Take Your Foot Off My Neck

I am furious. As the Director of the Abortion Care Network, a non-profit organization that supports independent abortion providers and challenges stigma, I know more than I want to about the recent attacks on women’s reproductive choices. The Congress of the United States should be ashamed for passing HR 3, which would impose permanent bans on federal funding of abortion. HR 3 will also make it nearly impossible to obtain healthcare insurance for abortion care and even some forms of contraception.

The glee with which male politicians are willing to strip women of their most basic rights is staggering. It is devastating to read the dozens of e-mails that come to me every day detailing the myriad ways in which women’s lives, well-being, and health are being savagely attacked in Congress and in state legislatures across the country. And it is crushing to recognize that so many smart, caring women will spend their time, precious energy, and scarce resources begging men to please, please harm women just a little bit less. We want to believe that they do not hate us—that they respect us as full human beings, and yet every day the evidence mounts that this is not the case. I realize that I’m not supposed to say that. I’m not even supposed to notice.

In 1837, Sarah Moore Grimke an early feminist who lived at a time when women had no right to own property or to vote, or to have custody of their children, or even to speak in public said, “I ask no favors for my sex…All I ask is that our brethren take their feet from off our necks…”

Almost two centuries later the legislation, the pontificating about morality, the pretend defense of taxpayer dollars, is all a disguised symptom of the continued deep seated bedrock belief of Patriarchy that women are evil and dangerous and that their power must be contained. Patriarchy is a worldview that enshrines the rule of the fathers—the idea that there is a God-given superiority of men, which gives them the license to control and use women and everything on the planet for their own purposes. I understand that some women find their value and safety in identifying with those in command, but my heart aches when I see women joining the club to hate women and control their choices. Some days I think there has been a time warp and I have woken up an old world with the view that there are good women and bad women. Good women are the ones within a man’s racial, religious, and class group who behave themselves as expected. The bad women—anyone of a different race or class, or who doesn’t know her place– is subject to whatever treatment the men can get away with.

Just as Patriarchy isn’t only for men, Feminism isn’t only for or about women. Feminism is a worldview that adopts the radical idea that there is intrinsic value in both women and men. In the Feminist view, a just society recognizes the full humanity of both, and includes policies that enable both to live as full human beings. Allowing women to fulfill their potential means at minimum creating reproductive justice, excellent affordable childcare, the ability to keep themselves and their children safe from violence or sexual predation, and opportunities to develop their full potential (social characteristics that also benefit men).

In the nineteen seventies women had a brief and powerful experience of transforming the system in which we live. Millions of women of all races, classes and cultures began to question assumptions about their place in society. We learned about the women who had worked for social justice before us—we pressed for changes in laws and federal priorities. Women shared stories of our lives, our hopes and our dreams. Many recognized that feminism didn’t mean having a larger piece of a scarce thing called ‘power’—but experiencing the power within us—the power to create a world in which all are honored and included. But something happened that dissipated that extraordinary energy. In 1985 Ellen Goodman wrote a column in the Boston Globe:

Sisterhood May Be Losing Out to Equality: …The question—What has happened to that always tenuous bond called sisterhood?…There was a time, and not that long ago, when women began to focus on what they had in common, what they had suffered in common. There was a sense of community created out of this fresh awareness—out of anger, too, and a belief in change. A certain population of women thought of themselves as women first, and found some self-conscious assurance in the slogan, “Sisterhood is powerful.”

Today much of that energy has been dispelled in the best possible way: by success. The head of steam from women has been dissipated by new opportunities…”

Can it be that the incredible momentum of feminism was derailed at least in part by opportunities?–by the illusion of equality? Whatever the causes of the derailment, our work was by no means finished, and our need for Sisterhood was by no means done. The Equal Rights Amendment—the most basic call for equality for women– had been defeated; the 1971 Comprehensive Child Development Act which would have provided child care for all women had been vetoed by Richard Nixon; rape and domestic violence were still endemic in the society; there was no equality in political representation. As the feminist movement was declared to be over, we were encouraged once again to view our successes and failures as our personal problems and not as associated with continuing systemic gender discrimination. With each new President—each new Congress, we assess the rise and fall of our freedom and our well-being—like investors watching the stock market go up and down—helpless to do anything about it. Today we watch as men who lay claim to morality deny fundamental healthcare and fundamental human choices to the poorest women in our society (who are of course the mothers of the poorest children in our society).

But it is not only the poorest most vulnerable women who are attacked today. As these legislators make it nearly impossible for women to secure health insurance coverage for abortion and possibly even birth control, they now tread on the imagined ‘rights’ of women who thought we had actually earned respect—who thought we were protected, entitled—white women—middle class women–women with husbands–women with good jobs and good families—women who are part of the majority culture. As long as any women are vulnerable, all women are vulnerable. 

