Memories: The Phone Call
I was looking for a phone in an isolated area. The campus had about as many acres as students, but there were only a handful of public telephones. There were several near the cafeteria and that was where I would go to call my parents about once a week or so. That, however, was one of the most public places. There were two dormitories about two miles away from the center of campus. I had rarely ever even been in one of them, but I had a vague recollection of having seen a pay phone there, so I walked over.
The walk down the narrow curving road with woods looming on either side reminded me of a recurring dream I’d been having for about a year. In it, I was riding a bicycle on a road very much like that one, perhaps slightly curvier. Slowly, I would lose my eyesight until couldn’t see the road anymore. I would try to stop, but instead I’d be speeding up. Through partial vision, I could barely see the road well enough to follow it. Finally, I wouldn’t be able to see anything at all and I would crash. An anxiety dream, it was almost ridiculously easy to analyze.
A precocious student, I had graduated from high school early and received a nice, big, fat helping of scholarship money to attend this private liberal arts college. My first year, I loaded up on courses and was taking more than the suggested number of credits. My grades were excellent. Then my social life began to fall apart and, with it, my grades. I changed majors. Then I changed majors again. A year earlier, I went through a phase during which I didn’t bathe, didn’t get out of bed for days at a time and ate nothing but peanut butter. I received grades of incomplete in all the classes I had taken that semester. I had a year to make them up. The previous semester, the fall semester of my junior year, I finally settled on literature as a major for no better reason than I liked to read and it seemed to come easily to me. Read a few books. Mull them over for a day or so. Churn out twenty pages. I could do that even as I was falling apart. In fact, I felt as if I was finally beginning to put myself back together.
That’s where the anxiety dream came in. Unlike when I was younger, I no longer had a plan. I couldn’t see where I was going, I was just trying to navigate each curve as it came up on me. My grades were finally back up. I was attempting to make a few friends who were not part of a New Age cult. Did I really want to study literature? That certainly hadn’t ever been part of my plan, but now my plan was just to get the hell out of this fucking hell hole of a school with a bachelor of arts degree and my brain intact. What would I do after that? I barely had a clue.
And I had been so alone throughout all of this. When you’re young, and pretty, and talented, and bright everyone wants to be your friend. When you’re lost and confused, no one knows who you are. With help from no one, I was getting back to being someone people actually wanted to know.
Now, there was this.
The dormitory was a converted mansion. It was an odd building. Heavy and dark, it looked as if someone had tried to build a set for a production of Wuthering Heights without ever having so much as seen a picture of England. The first floor was a series of rooms, a kitchen and several other rooms with seemingly no purpose. It was the middle of the day while classes were in session and the dormitory was almost empty, as I had hoped. I walked into one of the purposeless rooms that had an array of institutional furniture that seemed nearly random. An indestructible club chair. A table. A couple of dining chairs. In the corner, as I had recalled, was a pay phone.
I dialed the phone number of the man I had met on New Year’s Eve. It was a long shot that he would even pick up the phone at that moment in the middle of the day, but he did. Without any introduction, I blurted out that I was pregnant, that I would probably have an abortion but male friends of mine had convinced me that it wasn’t fair that women make this decision on their own, so that if he wanted me to continue with the pregnancy we could talk about that. I had planned to add that he’d have to want sole custody, but I can’t recall if I got that far.
How did I know it was his?
Because he was the only man I’d fucked recently.
He didn’t believe me.
Fine, I was planning on having an abortion anyway. I was just trying to be fair to him.
Then this man about whom I knew next to nothing except that he loved Kant and had a larger than average penis, launched into one of the more shocking speeches I had heard at that point in my life. He accused me of trying to trap him into marriage. His family were aristocrats. They would never accept this. I was just a common slut and I was trying to trap him into marriage. He was outraged.
I never spoke to him again.
