Are you a man unsure of your place in the discussion surrounding reproductive rights? Do you feel like abortion and contraception are women’s issues and that you have no right to speak about other peoples’ bodies? Do you think that perhaps the best thing a man can do right now is to stand back and support women as they figure this whole thing out?
It’s time to man-up and become what women have deserved all along.
Here are the Top 3 things you can and should do to support women in a Post-Roe world.
3 Ways To Support Women In a Post-Roe World
- Learn about Female Fertility
Yes, I do mean menstrual cycles and ovulation and cervical mucus. All of it. There is nothing gross or inappropriate about men knowing about women’s cycles of fertility and infertility, and it is a key component of understanding and supporting women fully. If you are engaged in a sexual relationship with a woman, you are especially obligated to become educated so that you truly know how women’s bodies work. You can no longer sit back and leave the burden of family planning completely on her shoulders.
Did you know that the average woman is only fertile for about 100 hours per month? That’s less than 15% of the entire month. A woman’s “fertile window” occurs from approximately 4-5 days before she releases her egg during ovulation and the following 24 hours while the egg remains viable. Outside of this window, and in the absence of fertile cervical mucus, pregnancy is impossible. Guess what percentage of the time you are fertile….yeah, 100%.
So why have men expected women to completely alter their reproductive systems 100% of the time when they are the ones who are usually infertile??? Doesn’t it seem strange that women have to take artificial hormones and chemicals to change their natural bodies all the time when it simply requires approximately 100 hours of not having sex each month to avoid pregnancy?
Even if you are not in a sexual relationship with a woman, you still owe it to women to have a basic understanding of the amazing fluctuating hormones that women experience throughout their monthly cycles. These hormones play a huge role in every aspect of women’s lives from their mental, emotional, and physical health, yet most men are completely unaware of their presence. That needs to change ASAP.
- Support Policies that Support Women’s Natural Bodies and Needs
First things first, you need to acknowledge that women’s bodies do things that your body cannot do. Men and women are fundamentally different from one another, but not unequal. What women’s bodies can do is incredible, and the future of the species literally depends upon women. This means that not only do women deserve a healthy dose of respect from you but also an understanding that their bodies are going to behave and function differently than yours. Her body will have needs that yours does not. I can’t believe that I’m even having to state this obvious fact, yet it is clear that someone must. If men truly understood the needs of women’s bodies, we would not be expected to perform and act exactly like men. Ignoring differences is unfair when doing so plays to men’s advantage. Especially in the workplace and other areas where men and women compete.
Working women are being penalized for being fertile and for being mothers. There has long been a “mother’s tax” when it comes to the gender pay gap. While childless women have closed the gap over the years, mothers have been left behind. Women with children earn less than women without children, even when all variables such as education level, position, and hours worked are controlled.
But this parenthood penalty somehow doesn’t seem to apply to men. In a recent article in Ms. Magazine “For each child they have, mothers get a 5 to 10 percent pay cut on average. Meanwhile, fathers get a 6 percent pay bump per child.” How can that be fair?!
Let’s be honest: women’s bodies were made to be with their babies. In the lactation world, we refer to a mother and her baby as a “dyad,” or something that consists of two elements or parts. The healthcare industry has been learning to treat mothers and babies as one connected unit and understands that their health remains interdependent after the child is delivered. Hospitals have adopted “rooming-in” policies to keep moms and babies together because the improved outcomes are statistically significant. However, as soon as mom heads back to work, the expectation is for that natural and healthy bond to be broken. Women are rarely accepted in our world as BOTH a mother and anything else. But the truth is, mothers are very capable of doing many things beyond nursing and caring for a baby. And she does it best when her baby is allowed to be near her.
Men, we need you to insist that women be supported wherever they are. If you have any influence in your workplace, or anywhere in the world, advocate for simple solutions such as lactation spaces, good maternity policies, onsite childcare at work, fair pay scales, and flexible work options. We owe our gratitude to mothers, the least we can do is make it easier for them to fulfill their responsibilities with less hassle.
But it’s not just mothers that deserve a little consideration; all women who experience the natural fluctuation of hormones can experience the accompanying challenges of their cycles of fertility/infertility. Let’s not be so prudish as to ignore that menstrual leave policy could really help some women. In a world where women’s bodies are truly embraced and not expected to conform to standards that are based on male bodies, the normal healthy menstrual cycle is seen as a sign of health. Help remove the stigma surrounding female bodies’ natural abilities. Normalize periods, pregnant bellies, lactating breasts, and make room for babies that complete the dyad of a mother’s identity.
- Hold Yourself Accountable
And finally, as tempting as it is to opt-out of this conversation and blame a bunch of Supreme Court justices and pro-life right-wingers for the post-Roe world we’re all living in now, the truth is that you men should have been holding yourselves accountable to a higher standard of awareness and involvement all along. Your participation could have made abortion an unnecessary solution years ago if you would’ve stepped up to the plate.
