#ShoutYourAbortion Co-Founder Discusses Hairy Armpits and Fighting Stigma

Cropped version of the original photo used to represent #ShoutYourAbortion (Photo: Shannon Perry)

Until just a few days go, Kimberly Morrison wasn’t really a political activist. For years, she’s been known more for playing in several popular Seattle bands, including The Intelligence, the Fallouts, and The Dutchess and The Duke, whose songs appeared on shows like Entourage. 

Morrison is also a person who once had an abortion, and she has no regrets about it. She's never shied away from stating that her decision to have an abortion was the right one, which is why she had long planned on starting an "abortion zine" with her friend Amelia Bonow that would collect reflections from other women who underwent the procedure.

But after Congress attempted to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood earlier this month, there was a change in plans: Morrison and Bonow launched #ShoutYourAbortion as a Facebook page, after Bonow wrote her now famous #ShoutYourAbortion post. They also posted an equally powerful photo as the page's profile pic: Morrison's hairy armpit, accompanied by her tattoo, which reads "F*ck the Patriarchy."

Morrison playing bass
Morrison playing bass (Photo: Keith Johnson)

Due to overwhelming harassment from abortion opponents, the page has since been taken down. And the armpit photo garnered a startling amount of negative comments, some even from supporters who believed such imagery was "disgusting and would turn people off from the cause," says Morrison.

I found the image so powerful that I had to talk to Morrison about it, and, since we've known each other a long time, she obliged -- despite the fact that she's been trying to keep under the radar, due to the fact that Bonow has had her safety threatened and her personal information posted online multiple times. Here are Morrison's thoughts on the ordeal:

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How are you doing?

It's hard to say.

Why is that? It seems that you've been able to avoid the harassment that Amelia has been experiencing.

So far, but I also believe it's just a matter of time.

How did #ShoutYourAbortion come together?

Morrison and Amelia Benow
Morrison and Amelia Benow (Courtesy: Morrison)

Amelia and I had been talking about starting a zine for quite a while now where we were going to talk to a bunch of our friends and have them tell their stories about having abortions. This came after Amelia and I realized, while talking about abortion, that we had both had positive experiences with them. There's this stigma that we're supposed to hide it and feel bad about it...to mourn and feel ashamed, and neither of us felt that way at all.

It was meant to be a paper 'zine until Congress was working to defund Planned Parenthood, and that's when Amelia posted her statement, which was shared on social media by Lindy West (former Jezebel writer and Guardian contributor). A bunch of her followers reposted it, and it just blew the f*ck up.

Shannon Perry, a local tattoo artist and friend, does these "flash days" where she'll draw tattoos that fall under a certain theme. One day the theme was "womyn" and she had written on a sheet, "F*ck the Patriarchy." It wasn't even intended to be a piece of art that someone would get as a tattoo but I just thought it was hilarious.

I told her I wanted to do it around my armpit and she said, "Why don't we shave your armpit so we can see how we can get it on there," and I said, "No no no, we're not going to shave my armpit. That's the whole point of the tattoo. We're going to put it around my hairy armpit. I haven't shaved my armpits in over 10 years!"

How did the picture of your armpit come about?"
 

Then she took a picture after the tattoo was done, posted it on Instagram and we were laughing about it; we just thought the whole thing was funny. Flash forward to Lindy sharing Amelia's post with the hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion and I'm talking with Amelia, and though we didn't want to use Facebook initially, we just felt time was of the essence. After we were done, I literally ran home, grabbed my computer and made a Facebook page, making Amelia and Lindy admins. Amelia and I were talking about what the main image would be and I joked that we should use my armpit picture. And she ended up using it.

It's such a powerful image, challenging so many taboos in such a simple way. But it's also received a lot of harsh criticism.

There were so many comments on that image that were like, "OH MY GOD, you could braid that sh*t!" and "This is revolting -- how could a woman have such long armpit hair?" There are so many more important things you could be caring about right now than my body and what I choose to do with the hair on it.

Can you tell me about your abortion experience?