I’ve been writing down my experiences as a way of understanding why I believe some of the things I believe and why I hold some of the political positions I do. This conversation resulted in me feeling somewhat skeptical of men’s rights advocates when they complain that it is not fair that they have no say in abortion decisions. It’s not that I feel that they are disingenuous about their own position, but that they don’t actually represent men in general. Most men, I suspect, don’t really want the responsibility that this decision entails. Women have abortions, men don’t. Women have to bear the responsibility and the stigma. Many men, perhaps most, would prefer to keep it this way. However, I think I did the ethical thing in approaching this man, and it was obvious that he would have preferred that I hadn’t. I don’t know his position on abortion, but he was a practicing Catholic. One word and I wouldn’t have had an abortion. I don’t think he wanted that responsibility.
A while back, Dan Savage expressed the opinion that women should inform a man if they are going to have an abortion. I agree with everything he says, even the part that many feminists objected to, that the man’s desires should be taken into consideration. However, I think he is underestimating humans’ potential for denial and self-deception when he writes:
Guys need to know when they’ve dodged a bullet, CL. Being made aware that he came this close to 18 years’ worth of child support payments can lead a guy to be more cautious with his spunk—and, in some cases, more likely to support choice.
There’s an interesting assumption that Savage makes here, that what they are dodging are child support payments and not custody of a child, because the only way I would have considered carrying that pregnancy to term is if the man had agreed to take full custody. I can’t be sure, but I strongly suspect that the man in question barely remembers this incident. He probably doesn’t acknowledge having dodged anything at all. It would be all to easy for him to rationalize it away. The incident changed the course of my life and I suspect it didn’t register for him at all.
It was also my introduction to notions about social class. Growing up in suburbia in the United States in an environment in which people ranged from the upper end of stable working class families to the lower end of the professional upper middle class, I was only faintly aware of class differences that weren’t simply linked to income. I’ve had a hatred for social class ever since.
I wish I had a memory just half as good as yours.
I don’t like the topic of abortion and especially the idea that men sit in legislatures to discuss whether women should have a choice and access to safe and affordable abortion clinics when no man has been pregnant.
I wish I could remember exactly what he said. I just remember being totally taken aback at the incredible anger and hostility, and also I was so very surprised by his strange reference to class. I really wish I could remember what he said about that but it was a total shock to me. It was the first time I realized that there were people who thought that they were superior in some sort of essential way due to an accident of birth. It hadn’t even occurred to me to think about what his class background was. I avoided Europeans for a long time after that.
When talking about this subject, I think people forget to mention the incredible anger that men can exhibit when informed of an unwanted pregnancy.
I agree with the last bit of your comment. Men have been known to deny being fathers when told the lady is expectant.
The abortion issue isn’t a bunch of men sitting around deciding to control all women’s bodies while the women’s side is constantly implied to be unquestionably pro-choice.
According to some polls, men are more likely to be pro-choice than women, and others show the numbers to be the same.
Women also make up over half of the voting population, so keep in mind that they’re the ones that vote those pro-life male politicians in.
And even then, yes, people are allowed to have a view on something that affects someone else, especially when it’s an issue about when/where personhood rights begin, that only happens to have gendered effects.
In most parliaments and countries where access to abortion is illegal, the majority of legislators are men. And I will not dispute the fact that women make almost half the voting block and are also responsible for having these men in parliament. Maybe the way out would be to subject the matter to a referendum so that the voters decide for themselves but knowing people as I do, they will vote with the side that plays on their emotions the most.
I agree any one can have an opinion on an issue. It would be unjust and selfish to insist that ones personal view be everyone’s view.
What the fuck is wrong with you? This is a personal, first hand account which is part of my memoirs, not a damned politic piece. You are apparently lacking in manners and empathy and displaying anti-social behavior. Are you having a hard time finding a fight to pick anyplace else that you’re coming around here trying to stir up shit?
I’m technically a feminist, but I consider myself a liberal feminist and disagree with more extreme feminists on a lot of issues – and I’m very fond of men. Besides boyfriends, I have more than a few platonic male friends, and I happen to have been very fortunate to have had a wonderful caring father. I’m generally very concerned about men’s well-being. This was a story about a very specific experience in my life and though I did include how it affected my view of this issue, it was entirely personal.
