When was the last time you single-storied another human? Chances are it was much more recent than you realize or care to admit!
What does it mean to ‘single story’ another person? A great descriptive can be viewed on Chimamanda Adichie’s Ted Talk. If you do not have 9 minutes to view the Ted Talk, in simple terms it is creating a stereotype in our minds related to small pieces of information we see in ourselves or in others, while ignoring the complexity of life called humanity. Dr. Samantha Boardman describes the danger in single stories as telling a part of the story but not the whole story, which by definition, ignores much in the way of information, nuances, and details.
Single Stories and abortion decisions
If we are honest with ourselves and with each other, both prolife and pro-abortion advocates likely share the tendency to single-story the perceived ‘other side.’ The mantra of the ‘Expose Fake Clinics’ campaign includes false claims of being ‘unlicensed,’ existing ‘solely to deceive “abortion vulnerable women” and to lie to them about their reproductive health options,’ and the accusation that pregnancy help centers should be held ‘accountable for the harm they are causing to our communities as well as misuse of public funds.’
To be sure, the single stories go both ways. Rare is the objective voice genuinely seeking to understand the complicated choices surrounding an abortion decision and the available support services to meet an abortion-minded woman’s needs (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) at this very sensitive time. Even rarer is the individual willing to step into an arena, knowingly opposing and being opposed by every other voice in that arena.
Such was the experience of Michelle Oberman when researching her New York Times piece, ‘The Women the Abortion War Leaves Out.’ Oberman declares herself a lifelong feminist who has devoted years of her life and legal training as a law professor to understanding the impact of restrictive anti-abortion laws. For years, Oberman has single storied ‘so-called crisis pregnancy centers’ accusing some of them of ‘false and misleading practices, like intentionally misinforming women seeking abortion-related information, or neglecting to mention that they don’t provide abortions or even referrals.’
Setting aside her pregnancy center single story mindset and visiting a large center in Oklahoma, Oberman was able to expand her understanding of services offered by the more than 2500 so-called ‘anti-choice’ centers to see beyond a stereotype into the lives of the women served at these centers around the globe. What she learned was refreshing and enlightening.
After genuinely connecting with the individuals served by the pregnancy center (which also supports a home for moms and children), Oberman was able to see some of the nuances in the lives of the women entering the center. These nuances included poverty, homelessness, violence, substance abuse, mental health concerns, a lack of food and adequate housing, to name a few. She also learned that 73% of moms who chose abortion stated their termination reason as an inability to afford a baby.
Laying down her single story, she was able to see real people with real life problems and a pregnancy center willing to stand in the gap, offering support as well as valuable services to women. She began to understand how little “choice” is involved in the abortion decisions made by some of the poorest Americans. Oberman concluded, ‘we fight over abortion in absolutist terms, deadlocked in a battle in which we hurl rhetoric about choice and life, while remaining distracted from the reality that so many women have far too little of either.’
Can we exchange the rhetoric and dogma surrounding abortion, abortion access laws, propaganda, politics, choice, life and so much more in this heated debate, for a better alternative? Can we set aside the single story identifying ‘my side’ and ‘the other side’ and focus efforts to alleviate the obstacles listed above? Maybe the would enable the 73% to be empowered to make real choices?