Some of you may like an essay I recently published on Feminism and Religion:
It’s all over the news, this march, and all over the Internet. It is, in fact, a worldwide event. I’m glad and proud of the women and the men who are there.
My husband and I planned to go. But I woke this morning with my body uncomfortable, feeling resistant, uneasy, tense. And wound through it all, sorrow. I’ve learned to pay attention when my body reacts.
I sat with the feelings, brewed tea, gazed out the window. While I vote every election, city, state, federal, financially support candidates when I can, and watch and read and evaluate, I’ve been out of politics for a long time. I wondered at my resistance. There’s a march here in Kansas City; many of my friends are going. Why didn’t I want to go?
I kept remembering a vow I made years ago: I would no longer man (or woman) the barricades (civil rights, women’s rights, anti-war protests) but would change the world one person at a time.
Shift to Germany, late 1974. My first husband a soldier and the family had transferred to Germany. The Watergate hearings were going on, but all I could get on our military housing television was German-language hearings, and printed information from the Stars and Stripes newspaper.
I’d just come from three years of Texas politics. In those days, Texas politics were fun: Barbara Jordan, Sissy Farenthold, Sarah Weddington. The Equal Rights Amendment was passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification (and ultimately failed).
(As a digression, what’s interesting is that Civil Rights has passed; Gay Rights and Gay Marriage has passed–all of which I’ve supported–but no Equal Rights for women.)
In those Texas years, I was deeply involved in politics and in the women’s movement. My friend Cynthia and I formed a consciousness-raising group in Temple, Texas, and joined as charter members of The National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC). We attended the first women’s convention in 100 years at the Rice Hotel in Houston. Here’s a post on that if you’re interested.
But in Germany, there were only Military Wives Clubs. My politics did not fit.
And so, I read. Fortunately, the post library had a good selection of novels and I checked out Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey. I don’t remember what it was in the novel that suddenly lifted my head, but I remember my snuggled body in a patch of weak sunlight by a south window. I stared at the television, tuned in to the Watergate hearings, sound turned down, and the realization struck: I would no longer man the barricades, I would change the world one person at a time.
And so, this morning, when I remembered my vow of so many years ago, I thought that was the reason for my body’s resistance. But the resistance didn’t fade. And the sorrow deepened.
That’s when I realized what the resistance meant and why the sorrow. If she were alive, we would have gone together today, either her coming to me or I to her. We would have laughed and told stories and remembered together.
But we can’t. I’m still traveling on this plane and she on another. Perhaps that’s why death is so hard–not just the missing or the emptiness, although there is that, but the stories we held that can only be told by me to others who will hear them for the first time. Or the second time, since I’ve written so much about her influence on my life.
But no chance to reminisce together, to laugh, to fill in each others’ lost pieces.
I could not go without her.
With the realization, my body relaxed, and I sighed. There are some things that cannot be done without the other part of who you are.
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.
Given free rein (or reign as the case may be) by The Daily Post to participate in Blog Action Day and write about inequality, I begin which may turn into a rant. Bear with me.
I’m tired of hearing the debate about women’s contraceptives and whether they ought to be included in a health care plan. I’m even more tired of the inequality in implying all responsibility for unwanted pregnancies lies with the woman. And I’m incensed at the sexy Viagra commercials that run interminably (Viagra, by the way, covered by health insurance).
Let’s talk about equality: it would be equal justice to make a law that says if a pregnancy occurs and is unwanted, then the man who produced the sperm that fertilized the egg had to go to jail, trapped in other words, for the term of the woman’s pregnancy when she is trapped. Not hard to find out, with DNA testing, where the sperm came from.
But wait, you say, there’s laws about financial responsibility and a man is required to pay child support, but that’s like making a car payment, that’s NOT supporting a child. Supporting a child is helping it grow and learn and become a responsible adult. Remember, a woman pays child support, too. Is that equality?
Why not a law that penalizes the man for not taking precautions? Why not have condom commercials instead of Viagra commercials? Why not require that men take responsibility for their actions.
