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Denial, Inequality, and Ignorance, Oh My

There’s a long piece I’ve been procrastinating on / working on for weeks (WokeBros™ Are Pushing Us Into A Republican Trap) , and now all this blows up. Maya Forstater’s judge with no judgement. JKRowling deciding enough is enough. By the time I push the “publish” button, this will be hours out of date and suitable for the Stone Ages.

Anyway, just some minor commentary which everyone else has already said too.

Mammalian sexes are not a spectrum. They are binary. There is the large gamete sex, female, and the small gamete sex, male. That’s it. There ain’t no more. Spergs and speggs don’t exist.

Earliest instance found: by Pinepalm on reddit.

Denying this biological reality is more la-la than being a Flat Earther. At least a Flat Earth *looks* plausible if you’re completely ignorant. Denying biological sex is denying how babies get made and that is something all of humanity is rather clear on. (Well, except for WokeBros™, male or female.) It’s much much much stupider than denying evolution or climate science since those require a minimal understanding of not-always-immediately-obvious evidence.

The usual refrain, including from some biologists, is “but, but clownfish!” Yes, there are clownfish. Yes, there’s sea lettuce (Ulva sp.) with identical sized gametes. Yes, some fungi have dozens of mating strains with very complex ways of producing the next generation. Invertebrate animals have all sorts of gametic flexibility. Even alligators and some birds have temperature-dependent sex ratios in their offspring.

Notice one thing about all of those? They are not mammals. Humans are mammals. We have none of that sexual diversity. In humans sex is binary. End of story.

Intersex individuals do not change that. They have chromosomal or developmental variants superimposed on the basic binary. Their secondary sexual characteristics can vary from the usual. Since everything except the production of egg or sperm is a secondary sexual characteristic, including organs like penis, vagina, or breasts, looks can be unrelated to genetics. That means without scientific tools, like karyotyping or DNA sequencing, the genetics is unknown.

The existence of variants does not turn sex into a spectrum any more than the existence of babies born without limbs means that there’s a spectrum of leg formation. Chimeric inheritance is a condition where two zygotes (fused egg and sperm) fuse together and develop as one individual. The cells derived from one of the two can be interspersed or more or less separate in different organ systems or even sides of the person. That can result in a very rare Difference of Sex Development (DSD) where there’s one ovary and one testicle in one body. (The two hormone systems interfere with each other during development, so there have been no documented cases of both systems being fertile.) In another situation, separation of one embryo into two may stop before completion and conjoined twins result. But the existence of developmental variants like chimerism or conjoined twins does not imply we’re all on a spectrum from one to multiple people.

Intersex individuals are uncommon. Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) is the commonest, at about 1.4% of live births. All the other forms combined come to 0.1%, one in a thousand, live births. CAH causes overproduction of hormones. Since a number of sex organs are developed from homologous embryonic tissues (clitoris – penis, outer labia – scrotum) overproduction during development can — does not always — alter external morphology to superficially resemble the opposite sex.

Chromosomal abnormalities, like XXY, or XYY, or XO, also change nothing about the sex binary. They either result in individuals indistinguishable from XX / XY without genetic testing, or in individuals who don’t reproduce but look and are treated as female or male. They have nothing to do with the desire to transition to some other social role.

To me, an interesting side note is XO, also known as 45X, aka Turner syndrome. Just one X chromosome results in a female-looking individual who is sterile. The second X has a role only in the formation of the female reproductive tract. One of the two Xs is eventually inactivated in each cell during development. The only function of the Y chromosome is to develop the variants on the female pattern that result in male reproduction. In other words, human society has been wrong about this for millenia. Male is not the default. Female is the default.

A chart of DSDs annotated to show their rarity and the point that about 75% of them are due to just one of the factors noted, congenital adrenal hyperplasia. (The original image is here, full size image here)

None of the above has anything to do with gender, which is the main concern of trans people. Gender is defined as the collection of character traits society decides belong to people based on their sex. Social constructs can be anything society decides — there’s no limit on alphabets, for instance. So if trans people want to invert or subvert or multiply genders, that’s up to them.

