Speaking of Women's Rights: 03/12

Monday, March 19, 2012

Nothing Funny About It

Like many people, I enjoy taking my time reading the paper(s) on Sunday mornings.  Last Sunday, I had the privilege of spending the day with a bunch of people planning how to make sure marriage equality remains the law in Washington (Go, Washington United for Marriage!), so I didn’t have much time to read.  Naturally, I focused on the truly important thing: the funnies.  (Is calling them “funnies” versus “comics” a geographic indicator, like “soda” versus “pop” versus “soft drinks”?)   Anyway, I was so rushed that I skipped to the page that normally displays Doonesbury only to find it replaced by Beetle Bailey.

What?  Had Doonesbury been dropped? Surely not.  

It wasn’t until the next day that I noticed Doonesbury appeared on the bottom corner of page A2.  And learned that our local paper, along with many others around the country, had decided that the current story line about the Texas law requiring transvaginal ultrasounds before an abortion was “too mature” for the comics page.   Some aren’t running it at all, others have moved it to another page.  The local rationale: "because we are concerned about these strips reaching the right audience, and in particular about giving parents a good option to keep them from their children if they wish, we are moving Doonesbury to Page A2 for this week." 

I guess it passes the straight face test.  Then again, NO.  It does not.  It’s yet another example of women’s reproductive health being marginalized, treated as abnormal, and generally shoved under the table/out the door/into the closet.  

Yes, abortion is controversial in this country.  That’s about the only non-controversial thing you can say about abortion these days.  But it’s specious to claim that this series of strips is somehow more than usually shocking for the funnies.  It took me less than 5 minutes to follow up on my vague memories and find examples of other comics that dealt with controversial topics but stayed on the comics page.  Including topics related to women, and to their body parts. Between Friends dealt with domestic violence  a few years ago.   I guess spousal abuse and stalking are not so controversial.  Or maybe they provide a good “teachable moment” for parents, who undoubtedly read through all the funnies every day before handing them over to their kids.  More benign, but arguably still too “mature” for the comics is a reference to (ssshhhhh) women’s underwear ; specifically, their bras.  Hey there, parent of little mister 5-year old: are you ready to talk with your kids about breasts, and sagging breasts at that?  Guess you’ll have to, because it’s right there in living color.  On the comics page.

Others have pointed this out as well: Publicola noted that the same week Doonesbury was moved, Pearls Before Swine had a strip – on the comics page – about shooting and inebriation.  Another suitable subject for the toddler, youth and tween demographics.

On the allegedly other side of the scale, we have the full-on celebration of various Christian holidays: Christmas, Easter (B.C. is especially notable for this, which is pretty funny when you think about what B.C. stands for).   Funny, see – it’s the comics!  Only that could perhaps best be deemed funny-peculiar, not funny ha-ha.  

And yes, these cartoonists have the right to say what they like via their art.  Just as the newspapers have the right to choose where to place said comics.  

But the inconsistencies -- and the blatant hypocrisy -- scream to be called out.  Proselytize in the guise of comics: check.  Poke fun at guns, drinking and death in the guise of comics: check.  Depict spousal abuse and the cycle of domestic violence in the guise of comics: check.   Satirize the insanity of a Texas law that furthers the marginalization of women’s health and rights: not so fast, buster.  That’s not amusing, that’s political commentary, and it’s just too mature for the funnies.  

Guess I’d better stick to The Family Circus.  Except when it proselytizes.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Women’s Rights.

By Laurie Carlsson

A few months back, a friend of a friend asked me an honest question over coffee: Isn’t sexism over? Now that women have the right to vote, hold jobs as construction workers, scientists, astronauts, and legislators, and have nearly broken the glass ceiling, what is left to fight for? Don’t women even have their own television network? (“Yes,” I said. “Where they can talk about lipstick shades and shopping with their gay besties.”)

These past few weeks I’ve been having this thought: Perhaps the one benefit of the brutal attack on reproductive rights we’re currently seeing is that there’s no room left for doubt. Women are being pummeled left and right in the political arena.

By making the line where the Hyde Amendment meets healthcare reform seem blurry, anti-abortion leaders have managed to reopen the subject of reproductive choice. By heightening the debate between “conscience” rights and patient rights, they’ve managed to roll back our expectations regarding access to birth control.

The Reproductive Parity Act, which would’ve ensured access to reproductive services for all women in Washington as the state implements federal health care reform, died in the Senate last week (The House passed the bill 52-46, but the Senate failed to bring the bill to a vote on the last day of the legislative session). Those who voted "no" included a legislator who was at one time a member of the NARAL board of directors.

Perhaps most enraging of all – and so “out there” as to be worthy of an Onion article – comes this little gem: “A proposed new law in Arizona would give employers the power to request that women being prescribed birth control pills provide proof that they're using it for non-sexual reasons.” I HAVE NO WORDS FOR THIS ASININITY.

In response to the recent outrage over a Virginia bill that would require all women to undergo an invasive procedure called a “transvaginal ultrasound” before having an abortion, Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak posits that women “do not, as a rule, spend a ton of time thinking about their wombs.”

Umm. Excuse me?

Hold the phone, maybe I was wrong. Maybe the repugnancy of the war on women IS escapable for some folks.

Apart from her misguided – nay sexist – assumption that a proper sampling of the female gender can be found at her local craft store in the middle of a weekday, Ms. Dvorak has something very wrong. Women DO care about their wombs. They told us this loudly and clearly when the U.S. Congress attempted to de-fund Planned Parenthood, and again when the Susan B. Komen Foundation decided to turn its back on women earlier this year. Certainly the members of the Women’s Strike Force, a PAC formed with the goal of defeating legislators who voted for the “trans-vaginal” bill, are focused on their reproductive rights. I understand that the intent of Ms. Dvorak’s article was to point out the absurdity of our legislators’ focus on lady parts when so many things need fixing, but I would argue that claiming the indifference of women in the area of reproductive health isn’t just incorrect, but tantamount to aiding and abetting the other side.

The same quote seems to be circulating from feminists of many generations these days: “We thought we had already fought this battle.” Two decades from now, will Gen Y feminists be singing the same tune? And will they be asking my friend’s question, “isn’t sexism over?” In response to my friend I shared a phrase that Lisa Stone can often be heard uttering: "Women's Rights. Really. Still."