Easy access to abortion and contraception has created a world where women’s fertility has been easily discounted because there was no incentive to respect it. With the ability to abort unwanted pregnancies, we can just go on with our risky and immature behaviors and pretend there are no consequences. It’s like it never happened, right?
The ramifications of this have been a general loss of respect and understanding of basic biology and confusion when it comes to reproduction. Many women have artificially suppressed ovulation and ended healthy pregnancies through elective abortions simply because there has been this idea that they can always get pregnant at a later time. Millions of couples have learned the hard way that you cannot control reproduction this easily, and that fertility is shared between a couple and never an assumed given. The drugs, devices, and surgeries that have become so commonplace have had effects on both women’s and men’s bodies and can permanently destroy the gift of fertility for a couple. Working with a woman’s natural cycles of fertility and infertility offers couples the best chance of successfully planning the family of their dreams, but it requires accountability, education, and patience. Unfortunately, these traits have been discouraged amongst young people.
If we look at the rampant hook-up culture on college campuses and the sex education curriculums in our middle and high schools, it becomes clear that we hold very low expectations for self-control and delayed gratification in our youth. We don’t even bother to teach young people about the natural cycles of fertility/infertility that are built into women’s bodies because we seem to think ourselves incapable of understanding or caring enough to cooperate with what our bodies naturally do. Many women no longer expect that men will respect their bodies because men have shown so little interest in trying to see the world from a female perspective. Most men do not understand the fear that grips a woman after a sexual encounter when she doesn’t feel ready for a pregnancy. Men walk away, oblivious to the panic she is feeling, even when protection was used and she is on birth control. Every woman knows of at least one other woman who has gotten pregnant even when all precautions were taken. Women know that they are the ones who will carry the burden of either ending a pregnancy or carrying the child to term, and they often bear that weight alone.
Men, you can relieve that fear and anxiety by simply committing to working with a woman’s natural body and working with a woman to achieve your shared family planning goals. This includes only engaging in intercourse when a woman says she wants to and her fertile status matches your behavior. Simply put, if she’s fertile and you engage in intercourse, you should expect a pregnancy. For this reason, women must be the “gatekeepers” of sexual intercourse because it is her “yes” that allows new life to grow. It must be her “yes” at every point of the interaction that invites you into her very body. That can never be coerced or manipulated. Men, when you engage in intercourse with a woman, you enter a sacred space that should never be defiled or forced. If men truly understood that entering into a woman at her invitation is the only moment that gives them everything their heart desires (acceptance, trust, God-like ability to create), it would not be treated so casually and recreationally. It’s not about a great orgasm; it’s the greatest desire of every human heart, to be seen and received as we truly are. All of yourself, vulnerable and whole, as a gift that is cherished and received by another.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t address the fact that I’ve seen a lot of talk about vasectomies being the solution to avoiding abortion. There has been a reported increase in men scheduling vasectomies in response to the overturning of Roe, as much as a 500% increase in some places. More men under the age of 30 and without children are requesting vasectomies than before the Dobbs decision. As noble and considerate as that may seem at first, I do not think that the expectation for fertility to be suppressed and destroyed should be shifted to men, especially since that is the very mindset that has harmed women for decades. While the procedure carries risks that men should consider, my main objection to shifting the expectation for men to have vasectomies is not that the procedure could fail (11 in 1000 do), but that we will continue to perpetuate a cultural mindset that fertility is a burden, a cosmic mistake. When we alter and suppress our fertility, we do so because we see children and pregnancy as the enemy, instead of the incredible miracle that fertility really is. We also sustain the idea that men are uninterested in cooperating with women’s natural cycles of infertility and that men would rather permanently forgo the responsibility and gift of fatherhood for infertile gratification. It shows that men are more interested in the ability to have sex with their partner than they are in cooperating with their bodies. (The rampant use of pornography by men is an indication that this might be more true than we’d like to admit.) We merely shift distrust of the human body off women’s bodies and onto men’s when we apply the same broken approach towards fertility to the opposite sex. We continue to ignore that every human deserves to be whole and unaltered, with complete bodily integrity and autonomy. Our bodies don’t need to change, our attitudes and practices do.
I know that you men are capable of restraining yourselves, and that deep down inside you also want sex to mean something more than a brief release of built-up tension. It is not the fulfillment you desire deep down in your heart. When sex is whole, with both partners living in connection to their own and their partner’s fertility, something truly amazing happens. We no longer hide from reality and ourselves. We become ourselves. Women have felt the pressure for far too long to be something other than their natural selves. We hide our brokenness in so many ways and present ourselves for men’s approval behind fashion, appearance, and achievement. Men owe it to all women in a post-Roe world to admit that they sometimes fail to see us as whole beings and have created a system that prefers us suppressed. It’s time for you men to tell women that we are good and that you are man enough to handle women’s true bodies and their needs.