If you’ve lost count, we are now up to 8 states that have passed anti-abortion bills: Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Ohio, Utah, Kentucky, Mississippi, Arkansas.
Just. Like. That.
Make no mistake: this is NOT just a movement against abortion—that’s just the easy path, where the ground has been fertilized and tended to for decades, planted with false and misleading information about the process of abortion and the millions of reasons why women might choose to abort. No, this a movement against women.
It’s a movement against a woman’s sovereignty over her own body, her own choices, her own life. It’s a movement to push back against all of us women demanding and getting more power, demanding equality, demanding to be seen and heard. I think it’s even a movement fed by the backlash against #MeToo.
There is nothing that angers me more than seeing a bunch of smug old white men fist-bumping each other after ensuring that rapists will likely have more rights than women in the future. Well, maybe one thing: watching Kay Ivey sign the Alabama bill into law. It’s always worse to watch women strip away power from women.
These bills will still face court challenges. It’s still likely that Roe V. Wade could stand; even though the stated purpose of these bills is to directly challenge it. But it is not at all likely that this movement against women’s freedom and rights will end, and here’s why: Because we, as a collective culture, even in 2019, do not actually believe that women should have the same opportunities and rights as men—specifically, the same rights and opportunities to live our lives on our own terms, without men’s interference.
(I wrote a lengthy article about this concept of cultural stories permeating our thoughts and actions; please check this out next.)
It’s obvious to the point of ridiculous to me that if men were the bodies who carried babies, reproductive options, birth control, and all kinds of information would be easily available and accessible. Does anyone doubt that? Does anyone doubt that men would never allow a group of women to make decisions about men’s sexual health and vitality?
Once, in conversation with a man, I asked him to try and imagine the roles flipped.
I said, “How would you like it if women tried to tell you what you had to do with your body for the next 9 months, and with your life for the next 18 years?”
He said, “But that’s not the way it is. Men don’t get pregnant.”
I replied, “Just try. Imagine.”
He shrugged. “I can’t.”
That’s where we are right now. In advertising, in media, where men still far outnumber women at the helm, stories are most often told from the male perspective (unless, of course, it’s a “chick flick,” after which it’s devalued and only seen by women). We women are asked every time we watch a television show, movie, or even a commercial, to take on a male point of view. Men? They won’t try, not because they can’t, but because they don’t have to. It’s rarely asked or expected of them.
I’m currently, finally, watching The Sopranos (I’m up to Season 5). It’s amazing to me how, even through the hands-on murders, rampant infidelity, and habitual lies and frightening anger, Tony is still seen and portrayed through a sympathetic lens. When his wife Carmella finally leaves him over his infidelity, it was shocking to watch him control the narrative until he made her the enemy. Did the writers do this consciously? Unconsciously? It seemed all too real. And, watching how quickly their son gets the hint that it is really his mother who is the problem says so much about how women are expected to stay quiet, and stoic, and accept the unacceptable, and when they finally push back, they are dismissed and rejected. If “patriarchy,” could be personified, this show is it.
But forget mob TV shows. From childhood fairy tales to movies to television shows to pop culture we are all, women and men alike, subtly taught to believe that women are weaker, more emotional, and less rational than men. Which of course feeds into the belief that women shouldn’t be responsible for making decisions. Women and men are taught to believe that women’s natural ways—menstruation, breastfeeding, PMS, hormones, the process of giving birth—are unnatural, ugly, embarrassing, dirty. No surprise that there is a belief that women should stay quietly hidden. Young girls are taught to accept, expect, and even seek out a man’s opinion on everything from her clothing choices to her hairstyle to her line of work. And, surprise! Men feel entitled to give their opinion on everything about a woman and her lifestyle.
Everywhere we look in our culture, women and even girls are compartmentalized, packaged and sold. A woman is the prize. Usually, we see her legs first, or maybe her hair, or maybe her breasts. Women are viewed as a product to be bought and sold, or maybe “won”. Women are portrayed as less than human, beings who don’t know their own minds, who cannot be trusted with big decisions like money, or hiring, or, clearly, whether or not she’s ready to have a baby.
We are included in our collective stories only as mothers, daughters, wives, lovers. We usually need to be saved. Often, we are portrayed as sexual objects, as vessels of pleasure, as incubators. But we are rarely portrayed as full, complex, human beings.
At the same time as women have so little complexity, we are also all led to believe that when a man behaves badly—from cat-calling to rape to infidelity to abuse—it is the fault of a woman. This belief pattern goes all the way back to Eve and the apple and the snake. Women has always been the temptress. Women has always been willing and able to talk to evil. Women, according to the world’s largest religion, are responsible for men’s fall from grace.
So how can we be shocked today that a group of men does not at all feel uncomfortable or out of line deciding what a woman does with her body?
And now, this culture that believes that women are less worthy than man have decided that a woman’s life carries even less worth than a mass of cells. Even if that mass of cells began with an act of rape or incest.
Don’t be afraid. Be angry. Be outraged. Let your anger’s fire illuminate the root of the problem: the cultural stories we allow to perpetuate every time we tell a girl that that little boy is just flirting with her when he steals something of hers, or that it’s her responsibility to not show her shoulders so the boys can study, or that it’s her fault if he just couldn’t help himself when stealing her body, her work, her dignity. Why would anyone not expect this male entitlement to extend to stealing her hard-earned rights?
We can try to fight back these bills and we must, one at a time, state by state. But let’s not fool ourselves. Until the stories we tell ourselves and our children about who women are, until we demand to be seen as whole, embodied human beings without shame, this movement will continue to squash the rights and voices of women.
If we do not want the Tony Soprano’s of the world, men who embody toxic masculinity, to tell women’s stories from their perspective, where our choice of roll might be inconvenience, service provider, diversion, prop, sex object, or maybe helpful secretary, then women, warm up your voices and set your stories free. There is no heroism to be found in stoic silence, in accepting the unacceptable. There are no medals for making do. Do your part to change the way this culture views women, and tell new cultural stories of the women you know.
Tell stories of women embodied, of women empowered. Tell stories of women changing lives. Tell stories of women creating life. Tell stories of women choosing not to carry life. Tell women’s stories until the culture is permeated with them, until Hollywood just has to tell them, until teachers and books include them, and until lawmakers finally respect them. Only then will this nightmare come to a close.
In the words of Sharon Blackie in her incredible book If Women Rose Rooted, “Will we stay as we are, embracing the pale shadow of womanhood permitted us by the patriarchy? Or will we sink deep into the heart of the bog, and find out what it is to reclaim our creative power as women?”
The fact that these laws are getting as far as they are tells us that we haven’t yet decided. Time is short. We need you.