In these New York months in which the bug has altered the socialization patterns of the city, already complicated in itself, I have become fond of audio soap operas. And that was how I was coming down Fifth Avenue on Monday from the marvelous headquarters of the new york public library on 42, listening A room of one’s own of Virginia Woolf, just after having stopped to contemplate the cane used by the writer and that appeared floating on the day of her suicide, in 1941, in the River Ouse, and some pieces of the manuscript of her famous novel Mrs. Dallowayamong the collection of objects, authentic treasures, that the library exhibits these months in its exhibition Treasures.
In her essay published in 1929, which merges the lectures that the author gave at two British universities and which reflects on women and writing, Woolf deplores, with a modernity that was hurtful to me, the difficulties they had had, throughout Throughout history, people of my sex to explore their literary talents and to find their own voice register in literature. Difficulties associated with the lack of resources and economic autonomy; to the lack of an intimate space from which to write; to the scarce possibility of accumulating vital experiences that later capture on paper; to the impossibility of portraying oneself, except through the gaze of man; to the absence of female models to emulate, and of course, to the impossibility of getting rid of the normative motherhood that has always forced women to understand themselves above all as wife and mother, preventing them from deciding whether this, or another, should be his main destination, or even how, at what pace, and in what dose to combine the different destinations that he had. The author also deplores, and this left me quite concerned, that the hatred and rage of the woman for the injustice in her flesh, deprived many of the few who had dared despite everything to link their destinies to the pen, with a serene voice, without prejudice, and above all with a broad palette of themes that allowed his work to transcend his own personal drama and encompass the rich range of knowledge and the human psyche.
I had these thoughts when I went to bed on Monday only to wake up on Tuesday with an unusual number of whatsapps on my mobile. Europe is ahead, so waking up to the string of messages (I was commenting the other day with a compatriot with whom I share a neighborhood here) is not unusual. But that morning… Lina, Dorothy, Stefano… and many more… it wasn’t normal! They were messages of concern from those who know to what I dedicate my academic research and in a certain sense, my life; messages from those who dedicate theirs to the same or similar company. The press had already echoed and Europe was talking about it. The draft of the sentence that, from the pen of Judge Alito, would have to underpin the Roe v Wade precedent had been leaked through the newspaper Politico, that sentence that almost fifty years ago, in 1973, recognized that the right to privacy encompasses the freedom of women to decide before the moment of fetus viability, whether or not they want to be mothers or prefer to interrupt their pregnancy.
“We’ll have to do something, right?” Stephanie told me in one of the messages, referring, I guess, to writing something about it. “Of course!” I replied. “For now, I’m looking for a place to go shout in the street, preferably in company.” I had been writing for some time, also in the pages of this newspaper, about the matter, predicting the worst. That was the day to shout, not to write. And the call, I learned shortly after, would be at 5:00 p.m. in Foley Square, in lower Manhattan.
I headed there and there I shouted at will because, to my surprise, in the middle of the crowd, a group of witty protesters (one dressed as a vagina was leading the operation) had decided to locate a “main shouting station” so that those who If they wished, they could ease their lungs at the images of the five judges who seem to have handed down Roe’s death sentence, before banners showing their heads in enormous size. Five judges, four men and only one woman, three of them appointed by Trump, sparing no tricks; two of them with serious allegations or a proven history of sexual abuse… four men who would never see themselves in the situation of an unwanted pregnancy were about to give a fatal blow to the one that, along with Brown vs. Board of Education (the ruling that abolished racial segregation) is perhaps the most famous in the history of the Supreme Court and thereby conditioning the destiny of millions of women in the country. Of course, there were reasons to scream.
There are those who think just the opposite: that the leak will fundamentally serve to cushion the final blow so that when the long-awaited sentence arrives, in a few weeks, the public accepts it with greater resignation.
