Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Gendercide and the Rhetoric of Anti-Choice

This news story Harper accused of silencing anti-abortion protesters - Politics - CBC News:

contains this line: "This year's theme is "end female gendercide" and youth co-ordinator for Campaign Life Coalition Alissa Golob said sex-selective abortion is a serious problem in Canada."

I will confess that I had not heard of gendercide. The term itself has a feminist ring to it, something I suspect anti-choice activists intended. As I understand it, the contention is that abortion in Canada has become sex selective: girls are being aborted because people want boys.

Is there any evidence to support this contention? If so, no one has put it out in public. That does not mean that there is not evidence. We know there is sexism in our society and so it might not surprise some that this sexism could affect the sex of children that parents want. But we also need to remember a couple of things:

1. A contention is not the truth. Simply saying something over and over and over does not make it true. Evidence is, ultimately, more important than discourse and so the argument needs to be supported. If one is going to make it an overarching "theme" then one would expect that the evidence would be front and centre. It would, after all, speak for itself, would it not?

2. Even if this were true, there is an irony in anti-choice activists claiming to defend the rights of girls because, clearly, their solution to the problem (if it is a problem) is to regulate women's bodies. In other words: we help women by regulating women's bodies: giving the state the authority to tell women what they can and cannot do with their bodies and using the force of law to back it up.

This is what the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas calls a "performative contradiction." A performative contradiction is when one's actions do to match their rhetoric. In this case, it should be self evident that one does not emancipate women by giving the state the right to determine what women can do with their bodies.

I am trying to treat the anti-choice position seriously. Some might argue that even using the words "anti-choice" is biased. Perhaps. But, that is what we are talking about. I argue against choice all the time. Those who read this blog will know that I have defended censorship (which is clearly infringes choice), support the regulation of firearms, and have defended the rights of private institutions (religiously based universities was the example but I'd extend this to other private institutions as well) to regulate those who voluntarily enter those institutions. In other words, however much I agree or disagree with the rules of any particular private institutions (and, I often disagree with them), I've tried to suggest that we really don't want the state messing around too much in them (I think people of good will can always acknowledge that there are outer limits -- or, exceptions -- to every case but that does not negate the general rule. It just means that we need to be careful in our judgments and treat instances on a case-by-case basis).

In the case of anti-choice activists, than, their refusal to use direct language to publicly identify who they are and what their goals are is disturbing, at least to me. My point is that there can be good solid grounds on which to oppose choice (regardless of what that choice might be). The fact that anti-choice activists look for another language to make their case concerns me not simply because they are dishonest (which is, of course, a concern) but because it suggests that they are trying to manipulate public opinion. I cannot shake the feeling that this focus on gendercide is, in fact, contrived. In other words, if sincere, I appreciate it and look forward to working with anti-choice activists on a variety of other feminist causes. If not ... shame on them.

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