What’s a Woman to Think?


 A Tale of  Ambush by Sexist Feminists

I am tired of hearing that, because I am a woman, I must think a certain way or vote for a particular candidate.  The notion that women should be allowed to think for themselves is certainly foundational to the feminist movement, but you would never know that listening to heads of various women’s organizations, prattling on about how women do not support Romney.

They don’t speak for me, and they certainly do not think for me.

These “women’s leaders” claim that one candidate is anti-woman because he does not want to force all employers to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives.  Does caring about women require the religious freedom of some to be infringed to provide a financial benefit to others? Cheaper gas would free up a lot of money for contraceptives or whatever else a woman might decide she values most.

They claim Obama is a stronger champion of equal pay for equal work, but that has little value when you have no job and the equal pay equals zero.

They even took issue with Romney’s debate language of “binders full of women” claiming it was offensive. Really? Funny, yes, but not offensive. Women who are that sensitive need a little more time on the elementary school playground!

I’ve always thought that women, just like men, were entitled to hold a variety of political opinions as to what is best for America. I’ve thought that many factors influence those opinions, and that a woman’s political journey is not set the moment the doctor says “It’s a girl!”   I have found, in the most unlikely of places, that some do not agree.

Growing up Southern

I grew up in one of the most conservative, traditional parts of the country, but I never had anyone tell me that I, because I was a woman, should think a certain way about anything.  It was not until I got to Harvard Law School in 1985 that I learned that, because of my gender, there were certain expectations for what I was to think.

As a young person, I received a level of indoctrination into the belief systems of those who cared for me. I was taught that there were choices to be made between good and evil, truth and falsehood, the sensible and the impractical, and that I was to choose the good, the true, and the sensible.  But there was not any special pressure on me to think a certain way about anything because I was a woman.

I grew up in a place where people knew each other intimately and families had ties for generations. I was Dan and Kate’s daughter, Daniel’s sister, Ollie B’s granddaughter, a Methodist, a student, a volunteer at Nellie Burge Community Center, and finally, I was going off to Harvard to become “a lady lawyer.” I was known as an individual: talkative, scatter-brained, messy, compassionate and opinionated. A lot was known about me – but there was room for surprises too. No one ever insulted me by assuming that, just because I was a woman, I would necessarily hold certain political positions.

I did not personally experience anything I would call sexism. It never occurred to me to consider whether my choices in life as to career would be limited because I was a woman. In my world, my gender just was not an issue.  Men opened doors for me.  I thanked them. I did not regard it as condescending or degrading.  It was just nice.

All my family lived in Alabama, and my female relatives provided a rich variety of role models. One great-aunt had been a federal bankruptcy judge, another a missionary to Korea, another a concert pianist, and another the post-mistress of her town.  My paternal grandmother was a single mom and an entrepreneur starting restaurants and a dry cleaning business. My maternal grandmother worked alongside her husband in the family pharmacy business.  My mother quit her job when I was born to care for me –  and whomever else in her world needed her care. My dad encouraged me to go to law school and flew to Texas for my swearing-in. But he was also supportive when I left the practice of law to care for my children.

Coming of Age

While at Harvard I, like all women students, was invited to join the Women’s Law Association. I wondered what the benefit was of  a group where the only thing we built a sense of community around was merely being women, like half  the population. But, I went a few times to see what it was all about.  Maybe I just hit it at the wrong times but it seemed to me to be a place for women to gather and rile each other up to be upset about things. Granted, many of them had not had the same positive life experiences that I had had.  In many, mistreatment had engendered a sense of powerlessness they sought to address. But they took it too far.

One memorable meeting involved a strident discussion of the lack of women receiving tenured faculty appointments at the Law School. I hesitantly pointed out that Mary Ann Glendon had just been granted tenure. Professor Glendon was a favorite of mine.  Conservative and pro-life, a devout Catholic, a feminine and gracious woman, and a most eminent scholar, she brought true and needed diversity to the Harvard faculty – and not just because she was a woman.  The response from the woman leading the discussion was harsh and immediate:  “She’s not a woman; she is a man in a woman’s body!” And her withering look said “You must be too.”  Yikes.

Ironically, this was my first exposure to sexism, and it came from those claiming most ardently to be fighting it.

It made me realize how wrong it is to assume, just because of one immutable characteristic, that a person should think or behave a certain way.

When it is a label I choose that reflects a belief system I adhere to, you can claim to be my leader or to expect that I will think and act a certain way.

You can tell me I am not a real Christian if I don’t believe the Bible.

You can tell me I am not a real Republican if I disagree with most of the party platform.

You can tell me I am not a real Auburn fan if I boo the team.

But to tell me I am a not a real woman because I am not a liberal, pro-choice feminist is itself an invidious form of sexism.  And it is not just a matter of hurt feelings.  That sexism once cost me a job I thought I wanted.

“I know your kind!”

In law school I especially enjoyed studying constitutional law. Only one firm in Austin, Texas, where I planned to live, had much of a practice in that area.  I was very interested in the firm, and they were interested in me. I interviewed with them one morning and was invited to attend an elegant luncheon with 7 of the firms’ lawyers at a private dining club in town. Everything was going very well.

I had attended a number of these interview lunches in several states.  I always enjoyed them.  This gathering started with the typical “getting to know you” light-hearted conversation, this time about family, food, and travel. One of the lawyers was a writer, and he shared some about how he balanced that with the practice of law. It was a diverse and interesting group of people.  Lawyers, especially litigators, are often brilliant conversationalists.

