Thursday, October 06, 2016

From The "Whose Body Is It, Anyway?" Files. Three Case Studies.

1.  In Poland the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS) proposed an almost complete abortion ban, with the only exception being the unintended death of the fetus to save the pregnant woman's life.

This is not the first such proposal in Poland, a "staunchly" Catholic country.  The Catholic Church has a finger in every political pie in the country, and would like that finger in every Polish vagina, too,  especially now that PiS,  the party most intertwined with the Church,  is running the government.  To put it plainly, it's time to play the piper for its political support, and that piper is the Catholic Church.

But the proposal was overwhelmingly rejected, despite that "staunch" Catholicism of the country.  Why?

This is why:

Some 100,000 people, mostly women, protested against the proposals in cities across Poland on Monday and appeared to prompt the PiS to swing against the bill, although the party promotes Catholic values.

Prime Minister Beata Szydlo distanced herself from a change to the law and Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Gowin moved to reassure women on Wednesday that a total ban would not get through.
"Abortion will certainly not be banned when the woman is the victim of rape or if her life or her health is in danger," he insisted.
Whether Polish women (or Poles, in general) are especially feminist is unclear to me.  It could be that the protests are caused by an anger at the way the Catholic Church has played party-politics in Poland, as this article suggests.  It could be, but I doubt that, because then the 100,000 protesters wouldn't have mostly been women.

This counts as good news in my books.

2.  In Egypt, a lawmaker called Elhamy (or Ilhami) Agina has proposed that women should have to take a virginity test before going to college:

Agena said in an interview last week that virginity tests were needed to combat the proliferation of informal marriages, known as “gawaz orfy,” between students. Virtually expense free, such marriages have become more popular in recent years because of high youth unemployment and a shortage of affordable housing.
The gawaz orfy is widely viewed as a religiously sanctioned way of having premarital sex, a taboo in mostly conservative and majority Muslim Egypt. Muslim clerics have spoken out against such marriages.
In Egypt, as in other conservative, Muslim countries, a young woman’s virginity is widely seen as a matter of family honor, the loss of which could prevent her from getting married.

Mr. Agena sees himself as the shepherd of the flocks of women-with-vulvas in other ways, too.  For example, he has defended Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as a useful device to keep that horrible lust for sex under control.  But his take on the value of that practice is somewhat different:

Agena’s comments about women have sparked controversy in the past, including claims that some female lawmakers were not dressing modestly enough.
He sparked an uproar last month by saying that the practice of female genital mutilation, or FGM, was needed to curb women’s sexuality and counterbalance allegedly widespread male impotence in Egypt. He claimed that 64 percent of Egyptian men suffer from impotence, citing increased sales of Viagra.
“If women are not circumcised, they will become sexually strong and there will be a problem,” an imbalance leading to divorce, he added.

Mr. Agena sounds to me as weird as a turnip playing bagpipes.  But a conservative culture can almost be defined by an odd mixture of public-and-private ownership of women's bodies*:

In private, women's bodies belong to their male guardians, the individuals who rule the family.  But in a more public sense women's bodies belong to both their wider kin (that family honor business) and the wider society.  It's that wider society that Mr. Agena attempts to represent when he proposes the sticking of fingers into young Egyptian women's vulvas.

Here's the good news:  Mr. Agena's gentle proposal caused at least some anger in Egypt:

A women’s rights group has filed a legal complaint against an Egyptian lawmaker who called for mandatory virginity tests for women seeking university admission, the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper reported Sunday.
It quoted Maya Morsi, head of the state-sanctioned National Council for Women, as saying the complaint demands the expulsion from parliament of Ilhami Agena and a criminal investigation into his actions. She said the lawmaker was harming the reputation of Egyptian women, men and the country itself.

After female law-makers protested Agena's proposal, the speaker of the Egyptian parliament has agreed to refer Mr. Agena to an ethics committee which has the power of expulsion.

But note that the last quote above doesn't talk about the ownership of the female body, only about the reputation of Egyptian women, men and the country itself.  In that sense it is more linked to the concept of honor as dwelling in women's vaginas than it is to the question who owns our bodies.

3.  The US Republican vice-presidential candidate, the Christianist Mike Pence, is also pretty keen on supervising the doings and beings of the female body.  The US Republican presidential candidate, one Donald Trump, of course believes that the ownership of all female bodies belongs to him.


*A more liberal culture has slightly different ideas about who has the right to female bodies, with more women demanding that right to rule their own bodies, while, at the same time, there's that public ownership of such bodies in pronography (spelling mistake intentional).

The idea that families have a say, too, hasn't died out, either.