At MOMocrats: White male privilege and the daughter test

I’m very excited to share that I’m now a contributor to MOMocrats, a great blog dedicated to writing about politics from a variety of parents’ perspectives. My first post for MOMocrats has just been posted; please check it out, and the rest of the blog, too! An excerpt:

Steven Levitt of Freakonomics fame recently wrote that he bases his decisions on whether to support government prohibitions on what he calls the “daughter test”:

It wasn’t until the U.S. government’s crackdown on internet poker last week that I came to realize that the primary determinant of where I stand with respect to government interference in activities comes down to the answer to a simple question: How would I feel if my daughter were engaged in that activity? If the answer is that I wouldn’t want my daughter to do it, then I don’t mind the government passing a law against it. I wouldn’t want my daughter to be a cocaine addict or a prostitute, so in spite of the fact that it would probably be more economically efficient to legalize drugs and prostitution subject to heavy regulation/taxation, I don’t mind these activities being illegal. On the other hand, if my daughter had good reasons to want an abortion, I would want her to be able to have one, so I’m weakly in favor of abortion to be legal, even though I put a lot of value on unborn fetuses.

That this is utterly ridiculous ought to be so obvious as to need no elaborating. Do we want legislators making laws based on what they would personally want for us as parents, or based on respect for people as human beings with equal rights and autonomy? This shouldn’t be a difficult question to answer. Yet a bunch more white dudes similarly privileged as Levitt have since weighed in to debate whether or not his test is reasonable.

Read the rest of the post at MOMocrats

ETA: I just realized this is the 100th post at Are Women Human. Hurrah!


Hugo Schwyzer: from pro-choice to pro-life and back

ETA (1/25/12): I’ve decided to take out the links to and quotes of Schwyzer’s work and rework this piece in the future.

ETA (1/18/12): Since information has come to light about Hugo Schwyzer’s record (link is to an article I wrote, added 1/25/12), I can no longer support his work or his presence or leadership in feminist spaces. At the same time, I don’t want to conceal my past citing of his work. I’m considering what to do with this post, given both the problematic language and the citing of Hugo – whether to post an updated version that doesn’t cite hugo, leave it here as is, or some other option. Suggestions are welcome.

ETA (1/13/12): I apologize that the language in this post is cissexist and binarist (not everyone with a uterus is female and not everyone is either male or female) and erasing of trans men and non-binary people who also need reproductive health services. For transparency’s sake I’ll leave the post as it originally read.

Hugo Schwyzer recently wrote an interesting post on why he’s changed his mind on abortion a few times. I really identify with parts of it, which I’ve excerpted below.

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I also believed in a consistent life ethic for many years. The “pro-life” philosophy I was raised with was riddled with inconsistencies, e.g., the Christian communities I grew up with were very gung ho about torture, unchecked militarism, and the death penalty, none of which come from a place of respect for the dignity and value of human life. They defined being pro-life as simply being opposed to legal abortion, without feeling any obligation to address the circumstances that lead women to choose abortions, and in many cases they supported positions that actually contribute to higher rates of abortion. I adopted a consistent life ethic after concluding that it was opposite of “pro-life” to demand that women never have abortions while vilifying single mothers, fighting proper sex ed and wider contraceptive access, and constantly opposing policies to guarantee proper health care during and after pregnancy, allow women to better support themselves and their families, and expand educational and career options for poor and/or single mothers.

But like Schwyzer, after a while I began to see that the goal of “making abortion unthinkable by winning hearts and minds so that women would be more inclined to choose adoption” was very unrealistic. Part of that realization came from getting a more accurate historical perspective on abortion, and learning more about what other cultures and religions believe about abortion. There have always been people who have sought out ways to terminate unwanted pregnancies; it’s not a new thing but rather a fact of human experience. It hasn’t always been traditional Christian teaching that fetuses have a soul from conception. And different cultures and faith traditions, even different branches of Christianity have a variety of views on abortion.

My beliefs about abortion had been conditioned by my religious upbringing; they were based on assumptions about when life begins, and what that means, that are far from universal. It seemed problematic to insist that everyone has to accept a particular one of many Christian positions on abortion, regardless of what their faith traditions or personal convictions might be, much less to claim that this position should be enshrined into laws everyone has to follow.

I also identify with Schwyzer’s comments in that my experience of pregnancy and of becoming a parent also made me see the the enormity of asking someone to continue an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy, to birth and raise an unwanted child, or to birth and give up an unwanted child.

