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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Results From My Cursory Investigation Into the Availability of Tampons in China

So last week, I read this article, which said Chinese people on social media praised Olympic swimmer Fu Yuanhui for talking about her period. The article included these statements: "Many [Chinese sports fans] said they had not realised it was possible for a woman to swim during her period" and "Eight decades after tampons first went on sale in the United States, a deep-rooted cultural resistance and inadequate sex education in China are blamed for the fact that only 2% of Chinese women use them, according to one recent study."

So, I was like "hmmm I've never tried to buy tampons in China. I've never noticed if stores here have them or not. I NEED TO GO INVESTIGATE."




I promised twitter I would do it, so off I went.

I mostly use pads, and it's no problem at all to buy them in China. There are tons of different lengths, thicknesses, with or without wings, overnight or day, etc. But I very very rarely use tampons- some months I use 1 or 2, some months I don't use any. [Question for other people with a uterus: uhhh is that normal? How many tampons do people typically use every month?] A year or two ago, when I was in the US, I bought a big box of tampons and ended up bringing them to China- not because I was like "oh I really need them and what if I can't get them in China" but because hey, they're perfectly good, I might as well pack them, they're useless to me if I just leave them at my parents' house, right? And I still have some from that box. So I had never asked the question, is it possible to buy tampons in China?

Anyway, I went out to a bunch of different stores- to do research for y'all- and here is what I found.

IMPORTANT NOTE: I am in Shanghai. Shanghai is a very international city- I'm sure whatever I find will be a bigger selection than you see in smaller cities in China. I'm pretty confident you can find ANYTHING in Shanghai. (And if y'all are curious enough, I will totally go and look for tampons next time I travel to a less international Chinese city.)

First: small convenience stores

Lawson 罗森 Image source.
Lawson: This is a little convenience store where you can buy drinks, microwaveable dinners, little snacks, etc. There is also a very very small selection of cleaning products like laundry detergent, and hygiene stuff like pads. Oh and condoms.

Let's take a look at the period supplies in Lawson:

So... that's it? Well it's a tiny convenience store, we weren't expecting a huge, wonderful selection. There are several types of pads, but are there any tampons at all? Oh, what's this?

Look at that, I found 2 [identical] boxes of tampons. (The packaging says they are imported from Germany.) So... Lawson only has 1 option for tampons? We're not off to a good start here. Let's check the next convenience store:

Family Mart 全家 Image source.
Family Mart: Pretty much the same kind of little convenience store as Lawson. At the Family Mart I visited, I found the following selection of pads:

Yeah, that's all. You got your seaweed-flavored snack food (top shelf in the image), you got your pads (2nd and 3rd shelves), and you got your kleenexes and wet wipes (bottom two shelves). There are day pads and night pads, several different lengths, several brands. Pretty good for a convenience store. But no tampons.

7-11 Image source.
7-11: The 7-11 I went to wasn't even like a real store, it was more of a stand inside the subway station. Lots of snacks and drinks you can buy, and a few pads:

That's all for 7-11. Small packages of kleenex, day pads, night pads, pantyliners, no tampons at all.

alldays 好得 Image source.
alldays: Another tiny convenience store. Here's what I found:

Yeah, only one slim little shelf, in a corner, below the packing tape and individually-packaged spoons [???? oh China]. Looks like 4 different options for pads, no tampons.

All right we didn't have high expectations for these little convenience stores anyway, right? Let's move on...

Next category: Chinese grocery store

Lianhua 联华 Image source.
Lianhua: This is a grocery store, but I don't shop there because they just don't have anything remotely like western food. No lunchmeat, no imported section, etc. Anyway, here is the situation for pads:

Lots and lots of pads. Good selection- I bet you could find any length/thickness/whatever of pads you wanted. I did not find any tampons.

(Note: Okay picture me going into these stores, taking pictures of all the pads. I was worried that an employee would come over and ask if they could help me find something- at this point, I hadn't looked up the Chinese word for "tampon" so I would have had to tell them I was looking for "the one that you stuff inside." Fortunately that didn't happen.)

Next category: A store specifically for all kinds of hygiene/beauty products

Watsons 屈臣氏 Image source.
Watsons: This is a store where you can get shampoo, makeup, and all that kind of stuff. Also, condoms.



Pads, pads, pads, so many pads. Really nice selection of pads. Oh, what's this? I found tampons!!!

Fantastic! This is the best store so far. They have 2 brands: o.b. and In-V. o.b. has three different sizes and In-V has two different sizes. (All of them are marked "imported from Germany.") [进口 means imported- you can look for that in my photos.]

However, I later went to a different Watsons and found only o.b.:

So I guess it's kind of hit-and-miss.

Next category: Big grocery store

Carrefour 家乐福 Image source.
Carrefour: This is where I do most of my grocery shopping. And where I buy pads. Take a look at all the pads:


 I really love how they have the sample pads hanging there so you can see exactly how big they are. And on every single product's packaging, it says the exact length in millimeters. Very convenient.



 All right, there are shelves upon shelves upon shelves of pads, disposable underwear, pantyliners, etc. Any tampons?

Oh, what's this? I think I found them!
 Do you see them in that image above? Look on the bottom shelf.
Ha! I found tampons at Carrefour! There is only one brand (o.b.) and only two options available. (Again, the packaging says they're imported from Germany.) And I had to look for a long time to find these. They're down on a bottom shelf, really non-obvious.

All right, that covers all the places that I typically go to. But what about some big, expensive, imported grocery store, the kind of store that makes expats sigh longingly and say to each other "They had cheese. Real cheese. Ohhhh cheese. It was 50 kuai [$7.50], but I bought it... wow cheese." The kind of store I never shop at because everything's so expensive and I might get there and see a can of soup or a muffin mix [oh my god I want a muffin mix] and pay a hundred kuai for it because IT'S JUST LIKE THE ONE FROM HOME.

So here we go...

Next category: Imported grocery store

City Shop 城市超市 Image source.
City Shop: This is one of those international, heavenly grocery stores. Let's see if they have decent options for tampons.

So I walked in to City Shop and the first thing I saw was Mott's applesauce and I WAS SO HAPPY, do you guys know what reverse culture-shock is? OH MY GOODNESS, Mott's applesauce. (Only after moving to China and trying to explain to people what applesauce is did I realize the name is very confusing. It's not sauce. You just eat it by itself.)

Mott's applesauce for 38 kuai [$6]. I managed to control myself and not buy it.

Okay but seriously, do they have tampons? I found the following pads:

Oh hooray, I found tampons:
Only 1 brand of tampons (Wishu) at City Shop, and they are all "mini" size. No other choices. (According to their website, Wishu is a China-based tampon company started by a French couple. I'm not sure if they're importing tampons from Europe or manufacturing them in China. Their site says the tampons are "European quality." The point is, ALL the tampons I've found are imported or at least heavily influenced by Europe. Nothing native to China. Though here's an article that says China will soon launch its first domestic tampon brand. Hooray!)

And then, as I continued my adventure at the international grocery store, I saw chocolate chips- OH MY GOODNESS YOU GUYS, NESTLE CHOCOLATE CHIPS and had another reverse culture-shock moment.
Fun fact: You know how in the US, there's the stereotype that women like to eat chocolate when they have their period? Chinese culture doesn't have that concept at all. I asked a few Chinese female friends about it and they acted like it was the strangest thing they'd ever heard.

Let's sum up. Here is a table showing the results of my field research at different stores in Shanghai:
Store type Store name Number of tampon brands Total tampon choices
Convenience stores
Lawson
1
1
Family Mart
0
0
7-11
0
0
alldays
0
0
Chinese grocery store Lianhua
0
0
Hygiene/beauty store Watsons
2
5
Big grocery store Carrefour
1
2
Imported grocery store City Shop
1
1

Yep. Wow. Watsons is the winner. But wow. That is sparse.

