Friday, April 10, 2009

Eyal Press: Absolute Convictions

I have very conflicted feelings about hip hop and rap and gender stuff; but maybe Tupac had some kinda premonition when he wrote this part of the song (the rest of it is another topic for another time):

And since we all came from a woman
Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman
I wonder why we take from our women
Why we rape our women, do we hate our women?
I think it's time to kill for our women
Time to heal our women, be real to our women
And if we don't we'll have a race of babies
That will hate the ladies, that make the babies
And since a man can't make one
He has no right to tell a woman when and where to create one
So will the real men get up

Eyal Press is the son of an OBGYN who provided abortion services for decades in Buffalo. Press goes to great lengths to show the context of this practice, in terms of the city of Buffalo itself (I think he feels as strongly about Buffalo as I do about Oakland,) the changing times, the economy, the religious motivations of the players, etc. Near the end of the book, he writes poignantly that in the war of words, the "pro-life" people have won: the dialogue is about fetuses and embryos, but not women. Press's father, the doctor, tells him that he must interview some of the patients prior to completing his book.

The thought hadn't occurred to me until then, perhaps because, like many people, I'd grown accustomed to reading stories about abortion that featured the views of advocates, politicians, legal scholars, medical experts- everyone but the more than one million women in America who elect to terminate their pregnancies every year. The latter's invisibility is not owed solely to the inherently private nature of the issue, nor is it simply the fault of the press. It is also a reflection of arguably the most striking achievement of the right-to-life movement in the years since Roe v. Wade: three decades after feminists held speakouts to remove the veil of shame and secrecy surrounding "illegal operations," the stigma surrounding abortion was very much back in place.

This is a startling point- Press and Tupac are speaking to a similar issue: people are out there fighting for their causes in the name of "women," while devaluing the same women they claim to protect. Press says that most of the front-line anti-choice opponents are men who talk about unborn children, but fail to notice the women struggling. Tupac sings about hating women, raping women, and the stark realization that men have no right over the jurisdiction of telling women about creating children.

As fascinating as this point of Press' book is, it is not the central point of the book, and the book falls short of its potential. Partially, Press is left with a less than charismatic central figure: his father is a stoic Israeli who doesn't seem to care much about the drama swirling around him. Additionally, Press wants to lay out the entire scene of the pre- and post- Roe v. Wade world in general, and the Buffalo terrain in specific. Most of this is old news to me, and the telling is slightly tedious. I wish Press had spent more time on one or two details, and less time on the big picture. For someone totally new to the reproductive rights field, this might be a fabulous book. But if you've read anything else, including Cynthia Gorney's awesome "Articles of Faith," which Press cites repeatedly, this is old news. Worth checking out, maybe, but not a must-read.