Abortion Art Shows Us All For Fools

A defense of performance art and messing with wingnuts.

Some people are under the misconception that performance art is a new thing, invented in the mid-twentieth century by people with no discernible talents for painting, acting, or music, but some hare-brained ideas, a willingness to be naked in public, and a talent for getting government grants. While it can't be categorically denied that this was a factor in the development of performance art, it's worth noting that another sort of performance art -- the hoax -- has been around since time immemorial. A good hoax should be funny, make people look like asses, and say something about the larger society beyond, "People are dupes." Which is why I tip my hat to Aliza Shvarts of Yale, whose art-hoax managed to set off alarms all over Wingnut Nation.

Shvarts claimed to have impregnated herself many times over the course of nine months, then self-aborted with herbs, and collected the uterine offal for her project. The project played up to every right wing stereotype imaginable about feminists, and even into the hands of white supremacist groups, who were eager to dismiss Shvarts with the blood libel, suggesting that she is a "murdering Jewess" who kills babies for fun. Some feminist bloggers (including me) immediately saw the problem with this story, which is that it's not possible. If abortion was a matter of just sucking down some oregano and waiting in the bathtub, it wouldn't be a political struggle, because it would be hidden from prying eyes, anti-choice protesters, and government authority. The coat hanger is the symbol of the abortion rights movement because self-abortion is a dirty, dangerous task that requires shoving sharp objects into your uterus. Even medication abortion, RU-486, is a long, painful process. If you kept going back to the doctor to get it, red flags would fly.
Amanda Marcotte co-writes the popular blog Pandagon. She is the author of It's a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments.
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