Sunday, March 12, 2006

grin and bear it

There's an long, old, not very funny dirty joke about a hunter and a bear. I won't subject you to the joke's particulars because they're not relevant. What's relevant is the punchline: the bear, leaning against a tree, says to the hunter, "This isn't really about hunting, is it?"

I pose a similar question to the government of South Dakota: this isn't really about saving the lives of the unborn, is it?

Because if it were, you wouldn't have the nation's three worst counties for child poverty all in your state. You would have superior prenatal care on demand for all women, regardless of their socioeconomic status. And you wouldn't have enacted the mind-bogglingly medieval law that forces a child to be born to a woman who doesn't want to bear it.

This is really about controlling women. Women and their mysterious, hidden, complicated, messy sexuality with its hormones and blood and emotions. It's powerful stuff, isn't it? And women's sexuality is inextricably intertwined with their ability to bring forth life. That's a pretty intimidating combo for your garden variety village elder to wrap his head around.

Women's sexuality has always posed a problem for patriarchal cultures, and they've dealt with it in all kinds of creative ways from clitoridectomies to cooking up stories about virgin births. In Chinese philosophy, "yin", or female energy is cold, dark, negative, and passive, while "yang", or male energy, is exactly the opposite.

The historically accepted reason for this and the one most readily offered is that these practices were carried out in order to maintain the patrilineal transfer of property. Fair enough. But I suspect that there's always been something else in play as well. Traditionally, people have believed what their eyes have told them because it was the most easily understandable explanation for the phenomena they saw around them. Thus, the earth was flat, the sun revolved around it, and everything was made from earth, air, fire, and water. Within this belief system, the obvious mechanics of male sexuality are pretty easy to understand, as any 14-year-old boy can attest to.

But because of their anatomy, women's sexuality is more covert. And historically, anything taking place that people couldn't see was fair game for conjecture. And because people then as now were incredibly lacking in imagination, more often than not they labeled phenomena they couldn't see as the work of the devil. Thus, women's sexuality was something to be eradicated at best, but at the very least, controlled.

Flash forward to 2005. Our nation is teetering towards an empire, our leader has launched us on a crusade against an axis of evil, creationism is being taught to our children in school, and once again, women must be castigated for their sexuality.

Let's take another quick look at anatomy (this is the last time, I promise). After conception, a man's involvement with the growing cluster of cells that share his DNA is completely voluntary. Regardless of moral obligation, marriage, love, commitment, or court order, if he doesn't want to be there, he doesn't have to be. For a woman, obviously, it's a different story. But access to abortion places a woman on equal footing to a man, making a woman's involvement in a pregnancy as voluntary as a man's. And for the Christian right, that is an intolerable state of affairs.

Because a woman can be poor, uninsured, unemployed, undereducated, but God forbid she be uppity.

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