In a last-minute dick move we may as well have expected from the Bush administration, newly introduced regulations mean that basically anyone can refuse a woman health services now, for as long as their decision is based on nebulous “beliefs.” As Jill points out over on Feministe, this is being framed as an abortion issue, but the fact is, that’s total crap. Legislation protecting medical professionals unwilling to perform abortion already exists.
The vague new regulations essentially mean that anything from receiving emergency contraception to getting rid of a dangerous ectopic pregnancy is now under threat.
Then again, for some of us, this issue is already pretty old. I remember that when I tried to obtain emergency contraception back in Charlotte, North Carolina, about 6 years ago, I was refused at two hospitals. At the first hospital, a nurse called me a “slut,” and at the second hospital, I was told that I needed to claim I was raped in order to get help.
I took my chances. I still remember the morning I went to meet an old teacher of mine for coffee over at a bookshop a few weeks later, and triumphantly announced, “I’m not pregnant!” The woman at the table next to us gave me a dirty look. I scowled right back. I was so happy. I wasn’t going to treat an unplanned pregnancy as anything other than an unplanned pregnancy. The possibility of it was not “joyful” to me, and I was not going to pretend otherwise.
I wonder where the dirty look woman is in the world today. I wonder about the nurse that called me a slut. I wonder why it was so damn important for these two individuals to show their disapproval, try to keep me in line, try to make me feel ashamed: I was not their daughter, I was not even the daughter of a friend. They didn’t know me.
Of course, what they did know is that there were certain roles that women were expected to fulfill – I bet neither one of them had ever asked for Plan B, or was publicly excited at the prospect of not being pregnant. Or, if they had, I bet they had a talk about it with a pastor or another person they trusted, and decided to repent. And who the hell was I, then? Did I think I was better than them, or something? Did I think I could change anything?
You know what I hate about being a woman? The need to pretend. I know that men have to pretend as well – pretend they’re the toughest, or the richest, or that they can bench press the most or whatever, or that they have the biggest dick of all time, but in the case of women, we have to pretend that sex and motherhood, even unplanned motherhood, even problems relating to motherhood (the afore-mentioned ectopic pregnancies, the insane pain of childbirth, etc.), must completely override anything and everything about us. Our wombs and vajayjays are simultaneously made to be the most important parts of us and are constructed as things that we should ultimately have no control over.
And we have to pretend that hey, you know, it’s cool. We have to be genteel about the entire thing. We have to be polite and non-threatening and then we also have to act deeply ashamed and squeamish about things like Plan B, or abortion, or hell, just the simple fact of “oh dude, yeah, the condom broke but things were OK in the end.”
You know the other thing you have to do after you deal with a broken condom or whatever? You have to get tested for AIDS. You have to, if you’re a responsible human being, even if the guy insists that he’s been tested and it’s all cool.
It’s not OK to talk about getting tested for AIDS either. But I’m going to talk about it. It happened like this: I went to a clinic in Kiev. When I went to pick up my results, I went with my cousin, and I could literally feel my legs turning to air as I approached the cabinet door. In the office of the doctor, my grandmother’s friend, an old colleague (grandma’s herself a doctor), was lounging. The smiling doctor told me I was OK, in English. But my grandmother’s friend didn’t need to understand English to know what I was there for.
She called me later.
“Don’t worry, I won’t tell your grandmother,” she said.
“My grandmother already knows I got tested,” I snapped at her. “What, like I have secrets from her? She’s a medical professional, she was the one who suggested the particular clinic.”
“But… but…” the woman stopped talking and we sat on the line in silence for a while. But what? In a world where a deadly disease runs rampant, getting tested is WRONG? I wasn’t embarrassed enough somehow? Was that it?
I wan’t a good girl. I didn’t pretend. I was just joyful and happy and relieved to be OK. I had dodged a bullet. I invited some friends over to a pub and bought a few rounds. I was laughing into my beer and it went up my nose. I remembered how, after I had my blood drawn, I had staggered out of the clinic, pale from the fright I had gotten from the needle (having my blood drawn turns me into a quivering mess), considering the fright that still lay ahead of me. I was whimpering and sweating, and then I saw a guy walking toward me, and his t-shirt said, “If Not Now, When?” (thanks, Primo Levi!)
And I thought, “you know what, t-shirt, you sort of have a point. You do what you must.” And felt a little better.
I was remembering all that, and I was happy. I didn’t tell anyone why I was buying them beer. I was happy, and I was still pretending, but it was a little bit easier on that particular day.
Pretending is a survival skill as any, though. You have to do it in polite company, or else you get thrown out of said polite company, not all of a sudden, but gradually frozen out, reminded of your place. You have to do it around men you don’t know too well, ’cause they might get the idea that you need a good raping. You do it around your parents when they suddenly decide to get religion. And so on.
I think about Dubya’s daughters, and note how they also have to pretend. They didn’t always do a good job of it, but you live and you learn, right?
We live in a strange world. All of us. And everyone plays their part, including conservative politicians with daughters of their own, who push legislation that may kill some other people’s daughters.
And if you ask me to explain to you why, I could go for the usual platitudes, or I could throw up my hands and grab a beer instead and tell you, another day, another day, I’m tired.