Allow me, just for a second, to speak broadly about the South. One of the things I still haven’t quite gotten the hang of is figuring out what the hell, in any given conversation, we’re actually talking about. Take, for instance, the current brouhaha in Nashville about our resegregating the school system. In the course of one of the lawsuits over this issue, it came out that the kids in one school in Nashville still don’t have some text books.
Now you would think that there would be outrage. And there is. But it’s been pretty firmly aimed at the mother who dared file the lawsuit, and then at the children who can’t be trusted with books, and then at the childless who find this unacceptable. Which makes no sense to me.
But I’m starting to wonder if it’s that people are embarrassed that they let their kids suffer without schoolbooks without raising holy hell about it and, to cover their embarrassment, they turn on the woman who did something.
I’ve been trying to figure out, when anti-abortion Southerners throw themselves into their cause, what it is that they’re really doing. I mean, like I said the other day, I wonder if some of it is in response to the abysmal infant mortality rates, a way to force women who might have babies that would live to “make up” for the women who don’t.
But I’ve also been thinking about it in terms of trying hard to justify your own existence.
Every single one of my Great-great Grandmothers lived almost a hundred years ago. I can tell you with full confidence that they had the children that they had (and all of them had at least four) because they had no choice. They may have wanted children very much, they may have not wanted them at all. Didn’t matter. You got married (unless you were very unlucky) and you had kids and that was just the way it is. I can think of my Great-great Grandma Hulda, for instance, and if I somehow learned tomorrow that she hated being a mother and hated having kids, I would feel compassion for her, but I wouldn’t feel indicted by it. Even if it were literally true that I was the result of her suffering, it would make me tremendously sad, but it wouldn’t make me feel guilty.
But take my nephew down in Georgia. His people on his mom’s side are anti-abortion. My nephew’s great-great grandmother is alive, as is his great-grandmother, as is his grandmother. In fact, I’m pretty sure that his great-great grandmother is younger than my grandma.
Wondering about whether his great-great grandmother felt coerced into having children isn’t an intellectual exercise, it’s about whether his right to exist trumps the right of the woman in the chair next to his to live free. (I consider being able to decide when and if you want to have children and how many a fundamental cornerstone of women’s freedom. Want zero? Have none. Want five? Have five.)
Now, in a best case scenario, personally knowing someone who suffers the brunt of an injustice would lead you to empathize and to try to, at the least, prevent others from suffering in the same way. But I think we all know that the more common response is to be defensive. And, in this case, to insist on codifying that it must be this way. Having no choice is the right thing and no-choice must be ensured in order to justify one’s own existence. All pregnancies must lead to babies or the anti-abortionist is forced to consider whether his life is the result of a grave wrong committed against women he loves.
I don’t know. It’s just a theory I’m working on. But I do wonder if we’re talking about a right to self-determination and they’re talking about a need to believe that they are justified in being here.
- book recs for children by Aishwarya July 3, 2007
- “Soy Aimée, la de Zaida.” by Aimee September 8, 2009
- What the hell is in a name anyway, and watch your damn language! by Ren August 18, 2008
- Growing Up Appalachian by Rosanne September 1, 2007
- An Either/Or Decision: Forcing Women Into a False Choice by Habladora July 14, 2008