The XX Factor

Shame Is the Price of Choice?

There are a few things people even start to say that are guaranteed to get under my skin within milliseconds. “You know, Avatar was pretty entertaining,” “Say what you will, but Rush has a great drummer, ” or “I’ve been studying tantric sex.” But my shoulders really start to tense up when I hear, “I’m pro-choice, but … .” What follows that “but” is 99 percent guaranteed to be egregiously sexist, a suggestion that huge numbers of women wait eight months and abort for the hell of it or that women prefer to have their uteruses vacuumed out instead of taking a pill or that you should feel ashamed-or at least act like it. And that’s what I got off this guilt-tripping “I’m pro-choice, but … ” whine written by Mary Ann Sorrentino .

In this case, what follows the “but” is twofold: that a woman who has an abortion should take on the stance of a woman ashamed, and that to prove that she takes the right very seriously, she should have invasive sterilization surgery. Or, at least, one woman in particular, Angie Jackson , the woman who blogged and tweeted and YouTubed her RU-486 abortion to much media and anti-choice outcry. Sorrentino detects a whiff of uppitiness in this young woman, and she’s ready to lay down some judgment.

For someone who lays claim to feminist history, Sorrentino sure is ready to engage in two of the most sexist tropes around in order to shame Angie for having an abortion and talking about it in public. She demands that Jackson get herself sterilized if she doesn’t want any more children, which, of course, is the classic sexist idea (used to justify abortion bans, no less) that perfect strangers know better how to use a woman’s reproductive system than she does. (I don’t want children, so I suppose Sorrentino probably thinks I’m an ungrateful wretch because I don’t immediately offer my stomach to be sliced open for sterilization.) And she shames Jackson for having ambition, holding her nose while suggesting that Angie might be angling for a book deal . Heaven forbid! Feminists didn’t fight and bleed in order to give their daughters a world where we could do things men do without apology, such as write books about our experiences or get a fair wage for our work, right?

The irony here should not be lost on anyone who knows the history of the abortion-rights movement in this country. For all that Sorrentino wrings her hands about how the right to privacy incurs an obligation to hang your head and shut up about your experiences, the reality looks a lot more like, well, what Angie Jackson did. Which is to argue for the right to abortion through story-telling. Feminists took the secret of abortion out of the closet and spoke openly about theirs at consciousness-raising meetings or bombarded government meetings about abortion and demanded that women with direct experiences with abortion speak. Putting a face on the women who have abortions made it easier to realize what people forget nowadays, that it’s your neighbors, your friends, your sister, your mom-and that if you’ve had one, you’re not alone. Even Sorrentino cannot escape this history while shaming a woman for speaking out; she references stories of women’s experiences with abortion while shaming a woman for speaking of her experience with abortion! And that’s on top of publishing an article shaming another woman for wanting to publish a book.