You’re Not My Fairy Godmother, So Keep Your Wand to Yourself

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

29 comments… add one
  • Charlsa Bentley Link

    Ruth, I’ll be there this afternoon, rip-roarin’ ready to be rowdy with you. And I’ll have cash for bail. [smile]

  • Ruth,

    Your post is fabulous! You expressed your anger (and mine) so perfectly. Thank you for this. Damn Republicans!
    Am going to write you a longer e-mail within the next few days. On vacation, but wanted to let you know what a wonderful post this is.
    Thank you, Nancy Davidoff Kelton

  • What a wonderful, wonderful post. You are so right. I want you to know that my husband, Jerry, says to me often, as we listen to the news about the election and the Republican position on abortion (not under any circumstances) is mentioned, Jerry says, “Why are all those old men so fixated on abortion?” But he is one of those men who has always liked women better than men.

  • Elsie K Neufeld Link

    Oh, Ruth!!! I love your heart for justice and more specifically, your rage against men in power deciding what’s best for women and their bodies. if I hadn’t joined facebook in december 2011, and friended Rona Maynard, on whose post you commented, I might not have ever heard of you. How very very much I would have missed. I love, love, love every one of your blogs. If you lived in Vancouver, I would invite you for coffee for sure.

    It may interest you to know that, three weeks ago, husband and I were sitting on a bench, waiting for our salmon burgers in Granville Market, when along came a couple (clearly tourists). She sat at the end of our bench, and he stood. Husband moved over to make room for the man, and beckoned he could sit there. the man was large, had strawberry blonde hair and freckles to match. wore a titleist (sp?) cap, and costly golfer’s jacket. the woman was nondescript, and much smaller than the man. And very quiet. He did all the talking. turns out they were from Dallas, Texas, and he’d, on a whim, via internet, put together a three week trip to British Columbia. He cited the various (high-end) destinations they’d visited during their stay, and repeatedly expressed astonishment at the grandeur of our province. Turns out he had just retired from a company he owned and had sold. Finally, after he’d had a long go at the “conversation”, I asked his wife what she did, and before she could open her mouth, he answered for her — with, it seemed, some pride, “She’s our church secretary. I want her to quit so we can travel now.” “I love my job,” she said. “And three weeks away is my limit.”

    In German there is a word, “schmuesteren”. It’s a smirk, when someone is having thoughts but not expressing them. I hoped that she would see my expression, and know that i knew what she was saying. I also hoped that my eye contact with her would convey my observation that, though her husband was a dominator — physically, economically, and conversationally — she carried herself with a grace and dignity.

    Men cannot “get” it, not only because they do not know what it’s like to live inside a woman’s body (unless, as you say, their penis is parked in some female orifice), and to be fair, neither can we know what it’s like to live with a fifth limb, straddled by christmas tree ornaments, and because, so many do not take time to listen. to ask, even, what is it like to have the capacity to be a human garden plot? What is it like to be the smaller in physical form, etc. etc.

    thank you for being courageous enough to speak out in public, and then to broadcast the message via blog. I will share this on my facebook.

    I have the utmost regard for you and your writing.

    Oh, and i almost forgot to tell you. At the end of our bench visit with the Texan couple, I asked for their names. I looked him in the eye, and said, “what is your name?” “Sterling.” And before he could say any more, I looked away and looked at her and asked her what her name was and she answered for herself, “Mimi.” Then I asked her if she’d ever read your column, “My favorite American columnist, blogger,” I said. “Ruth Pennebaker.” “No,” she replied. “Look her up,” I said. She lives in Texas.

    And she said she would.

    I sure hope she did!!!

  • Thank you for saying everything I (and so many others). I am so, so, so, so tired of this discussion, this argument, and this insanity. The thing that really gets me is that there are women out there who agree with the people making these laws. I don’t know how they possibly can. I sometimes feel like we are living in two countries – people who get it and people who don’t. And it’s scary.

  • Elsie K Neufeld Link

    oops. should have proofed that before posting.

    Correction: Men cannot “get” it, not only because a) they do not know what it’s like to live inside a woman’s body (unless, as you say, their penis is parked in some female orifice; and to be fair, neither can we know what it’s like to live with a fifth limb, straddled by christmas tree ornaments,) and b) many do not take time to ask what ‘s like, and the to listen in order to gain some understanding. Etc.

