I Believe in Wendy

Texas governor Rick Perry may have called another special session to pass the anti-abortion legislation Senator Wendy Davis successfully blocked last week, Stand with Texas womenbut that’s no reason to stop celebrating the senator’s filibuster.  She didn’t just show us that one woman could make a difference from within, even when the insider rules are ridiculous. (No leaning? No brace-touching?) She showed us how one woman making a difference from within is always already much more than “just one woman” without conceding an ounce of her own authority.

It was a living, breathing performance of a decidedly feminist construction of power.

Senator Davis did all the speaking because that was what the law required.  But while she was up there, she read the words of women who had sent her their abortion stories to fulfill her procedural obligation to stay on topic. She filibustered for 11 hours, but when the lieutenant governor went ahead and called the vote anyway, women in the gallery started chanting, making it impossible for him to get the votes on record. In both cases, Davis became, almost literally, in a whole French theorist sense, a woman who was not one. She was many.

I can’t think of a better way to use a rule that was quite obviously designed to keep any but the strongest-bladdered, hardiest-lunged individuals from speaking.

I don’t think it was an accident that Governor Perry decided to talk about Senator Davis’ personal history at the National Right to Life convention the next day. Or rather, I do, at least in the sense that I don’t think it required much calculation on his part. There’s no need when the sexism is ingrained. Senator Wendy Davis, leader of the “angry mob” the lieutenant governor groused may be a nuisance, but she’s a nuisance who has to be reckoned with. Wendy Davis the poor single mother, daughter of single woman herself, is categorically deficient by virtue of having a vagina. Of course his remarks went over like gangbusters at the Right to Life conference. Women have served as object lessons for that lot since Eve gummed up the works in Eden.

The good news for the rest of us is that Wendy Davis is still speaking, and she understands what assumptions are dressed up in Perry’s seemingly complimentary narrative. Turns out Davis is long past being shamed by her femininity or hoodwinked into giving credence to antiquated notions of nice little ladyhood. In fact, Davis’ response to Perry’s comments uses his own macho swaggering ideal of personal freedom against him by casting it as a virtue that transcends gender.

“It demonstrated that they just don’t understand how very personal these issues are,” she explains. “My story, my personal story, is my story. I have the ability to make choices and I had opportunities that I was able to take advantage of in my life. Other women of course should be able to define their own destinies and this idea that the heavy hand of government should somehow come in and tell her how to do that is deeply resented in [a] state like Texas. It’s deeply resented everywhere, but if you know anything about Texas, we hold very strongly to our traditions and our values where personal liberties are concerned.”

I don’t doubt that Perry has a brilliant staffer who will come up with an effective rebuttal. I don’t even doubt that that staffer is a woman. But during this week where we celebrate our nation’s independence, I’m grooving on Senator Davis’ message. “Anti-choice isn’t just anti-American, America, it’s anti-Texan!”

 

5 Reasons to Worry About Choice

Feminism1For all their talk about re-branding, the GOP is as anti-choice and anti-woman as ever. How bad are they? Let me count the ways.

1) On Tuesday, Republican House members introduced a bill to ban abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy. It’s the most restrictive abortion measure to come before the House in years.

2) The Republican sponsor of this bill,  Trent Franks, said the reason the original bill made no exception for rape was because the incidence of pregnancy after rape was “very low.”

3)  On Monday, Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) said abortion should be banned as early as 15 weeks after conception because he has seen male fetuses masturbate at that stage. Yes, you read that right. Yes, he is a doctor. No word on whether he thinks those male fetuses should be taught anything about masturbation when they’re out of the womb. Or whether he realizes that masturbation, especially in this particular instance, is a non-procreative sex act.

4) In New York, one of the first states to legalize abortion and the unofficial badass feminist capital of the world, the 10-part Women’s Equality Act is being derailed by two “independent” Democrats who caucus with Republicans. They want to introduce a bill that excludes any abortion legislation to give their anti-choice buddies political cover. Governor Cuomo fears they’ll succeed. The session ends Thursday. *Update: The NY State Assembly passed the full 10 points of the Women’s Equality Agenda on Thursday! Today’s the LAST day for the Dems holding the bill hostage to bring it to the floor in the Senate. The women of New York deserve a vote. Call today, and make sure they bring all 10 points to the floor for a vote! (518) 455-2800, then tell a friend!

