Posts Tagged autonomy

The Death of Roe v. Wade

As mentioned before, restricting access to safe abortions has become a matter of slowly chipping away at abortion rights and access through various ludicrous state level restrictions but without having to actually and necessarily overturn Roe v. Wade.

Abortion opponents have realized long ago that bombing abortion clinics, murdering abortion doctors, civil disobedience, blockades and legal action are not getting them very far with respect to taking away a woman’s right to choose, so they have turned to state level legislators to put an end to their anti-choice and pro-birth agenda. These new state-level restrictions, in turn, have made it too expensive or logistically impossible for many abortion facilities, that also offer a host of other medical services to women, to remain in business. 

As Bloomberg reports, abortion clinics are closing at record rates after anti-abortion activists have managed to have states enact ever tighter restrictions. Since 2011, one in ten abortion clinics have shut or stopped providing the procedure altogether.

As the pious Reverend Pat Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition (of course) remarked “We don’t have to see a Roe v. Wade overturned in the Supreme Court to end it. … We want to. But if we chip away and chip away, we’ll find out that Roe really has no impact. And that’s what we are doing.”

This, pretty much, sums up the entire Right wing, Republican, Christian approach to abortion in this country.

That is why it is especially disheartening to see that despite this unrelenting, unprecedented assault on choice, bodily autonomy and agency, progressive leaders, especially the President, an ostensibly pro-choice man, do not believe it necessary to have a national conversation on the issue, calling out on the various and many and callous ways in which women and their bodily autonomy and agency over their medical care have been systematically undermined and violated. A lack of interest and priorities that have resulted in those very leaders to fail to enact legislation that constitutionally guarantees a woman’s right to choose as opposed to making it a matter on which everyone else should have a say.

It is disappointing to see a president who was elected on the votes of women who were promised that he would “protect Roe,” silently oversee its slow subversion by a myriad of legislative cuts. And I remain flabbergasted and deeply disappointed at not only the President’s silence on the issue, but especially at the lack of outrage across the progressive blogosphere and advocacy groups at this silence.

The only time abortion rights seem to come up for our elected leaders on the national level is when they are politically expedient, such as around election time where the President or other leaders pretend to care about such issues to secure the votes they need, just so they can abandon them right after the election has ended while anti-choice Conservatives take advantage of that apathy to continue gnawing away at those rights – slowly yet steadily.

Ten percent of the nation’s abortion clinics have been legislated out of existence with the systemic assault on choice and agency growing everyday and we do not have a national conversation about it.

It is important to understand that this stuff doesn’t happen in a void and that continued and deliberate silence in the face of injustice carries with itself a price. In this case, that price being the number of women who do not get to have safe access to abortions and legislation aimed at making sure it stays that way.

Staying silent on such an important issue also sets the tone, signaling that you, as the pro-choice President actually don’t care as much, thereby giving credence to the hostile activities of the anti-choice movement.

When those who call themselves the purveyors of pro-choice and bodily autonomy stay silent when that bodily autonomy and choice get trampled on and subverted everyday, that says a lot about their priorities or lack thereof. No wonder the anti-choice movement has gained such a momentum and has been able to slowly but steadily gnaw away at a woman’s right to choose: our leader has turned a blind eye to the issue; it is not even on his radar. He cannot even issue a critical statement about it, let alone enact legislation to address it.  This makes me wonder, with allies like this, who can blame the anti-choice movement?

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“I Am Not Oppressed”

This is what Laila Alawa, Muslim American activist, blogger and supposed feminist has to say in response to Amina Tyler’s  images of her bare breasts in defiance to the religious patriarchy oppressing her in her native Tunisia and the support she received from the feminist organization FEMEN this past month (FEMEN is often billed as a “radical” feminist organization, even though they have not engaged in any kind of activity that would terrorize or hurt people. Demanding equality, fighting for it boldly and exposing flesh are hardly radical, unless you have an issue with the female body). Anyway, Alawa says:

I am a proud Muslim-American woman, and I am tired. I am tired of being told that I am oppressed. That I have no voice. That I need to be liberated.

I am tired, and I am speaking out for the rights of my and other fellow Muslim sisters to be able to dress and be how they wish to be.”

She continues alleging that FEMEN was doing nothing but engaging in shameless Islamophobia with “sex appeal” and that she feels “offended and disgusted” by the outpouring of support for not only Amina but oppressed and subjugated women in all Muslim countries.

Well, it’s a good thing to know that after all the death and rape threats Amina has received this far, Alawa is disgusted by her bare breasts essentially.