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Going through pregnancy myself made me realize that it’s not an experience that should ever be forced on anyone. Nor is giving birth a process anyone should have to go through unwillingly. My pregnancy was planned, and our child very much wanted and loved from the instant we knew I was pregnant. I was lucky to have a complication-free pregnancy, labor, and birth. But even the smoothest pregnancy or delivery entails serious physical, psychological, and personal challenges. There were days when I was so nauseous and tired that all I could think about was not being pregnant. Pregnancy made my problems with depression worse in ways I didn’t anticipate. Giving birth was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, physically and psychologically. And that’s saying nothing of the challenges that come with being a parent for the rest of your life, or that can come with giving up a child. After experiencing all that, and having experienced just a few years of the terrifying and wonderful adventure of raising and being responsible for another human being, I couldn’t imagine asking anyone to take all that on unwillingly.

I appreciated Schwyzer’s conclusion:

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I have a number of Christian friends I deeply respect for having a broad vision that sees fighting all oppression and injustice as pro-life. They don’t believe that caring about the dignity of human life ends at birth, and they actually advocate for policies that would lower abortion rates without punishing women. They believe that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and because of that they’re also passionate about anti-racism, LGBT rights, economic justice, universal health care, the environment, and many other social justice issues. I consider them to be, if I may borrow the phrase from Paul, my co-laborers in the struggle for a more just world.

Where we differ is that they believe abortion is an injustice to unborn children and to women. They believe women deserve better than abortion. I disagree.

I believe an unplanned pregnancy is a difficult situation and that people deserve – no, have the right – to decide for themselves what their best options are. I believe we should work to make it so nobody feels like their options are constrained – so no one has to continue in a pregnancy they don’t want, and no one has to terminate a pregnancy they do want because of extenuating circumstances. Both are injustices. I believe no one can decide for someone else whether they can bear to carry a child to term only to give them up.

I believe women when they say they don’t regret their abortions, and believe them when they say they do regret them. I believe women who say abortion was the best option for them, and one they were relieved and even glad to have. I mourn with women who wish they hadn’t had abortions. I believe women should be trusted to speak their own truth about abortion, and free to speak that truth, positive, neutral, negative, without being shamed.

I have a hard time seeing myself ever having an abortion apart from under a very few circumstances. I continue to struggle with the moral and ethical implications of terminating a pregnancy for myself, especially after viability. Nevertheless, I believe people have a right to exercise their own beliefs about whether and when life begins before birth, and how to negotiate the complicated issues these questions raise in an unplanned pregnancy.

Blog for Choice 2011

I’ve been thinking about how to tackle the issue of abortion on the blog for a while, but not sure how to do it. And, to be honest, I’ve also been very apprehensive about even touching the issue at all, for a number of reasons. But, being as it’s Blog for Choice Day, now seems as good a time as any to do it.

The short story is that I used to be very very strongly against abortion rights, and I’m now pro-choice.  I know some folks who follow this blog vehemently disagree with my position, and may even be disappointed in me for taking it, or offended by my discussing it.  Believe me, I understand that.  I really, really do.  I’m not sure, but I imagine for a lot people raised differently than I was being pro-choice seems kind of . . . obvious.  Of course women shouldn’t be forced to carry pregnancies they don’t want! And yes, I believe that. But getting to that place took a lot of time, and questioning, and working through really conflicted emotions. Trying to reexamine the morality of an act you’ve been raised to believe is murder, that you’ve believed for your entire life to be murder, is difficult.

I’m working on a companion post to this one, which I hope to finish and publish by the end of the day, on how I changed my mind about abortion.  I think it’s important for the pro-choice movement to understand understand where others are coming from in order to better reach people from backgrounds like mine – especially now that young adults seem to increasingly oppose reproductive freedom.  And I also hope it’ll be helpful to people reading who are staunchly pro-life, or people who were raised pro-life but are confused or conflicted about what they think about it now, to see the steps one person worked through in moving from a pro-life* position to a pro-choice one.

*I use this term not because I agree that the beliefs I was raised with are actually representative of a consistent pro-life ethic (anti-death penalty, anti-war, pro universal health care, etc.), but because it’s how I self-identified. I understand people’s objections to that phrase, but personally am no more comfortable with labeling all self-identified pro-life people as anti-choice than I am with pro-lifers’ tendency to label all pro-choicers as pro-abortion.

