On the meaning of pro-life

Dear Dad,

Thanks for your post in response to my post on abortion (whoa this may be getting too meta).

I’ll admit I didn’t always support abortion access, Dad. For a long time, I thought of abortion as a terrible evil in the world. But then I tried to put myself in the shoes of someone considering an abortion. And while I like to think that I would choose to keep the child, I recognize that I’m struggling to make rent each month without a dependent. I have student loans to pay off, as well as a pricey wisdom tooth removal that I have hefty bills for. A child would require time and energy to raise properly, and I’m afraid to make a lifetime commitment like that if I don’t know that I can guarantee that child a good life. Furthermore, there’s the fact that I would have to carry that kid for nine months, dealing with pain, weight gain, possible medical complications and permanent changes to my body. Not to mention the judgment of coworkers, peers, loved ones and strangers as I try to carry out my day-to-day as a young, unmarried, pregnant woman.

While I’d like to think I wouldn’t have an abortion, I can’t guarantee that. And I know that I can’t make that decision for anyone else, either.

A brunette white woman holding a sign that says

I support the right for anyone to get an abortion, without explanation, scrutiny or shame.

You say you support abortion in the case of rape or incest, Dad, but who decides that? Will doctors take women at their word? Or will they have to wait for a conviction? Keep in mind that only 4 percent of rapists ever get a felony conviction. Will a panel decide if a pregnant woman was violated? If so, I have a feeling it will probably be the same men who are restricting abortion access in Texas. And would you really force a woman to relive such a traumatizing event before obtaining an abortion? That seems cruel.

I know deciding to have an abortion can be painful (though it’s not always), and I want for them to be as rare as possible, Dad, truly. You talk about the value of life. I value it too, Dad, both the possible child’s and the mother’s. I’d like there to be as few abortions as possible. But the way to do that is not through trying to restrict abortion access.  That only results in the desperate turning to illegal, dangerous and potentially deadly operations.

A photo of a marble monument that says

Being pro-choice saves lives.

One doctor described his work in emergency rooms before Roe v. Wade for The New York Times. The descriptions are horrifying, so trigger warning for gore. But his memories of women mutilated, made infertile and killed by botched abortions performed illegally are essential to consider when talking about abortion rights. And as Dr. Waldo Fielding says, legal abortion simply means that these procedures can be performed in safe settings:

It is important to remember that Roe v. Wade did not mean that abortions could be performed. They have always been done, dating from ancient Greek days.

What Roe said was that ending a pregnancy could be carried out by medical personnel, in a medically accepted setting, thus conferring on women, finally, the full rights of first-class citizens — and freeing their doctors to treat them as such.

Abortions can be reduced by increasing access to affordable birth control options, by providing comprehensive sex ed to every child, and by allowing accessible, affordable, shame-free abortions for anyone who needs one. Even while on birth control, some people still get pregnant, and while many choose to keep the child, those who truly don’t want a pregnancy or a child shouldn’t be forced to carry through with it.

I recognize that it is a pregnant person’s right alone to decide whether or not to get an abortion. And it is so so important to remember why that right needs to be protected.



On the wind in my leg hair

Dear Dad,

Today I wore a skirt to work. I sashayed around the office, parking lot and park I visited on my break, all the while marveling a little at the sensation of the wind in my hair. My leg hair.

Let me explain: While I don’t shave my armpits, I tend to shave my legs, since I like the smooth feel. Only lately, my razor blade has gotten all used and junky and useless, and well, I’m a busy career woman who doesn’t write shopping lists and I just keep forgetting to get new blades. So it’s probably been a month since I’ve shaved. I’m getting a little fuzzy.

But as you well know, thanks to the body confidence feminism has given me, I’m not one to let society’s rules about body hair on women keep me from showing some skin.

A couple years ago, this would have been unthinkable, Dad. I’ve had a fear of showing body hair ever since middle school. In the first week of wearing uniforms for gym class in 7th grade, a classmate ran her hand up my shin and exclaimed, “You don’t shave? Ew!” I had just started growing little blonde wispies on my legs, but I went home ashamed, told my mom I had to get a razor, and made her teach me how to shave my legs and armpits (where I hadn’t even started seeing hair).

As a society, we teach girls from before they have body hair that it is something to be ashamed of. We make them complicit in this gender role, teaching them to act out what they’ve learned and police other girls. Certainly my classmate didn’t wake up one day and decide, “Body hair is gross and I’m going to tell every other woman to be embarrassed!”

But I want to teach girls a different ideal, to give them a set of choices. I want to tell them that shaving can be fun, if you don’t get a cut. It feels great to put a pair of leggings on a pair of smooth legs. And I want to tell them that not shaving is fun too. That it feels awesome when your leg hairs catch the wind on a breezy day.