Now, it's tempting to add up that "Total tampon choices" column, but that wouldn't be right, because I saw the exact same products in different stores. So let's make a new table to show the different brands and how many distinct products I actually found:
Brand Available at Number of different products
Bluetex Lawson
1
o.b.
Watsons, Carrefour
3
In-V Watsons
2
Wishu City Shop
1
Total 7

Yep. There's the total. In all the stores I went to, I only found 7 different tampon products. Easily found hundreds of types of pads, but only 7 kinds of tampons. And as I said, I'm in Shanghai. If an average person wandering around Shanghai for a day can only find 7 choices for tampons, then there are DEFINITELY small cities in China where you can't find any at all. And if enough readers are interested, I will totally wander around a small Chinese city and tell you what I find. [Note: In China, "small city" means it "only" has 5 million people or so.]

All right that basically covers all the stores- but what about online? It's China, everyone knows you can find anything on Taobao. Let's take a look.

I searched "卫生棉条" (tampon), here's a screenshot of the results:

This is just the first bunch of results. When I scrolled down, there were more and more. Click the image to see a larger version.
Looks like a lot of different brands: Mytex, Tmaxx, o.b., Tampax, Playtex, etc. There are options that ship from Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Xiamen, Wuhan, Nanjing, Dalian- many many cities. Yep, you can find anything on Taobao. (My favorite was this one because it has a [probably NSFW] gif that shows how to use them.)

So probably the best way is to buy them off taobao.

(Also, a quick google search for "where to buy tampons in shanghai" reveals there are TONS of English-speaking women/people with uteruses who are asking this question.)

So. Personally, I have a good thing going with my buy-a-box-in-the-US-every-two-years-and-use-them-rarely strategy. Tampons are really good to have occasionally but I don't use them that much. (Anyone want to talk about purity culture and how it blocked any awareness that my vulva is a real thing that it's possible to stick things in? I'm still getting over that.)

I'd also like to find out more about sex ed in China. I've asked two different Chinese friends about this, and they both said they didn't have sex ed, that it's not really something that exists in China. (One said their parents never talked to them about sex either, so they just kind of figured it out from porn. Ohhhhh dear. Oh by the way, porn is illegal in China. But you can't stop the internet, people will find it anyway. They can block google but they can't stop people from finding porn. Okay.)

On the other hand, until January 2016, China had the one-child policy. (Now it's been changed so Han Chinese couples are allowed to have 2 children. The one-child policy never applied to any minority ethnic groups, only Han Chinese, which make up 92% of the population of China.) Which means the government gives out free condoms. Like, there is a box in our apartment complex where you can just go and get a package of condoms, nobody is watching. In my opinion though, that's not enough- and it seems very backwards to have a one-child policy while not giving people thorough education about contraception. Seems like Chinese society isn't willing to talk about sex though.

ANYWAY the point is, tampons exist in Shanghai. They're not terribly easy to find, but you can find them. You won't have a very big selection though, unless you buy them online. I guess you can debate whether it's more convenient to put in the work of searching for decent tampons here or just bring back a whole bunch whenever you travel internationally. (As for the price: I don't really have a clear idea of how much tampons cost in the US, but it's gotta be more expensive to buy them in China because they're imported and hard to find.) In my opinion, though, this points to a bigger problem: Chinese women aren't given enough education about their own bodies. I'm glad Fu Yuanhui was willing to talk about it.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Boundaries in Dating: Know when to give up hope

A scene from the movie "Zootopia." Judy's parents advise her to give up on her goals. Image source.
We come to chapter 13 of Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships, which is called "Kiss False Hope Good-bye", and it's about how to decide whether to keep hoping or give up if you're in a situation where you wish your partner would change. The chapter begins by telling the story of Robbie and Melinda. They had been together 5 years, and Robbie really loved Melinda but wasn't willing to marry her yet because she was controlling and judgmental. For years, he had hoped that she would become a better person so they could have a healthy relationship and be happy together. Robbie goes to Dr. Cloud (one of the book's authors) and tells him about the problem. Dr. Cloud tells him there's really no basis for his hope- it's been 5 years already, Robbie had tried everything, and Melinda showed no signs she was going to change. Dr. Cloud advised him to either accept Melinda as she was or break up with her.

The authors then explain that there are two kinds of hope:
Hope is one of the greatest of virtues. As Paul says, "Faith, hope and love remain" (1 Corinthians 13:13). Hope drives great things to happen when all seems lost. If someone can keep hope going, then through faith and love, great things can be accomplished. Hope is surely a wonderful virtue, for without it, we give up and give in to all sorts of evil. We need it to persevere.

But the kind of hope that God wants us to have is the kind that "does not disappoint" (Romans 5:5), the kind that is based on the love that God has for us. God's love for us has been proven through his actions. We can go back to a point in history and say, "Look. It is true that God loves us. Here is a cross and an empty tomb. Hope in him makes sense. It is not false hope."

But the Bible speaks of another kind of hope as well. It is the hope that "makes the heart sick" (Proverbs 13:12). It is "hope deferred." In other words, hope that never is realized does not give life. It makes us sick and hopeless. It is a very good description of depression and giving up. When we hope and hope, and yet nothing happens and there is no reason to keep hoping other than hope itself, then despair settles in.

This is the kind of hope that Robbie had engaged in for five years. He had hoped that Melinda would change, but his hope was not a virtue at all. His hope was not based in any reality. It was denial and wishful thinking. And it was eating up his life. My job, as I saw it, was to get Robbie to give up hope and to either love Melinda as she was or move on. For I saw nothing in the picture that said that she was headed for change. There was no basis for his hope.
Next, they give us these guidelines to determine if it's worth it to keep waiting and hoping for a person or relationship to change:
  1. The definition of crazy is to continue to do the same thing expecting different results.
  2. The best predictor of the future, without some intervening variable, is the past.
The rest of the chapter covers different scenarios where you hope your partner will change, and what you can do to introduce some kind of "intervening variable" to test if change is possible.

So the point is, you have to look at reality and honestly ask yourself if there's any evidence that a change might happen. If there's not, it's better to give up hope and move on with your life.

And, as a former evangelical, I have this to say: WHAT?

You guys. In the Christianity I learned, it was seen as good to hope and hope that something would happen, despite all evidence that nothing was happening. That's what faith is, right? Pastors told stories of people who kept going, kept doing the same things over and over even though they saw no results- this is referred to as "being faithful to God"- and we viewed them as heroes of faith. Often, the anecdote would end with some amazing result, finally they saw how God had been using their obedience and the wonderful things that came of it, even though at the time it seemed useless. Or perhaps the amazing result came long after the person left that situation or died, and they have no idea how much their hard work has made such a good impact for God's kingdom. That's what we're supposed to do. That's what faith is. Believing that God wants you to do something, and then continuing to do it faithfully even though, in reality, it looks completely pointless.

Let me give you some examples [source: 20+ years as an evangelical Christian]:

A college student decides to start a bible study group in her sorority. She prays a lot about it, and invites people, but every week only two or three people come. Some weeks nobody comes. And she wonders, what's the point? It seems useless. And she wonders if maybe she's not a good enough Christian and that's why her bible study group is a failure. But she keeps doing it. Years later, she finds out that after she graduated, a few of her sorority sisters continued the bible study, and it has grown into a big, thriving group since then. All because she kept obeying God's call even when it looked hopeless.

A missionary dedicates his life to serving the people of some Asian country that white American Christians see as "exotic." He lives there and works so hard to share the gospel, for 20 years, and never sees a single person come to Christ. Finally he prays, "God, it's okay with me if I never see anyone saved here. I have decided that all that matters is I'm obeying your call. My status as a Christian, as your beloved child, is not based on how many people get saved." And just a few days after he prays, one of the leaders of the community decides to become a Christian. And when they see their leader convert, hundreds of other people do too. And they talk about how much the missionary touched their lives and really helped them see God's love. (As a bonus, this story also contains the "God finally gives you what you want just when you've decided you're okay with not having it" trope that's common in evangelical Christian narratives.)

God promised Abraham that he would have a son, even though Abraham and his wife Sarah were too old to have kids. But Abraham kept waiting and trusting God. Until he decided not to trust God anymore- he had sex with his servant, and she had a son. Which is bad because Abraham should have just kept trusting even though there was literally no real-world evidence to give him any reason to hope that Sarah could get pregnant. Bad Abraham. But after that, he kept trusting God, and eventually God did give Abraham and Sarah a son. Wow isn't Abraham such a great example of faith?

