Not “Just the Tip”: A Clarion Call to Cavalier Men in the Anti-Abortion Age

“Let me just put the tip in for five seconds, I’m not going to bust that quickly.”

“I know my body.”

“My pull-out game is on point.”

These are words I have heard during sex from the mouths of men ranging in age from 28-44. Three different men trying to convince me that I should trust them enough to have unprotected sex with them. One of these men even stealthed me–if you are not familiar with stealthing it is the practice of a man taking a condom off mid-sex although their partner only consented to sex with the condom on.[1] This same man begged me to allow him to “just put the tip in,” then looked in my eyes and said, “What are you scared of getting pregnant?” I looked at him incredulously and said, “Why yes, yes I am scared of getting pregnant amongst other things, I have short-term goals that don’t include having a baby with you.” He laughed and persisted with his “just the tip” antics. These are three men within the last year and a half, a surprising number because they most likely represent a microcosm of the men who persuade women to have unprotected sex with them as if it is not a zero-sum game.

Incidents such as these have always been worth our attention as they reveal the cavalier nature of men who prefer condomless sex while ignoring the consequences of unprotected sex.[2]  It is worth our immediate attention and interrogation as women’s reproductive rights and bodily control are in danger now more than ever. I live in Georgia, a state that recently passed the heartbeat bill which bans abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy. The above sexual encounters all happened in Georgia and, no disrespect to the men involved, I am pretty sure that if I were pregnant as a result of unprotected sex with them, they would not exactly rush to father their children. These are men who put pleasure before protection, believing at the moment that their condomless sex has no consequences or that the only consequence is pregnancy, forgetting sexually transmitted infections among other issues. These are men who, for all intents and purposes, have put themselves in the same seat of control and power that many women are fighting against in the larger reproductive rights war. In each of these intimate encounters, I was fighting for my reproductive rights by asking my partner to wear a condom, a fight that was often futile because some men love pleasure, power, and control more than they love women. Thus it makes me realize that the people who need the reproductive regulation and control are not women, but men, men such as those above who are so bold as to desire and beg for unprotected sex yet most likely would not exercise a similar boldness if they found out the child was theirs. Men who are also not on the frontlines fighting against the forces that want to control women’s bodies, because if they were to do so, they would acknowledge the ways in which they MUST relinquish their desire to control in the bedroom and outside of it.

I have always been cognizant of my body’s reproductive capacity and I have always been careful, particularly as a woman in protracted singleness who does not have a biological clock set for reproduction. At best I am ambivalent about having children, at worst I may not want them at all. But, if I ever bring a child into the world it will be because I decided to with another human being not because it was decided for me. The men mentioned above, their ilk, and the state–which includes both men and women, put my ability to decide and control for myself at stake while men remain free subjects. Most of us learned in Biology, Anatomy & Physiology, or Sex Education how reproduction works. Typically it involves two people with complementary organs that facilitate the process of reproduction, yet the heartbeat bill and other anti-abortion legislation only impinge upon the bodies of one population,  women, and not the men who constitute the necessary other half of the formula.[3] 

Where are the reproductive restrictions for men? Where are the laws that regulate and control penises the way my uterus is currently being controlled? Where is my protection from the cavalier men of the world who are begging just to put the tip in or who are convinced that their pullout game is strong? I understand I am responsible for exercising agency in choosing to engage with these men, but while I exist in a world that is, bit by bit, taking control of my body, I think we should start thinking about how to spread the regulation to control the uncontrollable male body. I am tired of men’s private(s) and public power going unchecked–because rest assured, there is a faction of the same men who exercise public power over women who are most likely exploiting their power over women in private. You do not become the type of person who is comfortable with controlling women’s bodies in the public sphere without being the type of person in the private sphere who wields similar insidious, abusive power–ask the Catholic Church. Anyways, back to the lecture at hand.

If, as it alleges in some anti-abortion bills, a woman who miscarries is in danger of committing a felony–even though she largely has no control of that–then shouldn’t we be reporting men and having them convicted in the court of law for that which they perceive themselves to have control of–their penises, the wearing of condoms, the flow of their semen, etc? I’m here for Georgia state representative Dar’Shun Kendrick’s “testicular bill of rights” that would include a ban on vasectomies, force men to obtain written permission from their sexual partners before getting a prescription for an erectile dysfunction medication, and make sex without a condom punishable under law as “aggravated assault.” Like Dar’Shun, I am not pushing an anti-male agenda, I am advocating for a human rights agenda that interrogates how regulating reproduction problematically defaults to women and reiterates the practice of controlling women’s bodies while allowing men to run recklessly free. I desire to bring men into the larger conversation about women’s reproductive rights since so many of them have so much to say during the sexual act that typically begets the reproductive act. I am interested in talking about how, if governing bodies are really concerned about life and possibility–which we all know is not their concern because no anti-abortion legislation includes increasing support for mothers via covered healthcare, childcare, etc.–they should actually pay more attention to men’s role in the reproductive process. I want men to hold themselves responsible by relinquishing their power to control and their desire for pleasure.

