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  • Abortion and misogyny


    by Rumbold
    19th May, 2008 at 5:38 pm    

    In the debate over the abortion laws, a number of commentators have labelled attempts to tighten the law as misogynistic, since it will decrease the control a woman has over her own body. This might well be true, but abortion can also help to reinforce misogynistic attitudes. Many families around the world have a preference for a boy over a girl, whether because of the superior strength of the average male, dowry costs, the desire to carry on the family name, or because of one-child policies. Abortion, combined with improved ultrasound scanning, has resulted in tens of millions of female foetuses being aborted because of their gender. China and India both have 107 men for every 100 women, while Pakistan has 108 men to every 100 women. The treatment of women as second-class citizens thus begins in the womb.

    I don’t think that the average member of the ‘Coalition for Choice’ knowingly endorses these sort of misogynistic attitudes, nor would restricting abortion help in this matter, but for those who talk unreservedly about the ‘right to choose’, ask yourselves what is the difference between aborting a foetus because you don’t want a baby and aborting a foetus because of its gender? I would be interested to know the dividing line, if there is even one.


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    Filed in: Current affairs,Sex equality






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    1. Amrit — on 19th May, 2008 at 6:09 pm  

      I don’t think the two are that similar (re the abortion by choice / abortion over gender debate)… I would say that most non-brainwashed women in India and China would be happy to have a child, no matter what sex it was, and that it is largely the in-laws (and sometimes the husband) who make them abort.

      Of course, I don’t speak for everyone.

      ‘This might well be true, but abortion can also help to reinforce misogynistic attitudes.’

      I think it would be clearer to say that ‘Abortion is used to reinforce misogynistic attitudes.’ We give the act meaning, it doesn’t have it of itself. You kinda sound anti-abortion with that phrase!

      On a side note: MORE WOMEN IN THE ABORTION DEBATE! There’s so many men and women who seem to wish they were men secretly (Nadine Dorries, evil mothers-in-law in India and China) ruling the debate. They need to foutre le camp and let in people who’ve actually been through it - they can’t be that hard to find. Pardon my French.

    2. Amrit — on 19th May, 2008 at 6:12 pm  

      ‘I would say that most non-brainwashed women in India and China would be happy to have a child,’

      Of course, except for the women who don’t want to be mothers and probably never even wanted to get married. Their mindset is probably a lot messier. They tend to grow up into the sort of women who think it’s ‘noble’ to kill their daughters because they’re doing them a favour, or into evil mothers-in-law.

    3. Dave Cole — on 19th May, 2008 at 6:15 pm  

      It’s an interesting thought, but I think that you may be putting the cart before the horse. The advancement of women’s rights - which includes, in part, access to abortion - also removes some of the social preferences that makes it less economically attractive to have a daughter than a son.

      The treatment of women as second-class citizens does not ‘begin in the womb’; rather, it pervades society and is there all the time as it is, by definition, not specific to individual women but general to all women.

      xD.

    4. Katy Newton — on 19th May, 2008 at 6:50 pm  

      China and India both have 107 men for every 100 women, while Pakistan has 108 men to every 100 women.

      And yet I am still single.

      No, but seriously, it never fails to amaze me that so many people haven’t picked up that if you make a habit of aborting female foetuses you’re sort of setting yourself up for serious problems a bit further down the line…

    5. Rumbold — on 19th May, 2008 at 7:34 pm  

      Amrit:

      “I don’t think the two are that similar (re the abortion by choice / abortion over gender debate)… I would say that most non-brainwashed women in India and China would be happy to have a child, no matter what sex it was, and that it is largely the in-laws (and sometimes the husband) who make them abort.”

      Well, I haven’t done a survey so I couldn’t say for sure, but I suspect that some of the women who abort for gender reasons do so not because of pressure, but because they believe that it is the right thing to do. They are, as you say, brainwashed.

      “I think it would be clearer to say that ‘Abortion is used to reinforce misogynistic attitudes.’ We give the act meaning, it doesn’t have it of itself. You kinda sound anti-abortion with that phrase!”

      I am not anti-abortion, but abortion is in itself a tool for getting rid of someone or something in the womb. Therefore I don’t think that there is an appreciable difference between your language and mine.

      Dave Cole:

      “It’s an interesting thought, but I think that you may be putting the cart before the horse. The advancement of women’s rights - which includes, in part, access to abortion - also removes some of the social preferences that makes it less economically attractive to have a daughter than a son.”

