Thursday, 29 May 2014

Ohio: The Importance of Choice

If you want to read Neil Lyndon's article, please consider using this link. It uses a service that stops the Telegraph from profiting from disgusting journalism such as this.

It has been announced in the past few days that Ohio has tabled a bill regarding abortion and men's rights in agreeing to termination. It is a horrific piece of legislation that would be a worrying step backwards in human rights if passed.
But whilst the bill itself is shocking, just as appalling is the reaction of male journalists and campaigners who seem to have missed the point entirely.
I pride myself on being inclusive in feminism, in wanting to involve people of all ages, backgrounds and genders in our fight for equality. I am far from a separatist, despite what my history might lead people to think. I believe feminism can be women-centred and women-led without being women-only. And I truly believe that female equality benefits men long-term too.
However, when I read articles such as that by Neil Lyndon in the Telegraph, I am suddenly led to feel a great surge of empathy for my separatist sisters.
First, let's talk about pregnancy. There's the obvious, terrifying realisation that you're going to be a parent. Even if you really want it and you're excited, there's still fear and trepidation. Yes, that's something that men feel too, I will allow that. But do they put on enormous amounts of weight, some of which they might never shift? Sounds fine, but what about when society -yes, YOUR patriarchal, misogynistic crap - insists that we stay perfect, beautiful, skinny and flawless forever? 
And how about our whole relationship with the world changing? I wish that was an exaggeration. I went down to the hotel bar to see a friend and ended up choking back the vomit. "What IS that stuff you're drinking?" It was just red wine, but a pregnant woman's sense of smell changes so drastically that it alters her perception. Shopping at the supermarket became the strangest experience, smells I'd never noticed before suddenly becoming overwhelming. I was more sensitive to sound, to taste. I had extraordinary cravings taking over my body. Quite simply, my body was not my own.
And then, at the end of nine months of intermittent sickness, pain and aches, sleepless nights (because you just can't sleep comfortably), weight gain, swollen ankles and other parts, comes the grand finale - forcing a fully grown baby out of a hole so small that its skull bones have to overlap to get through. And whilst much safer today than it once was, childbirth is still risky. In fact, there were a staggering 343,000 deaths during childbirth in 2008.
Have you got the picture yet? Pregnancy... Childbirth... it's scary stuff.
And whilst men may be expected to contribute to prospective offspring, and may still feel the same levels of fear and trepidation about parental commitments or the well-being of their partners, they don't have to go through the physical changes, the hormones or face a potentially life-threatening situation at the end of it. It isn't your body to control. As I said before, it was barely my own!

 “Since fathers will have legal responsibilities for child support, they should have rights regarding the birth or destruction of the foetus."

There is so much wrong with this quote from Lyndon's article. If there is a child resulting from the pregnancy AND they are required to contribute financially, then perhaps it can be discussed further. At that point. But with regard to the pregnancy and birth, that affects the mother and decisions should be her domain.

So women, according to Lyndon's piece, would have to provide a list of possible fathers. There would be paternity tests so that the individual could give "permission" for a termination. Seriously? There's a one night stand and no interest in children, but she needs to ask for permission to get rid of an unwanted foetus that could risk HER LIFE, physical and emotional well-being and did I mention HER LIFE?!

"If the father cannot be identified, the woman would not be allowed to terminate her pregnancy."

Because, obviously, a woman cannot make autonomous decisions. If the father is so elusive that he cannot be identified, how does he have any rights at all in these circumstances?

"Where the woman says that the pregnancy is the result of rape, she would have to provide a police report as evidence before she could have the abortion."

So, let me get this straight. A woman has been sexually assaulted, had all of her rights stripped away from her in the worst possible way. She's, quite possibly, struggling to admit what happened to herself, let alone anyone else. She's just found out that not only was her body treated as a plaything by someone else on that night, but her body has just been taken over by a parasite for the next nine months (ok, eight, once she finds out) and her body's still not her own. I keep coming back to this, but the issue of propriety is actually quite significant when all ownership has been stripped away.

She's gone through all of this, and now you're not going to let her have an abortion unless she provides a police report? So she's got to report and relive that whole experience, and that's if the police decide to take it seriously in the first place. A law like this is only going to encourage police forces to dismiss rape cases on the grounds that she's "just trying to get an abortion". Why make a difficult situation harder?

I look back on my experience in Germany and wonder where I would have been. I was laughed at by the police, because I was an English girl. I've been laughed at by others because I'm ugly and should be grateful for the attention. I'm not alone; there are thousands of women experiencing the same victim shaming that I went through, and refusal to acknowledge the trauma.