The talk eventually turned to what I was doing during the current January term. I explained that my fiancé lived in Austin, and I had sought out a January internship with a local public interest lobbying group.  I was circumspect in my description of my work, not trying to hide anything but expecting that the political perspective of the group, the Texas Grassroots Coalition, might not have great support among all those present.

It was a small coalition, perhaps a bit more conservative in its ideology than I was, but not radical or notorious. I explained, in a politically neutral way, what a great experience I was having, reviewing all the proposed Texas state legislation to see if there was anything of interest to the supporters of the coalition, doing informative radio spots on political issues, and meeting with legislators to express the opinions of those of their constituents that our coalition represented.

A couple of the lawyers present, both women litigators, pressed on.  I answered their questions for several minutes.  Yes, legislation dealing with abortion was of special interest to our members. No, it was not an abortion rights group. The orientation of the coalition was decidedly in favor of laws that would tend to reduce the number of abortions performed.  I spoke carefully, answering more questions, not even using the common appellations “pro-life” or “pro-choice” but more neutral and precise language. I did not talk about killing babies but instead of terminating pregnancies.

I was firm in my convictions but as civilized, polite, and non-inflammatory as I could possibly be. I really wanted to be offered a job at this firm. The conversation was tense, but as a law student I was accustomed to tense.

Then things deteriorated further.  As dessert was served a rage began to simmer in the two inquisitors.

“But you are a woman at Harvard Law School.  How can you think like that?” the first one said.

“Well it is a minority position I can assure you, but there are a few of us who think like I do at Harvard, and a lot more in Texas,” I answered laughing a bit. The others at the table laughed along with me, but a bit nervously.

“You want to impose your view of morality on everyone else!” said the second one. Another of the lawyers made some soft comment to her, his colleague, along the lines of “OK, that’s probably enough.” Woman One made a quick side comment about me to Woman Two, rolling her eyes. I did not hear it all but it started “I bet she . . .” I tried to ignore it.

“Fair enough,” I answered, “It is the political process at work, and I guess it does quite often involve one group trying to advance their agenda of what they think is right,” I smiled, trying to “be sweet” as I had been told to be from my earliest days.

At that, the second woman lurched forward in her chair, bumping the table and sloshing iced tea out of the glasses. She shook her finger at me – I kid you not – and said in a truly menacing voice “I know your kind. You are a disgrace.”

Her momma must not have told her to be sweet.

I decided that working at that firm was not so appealing after all.  I dispensed with trying to carry on a civil conversation.

“You may think you know ‘my kind’ but you hardly know me at all, and I’d like to keep it that way.” I replied with as much dignity and control as I could muster, speaking slowly and softly.

I turned to the gentleman on my right, the coordinator of the gathering, who was sitting there looking like he just witnessed a train wreck.  I thanked him for a “lovely lunch” and said my good-byes to the rest of the table.  He said, “We will be in touch.”  I smiled again but did not respond with the usual “I look forward to hearing from you.” I walked away, calmly, to the car.  By the time I arrived my hands were shaking so that I could barely put the key in the lock. I had even forgotten to eat my dessert, and if you know me, that is significant!

In a Box

What had just happened?  Why the outrage?  Maybe they were just angry women.  (Based on recent videos I have seen of one of them, she seems even angrier now.)  Maybe they were just making a scene to run me off. If so, it worked! Surely these women had civil relationships with other pro-life friends and colleagues. But my best guess is that before meeting me they must have expected that a woman from Harvard Law School would share their political views.  Most of the time they would have been right.  But when they found out that they were wrong about me, they were outraged.  Reality interfered with their view of the world.

Some people have a pattern of leaving a football game that appears to be decided, even when a few minutes remain on the clock.  By doing so, they ensure that they will always miss the most thrilling and exciting finishes.  Some people have a habit of putting others in a box, thinking that because of a few features, or even a single feature, that they know all there is to know about that person.  I have done it myself. But in so doing, we are sure to miss out on knowing the most interesting and unique people in our lives.

Great people are often those that are enigmas, whose lives burst stereotypes: The business tycoon that actually does have a heart for the poor and oppressed; the pro-choice feminist that provides foster care for handicapped babies; the All-American football center with a 4.0 GPA who plays the violin; the rock star in a long and happy marriage; the 19-year-old homecoming queen who eschews the fun of college sorority life to move to Uganda, found a ministry, and adopt 13 daughters, giving them a sisterhood of another sort altogether; and the African-American mom who has the courage to leave her comfort zone and send her son to an elite, predominately white school so that he can have the best education possible.

Many of us, in the course of this presidential campaign, have allowed others to put the candidates in boxes for us and not opened the boxes to really see the men themselves.  Obama has a strange name.  I bet he is a Muslim.  Into the box he goes.  Romney is rich and successful. Therefore, he wants to hurt the little guy.  Into the box he goes.

In everything from electing a president to making a new friend, we miss out when we fail to see people as creatures fearfully and wonderfully made, reflecting the image of God.  When we look only at one immutable characteristic, such as gender, race, or national origin, or even something like wealth, and assume that it alone defines a person, we are seeing people not as precious and unique individuals but just as caricatures…like the cartoonish line drawings that emphasize one feature disproportionately.

We aren’t being sweet.

We aren’t being respectful.

It may be easier than thinking, but it is wrong.

To read this and other essays please visit my blog, In-House Counsel,https://ihcounsel.wordpress.com.  If you like what you read, you may subscribe to the blog  and receive a new essay every 1-2 weeks delivered through email by clicking on the “Follow Blog via Email” button at the top right corner of the home page.  


61 thoughts on “What’s a Woman to Think?

