically, as no one has been able to come out and just say it: some children should have been aborted. I hope that we as a society are able to move past all of the idealistic statements spoken by people when the topic of children of rape comes up:

1. There is no such thing as unwanted children. I think you have to be pretty dense to make this kind of statement.

2. All children are a blessing. Again, a dense position to take.

3. Women always love their children no matter what. Err, no.

Those are the typical sentiments trotted out when children of rape are discussed. Anyway, on to some particularly meaningful parts of this piece.

Writing in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Dr. Felicia H. Stewart and Dr. James Trussell have estimated that there are twenty-five thousand rape-related pregnancies each year in the United States. While these numbers make up only a small part of this country’s annual three million unwanted pregnancies, the numbers are still extremely high.

I had no idea until reading this that there are three million unwanted pregnancies annually. And the number is probably higher than that. Wow.

Classical mythology is full of rape, usually seen as a positive event for the rapist, who is often a god; Zeus so took Europa and Leda; Dionysus raped Aura; Poseidon, Aethra; Apollo, Euadne. It is noteworthy that every one of these rapes produces children. The rape of a vestal virgin by Mars produced Romulus and Remus, who founded Rome.

Historical and societal context of rape important in understanding its position in today’s world.

Historically, rape has been seen less as a violation of a woman than as a theft from a man to whom that woman belonged, either her husband or her father, who suffered an economic loss (a woman’s marriageability spoiled) and an insult to his honor.

Probably my favorite sentence of the whole piece. I still see this sentiment expressed today.

In Puritan Massachusetts, any woman pregnant through rape was prosecuted for fornication. In the nineteenth century, the American courts remained biased toward protecting men who might be falsely accused. In order to prove that an encounter was a rape, the woman had to demonstrate that she had resisted and been overcome; she usually had to show bodily harm as evidence of her struggle; and she had somehow to prove that the man had ejaculated inside her.

Notice the woman was prosecuted for fornication … any charges brought upon the man? No? Okay.

In 1971, the psychoanalyst Menachem Amir called rape a “victim-motivated crime.”

And we still see intense victim blaming today.

One rape survivor, in testimony before the Louisiana Senate Committee on Health and Welfare, described her son as “a living, breathing torture mechanism that replayed in my mind over and over the rape.” Another woman described having a rape-conceived son as “entrapment beyond description” and felt “the child was cursed from birth”; the child ultimately had severe psychological challenges and was removed from the family by social services concerned about his mental well-being. One of the women I interviewed said, “While most mothers just go with their natural instincts, my instincts are horrifying. It’s a constant, conscious effort that my instincts not take over.”

As Solomon points out, women who become pregnant after being raped are faced with a double challenge. First, coping with surviving a rape, which can take a life time. Second, discovering she is pregnant and having to make a quick decision regarding the pregnancy. The mental anguish caused by this must be unbearable.

One sees the problem abroad, where the Helms Amendment is taken to mean that no agency receiving U.S. funding can mention abortion even to women who have been systematically raped as part of a genocidal campaign.

What the fuck?

The journalist Helena Smith wrote the story of a woman named Mirveta, who gave birth to a child conceived in rape in Kosovo. Mirveta was twenty years old, and illiterate; her husband had abandoned her because of the pregnancy. “He was a healthy little boy and Mirveta had produced him,” Smith writes. “But birth, the fifth in her short lifetime, had not brought joy, only dread. As he was pulled from her loins, as the nurses at Kosovo’s British-administered university hospital handed her the baby, as the young Albanian mother took the child, she prepared to do the deed. She cradled him to her chest, she looked into her boy’s eyes, she stroked his face, and she snapped his neck. They say it was a fairly clean business. Mirveta had used her bare hands. It is said that, in tears, she handed her baby back to the nurses, holding his snapped, limp neck. In Pristina, in her psychiatric detention cell, she has been weeping ever since.” The aid worker taking care of Mirveta said, “Who knows? She may have looked into the baby’s face and seen the eyes of the Serb who raped her. She is a victim, too. Psychologically raped a second time.”

