All Of Our Bodies Are Under Attack
Abortion rights are fat rights are trans rights are human rights.
Last week, New York Times opinion columnist Pamela Paul argued that the far right and the far left agree on one thing: Women don’t count. The far right discounts women by equating our entire value with our reproductive capabilities and stripping us of human rights. The far left, Paul argues, does this by using gender-inclusive language to talk about abortion, but also about anything that she would prefer we kept firmly as “women’s issues.” “Can you blame the sisterhood for feeling a little nervous?” Paul wrote, while insisting that cisgender women have been nothing but welcoming to trans women, and are now being erased and reduced “to a mix of body parts” by these inclusivity efforts.
Paul’s piece ignores the deliberate efforts of the far right to persecute the trans community: Florida’s “don’t say gay or trans” law just went into effect and here’s Missouri trying to deny trans-affirming healthcare to legal adults. Paul also discounts the myriad other ways that trans, nonbinary and intersex people are threatened, oppressed and rendered invisible. All of these claims are demonstrably false, and there has been plenty of discourse about the piece itself, so I’ll direct you to Kate Manne, Lyz Lenz, and Emma Specter if you need to catch up on that.
What I want to talk about today is how sowing this kind of division hurts the body autonomy of everyone, including cisgender women. Because we’ve tried fighting for abortion rights, paid family leave, better maternity care, affordable daycare and on and on and on as “women’s issues” (meaning white, professional women’s issues). And this approach is getting us nowhere.
Every one of these fights is about body autonomy. They are about our right to decide how and when and whether to use our bodies to reproduce. They are about our right to have any kind of sex, or not, on our own terms. They are about our right to be not held prisoner by reproduction, but instead to live in a world where caregiving is both optional and intensely valued and supported. They are about our right to exist in public spaces safely, to access schools and healthcare. And in this way, they intersect with the fights for trans rights, for Black Lives Matter, for disabled rights, for fat rights. These fights are about our right to take up space in the world.
We can’t win by making abortion or paid leave into “women’s issues,” because that’s exactly what the patriarchy wants them to be: Ignorable, dismissible, unimportant women’s issues. True victory here is, as Lyta Gold puts it, “decoupling pregnancy from femininity.” We will not have paid family leave or affordable daycare until cisgender men are equal partners in caregiving. We will not get reproductive rights codified into our Constitution until laws against abortion begin to cost cis men as much as they cost the rest of us. And even if we could, somehow, win these fights for cisgender women alone—nobody has body autonomy until everyone has body autonomy. `
A surprising number of you commented in last month’s reader survey that you don’t particularly want me to talk about abortion rights. Several of you said you were pro-choice, you just get that news elsewhere. Others felt a little squeamish about this newsletter “getting political.” But this work has always been political. I talk about not pressuring kids to eat certain foods at the dinner table because it’s one of their first lessons in consent. I answer your questions about how to engage your Paleo-obessed relatives in more thoughtful conversation both because diet talk makes us feel bad personally, and because it perpetuates our culture’s oppression of fat people. We have to talk about abortion rights in a space dedicated to fat rights and dismantling diet culture because abortion is a fat rights’ issue. And we have to talk about trans rights in the same conversation as abortion rights and fat rights. Body autonomy is an every human issue.
There is also an important parallel to be teased out here between the way TERFs talk about the need to reclaim “woman” for cisgender women only, and the way thin and small fat cisgender women have co-opted body positivity from fatter and otherwise more marginalized activists. These white women of Instagram have made #bopo a quest to bravely wear a bikini in public instead of a fight for civil rights; they talk about loving your body instead of accessing healthcare and equal pay. And as with the “it’s a women’s issue” feminists, we see cis, white ladies with a multitude of privileges centering their personal struggles over those of people fighting much harder for respect, dignity, and safety. It is a hard and brave thing to love your body in a world that tells everyone (yes, even cis men) that there is only one right way to have a body. But it’s only one small piece of this work and too often, we make it the entire story. Loving your body doesn’t get your body equal rights. And it doesn’t bring anyone else to the table.
