Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Y'all Pro-Abortion Feminists Do It Like This; Pro-Life Christians Do It Like This!

So I'm teaching this Women's Lit class, as I may have mentioned.

Given where I am teaching it -- the rustiest bit of the Bible Belt, where women still tell me in class that while they believe in equality, a man should be in charge, because that's how God created things; and where last semester in my Octavia Butler class a student gave her presentation over how Butler's stories were emasculating (why, you ask?) because men were not the main characters always and because quite often the main characters, men and women, resolved situations without resorting to violence, because Real Men don't handle the world with negotiation and intellect, they just squint and snort and kick the crap out of dissenters -- well.

 It's been fraught from time to time, need I say?

And now we are at the point in the semester when the students give their presentations.

And one of the students started her presentation on Monday by talking about the movie October Baby. 

I don't know if you are familiar with this piece of work, but it is on the new favorite topic of the anti-choice crowd, the semi-mythical fetus* that survives the late-term abortion, which the anti-choice crowd is attempting to use to argue that fetuses are, in fact, babies, and ought to be accorded human rights (from the moment of conception on, this student argued).

I do respect this student's bravery in speaking up.  I'm the professor, I hold all the power in that classroom, so yes, courage.

On the other hand: everything the student had to present was, basically, propaganda. She had not, that is, bothered to do any research beyond what she had obviously been told by her (not very informed) Pro-Life church.

Her argument:

(1) Life begins at conception
(2) Feminists want to "require" abortion after rape, but this is punishing the child for the crime of the "father"
(3) 40% of all pregnancies end in abortion -- where would we be if 40% of our mothers had aborted us?
(4) Only a small number of rapes result in pregnancy anyway
(5) Some women are now aborting for frivolous reasons, like sex selection or if the baby isn't perfect
(6) The "pro-abortion" position argues the woman's rights should trump the child's right to life

Having said all this, the student opened the floor to discussion, wanting to the class to give some reasons they thought "women" (as though that class was not 99% women) got abortions.

Mind you, I have made the point in that class more than once that 1/3 of all women in America have had or will get an abortion at some point in their lives.  The student apparently did not extrapolate from this data and her third point.

Anyway, our lone male chimed in with a comment about slutty slutty teen-age girls who sleep around and then run down for their frivolous abortion (okay, I exaggerate -- a little) and I said, rigidly controlling myself, because that pro-abortion crack had gotten down my neck a bit, "Well, we actually know why women get abortions."

Everyone wheeled to look at me, there in the back row where I was sitting to watch the presentations.

Maybe I wasn't controlling my voice as well as I thought.

"Most of them are actually in their 20s," I said.  "Most of them already have a couple of kids.  Most of them have the abortion because of birth control failure.  Mostly it's because they can't afford or can't care for or just don't want another child. Most of them are, in fact, Christians."

I had put that in because the student had made a big deal out of her religion.

"Richer women," I added, "actually have slightly more abortions than poorer women."

They were all staring at me.

"And some of them," I added, "are for medical reasons."

At that point the student next to me burst out with the story of her abortion, barely able to get through it without breaking into tears: a medical abortion, and how she had nearly died.

Another student then told of her friend who had needed to abort twice, also for medical reasons.

"Well, I didn't mean those," the student presenter said.  "Those aren't real abortions--"

"Oh, of course they are," I said.  "Come on."

The student who had almost died (in tears now) passionately described how she had been shouted at by protesters as she had entered the clinic, how she had been called a murderer, how she had been forced to undergo hours of "therapy" (basically apparently scolding about how she shouldn't use abortion as birth control, which since she wanted this child she obviously wasn't doing), how she had to write in her own handwriting a letter describing just why she "wanted" this abortion -- all this, in order to attain an abortion medically necessary to save her life.

The student stood there clutching her folder, eyes round: because, I am sure, despite the math, she had no idea that 1/3 of her fellow students had stories just like that one.

Another student said, "This was brave of you.  This presentation."

"It was," I agreed. "I do want to disagree with one phrase you used, however.  Pro-Choice is not the same as Pro-Abortion."

"Well," she said.  "We use Pro-Abortion because it's opposite to Pro-Life."

