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Men in the Movement: Oscar Shapiro
It's probably safe to say that everyone dreads having the sex talk with their parents. But I'm pretty sure mine was especially awkward. It happened when I was in my twenties, long after I'd become sexually active, and the parent I had it with was my dad, who was 81 years old at the time.
One afternoon as I headed out of the house, my father stopped me in my tracks to ask, "What’s with you and this new guy?” I minimized eye contact and mumbled something about things going well. The truth is that I was trying to keep the conversation brief. My dad, however, had a point he was determined to make.
“Look, Jenny, I know you’re having sex. I just want to tell you that if you’re gonna mess up, get pregnant. Because you can fix that. Just don’t get AIDS, because you can’t fix that.”
That was it. Sex talk over.
Despite its brevity, my dad's point hit home. I also learned two surprising things in that short exchange, both of which delighted me: My dad is pro-choice (which I was thrilled to discover) and he knew his stuff when it came to safer sex. (Use condoms!)
While my father’s advice could be applied in my own life, the same is not true for millions of my sisters in the US and other countries. For a range of legal, financial, political, and religious reasons, many women are unable to access a safe abortion if they need one or condoms to prevent HIV infection.
After my father unveiled his stance on abortion, he became much more vocal about his support of women's autonomy over their own bodies – although that’s not exactly the way he'd put it. Instead, my dad yells at anti-choice commentators on the 6 o'clock news.
“I really want to throw something at this TV,” he will boom from the living room, “but then I’d need to buy a new TV!”
My dad is a literal armchair activist and lives his pro-choice politics vicariously through me. He sees me as the conduit for the community organizing he would be doing were he physically capable.
“You must do something about this, Jenny. These politicians are trying to bring us back into the dark ages, and there won’t be progress until women have the right to control their own fertility.”
And he’s right. My dad is my proof that, despite the messages in much of our popular media, there are men out there who care about women. I’m so grateful to have these moments of insight with my dad. Even the awkward ones.