Reproductive Rights

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I don’t see how anyone could go from being a Hillary supporter to being a Palin one. If you were for Hillary, I would assume that you were also for the things that she is for and against the things that she is against. If you are for women’s rights, especially women’s reproductive rights, how could you be for Palin–or John McCain, for that matter?

Maybe there are some women who don’t particularly care one way or another whether they retain full rights over their own bodies. Maybe they were for Hillary just because she was a woman and when she lost out, it was easy for them to transfer their loyalties to another woman. If that is true, then the charge that some women cared more about their candidate’s sex than her politics is a true one.

I wanted Hillary to win the Democratic nomination and I wanted to see her in the White House. Sure, I was excited about the idea of a woman achieving all of that. But I didn’t vote for her just because she was a woman. I agree with her views and have confidence in her experience. Sarah Palin is a light-weight by comparison.

Some people excuse Palin’s lack of experience by saying that she doesn’t have to have as much experience as the presidential candidate, because she’s not going to be President, after all. But she could be. That’s the point. So could John McCain! Do feminists really want their President to be against their full rights as human beings?

I wrote in my last post that feminists are for full equality for women and in my opinion, that includes reproductive rights. If men could get pregnant, you betcha they would protect their right to have abortions. But they can’t get pregnant; only women can (not counting the man who recently gave birth–and reproductively, he was a woman). And men are not used to not being in control of everything a woman does.

Being pro-choice doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re pro-abortion. Having an abortion is a sticky issue even for those of us who are pro-choice. It’s about women having the right to call the shots. They are the ones who are going to bear the consequences in their own bodies. No man–or woman–should have the right to force a woman to have a baby.

If McCain and Palin had their way, that’s exactly what would happen. And in some cases they would effectively force a woman to give that baby up for adoption, because they also want to cut welfare payments to single mothers. (Although it’s interesting that no one has brought up that issue in this presidential campaign.) Or, even worse, force a woman to enter a marriage that may be counter to her best interests

Palin claims to be a feminist (she is a member of Feminists for Life), but I don’t see how she can be and be unequivocably against abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. She has a right to hold that view personally, but not to impose it on all the women in this country. It’s easy for her to say that she’s anti-abortion: she’s not the mother who will have to tell her child that his father was a rapist–or his grandfather or uncle!

If Palin and other anti-abortionists/pro-lifers were really consistent they would be against abortion even to save the life of the mother. Their argument isn’t about equal rights. Their efforts are squarely on the side of the child-to-be; they believe he or she has more rights than the mother-to-be. That just doesn’t make sense to me.

Can I Call Myself a Feminist?

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Ellen Bravo writes in her book, Taking On the Big Boys: Or Why Feminism Is Good For Families, Business, and the Nation, about a student of hers who wrote in a paper: “I don’t think I can call myself a feminist, because I haven’t been an activist.” Bravo demurs:”…taking action… encompasses an enormous range of behaviors, both individual and collective.” Thus, sticking up for yourself in a discussion, not putting up with demeaning behavior from a boyfriend and encouraging your daughter to take physics, are all feminist acts. Besides, we all have to start somewhere, and the first step is always to take on the feminist mantle.

It’s like my calling myself a writer. I used to think I wasn’t a real writer, because I hadn’t been published. But once I realized that I was a writer, because I wrote, no matter what the outside world could see, I got up the confidence to send out some submissions, and they were published. So now am I a “realer” writer? No, I was a writer to begin with: the act of writing made me a writer. But I had to start with realizing that I indeed was a writer before I was ready to take on the outside world.

That’s why consciousness-raising groups were so revolutionary in the Women’s Liberation movement of the ’60s and ’70s. That process is still necessary; it’s just not called by the same name. Most, if not all, women come to feminism by having their consciousness raised about the inequities in the system when it comes to being female. I didn’t come to feminism in a consciousness-raising group per se. I was taking a class on the Women’s Liberation movement, and it suddenly dawned on me that feminism made sense. I would venture to say that a lot of young women–and some men, too–come to feminism when they take Women’s Studies courses.

