Friedman’s Not-So-Novel Idea

29 Oct

Yesterday in the middle of my work day I received a text from one of my really good friends. It read as follows:

The Friedman column is fucking pissing me off. Why would I expect him not to fucking pretend that what he is writing is nothing feminism has been saying for YEARS!

I could feel the anger pulsing through my cell phone. Obviously, I had to read it immediately if not sooner.  I checked up and down the bar to see the status of all my customers drinks and got to reading.  The premise of the article is basically that Friedman is “pro-life” but not in the way we all talk about being pro-life, as in the opposite of pro-choice.  He is pro “respect for the sanctity of life.”  Friedman has seen the light.  This paragraph basically says it all:

In my world, you don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and be against common-sense gun control — like banning public access to the kind of semiautomatic assault rifle, designed for warfare, that was used recently in a Colorado theater. You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and want to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency, which ensures clean air and clean water, prevents childhood asthma, preserves biodiversity and combats climate change that could disrupt every life on the planet. You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and oppose programs like Head Start that provide basic education, health and nutrition for the most disadvantaged children. You can call yourself a “pro-conception-to-birth, indifferent-to-life conservative.” I will never refer to someone who pickets Planned Parenthood but lobbies against common-sense gun laws as “pro-life.”

Friedman makes a good point.  Read the article.  But the thing is, just like what my friend said to me in her enraged text, he is making the point feminism, the point women have been making for years.  Being in support of a woman’s right to choose is not only an end, but it is a means to other ends.  Allowing women to choose is part of a bigger conversation about quality of life, about freedoms, about capabilities, about possibilities, about empowerment. In the mainstream acceptance of the terms “pro-life” (or “anti-choice” as many of my ilk refer to it) and “pro-choice” I think of the former as an exclusionary opinion and the latter as inclusionary.  Pro-choice people are not requiring women to terminate a pregnancy.  Some of us might not even be comfortable with the idea  of abortion for ourselves.  I think all of us would love it if there didn’t have to be any abortions at all.  There is room in the pro-choice movement for everyone to do exactly with their bodies as they think is appropriate for themselves and their lives, be that terminate a pregnancy or carry a pregnancy through to term.  Pro-life takes that choice away, that legal and safe choice, and makes the decision for someone.  Either carry the fetus to term or endure a possibly life-threatening, illegal, unregulated procedure.  There is not room in that school of thought for everyone.  There is not room for me.

I guess this is a topic that I have been having a hard time with.  While I want to include men in the conversation about women’s rights and bodies, while I want more male allies, I don’t want men dictating the parameters of a conversation that women have been having for decades.  Let us spearhead this one, guys.  Listen to us.  Talk to us.  Take us seriously.  This is an important issue all the time and not only when you decide to give it a minute of your time.  This has been mattering to us for-fucking-ever, and not just every four years.  We’ve been talking about it.  We’ve been educating one another.  Where have you been, Friedman?

But I’ve gotten off topic.  Friedman’s point is an important one for sure.  But as a woman, it is incredibly, incredibly frustrating and angering to see that a point that feminists have been making for years and years does not get mainstream space until it is said by a right-leaning white man acting like he came up with it all on his own.  I’ve seen my friends sharing the link to the article on Facebook and, though I’m glad the point is making its rounds in the interwebs, I am frustrated that as women we have become so accustomed to our opinions being ignored and then, years later, being co-opted and taken seriously only through the medium of a male voice that we don’t even notice it any more.  It’s part of life.  It’s like, “wow!  Friedman!  What a great and original idea!” without the follow through of “wait, didn’t I talk to my mom about this very same idea when I first started learning about abortion clinic bombings and assassinations of abortion providers?  Hasn’t this term ‘pro-life’ always seemed somewhat misleading?”   It’s like that old saying, “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”  Only I’m gonna change it.  “If an opinion is voiced by a woman and no one talks about it, did that opinion ever actually get shared?”

And to my friend who sent me the text in the first place, I am thankful for you.  You help keep me sane.

4 Responses to “Friedman’s Not-So-Novel Idea”

  1. creatingcarrie October 29, 2012 at 4:42 pm #

    It takes all of two seconds to type, “I’m not the first to say this.” ARGH! [Shakes fist at sky. Tells Sandy to head to Friedman’s house.]

    • FranklyRebekah October 29, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

      But then he would have to give up all the credit! What a preposterous idea!

  2. Foreigner October 30, 2012 at 12:24 am #

    You are totally right. While I also found the article well written, well articulated and worth sharing (which I did), it is extremely frustrating that it takes someone like Friedman to gain attention to something that should be common sense – that being “pro-life” can’t just cover the period from conception to birth. I can say it, you can say it, female columnists, reporters, activists can say it – and it won’t matter. Those people who Really need to read it, wouldn’t – but they will when the idea “comes” from someone like Friedman, they will. I agree, giving credit to the fact that this is not his idea or his brainchild, and is in fact something that has been said by women’s rights activists and feminists for years and years would have been the least he could have done, but on the other hand, at the same time I hope his article does reach people who wouldn’t otherwise ever tilt their ear towards an opinion like this. Maybe that is still a step to the right direction.

    • FranklyRebekah October 30, 2012 at 11:50 pm #

      See, this is a tough one for me. While I totally, totally, totally agree that having a conversation about it is better than having no conversation at all, sometimes I think maybe we don’t have the other, bigger conversation which is why does it take a man to say it before it matters? Knowledge is absolutely better than no knowledge, but I also think that knowledge about how unequal our society is, and how accustomed we all are to it, how complacent we all are in it (myself included for sure), is important as well. Ah, how this whole thing could have been avoided if Friedman had, as Carrie suggested, just given some credit where credit was due.

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