Are you aware that you’re coming across as abrasive and you seem to be trying to goad people into a fight. If that is not your intent you need to find a more agreeable way of expressing yourself. If you’re going to pick fights with my friends I’ll boot you the fuck out – not for your opinions, but for your lack of manners.
I’m not sure how anything I said can be construed as particularly aggressive or abrasive, or warranting a response such as yours, which is certainly far harsher and abrasive than anything I ever said.
“Lack of manners”? All I did was note, without any harsh language or personal attacks, the facts that contradict a narrative being pushed. I guess we’ll have to disagree on what constitutes aggressive or anti-social behavior.
I wasn’t trying to detract from your memoir. It was a response to a comment, not your personal story.
That’s great that you personally care about men; however, it does not change that the ideology/movement of feminism, always run by its radicals, has a track record of the opposite. I do have to wonder why you felt the need to stress over and over that you do care about men and their issues, when I barely touched on that in my comment also.
Thankfully I have never had to have this conversation , planning and dumb luck. Class distinction is a subject I also abhor, yet it exists just as racisim.
Thanks for commenting. I appreciate it. I’ve been a little nervous about writing about this.
You are one of the most courageous women I had ever had the pleasure to read.
Wow, what a tosspot.
It sounds like you pulled the short straw with this one, but I still think your decision to involve him in the abortion question was absolutely right. In the end, he wasn’t worth the consideration you gave him, but there are many men that would have been.
Thanks for the comment. I do think I did the right thing and there’s a certain comfort in knowing that no matter how the other person responds. From an ethical point of view, I do think the woman should make an effort to involve the man in the decision.
I think I might have mentioned it somewhere to you before, this is the article about abortion that really moved me. You have such an amazing way of writing down your thoughts and past experiences that I feel as though I’m right there with you.
This piece gave me some much needed insight.
“This conversation resulted in me feeling somewhat skeptical of men’s rights advocates when they complain that it is not fair that they have no say in abortion decisions. It’s not that I feel that they are disingenuous about their own position, but that they don’t actually represent men in general. Most men, I suspect, don’t really want the responsibility that this decision entails. Women have abortions, men don’t. Women have to bear the responsibility and the stigma.”
Not quite. What most MRAs complain about on reproductive rights is that men have no say in opting out of parenthood in the form of child support.
My position, and that of pro-choice MRAs, is that only the woman decides if she wants an abortion, but if she decides to give birth and raise the child, the father should have the option to not pay child support.
Abortion has inherently gendered effects, but those are a side effect of the real debate – that of whether a fetus has personhood rights. The claim that most pro-lifers just hate and want to control women’s bodies is patently false.
Most larger MRA circles recognize the debate as beyond gender issues, and generally stay out of it. What they do point out is that pro-lifers generally are not against a woman giving up a baby for adoption, so there is still a lack of rights on the man’s side. The gender-neutral rule proposed is often that a man should have the right to sign away parental responsibilities in the same time period as the woman has the right to abort.
Simply put, if women have the right to abort or give up a baby for adoption, if they choose to raise the child as a single mother, they should not be able to extort child support from the father who may or may not have wanted parenthood.
Does this make sense?
I entirely agree with you. In fact, I had a private conversation on the subject of men having the option not to pay child support a couple of months ago. It was with a man who said that he felt that he felt uncomfortable bringing up the subject and I mentioned that I would write a post on it, but I’ve been dragging my feet because I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed about other subjects recently. I usually try to get the facts on which I base my opinions straight before I start mouthing off about something.
But as far as the principle of the matter goes, which I think I can comment without checking on details about laws regarding child support or a man’s ability to gain custody when a woman opts for adoption, I definitely agree that the man should have rights comparable to the woman’s. I’m actually in agreement with many pro-choice MRAs on this subject.
Awesome. Glad to hear that.