Fourteen weeks: On being at war for my own body

24 Feb

It’s been a tough week to be a geeky feminist, folks. Jennifer Hepler, a writer at BioWare, had a harassment campaign launched against her for the crime of having an opinion while being female. There’s also been some privileged entitlement spilling out of some geek communities that I’ve mostly severed ties with, precisely because of said privileged entitlement. In non-geek feminist circles, the internets are abuzz about Rihanna and Chris Brown and the problematic narrative surrounding Whitney Houston’s death. So that’s getting me down.

But more than anything, I am horrified and appalled by the fact that American politicians and elites have straight up declared war on women’s rights. The abominable Virginia ultrasound law, Rick Santorum as a serious candidate for President, the Catholic Bishops’ insistence that their right to deny basic medical care to women is more important than the right of women to make their own damned decisions about their health and their religion… How have we gotten to the point where we are having to fight for something that has been a fundamental fact of life for the last fifty years? How have we gotten to the point where those in power can openly declare that women do not have worth as human beings, that their only worth is as a support system for their uterus, which should be making babies right now, dammit. How have we gotten to the point where the decision of whether or not to have a child becomes a decision made by the state and not by the woman?

I am a person whose life has been shaped by access to contraception. Though she got married relatively young, my mother put off having children while she pursued a graduate education and got her career off to a solid start. After having my brother and I, she chose not to have additional children – a decision that I benefited from as it meant that my parents economic resources were not stretched. As a result my parents were able to save enough money to pay for my university education (with help from a lot of scholarships), something that wouldn’t have been possible without my parents being able to choose to limit the size of our family.

As for myself, my path to being in a position where I could economically support having a family of my own has been a hard one, and has taken a lot longer than I ever thought I would. I got married at 20; with three years of school left to finish I certainly was in no position to be able to support a child. We couldn’t even support ourselves. At 23 I graduated into a Rust Belt economy that already boasted double-digit unemployment before the economic crash of 2008, which was a huge factor in my decision to move to Canada. Establishing oneself in a new country, even one that shares a common language, is tough, though, and there were several false starts. I quit a terrible job that was making me sick at the start of 2009, got laid off early from a mat-leave contract, and was unexpectedly laid off from the job after that that I thought was stable enough to finally allow us to start a family.

As much as I joked about enjoying being a DINK (dual income no kids), the fact of the matter is that it wasn’t until recently that I was in a position to be able to support a child. And the thing that gives me pause is that what I had taken for granted all this time, the thing that is now under assault by the men in power, is the fact that I was able to choose not to get pregnant. Access to reliable contraception is something that I never thought to question, something I never thought would actually become part of the national conversation. The ability to say ‘no, I am a person and I deserve to make the determination of when I am able to support a child’, to not have that decision taken out of my hands is something so obvious, so simple that I never thought about it. It was simply part of The Way Things Were.

But wundergeek, you might say. Why get so worked up about this? After all, didn’t you move to Canada? Canada covers pre-natal care and price-control legislation means that contraceptive medication is cheaper and more accessible than in the United States. So what do you have to worry about?

What I have to worry about is the prevailing attitude that while pregnant, your body is not your own. No matter what decisions you make regarding your pregnancy, someone will judge you for them. As progressive as Canada might be otherwise, we do one share one thing with the Americans – the commonly held idea that other people will know better than you what decisions about pregnancy and motherhood you should make. And lest we get too carried away in touting our superiority to our benighted American cousins, let’s not forget that a Federal MP from Southwestern Ontario, a region that likes to think of itself as generally more enlightened, wants to re-examine the legal definition of when life begins. That’s not to say that I think we’re going to have to worry about personhood laws up here – thankfully the government has said that that is a conversation they’re just not interested in having. But the fact that someone with such regressive views of women’s rights could be elected to federal office is troubling none the less.

It’s crazy-making and more than a little frightening, this determined assault on the thing that has made so many of my life choices possible. I would have thought we had progressed beyond the point where “I am more than my ability to bear children” would be a controversial statement, but apparently not.

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11 Responses to “Fourteen weeks: On being at war for my own body”

  1. Cluisanna February 25, 2012 at 12:50 am #

    “As for myself, my path to being in a position where I could economically support having a family of my own has been a hard one, and has taken a lot longer than I ever thought I would. I got married at 20; with three years of school left to finish I certainly was in no position to be able to support a child. We couldn’t even support ourselves.”
    When I read anecdotes like that, I always feel kind of weird, because there is one thing missing in this, which is apparently taken for granted – that you are actually having sex. When people say “Birth control is essential to not get pregnant”, that’s just not true. After all, you can just not have sex (rape victims excluded, but I don’t think many women take birth control pills just to not get pregnant if they are ever raped). And Republicans and other misogynists *know* that and will say things like “Well just keep your legs shut.”

    Why is nobody talking about this? Why is the whole debate framed in terms of “birth control provides women with an essential freedom – to go about their lives without having to care for children”, as if women having sex is something that can’t be prevented, so women *have* to take birth control. Because men not having sex with their wifes/girlfriends so that she can pursue a career is completely out of question? Male entitlement, anyone?*

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying birth control isn’t one of the most useful and liberating things that was ever invented. However, it’s not about whether a woman is able to lead the life she wishes in terms of how many children she has. It’s about the right of women to have sex without having to face consequences, often alone. And I think that is why birth control is so threatening to male privilege – because it makes women nearly equal to men when having sex (in terms of consequences).

    Our position should be “I want to have sex, for fun. It’s not dirty, or immoral, or sinful. And it’s none of your business.” There is this weird idea that recreation alone is not a valid goal, which has lead to even liberals going on about how “many women take the pill for other things beside contraception”** and “contraception is an issue of personal freedom to have a career” – no, it’s not. It’s an issue of personal freedom to have sex without having to be a parent. And that’s a GOOD thing.

