Self Esteem and Choice

There is a feminist saying that the personal is political. In my case, it is more than a saying. My personal life has informed my political decisions and my stances on political issues. I have a deeply personal story I feel the need to share as to why I will not support an anti-choice candidate when a pro-choice candidate is available. Specifically, anti-choice Denise Driehaus and pro-choice Luke Brockmeier are running in a primary for the newly drawn HD31. Driehaus has been saying that we should be focusing on preventing unplanned pregnancies by “working on ways to improve girls’ self-esteem”. In her mailer, she writes that she is an “advocate for young women” because “she promoted girls (sic) self-esteem through recreation.” But self-esteem does not stop sexual assault. Allow me to share my story:

When I was 11, I was the first kid in my class to have breasts. Other than that, I was a fairly normal, geeky kid. I got good grades, played guitar, rode my bicycle, and took dance classes. I was awkward, but no more than most. But I was teased and bullied a great deal for developing early. Any girl my age or older who was the first in her year to develop shared that experience. Unfortunately, I think it is still happening to girls who go through puberty early, but I am out of the grade school loop.

One summer evening, when I was 12, I was sexually assaulted by 3 boys while I was walking home. No one believed me. It was horrible and painful. But no amount of athletic activity or self-esteem could have prevented that from happening. To say otherwise is cruel.

My self-esteem did suffer – but not because of anything I did and no amount of afterschool athletics would have made it better. Even though I was still a child, I was labeled as promiscuous. Not only had I been objectified, I had also been assaulted. Luckily, I did not become pregnant.

When I was 16, I found myself in an abusive relationship. He destroyed my birth control and regularly assaulted me – sexually and otherwise. By the time I escaped, I was pregnant. I weighed my options – and made the very difficult choice to become a young mother. I was a half-way decent mother, because it was my choice to make to carry term. Had I not had that choice, I would have likely resented my daughter for her mere existence. I did not choose to become pregnant, but I chose to continue the pregnancy. Despite statistics of success of young mothers, my daughter has done very well and is attending the top law school in the country. I was pro-choice then, I am even more pro-choice now.

No self-esteem improving recreation program would have prevented these rapes. It takes two for there to be a pregnancy – male and female. If you aren’t teaching young men not to rape, you cannot prevent sexual assault. Conservative estimates indicate one out of six American women are survivors of sexual assault. This is NOT a self-esteem issue – it is about a culture which, tacitly or not, accepts violence against women and blames the victims instead of the assailants.

The argument that raising self-esteem in girls will prevent unwanted pregnancy is not only ridiculous; it is a form of blaming the victim. While in the state house, Driehaus has made it harder for survivors of rape to access abortion services, should the survivor need and want them. Her actions are not that of an “advocate for young women”.

I cannot support such a candidate when there is a better one available. This is one of many reasons I support Luke Brockmeier.

PS: This story is personal, and has nothing to do with my employer or any organization to which I may belong. Additionally, although this story is highly personal, I would be honored if anyone would care to share this with others. I have posted it as public for that reason. Finally, although this directly impacts the HD31 primary, the issue is much much larger. We have been suffering ongoing attacks on choice, birth control, Planned Parenthood, and sexuality in general. Most of these attacks have been from Republicans, but is important to realize that they are being made by anti-choice Democrats too.

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