5) The Texas Senate approved a measure that would tighten restrictions on abortion clinics, late on Tuesday night. Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst tweeted his excitement about shutting down the clinics down. *Update: Pro-choice Texans are storming the capital! While the bill’s supporters were rushing to get the vote in before the last day of the special session (called especially to pass this bill), . Over 700 Texans traveled to Austin on Thursday to testify against the anti-abortion measure before it could come to a vote in the House — and their “people’s filibuster” successfully prevented the legislation from advancing.

 

 

 

 

Getting Over the Pill

I know when the romance started for me. I was at summer camp, where all the best romances begin, getting a windbreaker or a jean jacket–some outerwear-oriented excuse for busting in where I wasn’t supposed to be. contraception_591At the sink, I saw my counselor, older, cooler, and in my memory, always blonde, popping a candy necklace pill out from a plastic flip-top compact.

I knew I wasn’t supposed to know what I was seeing. But I did. She was on the pill. Having sex. Which somehow made me feel a few steps closer to having sex myself. Inside that pink clam shell was the secret of adult life. Everything I needed to know about sex and men in its own handy dandy carrying case.

Now, of course, I realize she might not have been having sex, and I want to swaddle my younger smartypants self in a thick blanket, knowing when and how she’ll have the easy answers bruised out of her.

But there was no reasoning, then. And no reason to reason … I was in love with the pill, and as I grew up, I could see I wasn’t alone. It was the hot girl’s one and only punchline in Sixteen Candles and Roseanne’s cool-mom badge of honor, and long before that, Loretta Lynn was singing its praises for good reason. The lyrics make it clear how much the pill could change the fundamental facts of a woman’s life.

You wined me and dined me when I was your girl
Promised if I’d be your wife you’d show me the world
But all I’ve seen of this old world is a bed and a doctor bill
I`m tearing down your brooder house ’cause now I’ve got the pill

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Happy International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. Celebrated since the early 1900s, when the American Women’s suffrage movement grew with the rise of progressive thinking worldwide, IWD is now recognized as a national holiday in countries as far away as China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria.

This year’s theme is THE GENDER AGENDA: GAINING MOMENTUM

To see how the day is being celebrated near you, check out the events page.

 

 

40 Years Later–What the Roe?

For Khan ArticleJanuary 22, 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. All month, we’ll be running posts examining various aspects of this landmark ruling. If you’d like to contribute, let us know!

This week marks the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States. But 40 years later, does the ruling matter? The easy answer is no. While American women still have the right to have an abortion, many cannot exercise that right. Abortion opponents have successfully reduced women’s access to clinics that perform the procedure and placed unneccesary restrictions on many of the clinics that do. Four states have only one abortion clinic, the past two years have seen a record amount of antiabortion legislation passed in state legislatures, and 2013 is already promising more of the same.

But easy answers never tell the whole story. If they did, we would have stopped arguing about abortion ages ago–right around the time “Abortion is Murder” met “My Body, My Choice.” The uneasy answer is that Roe v. Wade very much matters in 2013 … except when it doesn’t.

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The Best and Worst News for Women in 2012

As a political junkie coming off a surreal election season, I can offer only the faintest apologies for skewing American. I’m sure for every pick I made, there are three I had to leave out. I invite you to show me the error of my ways–and your bests and worsts–in the comments section below. Happy New Year!!!!

The Best

1)   President Obama Wins Reelection
Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC promo pretty much says it all: ”We are not going to have a Supreme Court that overturns Roe vs. Wade. We are not going to repeal health reform. We are not going to give a 20% tax cut to millionaires and billionaires. We are not going to amend the United States Constitution to stop gay people from getting married. We are not eliminating the Department of Energy. We are not letting Detroit go bankrupt. We are not vetoing the DREAM Act. We had the choice to do that and we said ‘no.’” No president can do everything, but without Barack Obama in the White House, we’d have to do so much more.

2)   The Affordable Care Act Was Upheld
The entire country held its breath, and we progressive folk were the ones who got to exhale! Surprising everyone, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the liberal wing of the court in a 5-4 decision, ruling that the vast majority of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act—and most notably, the individual mandate—was constitutional and would move forward.
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No Better Time for Plan B

I have a package of Potassium Iodide tablets in my Go Bag, and I’m happy most days not to think about either, but I feel better knowing that they’re there. For those of you unfamiliar with either, or both–Potassium Iodide protects the thyroid from radiation poisoning, and a Go Bag is an emergency preparedness kit with enough supplies for a person to survive without outside help for at least three days.

If you didn’t know, consider yourself lucky. Or blissfully ignorant. I suppose it’s all a matter of perspective. That–and what the future happens to bring to yours.

