Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Mothering Mary

It is getting progressively colder (and darker) outside every week. Yesterday was particularly gloomy, and it rained during the later shift. It seemed to keep the protesters inside, anyway. There were only a few of them out, and only two of them wearing the bright yellow rain jackets we love so much.

It makes me sad to go so many weeks without seeing Crazy Legs. I miss her fun outfits and wacky antics. Earpiece Charlie wasn't out either; nor was Father Grim. I feel like I haven't seen the Anger Twins in months. What is going on, people?

But you know who is always reliable? Peter Ryan. What a great guy. He might not be out every week, and he never has a sign, but you always know he's there, just next door, thinking his thoughts and dreaming his dreams. Some weeks, if you're lucky, he will go out on to the front step and speak to his faithful protesters; sometimes even stoop to walk among them. What a hero.

This week, Peter Ryan wins the prize for best gimmick ever - that's right, even better than the miniature plastic "fetus" he pulls out of his trenchcoat pocket to show to patients. This week he had the waist-high Virgin Mary statue with which he prays by the clinic on non-clinic days, but he was carrying it in his arms like an infant, and it was wrapped in a baby blanket. !!!

When the other escorts and I first saw this visual treat, we couldn't stop laughing. After some discussion it was decided that there must be several strange issues at play in Peter Ryan's psyche to have decided that this was the best way to dissuade women from having abortions. The cold, hard statue of a grown woman doesn't elicit as much sympathy as a baby, after all; even a fake baby (like a cheap plastic baby doll from the Dollar Store) would have made more sense. Secondly, the identity of the statue raises all kinds of questions. Why would Mr. Ryan cradle the virgin mother as if she were his baby? That would make him very old. I feel like there's a weird Oedipal aspect to the whole thing.

I think the most interesting imagery is of the head protester holding a statue of a grown woman as if it were a baby. Maybe this is Peter Ryan's way of telling us what he thinks of women (and their decision-making skills). Mary, the most revered woman in the Catholic Church, had only one claim to fame: being Jesus's mom. Women should aspire to be virginal baby-makers (???) with the intellect of children. Come on gals, stop thinking so hard about your own bodies!

Am I reading too much into it? Maybe someone else had the baby doll that day.


Anonymous said...

Peter Ryan clearly has "womb envy," or else why would he be impersonating St. Anne? Perhaps he should sell tickets for his theatrical drag-queen show. We are certainly enjoying his female impersonations.

Anyway, I fear that the protestors love this blog even more than we do, because it makes them feel important. That is my theory about why they are out there every week protesting. They long for the attention and we are indeed giving it to them. They have also created their identities in opposition to us, so they depend on our recognition, especially if we say negative things about them. The problem is that we do not need the anti-choice movement, and do not define ourselves in opposition to it. We actually could not give a rats-behind about those opposed to illegal abortion, and have better things to do than care about what they think. I think the best response to the antis is to ignore them. That is their worst nightmare, to be ignored.

Unknown said...


First off let me say that I love your sense of humor! Womb envy. I heart you!

However, you said a couple of things that I found troubling.

You said that "we do not need the anti-choice movement, and do not define ourselves in opposition to it. We actually could not give a rats-behind about those opposed to illegal [did you mean legal here?] abortion."

I agree that we should not define ourselves in relation to the anti-choice movement, however, I do give at rats ass about people opposed to legal abortion for a couple of reasons.

1. The most important reason that I do not ignore the anti-choice movement is that these protestors make women feel ashamed and guilty about their choices. We have to stand up and make women aware of the fact that there is no shame and guilt in abortion. Women need to know that just because some old white dudes outside the clinic (not to mention the church and the media etc) present abortion as shameful, not everyone feels this way. We do not speak out against the protestors because we necessarily want to engage in a debate and show them up (although sometimes we do), but because women need to know there is an alternative voice out there; that there are people who understand their choices and pass no judgment, but simply offer a supportive voice, that associating abortion with shame is UNACCEPTABLE!

2. In New Brunswick the provincial health plan does not pay for all women who want an abortion and the regulations behind getting a government funded abortion are RIDICULOUS. The only way to change legislation is to lobby the government. Goddess knows that the Pro-Life movement has the ear of the provincial government.

