bans off my body

Not My Independence Day

The Supreme Court has decided to strike down Roe v Wade, according to an initial draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito and obtained by Politico [File: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters]

What Men Can Do to Stand Up for a Woman’s Right to Choose

Well, at least I waited until after July 4th to publish this. We all deserve a break, but now it’s time to get back to work.

I struggled mightily to celebrate our independence this year. Was it hard for you?  I hate to say it, but  I hope it was. I hope I am not alone. 

It’s hard to celebrate our collective independence when I feel like our independence as a society is shrinking, or maybe it’s just that our interdependence is shrinking. 

Perhaps we should rename it “Interdependence Day” as a reminder of what makes us and keeps us strong…

I used to be able to convince myself that being male insulated me to some degree from any direct impacts of the overturning of the Roe v Wade (Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization) decision. But in truth, I am impacted, and so is every man.

We now live in a society where fully one-half of our population has fewer rights and freedom about their own bodies than they had prior to Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health. They have less independence or “agency,” as the dissenting judges named it, to make decisions about what to do if they become pregnant. Meanwhile, there isn’t a law or statute in the land that makes their male counterparts responsible—even just a little—for impregnating them. Living in a country where half of the population is experiencing direct marginalization due to ideological overreach is something I feel and notice. As the saying goes, “some of my best friends are women.” How could I not be impacted by the decision, knowing and seeing the impact of overturning Roe v Wade has on them?

Is my sense of freedom and independence lessened by the decision, when every woman in my life now has less independence? Of course it is. All the women in my life are feminists and are outspoken advocates for women’s rights. It doesn’t matter if they are beyond childbearing years or not.

This Supreme Court decision is heartbreaking for women in ways I can only begin to fathom. 

I’ve been in three different discussions in as many weeks with groups of men in which at least one of them has said that women “…just need to speak up louder about their rights” in response to the ruling. To me, their advice goes beyond the pale—it’s egregiously inappropriate. There is no excuse and no reason to say it, and claiming innocent ignorance won’t get you a pass with me any longer.

Throughout my entire life, women have been fighting for their rights, not only for reproductive freedom, but also in regards to pay equity, family and parental status, sexual harassment, domestic violence, and women’s health. The issue isn’t how loudly or how many of them speak up—saying as much perpetuates the idea that these issues are theirs to solve. The issues, I submit, are also OURS to solve because it’s us—men—that have the firmest grasp on maintaining the status quo, and it is we who continue to do and say the most things that minimize the issue and degrade progress.

In a variety of ways, we’ve been telling women to speak up their whole lives. When we give them career or professional advice, we often tell them to be more assertive—to be more like us. When it comes to sharing their opinions, we are far more likely to harshly judge or challenge women than we are our male counterparts. And literally, when they are in meetings with us, we tell them to speak louder because we can’t hear them over the volume and frequency of our own voices and the amount of time and space, proportionally, that we take up compared to them.

Independence? I don’t think so…not today.

Men, here’s what I am trying/doing/experimenting with to find out what helps the most:

Listen with empathy. This is HUGE. What I hear from the women in my life as they don’t necessarily need me to fix the problem, but they do need me to listen to their experiences. I have to admit, listening to anyone tell me about their problems without rendering a suggestion for a solution makes it hard for me to stay present. However, I’ve been repeatedly told they don’t need my opinions, they need me to understand and empathize with their reality.

Become more aware of the power that is yours because you are a man. Notice what is easier for you either because of your own physical power or because of the prestige or credibility that your gender gives you. This applies to everything from how car salesmen treat you to your own assumption that women just have to be more assertive. Those are examples of your power talking. And incidentally, stop fooling yourself into thinking you’re more powerful than a woman. Overall you aren’t, but there are ways in which society values and favors our strengths versus women’s strengths, and that unfairly tips the scales for us.

Become less tolerant of men who are unaware of their own sexism or misogyny. I’m not saying you should pick a fight with them or intentionally insult or abuse them, but it’s time to take off the kid gloves when men make ignorant statements about women. You’ve seen it, the uncomfortable situation where a man says or does something you just know he would not do in the presence of women, and he expects to get away with it because he is in the safety of only men. Don’t collude anymore; call him on it. The era of silent collusion needs to be over.

Publicly intervene with yourself when you say things or behave in the ways that you’re critical of other men for doing. Call yourself out publicly; the intent here isn’t for you to practice performative self-flagellation, but rather to model and practice your own developing self-awareness. If you want to be a model for other men, do so by correcting yourself when you blow it, not just by proving how aware or sensitive you are.

Stand up for women in leadership roles and notice your own and other men’s tendency to be (overly) critical of them. I’m fatigued hearing men talk about “strong women” in ways that also degrade them for being too much like a man, or too “butch” or just too assertive. Let your observations about women’s leadership stand without needing to offer a critique to offset their attributes. I notice that as males, we do this a lot more with women than we do with other men.

Loudly voice your dissent and dissatisfaction with the Supreme Court’s decision. Don’t assume that the way things are is just the way things will be. We simply cannot allow the Supreme Court decision to stand without vehemently but peacefully protesting our discontent with the decision. We also must pursue all available means to overturn the decision in ways that reflect the popular opinion of most U.S. citizens.

Let’s work alongside women to help find ways to change things, now. We owe it to their—and our—legacy of interdependence as a democratic society. 

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