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  • Writer's pictureVanessa Ryerse

Who's the Boss?

I watched a Now This video this morning, narrated by Alyssa Milano. It's funny to think of all the years I loved watching her on Who's The Boss; I identified with her character "Sam" so much, so now as an adult, she feels like a friend I've known a long time. The film is about the history of reproductive rights in America and the less obvious collateral damage if Roe vs. Wade is overturned. In the video, I saw many photos of the common protest sign "My body, my choice."

If you were brought up within the criss-crossing ropes of Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism like me, you may notice how your body tenses up and your mind begins throwing up protests signs of its own at those words. As often as that phrase is used by people outside of this religious training as a convincing statement, I am certain they have no idea how it hits the bodies of those of us who grew up inside of it. Especially those of us who grew up in some of the private Christian schools that were established "to give a Christian world view" which got super weirdly important all of a sudden in the 1960s when public schools were required to racially integrate.

From kindergarten through Senior year, we were steadily taught to release our bodies as our own and give them over to God. Especially girls. We start with folded hands and no talking, practicing walking in line and being rewarded for conformity. Pants under our dresses during PE in kindergarten, uncomfortable and hot, to bring us conscientiousness about who might see our legs when we played. Hour by hour, day by day, year by year, of being reminded of what was "appropriate" and "inappropriate." No touching. No dancing. Covering up more and more until we were invisible to ourselves. Because bodies were temples. You can't put your feet up and relax in a temple. The only way to have something of your own inside a temple is to die and get a plaque printed up with your name on it. So we crucify ourselves with Christ. We die daily. We take up our cross and follow. We offer ourselves. We lay down our lives. What we have is not our own. It belongs to God. It is God's will. You belong to God. Him. And then a husband. And then babies who need your nourishing milk. And then back to God for a life of service.

For thousands, millions? of bodies like mine, that phrase "My body. My choice." feels wrong. It feels evil. Even when our minds expand and grow and read and question and arrive at ever widening circles of inclusion, our bodies flinch. Even if we can bring ourselves to march, our voices catch in our throats.

The bodies of unborn babies have been shoved in our faces since we can remember, but we have never seen our own bodies. We have depression, anxiety, autoimmune diseases, eating disorders. And then we have shame because those bodies can't keep "serving God" the way they could when we were younger and stronger. Anger, grief, lament, rage, disillusionment. This is the "abundant life" I was promised in return for my investment in God's kingdom?

The common good of our country desperately requires women like me. I feel the urgency. But before I give my life for a cause, I take pause. It's not enough to change my mind. I need to change my body. And that starts, ever so awkwardly by honoring that flinch. Noticing it for what it is. Finding words to name it. And ever so gently allowing the protest. Yes. I see you. I see how "My body! My choice!" feels bad to you. But do you see how this IS your body?

Your body -- making choices.

"frozen Charlotte" dolls

It will take time. Thirteen years of indoctrination as a child is a long time to absorb the harmful message that you must give yourself away in order to earn life. That you must, as Glennon Doyle Melton so accurately described it, "Set yourself on fire to keep other people warm." But by taking a moment to notice the resistance, to acknowledge it for what it is with no demand or pressure to change it, that's how it becomes my body. My choice.

Something worth fighting for.

All that time in "Christian" school never brought me to Jesus. And forcing a woman to birth a baby is not the same as saving that baby's life.

"It is for freedom that you have been set free."

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