Avast! Feminist Conspiracy!

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Count us in!

On Wednesday, March 8, Avast! will be blogging against sexism to celebrate International Women's Day. Will you?

Monday, February 27, 2006

Forced Conception

The Washington Post has a story today that nicely illustrates some of the points that hybrid made in her post yesterday. The article discusses state legislation around Plan B, also known as emergency contraception or the morning-after pill. Plan B, notably, prevents pregnancy by stopping ovulation or fertilization of an egg. In other words, it keeps you from getting pregnant after you have sex. As such, it's a product that a lot of women, including myself, have used at one time or another. It's also a product that one might reasonably expect opponents of abortion to promote--after all, it prevents unwanted pregnancy. And therefore, it prevents abortion.

And yet, it turns out that the "pro-life" forces do not, in fact, want to promote the use of the morning-after pill. As the Post article I linked to above notes, the states are nearly universally considering legislation to either expand or restrict access to emergency contraception:

More than 60 bills have been filed in state legislatures already this year, and that follows an already busy 2005 session on emergency contraception. The resulting tug of war is creating an availability map for the pill that looks increasingly similar to the map of "red states" and "blue states" in the past two presidential elections -- with increased access in the blue states and greater restrictions in the red ones.

In other words, the states with greater restrictions are, for the most part at least, the same as the states where abortion is itself hard to get--such that women who aren't able to access emergency contraception may be flat out of luck if they're not able to travel elsewhere. New Hampshire, for example, is looking at legislation that would deny emergency contraception to minors without parental notification. And, as we know from the NH legislation recently challenged at the Supreme Court in the Ayotte case, they already have a parental notification provision for abortion. So my advice to young women in New Hampshire? Keep track of which states expand access to allow over the counter dispensation of the drug. When you travel there, get some and bring it home with you. Do this even if you aren't sexually active. Because it turns out, not all of the women in the world who take Plan B had consensual sex. Probably some were careless (though "careless" is hardly equivalent to "deserving of punishment in the form of unwanted pregnancy) but others were not. The right wing, it turns out, hates both.

I believe it's fair to characterize the anti-abortion position as supporting forced pregnancy and childbirth--if a woman is not allowed to have an abortion once she is pregnant, then she truly is forced to carry a fetus within her body, with attendant discomfort, pain, health risks, and (in the case of an unwanted pregnancy) misery, and then to give birth. Nonetheless, I think making the Plan B unavailable is an even better match with the concept of forced pregnancy--because its denial actually forces women to become pregnant, when they could otherwise avoid that pregnancy. That's a little additional proof that the right wing hates women for y'all, right there. Unlike anything else I've seen, a desire to deny women access to emergency contraception--contraception, not abortion--clarifies for me the extent to which the "pro-life" position is not about saving babies, but is intended to be punitive. It's intended, at its heart, to punish women for having sex. That may not apply to every member of the movement; but its leaders, those who spread misinformation about Plan B and set the agenda against it, are hurting women, and must certainly know it when they oppose access to emergency contraception.

Finally, one good thing for today:

The FDA's inaction on Plan B has been sharply criticized by most major medical societies and many in Congress, and led to a lawsuit by the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York. The federal magistrate judge hearing the case on Friday concluded that the center had established a "strong preliminary showing of 'bad faith or misbehavior' " on the part of FDA officials, and so ordered the case to go forward and ruled that top current and past FDA leaders should be interviewed under oath.

One thing that is illustrated by the hodge-podge of varying laws in different states is the extent to which women's equality is now determined at the regional level. I think that's the level on which we have to be prepared to fight on the abortion issue (an opinion that is really a function of my pessimism about the future of constitutional abortion litigation). But this case looks potentially winnable at a federal level to me (at least on a first glance) and a federal win on this would be a great thing.

*If anyone wants more information on Plan B, Planned Parenthood has a good webpage here.

Friday, February 24, 2006


As many of us feared, so it has come to pass. The South Dakota state legislature has approved their abortion ban. (Article here.) It includes no provision for a mother's health and wellbeing. It not only does not permit exception in the case of rape or incest, but provides parental rights - actual equal rights to the child - to the rapist who wants them.

If that isn't proof that the Radical Right hates women and thinks that we are subhuman, I'm not sure what is.

A little under two years ago, I stood on the Mall in Washington, DC with over a million fellow supporters of every woman's right to determine the outcome of her own pregnancy for herself. I had so much hope back then. The election had yet to take place. I could not in my right mind envision another four years of the Bush regime. I can't fully understand how this has happened, but it has.

So, what happens now?

Planned Parenthood of South Dakota has promised a legal challenge. But I am concerned that they may be stranded out there alone while the right exploits our lack of resources and organization.

I can't help asking myself - what would the right do?

The first thing that they would do is rally around together. So what if they don't all wholeheartedly agree? They understand the value of presenting a united front, and they understand the power of the quid pro quo. Are there back room deals to be made with liberal organizations that aren't explicitly pro-choice? (And if not, why the hell not?)

The next thing they would do is make up a catchy epithet that we can repeat over and over when we talk about this bill. I propose calling it the Forced Pregnancy bill.

And then, they would trot out all of their heavy hitters. They would use the nutjobs for the controversial stuff - say, the Michael Moores of their world - because they know that there is no such thing as bad publicity, and we can always apologize for him or her later. Then they would trot out the elders, members of Presidential adminstrations past and present, to discuss in reasonable ways how appalling it is that in 2006, the South Dakota legislature can't even seem to agree that women are human, so it may be difficult to take their definitions of human life at all seriously. Can any one of the 50 house members who voted for the bill honestly stand up and say that if they were raped, that if their sisters, daughters, wives, friends, or neighbors were raped, that they would be comfortable with having that person who assaulted them or their loved ones in their lives as the father of a child?

And by the way, are they withdrawing their National Guard troops from Iraq anytime soon? If not, how can they profess to care about life? (A famous right-wing tactic, the bait and switch!)

