Two weeks ago, I attended a presentation by Gary Johnson, the former Governor of New Mexico and a candidate for the Republican nomination for President. This lecture was part of a series I had to attend for my graduate school program in Global Security Studies, and the speech and Q&A afterwards focused on issues like the Mexican border and terrorism.
Until it didn’t. Once one student asked about health care mandates, the flood gates were open and the conversation broadened. Only then did I get out of my seat and stand in line – behind and then in front of men, the only ones who were asking questions.
I was nervous. I knew that if I didn’t ask this man about his stance on the personhood amendments sweeping the nation, or on reproductive choice in general, no one else was going to.
I practiced over and over again how I was going to walk up to the stage, sit down in the chair next to him, and stare straight at an older man in front of a predominantly male audience, and ask him about his views on my body.
Like so many other women, I have a fraught relationship with my body. I’m learning to love it slowly – oh so slowly – but in the meantime, my inclination has been to hide it from men who are strangers, if only because of how often I feel it being brought kicking and screaming into the public consciousness. I don’t want strange men commenting on my legs on the street, and I don’t want executives of media corporations making decisions to pressure me into changing it or revealing it more than I want to. I don’t want boyfriends forcing it to do things it doesn’t want to do, and I don’t want lawmakers legislating what does and does not put it at risk.
These decision makers are almost always men. In all fairness, we’ve come a long way. At least we’re starting to talk about women’s health as a human rights issue, instead of pretending it doesn’t exist and keeping it hidden away in a secret box somewhere.
But still, it’s awfully uncomfortable to watch so many men talking about women’s bodies – about my body. And so it was on this day. I had to brace myself for the eye rolling that would inevitably come from my classmates (which it did), for the direct way I knew he would look back at me as he answered, and for the answer itself, which could easily have made my blood boil in a way that was not going to keep the conversation pleasant.
“Governor, an amendment was recently defeated by the voters in Mississippi that would have given fertilized eggs the same rights as humans. If that had been a bill that had come to your desk as President, would you have signed it?”
He looked back at me and, while acknowledging that he didn’t know much about the Personhood Amendment (seriously?), he told me he thought that only a woman had the right to make decisions about what happens in her own body.
Then it got personal. He elaborated, saying something along the lines of: “Only you know what’s happening in your own uterus. Only you should be able to determine what risk to put it at. Only you know the intricacies of your body and with the help of your doctor, only you should be able make the choices that affect it.” (paraphrased)
Governor Johnson was as polite, gracious, and appropriate as can be. And it was I who brought up the issue in the first place. Yet it still made me slightly uncomfortable, the fact that I even had to bring it up, the fact that the GOP’s War on Women has made it so that I’m forced to ask strange men what they think of my body and of my right to make choices about it. That’s about as intimate as it gets.
I’m sharing this story now because quite simply, I was asked to. I was asked what made the war on choice intimate to me, personally. Merle Hoffman, one of the choice movements leading pioneers, is releasing her memoirs this coming January. Intimate Wars is a deeply personal account of her role in a very public debate, and her journey is nothing if not intimate. This week, she is holding a book giveaway contest on her Facebook Page. If you’ve been involved in the movement at all – if you’ve attended a march or a rally, registered pro-choice voters, lobbied your elected officials, volunteered or worked at a clinic or health center, or even just talked with friends and family about your right to choose, you’ll want in on this.
And best of all, it’s easy! “Like” Merle’s brand new and very awesome Facebook page, and share your “Intimate War” in the comments on her Facebook posts. You’ll be automatically entered to win a signed copy of her inspiring book (read an excerpt here). Be sure to tweet your comments using #myintimatewar, and follow Merle on Twitter at @MerleHoffman.
As Merle has told us in the past, all wars are intimate. But the war we’re fighting right now for the right to self-determine, to assert agency, to choose at what risk to put our bodies, ourselves . . . well, this is about as intimate as it gets.
But that’s ok, because I’m ready for it. Are you?
My sincerest thanks go out to Governor Johnson for his grace and respect in speaking with me about issues as personal as choice. I’m a Democrat and an Obama supporter, but I highly encourage my friends and colleagues to check out Governor Johnson’s campaign – www.garyjohnson2012.com – for what I think is one of the best Republican platforms out there. And because he’s reasonable, measured, and intelligent, you won’t see anything on his site about building a taller fence on the Mexican border, in case that does happen to be your cup of tea.