Reading that Wyoming is the first state in the US to ban the sale of pills to induce an abortion, I stopped short. Wyoming? I know virtually nothing about Wyoming apart from its location in the high American west. But in my imagination it is a state of vast plains, mountains and ranches, a landsape populated with thousands of moving heads of cattle herded by cowboys with wide hats and smart boots. Do they have women there?
As a child in the 50s and 60s, my daily evening and Saturday afternoon television viewing was filled with American cowboy shows. The Lone Ranger, Rawhide, Have Gun will Travel, Champion the Wonder Horse, Lassie, Bonanza, The High Chapparal, Cheyenne, Fury, Gunsmoke (retitled Gun Law for the UK), The Virginian, Wells Fargo, Gunslinger … I can still hear their themes:
Gunslinger, ride on,
Gunslinger, ride on,
Gunslinger, ride away.
The predominant character in most of these series was the lone male, although in some (such as Bonanza) the figure was the patriarch of the ranch. But women were definitely in a minority. They were the herder’s dream as he crossed the plain:
All the things I’m missin’
Good viddles, love and kissin’
Are waitin’ at the end of my ride.
The rider was a figure of masculine loneliness and liberty, so it is initially hard to think of Wyoming as a state concerned with policing women’s bodies – but not surprising, given the complex meanings given to gender and sexuality in contemporary USA. Ron de Santis, governor of Florida, has recently blamed the failure of the Silicon Valley Bank on diversity initiatives. “They’re so concerned with (diversity, equity and inclusion) and politics and all kinds of stuff. I think that really diverted from them focusing on their core mission,” he told Fox News. Making money requires masculine enterprise untrammelled by concerns for equality. But Florida, with an economy based on agriculture, tourism, real estate and retirement, has little similarity with the mythical American west, unless we consider its recent history of mass shootings.
Georgia is arguably different. Its craziest Trump-following politician, Marjorie Taylor Greene, has recently claimed that electric cars are emasculating the American way of driving. In “Georgia on my Mind”, Ray Charles finds “peace … girly”, and the state boasts Billy the Kid as a folk hero. But abortion law in Georgia is currently much contested. During Georgia’s November U.S. Senate contest between Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker, two women accused Walker, who opposes abortion, of paying for them to have the procedure. The state seems poised between gender-related concepts of freedom and liberty.
But Wyoming? Its very name conjures cattle and cowboys roaming over wide open plains. It may be a while before Wyoming women stake their claim on the reproductive frontier.