Which brings me to the other thing that made my jaw drop about this massive kerfuffle. When JKRowling made her extraordinarily obvious tweet:


the bad feelings engendered in some of the trans community were explained in a thread on Twitter.

@alicegoldfuss / ms claws is a protected account. This quote was in a comment by @jackstarbright / Amanda.

JKRowling’s points are “not actual support.”

Well, DUH. Of course they’re not. You’re not supporting me, you know. Nor do you have to. Neither do I have to support you. In a free society we all have equal rights and nobody gets to demand service from others. We just leave each other alone to live our lives as we want and as best we can.

It’s called equal rights. Not equal support. Who died and made you king of deciding who has to stand ready with support?

That attitude of expecting others to forget their own needs and support transwomen is so blitheringly smug and entitled, it’s mindboggling.

It also reminds me a lot of something I see out in the world all the time. Something like a class of people who seem to think women should always hover about fulfilling their needs…. It’s on the tip of my tongue…. But that can’t be right because the transwomen who have that attitude are quite sure they’re women.

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A crime of state and a crime against honor

It’s a crime even against the sort of honor there is supposed to be among thieves. It’s a crime Moscow Mitch can see. Lindsay –Lindsay!– Graham is revolted.

We all knew Agent Orange would try to foment war to distract from the law once it got close. But betraying military allies?

He’s the husk of a roach in a long slimming tie.

Abandoning our Kurdish allies would be the most egregious and craven foreign policy mistake since the appeasement of Hitler.

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The world’s most taboo subject

Do you remember this article from a couple of years back? It was big in the media for a few days. Want to fight climate change? Have fewer children.

Having a child contributes some thirty times as much to warming the planet as the next closest action an individual can take: living without a car.

Climate change impact of having a child: each one adds 58.6 tons of CO2 equivalents per year. Using a car adds 2.4 tCO2e per year.

And yet, amidst all the discussion of air travel and bicycling and electric vehicles, there’s a ban on mentioning population control.

Another example I came across recently was in a very encouraging article about greening the Sahel in Africa.

… {Farmers had a] cheap, effective way to regreen the Sahel. They did so by using simple water harvesting techniques and protecting trees that emerged naturally on their farms.

Garrity recalls walking through farms in Niger, fields of grains like millet and sorghum stretching to the sun planted around trees, anywhere from a handful to 80 per acre. “In most cases, the trees are in random locations because they sprouted and the farmer protected them and let them grow,” he says. [Depending on species] [t]he trees can be cut for fuel… They can be pruned for livestock fodder. Their leaves and fruit are nutritious.

One tree, Faidherbia albida, goes dormant during the wet season when most trees grow. When the rains begin, the trees defoliate, dropping leaves that fertilize the soil. Because they have dropped their leaves, the trees do not shade crops during the growing season. Their value had long been recognized by farmers….

[But] “He laments that work is moving too slowly. With the Sahel’s population doubling in 20 years, Reij says regreening needs to be finished within 10 to 15 years.”

He makes it sound as if this doubling is a great force beyond human influence, like a solar storm or a meteor strike. It’s not. It’s merely human reproduction. We’re helpless only because the subject is so untouchable it can’t even be said out loud.

What’s up with that?.

I think the answer lies in the two possible trajectories to control births.

One is coercive. China’s one child policy is perhaps the most famous recent example. Since women are the ones giving birth, you have to control women. You punish them if they have too many children. You enforce abortions on mothers. Or, if you’re a Nazi in the 1930s who wants lots of blond babies and no browner ones, you try to enforce a eugenics program on women. You sterilize gypsies or the disabled or Jews while giving “your” women the option to be incubators or nothing.

All those methods involve hideously totalitarian pre-emption of individual choice and body autonomy (like the supporters of forced pregnancy, but we’re more used to them so it doesn’t feel as outlandish). But on the bright side, they don’t require any changes to misogynist and patriarchal social systems.