  1. Grumpa Joe

    Great essay. I love your passion, and eloquence. You are a true feminist who understands women as women, and not agenda biased creatures dedicated to changing their compatriots to become militants.
    I hope you don’t mind my re-blogging your post.

  2. kaylagulick

    Amen!! This is a fantastic post. Thank you for taking the time to share this truth. I hope these words are read by many, as they carry much wisdom.

    1. In-House Counsel Post author

      Thank you! It sure felt good to write these words. This was one of those posts I wrote in my head for days every time I heard new commentary about what “women voters” think!

  3. AdamR

    This is a beautiful post – really well thought out and put very simply. I can absolutely appreciate your central message – one of never classifying based on a single or few features (If x, then y).

    I whole-heartedly agree that we can’t say ‘if you don’t believe in these specific beliefs (and why wouldn’t you – you’re [insert feature here]), then you are this other type of person’. Which is why I’m, confessedly, a little confused by your stance.

    I am hazarding a guess (and it might be entirely wrong – I’m just seeing what I can extrapolate from your presentation) that you are not ‘progressive’ in your views. I know it’s a hackneyed term but I am still trying to be as polite as possible. However, in this case, it seems to me the alternative is a viewpoint that sees only itself as an option, whereas the former is more about the option of choice – not just in one issue but in all. By making every option for any choice available, you allow for people to not be forced into making a particular situation that goes against their beliefs. By having companies make contraceptives available to their employees, they are giving those employees the option of using them. By ensuring that abortions are legal, the government is giving women the choice – ability to exercise their own individual morality.

    I feel that your experience with these women – especially at the Law Firm in Texas – are outstanding cases. I’m terribly sorry that you had to deal with such rude people, but I don’t believe they’re representative of the main ideology of feminism, which, from my experience is ‘prevent discrimination against women based on their gender. Ensure equality in a world that has been raised (for the most part) in a male-centric society.’ And, when it comes to equality in issues that don’t effect men, a la abortion, that is translated into ensuring the right to choice – to exert one’s own personal preference.

    This, by no means, is an attempt to convince you against your opinions or sway you in one way or the other – just some thoughts I had while reading this! Like I said, it’s a fantastically written and thought-provoking essay. Thanks for sharing!

    1. In-House Counsel Post author

      Thanks, AdamR. I so appreciate your thoughtful response. I especially appreciate the tone of respect and sincere curiosity. I am sure I can learn from you in this exchange. First, let me cover your “easy” questions and comments.

      You are right that I would not be considered “progressive.” While labels can be misleading, I certainly would label myself conservative, Christian, and pro-life.

      You are exactly right that the examples I gave of the women in the Women’s Law Association and at the law firm were certainly among the most extreme examples i encountered and involved, as you say, simply “rude people.” When I went to law school I expected that my views would be outside the political mainstream there. I expected a predominately liberal student body. But I assumed that it would be an invigorating environment in that their embracing of tolerance and diversity should surely allow me to have a place at the table. Many people were kind and accepting. But very many were not. Mainstream conservative students were often hissed in class, not for outlandishly intolerant statements, but for nothing more radical than making arguments in favor of current laws or supreme court decisions that the prevailing liberal orthodoxy found to be objectionable. Those of a more liberal perspective ruled the roost and the rest of us were kept in our place.

      In my life at Harvard and beyond, I have certainly interacted with a number of feminists who have not been rude and dismissive. I try to put myself in their shoes, and understand that many of them are fighting to right wrongs that I simply haven’t experienced. Just because I haven’t experienced sexism certainly doesn’t mean that I don’t believe it exists. This may get me in trouble with some of my more conservative friends, but a lot of the efforts of the feminist movement have been of great value.

      Now for the more complex issue of the value of choice. I too value a society that provides great freedom and autonomy for its citizens. (I have some libertarian leanings, in fact, but don’t claim that label.) I certainly don’t believe that every choice made is equally valid, but I believe human nature and the lessons of history teach us that powerful authoritarian institutions such as governments tend toward inefficiency at best and corruption at worst. Thus, I agree with you that having a government that maximizes choice and freedom is a good thing. I would argue that requiring employers to provide contraception actually REDUCES choice rather than expands choice. As to abortion, I agree that limiting abortion does reduce choice of women. But I think it is justified for the state to limit this choice to protect life.

      Let’s consider the two examples of contraception and abortion. I doubt I am going to change your mind on anything, and I am not trying to do so. But you seemed to ask genuine questions and I will try to share with you how my mind works on this.

      Abortion is actually the simpler issue to discuss. To me, it all depends on what we think the embryo is. If the embryo is merely a bunch of the woman’s cells, more akin to a mole, (embryo=mole) then I would be strongly opposed to the state having any say whatsover in whether she keeps the mole or removes the mole. It would be simply intolerable for the state to require her to allow the mole to grow huge, making her fat and uncomfortable, and then require her to care for the mole for 18 years. The state should have no say in that decision whatsoever. The state should not require her to keep the mole or require her to remove the mole. It is her body, her choice. I can completely buy the pro-choice arguments if we make this assumption about the embryo. Embryo=mole and I am “pro-choice.”

      But, if the embryo is not a mole but is another distinct and valuable human person (embryo=person) (even one dependent upon another for food and shelter) then I cannot accept the pro-choice position at all. Does that make sense? IF…and I know that this is a BIG IF…if the embryo is like a 3 month old person,for example, you would not think the state should allow the mother to terminate it, right? (While there are a few activists who are “pro-choice” when it comes to actual active infanticide, most consider that act abhorrent.) Embryo=person and I am “anti-choice.” I not only would not abort my little person I would not want anyone else to be allowed to make that choice to abort their little person either. My rationale for state limitation of a woman’s choice to abort is EXACTLY the same rationale I would apply to one wanting to eliminate their two year old or their neighbor. It is all about one person’s rights ending where another person begins. The little person has a right to life.

