Lez Miserable: “Everyone's coming out, including Hillary Clinton and Snoop Lion”

While it’s great to have Hillary and Snoop on board the equal marriage bandwagon, Eleanor can’t help feeling they care a little bit too much about vote-chasing and record sales to be celebrated as true converts to the cause just yet.

 

Everyone’s coming out. From Hillary Clinton to Snoop Lion (the former Mr Snoop Dogg), some of America’s most influential people are “evolving” and embracing same-sex marriage. As the US Supreme Court examines the constitutionality of the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) – which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, barring gays and lesbians from receiving federal spousal benefits – gay rights activists are picking up allies in the most unlikely of places. From rappers to Republicans like Ohio Senator Rob Portman, the voices demanding equality for same-sex couples are growing more diverse by the day.

Rainbow is the new black, and I mean that quite literally. In the 1960s, the campaign for desegregation shifted from being a minority issue to something demanded by the majority of the American public. The push for gay rights has now reached a similar tipping point. Of course, marriage is only the beginning. Just as post-Civil Rights America remains riddled with racism, there’s little chance of DOMA’s possible repeal erasing so many Americans’ deep-seated hatred of LGBT people.

It’s a start, at least. But you can’t help but wonder how many recent high-profile reversals on marriage equality were driven by political or commercial concerns. Take Mrs Clinton. In 1996, Hillary Clinton did a bad thing. She backed DOMA. Staunchly. When her husband put his big, fat, swirly (I imagine) signature on a piece of paper that said, “gays shall not marry”, she was right behind him. Now, seventeen years later, she claims to have “evolved”. This term, first used by President Obama to describe his U-turn on equal marriage, has become a buzzword in this latest fight for gay rights. It couldn’t be more perfect. (And by the by, it must go down like a bowl of cold grits in the creationist Bible Belt.) Because, absolutely, when you change your view on gay marriage from con to pro, you transform from grunting Neanderthal who chucks poo at mammoths for a laugh, to a homo sapiens who uses a toilet and sees nothing funny about turd-throwing whatsoever. No, really.

Now, we all know that the chances of the newly “evolved” Hill-meister running for President in 2016 are decent. So, funny isn’t it? Funny that the first potential Madam President should suddenly, as she gears up for a massive vote grabathon, start waving a rainbow flag along with all the cool kids. And her “evolution” is aimed at The Kids. According to the Pew research organisation, 70 per cent of Americans aged 18 to 32 approve of same-sex marriage – too big a demographic for any wannabe White House resident to ignore. See, we gays have fun. I can’t help feeling that Hillary Clinton is showing up to our big, sparkly hootenanny with a box of petrol station Ferrero Rocher, and a goofy grin.

And, hey, we’re a friendly bunch – so of course we’re going to vote her in. I’m not saying that anyone who’s prepared publicly to stand up for gays should be shunned even if their motive is arguably open to interpretation. We need all the help we can get, and if that means partying with fuddy-duddies, so be it. But why are we letting these people suggest that their, post-deep consideration, support for granting gays one of the most basic human rights is some grand gesture? I can only speculate on how Hillary Clinton would feel if Chelsea decided to shack up with, I don’t know, Belgravia. But, I’ll say it again, the woman backed DOMA. I can’t quite imagine her driving the removal van. Likewise, Snoop Lion/Dogg, a guy who’s never been opposed to throwing homophobic slurs into his lyrics, showing up at our big gay party seems just a little bit of a chutzpah.

As glad as we are to have him on board, an apology for the repeated use of the word “faggot” over a career spanning two decades would be nice. Same goes for 50 Cent, who’s also voiced support for the gay cause. Hey Fiddy, didn’t you tweet something about shooting up a gay wedding in a Twitter beef with Perez Hilton a few years ago?

So excuse us if we in the gay community don’t quite erect a statue in your honour and tell our grandchildren about the time you bravely “evolved” your stance on us marrying. As important as it is that the hip-hop world is starting to let go of some of its homophobia, I can’t help thinking that record sales, like Clinton’s ever-so-slightly brazen vote-mongering are playing some part in it.

Snoop Lion/Dog. Photograph: Getty Images

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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This is the new front in the battle to control women’s bodies

By defining all of us as “pre-pregnant”, women are afforded all the blame – but none of the control.

