How homophobic, transphobic, racist, and sexist misinformation persists.
The world is on fire. In some places, quite literally. When things get scary, a big chunk of the human race decides that something else is the problem, and usually, that something else is a group of people they think they can oppress. But this is sublimation; usually, the oppression comes couched in words like “protection” and “safety.” The killings of women and protesters in Iran are in response to the death of a woman whose supposed “safety” was hindered by her incorrect hijab. The French government and now more European nations are somehow “protecting” women by not allowing them to cover up or wear the hijab as they wish. Are they protecting Muslim women from themselves or non-Muslim women from the threat of not seeing their bodies as commodities for commercial exploitation? Hmm. Or maybe it’s just flat-out racism and resistance to multiculturalism. In any case, nobody is being protected. They’re just being oppressed.
In the US, far-right candidates, pundits, judges, and elected officials are banning books on being black, gay, or anything other than their idealized. Leave it to Beaver’s fictional version of America to “protect” kids. Black kids might think they are oppressed if they know what microaggressions are! White kids might feel guilty if they understand the lived experiences of their black, gay, trans, or disabled peers! Trans and gay kids might expect basic human dignity and rights! Oh, noes! They might be able to discuss OBJECTIVE REALITY with one another and want to change things for the better!
Control, Mary. This is about control. Controlling the information our kids learn in school and controlling what is discussable and what isn’t—controlling our species’ means of production: people who make babies.
Every draconian law Texas has ever passed limiting access to abortion and family planning has been in the name of “protecting” women from harm. HB2, which I protested with thousands of other women in Texas, claimed that abortions are high risk (they are not) and that abortion clinics are unsafe (they are not). Women trying to obtain abortions already had to deal with hateful protestors, an invasive internal ultrasound, and read pamphlets full of misinformation about non-existent side effects. It was already fucked up. Now it’s just gone. Women in Texas cannot get abortions if they are raped, molested, high-risk, or have an unviable fetus. Women must travel out of state for a D&C if they miscarry or risk sepsis. It’s mind-boggling. Sarah Weddington, the attorney who successfully argued Roe v. Wade and served in the Texas Legislature, was a Texas woman. So were Ann Richards and Barbara Jordan. These women did not need the false protection of men; they fought for the rights and dignity of all people, helping society to see how it was failing and harming the most vulnerable. What happened?
Texas has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the US, which has the highest in the developed world. Black women in Texas have a much higher maternal mortality rate than white women. Beyond the fact that this is incomprehensibly criminal, I think it’s safe to say that Texas legislators give zero fucks about women’s safety, whether pregnant or not.
Forcing children to give birth to their sexual abuser’s child is not about protecting anyone. It’s about ensuring the impregnator has more power than the pregnant person. Denying a person with a fetus that is non-viable or will soon be non-viable an abortion is life-threatening. It protects no one. It’s just about control. Denying Black women fundamental medical rights, pain control, necessary tests and procedures, or lifesaving interventions during birth is abhorrent. It’s about social control and sublimated fear based on 400 years of oppression.
Why do some humans seek to control other humans? Well, there are a few different answers to that. Some of it is economic. Creating a whole branch of fictional science about the genetic differences between dark-skinned and light-skinned people (essentially the creation of race as a concept) made America very, very rich. Slavery was the engine that drove our rapid expansion and eventual domination of the world economy. Its legacy persists in the high incarceration rates for Black people for minor offenses resulting in virtually unpaid labor. So more money for free labor.
Forcing people to gestate removes them from the workforce, impoverishes many, and risks the physical and mental health of the pregnant person and their family. But when you’re fighting for survival, it’s harder to fight for change.
But ultimately, this is all one giant self-own. Higher poverty rates mean less spending, which hurts the economy. Yanking women out of the workforce means a lower GDP. You can surf the wave of oppression and disenfranchisement for a little while if you are super privileged, but ultimately it erodes the fabric of the society in which you live, which will affect you too. Oppressive regimes always reach a tipping point where the population feels like they have nothing left to lose and fight back.
So no. Abortion bans are not about saving babies or protecting women. Book bans do not protect children. Mandating or outlawing the hijab protects nobody. Denying trans youth and adults access to medical care causes harm, not prevents it.
Under all this crazy lies one basic thing. Fear.
Specifically, existential fear – of death, illness, loss, and on a grander scale- of our survival as a species as we continue to fuck with the planet. This drives these increasingly pathetic yet deadly attempts at social control and power grabs from the local to the international level.
My dissertation research used defense mechanisms as an analytical lens to examine aggressive online behavior. So I have a lot of thoughts about how this plays out.
Sublimation is when we transform a fear (often repressed or unconscious) into something tangible we can project onto a group of people. It takes what we can’t deal with (childhood trauma, loss, etc.) and turns it into something tangible at which we can direct that energy. Hitler used this to great effect by making Jews the cause of all of Germany’s post-WWI loss’ ills. Jews had nothing to do with it, but they were a convenient and historically oppressed group, and blaming them gave form to the trauma that resulted from losing a world war and plunging the country into a deep financial depression.
We see this everywhere now. Everyone is the bogeyman. Trans kids. Feminists. Jews. Black people. Gay people. Parents of murdered children. Somehow groups of people with less power and less agency become the ones who have secret cabals that are controlling our minds with fluoridated water and space lasers. The WHO released a report that we need to drastically reduce our environmental impact to avoid catastrophic global warming, but let’s just scream at each other about Kanye West instead. That should work out fine.
The purpose of defense mechanisms is to offload the stress associated with the repressed fear or trauma so we can function. In the short term and on an individual basis, it works. It may cause harm to those around you, but it discharges the energy associated with the fear or trauma for a little while and stabilizes your psyche. On a social level, it’s a fucking disaster.
We need to take a few deep breaths and look at the big picture. For our species to survive, we must stop victimizing each other and start using our collective frontal lobes to make major systemic changes to how we live in the world. We need to reverse population growth. We must remake our economic system as circular and self-sustaining instead of growth-dependent. We need to make sure all children have access to nutrition and education and all people have access to family planning. We need to agree on and enforce human rights worldwide. Full stop.
This isn’t ideological; it’s survival. We are our own worst enemy, and we are currently the planet’s worst enemy. We need all of us, not just a few unhinged billionaires, to work together to create a viable future for our species. We can do so much that is amazing. Can we just stop reverting to our worst selves and put that energy toward peace, acceptance, and sustainable survival instead? Because that would be great.