Alright, The question for Blog for Choice this year: Given the anti-choice gains in the states and Congress, are you concerned about choice in 2011?

Short answer again: Yes.

I’m concerned that GOP efforts to blackmail insurance companies into not covering abortions and force women to pay out of pocket for them will entrench and worsen already serious racial and disparities in access to safe, legal abortions, making poor and minority women even more likely to seek out back alley abortions, and even more vulnerable to exploitation by dangerous and unscrupulous people like Kermit Gosnell. I’m concerned that if these and other anti-abortion measures pass, we’re effectively saying as a nation that rich women have a right to choose abortions, and poor women do not.

I’m concerned that a number of states have passed mandatory ultrasound laws before abortions, as though a woman who has decided to terminate a pregnancy can’t comprehend the implications of her choice without one. I’m concerned that it’s increasingly difficult to obtain first-trimester abortions, which are safer, less invasive,  make up the vast majority of abortions, and in most cases are the preferred choice of women seeking abortions (if you want to end your pregnancy, you generally don’t want to stay pregnant for more time rather than less), at the same time that conservatives are launching an all-out attack on the legality of second and third trimester abortions, and on the handful of medical professionals who provide them. I’m concerned that conservatives are chipping away at abortion rights piece by piece until there will be virtually nothing left. I’m concerned because a world without safe, legal abortion would be a complete disaster for tens of millions of women, children, and families.

slacktivist: “Pro-Family” means anti-families

Great post by the slacktivist on the anti-family agenda of conservative “pro-family” groups:

This abstraction — “The Family” — does not actually, tangibly exist in any meaningful way. All those verbs they pile on in front of this abstraction — strengthen, defend, support, etc. — require a direct object. They require a direct object that actually is an object, a thing, something objective and real. Strengthening the abstract concept of The Family doesn’t really mean much of anything.This would be a purely semantic complaint if it were a purely semantic problem, but it’s not. It’s not simply a matter of these groups saying “pro-family” and speaking of “The Family” when what they really mean is that they are pro-families or that they are in favor of helping families. The track record of these organizations shows the opposite. When it comes to policies, regulations or legislative proposals that will actually, tangibly help actual, tangible families, these groups are almost always opposed to such proposals.

That suggests to me that this semantic slipperiness, this elusive abstraction is deliberate. It is a feature, not a bug. It allows these groups to avoid any accountability for the consequences of the positions they advocate. Their effect on or effectiveness on behalf of The Family is, like The Family itself, hopelessly abstract. It cannot be measured or evaluated.

And I think that’s intentional. Or at least suspiciously convenient. Because after decades of work, the impact of these pro-The Family groups is clear. Their efforts to strengthen The Family have weakened families. Their efforts to protect The Family have attacked families. The result of their work is, quite simply, pro-Family and anti-families . . . .

If those pro-The Family groups really were pro-families — if they really were in favor of strengthening, supporting and defending actual families of actual people — then you might expect them to support efforts like Oportunidades or Bolsa Familia.

But they don’t. They view such real, tangible assistance for real, tangible families as a Bad Thing. Those programs empower poor women, and empowering women, the “pro-family” groups say, weakens The Family. Those empowered poor women are more likely to use safe contraceptives, and the use of contraceptives, the “pro-family” groups say, threatens The Family. So in the name of The Family, the pro-family agenda opposes policies that help families.

They’re pro-Family and anti-families. So if you’re a part of an actual family, anywhere, of any kind, they’re anti-you. Keep that in mind.

Update: For one of today’s examples (there are multiple examples of this every day), read how Concerned Women for America protected The Family by helping to torpedo the Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act of 2010. They argued that the “victims support” part was anti-The Family because it didn’t call for the arrest and prosecution of minors enslaved in the sex trade. Prostitution is against the law, after all, and if we go around not enforcing the laws when they are broken by children forced to break them, then we erode morality and weaken The Family. The Family cannot abide allowing these children to be restored to their families. The Family requires that these children be incarcerated.

Read more: slacktivist: “Pro-Family” means anti-families.

Strange priorities

Newsweek recently profiled Brian Brown, the president of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage.  The article presents a very sanitized picture of Brown and his work; it gives the impression that he’s some sort of moderate homophobe, not as hateful or prejudiced as the other guys.  As Jeremy Hooper of Prop 8 Trial Tracker points out, this is a rather strange way to depict a straight man with a “near-daily, decade-long obsession with same-sex marriage.”  Further, the article misrepresents NOM’s record, overstating its influence and success, and casts marriage equality supporters in a negative light.

