How RBG Changed My Life

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September 23, 2020 by liebestropfchen

After a hiatus from this blog during which I spent working long hours on COVID-related projects at my employer, I am ready to talk. So many events have triggered my desire to write – President Trump’s impeachment, the spread of COVID-19, what it’s been like working from home since March 16, how I began wearing masks before it was suggested by the Ohio governor, the absolute failure of the legislative and executive branches of government to stop caring more about re-election than actually helping Americans survive economic turmoil, the lack of critical thinking skills of a majority of Facebook users, how much I avoid shopping on Amazon anymore, my disdain for all things Q-anon, how badly the Democratic Party gets wrapped around the most mundane detail and loses nearly every opportunity to actually win over swing voters, how modern television “news” is 99% opinion and 1% objective reporting….

I have a lot to say about all of the above.

Yet the event which absolutely broke me, led me to ignore calls and texts from my friends, and pick up this computer to get the words bouncing around my head onto a digital platform was the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

She was my idol. Not that I followed her life story in my youth, but rather she became my idol in my adulthood after I discovered how much her life’s work had provided me opportunity to sustain my sanity in times of turmoil. Ginsburg has become a critical component of the inspiration I need some days when I require a little extra support to know I’m capable of standing up to authority without being deemed “bitchy”, “emotional”, or “crazy”. Her example reminds me there is a way to convey dissent without being rude.

Some people I know still question whether women are truly dealing with gender-related discrimination in the workplace, as they have mentioned to me a time or two (thousand) that women’s emotions have led us to “perceive certain things as discrimination based on gender, and it’s not really a problem anymore”. Setting aside the medical fact that men are emotional (anger is an emotion, y’all) and they have hormones (testosterone) I wish they could see the sheer irony of such a statement; how it’s an example of gender discrimination being used to dismiss gender discrimination. But I digress….

In times of struggle, I remind myself how the Notorious RBG could convey objective criticism and logic without coming across to men as condescending or emotionally unstable. I considered her to be the “iron fist in a velvet glove”, able to deliver a strong punch with such class. I need her as an example of strength so as not to lose my faith in the ability to break through tough barriers while keeping my integrity.

RBG was strong, intelligent, and one hell of a trailblazer for women like me. My parents were often not engaged in my emotional or intellectual growth when I was a child – in fact, they were mostly distracted by their own drama and at times I was neglected. I suppose that neglect built a defense mechanism of trying to do everything on my own, but without a compass it was hard to navigate. My grandmother was the only source of stability in my life, but even she was a woman who never made waves with men. Therefore, the examples I had regarding “how to be a woman” while I was young were women who either were trapped in narcissistic relationships, drowning in debt and near-suicidal, or quiet and unchallenging whilst taking care of everyone else’s needs.

It’s no surprise I ended up trapped in an abusive marriage at a young age because I didn’t believe, nor did I know how to demand, that my needs mattered. I didn’t know that I deserved better than to be emotionally abused (almost physically abused, eventually) for having my own opinion about politics, sexuality, or any of life’s major events. In the absence of parental guidance, I found my way down the darkest hole of despair, where the opinions I held were entirely someone else’s; not at all my own.

After leaving my first marriage I spent several years trying to find myself. Holy shit, was that a growth experience. I made many mistakes in my twenties that I should have made in my teens. I had to learn how to say “No”, and stand by that response when someone attempted to manipulate me. I had to trust my instincts. And ultimately I had to learn how to recover from sexual assault without being affected by the judgment of those who said to me I did or said something that “must have given him the signal it was okay” to violate my body. 

I am still working on that “not being affected by judgment” part.

Yet on that path of self-discovery was an introduction to what it actually meant to be a “pro-choice” woman. I had spent my high school and college years being vocally “abortion is murder” type of pro-life, getting into debates with complete strangers regarding the atrocities of killing an unborn child.  I wrote op-eds in my college paper about how awful and selfish liberals were for not dealing with “the consequences” of sexual activity.

To this day, I am regretful of having been so outspoken about something of which I was so ignorant. But I have learned how to be kind to my younger self – had it not been for her, I wouldn’t have come by my current self so honestly and thoughtfully.

Regardless, in December 2006 I finally got it. I understood what it felt like to be a woman whose life and humanity was deemed nothing more than a vessel for someone else’s momentary desires, and whose verbal command of “No” would be tossed aside as meaningless so he could have what he wanted from me. I was a human, but had been treated like an object not worthy of respect.

I wasn’t on birth control at the time, because I had been married for several years and had not yet begun my divorce paperwork. Thus, fear of a pregnancy as a result of the rape became a very real and humbling threat. The panic I felt that day was something I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. That day I became supportive of every woman to decide for herself what to do with an unplanned pregnancy.

