This was originally going to be an atrociously long response to a comment on my last post, but the gods of the internet gave me a second chance by erasing it when I tried to post it. I was very angry when I wrote it — not at the commenter specifically, but in general. I’m smart and I’m educated and I’m a woman, and when the three intersect it can lead to days, weeks, or a lifetime of unrestrained bitterness.
One of my professors once told me the way we approach women’s history in this country is as if it’s a little engine that could. Once upon a time, things were bad, and then, with hard work and hope, they got better and better and better until we arrive at today, where everything’s all puppies and blow. And in a way, that’s the truth — provided you’re a white, middle-class woman.
For everybody else, the metaphor is drastically different. There’s an old aphorism about blind men trying to describe an elephant — historians love this — and each has grabbed hold of one piece of the elephant and says, “Ah ha! An elephant is thin and long with coarse hair at the end!” and another says, “No, no! An elephant is thick and very long with two round holes!” while another is convinced an elephant is a long hard curved spike jutting out of nowhere. White middle-class women have always preferred the “little engine that could” approach to women’s history because it puts them in the spotlight: women’s suffrage, women’s clubs in the progressive era, second wave feminism, Roe v. Wade, professionalism, education, Title IX, etc. Historians prefer the elephant method because it allows them to focus on each little piece in excruciating detail, though it obscures the whole.
There’s white middle class women, there’s historians, and then there’s every other woman in the world. Poor women, colored women, gay women, women in other countries (no shit!), old women, young women, mothers. My professor explained to me, while the white middle-class women hop on their shiny toy train and ride it whooping to Glory, and while the historians molest the elephant till kingdom come, the history of all other women in this world is best symbolized by the slats of the railroad, or the dung under the elephant’s feet. They might have a history, a history we’d know as vaguely and generally as we do suffrage and Roe v. Wade, if we would stop crushing them long enough to hear it.
I know this is an excruciatingly long-winded way of saying, “Not every woman is white! Not every woman makes a comfortable living! Holy shit, surprise!” Surely, we know this. But when the abortion question comes along, everybody seems to hop back on the train or their lumbering elephant, blind as can be.
I don’t have the time to write everything I want in one post, so this is going to be a bit of a series (and constantly edited), and it may take a while (midterms coming). But in the meantime, a la Barbara Smith, I thought I’d confront a few common myths about abortion and reproductive rights (come the day that sounds like an oxymoron…) in the United States.
1) Birth control is widely available and easy to procure. There is no excuse for an accidental pregnancy — the woman must be lazy or stupid.
That’s crude, but true, right? I mean, who can’t get birth control in this day and age?
Oh, my country, let me count the ways.
—Young women: not only do they have to navigate the tricky terrain of parental consent laws, depending on where they live, there’s the added difficulty of not being able to use what you don’t fucking know about.
Kids know about fucking. They learn about that pretty early, through a million and one means I don’t need to elucidate for you, dear reader.
But do they know about birth control?
I did. Though we watched the videos with the exploding genitalia and had the abstinence speaker, we also learned about condoms, and the pill. That is, we learned they existed, and learned they had abysmally high fail rates, but at least we knew they were there, and had a vague idea where to procure them. After all, Planned Parenthood was just down the street from me. You couldn’t miss it for the hordes of frothing Catholics.
When I was in high school, I vowed I would remember my friends forever, and we’d always be together, no matter what. That lasted about a summer, and, according to most reports, abstinence among teenagers doesn’t hold out much longer. Hold on, let me pick up my monocle, it must have popped off in all the surprise and excitement.
Okay, okay, okay. So maybe a girl doesn’t learn about the pill. So maybe she lives in a state that requires parental consent for birth control, or doesn’t know where her local Planned Parenthood is, or maybe it’s not even local but about 50 miles away. What about condoms? Those are always easy. Provided your partner knows how to use them, and is willing to. Oh snap!
Coming up next…
–Poor women, and their oodles of time, money, and free government programs. Lucky ducky!
“Lord have mercy on this land of mine.
You all gonna die and die like flies.”