During the Senate confirmation for Supreme Court of the United States Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, controversial allegations of sexual violence arose. Kavanaugh’s accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, testified before the Senate to recount her experience of sexual assault in high-school. Conservative Americans skeptical of Ford demanded to know why she could not—30 years later—remember such details as the exact date or location of the assault. Eventually, the Senate voted to confirm Kavanaugh and he continues to serve as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States. In the next few years, it’s extremely likely that our nine justices, including Kavanaugh, will be faced with the decision to overturn or protect Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that made abortion legal federally. Through the intersectional lens of reproductive justice, one may understand what abortion symbolizes in the grand scheme of equality and freedom in the United States: state control of the female body. In the words of acclaimed rap group Digable Planets in their song La Femme Fatale, “they just want a male finger on the button.” Reproductive justice is an activist movement that views abortion restrictions as suppression of female autonomy and the right of an individual to decide if, when, and how she will have children.
I don’t understand why so many people found it difficult to understand why Christine Blasey Ford couldn’t remember the details of her assault. I remember the room because it was my own, but if asked, I couldn’t give any physical details about the surroundings unique to that day. I don’t remember if my jacket was hung up in the closet, casually draped over my chair, or perhaps haphazardly tossed on the floor. I do remember me. I remember the paralysis of fear that inhaled my entire being. I was frozen in space, and simultaneously wasn’t even there. In the moment, I could not have described what would later be identified as rape. I didn’t know what was happening. I only knew that I wanted to get way, that I urgently, desperately needed to get away, and to never again see the face that was so close to mine. I remember that the window was ajar, bringing in a cool spring breeze, and that I had an overwhelming desire to leap through the screen. I said I just wanted to sleep. I turned away. I tried to ignore. I tried to be silent and kind, like all Good Girls in America. He didn’t notice my silence, or my efforts to squeeze into the 2-inch gap between the bed and the wall. That night, I realized I don’t get to decide what happens to my body, so instead I went somewhere else where I could feel nothing, see nothing, hear nothing, and was only an empty, lifeless body.
This is the life of a woman in America, where our right to autonomy and self-control are constantly infringed upon and the Equal Rights Amendment remains unratified. In fact, an entire movement dedicated to eroding a woman’s right to control her own body—the pro-life movement—has captivated much of the nation and its leaders. The pro-life faction of our government claims that their stance is based on compassionate and pure love for the fetus. This love for the unborn baby in my body, I am assuming, must supersede any love for myself. National Right to Life, one of the oldest and most influential pro-life organizations, claims that their mission “is to protect and defend...the right to life of every innocent human being from the beginning of life to natural death.”  Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa has a rating of 100% from the National Right to Life Committee , indicating solid support for pro-life legislation. In 2002, Senator Grassley voted  to send American soldiers to their death when he supported President Bush’s call to invade Iraq based on allegations that the country possessed weapons of mass destruction. According to the Department of Defense , as of May 4, 2020, 4,431 Americans have been killed so far in Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom. According to the Watson Institute at Brown University , as of November 2018, 182,000 Iraqi civilians have died as a result of the war. No weapons of mass destruction were found. We live in a society that endorses senseless killing and oppression, yet doesn’t recognize me as an autonomous citizen capable of deciding if, when, and how I will reproduce.
After my rape, before I had the ability or awareness to understand it as such, I felt deeply unsettled and violated. I was constantly choking on words that didn’t exist, and couldn’t speak, couldn’t scream, let alone tell those around me that I urgently needed to know I wasn’t ruined. I felt like a carrier of vulgarity and repulsion, but could not understand why. No number of frequent and desperate showers could wash away the physical feeling of slick toxicity. I had become a foul creature unworthy of love or affection. I told my close friend what had happened and we cried together, both of us entirely unsure of why or for whom we were crying. I told my sister—a fellow victim of sexual violence—and she also struggled to find the right words. I told my mother and she told me what happened was bad, but I still didn’t have the word, any word. I began to call it an assault, which is the word I used to describe it when I confessed to my ex-boyfriend. After three months apart, during which the rape occured, we were in the process of reuniting and I spilled the contents of my suffering heart to a trusted and beloved friend. In a gushing waterfall of words and emotion, I revealed the extreme anguish I was in, and in retrospect realize I was desperately seeking affirmation that my pain and confusion was warranted. I believed that he, of all people, would immediately leap to my defense and provide the solace and protection I so desired.
In 1848, approximately 300 men and women gathered in Seneca Falls, NY, to draft the Declaration of Sentiments, a constitution-esque document outlining the unalienable rights deserved by American women. In 1920, women were finally given the right to vote after suffragists had endured decades of beatings, imprisonment, and enormous public resentment. Until 1986, marital rape was legal . According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, “one in five women and one in 71 men...will be raped at some point in their lives.”  In 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till was brutally beat and murdered after he had allegedly whistled at a white woman in a convenience store. In 2015, Stanford University student Brock Turner was sentenced to 6 months in prison and 3 years probation after witnesses found him assaulting an unconscious 22-year-old woman outside a party. Turner, a young white man, was released after serving three months . Till was black and his white attackers were never punished. On March 22nd, 1972, the Equal Rights Amendment was passed by the U.S. Senate and sent to the states for ratification. Not even thirty-eight states in our great union were able to agree that discrimination on the basis of sex is wrong, and to this day the United States of America has nothing in our constitution demanding gender equality.