"I understand that you think that," I said.  "But you understand it's not accurate.  We don't take away your choice.  You don't get to take away ours."

She stared at me.  I seriously doubt she understood what I was saying.

"Well, I'm just -- I'm a Christian," she said again.  "I believe life matters.  That abortion is wrong."

"Well, see," I said, "that's why we call you anti-choice. You're against allowing women to make that choice on their own.  We're pro-choice.  We say you get to make that choice.  You say we don't get to make that choice, that you should get to make it for us."

She kept on staring at me.

 Earlier, she had given the Elders quote about getting over the love affair with the fetus: "We really need to get over this love affair with the fetus and start worrying about children"  -- and sniffed at it like it was ridiculous.

I've since looked it up and, in fact, many anti-choice sites get ruffled by this quotation, probably because it calls them out so accurately.

As I told her, we know what causes abortions: poverty, failure of birth control, lack of education, lack of time to parent, lack of pre-schools and child care.  If the "Pro-Life" crowd actually wants to make abortions less common, why are they not working on those issues?

I know, I know, because socialism.

Meanwhile, other students in the class have talked to me and emailed me and FB me, wanting me to give a rebuttal class, basically -- the real facts, as they put it, about abortion.  They are not at all happy with allowing this presentation to be the only thing said in our class about the issue.  I'm kind of torn, since it's a woman's literature** class, not a class on women's political issues per se; OTOH, as an educator, I hate not to answer questions when students are asking them.

And one of our books is Our Bodies, Ourselves; so I could assign the portions from that on abortion and contraception and then it's literature.  Solution?

*How many fetus have, in fact, survived being aborted?  I've had anti-choice people on-line tell me that they are survivors of failed abortion attempts, or that they know people who are, or that their best friend's cousins are, and so on, always without providing any evidence.  I've never seen any proof of any infant anywhere who is a survivor of an abortion.  Here is the only evidence-based report I've seen, which (no shock) says the anti-choice numbers are propaganda (that is, lies).

**in fact, the student's presentation really fails on those grounds, since the requirement was that the presentation be about a work of women's literature or a woman writer; and unless we count October Baby -- which really was not the subject of the presentation -- this student did not present about literature at all.  But I doubt I will enforce the rules that severely -- I seldom do.


Bardiac said...

Well, I have to say, it sounds like you handled that beautifully. You offered corrections, and let other students speak to their experiences.

I love the idea of using Our Bodies/Ourselves in the context you suggest.

I wish you were one of my teachers!

Contingent Cassandra said...

The "babies born alive" story line is probably especially popular right now because of the trail of Kermit Gosnell, who ran a clinic in Philadelphia that performed abortions (Fox news coverage here: ; pbs here: ). There's been a good deal of griping that the "liberal media" are ignoring the story, but it's not quite clear what the story is. He certainly seems to have been running a completely unprofessional and unethical operation, and the state inspection system doesn't seem to have noticed for years and years. What I haven't heard discussed, but suspect is a key part of the story, is who his patients were, and what other choices (for medical care in general, and for family planning assistance in particular) they had available. I suspect those choices were meager indeed. I doubt that's a research project your students can do in the time available and given the distance involved, but I hope someone (probably a journalist) will do it.

delagar said...

Bardiac, thanks. I did my best. It's one of the hardest parts about teaching here, frankly, the mix of politics, plus the different educational backgrounds -- so many of the students have been homeschooled and have this anti-science, anti-liberal background; while others come from a really good local public school and are much better educated; and then in middle are the students from the various small-town public schools, which can be various (and also tend to identify as conservative, but to be wholly uniformed politically).

Cassandra -- Yes! I am almost certain that Fox News & Gosnell gave her an impetus. She's a very sweet student, the kind who wants very much to be liked. I think there was a kind of witness for Jesus impulse behind this presentation: like she had to Do Something for the babies. Or maybe for the ignorant Pro-Abortion feminists in the class? Because we just Hadn't Thought about how those little fetuses were really babies with human rights? IDK.

jo(e) said...

I love when those kind of conversations take place in the classroom. It's such a great opportunity for learning.

Anonymous said...

I admire your restraint. It must have been really hard not to shut her down. It's really awesome that the other students, her equals in power, were allowed to do that.

