Take your hat off boy when you’re talking to me

24 05 2019

Status determines treatment.

I.

I make this point to my bioethics students every semester. US regulations on what can be done to which research subjects illustrates this nicely: it is acceptable to kill mice, for example, in the course of research, while human subjects cannot be killed. And while research on chimpanzees isn’t banned, federal funding for such work has effectively ended.

Human embryos are both protected and not: the Dickey-Wicker amendment prohibited all federal funding on research involving the creation or destruction of embryos, but privately-funded research continues. And, of course, hundreds of thousands of embryos are created every year in fertility clinics across the country.

And then there’s the matter of abortion. Some consider the fertilized egg to be fully human, some the early embryo, some the fetus, and some, a baby. As I’ve noted elsewhere, I take a developmental view of the matter, figuring that the fetus gains personhood status at some point in the third trimester.

It’s clearly human tissue from the beginning—a Homo sapiens zygote won’t develop into a puppy—but when is it one of us, deserving of the same protections we grant ourselves? That’s what the fuss is all about.

II.

Well, partly. The other part of the fuss has to do with the status of the person gestating said embryo/fetus.

I say person because not everyone capable of gestating another being is a woman: some are transmen, and some don’t identify as a woman. It’s important to recognize that.

It’s also important to recognize that an attack on the right to decide whether to continue or terminate a pregnancy is an attack on women.

Whether you are a man or genderqueer or cis-gender, if you are capable of getting pregnant, then to the anti-abortionists that capacity in and of itself overrides all other identities and considerations and marks you as an untrustworthy being, i.e., a woman.

You—we—are hosts, victims of abortion-violence, sinners, irresponsible, would-be murderers, all due to our capacity to gestate. All due to our woman-ness.

It doesn’t matter if we can’t or won’t get pregnant (in which case we are lesser women, unable or unwilling to fulfill or womanly destinies): what defines us, in the ideology of the antiabortionists, is the ability to gestate a zygote through to delivery. It might be conceded that we can do other things besides gestating, but once the egg envelopes the sperm or  the conceptus begins burrowing into uterine lining or a clump of cardiac cells begin beating, then and only then can we become fully woman.

By which is meant: subordinate.

It’s not only the from-the-moment-of-conception antiabortionists who think this; cf this exchange after the somewhat-pro-choice Damon Linker referred to the fetus as a (tiny) human:

This is a perfectly normal kind of exchange among the somewhat-pro-choice: I don’t support outlawing abortion in the first weeks, but later on? Bien sûr!

What’s wrong with this? After all, didn’t I just say I hold to a developmental view of the fetus?

Well, do you think the pregnant person isn’t also able to make such judgements? Do you think she needs laws to tell her that an 8-week embryo is not the same as an 8-month fetus?

Saying you need laws and regulations to enforce this distinction is to say that you don’t trust pregnant people—women—to make this distinction for themselves.

Alabama Senator Clyde Chambliss extends this argument to its nonsensical ends, apparently arguing that a woman could only end a pregnancy as long as she didn’t know she was pregnant. That is, once Eve gains knowledge, she is no longer to be trusted to act on that knowledge.

The somewhat prochoicers might be unhappy that I tie their thoughtful uneasiness to Chambliss’s confident ignorance, but they are different points along the same line drawn to downgrade the paradigmatic woman—the pregnant person—to someone unable to make up her own mind.

III.

Oh, and then there’s this:

The naked embryo lacks status. It can only gain status once located in and at the expense of s/he who would bring it into the world.

There can be only one person, and the one who’s pregnant, isn’t it.

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This is how you do it: Sherman Alexie

9 06 2011

Is it bad to write about bad things that happen to kids?

Meghan Cox Gurdan thinks so, but Sherman Alexie has another take:

Of course, all during my childhood, would-be saviors tried to rescue my fellow tribal members. They wanted to rescue me. But, even then, I could only laugh at their platitudes. In those days, the cultural conservatives thought that KISS and Black Sabbath were going to impede my moral development. They wanted to protect me from sex when I had already been raped. They wanted to protect me from evil though a future serial killer had already abused me. They wanted me to profess my love for God without considering that I was the child and grandchild of men and women who’d been sexually and physically abused by generations of clergy.

What was my immature, childish response to those would-be saviors?

“Wow, you are way, way too late.”

And now, as an adult looking back, I wonder why those saviors tried to warn me about the crimes that were already being committed against me.

When some cultural critics fret about the “ever-more-appalling” YA books, they aren’t trying to protect African-American teens forced to walk through metal detectors on their way into school. Or Mexican-American teens enduring the culturally schizophrenic life of being American citizens and the children of illegal immigrants. Or Native American teens growing up on Third World reservations. Or poor white kids trying to survive the meth-hazed trailer parks. They aren’t trying to protect the poor from poverty. Or victims from rapists.

In other words, what is bad is not writing about the bad things that happen to kids, but the bad things themselves. Protecting kids from writings about the bad things is not the same as protecting them from bad things.

Writing about those bad things, on the other hand, while it also won’t protect kids, might just  help them survive the badness:

And now I write books for teenagers because I vividly remember what it felt like to be a teen facing everyday and epic dangers. I don’t write to protect them. It’s far too late for that. I write to give them weapons–in the form of words and ideas-that will help them fight their monsters. I write in blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed.

h/t Paul Constant, The Slog