The more old white dudes protest outside the clinic, the more people are aware of the anti-choice movement, the less likely the government will be to change the current provisions for abortion. WE WANT ABORTIONS TO BE FREE AND ACCESSIBLE. NOT ONLY ACCESSIBLE TO PEOPLE WITH MONEY TO SPARE. This is NB, many people, especially women, do not have money for an abortion....we need the government to change this legislation and allow for free abortions through the provincial health plan (Medicare). Ignoring the anti- choice movement will not make it go away, it will simply let these protestors (old white guys) bend the ear of the government while we do nothing. I write letters, escort the clients, and go to rallies to demonstrate the fact that abortion should be free, legal and accessible.

Anonymous said...

Yes of course I agree with you, which is why I organized the clinic escort system for the Morgentaler clinic eight years ago. I have been involved in the pro-choice movement for about fifteen years now. I do think, however, that we should not focus on individual protestors, or direct too much energy toward them personally, because we have better things to do such as lobbying government, disseminating the truth about abortion to the public and so on. When I escorted at the clinic, my focus was on helping women, not on the protestors.

Anti-abortionists increasingly strive to incite anger with confrontational images (I'm talking about those hideous posters here) and we need to deal with these tactics in a way that does not reinforce their goals. Publicity and attention are the main goals of the anti-choice movement right now. Stephanie Gray's talks fall flat when she does not have any pro-choice people in the audience: so she creates straw ones. My point is that responding with anger, outrage and derision is exactly what they want.

E said...

I don't know that mocking the protesters on a blog counts as an enormous amount of energy expended on them. It's a way to vent frustration. The thing is, when you're standing there at the clinic, the time you spend watching the protesters go by is...well, your entire shift, and the time you spend actually escorting women into the clinic is fairly limited.

It seems to me that our purpose there is more symbolic than practical. Sure, sometimes we warn people about the attempted ministrations of Ghost Lady or tell them where to park, but mostly I believe we are there to demonstrate support for the patients and their right to make this choice.

As Tobin says -- I think we need to be visible, not just at the clinic, but in general. The antis find it a lot easier to get what they want when no one stands up to oppose them, and ultimately -- as we can see from what is happening in the U.S. -- they do want a lot more than attention.

Anonymous said...

I think Ear-Piece Charlie gets off on the idea that we talk about him (he calls himself by that nickname after all and will likely deny this statement, thereby proving my point). One of the protestors who I do not even know just mailed me a long letter (which I did not read because I am a busy professional). I think we make them feel important even if we do so unwittingly. Obviously I am not opposed to the visible presence of escorts at the clinic since I am the one who initiated the practice in Fredericton. I like that the space around the clinic is becoming increasingly theatrical on Tuesday mornings, indicating that it cannot simply be claimed by the protestors. The antis nevertheless benefit from the increased visiblity, which is the first step in their plan. It's a Foucauldian thing: we are imbricated within the power relations we simultaneously resist. Resistance is not unproblematic and the forms it takes are worth thinking about.

The Pedgehog said...

It is interesting to read this discussion because SL and I have been talking about this same issue all week: whether the blog (and the comments) draw too much attention to the protesters, giving them a platform for their madness.

I started this blog mainly to document what happens to women trying to come into the clinic. For me it is a way to simultaneously draw attention to an important issue and keep my sanity. That it has become an amusing diversion for some people is gratifying, but it certainly wasn't the main purpose.

I feel that one has to find a balance between fighting for abortion rights and access (which is in direct opposition with what the protesters want, which is where the problem lies) and simply ensuring that women get in safely. I find in myself that sometimes I get carried away with trying to see the humour in the situation, and I forget about my duty to the patients.

I don't really know if this blog is having a negative effect in terms of drawing attention to the protesters. But I believe that even if the protesters thrive on the attention, it is also important that people out in the world know that this is happening, that this madness exists. That is my main goal at this point: to bear witness to something that shouldn't be happening. Any negative side effects that come from that will, I hope, be worth it in the end.

Anonymous said...

