Byard Duncan's account of his friend "Maggie'"s abortion party turns into an examination of a man's proper role in terminating a pregnancy. Is it wrong that we're annoyed?
Maggie decided to throw the party — an evening of dancing, drinks, and pastries, complete with a red sheet draped over a light to resemble a womb — to help pay for the procedure. Guests were asked to bring donations, and at the end of the party, "the donation bowl was overflowing." The event seems a little macabre, and it's unfortunate that the insurance situation in our country is such that a woman has to hit up all her friends to pay for an abortion, but nonetheless, the opening paragraphs of the article left me feeling kind of uplifted. Even many pro-choicers tend to treat abortion as something you're supposed to feel bad about for the rest of your life (Hillary Clinton famously called the procedure a "sad, even tragic choice to many, many women"). So it's nice to read about a woman who, once she's made the decision, doesn't beat herself up about it — instead, she actually does something fun. Then, unfortunately, things get weird.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the party isn't actually that fun for Maggie or her boyfriend. The boyfriend is uncomfortable because some of Maggie's friends think he shouldn't have any part in the decision to abort — or even accompany Maggie to the clinic. Maggie is sad because she and her boyfriend made the decision together, and she feels that her friends have "hijacked" her pregnancy. None of this conflict is too shocking, but Duncan's reaction kind of is. He writes,
I did, however, think the extent to which Maggie's friends were eager to vilify her partner was peculiar. These were liberal people, after all — people whose views on sex were worlds away from anything someone might consider "modest." I couldn't help but notice how aggressive and, for lack of a better term, 'male' their attitudes became when confronted with the issue of a woman's right to choose. It was almost as if, in the process of upholding an ideal of openness and acceptance, they had fallen victim to the same forces they were trying to critique.
Trust me, Duncan, there is a better term than 'male' to describe Maggie's friends. How about 'judgmental'? Duncan isn't doing his own gender any favors by associating it with closed-mindedness, but he's also not adding much to the abortion discussion by framing a complex conflict in stereotypical, gendered terms. His next paragraph doesn't help:
But could I blame them for responding with such anger? No way. I knew many of them had experienced the most hurtful forms of structural sexism — the kinds I will never see. The kinds that that disguise themselves as "the norm." These women, who had only recently begun to unravel the ways their voices had been excluded from relationships, dialogues and society in general, had every right to respond with anger. I imagine it would have been nearly impossible not to.
I get that Duncan is trying to understand here, that he is trying to think as a feminist, and he deserves credit for that. At the same time, he seems to be saying, "I think these women are being rigid and closed-minded, but they're probably that way because men are bad to them, so I'm going to forgive them." He tries to seem like he's seeing both sides, but he's not really looking for the rationale behind the women's views — he's just excusing what he sees as irrationality. And he's giving the patriarchy a lot of credit for dictating how women respond to issues. After the party, he writes,
As Ali [his girlfriend] and I walked home, we wondered together what exactly the relationship between abortion and "maleness" is supposed to look like. What is a man's role in the decision? Does including a male partner's perspective necessarily compromise a woman's agency, as Maggie's friends seemed to believe? It's not that much of a stretch — after all, male perspectives have suffocated debate around the issue for way too long.
Duncan has essentially taken a party that's all about a woman — there was a womb on the ceiling! — and made it all about "maleness." Rather than examining what it might mean to "celebrate" your abortion, what he really cares about is what abortion means for men. However, he is admirably open on this issue — he considers the possibility that a man's proper role in abortion may be no role at all. And his assertion that women behave badly because of a sexist society is one that pisses me off a lot less when women say it. Throughout the article, I found myself thinking that Duncan was trying to be feminist and not really getting it right — but I'm not sure what "right" feminism looks like, and I certainly don't expect it of all women. Duncan seems to me like he doesn't truly understand women's experiences — he's a prisoner of his gender. But maybe I'm also a prisoner of mine.
Image via Cake Wrecks
My First Abortion Party [AlterNet]