Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Time to speak up?

From the Chronicle we have this:

Now is the time for Latinas to speak up.

It's easy to politicize and manipulate the issue of access to abortion. That's why congressmen from cities across Texas voted against the needs of women in poverty. History tells us that making abortion too expensive as a means to reduce abortion rates is not only impractical, it is unjust. Forcing women into the shadows of health care has never improved families or communities.

If helping the neediest were the priority, the Texas congressional delegation would focus on the 1.5 million uninsured children in Texas, the huge 60 percent of Texas Latinas who lack health coverage, and the skyrocketing Texas unemployment rate that is pushing a record number of Hispanic families into desperate poverty.

Thing is, Ms. Gonzalez-Rojas is right. Sort of.

It is absolutely time for Latinas to speak up.* It is time for them to demand a cultural shift. My generation of Tejanas needs to talk frankly to their daughters about sex and birth control. We need to worry less about prettying up our daughters and more about giving them a strong sense of self-worth. We need to ensure our daughters are not judging themselves by whether or not they have a man. We need to ensure they are empowered enough to be able to either say no to sex or to insist on condom usage.

Let's be frank here.

The problem isn't lack of access to free abortions. The problem is the persistence of cultural attitudes that devalue women except for how they are connected to men. Is this the case for all Tejanas? Obviously not, but it serves no one to pretend it's something rare.

Tejano culture--and here I am trying to be quite precise, because I don't know enough about any other latino culture; I can only speak to what I have seen in my friends' families and my own extended family--is something night impossible to explain and understand if you haven't grown up around it.

Daughters are very highly valued, but sons are more valued. Or so it has always seemed to me. At the very least, gender roles are solidly defined and there are lines you Do Not Cross. Sisters cater to their brothers, and brothers protect their sisters. The problem comes when the dynamic is romantic rather than familial. Girls, having been taught from a very young age to defer to the men in their family, transfer this to their boyfriends. Boys, used to this from their sisters, accept it.

We then run into a larger, pan-cultural male rejection of condoms (no, not all men, but the ones who use them aren't the ones we need to worry about). Women--regardless of ethnicity--who are empowered to look out for their own sexual health are more likely to demand them. Women who have been taught to defer to their male partners, much less so. (Make no mistake; this is one thing that occurs no matter one's cultural heritage--it's just more prevalent with some groups.)

Add to those two things a larger problem of parents refusing to acknowledge their offspring's sexuality, and there is a recipe for disaster. The only girl I knew in high school to have an abortion was up against something all-too-familiar--her father had said he'd kick her out of the house and disown her if she ever came home pregnant. This attitude isn't rare. Perversely, it creates the exact sort of atmosphere that makes teenage pregnancy that much more likely--the teen moms I know all shared the common thread of parents who simply didn't talk to them about sex. This is actually a common failing among my conservative brethren. Too many folks believe that if they don't acknowledge the existence of sex, their children won't notice it either, or that a mere threat is enough to ensure their teenagers obey.

So we have a perfect storm of a lack of education, a cultural expectation of deference to the men in one's life, rigid gender roles that value girls for their reproductive organs more than anything...and all of these things are more likely to surface in the lowest social strata.

The answer to this is not public funding for abortions. Difficulty in killing one's unborn child is not what keeps a woman in poverty.

Let me be very clear here: Abortion is the symptom, not the disease.

What is the disease? An ongoing exaltation of sexual gratification over reason, often (though not wholly) manifested as an objectification of women. This country's earliest feminists grasped this problem--it's no secret that women like Susan B. Anthony were pro-life and considered abortion to be evidence of the subjugation of women. (It has always been a mystery to me why so many modern feminists consider it a tool of liberation.)

Tejanas--and all women--absolutely do need to speak up. But they do not need to speak up to demand publicly-funded abortions. They need to speak up to demand better standing for themselves, culturally, educationally, and economically. They need to protect their brothers as they raise up their sisters too--we cannot succeed without strong men, not long-term. Interestingly enough, the government--especially the Federal government--has exactly zero place in this effort. Not only does it not belong in this effort, its involvement would be explicitly counterproductive (witness the mainstream feminist backlash and how it's harmed a couple of generations of men and boys).

*I am fully aware of the fact that this issue stretches far beyond Latinas. But if she's going to address them specifically, so am I.


Dave said...

Wow! Powerful commentary and from my perspective being married into an Hispanic family, I totally agree with how you see it.

By the way, I'm currently reading an old Camille Paglia book I picked up at a garage sale for a quarter, Sex, Art, and American Culture. Her essays on today's feminists are consistent with your view.

I love so many of the traditions my wife's family has shared with me over the years; sadly, too many in the community misinterpret loyalty and honor, and don't see it or expect it to be a two way street.

You should send your comments to Latina Magazine.

Mattexian said...

That brings up something I don't get: if a girl's saying "sure, but only if you wear a condom", you're so macho that you'll say no? Or is this the part where the guy pressures the girl to give it up without one? I never had a problem with wearing a condom if it still meant I got some lovin'! And the one time a girlfriend was "late", I strongly considered marrying her before considering suggesting she get an abortion, so I don't know where this "love 'em and leave 'em" faction of men get their ideas, 'cause it didn't soak into my brain!

Albatross said...

I agree with Mattexian. Condoms have never bothered me, and I never understood the "It's like showering with a raincoat on" argument against them. Besides, they protect you from so much.

Like a raincoat.