Keep Your Culture Wars Off My Ovaries
So I said that I would write a blog post on this, because a friend of mine didn't understand why I went on a twitter rant yesterday.
Someone in my tweetstream retweeted a series of tweet by a left-leaning, apparently Movement Atheist* comedy account. In which, the topic of Abortion was referred to as a "complex issue of bioethics."
*OK, I can hear the intake of breath from some of my friends over that, even as I write it, so let me please explain the difference between atheists and Movement Atheists, why I have no problem with the former at all, and rather a large suspicion of the latter. Atheists are people who do not believe in god. That's all! The end.
Movement Atheists are the ones who are so convinced of the Utter Irrefutable Truth of their philosophical system (usually attached to tenaciously, almost religiously held beliefs in the omni-competence of Totally Objective Western Science) that it's not enough for them to merely reject religion themselves, they will not rest until they have argued, bullied, shamed, or otherwise converted everyone else to their philosophical system, and, you know, the hell with other individuals' experience of spirituality, community, and the pesky cultural traditions of the 7/8 of the world that are not Western, college educated, middle-class, white men.
In short, Movement Atheism is often almost indistinguishable from another group of self-righteous, overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly male fanatics so convinced of their utter rightness that they use it to uphold the privilege of, well, white middle class males over "ignorant" and "backwards" cultures around the world. I mean, does that sound historically familiar, at all?
Oh. Right. Their sworn enemies.
So. This is the Culture War. In one corner is Science and in the other corner is Religion and according to the philosophical landgrabbing of *both* Movement Atheism and Fundamentalism of various creeds, never the twain shall meet. Like chalk and cheese. Like oil and vinegar (except without the delicious salad-enhancing properties that characterise successful blends of the above, like many, many people manage to reconcile science and religion with no more problems than reconciling, say, mathematics and other humanities like poetry.)
Which brings us back to Bioethics which I found such an immensely unhelpful term for the discussion of abortion that I was reduced to an inarticulate rant.
See, I learned the term Bioethics way back in high school, where it was generally used to describe and discuss the morality of the scientific use of animals and plants. So that's the first connotation I associate with the word - that this is how MAs see women, and discussion of the right to bodily autonomy of women. On a level with genetically modified wheat, and cloned farm animals. Yes, I'm aware that technically, the prefix "Bio-" means all living things, but the connotation, reinforced by words like Biodiversity, Biofuels, Biomass, is that it means non-human life. Words related specifically to humans get different prefixes, such as "Anthro-"
Philosopical concerns related specifically to *males* - they're not called Bioethics, they're just called Ethics. Try typing "bioethics of circumcision" into wikipedia and watch it get redirected to "ethics of circumcision." Words and their connotations have power. Men are people; women are... other.
Even the updated dictionary definition of "bioethics" is inappropriate. "Bioethics is the study of controversial ethics brought about by advances in biology and medicine." Abortion, as an recorded medical practice, is nearly 5000 years old. How is a procedure known to the Ancient Egyptians supposed to be a quandary brought about by "advances in medicine"?
(I know, I'm technically not supported on this on this discomfort - supposedly Assisted Suicide is a "bioethical" concern, despite being documented even before the death of Socrates.)
But Bioethics just seems to me, an inappropriate term to use when describing Abortion. Abortion is not about technology, or advances in medicine, it is about the right of women to control what happens to, and in, their own bodies. "Bioethics" frames it as something technical, something sciencey, and places it firmly within the Science camp of the Science Versus Religion!!!! culture wars.
And there are women, and womens' autonomy, placed yet again as another pawn in someone else's philosophical territory wars.
Because guess what? There are many, many people who identify as religious, who belong to or even lead churches, synagogues, temples, etc. - who are Pro-Choice. I know them personally - my Roman Catholic former housemate, who works for a womens reproductive rights organisation. Mine own mother, a priest (C of E), and staunchly Pro-choice, taught me the joke "if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament."
Framing this solely as a "Science v Religion" war is 1) hugely insulting and devisive when it comes to Allies who support the Pro-Choice position and 2) the whole "most of the people who are anti-choice are religious, ergo all religions are anti-choice" is an illogical and frankly wrong-headed assumption on the level of "All dachsunds are dogs, ergo all dogs are dachsunds!"
And like I said above, I *distrust* Movement Atheism. MA's god-head leader is an unmitigaged racist and bigot not to mention is a massive sexist douche with a propensity for making rape jokes. Even self identified progressive female atheists have expressed discomfort with the level of sexism and misogyny in Movement Atheism and if you want a quick lesson in exactly how much the Skeptic Movement does not give a shit about the concerns of women, just google "ElevatorGate".
So when I see Movement Atheists redefining the bodily autonomy of women as "bioethics" and lining it up as another pawn in the great Science V Religion Wars, I feel about as comfortable as I feel when the US Military uses "women's rights" to justify the invasion of oil-rich Middle Eastern countries.