Let me preface this post by stating up front that writing about women’s reproductive issues is a very sensitive undertaking. I am a woman. Born in 1958. I have grown up during a time in which our culture has undergone big changes. Many of these changes have been hard won and undeniably I am the beneficiary there of. For those changes I am grateful.
In response to the recent political volley of women’s issues of rape and abortion currently being engaged for political points I offer some reflection here. As long as she’s fertile, it’s different for girls and always will be.
Many women in my life, both friends and family have been touched by both wanted and unwanted pregnancies. As a teenager, I was vehemently pro-choice. But as the years go by I see the issue as muddled and unclear. No matter whether a woman chooses birth or an abortion, either choice carries consequences and sometimes painful ones. I side with all women when I say that men can never know what living with possibility of becoming pregnant is like.
When pro-choice advocates question the motives of male pro-life politicians and their power to legislate reproductive laws I understand that. But why not question the motives of male pro-choice politicians with equal fervor?
The benefits of the women’s movement can never guarantee that women have or can achieve equality in every facet of their lives. There are some aspects of my being female that can never be changed by legislation, modern chemistry or technology. To deny the ways in which women are inherently biologically and sexually vulnerable is potentially harmful to women and especially young women. I am not arguing for or against any particular legislation, just pointing out the limits of the law.
For thousands of years women had always lived with the burden of their physical and sexual vulnerability. While men are able to engage in sexual activity with substantially fewer consequences, women have never had that luxury. Technology has changed that to some extent, but the burden remains on the woman. She is the one who must protect herself and understand the risks and consequences of both sexual activity and the means used to prevent or terminate a pregnancy.
Providing women with the technology of birth control in order to simulate a sexuality that is free of consequences has encouraged a cultural expectation on women that they cheerfully engage in risky sexual behavior with the promise of few, if any consequences. It has always baffled me as to why I should see this new situation, touted as choice, as liberating. Many forms of birth control have health consequences that are frequently understated by those peddling them. I have personally been physically harmed by two of them. What woman could fail to see the innocence and vulnerability as they watch their teenage daughter, sister, relative or friend begin to engage their sexual self? Some young women have incredibly supportive adults in their life to guide them, but many don’t and are at the whim of whatever cultural message speaks to them and captures their heart.
The cultural message to young men and more and more to school age boys is that we’re all on equal footing. I have personally experienced (and I dare say many women have), an expectation from men to engage in sexual activity with little understanding and respect for the inherent biological inequality that women bear.
My argument here is simply that if reproductive choice is to be presented as the means to biological equality we owe it to women and especially to young girls, to be clear about the biological vulnerability all women share even with the technology of birth control and access to abortion. Women should never be culturally manipulated to expect their sexual activity to be like a man’s is and therefore be bullied into choices whose consequences they are unprepared to deal with.
A truly liberating message to women would include among their choices the power to say no and to respect and understand why.
Thanks to Joe Jackson for one of my favorite songs: