Ideologically speaking

(TW: violence)

Dear Dad,

I enjoyed visiting you and the fam in Minnesota for Christmas. You know I always love a chance to get a White Christmas, throw a few snowballs, before returning to the warm climes of California.

A photo of a woman, bundled in jackets, sweaters, scarf, sweatpants and a hat, standing on top of a snow-covered playground structure.

Wearing my haphazardly slapped together snow outfit on a winter excursion. Can you tell I don’t actually own snow clothes?

I also enjoy our conversations, even though this Christmas’ debate was a particularly tense one, which wasn’t aided by the fact that we hopped around from topic to topic like a cat on the nip. I’d like to return, however, to our discussion on ideologies, especially since it relates so much to discussions we’ve had before on this blog about ideology and “lenses.”

Your second blog post to me was on this same topic, describing ideologies as glasses that one views the world through: They shape how we perceive our reality. I’ve thought often about this comparison, and about where this metaphor falls down. Even with a feminist worldview, for instance, my perception could vary wildly from that of Beyonce, Gloria Steinem, and Jessica Valenti. What I’ve experienced and learned, read about and watched, all has an impact on my own personal ideology, which is an amalgam of classes I took, advice from friends, my own contemplations, and my reading.

I guess what I’m saying is, we all have our paradigms. Sometimes, we put a name to them and call them an ideology, to let people know we fall into the same camp as other individuals we admire. I proudly say I’m a feminist because it’s a quick way to let people know that I stand up for women’s rights. But my feminism is something I keep revising and evolving in and growing. I proudly claim the title, but if one day, I find one that suits me better, I can discard it in favor of that one.

All that being said, you were right when you wrote that ideologies can warp reality. In our discussion over the holiday, Dad, we talked about the frequency of shootings in the U.S. You said that the San Bernardino shooters espoused a violent Islamic ideology, but that other recent mass shooters were simply mentally ill and in need of care. I thought on this on the plane ride home, and for the whole week, and I can’t agree. I think in our country’s narrow focus on terrorism as an Islamic threat, we don’t acknowledge that there are other ideologies present in the fabric of the United States that can lead to violence as well, regardless of the mental health of the perpetrator. Charleston shooter Dylann Roof, for instance, took a gun to African-American churchgoers because he believed he was defending white women. This man espoused a radically white supremacist worldview. He wasn’t just some “crazy.” His vision was warped by lenses of racism and a twisted sense of patriotism. Similarly, the Planned Parenthood shooter in Colorado declared afterward that there would be “no more baby parts,” clearly influenced by pro-life rhetoric about the health care provider. His view of right and wrong was distorted by a pro-life movement that led him to believe the only solution to safe, legal abortion was to kill those providing it. Maybe it’s difficult to see a pro-life person lumped in with radical Muslim terrorists, but all of these shooters have an ideology, a distorted worldview influenced by their experiences and the information they receive, that led them down the path they took. To write the non-Muslims off as “crazy” anomalies is to obscure the path to a solution.

And that’s the conclusion I’ve come to after a week of stewing, though I’m sure, with time, my vision will continue to develop and I might have to adjust the prescription on my lenses a little. Thanks for the food for thought, Dad, and happy new year.

Love you,
Victoria

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Letters to women getting abortions

Dear Dad,

I’ve seen this letter floating around social media lately, maybe you have too. It’s by blogger Matt Walsh, and is a letter penned to a woman who wrote about her upcoming abortion. Walsh makes a plea on his own blog to share the post from The Blaze (DoNotLink), which begs the woman not to go through with the procedure.

When I first read the letter, it made me angry, then it made me laugh, then it made me sad. As I took some distance from it, I thought about how it embodies a lot of the pro-life ideas I was taught growing up, and how I respond to those same ideas now. It seemed fitting to dissect the letter here.

First, it doesn’t start out on very good footing. Walsh begins by calling the writer’s motives into question, and even questioning the veracity of the letter:

I can’t be sure that you even exist or that your letter was sincere. This could be some kind of sick joke. You could be a pro-choice propagandist, fabricating another story to help get rid of the ‘taboo’ surrounding infanticide. I don’t know. But I’m going to assume, right now, that this is all legitimate. I’m going to speak to you like you are real, like you are really planning to do this, because whether you are or not, everything I’ll say to you also applies to any woman in the same position.

Already, Walsh’s letter was a little off-putting to me. To write a letter that you claim is to help a woman in need, and accuse her of lying at the beginning? I can’t say I went into this letter with very much respect for the Walsh.

This beginning also serves to delegitimize the woman’s own writing about her abortion, which he then quotes. Even before you have a chance to read her post, Walsh has planted the seeds of doubt.

He also says that Reddit mods are deleting any responses to the original post that don’t congratulate the woman. I have no evidence of this, and Walsh doesn’t provide any either. It should be also pointed out that Reddit organizes responses to posts by popularity, so if his critique of this woman’s decision wasn’t popular, you’d have to slog through a lot of responses to find it at the bottom.

On to the original post: The woman writes it to her potential child. She says she can feel that she is pregnant now, but isn’t ready to be a mother. She wants to provide the best life possible for her child, she says, but she’s not ready for that now. She has thought this decision over carefully, weighed the consequences, and knows that it’s not the right time for her to have a baby now. The letter is fairly poetic and moving, and I appreciated it.

Walsh says that he can tell that she’s unhappy, though:

I felt the sadness and hesitation in your words. The fact that you published it in the first place proves that you are not completely sure about what you are planning to do. I think you want to be talked up or talked down. You want to hear what people have to say about it, which is the only reason anyone ever posts personal things on the internet.

This part seemed kind of ironic to me. Here is Walsh, talking about how the only reason people publish things on the Internet is to get advice, and he’s publishing a personal letter. Maybe he wants to be talked down.

It never occurs to him that people also write to record events, or to persuade others? (It does, since he’s already accused the writer of making “propaganda.”) People write and publish things for many reasons. I’ve written about very personal issues, including my body image and maintenance. I wasn’t looking for people to convince me to shave again, or tell me to lose weight. I was sharing my story so that hopefully other women would know they don’t have to fit into a tiny box of what is perceived acceptable.

Walsh is bringing a lot of his own assumptions to this letter, telling us much more about his own feelings than the woman’s.

He goes on to talk about the woman’s child, and how precious it is. This is the center of pro-life discourse: The babies. The children.

Who am I to say this to you? Nobody, really. I’m nobody. I’m nothing. But your child is someone. You child is something.

This part is especially telling, to me, as it illustrates a very common theme in pro-life arguments: The adult, the fully formed person is not as important as the potential child. Walsh has less regard for himself than the fetus, just as many pro-lifers have less regard for the mother than for the possibility of the child. The woman’s physical and emotional well-being are nothing compared to the bundle of cells she carries.

Walsh goes on to say that the writer is wrong that she can have that child again, as she had stated. And I would say that he’s correct here. If she gets pregnant again, that child won’t be the same as this fetus. That doesn’t mean she’s obligated to carry this pregnancy out. It’s not the point.

And then he tries to tell the woman that she should listen to her heart in making this decision (as if no woman could ever not want to be a mom), warns that she will live with a lifetime of regret and accuses pro-choice people of using her potential child as a pawn.

I know some other Reddit users commented and told you that you won’t regret this decision. They are lying to you. Don’t listen to them. Listen to your heart. The same heart that prompted you to write that letter and feel those thing for your child. Listen to it, not the broken and deceitful masses who want to claim your baby’s death as a victory for their side of an argument. Your little one is just a pawn to them. They don’t love him like you do. They don’t love him at all. But down to the very pit of your soul you feel something for your baby that you’ve never felt for anyone.

There’s a couple things to unpack here, but this is one of the most important sections of the letter.

First, Walsh says the mother will regret this decision. It reads almost like a threat, to me. It’s half true: Some women who obtain abortions regret them. Others do not.

Just like tattoos, which are also permanent, some people regret the decision. Others think it’s the best decision they’ve ever made. But if I thought tattoos were awful, I still wouldn’t have the right to tell other people what they can and can’t do with their bodies.

Furthermore, how many women regret their decision to have an abortion because of the shame we place around it? How many feel cut off, isolated because of people screaming at them that it’s genocide? (Check out this great post on a gynecologist who actually lived through genocide for some perspective on why that argument is so offensive.)

Walsh then says that “the broken and deceitful masses” want to use this woman’s child as “a pawn,” that they are using her abortion for their cause. This part legitimately made me laugh, before I was very sad.

Walsh is using this potential child, threatening the woman with a “void” in her life if she goes through with this procedure. No one is using this “little one” as a pawn more than Walsh.

Walsh even tries to put her fetus up for adoption:

I mentioned your story on Facebook last week and asked if any of my Facebook friends could offer resources to help you. Well, they gave more than that. Numerous people came forward offering to adopt your child.

