Speaking of Women's Rights: 02/10

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Young Women Tearing Up The Ice: Now that's more like it!

While watching the Olympics this past weekend, I happened upon a startling ad...

A stern coach chides his team of young hockey players: “We came here today with one goal, and that’s what we’re leaving with today…one goal.” The ad turns out to be a cute, if somewhat unrealistic ad for McDonalds (yeah right…all those Olympians reached great athletic heights by eating Micky D’s??), but what really stands out about the ad is this: the hockey youngsters in this ad are young women!

Not so long ago I was one of two women on an otherwise all-male hockey league in Bellingham, Washington. And not so long before that, Legal Voice was busy suing the City of Anchorage to get the Firebirds—a nationally-recognized girl’s hockey league—the ice time they deserved. In fact women’s hockey was only added to the Olympics in 1998. Since then participation in the sport has increased over 350 percent. I remember the thought very clearly, that if I had had female hockey Olympians to look up to, I may have started the sport much earlier and gone much farther.

After I recovered from my excitement over this shout-out to female badass-ness, on came another. This time for big-box ethically-questionable-at-best WalMart. No matter how much I despise them, I couldn’t help but melt at this depiction of a little girl’s mother helping her affix her shoulder pads and tie up her laces. We’ve come a long way from the days when the girls you found on the ice were almost always donning toe picks.

I also couldn’t help but recognize the disparity between the ads I was seeing on CTV and NBC and the ones that aired on CBS during the Superbowl. During breaks in the football game, women were depicted as boring and overly-emotional, controlling nags , shopaholics, and even property. And so it’s nice to sit back during these Olympic Games and see women portrayed as the strong, inspiring people that we are.

Photo credit: Northern California Women's Hockey League

Thursday, February 11, 2010

This Ain't Your Mother's Abstinence-Only Sex Ed

In case you missed all the blog hollering last week on the topic of sex education, let me fill you in: Abstinence-only supporters have latched onto a new study that has shown a comprehensive abstinence-only sex-ed course to be effective. They’ve been waiting for the smallest shred of evidence that their abstinence-until-marriage programs are the best way to go, and finally they feel they’ve found their holy grail of data! The only trouble? They clearly didn’t spend a lot of time reading the actual gist of the study before writing articles with headlines such as “Abstinence-only study could alter sex-education landscape.”

"If we are truly interested in 'evidenced-based' approaches that work, then today's findings should challenge the wisdom of eliminating abstinence education among federally funded choices for sex education," wrote rep Dan Boren (D-OK) in a letter asking President Obama to reinstate funding for abstinence-only programs. A Heritage Foundation spokesperson claims that "This takes away the main pillar of opposition to abstinence education."

Beyond the fact that one solitary study should not inform a policy, this comprehensive course was nothing like the wait-until-marriage variety that enjoys such staunch support from the far-right. Marriage was not even mentioned in the study. Students were encouraged to wait “until they are ready.” These were 12 and 13-year-olds, and for some that could mean waiting only a couple of years. Additionally, 30% of students involved in the class still engaged in sexual activity within two years of the study (compared to 50% of those who were not), which is where the “comprehensive” part comes in. Since studies have shown that no variety of sex education will cause all students to abstain from sexual activity, there must be some focus on preventing pregnancy and the spread of disease for those that don’t.

This may be a great jumping-off point for more studies of this kind, but it’s hardly a cure-all answer, nor a sign that abstinence-until-marriage programs are an effective means of keeping our young people healthy and preventing teen pregnancy. As Monica Rodriguez from SEICUS said, what this study gives us is ”a new tool to add to our repertoire.” What it certainly does not do is give props to the abstinence-until-marriage programs that have been funded in the past.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Do You See Yourself In This Picture?

Family-Friendly. Family Values. Family First. Ever notice how saying a word over and over eventually turns it into gobbledygook? Sometimes it seems that way with "family": we all use it, but what do we mean when we say “protect our families”? Or “have a family-friendly workplace”. More fundamentally, what do we mean when we say “family”?

You can consult the dictionary. Or you can ask the person next to you (the classification before genus and species in science, is what I got). You can ask the judge in the Proposition 8 same-sex marriage trial, once he rules. Or the folks who claim to ‘own’ Family Values. But when we in the progressive movement talk about reclaiming the phrase and ensuring workplace policies and laws that protect families, we’re mainly talking about households with children.

That’s important, to be sure. Feminists have worked for decades to make it possible for women to have children and careers, for both women and men to be able to stay at home with their children if that’s their calling and choice, and for laws and programs that make it possible to 'balance' work and family activities or needs. We’re not there yet, but we’re working on it.

And yet . . . how do you define YOUR family? Does it fit in to the movement? Are my family and the hundreds of thousands of other child-free families part of the calculations, the messaging and the efforts to change policies?

Here’s a test: think about the last time you were asked to identify and answer security questions on a website, perhaps hosted by your bank or an airline. How many of those questions assume you have a child, a partner (mind you, usually they say "spouse"), siblings? If you don’t have any of those, you’re usually stuck with “what street did you grow up on?” And that’s about it.

