Texas Women Just Lost Their Right to Their Own Bodies

It's time to fight back, and time to understand the anti-feminist backlash that allowed this to happen.

1I am frothing and devastated watching the Supreme Court allow Texas to functionally overturn Roe v. Wade. I’m angry in a million different directions: At the woman-hating “pro-life” movement that has spent decades working up to this moment; at Democrats who have never done enough to preserve abortion rights; at everyone who didn’t vote in 2016 or who voted for Donald Trump or Jill Stein or who told progressives that there were no meaningful differences between Trump and Clinton; at the moderates who still — still! — refuse to take the action needed to protect fundamental rights and fight back against authoritarian and undemocratic Republican takeover; at the Supreme Court justices who view women with such contempt (especially the one who got where she is because of feminism, only to use her vaunted position to make it impossible for other women to live freely).

I’m angry that we’ve been living through an anti-feminist backlash from the left and the right since 2016, and few seem to care.

Here’s what happened in Texas: The legislature passed an incredibly draconian law that essentially turns every Texan into a little anti-abortion Stasi. The law allows private misogynist busybodies to sue anyone who “aids and abets” an abortion — as if abortion were a crime and not a fundamental right — after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which happens at roughly six weeks of pregnancy. The state then pays these misogynist snitches $10,000 and covers their legal fees if they win. It does not cover the legal fees of the person who has to defend themselves in court, which means that clinic owners, doctors, nurses, counselors, and anyone else even tangentially involved in abortion care could be quickly bankrupted. The definition of “aiding and abetting” is broad enough to cover not only doctors and clinic workers, but anyone who, say, loans a woman money for the procedure, goes with her to get it, or drives her to a clinic in their taxi or Uber. It applies to insurance companies that cover abortion. There is no exception for rape or incest.

Six weeks of pregnancy, by the way, is not the same as “six weeks of being pregnant;” it’s six weeks after a woman’s last period, so two weeks after missing a period (assuming her periods are regular), which is before most women know they’re pregnant. In other words, Texas just functionally outlawed all abortions in the state, in direct violation of Roe v. Wade. And they did it in the most authoritarian and creepy way imaginable, deputizing every single person to spy on their friends, neighbors, and random passerby, and giving them a nice chunk of change for pursuing legal action against those helping women who were doing something one in four women around the world will do in her life — a deeply private decision, so personal it is literally situated inside her body.

It’s hard to overstate how egregious the Texas law is. But before today, it was also part of a familiar dance: Misogynist politicians waste taxpayer dollars and time passing anti-abortion laws that clearly violate Roe v. Wade; abortion rights proponents have to waste significant time and donor dollars fighting those laws in court; the courts strike them down, because they clearly violate Roe v. Wade. Abortion rights proponents have been warning about this moment, though — the moment when the courts change so significantly that the judges themselves don’t care if anti-abortion laws violate decisions made by their own institution, that have been the law of the land for nearly 50 years.

That’s where we’ve landed. Clinic owners in Texas basically asked the Supreme Court to tell the state of Texas that, sorry, this law that clearly violates Roe v. Wade cannot go into effect. The parties can litigate it in the lower courts, but while that’s happening, the law can’t stand. That is what should happen here. But it’s not what happened. Instead, the Supreme Court refused to respond to the clinic owners’ request. The Texas law is now in effect, and abortion is functionally illegal in Texas.

That could still change. The Supreme Court could issue an order telling Texas it can’t enforce this law. But the fact that it hasn’t done that yet, and instead chose to let the law go into effect, signals something very dangerous: This court is willing to overturn Roe v. Wade.

There is a case before the Court, out of Mississippi, that could do just that. I wrote about it a few months ago, and this latest punt by the Court makes me even more anxious. What I said in that earlier post holds true, though: While several judges on the Supreme Court truly do not care about their legacy or the public’s opinion, some of them do. The time for outrage is now. The time to protest, to write letters and op/eds, to kick up a big storm, is now. That outrage should be directed at the court, yes, and at the disgusting misogynists of the anti-abortion movement, but it should also be directed at Democrats, along with demands: End the filibuster, expand the court. Democratic politicians have to see that these are the only opinions, and they’re time-limited ones. The Supreme Court needs to see that its legitimacy hangs in the balance.

