When Jess Prominski asked her new partner his views on abortion in the event of unplanned pregnancy, she was surprised by his answer.
“Abortion”—the context and meaning of this word has been in the media, legislation, and public discourse. Nations and states have discussed, decided on, and revised abortion legislation for decades. And yet, the discussion never seems to end.
Considering much of the anti-choice legislation being raised in the United States right now, and considering who much of this legislation is being raised by, I would normally say something clichéd like “My body, my choice,” or simply “VAGINA,” or “No uterus? No opinion.” Choice and women’s rights to choose should maintain at the centre of pro/anti-choice debates. But I think discussions about abortion and choice extend beyond “women’s issues” and traditional understandings of feminism.
First, I am a self-identified heterosexual woman and I identify as feminist. I am pro-choice. This has an impact on the way I view pro/anti-choice legislation and abortion. However, while my feminism is about choice, it’s also about inclusion and addressing limitations of supporting rigid gender roles and gender expression.
I was reminded of the consequences of supporting and teaching rigid gender roles when I was talking to my partner about abortion. We are not having sex (defined here as penetrative intercourse) but I am fascinated with people’s responses to abortion and discussions around choice. My partner previously identified to me that he is pro-choice. When I asked him what he would think or do if I got pregnant, I was surprised at his answer. My previous partners indicated they would not only support but would actually prefer me getting an abortion should pregnancy become a reality for us. However, my current partner indicated that he sees pregnancy and parenthood as a crucial responsibility and does not agree with using abortion as a form of birth control. He said he would do everything he could to encourage me to complete the pregnancy and deliver the baby. When I asked how we could ever afford to take care of a baby, and co-parent a child (we have not been together very long) he said I didn’t have to be involved in the child’s life if I didn’t want to but he would be responsible for his mistake and take care of the child to the best of his abilities.
I suggested the idea of adoption as a solution to my hypothetical pregnancy. He said he would not be okay with adoption and would be responsible for the child he created, even if it’s not the ideal time in his life for parenthood.
I told him that while I would talk to him about it and consider his perspective, the choice to complete or terminate a pregnancy was mine, because the child would be inside of my body. I told him that there is no way I could complete a pregnancy and deliver a child and then say “see ya never” and leave him to parent alone so that’s why I would prefer abortion at this time in my life. He said if I got an abortion, he would never speak to me again. I was shocked … I’ve never had this response before and didn’t know what to say.
For a few weeks, I thought about this conversation and wasn’t sure what I’d do if we did have sex and I got pregnant (maybe this is still why we haven’t had sex). But all of this thinking brought me to thinking about the rigidity of gender roles. I have been noticing limitations for gender expression and roles for women but have not considered how rigid and difficult expectations of gender expression are for men. But men feel pressure too—to be a gentlemanly but unemotional, aggressive, logical, responsible provider and sexual being.
The conversation I had with my partner brought up a tornado of ideas: dead-beat dads, child support, single motherhood, chivalry and gentlemanly gestures, power, responsibility, decision-making, abortion as bad, abortion as murder, rights of the child, aggression and violence, dominance in sex, hard-working, masculinity, etc.
Masculinity is defined extremely rigidly in much of the global community. I believe young men have been taught that they are decision-makers that have power and should make all decisions, even if it is outside of their rights or they do not have the knowledge to do so. We hear so much in the media about men who are dead-beat dads and men who don’t pay child support, and how bad and devastating single-mother-led-families can be on children. This becomes ingrained in our thoughts and behaviours. And this is where I think my partner was during our discussion about abortion. Most men are simultaneously taught that they are biologically determined to be sexual and unemotional, safe sex isn’t important, and that they should avoid being dead-beat dads, which is completely illogical given how each of these demands overlap. They are supposed to want sex often, whether it is inside of a committed relationship or not, that they should be hard-working, unemotional, dominant in relationships, and that they should at the same time, be responsible fathers if pregnancy becomes a reality. Men receive mixed, confusing, contradictory messages about masculinity similar to those that women receive about femininity, and neither can seem to win.
If men support abortion, they will be perceived as supporting murder and ignoring their “responsibilities.” If they support adoption, they are taking the easy way out and will be called pussies and powerless. If they support a pregnancy and are a responsible father, they are expected to be: (1) a good provider and hard-worker, yet also spend enough time with children to make sure they don’t have the “devastating” impacts of a single-parent-led-family, (2) unemotional but supportive, and (3) dominant leader of the household without controlling every single decision of their children. Expectations for men and definitions of masculinity, especially in terms of parenting and having children, are impossible to fulfill which is why perhaps so many men identify as pro-choice but then if a pregnancy became a reality in their relationships, they struggle to find a solution supported by society and other men and a situation in which they feel comfortable supporting while still feeling “masculine enough.”
I don’t know why my partner and I have not decided it is the right time for us to have sex yet. Some of the hesitation might be because we have not been together long. However, some of it might rely on the fact that we would have some conflict in approaching an unplanned pregnancy. In fact, if we do have sex and I did happen to get pregnant, given his response, I don’t know if I would even tell my partner about my decision to have an abortion. And I know that’s not necessarily fair and not a situation I would like to be involved in, so I’m struggling a little bit. It might just be the way things have gone, but our decision not to have sex is mutual, and I think our conflict about abortion is a contributing factor. Which is hard. We have an intense physical chemistry and I would like to have those intimate moments together. Maybe this is something that will change over time or as we grow more comfortable with each other we would be able to have a different discussion. Or maybe we will end things because of other circumstances and this won’t ever even be an issue. Either way, we are still seeing each other and for the time being, are enjoying the time we spend together, without sex.
Image of happy human couple dating courtesy of Shutterstock