I often go back to Hannah Arendt in moments of professional and personal crises. Yesterday as I read the news about the leak of a Supreme Court decision draft that would overturn Roe v. Wade I thought about her definition of education: the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it and by the same token save it. We can think about citizenship in the same way. Becoming a citizen involves deciding that we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it. But how can we do that in a world that seems increasingly hostile?
I have developed a thick skin to assaults on freedom during the last years as both the country where I live (the United States) and where I am from (Brazil) are struggling with authoritarianism. But there is something about the rationale of the draft we have access to that felt like a punch in my stomach: Justice Samuel A. Alito says that women should not have abortion rights today because it was not customary for them to have those rights in the past. This justification erases the fight of women to obtain these rights - it is as if it had never existed. It erases us.
It is hard to separate the fight for abortion rights from the fight to exist fully as a woman. My generation was already born into a societal structure that incentivizes us to act in whatever way we want because we are no different than men (even though I still deal with machismo on a daily basis). But my mom’s and my grandmother’s generations did not have that. Both of them suffered to exist in a patriarchal society that dictated what they thought and how they behaved. The fight for abortion rights signaled to society that our body is ours and no one else’s. No individual or institution should tell us how to make decisions about ourselves. Does anybody tell men what they should think or do?
As I was driving to work this morning I pondered on how I am supposed to be a citizen and take responsibility for this world when I’m being denied my very existence. Pessimism had taken over me until I reached DC. By the highway, I saw a number of circulator bus drivers holding signs of protest as they are on strike. “We move this whole region”, one sign said. Yes, they do. And we, women, move this whole world. We continue to be citizens by imposing our existence (like the circulator bus drivers) in any way we can. We continue to be citizens by accepting our responsibility and taking ownership of the world.
Beatriz Rey is a political scientist and a writer based in Washington, D.C.