Friday, January 22, 2010

What does Trust Women mean to you?

It's Blog For Choice Day, y'all. So here are my thoughts on this year's question.

What does Trust Women mean to you?

"Trust women" means a lot of things to me, and this goes way beyond issues like abortion and reproductive freedom. In our culture there is a deep and subtle lack of trust for women that seems to be a remnant from a time when people were explicit about the fact that women could not be trusted to make their own decisions. The explicit lack of trust for women that was common in earlier periods was supported by a whole conceptual framework that justified misogynistic beliefs and practices. But now we're in a strange sort of transitionary period where most people reject this framework (or at least claim to), but the unspoken, often subconscious, attitudes that accompanied it remain. This is evident in legislation that seeks to force women to view ultrasound images or get consent from a parent or spouse before they can terminate a pregnancy. It's evident in the "pro-life" propaganda that's so prevalent around abortion clinics. But it's evident in a number of other places too.

Most feminists who have experienced pregnancy and childbirth can tell you that the childbirth industry is saturated with a profound distrust of women. Most medical professionals act as if pregnant women are wayward children who need to be managed. From the subtle pressure and intimidation that's routine in examining and birthing rooms, to cases where the state orders a pregnant woman to submit to bedrest, a c-section, and any other medical interventions deemed necessary, this attitude toward women is obvious. Ask most women who gave birth in a hospital what responses they got to their questions or requests or birthing plans. In most cases, a pregnant woman who comes in well-informed, and asks questions, and reserves the right to refuse certain tests and interventions is treated like a trouble-maker, a selfish person who doesn't care about the well-being of her child, and/or a conspiracy theorist. From exaggerated sighs and eyerolling to outright threats and refusal of service, the disdain for a woman's capacity to make informed decisions is more than clear. And this is a reproductive rights issue just as much as access to abortion is. Having choices about the way your body will be treated, and having some control over your birth experience, is central to a woman's autonomy, and the contempt that western medicine shows for the ability of women to make informed decisions reveals their deep distrust for women.

Many of the other areas in which this distrust for women is evident also pertain to reproductive choice. Abstinence-only education, purity pledges, and refusals to perform voluntary sterilization on young women who request it are a few of these. But as a society, we also distrust women in other areas. Most marketing campaigns that are specifically targeted to women are troubling for this reason. In our cultural mythology, women buy things based on aesthetics alone. Computers, cellphones, and other electronics are marketed to women based on their appearance. Occasionally, ease of use is a selling point, but functionality is never emphasized in products targeted to women. And this is insulting in the extreme. Buying a computer is a serious purchase that will effect you for a significant period of time. By assuming that women aren't interested in or can't understand the basic information about the product which will shape their experience with it, marketers send the clear message that women are too incompetent to engage in normal adult decision-making. And this is the implicit message that our daughters are absorbing every time they're exposed to this kind of advertising.

So I guess this is what Trust Women means to me. Our practices and policies should reflect the belief that women are competent and capable of making informed decisions. This means that we make clear and complete information and educational opportunities available to them, but we don't shove the segment of the info that seems the most important to us down their throats. This means that we view pregnant women as the central actors in childbirth, and honor their preferences and desires. Mothers deliver babies - doctors and nurses and midwives and doulas just help them through the process. This means that we advertise products in an informative and straight-forward way, and assume that the consumer, regardless of their gender, knows their own needs and preferences. This means that we talk candidly and openly with teens and young women about sex and protecting themselves and the social and emotional implications of sexual relationships, and then let them navigate their own course. By doing this we'll be teaching them the most important lesson of all - we'll be sending them the message that they're intelligent and competent beings who are fully qualified to run their own lives and make their own decisions. And that's what Trust Women means to me.

5 comments:

  1. Meg'n1/22/2010

    I love this post. I love it that you consistently take issues like this (reproductive freedom) and show us how it's a part of a pattern that extends beyond this issue and must be worked on on all these different fronts. If we don't trust women to make good decisions in other areas, why would we trust them on an issue as big as reproduction?

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  2. Hey! I really loved your response, and reposted some of it on my blog.

    http://shakespearessister.net/

    Let me know if you have any problems with what I had to say. Thanks so much for articulating this!

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  3. mayhem1/24/2010

    The scope of this post is great. Thanks for this.

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  4. Anonymous1/24/2010

    Great post!

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  5. Pretty awesome post, Rachel. Thank you.

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