As modern Westerners, we like to think that we’ve gotten past all the sexual politics around the “honor” of women, but actually there’s still a lot of stuff bubbling beneath the surface, and just as much for liberals as there is for conservatives.
The pro-choice movement certainly uses honor language, […]. They rally people who never had an abortion, and probably never will, by implying that the honor of women as a whole is at stake. Abortion laws are men, or government, looking down on you and saying they know better than you. They are violating your bodily integrity and your human dignity. And if you let them do that, God knows what they’ll do next, because they don’t see you as an honor peer and feel they could do anything to you.
On an individual level, there are other honor issues, which vary depending on where you are. One is the old-fashioned shame attached to an unwanted pregnancy, exposing a woman’s unchastity. Among more progressive types, there’s still a certain shame attached to the evident sign that you don’t have your life together. To not put to fine a point on it, where I come from uncontrolled reproduction is for the ghetto and the trailer park, not for people who want to achieve anything. Also, with the battle lines drawn over abortion, choosing to go through with the pregnancy will be respected by pro-choice friends but probably not hugely sympathized with. And that doesn’t create a real friendly environment for adoption, as a commenter on a previous post pointed out: “It’s also hard to figure out if the legalization of abortion created a counter-stigma on women who give up their children for adoption. After all, it means walking around for at least four or five months having everyone know you are pregnant, but also having to explain “Well, but I didn’t want to HAVE a baby.” When the father is a rapist or something similar, bearing his child seems to be letting him colonize your life — not to mention the world — more than he deserves. All this makes it more difficult for women trying to compete in the workplace and politics with men who don’t have these problems.
So in one sense, Americans probably understand Middle Eastern honor killing better than they think they do. But of course, in another way honor killing and abortion are polar opposites. One assumes that reproductive control is a collective project, with the woman herself only having one vote in the matter, and often not the most important vote either. The other has the woman take on nearly the entire responsibility herself, with everyone else around mainly to support whatever decisions she makes.
There’s more good stuff in the original blog post, so read it all, but I’d like to change topic slightly. One of the best arguments against William Saletan’s proposal that pro- and anti- abortion forces compromise by pushing contraception is that doing so creates a different new stigma against unplanned pregnancy. Instead of the stigma being “How could you let your maidenhood be stolen?” the stigma is “How could you be so stupid as to let your contraceptives fail?” Under these circumstances, the urge to abort the baby becomes much stronger, since abortion is considered basically a form of last minute contraception. So, even if pushing contraceptives more strongly were to reduce the total number of unplanned pregnancies and abortions (and I don’t know if the empirical research is here for that claim or not), it seems like it would also increase the percentage of unplanned pregnancies that are subsequently aborted. My feeling is that the only way to lower the percentage of unplanned pregnancies that are aborted is to revive the old social norm that when a dude knocks up his lady, he has an obligation to shotgun marry her. Without such a social norm, the odds of pregnancy actually being carried to term seem low, since the stress of single motherhood is too daunting for many to bear.
Via Eve Tushnet