Update on HHS “Conscience Rule”

Obama announced his intention to revisit the HHS “Conscience Rule,” which prohibits businesses from firing or refusing to hire a worker who objects to certain duties which offend his moral conscience. (Such as the dissemination of birth control pills.)

Read or listen to NPR’s article about it here.

The Department of Health and Human Services is calling for a 30-day public comment period before beginning any process to formally rescind the regulation. People wishing to comment on the Provider Conscience Regulation should email their comments to: consciencecomment@hhs.gov.

Here is a copy of the email I sent:

I urge you to rescind the HHS Regulation that protects workers from having to perform duties they find morally objectionable because I believe that there are already regulations and laws in place that provide this protection.

This HHS regulation discriminates against businesses and entities who want to provide good medical care to their patients and clients and interferes with the running of said businesses and entities. An employer should not be forced to hire someone who he knows will not do his or her job completely. I’m surprised that the government has been willing to run over the rights of employers to hire the best person for the job.

If an individual feels that strongly about not performing duties that offend his conscience, then he should seek a business that feels the same way he does. What’s going to be next? Will a mail carrier have the right to not deliver certain pieces of mail because they offend his religious or moral beliefs? Why limit this to health care? Unless of course the real goal of this regulation has been to defeat abortion providers and eliminate any device or medication that might cause abortion.

As for the last point, have you even considered how far-reaching this regulation could be? Anyone who is against anything but the rhythm method of family planning (for instance, a Catholic) could refuse to dispense birth control at all, even forms that have not been shown to cause abortion. That’s a great way to fight abortion: make it harder for women to prevent pregnancies.

I am a woman who had an abortion when I was 19, when it had just become legal in New York. I know what it was like to have to travel hundreds of miles to get to a facility that would give me an abortion. It is already increasingly hard to find abortion providers. Are we also to soon find it difficult to find sources of birth control?

Please get rid of this messy, muddled regulation that frankly was proposed in the first place to appease the conservatives and the religious right in this country. They already have their consciences protected by other means. Don’t allow them to take away the rights of the rest of the populace.

The Femagination Book Store

If you’re looking for books specifically by and for women, look no further! I’m in the process of building a Femagination Book Store. Topics (so far) include:

  1. DVDs
  2. Finances
  3. First Wave Literature
  4. Memoirs
  5. Motherhood
  6. Multicultural Feminism
  7. Politics
  8. Reproductive Rights
  9. Second Wave Literature
  10. Sexuality
  11. Spirituality
  12. Third Wave Literature
  13. Women Writers
  14. Women’s History
  15. Workplace

Click on the title of this post and it will take you there.

What About the Girl Scouts?

An article in my local paper this morning was about central Ohio Boy Scouts. The headline read, “Region’s Boy Scouts not seeing ranks thin.” That made me curious. What about the Girl Scouts? How are they faring these days?

Not well, it seems. Time magazine reported in an article on November 29, 2008 that the Girl Scouts’ membership is down by 250,000 over the past five years. That has caused the merging of hundreds of councils and the sale of dozens of properties, including camps. Cookie sales are down and apparently the Girl Scouts don’t want to be known for cookies and camping anymore anyway.

I can see downgrading the cookie sales–they’ve become more of a nuisance these days than a cherished tradition. Instead of going door-to-door, the scouts’ parents drag the order forms to work and pester their co-workers for orders (and of course have to drag the cookies back a few weeks later to distribute them). You can buy the cookies directly from the council, but who’s going to go to the trouble of doing that? (And yet I admit I do love their Thin Mints and usually find a way to get my fix!)

But I’m not writing this post to dissect the Girl Scout movement. What I want to know is why have the Girl Scouts never been as popular as the Boy Scouts? Everyone has heard of the Boy Scouts’ Eagle Scout award; few people know that the Girls Scouts have the equivalent (since 1980 it’s been called the Gold Award–part of the problem may be because its name has been changed several times over the years). And the Girl Scouts have always been a smaller organization (presently by about 200,000 members.) (See information about both organizations here.) Of course, the Girl Scouts have always had competition from the Campfire Girls, while the Boy Scouts has been the all-male scouting organization in the U.S. since 1910.

Basically, less print is devoted to stories about the Girl Scouts, as if they don’t merit the attention that Boy Scouts do. Being a Scout doesn’t carry the same prestige for a girl as it does for a boy. Other than the cookie sales, Girl Scouts haven’t been as visible. They are not considered to be the American institution that Boy Scouts always have been.

