NARAL has a nifty new video out about why you should vote pro-choice, and I’m proud to be a part of it:
Be awesome or don’t bother, friends.
NARAL has a nifty new video out about why you should vote pro-choice, and I’m proud to be a part of it:
Be awesome or don’t bother, friends.
I appeared as a panelist on this week’s episode of To The Contrary, and discussed the war on women, consent on campus, and fighting breast cancer. You can watch a video of the show here:
I recently appeared on The Square Circle, and toward the end of the show panelists are given an opportunity to speak to what they believe is an underreported story from the week. Imagine my surprise when the woman before me offered up a story about and her opposition to an art display at the University of Michigan that celebrated abortion as a life-saving act.
While I had not heard of the story previously, I felt compelled to respond immediately:
Opponents of legal abortion should never be given the opportunity to take the high ground. Their anti-choice positions are fundamentally against basic human rights for women. You should not apologize for supporting abortion rights; further, you should not let anti-choicers make you feel ashamed or immoral. State your support for legal abortion with pride. The moral high ground is, in fact, yours.
If you would like to watch the entire program, the link is here.
I appeared as a panelist on this week’s To The Contrary. We discussed the Pope’s latest comments on abortion, birth control and sexual orientation; the United Nations Millennium Development Goals; and a new film about a Saudi girl who wants to ride a bicycle. You can check out the video here:
I appeared on this week’s To The Contrary with Bonnie Erbé, discussing a sexist attack on The New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson, a new film about Saudi women’s rights, and students using social media to fight sexual assault on campus. You can watch it here:
I am a pregnant woman. Never in my adult life have I had fewer rights under the law, more intrusive comments and questions from people in the public space. I don’t need to be objectified any more than I already am. This is not a body for you to glance at, scroll down, expand the window, draw your own conclusions about and “Like.”
That is why I am not posting pregnancy photos to Facebook.
We, as a culture, live in public. I, as a human being, made a strategic decision to live in public several years ago. I believe that a woman telling her story has the power to change society.
That is why I rely strongly on personal narrative, because I want you to know I’m proud to be pregnant and pro-choice, I’m proud to be pregnant and an eating disorder survivor, and I want you to be proud to be whoever you are and tell your stories without shame — whether you relate to my experiences or not.
So why am I drawing the line at pregnancy photos?
Because I want to share my pregnancy in the way I experience it and choose to share it, not in a way for others to see it and choose to interpret it.
Because carrying a wanted pregnancy is an act of immense love and sacrifice that is, at its core, an astonishing and sacred experience of beauty. For me. This time.
Others’ experiences are, I’m sure, different.
I am fortunate to have, to be able to have, a loving spouse with whom to share doubts, fears, glee, joy and stomach troubles during these most private of times.
I am offended to imagine breaking the spell of our intimacy as a couple and family, and my integrity to sense of self as seen fit to share by posing, anticipating others looking at me and calling it “cute.”
A number of friends have begged for photos. I know you mean well. I know you want to share this time with me. I am happy to “Like” your pregnancy photos if you choose to share them with me. I encourage you to be happy that I am sharing this time in my life on my level.
If you are itching to honor me during this time, or do something quick online to lift my spirits because I’m pregnant and my back hurts, I will point you directly to the Meet the Press website where you can, in solidarity, share your alarm that recently they had one token woman against reproductive rights and four men discussing the new six-week abortion ban in North Dakota, the most restrictive abortion law on the books. By presenting reproductive rights as a matter of public morality, mainly as judged by men, rather than the lived and incredibly visceral experiences of individual women, the mainstream media is colluding in the massive infringement of my civil and human rights.
When the silencing of people like me in mainstream media and public policy is so extreme, it is hard for me to get excited about the voyeurism of cutesy pregnancy mania on social media. It is hard for me to believe the pressure to perform for the camera and the pressure to keep my mouth shut about my human rights are not interconnected.
Maybe if we all get together socially and “Like” one other’s pregnancies it will be okay. But it’s not. One of us might find ourselves pregnant and in the wrong place at the wrong time. And then, in the name of someone else’s abstract notions of morality enforced by the state, one of us might die. Or have a forced C-section. Or be incarcerated or detained because we were pregnant.
I refuse to be a smiling snapshot of this awful era for pregnant women. Opting out is my act of difference. Speaking out is my act of defiance.
I recently read L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics. Like so many of my dear readers, I follow the life progression of Tom Cruise with interest and enjoy, from time to time, reading a good piece on Scientology. So I thought it would be instructive to go to the source and see how this all got started.
