Friday, February 18, 2011

I Feel Personally Victimized by Regina George.

A while back, I was reading Feministing every day, and it was great. It was truly satisfying to have a place where you could check out some feminist dialogue without someone inevitably bringing up some idiot-tastic "but what about reverse sexism, did you ever think of that?" point, and to see a site that highlighted women's issues in politics, the media and society.

And I had to stop reading it.

I had to stop reading because I was seeing potential sexism everywhere and defaulting to the "must be" position. It's not that the sexism wasn't there, but I was interpreting pretty much all of is as egregious and intentional, rather than resting on a sliding scale and being accidental. Even if I read an article and went "well that's a reach," I'd still have it bouncing around in my head. The thing is, sexism IS everywhere. It's all over the place and it should not be minimized. However, I also think that the bulk of sexism is institutional and social; I do believe that most people can identify overt, intentional sexism as douchetastic behavior. The problem is when no one feels inclined to speak up - that's the insidious effect of passive sexism. It's actually much harder to eradicate, which is why feminism is still relevant and important.

Unfortunately - what with it being 2011 and all - it's getting increasingly important and relevant right this very moment. A Republican House majority* was voted in this cycle on a platform focused primarily on reducing unemployment and government spending. I think these are great goals, although my assessment of Obama's work on both differs significantly from the GOP. However, instead of starting the legislative session off with bills geared towards reducing unemployment or government spending, the GOP has been bringing bills to the floor that work to reduce...access to abortion and women's health services.

HR 3 includes a heinous limitation of public abortion funding for cases of rape to "forcible" rape, which is the least common and least underreported type of rape. This provision says that if you want to be able to get an abortion because you were raped, you'd better make sure you get beat up, too, and that your rapist isn't your husband, or your date, or your relative. This kind of language is predicated on the simple belief that women lie about rape, that it's not "REAL rape" unless you're brutalized by a stranger, that rape is just a scare word women use because they regret their sexual experience from the night before. Because, you know, women can't handle sex and need to be protected from it. This infantilizes women and begins with the assumption not that the rapist is innocent until proven guilty, but that the victim is full of shit until proven violated. We do not take this stance towards any other kind of crime...but we take it towards a crime that happens predominantly to women.

Speaking of victims, Georgia has a charming bill on the floor of THEIR House - HB 14 - that would change the term "victim" to "accuser" in criminal proceedings pertaining to rape and domestic violence. Again, we have crimes in which the victims are predominantly women, and again, there is legislation that attempts to reduce the status of the victim. The argument in this bill is that before conviction, the criminal activity has not been proven, which makes a certain amount of gender-neutral sense...IF the statute related to all crimes. But it doesn't, because again, fairness is not the point or the objective. This bill is another discounting of women's ability to "handle" full rights in society, based on the presumption that women are lying or overstating their accusations of violation.

Returning to the national stage, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) has been continuing his assault on Planned Parenthood, and his efforts - shot down in 2009, but now renewed - are now paired with a recommendation from the GOP that all Title X funding be eliminated. Title X concerns funding for family planning, which by the way is the BEST way to reduce the number of abortions, since more information about sexual health helps people make better choices and avoid unplanned pregnancies, NOT that this will ever completely eliminate the need for abortion, since birth control has a failure rate and there will always be devastating birth defects and pregnancy complications. The real target here is Planned Parenthood, of whose services only 3% are abortion, while the other 97% of those services are cancer, STI and HIV/AIDS screenings, birth control provision, gynecological exams and other sexual health services for women in a safe space. This particular item has a nice little side of classism, since PP is most important for poor women who cannot afford these services otherwise. (In case you're wondering, yes, it's expensive. I have insurance, and my birth control - NuvaRing - is still $30. I can afford that - barely - but for women in lower income brackets, $30 is food for a week or a utility bill.). Never mind that taxpayer funding for abortion is ALREADY restricted to cases of rape - does that sound familiar? Oh right, it sounds familiar because HR 3 is trying to restrict that it's own right. - so taxpayer money is mostly going to the 97% of services that have nothing to do with abortion.

