Speaking of Women's Rights: 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Movies with My Mother

Every holiday season, my mom and I try to see a movie together. We only have one rule: It has to be a “talky” film, as my mom calls it. We’ve never analyzed what that means, but it usually comes down to whether the movie features women in leading roles; there just aren’t a lot of “talky” films focusing on men.

Normally, it’s a struggle to find even one film that fits the bill— at least, to find one playing in the small town where my parents live. The one exception was 1988, when we couldn’t choose just one and wound up seeing three movies together: Working Girl, Beaches, and the Accidental Tourist. My mom still talks about that year.

So after arriving home for the holidays yesterday, I scanned the local movie listings with my mom. We have ten options: Alvin & The Chipmunks, Arthur Christmas, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo, Mission Impossible, the Muppets Movie, New Year’s Eve, Sherlock Holmes, The Sitter, and Twilight: Breaking Dawn.

Ugh. We start by eliminating Alvin, Arthur Christmas, and Hugo. Our definition of “talky” doesn’t include animated movies aimed at kids. And is it a coincidence that every one of them features a male protagonist?

The two formula action films (Mission Impossible and Sherlock Holmes) also get crossed off quickly. Ditto with The Sitter, a juvenile comedy with mediocre reviews.

We also eliminate Breaking Dawn, the latest installment in the Twilight series. I’ve already seen it, and even for a fan of the series (which I am, sort of) this movie is literally painful to watch. Bella, the heroine, has become one of the most passive women ever portrayed in film. She spends the movie: (1) getting married at the ripe old age of 18; (2) discovering she’s pregnant on her honeymoon; and (3) going through a tortuous pregnancy that’s almost certain to kill her, all while refusing to even consider abortion as an option. This would bore my mom to tears and cause her to yell at the screen.

We also nix The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo after reading one review. It does feature a kick-ass woman in a leading role. But it also includes extreme violence, including two rape scenes. Neither of us can bear to watch that.

We briefly consider New Year’s Eve, which includes great women actors like Hilary Swank and Halle Berry. But it gets crossed off after we read the first line of Roger Ebert’s review: “A dreary plod through the sands of time until finally the last grain has trickled through the hourglass of cinematic sludge.” Ouch.

Which leaves us with…The Muppets. Which I’ve already seen, and which I can’t even pretend to pitch to my mom as a “talky” film. It also has almost no female characters, aside from a few briefly satisfying “hi-ya!” moments from Miss Piggy and a blah role for Amy Adams as the leading man’s barely visible girlfriend.

We could drive 60 miles to the nearest big city to see a film like Glenn Close in Albert Nobbs or Charlize Theron in Young Adult. But it shouldn’t be such a challenge to find a “talky” film in wide release during the holiday movie season – one that focuses on women and their lives, their relationships, and their work. From the recent success of Bridesmaids and The Help, we know there is a huge market for such films – but Hollywood can’t seem to make more than one or two a year.

So I guess we’ll be renting Beaches instead.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I Am the 51%

Guest post by Havolvá

From the Atlantic:

Occupiers all viscerally sense the problem: extreme economic inequality. They all cite a lack of fairness — a lack of opportunity. They also agree that the status quo is failing.

But when it comes to women, Occupy is really a microcosm of the greater culture at large. This should … greatly embarrass those in the movement who see themselves as revolutionaries.

Just as when misogynists claimed the women accusing Julian Assange of rape were in fact part of a CIA-planned “honey trap”, there are misogynists calling the acknowledgment of gender inequality in the “Occupations” a plot by the powers-that-be to delegitimize the movement. Little do they know that any participant’s disregard for the concerns of women in the movement, and their lack of willingness to acknowledge that women face sexism in society, will do plenty more to delegitimize Occupy than anything these alleged powers-that-be could do with their sudden, uncharacteristic feminism. (Society’s power networks have never been known for being particularly woman-friendly, so claims that this is a government or corporate plot seem specious.)

How about this: to pre-empt these nefarious powers attempting to delegitimize the Occupy movement by pointing out how it reproduces society’s inequalities, why doesn’t Occupy instead model what an equal society should look like by being actively feminist, anti-racist, and welcoming to all other marginalized identities?

The argument that we must ignore all inequality except for class inequality is a surefire way to create an all white male movement that benefits white males. The American Socialist Party in the early 20th century did the same thing, and we can see how powerful they are now. Quote:

[The Socialist Party's] female members were not encouraged to join other women’s organizations in the fight for women’s rights ans suffrage. The class struggle was to have priority over matters of gender equality.

Not only does an equal class, unequal gender vision of the future serve to benefit men and turn off women, but it is impossible. How is it possible for unequal people to maintain equal wealth or wages or standards of living?

