Sex-Selective Abortion, Men’s Rights Foolishness, and ‘Obvious Child’

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On this episode of Reality Cast, Miriam Yeung will explain why sex selective abortion bans are just so much race-baiting and don’t actually help anyone. So-called “men’s rights” activists get a moment in the sun and fumble it terribly, and I review the movie Obvious Child.

Slam poet Anna Binkovitz does a hilarious piece about people who try to find ways to argue that women who aren’t consenting to sex secretly are.

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Check it out at the link to hear the full poem. Really funny stuff.


After the Elliott Rodger shooting, there was a ripple of mainstream news interest in the world of online misogyny that pretends to be an equality movement by going under the term “men’s rights.” It’s not a surprise. Rodger clearly had immersed himself in the wooly world of online misogyny and his writings and videos showed someone who was well-versed in the lingo of men who blame women generally and feminism in particular for all their problems. And so there’s been a no doubt short-lived spate of media interviews with self-proclaimed “men’s rights” activists and they are, if anything, even more cringe-worthy than you would have guessed. You want to feel embarrassed for these guys, and then you remember they are misogynists, and so it’s really like watching a particularly hellacious episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

A guy named Dean Esmay from a blog called A Voice For Men was asked on a Detroit Fox affiliate to debate a feminist college professor named Heather Dillaway. A Voice For Men is a sad mess of a site where a bunch of men try to convince themselves men are the people who are really oppressed, and apparently for the purpose of justifying their own misogyny. He did not come off well.

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Yep, the claim that Esmay trots out is a common one amongst online misogynists: That rape and domestic violence are, basically, problems that feminists made up to make cash money. It’s definitely an aggravating lie, especially for women who have endured rape or domestic violence or both. I think it also causes people to be a bit confused when they hear it. Why would you try to lie about the realities of rape or domestic violence, when covering up those problems only serves to make it easier for rapists and wife beaters to get away with their crimes? It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that making it harder to prosecute rape and domestic violence is, in fact, the purpose of this so-called men’s rights activism.

Anyway, this silliness continued.

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Okay, so let’s be clear here. Men, on average, do make more than women. But, according to Esmay, that doesn’t count because there are women out there who make more than he does. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that he’s arguing that as long as any woman ever on the planet makes more than any man ever, then men are oppressed by women. That only makes sense if you think that men are entitled to make more money than women, and not just on average, but all men for all time are entitled to make more money than women. It’s mind-boggling, but it really goes to show how much so-called men’s rights are actually about misogyny. Esmay assumes that if any woman ever makes more than a man, no matter what, it’s because of preferential treatment and not because of her job or education or skills. The only way that theory works is if you assume it’s impossible for woman to ever be smarter or skilled than a man, full stop. It’s a theory based in the assumption that even the least skilled man is smarter than the smartest woman. That is pure misogyny. Luckily, Heather Dillaway was able to come on to explain some of the context for all this silliness.

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And really, didn’t Dean Esmay just prove that? His entire argument rested on the assumption that all of men’s needs and desires should be met before women’s even start to be considered, that any random woman should not have a high-paid job, for instance, until every single man out there has one first. Dillaway’s metaphor broke down a little due to the constraints of live interviewing, but her point was well-considered. The so-called men’s rights movement is a bunch of guys who see that men get nine pieces of candy but throw a fit about women getting much candy if they get one piece. They are awfully short-sighted and childish, but unfortunately they are dumping a lot of this hateful, entitled rhetoric onto the Internet, where it can get to impressionable young people. Young people like Elliott Rodger, who was so infatuated with the idea that he was owed sex more than women were owed freedom that he ended up killing six people over it. So while I’d love to just ignore these guys and hope they go away, unfortunately the recent shooting shows that’s a hope that just isn’t going to work out.




I was fortunate enough to get to go to a pre-release screening of the movie Obvious Child, which is now enjoying a wider release. It’s a feature-length romantic comedy that is structured around a character’s abortion, and it’s getting a lot of press for being brave enough to show, well, how women actually feel about abortion instead of how male-run Hollywood generally tells women how they should feel about abortion, which is ashamed and fearful. Or really, what most Hollywood movies say that what women should feel about abortion is simple feigned ignorance. I never stop marveling at how many movies and TV shows I see where the topic of abortion is never even mentioned, even though, in real life, it’s an option that’s at least contemplated in the face of an unintended pregnancy, even if a woman opts to have her baby. So the fact that the main character of Obvious Child makes a different decision is remarkable in and of itself. That she does it like women often do in real life, which is quickly and without regret, is particularly refreshing.

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But having seen it, I can say what I really loved about the movie was it wasn’t about abortion. I mean, it was, but what it actually was about was the traditional rom-com plot: Girl meets boy, obstacles, boy and girl get together. There’s a lot of talk about the abortion, but it doesn’t define the main character, played by Jenny Slate. Her anxieties about her comedy career, her worries about love, her relationships with her parents, and her friendships are all the real point of the movie. Abortion in this movie reads like it does in real life: It’s a thing that women have to do sometimes, but it doesn’t define them and is merely one experience in a sea of experiences that make up our lives. Better yet, the movie is by far the best romantic comedy I’ve seen in over a decade. It isn’t just the abortion that sets it apart. The movie generally opposes some of the tired clichés of romantic comedies, particularly the sexist nonsense about how men and women are “opposites” and instead tells a very specific story of two people who get together because of who they are and not because gendered rom-com conventions that demand it.

The quality of the movie has led, happily, to some really great press for it. Press that happily focuses on the actual characters instead of trying to make it just about the abortion.

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Leaving the movie, I felt very much that if abortion wasn’t nearly so controversial a topic in our society, then the way I would end up describing the movie is as one about a stand-up comedian who ends up falling for a guy who she previously would have never looked at twice. Abortion is a thing that happens in it, and the big romantic climax happens when the male lead shows up at the female lead’s house on the day of her abortion to hold her hand and bring her flowers. But since it is happening in a society where abortion is controversial, the very normalcy of the movie is, in and of itself, a political statement. It’s a political statement about how abortion doesn’t necessarily mean anything but that a woman is not ready right now. It doesn’t mean she is unlovable or abnormal or messed up in any way. Slate’s character is no different than any other rom com character, except she’s more relatable. But since it’s going to be political, no matter how you slice it, the smartest route to go is to make it aggressively normal. This is how abortion is, in fact, experienced by many women.

The director Gillian Robespierre was on Democracy Now! to talk about the choice to make abortion a central concern in this movie. I was impressed in particular at how they were careful to show the abortion experience as realistically as possible.

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It’s a shame that it’s considered so revolutionary to show abortion how it really is in the world, instead of drenching it in all this shame and fear that actually isn’t part of a typical abortion experience. But hopefully the skill and humor of this movie, and the sheer normality of it, will encourage other filmmakers to incorporate straightforward depictions of abortion into their plot lines.


And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, revenge fantasies costumed as concern edition. This is a little old, but worth nothing: Right wing talk show how Matt Barber pretending to be sorry for women who have had abortions, when of course he’s actually just fantasizing out loud about them getting punished for not doing what he wants of them.

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It’s not “the left” or Planned Parenthood that denies that abortion causes depression. It’s the American Psychological Association: “This research review found no evidence that a single abortion harms a woman’s mental health.” That is a direct quote from the APA. However, childbirth is associated with higher levels of depression, particularly for women with unintended pregnancies. Anyone who actually cared about women’s mental health would want women to have access to abortion. Don’t believe the fake concern.