Are Sperm People? The Logic Behind Satirical Sex Legislation The Logic Behind Satirical Sex Legislation
The day after Virginia passed legislation forcing women to have invasive ultrasounds before abortions, Wilmington, Delaware city councilwoman Loretta Walsh was feeling particularly feisty about a woman's right to choose. She made a quip during a council meeting that if we were giving more rights to fetuses than we were to the women carrying them, then sperm should have "personhood rights," too.
At 3 a.m., she was still awake.
"I just started drafting legislation," she says. "My original draft was much more... shall we say... obscene. It covered a wide array of procedures that men had to get done. It restricted access to Viagra—before it would be prescribed you’d have to have a stress test and an anal probe." She ended up drafting a bill that would make sperm "equal in the eyes of the government and be subject to the same laws and regulations as any other dependent minor and be protected against abuse, neglect or abandonment by the parent or guardian."
Walsh's legislation was just one of a spate of satirical bills and amendments proposed by Democratic legislators to protest the attack on women's access of abortion and birth control. The bills, along with the shrewd comedic skills of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Amy Poehler, have made clear that exposing the sheer absurdity of these laws is the best way to combat them.
"Many women are watching The View and Jon Stewart as some of their only sources of news," Walsh says. When it's couched in terms of dystopian comedy, "it becomes crystal clear that what’s being done is ridiculous."
In late January, Virginia State Senator Janet Howell proposed mandating rectal exams and cardiac stress tests for men seeking erectile dysfunction medication. (Her amendment failed by just two votes.) In response to a Georgia House bill banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, Rep. Yasmin Neal suggested a bill outlawing most vasectomies because they leave "thousands of children… deprived of birth." A bill introduced by Ohio State Senator Nina Turner would compel men to undergo psychological screenings before getting prescriptions for impotence medication, arguing, "We must advocate for the traditional family." Such political statements have now taken place in seven states.
Oklahoma State Senator Constance Johnson, who wrote an amendment to a zygote-personhood bill asserting that ejaculating anywhere outside a woman's vagina constitutes "an action against an unborn child," says nothing lays bare the double standard better than this kind of protest. "Here’s a predominantly male group making decisions, and they don’t want to acknowledge their role in the dilemma," she says. "All of a sudden, [it becomes obvious when] we limit the choices of everybody."
Johnson and two other legislators who posed protest legislation say their tongue-in-cheek proposals have energized women everywhere—even conservatives. Johnson says she gets emails from all over the world, and "clear strangers" come up to her in Oklahoma every day.
The legislation has certainly been successful by many measures, inspiring rallies and petitions and making national news. But isn't it kind of depressing to waste legislative energy on bills that were never intended to pass?
"Maybe," says Missouri Rep. Stacey Newman, whose bill restricting access to vasectomies except for men risking death or serious bodily harm attracted eight other female cosponsors. "But we're not the ones wasting time." Newman says satire legislation might be the only way to neutralize very serious bills whose authors are intent on passing them. "Most of these bills are filed by men. No one thinks they are funny, no one thinks that's absurd."
In other words, the ease with which men pose extreme restrictions on women's health is what makes a mockery of our supposedly free and equal country, not cheeky legislation filed in response. If lawmakers want to control women's health, and they want to live in a just and fair society, they should be prepared for women to bring those two desires to their logical conclusions.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons