Bringing Critical Reproductive Justice Dialogue to UCSB
When thinking of an activist project for this class, we felt that it was imperative for the project to be able to foster conversations about reproductive justice issues among those who had previously not been aware of what reproductive justice means and what reproductive justice works entails, but also to challenge those who identified as being pro-choice and for abortion rights.. Having been involved in reproductive justice activism prior to this class, we both already had an understanding of the differences between reproductive justice and reproductive rights, and we were aware that in order for us to discuss the issues that are important to reproductive justice with others in an effective manner, it was important for others to become informed about what a reproductive justice approach entails first and foremost. A common set of knowledge will make possible the furthering of discussions of these issues among our peers and our communities, paving the way to forming of coalitions in order to imagine new ways in which to approach reproductive justice activism.
Thus, for our project we decided to create a radio show for the on-campus radio station, KJUC. Our show, titled The Reproductive Justice Power Hour, became a space in which we would encourage conversations about reproductive justice by creating awareness of the various issues which reproductive justice activism addresses. We hosted our radio shows weekly, Fridays from 8-9:30 am, while also choosing to post podcasts of our shows online in order to reach a wider audience. We discussed various topics, but chose to focus on seven issues that we felt were diverse enough to show how reproductive justice activism encompasses more than abortion and birth control. The show opened with discussion of crisis pregnancy centers and the dangers they posted to women. We also wanted to highlight the work that our group, End Fake Clinics, is doing on campus and in the community to combat the influence of the centers. Another topic that was discussed was the shackling of incarcerated women during childbirth and the prison industrial complex; more specifically, the way in which women of color often find themselves as being viewed as “deviant” in their sexuality and therefore, institutions often feel the need to control their reproductive choices. Another topic we discussed was , sex work as labor. Our guest for this show, Heather Berg discussed how sex work is often not viewed this way, and that it is still highly stigmatized, as evidenced by the recent Los Angeles condom mandate. Berg also talked about attempts at union organizing within the porn industry. For our show on a critique of pro-choice and pro-life abortion discourses, our guest Carly Thomsen led a discussion on the limitations of viewing abortion through a moral lens and thus encouraged listeners to move away from this framework as a way to de-stigmatize abortion, and discussed what it would mean to celebrate abortion.
We also discussed the medicalization of childbirth and alternative birthing; for this topic, we made sure to also highlight the class privilege that exists in having the ability to choose to have a homebirth. The last episode of our show featured the creators of the “Queering Reproductive Justice” zine, who helped us learn more about what it means to queer reproductive justice; we also talked about the production of their zine, what topics were “queered” and discussed the possibility of additional topics such as sex positivity and self-pleasure for the zine. This topic was chosen to be on our last show, because we felt it offered a provocative framework that we and our listeners could learn to apply in our own activism and everyday lives. While we felt that it was important for us to create awareness about these issues, we knew that we had to approach this project with care, and more importantly, with humility. As self-proclaimed feminists, and given our previous knowledge of feminist and queer theory and activism, we had to be wary of putting ourselves in a position in which we assumed the role of orators, where we would give lectures not open to criticism rather than holding discussions that allowed room for alternate points of view. One of the things we learned in the duration of this radio show was that both feminist theory and activism are always works in progress.
Activism, just like the theory that shapes it, is not stagnant. Rather, they are in constant flux, and they require constant criticism. As Kim Hall asserts, critique is inherit to our movements; our movements require it as it allows for the constant re-imagining of what we strive to achieve through our work (pg. 115). For assuming that a point of view is beyond criticism is hindering the change that activist work attempts to achieve in the first place. Therefore, we consistently worked to think critically about the discourses we utilized and to imagine alternate modes of being and thinking. For our discussions, we presented arguments and ideas from various sources, all the time being careful to not present one argument as being the “right” argument, or the right way of thinking. Rather than ending our discussions with a feeling of having said all there is to be said, we attempted to leave our listeners with a desire to question, a desire to rethink discourses and to critique not only their previous ways of thinking, but the ideas that we were presenting as well.