      So, you are a smart guy and probably thinking…this all begs the question. The real hard issue is that we cannot agree on whether the embryo is a mole or a person. And since we cannot agree we should let each person choose for themselves, and not have the state limit that choice by either forcing or denying an abortion. That is a compelling argument. (Honestly as an aside here, I cannot imagine how someone really would think, if they study the science, that an embryo is like a mole. I think people that say that really just don’t want to know because they don’t want to be bothered.) But for the sake of argument, I will say we just can’t get a “right” answer on whether it is a mole or a person. We just don’t know. Maybe then we should let each state make a political decision? That was the situation in America until 1973- each state decided for itself. And people tried to convince each other of the validity of their perspective. But in 1973 the decision was taken out of the hands of each state and the supreme court rendered a decision solely based on the rights of the pregnant woman. No weight AT ALL was given to any interests of the embryo. If you look at it like that, the decision makes sense.

      But, I don’t see it like that. Having had my four sons grow 9 months within me and 16-21 years outside of me, I just see them as being unique individual persons from conception to now. I understand that our governmental system allows women to make this choice, and I am not rioting or violently protesting. But I do not agree with this aspect of our law, and I and many others will do what we can to convince people that the embryo is a human person, though the weakest and most helpless among us, and thus entitled to our protection.

      In the best course I ever took, Professor Michael Sandel compared the abortion debate with the slavery issue. He is one of the most popular teachers at Harvard and a real intellectual. Though it is hard for the pro-choice people to accept, the arguments that they advance in favor of a woman’s right to an abortion are the same voiced by those favoring the plantation owner’s right to own slaves. If the embryo is just a mole, and the slave is just property, then of course, the state should not interfere. But if the embryo is a person and the slave is a person then of course the state MUST intervene to protect the weak from the strong- no matter how sincerely the slave owner or pregnant woman thinks it is a private matter.

      Hence it is my hope that one day people will abhor abortion just as we now abhor slavery. Until then I will continue to do what I can to encourage peoples minds to change and our laws to change. There are 1.2 million abortions performed every year in America. IN NYC there are 750 abortions for every 1000 live births. The loss of life is staggering.

      I haven’t gotten to the contraception issue but think this “comment” is quite long enough for now. I’ll cover the other later! Thanks for inspiring me. I may just turn this in to another blog post some day soon.

      I’d love to hear your thoughts back.


    2. In-House Counsel Post author

      Hello again,

      I just reread your comment and again want to say how much I appreciate your attitude. You are absolutely right that the central message of my post was to speak against the tendency some have to classify people because of a characteristic- I am basically speaking out against the simplest forms of sexism, racism, age discrimination, discrimination based on national origin.

      People make assumptions and write people off without really dealing with them and their ideas. You could have done that with me but you did not. You engaged.

      A few more comments on the contraception part. You say “By having companies make contraceptives available to their employees, they are giving those employees the option of using them.” Yes, that is true. To an extent on one level choice is expanded. But expanding that choice comes at the direct cost of restricting the choice of the employer. The employer is not able to chose how to allocate resources in managing the company. Perhaps in his judgment his employees would be better served by having a climbing wall. And in some ways it is even restricting the choices of the employees…perhaps they would prefer to have an extra $10 a month instead of contraception coverage. Or maybe they would rather have contact lenses or gym memberships covered under there insurance. The law injects the state into a private market transaction between employer and employee because the state thinks it knows better than either of them what they need. That is bad enough even without the religious aspect, but to insist that even religious entities that have moral objections to contraception provide this is really egregious and likely to be found to be unconstitutional. Think about it. What if you had a publishing business and the state came in and said, AdamR, you must provide all your employees with a subscription to Wall Street Journal. Their choices are expanded because they can read it or throw it away. If you morally object to the Journal or think your people would prefer the New York Time, too bad. A bit silly of an analogy, but it is a silly law.

      1. AdamR

        Hello, hello! So sorry for the delay in my response – there are limited times during the day when I can take a break to read your posts, which, as the first one, were thoughtful and beautifully-crafted.

        With regards to abortion, you are right to think you can’t dissuade me of my opinion, nor would I think I could sway you towards my view with regards to at what point something is alive. Because of that difference, though, I feel your professor’s comparison between pro-Slavery and pro-Choice might not stand. I’m not sure if you’d want me to address at what point I consider an embryo to be living, but I’d be happy to do so (and explain my logic) whenever you’d like. Although I definitely don’t see it as some sort of mole. That, as you pointed out, would be a preposterous viewpoint (although did lead to a fun mental image – “Is it a boy or a girl” “it’s a mole”).

        In terms of contraception, I agree that strictly forcing companies to provide contraceptives does limit choice on the scale of the companies. But, to use your analogy, If the government had already been mandating that I subscribe to Highlights, The New York Times, and Bird-Hunting Quarterly, I don’t think I’d see much of a drain on my autonomy if they asked me to subscribe to Wall Street Journal. It expands their choices, while not infringing upon any freedoms that had not already been infringed upon, if that makes sense. And, granted, comparing contraceptives to magazines is not the best parallel for me to expand, I hope it holds enough for my reasoning to make sense? I hope it does.

        Anyway, thank you so much for your wonderful responses and I’m glad I could have helped inspire such thoughtful essays.


