Incorporated into the recent war on women is the acknowledgement that women of color, expressly black women, have been sterilized against their will and made to struggle for their reproductive right to produce a family. There have also been—and are—imperialistic efforts to constrain and control the populations of developing countries through untested and dangerous drugs. While third wave feminists have liberated women with the birth control developed in scientific innovation over the past couple of centuries, how women of color and white women relate historically to birth control shares only the theme of the right to bodily autonomy—while white women were fighting for the right to not become pregnant, women of color in the West, who were often sterilized against their knowledge and consent, were fighting for the right to have a family. And though women in developing nations are perceived as complicit in their ingestion of drugs to prevent pregnancy, the extreme position of disadvantage in which they consent hardly qualifies as empowerment, particularly when these drugs are untested and distributed for the purpose of population control rather than improving the welfare and lives of women.
In the United States, the Republican Party has secured their agenda of policing women’s bodies with a particularly racially preposterous angle: charging that sexism within Asian communities leads to frequent sex-selective abortions in Chinese and Indian immigrant families. I’m thinking, specifically, of Trent Franks, who alleged that “sex selection is demonstrably increasing here in the United States, especially but not exclusively in the Asian immigrant community,” championing feigned concern for the welfare of girls of color despite the fact that a vast majority of Republicans voted against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994.
Franks is also infamous for his statement in 2010 that because of abortion, “far more of the African American community is being devastated by the policies of today than were being devastated by the policies of slavery.” He is not a black American, but is apparently self-elected to be a spokesperson.
Forced sterilization against women of color, and knowledge of it, has been misappropriated and employed as political weaponry by the very side positioned against women’s choice, urging women of color to vote against abortion rights, even by twisting their own cultures against them via highly questionable allegations constructed on stereotypes, and to forfeit the right to their bodies, rights which have historically been unrecognized, for not only black American women who’ve become the center of feigned conservative concern for anti-abortionist agendas, but overwhelmingly for Native American women.
However as Andrea Smith indicates (in her chapter “Better Dead than Pregnant”) the unavailability of the right to abort a pregnancy has yielded the result that “Native women feel even more pressure to agree to sterilizations or dangerous contraceptives to avoid the traumas of unwanted pregnancies,” as colonization of Native bodies continues through regulation and control. Contraceptives have been tested on Native women, as well as women in developing countries, resulting in cancerous growth and even death, to both ensure these methods are safe for women in the US and to prevent Native women, who are viewed as parasitic and unclean, from having children and continuing the race.
This strategy of ethnic cleansing has been used and is used during the most inhumane of wartimes, in which women are raped as to be ostracized from their communities since they are then viewed as contaminated by the enemy, and are even continued to be raped by their “rescuers” who harbor an extreme hatred of them. So it is no surprise then, with what role rape plays in war, that the same approach is employed in attacks against Native women, as their reproducing bodies are viewed as threats, and their ability to give childbirth is perceived as something that must be destroyed. Among all other ethnicities in the United States, Native women are the most likely to be sexually assaulted by members outside of their race, and are sterilized out of their consent and informed will when they are most vulnerable. These operations are prescribed for everything from complaints of headaches to stomachaches. A woman informed by a doctor at Yellowknife Hospital that she was worried about getting pregnant underwent a sterilization only to discover the culprit of the headaches was a brain tumor. A doctor at the same hospital once screamed at a Native woman for complaining about her stomach hurting, assuming she had been pregnant. And these operations are prescribed even under the guise of tonsillectomies, as two 15-year-old girls were told they were getting their tonsils removed and were actually sterilized. Native women such as the Inuit women at Yellowknife Hospital have also been forced to endure abortions without anesthesia, one doctor stating coldly, “This really hurt, didn’t it? But let that be a lesson before you get yourself in this situation again.” These attacks on the reproductive rights of Native women are, as Smith states, “frontline strategies to the continuing wars against Native nations.” To engage not a painful history but a contemporary era of women of color tormented by sterilizations to favor rightwing politicians in the pretense of allowing these women to have families when in reality anti-choice polices render the onslaught of forced sterilizations is disgusting to say the least: it is a method of genocide.
Silliman notes this in “Policing the National Body” as she writes the contemporary difficulties facing women of color include “the difficulty of maintaining families and sustaining community in the face of increasing surveillance and criminalization.” Compounded with the perspective that women of color are parasites who live off of state welfare and demand government support for their families who grow into criminals, invoking an appropriated reality of forced sterilization to create a mendacious narrative against abortion is sickening and worthy of being classified as evil.
Forced upon women in developing countries, where the colonization devastatingly extends, harmful contraceptives take advantage, under the guise of population control, of women who cannot afford to be pregnant, in order to execute a racist agenda to eliminate “inferior races.” Smith notes that one woman who returned to her doctor regarding a contraceptive implanted into her arm pleaded, “I’m dying please help me get it out,” to which the doctor responded, “Okay, when you die you inform us, we’ll get it out of your dead body.” And as Silliman writes the consistent wrongful incarceration of people of color is the deliberate continuation of binding and controlling them and denying them the manifestation of the basic neoliberal belief that individual rights are located at the core of the individual. Historically women of color, conceived as reproductive threats, have confronted coercive population policies and demanded the safe contraceptives which rightwing politicians are denying them today by misappropriating their narratives.
So I have two points about this: first, where the hell does my birth control come from? And second, have you seen these (super old) pictures of a woman undergoing animal testing to demonstrate how vicious and inhumane it is? I’m not going to post the photos because they are disturbingly graphic, but you can click through to see them.
The point is, we don’t do that to just animals. And I’m sorry to break it to anyone who believes we do. We do that to women of color in developing nations, and I’m a little disturbed by this experiment for multiple reasons: (1) this isn’t solely an experiment (2) the reality wouldn’t happen to that woman (2) is it even possible to execute this without sexualization?