Tuesday, October 27, 2015

So, a Woman Walks up to This Bar...

The bar was packed, every stool occupied.  A Lea-sized space was open at the corner between a large black gentleman in a gray Viet Nam Vet sweatshirt and a pasty-faced male in a navy polo.  To Navy Polo’s right, a youth with a scraggly red beard and baseball cap hunched over his beer, elbows planted on the bar.  Overhead, TV screens blared assorted commercials and sports events as, eager for a glass of water, I slipped in between the men, heedless of the heat of their conversation. 

Laying a meaty hand on my arm, the very large vet said, “Young lady, I was just telling these fellas that no man should tell a woman what to do with her body.  These guys in Washington are trying to take away women’s rights.”  His gaze shifted to Navy Polo.   “Hell, you and me, we get into a ‘situation,’ we just walk away.  Women? Can’t do that.  No, they’re stuck with the problem. I tell my daughters and nieces all the time, ‘don’t you let no man tell you what you should or shouldn’t do.”  He gave my arm a little squeeze, and said, “Am I right?”

Before I could answer, Navy Polo said, “I’m not disagreeing with you.  I’m just saying, those videos about Planned Parenthood are very disturbing.  An organization getting government funding selling fetal parts for profit?  Very disturbing.”  Red Beard shook his head slowly in dismay and mumbled, "Yeah.  Disturbing."

Three pairs of eyes swiveled toward me and waited. 

This was not a college coffee house, book group, or Fairfield County cocktail party.  This was a neighborhood Bridgeport bar.  My husband and our friends were drinking beer, playing darts, and chatting about football; who would have guessed that this unlikely trio would be immersed in a discussion about women’s rights?  Not me. I had tucked them into a neat category from the moment I saw them, without even knowing I had.

 “Who wouldn’t be disturbed by those videos?” I said.  The men nodded thoughtfully, and I wondered what else to say. 

For I’ve been thinking about this too.  Truly, who wouldn’t be disturbed by those videos?  Yet, this conversation occurred before all the follow-up coverage.  Before I learned that only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s budget goes to abortions, which are not federally funded anyway.  That the vast majority of the organization’s resources go toward women’s health, particularly that of low-income women who would not receive care otherwise.  Politicians can claim what they will, but cutting funding to these programs would be an assault on women’s health.

Besides, I’m disturbed by any action by wealthy white men in Congress that might curb women’s rights and, unfortunately, abortion has become inextricably linked to those rights for precisely the reason the meaty vet pointed out.  The course of a girl’s life can be irrevocably altered by an ill-advised sex act.  Not so for a boy.  Men can walk away… and too often, they do.  

My mother recently attended a lecture hosted by Planned Parenthood.  The presenter spoke of the impact of the pill’s introduction and availability in the fifties.  “For the first time, it gave women their freedom.  Suddenly, they had a choice in the course of their future.  They didn’t have to get married or stay home to care for children if they weren’t ready.  They could pursue a career.”  My mother’s voice held wonder as she reflected on how recently women had gained some semblance of the self-determination men had always enjoyed.  Use of the pill reduces abortions, yet even the pill has opponents.    

My concern for women’s rights has been churned still further by media reports of female oppression and images of roiling gatherings of angry men in Middle-Eastern plazas. Not a woman in sight or, if she is, she’s swathed head-to-two in black.  What’s wrong with these men?  Inflamed beyond self-control by a glimpse of ankle or wrist?  And the response is to blame the women: bundle those temptresses in burkas, and flog them if the fabric slips.     

Back in the bar, three pairs of eyes were waiting, so onward I plunged.

 “I think the issue goes deeper than Planned Parenthood or abortion.  Boys need to be taught restraint.  From an early age.  Why is it always up to the girl?  Why must the weight and the worry and the blame rest always with the girl?  Young boys need to learn they have a responsibility.  Absolutely.  They need to learn restraint.”

My companions watched my face and listened intently, then nodded, turned to their beers, and took a swig.  Navy Polo said, “That makes more sense than anything else we’ve said tonight.” 

