Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Female Body

Trawling my various online article feeds today, I found this gem:
"South Dakota Moves To Legalize Killing Abortion Providers"

Kate Sheppard writes, "A law under consideration in South Dakota would expand the definition of "justifiable homicide" to include killings that are intended to prevent harm to a fetus—a move that could make it legal to kill doctors who perform abortions...If the bill passes, it could in theory allow a woman's father, mother, son, daughter, or husband to kill anyone who tried to provide that woman an abortion—even if she wanted one."

Following up on the bill's sponsor Rep.Jensen's reaction to the article, she further writes here, "Anti-abortion lawmakers know they don't actually have to make it technically legal to kill a doctor—merely opening up the possibility of that interpretation in hopes of may discourage doctors from offering the service in the state. Given the history of violence against providers, this is no insignificant issue."

The figures she quotes are scary. "Since 1993" she writes, "eight doctors have been assassinated at the hands of anti-abortion extremists, and another 17 have been the victims of murder attempts."

A number of issues are at the heart of this chilling statistic. To begin with, of course the whole untenability of the pro-life versus pro-choice brigade. The semantics themselves are interesting as if one were to negate the other. If I am pro-life, apparently I cannot be pro-choice and vice-versa. The comments at the end of the article deserve an entire thesis unto themselves. One commenter defending South Dakota's progressiveness says, "No, I would not support this bill, but as a pro-life advocate, abortion is far more barbaric/prehistoric/and primitive, and takes away the rights of many potential women AND men. You sound un-educated and ignorant. People like you are the only ones to blame for bringing women down by brainwashing us into believing we can't raise a child AND be educated at the same time."

There are many questions at the heart of this debate: (a) Who controls an impregnated female body? (b) What is the status on the human scale of the foetus? (c) When does the State come into the picture? While this might seem to be an issue specific to the American political milieu, the debate on controlling the female body is not.

At stake in this and every other debate on female morality, propriety, behavior, responsibility, and role is the need to regulate the reproductive and sexual potential of the female body.

I wonder how I could possibly not feel like a societally gendered artifact. But I suppose the question is a moot point. We are all gendered, one way or the other. Rather, the question then seems to be, why does it feel so inherently powerless sometimes to be gendered as a reproductive body? Why is primacy accorded to being productive over being sexual? Why is our sexuality suspect even as we are sexual objects? And lastly, how does the figure of the sex worker either complicate or intervene in this debate?