Two stories in the news today, both in the Guardian, caught my eye. The first was the news that pro-choice groups are now retaliating against the gains made by anti-abortion campaigners. The second was an excellent piece by Jackie Ashley on the debate over the sexualisation of young girls.
Recent developments in the political minefield of abortion rights have been, I believe, deeply concerning. Not only are anti-abortion groups such as Life being invited to have their say on government policy but there are proposals being made within the Conservative Party to both limit the time frame within which a woman may have an abortion and also to force women to undergo counselling should they chose to seek one.
Why are these proposals so appalling? Well, in terms of the reduction of time limits, the number of abortions that are undertaken in the later weeks is actually a miniscule proportion of all abortions carried out. Undergoing a late-term abortion is a horrendous experience that no woman would take lightly and would only be done in the most extreme circumstances. The women who choose to have late-term abortions are often the most vulnerable, women who have been abused or who are unaware of their pregnancy, have very controlling families or find out their child has a severe disability.
I also oppose plans to force women who wish to have a termination to undergo counselling. This is not to say that I think counselling in itself a bad thing. Indeed, if a woman wishes to have counselling for what can be a traumatising experience it should absolutely be provided. But forcing a woman to undergo counselling simply sends out the message that this decision is not hers alone, society has a say, and society disapproves.
Surprisingly, on the subject of the sexualisation of young girls the Conservative Right and Feminist Left find themselves in uneasy agreement, albeit for divergent reasons. The Right, headed by the likes of Nadine Dorries, oppose the sexualisation of young girls because they believe sex to be nasty and dirty and the sexualisation of young girls to be something nasty and dirty happening to children.
Many of us on the Left, however, oppose the selling of padded bras for seven year olds and make up and stilettos as toys for different reasons. This is because, as Jackie Ashley says, these girls “are being groomed – not by pervy old men hanging over computer keyboards, but by today’s ideology-free, value-free consumer culture, which tells them they’re sexually hot or they’re nothing”. The sexualisation and commodification of women is a false empowerment. What kind of freedom is the freedom to take your clothes off or get silicone enhanced breasts? Men don’t feel obliged to undergo cosmetic surgery and grueling beauty routines in order to look “acceptable” within society. Women need to realise that they have simply swapped one form of slavery and societal control for another.
Although the Left and Right agree that there should be something done, it is still for fundamentally different reasons. This is why the Left should not simply sit back and let the religious Right fight this battle. A feminist voice should be heard. This is not only because a lot of the other things these groups have to say about women, such as abortion rights, is poisonous and regressive, but because you can’t change society just by banning things. In order to enact real and lasting change you need to address the way both men and women think about these issues.