Why I’m Here, Probably.

Last month, Jill and I were having an email discussion about a blogger she linked to who wrote a post about having to choose to terminate a much-wanted pregnancy. The blogger was a man, upon whom the burden of choice had fallen because his wife was dying, and she was considered no longer capable of making her own medical decisions. As important and beautifully written as the piece was, it gave me an increasing sense of dread the closer it got to the end, because I feared the reaction he was going to get from the thousands of anti-choicers who have made violence and cruelty toward those like this man and his wife, who have had to make such a horrible choice, their mission in life.

I’ve read a lot of abortion stories, like Amy Richard’s piece in the New York Times Magazine, and Cecily’s chronicles of the heartbreaking loss of her twin boys at and I wasted all that birth control, and of course Biting Beaver’s horrible experience with abortion after being refused the morning after pill. I knew what this man had set himself up for.

The usual threats of gang rape, the death threats, the vitriolic glee at causing as much emotional pain as humanly possible. This is what happens to people who are known to have had abortions. It doesn’t matter if they were pregnant as a result of rape, or if birth control had failed, or if they got pregnant by their husbands, or if EC was denied, or if the fetus died, or would die, or if they themselves were dying. It does not matter. The reaction is the same. They’re stupid, they’re irresponsible, they’re whores, they should have used birth control, they should have abstained, they hate babies, they made a casual decision to abort, they’re lazy, selfish, and unwilling to try, they’re murderers, if only they’d heard that abortion stops a beating heart, they’d never have made the choice to kill, and look at these photographs of aborted fetuses I’ve linked to, won’t you? Just in case you haven’t seen the banner attached to the plane we circle the beach with every summer. Or our big truck with the billboard on it that we like to have sitting next to you in rush hour traffic. Everything would have worked out if you’d just let go and let God. Probably.

And yet, although his comments section was indeed filled with anti-choicers, it wasn’t like that at all (with one glaring exception, a frightening lunatic who seemed all-to-eager to have a dead wife he could use as a bragging tool to further The Cause). These posters were sympathetic, they understood his heartbreak and his pain. They understood this was a planned and wanted pregnancy, and that his decision was one that although nobody should have to make, it is a harsh reality that sometimes people do. I’ve never seen that level of respect and empathy before, although I understand the author of this L.A. Times editorial was also treated with more respect than usual.

I think about Amy Richards, the selfish, lazy, convenience-oriented slut with a husband who should have put her in her place, or Cecily, the murderer, or Biting Beaver, who struck such a major nerve that her life was threatened, the lives of her three children were threatened, her bodily integrity was threatened by rape, and she was offered, via email, not one, but two recipes for “herbal abortions” that would have killed her had she taken them. And for her the threats began shortly after the condom broke. What was different between his post and theirs? Nothing, really. In fact, his story and Cecily’s story were so similar they could almost have been the same tale, one told by the husband and one by the wife.

The only difference, as far as I can tell, is that he is a man, and thus spared, because vindictive hate and gleeful mockery of pain is a gift only given to women. As Dan Neil, author of that L.A. Times piece, wrote,

I think antiabortion advocates imagine a world in which women — promiscuous, lazy or selfish singletons — roll into the doctor’s office for midterm abortions and stick their feet in the stirrups while still chatting on the cellphone. Recreational abortions, you might say.

There is nothing a woman can say or do that will sway them from this point of view. A poster at Cecily’s blog, one of the more polite ones, had the gall to say, “Oh, come on! Maybe things would have worked out! Give it a try!”

Go read Cecily’s posts about the loss of her twin boys – she’s got an entire category devoted to them so you can read them all at once – and maybe you can understand how cruel that comment is.

But men, men suffer. And women either don’t, not really, or else they deserve to. And as my friend Charlotte Crosson once said, “Men make life and death decisions everyday, why shouldn’t women?” But that’s not something acceptable for women to do, under any circumstances. Even to save her own life. That’s why his choice to terminate his wife’s pregnancy is seen as a choice made logically and rationally, a choice not impeded by frivolity, made by a responsible adult.