      I agree that more rights for women means that girls are a more attractive option then before. Perversely, the gender bias up to now should also make women more valuable, as males will have to compete for them. However, I would not include abortion in that analysis, as males and females are not in competition in that sphere. That is not to say that I do not welcome greater abortion rights for women in developing countries though.

      “The treatment of women as second-class citizens does not ‘begin in the womb’; rather, it pervades society and is there all the time as it is, by definition, not specific to individual women but general to all women.”

      Then it does begin in the womb, because that is the start of life.

      Katy:

      “And yet I am still single.”

      Heh. There’s no accounting for taste.

    6. Shuggy — on 19th May, 2008 at 7:43 pm  

      Another good post - you’re nae daft. I have to say as someone unsure about this issue but leaning to a more conservative position than most liberals, I find the attempts to pigeon-hole those favouring a reduction in the abortion time-limit as right-wing/misogynistic/motivated by religiosity/concealing a desire to ban all abortion off-putting in the extreme. One point on which I’d take issue with in your post - and it’s when you refer to an abortion ‘debate’. I think it’s questionable whether there’s a debate at all. I’m wondering if ‘rights’ are the most appropriate language in which to tackle this issue because at present all we have is two sets of people taking absolutist positions between which there are no mutually-contested concepts. The net result is that you get two camps screeching at each other. It’s not only unhelpful; it’s inappropriate when dealing with such an emotive and painful issue.

    7. Dalbir — on 19th May, 2008 at 8:19 pm  

      I’ve always wondered if the expensive weddings expected by the bridegroom’s family is a major factor in the situation on the subcontinent?

      The situation is sad and as someone pointed out earlier, communities doing this fail to realise how this will impact on them a few generations down the line. In effect they are sowing the seeds of their own destruction.

      I would be interested in establishing exactly what factors result in the environment which makes female foeticide take place. What exactly makes people feel girls are burdens?

    8. Dave Cole — on 19th May, 2008 at 11:59 pm  

      Rumbold,

      I’m afraid I didn’t explain myself very well.

      “I agree that more rights for women means that girls are a more attractive option then before. Perversely, the gender bias up to now should also make women more valuable, as males will have to compete for them.”

      Only from the point of view of the offspring. In these traditional societies that we are discussing, women attract a dowry and are expected to leave the parental home and live with the groom. This is a triple financial penalty; the dowry must be raised, the investment in the child is lost and there is less prospect for the child being able to support the parents in their old age.

      “However, I would not include abortion in that analysis, as males and females are not in competition in that sphere.”

      In that sphere, no, but in the necessarily consequent sphere, yes.

      “Then it [sexism] does begin in the womb, because that is the start of life.”

      No. Sexism is present before, continuously during, after and irrespective of a girl’s life. The sexism is not specifically against a particular girl and so cannot be said to begin at any point in time, including conception, attached to that girl’s life. It is a general phenomenon.

      Shuggy,

      “I find the attempts to pigeon-hole those favouring a reduction in the abortion time-limit as right-wing/misogynistic/motivated by religiosity/concealing a desire to ban all abortion off-putting in the extreme.”

      I would certainly not try to pigeon-hole people in that way and I don’t think I have. In the past, I’ve been criticised for standing up and saying that, even though I don’t agree with them, there are legitimate reasons for opposing abortion. What I and some other bloggers and commentators take real issue with is when Ms Dorries - the only person who has come in for real opprobrium - deliberately and consistently prevent falsehood as evidence and conjecture as fact.

      For what it’s worth, I think there is screeching on both sides of the debate; there is also rationality and argument. Don’t let the former obscure the latter!

      xD.

      xD.

    9. Refresh — on 20th May, 2008 at 12:00 am  

      Rumbold, it is not a question of choice per se. Its one of economics.

      In certain cultures their used to be a higher economic value for men than women and yet there are other cultures where this is switched. And both these cultures thrive within hundreds of miles of each other. Tibet and India for example.

      In Tibet, I understand that a woman can have more than one husband for example. The reason: more men to work on the family farm.

      And I am sure there are certain parts of India where a a widow is taken in by her husband’s brother whether already married or not. It is about survival.

      Infanticide as a part of family planning is not new. And almost always this would be baby girls. Callous though it sounds - that’s how it used to be. But we, some of us developed, and see it for what it is. Bloody Despair.

      The only difference now is that we are skilled enough to control the birth cycle. People get rid of their children at an earlier stage, and in clinical surroundings. And why do they do it? Eco-bloody-nomics.

      The rest have lifestyle issues.

    10. Sunny — on 20th May, 2008 at 1:51 am  

      What? You’re creating a bizarre choice here.

