With not one, but two examples from the pundit class.
The other day, Jessica Valenti was touting a questionable bit of statistics:
A new study by the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organization shows that abortion rates are similar in different countries whether the procedure is legal or not. Shocking, I know. Of course, what wasn’t similar was the risk to women’s health.
Scott Lemieux went even stronger to say that “the only thing that criminalizing abortion accomplishes is to ensure that some number of women will be maimed or killed.” The trouble with these kinds of cross-national statistics, though, is that there are all kinds of correlating variables and there’s no way for the kind of survey we’re talking about to isolate the impact of legal change on abortion. In the United States, when abortion was legalized in the 1970s, the number of abortions went up.
What’s more, I’m not really sure why one would think that the case for reproductive freedom hinges crucially on the idea that making abortions safer, more affordable, and more convenient to obtain has no impact on the number of abortions people get. After all, if nothing else the very dangerous nature of the abortion procedure in the abortion-banning countries constitutes a sound consideration against getting an abortion in those places.
Scott responds on the substance here. What I’m interested in right now is the privilege on display — Matt, who will never have to face the question of whether to have an abortion, dismisses the Guttmacher study as “questionable.” And why? Because, gosh, it just doesn’t make any sense that women would seek abortions where they’re illegal and dangerous!
It’s quite telling that Matt can’t get past the mathematical modeling of it all to reach the understanding that the reason that reproductive-rights advocates argue in favor of safe and legal abortion is that women will get abortions regardless of whether or not they’re legal, and they will get abortions regardless of the possibility of injury or death, because the alternative for them is worse. IOW, criminalizing abortion does not make abortion stop. It simply makes it more dangerous. Given that, there’s absolutely no point in criminalizing abortion, and indeed, making it safe, legal and affordable isn’t going to increase the number of abortions significantly (beyond any temporary increase due to pent-up demand from women who were not quite as sanguine about taking the risk of an illegal and unsafe abortion). In any event, Matt doesn’t seem to grasp that what you gain from legalizing abortion is a decrease in the number of women who die from unsafe and illegal procedures. Even if the number of abortions rises temporarily, isn’t that a good reason to legalize? But again, Matt does not have to think that way, so he does not.
On the October 15 edition of MSNBC’s Tucker, discussing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-NY) presidential campaign with Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson and Cliff May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, host Tucker Carlson said: “Gene, this is an amazing statistic: 94 percent of women say they’d be more likely to vote if a woman were on the ballot. I think of all the times I voted for people just because they’re male. You know? The ballot comes up, and I’m like, ‘Wow. He’s a dude. I think I’ll vote for him. We’ve got similar genitalia. I’m — he’s getting my vote.’ ” After asserting that “the Clinton campaign says: ‘Hillary isn’t running as a woman,’ ” Carlson stated: “Well, that’s actually completely false, considering the Hillary campaign — and I get their emails — relentlessly pushes the glass ceiling argument. ‘You should vote for her because she’s a woman.’ They say that all the time.” May responded: “At least call her a Vaginal-American.”
Carlson replied: “Is that the new phrase? Boy, that’s nasty. I don’t think I can say that.” Robinson interjected, “No, you don’t say that,” to which Carlson responded: “I shouldn’t say that? I’m not going attempt it. No, no.”
Carlson also asked: “Do you think that people who are voting on the basis of gender solidarity ought to be allowed to vote in a perfect world? Of course they shouldn’t be allowed to vote on those grounds. That’s like — that’s moronic. I’m sorry. I know I’m going to get bounced off the air for saying it, but that’s true.”
Tucker Carlson, brave gender warrior, fighting against the forces of feminism.
Mind you, his listening comprehension needs a little work. The actual statistic was that 94 percent of women were more likely to vote in an election featuring a woman, not that women were more likely to vote for a woman just because she’s a woman.
Which makes perfect sense, given that it can be rather dispiriting to be given a choice of conservative white dude vs. liberal white dude at the polls every time. And that’s what Presidential elections have been up ’til now. The person at the top of the ticket can have a powerful effect on whether you feel motivated to vote, and if you never see anyone who looks remotely like you on the ballot, you might start feeling that you and your interests will never be represented, so why bother?
Carlson, of course, fails to grasp this. Probably because he’s always had a choice of someone who shares his genitalia in Presidential elections. He doesn’t even have to give a thought to whether his interests will be represented by the guy at the top of the ballot, because that guy has a similar frame of reference on the world. Not to mention, nobody ever proposes taking away the vote of people like Tucker Carlson for being “irresponsible.”
Both of these examples provide a primer on just why it’s important to have people with diverse life experience in positions making or influencing policy or opinions. Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for example, bring personal experience with reproductive decisions, employment discrimination (read up sometime on how O’Connor, who’d been editor in chief of the Stanford Law Review, was offered a secretarial position at William Rehnquist’s firm), sexism and the like which no other person who has ever sat on that court could ever have. And the same with race, class, disability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identification and a whole host of other categories — as long as the punditocracy, lawmakers and policymakers are primarily white middle- and upper-class men, those viewpoints are not going to get the kind of airing they deserve. And instead, you’re going to have those white middle- and upper-class men dismissing or simply ignoring viewpoints that don’t fit within their own conceptions about how things work, which of course is necessarily colored by their privilege.*
And in both these cases, we have male pundits expounding on issues that affect women and dismissing them simply because they can’t see past their privilege. Yglesias at least has commenters, who can (and have) set him straight, but Carlson and May have no such check. And so they just blathered on about how silly it is for women to feel like their participation in the democratic process matters, talking about women without talking to women.
As for May’s comment — I’m just not going to go there. You know it’s hopeless when you start to sound like Jesus’ General is writing your talking points.
* Of course, one of the most persistent criticisms of mainstream feminism is that the same thing happens, only with white middle- and upper-class women doing the talking, or expounding on issues without taking into account the views of people who live what they’re expounding on. A very clear example of this occurred in this thread, about the hysterectomy being proposed for Katie Thorp, in which a number of people, who probably consider themselves good feminists and pro-choice, talked about the bodily autonomy of people with disabilities as if it were an inconvenient fiction, and as if people with disabilities weren’t actually reading the thread.
- Questionable statistics by zuzu October 18, 2007
- I guess women’s lives aren’t included in that whole “pro-life” thing by Jill October 13, 2007
- OMG Teh Hysterical Feminists Again! by Jill October 18, 2007
- More Bad News for Repro Rights by Jill October 26, 2006
- Illegal abortion killing and injuring women in the Philippines by Jill September 5, 2007