The Creepy Castration Rhetoric Of The Personhood Campaign

The horrifying debate around Mississippi's Personhood Amendment has yielded up an interesting rhetorical tidbit: some anti-choicers apparently see abortion rights as castrating America's masculine spirit. That's a viewpoint with some disturbing connotations.

In a USA Today editorial yesterday, Personhood USA director and legal analyst Gualberto Garcia Jones defended the amendment (unconvincingly) against charges that it could outlaw birth control and IVF and leave women without necessary medical care. He also said this:

Increasingly, the American people are being treated paternalistically by a government, media and public sector elite that stands in direct opposition to our traditional American values.

Using the courts as its instrument, this American elite has emasculated a once independent America.

Jones tries to co-opt language often used by pro-choicers — while they frequently argue that telling women what to do with their bodies is paternalistic, he seems to be arguing that telling Mississippi not to limit women's rights is an unfair intrusion. But what's really interesting is his use of the word "emasculated." Basically, he's arguing that liberals are cutting America's dick off.

It's not surprising that Jones thinks America's a man — his amendment has greater support among men (especially white men) than among women. And the idea that personhood begins when a sperm fertilizes an egg (rather than when the egg implants in a woman's body or when the fetus is viable), is a profoundly male-centered interpretation of reproduction. Then there's Colorado Personhood activist Ed Hanks's assertion (quoted in Irin Carmon's chilling feature on the movement) that "the penalties have to be the same [for a women as well as doctors], as they would have to intentionally commit a known felony in order to kill their child. Society isn't comfortable with this yet because abortion has been ‘normalized' — as the Personhood message penetrates, then society will understand why women need to be punished just as surely as they understand why there can be no exceptions for rape/incest." For at least some in the Personhood movement, the goal isn't just to save fetuses, but also to control women and punish them when they step out of line.

The fact that some anti-choicers are also anti-woman is no surprise. But it is a little surprising to hear Jones cast the anti-choice movement as explicitly masculine. It's as though Personhood is a jealous husband, taking back the women of America from the clutches of the Supreme Court — and refusing to let the government stanch its reproductive potency. Much ink has been spilt over women's growing power amid an alleged "mancession," and whatever you think about the (overblown) "end of men," it's true that the position that women can't and shouldn't hold decision-making power is a lot less popularly acceptable than it used to be. For some, that must feel like an emasculation. And although this kind of thinking isn't behind all objections to abortion rights, we should be alert for the ways in which anti-choice rhetoric can be a veiled way of talking about a larger goal — putting women back in subjugation to men, where they belong.

Personhood USA: Life Begins At Fertilization [USA Today, via Salon]
Poll: 'Personhood' A Toss-Up In Miss. [Politico]

Image via lenetstan/Shutterstock.com