  • Cindy A Link

    Get someone to post for you if you go to jail. We’ll all pitch in for your bail!

    Planned Parenthood is a leading provider of medical assistance to poor women with no insurance. For some, it is their only option. It is ridiculous to punish underserved women in order to make a misguided political point.

  • Thank your for posting so beautifully what I feel. I’m sharing on Facebook and sending to friends. Fantastic!!! (I know you don’t like multiple exclamations but, I couldn’t help it.)

  • Patricia N Link

    Bravo! I, too, go on my rants whenever some Republican male goes on about women’s issues. If men were the ones birthing babies there wouldn’t be this discussion.
    Thank you for your column! It gives me hope…

  • Marie Link

    Thank you for your wonderfully written post. As a mother to two boys who we adopted, I am grateful that their birth mothers, their first mothers, made the choices they did. I am also deeply aware that it was difficult for them, could never know HOW difficult, and am grateful for the fact that they had choices, and that they themselves could make those choices. And because they freely chose adoption, their relationship to that choice and to the life they bore is VASTLY different than if it was forced upon them, or their only choice.

    I also know that they are not in the position to have the voice that you do, and they are grateful that people like you, who can, speak up and help to create the freedom of choice.

    It’s early, I haven’t yet had any coffee, so I don’t know if this is making sense, but thank you doing this.

    My own opinion is that women are more powerful than we know.

  • Stephanie Frogge Link

    I want to be your BFF! But I’m settling for “borrowing” one of your paragraphs and posting it on my FB page. Call if you need bail money.

  • I, too, can never understand why men get obsessed with the whole topic of abortion. She who does the birthing should get the choices. Personally I never care what men do with their package.

  • Chris Link

    As is so often the case, you said what so many of us are thinking and said it so well. I live in the Austin area and if you ever need a fellow protestor, I would be pleased to serve.

  • Deborah Link

    I think it is because we are so powerful that we are feared, even by ourselves. I had hoped that this conversation that has been going on my entire life would be over by now. Then I saw a comment by a right-wing Republican minister that said that women should have never been given the vote as we have no logic and vote for evil things. Got my blood boiling all over again. Apparently, we need to never stop speaking out about injustice, prejudice and freedom for all peoples!

  • Here, here. I so applaud this post. My daughter is about to give birth. Under positive circumstances, as you described above. It struck me yesterday, looking at the face of my new unborn grandchild in the ultrasound photo its mother sent, that there is no way her husband can fathom what the process of delivering this baby will entail, how it will alter her body, how it will change her life. I hope you will report back on the public hearing.

  • Oh, my husband left his name on this form. Sorry! He raised two boys in Sweden and was present when they were born but doesn’t have a clue either. Men don’t.

  • Cindy D. Link

    Ruth, you hit another home run. Thank you for writing so eloquently about this subject. Why would anyone think one size fits all be it abortion, breastfeeding, or condoms?
    Women’s bodies belong to no one but the one who was born in it.
    If you go protesting, let us know so we can join you.

    Please tell the woman in Vancouver, “Howdy, and Thanks.”

  • Doesn’t living in Texas make this harder for you? Just saying…

  • My soap box added to yours:

    * The want to reduce spending on health care, but are requiring unnecessary sonograms. Hummmm…

    * They want to outlaw birth control AND abortions, but ALSO want to cut welfare, healthcare and everything that could possibly help poor women care for the babies that the Rs want to force them to have. Just doesn’t make sense on any level.

    I could go on, but I’m going to be kind to myself and think happy thoughts for a bit.

  • You said it Ruth. My liberal, smart, caring man couldn’t get why I was furious about the panel on women’s issues (contraception, I think) a few months ago that HAD NO WOMEN ON IT. “Why shouldn’t only men be on the panel,”he asked, “if they are well informed?” ARGHHHHH!

  • Excellent post, Ruth, and on a subject I often get irate about as well. I cannt fathom, why, in 2012, we are still having this conversation. Well, yes, I can and it’s not only men. Some young women seem to be on the wagon as well. I got into a private discussion with a woman the other day who is against abortion in all instances. She accused me of not knowing the scinece that suggests a fertilized egg has its own DNA and is “not a part of the woman’s body.” Still, I argued, it may have a DNA, but the mother has a life and that egg could not be anything without her. We went round and round like this for awhile, she with her young-pollyanna-white-Christian-suburban take on life and me trying to explain to her the horrors of back alley abortions. I told her if the likes of Paul Ryan and the rest of the extremist Republican party got their way, I would be doing everything I could to volunteer to help women still seek safe abortions, or raise money to get them to countries that are not falling into a theocracy.