I am heartened that there are good men who stand with us—who recognize that creating a partnership of masculine and feminine principles is desperately needed for the survival of the species. But they are far too few, and we don’t hear their voices from the seats of power. 

For centuries women have done everything we can think of to be included, accepted, respected, not harmed. There have obviously been many changes in women’s lives and people may argue that feminism is no longer needed—it’s passé. But even in our modern day when women in the U.S. have the right to vote and to be part of the full life of the nation, we are second-class citizens. And competing for a piece of this pie is like ‘fighting’ for peace. You cannot get there from here.

I know that women who point this out are likely to be dismissed as ‘man haters’. So dismiss me if you can’t handle the painful truth. If you think I am overstating the case, let’s just look at one tiny awful piece of evidence. In the United States an estimated 250,000 rapes of women are committed by men every year—a woman is raped every 2 minutes. Can we deal with the almost unbearable reality that we have not been able to stop men from raping women for one day in one city in one country on the planet? Let’s face the fact that after 5,000 years, our brethren will not, in fact, remove their feet from off  our necks.           

Those in power do not give it up. Way back in 1987, Sonia Johnson wrote about this in Going Out of Our Minds:Roe vs. Wade has won another victory for patriarchy: it has kept women focused upon and deeply emotionally invested in the system. Since the moment the decision was handed down, men have forced feminists in dozens of states to spend among them millions of hours trying desperately not to lose it piece by piece. Now, regardless of which party is in power, the groundwork has been laid:…women are being subsumed into and consumed by the state function of motherhood, and their hopes for help are bound firmly once more to the state. The Supreme Court will continue, now that the decision has accomplished its purposes, to gut Roe vs. Wade, perhaps retaining as much as is necessary to keep feminists still trusting the system, still under control. …When will we learn that, since they depend for their very existence upon keeping us colonized, we cannot depend on patriarchal institutions to give us self rule.”

So as we watch our human rights—our rights to make the most personal of all choices—stripped away bit by bit, we must resist the pressure to narrow our concerns to single issues. We must redefine Reproductive Justice to include every aspect of women’s reproductive lives including abortion, adoption, parenting, contraception, childcare, miscarriage support, childbirth education and services, and infertility. Women must reach out to each other again— reminding ourselves and each other of our intrinsic value. This the most risky and uncharted path to the transformation of power that was begun by our foremothers so many years ago—and is, perhaps, the next step to true human civilization.

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  • freetobe

    Thank you so much you just wrote what I have been feeling for years! 

    I am so frustrated about life in general but this rise and fall like the tides everytime there is a new election is becoming unbearably frightening not to mention all the financial worries.

    You are so right about us women banding together as a sisterhood. Men do it all the time and look where it has gotten them.  Women time to stop doing it all and start turning to your sisters all of us!

    There is strength in numbers and we need all the strength we can get.

  • crowepps

    Speaking of stigma, here’s a ‘punish her, punish her’ billboard so repulsive even the ProLife organizations are repudiating it.  They seem to think the man has ‘gone too far’, although I can’t imagine why.  His abusive, authoritarian relationship with a teenager close to 15 years younger than he is seems like it fits the outline of their stereotypical patriarchal relationship just fine.



  • beenthere72

    OMFG!  What a d-bag!  


    Check out his Twitter comments:




    This dood is creepy.    He ought to be arrested for something.  

  • auntbec

    been there, done that!  My father’s wife and family are from Alamo…I am surprised anyone had a problem with this billboard.  That is a little piece of red in that purple state…and the women there love Sarah Palin…enough said.

  • auntbec

    was about Charlotte’s piece.  Having been so very fortunate to find my place in abortion care after many years of searching for “my passion”, has also shown me how we, as sisters, are still “afraid” to voice our PRO-WOMEN agenda in this, of all our spaces, abortion care.  We don’t want to push women away with our ‘stance’ on womens’ issues?  I do not understand how wonderful proud women, literally fighting the good fight every single day, do not want to be viewed as having too much of an agenda.  WTHell have we come to that it is okay to be proud to be a pitbull with high heels and lipstick, but it is still not okay to empower women in any other way except for public view and as a “distraction”?

    I believe the one arena Charlotte’s piece did not touch on, having been a school teacher in another life, is the real discussion with our children about being people, and about being sexual people – as in reality-based sex education in our classrooms.  ‘Agendas’ that empower our girls and boys, these are what create our future “governing bodies” – our legislators, justices, and even presidents.  If all these kids are ever taught is the truth about their own bodies, that will be a huge step in the human direction!

    Thanks for your awesome work, Charlotte.