At the end of the day, I don’t want the state to control any of our bodies. I’m not interested in a both/and plan where women cannot have abortions and men cannot spill their semen. I want the preoccupation with and control of women’s bodies to end, but in the absence of that, I want men to take a critical look at their role in the process of reproduction. I want the same government that has so much to say about a woman’s womb to look at their fallible phalluses and make them a subject of the state in the same way my uterus is a subject and is now subject to the state of Georgia. I want them to acknowledge how the issue is not with women but it is with men, their desire to control and their abuse of power which goes from the bedroom to the bench–the Supreme Court bench where the heartbeat bills may edge us toward an overturning of Roe v. Wade which will throw women’s reproductive rights and personhood into infinite precarity, and efficiently take away women’s control of their own bodies.

What I want is for men, such as the three who inspired this essay, to recognize their role in women’s reproductive rights. The role does not start at the polls, it starts in private in instances such as I mentioned earlier. It starts by taking seriously the requests of women during sexual encounters. It then branches out to the way that you advocate for women in public spaces. It starts by believing and understanding that the war on women’s reproductive rights is about women but not just about women. The war ought to be fought not just by women but by men who are just as zealous about our vaginas in the streets as they are in the sheets.

[1] https://www.elitedaily.com/news/is-stealthing-illegal-how-guys-get-in-trouble/1892968

[2] I am intentionally using the language of “condomless sex” and “unprotected sex” because it occurs to me that the former is a euphemism for men whom see pleasure as a first end. When these men ask for or demand sex without a condom they imply that their pleasure not the possibility of procreation comes first. And though these men probably theoretically know the possible negative consequence of unprotected sex, they seem to suspend that knowledge for their pleasure even as their partner encourages otherwise.

[3] And it should go without saying that I am referring to reproduction through the sexual act not reproduction through insemination, in vitro fertilization, etc. Reproduction through the sexual act involves, ideally, two people who have entered the sexual event consensually and two people who are aware of the possible consequences of having sex which

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Andrew Johnson’s Choice, Agency and Power

I am sitting here working through a paper on Foucault and Christian ethics and a quote from Foucault on the concept of domination struck me, particularly as many of us are thinking through the incident involving Andrew Johnson, the high school wrestler who was given an ultimatum from his referee to either cut his ‘locs or forfeit the match. Johnson’s ‘locs were then cut in public, in front of everyone, by a white woman based on this order from a referee with a history of being racist. Some have asked why didn’t Andrew just forfeit the match, presuming it should’ve been an easy decision because he is an agential being. But such a presumption does not take into consideration the variables that Andrew was weighing in regard to his choice. It does not take into consideration that having agency does not always mean that one can be fully agential.

Andrew had agency but I argue that it was agency under constraint because of the power dynamics above him and whatever “good” was connected to him wrestling the match as opposed to forfeiting it. It is possible that Andrew chose to have his ‘locs cut because he did not think he had another choice. When faced with a choice that is presented to you by someone with more power than you, the decision is not an easy one, particularly not when there is a possibility that you may have more to lose than they do. Maybe, as I told someone who is also wrestling with Andrew’s choice, Andrew made the choice he did because there was some “good” connected to it, for instance his performance on the team could put him in a good position to earn a scholarship. Or maybe his performance on the team makes it so that they maintain good stats for the season and he does not want to be the one responsible for ruining that. And so, like many Black and Brown people whose back became the bridge on which many walked over to success, Andrew, unfortunately, sacrificed himself for what he thought was the good of the team. Some have erroneously called this, Andrew being a team player. I disagree with that statement because a team should never let you make a decision like that or allow their teammate to be publicly humiliated–is there any good reason why his ‘locs were cut in front of everyone like that? I know the reason and am not afraid to call it what it is, racism. And one of the insidious ways that racism works in this country is through micro and macro-aggressions. Racism and racist practices persist because of relations of power between white people–or the people of whiteness as coined by my colleague-friend Jeremy Posadas–and Black and Brown people. Many Black and Brown people, despite having what many liberals might consider agency, only have agency to the extent that those they are in relationship with share power in mutually beneficial ways.

Being under constraint, particularly the constraints presented by power dynamics, warp an individual’s ability to make the best personal decision. This is doubly the case for a young Black man faced with a choice presented to him by a white man in a position of power over him. One cannot discuss agency and choice without discussing relations to power and who better–well, as far as I know at this moment–to put words to this than Michel Foucault. And I know that it can be trite to trot out Foucault when it comes to discussing power, but I promise that I didn’t go searching for this, it jumped out at me as I was working through one of his texts for a paper. Nevertheless, what I am trying to get at in my own claim that Andrew Johnson is an agential being whose ability to choose was constrained by his relation to power is perfectly summed up in Foucault’s words on the concept of domination and relations to power. And so I will conclude with his words.

“Power relations are extremely widespread in human relationships. Now, this mean not that political power is everywhere, but that there is in human relationships a whole range of power relations that may come into play among individuals, within families, in pedagogical relationships, political life, and so on. The analysis of power relations is an extremely complex area; one sometimes encounters what may be called situations or states of domination in which the power relations, instead of being mobile, allowing various participants to adopt strategies modifying them, remain blocked, frozen. When an individual or social group succeeds in blocking a field of power relations, immobilizing them and preventing any reversibility of movement by economic, political, or military means, one is faced with what may be called a state of domination. In such a state, it is certain that practices of freedom do not exist or exist only unilaterally or are extremely constrained and limited.”

Wrestling with “This is America” Through Black Genius on the 4th of July

Note: I wrote this when “This is America” first came out and didn’t publish it out of fear. I had one person approach me about publishing a version of this but time lapsed and it became untimely–and also, the world needed no more thinkpieces about it. Yet it came to mind today, on this fourth of July, so here I am letting these words come to light. 

It has been almost a week since the release of Childish Gambino’s “This is America,” a video that is as polarizing as it is profound. The first time I watched “This is America,” I sat in a state of paralysis as Gambino transitioned from a shirtless Black man happily dancing to sounds that reminded me of the Soweto Gospel Choir—albeit a choir aided by the voices of Gambino and Young Thug—to the dark turn that took us from our African diaspora origins to our tragic American home. For four minutes and five seconds I watched Gambino’s convulsing body shift from happiness to homicidal, revealing what I viewed as the tragicomic existence of Blackness in the public sphere. As the video concluded with a sweat-drenched Gambino running down a darkened hallway only lightened by the bodies of the white people chasing him, I was breathless and on the verge of tears. I had no clear words for what I had watched but what I did know is that I needed to see it and thus I took to social media to say one thing about it, “We needed this Childish Gambino in so many ways.” After that post I said nothing in public spaces about it, instead I discussed it with a few friends and observed the reactions to the video on social media. It turned out that the video was polarizing, either celebrated as a work of Black genius or decried as a poor meditation on Black death. In the cacophony of voices that took offense to it, I didn’t want to be an outlier, so I remained quiet. Yet I kept feeling the tug to respond with something more than, “We needed this…” and that more came in the form of reflecting on the video through the work of two Black geniuses who, though they are not talking directly to Gambino, have given me a lot to think about in regard to the tone and takeaway of “This is America.”

“Blackness, in all of its constructed imposition, can tend and has tended toward the experimental achievement and tradition of an advanced, transgressive publicity. Blackness is, therefore, a special site and resources for a task of articulation where immanence is structured by an irreducibly improvisatory exteriority that can occasion something very much like sadness and something very much like devilish enjoyment.” Fred Moten

A friend from Emory shared this Moten quote with me in a helpful, reflective conversation about the video. Her sharing this quote came on the heels of me sharing my read on the video, particularly how taken aback by Gambino’s somatic performance. Never static, his body transitioned between dancing and feet shuffling to a destination unknown. What we did know is the body was always in motion, so much so that I wondered about the Black person as moving target, one who creates out of the tragedy the body is steeped in, in order to free itself, if only for a moment. Thus our viral dances are not tools of distraction but resistance and recovery, a way to shake off the threat of danger that awaits us. My friend then layered my reflection with her remembrance of the aforementioned Moten quote, which, in its opaqueness, can communicate something about what could be seen in the video. It traffics in the dynamism and layers of an artist who is performing an understanding of being Black in America, part of that experience being contingent upon the ability to transgress boundaries—there is that moving target—and improvise through the body in ways that can read as BOTH sadness and happiness. There are levels to Gambino’s video and any point made about it that falls under the banner of a certain obviousness belies missing the point altogether. This is why I have sat with Moten’s quote and have been reading it alongside Gambino’s creation to gain insight into that which is complicated.

“Are we witnesses who confirm the truth of what happened in the face of the world-destroying capacities of pain, the distortions of torture, the sheer unrepresentability of terror, and the repression of dominant accounts? Or are we voyeurs fascinated with and repelled by exhibitions of terror and sufferance? What does exposure of the violated body yield? Proof of black sentience or the inhumanity of the ‘peculiar institution’? Or does the pain of the other merely provide us with the opportunity for self-reflection? At issue here is the precariousness of empathy and the uncertain line between witness and spectator. Only more obscene than the brutality unleashed at the whipping post is the demand that this suffering be materialized and evidenced by the display -Saidiya Hartman

This quote from the introduction of Saidiya Hartman’s book Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth Century America has also helped me think more and deeper about “This is America.” It beckons me to think about a phrase that I’ve seen bandied about during it’s release, “Black Death.” This is also the phrase that once I saw it one too many times I became paralyzed and afraid of offering another interpretation lest I seem to have turned my back on my people. Yet I need to say that, for me, “This is America,” is not making a spectacle of Black Death–that feels too reductive–but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still some meditation to be done on the death of Black people at the hands of a state and a racist people who honors their weapons more than their people.

