Toad in the Hole

March 09, 2006

Blog Against Sexism for IWD

I see a few of them every week; I guarantee there's one being dragged all over some blog or other right now. They're cute and all, and sometimes they can help clarify thinking and illustrate the consequences of an abstract statement, and I'm all in favor of both of those outcomes -- but mostly they're so many red herrings. I'm talking about the legal, philosophical, and emotional equivalent of those "A train leaves Dayton..." word problems we got in math class. Norbizness recently called them "fictitious concept Calvinball." Applause, Norbizness! You've put your finger on what's really going on here -- a kind of keep-away.

They're to some extent analogies, and I'm all about analogies. I'm even going to use a few in this post. What I'm not going to do is let that tail wag this bitch.

A stellar example of this obfuscatory crap erupts reliably when women have the temerity to say we're sovereign over our own bodies. (The argument rarely even gets so far as our minds.) "Reproduction" -- especially abortion rights -- brings out the two-year-old in some people, and they carry on at great length with "Well, if you're so responsible why are you having sex?" and "Where's the line?" and "What about late-term abortion?" and of course "What about the mennnn?"

I strongly suspect most of this stuff is squid ink, that it's invented and storywritten and tossed out to confuse and darken and generally waste our time in reassuring the guys that hey, we're not going to castrate and vampirize and kill you, honest, relax. Guys: Your imaginary scenarios and your unlikely fears are your problems. If you're an honest person you'll sit down and think -- really think, not wind yourself into the screaming meemies, and isn't it funny we still call that "hysteria" -- and figure out likelihoods and possibilities and mostly how much the rest of us really owe you. You'll have to make do with the one body you are. You don't get to append another no matter how many times you fuck it.

For the most disgusting instance of this storymaking, at least in the USA this week so far, see Bill Napoli's odious little public meditation about which women he thinks should have the right to an abortion. It's nauseating and it's familiar. I haven't had the heart to go watch a video clip of it because the transcript in its carefully crafted details stinks enough of the real purpose of this crap, which is to give the narrator his jollies. (I don't mean necessarily sexual jollies; I mean some weird satisfaction that combines zit-picking and whack-a-mole.)

I remember lots of classes in highschool and college -- both Catholic schools -- where the 50 minutes were taken up with fictitious concept Calvinball. I also remember being wholly engaged with trying to reason these word puzzles out, even though there was no reason behind them. I was sincerely religious and I was there to learn.

Who the heck was it, oh, Father Rafferty, a college theology teacher who seemed oddly preoccupied with sketching uteri on the chalkboard (Was it supposed to be news to us at 19? Had he ever looked at, say, a Tampax box? Our freshman biology text?) who set us one of those one day, the one that finally taught me what it was really about. Some invented situation where some thug with a gun has your three little children and maybe three more of the neighbors' in one room and you in the other and he's threatening to kill the kids unless you shoot the (choose: cop, mailcarrier, random guy) coming up the walk, and you have a gun to do it with. Why not shoot the thug? Oh, well, you can't; he's somehow set it up so he can see the front walk but you can't shoot him, bla bla. The roomful of women played along as usual, coming up with solutions that didn't involve shooting the random guy out front, and Father Rafferty, with the facility and gamesmanship of a writer for a bad TV show, kept modifying the scenario to make them impossible.

What he was getting at was that no matter what, it would be a sin (a mortal sin, I guess) to shoot the guy on the walk, even if you knew for certain that the thug really would kill the kids if you didn't and wouldn't kill them if you did. (I believe I concluded that there was no reason to believe this anyway. I suppose even then I had the makings of an editor.) It would be wrong to save the many lives at the expense of the one you actually took; it didn't matter who or how many you were saving, etc. Of course this is the most narcissistic kind of morality, where your personal shiny innocence matters more than any good you might do or harm you might prevent.

Several of us shrugged and said something about how, well, tough shit, we'd shoot anyway, there's reality for ya. Most of us just shut up and reserved opinion, I think. I know I did, as it had become a habit by then. It occurred to me, looking around the room, that nothing that got said there was ever going to matter because the situation was so unlikely -- and years later, I'll add also because no sane person is likely to let Father Rafferty's little stories shape their actions in such dire situations anyway. But what struck me during that hour was how much Father Rafferty was relishing the discomfort of those who were taking him seriously. One Gotcha after another, he was having a great time making naive young women squirm.

As if he hadn't done plenty of that with the damned uterus drawings.

People keep writing these elaborate stories and drawing weird parallels: What about the draft? (I've fought the draft longer than some of these puppies have drawn breath. The draft is wrong too.) What about father's rights? (To what, or whom?) What about repeat abortions, shouldn't there be a rule?

Somehow it's just too staggering a concept that a human being has one body, and she has sovereignty over it. What happens to it, to the extent it's controllable, is hers to decide at every moment. No one gets to hedge that. Full stop. No one else, male or female, gets to say what she does with it. Everything else is slavery. Everything else is crime. No story or analogy anyone invents can be anything but decoration. You can What-if till the sun goes nova, and you're just emitting hot air and excuses.

Sovereignty. That's it. No whining.

Posted at March 9, 2006 12:13 AM


Well, I agree with everything you said, but I especially commend you for referencing Calvinball. You've made my day.

Posted by: kactus at April 13, 2006 08:22 PM