Speaking of Women's Rights: 12/14

Monday, December 15, 2014

Everyday Sexism: Kids' Edition

By Chloë Phalan

Everyday sexism alert! The other day I was perusing the greeting cards at a local drug store, looking for a birthday card for my nephew who was turning three. He’s a doll—so fun and cheerful and bright! I was looking for a card that would make him smile, make him feel special, and have room for a packet of stickers. The section full of brightly colored birthday cards for kids offered only two choices for a 3-year-old: “Birthday Boy – 3” read one tag, and “Birthday Girl – 3” read the other. Guess which was which! I’ll give you one guess!

I think you could have gotten that one even if the pictures were in black and white. The messages are pretty clear:
Boys, you’re strong and smart and generally awesome—feel good about yourself for being YOU.
Girls, you’re pretty and sweet—feel good about yourself for pleasing others.

Yes, this was my experience at just one store. And yes, they’re just birthday cards. Kids open them, maybe shake them out for any dollar bills (or stickers) that may be inside, a grown-up makes them read it, and then in to the recycle bin they go. But the messages kids get from friends and family—the questions you ask, your tone of voice, your compliments, the games you propose, the chores you assign, the gifts you give, and yes, EVEN THE CARDS—is a huge piece of the personal-identity puzzle kids are constantly working on. A puzzle that shows them a picture of who they are, who they will grow up to be, and where they stand socially.

As “Suz” says in this piece, “All children are born a seed. These seeds carry in them all the predispositions we house in our genes, a massive tree with branches sprouting off at all sides. But from the moment that pink or blue swaddling hits our skin, those branches begin being pruned. What should little girls look like, do, be? What about little boys?”

And the pink and blue surely doesn’t stop with swaddling blankets. Gendered messages are propagated in toy stores, many of which have segregated aisles for “girl toys” and “boy toys.” The girl aisles are overwhelmingly pink, and promote the idea that girls are domestic, maternal, and princesses-in-the-making; the boy aisles are predominantly blue, black, and silver and feature toys that indicate boys as strong and destructive, as well as scientifically and mechanically inclined.

Dinosaurs? That’s a boy thing. Cooking and baking? So girly. Cars and trains? Boys only, through and through. But according to who?

A few young people are challenging the “girl toy” v. “boy toy” status quo, and I tip my hat to them (and their families!):  

Six-year-old Parker Dains penned a letter to ABDO Publishing Company, creators of The Biggest Baddest Book of Bugs, after she read (and loved!) the book, but flipped it over to discover it was part of the company’s Biggest Baddest Books for Boys series. In her letter she recommended that the company change the series to Biggest Baddest Books for Boys and Girls because “some girls would like to be entomologists too.” The company listened, and dropped the “For Boys” part of the name. Sweet!

Seven-year-old Charlotte Benjamin took issue with Lego’s portrayal of girls. Not only was she disappointed that there were “barely any” Lego girls in the kits, but the ones that were included didn’t really do much. “All the girls did was sit at home, go to the beach, and shop, and they had no jobs but the boys went on adventures, worked, saved people, and had jobs, even swam with sharks,” wrote Charlotte. “I want you to make more Lego girl people and let them go on adventures and have fun, ok!?!” YES.

Twelve-year-old McKenna Peterson wrote a similar letter to Dick’s Sporting Goods after flipping through the company’s basketball catalog and noticed a glaring lack of females in the publication. “There are NO girls in the catalog,” wrote McKenna. “Oh wait, sorry. There IS a girl in the catalog on page 6. SITTING in the STANDS.” Burn.

It’s not to say that it’s impossible to find gender-neutral greeting cards, toys, and books. (Technically, that “boy” card was generic, but still filed under “Boy”, so…) It’s also not to say that there is anything wrong with a girl loving the color pink or a boy loving the color blue. But there is really no need to choose that for them.

In the end, I found a card with happy animals and a message that read, “Wishing you a stupendous birthday!” It took about five additional seconds to find it—five seconds that I commit to taking each time I make a choice for a child in my life. I take the time to ask myself not just ‘will it hold stickers' but also 'am I telling them what they should be, or am I telling them what they can be?’

