an After abortion

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Tuesday, March 30, 2004

At the end of February, Naomi Wolf wrote Sex and Silence at Yale. She says in it when she was an undergraduate at Yale, professor Harold Bloom put his hand on her thigh.

Wolf was criticized all over the place for bringing this up...see here, here, here and here for representative reactions.

I've been interested in Naomi Wolf for years because of the rather famous article she wrote in The New Republic in 1985, Our Bodies, Our Souls, which is one of the few articles out there by someone who is pro-choice acknowledging that a tragedy occurs in an abortion.

I decided to go out and get her Promiscuities, to see if she had anything to say about abortion in it.

Indeed she does, and I'd like to share it with you here. These passages are from Chapter 15, Babies.

By extension, we understood, we should dispose of our potential maternity the same way we were supposed to "go on" the Pill: efficiently, without revealing any distasteful hint of it to boys. The mere biological fact of our ability to become pregnant was, for women our age, the secret to be discreetly "dealt with" that menstruation had been to our mothers' generation. Though a pregnancy was considered by some girls to be a rite of passage, it was considered by boys, like a stain on your skirt, to be your own antisocial faux pas. Girls made plenty of room for the drama of the unplanned pregnancy and the abortion, but in the boys' eyes you were even more gauche if you made a big thing about "taking care of it".

Among the events described by the women I interviewed [for Promiscuities], it was only the accounts of their teenage abortions that they wanted to confide anonymously, compartmentalized from the rest of their stories. Out of all the difficult sexual events the women I spoke to experienced, it was the abortions alone that seemed, even twenty years later, just too painful to integrate. By and large, they did not regret the choice to have the abortion, but they did bitterly regret the circumstances that had led to the need to make the choice.

The compartmentalizing lingered, corrosively. One woman who spoke to me for this book told me about her abortion at seventeen but asked that I separate it even from her pseudonymous account of her life--a double distancing: "I did get pregnant. I really wanted to have the baby, but I was so in love with my boyfriend that to protect him I had an abortion. It really devastated me. We were so young.

"The abortion was okay. It was just really weird because we were both so fucked up about it. You're not supposed to have sex for two weeks after it--and right after we had to have sex because it was like we were trying to put it back. That's the thing I feel worst about. I wish I'd had that baby. I did it for him, even though he said, 'It's up to you.' Logically, I thought, Okay, this is what you do in this situation. I had no idea what the emotional ramifications would be. It was the strong, smart, emancipated thing to do. We had no idea of the enormity of it. We were just kids."

(Although this chapter is called "Babies", in it there are only babies who as Sir James puts it below, were never born at all.)

The account just quoted is a very classic post-abortion reaction, is it not?

I appreciate Naomi Wolf and admire her speaking out--even about the time Harold Bloom put his hand on her thigh twenty years ago. In all the reaction against her for telling this story so many years after it happened, I hear a more general demand that women shut up already about things that happened long ago.

You know what, though? Let's not.

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