Dianetics is the foundation of what became Scientology. The premise is fairly simple: The mind, according to L. Ron Hubbard, is an organ capable of working without error so long as we have “cleared” it of “engrams,” which are imprints from traumatic experiences in our past. Through a process called “auditing” it is possible to “clear” these “engrams” and rock on with a flawless life. Most of this I more or less knew before reading Dianetics.
What I didn’t know before reading is that L. Ron Hubbard was obsessed with abortion and had such strange attitudes about pregnant women. According to Dianetics everyone but “clears” are weighted down with “engrams” that cause them to act and think irrationally — and I estimate based on my reading that L. Ron Hubbard thinks fully a third or more of these damaging “engrams” we’re all carrying around come from the nefarious activities of pregnant women.
The way he tells it, pregnant women of his era sat around and “attempted abortion” by pounding their abdomens, begging to be beaten by their husbands and cursing the fetus throughout pregnancy. This is not a rarity, but positioned as something that pretty much all pregnant women do. Further a woman being miserable during, for example, morning sickness, will cause her child to be messed up throughout adult life unless those “engrams” are cleared. There are recurring pronouncements about sexual encounters during pregnancy, from masturbation to frustrating frigid games with a husband to illicit sex with a lover, messing up a person’s entire life. During childbirth, it is important not to speak so a baby is not further imprinted and damaged.
This is not one line in the book. It is all over the book. L. Ron Hubbard was obsessed with abortion and pregnant women. As a reproductive justice advocate, I’m shocked I didn’t know until now he thought pregnant women were to blame for so many of the problems in the universe. What is most disturbing is how many others — not just science fiction authors like L. Ron Hubbard — people like politicians, religious authorities and community leaders are respected when they say, repeatedly, equally bizarre things about pregnant women today.
Struggling to speak, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords looked directly to the Senate Judiciary Committee: “You must act!” she said. Please watch her brief testimony if you have not done so already:
Rather than recapitulate the entire hearing (here’s a Storify of my live tweets throughout the hearing if you’re interested) or make an argument for common-sense gun control measures, which I support, I’d rather like to use this occasion to make three observations about women and today’s gun control hearing:
No. 1: A refusal to take women’s views and violence against women seriously is **the** subtext of gun proliferation.
Disrespect for women is intimately interwoven with a lack of action on gun violence. The obvious overlap between Senators airing opposition to gun control today and Senators who led the charge to allow the Violence Against Women Act to expire for the first time in 18 years is not a coincidence. As C-SPAN first aired the hearing, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) blamed Attorney General Eric Holder, Operation Fast and Furious, anything he could for Newtown while the camera cut to two younger women in the audience with their arms crossed in disappointment. Remember when Mitt Romney blamed mass shootings on single mothers?
No. 2: Women and people of color have been left out of the gun debate for too long, and this limits our ability for change.
Of four witnesses who gave testimony and answered questions today, one was a woman. Zero were people of color. Watch the news shows and you’ll see the same dynamic. The result is an overabundance of a racially charged white male “self-defense” perspective, while ignoring the perspectives of communities most impacted by gun proliferation: women with abusive partners and people of color getting shot to death in the inner cities (rarely do these equally outrageous deaths make the news the way a massacre of whites at school, at work, or in a movie theater does). The one woman selected to be a witness was a shill for the gun manufacturers placed by Republicans on the committee. We’ll move to her bizarre comments next, but suffice it to say that Senate Democrats screwed up. While the party is clearly more inclusive of women at a policy level and within its ranks, it’s doing a bad job of representational diversity at the head table (not just in the hearing, in Obama’s cabinet nominations) — any job that isn’t 50% is a bad job. Certainly zero percent allows one reactionary woman — the Republicans tend to pick just one — standing on the other side of a group of progressive men to take and twist feminist rhetoric to her heart’s content.
No. 3: Rampant, unchecked gun proliferation is a terrible and lethal solution for a country wracked with violence against women.
What we heard about women and guns from the “Independent Women’s Forum” witness was bunk and bizarre. Doing nothing about guns, as the gun manufacturers want us to do, will kill more women. Continuing to allow abusers who can’t buy a gun at a dealer to buy a gun from a private seller without the background check that would disqualify them will kill more women. Please take some time to read the facts about women and gun violence from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. In backing everything Wayne LaPierre and the National Rifle Association said, witness Gayle Trotter also managed to twist feminist rhetoric into something unrecognizable. Several times she made reference to “a woman’s second amendment freedom of choice” and even used the abortion rights caselaw buzzword “undue burden.” She also asserted that younger women were speaking up everywhere for AR-15s, and in a desperate attempt for justification reached into the sexism grab-bag and said we like them because of their “style.” I honestly can’t decide what I think: Did she invoke “freedom of choice” multiple times to appropriate feminist rhetoric (since she was the only woman speaking and the opportunity was wide open for her to do so) or was she trying to link massacres with abortion? Elsewhere she asserted that conceal/carry laws benefit women who don’t carry, presumably because men packing heat might protect that “freedom of choice.”
As Mark Kelly noted, a good guy with a gun did come running out of a Walgreens after his wife was shot. In the melee, he nearly shot the man who tackled Jared Loughner, the man who shot his wife, Gabby Giffords, to the ground. It’s shameful that her colleagues didn’t get it together after she was nearly killed, but the chance for progress is before us now. It is time for action on gun proliferation and violence against women.
“The only way for a woman, or a man, to find herself, to know herself as a person, is by creative work of her own. There is no other way.” – Betty Friedan
It’s been fifty years since Betty Friedan wrote the The Feminine Mystique. How much has changed. How much remains the same.
Sexism is as foundational to society as it was during the Mad Men era that drove Betty Draper and Betty Friedan mad, if you ask me. The major difference is that people don’t smoke inside, and like colors and hemlines and shag carpets, oh the styles of expression are different.
For-men-only employment ads have jumped over to the lifestyle section of the newspaper, where you see presumed for-women-only feature articles about that ever-elusive “work/life balance.”
(Put no paid parenting leave; no childcare support; and no legal guarantee that you won’t get fired for asking what your coworkers are getting paid on a see-saw: Somehow it always seems to be the women dragged to the ground while men sit on top of Fortune 500 companies, law partnerships, and corporate boards almost totally by themselves. Most “work/life balance” experts say a super pink, super non-structural self-help approach will solve it, no government required! What a sexist joke.)
Only yesterday The New York Times published a column about “pro-life feminism,” in which a man sympathetic to the anti-human rights movement bringing you comparisons of pregnant women to farm animals, bills suggesting that women raped who have abortions be prosecuted for “tampering with evidence” and men-only congressional panels comparing the availability of birth control to choosing a place to go for lunch – a man sympathetic to all of that suggested that feminism be reformed. I beg your pardon.
But of course, the world has changed drastically since The Feminine Mystique, just look! Last week they said women would no longer be barred from combat, and daughters expect equality as do sons. Living up to the expectation of equality, and securing justice for those many experiences outside the realm of wealthy white men, has proved to be the continuing problem for the women’s movement to tackle.
Betty Friedan and her book, to say nothing of the first organization she founded, the National Organization for Women, have had outsize impact on my life as a feminist organizer.
I never knew Friedan personally, saw her across a room at a conference when I was an intern, and, you know, by then the women’s movement was so professionalized interns paid money in the form of tuition to get course credit for working free at the registration table.
When she died on a weekend in February 2006, I was in the National Organization for Women office chairing a meeting of the Young Feminist Task Force. I remember leading a moment of silence and thinking to myself what a profound responsibility I was accepting then, right then, to take the leadership required to help move feminism forward in a new way. I have never lost that feeling.
A few months ago, I decided taking meaningful leadership – contributing the most I have to give – meant leaving a big title in the big organization Friedan started. One of the key factors in my decision was realizing how many people, especially young people, were looking to me as an example of what was possible both in society and for their own lives. Believing in you, as I do, ultimately meant demonstrating I believe in myself and our power to create a better world.
I believe it is within our power to end sexism. I also believe getting there requires taking personal, interpersonal and structural risks. It requires acknowledging uncomfortable truths and working to change them. I believe younger people should define feminism for themselves and help lead the way forward. And while I am profoundly grateful for feminism and feminists of the past, I couldn’t be prouder to set this example. This is not an end. I am only getting started.
What would Friedan say about this? Honestly, I have no idea. As for me, I continue to take considerable inspiration from her legacy and The Feminine Mystique.
Gail Collins, a feminist of a different generation than myself, wrote a beautiful piece on ‘The Feminine Mystique’ at 50. In it, she pointed out more often the book is commented on for what it left out (basically anyone who wasn’t an upper middle class heterosexual white woman), rather than what it was (a piercingly accurate description of the waste of women like Betty).
Strangely enough, the waves of reaction in feminist thought went a bit too far in the other direction, in my opinion, when it became imperative for the incarnation of the women’s movement that followed The Feminine Mystique to speak declaratively “for all women” as if that was somehow possible to do really well. In my experience, people can speak profoundly well for themselves, and do both themselves and others a disservice when they try to speak for everyone else at the same time.
