As readers of this blog know, the IWF has no official position on the “right to die” a la Terri Schiavo. If someone wants to write a living will indicating a desire to undergo a prolonged and gruesome death by starvation and dehydration for the crime of being mentally disabled although physically healthy, we consider that decision to be outside our purview of women’s issues. (Of course, I can’t help noting that Terri, now in her 14th day without food or water, is putting up one heck of a fight against the Grim Reaper for someone who’s been described by many as having “died 15 years ago.”)
What is our concern, however, is that all the evidence–and there isn’t much of it–that Terri would have wanted to die the way she’s dying has come from the camp of her husband, Michael Schiavo, who has been living for years with another woman whom he calls his fiancee and by whom he has two children, who hasn’t provided Terri any therapy since 1993, and who had a medication-denying “Do Not Resuscitate” sign placed over her bed a few years ago when she was suffering from a minor urinary-tract infection. Michael won’t divorce Terri, because then he would have to give up his claim as her devoted husband to be carrying out her wishes. And she sure can’t divorce him. Michael literally holds the power of life and death over Terri–a power that he is fearlessly executing even as I write. All her property is under his control, including her sizeable medical malpractice settlement that was supposed to go for her lifelong care but has been spent by Michael on right-to-die lawyers.
All this reminds me of the very bad old days–the kind you read about in 19th-century novels–when wives could end up as literal prisoners of brutal and dissolute husbands. The bad old days that the feminist movement to this day takes pride in having helped abolish. Reforming oppressive marriage laws that made wives their husband’s property and denied them the right to escape even the most abusive of relationships was an accomplishment of which feminists can be justly proud. That is why the IWF, which believes in a reasonable feminism, has taken a stand protesting Michael Schiavo’s continued guardianship of Terri. And it’s why–as I’ve said before in this blog–I find it astonishing that the entire feminist establishment, from the National Organization for Women to you name it, has been absolutely silent on the matter of Terri’s exceedingly slow death by a form of torture that our liberal elite would be protesting to high heaven if it were visited on a Guantanamo prisoner.
Well, actually, I’m not astonished at all–because the feminist establishment has always been highly selective about the women’s rights it chooses to champion. Still, for a group of people who regard marriage itself as a form of patriarchal oppression, the silence of the militant feminists on the subject of Terri Schiavo is deafeningly hypocritical.
We aren’t the only women who have noticed this hypocrisy, either. National Review’s Kathryn Jean Lopez has taken aim repeatedly at Terri Schiavo’s very silent sisters among the marriage-denouncing feminists. So now Kathryn is getting flak, from, of all people, a fellow conservative woman, the Boston Globe columnist Cathy Young. In an article for Reason magazine accusing the let-Terri-live crowd of “cynicism and fanaticism” Cathy writes:
“On the website of the conservative National Review, writer Kathryn Jean Lopez railed at the feminist groups’ lack of outrage that ‘a man’and his male lawyer and doctor’backed up by a male judge, is cutting off his wife’s food.’ We live in bizarre times when a conservative chides feminists for not acting like professional male-bashers.”
Kathryn responds (and quite astutely, if you ask me):
“Women’s-studies courses are full of ranting about the bad things marriage does to women. But there is a real-world example of a woman who is crying out for a voice, whose very life is being ended by a man with pretty severe conflicts of interest. You gotta wonder what these gals stand for.
“Do I want ‘male bashing’? Give me a break….[W]hile I don’t want to harp on the person of Michael Schiavo, I think the contention that he is some kind of Everyman doesn’t hold water. He’s moved on, creating what should have been a legal problem for him, but foremost, an ethical one, as her poor parents stand on the sidelines, begging desperately for their daughter’s life.”
So I’m throwing down this gauntlet to the feminist establishment. Here’s a quotation (excerpted by Kathryn) from Women’s Realities, Women’s Choices, a popular textbook in college women’s-studies curricula:
“The institutions of marriage and the role of ‘wife’ are intimately connected with the subordination of women in society in general. It is the constraints on women to engage freely in various social activities, whether in sexual intercourse, economic exchanges, politics, or war, that make us ‘dependent’ on men, that oblige us to become ‘wives.'”
So, sistahs of NOW and elsewhere, here’s your big chance. The disability-rights advocates, folks who usually vote and agitate liberal, have stood by their principles and uniformly protested Terri’s excruciating fate. So have a number of other figures on the extreme-to-moderate left, including Ralph Nader, Jesse Jackson, Tom Harkin, and Nat Hentoff. So c’mon women’s-studies folks. You hate marriage, you loathe the idea of husbands–well, here’s a marriage and a husband that give you something to get your teeth into.
I’m waiting…and waiting, and waiting.