If they are smart, they would even get some religious figures to chime in. For example, even some of the most strict forms of Judaism not only permit, but require that an abortion be performed to save a mother's life and health. How can we expect Jews in South Dakota to be subject to a law that infringes on their religious freedom?

Perhaps they would even organize a boycott of South Dakota products, citing human rights concerns.

There is a pro-choice majority in this country. It is about time leaders on the left started acting like it. You never catch the right arguing that a fetus is a human life. Why not? Because they know it for sure. They know that they can't be attacked on that basis, so they take it completely for granted.

Every time abortion is attacked, we waste valuable resources trying to prove to people that women deserve the right to make our own medical decisions. And we lose, even though most of the people in the country agree with that women should have the right to choose. Until we on the left internalize that and own it, the right will continue to win, because their game makes for better television. I would love to see us play the game their way, for a change. I would love to see if maybe, just maybe, it would give the right to choose a fighting chance.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Parental Rights

I originally posted this to my lame blog over a year ago, but the recent SCOTUS ruling on New Hampshire's parental-consent law is weighing heavily on my mind. What infuriates me the most is not that parental consent laws are flourishing (in our current political climate, I am grimly resigned to the proliferation of antichoice legislation), but that mainstream American cultural mores are so tragically shortsighted when it comes to reproductive freedom for teens. I may be relatively new to this parenting thing, but I already understand and accept that there will be aspects of my children's lives which they will go to great lengths to keep private. I gave birth to people, not pets.

Anyhow, enough ranting, here's the post:


"Kids can't get their ears pierced without permission, but they can get abortions."

"Kids can't use tanning booths without permission, but they can get abortions."

These are two of the classic scenarios that get trotted out when parental consent/notification laws are on the table. It's ridiculous, say many completely reasonable, non-abusive, loving parents, that my child can consent to an operation without first obtaining my consent.

It's ridiculous, all right. It's ridiculous that your daughter conceived against her will in this age of a hundred contraceptive options. Where was your concern for her reproductive health then? It's ridiculous that although her status as a pregnant woman automatically emancipates her, and that she will be free to leave your home, cut off all contact with you, and start her own life with financial assistance from the government if she chooses to keep her baby, her choice to postpone parenthood, finish high school, and continue to be subject to your parental authority is one that you think you can make for her.

Seriously, what's the end game here? If you are a resident of one of the 33 states where your teenager must obtain your consent to have an abortion, what exactly are you going to do with that power? Will you refuse to give consent, thus ensuring that your daughter is instantly a legal adult? Will you attempt to imprison her during her pregnancy (and make no mistake, holding another adult against their will is a crime, albeit one that you're unlikely to be charged with if your victim is your pregnant teenager)? What about when the baby comes? Will you make her choices for her then? Will you coerce her into an adoption agreement? Will you raise the baby yourself? Or will you just rely on maternal instinct to do its job and make your daughter into the responsible parent that she felt herself unready to be?

Maybe those are extreme examples. Maybe you have every intention of allowing that abortion - after all, she's far too young to be a mother! and pregnancy is more dangerous than abortion! - and all you want is a chance to express your feelings of disappointment, anger and guilt. You want her to know how badly she's fucked up. You want to limit her freedoms in the future as a punishment for becoming pregnant. You want to destroy her relationship with the boy who got her in trouble. And mostly, you want to KNOW, forever, that this terrible thing happened. You want to look into the eyes of your grandchildren and mourn the one who never born. You want to own a piece of the worst thing that ever happened to your daughter.

I think a pregnant teenager has quite enough to deal with in the disappointment, anger, guilt and painful memories arena without having her lifelong relationship with her parents tossed into the mix. If sharing her ordeal with you will help her to cope, then share she will. But I invite you to think about the worst transgressions of your own young lives, and consider how humiliated you might have been to have them laid before your own parents. TO THIS DAY, there are probably things your folks don't know about because you fear that the knowledge would diminish you in their eyes.

In a perfect world, unplanned pregnancies wouldn't exist and girls would never be thrust into the role of women overnight. But since they bear that responsibility, they deserve the rights that come along with it. Unless you or your partner are the one who is pregnant, there is no pregnancy on earth where your opinion has any relevence. You aren't the one it's happening to, and you aren't the one who has to live with the consequences. So please, in the interest of your daughter's mental health and the health of your future relationship with her, back the fuck off.

I’m not a Pretty Pretty Princess,* but I like it that my girlfriend is

I joke around a lot with turtle about what a Tool of the Patriarchy (TOTP) I am. I love it that she has long, blonde hair. I love it that she’s conventionally beautiful.

And, yes, I love it when she wears make-up.

It’s a new relationship, and part of this is just being very pleased that she wants to look good for me, whatever that means for her. In my defense, I think she’s just as amazing and beautiful in a skater hoodie and old cargo pants with her hair all askew and pillow marks on her face from napping as when she’s wearing her going-out-dancing clothes, eyeliner, and lipstick.

But what does it say about me, a lesbian feminist who hasn’t shaved since the late 1980s, and who hasn’t owned make-up in nearly that long, that I’m so taken with the girly make-up thing?

Maybe all it says is that despite my best efforts, I’m still a product of my environment, and that advertising has as much a hold on me as it does on anyone else.

*This is turtle’s terminology.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

My biology is not my destiny

(Cross-posted at What If No One's Watching?)

I don't know if you are seeing this billboard in your city, but it is all over mine.

And it pisses me right off.

At first, I thought it just pissed me off because it was ass-backwards, and that if it said something like, "Breasts were made for feeding babies," I'd be OK with it. After all, of all the things a person is "born" to do, is being breastfed really at the top of the list? It just seemed...trite.

But thinking more about it, the other way would piss me off just as much, if not more. Because yes, breasts are used to feed babies. I understand the biology there. But as a feminist, I take issue with what I choose to do with my body taking back seat to the biology of what my body can do (or what I assume it can, I mean, I don't know that I could breastfeed, and some women who would like to can't, so that's another problem). Men, this city, this state, this country...they already own my body to a degree that I am uncomfortable with--the last thing I need is billboards to dictate to me what my body parts are for. The capacity to bear and nourish a child is not and should be conflated with the decision to do so.

