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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"Pro-Life" put in context

Here is a great piece by Cliff Schecter in Al-Jazeera that puts the pro-life movement in context. He describes how incompatible the name "pro-life" is with the broad belief system shared by most of its adherents. He writes, "The sad reality is that, to be pro-life in the US today, which is to be conservative in almost all cases, is to love thy enemy by supporting illegal wars - or just plain stupid ones - that kill hundreds of thousands of innocents, cutting health-care benefits and nutrition programs for children and the poor, and turning the other cheek … of the person you're torturing. It is also to cut funding for bridges that are falling down to make room for slashing the tax on yacht shoes, make a best faith effort to ensure criminals, the mentally unbalanced and terrorists have access to assault weapons and C4 explosives, and to love thy neighbour - to love them so much as to give him or her a lethal injection if you think they killed someone." There's more, and it's worth the read.

The right don't care about their inconsistencies. They have their goals in mind, which seem to be gaining and maintaining money and power. They don't think about the process, only the product. The end justifies the means. Machiavellian in the extreme, how they get there is immaterial.

The left, on the other hand, think about process all the time. And it's hard work, because we have a diverse movement with all kinds of different goals. To see where those goals coalesce is sometimes difficult. If we were to put an umbrella over all the movements, and give it a name, would we call it "social justice" or "equality" or "social and environmental justice" or something else? What about animals? We can't leave out animals. Are animals understood to be included in a word like "environmental" or "ecological?" Is eliminating racism and sexism and all the other isms understood to be part of a phrase like "social justice." Does this phrase do us justice?

See how hard it is? We debate, quite publicly and openly, the flaws of our various positions, which has primacy and the inconsistencies which threaten to unhinge us. We debate tactics that are best used, and how they will affect the outcome. Is street level activism like a SlutWalk good for the overall cause (whatever that is) and does it have to be? Is violence ever justified? We know that the means are important to the ends, that how we get there is as important, maybe even more important, than where we get.

The right doesn't care about process, about consistency, about any of that. They'll murder doctors to save a fetus. They hate and call it love. They can live with being pro-life AND pro death penalty. The ends justify the means. And what is the end again? Money and Power? Preserving the patriarchal status quo?

These are the big questions, people. And although I curse the left sometimes for what I'll delicately call our "collective inefficiency," our failure to keep the eye on the prize (even if we can't agree on a name for that prize), the older I get, the more I know that how we get there is everything.

Monday, May 16, 2011

When is doing nothing doing something?

Will the Conservatives challenge abortion rights or won't they? The to-ing and fro-ing is getting to be too much to bother recounting on this blog. I could spend my life being a clipping service. Although I would like to plug Dammit Janet's recent post on the subject because it was particularly good, I'll leave the others for you to find yourself. Suffice it to say, opinion is divided. Generally, the pro-conservative bunch say they won't challenge abortion rights and the anti-conservative bunch say they will.

There are lots of ways to challenge reproductive rights. One is by doing NOTHING. For example, currently the federal government is doing NOTHING to resolve the situation in New Brunswick where the provincial government is violating the Charter and forcing women to pay out of pocket for their own abortion care. They are also doing NOTHING to prevent private members' bills coming forward that limit various aspects of abortion care. They are doing NOTHING to improve access to abortion care throughout Canada, particularly where it is scant or non-existent like in the North, rural areas, Prince Edward Island and so on. They are doing NOTHING to ensure that abortion care is available to women in other countries through the much debated Maternal Health Initiative.

Doing nothing is doing something. It will be a war won by attrition by the cons, if we don't do anything to challenge their nothing by demanding a positive action to support reproductive rights. In other words, they don't have to do anything. Just stay the course and in no time, we'll be set back a generation. But there is hope. I like the movement in BC to fully fund contraceptives for all women, as long as it is done in conjunction with full access to the whole range of sexual and reproductive health care, including abortion. I also find hope in Judith Timson's recent article about the SlutWalks. The walks are happening all over the place and are also much debated, but Timson makes the point that one thing the walks are doing is getting young women comfortable with street protest, and that is an important thing. I can only hope these same women and more will be willing to take to the streets again when their reproductive rights are threatened.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day Thoughts

Mother's Day. It's a Hallmark Holiday, but nevertheless, a good day to think about mothering. Here at the Abortion Monologues, our motto is "Every Mother Willing, Every Child Wanted." This is still a dream, but it's good to dream and to work towards that dream.

Roadblocks to achieving that dream include some of the myths we have about mothering. Our mothering myths transmit values, norms and patterns that become part of culture. They determine how we feel about ourselves as mothers and as women, how we feel about our own mothers and the other mothers around us. And as always, the personal is political. Our feelings and beliefs inform the kind of social policy we make.

