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Caught in a TRAP

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard arguments for Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. This case involves the claim that two laws create an undue burden on the right of a woman to obtain an abortion in the state of Texas. One of the laws requires that doctors at abortion clinics have admitting privileges at a hospital 30 miles from the clinic, and the other that clinics be expensively retrofitted to become “ambulatory surgical centers,” or ASCs.

Laws like this are referred to as TRAP laws, which stands for Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, because they involve imposing regulations on abortion providers in the name of “protecting womens’ health” that are far and away more stringent than regulations for other more dangerous medical procedures, and these laws have the effect of putting clinics out of business because they cannot afford to remodel, relocate, and/or rebuild in order to conform to such unreasonably high standards.

I read the arguments last night and made the experience more enjoyable by live-tweeting my favorite bits along the way. The transcript is available here, and Dahlia Lithwick of Slate also did a very good run-down of the proceedings here.  The justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan all did an amazing job tearing apart the argument that effectively regulating abortion clinics out of business is permissible if a state sees fit to do so.  Near the end of the arguments (pg. 72), Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller tries to claim that because the regulations are on the clinics, they do not represent a threat to a woman’s rights, to which Ruth Bader Ginsburg replies:

But this is about — what it’s about is that a woman has a fundamental right to make this choice for herself. That’s what we sought as the starting premise. And then this is certainly about –­­ Casey –­­ Casey made that plain, that it — ­­the focus is on the woman, and it has to be on the segment of women who are affected.

She’s right– a freedom is meaningless if there is no way to exercise it.  Women obviously can’t and shouldn’t perform their own abortions (though a disturbingly high number have tried to do just this in Texas, due to clinic inaccessibility), so if they are to exercise their right to have one, the state must not place obstacles in the way which serve no purpose except to inhibit them from doing so.

Lonely universe?

I am no longer allowed to comment on creationist cartoonist Dan Lietha’s Facebook posts. Lietha does the After Eden cartoon on the Answers in Genesis website, and I’ve become somewhat fascinated with his work because it combines some quite respectable artistic talent with some absolutely baffling apologetics. And here I don’t say “baffling” to mean “difficult to refute,” but rather just plain weird.

I’ve taken the piss out of his cartoons on a couple of occasions, but that is almost certainly not why I’m now banned as Facebook commenter. Rather, it’s because he has a rule against what he calls “debating,” and what I call “correcting.” I’ve never been rude in my corrections, and we actually had a positive exchange once, but at some point after that I discovered that my input is no longer welcome. That actually hurts a tiny bit.

But back to the weird apologetics. This one was posted today– I have no idea why he chose to do a response to Ellen DeGeneres.

Was some big fuss made about her space alien comment? It seems fairly unremarkable to me.  I’m glad for the caption, as I might’ve confused her for Ryan Gosling otherwise. The sentiment sounds like a reply to a quote from Arthur C. Clarke:

Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.

“Terrifying” isn’t the word I’d use– fascinating is the word I’d use.  And DeGeneres seems to agree, because she doesn’t think much of humanity apparently.  I think humanity’s great, but the chance of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe is fascinating because of the sheer possibility of what that intelligence would be like. We only know our own, so far, and not that well honestly. And part of developing self-awareness is contrasting the self with others, so it would sure be nice to have some “others” to contrast ourselves with.

And given the immensity of the universe, it would be fascinating if there wasn’t another form of intelligence on the level of humanity on some other planet, because even though it took the better part of 4.5 billion years in the time that Earth has existed for humanity to come along, it did happen. And there might be as many as 40 billion habitable Earth-size planets in our galaxy alone. That’s a staggering thought.

But given that Lietha is a creationist, I suppose it isn’t staggering at all. I suppose he thinks that’s outright nonsense, which is pretty staggering in itself.  But the chances of someone who thinks the Earth is 6,000-10,000 years old being able to consider the ramifications of 40 billion possibilities of human-like intelligence in the Milky Way really couldn’t be that high, could they?

I suppose the logic at play here bothers me the most. The cartoon just claims the non-existence of aliens as a flat fact, apparently based on the fact that fictional aliens exist.  How much sense does that make?  That would be like me saying that gods other than Jehovah, gods that Lietha considers to be fictional, exist, therefore….

Not very convincing, is it?

Beyond Boobs n’ Butts

The creator of a fictional character can make that character what the creator wants.  Obvious, right? If you’re an author or an artist (or both), and you invent a character to be in the story you tell, you can make that character look and behave however you see fit. The only limits are in your imagination. That’s an amazing power indeed.

