Archive for the ‘Feminism’ Category

Happy 40th Roe v Wade

January 23, 2013

Some interesting bits from around the web…

Kate Manning on the history of abortion and what happens when desperate women are forced to take matters into their own hands.

PPFA has launched a new effort to move away from labels  and emphasize that every woman’s circumstance differs: Not in her shoes.

Pro-life has moved away from working to reverse Roe v. Wade, because restrictions at the state-level have been much more effective.

135 provisions to restrict access to abortion were enacted since 2011.

Katie J. M. Baker at Jezebel covers the stories of abortion providers who risk their lives every day.

5 things you don’t know about abortion – Interesting piece by Irin Carmon at Salon.

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Pro-Lifer Supports Planned Parenthood – Finally Somebody Gets It!

February 10, 2012

John Saveland is pro-life and he supports Planned Parenthood. Here’s why. A must-read for those on any side of this issue. He describes the efforts of those who want to, for instance, defund after Planned Parenthood, as both short-sighted and emotionally driven. Instead, he advocates focusing on things that might actually reduce the number of abortions and  preserve women’s health.

An excerpt:

I want the abortion rate in this country – and every country – to plummet. That’s a given.

But it’s not going to happen by overturning Roe vs. Wade, or cutting funding for healthcare to low-income women and families. It’s going to happen by expanding healthcare access, contraceptive use and sex education.

This is speaking from overwhelming international and historical evidence. [Em. mine]

Eureka! Pro-life and pro-choice advocates have a similar goal – fewer abortions! Who knew? Well, no one who buys into the rhetoric that women have cavalier abortions due to rampant (tsk tsk!), irresponsible sex. Consider Louisiana Congressman John Flemming thought The Onion’s “Abortionplex” satire (of people just like him, turns out) was real news and indignantly tweeted about it? Sheesh.

Anyone who thinks that pro-choicers get pedicures and lattes when they pop into the mall for their umpteenth abortions is either not paying attention, or has a vested interest in not “knowing”.

Lying for the “Cure” – Eskow Points Out Komen’s Hypocrisy

February 4, 2012

Komen’s “this is not politically motivated” assertion was hard to swallow from the start. Especially considering:

  • Its newly appointed anti-abortion VP of Community Relations
  • Its ultra-quiet, but simultaneous decision to sever relationships with any organization funding stem cell research (despite the fact that this research has advanced our knowledge of, provides treatment for and shows promise of providing a CURE for many diseases including CANCER)
  • The oddly stuffy way it handled both the announcement and its backlash. (Mary Elizabeth Williams has an insightful piece on Salon about how a truly non-political decision would have been handled in contrast with the shocked, “why is everyone being mean?” response exhibited by Komen founder Nancy Brinker.)

But, in the inevitable digging that has followed, any ounce of Komen’s remaining credibility on this issue has been entirely shredded. It’s the one question that – at least initially – no one thought to ask:

Of all the organizations that Komen gives money to, the only one under any local, state or federal investigation is Planned Parenthood?

As Richard Eskow reveals, the answer is of course not, not remotely.

A cursory look at Komen’s grantees reveals several under federal investigation, including Harvard, Yale, the University of Texas, Penn State, and Massachusetts General Hospital.

And, although Komen stated no new policies surrounding the legal behavior of its donors, it’s curious to see – when examining even just the super donors of its Million Dollar Council Elite, how many are under federal investigation for such transgressions as faulty auto parts, pension fraud, and mortgage fraud.

So now that that we know we’ve been lied to – and that Komen puts political agenda above saving the lives of cancer victims, what’s next?

Eskow writes:

…I plan to give more money to both Planned Parenthood and another cancer research organization as a result of this incident. I hope others will do the same. This could all turn out for the best, especially if the fall of one organization raises breast cancer awareness and increases support for treatment and research.

Something to think about…

Power to the People! Komen Reverses Planned Parenthood Decision.

February 3, 2012

After a clamorous uproar, Susan G. Komen Foundation today announced the reversal of its abrupt, two-day-old decision to stop providing grants to Planned Parenthood – grants for breast cancer screening and other breast-related health issues. It continues to insist that neither the initial decision nor the one to revoke it was politically motivated.  Komen founder Nancy Brinker released a statement today that said, in part:

We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives.

The events of this week have been deeply unsettling for our supporters, partners and friends and all of us at Susan G. Komen. We have been distressed at the presumption that the changes made to our funding criteria were done for political reasons or to specifically penalize Planned Parenthood. They were not.

While it’s an understandable thing to assert, it’s tough to buy, especially considering the dissent from Komen’s own ranks including:

  • All Komen affiliates in California issuing a statement against the move.
  • Mollie Williams, one of Komen’s top officials, quitting over the decision and – when asked about it yesterday explained she couldn’t give a reason, and then went ahead and gave one:

“However, anyone who knows me personally would tell you that I am an advocate for women’s health,” the statement said. “I have dedicated my career to fighting for the rights of the marginalized and underserved. And I believe it would be a mistake for any organization to bow to political pressure and compromise its mission.”

Williams was more direct with the Huffington Post:

“Eliminating this funding will mean there’s no place for these women to go. Where are these women to go to have a mammography? Do they not deserve to have mammography?”

  • Dr. Kathy Plesser, one of Komen’s scientific advisors,vowed to resign if the decision wasn’t reversed, stating:

“I strongly believe women need access to care, particularly underserved women. My understanding is that by eliminating this funding, it will jeopardize the women served by Planned Parenthood in terms of breast care.”

  • And, Komen boardmember John D. Raffaelli who flat out told the Times:

 Komen made the changes to its grant-making process specifically to end its relationship with Planned Parenthood.

It’s important to point out that Brinker’s statement, although apologetic, makes no promise to fund future grants to PPFA. It says that Komen will fulfill current grants (which was the plan anyway), and make PPFA “eligible” for grants in the future.

PPFA President Cecile Richards, whose response to this never once directed supporters to withdraw financial support from Komen, (unlike those who wanted the grants stopped), released a response statement:

The outpouring of support for women in need of lifesaving breast cancer screening this week has been astonishing and is a testament to our nation’s compassion and sincerity.

During the last week, millions spontaneously joined a national conversation about lifesaving breast cancer prevention care and reinforced shared values about access to health care for all. This compassionate outcry in support of those most in need rose above political, ideological, and cultural divides, and will surely be recognized as one of our nation’s better moments during a contentious political time.

[…]

With Komen Foundation grants, over the past five years, Planned Parenthood health centers provided nearly 170,000 clinical breast exams and more than 6,400 mammogram referrals. With the outpouring of support over the past week, even more women in need will receive lifesaving breast cancer care.

This actually has been a postive thing for Planned Parenthood and for awareness in general of health issues for low-income women. PPFA has reportedly raised $1 million over the last two days, including $200,000 from New York Mayor Bloomburg. 48-hours…not bad.

Susan G. Komen & Planned Parenthood: Some thoughts on the backlash

February 1, 2012

As promised, I found a petition site in response Susan G. Komen For The Cure’s announcement yesterday that they will no long provide grants to Planned Parenthood. The petition is managed by Credo Mobile, who, according to the site, is “proud to be the largest corporate sponsor of Planned Parenthood”.

More information has come to light about the new ultra-conservative V.P of Public Policy. Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon writes:

Komen says the move is just about “newly adopted criteria barring grants to organizations that are under investigation by local, state or federal authorities.” You know what else is pretty “new” around Komen? Its senior vice president of public policy, Karen Handel. During the Sarah Palin-endorsed, Tea Party favorite’s 2010 campaign for governor of Georgia, Handel declared, “I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood,” making clear that she “strongly supports” laws prohibiting “the use of taxpayer funds for abortions or abortion-related services.” She did, however, emphasize that she “strongly support(s) the noble work of crisis-pregnancy centers.”

There has been an incredible blast of fervor over the past 24 hours. Some of it, in my opinion, unhelpful. (A post on feminsiting takes time to poke fun at the tackiness of some of Komen’s fund raising products, as does – to a lesser degree – the article I quoted above. But Williams does shed light on some head-scratching tid-bits about the charity. Most strikingly,

according to Komen’s own financial records, it spends almost “a million dollars a year in donor funds” aggressively going after other organizations that dare to use the phrase “for the cure” – including small charities like Kites for a Cure, Par for the Cure, Surfing for a Cure, Cupcakes for a Cure, and even a dog-sledding event called Mush for the Cure. Let me just give you that number again. 

This seems childish and rather uncharitable for a charitable for a non-profit, no? Especially considering that only 24% of funds go to research for a cure. It actually pigeon-holes them since awareness and early detection are as much a part of what they accomplish.

Anyway, I wanted to talk about the backlash. Especially the huge numbers of people who have vowed to give more money to PPFA (yay!) and to stop any support of Komen (huh?). I understand the practicality of it. Hitting any organization in the wallet is the swiftest way to provoke change. But the principal of it is completely backward.

If we find fault in the politicization of women’s health – how can we punish an organization that seeks to improve and save women’s lives for political reasons?

It’s the same with anti-abortioners, who steadfastly refuse to acknowledge a single positive thing that Planned Parenthood provides for low-income women. Not even all that they do to prevent unwanted pregnancies in their communities. When they regard PPFA, they need to see only abortion, to the point that they will outright lie to make sensational and baseless claims.

I don’t agree with Komen’s decision. It makes me angry and I’ll raise as much awareness as I can to try to reverse it – or (as seems to be happening) help rile enough economic support from the public that PPFA will not feel a loss of funds at all. But I won’t turn my back on everything Komen does because I don’t like this one thing. If they were misappropriating funds, if donations went to huge salaries and not to research or awareness – I’d cut all support because my money wouldn’t be doing any good.

If I get a chance to do a race for Komen, I’ll take it. If someone tells me about an event, I’ll go. To do anything different would be to walk in the footsteps of pro-lifers who previously pulled the plug on Komen (and any org that gave a dime to PPFA).

Maybe I’m impractical. But if Komen’s ability to effect women’s lives are impacted by this decision the way Planned Parenthood’s may now be – who wins?

The Politics of Cancer: Komen Pulls Grants to Planned Parenthood

January 31, 2012

An AP story today announced that Susan G. Komen will no longer provide what has historically been upwards of half a million dollars in annual grant money to Planned Parenthood for the use of breast cancer screenings and other breast-related health issues.  Komen says that the decision was based on Planned Parenthood’s recent investigation by Congress – which was spear-headed by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., in what is largely seen as a politically-motivated move. The investigation calls for twelve years of documents in exhaustive detail, ostensibly to dig up billing issues and cases where federal money was, in fact, used to fund abortions.

Sen. Henry Waxman, D-CA and Rep. Dianna DeGette, D-CO, of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations wrote a pointed letter to Stearns in which they state:

We question the basis for the investigation and question whether Planned Parenthood is being singled out as part of Republican vendetta against an organization that provides family planning and other medical care to low-income women and men.

[…]

We are aware of no predicate that would justify this sweeping and invasive request of Planned Parenthood. The HHS Inspector General and state Medicaid programs regularly audit Planned Parenthood and report publicly on their findings. These audits have not identified any pattern of misuse of federal funds, illegal activity, or other abuse that would justify a broad and invasive congressional investigation.

Planned Parenthood believes Komen’s decision was simply a cave to pressure from pro-life groups who reveal their belief – in yet another un-surprising instance – that life in the womb trumps all other life/death/health issues. Period.

Patrick Hurd, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Virginia, whose wife is currently battling breast cancer, commented:

“It sounds almost trite, going through this with Betsi, but cancer doesn’t care if you’re pro-choice, anti-choice, progressive, conservative. Victims of cancer could care less about people’s politics.”

Over the past five years, Planned Parenthood has performed nearly 170,000 breast exams that were funded by Komen grants. How many low-income women will be turned away in the next five?

I haven’t yet found a site that organizes petitions, but I’ll post when I do. The Planned Parenthood Action Center might be a good place to start (at the time of this posting both PPFA and Komen sites have no information.)

In the meantime, you can always donate.

“Saving Grace” – Mueller on One Catholic Family’s Late-Term Abortion

December 6, 2009

Amanda Mueller, at Truthout, has an interesting piece about a family coming to grips with a late-term abortion and their strong Catholic faith. Gail and Robert Andersons have deep ties to their families and to their Catholic community. They were both raised with strong faith and never questioned their beliefs. Yet, when they discover a severe birth defect 27 weeks into Gail’s first pregnancy, they question everything. After intense soul-searching and long discussions with their doctors, they decide on a late-term abortion.

“We are Catholic. We are supposed to be against abortion, but the church teaches mercy as well. The church examines quality of life. It isn’t a black and white issue as so many like to make it,” Robert says, looking away while fondling with his fingers the golden crucifix he wears around his neck.

The Andersons sought the help of Dr. George Tiller, the doctor who was shot and killed by “pro-life” activist Scott Roeder last May. Tiller operated one of only three clinics in the country willing to perform late-term abortions. As such, he was particularly vilified by the anti-abortion community. However, Gail Anderson didn’t find the root of evil she had once envisioned.

“Dr. Tiller was a very gentle man to my husband and me. He wasn’t the villain that people, me included, had often painted him. He was soft-spoken. He held our hands while we mourned our loss. He even prayed with us.”

[…]

“The staff was respectful and allowed me to have a little bit of dignity where I didn’t think I had any left. It made me sad that I didn’t get that from my friends or my religious community, but from strangers in a hospital setting. To this day, I am bitter about that,” Gail confessed.