No one is a single identity. Each of us is a whole person with many different identities around race, ethnicity, (dis)ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, sex, religion, age, etc. An individual’s class is heavily affected by their other identities. Black and brown people have considerably less wealth than white people, women still earn less than men for equivalent work, trans people are more likely to be homeless than cisgendered people, etc. If you can’t bring that into your class analysis, you are doing some shitty class analysis.

To call women, or people of color, or other marginalized groups abettors of the oppressors for raising their particular concerns is to be willfully blind to the real way class works, and to silence those who experience the preponderance of its negative effects… i.e. the best and most motivated potential activists.

Here is some information about wealth disparities for the skeptical.

LinkThis post appeared originally on the blog The Czech.

Havolvá has been blogging since 2008 about social justice issues, including women's rights, at her blog, The Czech. In her non-virtual life, she has spent the last 8 years working in non-profits, focusing on the provision of basic human rights to America's most marginalized people.

Monday, December 12, 2011

What’s Reproductive Justice got to do with it?

Although I may be close to aging out of the “young person” demographic, I have a visceral response when I hear comments such as “feminism is not an issue for today’s young women” or the suggestion that there is a dearth of young reproductive rights activists since “women today don’t care about abortion or know what it means for equality.” We may not be burning bras (did this even happen?) or growing our armpit hair (well, maybe some of us still are), but today’s feminists and reproductive rights activists -including women, men and gender non-conforming individuals- are not apathetic, we are here and we are asking for a lot more than “choice” and equality.

I am sure of this, as I am part of an amazing organization, Law Students for Reproductive Justice. LSRJ is the country’s only student-led national nonprofit that is training and organizing future legal and policy advocates to be committed to ensuring that all people can exercise the rights and access the resources they need to thrive and decide whether, when, and how to have and parent children with dignity, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.

With its presence on 100 campuses, including some that are in very ideologically conservative states, LSRJ has provided a forum for students to learn how they as lawyers can be part of the Reproductive Justice (RJ) movement. RJ is a framework, created by women of color leadership that expands traditional notions of reproductive rights (typically centered on abortion and birth control), and takes into account the ways that race, class, sex, age, sexual orientation, gender expression, immigration status, and ability impact access, agency and autonomy in shaping ones reproductive destiny. Or put more simply, what does having the right to abortion or birth control mean if you cannot exercise that right due to poverty, immigration status, or disability? Or, what if you just want the right to have and parent children in a safe and supported way?

The legal community has labeled reproductive rights and justice as an illegitimate field of study and not a worthwhile area of practice. This is troublesome when we see no end to decades of regressive policy making, judicial interpretation, and court stacking that some call an all-out war on women and reproductive health. In response, LSRJ has guided 23 victorious campaigns for new reproductive rights and justice law courses, clinics, and reading groups. LSRJ has distributed over 35,000 electronic and print publications, including the Constitutional Law Primer and the recent release of the second edition of the Human Rights Law Primer. What I am most proud of is LSRJ’s Reproductive Justice Fellowship, which has created entry points for recent law graduates in the field of reproductive health, rights and justice.

Thanks to organizations such as LSRJ, today’s feminists and reproductive rights activists are given tools to resist the criminalization of mothers and separation of families due to poor child welfare laws and racist immigration policies; the elimination of a basic safety net for our poorest people, including people with disabilities and mental health problems; the reductions in basic health care; the reduced funding for abortion and birth control; and the lack of comprehensive sex-education for our youth. We are advocating for real equality strategies for gender non-conforming people, not Hate Crimes bills that do little to prevent violence against our communities, and instead provide more resources for criminal punishment systems that have been the perpetrators of violence against our communities. We may not have symbolic images like bra burnings for our generation, but we are mobilizing to reduce structural inequalities to help make reproductive rights a reality in all people’s lives.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Where do women stand with this Administration?

I was proud of President Obama when he signed the Lily Ledbetter Act, a legal step towards pay equity for women. I was proud when he placed a personal phone call to Janice Lengbehn, who was denied access to her dying partner in a Florida hospital, to tell her he was sorry and that he had ordered a new rule to prevent something like that from happening to other families. But this Administration just doesn’t seem to get that our ability to decide when and whether to have a child is as critical to autonomy and health as equal pay and legal recognition of our families.

You recall Plan B – also known as the “morning after pill.” Some of you have probably used it. Some of you may have heard that it really causes abortions and that it’s not safe. But those are myths. In fact, Plan B can’t harm an existing pregnancy, and is a safe way to prevent pregnancy if used within 120 hours after sex (or a sexual assault) Emergency contraception, under a different brand name, is available over the counter to women of all ages in many countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Europe– even in Ireland, a country with restrictive abortion laws.

