Women's Bodies & The Patriarchy II

Read Part I of this piece here.

When I think ‘abortion’, the first thought that comes to mind is of all those I’ve met in Liberia whose names or nicknames are “Surprise,” “Secret,” “Miracle,” etc. Then, as a person who is familiar with the struggles of dealing with mental health issues, I think how hard it must be to grow up knowing that I am a child my parents did not want- to know that the only reason I am alive is because of any reason other than the fact that they wanted me. How would a child feel growing up knowing that they were never wanted? That they are only alive because someone somewhere decided their parents should not be allowed to prevent them from being born in a world with so much pain? Is there a way to measure the cost of dealing with the episodes of depression and feeling of low esteem such a child would go through? Why risk all that only to have a say over a female’s body?

Men telling women how to understand and experience their bodies is a tale as old as time. Since the first woman, Eve, (Gen. 3), men have attributed to themselves what it is to be genetically human. Religion, populist evolutionary biology, and medicine have all historically constructed “man” as the norm with “woman” as his Other (read Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex to delve further into this). In the 1970s and 1980s, feminist theorists employed the term patriarchy -literally the rule of the father- to also describe a social structure of inequity based on the naturalisation of ‘femininity’. Nothing shows how wrong (and unfair to women) this ideology of The Patriarchy is as much as the legislation surrounding of abortion.

My first direct encounter with abortion was in the 8th grade. Puberty was in its prime for us early teenagers and our bodies were experiencing all these changes, with no proper sex or personal health education available in our schools and homes (for the most part). Almost every boy had a story to share about their early morning erection or some wet dream about their crushes; almost every girl had “random” stomach pains every few weeks. I noticed the girls and boys started to become more sensitive and cautious regarding how they play with/around each other. Instead of downloading games and going home to play PlayStation, we were sending porn videos to each other via bluetooth. It was an open secret. At our age, sexual discussions, explorations, and experiences were our biggest interests and soon enough, a classmate began to sleep in class more than usual. She had all the signs of what I now know as morning sickness: drowsiness, nausea, lack of appetite etc. This continued on for nearly two weeks. On the Friday of the second week, my friend, along with an older girl, from the 11th grade (who had begun visiting my classmate during recess with “stuffs” to take) both came to school with extra clothes and money to go “somewhere” after school. On Monday, my classmate did not come to school. It was not until Wednesday that we would see her again. All the days, she had missed, I did her school work and covered for her and all of this was unknown to her parents. She developed a routine of skipping school after her parents dropped her off and opting instead to spend her days at the home of the older student. This was a part of the healing process she had to go through after having had an unsafe abortion.

I’ve always wondered: What if my classmate had died from that abortion? Was I obligated to inform her parents?  Was any of this my responsibility? What if she can’t have children again due to the unsafe nature of the procedure she underwent? What if she hadn’t had to hide it? What if we had had proper sex education in school? Would she have gotten pregnant? What if there had been people in school she could’ve talked to who were trained to guide her in making her choices?

Do I regret helping a 14 year old girl, who was not prepared and did not want her pregnancy? No. I did and still do support her freedom to choose whether she kept it or not. Do I have friends who kept their teenage pregnancies and have children now? Yes. I support those friends choices as well.

I believe the fight against The Patriarchy goes beyond the support for or against abortion, but saying no now to enabling The Patriarchy, by denying it any access into the autonomy of the female over her body, is an important step in protecting a woman’s freedom of choice.

To those who say “if she’s not ready for a baby, she shouldn’t have sex,” kindly keep in mind that it takes a sperm and egg to make a being, so redirect, or at least distribute, that energy to the sperm provider who could easily get a vasectomy and simplify the matter. I sincerely believe that men can be allies or feminists, so if you consider yourself one but are silent in these times, please take a good look in the mirror. Do you remember that time when you convinced your sex partner that you shouldn’t use a condom and you’d just pull out? Do you remember the pregnancy scare and/or the subsequent pregnancy? Do you understand that if she had wanted or did have an abortion, society will not even think of or look at you as part of the situation but all the misplaced stigma and shame will be placed on her? Or she might not have the option of aborting that pregnancy that neither of you wanted? An abortion law is about to passed in Alabama, USA that makes it criminal for rape or incest victims to have an abortion. I shouldn’t have to talk about rape or incest victims, or link your family members, to get you to see how abhorrent it is to take away a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body but, imagine a 12 year old who was raped by her father and has to carry a seed of that act to term and mother that product. Imagine that being your daughter, mother or sister. Is it still okay then?

If you are a guy who is nonchalant about the situation because it doesn’t directly affect you, consider this: pregnancy is a result of an action between both a male and a female; at every point before the pregnancy occurs, a guy has the freedom to choose whether he wants to cause the pregnancy or not. What if you had that choice taken from you? How would you feel if you knew that every time you had sex, the person you’re having sex with would get pregnant? Is it fair then, for a woman to be required to keep it every time she’s pregnant? If you considered how old you were when you first had sex, how would you feel becoming a father at that age?

If you are a female and you are anti-abortion because you would never do it, let’s try and put away our personal choices for a minute. The point is, you have the freedom to choose not to abort. That’s the same freedom other women are asking for: freedom to choose what happens to their body. I can guarantee you that you know someone who has had an abortion or at the very least, a pregnancy scare that led to them considering having an abortion. There is such a stigma around abortion that women who have had abortions would never speak of it and this makes it seem as if it isn’t something that happens to umpteen million women. I beseech you, if you have had an abortion, please speak on it and join us in this fight. There’s an ongoing war against women and your stories would make a world of difference.

Authored by Shari Raji & Joshua Kulah

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