You may be aware that there is a lot of racism in the world of sterilization – eugenics in the past and modified versions thereof in the present. A lot of people are not aware of this even though eugenics was a really big deal when it was legal; people just conveniently forget to mention it when they write history books because it makes the US look really bad. But there’s also sexism in sterilization, which I didn’t realize so much until I just read an article in an old issue of Time Magazine. It’s about a new method of female sterilization that is easier, less expensive, and less burdensome on the woman than tubal ligation (getting your tubes tied).
So the new method sounds great, and I’m glad we have it. But here’s the problem: the new method is new. I think it’s fair to guess that most women who get sterilized aren’t using this method yet, or weren’t at the time that Time got the following statistic: twice as many married women as married men get sterilized.
The new female method may be comparable to vasectomies in terms of cost, time, danger, and general burden on the patient. But the old method is definitely not. Tubal ligation is more expensive, riskier, less effective, is more invasive, takes more recovery time, and takes more serious anesthesia than vasectomies. There is just no comparison. This About site explains. Although it’s a “women’s health” page, I have never once heard anyone argue that the opposite is true, and it seems to cover both sides fairly.
Twice as many married women than married men.
I can think of several reasons for this, and all of them start with an s and end with an exism. But more specifically:
1) Machismo and male insecurity. The idea that if you physically can’t impregnate a woman, you’re not really a man. Of course some women have the same insecurity (I saw one on that show Clean House the other day) that if they can’t get pregnant they’re not really a woman. (The poor thing said it’s her responsibility as a wife to bear her husband kids, and she couldn’t, so she felt like a failure. He felt like a failure because he was injured and couldn’t support her financially. The result of their adherence to these gender roles was that they were both depressed to the point that they didn’t clean their house at all, ever, and it was on Clean House’s special Messiest House in America. It was so bad that they didn’t even bother to remove the cat poo from their closet after the cat was gone.) But women’s feelings don’t matter as much, right? Plus gender roles seem to work in such a way that being macho is more important for men than being feminine is for women, perhaps not inherently but rather because feminism is working on women more than it’s working on men. This is of course deeply tied into issues of homophobia and transphobia. Not pretty stuff, that machismo.
2) The view that women are responsible for all things child-related. This is biologically ridiculous – it takes two, at some point or another. But gender roles are very science-resistant. (Note that even though women are responsible for getting pregnant as well as not getting pregnant, it’s the men who own the kids in many time periods and cultures. Our naming system reflects this, although our laws have changed.) These gender roles are of course bad for men, too, as any man who has been in a custody battle in the US is likely to tell you. Just don’t let him tell you it’s women’s fault: look who’s behind the bench. Governments which are made up mostly of men make laws that reflect their beliefs about gender, including the belief that women take care of kids. In everyday life, this belief weighs more heavily on women, as, according to my psych teacher, studies show that even in households where both parents work, women spend more time in caretaking activities with kids and men spend more time in play activities with kids. Even though women usually win the custody battles, this pattern continues if the kids get to visit their dads on weekends. You know those kids who resent their moms because those moms are the ones enforcing the rules day in and day out while their dads just show up on weekends to take them out for ice cream?
3) An imbalance of power. If the husband is the one with the paycheck that will pay for the operation, or if he holds the decision-making power simply because the couple is brainwashed with “women must obey their husbands” shit, then all it takes is a selfish man to make the woman get the operation. There is no shortage of selfish people.
4) Men thinking ahead? Maybe some men expect to leave their wives and marry someone younger and more fertile later on, so they don’t want to be the ones giving up their ability to make babies. That’s lovely.
But wait, you’re thinking. Maybe people just know about tubal ligations more than they’re aware of vasectomies. Don’t be so hard on them.
And how do you suppose that got to be the case? I would have to answer.
So now I’m thinking about myself…will I want permanent birth control at some point in my life? I’m generally not into anything too permanent, so I’d probably have a hard time with the idea, but then again, I don’t know how healthy it is to take hormonal birth control for decades. Plus I’d much rather not have to worry about it. If I do want to make it permanent, would I be willing to get this new thing done, or would I be too upset by the way sterilization usually works to let my partner off that easy? Would he be willing to take one for the team?
Funny, I think that phrase says so much, take one for the team. I think women are expected to do that a lot more than men are, unless it’s an actual team of only men. I think that sums up what people told me when I was still Christian, when they were insinuating that wanting full human rights was selfish. Sacrifice yourself for family unit, or for society, that’s one of the key messages behind traditional views of how to be a good woman.