"The women of Bikini Kill let guitarist Billy Karren be in their feminist punk band, but only if he's willing to just "do some shit." Being a feminist dude is like that. We may ask you to "do some shit" for the band, but you don't get to be Kathleen Hannah."--@heatherurehere

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Including Men in Conversations About Abortion

Amanda Marcotte has a post up on Unsprung which mostly disparages an article that Courtney Martin recently wrote regarding acknowledging men's emotional responses to abortion. In the article, "Why Men Should Be Included in Abortion Discussion,"Martin describes some reasons why men feel isolated as regards how abortion affects them, and she suggests that men be more included in the discussions around abortion, and that men be more included in the clinical setting--currently, men are generally not even allowed into the procedure room, and (Martin says) don't get the counseling they might need. (Note: Her argument in this regard doesn't seem as based in fact as I'd like--Planned Parenthood does offer counseling to men, for instance.)

Marcotte takes issue with the article in general, though she first notes where she thinks Martin gets things right: Traditional male masculinity makes it hard for men to get any help they might need. Marcotte says:

I love Courtney and usually think her writing is interesting, and I certainly like how she briefly makes the point in the article that men probably feel lost after an abortion because masculinity standards make it hard for men to even begin to describe their feelings about sex, relationships, and especially accidental pregnancies.

She immediately takes issue with the rest of the article, however, beginning by noting that masculinity standards causing problems aren't limited to the abortion issue:
But that’s an issue with masculinity standards, not with abortion per se.

While I agree that this arena is just one area in which traditional male masculinity standards cause men (and people of all genders) harm, I don't really understand the force of Marcotte's argument here. Sure, this is just one area where men face a problem with male masculinity standards, but we don't overcome problems with traditional male masculinity in a vacuum--we have to confront the problems of male masculinity standards in exactly these sorts of situations, where everybody is harmed by them.

But What About the MENZ?
I think we need to talk about this issue keeping in mind the complexity of the situation, and not let Martin's points be reduced to the all-too-common "But what about the men!" sorts of thinking. And Marcotte points out in a comment later on that part of what's going on here for her is that she sees Martin's post as a call to divert resources from women to men:
Which would mean they have to take away from resources devoted to women. On that day that women have enough, men can have more. But until women have enough, men should not get any more. This is pretty basic. There's nothing wrong with being a grown-up and saying, "Well, it sucks to be me, but it sucks way worse to be her, so my job here is to be supportive."

I think this is an overly simplistic way of interpreting what Martin has to say, but I also think that conversations about men and abortion need to be seen through the lens of resources, and I agree that it's best that women, who don't even have enough resources for reproductive rights as things stand now, shouldn't have to suffer a loss of any of those resources so that men can have some of them. And in a way, I think Marcotte's position on this issue stems from the very real fact that women don't have enough resources, and I can understand that calling for some resources for men, in the light of that fact, can seem preposterous.

On the other hand, I think that wanting more resources for women and wanting more resources for men don't have to be oppositional positions--to some degree Marcotte is setting up a false dichotomy. For instance, I think it would be great if feminist men showed a greater interest in this issue, formed some support communities, and found a way to raise some money for such services for men. Of course, Marcotte's point might still hold in this case--those men could be raising that 'extra' money for the women who don't yet have enough access to reproductive services. And I think feminist men should be contributing to groups like Planned Parenthood for that reason.

The question remains, for me: Is it practical, it is ethical, to demand that men get no resources for counseling, no inclusion in the larger discussion, until women have all of the help they need?

No Easy Answer
And that isn't a rhetorical question, at least for me. I think it's a tough one, mostly because of the poor showing men have historically regarding the reproductive rights of women. It makes a good deal of sense that we might want to ignore the needs of men in this regard until we've taken (more) care of the needs of women. And men are already getting some of their needs met, anyway--Marcotte points out that men do usually take part in discussions with their significant others regarding abortions, that they do come to the clinic waiting rooms. What more could men want? Marcotte notes in the comments:
Literally, there's not much left there except to have your girlfriend rubbing your back to make sure you feel comforted during her D&C.

I think this line of thinking comes from a rational, practical place, mostly because there are so often cries of "What about the men!" But I also think that it's harsh and oversimplifying, and that it sets up a false dichotomy. It's harsh because it's doubtful (in my mind, at least) that having their backs rubbed for comfort during a D&C isn't what the men in Martin's article seem to be claiming they need. Instead, they seem to be claiming to need a community, somebody to talk to, about their experience:
Jack looked to close friends for support -- one male, one female -- but felt somewhat abandoned while actually in the clinic waiting room: "I remember sitting there feeling terrified. I would have appreciated someone to talk to who had been through that moment."
Philip*, a 27-year-old, regrets his inability to handle the significance of his girlfriend's abortion. He received little support at the time and still -- years later -- feels like he hasn't truly processed what he went through.

Are these men going through emotional turmoil akin to the kind that some women go through when they choose to abort? Probably not. But they are going through turmoil, and that fact is what Martin is pointing out, along with the suggestion that their turmoil matters. I think that such emotional turmoil should be addressed. I agree that we should not take resources away from women to do so, but that doesn't mean that nothing can be done, that nothing should be done, for men.

The False Dichotomy
I noted that I think Marcotte's position here is oversimplifying and reflects a false dichotomy. She says that men already are already included enough, and to include them more takes away from the needs of women being fulfilled. I think that we should be careful to make sure that women get taken care of, but I also think that, given that most women do include the men in their lives when deliberating an abortion (as Marcotte points out), given that men do show up in waiting rooms at clinics with their significant others, it seems as if at least some women might agree that men have an emotional stake in the abortion decision, even if they don't have (and shouldn't have!) the right to make the decision. (In fact, it may be that men need more counseling regarding abortion in part because they don't have a right to make the decision. Feelings of powerlessness are some of the most difficult things to deal with, especially for men raised in a culture of traditional male masculinity.)

And here's where the false dichotomy comes in: It's likely in men's best interests to get some counseling (if they need it) around abortion decisions--but it's also likely in the interest of the women involved; in order to be a good, supportive partner, men may need some help. Does that mean that resources for women should be taken away from them to provide this help? Nope. But it does mean that putting some resources toward men would likely benefit women as well. I admit this is treacherous territory, because this position could easily be construed as "Give resources to men in order to help women!" but I think that if one keeps in mind the complexities of the situation, such conclusions don't have to be immediately made.

What Can Men Do?
An important part of my position here is this: Men need to provide resources for men regarding possible emotional fallout from making decisions around abortion. Men should be raising some money, volunteering, and be learning to talk to each other. This doesn't mean that men can ignore that women need resources--but it does mean that they out to provide some resources for each other. Does this mean that resources for men ought to be men's primary concern around abortion, around reproductive rights in general? No. But it also doesn't mean that men shouldn't try to get the emotional help that they feel they need. We should be supportive of our partners as much as we can, but part of supporting them is taking care of ourselves at the same time.
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