Without apology: The atonement stops here
For a few semesters in college, I was a Peer Health Sex Educator. This meant I would often have to transport male and female condoms, dental dams, dildos, a model of a vagina and other paraphernalia around campus in a bag along with another educator. Together, we demonstrated correct usage of contraceptives, talked about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and answered questions. (On one particular occasion, I had to inform a young man that he should not, in fact, “double bag it.”) Every time I'd finish a workshop, I'd think, I hope they were listening and hearing.
September 26th was World Contraception Day. The project, started by a group of international NGO's (a full list can be found here) is working towards “a world where every pregnancy is wanted.” WCD 2011 encourages young people to exercise their right to search for accurate, unbiased information about contraception to prevent an unplanned pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection (STI). Historically, Jewish women have been at the forefront of the movements for sex education, contraception and reproductive choice, but as we fight to gain and keep both access to contraception and information, as well as for our own bodily autonomy, we also have to fight the sexism that has seeped into our own minds.
Recently, I was talking with a colleague about the landscape of conversations around abortion-specifically, the need that some women have to state that although she supports the right to choose, she could never choose to have an abortion herself. What is this instinct about? Why do we need to qualify our belief in being able to control our own bodies? The issue is actually not whether or not an individual would have an abortion, but whether the right is available to those who would. What if there was no "but I wouldn't.."? Are we afraid of what people would think if we let them believe that we might actually have a abortion? Has the culture that tells women to be nice, kind, abiding, maternal, to blame ourselves when birth control fails, to be sexually available but not slutty, so permeated our psyches that we have to distance ourselves from our beliefs in choice? I think the answer is yes.
As women, we're taught to apologize, even when we shouldn't, even when it's not our fault, so here's my challenge as we move into this new year: practice being entirely unapologetic. About what we want, who we want, how we want to live our lives, what kind of world we want, but specifically about birth control and sex. Learn about what the laws in your state-what can you get over the counter? How old do you have to be? Does it work for you? How do you use it correctly? How widely available is this information?
If young women are to know that they deserve access to birth control, that they should be able to control their lives and their fertility, then as mentors, other women must model that same belief. Stop asking for permission. The stigma and shame around sex, STI's and abortion is profound, especially for women. To fight it, we have to push, stretch our muscles, use our voices and build power with other women. Without apology.