I regularly wonder what John Lennon would think of the state of the world. I was in sixth grade when he was murdered and had only recently discovered the Beatles when my much-older brother bought me a cassette tape of Yesterday . . . and Today for my birthday in the fourth grade. One thing led to another, and Lennon became a personal hero to me–the kind of hero who, by virtue of being aware of his own considerable flaws, is all the more heroic. How many times have I listened to “Revolution” and nodded my head in agreement: “You better free your mind instead”?
We Americans are enchanted by the idea of revolution, as if we were all directly descended from the original revolutionaries. Some of us walk around in tri-corner hats and go to rallies where fife-and-drum corps play chirpy music. Those types complain a lot about taxes but appear to be blissfully unaware that the public spaces in which they gather are maintained by tax dollars. They also have a fondness for weaponry, because nothing says “liberty” like a cache of weapons. And they may, actually, be right about that. Others of us go to performances that benefit our favorite causes, sign petitions, wear t-shirts, write strongly worded letters, and maybe even buy some of the pink items that are widely available during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Because when we make frozen margaritas in our pink blenders, we want to be aware of breast cancer. Only a very few of us are willing to get arrested for our beliefs–usually oddball Ralph Nader types and renegade nuns.
I personally am one of the petition-signing, t-shirt-wearing, strongly-worded-letter-writing kind. It’s lame, I know. But I’m busy. Dinner has to be cooked And there’s school volunteering to be done. And deadlines to meet. And, quite frankly, sometimes I’m just too tired to be outraged. Not tonight, honey–I have a headache. I get angry; I get fired up; I get distracted; I get angry about something else. Etc.
So of course watching events unfold in Egypt was riveting. Wait a minute–these people are hungry, and unemployed, and oppressed, and many have been imprisoned and tortured . . . and they still managed to organize and carry out a successful revolution to overturn their government? Geez, I have a hard time keeping up with all the pertinent news and analysis every day without falling into a funk of heartburn and ennui. And what’s really wrong with suburban complacency, after all? Somebody has to hold up what little is left of the middle class, right?
And then came the 112th Congress. Some of us have felt alienated from our constitutional rights for the better part of the last decade. And even before that, I can’t say I was thrilled with NAFTA or welfare reform. The past couple of weeks, however, have come as a peculiarly sharp slap in the face to American women, as it’s become clear that this Congress is openly and unrepentantly misogynistic and determined to strip us not just of our constitutional rights but of our very personhood—attempting to change the definition of rape to exclude any unwanted sexual contact not deemed “forcible” (including the rape of mentally impaired women and girls and statutory rape), proposing legislation that would label the murder of doctors who perform abortions “justifiable homicide,” attempting to ban federal funding of all health services provided by Planned Parenthood, and, according to a report published by Think Progress (February 16, 2011), “The continuing resolution [CR] proposed by Republicans also slashes or eliminates funding for many programs crucial to women’s health: it would completely eliminate the Title X domestic family planning programs, and would also dramatically cut, by $758 million, the Women Infant Children (WIC) program, which provides food for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women. The Republican CR proposal also includes a $210 million cut in Maternal and Child Health block grants.”
Now, all of this would be bad enough, but then came the news that Georgia Republican state representative Bobby Franklin has proposed legislation that would require a criminal investigation into all miscarriages to ensure they were not caused deliberately. This being the same man who has also introduced legislation to change the term rape “victim” to rape “accuser,” because he worries rapists might be hurt by the inference that they actually committed the crime, no one ought to be surprised that he considers women of lesser legal stature than men. Fetal overidentification is a common if bizarre preoccupation among a certain group of middle-aged American males (one wonders if there has been any attempt among specialists to psychoanalyze the condition, which in some cases appears to be worthy of its own entry in the DSM IV), but the suggestion that women en masse would cause their own miscarriages is so outrageous, so counterintuitive, so insulting that it almost defies reason. Almost. But consider that, according to the results of a Gallup poll published in May 2009, 54 percent of American men surveyed consider themselves “pro-life” (versus 49 percent of American women). Consider that almost all acts of domestic terrorism committed against clinics that provide abortion services (in addition to other women’s health services) and against the doctors who perform them have been perpetrated by men (Eric Rudolph, James Kopp, Paul Jennings Hill, Scott Roeder, Michael Griffin, Peter James Knight). Consider this from the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s 2008 report Research on Rape and Violence: “According to a study conducted by the National Victim Center, 1.3 women (age 18 and over) in the United States are forcibly raped each minute. That translates to 78 per hour, 1,871 per day, or 683,000 per year.” That’s just “forcible” rape (here we go again), and just women ages eighteen and older. Other studies indicate that the majority (51 percent) of sexual assaults are committed against women ages sixteen to twenty-one, and children younger than eighteen have an overall rate of sexual assault victimization 1.7 times higher than adults. And finally, the Family Violence Prevention Fund estimates that as many as 324,000 women per year experience intimate partner violence during their pregnancies.
