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March 31, 2008

Happy Women's History Month!

It's the last day of Women's History Month, and we've had a lot of fun writing about it from as many different angles as we could think of. Of course, we know we've only scratched the surface, so we'll see you next year!

Betty Friedan at the 1970 Women's Strike for Equality ("Don't Iron While the Strike is Hot!")

Women Strike for Peace

This lady needs no introduction

Civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer testifies about the systematic denial of voting rights to blacks in Mississippi before the Credentials Committee at the Democratic National Party Convention in Atlantic City, 1964.

Members of the National Women's Party protest outside a theater where president Woodrow Wilson is giving a speech, 1916. ("Wilson is Against Women")

Declaration of Sentiments Waterwall at the Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, New York

The March for Women's Lives in Washington, D.C., April 2004

March 30, 2008

Anti-Women History: The ESC Obscurity Wish List

We've talked about a lot of smart and talented and inspiring women this Women's History Month. We've talked about them because we think there's so much we can learn from the women who have come before us, what they believed in and what they fought for. But before the month ends, we thought it would be fun to look at the flip side and make a list of anti-women women that we wish would go away already and fade into history, or better yet, obscurity.

Ann Coulter

If you're reading this blog, we probably don't really need to make the case against Ann Coulter, so we'll just stick to a few of her greatest hits about women and gender issues (with some bonus homophobia).

I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, but it turns out you have to go into rehab if you use the word "faggot", so I — so kind of an impasse, can't really talk about Edwards.

I think [women] should be armed but should not vote...women have no capacity to understand how money is earned. They have a lot of ideas on how to spend it...it's always more money on education, more money on child care, more money on day care. [Comedy Central; Politically Incorrect; February 26, 2001]

It would be a much better country if women did not vote. That is simply a fact. In fact, in every presidential election since 1950 - except Goldwater in '64 - the Republican would have won, if only the men had voted. [The Guardian; May 17, 2003]

I don't think I've ever encountered an attractive liberal woman in my entire life. [The Guardian; May 17, 2003]

I think the other point that no one is making about the [Abu Ghraib] abuse photos is just the disproportionate number of women involved, including a girl general running the entire operation. I mean, this is lesson, you know, number 1,000,047 on why women shouldn't be in the military. In addition to not being able to carry even a medium-sized backpack, women are too vicious. [Fox News; Hannity & Colmes; May 5, 2004]

Girl-power feminists who got where they are by marrying men with money or power -- Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Arianna Huffington and John Kerry -- love to complain about how hard it is for a woman to be taken seriously. It has nothing to do with their being women. It has to do with their cheap paths to power. Kevin Federline isn't taken seriously either. [Townhall.com; January 24, 2007]

Liberals' only remaining big issue is abortion because of their beloved sexual revolution. That's their cause: Spreading anarchy and polymorphous perversity. Abortion permits that. [Slander (2002)]

Like the Democrats, Playboy just wants to liberate women to behave like pigs, have sex without consequences, prance about naked, and abort children. [Slander (2002)]

Liberals refuse to condemn what societies have condemned for thousands of years - e.g., promiscuity, divorce, illegitimacy, homosexuality.

So in a maniacal pursuit of equality... these querulous little feminists stripped women of the sense that they can rely on the institution of marriage and gave men licence to discard their wives. But at least women can choose to be pigs now, too! This is what happens when you allow women to think about public policy. [From her column, National Organisation For Worms]

Dr. Laura

Radio host Dr. Laura Schlessinger came back into the public eye recently when she made some comments about the Elliott Spitzer scandal. She claimed that often when husbands cheat, their wives are at least partly to blame for not making their men feel special and loved and desired enough, forcing men to go outside the marriage to have their 'needs' met.

Some quotes from her appearance on the Today show:

VIEIRA: And do you think that women play any role in this, Dr. Laura?

SCHLESSIGNER: Well, it's interesting. What you said about what men need --

VIEIRA: I mean the wife obviously.

SCHLESSINGER: -- is very true. Men do need validation. I mean, when they come into the world, they're born of a woman and getting the validation from Mommy is the beginning of needing it from a woman. And when the wife does not focus in on the needs and the feelings, sexually, personally, to make him feel like a man, to make him feel like a success, to make him feel like her hero, he's very susceptible to the charm of some other woman making him feel what he needs. And these days, women don't spend a lot of time thinking about how they can give their men what they need --

VIEIRA: But, you say -- are you saying the women should feel guilty? Like they somehow drove the man to -- to cheat?

SCHLESSINGER: You know what? The cheating was his decision to repair what's damaged and to feed himself where he's starving. But yes, I hold women accountable for tossing out perfectly good men by not treating them with the love and kindness and respect and attention they need.

SCHLESSINGER: Because I would challenge the wife to find out what kind of wife she's being. Is she being supportive and approving and loving? Is she being sexually intimate and affectionate? Is she making him feel like he's her man? If she's not doing that, then she's contributing to his wrong choice.

She later said that some men are "narcissistic" and "sociopathic" and just generally jerks, and in that case the woman isn't partly responsible for the cheating, but that most men who cheat don't fall into this category.

We think that what's most annoying about these comments is that Dr. Laura easily could have phrased them in a different way to make a valid point. She could have said something like 'sometimes people are just narcissistic jerks that cheat because they want to and they can, but often when a person cheats, it's an indication of serious issues in the relationship, although of course that's not an excuse since those issues should be addressed and corrected or the relationship should be ended before cheating is seen as a viable option'. But why do that when you can be 'provocative' and reinforce tired old gender roles? Really, we wouldn't expect anything more from Dr. Laura.

Quick wikipedia summary of Schlessinger's political views:
Schlessinger is an outspoken critic of practices that she considers immoral and have become too prevalent in contemporary American culture. These include sex outside of marriage, premarital cohabitation, intentional single parenthood, day care in lieu of parents staying home to raise their children, the viewing of pornography, marrying too quickly or out of desperation, permissive parenting (also known as laissez-faire parenting), abortion, easy or no-fault divorce, and same-sex marriage. Her radio program often features short editorial monologues on these and other social and political topics, followed by her characteristically direct responses to callers' questions and moral dilemmas. Certain aspects of feminism are often discussed on her show (Dr. Laura was a self-claimed feminist in the 1970s).
She has written a bunch of self-help books with charming titles like Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives and The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands.

