There were a couple of guys standing outside the Planned Parenthood book sale yesterday, talking together. My impression was they didn’t really know each other — one guy was older, had that sort of liberal artsy-intellectual look I associate with docents at museums; the other was maybe in his late 20s, comfortably scruffy, zippered hoodie over a Raygun t-shirt. Both guys were white, probably considered themselves to be progressive. They were just standing there, hands in pockets, idly talking, probably waiting for somebody who was inside buying books.
I’d already bought my books and was heading back to the car. As I passed them, I smiled and nodded. I’m also a white guy, I think of myself as progressive, and on the docent-scruffy metric I probably fall somewhere closer to scruffy. I suppose these guys could be considered part of my tribe. After I passed them I heard the younger guy say something like, “Oh, well yeah, I think women should be allowed to decide for themselves.”
And I kept walking. I shouldn’t have. I should have stopped and turned and spoken up. I should have stopped and said, “Allowed? Did you just say allowed?”
Yesterday, before I left for the PP book sale, I made a comment on a friend’s Facebook post. The post was about sexual harassment. I don’t recall exactly what I said, but it was something to this effect: words matter. Language is critically important in shaping the way we perceive and understand the world. A few hours later, I had a chance to put theory into practice — and I didn’t do it.
Allowed. See, that’s the thing. That younger guy probably thinks he’s being — I don’t know. Supportive? I’m sure, if confronted, he’d have back-pedaled furiously. I’m sure he would have said — and said with sincerity — that he didn’t really mean ‘allowed’. In his defense, ‘should be allowed’ is better than ‘should NOT be allowed’, but only in the sense that diluted poison is better than concentrated poison. ‘Allowed’ is still poison.
I’ve avoided writing about abortion. Partly, I admit, because I don’t want to deal with the tiresome ‘abortion is murder’ crowd. But I’ve avoided it mainly for another reason: I can’t write about abortion without indulging in what will at first appear to be a tangent. This is the tangent.
I was a medic in the military. In my very first duty station I was assigned to a general medicine ward of a large medical center. The wing that housed the ward also housed the hospital’s medical waste incinerator. Medical waste has to be incinerated. If, say, a person has a foot amputated, you can’t just chuck the foot into a dumpster; you burn it. Somebody has to be in charge of the incinerator. Somebody has to accept the medical waste, check to be sure it’s what it’s supposed to be, log it, put it in the incinerator, then push the button.
I’m sure you can see where this is going. For about six months, one of my duties was to be the incinerator monitor. An aborted fetus, in that state (maybe in all states, I don’t know), was technically considered medical waste. My job required me to inspect the medical waste, then incinerate it.
But words matter, right? I didn’t incinerate medical waste; I incinerated amputated limbs and tumors and appendixes and chunks of ulcerated intestine and occasionally aborted fetuses. It was…unpleasant. The image of an aborted fetus in a blue plastic tub is one of dozens of images I wish weren’t banging around in my brain. I was 19 years old.
That’s when my opinions on abortion were formed, and they haven’t changed in the decades since. Here’s my opinion: 1) abortion is a legitimate and legal medical procedure, 2) it’s not a procedure anybody would undertake lightly, 3) it’s a procedure that should be rare, 4) in order to make it rare, we need to encourage folks to plan for pregnancy, 5) which also means folks should plan to avoid pregnancy, 6) which means we need to make birth control easy and affordable, and 7) these are decisions that can only be made by the women involved with consultation with their doctors and perhaps their religious leaders.
I don’t like abortion. But I recognize that sometimes it’s necessary. I don’t like abortion, but I completely support a woman’s right to choose to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. I don’t like abortion, and that’s exactly why I support Planned Parenthood. I don’t like abortion, but I recognize that everybody has the right to control over their bodies.
I don’t like abortion. I don’t like it. But the term ‘allow’ doesn’t belong in the discussion.
A most enjoyable and well crafted read, good work mate!
