He couldn’t have been older than twelve, a handsome boy with a narrow jaw and big brown eyes. All decked out in team colors, grey and blue, he had obviously just come from a soccer practice or game. He stood next to his mother in a retail store berating her.
“Had I known you were coming here, I never would have gotten into the car,” he scolded. “You will be here at least two hours.”
Not unless she’s stocking the shelves, I thought.
She tried ignoring him but he was persistent in his lamentations. Outright disrespectful and downright mean at times.
This incident converged on the same day in which I had received a lengthy email from a female reader who took me to task for having an abortion at age 17. Regular readers of the blog will know I’ve addressed this matter numerous times, here and in a couple of my books. This reader, however, wasn’t writing to me about one of those books. She was writing in reference to the murder of 3-year old Karly Sheehan:
I do not know what possesses anyone, especially another woman, to write words of condemnation stating that the abortion of a fetus is worse than the torture and abuse of a 3-year old. As I document in A Silence of Mockingbirds, Karly Sheehan was tortured for ten months prior to her death.
She was beaten. She was yanked baldheaded. Her eyeball was ruptured. She was terrified of her mother’s boyfriend. Shawn Field was a grown ass white man, who had grew up in a wealthy family in Oregon’s best-educated community. He had loving parents whose biggest mistake was caring about him. He attended a private Christian school, where he apparently learned a good deal of patriarchy and very little else. I could go on, but I’ll spare you the more gruesome details of Karly’s death.
What struck me most about the suggestion that Karly’s murder was somehow more merciful than an abortion I had was the sheer patriarchy embedded in such a suggestion. Somehow or another, this woman reader felt that the thing I had done as a 17-year old high schooler was more horrific and much more deserving of judgment than an educated and well-heeled man murdering a 3-year old girl.
The other thing that rattled me was that the boy (now man) who impregnated me has never in the nearly 40 years since received one letter of condemnation from anyone for his part in the abortion. Despite the fact that he was the first to suggest it, and was absolutely gleeful that I decided to go through with it. He has never faced one moment of recrimination. The closest thing to regret he has ever expressed was to email me recently to say: “I was supposed to have four kids.”
And to be clear, had I decided to keep the baby or even give it up for adoption, I would have continued to face condemnation of people like this reader, people making judgments about me. They would have judged me for being a single teenage mom. They would have judged me for giving up my baby: “How could you? I never could do such a thing!”
For women, for young girls, reproachment is a daily reality, no matter our choices. Whereas, white men can literally rape girls, or torture children to death, or sow their seed over Hell and half of Georgia and never, not once in their whole sorry lives receive a letter like the dozens and dozens I have received over the years.
The reader who wrote the letter felt it her right to interrogate me as well as condemn me:
Since you asked: My regret is the series of events that led to me getting pregnant. That’s it. I’ve written an entire book about those events – After the Flag Has Been Folded (William Morrow – feel free to read it if you are so curious.
I keep thinking about that mom in the store, the one with the 12-year old boy berating her for taking up his time by daring to take him into a retail store when he had far more important things to do – like play a video game or something.
Boys learn to mistreat women in the household of their fathers.
And girls learn to be mistreated in the household of their mothers.
Patriarchy is not a male problem. It’s a systemic institutional problem. It has taken me a lifetime to learn just how prevalent and oppressive a reality it has been throughout my life. And, as this recent reader has proven, it doesn’t just come from men. For far too long, too many women have been silent about their complicity in elevating the worth of a man over the worth of a woman. As mothers we have condemned our daughters while defending our sons. We have supported institutions – religious, academic, and governmental, among others – that patronize women as they pamper men.
I am tempted to answer this reader’s letter by giving her the name and contact information for the fella who showed up stoned at my bedside on the maternity ward on that long ago day. Perhaps she could vent some of her self-righteous indignation at a man for choosing an abortion as the “easy way out.”