This is all pretty interesting considering her personal history.
While working at USC, she met Dr. Lewis G. Bishop, who was married with dependent children. According to divorce filings, Schlessinger and Bishop began an affair. Bishop left his wife after more than 20 years of marriage, and moved in with Schlessinger. They lived together as an unmarried couple, and Schlessinger tried to get pregnant after reversing an earlier tubal ligation and suffering an ectopic pregnancy. They married in early 1985, eight years after beginning their relationship, and Bishop became Schlessinger's business manager. Schlessinger bore their only child, Deryk Schlessinger, in November 1985, when she was 38.
When she was younger, she also posed nude for a boyfriend (not a husband, but actually radio host Bill Ballance, who also gave Schlessinger her first radio spot) and year later he posted the images on the internet. We're not going to comment any further on any of this because we're going to try not to judge without knowing the whole story, a courtesy that Dr. Laura herself rarely extends.
Now it is difficult to find the male who values virginity, purity and innocence when females dress like babes and perform oral sex and intercourse without even having to be fed dinner... Who cares about vows - after all, why buy the cow when the milk is free.
At one time Schlessinger was supportive of gay rights, but she eventually changed her position, causing a huge controversy by calling homosexuality a "biological error" and coming out in support of 'ex-gay' groups that claimed to be able to turn gay people straight with 'therapy' and in opposition to gay marriage and gays as parents. She has made some attempts to apologize for some of these views, but has not exactly been embraced by the gay community.

Dr. Laura has also said that military wives should "stop whining".

"He could come back without arms, legs or eyeballs, and you're bitching?" Schlessinger asked before taking the stage at the Fort Douglas base theater today.
"You're not dodging bullets, so I don't want to hear any whining - that's my message to them," she added.

Schlessinger was in Salt Lake City to host her nationally syndicated radio program, a program that focuses on ethics, morals and values. Schlessinger boasted that she once talked a young woman out of marrying a soldier, noting that "warriors need warrior wives" and that she felt the girl was unprepared.

She said Americans who do not believe that the war in Iraq is directly related to a larger battle against terrorism "need eye drops." And she praised fathers who have the courage to leave their families to fight for the nation. "When you're in the military, that comes first," Schlessinger said. "You don't want to not have gone and find out your wife has to wear a Burka."

The radio host known simply as Dr. Laura - Schlessinger's doctorate is in physiology but she is a former marriage, family and child counselor in California - declined to say how she felt about women who leave their families to serve at war. "I'm going to leave that alone," she said.
So the implication is that men in the military deserve "warrior wives" who will support them fully while never being allowed to acknowledge the difficulty of their own situations or speak out about how they feel, and fathers who leave their families to fight overseas deserve nothing but praise, while women in the military should be judged as bad mothers and wives for taking the chance of leaving their families. Gotta love it.

Charlotte Allen

Charlotte Allen, a writer associated with the Independent Women's Forum, was the center of a huge controversy recently when the Washington Post published her op-ed piece on how stupid women are called "We Scream, We Swoon. How Dumb Can We Get?"

Apparently, the inspiration for the piece was a couple of reports of women screaming and a handful of women fainting at rallies for Barack Obama. Because of course it's totally silly for women to be loud and passionate and excited at a rally for a candidate that they support. (Especially since women couldn't possibly have intelligent and well thought out reasons for supporting a candidate and also get excited about him or her during a rally.) And nobody ever fainted at an event because it was hot or overcrowded and not because their poor delicate womanness was just overcome by how, like, totally awesome and dreamy Obama is.

Some quotes from the piece:

I can't help it, but reading about such episodes of screaming, gushing and swooning makes me wonder whether women -- I should say, "we women," of course -- aren't the weaker sex after all. Or even the stupid sex, our brains permanently occluded by random emotions, psychosomatic flailings and distraction by the superficial. Women "are only children of a larger growth," wrote the 18th-century Earl of Chesterfield. Could he have been right?

I'm not the only woman who's dumbfounded (as it were) by our sex, or rather, as we prefer to put it, by other members of our sex besides us. It's a frequent topic of lunch, phone and water-cooler conversations; even some feminists can't believe that there's this thing called "The Oprah Winfrey Show" or that Celine Dion actually sells CDs. A female friend of mine plans to write a horror novel titled "Office of Women," in which nothing ever gets done and everyone spends the day talking about Botox.

We exaggerate, of course. And obviously men do dumb things, too, although my husband has perfectly good explanations for why he eats standing up at the stove (when I'm not around) or pulls down all the blinds so the house looks like a cave (also when I'm not around): It has to do with the aggressive male nature and an instinctive fear of danger from other aggressive men. When men do dumb things, though, they tend to be catastrophically dumb, such as blowing the paycheck on booze or much, much worse (think "postal"). Women's foolishness is usually harmless. But it can be so . . . embarrassing.

Take Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign. By all measures, she has run one of the worst -- and, yes, stupidest -- presidential races in recent history, marred by every stereotypical flaw of the female sex. As far as I'm concerned, she has proved that she can't debate -- viz. her televised one-on-one against Obama last Tuesday, which consisted largely of complaining that she had to answer questions first and putting the audience to sleep with minutiae about her health-coverage mandate. She has whined (via her aides) like the teacher's pet in grade school that the boys are ganging up on her when she's bested by male rivals. She has wept on the campaign trail, even though everyone knows that tears are the last refuge of losers. And she is tellingly dependent on her husband.
So, women (except for Charlotte Allen and her friends) are embarrassingly stupid because some of us enjoy things like pop music and chick lit (which Allen rips apart later in the piece). Right, because the fact that some of us sometimes like some 'lowbrow' elements of pop culture (hello Rock of Love) makes us 100% hopeless, useless, and embarrassing as a gender. Because men don't read Tucker Max or go crazy for their favorite sports teams. (Of course some of us do both of those things too and we don't think there's anything wrong with doing them, we're just talking in terms of the silly argument that Allen has constructed.) And Hillary Clinton's campaign is "stupid" because she's a woman and has hired a lot of women to work with her. Got it. And we have to admit that it is a plausible argument, because no male candidate has ever run a stupid or poorly executed campaign, and in this election cycle there were no male candidates who dropped out of the race before Hillary because they didn't have as much support as she did.

Allen then goes on to say that many sexist myths about women's inferiority are actually true--we're worse drivers, we have smaller brains, etc. The 'evidence' she provides to support these claims is flimsy at best. (Media Matters has an awesome line-by-line takedown of every stupid claim.)

I am perfectly willing to admit that I myself am a classic case of female mental deficiencies. I can't add 2 and 2 (well, I can, but then what?). I don't even know how many pairs of shoes I own. I have coasted through life and academia on the basis of an excellent memory and superior verbal skills, two areas where, researchers agree, women consistently outpace men. (An evolutionary just-so story explains this facility of ours: Back in hunter-gatherer days, men were the hunters and needed to calculate spear trajectories, while women were the gatherers and needed to remember where the berries were.) I don't mind recognizing and accepting that the women in history I admire most -- Sappho, Hildegard of Bingen, Elizabeth I, George Eliot, Margaret Thatcher -- were brilliant outliers.

The same goes for female fighter pilots, architects, tax accountants, chemical engineers, Supreme Court justices and brain surgeons. Yes, they can do their jobs and do them well, and I don't think anyone should put obstacles in their paths. I predict that over the long run, however, even with all the special mentoring and role-modeling the 21st century can provide, the number of women in these fields will always lag behind the number of men, for good reason.

