Neysa McMein, artist, activist and member of the Algonquin Round Table marches for Women’s Rights in New York City, 1917.
The scarlet letter “A” is an instantly recognizable symbol of excoriation and shame.
A is For is a campaign challenging the traditional meaning of the scarlet letter by encouraging women, and the men who support them, to wear the A proudly.
Women are waking up to the aggressive legislative assault on their health taking place in state houses and in Congress. It is an assault that threatens our physical freedom with a force unheard of in the last 40 years. With so-called “personhood” bills and a systematic campaign of dis-information, the overriding message we’re receiving is one we thought we’d overcome a long time ago: that women are too ignorant, too confused, too selfish and too thoughtless to be trusted with the control of our own bodies.
We are taking back the A by re-appropriating it’s meaning to one of dignity, defiance, and autonomy. And we take our inspiration from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s fictional heroine of 17th century Puritan Boston, Hester Prynne, a woman branded by her fellows for daring to live according to her own conscience. We are refusing to be shamed into silence.
Women remember. Women know what it means to be branded. When we speak out, to defend our right to physical self-determination and basic health care, or assert our right to access a constitutionally protected medical procedure:
- We’re called “sluts” and “prostitutes.”
- We’re told to “put an aspirin” between our legs.
- We’re made to believe that it’s our ignorance, and not our experience, that drives our desire for autonomy and freedom from forced procreation.
- We’re lectured that we shouldn’t have had sex in the first place, as if sex were not a natural aspect of our humanity that we have every right to express.
- We’re told we must face the “consequences” of our sexual actions, as if we weren’t already painfully aware of the consequences of life without contraception, having lived, and died, without it for centuries.
- We are expected to bear the burden of those consequences alone, without shared responsibility from men
- We are told our lives are not valuable, that we should become mothers when we aren’t ready, or to die when our pregnancies threaten our lives.
Every woman, and every man who has ever loved one, must wear the A at some point in their lives: Whether you’re a mother who’s decided she doesn’t want more kids, or a student waiting to start a family until the right time, or a teenager who needs access to Plan B, or a boyfriend who isn’t ready to be a dad, or a husband who supports his wife’s desire to remain childless, or a father who wants his daughter to be able to realize her own dreams before becoming a mom, we all wear the “A.” And we are standing up for our right to be heard without being shamed. We are taking back ourA’s. The A is for Autonomy. It’s for Allegiance. It’s for Action. What does your “A” mean to you?