Given the anti-breastfeeding factions in this country, as well as the massive miseducation about breastfeeding, I understand the need for pro-breastfeeding campaigns, and campaigns that focus on how breastfeeding is a natural, healthy thing and not something that should cause women shame. I support public breastfeeding for women who choose to do so. I'm all for it. But that does not change my dislike for being told what to do with my own body, whether it is by some dude or the media or the La Leche League. At the end of the day, my breasts, just like my uterus and every other part of me, are for whatever I say they are for. We may be mammals, but we are not beasts. We can and have in many arenas moved beyond our biology and made decisions based on other criteria, and there is no reason childbearing and nourishment should not be one of those arenas. Just because my body (again, assumedly) can bear a child does not mean I have a responsibility to do so, and just because my breasts have the capacity to nourish does not mean that I am under any obligation to choose to use them that way. My biology is not my destiny.

Saturday, February 18, 2006


This article details some things prison officials in Los Angeles have decided are necessary in order to maintain discipline:

More than 100 inmates at Pitchess Detention Center spent much of Feb. 9 naked, without their mattresses and with only blankets to cover themselves. The punishment was an effort to calm inmates who had repeatedly attacked each other, even after privileges like access to mail, television and phones were taken away, said Sammy Jones, chief of the custody division.

Does this sound at all like anything else that's been in the news lately?

I'm not actually equating treatment of prisoners here with the abuse in Abu Ghraib, in the sense of arguing that the problems are equal. But it is worth noticing that overseas or in this country, our tactics of control are all about taking away the dignity of people, all about humiliation. In many cases, control takes the form of specifically sexual degradation. In LA, officials are arguing that their tactics are justified, because not entirely surprisingly, they seem to have worked; no further violence has occurred in the dorms in which this treatment was used. Insofar as the purpose of violence against inmates in Iraq was to control them, I would imagine that it worked equally well there. The ACLU of Southern California is placing on the blame on systemic problems in the jail system:

"They don't have the staffing and the facilities to operate a detention and incarceration system according to professional standards," Mr. Rosenbaum said. "These are procedures they're making up as they go along because the staffing and facilities and other professional measures are not in place."

Similarly, in the case of Abu Ghraib, the ACLU has been calling for an investigation into the systemic nature of the abuse. Their task--and the task of all of those of us who oppose torture--is to note that we turn to, or allow, abuses when systems are flawed, that abuses are not the result of a limited necessity (in LA) or lack of supervision (in Iraq). The point of my writing about this as I do is not to absolutely condemn the individual prison officials for their actions, but to condemn the larger systems in which the decision is made, at some collective or individual, administrative or legislative level, that instead of investing in the systems that are meant to keep us safe such that we can run them in a humane way, we will rely on violence and coercion as our safeguards.

I believe that it is critical that we recognize the futility and the deep wrong of reliance on pain, humiliation, and abuse within our society, for any purpose. I feel this, in part, because of what I do: I studied domestic violence in college and in law school, and I represent battered women in family court against their batterers. I have read and heard first-hand story upon story detailing brutal uses of pain, humiliation and abuse used to control within the context of the family. I can't oppose that violence in the family context, and justify it elsewhere. As a society, we need to work to make our institutions better, and in making them better, to make them more human. To treat everyone within them as a human being. To act as human beings ourselves. We can't rely on the excuse of fear, which our current presidential administration promulgates at every turn--fear of terrorism, fear of Muslims, fear of riots, fear of prisoners, fear of black people are the weapons that our President has used to make us believe that sexual humiliation is the measure of our safety. But surely--surely we know that's wrong.

Friday, February 17, 2006

The beauty myth eats its tail

Like most American women (most women?), I spend more time than I'd like to admit worrying about how I look. Though I have always, in relative terms, felt pretty good about my appearance, I still spend inordinate amounts of time criticizing it. This is partially because I'm actually critical, and partially because I learned at a young age that, as a girl, it's not becoming to admit you think you're hot. This presents its own conundrum, obviously, as you are simultaneously supposed to do everything you can to make yourself as hot as possible.

Rather than shedding light on this conundrum, I find that being a self-aware feminist complicates it, or adds to it another level of possible self-hatred. Because I am aware of "the beauty myth," and because I know I live in a lookist society where I as a woman am unfairly judged on my physical appearance rather than my abilities, I know I shouldn't care how I look. I should free myself from the patriarchal bounds of worrying about my appearance. Unable to do that, though, I should at least never admit that I'm worried about how I look.

So let's get this straight: As a woman, I'm supposed to worry about being attractive. Also as a woman, I'm not supposed to admit it if I think I'm attractive. As a feminist, I'm not supposed to care whether or not I'm attractive, so both worrying about being attractive and thinking I'm attractive are out. Does that about cover it?

I know that the way it is supposed to work is for my feminist consciousness liberates me from having to worry about my looks. But what it has really done is add another layer to my self-hatred. Now I not only (a)wonder if lipstick actually looks good and (b)berate myself for thinking I'm cute with lipstick on if it does look good, I also have to (c)berate myself again for thinking about it at all and (d) wonder what my choice to wear lipstick says about me as a woman and how it is affecting other women. I guess ignorance was bliss.

So how to deal with this dilemma? The obvious way would be to internalize the good messages instead of the bad ones, feel positive about my body in its natural state, not question my own judgment, and accept myself as a whole, beautiful person. And peace would reign throughout the land. Here in reality, though, it's all a work in progress, and developing some coping skills along the way is what is needed.

