Archive for the ‘Feminism & Gender’ Category

January 30, 2014

“Voice Male”: New Book on the Social Transformation of Masculinity

When I first started reading Voice Male magazine some years back, I felt a strong sense of appreciation and urgency about this magazine being widely read.

Here at Our Bodies Ourselves, we have long worked with male allies who share common values and goals, but too often their work has been under the radar — both both in terms of media recognition, and visibility within women’s and community organizations that would welcome them as collaborators.

We know some tremendous work is being done around issues of masculinity and, of course, in the arena of gender-based violence. Voice Male has been at the forefront of promoting these efforts.

As my colleague Jackson Katz has written, Voice Male is for the anti-sexist men’s movement what Ms. magazine has been for the women’s movement.

Now comes the new book, “Voice Male: The Untold Story of the Profeminist Men’s Movement,” in which the magazine’s editor, Rob Okun, introduces readers to, as he puts it, “one of the most important social justice movements you’ve never heard of — the social transformation of masculinity.”

It’s a welcome addition to the canon on gender justice. Tackling a topic as comprehensive as the pro-feminist men’s movement is a daunting task, especially when we consider the movement began in the late 1970s. Okun’s approach is both inviting and instructive.

I admit I’m biased (I reviewed the book before publication and provided advance praise), but outside reviews also have been excellent. Publishers Weekly has a good write-up, and Library Journal concluded: “A very worthwhile introduction to the profeminist movement among men. It will reward both casual readers and serious students of the subject.”

Following a forward by well-known sociologist Michael Kimmel, Okun uses the first chapter to tell the story of the movement, offering compelling highlights that bring to life its rich history. And, showing his activist roots (for many years he was executive director of the Men’s Resource Center for Change in Amherst, Mass., one of the earliest men’s centers in the country), he brings the narrative into the here and now, presenting short profiles of 20 of the most effective pro-feminist men’s organizations in North America, and a few overseas.

The next 11 chapters feature around 140 essays, articles and moving first-person stories by both men and women, some famous, some not, spanning three decades of the magazine. The writing runs the gamut — boys to men, men of color, GBTQ issues, fathering, men and feminism, men’s heath, male survivors, overcoming violence, what is healthy masculinity, and manhood after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. The book includes nearly 15 pages of resources on all of these topics, and has nearly that many pages in a comprehensive index.

“Voice Male” will be eye-opening and inspiring to students in gender studies programs, and a powerful organizing tool for activist organizations. Hopefully, too, it will find its way onto the bookshelves in homes where anyone interested in social justice lives.

Please join OBOS in getting the word out about this new resource, and get a copy for every young man in your life.


December 24, 2013

Striving for Gender Equity: My Journey to Armenia

Dilijan Armenia workshop Oct 2013

Judy Norsigian and Dr. Meri Khachikyan, coordinator of the Armenian edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” present organizers with copies of the book.

Looking back on 2013, one of the highlights for me was a trip to Armenia where I spoke about gender equity and witnessed a dozen young women organizing around the lack of sexuality education in their community.

I was a featured speaker at a discussion on “Promoting Gender Equity and Breaking Gender Stereotypes,” hosted by the American University of Armenia (AUA), the Women’s Support Center in Yerevan, and the Armenian International Women’s Association. Dr. Bruce Boghosian, AUA president, and Dr. Meri Khachikyan, coordinator of the Armenian “Our Bodies, Ourselves” translation/adaptation project, attended, along with students, faculty, Peace Corps volunteers, and NGO staff and directors,

Domestic violence is a major concern in this small country — as it is in all of the countries where OBOS has global partners. As part of OBOS’s efforts to encourage men’s engagement in violence prevention, we connected a young man on the AUA panel with staff at Jane Doe Inc., the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, which provided him with slides about the role men can play in stopping violence.

Another concern addressed by panelists was the growing problem of sex-selective abortion in Armenia (also common in the neighboring countries of Georgia and Azerbaijan). Approximately 115 boys are born for every 100 girls; only China has a more skewed rate.

Following the AUA event, I attended several meetings with members of groups involved in the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Women in Armenia. In a country where government officials and church leaders have at times endorsed or congratulated those committing homophobic and sexist acts of violence, these courageous activists have been known to disrupt high-level meetings to draw attention to women’s and LGBT rights in Armenia.

I also traveled to rural Dilijan with Dr. Khachikyan, where I witnessed the initial organizing efforts of about a dozen young women (and one young man) concerned about the lack of sexuality education in their conservative community. They came up with several excellent ideas about meeting venues that would be safe spaces for young women, as well as ideas for outreach via social media, and were ready to take on problematic cultural practices.

For example, many parents of young women still do a “check the bed for blood” test after a newly married couple spends its first night together, looking for signs their daughter remained a virgin before marriage. If they find blood, they take a basket of red apples to the groom’s parents to acknowledge the young woman’s “purity.” Plastic surgeons now do a brisk business with hymen reconstruction in many parts of the country, even though this is technically illegal.

Despite the numerous issues women face in Armenia, the intergenerational advocacy and critical support provided by a number of European and American funders contribute to the continued growth of a grassroots movement that will improve the health and well-being of women and girls.

Before leaving, Dr. Khachikyan presented each of the young organizers with their own copy of the latest Armenian edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” I was moved by their enthusiasm — as I have been so many times when talking with women about how the book changed their lives.

Plus: Earlier this year, Taleen K. Moughamian, a women’s health nurse practitioner in Philadelphia, wrote about her experience providing health services in Armenia. Learn more about OBOS’s partner in Armenia, “For Family and Health” Pan Armenian Association (PAFHA), and efforts to adapt and distribute women’s health information based on “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” The preface to the Armenian edition is available in English.


July 18, 2013

Women Make Movies: New Releases Include Films on Virginity, Women in Prison and Body Image

Tired of not seeing women’s stories, told by women?

