Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Involuntary Procedures and Local Power

[content/trigger warning: This post seems like it needs some sort of content warning, but I'm not sure exactly what. Maybe, involuntary medical procedures?]

Via Femonomics, we learn of a white American doctor who wrote about his involvement in the involuntary sterilization of a woman with 5 children in Tanzania.

Apparently, there was an issue with the epidural injection the woman received and she stopped breathing. The doctor describes doing chest compressions (and describes hearing the pop of one of her ribs cracking). While doing compressions, the doctor heard another doctor working inside the woman say, "I am tying her tubes. I think she does not need another baby after this."

Describing the aftermath, the American doctor notes that the woman later noted that her chest was hurting and the other doctor told her not to worry about it. She was also not told that she had been sterilized or that her heart had stopped beating. The American doctor described the other doctor's tube-tying actions as heroic.


Suffice it to say, I firmly believe that a person, even a poor person who already has children, has the right to choose whether or not to undergo a medical procedure that will result in sterilization. It is unbelievably problematically paternalistic for men (or anyone, but in this case the choice was made by men) to make that decision for another person. Even if bearing additional children would have put the woman's life at risk or would have made her life more difficult financially, it was her decision to make.

Interestingly, the doctor showed up at Femonomics with a retort to the blogger's critique (either before or after deleting his blogpost bragging about the medical procedure):

"Thank you for posting my story on your blog, but like most colonial thinking individuals, your higher moral thinking has little or nothing to do with the realities of survival in remote areas of the world. In short, you didn't think this one out very well. While we weren't attempting to 'tame' anyone, the decision to tie the woman's tubes came from sound medical judgement. If this woman got pregnant again, there was a greater than 50% chance she would die during or before childbirth. (this not even dealing with the economic reality that she couldn't even afford to feed the 5 children she had.) You are out of line here and off-kilter with your point. It appears to be an angry reaction to your own views of men rather than a well thought argument dealing with the facts. My advice is to go live in the bush for a while and then come talk to me about necessity and choice."

So, first off, this is why it's a bad idea for people who provide professional services to blog about specific cases they've handled. They open the door to severe criticism and they often reveal some pretty problematic assumptions and thinking.

Like this bullshit:

"It appears to be an angry reaction to your own views of men rather than a well thought argument dealing with the facts."

Note how the doctor frames his critic as a raging, irrational, man-hating feminazi. In this way does he attempt to erase his critic's concern about the personal autonomy and integrity of a woman in Tanzania, and in so doing, of the woman herself.

I continue to be amazed that otherwise-intelligent people still think "you just hate men" somehow rebuts a feminist's argument or is, like, a creative or accurate thing to say. Whenever I hear that "man-hating" accusation it's a big red flag that tells me I'm probably not dealing with a person who deals with feminists (and possibly women) rationally and fairly.

And then, well, oh the irony of a white American man who was complicit in the performance of an involuntary medical procedure on an African woman calling someone else a "colonial thinking individual."

But, it's an interesting claim. It is made with some regularity with respect to Western feminists' critiques of non-Western practices that are oppressive to women (other times, feminists are told that we don't care enough about the stuff that happens to Other Women in Other Cultures. See also, What About The Muslim Women?!).

Nonetheless, it is interesting when men argue that bad things that are done to women in some societies must be respected because they are local things.

Context, of course, matters with respect to such arguments. The devil is indeed in the details. But I generally defer to Catherine MacKinnon*:

"Defenses of local differences, as they are called, are often simply a defense of male power in its local guise. Male power virtually always appears in local guises; one might hazard a guess that there are nothing but local guises for male power. The fact that they are local does not improve them."

*From, Are Women Human?: And Other International Dialogues

No comments: