Several months ago, our neighbor told Greg that she would be graduating soon and was to have a senior project exhibited in April. When Greg said he'd like to see it, she said, I hope we can still be friends afterwards. Later, we both shrugged and figured her nervousness was an oddity, like the furry boots she wears even when it's 90 degrees outside.
The story broke several days ago. Aliza Shvarts repeatedly inseminated herself, herbally induced abortions in her home every month for nine months, collected the blood each time, and smeared this evidence with Vaseline across plastic sheeting that was wrapped around a cube to serve as a projection screen for videos she took of herself performing the act. Wow. As Greg put it, "Gross. We know her."
Anyone who knows me for more than a few minutes probably picks up on the fact that I am an opinionated person. It's just in me. I don't know why. Sometimes the opinions drive me nuts - they never go away - and sometimes they drive other people nuts - for the same reason. Opinions are neither right or wrong, they just are, and I equally enjoy giving and hearing them. So it's funny, when I think about this necessary aspect of my own personality, that I've never really offered up an opinion on this blog about something other than food. Well, this particular story might be quite a leap off topic, but I find it impossible to ignore - especially since Aliza Shvarts is our next door neighbor, a passing friend that we long ago nicknamed "Boots" who waves to our dogs and parks behind my Camry.
When the story first broke, I was horrified. Obsessed might be more like it. Despite the fact that I am quite firmly pro-choice, this (apparently) flagrant disregard for life - originating from a truly lovely woman who likes funky footwear - floored me. Perhaps even more shocking was the fact that Greg was cheering her on. This surprised me for two reasons: (1) although Greg himself could win a prize for being opinionated, it's usually not about philosophical life vs. non-life debates (more often it's about the correct way to put silverware in the dishwasher, but I digress) and (2) how on earth could he be cheering her on? I argued that it's not right to use "life" (no matter how small or cellular that life may be) as a political tool. He argued that anti-choicers have been using this tool to ruin female lives for the entire history of anti-choice. These continuing conversations took a rather interesting turn when it came out that Aliza's "pregnancies" probably didn't take place, that the blood was just menstrual fluid, that there are no true abortion herbs available online (if there were why bother with RU 486!), and that, indeed, Aliza had pulled off an incredible hoax on liberal and conservative America alike. Furthermore, although science requires, necessarily, that this is a hoax - Aliza denies that it was any kind of hoax. She insists that she regularly inseminated herself and induced bleeding at the end of the month.
Aliza didn't actually list her reasons explicitly, although many people have put these words in her mouth: free speech, art, political discourse, necessary controversy, useful discussion. Equally, the other side argued their reasons: disregard for life, fuel for the anti-choicers, attention grabbing stunt, danger to her own health, pointless, no-good-discussion-can-come-of-this. Several days of "do you think she did it?" discussion followed these events. The controversy which surrounded this topic made our conversations on it inexhaustible: the parents, the adviser, Yale, her... how, why, and what did this all mean?
I sat on my rigid, anti-what-she-did opinion for a while, and then I felt it ... strangely... melt away. Because what Aliza did or didn't do was exactly the point of her piece. Anti-choicers have argued, for long while, that conception begins at fertilization as opposed to implantation. This concept strikes many (myself included) as absurd - eggs are commonly fertilized and then lost in menstrual fluid. It's quite a normal process, and if indeed personhood begins at fertilization, I will have killed somewhere nearing 70 "people" in my adult, female, menstruating life. When we all thought that Aliza became pregnant and aborted those pregnancies, it was horrifying. When we realized that it was just normal menstruation that she chose to make into an attention grabbing piece of art, we rolled our eyes and turned our backs.
Yet what's the real difference? Why is it different for a sexually active woman on the pill to routinely engage in sex and have a fertilized, non-implanted egg go down the toilet every month, and for an art student to engage in the same act (minus the romance) and pretend that some herbal remedy (as opposed to the pill) was involved?
The difference is that it is a moral judgment, not a medical one, which determines the reaction. As a sexually active woman on the pill, I am no different than Aliza Shvarts. She could have yelled this fact on the top of her lungs and I never would have heard it - but 4 days of agonizing over this controversy, and it finally just hit home in a rather satisfying and permanent way. Aliza couldn't have said what she wanted to say. She needed to do what she did and allow other people to say it, personally, individually, publicly, softly and loudly to each other. She needed to do what she did to allow people to come to their own conclusions.
So now, we don't see Boots tromping around our street. In fact, when we did see her once, she revealed that Yale was planning to expel her, that she's received death threats, that her parents are terrified and flew in from California to stay with her, she's worried that her landlord is angry with her, and that she's upset about her future. All of these fears were revealed to Greg in only several shy sentences. Her father called her on the cell phone that very minute. She replied that she was okay, that the bus just dropped her off and she'd be inside right away.
All this over menstrual blood. Job well done, Aliza. Your work was brilliant.