Ann at Feministing had a post last week about the problem—familiar to me because my old college debate partner used to get furious about it—of doctors refusing to perform elective tubal ligations on adult women in their 20s. The thinking, apparently, is that those women are old enough to make the irreversible decision to have a child, but not old enough to decide not to. This got another blogger, who goes by Radical Doula, “pretty angry“:
I think that you will find that for women of color, low income women, or immigrant women, this issue is completely different. Rather than having trouble getting sterilization surgeries, they are being FORCIBLY sterilized.
Generally I love the debates and discussions on Feministing, I think they provide a wide range of perspectives and foster great dialogue. I was really disappointed by this post however, and even more disappointed to see that in the more than 100 comments posted (mine was 20-something) only one other person even acknowledged the flip-side of this issue for women of color, low income women, and immigrants.
And Ann duly posts a follow-up stressing that she “completely missed this angle, and really appreciate her bringing it up.”
Now, I think it’s generally all to the good if affluent white folks of either sex maintain some healthy perspective about the relative severity of the injustices they suffer. But it’s also just tedious to insist that any complaint from those quarters has to be coupled with a ritualistic invocation of the still-greater suffering of other groups, especially when it’s as strained as the post for which Ann’s so appreciative .
The language there is conspicuously present tense—about people who “are being forcibly sterilized”—but, of course, actual compulsory sterilization policies have been dead for a generation. They were, needless to say, grotesque and execrable abuses of basic rights, but they’re also not “an angle” on the topic initially under discussion: It really is “needless to say” in this context. The attempt to insist on their relevance evokes nothing so much as the old story about Bobby Fischer breaking into a coversation about the likelihood of nuclear war to demand: “But what the hell has this got to do with chess?”
Actually, long-defunct but genuine programs of compulsory sterilization are the least dubious bit of evidence adduced in the RD post. There’s also a reference, without citation, to “Undocumented women in PA” being “allowed access to tubal ligations (without cost) but no help for other shorter term birth control methods.” I’m not sure, but perhaps that’s a reference to this story about a creepy-sounding private group group offering drug-addicted women in poor areas of Philly $200 to get sterilized. If so, notwithstanding the myriad ways the behavior of this one wacky group is offensive, it’s also a plain abuse of language to class it with compulsory sterilization, or indeed to treat it as the “flip side” of a widespread and accepted policy among current medical professionals. A practice, I should note, that we’re given no reason to think is normally suspended when 20-something women of color come in seeking tubal ligations.
So let me suggest that even if you’re big on inclusiveness, not everything needs to be about chess. It’s OK to criticize the Bush administration without a three-paragraph caveat stipulating that the Shoah was totally worse! It’s OK to condemn current restrictions on sterilization without a detour through mid-century eugenics programs! And it might not even be classist or racist to rebuff demands that you do with a simple: “You know what? That’s just not relevant.”