Watch that Youtube video. It’s only a couple minutes long. It’s a powerful poem by Lauren Zuniga to the Oklahoma state legislature concerning their efforts to force women to get ultra sounds or other things before having an abortion.
This post isn’t about abortion or the Oklahoma legislature. What this poem really symbolizes is how little empathy and understanding we men often have for the life experiences of women.
Men often complain about how mistreated they are, especially white men. They complain that affirmative action leads to reverse discrimination, that women get better treatment and that somehow white males are victims of a wave of political correctness. That’s utter nonsense. Not only are white males still disproportionately wealthy and powerful, but very few ever suffer reverse discrimination. Sometimes if a woman gets a job males wanting the job will all think that it should have been them, but in the world of discrimination and victimization, white males suffer very, very little.
But it’s deeper than that. The reality of how different life is for men than women really hit me when I was in grad school, working late in the computer lab at the University of Minnesota. It was 10:30 and a female student was getting ready to go, and asked if anyone else was leaving. Someone was, in ten minutes or so. She asked if he could walk with her to the parking ramp. Simply, she didn’t want to be alone on that walk.
That concern would never have occurred to me. I would walk home, sometimes through sketchy sections of downtown, pretty late at night. I was young, had long hair and figured I’d just blend into the scenery. A woman would not have that freedom. Things I took for granted were often due to my male gender. Sure, I could be assaulted or mugged, but the risk was different, and perceived very differently.
When it comes to public policy issues such as abortion, aid for dependent children, food stamps, child care, health care for children, etc., it’s much easier for men to take a very abstract perspective on these issues. Dismiss such aid as coming from “hard working taxpayers” to “loafers.” To accuse women having kids just to get welfare money. That happens, but rarely. It isn’t as real to us because no matter how progressive or forward thinking we are, males usually are not the ones that have to deal with unwanted pregnancies and trying to raise children alone. Men can still disappear. Or as in the poem above, men can assault and get away with it, paying no consequences.
But for women, these issues are real. If she has a child her life is forever changed, and she may not be able to give the child the care and attention it deserves. Adoption is an option, but even that comes after a life altering episode. Suddenly she’ll have to deal with issues like how to have a career, what to do about child care, how to feed the child properly, how to get adequate health care. And while the Rush Limbaughs of the world might sneer that “that’s the consequence of having sex,” it’s a consequence that men can quite often evade.
And when the man does get caught and is forced to pay child care, the tables get turned. Suddenly that’s not fair — the woman could have had an abortion, why should he have to pay for years because of one mistake? A lot of women must shake their head at such a complaint and think “welcome to our world.”
So if you oppose abortion, support expanding health care to all children, support food stamps, after school programs, free day care, and efforts to help such women get real careers. Make it as easy as possible for women to go through the trauma of having their lives turned upside down. Make it easy for the children to have quality opportunities. Have a huge infrastructure of support available, disconnected from religious organizations with side agendas.
Even if all that were to get done, we men have to avoid the arrogance of talking down to or about women who are in these circumstances. That’s why Rush Limbaugh’s comments were far more vile than Bill Maher calling Sarah Palin a “cunt.” Calling politicians offensive names is common, but attacking women for having to deal with difficult circumstances men like Rush easily evades is disgusting. For men to accuse women of wanting to avoid the “consequences of sex” is obscene given how easily and often men avoid those same consequences.
None of this is meant to say that women are oppressed and downtrodden. The overall situation now is so much better than a generation ago, women have real opportunities and discrimination has been declining. And certainly there are aspects of life where being a woman is easier than being a man. But on issues like abortion, birth control, rape/sexual assault and all sorts of issues involving children, schools and health care, we men have to be far more sensitive to the very different experiences of women.
And it’s not just men either. Some women can be even more judgmental if they either never were in such a situation or if they fought through such circumstances — they may think ‘if I can do it, so can they.’ But life doesn’t work that way; context shapes individuals as much as innate character and life experiences are diverse. It’s easy to stand on the side lines, abstract the issues away from their human meaning and then judge and pontificate. For some people, that can create a sense of self-righteous pride. But it’s a misplaced delusion.