In this way, Instagram #bopo influencers are far more the daughters of Candace Bushnell and lipstick feminism than they are descendants of the first fat liberationists or even the Our Bodies, Ourselves collective. Many second wave feminists have no time for the project of loving your body and find nothing radical about photos of slightly fat women wearing Old Hollywood pin-up girl swimsuits. But most of these feminists were not yet reckoning with the failures of the gender binary back in the 1970s, and that means they were still trying to elevate “women’s issues,” by fighting to “have it all,” on the equal terms as men. And that meant they weren’t, and aren’t, talking enough about the right to abortion (and paid leave, and trans-affirming care, and so on) as a tool for fighting poverty. They weren’t and aren’t talking about these rights as people’s issues. And when we forget to do that, we may make progress on our own personal liberation, but we don’t get anywhere better. As Angela Garbes told me:
White women haven’t been challenged to imagine themselves in other people’s shoes. They’ve been encouraged to lean in. [...] What white women are taught is white feminism, and actually, there is and has always been a much more inclusive feminism. The feminism of women of color, of marginalized people.
We lose nothing by swapping “women’s issues” for “people’s issues.” We lose nothing by talking about the rights of impregnable people. We lose nothing by remembering that yes it’s annoyingly hard to buy cute jeans as a size 16, but that accessing clothing at all becomes all but impossible at a size 26 or 36. As a cis woman, I feel the end of Roe no less painfully and profoundly because it also endangers trans men and people of other genders. Their struggles do not replace my struggle. They remind me that body autonomy is bigger than Roe. Body autonomy is a whole constellation of issues. It is the Gordian knot of intersecting oppressions that we will be untangling for the rest of our lives. And there will be victories, and there will be more throat-punching, heart-cracking defeats. But we can’t even begin to fight if we aren’t in it together.
Reminder: Burnt Toast Book Club is Tomorrow!
I’ll be hosting our inaugural Burnt Toast Book Club thread tomorrow (Wednesday, July 13) at 12pm Eastern. We’re discussing The School of Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan. I know several of you read it after Sara and I talked about it in this podcast episode. Post-Roe, this book is an even more brutal but also even more important read. There have been many requests for a place to process All Of Our Feelings about this exquisite book, so we are going to get into it.
What is a virtual book club, you ask? It will work just like our Friday Threads, with the added feature of, I’ll be hanging out live, responding to comments and posting my own feelings about THE ENDING OMG THE ENDING from 12pm to 1pm. My hope is that Eastern Time Zone folks will join then as well, and we can virtually eat lunch and chat books together. But if you can’t make it during the live hour, you can feel free to chime in anytime that works for you. (Friday Thread conversations often continue well into the weekend and I’m expecting book club threads to do the same.)
Who is invited? While we test out the whole book club concept over the summer, I’m making these threads open to everyone! Come September, this will be a perk for paid subscribers. (So hey, subscribe now and you’ll be on that list!)
Will there be spoilers? Sorry, yes, at least this time, because I HAVE TO TALK ABOUT THE ENDING. You can totally still come if you haven’t finished reading, but you’ve been warned.
What are we reading next? You tell me! Suggestions welcome in the comments or via email. Our goal is to pick books that intersect with the conversations we have here about diet culture, fatphobia, body autonomy, and parenting but that’s a (deliberately) fairly wide lens.
Book Giveaway Update!
Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who purchased a subscription, renewed a subscription or filled out the reader survey last month! We entered well over 1000 of you in the Burnt Toast Book Giveaway, and Corinne randomly selected the winners last week. Congrats to everyone listed below!
If you didn’t fill out the book giveaway form, you should have received an email from Corinne asking for your book choice and mailing address. If you already filled out the form, we have your info and your book will be on its way shortly! Any questions? Email Corinne at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emily Barth Isler
Mallary Tenore Tarpley