“To the women in the class…”

By Katherine Hamilton | gargoyle@flagler.edu

I never have been much for math or science. Not that the subjects don’t matter – because of course they do in the grand scheme of things. But personally, the arts have always had more of a seductive draw: a world of colors, textures and pure vibrance.

So when sitting in my last science class ever my junior year at Flagler College, it’s no surprise my mind wandered to how I’ll decorate my future apartment – a mid-modern/Victorian mashup, thanks for asking – or ways to spend money out on lunch instead of eating the slop so sneakily slipped to students beneath the beauty and tact of the Ponce De Leon Hotel.

Alas, one seemingly simple question pulled me from my reverie one day when, in the midst of a lesson on human population growth and how humans are repopulating the planet in unsustainable numbers, my professor asked something like, “To the women in the class, do you think the government has the right to control your reproductive rights if human population growth grows beyond reparation and requires intervention to save the planet?”

Dead quiet, and then a voice piercing the silence. And that voice was not a woman.

“Yeah, I don’t see why not,” said a male student from the back.

“So you think, the government could tell you and your future wife to only have one child, or control some other element of reproduction?” the professor asked again, a little perplexed.

“Yeah, I mean if the planet’s in danger, sure,” the student continued nonchalantly.

He is so obviously one of those well-chiseled, sun-worn surfers who always speak as though they’ve just woken up from a long nap and walk around barefoot with no thought to germs, dirt or ringworms.

Well, I couldn’t let this answer be the only one to permeate the stale air of the classroom, especially when the professor specifically asked the women in the class for their opinion on their reproductive rights.

I raised my hand – haughtily I might add, though not my usual style, as I barely ever participate in the first place. The professor looked relieved to actually see a real, live woman have something to say about their own reproductive rights.

Let me also preface – the class had heavily discussed and studied the pitfalls of China’s one child policy, as well as all the other plentiful and varied ways to decrease fertility rates without heavy-handed government intervention before the question was even asked.

I proceeded to annihilate everything the male student said without even turning around to give a look of disapproval. Score for woman-kind.

My piece went a little something like this:

“Actually, history has proven just how dangerous policies like China’s one-child policy can be. They faced gross human rights violations: forced abortions, forced sterilizations and infanticide. And now they have a lopsided generation containing way more men than women because no one wanted female children. Just in this class alone, we have learned about countries like Singapore, who lowered their fertility rate to 0.8 children per woman just from education, and Brazil who lowered their fertility rates just from women watching empowered female characters on soap operas. There is no need to introduce such abrasive policies, which mostly negatively impact women, no matter how dire the situation seems because there are many ways to control population. I mean heck, education has made me want less children.”

My professor turned his head when I said the last part and asked me to further explain. Pleased to continue, I obliged.

“Well, I come from a family where most of the women get married young and start having families almost right away. For the longest time, I thought that would be me. But one day, I discovered my passion for journalism and my desire for a career and then attended college to pursue that path. I now don’t know when a family will enter the picture. There’s nothing wrong or uneducated with wanting a lot of children or marrying young, but my education made me want to put off having a family personally. If I do have one, there won’t be very many kids because I am going to be busy for a long time.”

After I finished, another girl raised her hand and spoke, thank goodness, and talked about the importance of adoption. Then the teacher turned to another male student who had his hand raised before I spoke.

He simply replied, “Oh, I was going to say what Katherine said,” and then he trailed off.

But dead silence from the back of the classroom – I evil chuckled in my head at the glorious destruction I had just delivered.

Class finished up soon after, and everyone packed up their things and fled down the stairs to their next affairs. I slowly gathered my things, basking in the courage I had exercised against the patriarchy.

On the way out, my professor thanked me for speaking up – and that’s what sticks out most. Why did he have to thank me for speaking on something all women should feel comfortable talking about?

Why did the male student think to raise his hand, and why did the male professor let him? Why did none of the female students have the courage to speak? Why, when the topic had already been intelligently discussed, did someone think a one-child policy in the U.S. was a good idea?

A lot of unanswered questions.

Some might say I’m just an angry feminist, and what happened that day doesn’t really matter. But I beg to differ, because neither are true.

I believe in a classroom where, when women are addressed as equal human beings, they feel comfortable to speak on matters pertaining to them. To me.

Throughout history, we wonder how the world becomes, so quickly, a raging mad house. But then we have people, like the person in my class, who ignorantly speak on policies which would promote the mistreatment and death of millions of people, and we have students who sit there and say nothing.

I’m looking at this situation as a ‘big-picture’ example. If someone semi-intelligent enough to be admitted into a college would so carelessly agree to such human rights violations, who else would jump onto the same bandwagon?

Next time someone says something crazy, do not be afraid to speak the truth. Fear breeds silence, and silence gives corruption its greatest foothold.

We cannot afford to be quiet anymore.

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