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Ali Clarke: When powerful forces contradict a child's most important lesson


A court decision in a different country is having ripple effects in Australia. Ali Clarke explains why the overturning of the American Roe v Wade judgement has such significance here – and why she is enraged by it.

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Once our children started their education in the state school system, a few things happened.

One, we realised that they would never again be fully under our control as peers and teachers started becoming their go-tos for advice and information.

Two, apparently according to their Ms Heaven: “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset!”

(Unless it involved something they desperately wanted which was usually defined in terms of dessert, toys or playdates with aforementioned friends.)

And three, they were very clear that: “I am the boss of my body.”

I can still vividly remember when that little line was rolled out with our firstborn.

I had asked Miss Five to simply brush her teeth before heading out into her day and she took it to be something so egregious that it warranted a bathroom sit-in that would see us late to meet friends (HER friends!) at the park.

Since then, every child has rolled out that response at one time or other.

Our son, when it came to trying to get him to put on something other than shorts in the dead of winter, and our youngest when asking her to please, please, PLEASE stay still so I can brush that rat’s nest out of your hair.

In those moments I rolled my eyes with an increasingly knowing smile at the simplistic teachings that were getting in the way of general hygiene and presentation, but were the start of understanding that you have the power to look after your body and no one should ever touch you if you don’t give them permission.

This one catchy line was the start of them understanding body autonomy and that they have the right to choose what happens to them without any coercion or influence from others.

Perhaps, then, it was obvious that this was the line that returned to me when I woke last week to read that the US Supreme Court had overturned Roe v. Wade, which for more than 50 years had given Americans the constitutional right to have abortions.

I couldn’t believe it. For a decision across the Atlantic to have such an intense effect on me was profound and the white-hot rage and despair I felt for them, for us, for women, was palpable.

To say that it has changed the way I look at that country is an understatement.

I remember growing up in my brick-veneer, suburban house with a ‘good room’ wrapped in plastic and knowing that the mighty United States existed somewhere over the ocean.

It was brought to me via Walt Disney and He-Man. I picked up that, somehow, they were the good guys and the Russians were bad.

Then there was Miami Vice and Rosanne, my mum’s Neil Diamond records and my own Michael Jackson cassettes.

There was Dad’s disgruntled harrumph when I asked why there was a Drive ‘Thru’ and not a ‘Through’ at our local Hungry Jacks and my Grandfather swearing at the TV every time our dollar was compared to the US one at the end of the stock market report.

As I got older, I started to understand where the US fits in the geopolitical space as slavery, NASA, Elvis, Watergate, lack of universal health care and the Vietnam war became of interest.

If honest I probably knew more about the assassination of JFK than I did of the disappearance of Harold Holt.

If I had a dollar for every time either my parents or grandparents said to me, ‘well you’re not in the United States so speak/spell/write properly’ then I’d have plenty of greenbacks in my back pocket.

My admiration for the US waned over the Iraq war, their lack of meaningful gun control, the Donald Trump palaver and the bloody Kardashians, but it has been this last decision by the Conservative-stacked Supreme Court that has me throwing in the towel.

Now let’s be clear, this isn’t about ALL Americans – I have some US mates and they are rippers: this is about a system and country that has allowed a fundamental right to be stripped from many of those who might need to make a decision, that in my experience, is very rarely entered into lightly.

We too have implied rights written into our constitution, the High Court’s Mabo decision being an example. Imagine the scandal if that decision, at 30 years old still 20 years younger than Roe v Wade, was overturned by a politically stacked court?

I don’t know how women in that country can not be in tears or want to burn the place to the ground.

I don’t know how men in that country can not be in tears or want to burn the place to the ground.

As I looked to the US when I was younger, so, too, do my kids.

I hear it when they say candy and cookies and gas station.

I cringe when they can tell me the capitals of more US States than Pacific countries and I hate that they knew who was running in the last US election but can’t even find Broome on the map.

Whilst we push back against the cultural influence America has over our family, swimming against the tsunami of content that is now streamed directly into our home is virtually impossible.

And so it has led to frank, but careful discussions with them about gun control and now, with our eldest, this latest ruling when she came to us with questions.

But how do you explain to a girl who’s just entered high school that for a particular group of women, thanks to the decisions of a particular group of men (and one woman), they are no longer the boss of their body?

Ali Clarke presents the breakfast show on Mix 102.3. She is a regular columnist for InDaily.

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