A Doctor's Plan to End Patriarchy. 25/6/2017
Published by THEATLANTIC
Advocating for access to safe abortions, Willie Parker decided to attack the root of the problem.
Willie Parker became a Christian at age 15. Well into his career as an obstetrician-gynecologist, he refused, on religious grounds, to perform abortions.
Over the years, he saw more and more patients who were victims of sexual assault and intimate-partner violence. He was forced to confront his idea of what it meant to “be a man.” Parker eventually started performing abortions—largely in the southern United States—and he is now an outspoken advocate for access to safe abortions. In his new book, Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice, Parker traces his anti-abortion-access stance to Biblical literalism and obliviousness to societal power structures. Over decades, as he realized that health equity required dismantling of the patriarchy, he worked to understand how he could be effective in that as a man.
Christianity is still a major part of Parker’s identity. When we met, it was one of four self-identifiers he listed on four fingers: Christian, heterosexual, black, and male. Though he isn’t the first person to attempt patriarchal dismantling, he would be among the few who match these identifiers. Parker is broad-shouldered and bearded and deep-voiced. His physical presentation makes no departure from gender norms. Parker does not challenge that gender is rooted in biology, and he doesn’t renounce masculinity. His mission is to reform it into something productive, or at least not oppressive, from within.
During the Spotlight Health conference in Aspen on Friday—part of the Aspen Ideas Festival—Parker was invited to pose a “big idea” to everyone in attendance. It was big: “divesting of what I feel to be the cornerstone of most structural oppression in the world.”
Parker argued that dismantling patriarchy would “cause many injustices to crumble: racial and ethnic tension, class wars, sexual identity oppression, Islamophobia. Imagine if men could see reproductive justice as their battle to fight—not from a place of chivalry, but from a duty to humanity.”