The Following is a Guest Post by Emma Akpan
I was 20 when I was first aware of body policing.
At the time, T-Shirts with words written across the chest were really popular. So of course, I bought a few. I was in a Christian choir and purchased a shirt that said “Got God” on the front, and proudly wore it around my college campus. I wore it to my choir rehearsal, and after a few weeks, I discovered a friend of mine purchased the same shirt. I overheard some of the men talking about this T-Shirt saying, “I don’t know why those girls wear those shirts. I ain’t thinking about God at all when I see them.”
At first, I felt ashamed for displaying my chest in a way that drew too much attention from me, but then I got to thinking, why can’t I wear my shirt of choice? If a man wore the same shirt, no one would question it. Men wore what they wanted. This incident, coupled with similar comments about women’s dress and a little education about survivor blaming, fueled my launch into body autonomy for women.
Body autonomy is the ability for people to make decisions about their person without someone telling them they cannot do it. My decision to purchase and wear a t-shirt that shows my religious dedication should not be policed by a man who can’t control his eyes or cannot bear to look at a woman’s chest. If it something that I chose to do, it’s my right because it’s my body.
Just as the men in my college organization thought they had to right to tell me what to do with my body, policy makers around the country also want this right.
In North Carolina, the NCGA threatened to take away contraceptive coverage for women whose employers were morally opposed. They have already passed a measure that forces women to wait 48 hours (two whole days) before being allowed to seek abortion-care.
Just last month, the NCGA made yet another power grab regarding regular women and our decisions. They attached abortion restrictions to two completely unrelated bills, concerning Sharia Law and Motorcycle Safety. Hidden under the guise of “safety”, these bills threaten to shut down most of North Carolina’s abortion clinics because they want abortion clinics to have the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers. This involves expensive and unnecessary remodeling, which most of the clinics can’t afford. Thus, the clinics will effectively be shut down.
Shutting down abortion clinics has nothing to do with women’s safety and everything to do with taking away our right to make our own decisions.
Our government polices women’s bodies and our health.
I stood behind the Legislative Building at a Moral Monday a couple of weeks ago praying for the women of North Carolina. I prayed for our choice and our right to make our own decisions. It’s important to me as a minister in the church to recognize my fellow congregant’s ability to make judgment on their own life, and it’s deeply important to me that I fight for women’s ability to make these decisions safely, without the interference of politicians.
I volunteer for NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina because I believe a woman’s body is her own. A woman’s sexuality is her own. I fight so women won’t feel like we have to answer for the actions we’ve taken for the health and enjoyment of our bodies. Restricting abortion and contraception coverage claims the woman’s body as a piece of the state to be regulated, but our bodies should only be regulated by women ourselves.
Emma Akpan is an ordained deacon in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and activist living in Raleigh. When not writing about women or repro health, Emma loves working out, reading, and eating great food. You can follow her on Twitter @emmanisma.