American culture and institutions socialize little boys to be macho, dominating, and powerful. The closest male socialization has come to integral kindness is the concept of chivalry, which is only a way men are instructed to treat women during the process of courtship. Essentially, chivalry is merely a means to draw a woman into bed. There has been no effort to cultivate respect, sensitivity or thoughtfulness. If a boy remains a virgin by the time he’s in his late teens, he’s deemed weak, flawed, and less than. Control and power over the female body is essential to male existence in American culture, reflective of the patriarchal system our nation was founded on. Misogyny is ingrained in our culture down to the very roots and our men still grow up amid a culture that perpetuates and necessitates female domination. My ex-boyfriend was no exception to this rule. He and I had spent over two years in a serious, committed relationship. His support and comfort would have meant more to me than anything or anyone else. Instead, he told me that I had let him down and violated his trust, only reinforcing the narrative in my mind that I had done wrong. Patriarchal control was so central to his life that he could not admit, let alone understand, how the system had failed me. Instead, I was the culpable one, for I had violated his God-given right to maintain authority over my body. He told me that he could not forgive me, while it hadn’t even occurred to me until then that I needed to be forgiven. Suddenly, a permeative sense of pain, confusion, and disgust morphed into a narrative that I was the enemy and had wronged a person who I loved deeply.
As we sat in the cool spring dusk, I begged my ex to just let me explain, to just let me prove my faith, to just let me prove my worth. While we stood on the corner waiting for the light to change, I felt a man next to me who I loved with a force stronger than any I had ever known, yet who stood fuming with anger and revulsion. I felt the wind whipping my body as the cars streaked past, and in that moment I needed to die. I felt a rush of relief as I stepped in front of the next taxi and my useless life left my soiled body. I imagined my family and friends taking solace in my death, never having to deal with me again. This fantasy rolled over and through me like a sweet summer breeze in a crowded county fair. I felt the reprieve of death pull me forward towards oncoming traffic. In future conversations with my ex, he told me that he could sense what I was feeling and would have prevented it had I tried, yet I did not. All at once the cars stopped moving and we were walking forward; my escape had come and gone.
Later that summer, after my ex had left me because I had committed too vile and wicked an act, I told another close friend what had happened in that little dorm room plastered with Audrey Hepburn and animal activism posters. “X, that’s rape. You were raped,” she said with confidence and clarity. This was the word I had been violently choking on for too long. I never found the courage to report my rape and it’s unlikely my perpetrator has any idea that he ever did anything wrong. Shortly after the rape, he’d approached me at a gathering and I ran and hid behind a friend because seeing those eyes was more than I could bear. I dropped out of that school because the thought of returning sent agonizing chills of instinctual, animal fear coursing through my body. It took me over a year, thousands of dollars of therapy, and the unconditional love and support of many to recover from the constant pain caused by my rape and the subsequent actions of my ex-boyfriend. Four months after he left me, he reached out to apologize, but those words meant nothing compared to the suffering I had endured. When Kavanaugh was successfully appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States, I felt as if a massive boulder was dropped on my shoulders and the hope and trust bled from my veins. I had fought so hard to learn that I, as a woman, was worthy of love and respect, and suddenly my country was shouting in my face that I was not. Today, I feel this same revulsion and exclusion as Joe Biden, the arbiter of Anita Hill’s treatment in 1991, continues to receive support and praise as allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior arise.
Reproductive justice recognizes that each of these seemingly separate moments, Kavanaugh’s confirmation, my rape, and abortion access, are part of an effort to strip women of autonomy and maintain the American way of patriarchal rule. As women have gained rights as citizens, abortion has become a vessel for the state to maintain that final, yet crucial, hold on the female body under the guise of concern for injustice. Reproductive rights affirm a woman’s right to control her body and object to physical manipulation and subjection. The decision to abort a fetus is strictly between a woman and her medical professional, as any other medical procedure, yet our legislature, with no medical background or training, feels that they are more capable of determining what is best for an individual. Though the United States may claim to be a nation that represents core values of equality, freedom, and justice, our institutions and legislators engage in an ideology that is misogynist at its root, shrouded in layers of complexity involving religion, race, class, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity. Though I won’t hesitate to vote for Joe Biden in November, I’m devastated that I am forced to support a man who repeatedly crosses the line of appropriate conduct and has yet to fully acknowledge his instrumental role in the disgusting treatment of Anita Hill. All women everywhere deserve complete and total autonomy over their bodies, including if, when, and how one may reproduce, and boys must be raised to be compassionate, awake to other’s needs and desires, and justly worthy of sensitive thoughts and feelings.