This is an essay from my English class called “The Struggle for Power.” It analyzes the consistent theme of “the lack of power” in the essay “Lucky Girl” by Bridget Potter. “Lucky Girl” is about Potter’s struggle to obtain an abortion as young unmarried girl in the early 1960, at which point abortions were illegal. Potter’s essay is so titled because, she did eventually obtain an abortion saving her from an unhappy domestic life she was not yet ready for, and because she survived the procedure .
The essay was published in the magazine Guernica and then was chosen to be published in the magazine’s “Best American Essays of 2011” compilation. It can be read here: (http://www.guernicamag.com/features/lucky_girl/)
Here is my essay analysis:
People often choose to write about themselves because it is one of the easiest subjects. Not only do they know themselves better than anyone else but they have their stories to tell. The essay “Lucky Girl” is Bridget Potter’s story; it is an autobiographical account of her journey to obtain an abortion at a time when the procedure was illegal. Intertwined between the paragraphs of her struggle are statistics about other women seeking abortions during the same time period. Many of those women were not as lucky as Potter. Potter not only struggled with luck but with power as well. There is a consistent theme of the loss of power in Potter’s tale, especially in the areas of money, choice and in being a woman.
Rich people have always held more power than those who have less money, because their wealth allows them to gain access to things that the others could not. In Potter’s case, her lack of money was what made obtaining an abortion so difficult. When Potter was told by that her procedure would cost five hundred dollars, she immediately began to calculate if she could afford it; “My rent was $60 a month. I earned $60 a week, $47 after taxes. I could barely make it Friday to Friday…There had to be a cheaper, safer way” (149). Potter’s salary added up to less than $200 a month, and if you take out her rent, Potter only had about $130 to spend. It would have taken her four months just to save up the money for the procedure, as long as she did not spend money on anything except rent. But she still needed things like food, electricity, clothes, and running water to survive. She could not afford a “luxury” like an illegal abortion. Potter also rejected her boyfriend’s offer to ask for cash from his parents for a different option: “Borrow it from the office…Bosses like their employees to feel obligated. They’ll take it back by deducting from your paycheck” (151). This situation put Potter in an interesting place. Although she was still being paid, she would be in her employer’s debt and owe him money. She lost even more power, as she was little more than an indentured servant. Indentured servants rather than working to get paid, work in order to pay off a debt. In this situation money held power over her, and left her to figure out other ways to save. When Potter was Puerto Rico and told she is too young for the procedure; she considered going home early; “I would be able to save a few dollars. But I would have to keep this baby” (152). Of course, a baby costs much more than a few dollars to raise but when Potter was left in this situation, she seriously considered the option that will save her money immediately. She probably thought the money she did save could go to either paying off her loan or to the caring for the baby. She chose what she believed was the more responsible money saving option at the time.
Potter never had a lot of power in the choices she made. When she gets pregnant, she is left with two options. She had the choice to either get an abortion, which was very expensive and could have killed her or she could have chosen to have the child, which would have been even more expensive and would have forced her to leave her job. Other women were faced with this same choice, because there were not many other options; “There was also an acute social stigma attached to an unwed mother with an illegitimate child… All counseled adoption. The only alternatives were a shotgun wedding or an illegal abortion” (148). A woman had only three options. If a she chose adoption, she must still go through the entire pregnancy and possibly have to give up work when she gets close to her due date. This certainly was not an option for Potter who could barely afford the necessities on her salary. She did consider marriage but knew she would not be happy, nor would her boyfriend. She also knew her parents would not support her decision. This was probably the case for other women, as well. The last option, that others had since abortion both was illegal and dangerous. But it was the option most women went with; “According to a 1958 Kinsey study, illegal abortion was the option chosen by 80 percent of single women with unwanted pregnancies” (148). This was because the other choices left them with little power or control of their life. Even after she chose abortion, Potter did not have much of a choice of where or when to receive it. A co-worker and friend Emily, gave her advice in where to look to get an abortion; “Emily’s last suggestion was based on a rumor… I was frantic…I had two weeks left. I was on my own” (150). Potter was desperate because she was about to enter her second trimester of pregnancy, where abortion becomes incredibly risky for her and most places would not be willing to perform the procedure. So she needed to get one as soon as she could no matter where it would be performed or how expensive it was, because nobody else would help her.
As a woman, Potter did not have a lot of power herself when it came to certain matters. For instance all birth control responsibility was left up to her, “For birth control, I was using fluffy pink foam from an aerosol can…At the time it was illegal for a gynecologist to prescribe a diaphragm for a single woman…As for condoms, what little I knew of them was that they were disgusting, unreliable and boys didn’t like to use them anyway” (147). That meant if a woman wanted to have sex, she had to be the one to take control of her body. But it was still difficult because she could not gain access most of the things that would stop her from getting pregnant. If she did get pregnant it would be considered her fault and would receive no help even if she needed help it; “The woman might be ‘futilely appealing to a hospital abortion committee; being diagnosed as neurotic, even psychotic by mental health professionals; expelled from school…unemployed; in a Salvation Army or some other maternity home; poor, alone, ashamed, threatened by law’”(148). In this case, women have any power they did have taken away when they were be placed in a mental asylum and forbidden from receiving an education. Women in this situation would have everything that allowed them to be independent taken away, because they wanted to get rid of their baby or because they decided to keep it. There was no winning option for them. A woman would have to choose the option she believed was the lesser of the two evils. However, when Potter does try to gain power she ultimately fails; “Michael and I checked around for remedies. First we had a lot of hot sex…One night as I sat in an extremely hot bath…while Michael fed me a whole quart of gin…Another night I ran up and down the apartment building’s six flight’s of stairs…I drank an overdose of castor oil” (148). This shows a Potter desperately trying to gain power that she does not have: aborting her fetus. Potter simply does not have the power to cause a miscarriage or abort her fetus.
Potter was certainly a “Lucky Girl” but through her story we also see her struggle and the struggles of others. It is not only a telling of people’s struggles with change or society’s ideals, but in trying to gain power. In Potter’s case she struggled with lack of many different kind of power money, choice and in being a woman.
Potter, Bridget. “Lucky Girl”. The Best American Essays.
Ed. Edwidge Danticat and Robert Atwan. Boston. 2011. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 147-154. Print
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