This article explores the gendered sound world of anti-abortion protests outside U.S. abortion clinics. These clinics are spaces of dissent where, on a daily basis, protesters congregate to vocalize their opposition to abortion. We employ the concept of sonic patriarchy, the sonic counterpart to the male gaze, to explore how anti-abortion protesting dominates the aural space surrounding abortion clinics and is used as a vehicle for controlling gendered bodies. Protesters use megaphones, speakers, and yelling to infuse the soundscape of the abortion clinic with an overwhelming cacophony that people must enter to receive care. This article reconceptualizes how we think about sound and violence by emphasizing how the everyday sounds of anti-abortion protesting are perceived and experienced as violence by people seeking abortion services. This domination of the sound world engenders a form of nonconsensual listening, in which it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to ignore the sonic performances of protesters. We also discuss the additional labor that clinic staff and volunteers must provide to shield patients against this volume of sound, as well as the affective and physical consequences of entering this sound world to receive healthcare. Furthermore, we describe the inherent difficulties in regulating sound and the importance of understanding the intent and context of sound-making in identifying certain sounds as violent. We argue for a more rigorous regulation of sound-making outside of clinics, as it perpetuates not only abortion stigma but also gendered sonic violence on all people who enter abortion clinics.
“The Ripping Apart of Silence”: Sonic Patriarchy and Anti-Abortion Harassment1
Amy E. Alterman is a PhD candidate in culture and performance at UCLA. Her research applies performance theory to analyze abortion access, as well as stigma. Based on two years of fieldwork, her dissertation analyzes the obstacles, resiliencies, and support networks associated with independent abortion clinics in the United States.
Whitney Arey is a PhD candidate in Socio-Cultural Anthropology at Brown University. She conducted 18 months of fieldwork on abortion access in North Carolina, focusing on the involvement of friends, family and partners in abortion access and decision-making.
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Rebecca Lentjes, Amy E. Alterman, Whitney Arey; “The Ripping Apart of Silence”: Sonic Patriarchy and Anti-Abortion Harassment. Resonance 1 December 2020; 1 (4): 422–442. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/res.2020.1.4.422
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