Leola Reis, “America’s war on women,” The Drum, June 8, 2012
Lord knows I love Americans and think Planned Parenthood — of which Reis is vice president of external affairs — does invaluable work, but this is a rather repellent and narcissistic rhetoric on display here. Omitted by the ellipsis is an entire column explicating the basic points of the “war on women” in America, and, certainly, this is something I think Australians should be interested in and informed about. But Reis’s argument doesn’t treat Australia as its own country with its own politics and its own public debates. We’re just a mass she can use to decry things she doesn’t like about her own country. Don’t emulate America on gender issues, she warns Australia, but doesn’t even consider that Australian society has its own gender issues. For instance, Reis talks about American politicians trying to restrict access to abortion, but is apparently entirely unaware of the tenuous legality of abortion in most Australian states, or that Roe v Wade has given the United States a rhetorical and legal basis for pro-choice activism that isn’t available in Australia.
I understand, too, that a writer feels compelled to relate an issue to a local audience. Telling that audience “Don’t do what we do” without reference to the concerns of that foreign audience is not how you do that. Leola Reis, we are a nation — one as complex and real and fully formed as your own. We are not a confession booth where you can atone for your country’s sins.
I think this is part of where my fellow US lefties lose sight of the forest for the trees and thus find themselves on the losing end of their own rhetorical and emotional battle. One of the things I like to beat home about the weakness of our political positions and temperament is that quite often, the rhetoric used to advocate for a position is often more about the speaker than why the policy is beneficial to a larger group.
In this context, Reis’ warning becomes a treatise to solipsism: these are the awful things my country is doing to restrict women’s rights (and they are bad, believe me!) and the good fight Planned Parenthood has against them, but completely mistakes her audience, presuming it does not have its own battle in the same arena under different circumstances. Ultimately, these “don’t be like us” missives serve only to highlight how “good” the writer or speaker is rather than expand the message to an audience distinct from one’s own — and the intended message is lost in the fake atonement.
I mean, if you can’t frame your argument in an Australian publication for the audience most likely to read it, how well are you going to do when it comes to convincing people in your own society of the utility and necessity for expanded reproductive rights, never mind throwing overboard the canard that these are simply “women’s rights”?