June 2011

My body is not your business

By Katharhynn Heidelberg

I’ve got news: My body is not your business.

On the serious side, I’m talking to the South Dakota Legislature, which in March passed a law requiring women to listen to an ideologically based spiel about abortion before they can obtain one — a law passed in the name of (you’ll love this) “protecting” them. Also, the fine state of Texas pulled a similar stunt in May, requiring women to view sonograms so they “can have all the facts.”

On the less serious side, I’m talking to departing Fox contributor Glenn Beck, who in May treated his radio-show listeners to a bizarre attack on Meghan McCain. McCain had the audacity to bare her shoulders in a skin-cancer awareness advert, and of course (snark) should have known Beck thinks she’s too fat for that to be permitted.

South Dakota is the state that in 2006 attempted to ban all abortions, including for rape victims. (The law, whose title also claimed to “protect” women, was repealed.) A 2005 South Dakota law, still tied up in the courts, requires doctors to lecture their patients about what an abortion is. And this March, the state’s Legislature passed a law that requires a 72-hour waiting period before a woman can obtain an abortion. (There was already a 24-hour waiting period.) More objectionable — and frightening — is the requirement that women first receive “counseling” at a “pregnancy help center,” whose goal is to “educate, counsel, and otherwise assist women to help them maintain their relationship with their unborn children.”

Sen. Al Novstrup, a fellow impervious to irony and hypocrisy, touted the measure as a way to protect women from coercion. And then Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed into law a bill requiring women to undergo a vaginal ultrasound 24 hours before getting an abortion. This, he says, will arm women with “all the facts” about the procedure and its “devastating impacts.” Did you catch that? Texas just passed a law dictating a medical procedure for pregnant women, one that also dictates procedures to their doctors, and one, presumably, for which the woman pays. There’s only one thing to say. Thank you, Al, for protecting me from the burden of thinking for myself!

Thank you, Rick, for the unlooked-for pleasure of having an instrument shoved inside me, so that I can see for myself how pregnant I am! I don’t understand how I ever got through life without a bureaucrat drawing a map for me, and goodness knows, if I were ever in the position of having to terminate a pregnancy, I would surely benefit from the ideological interference of “counseling” centers. I am dumb. I need someone with an agenda to lead me by the hand; I need it so bad that it should be a legal requirement! I guess you’re right — the government should come between doctor and patient when the patient is a woman. And especially if the patient is a woman who’s had sex!

The government should do all it can to control women’s sex lives, even after the fact. It should hide behind “respect life” arguments to do so, even though that strategy is a cheap emotional appeal that shows no respect for my life and decision-making capacity. You know us womenfolk: We’re loose, and weak; we live on pedestals, and when we step off them, we should be punished. Spare me your “protection,” South Dakota.

Spare me, Rick. And for the love of Pete, can’t someone send Al, Rick, and the other bobbleheads in their states’ Legislatures a calendar? One that clearly shows what century this is?

Glenn Beck also needs that calendar — or at least, a memo about how competent provocateurs and showmen at least try keep their comments hitched to reality and relevance.

Meghan McCain participated in a public service announcement about skin cancer. (Her father, Sen. John McCain, is a melanoma survivor.) The ad was shot to highlight the dangers of sun exposure, and McCain was wearing a strapless dress, thus appearing “naked” from the collarbone up.

Beck saw this as cause for alarm, not because skin cancer is a serious threat, but because the thought of McCain naked made him want to vomit. He then spent several minutes on his show pretending to puke, and suggested McCain wear a burqa. (Entertainment at its finest!)

You gotta wonder about a guy who takes the mere sight of a woman as an invitation to openly fantasize about her, and then pretends to be greatly offended by something that happens in his own head.

But my concern isn’t whether McCain is fat (at size 8, she clearly is not). My concern is not even whether women should believe that there’s something so wrong with being fat, that they owe strangers an explanation.

Rather, it’s that Beck’s comments show he’s comfortable with judging women’s bodies whenever he feels like it — and that his is a level of comfort possible only in a society that has institutionalized the judging of women’s bodies.

Such judgment is practically a national pastime. Witness one online comment that said McCain should “show some humility” because Beck is more “accomplished” than she. There ya have it, folks! Rich, arrogant men can say whatever they please about women’s bodies, and if the woman objects, then she’s the one with the problem. Humble yourself, sister!

While this ultimately silly kerfuffle between McCain and Beck cannot be compared to the very serious issue of abortion rights, the endless debate about which women have strangers’ “permission” to terminate a pregnancy, and under what circumstances, also shows a society that is comfortable with judging women’s bodies — in this case, what they do with their bodies, and what can be done to control and police them.

But women’s bodies are not public property, and it’s well past time we come to grips with that. You do not publicly declare a woman too fat (or too thin) for the same reason you do not walk up to her and say “nice rack.” You don’t get to pass judgment on her simply because she enters your line of vision.

Nor should you expect her to be flattered if you do like her looks. And you don’t get a vote on a stranger’s reproductive health, any more than she gets to decide yours.

My body isn’t here for you to love, hate, judge, mock, praise, or control. It’s here for me to use. And I decide how. I decide.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is a journalist in Montrose, Colo.