Recent events in the news have really gotten my blood boiling, giving me a serious sense of déjà vu. Before I continue writing, I offer this disclaimer: I was raised in a non-religious home. My father was an atheist, and my mother was a recovering Mormon (her mother being devout). So, no church, no religious indoctrination whatsoever, no guilt about Original Sin.
Still, I remember as a little girl my mother calling a woman’s monthly cycle The Curse. Reassuring, mom, thanks. In talking with my friends at school, most of whom attended church every Sunday, it was clear to me that menstruation was a just punishment. For what, I didn’t know. But the excitement of ‘entering womanhood’ was quashed by the nuisance, discomfort, and shame of bleeding every month. Even though within my immediate family this process was recognized as natural, my own father made snide comments about the wisdom of other cultures in their use of Menstrual Huts. In more than a few cultures, women on their cycles are banished for the duration, being viewed as “unclean”. So, we can’t pin the negative associations of menstruation exclusively on Judeo-Christian teachings. No, the negativity is much more widespread than religion — it’s a component of the primal male psyche. It’s now, more than ever, a political struggle.
When I was around 20 years old, I became pregnant. I was in a committed relationship with someone I loved deeply, but I was also on birth control, so the pregnancy was not something I embraced. I was a college student at the time, had no money, so I went to my school’s health clinic. I can still recall the older, very compassionate nurse-practitioner who attended to me. I was tested and examined, since I’d told her I had an Intra-Uterine Device (IUD). During the exam, the nurse told me that the IUD was in place, but had “dislodged” enough so that a pregnancy had occurred in spite of, and around the IUD. She told me that the IUD would have to come out, which would probably terminate my pregnancy. She told me this with furrowed brow and deep sorrow in her eyes, but I was relieved. Then I became concerned. I asked the nurse exactly why and how my IUD had become “dislodged”. She explained that the device implanted in my uterus was too big for my body, that a smaller size should have been used. So, now I was both relieved, and pissed-off. (I later challenged the doctor who implanted this device. He gave me an “Oops, sorry”, and suggested a different device.)
Back in the 1970’s, there were no clinics women in my situation could go to. I had to find, through word of mouth, a doctor who would remove my IUD, doubtless ending my pregnancy. I can still see the face of the first doctor I went to (an OB/Gyn), and recall the pictures of what looked to be over 100 little babies he’d delivered, hanging on his exam-room walls. He performed an exam on me and concurred with the nurse practitioner: my pregnancy was coiled around the IUD, and the IUD needed to come out. But, he said, he could not — in good conscience — perform the procedure. Because, he said, he could not be responsible for causing an abortion. Now, I was young, but in no way was I stupid or reluctant to speak out about his illogic. Which I did. He remained resolute, and showed me the door. His one concession was a referral to another doctor who was “willing to do abortions”. He repeated that word so many times, even though the Ill-fitting IUD was the real issue.
Even though I’d followed Doctor’s Advice to avoid becoming pregnant, when I had the procedure to remove the damn thing, the mass of cells that came with it tore at my body, and sent my emotions reeling. I felt guilty, and very, very sad. Sometime later, when I went in search of a different kind of birth control, I began to fully grasp the imbalance and unfairness of what all women “of child-bearing age” face. Why are women who’re not ready for a permanent fix, given so many options (currently, the pill, IUD, injection, implant, ovulation monitors — good luck with that!), while men have only one (a condom)? And why does this one option, the condom, get so much “press” about reducing the pleasure-factor for man and woman? It’s a fact: any woman who chooses any one of the most trustworthy of the above birth control methods experiences consequences: nausea, cramping, heavier bleeding, weight gain, mood changes, and more. By comparison, condoms cause…nothing. In addition, a condom prevents disease transmission.
“Abortion” , said former President Clinton said, “should be safe, legal, and rare.” No woman wants an abortion. Speaking from experience, it’s something that wreaks havoc on your body and your emotions. But once a woman becomes pregnant, there are only two choices. I’m stunned, as a woman who has lived for over six decades, that the conversation still focuses on women and our Right to Choose after the fact, rather than on better birth control options for men. Pregnancy is not the result of a solitary act: a sperm invades an egg. But men continue to impose their power — currently through state legislation — to punish women by making it almost impossible to choose not to give birth. The technology is there, for product development: better birth control for men. Not so long ago, however, and very quietly, funding for research on potential products was withdrawn. Why? Because of the male-majority in politics and positions of power. There’s a definite paranoia that birth control for men may somehow affect their overall potency and performance. Women, on the other hand, are expected to continue doing what we’ve always done: assume both responsibility and consequences — even in cases of rape and incest. It’s no coincidence that at least 9, as I write this, states have tweaked legislation that impacts a woman’s Right to Choose. Men have sounded the alarm: so many more women are seeking political office! Female presence is encroaching on male-dominated territory! If there’s a single issue that should unite all women at this time, it’s the protection of our right to claim our bodies as our own.