DE- The Lie of Choosing

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The English language is full of complex and ambiguous words and definitions. In, On Language, the authors address this concerning the word choice. "Choice, is, in essence, an empty word, people with vastly divergent political viewpoints can be united under its banner (145)." However, the word choice is instead approached as a concrete, either/or definition. Andrea Smith illustrates this in her interviews with Native women and their views on pro-life and pro-choice platforms. Both of these stood by one camp or the other, but their reasoning for choosing either one did not match up with the meanings behind each position. Yet, the way that reproductive rights are presented leave only two options that, in different yet similar ways, surround the empty word choice.

When Allison Crews gives her account of growing up in a pro-life environment and the challenges she faced when she became pregnant as a teenager, she remembered seeing a girl leaving a clinic being hurried and shamed through a crowd of protesters. Allison was surrounded by people telling her she was unfit to be a mother. Some choice when abortion is actually a legal procedure. Loretta J. Ross asks the question, "Why are there obstacles for women who seek abortions while our society neglects mothers and children already here (1)." Once again, there is no choice here. What Smith calls "'free' choice," is being fought for a group of women who are already allowed to make choices in their lives.

Recalling Mona Lisa Smile, in On Language, the point to our consumerist culture that tells women that we can get everything we want in life, "as long as we make the right choices [emphasis mine] (147)." What are the right choices? Can the options presented to women legitimately be called choices? The black and white polarization of pro-life/choice is what allows the criminalization that Smith talks about. It creates a situation where only one choice can be the right choice and we see that everywhere with protests and lobbying. Therefore, this approach not only allows criminalization, but brings the focus to the crime itself.

"If we strive to disarticulate crime and punishment then our focus must... also be directed at all the social relations that support the permanence of prison (Smith, 123)." The fundamental issue for feminists concerning this topic is not choice or prison but 'those' people and institutions that are continuing to support the prison industrial complex and its relation to the reproductive rights of women. What is necessary to analyze, however, is, who are 'those' people? "Defining white supremacy as extremist in its racism," says Ross, "often has the results of absolving the mainstream population of its racism (2)." She also goes on to criticize the opposition of pro-life/choice by pointing out that they both function under assumptions that do not make moves towards life, or choice, for women of color (120).

Are we, too, mindlessly and uncritically standing next to a banner that is actually void of any of the meaning we've been taught it has? The ability to choose relies on what a woman already owns. A choice can only be made from what is available. We must ask ourselves, if the so called choices set out for women should really qualify as choices?

Instead, I propose a grammatical move from the use of the word choice to the word right. A right is something that belongs to a person. It is something they own. A choice is something that, even ideally, can only be framed in terms of either/or. That framework simply does not allow for a complex system of thought needed. A right can be denied to a person. For a women to not have choices, or limited choices, is to frame it as a privilege; one that can be limited. Working for the complete ownership of a women's right, puts the subject of reproductive rights in different light. It is something that has unrightfully been taken away. Also, fighting for rights is much for broad and covers much more ground for women than fighting for reproductive choices.

The social structures that need to be challenged or as much a part of us as anyone else unless we continue to challenge our own thinking while challenging others. We are inevitably part of the social structure we live in. Small, mindful changes are necessary. At the end of Allison Crews story, after listing many of the choices she made, she lists even more rights. What caught my eye, however, was one of her statements. "We have the right to choose when, where, with whom, and how we bear children (148)." Now switch it around so that it reads; we have the choice of when, where, with whom, and how we bear children. Which statement speaks with power and ownership?

4 Comments

Thank you for this very insightful post about the problematic language framing reproductive rights. Out of curiosity I looked up the definitions of "choice" and "right" in the Oxford English dictionary:

Choice:an act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities.

Right:a moral or legal entitlement to have or obtain something or to act in a certain way.

These definitions in my mind help strengthen your argument due to the stakes of each definition. That is, by the way choice is defined it can be applied to something as simple as deciding to buy one piece of furniture over another or selecting from a list of candidates. The language is simplistic and leaves room for interpretation but most importantly it goes back to your thought about it being an "either/or" framework.

