Friday, October 12, 2012

Debating my rights

Last night, Joe Biden and Eddie Munster – sorry, Paul “HARDC0RE” Ryan – took the stage in the ONE AND  ONLY (no, seriously, this is the one and only. The One. And. Only.)  vice presidential debate. This was infinitely more entertaining than watching Lehrer experience what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated society and Obama frown at his notes which were rendered useless by Mitt’s chameleon-esq transformation into Snoop Lyin’ in the first presidential debate.

I was so excited when – over an hour in, and for a full, solid 6 minutes – they deigned to discuss women’s rights that I didn’t at the time take issue with how it was done.

But looking back, I’m once again frustrated with how women’s issues are treated and framed and discussed in this country.

RADDATZ:  I want to move on, and I want to return home for these last few questions. This debate is, indeed, historic. We have two Catholic candidates, first time, on a stage such as this. And I would like to ask you both to tell me what role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion.
Please talk about how you came to that decision. Talk about how your religion played a part in that. And, please, this is such an emotional issue for so many people in this country… please talk personally about this, if you could.

Even in a discussion that is specifically about women, we are not the primary concern. This was not an issue of ‘do women have a right to be free from religious oppression and interference in their health care?’ but rather ‘can Catholicism grant women the right to be treated like equal human beings?’

It framed the issue as if someone else’s religious beliefs should actually have some bearing on my right to life and liberty. As if I should have to humble myself before the almighty White Male Catholic and beg for permission to have my own religious beliefs, and my own personal autonomy and my own right to freedom and self-determination.

While I appreciate Biden’s response: “I accept my church’s position on abortion… Life begins at conception in the church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life. But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews, and I just refuse to impose that on others, unlike my friend here, the — the congressman. I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that — women they can’t control their body.” 

I think we missed an opportunity to make it absolutely clear that your religious beliefs do not dictate my rights.

His response was lovely – and it made me clap and sigh contentedly at the TV at the time – but my civil rights should not be contingent on the off chance that the men-folk decide to remember that we’re human, too.

Freedom of religion is being free to believe that life begins at conception; it’s not being free to cripple the rights of others with that belief.

But what scared me the most – rocked me to my core – was Ryan’s assertion that “We don’t think that unelected judges should make this decision; that people through their elected representatives in reaching a consensus in society through the democratic process should make this determination.”

This decision that you’re talking about Mr. Ryan? I like to call that “my rights.” The very purpose of our country, of our Constitution, is to protect the rights of the minority from the tyranny of majority rule.

Toqueville famously asked in Democracy in America “A majority taken collectively is only an individual, whose opinions, and frequently whose interests, are opposed to those of another individual, who is styled a minority. If it be admitted that a man possessing absolute power may misuse that power by wronging his adversaries, why should not a majority be liable to the same reproach?”

If three people decide I should be enslaved because of my gender, and my voice is the one dissenting vote, they don’t automatically win by virtue of morality in numbers. Because we have already decided as a country that people should not be slaves. Likewise, we have decided that women have a right to bodily autonomy and safe access to health care, and that right cannot be revoked because the bible-thumping Koch-heads think I’m a slut.

If you leave the question of rights for certain groups to a majority consensus, the majority may shockingly vote to curtail the rights of those groups. That’s why we leave “that decision” to unelected judges who are not accountable to the volatile opinions and financial influence of the religious right.

I have issue with this in relation to gay marriage as well. Why under any circumstances should the legal rights of some be left up to the imperfect whim of the loudest majority? Their beliefs do not suddenly trump my standing as a free American citizen.

If I could conceivably pull together a large enough majority (and women are currently 52% of the population, so it’s possible…) to decide that men should not be allowed in government because testosterone makes them too hot-headed to rule effectively, should we be allowed to enforce that? Anyone want to sign my petition…? 


  1. I love it when you get all riled up. :)

    Also, love the new header! I think it's a perfect fit for you and your blog. Does this mean you aren't doing the other, mainly political one, anymore?

    1. Thanks! I haven't really decided about the other blog yet. I tend to write a bit more eloquently over there and a bit more... obscenity-laced over here. But my ultra-feminist political opinions are a big part of who I am, so it's hard to separate that part of me out of my life/writing.

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  3. Heather, if you ever ran for office, i would definitely vote for you. I, along with many others, would sleep peacefully knowing that you were protecting our rights!

    1. I kind of talked about this the other day, but as Charming rightly pointed out, I'd be done before I started as soon as someone dug up this blog :)

  4. I Agree with your assessment completely, and I love the Toqueville quote, he was an exceptional author. I do think that Biden treated the subject well, and my personal take on his response was that he was speaking as a religious man and a leader who worries about everyone that he represents, not just the men and not just the women. His record on women's rights is really good, and I was dead proud of him in the debate!

    1. Sorry for the late response - my email notifications don't seem to be working...

      And in response: Definitely, and I'm so glad that the election results were testament to the fact that women care and women vote. I just wish some states like Michigan and Mississippi and Arizona and Kansas would get with the program... :)