By: Grace Alexander
There’s a lot of talk these days about taking personal responsibility for one’s life and actions. This is particularly true when it comes to women. Politicians seem caught in a cycle of alternately trying to woo and trying to legislate women, and the words “take responsibility” come up a lot. A LOT.
Women are, however, often caught between a rock and a hard place. Whatever choices they make, no mater how hard they try to be responsible, they are somehow always in the wrong.
Another context is her sex life.
Another context is her children.
Sadly, women’s rights are being attacked and cut on every turn, while societal expectations and the realities of survival combine to make “being responsible” almost impossible for women outside of strict and restraining scenarios.
Let’s look at the first context.
The Working Woman
First you have the woman who puts her job first – above relationships, a family, hobbies – she’s the unwed, un-affianced career woman, determined to be self supporting.
Somehow, instead of being looked on as responsible for choosing to delay breeding until a later date (or possibly indefinitely), she ends up being looked at askance, pitied and even possibly derided for her “irresponsibility” on attending to the childbearing side of her life.
- If she marries, has kids and doesn’t quit her job she’s an irresponsible mother.
- If she marries, has kids and does quit her job she is an irresponsible provider (unless she’s married to a wealthy man, in which case all is forgiven.)
- If she has kids out of wedlock, she is an insanely irresponsible slut (unless she is a rich celebrity in which case she is just a slut – unless she is Bristol Palin, in which case apparently it’s OK because the Palins are good Christians – and rich.)
- If she doesn’t have children at all she’s somehow “unnatural”.
- If she waits to have children until she can support them, she is irresponsible for choosing a post 35-40 pregnancy.
If she has an abortion she is horrifyingly irresponsible. For what? For having sex – translation: being a slut. (We have to talk about abortion in this article, but we are not going to get into a huge debate on whether or not an abortion is “murder” or whether a “maybe” is a baby. That is another conversation. For the purposes of this article, abortion is no more and no less than the termination of a pregnancy.)
This brings us to the second context.
Women Who Have Sex
Next, you have the average women who has a healthy, normal sex drive.
An alarmingly large number of people seem to think that women should be considered irresponsible for simply having sex at all – unless they are doing it with the intent to procreate. How many times have you seen the following comments:
“If a woman’s not willing to be responsible, she should keep her legs closed!”
“Women should be made to face the consequences of their actions”
“Having sex comes with RESPONSIBILITY”
(This responsibility always seems to fall on the women having sex, not on the men having sex – because the men cannot get pregnant. They have no “consequences.”)
Of course having sex comes with responsibility!
- You should be respectful of your partner.
- Discussion should be held beforehand as to what types of sex acts are acceptable
- Don’t rape anyone. Rape includes having sex with ANYONE unable to consent.
- Disclose if you have any type of sexually transmitted disease
- Birth control should be addressed by BOTH parties
- All of these are good rules of thumb to think about when deciding to have sex with someone.
Sometimes, however, stuff happens.
- Condoms break.
- Birth control fails.
- Someone lies (“I’ve had a vasectomy” or “I’m sterile”)
- Someone gets raped (Note: putting this under “stuff happens” in no way is intended to diminish the horror of rape.)
- Pregnancy occurs. The woman must decide what to do. This is her chance to be responsible.
- Should she have a pregnancy she is not ready for?
- Should she have a pregnancy she cannot afford?
- Should she have a pregnancy that was forced on her?
- Should she have a pregnancy that puts her life at risk?
- Only the woman can decide what the responsible thing is for her to do.
- She may decide it is irresponsible to continue the pregnancy if it is unwanted.
- She may decide it is irresponsible to continue the pregnancy if she is poor.
- She may decide it is irresponsible to continue the pregnancy if it means throwing away everything she ever worked for.
- She may decide it is irresponsible to continue a pregnancy that has no chance of viability.
- She may decide it is irresponsible to continue a pregnancy if she knows she is mentally ill.
- She may decide it is irresponsible to continue a pregnancy in light of serious genetic considerations.
- She may decide it is irresponsible to continue a pregnancy that could result in a child being born that a rapist would have parental rights to.
- She may decide it is irresponsible to continue a pregnancy that could result in a child being born that will suffer terribly.
- The woman has decisions to make. She needs to be responsible. She needs choices. She has choices.
At least, she is supposed to have choices.
In many states, opponents of Roe vs. Wade are doing an end run and simply tying up those choices in so much red tape that they are not available.
Birth control and anti-conception pills (commonly known as the morning-after pill and often misrepresented by pro-birthers as “abortion pills”) are not always easy to get, and can be denied a woman if the pharmacist who is supposed to dispense them claims his religion says any form of family planning is bad. This block women’s access to their choices by using a third party’s religion to deny them their legal rights.