Still, the article offers some insights on how Brown spins his image and his message to make it appear less homophobic than it is, and raises some interesting questions as to why Christians like Brown, a convert to Catholicism, invest so much effort and resources into opposing marriage equality.  NOM has been able to raise, and spend, huge amounts of money in support of anti-gay measures:

Although NOM operates with a skeleton staff, its budget has ballooned from $500,000 in 2007, when Brown cofounded the group, to more than $13 million today. With that war chest, it was able to pour some $5 million into 100 races in the recent elections.

That’s quite a lot of money, money that could make a huge, positive difference in many lives if spent thoughtfully.   NOM doesn’t disclose its donors, but it’s safe to say that most of it is coming from traditionalist Christians and churches.  This is just one organization, of course, and doesn’t include the millions of dollars groups like the LDS and Roman Catholic churches have invested in anti-gay campaigns – so it only represents a fraction of the expenditure on such campaigns in the US.  As always, I can’t but wonder why so many Christians think this issue is so important that it’s worth pouring so much individual and collective money into.  Honestly, this is something I found disturbing even when I still accepted the fundamentalist and homophobic version of Christianity I was raised to believe.  It’s one thing to believe same sex marriage is wrong, but what makes it SO wrong, so threatening, that millions of dollars are needed to deny it legal recognition?  What makes it so much more urgent or important that it deserves more attention and funding than any number of causes focused on actually helping people?  And if it’s really so awful, where are the millions of dollars being spent to ban divorce for straight couples?

Even if you read the Bible the way fundamentalists and evangelicals as literally as they claim it should be read, there’s no rationale for making fighting gay marriage and other LGB legal rights such a huge priority.  Again, if you look at what Jesus actually said about righteous conduct, and what will get you into heaven, there’s absolutely nothing in there about fighting for the government to enforce (one version of) Christian beliefs as law, and quite a lot about Christians’ obligations to respect the government (“render unto Caesar what it Caesar’s”), and about how the kingdom of heaven has completely different values, goals, and priorities than earthly kingdoms and governments.  Jesus rejected conventional measures of worth and status:

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10, ESV)

Jesus was expected to overthrow the Roman government, and instead taught that his kingdom was of another world.  He taught that people who ignored the plight of the poor, hungry, sick, or downtrodden on earth would not be allowed into the kingdom of heaven, that the rich should give their money and possessions away to follow him, and that it’s easier for a rich person to enter heaven than for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye (read: pretty damn impossible).  He taught that people should be more concerned with their own failings than with other people’s shortcomings.  And then there’s that pesky business about loving your neighbor as yourself and treating others the way you’d want to be treated by them.

Christian anti-gay campaigns are fundamentally an attempt to use power and privilege against people with less power, and less privilege.  Their tools are wealth and political influence.  Their goals are to ensure that gay couples and families are treated with less dignity and respect than straight couples and families.  As such they are inherently opposed to everything Jesus stood for, and are run completely counter to how Jesus would have operated.  And they’re on no firmer ground if you look at the rest of the New Testament – not unless you decide to ignore Paul and Peter they say Christians should respect ruling authorities, or decide that James is being metaphorical when he says true religion is caring for orphans and widows.

So I’m wondering again how Christians like Brian Brown justify spending millions trying to codify their version of Christian teaching into law, while simultaneously being opposed to the government – and sometimes even the church – spending money to assist people in need.  Jesus was pretty specific about how both of those positions are incompatible with following him.  But I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising when fundamentalists show, again, that they don’t really believe the Bible.

World of Lies

The farther I get from my time in patriarchal evangelical Christianity, the more often I’m struck by the realization that I spent my childhood being constantly deceived by people and churches I trusted.  I don’t mean about religion, though I no longer believe what I was taught about that, either.  I mean I was told numerous falsehoods about how people are and how the world is.  When I look back at my childhood now, it feels like I was living in a world of lies.  Elaborate, outrageous lies.  It feels like there was a deliberate conspiracy to keep children in the dark, to isolate us in an artificial world where parents and pastors had total control over shaping our perception of reality.

Obviously I was lied to about gender roles, and about sexuality, and reflecting on the process of untangling those lies is the main reason I started this blog.  But I was also taught lies about many other things.

