So. Once again the government are making sweeping statements about women’s lives, and managing to completely contradict themselves at the same time. Of course.
On October 31st, Nadine Dorries (that “modern feminist” we all love so much) is leading a debate on lowering the abortion limit from 24 weeks to 20 weeks. Not only is this a debate that is so rooted in her own personal beliefs that it should be held in her kitchen rather than in Westminster Hall, but it’s also completely pointless as the statistics show that only 1.4% of women who have abortions have them past the 20 week mark. This has nothing to do with the difference between 20 and 24 weeks, but it has everything to do with throwing anti-choice propaganda into the news and into the public conscious.
However. On the flip-side, today Iain Duncan Smith (Irritable Duncan Syndrome, thank you Radio 4’s The News Quiz!) announced his latest policy proposal of cutting benefits for any woman who has more than two children.
So. They’re making abortion more difficult, but they’re reducing the amount of help you get once you have the child. Women cannot win. You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. This is a clear example of how the government are making women’s lives as difficult as possible. I think the UK Feminista March on Parliament was definitely needed, and I think more action needs to be taken to draw attention to the awful way the government are treating women.
And not to mention the fact that, if IDS has his way, the child will suffer. Taking money away from a parent does not prove your point, making single mothers suffer by throwing the benefit scrounger rhetoric at them – as with disabled people and young people – shows perfectly how the government is picking on those who are struggling the most.
It’s disgusting. It demonizes women. This is NOT a government for women – it’s a government that hates them.
Yesterday there was quite a lot of conversation happening on Twitter and various newspaper sites about new Women’s Minister Maria Miller’s comments in the Telegraph that the abortion limit should be lowered from 24 weeks to 20 weeks. Then, her fellow “real deal feminism” colleague Nadine Dorries added her voice to the discussion via Twitter.
I really wanted to address this, not to discuss the ethical issues around abortion, not to have a debate around when something is a “person” (although these are huge, important and vital debates to have) but because my mind cannot cope with the conflicting nature of the statements these women are making. Both women described themselves as feminist, but the messages they’ve been giving are completely the opposite. I know, a Tory being inconsistent, that’s never ever happened before, but actually in this case I think it needs looking at in more detail.
As far as I see it, if you don’t want abortion to be a legitimate option for women then you’re really left with three choices:
1) No sex for women. At all. Keep them legs closed, ladies! Now, we all know that Nadine Dorries is completely up for this option. Her bill to educate young women that abstinence was the way to go (I’m not even going to get into what the young men might be up to while the girls are told to keep their legs shut…) was, at the very least, very not-feminist. Now, talking to young women AND young men about waiting for sex until you’re ready, about being in a safe, secure, loving and consensual relationship and about the fact that when your mate Dan says he lost it when he was 14 he’s most probably bullshitting, is a very important part of sex education. It helps young people make informed choices, it helps them form positive relationships and it helps them say no when they should be saying no. But teaching girls (and only girls) that you SHOULDN’T have sex is a ridiculous and dangerous idea. Luckily, the bill was quietly shelved. As for ladies learning to keep their legs shut to prevent pregnancy? Well, as Ms. Dorries and Ms. Miller both claim to be feminists, they will agree that one of the most important elements of feminism is sexual freedom.
2) If you have sex and get pregnant, you have to carry the pregnancy to term. I feel this one brings up one of the major discrepancies. As foetuses born to people on a very low-income, or who are living risky and chaotic lifestyles could turn into those chavs you love to hate. The foetus inside the heroin addict is the most precious thing in the world. Once it’s born, you no longer care about it. They’re chav scum. They’re council estate trash. And why the hell should we give our hard-earned cash to help THEM? Maria Miller wasn’t a fan of doing that back when she was Minister for Disabled People. And that’s an extreme example. Women decide that they are not going to be able to or do not want to have a child for a myriad of reasons. Lack of money. Lack of support. A chaotic and risky lifestyle. If you’re going to force a woman to carry her pregnancy to term, you cannot then turn your back on that child once it’s born. And that’s not even getting to the part where the child you now have may well be a product of one of the most traumatising events of your life.
3) Teach young people how to have safe sex, so pregnancy doesn’t happen in the first place. This is SUCH a no-brainer. Seriously. Now, I may be generalising, but I’m pretty sure even us pro-choicers would rather someone know how to prevent unwanted pregnancy in the first place than have an abortion. So if you’re of the mindset that abortion is wrong, you should be VERY in favour of very good, compulsory relationships and sex education. And access to contraception. Seriously, you should be chanting from the rooftops that condoms should be available to everyone whenever they need them. Along with people who know how to make sure young people are staying safe in their relationships. Unsurprisingly, Nadine Dorries is not a fan of this idea. (just so you know, I’ve done a lot of sex education with a lot of young people and know a lot of people who’ve done a lot of sex education with a lot of young people, and never once have I heard of anyone teaching a seven-year old how to put a condom on a banana. That’s ridiculous.)
So, as far as I see it, those are your three options. Maria Miller and Nadine Dorries seem to be up for none of those options. Two women in power, women who both called themselves feminists, think that choice for women needs to be limited. That ain’t feminism.
*NOTE: I know that a lot of the comments about the subject are from Dorries and not Miller. Dorries has been talking about this a lot longer. Give Maria Miller some time and I’m sure she’ll come out with plenty of her own thoughts on the subject*
I’ve always found that, in the world of “issues” (and there are a lot of those about) that it never seems acceptable to talk about them in real world terms. We feel that, unless we’re able to discuss it on Newsnight with someone who possibly has an MA in the subject, we’re just not clever enough to have an opinion. If we can’t cite a journal article on the subject then we don’t get to take part in the conversation.
Feminism is a dirty word. People don’t want to be labelled as a feminist, lest they be labelled a lesbian/bra-burning man-hater/radical extremist weirdo. Normal people aren’t feminists, they’re just up for some equality. But not a feminist. No way. But recently, since Caitlin Moran’s first book “How To Be A Woman” came out it’s been on a lot more people’s radar. Because she lays it bare for how it is – a society that’s built around men being the primary power (the patriarchy) is harmful for both men AND women. Everyone is told to be a certain way because of it, and it’s not fair for either sex.
But it also brings big feminist issues to the forefront. Rape culture. Abortion. Big things that people don’t want to have an opinion on because they’re just too big. But which everyone DOES need to have an opinion on, because they are just that big. If you’re going to bring issues like that to the general populace, it has to be accessible. It needs to be clear, told with the gravity the topic deserves but with a light scattering of wit. Talking about rape culture in a Radio 4, Newsnight way will make a lot of people switch off. Talking about it in a plain and simple way will show people that it is relevant to them, no matter who they are.
We need to take a leaf out of this book (not literally, please leave your books intact) with other issues that are going on in the world. Disability, welfare, the crap that’s happening in the country at the moment is discussed on highbrow BBC programmes with lots of language, but it needs to be discussed in an accessible, plain and simple way. Then people will UNDERSTAND and go HOLY SHIT this is awful it needs to stop. There are some people who are doing this and doing it well (see blogroll to the side) but it needs more.
I will happily confess that I’ve been listening to the audiobook of “How To Be A Woman” on repeat for weeks now. Feminism does not have to be an unattainable lefty radicalist thing that those studenty lefty activist types do, it’s for everyone. Man, woman, anyone you like. Because it’s going to make everybody happy in the end.
(Picture is of my new copy of Caitlin Moran’s latest book, which I hope to have her sign at the Chelt Lit. Festival this year!)