Recently there has been a lot of attention paid to a tactic a group of anti-choice protesters outside of EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville KY is using to deceive the clients trying to access abortion services. Louisville’s Clinic escorts (volunteers provide emotional and tactical support to clients entering the clinic) wear orange vests that say ‘Clinic Escort’ identifying themselves to clients. In the last month the anti-choice protesters have begun wearing remarkably similar vests, the only difference is the wording on the vest: ‘clinic escort’ vs. ‘life escort’. In this post I want to explore the intersection of Rape Culture and anti-choice activism highlighting the places were reproductive and sexual health meet the reality of our cultural norms.
Rape culture is defined as the cultural normalization of sexual violence. We see this in the social context of blaming the rape survivor for the rape; they were asking for it because they attended a party or had a few beers. Our court system routinely blames survivors of domestic violence for staying in abusive situations without providing viable options for those seeking refuge. Melissa McEwan has an awesome Rape Culture 101 post with lots of examples of what rape culture looks like including this gem of a paragraph.
“Rape culture is 1 in 6 women being sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. Rape culture is not even talking about the reality that many women are sexually assaulted multiple times in their lives. Rape culture is the way in which the constant threat of sexual assault affects women’s daily movements. Rape culture is telling girls and women to be careful about what you wear, how you wear it, how you carry yourself, where you walk, when you walk there, with whom you walk, whom you trust, what you do, where you do it, with whom you do it, what you drink, how much you drink, whether you make eye contact, if you’re alone, if you’re with a stranger, if you’re in a group, if you’re in a group of strangers, if it’s dark, if the area is unfamiliar, if you’re carrying something, how you carry it, what kind of shoes you’re wearing in case you have to run, what kind of purse you carry, what jewelry you wear, what time it is, what street it is, what environment it is, how many people you sleep with, what kind of people you sleep with, who your friends are, to whom you give your number, who’s around when the delivery guy comes, to get an apartment where you can see who’s at the door before they can see you, to check before you open the door to the delivery guy, to own a dog or a dog-sound-making machine, to get a roommate, to take self-defense, to always be alert always pay attention always watch your back always be aware of your surroundings and never let your guard down for a moment lest you be sexually assaulted and if you are and didn’t follow all the rules it’s your fault.”
An example of rape culture being utilized as social control against women and LGBT people can be seen in the 2009 horrifying gang rape and murder of Eudy Simelane, an out lesbian footballer in Kwa Thema, a suburb of Johannesburg South Africa.
The motive for the attack was “corrective” in nature, that is, culturally sanctioned sexual violence in order to enforce heteronormativity. The Guardian reported “What we’re seeing is a spike in the numbers of women coming to us having been raped and who have been told throughout the attack that being a lesbian was to blame for what was happening to them,” said Vanessa Ludwig, the chief executive at Triangle. The goal of the rapists is social conformity to the broader misogynistic paradigm, or in other words the heteronormative, enforced gender binary with women’s bodies and supporters of women’s bodies the target of socially condoned sexual violence and intimidation.
Now, let’s turn to the sidewalk in front of EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville KY. Five days a week, protesters chase women and their families from their cars to the door of the clinic, yelling at them, calling them murders and whores, in general harassing them. The anti-choice protesters view themselves as peaceful, information bearers. They genuinely believe they have been ordained/ instructed by God to minister to these women. And while they certainly have the right to speak their mind and oppose abortion, we move squarely into the realm of rape culture when there is no place between the interactions of anti-choice protesters and the women to consent to the interaction. We move even further down the continuum of disempowerment and social control when women clearly DO NOT CONSENT to the interaction. Routinely clients will say something along the lines of “Please Leave ME ALONE” and the anti-choicers continue to aggressively impede their progress, thus crossing the line between free speech and assault.