For several weeks, YouTube has been reminding me to hurry up and have a baby. In a moment of guilt over all the newspapers I read online for free, I turned off my ad-blocking software and now I can’t play a simple death metal album without having to sit through 30 seconds of sensible women with long, soft hair trying to sell me pregnancy tests. I half expect one of them to tap her watch and remind me that I shouldn’t be wasting my best fertile years writing about socialism on the internet.

My partner, meanwhile, gets shown advertisements for useful software; my male housemate is offered tomato sauce, which forms 90 per cent of his diet. At first, I wondered if the gods of Google knew something I didn’t. But I suspect that the algorithm is less imaginative than I have been giving it credit for – indeed, I suspect that what Google thinks it knows about me is that I’m a woman in my late twenties, so, whatever my other interests might be, I ought to be getting myself knocked up some time soon.

The technology is new but the assumptions are ancient. Women are meant to make babies, regardless of the alternative plans we might have. In the 21st century, governments and world health authorities are similarly unimaginative about women’s lives and choices. The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently published guidelines suggesting that any woman who “could get pregnant” should refrain from drinking alcohol. The phrase implies that this includes any woman who menstruates and is not on the Pill – which is, in effect, everyone, as the Pill is not a foolproof method of contraception. So all females capable of conceiving should treat themselves and be treated by the health system as “pre-pregnant” – regardless of whether they plan to get pregnant any time soon, or whether they have sex with men in the first place. Boys will be boys, after all, so women ought to take precautions: think of it as rape insurance.

The medical evidence for moderate drinking as a clear threat to pregnancy is not solidly proven, but the CDC claims that it just wants to provide the best information for women “and their partners”. That’s a chilling little addition. Shouldn’t it be enough for women to decide whether they have that second gin? Are their partners supposed to exercise control over what they do and do not drink? How? By ordering them not to go to the pub? By confiscating their money and keeping tabs on where they go?

This is the logic of domestic abuse. With more than 18,000 women murdered by their intimate partners since 2003, domestic violence is a greater threat to life and health in the US than foetal alcohol poisoning – but that appears not to matter to the CDC.

Most people with a working uterus can get pregnant and some of them don’t self-define as women. But the advice being delivered at the highest levels is clearly aimed at women and that, in itself, tells us a great deal about the reasoning behind this sort of social control. It’s all about controlling women’s bodies before, during and after pregnancy. Almost every ideological facet of our societies is geared towards that end – from product placement and public health advice to explicit laws forcing women to carry pregnancies to term and jailing them if they fail to deliver the healthy babies the state requires of them.

Men’s sexual and reproductive health is never subject to this sort of policing. In South America, where the zika virus is suspected of having caused thousands of birth defects, women are being advised not to “get pregnant”. This is couched in language that gives women all of the blame and none of the control. Just like in the US, reproductive warnings are not aimed at men – even though Brazil, El Salvador and the US are extremely religious countries, so you would think that the number of miraculous virgin births would surely have been noticed.

Men are not being advised to avoid impregnating women, because the idea of a state placing restrictions on men’s sexual behaviour, however violent or reckless, is simply outside the framework of political possibility. It is supposed to be women’s responsibility to control whether they get pregnant – but in Brazil and El Salvador, which are among the countries where zika is most rampant, women often don’t get to make any serious choice in that most intimate of matters. Because of endemic rape and sexual violence, combined with some of the strictest abortion laws in the world, women are routinely forced to give birth against their will.

El Salvador is not the only country that locks up women for having miscarriages. The spread of regressive “personhood” laws across the United States has led to many women being threatened with jail for manslaughter when they miscarry – even as attacks on abortion rights make it harder than ever for American women to choose when and how they become pregnant, especially if they are poor.

Imagine that you have a friend in her early twenties whose partner gave her a helpful list of what she should and should not eat, drink and otherwise insert into various highly personal orifices, just in case she happened to get pregnant. Imagine that this partner backed his suggestions up with the threat of physical force. Imagine that he routinely reminded your friend that her potential to create life was more important than the life she was living, denied her access to medical care and threatened to lock her up if she miscarried. You would be telling your friend to get the hell out of that abusive relationship. You would be calling around the local shelters to find her an emergency refuge. But there is no refuge for a woman when the basic apparatus of power in her country is abusive. When society puts social control above women’s autonomy, there is nowhere for them to escape.

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle