Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Leveson Report

This year has seen something of an implosion in the British press. A huge scandal erupted in 2011 when it was discovered that News of the World had been systematically hacking individuals’ phone voicemail systems for their stories. The hacking scandal snowballed until it seemed that almost every newspaper had been involved in this illegal practice and as a result, newspapers were closed down, arrests were made, and, being British, we set up an inquiry. How could this have happened? What should we do now to stop it ever happening again? This inquiry was called the Leveson inquiry, and its report was released
            I’ll leave a more detailed analysis of Leveson for those much more qualified than I am, but I want to discuss in this blog a small part of Lord Leveson’s analysis which has been virtually neglected by the media: the six pages (out of almost 2000) he spends discussing newspaper treatment of women in the UK.
I believe that in the UK we have a culture that normalises violence against women, normalises the sexualisation of girls and young women, and normalises the silencing and shrouding of older women and disabled women, amongst others. In a twist on the Handmaid’s Tale, it can be argued that in the UK women are seen only for their sexual role. This begins from a very young age as stores market t-shirts to children with logos such as ‘porn star’. It continues until women are past the “acceptable” age of sexual interest, when they become marginalised from our public spaces, fired from TV shows, replaced with younger models.

And the media is seminal in promoting this culture. This takes into account a huge range of sources, from advertisements to the women’s mags we all love to hate. But what I want to concentrate on here is the mainstream British press, as discussed in the Leveson inquiry.

The inquiry was really important for women as the current regulatory system only allows individuals to bring complaints. Thus it had not been possible for a group such as Object to bring a complaint to the PCC about the way that women in general were treated in the media. The Leveson inquiry allowed these worries and complaints to be heard. Leveson makes the point that the inquiry is not there to investigate and to judge issues of taste and decency; as he puts it, a free press is entitled to be tasteless and indecent.
However, the Editors’ Code of Practice states clearly that discrimination in newspapers is not allowed, and also that “details of an individual’s race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story”.  I believe the extent to which this occurs in the British press was not discussed sufficiently in the Leveson report.
Leveson does mention numerous newspapers such as the Daily Star, the Sport, and the Sun, that regularly portray women in demeaning ways, such as printing an article who’s sole focus is as an excuse to publish a photo of a topless or nearly-nude woman. He agrees that some of this material should be “top shelf material”, stored with pornographic magazines rather than daily news. He accepts that these images “may reflect a wider cultural failure to treat women with dignity and respect.”

Well, this is true. It does reflect a wider cultural failure.  But more than that, it manifestly contravenes the Editors’ Code of Practice. When Bradley Wiggins was involved in a minor car accident, virtually all newspapers presented this as an accident with a “woman driver” – in what way was this relevant to the story? As Natasha Walter argued eloquently in her book Living Dolls, studies that show marked differences between the genders, especially if they show women to like pink and be more suited to staying at home, shopping, and cooking, receive a lot more attention in the media. A recent FHM article (okay, a magazine, not national press but…) placed women into three categories, “girlfriend / mother / victim”. Seriously. Every morning, if you turn to page 3 of a national newspaper, a large pair of breasts will stare you in the face. While there’s nothing wrong with breasts, it is not exactly news! Women are routinely portrayed as if their sole interesting factor is the way they look or the way they dress, or the size of their belly or bum or boobs. It’s not good enough.  The fact that a woman is the focus of the story is ALWAYS mentioned even when it is of absolutely no relevance to the story is in contravention to the Editors’ Code of Practice. The sheer sexualisation and objectification of women, of a manner and extent that DOES NOT occur to men, is in contravention of the Editors’ Code of Practice against discrimination.

This is not good enough. The media is extremely important in reflecting AND promoting our culture. And right now, they are helping to promote a rape culture in which women are nothing more than their bodies, reduced to a sum of their sexual parts. In a UK where more than a quarter of men believe it is partly a woman’s fault if she is raped when wearing a short skirt, or when drunk (in fact, 36%), a media that does not take rape seriously and constantly sexualises women is not good enough. We deserve better. We need better. We need to be seen not as sex objects, mothers or victims, but as people. People who do incredible things, people who make mistakes, people who do bad things, without reference to gender. We deserve to not be sexualised and infantilised.

The Leveson inquiry was a great opportunity for women’s groups to have their voices heard. It is sad that only six pages were devoted to the issue, and that much of the beginning concentrated on the fact that a free press is entitled to be “indecent”. But what is worse is that only one newspaper appears to have commented on the issue. (Not surprising that it was our left wing newspaper, the Guardian). The fact that no other newspapers have seen fit to comment on it strongly suggests that nothing will change. All that we can hope is that a new regulatory system will allow groups and areas of interest to bring complaints. Then we can regularly challenge our sexist media until we have a media we deserve.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Stop calling her ‘Pregnant Kate’

Ever since Kate Middleton and Prince William got married in 2011, there has been incessant talk of the royal heir and rabid speculation about when they’d start a family. And now that she’s officially announced her pregnancy, the media feeding frenzy has gone into full effect.

But what’s absolutely driving me nuts is the insistence on calling her “Pregnant Kate.”

People Magazine:
Pregnant Kate Leaves Hospital

CBS News:
Pregnant Kate out of hospital after treatment for acute morning sickness

ABC News:
Pregnant Kate Middleton’s Hospital Falls for Prank Call From Australian Radio Station
Pregnant Kate Discharged from London Hospital
Pregnant Kate Middleton Feeling Better After Second Day

USA Today:
Pregnant Kate discharged from London Hospital

Pregnant Kate leaves hospital

Chicago Tribune:
Pregnant Kate Middleton leaves hospital after morning sickness

There’s even a website:

As if now that she’s pregnant, she has ceased to be anything more than the contents of her uterus. She is no longer Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge; she’s the royal broodmare. She’s not Kate Middleton, an autonomous person who also happens to be pregnant – she’s the pregnant royal baby-carrier.

Why does this matter? Why does it upset me? Because it’s emblematic of how our culture treats women and understands pregnancy. A man who gets a job is not called “Working Tom,” because he is not defined solely by that one characteristic of his life, so why should a woman who gets pregnant be referred to as "Pregnant Woman"? If you can ask "are men doing this?" and the answer is No, there's probably something sexist about the situation. 

The act of conception does not make the cell cluster in a woman’s body equal in all respects to the woman carrying it. Regardless of when you believe “life” begins, if you remove that cell cluster from her uterus, Jesus will not come down from the clouds and magic it into a tax-paying, bible-thumping, Republican-voting person. That fetus exists and can grow and develop BECAUSE of the woman, not in spite of her.

And the woman’s part in the process cannot be ignored.

Women are not meek and silent baby-ovens, and pregnancy does not define who a person is. It may change who she becomes as a result of the pregnancy, but it does not change her inherent worth as a person. Her humanity is not suddenly secondary to that of the fetus developing inside her.

We have to stop treating women as if their only value to society is to spawn new little humans. Not every woman can or will have children, and that’s okay. Her worth should not be defined by whether or not she has or plans to reproduce. Defining someone by one function of their body ignores or trivializes every other aspect of who they are. Especially in the case of a public figure like Kate Middleton, who has done tons of charitable work since marrying into the royal family - she is and deserves to be more than just her pregnancy.

Yes, biologically, creating the next generation is something we CAN do, but it’s not the ONLY thing we can do. And we deserve to be respected and recognized as PEOPLE at all times, regardless of whether we’re in the process of creating new life or not.

So please, for the sake of my humanity and yours, stop calling her “Pregnant Kate.”

Friday, November 30, 2012

Equal access

Despite the best efforts of the GOP, most women living in most areas of the US (Mississippi, Arkansas and Arizona are some notable exceptions) do have more freedom and better access to opportunities than women living in many other parts of the world. But one area where we seriously lack is access to birth control.

Yes, we can get it (most of the time, and if we can afford it), but most people don’t even know what equal access to gender-specific birth control (condoms are male-specific, as they are worn by the man – oral contraceptives are [currently] female-specific) would look like. 

Imagine a man wants to procure a gender-specific method of contraception. He goes to a drug store/gas station/grocery store/public restroom and purchases one for about $0.50 each, or $6-$10 for a pack.

Now imagine a woman wants to procure gender-specific, oral contraceptives.

If she has insurance, she has to set up an appointment with her OB/GYN, or possibly with her primary care provider first, to get a referral to her OB/GYN, and wait for the appointment (oftentimes for weeks!) – alternately, of course – a woman could go to a Planned Parenthood IF it hasn’t been defunded in her state. Then once she is able to take the time off work to attend her appointment, most of the time she’ll be forced to undergo a non-birth-control-specific, not medically-necessary invasive pap smear which is tied to prescribing to further discourage women from engaging in sexual activity. Then she has to take the prescription to the pharmacy, hope the pharmacist doesn’t think his or her religious beliefs supersede the woman’s private medical decision, get the prescription, and return every 4-12 weeks to pick up a new pack. And then repeat annually.

Sort of a side note, but the American Cancer Society has released new guidelines recommending that women now should only get pap smears beginning at age 21, then once every 3-5 years between the ages of 21-30, and once every 5 years after that. Yet the pap smear/pelvic exam is still a mandatory part of the birth control process for the vast majority of women. Why?

Because it’s another means of controlling and degrading us. It started off as a patronizing “women are too stupid to take care of themselves if we don’t require them to do it” and has continued on as an uncomfortable method of forcing women to submit to physical and sexual discomfort in order to gain access to safer sex. You want to be penetrated? How about by ice-cold tongs.

But back to my original point. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has recently recommended that oral contraceptives be available over the counter without a doctor’s prescription. They point to studies that show that easier access to oral contraceptives will lower the country’s unintended pregnancy rate, will drastically reduce costs for taxpayers, and that prove that oral contraceptives are safe. In fact, oral contraceptives are safer than Aspirin, but you won’t hear that statistic from the religious right. The only indicator that needs to be checked for oral contraceptives is blood pressure to ensure against the possible risk of stroke, and most pharmacies are already equipped with a blood pressure machine.

But with the way our country is currently heading, I don’t see their recommendation being adopted anytime soon.

Why? Because the very vocal, very wealthy religious right doesn’t believe women should have equal access to sexuality. And that’s what the fight is really about – not about some poor Catholic having his religious beliefs trampled upon by some woman he doesn’t know taking a daily pill, but about a subset of the population who believe women should be controlled by any means possible.

If women can’t access birth control, they can’t have sex as frequently, or without a considerably higher risk of pregnancy. It ensures women face greater consequences for the moral sin of enjoying sex and demanding equality. To these people, the purpose of woman is to serve as docile broodmare to her husband – if women can control reproduction, they can attain higher levels of education and wealth, and threaten the entrenched superiority of the white man. And that’s what’s at stake here – not just access to birth control, but access to the right to say ‘I am allowed the same sexual, physical and moral freedom as a man. I am owed equality. Recognize my humanity.’  

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hello from the UK!

Hi everyone. I’m the UK Maiden and I am extremely excited to have been invited onto this blog. As my US counterpart has just said, we need to keep talking, and we need to talk across borders. The US and the UK is, to my mind, a very interesting comparison. In so many ways, we have so much in common – our cultural world as defined by TV, film, popular music is extremely similar. And our debates concerning feminism are couched in the same terms – equality, bodily autonomy, discussions over rape and abortion. But I believe there are lots of differences as well and it will, hopefully, be interesting to examine and compare the different issues across the Atlantic.

            I had been thinking of writing a blog for a while, and came up with what I thought was a wonderful, original name that summed up everything I wanted my blog to stand for. Notahandmaid!!! Just so happened that another wonderful blogger had already come up with that idea, and that is how I stumbled across this blog. Very kindly, I was invited to contribute. I feel very strongly about the name of this blog as the Handmaid’s Tale is relevant to our struggle in so many ways, increasingly so since Margaret Atwood wrote the book in 1985. Firstly, as it says in the sub-heading to this blog, women are not objects. We have to fight to be fully seen in society as more than our reproductive capacities. But to my mind, the more important lesson from the Handmaid’s Tale is to not be passive. It is our duty not to just sit back and accept our situation; it is our duty to fight; it is our duty to be heard. This is the mistake made by the majority of the population in the Handmaid’s Tale – it is a mistake we must not make.

I’ll be posting about British political stories that affect UK women specifically. There are sure to be issues on which my thoughts aren’t fully formed and I am always open to debate and challenge (as long as it is framed politely and nicely!!!)

I’m really excited to have been given the opportunity to join this blog – first real post coming soon!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Changes coming :)

It's been quiet here for a little while, but never fear, I'm still finding plenty of things in this world that could benefit from a little bit of a feminist perspective.

In the meantime, I've invited another blogger from the UK to join me here and share her perspective on politics across the pond - Or am I the one who is technically 'across the pond,' since I'm in the US?

Until women have equal representation in politics, make equal money for equal work, have equal access to health care, and can safely report crimes against them without fear of being blamed, we need to keep talking, and we need to talk across borders, because women's rights are a global issue. I'm excited to have another perspective here from another woman determined not to end up a handmaid.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Is Mitt Romney a Real American?

There’s been a lot of political winking and nudging going on lately, with people talking about how Mitt Romney is a *REAL* American (you know, because that black guy isn’t). So I decided to do a little research.

Here’s a brief list of how Real American Mitt™ stacks up against the Real American Constitution:

First amendment
Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion
Romney’s running mate has voted for a personhood amendment, which would establish life as beginning at birth, an inherently Christian belief. The new Republican platform also calls for a complete ban on abortion, even in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is at risk. Under Jewish law, it is considered a mitzvah (a good deed) to save the life of the mother, even if that means performing an abortion. Any of these bans would be a clear violation of the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

Second amendment
The right to keep and bear arms
Romney supported the Clinton Gun Ban in 1994, and in 2008 told Meet the Press he would have renewed the failed gun control law. As governor of Massachusetts in 2002, Romney signed one of the toughest assault weapon laws in the country. He's flip-flopped recently to pander to the NRA vote, but that only proves what little regard he has for his own beliefs and the Constitution. 

Fourth amendment
“…right of the people to be secure … against unreasonable searches and seizures…”
Romney has chosen as one of his foreign policy advisors Michael Hayden, a member of the Bush administration who added to the Patriot Act the ability of the government to wiretap phones and monitor electronic activity. Romney has also affirmed his support of current TSA search practices.

Sixth amendment
Protects the right to a fair and speedy public  trial by jury and the right to retain counsel
Romney once said “Now we're going to -- you said the person's going to be in Guantanamo. I'm glad they're at Guantanamo. I don't want them on our soil. I want them on Guantanamo, where they don't get the access to lawyers they get when they're on our soil. I don't want them in our prisons. I want them there.”

Fourteenth amendment
“no state shall ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Romney supports a complete ban on LGBT marriages, and would support the Republican platform which bans LGBT individuals from serving in the military. Romney also believes men have a right to self-determination over their bodies, but not women.

Fifteenth amendment
Prohibits the denial of suffrage based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude
Pennsylvania Republican Mike Turzai stated during a Republican State Committee meeting that voter ID laws would “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” A Pennsylvania judge upheld those laws, claiming they’d be “fairly enforced,” despite pretty obvious evidence to the contrary. Florida’s attempt to enact voter ID laws primarily targeted Democrats, and reduced new Democrat registrations to almost zero in its immediate wake. Attempts were made in Ohio to limit voting hours for primarily low-income, Democratic areas, though that blatant attempt at racial segregation failed. Colorado attempts at a voter purge targeted over 4 times more Democrats than Republicans, specifically those who registered with non-resident (though still legal) paperwork (those would be Hispanic voters, if you didn’t catch on).

Sixteenth amendment
Allows the federal government to collect income tax
Romney claimed that he has paid “no less than 13% income tax” on his fortune – which is terribly generous of him, because I’m rather solidly middle class and pay around 30%. Romney has refused to release more than 2 years of tax records, because the vast majority of his funds are in off-shore tax havens.

Now fucking tell me again how Romney’s a Real American. I fucking dare you. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Ryan and Rape

The Huffington Post drew attention to a statement made by VP nominee Paul Ryan about rape and the method of conception. His statement was that “the method of conception doesn't change the definition of life."
Many commenters, liberal and conservative, pointed out that Ryan doesn’t specifically say “rape is an acceptable method of conception” and that he also talks about the Romney/Ryan ticket, which at some point might have mentioned exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother.*
*Of course, I think it’s safe to discount that last argument, since the official GOP platform which was recently unveiled supports a complete ban on abortion, even (especially?) in cases of rape and life of the mother. I’m still not quite sure how they expect a 10-week old cell cluster to become a person without – you know ­– a woman to grow inside, but that’s another story.

First of all, semantics. Ryan is specifically asked about exceptions in the case of rape, and his response was formulated within that context. What Ryan’s statement does do is very-explicitly imply that a rape or sexual assault is a legitimate (thanks, Akin!) way to begin a pregnancy. Which it's not. Ever.

This is simply a nuanced form of victim-blaming.

Rather than focusing on a culture that is still far too tolerant of rape (mainly because it refuses to fully recognize or understand it), this shifts the focus to the outcome - to villainizing the women who don't want to deal with the repercussions of rape as Republicans think they should. It shifts the entire discussion away from “rape is an evil that cannot be tolerated” and turns it to “women are second class citizens.”

It’s a diversionary tactic to make us focus on one aspect of our rapid disenfranchisement, while another aspect of it is just further cemented in the popular vernacular.

Several years ago, Israel was dealing with an issue of increased rapes. Then-Prime Minister Golda Meir was encouraged to institute a curfew for women, for their own protection. Meir responded “Men are committing the rapes. Let them be put under curfew.”

At the national level, we lack even this basic understanding that we cannot continue to blame the victim. Rape will continue to be an issue so long as men like Todd Akin and Paul Ryan treat it as an inevitable occurrence, or as if most women are just liars and sluts who make it up or ask for it.

Rather than wanting to eliminate rape, Ryan wants to eliminate a woman's choice in dealing with rape. And that's the problem with his particular, insidious brand of misogyny.  

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

So you want to end abortion

Ahh abortion: the screaming-point that has kept middle-aged Christian supremacists and misogynists relevant for over 40 years.

Right wingers like to do a lot of fancy talking about protecting the unborn and extending rights to all humans (except Muslims, women, Native American women, illegal immigrants, LGBT individuals, hungry school children, the middle class, poor people, etc.), but what they refuse to do is be honest about their intentions.

Say you wanted to end cancer. Would you start by cutting off all chemotherapy treatments? After all, if no one is getting treated for cancer, cancer must no longer exist, right? Hmm. Probably not. Sure, it removes the problem of people getting sick, losing their hair, and possibly dying anyway, but it does nothing to address the underlying cause.

You don’t end the need for abortions by taking abortions away.

We reduce the need for abortions by reducing the incidences of unwanted pregnancies.

We start by educating people about safe sex. Abstinence-only education doesn’t work – communities with abstinence-only programs have disproportionately higher rates of teen pregnancies than other communities of similar socioeconomic standing that teach actual sex education.

Then we make sure people can access effective forms of birth control and use them properly. We make sure lower-income women in poor, rural communities have access to birth control at free clinics, so they can control the size of their family or delay child birth until they’re financially able to have children. You don’t let their lives be subject to the oppressive whims of religious organizations that would condemn them to hell for an abortion, but abandon them to poverty if they were to have the child.

Then we change the social culture to be supportive and inclusive of all people. We make sure women can access adequate health care resources for their children. We incentivize education for boys and girls, and make sure families have access to the resources they need to keep their children in school through high school. We create a society that is truly inclusive of individuals with disabilities, because currently over 80 percent of women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Downs Syndrome choose to terminate.

The path to reducing abortion rates is clear: better sex education, better access to contraception, and better social support for those who do choose to keep an unwanted pregnancy.

So why can’t Republican pro-lifers figure this out?

I’ll let you in on a little secret: because that’s not their goal at all.

This is not rocket science; We have the resources, we have the money, we have the knowledge and the skills to drastically reduce abortion rates in this country, but that’s not what the religious zealots – the ones controlling the pro-life crusade – really want.

They want control.
They want widespread recognition that women are less competent, less worthy than men, and therefore should be subservient to man, as their God intended. They ultimately want women out of the workforce and back in the home, acting out a perverse vision of a dystopian bible scene.

They want to bend government to the whims of the Church. They want their beliefs recognized as superior to set the stage for establishing a national religion and a return to a theocratic state.

Don’t believe me? Look at Todd Akin, who publicly announced that most women are liars and sluts, or the Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson, who thinks giving women the right to vote was the greatest mistake man ever made. Look at David Kennedy, a major muse for Akin, who believed women invite rape and who wanted to “reclaim America for Christ.” These men didn’t come up with these ideas on their own – believe me, they’re not smart enough.

They’re being fed this Machiavellian enmity piece by piece, and spreading their virulence on to their followers. And they’re succeeding in reaching the mainstream.

There are many millions of people out there who don’t recognize the ulterior motives of the religious right, and who truly believe they’re fighting the sacred fight for the wee bitty babies. They won’t recognize the truth until it’s their turn to be persecuted.