And I see these things happening, and I see that it’s the women who are living and dying with these decisions, yet it’s the men, one step removed from it all, whose voices are listened to, and I know that if I think too deeply on the hatred that inspires this behavior, the global hatred for what we are, for the resentment that we even exist on the planet, that I won’t be able to get out of bed in the morning. So I slam the door on it. I’m really good at that by now.

Jill and I went back and forth about my writing this post. I dragged my feet about it, reluctant to do it for fear that the man who inspired it would be further hurt, and it isn’t my intention to trivialize his grief or to suggest that he shouldn’t be treated with empathy and respect from everyone who reads his story. He should. But I would be less than honest if I didn’t say that the reaction to his words illuminated, for me, the hatred thrust at the courageous women who suffered through the same.


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24 Responses to Why I’m Here, Probably.

  1. emjaybee says:

    Maybe it’s a measure of how cynical I am that I assumed, rightly, that his take would be given more consideration and weight because he’s a man. It doesn’t really matter what the topic is–that’s just generally the case.

    Unless the man presents as really liberal and/or “effeminate” in someone’s eyes.

    But a man making a decision about a woman’s body for her is hardly going to be controversial in a patriarchy such as ours. The fact that it throws pro life hypocrisy into relief is hardly surprising.

  2. Betsy says:

    Go read Cecily’s posts about the loss of her twin boys – she’s got an entire category devoted to them so you can read them all at once – and maybe you can understand how cruel that comment is.

    Could you link to it? Maybe I’m dumb as a brick (in fact that seems likely) but I couldn’t find it on her blog.

  3. Tessa says:

    You know, I had much the same experience reading through the comments on his blog. His post was wonderful, but I realized right away that it was getting a sort of consideration and respect that posts from women who have had abortions never do, and that disturbed me more than I can say.

  4. Mnemosyne says:

    We have this weird thing in this country that says that if you’re directly affected by something, you’re not allowed to talk about it, because you’re not “objective.” If you’re a black person who’s experienced racism, you can’t talk about it because you’re not “objective” about racism in general. If you’re a woman who’s been sexually harassed, you’re not allowed to have an opinion about a harassment case in the news because you’re not “objective” the way a man who’s never been harassed can be “objective.”

    So we’ve created this whole system (in the media, anyway) where only people who are at least one step removed from a problem are allowed to talk about it, because they can be “fair and balanced” and give points to both sides.

    And, gosh, who usually ends up being the people who are least affected by the issue at hand, and therefore are the most qualified to talk about it? Why, white men, of course! What a co-inky-dink!

    Obviously, a man who’s had to make a life-and-death decision about his wife’s health isn’t exactly “objective” in the media sense. But … it wasn’t his life that was directly involved, so people assume that he was able to make an “objective” decision that the woman wouldn’t have been able to make. After all, if she’s thinks that the pregnancy could cause her death, of course she’s going to decide to terminate! Only an “objective” person who’s not involved in the case can decide if her life is more important than the fetus’s life.

    Can you tell that I’ve come to hate the word “objective”? These days, it generally means, “Person who has no involvement in the issue who gets to make the decision anyway.”

  5. Betsy says:

    Mnemosyne, I agree completely. Moreover, the claim that a man is more “objective” on an issue related to feminism, or a white person is more “objective” on an issue related to racism, is obviously spurious, if anyone would take a moment to think about it. Who benefits from male/white privilege? Men and whites, mainly. Why on earth would they be any more “objective” about it than the person objecting to those privileges? Just because you havne’t been harmed by it doesn’t mean you’re a disinterested party. I think the reason this isn’t immediately obvious to more people is that privilege is often invisible to the privileged, so they don’t see it as such.

  6. Flea says:

    I’m sorry, Betsy. Here it is. It wasn’t as easy to find as I remembered it being.

  7. Rachel says:

    I was thinking the same thing–the two men got a little more sympathy than usual. Didn’t say anything, but I agree.

