You have rights, even if you’re a shithead.
Patricia Bowman- in 1991, William Kennedy Smith was accused of raping a woman in his home. His defense was that the sex was consensual. This trial was one I remember quite clearly, watching the blue dot of the victim’s face and wondering what happened. The fact that Bowman wore Victoria’s Secret bra and panties was discussed, during the trial, by the defense attorney as being suggestive of her wanting sex. After that point, Bowman was painted as a wild harlot of a woman. Smith was acquitted of all charges.
Matthew Shepard- this is the guy who was beaten, tortured, robbed, and left for dead because he was gay. This was back in 1998. Because of his murder, the US got an expansion to our hate-crime laws in The Matthew Shepard Act. His story horrified people… for about a week or two, and then I started seeing news stories about how Shepard was a drug addict who was hanging out with the wrong crowd. The beating was a response to his druggie ways, not because he was a gay man.
James Byrd Jr- this is the guy who was beaten, urinated on, tied up, and dragged behind a pickup truck for three miles in Texas, also in 1998. His name, btw, was added to the Matthew Shepard Act, and it is now the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr Act. His case got a lot of sympathy, since the three perpetrators were proud of their crime and had racist tattoos, but I also remember reading stories about how Byrd Jr had been in and out of prison since the 60s for theft and forgery charges. His pristine image as a victim of hate was sullied, just as Shepard’s was.
We have Trayvon Martin, murdered by George Zimmerman in 2012. This 17 year old kid was deemed suspicious by Zimmerman, who followed and confronted him. In the ensuing scuffle, Trayvon was shot. I’ll leave the rest alone, as the wounds are fresh. But Trayvon’s picture, presented to the media, was initially one of a smiling young man, younger than 17. Very quickly, a different picture of Trayvon emerged, one of the boy looking older, wearing a grill on his teeth, with a hoodie covering his eyes. Martin was suspended from school at the time of his death, and was frequently in trouble for truancy, for graffiti, and for having “burglary tools" on his person. The fact that he had traces of THC in his system when he was killed has been mentioned nearly constantly.
A few weeks ago, when various states started trying to slip legislation to further restrict abortions, I started seeing an outpouring of “abortion stories" from women. “Tell your truth" they urged, “so others can tell their own." I read through the stories, about women who wanted to have kids but had health problems, about women who were raped and impregnated, women who were tormented by their choice but happy they had a choice. Nowhere are the women, as Jessica Grose at Slate
puts it, that "have abortions and don’t look back. A lot of women don’t want a baby, and they don’t care whether the fetus is viable or how much money is in their bank account… Some feel relief, some feel nothing, others even feel joy.”
These are all news stories where great pains have been taken to paint the central figure in a certain light, because it somehow helps the cause- whatever the cause is. We are supposed to feel pity for the victim, but if it’s revealed that anything about them is less than perfect, suddenly we wonder if somehow they played a part in their own demise. But I’m tired of the idea that victims or women who get abortions are only worthy to us if they are saintly. Each of us has stories that paint us in a horrible light, and each of us has stories that make us look wonderful. Each of us is human. But it doesn’t matter if you get an abortion because you don’t feel like having a baby right now, and not because having a baby would end your life. It doesn’t matter if you use drugs, you don’t deserve to be murdered.
Nicole Brown Simpson was probably a handful to be around.
Brandon Teena was maybe an asshole.
James Byrd Jr? Perhaps a jerk.
But guess what? None of them deserved punishment for being the complex bundle of bones and personalities they were. Being murdered isn’t an appropriate response to any kind of life. Wonderful saint or shitty drug addict, you still earn your life. Even if your life isn’t contributing to society; even if you’re the sweetest, most naive creature; even if you have terribly racist views- we can’t shrug off your death as being “understandable". Even if you don’t regret having an abortion in the slightest and think of it as birth control, you still have every right to have one. We have to get away from this knee-jerk response to whitewash the dead.
The dead don’t deserve to be demonized or deified- they just deserve justice. Women deserve access to pregnancy termination options.
Even if they’re assholes.
Emily V. Gordon.