By Andrea Grimes, If/When/How Manager of Communications and Development
Recently, right-wing writer Kevin Williamson was forced to take to the piddly, bedraggled pages of the Wall Street Journal, an obscure rag of questionable repute, to complain about losing a job he never really had. That someone would be put in such an unthinkable situation – a byline in the WSJ! – is horrible enough to contemplate, but the reason for which Williamson was relegated to those unsavory pages is particularly appalling: As it turns out, you can’t call for the state-sanctioned murder of millions of people for exercising a constitutional right without those people getting exceedingly touchy about it.
That’s sarcasm, but it isn’t hyperbole. It’s telling that Williamson chose an esteemed right-leaning newspaper in which to complain about the cruel “Twitter mob” that came for him last month – the “Twitter mob” Williamson believes denied him what was rightfully his: The attention of the readers of a lefty magazine, people he undoubtedly knew would be repulsed by his carefully considered belief that people who seek abortion care should be hanged, and also by his unmitigated loathing of trans people and particularly trans women, and by his enthusiasm for casting black children as animals. Williamson clearly longed for this opportunity to be paid to cause pain, to deliberately harm and taunt and provoke the objects of his ire under the guise of intellectual diversity. Days later, he was given an opportunity to further air his ramblings in the Washington Post, lest anyone take his claims of being silenced seriously.
In complaining that he was attacked by a mob when a private employer rescinded the offer of a writing gig (please hold your questions about conservative politics, the free market and ideological consistency), Williamson shows just how seriously he believes that he had a right to troll people, and specifically a right to submit women to his violent fantasies about our deaths. (While Williamson cultivated a robust crop of bigotry, it was the abortion thing that ultimately caused The Atlantic to reconsider offering the guy a paid platform for his odious crowing.) But Williamson doesn’t just believe that he had a right to troll women. He believes we owe him an obligation to listen.
This sense of entitlement – to women’s bodies, to our minds, to our time, to our attention, to our money, and to our intellectual and emotional work – is common. It is at the core of how patriarchy works and the key to how it is perpetuated, always and forever prioritizing men’s thoughts and needs, treating the inane and outrageous alike as valuable whenever and wherever it originates with a man.
To wit: Some have argued that Williamson is at least “intellectually honest” about prosecuting abortion as a capital crime, taking Williamson at his word when he says he believes abortion is premeditated murder. I’m not prepared to give him that much credit. If I felt generous, I might offer that Williamson is at best intellectually and morally confused about the key social and political issues on which he considers himself an authority (he appears not to be bothered by capital punishment but claims to be pro-life, for example). Nothing in Williamson’s writing, in his nonexistent advocacy work or wholesale lack of concrete contributions to the grand tapestry of the human project suggests that he was a champion for children or families, or motivated by a deep moral concern for life.
If I’m being realistic – if I’m being intellectually honest – the truth is much more banal: Williamson is your standard-issue anti-abortion faux-provocateur who is upset by the idea of reproductive (and therefore sexual) freedom. When this is taken with his open hatred for trans folks and people of color, it’s clear that he’s just another scared, entitled dude who wants to hurt people who don’t offer him the deference he’s terrified he could lose in a truly just, equal society.
Williamson doesn’t just believe that he had a right to troll women. He believes we owe him an obligation to listen.
Taken to its logical outcome, this sense of entitlement is often deadly. Two days ago, a Canadian man who referred to himself unironically as an “incel” – a term used by a particularly virulent strain of misogynists who consider themselves involuntarily celibate because women refuse to have sex with them — ran ten people down with his van on a Toronto sidewalk. He celebrated Eliot Rodger, the mass shooter from Santa Barbara who hated women, and whose complaints echoed those of George Sodini, who murdered women at a Pittsburgh gym in 2009.
Mass murder motivated by misogyny is on the extreme end of the entitlement spectrum of gendered violence, but there are many other iterations. This entitlement particularly manifests as interpersonal violence against trans women of color. Then, there is domestic violence. Sexual assault and sexual abuse. See also: Street harassment, Gamer Gate, and other, seemingly infinite, iterations of the abuse of women online, where women of color especially are hounded and threatened. Men grab women when we don’t want to be grabbed and distribute revenge porn when we dump them, or sometimes murder us when we decline their promposal.
But it is while contemplating the institutional and systemic manifestations of this patriarchal entitlement as it pertains to pregnant bodies that I want to sit with two of Williamson’s sincerely held beliefs: That women who have abortions should be executed (well, hanged, because Williamson has “a soft spot for hanging”) and that women are obligated to abide his public call for their executions without raising opposition of the type that forces him to write for the Wall Street Journal instead of The Atlantic.
Direct and interpersonal violence is easy to condemn (though not always necessarily condemned, as the #SayHerName movement, which lays bare the reality of violence against women of color, illustrates). Systemic violence is less overt – it is couched in the language of the law and respectability and bureaucracy – but no less deadly. And the criminalization of pregnancy and the criminalization of the termination of pregnancy are already sewn into the very fabric of our American legal system. In many ways, Kevin Williamson’s violent fantasies about the state’s entitlement to pregnant bodies and punishing those who seek abortion care are already reality, particularly for women and trans folks of color.
As Mica L. Williams wrote for If/When/How last week, systemic violence against pregnant people who need abortion care already takes the form of the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for abortion except when those who seek it can prove their pregnancy is a result of rape or incest. This forces people who can’t afford abortion care not only to involve law enforcement in their medical treatment, but requires them to put the decision itself in the hands of the police. This is systemic entitlement to the bodies of people who have already been abused and violated.
Purvi Patel was incarcerated in Indiana for miscarrying. So was Latice Fisher in Mississippi. In Tennessee in 2015, Anna Yocca tried to end her own pregnancy and was charged with attempted murder. Fetal homicide laws are used to turn pregnancy loss into a criminal offense, and the prosecution of those who use drugs while pregnant is widespread. So widespread, in fact, that there are a number of legal organizations – like the SIA Legal Team and National Advocates for Pregnant Women – working to keep pregnant people out of prison for experiencing pregnancy loss or managing their own abortion care.
When Kevin Williamson calls for capital punishment for abortion care, he’s not doing it in the name of intellectual diversity or thought experimentation. The truth is that abortion, pregnancy loss, and pregnancy in general are already criminalized, especially when they occur at the intersections of race and class and gender identity. Williamson doesn’t just want a more explicitly terrifying version of what we already have – the state-sanctioned surveillance of pregnant people and punishment of those deemed non-compliant. That’s standard stuff for the anti-abortion crowd. Williamson’s sense of entitlement extends to the belief that women are actually doing him wrong by convincing a single solitary publication not to pay him per word for his misogyny.
You would almost think they’d called for his head.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or position of If/When/How. If you like what you read, consider dropping a few bucks in our tip jar.