    I think mnemosyne has an important point, regarding the oppressed. We often take the opinions of people from the oppressor class much more seriously, as if they are somehow more object.

  8. Brooklynite says:

    I dragged my feet about it, reluctant to do it for fear that the man who inspired it would be further hurt, and it isn’t my intention to trivialize his grief or to suggest that he shouldn’t be treated with empathy and respect from everyone who reads his story.

    You didn’t do that at all. Your post, like his, was necessary and appropriate.

  9. cara says:

    This is a great post, Flea. Thanks a lot. I was truly touched and inspired by this man’s post as well, and then astonished by how few trolls he had. I think that this post was necessary and that you were very respectful; in fact, he struck me as the type of man who would appreciate this honesty and agree with you.

  10. Melissa M. says:

    I wish the double standard was shocking, but its not anymore. I wanted to put this out there, I haven’t verified this information, but a close friend who is in pharmacy school told me about a year ago that the first two pills in a standard birth control pack are similar to EC and can be used in an emergency. Can anyone verify this? Biting Beaver’s story made me think of it.

  11. shfree says:

    Melissa, that depends on the type of birth control pill. Some can be used as EC, some can’t.

  12. Anon says:

    You know, when I first read that post I had two immediate thoughts. First, sorry to say, was that the post would eventually turn out to be some kind of fake. Seems like that’s not the case, though.

    My second thought was, suppose his wife had written the story afterwards instead of him. Everything is the same only the narrator changes.

    Somehow, I think she would get different comments.

  13. Jennifer says:

    Flea, thank you for this. Because this post occurred in the middle of the FFF debate, it may not receive the attention it deserves. Thank you for reminding us how the scorn directed towards women is so commonplace as to be virtually invisible at times.

  14. Lauredhel says:

    “a close friend who is in pharmacy school told me about a year ago that the first two pills in a standard birth control pack are similar to EC and can be used in an emergency. Can anyone verify this?”

    It varies depending on the type of birth control pill. Most importantly, even if you get the right dose and ratio of combined oral contraceptive pill (COCP, which has both oestrogen and progesterone), you’d be getting old-style emergency contraception (EC). With the combined pill method, the effectiveness is lower, and the side effects, predominantly vomiting, are much much higher. This is known as the “Yuzpe” method, if you’re googling.

    Plan B or Postinor-2 is a progesterone only method, which is both safer and more effective than the Yuzpe method. To simulate it with birth control pills, you’d need to get the “mini pill” (NOT low-dose COCP, but the progesterone-only pill) of the correct type, and take 25-50 tablets to total 1.5 mg of levonorgestrel (either one single dose or split into two).

    This is not to say that the combined pill method isn’t better than nothing, but it’s certainly not optimal.

    I’m picturing an EC underground railroad, with people including hospital staff all over the place, with a pocketful of EC and a pager. With EC most effective within 12 hours, timing is crucial.

    It’s also worth noting that EC using an IUD can be used up to five days later, if someone is just outside the 3-day limit traditionally quoted for hormonal EC; it’s also more effective than hormonal EC.

  15. Sarah says:

    So we’ve created this whole system (in the media, anyway) where only people who are at least one step removed from a problem are allowed to talk about it, because they can be “fair and balanced” and give points to both sides.

    Sadly I think the people who like to rely on that would be upset if I pointed out that in that crazy system, I’m more objective on US isssues than they are due to not living there.

    I’m thinking someone would say “you can’t understand the issues” because “this doesn’t affect you”.

  16. Roy says:

    Maybe it’s a measure of how cynical I am that I assumed, rightly, that his take would be given more consideration and weight because he’s a man. It doesn’t really matter what the topic is–that’s just generally the case.

    Unless the man presents as really liberal and/or “effeminate” in someone’s eyes.

    Honestly, it’s been my experience so far that it doesn’t even really matter how liberal or effeminate you are (read that as “I am” actually), if you’re a man, you get less flack for them, and they seem to be given more weight.

    So, if you’re a cynic for thinking that’s the case, I think it’s well placed cynicism.

