Remember a few years ago, when White America learned about something that Black Americans have always know — “The Talk” that Black parents have to give their children about what to do if the police pull you over? We couldn’t imagine that anyone would have to do that in our country. They would be in shock over our disbelief. “How could you not have known it was part of our culture’s life?”, they would ask. And we would say, “How would we know it was part of your lives?!”.
I’ve been having one of those moments lately regarding another not-my-culture: women, especially regarding abortion
You may have heard this before, but men and women are different, biologically, (I’m not even going to deal with trans issues here, because — at age 62 — I’m just starting to understand the biology/psychology/sociology of women. That’s a whole other thing on the learning curve) . Again, for those in the back, Women and men are biologically different in the same way that, for instance, giraffes and lions are different. It is not that one or the other is better than the other. They are just different.
Most adults and a great portion of children and teenagers can tell you that men have penises and women have vaginas. But wait, there’s more! — and the “more” matters, a lot.
Historically, though, there was less (well, less known about the subject) — and that’s the beginning of the problem. Like the George Floyd thing, we got here because one group’s voice mattered and the other one — the one with experience — didn’t.
We men didn’t know anything, but patriarchy said we were supposed to know everything, so we made stuff up. The stuff we made up about “That Thing We Know Nothing About” could be fanciful: “It’s just a place to put men’s ‘seed’ — there’s nothing up there”. It could also be yucky: “It bleeds, get that thing away from us!” Notice that, by this it’s all one thing. Today, we know — if we’re interested — that there’s a vagina, and place nearby where pee comes out, and a place that we have yet to acknowledge…. but we think of it as one mysterious thing. As that changes, we might make some real changes in our society.
For a frame of reference, in the “science” and “philosphy” (aka religion) of it’s day, first it was “the place where babies are made” for men. Men put seed into that place and the seed was held safe until the baby was born. On occasion, baby girls were born, but — well, that couldn’t be helped, and they didn’t really matter. What men wanted was boys to carry on the family name. If a king had a boy, that was to be celebrated. Men did all the work, and men received what was due them — a male heir. If a girl appeared at birth, there was something wrong with the mother. If no baby appeared, there was something horrible about the mother. Women were hanged, beheaded, sent away, divorced, or any number of things for that.
Then came the Black Plague and everybody went into hiding … away from each other. Monks went into monasteries and contemplated on all the Holy things that God had created. They wrote down the Bible, they considered mysteries, good and evil — again, from their vantage point.
So “The Mysterious Thing” could be — among other things — scary/good/exciting/evil all at once. Monks in monasteries (where there were clearly no women around) came up with a book called the “Malleus Maleficarum” which explained what “that thing down there” did: It enticed men to break their vows of chastity and become devil worshipers. People (men) had lust, and women were the ones they lusted after, and women had “that thing down there”. Lust is a fun feeling (good/exciting) but if you’re a monk and you act on it, it leads to bad things and that’s scary. That mix of feelings is a great way to create an obsession. And so it was.
In the Renaissance, there was just a “down there” — when doctors looked, (at the dead, because no one would look at “that” when the woman was alive, The Baby Making Place was attached to The Vagina. The Vagina was a tube. Above that tube was “something” like maps of the new world that said “there be dragons here”. Depending on who you asked, there could be cosmic galaxies, or angel-wing-factories or who-knows-what at the top of that tube.
Modern reader: I’m not saying any of this is politically correct or the way it should be. I’m trying to describe both the reality and absurdity of the system where men are supposed to run everything: Patriarchy. This is what I sort-of grew up with, and — even it seems silly now — it’s what everybody believed. Also, modern reader: This is not necessarily a piece for children. I’m about to use terms. You can decide about whether your children should see them. I’ll leave that up to you.
Then came the Victorian Era. In that period, women had a “down there” and men and women didn’t talk about it in polite company.
In those days, according to “experts” (see note above on “experts”) women had a hole between their legs where the penis went.
Freud notably noticed that women didn’t have a penis, but then suddenly we knew more. Women didn’t have a “down there” to be ashamed of, they had a hole that didn’t have a penis. That, according to experts (like Freud) was what made them inferior. And so it was. It was clear to the psychologists of the day that women wanted to have a penis, so they took men’s for a bit, and there was sex.
The world revolved around sex, for years, and it still does in many places. In the 1960’s and early 1970’s, of course, we had The Sexual Revolution. The understanding was that Everyone Wants Sex — even women. When women began to take that seriously, they raised their own consciousness — by raising their skirts and looking at The Hole and checking out The Vagina with mirrors and other devices of exploration. Suddenly, the Vagina had a clitoris, and labia (two sets!) and a Grafenberg spot, maybe, if you believed in that sort of thing. Suddenly women understood how The Mysterious Thing worked. And, amazingly, it worked fine without men — it wasn’t the same, really, as having company and making love, but — yep, it worked fine for the Sex That Everyone Wanted — including women.