A bit of love for you today,


On abortion access as a feminist value

Dear Dad,

Thank you for your post on where you see yourself as a feminist in your own life. I thought you hit upon some very important points, and some wonderful issues that feminists are addressing, areas where we have made progress and where progress is still needed.

I have always admired your treatment and respect of women, and especially your esteem of their professional lives; this includes Mom, your former bosses, and your female coworkers. Your relationships with these women helped model to me how women can be successful in their careers, and how men should treat them in a job setting.

I also agree that fistula is a very serious medical condition, often affecting poorer women in areas where medical care is limited or nonexistent. I’ve read about how it can ruin women’s lives, and I think it’s cool that your Rotary club was involved in such a radical project to help women gain social and economic power.

And I also grew up with a heart for helping the homeless, especially women and children, because of your work with groups like ECHO. Do you remember when we volunteered at the shelter overnight together? That is one of my favorite memories of you, Dad.

But you also mentioned some things in your post that I disagree with, Dad. You point to women you respect being “vilified” for being anti-abortion, women who believe in feminist ideals and yet would prefer that abortion access be nonexistent, or only available in cases of incest or rape, for instance. And while I think it is wrong to vilify or demonize someone for this view, it is antithetical to feminism.

One of the central beliefs of feminism is that we, as women, have a right to our own bodies. We have a right to freedom from sexual harassment and assault. We have a right to dress or decorate ourselves as we please. You agree that I shouldn’t be harassed when walking down the street, that my body is my own and that it is wrong for a man to mistreat me, ogle me or sexualize me. This bodily autonomy continues to abortion. It is my body that would carry a baby, and as such, it is my decision whether I want to carry it or not.

People stand on a street corner holding signs supporting choice and Planned Parenthood. A young woman smiles at the camera with a large sign reading

It’s a health issue!

Saying, “I’m a feminist, but I don’t believe in abortion,” is akin to saying, “I support LGBT rights, but I don’t approve of anti-discrimination legislation.” It’s one tenet of a belief set. It’s about choice.

Mom actually said it best to me, and whenever I consider the abortion debate, I go back to her words.

We were watching “Knocked Up.” You know, that Judd Apatow film where Seth Rogen gets Katherine Heigl pregnant? There’s a scene where Katherine Heigl tells her mom, and her mother tells her to “Take care of it.” (Or something like that. It was a couple years ago.)

Mom turns to me and says, “Oh, I could never do that.”

“What?” I said.

“I could never tell you what to do in a situation like that,” she says. “That’s your decision.”

“Mom,” I said, shocked, “are you pro-choice?”

“What? No!”

“You are! You’re pro-choice!” I said.

She paused a minute.

“I would say… I’m pro-baby,” she said finally. “I don’t think you should have a baby if you’re not prepared for one.”

People march in a parade to support Planned Parenthood. A woman carries a blue sign with the words

The right to choose supports women and families.

I think Mom got it, Dad. While I would love to see a world where no one needs an abortion, the reality is, we’re not there yet. Being anti-abortion doesn’t help women in bad situations, and it doesn’t help children born into families that don’t want them, or aren’t prepared to care for them.

And that’s why it’s a feminist issue.



On partying for the revolution

Dear Dad,

How are you? What have you been up to?

Me? Well, I had the best party last week! There were snacks, there were libations, there was loud music and lots of cute women, and there was frank and serious discussion of gender norms and the role that gender, sexuality and feminism play in our lives.

A t-shirt with velvet lettering reading "Girls invented punk rock not England." At the bottom, a piece of paper reads "What is Riot Grrrl?"

One woman even made an awesome T-shirt!

All right, so it wasn’t your average twentysomething party. I invited some of my best female friends over for an afternoon of beer, Bikini Kill and zine-making. Over the four hours, we cut up a half dozen magazines and made our own pages discussing where we saw issues of gender inequality in our own lives.

One of my friends talked about how the media focuses on body size, but she’d rather see a focus on girls’ education worldwide. Another friend asked me how I felt about the way gender roles affect men. Another talked about being treated differently at her engineering job because of her gender. Yet another woman talked about how difficult it was to find a job in her field because most businesses assume she isn’t capable of heavy lifting.

A set of six photos of a zine. Pictures of men and women are cut out with phrases like, "What's my name?" and "Does my body hair disgust you?"

We talked about relationships, our bodies, nail polish, our jobs, music, history. It was girly and fun and intelligent and educational.

It’s conversation that brings about understanding, Dad. It’s listening and learning and creating together that brings about change. I’m partying for more voices in the conversation, for more cognizance. I’m partying for the revolution.

Party on,


On the 17 percent

Dear Dad,

You’ve heard about the 47 percent, and the 99 percent, but have you heard about the 17 percent? Maybe not, but they’re all around you.

