Emergency contraception and the FDA

February 10, 2011 § 2 Comments

by MIRANDA

I’ve written quite a lot about emergency contraception, and in particular about the shady age restrictions that dictate who can and can’t buy it over the counter.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has an excellent recap:

The Center sued the FDA in 2005 for failing to grant over-the-counter status to emergency contraception (a.k.a Plan B) against the advice of its scientific experts and in violation of its own procedures and regulations. In 2006, the FDA agreed to make Plan B available without a prescription, but only to women 18 and over and only behind the pharmacy counter.

Plan B is now available over-the-counter for anyone age 17 or over, but remains inaccessible to those under 17 even though “medical and scientific consensus provides no rationale for age restrictions on Plan B.”

Today, emergency contraception is available without a prescription, but only for women age 17 and older. Pharmacies and clinics must keep it behind the counter and anyone seeking to buy it must show government issued identification proving their age in order to buy it without a prescription.
These intrusive restrictions, unprecedented for drugs with over-the-counter status, make it harder and more stigmatizing for consumers to get the contraception during its most effective window.

These restrictions are undeniably motivated by political and social pressures that seek to legislate sexuality. (I’ll quote myself: “It’s more than obvious that the conservative movement to restrict access is not about the health and safety of teenage women, but about legislating who is and isn’t allowed to have sex.”) Never mind that the political leaders who restrict Plan B access, which prevents conception after unprotected sex, are the same people who restrict abortion access — abortion being what women might logically turn to when faced with an unplanned pregnancy that using Plan B might have prevented in the first place.

But this morning brought some good news:

Moments ago, Teva, the manufacturer of the emergency contraceptive (EC) Plan B, announced that it filed an application with the FDA requesting that EC be available over-the-counter without a prescription for women of all ages.

While it’s phenomenal that Teva has put this pressure on the FDA, their request will only affect restrictions on their specific emergency contraception product. In an email, the Center for Reproductive Rights emphasized: “We want the FDA to know that it is still required to obey the law and end all restrictions once and for all –- not on a piece meal basis.”

They have a petition to pressure Dr. Margaret Hamburg, the FDA Commissioner of Food and Drugs, to end senseless age restrictions on all forms of emergency contraception. Please sign here.

Profiles In Terrible Sex Education Part 3: In Which An 8th Grader is Awesome

January 6, 2011 § 2 Comments

by ELENA

If I had a hat, I would tip it to Ms. Ellie Grossman, who after sitting through “Willing to Wait’s” program, spoke to the Wyoming Public Schools Reproductive Health Committee, and succeeded in changing the schools programming. WPS now uses the “Safer Choices” program, which was developed by the Planned Parenthood of West and Northern Michigan.

I would also tip my (imaginary) hat to the Wyoming Public Schools, and the Plymouth UCC for recognizing the value of students’ opinions and input. It would have been much easier for the leaders in the school district and the church, in a more conservative community, to say, “Well if we change the programming, we’re going to upset a lot of parents / It’s only one kid complaining / 8th graders shouldn’t know about condoms and birth control / etc.” But they didn’t. They realized that they were doing a disservice to their students by using a program that did not answer their very legitimate questions.

It’s also great that a church is hosting one of the “Safer Choices” sessions. It is very important for religious leaders who are for comprehensive sex ed to speak out in their communities, and show that being religious does not mean having a narrow view of human sexuality.

Profiles In Terrible Sex Education, Part 2: Well, Aren’t You Just a Pretty, Pretty Princess

December 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

by ELENA

This is Part 2 in a series of posts about the fail-tastic content on the website of a Grand Rapids MI based abstinence only program called Willing to Wait. You can find Part 1 here.

Tour the toy section of any store, and you’ll be smacked in the face by the good ‘ol gender binary. “Boy” toys include trucks, weapons, and action figures from films such as Star Wars, G.I. Joe, and Transformers. “Boy” toys, and the “Boy” section of Toys are decorated with the color blue, and many toys are blue, red, silver, and black. “Girl” toys are almost universally pink, primarily consist of dolls, doll accessories, and while some barbies adn bratz dolls are rock stars, many dolls personify one of the most aggravating tropes of all time: the Princess. Even toys such as toy tool kits, or those little electronic cars that my parents never let me have are somehow obligated to be as pink and princess-tastic as possible.

When I was 3 years old, and asked my parents for my first toy, a Tonka dump truck. They bought me one. My grandmother was evidently freaked out by my enthusiasm for digging up chunks of the driveway and dumping them on the lawn, not because I was causing landscapig related havoc, but because me playing with a truck would make me a “poorly adjusted” adult. She insisted on buying me a doll. I think I took the doll for rides on the Tonka Truck. I turned out just fine, thank you.