The most important coping skill, I think, is learning to focus on what makes you feel good. There are some things that I know, aesthetically, make me look better (by the going standard), but that just don't feel good (example: a push-up bra or "foundation garments"). Those things are out. The positive lookist benefits I would gain from wearing those things would be outweighed by the negative self-guessing I would engage in about my reasoning for wearing them. There are other things, however, that both improve my looks by the good old American beauty standard and make me feel good (like clothes that fit well or good quality lotion for my skin). These things are OK, because they have benefits besides helping me to fit into the beauty standard. I hope, as I get older, to be able to shift even further and accept and embrace things that JUST feel good and are neutral or even negative when it comes to ye olde beauty standard. But another coping skill is accepting that I'm just not there yet.

Feminists are rightfully hesitant to discuss the downsides of awareness. Given how under fire we are, it often seems self-defeating to point out the weaknesses of our movement. But I think there is value in discussing the discomfort that feminist awareness causes us, not in order to shy away from it, but in order to empathize with each other about it and help each other deal. I know I am not the only feminist woman out there who is preoccupied with not only worries about her appearance, but worries about worries about her appearance. Like so much else, this is not a personal issue, put a personal politics issue, and it is something we are best suited to fight together, not alone.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Feminist Book Reviews: Selling Women Short and Sisters

(Cross-posted at What If No One's Watching.)

I just read a couple of great feminist books, so I thought I'd share my reviews with Avast!

Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Worker's Rights at Wal-Mart
by Liza Featherstone
282 pages
Basic Books, November 30, 2004

This excellent, interview-based book follows the case of Dukes v. Wal-Mart, the gigantic class-action suit brought against Wal-Mart by its female employees. Journalist Featherstone talks to what have to be a hundred current and former Wal-Mart employees, managers, lawyers, etc. in her effort to get the whole story, and the story isn't pretty. The picture painted is one of institutional discrimination against women on a scale of over a million. The discrimination permeates all levels at Wal-Mart, with women making less than men for the same jobs, being sexually harassed, and all of the usual crimes. The thing that makes Wal-Mart different, though (or at least this is the case the prosecution will be making) is that the policy of discrimination is not limited to a given man, or a given store, but to the entire, huge company. As women fight their ways up the management ranks at Wal-Mart, things get worse rather than better, and eventually nearly all women top out. For all of its rhetoric about being woman-friendly and family-friendly, Wal-Mart does worse by women than any other company its size.

The strength of Featherstone's book is on two counts. The first is her persuasive rhetoric and extensive interviewing, the second is her focus. Featherstone largely allows the women involved in the case to speak for themselves as to their treatment at Wal-Mart, and their stories provide a very strong foundation for the institutional statistics she provides, but doesn't bore you with. Giving Wal-Mart management their say, she also talks extensively to current and former high level Wal-Marters, and quotes from the testimony that has already been heard in the pre-trial motions for the case. While her sympathy to the protestants is obvious, she seems a decent journalist in at least trying to get the other side of the story. Such as it is.

As opposed to other anti-Wal-Mart pieces, such as The High Cost of Low Prices, Featherstone focuses her work not on everything that is wrong with the company, but specifically on its sexism. While she does end up arguing that unionization will do more for Wal-Mart's female employees than this lawsuit or anything else that may come along, she spends most of the book focusing on the specific problems of female Wal-Mart workers, and given how much information is available just on that one subject, this is a good call. Though the discrimination of women at Wal-Mart does tie into other problems with the company (hypocritical conservative moralism, poor treatment of workers), it is refreshing to see a focus on women, and to see Featherstone's academic rigor in defining her subject.

Overall, this book is the best piece I've seen or read on the evil that is Wal-Mart. While it misses whole huge problems with what Wal-Mart does (like the conditions of overseas workers, for example), it does a wonderful job with the issue that it does take up, which is one of the ones that I'm most concerned with as a feminist. I'd highly recommend it.

Sisters: The Lives of America's Suffragists
by Jean H. Bake
288 pages
Hill and Wang, September 14, 2005

I picked up this book after watching the movie about Alice Paul and the end of the suffrage movement, Iron-Jawed Angels. I realized while watching the film that I didn't know enough about Paul, or about feminism's "First Wave" in general, to tell if the movie was giving her a fair portrayal or not. This book was a good introduction, I think, but more information will definitely be needed.

Sisters is divided into five sections, each dedicated to the life and work of one particular famous suffragist: Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frances Willard, and Alice Paul. By her own admission, Baker focuses more on the women themselves than on the history of the work they did. In her mind, the women of the first generation of American feminism are largely forgotten by all us Second Wavers and beyond, relegated to images of uptight prudes in high-collared dresses, with no lives or histories of their own, and she seeks to correct that. Due to this focus, and to each section only being about 50 pages long, she doesn't get much into the politics and activism, so look for that elsewhere. What she does talk about is each woman's childhood (three of five were very bad), religion (two Quakers, two Christians, and one atheist), personal relationships (Stone and Stanton were married, the other three were not, and four of the five women may have had lesbian relationships), and general personality. So I came out of the reading knowing not a whole lot more than I had started out knowing about suffrage politics, but thinking that Susan B. Anthony was probably been a damn fun person to be around, while Lucy Stone was probably not.

Given what it is--a lightweight, biographical account of five tremendously important women in less than 300 pages--it's fantastic. And while I hunger for more information, I know at least know what and who specifically I want more information on. Alice Paul remains the most intriguing figure to me, and Frances Willard appeals even less than before. The earliest years of the suffrage movement, particularly those that eclipse the Civil War and Reconstruction, are unbearably depressing, and it's much more fun to focus on the 20th century part of the battle. The book gives me lots of starting points. It's also a very easy read, and I'd recommend it for others who, like me, are embarrassingly ignorant of the suffrage movement in the U.S., especially if it is something you want to know about and don't want to dedicate a lot of time to. Iron-Jawed Angels isn't bad on that count either, actually. I'm going to be trying to move on to something a bit more substantive next, so suggestions are welcome.

Avast! Feminist Conspiracy!

Women in Office

This is Bleu, the Avast! member who has yet to post anything. I'm a stay-at-home mom and helping to run an exciting campaign for a pro-choice woman Democrat -- so pretty much every minute in my life is accounted for. An article came out today that stirred me to post, already.

Breaking news: Women Hold Fewer State Govt Posts Than Men. Okay, not really news!

Women's participation in elected office, on average, has long hovered at roughly 20%. This is not competitive in comparison to other countries' rates of women in government, even those countries that are not Sweden (Mecca for gender equality), or that do not have laws requiring representative quotas of women / minority groups, are not progressive, European, industrialized, secular or affluent. In other words, though the United States is often considered a bastion of powerful women -- by Americans and by people in other countries -- well, we're not all that. In fact, even religious Islamic nations that disapprove of Western worldy, sexualized images of women often have more women in government that does the United States. And from where I sit, bikini-clad women prancing around in beer commercials just isn't my vision of equality.

What would the United States look like if we had more representative government? Does the gender of our political decision-makers really matter? Well... yes. Studies have long shown a correlation between women in government office and pro-choice policy (please note this is a .pdf file), as well as other policies that affect women and children. What policies -- beyond the obvious concern with reproductive rights -- are measurably affected? The above-mentioned 2002 IWPR study cites conditions in the following areas: violence against women, child support, welfare policies, employment /unemployment benefits, sexual orientation and gender identity, and institutional resources.

So what do we do about this? You get involved at the grassroots level. You make the calls and write the letters to your elected officials. You volunteer for and/or donate to qualified pro-choice women candidates. At the very minimum, you register and vote.

Are you all fired up? No? Then have another coffee and re-read this post. Because you sure should be!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Final Update on MA EC case

I've now blogged about this here twice, so for those following along, here is the end of the story, at least as far as Massachusetts is concerned. (A story from yesterday, including some additional information, is here. In short, as a result of a complaint filed by the women's lawyer simultaneously with their lawsuit, the Massachusetts pharmacy board has ordered Wal-Mart to carry the morning-after pill. Wal-Mart has said that it will comply, and is re-thinking it's policy due to its deeply felt concern for women's health. No word yet on how women's health stacks up against the "business reasons" that initially caused its refusal to carry emergency contraception.

From the point of view of the plaintiffs--both the three women named in the suit and the organizations that supported them--this was a perfect lawsuit. It was quick--3 weeks! It was successful, even though their suit hasn't gone to judgment (and is likely now moot)--now all of the major pharmacies in Massachusetts carry emergency contraception. That's a result that the plaintiffs and their supporters, who included both pro-choice organizations and organizations opposing sexual violence, can be proud of. And finally, their lawyer is looking to file similar lawsuits in other states. This wasn't the slam-dunk constitutional ruling that all lawyers dream of, but it worked. And since we won't be getting the slam-dunk constitutional rulings anymore, it's time that we found something that does.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Have a heart

The Boston Globe published some important women's health information yesterday, but my reaction to the article by Stephen Smith was so thoroughly mixed that it was difficult for me to figure out what to say about it.

The content was vitally important, especially for women like me who have a family history of heart conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes. My grandmother died of congestive heart failure, to which her years of poorly managed high blood pressure certainly contributed. My mother is managing her blood pressure through meds, and, even more importantly, through exercise. About a year ago, my blood pressure was borderline high for the first time. So any information feels useful.

The presentation, however, left a lot to be desired.

First, though, the important part: women experience different heart disease symptoms than men do, and currently available tests do not necessarily show the problem.
Medical research published this month shows that as many as 3 million women in the United States suffer from a form of heart disease that hides from angiograms, which examine only the heart's three big arteries. That discovery is the product of a major study that aims to better understand the distinctive heart disease suffered by many women.


The landmark study that appeared this month in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology tracked 936 women with symptoms so concerning that doctors ordered an angiogram, an X-ray that's taken after dye is injected into the heart.

Only one-third of the women had significant blockages, while the rest appeared to have free-flowing arteries. But further tests showed that half of the women whose angiograms were clear actually had problems in other, smaller vessels that carry oxygen to the far reaches of the heart.
While this is good to know, the article was far from reassuring about the standard of care that women have been receiving from our cardiologists.
"In the past, those patients whose angiograms showed no big blockages would have been sent home and told you have no problem or it's in your head," said Dr. George Sopko, a cardiologist at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. "Now, instead of saying, 'Go home, don't worry about it,' the patient needs to be carefully looked at and provided a plan."
I am relieved to see that it is no longer acceptable to send patients home with a pat on the head. (Seriously, is this new? Because that would depress the crap out of me.) I can't help but wonder if this is one reason why it took 22 years, years of heart disease being the leading killer of women, for this kind of information to come to light.

What really bothered me, though, was the cutsey and even mocking tone of the article.

When I first saw the title, "The secrets of a woman's heart," I rolled my eyes. I would have bypassed the article, writing it off as some kind of V-Day tripe, but for a subtitle that indicated it's actual content. Perhaps it was someone's idea of a witty pun for this time of year, but it didn't work for me.

I didn't exactly fall over laughing when I read this, either:
When it comes to affairs of the heart, women really are different from men: They're much more likely to have trouble with the avenues and alleys that branch off from the major highways of the heart. And problems in those smaller vessels can't be detected by conventional methods.
How poetic, referring to a deadly heart condition as a romantic escapade of some kind. I can tell you really care. "See ladies? You really are different from men, and it comes with undetectable heart disease!" Hardy har har.

Smith just can't resist closing with another zinger of this kind. At the beginning of the article, he write about a woman with heart problems for whom the traditional diagnostic tools were not effective. Toward the end, he reassures us that she is now receiving care, and has a heart scan scheduled.
Maybe, she said, it will help answer why, every other month, her heart betrays her.
Betraying her, indeed.

Work encounters of the religious kind

from Gyratory Circus:
In a previous post, I mentioned how I'm learning things about my new employer that are making me uncomfortable - well, another one walked right through my door not long ago.

I was just about to shut my door and eat my lunch when a man stopped by and introduced himself as the company chaplain. Huh? Chaplain? I worked at a hospital for a long time and was used to having all sorts of clergy around - there were rabbis and nuns and imams and Charismatic hellfire-and-brimstone preachers - but they were there for the patients, and there was no automatic assumption that everyone was Christian. Where I work now is a regular old office, not open to the public, so I had automatically assumed that if they offered any kind of employee assistance it would be a therapist or counselor - definitely NOT clergy.

The chaplain gave me his card and told me to call him day or night if I needed help resolving a workplace issue (I assumed he meant things along the lines of personality conflicts, not to have him help me with Excel formula questions) or just someone to talk to. His "welcome aboard" speech was obviously rehearsed and you could tell each word was chosen very very carefully to make him sound neutral and open-minded. Thankfully, he didn't stay long - I think he could tell that I wasn't very receptive to his spiel and went on to find easier pickings.

After he left I pulled up the website that was on the business card, looking for clues to see if the company he worked for had a generic non-sectarian Christian viewpoint or if it was more than that. On the Mission page, it spelled it out pretty clearly:

Our mission is to build relationships with employees, with the hope of gaining permission to share the life-changing Good News of Jesus Christ, in a non-threatening manner.

So basically the goal is to manipulate folks and try to gain their trust so they'll be receptive to evangelizing. Nice!

My first reaction is to contact HR and see if they have a non-clergy counselor available and see what the reaction is, but considering it took nearly 6 months for me to find out about this I don't think that the whole company is some sort of hotbed of proselytization.

from frog:
When GC told me about this, I thought she was kidding. I was sure she was kidding. I mean, what the hell is clergy doing in a corporation? In a hospital, yes, I can understand that. In a religious-based nonprofit (or even for profit) setting, I can understand that, too. Hell, I work in academia and I know that I can find clergy here if I want them.

But the idea of a clergy person showing up at my office, uninvited, while I’m working? That gets on my last Christian feminist nerve. It’s possible that it pissed me off even more than it did my pagan/Buddhist friend, who’s the one who had the chaplain in her office.

I’m no one’s idea of an evangelist, but the people I know IRL think of me as such. I’m given to inviting people to church for various events and to worship with me, but for some reason, the idea of a chaplain being employed to talk to me about my spiritual life during work bothers me to no end. I’m all for the idea of ministering to the whole person, as it were, but I’m not at all for the idea of someone trying to dictate to me or anyone else, on the clock, what my belief system should be or where I should turn for solace when that’s needed.

Separation of church and state should extend to being able to work at my secular job without God’s minions showing up at my door uninvited.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

In her blog entry "The Racial Suicide of Europe", Echidne said:

The wingnuts who worry about the death of the "white race" want white women to have more children and women of color fewer. It is the women who are to blame, by the way, for any lack of more whites. The white women are selfish for not bringing into the world lots and lots of little white babies. ....... Only white women who have hard-working white husbands should breed, especially educated white women. And they should stay at home with the white babies.

(bold mine)

In "Inside Organized Racism: Women in the Hate Movement" by Katherine Blee, there are instances where members of hate groups state that white women who give birth to mixed-race babies are seen as the most vile of all traitors to the white race. White women's reproduction is seen as something to be carefully controlled and cultivated, and that without their complicity in producing "enough" white babies - voluntarily or not - it will be the end of the civilized world as we know it. And it'll be all those damned women's fault.

Sounds familiar doesn't it?

And another

Hi, I'm Marching. Known elsewhere as March or Ein Shem. I chose March as my user name since I wanted to be Jo March when I was little. My birthday is on the Ides of March so Beware!
I've been a feminist probably since reading about Jo and her sisters. I live in Israel and try to live a feminist, liberal life in a very male dominated, military oriented country. I am not a very prolific blogger but will try and bring my views and contribute a opinions from a different part of the world.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Yet Another Intro

Hi, I'm Zoe. Well, not really. I live in Kansas with 4 cats, 2 lizards, and one Jeremy. Ah, Kansas. It is an interesting state. Fred Phelps and a town called Liberal in one big rectangle.

Hopefully, I will actually post sometimes.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Epitaph for Betty Friedan

In age, if not in spirit, I am situated pretty firmly in U.S. feminism’s “third wave.” As such, I’ve never heard many good things said, nor had much good to say, about Betty Friedan. Yes, I’ve read The Feminine Mystique, but it didn’t do much for me. As a college woman without any prospects of marriage and children, or impetus to marry or have kids, it never resonated. It seemed dated, part of a prosaic past, an artifact from a battle already fought. Add that to the rightful criticisms of Friedan’s classism, racism, and heterosexism, and she never presented much of a role model.

However, none of that changes the fact that Betty Friedan was a great feminist. She had the nerve to speak out about something that plagued millions of women and yet went largely undiscussed, and she had the talent to speak out about it in such a way as to get millions of women to listen. While it is true that The Feminine Mystique ignored or did injustice to large groups of women, it is also true that the group of women for whom it did (and does) resonate need and deserve a voice as clear and strong as Friedan’s.

In honor of this great feminist’s death this weekend, I am going to read The Feminine Mystique again. As I think back to the time in my life when I first read it, I think perhaps my not getting much from it was as much my fault as Betty’s. Because the truth of the matter is that as justified as criticisms of Friedan’s myopia are, the problem that has no name still exists, and exists now in ways that she may not have even expected. Whether or not it is my personal battle (and at this point, it’s not) has very little to do with the value to me, as a feminist, of fighting it. Just as much as any of my stay-at-home sisters, I am indebted to Friedan’s work and to her spirit, and even though I may be the last woman or earth to get it, I intend to give her work the second chance it deserves.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Update: Reaction to Mass EC case

(Referencing this story, which I blogged about a couple of days ago).

Rush Limbaugh disapproves of women asserting themselves, is the reaction. And he hates it in a way that makes me want to punch him hard in the mouth. I don't read enough of his work to become very inured to it--every time I do I'm shocked and actually distressed, not because of him personally--I couldn't give a damn--but because people actually listen to and admire the man. Some people, at least. Enough to keep him in a job. For the moment.