But you don’t have to have taken Women’s Studies courses to call yourself a feminist. What you do need to do is examine feminism and measure your own values and beliefs against it. If you find that you agree that women are discriminated against in any area of life–just because they are women–then you are a feminist. If you believe that women have the right to call their own shots, then you are a feminist. If you are searching for a relationship in which there is equality, then you are a feminist. You may not be ready to take to the streets in protest of anything that smacks of gender discrimination, but you are still a feminist.

You don’t have to join an organization, any more than you have to join the ACLU to signify that you are for civil liberties. You don’t have to read Ms. magazine to prove that you’re a feminist. You may not even want to call yourself a feminist. A lot of women and men are feminists in their outlook and behavior, but they wouldn’t put that label on themselves. In cases like that, I think they should be “outed.” They should be called on the carpet for not identifying with feminism, when they obviously have feminist principles.

After all, if a person says, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He died to save me from my sins,” then that person is a Christian and shouldn’t be afraid to call herself one. Some people would argue that you’re not really a Christian if you don’t act like one. There is something to that, but I would argue that you’re not going to act like one until you know in your heart that you are one. It’s the same with being a feminist. Start with the beliefs and the actions will follow. I guarantee it.

Protecting Anti-Abortionists’ Rights

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I don’t know any women who are happy about having to have an abortion. They would have much preferred to not have been pregnant in the first place. But if some people had their way, they wouldn’t have a choice about that either. There is a movement to ban most, if not all, forms of birth control on the same grounds as a ban on abortion: they stop the implantation of a fertilized egg, even though, in the case of birth control pills, that is not a medically proven fact.

In an article on Prevention.com, the growing threat to women’s reproductive rights is clearly outlined. It is not just individuals or fringe groups which are calling for a ban on birth control. The threat reaches as high as President Bush:

“In his first budget to Congress, President Bush stripped out a provision that required insurance companies participating in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program to cover contraceptives. He has also withheld funding for international family planning; signed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, which critics say could result in making even second-trimester abortions illegal; and signed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which gives a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus separate legal status if harmed during a violent crime.

“Bush also appointed three antiabortion doctors to the FDA Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee: W. David Hager, MD, Susan Crockett, MD, and Stanford. When their committee and the FDA’s Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee met jointly last December, the group voted 23 to 4 in favor of giving over-the-counter status to emergency contraceptives. Dissenters included Hager, Crockett, and Stanford. In May, the FDA decided not to grant the drug OTC status.”

Not only that, but Bush now has a Department of Health and Human Services’ proposal circulating around Capitol Hill that would require medical practices and hospitals that receive federal aid to certify that they will not fire or refuse to hire doctors who refuse to offer abortion services and certain types of birth control.

The draft rule is known as a “conscience clause” because it would allow nurses and doctors who have ethical or moral objections to abortion or birth control to refuse to prescribe or provide those services to patients. The rule proposes to cut off money to any grant recipient or hospital that refuses to hire doctors and nurses who object to abortion.

In the original draft proposal, HHS’ position was that abortion be defined as any [italics mine] drug or procedure “that results in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation.”

The official version of the proposal, in which the language about abortion and birth control has been removed, was released on August 21, 2008. Now the proposal requires that “the Department and recipients of Department funds (including State and local governments) refrain from discriminating against institutional and individual health care entities for their participation or refusal to participate in certain medical procedures or services, including certain health services, or research activities funded in whole or in part by the federal government.”

But proponents of women’s reproductive rights argue that the language is vague enough to allow room for discrimination against specific medical procedures and services such as abortion and the dissemination of birth control. If health care workers can refuse to perform or provide such services, the patient is effectively cut off from her right to receive reproductive health care. And a woman’s reproductive rights are compromised, if not nullified.

