"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Sunday, October 28, 2012

the reality of abortion: part II

Now Playing: Stay Stay Stay by Taylor Swift (this morning I said we should talk about it because I read you should never leave a fight unresolved, that's when you came in wearing a football helmet and said 'okay, let's talk')

I've said before that I've had problems with empathy in that when I was younger I was quite...intolerant. When people tell me their problems I can't always come up with an appropriate emotional response - it's not that I don't care, I just don't know how to care. And I've found it difficult to put myself into other people's shoes, especially the perceived 'hegemons' of society. It is much more difficult for me to empathize with someone white, heterosexual, male and Christian because they seem to have it all. My empathy is...flawed, I suppose.

But my empathy - or at least, my attempts at compassion - is borne out of sometimes getting the worst end of the stick. I know what it is like to not have choice, and I also know the absolute necessity to have the total freedom to make whatever choices you want.

I am lucky to grow up in a place relatively free and liberal. Here, I have formed my own opinions and attitudes and made my own choices. Some of them were arguably questionable and some were intensely regrettable - but the need for freedom was undeniable. I've made my own mistakes in my time and suffered the consequences of them, but the biggest mistakes and the greatest consequences I've had to face were decisions made for me. If I've learned anything it's that I may not always be right, but nobody else has that guarantee, either.

Growing up I felt like things were happening and I had no say in the matter. I grew up thinking I would end up at the local government school, which looked to me to be the most depressing place in existence - the only exciting thing was the big bridge over the highway, but knowing me and my mental issues that might have presented a health hazard. When I was eight my sister caught me wearing what I thought to be a relatively innocent T-shirt and berated my mother for not buying me bras and immediately afterwards I was presented with the ugliest, sweatiest, most uncomfortable crop tops in the history of the world and told to wear them, no exceptions. I cried when I pulled down my pants when I was eleven and saw the dreaded red stain. I felt used. I wasn't ready for any of this. I wasn't ready to deal with changes and sex and all that adult crap. I wasn't ready for the inevitable period bullying. I wasn't ready for the responsibility - I was the kid who could barely remember to bring my pencil case to school and I didn't want to worry about the constant headache of pads. I felt like I was being punished for being a woman, just like every racist taunt made me feel like I was being punished for being Asian and every sport carnival made me feel like I was being punished for having a heart condition. In primary school there were no school shorts for girls - there were pants, but in summer there was only skirts or dresses, and once a boy lifted up my skirt and put his head right under. I wore pants for months in the blistering 40 degree heat and cursed any God that might have ever existed for making me a girl, and therefore a half-human with no choice and no say in anything.

And so, I have learned to empathise. I have learned to be sympathetic and to stand up for people, because nobody showed me any sympathy and nobody ever stood up for me. I remember all the times I was trampled on and forced to do things I didn't want to do and stopped from making choices every time I defend someone gay, someone who wants an abortion, someone who wants to get married but can't, someone who was raped and is legally barred from dealing with the consequences how she wants to. I started to think 'okay, I'm not gay, and I'm not pregnant, but what if I was? Don't I deserve choice?'. I learned that no matter how strong my opinions were and how right I thought I was, I couldn't impose this on other people to deny them choice, and I couldn't endorse any laws that took choices and rights away from people. And to replace my previous lack of empathy was a deep compassion for anyone who didn't have the same rights and freedom of choice that I did.

Girls are constantly robbed of choice - by biology, by society, by law. The Republican Party is often accused of a 'war on women' and it's true - they claim that they're 'saving lives' and 'protecting families', but really all they're doing is suppressing female sexuality and female rights. Men have no idea what they're talking about, when it comes to female sexuality and the female biological function - and yet they think that they have the right to tell us what we can and can't do. 77% of anti-abortion activists are male. 100% of them won't get pregnant. And 100% of them don't show any empathy whatsoever.

We live in a society where we almost don't want women to exist at all. If we don't sleep around we're prudes, if we do we're sluts. You're a loser if you're a virgin but a whore if you're not. If you don't sleep with your boyfriend you're a tease, if you use the pill you're immoral, if you get pregnant you're an idiot and if you get an abortion you're a murderer. We live in a society where we punish people who do and don't have sex, pressure people into getting pregnant and then stigmatize them for it. Before I had my first kiss I was profoundly aware that people thought there was something wrong with me, sixteen and untouched, but then once stuff had happened people started whispering behind my back saying that I was reckless and setting myself up for trouble. You just can't win. I feel like society doesn't want women to exist at all - married or single, virgin or promiscuous, pregnant or infertile, mothers or spinsters, feminine or butch...we're all marginalized.

We seem to forget, when we're droning on and on about how a (non-sentient, incapable of independent thought, unable to exist outside the womb, unable to feel pain or emotion, high chance of naturally aborting) foetus has a 'right to life' and that women who abort are 'murderers' the huge responsibility and pain we are imposing upon women by robbing them of choice. No woman I have ever talked to has said that pregnancy is a walk in the park. Pregnancy and childbirth, even in this day and age, is exhausting, painful, and dangerous. It involves time and effort and money and endurance. It involves being stabbed with needles and uncomfortable vaginal examinations and people poking and prodding. It involves the very real risk of dying or sustaining major injury. Pregnancy and childbirth can be emotionally traumatic when there is a miscarriage, a stillbirth, or a severe congenital  defect. And child-rearing is a lifelong commitment that not everyone wants to make and nobody should be forced into. Women put themselves through all this pain and risk when they are ready, when they are educated, when they are supported physically and emotionally and financially, and when they want to. When we're harping on about abortion being 'the easy way out' - and it's not, it's still a medical procedure with potential dangers - we don't think about the alternative. Pregnancy and childbirth and child-rearing  is no longer a part of every woman's life. It is a choice, and rightly so. Because not every woman is willing or prepared for it, and we should respect that. And no man that I know of would go through all of that for a child that he did want, much less a child that they didn't want or, worse still, forced upon them in a criminal act of sexual violence. Every action has a consequence, fine, I'm not denying that, but what pro-life activists are denying is the right to choose how to deal with the consequences. Pro-life activists are using pregnancy and childbirth and child-rearing to punish women for having sex. Pro-life activists are stigmatizing, criminalizing and demonizing abortion to punish women for being...women.  

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