Letters from the Heart: When Will My Body Be Mine? By Suad Abdoun
TW: rape, SA,
As I scroll through the news today and digest the Supreme Court’s decision to rip away fundamental reproductive rights I am left wondering if I will ever truly own my body. I know I am lucky, having been born and raised in California. I haven’t had the same fears as women in other states about whether or not I would be able to terminate an unwanted pregnancy or seek other reproductive care. The more I contemplate, the more I realize how little autonomy women have in this so-called progressive age.
Male ownership over women’s bodies has been consistent throughout history, but we’ve been deceived into thinking that it isn’t as prevalent these days. The truth is that it is just accomplished in a subtler way. The second I was brought into this world, I became someone’s property. It was predetermined who I was, and what kind of life I would live. I was put in the frilliest of dresses by my mother who, believing firmly in traditional femininity, was so sure that I would become a delicate girly girl. While my parents expected me to complete college, it was expected that I would be modest, whatever that meant, get married young, and have children. All of this was decided before I could even speak for myself.
When I became old enough to have autonomy over myself, it did not go over well. The clothes I wanted to wear were not suitable, and the way I wanted to express myself was not acceptable. My mother told me that I did not have the body to be able to wear skinny jeans or tight shirts because she saw my body as an inherently promiscuous commodity. My father suggested time and time again that I, as a 13-year-old, who just wanted to wear trendy clothes, was trying to put on a “show” for male attention. I could never win. It gets tiring, being constantly told that your existence, your body, is a commodity to be consumed by the male gaze. And as I got older I realized how utterly horrible it is to suggest that a girl is essentially rape-able because of how she looks. From my parents to men on the street and men on the internet, my body, which should belong to me and only to me, has been owned by everyone else but me.
Now that I am older and live on my own, I thought I had the freedom to make choices about my life and my body. However, while I can technically do what I want, I have noticed that those choices are never respected. I was told by a family member not to get my cartilage pierced because it wasn’t dainty and feminine and men would never love me. I was met with a similar response upon piercing my septum. When I got tattoos, tears were shed and I was asked why I would ruin “my perfect body.” Yet ironically when I state that I don’t wish to have children or permanently alter my body with pregnancy, I am told time and time again that I will change my mind and that children are worth the sacrifice. Because, of course, it’s unfathomable that not every single woman wants to bear children. After all, that’s all we exist on this planet for, right?
But, I digress. I am sure you are wondering what all of this has to do with the overturning of Roe v. Wade? I see a connection between all of these things – rape culture, religion, traditional standards of femininity. This isn’t just about taking away women’s rights to abortion and reproductive health care. It’s about putting women in line. It’s about control. The harder we fight the tighter the patriarchy grips. I am so tired of fighting for my right to just be left alone.
As I was watching four old, white men argue why Roe v. Wade needed to be overturned, I was struck by how infantilizing this entire experience is. “Women cannot make decisions for themselves” seemed to be the undertone lurking in the shadows. Fighting with randos on the internet over abortion rights is one thing but for the US government to allow this to happen is extremely dehumanizing. It highlights the absolute disrespect and lack of concern for women’s health and privacy. It’s as if they are subtly telling us that we don’t matter, we don’t deserve a voice. If we can’t have a basic right to make decisions about our reproductive health what is stopping them from taking away all of our other rights as well.
The worst part about this entire experience is how helpless I feel. Women can talk about this until we are blue in the face. We can fight, scream, cry, and yet it doesn’t make a difference. There is a poem by Eavan Boland called The Woman Who Turns Herself Into A Fish and my favorite stanza is, “pearling eggs / screamlessly / in seaweed.” That is how I feel, “screamlessly.” It’s like I’m shouting into an abyss and no one is listening. I’m tired of hearing how far we have come when we really haven’t. I have never felt ownership or autonomy over my body. I am not cattle. I am not a childbearing machine. I am not made for men. I am a person, a sentient being, with thoughts, emotions, intelligence, and dreams. Something needs to change, now. And so Reader, I leave you with the question: when will I, when will women, truly, wholly, and definitively own our bodies?
Lots of love in this dark time,
Author’s note: To my non-cisgendered folks, I am aware that cis women are not the only people who get abortions or are affected by this. As a cis woman, I do not want to speak on any experiences that are not mine but just know that I stand by you and support you in every way <3.