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Book reviews

Elizabeth Keenan’s Rebel Girls (Inkyard Press, 2019)

A chore and a bore; a 412-page psychiatric study of a teen girl suffering from feminist monomania.

This novel with an unconvincing plot is more a psychiatric case study of a teen girl suffering from an outdated anti-life version of feminist ideology who discovers her innate heterosexual normativity.  Overall, the plot is not only unconvincing, but also difficult to plow through.  It didn’t help that President Trump had some magnificent rallies every day to distract me from reading this tedious narrative.

In essence, Athena, the first-person narrator who is anti-life, wants to help her pro-life sister Helen overcome rumors circulating in their high school that Helen had an abortion, which would ban her from being part of the Homecoming.

The essence of this plot was identified on page 95.  By page 369, the reader understands that all it took to overcome a teacher’s ban preventing Helen from being in the Homecoming was a call from her father to the principal.  Towards the end of the novel (page 402), Sr. Catherine, dean of discipline at the high school, vows not to expel another student who had aborted, so there was no issue worth writing about anyway.

Why, then, read 307 pages of a severely introspective unconvincing plot?

Furthermore, Athena’s preaching about abortion is equally unnecessary.  Athena mentions “abortion rights” (22), a standard anti-life phrase which distorts the first civil right, the right to life.  Being a typical anti-life feminist, Athena felt the need to talk about a pro-life crisis pregnancy center as a “fake abortion clinic” (61).  Worst of all is Athena’s claim that “There wasn’t anything wrong with having an abortion” (95)—a statement willfully ignoring post-abortion syndrome which, even in the novel’s setting of 1992, was obvious for mothers who aborted instead of chose one of several life-affirming options.

Athena may have committed an egregious Freudian slip when she admitted that the novel’s entire abortion language is unnecessary to the feeble plot.  When she and her friend enter the crisis pregnancy center, Athena lets slip that “none of this was really related to Helen, other than the associated topic of abortion” (135).

Wha-what?  This novel, then, is not about “abortion stigma” ([419]) or feminist empowerment of women (which is a pro-life concept).  Why, then, talk about abortion at all?  Just relate the story of a teenage girl who overcame certain rumors which could have prevented her from being part of Homecoming.

Including such propaganda is typical of contemporary women authors who are themselves anti-life.  (The author declares that she is anti-life/pro-abortion on page [417].)  No matter how anti-life writers try to justify abortion or, as in Keenan’s verbose effort, try to mitigate against “abortion stigma”, contemporary readers know that the task is impossible since abortion (which harms mothers, kills unborn babies, and alienates fathers) is an unnatural attempt to distort heterosexual normativity.

And, Athena, the main character, proves just how forceful her innate femininity is.  She is subject to typical teen girl infatuations and explosive hormones leading to heterosexual romance.  Like other teen girls, she (gasp!) likes boys, particularly some poor schmuck named Kyle.

“I seemed to forget everything about being a feminist when I was around him” (77), Athena claims.  “I felt like a bad feminist for caring that people saw I was on a date with a hot guy” [198]) is another statement of her infatuation with Kyle.  All of chapter 26 ([262ff]) is an exercise in teen girl angst; she overhears another girl talk with Kyle about his romance with Athena.

Note to the men.  Such ga-ga over a teen boy is just too much for male readers.  However, guys, being an English professor who focuses on fiction dealing with the life issues of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia, I read it for you.  Now, go back to football practice.

Of course, the real purpose of Keenan’s novel is political.  Athena goes into an anti-Republican rant when she claims that “Republicans were priming the nation for a fascist dictatorship” (53).  What a classic case of projection!  We in 2020 see politicians in the useless Democratic Party release from jail Antifa domestic terrorists who riot in American cities.  The author herself explains her pro-abortion political propaganda when she states, “I wanted a setting parallel to today’s politics—something close, but not identical, to today” ([415]).

