I am unsure of how to start this post or if I should be writing it. Hello Google search results and potential future employers!
When the Supreme Court announced its decision to overturn the ruling that established a woman’s right to abortion and reproductive freedom, it was not a surprise. Everyone had known this was coming since the ruling draft leaked, and even before then…it was known. I’m not keen to start talking about the Supreme Court’s politicization. It would just be ranting. I also won’t be commenting on Thomas’ further unsurprising comments and what else this ruling will likely result in. Today I’ll just be talking about existing as a female.
I was surprised at my physical reaction to the official ruling. I felt like a cold, heavy sink iron, numb on top of enraged. The type of angry halved by clarity in contrast to chaos. As I sat at a red light, listening to the local radio news, memories of some ancient paintings I made began rising to the surface. You can see them above and below. I painted them in 2002, I think, while living in Chesapeake, VA, with cheap canvas and paint.
Unskilled, ugly, not ‘family friendly.’ I don’t care. I needed to make them.
I think I’m going to indulge in a ramble. I was young and only just becoming comfortable with being the legal definition of an adult. I was coming to terms with what it meant to be a woman, with all the body parts and their social weight.
I distinctly remember learning about my reproductive organs in an awkward sex-ed class during my middle school years. The part about my ovaries stuck with me. I recall feeling repulsed especially acutely after hearing that my insides were full of eggs and learning it was my body’s purpose to breed. The fear of the responsibility of these parts I didn’t consent to nauseated me. I had nightmares about being thrust into motherhood with a baby I didn’t remember having; it was deformed and screaming. When I eventually saw the David Lynch film Eraserhead the baby in the movie felt uncomfortably familiar.
As I grew older, I felt my friendships with boys change. It became clear to me that they saw me as different than them: inferior, other, less. My value as a friend was less because I was female. I met boys that made it clear they never saw women as equal to men, and perhaps even less than humans. I mirrored their treatment of me. I valued them more because they were male. I feared other girls and bonding with them. I didn’t want to be like them, like myself. I yearned for male approval. I was the cliche of ‘not like the other girls.’ I hate that I wasted so many years avoiding the love and support of female friendships. I sacrificed my wellbeing to internalized misogyny.
Then, when I became socially acceptably attractive, things changed again. There was an illusion of power when it came to males finding me desirable. Instead, it was just another danger to navigate.
Women are things to collect as numbers, abstract on pedestals, control, abuse, hunt, steal, win, covet for access to sex, and see as ruined once they’ve reached their goal. Also, to fear because we can make fathers. They hate the mothers that they make in turn. We threaten them with life.
And before you comment. Yes, I know. Not all men. But let me pause here to bring up another ugly epiphany I’ve had. Many men who claim to be pro-choice don’t wear that label in support of women. They think they do but are pro-choice because they want to be able to force their sexual partners into abortions. Their support is centered on themselves and not women. They forget that pro-choice is about women having the ability to control their body and healthcare, including choosing to carry a child to term, not just access to abortions.
These paintings are the anger and alienation I felt at being simplified down to my parts and how those parts could be valued or weaponized. My biology felt like a time bomb; I had to try to not set it off.
And then, as I’ve aged, as my fertility wanes, my value is still in flux. Now I get to watch my social currency, sexual of course, diminish to nothing in bewilderment as I simultaneously mourn it and feel relief.
I am sitting at my dining table with my daughter, the child I feared having for most of my adult life, yet I am so grateful to have had. I hated the danger my body seemed to put me in, how it defined my existence, and the expectations laid on it, but still I longed to experience all its power and bring a child into the world. And I did. I’m glad I was allowed to choose this experience and not have it forced on me.
I’m also sitting here realizing that I wouldn’t feel safe becoming pregnant in the current political climate in Pennsylvania. My health and safety depend largely on the upcoming PA Governor election.
And what of my daughter and her future? She doesn’t feel the weight of her biology yet, but I know, like most women, that she’ll struggle under it much sooner than is fair.
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