Thursday, September 29, 2011

All stigma great and small

Gender Across Borders just hosted a fantastic series on stigma, including - shocker - abortion stigma. Stigma against providers as well as patients, perceived as well as anticipated, internalized as well as externally enforced. I'll probably be talking more about these things in the coming weeks.

But the thing I really want to talk about ASAP is this one: Pivotal Positions: Transforming Abortion Provider Stigma. Jennifer Colletti accurately depicts stigma against providers as the complex and diversely-manifested problem that it really is. It's not felt the same way or from the same sources in all places, and I think that's important to remember.

It's not hard for us, for abortioneers I mean, to rage against the full-blown anti-choice model of stigma: literally demonizing us and alleging Satanic rituals, stalking our children, calling providers murderers and those who provide any related care accomplices (or "killer-helpers," in the words of one persistent but not very inventive fellow). When we encounter people who do this, their failure to accept our personhood and the value of our lives (while insisting that those of the embryos are inalienable, I'll add) says to us that they don't care about how life might be lived by people other than themselves, meaning they're either oblivious and narcissistic or cruel and dictatorial. So we can easily write them off.

What's harder, though, is to talk about how our parents sidestep friends' questions about what their progeny are doing these days, or how high school reunions are at even greater risk of being depressing/distressing/disastrous than for everyone else, or how we worry about our kids learning what we do not because we aren't proud but because their classmates' parents might shame or punish them.

We go to schools that don't want to talk too much about abortion because some nebulous outside audience may object; we attend reproductive health lectures by professors who feel comfortable accommodating the opinion that it's OK to be anti-reproductive health; we don't get hired because someone thought we'd bring unnecessary attention to an organization that doesn't even really care about abortion either way, maybe they even support what we do, but just wants to get its own work done without pointless interference. You will never see an abortioneer nominated to the Department of Health and Human Services.

These things don't feel like stigmatizing incidents so much as the material that our lives' scenery is made out of. It's in the water, it's in the air. It feels like there's not as much to say about them, or else you're being melodramatic, compared to how fucked up it is to get shot down dead. But it's still stigma and it still harms our health and happiness.

We need the abortioneers around us to support us through crap like this; and we need non-abortioneers around us to get it. Make it your mission to let your on-the-fencey non-abortioneer acquaintances know what you deal with just for going to work.

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