My favorite quote:

"For crying out loud, let's make them prove that they've first had sex with a man, and then we'll talk about stocking the morning-after pill at Wal-Mart."

Because they're lesbians! Get it? LESBIANS, like all feminist agitators!

But wait:

You know, the most dangerous place you can be is between a liberal woman and her morning-after pill.

Do not try to stand between lesbians and morning-after pills.

On the one hand, I'm amused, since Rush is so clearly between a rock and a hard place--feminists are all lesbians! I mean, feminists are sluts who have constant unprotected sex with men! I mean, um.... At a certain point it's funny to watch him throw out one random stereotype after another in hopes that one will stick to this particular situation.

And at another point, the lesbian baiting actually upsets me. Not because lesbians have plenty of reason to care about other women's rights, though they do, a point that Rush totally misses. It upsets me because he obscures the reason why women who don't ordinarily sleep with men and thus do not ordinarily use contraception might need the morning-after pill, in particular. One reason why a lot of women need a pill that they can take after they have sex, instead of before. It obscures the fact that sometimes sex for women isn't voluntary, is coerced, is actually rape, is not controlled by our orientations or preferences.

Rush's comments via Portia.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

In lieu of creating any content of my own, may I direct you to a wonderfully nuanced piece on cosmetic surgery addicts and the beauty myth by Piny of Feministe.

At which point does society judge women to have 'crossed the line' in the pursuit of an impossible beauty standard, a pursuit which society relentlessly demands of women? We shower our Botoxed actresses with admiration, box office power, and Oscars, but heaven be damned should you turn into a Jocelyn Wildenstein in your use of cosmetic surgery! We ogle the prepubescent bodies of size 0 starlets, but watch us condemn Mary-Kate's anorexia! Or, more accurately, watch us look on with morbid fascination, through the faux-earnest People magazine articles that mime concern in a most disingenuous way.

Does condemning these women as their own one-woman freak shows absolve society's responsibility in maintaining the ridiculous beauty standards that inspire such extreme behaviours in the first place? It's the same old "damned if we do, damned if we don't" standard for women. And for feminists, I think this is a great example of one of the most central questions we must keep asking ourselves: how do we as feminists condemn problematic behaviours without falling into the same bullshit that patriarchy so gets off on - condemning and blaming the women themselves for those behaviours? With the added qualification, of course, that we want to acknowledge the societal pressures exerted on women without infantilising women or ignoring the agency women hold over (at least some of) our choices.

How do we do that? Not at all a novel question of course, but it is one that I keep trying to remind myself of, both in my own decisions and in thinking about how I can best support other women.


I'm Sarah and am going to be posting here occasionally, depending on how often I have time and how often I have something to say.

My usual blog topics are feminism, literature, science and especially the way it's reported in the news media and critique of popular culture. I live in the UK and hope I can provide a view on feminist issues in this part of the world.

Friday, February 03, 2006

My first blog post ever

Hi everyone. I'm purplest and I'm really thrilled to be part of this fantastic blog. I'm hoping to be a regular, though if I'm realistic probably not a prolific, contributor and I'm looking forward to reading everybody’s entries.

I'm not sure really where to start with building an identity here. I want to be able to write something sufficiently complete and accurate so that you feel you know me enough to trust me and so you might begin to understand my world. I don’t think this post will manage to do that but hopefully I’ll have some success over a succession of posts. My life is very compartmentalised and often contradictory and, not being very trusting, I’ve never been the sort of person who opens up easily and honestly. I even have a well developed set of skills that enable me to give the impression that I'm sharing but I'm usually not, well not at the level that its presumed I am.

Anyway, a brief outline of who I am, where I'm from and some of what I'm passionate about...

Probably the one thing that I consider defines me more than anything to the international boards that I visit is that I am Australian and I currently live in Australia. While I consider myself a city girl I have lived and worked in the Kimberley of West Australia since the beginning of 1995. The Kimberley is probably as 'outback' as you can get in the modern world with infrastructures and public services poor or non-existent, health statistics comparable with the most underdeveloped 3rd world countries and isolation a lifestyle not a concept. The majority, who live here, especially those born here, are Aboriginal people with the rest being either service providers or involved in the cattle industry. The Aboriginal people from this area have determinedly struggled to retain their different cultures and languages despite the invasion of Australia in 1770 and continued specific Government policies and processes of apartheid and genocide. Historically the isolation and remoteness of this area has afforded the people here some respite and protection with some 'first contact' people still alive and able to tell their stories but all families here have experiences or stories of dispossession, massacre and being either directly or indirectly affected by the 'Stolen Generation'.
Living and working where I do is so remote and exotic that most Australians can’t imagine, let alone accurately consider the lives of people in this place and not many people I know understand or genuinely respect my life here.
I originally came to the Kimberley from Fremantle for a teaching job which was to last at most 2 years and I'm still here 12 years later. The opportunity to come here has been life and world view changing especially in terms of my politics, understanding and awareness of social justice, decision making at all levels of government and administration and the implications for Aboriginal and other people who are not part of the mainstream.
My feminism is not of the academic variety though I have studied some feminism units at University but comes more from my belief in social justice. I think my feminist politics inform, influence and support my anti-racist politics and work and visa versa. I find it hard to understand how people can advocate social justice for one group and not another. I found this really bewildering on Ms. when there were those bustups where feminists either felt ok posting racist comment on a feminist board or didn’t recognise it for what it was. I find the dissection and analysis of feminism at the academic level to be really interesting and there have been times when I wish I knew enough to participate in those discussions, but when it comes down to it I think that right now in my world action, plain dialogue and problem solving is what is most often needed.
I believe strongly in the ant-racist teaching tenet of always speaking up wherever or whenever you encounter or become aware of racism and I think that this also applies to anything anti-women, women-hating or will affect women. When I’m away from here I’m often in arguments over this stuff particularly with my family and am regularly called a ‘n****r loving man-hater’

So anyway, I know this entry is rambling and disjointed and, like I originally suspected, doesn’t let you know much about me but since I’ve sermonised enough for my first go I’ll leave the rest for another time.
But I just want to say again how thrilled I am to be here on this blog. We are going to be great!

