I am buying coffee in my local coffee shop. This is not news. I am such a regular customer that, if I didn’t show up, they would probably send the paramedics to my condo to check on me. I take my caffeine very seriously.
But today, I am asking the young man behind the counter if he watched the GOP convention last night. No, he says. Good, I say. Why’s that? he wants to know. Why don’t you like Republicans?
And so I begin to talk about the Republicans. Semi-calmly, at first.
Isn’t it interesting, I posit, that they’re the party that wants to shrink government, limit it, get it out of our lives? Except when it comes to women and their bodies.
I am no longer semi-calm. I am becoming a human volcano and I haven’t even drunk my coffee yet. My voice is rising.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see the young woman behind the counter approaching. She is listening first, as I begin to rage about trans-vaginal sonograms that are now required in Texas for women who want an abortion.
Trans-vaginal sonograms! Could the government be more personal, more invasive, more intimate, more humiliating to women?
By this time, the young woman is talking loudly, too. She and I are getting furious and outraged together. The young man, I notice, is shrinking back. He looks quietly panicked. He looks as if he wishes he were elsewhere. At a football game, say, but, anyway, anywhere, anywhere but here, anywhere but in the crossfire of two women who are furious, who are talking about the shameful netherworld of their bodies that most men don’t care to think about unless they are screwing women literally or metaphorically. Yes, that place.
I have seen that same panicked look on a male face before, I realize, as I take my coffee and my fury and loudly depart, much to the obvious relief of at least one person.
Yes, I’ve seen it before on the faces of the two men I love most. I wouldn’t disclose their names if you tortured me, but will say they are my husband and son. There we were, the three of us, having a perfectly lovely dinner a couple of weeks ago.
One of them brought up the topic of the New York mayor suggesting infant formula should not be easily accessible for new mothers; that edict would encourage breastfeeding.
Seems like a good idea, one of the men said. The other agreed. That’s when I began to get irate.
“You know what?” I said. “The only person at this table that idea would have applied to is me. Anybody else here ever nursed a baby?”
Long silence, averted eyes.
“I am so sick and tired of men making laws that affect women,” I said. “That affect only women and nobody else.”
Then — and at the coffee shop — it surprised me to see how deeply angry I am about all of this. And how out of touch men are — even liberal, thoughtful, wonderful men. They simply can’t understand my anger.
They don’t understand because they don’t know, at a visceral level, what it’s like to be female. They have no idea what it’s like to be governed by their bodies and the capacities of their bodies the way young women are. Growing up, we all live with the fear of an unwanted pregnancy that would change everything in our lives when we want to be carefree, when we want to pursue a demanding career or higher education.
I had two healthy, easy pregnancies under the best of circumstances, in a stable marriage, with health insurance, good medical care, and sufficient financial resources. The circumstances were ideal — but there is nothing more life-altering than bearing children.
I can’t imagine what it’s like to carry a pregnancy I didn’t want to full-term. I can’t fathom what it would be like to be poor, uninsured, unmarried, and/or already the mother of more children than I could care for adequately. I can’t comprehend of horror of a pregnancy involving a baby I knew would be fatally malformed. Nor can I imagine the sheer agony of carrying a rapist’s baby.
If I can’t understand any of this, is it any wonder men don’t, either? And, I’ve come to think, they simply cannot understand women on the most fundamental of levels — our ability to become pregnant, with all the delight and joy and nightmarish loss of control that can entail.
Do they not understand because we haven’t explained it adequately? Will we ever be able to do it? Or do you have to be born to that knowledge?
Or maybe, I think, this may be something women have to handle themselves — harnessing our anger, marching, voting, speaking our minds, and lassoing every man we know and are close to. Maybe they don’t have to understand it all. Maybe they just have to realize how critical control of our own bodies is to us and how serious we are about it.
I don’t know about the rest of you. But I’m really furious and sick of all this.
In fact, this afternoon, I’m going to a public hearing on Texas’ cutting off Planned Parenthood funding. I told my husband he may have to bail me out of jail if things get rowdy.
(Copyright 2012 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Here’s a related post on The 100-Year Mommy War