Fear, Loathing and Dancing Genitalia

11 Oct

A guest post by JustJane.

I’m older than most of the Abortion Gang and happy to be in solidarity with all of you as an (aging) guest blogger. I’ve been in the field for about twenty five years now. Longer if you include my confusion when my grade three teacher gave us a pamphlet about fetal development that I was finding fascinating until I reached week twelve, at which point it said, “Today my mother killed me.” Yes, I went to Catholic school. But even at eight years old, I knew there was something fundamentally screwed up about this pamphlet and the teacher who had given it to me. It would be years before I dared to articulate my feelings because I was afraid. Figuring out what I was afraid of was a big part of breaking free of that community and being able to think for myself. Little did I know I’d have to go through that same process again at forty-eight when once again, I noticed myself avoiding speaking out.

Back in the days when I was eight, my fear was of God and the Church, not the anti-choice folks that claimed to speak for them. Their tactics were pretty mild back then and involved showing colorized images of the fetus in the womb, with some thumb-sucking thrown in for good measure.  These images appealed to the idea of women as nurturers and portrayed the fetus as already human and in need of protection. They were meant to make pro-choice people feel guilt, not fear.

But in recent years, the images employed by the anti-choice have changed drastically. A particularly heinous group of anti-choicers has taken up the assault on reason in my neck of the woods. They’ve been setting up campaigns called the “Genocide Awareness Project,” “Show the Truth,” or other propagandist titles through “campus pro-life” groups, which as far as I can tell, are just a campus front for the people, money and churches that are really behind the display. And as if this weren’t bad enough, the advertising maxim, “Any media is good media,” seems to be working for them. They’ve been getting a lot of press, mostly because their displays offend community standards. Even bad media seems to encourage them. So they have become increasingly bold and visible. They often drive a truck around with their awful pictures plastered on the side and hold random street protests. You probably have something like this near you.

These images are not meant to appeal to women as nurturers or to make pro-choice people feel merely guilty. These images are bloody and horrific. The alleged dismembered fetuses plastered on trucks and held up by street protesters assault unsuspecting drivers and passersby like a perverted flasher in a school playground. People who have seen the display report that it can be several minutes before they understand what the images are supposed to be. One friend told me that the first time she saw the truck, she thought it was the worst advertising for barbeque she had ever seen. Then she got it. And she got angry. She said she felt like she had been mugged.

If you are unlucky enough to meet the protesters on the street, you will find that the images are accompanied by rhetoric that claims women who have abortions are perpetrators of genocide. It includes comparisons to the Holocaust. It says doctors who perform abortions are Nazis. It is beyond offensive.

I’m not the first to suggest that this strategy of calling pro-choice people perpetrators of genocide incites hate, and could be considered hate speech. But again, it is my own fear of these people that I want to talk about. For over a year, I had been aware of them and done nothing, in spite of a decades long record of advocacy. I told myself it was because they were contemptuous, loathsome morons who were already getting enough attention.  But after some self-examination when they protested only blocks from my home, I had to look deeper. If I was honest with myself, I was afraid of them.

This campaign, although it does not overtly demand violence against women who have abortions or their doctors and other supporters of reproductive rights, certainly evokes violence with its bloody images and use of language. I feared the implied violence of their campaign. Like schoolyard bullies, their implied violence is supported by actual violence. In this case, the actual violence is perpetrated periodically by some of their sympathizers, the people who kill doctors. I feared becoming the target of irrational, violent people who think they are working for God. Maybe some of you have felt this fear too. And I feared speaking out against them because, while they use the right to free speech to justify their lies, they sue anyone and everyone who says anything against them.

Then I remembered that bullies are only effective for as long as they can maintain fear in their victims. I realized that the purveyors of the bloody fetus pictures, in fact, rely on doctor killers to continue to bully unchallenged in the same way the nuns at my Catholic school relied on the occasional use of the strap and the fires of hell. I owed it to the doctors who had died protecting my rights to get past my fear. It was right to loath this anti-choice bully squad, but not to fear them.