This weird obsession with turning girls into princesses speaks to how our society frequently undervalues girls. Politically speaking, a princess has very little political power. The most dangerous period in Elizabeth I’s life was when she was Princess Elizabeth: She was treated with a great deal of suspicion by the court, and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Diana Spencer was considered a good match for Prince Charles strictly on the fact that a. she was a virgin, and b. she came from an aristocratic family. Whether or not Diana and Charles were a good match was not part of the equation. Kate Middleton, Prince William’s fiancee has a degree in Art History, has had jobs as an accessories designer and retail buyer, aspires to be a professional photographer, but the main thing that British and American news media focus on is OMG SHES MARRYING PRINCE WILLIAM! WHAT’S HER WORKOUT LIKE?

Okay, so real-life princesses face a lot of challenges, what’s the point?

One of the posts on the Willing To Wait website is “Ladies: Release your ‘Inner Princess’“. The author vaguely compares being abstinent until marriage to being a princess, who is “rescued’ by her prince. The photo accompanying this piece says more about the gender binary (girls are princess, who wear a lot of pink. They must be rescued by boys, who are princes) than I could possibly type:

The text isn’t all that better:

I wonder if most little girls pretend they are princesses at some point in their childhood. Something inside us longs to be special and beautiful. We long for an honorable champion to fight for us.

Actually, I didn’t pretend that I was a princess much. Besides dumping various sundry items with my Tonka Truck, I pretended that I was a Queen (and would bonk classmates on the head with my “scepter”, much to the consternation of the recess lady), that I was a leader of a roving band of orphans who had to scrounge from the city (aka refrigerator) to survive, that I was an explorer who discovered a magical new world, that I was Margaret Bourke-White, and would go around taking pictures of everything. I also didn’t really need some sort of prince figure to “save” me, though fellow queens/orphans/explorers/photographers were always welcome. I don’t know if I was born with some sort of “princess immunity”, or if my parent’s unwillingness to buy me lots of pink crap that I didn’t really want in the first place had an effect on my creative playacting as a child.

Is this just child’s play or does this resonate in our hearts as being more than that? Maybe we played like that because in our deepest emotions we want someone to see that we are worth fighting for.This deep-seated emotion does not go away as we grow up. We still want to know that we are of great value and are cherished. This is not to say that wanting to be treated like a princess is to be needy or helpless or a victim. No! Princesses are strong, and courageous too. We fight dragons, too, after all. I just think it means, for many of us, that we just don’t want to have these adventures of life alone…we would rather have a prince for a soul mate.

My child’s play was focused on having fun, and exploring my habitat. Not wondering why no prince was going to rescue me. Because, I could find very creative ways of rescuing my self. And while I do have my moments where I can get self-critical, I don’t need someone else to tell me that I am “of great value/cherished”. This piece isn’t just about abstinence, it was about reinforcing the gender binary, and reinforcing the belief that women need men to feel complete/protect their princess-like loveliness. This piece is implying that if we “kiss frogs” (ie, have sex with men), we will no longer be pretty, pretty princesses, and no “prince” will want to take care of us.

Please pardon me while I vomit in a pretty pink Dixie Cup.

When I spent a summer volunteering at a weeklong musical theatre camp hosted by a Baptist church, I had to endure some truly nauseating “morning devotionals” about different women in the bible. The main theme was that the young girls hearing the devotional should be “Princesses For Christ” The most ironic lesson was the one about Ruth, and how she married Boaz because she was such a good clean vessel for God.

Here’s the thing:

In Ruth 3:4, Naomi tells Ruth to  uncover Boaz’s feet. “Feet” was a slang term for a man’s genitalia. So Ruth’s uncovering of Boaz’s feet, and her telling Boaz to “spread your cloak over me” is not nearly as innocuous as may interpret it. Ruth marries Boaz, and has a son, Obed. The main idea behind Ruth is that God loves and values strangers, and that Ruth’s devotion to her family is rewarded with a happy marriage and son*

I don’t want to be a princess. I want to be able to slay dragons on my own, because the last thing I want is wind up becoming dragon food because my prince didn’t save me in time. While relationships are enjoyable, having a boyfirend/finacee/husband isn’t something that will miraculously make me feel loved, valued, or compelte in life. And I have the sneaking suspicion that I’m not the only young woman with little interest in the Princess Myth.

And finally, why doesn’t Willing to Wait have a post titled “Gentlemen: Release Your Inner Prince”. Evidently the organization does not believe in being an equal-opportunity oppressor.

*I’m not pulling this out of my ass, and the connotation behind “feet” comes form the book Don’t Know Much About The Bible, which is an excellent and informative read.

Profiles In Terrible Sex Education, Part 1: Birth Control

December 6, 2010 § 7 Comments

by ELENA

This is Part 1 in a series of posts about the fail-tastic content on the website of a Grand Rapids MI based abstinence only program called Willing to Wait.

