A recent media release by Right to Life’s Ken Orr got me thinking. In the release, which demanded the New Zealand government defund Family Planning, he wrote the following: “Our Creator has created us in his own image and likeness and graciously invites women to share in the creation and nurturing of new life.” What will immediately strike most women about this is the appropriation by a male god (in the form of a polite invitation) of pregnancy and childbirth. God, who is a “he”, is “graciously” inviting women to take part in conception, gestation and giving birth. Aside from its creepiness, this appropriation actually sheds light on some questions I have about the anti-choice movement – questions I’ve been thinking about my whole life. What’s more, on this account, the press statement actually contains some good news for those engaged in the struggle for reproductive rights.
But I’ll start with the questions: Q. Why are men so dominant in the anti-choice movement? Q. Why are they so incredibly angry? And, Q. Why don’t they fight as hard against things like wars, disease, poverty, economic injustice or famines as they do against a woman’s right to choose?
I don’t think we have any disagreement with those opposed to women’s reproductive rights over the basic facts of the matter: Conception, pregnancy and childbirth are the means through which new human life comes into the world. And while men, or at least spermatozoa, are necessary for the conception part, the rest is entirely in the hands (or bodies) of women. Seems obvious, right? And pretty non-controversial, you’d think. But that’s where the anger comes in.
In matters of life and death, it’s men who’ve had the final say for millennia. Men declare and primarily fight the wars; justice systems, many of which mete out death as a punishment, were set up by male dominated political systems (since there haven’t been any female-dominated ones); similarly with tax, health-care, welfare, immigration systems – and so on – which also have life and death consequences.
I’m hopeful that even the staunchest men’s rights advocates will acknowledge that men are politically dominant across the globe, and have been for all of recorded history. (I won’t reprise all of recorded history here, but in terms of the present day, check out the UN’s “Progress of the World’s Women” report, which proudly points out how far we have come and, in so doing, makes clear how far we’ve yet to go: “28 countries have reached or surpassed the 30 percent mark for women’s representation in parliament”. Wow! A whole 28 countries out of 186 member states! Nearly one third female representation!!)
So here are these women. All these billions of women. None of them live in a country in which women are politically dominant, yet they have this power. They have this incredible reproductive power. If you’re a certain kind of man who worships a certain kind of male god (and we can probably count on the toes of one foot how many people worship a female god) and/or lives in a society in which life and death decisions are made by men, how could this possibly be tolerable?
Back to that Right to Life statement. Part of its intention is to remind us that this power is not really ours after all, but is “graciously” bestowed upon us by this He-God. (It sounds a bit like a weird threesome, in which the alpha male role is played by the deity.) And just to be sure that His will is done on earth as it is in heaven, Right to Life and its angry allies will do their best to have the state, via criminal statute, step in to take up any of the slack.
So, now some answers to those questions. Q1. Why are men so dominant in the anti-choice movement? A. Because this is the one part of life over which some men feel they don’t have the control they are used to having and feel is their due. Q2. Why are they so incredibly angry? A. See answer to Q1. Q3. Why don’t they fight as hard against things like wars, disease, poverty, economic injustice and famines as they do against women’s reproductive rights? A. Because they already control those, so there’s not as much to fight for.
What’s the good news in all this then? It’s like with any angry bully. The more they fear they are losing control, the more they lash out. So if they seem pretty angry and nasty and mean – and I think they do – it could be because they really are losing control of this one part of human existence that is ours.