It was this realization that got me and another pro-choice person to finally devise a counter protest. The bullies had shown up to harass a charitable organization that offers comprehensive sexual health information near our respective homes. Don’t ask me how or why, but I happen to have access to giant genitalia costumes – a penis made of a wonderful foamy material with testicles that bounce on my feet as I walk topped off with faux sperm made of bent white pipe cleaners coming out the top, and a vulva with a bedazzled, bejeweled clitoris. My friend and I donned these costumes and met the bullies on the sidewalk. Their jaws hung open in stunned disbelief. For once, they had nothing to say. Eroto-phobes that they are, they didn’t know what to do with us. Counter protest by dancing giant genitalia was not in their play book. They never saw it coming. Our signs challenged them and asked drivers to honk if they thought these people were full of baloney. And we danced, with bedazzled clitoris sparkling in the sunlight and testicles bouncing.

It wasn’t all fun and games. One woman drove around the block several times to scream, face red and veins throbbing, and say, “Life isn’t just about a penis and vagina.” On her fourth time around, I calmly told her, “No, but it does all start there, Ma’am.” At some point, we realized some drivers thought we were with the anti-choice people. That bothered us at first. Then we let it go. We knew our crazy antics made them look even more ridiculous than they already were, so if we were mistaken as part of them, that was fine and suited our purposes just as well. A party atmosphere started to emerge, as workers from a building across the street came with bottled water and patted us on our genitalia shoulders for taking them on.

Two eight year olds came by on their bikes. They wanted to know what we were doing and if they could help us. They didn’t understand our costumes. I didn’t tell them what we were. I told them this was about women deciding whether to have babies or not and that it was something they should talk about with their parents or the people who looked after them at home. I told them that it wasn’t right for me to tell them what to think or what to do and this was something families talk about. The anti-choice protesters invited the boys over to them, explained how some mommies murder their babies, said my friend and I thought that was okay, and gave them pamphlets to hand out to pedestrians. Once again, I saw how they prey on the weak, the young, and the uninformed. I wondered how this incident would reverberate in the lives of these boys.

The anti-choice protesters came back once, but never really got started. I went over, ready to dance the giant penis dance again, but by the time I arrived, they had dispersed. My friend, the dancing vulva, saw them a week later at another location. She got on her phone to call me to battle stations. We had already agreed we would do it again, any place, any time. When they recognized her, their leader made a quick phone call. A white sedan pulled around the corner. They stuffed their posters in the trunk and sped away.

It’s a small victory in a way, but a huge victory over the fear that had kept me from confronting them. In the immortal words of Susan Jeffers, “Feel the fear, and do it anyway.” It’s the only way to win in a battle with a bully. And access to giant genitalia costumes doesn’t hurt either.

15 Responses to “Fear, Loathing and Dancing Genitalia”

  1. gl. October 11, 2010 at 1:33 pm #

    excellent! thank you!

  2. tenderhooligan October 11, 2010 at 1:50 pm #

    I had very similar experiences at Catholic school. Even then, like you, I wondered why I was being bombarded with all of these over-wrought images and sentiments.

    On another note, well done to you and your vagina-covered friend! And it seems to have worked if they scrammed the second time you appeared!

  3. Alicia October 11, 2010 at 5:06 pm #

    You are my hero! I can’t imagine a more wonderfully, ridiculously positive way to fight back! Much better to laugh people over to our side than to yell and scream back at people who can’t be reasoned with and convince people on the fence that both sides are crazy extremists.

  4. Diana Parsons October 12, 2010 at 1:45 am #

    F*cking A, you made my evening fantastic!

  5. Not Guilty October 12, 2010 at 1:34 pm #

    Oh I wish I had those costumes when I met Show the Truth in my home town this summer! That would have being fucking awesome!

  6. Not Guilty October 12, 2010 at 1:34 pm #

    Also, pictures please?

  7. anna October 13, 2010 at 2:11 am #

    Dear god, thank you for this. I can’t possibly explain to you how much I needed these words. Best to you.