And with great power comes….yeah, yeah, you saw this coming: great responsibility. This power and responsibility have belonged to every storyteller since people started to tell stories, and continue to do so as the methods of storytelling have changed.  It seems like everywhere you look, the conversation is taking place about how women are depicted in the forms of storytelling known as “comics” and “video games,” and this blog is no exception. But I didn’t want to just keep rehashing the point, so after those two posts I pretty much only commented when there was a new development on the subject that I actually knew something about.

Or, in this case, something made the point particularly well. That something is Buzzfeed’s article We Had Women Photoshopped Into Stereotypical Comic Book Poses And It Got Weird, in which female Buzzfeed writers tried to emulate the pose of a female superhero in a specific image, and….failed miserably. And then in an attempt to help them along, their pictures were Photoshopped to make them look like the superheroines.

Here’s the video:

It reminds me of fantasy author Jim C. Hines’ hilarious photo shoots of himself posing as the featured female character on the covers of various fantasy novels.  In addition to just being awesome, those photos were intended to show a) how a man would look adopting the same pose and wearing the same kinds of outfits as the women were, and b) how uncomfortable it would be for him to do so. In case readers dismissed this discomfort based on Hines’ age/gender/non-martial artist nature, he linked to a female martial artist/contortionist who had similar findings.

The Buzzfeed women, on the other hand, were primarily showing how for comic book heroines a) the poses are highly difficult to impossible, and b) the bodies themselves are impossible.  If you’ve ever looked at the Escher Girls blog, you’re very familiar with this.  You might even know that the most popular highly-difficult-to-impossible (hereafter referred to simply as “impossible”) pose is the classic “Boobs and Butt,” in which the female character manages to turn both breasts and her ass to the “camera” simultaneously, often in a way that suggests her spine is made of rubber and/or some or all internal organs have been removed.

Boobs n’ Butt example 1

Kristin, one of the Buzzfeed writers who took part in this horrifying experiment, describes the B&B pose this way:

Unless you completely lack object permanence, you can deal with not seeing both boobs and butt at the same time. Like, give readers some credit: When a character turns around, it’s not like we all go “BUT WHERE DID THE BOOBS GO? ARE THE BOOBS GONE FOREVER? I NEED ASSURANCES THAT THERE ARE STILL BOOBS HERE.” In fact, the only people who actually think this way are real-life babies, and they can’t read comics, anyway!

You know the typical policy of not reading the comments on internet articles?  This is an example of an article for which that is especially the case. Readers accused the women who took part in the creation of this article of having “body issues.” They accused them of trying to “ruin comics.” They claimed that hey, it’s the same for men, man!  They just outright made fun of the Buzzfeed writers’ appearance, calling them fat, ugly, etc.

I don’t seem to recall any of the same crap being directed at Jim C. Hines.

Some of the readers, though, had a slightly different complaint– What’s the point?  What are you trying to prove? they asked.  And I’d like to try and answer that.

I think a general principle can be applied to storytelling, which is that whatever reality your story is set in, if your characters differ from the what is normal for that reality (in terms of abilities, appearance, etc.), you need to account for that difference. It’s sloppy storytelling– or worse, a mistake– to have characters deviate from reality with no apparent purpose or explanation whatsoever.

So, for example, if you make a movie that’s set in downtown Atlanta in 2004, and you have your main characters walking down the street surrounded by people and all of those people are white, you’re deviating from reality in a way that needs an explanation.  Did everyone of a different ethnicity get vaporized by aliens?  Did Georgia experience a holocaust?  If the answer is “We didn’t bother to hire any non-white extras” or “We purposefully didn’t hire any non-white extras,” that’s not going to cut it.  There are really only two possible interpretations for your viewer, and those are:

  • The movie-makers are sloppy story-tellers, or 
  • The movie-makers are making a statement about their preferred reality, and that reality doesn’t include non-white people. In other words, the people who made this movie are probably racist.

Now take that and apply it to comic book women with impossible bodies in impossible poses. That would make sense if, and only if, we’re talking about superheroines whose powers include the ability to morph self. And then, I suppose, there would still be a need to explain why they chose to manifest this ability by doing the Boobs n’ Butt pose…mid-battle, fighting off fearsome enemies.

Boobs n’ Butt example 2

Because you know that, absent an explanation along these lines, the reader is forced to reach his or her own conclusions again. And there are (again) two of those:

  • The comic book artist is a lousy artist. He/she has poor grasp of anatomy and should invest in some manikins ASAP, or
  • The comic book artist deliberately manipulates female forms to exaggerate certain features that are sexually attractive to the artist or his/her audience, or both, at the risk of appearing ridiculous to people who have a good sense of anatomy and/or don’t think Boobs n’ Butt is an acceptable trade-off for realistic-looking human figures.