Freedom of religion is also freedom from religious tyranny. Let’s get these anti-American, anti-progressive, hate-filled bigots out of our uteruses and out of our government. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Legitimate rape

Legitimate rape (noun): 1. The Republican-confirmed act of a large, burly, often dark-skinned or poor (or both) male dragging a virginal, screaming, helpless female into a dark alley, holding her down, and having vaginal intercourse with her against her will; an act from which no unwanted baby results, so long as she is properly traumatized, was not “asking for it” and prays diligently to Jesus. 2. A travesty; like a Republican getting elected. 3. Something extremely rare, like a Republican with common sense.

Aside from the obvious problems with Todd Akin’s idea that women have some magical mechanism that prevents them from getting pregnant during cases of legitimate rape (1. It’s wrong, 2. It’s ignorant, and 3. Yeah, still wrong), the idea is part of a larger, hate-filled agenda targeted at marginalizing not only women but people in same-sex relationships as well.

Adding a qualifier to rape shifts the burden of proof to the victim; if there is legitimate rape, there must also be non-legitimate rape. If a woman was raped, but didn’t get pregnant, she must have been asking for it, or have subconsciously wanted it. It’s slut-shaming taken to an extreme, to assume a woman is always a sexual object, and therefore must justify any situation in which she did not want to be used as such.

This kind of hateful rhetoric only serves to codify and reinforce the idea that women are sexual, devious, and senseless beings, intent on causing harm to men. Rather than focusing on shifting the blame to a society that teaches men that it’s okay to sexualize and fetishize women, and to see women as an object rather than a person, it blames women for being that object of the male gaze. It reinforces the idea that most women are liars, faking rapes left and right just to … what? Damage some guy’s career? Salve their own bruised egos if a man doesn’t call them the next day? The man is innocent until proven guilty, but the woman is guilty until proven innocent.

In cases of male rape, by a woman or another man (3 percent of adult males, 5 percent of male children, and much higher within the prison population) (Coxell, King, Mezey, and Gordon, 1999) or woman on woman rape, pregnancy (of the victim) cannot result, so the rape must not be legitimate. Like the Republican version of the Violence Against Women Act, which protects only certain women (straight, non-Hispanic and non-Native American, primarily), this idea of legitimate rape encompasses only certain victims – the Republican-approved kind.

In a half-assed apology attempt, Akin says he misspoke, but he was simply parroting extremist right-wing views; views that are sadly becoming more acceptably mainstream. Good Christian girls don’t get raped because they know better, they dress appropriately and Jesus protects them; if you were more like them, you wouldn’t get raped either.

The very tenet of most religion is that morality and worth comes from being a member of that religion. Even if the religion preaches tolerance or love for others, it still creates the dichotomy of the other – the outsider who is not quite as good, or quite as deserving.

This current iteration of Republicans doesn’t care for equality; they openly campaign for a return to morality – specifically the superiority of their own twisted morality.

Mr. Akin, there is currently a legitimate rape taking place – the rape of American values such as equality and tolerance and progress – at the hands of the evangelical right who seeks to seize control of this country and govern by divine mandate. And this is one victim we need to save. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

The tyranny of religion

I wrote about religion yesterday, but I’m not done talking about it.

I’ve long thought organized religion was one of, if not the most insidious danger facing modern society.

One of my final classes in my Masters program focused on the construction of disability rhetoric. Early writings about blindness and deafness and physical ailments focused on how those impairments prevented the afflicted person from being able to truly understand religion. Most thought inability to physically hear a sermon meant the person could not truly “hear” – as in understand or comprehend - religion. Conversely, disability was a physical manifestation of an absence of religious faith or goodness.  
It was understood that those who were physically or mentally impaired were being punished for some [religious/spiritual] transgression and were therefor less worthy human beings.

Religion formed the basis for determining the morality and worth of a human being, and an absence of religion as a particular group understood it meant non-believers lacked morality and needed to be “saved.” If you’ve listened to any Republican speak over the past few years, you know this idea hasn’t changed.

Though this country was formed by a bunch of Deists seeking to escape the oppressive rule of an intolerant Church, we’re rapidly heading right back where we started. Those who don’t believe, or who believe differently, are godless, religious oppressors.

Several Republican candidates/politicians have been linked to the writings of D. James Kennedy, an evangelist pastor who died in 2007, who wanted to “bring this nation back to God, back to decency, back to morality, back to those things that we wish America was like again.” Ironically, Kennedy often cited the Holocaust as justification for Christian supremacy. A lack of religious morality and a heathenish devotion to Darwinism and progress caused Hitler to exterminate 6 million Jews; no good Christian would have done what he did.

And maybe that’s right, but the religious morality of those who would seek to eliminate access to safe abortion will result in the deaths of thousands of women in the US alone. A genocide in its own right.

The problem with morality is that it’s not absolute, and no one group has ultimate claim to it. Morality is fluid, and personal, and a result of the collective all at once. What is moral in one situation or period of time may not be moral in a different context. And the reason our government is based upon a separation of church and state is to prevent the absolute “morality” of one group from running roughshod over the morality of another group.

Christian extremists say the life of the fetus must be saved at all costs, but Jewish law says it is a mitzvah (a good deed) to save the life of the mother. Why is their morality more valid than mine?

The GOP has had a field day protesting the trampling of their religious rights due to Obamacare and some woman they’ve never met hundreds of miles away who just popped a birth control pill into her mouth. But these poor, beleaguered victims of anti-religious tyranny are the first to fall silent when the religious rights of others are brought into question.

