Last night, I attended a local performance of a new play, The Abortion Monologues. The idea behind this play is fantastic: encourage women to talk about a very uncomfortable topic with the hope that with communication comes understanding. In the spirit of The Vagina Monologues, it is all about getting the stories out there. No judgment, no condemnation, no endorsement: just communication. Ostensibly, women who have had abortion experiences will feel a little safer and less like social outcasts if they understand that they're not alone, not by a long shot.
The play was well written (personally, I've never been a fan of the monologue style of theatre, so it was a bit of an adjustment for me), and well performed. It detailed the stories of 23 women who've had abortions in varying circumstances. Most of the stories were largely centered around the commonplace abortion story, with little discussion of the extreme cases (rape, incest) prompting abortive instances. I learned later that this was intentional by the author, who insisted that it shouldn't take extreme cases to allow for regular discourse in public*. I heartily agree.
There is a certain sense of apologetics and accommodation that gets involved whenever we try to encourage a dialogue using the fringe examples. Why must we have to bring up the cases of when a drunk uncle rapes a teenager to discuss something that happens every day? This brings up some interesting issues when dealing with civil rights concerns.
After the curtain call, the director invited the audience to participate in an open discussion. Most of the questions and comments shared were by women, voicing their approval with how the play was written and performed. Some commenters discussed the stigma that abortion incurs, and others on the state of abortion access in Canada (in short, abortion has been legal in Canada since 1988, but women still have to jump through hoops to get them). All in all, a constructive discussion.
One woman commented on how great it was that so many men were in attendance (I'd put it at about 33% men), and many women in the audience roared with applause and approval. The director (but it might have been a cast member...hard to see from my vantage point) agreed and said something to the effect that it's great to see so many men, and that the men in this audience are an example to the rest of men.
Now, don't get me wrong, this was a well-meaning comment, and put forth with nothing but the best intentions and in the spirit of fellowship. I understand and appreciate that.
This attitude is part of the problem. As one of the men in attendance, I didn't really feel like I belonged there. It felt like a girl's club (yes, I know the irony there, so don't bother pointing it out), and the men were simply welcome to come along. There is a fundamental difference between being 'welcome' and 'belonging'.
By making this gesture to the men in the audience, the well-meaning, thoughtful women who applauded painted every man there as an 'other'. This is unfortunate, because abortion is not just a women's issue. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing more obnoxious than some guy standing up saying "WHAT ABOUT THE MENZ!?" This is not what I am doing here.
Abortion is not just a woman's issue. It is also a men's issue. It is also a children's issue, a cultural issue and a class issue. By artificially making abortion a women's issue, it alienates many people who are also affected by abortion, even those of us who are supportive and pro-choice. I felt welcome in that hall, but I did not feel as though this was an issue that had anything to do with me.
|This is one of the logos I was able to find of the play, but not the one for the performance I attended in Kitchener, ON. This logo, while certainly not exclusive, is definitely not inclusive either.|
This might have been alleviated had there been one character in the play who was a man that had an abortion story. If the writer wanted to show how commonplace and everyday this experience was, perhaps just one narrative from a male perspective would be beneficial. After all, abortion is an issue that affects more than just one half of the population, but you'd hardly know it. Men may not be part of the discussion, but they are part of the equation. There may be something to be gained by some feminist women / groups seeking ownership of abortion issues for women, but it effectively leaves half the affected people out of the discussion.
Obviously, this is not intentional nor mean-spirited. My point in writing this post is that maybe more men would feel sympathetic and be supportive on this issue if they felt a sense of belonging and ownership. Abortion is a men's issue too, and I'd like to see more understanding of this by the well meaning pro-choice community.
* Ostensibly, it is to this point that explains the absence of any narratives involving LGBTQ experiences of abortion. A conspicuous absence, I thought, for a progressive play that opened in 2009.
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