Monday, August 31, 2009

Eunice v Teddy: Douthat Rings the Bell and Contrives a Winner.

UPDATE: Dana Goldstein gets it right.

I could let the more capable take Douthat to task for his column in the NYTimes today - Amanda Marcotte over at Pandagon has been holding his feet to the fire admirably. But I just couldn't pass on calling him out for pitting the recently deceased siblings, Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Teddy Kennedy, against one another in an anti-choice rant that's full of bull, eroneous framing, and denial of womens' rights.

To buy the rubbish that Douthat is selling, you'd have to believe that:

1. Teddy Kennedy's death wrongly overshadows the more noble lifework of his sister, Eunice, because the media is biased and because she did not compromise her "pro-life" stance on abortion.

The media and the public are wrongly elevating Teddy above Eunice, Douthat says. Teddy was a flawed character and a bad Catholic, who did not do enough to reach across the aisle "even occasionally, in search of compromise on the country’s most divisive issue."

2. Real feminists, like Eunice Kennedy Shriver, oppose abortion.

Douthat's premise - that Eunice suffered under but rose above partriarchy to champion the rights of the disabled and unborn - is based on a patriarchal argument. Teddy couldn't have been a real feminist, Douthat contends, because he was a man, left to apologize "to his party’s feminists for the way the men of his dynasty behaved in private." If rising above patriarchy earned Eunice "the right to disagree with her fellow liberals about what true feminism required," how did Kennedy, who fought for the reproductive rights of women and coming from the same family, not earn that same right? Does male support of women's rights always equal apology? Douthat might as well have called him a sissy, hag fag, pussy-whipped, or other some such names for a man who values the equality of women.

3. The reproductive rights of women can be compromised.

Like most abortion opponents, Douthat seems to be offering up women - because, you know, that's what patriarchal men believe they can do - the generous and church-sanctioned ability to only decide what happens to their bodies sometimes, under the circumstances that he and others decide are appropriate. (Like maybe on just Mondays and Fridays a woman can decide how many children she should have?) Incidentally, if this were really about the life of an "unborn child" there would be no compromise - killing is killing. But the premise of compromise betrays the greater agenda of those who claim to be "pro-life." Dictating the rules of womens' sexuality and autonomy.

A woman's body is not middle ground. It belongs to her. Not to Douthat, not to Teddy, not to Eunice. As long as columnists continue to write from the frame that a woman's autonomy can be compromised - and major US newspapers continue to print it and liberal websites continue to link to it - the frame that a woman's body is not fully hers, couched in false frames and contrived rivalries, will continue to be used.



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