I’m deeply grateful to live and work with so many community leaders who are women. When the initial draft of the Supreme Court opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade was leaked to Politico last week, I knew I had to be visibly present to support my fellow community leaders. On Saturday afternoon, I took my six-year-old daughter to join the crowd that had gathered in front of the Federal Courthouse in Akron. It was important for her to be there, though she didn’t fully understand the issue.
Standing next to my City Councilwoman, Nancy Holland, I watched one of my dearest friends cry as she told her personal story to the crowd. At one point, my daughter grabbed my hand and looked up at me with tears in her eyes and said, “Why are men so mean?” I was tempted to tell her that most men don’t know better. I didn’t. I knew that would be a lie. Many men do know better yet choose to do nothing.
The prophet Micah taught what God requires of us: “to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly.” Most of us recognize that doing justice requires us to speak truth to power. If we are serious about creating social change, however, we first must learn to speak truth to each other. When it comes to reproductive rights, men need to do justice by listening to the stories of women and lifting them up in the presence of other men.
The fight for free, safe, and legal abortion is almost always seen as a women’s issue—as if men don’t have to think about it. The sexual activity and decision-making of men is hardly mentioned. There’s a shared responsibility to ensure the safe and effective use of birth control. Women not only carry the physical burden of pregnancy, they are largely left to carry the financial and social burdens as well. This is clearly why women tend to be more conscientious than men. When contraception is not used, it is often because of the resistance of men to wearing condoms; that puts the moral weight of reproductive rights squarely on us.
Current conversations about abortion tend to focus on exceptions, on who can have access to them, and under what conditions. These approaches, however, use a legal framework that maintains control over women’s bodies. What about reproductive liberty? Under the pro-choice banner, reform seems to always carry the day; arguments for full reproductive liberty somehow don’t enter most of our public conversations.
In her book Without Apology: The Abortion Struggle Now, Jenny Brown explains that it was the women’s liberation movement that brought thousands to the streets and ultimately “forced a reluctant Supreme Court to legalize most abortions across the country.” As Brown narrates that history, it was the 1969 Redstockings Abortion Speakout that initially spurred the public conversation forward. The winning strategy, she explains, used a method of public conversations that had been adapted from the Southern Civil Rights Movement’s “Tell It Like It Is” sessions. Across the country, women gathered for public conversations and went around the room telling their personal stories. Brown quotes from Peggy Dobbins:
“If you spoke your personal experience, you discovered it was shared. If it was shared, it was social. And if it was social, it was political. And if it was political, you could do something about it.”
For too long, and too frequently, men have quieted the voices of women in public conversations. This happens even when their opinions are not requested, even if the women who are present have more experience and/or expertise. Today, we call this mansplaining.
Why is it that men always feel they need to present themselves as the smartest in the room? When men’s voices are needed to support the rights of women, so many men are silent.
What if instead of debating the best ways to control what happens to women’s bodies, we offered our voices in support of women? What if this time around, the men in the room decided to de-center ourselves and instead centered the voices of women? What if we listened for the truth before we speak it? What if we did justice?