As many states tighten the noose around abortion access, a heated debate about young women’s apathy or activism in the reproductive rights movement has emerged. I believe that young women are some of the fiercest advocates because I see them in action every day both online and offline. Some of the basis of this argument is that there is a disconnect because Generation X, Y and the “millennials” have no firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to live in a country where abortion is illegal. While I think there’s some truth to that idea, it also suggests that there’s a lack of exchange and candid discussion between the generations that needs to be addresed. If we want to rouse more young people then we should be passing down history, not condemning their purported indifference.
That’s why I want to thank my mom for inadvertently making me a reproductive health and justice advocate. I’m sure she had no idea what she was fostering at the time and I know her main goal was to prepare me to make good decisions for myself and my body. Yet her words (and warnings!) continue to stick with me as a woman.
I remember being a newly menstruating pre-teen with a piquing interest in boys, and my mom let me know very matter of factly that I would not become a teen mom under her watch. This did not come from a shameful place but because she had seen family and friends struggle as young mothers, especially as women of color in this country. Ma Dukes also told me many a day about fast boys who “just want to practice on girls.” I laugh now because I understand this was a scare tactic to keep me from having sex and/or being promiscuous (I think everyone just wanted to practice) but it also made me think about how I valued my body and sexuality. I used to roll my eyes and giggle about her dramatic and embarrassing diatribes but she wasn’t playing games with me. She told me that if I ever got in trouble (i.e. pregnant) that I better let her know right away so we could take care of it. At first I had no idea what she meant, but she quickly made it clear that she was referring to abortion. My mom explained to me what back alley abortions were, how woman were butchered by coat hangers, and how frightening, traumatic and scary abortions were when they were illegal. It was a matter of life and death. I was horrified that women would have to suffer so much to end a pregnancy.
I was also angry. I couldn’t fathom why our government would allow these things to happen. But here we are decades later and our bodies continue to be a battleground for legislative control, despite Roe v. Wade. The tactics are just trickier and more underhanded. This is why we need to encourage candid discussion between moms and daughters, and all generations of women…I mean raw, no-nonsense honesty. We can’t expect young people to buy in if we don’t talk about what’s at stake. Think about if abortion was a regular part of sexual health discourse, inside and outside of schools? Let’s have these conversations with young people while their minds are still open and they are shaping their opinions. History needs to be shared, not forgotten.
My mom made me really appreciate the freedoms we have to make reproductive decisions of our own. Now we laugh at how I get riled up about women’s rights and reproductive justice just as I used to laugh at her. If I go to a protest she wishes me well and asks me to try not to get arrested. Who knew this would become my passion? On second thought, I guess my mom knew all along…mothers have an uncanny way of just knowing everything.
Thanks Mom and to all the mothers (with or without biological children), you make the world go ‘round. Happy Mother’s Day!