In her article, Alawa goes on stating that FEMEN’s protests “display a blatant expression of orientalism and colonialism in their belief that there is only one way to be free: through the utter disrobing of all garments covering the body.” She assures us that men in the Islamic faith are sweet [and] supportive” and that rape and sexual violence are practically unheard of in her home country of Syria.

She, further,  insists that Muslim men do not hold women “back from speaking out” and goes on to reduce FEMEN’s and Amina’s activities to just the actions of a bunch of “condescending protesters, all skinny, white and fitting squarely into the acceptable media paradigm of ‘true beauty‘” trying to tell her what to do.  She concludes by stating that “[Her] choice to cover is [her] own.”

Indeed. The operative word here being choice.

Memo to Ms. Alawa: Yes, you do have a choice and are not oppressed because you are a Muslim-American practicing lite-Islam.

If you were a Muslim-Saudi, or a Muslim Iranian, or a Muslim-[insert oppressive Islamic state here] you’d be singing a different tune.

Or would you? It seems as if Laila Alawa, including all the critics of FEMEN and Amina, completely missed the point, namely that this is about choice.

As Inna Shevchenko, the leader of FEMEN stated “you can put as many scarves as you want if you are free tomorrow to take it off and to put it back the next day.”

On Choice

By definition, choice is “an act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities.”

Since when do Muslim women have an option to not wear the hijab?

Fact is that women in Islamic countries do not have a choice with respect to the hijab (and much less anything else for that matter). If they do not wear it, they get in trouble. It’s the law of the land. It is not optional.

If you have no choice but to wear the hijab then how can you, with good conscience, insist that you have a choice?

And more to the point, if you do not even grasp the concept of choice how can you proclaim to the world that you have one?

The difference between Alawa and Muslim women actually living in Muslim countries is that Alawa has a choice and they do not.  For her to speak out of a position of privilege – and having a choice is a huge privilege – and think she is speaking for all Muslim women or even a fraction thereof or that she represents the typical pro hijab standpoint is deeply problematic.

See that’s the thing with unexamined privilege: it assures you that things are good for everyone, when they really are just good for you. Alawa has relative privilege compared to other members of her community.  As her HP profile write up states, she is “a graduate of Wellesley College where she received her bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in education studies and currently works as a research associate at Princeton University. During her time at Wellesley, she conducted and presented on a breakthrough social psychology study examining the gendered stereotypical perceptions of science careers.”

She is planning to pursue a graduate degree, is a fundraising chair and social media advisor, as well as the head of the alumni committee for the Muzslim Public Affairs Council Young Leaders. She also has a blog and you tube channel.

This does not sound like an oppressed woman to me.

It is also interesting to note that with all her (false) comparison of FEMEN to imperialist tools of the West, she is currently living in such a country and enjoying the freedoms that were fought for so hard.

Furthermore, Alawa sounds like a woman who has the choice to  do whatever she likes, such as get a higher education, hold leadership positions,  be an activist for controversial issues and even have her own you tube channel where she can show her face expressing her opinions, support as well as criticism for various political and social and cultural causes. I do wonder if she would be able to lead the same kind of life, and pursue the same kind of endeavors, if she were living in her native Syria.

No one, no one, can tell me that women in Muslim countries have a choice to not wear the hijab (for the sake of discussion we’ll disregard for a moment here that even her choice to want to wear the hijab is a result of her having been manipulated and conditioned into the patriarchy since day one).

FEMEN = Respects Choice. Islam = Does NOT Respect Choice

The difference between FEMEN/Amina and the regimes of Muslim countries is that FEMEN does not take away a woman’s choice to wear hijab or be nude, nor does it force anyone to do either.

The position of muslim countries, on the other hand, forbids women to be bare and makes them wear hijab.

There is a world of difference.

FEMEN’s position expands freedom; the Islamic regime/patriarchy limits it or takes it away completely.

The FEMEN position treats women as autonomous, rights-bearing human beings deserving of full equality; the Islamic regime/patriarchy treats women’s bodies as state property and women as second-class human beings, not just citizens.

FEMEN expands freedoms and autonomy, the regimes and governments if Islamic countries limit and take them away.

One of the hallmarks of oppression is the lack of choice. When you do not have choice – regarding many things in your life but especially as pertaining to your own body –  then you do not have a voice. When you do not have a voice, you are not free.

Oppression occurs when established laws, customs, and practices systematically reflect and produce inequities based on one’s membership in social identity groups, such as being a woman. Oppressive consequences can be institutional in the form of laws, customs, or practices – such as wearing hijab and else having no say and autonomy over one’s own body and life.

