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Monthly Archives: October 2014

(Hoping that) Women Hurt: regret as a tool of advocacy

Two weeks ago, Irish parliamentarians were invited to a presentation on the subject of “abortion regret”. While the invitation didn’t explicitly advocate for the continued illegality of abortion, no one could fail to recognise its underlying agenda: firstly because it came from Senator Rónán Mullen, who’s barely known for anything else, and secondly because the featured speaker, Julia Holcomb, is a spokesperson for Silent No More, a self-described “project of Priests for Life and Anglicans for Life”. Holcomb was there not only to share her own unhappy story, but to convince Irish politicians of the need to maintain our near-absolute ban on abortion, in an attempt to prevent others from experiencing the same regret.

This campaign is one example of what Yale Law Professor Reva Siegel calls “woman-protective anti-abortion argument” – a strategic shift away from the foetus fetishism that has traditionally defined the right-to-life movement, to centring the pregnant woman in its message by portraying abortion as contrary to her best interests. We’ve seen this in Ireland before, with billboard campaigns by Youth Defence (“abortion tears her life apart”) and Women Hurt, a sort of home-grown version of Silent No More.

At the same time, we’re seeing the emergence of a new anti-sex work campaign led by women who describe themselves as “survivors of prostitution”. Like Julia Holcomb, they have the patronage of people whose stance is an ideological one, unrelated to any regret a woman who had that experience might feel. Her trauma is incidental to these people, and instrumentalised by them, but it’s no doubt very real to her and she has every entitlement to share it.

Regret can be a useful element in a cautionary tale, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with suggesting that a woman think carefully about how she might feel about a decision later on. But as an argument for prohibitory legislation, it’s extremely problematic. And I’m not just talking about the logical inconsistency of banning some things that women might regret but not others (marriage, tattoos, Tequila shots); or banning things that some women might regret but not others; or banning things that women do when they’re illegal anyway (the women of Women Hurt all evaded the prohibition by going to England; many self-described survivors of prostitution worked in a criminalised setting). The idea that regret is, in and of itself, a reason to legally constrain women’s actions is conceptually flawed, paternalistic and degrading. It’s grounded in age-old sexist nonsense about women needing choices to be made for us, as unreasonable, feeble-minded creatures who need protection from the dangers we pose to ourselves. If “to err is human”, what does that say about people who can’t be allowed to err?

There’s another thing that bothers me about it, and that’s how the traumatised-woman-as-poster-girl creates a need for more traumatised women. The women who don’t regret their abortion or sex work threaten to undermine the effectiveness, as an advocacy tool, of those who do; thus, they must be silenced, discredited, or worse still, recruited. I say “worse still” because recruiting them often involves persuading them that they were traumatised all along and didn’t know it. Real-life examples are the woman who speaks unapologetically about her abortion and is invited to receive “counselling” from an anti-abortion agency, the sex worker who takes advantage of “exiting” services when she decides it’s time to move on and finds herself subjected to re-education programmes that recast her experience as abusive when she didn’t see it that way.

Advocates of these methods insist that the woman has merely been in denial, that they’re helping her come to terms with her hidden trauma in order to heal her. But there’s something deeply troubling about taking a person who’s at ease with her past and turning her into a victim. It would be bad enough if this were done in the genuine albeit misguided belief that it would ultimately help her, but it isn’t. It’s done to advance an agenda, and that’s unconscionable.

The bottom line is this. When someone says they don’t regret their abortion or their sex work, or anything else that some people find traumatising, then, absent real (and individualised) evidence to the contrary, there’s really only one acceptable response. It’s along the lines of “That’s great, I’m glad that you’re OK with your experience.” Anything else amounts to wishing trauma on someone – and it’s a short hop from there to thinking they deserve trauma for making a choice you disapprove of. It’s a hateful, nasty, punitive approach, and it’s incompatible with any genuine concern for the welfare of the women in question.

 

 

 

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Bi+ Ireland Upcoming Events

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Hello, my lovely bisexual, pansexual and queer readers! If you’re in or around Ireland in the next week or two, Bi+ Ireland have been busy organising meetups in (literally) all four corners of the country. If you’re anywhere under the nonmonosexual/romantic umbrella and in this part of the world, we’d love to have you along. If you’re not, though? I’d appreciate it a ton if you could share the events and let people know about them.

And before I go, remember: Bi+ Ireland isn’t just our public page and events! We have a thriving worst-keptsecret FB discussion group as well- just send us a PM for an invite.

Here’s the details:

OCT 17: Bi+ Ireland October Meetup Dublin

Accents Cafe in Dublin, Ireland 19:00

(FB Event Page)

OCT 17: Bi+ Ireland October Meetup Galway

The Secret Garden Galway in Galway, Ireland 20:00

(FB Event Page)

OCT 18: Bi+ Ireland Belfast October meetup

Queen’s Arcade in Belfast, United Kingdom 15:30

(FB Event Page)

OCT 25: Bi+ Ireland October Cork meetup

Bodega Cork in Cork, Ireland 15:00

(FB Event Page)

Boundaries, Thresholds and Love: Why it’s time to take back ‘bi’.

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One of the most important divisions within how bi+ people navigate and experience relationships is not between whether the people we date are men or women- it’s whether they’re queer or straight. Queer/LGBTQ culture, with its DIY attitude towards gendered roles in relationships and with our common experiences of self-discovery, coming out, and being out, is its own particular thing. It’s a set of shared understandings, and gay people pretty much always have that in common with partners. Bi+ people? Not necessarily. And so much of queer cultures were created as a different way of thinking about and doing relationships more-or-less in opposition to heteronormativity. But as bi+ people, whether or not we come from within queer cultures and ways of doing relationships, our lives are often defined by our relationships happening both within and outside those cultures. Some of the people we love (of all different genders!) will be queer. Some of the people we love will be straight and will not have had- or may not understand at all- queer experiences and their significance. But we still have, and those relationships don’t take from the experiences that we have had and who they have made us.

We occupy a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. We are forced into a binary.

And then we go outside.

The rest, over at Consider the Tea Cosy.