Outrage also needs to be directed at the anti-feminist backlash that has been in full force since 2016, from the left and the right alike. I’ve spent the past decade and a half writing about women’s rights online, starting back in the early aughts when “feminism” was still something of a dirty word. It was thrilling to watch the rising power of feminist blogs, and then to see feminist thought folded into the mainstream — to see feminist voices and writers in every mainstream publication, to see the word itself become far less stigmatized, to see so many women embrace the fight for women’s rights.

And then in 2016, Hillary Clinton ran for president.

I really don’t want to relitigate every aspect of the 2016 primary and the 2016 general election, but it was quickly and stunningly clear that a whole lot of people on the left and right alike had big problems with Hillary Clinton that went beyond whatever policy positions they disagreed with. Certainly there were a lot of policy positions to disagree with, and a great many people who supported Bernie Sanders in the primary — most people who supported Bernie in the primary — weren’t sexists, but leftists who believed in his vision more than they believed in Clinton’s. But there were also a number of folks, most but not all of them men, who rose to quick online and podcast fame by basically saying “fuck feminism”: arguing that it was silly to care about a woman becoming president, disdaining the entire idea that there’s any value to having women in positions of power, and attacking Clinton and anyone perceived as supporting here in starkly misogynist terms. I’m not brand-new to leftist sexism, but even I was stunned by how quickly a left anti-feminist backlash came into full effect. Even long-time leftist feminists found themselves marginalized by their own comrades for pointing out the sneering sexism shown to Clinton supporters. By the end of the primary, feminists who supported all of the aims of democratic socialism — universal health care, universal childcare, free higher education, a radically expanded social welfare system — were regularly portrayed as uncool wine mom moderates, while leftists who doubled down on sexist vitriol and even flat-out opposed abortion rights weren’t just welcomed into the fold, but elevated.

Watching all of that unfold was one of the most dispiriting and cynicism-inducing moments of my life.

What came next has been worse. The growing sensibility in progressive and even mainstream media was that feminism had its moment, and is now uncool. The pussyhat-wearing women of the Women’s March were roundly mocked by leftists. When women organized to oppose the worst of Trumpism, they were belittled by the six-figure socialist podcasting crowd, laughed at as middle-aged wine mom hysterics. Even when those women proved remarkably effective at getting off of their butts, organizing, and getting Democrats and progressive politicians into office, the boys (and some girls) of the misogynist left scoffed from their podcasting couches at these uncool harpies, these MSNBC moms.

It was easy — women over the age of male-defined desirability have always been an easy punchline, an easy group to reject. Men ignore them. Younger women fear being them. The ascendant feminism of the Obama years was supposed to have changed that, but as soon as one of those uncool women sought real power, the jig was up. I was just struck by how little the misogynists of the left tried to hide it.

And I was doubly struck by how quickly mainstream media got on board. The feminist voices that were so prominent up to and through the end of the Clinton campaign began to recede into the background. A spirit of gleeful misogyny disguised as justice began to take over. Any woman with an opinion became a “Karen,” as an insult that had previously served a clear and valuable purpose — highlighting the entitled racist behavior of some white women — morphed into an easy and ubiquitous way to call any woman a bitch without saying the B-word. A. new journalism economy of documenting the downfall of the “girlboss” emerged, ostensibly to highlight the dissonance between a founder’s stated intentions and the treatment of her workers, but often, simply delighting in a woman’s failure in a way I’ve never seen leveled at a man (and derisively branding any woman with a successful career a “girlboss,” whether or not she ever referred to herself that way). The women who got the “girlboss” magazine feature treatment had often behaved badly — but certainly not uniquely badly, and certainly not worse than the scores of men in similar (and typically more moneyed and more powerful) positions, whose right to their careers and right to be difficult is simply assumed.

