Posted on 5.28.2012 by Kelly
As the government has increased restrictions on a variety of reproductive and sexual health care services, I have repeatedly heard an outcry over this “War on Women.” In this phrase, “women” are those who can become pregnant, and the “war” is the increase in government control over the bodies of these people and restrictions on their choices of whether to become pregnant, how to prevent pregnancy if so desired, whether to have an abortion, and how and where to give birth. However, this language erases the experiences of a whole range of other folks who don't fit into this narrow category of cis women, including people who can get pregnant who aren't women and women who don't have uteruses but are sure as hell also facing a war of misogyny, such as CeCe McDonald. To me, reproductive justice is about bodily autonomy, not just the rights of some folks to safe, affordable, and appropriate contraception and abortion. It only hurts the fight against patriarchy to ignore and exclude people whose experiences of fighting for bodily autonomy may be different from our own (and who in fact may experience misogyny not only from the government and society but also from those of us who claim to be feminists).
As a cis woman, I am first and foremost working to fight my own cissexism. In my work as a doula and my writing about reproductive health and wellness I try to constantly examine my privilege, assumptions, and language. However, I know that my privilege has many layers that I am not fully aware of (and I encourage readers to call me out on when I am not being a good ally, please!). When I was in my first year of college I read the book Cunt by Inga Muscio, and I remember her connection of the moon to menstruation really resonating with me. I ran out to buy cloth menstrual pads and a lunar calendar on which to record my period, in order to feel united with an imagined sisterhood of empowered wild menstruating women dancing under the moon. Now I realize that this excitement was really due more to a combination of being given permission to celebrate a function of my body that is often regarded as disgusting by society, a love of natural cycles, and a fascination with the moon than some sort of connection with a false sisterhood. I still think both the lunar cycle and my menstrual cycle are awesome, and I draw connections between them on a personal level as times to cleanse myself of the past month's negative energy and set intentions for the upcoming weeks. However, I no longer conceptualize menstruation as some sort of essential and wonderful feminine experience, as some women do not menstruate and not all people who menstruate are women. Additionally, I've come to realize that all people, not just those who menstruate, can experience cycles in their bodies, be they hormonal, emotional, physical, psychological, or spiritual. So now as I honor monthly cycles, my own or the moon's, I no longer envision an exclusive space based on shared bodily function but invite all to join me in drinking tea and reflecting.
The experience of “woman” cannot be essentialized, due not only to the limitations of the gender binary, but also the many other intersecting systems of oppression that affect our lives. Fighting for bodily autonomy in a system which has historically sought to sterilize those folks it deemed unfit for reproduction and which polices people's bodies and desires in order to maintain certain power structures looks different for different people based on intersecting factors of race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability status, immigration status, etc. However, while the struggle may look different, as Jasper at the amazing blog Trans* Repro Justice writes, “it’s all part of a larger system that denies those seen as the “other” the freedom to make basic choices in regards to how their bodies are viewed and how they are utilized. Therefore it’s important to remember that the sexist and cissexist system that seeks to control the sexuality, bodies, and reproduction of those it perceives to be women is the same system that actively targets the identities, bodies, reproduction, and sexualities of trans* people.”
Let's stop erasing people with our language and instead create an inclusive reproductive justice framework.
Here are some relevant articles and blog posts I've come across recently: