When I was in my sophomore or junior year in high school, I forget exactly, one of the countless novels I sketched out in spiral notebooks and three-ring binders was a space opera involving the first Earth diplomatic mission to a relatively unknown world called Magorelden. The usual semi-human alien races; Star Trek was still a fresh memory in the land. Part of the theme involved bureaucratic ignorance, since in the first chapter the first Earth ambassador discovered that she had been sent to a planet with a deeply entrenched patriarchy, more Athenian than the Athenians; all women not only absent from the public square but living in literal slave status. I never really worked out at what age and with what ceremony male infants were removed from their birth mothers, who were treated as livestock, kept as ignorant and illiterate as possible. The plot arc was going to involve the ambassador’s being grudgingly accepted for at least the length of time that Earth needed to send a replacement, a particularly unruly member of the planetary government who took her presence as a personal insult, and an arranged fatal “accident” in which she was actually spirited off to the women’s quarters to be subjected to their existence, pour ecraser l’infame.
I was writing a whole lot of stories at the time. I never really finished that one. It seemed to be losing relevance, even as a parable, with every passing minute, at the time I thought it up.
Except here we are. I have been just about too depressed to write much the past few weeks, because despite the persistence of small knots of people waving pictures of fetuses in front of women’s clinics, and so on, I really did not think we lived any longer in a world where birth control was controversial. (The Catholic clergy may, but even their constituents seem to see things differently.) I did not imagine that any group of reasonably sophisticated people might really want to go back to a time when American women had a choice between sexual abstinence and Ovarian Roulette.
I don’t need to repeat my Planned Parenthood rant. Enough similar tirades have circulated, anyway. But then you have the state of Virginia, where I live, trying to grant “personhood” to fertilized eggs; trying to deny state Medicaid funds to poor women who need abortions because they are carrying grossly defective, unviable fetuses; succeeding, Jesus-please-us, in passing a bill that mandates a woman spend an extra couple of days and a fistful of bucks getting an ultrasound that won’t tell her squat, before she goes ahead with an abortion. (Legislators acted as if they were being real bighearted by withdrawing the “up your giggy” clause, which would have required a transvaginal ultrasound, that being the only way anyone could really see anything inside a woman who is maybe five or six weeks pregnant, but inside or outside it is still about we are dicking with you, because we can. Lots of doctors do an ultrasound anyway, to see what they’re getting into. But they don’t then send their patient home to think about it – even if “home” is half way across the state.)
Here we are, with Rush Limbaugh slut-shaming an impressively articulate law student who got the bum’s rush out of an all-male Congressional hearing on insurance coverage for birth control, because, you know, this is about respecting the religion of the employers and she’s not an expert on that. (I wonder how it would go over if a Jehovah’s Witness ran a business and wanted to specifically deny insurance coverage for blood transfusions.) (Or if insurance paid for Rush’s Viagra.) You’d think any man who wanted to even pretend he gave a damn about women would be unable to find enough good to say about anything that allowed sex to be a loving, safe, fearless, autonomous act.
We have a state law in Kansas now that would indemnify a doctor from malpractice suits if he withheld information that might cause a woman to seek an abortion, and she died of the pregnancy. Never say Kansas is heartless, though; her family would be allowed to file a wrongful death suit.
We have Rick Santorum running for President, actually pulling ahead for a while there in the primaries, while stating that “birth control makes sex into something it should not be” and matter-of-factly adding that he would be all jiggy with any state’s wanting to outlaw contraception.
I thought we were past this. I really did. This is not reluctance to give women equal pay, or to let them serve in combat. It’s not even coherent thinking. It’s prurience and Puritanism blended at a velocity fast enough to give you whiplash. Does Rush despise sluts? Or does he want to watch, as he proposed? (He’s only one idiot, I know, but people in range of apparently 600 radio stations listen to him.) Do these people have wives? Daughters? Sisters? Mothers? Were they extracted howling from some strident patriarch’s subincised whanger? And in the words of a married woman with two sons, whom I once saw weeping with frustration as she pounded her fists on the chair arms, ”Why do they hate us so much???”
I guess I will just have to go on raising hell for the rest of my life. There are a lot of young women out there who need us old bats to keep pitching in. We live, after all, in a country whose Secretary of State is a woman; a country of women CEOs, scientists, business owners, you name it, people who require control over their bodies, at a bare minimum, to keep on living the lives they have chosen; and confronted with that, nearly half the people who bother to vote seem happy to afflict us with legislators direct from Magorelden. And I thought I had made all that crap up.