(Originally posted: 1/11/17)
My parents used to have a friend who, when he came over, would ask me absurd hypotheticals about babies and fire. I was 10 or 11 or maybe a little older. We had just gotten my first dog, Miles, with his silken long spaniel hair, color of an almond embryo, always trapping dirt. Miles was my first true love after Nick Carter, even though he pissed & shit everywhere and I knew he’d run away if he could just fit through the spaces in our gate. He could. We had to add chicken wire.
Miles was spoiled, vengeful, and intent on showing you he didn’t need you. Spiritually, we were identical and I loved him even as I was learning to hate myself, as young girls eventually learn, sometime between stuffing their bras and shaving their legs.
This friend of my parents would be over some afternoons to drink wine with my dad, even though I knew for a fact my dad thought he was a putz. This was during my dad’s phase what his favorite word was “putz” and he used it to refer to all of those among his friends he saw as failed or pathetic men.
The putz was dopey. A father of several daughters, all younger than me. A conservative—but the kind of conservative that keeps a stack of Playboys at the ready in his family’s downstairs bathroom.
The putz would see me playing with Miles in the kitchen.
“Carey, I have a question for you,” he would start. “If a building was on fire and Miles was in one room and a baby was in another, who would you save?”
I don’t know how many times he asked me this. More than three but less than five.
I always chose Miles, the cuddly creature in my arms, over the one that did not exist. I knew I was supposed to choose the baby. Did that make me a monster? I wondered.
The friend would laugh.
“Seriously? A dog over a baby?” Chardonnay splashing in his glass as he feigned dramatics.
I’d dig my heels in.
“These babies aren’t real. They’re fake.”
He’d laugh some more.
“One day, you’ll see. Talk to me when you grow up.”
And so, I realized: the putz didn’t think I was a monster, a babyburner. It was much worse. He thought I was a child.
I was a child, though. I grew up. I got better at answering dumb utilitarian questions posed by pseudo-philosophical dad types.
I haven’t seen the putz in over a decade, but every so often I remember these conversations and feel queasy. Maybe that's why I thought of him this week, when Paul Ryan announced that the GOP would officially move to defund Planned Parenthood—a move we all expected but which still packed a particularly potent nausea.
And maybe it was because I was thinking of how this man made me feel so much like a child, but it struck me that one of the hearts of the anti-choice movement—it has many hearts, like an earthworm—is the grand, codified, price-tag-glue-tenacious infantilization of American women.
(We all know from personal experience or just the discipline of being informed citizens who know shit, that PP does far, far more than just perform abortions, but let’s stick to this procedure for a moment.)
I don’t believe for a second that the vast majority of old Republican men give a fuck about the little hypothetical gene dumplings steaming in hypothetical lady wombs. Do you?
But what a brilliant way to retain power, to fortify the patriarchy: insisting that women are not mature beings, stewards of our own systems. It's genius! That way, we can never be their equals, because we cannot be trusted to think for ourselves or calibrate our own moral compasses. We must be watched constantly, like children.
It seems there is nothing more terrifying to these men than a grown woman.
(They should be very, very afraid.)