The other trajectory is to give women control over their own reproduction. Wherever that is done, birth rates drop dramatically. They may not fall all the way to replacement levels, but they get much closer than any other method. Giving women control works, it works sustainably and long term.

But.

But it deprives society of its main tool to control all aspects of women’s lives. Your reliable producers of the next generation, your unpaid domestic servants and nannies and handholders and caregivers, gradually find other things to do with their lives. Members of the upper caste might have to do their own dishes. Your whole system falls apart.

And therein lies the rub. All our current problems are made much worse by overpopulation. Dealing with that requires treating women like human beings. Which gives the patriarchy the vapors.

So suddenly respect for medieval religions and medieval cultures make it impossible to promote birth control. They might be offended!

There’s not the same action-limiting respect when it comes to things that serve the caste system. Porn is all over the place even though the Pope disapproves. But breastfeeding is too avantgarde for the delicate sensibilities of men on Facebook. Nor is there ever equivalent concern that women object to being erased.

The discrepancy has a name. Sady Doyle wrote about it almost three years ago, Trump, Putin, Assange, and the politics of sexism. Supposedly all three are exponents of radically different systems, and yet they have a lizard brain-level understanding that they’re on the same side. Her focus is social and political effects, but the same allergy to anything kind or well-meaning is everywhere.

Recently, reactionaries have made The Misogyny of Climate Deniers obvious by their revolting comments against a 16 year old who’s done nothing except use the full weight of all the evidence to disagree with them.

The connection has to do with a sense of group identity under threat, … both by developing gender equality—Hultman pointed specifically to the shock some men felt at the #MeToo movement—and now climate activism’s challenge to their way of life, male reactionaries motivated by right-wing nationalism, anti-feminism, and climate denialism increasingly overlap, the three reactions feeding off of one another. … Climate change used to be a bipartisan concern, the first Bush senior presidency famously promising to tackle global warming. But as conservative male mockery of Thunberg and others shows, climate politics has quickly become the next big battle in the culture war—on a global scale.

Misogyny isn’t the only motivation of reactionaries. There’s greed and garden variety hatred in there, too, but misogyny is the core. It’s misogyny, not greed or racism or ordinary hatred, that makes men fear weakness more than anything. And fear of weakness is what ties together the worst of what they do.

They think strong man governments are a good idea. They like guns and “defence” — war, really, so long as somebody else dies in it. Peace is only tolerable “through strength.” The reactionaries are against anything that doesn’t shout big power. They like nukes because gigawatts! dangerous! The truth is that even building a new gigawatt nuke every two months from 2010 till 2050 would solve only a small part of climate change and energy needs. Meanwhile renewables could provide all our energy by 2050 for a fraction of the cost and without radioactive waste. But distributed power, whether that’s rooftop solar or real democracy, strikes reactionaries as la-la limp-wristed hippie crap. Likewise, restraint against environmental destruction is pathetic weakness in the face of hard choices.

And weakness is the worst thing you can show. They (“They”) come and take your man card away. It’s the only thing that gave you any standing and it’s gone.

That is a future so horrible it’s worth burning the world down to avoid it. It must never be spoken lest saying its name calls it forth.

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One of the endless raft of things that are Not On

You may have noticed that when it comes to trans rights, I’ve been hot and bothered about people casually stepping all over women as if they didn’t matter or even exist. I’ve also tried to be careful to say that transpeople should most definitely have all the same civil rights as all other people.

This falls into Category 2.

The Dumpsterfire’s administration has come up with some more codswallop:

An amicus brief filed by the Justice Department weighed in on two cases involving gay workers and what is meant by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination “because of sex.” The administration argued courts nationwide should stop reading the civil rights law to protect gay, lesbian, and bisexual workers from bias because it was not originally intended to do so. …

[I]t argued last week in a related brief against transgender rights, in which the Justice Department said companies should be able to fire people because they are transgender as well.

Next to concentration camps for children, losing jobs could be seen as a small potatoes human rights violation, but it is a human rights violation. It’s all cut from the same cloth of this horrific transnational crime syndicate of an Administration.

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Women’s physical and athletic abilities

[This started as a comment on a post about this topic. It’s since expanded.]

One of the side effects of all the discussion around including transwomen in women’s sports has been the regular repetition that women are slower and weaker and can’t compete with the male-bodied. I wanted to add a biologist’s view on that and then mention something I saw about ultramarathoners.

So I’ll start with women being smaller, weaker, and all the rest.

When I was young and foolish I once asked my biology teacher why it was that way. It seems to cause nothing but problems. She pointed out that female physiology and anatomy puts its first priority on producing the next generation. Take for instance menstruation. If you have that level of internal bleeding in any other organ, male or female, you’re in the emergency room. Women’s physiology can withstand it to the extent that some women can even run marathons at the same time.

Males, on the other hand, expend very little physical capital in producing the next generation. In nature’s cold calculations, that means they’re expendable. You don’t need very many of them and you’ll still have a next generation. The tribes that survived the most were the ones where males used that expendability in the service of the tribe: they did the dangerous jobs of defense against other people and wild animals. Obviously, for that task, you’ll last longer if you’re big, fast and strong.

But wouldn’t women last longer too, by the same logic, if they were big and fast and strong? No, for a very simple reason. All that muscle and large skeleton and higher basal metabolism takes calories to maintain. For most of human history, calories were in short supply.

A pregnant or nursing woman with male athletic abilities would have a physiology that required way more calories per day, on the order of over 4000, instead of the 3000 or so she needs if she’s woman-sized. Interestingly enough, athletic men have caloric requirements of around 3000 too.

So the system as evolution worked it out for us is that both sexes have similar peak needs and can survive under similar conditions. Some of the peak work they do differs, but the overall requirements are the same. That allows them to live together in groups, which has lots of survival value itself, instead of living like two different species that have different requirements.

As for the problems caused by strength differences, it’s worth remembering that from an evolutionary standpoint, no tribe would last very long if the bear-fighters in it decided to use their strength to damage the next generation instead of help it. Hurting the mothers of it does exactly that. Evolutionary biologists call that reduction in offspring “reducing evolutionary fitness,” and a very small reduction is enough to wipe out a species.

Misogyny is a luxury available only to rich species.

Point 1 is that women push their bodies and physical abilities to a level like that of elite athletes, with the difference that most women do childbirth and nursing, but plenty of men don’t put large demands on their bodies at all. The weakness people keep yammering on about is pretty much limited to a few specific activities that men excel in.

Point 2 is that the usual solution to significant differences in sporting ability is to segregate the participants into different classes. There are youth leagues and seniors’ events. There are eight (8!) classes in boxing separated by approximately eight pounds, just a bit over three and a half kilos. And there are men’s sports and women’s. Only in the latter case do some people claim that large differences in bone and muscle mass don’t matter. They’ve decided only testosterone levels must approach those found in women. That’s particularly odd given that, for instance, in a sport like boxing fighters will try to dehydrate themselves to pass as a lower weight class and then have the advantage of an extra few pounds of mass (not muscle, just water) during the fight itself.

It’s actually more than odd since scholarships, prize money, or college tuition can be at stake. Taking those away from women on grounds that aren’t applied in any male classes of sport smacks of misogyny.

And, last, point 3. The much-ballyhooed business of being weaker. Turns out that’s not true in some very demanding sports. Are women better ultra-endurance athletes than men? asks Sophie Williams.

“He [Dr Nicholas Tiller, a senior lecturer in applied physiology at Sheffield Hallam University] said that in ultra-endurance races, athletes are never working close to their maximum capacity. It is much more about peripheral conditioning, oxygen efficiency and mental toughness.” …

Fiona Oakes, an ultra-marathon runner and holder of four world records [said,]

“Certainly from when I’ve done races, women manage themselves in a completely different way,” she told the BBC.

Let’s see … tougher, better able to cope with emotions, more stamina … not your usual definition of “weaker,” is it?