The first week the anti-choice protesters showed up wearing their very deceptive vests one of the regular chasers told a group of escorts they (the anti-choicers) were simply trying to “level the playing field”. Which I feel is one of the most disgusting displays of social privilege I have witnessed in my 10 years of escorting in Louisville. What I think this young woman was trying to get across is that they feel entitled to the time and attention of the women entering the abortion clinic for reproductive health care services, and that if it is necessary to be physically imposing to do so, obfuscation and misinformation are appropriate tools to such an end. This entitlement is at the core of rape culture. The attitude that the bodies of women and queers are fair game as a battle field for social conformity is exactly the place where reproductive justice and rape culture intersect. Eudy Simelane and Dr. Tiller’s bodies were destroyed in attempts to isolate and stigmatize the ‘other’.
Well, we are all the ‘other’. There is no ‘other’. Rape Culture hurts us all. Rape is a tool of war. Gender equity is destroyed by rape. And the only way to combat these evils is to fight for the autonomy and empowerment of all people.
wonderful morning escorting today. 5 escorts & 5 domestic terrorists. a small group of people waited in the chilly rainy dark outside the locked door. the antichoicers were yelling their usual drivel. One lady hollered back, “I’ve got a bible in my truck. You wanna read it?”
Later I was inside, awaiting the restroom. The same woman came over to me and asked how she could apply to be an escort. I won’t tell you her story because it is hers to tell.
I was so grateful to be a part of this effort to safeguard a woman’s right to choose her own destiny. I am so grateful every day to be part of a group of caring and intelligent men and women.
I am truly sick of Angela yelling in my ears.
see you on the sidewalk. . .
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I thought of this article today when I read this on another site:
“one in five [women poled] reported “pregnancy coercion,” while 15% said they’d suffered from “birth control sabotage.” ”
Brilliant. Thank you.
This is brilliantly written, eloquently expressed, and perfectly to the point.
Just back from Saturday morning on the sidewalk in front of the EMW Womens Surgical Center. Long-bearded old man with iconic virgin mary poster digging into my back and shoulders for a couple of hours, shouting at my back (when not chanting prayers with the other evil sheep), “Ma’am, you’ve got piles of dead baby parts in there. Is that what makes you happy? Killing babies?”
Thank goodness for all the escorts who sang silly songs with me, saved me from futile attempts to respond rationally to these irrational people.
Our very own Brunette Barbie Doll Lady (pink coat & full makeup) started a huge debate with one of our male escorts, who attempted to answer her questions in a calm and reasonsable way. Until, that is, she interrupted him with a loud ladylike “shhhhhhhh.”
“Did she just shush me?” he turned and asked us. “She just shushed me!!” he stated, “Why am I surprised?” and he walked away.
Mr Obrotherwhereartthou guy yelled in my ear, “See? He’s a coward! He just walks away. They’re all such cowards! I can’t find one person here with any conscious (sic – – I believe he meant to say “conscience”) at all. Not ONE of you has any conscious at all.”
And maybe that’s a good reminder to me. These antichoicers are not educated, not thoughtful, not rational. They believe whatever their preacher had told them to believe. And that’s all.
As long as we have Angela shouting at a client’s companion, “Well, she doesn’t LOOK like she’s been brutally raped!” and we have Brady (now in DC) shouting, “You MAY have lay down with a man and had sexual intercourse. . .” (Really, Brady? REALLY?!?!? Is that REALLY how she got pregnant?) and we have Greybeard saying we lack a “conscious” instead of a “conscience” and we have redheaduglychoiceposter Donna threatening us with lawsuits in her mink coat and Mercedes, then perhaps it’s time for us all to remember:
You can’t have a rational conversation with an irrational person.
It was terrifying – – yet great entertainment – – to watch the tiny Hispanic client shout back at Angela on Friday morning and when Angela continued to yell and berate her, preacher style, to see her race out the clinic door to scream back at Angela.
For a moment there, I was sure one of them would be killed in the rush-hour traffic as the woman chased Angela round and round the cars and up and down the sidewalk. It was chiling to see Angela jumping in the air and clicking her heels together like the Lucky Charms leprechaun and screaming, “Praise Jesus! Chase me, Devil! You make me jump for joy! Praise you, Jesus!”