So I don't understand why more women don't relax, enjoy the innate abilities most of us possess (as well as the ones fewer of us possess) and revel in the things most important to life at which nearly all of us excel: tenderness toward children and men and the weak and the ability to make a house a home. (Even I, who inherited my interior-decorating skills from my Bronx Irish paternal grandmother, whose idea of upgrading the living-room sofa was to throw a blanket over it, can make a house a home.) Then we could shriek and swoon and gossip and read chick lit to our hearts' content and not mind the fact that way down deep, we are . . . kind of dim.

Allen later defended this piece in a question and answer session, saying that it was meant to be "funny but with a serious point" and standing behind all of her claims. Not surprising from someone who once argued that liberals and feminists are to blame for women's feelings of financial insecurity because they've attacked marriage as a patriarchal institution, causing both men and women to be less invested in marriage and quicker to divorce, which of course causes women to be desperately worried that they won't always have a man around to take care of them.

Of course, all of this begs the question--if Allen thinks that women should just chill out, embrace their inner idiocy, and focus on landing a man and redecorating the living room, what exactly is she doing writing opinion pieces for the Washington Post? If she believes that us 'mentally deficient' women belong in the home, when is she going to shut up and go there?

Elisabeth Hasselbeck

Ah yes, Elisabeth Hasselbeck of The View, the queen of the 'I thought this up five minutes ago backstage while I was getting my hair done' argument. We're not conservative women so we won't speak for them, but we do think they have just as much reason to be bothered by Hasselbeck's presence on The View as we do, because we think that she does them no favors by representing the 'conservative viewpoint' in such an ill-conceived, unsupported, inarticulate way.

We talked once before about Hasselbeck's argument that if you have a child with someone, you should just go ahead and marry them, no matter what the circumstance, for the good of the child.
The "hot topic" was whether you should tell your kids if they were "wanted" or "planned" or if they were... an "accident". Now, I really don't like to refer to any children as "accidents" because it has the connotation of "mistake". I think unplanned is a better way to put it - or in the case of my own children - Surprise! Then the subject evolved into couples having babies without being married (both in an Elizabeth Hurley kind of way and a Brangelina kind of way). And that dumb bitch Lizzie had the nerve to say that basically (I'm paraphrasing) it's lazy and irresponsible to not go all the way and just get married if you have a kid. She went on to spout off some made-up statistics (well, okay I'm sure they weren't made-up but just that I know she didn't actually read any of these so-called studies that exist) on how bad it is for kids to grow up with unmarried parents. When asked "but isn't it better to have happy unmarried parents, than unhappy married ones?" she said "Why can't you do both?" Um. Okay.

Now I won't deny that there is evidence that a stable, intact home environment with two active parents is better than say, being raised by Britney Spears... but I was really offended by the insinuation that "marriage" suddenly means everything is okay. I was raised by divorced parents and I would have been way more screwed up than I am now if those two people had continued to live together as husband and wife. Also, I resent the implication that somehow that little piece of paper that is a marriage license somehow makes your love more true and your life more stable.
In a discussion about the over-the-counter availability of emergency contraception, Hasselbeck stated that she opposes EC because she believes that life begins at conception.
"This prevents also, though, the fertilized egg from attaching to the uterine wall, taking away that environment for that egg to develop, which it would develop, most of the time, into a baby, a child, in this case. Taking that environment away from that life, to me it's the same as birthing a baby and leaving it on the street."
She said that she opposed the use of EC even in cases of rape or incest because she believes that every life has value, and went on to imply that pro-choice women who support universal health care are hypocritical because after all, they want the government's hands off of their bodies.

With such strong opinions about EC, you can imagine how she feels about abortion. One day, the ladies discussed a proposal to give all babies a $5000 baby bond, with the idea that it could be invested, put into a college fund or something similar. Some critics argued that it would cost to much, and the point was made that with the amount of money we're spending each year on the war in Iraq, we could afford to give each child a lot more than $5000. Elisabeth weighs in and says that she thinks this could be a good idea because the money might make some women reconsider having an abortion. Because, after all, many women do have abortions for "superficial reasons". In the video below, Whoopi Goldberg schools Hasselbeck on reality, which is a place where, as Whoopi says, most women do not choose abortion "with some sort of party going on", but rather treat it as the serious and personal and incredibly difficult decision that Elisabeth Hasselbeck can't understand that it is.

Leslee Unruh

Leslee Unruh is a leader of the anti-choice movement in South Dakota. She was one of the key lobbyists for the abortion ban legislation in that state. Unruh had an abortion when she was young, regretted it, and has dedicated the rest of her life to taking it out on other women.
Unruh had an abortion when she was in her early 20s, an experience she has said left her with feelings of extreme guilt. Several years later, she began "counseling" other women who'd had abortions or were considering the procedure. In 1984, she established the Alpha Center, which tried to dissuade women from getting abortions. Unruh and her husband also established the Omega Maternity Home in 1986, a home for pregnant girls in Sioux Falls, SD, that closed in 1994.

In 1987, Unruh was investigated by authorities after complaints surfaced that she had offered money to young women to carry their pregnancies to term and put their babies up for adoption. Tim Wilka, the Minnehaha County state's attorney at the time, told the local Sioux Falls, SD, newspaper the Argus Leader in 2003, "There were so many allegations about improper adoptions being made [against Unruh] and how teenage girls were being pressured to give up their children... Gov. George Mickelson called me and asked me to take the case."

The Alpha Center pleaded "no contest" to five misdemeanor charges of unlicensed adoption and foster care practices, and was fined $500 as part of a plea bargain in which 19 charges, including four felonies, were dropped.
The legal troubles didn't stop The Alpha Center for long, and eventually they moved into office space that had previously belonged to Planned Parenthood. (We can imagine how excited they were at the prospect of taking advantage of women who might have wrong or outdated info and come to The Alpha Center by mistake.) They have continued their work of "counseling women", holding charming events like 'Memorials for the Unborn', and spreading medically inaccurate information about contraception and abortion, including false claims that EC can cause infertility.

Unruh also founded the Abstinence Clearinghouse in 1997. Its mission is "to promote the appreciation for and practice of sexual abstinence (purity) until marriage through the distribution of age appropriate, factual and medically-referenced materials." Yes, remember girls, abstinence=purity.
The organization opposes reproductive rights, and its medical advisory council is made up of more than 60 health professionals who do not promote or prescribe contraception to unmarried teens. The clearinghouse maintains close ties to the Alpha Center; the two organizations not only share a president and a number of board members, but filed their 2004 taxes under the same address.

The Abstinence Clearinghouse maintains a strict definition of abstinence, defining sex as "intercourse, oral sex, anal sex, mutual masturbation and any genital contact or other contact that is sexually arousing." Its online store sells various abstinence-only propaganda, such as "Pet your dog, not your date" T-shirts and "What Would Jesus Do" purity rings. The group believes masturbation is dangerous, and Unruh has described masturbation as "the first step to sexual addiction." Unruh has even bragged that her daughter saved her first kiss for marriage.