Do women have a choice not to wear hijab in Saudi Arabia? In Iran? In Syria? In Lebanon? No. Then they are not not oppressed.

Choice is a fundamental aspect of freedom. If you don’t have a choice then you are not free and if you are not free you are in shackles.

For Alawa or any Muslim woman to state that, despite all of the above –  which we all know to be true in all Muslim countries –  she is, in fact, not oppressed is mind blowingly ignorant and a testament to the extent of her manipulation and conditioning by said oppressors.

Alawa can cloak herself in chains or paint as far as I am concerned, but it has to be her choice. When I see women like Alawa and other Muslim women insist that they do not feel oppressed given that, unlike their fellow Muslim sisters in Islamic countries, they can choose to not wear the hijab, it really makes me wonder if they ever actually understood the point Amina was making, which is not just the showing of bear tits like this was porn, but to state that she should be able to do with her body whatever she wants, be it to expose herself or cover up every inch with cloth.  

Disgusted by FEMEN?

It is also very sad and somewhat unsettling to see Alawa be insulted, infuriated, and disgusted by FEMEN and naked, female body parts when Amina has been the one receiving death and rape threats from the so-called gentle muslim men Alawa insists populate all Islamic countries; where holy men like Tunisian imam Adel Almi, chair of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (a commission solely put in place to control women, not men)  proclaimed that Tyler “deserves to be whipped or stoned to death”.  

If I was an Islamic leader relieving myself on women’s rights on a daily basis and issuing death threats against Amina and I saw the outpouring of support for my cause essentially by Muslim women around the world, including Alawa, I sure as hell would not feel inclined to change my position and make women be anything else but subjugated, third class human beings deserving of only the things the patriarchy I perpetuate permits them to have.

Instead of standing in solidarity with FEMEN and Amina, recognizing the symbolism and meaning of their protests, these women are just shooting themselves in the foot by taking the side of their oppressors.

What is More Offensive: Breasts or Stoning?

So I ask you Laila Alawa and esteemed readers, what in the rational world is more offensive, a young lady baring her breasts or a man that calls for her to be stoned to death?

Is it more offensive to be born gay or to be killed for being gay?  Is it more offensive to be raped or having to marry your rapist?  Is it more offensive to write a few lines rejecting the faith imposed on you by your parents and culture or is it more offensive for 100,000 people to march calling for your death?

Is it more offensive to drive a car or be whipped for driving a car?  Is it more offensive to uncover your hair or to be imprisoned for it?  Is it more offensive to talk to a man in public who isn’t related to you or to receive 100 lashes and imprisonment if you do? Is it more offensive for a 14 year old to have a couple of boyfriends or being executed for it? Is it more offensive to make a film or to be killed for making it?

I have no beef with Alawa and Muslim women or anyone who chooses to wear hijab. I do, however, have a problem with someone claiming that they, in fact, have a choice, when clearly they don’t. I also have a problem with people who cannot condemn all of the above atrocities without reservation or hesitation. If you chose to be insulted on behalf of all Muslims, Laila, then you must also defend all punishments and policies in its name.

Alawa’s ignorance and sheer head-in-the-sand approach with respect to her and that of other Muslim women’s predicament  only underscores the need for people like Amina Tyler and FEMEN.  It is unsettling to see someone  visibly carry with herself the symbols and tools of oppression; someone who witnesses her Muslim sisters be subjugated every day to  the tyranny of the religious patriarchy and yet still have the audacity to say that she and her Muslim sisters are not oppressed. 

The manipulation, brainwashing and gas-lighting these women undergo is immense. And it is the ultimate tool of control, namely to really believe that you are not oppressed and that despite all evidence to the contrary the system is working for you and in your favor. 

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Stupid Things People Do: Eric and Ruth Brown Accept Daughter’s Birth Defect as God’s Will

Self determination and autonomy have rarely, if ever, been touched upon really in terms of actual policy formulation aimed at granting and protecting and enforcing those rights until the second half of the twentieth century when notions of human rights were formulated after World War II.

Even the Founding Fathers of this nation did not believe in human autonomy for all, which is why women got to vote some 150 years after the foundation of this nation and thus after the Declaration of Independence. When that document reads “all men are created equal“,  it really does mean all males. The Founding Fathers, in all their wisdom notwithstanding, did not recognize that women were part of mankind.

One of our – as human kind – most fundamental rights – which is a human right and something inalienable, irrespective of culture and country of origin – is the freedom to be autonomous and make decisions based on that autonomy. This is a very fundamental and important right that often does not get the important attention it deserves. Way too many people are comfortable with having that autonomy diminished or taken away from them.