I was a Girl Scout from the second grade to the seventh. Except for the fact that my mother was one of my troop leaders, I loved it. Girl Scouting probably did more for my self-esteem than any other thing in my childhood. Not that every experience was positive (group showers at camp were excruciating for a chubby pre-teen), but but there was enough positive to outweigh the negative. I was introduced to photography and architecture through the badges I earned, interests that have stayed with me all my life. Camping skills like building a fire and cooking in the outdoors have made me feel competent in ways that I never could on the basketball court or baseball field.

Given all the above, I’ve always been surprised that feminists haven’t been more involved in the Girl Scouting movement. That may be because the Girls Scouts wanted to stay away from controversy. Unfortunately, given the way that many people view feminism, that might be a smart move. But it seems to me that the two are naturally complementary.

I checked out the official GSUSA (Girl Scouts of the USA) website and discovered that the program has become very progressive about how to build self-esteem, leadership qualities and a service mentality. But when I did a search of the word “feminism,” I found zero results. Not surprising, I guess, but disappointing.

At the same time, I don’t think any program that betters the lives of women should be overlooked just because it doesn’t associate itself with feminism. I understand the prejudice against feminism that makes people back off from the term for fear that they’ll be associated with the movement. That prejudice needs to be confronted and revealed to be unfounded. That’s one purpose of this blog.

But I feel that feminism has been remiss in not promoting organizations like the Girl Scouts, even if the Scouts don’t want to be associated with feminism. Anything that fosters self-reliance and broadens horizons for girls and women the way the Girl Scouts do should be given the feminist seal of approval.

Planned Parenthood

Now we have the Family Research Council and other entities calling for an end to government aid to Planned Parenthood, on the grounds that PP has plenty of money and doesn’t need the aid. (See “Abortion foes open a new front.” ) This despite the fact that one-third of PP’s funding comes from such aid. That’s a pretty big hit to take in the budget. Where do they think the shortfall would come from?

Of course, that’s the point. They don’t care where the funds would come from. In fact, they hope that the loss of those funds would seriously cripple PP’s programs and services, especially abortion services, even though those make up only 3% of all that Planned Parenthood does. This illustrates the problem with anti-abortion activism: its propensity to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

The fact that 38% of PP’s services is contraception-related, 29% is for STD testing and treatment and 19% is for cancer-screening shows that only a small proportion of the money collected by PP should be offensive to anti-abortionists. Of course now we’ve got anti-abortionists carping about birth control, as if it was responsible for abortions. Wish they’d get their science straight!

And now we have anti-abortionists using stealth tactics to make their case that PP is basically an abortion mill. (See “Activists go undercover at Planned Parenthood.”)

Housewife Activists

The Housewife Theory of History” by Rebecca Solnit is an article about “undomestic troubles and unsung heroines.” I’m citing it today in contrast to the article I cited in my last post, “Too Focused On Women?” which was partly about the author’s disbelief in the notion of women making a difference, just because they’re women. This article isn’t exactly saying the opposite, but it does show how women, even “mere” housewives, can have political clout.

The question of whether or not women have a unique role to play in power arenas is dependent on the argument about biological differences. If we say that women are more nurturing, for instance, is that a biological difference or is it a socialized difference? If it is a socialized quality, then one must assume that men could be “trained” to be more nurturing, thereby eliminating the difference between the sexes. The opposite is also true: can women be taught to be more aggressive?

And then there is the issue of generalizations. We all know women who don’t want to be mothers, who seem to be naturally aggressive and not at all nurturing, just as we know men who are passive and emotional. Is this a result of nature or nurture? Or a little of both? Is it fair to generalize that women would bring “feminine” qualities into their endeavors when those qualities might not be present in every women? Or at least not to the same degree?

Yet we all know that there is some justification for generalizing, just as there is truth in every cliche. Women as a group tend to exhibit qualities that are thought of as feminine. The real question is whether or not those qualities are considered desirable. The problem with categorizing women as feminine is the fact that feminine characteristics are thought of as less valuable in the wider society than are masculine qualities. They’re fine, even thought of as necessary, for women who are wives and mothers. But they are not recommended for a woman’s life outside the home. If she acts “like a woman” in the outer world, she is denigrated. (So is a man who acts like a woman.) But she is also denigrated if she acts like a man. She can’t win either way.

I think it’s time that we stop talking about qualities as being masculine or feminine and start to seriously consider what kind of qualities we want to see in the all the people who are in positions of power, including those in the home. Wouldn’t we rather see our daughters also capable of standing up for themselves and our sons as also capable of caring for others? Wouldn’t the ideal be politicians who are as prone to choose dialogue and diplomacy as they are action and aggression?

I look forward to a day when there are no more distinctions between feminine and masculine behavior. When an individual can exhibit both or either without being thought of as unnatural. There are always going to be individuals who don’t fit their assigned molds. So let’s get rid of the molds and start seeing their characteristics as merely human.

Can I Call Myself a Feminist?

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.