Capitol Hill men to women: “You just stay in the kitchen where you belong, Sweetie”
I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be here if only a man had been involved in my conception. On the contrary, there would have been no conception.
So why is it that women are being pushed back into the kitchen, when it comes to making decisions on matters that involve: 1) basic biology, 2) their own health and well-being, 3) their future and 4) the future of their children?
If you’ve read my memoir, you know why this particular headline “‘Where are the women?’ Outrage after birth control hearing is led by panel of five MEN” has me more than a little concerned. As I wrote in Sister of Silence, having been forced to give up my procreative powers was something that tore me up inside. It’s something that has always haunted me. And yet I had no choice, as I told the doctor who informed me he would never perform a tubal ligation on anyone as young as me—just 21—if not for the circumstances that forced me to beg him to do so, back in 1985:
I shook my head, forcing myself to find the right words. “You don’t understand. I have no choice. My husband refuses to accept responsibility for birth control, and he won’t let me use any, either. You’re right, four kids in five years is a lot—especially for someone my age, and if there had been anything at all I could have done to prevent that, I would have. That’s why I’m here now—because if I get pregnant again, I’ll lose my sanity!” I expelled everything in one long breath.
I was tired of protecting Eddie, of keeping “our secret,” of taking the blame for being pregnant so many times. I had to be honest. Hating that I had to give up my right to ever have children again gave me the courage I needed. It was plain and simple. Black and white.
It feels like I just traveled back 27 years, because that’s how long it’s been since I wasn’t permitted to use birth control during my marriage. That decision dramatically affected the rest of my life, for the good and the bad.
Now imagine being me: you’re 21, with four children under the age of five. You know the only sure way you can keep from going crazy is to make a conscious choice to undergo a surgery that leaves you questioning your own moral values—but it will prevent you from ever having another child. That’s no choice at all.
Then flash forward to age 30, when you meet a man you’d love to have children with—only it isn’t possible. And imagine the years in between, when you wonder how your life would have turned out, if you’d been able to exercise the rights that you were denied.
Here’s the thing about this debate: it’s ridiculous that women are being pushed to the side of a conversation that has to do everything with them, and with their bodies. That’s about as antiquated as the notion that the earth is flat. It’s especially ludicrous when you stop and think about how many women make the decision about what kind of birth control to use, and then take steps to obtain it. For my married friends who use birth control, it’s almost always a method that relies on her—the pill, a diaphragm, or another device that and requires her involvement. Rarely, it seems, is the contraception of choice a condom—because most men don’t like them.
So to hold a hearing and refuse to allow women to speak about a serious life choice that affects their minds and bodies, as well as their future and that of their offspring, harkens back to the dark ages. Or to 1981, when my husband refused to let me use the diaphragm I got to keep from getting pregnant.
Turns out, there’s a lot of this kind of thing going on: a 2011 The New York Times article cited what experts now call “reproductive coercion,” which involve men who deliberately sabotage their partner’s birth control efforts, trying to get a woman, or keep her, pregnant. These women—of which I was one—have had absolutely no say whatsoever in that decision.
Is it going to continue to be this way for the foreseeable future? When will men who have the power to make decisions realize women have a right to be heard, to speak up about their own wants and needs? Or that society will be stronger for it?
I can’t imagine—and don’t want to believe—that in 2012 there are more men out there like my ex, men who truly expect women to just smooth out their aprons and keep their pretty little faces hidden in the kitchen, while they decide what happens to our bodies when we aren’t allowed to use contraception.
While the powers that be are making this matter a political football, it’s really much more simple than that. Allowing women to have a say over their own bodies and what happens to them—when, how or if they conceive—boils down to Basic Human Rights 101.
Nothing more, and nothing less.
Editor’s note: Daleen Berry is a national expert in overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment, as well as an award-winning author and an accomplished journalist who speaks at conferences around the country. Berry will one of two keynote speakers addressing a national audience at “The Many Faces of Domestic Violence,” the 18th Annual Conference of the Association of Batterers’ Intervention Programs on March 1, 2012, in Anaheim, Calif. She recently spoke to social workers from all over the country at the “Hope for the Future: Ending Domestic Violence in Families” conference at the University of California, Berkeley.
Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read the first chapter free, please go to Goodreads. To read 30 five-star reviews, check out this title on Amazon. To see a mock up of the SOS t-shirt, check out Berry’s Facebook page.