Commentary Human Rights

To The Democrats: We Told You So

Lorraine Berry

For years, feminist writers like me have been desperately trying to get the Democrats' attention. Is what's going on now finally enough?

In some ways, my own silence on the issues of the past several weeks has surprised me. I have a reputation for writing about feminist issues—by which I mean anything that pertains to the notion that women are entitled to the same inalienable human rights that men are.

Nothing less.

For a while, I felt that I—along with some other prominent feminist bloggers—were voices crying in the wilderness. While other folks were focused on the “big” issues, I could not stop talking about Plan B, abortion rights, contraception, whether women were entitled to buy sex toys in places like Texas and Mississippi—essentially anything that pertained to women and control of their bodies.

I have this fundamental belief—and yes, on this issue, you can call me a fundamentalist—that women cannot be truly equal in a culture unless they are allowed to control their own bodies. That they can control what enters their bodies, what they choose to carry within their bodies, that they can make decisions about their sexual needs and desires free of government interference. For me, these issues are so bedrock, so fundamental to what it means to be a human being in this free democracy we so proudly proclaim to the world, that I have privileged this belief above other issues that some folks have told me are more important.

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And so, given my reputation for speaking out about these issues, one would think that I would have been one of the first ones to voice my objections to the various bills in front of state legislatures, and the outrageous pronouncements of the Republican candidates, which no longer even pretend that they’re about protecting the rights of fetuses, but which are, without apology, direct attacks on a woman’s right to be anything other than a baby-making factory.

You’ll forgive me for my lack of outrage. If anything, I’m exhausted and angry—along with many of my feminist allies—that some folks refused to see this coming. Of course, the issue was about controlling women, keeping them out of the public sphere, denying them any access to real power. It’s obvious: how can you function as a political creature if you are perpetually pregnant?

We were told we were overreacting when we tried to hold Democrats to account when they allowed G.W. Bush to appoint to the SCOTUS men who were actively opposed to women’s reproductive rights. We were lectured by people we thought should be our allies—people like Dan Savage—who told us that we should hold our noses and vote for candidates like Casey in Pennsylvania. We were fed the myth that even though Casey holds radical views about women, that, once in the Senate, party discipline would keep these types of Democrats under control. Well, guess who one of the Democrats who voted for the Blunt Amendment was?

We were scolded for being “single-issue” voters, for failing to see the big picture, for being selfish.

Well, you know what?

We knew what was coming. We knew that these “little” issues were part of a much larger social agenda that would seek to put women back in their place within the home. We knew that what was at stake was our basic humanity. And again and again, we were told that we were focused on boutique issues when more important issues should be occupying us.

Of course, we were capable of thinking about reproductive issues and other issues before us. We are capable of doing two things at one time. But I am fighting with myself because my gut reaction to all the folderol that the Republicans have produced in the past few months that seek to deny women their humanity is I Told You So. Not a mature reaction. Not a constructive reaction. But I feel as if some of us have been begging politicians to pay attention to what was happening to the erosion of women’s rights in this country for the past couple of decades.

I apologize for feeling that way. I apologize that I haven’t been able to muster the energy to get galvanized around the new issues before us. Because they’re not new. They’ve been there for years. And I just find myself feeling angry that it took the sort of high-stakes attacks on women’s rights to get some folks to pay attention.

Especially the Democrats. The Democrats, who seemed to spend the entire Bush administration breaking my heart with their refusal to take this stuff seriously. And now, suddenly, the Democrats want to proclaim themselves women’s best friends—oh, and by the way, will I donate to the party now as it seeks to finally do its job and stand up for women?

I will do what I have always done. I will make my contributions to Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and the other women’s groups who never lost sight of these issues.  I will remind all of us that women matter. We have always mattered. We welcome you into the tent.

But I warn the Democrats. If this is temporary, if you are going to take advantage of the cold-blooded attempts by Republicans to strip women of their rights only to get distracted as soon as the heat is off, I will not forget.

I will continue to argue, to work in the ways that I can, to argue that women are humans, too. I’d like to believe that this is a real turning point, that folks are finally going to get what has been at stake all this time.

But I’m angry that it took what has amounted to the nuclear option to finally get someone’s attention.

Because, you see, I told you so.


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Reproductive rights are a public health issue. That's a fact.

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