Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Abortion Rights Freedom Ride: Can We Not?

Last week, a group called Stop Patriarchy kicked off what they are calling their "abortion rights freedom ride" with the goal of ending both patriarchy and pornography. There is so much wrong here it's hard to know where to begin.

Let's start with the name. "Abortion rights freedom ride" obviously calls to mind the freedom rides of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. If you need to brush up on the history there, Wikipedia has a pretty good detailed description, but the quick and dirty overview is that a group of civil rights activist rode buses throughout the southeastern US to challenge segregation. Supreme Court decisions outlawing segregation in public places were not being enforced, and Jim Crow laws were still in place. The riders were frequently subjected to arrest and violence, and were even decried by the Kennedys as "unpatriotic."

The freedom rides were an historic milestone for civil rights. There is no denying their importance, and wanting to recreate that is an understandable feeling. However, using the name is misguided at best. The riders were putting themselves in very serious danger to correct an injustice, and appropriating their language dilutes what they did and disrespects their memory. And considering that one of their biggest name draws is Eve Ensler (who wrote an endorsement for them; it's unclear what her involvement is beyond that), I'm going to go out on a limb and say they are a very White Feminist (TM) group and didn't actually consult any activists of color when choosing this name. It's incredibly egregious when you consider how mainstream feminists have ignored non-white voices in the past and present.

In another linguistic form of appropriation, the group refers to forced motherhood as "female enslavement." While I agree that forced birth is horrible and torturous, using slavery-related terminology to discuss anything BUT actual slavery is simply unacceptable. There are many other ways to phrase this and get the same message across, so let's not misuse this one. Plus, "female" ignores trans* and other non-binary individuals who may have a uterus but do not identify as women.

Map of abortion rights freedom ride routes.
Image from

We need to talk about their routes, as well. The three states that have been in the news lately for their horrific anti-choice legislation -- Texas, Ohio, and North Carolina -- barely feature on the tour. It seems they are going to blow through Texas and North Carolina without doing anything at all. There is one stop in Cleveland. You know, the major city that is only a few hours drive from New York, where reproductive rights are still pretty well protected. People in rural Ohio aren't on the group's radar, I guess.

If you look at the map above, you'll notice that even in states that are less known for their reproductive freedoms, the rides still stop in major cities. Chicago, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, and so on, are included instead of the small towns where people in need of abortion services are being the most screwed over. This indicates to me that the tour is more about making headlines and less about actually helping people.

The rides kicked off July 23 in, of all places, New York City and San Francisco. This makes the whole event reek of "let's take a poverty tour" where the activists can stay safely contained in their buses until they reach the nice cities where they can hold their rallies.

This group has raised plenty of money, as well. The figure I've heard is somewhere in the $20,000 range, and while I cannot find a specific plan for the money listed anywhere, I have to assume much of that is going toward travel costs. This amount of money could do a lot more good being sent directly to clinics or to organizations that provide funds or transportation to impoverished people who need reproductive services. Paying to bus in some coastal activists seems like such a waste.

The last thing that really needs to be addressed is the group's anti-pornography stance. I understand that the mainstream porn industry has a lot of problems, but ending porn altogether -- as if that were even possible -- is not the way to go. There are many people out there who identify as feminists who find sex work in varying forms empowering. Many people who do it voluntarily, because they enjoy it and can make a good living that way. Dismissing all porn and sex work as evil shames and degrades these individuals while also attempting to remove their freedom to choose their profession. It would be much more useful to reform the porn industry and legalize different forms of sex work so that they can be subject to regulations that protect against the more negative aspects.

This group needs to rethink its events and stances. There are ways to fight the anti-choicers and problematic aspects of our society without wasting money or appropriating language.

Opinions on this post are my own. However, I want to give credit where credit is due and thank @AngryBlackLady, @dwalton1, @meadowgirl, and many others for the Twitter discussions that brought this to my attention.

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