My mother was politically engaged and her driving issue was abortion. Before Roe v. Wade was passed, she’d had friends who’d desperately sought illegal abortions in the tenements of Harlem, sometimes with tragic results.
The current debate in the Statehouse affirming a woman’s right to abortion in Vermont surprised me because, frankly, I thought we’d settled this decades ago. The resulting legislation neither enhances nor restricts current reproductive rights and access to related services, but rather codifies them. Through this fresh exploration I actually learned a lot, and one thing in particular stood out for me.
What I found inescapable in the discussion was the subjugation of women. There seems to be an underlying assumption that women aren’t capable of making deeply important decisions on their own; that society must step in and direct women who, for whatever reason, are deemed unable to follow a morally acceptable path.
The entrenchment of cultural ethos runs deep and is often simply regarded as reality. It’s a phenomenon that’s been revealed to many of us recently as we’ve been awakened to the idea of white privilege.
And because sexuality is entangled with reproduction, an unwanted pregnancy bears shadows of unchained lust and desire. This, of course, has been true for millennia and though we may consider ourselves staunch supporters of equal rights for women, we’re not, I think, aware of the insidious ways in which the view of women as less than men has pervaded our culture and understanding.
Sadly, the starting point seems to be that women simply aren’t trustworthy - going all the way back to Eve’s fallibility in the Garden of Eden. In cultural, religious and state realms, women have been perceived as needing ruling authorities - that were historically male - to restrict them or coerce their compliance in many areas. The underlying assumption has been that women can’t possibly know what’s best for their families, children, lives and communities.
Even today, as we continue to press for gender equality, we must work to make sure our own assumptions, as well as our laws, pay scales and treatment of women, do not still harbor the entrenched cultural residue of distrust.