Typical that a pro-abortion writer must ignore contemporary pro-life achievements and turn to 1992 (28 years ago!) to force abortion into a novel merely concerned with a vapid Homecoming.

Thankfully, I can erase the nonsense of this novel with my next novel to review, a masterpiece by Evelyn Waugh.

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Book reviews

Matthew Archbold’s American Antigone (Resource Publications, 2020)

Wicked humor, credible characters, fast pace: all the elements needed for today’s abortion fiction.

Directors looking for solid material for their next film should consider bringing Matthew Archbold’s novel to the big screen.  This 175-page novel makes compelling reading on a controversial topic that will appeal to readers and filmgoers.

Faculty and students of literature will appreciate the novel for its obvious connection with the ancient Greek drama, Antigone by Sophocles.  The comparisons between the ancient Greek drama and the actions developed in twenty-first century America are not restricted merely to the names of the characters and places.  For example, Anne Prince is the modern equivalent of Antigone, a princess in the ancient drama; the name of Anne’s sister Izzy is an abbreviation of Ismene, Antigone’s sister; and the action of the novel occurs in Thebes County, Pennsylvania, the modern equivalent of the ancient Greek city-state Thebes.

Much more importantly, the novel parallels the plot of the ancient Greek drama.  Sophocles’ drama develops the consequences of Antigone’s actions to provide a proper burial for her dead brother, and Archbold’s novel develops the consequences of Anne’s actions to provide a proper burial for her dead brother.

The major difference between Antigone’s brother and Anne’s is that one was born, the other unborn.

Thus, a 2,400-year-old ancient Greek drama is revised to depict the most significant moral problem in American culture—not racism, not illegal aliens flooding the border, but abortion and the status of the unborn child.

Obviously, people who support abortion—which is legal throughout the nine months of pregnancy for any reason whatsoever, and which harms mothers, kills unborn babies, and alienates fathers—would find themselves in excruciating cognitive dissonance to resolve the moral problem this novel poses.

But that’s all right.  After all, fiction is meant not only to entertain, but also to teach.

Except for the clearly positive characters who live by moral standards, other characters, those who do not live by high moral standards, make uncomfortable reading, but the reader will be delighted in seeing these fictional persons.  It helps to read about hypocrites before engaging with them in the real world.

For example, the Catholic bishop who seems to oppose Anne’s effort to bury the aborted child is reprehensible for his lack of support for an obviously pro-life woman and for threatening the priest who has befriended Anne.  Anne’s Uncle Milton Prince, the newly-appointed prosecutor for Thebes County, is just as reprehensible.

However, readers understand quickly that both of these men operate not on high moral standards as Anne does, but on the basest of utilitarian ethics.  Both Catholic bishop and prosecutor live by “the ends justify the means” principle.  For the bishop, abandoning Anne when she most needs Church support will save valuable resources for other Catholic charities.  For the prosecutor, putting his own niece in jail will show voters that he’s not soft on crime, and getting elected is paramount because only then can he work what he believes are his social justice wonders.  Like his campaign adviser, what’s important is not living according to moral standards, but paying attention to public relations: “the main thing is the visual of the police dragging this bitch out” of the church where she sought sanctuary (95).

Meanwhile, ordinary characters are attacked by Antifa-like domestic terrorists, who try to stop Anne’s effort to bury her aborted brother with screams, physical violence, and near-murderous actions.  The police seem powerless to protect the good guys.  Archbold illustrates cogently and simply how ordinary pro-life people suffer at the hands of those (whether an abortion clinic director, a Catholic bishop, or a power-hungry prosecutor) who believe in sheer power.

The novel is not all political machinations and serious legal action.  Archbold’s humor is brutally wicked. 

For example, the humor with which Archbold treats the press conference that Uncle Milton barely survives (chapter 26, 88ff) is a horrible trauma for him, but a series of laughs for readers who like to see politicians squirm in hostile press conferences.

Similarly, Archbold’s description of Todd Dooley, an Antifa-like pro-abortion activist who lives in his parents’ basement, is brutally funny (chapter 30, 101ff).  The online dialogue that Todd has with other domestic terrorists who want to attack pro-life protesters could have been written as a serious commentary about the ferocity of hateful pro-abortion people.  Instead, Archbold makes us laugh at such feeble adults, more concerned about whether their messages should be contained on another portion of the online message board instead of the general thread.  Throw in comments about sexism, and readers will laugh at these ridiculous people.

Archbold’s work, in summary, both as a novel and as a future film, has something for everybody.  Serious readers who like to read about the resolution of moral problems in a fictional context will enjoy the problems created by a woman who wants to bury her aborted brother’s body while American law decrees that that body is not a human being worthy of such respect.

The relationship between the newspaper reporter Paul, who seems to be concerned only with getting the scoop, and Izzy adds romance to the novel and will enable the eventual film version to be labelled a “chick flick.”

Faculty and students would appreciate this novel for its contemporary adaptation of an ancient controversial dilemma.  Faculty should consider immediately adding this eminently readable 175-page novel to their course lists.

The rest of us ordinary readers can delight in a well-crafted, swiftly-moving plot whose characters make us think long after the reading is finished.

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Book reviews

Deborah Garratt’s Alarmist Gatekeeping: Abortion (2021)

A feminist take on abortion: deceptive communication, censorship, and ways to empower women.

Abortion activists would appreciate this feminist perspective on the topic, which focuses on deceptive communication strategies, efforts to censor diversity of thought, and ways to empower women considering the abortion choice.

Garratt’s research reveals many uncomfortable truths about abortion that do not appear in major media or in various professions, such as the medical community, the legislature, or academia.  She accomplishes the task of uncovering these truths using Grounded Theory, which demands that researchers formulate their ideas based on data obtained in the research instead of fitting the data according to someone’s ideology or political perspective.

Thus, while doctors and legislators may not appreciate the results of her research, ordinary women and men will.

Garratt’s book develops the idea of “Alarmist Gatekeeping” to account for how abortion supporters use specific linguistic and communication strategies to maintain their influence on the public.  Garratt doesn’t use the standard labels usually associated with the factions on the issue.  Instead, she uses “Adherents, Incognisants, and Dissidents” to refer to those who, respectively, believe in, accede to, or oppose the “Dominant Messaging” of keeping abortion legal throughout the nine months of pregnancy for any reason whatsoever.  (Note: since Garratt is an Australian researcher, I retain her British spelling in all cases.)

What Garratt’s research has to say about abortion Adherents is revealing.  Alarmist Gatekeepers on abortion use “two distinct strategies—Alarmist Recruitment and Perspective Gatekeeping—which work together to reinforce each other and perpetuate a cycle of disinformation and censorship” (7).  Abortion Adherents use “strategic ambiguity” to persuade ordinary people to adopt statements which are either false or deceptive, such as “women have the right to control their own bodies” (9).  Abortion Adherents rely on “experts” not so much for impartial data on the controversial issue, but to bolster their public relations image: “Expert status is determined primarily by the person’s strict adherence to upholding abortion rights and by their ability to hold some influence whether in the media or by virtue of their professional position or qualification” (12).

These strategies account for abortion Adherents’ heavy use of negative and alarmist terms (17); manipulation, analyzed into its “deception, intentionality, and advantage” aspects (23); and equivocation (24).  Garratt summarizes abortion Adherents’ linguistic deceptions succinctly when she writes, “Controlling language is a strategic aspect of Alarmist Gatekeeping designed to confuse thinking, override one’s defences, depersonalise, and dehumanise” (27).

Garratt is the first researcher whom I have read to explain in some detail why abortion Adherents oppose efforts by Dissidents (pro-lifers) to assist mothers with untimely pregnancies.  Apparently, in the abortion world, only the mother must “win” (31).  Therefore, abortion Adherents perceive pro-life help for mothers with untimely pregnancies as a threat to abortion itself.  Garratt demonstrates how abortion Adherents are anti-science when she documents how abortionists and clinic staff do not discuss fetal development because it is “pro-lifey” (90).  Abortion Adherents view pregnancy support groups as a threat because such pro-life services are a threat to their Alarmist view of abortion as the only choice which they think women should have (135ff).

A twenty-first century reader leaves Garratt’s research deeply saddened that abortion Adherents are essentially anti-woman for three reasons.

First, abortion Adherents must use language to remove emotion from every abortion, a task which mothers who experience post-abortion syndrome (PAS) cannot escape (32).

Second, when abortion Adherents use dehumanizing language about the unborn child, they themselves adopt patriarchal attitudes against women who regret their abortions.  Garratt rightly points out that such linguistic evasion distances women from their true selves: “Language is used to disconnect women from what is going on inside their bodies, to ignore relationship, as though the entity within is an uninvited stranger, rather than a human being created within them” (34)—a matter which she elaborates later in the book when she further discusses how abortion Adherents are “disconnected” from reality (45).

Garratt suggests a final reason why abortion Adherents oppose accurate information for women on abortion when she counters a key idea from anti-life feminist philosophy, women as “victims”: “Women are not victims of biology, and to teach women such lessons is designed to make them feel inferior instead of feeling in awe of what their bodies can do” (162).

Fortunately, Garratt offers two means that both Incognisants and Dissenters can use to overcome Alarmist Gatekeeping on abortion.  She encourages people, first, to stop censoring themselves by not saying what should be said about abortion and, second, to ask questions of the Dominant Messaging that abortion “needs” to be legal.

Since she is an Australian author, some terms in the book need clarification for US readers.  When she writes about “medical abortion”, Garratt means chemical abortion, as in the RU-486 abortifacient.  Also, the undefined word “furphy”, Australian slang for an erroneous or improbable story claimed to be factual (143), will interrupt the easy reading, but only momentarily.

Overall, Garratt’s research offers an interesting way for feminists to reevaluate their support of a procedure which—based as it is on deception and efforts to stifle dissenting opinions—is more anti- than pro-woman.  Every woman will appreciate knowing how to respond to the abortion movement, which would rather have women subject to their ideology than liberated intellectually.

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Jessica Shaver’s Gianna: Aborted . . . and Lived to Tell About It (Tyndale, 1995)

A detailed biography of an abortion survivor; an account that anti-life feminists cannot refute.

Imagine going to an abortion clinic to have your baby killed by salt poisoning, only to see her emerge from the birth canal, alive and screaming like a regular newborn.

The account of the attempt to kill Gianna Jessen by a saline (salt poisoning) abortion is riveting without being gory.  Chapter one, which narrates the circumstances of her attempted killing in April 1977, is eight pages of right-to-life literature which every abortion activist, both pro- and anti-life, should read.

The rest of the biography of Gianna’s life (up to the book’s publication in 1995) is, as they say, history.  She was adopted into a loving Christian family, pursued her career as a musician, and began travelling extensively to promote the pro-life movement.

It is especially interesting for a reader in 2021 to know that tactics of activists in the anti-life movement have not changed since the 1990s.  The abortionist who tried to kill her was impersonal (6).  Anti-life hostility to people with disabilities is manifest when an anti-lifer screams, “Children with disabilities are a burden to society!” (91).  Anti-lifers heckled pro-lifers with vulgar and profane language in 1991 as Antifa domestic terrorists and pro-abortion Democrats do today (102ff).  Escorts at clinics run by abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood were described as “demonic” then as they can still be described now (119).