My god. Would anti-choicers preferred to let this rape survivor have an abortion, or force her to have her rapist’s baby as happened?

In working on my book, I went to Rwanda in 2004 to interview women who had borne children of rape conceived during the genocide. At the end of my interviews, I asked interviewees whether they had any questions for me, in hopes that the reversal would help them to feel less disenfranchised in the microcosmic world of our interview. A woman paused shyly for a moment. “Well,” she said, a little hesitantly. “You work in this field of psychology.” I nodded. She took a deep breath. “Can you tell me how to love my daughter more?” she asked. “I want to love her so much, and I try my best, but when I look at her I see what happened to me and it interferes.”

Utterly heartbreaking.

I also recommend reading the Helena Smith piece that Solomon links to. It’s from 2000 and recounts the experiences of children borne of rape in Kosovo. Now I’m going to go research The Helms Amendment and see if it’s as fucked up as it sounds.

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Let’s analyze the comments on an abortion story. Fun!

Gila Lyons recently wrote a piece for Salon entitled Abortion, A Love Story. In the piece, Gila recalls how she met a man, started a relationship with him, after several months became pregnant, then had an abortion. She doesn’t spend a lot of time discussing how she arrived at her decision to abort, as it only gets a brief mention, nor does the abortion itself get more than a few paragraphs. 

As you’ll see, the comments are full of complaints that this piece celebrates abortion, encourages abortion, and brags about abortion. All Gila does is write about how a decision she made was the right one for her. But because she isn’t full of guilty, shame, regret and because she isn’t begging her audience to forgive her for being just another irresponsible whore who took the easy way out, people are disgusted. 

But onto the fun stuff. Let’s take a look at some of the comments, shall we?

Chilling, twisted and sick.

That’s the very first comment. The commenter clearly has issues with unmarried women being sexual beings and making decisions regarding their own bodies. Perhaps this comment would be more honest if it read: An unmarried woman had sex. I am uncomfortable!!!

The same commenter comes back to say:

What makes me uncomfortable are those people who seek to rationalize away barbarism by assuaging their dysfunctional consciences with reassurances from like-minded, self-absorbed individuals.

I’m unclear what part of the story this person finds dysfunctional, but I’ll bet a lot of money it involves Gila daring to have sex with a man she wasn’t ready to start a life with. How dare women express their sexuality with anyone they aren’t ready to marry and reproduce with! The nerve. And if you think removing a cluster of cells the size of a lentil is barbaric, but forcing a woman to carry a pregnancy to term and give birth isn’t, your opinion should not be taken seriously. 

JerseyGirl973 has this to add to the conversation:

i just gave my child up for adoption. i had way more reasons and excuses than the lame one she had, and i still think it is appalling. i think there are a lot of good reasons and that abortion should be legal. i still think a great deal of women do it because they are misguided misled and selfish.

This woman thinks Gila’s decision to have an abortion was a “lame” one. This feeds into the anti-choice dialogue that says women have abortions because they want to go out clubbing the next night, or they still want their cute clothes to fit them, or they change their minds when they are 8 months, despite the fact that there is zero evidence for any of these claims. This woman is trying to position her choice to give birth and adopt the baby out as a better choice than aborting, therein suggesting that every woman who is faced with an unplanned pregnancy should carry to term, whether they want to or not. She goes on to say that women abort because they’re selfish. This is another common anti-choice sentiment, and anti-choicers want us to envision large groups of women who take abortion lightly, and skip on down to the closest clinic for an abortion, then throw a party afterwards. The only reason a woman needs to have an abortion is that she doesn’t want to be pregnant. Making decisions that benefit your own best interests, be it mentally, emotionally or financially isn’t selfish, it’s responsible. 

