Jill asked this question on Alas, and I’m ganking it and pretending that it’s an actual post by me:
Moving away from the highly predictable “Fat is unhealthy! Let me come in here and explain how unhealthy it is because you have probably never, ever heard this before! I’m doing you a favor!” conversation, I think a similar analysis can be applied to reproductive rights — that is, for many feminists, having a feminist ideology can make you feel like you have a greater obligation to make the “right” choices and not screw up.
I’ve never been unintentionally pregnant, but some of my feminist friends have. And the reaction I see most isn’t guilt over abortion or inability to decide what to do, but feelings of foolishness and stupidity. These same women would never judge anyone else for getting unintentionally pregnant. They understand that birth control fails, that things happen, that we’re human. But when they get accidentally pregnant, they feel like they should have known better because they’re feminists and they have all the tools to know better. That’s what they beat themselves up over.
As I said, I’ve never been pregnant. But if I were to have an unintended pregnancy, I imagine I’d be thinking along the same lines: How did this happen to me, when I “know better” because of my feminist and reproductive rights work? How could I be so stupid?
I see a parallel there to the body image conversation, and the individual frustrations that feminists face when they have body issues. It’s not a perfect comparison, but perhaps one worth discussing. Thoughts?
Honestly, I get the sense that this is something that can be applied to the way women are taught to think about themselves and their choices, period–no matter how normal their decisions or how unappealing their options. Motherhood–including the decision not to become a mother–is one of the handiest examples only because women are so frequently defined, one way or another, as babymakers and baby raisers. And the choices they have are often defined as free when they usually aren’t. Early moms vs. late moms. Stay at home moms vs. working moms. Daycare moms vs. homeschool moms. Too many children. Too few children. Children with the wrong partner or no partner or too many partners. As though these decisions were no more difficult or forced than picking out a bathing suit that most flatters your figure, and as though most people can just walk away from a paycheck or repair a loveless marriage or pull money out of thin air. Should you quit your job? Should you look for a restrained floral print or a dark solid?
The effort required and the potential consequences for the chooser are represented as trivial, so much so that she should be ashamed of even worrying about her own comfort and eventual happiness. Any ambivalence on the part of the chooser is chalked up to a lack of committment. At the same time, the potential consequences for the rest of the world–spouse, economy, national security, little babies both immediate and distant–are presented as cataclysmic.
Bodily changes are treated the same way. Your pain is minor. Your effort is meaningless. The idea that anyone else should be required to look at your fat ass or scarred thighs or verdant treasure trail, however, is disgusting. And as with life choices, it’s the woman’s fault that she managed to end up with a mustache or stretch marks or arm fat. They’re not inevitable, they’re something she should have been able to predict and fight. You know what your mother looks like! Why weren’t you prepared?
- Something I never really understood… by Ren August 23, 2007
- Two Kinds of People in This World by piny July 17, 2006
- Body Impolitic Greets Feministe! by Laurie Toby Edison August 10, 2009
- Oh, look, some more play on Creative Destruction! by piny June 10, 2006
- Who is Igna Muscio, and Why Won’t She Get Off My Lawn? by piny March 10, 2006