Remember last week’s post about choice?
The conversation over at the Smart Bitches degenerated rather quickly after Ann Sommerville showed up¹. Such derailments can be entertaining for a while, if entirely fruitless–screaming at people will not change their mind, and doing unto others as they’ve done unto you won’t endear your position to bystanders.
However, these comment threads help me remain aware of my own attitudes towards women’s sexuality and agency, as well as those of the people I interact with every day.
In the romance reading community (or at least those blogs I usually read and their frequent commenters) we have often talked about women putting women down and how that is one of the biggest threats to women’s freedom to choose–whether the choice is to stay home, barefoot and pregnant, to fight in combat, fly to Jupiter, get paid for sex², or find the ultimate answer to all the questions in the universe.
Most of the time I agree with this point of view, but this week I participated in a conversation that both horrified me and set me straight.
I work with a number of young people, about 75% of which are female. Of these, the majority are in their late to very early twenties (think not-quite-drinking-age here). Most of these young women are sexually active and, for reasons that escape me, feel free to talk about their relationships and sexual habits with me during slow times or after closing, while setting things to rights for the next day.
During one of such conversations, one of these co-workers was recounting her most recent scare.
See, she’s on birth control and has been for a couple of years. She’s also in a committed relationship with a guy who’s active duty in the Army. He’s currently deployed somewhere else, and so she only has sex when he’s free to visit for a few days. Apparently, during the most recent visit down here, she was in the middle of changing birth control, under medical advice. Obviously no one would expect them to remain celibate under the circumstances, but apparently neither of them considered that using an alternative method (hello, condoms?) during the transition would be a wise move. Hence, she had about three weeks of increasing panic before her period.
Interestingly, in a very cynical way, is that she speaks of this as a relative common occurrence–it’s not the first scare they’ve had, and she seems relaxed to think there’ll be more of them.
Me, under her living situation (complicated and her business) would be a tad less phlegmatic, but to each her own.
But, lest you think I’m truly this horrible morality troll, what utterly horrified me was the contribution to this conversation by another young woman–who is probably just over 18 herself, also sexually active and, as she’s proud to announce to anyone within hearing, in a very committed relationship.
Upon hearing of the scare and the subsequent birth control conversation, she dropped this pearl of wisdom with the most perfect straight face and affect of superiority:
I’m not on one of those things (i.e., birth control). My boyfriend knows when to pull out.
I wish I could convey the level of shock I felt, and I wish I could say that I managed to control it enough to set her straight regarding the real risk she’s at–and not just of pregnancy, either–but once I managed to sputter how *I* was conceived after my very Catholic mother tried that as birth control (and that after my sister was conceived using the rhythm–also church approved), she shrugged and walked away, and then refused to talk more about the issue.
She knows what she knows, and that is that.
And I’m forced to conclude that ignorance–and the stubbornness to admit to it–is a much bigger threat to women’s freedoms and women’s rights, than women’s disdain and collusion with ‘the patriarchy’ (or whatever you want to call the status quo)
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² Because, if it’s legal in your jurisdiction and you want to do it, why the fuck not? Posing nude and acting in porn films are as legal and as suitable choices as modeling or singing–why do we continue to put caveats on when or under which circumstances we approve of women’s choices?