Tonight, while I was at an event that has historically proven itself both not inclusive of gender issues and annoyed by their very existence at the same time, I met someone who is against abortion. They asked me, acknowledging that I am pro-choice, where the menz fit into this discussion. That opened up a very long dialogue.
1. Bodily Autonomy or Body Police?
Men already have bodily autonomy, and if women’s rights to bodily autonomy are taken away from them by anti-abortion legislation, this remains fundamentally unchanged. Thus, men are said to be in a position of privilege in relation to this issue. Men fit into this conversation by virtue of being presented a choice: are they in support of bodily autonomy, or do they see themselves as the Body Police? Men who acknowledge that bodily autonomy is equally important for women as it is for men (who already possess it and will continue to no matter which way this issue unfolds in parliament) are acknowledging that they respect women as equals; whereas men who view themselves as the Body Police are subjugating women. It’s really as simple as that.
2. Legal or Illegal?
Men also fit into this conversation by virtue of being able to state a preference for whether they’d prefer that abortion is legal (i.e., safe, clean, and monitored temporarily by health professionals who are able to intervene in the event of complications of any magnitude) or illegal (i.e., potentially fatal, life-threatening, hazardous, non-sterile, and un-monitored). Because men are not the subjects who would be directly effected by this choice, they are said to be in a position of privilege with respect to this issue. Men who acknowledge that having access to legal abortion is important are acknowledging that women are not simply disposable incubators for babies once they become pregnant, and are acknowledging that women’s lives are innately valuable. Men who believe that abortion should be illegal are essentially saying that women should be punished with the possibility of a death sentence for getting pregnant and not wanting to be. There’s really no grey area here.
3. Proactive or Reactive?
Men (of the cisgendered and fertile variety) being the providers of exactly half the human gametes that cause all pregnancies have exactly half the responsibility for causing pregnancy, whether it is desired or not. Men have an equal share of personal responsibility, therefore, in determining whether to be proactive or reactive towards unwanted pregnancy. However, unlike women, who are shamed as sluts and whores for being sexually assertive, men are championed as studs for the same behaviour. I am not talking about individuals, but a greater dominant cultural attitude towards sexuality as shared and reinforced by the majority of media through which individuals internalize ideas about sexuality — especially about personal responsibility. Thus, men are said to be in a position of privilege (of a different order and magnitude than the two already-established points above) in asserting sexual autonomy by choosing whether to be proactive or reactive about unwanted pregnancy.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I personally still open this conversation with sex partners who could impregnate me. I am a trans person with an intact uterus — although, I’m neither sexually active nor fertile at the present time. It doesn’t matter that I can no longer become pregnant, whether I want to or not, as long as I keep injecting testosterone every week. What matters is that nothing would turn me off more spontaneously than finding out that my prospective sex partner believes that abortion should be illegal and/or that other people should have the authority to police my body because I can’t be trusted with it on my own. I can only reasonably anticipate that anyone who believes abortion should be illegal or that women should not have bodily autonomy, would find my political commitment to fighting for access to legal abortion and bodily autonomy for women a turn-off of equal magnitude. How could they possibly reconcile the fact that they think I’m complicit with murdering “pre-born” infant children with being penetrated, heavily petted, and orally worshiped by me, or gratifying me by doing the same?
This is not a conversation I would want to wait to have between episodes of morning sickness, that is for certain. The time for it is long before. This is especially true for men, since it is not their body that endures the outcome, one way or another. If you can’t have an honest and open discussion with a prospective sex partner about how you two can share the responsibility of being proactive about unwanted pregnancy if the fusion of your gametes is a legitimate risk — let alone a frank discussion of your stance on how other people should manage this risk in the event of an unwanted pregnancy neither of you has anything to do with — then keep your reproductive organs contained in your pants until you can. I mean, honestly. How did you expect you were going to tackle the issue of preventing potential transmission of sexually transmitted infections? You’re not ready for the responsibility of managing the risks you are taking, both with your own body and someone else’s.
4. Consensual or Non-Consensual?
Consent is something you either have or you don’t. The only ambiguity that is even logically possible is in the eye of the beholder, when s/he is uncertain of whether or not s/he has it — in which case, s/he bears the onus to assume s/he doesn’t, or to frankly enquire. Checking in with your partner in the heat of the moment is a lot hotter than it sounds in this piece of writing. Discussing the status of your relationship — which I don’t recommend doing in the heat of a passionate moment together; rather, I would advise making this arrangement in advance and then doing it over coffee like two equally mature people in a relationship together — can go a long way to building intimacy and mutual understanding on an existing foundation of mutual attraction. Accepting that consent is an extremely rare instance of a truly black-and-white issue applies equally to consent to have sex as to consent to plan for and attempt to cause a pregnancy with a given sex partner. Each party shares equal responsibility for both. If you are polyamourous, multi-partnered, in an open relationship, and/or a swinger, all involved parties share equal responsibility. If you are in a committed monogamous relationship, this concern is no less serious. Just less easily complicated. And the same goes for casual relationships and dating.
Therefore, once again, because men are the contributors of exactly half the gametes necessary to produce every pregnancy that will ever occur (at least until human beings can begin reproducing by parthenogenesis — which will literally never happen), they share exactly half the responsibility to establish consent for pregnancy. This goes right back to the conversation about whether an individual man chooses to be proactive or reactive about the prospect of unwanted pregnancy, but I am referring here to desired pregnancy as well. Men can only be “tricked” into impregnating a woman with whom they are unwilling to be supportive of access to various birth control methods, and/or have honest and open conversations about being proactive about pregnancy and sexual health. Men can learn just as much about how to use a diaphragm or female condom for birth control as women can learn about how to use a male condom or access a vasectomy. Men can support their partners if they choose to use patches, pills, rings, sponges, gels, injections, and/or IUDs to control their fertility. And again, men who think they either can’t learn these things or be supportive through these decisions clearly don’t think very highly of women or themselves. I know I would find that a pretty much spontaneous turn-off.
This blog post is a message to all men about reproductive rights. You are in a categorically privileged position with respect to the issue of abortion. You are not helpless. You are no more the victims of women, than of yourselves, if you either impregnate someone and didn’t consent to them having an abortion or impregnate someone who refuses to have an abortion even though you didn’t consent to become a parent. If you can’t accept the responsibility of sexual autonomy, then perhaps it’s time to stop and think about that on your own for a while. Campaigning to take women’s rights away, or whining about how feminists pick on you for having a penis, just to fix your hypothetical problem in the event you cause an unplanned and/or unwanted pregnancy isn’t just ignorant and misogynist. It’s pathetic and childish too. If you inhabit a sexually mature body, it’s time to start thinking and acting like an adult.