      2. In-House Counsel Post author

        I think we are both agreeing that the main issue is really whether it is a “person” and thus entitled to the protection of our laws. You say it is not and I say it is. While I would be happy to read what evidence you would proffer (good lawyer language for you there!) I did a good bit of research on this myself in the past and would be surprised if I learned something new. But it might be interesting for those following our discussion. But such information and discussions can be found elsewhere, but perhaps not as polite and respectful as ours!

        I don’t think I explained the slavery analogy very well earlier. Perhaps I can find a Sandel paper on it and post it. Earlier I wrote: “If the embryo is just a mole, and the slave is just property, then of course, the state should not interfere. But if the embryo is a person and the slave is a person then of course the state MUST intervene to protect the weak from the strong- no matter how sincerely the slave owner or pregnant woman thinks it is a private matter.” For clarification, I would expect that you would say that the the embryo, though perhaps not as worthless as a mole, is not an entity deserving the interfering protection of the state, but that the slave is.

        Here is a question for you, if you saw the embryo as person, like you see the slave, would you think that they both deserve the protection of the state? Or would the woman’s right to control her own body trump any right on the a part of the fetus? Under current law, the woman’s rights trump, until the fetus makes its way out of the birth canal.

        Some people, regarding the slavery issue, acknowledged that even though the slave was a person, the property rights of the owner had precedence. That’s what the slave states’ laws said, and we basically fought a war to change it. Many people, looking at the abortion issue say that even if the fetus is a person (or even may be a person), it doesn’t matter because the privacy rights insured under the penumbra of the 13th amendment to the Constitution (which give us the “right to privacy”) of the mother trump any rights of the fetus. Basically, Sandel just pointed out that those who say any interest of the fetus it is trumped by privacy rights are making the same sort of argument that slave owners made for the precedence of property rights over human rights of the slave.

        (Just as an aside, we had some absurd hypotheticals used for discussion purposes. One scholar wrote a paper we all read about the idea of a famous violinist that could only live if attached to another person. Would that other person have any sort of moral or legal obligation to allow the violinist to live or could he cut her off to die at will?)

        Good point on the contraception issue…given all the other government regulations and requirements, what is one more. I guess, to continue the admittedly silly magazine analogy, it matters because now they are being required to offer something more akin to Hustler magazine, something extremely objectionable, that violates long-standing and well-known and previously respected religious convictions. Make sense? The employees get paychecks. They can buy their own contraception just like they buy their own coffee and toothpaste and Tylenol. Or go work for an employer who provides it.

        Thanks for reading, commenting, and helping me show people that respectful dialogue can take place among those those who disagree. If you get a chance, and don’t mind, let me know a bit about you. Have you always been pro-choice or did something cause you to become pro-choice? Do you have many pro-life friends that you discuss the issue with or do most of your friends feel like you? Have your ever felt stuck in a box, the victim of stereotypes that don’t apply to you?

      3. In-House Counsel Post author

        Adam, sorry that response was so long. I did not expect it to be…I am much too verbose…I edit and shorten posts repeatedly but guess I am not taking the time to be short in my comments…

      4. AdamR

        For some odd reason, it’s not letting me apply directly to your most recent comments. Or maybe it is and I’m simply not used to the witchcraft that is wordpress. Also, never worry about lengthy responses – I love reading them, so the more you write, the more I get to enjoy.

        With regards to at what point would consider the embryo alive (and at that point, I would say that it has the same number of rights as any other human being – or for the sake of this conversation, American citizen) should. For example, the people who abhor infanticide – I’m one of them.

        In my mind, I’m constantly going back and forth between two definitions of life; I’m sure I’ll settle on one in the future, but for now, I constantly debate myself on this issue. Some days, I feel more beholden to the concept of ‘we should define life the way we define death’. For that, I take the Harvard Medical Dictionary’s definition of death, which is to say ‘no noticeable brain activity for a period of 48 hours’. Which means that the embryo is alive after 6 weeks.

        I’ve begun leaning further away from that definition more and more towards Viability. If it can live on its own, it’s alive. Much like viruses (although please don’t think I’m equating the two!), which are technically not alive, an embryo is incapable of sustaining life on its own, until it’s hit a point of viability. At that point, it’s the kangaroo baby climbing into its mother’s pouch to continue its development and growth. (I feel like I’m quite a strange mood to be using these analogies. It’s probably the acting class I just got out of.) Regardless, I do tend to find myself drawn to the idea that ‘if it can be born at stage x, then it is technically alive’. Arguments can certainly be made against both of my viewpoints (and I’m sure many have), but I have yet to find one that distances me from them. Although your famous violinist example is intriguing. If that were the case, I have to admit – I’d be at a loss for what to do, considering in one case the violinist is, in my book, alive, whereas in the other, it is a parasite, technically speaking. So…I’m torn.

        Back to contraception, I think it’s a case of the alternative uses of, say, birth control. I know several people who have used it to stave off unfortunately strong periods, or, more notably, rebalance their hormones. The details of the latter cases evade me, but they helped my friends on a psychological level, as well as on a physical level. To be honest, I’m a bit shaky on the science behind it, but it worked.

        I was raised in a pro-choice house that existed in a very large sea of pro-life people. Billboards abounded advocating embryonic right to life. I was raised by a Doctor and a rather liberal Mother, both of whom believed life began at birth, and that a woman had the right to choose. I had a great number of arguments with friends all through high school based on the issue, and lost several friends as a result of my liberal leanings. I actually was raised Jewish (I have since denounced the religious ties, although I hold strong to the cultural aspect of Judaism). That alone put me in a hefty stereotype. For a while, I was the only Jewish kid in my school, until 6th grade, where we had three, if you put two of the half-Jews together. As a result, there was a hefty stereotype that I was expected to fit in, and reprimanded when I didn’t say words like ‘kvetch’ and wasn’t obsessively neurotic. (Now, I absolutely do and am those things, but by my own choosing.) There was a huge expectation for me to be someone I wasn’t, and a wealth of anger when I didn’t ‘live up to the hype.’

