Friday, January 15, 2010
On May 31, 2009, Dr. George Tiller was gunned down while serving as an usher for a Sunday morning service in his Wichita, KS, church. Dr. Tiller operated a women's health clinic, one of only three nationwide that performed abortions after the 21st week of pregnancy, so-called "late-term abortions." Most of Dr. Tiller's patients made their excruciatingly difficult choice after learning later in their pregnancies that their unborn children suffered from severe, and sometimes fatal, birth defects. Some even had to choose between their own lives and the lives of their unborn children. For providing this medical service to his patients in desperate circumstances, Dr. Tiller was granted a death sentence. But, there was no trial. There was no testimony. Dr. Tiller's murderer, Scott Roeder, who will be afforded a trial of his own, served as Dr. Tiller's judge, jury, and executioner. Reports claim that Roeder will argue that his premeditated murder of Dr. Tiller was "justifiable homicide." That hardly sounds pro-life to me.
Dr. Tiller was known to wear a button that stated, simply, "Trust women." So, today, on the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, on the eve of Scott Roeder's trial, and in honor of "Blog for Choice Day 2010," I want to share what those words me to me.
Trust women. Those two small words strike a very powerful chord in me. As a woman myself, I can't say that I always trusted myself, let alone other women. I didn't always know how to connect with other women. My own insecurities caused me to distance myself from them and often made me appear "snobby." I thought that this meant that I formed friendships with men easier, but I know wonder if it actually taught me to use my gender and sexuality as a means of connecting with men. I'm still not a "girly girl," and I can't relate to other women when it comes to topics like shopping, motherhood, or fashion, but I'm more comfortable in my own skin than ever before, and I've learned that our shared experiences as women tie us together in a way that we can never relate to men.
I had a great conversation with a female co-worker yesterday. She was frustrated over the lack of understanding that her male co-workers demonstrated regarding violence against women. She wondered if they could ever truly get it. I said that I didn't think they could. And, I believe that. As females, we grow up experiencing the world as an inherently dangerous place, with strangers and intimates capable of hurting us at any moment. We are taught about personal safety at a young age, and we internalize our responsibility to always be on guard. Walking to our cars, being alone in our homes, sitting at our office desks, even sleeping in our own beds, we are constantly aware, even if unconsciously, of our vulnerability.
Men, on the other hand, are conditioned to believe that the world is theirs to conquer. What we fear, they approach with a sense of entitlement and ownership. Does a man ever think about how he carries his keys as he approaches his car? Does he check the backseat? Does he ever worry that someone will force him/herself upon him? Does he worry about angering his partner for fear that violence could result? For that matter, does he ever struggle with the fear of losing his identity when he marries (and changes his name), with choosing between his career and his children, with trying to live up to the unrealistic standards portrayed by the media and espoused by his culture? Can a man ever really know what it feels like to be a woman?
During our conversation yesterday, my much younger co-worker said, "The sad thing is that they're right. It IS a man's world." I couldn't argue with her. While racism is still actively alive in our culture, I think that the threads of sexism are woven even deeper into our fabric. The citizenry of the U.S. elected the first black man to the presidency before the first woman. The numbers spoke for themselves. A strong, confident woman still must defend herself against the label of "bitch" when she aspires to do what men are doing. God forbid!
I trust myself, as a woman, to know when there is something wrong with my body. When I began experiencing strange symptoms and bodily changes, I searched for many years for a diagnosis. I was told that I had "fork-plate-mouth syndrome" when I started gaining weight at a fast rate. I couldn't control my weight despite medication, exercise, and a controlled diet. I knew it wasn't normal. I knew it wasn't just aging. I kept asking. I kept searching. After several doctors, a spinal tap, ultrasounds, and countless MRI's, I was finally diagnosed with a pituitary tumor. My problems didn't stop there, though, because when I started gaining weight YET AGAIN, I was told, "Yeah. It's hard. We're all on a diet in the office." The pounds kept coming. I searched some more. I asked some more. I was finally told by a renowned specialist that not only could the pituitary tumor affect my metabolism and cause me to gain weight, but that the medications prescribed for the tumor could do the same. Duh! That was what I had been trying to say all along. But, none of my doctors have ever believed that I could be right, that I could know my body better than they could. None of them trusted me!
I trust the women in my life with my deepest, darkest secrets, feelings, and fears. I trust them with my fun, my laughter, and my heart. My trust them with my love, my soul, and even with my life. I have jumped out of airplanes with them. I have cried with them. I have smuggled boycotted coffee with them. I have been pissed off with them. I have marched with them. I have had a blast with them. They are my sisters, some biologically and some spiritually. They are my mothers, not by birth, but by virtue. They are my teachers, my friends, my mentors, my inspiration. I trust these women, and I hope that they trust me.
And, I trust men, like Dr. Tiller, who trust women. I trust men who believe the victims of sexual assault when they report, when they testify, and when they want justice. I trust men who want a woman to be his partner, his equal, his mate. I trust men who speak out about violence, even when it has not affected them personally. I trust men who do their best, despite our biological, emotional, physical, sociological, psychological, and experiential differences, to truly connect with women, to empathize with women, and to support women.
Trust women. Trust yourself.