Before writing this post, I dug out my copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves, and perused the chapter on Birth Control. There were pages of information about the history of birth control, cultural or socioeconomic obstacles to obtaining birth control, how pharmaceutical interests might affect health care providers, choosing the birth control method that is right for you, the safety of birth control, and a special segment on the need for services that can provide teens with birth control. And then , after that, the chapter described, in detail, how different birth control methods worked, how to properly use each method, side effects, and what they cost.

Under “Birth Control” on the W2W page was this statement:

Not ready to be a parent yet? Want to avoid a suprise pregnancy? Here are some methods for keeping a pregnancy from happening along with their failure rates, advantages, and disadvantages.

What follows is a table listing different birth control methods. That’s it. Since the main message of abstinence-only education is “DON’T DO IT!!!”, then why bother actually explaining how birth control works in depth, which might improve the success rate of each method?

“Abstinence” is listed first on the chart, and the ‘Advantages” include “no medical or horomonal side effects”, “protection from STIs”, “free”, and “always works”. In Our Bodies, Ourselves, disadvantages of “Complete Abstinence*” include the difficulty of maintaining an abstinent relationship, and the high risk of unplanned pregnancy/contracting an STI if an abstinent couple has sex without knowing how to use birth control or barrier methods. One thing that neither W2W or Our Bodies, Ourselves discusses is sexual assault. Abstinence is not “100%” effective, because there still is a risk of a person engaging in sexual acts, either consentually or through force. Is W2W implying that abstinent teens are magically protected from sexual assault, and only the “bad” sexually active teens are sexually assaulted?

Continuing down the chart, one of the “Disadvantages” listed for condoms on the W2W chart was “men usually don’t like them”.

What.
The.
Hell?

« Read the rest of this entry »

This Bullshit Is Way Too Close to Home

November 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

by ELENA

I’m done with school for the quarter, and so I’m excited about actually getting back in the blogging swing of things. However, I needed a clear subject to write about, so I’m starting a series in which I point out the massive amounts of complete B.S. on the Willing to Wait website. Why am I choosing Willing to Wait? Because it’s an abstinence only program based in West Michigan (where I’m from) and If I can, in any miniscule way, encourage a more mature and accurate dialouge about sexuality, then I will.

My plan is to specifically go through different categories on their website, and explain why their content is B.S. Next post is going to be about their “Pregnancy and Birth Control” page. If you are currently on a birth control regimen, and would like to tell me about your experience on birth control, the side effects, you’ve experienced, and any challenges in refilling/paying for it, please feel free to email me at egorml20@student.scad.edu. I will not publish submitter’s names or contact information.

The most disturbing thing is that according to the website, the Willing to Wait headquarters are just down the street from the Planned Parenthood. Like many other abstinence only programs and “crisis pregnancy centers”, Willing to Wait has no qualms in deceiving students and adults, and scaring them away from getting medically accurate information.

In Which A Teenager is Awesome

November 16, 2010 § 1 Comment

by MIRANDA

Jay McDowell, a high school teacher in Michigan, was recently suspended for reprimanding a student who allegedly walked into his classroom and said: “I do not support gay individuals.” (I agree with the linked Queerty writer who doubts that “gay individuals” was the actual word choice; it’s likely that some colorful slurs were used instead.) A 14-year-old student was videotaped speaking in defense of McDowell at a school board meeting. Graeme Taylor (or possibly Graham Taylor — there’s some discrepancy regarding his name, forgive me for the uncertainty), who is gay, delivered a beautiful speech. I’ve transcribed it below.

My father is Kirk Taylor, he’s a teacher at Hartland, and he tells me about things that go on in this area. It seems like a nice community. I myself am gay and I’m a young person, and that can cause lots of trouble. And when you hear of things like Dr. King’s speech that one day he wanted his grandchildren, his posterity, to not be judged on the color of their skin but the content of their character, I hope that one day we too can be judged on the content of our character and not who we love. Howell [Michigan] is the headquarters for the Ku Klux Klan. Does that really sound great on your racism record? The fact that they chose this city to come into? And you probably want to get rid of that. So how would you like more headlines of “Howell denies gays,” “Howell doesn’t protect them.” This teacher, whom I fully support, finally stood up and said something. I have been in rooms, in classrooms, where children have said the worst kinds of things. The kinds of things that helped drive me to a suicide attempt when I was only nine years old. These are the things that hurt a lot. There’s a silent holocaust out there in which an estimated six million gay people every year kill themselves. Is this really the environment we want for our school? Do we really want this on our record? Now, I’m saying that the best thing you can do right now is just give him his pay for that day, and just reverse the disciplinary actions. He did an amazing thing. He did something that’s inspired a lot of people. And whenever, ever, I have a teacher stand up for me like that, they change in my eyes. I support Jay McDowell, and I hope you do too.

