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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 10. 1971

Machismo, Women's Rights and the Wanted Child

Machismo, Women's Rights and the Wanted Child.

It is very easy to make black and white pronouncements: it makes life simple to have moral decisions that are cut and dried especially if they can never be applied to one's own body but only to other people's. Much more difficult to realize that life is a complex matter and moral decisions have to be made after taking into careful consideration the whole context of each situation—with imagination, compassion and respect for others' consciences.

Even in the rigid sphere however, there is no more consistency in practice today than there was in moral theories of the past centuries. A Roman Catholic woman who had suffered rape used to be permitted to use a douche up to ten hours after the assault. More recently, she is permitted to obtain a "d and c" operation within five days of the assault. These rigidly laid down rules show once again how ivory tower theories are made with blithe disregard for facts. For all too many women have learned to their sorrow how great is the risk of conception even if a douche is used immediately after intercourse; while permission for a "d and c" is an example of Jesuitry at its most artistic; it is not permissible to detach the blastocyst from the uterine wall once it has become attached, but it is entirely moral to scrape that wall to ensure that the zygote cannot attach itself! The end result is not only the same, but intended to be the same—the death of the life just begun.

This leads us directly to the whole question of who makes the laws, both legal and moral. Who also makes pronouncements medical and psychiatric. Roman Catholic authorities are not only exclusively male, but exclusively celibate-male. How far such people can remove themselves from the actualities and real sufferings of life has been indicated in some examples above. Protestant churches are still either exclusively or nearly exclusively male strongholds. Most medical doctors and most psychiatrists are male, and nearly all are taught by males from male-written textbooks and points of view. It would be arrogant enough for a group of women to set itself up as arbiters of what is moral and what is immoral for other women in such matters as birth control and abortion; but at least there would be a shared experience of life that might engender compassion and care. That men, from government and church leaders, through doctors and psychiatrists, down through all too many husbands and boyfriends, want to keep the power to Coerce women to conceive, and to force women to continue pregnancies against their wills, might well seem to an impartial observer from, say, Mars, to be a psychotic disorder on a massive scale.

It seems very suspect that so many grown men (in government, church, medicine etc) as well as some women, find it so very much easier to identify with an unformed potential human being at a very early stage of development rather than with another adult human being—who happens to be female: the reluctantly pregnant woman. It could be a sad comment on the stage of psychological maturity of those concerned.

This matter of power of men over women's pregnancies warrants a closer look. For example, Latin America is a traditional stronghold of "machismo", the pseudo-mystical cult of virility, a prime proof of which is the fathering of the largest possible number of offspring. It has been reported that many husbands in that continent are taking their wives back to the doctors and asking for the removal of the intrauterine device commonly used in underdeveloped countries for some of the more fortunate of the poor women. It appears that these wives have begun to behave with increasing self-respect and less passivity with their new freedom from constant pregnancy; and the husbands prefer the continual additions of mouths crying with hunger around them, to the strain of adjusting to women who are rapidly becoming "people".

In ghettoes in the United States, it has been reported that many husbands and lovers object to women taking the Pill, so that the women have to hide their medication on pain of having it destroyed. These men are very often precisely the ones who leave the women when they become pregnant. The poor man, and particularly the poor coloured man, is low man on the totem pole, but there is another human being lower down—the coloured woman.

In New Zealand, some small studies indicate that many Maori men, too, frequently dislike their wives using contraceptives although the women increasingly desire to use them.

The hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church has until very recently pronounced that women should have as many babies as humanly possible. Even now the pill is not sanctioned by the pope, while overburdened, poor and ignorant women the world over suffer because of constant pregnancies, aging them prematurely and reducing them to the level of animals.

There are the husbands who receive a large emotional bonus when their wives are pregnant whether the wives want the pregnancy or not; and there are the husbands who persuade their wives to have "just one more" especially in order to "try for a boy".

There are public spokesmen overseas who are "liberal" enough to agree to some reform of abortion laws but who wish to reserve to the husband the right of veto over the wife's abortion.

All this points to the revelation that men like power, but specifically that vast numbers of men now living, have that power, and keep it and use it, individually and collectively, to control and often to force the pregnancies of women. And they very often do this without taking the responsibility for even the economic consequences of their actions—and this applies equally to moral and legal authorities and to ghetto husbands and lovers who decamp when they have proved their power. This use of power is a vicious circle however. Women like power every bit as much as men do; it is just that they cannot usually exercise the same sort of power over men, as men can over women. But women have and use all sorts of power over children. It's a sort of pecking order of men pecking women who peck children; but the bottom hens grow up and the male ones remember and take it out on their wives who take it out on their children...

Although some agencies show genuine and informed concern. New Zealand generally has a harsh and punitive altitude towards premarital pregnancy. Meanwhile this country's appalling illegitimacy rate continues to rise. The same people who make pious noises about "the unborn child", use this same "unborn child" as a weapon to punish unmarried women for their sexual activity. They do not seem able to realize that to use a human being as a weapon, an object, is to deny that person humanity. Lip service is paid to the value of "the unborn child" but these people show little care for the resulting conditions of child and mother, often living in poverty, or for the girl with the sole responsibility of raising a child, a responsibility heavy enough when shared with a loving partner. Too many so-called Christians pass down easy judgements from their high seats of virtue, or turn their backs, or at best shut the stable door when the horse has gone.

According to the mores of society, a woman might sometimes admit that she hadn't wanted a particular pregnancy, but it is laid down pretty clearly that she mustn't admit that she doesn't want her children once they are born One of her two main functions in life is motherhood, and in her eyes and those of society, her value largely depends upon her acceptance of it. However much one thinks one ought to, one cannot love "to order". A woman with an unwanted child may be able to fool her neighbours, her husband or even herself, but she can never fool the child The emotional wounds, whether or not accompanied by physical harm, condemn vast numbers of unwanted children to our crowded mental hospitals, borstals and prisons.

To try to ensure that every child is born a uniquely wanted child, with the right to be cared for materially, emotionally [unclear: and] [unclear: strick] color will be a [unclear: bong] [unclear: Choosen] [unclear: attitude then which] [unclear: seen or in common][unclear: that chiebearing is a duty, or an accident, Woa sort od respect for ide can there be in conceving and breaing a chld of duty? What hope for joy, wamth] [unclear: being is to result from a caspal accident? Nothing less than a caring act of mind and will should evevr be responsible for the most] [unclear: ecious of abercetions creations—a new human personality.]