Women Make Movies, a non-profit founded in 1972 to address the representation of women in media, has just released it’s 2013 catalog of films.

We haven’t seen these yet, but here are a few films that might be of interest:

A Girl Like Her” by Ann Fessler: The haunting story of over a million women in the United States who were pressured into surrendering their babies for adoption in the 1950s and 60s when “nice girls” didn’t get pregnant.

The Grey Area: Feminism Behind Bars” by Noga Ashkenazi: Female inmates at a maximum women’s security prison in Mitchellville, Iowa, share their diverse experiences with motherhood, drug addiction, sexual abuse, murder, and life in prison.

How to Lose Your Virginity” by Therese Shechter: Shechter reveals myths, dogmas and misconceptions behind this “precious gift.” Sex educators, porn producers, abstinence advocates, and outspoken teens share their own stories of having — or not having — sex.

Mothers of Bedford” by Jenifer McShane”: Shot over four years, “Mothers of Bedford” follows five women — of diverse backgrounds and incarcerated for different reasons — in dual struggles to be engaged in their children’s lives and become their better selves. It shows how long-term sentences affect mother-child relationships and how Bedford’s innovative Children’s Center helps women maintain and improve bonds with children and adult relatives awaiting their return.

Saving Face” by Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy: Winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject), “Saving Face” is a harshly realistic view of some incredibly strong and impressive women. Every year in Pakistan, many women are known to be victimized by brutal acid attacks, with numerous cases going unreported.

The Fat Body (In)Visible” by Margitte Kristjansson: In this insightful short documentary, Keena and Jessica speak candidly about growing up overweight, and the size discrimination they have faced. Their stories detail the intricacies of identity and the intersection of race and gender with fatness — and how social media has helped this community enact visibility on their own terms.

In other film news, PBS’s Frontline has released “Rape in the Fields,” an investigation of abuses of U.S. immigrant agricultural workers. The accompanying website has interviews, live chat transcripts (including a Spanish-language chat), and additional information. The film was a partnership between Frontline, Univision News, the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley, and the Center for Investigative Reporting.


May 29, 2013

Campaign Against Gender-Based Hate Speech on Facebook – Activists Win!

#FBrape campaignLast week, Women, Action and the Media (WAM!), The Everyday Sexism Project, and writer/activist Soraya Chemaly — with the backing of more than 100 organizations, including Our Bodies Ourselves — issued an open letter to Facebook calling for the social media giant to address hate speech targeted at girls and women.

Facebook pages that had been allowed, despite the company’s existing anti-violence content policy, featured depictions of men kicking “sluts,” images of beaten and restrained women, and numerous rape jokes. A link to examples is provided on this WAM! page.

Smartly, the #FBrape campaign asked supporters to contact advertisers whose ads appear alongside this content, noting that “advertisers should be aware that their brands will appear in positions that sponsor content that mocks, trivializes or promulgates gendered violence.”

Campaign leaders also emphasized that the existing reporting functions were insufficient, providing clear examples where Facebook moderators failed to remove reported content. Meanwhile, we have witnessed instances in which pages created by women that feature photos of moms breastfeeding or health information graphics have been banned.

Some companies responded positively, agreeing to pull their ads from Facebook until it takes real steps to address and remove pages that promote gender-based hate speech. Other companies, including Dove, said that while they object to the content, they could not control placement of their ads — which is why better action on Facebook’s part is necessary.

On Tuesday afternoon, after supporters sent more than 60,000 tweets and 5,000 emails to advertisers and Facebook, Facebook made an official response to the campaign, committing to the following actions:

  • Reviewing their hate speech standards and working with representatives of the campaign coalition and others for input
  • Updating their training for staff members who evaluate reports of hate speech
  • Increasing accountability for content creators
  • Establishing more formal and direct lines of communications with representatives of groups working on this issue

You can read the delighted response from the campaign organizers, along with lots of media coverage. And, hey, the campaign made The New York Times – the business section, no less, rather than being placed alongside more “lifestyle”-oriented content where stories that affect women often appear.

Big congrats to WAM!, Everyday Sexism, Chemaly, and everyone who worked to call attention to this issue. One look at the comments on Facebook’s statement reminds us that there is a long way to go toward making the internet a less hostile place, but this is a great step forward.


February 6, 2013

In Armenia, Abortion Rates are High and Access to Contraception is Limited

Taleen MoughamianTaleen K. Moughamian, a women’s health nurse practitioner in Philadelphia, traveled to Armenia in the fall of 2012. Working with the Children of Armenia Fund, she conducted  health exams, including breast and cervical cancer screenings, and provided contraceptive counseling. The following account is based on her work and conversations with Armenian women.

 

by Taleen K. Moughamian

The differences between Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, and the rest of the country are vast. While Yerevan has most of the modern-day conveniences you could ask for, the villages I visited in the Armavir region have populations between 300 and 1,000, mostly comprised of women.

Their husbands have gone –- off to neighboring countries, especially Russia, to find work. They usually stay away for 10 months out of the year. Some men have even started new families in their work countries.

It was not uncommon to meet women who needed to be treated for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) because their husbands are having extra marital affairs while abroad. They are upfront about this, though it surprised me how openly they talked about it.

I heard so many of them say, “They are men. They have needs. What can we do?”

This has created a huge problem and is one of the reasons why STIs, including HIV, are on the rise in Armenia.

There is limited access to effective contraception, so the rate of abortion, which is legal up to 12 weeks, is high. Most of the women who seek an abortion are married, already have two or three children, and do not feel they can provide for a larger family.

Sex-Selective Abortions
For some women, this means having three or four or even 15 abortions over the course of their lives as they struggle to create a family they can support. The median number of abortions for women over 40 is eight, according to a 1995 study conducted at a Yerevan abortion clinic.

Sex-selection has also become a huge issue. Since women leave their homes and join their husband’s family after marriage, a son provides a source of security for his parents. I met so many women who have had multiple abortions because the sex of the child was not what they had wished; for more data, see this UNFPA report on sex selection in Armenia and this story in The Armenian Weekly.