Reporting to the police, just like abortion, needs to be a choice. Choice is everything in cases of violence, and all those choices need to be independent and exclusive.

Is it in the interests of taxpayers that 150,000+ abortions should be performed every year? Is it in the interests of the wider society that those lives - more or less equal to the annual figure for net migration in the UK - should be stilled?"

These were the final questions asked in the article. The short answer is that yes, these abortions are definitely in the interest of the taxpayer. The longer answer is that we often is the surgical cost of termination without considering the wider implications.

Imagine a woman who has been forced into having her child. Think of the counselling and therapy costs that she would undoubtedly need at some point. Think of the economic cost due to someone potentially unable to work as effectively due to the emotional or physical repercussions. If you want to look at cold, hard facts, then an abortion costs around £400 as opposed to upwards of £700 for childbirth (and that's without all the scans and all the rest of it). Then there's the cost of education, healthcare and everything else. If you want cold, hard "interests of taxpayers", then that woman's doing you a hell of a favour.

In reality, nothing is ever so black and white. Every woman's story is different and the reasons for abortion are also varied. To reduce women to the cost of their healthcare, abortion or birth, or to reduce children to the cost of their education is over-simplification at best, but rather callous and insulting.

Women deserve a choice over something that will permanently change their lives. There is no shame in involving the father in the decision process, but there is also no obligation. If men are so concerned with how they are being treated in these cases, then perhaps it's time to take a look at the bigger picture and the way our patriarchal society is treating women as a whole. Perhaps then, they may start to understand.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Support vs Pressure

Last year, I met a woman who was completely aghast at my openness. She asked me how I would feel if my headteacher knew about my past, about the fact I'd been raped, about my pregnancies and miscarriages. She obviously thought that I'd be terrified by the idea of anyone knowing, especially my headteacher. I wasn't, particularly. Though I wouldn't have gone out of my way to share this blog or my experience, I wasn't ashamed of it, much to this woman's surprise.

You see, this woman thought that being raped is something I should hide. She told me that by speaking openly about it, I'm bringing the organisations I work with into disrepute, that I was unfit to be working with young people. She told me that groups didn't need the stigma of people like me, that sort of woman, like it was my fault, like I had attracted trouble and I should feel guilty.

I don't blame this woman for her views, any more than I blame the organisation that she represents. She is, unfortunately, a victim herself - a victim of societal misconceptions about gender inequality and abuse. She has spent so long believing myths of culpability that violence has become something that her truth has become warped. Views like this need to be challenged, and I still feel a sense of disgust that it has taken me so long to address it, but they also need to be tackled in a way that is respectful of the framework and experiences that have shaped the viewpoint in the first place. We are trying to change minds, not destroy people.

But this post isn't about that incident or that woman, not directly. It's to do with what she said.

As I've said in a previous post, I'm lucky enough to be working in a school that I love, and I've been there since January. This half term, my induction reports from my first two terms finally arrived from my previous authority, and I was asked into the headteacher's office.

"But these are not at all reflective of what we've seen here," she commented on the reports, quoting choice sections that made me cringe. "What's changed? Why did you struggle so much?"

I don't quite know what made me be so honest, but I was. I sat there and told her that I should never have trained when I did, that I was fighting back against what happened to me, that I've had counselling since and started building up that relationship with myself again.

She asked questions - lots of questions - and I answered every one of them, fully and honestly. By the end of the meeting, I was broken and shaking, but she knew the whole situation. She thanked me for sharing and told me that it really helped her - it meant that she understood and she had enough context that she could support me and fight my corner if it was needed.

When I was interviewed for a proper contract (rather than the supply I'm currently doing), I was also open about what I do, that I blog about gender inequality, violence against women, that I have run workshops on the subject, that I write articles, go on marches and other bits. I never for a moment thought that I would be judged.

I have been discussing what we can do to support those who have experienced VAWG, both staff members and children. My experience, my past, it's all valued rather than dismissed or swept under the carpet. It's not something that comes up every day or something that is at the forefront, but it is acknowledged when appropriate. I'm free to be myself and not just a sanitised facade that threatens to crack over time.

If we accept the experiences of others and support them, we can lift them up and help them reach their full potential. By forcing them to hide their true selves or aspects of that, we are putting pressure on them and forcing them down until they break. 

Sadly, I know that I am in the minority, being in an environment that does support and embrace me for who I am. But we need to take this model and encourage it. Not so that every woman has to share their experience, but so no woman has to live in fear of it "coming out".