RJ Pettersen lives in Washington, D.C.
Justin Bieber’s beliefs about abortion are irrelevant, and Canonball has been right not to post about them. All that is going to change now, though, because of a bit of contorted logic: Bieber’s comments are relevant precisely because they’re irrelevant.
Tempted though I may be, this post will not become a Bieber exegesis. However, any interpreting I do will serve a greater purpose, so I’m sure you’ll forgive me for quoting a recent tweet:
The banality of most Bieber quotes—from his thoughts on haircuts, above, to the Grilled Cheese memories in his memoir—is one reason why his Rolling Stone interview was irresponsible at best. Who would expect a 16-year-old boy to have anything to say about abortion rights?
A lot of people, actually. Despite the irrelevance of Bieber’s beliefs on abortion—“I really don’t believe in abortion,” he said, as though he were discussing the Tooth Fairy—the attitudes that grant credence to boys’ ideas on abortion are worth discussing.
In January, Lindsay discussed her encounter with the March for Life, whose participants included boys 13 years old and younger. Among these participants, I’m sure, were students who attended my all-boys, Catholic high school, visiting Washington to commemorate “Sanctity of Life Month.” These boys were two or three years younger than Justin Bieber is now.
I never “marched on Washington” as my peers did. I do, however, remember Sanctity of Life Month for the massive, shocking poster of a fetus that the brothers hung, throughout the month of January, just inside the school entrance. I thought this was hilarious, and I fancied myself funny and precocious when I called it “the attack of the 50-foot fetus.” But I wasn’t precocious—I was a 15-year-old boy. And yet: at the behest of older men, boys younger than me were yelling about fetuses in Washington.
To return briefly to Bieber, one of the more interesting moments of his Rolling Stone interview is a situation in which he backtracks. When asked about rape, he thinks out loud for a time. But then Bieber shifts gears—for publicity reasons or because, presented with evidence, he’s added wrinkles to his argument. “I guess I haven’t been in that position,” he said, “so I wouldn’t be able to judge that.”
If Justin Bieber can recognize the limits of his perspective, why did the brothers at my high school encourage 13-year-old boys to attack something they couldn’t possibly understand? And why did they—men living among men—fight for something that they, too, were unable to judge?
The reason, I think, is belief. This isn’t about religion, though. It’s about patriarchy and the way men perpetuate it. Men “keep it up” through faulty logic based not on evidence, but on the idea that they can’t be wrong.
I’m a privileged white male, so I do this, too. In senior-year religion class, teachers at my high school screened a video of a live abortion. My teacher suggested that, if we didn’t want to watch the video, we could put our heads down—which I did, of course. What I didn’t do was think critically about the screening. In fact, I assumed that the other religion teachers forced their students to watch the video. But I didn’t ask my peers in other classes; beyond that, I didn’t ask my peers in my own class whether they watched the video and how it might have affected them. None of that mattered, though. I knew I was right, and I complained to my public school friends that my high school wanted to brainwash me.
That was belief. When Justin Bieber tweets about his hair, though—that’s thought. “Thinking about getting a haircut…hmmmmmmmmm.” Bieber can think about hair because he knows about hair. When presented with something that he can’t understand, though—as in his Rolling Stone interview—Bieber’s verb of choice becomes “believe.”
That’s not to say that Bieber weighed his words, but his word choice might reflect what’s going on in his head. And what’s going on in his head could be patriarchal logic. Belief is more often implied than directly stated—as it is in Texas Governor Rick Perry’s argument for abstinence, which Gail Collins quotes in her February 16 op-ed:
“Abstinence works,” said Governor Perry during a televised interview with Evan Smith of The Texas Tribune.
“But we have the third highest teen pregnancy rate among all states in the country,” Smith responded.
“It works,” insisted Perry.
“Can you give me a statistic suggesting it works?” asked Smith.
“I’m just going to tell you from my own personal life. Abstinence works,” said Perry, doggedly.
This is what we (feminists) are up against. Perry also reveals what we (men) are up against: the temptation to make sweeping claims because, consciously or unconsciously, we know that people are unlikely to correct us. That’s what I did when I assumed that the other teachers at my high school tried to brainwash their students. It’s what I do here, to a degree—this isn’t a comprehensive study, so some of my arguments are deductive.
More important, it’s what Insane Clown Posse did in their recent song, “Miracles.” In an earlier draft of this post, I was more evasive about connecting myself to patriarchy—so evasive, in fact, that I planned to call it “Beliebers, Juggalos and the Attack on Planned Parenthood.” Suffice it to say that I was onto something.
While “Miracles” doesn’t discuss abortion, it does say something about patriarchy: “Shaggy’s little boys look just like Shaggy, and my little boy looks just like Daddy.” Patriarchy asserts itself through indoctrination, and while my politics might differ from the privileged white males who taught me, there are times when I apply their logic. Justin Bieber comes from a different socioeconomic background, but he does the same thing. Call us out when that happens, please.