The children brought to rallies are on adult ground, holding signs made for them by other people. Are men with opinions on abortion actually on women’s ground?
When I was a little boy my parents took me to an abortion protest outside of our church where some people from the pro-choice side would also be protesting. My parents explained to me what we “must” believe about abortion as Christians. I never really understood what all was happening, but I could tell it was an important and not wholly agreed upon topic, and I especially loved that TV news vans showed up. More recently, I have taken it upon myself to become educated about the moral aspects of abortion and to decide on my own where I stand. After a good deal of academic study and personal soul-searching I feel I have some level of expertise and a viewpoint that can add to the progression of the debate. But, even after all that study I still feel like a little kid holding a sign someone else made for him.
We bring children to protests and rallies, a world where adults have the strong opinions and the children are treated more like hood ornaments than contributors. Surely, on occasion a child will say something out of their innocence that is utterly profound, but it’s rarely credited to their thoughtful or insight. They are a child speaking on adult’s territory. I thought that as I grew up I would be able to speak on abortion because it was adult territory and I (hopefully) had joined the ranks of adults. Once I really, finally got to true adulthood, I discovered that abortion isn’t so much adult territory as it is women’s territory. I would be welcome to join in the debate as long as I held a sign written by, or at least approved by, a women. To do otherwise risks being labeled a patriarch.
The legality and morality of abortion often centers around a woman’s body, and while a big fan and life-long supporter of women’s bodies I balk at thinking I have the slightest idea of knowing what it’s like to have a woman’s body. The experience of being a woman grants a certain amount of appropriateness and authority to speak on what women can and cannot, should or should not, do with their body. My utter lack of experience in this arena has left me feeling voiceless. Some men, many of whom are fine with patriarchy, have no problem stepping in and feeling like they have authority to speak to women this way; I don’t. This is where my internal dilemma comes from. I have two great desires and I can seemingly only embrace one. First, to be sensitive to women who have been victims of generations of patriarchy and being told what they can and cannot do with their bodies. But, I also want to be taken seriously and respected for my thoughts on abortion. At this point I don’t feel like the child with a sign at the protest because I feel like I don’t even belong at the debate to begin with, and no one brought me here. Like a child, I feel sheepish and insecure in my own point of view.
I’m not meaning to be overly simple, but it feels like the two voices men can easily take on abortion are, “It’s your body and you have rights,” and “Your body isn’t as important as my religious or social views.” What both of these views have in common is that they follow the first half of my dilemma: either you support a woman’s ultimate right to choose or you support some form of patriarchy. Whether these views have major flaws or not doesn’t matter. They are acceptable for men to adopt and voice because they are the standard views; they are accepted as normal. It seems a man cannot offer a softer version of pro-choice, or heaven forbid a pro-life stance, without looking like a patriarchal douche. For instance, I wrote a culminating paper in my undergraduate study on a Feminist Approach to Abortion and I was too scared and intimidated to submit it to conferences or journals because I couldn’t bring myself to tell feminist women that I believed the moral end-all-be-all of abortion was somewhere other than a woman’s rights to her body. In discussing my paper with a female acquaintance at a party I became so flustered when her body language closed up that I backpedalled so far that I didn’t even recognize my thesis. After that her body language became much more friendly. I wasn’t seen as a patriarch, I was safe. On the other hand, when telling my mom about my paper I found myself softening what it said so that I wouldn’t be told that I wasn’t a Christian for my view. What’s a guy to do?
Then I see the call for submission from GMP where men everywhere were encouraged to write and tell their stories of abortion. Men do have experiences with abortion, albeit tangential. These experiences create knowledge and wisdom, and from wisdom comes authority. For the first time I see a ray of hope that I can conquer my dilemma by going between the horns, which is logic-speak for asserting an alternative solution to the two offered in the dilemma. I find myself eagerly awaiting these stories, and I hope to learn from all of the robust perspectives that are represented. All of these unique experiences of men matter, and the knowledge and wisdom that comes from them should matter. If nothing else, then by sharing these stories we can begin the process of claiming some of the abortion process as men’s territory. All of this will be in stark contrast to the media portrayed male role in abortion which is disconnected if existent at all.
If my television tells me anything about a man’s role in abortion, it’s that they only happen in the absence of men in the woman’s life. One of the implicit messages here is if only a man were here the abortion wouldn’t need to happen and the woman and baby would be saved. The other message is often that all abortions should be avoided if at all possible. Those are awful messages, and it further forces the bounds of abortion away from men’s territory. The more men’s roles in abortion are discussed, normalized, portrayed, and acted out, the more men are allowed in. This has already begun in childrearing and pregnancy, and it’s about time we stepped up and did this regarding abortion as well. Maybe men can finally be partners, friends, lovers, doctors, nurses, dads and brothers to the women in their lives who are having to deal with abortion. Hopefully this newfound care, connection and openness around abortion can lessen the isolation, guilt, shame and depression that can accompany it.
I am so hopeful for the future of how our society handles abortion, but I still feel like a little kid. I fear offending women and I fear feeling unheard or undervalued because I don’t have a deep personal story about abortion to share. Some men have those stories and I am glad that we are beginning to look to their stories for wisdom and insight. I don’t have that experience, but I clearly have some serious insecurities and growing up to do, and I don’t think these insecurities are completely unfounded or unique to me. I think a lot of men prefer to err on the side of over-sensitivity to women rather than to possibly offend and look like a patriarchal jerk. Being sensitive is great; however it doesn’t mean I need to question whether or not my perspective on abortion is a legitimate or valuable one. Part of my journey into adulthood that is still in front of me is learning that it’s okay if I offend someone, and if it happens I don’t need to fold or weaken what I said but trust that we can be civil. If I really want to be heard then I need to speak. If I still find myself feeling like a child or feeling voiceless then at least I can start by sharing my fear and discomfort with wanting to add to the moral/political debate over abortion without risking being labeled a patriarch. I guess that’s what this is.
All of the conversations that aid in progress are great, but tweets, blogs and comments aren’t real, they lack a visceral quality. Reality is visceral, and we need to have these important talks in real life. If it hadn’t been for my wife and her ability to listen to me and value what I said and to instill courage in me to grow when I was too fainthearted to do it on my own I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today. Those conversations were not always easy, but if I can’t talk with her then who can I talk with? I was doubly lucky when I later had an amazing professor who never flinched when I told her I wanted to write from a feminist perspective and helped guide me further along my path. I encourage all men to seek out those people close to them who can have the initial conversations in a safe and caring environment.
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Image of a child yelling in protest through a megaphone courtesy of Shutterstock