Then something weird happened. Well, lots of weird things happened. Women (feminists, anyway) didn’t want to be taken care, didn’t believe that men knew everything about them, and shouldn’t determine their destiny, even if the women did liked sex. Also, it turns out, not all of them like sex with men at all. Suddenly there was the Equal Rights Amendment, and the sexual revolution, and the feminist movement and Roe vs. Wade which said women could control their own bodies, and didn’t have to have babies if they didn’t want them.
Suddenly, there was a screeching noise in the American consciousness. All that was two much for Phyllis Schlafly (a woman) who liked Patriarchy. She liked being a wife, and being taken care of, and raising children — or so she said. So did her rich donor friends. and the anti-abortion movement was born. Also, the anti-feminist movement, and the Let’s-Go-Back-To-The Fifties-When-Everything-Made-Sense movement.
The 80’s and 90’s were about the fight between feminist women and the men who liked them and their values and anti-feminist men and women who didn’t like it at all. Somewhere in here, we figured out that women could have it all and like sex, so they were convinced that they should work harder by taking on at least two jobs — their profession and child-raising, and supporting their husbands. (They were, after all, still women). So, conservative women (and feminists among them?) decided they didn’t have to give up one for the other. It was still possible to raise a family and be a housewife because that was an example of women’s right to make choices. This was their choice.
OK, let’s stop here for a second…
Notice that to this point — women had vaginas and “down there”s and even sexual parts — mostly to please men, but they had expanded their universe and their place in the world by understanding themselves. They didn’t need to have anyone explain their experience to them. In discovering for themselves what was theirs, they changed how they thought about the rest of themselves.
To this day, men (and women don’t understand menstruation, or periods, how they happen, and where they happen. They almost understand ovulation because they have to , if they want to understand pregnancy and their wife. If you ask a man where a woman’s liver is, they can probably tell you, because men have one. But a uterus? Point to that, and it’s up there somewhere. Fallopian tubes? One on the left one on the right, sort of in the front “down there”. Eggs? We understand them at the grocery store. But wt size is a human egg? I (we?) don’t have a clue. A Uterine lining? If we don’t know where the uterus is, we don’t know where the lining is, or what it’s made of. What’s it made of? “That stuff” that women and girls have “up there”!
In short, because we don’t have those things, we don’t understand a thing about women when it comes to abortion. It’s not the vagina or the clitoris — we actually understand those things. It’s the interior body parts that we don’t have, don’t understand, don’t know or care to know about.
When a Senator or elected official says that women can’t abort an ectopic pregnancy, they have absolutely no idea what an ectopic pregnancy is, or where you can find one. The female leaders just roll their eyes, and try to explain, but the law against abortion becomes law anyway. And to prove they will not be mocked, the male Senators get extra-strict and say no abortions under any circumstance. Or “life starts when our swimmers get the job done”. Is that true? I don’t know. It depends on what you mean by “life”. I suppose it starts to begin at that point. Is that the same thing? I don’t know. Is a miscarriage a person? It it life? is it sacred in the same way we think of babies being that? I don’t think so, but I don’t know. I’ve never had one in my body. I’ve also never had fallopian tubes, a cervix, or any of that other stuff.
The D and C , they procedure they do in abortions? That’s the same procedure they use for miscarriages, apparently. It’s also, I think, the procedure they use to get a pap smear. Don’t women need those to stay healthy? Because I don’t know about those things,I wouldn’t be making laws about it. I won’t make laws about Vulcan biology because I don’t have two spinal cords. I won’t make laws about the fifth rung of Saturn because I don’t know if there even is a fifth ring of Saturn. I’d have to ask someone who actually knew. The number of things I don’t know is incredible, but no more incredible than most people’s ignorance.
So here’s what I think: We need to think of women as biological beings, whole in themselves and separate from men. who have the choice to connect to men sexually or not, who can choose to have babies out of those connections or not. As biological beings, they understand the general subject of their bodies — to a greater or lesser extent — but much better than people who don’t. It’s taken a long time to get to this point, but I’m guessing women have known this for a long time.
Abortion is not about lust or power or sex — things we are familiar with. Abortion is involved in the stuff we don’t know. This is why men on the Supreme Court shouldn’t make a decision about it — any decision. The four women on the Court — including Amy Coney Barret — can make decisions, by this logic. I think that means that 3 of 4 women want abortion rights for women.
I any case, people making rules about things they don’t understand is never going to yield good results. We need to take all the information and experience out there, to the best of our abilities, to make decisions. But I bet that women knew that, too.
Resisting With Peace,