Chloe Phalan is Program Assistant at Legal Voice, where she works to advance justice for women and girls by scheduling meetings and keeping files properly labeled.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Bodily Autonomy Matters to Everyone

By Legal Voice Staff

The notion of bodily autonomy should not be a difficult concept to grasp. It isn’t radical: it is simply that each person should have control over his or her own body. Yet we continue to see policies that deny this autonomy to individuals, particularly women, through rationales often based on religion or other personally held moral objections.

Over the last few years, women’s basic reproductive rights have been trampled through systematic discriminatory legislation on the state and federal levels. This backward motion shows no signs of slowing, especially in conservative states that use women’s reproductive autonomy as a political bargaining chip. State legislatures enacted 205 abortion restrictions from 2011–2013, more restrictions than the total number enacted in the entire previous decade. Then, earlier this year, the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. favored corporations’ religious freedom at the expense of women’s access to contraceptive care, a decision that has led to a fresh onslaught of religious exemption lawsuits and requests.

Some of these challenges follow in Hobby Lobby’s footsteps and seek exemptions specifically from the ACA contraceptive care requirement. But, troublingly, others are using the Hobby Lobby decision as leverage for exemptions from other legal requirements, such as the group of religious leaders who urged President Obama to include a religious exemption to his LGBT anti-discrimination executive order.

The aftermath of Hobby Lobby proved what we’ve known for years—an attack on women’s rights can very easily translate into an attack on everyone’s rights. So while bodily autonomy is at the core of the reproductive justice movement—women and their families should be able to decide how, when, and with whom to form their families—Legal Voice is also working in other issue areas to change systems that deny women (and men) the right to control, protect, and make decisions for their own bodies.

For instance: health care coverage for transgender people. In the health care system, transgender people have repeatedly been denied the opportunity to have control over their health care decisions. Both public and private health insurance policies routinely include clauses that specifically prevent transgender people from having the same coverage for medical services that is provided for other policy holders. Some plans exclude coverage for surgical or non-surgical services for medically necessary transition-related care, while in other cases, insurance companies outright deny coverage to the individual. We are currently representing a transgender woman who was denied coverage for gender reassignment surgery by her insurer on the grounds that it was “cosmetic”—despite the fact that her health care providers unanimously regard the surgery as medically necessary under well-established standards of care.

Bodily autonomy is also at the core of end-of-life decision-making and care. Death with Dignity laws provide options for elderly and terminally ill individuals to control their own end-of-life care. People living in states with these laws—Washington, Oregon, and Vermont—have access to one of the greatest human freedoms: to live, and die, according to their own desires and beliefs.

But people living in states without Death with Dignity laws—or people whose secular, taxpayer-supported hospitals have merged with Catholic hospital chains—lack the ability to control what happens (or does not happen) to their bodies at the end of their lives. You may have heard of Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old woman who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and who wanted to die on her terms—without suffering and surrounded by the people she loved. Living in California at the time, Brittany lacked the legal right to request that her physician aid her in dying. To obtain the right to control her end-of-life care and to access appropriate medication legally, Brittany and her family moved to Oregon and, in an act of complete autonomy, Brittany ended her life on November 1.

We believe all people have the right to make decisions regarding their bodies without politicians, insurance companies, employers, hospital policy-makers, or anyone else telling them what decisions to make or how to make them. We have actively worked to change culture and policies that threaten individuals’ autonomy over their own bodies by:
·         Sending a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to renounce enhanced criminal penalties for women on the basis of pregnancy.
·         Working with the Seattle City Council to pass a resolution calling on federal lawmakers to repeal all bans on public insurance coverage of abortion, including the Hyde Amendment.
·         Engaging in civil discourse about sexual abuse, street harassment, non-consensual pornography, and other violations to women’s bodies.
·         Advocating for Washington’s Public Employees Benefits Board (PEBB) to provide inclusive health benefits for transgender people covered by PEBB plans, which they approved earlier this year.

When a woman has the power to decide when and how to get pregnant—or when and how to not get pregnant—she has control over her body. When transgender people have the ability to receive the medical treatment they need without the fear of discrimination, they have control over their bodies. When a woman approaching the end of her life has the ability to make important decisions for herself, she has control over her body.

A woman’s right to her body is her right alone.

Photo courtesy of Steve Rainwater.