I grew up in a sexist culture.
No, really. I was born in 1954. I grew up in the stew of sexism and was made very aware of it because it was being challenged throughout my childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. I came of age during the heyday of Male Privilege, when the default assumption was that men were the smart ones, the strong ones, the ones who shouldered all responsibility, and women basically came along for the ride because, well, we needed them for babies and cooking and occasional interludes of sex and, well, because they looked good. Strong, independent women were weird, unnatural, and intended to be conquered by a stronger man who, paradoxically, didn’t actually need them but decided, for some reason, to protect them because while they were getting along fine without him, that simply couldn’t last because women couldn’t sustain themselves and it was great that one was independent for as long as she was, but it was really a man’s duty to take care of her, so…
It sounds absurd when you break it down like that, but really, that’s what it was. Women couldn’t do anything without a man.
Except they usually took care of the family finances, maintained the house, made most of the health care decisions, and, oh yeah, raised the next generation of males who thought women were helpless.
Women who insisted on their own sexual needs were characterized charmingly as sluts, whores, trash, “mannish”, or some variation that included unnatural in the mix. Much to the consternation of everyone, Playboy changed all that, for better or worse, by basically putting it Out There that women were pretty much like men in that they liked sex and, oh yeah, had a right to it, just like men. (All the academic and political activism in the world didn’t move the culture half so much as Playboy did, which has caused another kind of push-back, but that’s another story.)
By the time I was in my twenties I’d watched my culture turn itself inside out over this and come to a place where it seemed any sane, rational person would be repulsed by the standards of that quaint and rather scary prior era. I thought—mistakenly—that the debate was settled.
Debate? Women are people.
Again, to some this might sound silly so simply stated, but that’s what it came down to and where it comes down for me. Women are people. First. They have dreams, aspirations, ambitions, hopes, talents, traits, expectations, and rights just like any man. That seems perfectly natural to me. I like that idea, I like the kind of world it implies.
But it seems some folks can’t seem to accept that. The first time I was aware of any counterargument was Phyllis Schlafly, who seemed intent on convincing women that there was something wrong with them if they wanted careers in lieu of families, that they were defying some natural order by refusing to get down on their knees and worship men the way women had been made to do for millennia. The more I found out about her, the more I found her position not only unpalatable but also hypocritical, since she herself never gave up any of her goals or ambitions for motherhood. After a while I realized that this was a perverse form of noblesse oblige, the aristocrat telling the peasant what to do and why they couldn’t have what the aristocrat had.
Still, this was a mere ripple. Things were improving.
And then something really unexpected happened. An argument was found that made the whole issue seem to have nothing to do with women’s civil rights or status as people, but with the entire culture’s responsibility to something that had never heretofore been an issue in this particular way. The argument made it seem like any woman insisting on her rights was in danger of being a murderer.
Well. It became clear after a while that although the rhetoric seemed to be focused on questions of what constituted a human life, the tactics and strategy demonstrated that it was just the same old bunch of ancient, tired arguments from privilege that women ought to have no such rights, that they ought to be little more than incubators and sex slaves.
Here is a video which pretty much sums the issue up for me and afterward I’ll tell you why.
For me, the issue comes down to this. I am a person first, a man coincidentally. Odds were pretty much even up that I might have been a woman—but I would still be a person. And by that token, I have to say that if you tried to treat me the way some people are trying to treat women, I would absolutely be in your face about it. It would be my decision to reproduce, to use my body for that purpose, no one else’s, and anyone else’s qualms about how I conduct my personal life matter not at all. This should not be a political issue. No one has a right to live off the body of another. That would be a gift. Gifts only count if they’re given willingly.
Those who would deny women the right to live as they choose have themselves decided—by proxy, on behalf of people they don’t even know—that history means nothing, that rights are conditional, and that their, for wont of a better term, sense of modesty trumps everyone else’s freedoms. They have shown time and again that what they say is the issue really is not and in the last year have made it absolutely clear that their priorities have nothing to do with the “sanctity” of life but rather with an idealized aesthetic of what they consider “appropriate” behavior.
I just wanted to be clear.