Dept. of "Important Shit": Why women's equality is a core issue

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15 comments posted
Slight problem

MG:

There's a great deal of dissonance in simultaneously asserting that these issues are "core principles," then defining such issues as women's issues. Insisting that a male cannot understand the issues because of his gender -- or that he willingly ignores the issues because of his gender -- further compounds this dissonance.

When that tension exists in your argument, it impedes your ability to persuade men to support your positions on these issues.

--|PW|--

pennywit's picture
Posted by pennywit on 10 June 2005 - 4:26pm
Adam and Steve

Take the case of two men - Adam and Steve. Are they essentially the same? If they do something right or wrong, good or bad, these value judgments - good/bad, right/wrong - are based on the content of their character. Most progressives would not argue that the biological differences between these two men require two special classes of laws - even if the two men are different races.

Take the case of Adam and Eve. Are they essentially to same? Are differences in their behavior strictly differences in character? What do we do with laws that treat a person of one biology different from another biology if it is based on sex?

If someone were to say the laws that apply to men are applied equally to women, I would say the person is blind, a fool, or a liar.

Feminists of the 1970's said sexism is a form of racism, defining racism as discriminating in favor of, or against, someone based solely on a common genetic variation over which the individual has no control.

At one time people said the law should be colorblind.

When someone has a uterus and carries the child, society treats that person differently in many cases. Those making the laws regarding the uterus, in general, do not have one.

When women say, "this is a women's issue," they are taking issues with the fact that people without a uterus (men) are making laws about uteri. Men might not like it if a group of women could get together and make enforceable laws that controlled testes. Media girl alludes to this.

Women see their uteri in a different way, it seems, than do men and I think there is nothing remarkable about that observation. When laws are enacted - largely by males - that control the uteri of women and what an individual woman can do about having to carry a baby and then the laws seem out of step with many women's personal values - and then the women are told "that's the way it is," women may retort - but you don't understand the personal toll your decision is taking on my life.

The man might say - this is a human issue. I understand it just fine. If the woman protests, it creates ill-will to be told to hush up. Be content. Men wiser than you have made the decision about what will or will not happen in regard to your uterus.

What if white men (as they once did) decided what would happen to black men's testicles? No one could honestly say this would be right and that if the black men protested over it, that their issues are trivial. That white men's decisions about black men's testes were human decisions based on sound judgments by whitie.

Biological differences are a reality of the world and of law. If possession is 9/10th of the law and men decide what happens to uteri, who is in possession?

When women protest over this, it is not to say men are fools. It is to say "you aren't hearing me."

The technology now exists for men to carry children. How many men are stepping up to do their part to carry those who might otherwise be aborted. The line is very short.

Matsu's picture
Posted by Matsu on 11 June 2005 - 1:00am
They are women's issues

They relate to personal autonomy, privacy, the right to make medical decisions about one's own body -- all in the female context.

And yet they are basic human rights. Just because only women are affected by discriminatory laws and agendas does not mean that they are not human rights issues.

media girl's picture
Posted by media girl on 10 June 2005 - 4:44pm
Fundamentalism

If you would like some of my thoughts on this, I suggest reading this piece on my blog.

But I don't necessarily argue that many women's issues aren't fundamental human rights. But I do argue that framing them solely as women's issues hinders your ability to persuade knuckle-dragging men like me to endorse them; the hook, as you know, is fundamental liberties or rights.

My other disagreement is a comment I've seen more than once, here on your blog and elsewhere: a statement, either express or implicit, that a man is incapable of understanding an issue, or unqualified to render an opinion on an issue, simple because of his maleness. I categorically object to this assertion.

--|PW|--

pennywit's picture
Posted by pennywit on 10 June 2005 - 4:56pm
I will try to be clearer in the future

What you note are failings in my rhetoric, alas. I do not mean to say that women's issues are solely women's issues, but rather that what people will often dismiss as "women's issues" are really about fundamental rights.

In expressing these views, the largest and loudest opposition comes from men, and so I've framed the resistance to equal rights for women as coming from men.

But my lapse, it seems, has been in making it clear that it's not all men -- or even most men -- who casually or deliberately dismiss women's equality.

One thing, though: I do not see an advantage to getting mealy mouthed and muddling women's equality into universalist lingo of human rights, when we're talking about something that affects women profoundly and uniquely. Women's rights are human rights, and women's equality is equality, period. But it's women's rights who under attack in this context. Changing the frame isn't going to change the minds of "knuckle draggers," anyway -- they don't want gender equality at all. The knuckle draggers aren't against the words, they are against the very idea.

Our civil rights are all under strain these days, what with efforts to dismantle the Bill of Rights, gut the First and Fourth Amendments (and others), establish a government sponsored and enforced religion -- so yes, we all do face certain opposition to our civil rights, our human rights.

But when it comes to reproductive rights, while both sexes are affected, it's the woman's rights that are diminished.

