Two months ago a woman in Michigan named Karen Teegarden called her friend Desiree Jordan in New York. They both wondered why women all over this country weren’t marching in the streets in response to hundreds of pieces of state legislation that many of us feel are whittling away at women’s dignity, autonomy and rights as human beings. Karen started a Facebook page that night and called it UniteWomen.org. The next morning 500 people had signed on. By last Saturday morning, there were nearly 38,000.
Nancy, my friend who can tell me every time I have deconstructed a thought, and I met up with several hundred of them at Westlake Center. I hadn’t been to a rally since I went with Nancy to see Bill Clinton, or in this case, his hair, at Westlake Center in 1992. I almost never do anything that puts me in a crowd. By Friday evening, I was wondering if it was enough to say I was going even if I instead stayed home and ate popcorn.
But Nancy suggested we go together and take signs. Slogans poured out of her like water. We settled on these: Ejaculation is a Choice. Preach Condoms. Conception Begins at Erection. I decided that I would go all out and get a poster made from a cartoon that I have been circulating quietly among my friends because I am just middle-aged enough to feel self-conscious about the word vagina. (OK I've wasted the morning trying to figure out how to put up the cartoon. It's the one of the gynecologist performing a pap who says, "I see the problem. You have Republicans in your vagina.")
Thanks to folks like Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, a lot of us are using the v-word more freely. Gov. McDonnell is the one who nearly signed into law the infamous trans-vaginal ultra-sound required before an abortion. The bill was reconsidered when it was pointed out how invasive the mandated trans-vaginal ultrasound truly is, how similar it was to rape in other words. This had to be pointed out. Then there’s Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania. He wants to sign into law mandatory ultrasounds for women seeking abortions but he says, “I’m not making anybody watch, ok. Because you just have to close your eyes.”
When I was in college we were told not to struggle if we were attacked and raped because we could be hurt even worse if we fought back. Is that what they tell people who go into the armed forces? One of the effects of declaring a section of the population subjugated, dependent, and defenseless is that the rest of the population can despise them. That is what we do with adults who don’t fight back when others abuse or try to control them. We despise them.
This isn’t just about ignorant male politicians. Truly, the only sour note in the day came from an exceptionally sour-faced woman who looked at the Preach Condoms sign and said, “You should preach abstinence. That’s what the Bible says.” If it were possible to have a conversation with anyone who makes statements that involve the phrase “the Bible says,” I would have told her that what the Bible does or doesn’t say was irrelevant to me. But for the record, the Bible doesn’t say any such thing.
There were a lot of great signs at Westlake. The only one I didn’t like was: “No Uterus? No opinion.” I don’t agree with that. I know the risk we run with allowing uterus-less persons to have opinions is that they may have the Wrong One. (For the one or two fundamentalists mistakenly reading this blog, that is a joke.) But the larger point is that if you are male and want your opinion about pregnancy, abortion and birth to be respected, than you’d better plan to spend 20 years of your life shouldering 50% of the responsibility for the consequences of your sperm.
Women are not alone in feeling this way: One of the most delightful aspects of the afternoon was the male support for our signs. We got thumbs-up and comments like “We’re with you!” and “It’s not just about women!” And our favorite : “That’s the best fucking sign I’ve ever seen! High five!”