  17. Holly says:

    Mnemosyne is absolutely right about false “objectivity,” which is really just letting people who are “supposed” to be in charge of the situation (whether that situation is misogyny or racism) remind the rest of us how things are supposed to be. Because of course the most important audience about abortion is men, the most important audience about racism is white people, so naturally you’d want someone they can empathize with to tell it like it is, right? :/

    I also wanted to respond to your last paragraph and say that this post absolutely doesn’t come across as trivializing that man’s story at all. Suggesting that women are also deserving of the same empathy and concern doesn’t detract from his experiences at all, nor does your tone come across as complaining about him or the reception he got. Thank you.

  18. Red Stapler says:

    Mnemosyne brings up an excellent point, and it’s a question I’ve been rolling around in my head for a few weeks now.

    We always say (or get reminded) “Anecdotal evidence isn’t.”

    My question is, why the hell not? If we’re dealing with an under-recognized, under-reported, marginalized corner of experience, the only evidence we’ll *have* is anecdotal.

    At what point does experience become “valid” to an argument?

  19. mythago says:

    Again without intending in any way to dis on the man who wrote the post in question – I suspect that the usual assholes did not rip on him precisely because his decision involved his wife’s body. And for people like that, control over a woman’s body is naturally what a husband should exercise.

  20. RacyT says:

    If you’re a woman who’s been sexually harassed, you’re not allowed to have an opinion about a harassment case in the news because you’re not “objective” the way a man who’s never been harassed can be “objective.”

    This immediately made me think of this post of Shakes’ and one gigantic asshat who told her that she “had no right” to reference her own experience. I don’t advise reading past say, #50 in the comments, I was literally nauseated by some of them.

  21. Pocket says:

    This immediately made me think of this post of Shakes’ and one gigantic asshat who told her that she “had no right” to reference her own experience. I don’t advise reading past say, #50 in the comments, I was literally nauseated by some of them.

    If we’re not supposed to talk about our own experiences, where are all the “objective” people going to find something to talk about?

    Of course, then if nobody talks about it, the problems will just go away–for the objective people. I think that’s the ticket right there.

  22. Artemis says:

    Thanks for writing this post Flea!!!! Its excellent.

    Two things:

    On Mnemsymone’s comments about objectivity, you’re so so right. As an academic, I remember being absolutely stunned when I started taking women’s studies theory and methods research where we were told that objectivity doesn’t exist and that we could actually acknowledge our subjectivity. It was amazing and nothing I had learned before becuase we’re not trained to think that way. And of course, women’s studies is always shot down and lower on the education spectrum because its research is “not objective”.

    Flea, I agree I don’t think your post trivializes the man’s experience at all. It is a hard choice either way and cerrtainly the trauma of having to choose for his wife must’ve been difficult – but I think you’re right – if a woman wrote that then absolutely the comments would’ve been different.

  23. Sailorman says:

    I have seen a few posts claiming that subjective experience means the speaker is wrong and/or that (s)he shouldn’t have a point of view. Obviously, those make no sense.

    However, I’ve also read posts that take the opposite view, whether in rebuttal or just because. Those posts claim (in essence) that LACK of subjective experience means the speaker is wrong and/or that (s)he shouldn’t have a point of view.

    There is a big middle ground in between.

  24. ekf says:

    Flea, thank you for writing your post. While I felt sorry for both men, by the time I read the LA Times piece, I found myself very angry while reading it. I kept thinking things like, “A woman wouldn’t get away with saying that she hadn’t considered the consequences of implanting four embryos” or “How much would a woman get crucified for choosing to selectively abort her two sons while keeping her daughters?” That only a man could be considered morally credible on these issues somehow enraged me, and when the replies were not anywhere near the confrontational, threatening level that I’ve seen for so many other women’s posts, I was livid. Plus, it occurred to me that a woman’s view on her own abortion would not be featured in the general op-ed section, but would instead be ghettoized in some “woman’s health” or similar pink-ribboned section.

    It doesn’t take away from the sadness these men experienced to observe that women are not permitted their same sadness without judgment from others.

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