When addressing these various issues on our radio show, we attempted to frame our discourses, and therefore our activism, around an idea rather than solely identity. One of our goals for this project was to encourage the discussion of reproductive justice and to show that a politics of solidarity can arise out of these conversations. We steered away from positioning ourselves as being representative of an entire reproductive justice movement. For example, by not presenting ourselves as authorities on reproductive justice issues, and rather as participants in a discussion, we prevented ourselves from presenting information that was not met to be questioned. We did not want to present ourselves as experts based on our experiences as feminist studies majors and activists. Overall, following Spivak’s discussion of the formation of a politics of solidarity, we were careful not to promote our show as one that was representative of the entire reproductive justice movement; we are aware that although we attempted to include a variety of issues and points of view, time constraints, limitations to our knowledge of feminist/queer activism and theory, as well as our personal experiences necessitate that we could in no way be comprehensive and inclusive (Briggs, pg. 82). By invoking an “ethics of humility” (Eng, Halberstam and Munoz, pg.15) we could frame our discussions so that we could question the discourses typically deployed in discussions of these issues to be finalized. We sought not to lecture our listeners but rather to engage in a dialogue in which we were not only sharing the knowledge we have but most importantly learning from these discussions and through each other. Thus, we hoped to highlight the importance of critical dialogue around these issues rather than attempting to speak for a movement.
For the second part of our project, we also published an op-ed in both the Daily Nexus and the Bottom Line, which are on-campus newspapers at UCSB. The goal of the op-ed was to further continue the discussion around what reproductive justice is and spread awareness around current reproductive justice activism that our group, End Fake Clinics, has been doing on-campus. A major idea that we learned about activism in this course was how discourse is incredibly important in the way that it both frames and represents the issues we are organizing around. Drawing from Clare Hemmings’ (pg.2) insights regarding the importance of storytelling and the way narratives of movements are framed, we sought to create a narrative of reproductive justice activism at UCSB that would challenge dominant pro-choice and anti-abortion perceptions and also demystify reproductive justice activism might mean. We worked on an op-ed through collaboration with other End Fake Clinics members. The main focus was to highlight diverse issues that all relate reproductive justice. Thus, we chose to highlight an array of issues such as medicalization of childbirth, environmental justice, reproductive profiling, and the mass deportations of undocumented people among other issues. We felt many communities would identify with at least one of these issues, and therefore find interest in reproductive justice as framework for their activism.
We encountered some problems and roadblocks during the activist project, yet we were able to learn more effective ways of addressing these issues which will be important for future organizing. One problem was not being able to record all of our shows due to technical errors. Thus, it is important to always plan ahead and have a back-up to record the radio show if the technology does not work.The main problem we had was the way in which our op-eds were published. For example, the editor of the Daily Nexus version chose to edit our piece in a way that corrupted its meaning, therefore diminishing the power of our statements. Also, the Bottom Line attributed our piece to another person and changed the title of article, thereby erasing our role in the creation of the piece. We quickly realized that the publication of these op-eds was not the culmination of a project, but just created more work. We needed to be pro-active in addressing these errors when they arose and contacted the editors to change the text so that integrity of our work and ideas was maintained. Furthermore, these problems made us realize the importance of the work we are doing; the poor handling of our piece, made it clear that reproductive justice issues are not taken seriously.
Overall, this project and the work we put into it allowed us to experience activism as work that is shaped by our personal goals and dreams, and at the same times shapes our goals and dreams. It gave us the ability to imagine new ways of approaching and organizing around issues. There is a freedom in having the agency to bring our ideas into fruition. This project allowed us to view activism as not solely an action but also a rethinking of the discourses and ideologies which we organize around. Ultimately, we learned to view activism as something that should not just be a response to oppressive structures and ideologies but also as a possibility that is shaped by critical re-imaginings of the present.
Briggs, Laura. “Activisms and Epistemologies.” Social Text 26.4 (2008): 79-95.
Eng, David L., Judith Halberstam, and José Esteban Muñoz. “What’s Queer About Queer Studies Now?.” Social Text23.3/4 (2005): 1-17. Academic Search Complete.
Hall, Kim Q. “Queerness, Disability, and the Vagina Monologues.” Hypatia: Journal of Feminist Philosophy 20.1 (2005): 99-119.
Hemmings, Claire. “Introduction.” Introduction. Why Stories Matter: The Political Grammar of Feminist Theory. Durham: Duke UP, 2011. 1-27.