Privilege Safely Stowed. Now Can We Talk About Abortion?

Guilt goes a long way to getting results. Any Catholic priest can tell you that. To say nothing of those of us who grew up under the yoke of Catholic guilt.

I cast off that yoke years ago and I’m better for it, but guilt, insidious as it is still has power over me. And I resent that in a big way. I think that’s why I cringe at the insistence of some within the feminist and prochoice movement to constantly hammer away at the idea of privilege and its inherent dangers.

March For Life flyer from St Paul Catholic High School and voting station

I received a Facebook reminder yesterday for the pro-choice presence on Parliament Hill in response to the annual bullshit March for Life. I read the list of issues contained in the message (colonialism, ageism, dis/ability rights, education) each stated as being a “reproductive justice issue”.

*heavy sigh*

What I’m about to say is not going to be popular.

*sharp intake of breath*

Sometimes I feel that the need to appear progressive, cloaked in a show of inclusiveness, overshadows and ultimately endangers what we’re really trying to accomplish.

There. I said it.

*release of breath*

The issue is abortion access. If you say you understand abortion access and lack thereof, you must, or at least you should, understand that it is those who lack privilege (in all its variations, orientations, identities and degrees therein) in our society who have the most to lose when abortion access is limited/eliminated. That says it all.

But that’s not what I’m witnessing of late.

Instead we see the real issue: abortion/choice/reproductive and bodily autonomy piled on and confused with other, no less important, issues.

As a movement, we cannot do it all. Indeed, we do an injustice to all concerned if we even try. We also alienate people who would like to join the cause but don’t dare because they are being lead to believe they take on the weight of the world if they do.

What we get- indeed what we have- is a fractious group who are incapable of the focus required to move the issue of abortion forward. The resulting vacuum of coherence and over-arching vision in turn gets filled by right-wing zealots who do have the focus, and who organize effectively enough to rally a vote for a Conservative majority. They have a coherent vision, and it’s now frighteningly within their reach.

There is no doubt that the feminist movement of the past got many things wrong, not the least of which was a lack of inclusiveness and more than a smidge of elitism. This is indisputable. But have we so little faith in ourselves as progressive people and in the evolution of our movement that we need to constantly make a show of listing the marginalized?

Frankly, I find it beyond tacky.

We can be allies (a word I avoid because we are NOT at war and we minimize those affected by war when we use it), we can represent a myriad of voices, and we can welcome all into the fold and- here’s a novel idea- have them speak for themselves.

What we cannot do is misrepresent what we’re actually about. We have done exactly this and to the detriment of women’s lives. Guilt is a powerful thing, but it rarely brings about real change.

Only hard work can do that.

Running With Mo

I’m in a running rut. It’s been the better part of a year since I’ve run with any consistency, but I call myself a runner just the same. Despite an inauspicious running debut (I took up the sport out of spite but that’s another blog post), running has been a part of my life since 1996. I’m still running 15 years later, but today I run for me.

I’ve run at home in Cape Breton and through a frigid and equally glorious Arctic winter. I’m pretty slow but my stamina is quite good. Running has been the constant in my life through career changes, cross-country moves, pregnancies, injury and baby open-heart surgeries. It has brought me more than I ever thought possible, including friendship and my “outing” as a pro-choice feminist.

When our first-born was nine months old, I joined a Strollercize group. One of the other moms running was a feisty red-head who I’ll call Mo. Mo seemed no-nonsense, confident and strong. She was…cool. I liked her instantly and made it my business to get to know her. We kept running. We soon learned we were both recovering Catholics and both staunchly pro-choice. We ran our first 10k race together. We became friends.

My own pro-life hypocrisy had met a glorious end in 1991 when I chose an abortion when faced with an unintended pregnancy. My pro-choice education came in waves and my feminist philosophy evolved as the years passed. I knew in my heart that I would some day commit myself to a cause that was close to me and related to feminist issues. Sexual assault? Too close for comfort. Childhood sexual abuse? Ditto. Abortion? Possibly, but at what cost? People who advocate for reproductive freedom paint a set of cross-hairs on themselves. I didn’t think I had the courage to take on that fight.

Then I met that feisty red-head.

She had a few years on me and she had spent many of them dedicated to this very issue. She invited me to join her and her friends in the fight for reproductive access in Canada. I didn’t hesitate. Fate had found me and who was I to argue?

It’s been almost eight years since she and I first met. We still run together when life craziness allows. Our kids play together. She has been a great friend and she has been a mentor. She’s moving away in a few days (for only two years, thankfully) so it’ll be a while until we run together again. Ottawa Race Weekend 2013 sounds like as good a time as any, wouldn’t you say, Mo?

I’ll be getting back into running in the next little while. I plan to kick things up a notch with a fitness coach to help me cross-train more effectively and safely. It’ll be tough but the incentive is strong.  I have an important running date to keep, after all.

See you in two years, my friend!