  8. Jordan C October 20, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

    I am a male. Please do not kill me for having an opinion simply because I also have a penis. I would simply like to give a human, humane voice to the people whom you have identified as haters, with the hopes that maybe there could be a recognition of common humanity on both sides of the abortion issue. I understand that people may feel deeply hurt at seeing the pictures of Pro-Life protesters. I understand that many women feel unloved by such imagery, and that it certainly does not appeal to their maternal, protective instincts. These images show us as a society something very disturbing that people of any persuasion find hard to look at, including Pro-Lifers. However, I think it equally important for real people such as myself to see first hand exactly what it is we’re talking about when we’re discussing abortion, because as a male, I have no lived experience of menstruation, of childbirth, of having a vagina. And for many young women who may find themselves pregnant in an inopportune time of life, they too may lack a visible, tangible frame of reference for the early development of the child in the womb. They may not know fully what is going on inside their bodies, and more importantly, what would be going on inside their bodies should they choose to have an abortion. I think for that very reason, images of real life abortions are important, however distasteful, because they are simply the truth. They should not be displayed to criminalize women who, in a difficult situation made a difficult choice, but they should be there to inform women faced with a same choice what they are up against: the termination of a very real little person, whom they ultimately love on some level, as much as they may feel unequipped to care for them.
    I am, as you may guess, a believing, practicing young Catholic man, but as you may not believe, I am not scandalized by your genitalia costumes, and I am not anti-sex or pro-repression. I simply love people, and I love the truth, even when it’s very disgusting to look at, or very hard to live out. Because ultimately, I want to live my life not the easy way, but the very best way, and I want to uphold the things in this world that are good, because we all know that there is enough bad shit happening around us. I have no clue what it is like to be a woman, pregnant before she would like to be, hurting from whatever situations she may be experience. But I do know what it is like to be human, to have sexual desires, to feel in my body that desire for intimacy, as well as that desire to defend, to protect, to uphold goodness. Women do not need a quick fix, they need people who will love them in hard times, provide real resources that will not leave them with a lifetime of issues related to a repressed, regretted abortion (I know enough of these women to know that they exist). I think our whole world needs men and women (especially men) who have enough balls to defend those who are defenseless and vulnerable, including women and children encountering hard times. That is why, as hard as it is to see these images, and as much as the people holding them may fail to show love in their presentation, or maybe even we misinterpret their motives or their message, we need to look at it. Because like anything else in life, you can only make a REAL, informed decision after having foreseen the outcome, weighed the pros and cons, and had access to all of the sides of the coin. If we hide the details this very real medical procedure that very much chops the infant child to bits inside of her mother’s womb, we will remain in ignorance, which is a very sad thing indeed.
    Please do not flood my e-mail inbox with hate mail, because I have not endeavoured to show hate through my message. I simply wanted to put some flesh on a group of people whom you have perhaps misjudged, or worse yet, been hurt by personally. In any group, you always run the risk of being lumped in with a few crazies or a few haters, but thus is life, non? Anywho, all the best to you, JustJane, and please accept my apology on behalf of those Catholics who may have been judgmental towards you or may not have shown you kindness in the past. They do not represent us all, and I bear no hard feelings towards you personally for holding an opinion that is surely the result of your personal life experiences and education, as are mine. I guess the wheels keep turning, right?

  9. Tanya DeBuff October 21, 2011 at 12:41 am #

    See, you don’t get that you’re basically saying this: “If you knew better, you wouldn’t have an abortion. I know better, so I’m going to teach you.” That’s what your comments boil down to. Listen, women are not as clueless as you believe. We know abortion is ending a life. We fucking know it. We simply Trust Women enough to let them make their own decisions.

  10. GS October 21, 2011 at 3:00 am #

    @Jordan I am a female. Please do not kill me for wanting to live my life simply because I also have a vagina.

  11. dhogan October 21, 2011 at 4:10 am #

    You KNOW it’s ending a life..and we should be able to choose to do that? does anyone else see the insanity in this statement ?

  12. Lindsey M October 21, 2011 at 11:46 am #

    I just want to thank Jordan for being a real Catholic man and preaching love in all circumstances and showing that we are not hear to judge anyone.
    Thank you Jordan I wish there were more men like you in the world!

  13. Dee October 21, 2011 at 2:22 pm #

    To quote Tanya above:
    See, you don’t get that you’re basically saying this: “If you knew better, you wouldn’t have an abortion. I know better, so I’m going to teach you.”


    That was exactly my reaction to Jordan’s comment. It was pure and utter condescension.