Sometimes — well, all the time — I dream of a better world in which we’ve dropped all the stupid boxes nobody really fits in anyway. Instead, we’re in awe of the amazing diversity of strengths we have.

Fiona Kolbinger, winner, 2019 Transcontinental Race

Fiona Kolbinger, whose day job is cancer research, wins the 4000km 2019 Transcontinental (Europe) Race 10 hours ahead of the guy in second place. (Photographer unknown)

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One of these things is not like the others

This is a public service announcement? I don’t know. An announcement, anyway.

Start with the flatteningly obvious. Discrimination on the basis of sex, race, creed, national origin, age, weight, or sexual orientation is Not Okay. It’s not okay because it has no basis in fact. None of those characteristics is correlated in any way with anything that matters. (Yes, there is a boatload of excellent research supporting that point.) They are irrelevant. Discriminating on that basis does not work, in the sense of improving human life in any way.

Now continue with the equally obvious. Being transgender is also irrelevant to intelligence, kindness, or competence. Discriminating against transgender people in work, housing, education, or who can get married will also not improve anyone’s life in any way.

Let’s end with the one blindingly obvious difference. Sex does affect anything to do with biology, including medicine. Sex is a fact. Facts don’t care how you feel. Pretending otherwise changes exactly nothing. Hounding people for “transphobia” if they research the consequences of hormone therapy might get them fired, hounded, no platformed, or piled on [the Times article is behind a paywall], but it won’t change the resulting sterility, loss of orgasm, osteoporosis, stroke, and so on (pdf) through a list of side effects as long as your arm.

Sex also makes a difference in a world organized on a sexual caste system to exploit women’s labor and reproductive ability. Unlike biology, we can change society, and it would be great if we entered a new age of humankind where none of the gendered bullshit operated anymore.

We do not live in that world. Pretending otherwise does nothing but enable willful blindness to the injustice, and the people who suffer from that most immediately are women. Women can’t identify out of being raped or being underpaid. When those with a male developmental trajectory identify into women’s athletics and take the scholarships or money prizes, women can’t identify into a lifetime of enough testosterone to take the prizes back. Nor can female fetuses identify out of being aborted on the basis of their sex.

public restrooms at Exmoor National Park labelled one for men, the other for everyone
“There is a word for a situation where women talking about female bodies is considered impermissibly antisocial, where describing the consequences of sexism for women is systematically impeded, where resources for women are redistributed to male users while resources for men are left in male hands…. The word is misogyny.” Sarah Ditum, The Economist, 2018-07-05

In this world it’s a fact that almost all (around 98%) of sexual violence is done by males. (Are we all sufficently tired of Not All Men? I hope so. The link is to an article about violent crime, but the same pattern holds for mere harassment. Very few perps can make a majority suffer.) Putting women in the bind of having to mindread male intentions in places where they undress or can’t escape is not a hallmark of tolerance. It’s a hallmark of assuming women don’t count. We all have a right to be, as the law puts it, secure in our persons. We get to do that without mindreading. The fact that men also target transpeople doesn’t make it women’s responsibility to compensate for the violence.

And that is the difference with other liberation movements. They struggled for their own civil rights. None of them tried to deprive others of what they wanted for themselves. Calling people who point these things out “transphobic” does not indicate virtuous tolerance for transpeople. It indicates a denial of facts on the order of flat earthers or creationists. It indicates a complete disregard for the human rights of women.

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Help! I’m being oppressed by birds!

Don’t get me wrong. I love New Zealand’s birds. That’s why I have a calendar full of them.

But, I’m sorry, this is too much. The third month in a row of judgey birds! Who do they think they are?

It started in May with this one. Eyeing me the whole month, wanting to know whether I’ve been saved.

species of albatross, a mollymawk, floating in the ocean with a real glare in its eye
“Have you been saved?”

Then June broke with dignified disdain:

North Island saddleback, which has small wattles at the corners of its beak that give it a disapproving expression
“Have you balanced your checkbook? Really? Then why is there a fudge factor on line 86?”