They are the ones who question the religion of the man in the White House. They are the ones eyeing anyone at the airport with a tan suspiciously. They are the ones who shrug indifferently when someone shoots up a Sihk temple.

The current state of religion in the Republican party is a study in hypocrisy. They want to save the lives of fetuses, but advocate cutting off funding for hungry and homeless children. They want to save the lives of women, but close down health care clinics and force women in Texas across the border into Mexico to obtain unsafe abortion drugs. They want their religious rights held sacrosanct, but not the religious rights of any other group.

There is no religious freedom in the religious tyranny of the radical Republican right. Religious freedom must apply to all religions to have any sort of meaning; otherwise it’s just oppression draped in rosary beads. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The FRC and religious freedom

A security guard was shot Wednesday morning at the Washington DC office of the Family Research Council (FRC), an organization designated as a hate group in 2010 by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The FRC believes "criminal sanctions against homosexual behavior" should be enforced, supports “conscience clauses” that would allow pharmacists and doctors to withhold legally prescribed medication from women for nebulous religious reasons, and thinks intelligent design and abstinence-only education should be taught in all schools, among other extremist, anti-progressive beliefs.

Every report, every piece of media coverage has framed this as domestic terrorism and an attack on religious freedom.

A man opens fire at a political rally, killing 6 and wounding 13, and he’s a lone wingnut. If more good Americans with big guns had been there, it would have never happened. A man plants a bomb at a Family Planning clinic in Florida in January 2012, another man bombs a Planned Parenthood clinic in Wisconsin in April 2012, two separate abortion clinics are set on fire in May 2012, and these are all unrelated attacks by lone actors.

Another man opens fire at a Sikh temple and the Republican Presidential candidate doesn’t even both to learn the difference between “Sihks” and “Sheiks.”

Yet suddenly, an attack on a designated hate group blatantly attempting to violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment is an attack on religious freedom. The religious freedom to be bigoted white Christian supremacists, apparently.

Now don’t get me wrong, the attack on the FRC was horrible, and it’s very fortunate that only one person (a security guard, not even an employee of the organization) was injured. Violence is absolutely not the answer, and it pains me to see rational, pro-freedom/pro-choice individuals being driven from the high road. But this highlights an important issue, one I’ve talked about before.

We have to stop letting the Republicans have all the good rhetoric.

One man, reacting inappropriately to the systemic segregation and persecution of LGBT people in the country is not an attack on religious freedom; it’s a misguided revolt against injustice and those who would actively support it.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said “Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.” We need to fight the ignorance and injustice of the current right with our voices and our hearts, by speaking out, not by lashing out.

Silence is our kryptonite; every time we quietly watch our friends spew hate through their Facebook walls, or listen with pursed lips as someone thumps their chest and touts the superiority of Christian beliefs, we are enabling a dangerous slide toward the very theocracy this country was formed to combat.

Don’t let people tell you or fool themselves into believing that this attack on the FRC was an attack on religious freedom. The only religious freedom under attack in this country is the freedom to be anything other than a white Christian male.

My religion understands persecution; we’ve seen it for thousands of years. And now religious persecution is back in full force, brandishing a cross and waving a tattered American flag. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012


It’s amazing – threaten a woman’s very right to privacy, and many people don’t bat an eyelash, but threaten someone’s access to peanut-oil fried chicken, and the Facebook world loses its collective mind.

The Chick-fil-a case is really more interesting in the responses it has generated than in the actual novelty of the situation. The president of the company is a bigot supporter of biblical marriage (funny, I feel like this country is suspiciously short on pet goats, if we’re really supporting biblical marriage), he uses his profits from his company to support anti-LGBT hate groups, and that’s his prerogative.

He absolutely has the right to believe whatever backwards, anti-progressive, hate-filled religious nonsense he wants, and he absolutely has the right to use the money he has earned to support his beliefs. In fact, I respect Chick-fil-a for how successful they’ve become while maintaining their closed-on-Sunday status.

What I don’t respect is the people who try to intellectualize the fact that they prefer chicken nuggets to equality.

As consumers, we have something called personal agency – when we find out that a company is behaving in a manner we find unethical or morally reprehensible, we can use our buying power to hurt that company’s profits and force them to change their ways.

As a customer of any establishment, your money is going toward the profits of that company. In this case, the president is taking that profit and investing it through a private foundation in groups that actively promote inequality, intolerance, and hatred. Maybe it only averages out to about 1 cent of your sandwhich, but your money is being used to directly further the cause of bigotry in this country.

If you disagree with that, you have the right and the power to change it. But rationalizing that “oh, well  it’s only 1 penny…” or “…but the waffle fries! I’ll just donate to GLAAD as well…” doesn’t help or change anything.

If greasy chunks of chicken are more important to you than living in a free, secular and tolerant society, that’s fine, but call it what it is. Have the courage that Chick-fil-a’s president had to stand up and proclaim that you don’t think LGBT people are humans or citizens deserving of equal protection under the Constitution. Embrace and announce your bigotry, so we know whom to leave on the wrong side of history.

Maybe we can’t investigate every company we need to do business with, but we have the privilege and the opportunity in this country to be smart consumers and to support people who deserve our support.

Sure, the waffle fries are great, but you know what’s even better? Equality, damnit. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Pro-life, just not for the already-living

Artist's sketch of the "Wailing Wall"
and 60 crosses.
An evangelical Christian group called Word of Life Church is undertaking a project, led by extremist pastor Mark Holick, to build a multi-million dollar “National Pro-Life Memorial and International Life Center” in Wichita, Kansas.

