How we frame

Lauren Rankin wrote about abortion rights as a “not just women” issue at Truthout in July 2013.

The subhead, by Rankin or an editor, puts it this way:

The “War on Women” isn’t just a war on women. Trans men and gender-non-conforming people are losing their rights too, and we need to rework how we frame these “women’s issues.”

The war on women is in fact just a war on women; that’s merely tautological. Saying there’s a war on women isn’t saying there is no war on anyone else. Saying there’s a war on women isn’t saying there is no war on trans men and gender-nonconforming people. I think when people start telling us we should rework how we frame women’s issues, with women’s issues in scare quotes…we need to be skeptical.

Trans people have their own issues. I don’t see why we need to stop talking about women in order to talk about trans issues. I don’t see why we can’t do both.

The last month has been particularly brutal for abortion rights activists and women’s health advocates, as state after state has proposed and/or passed various bills that restrict abortion access and undermine abortion care. In response, there has been a re-energized reproductive rights movement, with many across the nation stating that they “Stand With Texas Women” or “Stand With North Carolina Women.” But in this response, abortion rights activists have overlooked and dismissed a very important reality: Not everyone who has an abortion is a woman.

But everyone who has an abortion does have a female reproductive system. The trans men and gender nonconformists who need abortions are oppressed by misogyny and sexism and the system that controls female reproductive systems in exactly the way that women are, and for the same reasons. They didn’t ask to have that reproductive system, but then neither did anyone else. The social arrangements that demand the right to control those systems really don’t give a fuck how anyone identifies, they just want to maintain their lock on the baby factories.

Abortion is so often framed as a women’s issue by both those who advocate for abortion rights and those who seek to dismiss abortion as frivolous. And for abortion rights, a movement that took root in the late 1960s and early 1970s, this makes sense. Prior to a deeper understanding and problematizing of gender and the way that it works, in our social construction, only women had abortions because only women could get pregnant. But in 2013, we should know better, and we need to do better.

But it isn’t better. Trans men are harmed by misogyny too. It doesn’t help them to try to obscure the fact that attacks on abortion rights are highly political in a particular way – a sexist way, a misogynist way, an anti-women way. A trans man who needs an abortion is caught in a system that was organized to thwart women’s autonomy. If we start to obscure that fact, we start to lose the accumulated energy and power that feminism has painfully worked to gain over the past few decades.

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