16 Apr ’14
My Journey in Privilege and Abortion Activism: A Love Story
I was 14 and a freshman in high school when my friend had her abortion. She is Latina, and I am white. Fresh out of a New York catholic school, which I attended from grades K-8, I was appalled. Anti-choice rhetoric is something I was taught beginning in the 1st grade, and in order to graduate from the 8th grade, I was forced to write an essay for the Archdiocese of New York about my anti-choice “opinion”. I wrote my opinion- that I was pro-choice in cases of rape and incest- and even then I was forced to change my essay to read that I was anti-choice in all cases. I was a horrible friend to my classmate in her time of need, and I will never truly forgive myself for it.
Privilege is something we encounter every day. What “privilege” refers to is the way that you benefit from a system (our society) based on your race, class, gender, faith, sexual orientation, and a bunch of other things. That’s what interests me most about privilege- it effects every one of us in a different way. Like culture, privilege allows us to see some things and blinds us to others. We tend to invalidate other people’s narratives when they have a different level of privilege in (and therefore different experiences with) the same system that we do. It’s important to remember that different people have equally valid experiences, even if those experiences disagree with our own, and that those people are deserving of our utmost respect and empathy. I was very unaware of my privilege as a white, middle class, Christian young woman in high school, and as a result I behaved in very ignorant and hurtful ways.
I am writing this, in part, because of the images that have been cropping up on campus this past semester, especially those displayed on the Drillfield and in front of D2 in Dietrick Plaza last Thursday and Friday. I am a feminist activist, and the Reproductive Rights Chair at Womanspace at VT. I’ve come a long way since I was 14. That journey began with “checking my privilege”, or recognizing the systematic inequalities present in our society, which manifest everywhere from the justice system to the supermarket checkout line. Never once have I been followed in a store while shopping alone, which is a common occurrence for people of color.1 If I am in court, being judged by a jury of my peers, I will, most likely, be in a courtroom made up of predominantly other white people, who will have similar experiences with the social system to my own. What allows me to pass judgment on people with different narratives and experiences? Nothing allows me to do that.
When a group of predominantly white men (and a few women) use images of genocide to further an argument that is rooted in systematic inequality, that group is blinded by their privilege. They do not realize that a person with a uterus or a person of color may be affected by these images in a very different way than they are. 1 in 3 United States women will have an abortion in her lifetime. The incidence of abortion is much higher in people of color than in white people2. 1 in 4 pregnancies will end in a miscarriage3. The nature of the images that have been displayed on campus can be detrimental to the many people who have had experience with these issues. A “triggered” reaction may occur- a reaction similar to that of post-traumatic stress disorder, a reaction that may include panic attacks, fainting, night terrors, and lashing out.
Privilege is integral to activism. You must be aware of yours to complete your action properly. Privilege and activism as concepts are married, much like privilege and anything else. You cannot separate race, class, gender, or orientation from discussions of feminism, of abortion, of the justice or educational system, or anything else.
What I am tasking you with, reader, is my ask that you think about how your opinion and means of expressing it may effect other people who may not share your experiences. Before you say that these images don’t bother you because you’re a man (which was a response that I received last week while providing crisis intervention and petitioning for the safety of people affected by the images that were displayed), think about how those images may bother somebody else, and think about what enables you to not be bothered by them. Remember that consent is sexy, and that it extends further than instances of intimacy. I did not consent to view those images, which were displayed in places that I couldn’t avoid on campus. I am privileged to have never needed an abortion, but I support the folks who have needed one. I stand in solidarity and support people who have less privilege than I do. I urge that you begin to think about your privilege and begin to stand with us, too.
1. McIntosh, Peggy. “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”. (1988). <http://amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html>
2. “Induced Abortion in the United States”. Guttmacher Institute.
3. “Miscarriage Statistics”. http://www.hopexchange.com/Statistics.htm
“Privilege” is an idea that predominantly resides in our culture today whether want it to or not. Despite humanity’s varying preferences on issues like abortion, I think it is more important to recognize others as unique beings that deserve to be heard and that deserve a second chance. As a culture, this is something I think we should work towards in hopes that privilege can be dismantled and instead the worth of man as a part of a greater good can be raised.
It was a different perspective for me to see how you chose to integrate race so closely with the issue of abortion which I had generally viewed as two separate issues. I agree with the inappropriateness of the images on campus not simply because they were vulgar and unavoidable but because they were using fear as a means to accomplish their agenda. Having attended a private christian school myself in high school I understand how this tactic of fear can be used in religion, even as you expressed being forced to fear rejection if you were to include exceptions to the rule of your opinion such as incest and rape. Belief founded on fear, and furthermore forced upon others as fear is not a good belief at all in my opinion. Especially as you said when it puts people with past experiences in difficult emotionally triggering situations.
I agree with Kaitlyn on that using fear to get a point across is not the right way to go about expressing an opinion. It’s definitely powerful to connect with an audience emotionally, but making them fearful can have a larger impact than some would think. Knowing that blown up pictures of aborted fetuses were put up in the middle of the drillfield made me feel very uncomfortable. However, I’m not sure what the best way to get this point across would be, since visuals do have a larger impact on the mind than words.
This was a great read, and definitely made me rethink and reflect on my own experiences and values that would cause me to blinded to another’s perspective. Even without meaning to, it can happen, and I’ve definitely tried to make it a point to see and understand things from someone else’s shoes. There is no right or wrong way. Just a different way.