“I’m just a person trapped inside a woman’s body.”
– Elaine Boosler
So, somebody finally managed to capture what bugs me about the whole “save the rights of the fertilized egg” movements.
I can’t really say when I understood that telling women what to do with their bodies was wrong. Probably when I was very young, when my parents instilled in me the belief that my body was mine, and it was my right to decide who touched it, when, and where, and that I had an inherent right to be free from physical abuse of any kind. Pain, if I should decide to endure it, would come from decisions I made, and should not come from something or someone imposed upon me against my will.
These are basic human rights that many of us are taught when young.
But the older I got, the more I realized that when most people discussed “people” they didn’t mean “women.”
Babies do not appear from thin air. My conception of birth and babies and what it takes to create a human being came from several sources. One the experiences which contributed to my views was watching an aunt who struggled for many years to get pregnant, and repeatedly miscarried before the third month of each pregnancy. This was when I learned that babies couldn’t live outside of their mothers until at least the sixth month, after being nourished by their mothers into selfhood as a fully capable being that could breathe on its own. A child still needed the nurturance of a mother after birth, nursing and diapering and socializing. And the addition of a child into a household (as I learned with the addition of two younger siblings) meant 9 months of work undertaken by my mother, followed by a total and complete change not only in the dynamics of my household, but changes that would continue for the rest of my life and the lives of my family members. The decision to carry a pregnancy to term was not one to be undertaken lightly. My mother worked through all of the benefits and drawbacks when she became pregnant for the third time, and after carefully weighing her options, decided to invest her time, her body, her energy, her conception of self, the dynamics of her family, to go through with the creation of another child. Across the street, my sister and I were friends with a clan of six children whose mother perscribed to a religion that prohibited her use of birth control and instilled in her and her children the absolute rights of the father (including, I later realized, sex on demand and some tricky domestic violence. This is usually what the euphemism “obey thy husband” or “grant a husband his marriage rights” really means). I watched this stern-faced woman nurture and then birth child number seven. She, too, had weighed her options: 1) expulsion from her church and family for using birth control 2) abuse from her husband (whom she was financially dependent upon) for denying him “conjugal rights.”
She “chose.” Her child didn’t grow on a tree, either. Neither did her husband’s super sperm coagulate into a living, breathing, child all on its own. No matter what Aristotle or other slavery advocates say.
Now, I’m not going to take on religion here. I’m not going to point out that the vast majority of women and men who oppose rights to abortion and contraception do so because of religious beliefs (usually of one Christian denomination or another, in this country). I’m not going to do that because I’m a tolerant person: if you grow up in strict patriarchal religion and have no interest in leaving – or better yet, go out into the world, meet people with lots of different beliefs, discover other modes of thinking and doing and being – and you still decide pledging your body to Jesus Christ is the thing to do.. Hey, GO FOR IT!! That’s what freedom is, right?
Yea. That’s what I thought. We live in America because we have more choices. Because as a woman, you’re free to choose to devote your life to bearing and raising children, volunteering, helping others, having a career, creating movies, writing books, being a CEO, getting married (your only marriage option right now, if you’re a woman, is to marry a man. Sorry. We’re working on that one), joining up with a female domestic partner (with or without sex – as you choose), being a lawyer, and if you’re really, really ambitious, you’re free to do any and all of those things and more all at once or all in a row. And it’s No One Else’s Right to limit those choices or to tell you you *can’t* do any or all of them.
Why do I believe I’m allowed to control my own fertility?
Because, I’m a person? Because we’ve got these rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?
I went to school with teenage girls who chose to have children while still in high school because they believed abortion was “wrong,” and they were clueless about both birth control and the sort of responsibilities inherent in birthing and raising a child. So they went through with it. Women who were going to do and be all sorts of things (all at once or in a row) ended up with their highschool boyfriends, usually the ones who drank too much, remained unemployed for long stretches, fucked around, and resented them for “getting knocked up” (like they just layed there), and they felt trapped into only one narrow role, not neccessarily the one they would have chosen if they viewed abortion as a “choice” and had a proper understanding of contraception. Women’s work is hard work. Having children is hard work. Having children at the wrong time, however, can compromise your choices, your education, and will utterly change the course of your life. Forever.
There’s no “do over.” The decision to have children or not have children is a huge one. And because women’s eggs divide to create cells, and those cells are nourished by a woman’s body to create more complex cell structures, and those become the lungs, the heart, the tadpole-like-appendages that become legs and etc. because a child is created of a woman’s body, the decision whether or not to expend her bodies resources in the creation of that child’s body is her decision.
Women are not vessels. We are not, as several boys in my high school theatre department enjoyed putting it, “Sperm dumpsters.” Co-opting my body and telling me what to do with it is nothing short of slavery. Telling me my only option upon receiving the sacred male sperm is to spend nine months of my life expending my body’s resources: enduring swollen ankles that slow my walk, back pain that more often than not leaves me in bed during any hour I can afford it, insomnia, nausea and vomiting, the expending of my body’s blood, cellular energy, my body’s breath, my body’s nutrients, and at the end of it, asking me to spread my legs to strangers and violently birth a child in a gush of blood and pain, putting me at risk of death, leaving me with sore, aching, leaking breasts and a child whose ultimate care: feeding, changing, socializing, comfort, all rest solely on me – FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE (good luck finding that sperm donor… hate to break it to you, ladies, but the same people who think you’re just a vessel put that child and its success or failure in this world solely on your shoulders), *making* me endure that as my “punishment” for engaging in vaginal intercourse with a male partner (who is more often than not coercive in his attempts at ejaculatory vaginal intercourse, because we’ve determined that procreative sex is the only form of “real sex.” ha) is the ultimate in repressive bullshit. It takes away my agency. It reduces me to a body, to body parts, to a sperm dumpster.
