Blogging “Yes” Day 1: Sexual Assault, Abortion, and Entitlement

April, as you probably know, is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.  Instead of doing a post about sexual assault, I’ve decided to do a little project.  One of my favorite books is the phenomenal anthology Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape edited by Jacyln Friedman and Jessica Valenti.  I read this book when it came out in 2008 and it had a profound impact on how I understand rape and sexual assault and also how I came into my late-blooming (but enthusiastic) feminism.  So for Sexual Assault Awareness Month this year, two years later, I’m going to be blogging day-by-day about the essays in the book.  There are 26 days left in April and 27 essays in the book, so I’ll do one a day except for one doubling-up.  I’ll use cut tags so it won’t clog your RSS feed reader up too much, but I’ll try to identify the topic of each post clearly in the title so you know whether you’re interested.  I won’t be blogging about the entire essay most days, but I’ll share my thoughts or vibe off of a topic brought up in the essay.  So, without further ado, it’s time for Day One, reading “Offensive Feminism: The Conservative Gender Norms That Perpetuate Rape Culture, and How Feminists Can Fight Back” by Jill Filipovic.

Jill (who many of you probably know of from Feministe) starts the anthology off with a little bit of background on rape culture and how it’s steeped in a sexist society, as well as how feminist activism can combat rape culture.  What I want to blog about today is a thought near the end of the essay, excerpted here:

Sexual assault is not only a crime of violence and power, but also one of entitlement.  So long as men feel entitled to dominate and control women’s bodies, sexual assault will continue.  While issues like reproductive justice may initially seem unrelated to sexual assault, they are a crucial aspect of women’s bodily autonomy and integrity […]

I think this is a crucial concept, and one that actually fits in well with the privilege theme we explored with the privilege carnival.  Male privilege and a sense of entitlement and control over women’s bodies are inextricably linked.  Though many of the laws that perpetuated this sense, such as laws allowing marital rape, have been amended to better reflect current attitudes, there are still plenty of legal and societal reminders of this type of control.  (By the way, my home state was the last to make marital rape illegal, in 1993.  Nice job, North Carolina).  The whole idea of “silence is consent,” an idea that’s involved in many acquaintance rapes (and I’m sure we’ll get to it later in this project), depends on this sense of entitlement.  It’s the idea that “unless you say no, I am entitled to your body–the default is entitlement and unlimited access to your body.”

I like the way Jill links this idea to reproductive rights, and I think she makes a very good point in so doing.  Abortion and reproductive rights generally are often framed with the “choice” model, but we can also think of them in terms of privacy, bodily autonomy, and consent.  Again, there is a system of defaults working here.  The default is access, the default is also carrying a fetus to term.  Though the choice model has some advantages, we have to be careful not to use it according to this default.  When feminists talk about working towards gender equality and against poverty to create an environment in which effective choices are possible, that’s the right idea.  When we advocate choices in contraception, and the choice of whether or not to have sex, we’re saying that women should be independent actors from the start.  When it’s framed in terms of the choice to keep or not keep a baby, though, there’s an uncomfortable alignment with “fetus/pregnancy as default.”  This alignment often takes the focus off the question of how the fetus got there in the first place–did the woman make an effective, enthusiastic choice to have sex?  Did she have contraceptive options?

I would suggest that we think about bodily integrity and privacy/autonomy, not just choice, when we think about reproductive rights.  When we think of it this way, we’re considering all the ways in which people other than the woman in question try to exercise authority over or gain access to a woman’s body.  Whether it’s men, a particular man, the government, or anti-feminist women who run crisis pregnancy centers and harass young pregnant women, it’s important to recognize that there are many different ways to violate a woman’s bodily integrity and therefore her privacy, her individual autonomy.  When any actor exercises control over a woman’s reproductive options, it’s a violation, just as sexual assault is a violation.  Rape is a feminist issue.  So is abortion.  So are forced contraception and sterilization, environmental harm that damages women’s bodies, government policies that perpetuate (especially female) poverty, etc.  Let’s stop thinking of these as separate issues.

About Avory

Avory Faucette is a queer feminist activist, writer, and public speaker. Zie graduated from the University of Iowa with a JD in 2009, focusing on international human rights and gender/sexuality issues in the law. Hir current work focuses on queer identity, policy, and marginalized identities under the queer umbrella. As a genderqueer person, zie comments frequently on non-binary identity, transgender and genderqueer issues, and media coverage of these populations. Zie also speaks at colleges, universities, and events on transgender and queer issues and conducts trainings on related topics.

Posted on April 5, 2010, in rape, reproductive rights and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. Please do not stereotype all crisis pregnancy centers as anti-feminist (there are and have been for decades pro-life feminists) or necessarily harassing women. I know of successful individual CPCs that are truly informative and assist women far more than certain individual Planned Parenthood centers that have made it to news media headlines for breaking laws and putting patients at risk.

  2. Seriously, pro-choice feminists get angry over a woman seeing an ultrasound baby at a crisis pregnancy center but not at a Planned Parenthood clinic that has providers committing malpractice?

  3. Example of a Crisis Pregnancy Center that works: http://www.firstchoiceforwomen.com/

  4. Great writing Kate, thanks so much. Very powerful, I hope it’s read by many.

  5. censoring pro-life feminism?

    why not protest against this Planned Parenthood clinic that sent a woman to a hospital with a botched abortion?
    http://lifenews.com/state4953.html

    • Angela,

      I appreciate your comments and I welcome all comments on my blog. I certainly recognize that some CPCs may break the trend and provide effective counseling and options to pregnant women. I also recognize that some clinics and clinic practitioners may make unsound decisions. However, I would ask that you please refrain from accusing me of censorship without allowing some time for me to approve your comments. I moderate comments on this blog because sometimes spam and outright hateful comments do slip through. As long as a comment is not an attack or outright hateful speech, I approve it whether I agree with the content or not. It usually takes me about 1-5 days to approve comments. Thanks for your understanding.

