Youth Pro-Choice Advocate Takes on the Culture of Shame

On Wednesday evening, I spoke on the phone with Meg Gisonda (pictured right), a junior at Virginia Tech and the Reproductive Rights Chair for Women's Space at the university. Meg and her organization is part of the 1 in 3 Campaign at The 1 in 3 Campaign is a youth movement to make sure the voices of the 1 in 3 women in America who have or will have an abortion in their lifetimes are heard loudly and clearly.

Meg talked to me about Virginia's (and much of the rest of America's) culture of shame imposed on women who go through this common medical procedure as though they have done something wrong. The stories they are collecting and telling - you can tell yours at - are meant to empower women to take back not just their bodies but their communities. This week is 1 in 3 Week of Action - with campuses across the country educating, tabling and speaking out "as hard as we can," Meg told me.

For men, Meg asked that we listen, be supportive, and respectfully butt out of a woman's own decision regarding her own body (and I agree).

Here is the full interview and transcript:

Oct 23, 2013. 5 pm Pacific.

Hey everybody. Right now, we are joined by Meg Grisonda [sic], a junior at Virginia Tech who is doing a lot of work around abortion rights and the 1 in 3 Campaign. She is going to talk to us. Meg, welcome. Did I say your name right?

MG: Yes, Gisonda. My last name is Gisonda.

SC: Oh, Gisonda. Sorry, I put an extra ‘r’ in there. My bad.

MG: It’s okay.

SC: Tell me about.. first of all, what’s your role in the 1 in 3 Campaign, and how did you get involved?

MG: Well, I am Reproductive Rights Chair for Women’s Space at Virginia Tech, which is our school’s feminist activism club. So I am pretty much in charge of Virginia Tech’s branch of the campaign.

SC: Okay, that’s great. So tell us why you guys are doing it, and why it’s important for women to be visible about this issue.

MG: We got involved because we wanted to get more involved with the pro-choice movement at the club. Especially, you know, being in Virginia, with the big election coming up, there are lots and lots of restrictions passed on abortion in our state. And we felt that it was time that we became very vocal about it. Because I mean, it’s women who are affected by these legislations, and the way we talk about abortion and the way we frame abortion nationally. I feel like it’s really important that people recognize that we are people, and deserve to be treated like people.

SC: Okay, so you are obviously from Virginia, and Ken Kucinelli is there. So, in the email that started all this, it talks about the culture of shame. So you know, I mean, I’ve always been pro-choice and I’ve always supported women’s rights, but talk to me about the culture of shame. That’s not something I’m terribly familiar with. Tell me about that.

MG: Right. Well, I grew up in a very liberal family. I grew up in Staten Island, New York, and I was always raised to believe that I have control of my body and my decisions regarding my body. That frames a lot of my opinion on these issues. But I came to Virginia for college, and I found that they .. a lot of people here just don’t trust women. They don’t trust us to make these decisions. They kind of… the way it’s spoken about here is like it’s a fun thing to do on a Friday. Crazy things are said here. Crazy scare tactics are used. Sex education is not a thing.

SC: Yeah, it’s frowned upon.

MG: It’s not regulated and so people buy into crisis pregnancy centers and these anti-choice tactics that ‘abortion will give you cancer,’ and ‘you can’t have children afterwords’. Women are really silenced. Because you know, 1 in 3 women will have an abortion in their lifetime in the United States. That’s what the 1 in 3 campaign is all about. So I feel that when we talk about abortion this way, it makes women feel like they inherently did something wrong. You know ‘baby killers’ are thrown around all the time. That’s a label that they just love. You know, ‘killing of the innocent.’ We’re really just failing one-third of our community, and that’s absolutely wrong.

SC: Yeah. You know, I mean, you’re from Staten Island; I’m from California. We’re lucky to be from places that have fairly liberal laws on reproductive choice. And so, sex education.. one of things is that, isn’t the national statistic that people go through proper sex education have less unintended pregnancies?

MG: Yeah.

SC: Okay, so tell.. is your campaign involved in sex education, or what is your campaign trying to accomplish? Do you guys have set goals that are measurable, and is that something that, let’s say, a community of activists that are not necessarily all in Virginia can help you with?

MG: Well, we really don’t focus so much on sex education as framing discourse on abortion in general as a concept. What we do with 1 in 3 is we share stories of women who’ve had abortions to kind of put.. to humanize the concept. We’re putting faces and names and real, live, actual women to these situations, and we find more and more that when people pay attention to them, they realize that they can’t neatly box up and label every woman’s experience. And they can’t, you know, arrange and prioritize abortion cases as ‘good’ and ‘bad’, like in the cases of rape and incest. Those abortions are no more good or bad than a woman who couldn’t afford to have a child or have the child that has medical problems that she couldn’t carry to term.

SC: These stories you’re talking about - do you collect them just by your website? Are they, you know, do people just write to you? Are there videos of these? Where can people go to see these things and read these stories if you will? And how does, like I said, a community that’s spread around beyond Virginia - how can we help you?

MG: All of those stories and videos that we collect as well are located on - 1 and 3 are numerals. And they’re all found there. You can share your story on their website, too. There are lots of ideas to organize educational lectures, to organize public readings of the stories, and to organize different ways to bring this conversation into your community. There is a campus resource toolkit that’s really helpful and has flyers and ideas on how to get involved.

SC: And I assume at, you also have some way for people to submit their stories if they want to, correct?

MG: Yes. It’s right on the header - “Share Your Story.”

SC: Okay, great. Before I let you give your concluding thoughts, tell me about - what do you think the role of men in this is, or should be, and how that can help you or hurt you or affect you.

MG: Well, we feel that men shouldn’t have as big of an opinion as they do. You know, 100% male bodied men will not be pregnant. So they will not need an abortion. And we feel that they can’t make the decisions that women should make with their own bodies.

SC: No, I certainly agree with you on that. What I’m asking is, what is men’s role in protecting reproductive choice? How do men help your cause? How can they?

MG: Okay. This is about autonomy, and I feel like it’s difficult to talk about this without talking about privilege.

SC: Yeah abso.. no, go ahead; go for it.

MG: Yeah. I really think men’s role in this is to just be a good ally - to listen to the women in their communities, to give them - trust them to make decisions about their own bodies, and give them the autonomy that we need.

SC: Okay, great. Thank you again for speaking with me, Meg. And if you have any concluding thoughts to give, I’d to happy to take it, and then we can wrap it up.

MG: Okay, excellent. Well, thank you for having me. The only thing I think I’d really like to add is that this week is the 1 in 3 week of action, where campuses all over the nation are having - are tabling and rallying and educating as hard as we can. There’s a pledge on the 1 in 3 website to shop shaming women, and stop stigmatizing women, and create a culture of empathy and justice and support. So I’d really like to urge people to sign that and get involved in this really important conversation. It’s a really tumultuous time for taking a stand on reproductive rights.

SC: Awesome. I’ll definitely put the word out, and hopefully more people get involved. Thank you for doing this. I know this is really important. Back in - a while ago - when California beat back 2 consecutive parental consent initiatives, I was a part of that campaign. So I’ve been familiar with this for a long time, so I know how important this is. So thank you again, and it was great to talk to you.

MG: Thanks, thank you so much.

SC: Okay, take care. Buh-bye.
Let's all join the campaign and back up young people like Meg who are doing taking the cause of reproductive rights and justice straight to the lion's den. Sign the pledge. Find out if your local campus has a chapter, and if you are a student, how to start or join one.

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