There is a kernel of righteousness to some of this progressive backlash. White women using their whiteness to (at best) gain the upper hand and (at worst) put Black people’s lives at risk is a real and dangerous thing that deserves far more than a derisive nickname. The #girlboss framing was always gross and insincere, a twisting of feminism into near-meaninglessness. But it was hard not to notice that something else started happening, too — a joy at seeing women taken down, a misogynist glee to see women put in their place. And of course the ones doing the mocking — largely but not entirely affluent young white men — were untouchable, no matter how disgustingly they behaved, because, in the way only entitled young white men really can, they made themselves the arbiters of cool and a lot of people followed along. It was a joke, the way these guys set themselves up as the failsons in opposition to success daughters — or at least they said it was, even as they clearly watered the seeds of that particular resentment.

As those same people became increasingly influential beyond just the left, raking in podcast profits and finding their bylines on the pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post and the Atlantic, it became broadly acceptable again to simply sneer at anyone who expressed concern about silly little things like a woman’s right to bodily autonomy. The women who panicked over Trump’s election and what it would mean for the Supreme Court were basically told to calm down, sweetheart. And on the left, there was a new elevation of traditional femininity, a renewed push to tell women that work is overrated, that female ambition is suspect. Feminists have long pushed for greater value to be placed on care work and for policies like universal childcare. But some of the most prominent leftists began promoting childcare policies while ignoring or quietly opposing or refusing to comment on the rights of women to decide when and whether to have children in the first place, and how many to have. Demands on the left to value care work largely ignored the additional feminist demand that men do more of that work.

In this period of backlash, feminist journalism and public thought hasn’t ceased to exist. It wasn’t banished from the pages of newspapers. But it morphed. Stories about women and power, women doing important things and pieces about the value of women breaking barriers, were sidelined. We got a rush of #MeToo stories, which were acts of incredible bravery, were about power as much as sex, and were crucial to holding individual men accountable, but they also fell into a more comfortable narrative: women as victims speaking out, not women taking over or even taking power from the men they revealed. Women competing with men for power — women wanting power of their own, not simply wanting to see some men in powerful positions held accountable — have again fallen outside the trend. And applauding groundbreaking women, or demanding equal female representation? That’s vaguely embarrassing.

Even now, at this critical moment, pay attention: Who is sounding the alarm here? Who is saying, “get out, get loud, demand more from the Democratic Party, protest, make the justices of the Supreme Court see what’s at stake”? Who has a large platform or significant influence but is staying silent, or saying little?

The primary fault here lies with the anti-feminist right. Overturning Roe v. Wade has been a decades-long effort. And the Texas law is a pretty good summation of pro-life aims: It’s clear that this isn’t about preserving fetal life, but rather about controlling and surveilling women’s private lives to make sure we are compliant. That is what opposition to abortion rights is always about: making it impossible for women to be full, free members of society; forcing us to have children against our will; curtailing our opportunities and keeping us dependent; and getting the whole of society to participate in our subjugation. It is about ritual degradation.

But that desire to degrade women, to put us in our place — it doesn’t just come from conservatives. It doesn’t just come from men. Look around in this moment. See who’s taking it seriously. See who uses their platforms and how. See who takes whatever responsibility needs to be taken. And see who ignores or condescends, dismisses or defends.

I am beyond angry, in a million different directions. I am beyond heartbroken for the women and girls who are being told that they are not sovereign beings, whose hopes and desires and plans are going to be permanently derailed because of this law, who the state of Texas and every misogynist “pro-lifer” is physically violating. If you’re feeling all of that along with me, then it’s time for action: Demand Democrats do more. Demand the Court uphold its own precedent. And while we may not be able to change the right, we can sure demand that the left excise misogyny from its ranks.

xx Jill

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Image by Becker1999 from Grove City, OH via WikiCommons