It’s a shame that the word choice has been sullied by the abortion debate because choice is central to empowerment—for women especially because historically we’ve faced great opposition when we’ve attempted to control the directions of our lives. Off the top of my head I can think of several examples.
Consider the woman who chooses never to marry. Today that’s shocking but in Jane Austen’s time it was unthinkable. In some places and cultures a woman doesn’t even get to choose who she will marry. If her choices are limited going into marriage, what are the chances that she will be allowed to fairly end a marriage. Sound vaguely familiar to…slavery? And let’s not forget this little caveat. Married women are expected to sexually satisfy their husbands. In the best marriages this expectation is clouded behind mutual desire but the expectation exists nonetheless. Still, this is considerably better than being trapped with a man you didn’t choose or no longer love, believing that it is your duty to sex him reasonably well.
Wait, D. didn’t you already cover this? Nope. How many women feel completely in control of their sex lives? Free to choose when, where, who, and how they express their sexuality? I’m betting less than 100%. How many don’t feel shamed by their sexual desires or habits? How many of us have been pressured into it? Guilted into it? Faking orgasms and not asking for what we want and need? Afraid to be too sexy for fear of being labeled a slut?
We weren’t born with these hangups. They were learned.
When I was about 16 I attended a wedding. It was summer and a good self-esteem day for me. I wore a black skirt suit with a white halter top and wedge sandals. As my cousin and I walked from the church to the tiny grocery store at the corner he said something to me I’ll never forget. He gawked at me, chuckling to himself, as I slipped out of my blazer. At the sight of my bare shoulders and back he thought I’d just increased the likelihood that I would get raped. And he thought that was funny.
Now let’s talk about good girls. You know what I mean, right? Not the fast girls, the ones asking for it. Good girls never show cleavage. They’re not curvaceous. They don’t bring attention to their bodies at all, not even in private. Good girls wait to have sex until they’re married. They don’t speak openly about sex. Now, if this is who you are then great. More power to you but allow me to speak on behalf of the rest of us.
I’m going to say and do exactly as I please. Make sexual references and dirty jokes. Wear plunging v-necks and four-inch heels. Maybe I’ll become a stripper or a prostitute. Maybe I’ll get into whips and chains and threesomes. Everyone has a right to their own opinions but we should all consider what those opinions say about us. When we assume a sexually deviant woman must be a wounded damsel or the victim of some kind of abuse, we undermine her choices. We are saying that she couldn’t possibly have made a reasoned decision, made the best of her situation. I’m not advocating stripper-dom or prostitution or porn but I am making room for the possibility that a woman could enter into those circumstances with a clear head and be in complete control of her body and her sex.
Too easily, sex becomes the foundation for characterizing women as villainous or victims.
The Armed Forces.
In the U.S. women are allowed to serve in the military. Sure, we’ve had to fight for this right but now we have it. Women can even serve in combat roles, on the front lines. But again, it wasn’t an uncontested right. Campaigns were waged. Polls taken and permission given. Permission. She needed to get permission to risk her life. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the epidemic of sexual violence that plagues our military. The stories are shocking—the reports that have been ignored or outright dismissed and of course the victims who’ve been blamed.
No means no fellas, in every country and on every body of water, regardless of rank. And if that’s too complicated for you to grasp, then only YES means YES. If she didn’t say it, if she’s not saying it…then it is rape.
Pregnancy is a tricky thing to include because pretty much every choice a mother makes is for her child’s well-being. Still, it needs to be included because once a woman conceives a child, her body is no longer solely hers. She’s breathing, eating, and sleeping for two. Let us consider these choices:
- Breast milk or formula?
- Natural childbirth?
- Home birth or hospital?
- Optional tests?
In the many pregnancy books I’ve read there’s been one consistent truth: birthing a child can be a beautiful and empowering experience when the mother’s choices are respected. Yet, some hospital policies are in direct opposition to the wellbeing of the mother and child. Their purpose is to minimize the hospital’s risk and make everything as convenient for the doctor as possible.
Picture this. A woman, huffing and puffing, reclined on an examining table, her feet in stirrups. But why? She’s working against gravity instead of with it, which makes labor last longer and tearing more likely. But it’s easier for the doctor to see what’s happening.
Politicians, institutions, and society-at-large needs to accept that respect is not agreement. To respect a woman’s choice doesn’t mean you agree with it. In fact, you don’t EVER need to agree with the choices someone makes about their life. Maybe you’d like to understand it but your approval should not be a prerequisite for her right to make that choice. Free will is a wonderful thing. May we all have more of it.