Friday, January 21, 2011

Bread and circuses

Here is my contribution to NARAL's Blog for Choice
The term “bread and circuses” comes from the poem Satire X by the Roman poet Juvenal. In it, he describes a Roman populace that has disassociated itself with civic duty, and politicians that capitalize on this disinterest by giving the people what they want—food and spectacle—and thus rising to power[1]. The poem was a critique of the Roman lifestyle that emphasized the frivolous over the worthwhile, and it was the lack of interest in civic duty which was the eventual cause of the collapse of the empire. Recently, I re-read Fahrenheit 451, written by Ray Bradbury in 1953, and could not believe how close his predictions of the future are to the lifestyle in which Americans live today. These literary works demonstrate a critique of society, and a call to put substance above style. We could have learned a lot from these works. We have not.
In the years since Roe v. Wade, we have watched very mobilized right-wing, religious zealots gage an anti-abortion jihad at every opportunity. In every other context, the Department of Homeland Security would consider the actions of these mobs terrorism. For some reason, when it comes to preserving a woman’s right to chose, most legislators turn their heads. They allow the violence, the dissemination of misinformation, and the incomprehensible denial of services based on “religious belief”. We are fighting two wars right now with countries that exhibit similar atrocities towards their women, and we find that deplorable. Yet, somehow, we do not take the time to notice that, as far as women’s reproductive rights are concerned, we are more than happy to allow the American Taliban to bomb clinics and gun down doctors in their churches. I believe it is time that we hold a mirror up to ourselves, look inward, and proceed to vomit with disgust.
Tomorrow, January 22, marks Roe’s 38th anniversary. It was a great triumph for women, because it gave women control over their bodies – and their lives. We do not want to return to a world where we no longer have personal freedom. We do not want to return to a world where a woman is considered less of a person than her male counterpart. We do not want to return to a world where women are considered incapable of making our own decisions when it comes to our health. Yet at every turn, we see complacent individuals happy to let legislators make such changes. Let us not forget that 70 percent of anti-choice activist are male, and they are not interested in our reproductive health—or our freedom.
Many of us have lost sight of what pro-choice means. Pro-choice means CHOICE. It does not mean pro-abortion. What Roe gave women was the right to choose what to do should an unplanned pregnancy arise, and thus it legalized the procedures that would allow for a safe abortion. Anti-choicers (since pro-choice IS pro-life) essentially believe that women DO NOT HAVE A CHOICE, and therefore all other options should be eliminated. What they are saying is that women are not full persons under the law, and therefore they should not be in charge of their bodies. There are many reasons why this kind of thinking is dangerous. We have a hostile Supreme Court, some of whom believe that women are not protected under the Equal Rights Amendment[2]. We have a Congress in which our Republican representatives consistently shift the responsibility for violence to the individuals that act violent rather than to acknowledge that their fascist, anti-compromise, shoot-em-all-and-let-god-sort-em-out vitriol is to blame[3].
What we fail to see is the parallels that Stephanie Coontz at the Washington Post draws so eloquently in her recent article, “Gay marriage isn't revolutionary. It's just the next step in marriage's evolution[4].” In it, she traces the history of marriage from its original purpose—that of acquiring property and power. For many, marriage was forbidden, and for others, it was an unavoidable duty. Even as the idea behind marriage evolved and more people married for love, gender roles were still unequal, with women being legally dependent on men and having no rights of their own. When the ideas about marriage changed, so did the rhetoric for why men and women were not equal in a marriage (the new rhetoric was that men were now willing breadwinners since women—being the nurturing mothers they are—were too frail to work. This rhetoric implied that women were all too happy to submit to having their husbands make all the decisions for them. Gender neutrality did not start to become popular as an idea until the 1970s.
With a few simple word changes, we can apply all of her points to the pro-choice movement. Our (still!) current climate of gender inequality allows for the idea - that women are not equal to men - to persist. As such, some individuals insist that women should not exercise their rights to choose what happens to them. The pro-choice movement then, is not merely about the right a woman has to choose whether or not she keeps an unplanned pregnancy; it is about equal rights for women. This above all is crucial—we are talking about the issue that women have never been legally acknowledged as whole persons in the United States. Opponents of choice believe just that. They believe that is it dangerous for women to want independence from men, and what better way to be dependent then to have an unplanned pregnancy? With the current political climate in Washington, and the constant proliferation of misinformation by these zealots, it will not be long until the pro-life movement becomes the anti-birth control movement. What will be next—a movement to repeal a woman’s right to vote? It sounds ludicrous and paranoid. I wish it was.
Let us work to remove this resistance, and let us do so by resisting this blather. Let us defend our right to chose, and let us do so loudly. This cause has been built by individuals, and fought by individuals, but it has always been bigger than all of us. If we truly care about our future, and our children’s futures, then it is time to do more than just contribute money and feel good about playing a passive role. It is time to become uncomfortable, stand in the rain, march for miles, and demonstrate our commitment by demonstrating. Let us not fall prey to the bread and circuses from the media and the politicians, for as Ben Franklin once said, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”[5].

[1] Wikipedia, 2011. Bread and circues. Retrieved on 1/21/2011 from

[2] Foley, E. 2011. Democrats, Women's Rights Leaders Blast Scalia Comments On 14th Amendment. Retrieved on 1/21/2011 from

[3] Jacobson, J., 2011. (VIDEO) The Arizona Shootings: Deflection or Responsibility? Retrieved on 1/21/2011 from

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