Growing up, I was quickly labeled an ana kuzusu – Turkish for “mamma’s boy.”
This came from a love for my parents’ holiday parties. Each year, the gatherings brought promises of leftover turkey, börek, and Rus salatasi – a delightfully creamy potato salad I was only allowed to indulge during the peri-holiday period. They were also occasions for storytelling. While my dad would entertain the men with the latest happenings in Turkish futbol – a constant stream of scandalous player trades, colorful diatribes of overly glorified coaches against crooked referees, and frequently contested league rankings – I often found myself cozying up to my mother and her friends. Their tales had power and emotion, and they meant so much more to me.
Even at that young age, I recognized that it was a privilege to be allowed into their space. Those evenings weren’t to be taken for granted and I was grateful to be included. Still, I wasn’t always sure if I was welcome.
As a feminist man and future obstetrician-gynecologist, I recognize that I am not, and nor will I ever be, in a position to fully understand the myriad factors that women must consider when tackling certain challenges. This does not mean I cannot be present and supportive. It would be arrogant at best and offensively misogynistic at worst to be anything other than an observer, a supporter and a witness to the uniquely difficult decisions that women face. This means that I believe whole-heartedly in the principle of autonomy as it pertains to healthcare and women’s dominion over their bodies and healthcare decisions. It requires having a profound respect for female autonomy, particularly of bodily integrity.
The slogan “Trust Women” is well known in the reproductive rights movement. While I am an ardent supporter of Dr. George Tiller’s dictum, I have recently found myself questioning its relevance. As a pioneer and hero to #FeministMen, Dr. Tiller was steadfast in his commitment to woman-centered care. His clinic in Wichita for decades served as a beacon of hope for women who had no other options – and continues to do so to this day. And yet, I can’t help but wonder – why do we still need to be told to trust women? Why are we still suspicious of a women’s ability to govern her own healthcare decisions?
Unfortunately, across our country we see politicians legislating abortion care from mandating ultrasounds to waiting periods and counseling requirements that often contain scientifically inaccurate information. They find themselves compelled to make decisions on behalf of women about matters that they deem women incapable of resolving on their own.
But really I’d prefer to keep legislators out of the conversation entirely. For me, identifying as a feminist provider means actively rejecting the notion that anyone other than the woman is the expert of her life-defining circumstances.
This means asking a woman how she feels about an unexpected positive pregnancy test without making assumptions about what that test result means to her.
It means being there for her as an objective source of medical information regardless of what birth control method she chooses, if she chooses one at all.
And it means advocating for women on a public policy level to ensure that women have unfettered access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare, including abortion and contraception.
My interest in women’s health sprang from years of working as a teenager at a specialty-maternity hospital in upstate New York – with women, for women. On my first day, an energetic young woman was orienting me to the facilities, my responsibilities, and my colleagues. A couple hours into the day, my supervisor noticed me trailing uncomfortably behind her through the hospital’s hallways. After several attempts to get at the cause of my odd behavior, she finally stopped to ask me what was wrong. With much hesitation I answered:
“I need to use a restroom, but this is a women’s hospital.”
She gave me a reassuring grin, placed her hand on my shoulder, and pointed me down the hall.
“Of course we have a men’s restroom.”
And just as there was room for men in a women’s hospital, there is room for men in the feminist movement. After all, feminism is synonymous with humanism.
About the author: Sarp Aksel is a member of the M.D. Class of 2015 at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and is currently applying for residency training in obstetrics and gynecology. As an advocate for comprehensive medical education, he has developed tools to help students raise awareness and fill curricular gaps in sexual and reproductive health training, including abortion and contraception. He is also the immediate past president of Medical Students for Choice, where he served as chair of the international nonprofit’s board of directors,