Me, I decided back in the days of the dirty bomb scares that I’d rather have a package of ominously-packaged pills in the house than to one day wish I had bought some as an invisible deadly force fried my body. Same goes for the Go Bag. I put the pills in the bag, put the bag behind the couch, and honestly, including today, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve thought about either in the past ten years.

Isn’t that how worst case scenario preparation should work? Prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and try not to scare the bejesus out of yourself in the meantime. Anything less would be irresponsible when it’s a matter of life and death, right?

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Welcome to New York, Sandy!

As New York hunkers down for Hurricane Sandy, I want to let her know how we treat women up here–even powerful, independent women who don’t cross their legs, redirect their gale force winds off-shore, or otherwise behave like the little ladies so popular with our male Republican candidates these days.

1) We respect a woman’s right to control her reproductive destiny: New York legalized abortion before Roe vs. Wade became the law of the land.

2) While many of the country’s legislators are dreaming up new ways to demean women, we have New York State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins introducing the Reproductive Health Act, with eighteen co-sponsors. Its purpose: to provide a fundamental right to choose contraception and the right of a female to determine the course of a pregnancy; to authorize abortion prior to viability; and to decriminalize abortion.  [Read more...]

The Day of the Girl

Today is the first annual International Day of the Girl. Its mission: to highlight, celebrate, discuss, and advance girls’ lives and opportunities across the globe. And it’s come not a moment too soon. On Tuesday, fourteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai, a National Peace Award winner, was shot by Pakistani Taliban for daring to stand up for a girl’s right to receive an education. Yes, tragically, you read that right. The Taliban, having warned Ms. Yousafzai to stop her advocacy work on behalf of her gender, sent two armed gunmen to her school bus and shot her in the head.

On Wednesday, surgeons removed the bullet, and doctors are hopeful that there has been no brain damage and that she will ultimately return to school. Of that, Fazal Moula Zahid, a close family friend, is certain: “She will never, never drop out of school. She will go to the last.”

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Good News in New York

Teens at thirteen New York City high schools have had access to emergency contraception for over a year–but it wasn’t news until the New York Post got wind of it in an “exclusive” report on Sunday. In other words, the program did not make any of its critics’ wildest fears come true. No crazy rise in teenage sexual shenanigans. No rash of teens stricken with any of Plan B‘s side effects, real or imagined. The Post and fair-weather parental advocates like Cardinal Timothy Dolan would never have passed up the opportunity to fan even the slightest concern into a full-blown controversy.

Now the belated hand wringing has begun, and as long as the schools keep following the state law that allows doctors to prescribe emergency contraception pills to women fourteen or older without parental consent–yes, once again, New York state is ahead of the curve–I don’t mind in the least.

Okay, maybe I do mind, but I can also hope that the special provision included to protect parental rights (how I want to put quotations around that phrase), will force the parents who are really only fighting for the right not to think about teenage sexuality at all, to consider the possibility that their child may have the same feelings that have been making adolescents infamous for ages, even if only for the moment it takes them to ”opt-out” of the program. Best case scenario, it starts an honest dialogue between parent and child. Worst case scenario, at least the child knows where his or her parent stands, if and when the poor kid needs to talk to a grown-up.

Elsewhere in New York state, the news in teenage reproductive health hasn’t been good. A recent investigation by the NYCLU revealed “glaring inaccuracies about basic anatomy, reinforced negative gender stereotypes, and stigmatized LGBT students and families” in Sex Ed classes statewide. In one district, the ignorance reaches Todd Akin proportions: definition of vagina–”a sperm deposit.” No word on whether it shuts down or not. (Maybe it has bankers’ hours? Get it?)

I have every sympathy in the world for parents, and the argument about school nurses needing a parent’s permission to dispense Tylenol is at least as old as I am. But I’m still pretty sure teenage girls don’t use Tylenol (or aspirin, anywhere) to prevent pregnancy. (“Not now, I have a headache,” comes much later.) Maybe today’s parents are less hung-up about sex than my parents were back in the day. It wouldn’t take much. But I have a hard time believing even the coolest parents in the world have figured out how to make their children believe they’re always “easy to talk to” about sex. (I’d be impressed and probably a little creeped out, but I wouldn’t believe.) I’m too uptight to say I think the taboos we have about sex are a good thing; but I do think they’ve survived thousands of years because they’re powerful. If loosey goosey New Yorkers with all their culturally elite street cred can still get tongue-tied–or willfully blind–about teens and sex, I, for one, am glad city teens have professional health care providers looking out for them while their parents work out their feelings.