But the drug is so controversial in the United States, that it is treated differently than any other drug in the nation. It must be kept behind the counter, and a pharmacist must confirm the purchaser’s age, before selling it – even though it is technically an “over-the-counter” drug for women age 17 and over. Today, the federal Food and Drug Administration (the FDA) was prepared to make the drug an over-the-counter product just like many other safe medications. Women across the country were holding their breath, waiting for yet another legal barrier to reproductive health to be lifted. Then, this morning, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius sent a letter to the FDA blocking its decision, claiming that it had not done enough research on whether really young girls can safely use the drug.

What does that mean for girls? It means that girls under 17 still need a prescription to get Plan B. We are lucky in Washington, because many pharmacists in our state are authorized by law to prescribe Plan B right there in the pharmacy. Not so for girls in many other states, including Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. And what does it mean for women? It means that a pharmacist is still the gatekeeper of your medication, and may refuse to dispense it, requiring you to try to find it somewhere else while the clock is ticking.

Today’s action is an incredible disappointment for those who expected the current Administration to uphold its promise to make regulatory decisions grounded in science. And it is unacceptable to trade women’s health and reproductive autonomy for perceived political gain. I’m hoping this is the last time, and that we don’t see the President betray us again by giving religiously-affiliated employers the right to opt out of a new rule requiring all employers to include contraception in their employees’ insurance plans. But I suggest we don’t sit back and expect this Administration to hold the line for us.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

From Gucci Purse To The Homeless:
The Myth of a Trickle Down Economy.

At a recent Seattle City Council meeting a concerned citizen tried to relay how bad things have gotten for people by saying something to the effect of this: Yes, trickle-down exists. The lower class is trickling down into homelessness. The middle class is trickling into the lower class and realizing that there’s no safety net for them there.

According to the Homelessness Research Institute, in the next three years, 74,000 more Americans will likely be homeless.

46.2 million people are now living in poverty in the United States, up from 43.6 million last year. African Americans have the highest poverty rate at 27.4%, followed by people of Hispanic origin at 26.6%, both much higher than the national average of 15%.

More than 1 in 5 children in America are living in poverty, also an increase from 2010.

These numbers are devastating, especially when we consider that more cuts to social safety net programs are looking likely. Yet another set of statistics caught my eye the other day. It appears that if your name is Chanel, or Neiman Marcus, or Mercedes, your numbers have been on the rise too, but in a much different way. A recent New York Times article reported that “The luxury category has posted 10 consecutive months of sales increases compared with the year earlier.” Tiffany’s first-quarter sales were up 20 percent this year, bringing them a cool $761 million. BMW and Porche more than doubled their quarterly profit from last year. In contrast to these figures, Wal-Mart has begun to sell items in smaller quantities because its shoppers can’t afford to buy multipacks of toilet paper.

We’re told that we should be excited about the fact that the top 5% of earners are spending gazoods of money on sparkly coats and shiny cars. Get more rich people to spend money and everyone will benefit, right?

No, not exactly.

Whether you call it “trickle down,” or “supply side economics,” or the 19th century term “horse and sparrow,” we’re not buying it anymore. No matter how much more money the top 5% or 1% or .001% makes, social safety nets meant to protect our most vulnerable are being dismantled left and right. People are being booted from their houses. Unemployment has fluctuated at a hefty 9-10% for multiple years. More and more people are being discarded from health insurance plans, food supplement programs, and other services that have helped them to stay on their feet.

And guess who is disproportionately affected by poverty? Yep - women. According to national data from 2010, 59 percent of all adults in poverty are women. Single mother households are particularly susceptible to poverty. The rate of poverty for single mother families has hit an all-time high of 42.2%, with an extreme poverty rate of a whopping 21.6%. Here in Washington State, there are plenty of examples. As a new report from the Economic Opportunity Institute details, “In Yakima County, 80% of single-mom families meet the low-income requirements for free or reduced price lunch.

Joan Entmacher, vice president for family economic security at the National Women’s Law Center points out that “we have a long history of distinguishing between the ‘deserving poor’ and the ‘undeserving poor’ in this country.” She guesses that “for a lot of people, single mothers are so far outside their idea of the deserving poor that they can hardly think straight about what might be done to help these mothers or the millions of children that live with them.

The President and chief executive of the Neiman Marcus Group had this to say about the current success of luxury item sales: I think that she (the customer) is willing to pay whatever price the manufacturer and the retailer deem appropriate, if she sees that there’s intrinsic value in it.” When will we agree on the intrinsic value of making prosperity possible for everyone in this country, regardless of race and gender and heritage and sexual orientation and birthplace?

For those of us that already believe in the value of the social safety net, we can start this process by telling our legislators, in no uncertain terms, that we won’t stand for more cuts to vital services for those in need. The Washington State Legislature is convening a special session to talk about balancing the state budget, beginning this Monday, November 28th. There are many direct actions planned to send a strong message that we want new revenue sources, not more cuts. Be a part of one. Contact your legislator. Spread the word.