Unruh and her colleagues were willing to do just about anything to get South Dakota's abortion ban passed because they say it as an important step towards repealing Roe v. Wade.

In 2005, Allen Unruh served on a highly controversial state task force established to look at the issue of abortion. The few pro-choice representatives on the task force said their opinions and much of the research presented were excluded from the final report, which erroneously states that science defines life as beginning at conception, and ultimately recommends a law banning all abortions.

State Rep. Roger Hunt's (R) bill — the unenforceable sweeping abortion ban in South Dakota that was recently signed into law — cited the report as a scientific rationale for the prohibition of abortion in the state.

Unruh has remained one of the abortion ban's most visible and vocal supporters since its passing. "We've been very successful to chip away at the laws of Roe v. Wade in South Dakota, and we think the rest of the country should really be following us, and following the heartland," she said in a February 2006 appearance on NPR's Morning Edition.

Unsurprisingly, President Bush is a big fan. Both of Unruh's organizations have received thousands of dollars in federal funding during his administration. (Our tax dollars at work!) Seems to us that if abstinence only education was so great and contraception and abortion were so damaging and unhealthy and harmful, Unruh and her followers wouldn't have to lie, fabricate and manipulate evidence, and break the law to get their point across.

Phyllis Schlafly

Phyllis Schlafly is a conservative leader and president of the Eagle Forum, and was one of the leading opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment. Like Ann Coulter, this is another case where if you've heard of her and you're reading this, you don't need to be sold. So just some greatest hits.

From the mission statement on the Eagle Forum website:
Eagle Forum exposes the radical feminists
We support constitutional amendments and federal and state legislation to protect the institution of marriage and the equally important roles of father and mother.We honor the fulltime homemaker and her rights in joint income tax returns.

We oppose the feminist goals of stereotyping men as a constant danger to women, while at the same time pushing women into military combat against foreign enemies.

Eagle Forum successfully led the ten-year battle to defeat the misnamed Equal Rights Amendment with its hidden agenda of tax-funded abortions and same-sex marriages.

Eagle Forum supports traditional education
We oppose and deplore the dumbing down of the academic curriculum through fads such as Outcome-Based Education and courses in self-esteem, diversity, and multiculturalism.

We oppose liberal propaganda in the curriculum through global education and Political Correctness.

We support parents’ rights to guide the education of their own children, to protect their children against immoral instruction and materials, and to home-school without oppressive government regulations.

We oppose the feminist goal of federally financed and regulated daycare.

Schlafly opposes International Women's Day because she believes that it's not about advancing women, but about advancing "radical feminism".

"Today's feminists and CEDAW advocates view 'progress' as government-run day care, greater access to abortion, the elimination of 'Mother's Day' because it promotes an 'negative cultural stereotype,' decriminalization of prostitution in China, and government-mandated workplace benefits that men do not enjoy, just to name a few," said Schlafly. "Their goal is not equality, but preferential treatment."

"The radical feminists want to remake our laws in order to eradicate everything that is masculine from our culture and create a gender-neutral society," concluded Schlafly. "The United States should seriously reconsider lending its stamp of approval to future IWDs."

Schlafly believes that feminism is "incompatible with marriage and motherhood". Many, many, many critics have pointed out the irony of Schlafly making a career (while being a wife and mother) out of arguing that women should just be wives and mothers and shouldn't have careers. Apparently her law degree and master's degree in political science were just little hobbies that took no time away from her real job of getting married and building a family.

Here's Phyllis on marital rape: "By getting married, the woman has consented to sex, and I don't think you can call it rape."

We had to laugh at the fact that one of her arguments on why women should not be allowed in combat was "they can't bark out orders loudly enough for everyone to hear". Yes, it's true, women can't be loud. We certainly don't know any loud women, do you? (She also believes that women shouldn't be firefighters or construction workers because we're physically inferior.)

Some more Schlafly humor:

"Homosexual clubs in high school are designed for the young." (Aren't all clubs in high school designed for the young?)

"People think that child-support enforcement benefits children, but it doesn't."

"Non-criminal sexual harassment on the job is not a problem for the virtuous woman except in the rarest of cases." (Obviously Phyllis has never walked the streets of New York City, because if she had she'd know that some men don't need any reason at all to make sexual comments to women, and virtue has nothing to do with it.)

"Men should stop treating feminists like ladies, and instead treat them like the men they say they want to be." (Funny, I don't ever remember hearing a feminist say she wanted to be a man. Equal to a man, yeah. Maybe she's confusing feminists with transsexuals, which is probably a good thing because I'm not sure I really want to read her opinion on them.)

We just have to laugh.

March 29, 2008

Beavis and Butthead are Feminists

We couldn't let Women's History Month end without giving some time to two very important voices in our culture to address the topic. Enjoy.

Betsy Ross

Betsy Ross is cool because she sewed a really big American flag for George Washington, right?

Well, not exactly. We think she is cool, but not because of the myth around her making one of the first American flags.

Elizabeth 'Betsy' Griscom grew up in Philadelphia in a large Quaker family. By some accounts she learned to sew from her great-aunt Sarah, and she may also have learned some in her Quaker school. After school, Betsy's father apprenticed her to a local upholsterer. While she was there she fell in love with John Ross, another apprentice and a member of the Episcopal Christ Church. There was one tiny problem--interdenominational marriage was really really really frowned upon in Betsy's Quaker church. The penalty was called being "read out" and basically involved being booted out of the church and some standard issue shunning and shaming. But Betsy didn't let that stop her. She eloped with John and joined his church after being kicked out of hers and splitting with her family.

Betsy and John started their own upholstery business, a challenging thing made even tougher when the war broke out, slowing business down and making fabrics harder to get. John joined the Pennsylvania militia, where he was injured and died in 1776. Betsy kept the business going and it was soon after this that the meeting supposedly happened with George Washington, George Ross, and Robert Martin that resulted in the first American flag. The event is poorly documented so it's hard to tell exactly what happened, but after reading about Betsy's life we have no trouble believing that this part of the story could be true:
Considerable circumstantial evidence suggests that at this meeting, to "silence the men's protests that these new [five-pointed] stars would be unfamiliar and difficult for seamstresses to make, she folded a piece of paper, made a single scissor snip, and revealed a perfect five-pointed star."
After her husband died, Betsy returned to the Quakers, but this time she joined a new group that was known as the Free Quakers or Fighting Quakers. These were Quakers who broke away from the pacifist Quaker church because of their support for the war effort. She remarried and had two daughters. Oh, and she also dealt with soldiers occupying her house and helped to nurse injured British and American soldiers after the Battle of Germantown. Busy lady.

Husband #2, a sea captain, was captured by the British and died in prison in 1782. In 1783, Betsy married for a third time. She had five daughters with John Claypoole and he had the courtesy to give Betsy a break and wait until 1817 to die.

Betsy kept up her upholstery business through all of the drama in her life and continued working until 1827, when her daughter Susannah Satterthwaite took over the business. Betsy died in Philadelphia at the age of 84.