In many states, laws exist to hinder women from gaining access to abortions by forcing them to see pro-birth counselors who will lie to them and say abortion causes cancer and other diseases. The laws also require multiple visits to facilities that may be hundreds of miles away on different dates, making it hard to comply with all of the rules before the window for abortion closes. This blocks women’s access to their choices by deliberately placing insurmountable obstacles in their way.
In other states, the date of conception has been redefined as the date of the woman’s last period, leading to the concept of “pre-pregnancy”. This also serves as a way to tighten the window for abortion – in some cases, so tight so many women will be past the legal permissible date for an abortion before they ever find out they are pregnant. This blocks women’s access to their choices by requiring them to predict pregnancies in advance.
Rape (a generally accepted – though convoluted – reason for allowing abortions) has been redefined and categorized, with only certain types of “forcible” rape being considered legitimate enough to qualify. Even child incest victims can be forced to carry to term, regardless of whether or not their bodies are strong enough. This blocks women’s access to their choices by forcing them to validate their need for the choice – which is often impossible.
Doctors are now allowed to lie to women in some states, withholding information that they think might cause the women to consider an abortion if the doctor claims his religion is against it. This would include cases in which the embryo or fetus displayed severe defects, or if the woman’s life would be put in peril by carrying to term. This blocks women’s access to their choices by never letting them know the choices exist or could be needed.
The choice to be responsible is being taken away from more women every day. Dozens of states have “personhood legislation” in the works, which would declare an egg that simply has the possibility of being released and fertilized to be a complete human with more rights than the woman in whose body it resides. Women are in danger of being relegated to being breeding machines, completely regulated by the state.
However, once a pregnancy is enforced, suddenly the society and government pushing the woman to give birth abdicates all interest, and the woman is left with the third context.
Once a child enters the world, a whole new way to find women irresponsible manifests. As mentioned above, if she works, she is neglectful and irresponsible. If she doesn’t, she is lazy and irresponsible (unless she married up).
- Women are considered irresponsible for putting their children in daycare provided by state funding.
- Women are considered irresponsible for not being able to hold down a job because they keep getting fired when their kid gets sick and the daycare turns them away and they have to stay home for 3 days.
- Women are considered irresponsible for not being able to find a job because the only ones available require working part time shifts that change every week and don’t synch with hours the daycare is open.
- Women are considered irresponsible for having medical care for their children provided by Medicaid.
- Women are considered irresponsible for feeding their children with food provided by food stamps.
- Women are considered irresponsible for not having a strong male role model in the house – even though the children’s father left her when he found out one of the kids had cancer and if she has a boyfriend everyone calls her a slut.
- Women are considered irresponsible for having kids in the first place.
Take a good hard look at that last one – then scroll back up and see how hard it is for women NOT to have kids – unless, of course they stay celibate (and even then they could still be forced into sex against their will.)
Of course, some people say women could take the extreme route, and ensure they don’t get pregnant by having the works removed once and for all. Then they could have sex “responsibly” since there would be no possibility of pregnancy.
There are several problems with that scenario, however.
Tying tubes is not a sure thing. Hysterectomies not medically required are generally considered elective, and are very expensive – not to mention invasive.
A huge number of doctors will not perform any type of sterilization on women under a certain age or who have not borne a certain number of children yet – even if the woman cannot carry a pregnancy to term, has severe heritable genetic problems, or knows she has mental illness that would prevent her from ever being a competent mother. Without access to a doctor willing to perform the procedure, the procedure is unattainable.
So. There are only two REAL choices left to women if they hope to be considered “responsible”.
No, not having the right to make choices about whether or not they should have kids, or when, or how.
No, not having access to family planning options like birth control and abortion.
Basically, women – in order to not be considered irresponsible – should:
Marry wealthy men and bear children and not work outside the home (charity work is OK if the man is wealthy enough to provide nannies.)
Otherwise be celibate (and not get raped – good luck!)
Without the right to their own bodies and access to choices, women are barred from taking responsibility. Instead they are prevented from having control over their own bodies and tasked with surviving in a country that sees them as uterii only, with only the two options listed above as REAL choices available to them (and even choice number two is questionable and can be taken away.)
It’s time to stop telling women what they can or cannot do. It’s time to stop holding women hostage because of what their bodies can do. It’s time to make sure they have access to choices. Only then can women thrive and lead happy, healthy, fulfilled lives, and take full responsibility for themselves – which includes deciding if they need to be responsible for anyone else!