Translation: Plenty of people want this baby. Why don’t you? Alternate translation: You’re a bad person for not going through with this pregnancy and giving us the baby.

Walsh completely skips over the fact that we’re still talking about a pregnant woman, and women are not required to carry your children for you. We’re not incubators, no matter what conservative lawmakers believe. Having choice is about having bodily autonomy, and Walsh tries to wave that all away by saying, “We’ll take that kid off your hands!”

I used to think the same thing. When I was a kid, I thought, “I’ll adopt tons of babies when I’m an adult so no woman ever has to have an abortion again!” I didn’t realize that I don’t have the right to force women to bear children and give them to me. Walsh still doesn’t.

Then Walsh throws the typical, “Abortion clinics are evil,” argument in:

An abortion clinic will take your child’s life and kick you out the door. But pregnancy centers and Christian charities will walk with you, step by step, and never leave your side.

I’ve been to a Planned Parenthood, one of the main abortion providers that pro-lifers want to shut down. I don’t know if Walsh has ever been inside one, or gotten a check-up.

They’re much more than the typical doctors’ offices I’ve visited. My nurse asked me about my relationship, asked if I felt safe. She checked that it was okay to call the number I’d given her. This is a level of care you don’t get from most doctors, and I got it at a facility that also provides abortions. Had I heard her words a year earlier, it might have given me the push I needed to get out of a toxic relationship. As it is, I’m grateful to know that I have Planned Parenthood there should I need it.

Crisis pregnancy centers, on the other hand, have a habit of lying to women about breast cancer, abortion and infertility. None of that seems very supportive of women.

Finally, Walsh pleads with the woman that she has a choice:

You don’t have to go through with this tomorrow. It’s such a tragic irony that the people who support abortion call it ‘pro-choice,’ yet so often, the women who get abortions do so because they feel they have no choice.

And this is just some frustrating twisting of language, as Walsh has spent most of the letter threatening the woman with how much she’ll regret this decision. She’s weighed her options, she’s made a decision, and she was able to make that decision because the options were all available to her. It’s called pro-choice because she can make a choice, instead of being obligated to go through with this pregnancy.

It’s still weird to me how people who advocate eliminating choices for women want to say that it’s about choice. I don’t think I’ll ever get it.

In the end, Dad, it’s all about that choice. It’s about making sure that people like Matt Walsh can’t make decisions for this woman. It’s about bodily autonomy. I don’t have the right to tell her what decision to make, and neither does Matt Walsh. She knows herself the best, and this decision is hers and hers alone.

Love,

Victoria

P.S. Sorry for the length! You know I’m a wordsmith, Dad.

On the meaning of pro-life

Dear Dad,

Thanks for your post in response to my post on abortion (whoa this may be getting too meta).

I’ll admit I didn’t always support abortion access, Dad. For a long time, I thought of abortion as a terrible evil in the world. But then I tried to put myself in the shoes of someone considering an abortion. And while I like to think that I would choose to keep the child, I recognize that I’m struggling to make rent each month without a dependent. I have student loans to pay off, as well as a pricey wisdom tooth removal that I have hefty bills for. A child would require time and energy to raise properly, and I’m afraid to make a lifetime commitment like that if I don’t know that I can guarantee that child a good life. Furthermore, there’s the fact that I would have to carry that kid for nine months, dealing with pain, weight gain, possible medical complications and permanent changes to my body. Not to mention the judgment of coworkers, peers, loved ones and strangers as I try to carry out my day-to-day as a young, unmarried, pregnant woman.

While I’d like to think I wouldn’t have an abortion, I can’t guarantee that. And I know that I can’t make that decision for anyone else, either.

A brunette white woman holding a sign that says

I support the right for anyone to get an abortion, without explanation, scrutiny or shame.

You say you support abortion in the case of rape or incest, Dad, but who decides that? Will doctors take women at their word? Or will they have to wait for a conviction? Keep in mind that only 4 percent of rapists ever get a felony conviction. Will a panel decide if a pregnant woman was violated? If so, I have a feeling it will probably be the same men who are restricting abortion access in Texas. And would you really force a woman to relive such a traumatizing event before obtaining an abortion? That seems cruel.

I know deciding to have an abortion can be painful (though it’s not always), and I want for them to be as rare as possible, Dad, truly. You talk about the value of life. I value it too, Dad, both the possible child’s and the mother’s. I’d like there to be as few abortions as possible. But the way to do that is not through trying to restrict abortion access.  That only results in the desperate turning to illegal, dangerous and potentially deadly operations.

