Kansas Should Serve as a Warning to Virginia Women

August 29, 2011 § 2 Comments

This is a guest post by Dr. Jim Kenley, the former Commissioner of Health in Virginia from 1976 — 1986. Thanks to Dr. Kenley and also to Katherine Greenier, Director of the Patricia M. Arnold Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU of Virginia.

A few weeks ago, a disturbing situation arose in Kansas that brought the state perilously close to banning abortion within its borders. The legislature, with the governor’s support, enacted a new licensing and regulatory law that resulted in the creation of “emergency” regulations giving abortion providers just a few days to comply with impossible and medically unnecessary requirements.

These regulations, which demanded precise sizes for janitorial closets, no-variance room temperatures, and other ridiculous requirements, were purportedly established to protect the health and safety of women, but in truth had one and only one purpose: to shut down the three existing abortion facilities in the state.

Fortunately, a federal judge temporarily enjoined the new regulations, and all three clinics in Kansas are still able to provide services, at least for now.

The situation in Kansas should serve as a warning to Virginians. Our General Assembly passed its own regulatory law this spring motivated by the same anti-choice agenda that spurred the foolishness in Kansas. And now Governor Robert McDonnell is forcing the Board of Health to adopt new regulations in an unprovoked “emergency” process that bypasses the normal public notice and comment periods for changes in state regulations, and reduces opportunities for input from the trained professionals at the state agencies who know the most about the issues at hand.

As a retired doctor and former health commissioner for the Commonwealth of Virginia, I am deeply concerned about these developments, because I fear that we, like Kansas, are attempting to turn back the clock on women’s health in a way that could have devastating effects.

Although I never performed an abortion, when I was a young physician in Cincinnati and Atlanta in the 1950s, I helped women who needed emergency medical care following either self-performed or “back alley” abortions. Later, in practice, one memorable case was a mature, educated mother of two whose spouse had recently survived a brain hemorrhage. Pregnant some 20 years before the Supreme Court legalized abortions and with nowhere to turn, she desperately tried to self-abort with a hat pin.

In the middle of the night, I was called to her house where I found her in excruciating pain suffering from severe chills and a fever of 105 degrees. After telling me what she had done, I rushed her to the hospital where she received emergency medical treatment that thankfully saved her life.

In September, the Virginia Board of Health will propose emergency regulations to require abortion clinics to meet hospital-like standards of care, even though abortion is one of the safest medical procedures available in this country and is already heavily controlled by state and federal regulations.

To be certain, supporters of these new regulations will claim that elevating abortion providers to mini-hospitals by forcing them to make costly architectural upgrades will somehow protect women’s health and safety. Women definitely deserve the highest standard of medical care especially when it comes to reproductive healthcare. But women in Virginia are already receiving abortion care at the highest standard, and medically inappropriate and unnecessary regulations will only serve to restrict access to the full range of reproductive health care services and further marginalize young, low-income, uninsured and minority women by decreasing their health care options.

Early abortion care is already difficult to access in the Commonwealth, with 86% of Virginia’s counties lacking any abortion providers at all. The new regulations could make abortions both harder to get and more expensive, possibly taking us back to something akin to that time I recall with such great dismay, when every abortion was a health risk.

That’s why I hope my fellow medical professionals with the Board of Health will not bow to political pressure or rhetoric from special interest groups. Women in Virginia are already receiving outstanding abortion care, so there is no need for medically inappropriate and unnecessary regulations that will not only reduce access to abortion for all women, but especially for existing marginalized women.

There are additional consequences of fewer providers and more expensive abortion services as a result of overregulation. Virginia abortion providers also offer an array of reproductive healthcare services to women as well as men, including life-saving cancer screenings, birth control, STI testing and treatment and pre and post-natal care. These critical health services could be reduced or eliminated altogether.

As the former Commissioner of Health under four governors, I urge the members of the Virginia Department of Health and the Board of Health to adhere to their charge — to protect the public health and safety of the people of the Commonwealth by adopting only those regulations that are medically appropriate, and based in science.

If they do, they will show us that on important matters involving constitutional rights and health care, Virginia can rise above politics. We can be better than Kansas.

Vance has more opportunities to change the rape conversation

August 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

This is a guest post by Sam, who will return to the University of Chicago this fall as a sophomore. Thanks Sam!

Just as rape charges were dropped against Dominique Strauss-Kahn earlier this week, an off duty NYPD officer was arrested for allegedly raping a woman in Upper Manhattan. The case is the third high profile rape incident to confront Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., following the Strauss-Kahn case and the trial of two police officers that were acquitted of charges that they raped a drunk East Village woman in her home.

Vance, who is just over a year and a half into his four-year term, has faced intense public scrutiny for failing to earn a conviction in both previous cases. While these criticisms and frustrations are understandable, energy spent criticizing Vance can be better used to draw attention to the thousands of rape victims in New York City and across the world who will never have the opportunity to face their attacker in a court of law.

While convicting a powerful man of rape would have made a strong statement that rape is wrong, a guilty verdict would not have made rape unacceptable. Even though we live under a system of justice that assumes innocence until proven guilty, it remains disturbing to see how much more credible a denial of rape is seen than an accusation. Public fascination with the backgrounds of victims reflects a culture that is more interested in seeing a drama play out in the courtroom than in having a responsible conversation about rape.

While both previous rape cases collapsed because of a lack of credible evidence, the newest accusation is the first case in which a witness other than the victim supports the rape accusation. Paul J. Browne, the NYPD’s chief spokesperson, has acknowledged that the officer was drunk and that he used his licensed weapon to intimidate his victim. Vance must use this evidence to vigorously prosecute the officer, while activists must elevate a conversation about rape.

Just as Vance must use this moment to ensure that women across New York are safe, activists must ensure that the voices of the women brave enough to speak out against their attackers inspire other women to do the same. To do so would be to do true justice for all women.

Review: Undecided

August 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

Undecided: How to Ditch the Endless Quest for Perfect and Find the Career — and Life — That’s Right for You by Barbara Kelley & Shannon Kelley

~~~~~

Mom-and-daughter pair Barbara and Shannon Kelley have a gem here — an important read for basically any shrewd woman of my generation. It’s a relentlessly chatty book but it dives right to the core of women’s “analysis paralysis,” wisely eschewing self-help rhetoric in favor of a more rigorous cultural investigation of the professional challenges that plague today’s young women. The Kelleys thoroughly map the complex web of expectations, both social and internal, that push women to agonize over each and every life decision, and to grieve excessively for the loss of the option given up.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that I feel right at home in discussions of the laundry list of institutional forces that manipulate women’s professional choices. But what shook me up about this book was its insightful analysis of the ways in which we paralyze and punish ourselves. By ascribing so much meaning to our decisions large and small, meaningful and inconsequential, we lock ourselves into a cycle of yearning and remorse. And in our haste to take advantage of our newly afforded privileges in academia and in the professional world, it’s all too easy to sacrifice authentic decision-making in favor of other people’s estimations of what we are — or aren’t — capable of. (Me becoming an engineer just to disprove sexist stereotypes doesn’t mean shit in the big picture if I’m not truly invested. It’s just another way of conforming, of basing my decisions on patriarchal frameworks.)

It’s steadily depressing fare, but the Kelleys rescue the reader by concluding with advice to pursue “work worth doing” — work at the intersection of pleasure and meaning — and a spirited vision of what a feminized professional landscape might look like: one in which women and men are given social permission to implement leadership styles that emphasize collaboration, relationships, emotional connection. It’s a meaningful read.

Reproductive Rights Cartoon Caption Contest

August 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

by MIRANDA

The Center for Reproductive Rights has launched an awesome cartoon caption contest. They might be short on responses since ladies are inherently unfunny, but luckily there are at least a few men who support reproductive rights? Or so I’ve heard?

  1. Submit your caption(s) between now and August 23, 2011. There is no limit on how many captions you can submit.
  2. Three finalists will be selected for each cartoon by the Center for Reproductive Rights and announced in the August 25th issue of our ReproWrites eNewsletter.
  3. Public voting on the finalists will begin on August 25th and end at midnight on August 29th.
  4. The two grand prize winners will be announced on August 30th. They will each receive a printed version of the cartoon with the winning caption and a gift bag.

Take a look at the cartoons and submit your captions! I’m still working on mine…

Bits & Pieces

July 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

by MIRANDA

I have woefully fallen off the blogging deep end; my last post was almost two months ago. But my life’s been pretty awesome and fulfilling in the meantime, so I won’t regret briefly saying no to blogging. I’m easing back in with this roundup of bits and pieces.

The Fresh Air Fund, an amazing organization of which I am particularly enamored, is seeking host families all across the Northeast for this summer’s group of kids. Read all about their mission and the details of their need, and pass it along!

Planned Parenthood of NYC has created an interactive online sex education comic strip. From their press release:

The strip was written by former teen peer educators, and follows a few teenagers through their daily lives as they face tough choices about sex, health care, and life decisions.

“Teaching teens how to make good, healthy decisions is a constant struggle,” said Haydee Morales, Vice President of Education and Training at PPNYC. “This comic strip, written for teens by teens, should help reach young people in a way that facts and statistics can’t.”

Talia, who writes at Star of Davida, is hosting a feminist essay contest; submissions are due in October.

Troll, troll, troll your blog — Women’s Glib edition

July 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

by ELENA

I have been busy working and taking summer classes, but I nearly laughed out loud in the computer lab when I saw these messages left in the Pending Comments section:

Mr LonerGothic’s IP address is a Savannah location, and I’m willing to bet that it’s one of the workstations at Monty. If man-hating is so highly regarded at SCAD, why haven’t I received a special award for it? Or even better, how about some man-hating scholarships?

Meat-Free Misogyny

July 2, 2011 § 1 Comment

by SARAH

In preparation for a delicious, animal-free dinner party I am to be throwing, I was leafing through the Babycakes cookbook (for those who don’t know, Babycakes is a rather excellent and slightly famous vegan bakery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side), and noticed this little blurb right in the middle of the cupcakes chapter:

You know her, you love her (me, too)!, and she needs no introduction…Ladies and gentlemen, the pride of PETA, Ms. Pamela Anderson!

A little-known fact: Animals especially appreciate being rescued by friends in white, French-cut bikinis as opposed to those in modest onesies (I don’t know why, they just do). And, of course, I’m happy to oblige – I’ve long been committed to sticking up for defenseless animals and the worldwide proliferation of sexy water-wear. But to successfully rock a shockingly shocking suit requires less chubby desserts. Thank all that is holy for Babycakes NYC and my new favorite indulgence: The sultry Healthy Hostess (aka Healthy Ho). In the wrong hands, Vegan fare can be tasteless, boring, and unattractive, but these are the greatest things since the California sunshine. When I bring the Ho’s around my boys and their buddies, they hover like undernourished pigeons, and with pals on set or at a fund-raiser it’s the same thing. In the end, I’m happy to pimp my Ho’s around town if it means chickens and cows remain unharmed and that people are made to realize that making delicious recipes doesn’t require the use of any animal products.

I’ll assume there’s no real need to explain the innuendo, but I must really point out and loudly shit on the encouragement of veganism as a weight-loss diet, a disturbingly widespread advertising trend that infuriates me largely because of how many young people really do use veganism as an excuse to hide their eating disorders. Here, Anderson appears to have been painted more as a billboard than an activist or even a real spokesperson. Comically shiny, cutesy, sexy, and glossy. That’s the image this text conjures up even without any pictures. Babycakes is, obviously, desperately trying to offset the traditionally feminine vibe of the pastel colors, cursive script, and pictures of ladies with brown curly hair in aprons with some unabashed appeal to the male gaze. And the mainstream vegetarian/animal rights movement nabs a spot in my list of “well-intentioned liberal-tinted movements that I despise” precisely because of this constant objectification of women, display of non-empowering sexuality, and obvious disregard for the dignity of over half the human population.

I’m sure many of us remember this intriguingly misguided bit of bullshit from a few years ago:

Ah, yes, the veg*n and vagina’d among us are all about the asparagus dildos.

Do vegetarians really have better sex? I don’t know! I’m sure there’s some sort of cause-and-effect snafu in play there. That’s kind of cool and interesting though, and I would really appreciate it if we lived in a society where we could introduce that sort of message to people’s minds without having to degrade women and enforce traditional notions of masculine sexuality to make it tolerable to the public.

It is true, PETA does sometimes put naked dudes in their ads.

Not good enough, though. Compare:

Both ads have de-clothed conventionally attractive people on them, giving the camera fuck-me eyes, with stupid captions sporting supposedly sexy puns that really don’t even make any sense. But the dude is facing the camera straight-on, with a sure, bold, dignified stare, in a powerful arms crossed position. The girl’s position is a lot more overtly sexualized, as if it were showing her off as a product.

Although, on one level, it baffles me why a lifestyle so seemingly compatible with feminism should become a platform for raging misogyny, it also really makes sense. On the other side of the dietary (but same side of the lady-hating) spectrum, we have those Swanson Hungry Man ads that question the masculinity (and mock the supposed femininity) of men who don’t eat lots and lots of frozen fried chicken from cardboard boxes:

There’s also that bogus but shockingly respected myth that a meat-free diet can lead to infertility in men, those jokes about Paul Rudd eating salad in that Jason Segal bromantic comedy, and the constant cultural equation of barbecue and burgers with good ol’ Uhmerrican manliness. Vegetarianism is undoubtedly feminized by US American society.  I’m sure I could go off and write at least 80 more pages about why that is, but the point is that these infuriating kinds of animal rights people are so afraid of this feminization that they have to bolt the other way. Typically, traditionally “feminine” industries and/or products, such as anything related to fashion, cosmetics, etc, often feel the need to go out of their way to make their product appealing to men by making their ads real sexy and pouty. Whereas traditionally masculine things like beer, bacon, trucks, whatever, rarely ever feel the need to make their products appeal to whatever standard those advertising people mean when they say “women.” On top of the fact that these advertisers already operate within restrictive and constructed notions of gender, they add insult to injury by acting afraid of female attention, because if too many girls like it then it’s a girly thing and girls have cooties. The route of masculinization that organizations like PETA take is one that is so obvious, gross, over-the-top and upfront about its total disregard for women, the real benefits of an animal friendly diet seem like a secondary message. I don’t believe for a second that it is necessary to encourage sexism twice as much as vegetarianism to get people to listen.

I became a vegan because it’s a lifestyle about compassion, respect, and, to a certain degree, humility.  The transition was an exercise in sacrificing personal desires for the sake of something bigger and more important, particularly challenging because I could not really see the results of my actions. But I feel like I’ve really accomplished something. I finally feel settled comfortably into my relatively new-found animal-free lifestyle (vegetarian for coming on 1 ½ years, vegan for about 4 months), and honestly, it makes me feel really, really fucking great. There are so many wonderful and obvious reasons to go veg*n for those who can physically and financially afford it. I also feel like my veganism and my feminism work in tandem, informing an important part of my identity and faithfully representing my principles and how I look at the world. However, the mainstream manifestation of the animal rights movement, in all of its cynicism and feminiphobia, pits animal rights against women’s dignity, ignoring the roots of its principles, not just succumbing to patriarchal influence, but actively supporting and encouraging it.

And Babycakes, because you ruined my morning, I will be serving homemade chocolate chunk coconut banana “ice cream” instead of your lovely looking peach cobbler.

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