The meaty vet asked what I was drinking.

“Water,” I said with a grin.

Water! The three men laughed.  “You standing here all this time for a glass of water?      

Yes.  Also, apparently, although I’d not known this when I walked up to the bar, to crystallize my thoughts on the Planned Parenthood discussion and learn, yet again, not to judge others by appearance. 



Anonymous said...

Right on, Lea! Sounds like a memorable encounter for everyone. xxx

Gerry said...

You are a brave woman, Lea. And very smart. Knowing someone who has benefited from the health care services that PP provides, and who would otherwise go without that care, I know the important role they play in helping women.

David Hughes said...

Loved this one, Lea. And we all need to learn not to judge so readily by appearance. And the whole thing about Planned Parenthood selling body parts was a big lie made up by corrupt politicians who wanted to further their own selfish agenda. I am so sick of politicians, I can't even...

tootsielala55 said...

You went where few would fear to tread. Thank you. Your educating these men will have ripples beyond Bridgeport. You did good. And wrote it, as you always do, with grace and skill.

Jennifer Goodspeed said...

Lea, I can't believe I am just now reading this as I'm heading off to a candlelight vigil in Portland for Planned Parenthood. Thank you SO MUCH for writing what you wrote and, as usual, doing it so well. XOXO

Sam said...

All a woman has to do to avoid wanting an abortion is cross her legs. To remedy promiscuity, ignorance, carelessness, lust, or any other problem with the killing of a human baby is unthinkable. To say the Planned Parenthood videos are disturbing is an understatement of monumental proportion. The videos are gut-wrenching and horrifying. They left many of us nauseous and unable to sleep. Even if the statement were true (It is not.), trying to balance the acts in those videos with the statement "poor women need Planned Parenthood for healthcare" is like watching a holocaust documentary and responding "Hitler loved puppies and babies." It is so out of proportion that it defies logic.

In addition, the facts about Planned Parenthood in this piece are completely inaccurate. What Planned Parenthood does for poor women and women of color is kill their children. It does not provide contraception and is not essential to healthcare.

"I note that everyone who favors abortion has already been born." I wish that I had said that, but alas it was Ronald Reagan.

Lea said...

I don't know who Sam is. Would be curious about Sam's age and gender. Maybe that doesn't matter. Abortion is a painful, difficult issue. I hate abortion too. But those who would outlaw abortion often would also outlaw contraception and even sex education. And sex is going to happen...between two people. Women, often girls, bear the life-altering repercussions. Many men walk away.

And...Planned Parenthood DOES provide contraception and IS essential to healthcare for low income women.

Sherry said...

Sorry, Lea.

Some one mentioned that you had pics of Casey's wedding on your blog. I checked in to find them when you sent me this link and found this discussion. I promise not to darken your door again, but before I depart your blog, I am compelled to say this.

Consensual sex doesn't 'just happen'. It is a choice, perhaps drunken, perhaps hormonal, but always a choice. Our society offers that choice up to very young kids and to young adults outside the boundaries of marriage with no societal consequences for the behavior. Both, of course, have built in consequences of their own which we all suffer in the carnage of kids without a dad in the home (check the stats - they're beyond depressing) and in the national disgrace of abortion as birth control. If women make choices that avoid unwanted pregnancy, then there is nothing for men to walk away from. I think that empowers women. Certainly abortion is not empowering, and in fact has serious psychological ramifications that last a lifetime, haunting women who come to believe that they killed a baby, their own baby.

In addition, the facts here on Planned Parenthood are just flat out wrong. How is it truth-seeking to ask an organization to validate itself? Check out the many other sources available for Planned Parenthood stats. In addition, I have never met or read anyone who wants to outlaw contraception and there is certainly no political movement in that direction. That argument is just a distraction. The problem of abortion will be solved by the changing of hearts and minds. When women begin protecting themselves and their future children by making responsible choices regarding sexual behavior, we will not need a legal battle to begin closing abortion clinics.

Best, Sherry