03/19/2012 07:31 pm ET Updated May 19, 2012

Whose Body Is It Anyway?

Daddy walks his daughter down the aisle and the blushing bride is handed over to the smiling groom -- it's a sentimental moment, but it harkens back to a time when women were chattel, property to be bartered and passed along the chain of male command. But far from being ancient history, the patriarchal notion of male dominance over women is enjoying quite a comeback these days.

One of the latest in a long string of draconian legislative attempts to take control of women's bodies comes from Ohio, where the "heartbeat bill" (HB 125) would make it illegal to have an abortion as soon as a heartbeat can be detected, which is six or seven weeks into a pregnancy, often before a woman even knows she's pregnant. And there's no exception for rape or incest victims, or consideration of the mother's mental health. To see even more of what's been going on for the last six months, go to Emily's List.

Like Hillary Clinton recently said at the Women in the World conference in New York, "Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me, but they all seem to. It doesn't matter what country they're in or what religion they claim. They want to control women. They want to control how we dress. They want to control how we act. They even want to control the decisions we make about our own health and bodies."

Ninety-four years after birth control became legal in the U.S., and 52 years after "the pill" became available, women cannot be expected to go back to being kept "barefoot and pregnant." Birth control pills are currently used by almost 12 million women in the U.S. Women, freed from the bonds of endless pregnancies, have made inroads into almost all areas once dominated by men. Yes, they serve in the military, and not just by rolling bandages. Yes, they are in Congress (just not enough of them, apparently). Yes, they can be doctors and lawyers, plumbers and firefighters (although paid less than men). But if we don't wake up soon, our hard-won freedoms might disappear, wiped away by a belief in the "traditional values" that men are meant to lead, and women to follow.

Two professors at the University of Toronto recently released a new study that set out to assess why there aren't more female leaders. The authors say that leadership is not necessarily about how others view you, but how you view yourself, and that around the world, women haven't been ruthless enough or managed to take big enough risks to start "paradigm-shifting companies" like tech startups (Google, Apple, Facebook) or lead hedge funds. They point out that "even when possessing and demonstrating leadership behavior that is superior to others in the group, women leaders may sometimes prefer to cede the formal leadership role to men in the group because they, too, believe that being male or masculine is more leader like."

So it's not only a question of men wanting to maintain their superiority, but also of women holding the unconscious belief, handed down through thousands of years of patriarchy, that women should stick to having babies while men rule the world. And it's not only the extreme right wing (although they are certainly more vocal about it) and it's not just men who hold these beliefs.

We all need to examine our beliefs, both the conscious and unconscious ones we hold. Women, do you harbor the desire for a big strong man to take care of you because you don't think you can take care of yourself? Are you jealous, mean, or spiteful about women who are out there trying to make something of themselves in the world? I know I was at the receiving end of a lot of jealousy and spiteful comments when I was a young lawyer -- mostly from women!

Freedom is hard. It's always required a revolution, and many battles. Let's not fall asleep and sink into a past way of thinking, of living. Let's dig deep within, root out old beliefs that no longer serve, and do what we must to be in charge of our own bodies, our own lives.