Then we have this gem:

People like you will never understand this kind of love. All you understand is love of yourself and your wants. I mean, look at the anger with which you write. You have no shortage of socio-economic and medical excuses for seeking an abortion, but that’s all they are – excuses. You want to make it seem as though you see abortion as a right of compassion so as to comfort your ailing conscience for speaking out on behalf of a brutal act.

Firstly, I didn’t feel Gila’s piece was angry at all. Secondly, I’m sick of men (the person who left this comment is a man) accusing women who have abortions of being selfish. It’s up to us and only us to make medical decisions about our bodies. It doesn’t matter if we are rich and never have to work a day in our lives, or broke and living paycheck to paycheck – if we don’t want to be pregnant, we don’t want to be pregnant. He also takes a swipe at her position as an employed person to suggest that because she can afford to be pregnant and raise a child, she therefore must. But Gila never speaks about her socio-economic status in this story, so this commenter is assuming things about her that he cannot say with certainty. His final magnum opus, calling abortion a “brutal act.” Brutal is being forced to let a parasite use your body as a host for 9 months. Brutal is risking your life and your health in order give birth when you never wanted to in the first place. Brutal is expecting every woman who gets pregnant to immediately rearrange their existence because you demand they relinquish their right to undergo a legal medical procedure. 

I shouldn’t even be including this comment since it’s so trite, but just for shits and giggles:

Who the hell kills her baby, then writes about it. Hey, Gila, use birth control or keep your legs together!

Assuming the person who left that comment is American, it really speaks to America’s lack of science education that so many people adamantly exclaim that an embryo is a baby.

Liberals are OK with ripping to shreds in the womb a human being capable emotions, and with a keen sense of physical pain.

Both camps show different sides of human depravity, but don’t pretend that abortion — especially the abortion of fully-developed fetuses — is anything less than depraved and barbaric. It’s one step removed from infanticide.

I have a feeling I’ll be repeating this a lot: an embryo the size of a lentil is not a human being. But this commenter not only feels it is a human being, he feels that he knows it has “a keen sense of physical pain.” I’ll assume it’s from his field experience speaking extensively with embryos. Also, a “fully-developed fetus” is not the size of a lentil, regardless of the fact that the term fully-developed fetus means nothing. If a woman chooses to keep the embryo, barring a miscarriage or other complications, it will be a human being once it’s born. But “will” and “is” are drastically different things. I will be a corpse. Am I a corpse right now? No.

Cells that constitute an individual unique human being who will never have a chance to exist again because his or her mother decided to pretend he or she was a clump of cells and nothing more.

Funny. This comment starts off saying “cells” yet ends with criticizing people for pretending the embryo is “a clump of cells.” Basically, how dare you pretend the cells are just cells!?!? Also, “constitute an individual unique human being” …. *sigh* We’ve been over this before. A human being, no.

It’s a vulgar attempt to present abortion as a morally neutral proposition, but the only people who adopt that view are those who have already lost their soul and humanity. They feel compelled to encourage others to do the same because in their warped minds, if enough accept it, then it becomes right instead of what it is, depraved.

I’d hope that all logical people would be in favor of giving a woman control of her own body. That doesn’t seem like a moral issue to me, rather a rational and humane one. Further, women who decide that pregnancy and motherhood aren’t for them have “lost their soul and humanity,” because, you know, women exist to breed regardless of their careers, education and personal feelings. I guess that’s just our cross to bear as women, and we should relegate ourselves to a lifetime of no sex unless we are absolutely certain we are ready to be pregnant. If not wanting to be a mother means losing your humanity, then I never had any to begin with, as I never want children. You don’t have to scratch far below the surface to find where the real anger lies: a woman had consensual sex with a man she didn’t want to make a life with. The shame cycle continues. 

What part of this is beautiful? Please share. I’m as liberal as the day is long, but celebrating an abortion story rubs me the wrong way.

