Sunday, 19 August 2007

Semantic Double Standards

Why is it that, if an Indian woman opts to abort a female foetus because of the social stigma and financial difficulties of not having male children, it is referred to as 'foeticide', but if a Western woman chooses to abort a foetus of either sex because she wants to get on with her career, or dissociate herself from the consequences of a casual sexual relationship, it is called a termination?

Both are decisions influenced by desire to conform to certain social constructs, both are decisions that may well be influenced by financial considerations. But one of them attracts greater linguistic condemnation than the other does. Why?

5 comments:

Custard. said...

The sermon at the church I was at yesterday morning pointed out that abortions are mostly sacrificing children to whichever gods that person happens to worship.

I guess that if it is a god that it's ok to worship in England (e.g. career), it's a "termination". If it's one we don't worship (such as status as determined by sons), it's "foeticide".

Matt said...

> The sermon at the church I was at yesterday morning pointed out that abortions are mostly sacrificing children to whichever gods that person happens to worship.

What!? Not sure I understand what you're trying to say here but, your comment is brief. Are you referring to religion in India? Whatever, the idea that 'abortions are mostly sacrificing children to whichever gods that person happens to worship' is obviously a cop-out from a person's moral responsibility. There's no hiding from one's actions.

Ginger,

Excellent analogy. I think it's a very good question. Is it that women in the west make their own decision (if it's about career) and in the east, society has forced their hand?

Ginger said...

I think what Custard is saying isn't a reference to Indian religion, but is basically that: if we 'worship' our jobs and the income they bring us, then to have an abortion to preserve our career choices is to make a sacrifice to that 'god'. We can also make 'gods' out of our social status, how people perceive us, how we perceive ourselves etc.

It's an interesting point about the difference between those who have made a choice for themselves and those who have had their decisions heavily influenced by social norms. But I'm surprised that the latter are treated more harshly in the language of the general media.

Custard. said...

Ginger's got it right. And I don't think that child sacrifice is ever justifiable (though we could always argue about whether Jephthah was right to go through with his...).

I think that quite a few abortions in Britain are heavily influenced by societal norms - thinking of a posh school I used to teach at, where according to a gynecologist in a town about 10 miles away (i.e. not the local hospital), abortions for our pupils were normal (but kept very quiet). I don't know a single pupil at that school who was openly pregnant.

I think the issue is that the societal norms differ from ours.

Richard said...

There is another important distinction: in India, it is generally recognized as the death of a child, whereas in the West it is not.

Ostensible Western inalienable respect for human life vs the more utilitarian view of life of the East makes us deny the legitimacy of the fetus.

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