I just finished working on a package of stories for our school’s alumni magazine about integration – a profile of the two men who integrated our college 50 years ago, as well as a sidebar about white students who pushed for integration years before it happened and one about race relations are like on campus now. The whole time I was writing these stories, I couldn’t help but think: “Wow, I have no idea what it’s like – and never will – to be black.”
This is not a new revelation, of course, but it’s made more painfully clear when I write about people in minority groups that I am in no way a member of any minority group. I’m white, I’m straight, and I’m male. And so I try to make it clear when I interview or when I advocate for racial and sexual minorities that I have no idea what it’s like to be in their shoes, so they’re going to need to help me out.
It’s not an overwhelming feeling, just a little tug – a healthy reminder that whatever I write, I’m doing it for others, people whose experiences I can’t ever truly know.
That tug has more recently shown up when I write, as I did last week, about abortion. Because while I often call abortion a human rights issue, it is also an issue that affects women far more than men. After all, who is actually pregnant? And who is going to be caring for the child, more likely than not? The old line is that if men could get pregnant, abortion would no longer be a controversial issue.
I’m not sure how true that is – women are no less divided than men, and Gallup argues education level is the more important determinant in predicting whether someone will be for or against legalized abortion (fewer women actually support legal abortion in all cases than do men, according to Gallup) – but I’d guess it’s a lot more true in cases of rape and incest. If men could become pregnant via rape, we’d see a lot more nuance on the issue of abortion in those circumstances than we do from the likes of Todd Akin, Paul Ryan and others who have tried to limit abortion exceptions by redefining rape in terms of legitimacy and forcefulness.
Because this really is an ethical dilemma for those of us who see abortion as the taking of a human life. On the one hand, it’s not that child’s fault how it was conceived; on the other, there are significant physical and mental effects from being forced to bear the child of your rapist – effects I as a man cannot fully understand and should be leery of downplaying.
Which is why grace above all should be our watchword on this issue, I think. There’s been far too much demonization and stereotyping on both sides from people who haven’t taken the time to step back and realize where their empathetic blind spots are.
As I said last week, we may not all be able to agree on such a morally fraught issue as abortion, but I know we can all agree with wanting to see as few of them performed as possible. Why don’t we start focusing on ways we can work together to make that happen, and do some real good for the girls and women whom this issue affects most of all?
By the way, for further reading, I recommend these articles, which get at some of the points I’ve been trying to make on this topic for the past few months:
“Why I Am Pro-Life” by Thomas Friedman from The New York Times
“Barack Obama, Pro-Life Hero,” by Eric Miller from Religion Dispatches magazine