Why I Find It Hard to “Celebrate” Roe v. Wade

Reblogging, January 22, 2014

January 23, 2013

I am many things. I am a woman. I am a mother. I am black woman and mother to black kids. I am a Christian. I am a liberal. I am a feminist.

I am pro-choice.

I am pro-life.

I am anti-abortion….for me.

I am pro-Roe v. Wade.

2012 Commemoration of Roe v. Wade at the Supreme Court
2012 Commemoration of Roe v. Wade at the Supreme Court

Roe v. Wade…abortion…life…choice… these words mean so much. And we talk about them as if they are opposites, as if life and choice and abortion cannot coexist. And I’m not sure that they can. But one thing I do know — the right to abortion cannot be disconnected from the cultural context in which it exists.

I don’t think it makes much sense to argue about when life begins. Any woman who has experienced the loss of a miscarriage – whether it happened at 8 weeks or 8 months – will tell you that the life lost began as soon as she knew the life existed. Other women will tell you that the life did not feel “real” until that child actually appeared out of the vagina. But I don’t think that really matters.

For the right to an abortion is not about the abortion at all. It’s about self-determination in a world that hates to let women have a say and hates to make sure children have a life worth living.

As much as I know in my heart that I will never have an abortion (hence my “anti-abortion”), I also know that the right to have one is a pivotal right for every woman to hold in the world in which we live. This is a world that throws food away while people – including children – starve. This is a world that does not guarantee each person clean water and fresh food and preventative health care. This is a world that uses the education system to perpetuate and exacerbate racial and class inequality. This is a world were women are blamed for sexual violence. This is a world were many women cannot earn enough to support the children they have. This is a world where our kids can’t even be safe in school.

This is a world where no one is assured a life worth living – especially if you are female and/or a child.

No woman should be forced to bring a life into this world.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t value life. Because I do. My children are the most precious thing in the world to me. They give me three reasons to live each and every day. I think I was destined, by God, to be a mother. It’s the most important thing I do. If I were to have another pregnancy, unexpected, I would birth that baby. No doubt in my mind. But I would do it because I wanted to. Not because God told me to. Not because anyone else wanted me to. Because I wanted to.

I would likely not feel that way if I didn’t have a choice.

Which also means that if the world were perfect (not sure what that would look like), I would still be pro-Roe v. Wade. Because as distasteful as abortion is to me (and to most people – I don’t think anyone takes pleasure in the loss of life), the moment we start policing how and whether and when women bring life into the world we have made life less perfect, made life less equal for some of us. As soon as we start telling women that their bodies no longer belong to them to do with them as they please in pursuit of their liberty and happiness they no longer have liberty and they are forced into someone else’s conception of happiness.

I’d rather have free, happy women than constrained, oppressed women. I’d rather trust that the person who will be responsible for nurturing that life growing inside of her as to whether she can or is willing to do that responsibly.

I think there can still be restrictions, because I still think that abortion is the taking of a life. Freedom does not mean carte blanch. But I think that should be left to a truly democratically-elected legislature, and not a court of nine individuals who are not elected. Because it is that democratically-elected legislature who determines whether an unemployed mother will be able to rely on the social safety net to feed her children. They are the ones who decide how much money we put into educating children. They are the ones who decide who is worthy of health care. And who is not. The same people who want to force women to have babies should be the same people who will make sure those babies have healthy, happy lives.

So I support Roe v. Wade, but I don’t “celebrate” it. Abortion is not a cause for celebration. But I understand that choosing to end a life often means choosing to lead a life worth living. Who is to say – other than the person making the decision and living the life – which is more important?

Is your vagina angry?

Last week I had the extreme pleasure of seeing a student performance of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues. Approximately 40, brave undergraduate women participated. Far more of them were white, but there was also a handful of black women, including one of my advisees. She played the role of “The Angry Vagina.” It was a fantastic performance, she was convincingly angry, her vernacular was appropriately explicit, she checked hypothetical partners (and gynecologists) for all hypothetical atrocities. I couldn’t help feeling like she had been chosen for this role because she was black (we discussed this and she agreed), even though it also seemed like the role was inauthentically black (we both agreed as well). It didn’t seem like what any black woman I knew would say.

While I applaud Eve Ensler for her progressive theatrical piece, and I have willingly seen now a professional and student production (and left the latter happily with my “Team Rihanna” and vagina buttons), I wonder what black woman would say about sex, body image, rape and sexual assault, etc., if given the platform. I’m thinking about Tricia Rose’s phenomenal book, Longing To Tell. I am also fearing that black women are not really ready to talk openly about the issues raised in that book, that they feel protected by silence and anonymity. I see this explicitly in my current book project.

One of the interesting things about Vagina Monologues is that there is only one very recently written piece about childbirth. It was quite curiously an afterthought. I am certainly liberal enough to think that a woman’s body is not entirely reserved for  bearing kids, however would black women have omitted this altogether from our stories about our vaginas?

My vagina is feeling a little spent! 🙂 Three kids later, multiple partners in, one rape, and countless dreaded gynecological visits, I’m feeling like at the very least I should be other-bodily-part centered. Like, I would love to be more focused on my stomach, thighs, or my arms. Last night in a spirited conversation about weight loss with two other black women, one of my homegirls told me, “you know sex is supposed to help you shed calories!”  I said something like, “I’m married and I don’t have sex,” which thankfully is not true, but I wanted to say something like, “who cares about the vagina, and all activity therein, I want Serena Williams’ abs and arms not her . . . . vagina.” Damn, I don’t even have a working, blog-friendly, authentic vocabulary for it!?!

I do not think my vagina is so much angry as it is exhausted.

Tanji is a wife and mother of three. She has two boys and one girl. She lives in Philadelphia, her favorite chocolate city. She is an educator and her first “baby” is now a Howard University graduate and a Cocoa Mama.