Friday, May 4, 2012

A Report from Behind Enemy Lines in the War on Women

This weekend I marched against the War on Women.  I put on my protest clothes, laced up my Doc. Marten boots, and met up with the Occupy DC crew in Lafayette Park to march to Upper Senate Park for the “Unite Against the War on Women Rally.”  You’re probably asking yourself if this is a joke.  Don’t worry, it is a joke, but it’s not on you.  I wanted to march undercover, as a woman warrior, to see what it was all about.  I gained some new insight, confirmed some personal suspicions, and learned an important lesson.

The Unite Against the War on Women Rally, held in several cities across the country on Saturday, April 28th, was the work of a newly founded group, The group was founded by two women in response to "the astonishing legislation and rhetoric taking place in our House of Representatives, the media and many of the States across our country attacking our rights…from reproductive rights to voting rights to human rights."  In short, it was formed to counter the push back from Catholics, and others concerned about religious freedom, to the birth control mandate.  The organizers stated that "everyone is invited to join, plan, and rally as we unite to demand that every person be granted equal opportunities, equal rights, and equal representation."  As I totally agree with the stated platform, I didn't think they'd mind my attendance at the rally or if I took photos and videos, or even wrote a story about it.

We started out at Lafayette Park in front of the White House.  I was a little concerned that I may be recognized because I’d been discussing this very issue rather actively on twitter with 2 users that, I had only discovered a few hours beforehand, were going to be there.  I calmed myself, remembered the warrior’s code, called a friend to strengthen my resolve, and then marched along with my head held high.  My fellow marchers were quite boisterous, occasionally crossing against the light (they were Occupiers so I should have been expecting it) and frequently chanting.  It was actually kind of fun; I even joined in on a few chants.  I was jolted back to myself and my mission when they started chanting about abortion.  It was rather jarring.  We’d been chanting about equal pay, and the wrongness of sexual assault, themes that everyone can agree on, but when they brought up abortion they lost me.  Treating women with respect and dignity is in no way compatible with abortion…or contraception for that matter.

As I marched I noticed that very few pedestrians smiled at us.  There were a few who did, even a group of high school students who cheered us, but the vast majority of the pedestrians/tourists gave us dirty looks.  It may have had nothing to do with the content of the protest, it may have been hostility toward the Occupy community, or disgust with the rude signs that so frequently accompany these events, but it gave me further hope that the public is not on their side.  Their pathetic turnout on a nice Saturday afternoon was really enough to show me that, though.

When we reached Upper Senate Park for the rally I was surprised, once again, by the low turnout.  I was not surprised, though, by who turned out.  Pro-choice activists are remarkably consistent in their appearance; you’ve got the punks/Occupy-kids, you’ve got the older women, and you’ve got the women you’re not quite sure are women.  There were normal people interspersed throughout the crowd, a few “non-traditional” families, and several men as well.  There were not, though, large numbers of average and even attractive young women, and women with families like were present at the Stand up for Religious Freedom Rallies.

Shortly after we arrived the speeches began.  Kemyta Terry, a PhD student at Howard and the DC rally organizer, gave a speech welcoming us to the rally and explaining her newfound political activism.  Her Facebook page features this quote from Margaret Sanger: “No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body.  No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.”  I find her admiration of Margaret Sanger disturbing, given that she is a woman of color, but that is not entirely relevant.  What I find especially striking about this quote is the idea that a woman is only able to control her body through the use of hormones that prevent a woman’s body from exercising the perfectly healthy function of ovulation.  I consciously choose not to become a mother by not having sex; the idea that I’m too stupid to understand causality and too incompetent to take responsibility for my actions and therefore must alter my biochemistry is insulting.