This memorial, which celebrates the murder of Dr. George Tiller by domestic terrorists in 2009, will bastardize the image of the Western Wall in Jerusalem to serve the twisted religious agenda of its creators.

A press release issued by Holick states:

Among other things, the Memorial will consist of the National Pro Life Monument entitled "Not Forgotten." An exact replica of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and memorial gardens are included as a place of healing for women and families. Additionally, sixty crosses will be strategically placed on the grounds to memorialize the sixty million babies aborted since Roe v. Wade.

Though Jewish halacha (law) is open to interpretation, there are cases where abortion is sanctioned or even required. When the life of a fetus/embryo is in direct conflict with the life of an already-born person, the autonomous person’s (the mother’s) life takes precedence. Co-opting the Western Wall – a symbol of the defense of the Jewish religion and state – for a pro-life “monument” is a gross misappropriation of a religious artifact and an affront to Judaism as a whole.

While these vicious heretics are convoluting the very meaning of religion, and comparing a legal medical procedure to the Holocaust - all in the name of “preserving, promoting and protecting the unborn,” mind you – Governor Brownback signed into law a new tax bill that raises taxes on the poorest 20 percent of Kansas residents,  and saw his state drop to 40th in the country for infant mortality rates.

If that’s not gut-churning irony, I don’t know what is.

Holick was quoted on KWCH12 in Wichita as saying "We need a place to come and properly grieve and memorialize the children that we've lost to abortion." What about the real, living children who are lost to inadequate health care, disease and starvation? What about the thousands of children who could be housed, clothed, fed and educated with the millions of dollars being wasted on this assinine “memorial”? What about the women who will suffer or die trying to obtain an unregulated/unsafe abortion?

If this monument is built as planned, it will be a slap in the face of not only rational and religious people of all faiths, but also the living children who are suffering so that these hypocrites can cling to their perverse notions of morality. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

What are they so afraid of?

It’s easy to get lost in the details of the war on women. After all, the repeated and hateful assaults on our access to health care, safety from domestic violence and even our right to vote are nearly overwhelming.

But why is this happening? Why now? Why, instead of focusing on jobs or military spending or any of the other fiscal issues facing this country are the Republicans so determined to subjugate and undermine women?

Because we scare them.

By being strong, we are a threat to their masculinity. Our strength is their weakness.

Men are raised from birth to see themselves as the caretakers, the breadwinners, the pants-wearers of the family. When women are capable and independent, it threatens to encroach on the very role men were taught was their due.

Our gender identities are cemented from a very young age; through the toys we receive, the lessons we are taught and the role models we watch. Girls are given tea sets and miniature kitchens and easy-bake ovens and dolls – toys that prepare us for the inevitable future of domesticity. Boys are given toy swords and guns and construction sets and action figures (not male dolls – these are “heroes,” ready for action) – all things that develop their “natural” aggressive, strong, leader-of-the-pack mentality.

We learn that girls must be “ladylike,” but “boys will be boys.” We see the roles that our parents, grandparents, and the adults around us play. We become aware of the fact that most of our teachers and babysitters and nannies are female, while police officers and soldiers and politicians are men.

When we dress too provocatively, we are whores. When we demand control of our reproductive lives, we are sluts. When we speak too loudly or too passionately, we are hysterical. When we seek out careers in male-dominated fields, we are butch, or trouble-makers. We are always subject to the judgment of men, particularly religious men (and women) who benefit from finding us wanting.

So we maintain the status quo, but each generation of women grows a little more restless. We see some women break the mold. We gain the education that would never have been available to our grandmothers. We start to recognize that our worth is not tied to our anatomy and that we have something to contribute to the world beyond a womb fertile for breeding.

And that scares those people whose worth is tied to our suppression. If we are no longer the sinners, are they still the saints?

Religious men cling to their beliefs and their religious texts (this is not just a Christian or Catholic phenomenon – it transpires in various religions) as a means of securing their “God-given” superiority. They trumpet their bible verses and the entrenched beliefs of their forefathers as proof that we are not as good, or as worthy, or as human as they are. The truly insidious ones claim it is for our own good – that they have our best interests at heart.  

We have to break this pattern. We have to speak out against every instance of misogyny we face, because every catcall, every pointed look, every missed promotion, every real or implied instance of “you’re just a girl, what do you know” allows fear-based hatred to continue.

Every time a man is allowed to get away with treating us as if our opinions, our bodies, our lives are subject to their approval, we are only cementing their belief in their right to dictate to us on issues of our safety and health. By sitting quietly in the face of ignorance and deep-rooted misogyny, we are complicit in our continued servitude and the rapid devaluation of our very lives.

So be scared, boys, because I, for one, refuse to be silent.     

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Dear Women

Dear women of America,

Do you really, truly hate Obama more than you love your own freedom, your own body, your own right to be treated as an equal human being? If you vote for Romney, that’s what you’re telling me.

CNN released a poll this morning that showed Obama’s support among women dropped 5 percent over the last two months from 49 to 44 percent, while Romney’s went up from 43 to 46 percent. Obviously this is just one poll, and the margin of difference is within the survey’s sampling error, but Romney should legitimately have 0 percent support among women if we’re being honest with ourselves.

The current Republican party, the puppeteer behind Romney, is the single greatest threat to women’s rights in the past 80+ years.