Because Gila isn’t filled with shame, regret and longing for her embryo, this story is read as celebrating an abortion. I personally feel she should celebrate her decision, but I don’t think this piece has a celebratory tone at all. 

She wasn’t careful with her birth control because she was crazy about him, thus got pregnant on purpose. When he wasn’t into it, she just terminated the pregnancy like la dee da.

Isn’t the real problem being irresponsible and conniving? Ten bucks says if he has been supportive of the news she would have kept the baby. Where is the part where she takes responsibility for her mistake?

A gleeful abortion of a planned, healthy pregnancy: downer. Sure, it probably happens every day but it’s nothing to applaud.

Hello projections and fantasy. This commenter must have been right there along with Gila and her partner in order to provide such detailed insight and analysis. As for “Where is the part where she takes responsibility for her mistake?”, I can only assume this person didn’t finish the piece, because there they will find it. 

In sum: Gila fell in love with a man and conceived a child with him, but then she decided he was wrong for her, so she found a doctor to lie to her and destroy their inconvenient baby.

It was all going so well, until the words that follow “doctor.” 

In summation, the anti-choice crowd wants to grant rights to embryos, zygotes and fetuses that no human being has. Human beings cannot be forced to donate blood, organs or any other body parts. Even after death, your body parts cannot be used for anything without your previous written consent. If you are driving your car and crash into someone, you are not required to accompany them to the hospital and be hooked up to their body in order for the person to survive, even though you are responsible for the condition they are in. But because women – poor women, rich women, young women, middle-aged women, mothers, childfree women – are allowed to have sex, anti-choicers want to force them to carry a pregnancy to term, as punishment, for the non-crime of being sexually active. 

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“I’m pro-choice, but I could never have an abortion.”

Amanda Marcotte has a piece on RH Reality Check that I agree with 100%. In this piece she explains how adding that tiny but loaded word “but” to the end of the phrase “I’m pro-choice” can serve to enforce a barrier between the person speaking the sentence and those ~other~ women, the ones who have abortions, the naughty ones.

This article is timely for me, as I just experienced the birth control incident days ago. And what Amanda says about women maintaining they are pro-choice yet distancing themselves from being looked at as a woman who actually would have an abortion, is directly related to this woman who rode the bus with me and felt the need to insist she does not have sex when I saw her packet of birth control pills.

A lot of us might still have internalized hang ups about sex. If you were raised in the United States like me, then it goes without saying that you were most likely not raised in a sex-positive environment, or maybe in an environment where sex was not discussed at all. Further, if you were raised in the Christian school system (also like me), then there’s a good chance you were a teenager with conflicting attitudes towards sex and sexuality, and a definite attitude towards abortion: something sluts do. I thankfully overcame a lot of cultural and religious brainwashing in order to hold the beliefs I hold now, yet even for women who have done the same, some of us can still find ourselves contemplating everything that is implied with the use of that little word “but.”

In the piece, Amanda says:

But even if you are absolutely positive you’d never have an abortion, you have to ask yourself: If you’re pro-choice, why do you need to exclaim about how you’d never do it? What purpose can it serve but to stigmatize abortion further?

Exactly. Commenting on someone’s freedom to do something (in this case, a woman’s right to abort) really doesn’t call for you to include your own personal commentary, unless you want the person or people you are speaking with to explicitly know that you do not identify with the group of people who would do it. If you are so concerned about being lumped in with those people, I think it’s worth asking yourself why, like Amanda suggests.

I would love to be able to say with certainty that I will never have an abortion. However, as I am not abstinent nor do I have my tubes tied, that isn’t a statement I can make in good faith. I use contraceptives that do not come with a 100% guarantee, and I’m thankful that abortion is an option available to me should I need it. I hope I won’t ever need it, but our lives simply aren’t able to be put in neat little boxes.