The Andersons managed to mourn their lost child, Grace, and come through with their faith in tact. However, they worry that the church is becoming “dangerously involved in politics and losing sight that the world simply is not black and white.” [Em.mine]

They continue forward, despite for some calling for their removal from the church, because they know that they are not alone. They move forward because it is their hope that other Catholics faced with similar situations will realize that they are not alone.

It’s worth a read – along with the voices of these men and women who share the heart-wrenching tales of their own late term abortions.

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

November 26, 2009

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Womendecreed by the UN General Assembly in 1999. In the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:

Women around the world are the very linchpin keeping families, communities, and nations together. On this International Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to women’s human rights; let us invest more resources in countering [violence against women]; and let us do all it takes to end these horrific assaults once and for all.

Today also marks the first of this year’s 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women, which itself will conclude on December 10th, Human Right’s Day.  Interstingly, Australia has independently themed the day White Ribbon Day, and urges Aussie men to take the following oath:

I swear:
never to commit violence against women,
never to excuse violence against women, and
never to remain silent about violence against women.
This is my oath.

Pretty basic, huh? If you want clarification about what constitutes violence against women, the White Ribbon Foundation says,

“In simple terms, violence against women is violence directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects a woman disproportionately.” [Em. mine]

This last is important because many of these abuses happen to men and boys as well, but the rate of occurrence and global levels of tolerance for these kinds of behaviors overwhelmingly validate this as a women’s issue.  Consider 

  • domestic violence, family violence, wife-beating, intimate violence, intimate homicide, femicide
  • sexual violence, sexual assault, rape, marital rape, gang rape, date rape, acquaintance rape, indecent assault, sexual harassment, sex-based harassment
  • genital mutilation
  • enforced prostitution
  • enforced sterilisation, enforced abortion, killing of unwanted female babies, enforced motherhood

Earlier this month the UN began Say NO – UNiTE to End Violence Against Women, an initiative that “records what individuals, organizations and governments worldwide are doing to end violence against women.” Say NO strives to reach 100,000 actions by March 2009 and 1 million actions by November 2010. They count volunteering, donations, outreach, advocacy, and even individual instances of helping someone in need.  If you’re doing something, stand up and be counted.

I’ve spoken to too many people (men and women, incidently) who roll their eyes upon what they think are “women’s issues” or “feminist” complaints in a world they like to view as more or less equal by now. The finer points of sexism, discrimination, and gender politics aside,  according to UNIFEM:

Violence against women and girls is a problem of pandemic proportions. Based on country data available , up to 70 per cent of women experience physical or sexual violence from men in their lifetime – the majority by husbands, intimate partners or someone they know. Among women aged between 15 and 44, acts of violence cause more death and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. Perhaps the most pervasive human rights violation that we know today […] It takes many forms and occurs in many places – domestic violence in the home, sexual abuse of girls in schools, sexual harassment at work, rape by husbands or strangers, in refugee camps or as a tactic of war.

I highly recommend reading the factsheet in its entirety (all stats documented), but here are a few nuggets:

  • In the United States, one-third of women murdered each year are killed by intimate partners. Perhaps the most pervasive human rights violation that we know today, violence against women devastates lives, fractures communities, and stalls development. It takes many forms and occurs in many places — domestic violence in the home, sexual abuse of girls in schools, sexual harassment at work, rape by husbands or strangers, in refugee camps or as a tactic of war.
  • In South Africa, a woman is killed every 6 hours by an intimate partner.
  • In India, 22 women were killed each day in dowry-related murders in 2007.
  • Women and girls constitute 80 percent of the estimated 800,000 people trafficked annually,7 with the majority (79 percent) trafficked for sexual exploitation.
  • Approximately 100 to 140 million girls and women in the world have experienced female genital mutilation/cutting, with more than 3 million girls in Africa annually at risk of the practice.
  • In São Paulo, Brazil, a woman is assaulted every 15 seconds.
  • Approximately 250,000 to 500,000 women and girls were raped in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Further Info:

WHO Multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence against Women

Violence Against Women – We Can’t Look Away: Blogging and Updates from the International Rescue Committee

Ending Violence Against Women: What Works – 2006 Report from the UN’s WomenWatch (pdf)

Family Planning Reduces Abortions AND Helps the Economy

January 31, 2009

There was quite an uproar with the short-lived inclusion of a family planning initiative in the proposed national economic stimulus package. Conservatives scratched their heads at how contraception had anything to do with economy. On Hardball last Monday Georgia Congressman Phil Gingrey, equating family planning services to contraception alone, quipped “Now, indeed, that may stimulate something, but I don‘t think it‘s going to stimulate the economy!” Sex, sex, its encouraging more SEX!