In about 1976 I was in a meeting of neighborhood women, and the topic turned to this new-fangled liberation stuff. One woman snorted, turned her nose up, and declared, “I don’t need liberating. My husband lets me do anything I want!” We all just stared at her. We knew she would never understand what was wrong with that statement. I guess 40 years later there’s still some way to go.
Some folks are unaware of patriarchy in the same way fish are unaware of water; it’s just the environment they live in, so they don’t/can’t see it.
Agreed! This is what upsets me so much about Trump trying to take away birth control from those in poverty. Conservatives claim to be anti-abortion, pro-life but want to make it hard for women to prevent unwanted pregnancies. The biggest reason for abortions is poverty. If they lose access to birth control, abortion rates go up or there’s more mouths on welfare which Conservatives also claim to hate. It’s contradicting.
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Ah, I see where you went wrong — you were expecting logic and consistency. Republicans don’t do that anymore.
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They really don’t. They get angry when I point out that Abraham Lincoln would actually be considered more liberal in present day. This always comes up when they say “A Republican freed the slaves!” It’s sad what their party has become. As an independent (I lean a lot towards the left, obviously) I’m sometimes disappointed in the Democratic party as well but at least with the stupid things extreme leftists do either but the conservatives are the worst. I only know two conservatives that I wouldn’t consider actually hateful. I find it funny as well when they say liberals want things handed to them and blame everyone else for their problems yet right-wing business owners are the biggest welfare suckers and conservatives blame everyone for their problems. Sorry for the rant. LOL
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No one in congress or the white House has any logic. It’s not just Republicans but Democrats too.
It’s not just Republicans but Democrats too.
I won’t claim Democrats are always logical and consistent, but the sad fact is that over the last couple of decades the GOP has become unhinged. They either ignore or dismiss science, they base policy decisions either on their own religious beliefs or corporate influence, they’ve routinely put more effort into symbolic resolutions than actual attempts at governance.
There used to be Republicans I disagreed with but still respected as principled conservatives. There used to be Republicans who understood that governing requires cooperation and compromise. But they’ve all been driven out of office or out of the party by ideological purists.
Thank you for sharing, what a great post!
Agreed. After I read the Facebook post you’re referring to here, I thought about the semantics of it all, and how the passive “victim of…” is always about the victim, never about the primary actor. I’d be inclined to accept that young fellow’s “should be allowed” since I’ve used that term about myself; the intent was correct, even if the semantics were not. It gives me pause in thinking about the way we use speech. Language does matter. Love what you wrote. And the photos sing.
The thing is, there was a time — and it wasn’t that long ago — when ‘allowed’ was accurate. Women were ‘allowed’ to vote, to own property, to play sports and so on. It’ll probably take some time to move away from ‘allowed’, but the way we do that is to take notice of ‘allowed’ when it happens. Take notice and speak up, which is what I didn’t do.
I’m sure you could have found a tactful way to say it, too. It’s never even occurred to most of us. Our evolution continues.
yes , yes , a thousand times yes …
Freaking nailed it. Words matter. And they matter most when people don’t notice them.
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I think you have articulated what many of us believe. As usual, you did it with style, insight, and a tone that is spot on perfect.
Like you, I do not want to deal with the people who do not actually think about what they say, and end up saying “abortion is murder” or similar things over and over, in attempts to convince, shame or otherwise affect people with different views, even though they present no perspective or facts to support their positions. But, we are allowed to choose what we read, which is to say nothing more than that nothing keeps me from choosing what to read, and that is why I choose to read gregfallis.com.
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Thanks. You know, I can understand people who believe abortion is murder. I disagree, but I can understand their position. It’s a valid opinion. We may never agree, but we can be civil about it.
But one of the things about abortion is that some opponents are completely unhinged. You either agree with them or you’re evil. But the worst ones are the people who won’t publicly disagree with you, but will email you with insults and objectionable photos. That’s low and cowardly.
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