One of the first things I think about when I consider the current myths of motherhood is that whole crazy Super Mom thing and all it entails. Recently, Super Mom not only makes her own baby-food, has children with good grades and future professional careers, children who excel in gymnastics and piano and math, she is also Super Mom with a great body. She's the yummy mummy, still sexy with a nice tight vagina after the birth and rock hard abs. She's doing her kegels, rocking the workouts, all while rocking the cradle. We praise the woman who has "lost the baby weight" and deride the one who ends up with lumpy thighs, a bumpy tummy and no waist. She has "let herself go." I don't even need to say what's wrong with this. You already know. So stop participating in it.

It's worth taking the time to deconstruct what we think about mothering beyond the body, and to dig into the cultural belief systems that make mothering such an difficult job for so many of us.

One thing our culture likes to do is think about mothering as something we know by instinct, not something we learn. Unfortunately, the babies are never born with an instruction manual. I don't know about you, but I didn't know how to do anything, in spite of my diligent reading. Breastfeeding came about as naturally to me as sky-diving. Our feelings of self-worth plummet when we don't magically "know" what to do with these lovely pudgy needy crying pooping little people. This is kinda funny when at the same time mothering is lauded as THE MOST IMPORTANT THING A WOMAN CAN DO.

I got more training to be a cashier than I got for mothering. I had to get a license to drive. But mothers receive precious little, if anything, by way of training, and what we do receive is extremely prescriptive and simplistic, as though there is only one way to mother correctly. The fact that this one true path changes periodically (look at what has been said about breastfeeding over the last century as an example of this) shows there are many paths. There are trends in mothering, just as there are trends in anything. Family Bed. Cry it out. They can't both be right. Mothers need non-judgemental education that offers evidence-based best practices for things like nutrition and safety, lots of options, examples, case studies, discussions, and the freedom to apply this learning to their own unique situations as they see fit. But when we are in the thick of things, and our baby is crying, and we begin to wonder if we really should implement the family bed, or if our neighbour is right and we should let the baby cry it out, we feel pressure to perform our mothering tasks according to the latest trend. This often means conforming to the loudest, most judgemental voice closest to us. It's in all of our interests to remember mothering is not all instinct, that it is learned too, and that we must support mothers in their learning. Don't treat mothers like they are idiots when they don't know what to do. Offer help and support. Present your help as possibilities, not prescriptions. "He might be more comfortable if you change his position. I've seen some women hold their babies like footballs, and others put the snuggly on their backs." See what I mean?

Along with this, we tend to think of mothering as an act of love, not work. This has huge implications for us as women. I will say, Of Course We Love Our Children (even as I know some of us do not, but we're totally not allowed to talk about that, but someday we will) but this does not mean that raising them isn't also work. There is this false notion out there that if we love what we do, this is reward enough. No payment is required beyond that. Occasionally, a study comes out saying that if we paid mothers market value for all of the tasks that they do, they would earn (insert shockingly large amount of money here). We are always surprised by this. This recurring study makes us feel... what? Important? Because we know our importance in this society is measured by the money we earn? Sad? Because we are not making that much money? Used? Because we're doing all this for free and no one bothers to say thanks? How does it make us feel? You decide. But what I do know is that mothering for me is both love and work. Just because I love my child doesn't mean she hasn't been a heck of a lot of work to raise. And it makes me take a hard look at our culture and what is valued as work. Saying someone shouldn't get compensated with actual pay if they love their work is a ridiculous notion.

As the great feminist economist Marilyn Waring points out, we only value what we count. I just finished filling out the long form census (oh, sorry, we call it the National Household Survey now) and there was not one question about household unpaid work or unpaid work of any kind inside or outside the home. This is a problem and has implications for social policy which will continue to fail to recognize the work that mothers do and compensate them accordingly, to make sure they are not poor in their old age, to make sure they have adequate support to do their jobs well and raise healthy children in healthy families.

We also think of mothering as an individual task rather than as a social task. This is unique in history and an invention of modern western society, from what I can see. We are expected to do our work largely alone, or at most within the nuclear family, and maybe, if we're lucky with some nieghbours, some extended family, or with a Baby and Me group. Again, this has huge implications for social policy. If mothering is something we do ourselves, our mothering needs to have no attention paid to it in social policy, no collective support, no "village" to help us raise our children. Again, we know this is a lie. But this is the pervasive idea that guides the broader culture right now.

Finally, although I could say more, we think of mothering as essential, not optional. A woman's destiny is tied up with her role as mother. A woman who does not mother or does not want to mother is not only seen as unmotherly, she is unwomanly. Essentialism is alive and well in our culture. That's a fancy name for the idea that "biology is destiny." Our destiny, our purpose as women, is to have babies, and more specifically, have the babies of men. It is our job, through our mothering, to continue patriarchy. Whew. That's a lot of weight on me. Especially considering I wish an end to patriarchy. And if I don't have the baby, guess what? I'm a bad woman. So women who have abortions buck this myth in a profound way. No wonder they are shamed and blamed.

This Mother's Day, let's do something beyond buying a Hallmark Card. Let's do something substantial to change this matrix of ideas that diminishes all of us as mothers. Write a letter demanding government sponsored, subsidized and regulated day care. Stop blaming mothers for everything that goes wrong, and think about any mother-blaming you have done and try to find empathy in your heart, knowing that this mother worked, and worked hard, did her work largely alone, did it whether or not she wanted to, and did the best she could with what little education she had. Maybe make a donation to a mother in need through a woman's shelter or woman's centre. Maybe donate to Oxfam or a like-minded organization to help women raise their families and have healthy babies or not have babies at all. Let's help ensure all mothers are willing and all babies are wanted.

But most importantly, examine your own beliefs about mothering and see if they are really true or if they are just myths.

And Happy Mother's Day to you, if you are a mother, or just have a mother.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

After the Election, what now?

Canada is behaving like the annoying little sister of the United States, following in their footsteps, tagging along, even when the example it has set is dangerous and destabilizing. My country, the country that believed in peace, order and good government, the country that was moderate almost to a fault, the country that was happily mocked as boring, is now about to change.

My country will spend its collective money and energy integrating with the United States, working towards their visions. We will build prisons and criminalize more people, and hire their "experts" to help us. We will do this even as this policy is now questioned by the same people who have exported it to us. We will buy helicopters and more from the US military industrial complex. We will privatize our health care and dismantle a system that, although flawed, is still the envy of much of the world. We will cut taxes, even as we watch the US deficit spiral out of control. We will make corporations more profitable, even as we observe the growing gap between the rich and the poor and the disastrous impact this has on social cohesion. We will tear the fabric of our tolerant society with a war on abortion and join their culture war. We will bring religion and superstition into our secular society, deny science and create an echo chamber of misguided opinions presented as fact.

It is not going to be a good four years. But, what some are calling our Bush years will come to an end, just as theirs have and the tag-along sister will follow suit a few years later, I expect.

As for the movement I am most closely aligned with, the reproductive rights movement, I have had a recurring image over the last few days about my work. I am like a mother who wants the best for her child. I save money for an education, I shelter and feed and clothe her. I do my best to nurture and to guide. I want her life to be easier than mine was; I want her to have more than I had. But sometimes the child goes its own way. They get in with a bad crowd. They quit school, take the college money and blow it on crack, they live in a hovel. They imprison themselves with bad choices. They choose a path I recognize as impossibly hard and infinitely damaging. Yet, I have no control over that. As I weep for them, I realize I have no choice but to sit back, watch it happen, and be available and forgiving when and if that child returns.

When you return to us, we will be here. We will not say "I told you so," no matter how much we want to. We will invite you to rebuild y/our rights with us. We will tell you how we did it "back in the day," how we won the rights you tossed aside even while we know these methods won't work for you anymore. We will be there to give you a framework, a new/old vision. We will help you again when you are ready.

And while you are dismantling the rights we hold dear, we will look at you with deep sorrow and search our hearts for the seeds of forgiveness. We will keep talking to those who helped us create this world you are casting aside. We will seek solace in each other, in each other's visions and dreams of a better world, a world where we strive to build justice, a world in which we recognize our individual well-being depends on the collective well-being, a world in which we recognize equality is not sameness, but fairness. And we will send out occasional missives to you, reminding you there is another way. We will try and find allies among you. We will connect with our base, restock our shelves, realign our efforts. And we will be ready to rebuild.

Monday, May 2, 2011

VOTE for Reproductive Justice

It's election day in Canada. Voting for reproductive justice seems like a good idea from where I sit. But what exactly is reproductive justice?  I came across this great definition used by the Pro-Choice Coalition in Ottawa as a guideline for an upcoming public protest. They credit Sistersong.

What is reproductive justice?

As defined by Sistersong, Reproductive Justice is “the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, economic, and social well-being of women and girls, and will be achieved when women and girls have the economic, social and political power and resources to make healthy decisions about our bodies, sexuality and reproduction for ourselves, our families and our communities in all areas of our lives. For this to become reality, we need to make change on the individual, family, community, and institutional levels to end all forms of oppression, including forces that deprive us of self-determination and control over our bodies, and limit our reproductive choices. This oppression has been implemented through the controlling and exploiting of women and girls through our bodies, sexuality, and reproduction (both biological and social) by families, communities and institutions."

- http://www.sistersong.net/reproductive_justice.html

They add that "Reproductive Justice includes, and goes beyond abortion, contraception, choice and access. Reproductive justice means fighting for all people to create and sustain the kinds of families they want, how they want, when they want. This movement takes its leadership from the communities most affected by these issues. Indigenous communities and communities of colour founded this movement because of exclusion and continue to be at the forefront."

When we vote, we have an opportunity to influence and change this whole matrix. Think about it. Cast your vote.