  14. Jordan C October 22, 2011 at 2:24 am #

    I reread my message to see whether I had indeed been condescending in writing it, and I concede that there may be a hint of “I know the right answer, so let’s get organized people” in it. However, that is not what I mean. I simply mean this: as a culture, we do hold certain things to be okay, certain things not to be. Nobody advocates rape, nobody advocates pedophilia. We all agree that these things are heinous and terrible, and we try do everything possible to prevent these things from happening. Some things are just wrong because they propose or bring about something so hurtful and unjust that in every situation, we as a society are compelled and ready to keep them from occurring. I simply wish we treated abortion with equal sincerity.
    I do not have the monopoly on knowledge. I do not think I have access to all worldly truth and intelligence, and therefore know better than the lowly peasants around me. I do NOT think this for one minute.
    I do, however, think that we need to be all living up to a higher standard, and if we as individuals do not do this, no government program will do it for us. Banning abortion will not change hearts and minds. However, informing people on the nitty gritty of abortion sure will, because it is something so tragic–both the situations of those seeking them and the very process itself–that in getting a glimpse of it, we can do nothing else but grow indignant to such a casual process that would seek to sweep under the carpet much deeper problems.
    The problem with my approach is that it’s idealistic. It’s a challenging stance to take, because there are no fall-back plans or erase buttons. It takes a change in the very way we value ourselves, our bodies, our families, and our lives. I personally think that a sexual relationship is an intimate bond that expresses bodily an intimacy that already exists emotionally, mentally, and spiritually between two mature people who have already decided and pledged to give themselves unreservedly to the other, through thick and thin. Anything less than that somehow means that one or both of the two people involved is being mistreated or taken advantage of. If it is merely a mechanical, animal act used to feed my selfish pleasure, regardless of the fertility of my partner or regardless of her personal aspirations or desires, then it is no wonder that an equally mechanical and animalistic termination of life exists through abortion. I think we can do better than this, in fact, I know we can, and we must!
    As a 22-year-old man, I have known two realities. On one hand, I know what it is like to use a girlfriend for the emotional and sexual pleasure I experienced around her. I didn’t like the person that I was in that situation. On the other hand, I know now what it is like to experience enough freedom in my sexuality so as to CHOSE to refrain from porn, from premarital sex, from using people for my selfish pleasure, out of a desire to actually love people and not just their genitalia. That’s not always easy, but it’s a CHOICE worth making because it’s the only one that is truly liberating. All of the other potential choices I could make (supporting the porn industry, promiscuous sex, etc.) in some way subject others to a form of personal degradation. These are choices that I don’t think I have the right to make, decisions that contribute to a very dark culture that none of us want to live in.

    I don’t think I know better than other people, I simply really wish other people could experience what I do. I LOVE my life, without having to engage in any kind of risky sexual activity, and more importantly, without savagely subjecting another person to my personal instinct for satisfaction. I really sincerely think that if we as a society and as individuals set our expectations and standards for relationships and love to such a level, we wouldn’t be discussing abortion in the same way. People won’t be talking about exterminating human life like it’s some nasty thing some jerk gave you. We won’t be living in that kind of world, and we won’t talk like that, because we won’t think like that. Every day is an opportunity for selfless heroism that is life-affirming, and life-giving. I think that’s very much worth being idealistic for, and that includes everyone, everyday, with no condescension included.


  1. [link] Fear, Loathing and Dancing Genitalia « slendermeans - October 13, 2012

    […] Fear, Loathing and Dancing Genitalia I’m older than most of the Abortion Gang and happy to be in solidarity with all of you as an (aging) guest blogger. I’ve been in the field for about twenty five years now. Longer if you include my confusion when my grade three teacher gave us a pamphlet about fetal development that I was finding fascinating until I reached week twelve, at which point it said, “Today my mother killed me.” Yes, I went to Catholic school. But even at eight years old, I knew there was something fundamentally screwed up about this pamphlet and the teacher who had given it to me. It would be years before I dared to articulate my feelings because I was afraid. Figuring out what I was afraid of was a big part of breaking free of that community and being able to think for myself. Little did I know I’d have to go through that same process again at forty-eight when once again, I noticed myself avoiding speaking out. […]

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