A photo of a marble monument that says

Being pro-choice saves lives.

One doctor described his work in emergency rooms before Roe v. Wade for The New York Times. The descriptions are horrifying, so trigger warning for gore. But his memories of women mutilated, made infertile and killed by botched abortions performed illegally are essential to consider when talking about abortion rights. And as Dr. Waldo Fielding says, legal abortion simply means that these procedures can be performed in safe settings:

It is important to remember that Roe v. Wade did not mean that abortions could be performed. They have always been done, dating from ancient Greek days.

What Roe said was that ending a pregnancy could be carried out by medical personnel, in a medically accepted setting, thus conferring on women, finally, the full rights of first-class citizens — and freeing their doctors to treat them as such.

Abortions can be reduced by increasing access to affordable birth control options, by providing comprehensive sex ed to every child, and by allowing accessible, affordable, shame-free abortions for anyone who needs one. Even while on birth control, some people still get pregnant, and while many choose to keep the child, those who truly don’t want a pregnancy or a child shouldn’t be forced to carry through with it.

I recognize that it is a pregnant person’s right alone to decide whether or not to get an abortion. And it is so so important to remember why that right needs to be protected.

Love,

Victoria

On abortion access as a feminist value

Dear Dad,

Thank you for your post on where you see yourself as a feminist in your own life. I thought you hit upon some very important points, and some wonderful issues that feminists are addressing, areas where we have made progress and where progress is still needed.

I have always admired your treatment and respect of women, and especially your esteem of their professional lives; this includes Mom, your former bosses, and your female coworkers. Your relationships with these women helped model to me how women can be successful in their careers, and how men should treat them in a job setting.

I also agree that fistula is a very serious medical condition, often affecting poorer women in areas where medical care is limited or nonexistent. I’ve read about how it can ruin women’s lives, and I think it’s cool that your Rotary club was involved in such a radical project to help women gain social and economic power.

And I also grew up with a heart for helping the homeless, especially women and children, because of your work with groups like ECHO. Do you remember when we volunteered at the shelter overnight together? That is one of my favorite memories of you, Dad.

But you also mentioned some things in your post that I disagree with, Dad. You point to women you respect being “vilified” for being anti-abortion, women who believe in feminist ideals and yet would prefer that abortion access be nonexistent, or only available in cases of incest or rape, for instance. And while I think it is wrong to vilify or demonize someone for this view, it is antithetical to feminism.

One of the central beliefs of feminism is that we, as women, have a right to our own bodies. We have a right to freedom from sexual harassment and assault. We have a right to dress or decorate ourselves as we please. You agree that I shouldn’t be harassed when walking down the street, that my body is my own and that it is wrong for a man to mistreat me, ogle me or sexualize me. This bodily autonomy continues to abortion. It is my body that would carry a baby, and as such, it is my decision whether I want to carry it or not.

People stand on a street corner holding signs supporting choice and Planned Parenthood. A young woman smiles at the camera with a large sign reading

It’s a health issue!

Saying, “I’m a feminist, but I don’t believe in abortion,” is akin to saying, “I support LGBT rights, but I don’t approve of anti-discrimination legislation.” It’s one tenet of a belief set. It’s about choice.

Mom actually said it best to me, and whenever I consider the abortion debate, I go back to her words.

We were watching “Knocked Up.” You know, that Judd Apatow film where Seth Rogen gets Katherine Heigl pregnant? There’s a scene where Katherine Heigl tells her mom, and her mother tells her to “Take care of it.” (Or something like that. It was a couple years ago.)

Mom turns to me and says, “Oh, I could never do that.”

“What?” I said.

“I could never tell you what to do in a situation like that,” she says. “That’s your decision.”

“Mom,” I said, shocked, “are you pro-choice?”

“What? No!”

“You are! You’re pro-choice!” I said.

She paused a minute.

“I would say… I’m pro-baby,” she said finally. “I don’t think you should have a baby if you’re not prepared for one.”

People march in a parade to support Planned Parenthood. A woman carries a blue sign with the words

The right to choose supports women and families.

I think Mom got it, Dad. While I would love to see a world where no one needs an abortion, the reality is, we’re not there yet. Being anti-abortion doesn’t help women in bad situations, and it doesn’t help children born into families that don’t want them, or aren’t prepared to care for them.

And that’s why it’s a feminist issue.

