Monday, 16 June 2008

My Uterus Is Not On The Free Market

OK, last one today, I promise.

I'm confused by this. Not the article itself, which makes points that need to be made about an issue that makes me very cross. I'm confused by the comments. Why are so many people saying "Oh, but of course we must respect the free market"? The free market protects your right to open up yet another coffee shop, but this isn't bad coffee, this is medical health. You're not a shill, you're providing the medicine that your customers' doctors have decreed necessary for their health. You are not part of that equation and you do not have the right to tell someone that they cannot have the medication they need. I don't understand why anyone, much less a woman, much less a feminist woman, would defend the right to open up a pharmacy that will not give you your medication. This is not about people being able to choose which supermarket they go to or whether they give their money to Starbucks or Costa, this is HEALTHCARE.

Note this:

"We try to practice pharmacy in a way that we feel is best to help our community and promote healthy lifestyles," said Lloyd Duplantis, who owns Lloyd's Remedies in Gray, La., and is a deacon in his Catholic church. "After researching the science behind steroidal contraceptives, I decided they could hurt the woman and possibly hurt her unborn child. I decided to opt out."

He decided. So what if a doctor prescribed it? This guy looked it up on the internet and he decided not to allow women access to their meds! He thinks you can "opt out" of contraception. No, mate, you're a pharmacist. You don't get to do that.

When feminists, of all people, are arguing for this guy's right to "decide" whether or not women get their medication, for his right to throw misleading information around a field in which he is supposed to be expert and trustworthy, his right to try and conform any woman who walks in to his warped idea of morality, we've got trouble, my friends. Right here in River City. I don't think this kind of thing would fly here (the sheer arrogance of "I decided" is enough to put most of us off supporting him), but Americans are having trouble holding on to their legal abortions as it is. Bush has been eroding the abortion laws, McCain will surely do the same and I do not believe for a minute that Obama will be a pro-choice stalwart (I think he's wishy-washy, light on policy and could just as easily be a Republican if he thought that would work better for him - sorry), so I can't see that this erosion will do anything but continue. And with feminists who make noises about the "free market" when it comes to their own health - if a woman needs contraceptives for ovarian cancer, as is one Feministing commenter's experience, and a scary fake pharmacy steals her prescription and sends her away, the fake pharmacy is not just screwing with this woman's health, it's risking her life. A few people on the thread pointed out how rare pharmacies are in some parts of the US, and for some people "I'll just go to another one" is not feasible. And even if the Pill's only use was pregnancy prevention, so what? We're feminists. We should be defending our reproductive rights with every damn ounce of strength we have, not making stupid weak noises about the "free market". NO. STOP IT.

I think we reach a point where we have to stop saying "but I can see both sides of the argument" or "technically under the law it might be possible for them to argue this, and we should respect that". Anti-choicers are rabid. They will make no concessions to our side. They will just yell that we're bad, we're evil, we're baby-killers, we're corrupting society, we're causing all these wars and deaths and tornadoes and things. So why are we trying to see their side? Of course we want to debate more intelligently than they do, but why can we not tell them they're wrong, they're liars, they're hypocrites, they're doing enormous damage with their deliberate use of misinformation? Why do we have to "see their point" and bend over backwards to make cases of gross malpractice like this fit inside the law? Are we that desperate to be seen as reasonable?

I tell you what, I am so sick of this whole "reasonable" thing. The word is a stick with which to beat women. Call us "shrill" or "hysterical" when we disagree and you've won, because then everything we say is born out of irrational feminine emotion and is hence not relevant. We've internalised that we won't be taken seriously if we are seen to get angry at all over any issue, no matter how worthy of the anger that issue may be, and we try as hard as we can to seem reasonable. Mum and I had the TV on while doing the crossword this evening, and we caught part of a show called Mary Queen of Shops, based on the standard TV premise of sending an expert into a failing business and making it work again. The clothes shop under scrutiny was run by a husband and wife team (mainly the husband, with the beaten-down wife on grunt-work duty), and was doing terrifically badly because the man had no idea about clothes. He also wouldn't listen to a damn word anyone else said, and rejected all the expert's plans out of hand. Repeatedly. She, of course, got frustrated. So he, in the voice of a true git, said, "Now, just calm down. Calm down, relax. I'm trying to explain." Any female blogger knows those words. They're "shut up, you silly little woman, and let the big man explain it to you" words. I've seen most episodes of Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, and even though he goes ballistic in most episodes, nobody has ever told him to calm down, or relax. Certainly nobody would dare to invite Ramsay into a failing business and say, in impossibly patronising tones, "I'm explaining it to you, so you'll understand." I've seen people who think they know how to run their own business better than Ramsay would, but I've never seen anyone who thinks they can teach Ramsay a thing or two about cooking. Eventually the git gave in, the expert did her thing and of course made it eight million times better, but I got the sense that the git would have almost preferred to go bankrupt, just so as not to be bested by a woman.

This is what we're up against. We can't be "reasonable" because we are not in a world full of allies. We are in a world full of men who would happily throw our rights away, and powerful but stupid women who would happily help because they don't seem to understand that no exception would be written in for them (I don't get these women. Help would be appreciated). We have to fight loud and hard, and it's not even for progress. It's for the privilege of staying where we are. We're not making hard-won advancements, we're struggling with hard-won stagnation. In the interests of managing, if not reducing, sexism, feminists have to come out in defence of women they despise. I have found myself defending both Ann Widdecombe and Ruth Kelly, both of whose views conflict on almost every level with mine (Ann Widdecombe bothers me on a personal level as well, whereas Ruth Kelly's track record on issues of equality and reproductive rights just make me nervous), and several American feminists talk about the sad necessity of defending someone called Ann Coulter, who is by all accounts rather mad and one of the powerful but stupid women I mentioned earlier. We not only have to defend these women, we have to watch out for opportunities to defend them, because we know how pervasive and insidious sexism is. We also know that we can't be weak about it. We have to make people listen to us, we have to stand up for our cause at every opportunity, we have to fight like hell. We all know this. So why are we so concerned with seeming "reasonable" to the point of defending medical malpractice that runs totally contrary to our belief system? Why are we allowing some man to "decide" which healthcare we are and are not permitted to have, with no medical training at all? Why are we amused by them, calling them "stupid and wrong" in the same dismissive way that we talk about people who used to bully us at school, instead of using more serious words like "dangerous" and "malpractice"? I learnt a harsh lesson when the leaders of the Catholic and Anglican churches over here noticed the power that their counterparts in the US had and started digging in their heels for a little piece of that here (letters to the Times from various reverends state that all this talk by the bishops of Christian-hating and marginalising from the government and the public is rubbish and they haven't noticed anything of the sort). If it happens anywhere in the Western world, it can happen everywhere in the Western world. And when it's happening in your own damn country, you cannot afford to sit back and say "free market". My uterus is not to be negotiated by the church, the government, my family or even my partner, and it sure as hell is not on the free market. Read that guy's speech again. He's denying women their medication because he decided to. The decision isn't his to make, but we're letting him make it anyway. He decided, and we let him.

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