Mi bombo es mío: feminism, culture and choice

Yesterday the Spanish government backed a proposal to toughen the country’s abortion laws. The BBC website reports Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon stating that “we can’t allow the life of the unborn baby to depend exclusively on the decision of the mother”. I beg to differ. Since the life of the fetus depends exclusively on the body of the mother, at significant expense to her, I can’t see who else’s decision it should be. Mi bombo es mío, as the twitter hashtag of pro-choice fightback puts it. Wherever a woman lives, whatever the beliefs of those around her, she should retain sovereignty over her own body, and that includes the management of her own reproductive life.

That said, I’m neither Spanish nor Catholic. Perhaps I don’t really understand the issues? Perhaps, like BPAS when they took out an advert in the Irish press stating “we’ll care for your women until your government does,” I could be accused of a form of cultural imperialism? That is, after all, the kind of crap that over-sensitive, cowardly feminists like me are meant to worry about. Sod the women of Ireland and Spain; what if I look like I’m judging their betters? Surely the liberation of women has to come second to whether or not I look bad?

Certainly, this is the impression of feminism created by a spoof blog post tweeted out this morning. Written by straw woman “liberal white feminist” Jemima Cheltenham (obviously posh – you know she shops at Waitrose without even asking), it seeks to explain why feminists – or at least white liberal ones – stay silent on religiously justified oppression when they should be speaking out. They’re scared, you see. Scared of appearing racist and judgmental. It’s bad for their image. That’s why it takes real men of courage – Nick Cohen, Johann Hari, that bloke who was behind Femen – to call them out. See, ladies? Just tell your ideological enemies what’s what. It’s not so complicated after all!

Except, of course, it is. It’s not just that murky motivations of these fair weather feminists (questioned most recently in the hysteria over gender segregation in academia) undermine their supposed cause. Feminism is for the liberation of women, not for macho point-scoring over supposedly “inferior” cultures. But more pertinently, feminism is not just about ideas, but changing realities. It’s all very well to barge in, get your tits out and demand all “oppressed” women do the same. But does this actually work? Could you be sensationalising issues which aren’t necessarily the priorities of those whom you claim to defend? How much is your feminism a statement about yourself rather than the needs of others? I don’t think these are easy questions to answer.

I am surprised that more hasn’t yet been written in the UK press about the Spanish abortion decision. However, I wonder how much of this is down not to cultural sensitivity but resignation. It’s the same old chip-chip-chipping away at reproductive rights that we’re used to here (only this time Spanish anti-choicers have had more success than Nadine Dorries and Jeremy Hunt). Anti-choicers have lost the overall argument so they focus on the detail, and we let them, because as long as there’s some sliver of choice – and as long as those with the loudest voices also have the financial means to escape similar restrictions on their own bodily autonomy – acceptance is the easiest option. The notion that a 16 year old girl will not be able to have an abortion without her parents’ permission is horrific, yes, but some girls will obtain permission – many girls will have reasonable parents – so the simplest thing is to shrug and move on.  

On a very basic level, I think your body is your own country. To be forced to give life to another against your will is an invasion of sorts. It shouldn’t happen. Women the world over face differing levels of restriction on abortion, some more severe than others (if they have one thing in common, it is perhaps that wealth, far more than ideology, gives some women more freedom than others). We should be united in anger over this. We should support those trying to push back against this, wherever they are doing this. The idea, however, that a form of statement feminism based on reinforcing cultural hierarchies will solve these problems is ludicrous. If there is a principle that a woman’s body is her own, that is the principle we should hold to. The rest is just noise.

4 thoughts on “Mi bombo es mío: feminism, culture and choice

  1. I believe the change of the law will not only take away women’s reproductive rights, it will also mean one step closer towards poverty. Spain has serious economic problems with a high unemployment rate especially among the young. How will these women and their families take care of children when they don’t have enough for themselves? It’s very irresponsible of the government, in my opinion, to make a hard choice even harder. Do they expect to raise a new generation on a crumbling welfare program? It’s ok to care about the unborn, but we should make sure these children have a future worth living first.

  2. I’m glad to have seen this here (albeit vexed by the actual news), because as you say, it’s had no news coverage that I’d noticed at all, even factoring “Holidays Mode” news outlets into it, and I might have missed it entirely otherwise.

    I think the lack is likely due in part to this being fairly well flagged in advance. When the current “centre”-right lot got back in, some sort of change to abortion law was already being mooted. Doubtless makes electoral sense to tack towards “social conservatism” in times of economic crisis, as opposed to running on a ticket of “vote for us, the pro-cyclic rightwing kleptocrats that got you into this fiscal in the first place!” (Cf Greece…)

    A second factor, though, might be that UK news outlets are seeing this through the prism of current UK (or more precisely, GB) law, rather than from any principle of strict bodily autonomy, or even the pre-viability autonomy envisaged by Roe v Wade. From that viewpoint, “doctors required to certify health risk to the woman” is actually, in a sense, moving it closer to the UK situation, rather than further away. Obviously the term limit is much more restrictive, but that’s often the case in continental Europe. Mainstream debate in the UK seems to rarely focus on the doctor in the loop — a rare exception being, I think it was Suzanne Moore on Newsnight, mentioning maybe moving from two doctors to one, never mind moving to an “at will” model. I think that distinction is worth bearing in mind in the context of a lot of the debate where pro-choicers see choice as being an absolute, and likewise, anti-choicers being keen to portray the UK situation as being “effectively on demand”, for purposes of making a “slippery slope” argument against any liberalisation at all.

    The situation in Ireland is different in a number of respects. UK&I share a media market — as well as a long and tortuous history — which serves to both increase the likelihood of UK comment on Irish affairs, and of Ireland throwing a nationalist/anti-imperialist snit about it. And of course, Irish law is *hugely* more illiberal than in Spain law — even after the former having been relaxed, and the latter being tightened. Presumably this is not unrelated to the Irish situation being predicated on the “get on a Ryanair flight to England” model, whereas there’s no such ready solution of convenience and hypocrisy available in Spain. (“Ideally” requiring a larger nearby country speaking the same language with much greater availability of abortion.)

    On the Catholicism angle, I can’t help but notice that the RCC in Spain is reported as having “frequently spoken out to call for a similar law”. In Ireland, they were openly threatening to *excommunicate* politicians supporting the considerably *more restrictive* “Savita’s Law” measure last year. So one can’t help but see such support as being at best “tactical”, if not outright “in bad faith”. Their true preference is obviously “whatever the most theocratic and restrictive option available is”.

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