With all the debate back home about birth control and its relationships to womens’ rights and religious freedom, let me tell you a little story about getting birth control in India. Then I’ll tell you how America’s approaching this whole issue in the complete wrong way.
Already fighting an infection and a cold, I waited in 97-degree weather for close to an hour for a bus that never came to go to the health center on campus, only to be criticized and insulted on my decision to use birth control.
The doctor repeatedly asked me what reason I had to use contraceptives. Was my family here with me? I said no. So where were my husband and children? I’m not married. I’m not married, yet I’m using birth control? No response. So I’m in India to sleep with Indian men?
Insert wrath of Sarah here.
The stereotypes Indians hold about American women are both disgusting and untrue. Based on the media they see, it’s commonly believed that we’re sexually openminded and down for whatever with whoever. Most people don’t acknowledge that our society simply operates differently. We exhibit greater tolerance in general. We don’t have a choice; America is not comprised of a homogenous people. Wearing knee-length shorts means we have diverse clothing options, not that we’re sluts. Hugging male friends in public means it’s culturally acceptable to hug our male friends in public, not that we have multiple sexual partners.
But no one has ever overtly said that they believe us to be this way. Their actions more than show it, but they don’t say it. Until I came across this woman.
I have never been outrightly accused of coming to this country for the sole purpose of having sex with multiple Indian men. I told her I was here only for study. Which means I must have sex with multiple American men back home. Otherwise what need is there for birth control?
With the door to her office wide open, with English-speaking patients just outside, she berated me—a fellow woman—for a choice she knows nothing about. I tried to explain that birth control is seen differently in America, that it’s used to make your skin clearer or your periods more regular. But that must be nonsense, because I’m “over-drugging my body” and “birth control should only be used for married couples.”
Humiliated and pissed off, I cut her off, something I rarely do. I asked her point blank: can I get my injection (I’m on the shot) or do I need to go somewhere else? I’m a strong believer in cultural relativism: it’s both stupid and unfair to judge someone else’s cultural practices or beliefs by my own. I pride myself on not backing down on my own moral and ethical opinions, but still recognizing that this is not my homeland and I have no right to push those opinions on a single person here. But that doctor crossed the line in the worst way. She didn’t just insult me, she insulted my country. How dare she assume that we purposefully would come to India with the sole intention of having sex. I would love to have the same liberty to make generalizations of an equal caliber about these men I supposedly came here to seduce. But my country taught me that such behavior is unacceptable, reflects more on the speaker than the subject, and is characteristic of the misinformed. And I strongly believe that.
(I was able to get the shot. After the doctor turned away from me and refused to look at me, she gestured to her right and gave me vague directions as to who might administer the injection. The woman who did was incredibly nice, did not question my purpose, and did not call me a whore. She won cool points. Close to a thousand.)
In the first doctor’s defense, she was older, likely more old-fashioned, and probably hasn’t come across many Americans. Not to mention the “facts” taught to students here aren’t accurate (one student thought America and Canada were one big country). And I can’t blame her for her beliefs on birth control, particularly one licensed by the FDA for use in India but not approved for its own Americans. Maybe it was genuine concern for my health and/or my reputation. Maybe she just caught me on a bad day. It’s not easy to be white here; sometimes it gets to me.
But I don’t feel like that’s a legitimate excuse. Particularly when the double-standard of they can say what they want about Americans, literally whatever they want, but we can neither defend ourselves nor comment on Indian social customs, is so prevalent in Hyderabad.
Moral of the story: There’s a limit to the amount of disrespect and prejudice and stereotyping I can take. Everyone back in the States complaining about the birth control section of Obamacare, you need to stop. On both sides. The choice to use—or not use—birth control is a personal decision that the government needs to leave alone. Those who support forcing people to provide funds for birth control, you live in a country with diverse religious beliefs. Start respecting them. Just because liberals are the most vocal in the media this week, doesn’t mean they are the only ones with valid opinions. Everyone in opposition, fight harder. For most of you, this is a religious question. For the rest, it’s a matter of personal freedom. Giving up on either of those fronts is truly a defeat on your part, one that you may very well have aided.
I’ve never more strongly believed in the need for women to make their own choices about their bodies. But I won’t cave on moral issues. One so personal as ingesting hormones should not be decided upon by an all-male, highly biased panel. If a woman wants birth control, she’ll find a way to get it. It’s free at health departments, and it’s cheap with insurance. If she doesn’t want birth control, she won’t take it. And if her religion tells her birth control is bad and she believes that, it likely tells her that premarital sex is immoral as well, so it’s entirely possible there’s no need for her to be on birth control in the first place.
Bottom line: this debate is rooted in people’s core values, things they should never be asked to compromise. Which means the government should back off. Including birth control at all was a stupid move. Politicians should have known the kind of damage that would do. Do away with requiring employers to pay for birth control entirely. A member of the Senate cited bolstering the economy and encouraging employment as a reason for paying for birth control. Newsflash: asking companies to pay for even more is not going to make it easier for them to hire more people. We don’t need encouragment to accept job offers; we need jobs to accept. You guys are trying to fix something that was never broken, and in doing so, you’re ignoring the real problems. But props to you on being ineffective.
Tirade over. :)