A Womb of His Own: How Political Craftivism Helps Male Legislators Realize Their Dreams of Having Female Reproductive Organs
by Tamara Watkins
So far, this decade has been one for the anti-choice record books.
By the end of 2011, states had adopted a total of 135 new reproductive health provisions. This is a sharp increase from the previous two years; 89 reproductive health provisions were enacted in 2010 and 77 were enacted in 2009. Of these provisions, 68% are abortion restrictions. This is somewhat shocking, as only 26% of the reproductive health provisions in previous year were restrictions on abortion. The anti-abortion legislation train kept chugging along in 2012. A full review of the legislation would be tiresome, depressing, and too lengthy for this essay. However, a brief review of the lowlights will help us understand the full level of insanity that swept through various states recently. The following is a list of the most egregious proposed legislation:
- Doctors may lie to patients, telling them that abortion negatively impacts mental health, a claim that is false (http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/gpr/09/3/gpr090308.html). Prohibit lawsuits if the failure to provide information led the woman to continue a pregnancy, thus legally allowing anti-choice doctors to lie to their patients and deny them medical information.
- Allow individuals to refuse to refer for abortion. This is particularly interesting, as it is difficult to think of another situation in which a patient would not be “allowed” to seek medical treatment. Can anyone imagine not being referred for a tonsillectomy, arguably a more dangerous procedure as it requires anesthesia?
- Allow health care facilities to refuse to prescribe or administer family planning methods. Kansas, long known for being guano crazy when it comes to science, outdid itself with respect to women’s reproductive health legislation with this one.
- Exclude family planning providers from family planning funds—because, certainly those state funds will be repurposed into WIC and Medicare programs, right?
Attempts to block women’s access to reproductive health care have been occurring on the federal level as well. Male legislators lead attempts to block contraceptive coverage in the Affordable Healthcare Act. While legislators labored to restrict women’s health care options, nationally-syndicated conservative male political shock jocks hurled ad hominems based on a selective, and inaccurate, understanding of political activism, thus further perpetuating the idea that only a certain type of woman (nudge, nudge) are concerned about their reproductive rights, and that any so-called attacks on women are pure fabrication.
Although we made gains during the last election cycle, women are still grossly underrepresented in government. Nationwide, only 23.6% of state legislators are women. Things aren’t much better at the federal level, where only 18.3% of seats are held by women. Perhaps this is why so many state legislatures are overrun by anti-woman, anti-reproductive rights legislation. Alas, women have made no gains in the realm of conservative media.
All of this rhetoric and legislation leads me to conclude that expecting to get adequate health care and have access to legal medical procedures and drugs while inhabiting a body that contains a uterus is just unacceptable. (Women, amirite? Never satisfied when men who have their best intentions in mind try to control their lives. So ungrateful!) With all of these attacks on women’s reproductive rights and access to safe (and legal!) medical procedures, it is not surprising that women have gotten crafty in their activism. Craftivists sent homemade women’s reproductive organs--uteri, cervixes, vaginas, and the like--to Rick Santorum, Scott Brown, and other male backers of anti-choice legislation. Government Free VJJ co-founder Donna Drunchunas summarizes the movement’s mission thus: “The message is hands off my uterus. If you want one to control, here's one of your own.”
I am equally passionate about knitting and reproductive rights. As a result, when I heard about the send-a-Senator-a-snatch movement, I was delighted. Alas, I did not participate due to a lack of time to construct baby buckets for men who seem to so desperately want their own. A womb of one’s own! That’s the dream. I feel sorry for men who want uteri. I think I read somewhere that 87% of men who legislate uteri out of a deep bitterness that they were not born with the ability to give birth experience depression and attempt suicide. Okay, no, that’s not true. But it’s not any less of a lie than the pervasive idea that women who have abortions are emotionally scarred for life.
It’s a little difficult to not be bitter and cynical when it comes to my reproductive health care options. I think this is why I love the idea of sending knit reproductive organs to patriarchal, paternalistic, misogynist, anti-choice male legislators. Thanks to this project, dozens of male politicians have finally been granted their own uteri, vaginas, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. Now that these men have their own female reproductive organs, one wonders if their outlooks changed with respect to the legislation that they advocated. Their voting records do not indicate that this is the case, but perhaps once they have lived with uteri, etc., for a while, they will start to rethink how these organs should be regulated.
Knit organs are whimsical. They are, in their own strange way, unexpectedly adorable. More importantly, they are created using a skill set that is culturally considered “feminine,” helping to reframe the debate. A discussion about what women may do with their own bodies is not theoretical and abstract. It has, simply because of the nature of the subject, an inherently domestic aspect; accordingly, the presence of products made through the use of homely skills are appropriate in this discussion. However, whether knitting can be a feminist act has been hotly debated. Germaine Greer infamously deemed knitting an activity of “heroic pointlessness,” asserting that “women have frittered their lives away stitching things for which there is no demand.” Greer and her ilk would have us ignore the ways in which women can use traditionally home-oriented acts of creativity to empower themselves, and focus solely on how these arts were practiced by oppressed women. While women in previous generations undoubtedly knit, crocheted, and sewed because they had to, I would argue that most contemporary Western crafters practice their art(s) out of a desire to express themselves creatively, not out of a sense of oppressed filial obligation. Greer’s criticism of knitting seems rather oppressive itself. To imply that women self-oppress through the act of knitting is a blatant attempt to shame women from participating in this activity and restrict women’s involvement in this art form. Any form of art is not inherently sexist, feminist, etc. However, the work an individual creates can be a manifestation of any one of these philosophies.
Knitting is a very personal art form. It requires artists to dedicate time and effort to creating works. They plan their projects carefully, paying attention to not only their patterns, but also to color and fiber choices. Polish fiber artist Magdalena Abakanowicz commented on the importance of fiber, stating, “I see fiber as the basic element constructing the organic world on our planet, as the greatest mystery of our environment. It is from fiber that all living organisms are built—the tissues of plants and ourselves.... Fabric is our covering and our attire. Made with our hands, it is a record of our souls” (Kleiner and Mamiya 1081). When one knits or crochets, her fiber choices are highly individual and personal. So are one's reproductive choices. And neither category of choices should be regulated by individuals who have no understanding of the matter at hand.
Kleiner, Fred S. and Christin J. Mamiya. Gardener's Art Through the Ages. 12th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson, 2005. Print.
Tamara Watkins is a doctoral student in Media Art & Text at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Image from knitty.com