A fact too obvious to mention

Helen Lewis in The Atlantic:

Say what you like about the ACLU; it knows how to get people talking. But not necessarily in terms favorable to the ACLU. Late last month, the civil-liberties organization was revealed to have ghostwritten Amber Heard’s contentious Washington Post op-ed about suffering from domestic violence; the article was timed to coincide with the release of her film Aquaman. And on May 11, the ACLU once again caught the moment, posting a tweet that perfectly encapsulates a new taboo on the American left: a terrible aversion to using the word women.

And not just the left but the…what to call it…the mainstream, the middle, the Major Media, the organizations. They all heed that taboo.

Helen quotes the ACLU’s ridiculous list of “people” harmed by the unavailability of abortion, the one that doesn’t mention women even once.

To a casual reader, though, the ACLU has used phrasing that reads like an incantation—a list of disadvantaged groups that are more interesting than women. There’s something of the record-store hipster about it all: I care about groups with intersecting oppressions you haven’t even heard of.

And why would the ACLU want to sound like a record-store hipster? I’d have thought it had bigger fish to fry.

To be generous, perhaps the ACLU didn’t mention women because the organization views their disproportionate victimization by abortion bans as a given—a fact too obvious to mention. “I don’t think anyone is at serious risk of forgetting that most of the people who need abortions are women,” the ACLU communications strategist Gillian Branstetter told me. “Certainly nobody within the ACLU.” Although the tweet attracted a storm of criticism online, Branstetter said my concerns were the first she had heard.

Oh man. What a pack of lies. Some “communications strategist”! Imagine Gillian Branstetter saying that if the issue were race. “I don’t think anyone is at serious risk of forgetting that most of the people who need racial justice are Black.” She wouldn’t, not in a million years. She wouldn’t remove the word “Black” from all of the ACLU’s campaign and promotion material, and then say no one is in danger of forgetting about Black people. It’s only women we’ve all been conditioned to ignore and conceal.

And if it’s true that she was unaware of the outrage, she’s not doing her job.

This isn’t the first time the ACLU has dodged the W-word. Last year, the group infamously rewrote a Ruth Bader Ginsburg quote about abortion access being central “to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity” to remove the gendered language.

They waited until after she died, too, which seemed sneaky and craven as well as disgusting.

The ACLU is not alone in neutering its campaign for abortion rights. Last week, a friend who wanted to raise funds for the cause asked me to recommend an American organization still willing to acknowledge that abortion is a gendered issue. Finding a candidate was surprisingly tricky. The word women has been purged from the front page of the NARAL website, while the Lilith Fund helps “people who need abortions in Texas.” (However, the group notes elsewhere that most of those who call its hotline are “low-income women of color.”) Fund Texas Women has been renamed Fund Texas Choice. The National Abortion Federation’s response to the Supreme Court leak noted that it will “keep fighting until every person, no matter where we live, how much money we make, or what we look like, has the freedom to make our own decisions about our lives, our bodies, and futures.”

What I’m saying. It’s systematic. Which is not just infuriating but also such idiotic politics. How do you organize the workers while never mentioning the workers? What are lesbian and gay rights if you can’t ever say “lesbian and gay”? How would it help to change BLM to LM?

A Great Unwomening is under way because American charities and political organizations survive by fundraising—and their most vocal donors don’t want to be charged with offenses against intersectionality. Cold economic logic therefore dictates that charities should phrase their appeals in the most fashionable, novel, and bulletproof-to-Twitter-backlash way possible. Mildly peeved centrists may grumble but will donate anyway; it’s the left flank that needs to be appeased.

Well I hope those mild centrists get furious enough to slam shut the wallets.

When I questioned the wisdom of foregrounding the small minority of people who seek abortions but do not identify as women, the ACLU’s Branstetter told me, “Transgender people do not have the privilege of pretending that we do not exist. When we use inclusive language, it’s because we recognize that transgender people do exist.”

The language isn’t “inclusive” though. I’m very confident that Branstetter would agree if the issue were erasing the word “Black.” Guess what: it works the same way for women. Erasing half of humanity is not “inclusive.” (Also, are we to conclude that Branstetter is a man who calls himself a woman? Because that would explain a lot right there.)

But something is lost when abortion-rights activists shy away from saying women. We lose the ability to talk about women as more than a random collection of organs, bodies that happen to menstruate or bleed or give birth. We lose the ability to connect women’s common experiences, and the discrimination they face in the course of a reproductive lifetime. By substituting people for women, we lose the ability to speak of women as a class.

We lose sight of the fact that it’s because women are the people who need abortions that women are treated as the subordinate sex, and that the ACLU and other right-on organizations feel entitled to erase us from the conversation.

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