Pocochina’s Weblog

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everything is still abortion. unless it’s condoms.

Posted by pocochina on December 21, 2010

The lies.  I’m so interested in what the lies are.  It’s not a rational argument with rape apologists.  We can’t make people understand if we just disprove every excuse these people make, if histories of whole civilizations of rape cultures have shown anything it’s that those goalposts can always move farther, and I don’t expect anyone to engage with these arguments on their own terms.  But the lies that work, that people can convince themselves to buy?  Those do say something about the form rape culture takes.  Lately, I’ve been kind of shocked at just how open misogynists have been lately about the huge overlap between rape culture and denial of reproductive rights.

We can say until we’re blue in the face that the right to control sexual choices – to be free from rape – is intimately tied up in the right to control one’s reproductive future.  The right to control your own body means the ability to consent or not to sex, and to give birth or not.  We can point out ad nauseum examples of people or institutions who work against reproductive freedom are also likely to tolerate or excuse sexual assault.  And, we can be very very angry and sorry when this argument is deemed too esoteric and theoretical to be convincing.  (Of course, it’s not; it’s a simple enough point that any “confusion” is generally a refusal to heed the cognitive dissonance that results from wanting to reserve power over other peoples’ bodies while not wanting to associate oneself with the ugliest results of such a social arrangement.)

But I never expected to see anti-feminists come out and say so.

It’s probably sucked into the weekend news black hole, but in case anyone’s missed it, the United States House of Representatives, with nearly all of the Republicans and a handful of Democrats, voted down the International Child Marriage Prevention Act.  Seriously.  This isn’t a wedge amendment, this isn’t an Orwellian euphemism.  The bill is exactly what it says on the tin.  The United States government stands boldly in favor of forced marriage – that is to say, the stripping of any decision-making rights before anything resembling an age of consent, denial of educational and economic opportunity, oh yes nearly-assured marital rape, and increased risk of death from pregnancy complications and HIV infection – of children.

That’s pretty fucking shameful.  Which the detractors of the bill do seem to know, because aside from the usual squawking about what amounts to a drop in the budgetary bucket, they are actually claiming “increased abortions” as an excuse for having voted against the International Child Marriage Prevention Act.  THEY VOTED AGAINST THE CHILDREN FOR THE CHILDREN, OKAY?!?!?!

It sounds completely absurd, and if you’re willing to validate that argument with a fact check, even laying aside the broader reality of higher gender equality indicators correlating with lower abortion rates, you’ll come up against the completely unsurprising truth that the bill itself never mentions abortion.  However, “abortion” is right-wing code for “anything that could conceivably break even the tiniest chip out of global patriarchy.”  Everything is abortion to these people!  Contraception?  ABORTION!  Womens’ history museum?  ABORTION!

Which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense if you buy the lip service to the BABIEZ, but makes a whole lot more sense if you consider the right to terminate a pregnancy one of the essential elements of gender equality and therefore a fundamental human right.  Which, I sure do, and because I think women are human, I’m in favor.  It’s not particularly surprising to me when anti-feminists dodge and obfuscate around that argument.  It’s shocking when they don’t.  Whether this is because they’ve overall lost the argument over whether equality is a good thing overall, or because they’re emboldened by the popularity of thinly-veiled woman-hate, or some combination of both, I don’t pretend to know.

That’s where we get to today’s observation of International Assange Week.  If we were still in a social place where a critical mass of people openly thought it was perfectly acceptable for someone to hold someone down and forcibly rape her, or to put his dick in an unconscious person, we wouldn’t have this whole sex by surprise song and dance.  Obviously it is still an appalling level of victim-bashing and rape apologism.  But even the barest attempt to hide it?  Shows some movement towards consensus that that’s wrong.  I’m loath to say that’s good; I want to tear my hear out at how fucking insufficient that is; but the fact of the matter is that it does show some small form of change, which means that persuading people to actually be right on this issue (just like the not-total-acceptability of the YEAH, WELL, FUCK ‘EM root attitude of the the pro-forced-marriage Congressmembers)  is not actually impossible.  Some days that’s more than I ever expect to be able to think.

In this case, though, it’s not “abortion” that’s the stand-in for womens’ sexual autonomy, it’s “condoms.”  It’s a giant red herring meant to play on fears of loss of control over others.  The lies with the most traction aren’t those old chestnuts that she was asking for it, or was drunk, or even that it didn’t happen, but that it’s about condoms, which is apparently is as much a magic charm to cause complete shut-down of rational thought as the word “abortion.”  Because the fundamental right to minimize as best as possible the risks of STIs and unwanted pregnancy is just as fundamental an element of basic human dignity as is the right to refuse sex, or the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy.

If anything, “abortion” has stronger non-sexual connotations for people who think there should be “consequences” (read:  “punishment”) for sex, in the form of economic and social penalties that come with motherhood, especially unwed motherhood.  Condoms?  Condoms happen before/during sex.  Having condoms on hand means premeditated sex.  Garden-variety male condoms imply not just consent, but actual sharing of risk-reduction.  They swing just a little more strongly in the direction of openly negotiated consent.  It’s true that rapists use condoms, I’m not saying contraception is the same as consent, just that they’re more of an option in safe, equitable relationships.

There’s no “just” refusal to use a condom.  Contraception sabotage is a form of sexual violence, and a signal of an abusive relationship.  Conscious failure to use condoms when they’ve been agreed on is a way of violating someone’s consent boundaries and seizing power over someone else’s body.  The idea that that condoms are a hassle and an impediment to sex, and that dudes are entitled to the awesomest sex possible and can disregard them, isn’t actually that far off from the idea that sexual desire is just so powerful that men can’t help but rape.  And enough people really do have this subconsciously figured out, even if not in so many words, which is why the “broken condoms are illegal in Sweden” lie has spread.

Like abortion, condoms are just sex-and-autonomy-related enough to be a plausible, titillating distraction from issues of consent.  This isn’t just rape apologism and denialism.  It’s about chipping away at progress in sexual freedom, pushing social boundaries of consent as well as individual ones, associating steps towards equality with pain and suffering, and about making affirmative consent that much more of an inaccessible topic.

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