3 Mar 2012

I’m going to be living in the US for the next 3 months, and I think it will be a real eye-opener. I’ve followed the American feminist news for several years, through the excellent mediums of the magazines Ms. and Bitch, and more recently via the fertile grounds of feminist blogging and Twitter. But now I’m actually here on US soil, the reality of the war on women seems just that little bit more real. Only yesterday the right-wing commentator Rush Limbaugh caused outrage by labelling a young woman defending her right to birth control paid for by her health insurance provider, a ‘slut’ – because, as his logic went, she wants to be ‘paid for having sex’.

To a Brit, this kind of thing is just gobsmacking. For starters, women’s right to free contraception on the NHS goes without saying in the UK, and any attempt to undermine this would be met with such a stink that a politician insane enough to suggest it would be laughed out of parliament. Furthermore, any British public figure who likened women who use contraception to prostitutes could kiss their career goodbye as they would instantly be labelled a crank, an extremist and unworthy of public airspace. It just wouldn’t happen. Sure, we have our share of buffoons in Britain – who can forget Kenneth Clarke proposing that there’s a difference between rape and ‘serious rape’, or the delightful Eamonn Homes telling a rape victim attacked in a car “Well, I hope you take taxis now”? But we can take comfort in knowing that there’ll be a predictable shitstorm – Twitter exploding in apoplexy, the idiocy of the man in question hotly debated on Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine who – and then a quiet climbdown from the offending party. In the US, however, the stakes seem a lot higher. Rush Limbaugh may be an attention-seeking jackass who deliberately antagonises feminists and liberals for a living, but his doesn’t seem to be an isolated voice. There is a real anti-contraception faction in the US, and they are the reason that Sandra Fluke was testifying in the first place.

Not content with the erosion of abortion rights (see Virginia’s recent ultrasound bill), anti-choicers are now focusing their attention on restricting access to the contraceptive pill. (It's telling that some anti-choicers don't even see a difference between the two; one female Republican on TV this evening referred to the pill as an 'abortion causing drug' - someone please give the lady a basic science lesson) Seems they want it both ways – they don’t want women aborting babies, but nor do they want women using anything to prevent those babies being conceived in the first place. The total lack of logic here cannot be interpreted as anything other than a wish to see women entirely at the mercy of their biology – ‘barefoot, pregnant and chained to the kitchen sink’. It’s certainly not about protecting babies – it’s just about ensuring that enough of them, wanted or not, are spewed into this world to keep women in natal chains.

Rush Limbaugh’s attack on Sandra Fluke betrays a belief that women should only be having sex for the purposes of procreation, and that to demand the freedom to a sex life unburdened by the threat of pregnancy is unreasonable and audacious. He is saying women should be punished for wanting to be sexual for any other reason than making babies, and he has already passed his own sentence – that of being called of a whore.

One can only wonder what kind of mire the debate would enter if male hormonal contraception is considered too – I somehow doubt right-wingers would be quite so enthusiastic in challenging men’s right not to create a baby every time they have sex. To be anti-contraception is to be anti-woman, it’s that simple. And it’s probably worth adding that in a world which needs no more unwanted children, and can barely handle all those it already contains, to be anti-contraception is also to be wilfully stupid.

No comments: