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  • Rev. Charles Perry

This Ain't Talibama

Here in Alabama, events of the past week have created much in the way of news and commentary. And, as “liberal redneck” Trae Crowder noted, probably the last person who needs to weigh in on the abortion issue right now is a white guy. But there are a couple of images from this last week that are sticking with me, and I’d like to share a few thoughts and feelings on them.

There is a much posted photo collage of the 25 Alabama Republican state senators who voted for the near total ban on abortions in the state of Alabama. 25 white men, none of whom, naturally, has a uterus. At the same time, I was stuck by the number of men of all ages and colors who showed up at the march for reproductive rights this past Sunday at Kelly Ingram Park. One has to wonder what separates these two groups of men, and whether or not there is any chance of getting the “gang of 25” off the memes, and into the streets with those of us marching.

A couple of the signs I saw while marching were closer to the truth than many would like to think: “Talibama” and “Y’all qaeda” struck me – particularly as one who has served as an intelligence officer in the Middle East. For those upon whom these references are lost, please bear with me:

One of the key tenets of fundamentalism is the primacy of the patriarchy – the assertion that women are at best subservient, but at worst (and in reality) property, to be transferred from a father to a husband. And as “property”, the ownership of the woman’s body is not hers. In this regard, the restrictions placed by Protestant/evangelical fundamentalists varies little in effect from the prohibitions imposed by fundamentalist Muslim Sharia law. The woman’s body is not there for her; it is there for the purposes of a man, or as a “host body” (as described by Republican FL State Rep. Jose Oliva) for the offspring of a man. The idea that a woman should hold bodily autonomy or reproductive freedom under systems such as this is as foreign to the patriarchy which benefits from its continuance, as was the notion of freedom and bodily autonomy for slaves, whether they were held in Egypt in Biblical times, or here in Alabama in the embarrassingly recent past.

Which brings me back to the difference in those two groups of men – the ones who voted in the Senate, and the ones who marched here in Alabama. Once upon a time, it was a rare man who would stand up for the rights of women. We are becoming less rare, but we still have a lot of ground to cover, and millenia of abuses for which to make amends. I am dismayed and saddened that there are still those men (and a surprising number of women) not just in other cultures, but right here in America who continue to think of women as property; as somehow less than fully human; as not equal in all rights under the law. What these men (and some women) fail to understand is that the most foundational freedom a human being enjoys is the sovereignty of one’s own body – the right to say, “No” to anyone else under any circumstances where one’s body is concerned.

In American law, anyone can say, “No” if the life of a child is dependent on one of their organs or bone marrow for transplant, or even something as small as a pint of blood for transfusion. But as far as the fundamentalists are concerned, a woman can be forced to “host” the child of her rapist in her body for nine months, forever changing her physically, mentally, and emotionally, and placing her at risk for all sorts of medical complications, including stroke and even death. Because in the eyes of the patriarchy, a woman’s – or even a young adolescent girl’s - body is not her own.

It's difficult for many of us to imagine what it feels like to lose ownership over your very body – over its basic functions and operations. To know that on a fundamental level, you do not belong to yourself. It’s something most men, especially privileged white men, will never have to experience. But lack of experience is no excuse for lack of empathy. We need not be a person of color to see that racism is dehumanizing our brothers and sisters. We need not be refugees to see the injustice of tearing families apart, families who came to this country in hopes of a better life for their children.

And you do not need to be a woman to understand that controlling the bodies of women is wrong.

Guys (and women), it’s time we wake up, grow up, and come to a full and clear realization that men and women are all human beings, deserving of the same rights, protections, bodily autonomy, and reproductive freedoms. Extremist fundamentalism, and the patriarchal enslavement of women it demands, has no place in America, or anywhere else, for that matter. This ain’t Talibama, and with enough of us taking to the streets, communicating with our elected officials, and showing up on election day, it never will be.

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