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Ten Reason Women Are Losing While Gays Keep Winning

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  • Ten Reason Women Are Losing While Gays Keep Winning

    Jay Michaelson

    Even as gay equality becomes one of the fastest-advancing civil rights
    causes in history, reactionaries are still turning back the clock for women.

    The Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, among its many troubling consequences,
    is yet another entry in the latest disturbing trend of civil rights cases, in which gays win,
    and women lose.

    Juxtapose Hobby Lobby with the recent fate of Arizona’s “Turn the Gays Away” bill. In
    Arizona, a religious exemption that would allow business owners to refuse to serve gay
    people died a fiery death. The issue was basically the same as in Hobby Lobby: when
    businesses can discriminate on the basis of religion. Yet gays won, and women lost.

    This has been going on for years. Consider: in 2004, being gay was a fireable offense
    in a majority of states and in the U.S. military. The first same-sex marriage case, in
    Massachusetts, had just been decided. It had only been a year since “sodomy” was
    illegal in 14 states. Gay politicians were few and far between; gay celebrities were

    This week, a same-sex marriage ban was struck down in Kentucky, yet barely made
    the national news. Kentucky.

    In the same 10 years, women’s autonomy to make their own healthcare decisions has
    been steadily eroded. Fifty-four abortion clinics have closed since 2010 alone, out of
    fewer than 800 nationwide. “Conscience clauses,” originally intended to allow doctors
    to refuse to perform abortions, have expanded to include entire health systems. Gag
    orders are in effect around the world. It hasn’t been this hard to get an abortion in 40

    Why is this happening? Why has the progress on LGBT equality been accompanied by
    regress on women’s equality? And can advocates for women take any lessons from
    advocates for LGBTs?

    There are many possible answers to these questions. Here are my top 10.

    1. Born This Way. In the 1970s and 1980s, gay liberation was about the liberation
    of sexual choice. “Homosexuality” was as much an act as an identity—as it still
    is today in some quarters of the Christian Right. Only in the 1990s did the mainstream
    LGBT movement (to the continuing consternation of radicals) start saying that gays
    are “born that way”—i.e., that sexual identity was a fundamental, and ultimately
    unchangeable, trait.

    Abortion and contraception, however, are acts—as is the sexual act that brings
    them into necessity. And pro-choice activists have repeatedly failed to reframe
    them as issues of discrimination against women. Look at how Hobby Lobbywent
    down: as long as women can purchase contraception elsewhere (act), who cares
    about the harm to their humanity (identity) that comes from an employer making
    decisions for them?

    Unfortunately, even the name “pro-choice” reinforces that the movement is about
    acts and not identity: freedom of choice, not equality of status. This may be a noble
    goal, and it is one which many more left-wing LGBT activists still hope to pursue,
    but it is also one that plays badly at the polls—as the mainstream gay rights movement
    learned in the 1990s. ‘Thick’ liberation appeals to the left but alienates the center. At
    present, many Americans oppose discrimination, but they’re okay with restricting
    personal freedoms. Sucks, but there it is.

    2. Love is Love But Abortion Isn’t Childbirth. Together with the LGBT’s identity frame,
    it has successfully defined same-sex marriage in terms of universals to which everyone
    can (supposedly) relate: love, family, equality. The pro-choice/reproductive justice
    movement has not yet been able to do so. Yes, autonomy, freedom, and liberty are
    important, but the context in which those abstract values are enacted remains particular,
    not universal. Men cannot relate to being pregnant. Conservative women cannot relate
    to “choosing” to end a (prospective) life. And so far, there has not been a universalizable
    narrative in part because there is no …

    3. Edie Windsor, by which I mean, poster children for the cause with compelling
    mainstream narratives. Personal stories have been shown, in several polls commissioned
    by the LGBT equality movement, to be the single most effective way to change minds and
    open hearts. The LGBT equality movement has many, from Ellen to Edie to Laverne Cox.
    The pro-choice movement? Not so much. Because of the continuing shame and stigma
    associated with abortion, and because abortion just is not that joyful, few women have
    shared their pro-choice journeys
    and I can’t think of any who have done so as a redemptive celebration of life and freedom.
    Look what happened to Sandra Fluke, who was shamed as a
    slut for defending the right to control her body. (More on that below.) But even setting aside
    such outrageous rhetoric, abortion and contraception are just not as photogenic as weddings
    at City Hall. It’s easy to shame, stigmatize, other-ize. And shaming is a cycle: because women
    are ashamed to come forward, the stigma persists, shaming more women, etc.

    4. Rights Lose. In addition to lacking compelling personal narratives, the “pro-choice” frame
    is itself a loser. This is why LGBT activists don’t use the term “gay rights” anymore: because
    no one likes them. In the nineties, “gay rights’ came to mean “special rights,” which may be
    ridiculous, but which was a successful opposing frame. As with the act/identity dichotomy,
    “rights” also isn’t existential enough to persuade people. So LGBT activists changed their tune, shifting from rights-talk to love-talk, equality-talk, language about basic humanity. Gloria Steinem famously said that feminism is, at its core, humanism. But this message hasn’t trickled through.
    Many Americans still think reproductive justice is about the act of abortion, rather than the
    humanity of women.