I agree that this blog has great value, and creates a community of public resistance to anti-choice propaganda (which usually consists of repeating memorized statements about conception and babies etc.). I also fear that it has multiple ways of being used, and could even be used to refute the need for a bubble zone. If escorts enjoy the protestors and want to work the same shift as Crazy Legs, then are these protestors truly threatening and dangerous? Yes they are; they are harrassing women and not doing anything to dissuade anyone from having an abortion. In fact, the claim could be made that women rush quickly into the clinic, considering it a place of refuge, precisely because of the presence of the protestors. The protestors seem to have very rigid ways of thinking and simply cannot see that their own efforts backfire. The mere presence of the protestors recruits volunteer escorts and transforms at least some people into feminist activists. The power dynamics of the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton are both fascinating and troubling.

Anonymous said...

For people that are continually telling the world how judgemental and insensitive pro life protesters are, take a moment an read some of your own blogs. Seldom is one posted that does not either judge,ridicule,or is derogatory in some form or another towards the protesters.

The Pedgehog said...

Meh. Judgement is a pretty natural part of being human; we can't really help judging each other. I can't speak for the other escorts, but at least I am not laying claim to an ideology that says "don't judge". It's not really the judgement of the protesters that bothers me so much; it's their hypocrisy. They claim to love women and want what is best for them; they identify as Christians; and yet, what they do hurts women. I feel okay about judging people who cause harm to others.

On the other hand, the idea isn't really to attack the protesters as it is to expose the ridiculousness of what they do, and the difficulty and trauma they cause to women. I don't really have to judge OR ridicule them; I can just record what they do, because it is ridiculous enough. However, throwing in a jab or two of my own certainly keeps things lively.

I don't think anyone who does what they do to women deserves my respect.

Anonymous said...

I just want to say that it wasn't "me" (i.e. the person engaging in much of this blog from afar) who left the comment about judging. I think it is fine to declare that the protestors are completely misguided and ridiculous in their actions. They can believe whatever they want about abortion and embryos. They cannot degrade women publicly and not expect to receive resistance, resistance that focuses on health policy and helping women. I will avoid using the anonymous code from now on, and will use an identifying name "feministincowboyboots." Is that too long?

E said...

Hmm, that's an interesting point about ridiculing the protesters. Could our mockery be taken as evidence that we "enjoy" them, that we don't really object to them? I've always thought of it as black humour, making the best of a bad situation -- we can't make them leave, we can't yell at them, so we mock them. And we're not vulnerable the way the patients are, so their effect on us shouldn't bear directly on what they do to the patients.

But there IS an odd dynamic at work, particularly when you consider that most of the escorts (like most of the patients) are young women and most of the protesters are middle-aged men. When you consider that the effect (and I'd argue the intent) of these protests is to shame women for their sexuality, you do start wondering what kind of weird psychosexual crap is in the protesters' minds. It's actually fairly easy to interpret Earpiece Charlie, in our discussion last week, as being just thrilled to get attention from young women and feed his little martyr complex at the same time.

I don't really know that much can be done about it. I'm inclined to think that they primarily get off on bullying patients and anything we do is just a sideshow. And like Peggy, I balk at the idea of showing any respect to these people and what they do.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say I really like your blog. I think I found it via a post on Feministing.

As far as judging goes- I think it's not even a fair comparison (made by the comments here)to make between screaming crazy priests and a snarky observation of said crazy screaming priest. The women who are going into the clinic don't gleefully skip in there. (Please correct me if I am wrong, Pedgehog). They don't need people who obviously don't give a damn about them screaming at them. And the whole baby-mary thing is just BIZARRE. What's funny is that I guess everyone in the clinic cares about Mary or Jesus?

I understand the value of demonstrations. I am actually an animal rights activist. However, all of our demonstrations are peaceful, we don't block any entrances/exits (ever) and the animals we advocate for are never in someone else's body. Funny I should mention this. We were doing a circus demonstration and this guy came up to us w/o even asking what we thought and told us about abortion. "What about abortion!!?!". Like that has anything to do with the circus.

Anyway, I wouldn't be so critical of the "pro-life" movement if the majority of them were advocates of safe sex education, contraception, emergency contraception, and public assistance (like welfare and WIC). But they aren't! If you are a fetus that is awesome. If you are born or a woman, you can go to hell. They also seem to want to give the message that every abortion is late-term "partial birth".

Pedgehog, you may have more of a grasp on the stats than I do...aren't most of the abortions at the clinic 1st-trimester?

