Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Your Reproductive Rights and You (and More to the Point, Me)

Lately, because of the wear and tear on my central nervous system, and overwhelming time constraints, I have been tending to avoid topics like this when they pop up, regardless of the venue. It just upsets me, particularly in a forum like Salon, where the opportunity exists to comment.

In case you don't subscribe to Salon and can't read Cary Tennis' advice column, Since You Asked, the LW (letter writer, as those who post to Cary for advice are called on the forums) says that he and his wife are in their early 30s, make about 100K a year, and that she has been suffering of late from chronic depression, for which she's being treated (with Paxil and an occasional boost of Xanax -- a very intense "depression" cocktail). When they unexpectedly found that she was pregnant, she distinctly expressed the desire to terminate the pregnancy. He wanted the baby and "and was very upset that she felt this way." They made an appointment to see a counselor, but before the appointment, she miscarried. Mr. Wonderful believes his wife is lying to him. He believes she had an "induced abortion" (the correct terminology is "therapeutic abortion," peanut brain), and is toying with the idea of forcing her to present medical records to him as proof of her voracity. Lovely. Should these records show she's had an abortion, it would be difficult, he says, but he could forgive her.

Well, isn't he just the sweetest thing?

As you can well imagine, this letter sparked a particularly ferocious onslaught of posts to the Since You Asked forum, which can, for the most part be relegated into two basic categories. The first would be the "He's a Louse; She Should Dump Him" column. The second, we'll call the "Don't Men Have Reproductive Rights, Too?" column.

The first column, we'll ignore for now, since I suspect that Mr. Wonderful, whilst being wholly insensitive and obtuse, isn't truly evil -- just kind of lame and dorky. I think there may be hope for him yet, with some reeducation at one of our fine residential facilities just outside of Seattle. (tee hee -- kidding... just kidding....) But it's the second category that I comment on today.

The answer is, no. Men have no reproductive rights whatsoever. After ten thousand years of history, in which patriarchal society forced women into prostitution, forced matrimonial barter (doweries, marriage tithes, etc.), polygamy, legalized rape, sexual slavery and nonconsentual arranged marriages, I think its safe to say that men have pretty much ruled the genetic roost for quite sometime. Unfortunately for them, the chromosomal party came to a crashing halt about 40 or so years ago, with the advent of the birth control pill. Once the pill came along, it was women who made the bold decision as to when conception would take place, and with whom. Men didn't like that. They still don't. They want the power back. I don't blame them. I would too, were I in their Hush Puppies.

Years ago, pre-Santa-and-sitcom, Tim Allen used to be a stand-up comic. He had a special on Showtime called "Men Are Pigs." That's where all the grunting started in fact. One of the first lines in his monologue was this: "Men are pigs. Too bad we own everything." It was funny because it was true. One look at Forbes.com 2006 list of Billionaires will tell you that high finance is for the penises of the world. What does all this prove? Men own every goddamned thing. Except one -- this one freakin' little thing that doesn't belong to them. Our wombs. This, they do not own. This, they cannot have.

So, does a man have any reproductive rights? Sure. He has the inalienable right to financially support any children he fathers. He has the right to wear a condom until such time as he is ready and able to become a father, without putting the burden of contraception wholly on his partner. He has the right to consult with his partner as to precisely when and if she desires to become a parent. When such a time arrives that he feels he might be ready for fatherhood, he has the right to consult and collaborate with his partner, creating an environment for her in which she feels secure enough to take the plunge of motherhood, without feeling at risk of poverty, abandonment, betrayal or abuse (bearing in mind, please, the foremost cause of death among pregnant women in America is homicide at the hands of fathers-to-be). And, should an unplanned pregnancy occur at a time when she is unable and/or unwilling to have the child, he has the right to remain silent. Completely silent. He has the right to shut up and listen while she tells him all her fears and her reluctance to spend the next 40 weeks of her life undergoing permanent bodily changes, and then the next 20 years raising something small and helpless. And if after he listens and attempts to reassure her, she should remain unreassured and wish to terminate the pregnancy -- the one in her womb, that is -- he has the right to stand beside her and support her in surviving on of the most difficult decisions a woman will ever make about her life and her future.

If he's lucky, and he's picked the right woman, she'll be on the same page soon enough. But she may never be. And forcing a woman to spend the better part of year trapped in a body that's been co-opted by someone else is outrageous and unsupportable in any civilized society. We don't have slavery anymore. At some point, we realized it was wrong, so we got rid of it. A little slow, perhaps, but once we grasped it, we've really embraced it. And so shall it always be.

I know that this debate will wear on and on. There will always be men who just cannot seem to release the stranglehold they perceive they have on our reproductive organs. But they're wrong. Just plain wrong. And we need to keep telling them that.


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