I Know What’s Best for You: Stories on Reproductive Freedom, edited by Shelly Oria, is a direct response to the reproductive freedom crisis in this country. A multi-genre collection from 28 writers and artists, the book is an enormous range of experiences and identities. There’s no single valid way to summarize this crisis. But one approach is through the wide-ranging works of art—fiction, nonfiction, poetry, photography, comics, plays—that appear in the book. Here, Oria and contributing essayist Onnesha Roychoudhuri speak on why that matters.
Onnesha Roychoudhuri: At what point in producing the anthology did you land on I Know What’s Best for Youas the title, and why?
Shelly Oria: In the beginning, I was hung up on wanting a one-word title. We were always thinking of this anthology as a sibling book to Indelible in the Hippocampus: Writings from the Me Too Movement, a title that’s proudly a mouthful, and I thought it would be so … punchy to pair that up with something like Choice. But in early conversations with some artists and activists in the reproductive justice space, I learned that choice has become a pretty charged word to many and, more specifically, a white word.
The reality, for so many people in this country, is that the right to abortion—the right to choose—has been becoming less and less relevant for years now. What’s the significance of your right to choose abortion if you have no access to one? If you live in a state where there’s one remaining abortion clinic, if the nearest abortion clinic is 15 hours away or more, if that clinic is overburdened, if you can’t afford to take time off work or travel for your abortion? When you consider that reality, the word choice becomes almost infuriating.
So then Access became our placeholder, what we called the book for quite a long time. But it never felt totally right. It was both too academic sounding, which isn’t the tone of the book at all, and made me think of Access Hollywood, which is also not the tone of the book at all. So I did what one does in this situation: I asked Diana Spechler to save me from my misery. Diana is an incredible writer. We went back and forth over text. At one point, I looked at my phone and it said, I Know What’s Best for You,and I thought, Then tell me! And then it hit me. I knew in my body that we had the title.
And speaking of titles, I remember getting your submission, seeing There Is Nothing Very Wrong with Me, and loving it before I read the first word. The essay explores the ways in which a decision to freeze your eggs interacts with past experiences of sexual violation and also with the reality of racism in America. Did you approach the piece with the intention of exploring these intersections, or did this shape present itself as you wrote?
OR: The essay in both its form and content would not have existed without the license you gave me to make broader connections. I was able to examine my relationship with my body and choice in a more open-ended and organic way—an act made harder, I think, by the reductive and dichotomous nature of the discourse around womxn and their autonomy, the labels and categories we most commonly see used. “Are you pro-choice or pro-life?” “Do you want to be a mother, or do you want to be childless?” It’s unavoidable that the extremes (and extremism) that shape these more public-facing “debates” trickle down to all of us—no matter how immune we may think we are—and can really limit our ability to examine our relationships with our bodies with the nuance we need to understand and declare what choice and autonomy mean for us.
In the process of exploring what led me to the choice to freeze my eggs, I realized how much I had to unpack: how earlier interactions with past doctors and partners had slowly eroded my sense that my body was truly my own; that the pain and violation my body has endured were real; how my “choice” to not have children up until this point in my life was less a choice than it was a result of my socioeconomic status.
Writing the essay made me realize that in the rush to think of myself as someone who “didn’t have it that bad,” and with the willfulness of someone who wants to believe that all my decisions and choices were mine and mine alone, I had denied the impact of some pretty important experiences that have shaped who I am and what I believed was possible for my body. There was grief in this unpacking, but also a release: How much more free and autonomous might we feel if we could allow the truth of our bodies’ reactions and lived experiences to lead the conversation rather than letting the most reductive and smallest-minded among us set the terms of the conversation?
Central to the power of I Know What’s Best for You is the diverse mix of genres and approaches to the topic of reproductive freedom in its pages. Why did you choose to move beyond that?
SO: I chose this approach, because otherwise your story and stories like it wouldn’t be part of this book, and I thought they should be.
One thing I took from my experience with Indelible is that our collective Me Too conversation—while obviously so powerful, culture altering—was also, I believe, too narrow.
We failed to point to the more systemic issues underlying the problem of rampant sexual assault in our society; we failed to truly and boldly name how insidious gender-based violence is. We can’t skip that step and fix that problem by catching all the men and punishing them one by one. And what a strange coincidence, isn’t it—that it’s that same society that’s also trying to control womxn’s bodies in this other way, by forcing them to stay pregnant when they don’t wish to. These different forms of aggression are interlinked. I wanted to make a book that invited an exploration of this truth.
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