A young women "feels convicted" that she shouldn't date casually, she should wait for God to bring the right man into her life. Years go by as she watches her Christian friends date and get married, but she knows she can't do that, she is waiting for "God's best." Waiting, waiting, waiting, never taking initiative, never saying yes to a date, never intentionally going to places with a lot of single people. She trusts God, and she truly believes God will reward her for her obedience. Waiting, waiting, waiting.

A high school student cares so much about her "unsaved" best friend. She really really really wants her to become a Christian. So she prays. And prays. Even though the friend shows no interest in Christianity at all. She prays and prays for years. Finally one night, out of nowhere, her friend starts asking her "what happens after we die? how can we be sure?" and she's able to "lead her to Christ." Wow praise God, amirite?

[trigger warning for ideology that enables abuse in this next anecdote]

A woman's husband doesn't treat her right. Wives are supposed to submit and husbands are supposed to love their wives as Christ loves the church- but he's not holding up his end of the deal. Yet she still submits to him. She doesn't fight, she doesn't threaten to leave. She loves him unconditionally, sacrificing her own desires, like Jesus sacrificed for us. And eventually, because of her love and obedience to God, her husband starts to treat her better. Eventually, he becomes the perfect loving husband she always wanted.

A young man confesses his "struggles with same-sex attraction" and goes to a Christian counselor who can help him become straight. He prays and prays for years, begging God to take away the temptation. He feels like he is making some progress and soon God will make him straight. He marries a woman, with the faith that God will make it all work out. Years later, he can't keep up the act any more. His whole life falls apart. And Christians blame it all on him- if only he had tried harder, if only he had had more faith, if only he had obeyed God more. How wrong for him to give up like that.

The theme running through all these stories is this: don't use actual reality or common sense to see if something is "working" or not. If God told you to do it, you have to keep doing it. Or else you don't trust God and you're a bad Christian. End of story.

Now, this chapter of "Boundaries in Dating" is specifically about when to give up hope that your relationship partner will change, and I haven't heard any anecdotes in the faith-means-keep-doing-the-same-pointless-thing genre specifically about that topic (with the exception of the advice to women to keep submitting and their jerk husband will magically become less terrible). (Actually, in the opposite direction, I have often heard the advice "don't date a non-Christian, because you think they're going to change and become a Christian, but usually people don't change so you can't bank on that.") But I can imagine a situation where someone is SURE that God told them they would marry this person, so even though the relationship has a ton of problems, they refuse to give up on it. That's what faith is, right?

But even though I haven't heard this idea specifically applied to dating*, it's shocking to me how completely different the "Boundaries in Dating" writers' worldview is from what I learned in church. Just look at the principles behind the advice in this chapter and see how completely opposite it is from the definition of "faith" I learned.

To sum up: In the Christianity I learned, "faith" meant obeying God (whether it's a command in the bible that applies to everyone, or a specific "calling" just for you) even when it doesn't seem to make any sense. The greatest heroes of faith are the ones who kept going, kept doing the same thing for years and years even though they saw no positive results- they kept going because they knew that's what God wanted them to do. Their job was obedience, they weren't responsible for the outcome- that's God's job. They didn't listen to "the world" telling them it was pointless. They ignored reason and common sense. They stayed strong even through their own doubts. And maybe they never even saw a reward for their obedience, but they knew, they knew God valued what they did and God would use it for amazing good. That's faith. That's what Christians are supposed to do.

And I lived that way, back in my on-fire-for-God days. Let me tell you, it's really hard to take feedback and change your approach when you don't necessarily even believe that your perception of whether something is "successful" matters, and when you worry that even the smallest deviation from your original plan is a sign that you've stopped trusting God.

In contrast, "Boundaries in Dating" is advising us as follows: So you're hoping for a change to happen. Well, is there anything in the past that indicates a change could happen? Is there any new circumstance that might trigger a change? Maybe you could introduce some kind of new circumstance? If not, then it really doesn't make sense to believe that the change will ever happen. The best indicator of the future is the past. Use common sense. Use logic. Lean on your own understanding. If your own brain can't locate any evidence that a change will happen, then give up on it. It's not the worth the emotional energy to keep hoping.

And now someone's going to come and make the argument that there's an obvious difference between the two scenarios: in the first, God explicitly commanded something; in the second, God did not. They would say that you should only keep trusting even when it seems pointless when you know that God wants you to. In the absence of a clear command from God, of course you should use your own brain to figure out if there's any reason to hope.

I don't buy that argument.

What the evangelical church has done is set up a system where it's EXPECTED that God will tell you to do something illogical. The best Christians, the role models that are admired from the pulpit, are the ones who hear God's illogical command and obey it, no matter the cost. I grew up in the church, and that was the message I got: Be like those people. To truly live for God means taking risks based on "faith", being "crazy for Jesus", doing things that make "the world" wonder what's wrong with me.

So you want to tell me there are two different categories of situations- those involving a command from God, where we must obey and not care one bit about reason and common sense, and those without a command from God, where we need to use our own brains to figure out what to do. I think this is a very dangerous worldview. It's incredibly dangerous when people believe sometimes they must do something that seems like a bad idea in every way possible- because "God said." At the extreme, this leads to killing in the name of God, like Abraham was going to kill Isaac. Now, it would be different if they taught that situations where "you must do this thing that seems like a terrible idea because God said" were so rare that you would probably never encounter one, and therefore it's not really something you need to be concerned with, just use reason for everything and you'll be good. I wouldn't mind if people believed that (though I personally believe that it's unhealthy to even allow the possibility that such a situation might exist, even if it's mostly hypothetical). But that's not what they're teaching. The evangelical church is teaching that if you are an obedient Christian and you are living for God, you should expect to be in these kinds of situations. You should expect that there will be things God wants you to do- either in the bible or just specifically for you- which seem like bad ideas to your sinful brain, and if you are truly devoted to God, you will do them. (Hey, maybe it's a test!)

The end result of this is that, once somebody gets it in their head that God wants them to do something, there's almost no way to convince them otherwise. Attempts to show them logically why it's a bad idea are just "temptation" from "the world" that wants to "lead them astray." Really the only thing you can do is show them a bible verse which directly contradicts what God "told" them to do- because the bible is also something that should be followed exactly, regardless of logic or practicality. But even then, even if you have a bible verse, they might have some kind of reason for why it doesn't apply in their case. Abraham was going to kill Isaac even though the bible says "do not kill"- and that makes him an upstanding role model of faith.

In the Christianity I learned, obeying God's commands regardless of whether they do harm or good was one of the highest virtues. That's one reason I believed women couldn't be leaders to the extent that men could. I mean, OF COURSE it makes no sense. But God said. God must have reasons. So we have to. And the stories of gay or lesbian people waiting and waiting for God to make them straight, and the purity-culture women waiting for God to bring them a husband- it took me a really long time to accept that it makes sense to give up on God's supposed "promises", and that's what you should do if you can see how badly it's NOT WORKING.

I'm so glad I read, in an argument for full LGB inclusion in the church (probably written by Justin Lee or Matthew Vines) the bible verse where Jesus said "by their fruit you will know them" (Matthew 7:20). Yes. The bible says we should pay attention to results. We should value common sense and reason. Don't just keep preaching the same theology when you can see that it actively harms people. "By their fruit you will know them" is one of THE MOST IMPORTANT bible verses to me. Without it, I might still be stuck in "well I know this makes no sense and seems like a really bad idea, but that's what faith means."

ALL RIGHT so we've kind of gotten way off topic. "Boundaries in Dating" just talked about how to know if it's reasonable to hope that your dating partner will change their bad character traits, and then I went from there and talked about how bizarre that advice seemed to me because I was taught that faith means we keep believing something will happen even when all evidence points against it. The idea that giving up hope could be a good thing is very surprising to me.

Anyway. The rest of the chapter is about various situations where you hope your partner will change, and what you can do to bring about a new element that might cause a change to happen- or when to decide it's probably not going to happen and give up on it. It talks about "the path of change" which involves steps like confronting the other person about their problem, them taking responsibility for it, getting help from friends or a support group so they can change, evaluating your own role in the problem, etc.

