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.





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.


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



Hurrah for Israel’s Photoshop Law!

Guest blogger Talia bat Pessi is a Harvard-bound teenage Femidox (feminist Orthodox) pro-Israel Jew. Her work has appeared in over 40 publications, including the Jewish WeekMs. Magazine blog, Jerusalem PostGirl w/ Pen!, Jewish Press, and FBomb. She’s not quite sure how she manages to find spare time, but when she does, she enjoys going to rock concerts, fuzzying with her rescue dog, eating (a lot), messing around in Photoshop, and procrastinating on the Internet.

As of January 1, what the media has dubbed the “Photoshop Law” has gone into effect in Israel. This law mandates that models working in Israel have to have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of at least 18.5, the lowest healthy BMI possible, and companies have to clearly label advertisements containing pictures that were even slightly Photoshopped. Foreign ads must also comply. Considering 10% of teenagers in Israel suffer from eating disorders and anorexia is the number-one killer in the 15-24 age group, this law was sorely needed.

Rachel Adato, the sponsor of the bill, has been very involved in women’s health throughout her career. She served as the Chairperson of the National Council for Women’s Health and Advisor to the Minister of Health on Women’s Health, and was a member of the Steering Committees for Prevention of Violence Towards Women and Establishing Medical Centers for Victims of Sexual Assault, as well as a member in four delegations to the UN on women’s health.
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PrevenTell: A Help Line for “Unwanted Sexuality”

About six months ago, PrevenTell, a Swedish help line, began operations. This service is for people who feel like they need support and advice in regards to their sexuality, sexual urges, thoughts or inclinations that may be unacceptable, illegal, or harmful. In short, they are seeking help for their “unwanted sexuality.”

People who are encouraged to call the help line are those who feel like their sexual urges and wishes might be hurtful to either themselves or to others, or are becoming a problem; or if a person is concerned about someone else’s sexual behavior or behaviors. The support line was developed in order to prevent sexual abuse and assault by aiming to help and advise those who feel like their sexuality is out of control–namely, the people who are likely to abuse or hurt someone else.

PrevenTell is a great step towards accepting the fact that it is the person acting out, not the victim, that is behaving in an unacceptable or risky way. If we focus more on prevention of, and education about, sexual abuse and non-acceptable sexual behavior, we are less likely to blame the victim or engage in victim-blaming language or assumptions.

Honor Roe By Funding Abortions

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. We’ve been sharing the history of Roe, and we’ll continue to be talking about Roe throughout the month.  But I thought we could take a quick time out from the history lessons and talk about how we can all honor Roe right now – today – all year.

One of the biggest challenges for patient access to abortion is funding.  Economic access intersects race, class, age, gender, and sexual orientation lines.  While an abortion in the first trimester may only cost $350 – $500 (and I say this very loosely), that’s still a lot of money to obtain.  As patients struggle to raise that money, the cost increases the longer they wait – and so does the need for more financial help.

Arizona has some of the worst abortion laws in the US. We seem to like setting the example for other states to follow.  We had three anti-abortion bills pass in 2012, and the bill that has received the most national attention is the 20-week gestation ban.  The bill provides a crazy definition of when gestation starts, so the bill has an injunction while the courts debate when pregnancy actually occurs.  However, when the bill goes into effect, many patients will have to travel out of state to get an abortion – which will only increase the cost and difficulty of obtaining their health care.

The proof is in the pudding.  [Read more...]

Teenager Challenges Gender Stereotypes, and Wins!

Thirteen-year-old McKenna Pope recently took on the toy company Hasbro, when she realized that the company’s Easy-Bake Oven wasn’t marketed or designed in a gender-neutral manner. Pope and her parents wanted to buy one of the toy ovens for her four-year-old brother, but found that the toy was only available in purple or pink, and that only images of girls were used in the marketing and promotional materials.

So Pope started a petition asking Hasbro to make a gender-neutral stove that could be marketed to both girls and boys. Over 45,000 people signed the petition, and Hasbro recently announced that a gender-neutral stove will be available next year. We think it is wonderful that a teen girl has the willpower and determination to petition for such a huge change. We also like how she is supporting her younger brother’s interests, and that such a young girl reacted to the fact that boys and girls are presumed to like and want opposite things.

On the other hand, it is also sad that young children are so aware of what is supposedly the “right” way to behave for someone of their gender. Children and teenagers are bombarded with messages on how and how not to act, as well as what activities are deemed appropriate for them. It is not always easy to ignore those messages, as the consequences can easily escalate into ridicule, teasing, and bullying.

Photo of toy stove shared by Flickr user Rosa Pomar under a creative commons license.

What an Ohio Dry Cleaner Has to do With Michigan Politicians

You might have missed this story if you don’t watch The Daily Show or read RH Reality Check, but a dry cleaner in Ohio has been putting “Choose Life” messaging on, of all things, wire coat hangers. This strikes me as a pretty brazen action, and not just because wire coat hangers are, to put it mildly, fairly loaded images when it comes to abortion. It’s also because this dry cleaner is, as best as I can tell, a private business whose day-to-day activities, not to mention income, have nothing to do with the abortion issue.

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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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Say No to Sexual Objectification of Women

A few weeks back, a petition to end normalized objectification of women was initiated in Britain. The British newspaper The Sun is (again) under scrutiny for its blatant sexualization of women’s bodies, and mostly so women’s breasts. In 1970, The Sun started featuring topless women on page 3 in the paper; since then, these women have been referred to as ”Page 3 Girls.” Having lived in Dublin, Ireland and having spent time in Britain, I am quite familiar with the concept of “Page 3 Girls,” and it has always bothered me.

The concept of having a “Page 3” is very inappropriate and borderline disgusting; the blatant sexualization of women in this newspaper suggests that these topless photos appeal to, and are appreciated by, everyone: women, men, and young people. To me, the idea that normative sexualization of women is good family fun is bothersome because the sexualization of women’s bodies have real-life consequences and is not the least bit enjoyable.

In circumstances such as this, it is not uncommon to hear that women’s bodies are beautiful and should be celebrated (often by a sexualized half-naked display of some sorts); and indeed, I hear this type of excuse all the time. Women who disagree that nudity is the best way to showcase the beauty of women’s bodies are sometimes described as jealous, fat, ugly, prudish, and unwilling to celebrate the beauty of the female body; in short, they are presented as anti-women.

An article in The Guardian summed up the issue well when it stated that, “Since Page 3 began, in November 1970, the most prominent daily newspaper image of a woman has been smiling, and topless.” This suggests that women are, and should be, happy to be sexualized and receive sexual attention. But I don’t think that nudity is the best way to appreciate women’s bodies.

If women want to pose for page 3 photos, and if men want to buy so called “lads’ magazines,” that’s up to them. And that is why there are specific magazines that target this audience. What I don’t want, however, is to open up a newspaper and see this type of sexualization presented as if it is no big deal. That is why I have signed the petition to end the sexualization of women in The Sun.

Photo of newspapers shared by NS Newsflash on Flickr