Monday, May 15, 2006

His Take On Her Life

It sometimes takes a couple of triggers in quick succession for my conflicting views on a contentious topic to finally coalesce. I watched The Cider House Rules (a deeply disturbing movie about the ethics of abortion in the context of incestual rape) within a few days of reading that 83 percent of recent op-eds on the abortion issue in New York Times (a supposedly pro-choice publication) have been written by men

Not having enough women to weigh in on the subject has been justified thusly

Editors explaining the dearth of women on op-ed pages, a subject that has in the last year received a great deal of attention, will frequently point to the broader society for explanation: Congress is 86 percent male; very few women hold executive positions in the business world; the academy remains overwhelmingly male at the level of tenured professorships; military leaders, diplomats, world leaders -- all are overwhelmingly male. Thus, they say, it’s not entirely the fault of newspapers that their op-ed pages rarely reflect women’s voices.

I find this asinine “explanation” beyond ludicrous. Why does it take a woman in position of power or influence to opine on abortion ? This is an equal opportunity condition for all woman-kind and one woman’s view should be as good as another’s. Rose in The Cider House Rules is an illiterate apple-picker’s daughter and knew where she stood as I believe does every woman who has ever needed to make that difficult decision.

Every time I hear a man take a pro-life stance, I wonder how he might feel if his own daughter were pregnant from rape - incestuous or otherwise. Then I figure, his opinion does not count for anything - he has no jurisdiction over a woman's body or soul. She alone can decide what is right for her.

Several woman in my close acquaintance in India have aborted either by choice or by force of circumstance. In every instance the burden of guilt has rested squarely on the woman. The man involved in the decision feels no obligation to share her anguish. His life moves on, even as the foreboding shadow of bad karma continues to haunt her.

As a divorced single mother, living in India was a continual strife against a society that refused to accept me within the bounds of my circumstances. I longed for a more hospitable refuge, more generosity of spirit, a place “Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit”

I believed that America was that which I sought and came here trusting my instincts. While I have always felt vindicated in my decision, I feel deeply disappointed that women don’t have it much better in this country than they do back home in India.

Men in America continue to tell women that they have a moral and religious obligation to be pro-life and yet the morning after contraceptive pill cannot be made available over the counter. Whereas the first edict emasculates her emotionally, the second forces her to relinquish control over her body and then suffer the consequences.

Like men in India they are quick to transfer the burden of guilt on the woman despite having contributed equally or more to the denouement. The unfairness of it all outrages me. This is not the “free”, “liberal” and “progressive” culture that I had sought and hoped to thrive in. Maybe I have mistaken apathy and nonchalance for acceptance of my way of life. A woman in India possibly enjoys more freedom in that she has access to the birth control pill even without a prescription, the laws do not make abortion illegal and finally religious zealots don’t pontificate relentlessly on the subject.

The raging pro-life versus pro-choice debate in America has given me perspective on India than comes from distance both physical and emotional. I am no longer sure if the standards I have applied to measure freedom, acceptance and progressiveness of a society are reasonable or even accurate.

1 comment:

QbiT said...

Look deep, the societies are the same coz it's the same Human Beings. It's always been male dominated social structure and unless equal opportunities are meant to be equal opportunities, I don't see any fundamental change in any forseeable future.

For a single parent, however there is a huge difference between staying in India and US purely from the acceptability point of view.

A single mother /father is accepted here--not looked down upon or discriminated in any fashion--and if so there's always people who are going to help out. Not like in our country where single moms are often taken as easily available and thereby easily exploitable objects.

And the debate in American Society whether to be pro-life or pro-choice is always there. Regardless, they have been able work out a system that more or less works while treating people with respect, irrespective of matrimonial status. At least they have made an effort, a more conscious one.