I never planned on getting an abortion, but I also never planned on getting pregnant. The idea of something living and growing inside of me elicited more internal comparisons to the movie Alien than thoughts of the Cleavers or the Brady Bunch. Having kids seemed to me like something other people did. I was, much to my annoyance, told over and over again that I’d change my mind, or had sentences directed at me that began “Well, when you have kids...” These instances baffled me. I could not believe that because I possessed the parts to do so, it was assumed I would eventually procreate.

[When I got pregnant,] I was younger and dumber and partying too much. I had a relationship with someone young and dumb who also partied too much. I didn’t have the wherewithal then to identify how profoundly dysfunctional our relationship was. By the time I noticed how unhappy I was, I’d been conditioned to believe that it was all my fault. I wanted to leave, but didn’t know how. He was possessive, controlling, angry, unstable.

He was mad at me and wanted to have sex, so we did. I told him I was ovulating, and not to come inside me. So he did. I expressed my disbelief. He smirked and pulled himself off of me.

Somehow I managed to put the incident out of my mind for a bit. It’s hard to explain, but things were so truly f*cked between us that I was just trying my hardest to act normal; to survive. In my head, I repeated “Sh*t happens every day” like a mantra, the way some would recite positive affirmations in front of a mirror. I thought about how much worse it could be and tried to be happy that it wasn’t “that bad,” even though I was miserable and dreaded going home.

Staying at a friend’s place after yet another blowout fight, I was at Walgreen’s and for some reason purchased a pregnancy test for the first time in my life. On some level I guess I already knew, but the evidence in front of me didn’t make the pill any less bitter. I called Planned Parenthood and scheduled an abortion before letting him know.

I felt so stuck and so stupid. I thought this was something that happened to teenagers. I thought I was too smart to get pregnant. I thought I had a deal with my uterus. I felt, overwhelmingly, that my body had betrayed me.

If I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t have told him at all. Of course he tried to get me to keep it and he tried to make me feel awful about the situation. He demanded I share the few pills I’d been given for pain, and was predictably outraged when I opted to have an IUD inserted during the same visit.

Because of the stigma associated, I didn’t really know who to turn to for support. The few people I talked to, I told with trepidation, the words hanging awkwardly in the air while I waited with my breath suspended, hoping I hadn’t entrusted my secret with the wrong person. No one was outwardly hostile, but it seemed understood that I was not to express my happiness or relief that I’d had an abortion. Abortion was a dirty word, and not a cause for celebration. I was supposed to feel guilty, ashamed. But I didn’t. For me, there was nothing to grieve. I was so grateful to not have to be tethered for the rest of my life to a person who acted as though they owned me. I knew then and know now that I absolutely made the right choice, and I am so thankful the choice was mine to make.

And to be clear, I don’t hate children -- just the idea of having my own. In fact, I worked as a nanny for 10 years. I coo at the occasional baby on the street, and love my niece and nephew in a way I wasn’t sure was possible. Parenthood just isn’t a hat I need to try on.

Critics have accused the movement of "bragging" about your abortion, but from your story I don't hear that.

Jo Claxton and Kimberly Morrison enjoying life
Jo Claxton and Kimberly Morrison enjoying life (Courtesy: Jo Claxton)

It's not like, "I had a bigger abortion than you." It's not a competition. We're saying that it happens and let's talk about it so the stigma can go away. One in three woman will have an abortion.

Listen to how many times I've said the word "abortion." You don't hear that word because people don't want to talk about it. It's considered a dirty word. And, in these past few days, I've heard that word said more than in all my years on this planet.

I'm getting so many messages from people saying, "I'm so in awe of what you're doing and I would want to be a part of it but my family would disown me." Women have said, "I really want to join your cause and I really want to help you but I'm looking for a new job, and I can't have that attached to my name right now." It's 2015!

I'm not naive enough to think that we just de-stigmatized abortion. There will always be people who think it's wrong. But if we can even have a conversation about it, that's the first step to getting somewhere. And before we shut down our Facebook page, those conversations were happening, with both sides involved.

Well, I'm really glad you're doing this. If my daughter had to have an abortion for any reason, I wouldn't want her to feel horrible or guilty about it.

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[Crying] That's such a huge part of this. I've heard from so many fathers saying "Thank you for fighting for the rights of my 5-year-old daughter." I don't want anyone to feel sad about it.

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