This is a comment (slightly edited for clarity etc) I made to a recent post by Jodi Jacobson at RH Reality Check:The Neon Elephant in the Room: What the Media and Pundit Class Keep Missing About the “Abortion” Debate.
I agree with the basic analysis here, that the fight is not about “abortion” but about the full range of reproductive rights, including right to reproductive health care, including abortion. I especially agree with this:
“You can’t solve a problem unless you know what it is.”
But in addition to knowing what the problem is, the problem also has to be named, and clearly communicated. And that’s where I think there’s been a breakdown.
The way things currently stand, “choice” has become a euphemism for “abortion,” and that alone obscures the neon elephant.
To whatever extent “choice” IS taken to mean more than abortion, it’s mostly a generic stand-in for just about anything one “chooses” to do, further obscuring/breaking the connection between “choice” and the underlying needs and rights of the individual “chooser.”
The word “choice” refers to the actions (decisions, behaviors etc.) of the chooser, rather than to necessary *rights* and *freedoms* needed to exercise “choice” in the first place.
“Choice” sounds trivial and frivolous compared to talk that pits “right to life” & “sanctity of life” & “innocent babies” & “fetal pain” against “baby killers” and “irresponsible open-legged sluts.”
We all know that the language of so called prolife is manipulative fuckery (often functioning as porn for fundies), but is “choice” — the term itself — strong enough to push back against what’s being thrown at it? I have doubts.
Consider how, even though reproductive rights — including abortion — are presumably a common denominator across all of feminism, the notion of “choice” is contested from one genre of feminism to another, with the word used to alternately justify and ridicule individual decisions about everything from lip gloss to sex work to the pop divas we get duped into enjoying. That is not the fault of the so-called antis. And I don’t think we can assign all blame to the media and the pundit class.
Is the word “choice” too dilute? Is it up up to the rhetorical/political demands we place on it? I’m glad to see that the word was barely used in this post, and that the words and phrases that choice is typically grouped with (“abortion,” “life”) were put in scare quotes. But are we scared enough? On the other hand: Are we more than simply scared?
“As long as the media and pundits consistently get hoodwinked by the far right, anti-choice, anti-woman crowd into a “repeat-after-me” script about “babeez” and “life,” we run the risk of being distracted by the real agenda, which includes but goes far beyond attacks on Planned Parenthood.”
Here’s the thing, though, as I see it. It’s only hoodwinking because we are on the losing side. It’s not enough to blame the hoodwinked. And it’s definitely not enough to blame the hoodwinkers, who after all are doing exactly what they’re supposed to do: managing discourse to their ends.
The risk here isn’t that repro rights advocates will be distracted by the right’s “real agenda” (which to activist-types should by now, finally, be fucking clear) so much as our inability to make the right’s real agenda — and its consequences — and the contradictions & incompatibilities within its agenda — clear to those who stand to lose (which is, in the end, everyone.)
“Choice” doesn’t adequately name the issue or describe what’s at stake. “Choice” is a consumer marketing term of casual decision and freedom. It’s a myth-like term of abundance and plenty, kin to the “having it all” meme. Choice is a beautiful thing. But today it’s just too light and breezy and hollow (and familiar, and rote) to carry the weight of bodily autonomy and integrity and our absolute right to those.
The inadequacy of “choice” as rhetoric is reflected in the political position that repro rights — under the #prochoice banner — occupies today. That’s depressing as fuck, especially if it’s no longer possible to blame the antis, the media, and the pundits for it.
OK rant over! Love this site! x