Most, if not all, conflicts throughout human history leading up to today, in not only this very country but all around the world really, have been about controlling others by taking away their autonomy to choose for themselves how to live their lives, what to believe in and subsequently what choices to make.

Eric and Ruth Brown were not those people. They had a choice and the freedom to exercise that autonomy to make a choice.

Deformity and Suffering as the Creator’s Will

The couple from Nashville, Tennessee, believe that the genetic disorder that created a cleft in their daughter Pearl Joy’s upper lip and caused her brain’s development to stall in the first weeks in the womb, to be god’s will.

Things didn’t go wrong,” an apparently delusional Eric Brown said. “God has designed Pearl the way he wanted, for his glory and our good”.

This delusion has sustained the Browns ever since ultrasound revealed that the couple’s third child has alobar holoprosencephaly, a rare genetic condition that’s almost always fatal. The Browns never considered abortion. They believe that Pearl is “fearfully and wonderfully made,” as Psalm 139 puts it, and god alone should decide when she lives and when she dies.

Pearl’s  brain never divided into two hemispheres during her development in the womb, which means she is basically a crawling vegetable. “We don’t care about those things. She is here, and her brain is telling her how to live“, says Eric Brown.

The Browns are holding on to dear life, literally, as they delude themselves into believing that as long as their girl is basically still warm she should live and that her life is wonderful and a blessing, even though she has seizures on a daily basis, has a weakened immune system and has been back to the hospital at least five times in the past three months. A simple cold could kill her but “that day hasn’t come yet“, her mother says.  The Browns not only insist she is god’s gift, they also think Pearl is actually fighting.

Fighting for what is unclear. Is she fighting for a miracle? Is she  fighting for growing up being normal after all with this disease poofing out of existence much the same way this Earth poofed into existence according to the Bible?

Even skeptical neighbors, friends and acquaintance have bought into the delusion, applauding the Brown’s decision.

Kristina Guisler, a friend from the MOMS Club of East Nashville, met the Browns in 2009. When she first heard about Pearl’s condition, she said she wasn’t sure the Browns had made the right decision by continuing with the pregnancy. She wondered what kind of life Pearl would have.

But seeing the love that the Browns have for Pearl has changed her mind and strengthened her own faith.

It’s reaffirmed my faith in humanity and in the power of prayer,” she said.

The Browns aren’t the only ones suffering from serious delusions,  Nancy and David Guthrie of Nashville faced the ordeal twice: in 1998 and 2002 when their son and daughter both died in infancy from a fatal genetic condition called Zellweger syndrome. In Gabriel’s case, the Guthries learned he had Zellweger while he was still in the womb.

One of the things we learned is that great sorrow and great joy can coexist,” she said. “Because life in the image of God is so precious, there is great joy in having this one you love with you, even while there is great sorrow in knowing that this child might not grow old with you.”

I have read and seen religious people talk themselves into a whole lot of bullshit and delusions to make it through their lives, but this sure takes the height. What I find particularly disturbing is this:

“God has designed Pearl the way he wanted, for his glory and our good.”

So god, in all his wisdom and love, would afflict a child with disease, deformity and suffering? And being born with a horrible genetic disease that renders you nothing but an animated doll trapped in a painful and torturous existence at the verge of death is something god did for his glory? There is glory to be had from this? And said disease and deformity is for the good of the parents.

All the credit, but none of the blame, huh?  Hmmm maybe god is a Republican after all

But there is a broader canvas here. The above statement by the Browns is disturbing and akin to Indiana Tea Party Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s comments that pregnancies stemming from rape, however horrible, are “something that God intended to happen” – as if rape wasn’t a crime and heinous act but just something in god’s secret and elaborate plan for all of us lemmings and for “his glory and the victim’s good.”

Does that mean rape itself is part of god’s plan? And genocide? And mass killing and child rape? Most religious people would say “no” (or maybe yes), which creates all sorts of contradictions because what they are saying is that the act of rape is not god’s will but the resulting child is. In other words, god would never orchestrate a rape, but would definitely exploit a rape to impregnate a woman.

That is amazing.  Where do I sign up to worship this excellent decision-maker?

It is great that believing that there is a higher purpose to their suffering has allowed the Brown’s to not only justify their choice but also live with it this long.

Remember people believe in all sorts of stories and even lies for self preservation and to make it through the day and their lives. That is why we have religion in the first place. It is called cognitive dissonance, which is the term used in modern psychology to describe the state of “holding two or more conflicting ideasbeliefsvalues and emotional reactions simultaneously. In a state of dissonance, people may sometimes feel surprise, dread, guilt, anger, or embarrassment. The theory of cognitive dissonance in social psychology proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by altering existing cognitions, adding new ones to create a consistent belief system, or alternatively by reducing the importance of any one of the dissonant elements.”