If you look at recent family planning data, it appears the number of abortions is going down, but from what I observed, that is not necessarily the case. Rather, more abortions are going unreported.

Rise in Unsupervised Abortions
Women are using an over-the-counter medication called Cytotec (the brand name for misoprostol) to induce abortions at home without the supervision of a trained medical professional. Cytotec’s indication is to treat ulcers, but it also acts as an abortifacient. Fifty cents worth of Cytotec can induce an abortion, whereas a surgical abortion usually costs about $35-$50.

When used properly, Cytotec is very safe, even without clinical supervision. But it is most effective when used in combination with a second drug, mifepristone (see more on this below).

Women in the villages I visited were not familiar with the World Health Organization guidelines now used by women all over the world. (Note: Women on Waves offers guidance, based on the WHO research, on how to do an abortion with pills.)

Many Armenian women are therefore in a dangerous situation, as they are using Cytotec without the relevant information about its efficacy or side effects, which can range from an incomplete abortion to bleeding to death.

Barriers to Contraception
As part of my work with the Children of Armenia Fund (COAF), I counseled women on birth control options. This has been quite a challenge, as there are so many myths surrounding birth control, and it’s expensive for rural women. One pack of birth control pills costs about $15-20 a month in Armenia. For a village family barely making $100 a month, it is completely unaffordable.

Besides the cost and access issues, social factors also influence a woman’s reproductive health. Although many husbands are supportive, others do not allow their wives to use birth control.

Sometimes the mother-in-law gets involved, too. When a woman in Armenia gets married, she moves in with her husband and his mother. The mother-in-law is usually the matriarch of the family, so she has a lot of pull in decision-making, even when it comes to her daughter-in-law’s reproductive health.

Changing Patterns, Changing Lives
During my last week in Armenia, I met a woman who had come to her village clinic for an abortion. She had two children and this was going to be her fourth abortion. She told me that her husband wants to have another child, but that he’s an alcoholic -– has been since the day they got married –- and he beats her.

She doesn’t think it’s right to bring a child into this world when her life at home is so unstable, and yet she is completely dependent on him for financial security. Living in the village, there are very few resources for either of them to get any help.

Stories like this are difficult to hear; you quickly realize how vital organizations like COAF are to these women. COAF provides free screenings for breast and cervical cancer and free treatment for STIs. With the help of the UNFPA, I inserted intrauterine devices (IUDs) for free to eligible women. This provides them with one of the most effective forms of birth control for up to 10 years.

On my final day working with COAF, one of the women was so thankful that as soon as the IUD procedure was complete, she jumped up and gave me a big kiss. She had had six surgical abortions, and she could not remember how many times she had taken Cytotec to end her other pregnancies.

It amazed me how much the women opened up to me. They are yearning for accurate information and resources, and they are deeply grateful not only for the health care that is provided but for the conversations about their bodies and their health.

Some women may not change their minds about birth control right away, but I know they at least have the information they need to consider it, and sometimes that is enough to start changing attitudes.

Despite all the economic and cultural barriers, I believe things are changing for women in Armenia -– slowly, of course, but moving in the right direction. There is no reason why Armenian women should have to keep relying on abortions for family planning, or why they should be misinformed about their reproductive health.

My hope is that educating women about their health and family planning options will empower them to take control of future. At the very least, they know where and when to seek care if they need it.

Related: Learn more about OBOS’s partner in Armenia, “For Family and Health” Pan Armenian Association (PAFHA), and efforts to adapt and distribute women’s health information based on “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” The preface to the Armenian edition is available in English.
——

Ed. note about mifepristone and misoprostol:
Mifepristone and misoprostol are now frequently used together to produce what is called “medication abortion” for women who are less than eight weeks pregnant. The drugs are not identical and perform different actions. Mifepristone, often known by its manufacturing name RU-486, is almost always used for abortion or to end missed miscarriages. Misoprostol has wider applications and may be used in place of prostaglandins to create cervix softening prior to birth. It can also help prevent stomach ulcers that are caused when people take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS).

Under the supervision of a health care provider, women choosing a medication abortion typically use an oral dose of mifepristone first, followed by either an oral or vaginal suppository dose of misoprostol several hours later. In slightly more than 90 percent of women, this induces abortion within two days, provided it is used in early pregnancy. Misoprostol becomes increasingly less effective in more advanced pregnancies, and other, more effective drugs may be chosen for pregnancies that are more than eight weeks along.

The different actions of mifepristone and misoprostol explain their effectiveness in inducing abortion. Mifepristone works to separate the placenta from the uterine lining, and it causes uterine contractions. Additionally, the drug has some effect on the cervix and may cause it to soften.


December 19, 2012

Some Doctors Use Risky Drug, Aiming to Shape Girls’ Genitals and Behaviors

by Alice Dreger

Dr. Mark Sloan, a pediatrician based in northern California, has written a very helpful overview of a controversial fetal engineering intervention: prenatal dexamethasone for pregnant women considered at risk of giving birth to a daughter with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH). The article has been posted on the Our Bodies Ourselves website .

Although CAH is relatively rare, the use of this prenatal intervention should interest and concern all women’s health advocates for two reasons:

  • This fetal intervention has been pushed through the use of highly problematic sexist and heterosexist stereotypes.
  • The unscientific and unethical ways in which the intervention has been deployed send up all sorts of red flags with regard to patient safety and patients’ rights to informed consent.

CAH is a serious inborn endocrine disease; newborns are screened for it, and people who have it usually require lifelong hormonal management. One “side effect” of CAH is atypical (different from average) sex development in some females.

In an effort to prevent that atypical sex development, some doctors have offered prenatal dexamethasone, a synthetic steroid, to pregnant women identified through genetic analysis as being at risk of having a child with CAH. Giving a pregnant woman dexamethasone cannot prevent CAH or cure her offspring of CAH. The intervention is offered only in an attempt to ensure typical sex development in the offspring who are genetic females.

