Last month when Darrell Issa convened a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform to discuss whether providing birth control for employees constituted an infringement on religious liberties, there weren't a lot of women talking. Issa's hearing was the one from which Sandra Fluke was banned from testifying as an expert witness (little did we suspect that Fluke's insistence on being heard, and the Democrats' willingness to give her a platform, would spark a nationwide slut-shaming extravaganza that may finally bring down professional asshole Rush Limbaugh). In response to the gobsmacking gender makeup of Issa's witness list, several Democrats walked out, and the Dems later held their own hearing where women were allowed to speak about the need for women to have access to birth control.
Sadly, Issa's hearing was utterly male-dominated. Happily, someone snapped a photo of one particular witness panel — a row of five men of the cloth, all but one of them white — as they were testifying.
Someone photographed that panel of dudes that convened to talk about ladybusiness with no ladies allowed. And once that sausagefest was caught on camera, it very soon became symbolic. A symbolic sausagefest. That image became a perfect illustration of what is wrong with the current national conversation about women's health: there aren't that many women involved.
"Where are the women?" people started asking once that photo began rocketing around the web.
It was certainly a valid question. There aren't enough women's voices in this conversation, and that obviously needs to change. Women have the right to speak about their own experiences and their own concerns. It is unjust — not to mention obscenely outdated, in 2012 — to deny them that.
But there are other voices missing from the conversation, too: the voices of men who believe that every woman should have the right to control her own body.
If you were entirely unfamiliar with the American political conversation around women's reproductive health, if February and March 2012 were your first exposure to that conversation, you could be forgiven for thinking that no such men exist. You could be forgiven for concluding, after watching CSPAN and the news, that all men are in favor of restrictions on birth control and abortion access. After surveying the political landscape and taking note of who was saying what about women's reproductive rights in America, it would not be unreasonable to conclude that "pro-choice man" is a contradiction in terms. Because with the exception of a very few men — bless you, Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, and Garry Trudeau — there are barely any men speaking out in favor of a woman's right to choose.
But it's not a contradiction in terms. Those men do exist. And last month, I decided to create a space where they could make themselves heard.
Men Who Trust Women is a tumblr where men who believe that bodily autonomy is every woman's right can share their stories. It's not about speaking instead of women, or on behalf of women, but alongside them and in support of them.
I was inspired to start the site by a statement from Men For Women's Choice, a diverse and decentralized international campaign, who in late February called for more pro-choice men to join the national conversation. "We believe that no man should be able to force a woman to bear a child she does not want," the MFWC statement reads. "No man should be able to limit her ability to obtain safe and effective means of contraception. We believe that the government has many important roles in our society. But the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation… we especially emphasize our believe that no man — no husband, no boyfriend, no judge, no doctor, no politician, and no religious leader — should have control over a woman's body. Ever."
And once I started Men Who Trust Women (the title is a play on the original subtitle of the first Stieg Larsson book, "Men Who Hate Women," and on the motto of the late Dr. George Tiller, "Trust women"), I found proof of what I had suspected, which was that the men of Men For Women's Choice weren't the only guys out there who felt strongly about this.
To date, we've received about a hundred submissions from men who trust women, explaining why they feel that way. Some of them have been funny and some of them have been sad, and with the exception of a lone troll, all of them have been deeply heartening.
One man, a father of daughters, observed that to prevent women from making their own healthcare decisions is to deny them full adult lives:
Why wouldn't I trust my daughters to make a clear and grown up choice about birth control? Do I not trust my own parenting skills? Do I want to keep them childlike forever? That seems like a sick desire. I want them to have a full life. I want them to be adults. I want to trust them. They're my daughters after all.
So if I am going to trust my wife and my daughters, why shouldn't I trust all women?
Another man recalled the many things that went through his mind when his wife, who was two months pregnant at the time, passed out in the shower:
In those moments between her passing out and coming to, I was glad to live in a place that respects our right to make those decisions ourselves, with the infrastructure in place to support us.
At no point in those long moments did I wish to invite anyone from outside our family to weigh in on our decisions, and I certainly never thought, "Gee, I wish the government were involved in this."