The crazy thing is, health care providers are already protected from having to perform procedures (abortion) if they conflict with their religious beliefs. So why this new proposal? It appears that the only reason for it is to expand the types of procedures and services which can be denied by a “conscience-ridden” provider as well as expand the kinds of workers who are to be given that protection. Even someone who cleans the utensils will have the right to refuse to do his or her job if the procedure being performed is against his or her religious beliefs.

This may not seem like a big deal in areas where there are plenty of health care alternatives. But what about when health care providers are limited? Or when the patient needs immediate attention? And what comes next? Will all health services be prohibited from denying employment to someone whose religious beliefs would be a problem in the performance of their duties? Will states follow suit and restrict any activities that are funded by state funds? Will pharmacists become reluctant to dispense birth control just like so many doctors are now afraid to perform abortions?

What about the rights of those who want and need these services? Why do anti-abortionists’ rights supercede theirs?


 

Secrets of Six-Figure Women

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I read Secrets of Six-Figure Women: Surprising Strategies to Up Your Earnings and Change Your Life, by Barbara Stanny, a couple of months ago and it electrified me. Finally, a book about women and finances by a woman who seemed to “get it.” But in the time since then, I’ve become discouraged. How do you get ahead, even with the strategies the author outlines in her book, when you don’t have any extra money? The women in her book had access to money, either through inheritance, divorce settlements, or lucrative livelihoods. Many of them started with nothing, it’s true. But the book wasn’t really about how to start from nothing–and I’m not sure that can be taught anyway.

Even so, there was a lot of good advice in this book and I would recommend it to any woman who wants to take control of her life, but doesn’t quite know how. There is no excuse really for being financially ignorant. Not knowing anything about your finances is irresponsible and possibly disastrous. Just think of the woman who goes through a divorce knowing nothing about her husband’s finances. Or the woman who is married but has no assets of her own. Or the single woman who just lives from paycheck to paycheck until a major upset in her finances–a job loss, a medical emergency, a totaled car with negative equity–causes her to lose everything. It happens. A lot more than we would like to think.

Being a feminist means being in control of every aspect of your life. It’s not being mercenary to want to make and save and even invest money. It’s a necessity. The author of Secrets reiterates that women must stop being financial idiots. We can all learn what we need to know. There are plenty of books and websites out there which are wonderful resources. (I would also recommend Stanny’s previous book, Prince Charming Isn’t Coming: How Women Get Smart About Money and Liz Pulliam Weston’s Easy Money: How to Simplify Your Finances and Get What You Want Out of Life.)

Even if you’re like me and have no extra money, you can still start somewhere. I do have a thousand dollars in my savings account. And not enough, but better than nothing, in my retirement account. I also own my own home. I am not without resources and I intend to make the most of them. Books like those mentioned above are a great way to start.

Guyland

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A new book, Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men, by Michael Kimmel, warns of the perils of ignoring the “disgruntled” male. (Read a review in Salon.com.) The author contends that bad male behavior is alive and well in our society, as evidenced by incidents of bullying, hazing, school shootings (as well as other incidents of “going postal”), gay-bashing, date rape, and so on.

I have not yet read the book, but what caught my eye was the reviewer’s statement that: “A new generation of girls who don’t consider themselves feminists and people of color who oppose affirmative action may find themselves against a wall — or a glass ceiling — they thought their mothers had climbed over.” One reason why I am amazed sometimes at the lack of feminist sentiment among young women is that male behavior hasn’t changed all that much over the decades since the Women’s Liberation movement first burst on the scene in the ’60s (let alone since Seneca Falls).

The proof of that is the way that Hillary Clinton was often viewed in the media during her campaign for the Democratic nomination for the presidency. But what about Sarah Palin? Why is she receiving so much male approval? Well, for one thing, she’s not running for president. If she had been nominated as the presidential candidate, there would have been an uproar among her now-devotees that could have been heard in Australia. (You’d think that they would realize this when they think about how close she could be to the presidency.)

