I recently received this email:
Hi, Libby Anne.
I’ve corresponded with you before when I identified as pro-life. I’ve since changed my views on the abortion issue as well as a plethora of other women’s issues, and I think your contributions from your blog played a major contribution.
The reason I’m emailing you today is because I have a question that I haven’t seen addressed very well by websites.
Some context: I was in a Facebook group when I became engaged in a conversation about abortion (which I started). The people I was responding to were exclusively male. I noticed this, eventually, and it bothered me, but I didn’t say anything. Although the discussion was about the tone of the abortion rights supporters, all of the males pretty much agreed with abortion with very little restrictions. However, a female rightly pointed out that all of the commenters were male and that we are less than qualified to make a choice for a woman.
My question to you is, what is a male’s role in the abortion debate, or on women’s issues in general? I think even as a feminist supporter, I went overboard with introducing a discussion about abortion. I think even defending abortion in the company of men seems inappropriate, because I simply cannot properly convey the perspective a female, particularly one with an experience with abortion, can portray. Talking about abortion amongst women seems like mansplaining, even if the male is discussing the matter with an anti-abortion female. Maybe you have a preference of how your husband treats the issue.
I tried a Google search to see if others had written about this issue, but I could only find mostly anti-abortion sites advocating for men the ability to speak out against abortion. I found a pro-abortion site, but it primarily dealt with anti-abortion males.
I’m looking forward to your answer. I enjoy reading your blog. Feel free to publish your answer as a blog entry, if you think it will promote a healthy dialogue that needs to be said.
My reply was as follows (with a few small edits):
I think there absolutely is a role for men in the abortion debate, and that that role is in supporting women’s freedom to choose. When you defend abortion access, you are not saying that all women or any individual woman should have an abortion. In other words, you are not trying to dictate anyone’s choices. This is why anti-abortion men (rightly) get reamed out by feminists for entering the discussion—they are trying to dictate women’s decisions regarding something they will never and can never experience. Defending women’s freedom to choose is different, because you (as a man) are not trying to tell women what to choose.
In other words, you said a female friend pointed out in your facebook discussion that the commenters were male and thus less than qualified to make that choice for a woman, but you also said that the tone of the conversation among the male commenters was support for abortion access, which means you were not trying to make that choice for a woman to begin with, but instead arguing that she should have a choice.
Of course, there are definitely times this can veer into “mansplaining,” such as if you were to discuss what would be the best decision for a woman in a given situation (i.e. that women who are pregnant through rape should or would universally abort, when not all women who conceive for rape would choose to do so even with complete abortion access). You don’t know what it’s like to be pregnant, or to face that choice, so suggesting which choice is right in a given situation or for a given woman would be less appropriate.
Defending abortion in the company of men? I think that’s absolutely appropriate. Yes, you can’t perfectly convey the female perspective, but that doesn’t mean you can’t defend women’s right to choice, and point out to other men that that choice should be up to the woman, and why (i.e. point out that pregnancy is a huge invasion of a woman’s body that men will never experience and therefore cannot fully comprehend, etc.).
Defending abortion in the company of women? That, I think, is where things are iffier. You absolutely should speak up for women’s right to choose, but if there are women who are pro-choice who are also in the conversation, you should make sure not to talk over them or try to center your voice over theirs. If the women are anti-abortion, you’re in a tough spot, but can at least affirm that you think women should be allowed to choose, and that you support their choice not to obtain an abortion. Discussing bodily autonomy with anti-abortion women is difficult for anyone, given that pro-life women tend to understand the invasiveness of pregnancy and simply believe that it is worth requiring women to go through in order to grow the fetus and ultimately produce a baby.
Does this make sense? It may seem contradictory that I don’t think it is valid for anti-abortion males to enter the conversation but I do think it is valid for pro-choice males to do so, but for me the difference is that the first group is trying to tell women what to do with their bodies and the second group is arguing that women should be able to make that choice for themselves.
Those who are anti-abortion don’t see this conversation in terms of bodily autonomy but rather in terms of human lives being lost. They would probably argue that saying men shouldn’t have a say in abortion would be like saying that non-Germans shouldn’t have a say in the Holocaust. (I realize that I just violated Godwin’s Law, but anti-abortion groups constantly compare abortion to the Holocaust, even comparing “body counts,” so this argument is actually one they would make.) As a result, no amount of discussion is going to convince anti-abortion individuals that men weighing in on the conversation is any less valid than women doing so.
This means that the conversation over the place of men’s voices in discussions of abortion takes place solely on the pro-choice side. Note that James did not even ask himself this question when he was opposed to abortion, and was in fact willing to email me with his views. It was when he became pro-choice that he felt the need to ask this question to begin with.
What are your thoughts? How would you have answered James’ question?