I was raised to be absolutely convinced that Christian creationism was scientifically and historically proven.  That Noah’s Flood and the parting of the Red Sea and Joshua making the sun stand still were real, authenticated events in human history.  That evolution was just an alternate religion, with no valid scientific proof, invented by people who wanted to live in a godless world even though they all knew, deep down, that God created the universe in 6 days.  And I was fed the ridiculous falsehood that Charles Darwin renounced evolutionary theory and “accepted Christ” on his deathbed.

It was practically an article of faith that America was the greatest, most just, most Christian nation in the history of world – at least, until the liberals ruined everything and threatened to bring divine judgment down on the whole country.  We lived the most free society in the world, where everyone was treated equally – same warning about the threat of liberalism applied.    Racism, like slavery, was a thing of the past, had no bearing at all today, and anyway, white Christian evangelicals were responsible for the abolitionist movement.  Learning the real history of our country, our long and ongoing record of bigotry, injustice, imperialist aggression and interventionism has been a disillusioning process, to say the least.

I was taught that feminists hated men, hated children, and hated families.  That gay people posed a danger to children and wanted to destroy the family.  I was taught that only Christians are capable of “truly” loving other people, and of being good people.  That only Christians cared about marriage, family, and community.  That spouses can only truly love and care for each other until death if they are “founded on Christ.”  I was taught that divorce was always a self-serving decision to go back on marriage vows.

Boy, what a shock it was to grow up and realize that staunch feminism isn’t incompatible with caring about men – or with BEING a man.  And when my partner and I became parents and found our growing family being amazingly loved and supported by feminist friends, by gay friends, by, *gasp*, people who aren’t Christians, I was deeply ashamed to realize that I was surprised.  I had subconsciously assumed, because of all I’d been taught about who the real “good people” are, that we wouldn’t receive the kind of communal support from our friends as we would have if we had still been good evangelical Christians.  All the baggage and indoctrination from my childhood made it difficult to really believe the goodness and kindness I saw in people who weren’t my family’s kind of Christian – which, once I graduated high school and left home, was damn near everyone – even though the acceptance and love I experienced from friends like these far exceeded anything I’d ever felt in my childhood churches.

And this indoctrination also made it very difficult to see clearly the ways in which these churches, far from having a monopoly on goodness, kindness, or happy families, were often havens for abusers of all sorts, and full of repressed, unhappy people.  It made it difficult to see the emotional and spiritual abuse I experienced for what it was.

So many things I was taught turned out to be easily disproved lies, but learning the truth – learning to believe the truth and let go of the lies – has turned out to be a painstaking and not at all easy process.  I spent my entire childhood and adolescence being deceived and manipulated.  I wasted many of my young adult years trying to conform to a vision of life and of the world that was utterly false and rotten at its core.  It will take me years to reeducate myself, to retrain my instincts so that things that most people consider to be normal don’t trigger a reaction of fear or guilt, to acquaint myself with the truth and purge my life of all the evil after-effects of being taught to live a lie.

And yes, I am angry about it.  I’m very angry.  And letting go of that will take a while, too.

Focus on the homophobic family

I’ve been trying to figure out what to say about Focus on the Family’s launch of a new site called, hilariously and awfully, “True Tolerance.” See, the main message of, ahem, True Tolerance, is that homophobic parents’ rights are being violated when kids are taught they shouldn’t bully or beat up other kids for being perceived as gay or trans.  And apparently, anti-bullying programs are just a way for gay activists to sneak in gay propaganda into schools.

Obviously this is total fail – and incredibly dangerous, misleading, and callous – on many counts.  The blatant lying is pretty amazing.  They act as though they don’t know perfectly well that gay children and children taunted for being gay or trans have died – have either been killed or have committed suicide – because of this kind of bullying.  I’ve yet to hear a story of anything like that happening to a child because they were perceived to be straight or cisgendered.  LGBT and gender non-conforming children aren’t more “worthy” of protection from bullying – they’re more in need of it because of their perceived gender or sexuality.  Try to keep it straight, everyone: homophobic bullying is perfectly compatible with childlike “innocence and purity,” but teaching kids that homophobic bullying is wrong is gay propaganda.  Someone has to think of the children . . . but only the children being taught at home that it’s ok to hate LGBT people.  Not, you know, the children actually being bullied.

More evidence that Focus on the Family only cares about white, straight, narrow-minded Christian families.  Leave it to Bryan Safi to find some humor in this nastiness.