There's this really bizarre section about how God tries to help people change. I will give it to you one chunk at a time, with my thoughts after each bit:
To successfully navigate the path of change takes more than love or friendly nagging reminders. Here is what God does to start us on the pathway to growth and give us hope for real change.

God starts from a loved position. God does not need the person that he is trying to get to change. His needs are met within the Trinity, and with his other relationships. God always is in relationship and is never alone, so he is not desperate. Make sure that you are also not alone in this process and that you have people who love and support you enough that you do not have to have this person change.
All right, first of all, this whole idea of God helping people along a process of growth has a TON of assumptions built in. As we will see, the process they are describing is one where God tries to bring about a change in someone's character by bringing people into their life to influence them, and waiting for the person to respond and use those resources in order to grow. I find it incredibly weird how "hands-off" God seems to be in this belief system. I used to believe that God controlled people's lives much more closely. God "has a plan", you see. God sets up specific circumstances- God knows that if you hear this, you will think about that, and you will have some kind of huge epiphany which will inspire you to go here or there and meet this person who will change your life. God gives you a horrible illness in order to grow your character in a specific way. (God killed one of my internal organs in order to teach me something. Oh shut up.) And so on.

In contrast, the writers of "Boundaries in Dating" describe God changing people in the same way that human beings, who are not omniscient, can try to help people change. And to me, the whole thing reads as though it's totally made up- like where do they get the idea that this is how God changes people? Yes, they have reasons to back up most of the individual parts, but nothing that really ties it all together or lends evidence to the idea that God has a specific strategy to help people grow.

Anyway the first one is "God starts from a loved position" and as an ex-purity-culture girl I find that very interesting. The idea is that you shouldn't be desperate and dependent on the person changing. You have other people in your life who can love and support you. Of course, in purity culture, giving up on the relationship isn't actually an option.You'll lose your purity. You'll be permanently damaged.

Now, in reality the idea of being okay without them, not being desperate, is easier said than done. But even if you don't feel like it's true, I think it's good to keep in mind that yes, you can live without them. You will be okay. (Purity culture tells us the exact opposite.)

On a separate note, I guess we can debate how much God is emotionally affected by people's character flaws. Hmm. But wow, that would require a ton of speculation and research, that would be a whole separate blog post, and I don't even have a clear opinion of my own on it at the moment. Go ahead and leave your thoughts in the comment section, I'm not going to get into it here. (But I do remember the purity-culture book Captivating claimed that "God has a you-shaped hole in his heart" which I thought was clearly wrong and made no sense, even back in my purity-culture days when I read it.)
God acts righteously. God is not part of the problem. He does not "repay evil for evil" (Romans 12:17). He does his part of the relationship right. If you have a part in the problem, make sure that you are changing and taking ownership of your own part of things. You cannot demand for the other person change without changing yourself as well.
[content note: discussion of abuse in these next 3 paragraphs]

So this one raises some red flags for me in terms of victim-blaming. In abusive relationships, sometimes the abuser says the victim "provoked" them- trying to frame it like they both wronged the other person and they both have to repent and change. So if it's a situation like that, you don't want to be asking whether the victim had some part in the problem. Because even if the victim did something wrong, it's totally not okay for the other person to abuse them.

But in other situations, maybe you have some problem where both partners reacted to each other in an unhealthy way- they both did something wrong and they should both apologize and work on it. Now, what if one partner was more wrong than the other? My opinion is that it's not necessarily helpful to point that out. Sometimes I apologize for stuff when I actually believe Hendrix did something more wrong to me than I did to him, for the sake of healing the relationsihp. It's not a big deal- it's not worth fighting about who was "more wrong". (Well, except that women tend to apologize for stuff like that more than men do, so it's kind of a feminist issue...)

But where's the line, though? In an abusive situation, no one should examine the victim's actions, becasue no matter what they did, THEY DO NOT DESEVE TO BE ABUSED. In a healthy relationship, it's good for both partners to acknoledge what they did wrong- and even if one was way more wrong than the other, it could be helpful to act as if the wrongs were equal, just so they can feel better and stop fighting. So where's the line? At what point do you go from "yeah I also shouldn't have reacted that way, I'm sorry too" to "NOT ONE WORD about what the victim did- no matter what small wrongs they committed, they do not deserve to be abused"? Maybe the key question is, what is the goal? If you want to heal the relationship [or if you're in an abusive relationship but you're not able to get out yet], it's better if both partners admit what they did wrong. If you want justice for abuse victims, you make sure ALL THE BLAME is on the abuser.

That's my opinon, but I don't have any actual experience, so maybe you all could tell me what you think.
God uses others to help. When God wants a person to change, he gets people around that person who can help. Make sure that you use counselors, groups, pastors, or friends to help confront and cure the problem. Don't do it alone without God's ordained delivery system of help: other people.
So this is good advice in terms of how people who are not omniscient and all-powerful can try to help people change, but why are they claiming this is the primary method God uses?
God accepts reality about the person, grieves his expectations, and forgives. God is not crazy. He faces the reality of who a person is, forgives that person, and then works with the reality of who he or she is. He does not demand perfection when that is clearly not reality. He grieved that on the cross of Jesus. You should give up those perfectionistic standards as well if you are going to be able to work with the problem that faces you.
Whoa, whoa whoa whoa, hold up there. I'm very much not okay with the idea of grieving because someone isn't perfect. People are not perfect. People have flaws. That's totally fine and normal- don't act as if there's something wrong with them. Now, I can see grieving your own expectations- if you really wanted your partner to be a certain way, but you have to face the reality that they're just not- you have emotions related to that, and there's nothing bad about feeling those emotions. But what you're grieving is your own expectations, because they turned out to be unrealistic.

If God "grieves" because people aren't perfect, well that's God's own problem. That has nothing to do with us. There's nothing wrong with us.
God gives change a chance. God waits for the change process to work. You might have been waiting a long time, but you have not been working his program. When he gets all of this in place, he is longsuffering, and gives it time. He does not nag. He gives the person a chance to use the help and to change.
Again, this is totally different from how Christians of the "God has a plan for your life" persuasion imagine that God changes people. This book is basically saying that God can set up certain circumstances which are more likely to produce change, but that God isn't omniscient- God doesn't know for sure what will "work." God just has to wait and see what happens.

But Christians who believe "God has a plan for your life" see God's control as absolute and inescapable. God planned for this bad thing to happen to you so that later you would be in a situation where this good thing would happen to you. (God closes a door and opens a window, right?) God micromanages everything. There's no guesswork, there's no watching and waiting from a distance. People give testimonies about how God "pursued" them and did all these things to them that they didn't want, and then finally they "stopped running" and submitted to God. God is powerful. God wants you, and you don't have a choice. (And that's what I mean by "abusive theology.")
God is longsuffering. As we said above, he gives the time to change, and he suffers with it. Sometimes, for a long time. This has two elements that are relevant for you. For God to do this, he must really love someone. For you to make it worth it, you must be sure that thse person is someone that you want to go through all of this for. After all, you are not married. You are just dating. Are you sure you want to spend this kind of time and energy? Does it makes sense?

And remember, long is not eternal. It is longsuffering, not eternal suffering. It ends at some point when it is clear that the person is not using what is being given to her to help her grow. God withdraws the effort. Not because he is mean, but because it is clear that waiting would not make any more difference.
Hey you know what's weird? Never once in this chapter are we advised to pray about anything. The writers don't say one word about praying for the person to change, not one word about praying about making a decison about the relationship. The bit above mentions how you have to think about whether the relationship is worth it to you. It's your decision.
God separates. God finally leaves the person to his or her own devices and goes away. Maybe this will turn them around. Maybe it won't. But he does prescribe it to us as well when we have tried everything possible. (See Matthew 18:15-18 and 1 Corinthians 5:9-13.) All that is left is for you to stop seeing the person. If he or she changes and comes around later, maybe you can take up the relationship again. But go on your way as if he or she won't. You have no other choice except "crazy hope."
WHOA. Whoa whoa whoa no, not okay. God gives up on people?