And then, when I turn to July, hoping for relief at long last, this horrified critter shows up.

Morpork, a common native New Zealand owl, with its eyes very wide open
“What ARE you doing?”

Trying to balance my checkbook, if you must know.

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Immigration: there’s good news and bad news

First the good news. How a small Turkish city successfully absorbed half a million migrants:

Gaziantep has grown by 30% due to newcomers fleeing the crisis across the border in Syria, but remains a model of tolerance and pragmatism. …

In one 24-hour period alone, Gaziantep took in 200,000 people. To put that in perspective, Turkey’s biggest city, Istanbul, with a population of 15 million, hosts 560,000 refugees in total. Gaziantep has just a 10th of the population but took in 500,000. …

Early on, the Turkish government pursued a policy of integrating the newcomers into urban areas, rather than let them fester in refugee camps. Only 4% still live in camps.

This put pressure, however, on the existing housing stock in Gaziantep, forcing up rents. Employers, meanwhile, took advantage of the sudden increase in the workforce to push down wages. There was also conflict over access to drinking water, and burgeoning resentment that the aid pouring in was going to Syrians, not to poor Turks. …

It was precisely to avoid this sort of conflict that the city adopted a new approach, based on integration.

The mayor, Fatma Sahin, established a migration management department. The idea was that Turks and migrants would receive equal treatment and benefits.

It persuaded the government to pipe in water from over 80 miles away to address the water crisis, and then set up a plan to build 50,000 new homes, as well as new hospitals and better public services. All were available to Turks and migrants alike.

“I said to them, we have to work together,” Yalçin says. “We are aiming for social cohesion, because Turkish and Syrian people are going to live together here[.”] …

What sets Gaziantep apart is that it didn’t wait. It was quick to accept the reality that the migrants were there to stay – and the sooner integrated, the better.

“Migration has always been with us,” says Yalcin. “It’s not a problem to be solved but a reality you have to manage. You should see the advantages. And you need to tell people the truth: these people are not stealing your jobs, they’re not stealing your houses.”

(It’s worth mentioning, since it may not be obvious to English-speaking readers, that Fatma is a woman’s name. Margaret Thatcher and many others are evidence to the contrary, but on the whole leaders who are women seem to do a damn good and visionary job more often than not.)

building a home using sand-filled plastic bottles for new refugees in SE Algeria
A project to help new Sahrawi refugees in SE Algeria by building them homes using sand-filled plastic bottles for walls. This is old refugees helping new ones, so not an example of integration among foreigners, but it’s the same idea.

So the good news is that solutions to the plight of refugees exist.

The bad news is that most places are doing the 180° opposite.

As I’ve pointed out in other blogposts, Trump is not the first to try sadism to stop refugees. The Australians did it years earlier. And they’ve dealt with the downstream consequences that we’re only imagining. The outlook is terminal.

The USA is imprisoning people it finds undesirable. Australia has already lived this nightmare

It’s long been observed that any network of camps, once established, becomes worse. As Andrea Pitzer shows in her history of concentration camps, One Long Night, over and over again since the invention of concentration camps in the late 19th century, in each iteration they develop their own terrible, internal logic. Laws are circumvented or changed, secrecy inhibits scrutiny, logistical problems complicate detention such that the brunt is always borne by prisoners, and a dynamic of brutalisation sweeps up prisoner, jailer and the whole society surrounding them.

Even if such camps are not deliberately constructed for the purposes of murder, they kill people. In Australia’s camps, dozens have died, a score or more at their own hands. …

Australia’s camps are now baked into its national politics. They look set to remain as long as there are elections to win, focus groups to placate, and no outside agency truly capable of enforcing any consequences for its architects. The longer that they are in place in the US, Italy and elsewhere, the more likely it is that in those countries, too, they will become permanent features of the political landscape. … [emphasis mine]

The difficulty of holding a nation’s most powerful people accountable is why it seems likely that the camps won’t be shut down on the basis of national politics. Angela Mitropoulos, a scholar on the topic, says only a globalized opposition can succeed.