      Obviously I don’t support the right of families in India to indulge in infanticide… and that is also based on the view that women are worth less than men. As Dave says - the first problem is a society where women and their choices are worth less than that of men.

      There’s no point trying to counter the pro-choice argument with some examples from India.

      On the issue of abortion, David Aranovitch rightly takes them to task here:
      http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/david_aaronovitch/article3964956.ece

      On Liberal Conspiracy we’ve already shown the mixture of bad science, links to right-wing Christian evangelical groups and hoaxes that are part of the campaign being waged by the Tories.

      Argument has been won. Anyone still unconvinced by the status quo needs their head checked.

    11. Rumbold — on 20th May, 2008 at 12:40 pm  

      Shuggy:

      “One point on which I’d take issue with in your post - and it’s when you refer to an abortion ‘debate’. I think it’s questionable whether there’s a debate at all. I’m wondering if ‘rights’ are the most appropriate language in which to tackle this issue because at present all we have is two sets of people taking absolutist positions between which there are no mutually-contested concepts.”

      There are elements of a debate in there- some of us are actually trying to work out the optimum level that the abortion limit should be set at. I do agree though that increasingly, abortion is being debated in the same manner as in the US, which means that there is not much of a debate at all.

      Dave Cole:

      “Only from the point of view of the offspring. In these traditional societies that we are discussing, women attract a dowry and are expected to leave the parental home and live with the groom. This is a triple financial penalty; the dowry must be raised, the investment in the child is lost and there is less prospect for the child being able to support the parents in their old age.”

      I understood what you meant- what I meant was that hopefully the position on dowry and suchlike would start to change as women become scarce commodities; supply and demand.

      “No. Sexism is present before, continuously during, after and irrespective of a girl’s life. The sexism is not specifically against a particular girl and so cannot be said to begin at any point in time, including conception, attached to that girl’s life. It is a general phenomenon.”

      I agree that sexism is present throughout a girl’s life, and I wasn’t trying to argue that if women didn’t have gender-related abortions then there would be no sexism. But girls are discriminated against, even before they are born.

      Refresh:

      Interesting example from Tibet- I did not realise that.

      “Infanticide as a part of family planning is not new. And almost always this would be baby girls. Callous though it sounds - that’s how it used to be. But we, some of us developed, and see it for what it is. Bloody Despair.

      The only difference now is that we are skilled enough to control the birth cycle. People get rid of their children at an earlier stage, and in clinical surroundings. And why do they do it? Eco-bloody-nomics.

      The rest have lifestyle issues.”

      I agree that before widespread abortion there were plenty of cases of female infanticide. Sadly, there are a number of women who can afford to bring up females (as shown by their ability to pay for ultrasounds), who still choose to abort girls.

      Sunny:

      “What? You’re creating a bizarre choice here.

      Obviously I don’t support the right of families in India to indulge in infanticide.”

      Now I am confused. You don’t support the right of women to abort because of gender reasons, but you don’t think that women in this country should be required to give any reasons why they choose to abort. I never mentioned infanticide, I was talking about aborting a foetus because of its gender. What is the difference between aborting a foetus because of its sex and aborting a fetus because you don’t want a baby?

      “Argument has been won. Anyone still unconvinced by the status quo needs their head checked.”

      “Sunny to the left of them, Nadine to the right, into the valley of death rode doubt and debate.”

    12. Sid — on 20th May, 2008 at 12:52 pm  

      What is the difference between aborting a foetus because of its sex and aborting a fetus because you don’t want a baby?

      The bigger your sample size the more likely it would approach 50%.

    13. Rumbold — on 20th May, 2008 at 1:10 pm  

      Sid:

      But what is the moral difference?

    14. Sid — on 20th May, 2008 at 1:19 pm  

      Entirely inequivalent. I agree with you that there is no defensible moral reason why a female foetus should be aborted simply because it is the ‘wrong’ sex. But a foetus may be aborted for circumstances which cannot be addressed by a blanket law that rules against it.

    15. Rumbold — on 20th May, 2008 at 1:24 pm  

      Sid:

      I agree that you cannot have a law that bans abortions on the grounds of gender- it would be unworkable. My question was why is it okay to staunchly support the right of women to abort for whatever reason, apart from gender.

    16. Refresh — on 20th May, 2008 at 1:54 pm  

      ‘I agree that before widespread abortion there were plenty of cases of female infanticide. Sadly, there are a number of women who can afford to bring up females (as shown by their ability to pay for ultrasounds), who still choose to abort girls.’

      I may have sounded as if I supported abortion. I do not. I was trying to relate how the wool is pulled over our eyes.

      On the whole its dark practises in a modern setting.

