Mississippi Personhood and the Reactionary Mind


 Corey Robin will help us understand the reactionary mind. Mississippi's personhood amendment is about to be voted on; what does it mean? Also, "The View" reacts poorly to the story of the TSA and a vibrator.


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Links in this episode:

Les Riley, the man behind the personhood amendment

Who are the men behind the personhood amendment?

Maddow Show on the personhood amendment

The Reactionary Mind

The View covers the TSA vibrator story

A weak and sad attempt to be offensive


On this episode of Reality Cast, Corey Robin will be on to explain what makes right wingers tick. Tomorrow is the day that Mississippi votes on a personhood amendment, and “The View” looks at an incident where the TSA searched a woman’s bag because of her vibrator, and decide to make it all about whether or not it’s right for women to travel with vibrators.


I still can’t wrap my mind around how incredibly silly this story makes Americans sound.


  • Halloween *


This story makes two things very clear. One, that fundie paranoia about Halloween is way out of control. Two, the claims that the high C-section rate in this country is being driven strictly by doctors are overstated. It’s clear that many women straight up prefer to give birth that way, and the discussion should take that into account.


It’s tough to turn down covering the Herman Cain sexual harassment story, but there’s something more pressing this week that demands this slot. Tomorrow, November 8th, Mississippi voters will be voting on a constitutional amendment declaring fertilized eggs to be legal persons. If that ballot initiative becomes law, the ramifications for all women of reproductive age in Mississippi and their families will be severe. How severe is up for debate, but we do know that similar laws in Mexico have resulted in women being investigated and even imprisoned for miscarriages. Mexico hasn’t seen any results in terms of restricting the birth control pill, at least that I’ve seen, but that may not hold in the U.S. Anti-choicers here are willing to use pseudo-science claiming that the pill kills fertilized eggs. There’s no evidence that it does, but that something isn’t true has never stopped it from being written into law. It will definitely call the whole process of in-vitro fertilization, and probably ban it, since you pretty much have to kill fertilized eggs to make it work. But Mississippi being what it is, I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing tampons held as evidence in criminal investigations against women who have what the law deems suspicious menstrual cycles.


The man who organized the campaign to get personhood on the ballot in Mississippi is quite the character, as Right Wing Watch has discovered. This ad campaign from opponents of initiative 26 runs down what a fanatic he is.


  • personhood 1 *



One of the biggest features of the campaign to pass this amendment has been its aggressive attack on rape victims. Supporters of the amendment have been touring the state explaining why it’s just awesome to force women to bear the children of rapists. Their evidence? They have a couple of people who claim to have been conceived in rape, and are just begging us to say to their face they shouldn’t have been born. Of course, by that logic, they also require the rape to exist, so really they should be asked if they support legalizing rape alongside outlawing abortion in order to make sure that no potential child is deprived of a chance of being born just because some sperm out there is rapist sperm. In response, the opponents of the bill have a woman who survived being raped and shot three times touring the state explaining why women like her need to have the protection of the law. Seriously, I can’t believe we’re having to debate how much abuse we get to dish out to rape survivors. Anyway, this woman, named Christen Hemmins, was on Rachel Maddow to explain the strategy.


  • personhood 2 *


Hemmins goes on to say the birth control argument is working maybe not as well, because people don’t really understand the issue. I also imagine that in a place as conservative as Mississippi, getting people to rally behind contraception isn’t as easy as it might be somewhere else. There’s a lot of pressure in the Bible Belt to front like you’re anti-sex-for-pleasure, even if you’re not. Hard to explain it, but having seen it up close, I can say it’s about pursing your lips and talking up ideals while then turning around and doing what you please. Drinking in dry counties is like that, too---everyone does it and then pats themselves on the back for having laws against it. Very strange. But explaining how you could be jailed for a miscarriage or have a medical emergency while pregnant that results in doctors fearing treating you for fear of breaking the law? That can happen even to good Christian housewives who only do it in the missionary position once a month, and instead of enjoying sex for itself pray that it results in conception. Even they will be hurt by this. So while I wish that pro-choicers in Mississippi could be more aggressive about arguing how all women have a right to live their lives, I can see why they’re using this tactic.