Other things about abortion since the 1990s have not changed.  One is the reaction of other aborted mothers to Gianna’s birth: “It’s a baby!” (9).  Another is the effect of post-abortion trauma, this time evidenced in Gianna’s violent reaction to something as normal as a blazing fireplace: “She is subconsciously reliving the abortion.  The roaring and crackling sounds recapitulate the effect of the saline solution as it burned her in the womb” (44-5).  An aborted mother confesses an abortion she had kept secret for years (72-3).  Fortunately, more abortion survivors are bold enough to share their accounts of how they were almost killed (207ff).  It’s difficult being for the “choice” of abortion when a fellow human being states that he or she was almost killed.

Feminists will recoil at the idea, repeated throughout the biography, that mothers who abort are ignorant of their choice: “You didn’t know what you were doing” (72), Gianna tells mothers who disclose their abortions to her.  Pro-abortion feminists want mothers to affirm that their desire to have an abortion is intentional, so this part of the biography would not only offend anti-life feminists, but also intensify the post-abortion syndrome (PAS) that aborted mothers experience.  Fortunately, pro-life psychological services can help mothers overcome the deep regret they have.

The biography has definite flaws.  Beyond the chapter one account, most of this biography is repetitious.  Also, the author refers to herself as “this [or “the”] reporter” when first person would have been smoother.  Despite these flaws, the biography can be read in half a day and qualifies as an important contribution to the literature of pro-life feminism.

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Book reviews

Gretchen Wollert’s Born to Fight: Lincoln & Trump (Cedar Fort, 2021)

Eminently readable study comparing Presidents Lincoln and Trump.

Wollert has written a compelling book, developing the premise that there are numerous parallels between two significant American presidents, Abraham Lincoln and Donald Trump.  Reading the volume will progress quickly because of the author’s clear writing style.

Students will appreciate that the author meets the essentials of scholarly research by citing her sources in endnotes and providing an extensive bibliography.

The implications of the numerous comparisons between Presidents Lincoln and Trump are profound.  The United States is in a cultural civil war which is still “cold.”  Just like President Lincoln during the Civil War, one fears when hostilities would become “hot” between those who support President Trump’s efforts to restore essential American values (free speech and the first civil right to life) vs. those who oppose those values (cancel culture activists and abortionists).

Maybe Antifa domestic terrorists fired the first salvo in a new American civil war when they tried to destroy various communities in 2020.  Cancel culture activists are continuing the assault by trying to censor everything from full-length books (Justice Clarence Thomas’ Created Equal) to films (Gone with the Wind) to children’s cartoons (Pepé Le Pew).  Moreover, everybody knows that Biden wants to force Americans to pay for abortion with their tax dollars both here in the US and abroad.

Since Amazon collaborates with cancel culture activists to ban conservative and pro-life books, I recommend not buying this book on Amazon.  (Why give your hard-earned dollars to a company that censors books?)  Instead, buy this book directly from the publisher: Cedarfort.com.

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Book reviews

Ryan T. Anderson’s When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment (Encounter Books, 2018).

Want to understand gender ideology?  Read this book before the aggressive LGBTQ lobby bans it.

Being transgender is a serious matter, and Ryan T. Anderson’s When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment demonstrates how ridiculous the aggressive transgender lobby has become in its efforts to force its ideology on the nation.

Anderson’s book could be extremely controversial because it offers facts, not irrational opinions by aggressive transgender activists.  He offers common sense and scholarly thought, not unscientific claims by the same aggressive transgender movement.  He often provides interesting tidbits of information which carry significant social implications.

Peppered throughout the work is Anderson’s profound respect for transgendered persons who either are anguished over their sexual confusion or those who have suffered at the hands of doctors, activists, and other gender ideologues who compelled them to undergo sex change surgery.

Anderson does not hesitate to state facts which may make aggressive transgender activists not merely uncomfortable, but belligerent—facts which are obvious to the rest of us who know biology and live in reality.  Perhaps the most controversial (for some) fact is Anderson’s statement of what everybody knows, or at least thought they knew before transgender ideologues hijacked higher education, the media, and the federal government under Obama: the definition of “sex” and “gender.”  “The best biology, psychology, and philosophy”, Anderson writes, “all support an understanding of sex as a bodily reality, and of gender as a social manifestation of bodily sex” (2).

