But this has been on my mind for a while.
So I was sitting with my friends after our yoga class one day, and I don’t know how we got on the subject of activism, but we did, and I said how I had been very active in the pro-choice movement in college. “Gee, really?” said my friend, in that “No Shit” tone of voice. Yeah, I’m That Girl, the Political One, the annoyingly opinionated. I’m used to being The Feminist (in addition to being The Dyke, and The Wiccan).
The thing is, I’ve got this reputation as an outspoken firebrand, which I don’t really think I deserve. Not any more. It’s just that openly expressing feminist opinions outside of strictly activist circles makes you stand out. I’m not badgering anyone or bringing up conflict constantly. It’s been a few years since the March for Women’s Rights in D.C. These days, I don’t do much of anything, politically.
Which is frustrating. The thing is, I’ve been witnessing a classic example of politics in personal life for the last few months; and I’ve felt pretty powerless to do anything about it.
My friend and classmate—we’ll call her Jane—got pregnant a few months ago. She’s still pregnant, and she doesn’t want to be. The system, such as it is, doesn’t make it easy for a 22 year old Native girl to get an abortion, not if she doesn’t have five or six hundred dollars ready to drop, which most of us working for minimum wage don’t. By the time she’d saved up enough money for the pill, it was too late. And now the system keeps jerking her around—drive two hours to the nearest clinic, take three days out of her life that she can’t afford to get it done with money that she doesn’t have. She told me, almost by accident, at the beginning. I mentioned that, if she was interested, I knew which herbs you could use, and where to get them. But that was it; we’re not close enough as friends for me to feel like I can do anything more, except be someone to confide in, which she doesn’t do very often.
Then Leah got pregnant; another classmate. But this a happy occasion this time; 21 years old, engaged, making wedding plans for Mexico. She may be young, but she wants to have a big family; she’s in a place where she can start one. Leah’s forbidden from getting certain types of body work and techniques done, because of her pregnancy. Jane doesn’t say anything, so I find myself working verboten Chinese meridian points on her, doing Thai massage techniques that I shouldn’t. Maybe the idea is that if we both pretend that she isn’t pregnant, she won’t be. I don’t feel like I’m in a position to say anything; Jane smiles and laughs a lot, but she keeps herself to herself.
And so I found myself sitting in the clinic office the other day, waiting for my client, and the receptionist (also a therapist) was talking on the phone. “You mean it’s not illegal??” she said, with a strange pitch to her voice.
“What’s not illegal?” I asked, curiously, when she hung up.
She looked at me a long moment, with this expression of utter fear in her eyes, and I realized I had accidentally said the wrong thing.
“That pill. You know, for when…I’m 36 years old and I’m pregnant. I feel so silly.”
“RU-486.” I said. “Yes, it’s legal here.” Whether you can get it or not is another question, I thought to myself. There’s a Planned Parenthood the next town over, but in a Red State, that really doesn’t mean a damn thing.
And then we dropped the subject and it’s never come up since. I know another therapist knows. Jane’s pregnancy is something of an open secret as well. But no one really talks about it.
It’s really incredibly frustrating to watch all these private dramas happening, and to see the connections between them, the political discourses that shape them, and feel helpless in the face of it. A young woman of color getting pregnant (out of wedlock, with a white man) is a desperate thing, shameful, discussed in hushed tones. And there’s no one to actually help her. A young white woman getting pregnant is a wonderful thing because look, her boyfriend proposed! And gave her a ring with his grandmother’s diamonds, no less. We all coo and exlaim loudly, as if to hide the fact that we’re ignoring another woman with a less certain fate. And a grown woman who doesn’t even know what her options are, and she’s not a young teenage girl raised with abstinence-only policies. She’s a member of the health care profession; and she doesn’t know that RU-486 is legal. And we all pretend like these are individual, unconnected scenarios.
It’s all very well to talk about conciousness and organizing and sisterhood and alliances. But how do we actually do it? In the face of such ignorance and silence?