        I hope that says a bit about me? And thank you, again, for your response. I’m thoroughly enjoying this conversation, which certainly can’t be said for all of my interactions across the internet! Look forward to your response!

      5. In-House Counsel Post author

        Hi Adam,
        What an interesting life you have had. I expect the experience of being the only Jew in your school, then one of so few, was a very formative experience in your life. Kids can be so cruel -probably spouting attitudes they heard at home that parents manage to cover up in polite company. Given your sense of humor about it it seems you emerged relatively unscathed! There were very few Jewish students at our school or in our neighborhood when I was growing up. For the most part, the kids’ Jewishness was more of a curiosity, in the eyes of other students, than anything. I don’t think we were knowledgable enough about contemporary Jewish culture to impose any expectations. The worst intolerance I witnessed was directed toward the little Jewish girl on our street. We were all riding bikes (I was around 8) and having a lovely time and several of the “Christian” kids shared their insights that “the Jews killed Jesus so the Jews were bad.” I did not have much to say on the theological point but told them they were not being fair, that Linda did not kill Jesus, and they should not make her cry. I talked later with my wise mother and she told me that actually Jesus was Jewish, that the non-Jewish Roman state sentenced him to death, and that he died willingly as a sacrifice for all the bad things we all did. I cannot recall, but knowing me and my know-it-all tendencies I probably let the other kids have it the next day.

        Regarding birth control pills dispensed for other reasons, which I also am familiar with, I would expect regular insurance would cover that. Not sure though.

        Back to the “when does life begin” discussion…conception, brain waves, first heartbeat, ability to react to pain, viability, birth are all points mentioned as significant to the determination of whether the state has any basis for acting to protect the embryo/fetus that would justify interfering with the rights of the woman. Current law affords no real protection to the little being until it is born. Some such as ethicist Peter Singer would say that even birth is not a significant transition point. Science tells us a lot of information, and in spite of all the talk it seems to me that most people, unlike you, have no real understanding of the human pre-natal development. But, even so, the decision is really a legal one. Given the significance you place on viability, What do you think about the fact that there are no real restrictions even on post-viability abortions? The same day Roe v. Wade was handed down, the court also handed down Doe v Bolton. In it they ruled that the “health of the mother” exemption for late term abortions includes mental health concerns such as stress of having a child. In practice, abortion is legal until the child is out of the birth canal. And, if the baby survives the abortion, which happens, on average at least once a day somewhere, laws are very unclear that doctors have any affirmative duty to try to save their lives. In fact, Obama voted against such legislation in Illinois.

        I would say that the only fundamental change happens at conception and then it is just a matter of growing up. I expect that if each state were deciding this politically, people would tend to look more at brain waves or heart beat or perhaps even viability. But, as technology improves and viability keeps getting pushed back how would we handle that? And while viability is a significant point and might just one day justify some restrictions on access, even that is of questionable real significance. How viable would either of us be out in the middle of the desert? But, I guess the issue is really dependance on another human being. To me viability seems to be a practical difference, but not a moral difference.

        We aren’t going to solve anything right now but I just cannot believe that in the future people will not look back on our generation and wonder how we could have not seen the value in the lives we allowed to be destroyed.

        One more question, how did your parents talk to you about abortion as a child, or did they?

        Thanks again for the nice, civil interchange. It can be done, even among people who come to different conclusions.


  4. Laurie

    While the women of America that currently have the “platform” to speak, have never spoken for me- you now have.


    Thank you so much Molly, for using what is clearly your gift, to give us a voice.
    I, like many others am re-posting this.

    I attended a conservative women’s meeting last week. One of the hearfelt prayers was that God would raise up a woman- or group of women that would indeed- speak for the rest of us.

    Forgive me while I return to my southern roots as well, and (hopefully) encourage you with my parting comment, which is, “Preach, on sister!”

    1. In-House Counsel Post author

      Thanks Laurie! I AM encouraged! The people who would speak for us are usually too busy just going about the business of life to be any sort of spokespeople! But the amazing thing about this blog world is that I can type a few words, people re-blog, and lots of people read. Or at least lots more than when my musings only made it to my “Essays” file on my computer.

  5. Kate Lindsey

    Thank you, Molly, for speaking so eloquently for me and for so many other women. I have always admired your passion for truth and your courage to express that truth yet always “be sweet.” Keep on keeping on! K

  6. Manoah's Wife

    Amen! Whether we are told we must think/believe a certain way due to gender or race, it is an insult to our intellect. It tells us more about them than they realize. Brought up in Wisconsin, I too “was taught that there were choices to be made between good and evil, truth and falsehood, the sensible and the impractical, and that I was to choose the good, the true, and the sensible.”

    Great post.

    1. In-House Counsel Post author

      Very good point! It does say more about them than us. It was actually a great experience for me because it made me realize what it felt like to be treated like that, an to strive to be aware of when I am treating other people like that.

  7. Hollie

    Hear, hear.
    All of what you said rings true on the subject of sexism. Much of what you said might also be said of racism. Making that suggestion is a little like playing “ring and run” since I only have a minute to post. Nevertheless, it is often they who claim to be stamping out racism who fan those inflammatory flames with the most rigor. And it is African-Americans who, like woman, are allowed only a very narrow view of acceptable political opinions. Otherwise, like the “woman in a man’s body,” they are “white men in black men’s skin.” To quote your article, it may be easier than thinking, but it is wrong.

    1. In-House Counsel Post author

      Great comment. I completely agree and think that African-Americans are probably put in an even smaller ideological box than are women. I would especially love to hear from African-American readers on this. I had a few paragraphs raising the issue that I ended up cutting and pasting for another post another day. Not being African-American, I can only imagine how it must feel. But, it is interesting to consider how I have been guilty myself of assuming people will have a certain perspective because of race or another single factor.

  8. Seawell Brandau

    Thank you, Molly,
    You have said many things that need to be said; you have spoken out of your life experiences, your experiences, not others. You have the ability to see the best in people and the not-so-best in people. That is the way we all learn.

    1. In-House Counsel Post author

      Thanks, Seawell. I am glad that come across. I am telling the stories that my life has given me to tell…And I am sure that others might have vastly different perspectives and opinions- but when we listen to each others’ stories then we understand each other better and understand why we may disagree about things that seem obvious to us from our viewpoint. The two commenters below shared bits of their stories. I’d love to hear more from others.

  9. middleagedhousewife

    Your post eloquently describes the feelings of many women in this country who feel they have been disenfranchised by the feminist movement’s current political structure. By making women’s “reproductive rights” the central women’s issue, liberal feminism has actually taken a step backward and has reenforced the stereotype of women as “sex objects”.

    1. In-House Counsel Post author

      I have thought much about your post. I really think you are on to something big. It is almost like there is the mindset among the Democrats that the most important thing to women is being sure that they have lots of access to contraception and abortion, by golly, so that they can be out there having lots of sex. Its does sexualize women. I can certainly understand that access is important but really, aren’t women more concerned with a good job, good education and a roof over their heads? I know…some will say that with an unplanned pregnancy all those are affected. Tis true- but lots of other factors threaten economic security as well, probably more than unplanned pregnancy. And it is not as if women are not capable of budgeting- or having their partners budget- for contraception. Just this morning I saw a new Obama add that basically makes your point perfectly. Here is the link. http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2012/10/26/girls-creator-lena-dunham-compares-voting-to-barack-obama-to-losing-virginity/
      In the add a young woman sits discussing how wonderful her “first time” was with a guy who supported her reproductive rights…it clearly seems to be talking about sex…right there is front of God and everybody, perhaps on prime time. Certainly intended to be titillating. Turns out she is talking about her first time…voting…for Obama. Unbelievable. Have you blogged about this? If not, you should! Thanks for the most insightful comment.

  10. catfishmom

    Molly…this was, as usual, a very thoughtful and insightful post. As a person who came into the world as the result of an unplanned pregnancy I have definite thoughts on abortion. My birthmother could have easily made another “choice”. My daughter’s birthmother could have done the same. Just because children are not planned does not mean that they are accidents. I look at my kids every day and know that they would not have their lives if I had not been given mine.

    I am not someone who would be out there picketing an abortion clinic, and I feel STRONG compassion for women who become pregnant unintentionally. There is no woman I have ever met who is happy and unscathed having had a abortion (maybe there are some, but I have not met them). My very personal opinion is that ultimately women are victimized by abortion and suffer wounds that last a life time. Another life is lost and many times the unseen victim, the father, who has no “choice” is overlooked. Fathers don’t get to make the choice.

    To read more about some of these stories your readers can go to silentnomoreawareness.org.

    1. In-House Counsel Post author

      Julie, Thanks so much for sharing. You have a very powerful story. I appreciate your emphasis on the compassion for the pregnant women. So often people make lots of mistakes but manage to escape consequences of those mistakes. Here, one mistake that results in pregnancy will have huge consequences in a woman’s life- either route she chooses. It is so important that people come alongside her with compassion. I have been researching a bit for another blog on the absolute myth, widely believed, that those in the pro-life movement “don’t care about the baby after she is born.” While it is true that you have the typical limits on government activism, the charitable work done by the pro-life movement to care for mothers and unplanned children is unbelievable, both during and after their pregnancies. I wonder how much “Planned Parenthood” offers to do for the mothers that chose not to abort. Nothing, I am sure. But crisis pregnancy centers all over the country offer housing, clothing, parenting classes, job training,mental health counseling. I would seriously love to hear about such things being offered by pro-choice activists. I have searched a bit and not found anything…but perhaps I will eventually.

  11. Melanie K

    Thank you so much for writing this post. I am definitely reposting. I appreciate your eloquent and yet simple rebuttal to the box that many would like to put all women in. I have had several more experiences like the one you describe in your job interview. Choosing to be “conservative” is not popular among female surgeons, either.

    1. In-House Counsel Post author

      How interesting. I’d love to hear more about that. I tend to think of surgeons as being more apolitical scientists…but perhaps that is just a stereotype! Thanks for reposting.

  12. Monica Beach

    WOW… what a powerful essay you have written. It says the things that I’ve felt but do not have the words to express so beautifully. Thank you and yes, I will re-post.

  13. Angela

    Dear Molly,
    Oh what a wonderful read I just enjoyed. Your post and all the comments! Refreshing and encouraging, inspiring too. When a person writes or shares their passion, you can definitly tell. I whole heartedly agree with you. On the abortion issue, being a Christian I was pro-life. It was not until our church had someone come speak to our congregation about stem-cell research years ago that I knew for sure why I was pro-life. Now I can say with certainty why. Once the egg is fertilized it has 36 chromosomes and is therefore the beginning of a new life, and deserves the chance to live, the right of proection, the right to life (I hope my memory serves correct, if not I hope hope you get what I mean). Your essay was moving and made me think. I have never lived more that 10 miles from where I grew up. Living in the mid-west in a rural community I was sheltered. I take it for granted that most of my acquaintances and family have the same view point that I do. I do respect others’ opinions as I expect them to respect mine. I am encouraged to keep learning, smiling and sharing.