Rush Limbaugh drew the erroneous conclusion that the initiative (and family planning itself) is akin to “abortion all over the world”, its economic aim was to reduce the country’s birth rate and that a better method to do so would be to “… put pictures of Pelosi in every cheap motel room in America today, that will keep birth rates down because that picture will keep a lot of things down.”

Normally quoting Limbaugh serves little purpose, and I’m going to ignore a large part of why this comment is offensive, but I wanted to mention it because it demonstrates a conservative belief about the purpose of family planning clinics. “In every cheap motel room in America…” Seedy, sordid, illicit sex. The kind in sleezy motels across the land. Irresponsible, immoral behavior. That’s what contraception is for. That’s what clinics serve. If you want to engage in THAT kind of behavior, and dodge its logical consequences, why should the government help you out?

This kind of thinking, whether vocalized or not, is pervasive, damaging, and just plain inaccurate. It belies a person who knows very little about what clinics such as Planned Parenthood are all about, and a willful ignorance of what was in the stimulus package regarding family planning.

First, let’s look at what the nation’s largest family planning organization actually does on a daily basis. In 2007  a breakdown of Planned Parenthood services looked like this:

  • 36% Contraception
  • 31% STD testing and treatment
  • 17% Cancer screening and prevention
  • 11% Pregnancy tests, pre-natal care, menopause, and infertility.
  • 3% Abortion (*No federal money can be used for this – see below)
  • 2% Primary care and adoption referral

If you’re a low-income man, woman, or couple with no health insurance, who do you go to? Where do you go?

Now let’s look at what the inclusion of this legislation actually would have accomplished. Currently low-income women of child-bearing age cannot access Medicaid until they become pregnant. If a woman wants federal help for family planning before this time, she has to petition for a waiver, providing her state allows for this. 27 states offer a waiver, which can take as long as two years to acquire. Obama proposed eliminating the federal waiver thereby allowing states to directly access Medicaid funds for family planning services if they so choose. States that never offered the waiver remain completely unchanged.

This money would fund mammograms, cervical cancer screenings, medically relevant sex education, contraception, STD testing and treatment, pre-natal care, and infertility treatment –  but not a penny would go toward abortion! *Remember the Hyde Amendment? Since 1976 no federal dollars may be spent to fund abortion. In fact, Medicare and Medicaid explicitly state that under no circumstance may abortion “be claimed as a family-planning service.”

Family planning. Essentially ensuring low-income women’s gynecological health and empowering them with the means to control when they become pregnant. How can a multitude of  pregnant teens, women who drop out of college for a menial job to raise an unexpected child, and couples who can’t afford more children nevertheless finding themselves pregnant again NOT be a drain on the economy? AIDS or other STD’s being contracted, untreated, and exponentially spread. Women who seek emergency room help for cancer only after it had advanced to the point that her physical symptoms impair her daily life. Low-income, mostly uninsured women. Again, NOT a drain on the economy? On the health care system? This isn’t complicated, it’s common sense!

Even if we were dealing solely with contraception – is that so wrong? Deciding where and when to have a child is a basic fundamental right. Again, we’re not even talking about abortion. We’re talking about PLANNING! The most responsible thing a person can do. Why is there such a backlash?

Is it sex, again? Are we back to sex? Pro-creation only sex? Because as great as it sounds I don’t see a whole lot of neo-cons with 15 kids. Even outspoken Huckabee only has three. I suppose he abstains.

The fact is that people have sex. Teenagers do it, college kids, singles, couples, married people. How can being healthy along the way and in control of your life be a negative thing?

Dr. Pete Klasky has a great piece on Huffington where he points to evidence that family planning significantly reduces the number of abortions and saves the government money.

To understand how this works, it is helpful to look at California’s experience with a state-funded contraception and family planning initiative for women with incomes between 100% and 200% of the poverty level:

Four years after implementing the program, California saved an estimated $500 million in public health care spending, net of what they spent on the program itself. In fact, for every dollar invested in the program, the state of California saved an estimated $5.33, over a period of five years. These are conservative estimates that do not include money saved through increased productivity and cost savings from reductions in paid medical leave and sick days that result from unplanned pregnancies. Few other public spending plans can boast such a positive return on investment. [Em mine]

He also points out that sex education and access to contraception do NOT lead to an increased amount of pre-marital sex. Another myth opponents assert time and again.

In 2002, the Department of Health and Human Services (under Republican Secretary Tommy Thompson), released a report documenting an increase in contraceptive use with a decrease in sexual activity between 1995 and 2002. Supplying contraceptives and educating adolescents about sex during the late 1990s did not increase their likelihood to engage in sexual activities; it did keep them from getting pregnant. Even supplying emergency contraception to adolescents, prior to sexual activity, has been proven not to affect sexual behaviors.

