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An Open Letter to White Women*
*white cis women, probably straight, but all of us white queer AFAB folks could benefit from this too...
Dear white cis women,
When my person told me the results of the 2016 US election the morning after the vote, we held each other and cried. Our tears were not of shock, nor dismay. They did not hold any surprise at all. We knew it was a possibility. We’d both known it since the results of the Brexit referendum in the UK.
I personally had an inkling of a rise of fascism even before that, even if I hadn’t been able to name it then (insert cliché about hindsight here). Within the first year of living in London in 2010, I knew that if any English political party in the UK ran on a platform for leaving the EU, they would do phenomenally well. It was obvious to me even if at the time I didn’t understand what the implications of that were.
By the time the 2016 US election rolled around my political and social awareness had grown vastly. In the weeks leading up to it, I wanted to hope that the wealthy white cis male and sexual predator wouldn’t take the presidency. Maybe, just maybe, things had come along some way since Thomas Jefferson, y’know?
It was a slim hope.
I cried and held my person and wondered about how safe we would be over the next four years. Not because we were particularly safe already but because whatever legal and social protections my social circle of queer and trans and Black and Asian and Indigenous and immigrant friends had were hard won and only very recent in the historical arc of justice.
The thing about the leaked opinion from the US Supreme Court, is that it is not a surprise.
Reproductive justice and bodily autonomy have been threatened since the dawn of civilization. This is not just a US issue. This is a global issue, the roots of which can be traced back along lines of colonialism, patriarchy, and religious pedagogy.
The thing about the leaked opinion from the US Supreme Court, is that access to safe abortions has always been possible even when governing bodies have made it illegal.
People with uteruses have always found ways not to be forced to carry pregnancies they don’t want. Obviously, making it illegal makes it harder to find safe ways to go about it and opens up opportunities for exploitation and opportunism, but as the refrain goes, abortions will happen regardless of whether they are legal or not.
The thing about the leaked opinion from the US Supreme Court is that what is legal or illegal isn’t about what is just.
Legal abortion doesn’t equate to safe or accessible abortion. “Legal” just means there won’t be fines and jail times added to something that already carries huge stigma due to those aforementioned long running roots of social oppression. Regardless of it’s legal status, abortion can be inaccessible due to someone’s financial situation, disability, race, and location. I’ve heard enough abortion stories to know that not all abortion experiences are created equal—I’ve heard descriptions of clinics in a post Roe V. Wade world that sound as terrifying as any “back-alley” abortion story from the 40s.
I also know that forced sterilization is not something relegated to history books. It still happens and it happens in so-called ‘Western’ civilization as much as anywhere else, particularly if you are impoverished, Black, Indigenous or disabled.
Disabled folks are the least likely to be able to get access to the support they need around sexual and reproductive health1. In fact, when it comes to abortion, plenty of Disabled folks will be able to tell you that the existence of disability seems to be the one time when the most adamant forced birther suddenly change their tune.
As attitudes towards wearing masks and getting vaccinated have shown, eugenics is alive and well2.
This isn’t to say I didn’t find the leaked opinion upsetting. Of course it’s upsetting. But like the 2016 election, what I find upsetting is the inability of so many people to understand the larger context and implications. And by ‘so many people’, I mean so many white people, especially white women.
Here’s the thing:
Abortion as a human right has never impacted people equally.
The obvious example is that a lot of people without uteruses sure have a lot of shitty opinions on something that they can never and will never experience. Opinions that, unfortunately, shape policy and laws impacting the lives and available choices of living, breathing human beings with uteruses.
The less obvious example, if you haven’t grown awareness of white supremacy as a system, is that people with uteruses do not experience this issue in the same way.
I have absolutely zero risk of pregnancy3. Whether abortion is legal or not doesn’t really factor into my world on a personal level, aside from the fact that I do not want children and the idea of being forced to give birth is terrifying to me.
