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Woman to Woman

Perhaps this is the best part of the Internet: you write a post and someone bounces off of it, and then you read their post and bounce back off of it, exchanging ideas in these chain-linked posts which circle back into thoughts through various paths of words until we come — perhaps — to the heart of the matter.  And perhaps what women owe one another has always been the heart of the matter.

What do we owe one another as women?  We explore this idea time and time again.  While we may have come to expect men to range from holding us back to marginally supporting women’s rights (“I mean, if it matters to you, it matters to me.”  Which can also mean, “if it didn’t matter to you, it wouldn’t have crossed my mind.”), we expect women to give each other a boost, to have each other’s backs, keeping in mind that we’re all individuals as well as members of this collective sorority.

I expect a female gynecologist to understand what I’m saying more than a male gynecologist by virtue of the fact that if she has a healthy reproductive system, she will understand the ins and outs of menstruation due to experience vs. solely due to a text book.  And to take it a step further, I expect that female gynecologist to understand my anxiety about my reproductive health more than I expect a male gynecologist to do the same.  And that is why I left my female gynecologist when I found her demeanour dismissive, and why I just roll my eyes when my male gynecologist tells me not to worry.  I expect more from women, and they usually don’t let me down.  The behaviour of my first (and only female) gynecologist was surprising and hurtful (oh, and she was flat-out wrong); the behaviour of my male gynecologists is usually exactly what I expect: competent, caring, but also very far removed from understanding the emotional landscape.*

I have to admit that I’m floored when women support or create policy that limit the lives of other women. I expect it from men, just as I expect any outsider to not really fathom the far-reaching effects for an insider whether that be words, policy, etc. Just think of how many times an outsider to an experience has said a bone-head thing just because they don’t know any better. Because with their limited knowledge, they think it’s an appropriate thing to say. And I believe the same thing happens with policy. That outsiders to a group create policy that affects insiders to a group, as keeps happening within women’s health.

I don’t think it’s an accident that both rape and reproductive policy affect the same orifice.  I think in both cases, it is about violence and control; overpowering.  Overpowering — that is how I feel every time I hear another quote this week about rape, about reproductive rights, about personhood bills.  It’s my body, and yet others are aiming to control it, to assert their power over it.  My kidneys are mine, my brain is mine, my stomach is mine, and my femurs are mine.  But my uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, cervix, vagina, and vulva could all belong to the government if certain lawmakers have their way.  After all, they are aiming to extend laws that affect my uterus regardless of whether or not I make the choice to procreate.  Or, rather, I should say, my reproductive organs are my own until the moment I or someone else chooses to affect them, and then the government’s hold on them springs to life.

I expect men not to get it.  And I don’t blame them for not getting it.  They haven’t lived with a woman’s reproductive organs, hearing the lessons women are imparted from childhood on in regards to their genitalia.  In the same way that I will never know the emotional landscape of the average man, I don’t expect them to be privy to mine.  So when a man creates a bill that states that a woman cannot have an abortion even in the case of rape, I am upset, but I know that he’s approaching my reproductive organs as an outsider.  And like an outsider, he’s usually not going to get it like an insider, and he’ll make gaffe after gaffe (though gaffe seems too gentle a term in this case) because he doesn’t get it.

I don’t expect women to support policy that limits the rights of other women.  Even procedures I would never directly partake in myself because they go against my personal beliefs for what is best for myself and my family I fully support because I believe other women should have the right to control their reproductive organs.  Because I want people to have choices.  Because I believe that your kidneys, brain, stomach, femurs, AND uterus all are under your domain and no one else’s regardless of the fact that the uterus has the potential to hold another life.

I can wrap my mind around a woman supporting Republican economic policies.  I can wrap my mind around a woman being pro-gun.  I can wrap my mind around a woman believing abortion is morally wrong and would not partake in it herself even if raped.  But I can’t really wrap my mind around a woman taking it a step further and saying, “Because I believe that life begins at conception, I want to force all other women to think as I do about my reproductive organs.”  Because I can’t believe any of us sit around and think to ourselves, “I’d be totally okay if someone else foisted their beliefs on me.”

It all comes down to this: I don’t know what goes on in your world as well as you do because I am an outsider to your life.  And I don’t want to inflict my beliefs on you because I have no idea how those beliefs will have a ripple effect on the rest of your world.  For instance, I believe that keeping kosher is the most humane way to eat, and the best practice for healthy digestion and nutrition.  But it would be insane for me to create a bill aimed at controlling your stomach just because I believe it’s the most healthy way to eat and I have your well-being at the forefront of my mind.  Even if I tell you that it’s my duty to protect you since you are practically defenseless as you shovel milk and meat into your body at the same time; for the love, you are leading yourself to an early death!  Just as you wouldn’t want to live under the rules of Judaism, I don’t want to live under the rules of another religion (and beyond that, we don’t have a national religion, so religious beliefs should never come into play in terms of policy), though I am happy to have you lead your individual life and make individual choices based on your religion.

So I’m going to leave you to take care of your organs as you see fit.

Woman to woman.

