Feminism

Respecting choice: making our minds up for us?

I was stunned and amazed to catch up with the news this week to find out that Nadine Dorries has proposed a bill in parliament that makes it more difficult for women to make their own minds up. It has become clear that some of the people who represent us are taking their personal agendas and making them a national issue. Recently, with the civil unrest, this has become more prolific and panicky than ever, and evidence appears that not everyone agrees with what they are saying

I didn’t openly comment on the riots around the UK recently because the issues that ’cause’ such civil unrest are so complex that if I had, I would have, like many of those who did play the blame game and accused minorities who they personally dislike for their own bigoted reasons, looked stupid. The favorite ‘reason’ people took to the streets and looted shops was single parents, or, more soundbitey, ‘fatherless families’, followed closely lack of discipline, presumably cause by lack of fathers.

Sidestepping the issue of everyone having a biological father, and divorce being more common than ever, there seems to be a common theme here between the anti-abortion lobby and the fatherless family brigade. It seems that, according to them, women are both incapable of deciding if they want to have a baby, and also of how to parent a child.

Lobbying for more counselling (from an anti-abortion influenced organisation), Dorries has implied that women who make a personal decision to have an abortion must now go through the extra turmoil of having someone who opposes their views trying to talk them out of it, because clearly being assessed and signed off by two qualified doctors is not enough. Having an abortion is not a lifestyle choice for most women. It’s not like deciding what to make for dinner of which dress to buy. It’s a hard thought-through, necessary decision they have made for their own life. It’s really difficult to see how adding more time and discussion and potentially restrictive dialogue to process that finds a woman deciding to terminate a pregnancy will help the situation.

The problem here is in a power dynamic where those who feel that they are somehow superior to others due to personal beliefs feel that they must impose their will on those who choose to do something else, in this case women who are left in an impossible situation. Some would call it oppression, but in everyday life, it’s easy to nod and smile as someone of this irk spouts their opinions as if it were fact, then privately make our own decision about if we agree or not. However, when an elected representative publicly declares that they want to change the law in an extreme way that will restrict the choice of half of the population, alarm bells start to ring.

It seems that the panic is over, in any case, and Dorries’ bill will be opposed by senior cabinet members. It took a while, but eventually after lots of hard clenching and thinking, they made the connection that if abortions are reduced, then ‘fatherless families’ will increase, and that, in fact, abortion is a responsible decision by women, yes, women, who are managing their own lives. Doh.

So, onwards now, as our leader has now informed us that ‘We have got to do better at bringing up our children and instilling discipline in school’. I think he’s talking about that idyllic worlds he imagines, where two point four children are going to a lovely school in a leafy suburb, and where order is regained by giving each rosy cheeked child a star chart to complete when they have been a good boy or girl. He isn’t thinking about those with no job, no choice, no hope and therefore no respect because they aren’t so easy to fix with an outcome bar chart, or a couple of tick box surveys.

There is no easy solution to the problems that have arisen. They certainly aren’t solely the fault of continuously politically bullied single parents, and trying to control the situation by keep repeating catchy, right-wing, unevidenced phrases, but doing nothing practical is not going to help. A first step would be to realize that single parenthood usually arises because, at some time after the birth of a child, the other parent leaves or dies. It is not a premeditated decision made by most couples, to have children then separate, or die. The problem here is in the idealistic adherence to the traditional family, and the refusal to recognize the postmodern family structures of this millennium. Further, even in the bygone days of traditional family structure, when people were too afraid to divorce and lived unhappily for years, abortion (usually backstreet abortions where lots of women died) and civil unrest still occurred.

I sincerely hope that somewhere in some university or government department, someone is asking the people who rioted and looted shops why they did it. This is not an easy task, it would have to be done in a way that diffuses that power dynamics of the person asking the question to get the answer, but what we desperately need to know is why that person picked up a paving slab and threw it through a window, or set fire to a shop. At the moment, the government appears as an out-of-touch elderly father hidden behind the pages of an up-market broadsheet, who is telling his hoodie wearing son not to smoke in the house, whilst the son holds a smouldering joint behind his back and says, ‘I won’t dad, I won’t.’