A genetic female fetus with CAH may develop differently from average females because CAH can result in high levels of masculinizing hormones. The process is called virilization, because it leaves a female skewed more toward the middle or even the male end of the genital development spectrum. (For an animated primer on genital development, click here.)

A female with CAH may be born with a large clitoris, even one that looks something like a penis; her labia may be joined like a scrotum; and her vagina and urethra in some cases will form joined together, which can put her at increased risk for infection and, at sexual maturity, difficulties with intercourse and giving birth.

Although in theory ensuring typical genital development may sound reasonable, in practice, this off-label use of dexamethasone has been a high-risk game. For the drug to work, doctors must give it starting by about week 7 of fetal life, before the genitals sexually differentiate. At this early stage, doctors cannot know if the woman is carrying a male or female fetus or whether the fetus even has CAH.

Only about 10 percent of the fetuses exposed will actually turn out to be females with CAH, meaning about 90 percent of those exposed will bear all the risk of fetal biochemical engineering with no chance to benefit.

As Dr. Sloan explains, the CAH-affected population of girls and women also shows signs of having their brains “virilized” during development. They are more likely than non-CAH girls to be tomboyish, and more likely to grow up to be lesbian, bisexual, or to identify as male in terms of their gender. (This population contributes to the idea that gender identity and sexual orientation have a biological component.)

I find it disturbing that the chief clinical-researcher proponent of the intervention has indicated that she’s interested in seeing if the intervention can “successfully” prevent this “behavioral masculinization” — in other words, she’s interested in seeing whether the fetal intervention can lower the rates of tomboyism, lesbianism, and bisexuality in this population.

As University of Michigan pediatric psychologist David Sandberg told Time magazine, “Maybe this gives clinicians the idea that the treatment goal is normalizing behavior. To say you want a girl to be less masculine is not a reasonable goal of clinical care.” (I agree.)

Most troublingly, as Dr. Sloan notes in his article, there has been shockingly little study of what this intervention does to the exposed children’s health.

After nearly 30 years of use, we have stunningly little data on efficacy and safety on this off-label use. It appears that, in many cases, women have been offered this drug without the protections of being enrolled in formal studies, after being lured into the intervention with claims that it “has been found safe for mother and child.”

Dr. Sloan discusses a paper I recently authored on this matter with my colleagues Ellen Feder, PhD, of American University, and Anne Tamar-Mattis, JD, of Advocates for Informed Choice. I encourage you to read Dr. Sloan’s article, and then, if you want to learn more about how this history unfolded, read our article, which is available for free download.

I also encourage you to read the “Dex Diaries” series I have mounted at fetaldex.org. There you’ll find a series of short essays unpacking this story from a personal point of view.

Kiira Triea (who recently died of cancer) wrote there about her own experience of having been changed in the womb; Fran Howell has relayed about how hard it is to watch this after herself being exposed to DES in the womb; Ellen Feder has expressed sympathy for the poorly informed mothers; Aron Sousa has analyzed the game that has apparently been played here with regard to federal funding; and Anne Tamar-Mattis has reported on the real silent majority of doctors who are troubled by how this population has historically been treated.

Finally, I encourage you to watch the videos at The Interface Project, where real people born with uncommon forms of sex development explain why no body is shameful.

Alice Dreger is Professor of Clinical Medical Humanities and Bioethics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Her personal website is alicedreger.com, and you can follow her on Twitter @AliceDreger.


November 7, 2012

Our Bodies, Our Votes: Election 2012 Highlights

Last night, the War on Women suffered a setback — due largely to women voters who used the ballot to re-elect President Barack Obama and to push back against absurd, insulting and just plain offensive comments about rape and women’s bodies.

As Veronica Arreola posted on Facebook:

Two of the biggest losers last night were the gentlemen who claimed that women have magic wombs that stop pregnancy from occurring during legitimate rape and if it does happen, it was a gift from God. The magic was in our votes, ladies. We’ve had it all along.

Erin Gloria Ryan’s post at Jezebel is succinctly titled “Team Rape Lost Big Last Night.” Read it for a complete look at races around the country.

Some highlights …

Missouri Rep. Todd Akin failed to unseat incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill, causing Twitter to explode with a new round of Akin-related humor, like “Claire McCaskill legitimately wins and shuts that whole Akin thing down!”

John Koster was defeated by Suzan DelBene in Washington state — Koster famously referred to “the rape thing” and confused one woman’s choice with controlling all women’s choices: “I know a woman who was raped and kept the child, gave it up for adoption and doesn’t regret it.”

And in Illinois, Rep. Joe Walsh, who doesn’t believe abortion is ever necessary to save the life or health of a mother, lost to challenger Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran who lost both legs in combat.

For more analysis, Bryce Covert at The Nation examines the impact of politicians’ misogyny on the election outcomes, and concludes: “Score one for women’s rights, zero for attempts to control their bodies.”

***

Our Bodies, Our Votes …

“Our Bodies, Ourselves” turned up in a number of tweets last night. Anne Elizabeth Moore, who led The Ladydrawers on the road trip to deliver “Our Bodies, Ourselves” to the offices of Akin and McCaskill, posted this upon news of Akin’s defeat:

hey @RepToddAkin, now maybe you’ll finally have time to get crackin at all those books @oboshealth and @TheLadydrawers dropped off!

We heartily second that recommendation.

Following the defeat of Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock — who recently said, “I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen” — Jason Lefkowitz tweeted: ”And in Indiana, Mourdock has officially been buried under a massive pile of hardback copies of ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves.’”

Jason Cherkis also took note of the upsets, tweeting: ”GOP furiously buying ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’ on Amazon.”

No need; with the public’s help, we’ll deliver the book to each and every member of Congress (41 days left to make this happen!).

***

Big gains for women and marriage equality …

binders full of women headed for the u.s. senateWe now have a record number of women in Senate, with 20 women Senators elected.