To this day I still don’t know if I would have gotten an abortion, had I become pregnant. But that’s not the point of the argument over reproductive rights and bodily autonomy.

The point is that after my decision to not have sex was ignored, after my request to flee the situation had been denied, after enduring the shame and judgment of my pastor and my spouse, after everyone else had a turn at telling me what I needed to do to “get back to my old self”, and after I had spent $500 out-of-pocket being tested for every disease known to man and hoping to everything holy that I wouldn’t have an incurable STD….after all that, the last thing I would want or need is to have someone tell me that I’d have to carry a rapist’s child for 9 months in order to make someone else feel that I was living up to *their* ethics or morals.

My body was the one thing over which I would need to reclaim jurisdiction. 

I couldn’t control that someone violated my body one night. I couldn’t control how others judged me for having had been raped. I couldn’t control whether I’d catch a disease. I couldn’t control the fact that I had been traumatized very deeply. I couldn’t control the expectations of others in how I’d recover. I couldn’t even control whether I’d get pregnant. But what I could control was that the decision to go through with the pregnancy was mine, and mine alone.

My entire world view changed that day. I began to seek resources and personalities who had taken part in protecting my ability to manage my own destiny in a flurry of nay-sayers – that is when I began to really understand how important Ruth Bader Ginsburg was. In her prior rulings regarding non-abortion issues, and in her later rulings defending the legal right for me, a woman traumatized, to have one less thing over which to be traumatized, she understood how women deserved to be trusted to make wholly independent decisions without a man’s pressure or consent.

Many people in the movement against reproductive choice are merely ignorant of what unplanned pregnancies – especially those resulting from sexual assault – can do to women. I often hear or read comments from them regarding their “solutions” to avoid abortions, namely that women who are pregnant as a result of rape or incest should give that baby up for adoption “so she won’t be haunted by the abortion the rest of her life.” What these types of arguments fail to recognize is that there is NO solution to this equation in which the woman is not traumatized. 

None. Zilch. Zero.

A woman who has been raped is traumatized. A pregnancy itself can be traumatizing. A woman who gives a baby up for adoption is traumatized. A woman who has an abortion is traumatized.  Trauma can manifest itself in a plethora of ways (different for every woman, so I’m speaking of the clinical definition of trauma) and there is literally no decision in which the woman won’t have some level of grief to work through. Yet I see no acknowledgment by the movement to ban abortion to offer any compensation for the necessary mental health services to help that woman know how to begin healing her soul. 

Bystanders have the luxury of no consequences regarding the suggestions they make for someone else’s life. It’s easy to sleep at night when the most involved they get is to tell someone how to live their lives and walk away before cleaning up the mess that ensues thereafter.

(I need to take a moment to acknowledge how politically charged the words “pro-life” and “pro-choice” have become. I recognize that there is a good portion of women who consider themselves to be pro-life because they would not personally have an abortion, but they do support other women making that choice for themselves. These women fit the definition of “pro-choice” (supporting the choice for other women to decide) yet they cannot bring themselves to self-identify as pro-choice because of the stigma (you know, how “pro-choice” has come to mean “loves to kill millions of babies”). I’ve seen and heard commentary from the pro-choice movement to say things like “If you’re pro-life, we don’t want you here!”, failing to take three seconds to find out that the person they are ostracizing would actually be supportive of their cause. I’m disgusted by the behavior of both movements, and I hope one day we can move away from the stigma and stop blacklisting people based on a hyphenated label.)

Suffice it to say, my support for women making the decision without having to justify it to anyone else should have come earlier, before it personally impacted me. Yet, I finally was able to see the influence of black-and-white thinking on my personal journey. Despite not ever knowing me, Justice Ginsburg understood how important it was to protect my ability to make one solitary decision in a sea of authoritative rubber-neckers and condemnation. Once I knew how instrumental she was in protecting my bodily autonomy, I began to appreciate the rest of her story even more. Strong women like her can administer life-altering justice whilst remaining soft-spoken. My grandmother was soft-spoken, yet that didn’t mean she wasn’t deeply influential, nor did it mean that women had to speak softly or be labeled unladylike. Regardless how one feels about the abortion procedure, Justice Ginsburg was performing her duties to interpret the law based on the facts presented to her. She did that beautifully, and I will be eternally grateful for the example she has set for me.

I sincerely hope whomever replaces her will remember that the role of a Supreme Court justice is to interpret the existing law, as related to the case presented. Lest women everywhere be subjected to the atrocities which accompany losing autonomy due to someone else’s forceful demands that she been seen as an object unworthy of care, compassion, decision-making, and decency.

America, find the common cause. The more time we argue over politically charged LABELS the less likelihood we have in actually protecting the dignity of womanhood.

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