Here's one version of how the Betsy Ross flag story grew to epic proportions, from the great book Uppity Women of the New World by Vicki Leon (part of a great series of books that just tells lots of stories of real women kicking ass throughout history):
For most of her eighty-four years, Betsy valiantly carried on as caregiver, breadwinner, and parent, supporting herself by sewing. In 1777, she did whip up a couple of flags for the Philadelphia Navy, but there's no evidence that she made the first U.S. flag at George Washington's behest--or anyone's. No secret shopping trips to her upholstery shop by the congressional committee, either.

The whole warm and fuzzy story was concocted by her grandson Bill Canby, at the 1876 national centennial. In a speech, Bill asserted that his granny had made the first flag, and had told him about it on her deathbed forty years earlier. Even then, most people didn't buy it.

But the nation was about to celebrate its hundredth birthday, and needed some heartwarming history--fast. A Betsy Ross memorial association sprang up, soon selling a cool 2 million memberships at a dime each. In 1890, painter Charles Weisberger did a huge canvas of Betsy Ross showing her creation to the congressional committee. With this momentum, the myth took flight, finding its way like a computer virus into textbooks and women's histories. Betsy was extraordinary, but not in the way she's been labeled.

We agree. Betsy Ross is an inspiring woman and an important part of American history whether the whole story about the first flag is totally true or not. She buried three husbands and raised seven kids, learned a trade and kept a business going that supported herself and her children all through her life, and through it all it seems like she always stuck to her principles and did things her own way. Betsy Ross doesn't need George Washington to make her cool.

March 27, 2008

Beyond Abortion and Breast Cancer: Women's Health

When it comes to women's health activism people think of two things: Reproductive Rights and Breast Cancer. (Maybe now they also think of cervical cancer, thanks to all the Gardasil hype). However, those are not really the biggest issues for women when it actually comes to their health. Obviously reproductive rights are really important (otherwise we wouldn't be talking about them constantly) and breast cancer is a definitely a huge deal. But they’re not the only health issues that women should be concerned about…

Some U.S. "Women's Health" Facts:

  • The number one cause of death in women is Heart Disease.
  • Heart Disease is also the number one cause of death in men, however more women die of heart Disease than men each year.
  • Heart Disease is responsible for more deaths in women than all forms of Cancer combined.
  • The second most common cause of death in women is Cancer.
  • The most common cause of Cancer-death in women is Lung Cancer.
  • More people die of Lung Cancer every year than from Breast, Colon and Prostate cancers combined.
  • Breast Cancer is the second leading cause of Cancer-death in women.
  • The third leading cause of Cancer-death in women is Colorectal Cancer.

Female-centric conditions such as Breast Cancer (although men can get it), Cervical Cancer, Ovarian Cancer, etc. should be given special attention because they are unique to women and therefore need to be considered "women's issues". (Otherwise they might be ignored, under-funded, under-researched, etc.) However we also need to pay close attention to the conditions that women are actually suffering from the most.

Pretty much every knows that the pink ribbon is for Breast Cancer Awareness, but we didn’t know what color ribbon represented Lung Cancer. We did a little Internet “research” and found that there is still some debate over which color actually indicates Lung Cancer Awareness… we found ribbons in gray, pearl and even clear (because it is the “invisible disease” they say. I don’t know who they are, but that’s what they say).

In our search we found this pink and green Lung Cancer ribbon from the Lung Cancer Foundation’s LungBlog and frankly, we think it’s both funny and sad… The slogan “lung cancer matters too!” should never have to exist. We should all know that Lung Cancer matters… it’s the number one Cancer in both men and women. And did you know that March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month? Yeah, we bet you didn’t. I’m not suggesting that we should stop raising funds and/or awareness for Breast Cancer or other female health issues, just that we shouldn’t ignore everything else, like AIDS/HIV, Stroke, Diabetes, etc.

For more information on “Women’s Health”:

The number thing associated with poor health is poverty (because poverty usually goes hand-in-hand with poor diet, poor living conditions, poor working conditions, lack of health education, lack of health care/insurance).

Of the 37 million people living below the poverty line in the U.S. in 2006, 21 million were women. And even when the nation’s poverty rate actually declined (2006 was the first time this decade), the number of American without health insurance rose to record numbers.

According to one national survey (2005), one in six privately insured women postponed or went without needed medical care because she could not afford it. Women are also twice as likely as men to be insured as a “dependent” on a spouse’s plan (meaning she risks losing coverage if she divorces or is widowed). More than 17 million women (nearly 1 in 5) age 18 to 64 are uninsured in the U.S. Most of these women are make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough money to actually buy their own health insurance and are not eligible for employee coverage.

Among workers, women are less likely than men to be eligible for and participate in their employer’s health plan, in part because women are more likely to work part-time and have lower incomes than men. Also, women’s health care often costs more than men’s, because women need many routine medical exams and preventative health care (such as mammograms and pap tests) and other female-central costs such as birth control or pregnancy-related services.

Women’s Health Activists – like the National Women’s Health Network (founded in 1975) – work to give women a great voice within the healthcare system:

The National Women’s Health Network improves the health of all women by developing and promoting a critical analysis of health issues in order to affect policy and support consumer decision-making. The Network aspires to a health care system that is guided by social justice and reflects the needs of diverse women.

For information on Women’s Health Activism (Past and Present):

March 26, 2008

Reproductive Rights: The Right to Reproduce?

Reproductive Freedom

Today "Reproductive Rights" has come to mean "Abortion Rights" (or at least "Contraception Rights"). Yesterday we wrote about Reproductive Freedom as it applies to Birth Control and Emergency Contraception and the day before that, it was Abortion - a topic we've addressed many, many, many times.

Today we're going to go one step further and address an aspect of Reproductive Freedom that people often over look - the right to reproduce. That includes not only a woman's right to her own fertility, but also the right to have a safe delivery, the right to have a healthy baby and the right to raise and keep custody of your child. While Reproductive Freedom is about access to safe, affordable contraception and abortion, it is also about protection from forced or coerced sterilization or abortion.

The Right to Fertility

Sterilization Abuse

For many years women (especially women of color, poverty, or "genetic defect") were surgically sterilized without their consent or sometimes even knowledge.

Eugenics is a social philosophy advocating the improvement of human hereditary traits through various forms of "intervention" such as selective breeding, prenatal testing, genetic engineering, etc. Now I suppose it doesn't sound that bad when put that way, however this philosophy led to discrimination, forced sterilization, and euthanasia of "genetically defective" populations. Eugenics might be most familiar to people in regards to Nazi Germany, however it took place right here in the United States many years before the Holocaust.