You cannot homogenize diversity, nor is it wise to try. It is the diversity that is the strength. It is the diversity that is the beautiful part. In encouraging diverse people to speak and lead for themselves (and having others listen and add their experience, not to change what the speaker said, but to speak and lead for themselves in the pursuit of an equality to be achievable in common by all) we can move the needle closer to justice. Modern feminism is already doing this all over the Internet. This is my experience and I deserve to be heard. That is your experience and you deserve to be heard. I know we can do better. We can be more than this. Let’s take a risk and organize something totally new and spectacular. It is very exciting, and dare I argue, a very inclusive expression of what Betty Friedan could have helped to kick off had her slice of reality, The Feminine Mystique, been published today.
Just days ago, Planned Parenthood announced it would back away from the “pro-choice” label and move toward a no-labels approach in advocating its support for abortion rights and family planning. The organization will instead focus on how the full range of reproductive health care is critical for the different situations women can find themselves in.
This is a great move. While no one should expect the term “pro-choice” to go away anytime soon, and it will likely serve as useful shorthand for support of abortion rights and family planning for a long time to come, the language has been limiting to the breadth and depth of advocacy for full human rights, particularly in matters of sexuality, particularly for women. Adding more tools and new terminology to the toolbox is something to applaud.
Personally, when talking about abortion, I have always preferred to say I support abortion rights. “Pro-choice” struck me as the sort of casual conversation mechanism, something that implied the decision to continue or not continue a pregnancy was something best done over a latte and a Sunday crossword. It seems that everyone but the most extreme anti-abortion rights folks grants that’s not the case — that the decision to have an abortion or continue with a pregnancy is not some, oh gee, no big deal, that women aren’t totally and breathtakingly shallow and stupid.
When we’re talking about abortion, it’s okay to say abortion and specifically to make clear we’re talking about rights to have an abortion, or not having rights to have an abortion and forcing pregnant women to die if they happen to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. There is power in using real language.
For that matter, when we’re talking about contraception, it’s okay to say birth control or contraception. There is power in using real language here, too, especially when mainstream media outlets continue to perpetuate the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ complete and outright lie that no-copay contraception paid for by private insurance companies somehow includes “abortion-inducing drugs.” (Medical fact break: Contraception, including emergency contraception, works prior to pregnancy. Preventing pregnancy and ending pregnancy are two different things, boys.)
“Pro-choice” has been experienced as an economically limiting term, particularly since wanting an abortion and having a legal right to abortion has been prevented by discrimination in health care coverage (both private and public), forcing clinics to close to comply with million-dollar and medically unnecessary regulations, mandatory waiting periods that hit women far from clinics particularly hard, and other laws that make it impossible for many women to afford or otherwise get abortion. When federal and state governments bar coverage for abortion, “choice” is a term that applies only to those who can afford it: There is a lesser set of constitutional rights experienced by those who need abortions but must sell their cars, or go without groceries, or hope a local abortion fund has enough money to help.
Loretta Ross and others have for years pioneered a “reproductive justice” approach that resonates more with me. It is a more holistic, inclusive approach that deals not just with the right to abortion but also the right to parent, the right to adequate prenatal care, the right to respect raising children you may already have, the right to use affordable contraception, the right to dignified childbirth, and more. As an activist, and like many other millennial activists, reproductive justice is a shorthand umbrella term that resonates strongest with me. It most comprehensively encapsulates what my activism is about.
Also as a pregnant woman, I have come to personally confront restrictions on abortion and reproductive health care in a new way. While I am happily pregnant, I am keenly aware of how being in the wrong place at the wrong time could get me into serious trouble. Restrictions aren’t about whether or not I want an abortion, they are not about my choice, they are not about one moment in time when I realized I was pregnant and contemplated what was next, they are about the fact that if I’m having a miscarriage, or really sick, or something else I can’t foresee happens … I could just die in a hospital because that’s what it means to be “pro-life.” Or because the National Right to Life Committee last year declared their “top legislative priority” to ban abortions at 20 weeks for women living in the District of Columbia, and I happen to be 20 weeks three days pregnant. Both of these are things House Republicans have been trying to pass. Further:
New research out from the National Advocates for Pregnant Women shows how anti-abortion rights, anti-birth control, and so-called “personhood” efforts are being used in practice to arrest and force treatment on pregnant women. Restrictions are not just restricting choice. They are restricting human rights, particularly for pregnant women and women who do not wish to become pregnant.
If you want a shorthand term, “pro-choice” is going to continue to work whether or not Planned Parenthood uses it. Chances are good I will continue to use it from time to time. More options are better and a healthy feminist movement of any kind, including a reproductive justice and human rights movement, is stronger with more approaches in the mix.
So that’s my take. How about yours? Do you prefer the term “pro-choice”? If you support reproductive rights, what language do you use?