I feel like time has both frozen and whizzed forward at lightning speed since my last attempt at forming coherent, ‘bloggable’ thoughts. The past week in New York has been a whirlwind of subway lines, aching feet, profound conversations and new perspectives.
On the second day of work for Sanctuary, Brianna, Amber, Laura (an intern from Holy Cross) lived at Chelsea Piers while assisting with the set-up, execution, take-down and follow-up of the Zero Tolerance benefit. As a Moxie group, we discussed our own feminist identities and the inter-sectional nature of the women’s movement between gender, race and class. The workweek culminated with a trip to Choices, a Women’s Reproductive Health Clinic in Jamaica, Queens. While feminism is something I proudly associate with and passionately defend, it was not until reading and later meeting Merle Hoffman that I understood the connection between reproductive justice and feminist activism. I have never had an issue with abortion; I have passively given my support to the move to provide women with the opportunity to assess their situation and make an informed decision about their reproductive future. It was only this week that I realized just how central and fundamental the fight for reproductive rights is to closing the gender gap.
Sanctuary has educated us on the trends and vocabulary of gender violence, where every form of abuse and violence ties back to the cycle of Power and Control. To witness change and reform, feminists must uproot the unequal distribution of power embedded in patriarchal systems. Claiming universal reproductive rights is the first step for women to gain control over their own bodies.
Merle is a dynamic, vibrant and brilliant woman at the forefront of the pro-choice fight. During our visit to her clinic, I was captivated by how she confidently articulated her philosophy while engaging with our apprehension and inquiry about her work. Her approach in speaking with us encompassed the essence and mission of Choices. Along with providing prenatal care, preventative screenings and abortions, patients experience the power of education—often their first exposure to necessary information. I was shocked by the elegance and functionality of the clinic, with strategically placed prenatal and abortion wings equipped for patient safety in an emergency. Along our tour, we all jumped at the opportunity to watch a speedy procedure that is essentially a post-abortion ‘search party’. We watched a clinician reconstruct an 11-week fetus; ensuring that all the limbs and placenta were accounted for, she could finalize the abortion. In a moment with the potential for shock, horror and disgust, I was surprised by my uncommon reaction: fascination for another instance that reminded me of my deep love of science. How remarkable that this intricate biological process could be manipulated to engineer the ideal reproductive future for this woman. Does it make me a bad person that questions of moral and religious ‘rights/wrongs’ seemed irrelevant in light of this indicator of one woman regaining control and having a choice?
Though exhausted and experiencing an information and sensory overload, we peppered her with questions and were sad to leave, spending the subway ride working to commit each piece of wisdom to memory. My three favourites:
1. Regarding how she daily combats anti-choice activists through protests, legislation and personal attacks while remaining tenacious and focused: “Girl, you have to love the struggle.”
2. Don’t shy away from for-profit work. There is a subconscious belief among women that money is bad and in order to help people, we must stay for from it. Making money and advocating for others are not mutually exclusive. Building this business and making a profit provided me with the mobility and means to assist my cause in many locations and from all different sides.
3. I asked how she had time to write a comprehensive memoir—while creating a thriving business, leading the pro-choice movement and becoming a mother: There is so much stimulation and information in our world, all vying for space in our heads. In a society where more is better, it is necessary to limit extraneous information so as to leave the mind uncluttered. Only then will you be able to compartmentalize and accomplish everything you want to do. I loved her anecdote about Watson and Sherlock Holmes: Watson was astonished that Holmes didn’t know whether the Sun revolved around the Earth or vice versa. Holmes simply explained: “my dear Watson, if I filled my head with such irrelevant information, I wouldn’t have any room left to reason through details pertaining to my life.”
Claire (and all of the Moxie women) – I am struck reading how much Merle’ made an impact on all of you. As I read your reflections, I can almost FEEL the energy that must have been in the room.
I struggle with #3 — so you gave me another perspective. I think there is some delicate balance / dance of attention in each moment and each day. If we are fractured, how much can we contribute?