I have a confession to make.
I don’t have the big fat vagina crush on Michigan State Representative Lisa Brown that I know I’m supposed to.
Part of that isn’t her fault. It isn’t Brown’s fault that her line got all the press and public attention, overshadowing Rashida Tlaib’s glorious announcement that men who try to deprive women of reproductive freedom need to find another group of people to have sex with. Lysistrata doesn’t make many appearances these days. We need to pay attention when she shows up.
But there are reasons I didn’t like the end of Lisa Brown’s speech that are her fault, and they’re important.
First, what she said before the vagina line was better written and far more thoughtful. Too often this kind of debate is turned into Those Godless Heathens vs. The Self-Appointed Guardians of Religion and Morality (with those last two nouns always conflated). Brown made great points with her talk about being an observant Jew: that it’s possible to be religious and not force your point of view on others; that a really really old religion can have rational, enlightened ideas about therapeutic abortion; and that “religious” doesn’t have to mean “scary nutjob.”
All of that, I think, was lost in the emphasis on the “thanks for your interest in my vagina” epilogue. Brown stole her own thunder.
She also cobbled that last bit on to her speech. It doesn’t flow organically. It feels jarringly unrelated to what she’d been saying a minute ago. She shouldn’t have been shut down for saying the v-word, but she definitely needs an editor.
Because the first part of what she said invited thought, discussion, and the kind of intelligent debate that’s desperately needed on the subject of reproductive freedom. The last few seconds shut it down.
If you’re booing me right now, please go look at my Daily Kos article on the subject. Read all my Kos articles while you’re at it — there are only a few. Then come right over to my house and accuse me to my face of not caring enough about women’s rights and women’s vaginas and women’s vagina’s rights. Then duck.
Now: Maybe Lisa Brown said what she said in order to guarantee that the proposed Michigan bill could not go unnoticed by the rest of the country. That’s fine. It’s laudable, even.
I wish she’d say so. I wish she’d say, “This attack on women’s rights is representative of exactly what’s going on all over America. We have to bring attention to it. If pointing out exactly what part of the human body is involved is what it takes to make people finally sit up and take notice, then fine. I’m calling out the vagina squad.”
And that would be great.
But then we need to go back to her earlier remarks. And we need to talk about what reproductive freedom really is, and why we need it.
I heard a Tea Party activist interviewed briefly on the PBS News Hour the other day. He mentioned in an offhand way that he wants to end abortion, of course.
And I thought: Wow. We actually have something in common.
Because I want to end it, too. Or at least cut down its necessity by one hell of a lot.
I want to end rape. I want to perfect birth control. And education, of course — the best birth control in the world won’t help a woman who doesn’t know about it.
These three steps will end most abortions. And that will be a very good thing.
Because I think it’s important to point out to the extremists who are currently trying to elect themselves as World Bosses Of All Vaginas that nobody likes abortion.
The difference between our side and that of the extremists is that we understand that there’s something a lot worse than abortion. And that’s reproductive slavery.
If we don’t own our own bodies, how can we be free?
If we don’t own our own bodies, we are reduced to being nothing but our bodies.
We are the people who accept complexity and are willing to grapple with the seeming contradiction of the previous statement.
We are opposed by people who cling to simple statements like “Life begins at conception” and “Abortion is murder,” and who would continue to spout this kind of dogma even if we achieved those three steps I just mentioned. Because we’d still have horribly sad stories like this one. And our opponents would still insist that it’s all perfectly simple, thank you. No need for discussion or any sort of thought.
They have their own version of “no means no.”
We have to demonstrate just how monstrous that sort of simplistic thinking is.
We can only do that by confronting them with complexity. They will make our point for us by covering their ears and shouting, “I can’t hear you! It’s murder! Life begins at conception! Lalalalalalala!”
This behavior is not winning, in any sense of the word.
Look what happened with Sandra Fluke and Rush Limbaugh. Fluke insisted on detailing the complexity of one woman’s need for medical contraception. Limbaugh misrepresented the story by insisting on his own simplistic storyline: women who need birth control are sluts who should shut their legs every now and then, or at least let pure men like Rush peek between them via YouTube.
Guess who came out of that fracas looking better?
Yes, it’s wrong that Lisa Brown was shut down for saying “vagina.” Yes, using that word in a discussion of women’s reproductive rights is completely appropriate.
And yes: it’s a big fat shame that Brown’s discussion of how all ancient religions do not have the same opinion when it comes to abortion was abandoned in favor of a hooha party.
Rejecting complexity and falling back on catchphrases and shock tactics is their territory, remember?