But, uh. I'd actually also be uncomfortable with it if God had a certain ideal in mind for what kind of person God wanted you to become, and never gave up in trying to push you in that direction. This whole "I want this person to change in a certain way" is fine when it's between equals, but when it's an all-powerful God, the source of all goodness and love, well damn that adds an element of coercion and condescension like nobody's business.

If someone wants you to change some certain character trait, and you disagree, you can just disagree and move on with your life. But with God involved, suddenly it becomes "what do you know, you feeble-minded human? where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?"

So I'm basically really creeped out by the idea of God wanting someone to change in a way that the person themself hasn't expressed interest in. People should have the right to make their own decisions. You belong to you. (But here's a question: is personal autonomy even possible if there exists an all-knowing God who by definition "knows what's best for you"? Debate that in the comment section, readers.)

But anyway. I'm very VERY much NOT OKAY with the claim, here on page 194 of "Boundaries in Dating", that "God finally leaves the person to his or her own devices and goes away." WHOA. No. Time to preach some gospel: Nothing can ever separate you from God's love (Romans 8:35-39). Jesus promised he would be with us always (Matthew 28:20). "If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings on the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast." (Psalm 139:8-9) Remember this, because this is the gospel:

God

will

never

leave

you.

Yes, if you are a human and therefore have limited time and emotional energy, you should give up on people who seem like they're never going to change and treat you right. But, you guys, let me tell you something, one of the deepest and most meaningful beliefs I have: God has the capacity to know and care about every detail in every person's life. That's over 7 billion people, and God knows and loves all of them. God is the only one who is actually able to "rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn." Every emotion you have ever felt, God felt it too, just as strongly as you did. Every problem you have ever worried about- whether it's something "unimportant" like being late for class, or something that's a matter of life and death- God cared about it. God felt the anxiety right along with you, and it mattered. God knows. God understands. God suffers right along with us. Emmanuel, God is with us. The word became flesh and lived among us. If you want to know what Christianity mean to me, this is a big part of it. I believe in a God who doesn't just sit above us and criticize us for getting tripped up on creation's design flaws or our own imperfections (which are God's fault anyway)- no, God came down and lived here and had to deal with the consequences personally. And that's the way it is now. God is with us, always. God is here. God feels our pain.

I don't believe that God intervenes in the world. That would just introduce too many unfortunate implications, like how God decides which people to help and which to ignore. But God never withdraws. God never decides that God doesn't have enough emotional energy to keep caring about you. Now, like I said, for us humans, we have to draw a line where we just give up on people because it's hurting us too much to hope they will change. But God never needs to do that. God can and does care about everyone, every emotion in everyone's life, all the time.

God's never going to leave anyone. As for whether God's going to "give up" on anyone, well I find the concept of God planning goals for you without your consent to be incredibly creepy, so the idea of "giving up" on those goals doesn't really fit into my belief system.

But I will say one more thing: Back when I believed in "God has a plan for your life", I lived under the constant worry that I might make the "wrong" decison about something big and important and end up off of God's plan, in which case God would just be like "well I can't work with this." So yes, I did fear that God would "give up" on me back then. (To be clear, the writers of "Boundaries in Dating" do NOT seem to buy into "God has a plan for you life." I'm talking about what the church taught me here.)

All right this post has already gone way long, so I won't say too much about the rest of the chapter. I do think it is really healthy advice though- it covers various situations like "A person you are dating says that he or she 'likes you' or 'loves you' but is not 'in love with you' and wants more time to see where the relationship is going." How do you know if "more time" will help or if they're just not willing to make a committment ever? The authors advise examining the situation to see whether there is something that might cause a change in the future, or doing something yourself to introduce a change, etc. This makes a lot of sense, I like it.

Anyway. How to summarize chapter 13? I really really like the common-sense advice they gave about how you can't expect a person to change suddenly- if they are a certain way in the past and present, it's likely they'll continue to be that way, and it's a waste of your time and emotional energy to believe otherwise. Just give up. (Also, not one word is said about the idea of praying about it.) This is the exact opposite of what the church taught me about faith- I heard many examples in church of how it's godly to wait and wait and wait for someone to change (while praying for them, of course). Next, "Boundaries in Dating" made strange and unsupported claims about the process God supposedly uses to change people- including the shocking and anti-Christian idea that God might actually withdraw from someone's life. Other than that though, the examples about relationship situations and how to know if you should give up or not are really useful. Sometimes giving up is the right thing to do, but you'll never hear that in purity culture.

--------

*Actually, now that I think about it, I seem to recall an anecdote in a purity-culture book, probably Boy Meets Girl by Joshua Harris, where "God told" a man that he would marry a particular woman, and so the man goes and asks her out, and she says no because she's not attracted to him at all. But he didn't give up! And maybe a year or so later she decides she is attracted to him, and they end up getting married.

-------------------

A blog series reviewing the book Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships (introduction post is here)

Previous post: He was nice

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Blogaround

An adorable black kitty. Image source.
1. Out gay Olympic swimmer to Daily Beast: You just put my Olympic friends' lives at risk (posted August 11) "In the article Hines, a straight man, bragged about going on the gay dating app Grindr and getting Olympic athletes to reveal their identities to him."

2. Katie Ledecky wins gold, shatters 800m free world record (posted August 12)

I think this tweet summed it up nicely:

3. what hast thou wrought: Christians and Trump (posted August 10) "They have to take that chance. They have to because being anti-abortion is all they’ve got."

4. Patriarchy and Performance: Olympic Gymnastics is SO UNFAIR (posted August 12) "Men get to do their thing in pants. Pants! Women have to wear sparkly leotards that they have glued to their hinies so nothing rides up their butt on national television. Because even if Simone Biles can do things with her body that literally no one else in the world can do, you know if she picked a wedge that would be the only news worthy thing for the next twenty-four hours."

5. Black People Deserve the Same Compassion We Give White Allies Who Screw Up (posted August 11) "I am NOT here for calls to show grace to white people for “trying” if there is ZERO acknowledgement that Black folks aren’t treated the same way."

6. Kenny Baker, actor behind R2-D2, dies (posted August 13)

7. Sinister rumors connect Hillary Clinton with tree-planting in Malawi (posted August 9) "He’s not interested in what the charity is doing, but he’s very, very interested in insidious speculation about what it maybe possibly could be imagined to maybe possibly have done."

8. NYC Muslims "outraged" over imam's daylight murder (posted August 14)

9. the brand new NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible-- some first impressions (posted August 15) "There are certainly debates about the composition of Isaiah, but every biblical scholar in the solar system, outside of some (by no means all) evangelical circles, agrees that the 8th-century prophet is not responsible for all 66 chapters, and that the final form of the book dates to the exilic and postexilic periods."

10. Trump’s “Obama founded ISIS” comments are outrageous. They’re also deeply ignorant. (posted August 11) "The issue here is that this plays into actual conspiracy theories about the founding of ISIS. Many people within the Middle East believe the United States is secretly helping ISIS in order to weaken states in the region. Trump’s phrasing just puts more fuel on the fire."

11. 'It's because I had my period': swimmer Fu Yuanhui praised for breaking taboo (posted August 15) "Chinese sports fans used social media to praise Fu for breaking the silence surrounding the menstrual cycles of female athletes. Many said they had not realised it was possible for a woman to swim during her period. “Our Ms Fu dares to say anything,” wrote one user of Weibo, China’s Twitter." Also, Fu Yuanhui's interviews have been shared a lot on Chinese social media this week, because she is HILARIOUS.

12. The media vs. Donald Trump: why the press feels so free to criticize the Republican nominee (posted August 16) "A case in point was Trump barring the Post from his rallies. Rather than endangering the Post’s reputation, it made the Post a symbol of free journalism within the profession. When editor Marty Baron (correctly) said Trump’s action was "nothing less than a repudiation of the role of a free and independent press" and that the Post’s coverage of Trump would continue "honorably, honestly, accurately, energetically, and unflinchingly," every journalist I know cheered him for it."

13. A Conversation with Nate Parker about 'The Birth of a Nation' (posted August 11) "When you think about Nat Turner and what he did, if you're able to view this film without the baggage of racism, then it's very clearly a story of someone that was compelled by his faith to act as the hand of the God through his interpretation."