One man, who was adopted, said that when he learned what his birth mother had been through he realized the importance of trusting women to make their own choices:
Because my birth mother was not trusted to have control of her own body, I was born unwanted… I was able to get back in touch with my birth mother a few years ago, and over time have learned the details of what she went through - being forced to carry me, and then having no choice but to surrender me, and then spending decades not even knowing if I was alive, because although she'd had to give me up I was still her child.
A lifetime of torment, all because when she said that she wasn't ready to have a child, nobody was willing to listen.
Nobody should have to go through what she had to. Hearing her story and seeing the pain it has caused her erased any of the lingering doubts I had about choice and women's rights. I will always trust women.
One man, a father of five, wrote about his college girlfriend's decision to have an abortion while they were still together:
I have always wanted and loved children, but I never questioned my ex-girlfriend's decision to abort that pregnancy.
I appreciated her discussing it with me, as the potential father. Neither of us were ready to be parents, and probably would have been a terrible pair. Our relationship was not intended for the long haul. But had she decided to carry the child, I would have done the best I could for both the child and the mother.
Ultimately, though, it was her body and her choice. I would not have been the one who had to carry the pregnancy, risk the dangers of pregnancy, and suffer the long-term effects on her body. How could I, an outsider, dictate to her that she had to take those risks?
I told her that it was her decision, and I would support her either way. I took her to the appointment when she decided on the abortion, and I held her hand during the process. I wonder sometimes how my life would have been different had she decided differently, but I've never second guessed her.
Another man, who was conceived through in vitro fertilization, pointed out that some current legislation, like Personhood amendments, could prevent IVF in addition to banning hormonal contraception and abortion:
While politicians constantly point out that new laws would not be allowed to prevent IVF, there is always a slippery slope. Wording of laws allows for interpretation, which would allow extremist groups to manipulate these laws to achieve their own ends… These laws, if carried by the words themselves, would have prevented my mother from having more children. They would have prevented me from being born.
Many men expressed surprise and frustration that in 2012, the idea of trusting women to control their own bodies is even a matter for discussion. "Why wouldn't I trust women?" was a question many of them asked. "I thought we settled this shit in the seventies," one man wrote.
We didn't settle it in the seventies, of course. Since the 1970s, feminists have been working to preserve the legal ground they gained during the Second Wave. In the last few years, we have witnessed a stunning number of legislative attempts to chip away at Roe vs. Wade and to force a Supreme Court challenge with the hope of overturning it. And while I'm mad as hell about the current brazen attempts to roll back reproductive rights, I am grateful that they seem to have woken quite a few men up to what feminists have been saying for years: "this shit" is far from settled.
Some people have expressed concern that calling for men to trust women is begging for the bare minimum, and that commending men for trusting women amounts to giving them a cookie for being decent human beings. Those criticisms aren't unreasonable. Believing women are human beings capable of making decisions about their own bodies simply makes you a decent human being, not some kind of hero. But Men Who Trust Women is not about giving men a cookie. It's about giving them a space to make themselves heard. It's about adding the voices of men who trust women to a national conversation that, at the moment, is dominated by men who don't. It's about changing the conversation.
So, what's next for Men Who Trust Women? Well, they say a picture is worth a thousand words. I have a sneaking suspicion that a moving picture could be worth even more than that. Right now, I'm on the hunt for an enterprising documentary filmmaker who would be willing to take this project to the next level, and help to put some faces to these nameless tumblr submissions. But no matter what happens next on that front, one thing is certain: what's next for Men Who Trust Women is you.
This is the bit where I ask you, fine reader, to contribute to this conversation. If you're a man who trusts women, you know what I want you to do. I want you to get yourself over to the site and submit your story. I want you to tell the world why you trust women. I want you to stand alongside the many women who are part of this crucial national conversation, and show your support for them. And then, I want you to encourage at least three of your guy friends to do the same.
If you do, I won't give you a cookie, because you don't get a cookie for being a decent human being. But I will thank you for making yourself heard, and for proving that men who trust women exist and that they're no longer willing to let anti-choice men speak for them. I will applaud you for stepping up to support women and stepping back so as not to speak for them. I will commend you on doing the right thing, and I will encourage you to keep it up.
We didn't settle this shit in the 1970s. We should have, but we didn't, and it's time to settle it once and for all. Women are people. People should be trusted to make their own decisions about their own bodies. It's pretty damn simple. Men should trust women. As so many of our excellent contributors put it, why wouldn't you?