    We are letting the misogynists frame this as if recreational/casual sex is something bad. It isn’t. And I think we have to make this more clear. Because, like I said, it’s not about women being able to chose how many children they want. It’s about women being able to chose how many children they want AND having sex. And the latter one is the main part.

    *After all, a woman who doesn’t want to have sex and isn’t pressured into having sex doesn’t need contraception. (Hormones for other things, maybe. But not contraception as contraception.)

    ** I’m not saying that that isn’t true or valid, just that when it’s framed like this it sounds like “look, most women who take the pill aren’t even doing it to have dirty sex” – after all, why would this have to be pointed out if the right to have sex for fun wasn’t seen as somehow bad?

    • Dahlia Jones February 25, 2012 at 1:41 am #

      I had never thought about it framed in those terms before. And I believe that you have a point. It is highly suspect that the use of contraception is having to be framed in terms of “other uses” instead of simply saying “I want to have sex. I don’t want to be a parent because of it. It’s simple, sex is fun.”
      Well noted.

    • Cluisanna February 25, 2012 at 1:41 am #

      I just saw Amanda Marcotte wrote a blog post saying the exact same thing just now. It’s here: http://pandagon.net/index.php/site/fighting-the-mansplaining-anti-sex-police
      (I hadn’t read it when I wrote that comment.)

    • Ivan February 25, 2012 at 6:27 am #

      Here is something else that is not mentioned in public even more than a woman’s right to have sex for fun: Male prostitution (or to put it more bluntly: the choice ,or lack there of, of some men to sell their choice of a sexual partner to the highest bidder).

      • wundergeek February 25, 2012 at 11:18 pm #

        Hi, Ivan. Um. This has absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand. Thanks.

  2. Ivan February 25, 2012 at 6:50 am #

    So wundergeek I think this is the post I have been waiting for to give you this little piece of information: a friend of mine had her family expanded when she was 14( I think) and went from being an only child to having a little brother and another friend has a brother who is 20 years her senior and married, so the whole do you have one or two or three or more children in a row is not the attitude you have to follow. Your parent did not simply choose just to have your brother and you and then stop, they also made(or affirmed, not sure which is the more appropriate verb) a choice latter in life to not add another child or children to their family when they were older.

    To put it short here: if you choose not to have any more children after this one, for whatever reason you may choose, you can in fact change your mind at any given time and have more (so long as your body does not hit menopause before that and even then I think a surrogate mother can be used if you are into that sort of thing). Just try and remember to talk to your husband and first kid too (if s/he is old enough to understand, like three or four years old), since it is a decision that would affect them both.

    • wundergeek February 25, 2012 at 11:21 pm #

      So wundergeek I think this is the post I have been waiting for to give you this little piece of information:

      The fact that I touched on this has NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU. It was relevant to discussing something I feel to be very important. The fact that I touch on my decision-making process here still DOES NOT give you the right to ask.

      This is a conversation I don’t want to have. I have expressly said I don’t want to have it. Do not persist in attempting to have the conversation or I will ban you. This is a personal blog and I am perfectly prepared to enforce boundaries that may not make sense to you.

      • Ivan February 26, 2012 at 4:21 am #

        OK I think I need to find the basic rules of blogging somewhere because I still ended up making my previous post look like a question or an invite to a conversation.

        It was neither.

        So I think I need either to put up a disclaimer at the end of each of my post when it is something I am simply leaving here because I think it will help (not because I think it is something you would leave an answer on or even be interested in blogging/chatting about) or I need to drop the subject of family planing from my post.

        Since this is your blog it is your choice, just say which option would you prefer and I will try to obey your choice.

        If I fail even once please do ban me.

        • wundergeek February 28, 2012 at 8:51 pm #

          Ivan, I don’t know what to tell you other than to respect boundaries. If I say I don’t want to talk about something, that means I don’t want to talk about it.

  3. Keith March 1, 2012 at 2:17 pm #

    I’d like to start off by saying Congratulations. I realize I’m a little late on that but still. Secondly as a member of the male population I have to say I can’t agree with you more. I think contraception is a wonderful thing medically, financially and personally. Medically birth control pills help my fiance during her time to keep it on the lighter side and consistant which I understand is a big problem a large number of women face today (I’ve read that this may be caused by all the extra hormones and crap they put in our food but this is neither the time nor place for that discussion). Financially I think a lot of people need to get on birth control, there are too many large families out there that can’t afford to live without children, plus as a child from a poor family I can honestly say that having to get a summer job at 12 mowing lawns just to help around the house is not the ideal situation. Third I think a woman should have just as much freedom to have sex without the consequences, however I don’t think there is such a thing either for men or women, at least that is my personal opinion. I can honestly say that at one point before we were engaged we thought my fiance was pregnant and I was fully prepared to step up and take care of her and the baby. I know that probably makes me one in a million but still.

  4. Yasemin July 1, 2015 at 3:46 am #

    Love your blog! It speaks to me like none other! I’m seven weeks pregnant, found out two weeks ago (we weren’t trying) and people poo poo me for not flying around in excitement like a pregnant mary poppins. Even the gyno was annoyed with me. People say they’ve never seen a woman that is as unexcited as I am. Women are expected to want a husband, be preprogrammed to clean and cook, and wish for nothing more than babies. I refuse to be phony about it. It’s like saying I’m gonna buy a house in 8 months. Should I be excited from now? I feel it is a waste of energy and thought. I’d rather go with the flow and see how it goes. I’m also sad that I can’t tell my dad who died a year ago, but can’t share that with anyone(always told to get over it) Thanks for your blog.

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