I know that women who get abortions are women just like me. We aren’t different, I am not better than them. I know this because I’ve been the person driving my pregnant, terrified roommate to the abortion clinic at 8:00 in the morning, while she fidgeted in the passenger seat, hoping we didn’t see anyone we knew. I know this because I have had a pregnancy scare, and without a moment’s hesitation I started to look for a clinic in my area. I know this because I’ve been the shoulder that a childhood friend has cried on after deciding to have an abortion, while saying she never thought this would happen to her.

The danger in distancing yourself from women who do have abortions by exclaiming that you never would is that 1) it is a statement I feel you can’t make with complete certainty unless you are in the situation yourself and 2) it reinforces the oppressive social stigma that women who seek abortions are doing so because they did something bad: they had sex. Anti-choicers want the general public to believe that all of us slutty sluts are out here having sex every moment of the day while laughing to ourselves and saying, “Oh,  fuck the condom, I can just get an abortion, ha ha ha!”

The reality is a lot of women who find themselves sitting in the waiting room at the abortion clinic are women who didn’t think it would happen to them. I guarantee you some of them have said, “I’m pro-choice, but…….”

They are me, I am them.

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On the Pill? You Dirty, Filthy Whore.

I was on the bus early this morning seated next to a young woman who looked about my age, mid-twenties. When she got up to get off at her stop, she accidentally kicked her bag over, spilling some of the contents onto the floor. The contents included a pack of birth control pills and she scooped them up quickly, looked at me and stammered, “It’s…. it’s to make my periods regular.”

I’m fairly certain I was the only person in close enough proximity to see the pills — not that this matters. When confronted with the mere suggestion that they might be having sex, some women immediately go on the defensive by insisting that their birth control pills were prescribed to them for any reason other than that they want to have sex and not get pregnant. A woman’s decision to take birth control pills should be lauded as a responsible one; instead, thanks to constant shaming and an intensely misogynistic world view towards women’s sexuality, I’ve heard women blurt out things like, “I’m on the pill ….. FOR MY CRAMPS!”

I am not blaming this woman. It isn’t her fault. Women who are open about having sex are routinely subjected to slut shaming, judgment, nasty rumors, and may open themselves up to men who think they “want it.” And it hurts me that this woman, who is a complete stranger to me, felt the need to rationalize the fact that she takes birth control pills, lest I judge her for being a filthy, slutty slut. Like I said, I can’t blame her for her rapid-fire statement. Ask any woman how misogynistic some of our fellow women can be towards one another, and I’m sure you’ll get an earful of unsavory stories.

In my imagination, every woman and girl who meets me automatically knows that I am on their side, that I don’t require any justification for any choices they want to make. I want them all to know that I don’t believe in the concept of a slut. I want them to know that the decision to take birth control pills is a decision that should be praised, no matter the reason for taking them. I want this woman to know that in a world where so many young women get pregnant because they are too embarrassed or too ashamed to talk to someone about birth control, I commend her for being responsible. Even if the pills are for her cramps.

But I didn’t have nearly enough time to say all that as she rushed to get off of the bus.

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Mansplainers.

Rebecca Solnit has a really great piece in Mother Jones entitled The Problem With Men Explaining Things. In it she recalls various exchanges she’s had with men who are certain that they are smarter and more informed than her, even when it comes to her own novels. Every woman on earth can probably recall many personal examples of being in this situation, known as mansplaining. Men who are just positive that what you aren’t saying isn’t right, and it’s up to them to explain it clearly and correctly.

I just want to point out a comment that someone called Shocktroop left on Rebecca’s article.

when you are assertive and loud and unwavering, you make enemies. doesn’t matter if you’re male or female. you have to expect to have people hate you and expect to have people question you and try to talk over you and silence you. I think men in general grasp this better than women. Understanding that not everybody is going to be nice to you all the time. Men embrace making enemies, we embrace confrontation more. You are not going to get anywhere in life without realizing that you are going to step on some toes and ruffle some feathers. you have to be prepared to handle that.