The speeches were, by and large, exactly what I expected to hear.  Calls to women’s unity, calls to action, etc.  There were a few things that really struck me, though.  Jennifer Granholm, the former governor of Michigan and current host of The War Room with Jennifer Granholm on Current TV, spoke for several minutes and focused on the need for women to run for office.  That’s something I can get on board with; I think women can do a great job in elected office.  Unfortunately, that is the extent of our agreement.  Granholm argued that all the “bad” legislation coming through was because of the lack of female representation.  According to Granholm, “we have a major problem of representation.” She spoke of the lack of Democratic/Progressive women legislators, confirming for me that she doesn’t regard Republican women as real women.  Republican women are winning elections across the country, but Granholm didn’t see fit to mention them.  Apparently to be a real woman, you must ingest carcinogenic hormones to suppress your ovulation and support a doctor’s right to dismember unborn babies before they’re born.  Needless to say, I was starting to get a bit irritated.

The next speaker was Sarah Hutchinson from Catholics for Choice.  This is the speech that really made my blood boil.  Don’t take my word for it, watch it yourself.  Hutchinson, as was to be expected, argued that Catholics don’t believe what the bishops teach so the bishops should really just shut up.  Her understanding of the faith is laughable, but her public misrepresentation of it is offensive.  Her only arguments are temporal, but our faith is not about the temporal.  The function of the Church is to get her believers to heaven, not ensure that they have a college savings account for every child.  Hutchinson, and I think many of us, forgot that.

After Hutchinson’s speech I left.  I couldn’t take it anymore.  I’m a bit of a hot-head and had to keep myself from heckling a few times, but I’m glad I went.  It’s very important for us to go out into the world and know what other people are saying.  It’s important for us to understand what it is that we’re really fighting and what it is that they’re really fighting for.  They are not fighting for access to contraceptives, they’re fighting for free contraceptives and ultimately, free abortions.  Equal pay is a nice thing to talk about, but don’t kid yourself, that’s only a side dish.  So, women, I’m going to exhort you, like Jennifer Granholm exhorted the women at her speech, to get involved.  Speak up for your faith, protest the violation of your conscience, and always know your real enemy.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Paternalism and the Birth Control Debate

Helen Reddy penned the anthemic "I am Woman" in 1971 and it quickly became the theme song for the women's lib. movement.  It's not quite my thing but I understand the appeal: "I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman."  It's not girl power, it's woman power, and I can get down with that.  Imagine my surprise, then, when the people who turned this song into an anthem betrayed such shocking paternalism in their advocacy for birth control.  As I haven't seen anyone else discuss this, I felt the need to draw people's attention to this fact. 

I was first really struck by the paternalism of the birth control mandate during President Obama's "accommodation" speech.  Here is the offending passage:
Today, we’ve reached a decision on how to move forward. Under the rule, women will still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services -– no matter where they work. So that core principle remains. But if a woman’s employer is a charity or a hospital that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan, the insurance company -– not the hospital, not the charity -– will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge, without co-pays and without hassles.
Did you catch it?  It was subtle and I am rather sensitive to these things, so let me recap in case you missed it.  "The insurance company...will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care."  My insurance company is going to call me and tell me I can take birth control pills if I want to?  What am I, a child?  The idea of my insurance company calling me to tell me I can take the pill if I want to would be laughable if I didn't understand the thought behind such a requirement.  Such a requirement shows that the President, and everyone who has allied themselves with him in this matter, thinks that I am too stupid to make decisions about my "health care" and that I need big brother to nudge me in the right direction. 

For the record, I follow and support the Church's teaching on contraception.  Despite my support for the Church's position, I know that I could take birth control if I wanted to.  My ob/gyn offers it to me every time I go for a pelvic exam/pap smear.  When she offers it to me I politely say "no, thank you"...I don't say "wait, I have to ask my bishop."  I can assure you that the bishops are the farthest thing from my mind when I see a speculum.  Though I kindly decline contraceptives whenever they're offered, I know quite well how to get them if I want them.  I don't take contraceptives because I don't want to take them, not because I don't know how to get them or because a "celibate man in a dress," as an online commentator recently refered to a priest, tells me not to.  To assume that I don't use contraceptives because a man told me not to, and that you'll remedy the situation by telling me I can is the height of paternalism.