When Women Aren't People
If it feels like your humanity is up for debate, that's because it is
I couldn’t bring myself to watch the Supreme Court arguments, or even to read the accompanying articles and breakdowns of what each justice means when they bring up adoption, or pontificate about how far women have come in the workplace and how that impacts parenthood. It’s just too much.
Not because I didn’t see it coming, or because anything they said was a surprise—I just can’t watch abortion rights be calmly discussed as if my humanity is up for debate.
And while I am in awe of the activists on the street and the lawyers working their asses off, I feel too defeated to move. How many times do we have to talk about our lives and experiences before this country sees those lives as meaningful and worthy of protection? How many years will we have to fight? Most of all: How many of us will have to die?
When Roe v Wade is overturned—because let’s be clear, that’s what’s going to happen—it won’t just end abortion access as we know it. It will be an enshrinement of something women have known in their guts for decades: That we are not citizens with full rights. That really, we are barely people.
Because while it’s not only women who can get pregnant—and we already know antichoice laws especially hurt trans and gender non-conforming people—the conservative strategy around abortion is very much about putting women back in their place.
Stripping women of their humanity and rights isn’t a consequence of the ‘pro-life’ agenda, it’s the entire point. By the time they’re done, a zygote you’d barely notice on a fucking maxi pad will have more rights than we do.
I can no longer imagine a future in America where women are seen as fully human. Not just because of what’s happening with abortion—but because of the shifting tone towards women’s rights more broadly.
Any sense of urgency around feminism has been replaced with a sort of cultural boredom: Haven’t women come far enough? Are we really still talking about MeToo/wage equality/domestic work? That collective (mostly male) shrug means that our humanity is treated as an afterthought—even on the issues that impact us the most.
Consider the responses from men in media last week when CNN parted ways with reporter Chris Cuomo (for using sources to dig up dirt on his brother’s accusers): Matt Yglesias tweeted, “If my brother ever gets embroiled in scandal, I’m gonna do some unethical shit to help him out”, and former New York Times columnist Clyde Haberman wrote, “Wouldn’t you help your brother if he fell into trouble, even of his own making?”
These writers didn’t use phrases like “embroiled in scandal” or “fell into trouble” simply because it sounds better than admitting they’d cover for a brother who sexually harassed and assaulted women—but because to them, women barely merit acknowledgement.
Not all sexist men think negatively about women; some don’t think of us at all. And how can we ever be equal if we’re barely considered to begin with?
The truth is that abortion laws have always told a story about who counts as human in this country. There’s a reason that those most impacted, and those who are and will be targeted and punished, are the most marginalized among us.
Right now, the conservative agenda is almost entirely about re-establishing that hierarchy of who gets to be a person. Whether it’s anti-abortion laws; policies banning gender-affirming medical treatment and dictating who can use what bathroom; or the strategic re-writing of history to center white children’s feelings over the objective truths around racism—this has never been just about rolling back rights. It’s about codifying who counts and who doesn’t.
So when you watch the news, or follow Supreme Court cases and feel as if your humanity is being debated, please know, that’s because it is.