Déjà vu

This week, I reflected to a friend that it astounds me, how conservatives seem to be so afraid of sex. Before I could take my thoughts much farther than that, I found Every Sperm is Sacred by Joyce Marcel over at Common Dreams. After puzzling over the seemingly inconsistent positions that conservatives take on abortion and war, abortion and the death penalty, and abortion and contraception, she comes to this conclusion:
So what's going on here? For one thing, to me it looks like many of these Christian right-wing anti-abortion people are, basically, anti-sex. And not anti-sex for men, either. A contraceptive pill for men was created back in the Sixties, so you figure out why it's not on the market today.

We're back to the domination of women, aren't we? About getting us back into the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant, so men are not challenged by our talent, our wit, our abilities and our gumption.

Like Marcel, I have been getting a strong feeling of deja vu this week. The positions that conservatives take on these issues only seem inconsistent if you refuse to accept that childbearing is a woman's sole function. Biology is destiny. Somehow, we've been here before.

At the same time, I feel incredulous, as well as disappointed. I admit it, I'm in the third wave age bracket. I hope that I never took my right to choose for granted, but I certainly didn't expect that as an adult, I would be continuing this fight on this particular terrain. It is one thing to argue that medical procedures should be a person and her doctor. It's another thing entirely to have to argue again, still, that she is a person in the first place. Shades of Gilead, indeed.

(I'm hybrid, by the way, a proud product of my many contradictory realities. Born in the Midwest but raised in Vermont, I'm a progressive Jewish feminist who makes her living as an IT professional in the defense industry. I live and work near Boston, Massachusetts. During my free time, you will most often find me engaged in heated debates with friends, eating, playing video games, or some combination thereof. I collect pajamas, teas, and outdated computers.)

Word, NYGF.

I think that the actual safety of the people in a building, plus the right of the audience to hear the proceedings without substantive distraction, are good reasons to impose limitations on speech and behavior at important government proceedings. Anything else is just blatantly illegal.

When in HELL did our politicians get the idea that they are entitled to dissent-free zones at their public appearances? >: A clue, Georgie: the SOTU was not instituted to be an ADVERTISEMENT for you and your proto-Gileadan agenda. It's a demonstration of your accountability to we, the T-shirt-wearing people of the United States of America.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

T-Shirts now not allowed anywhere near D.C.

Evidently, the laws have been changed to make demonstrating and protesting illegal, even when one does nothing but sit in a seat they were invited to sit in.

Not only was Cindy Sheehan arrested for wearing a t-shirt, but the wife of Bill Young, a Republican and senior member of the House of Representatives, accused of being a "demonstrator and a protester" and was escorted outside the gallery for wearing a t-shirt reading "Support our Troops." She wasn't arrested, unsurprisingly -- after all, she and her husband are Republicans.

You'd think that a shirt about supporting the troops would be okay, but no. I have to say, this administration has been very successful at turning off a goodly number of their own party, what with the facist type of rules and behavior and all the lies and crookedness -- from the faulty reaoning for the Iraq military action to the list of Republican lawmakers and cronies who are lining up to be prosecuted. Way to go!

Can we please have a do-over and elect a different president now?

This just in: evidently, according to Reuters News Service, The Capitol Police dropped charges against activist Cindy Sheehan and apologized for arresting her. I'm glad they apologized, but of course they only did it to cover their collective asses.

(I'm thistle. I'm a law student and spend 20-30 hours per week working with a legal aid organization where I represent abuse survivors in family court. I'm also a former English major and aspiring vegetarian cook. I expect that I will largely write about legal issues here, though you never know.)

This story caught my attention. The gist is that three women in Massachusetts are suing Wal-Mart for refusing to carry Emergency Contraception. They argue that state policy requiring pharmacies to carry "commonly prescribed" medications should apply to EC. Wal-Mart, which does not carry EC for "business reasons," has stated only that it doesn't agree that EC is "commonly prescribed."

This story makes me happy. I like it when we play offense, and that happens awfully rarely these days because there's so much defense to be done. I also like to see lawyers thinking of ways to make options available to women in practice as well as in theory, and pharmacies have become a battlefield in this arena. I can't speak to the plausibility of their argument because I haven't found a story that includes more information on the source or text of the state "policy" that they cite--I will say that I'm willing to bet that emergency contraception is far more commonly prescribed than other drugs that Wal-Mart does carry.

The Constitution is no longer a good arena for litigation, if the goal is to expand access to contraception and to abortion. Recent Supreme Court appointments (cough *Alito* cough) will make the Supreme Court in particular an unfriendly venue for these cases, and the preponderance of Republican presidents in recent years (other than our 8 years of Clinton, it's been a long time since we had anyone but Republicans making appointments to the federal bench, and Carter's appointees have largely retired) will make federal courts in general reluctant to recognize a genuinely robust abortion right. That's the future of federal litigation around choice; the present is that access to abortion has already been shouted out of court. Supreme Court cases have stated that states--or the federal government--can deny women Medicaid funds for abortions, regardless of risk to the women if they are forced to give birth. States can impose waiting periods, require special counseling, require parental notification for minors, and otherwise burden the ability to obtain an abortion even where a woman can afford one--and if she can't afford it, they certainly are not obligated to pay for it.

Those are the limits on constitutional protection of choice today; they didn't always exist, and they don't have to, and maybe someday in the far future they won't. But there are other limitations that the Constitution won't ever touch--for example, the Constitution can't make Wal-Mart, a private company, carry EC. Massachusetts, on the other hand, probably can. And the beauty of statutory interpretation is that a law that I'm guessing was drafted with no intention of forcing stores to carry EC might be useful to do just that.

The case is only going to affect Massachusetts--and since our dominant pharmacy, CVS, does carry EC (and has a policy that requires its pharmacists to actually fill prescriptions for it or be fired) Massachusetts is not the state that needs the help most. But still, I like the thinking behind the suit.