Posted on Tuesday, June 9th, 2009 at 3:49 am
Author: Feature Writer
Gc contributor: Sarah Jaffe
June 6 was “The Pill Kills Day” according to extreme anti-choicers who believe that not only should women not be allowed to have abortions, but that birth control pills actually kill babies. This is, of course, not true, unless you hold to some sort of twisted Monty Python “Every Sperm is Sacred” worldview that states that semen is populated with little smiley faces that die slowly and painfully when they don’t fertilize an egg (and even if you do, the fact that millions have to die each time one of them gets to the magic moment of conception would make your argument look ridiculous—in that case, we should clearly stop reproducing sexually at all and simply produce babies in labs, one for each sperm…).
Personally, I have a contentious relationship with hormonal birth control, and refuse to use it. I’ve suffered bouts of depression, mood swings, weight gains and painful, cystic acne. Worst of all, when on Depo-Provera, I spent most of the month losing blood with only a week or so off, rather than the other way around. Depo-Provera, an injection that is also used to control the sex drives of prisoners in so-called “chemical castration,” has a nasty history of having been tested on women, especially women of color, without their consent. In the list of normal side effects, nothing is ever mentioned about the drug’s tendency to reduce the sex drive.
On both ends of the debate we often find women’s sexuality policed. Yet pro-choice feminists are often stuck in a corner on issues like this, unable to admit to the problems with something we are committed to defend.
Worse than that, we often find ourselves working within the framework forced upon us by those who would take away our rights. We argue for the Pill by noting its possible benefits (reducing abortions, health benefits opposed to risks), not by arguing that we have a right to have sex as fundamental as that of any man watching Viagra or Cialis ads (note that there is no “Viagra Kills” day).
It’s 2009, and yet we’re stuck on the old terms when it comes to discussion of women’s sexuality. We’re inured now to sex scandals among male political figures, but women are still subject to lectures about their duty to children and families, and even the debate over a new Supreme Court justice hinges on whether or not she is pro-choice. Discussions of birth control and abortion too often leave out the point that sexuality is normal and healthy, and women should be able to enjoy it without being forced to bear children.
We yield to discussions on mournful abortions, or else feel required to admit to absolutely no guilt or second thoughts, lest we unwittingly give the Right some talking-point ammo. We are left with no avenue to talk about the pleasures and pitfalls of adult and adolescent sexuality.
“Sexting” is the scandal du jour, with frightened parents and overzealous law enforcement officials arresting children for child pornography possession, all for the crime of taking naked pictures of themselves. As if owning one’s own body and one’s contentious adolescent relationship with it is criminal. As if teenage girls (and they are, mostly, girls) don’t have enough issues with bodies and sexuality.
I don’t want teenage girls growing up thinking that the only way to be sexual is performing, putting themselves on display for a (male) gaze, nor do I want them inhibited from owning and learning the various means of sexual expression that have been given them, by nature or by technology. After all, phone sex and text-sex is far less likely to cause pregnancy and thus, abortion, or require the use of birth control, right?
Sex, and especially women and girls having sex, is still a matter for policing and pigeonholing. The shots that killed Dr. George Tiller were meant to shut off an option for women as much as to punish a “baby-killer.” By shutting off that option, the radical right hoped, whether consciously or subconsciously, to cut down on the amount of women having sex for anything other than reproduction.
As if to illustrate this, the New York Times has a picture of a protester outside of Tiller’s clinic. Surrounded to the choking point with signs calling abortion bloody murder, the woman wears an American flag as a skirt, spattered with (I hope fake) blood—and a “God Hates Fags” T-shirt. Gay people don’t kill any babies that I’m aware of, unless once again we’re going by the sperm-counting method, and so we are clearly confronted with the real reason behind the protest: it’s about controlling sexuality.
The most insidious problem with the pro-choice/anti-abortion debate is that it stifles the nuance that we need when we talk about sex, love, and families. It has colored, and been colored by, the puritanical streak in American culture, and left us with abstinence-only sex education, teenagers’ bodies being turned into contraband, and now the death of a man who helped countless women at great risk to his own safety.
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