In the wake of Representative Akin's idiotic remarks about pregnancy and rape, my Facebook feed has been overwhelmed with extended diatribes and clever quotes regarding not only how shockingly wrong he was, but also about the role of men in reproductive policy in general. The most recent image shows a decision tree regarding who gets to have an opinion about women's reproductive rights; apparently if you have a vagina, you get to express an opinion and if you don't, you should shut up.
I couldn't disagree more.
Let me give you some context. I am a woman, and I have both a vagina and a uterus. I have two young daughters, who were created with the necessary, and greatly appreciated, assistance of my husband, who is also their father. I am a proud liberal and member of the Democratic party. I am unabashedly pro-choice, and I support Planned Parenthood, both theoretically and financially. And I absolutely think that men should have an opinion about reproductive rights. I'd much prefer that they all agreed with my husband, who heard of Akin's statement and immediately donated to Representative McCaskill's reelection campaign in Missouri, several states away from where we live.
But they don't. The reality is that there are men (and women!) in every state in our nation, in every level of our government, who do not believe that women should have the right to choose what happens to their bodies, even in cases when they were forced, against their will, to have sex. I have no doubt that statements similar to Akin's have been uttered across our country for years now; he just happened to be thoughtless enough to say it into a microphone during a campaign. If I am going to support my husband in his opinion on this issue, then I need to be willing to hear the thoughts of all men, even if I disagree with them.
This most recent conversation (or lack thereof) was triggered by Akin's comments about rape. I am not interested in the opinions of anyone who commits a rape, or anyone who is not absolutely, unequivocally against rape, in all circumstances. Most men, however, are not rapists and do not support rape. Most men are sons and brothers and fathers and friends; not only do they love the women in their lives, but they would go to great lengths to protect them. Their daily lives and very existence are deeply and inextricably intertwined with women around them. Including the men whose values don't align with mine.
These men deserve a place at the table, if not a veto, then at least a vote. Every time we tell nearly 50 percent of the population to shut up, that they aren't worthy of an opinion, we are perpetuating the same dynamic that I found so deeply problematic about the anti-choice movement. Both sides are devaluing and silencing an entire group of people, who, no matter which way you cut it, can and should, have an opinion about reproductive policy.
Even if you don't agree with me on principle, the reality is that men are already here. Men hold the majority of positions of power in politics and business in this country, and they're not going anywhere soon. Each time we say that they have no right to an opinion, we are widening the chasm, and shutting down any possibility for a respectful, productive conversation, which is the only way we are going to move forward on these complicated and painful issues.
So, men, I want to hear what you say. I'm OK if you have an opinion about my uterus. And just as I believe that you have a valuable place in this conversation, I expect the same respect from you.