Our Bodies Are Not a Debate
I am outraged, and you should be too. The recent abortion legislation passed in Alabama is the most aggressive in modern American history. Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, "The state controlling a woman would mean denying her full autonomy and full equality." These recent anti-abortion laws undermine women's autonomy and right to equality.
We live in a sexist society regardless of whether or not you choose to believe it. Women's bodies are being legislated; men's bodies are not, and that is the patriarchy in a nutshell. I've written about rape before: how 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted each year and how only 1% of perpetrators are ever convicted of a crime. Victim blaming is rampant (focusing on what a victim was wearing, instead of on the man who assaulted her). We normalize violent criminal acts against women, yet restrict women's autonomy over her own body. Sadly, it makes far too much sense that the toxic patriarchy we live in normalizes rape (reinforcing male power) while women are routinely shamed for sex, especially when it results in an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy. We routinely overlook that each pregnancy literally couldn't happen without the specific and intentional actions of a man.
There are very real and tangible inequalities here. Women, we are told, should not have sex for pleasure. This attitude ignores the fact that sex is a completely normal, healthy part of being human. Sex isn't just a vehicle for reproduction, for men or women. Men are granted more freedom to take pleasure in sex, especially since the side effects (pregnancy) do not always directly affect them.
In reference to the statistics cited earlier, men are overwhelmingly not punished for raping women, yet women are punished for sex in general. We are shamed for wanting too much sex, for having multiple sexual partners, for engaging in premarital sex, for the actions we take after sex, et cetera. Every time you see a pregnant woman, she's had sex. Men have no such marker. I recently found myself in a group of men who were joking about how sexy Keira Knightley is. One guy brought up that Knightley is pregnant, and another said, tongue-in-cheek, "Oh never mind, that's not so hot." Women live in a space where men continuously proposition us for sex, the side effects of which (pregnancy) render us undesirable.
I am deeply annoyed and infuriated by all of this. It is glaringly obvious that the undertones of anti-abortion legislation are steeped in *ancient* patriarchal power dynamics. Why else would men care what women do with our bodies? Every other major social political debate--climate change, gun laws, college debt, healthcare,--are clouded by considerations of capitalism and classism, yes. But no other debate so viciously attacks and attempts to control the bodies and lives of women. Women's health, which abortion is an important and intrinsic component of, should not be a political debate. Shining a public light on the personal lives of women is a patriarchal tool meant to instill in us guilt and shame. Guilt, for our sexual actions, and shame for what those actions signify. Namely, that we are slutty, impure, weak, or immoral.
In an effort to understand why the recent legislation is so extreme (criminalizing not only abortions, but miscarriages, or forcing rape victims to carry their babies to term) I did a deep dive into the ideology of the pro-life movement. Admittedly, I emerged confused. But with deeply emotional and controversial topics like abortion, there will always be confusion. There will never be one right answer for everyone. The most disturbing thing about staunch pro-life advocates is that their stance strips women of the ability to figure out the right answer for themselves, by themselves. Anti-abortion laws render women powerless to control our own bodies, without considering the reality of birthing or raising a child.
Children change the course of a life forever, and women (82 percent) constitute the majority of single parents. Further, access and information about safe sex and birth control are incredibly inadequate everywhere, but especially in low-income schools and neighborhoods. Withholding basic sex education from low-income people is intentional. It is much easier for a wealthy woman to have a safe abortion should she want one than it is for a poor woman. Money can buy a lot, including a degree of freedom over your own body.
One friend pointed out that, since I'm vegan, I should adopt a pro-life stance because the lives of humans are arguably more valuable than the lives of cattle, chickens, or pigs (which I don't believe in killing for food). Conversely, I argued that given that logic, every pro-lifer out there should be vegan. If they cared so much about life, it seems that all lives would matter. If there's one thing that's blatantly obvious, it's that the world we live in doesn't care about all lives, because:
-About 15 million U.S. children live in poverty
- Nearly 4 million U.S. children do not have any form of healthcare
- 1 in every 30 U.S. children are homeless
- 36,383 Americans perish due to guns each year (about 100 per day)
- 1 in 5 U.S. children live in food insecure homes
- 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before age 18
My point in bringing up these dire statistics is to illustrate that yes, life matters. Life is incredibly, astoundingly beautiful and important. We should not care about life only when or if it suits our own political agenda. If the life of a fetus matters, the lives of rape victims matter. The lives of homeless children, hungry children, and sexually abused children matter. The lives of our elders matter, minorities matter, you and me and everyone matters.
Mattering, though, isn't the point. The point is that both sides (pro-life and pro-choice) attempt to decide which lives matter more; a pointless, circular exercise. Just as it is pointless to measure the degree of your own pain against someone else's, it is profoundly inconsequential to argue which life matters more. The patriarchy tells us that women's lives matter less, that minorities lives matter less, that the lives of the poor or homeless matter less. If we are to truly usurp the patriarchy, we must realize that, while the lives of unborn children matter, they cannot rightfully matter more than anyone else's.
Instead of focusing so much time and attention on abortion, we should spend time focusing on how to reduce the need for abortions in the first place.
Sex education in the United States is incredibly insufficient: only 13 states require sex education in schools to be "medically accurate," meaning that many students are taught abstinence if anything, or worse, nothing at all. Dr. Theresa Granger says that comprehensive sex education focuses on, "the emotional, psychological, and economic impacts of what happens when youth and adolescents engage in sexual intercourse and other sexual practices." But instead of talking openly with youth about sex, we tell them that sex is bad and should be avoided, actively ignoring the fact that teenagers are raging balls of hormones who will have sex whether or not they have access to birth control or the knowledge the practice safe sex.
Further, nearly half of the 6 million pregnancies in the US each year are unplanned. In 2014, the majority of the 900,000 abortions that occurred were in response to unplanned pregnancy. And, the number of abortions is currently the lowest its ever been since the government started keeping track in 1969. I'm not saying that 900,000 is a low number. I am saying that 900,000 women were at least able to choose whether or not to bring life into this world, and that is an important choice for women to be able to make. Instead of criminalizing abortion, we should talk about sex more, teach our youth about it, and make birth control safe, affordable, and widely available.
The reasons women chose to have abortions are myriad, personal, and often painful, but the reasons don't really matter. What does matter is retaining the intrinsic right to bodily autonomy.
"The state controlling a woman would mean denying her full autonomy and full equality."
P.S. Abortion is a touchy subject. This post was not intended to attack anyone or disavow any belief system. Rather, it was to highlight the undeniable sexism inherent in placing a women's health issue at the forefront of political debate. We all deserve better. "Be Best"~ Melania Trump.