So: Women. What’s that all about?
In the movie Switch, written and directed by Edward Blake, Ellen Barkin plays a sexist, chauvinist man who treats women as if they came in a PEZ dispenser. Three of his ex-girlfriends band together and kill him. Rather than send him immediately to Hell, God gives our hero a second chance: I’ll send you back, God says, and if you find one woman who loves you, you’ll get to Heaven. But the twist is that God sends him back as a woman, a really hot woman.
Edward Blake was a great writer and Switch is great both as a movie and as a comedy (and Ellen Barkin is great as a man in a woman’s body ,but we’re not here to talk about acting). Obviously, Blake tried to get men to understand what it’s like to be a woman, even for a day. Blake fails in two places and succeeds in a third in a really big way.
Here’s where he doesn’t succeed:
One: Men treat our hero like a piece of meat and constantly try to get him into bed, no matter the context of the situation or conversation. We see the situations are true and we know that men really behave like this and we hear Barkin complain about it with the same words women really use, but the men’s behavior only comes off as annoying. Men in the audience who would love to be hounded endlessly by women wouldn’t, on the basis of the movie, feel like complaining if they were a woman hounded endlessly by men. After all, it’s their fantasy to be attractive.
Two: Our hero’s best friend in life (before he died) is played by Jimmy Smits, who later learns the truth about his old friend’s new body, but because he’s now a hot babe, tries to sleep with him anyway. One day, the two of them get drunk and then fall asleep together in a bed. Smits, apparently, took advantage of Barkin while Barkin was asleep. Barkin says Smits raped him. Smits says Barkin cooperated. This part doesn’t work, either. Although Barkin’s words are all true, and though her character’s point of view is clear, we don’t feel bad for Barkin for what happened. The feeling of violation isn’t there. So if you didn’t care before you watched the movie, you wouldn’t care while watching it. That’s the writer’s fault.
Here’s where Blake succeeds in a big way. It turns out that from that one night with Smits, Barkin gets pregnant. He decides to keep the baby, and eventually he gives birth. And the second Barkin gives birth, something happens in the mind of the men watching the movie: a switch of the imagination, a real one. Men may entertain what it’s like to be raped or to be leered at or to be constantly hit on or to walk in heels, etc., but they never entertain what it would really be like to give birth. That’s a woman’s job. That is therefore the one big moment in the movie where the men actually entertain the thought of what it must be like to be a woman. By this I mean that it is the one instant in the movie in which the men watching actually imagine what it would be like to be different or other. That kind of imagination is not required for any other part of the movie.
Every time I watch Switch, the same realization hits me at exactly that time: Deep, deep down in their subconscious, most men – and it doesn’t matter if they’re liberal or conservative – still see women not only as sexual objects but also as baby-making machines; that deep, deep down we perceive this as women’s most important role. This societal imperative that has been ingrained into our society for thousands of years has not vanished, has not even been addressed since the pill was introduced and women started actively and effectively choosing not to get pregnant.
Abortion and God
It seems to me that the anti-abortionists (a position which, in the U.S., is called ‘pro-life’), has less to do with a baby’s right to life or even religion and more to do with the societal imperative that is revealed in Switch.
Here’s why it isn’t only about life for most anti-abortionists: People who would be actively against abortion because they care so much for life and for the sacredness of it would be out there helping the poor and the hungry in all countries, they would be against the death penalty, and they would be just as active against the many genocides and slaughters currently taking place all over the world. This is usually pointed out by liberals when they try to claim that conservative anti-abortionists are hypocritical, but calling the other side names takes nothing from the other side’s claim. The point is that because of this inconsistency, it can’t possibly be only about this. It must be about something else.
Here’s why it isn’t about what God says: There’s true belief in God and there’s belief in God. Here’s an example of the former: If God tells you to take your first-born child and kill him (as the Bible tells of Abraham), you take your first-born child and you kill him. That is true belief in God. Most people are not willing to go that far. Most people at the end of the day believe in things that are comfortable for them to believe in. Most people choose their god in little ways, what their god would accept and what He wouldn’t. Most people find the god that most agrees with what they want to believe God is. That is especially true when it comes to the big things. You may keep the Sabbath holy even if it’s uncomfortable for you, because it’s not that big a bother, but at the same time you will probably choose not to kill your first-born child even if your minister/priest/rabbi/etc. told you to.
Now, the Bible talks about many, many things which today people would not fight for (slavery, for example). People choose which parts of what God said in the Bible to care about and which not to. Not everything that’s in the Bible is reason to go out to the streets and picket. It is the person, not God, who picks and chooses.
At the end of the day, people need to care about something they become active about before they find that God agrees with them (and the more active they are, the more they need to care). But if God agrees with them, they feel morally justified and their fervor grows.
Why is it, then, that it is so easy to get people out to the streets to fight against abortion? Because we have an ingrained social imperative that is thousands of years old: Women are here to make babies. You thought women were being objectified as sex symbols? That’s nothing. Women should be mothers. Women should make babies. That’s why they’re here.
The thing is that although the abortion debate is not really about being ‘pro-life’, it also isn’t about being ‘pro-choice’. According to this instinctive belief ingrained into men, women shouldn’t get a choice. Some things are too important, too sacred. And it is men who write the abortion laws and men who decided Roe v. Wade, and it is men who will vote on the next piece of legislation that has to do with a woman’s right to choose anything.
Women are here to make babies. It is more important than their right to express themselves. It is more important than their right to vote. It is more important than any other right or freedom that they may get or deserve. Not only that, but their making babies is more important than whatever it is they want out of their own lives. It is the reason they’re here. The world, after all, must be peopled.
That is how most men, even liberals, perceive women deep down. And, truth to tell, that is how many women perceive themselves, too, deep down. And if on top of this your god happens to say that fetuses mustn’t be killed because they have souls, why that’s great, let’s use that.