A guest post by Reni Eddo-Lodge*
My mum gave birth to me when she was new to this country, 22 years old and in an abusive relationship. She packed a bag and left my dad when I was 6 weeks old to escape domestic violence. For years it was just me and her in our South London council flat. Sometimes we couldn’t afford to put the heating on. Sometimes she went hungry for my sake; sometimes she’d risk the rent to buy me a birthday present.
We lived in poverty. She couldn’t afford to raise me, a single coping mum in the midst of John Major’s rhetoric demonising her and every other single mother in the country. I recognise that life would have been inordinately easier for her if she hadn’t had me then. Childbirth was better suited to a time when she was financially on her feet, independent, skin not stinging from bruises. It’s because I love her that I recognise this. She sacrificed the progression of her life for me. For this I am grateful, but I also recognise the chances I have that she was repeatedly denied, because she raised me in a world with the odds stacked against her.
If she had considered abortion, I wouldn’t call her selfish or individualistic. I’d call it an act of self-preservation. It’s this expectation of self-sacrifice applied to all women that infuriates me when men see fit to lecture women on abortion.
And it’s this deeply disturbing stance Mehdi Hasan takes when he writes in the New Statesman that it is in fact possible to be left wing and anti-choice. The left takes on rhetoric of individualism, he insists, when articulating the importance of a woman’s right to choose. These women making these decisions are just selfish. It’s as though the left and right have swapped ideologies. Don’t these women understand what their bodies are primarily for? Who will speak for the unborn child?
He wants rational debate on this, he insists, as he attacks the very core of your being. Your hysterics only prove that you don’t know how to debate these things properly. Don’t go calling him factually accurate words like ‘misogynist'—because that’s a slur, and that hurts his feelings.
Aspects of his argument could have been typed by the fingers of the tea party. He quotes feminist author Daphne de Jong, who makes a pertinent point about a ‘system devised and run by men for male convenience’. But he completely misses the point here—women don’t selfishly resort to abortion to participate in society because we want to be like men. Society is stacked against us. Everyday life fetishizes and worships the state of being a man, and denigrates women’s work as unimportant and inconsequential. We’re told we can have it all up until the point where we have to submit to his needs and look after his kids. And Hasan perpetuates this when his biological determinism effectively tells us to know our place.
The so called abortion debate is irreconcilable, because both sides are starting from two different planes of thought. Some people believe that the purpose of women on this earth is to be self-sacrificial, whilst others believe that women shouldn’t be demonised if they opt for a different way to live their lives.
Here’s why Hasan’s piece is anti-woman. He attempts to reframe the debate on his terms, snatching it out of the hands of people who can get pregnant, insisting on the premise of ‘ethics’ rather than women’s rights, and consequentially betraying his male privilege and over inflated sense of entitlement.
When he ponders which member of our society needs a voice more than the mute baby in the womb, he takes women out of the equation, completely; women’s thoughts, our hopes, our dreams, our aims and our goals—which may or may not include children.
There’ll be a day when motherhood is a comfortable, informed choice for all women, a choice women can make without giving up work or buying childcare. There’ll be a day when society comes to the realisation that 50% of the population can bear children and structures itself favourably around people with dependents. That day will come because feminists will continue to fight for it. Maybe then the debate can shift. Until then, the terrain for women remains hostile.
We’re expected to give and give and give by default, and be deferential to those who claim ownership over our bodies, be it the men we implicitly serve, or the children we’re raised to give our lives to. If we deviate from this, we’re demonised—sluts for using contraception and entertaining the concept of heterosexual sex without procreation, selfish for deciding to delay childbirth or not having children at all. This misogynist thought is ingrained in the very fundamentals of our culture. It couldn’t be clearer when it tells us what our bodies are for.
It’s important to unpick the concept of autonomy, a word loaded with gendered bias. It’s impossible to consider yourself autonomous when you’re expected to take full ownership of dependents. When Hasan brands women as selfish and individualistic, his stance lacks any context-specific understanding of women’s lives. As long as men like him concentrate on the issue of potential pregnancy rather than the life of the person potentially carrying to term, women will continue to be demoted to the role of fleshy incubator.
But then again, it’s not surprising that his stance disregards women altogether. There’s a word for that: sexism.