‘Menopausal Militia’ to Young Women: It’s Your Body!

Young women of America: Today’s fight is a defining battle for American women. Fail to understand this at your peril.

I write as a member of the “menopausal militia,” as the New York Times, quoting NARAL’s President, Nancy Keenan this weekend, characterized those of us, “of a certain age,” who have led America’s decades’-long fight for reproductive rights.

But, on this day after the National Day of Action (to stop Stupak), I feel like I’m still 18, in the fall of 1968, gathering nickels, dimes and dollars for a friend to take the bus to Rapid City, South Dakota to get an (illegal) abortion.

On other recent days, I’ve felt like the newly married 23-year-old I was, living in Chicago the year abortion became legal, realizing that the fight was on; that I needed to make this fight a part of my life’s work, for my personal sake.

And on this day after, though still a married woman living in Chicago, things are very different for me. Today, it doesn’t matter to me, for me, whether abortion remains legal or not. It doesn’t even matter to me for my immediate family: I don’t have children or grandchildren. Even so, I know, with every bone in my body, that this is still a fight worth fighting.

So, it still feels like a day in 1968. For if abortion becomes illegal again, or impossible to obtain in a conventional medical setting–because the Stupak Amendment has become law–it will be 1968 all over again.

For sure, it will be 1968 all over again if America’s young women don’t wake up and realize that women’s reproductive rights can only be secured by battling to secure this human right, the right to control one’s own body.

In 1968, as we looked towards adulthood, we knew that the threshold determinant of women’s equality was the capacity to control one’s reproductive destiny. We recognized that, absent that capacity, the rest just isn’t possible; nope, and hear me clearly on this one: none of it: not that cuddly family, not that nice home, not that non-sexist husband, not that good job, not the ability to choose when to have children, or how many to have, for the capacity to determine one’s own reproductive life is what makes all the rest of this achievable.

So, yes, we’ve battled ever since, and in the process we’ve become a (menopausal) militia.

And because we have, we’re here to tell you to stop talking about personal choice, as though it could be the basis of the strategy to win this fight (to stop Stupak) to keep abortion safe and legal. It isn’t.

Time to leave the talk to the (male) academics, pollsters and journalists. And while you’re at it, time to leave to the big-time male executives at the big-time ad agencies (they can waste their time) the business of proposing new taglines and “softer” messages: "If you just try this one, ma’am, you’re sure to get those middle-of-the-road moms on your side"…as though selling a permanent commitment to women’s reproductive choice were like selling perfume. 

Listen to us, us members of the menopausal militia. We know, from direct and repeated experience for decades, that there just isn’t any “nice” way to convince politicians to keep abortion safe and legal. This one is “hard time,” not in prison, but certainly in a war zone. 

Time to get real–you (younger) women who are wishing it were otherwise: This fight is about your body, and who controls it.

Why in the world do you think that it was only women’s reproductive healthcare that got exempted from a reasonable and comprehensive approach to providing Americans with access to healthcare? Was this just the luck-of-the-draw, just Congressional business as usual?

Hell, no.

There have been numerous other issues facing Congress on which the Blue Dogs said they’d hold out.  But, when it came down to it, they didn’t. Yet, when it came to legislation that would guarantee women’s autonomy, they did, and then, to add insult to injury, they convinced others to join them in their war against American women.

Why were these Members of Congress able to do this?  Because women’s autonomy–remember: it took women almost 150 years to get the right to vote in this country–isn’t what the men who (still) rule America want for us. Why? Because our gaining our autonomy is about their giving up their power.

If I cede the basic position from whence my power stems–in the case of a male legislator, that’s being male–what might I have left?

Forget the catchy slogans and friendly messages. Forget the pretty pink websites. Forget the pollsters. Forget trying to make deals with legislators fundamentally unsympathetic to the cause of women’s autonomy. Forget trying to make ever-so-reasonable arguments about reducing the cost of health care, or about the benefits of health care, if we just have reproductive coverage for those mothers who love their children just so much.

Instead, recognize that today’s fight is a defining battle for American women.

Today, and on every day to come, be battle-ready: be prepared to tell your legislators they’ve crossed the line. In fact, tell them they need to step back. Tell them you will lie down on the steps of the Capitol, so they can’t get in to vote; tell them you will picket the White House, so they can’t meet with the President; tell them you will ruin their family’s Christmas, and oh, by the way, while you’re at it, remind them you birthed the children now going to Afghanistan to fight, and because you did, you know every child should be a loved and wanted child; tell them you know that the America your children now fight for, and die for, is one which should give you equal rights, in all matters, and that means the right to control your own body. Tell them nothing less will do.

Young women of America: Fail to understand this at your peril. Take this lesson from the menopausal militia to heart.

Young women of America: Prepare for many, many more national days of action. And know that we’ll be right there with you.