Speaking of Women's Rights: 01/12

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Learning from History – and Advancing Women’s Rights in the Process

By Lisa M. Stone

People in Washington – indeed, in many states in the West, where citizen initiatives sometimes seem to multiply like viruses – often complain these days about the ill effect of such efforts to change state law. Okay, what I mean is, progressives in Washington complain a lot about professional initiative pusher Tim Eyman, whose efforts invariably involve using blunt instruments that affect complicated problems. (For example, “let’s just make it impossible to raise taxes or fees, even to carry out essential government services like road repair.”)

But the initiative process can also be used to make our state stronger, and to protect vulnerable or disenfranchised people. Washington was the first state in the country – and still the only one – to make abortion legal by a vote of the people, in 1970. And we adopted the state Equal Rights Amendment the same way, in 1972.

The ERA is a thing of beauty, by the way, short, clear, and absolute:

Equality of rights and responsibility under the law shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex.

Legal Voice is proud to have brought the first lawsuit under the ERA, which was coincidentally (or perhaps not) our first case, Blair v.Washington State University, in which we sued WSU to demand equal treatment for women athletes and coaches. WSU now brags about the case and its women’s sports programs. (You’re welcome, Cougars!)

In keeping with this history of protecting women’s rights through citizen initiatives, in 1991 a group of women’s, civil rights, and health care organizations and professionals decided to codify Roe v. Wade through an initiative to the people. We were concerned that the U.S. Supreme Court would overturn Roe, and wanted to make sure women retained their reproductive autonomy. It was a hard-fought effort, but we won. In fact, over the past 40 years the people of Washington have voted five times to affirm or protect women’s right to decide when and whether to have a child.

And now, facing the scary world of healthcare reform, we’re pushing to make sure that Washington remains solidly pro-choice and respectful of women’s autonomy. Sadly, Roe v. Wade is still vulnerable – perhaps more than in 1991. We can’t stand by while anti-choice zealots restrict our rights (even though that’s what happened at the federal level). So throughout the 2012 legislative session, beginning this Thursday, January 19th, in both the House and the Senate we’ll be advocating for a bill that will ensure women, including low-income women, will have access to abortion. Like the ERA, this bill is simple: it says that if an insurance plan covers maternity services, it must cover abortion. That’s what we voters passed in 1991 with I-120, and it’s the right thing to do. It’s fair, it’s equitable, and it protects all our choices.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Everything Old Is New Again

By Laurie Carlsson

2012. Sounds a bit like the future doesn’t it? Apocalyptic doom, pneumatic tube pods, and massive technological advances. Say, weren’t we supposed to have flying cars by now?

I can live with the dearth of flying vehicles, but this is what’s troubling me: It’s the year 2012 and we still haven’t figured out a way to treat all members of our society equally. You would think we would have this figured out by now. Yet my week has been filled with examples to the contrary.

Earlier this month The Washington Post published its 2012 In/Out list, rating the coolness factor of pets, tv shows, rock stars, hairstyles and… treating immigrants as people. Yes, you heard that right: Treating immigrants as people. The list juxtaposes “corporations as people” (out) with “immigrants as people” (in). Sorry Washington Post, but we’re not appreciating your clever play on words. I will assume that there's no need to point out how the mere suggestion of immigrants as anything BUT people is incredibly offensive.

Yesterday I did what I always promise myself I won’t – I read the comments section of an article on marriage equality. That’s where I found this little sarcastic gem: “Good Idea! Let's also end the state sponsored discrimination against child molestation, or against murder.” Sure, this was only one rant from a single bigot, and was delightfully quashed by a dozen or so commentors, but this nugget retrieved from an email blast sent out by the Family Policy Institute of Washington is nearly as infuriating: “Supporters of real marriage must counter the pressure that legislators will inevitably receive from the homosexual lobby.” I’m sorry but did this message come from 1987? I will refrain from asking what “real” marriage is and then referring to one of the many superstars that were married for all of 72 hours. That also feels very last year. I will, however, point to statistics that show Washingtonians favoring gay marriage 55/38, and “real” hetero marriages failing at a rate of over 50%.

Today news hit the blogosphere of a California teen calling for a boycott of Girl Scout cookies because a 7-year-old transgender child was admitted to a Colorado troop last fall. The protest group that the girl has formed claims to be "advocating for a change back to simply building girls of good character." Not only has the girl called the character of an entire group of people into question, but other leaders in the organization have called the inclusion of the child “dangerous.” What a *wonderful* lesson for a bunch of young girls.

I know that we can do better than this. Every member of our society deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. I will end with a plea. Dear good citizens of the world: Please make me feel better about the future and actively support reproductive healthcare for all women, civil marriage for all, and new revenue sources so that we can offer a safety net to our most vulnerable citizens. Let’s make 2012 about equality, and leave retro to the Urban Outfitters catalogue. #PLUR

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Hollywood: Not So Homo For The Holidays

Last week, I came across a video clip of a little girl ranting against marketing and gender stereotypes while she is surrounded by blue and pink toys in a toy store. When asked why “they”—the marketers—do this, she responds with “they try to trick the girls into buying the pink stuff instead of buying what the boys want to buy, right?”

This very young feminist reminded me of my own rant that started after watching numerous bad DVD rentals during the holidays: “Why do mainstream Hollywood movies insist on selling us the heteronormative stereotype of love, while passing off homophobia for a few cheap laughs?” In a two hour film, lesbians, gays, bi-sexuals, and transgender individuals largely remain invisible unless used to promote stereotypes through two classic means: Comedic relief ala John Krasinski’s side character in Something Borrowed, who gets many LOLs in rejecting a woman by pretending to be gay; Or to explain a strong female character’s possible singlehood, depicted recently in The Help during a superfluous scene where Emma Stone’s white female lead character has family questioning whether she is a lesbian, since she is unmarried and career focused. Note: it would take another blog entirely to discuss the problems and myths perpetuated around race and the notions of colorblind “equality” put forth in this film.

As a mixed-Latina, I won’t accept the fact that the screen does not represent the actual racial and bi-racial world I live in. As a queer female, I am also unwilling to accept the fact that Hollywood fails to properly represent the queer relationships that are all around us.

I think what the young girl proposes in the video also applies here: They try to trick people into believing only certain relationships are valid, viewable, and marketable, right? Am I wrong to believe that Hollywood’s inability to include realistic LGBTQ characters in mainstream films works to maintain heteronormativity and thereby set up the idea of “good” relationships and “bad relationships”? Does this dynamic not work to discredit and devalue the many LGBTQ individuals in our world who are sustaining and maintaining healthy relationships?

Tis’ the season of movies, and as David’s recent blog discussed, mainstream movies can’t get past nasty gender stereotypes and relationship myths. Thus, there's a danger that inclusion will result in Hollywood swapping the straight relationships we see for same-sex relationships, while promoting the same myths such as needing someone to “complete you” (think of the famous Jerry Maguire line, although I prefer the Dr. Evil version in Austin Powers). Thanks Hollywood, but I’ll take responsibility for my own happiness.

What I’m asking for is not a replication of the dysfunctional hetero relationships portrayed in mainstream film, but a realistic depiction of healthy queer relationships. I am also asking for the differences represented in queer relationships to be valued, celebrated and recognized. Am I too naive or hopeful to believe that there is a gender empowering, anti-racist, and queer and trans positive, sex-positive, and body positive film consumer with buying power out there? For now, I will opt for the less popular but amazing films that provide a lens into the ways LGBTQ relationships are unique and valued, such as Beginners or Antonia's Line.