The 17 percent represents women’s slice of representation in media, according to research from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Does that number sound too small to you? Because it did to me when I first heard it, in an NPR interview with Geena Davis about women in film:

My theory is that since all anybody has seen, when they are growing up, is this big imbalance – that the movies that they’ve watched are about, let’s say, 5 to 1, as far as female presence is concerned – that’s what starts to look normal. And let’s think about – in different segments of society, 17 percent of cardiac surgeons are women; 17 percent of tenured professors are women. It just goes on and on. And isn’t that strange that that’s also the percentage of women in crowd scenes in movies? What if we’re actually training people to see that ratio as normal so that when you’re an adult, you don’t notice?

Once I’d heard this, it was a hard idea to shake. Suddenly, I was counting women in crowd scenes, counting the main women characters in a group of main character, counting the female contestants in co-ed reality TV show competitions. I started watching Ink Master and the first thing I noticed was that, out of the 10 contestants, only 2 were women (just like Geena Davis’ ratio).

In fact, this 17 percent ratio is so normal that if a group is one-third women, people perceive it as being mostly women. And the ratio of men to women in movies hasn’t changed since WWII.

Why does any of this matter, Dad? It’s just movies, right?

No. If we see 17 percent as being the normal amount of women in a movie crowd, then that perception transfers to the real world. Think of the school boards, church boards, local government, national government and company boards that are dominated by more than 80 percent men. And the sliver of the pie that women get is thought of as normal, and totally reasonable. This ratio is teaching people to squash women’s rights to fair representation.

Even now, women only hold 18.5 percent of seats in Congress, just above the 17 percent ratio. And only three years ago did women occupy 1/3 of the seats in the Supreme Court.

It’s time to start questioning, Dad. It’s time to start counting the ratios, being aware and questioning what we perceive as normal and fair. It’s time to start demanding better.




On Emma Watson’s ambassadorship

Dear Dad,

Did you see the news on Emma Watson being named a UN Goodwill Ambassador for women’s rights? Pretty cool, right? I mean between this an JK Rowling’s new short story, there’s been a lot to digest this week for us Potterheads.

My favorite thing about this news, though, is not that Emma Watson will be serving as a Goodwill Ambassador, but the promotion of the HeForShe campaign, which encourages men to stand up for women and promote gender equality. I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it as often as possible: Men need to speak up to help achieve gender equality. Men can use their voices to amplify the causes of women, speaking out against sexual assault, domestic violence, casual everyday sexism and oppression.

I’m hopeful that Emma Watson’s voice will help bring more attention to the cause, and optimistic about the future.



On the same old tune, decades later

Hey Dad,

As a loud and proud feminist, I’ve gotten a lot of flak. Often, it comes from men. Sometimes it comes from men I don’t know and sometimes it comes from men I do. Strangers on the Internet have said that I can’t stand the idea of someone being attracted to me, or that I hate men. Friends and brothers have said that I’m sexist or too sensitive or trying to hurt men. You’ve said that you feel my feminism is a rejection of your way of life and the way I was raised.

Which is why, when I saw the Mental Floss article about anti-suffragette political cartoons last year, it resonated with me strongly. Now, having started a blog and opened myself up to exponentially more commentary, looking back over the cartoons, it’s even more uncanny how accurate they are.

For you here now, some of my favorites:

A cartoon titled

I’ve been accused of promiscuity, and told I will be alone when I’m old.

The only difference between this comic and what one man told me is that he said I’d be old and lonely by 30, which is a sad sign of how out of control our obsession with youth and sexualization of children is.

A cartoon of a woman in grecian drapery holding a sign that says

The woman is graceful and doesn’t want to vote. A suffragette is raucous, untidy and out of line.

This cartoon, though not as in-your-face as the last, is even more hurtful. The “real” woman, the beautiful, graceful, ideal woman doesn’t want votes. She is polite and attractive and voiceless. She is classic, in her Grecian dress. She fills the role of woman as society dictates it. The suffragette, on the other hand, is sloppy and untidy and loud and messy. A clear illustration of tradition vs. women’s rights if I ever saw one.

A photo of a man in an apron doing laundry. A baby and cat sit on the floor. Caption says,

Poor oppressed men.

And this one makes me laugh, mostly because it’s the same old caricature of the oppressive women, holding men down. If women get the vote, obviously men won’t vote anymore. If women get jobs, they’ll make the men stay at home and clean. If women aren’t sexually objectified, then they’ll start objectifying men.

Suffrage, and feminism, are none of these caricatures, Dad. It’s not about oppressing one group to elevate the other; that’s patriarchy. It’s about liberty for everyone, freedom to dictate one’s own life, without fear or shame or obstacle. The more things change for feminism, the more the arguments against it stay the same against it, Dad.