Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Amelia and the right to choose

Amelia spent one year at Columbia doing pre-med work. During that time, she managed to conduct experiments and kill quite a few white lab rats. She also made a best friend, Louise de Schweinitz who chose to continue on and become a doctor. I thought about the two of them yesterday, while waiting for the result of my yearly mammogram. Much has changed in the years since, women are no longer forced into pediatrics because they're good with children. There are now female surgeons (though obviously not as many as men). And medicine is no longer the glamorous or lucrative career choice it once was. These days women aren't denied places at medical school. Back then it was quite different. My mother who applied to graduate school a few years after de Schweinitz was admitted to Boston University. She was one of only three women in the entire class. She'd was denied admission to NYU because they'd already filled their quote for Jews and women.

My mother was one of the first doctors to fight for abortion rights, a fight that is never over. In this week's New York magazine a feature article tells chillingly of many young women who are fervently anti abortion. I know which side Amelia was on. It wasn't an accident that she never had children, it's obvious she used birth control. If she had gotten pregnant, I seriously doubt she would have had the child. Children were not something she wanted. She wanted a place in a world full of men.

Yesterday I waited with the women, curiously quiet. Usually there's talk when women are together but not when we're waiting for results that will change our lives. My mother had breast cancer, and she chose surgery. She has lived cancer free for thirty years. Was she lucky? Was her cancer the sort that would never have killed her? These are questions that we're still asking, there are new arguments about the validity of these exams. I wonder if men were being exposed to radiation on a yearly basis if we would know so little. But then I think women's health has always come second to men's.

Amelia dressed like a man. She claimed it was easier to manage in the cockpit. I have worn pants most of my life. I believe it's easier to navigate the world and control the input. No male hands can work their way up through a pair of jeans. Sometimes you have to wear armor to make it through. Or be taken seriously. Amelia owned her body. And in all these years I have to wonder what has changed. So much, yet so little. We still fight over what should be a personal decision. Every woman should have the right to choose.

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