Otherwise a person often comes off feeling bullied by the teacher.

It sounds like her presentation actually wound up doing a lot of good for the pro-choice side.

Mogwai24 said...

Second what Bardiac said. It must have been so difficult to restrain yourself and stick to the bare minimum of facts.


Daisy Deadhead said...

One thing you might do is present a novel, memoir or biography wherein abortion is part of the story? That might get the subject in through 'the back door'. But I can't think of any that fit your curricula that would adequately do that... possibly Mary McCarthy? Margaret Atwood? Mary Gordon? Somebody must have written something. (too bad our old
Second Wave feminist stanby, Jackie Susann, is not regarded as literature! Besides, all that stuff *still* shocks the Christians.)

Elizabeth Wurtzel wrote an interesting couple of pages... but I'm sure you know all the problems with Elizabeth Wurtzel!

I like Our Bodies/Ourselves too, but I would love something really emotionally wrenching. Even a few pages, by the right hard-hitting writer, would bring the subject home.

Good work! I live in your neighborhood! (I'm joking, not sure exactly where you are) I live in the most conservative county in the USA, so I am right there with you. And yes, the way they instantly fall back on, "ohhh, I didn't mean THAT kind of abortion," is bloody infuriating. Its *never* anyone's individual abortion that they object to!

PS: I just thought of "Meridian" by Alice Walker, but not sure how they would take the whole interracial/civil rights drama. Its a staggeringly-emotional narrative that leaves the reader spent.

Ashleigh said...

Thanks for posting about this and for doing what sounds like a great job handling this situation. I don't have suggestions about literature, but given that this student chose to present what she believes to be facts, I would use it as an opportunity to teach about researching facts and what it means to present evidence. What constitutes evidence, and how do we tell the difference between facts and opinions? You might take a few of her claims (like the thing about 40% or her "pro-abortion" label, or something similar to these so as not to put this student on the spot) and teach about how to find and recognize reputable sources.

Ashleigh said...

Thanks for posting about this and for doing what sounds like a great job handling this situation. I don't have suggestions about literature, but given that this student chose to present what she believes to be facts, I would use it as an opportunity to teach about researching facts and what it means to present evidence. What constitutes evidence, and how do we tell the difference between facts and opinions? You might take a few of her claims (like the thing about 40% or her "pro-abortion" label, or something similar to these so as not to put this student on the spot) and teach about how to find and recognize reputable sources.

Ashleigh said...

Oops, sorry for posting twice!

delagar said...

Thanks for all the comments!

I like the suggestion about using a short story or a movie that features an abortion. One of the students brought up Citizen Ruth in class, in fact. I haven't seen that one myself, and checking it out I see it's not written/directed by a woman, so it doesn't really fit the class. (Doesn't exactly look like what I'd want to use either.)

I haven't been able to think of many (accurate) movies about abortion/with abortions in them. (Yeah, color me shocked.)

I remember an English movie which I saw sometime ago, but I can't remember anything else about it -- about a woman who gave abortions, and was sent to jail for it. Anyone else remember it?

delagar said...

Oh, and Ashleigh -- yes! You're right!

Our students are *supposed* to know the difference between opinion and evidence, and what a good source is and what a crap source is. This is an upper level course, and to get into it, this student had to get a C or better in two different courses that required training in just those subjects.

That's part of why I was so irked. I know that (at least in theory) she knows better. She's just deliberately shut off her critical facilities for this topic.

bleh said...

Thanks for your story. I've never encountered this level of pushback in my women's literature course, but i am not in the bible belt either. Do you know Down by the River by Edna O'Brien? It does a nice job with the topic without proselytizing (much).

Suzanne said...

I realize this wasn't the point of the article, but...
You did a class on Octavia Butler? WHOOOOO!
*happy dance*

Anonymous said...

The movie you're thinking of is Vera Drake - directed by Mike Leigh. I've not seen it, but it sounds appropriate.

delagar said...

Vera Drake -- yes! Thank you!

Suzanne: The Butler class was amazing. We started with Bloodchild and it just got better from there.

delagar said...

bleh -- I don't know Down the River. Thanks! I'll have a look.