The key definition to a "right" is steeped in the framework of morality and legality. That means then there has to be a general social acceptance so that it can be made into law and for that law to be socially permissible. I think reproductive rights become a contentious issue then and framed as choice because of how it's been framed as an issue of morality. The term "Pro-life" is a perfect example of this because of how that side is pandering to a sense of morality that challenges abortion as a right rather than a matter of choice. The argument of course being that a fetus is in fact a baby or has a "right" to life as individual before it's even born. I wonder then perhaps if feminism then has unfortunately framed this issue too lightly; as a possible condition of freedom for women's bodies rather than an imperative. "Choice" simply doesn't evoke a moral necessity the way that "right" does, and I think as long as the argument is continued to be framed in this light it'll be difficult to remove the stigma that abortion still has even in what is a decidedly more "progressive" climate then when RoevWade was handed down. So long as morality is claimed by one side, trying to exclude the other then the debate will rage on, rather than being a non-issue.

One other quick thing that I wanted to add but forgot:

“I really don’t believe in abortion,” he told the magazine “I think [an embryo] is a human. It’s like killing a baby.”

He added that while it is “really sad” for a woman to become pregnant after being raped, he claimed that “everything happens for a reason.”

This was from an interview conducted by Rolling Stone magazine with the pop sensation Justin Bieber. Now, I'll give the young man some benefit of the doubt given that he's 16, but it serves my further example of how morality rules this issue and if one side decides to frame it in this context then feminism must work that much harder to show how it's damaging as a society and to women to believe that being raped must have happened for a reason. It should be seen for the intense violation of a body that it is--not some form of divine intervention in which women end up pregnant and still are somehow morally obligated to carry the fetus to term.

Katie, you really touched on the weaknesses and strengths of each article. I especially liked the emphasis you drew on the importance of distinguishing between reproductive choice and reproductive right. Your reiteration of Crews' statement shows the power and control that is exerted with the use of right instead of choice. Use of the word "right" shows a much deeper meaning in which it shows an immediate and necessary access to certain options and decisions. The word "choice" to me seems much more open ended, leaving room for people to dispute what choice is the "right" choice. It also furthers the idea that "choice" is an option, instead of a concrete decision, like right, that is backed with powerful meaning and oftentimes law. The distinction between "right" and "choice" is going to be an important evolution in feminist thought that will evoke social rights/abilities instead of a choice between.

I also wanted to mention a few key things that were mentioned in regards to "choice" in the "They Should not Breed: feminism, disability, and reproductive rights" article. Instead of differentiating between the importance of "choice" and "right" the authors discuss choices for the disabled. The article furthers discussion from last weeks class on birth control and eugenics and its presence in reproductive rights today. They refer to choice in a way different in which I am sure most people think of it. For the disabled, either mentally or physically, there is pressure for them to make the "right" choice either about having children at all or aborting the child if there is known impairment. This statement is made for mothers to abort their children in order to "spare" the family and child suffering; or for women who are disabled to think heavily about bearing children and their inability to parent. "Right" and "choice" here are used in a very different, often manipulative way. Selectivity here is contemporary eugenics at its "best", where furthering a "better" people is enforced.
Another important part of this article was the importance of the right to abort AND to bear and raise a child. This brought me back again to discussions of eugenics, sterilization, and the women who lost their "right" to bear. Again, it is important to consider all rights and choices available and to be respectful of those choices, even if it is not your personal choice.

I just wanted to comment on Annslie's comment on Bieber Fever- I think this is a good example of how often MEN'S opinion and thoughts on abortion are displayed- We look around everywhere and there are so many women's stories of their struggles and experiences- yet so often the opinions that recieve the majority of attention, or are at least taken more seriously, are from male celebrities or male politicians- I completely agree with you on giving Mr. Justin the benefit of the doubt here but how sad is it that a 16 year old is not expected to be educated about these kinds of topics? And how self-righteous for anyone to say that it's "sad" that a woman who was raped got pregnant but everything happens for a reason- no matter what your views on the matter is, I don't believe that anyone has the authority to make that kind of statement about someone else's struggles and pain- nonetheless to publicly make a statement about what that should mean for HER future- Justin Bieber is close to an idol for young girls (I work with them) And here he his telling these girls, with some certainty, the rights and responsibilities of women. How many young girls are going to question the pubescent cutie?

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