I’ve mentioned this number before, and I’ll bring it up again: Since January of this year, over 900 (that’s NINE HUNDRED) bills have been introduced nationwide that in some way seek to limit women’s access to birth control, health care, abortion rights and equal pay.

They want to roll back our rights to biblical levels, because their god (and their ignorant religious leadership) is telling them to do so. Women haven’t faced this much blatant and open misogyny from the Republican Party since well before our right to vote was recognized.

Here are highlights of some of the anti-women legislation that has gained traction and/or passed into law across the country:

  • Arizona’s newest 20-week abortion ban begins counting pregnancy from a woman’s last menstrual period (up to two weeks before she is *actually* pregnant) rather than fetal age, women facing serious fetal abnormalities later term (you know, when they can be detected) have 0 – 24 hours to make a decision about terminating the pregnancy. Later term abortions need to be protected. They also support the right to religiously-based discrimination – because that always works out well. Employers in Arizona can now deny women birth control coverage for religious reasons. Because favoring the religious beliefs of one group over another isn’t a violation of the Constitution or anything.
  • On May 17, Congress will vote on a measure to ban 20-week abortions in the District of Columbia. Fortunately, since we have no representation in the Senate and one non-voting delegate in the House, this asshat gets to decide on taking our rights away for us.
  • Continuing the glorious Republican tradition of making things RE-illegal (Michele Bachmann’s ban on gay marriages, NC’s amendment 1, etc.), Florida’s Ballot Initiative 6, up for vote in 2012, would roll back a woman’s right to privacy to “end public funding of abortions” (…which was taken care of 3 DECADES ago).
  • Georgia passed the infamous “women as livestock” law based on the completely-false-only-supported-by-not-even-God-because-it’s-definitely-not-in-the-Bible notion that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks. Because if farmers have to “deliver calves, dead or alive” why shouldn’t broodmare-women have to do the same? This bill provides NO exclusions for rape, incest, or a woman’s emotional or mental condition. Suck it up, bitch, and birth that dead baby.
  • Kansas is waiting on their Senate for the “refusal clause” bill, which would allow doctors to LIE to women about birth defects and withhold cancer treatments for mothers in the interest of saving the fetus.
  • Mississippi signed into law a bill that will in all likelihood put the last remaining abortion provider in the state out of business. Their reasoning? The clinic doesn’t have admitting privileges at a hospital. The reason they don’t have those privileges? Because they don’t refer enough cases to qualify. The clinic is literally being punished for not jeopardizing the lives of enough women. Pro-life enough for you?
  • Missouri started all the shit with the Blunt Amendment, which would allow employers to play Russian Roulette with women's health care options. Despite the fact that the Supreme Court case Unemployment Division v. Smith already decided that religious beliefs do not preclude you from following an otherwise-legitimate law, these people really think their religious beliefs entitle them to completely ignore the 14th amendment. 
  • On June 12, North Dakota will vote on a measure that gives employers the right to deny women birth control coverage for “religious reasons.” You know what’s not a choice? Ovarian cancer. You know what is a choice? Your ignorant religious beliefs. If they can deny us medical care for religious reasons, why can’t they deny us the right to vote for religious reasons? Oh right, they’re working on it.
  • South Carolina passed a bill barring private insurers (yes, private) from covering abortions. How’s that for small government?
  • South Dakota enacted a law requiring doctors to lie to women about the non-existent link between abortions and mental health issues. Fortunately, if you’re a Republican, scientific studies proving that there is no definite link between mental health issues and abortion can just be completely ignored.
  • In Texas, Gov. Perry decided to exercise his states’ rights, y’all, to deny access to health care (not abortion services, just birth control, cancer screenings, etc. but really, let’s not split hairs…) for low-income women. I’ll say this again and again and again – NO FEDERAL MONEY IS USED TO FUND ABORTIONS – but Perry defunded the non-abortion-providing part of Planned Parenthood because he doesn’t like people who like things that he doesn’t like. So there.
  • Utah just passed into law a 72 hour waiting period for abortions – the longest in the country. Because women are too stupid to a) know what an abortion is and b) make up their mind about it. Fortunately, we have the state to send us back to our rooms where we can sit and think about what dirty, immoral whores we are for wanting to access our Constitutional rights.
  • Virginia managed to pass their medically-unnecessary pre-abortion ultrasound requirement, though those poor, idiotic ladies were thrown a bone and can “choose” not to have a transvaginal ultrasound. Does it bother anyone else that the state can run medical tests on us without our consent? Anyone? Bueller?
  • Wisconsin rolled back their equal pay act, even though women currently earn 77 cents on the dollar to men. They also attempted to pass a bill recognizing "single parenthood" as a contributing factor of child abuse. Not too surprising, since they’re the home of Rep. Pridemore, who thinks women should just close their eyes and remember the good times while their husbands are beating them. Because nothing says family values than domestic violence and rape. 

In addition to this state-by-state fuckery, Congress has still not reauthorized the expired Violence Against Women Act, because Republicans truly believe that lesbian and transgendered women and Native American women are not the same as other women, and are not deserving of equal protection under the law.

And just for the fun of it, go ahead and re-read about the fact that Republicans want nothing to do with living children, and the fact that they want hungry school kids to pay for more tax breaks for the rich.

Is your not-quite-PC-even-if-you-shout-“economic issues!”-hatred-of-Obama still worth more than everything we stand to lose? Please, please consider the issues – particularly the ones most important to all women everywhere – before casting your vote this November. Because if the Republicans get their way, you may lose that right, too.