Rep. Tammy Baldwin became the first openly gay senator, and the first woman senator from Wisconsin. Rep. Mazie Hirono became the first woman senator from Hawaii as well as the first Japan-born immigrant to be elected to the Senate and the first Buddhist.

Another big success last night was the passage of ballot measures in Maine and Maryland approving same-sex marriage, the first time it has been made legal through a popular vote. An amendment to ban same-sex marriage was defeated in Minnesota.

We’re still waiting to hear for sure about Washington state, but early returns are promising. Same-sex marriage is now legal in eight states as well as in Washington, D.C.

More good news: Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins is staying on the bench – he had been targeted for removal because of his role in the legalization of gay marriage in that state.

***

Mixed results on abortion-related measures …

Abortion-related measures were considered in two states. In Florida, voters defeated Amendment 6, which would have prevented state employees from using their healthcare coverage for most abortions, and would have affected privacy rights in a way that could have led to further restrictions.

In Montana, voters approved a parental notification measure requiring girls under age 16 to notify a parent or seek judicial bypass prior to terminating a pregnancy.

 ***

Lessons learned and work to be done …

Akiba Solomon at Colorlines shares “Five Race and Gender Justice Lessons Learned from This Marathon Election Cycle,” including this important point: “The Republican-led war on abortion, Title X-funded reproductive health care and contraceptive access was—and still is—a war on poor women of color and their families.”

And if anyone needs a reminder of the work we still have before us, On the Issues magazine has appropriately titled its fall issue “The Day After.”

From the editor’s note: “On wide-ranging issues — the economy to the environment, reproductive freedom to voting freedom, sexuality to media representation — our writers, artists and thinkers in The Day After remind us to extend our vision beyond the ballot box to where we need to place our energies, build our muscles and put our feet on the ground every day of the year.”

In other words, it’s time to get busy — again.


October 29, 2012

She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry: New Documentary on History of the Women’s Movement

A new documentary, “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry,” chronicles the history of the women’s movement from 1966 to 1972, including the genesis of Our Bodies Ourselves, the founding of NOW, and other historical milestones.

The filmmakers are running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to finish the project, and have a little more than a month to go. Check it out to learn more about the project and consider supporting their efforts.

The creators note that the film doesn’t aim to romanticize the women’s movement and will cover controversies “over race, sexual orientation and leadership that arose.”

Here’s a clip with the founders of Our Bodies Ourselves talking about their perspectives on women’s health and women’s bodies more than 40 years ago. Included is a discussion of their first women’s health course, organized when they were in their 20s, and turning their collective knowledge into a book. (Neat fact: the first version they distributed was run off on a copying machine, making it perhaps the first zine ever.) The clip includes lots of images from the early editions. of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.”

 


October 1, 2012

What Do You Think Congress Needs to Know About Sexual and Reproductive Health?

Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican candidate in Missouri for U.S. Senate, made news again last week for his comments on the ladies — this time for asserting that his opponent, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, acted “much more ladylike” during the 2006 campaign, and for suggesting that it’s fine for businesses to pay women less than men.

Well, then.

We do have Akin to thank, however, for sparking an upcoming Congressional Pop Quiz on gender, sex and reproductive health designed by The Ladydrawers. But first they need you to share what you think Congress needs to know about sexual and reproductive health. Here’s info from the call for participation:

The latest Truthout strip asks readers to submit questions for a Congressional Pop Quiz on the workings of your body. We’d like you—the cartoonists, the ladydrawers, the gender-aware media makers—to submit illustrated questions. You can use the questions from the Truthout comments section, generate queries among your own communities, or just straight-up ask Akin to identify the different between your vag and, say, a praying mantis. Which, actually, is pretty damn good at shutting “that whole thing down.”

We’d like questions on sex and reproductive health, of course, but questions about gender seem appropriate too. Marriage, partner benefits—it seems a little bit endless, what we must ensure Congress knows before further legislation is enacted. Anything. Be creative. Be funny. Be accurate. Use evidence-based resources, and cite them, so interested parties (R, D) can read more.

Most important: submit them to us here at TheLadydrawers@gmail.com or on our Tumblr by October 15. We’ll publish everything we receive here and on our Tumblr that fits the above guidelines (so include your website in your submission for proper credit), and choose the very best ones to print or publish in a quiz we’ll send directly to congress. (We might even have a way to pay you.) Line art only, please!

Can’t draw? Submit your text question on Truthout’s comment section, work with a friend who does like to draw, or do it anyway. You’re the expert: on your body, and on what you want to say about how it should be legislated.

The deadline is Oct. 15, so get going!

Having road tripped with The Ladydrawers in August to deliver “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and sex-ed books and comics to Akin’s office, I can pretty much guarantee that they’re the most awesome rabble rousers this side of the Mississippi (view more photos and drawings from that adventure).

The trip’s urgency was set off by Akin’s unfortunate comments about “legitimate rape” and pregnancy. Since we were in the neighborhood, we also stopped by McCaskill’s office and a training for sex-ed educators, dropping knowledge and spreading the word that everyone deserves access to accurate, evidence-based information on reproductive health. In fact, we’re about to launch a larger-scale delivery effort; more on that soon!


May 14, 2012

Obama Addresses Barnard Grads: “Fight for a Seat at the Head of the Table”

Below is the text of President Obama’s remarks at Barnard College’s commencement ceremony (as provided by the White House Office of Communications). Let us know what you think! 

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. (Applause.) Thank you. Please, please have a seat. Thank you. (Applause.)

Thank you, President Spar, trustees, President Bollinger. Hello, Class of 2012! (Applause.) Congratulations on reaching this day. Thank you for the honor of being able to be a part of it.

There are so many people who are proud of you — your parents, family, faculty, friends — all who share in this achievement. So please give them a big round of applause. (Applause.) To all the moms who are here today, you could not ask for a better Mother’s Day gift than to see all of these folks graduate. (Applause.)

