It’s not about abortion. Let’s not buy into that fairytale any longer. We’ve heard the litanies of pro-lifers who cherry-pick Biblical passages to convince themselves and others that God proclaims abortion is murder. Scientists have joined the discussion as they try to define when life actually begins. It seems everyone has an opinion they would die- or kill- for. Too many ignore the women whose wombs make life possible. We don’t have to look far to recognize the hypocrisy in the self-righteous arguments or in the actions of those who profess to honor life. All point to one conclusion: the abortion controversy is a cover story for a much larger cultural conflict.
I am over 70 years old. As a young girl growing up in Wisconsin during the 1950’s and 1960’s, we girls were not allowed to wear pants. Oh, we could cover our legs with snow pants while we walked to school. But they had to be removed when we arrived. Then we sat in our under-heated class rooms in our slightly longer-than-knee-length skirts for the rest of the day. Boys teased us about catching a glimpse of our panties (“I see London, I see France, I see Susie’s underpants!”) if we forgot to keep our knees together or when we played during recess. As we entered puberty, we blushed as we noted a boy looking at our breasts. Some of the girls with larger breasts wore loose blouses and hunched their shoulders to avoid the stares. We dealt with these and other insults on a daily basis. At the same time, we were being taught by our parents and teachers to be “lady-like.” I have wondered what the boys were being taught…?
As I struggled with a developing body image and the attention it drew, my mother was dealing with her own issues. After high school Mom spent a year in secretarial school then worked for the Red Cross during World War II. However after she married, my dad refused to allow her to have a job outside the home. This continued even after all of us kids were in school. They argued for years as Mom resented receiving an allowance while Dad controlled expenditures. Dad eventually ended each argument saying, “If a man can’t support his family he’s not much of a man!” Even as a young teen, the undertones were clear. Any of Mom’s pleas for a little bit of independence threatened my dad’s sense of manhood.
When I was 14, I got a job working at our local grocery store. Although I’d been promised a weekly allowance, I rarely received it. I was often reminded of the Great Depression and how lucky I was instead. So I opted for a little of the freedom my mom had been denied. But then both Mom and Dad complained about how I wasted my money- like when I went to a salon for a new hairdo or bought my own winter coat. I learned to rebel quietly.
My high school years (1961-65) were fun-filled, work-filled and socially challenging. In our school, few girls dated more than one boy at a time. We “went steady,” although finding a boyfriend was tricky! We had to be nice enough to catch the eye of a boy we liked while not being too flirtatious. Our reputations could suffer if we appeared to be too forward or if we seemed to be promising more than we intended. We heard whispers of “loose” girls, some of whom were later outwardly shamed. Any girl who got pregnant was expelled from school. Even our married female teachers had to quit their jobs before a pregnancy became obvious. This was, after all, the era of the Comstock Laws.
In 1873 Congress passed the Comstock Laws which intended to “suppress trade in, and circulation of, obscene literature and articles of immoral use.” Among these were “articles used for contraception or abortion.” The last of the Comstock Laws was not overturned until 1965. Then, although the birth control pill was cleared by the FDA for human use in 1960, it was not until 1972 that the Supreme Court legalized the use of birth control methods throughout the country by both married and unmarried couples.
Is this the culture to which we as a nation would wish to return, the culture we envision for our daughters and granddaughters? Some appear to think it is. Some people claim to believe legislating restrictions on a woman’s right to choose how she deals with her reproductive and sexual life will protect our children somehow. Have they so little faith in their own parenting skills that they prefer to use legislation as their solution? I sincerely doubt that is the case! No, the desire to legislate is aimed at all women in an attempt to maintain societal constructs which benefit men while ignoring the human rights of women. As one of our female senators recently noted, there are no laws in existence which regulate how a man uses his body. I believe an abundance of fear, denial, self-delusion and lack of introspection inform this kind of thinking. Many people, both men and women, fear a loss of self-esteem, of societal privilege, of public image. Yet too often those fears are not recognized as fear at all. They may be masked by, or perceived as anger or hatred. They may become entangled with beliefs and desires. Problem solving thus becomes heavily flawed. The solutions reached are therefore also flawed and do not address the actual issues causing pain.
But how did such thinking originate? We would have to go back to the origin of patriarchy itself to fully understand the evolution of our perceptions: when early man was in awe of the power women had to produce a child; when he recognized his physical strength could be used to overpower women; when he chose to nurture his own offspring while finding ways to ensure they were, indeed, his own. Yet while we can suggest an origin theory, it is most important to remember that cultural beliefs and adaptations persist for different reasons over time. So what is the reasoning now? I can only offer my own opinion.
For whatever reason, it appears many men are unsure of themselves and feel they cannot succeed on a level playing field. They seem to waste an enormous amount of time trying to control circumstances outside themselves to achieve a “one-up” in society Maybe testosterone predisposes men toward perceiving life as a battlefield: control or be controlled; win or be a loser; kill or be killed. Yet rationally, most people realize life isn’t confined to black and white outcomes. We recognize the multiple shades of gray in between. More importantly, we can envision the infinite colors, the options, the possibilities life provides. The battlefield mindset does us all a disservice. More specifically, men who view the sexual and reproductive freedom of women as a threat reveal their own personal insecurities. They imagine an enemy they feel empowered to fight. But they are shooting themselves in the foot, for the enemy is within them. They must come to grips with the fact that they do not need the motivation of fighting an enemy to become successful. Insight, an open mind, and a little bit of courage provide all the motivation needed, while edging them toward a more harmonious approach toward living.