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What we don’t talk about

February 22, 2010

Women have this reputation, you know, for gossip and general blabbing about everything we think. Perhaps it’s true that women (in general) are more verbal than men (in general), or maybe it’s not, or maybe it’s irrelevant, but we’ve got this reputation.

I’m taking a class this term called Politics of Sex and Reproduction in Historical Perspective. It’s about birth control and abortion (and that’s about it, try as some of us may to discuss the right to have a child, the systemic racial and socioeconomic inequalities in access to reproductive health care and dignity) and one thing has stuck out to me more than anything else: the historical necessity of female communities. We’ve read about how women shared information about contraception, helped each other find abortion providers, and kept each other’s secrets whenever it was necessary. I’m not sure what it is about womanhood that produces these truths that can’t be told in public.

I’m a little late to the party in posting this link, but I adore it. Elyse at Skepchick wrote a few weeks ago about what they just don’t tell you about pregnancy. It’s a funny post. Really funny. And you should read it and laugh, about cervix kicks and poop and “helpful advice” and swelling parts.

But it’s a sad post, too. Sad that there are so many things, so many common experiences–fears, joys, pains, struggles–that no one can speak aloud.

It’s so common to us, isn’t it? I remember a class–a very small one, all women, we called ourselves a book club instead of a class–in which our professor asked us if we knew anyone who’d had an abortion. None of us said so. This is statistically extraordinary, six pro-choice women on the campus of a highly selective college, not knowing a single person. Extraordinary, but maybe not surprising.

Reading Becky’s post from earlier today, I was reminded how comforting it was to learn that other women felt like I did in the classroom, that I was not just less intelligent or less capable than my classmates, that I also had something worthwhile to say even if the platform was rarely extended. That they fought, like I did, to speak.

These things are somehow impolitic. They shouldn’t be. Women are asked, in a lot of ways, not to sympathize with each other. To believe there is no such thing as discrimination, or to believe that pregnancy is the happiest time in our lives, or to believe that abortion is a great shame that we deserve to bear alone. To be ashamed of the things we have survived. We are asked not to notice that we all seem to cut out our tongues on these things that we live together.

This post started as a comment on Becky’s, and I don’t think this is the answer, but it’s somewhere between here and there: we have to talk. We have to shed light on the dark corners we’re collectively huddled in–and that our friends, peers, fellow human beings are huddled in, even if we’re basking in a privileged light–and we have to recognize each other in the shadows. I don’t know how we get them to believe us, that we’re all stuck there together, but for now I think we keep talking. For now.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Emily permalink
    February 22, 2010 10:55 AM

    Jill, this is wonderful. And so true. I don’t have much to add, except to say that this reminds me of a Feministe post from a few weeks back called “The importance of women’s friendships”. Here’s a quote:

    “In my experience, building close connections with fellow women is an immensely powerful feminist act. Communicating, laughing, growing stronger with each other is a form of resistance. It is a strengthening of bonds between women where patriarchy has sought to keep us apart, rivals, without coherent community. In forming such connections there’s a centering of women’s wishes and concerns.”

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