Hartman’s quote pushes me to consider my position in “This is America,” the song and the actual space. Am I witness or a spectator? Witnesses see and then give an account of what they saw—or as Hartman states, witnesses confirm the truth of what is happening. Spectators watch with fascination and then walk away, or, if spectators do give an account, it is of the spectacle of the situation because of how it titillated them, not how it convicted them about the brutal truth of a situation. Here I wonder what rattled so many about the video, is it that they saw themselves as the distracted—another response I saw to the videos utilization of viral dances? Hartman also bids us to consider what the exposure of many bodies violated by a racist state (and racism in general) yield. For me, it is hardly about Gambino but about a larger media project outside of him that depends on video footage taken by camera phones that is then embedded on news sites that broadcast Black death for traffic–and remember in the video how there were people above Gambino standing there recording the pandemonium below them. As we bear witness to various shootings of Black people and, in the instances where there is someone there to record it on their cellphone, that person becomes a de facto producer in an industry that sells Black Death back to us under the guise of making us aware. Black Death has been packaged and sold to us in far more deleterious ways than Gambino’s video. He, unfortunately, is art imitating life, the life that some of us haven’t skewered nearly as hard as we are skewering him.

In the end I think “This is America,” opens up a discussion of the “both/and” sometimes tragicomic existence of Black people in America. We can dance the Gwara Gwara and be keenly aware of our mortality in one fell swoop that really is the state of being black in America right now. We don’t have the luxury of the either/or but the both/and. Blackness is complex, as complex as all the things thrown at us in Gambino’s “This is America,” and complex beyond all the things it didn’t throw at us.

Nothing’s Changed But We Must: An Election Results Reflection

I wanna know who my enemies are so that I can look them in the face when I kick their ass. 

These were the words of my professor on what it means to have a president-elect who brings to the surface and legitimizes the hatred and ignorance we’ve seen in the last year and reveals the true colors of America. We had an hour-long discussion in class about the election, one of the most rich discussions I’ve had since the results. It indicts both sides and issues a clarion call to those of us who are truly committed to change. Below is my synthesis of our discussion:

 
One of the most powerful things she said is that with Trump nothing is different, it’s that everything is revealed and heightened. We now look each other in the face knowing who we are. It’s not that Clinton or a third-party candidate would have abolished the issues now brought to the forefront, it’s that everyone would have remained polite and shrouded in the process of procedurals. But the masks are off now, the racist, sexist, xenophobic, bigots, who always were are now empowered to come out of hiding. As she said, “Culture doesn’t change, it distracts us by pretending to change.”
 
I asked her what it means to “kick their asses” and she suggested that kicking their asses resides in the work of being broadly and deeply read on the issues, not just the glamorous ones that the media disseminates but the ones no one is talking about that has the most impact on lives. The work of kicking asses is unglamorous and won’t be anything the media wants to write about– which signals that everything the media writes about and packages to us represents very little of what we ought to be concerned about. 
 
uburoiiidayk_905Trump’s ascent represents a country taken in by the spectacular, the spectacle and, I think the grotesque–think Ubu Roi for those familiar with Jarry’s work.  But we have to move away from that and begin extremely dirty work that we won’t even be able to talk about for a while—this is important, reminiscent of Gil Scott Heron’s “Revolution Won’t Be Televised. The work we need to do is heavy, we all have to become students and read, comprehend, and synthesize the system more deeply than we have ever. This will be unglamorous that we won’t be able to hashtag, but it will be necessary to dismantle the power currently in place, Trump, Clinton–yes Clinton had the kind of power that must be dismantled too, it wasn’t so obviously insidious but it would have still ensured we didn’t tackle head-on what is ailing this country–and others. The work of resistance and revolution that will get us over in the next four years ain’t gonna be for or on social media. It’s going to be on the backside of the mountain studying, strategizing, and executing plans. It’s the kind of work no one will pat you on the back for because they won’t even know your name. It’s the kind of work that will necessitate we sacrifice our comfort en masse as some of our sisters, brothers and others have already been doing. It’s the kind of work that will require collectivity and building together, no independent rogues and cliques, but cooperatives across communities, cities, and states. This is anti-absorption, anti-visibility, anti-legibility work. And it starts with getting your political weight up and learning how to read this system.
Here are a couple of places to start, as a warmup to the much heavier lifting to come:
 
The people must know before they can act.
Ida B. Wells