14. If abortion is murder, then you shouldn’t be a single-issue voter against it (posted August 15) "Someone is murdering a baby! Quick, let’s register some voters for a party that we hope will one day pack the highest court with enough justices to ensure that, some day in the future, such baby-killing is illegal."

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Why I Am Pro-Choice

Egg and sperm. Image source.
[content note: pro-life ideology and all the victim-blaming/etc that comes with it]

Let's talk about the pro-life movement. It is a political movement which works to make abortion illegal or, because that goal isn't practical, put enough obstacles in the way so that people cannot access abortion, even though the law says they should be able to.

The main reason for these goals is that pro-lifers believe that the vast majority of abortions are BAD and WRONG and must be stopped. Yes, most pro-life people say that there should be exceptions, that abortion should be legal in the case of "rape, incest, or life of the mother" but that isn't reflected in their politics. They advocate for more and more restrictions, unnecessarily high standards for abortion clinics, cutting funding for Planned Parenthood, waiting periods between an initial appointment and an abortion- and they rejoice when these actions make it impossible for pregnant people to access abortion. I haven't heard any pro-life people say "But wait, abortion has to be legal and accessible in the case of rape! No no no we can't let all these clinics close!" In a theoretical sense, they say they support these exceptions, but when you look at their politics, you see that they don't care about keeping abortion accessible for people in those "exception" situations. Better to just stop ALL abortions- most of them were for evil reasons anyway.

In the debate over abortion, terms like "choice", "murder", "life begins at conception", and "it's really about punishing women" get thrown around, but I'll tell you what it's really about. The pro-life movement- or at least, the religious side of it- is based around what I like to call The Path. The Path goes like this: If you're not married, you don't have sex. If you are married, you can have sex (and within the pro-life movement, some people think contraception is allowed, some do not). If you become pregnant, well, you're married so you'll be okay. You have a partner to support you.

Before marriage, you don't have sex, so there's no reason you would ever need an abortion. After marriage, between you and your partner you have the means to handle the pregnancy- and God will provide for you!- so there's no reason you would ever need an abortion.

This is basically how I saw it, back when I was a good pro-life evangelical. I was so confused- even offended- when people said abortion was a women's rights issue. No, I thought, it's not a women's issue, it's a women-who-don't-stay-on-The-Path issue. Abortion would never be at all relevant to my life, because I am a good girl who stays on The Path. [note: people who aren't women can also have abortions. For example, trans men.]

And pro-lifers think it's so easy to stay on The Path. The Path is how the world is supposed to work. Obviously. It's God's plan. And isn't it so unreasonable how pro-choicers are advocating for the right to have an abortion- they want to help people who chose to get off The Path, by allowing a morally-questionable (maybe it's murder!) procedure. No no no, OBVIOUSLY that's not right. Everybody should just stay on The Path. We shouldn't help people whose problems were caused by getting off The Path.

If you think in terms of The Path, suddenly a lot of things in the pro-life movement make a lot more sense. (Things that don't make sense if you thought the main point of the pro-life movement was "saving babies" or decreasing the number of abortions.) Why do pro-lifers also tend to be the ones who are against sex-ed, who don't want teenagers to have access to birth control? If unmarried people all had access to birth control, there would be way fewer abortions- isn't that what pro-lifers want? Nope. Because unmarried people are not supposed to be having sex- that's not part of The Path. We can't give birth control and real information about sex to unmarried people. We mustn't help people who choose to get off The Path. Promoting The Path as the only way to live is more important than decreasing the number of abortions.

And why don't pro-lifers make a big deal about in vitro fertilization, where many embryos end up getting destroyed? Because people who do in vitro fertilization are seen as following The Path correctly. They are good married couples who just want a baby- they're not "irresponsibly" having unmarried sex. They're on The Path, so it's no big deal if they destroy a few embyos here and there.

And let's talk about the rape exception. If it really is all about "saving babies", and abortion murders an innocent life, then logically, why would you support an exception for pregnant rape victims? Isn't the whole point of the pro-life movement the idea that bringing a pregnancy to term is much more important than whatever "inconvenience" this would cause to the person who's pregnant? Why would a fetus conceived through rape have any fewer rights than one conceived through consensual sex?

Because of The Path, of course. If you got pregnant through rape, well, it's not your fault. You deserve help. You deserve to have options. But if you got pregnant because you didn't stay on The Path, screw you.

(In practice, though, there is a lot of overlap between pro-life people and people who believe rape isn't really rape. If you were drinking, or going to parties, or dressing "immodestly", or alone with your boyfriend- all things that are very much NOT on The Path- then it wasn't really rape, it was "see this is what happens when you go off The Path. This is why we need to all stay on The Path.")

Occasionally you meet a pro-life person who does not believe abortion should be allowed in the case of rape. You can go ahead and speculate about their reasons. Probably one of the following:
  1. They really do believe that a fetus's life is so valuable that it overrides all the pregnant person's rights, and why would it matter how the pregnancy came about
  2. They think most rape victims are probably lying
  3. They just really hate women
Or, here's another example of how pro-life ideology is based on The Path more than anything else: You often hear pro-lifers say that if someone gets pregnant when they're not married, they need to "take responsibility"- and having an abortion doesn't count as "taking responsibility." Then pro-choice people will be like "wait, maybe they chose abortion because they assessed all their options and made the best choice for their situation- that sounds like 'taking responsibility' to me." Yeah, what pro-lifers actually mean by "take responsibility" is "recognize that people who go off The Path don't deserve any help, they deserve whatever consequences happen to them."

Or, why do pro-life "crisis pregnancy centers" provide some supplies for taking care of babies- like maybe diapers or baby clothes- but you don't really see the pro-life movement in general advocating for policies which would make it easier for pregnant people and parents with babies? Do they advocate for paid maternity leave? How about affordable daycare? No no, they can't advocate for those things- if you stayed on the The Path, then between the two spouses they can handle it- you don't need the government to make policies about it. (The Path turns out to be pretty classist too.) We wouldn't want to give too much help to pregnant people who aren't on The Path- if their hardship isn't big enough, it diminishes the "here's why you need to stay on The Path, because you don't want to get into this kind of terrible situation" argument. And promoting The Path as the only right way is more important than preventing abortions.

Well, pro-life people, I got news for you. You think it's so easy to stay on The Path, but it's not. Sometimes it's impossible. Let's take a look at all the assumptions behind The Path:

