While reading this article about a dominican Nun working at an abortion clinic, (ht) I thought nothing of one of the protesters of the clinic pointing to the men who were dropping off their girlfriends for abortions yell ‘Look at these men, telling these women what to do with their bodies!’ The comment was unremarkable. It made perfect sense to me. In concrete terms, that’s often if not usually how it works. Forcible coercion is probably not required in most circumstances: hints, looking disappointed, pretending to be sensitive and caring for a few days while telling her it is the right thing to do, making it clear that you would not be interested in her if she had a child, pretending you would love her less with a child, etc. is probably all that is necessary. Woman can take a hint, and they’re pretty good at knowing what you’re telling them to do with their bodies.

I misread the quotation (I was tired when I read it, and daydreamed the guys in their cars dropping off their girlfriends). It was, of course, yelled at the protesters as a standard piece of abortion cant. I thought it was an illuminating misread, however. You can be for abortion or not, and it can be either legal or not, but either way men are going to tell women what to do with their bodies; and you’d have to be pretty naive to think that an abortion clinic, on balance, doesn’t provide just another forum in which they do so.

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6 Comments

  1. Mike said,

    October 24, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    Recent local case: the boyfriend killed the girl because she would not have an abortion.

  2. peeping thomist said,

    October 25, 2009 at 7:32 am

    Just to riff off the point…the feminist movement could be seen as providing men with a whole range of options to tell women what to do with their bodies over the last 40 years. The rise of no fault divorce, pornography, abortion, prostitution, strip joints, contraception, changes in rape laws and even the rise of women in the workplace has provided men with all manner of leverage over women’s bodies in ways that would have been absolutely unthinkable 70 years ago. Okay, while probably “thinkable,” but not realistic. Feminism sometimes seem to exist as a prop to legitimate the devious arguments of men who want to do what they please to women’s bodies without consequence. It is probably more than simply irony, as you point out here. Pointing this out is essential to cutting through the layer of fat that exists in people’s minds on these issues and revealing something akin to truth.

  3. October 25, 2009 at 8:01 am

    I hadn’t intended to bring up feminism, but so far as feminism means “justice for women”, then whenever we it bring up we are in the first book of the Republic or in the Gorgias, with a feminist Socrates on the one hand and a “feminist” Thrasymachus and Callicles on the other. I put the second “feminist” in scare quotes because, in my experience, it is essential to Thrasymachus’s and Callicles’s view of the world that women be denied justice.

    I think the feminist question is central (that nun in the news story has a real point when she sees gender relations as the foundation of all justice). Injustice and immorality, in concrete terms, is inseparable from men being able to do whatever they want to women; and a just nation would be necessarily the same as one that gave justice to women, even though there must be a profound disagreement between Socrates and Callicles/ Thyasymacus about what this means. In my cynical view of things, it does seem like the “feminist” Callicles gets more play than the feminist Socrates, but I shouldn’t be surprized by this, since in real life Socrates usually suffers rather large losses.

  4. October 25, 2009 at 8:14 am

    At least a prostitute has something to show for being told what to do with her body.

  5. AT said,

    October 26, 2009 at 2:47 am

    “…gender relations as the foundation of all justice”

    Well, and ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
    All mimsy were the borogoves,
    And the mome raths outgrabe.

  6. October 26, 2009 at 4:58 am

    When I see Socrates and Callicles/ Thrasymachus dispute about questions of justice, the first disagreement is whether justice is simply the physically stronger or aggressive doing whatever they want to the less strong and aggressive. T/C say it is, Soc. says it is not- but it seems inarguable to me that the basic structure of a society if T/C are right is that justice will consist in men doing whatever they want to women. So from Socrates’s point of view an unjust society will be one where real justice will be denied to women.

    It might be the case that, on balance, those who call themselves feminists favor some version of T/C justice. Most popular pro-abortion arguments, for example, involve some rather blatant appeal to what only Callicles and Thrasymachus could call “right”. To the extent that feminists endorse these arguments, they are advocating societies where justice is denied to women, no matter how much they crow about gender equity.


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