Love,

Victoria

On the not-so-narrow scope of the Hobby Lobby ruling

Dear Dad,

When I heard about the Supreme Court crafting their Hobby Lobby response narrowly, I was only mildly relieved. You say that the decision was moderate, that it only applies to privately held companies. This is false.

First, Dad, the decision applies to “closely held” companies, or companies controlled by a family or small group of people. That’s 90 percent of the companies in the U.S.

But that’s not what worries me so much as the fact that these companies can be granted exemptions on grounds of “sincerely held” religious beliefs. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out, the medical effects could be far reaching:

Would the exemption…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]…Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision.

And then there’s the fact that this ruling could be used to justify hiring discrimination. Sure, the justices thought to clarify that this ruling could not apply to matters of racial discrimination, which was some excellent foresight, but they didn’t talk about other prejudices. What about, for instance, LGBT individuals? They were conveniently left unprotected, and in fact several groups have already asked Obama to issue a religious exemption for his upcoming executive order banning gender or sexual orientation discrimination in hiring by federal contractors.

Justice Ginsburg said it best when she said the Supreme Court had wandered into a minefield, Dad. I fear we’re just seeing the start.

Lookin’ out,

Victoria

On Hobby Lobby’s bitter pill

Dear Dad,

I’m sure by now you’ve heard about this Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision. When I heard that the justices had ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby and their anti-birth control stance, I’ll admit I was disappointed. And while the far-reaching legal and social ramifications have been discussed in length elsewhere, I want to focus in on the issue of birth control itself, and Hobby Lobby’s willful misunderstanding of how birth control works.

I know you’re familiar with how useful birth control is already, Dad, thanks mostly to me. Remember how I was in excruciating pain every month, woke in the middle of the night with abdominal and thigh cramps, had to miss school and church? I remember one night you got up for a snack, and I, laying awake, crying quietly in bed, heard you walk down the hall. I walked into the kitchen, clutching my stomach and moaning. Looking back, I think I probably gave you a huge shock. But when I explained that I had miserable menstrual cramps, you sat up with me for an hour, comforting me as I cried and tried to twist my body in any position that would lessen the pain.

That all changed when Mom took me to her OB/GYN and got me on the pill, Dad. Do you remember? Maybe not. After all, crying is a lot more conspicuous than not crying.

Birth control has changed my life. Now, I don’t have to miss school or work. I just take one pill every evening and my life is undisturbed by my fussy uterus.

A photo of multiple birth control pills in pinks, whites and oranges.

Birth control, such as the pill, has dramatically improved my quality of life.

What’s so frustrating about the Hobby Lobby decision is that the Supreme Court (at least, the majority, conveniently all men) put their stamp of approval on Hobby Lobby refusing to fully comprehend what birth control is and how it works. The people who own Hobby Lobby believe morning after pills and intrauterine devices cause abortions, which is obviously false to anyone who bothers to understand how birth control works (shout-out to my ninth-grade health teacher for bringing in a sex ed expert to explain this!). For the record, Plan B and other morning after pills kick start a menstrual cycle, causing the uterus to shed its lining so that the person who took Plan B is not fertile. Basically, if there’s an egg in there, it gets flushed out before the sperm can get to it. An IUD, much like the pill, releases hormones into the carrier, regulating their hormones and simulating pregnancy so that they are not fertile. It’s not that much different from my nightly pill.

In addition to preventing pregnancy, birth control also helps regulate hormones, like my own. They help prevent painful periods, clear up skin, reduce emotional symptoms of PMS and protect women from endometriosis, an incredibly painful and extremely dangerous medical condition where the uterine lining grows on the outside of the uterus.

When Hobby Lobby narrows birth control down to its relationship to baby production, what they are really doing is reducing women to their ability to produce babies, Dad. Birth control provides myriad benefits to women, including preventing motherhood, which is a lifelong condition.

I’m lucky, because California requires most insurers to offer birth control coverage, with copays. I understand, however, how much of a burden it could be to a woman working a minimum wage job to afford birth control, as one month I switched pharmacies and saw my expenses jump from $8 to $38 for my little packet of pills. Luckily, I had a little extra money that month, but had it been a month where I barely scraped by with $5 in my bank account, I know I wouldn’t have been able to afford that expense.

I’m a little apprehensive as to how this ruling is going to play out, Dad. I think it will be a while before we see the far-reaching effects of Hobby Lobby’s win. And I have a feeling this will have a very negative effect on the lives of many women, Hobby Lobby employees and those who work for similar companies.

Until later,

Victoria