If you're not married:
  • Assumption: You can just not have sex, if you're not married. Yes, it is possible to wait til you're married before having sex, but that's not what most people do. You can have debates about how easy/hard/impossible it is, but the fact is that abstinence is just not going to work as a general policy that everyone is expected to follow. Maybe pro-lifers think that means people choose to get off The Path and therefore don't deserve any help- but even within purity culture, people are always talking about how hard abstinence is.
  • Assumption: Rape and sexual abuse don't exist (or variations on "rape doesn't happen to good girls who stay on The Path" [which is victim-blaming]/ "you can't get pregnant from rape" [which is just not true]). As I said, most pro-lifers theoretically support rape victims' choice to have an abortion. In practice, though, how would that work? Would the rapist actually need to be tried and convicted before the abortion can happen? Because, only a small percentage of rapes are even reported to police- and no wonder, because the legal system essentially puts the victim on trial, scrutinizing their personal life to see if maybe they're somehow to blame for it. What about victims who didn't even understand what happened (because the rapist convinced them they wanted it/ it was their fault/ etc) and can't name it as rape until much later?
If you are married:
  • Assumption: If you're married, then your economic situation is good enough that you can handle the costs of pregnancy and having a baby. And God will provide for you. This 2013 article says 85% of people who get abortions aren't married- which means 15% are married. I wasn't able to find statistics on the reasons that married people choose abortion- but obviously, this 15% proves that the stereotype of a promiscuous, irresponsible, unmarried woman is false. Marriage doesn't make you immune to the problems that lead people to choose abortion.
  • Assumption: Abuse doesn't exist. Yeah, so what if you're in an abusive marriage, and you want to leave? Being pregnant makes it way harder to leave- and abusive relationships are can literally be a matter of life and death. Yeah, go ahead and try to tell me that it's "pro-life" to deny abortion access to abuse victims, leaving them dependent on their abuser and unable to escape.
  • Assumption: If you're married, then your economic situation is good enough that you can handle having another kid, in addition to the bunch of kids you already have. This article says 72% of people who get abortions already have kids. I did not find any statistics on what percentage are both married and have kids- but come on, it costs a lot of money to take care of a kid. It's not negligible- but the pro-life movement would have you believe that adding one more kid is no problem, as long as you're married and on The Path.
  • Assumption: Your fetus won't have serious health problems. Sometimes the fetus does have health problems, and the pregnant person has to decide if abortion is better than their baby living a short/painful life. This is a heartbreaking situation, we can't judge the choices they make.
  • Assumption: Pregnancy won't cause any major health issues for the pregnant person. Ha. Okay. You are growing another human inside you. You really think that's not going to bring any health risks? Here's a study that found the death rate from childbrith was 8.8 deaths per 100,000 live births, while the death rate from abortion was 0.6 per 100,000 abortions. (And if anyone tells you about a study that says people who have abortions are more likely to die than people who give birth- umm yeah, that one just looked at death rates from ANY cause, not actually related to the pregnancy, and only proved that people who are already in dangerous or unhealthy situations are more likely to choose abortions. Which, OBVIOUSLY.) And okay, those statistics are just about death, but there are many many less extreme health effects from pregnancy, which can be serious and long-term, even if they're not life-threatening. And yes, mental health counts.
  • Assumption: Nobody is ever in a situation where doctors tell them pregnancy is completely out of the question, it would just be too dangerous to their health/life. Yeah, not true. If you've already had several C-sections, pregnancy can be risky. If you have high blood pressure. If you're dependent on medication that would harm the hypothetical fetus. Etc.
The point is, the idea that "if you just do the right things, you'll stay on The Path and you'll never face a situation where you might consider abortion" is totally ridiculous. The Path has way too many rules and assumptions- in many situations, people are off The Path through no fault of their own.

The Path fails. And when The Path fails, if abortion is not an option, women suffer. Women suffer more than anyone else. When The Path fails, who ends up stuck with a pregnancy they can't handle- economically, physically, or for any other reason? It's people with uteruses. What about cis men, who can't get pregnant? If they go off The Path, what happens to them? Sure, they also get judged by the pro-life movement, but... not much else. They don't face massive health changes. They don't have to figure out how to get time off work to have a baby.

(You can find a lot of statistics about how access to contraception is a HUGE FREAKING DEAL for women's rights. It massively improves women's access to education and their economic situation. Abortion and contraception are different things, but I'm mentioning it here because I didn't find any statistics specifically about abortion access and women's equality.)

In theory, if everyone did follow The Path, it would be possible to have true gender equality. Unmarried people wouldn't have sex, so you'd never have someone stuck single and pregnant while the person who got them pregnant disappears and doesn't have to help. And when they are married, the person who is pregnant receives 100% support from their spouse [who is definitely not abusive]. The non-pregnant spouse is able to cover all the financial costs, accompany them to doctor's appointments, etc. In this way, the burden of the pregnancy is shared equally between people who can get pregnant and people who cannot. [Heh, okay, you can debate whether it can ever be "equal"- one person goes through massive health changes, the other does not- I'm not sure that "my job covers your health insurance, honey" is in any way "equal" to that.] Pregnancy does not introduce inequality between men and women.

That's why, when I was pro-life, I didn't understand how abortion had anything to do with women's rights. I was on The Path. If I were ever pregnant, I would by definition have a man committed to doing everything he possibly could to help me.

(Again, this assumes that health issues caused by pregnancy aren't a big deal, can never be life-threatening, etc.)

The point is, because The Path is unrealistic, we can never have equality between men and women if abortion is not an option.

That's why this is a feminist issue.


(Now I suppose, if you really wanted to make the number of abortions as small as possible AND you acknowledged that The Path is unreasonable, you could imagine what kind of society we would have to have so that unwanted pregnancies don't affect women astronomically more than they affect men. First of all, you'd have to have free health care for anyone who's pregnant. Guaranteed maternity leave. Absolutely no stigma at all for people who are unmarried and pregnant. You'd have to change culture so random strangers didn't feel like they totally had the right to touch a pregnant woman's belly and ask invasive questions. Etc. [And seriously, those of us who are pro-choice absolutely should be advocating for these things. Choice means that if someone wants to have a baby, they can. People shouldn't feel like they have to have an abortion for economic reasons.] And even then, I still don't think you can ever reach equality without abortion- the health effect from pregnancy is just so huge, I can't imagine any cost you can ask cis men to bear that can offset that health cost.)

All right now let's talk about when most abortions take place. Accordine to this site, 65.8% of abortions occur within the first 8 weeks of pregnancy, and 91% occur within the first 13 weeks (the first trimester). What does a fetus look like at 13 weeks? According to this site, it is 3 inches long and weighs about 1 ounce. Personally, though, I am very suspicious of arguments (on both the pro-life and pro-choice side) that assume that the possible human rights of a fetus should be determined by how much it "looks" human. I'm not going to put a picture up here and tell you "here's a fetus at 8 weeks, see how it looks pretty blobby and not very human, therefore it totally doesn't have a 'right to life'" because that argument is ridiculous. Is there any difference between that argument and the racist/ableist/bigoted "this demographic of people looks weird to me, therefore they are less human than me"?

But seriously, how do we judge the "humanity" of an embryo or fetus? Pro-lifers always say "life begins at conception", but what does that really mean? It's obvious that at the moment of conception, the embryo is a living, human cell- but so are all bits of skin that fall off your body every day, that you don't even care about. It's obvious that at the moment of conception, the embryo has human DNA that is distinct from its parents' DNA- but does that mean it is equal to an actual person? No, and let me tell you why: identical twins. Identical twins are formed when an embryo splits in two, and later develops into 2 fetuses. How can "life begin at conception" when, at the moment of conception, you don't even know if you're going to have 1 baby or 2? How on earth can anyone say an embryo has the same value as an actual (born) person, when the embryo could eventually become two people?

The existence of identical twins makes it obvious that "life begins at conception" is complete nonsense. Like, seriously. This is how that argument should go:
Person A: "Life begins at conception."

Person B: "What about identical twins?"

Person A: [is dumbfounded and never utters the words "life begins at conception" again]
If you're going to argue that an embryo or fetus is equal in value to a (born) person, the best you can do is argue that it's equal in value beginning at the moment where it can no longer split to become identical twins. NOT at conception. According to this wikipedia page, in 99% of cases, the split occurs within 8 days of fertilization, BUT a split could even occur after 12 days, which would result in conjoined twins. This page says that most twins split around day 4 or 5. So... hmm. Looks like there's no exact line we can draw to say exactly when "life begins"- which must be very hard to conservatives to deal with- they tend to need everything to be black-and-white.

In any case, it's completely absurd to say that, just after conception, an embryo "is a person." Because what if it becomes twins? Twins are TWO PEOPLE. Two DIFFERENT people. (Or, and this will blow your pro-life mind, it could even become identical triplets. That's THREE people. Count 'em.) So if the embryo was "a person" right after conception, which person was it?

Hmm okay. So we can't say that conception is the moment where human rights begin. But there must be some such moment, right? How about birth? A minute before birth, that fetus is developmentally the same as it is a minute after birth. And actually, some babies are born premature- they may actually be less developed than a one-minute-before-birth fetus, but because they're already born, they are humans with all the applicable human rights.

No, there's nothing that happens at birth that suddenly makes the baby become human. It wouldn't make sense to say "life begins at birth" (when you're using the defintion of "life" used in "life begins at conception", that is). But. Here's what does happen at birth: the fetus is no longer dependent on the pregnant person's body. The human rights of the fetus and the human rights of the pregnant person no longer conflict.

Because really, pro-choice people aren't hung up on the question "when does life begin?" The issue is not whether a fetus has human rights, but how to handle the conflict between the rights of the fetus and the rights of the pregnant person. Even if a fetus is equal to a born person, does that mean a pregnant person should be required to sacrifice their health in order to keep the fetus alive?