In the 1880s, much was blamed on defective genes - including prostitution, alcoholism, ignorance, poverty, crime. A radical brand of eugenics argued for the government to "weed out" degenerate members of society to be sterilized, segregated, imprisoned, manipulated, etc. in order to to prevent them from reproducing more "defective" individuals. In 1907 Indiana was the first state to pass a law permitting involuntary sterilization of the "socially inadequate" on eugenic grounds (at least 30 states would soon follow). By the mid-1920s, more than 3,000 people had been sterilized against their wills, including the homeless, orphans, epileptics, the blind, the deaf, the "promiscuous", the "insane", and the "feeble minded".

Luckily scientists soon began disproving the claims of eugenicists and the movement lost most of it's financial support, however involuntary sterilizations continued in the U.S. until the late 1970s. (More than 65,000 Americans were involuntarily sterilized by 1979).

Sterilization abuse first gained national attention in 1973 with the case of Relf v. Weinberger:

Mary Alice was 14 and Minnie was 12 when they became victims of the abusive practice of sterilizing poor, black women in the South. Their mother, who had very little education and was illiterate, signed an "X" on a piece of paper, expecting her daughters, who were both mentally disabled, would be given birth control shots. Instead, the young women were surgically sterilized and robbed of their right to ever bear children of their own.

The [Southern Poverty Law] Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Relf sisters and exposed the wide-spread sterilization abuse funded by the federal government and practiced for decades. The district court found an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 poor people were sterilized annually under federally-funded programs. Countless others were forced to agree to be sterilized when doctors threatened to terminate their welfare benefits unless they consented to the procedures. The judge prohibited the use of federal dollars for involuntary sterilizations and the practice of threatening women on welfare with the loss of their benefits if they refused to comply.

An example of the most blatant form of sterilization abuse would be sterilization without knowledge (as was the case of the Relf sisters). However, sterilization abuse - in the form of deception and coerced consent - still continued for poor, Black, Latina and Native American women on many other levels:
  • Misinformation: Some women were not told that the operation was permanent/irreversible or that the procedure was somewhat dangerous or risky. Some women were not informed about other birth control options.

  • Threats: Some women were threatened with losing their welfare benefits, being deported, or being otherwise punished if they did not comply.

  • Language Barriers: Consent forms existing only in English or the lack of interpreters made it impossible for many women to give informed consent. Additionally, some consent forms were not in compliance with health service regulations.

  • Impaired Judgment: At some hospitals women were routinely asked for consent during labor, immediately prior to undergoing childbirth, or while under the influence of heavy medication. You can hardly be expected to make informed consent when you're under that kind of mental/physical stress and exhaustion. (Some women were also denied labor drugs for pain - or even delivery itself - until they consented).

From the Committee to End Sterilization Abuse (CESA)'s 1975 Statement of Purpose:

In the United States today there is a massive drive to convince people that social evils such as poverty, overcrowding, increased crime, poor education, poor health care, etc. are all due to overpopulation.

Population control programs have been pushed by the U.S. for people in the United States as well as in many countries abroad to do exactly that: control people and keep us from understanding the real causes of our suffering and thus keep us from dealing with the problems by eliminating oppression and exploitation. By pushing population control programs, the United States government and corporations hope to stave off the struggles of people for liberation from direct and indirect domination by the U.S.

Sterilization of women, and to a lesser extent of men, is on the increase in the United States. Sterilizations have tripled in the last five years. This is the result of an increase in sterilizations of women who are Black, Puerto Rican and Chicano and of all working women.

Many sterilizations are done without women knowing that the result is permanent, that there are complications, or that there are other methods of birth control. Many are done on women who are coerced by threats of withdrawal of services such as welfare, the right to abortion, medical services and the like.

In Puerto Rico, under the guise of needed population control, the U.S. with the collaboration of the colonial government, has carried out programs for the past thirty years which have resulted in the sterilization of fully one third of Puerto Rican women of childbearing age.

Overuse of Hysterectomy

In addition to the blatant sterilization abuse described above, sometimes an "unnecessary" hysterectomy (the removal of a woman's uterus or "womb") is performed with less malicious intentions. A hysterectomy is the second most common surgery among women in the United States (the most common being cesarean section delivery) and are used to treat fibroids, endometriosis, uterine prolapse, chronic pelvic pain, and cancer.

There are often other options that can be tried before resorting to surgery and some doctors have been criticized as recommending hysterectomy without fully informing patients of all potential treatment options. One study indicated of insurance programs requiring 2nd opinions, indicated that about 8% of recommended hysterectomies were later determined to be "not needed at the time"; a 1981 study done by the Centers for Disease Control that 15% of hysterectomies were "questionable" and a 1990 Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Illinois study showed about one-third to be medically unnecessary.

Hysterectomy is sometimes recommended for pain and abnormal bleeding issues which is more of a "quality of life" issue than a medical necessity. More recently, experts have suggested that of the 600,000 hysterectomies performed every year in the U.S. (that's twice the rate of other industrialized countries by the way) more than two-thirds may be unnecessary.

The Right to Healthy Pregnancy/Safe Delivery

Donor Insemination

Many single women, lesbian couples, or heterosexual couples unable to conceive on their own often turn to sperm donor insemination. If a woman purchases anonymous donor sperm from a sperm bank, the donor will not have any legal rights to the child. However, sperm banks are often very expensive and do not allow the children to have the opportunity to contact their genetic fathers (upon adulthood) if they'd like more information on their background.

If a woman decides to use a known donor however, they should check with their state's laws about donor insemination in order to protect themselves legally. Some states have specific statutes that state that sperm donors are not "legal fathers" if the donor provides his sperm to a physician (and not to the woman directly), however many of these statutes only explicitly apply to married women. This puts single women and lesbian couples at an additional disadvantage, leaving them more open to potential paternity suits.

From Donor Insemination: A Legal Perspective:

The risk to the mother(s) is that a man they never intended to be a parent to the children will have an enforceable right to visitation – or even to shared custody – against their will. Again, this is a very real risk, especially for single mothers (given strong public policies in many states favoring two parent families) and for lesbian couples in states that do not offer the non-biological mother the opportunity to forge a legal relationship with the child through second-parent or co-parent adoption.

Forced or Coerced Abortion

Forced or coerced abortion is a violation of a woman's human rights, just as much as being denied access to safe, legal abortion is. Being "pro-choice" isn't about advocating abortion; it is about letting women make that decision for themselves.

From the website "Abortion Concern":

Some claim an abortion is only ‘forced’ if physical force — eg, kidnapping — is involved, and that all other abortions have been ‘chosen’ by the women concerned, even where women have been harassed or brutalised to cause them to comply.

Abortion Concern considers the distinction between ‘forced’ and ‘coerced’ abortions irrelevant, as both are internationally recognised as human rights abuses.

What concerns us about the ‘forced’ versus ‘coerced’ argument is that it (a) dismisses the fact that coerced abortions are human rights abuses, and (b) legitimises abuse of women by implying that any woman who had an abortion because she was unable to withstand being psychologically or physically abused, got what she deserved.

Abortion may be legal in many developed countries, but abuse of pregnant women is not. Both ‘forced’ and ‘coerced’ abortions should be opposed as fundamental human rights abuses.