Of course we want good policies for families with children, and we want the needs of OUR families to be taken into account. Not having kids doesn’t mean we don’t need family leave, or to be able to leave work promptly even if we don’t have childcare obligations. Living with people other than biological relatives or intimate partners shouldn’t be a disqualification for having your family – as you define it – recognized and protected. Indeed, to truly value families and to put them first, we will have to engage in some serious, open and creative discussion about what we mean when we toss those phrases around.

After all, if my family is strong and healthy, whatever its composition, then my contributions to society will also be strong. So if what my family needs to be valued and strong is for me to leave work early to go on a hike, then that’s part of the equation also. Gotta go now: my kayak is waiting, and boy, does it feel neglected.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Holding Up Half the Sky – In Our Own Backyard

Sometimes – especially here in the gray Northwest – you have to savor those rays of sunshine when they appear, just soak them up and hope they will sustain you till the next golden drops appear. The other day, I heard a snippet on the radio that gave me just such a boost. The interviewee said:

"There’s a direct connection between a woman’s ability to plan her family, space her pregnancies and give birth safely and her ability to get an education, work outside the home, support her family and participate fully in the life of her community."

Now, you might be thinking, “Well, yes – that’s what advocates have been saying for a long time!” But this becomes newsworthy when it comes from the U.S. Secretary of State (you can watch the video of her speech here) – AND when it is backed up by high-level government support, including funding for the U.N. population and development fund and increases in reproductive health education services.

So, this is great news for those who support reproductive health care and women’s empowerment. But now (prepare to be whipsawed), this is the kind of news that draws down on my “sunshine” bank: here in our own backyards, domestic family planning services are on the chopping block. In Washington State, family planning funding is scheduled to be cut by another $3 million in July, on top of the $500,000-per-year cut instituted in the 2009 legislative session.

If the cuts go into effect, at least 19 more clinics are likely to close this year – over a quarter of all the low-income family planning clinics in the state. Four have already closed in the past year.

And what’s more – the cuts will likely end up costing the state rather than saving money. Without family planning services, there will be an estimated 3,000+ additional unintended pregnancies this year among people who have lost services, resulting in over $11 million in costs for unintended pregnancy care. Translation: an $8 million cost instead of the $3 million savings.

It’s here, right in our own backyard – the opportunity to help women, who “hold up half the sky” (as the Chinese saying goes). Let’s help low-income women retain access to family planning services – and thereby, control over their family size and family economic opportunities – by speaking out to our friends, neighbors, and legislators, in opposition to the proposed budget cuts. It won’t cost you a thing, and winning this fight will save us all money and add to our collective reserve of sunshine.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

“The HIV virus slips through condoms like grains of rice through a tennis racket.”

Multiple choice: whom do we have to thank for this vivid nugget of misinformation? And let me be clear: the title of this post is NOT TRUE.
  1. Condom industry saboteurs, attempting to take down Trojan (et al) for unknown reasons.
  2. Judy, the talking embryo
  3. “Nurses” in “clinics” offering “pregnancy options counseling.”
If you picked 3, congratulations: you’ve got a fully functional BS detector.

Limited service pregnancy centers (sometimes called crisis pregnancy centers) are set up by organizations with the purported mission of offering services and advice to pregnant women. Which would be fine, if they weren’t also spreading lies. If you were to walk into one of these places…

You might: see staff in white coats, giving pregnancy tests and ultrasounds.
But: no doctors or nurses! Limited service pregnancy centers are not medical clinics, and they’re not regulated as such. In general, they’re staffed by volunteers.
You might: be given a pregnancy test.
But: you could get the same one at your local drugstore. Remember, these aren’t medical clinics – they don’t have any more access to medical tests than you do. Chances are you’ll have to wait a while for those test results, even though they usually only take a few minutes… funny, I wonder why it takes so long? Anyway, prepare to hear an earful while you wait, because...

You might: ask questions about pregnancy.
But: don’t expect the answers to be true! Volunteers who visited limited service pregnancy centers in Washington to gather information for Legal Voice were told the gem about rice and tennis rackets, as well as:
  • “if you are 2 ½ weeks late, it [pregnancy] won’t show up on a test. You should wait a few more weeks before coming back.”

  • “wait until [you’re] 12 weeks and see if [you] miscarry.”
This isn’t just happening in Washington – NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia posted a video about similar experiences.

It’s nefarious to take advantage of women’s need for medical information in order to spread anti-choice ideology. Legal Voice is supporting legislation in Washington that would require limited service pregnancy centers to be honest and upfront about their services, to protect the privacy of medical records, and to provide medically and scientifically accurate information.

The bill is in danger of getting stuck in committee – if you live in Washington, please contact members of the Senate Health Care Committee TODAY and ask them to support Senate Bill 6452.

If you’re still not convinced, Lisa Stone wrote a great post last week on why these organizations ought to be legally obliged to be truthful about who they are and what they do.