The reproductive rights movement was founded by women and originally fought for issues men ignored, like a woman’s right to determine the timing and spacing of her children. Reproductive justice, however, has a greatly expanded focus and fights not just for the right not to have children, but also the right to have children, and to parent the children we have. RJ strives for healthy and empowered communities and, thus, inherently involves both sexes. In spite of this expansion, because the movement has traditionally been understood as a woman’s issue, the fight has still largely been left to women. The RJ community has thoroughly discussed this dilemma and has hypothesized how best to frame the issues so that men better understand the implications of ignoring reproductive justice.
We are armed with information that seems like it should be inflammatory to the stereotypical male. For example, recent scientific studies have shown that exposure to specific chemicals causes the feminization of male fetuses and infant boys. This means that exposure to phthalates, bisphenol-A, or any other chemical that mimics estrogen can decrease penis size, androgenital length, and sperm count, in addition to other possible physical deformities, like the urethra developing at the base of the penis rather than the tip. All of these facts hit men where they are, stereotypically, the most sensitive: their “masculinity.” Those in the reproductive justice community who have been working to reduce environmental reproductive toxins viewed this information primarily as more evidence of harm, but secondarily as a method for getting men interested and involved. What can convince men more than threats to their virility?
As another example, I recently read an opinion article in the Washington Post reporting on case studies that revealed companies who have women in top positions out-perform those companies that don’t. Apparently, gender diversity improves a company’s stock portfolio. The RJ community welcomed these studies because, not only is it nice to have hard facts regarding the very real contributions made by women, but the numbers will also be useful in the RJ movement’s attempt to expand accommodations for women and families in the workplace. In order to keep women in business, companies need to rethink their traditional notions regarding business hours, family leave, and working from home. Those methods that better allow for a family life are the same methods that will ensure the retention of women, and, thus, ensure the success of the company. Maybe money is the key to convincing men to join our cause?
Despite this information, there is still a noticeable lack of male presence in the RJ movement. And, while I am quick to represent reproductive justice in a universally self-serving light – it benefits everyone, after all – my desire to use these studies in this way makes me wonder: is this necessary? I believe that men care about reproductive justice issues simply because this fight affects their families and their children (not to mention the future men of the world). It is almost patronizing that we assume that portraying threats to masculinity and income are the only ways to turn men into activists for RJ. I know that we have tried before, but I am still certain that, if we convey our goals properly, men will no longer segregate themselves outside our struggle because, truly, it is their struggle too.
Are there any brilliant ideas out there? Men, do you have suggestions for how to represent the reproductive justice movement in a way that invites male participation? Are there issues that deserve focus that we have failed to address? I believe that the empowerment of all people is certainly a cause for all people. I am asking, simply, that you help me help you.