Well, some man might say, what if she tells you she’s on birth control? So what? It’s your sperm. Take responsibility and cap it! What if she says she can’t have children? So what? It’s your sperm. Take responsibility! Wear a condom. Even with a woman who has effective pregnancy protection, there’s still the chance of disease, herpes, crabs, the list goes on. When you have unprotected sex, you are having sex with every person that woman has ever had sex with and every person who had sex with those people. I mean really! Is that the equality you want?
Men. Take responsibility. Or one of these days, just possibly, inequality will be remedied and you’re not going to like the outcome.
In the early days of the Women’s Movement, as it was called before it splintered into various sections and sectarian arguments (I’m talking 1970-71 here – and yes, I really am that old) women gathered in groups in their homes. Consciousness raising, as it was called, and we told our stories and learned from each other. I lived in Texas. We were furious that the Equal Rights Amendment wouldn’t happen. We were castigated for wanting to “dismantle the foundations of American society,” as if the long war in Vietnam wasn’t dismantling enough.
We were women in our mid-to late 20s and many, like me, already with children. We were, many of us, stay-at-home moms. That’s probably why we had time to go to meetings! A misnomer, stay-at-home-mom. I was far from the leisure class. I baked all our bread; bought grass fed meat and raw milk from the same country lady, skimmed the cream from the gallon jars, and made our butter; had a huge garden; worked part-time in the art therapy workshop at Scott & White Hospital in Temple, Texas; took college classes; and still had time to stomp into school and confront a teacher who told my third grade son that he couldn’t take his retainer out to eat lunch. This, mind you, after the poor kid had undergone two dental surgeries to remove supernumerary front teeth so his permanent could come in. The principal moved him into another class with a more accommodating teacher.
I also worked in politics (surprise surprise). Those were the days when politics in Texas were fun and the days of Barbara Jordan and Sissy Farenthold, Sara Weddington who, as a young woman, had the courage to argue Roe vs. Wade before the Supreme Court. My only claim to fame was being a founding member of the Texas Women’s Political Caucus.
But, as a new member, I went to the first women’s convention in a hundred years (since the Seneca Falls convention) at the Rice Hotel in Houston.
All the big guns were there: Betty Friedan, Sissy, Gloria Steinem and Germaine Greer. Barbara Jordan came. But there were a whole bunch of the rest of us. I talked to Barbara Mikulski, newly in Congress (and yes, she’s really been in politics that long and now Senator Mikulski but not any taller than she was then.) And a slew of workshops: political action, anti-war, consciousness raising, children and work, raising wages for women. The one I chose was titled Sexual Freedom.
Now, you have to understand: I was in my 20s and married to a soldier who’d been away from home three out of five years and when he was home, mostly he was out for weeks, sometimes months, training for the next time he’d go to war. I’d had enough. Sexual freedom seemed reasonable for women if it was okay for men.
So I went. Only it turned out to be a workshop full of lesbians. Fancy that. I had no idea sexual freedom were code words. I sat a bit stunned, wondering how I could get myself out of this fix, they probably wondering what a blond Army wife and mother was doing in their caucus. But we talked. And had a great time. And when time came to vote in a block, I voted with the Sexual Freedom girls. It comes without saying, I’d think, that my world view shifted.
Imagine you’re told something will be cancelled forever or taken over by an evil corporate force.
In truth, it nearly was cancelled forever. After the ERA was finally passed, the next generation of women became more concerned with careers than with protecting equality. They’d grown up with it. Things were different. Not.
And now corporations really have taken over the women’s movement. I don’t think they are “evil corporate forces” necessarily, but the conventions have become very pricey. Stellar names still appear, but they are whisked on and off stage and into limos and never meet the proletariat. And they get big speaking fees. And interestingly, the women who were more concerned with careers are attending. They are easily in the mid-to late-forties. They have the money to go and they see the vaunted “glass ceiling” isn’t going to be broken easily.
But perhaps that’s how generational change goes. You get older. You pass on the work. Besides, been there; done that.
And on a lot less money.