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Marching as a Pro-Choice Man

Sunday, May 2, 2004

Abe Velez writes about why he attended the March for Women's Lives last weekend in Washington, D.C., and what it meant to be a man at the historic event.

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Abe Velez writes about why he attended the March for Women's Lives last weekend in Washington, D.C., and what it meant to be a man at the historic event.
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Abe Velez and his fiance Sarah at the March

(WOMENSENEWS)--Because it's the right thing to do. Because I love my fiance and want her right to choose protected, always--even though it's unlikely she would ever choose an abortion. Because anytime is a good time to stand up for human rights--and a woman's reproductive rights, and sovereignty over her own body are human rights.

Because the participation of pro-choice men seems to be a value-added (excuse the marketing jargon) contribution to the cause. Because I think anti-choice activists are often bullies and I don't like bullies. Because it's the least I can do.

When I first mentioned the April 25th March for Women's Lives to my fiance Sarah, I avoided giving her the "this is a really important cause, you know . . ." voice.

Sarah has a shy bone in her body and the activist impulse doesn't often come to her naturally.

We had traveled to D.C. to join the protest of the Bush-Cheney inauguration in January 2001 and it was a little traumatic. Many of the Republican attendees seethed at our fluorescent protest signs. The anarchist kids in black made for a tense mix with the police in riot gear.

Toward the end of the day, as we studied a Metro map on a street corner, a woman the age of Sarah's mother, clad in a fur stole with a Bush-Cheney button, suddenly strode up and barked in Sarah's face, "What, did they pay you to come here and do this?!" The crappy weather didn't help, either.

And now, here I was asking my bookish Texas belle to return to D.C. with me for more shouting and marching, granted, this time with the promise of a softer police presence, yet also the looming encounter with grim-faced anti-choice activists waving graphic fetal photos. (I do from time to time actually come up with sheer-fun outings, too.)

I, of course, wanted us to be together at the demonstration. Going without Sarah would've felt odd. But I was intent on attending no matter what. It felt like one of those "stand and be counted" moments in life. I needed to be able to look back years from now and say to myself, "Yep, I made sure to be there."

Sarah's initial reticence quickly faded in the face of her pro-choice views and we made travel plans with some female friends.


Embarrassing Compliments

My mother and others have told me how terrific I am for being such a self-starter on the march. (My Yiddish-speaking mom added that I'm "a real mensch.")

Sarah whispered to me as we passed one of the bullhorn-wielding anti-choice folks, "I'm marrying such a cool man."

My first reaction to all this is to feel embarrassed.

Sure, who doesn't like kudos and the sound of an admiring coo from one's lover. But I don't want special attention for just doing my part. To me, the mantel of Sensitive Joe belongs to some guy just looking for sexual favors following the campus NARAL meeting. And I wonder if I'm being tokenized ("What's the male perspective on the issue?").

That said, I recognize and embrace the special role to be played by pro-choice men in the ongoing struggle to secure and maintain women's reproductive rights.

And it felt great being out there on Sunday, with the Capitol building in the background. It was great to see not just one or two, but numerous other men there. (Wasn't that one guy with the "End Fanatic Zone--Maintain Freedom" sign great?!)

Men joining the march send the refreshing message to pro-choice women, and to anti-choice men and women, that the cause of women's reproductive rights is, of course, gender-related, but is not gender-defined. After all, men are intimately and intricately, biologically and philosophically, involved when a woman becomes pregnant.


'What Kind of Man Are You?'

And isn't it immensely powerful and uplifting when a member of one group not directly affected by an injustice stands in broad daylight in solidarity with people who are directly wronged? At that moment the struggle transcends "special interest" and becomes part of the much larger story about human rights.

I remember encountering a disheveled, collared minister on a corner of the mall, heckling a quiet male marcher. "What kind of man are you?!" he called out, through the shrill crackle of a megaphone. Ah, this minister's God apparently judges pro-choice men particularly harshly; expecting men to have the sacred duty, as a male, to control what women do with their bodies.

In my mind, the prize is stamping women's reproductive rights deeply into the foundation of American life. As we keep our eyes on the prize, if the efforts and noise-making of pro-choice men tend to catch more attention than those of women, I say with a shrug of Jewish resignation, "ach, so be it."

Permit me a rosy reverie: Well within this century, we will no longer have to march, and write those letters, and send those contributions, and organize those dinners for some particular "pro-choice" candidate because the powers that be will finally get it, or those that don't will fall into a perennially tiny minority.

And we will finally have the luxury of turning our attentions to other matters, for example, raising and teaching and loving our children, children who are wanted, and brought into this world by choice. If men play a special role in bringing that about, then so be it.

P.S. Hats off to that intrepid contingent of Republicans for Choice.

Abe Velez is a music professional based in New York.

Click here to read all about theMarch for Women's Lives

Click here to view photos from theMarch for Women's Lives