* I once was talking to a reproductive endocrinologist at an event, and he told me that to get into the minds of his patients, he had lay with his feet in the stirrups.  He said this to me with the air of someone waiting for accolades.  So I asked him if he had spent the night before worrying that he’d never become a parent, and he looked at me completely confused and said “no.”  And then I asked him if he shoved anything inside himself, in an orifice that in and of itself carries a huge emotional weight, while lying in a position of vulnerability.  And when he said, “no” again, I explained that he didn’t really get it.  Because it wasn’t about the physical discomfort most of the time.  It’s about allowing someone to manipulate a part of our body that we have been told that we need to protect, to cherish, to honour.  We need to douche it and keep it clean!  We need to never let a boy touch our no-no spot!  It is a sacred vessel through which our children will emerge!  And now we’re lying on our backs, our hearts in our throats, hoping nothing wrong will be found.  That women get waaaaaaaaaaaaay too many conflicting messages about our reproductive organs for a man to be able to replicate what goes through her head and heart while she’s lying with her feet in the stirrups.


1 Mic @ Life on K St (formerly IF Crossroads) { 09.02.12 at 7:35 am }

Semi-related: I was shocked when I woke up Friday morning and saw a Mit Romney political yard sign in my same-sex neighbors yard. I can’t understand why someone would want to support a political candidate who has such strong views against homosexuality,

2 amanda { 09.02.12 at 8:50 am }

Iy seems as though the issue of abortion and womens rights will neverbend. I cant believe, in 2012, abortion is still a leafing issue in today’s poloticam scene. I live in canada and although it has never come to the forefront as much as it has in the US it always is in the background with some political parties. When will this issue become a non-issue and we allow women to make the necessary choices she needs to make for her own life?

3 LC { 09.02.12 at 9:22 am }

Thank you. This is an eloquent explanation of why I am pro-choice.

4 Becky { 09.02.12 at 11:12 am }

I believe I shall refer a few friends to this post. Female friends (sadly).

5 Battynurse { 09.02.12 at 11:16 am }

So very well said! You always can say just what I think but it sounds better from you!

6 Michaela { 09.02.12 at 11:31 am }

Thank you too! It is a very thought provoking post that really sums up a lot on the issue in terms that people can (hopefully) finally understand.

I will be sharing this on Facebook.

7 Buttermilk { 09.02.12 at 11:51 am }

Thank you for adding the asterisk story about the RE. I’m so glad he met you. 🙂

8 deathstar { 09.02.12 at 12:31 pm }

Fantastic. Well said! I had a consultation with a radiologist who performed uterine embolization procedures. He asked me why I didn’t have a hysterectomy instead because I wasn’t going to have children anyway. I asked him if had children and if in fact, he was done and wasn’t planning on having anymore why he didn’t have his balls removed. I’m pretty sure he could tell by the expression on my face that I wasn’t trying to be funny.

9 Kimberly { 09.02.12 at 12:58 pm }

Thank you for this beautifully worded post. You have covered my thoughts exactly why I am pro-choice.

I will share this with some of my friends who I’ve been having a pro-choice vs. pro-life argument with.

10 Kristin { 09.02.12 at 1:40 pm }

Brilliant and beautifully written! Love this!

11 Mud Hut Mama { 09.02.12 at 4:49 pm }

Wonderful post and I love, love, love the conversation you had with that RE, but I do expect men to get it. Most men have either a mother, or a sister, or a wife, or a daughter. Just like I don’t expect women to limit the choices of other women, I don’t expect sons or brothers or husbands or fathers to limit the choices of their mothers, or sisters, or wives, or daughters.

12 a { 09.02.12 at 5:55 pm }

I had similar exchanges with the female gynecologists I’ve had – and the male I have now is much more compassionate. He seemed a little upset when I didn’t want to talk about anything with him this last visit.

Yeah, I get that people have religious beliefs that conflict with being pro-choice. But that has to be balanced with being an American citizen who cannot dictate the beliefs of another citizen. I know that people also want to change that, and I know that when you feel strongly about something, you can’t just let it go and live and let live. But you have to…because I live here too and I have rights too. And while I would not have an abortion (under most circumstances), I would not want to find myself in need of one and not be able to get one.

I suggested to the pro-life people with whom I debate issues on Facebook that if they really want to get rid of abortion, they should work on making all pregnancies healthy and intentional. Put efforts there instead of boycotting abortion clinics – in response to that, the silence was deafening.

13 k { 09.02.12 at 6:28 pm }

The problem is, at least in the small circle of conservative friends who I have on facebook (where I’d be most likely to share this), this will still fall on deaf ears. Because the sole argument they make against abortion is that once a life is in your uterus, your uterus ceases to be yours alone, and you won’t change their minds on this. I guess there’s a point at which I feel like it’s all just preaching to the choir. Because those who get it, get it, and those who don’t, won’t. I just can’t keep screaming into the white noise of their rhetoric thinking I’m going to change their minds anymore. Maybe that’s awful of me, or maybe I’m just not cut out to be an activist on this issue since I’m constantly fighting for my rights as a gay person in this country, but I’m simply ready for the election to be over.