And to me, that sounds even more depressing than the fact that we’re back to explaining that concentration camps are a bad idea. In a world with Xi Jinping, who puts millions of Uighurs in camps, with Putin, with The US’s own flabby version of an autocrat, with elections being rigged to make Europe fall apart, with the lack of respect and funding for the UN — with all of that the chances of a useful global response seem kind of microscopic.

But then there are the Greta Thunberg’s of the world. An idea catches fire and people decide they’re not going to take it anymore.

I just hope maybe once we can reach that point before the full disaster strikes, not afterward as we’re dragging ourselves out of the horror.

Crossposted to Widdershins

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It’s 2019. Women aren’t even three fifths of a person.

“I don’t like the Supreme Court decision on abortion. I think it went too far. I don’t think that a woman has the sole right to say what should happen to her body.” Joe Biden, 1974

Compare and contrast, as they used to say on essay exams, with this:

Jennifer Wright.
You can’t take organs from a corpse without the deceased’s written permission, even if it will save lives. When you outlaw abortion, you’re allowing women less bodily autonomy than the dead.

Betty Bowers.
In Alabama is it is now more illegal to be a woman who aborts a child of rape than to be the man who raped her.

Chambliss, responding to the IVF argument from Smitherman, cites a part of the bill that says it applies to a pregnant woman. “The egg in the lab doesn’t apply. It’s not in a woman. She’s not pregnant.” (But, but, but, now it’s not about the sacred egg+sperm? All that sacredness is only when there’s a woman to control?)

And then, this good idea:

Daniel Silvermint
We should pass a Woman’s Heartbeat law: if a woman has a heartbeat, you can’t tell her what to do with her goddamn body, ever.

B.e.c.a.u.s.e. t.h.a.t. i.s. t.h.e. p.o.i.n.t.

If your heartbeat counts (or counted!), nobody can take parts of you, even to save someone else. No real human being can be forced to donate life support. If the fetus’s heartbeat counts for more than the woman’s providing life support, then she has to be a non-person.

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Are Women Human? Part Umpteen

The talk about fetal personhood bills, and especially Lauren Kelley’s point about the activists turning a health issue into a criminal one, got me thinking. So much so that I actually wrote her some feedback, which now, I guess, I’m going to turn into an open letter of feedback. (There’s a whole series in the NYTimes, a newspaper I’m terminally annoyed with, so I have most of this secondhand from public twitter feeds.)

Pregnancy is a health issue if women are people.

But they really can’t be people to those pushing fetal personhood. If women were actual humans in their minds, the pro-fetus crowd would know that personhood does not mean a guaranteed right to erase women.

After all, if an adult man is about to die for lack of a kidney transplant, we don’t send tissue-typing trucks to roam the streets until a match is found for him and the required spare kidney is extracted. Yet it’s a parallel case. A person (everyone agrees an adult man is a person) will die unless he can use another person’s kidney. If you wanted an exactly parallel case, the healthy person would be drafted to dialyse his blood for nine months. We don’t do that either.

That’s for the simple reason that the counterparty really is a person in that example. In the case of pregnancy, it’s necessarily a woman which somehow makes everything different.

But it isn’t. The only thing that’s different is that plenty of people are not used to thinking of women as actual human beings. They’re brood mares first, humans, maybe, second.

The real assumptions behind all this are important because they determine the ground on which you argue. Remember the old Roe v Wade days and the anti-choicers calling themselves “pro-life”? The size of the joke on us is becoming clearer by the day. At the time too few wanted to hear that accepting bogus terminology ceded the high ground before we’d even begun to fight. Now here we are, pleading for our lives, not our rights.

We need to be as clear as we can about the real terms of the argument. This isn’t really about anyone’s health. If it was, we’d have had those tissue-typing vans driving around ever since organ transplantation was feasible. This isn’t even about whether fetuses are persons. It’s about whether women are persons.

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