I have to say, though, whenever I come to these things, I start thinking about Malia and Sasha graduating, and I start tearing up and — (laughter) — it’s terrible. I don’t know how you guys are holding it together. (Laughter.)

I will begin by telling a hard truth: I’m a Columbia college graduate. (Laughter and applause.) I know there can be a little bit of a sibling rivalry here. (Laughter.) But I’m honored nevertheless to be your commencement speaker today — although I’ve got to say, you set a pretty high bar given the past three years. (Applause.) Hillary Clinton — (applause) — Meryl Streep — (applause) — Sheryl Sandberg — these are not easy acts to follow. (Applause.)

But I will point out Hillary is doing an extraordinary job as one of the finest Secretaries of State America has ever had. (Applause.) We gave Meryl the Presidential Medal of Arts and Humanities. (Applause.) Sheryl is not just a good friend; she’s also one of our economic advisers. So it’s like the old saying goes — keep your friends close, and your Barnard commencement speakers even closer. (Applause.) There’s wisdom in that. (Laughter.)

Now, the year I graduated — this area looks familiar — (laughter) — the year I graduated was 1983, the first year women were admitted to Columbia. (Applause.) Sally Ride was the first American woman in space. Music was all about Michael and the Moonwalk. (Laughter.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Do it! (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: No Moonwalking. (Laughter.) No Moonwalking today. (Laughter.)

We had the Walkman, not iPods. Some of the streets around here were not quite so inviting. (Laughter.) Times Square was not a family destination. (Laughter.) So I know this is all ancient history. Nothing worse than commencement speakers droning on about bygone days. (Laughter.) But for all the differences, the Class of 1983 actually had a lot in common with all of you. For we, too, were heading out into a world at a moment when our country was still recovering from a particularly severe economic recession. It was a time of change. It was a time of uncertainty. It was a time of passionate political debates.

You can relate to this because just as you were starting out finding your way around this campus, an economic crisis struck that would claim more than 5 million jobs before the end of your freshman year. Since then, some of you have probably seen parents put off retirement, friends struggle to find work. And you may be looking toward the future with that same sense of concern that my generation did when we were sitting where you are now.

Of course, as young women, you’re also going to grapple with some unique challenges, like whether you’ll be able to earn equal pay for equal work; whether you’ll be able to balance the demands of your job and your family; whether you’ll be able to fully control decisions about your own health.

And while opportunities for women have grown exponentially over the last 30 years, as young people, in many ways you have it even tougher than we did. This recession has been more brutal, the job losses steeper. Politics seems nastier. Congress more gridlocked than ever. Some folks in the financial world have not exactly been model corporate citizens. (Laughter.)

No wonder that faith in our institutions has never been lower, particularly when good news doesn’t get the same kind of ratings as bad news anymore. Every day you receive a steady stream of sensationalism and scandal and stories with a message that suggest change isn’t possible; that you can’t make a difference; that you won’t be able to close that gap between life as it is and life as you want it to be.

My job today is to tell you don’t believe it. Because as tough as things have been, I am convinced you are tougher. I’ve seen your passion and I’ve seen your service. I’ve seen you engage and I’ve seen you turn out in record numbers. I’ve heard your voices amplified by creativity and a digital fluency that those of us in older generations can barely comprehend. I’ve seen a generation eager, impatient even, to step into the rushing waters of history and change its course.

Read the rest of this entry »


May 13, 2012

What Mothers Really Want: Right to Care for Family Members and Selves

by Ellen Bravo

My favorite Mother’s day gifts from my sons were their original stories, songs and poems. But what I needed when they were infants and toddlers was something children can’t deliver: affordable time off when they were born and when they were sick.

So for all those candidates and elected officials interested in the women’s vote and eager to prove their support for motherhood and families, here’s a sampling of what mothers want and need, not just one day a year but every day:

The right to care for a sick child or personal illness without losing our paychecks or our jobs. Moms need leaders to actively support the right for workers to earn paid sick days and champion local, state and federal policies that would guarantee this protection. Make sure no one has to choose between being a good parent and being a good employee — and that no one has to serve you flu with your soup.

The right to coverage under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Half of private sector workforce employees aren’t covered by this law because they work for an employer with fewer than 50 workers, haven’t been on the job for at least 12 months or work less than 25 hours a week. Moms need Members of Congress to work to expand FMLA to cover all employees after 90 days of employment.

The ability to afford leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Many who are covered under FMLA can’t afford to take the time without pay. As a result, nearly 3 million eligible workers a year who need leave to care for their health or the health of a loved one don’t take it, according to a 2000 Labor Department survey. And nearly 9 percent of those who do (including 20 percent for low-income families) are forced to rely on public assistance to keep food on the table, according to a 1995 Department of Labor report. Moms need leaders to voice their support for policies to create family leave insurance funds like those that are working in California and New Jersey so that caring for a new or seriously ill child doesn’t trigger financial catastrophe.

The right to care for one’s partner regardless of their gender. Being able to marry who you love — and being able to care for one another in sickness as well as in health — shouldn’t be a gift, it should be a right. Moms are glad to see more of our leaders standing up for the rights of all families by supporting marriage equality legislation and bills to expand FMLA access to same-sex partners.

The right to attend children’s school activities. Far too many children in this country never see their mom at a school play or sporting event because employers won’t let them take off work or rearrange their schedules. Mothers need leaders to support the right to use family leave to do what’s best for raising our children.

A recognition that men are parents, have parents and also need time to care. All the policies listed above are gender-neutral. Moms — and dads — need leaders to end on-the-job punishment of men who want to be good fathers, sons and husbands. That will also boost women’s efforts to get men to share the work at home.

This list flows from deeply held American values: that no one should have to risk a job to be a good family member or put a loved one at risk in order to keep a job. Mothers want basic standards that guarantee these rights to everyone.