So let’s not start taking too seriously Mr. Franklin’ concerns for the lost pregnancies of women he’ll never meet—women whose feelings of grief, guilt, shame, and emptiness already threaten to pull them under the black waves of despair. Because let’s be honest here: If Representative Franklin really cared about the health of fetuses, he—along with his elected brethren Texas Governor Rick Perry, Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey, Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, each of whom has proposed particularly obnoxious new legislation recently—perhaps might want to consider working to strengthen domestic violence laws, including those that involve stalking, harassment, and, yes, rape, so that women in relationships with violent men might be able to get out before they or their children are killed; supporting, rather than decimating, funding for clinics that provide free or low-cost health care for poor women and their babies, especially family planning services and prenatal care, so that miscarriages caused by poor nutrition, bad habits, and general ill health prior to pregnancy might be avoided; working to revamp state foster care and adoption systems so that children whose mothers are unable to care for them aren’t placed into abusive homes or left to linger in the system until they’re turned loose into society at age eighteen, never having known the love of a nurturing family; encouraging an end to the laughable abstinence-only sex education programs that have led to so much turmoil in so many young lives and increased the number of teenage pregnancies in states that mandate them; and maybe even think about getting their noses out of their Bibles and pay attention to the real world, where proscribed gender roles and mass marketing have joined forces to give girls as young as two a portrait of their future selves as barely literate, and barely clothed, puppets, with no direction, no goals, and no self-worth outside of how well their bottoms fill out a pair of expensive low-slung jeans.
Dear readers, I’m going to suggest that this isn’t merely the usual degradation of women and girls that we’ve lived with since the dawn of industry and agriculture, when earlier egalitarian societies were subsumed by patriarchy. I’m going to suggest that what we are seeing in this 112th Congress—and beyond, encompassing everything from advertising and popular culture to the widespread adoption of fundamentalist religion to the very food available to us, which contains compounds that are throwing American girls as young as six into premature puberty—is a systematic attempt to dehumanize women and, by extension, their children. This is cultural violence. We are having our rights, our dignity, our personhood stripped away. Even local governments are making it clear that women’s needs simply do not count. Did you know, for example, that the Frederick County, Maryland, Republican-led Board of Commissioners recently voted to discontinue all funding for the county’s Head Start programs because, according to Commissioners C. Paul Smith and Kirby Delauter, women should be married and nonworking if they have children? According to Delauter: “My wife, college educated, could go out and get a very good job. She gave that up for 18 years so she could stay home with our kids, we had to give up a lot to do that. I agree again with Commissioner Smith, you know, the marriage thing is very important. I mean, education of your kids starts at home, okay? I never relied on anyone else to guarantee the education of my kids.” Never mind that 39.3 percent of American women are the primary income earners in their households.
Are you angry yet? If not, you can go now, because you’re really not going to like what comes next. You see, my blood pressure is reaching maximum capacity. I quite simply can’t take anymore. I hear that the average age of onset of menstruation for African-American girls is now eight years; then I hear that children have a rate of sexual assault 1.7 times higher than adults, and that most children who are sexually assaulted know or are related to their attacker; then I hear that relatively wealthy grown white men who have ostensibly been elected to serve the people in reality want to push through an agenda that would outlaw all abortion for any reason whatsoever and have proposed prosecution for anyone who “harms” a fetus. Do you see where this is going? I will tell you this: If you would force an eight-year-old girl who has been raped by a relative to carry a pregnancy to term because of some perverse interpretation of morality, then both you and your god are monsters. If you would deny to women the ability to plan and space their pregnancies so that mother and children could achieve maximum physical and economic health, you have no soul. If you believe children should have children instead of educations, you are depraved. And if you would have any mother watch her child suffer—from abuse, from illness, from poor nutrition, from lack of education or fresh air or wholesome food—then I respectfully request you give that mother ten minutes alone in a room with you and a baseball bat.
Revolution? I’m ready. For most of my life I’ve wondered why women weren’t rioting in the streets. Maybe we needed to be prodded from our stupor by the appearance of abject evil among us. And if you don’t think what’s going on is evil, I ask you to look into your daughter’s eyes for one solid minute. Look at her promise, her integrity, her vulnerability. And then tell me you’re too busy to do anything about how she’s going to suffer if one day she finds herself alone and without resources. Without health care, maybe her cervical cancer will go undetected and she’ll die in her twenties. Without education, maybe she’ll work in a dead-end, soul-sucking job her entire life. Without a strong sense of herself as a useful, dignified contributor to her culture, maybe she’ll marry a batterer and have to fight for her life every day.
So yes, John, I do say I want a revolution. You brought up many excellent points about how we should spend time in serious self-examination before we do anything drastic. Well, I’ve examined and examined and examined. And I’m ready. Now where the hell is Yoko?