Of course, we all know that abstinence-onlyeducation” has the exact opposite effect (doesn’t delay onset or frequency of sexual activity, but rather increases the likelihood of unprotected sex because it purports – among other things – that condoms are ultimately ineffective), and yet the Bush Administration spent more than $1.75 billion on it – not in an effort to boost the economy, but an attempt to spread good Christian virtue to those who would otherwise find themselves sullied and impure.

So what is the reasoning behind indignantly rejecting an initiative that would reduce the number of abortions and save the government money? What is it? Politics? Ignorance? The misplaced notion of seedy hotel room sex?

I do understand the argument that the economic stimulus package simply wasn’t the appropriate vehicle for this initiative and, in fact, its inclusion simply lofted a softball for opposition to self-righteously whack over the fence – that it was a tactical error on Obama’s part. Its ability to instantly appall conservatives and consequent swift removal from the package bears this out.

But family planning will be back. How will the debate go when we don’t have to show that that it’s good for the economy, but simply that it’s good for the country? The very fact that we’re beginning to have these conversations on a national level is a start and I am hopeful that over the next few years we will see signifiant changes in both policity and cultural attitudes about women’s health and reproductive freedom – that dicussion of sexual issues won’t revolve around fear and shame, but will instead focus on  self and mutual respect, healthy relationships, education, safety, emotional and physical health, autonomous control, and responsibility. Am I too optimistic?

Would I Be Less Offended if Palin Were a Man?

September 20, 2008

Like many in my circles, I was horrified when I learned about Sarah Palin’s beliefs and several of her actions as Wasilla Mayor and Alaskan Governor: the Evangelical leanings, the anti-reproductive rights stance, the sanctimonious way she uses “hockey mom” as a badge of purity and goodness, the belief that things like war and pipelines are sanctioned by God, the attempt to use her power as Mayor to ban books at an elementary school, the homophobia… But this is par for the course from a conservative Republican. As McCain’s running mate, did I really expect anything else?

Well, yes. I expected to hear these sentiments from the lips of a man. When I believe that we should judge individuals on their words and actions, regardless of what group they belong to, am I actually holding Palin’s gender against her?

The McCain camp cries sexism every time Palin is questioned on her integrity or experience. Conservatives claim hypocrisy that the feminist movement hasn’t jumped to her support. But backing a candidate just because she’s a woman is just as bad as refusing to vote for a candidate just because she’s a woman. A new Palin-inspired tee shirt reads “A Woman Candidate is not Necessarily a Woman’s Candidate.”

We can applaud the fact that she’s a powerful woman, a mother of five who successfully Governs Alaska while tending to a Downs Syndrome infant, attending church, and toting kids the ice rink. She’s the epitome of a working mother, and a woman in power who doesn’t back down from a challenge. All of that is great. But it becomes harder to more obviously applaud her bid for U.S. Vice President when she appears to have been chosen (after a 15-minute meeting and a telephone call) as a pawn to the men who desperately want McCain in the White House.

Was she chosen as the best person to lead the nation should anything happen to a 72 year old cancer survivor? Or was she chosen as the perfect emblem to entice women and ultra-conservatives – those demographics whose ambivalence about McCain might otherwise keep them home on election day – or worse defect to Obama? (Well, the women anyway.)

She toes the party line and can help him win. She is acceptable, is so perfect, because she looks exactly like men and conservative women want her to. She’s pretty, she’s feminine, and she’s all about God and family. She’s a barracuda who is ready to spar with the enemy, but won’t make waves with her own.

So why aren’t feminists giving the credit conservatives feel she deserves? And why do anti-feminist beliefs coming from a strong independent woman bother me so much?

There’s obviously a disconnect in the way conservatives and progressives think about women, about sexism. What is sexism, really? Because when feminists and conservatives breach the issue, they seem to be talking about two different things.

The McCain campaign recently claimed sexism on Joe Biden for calling Palin “good looking.”  This was actually a misrepresentation because Biden, when pointing out an obvious difference between himself and his opponent, said “She’s good looking.” It was a humorous dig at himself. He also called Obama good-looking and made a joke about his own appearance next to the younger Senator. Still, if spun to denote that Biden believes her femine attractiveness is her only valuable trait – that’s sexism.

But how does her own, enthusiastically supportive voter base treat the Governor? Well, there’s the sycophantic and oddly news-based  VPILF.com, there’s the Sarah Palin sexy school girl action figure (to be fair the company also makes ultra buff verions of McCain, Edwards, Spitzer, and Obama – who is featured sans shirt), and a full-body silhouette of Pain (think mud flaps on an 18-wheeler) with arms and one leg wrapped around a drilling rig and the flattering assertion, “I’d drill that!”