The Pedgehog said...

I wish someone would skip gleefully into the clinic. That would be a sight to behold.

In terms of the abortions at our clinic, we don't perform them after sixteen weeks - so we actually don't do any late-term abortions. I would say (just from casual observation, I don't have the stats to back this up) that most of our patients are between eight and eleven weeks.

Off topic...I protest the circus too!! :)

Thanks for commenting everyone, this is a very interesting discussion and I'm enjoying reading it.

Anonymous said...

Just one other perspective......
The protestors have changed tactics. Last year around this time, they were yellng at/screaming at/chasing after women entering the clinic. Escorts (in order to protect patients from ugly and often vehement taunts) sang.....or just talked loudly. Interesting to say the least:)

Consequently, there has been much discussion about a bubble zone. (a safe zone around the clinic) In addition, there have been meetings with local politicians. The pros and antis both have met with politicians separately arguing for and against said "bubble zone". There has been no resolution to date.

People are watching. So as to not upset people; they (the protestors) are engaging in "peaceful" demonstration. They don't yell. The "yelling protestors" seem to be staying indoors.

"Peaceful demonstration" seemingly involves glaring into the clinic windows, mutterings and mumblings (likely not real words but oh well) and the recent development of pacing along side of the clinic with "mary" wrapped in a blanket. They think this may be more "acceptable" than screaming and yelling and holding out plastic fetuses who cry out "mommy, mommy, please don't go in there".

In addition, on days when there are no patients.........."mary" is sometimes placed on a blanket, facing the clinic, flanked by two praying gentlemen.

Do the protestors enjoy the limelight? Probably.
Does this blog give them a forum? I guess so.

Does the fact that there are "escorts" out there matter?
Most definitely. It matters to the patients. It matters to their families. It matters to the staff.
Unfortunately, the "escorts" are outside so they don't get to hear about how much "they matter".
They matter very much.

Anonymous said...

No one has suggested that the escorts don't matter. That was not the point of any of the preceeding commentary. The changing tactics of the antis are interesting. I wonder how long that will last?

Unknown said...

It's important to me that the escorts know how much they are appreciated. I don't think they know. Thus I'm using the blog to tell them so.
As far as the "changing tactics".......I think they will be on their best behavior as long as we continue to agitate about a bubble zone. There is a court case pending as well. They want to be seen as reasonable caring citizens who don't yell and scream and chase people. It's to their advantage.

jedstah said...

Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!

Everyone take one step back and take a minute to think of whats going on here. We're fighting amongst ourselves about the same thing. We all meet on a common ground, but opinions and individual beliefs will differ

I'm going to drop down to the personal level. I'm not going to lie, my partner and I have discussed abortion in our lives and its not right for her, nor me. But the one thing we agree with is that it should be publicly funded, and thats the issue.

We must stand united, and not let individual beliefs divide us. We're stronger then this, stronger then fighting on the internet.

Anonymous said...

No one is fighting amongst themselves and no one is criticizing the escorts. What we have been doing is considering the power dynamics of the situation outside of the clinic every Tuesday morning, and the multiple ways in which this blog can be interpreted by different readers. Saying that the protestors enjoy the attention does not mean that we should respect them. Wondering if they benefit from the blog does not mean the escorts are worthless. I'm just trying to have a discussion that is more than us versus them, for us versus them serves them (ie the protestors) and not us. To a large degree the protestors form their identities in contrast to an "other" (that is in contrast to the supposedly unholy and unthinking liberal mob, or however they define it). I think the pro-choice movement does not and should not defnine itself as other than some kind of right-wing religious mob. I think we should define ourselves more positively as political activists working to improve the lives of women, regardless of whatever those who long for the days of illegal abortion are doing.

Unknown said...

So after a lot of thought about this discussion I think figured something out. We the escorts do define ourselves as against the protestors because if they were not there we wouldn't have to be. If people would, as P stated, let abortion be a personal desicion then we wouldn't need escorts. I hope one day I CAN hang up my escort apron because the protestors are no longer harassing women outside the clinic and turn my efforts in a new direction that will help move woman forward.

Just because we escorts are present at the clinic to fend off the protestors does NOT MEAN that the pro-choice movement itself is being defined as "other" than the antis.