The Choice Ultimatum: Navigating the expanse between ‘brochoice’ and Gosnell

For some reason when I saw the Choice USA bro-choice campaign going viral across the interwebs last week I hung back and watched. On its face, there’s nothing wrong with doing a pro-choice campaign aimed at men. You’ve probably seen the Ryan Gosling meme with pro-choice messages, like this one circulated on Facebook by Choice USA:


I even posted it on The Sin City Siren‘s Facebook page. The juxtaposition of the objectification of Ryan Gosling with the pro-woman message of autonomy is funny, in a way. The image says “sexy time” but the words say “I totally respect you.” I could point out that it’s a little sexist to always start them with, “Hey girl…” but that would just be nit-picking.

So then comes bro-choice, which is widely praised for recognizing that there are a lot of men out there who are pro-choice but, perhaps, take a backseat role in the movement out of respect (or apathy). There’s a common misconception that it is not their fight. I would argue that it is absolutely a man’s fight because men are effected by sexism and misogyny in reproductive rights, too. But, I digress. Here’s what RH Reality Check had on the bro-choice campaign:

In our work at Choice USA, we’ve long known this to be true. Young men are overwhelmingly pro-choice. They understand the impact of reproductive and sexual oppression—not just on women’s lives, but on their own lives as well. And it’s important that we emphasize the distinction. We don’t need young men to participate in this work because they’ve been motivated by a sexist narrative about “saving our mothers, sisters and daughters” – a narrative often perpetuated by our own movement.

We don’t need a knight in shining armor.

We need men to move beyond a place of complacency and paternalism, and arrive at an understanding of their own self-interest in fighting for sexual and reproductive justice. We need young men to see the connections between masculinity and oppression—to be aware of male-privilege and their own insidious participation in a system that violates and dehumanizes women. We also need them to see the damaging impact this system has on their own lives. And the only way this can happen, is if we collectively embark on a movement to engage and recruit more young men into the feminist ranks.

You had me at “men are overwhelmingly pro-choice.” Here on this blog, I’ve seen that time and time again. During the 2011 National Abortion Funds Bowlathon every single donation for my team came from a man! Men care about this issue and are most definitely for choice. And if you think that there is no man-beneath-my-feminist-wings here at SCS… well, think again. I could not do what I do without the very real support of my very pro-choice husband.

But here’s where you lose me: There’s an unspoken assumption within this campaign that not only do men need to step up and take a stake in this fight (yes), but that women need to take a step back and make room for men (um, no). As my daughter’s puzzle game prompts when she makes a mistake, “Sorry. Try again.” It’s not my job to make feminism a welcoming movement because feminism is already a movement that is made up of people of different genders and sexualities. The assumption that the pro-choice movement (and by extension feminism) is not for men is as old as the hills!

How many spaces do I feel uncomfortable in because of patriarchy and rape culture? How much do I have to organize my day, what I wear, whether or not I smile, based on the social rules and conventions of a society locked in a sexist paradigm that sees women as less than men? The very gender binary of “men” and “women” is rooted in perpetuating gender roles, stereotypes, and institutionalized forms of oppression and power. We label them as “opposites” on a continuum of what it means to be a so-called man and so-called woman. But all of that is just a paradigm to keep us locked in patriarchal systems of oppression!

I’ve already spent most of my career carving out a feminist space for my own work and being. I’ve spent countless hours rallying for the very basic rights of autonomy over my own body that men take for granted. I don’t have time to make the feminist movement cozy for men. (How often do men make the real world cozy and less rape-culturey for me?) I definitely welcome them to share the space we’ve created. I welcome them as allies and as stakeholders in a very important movement of change. But in all honesty, what I think this campaign points to is the discomfort that men sometimes feel when they realize their own privilege. It’s not my job to soothe your guy-guilt anymore than it is a person of color’s job to soothe my white-guilt. The fact that it is uncomfortable sometimes to see your own privilege is part of the process. How you dismantle it and continue the fight is up to you. (And I hope you do.)

My slightly less passionate reason for having heartburn over the bro-choice campaign is the very name of it. “Bro-choice” calls to mind some kind of frat-house anthem. My pro-choice husband would never call himself by that moniker. It’s too sophomoric. Too simplistic. And why do men need a separate avenue to own pro-choice politics anyway?

Perhaps my passions are running a little hot right now because I’ve been following the Kermit Gosnell murder trial in Philadelphia. A lot of the coverage, even from NPR, has been sort of a back-handed compliment to the anti-choice movement. See, abortion clinics are evil places. In fact, the truth is much worse. Kermit Gosnell is an ogre of a human being, preying on poor women who could not afford quality health care or have access to abortions any other way. If you want to understand why the “War on Women” is a red herring for America’s institutionalized hatred of women of color and poor women, then look no further than the back-alley style horror show that was Gosnell’s practice. Gosnell is not a monster because he performed abortions, or even late-term abortions. He is a monster because he performed dangerously sub-standard health care marketed to women who could afford no better.

So when I read about things like bro-choice, I have to stop myself from having a Liz Lemon-sized eye roll. It is tinged with the kind of trivializing that it is actually trying to avoid. While you’re worrying about what to call pro-choice dudes, “doctors” like Gosnell are murdering desperate women who feel they have no other options in a society that has created so many roadblocks to a legal form of health care that it is effectively out of reach. Because of the very real misogyny of our culture, the very real white-privilege of the health care system, women are dying. And you are worrying about some kind of pro-choice marketing problem and getting “bros” to buy-in to reproductive justice? I could give a shit what you call yourselves. Call yourselves the Oompa Loompa Brigade for all I care. Just get in the fight!

6 thoughts on “The Choice Ultimatum: Navigating the expanse between ‘brochoice’ and Gosnell

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