And candidates, if you don’t believe me, check the polls. More and more voters — from all political perspectives — say they’re more likely to support candidates who’ll make sure family values don’t end at the workplace door, and who understand that for the economy to recover, we need policies like these to help people stay employed and have money to spend at local businesses.

Doing the politically smart thing for moms is also doing the right thing for families and for our nation.

Ellen Bravo directs Family Values @ Work, a network of state coalitions organizing to win paid sick days and paid family leave. The former director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women, Ellen also teaches Women’s Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her most recent book is “Taking on the Big Boys, or Why Feminism is Good for Families, Business and the Nation” (Feminist Press, 2007).


March 21, 2012

Supreme Court Ruling on Family & Medical Leave Act “Appalling and Dangerous,” Says Deborah Ness

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Tuesday that state government workers may not sue their employers for money for violating a part of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act dealing with personal sick leave.

Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, which drafted and fought to pass the FMLA, called the decision “an appalling and dangerous ruling that simply cannot stand.”

The case was brought by Daniel Coleman, a Maryland state court employee who was fired after requesting a 10-day medical leave. The state argued that federal law could not be applied because states, as sovereigns, are generally immune from lawsuits seeking monetary damages.

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 entitles eligible employees 12 weeks of job-secured leave during any 12-month period for: (A) the birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth; (B) the adoption or foster care of a child and to care for the newly placed child within one year of placement; (C) care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition; (D) a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of the position.

The case hinged on whether the sick-leave provision addressed gender bias. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion, said it did not. He was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. Justice Antonin Scalia agreed with the judgment but did not join Kennedy’s opinion, excerpted below:

Without widespread evidence of sex discrimination or sex stereotyping in the administration of sick leave, it is apparent that the congressional purpose in enacting the self-care provision is unrelated to these supposed wrongs. The legislative history of the self-care provision reveals a concern for the economic burdens on the employee and the employee’s family resulting from illness-related job loss and a concern for discrimination on the basis of illness, not sex. [...] It is true the self-care provision offers some women a benefit by allowing them to take leave for pregnancy-related illnesses; but as a remedy, the provision is not congruent and proportional to any identified constitutional violations.

So since they found no evidence of discrimination or sex stereotyping, the majority found no reason to lift the usual protections against suing a state.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the dissenting opinion and was joined by Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. From the dissent:

The FMLA’s purpose and legislative history reinforce the conclusion that the FMLA, in its entirety, is directed at sex discrimination. Indeed, the FMLA was originally envisioned as a way to guarantee—without singling out women or pregnancy—that pregnant women would not lose their jobs when they gave birth. The self-care provision achieves that aim.

It goes on to provide an interesting history of the development of the FMLA.

“The best way to protect women against losing their jobs because of pregnancy or childbirth, Congress determined, was not to order leaves for women only, for that would deter employers from hiring them,” said Ginsburg, who took the unusual step of summarizing the dissent from the bench, signaling a major disagreement. “Instead, Congress adopted leave polices from which all could benefit.”

Ness, whose organization led a group of 10 civil and workers’ rights organizations in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in the Coleman case, was outspoken in her criticism of the court’s decision:

Justice Ginsburg noted that “[t]he plurality pays scant attention to the overarching aim of the FMLA: to make it feasible for women to work while sustaining family life. Over the course of eight years, Congress considered the problem of workplace discrimination against women, and devised the FMLA to reduce sex-based inequalities in leave programs. The self-care provision is a key part of that endeavor, and in my view, a valid exercise of congressional power….”

Even Justice Kennedy’s opinion acknowledged that “[d]ocumented discrimination against women in the general workplace is a persistent, unfortunate reality, and, we must assume, a still prevalent wrong. An explicit purpose of the Congress in adopting the FMLA was to improve workplace conditions for women.”

Today’s ruling underscores how tenuous the rights of workers are in this country, and the urgent imperative for the Senate to confirm only those justices and judges who have a demonstrated commitment to equal rights under the law and a real understanding of the impact of their rulings on women, workers and others who struggle to make ends meet.

For more information, view the Kevin Russell’s coverage at SCOTUSblog, including Kevin Russell’s recap of the oral arguments.

Plus: Earlier this year, Judith Lichtman, a National Partnership for Women and Families senior advisor, presented seven specific recommendations to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on what federal agencies can do in response to discrimination based on pregnancy and caregiving. View her full testimony (pdf).


March 14, 2012

Reading Religion and the Body and Private Bodies, Public Texts

It’s been too long since I visited The Scholar & Feminist online, a webjournal published by the Barnard Center for Research on Women (BCRW), but I’m glad I chose now to get reacquainted. The current issue is “Religion and the Body,” and it’s well worth a visit.

Guest editor Dominic Wetzel asks in the introduction: “What role does gender, sexuality and the body play in producing the idea that religion, and particularly politicized religion, is equal to conservatism, while secularism is progressive?”

Originally posed during a 2007 conference, “The Politics of Religion and Sexuality,” the question frames this journal issue in both expected and unexpected ways. Divided into three parts, the issue tackles Science, Bodies and the Christian Secular; Islam, Bodies, Politics; and The Art of Queer(ing) Religion.

All articles can be read free online. The issue also includes a related reading list and online resources. And don’t miss the art gallery, featuring a provocative mix of video, mixed media, cartoons and photos. I was particularly struck by “Phallometer,” a deceptively simple piece by Ins Kromminga that captures the restrictive boundaries that define one’s sex.

Plus: BCRW is hosting a public event March 21 that readers in the New York area may be interested in attending. The focus is Karla FC HollowayPrivate Bodies, Pubic Texts ‘s new book, “Private Bodies, Public Texts: Race, Gender, and a Cultural Bioethics.” From the event description:

This important and groundbreaking work examines instances where medical issues and information that would usually be seen as intimate, private matters are forced into the public sphere, calling for a new cultural bioethics that attends to the complex histories of race, gender, and class in the US.

