My name is Travis Ballie and I am writing to announce the death of the “woman’s issue.” It died June 4, 1988, when an asthmatic brown boy was born into an opinionated and ambitious immigrant enclave of women. It died when that brown boy’s mother, grandmother, and aunt pooled their funds, love, and wisdom to raise him to never feel foreign in this new land of America.
It died when that boy walked across the stage as the first member of his family to graduate college, the women in his life being too busy raising him to ever consider the option for themselves. That boy is now a man, one who is molded and shaped by so many women in his life.
As an adult, I stand at the intersection of a world which sees so many things that made my life possible as a “woman’s issue,” but which I see as a universal issue of opportunity. A “Women’s issue” like fair pay is what allowed my grandma to pay for my asthma medication and my countless visits as a child to the doctor. Issues like abortion and contraception allowed my mother to plan her career and a family in a way that made possible my walking across a graduation stage. The “woman’s issue” is dead, gone, forever a made up idea and failed attempt to make us think that every individual’s fundamental right to freedom and opportunity is somehow just someone else’s “issue.” I do not believe in a “woman’s issue;” I believe in everyone’s right to pursue happiness.
If there’s one thing you should know about the millennial generation, it is that we strive, more than ever before, to make an impact on this world in a way that is personal, and which benefits those we love. Working for abortion rights and reproductive justice is the role I play in a larger movement so that loved ones like my grandmother never again have to choose between a family and an education.
Because of my grandmother, I understand that no one is free until we all have the same access to pursue our fullest vision of life. My grandmother wants nothing more than to start a foundation to help children in her ancestral home of India. Her dreams have stayed with her throughout her years. Events in her life sidetracked that dream: she left middle school and was married off at age 15, having her first child at age 16. She dealt with abusive spouses, loved ones who were more in love with alcohol, and the struggles of raising six kids alone in a new country. Throughout those decades, her dream remained unaccomplished, but alive. I fight for reproductive rights and a society that respects all because that is a world which empowers my grandma to make her dreams come to fruition.
Being a young man today, in the midst of such sweeping and fundamental changes in our nation, I feel a responsibility to pay back those courageous women in my life who taught me that my physical strength is not a license to physical dominance. Equally important, I want to pay forward what I have been taught, so that my sister can live in a world that provides just as much opportunity to pursue her dreams as I have had.
A man comes in many forms and may hold many labels: queer, colored, emotional, fem, modest, non-conforming, jock, nerd, shy. We are more than this rigid idea of manhood that so many of us see staring back at us from TV, blaring out of the latest pop song, or inked in popular literature. My grandmother and other women in my life dealt with so many men in their lives that did things that embarrass and shame my family. The true power of these women who raised me is that, despite their experiences with insidious manifestations of masculinity, they refused to believe that my destiny would inevitably lead down that same path. They made conscience decisions to put a man into this world who can recognize the reality of physical and sexual violence caused by unhealthy forms of masculinity. They could only do so much, because the next step is action on this knowledge, and that is up to me.
The self-liberation of us men to freely express and embrace our entire selves is not possible in a society that restricts that freedom for others. This new millennial masculinity is rooted in community. It conceptualizes liberty and freedom in the context of the individual as important, but pushes further to recognize that a higher achievement of these ideals is accomplished when an entire community has equitable access to them.
Liberty and freedom are not immutable constants in our society. The gains of one generation are not necessarily guaranteed in the next. Fortunately, this also means that the prejudices and unequal structures of one generation are not necessarily guaranteed in the next. Millennials stand at this moment with these very questions in mind: Was my grandmother’s work in raising me for naught, or did she create a seed in her grandson that will change the world? Will we expand and build upon those gains, so that we can accomplish a world of diminishing physical and sexual violence?
Whatever the outcome, the “woman’s issue” is dead. This is a much larger conversation, and I pledge my voice and actions towards the goal of promoting a healthier masculinity that lifts up all, particularly women, to create a world without gender-based violence, a world with full access to sexual and reproductive health. I am a 24 year old experiment of three courageous women about whether or not they had the power to mold a man strong enough to help end gender based violence in all of its manifestations. It is my lifelong goal to show them success.
Travis Ballie is the Manager of Affiliate and National Programs at NARAL Pro-Choice America, an organization which uses the political process to guarantee every woman the right to make personal decisions regarding the full range of reproductive choices, including preventing unintended pregnancy, bearing healthy children, and choosing legal abortion. Travis Ballie manages NARAL’s Choice Out Loud – On Campus millennial outreach program. He works every day to bring more young people into the pro-choice movements.