  • auntbec

    Now if Nani needs to go to the police, they are glaringly there for all to see…and it is very f*ing frightening.

  • freetobe

    Ewwwwww that guy should be locked up and the key thrown away. He is a psyhco beyond help!

    Once again another woman traitor who is trying to add yet another anti-woman bill to the already hundreds of them out there.  She thinks that men should have an equal say in abortion matters. Oh yeah and what are they going to write that in? Blood (their own) might work.  Nope still would not trust a single one of them to take on that much responsibility. Too many of them leave the women holding the cost and the care while they go on living their lives oblivious to a child who needs them.  It has been already proven over and over again.

    Are these anti-women woman so insecure they have to stoop to a level of degregation this low? Playing in mens hands? Pathetic. Get some self esteem!


  • chilll

    At the very least you could probably get menacing out of that. 

  • chilll

    Thank you so much for saying what I wish I could say in a public setting. 

    As an AmeriCorps member in my twenties, it kills me that I cannot afford to speak my mind. I am not professionally or financially established enough to do so or to have any real credibility, and my doing so could feasibly used as a ‘case description’ about ‘why AmeriCorps members are all dirty heathen whores’ and get the entire wonderful, completely necessary program destroyed. 

    C’est la vie, I guess. Here’s hoping that in five or ten years I can actually speak the truth and put my name and face on it.



  • eatgoodbread

    Strong article, lots of perspective to think on in the points about 5000 years of expectations is enough (definitely), and all the time, money & energy now spent on being on the defensive (the best kind being offense of course). Grimke was from South Carolina, it’s always good to see a progressive SC voice recognized with such good imagery– even more insistent than Don’t Tread on Me, eh?

  • eatgoodbread

    Strong article, lots of perspective to think on in the points about 5000 years of expectations is enough (definitely), and all the time, money & energy now spent on being on the defensive (the best kind being offense of course). Grimke was from South Carolina, it’s always good to see a progressive SC voice recognized with such good imagery– even more insistent than Don’t Tread on Me, eh?

  • catcrumb

    All the stories going to the author of this article would be far more powerful if they were directed to the women’s representatives, senators, newspapers, web sites, and all other public forums.  I hope that the author is asking that they do that if they have not already done so.  

    Talking about patriarchy makes us seem like weak victims.  Many people who support the anti-abortion legislation do not see women as second class citizens.  They simply believe that life begins at conception.  Like believing in a god, it is a matter of faith, not evidence or argument.  Demonizing them all as woman haters is not helpful and polarizes us even farther.

    It may be more useful to talk about reproductive rights as ongoing struggles for freedom — language that the broader public can relate to.  Otherwise we are just talking to ourselves while annoying and insulting those we would like to persuade.

  • crowepps

     Many people who support the anti-abortion legislation do not see women as second class citizens.  They simply believe that life begins at conception

    And yet “simply” believing that life begins at conception is not the problem.  The problem is that BECAUSE they believe “life begins at conception” as a consequence they want to change the law so that the woman loses her rights and an unalterable obligation to be an incubator for that life is imposed on her, no matter what her age is, no matter what the circumstances were of her becoming pregnant, no matter what effect it has on her health, no matter how unlikely it is that the life will survive until birth, even up to the point where it kills her.


    I can understand someone who thinks it’s very important that a new ‘life’ has started — I cannot understand someone who is so ignorant of the process of reproduction and the risks inherent in it that they think that new ‘human life’ which has merely the potential to reach live birth erases the humanity of the woman standing right in front of them and turns her into a meat-machine for breeding.


    You may see discussion of patriarchy as unnecessarily divisive, but it would certainly be interesting to see how anyone could successfully argue that the women are entitled to be free without refuting the fact that patriarchy assumes women cannot be allowed freedom because they are naturally born in an inferior status that REQUIRES the control of men to keep them safe and content.  Weren’t you aware that stereotypes about the inherent stupidity, physical weakness and emotional childishness of women are the root from which all these anti-abortion arguments about ‘protecting women from themselves’ and ‘protecting women from being coerced’ arise?


    I don’t think they hate women — I don’t think they take women seriously enough to hate them.  They regard them instead as ill-trained servants who need to be whipped back into line so they can once again serve their masters properly.

  • arekushieru

    I believe life began millions of years ago.  I believe a fetus is human life.  That just makes me more entrenched in the ProChoice position.  Not less.  No human has the right to co-opt another person’s organs against that person’s will, not even to save their life.  Do you see potential organ donors’ houses canvassed by ProLifers in order to terrify, shame and guilt them into making a similar sacrifice that they would demand from women?  No.  It’s only women that are targets of such vilification.  As we can see, on the surface they may have convinced themselves it is all about the protection of life, but in reality they promote hatred of women as second-class.