The Power of Women
From the very beginnings of my storytelling career, I have been obsessed with the question of what it means to be a woman in a world that privileges men. My first produced play was about two women with ten “genderless” children who return home to report about their harrowing experiences in the outside world. My first film was about a male dancer who becomes pregnant and is agonized, thinking his dancing career is over. As a novelist I have continued to write about women under duress. In September I will be publishing a novel called Livid, about a woman who is, well — livid.
I write about women because I am one, but also because I find that women are usually thoughtful about what it means to be human. Despite the various perks readily accorded to men simply because of their gender, I would never — now — choose to be a man. I love leading my life as a woman, being part of the female tribe that is quick to bond and confide in one another. It is a simplified, but largely true, statement to say that around the world among our species, it is men who wage war and women who nurture life. This is a stark line to draw but one that, on the heels of Roe being overturned (Amy Coney Barrett notwithstanding) has never seemed more true. The decision, made by five men and one woman, demonstrates an appalling lack of empathy for women in the short run, a startlingly narrow vision about what is good for everyone in the long run. Now it’s the time for women to be noisy and claim our power, to say out loud the things we have kept to ourselves: the abortions we’ve had, the anger we feel, our refusal to be subjugated by a white male minority.
Like much of the rest of the country — the world? — I am outraged by last Friday’s SCOTUS decision. Dare I say LIVID! It’s a symptom of a country gone wildly astray from its founding principles, becoming a place run by people without discernible morality. The decision is merciless, arrogant, misogynistic, inhuman, cruel… Shall I go on? It’s also short-sighted about what a culture needs to thrive: all citizens having autonomy. We won’t come back quickly or easily from such a morass — maybe it will take another fifty years of pushing the proverbial rock up the hill. Speaking selfishly, it makes me considerably less sad about my imminent death.
Yes, I am hopping mad. When I was in college, before Roe became law, I worked at the New Haven Women’s Abortion Referral Service. We arranged abortions for women in New York state (where abortion was legal). Our clients came from as far away as Ohio. Some were teenagers. Some were older and married and already mothers. They were black and brown and white. We assisted them all with funding, transportation, and whatever help and emotional support they needed. Most of us were in our early twenties, but that didn’t matter. We were all in the same anti-woman mess together, and it made me happy to be able to help out in some small way. I felt strong and furious on their behalf. I think of those women now, women with fully developed lives who were loved and loving, and I wonder how anyone could possibly value a rice-sized particle of life, that may or may not come to fruition, over the lives of women like them. A word from elementary school comes to mind: mean. Mom, she was being mean to me. Such a fundamental idea — we shouldn’t be mean to one another. This decision, this assertion of power that appropriates women’s bodies, is mean.
There have been times in this country’s history when the government took seriously the mandate to protect its citizens, all citizens. Social Security was instituted. Civil Rights and Voting Rights laws were passed. Immigrants were welcomed. Laws were instituted to protect the LGBTQ community. It was understood that anyone could be vulnerable, a fact that remains true and some people choose not to see. Even the rich and powerful can be felled by circumstances beyond their control. I say this as one who has been unexpectedly afflicted with a fatal disease that has made me vulnerable. Why have such compassionate interludes been so hard to sustain? Because we are a species with wildly conflicting impulses. Even as we profess love to one another, we make war with others. But I believe that we women will not stand for allowing the mean side of human nature to prevail in the halls of power. We have enormous power, and I know we will, yet again, fight and win.
Years ago I had a boyfriend who said he envied women for being able to bear children. At the time it surprised me, but over the years I have seen that as an important insight into the behavior of many men. They know that growing life and giving birth is a kind of superpower, and this power frightens them; hence, it must be governed.
I have to confess to being a bit of a nihilist. Over the last decade or two, as climate change has wrought so much irrevocable damage to the planet, and the world has been so incapable of responding effectively, I have thought about whether it really matters if human beings are annihilated. We don’t really matter that much. Species come and go and the Earth and the Universe carry on.
But meanwhile, it’s my goal, and one that I hope is shared by others, to act kindly. Every dying person will tell you that, as the end of life approaches, little matters as much as love, relationships, compassion in all matters. So, let’s channel our rage into the effort to reinstate every law we can imagine that will alleviate suffering, including the right for women to control their own bodies. We deserve that. No, we demand that.