Does this clarify a little?

media girl's picture
Posted by media girl on 10 June 2005 - 5:41pm
Clarifications

It clarifies quite a bit. But my central point isn't that you need to go "mealy-mouthed." You and other feminists often do a fair job of connecting so-called "women's issues" to broader themes of civil rights or civil liberties.

But the thing is, if you tell me (to use the literary first person singular) that something -- say, Right X -- should be guaranteed because it is a "woman's right," I'm not likely to give you much of a hearing. Not because of malice, mind you, but simply because defining something as a "woman's right" evokes not a universal right, but, dare I say it, a special interest.

Now, if you say that Right X should be guaranteed to women because it violates a legal precept such as due process or equal protection, I'm much more likely to give your issue a fair hearing. I understand that in many cases, you're talking about an issue that affects women uniquely and profoundly. However, to frame those rights solely as "women's issues" is to effectively hurt your case when you're trying to convince individuals outside of those who already believe in the majority of your position. To dismiss a male's opinion of women's issues simply because of his maleness is to choke off dialogue and alienate a potential ally in your quest to secure those rights.

Our civil rights are all under strain these days, what with efforts to dismantle the Bill of Rights, gut the First and Fourth Amendments (and others), establish a government sponsored and enforced religion -- so yes, we all do face certain opposition to our civil rights, our human rights.

Bingo. I'm not sure whether you and I would agree as to the extent of these efforts, or even as to their pernicious effect, but this is a solid foundation for any number of issues. Constitutional law is good. So is an appeal to people's innate sense of fairness or justice, or (if you're feeling brave) an invocation of such things as the social contract or categorical imperatives.

--|PW|--

pennywit's picture
Posted by pennywit on 10 June 2005 - 5:56pm
Here's the thing
But the thing is, if you tell me (to use the literary first person singular) that something -- say, Right X -- should be guaranteed because it is a "woman's right," I'm not likely to give you much of a hearing. Not because of malice, mind you, but simply because defining something as a "woman's right" evokes not a universal right, but, dare I say it, a special interest.

Can you name one instance where the state and federal governments attempt to claim sovereignty over men's bodies? Even with serial rapists and child molesters, for whom some have called for outright castration, there's been overall reluctance -- you don't cross that line. The government does not tread on men's penises or (especially) testicles.

And yet governmental control of the womb is considered a debateable issue, and a fringe issue at that by many people on the left and right.

Special rights? To demand for women what men already enjoy? I don't think so.

media girl's picture
Posted by media girl on 10 June 2005 - 7:22pm
The Body Politic
Can you name one instance where the state and federal governments attempt to claim sovereignty over men's bodies? Even with serial rapists and child molesters, for whom some have called for outright castration, there's been overall reluctance -- you don't cross that line. The government does not tread on men's penises or (especially) testicles.

Do you mean bodies in general, or specifically men's bodies?

I can think of any number of torts that regulate how one person may treat another person's body. I can think of any number of laws that demand one person keep his body away from other people's bodies. I can think of laws, including adultery laws and fornication laws, that regulate how two people may allow their bodies to interact in a conensual manner.

The FDA regulates what kind of chemicals a person may place in his own body, whether for pharmaceutical or recreational usage.

And so on.

Here's the crux of what I'm trying to say:

And yet governmental control of the womb is considered a debateable issue, and a fringe issue at that by many people on the left and right.

In fact, not all women agree on issues of this sort (incl. abortion, contraception, etc.)

If you simply phrase it as "this is a woman's right," you don't really accomplish much in terms of persuasion unless your audience considers the invocation of "women's rights" a presumption that your argument is correct. Philosophically, the specific issue needs to hook into a greater theory.

Abortion, for example, can be couched not merely in terms of a "woman's right," but also in terms of an individual right to make health decisions, an individual privacy right, or (less persuasively) as an equal protection issue.

In this vein, let me offer my own abortion thoughts: I favor legalized abortion not because of a generalized belief in women's rights, but because I see it as a medical decision that, aside from safety concerns, is presumptively outside the ambit of federal or state regulation. In sum, I consider personal sovereignty an extremely important doctrine; that personal soveignty, in my view, extends to men, women, and everything in between.

--|PW|--

pennywit's picture
Posted by pennywit on 11 June 2005 - 5:51am
Wombs
Matsu's picture
Posted by Matsu on 11 June 2005 - 8:03am
Special Interest?

MediaGirl - I'm honored that you quoted me.

Pennywit, let me make this painfully simple. Anything that affects more than half the world's population is a core issue. Women are 53% of the world's population. We are the majority, therefore, to oppress us is to oppress most of humanity. Seems to me a liberal ought to have a problem with that.

Another way to prevent abortions is to make men impotent, or sterile in some way. How do you feel about the government ordering that for all unmarried men?

Morgaine-ism© #8

"A Woman's Sexual and Reproductive Autonomy is Sacred and Absolute."