    5. It Pays to Have Dumb Enemies. Let’s face it: anti-gay zealots did themselves in. Their
    cartoonish exaggerations of LGBT people, their closeted-gay leaders, their Bible-thumping
    —these play well to the base, but alienate moderates. So too the inability of all but a few
    conservatives to articulate a non-religious, non-bigoted-seeming objection to homosexuality.
    To be sure, there are wackos on the anti-choice side, with their photos of fetuses and extreme
    rhetoric. But the anti-choice mainstream has gotten much more sophisticated. They are
    putting women on the front lines (and unlike the “ex-gay” crowd, these women are only slightly creepy). They are winning incremental battles under the pretense of health
    regulations and parental consent. They are smart and methodical. And they don’t seem dumb, because…

    6. Reasonable People (Including Women) Disagree. Arguably, reproductive freedom should
    not be controversial among small-l liberals.
    Whether a fetus is a “person” or not is a complex
    moral question, and since we can’t decide it as a society, it should be left up to the woman in
    whose body the fetus resides. But unfortunately, abortion remains controversial. It’s morally complicated, and it’s not discussed in polite company. I have no idea what celebrities or culture-makers think about it. (See: shame, above). Many people are ambivalent about it, including many ardent pro-choice activists. Think of the phrases “anti-abortion but pro-choice” or the view that abortions should be “safe, legal, and rare.” Can you think of reasonable analogues ing LGBT activisms? I can’t. And then there’s the brutal fact of how abortion is seen by its opponents. As loathsome as gay marriage may be to religious conservatives, at least it’s a perversion of marriage. Abortion is a kind of murder.

    7. Capitalism. Because LGBT equality has been successfully framed in the context of
    discrimination and fairness, and because it has many privileged male champions, it has
    been easy for corporations to line up behind it, and reap the financial rewards of being
    seen as pro-gay. Sure, there are a few anti-gay outliers:
    Chick-Fil-A, Hobby Lobby, whatever.
    But this past month’s Pride festivities were like a showcase of Fortune 500
    companies: banks, airlines, insurance companies. Meanwhile, I can’t think of a single
    A-list brand that is out, loud, and proud for reproductive freedom. That makes a big
    difference in terms of movement dollars and public awareness. Once again, more
    radical queers may bemoan the corporatization of the LGBT movement, but capitalism
    has a way of winning.

    8. Feminism Has An Image Problem. If the pro-choice movement hasn’t been capitalist
    enough, it also hasn’t been grassroots enough. “Feminism” is now unfairly associated
    with a certain kind of privileged, coastal, irreligious white woman. For a variety of
    problematic reasons, it’s been disclaimed by celebrities and politicians who are
    obviously feminist in values but who aren’t “Feminist” by label. Most of this is unfair.
    But at the same time, the leadership of Planned Parenthood, NOW, and the other major
    mainstream organizations does tilt in that demographic direction. There is hope: younger organizations like Choice USA are more grounded in people of color, people of faith, and
    rural communities. And the majors are trying sincerely to catch up. But then there’s…

    9. Religion. Contrary to the myth of “God vs. Gay,” progressive religious leaders have been instrumental in the LGBT equality movement from its very beginning. Like African-American
    civil rights leaders, they have made not just a neutral case but a positive moral case for
    equality. Where are the religious leaders preaching the gospel of bodily autonomy for women?
    Yes, there are excellent organizations like the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice,
    Catholics for Choice, the National Council of Jewish Women, and many others. But in my
    experience, I haven’t seen the message trickle down into the pews. Nor are faith leaders
    are central to the pro-choice movement as they seem to be in the LGBT movement. Just a
    few years ago, it seemed like the religious obsession with homosexuality was a curse.
    But it turned out to have been a blessing, because it provoked the ‘down-home’ moral
    conversations that changed people’s minds. Secular arguments about the separation
    of church and state may play well to the base. But they don’t move the middle.

    10. Sexism. Finally, and maybe it should have been first, is sexism. Men, including gay
    men, have much more access to power than privilege than women do. And while masculinity
    may be threatened by effeminate gay men crossing gender boundaries, the threat is far more immediate when it’s your own wife or daughter. If women can control their own bodies …
    well, what about my wife! Meanwhile, since women aren’t really people entitled to make
    decisions for themselves, it’s okay to slut-shame Sandra Fluke, claim (as one GOP Senator
    recently did) that birth control is for “recreational behavior,” and decide for everyone that
    fetuses are people. “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” has been used as a weapon
    against gay people for some time. But Adam and Eve has been a weapon against women
    since the moment the myth was invented.

    I, for one, am hopeful that Hobby Lobby becomes a rallying cry. I hope it gets liberals to
    vote this November, and gets moderates to rethink their positions. But there’s also a
    danger of continually playing to the base, and that is ignoring the tactics and strategies
    that appeal to the movable middle. For that reason, I also hope Hobby Lobby helps create
    a revitalized, intersectional, pragmatic, faith-affirming, message-savvy pro-choice,
    reproductive justice, gender justice movement.

    Unlike the tidal wave of state restrictions on reproductive choice, Hobby Lobbytook
    place in the spotlight, on the national stage. It remains to be seen whether it also
    signals a change in direction.

    Source: ""