At the moment, much of the political nervousness reflected in the press seems to be due to the leak itself, since it constitutes an unprecedented event in the history of the Court. There are those who believe that the leak seeks a popular clamor that forces a more moderate position than that expressed in the leaked text and makes the president of the Court, Judge Robertson, also a conservative but with a more moderate tendency, manage to convince some of the five colleagues so that, without the need to upset the precedent, an argument can be achieved that, however, saves the constitutionality of the questioned law: the Mississippi Law that limits the right to abortion to the first 15 weeks of pregnancy, except for medical reasons (and without exception referring to pregnancy resulting from rape!), therefore lowering the period of approximately 23 weeks in which the viability of the fetus outside the womb is located. There are those who think just the opposite: that in order to show independence and strength, the conservative position will now have no choice but to unite around the theses that have already seen the light of day and that, in reality, the leak will fundamentally serve to cushion the final blow so that when the long-awaited sentence arrives, in a few weeks, the citizenry accepts it with greater resignation. The president of the Court certainly knows that, be that as it may, such an incident increases the discredit of an institution that is already at its lowest in popularity and promises a thorough investigation to reveal the offender.
If Roe fell, each State would be free to regulate on the matter; it is estimated that 25 States would totally nullify or seriously toughen the possibility of abortion
But our cries in Foley Square in Manhattan on Tuesday afternoon, as well as those at the many demonstrations that took place in other parts of the country that day, were mostly about substance. And I would say that the banners, the proclamations, the songs and the speeches that activists and members of the local administration gave there went in two directions. On the one hand, there was the fear of what the sentence could actually mean. If Roe fell, each State would be free to regulate on the matter; it is estimated that 25 States would completely annul or seriously tighten the possibility of abortion; and the current scenario would worsen, by virtue of which the weight of the restrictions inevitably falls on the most vulnerable population, the poor population, illegal immigrants, adolescents, black women who are the ones who have the most difficulty moving to the few centers that remain open in the conservative states and that would have to travel even greater distances, once these were closed, to reach the adjoining states to be able to abort. For this reason, some of the banners read “Abortion is a social justice issue” or “Reproductive justice is a class war” and many voices from the stage of the speeches encouraged the city and the Democratic State of New York to solidarity with the sisters in the south and center of the country, offering a safe harbor to those who need it and encouraging them to donate and feed the ranks of volunteers among the attendees.
However, many of the banners and voices did not seem so intended for the practical effects of the possible sentence, perhaps because the anti-abortion medication that exists now but did not exist in the days of Roe, opens the way for illegal but difficult to control trafficking to women who, from anywhere in the country, want to abort safely at home, making the hangers that their mothers and grandmothers used in clandestine and dangerous home abortions, and that some protesters remembered on their banners with expressions of rejection and drops of blood, a symbol that is difficult to replicate in the present. Perhaps because the reality of the country is already characterized by an enormous regional disparity in terms of access to abortion thanks to laws that have not annulled it but have progressively made it more difficult to access.
Many of the banners and shouts referred to the symbolic register and alluded to the autonomy and freedom of women. “My body, my decision”; “I am a person, not a womb”; “Get your hands off my body”; “Get your rosary out of my ovaries”; “If I had wanted a son of the government, I would have fucked a senator”; “Respect the decision of women! How fucking complicated is that to understand?”; “The most difficult decision a woman has to make is not up to “you”; “Wanting sex is not wanting a pregnancy; wishing for a pregnancy is not the same as wishing to carry it out under any circumstance”… but also “I will have fewer rights than my mother”; “I survived an illegal abortion in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1969”; “Only the struggle has served to win the rights of women”; ”Women, rise up!”; “Back, never!”. And reading and shouting some of the legends to the chorus of the masses, I imagined that somewhere, flying over the scene, the spirit of Virginia Wolf was looking at us and deploring that, after so much time, the man is still determined to mark her their destiny to women and that women continue, over and over again, having to fight the same battles, without ever being able to rest on the soft mantle of the conquests woven with blood by their predecessors in order to be able to broaden the palette of their concerns to all the corners of knowledge, art and science. There I was, yelling instead of advancing my investigations. Because the second, that day, seemed like a luxury that could either wait or was irrelevant; the first, a vital necessity.