Monday, February 20, 2012

A Open Letter To Men About How to Understand Birth Control, Abortion and Woman's Issues

I will never know what it’s like to have menstrual cramps. I will never know what it’s like to give birth. I will never know what it’s like to have to go to a doctor to get a prescription to get a contraceptive. I will never know what it’s like to be reminded once a month of my womanhood and I will never know the feeling of menopause knowing that your ability to have children is going away.

I will never know what any of these things are really like because I’m a man.

In the past week the issue of birth control pills and other contraceptives as part of health care plans with religious organizations has brought about a flurry of discussion about issues related to religious freedom and woman’s reproductive health.

As with any important issue in our society, this is not a singular issue. This isn’t simply a religious freedom issue. This is a states’ rights issue, a health care issue, a political issue, and woman’s rights issue. It is all of these things but at the end of the day the one group of people who will be most effected by this are woman. All of us men will be able to go on our daily lives and be able to forget this issue while woman in our society will continue to wrestle and deal with the consequences of last week's events.

Just because you don’t belong to a group doesn’t mean that you can’t have an opinion about a issue related to a group. You can have an opinion on African-American gang violence even if you aren’t African-American. However if there’s an African-American in the room, be sensitive, because it is far more personal for people belonging to the groups you are talking about than it is for you.

You may be better informed and know more statistics but you don’t live with these issues everyday.  This may be a research topic for you, but for these people it's their lives and it's personal.  When these things get personal, feelings get involved and it becomes less a political discussion and a conversation about the lives of the people around you.

So if you’re with a group of friends and a woman’s issue comes up, or even an issue that is tangentially related to the unique experience of what it means to be a woman, shut your mouth, let the woman speak and take your cues off of them. If they say something you disagree with, think long and hard before you open your mouth, because if you quote some line you hear from a pundit, it’s not going to go well.

If you are a man who really cares about issues in our society that effect woman like abortion and birth control than sit down with the women in your life and talk to them about their feelings and experiences. Talk to your mother, your aunts, your girlfriend, your sisters and your grandmothers. Hear their stories, ask them where they stand on these issues and form your opinions from their voices.

You will be amazed at the stories you hear and it will make you rethink the way you view these issues.  They will share more than their personal stories but also stories about their friends full of struggles, pain, triumphs and tragedy.

In the past week I’ve been thinking about stories women in my life have told me.  There's one of my friends telling me how before she went on birth control she had cramps so bad she couldn’t walk.  There's my friend holding back tears as she told me about her first miscarriage.  I hear the voice of a woman raised during World War II not realizing until after her third child the connection between her sexual activity and reproduction.  I’ve realized that there are women in my life who not only have opinions on all sides of these issues but have had to live through making incredibly hard decisions about their bodies.

These aren’t easy conversations to have but as men, it’s our responsibility. We will never know what it means to be a woman but we have to try. Nothing you read in the newspaper or hear on television will help you get closer to understanding these incredibly important and controversial issues in our lives than learning about these issues from the women who are close to you.

When you argue a side of an issue that deals with women's lives, don't argue for a political party, fight for the women in your life.  As men we only truly understand what it's like to be a man which is why we must support what it means to be a woman for the people in our lives.

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