Activism has no room for contradictions. What you stand in the street waving placards for you becomes a personal and political statement that, if done even remotely well, will be one of the measuring sticks for most of your life.
One of the things that I’ve spent the longest while thrashing out in my head was my views on sexual and reproductive health. While I stand with the majority of activists where ease of condom access and access to abortion, I do so purely from the standpoint of personal empowerment. Not necessarily from the place of allowing persons to freely make risky sexual choices without understanding that they are indeed risky.
Mind you, I was born in 1990. I was but an impressionable child when a bunch of kids on TV were singing “The only safe sex is marital sex”. I still believe that to a very major extent. I believe that sex is safest with two consenting adults in a committed and trusting monogamous relationship, and that abortion is not one of those things women should be able to take upsides with two biscuits. I believe that there are consequences to the ideas that sex should be a completely ‘free and unregulated’ thing, for lack of better words, and that accepting those consequences means reserving abortions for extreme circumstances.
That’s right, folks; the sexual and reproductive health and rights activist said to keep it in your pants. He’s a prude just like the rest of ’em. He should be ashamed of himself and his privileged bigotry…
…But wait a second. Tell me I don’t make sense. All the theories about us being sexual beings and not being made for monogamy aside, there are a great many reasons why we shouldn’t be just having sex with whoever looks appealing enough. A lot of them are STIs, and whatever left are the morals and values that we raise our children on and expect our society to uphold behind our backs but never really talk about. I hardly think I’m being the bad guy by bringing them to the fore. After all, it’s ignoring those ideas that has made STIs like HIV/AIDS so hard to combat. Also (and I say this with no real intent to sound condescending), every single person supporting abortion has been born.
I think activists in this particular line of work need to be careful about the holistic message that they’re sending. The ‘free love’ movement, for instance, wasn’t about sex for sex’s sake. It was about having all sexual and romantic relationships respected with or without marriage. But when we said that consenting adults could exist in whatever sexual relationship they desired, we were telling people that risky casual promiscuity and tricky poly-amorous affairs shouldn’t even be debated. When we said that women should be able to do whatever they want with their bodies, considerations about what women (and men, mind you) probably should not do were seen as oppressive.
From a philosophical perspective, I agree with the idea that people should be able to have whatever sex they want, have whatever relationship they want, and have how many children they want. But it isn’t that black and white. We should let people eat whatever they want as well, but if a good friend or family member was eating too much junk food or might eat something that would get them sick, we have a responsibility to them, and even ourselves, to stop them. And we’re not ‘fat-shaming’ or being oppressive by doing that. We’re looking out for their best interests, and the interests of countless others in the process.
This doesn’t change the good fight that I fight. But it definitely does influence how I fight it…