Whether abortion is accessible or not, and to what degree and for whom? That does affect me. Because I have plenty of people in my life of all genders whom I care about and love deeply. I want them to be able to live the lives of their choosing. This means I will do anything I can to ensure access to safe abortions to anyone who chooses one. It also means I consider the power my words have in this social conversation, and the nuance I might be able to bring to it, particularly for other white people who haven’t necessarily thought through who should be doing what in response to this leaked opinion.
Which is to say, to white cis women in particular:
March if that feels like what you gotta do. But don’t tell anyone else that they have to take the same action as you. Especially if they are a person of colour, particularly if they are Black or Indigenous and/or disabled.
The police have proven time and again that they have no qualms about violently attacking wheelchair users, Black women, and Indigenous elders. As a white cis woman, you are actually the most likely to be taken into custody gently,4 if at all.
And if your protest doesn’t require masks and isn’t in an accessible space? Then there is absolutely no reason why any Disabled folks should or would show up.
And that’s fine.
Because the further away from the societal ‘default’ setting of white and abled and straight and cis and male a person is, the more likely it is that they’re already fighting for bodily autonomy and reproductive and sexual justice. Odds are, they were born fighting for it, because it was always obvious in the community they were born into that it was being withheld by people5 who benefit from denying basic human rights and dignity to others.
What disabled, Black, brown, Asian women are doing in response to the leaked opinion is not for white women to dictate. It’s a real bad look, in fact. A racist one, you could say6.
Trust me on this, if your take is to tell other people where they should be putting their bodies, then it’s worth taking some time to consider the larger conversation that is often missed when we talk about abortion. The issue of abortion is a lot bigger than whether one person has the choice to terminate a pregnancy or not. The issue of abortion is part of a larger conversation about a human being’s right to bodily autonomy.
This is about disabled people being able to choose where they live and who they have relationships with and if they have children or not without being institutionalized, sexually assaulted, forced into sterilization or forced to give up a child for adoption.
This is about trans folks being able to access gender affirming care the same way a cis woman can access a breast enlargement and hormones or a cis man can get a prescription for testosterone.
This is about Indigenous women reclaiming their Nationhood after it was taken away by genocidal government policy so their children can be connected with their Nation and culture.
This is about Black, Indigenous and Latinx women getting the same level of care and consideration during a pregnancy as white cis women get.
This is about people impoverished by the billionaires who exploit them being able to feed and cloth their children and have access to childcare and contraception on their own terms.
This is what choice means.
So if you are yelling at a Black woman or a disabled woman or an Asian woman for not joining your protest?
You aren’t part of the solution, babe.
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So many global references and citations for this statement. This is one of those times when I suggest you do some research. Get onto that search engine and start looking around. There is no where on the planet where this isn’t an issue. A few starting points for you, if you’re unsure of where to begin, are this report from Scotland, this article from the American Constitutional Society, and this study on the care and outcomes for Disabled people having babies in Ontario.
Massive gratitude to Imani Barbarin for her informative videos and reflections on the subject of healthism and societal minimization of the death of a human being because that person was also disabled, as if disabled lives have less value. Also, there are some great academic articles on this subject, including this piece out of Harvard, this look at the Anti-Mask movement, and this Hiding in Plain Sight piece.
If you don’t count the statistical likelihood of a cis man deciding to rape me. Also, fun fact, there are no citations on men who rape. We have all the numbers on the likelihood of someone being raped, all of which are alarmingly high, but no studies on who is doing all the raping. HOW INTERESTING.
This is an example of how, as a white woman, you can use your privilege. It is unlikely, if you are arrested, that you will face the same repercussions and fall out as a Black or brown person of any gender.
*cough* White, abled, straight cis people, usually men, but also women. *cough*
And that is what I’m saying. If you have even thought that non-white women aren’t doing enough, that’s racism and you got work to do. BUT GOOD NEWS: Admitting it is the first step! Now that you have accepted that actually, yes, you are complicit in the system, now you can next the next step and commit to being anti-racist, which is where the real work towards our collective liberation begins.