Welcome to Sex Week!

Today I need y’all to be my confessors to something that’s been weighing on my Feminist Conscience. I’ve been advocating for reproductive rights and sexual health for years. I have a “Get Yourself Tested” button on my backpack right now. In high school, I drove my friends to clinics for STD checks like a Sexual Health Soccer Mom. I (very loudly) believe in the importance of annual exams and check-ups.

Okay, but here’s the thing… my first visit to the gynecologist happened just a few months ago. Yeah. I’ve been preaching about sexual (and general genital) health for years, but have been seriously failing to take care of myself. I was scared of the gynecologist and scared of my own body.

Before my Big Feminist Awakening, I was told in various direct and indirect ways that my body, because of its femaleness, was inherently shameful. Like most girls growing up in mainstream America, I was immersed in a slut shaming mentality. I was raised by a very religious mother. My mother is a strong and wonderful woman, but church? That place can mess you up.

I cried when I noticed the first hints of puberty (which actually makes sense because that life stage is the worst) and again the day I started my first period. My mom laughed at my horror and tried to comfort me, but I was seriously convinced I had just reached the Age of No Return. I was sure my graduation into Womanhood meant I was condemned to burn in hell for all eternity. I had been told over and over that all women are sluts and whores who must beg for forgiveness every Sunday. If you’re told your entire life that you should hate yourself, your body, and all its human functions, with the added bonus of hearing that God is judging your every unholy action, you’re bound to have some issues to unpack.

I had my Big Atheist Awakening a few years before finding feminism. It’s been years since I left my mom’s conservative religion and became a raging feminist, but I’m still struggling to shake the remnants of body negativity and body shame. I know and believe that body positivity is an imperative for healthy living, especially for young women. But I still have moments of full on self-loathing, body hatred, and shame. I know it’s a product of society, but I can’t logic my way out of my emotions. Turns out, shaking a lifetime’s worth of internalized self hatred isn’t always as easy as I think it should be.

I have a feeling a lot of us are dealing with these body issues so, guess what, folks? Welcome to Sex Week! It’s like Shark Week with less teeth…unless you have been blessed with the vagina from the movie Teeth. Still, it’s like Shark Week with 100% less fear and more body positivity! This week, we’re going to be talking about bodies, lady doctors (not doctors who are ladies, doctors FOR ladies- and people with lady parts!), sex education, sex positivity, and the myths around of all it!

My Cuterus, My Choice

Important Note: I don’t want to frame reproductive justice as a women’s issue because not everyone with a uterus identifies as a woman, not every woman has a uterus, and not every person with a uterus can carry a child. But I firmly believe that decisions about what goes into and out of a uterus, and when, should only ever be made by the person with the uterus in question. I am now picturing my uterus being cross-examined in a court of law.

One of the coolest parts of working in a Writing Center is having the chance to learn from students with all kinds of opinions and perspectives. A few days ago, I had a great consultation with a Chinese student who was writing a paper about her country’s One Child Policy. She taught me a lot about the late term forced abortions routinely carried out as a result of the governmental policy. Then, she wanted to know how abortion works in the United States. That’s a challenging topic to discuss when a language barrier is involved.

The session was really great, and not only because we spent some time teaching each other how to pronounce “uterus” in English and in Chinese.  The student wrote about abortion factually and calmly. It was so refreshing to discuss reproductive rights without being blinded by a fit of religious and political rage. During our discussion, the student observed that, “In China, some mothers die because they are forced abortion. In the US, some mothers die because they are not allowed abortion. Yet each government says it cares about the health of its people.” Bingo, baby.

I’ve thought about that student a lot lately, because the anti-choice group Justice For All has returned to our campus for their annual shame fest. I’ve been thinking about everyone whose only real exposure to the conversation around abortion in the US is coming through Justice For All’s garish, enormous billboards of bloodied fetuses. I’m not going to link to their webpage, because I really don’t want to support this organization’s efforts to garner more attention, but the motto/slogan/mission statement listed on their homepage reads, “Justice For All trains thousands to make abortion unthinkable for millions, one person at a time.”  Clearly, this group is utterly off base in their approach.

There are a billion reasons a person with a uterus might choose to have an abortion. Those reasons aren’t anyone’s business but the uterus owner’s. Conversations about what’s right for each individual uterus should only include that individual, a licensed health care provider, and maybe but not always the individual’s partner. Organizations like Justice For All should not exist. A group of people shouldn’t be able to make forceful attempts to deny access to health care, to compromise legal rights, or to shame others based on their legitimate and completely shame-free decisions. Here’s a message that needs to be heard much louder than JFA’s: Abortion is not shameful.

An undesired pregnancy is the only health issue I can think of in which treatment is mediated by origin. If you accidentally stab yourself in the stomach while overenthusiastically opening a present and need emergency gut surgery (this actually happened to someone I know) nobody says, “You fool. I don’t care if things didn’t go as planned, it was your CHOICE to open that package, so you can just deal with the consequences!”  But when the health issue is a pregnancy, people feel justified making absurd arguments like, “You had sex so you can deal with the consequences and the consequence is MOTHERHOOD!”

Justice For All is attempting to create a cultural climate in which terminating a pregnancy will result in social ostracization.  By “making abortion unthinkable to millions” this organization is attempting to eliminate choice. A choice that turns you into a social pariah isn’t a choice likely to be made- JFA’s entire goal. This is the difference between being personally pro-life and being publicly anti-choice. Choosing to terminate a pregnancy doesn’t mean the entire nation is going to adopt a One Child Policy and start forcing abortions. Choosing to carry a pregnancy to term doesn’t mean that no one is ever allowed to have an abortion. I have lots of feminist friends who identify as personally pro-life while loudly and proudly supporting reproductive justice. That’s the whole point of choice!

We, and only we uterus-bearing individuals, are allowed to make choices concerning our bodies. JFA’s approach is to present abortion as a morally repugnant act, thereby shaming everyone who has had an abortion, everyone who has considered abortion, and everyone who supports abortion rights and reproductive justice. Public shaming is not an effective rhetorical approach, especially when… there is no shame in abortion!

There's no shame in abortion.

Ty’s tank top speaks the truth!

I’m lucky to be part of a campus that has a vibrant array of social justice student groups who are peacefully and positively protesting JFA’s presence on campus. We’ll be wearing t-shirts with positive messages to show our support of reproductive justice. There will also be a human tunnel to help folks get across the plaza without being harassed, triggered, or shamed by members of JFA.  I’m so glad there are proactive groups filled with such smart, brave, and compassionate students on my campus!

SURJ shirt making

Madelaine and Justin make pro-uterus shirts.

This year, and every year, I find myself wishing anti-abortionists cared as much about the children who are already alive as they do about fetuses.  If all that energy and misguided compassion were directed at living-in-the-world humans, can you imagine how incredible our world would be? There is so much poverty and inequity in our country already. There are kids who don’t have access to basic resources. I wish we could stop fighting about whether or not we’re capable of making informed decisions about our bodies (we are!!!) and start making informed decisions about improving conditions for the people who are already here.

SURJ Shirts

Madelaine, Abigail, Lydia, and cuterus shirts!

We formed a ‘cuterus’ girl gang- why not add some body positivity into the mix? My cuterus ended up looking like a bunny. I’m going with it. Your morals, opinions, and legislations can hop right on out of my uterus!