So let’s have Maddow summarize the potential consequences of this amendment one more time:


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I’ve harped enough on this show about how the pill, especially the morning after pill, has never actually been shown to kill fertilized eggs. In fact, research into the morning after pill showed that it simple does not. But Rachel is 100% right that this bill could be used to ban the pill and the IUD. They don’t need good science to make their case. After all, the people backing this amendment openly want a theocracy. They don’t give a whiff for science. Let’s hope the people of Mississippi see these dangerous, theocratic misogynists for what they are before it’s too late.


insert interview



As you know from listening to this podcast, my general theory about the incursions on reproductive rights goes something like this: Hostility to reproductive rights is based in fear and loathing of sexuality, especially female sexuality. Anti-choicers are at the extreme end of this, but they don’t face enough opposition in the general public because while the public at large isn’t as misogynist as anti-choicers, they still think of female sexuality as “icky”, and aren’t going to go to lengths to defend it. And if you doubt that this is true, I highly recommend watching the ladies of “The View” respond to an incident that actually happened to my friend and colleague, Jill Filipovic of Feministe. You see, Jill was traveling and checked a bag that happened to have a vibrator in it. And her bag got searched, which isn’t surprising. The TSA loves to flag bags with sex toys in it, which is your first clue that we as a society haven’t accepted the idea that women getting off is a fine thing that shouldn’t trouble anyone. And if they search your bag, they have to leave a note saying so. The agent in this case scribbled on the note “Get your freak on, girl!” Which was simultaneously funny and disturbing, since it was a direct acknowledgment that they think that a woman who wants some orgasms while traveling is suspicious enough that you need to search her bag.


Anyway, Jill tweeted and blogged about it, the TSA agent got fired, which wasn’t the point at all, and “The View” covered it. And their reaction shows why we as a country have a long way to go when it comes to growing up and accepting that women like sex and there’s nothing wrong with that.


  • tsa 1 *


First of all, Jill said she was amused and disturbed at the same time, which isn’t that unusual. That’s how I feel watching this segment of “The View”, for instance. Second of all, she never said she was embarrassed. That’s pure conjecture from Whoopi Goldberg, and it feeds right into the idea that women should be embarrassed that they have sexual urges. If this happened to a man who was traveling with a Playboy in his bag, no one would assume that he was fronting like he was ashamed. It would be understood that he was amused but upset that the TSA is going through his things. But because it’s a woman, we just assume that there’s some shame going on, even if there’s not.


But honestly, Whoopi was the least offensive person in this entire situation. She actually defends the use of vibrators and makes some funny jokes, such as saying she carries hers in a holster. Sherri Shepherd is the one who takes this whole situation to a new level of offensiveness.


  • tsa 2 *


Oh yeah, because if a woman likes sex, she must be up for it at all times and all places. This isn’t about taking a vibrator everywhere you go. This isn’t bringing a vibrator to the grocery store or the movie theater. It’s perfectly reasonable to bring a vibrator when you travel. In fact, I’d say that thinking about sexual activity that is possible on the road should be up there with considering how you’re going to wash your hair. If you’re single, you should definitely travel with condoms. Like the Boy Scouts say, be prepared! And what’s nice about sexual items is they take up like no room whatsoever in your bag, so there’s no reason not to bring them. Except the TSA will search your stuff, which is why I’m a fan of carry-on. At least when they search your bag that way, you see what they’re doing.


But the notion that anyone who carries a vibrator while traveling is somehow an out of control sex maniac was still not the craziest thing said during this segment. No, the ladies on “The View” did us a favor and spelled out exactly why there’s something so damn threatening about women who take control over their own pleasure like this.


  • tsa 3 *


So there you have it: women shouldn’t masturbate because their husbands are the sole owners of their sexual pleasure. In fact, masturbating somehow implies that your husband isn’t doing his job. This is messed up in all sorts of ways. I appreciate that Whoopi Goldberg was, with humor, trying to disagree with Shepherd on this. But I think she fell a little short, because she still ended up conceding the notion that if a man is in your vicinity, he’s got sole rights to control your sexual pleasure, and you shouldn’t be getting your own hands dirty, as it were.


I want to add one thing: it’s notable that “The View” basically responded to this story mainly be investigating whether or not it’s acceptable to masturbate or whether or not that makes you a dirty whore. You know, instead of asking hard questions about why the TSA is flagging bags for having vibrators in them. They take it as a given that a woman who travels with a vibrator is a suspect character. And they take it as a given that women masturbating is up for debate in a way that men masturbating simply isn’t. If masturbating while you travel is so damn scandalous, where is “The View” segment where they flip out because there is porn available for purchase in like every hotel room ever? Or does that not bear mention, because that’s there with a male audience in mind, and no one thinks less of a man who takes his sexual business into his own hands?


And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, oh give me a break edition. This is one of those moments on Fox News that’s just there to piss off the liberals.


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It feels pointless to reply to this by noting our women’s soccer team’s performance or the existence of Serena Williams. I’ll just go on to say that it’s a sad and sorry existence you must have if pissing off liberals is how you get your jollies. I mean, I don’t sit around hoping that what I say is really going to get under conservative skin. If I’m bored, I read a book or play some records. There’s just something deeply pitiful about how pissing off liberals is such a priority for so many right wingers. 

This post was originally published at RH Reality Check, a site of news, community and commentary for reproductive health and justice


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