The Slut Myth

October 24, 2010 § 7 Comments

by JANEY

“In my first book, Full Frontal Feminism, I opened by asking readers what the worst thing you could call a woman is (slut, bitch, whore, cunt), then what the worst thing you can call a man is (pussy, fag, sissy, girl). In both cases, the answers were some variation of ‘woman.’” — Jessica Valenti, The Purity Myth

The word “slut” first originated as a Middle English word meaning a physically dirty woman, and has now evolved to mean a metaphysically “dirty,” or sexually promiscuous, woman. But how exactly do we decide who should be considered a slut? If sexual promiscuity is the mark of a slut, it would make sense to measure a woman’s sluttiness by the number of men she has slept with. In my experience, however, this is not actually the deciding factor. For example, when I was in high school, two of my best friends were considered “slutty” to some extent, but one was considered more of a slut than the other. I’ll call them A and B.

A was a white, thin girl with blonde hair and blue eyes, pearls and polo shirts. She lost her virginity when she was fourteen and had thirteen sexual partners before she entered college. She had several one-night stands and “friends with benefits” type of relationships. She never considered herself a sexual being and had little to no sex drive. Most of the boys she slept with were in the same social circle which we dubbed the “AP Boys”: a group of boys who were good-looking, athletic, popular, usually rich, and smart enough to get good grades without trying very hard. She didn’t particularly like sex, but she continued to have it for a variety of reasons, including to gain social approval from the AP Boys in order to continue to be invited to their parties, and because they wanted to and she “didn’t care.”

B identified as Middle Eastern; she was curvaceous and exotic-looking, with long black hair and darker skin than anyone else in our milky white high school. She often wore low-cut, tight black shirts and short denim skirts. She was visibly comfortable in her sexuality; she was unashamed of her body and unafraid to flaunt it. She lost her virginity when she was sixteen, and had six sexual partners before she entered college. She generally slept with the “bad boys” in our school, both because she liked the excitement and because she didn’t want to hurt a “nice” boy’s feelings as a result of her lack of interest in a serious relationship. Although she didn’t have serious relationships with these boys, she never slept with someone she wasn’t dating and she never had a one night stand. She enjoyed sex immensely and regarded it as a simple physical act which brought her and her partner pleasure.

Throughout high school, B was considered much more of a slut than A. A remained well-liked and still retained most of the respect she had before she had sex, and it was generally accepted that the girls who called her sluts were simply jealous of the amount of male attention she monopolized. B, on the other hand, was more often than not written off as a trashy whore. Not because she had slept with more people (A actually slept with more than twice as many people as B), but because she was comfortable enough with her sexuality to integrate it into her self-image and her public image. Essentially, B wasn’t being punished for having sex, but rather for enjoying sex. Sluts are not “proper women” because a “proper woman” is not supposed to be a sexual being; she’s supposed to be prim, proper, and repressed, and have sex because it is her duty. In the Victorian era, when sex within marriage was considered a patriotic duty for a woman, women in loveless marriages and brides frightened of the wedding night hijinks were told, “close your eyes, open your legs, and think of England.” Things haven’t changed as much as we’d like to think they have. Women are, to some degree, still expected to passively accept the sexual advances of men (especially of the men that will improve their station in life, such as the AP Boys) and fulfill their duty as hollow-eyed sex objects.

B was an easy target because she was precluded from living up to society’s ideal for a woman as a result of her race and body type. The archetype of a proper woman — pure, white, dainty, delicate — conflicts with society’s schema for women of color. Women of color are expected to be louder, cruder, and more sexualized — in body and demeanor — than white women. Where A was subtly pressured to live up to the archetype of the proper woman, B was pressured to live up to the stereotype of the exotic, oversexualized woman of color. People used to tell her she looked like Kim Kardashian all the time. Let me tell you, she doesn’t at all. The only things she and Kim Kardashian have in common are their black hair, big boobs, and Middle Eastern descent. Their eyes, noses, mouths, smiles and face shapes are drastically different. When I reminded people of this, they would say, “Yeah, that’s true, but they just have the same… look…” Many would go so far as to admit that their shared “trashiness” was a point of comparison.

Essentially, the idea of a “slut” is a myth told to women to keep them in their place. Just as Santa will not actually bring you coal on Christmas if you break a few of the house rules, you will not actually turn into an intrinsically tainted, unpalatable creature if you break one of society’s rules and have sex with one too many men. The word “slut” isn’t a criticism for having too much sex necessarily, but for being a woman: a real, living, breathing woman with quirks, foibles, normal sexual feelings, and personality; and failing to live up to the societal ideal for a woman: the passive, pliable, perpetually innocent, and sexually available Barbie doll.

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