The biggest fears around the female control of her own sexuality aren’t really to do with birthing children anyway. Let’s fess up to that right now. A woman controlling her own sexuality, her reproductive potential, is the most powerful person in the world. Choosing when, with whom, and how many (if any) children she has, a woman also has the power to control a *man’s* fertility (yes, that’s right! See, now you can see why this pisses people off so much!). She can choose to nurture the child of her body in her womb – it just so happens that egg’s division is initially sparked by receiving half a man’s DNA. The big complaint in Rome (and in many societies whose upper-class women had knowledge of and access to contraception) was that educated, upper-class women often chose to have no more than two children. The Roman government introduced tax incentives in order to convince women to undergo the birth of a child that killed 1/4 of all of the women who engaged in it.
Women chose not to.
Women. Yes. Women. I will say again: Women.
Men have figured this out. They figured this out a long time ago, and there’s an argument that the oppression of women in most (NOT all, but most) societies we know today began when men figured this out. The backlash against the femenist movement in the 60s and 70s happened because people in power realized just what would happen if women 1) had control of their sexuality (which, theoretically, happened with the advent of the Pill and the legalization of doctor-assisted abortion) 2) had their own source of income (the vast majority of women who stay with abusers do so for financial reasons 3) had confidence in their intellect, their bodies, and were physically and psychologically able to defend themselves from attack (ever wonder why women are pushed so violently into hating their bodies and thinking they’re weak and stupid?).
Why do I get harrassed on the street? Why do/did I get called fat? Why do/did men threaten me with physical violence?
Because I’m a smart women. I’m a physically strong woman (I am the hieght of the average American man, and I weigh more than the average man). I have a wide knowledge of contraception and venereal diseases, including the prevention of such diseases (which limits the number of people I permit in my bed).
Why do women “get” this power over men’s procreation (because really, let’s be clear, men aren’t thinking about life, they’re thinking about how women’s agency affects a man’s access to women’s bodies)?
Because women make the babies.
If a guy wants my ovum and wants to mix it with some sperm in his palm and see what happens, I’ll likely say, “Please, by all means, do so” (though I’ll likely charge him for it).
He can keep it in a jar and name it.
Until then, oh lovely boys I adore and women who seek to please them, keep your opinions about “life” to yourself (I’m not arguing with religious people – that’s another issue. I’m primarily addressing those who argue that we should limit women’s choices and do not stand on man-made pseudo-religious doctrine, the argument against which is already pretty obvious in the ajective “man-made”).
Cells do not divide and grow into a human being without the life of a woman. There’s no life without women.
Consigning women to slavery and calling if “preserving life” is bogus. “Preservation of life” and “saving children” isn’t the real issue. Not when we live in a country where women (in many states) are denied prenatal care, adequate monetary assistance, and refused health care for the children they actually choose to bring to term, birth, and raise. The state of child education and child social services, child care, and etc. in this country is deplorable. Worrying about some eggs because they’re carrying around half a guy’s DNA isn’t about Life. It’s about half a guy’s DNA.
Let’s be honest. I’m not a Republican, so I can’t speak spin.
If we’re going to have this discussion about control over a woman’s fertility, let’s discuss what it’s *really* about. It’s about men’s laws controlling a woman’s body and her ability to create and nurture children. It’s the same old bullshit. If this was about life, we’d be talking a hell of a lot more about a woman’s life and what it means to her to choose to have children when and with whom she chooses. We’d be talking about protecting women from sexual predators, teaching men how to *not* be sexual predators (reminding them that women are people too), protecting women from abusive “partners,” teaching men that violence against women and each other *isn’t* commendable, educating everybody about what psychological abuse is, teaching women to value their minds and bodies without seeking approval from overwhelmingly male gazes, teaching men that their gazes don’t mean shit, and paying for everybody’s college education.
Instead, we’re talking about dividing cells.
We’re taking the hugest thing a woman can do that a man can’t and trivializing it. Making it “natural” and “inevitable” and taking away a woman’s agency so it looks like it’s a woman’s destiny to spend her entire breeding window barefoot and pregnant. And by saying it’s a woman’s destiny to be pregnant, you’re trivializing what that means, what that is, what kind of power that is, to knowingly choose to bear children. You do a disservice to women who choose to stay home and take care of children, and women who choose to not to. You invalidate my personhood by dismantling me into random body parts in service to half a man’s DNA.
Taking away a woman’s *choice* takes away the most beautiful thing about children: that they are wanted, loved, and nurtured with the full understanding of what it means to do so. Pain withstood, decisions made, because you *want* to do something as opposed to *having* to do something is a different sort of pain, and a different sort of decision.
It has to do with free will.
Life, liberty, happiness.
All that bullshit. Remember?