Holloway, the James B. Duke Professor of English and Professor of Law at Duke University, will take part in a conversation that also includes:

* Tina Campt, Professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Director of the Africana Studies Program at Barnard College.
* Farah Griffin, Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African-American Studies and Director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University.
* Saidiya Hartman, Professor of Comparative Literature and Director of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at Columbia University.
* Rebecca Jordan-Young, Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies at Barnard College.
* Alondra Nelson, Associate Professor of Sociology and the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at Columbia University.

The salon starts at 6:30 p.m. in Sulzberger Parlor, 3rd Floor Barnard Hall. I’m seriously hoping Holloway’s book travels take her to Chicago sometime soon …


January 4, 2012

OBOS Global Symposium Spotlights Challenges to Securing Health, Human Rights

This article was recently published in OBOS’s winter newsletter. View the full newsletter.

* * *

“I did training for more than 5,000 women across the country, and all their stories and all their experiences are in Our Bodies, Ourselves. Along with the stories and political activism, we started brokering power at the personal as well as at the political level. As of this moment, we have something to celebrate.”

Those words were spoken by Renu Rajbhandari, a prominent women’s rights activist in Nepal, during our 40th anniversary symposium, Our Bodies, Our Future: Advancing Health and Human Rights for Women and Girls, on Oct. 1. Co-hosted with Boston University, the event marked four decades of activism and celebrated our evolution from a small group around a kitchen table in the United States to a vibrant network of social change activists at the table in countries around the world.

Held in conjunction with the release of the ninth edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” the symposium was also an opportunity to meet 12 of our global partners, including Renu, and listen to their extraordinary journeys of claiming and transforming this landmark book for the women and girls of their countries. Renu referred to the effort as a “transcreation.”

Many women talked about the cultural, political and social challenges to their activism and the relationships and networks they have built in order to effect change. (View videos from symposium, including the global panels.)

The book’s impact and legacy was described by many speakers, including local luminaries. In a video welcome, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick recalled how he was 15 years old when “Our Bodies, Ourselves” was first published; it was considered “racy,” yet filled with information that made him “a better person, and certainly a better partner.”

Robert Meenan, dean of Boston University School of Public Health, offered a formal welcome, followed by an all-star cast of women’s health advocates, including Byllye Avery, founder of the Avery Institute for Social Change and the Black Women’s Health Imperative, and Adrienne Germain, president emerita of the International Women’s Health Coalition. Marie Turley, executive director of the Boston Women’s Commission, brought greetings from Mayor Tom Menino, who had declared Oct. 1 Our Bodies Ourselves Day in the city of Boston.

These terrific presenters, and our energetic emcee, Jaclyn Friedman, executive director of Women, Action and the Media and a contributor to the new edition, spoke about the personal impact “Our Bodies, Ourselves” has had on their lives and the important role played by organizations like OBOS in realizing health equality and human rights, while at the same time reminding the audience of the sizeable challenges ahead.

They symposium paid tribute to the 14 OBOS founders who changed the world of women’s health 40 years ago. Sam Morgan Lilienfeld and Judah Rome, sons of deceased founders Pamela Morgan and Esther Rome, shared memories of their mothers – not only as feminist moms, but as powerful and positive role models.

“My mom viewed birth as an experience that has the power to change and define the life of a woman,” Sam said, “and her spirit of embracing and celebrating these major life events, which we sometimes may welcome and sometimes greet with trepidation, is something I’ve always admired.”

In his remarks about Esther completing the manuscript of “Sacrificing Ourselves for Love” just before her death in 1995, Judah said: “Watching my mom through the final months of her life was very painful for me, but it taught me how to live.” He told the audience he had hoped that her legacy would live on, adding, “I can tell from the energy in the room that it does.”

Our courageous global partners have used “Our Bodies, Ourselves” to develop and bring culturally unique health and sexuality information to their own communities. In addition to the challenges they encounter, they also discussed their success negotiating with power brokers – from men and matriarchs in the family, to religious leaders and heads of institutions.

Their stories of transformation, in Tanzania, Turkey, Japan, Israel, Serbia, India, Nepal, Senegal and Latin America, were reminiscent of the journey taken by OBOS founders 40 years ago. The parallel between the two groups of women was palpable and confirmed that not only has the book gone global, but it continues to inspire movement building by and for women and girls in every region of the world.

Loretta Ross, national coordinator of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, closed the day, firing up the audience by reminding everyone of the very real threats to women’s reproductive and sexual rights in the United States and around the world. Even so, she said the global partners’ activism and their use of the human rights framework made her “excited and optimistic” about the future.

As the day started with reminiscences of the 1960s and 70s, it ended with a freshly-stoked fire in the belly. OBOS is at the forefront of changing the lives of women and girls and will continue this work in the U.S. and around the world — into the next 40 years and beyond.

June Tsang is the program associate for the Our Bodies Ourselves Global Initiative


October 27, 2011

Judy Norsigian on “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” Past, Present and Future

NBC Nightly News, which broadcast a great report this week on the 40th anniversary of “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” has posted an exclusive web-only interview with Judy Norsigian, OBOS co-founder and executive director, that is well worth viewing and sharing. (Also see the equally impressive interview with Dr. Susan Love.)

Norsigian talks about how the earlier “Our Bodies, Ourselves” editions demystified health and medical care, helping women to feel entitled about their right to ask questions — and get answers — from a paternalistic medical system. The book “changed the basic discourse” around women’s bodies and health, while also offering explicit information about access to birth control and abortion.

One of the ongoing health challenges, she notes, is the rate of sexually transmitted infections; women around the globe still struggle to have sex that doesn’t put their health at risk.

The video includes footage of a recent book signing for the brand new 2011 edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” held at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Mass., and references the work of women’s groups in other countries that have adapted “Our Bodies, Ourselves” for their own communities.

In under 3 minutes, this interview provides one of the best historical and forward-looking assessments of the impact of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” around the world.

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