Women's Choices … Term Paper
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¶ … Reproductive and/or Sexual Choices
The ability of women to control their own bodies i.e. To exercise reproductive and/or sexual choices free from stigma and danger is profoundly affected by institutions and ideologies that usually reflect hierarchies of domination and subordination. These hierarchies are commonly associated with beliefs regarding gender, race, health status, sexuality, class, and others. Women's bodily integrity is influenced by social structures and beliefs that affect their choices as evident throughout history and the modern society. One of the areas relating to women's bodily integrity that have been influenced by social structures and beliefs is whether to exercise reproductive and/or sexual choices. As a result, feminists have worked to increase choices and women's personal and collective agency in relation to exercising reproductive and/or sexual choices.
Reproductive and Sexual Choices
Throughout history, women's choices in relation to exercising reproductive and/or sexual choices have been influenced by social structures and beliefs on various issues such as health status, race, gender, sexuality, and class. In essence, women's choices regarding reproduction and sex have always been influenced by the existing structures and beliefs in the society. With regards to reproductive choices, women have been considerably affected by societal structures in relation to their decisions regarding childbirth. Despite numerous initiatives towards the promotion of birth control as a personal choice, women's decisions and choices have been affected by societal structures and beliefs.
Black women have been aborting since the early periods of slavery because of their beliefs regarding men and sexuality (Hoy 629). These women opted for abortion because of the status of the society during this period. The society during slavery was characterized by endless forced labor and sexual abuse and harassment. Actually, women oppression by men was considered as part of daily life during this period. As a result, the existing societal structures and beliefs influenced women's ability to exercise reproductive and/or sexual choices. According to the observations of a doctor in Georgia, abortions and miscarriages were more common among black female patients as compared to white female patients. Black women opted for abortion because of their beliefs that it was unfair and unnatural to bring up children under the slavery system upon which the then societal structures were established. Moreover, abortions and miscarriages were not caused by the normal biological processes of birth but by the oppressive conditions of slavery that women were subjected to.
The other effect of societal structures and beliefs on women's reproductive and/or sexual choices is related to beliefs regarding pregnancy. Since mid-19th Century to late-20th Century, the society viewed pregnancy as a medical condition that should be concealed from public view (Oliver 1). Furthermore, pregnancy was regarded as a private affair that was unsuitable for public display even before pregnancy was medicalized. The main reason for the society's view of pregnancy as a private affair was its consideration as ugly and shameful. This view had considerable effects on women's ability to exercise reproductive and sexual choices since their decisions on issues of sexuality and reproduction were affected by the society's perception of pregnancy. Consequently, women were encouraged not to leave their homes or beds i.e. stay indoors when pregnant.
Third, women's choices in relation to reproduction and sexuality have been influenced by societal view of abortion. While many women, particularly black women during the slavery period opted for abortion because of the oppressive nature of the slave system, the practice was illegal up until 1969. Most of these women risked procuring back-street abortions or personal attempts towards terminating a pregnancy (Rebick 35). The illegalization of abortion was based on men's beliefs about women as the weaker sex whose main role was taking care of the family at home. Men did not consider the drastic measures that some women were resorting to in order to have an abortion. Women resorted to abortion because of the harassment and oppression that they were subjected to in the society. In addition, their decisions to opt for abortion were based on the belief that the existing societal structures and beliefs did not create a positive and healthy environment for raising children.
Therefore, women's bodily integrity in relation to reproductive and sexual choices has historically and currently been influenced by social structures and beliefs. These choices are considerably influenced by the beliefs and assumptions across societal institutions and ideologies that are usually reflected in domination and subordination. Men have continued to exhibit domination over women through enforcing interminable forced labor, sexual oppression and harassment, perception about a pregnant body, and views on abortion. Men have traditionally used these tendencies as a means of promoting and justifying inequality that continues to affect women's bodily integrity. As a result, women have been forced to act as subordinates even when making important decisions regarding reproductive and sexual choices.
Feminists' Actions and Initiatives
The increased domination and subordination of women to an extent of interfering with their reproductive and sexual choices has resulted in the emergence of various feminist theories and initiatives that are geared toward expanding the choices of women and increasing their personal and collective agency. Feminists have constantly initiated various actions to fight the prevalent inequality and unfair treatment of women in various facets of the society including in education and the workplace. These individuals and groups have adopted various measures to promote the status women and enhance their ability to make choices and decisions.
One of the major actions or initiatives carried out by feminists to expand choices and increase women's personal and collective agency is through developing the abortion caravan in 1970. The movement was created in order to protest against the abortion law that was enacted by the Canadian Parliament in 1969. Their protest was fueled by the fact that the law did not make abortion absolutely legal but limited the practice to accredited hospitals and permitted them to be procured only through the approval by a therapeutic committee of four doctors (Rebick 37). The therapeutic committee would base their approval on the woman's health status, which implied that women needed a letter from a psychiatrist in order to perform a legitimate abortion. Feminists and feminist groups were opposed to this requirement since the then society was characterized by increased use of drastic measures to perform an abortion including personal attempts to terminate a pregnancy. Their argued that one of the major factors to make abortion completely legal was the use of these unsafe drastic measures that was sometimes fatal.
The abortion caravan or movement has helped in expanding women's choices in relation to reproductive and sexual issues by promoting the availability of the option of therapeutic abortion. The efforts have also played a crucial role in the emergence of various birth-control methods like spermicidal chemicals, birth control pills, diaphragms, and condoms (Stonehouse et al. 197). In the past few decades, birth-control methods have advanced to incorporate intrauterine devices and increased duration of abstinence. Apart from the development of these birth-control methods, the abortion caravan or movement has helped in changing social perceptions regarding the practice. As a result of their efforts, abortion is considered as a practice that changes nothing just like motherhood and an act that revolves around ethics and decision-making. In essence, women's choices have been expanded by giving them the ability to choose between abortion or birth-control methods.
Feminists have promoted women's right to birth control just like women's right to vote as part of their support for 'voluntary motherhood.' Voluntary motherhood is a concept that is promoted on the basis that birth control is an individual choice and an essential prerequisite for the emancipation of women. This concept is considered as advantageous to women regardless of their classes and races (Hoy 628). These initiatives have been fueled by women's desire to control their reproductive system.
Secondly, feminists and feminist groups have expanded women's choices through changing social perception about pregnancy. Unlike previous years when a pregnant body was considered ugly and shameful, feminists have successful generated a different view of pregnancy in the modern society where it has become an obsession in popular culture. Today's society no longer views pregnancy as shameful and hidden but consider it as spectacular and sexy. Consequently, women have more choices because the existing ideals promote pregnancy and maternity as attractive even for career women. This in turn generates new expectations for women as they not only ensure the health and well-being of their children but also work towards maintaining their beauty and fitness while pregnant (Oliver 2).
In conclusion, women's bodily integrity has constantly been affected by historical and present social structures and beliefs. These structures and beliefs have been characterized by hierarchies of domination and subordination. Women have traditionally experienced challenges in making reproductive and/or sexual choices free from stigma and danger. These challenges have been brought by unfair treatment, harassment, and oppression of women in the society. However, feminists and feminist groups have carried out various initiatives towards expanding choices and increasing women's personal and collective agency.
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