Imagine one day you wake up and find that another person has attached themself to your body. You don't like it, you don't want them there, it's taking a toll on your health, but if they get disconnected, they'll die. Should the law require you to drag them around for 9 months, or allow you to cut them off? While you consider that question, keep in mind that we don't force people to donate organs even when it will save someone's life.

(And if you want to make the argument that this analogy is totally not the same thing as pregnancy because people choose to have sex, please see my above points about how abstinence doesn't work as a general, society-wide policy, and that only people with uteruses run the risk of pregnancy, so this is a huge issue in terms of gender equality. How many times have you heard that women should just not have sex in order to avoid unwanted pregnancies? Okay, and how many times have you heard that men should not have sex, in order to not cause unwanted pregnancies? Yeah, didn't think so.)

Pro-lifers aren't simply trying to argue that a fetus has human rights. They are arguing that the fetus has human rights which completely override any rights that the pregnant person has. But in reality, it's not about "is a fetus human or not?" It's about "how do we handle a situation where a not-yet-developed human is inside an adult human, and their needs are in direct conflict with each other?"

And I believe the person who is pregnant is the only one with enough knowledge of the situation to make that choice.

In other words, I do believe abortion is a hard moral question. A few days after conception, the embryo is not "a person" at all and there's nothing immoral about abortion. A few days before birth, and it's developmentally the same as a baby, and abortion is DEFINITELY immoral, unless there's some horrific, life-threatening health problem involved. But what about in between? At what point does the fetus gain rights? What counts as a "good enough reason" to justify ending its life- because, it is alive.

That's such a hard question- so hard and complex that it can't be addressed by male politicians making laws and restrictions. It can't be answered by the public, whose views are affected by rape culture and stereotypes about women and pregnancy. It can't be resolved by bloggers like me- I've never been pregnant, what do I know?

It has to be the person who is pregnant. Only they know their own situation. Only they know how much they want or don't want a baby, and the risks that come with pregnancy. Only they know their own health status and financial situation. Pro-choice. They need to be able to make that choice, because no one else in the entire world is qualified.

If someone decides to carry a perfectly healthy pregnancy for 8 months and then suddenly get an abortion just for fun, yes, that would be horrifically immoral- maybe I would even call it murder. But let's be real- why would anyone do that? Why would they allow their body to go through such drastic changes if they don't even want a baby? Why would they subject themselves to attention from random strangers in public- the "congratulations", the well-meaning-but-invasive questions, the nonconsensual belly rubbing? Seriously. Is that ever going to happen?

And yet, that's what pro-lifers imagine late-term abortions are. (Keep in mind that only 1.3% of abortions occur after 20 weeks- this is generally what "late-term" means.) The pro-life movement paints women who get abortions as heartless murderers- I only recently realized that people don't get late-term abortions because they don't want a baby, they get late-term abortions because they REALLY REALLY want a baby but something terrible has happened. [Or- they wanted to get an abortion earlier but did not have access. Yeah, go ahead and try to tell me it's "pro-life" to put so many restrictions on abortion that people can't access it until their pregnancy is really far along and there's a much greater health risk to the pregnant person and the fetus is more developed and closer to being "a person."]

I once read an article on a pro-life website where the writer talked about seeing women come in to an abortion clinic for late-term abortions, and this writer was so sad seeing "their bellies full of life." Umm. NO. Or a tract I saw at a church one time about "partial-birth abortion" and how, if only they had waited a few minutes longer, the baby would be happy and in a nursery instead of dead. Oh COME ON. Seriously, think about it. Who is going to carry a pregnancy they don't want, for months and months and months, and then kill it at the last second for no reason? But when I was pro-life, it never would have occurred to me to ask that question. Women who have abortions are heartless murderers who must be stopped.

And on that note, one of the biggest factors in my journey to becoming pro-choice was the phrase "trust women." [Note: other people besides women can have abortions. For example, trans men. Go ahead and trust them too.] Because I do believe that a fetus has value and shouldn't just be killed for no reason. It's not "a person" yet, but there are definitely moral issues. (When does it become "a person" with human rights? Is it okay to kill it as long as it doesn't feel pain? What about abortions that happen because the baby would have been born with a disability?) And you know what? People who choose to get abortions understand those issues. They're not clueless and weak little girls who need someone smart to tell them what to do, to make their decision for them. Is it possible to imagine a situation where someone's reasons for getting an abortion aren't "good enough" reasons and therefore their choice is immoral, along the lines of a human rights violation? Yes. But the tiny possibility of that happening is NOTHING compared to the human rights violations that pro-life policies continually commit against pregnant people. There have been cases where a fetus died and the pregnant woman was forced to keep carrying it- she wanted a baby so much, and then she had to constantly be reminded of how that hope was lost. There are cases where survivors of rape are forced to have a rapist's baby. There are cases where women were jailed for abortions or miscarriages. There are cases where "pro-life" hospitals refuse to give a pregnant woman life-saving medical treatment until the point where the problem has progressed far enough to count as an "emergency."

Trust women. You really think your list of possible situations where an abortion is moral is more "right" than the decison of a person who's actually in that situation? People aren't going to go and have abortions for no good reason. A fetus is a developing human life, so I believe they should have a "good reason" for ending its life- but guess what, pregnant people know that. I trust that people who choose to get abortions have a "good reason", and they don't have to justify it to me or anyone, it's their life, they know what counts as a "good reason." They know better than anyone else.

The pro-life movement is built on the idea that people who get abortions are either evil or clueless, and must be  stopped. The idea that 1 in 3 women are heartless murderers with no sense of morality. That if abortion is legal and accessible, tons of fetuses will be killed for no reason. That "pro-choice" actually means "death to all fetuses!!!!!!" (It's pretty common for pro-choice activists to face bewilderment when they decide to get pregnant and have a baby. Everyone is like "but... don't you believe having a baby is BAD and everyone should always get abortions?") Really? No. People aren't going to end their pregnancy just because "eh, I don't feel like having a baby" but that's the stereotype the pro-life movement pushes. If you want to know real reasons they choose abortion, here is some data. But I trust them. I'm not going to judge their reasons. I'm not starting from the assumption that "you're probably a heartless monster and it's your responsibility to prove otherwise."

To sum up: The pro-life movement is NOT about "saving babies" or "protecting women's health" or reducing the number of abortions, or anything like that. It's about The Path. Everyone should just stay on The Path- it's unreasonable for society to make accomodations for problems that could have easily been avoided if everyone had just stayed on The Path. But in reality, The Path is impossible, and going off The Path punishes women far, far more harshly than men, if abortion is not an option.

Furthermore, the existence of identical twins makes the "life begins at conception" argument completely laughable. But saying that "life begins at birth" would also make no sense- a baby that is born prematurely may be less developed that a typical fetus a minute before birth, but the premature baby is definitely "a person" deserving of ALL the human rights. So there is definitely a discussion to be had about morality and what rights a fetus has at various stages of development. However, the important thing that happens at birth is the baby and parent are physically separated- their needs and their human rights no longer conflict. But for the duration of the pregnancy, the question of "when the needs of the fetus conflict with the needs of the pregnant person, what constitutes a good enough reason for ending the fetus's life?" is a hard moral question- and therefore a question that cannot be answered by politics or by opinions from people who aren't involved in the situation. It is a question that can only be answered by the actual pregnant person. They understand their specific situation better than anyone else, and I trust them. Contrary to what the pro-life movement wants you to believe, people who have abortions are not murderers with no concept of morality. They are just normal people who are fully capable of weighing the options and making their own decision. Yes, if someone wanted to kill a perfectly healthy, almost-ready-to-be-born fetus for no reason, that would be immoral- maybe I would even say it was murder. But is that really going to happen? And any attempt to make laws to prevent this hypothetical murder would only result in blocking access for people who really do desperately need abortions. And that's not okay.

Pro-choice. Because abortion is a hard moral question, and there is no one more capable of making a decision, no one with more knowledge of all the factors in that decision, than the actual pregnant person. They need to have the right to make that choice, because I don't trust anyone else to make it for them.

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