CNBC’s Donny Deutch praised Palin with the following:

There is the new creation that the feminist woman has not figured out in 40 years of the feminist ideal that men can take in a woman in power and women can celebrate a woman in power. Hillary Clinton didn’t figure it out. She didn’t put a skirt on! […]

She [Palin] talked about energy. Didn’t matter! Today everybody’s running in circles — we want to have her over for dinner. I trust her. I want her watching my kids. I want her laying next to me in bed. That’s the way people vote.

So, “men can take a woman in power” as long as she wears a skirt? As long as she’s attractive enough to “mate”? Opt for a pant suit and you’re screwed?

This is the difference. Sexualizing a woman isn’t celebrating her. Feeling comfortable with a woman when she conforms to what pleases (not threatens) you, is not a feminist ideal. When women need to be what men want, that’s not progressive and it’s not good for women.

Feminists respond to things that truly empower women, and satisfying male fantasy – or the fantasies of anyone else, isn’t it. Although the way Palin’s male brethren respond to her attractiveness is clearly sexist, this isn’t a judgment on her. Her attractiveness in itself makes no difference anymore than someone’s unattractiveness would. In fact, elevating the importance of a woman’s level of attractiveness to men is precisely what brings you into the realm of the offensive.

Palin isn’t automatically embraced by feminists because being female is not a criterion for inclusion. Plenty of males support feminism and plenty of females don’t. Feminists care about Palin’s views, and her views on women’s issues is what makes her so unacceptable to progressive females across the country.

Yet hers is a predictable worldview for a Republican running mate. Why is it that when women say and believe things that degrade their own sex, it’s so much harder to deal with?

Consider the infamous Phyllis Schlafly, whose best-of quotes might include

“Sexual harassment on the job is not a problem for virtuous women,”

“Sex education classes are like in-home sales parties for abortions,”

or

“Feminism is doomed to failure because it is based on an attempt to repeal and restructure human nature.”

Or how about Charlotte Allen who received attention for a recent Washington Post article entitled “We Scream, We Swoon, How Dumb Can We Get?” – women who seem to disparage their own gender to the end of being accepted by God or the males in their lives, or both. In a sort of “See? I get it. Women are dumb! I know my place. I’m different from all those other dumb females. I think like you!”

If Mike Huckabee were standing at McCain’s side repeating all the anti-women convictions we heard last fall, I’d be angry and I’d be writing about it. But when a woman says these things, and is mistaken for a “new creation of feminism”, it’s a whole other phenomenon, one tinged with confusion, and betrayal. Maybe it’s that she’s being mistaken for a feminist, or that a conservative woman as Senate tie-breaker poses one more hurdle to women’s legislation, or that there’s a feeling of assumed self-delusion about such views in a woman, or it could be that she comes in such an appealing outer envelope I worry that no one will bother to rip it open to read what’s inside.

Or maybe it was just the blind-sidedness of her candidacy and with time a female anti-feminist in such potential power will look and sound to me just the same as the male anti-feminists in power now.

Sarah Palin has a right to believe whatever she likes. She even has a right to try and take away my rights as a woman and citizen: to use her power to eliminate sex education, reduce my access to birth control, prevent me from obtaining a safe and legal abortion even if I were raped or my life were in danger, teach creationism to my children, strip away the rights of homosexuals and transgenders (and attempt to cure them with prayer vigils), and wage war, drill for oil, and do anything else she chooses in the name of God.

If the country votes for these beliefs in November, we will get what is coming to us. And a new “feminism” may even be born. (In other words, VOTE!)

Feminist or “Fetalist”? Feminism in Light of the ’08 Campaign

September 18, 2008

Feminism has become the new buzzword this presidential election cycle. First Hillary fought hard to shatter that ultimate glass ceiling, then Sarah Palin emerged as a “new face of feminism“, despite holding views that are antithetical to those of most self-described feminists.

Hillary was criticized by Palin herself for pointing out gender-bias during the primaries, yet feminists are being regarded as hypocritical for not supporting the potentially first female Vice President of the United States.

Which got me wondering – what is a feminist?

Palin’s beliefs on sex education, birth control, abortion, and GLBT issues make her decidedly un-woman friendly to the majority of feminists. Yet Palin considers herself extremely woman-friendly and thinks the other side has everything all wrong.

What’s going on? Can there be a Christian conservative feminist?

I struggled with this one. Does believing abortion is murder and that the government isn’t responsible for enforcing gender equality mean that you are against the empowerment and equality of women?

Palin is a member of Feminists for Life. It’s a group that believes “women deserve better than abortion” and strives to “systematically eliminate the circumstances that drive women to abortion.” The latter sounds pretty good. Except they don’t.

