Women should not have to reveal their personal trauma to get men to listen.
When it comes to the subject of abortion, there are some politicians who just can’t help but try to seize control away from women: control over their choices; control over their bodies; and control over their right to have a voice in the conversation.
This can all get very frustrating. Extremely frustrating, in fact.
Well, this story is for every woman who has ever wanted to tell an interfering politician/moral crusader/self-appointed-Minister-for-
In Ohio, America, lawmakers have been debating a proposed new Bill which would make it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion if a foetus’s heartbeat could be detected – something which may occur from about six weeks after conception.
During the discussion that followed, Teresa Fedor – the Democratic Ohio State representative – found herself getting increasingly frustrated by the antics and arguments of those proposing the Bill. And when she simply couldn’t take it anymore, Fedor stood up and delivered an epic smackdown, telling the audience that she had been raped as a young woman and had required a termination to end the resulting pregnancy.
“What you’re doing is so fundamentally inhuman, unconstitutional, and I’ve sat here too long,” said Fedor. “You don’t respect my reason, my rape, my abortion, and I guarantee you there are other women who should stand up with me and be courageous enough to speak.
“I dare any one of you to judge me, because there’s only one judge I’m going to face. I dare you to walk in my shoes. This debate is purely political. I understand your story, but you don’t understand mine. It is a personal decision, and how dare government get into my business.”
When a man in the audience appeared to snigger, Fedor didn’t miss a beat, turning the tables on him and calling out his disgraceful behaviour:
“I see people laughing and I don’t appreciate that,” she said. “And it happens to be a man who is laughing.”
Fedor, who was raped many years ago while she was in the military, said that she was grateful for having had the freedom to secure a termination at the time, adding that she was now ready to speak “for all the women in the state of Ohio who didn’t get the opportunity to be in front of that committee.”
Want more? Try: Why Robyn Lawley’s abortion backlash is a dangerous new low.
And while no doubt many of those women will be punching their fists in the air right now (as rightly they should!), ever so grateful to have such an articulate advocate on their side, we must never take for granted what a difficult choice it must have been for Fedor to make that disclosure, or the personal toll potentially involved.
(Fedor has stated that prior to this public disclosure, she had previously elected not to tell various members of her family about her rape, suggesting that it may not have been her first preference to make those events so public had she not felt it absolutely necessary to do so. This makes her decision to disclose all the more brave and all the more remarkable.)
Fedor’s disclosure also comes after several other US women lawmakers have shared their experiences of rape during legislative debates on abortion in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona.
And each one of these women deserves our applause, our support and our compassion. Because women who want to speak out about rape or abortion should always be supported in doing so.
But what about those women who don’t? Women who either don’t have relevant personal experiences to add to the debate, or those who are simply not ready to share theirs?
Because when it comes to women’s rights, women shouldn’t have to put their grief on display in order to be heard. And this is why it is essential that we resist this creeping trend in public debates in both America and Australia, where women are expected to reveal their personal traumas in exchange for admittance to the discussion.
The problem is that when men only listen to women once they disclose something personal or shocking, it makes women’s participation in these debates conditional on their willingness to reveal sensitive information about themselves first – something which may often be painful for a woman to do.
And when this occurs, a few other things tend to happen:
First, women who do not have, or are not prepared to share personal experiences, are instantly demoted or excluded from discussion.
Second, the act of disclosure acts as a double-bind, because as soon as a woman is done revealing an intimate aspect of her life, she is immediately at risk of being accused of being biased because of her personal connection to the issue.
Third, when women are expected to offer their personal narratives, they are often only seen and engaged with on an emotive level (as either a victim or a survivor), while the authority roles of expert and judge remain preserved for men.
The paradox here, is that this only enables men to continue to dominate the conversation, while women are kept on the sidelines, and only ever occasionally pulled in to the conversation to provide colour. (Interestingly, in America 81% of published statements made about abortion, women’s rights, and contraception, are given by men and a further 7% are made by organisations, leaving women with just 12% of the conversational space.)
The simple fact is that women shouldn’t have to reveal such personal histories as a prerequisite to being heard in discussions which effect our own rights. We shouldn’t have to have such traumatic experiences, in the first place. And nor should we ever be expected to reveal anything if it doesn’t serve our own recovery to do so.
Our hearts fit best in our bodies, not on our sleeves.