It is inspiring to me when a client stands up to the antichoicers and yells back, telling them to shut up or mind their own business or back off. It doesn’t really stop the antichoice demons; they just keep pushing and talking and shouting and shoving. I’m just afraid one of these days a client or her companion will turn around and beat up a protestor. Sooner or later, it will probably happen.
We all need to stand for something, or we’ll fall for anything.
Me? I stand for freedom. I stand for a Woman’s freedom to make her own choice.
see you on the sidewalk . . .
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The protesters outside of EMW are just one facet of the anti-choice faction’s dedication to controlling our bodies and regulating our sexual behavior. The protesters’ cries of “Be a real man… take her out of there!” try to turn supportive male-presenting friends or partners into active oppressors (like themselves!)and enforcers of heteronormativity. The sidewalk proponents of forced pregnancy are not alone, however, nor extremists in the anti-choice faction. Consider Kentucky’s current “trigger laws” – laws which would come into effect if Roe v. Wade were overturned today, there would be
– a ban of any abortion after 12 weeks
– a ban of any abortion except if the life of the “mother”
– a requirement of spousal notification
The third law takes abortion right out of the public sphere and places it into the private sphere again – the private sphere where the man is a patriarch. Legal codification of specific social norms puts massive resources into producing those desired behaviors. The efforts of anti-choice protesters to codify norms which not only take away power from an individual to access abortion, but give that power to another to control and withhold reproductive services as they see fit is rape culture. What the protesters at EMW seek to achieve through physical intimidation every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, their cohorts seek to achieve through zoning laws, building codes, and political power.
I live in Louisville and have known about this clinic and the protesters for a very long time. Driving by and seeing all of them and sometimes seeing children has more than angered me. I recently found a link to your blog on a local site I visit often and find myself checking it daily. Words can not express my gratitude for you doing what you do. I am very much pro-choice and at this point in my life have never needed to consider abortion…I can’t even find the words to get across what I’m wanting to say lol It’s just nice to know your out there supporting us all.
Thank you for your kind words. I’ve been going almost every morning Tuesday through Saturday. Sometimes when it’s just me and one other escort, it feels like maybe nobody cares. So it really made me feel good to hear your supportive words.
You could come any Saturday morning at 6:45 am and join in the fun (ha ha ha) and we could really use more help with safety escorting.
love to all. . .see you on the sidewalk!
is heteronormativity even a word
HETERONORMATIVITY (heteronormative): Those punitive rules (social, familial, and legal) that force us to conform to hegemonic, heterosexual standards for identity. The term is a short version of “normative heterosexuality.” from purdue.edu
is a term for a set of lifestyle norms that indicate or imply that (1) people fall into only one of two distinct and complementary sexes (male and female) with each having certain natural roles in life, and that (2) heterosexuality is the only normal sexual orientation, thus making sexual and marital relations appropriate only between members of the opposite sex. Consequently, a heteronormative view is one that promotes alignment of biological sex, gender identity, and gender roles to the gender binary.
one google search, 2 minutes.
and for some more info on the ways heteronormativity effects people please see The Reaction.
But I suppose this is a good example of the queer/feminist NOT hegemonic (does that need a definition too?) person needing to educate the “mainstream” question because the privilege of being the “norm” allows one the freedom to not bother educating themselves.
Thank you, ESM, for answering donakindy’s obtuse insinuation but I prefer to not be so diplomatic.
Dona – You ever hear of the internet? Well on there is a wonderful thing called Google which has spawned a glorious self-discovery movement known as GIUMF. Use it to be less of an ass.
It’s worked for me.
Beautifully written and very explicitly describing the connection of rape culture to the sidewalk counselors, this piece finally explains why escorting is so emotionally draining and infuriating.
Shit, this pisses me off.
Is this just on Saturdays?
No this happens 5 days a week.