Just what was this problem that has no name? What were the words women used when they tried to express it? Sometimes a woman would say, “I feel empty somehow…incomplete.” Or she would say, “I feel as if I don’t exist.”
These words, written by Betty Friedan in her 1963 revolutionary piece, The Feminine Mystique, echoed in my conscience last week when I read that President Trump would roll-back a federal requirement that employers must include birth control coverage in health insurance plans. This repeal of Obama-era health care protections comes under the guise of “religious freedom,” as so many restrictions on women’s rights and freedoms have over the centuries.
On hearing the news, I felt this reminder that in a society largely run by men, women do not, in fact, exist in many real and meaningful ways. We are placeholders for others’ beliefs about how the world works. Our wombs are not our own; they are symbols of patriarchal rhetoric—places that seem to serve only to create life, to house the seed of men. Our health is not our own; it belongs to those we care for—husbands, children, ailing members of our families, our communities. Our bodies are not our own; they are constantly on display for the pleasure of others. Our pleasure isn’t even our own in a society that still demonizes women’s pleasure as sinful or shameful whilst male pleasure is still applauded. Pussy-grabbers still get elected president 55 years after Friedan highlighted women’s feelings of emptiness.
But this current repealing of Obama-era protections to contraceptive health for women is just too much to bear. Current decisions by our "leadership" could result in a future that puts our daughters’ health, safety, and security at risk.
Without access to affordable birth control provided under President Obama, I would not have been able to finish my college coursework, to start my career, to make the many decisions I've made that have led to the happy and financially-secure life I'm privileged enough to provide for the daughter I now have—the child I had when I was ready to. Because of our mutual decision to put off having children, alongside the health care protections provided by my employers that made birth control affordable, my husband and I were able to build a strong foundation in our relationship, without the pressures of early parenthood. We supported each other through graduate school. We traveled together. We built a life.
Because of our former leadership’s decision to mandate contraceptive coverage in health care plans, I was able to exist aside from my body. I was able to make choices for my life. But what about the next generation of women? Will my daughter be provided with the same choices I had? Or will she grow up where leaders (mostly male) legislate her health? Limiting birth control in any form limits women’s life choices.
So what do we do? What can we even do in a world that denies our existence, as Friedan put it so eloquently a half-century ago?
We can still march. We can still write. We can still teach our children to love each other and respect each others’ freedom to pursue their interests. We can teach our sons to nurture; we can teach our daughters to feel pride in their strength. We can still donate money to organizations like Planned Parenthood who continue to fight for women’s health and women’s choices decade after decade after decade. We can stand with our mothers and grandmothers who fought the good fight. Who said, as Friedan writes, “I want something more than my husband and my children and my home.”
PerSisters, we can still fight to exist. And we will.
Today the fight will be: to all who would legislate restrictions to our access to adequate reproductive healthcare, undermining the work of so many progressive women’s rights advocates who have come before us, we unite shouting, “HANDS OFF OUR BIRTH CONTROL!”