So I was pleased to be published in the latest issue of Persimmon Tree magazine. The occasion, and the call for submissions, was for responses to an essay, Feminism in These Times by Vivian Gornick. A thoughtful piece and well worth the read. Out of the response essays, Persimmon Tree published six.
Mine, Talking About Abortion, is one of the six.
I entered the Feminist Movement in the early 70s and have retained my passion for the issues relevant to women. As a mother and grandmother of men, I’ve also see the value of men having a feminist vision which widens their perspective. The men I raised and the man I married are all pro-feminist.
Equality means a lot of different things to different people, but we rarely hear about equality in the issues related to abortion. Or the inequality of a single mom. I’ve posted the essay below although I encourage you to read both the Vivian Gornick piece and the other responses.
Talking About Abortion
I live in Missouri, the land of Todd Aiken who brought us the term “legitimate rape.” He is not alone in Missouri or across the country. “Obviously rape is awful,” West Virginia member of the House of Delegates Brian Kurcaba has said. “What is beautiful is the child that could come of this.”
No one likes abortion. Even those of us who are pro-choice don’t like abortion. Our “like” is the concept of a woman choosing for herself. It is not our right to judge her circumstances or her story. Not judging is not pro-abortion.
Where is the talk about the sperm provider who created the pregnancy?
Last fall, in my public speaking class, a young woman asked if she could do a persuasive speech on abortion.
“Are you planning on having one?” I said.
“Of course not,” she said.
“So do you plan to argue for having one or against?”
“Against.” She wavered a bit in her answer.
“I see. So you want to argue against having abortions. Look around the class. We have as many males as females. How are you going to reach males? They aren’t having abortions.”
She looked at the men in the class. “I want them to be against abortion, too.”
“So you are going to argue that men should be against abortion even though statistics say they are rarely impacted by an unplanned pregnancy?”
The class stared at me. One of the young men spoke up. “We have to pay child support.”
“In theory,” I said. “Some men do and some don’t.”
“I do,” he said. “And I keep her one day a week.”
“Good for you. That’s more than many men. How many days a week does her mother have her? And did you practice safe sex, like using a condom?”
The young man slid down a bit in his seat. “She said she was on birth control.”
“Ah. So that absolves you from responsibility for your sperm?” The young man slouched lower.
“What if” – I was on a roll – “what if the man who produced the sperm that fertilized the egg had to go to jail for the same length of time the woman was pregnant? DNA testing could prove the sperm donor. Would men be more conscious of using condoms? Do you think there might be fewer requests for abortions?”
No one in the class responded.
This, then, is the abortion problem. Whether we call it the War on Women or simply the Abortion Issue, the fact remains: Women are targeted. Men are not. The responsibility for terminating a pregnancy is on the woman’s shoulders and conscience. Most of the time, the woman goes to the abortion clinic alone and she leaves alone. Why is there so little consciousness or talk around the issue of shared responsibility? Why is abortion only a women’s issue?
Forty-two years have passed since Roe v. Wade and we’re still fighting about a woman’s right to control her body. I’ve been a feminist that long. I knew Sarah Weddington in those days; I went to the “First Women’s Convention Since Seneca Falls” in the Rice Hotel in Houston, Texas. The women in my consciousness-raising group vowed to raise their daughters differently; maybe they did. Except I also saw the slide backwards and watched the term feminist become a pejorative for many of those daughters.
I said, “We have to raise our sons differently!” I have. One summer, my teenage grandson came to visit. I picked up clothes from the floor and found a photo, his arms draped around two girls’ shoulders, his fingertips tucked inside their halter tops. When he came home, I sat him down. We were going to have a talk.
“Remember junior high when I warned you girls’ lap dancing could lead to bigger problems? Do you keep a condom in your wallet? Do you realize that if you become pregnant, you’re responsible for a child until he or she is out of college?” He lounged in an easy chair across from me. “Are you listening?”
“Yeah, Grams. But you’ve been telling me that since I was about five.”
“Oh,” I said. “Even about paying for the child until after college?”
“No,” he said. “That part is new. But it’s good information.”
It is possible to raise sons to respect women and to take responsibility. Perhaps that’s the conversation we need to be having. It’s time.