I usually shy away from getting into the personal – sometimes its all that much easier to connect political dots together, construct a narrative, and leave out the personal for a drink with a friend, coffee with my mama, or tea with a partner.
But I think today, maybe I will get a little personal – after all it’s not everyday that you get to deliver a keynote at the 10 years anniversary of one of the fiercest partnerships to ever be.
So here goes.
To my knowledge, 10 years ago I wasn’t an abortion rights activist.
Even though I had been exposed to this struggle’s medical patriarchy – the actively harmful and vicious type, as well as the passively negligent and seemingly-unknowing type – even when this violence had targeted so many women around me, and I knew it did so purposefully because we all share having a uterus. But it didn’t seem strange or wrong. It felt – just as I and others around me were supposed to perceive it – normal and self-evident.
Normalized violence, the type that no one, sometimes not even its own victims, are fazed by.
Macro and micro aggressions that you know aren’t right, but that you also know other women face – and so it isn’t that bad – we’re all in it together (that’s early on when you think we’re all in it, the same way, till later you find out that isn’t true, and it bursts a little bubble).
But anyway, I digress.
Perhaps it’s the early on realization of “that’s just how things are” that prepares you a lifetime of all types of struggles, all types of validations needed, all types of proving yourself – where at some point you too even start associating the feminine with the negative and you go to show that you’re stronger than that – and may find yourself at competition with other a women – a divisive tool of the patriarchy – but soon you find out, no, no the feminine is alright and that men’s validation / compliments / comments / cookies are the least of your concern – worse even it angers you because you’ve spent a lifetime unlearning that you don’t need it, that it was eating at you, that it was making you hate/ distrust yourself and worse, distrust other women.
Sometimes I don’t know what type of PBV, patriarchy-based-violence, is worse, but definitely the lifetime of unlearning patriarchal (and its bro buddies capitalist, nationalist, classist, ableist) values is a difficult struggle on all feminists.
Every time we give into “that’s just how it is”, that’s every time the patriarchy has won a little. Normalizing that myself and body will eventually face street and work place harassment, that I must be ready to fight a rapist, that my face needs to smile and be pleasant, that my voice must be soothing, that my body must be attractive, but modestly and humbly so (maybe even better if I pretend it isn’t, so I’m not too conceited or too confident) that my words must be calculated, not too offensive to my surroundings’ intelligence, or mocking, or belittling, that my words don’t scar male pride and ego, that maybe they (my words) forfeit a few intellectual wins here and there and spin things to make it look like “it was your idea, and wow we should totally go with that” – just so we get the ends we want.
Normalizing that my desire be heteronormative, my fantasies, my dreams, my utmost goals – just so that my behavior is complimentary to how my body, voice, talk and walk have been policed from the get go and thereafter self-policed.
It is amazing a system so violent, it poisons your own thoughts, desires, and dreams – teaches you to inflict on others – creates the architypes of the monstrous and jealous mother-in-law, the harsh judge, the “yeah I made it, so can you” CEO.
So violent that even countries where abortion is legal, such as Nepal, South Africa, Vietnam or Thailand can have women not even know that it is. Where this not-knowing among women, is masked as a lack of awareness, rural naivety, lack of education, but how could you blame them when the stigma is so large and this patriarchal violence runs so deep and is so normalized.
Where countries where abortion is so prevalent, as we heard yesterday from our comrade in China, can twist this gain for women into a status element of fancy abortions versus the commoners’ abortions (splitting women even further), and using degrading selling tactics and objectifying images to sell something that need not be sold to a woman who wants one. I’m still reflecting over these adverts in China, that we saw and heard of yesterday. How does one make a consumer product of abortions, telling women “if he really loves you, he will buy you this abortion” like a) she needs him to buy her pretty things and gifts and b) he may not truly love her and she must not feel safe in his conditional love towards her – but if he pays money then this capital shall prove his love.
How these two offenders have held hands so tightly and over time held hands even tighter – making sure women always feel dependent, the love they receive conditional, their looks fading, replaceable, fragile, and always unsure.
Capitalism and patriarchy need us feeling unsafe and uncertain, scared and dependent, and they do it so well.
It is alternatives to these ways that we need.
The sexual liberation movement and gender justice movement have come such a long way in the fight against normalizations in fantasy, desire, sexual behavior, kinks, gender expression, alternative family models, pleasure, self-satisfaction, in using medicine pre (vaccines, OCP, PrEP, pap smears) and post (PEP, antibiotics, ECP, and we know MA but they’ll never say it), in arts, in literature, in dance, in sensuality, in gender identities, in dating apps, and sex clubs, and sex toys, in reforming voting rights, divorce laws, domestic violence laws, rape laws, adultery laws – the list goes on.
Sexuality and gender justice aren’t always winning these fights, but at least you see the fight – this struggle is brought into the light, meanwhile abortion still sits in the dark… like we must inherently be ashamed of it. In a time when we see gay marriage advancing in countries that could never conceive of abortion rights (and we had thought they would never conceive of gay rights… we were wrong).
Somehow our movements have abandoned women, and people with uteruses, yet again. I’m not the first to say this, but its important to understand why the fight shows promise in some issues and not as much in others. Perhaps because gay marriage campaigns focus on this being a fight for love, while abortion about reproductive justice, freedom and emancipation.
With abortion, women have more room to negotiate with the patriarchies value of self-sacrifice and forced motherhood. Between abortion and contraception women can have “sex without punishment”, which makes us loose and threatens a heavily anchored notion that has been a struggle for us for a very long time.
And lastly, gay marriage need not challenge or alter socio-economic arrangements or the status quo and does not need government funding; whereas abortion does. Looking at hinders to cross movement solidarities, there have in fact been plenty of writers criticizing the nefarious misogyny in gay culture and gay men’s circles; being disgusted by periods and vaginas, telling women to look better, making them unsure of themselves, sexual harassment without accountability because they aren’t sexually attracted to women, belittling of queer women’s sexuality – seeing them as not “really” sexual for the assumption that are not interested in penetration – even if you think of it, compulsory heterosexuality gears desire to men’s bodies and to penetration being real sex.
Shone Faye, a transfeminine writer says:
“Homophobia is not misogyny’s sibling, its his son, Patriarchy hates gay men because they behave sexually “like women”, it hates lesbianism because lesbians are women who “refuse” to fuck men, and it hates trans people who call bullshit on so many of its supposed truths.
We are all harmed by patriarchy, but in many contexts, gay men are the ones best placed to be seduced into conspiring with it.”
How can we build partnerships when our many different privileges – privileges that exist at the expense of others (cause that’s how a privilege works) – are not questioned and relinquished?
Where even abortion has been used as a tool by patriarchy to keep women in their place of compulsory motherhood, heterosexuality and gender norms – where parents take their never-wed daughters to get an abortion to uphold their chaste, honor respectability, marriageability, and forces these pregnancies to exist only in heteronormative marriages (if abortion was truly a sin, then we would have had SO many more single mothers, at least in my part of the world).
The state, religion, and norms need abortions to keep happening, so that women may remain in their place, on the good paved path to motherhood and wives-to-be.
So how come then abortion, an activity, more common than marriage, gay marriage, and all types of divorces – is still tabooed and banned?
They fear us, they fear our free sexuality, our independence, and the eventual and inevitable complete and entire ownership of our bodies.
And they should be afraid.
Because we are coming, women, gender queers, trans* folk, we are coming for our reproductive justice, and we’re coming for them, and we’re going to topple this entire system on its head.
We promise you this.
We’re almost there.