Blogging for HONS 201: Feminism, New Media, and Health at Hunter College.
As a young woman growing up in the good ol’ US of A these days, I am constantly baffled and angered at the transformation of my body into a political battleground for a mostly white, middle- to upper-class, male government. From the accusations that being pro-choice is like being best bros with Hitler (because wanting bodily agency is the same as invading Poland) to the self-assured declarations that “legitimate rape” is an actual thing that exists, women like myself and women different from me are being told that our bodies are public property, subject to the whim of people other than ourselves.
The feminist fight for bodily autonomy isn’t news by any means. Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English detail the “exorcism” of midwives from the childbirth process in the early 20th century, during a time in which the (mostly male) medical field was growing as a profession. Rather than incorporate the midwives – an often integral part not only of the birth, but the before and after care – into the medical field, the medical “experts” successfully painted the midwives as dirty, uneducated, and unnecessary in the process of childbirth. Midwifery, an all-female role that was responsible for 50% of the births in 1900 in the United States (mostly to lower-class, immigrant women who couldn’t afford a physician), became obsolete, backwards, and undesirable compared to the hospital and physician alternative (Ehrenreich and English 103).
Fast forward about 70 years, to a time in which another aspect of birth was under debate. In 1969, when abortion was illegal in most of the United States, a group of women in Chicago decided to try to help other women reclaim autonomy of their reproductive systems. They created the Jane Collective, an anonymous network that sought to provide safe abortions and abortion counseling to any woman who wanted it. Though initially they arranged abortions for their clients with physicians, they eventually learned the procedure themselves, and were able to give more women their services safely and at a lower cost. With the passing of Roe v. Wade in 1973, the Jane Collective disbanded, after providing more than 11,000 safe abortions to Chicago women at the risk of their own freedom.
The main reason the Collective disbanded was because, in their eyes, they had reached their goal: abortion was legal. Women had a say in their reproductive capabilities. But when we look at the current political climate, and the attitude towards abortion and birth control in the past 10 or 20 years, it’s nearly impossible to say that women have earned the right to govern their own bodies. Texas gubernatorial candidate Clayton “Claytie” Williams infamously likened rape to bad weather in 1990, quipping that women should “relax and enjoy it;” not one month ago, current Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan referred to rape as just another “form of conception.” Politicians left and right are trying to tear away the right for women to control their bodies by horribly oppressive legislation.
That’s not to ignore the strides women have made since the 70’s. Women rejoiced when the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) helped ease the process of obtaining birth control. There was an outpouring of public support for Sandra Fluke, and disdain for Rush Limbaugh after he demonstrated his penchant for shaming non-white, non-male people, as well as his lack of understanding of birth control and basic women’s biology. President Obama confirmed that, yes, “rape is rape,” and all rape is heinous, and a majority-male government should not make healthcare decisions for women.
It’s at times like these that I’m especially reminded of a comment that Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) made a few years back, when she unknowingly and unintentionally said one of the most wonderfully feminist things: “That’s why people need to continue to go to the town halls, continue to melt the phone lines of their liberal members of Congress, and let them know, under no certain circumstances will I give the government control over my body and my health care decisions.” Which, I think, really sums it all up.
Amen, Michele. Amen.