  • Rebeca Link

    I stumbled across this blog when Googling “Texas novelist”. At first blush, I thought I should just hit “Back” and keep going. But I read your entire post and I read the comments here and cannot seem to ignore what I’ve read.

    Why is it assumed that men are driving the desire for these laws? I am a woman. I have worked with post-abortive women for years, listening to their anger, hurt, and fear–not over the law, but over not being informed before making their decision. Not actually knowing much about the procedure before agreeing to it because it felt like a fast, easy answer to a difficult, long-term problem.

    Abortion, ultimately, hurts women. I hate abortion because I love women. I hate abortion because it ends the lives of millions of women inside their mothers’ bodies. I hate abortion because it has been successfully painted as a viable option with no lasting impact, which simply is not the case.

    I am a sexual abuse survivor. I am a wife. I am a mother. I am a woman. Please hear me, sisters. I have suffered at the hands of men and had to go through the process of forgiveness. We are greater when we speak Truth. We are more powerful when we acknowledge our hurts and learn how to let them produce words of peace instead of bitterness and war.

    It takes more strength to be loving than to hate.

    Those of us who applaud laws that require women to receive sonograms do not do so out of a desire to “control women” – I say that as a supporter of sonograms and as a woman whose body and soul bear scars from having been truly controlled by men. I support those sonograms because they inform women. And an informed woman can make a wise choice. I stand by her right to make an informed choice. Informed. Not coerced. Not uninformed. Not following a party line, for either party.

    Women are intelligent. Women can be wise. We must not shrink from the opportunity to inform each other so that we may make wise decisions that enable us to be healthy and that do not make us responsible for ending life in the name of ease or convenience when – in reality – it is neither in the long run.

    And please, please keep in mind that I type this not as a woman who asks her husband to form her opinions. Not as an uninformed, uneducated woman. I write this as a woman who holds a Master’s Degree in Communication, has owned her own business for seven years, has been active in politics since earning her undergrad in political science and communications, is a mother of two, wife of one, and is a firm supporter of my fellow women.

    This isn’t a male/female issue, sisters. This is an issue where we have to take care of each other and tell each other the truth. We have too much information about abortion’s after-effects and about life inside the womb now to ignore it. Abortion hurts us. It’s not good for us. Forget what the men say. Let’s be wise ourselves and tell them thanks but no thanks to yet another attempt at labeling something “helpful” that, ultimately, isn’t.

  • Sheryl Link

    It’s so maddening that it chokes me up. I’m so glad you were able to put this insanity into words (and such wonderfully-chosen ones, at that). Why would ANY woman give up her rights to vote republican???

  • merr Link

    It is a form of arrogance to believe that one knows best for another, when they possibly could not know, have know idea how to know. What a passionate post. It goes beyond party lines, which is what makes it all the more meaningful.

  • I do “get” it. I am a woman. I have experienenced discrimination in the job, I have been abused and threatened and disrespected. I “get” it what it’s like to carry babies, to give birth, and to raise children. But I think abortion is wrong. I am a grown-up, peace-loving, social justice liberal, a feminist who thinks women should be equal with men in every way and that men should not dominate women’s lives. I believe birth control is essential. I don’t want to get into screaming and raising fists. I think it’s very wrong to kill people for the cause of saving innocent lives. That brand of radicalism is just plain wrong. I believe that you can call yourself a feminist and believe abortion is wrong. I prefer to try to maintain some dignity and respectfully disagree on the abortion issue. And I think we need tolerance on all sides.

  • bonehead Link

    Excellent post! You should have been a speaker at the DNC. Pissed off and telling the truth is what all the Democratic candidates should be doing. There was too much religion and too little pissed off at that convention for me.

  • As an independent voter, I’m concerned about how there doesn’t seem to be any dialogue or feeling of compromising from either side on this issue, or others. I didn’t watch either convention, I heard the round-ups later, but it just seems to be more of the same.

  • Wonderful post, Ruth. I don’t come down squarely on either side of the political fence, but am convinced that most politicians are idiots.

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