The group lobbies for a program of federal grants for pregnant or new parents (or those preparing to adopt) who are students so they don’t have to sacrifice their education in order to support a child. They also oppose family caps for women on welfare. However it seems that, in FFL’s world, financial burden is the only circumstance that provokes women to choose abortion. The site speaks nothing of sex ed or contraception, except when it condemns them. In an article on rape and incest, it mentions birth control:

“birth control counseling and abortion often indirectly contribute to the victim’s sense of shame, guilt, and blame for what is happening, since she is told to “take control” and “be responsible” for her “sexual activity,” implying that this situation is indeed within her power to control.”

Who tells a victim of incest or rape that they should have used birth control? Or implies that she “take control” next time by carrying rubbers around just in case? That’s so offensive, it’s sickening.

A 2005 piece by Kathy Politt in The Nation investigates FFL and interviews its president, Serrin Foster. Foster advocates a ban on abortion in all circumstances, including rape, incest, deformity, or when the life or health of the mother is at stake. She makes the thoroughly debunked assertion that an abortion ban would stop abortion altogether and make women safer overall, she ensures her members are “medically informed” by erroneously telling them that abortion causes breast cancer, feels the contraceptive pill is an ” abortifacient” and birth control in general “doesn’t work” for teenagers or swing-shift nurses who lose track of their body clock.

Feminsts for Life isn’t actually about improving the lives of women, nor even addressing the circumstances that lead to abortion. It sounds great to say women need more help juggling babies and education and careers, but in what practical way does FFL represent feminism?

Politt concludes her piece with the answer:

Exposing the constraints on women’s choices, however, is only one side of feminism. The other is acknowledging women as moral agents, trusting women to decide what is best for themselves. For FFL there’s only one right decision: Have that baby. And since women’s moral judgment cannot be trusted, abortion must be outlawed, whatever the consequences for women’s lives and health–for rape victims and 12-year-olds and 50-year-olds, women carrying Tay-Sachs fetuses and women at risk of heart attack or stroke, women who have all the children they can handle and women who don’t want children at all. FFL argues that abortion harms women–that’s why it clings to the outdated cancer claims. But it would oppose abortion just as strongly if it prevented breast cancer, filled every woman’s heart with joy, lowered the national deficit and found Jimmy Hoffa. That’s because they aren’t really feminists–a feminist could not force another woman to bear a child, any more than she could turn a pregnant teenager out into a snowstorm. They are fetalists.

Feminist historian Estelle Freedman told NPR that conservative women (have been known to) appropriate the term for political gain. If you say you’re a feminist, but the nice, family-oriented kind, people hear what they want to hear. Without examining too closely, women believe you’re one their side.

Yet even this can backfire. To the right even of Palin the tag “feminist” is raising some disapproving eyebrows. Olivia St. John of World Net Daily writes that Palin’s decision to work outside the home is a direct contributor to her teenage daughter’s pregnancy. She is accused of gauchely “(stealing) the spotlight” as her husband and children look on from the shadows and further reprobated as “legitimizing the societal phenomenon of the career-centric absentee mother.” I guess you can’t please everyone.

Palin is an accomplished, intelligent, successful woman. She manages a career and a family in a way that appears enviable. She could even become the very first female Vice President of the United States. But Sarah Palin will not make the country better for women. No matter what she says, or what FFL wants you to believe, Sarah Palin is not a feminist.

Wasilla Update – Palin Originated Rape Kit Policy

September 12, 2008

Thanks to Jacob Alperin-Sheriff of Huffington Post’s Off the Bus, another layer is uncovered in the Mayor Palin Rape Kit Debacle. Sarah Palin has adamantly denied knowledge of the practice (an embarassing admission in itself), while the campaign tries to dismiss the issue as a long-standing bureaucratic procedure that somehow slipped through the cracks.

However, thanks to unearthed documentation on Wasilla’s annual budget, we learn that neither of those assertions is true. In fact, the policy to charge victims for rape kits originated under Palin when Police Chief Charlie Fannon (specially-appointed by Palin when she took office) slashed the typical allotment from the department’s budget in 1999. Palin’s signature appears on the finincial documents that illustrate this change.

So Palin approved the new policy and, according to Tony Knowles – the Alaskan governor who made the policy illegal in 2000 – Wasilla was the only city in the state to implement such a practice. When they were forcd to repeal the policy, Fannon went on the record in protest – decrying burden on the taxpayers. His estimate was as much as $14,000 per year.

I guess the burden of a concurrently built $1.3 million (see comments) $15 million hockey rink was more palatable.