Do Tell! (but no pressure)
I must not be up on my feminism game. Apparently, I’ve missed the wave of abortion “coming out” stories sweeping the internet, upholding the cause for reproductive rights and freeing women from shame and stigma. An anonymous author at Jezebel thinks reproductive rights advocates have lost sight of the forest for the trees; she asserts their pressure on women to share their abortion stories is putting women at great risk for the sake of the cause.
Not having had an abortion, I can’t attest to whether there’s pressure, but I see the anonymous author’s point and see how initiatives that focus on abortions can be problematic for the women’s rights cause in general. Polls show that the majority of Americans think the government should stay out of women’s decisions to have or not have an abortion, but morally, most think abortion is wrong. “Abortion stories” almost come off as a campaign for abortion, setting the pro-choice movement up for an easy attack from most anti-choice supporters. I can hear it now: You’re not pro-woman–you’re pro-abortion!
In this piece about the same topic on Clutch Magazine, writer Stacia L. Brown mentions women like Vanessa Williams and Love and Hip Hop’s Joseline Hernandez, who have included their experience with abortion as part of a larger story, and women like Lo-Lo Jones and Megan Good, who share (talent, hard work and) celibacy as their claim to fame. My takeaway: No matter a woman’s sexual or reproductive choices, she risks the response, “You really should keep that to yourself.”
As a feminist, a writer and a memoirist (yep, I’m admitting I’ve started one, hence the prolonged absence), this saddens and annoys me. I believe more women should share their stories because their voices are so often omitted, excluded or underrepresented. Even today, if you want an expert on the subject of birth control, whether in Congress or on the news, call a man. Legislative decisions about abortions are often made by men because we’re not elected as lawmakers. Our voices should be present because it’s our bodies these men are talking about. We need to be free of shame, and we also need more accurate numbers and more humanity in the numbers. Men need to know how many women will return to back alleys, unlicensed “doctors” and coat hangers if abortion were illegal again, because illegality didn’t stop them from happening.
As a journalist who has had the opportunity to share other people’s stories and as a writer constructing my own, I believe that the power of sharing your story trumps even the women’s health movement. Consider the following quotes from Carolyn G. Heilbrun’s Writing a Woman’s Life:
“…her ultimate anonymity–to be storyless. Anonymity, we have long believed, is the proper condition of woman.”
“And above all other prohibitions, what has been forbidden to women is anger, together with the open admission of the desire for power and control over one’s life …”
And this one from Judith Barrington’s book, Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art
“For women, deeply personal writing can also be described as a rebellion against the expected role. … [T]he expectation is that … we will gear our stories to satisfy, flatter, or collude with our immediate circle. As soon as I started to write about my own life, I understood that to speak honestly about family and community is to step way out of line …”
There’s a benefit to the movement. There’s a benefit to women who want to feel less alone. But knowing other people have done something you’ve done doesn’t necessarily condone the behavior, and it won’t always remove shame and stigma, either. There is risk. But silence of women is the default. So ladies, if you want to, whether it’s about abortion, celibacy, cervical cancer, divorce or your right pinky nail, I encourage you: Speak. Write. Share. Tell. Don’t be storyless.
And on that note, look for my memoir, The Truth About Panties (& other revelations about sainthood, singlehood and sexuality)* perhaps some time next year.