Since the United States Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade, I can’t stop thinking about the things that are priorities and those that are not. I can’t stop thinking about the things that are considered important.
That day, like many others, I watched speechless as the news that the right to legal abortion was no longer protected by the highest court in the United States. I felt rage and disbelief. Something monumental had happened and it felt direct and personal. On my WhatsApp groups, friends were talking about fear. We viewed this moment of regression in feminist progress as a car accident.
No, the United States is not the center of the world. Yes, the right to abortion has been revoked in Poland and Hungary – and even in the UK abortion is not freely available to everyone. It is also true that there is no end to other countries where women’s rights are violated. However, the United States is the most important influencer when it comes to nation states and democracies. Women’s rights there are part of a bigger story, of feminism and progressive rights in general, which also includes us. While the data on attitudes towards abortion in the UK points to overwhelming support, that does not mean that the right-wing Christian narrative that subjugates the rights of a woman to those of a fetus is uninfluenced. MP Danny Kruger offhandedly commented on a woman’s right to “bodily autonomy(such a cold and detached phrase) and later apologized for possibly being misunderstood. He had no idea what impact those words could have on the very bodies he was referring to.
It seemed to me and to all the women I spoke with that Roe vs. Wade is the question that matters now. We felt it viscerally, in our bones. But I increasingly wonder if this visceral response, perhaps for obvious reasons, seems to be unique to women.
In the United States, according to a poll conducted by YouGov, there is a clear difference between how men and women view the Supreme Court decision. While 54% of women said it was a “terrible” or “bad” time in US history, only 38% of men said the same. The data of the Center for American Women and Politics shows that women in the United States are more favorable than men to access to abortion. Women also favor policies that require employers to give new parents 12 percentage points more paid leave than men.
Since men dominate politics, the media and industry leadership, they tend to decide what matters. Every once in a while, women scream about something that seems so obvious, or terrifying, a sign that equality is still out of reach. But these things fade unless we keep the noise going. Access to abortion, like domestic violence, like menstrual poverty, is ultimately sidelined as a “women’s issue”. It is only a symptom of the bigger things, such as the collapse of Western civilization or major financial crises. Women are always a sub-plot.
And even when we “make a fuss,” there is no guarantee of lasting priority. That’s what happened with the #MeToo movement. Remember the reactions to the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial, how they firmly put women in their place? That’s what happened after the murder of Sarah Everard, when policymakers responded to the atrocity with a series of headline-grabbing announcements – no more police undercover in clubs, no anyone ? — that wouldn’t make any woman any safer.
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We need to open space in the agenda for so-called women’s issues – we need a place in the important and serious things that make up the real world. If people listen to how scared women are right now, for themselves and for other minorities whose rights are at stake, they might realize that women are onto something.
[ See also: The Roe vs Wade decision is resonating in Europe ]