There’s been a Your eCards thing floating around on Facebook for the past week or so. Maybe you’ve seen it. If you’re reading this, the chances are good that you have. It’s a young woman talking to a young man, both carrying their school books in the traditionally gendered fashion. “I see, so if I don’t have sex with you, I’m a prude bitch, if I use the pill, I’m a slut, if I get pregnant, I’m an idiot and if I choose abortion I’m Satan. Yay.”
I haven’t said much on the whole subject of birth control of late beyond hitting the Like button next to people’s Facebook statuses on my phone because, well, I’ve been a bit busy with my not-quite-eight-week-old baby. But it doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about it.
I know very little about computer programming, not even enough to be dangerous. But I do know that much of it is based on what in Latin and Greek we call conditions — if then statements. Some of the conditions have wonderful names. Future more vivid was always my favorite; sadly, there’s a future less vivid, too. The conditions in the statement above are just ordinary present tense conditions, and they are presented, implicitly, as a series of ors. The young woman can be a prude OR a slut OR an idiot OR Satan.
I am a human being, not a computer program, and I live often in a subjunctive mood, in a series of ands, not ors. What does it say if, for instance, I used birth control AND I got pregnant? If I got pregnant AND considered abortion? Am I an idiot slut bordering on Satanhood? I should get that on a tshirt. Or perhaps I should put it on my resume: Education, BA, MFA, MLIS; Employment: Adult Services Coordinator, Branch Manager, Youth Services Assistant, Graduate Instructor; Other: Idiot, Slut, Honorary Satan.
The other thing I know about computer programming is that it is inherently full of bugs. Things work but not quite right. If you have a smartphone and it seems as though the apps are asking you to update them every other week, well — many of those are bug fixes. But fixing a bug often begets another bug, and so on. Sometimes the bugs are errors in the code — forgotten symbols, typos, and the like — and sometimes they are errors in the programmer’s thinking, breakdowns of logic or sequence, strange workarounds that stop working.
What I know about human beings is that we are complicated. We are not easily sortable. We cannot be legislated. We are created, gestated, born, and nourished through a tremendously messy process, one all mixed up not only with bodies and precious bodily fluids but also emotions, frequently complicated, messy ones.
There have been innumerable brilliant responses to the latest attack on women’s health and women’s reproductive rights. But even they are mostly predicated on the kind of logic that dominates the ORs of the comic. We must be able to control our fertility. Using birth control means being responsible, not being a slut. I believe all that. But I also know that control is something we in fact have very little of. I was responsible; I still got pregnant. The result is the baby now sleeping in a sling on my chest, and I would not trade him for the world.
When I became pregnant, the public debates I had participated in about women’s reproductive rights since I was a teenager no longer seemed relevant to me. Not because I believed that I lacked choices, or that I was not entitled to them, not that I will not still campaign with all I’ve got to preserve those choices for people. What seemed irrelevant was the idea that any body of men — and they are mostly men — sitting in any government chamber in any statehouse or capitol could have the foggiest notion of what I was going through, or that they had any right to know, or any right to decide or dictate.
A woman’s control of her own body is limited, even to her. It should never be limited by anyone else.