Mansplaining on an article about mainsplaining. I don’t know if it’s some kind of performance art or just someone who really isn’t getting the point. Shocktroop is quick to point out that women just don’t get it! Gosh, we really need to pull ourselves together and humor the arrogant men who talk down to us, patronize us and interpret everything we do and say as irrational and crazy.

Shocktroop also seems to think that a woman who is, to quote him, “assertive and loud and unwavering” will be perceived and treated the exact same way as a man who exhibits the same traits, proving he has no insight into basic gender inequalities and society’s attitudes towards women. This lovely commenter also doesn’t realize that the “Oh, that’s just the way it is, suck it up!” attitude is what women have been told time and time again regarding not entering the workforce, not being able to seek an education, childbirth and child rearing, sexual harassment, sexual violence and sexism in general, to name a few.

Thank you for proving Rebecca’s point, Shocktroop. Cheers.

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Why Pro-Life is a Misnomer

It’s time to be honest about the vocabulary used to describe the “pro-life” movement. I put the term “pro-life” in quotes because I prefer to use the term that describes what it actually is: anti-choice. Many anti-choicers fervently cling to the notion that their views advocate for life, but to whose life are they referring? Certainly not the life of the living woman whose body is needed as a host by the fetus in order to survive. Anti-choicers claim to defend life, but human life and human beings are two very different things. A skin cell, as well as a tumor, both qualify as human life. Are these things equal to human beings? Do they deserve equal, or even more rights than a human being? Rationale tells us no. Anti-choicers can do all the mental gymnastics they want, but the fact remains that a fertilized egg is not a human being, nor should its rights trump that of a living woman.

Thanks to years of religious-inspired misogynist zealotry, anti-choicers have been successful in persuading lawmakers and the general public that God thinks abortion is murder. This belief is largely rooted in the idea that women who have sex and become pregnant deserve what they get, even if it means dying due to pregnancy-related complications — so pro-life, right?

Many anti-choicers go even further and are adamant in preventing women and girls who have been raped or victims of incest from having an abortion. Any compassionate person would agree that women and girls who have been through the trauma of rape and/or incest deserve comprehensive medical treatment and any other services in order to help them heal. But should they find themselves pregnant, too bad. A story involving a 10-year old mentally ill Kansas girl who became pregnant after being raped by her uncle recently garnered international attention, because anti-choicers who want the doctor who performed her abortion, Dr. Ann Neuhaus, to lose her license. That’s right, they’re upset because a 10-year old incest AND rape victim was not forced to give birth. The zygote inside of her is more important to them.

Anti-choice zealots have even gone so far as to prosecute women who have miscarried. Personhood activist Ed Hanks, who is based in Colorado, wrote on the Mississippi Personhood Facebook page that, “society will understand why women need to be punished just as surely as they understand why there can be no exceptions for rape/incest.” In a moment of rare honesty, an anti-choicer let the veil slip and said exactly what the “pro-life” movement is really all about: punishing women. You can read his quote and more from anti-choice activists in this article by Irin Carmon of Salon.

More honest options for the re-branding of the “pro-life” movement include:

1. Anti-choice

2. Pro-forced birth

3. Pro-fetus

4. Pro-zygote

5. Pro-embryo

6. Pro-fertilized egg

7. Anti-woman

8. Anti-sex

9. Pro-punish women

What happens if the entire United States goes the way of Mississippi, where a tractor salesman drafted anti-abortion legislation that got onto the ballot? Oh, I should also mention that he embarked on a state-wide anti-choice tour to promote his extreme anti-choice legislation entitled “Conceived in Rape Tour.” Yeah. Instead of campaigning to, oh I don’t know, help women who were raped, this “pro-life” man instead chose to campaign for eggs fertilized via rape.

Don’t let anti-choicers get away with calling themselves “pro-life.” Refer to them as what they really are: anything but.

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