A bitch has been happily working my way through the book Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power & A World Without Rape and I’m thrilled to be participating in the virtual book tour today.
Note - the next stop on the Yes Means Yes! Virtual Tour is Thursday February 12 at Shapley Prose featuring a Q&A with contributor Kimberly Springer!
Yes Means Yes! is a groundbreaking new look at rape, edited by writer and activist Jaclyn Friedman and Feministing.com founder Jessica Valenti. Through the anthology they are trying to move beyond “no means no” to connect the dots between the shaming and co-option of female sexuality in our culture(s) and some of the ways rape is allowed and encouraged to function.
Tiloma Jayasinghe contributed When Pregnancy Is Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Be Pregnant and was kind enough to answer a few questions I had about that piece.
Q. Why did you decide to contribute to the anthology?
A. Well, first, because Jessica asked me to and I’d do anything for her. But seriously, I thought it would be an opportunity to talk about what happens to certain women after they have sex. You’ve got Samhita’s great piece in the book on media’s and society’s views (and sexualization) of black women, but nobody talks about what happens if those women get pregnant. Is pregnancy not part of a woman’s sexuality? I say it is, I say that having a safe and healthy and supported pregnancy is just as important as having safe, and healthy and supported sex.
If you’re incarcerated, then you don’t even get to think or talk about those things – the entire system dehumanizes you – you don’t get to enjoy pregnancy – you don’t get enough nutrition and your care depends on the whim of the guards, you don’t get to enjoy birth - more often than not, you’ll be shackled during transport and labor, and even up ‘til the point of delivery. And motherhood is hard to maintain and achieve – because not long after you’ve given birth, your child is placed in foster care. Before you’re released from jail or prison, you may get a talk about various contraception options, but nobody ever talks about your needs, desires – you’re fighting to be considered human first – your fight to be considered sexual doesn’t even come into it.
And I felt that needed to be said.
Q. In many states, fetal rights and "personhood" measures are making their way through legislatures - what are your thoughts on those measures and do you feel inaccurate information about drug addiction and pregnancy are used to fuel public support for them?
A. I think that personhood measures most often come up in the context of unborn victims of violence acts – spurred on some tragic and horrific account of a young pregnant girl beaten to death by her boyfriend or a pregnant woman shot by her husband. These horribly sad stories are co-opted by the anti-choice movement to push through unborn victims of violence acts – to account for the loss of the fetus. Despite the fact that the only way the fetus is harmed is by harming the woman carrying the fetus, fetal personhood proponents do not want to have legislation that has enhanced penalties if you harm/kill a pregnant woman (going from a class b, to a class a felony, let’s say, or additional time during sentencing.). Rather, they want a separate cause of action for the fetus itself. But after these bills are passed, more often than not, they’re used to prosecute a drug dependent pregnant women for continuing to term in spite of a drug problem, even though there’s a clear exemption against application to a pregnant woman, rather than ever being applied again to a third party who injures/kills a pregnant woman.
Q. Tell me more about the contradictions between so-called pro-life efforts to force a woman to carry a pregnancy to term and the prosecution of women with drug problems who chose to do just that - how can states make pregnancy be a crime and still maintain that abortion is murder?
A. It’s interesting isn’t it – apparently, they only want to force some women to continue to term and not others. If you’re a white, middle class woman, you better keep that pregnancy! But if you’re a low-income women, a woman of color, and/or a woman with a health problem, such as drug dependency, they will try to punish you. However, there’s no law that makes continuing a pregnancy to term in spite of a drug problem a crime, but its interesting that they’d seek to put a woman in jail for more time because she had a baby, than if she had an abortion – even if it was an illegal abortion, she’d spend less time in jail. That’s where the race and class issues are clearest. You will never see a middle class woman being charged – even if she has a raging cocaine habit – these prosecutions are targeted at society’s most vulnerable and easily demonized.
Q. How widespread an issue is this? When people read about this issue should they be concerned that it is happening in their community?
A. Honestly, these prosecutions aren’t that widespread, but the effects of each singular prosecution has widespread effects that women should be concerned about. For example, a law that establishes that any risk of harm to a viable fetus constitutes criminal child abuse – which came about in the drug context, has wide-ranging effects. A woman who is in labor for 30 hours, refusing a c-section – is she risking harm to a viable fetus? Can she be prosecuted and have a court ordered c-section? A woman who wants to have a midwife assisted birth? Is that a risk of harm? A woman who chooses to have an occasional glass of wine during her pregnancy? Or how about an obese woman? By becoming pregnant, is she risking harm such that she could be criminalized?
The precedent that is set on the backs of those of us who are most marginalized, can even affect the most privileged of us if we cannot say – there but for the grace of God go I – and recognize that when we relinquish or are forced to relinquish control over our bodies and our decisions in one context, it applies to every context.
Q. Where can people turn for accurate information and/or to help women facing incarceration in their communities?
A. National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) will be coming out with a report in the near future which tracks these prosecutions nationwide and will provide information and data, Also, Justice Now does amazing work with women who are incarcerated and I have to say, that if you are in Texas, or need help for incarcerated women in Texas, there are two women operating on a shoestring budget doing real grassroots, dedicated work to improve the lives of incarcerated women and advocating for prison reform – the Texas Prison Project. They’re doing the real work that changes lives, conversations and communities.
Many thanks to Tiloma Jayasinghe!
And don't miss the next stop on the Yes Means Yes! Virtual Tour - Thursday February 12 at Shapley Prose featuring a Q&A with contributor Kimberly Springer!