14 loribeth { 09.02.12 at 10:26 pm }

Well said. I love your RE story. I think it’s difficult for anyone to truly understand another person’s situation and decisions, unless and until they are put in a similar position. I remember when one of our longtime pg loss support group clients was joined by a friend who had also recently lost a pregnancy. The friend actually apologized at the meeting to our longtime client. She said, ” I thought I understood what you were going through. I thought I was being a good friend. I had NO IDEA.” Then they both laughed & hugged in front of everyone. : )

15 Alexicographer { 09.02.12 at 11:19 pm }

Philosophically and politically I’m 100% with you. But in reality, I do think it is more complicated. I remember reading a (now) ancient book looking at activists (probably in the 1970s) on both sides of the abortion issue and basically finding/arguing that women who opposed legal access to abortion were often from traditional backgrounds or held traditional perspectives and saw abortion as a way that men could get out of their obligations to become husbands to the mothers of and providers for their children. I’m not saying I think that argument really works, but I can see the logic/feeling behind it.

And honestly I’ve had both great and lousy female (and male) doctors, of all persuasion (specialties). My sense is that there’s a subset of women who (e.g.) don’t experience menstrual cramps, or whose menstrual cramps respond to Advil, or whatever, and who therefore believe this should be true for everyone else, also. Women’s experiences are sufficiently complex and diverse that I don’t think it’s generally true that simply being a woman means my doctor and I will have shared experiences or perspectives.

16 Mina { 09.03.12 at 2:38 am }

It amazes me how in 2012 we still have to combat this kind of shit – bigotry, narrow-mindedness, intolerance, arrogance of thinking one person holds the absolute truth and HAS to enforce on ‘poor lost souls’ out there… How is it that such a large chunk of the earth’s population still has not evolved?! Every religion preaches tolerance and love for our peers and we are nowhere near that yet. Unless you count forcing others to do what you think is best for them as love.
How can this be? And how come such people reach decisional positions? There is a saying that people have the rulers they deserve – I shudder to think this is true.

17 marwil { 09.03.12 at 6:47 am }

Very well said. I have been thinking about both your and Keikos previous posts on this. I guess it depends what your own wishes are in the context of the support you are willing (or think is appropriate) to give. Strangers or no strangers.

18 V { 09.03.12 at 9:05 am }

Awesome post! I have had some of the same thoughts watching your country gear up for the next elections.

19 Natalie { 09.03.12 at 2:05 pm }

Yes! As usual you take what I think and put it out there.

20 Io { 09.03.12 at 3:33 pm }

” And then I asked him if he shoved anything inside himself, in an orifice that in and of itself carries a huge emotional weight, while lying in a position of vulnerability.”
Holy crapolla you have got (insert favorite body part here)! I would pay money to have seen his face at that moment.
My husband and I loved watching the RNC last week. Hearing from the (huge number compared to actual percentages) of female and minority speakers was really interesting. As a female and for my husband as a black man, it’s so hard to understand how a female or person of color can support a party that has such institutionalized anti woman and anti minority attitudes. Do they see themselves as the exception? My dad is CRAZY conservative and anti choice. But my gay sister and my IVF? Those don’t count because he knows us and somehow he can rationalize us as exceptions.

21 Terrisse { 09.04.12 at 5:37 am }

I feel the EXACT same way! I am prochoice but it is not a choice I would make for myself. Having said that I am not pregnant with my rapist child,… 😀 LOVE LOVE LOVE your post!

22 Bea { 09.04.12 at 10:04 am }

No, I get women’s control and dismissal of other women more than I get men’s.

I expect men to realise they don’t know me or what I’m going through and to ask questions and work hard to bridge that understanding. And in my (perhaps privileged) experience, most of the time, they do. If not without prompting, then at least with prompting. It’s pretty easy to say to a man, “And did you stick anything in your vagina whilst you were in the stirrups?” and all of a sudden he realises his mistake. Then we can talk, hug, and move on.

I have found women have a tendency to assume I’m like them and get awfully bitchy if they find out I’m not, as if I’m somehow deliberately calling them into question by choosing differently.

They think *they* should/should not have the abortion (become a SAHM/pursue a career/adopt/marry/use attachment parenting techniques), and if anyone comes forward and says they would make a different choice, all of a sudden it’s not about the differences between one person and their circumstances compared to the next person, it’s about her being wrong and me being right and I must DO SOMETHING to make her *see right*, or failing that, *do* right (whether she likes it or not). Because I completely understand what she’s going through, so I can make that decision for her.

I get along better with men, on the whole, truth be told.


23 Bea { 09.04.12 at 12:18 pm }

Present company excepted, of course 🙂 I didn’t mean to overgeneralise.

24 RelaxedNoMore { 09.04.12 at 3:35 pm }


25 Tiffany { 09.05.12 at 3:00 pm }

I am suprised at the ease with which you dismiss men! What would you say to a man who generalized women in such a way. And there are MANY men who have sleepless nights concerning infertility. This is dissapointing coming from a blogger who has dealt with infertility. I’m assuming you know that 40% of infertility is through husbands, why would you act as though men have no brains or heart?
PS. I’d vote for a OB who was emotionally available. I think they are out there!

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