Morgaine Swann's picture
Posted by Morgaine Swann on 10 June 2005 - 10:13pm
'Allo

Morgaine:

First, interesting name. I ask, without rancor or contempt, whether it is our real name, and if not, what your inspiration was. It's certainly unique, whether it is your real name or your nom de guerre

Now that that's out of the way, let me defend my "special interest" characterization. When I use "special interest," I refer to virtually any issue that is framed in such a way that it benefits a particular group. If you press for regulations that benefit the timber industry and favor them only because they benefit the timber industry; similarly, if you frame something as a "gay issue," a "women's issue," or a "men's issue," and frame it solely as something that benefits one particular group, you're talking about a "special interest."

Note that I avoid the odious "special rights" language. But if an issue is framed solely as a "woman's issue," it only plays into the "special rights" characterization.

Pennywit, let me make this painfully simple. Anything that affects more than half the world's population is a core issue. Women are 53% of the world's population. We are the majority, therefore, to oppress us is to oppress most of humanity. Seems to me a liberal ought to have a problem with that.

Do you contend that as a liberal, I should automatically adopt a position because you tell me to and I am required to hew to a liberal line? Am I not permitted to critically evaluate your position and find flaws with it? Am I not permitted to state that I disagree with you, and do so without generating rancor between us? Am I not permitted to challenge an assertion that you make?

Morgaine, if you're going to win converts to your position -- whatever that position might be -- your case has to include more than the first person plural and "because I said so."

Another way to prevent abortions is to make men impotent, or sterile in some way. How do you feel about the government ordering that for all unmarried men?

Not gonna fly. Undue, burdensome interference with personal sovereignty. Ask my thoughts about abortion and birth control, and you receive a similar answer.

The equation women's rights == human rights is not necessarily wrong, but just like in algebra, you have to show your work.

--|PW|--

pennywit's picture
Posted by pennywit on 11 June 2005 - 6:06am
'Allo

Morgaine:

First, interesting name. I ask, without rancor or contempt, whether it is our real name, and if not, what your inspiration was. It's certainly unique, whether it is your real name or your nom de guerre

Now that that's out of the way, let me defend my "special interest" characterization. When I use "special interest," I refer to virtually any issue that is framed in such a way that it benefits a particular group. If you press for regulations that benefit the timber industry and favor them only because they benefit the timber industry; similarly, if you frame something as a "gay issue," a "women's issue," or a "men's issue," and frame it solely as something that benefits one particular group, you're talking about a "special interest."

Note that I avoid the odious "special rights" language. But if an issue is framed solely as a "woman's issue," it only plays into the "special rights" characterization.

Pennywit, let me make this painfully simple. Anything that affects more than half the world's population is a core issue. Women are 53% of the world's population. We are the majority, therefore, to oppress us is to oppress most of humanity. Seems to me a liberal ought to have a problem with that.

Do you contend that as a liberal, I should automatically adopt a position because you tell me to and I am required to hew to a liberal line? Am I not permitted to critically evaluate your position and find flaws with it? Am I not permitted to state that I disagree with you, and do so without generating rancor between us? Am I not permitted to challenge an assertion that you make?

Morgaine, if you're going to win converts to your position -- whatever that position might be -- your case has to include more than the first person plural and "because I said so."

Another way to prevent abortions is to make men impotent, or sterile in some way. How do you feel about the government ordering that for all unmarried men?

Not gonna fly. Undue, burdensome interference with personal sovereignty. Ask my thoughts about abortion and birth control, and you receive a similar answer.

The equation women's rights == human rights is not necessarily wrong, but just like in algebra, you have to show your work.

--|PW|--

pennywit's picture
Posted by pennywit on 11 June 2005 - 6:06am
I'm not sure comparing a

I'm not sure comparing a woman's uterus to a man's penis and testicles is valid. Biologically, the clitoris and the penis develop from the same set of cells, as do the ovaries and the testicles. I could be wrongm, but my understanding is that the uterus doesn't really have a male equivalent.

I'm happy to concede that the decision about aborting the fetus is a matter for individual conscience, but I'd love to hear someone on the left discuss the intense pressure women are under to have abortions when they don't want them, and the subtextual message that a lot of girls/women get to the effect that adoption is for suckers.

Choice--fine. But I don't like having men (or self-identified "feminists," for that matter) telling me how to make that choice.

The fundamental problem is that neither side trusts the other to counsel young women objectively. And with good reason: most people tilt in either one direction or the other. It's a problem.

Attila Girl's picture
Posted by Attila Girl (not verified) on 11 June 2005 - 5:26am
Organ Grinders

Atilla, Hun, I think you're off on this one. (You choose the pseudonym, you get the bad puns)

I'm not sure comparing a woman's uterus to a man's penis and testicles is valid. Biologically, the clitoris and the penis develop from the same set of cells, as do the ovaries and the testicles. I could be wrongm, but my understanding is that the uterus doesn't really have a male equivalent.

Biologically, they're not equivalent. But symbolically and politically, they are, as each organ is unique to its individual gender.

--|PW|--

pennywit's picture
Posted by pennywit on 11 June 2005 - 6:08am
Pennywit, you buy into an interesting frame

I had a response, but it got rather long and thought I'd start a new thread.

media girl's picture
Posted by media girl on 11 June 2005 - 10:27am