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One of my favorite scenes from “Crocodile Dundee” is where the New York City reporter is asking Dundee whether ownership of some land should be returned to the aboriginals.
Dundee says, “See those rocks? Been standing there for 600 million years. Still be there when you and I are gone. So arguing over who owns them is like two fleas arguing over who owns the dog they live on.”
Ownership is a bizarre concept, but not singularly peculiar to humans. Dogs will tussle over who owns a piece of rope and wild animals mark “their territory.” But does anyone really own anything?
I think it’s more about control than ownership. When we use the word “own”, we mean the right to control.
Perhaps that’s what separates humans from civilized animals. Animals claim ownership and then exercise control over what they claim. Humans identify what they want to control, then claim abstract ownership to justify that control.
OK, I admit it. I like control. Some pitch man on TV starts screaming at me, telling me why I can’t live another day without buying some superglue that will allow me glue cinder blocks to my kitchen ceiling.
Being able to mute the TV set with a push of a button is great control. I scream back at the silent TV and tell him where he can put that bottle of glue. The mute shuts him up and I feel a rush of power through my veins. I am omnipotent! I can control the world!
Control. We thrive on control. Who can tell who to do what to whom and when.
And perhaps the epitome of control in our lives resides at the source. The belly of a woman.
Consider a pregnant woman, well into her sixth or seventh month, standing outside a cafe. A stranger walks by and stops. “Oh my, someone has a bun in the oven! Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl yet?”
The woman smiles, ignoring the implication that she’s a bun factory, and replies, “No, we decided to wait.”
And then without warning, without asking permission, the man reaches out and puts his hand against her belly.
“Feels like a boy to me!”
Why do people think a woman’s belly is public property? The unrequested belly inspection is just the tip of a large iceberg of control over women. When it comes to ownership, a woman’s belly is the ultimate target.
And of course, the loudest debate on belly control centers on abortion rights. It’s a war between pro-life and pro-choice.
Rather than use the term “pro-life”, it would be more accurate to say “pro-birth” since the debate seems to have little to do with taking care of the life once it’s outside the woman’s belly. The domain of ownership focuses on the unborn in the belly, not the born in society.
A pregnant woman who smokes cigarettes or drinks alcohol puts that unborn child at risk.
Even her diet can affect the health of the baby. And so it goes to reason that pro-birthers want to prevent pregnant women from smoking, drinking, eating fatty foods and ingesting illegal substances.
One might make the mistake that these people cared about the health of the baby.
If that were actually true, they’d also demand that the government provide that baby with affordable healthcare, housing and a good education.
But it’s the belly that’s the target for control, not what comes out of it.
So where do we draw the line on belly control? Should pregnant women be allowed on commercial air flights? Is the sugary caffeine in a Frappucchino bad for the baby? Is mercury flavored fish really that dangerous?
I read in a pamphlet that pregnant women should avoid herpes.
Oddly enough, it didn’t say that herpes should be avoided by a non-pregnant person.
The belly debate has been argued for millenniums and I doubt that it will be settled anytime soon.
But as a man, I do know one thing. If we wake up one day and find men are suddenly the ones who are the baby bearers, the belly control issue will dance to a very different tune.