Illustration by Penelope Gazin
I’ve never had an abortion, but I’ve been to a few. They are or are not a big deal depending on a few things, like, how much religious or sexual dogma was absorbed before the age of majority, or whenever a girl double-middle-fingered her origin story and peeled the fuck out of there. It also probably depends on how bloodily nightmarish said dogma was, and on whether you believe that abortion is murder but an OK kind of murder or an almost nonthing or whatever. But I don’t actually know anything about abortions, and I don’t want to, because it’s probably not much different from but probably worse than touching my eyeball, and I hate that.
It doesn’t matter, but it does necessarily exclude me from a subset of my feminist sistren [spits] who are very into their I Had an Abortion T-shirts, and the ways in which their collectivized experience gives other people the squigglies, which is all fine—totally fine—and I do all of that all the time about having been raped: all code words behind whisper fingers with other girls who know. When you have an essential interest because you chose it or were born into it, or because something happened to you that was like a rushing wave of surgical knives, you will want to be somehow among your similars, getting empathically inebriated. (Twitter is a good place to see this play out without self-consciousness.)
Minitribes like those within feminism are just how feminism has always been (Fun Fact: Did you know that when black men became legal “people” in the US some feminists were like, “I’m fucking out”?) and continues to be (I’m curious: Are there still racist-cunt feminists?), and having it out with the other minitribes is how a tribe-tribe—or a big tribe, aka an interest group of any variety—checks itself (which feminism sooooooort of does when it comes to racism and classism), rebalances itself, and maybe moves forward. Slowly, like a hungover baby turtle, but forward all the same. That’s the whole idea of ideology and democracy.
It’s not just theoretically right, it’s in the strategic self-interest of interest groups to be out for themselves as a whole and get both mad at and cozy with different and similar versions of itself, to get and do stuff. That’s politics, parties, PACs, Super PACs, and any of the more realistic, slow-moving agents of baby-turtle progress—they’re all for something. I’m not a Democrat or a Republican (being Canadian exempts me from having to align myself with either party and their particular wrongnesses and rightnesses), but I’m very glitter-starry-eyed about any founding principle that uses capital of any variety for good. It is righteous and balls-out to say that shit, to build on it. It’s still me-ness, but the “me” is everybody. (Is that a new majestic plural? The royal me?)
Where all of this changes, though, is when the tribe, mini or regular type, is sort of collectively abandoned during an election. As maybe half-conscious but absolutely full members of social, cultural, economic, etc., etc., etc. tribes, it follows that people might vote accordingly, but that’s without taking into account the voodoo of the voting booth. What happens in there? Instead of the maintaining of tribal ties, what seems to inform and compel voters, especially the votes that swing on some single, private, and unknowable thing of candy beans, is a strange alchemy of the often-conflicting forces of aspirationalism and relatability.
That’s cool—do what you feel, right?—but it does, objectively, transgress the otherwise so-solid boundaries of the minitribes and tribes. Call it disassociative identity politics. That’s when anyone—not just poor people, not just not-white people, not just women—decides to cast a Hail Mary vote, maybe on the basis of likability or on some imagined basis of a very different Future Me or something, thus avoiding the participatory requirement of their minitribe in the most essential moment of being among one.
Unless… maybe voting is the most essential moment of being alone, being the most “me,” wanting or seeing something that is outside what the tribe sees, having a different essential interest that is not about rape or abortion or money or whatever. Maybe the essential interest that ultimately guides his decision isn’t knowable, even to us, or to either kind of “me,” and remains American exceptionalism—but of a subtler kind, where not participating how you’re supposed to, or because you’re supposed to, is the highest value.
Kate Carraway writes the weekly Girl News column for VICE.com.