I think it’s fair to say that an increasing number of us do not find it an acceptable trade-off.  We’d prefer better storytelling than that.

Conservative fantasy vs. reality, pt. 3

I took the “most likely” out, because this is just reality.

Dan Lietha’s comic about Planned Parenthood:

My response:

The facts:

  • Planned Parenthood services help prevent approximately 516,000 unintended pregnancies each year.
  • Planned Parenthood provides nearly 400,000 Pap tests and nearly 500,000 breast exams each year, critical services in detecting cancer.
  • Planned Parenthood provides nearly 4.5 million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, including 700,00 HIV tests.
  • Three percent of all Planned Parenthood health services are abortion services.

This means, I would point out, that Planned Parenthood prevents far, far more abortions than it helps to provide, by preventing so many unwanted pregnancies. But I would also point out that there is no number of abortions that counts as “too many.” Abortion should be safe, legal, and accessible. It’s just so sad, so devastatingly sad, for people to think that they’re curbing unwanted pregnancies by cutting funding to Planned Parenthood. They are not.

I often wonder if people who rail against Planned Parenthood– overwhelmingly male– have ever set foot in one. Have they ever discussed their services, and the experience of receiving them, with a girlfriend, wife, sister, mother, or female friend?

I’ve been to Planned Parenthood many times, in Texas and then in Kansas. I spent a long time without health insurance, and that was the best and easiest way to get the care that I needed. Every woman over 25 should receive a cervical cancer screening, or pap smear, once a year– they’re commonly called a “yearly” for a reason.

Along with a yearly exam you get your blood pressure taken, an STD test if you elect to have one, and a consultation with a doctor about birth control options. Depending on the services offered by the Planned Parenthood you visit, you can walk out with either the birth control itself (priced based on a sliding scale, depending on income) or a referral for where to get it.

I’m watching the second GOP debate while writing this. I’m honestly convinced that no Republican candidate for president gives a damn about any of this. I find it quite easy to believe, in fact, that they don’t care about female reproductive health needs at all, except when it comes to persuading women to have babies.

We are not baby machines.
We are equal.
We deserve autonomy.

Rearranged pond scum

I decided to go for a reductio ad absurdum this time.

This cartoon has an identified author/artist– hooray! Dan Lietha does the CreationWise cartoon for Answers in Genesis, and that link and his Facebook page both have treasure troves of fatuous nonsense in comic form.

It’s a common trope of evangelical glurge to portray atheists as ignorant. Usually the portrayal is that atheists are ignorant of Christianity and the Bible, because it’s simply impossible that a person could know anything about those and yet not be a Christian. There is no such thing as an informed rejection of the Truth (note: heavy sarcasm in use here).

But in this cartoon, the atheists– who apparently are synonymous with evolutionists, because all atheists subscribe to evolutionary theory, and all people who subscribe to evolutionary theory are atheists (!)– are ignorant of their own ideology. And not only that, but they’re so ignorant of their own ideology that a school child who has just learned of it is able to point out an implication they’d never considered.

That implication is, of course, that if you evolve from pond scum (which is not actually what evolutionary theory says, but in the interests of time we’ll gloss over that for now), all you are is just “rearranged pond scum,” and therefore morality is meaningless and pointless. Genetic fallacy be damned, apparently.

Which is just a weird thing to conclude, because umm…..don’t creationists believe we came from dirt?

Genesis 2:7 Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

But apart from that, and more importantly, who cares what we’re made of?

If you were to construct a person out of silly putty, and that person had thoughts and feelings just like you do, it would be incumbent on you to treat that person morally. Because unlike Shylock, a person made of silly putty might not bleed when pricked, but if they can think and feel just like you, they would have the capacity for suffering just like you. They would have desires, just like you. They would have intellect, just like you. Which means that lying to them would be just as wrong as lying to a person made of blood and guts and bones and tissue. You know, what we– all of us– are actually made of.

So for my reductio ad absurdum cartoon I decided to depict two people whom I know to have considered the implications of evolutionary theory inside and out. Arguably, they have considered the implications of evolutionary theory more than anyone currently alive. I took these two people, and imputed to them the moral perspective that Lietha believes is the corollary of being an evolutionist. Just to see what that would look like.

Hat tip to Dan Linford, whose Facebook post on Lietha’s cartoon brought it to my attention.

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