The day the Alito draft opinion leaked, my youngest son sent me a reaction from The Onion, headlined “Vessel for Male Sexual Gratification Very Sad Today.”
Noting its slumping posture, slack expression, and overall downcast appearance, sources confirmed Wednesday that a vessel for male sexual gratification was very sad today. “It definitely appears to be upset,” said sources, adding that the object that exists solely for men’s physical pleasure was presently sitting unmoving with a distant, empty stare. “It doesn’t look happy. What’s wrong with it? I don’t like the way it’s ignoring me.” At press time, sources had decided to go over to the sexual apparatus and tell it to smile.
Despite the pious, “pro life” pronouncements of those who have worked assiduously to control women’s reproduction, the real issue has little or nothing to do with “saving babies.” (If it did–as innumerable people have pointed out–Americans wouldn’t continue to ignore the care and feeding of those babies once they are born.) It’s the “place”–the defined status– of women.
We can see the desired end game of the “pro-life” movement in the declarations of the more rabid anti-choice warriors, who have made it quite clear that they oppose birth control as well.
I still remember a conversation with a partner at the law firm I joined after graduating from law school. It was 1977, and the firm had just hired its first two women lawyers (I was one). He mused that women’s ability to plan our childbearing had opened up employment opportunities that hadn’t previously been available. He was right.
Before the wide availability of birth control, the only real “choice” available to women who wanted to pursue professional careers was to abstain–from sex, marriage, and motherhood–or to delay for many years (or more commonly, to entirely forgo) careers.
The birth control pill changed women’s worlds. It also changed virtually all parts of American society. Remember that old cigarette ad, proclaiming “You’ve come a long way, baby?” We have.
Think about the trajectory.
Religion began–and mostly remains– highly patriarchal. Women were seen as either temptresses (Eve!), or nurturers and breeders. Gender norms were “God decreed,” and religious texts were male-centered.
When the American colonies were first settled, they adopted English laws forbidding women from owning property or from keeping their own earnings. In 1877, all states had laws preventing women from voting. Women have had the vote for just over 100 years.
Most other advances toward civic equality for females came after 1960–the year the FDA approved the birth control pill. In 1963, we got the Equal Pay Act. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed and the EEOC established. In 1965, the Supreme Court ruled that state legislatures couldn’t forbid married people from using contraceptives–a ruling that Alito’s draft endangers. Other rulings allowed women to serve on juries, and forbid various types of gender discrimination. It was only recently that the Lily Ledbetter Act attacked the practice of paying women less than men doing the same job.
Thanks to those legal changes–and especially the ability to decide whether and when to procreate–women have entered much more fully into the life of this country. We have a woman Speaker of the House, a woman Vice-President. Turn on your TV, and women news anchors and sports reporters inform you. Today, your doctor and your dentist and your CPA are all as likely to be women as men.
The results have been salutary–and not just for women.
A friend whose company offers financial services recently posted an article from The Daily Shot, sharing research that compared companies with greater and lesser numbers of female executives in the ranks. Those with more female executives “have done far better over the last decade in return on equity than the rest of the S&P 500.”
The Christian Nationalist Party–formerly the GOP–finds the current state of affairs terrifying and “unGodly.” The old White guys who believe they should run the world have very accurately identified the foundation on which women’s progress rests: the ability to control our own reproduction.
And that is what the fight over abortion is really about.
Assuming the extent of the backlash to the Alito leak doesn’t change the result–assuming the Court issues a version of Alito’s dishonest “history” and his astonishing decree that state legislators should have the right to require women to give birth–we will see whether America is willing to roll back the past fifty years of cultural change–whether even Red states are able to erase the civil status, empowerment and participation of half of the population.
Will this last gasp of patriarchy prevail? We’re about to find out.