Disclaimer: I don't know how much of what is on the site "Abortion Concern" is accurate or not, but it is clear that they have a strong pro-life/anti-abortion bias. We wouldn't be surprised if many of their "facts" and "statistics" have been misrepresented or twisted to support their stance. However, we found some of their points about forced or coerced abortion to be valid (and moving).

Since we have chosen to quote them here, it's only right to give them credit for their words and link back to their website AbortionConcern.org (we've recently been the victims of copyright violation that was justified by our apparent "lack of morals" so we'd never do that to another site, regardless of our personal differences of opinion). However we did want to make it clear that we do not necessarily advocate, support, or even agree with much of what you will find on their site other than what we have quoted above.

We now return to your previously scheduled discussion of reproductive rights...

Recent court rulings have allowed the killing of a fetus (regardless of the stage of development), to be prosecuted as murder, although the laws do not apply to abortions. The courts have ruled that state laws declaring a fetus - even before it reaches viability - an "individual with protections" do not conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade that women have a constitutional right to abortion.

These laws have been enforced in the cases of the murder of a pregnant woman or the forced miscarriage of a fetus without the mother's consent. The courts have justified this based on the premise that a woman undergoing a voluntary abortion consents to the procedure.

Prenatal Care and Testing

"Prenatal care" refers to medical care and other health-related services during pregnancy to ensure the well-being of the mother and her future child. Unfortunately, minority women and impoverished women are less likely to received adequate prenatal care and therefore are more likely to have low-birthweight babies or lose their babies. One major barrier to the use of prenatal care is financial. Medicaid and certain insurance reforms have helped to get medical care to those who cannot afford it, but the system is still lacking.

Consistent and quality maternity care increases the chances of having a healthy baby, so prenatal services would actually reduce health care costs in the long run (an estimated $14,000-30,000 in hospitalization and long-term health costs saved per every low-birthweight baby prevented by prenatal care, based on statistics from the 1990s).

There have been numerous abuses of women in medical research. The two most known ones may perhaps be research on DES (1940s-50s) and thalidomide (1960s). Both medications were intended to prevent miscarriages, however a large percentage of the women who took thalidomide had babies with birth defects (such as deformed limbs) and the daughters born to women who took DES (diethylstilbestrol) ended up with a much higher risk of developing cancer or having malformed reproductive organs.

Labor and Delivery

Many women's health care activists feel that childbirth has been over-medicalized and that there has been an overuse of procedures such as cesarean section delivery and episiotomy (a surgical incision through the perineum to enlarge the vagina), which is routinely practice without strong evidence that it actually protects the perineum. Some research has actually linked episiotomy to an increased risk of HIV transmission, perineal tears, fetal distress and painful sexual intercourse. Additionally, there is an apparent overuse of drugs (such as the labor-inducing drug oxytocin/Pitocin(R)).

Now obviously sometimes these and other procedures or drugs are necessary (or at least extremely helpful). However, there has been evidence of inappropriate or unnecessary use and just as there had been a surge of unnecessary hysterectomy... perhaps doctors aren't giving women the benefit of the doubt that they can have a safe and healthy pregnancy naturally. (During my own labor and delivery, the surgeon and anesthesiologist were hovering in the doorway, tapping their feet and glancing at their watches, waiting to get in there already and cut me open. However, my midwife wasn't having it and I delivered naturally, without the risks of being put under anesthesia and operated on, ensuring a much easier recovery).

In the recent past, women and their newborn infants - particularly those with no or poor medical insurance - were quickly discharged after childbirth (sometimes merely a few hours after giving birth). This was often referred to as "drive-through delivery". In the 1970s and 80s "third-party payers" (i.e., insurance companies, state aid services, etc.) pushed for earlier discharges, both to keep costs down but also under the believe that patients were better off returning home as quickly as possible. In 1970 the average length of stay average length of stay for all delivers was 4.1 days; by 1992 it as down to 2.5 days (C-section deliveries went from 8 days to 4 days over the same time period).

In the mid-90s some women were discharged as soon as 12-24 hours following an uncomplicated vaginal birth! It was finally determined that longer postpartum hospital stays were more cost-effective and often safer for both mother and child. The Newborns' and Mother's Health Protection Act of 1996 required a minimum stay for healthy postpartum mothers and newborns of 48-hours after vaginal delivery and 96 hours after birth by cesarean section.

The Right to Raise Your Child

Reproductive rights continues over into the rights of parenthood - that is the right to raise and maintain custody of your children - and do so in a manner that both fits your personal beliefs and is in the best interests of the children.


In 2006, 12.8 million children under the age of 18 were in poverty and 12.6 million children lived in "food insecure households" (at a rate almost double that of those households without children). Although only 20% of all families are headed by single mothers, families headed by single mothers make up half of all families living in poverty.

Despite the passage of the Equal Pay Act many years ago, women are still not receiving equal pay for equal work compared to men. If women received the same as men (assuming the number of hours, education, union status, age, and region of the country were all the same) these women's annual family income would rise by $4000 and poverty rates would be cut in half.

With stats like those, it's no surprise that many women cannot afford to give their children the basic care they require (e.g., food, medical care, etc.)

In 2004 the infant mortality rate in the U.S. was 6.78 infant deaths per 1,000 births, with non-Hispanic black women with the highest infant mortality rate in the country (13.60 per 1,000 live births). The U.S. has the second worst newborn mortality rate in the developed world; American babies are three times more likely to die in their first month than children born in Japan and 2.5 times higher than those born in Finland, Iceland, and Norway.

Loss of Custody

In 2003, a woman was arrested and her children were taken from her custody. Why? Because of a snapshot of her breastfeeding her 1-year-old son was determined to be "child pornography". This was not the first case of women losing custody what seemed to many to be a ridiculous reason. Studies show that in approximately 70 percent of challenged cases women have lost custody of their children to abusive spouses with histories of violence or sexual abuse, according to a report published by the American Judges Foundation (2001).

And although there are many laws that indicate that rapists do not have parental rights over children conceived due to their sexual assaults, a certain number of states have either failed to address the issue, give the rapists some say regarding adoption proceedings (which may be used as a threat), or even require that the mother go through a lengthy, expensive process in order to have the rapist's rights terminated.

Other women who have been denied the right to have or keep their children (or who had to fight a long difficult fight in order to maintain custody) over the years include poor women, lesbians, women with disabilities, and female prisoners.

To Choice III

Today is the birthday of Gloria Steinem, women's rights advocate and feminist icon. The founder and original publisher of Ms. magazine and co-convener of the National Women's Political Caucus, Steinem has become synonymous with "Second Wave Feminism", which refers to a period of feminist thought that originated in the 1960s and was focused on improviding women's rights (e.g., economic equality, rights of female minorities and lesbians, etc.)

Today is also the Back Up Your Birth Control Campaign Day of Action, a day to raise awareness about emergency contraception or EC (also known as the "morning-after pill" or the "day after pill"). Although Emergency Contraception pills, such as Plan B(R) are now available over-the-counter to women 18 and older, it's still pretty expensive ($40-60) which greatly reduces access for many women.

