I’m out voting this morning. In lieu of a new column and in honor of election day, here is a re-post of the popular essay I wrote in August, “What it’s Like to be a Woman in American in 2012.” Here’s hoping women’s rights aren’t set back 50 years today…
This week, the buzz is about the inane, ignorant and hurtful comments made by Rep. Todd Akin (R) from my home state of Missouri in a televised interview that aired in St. Louis on Sunday. When asked if he supported abortion in the case of rape, Akin, who is running for Senator, said:
“From what I understand from doctors, [pregnancy from rape] is really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist.”
Many bloggers, journalists and concerned citizens have already written eloquent and passionate reactions to Akin’s comment, so I want to focus instead on what it’s like to be a woman in America in 2012 — a woman in a country where politicians who actually believe that the female body has special powers to discern between evil sperm and loving sperm have been elected to create and vote on legislation that limits women’s control over their own health care.
It’s 2012 and I live in one of the most powerful and economically abundant countries in the world, where I’m scared to walk alone at night. When I pass a group of men on the street, I avert my eyes, hoping they won’t comment on the size of my breasts or the shape of my ass or the way my body moves when I walk. If it’s just one man, I don’t worry as much. But in groups, they find power in numbers, and I wonder if today will be the day they take the comments one step further and follow me down the street, or worse, follow me home.
I live in New York and one might ask what I expect living in one of the largest cities in the world. But I used to live in a medium-sized city in Missouri, the state that Todd Akin represents, and it happened to me there, too. If fact, my apartment was broken into one night and the only thing that was stolen, besides my jar of change, was my underwear. I had spent the night at my boyfriend’s place and I don’t want to think about what might have happened — legitimately happened — had I been home instead. Someone else close to me lived in a town nearby — a small, quiet, unassuming town in Missouri — and was mugged at gunpoint. Crime against women happens everywhere, and an estimated 32,000 times a year it results in pregnancy.
I have a baby now — the result of a loving relationship between my husband and me — and still I worry about crime when I walk down the street in the middle of the day. The men don’t leave me alone now just because I’m a mother and my son is with me. They call me, “Mama,” and “Lookin’ good, Mama,” and “I like the way you push that stroller.” My husband has asked that when I come home late at night from an evening out with my friends — a rarity these days, but it does happen — that I call him to pick me up if I have no one to walk me home. I’m almost 36 years old — a wife and a mother and a professional — and I need a chaperone because some crazy douchebags think my body is public property. Hmm, I wonder wherever in the world they got that idea.
I didn’t get any paid maternity leave when my baby was born. I work for myself, so I wasn’t expecting any, of course. But here in America, even if I had been working for someone else, that person or that company would not have been required by law to give me even a day of paid maternity leave. Not even an hour. My job would have been held for a few weeks, but that’s it.
I started a new moms’ group when I was pregnant and most of us all had babies within a few weeks of each other. Some of the women took extended maternity leave — six whole months — so they could stay home with their babies until they started, you know, sleeping for more than three hours at a stretch. They weren’t paid for that leave, and they worried as their savings dwindled what they’d do if there were an emergency and they missed more work.
When they did go back, they had to deal not only with juggling motherhood and their careers, but also with navigating the office politics surrounding working mothers. One woman, a producer at a major network news station, worried about being overlooked for assignments that would require her to travel now that she was a single mother of an infant. She worried about being overlooked for promotions and raises now that her “focus was split.” “I don’t want to be mommy-tracked,” she lamented, as she plotted ways to ensure topnotch child care for her daughter should her commitment to work be “tested” with a last-minute assignment that would take her out of town with just hours to prepare.
Many of my new mom friends who returned to work months after giving birth continued breastfeeding, which brought the new challenge of pumping at the office (or, “in the field,” in the case of my producer and journalist friends). They told me stories about the “designated areas” for them to pump, which are required by law. One woman, a clinical psychologist, pumped in a supply closet with a broken lock on the door. She kept one hand on her pump and one hand holding the door shut in case anyone wondered why the light was on and barged in on her without knocking. Finally, she put a sign on the door, but it was gone the next day and she had to make a new one. That one came down the next day, too.
One woman in my group, the first to travel without her baby, told us about going through security at the airport with bottled breast milk that she had pumped earlier that day. The TSA agent wanted proof the milk came from her breast and asked her to take her pump to the bathroom and pump a fresh bottle. Exhausted, emotional, and embarrassed, she didn’t fight back. She took her pump to the bathroom and stood in a filthy stall and pumped. And cried.
Some women, like me, decide, for various reasons, not to breastfeed. Things aren’t necessarily easier for us. People who want to distract us from the issues of real concern — our basic rights and protection — have created, through tabloid-like “news” stories and sensational magazine covers, something called the “Mommy Wars” and now we’re all so fucking defensive about our own personal choices that we’re spending too much energy trying to justify why we do the things that make sense for us and our families, like feed our babies formula or work in an office or stay home or try to have babies in our 40s or raise kids without a partner. We’re spending too much energy defending ourselves against each other, and not enough energy fighting together for better rights … or fighting to keep the basic rights — like making our own health care choices — that members of the GOP would like to strip us of. Which is exactly what they want, of course.
One of my Facebook friends posted a quote from President Obama the other day: “When it comes to a woman’s right to make her own health care choices, [members of the GOP] want to take us back to the policies more suited to 1950s than the 21st century.” One of her Facebook friends, a woman I don’t know and have never heard of, commented: “Perhaps remove the focus from that one point and think instead about the free abortions and contraceptives that will be given to all females of reproductive age… Or about the Muslims, Christian scientists, and Amish ( among others) that are exempt from obamacare due to religious beliefs….”
She goes on and on, hitting every talking point FoxNews and its ilk have drummed into her head, including the legitimacy (there’s that word again) of Obama’s citizenship and his ties to socialism. It was all a bunch of moronic nonsense, but what stood out to me the most was her first line: “Perhaps remove the focus from that one point” — that “one point” being a woman’s right to control her own health care choice, as if that point weren’t worthy of our focus!! This was a woman saying this! A woman who was fed the bullshit and ate it up with a spoon, just like the GOP wanted.
Women in American in 2012: let’s quit fighting each other, and FIGHT BACK. Enough with the mommy wars and the sensational news stories and all that other crazy bullshit that distracts us from the real issues of concern. Our rights are at risk — our basic rights — not to mention the fact that many of us are afraid, on a daily damn basis, of being attacked — legitimately attacked — simply because we are women.
This election year, vote to keep your rights. Vote for the people who are going to fight to protect you. And fight to keep the morons and the assholes and the douchebags out of power and out of our bodies.