The Brown’s are engaging in precisely that. They are people of faith who believe that the deity they believe in does all things for a reason. Such a notion is an especially opportune world view when good things happen.  When something horrible, such as the birth defect of their child happens, on the other hand, said believers are suddenly left in shock, asking themselves where the good is in having their own child be afflicted with such a condition. Suddenly, painful reality and the tenets of their faith are at odds. If god is all loving and all caring, how can he let this happen? That is where “filling in the gaps” comes in becasue the Browns are human beings who can only take so much pain before losing it.

How do they cope with it? They cope with it by attempts to reconcile the reality of their situation with what they have been taught god to be. Thus, they tell a lie to themselves. But they do not know it is a lie. It cannot be. If it was, that would bring down their entirely worldview and the reality they have created for themselves. Their self delusion in that regard is quite sincere. The Browns have to believe that this is all part of a grander scheme. This, in turn enables them to go through life without feeling hopeless and without loosing their faith and feeling let down by their grand and loving creator.

Delusion is a wonderful thing and nothing deludes more than religion.

The truth, of course, is that this baby will be confronted with a myriad of painful medical procedures that she will have to endure but not understand the need for. There are limits to the amount of painkiller an infant can be given.  The question really is whether the child is having a quality of life that satisfies the child’s nature, or whether being kept alive on IVs, feeding  tubes, oxygen and other meds is the truly loving and wonderful alternative.

And can you say this is what the divine intended when the only thing keeping the child alive is medical technology, not god? The parents might enjoy the love and care they are giving, but what about the infant?

Ultimately, the Browns are doing this to make themselves feel better. They think they are doing this child a favor, but they aren’t, they are only doing themselves a favor and justify their decision by making appeals to the grand schemes of a higher power.

The only victim in this process is Pearl. Her family is holding on to delusions to prolong the life of a vegetable. For Pearl living or not living does not make a difference.  She doesn’t even know what and who and if she is. Her brain didn’t part into two hemispheres for cryin’ out loud.  She is nothing but an animated doll and for her there is no difference between living and dying, becasue there is no “her” there. She is just a breathing shell.

The idea that you have emergency oxygen standing by makes one wonder about whose will we are talking about, god’s or the ego’s.  Her family’s understandable efforts to cope with her condition by putting a pretty spin on it only trivializes her suffering. And theirs.

 Not Just Faith But Choice

The delusion of the Brown’s view on this aside, the bigger question here is that of choice. The beauty of freedom is that people, including the Browns, can choose to believe in any number of lies to make it through  the day and their lives. And their decision, whether I agree with it or not, is ok.

As long as the Browns do not say to someone else that this is why their child has been blessed with a deformity and death. they can believe in hob goblins as far as I – and reality – are concerned. Sure it is naive and ignorant to attribute any condition onto god, and I mean naive in the sense of immature, unknowing as it relates, but if that is what they need to make it through their lives, who am I, or anyone, to argue with that?

Only that the delusions of religious people are rarely confined to their own personal realm

And therein lies the fundamental problem with letting faith guide your decisions. Religious people place their emotions before their intelligence. The problem is that when people make important decisions based on a fantastical belief system rather than facing unpleasant realities that they’d rather pretend don’t exist, it can leave a lot of collateral damage that affects others. Just look at the recent assault on women’s reproductive rights callously championed by Republicans and conservatives based on their religious beliefs.

The Browns – for better or worse – had a choice with respect to keeping this child alive and caring for it. Ruth Brown could have gotten an abortion, but due to her personal beliefs she decided not to. She had a choice.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the kinds of policies Republicans push for and have partially succeeded in when  it comes to granting women autonomy and the freedom to choose what they believe to be the best decision for them. The Browns were lucky that they were able to make the decision to have their the child without threats and pressure to obtain an abortion.

At the same time, remember that simply becasue it worked for the Browns and was the best decision they could make based on their lives, it does not mean it is the only right and honorable answer. A couple choosing to get an abortion should be able to do so without facing obstacles and judgment and shame just as the Browns. In short, the Brown’s decision to keep the child is not more admirable than the decision of someone else in the same situation to abort it.

In the end, it is all about choice and giving people the freedom to make that choice. In this day and age, it’s a true luxury to have one’s autonomy respected and your choices be your own. I wish lawmakers everywhere would make note of this because nothing diminishes an individual more than stripping them off autonomy.

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