Join advocates across the country today by raising awareness of EC and ensuring that every woman can back up her birth control with EC when and if she needs it. (We also recommend joining the Pill Patrol to make sure that pharmacies across America are stocking and dispensing EC without discrimination or delay).

I'm sure it was coincidental that BUYBC chose today as their Day of Action, but it's somewhat suiting considering that Steinem was a huge advocate for reproductive freedom (a term she coined actually). Her activism (with countless others) helped pave the way towards legal abortion. She also appeared in the 2005 documentary film I Had an Abortion, discussing her own illegal abortion.

When asked about the difference between "pro-choice" and "pro-abortion" (in an online discussion in 2002), Steinem responded:

Pro-choice is the more accurate term because the idea of pro-choice people is both to allow the individual to make this decision rather than having the government force their decision on the individual but the problem with the pro-choice term is that it doesn't mention abortion and so may confuse people. Still, I prefer it because the point is to reduce the necessity of abortion by having sex education in the schools and easily available contraception.

Unfortunately, the same organizations that are anti-abortion often increase the number of abortions by opposing sex education and contraception. Actually, abortion is self-limiting whenever that is possible. I don't know anybody who gets up in the morning, "It's a nice day. I think I'll have an abortion." It is not a pleasurable experience. But it is sometimes the most moral, ethical and health and life saving choice.

Yesterday we wrote about Jane: The Chicago Women's Liberation Union's Abortion Counseling Service (and have written about choice many times), but it's important to remember that reproductive rights aren't just about abortion. Reproductive freedom refers to the freedom to have children or not, and therefore also includes access to contraception and sex education (as well as access to safe, affordable pre-natal care and protection from forced sterilization or abortion).

So in honor of today's topics, we thought we'd give you a another "To Choice" update.

  • NARAL Pro-Choice New York has developed The Book of Choices, the first and only comprehensive resource that provides New York women with information about all their reproductive choices (including info on contraception, pregnancy, abortion, adoption, and parenting).

  • NARAL Pro-Choice has also launched MeetTheRealMcCain.com, a website designed to educate voters about Sen. John McCain's terrible record on women's reproductive rights. Of course, you already knew that we wanted McCain to suck it, but their site offers you even more evidence that he's not the "moderate" we all think he is. (You can find out how Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama stand on reproductive rights here).

  • One of our favorite bloggers (and Evil Slutopia-readers) May recently wrote about the history of birth control on her blog, May's Machete. She also discusses fertility, sexuality, pregnancy, miscarriage, and childbirth - among other topics - at her other blog Sitting In The South.

  • Bad news for choice: In November, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) issued ethics guidelines that required members with a "moral objection" to performing abortions to refer their patients to another provider (and do so in a timely manner). In yet another asshole-move by the Bush administration, Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavette recently tried to block these guidelines by claiming that referring patients for abortion would be forcing these physicas to "violate their conscience". Sigh. He should be protecting a women's right to have access to a legal medical procedure, not recommending that doctors be allowed to turn women away based on "conscience", which really means "religion/morals" which has no place in department of Health and Human Service anyway. And of course (to get back on topic of BUYBC Action Day) this policy could very well also block women's access to emergency contraception, even those who were the victims of rape.

March 25, 2008

Ask For Jane

You live in America in the days before Roe v. Wade. You volunteer for an underground referral group that tries to help women who need abortions find the best possible services. You feel like it's not enough, but what else can you do?

If you're the women of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union's Abortion Counseling Service, also known as Jane, you decide to say fuck it and learn to safely perform the abortions yourselves, and an underground abortion collective is born.
Today it's hard to remember when abortion was illegal. But before the Roe v. Wade court decision of 1973, women with unwanted pregnancies faced difficult choices.

Women with money could travel to a country where abortion was legal. Those without that option could take their chances with illegal abortionists in this country. Others tried dangerous self-induced abortions, making the coat hanger a national symbol of women's desperation. Each year an estimated 5,000 women died from botched abortions.

The Abortion Counseling Service of Women's Liberation, better known by its nickname "Jane", began as an underground referral group. Eventually they decided to perform the abortions themselves.

Former Jane members estimate that they performed more than 11,000 illegal abortions. Working under difficult clandestine conditions, Jane became legendary on the streets of Chicago for the quality of its care and the dedication of its members.
Originally, Jane's abortion counselors would help to connect women with reliable doctors that were willing to perform abortions cheaply (since abortions were illegal but still in demand, they could get pretty expensive) and, of course, safely. (The nickname Jane came about because that was the code name that women would use when they first contacted the service.) They gave women information and instructions for before, during, and after their abortions as well as some information on abortion law and why they felt it was harmful to women. They also maintained a loan fund to help women cover the costs. They believed that no woman should ever be denied an abortion because she couldn't afford it.

Finding doctors to work with wasn't always easy, and the counselors got frustrated dealing with high prices and secret meetings and negotiations. One of the "doctors" (he wasn't actually a doctor but did have the medical knowledge and expertise to perform safe abortions) taught his techniques to some of the counselors, and as they worked on it together the women began to feel that they could safely perform the abortions themselves. This meant that they could run the whole service themselves, which allowed them to lower prices, not have to depend on any shady doctors, and provide the personal care they felt that women deserved. They believed that their patients should feel like they were a part of the process and like they were free to talk about their own experiences and not be judged and not be just another anonymous client.

In May 1972, seven members of Jane were arrested unexpectedly for performing illegal abortions, which caused a lot of strain on a group that was understandably always a little stressed out.

Jane soon figured out the arrests were not part of an overall plan to shut down the Abortion Counseling Service, but rather the actions of an individual police commander. Ironically, some of Jane’s clients came from police families and the overall attitude of the usually repressive and controlling Mayor Richard J. Daley city administration was to unofficially ignore Jane’s activities.

Not long after the Roe vrs. Wade decision legalized abortion in January of 1973, the case against the “Abortion 7” was quietly dropped. Some Jane members wanted to go on, believing that legalization did not address the issues of cost and the quality of care. Others were burned out, or feared that because abortion was now legally profitable, the medical establishment would have them prosecuted for practicing medicine without a license.

Jane officially disbanded in 1973, but what they did is still remembered for how important and brave and inspiring it was, and it's definitely something to keep in mind for us as women living in a society where our reproductive rights are chipped away at every day.

If you'd like to know more about the history of Jane and the amazing work they did (which might become even more important to learn if John McCain is elected in November):

The CWLU archives have tons of info--newspaper articles, stories from members, original Jane pamphlets, and a lot more. All of the info for this blog came from there. Check it out, they have really great stuff.

There are two videos that document the history of Jane, Jane: An Abortion Service and From Danger to Dignity: The Fight for Safe Abortion.

Laura Kaplan, a former member of Jane, wrote the book The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service based on lots of interviews with former Jane members and clients.