An obvious linguistic fact should be remembered by everybody opposed to the aggressive transgender ideology.  Sex is not “assigned”, as though the designation of “boy” or “girl” is forced on someone at his or her birth, but “recognized” for obvious reasons (77).  Anderson discusses genuine cases of sexual ambiguity at birth thoroughly with scientific language, not in the mere opinions of transgender activists.

Another significantly controversial matter, for the aggressive transgender movement at least, is the claim based in scientific research that sex change surgery is “fundamentally cooperating with a mental illness” (17).  Anderson highlights the ridiculousness of the claim that “we should be alarmed (say the [transgender] activists) if a professional tries to help a boy who thinks he’s a girl come to understand that he is actually a boy, seeking to understand the reasons for his false belief and to help him identify with his body” (37).

Anderson admits that discussing transgender ideas may be perplexing to ordinary folk.  “If the claims presented in this chapter strike you as confusing,” he writes, “you’re not alone.  The claims of transgender activists are inherently confused and filled with internal contradictions.  Activists never acknowledge those contractions but opportunistically rely on whichever claim is useful at any given moment” (45).  Similarly, the idea of a man being trapped in a woman’s body and vice versa, Anderson says, “corresponds with the beliefs of many transsexual individuals, who consider it helpful in ‘gaining cultural legitimacy’ for their identity” (109).

Talk about not mincing words!

Anderson’s common sense and scholarly thought is evident throughout the work.  He identifies five areas of concern regarding public policy (6-7) and specifically comments on the effect of the “postmodern worldview” on medical care for transgender persons (18).  He argues cogently “that medical practice is seriously compromised by an ideological agenda” (24) and that this ideology leads to the coercion of those who disagree with transgender activists’ opinions (29). 

Anderson’s discussion of how transgender activists have made their ideology a religion is compelling.  For example, regarding the Gender Unicorn given to school children to indoctrinate them into gender ideology, he offers a concise sentence about the effect this character has on children: “these are the dogmas they are likely to be catechized to profess” (32).

What tidbits of information which carry significant social implications?  I thought it was fascinating that research in newborn boys and girls proves sexual differences, where “boys tend to gravitate toward balls or toy cars [how our grandsons testify to this fact!], whereas girls more typically reach for a doll” [how our granddaughters testify to this fact!].  These sex differences are evident even in monkeys (84-5).

So much for gender being a social construct.

While one tidbit could be a joke on the order of “Smell this!”, it was interesting to read that a father’s pheromones affects a daughter’s puberty: “a father’s presence affects his daughter, as the pheromones released from his body slow down her sexual development.  That makes her less likely to experience early puberty and less likely to be sexually active before marriage.  The rate of teenage pregnancy is far lower among girls who have had a father at home throughout their childhood and adolescence than among those whose father has left the home sometime before they turn eighteen, and this effect is greater the longer a father sticks around” (167).

Conclusion: dads, smell away!  We are helping our daughters to respect their sexuality by just being our hairy, smelly selves.

Joking aside, though, Anderson’s work is well-researched and would thus complement every student’s research paper on transgender issues and politics.  Even the most severe leftist professor would have a difficult time challenging Anderson’s ideas (unless, of course, that leftist professor was tenured and thought he or she could punish a student with impunity for valid research which contradicts his or her idea of gender ideology).

For the rest of us who simply want to know more about the distortion of gender ideology forced on us by the transgender lobby, Anderson’s book is eminently helpful.  The endnotes are filled with bibliographic information, and the index is comprehensive.  Best of all, Anderson’s writing style is professional but not erudite.  For example, the paragraph on the contradictions of transgender thought should be used as an example of exemplary point-by-point contrast writing in every English class (46).  Even if one finds him- or herself making marginal notes on almost every page, the entire work can be read in two days’ time—time well worth the investment.