In my last blog A Gift and An Honor, I talked about my infant son and I mentioned having a weird story to share. Its not a funny story. It'll likely be long, but this one isn't about readability. Its something I need to tell.
Have you ever done a Marketing Survey? The kind where you go to a business and they pay you for your opinion?
I'm on a calling/emailing list for a company and I've taken part in surveys on diapers, litigation, radio shows. The routine is always the same. You show up with a mob of other people, spend 3-4 hours answering a few rounds of questions, comment here and there, and that's it. You walk out with a check. Its clear to every paid participant that we are nameless and faceless; we're a demographic for an outside marketing company to practice their enticements upon. But I haven't gone back since the last one. I've been avoiding their potential $75 invitations.
When you arrive, you're not quite sure what the particular survey is about but the initial line of questioning that got your foot in the door is a good clue. This particular time it was an election year and based on the questions I had a pretty solid idea it was related to someone wanting to be elected.
I was in a really big group of men and women, young and old and practically every conceivable race. We were crammed into a little room where we watched a video of a political style debate. We each held a sliding, circular dial in order to dial in our negative and positive responses in 'real time'. A computer recorded our answers and matched them to our demographic.
The video was a little silly. There were actors that portrayed candidates. One guy was young and snotty with country accent. One was older, nonplussed and sophisticated. There may have been a woman in a pant suit - I don't remember exactly, but I'll never forget what they were talking about.
Mr. Country was snotty, pro-life and all about morality. Ms. Pant Suit was snotty, pro-choice and all about rights. Mr. Cool was sympathetic and for women's health. It wasn't hard to match these stereotypes to the candidates up for office at the time and I felt it was pretty clear who was paying for this survey.
Here's where it gets hard to proceed with the story:
Like many surveys, at the end of the group portion they might call a few to stay later and answer more specific questions. For once, I just wanted to go home. It was late. I was tired of thinking about someone campaigning with a pro-choice platform. I'm a homebody. I missed my little family. Keep your extra $50, send me home.
As you've probably guessed, they called my number to stay.
After all the shuffling around, I was left with a group of about 7 other women of different ages and races. We were just one of 4 groups of women to stay behind. We grab a snack, we make chit chat and get into a circle to talk. There is a camera behind our moderator. We are less anonymous.
And the moderator begins with "You were chosen to stay based on your responses as women who are pro-choice."
WHAT?! NO, I'M NOT! Should I say something and get out? How could they think that about me? My responses! Oh no. Am I? Am I too sympathetic? Am I not pro-life enough? I didn't know.
I looked at the faces of "pro-choice women". According to my prayers, my voting record and the conferences I frequent, I was solidly at enmity with the very thing that identified these women as a cohesive group. No matter what the dial said about me, I was not pro-choice, but I was surrounded by a discussion group that was unashamedly so.
My heart raced. We were all strangers. They didn't know me. They didn't know that I didn't belong. They didn't know that I was the enemy in this situation. Right or wrong, I didn't correct the moderator and leave the room. I was scared and dishonest. I kept quiet and resolved to keep out of the discussions but I wouldn't go so far as to lie - if asked I would give my real opinion.
First we talked about the different candidates. Easy. I could do that. We talked about how we felt about requiring abortion doctors to give a woman an ultrasound. Easy. Absolutely yes, each woman needs to know about her own body and be informed.
Then as the time went on I saw the conversation move, as women so often do, onto more personal ground. They began to speculate and say about what they would do 'if' their daughters were faced with an unwanted pregnancy. I looked in their faces while they told stories about friends driving their own daughters to the clinic. And moms telling their daughters that the girl has too many kids already and should get an abortion. They also told stories about friends refusing their daughters to get an abortion no matter what their much older boyfriend said he'd pay for. Mothers raising their daughter's kids.
Then I saw them talk about getting their own abortions. Here is where the moderator began to get uncomfortable. I don't think this is where she meant for it to go. There was one woman talking about it openly. As she talked about the degree of counseling and care a clinic offers, her flippant tone seemed to become more forced. Another woman admitted to getting an abortion, but it was so long ago she couldn't recall some details. To me, her face looked like she just didn't want to go there.
Oddly enough, it seemed that 'abortion' still felt like a dirty word even among these pro-choice women. But this wasn't an enthusiastic conversation for anyone. It wasn't a funny conversation. I got the impression that an abortion was not a first choice for any of them. I hurt for the women I saw around me who felt like they had no other choice but a bad choice.
The moderator steered it away after that. Her objectives were not about these women's stories, but about voting which is much more conceptual.
The group lasted about 45 minutes. More was said. I eventually had my moment to say that I would vote for Mr. Country because I agree with him more, though he was portrayed very snottily. And that was all I said. And it was over.
I walked to the parking lot, pulled out of my spot and drove as far as the next parking lot before I was crying so hard I couldn't see. I pulled over and cried some more. I had heard so much. I had looked in unashamed faces because they thought they were in a safe environment. I cried for them and their stories. I was conflicted and confused about myself. More crying.
I called my husband from the parking lot. I couldn't carry it alone for the car ride home. I told him everything I could remember. I told on myself. I asked him if he thought I had done the wrong thing. He said he couldn't give me a convinced 'yes' or 'no'. I felt the weight and chastisement of his answer but I understood.
That night is still hard to think about. But I'm putting it out there with its flaws and glories. I tried to not overly defend myself, but be honest to what was going on in the moment. I, absolutely, wish I could do it over. I probably still wouldn't take the opportunity to preach or make a scene, but I would acknowledge that I didn't consider myself pro-choice. I wouldn't trade their stories or faces for the world. I saw something very few people in my circle would ever see - candidness. I will never forget and will probably never stop wrestling with what happened.