    1. In-House Counsel Post author

      How interesting! The more I learn the more I am astounded by the developing life. I think perhaps one day science will help “solve” the abortion problem. Now we have 6 month olds using sign language to express their thoughts before they have words. Maybe some day we will be able to “read” the brain waves of a 12 week old fetus saying… I need a little more supper or stop bouncing around so much. Maybe that will change people minds…. Never living more than 10 miles fro where you grew up. That is something to write about! Fascinating! Is most all your family still in the same area? Any interesting rebels around?

      1. Angela

        Actually, my father moved us from the city to the rural area (I was 2), where I grew up, so my extended family is “city folk”. However my husbands’ family has been since after the civil war, and they are still here!! My father-in-law is the 4th generation living in our area, and he has many, many, many cousins, aunts, and uncles. He even has some double cousins that married. Kinda convoluted!! So even though many people have moved to our little town over the last 20 years, most of the town is some way related, it may be WAY distant, but related none the less. And the population of our town is just round 6,500, so small it is. I guess that makes my grandson the 7th generation here!!!! Wow I just realized this fact. As far as rebels, I guess I married one. He was quite a rebel in high school, but he has quieted down when we married (25 years of responsibility with childrearing and providing will do that I guess:) ) It’s been good.

  14. burstupdates

    My wife’s a CPA from one of the hoi polloi institutions who often faced the competition of the narcissistic CEO. Probably much different in today’s androgynous society. Cannot imagine the boredom of living with a 126 IQ. Hell, I have no idea what our banks are.

    They defense attorneys who still bow to Obama for the handouts, unlike the corporates, who have not yet realized there is no more change left in the piggy bank, is mind boggling.

  15. Phyllis Hendry

    I found your blog through Facebook. My BIL posted a link to it (the one where he threatened your husband with escorting him to the center of Hell).

    This has been an absolutely great read. I enjoyed your post very much. As one that is always up for a debate, I enjoyed the most respectful exchange between opposing views I believe I may have ever seen even more. Congratulations on that to both of you.

    1. In-House Counsel Post author

      Thanks Phyllis. So good to hear from you. BIL lets you know where he stands indeed. (For those not Facebook friends, it was actually intended as a colorful compliment to me, telling my husband to be good to me or else…not that hubby needs that encouragement as other posts make clear!)

      Glad you found te blog. Hope you will sign up to follow via email. Only one essay a week. and hank you for e kind words abou the interchange. It has been respectful and most interesting.

      1. In-House Counsel Post author

        No problem at all Phyllis! I just wanted to clarify the context. I approve all comments before they are published so I would not have approved it if I thought it was an issue at all.Thanks!

  16. becwillmylife

    Such an interesting post. I”m sorry to hear that you had such an unfortunate interview in Austin. It’s a place I love dearly. My biggest frustration with politics, elections and the like is that we as American women should be catergorized as 1. conservative or 2. liberal. I am neither….nor are many of my co-workers, friends, etc. Are Republicans automatically conservative? Are Democrats automatically everything liberal. I think that assumption is almost worse than sexism. To be frank, I am sick and tired of not being represented at all as the multi dimensional woman that I am. I don’t want to be in ANY box. I wonder if Jesus would be a registered Republican or Democrat? My guess is he’d be independent finding many faults with either. Both parties present well rehearsed and well scripted. Who are they really?

    1. In-House Counsel Post author

      Austin is a wonderful place! We lived there a total of 12 years. I ended up practicing with a great firm and was in no way scarred by this interview experience – just learned a lot. You are totally correct to point out that even labels based on belief systems, even those we apply to ourselves, are bound be confining and misunderstood. Because we are all unique individuals we will never find the political party, church, workplace, school, neighborhood, or even family that suits us “perfectly”, where our interests and opinions are totally aligned. But come to think of it- that would really be boring and confining in another way. We would then be limited not by differences and stereotypes but by similarities. We would not be stimulated to think and grow. Thanks for a thoughtful comment. And how would Jesus vote? Fascinating.

    1. In-House Counsel Post author

      Thanks Auntie Em. I have been surprised by how many people have told me that they identified with my feelings- from all walks of like and places along the political spectrum.

  17. ronfurg

    I just returned from a two-week cruise. As you can imagine 600+ emails awaited me. (On the cruise I did not have ready access, read that as affordable, to the internet.) Facing the mountain of email I decided to simply go through and delete without reading any emails sent by any but my family and close friends. For some reason, I missed deleting your blog post. And, am I ever glad that I did. The article is thrilling on so many levels that I can’t wait to share it. God has certainly gifted you as a writer and, as you would probably say, a very sweet spirit. Oh, one last thought. Too bad about missing that dessert. Also, my heart has been aching for Auburn’s football squad. <

    1. In-House Counsel Post author

      Thank you ronfurg. That praise really means a lot coming from you!
      So glad you were able to go on a two week cruise!
      Poor Auburn players- those kids came to Auburn to play for a team that had just won a national championship and to play for a coach who is a very fine man concerned with them as people and not just football players. Some how or another it has just fallen apart and it is just so sad! The only good thing is that I expect that the coach is helping these boys learn from and deal with this adversity.

  18. Pingback: What’s a Woman to Think? | Ronfurg's Blog

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