But there are other reasons why Palin hasn’t received the response that Clinton did: she is not a threatening type of woman. She may well be a tough cookie, but her iron hand is clad in a velvet glove: that of the accepted norm of femininity. By all appearances, she’s a happily married mother of five who wears her hair long (men love that) and skirts instead of pantsuits. She’s attractive and relatively young. For God’s sakes, she was a runner-up in the Miss Alaska pageant! And she’s athletic, too, which is actually a turn-on for most men, seeing as how they love slim and fit female bodies. Oh, and she’s against gays and abortion, both issues that threaten men, and for guns and war. How could they not love her?

Now that I’ve gotten my daily tirade against Sarah Palin out of my system, I’ll return to my discussion of Guyland. The author is mainly talking about the male’s right of passage into adulthood, which he says occurs between the ages of 16 and in some cases as late as 30. He contends that we need to control the messages that young men are receiving and sending. But more than that, we need to see the damage that negative male behavior does to the rest of society. Hence his comment that women, gays and people of color may be at risk in a world where these men never “grow up.”

According to the reviewer, Kimmel seems to be saying that this behavior is on the rise and can be attributed to a backlash effect. White males have always had a certain sense of entitlement which is being trompled all over in a world of affirmative action and more assertive behavior on the part of the people they’re used to trompling. Men who have been shunted aside in favor of women and minorities (women are not in the minority) are in danger of acting out their frustrations. And guess who their targets are likely to be?

Sarah Palin, Feminist?

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One reason why Sarah Palin has shaken up feminists is because she is not your typical successful woman. When we criticize her, we’re accused of only being for one kind of feminist: the pro-choice, liberal feminist. Conservative women accuse us of being exclusive, of not allowing certain types of women into the fold.

There is something to what they say. Which is why women like Sarah Palin belong to groups like Feminists For Life. They create their own brand of feminism. And when traditional feminists are confronted with examples like Palin, we’re hard pressed to say what’s so bad about her without alienating thousands of women who are like her.

The confusion comes from not completely understanding what it means to be a feminist. Most people criticize feminists for not being for all kinds of women, no matter what their choices or lifestyle. It’s true that feminism has alienated women because it has seemed to prefer single women over women in traditional marriages, non-mothers over mothers, liberals over conservatives, and putting men down rather than building them up.

Most people have their minds made up about feminists and it’s not a pretty picture. We’re shrill, unattractive, bitter, maladjusted, unable to get and keep a man. Some of us may be any or all of these things, but feminists don’t hold the patent on them. Plenty of non-feminists can fit the same description. What differentiates feminists from non-feminists is their ideology. Feminists believe in self-determination and taking responsibility for your own life. They believe in cooperation between the sexes, not warfare. They believe that no one has the right to tell a woman what she can or cannot do.

But implicit in all those things is the belief that woman have the right to make their own decisions, and that includes the right to conceive or not conceive a child and the right to bear or not bear a child. Not all feminists approve of abortion. But they are dedicated to their conviction that no other person, male or female, should have the right to tell them what they may do with their bodies. The answer is not to criminalize abortion: the answer is to show women that they have options. Birth control and abortion on demand have to be two of those options. So does marrying, raising the child alone or giving the child up for adoption.

Someone like Sarah Palin appears to be on higher moral ground because she did not have an abortion when she found out that she was carrying a child with Down’s Syndrome. But there is another morality to be considered: that of being able to make responsible decisions. Sarah Palin’s circumstances are such that she can handle having a special needs baby. But what about a woman who is on welfare? Do the taxpayers want to pay for her baby? (It’s ironic that pro-lifers are often against single mothers receiving welfare.) What about the woman who is barely a child herself? The unmarried woman? The woman who is in an abusive relationship?

It’s too easy to superimpose our lives on those of others and say that because we could have that child, they should be able to. That just isn’t the case. And the child who is unwanted or neglected or abandoned has a hellish life ahead of him or her. We have to trust adult women to make the best decisions for themselves and their future, and yes, even for the lives of their children.