I'm sure I sound like a broken record by now, but this attempt to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood once again shows that the GOP at best does not care about women's health and at worst wants to restrict their access to it all together. What it shows clearly regardless of your take on the preceding array of priorities is that their desire to keep women from abortion trumps any consideration of women's health. That this is even up for public debate shows that we do not trust women to make moral judgments about their health. While I understand that some consider a fetus an independent human being even from the moment of conception, we have to consider that we do not simply give access to parts or the use of our bodies simply because another human wants them; we have to consent to donate organs, for instance. But most importantly, the anti-abortion argument tends to be predicated on a bevy of presumptions about what drives women to seek abortions and their consequences - that people who get abortions use it as birth control, that abortion is always more emotionally draining than giving birth, that women wait through most of their pregnancies before suddenly deciding to get a late term abortion for shits and giggles...the list goes on and on, and not one of those items on the list is anyone's business but the woman's and her doctor's. It all comes down to thinking women are not responsible, smart or competent enough to engage in moral considerations and make decisions about their own health.

Let's also be clear about this - no one thinks abortions are awesome. No one WANTS an abortion, and no one hopes for an abortion, and no one wants to force abortions on anyone else. However, as I mentioned above, there will always be a need for some abortions. They need to remain legal so that women have a way to obtain them when they are necessary. Of course, to see that realized in legislation, people first need to accept that women are fully capable of making decisions about their health.

In the couple days between my starting this post and it's publication, one more charming bill has come up at the state level, this one in the lovely state of South Dakota, home of mandatory scripts for doctors that include outright lies about women's emotional health after an abortion. This bill - HB 1171 - adjusts the definition of justifiable homicide to include an allowance for the defense of a fetus. Though the proponents of the bill are putting out some rigamarole about "oh no, it's so super not about making it easier to kill abortion doctors," this is once again a case where the intent is shown clearly in what it DOESN'T apply to, or in this case, its superfluousness. There are generally provisions accounting for the death of a fetus in the murder of a woman, but this bill goes a step further and separates the death of the fetus from the death of the mother, using an "or" clause rather than an "and" clause, thus making it possible for a person to kill another person in defense of the fetus exclusively, without necessity of a threat to the mother as well.

Legislators are not going after men's right to have a vasectomy, nor do they consider men's reproductive behavior so needing of regulation that it trumps men's overall health. Men's health is largely a non-issue for legislators, and it certainly does not involve the hostile debate that women's health does. So yeah, I interpret this trend of aggressive attempts to restrict women's access to healthcare as an assault on women generally. The premium placed on abortion restriction at the cost of women's health shows just how little the GOP is concerned with the rights of women, and the Democrats' lukewarm defense of these rights is almost as bad. I agree that we should strive towards less abortions, but the way to do that is not by banning them or making them wildly difficult to obtain, but by increasing our sexual education, providing access to birth control, by researching MALE birth control (which has been chronically difficult to obtain funding for; drug companies have cited a marked lack of interest from men, because surprise, having to take a pill daily or get a shot quarterly that screws with your hormones is a pain in the ass), by allowing women easy access to pre-natal and gynecological care, and generally creating a healthier sexual dialogue in our society. Women will always need abortions, and desperate women WILL find a way to end their pregnancies. Adopting bans of abortion will not be the end of abortion; it will only be a decree that we would rather have women resort to dangerous terminations that put their lives in danger. In short, it's saying that we care less about women's established lives than the potential and uncertain lives of fetuses. I want no part of any political party that would put my life secondary to anyone else's - particularly not a possibly non-viable anyone else - nor of a party that thinks I can't make decisions about my own sexual health. I feel personally victimized by this legislation, and so should all women.

Call your Representatives and Senators, and let them know that you are not a feeble-minded idiot who needs supervision and constant direction, but that you are an autonomous human being with the capacity for ethical thought and personal action.

* Could I also ask Democrats to stop acting like such moody children about this, since Dems still have control of the Senate, and, you know, the Presidency? Stop acting like someone kicked your puppy.


  1. "women and children"

    Maybe if they also pointed out that rape of children is also more common than rape of any adult male outside of prison. Same with domestic abuse. "women and children" Maybe that would get some attention. Then again real family values aren't really a strong point of the GOP.

  2. Wow. You guys have some serious stuff going on right now. I feel outraged about it and like I want to do something... But being not actually a part of your country I probably can't. Still, if there's anything a foreigner can do, let me know.