  6. sorry for the hastiness. that was out of line of me.

    have you covered the topic of abortion injury from legal abortion clinics though?

    http://www.abortioninjury.com/

    is this not also assaulting a woman’s bodily integrity?

    an interesting statement that i read recently:

    Abortionist Don Sloan is quoted here from his book Choice: A Doctor’s Experience with the Abortion Dilemma. New York: International Publishers 2002 (with Paula Hartz):

    “The polarization of the two sides in the abortion battle has everyone over a barrel. The pro-choice people find themselves fighting good, healthy, correct state regulations because many of those regulations are emanating from anti-abortion pressure groups as a political ploy.”

    from: http://www.clinicquotes.com/site/story.php?id=80

    so are pro-choicers dropping the ball and allowing abortion safety to be a pro-life concern?

    as a pro-life feminist, i believe that social justice starts in the womb, by protecting the life growin in it, not by emptying it.

    • Should there be regulations that require clinics to perform abortions safely, sterilely, etc? Absolutely!

      I am personally opposed to regulations that put an undue burden on women to wait a certain amount of time, get a husband’s permission, etc., however, because I think those regulations disproportionately harm poor women and women in abusive relationships, as well as young women.

      My experience with an independent feminist abortion clinic is that our organization cared very much about women’s safety and about helping a woman consider all her options, including childbirth if this was the woman’s choice. This being my own experience, I’m not blogging about abortion safety because it’s not a problem I have first-hand experience in. I also am a pro-choice feminist, which is why I blog here from a pro-choice perspective.

      Of course, I would encourage you to blog about these issues on your own blog, if you have one, or start one if you don’t.

  7. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have been thinking about my own experience with sexual assault and came to the realization that it was all about this sense of entitlement that you mention. The idea that I am girlfriend = my body is openly accessible 24/7, whether I want it to be or not. I truly believe that my ex felt that way, that things happened when he wanted them to happen, no matter my feelings on the issue. WOW. That’s one hell of a scary realization and I’m glad I’m no longer in a relationship with someone who has such a sense of entitlement, and accordingly, (in his case) such disrespect for women as equal, autonomous, independent, thinking, feeling beings.

  8. Thanks for doing this! I read this anthology last year (although I don’t think I finished it!) and Sexual Assault Awareness Month is a perfect time to re-read it and get re-energized about this issue!

    For anyone reading this that is getting all fired up and wants to take some action – contact your local sexual assault response program and/or YWCA – I guarantee you they have events going on that you could attend or help with! I volunteer for the program in my area and I know I’ll be involved in a couple of different SAAM activities in the coming weeks… 🙂

    • Good idea! I haven’t done much activism myself but the organization at the university where I went to law school (University of Iowa) did some amazing work. I only wish I’d come to feminism sooner and thought to volunteer there!

  9. Thanks for this. I recently had an abortion and was stunned at the way some people felt a RIGHT, an entitlement, to my body. Everything from my choice of birth control, marital status, decision to have sex, to my appearance was criticized. As if I had to fit someone else’s concept of “acceptable” before I could make a choice about MY body. No one was offering to be pregnant for me, to take medical risks for me, to pay for expensive sterilization surgeries for me. Yet they felt a right to tell me what I could and could not do with my body (or whether or not I “deserved” an abortion – a truly entitled concept.)

    Oh, and I’m also a sexual abuse survivor and am very outspoken on that, particularly on the issue of marital rape, because it is so underrepresented, underreported, and misunderstood. Thanks for this post.

    • Thank you for your comments, Angie. Exactly–many people seem to claim a right to an opinion about a woman’s body and her choices, but I don’t see them carrying the baby, raising the child, dealing with the financial and life implications of childbirth when a woman is not ready to have a baby, or not ready to have this baby. I’ve noticed that many of the organizations that claim to support women in making a choice to give birth pretty much disappear as soon as the woman has the baby. The message is “we may care about a fetus, but once you’re born, hey, you’re on your own.”

      And definitely on marital rape. I’m glad you’re speaking out on this issue, because that is so true. It’s a shame how we treat rape within a relationship as a society, whether or not the couple is legally married. Though I think feminism has made some great strides regarding acquaintance rape, one place where we could place some additional focus is on situations where a woman (or man) has already had sex with his or her rapist. We need to make it clear that “yes” does come with an expiration date, and “no” is always an option.

      • I recently did a video (here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nr6HhSJty5o) on wife spanking and in it I said, “You get to change your mind!! You get to do that. If you change your mind halfway through getting your pants off – you get to. Proceeding at that point against someone’s will is RAPE, is wrong.”

      • “but I don’t see them carrying the baby, raising the child, dealing with the financial and life implications of childbirth when a woman is not ready to have a baby”

        Sure you do, they are called fathers. While they cannot carry or labor with the child, they surely do deal with the financial and life implications. They can and should be involved as much as possible.

  10. Fathers can and should be involved as much as possible once a decision to continue a pregnancy to term has been made. Prior to that, the choice belongs with the woman. Ideally someone in a healthy and safe relationship would have a discussion with her partner regarding the fate of a pregnancy but it’s not mandatory. Choice belongs to one person, and one person only.

  1. Pingback: Blogging “Yes” Day 3: Why Checklists Are Sexy « A Lesbian and a Scholar

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