      There is no difference to me that it is done pre or post birth. The fact that its couched in a language of Choice is a disgrace.

      As for my comment about it being a lifestyle issue, it relates to the general concept of rights, responsibilities and consequences.

    17. kELvi — on 20th May, 2008 at 3:04 pm  

      The adverse gender ratio in India and China is a result selective abortion and infanticide. But not so in the case of Pakistan. Because as a rule conservative Islamic communities do not, as a rule, permit female abortions/infanticide. When I last checked Pakistan had better basic health indicators - infant female survival, infant mortality, maternal morbidity, teenage and adult female wight and incidence of anemia - for females than India. There must be other factors at work.

    18. Sunny — on 20th May, 2008 at 4:34 pm  

      What is the difference between aborting a foetus because of its sex and aborting a fetus because you don’t want a baby?

      This is a silly question. The difference is that in the first case they are aborting (actually in India its illegal for doctors to tell you the sex of the baby for this reason, hence most female babies are killed once born) because society undervalues women. Its because the culture has devalued women to the extent that having a woman can sometimes be a source of shame and financial hardship.

      The women who abort in this country do not do so for the same reasons. Intention is important here.

    19. Refresh — on 20th May, 2008 at 5:43 pm  

      ‘because society undervalues women’

      And men gravely undervalue themselves. Not just over there but here too.

      For a just society men and women have to value themselves before all else.

    20. marvin — on 20th May, 2008 at 7:11 pm  

      I still feel sick after visiting Cranmer blog. The polemic is just so base it’s sick sick sick.

    21. Don — on 20th May, 2008 at 7:18 pm  

      Marvin,

      Personally I find the oleaginous sycophancy the most nauseating aspect of that blog.

    22. Rumbold — on 21st May, 2008 at 7:35 pm  

      Sunny:

      The intention is different, but the effect is the same.

    23. Sunny — on 21st May, 2008 at 10:53 pm  

      Marvin - what did you expect? A sense of proportion? Sense? Please. The Tory right lost that on social issues about…. 50 years ago.

    24. Sunny — on 21st May, 2008 at 10:54 pm  

      The intention is different, but the effect is the same.

      Well the effect is different too because women are barred from infanticide here - which they practice openly in many parts of India, hence the very lopsided stats.

      I’ve made my position clear on either issues - firstly we need a more equal society where men and women are valued equally. Secondly the state should not be telling women what to do with their bodies.

      What else is there to argue about?

    25. Amrit — on 22nd May, 2008 at 11:31 am  

      I have no survey results either, unfortunately, I’m just speaking from family experience.

      Somebody really needs to do an article on the problem we have within the British Asian community where women have to (more or less) abase themselves completely and become completely servile if they want to attract a man ‘from here’. Otherwise, the men just head off to India to get themselves a slave-bride, and everything’s OK!

      I don’t know how bad this issue is, but I’m pretty sure it’s worthy of attention.

    26. Jess — on 23rd May, 2008 at 12:19 am  

      But this has nothing to do with the right to choose, and the problem cannot be tackled by restricting access to abortion. And even when this practice of gender-screening is illegal, it still happens.

      The solution must be more profound - to tackle the patriarchal, sexist ideas that run so deep in societies. That is the cause of abortions to select sex, not access to abortion. You might say the same about women who cannot afford to bring up a child - tackle the poverty, the inequality and injustice, don’t stop her being able to access the abortion.

      Indeed, challenging women’s right to choose on these grounds can only contribute to the prevailing misogyny which is causing all this in the first place.

      And, I might add, it’s feminists and the pro-choice activists you’re criticising who are making those arguments about ingrained sexism loudly and strongly.

      (Apologies if these points have been made already, I haven’t been able to read through all the comments)

    27. Rumbold — on 23rd May, 2008 at 9:43 pm  

      Jess:

      “But this has nothing to do with the right to choose, and the problem cannot be tackled by restricting access to abortion. And even when this practice of gender-screening is illegal, it still happens.”

      I acknowledged that this problem couldn’t be solved by resricting abortion rights. My question was what is the moral difference between killing a foetus because of its gender and killing it because you don’t want a baby. The end result is the same.

      “Indeed, challenging women’s right to choose on these grounds can only contribute to the prevailing misogyny which is causing all this in the first place.”

      So criticising the abortion of foetus on gender grounds is anti-female?

      “And, I might add, it’s feminists and the pro-choice activists you’re criticising who are making those arguments about ingrained sexism loudly and strongly.”

      Some are. Others seem more concerned about getting into the Carlton Club, or a pay gap that may or may not exist.

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