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The Onion Piece on Chris Brown is Brilliant

7 May

This piece in The Onion, “Heartbroken Chris Brown Always Thought Rihanna Was Woman He’d Beat To Death,” was brought to my attention by fellow Abortion Gangsters, many of whom are offended and some who were triggered and hurt by the language used. I take the position that this piece is brilliant.

The Onion has gone to a very dark place since Newtown, and I really appreciate it. They used to live in the ridiculous, the truly out there and funny and bizarre. I considered them occasionally satirical, but not satire. Following the Newtown shooting, it has appeared that the staff snapped. “Reality has become ridiculous, so we’ll just live here.” The Onion has gotten mean. This piece on Chris Brown is mean. The stuff they’re saying about the NRA is mean. Vicious even.

I love it.

They’re targeting the people with all the power who get away with claiming to be victims: of “society,” of “people,” of “opinion,” of “the media.” They’re targeting those with way too much power to be victims of any of those things who are allowed to lay claim to pity and sympathy. The target here is Chris Brown. His behavior, the way in which he’s been allowed to frame that behavior, to narrate that behavior. And it is dead on. It even reclaims the tone he himself uses to reclaim the narrative of what he’s done – which is beat a woman near to death and then go on TV and explain why that experience really helped him grow as a person. This is vicious, pointed satire in a way we don’t see anymore because people with power have been allowed to wallow in faux outrage and shock (ALL people with power) until true satire is no longer socially acceptable.

Here’s a definition of satire I find to be accurate and encompassing, via the all-knowing Wikipedia, with vital points highlighted:

Satire is a genre of literature, and sometimes graphic and performing arts, in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridiculeideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement.Although satire is usually meant to be funny, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit as a weapon.

A common feature of satire is strong irony or sarcasm—”in satire, irony is militant”—but parody, burlesque,exaggeration, juxtaposition, comparison, analogy, and double entendre are all frequently used in satirical speech and writing. This “militant” irony or sarcasm often professes to approve of (or at least accept as natural) the very things the satirist wishes to attack.

I know everyone’s heard of it, but has everyone actually read A Modest Proposal? It’s mean, it’s pointed, it’s harsh and cruel and it is aimed SQUARELY at those with power. You could glance at it, especially at the time, and say that it was trivializing the problems the Irish and the poor were facing, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t about them.

That is the key to this. Satire is not about the people who suffer. As advocates and activists, when we talk about abuse, we start from the abused: what they need, what they deserve, how we can help. We then turn to the question of the abuser, always with the needs of the abused still in mind, even in that context. Art – and I argue here that satire is art, I argue even that this Onion article, in what it does, is art – does what we as activists and advocates cannot effectively. It goes for the jugular. It says, “I will destroy this so we can rebuild something better.” It is destructive, not constructive. By these means it makes our problems brutally, painfully clear.

As advocates and activists some of our work obscures the reality of abuse by necessity. The reality of abuse is that abusers have all the power. In this instance, Chris Brown, the abuser, has a power far beyond that of the ordinary abuser, but only in that it is amplified. As the abuser, he not only got to tell the story of what happened, he got to tell it on television, to millions. He was not only given back his career, he was given back his million-dollar-plus career. He is a public example and he has largely been a public example of how to beat someone and get away with it with community service.

We make problems about the people who suffer. Satire makes the problem about the people who cause the suffering.

Does this make it right? Does it make it good? No. But it is productive in the sense that it produces. This piece produces outrage, anger, a grim knowing smile – it produces feelings, something all of our millions of collective hours of work on behalf of survivors often fails to do. And without that production, our fight stands still. I honestly believe this is brilliant. I believe this short piece could do more work toward changing our society than a thousand shelter hours. Does “brilliant” mean “good” or “wonderful” or “gives me immense enjoyment”? No. It means none of those things. It only means it may change the whole conversation. Whether or not you think it’s worth it is up to you. That’s a value judgment the reader gets to make.

“Victim” is a Tetchy Word When We Are Talking About Rape

30 Apr

I just read Erin Matson’s new piece on how to talk about rape, and I like it a lot. For anti-rape and anti-violence activists it’s a primer, but as the post notes, the basic things she’s talking about doing – don’t use language of consensual sex to describe rape, don’t victim-blame, don’t use the passive voice in a way that makes the rapist themselves disappear from the dialogue – are still huge problems in terms of how we talk about rape, especially in the media. I wrote an entire Master’s thesis on how the media communicates rape and I barely scratched the surface, that’s how big a problem it is.

I realized while reading it, however, that I find the word “victim” in the context of rape really jarring. It startles me to see it there, over and over. The word is being used to give really excellent advice, but I still struggle with it. I’ve shifted from domestic policy to international human rights work in the past year, and we almost never use “victim.” We describe someone as a “victim” only in the context of the legal case itself – the victim went to the police, the victim experienced these specific things, etc. After that, we only ever use the word “survivor.”

We use the word survivor instead of victim because that is what the women we work with become following the immediate aftermath of rape and sexual assault. They don’t want to spend their entire lives identifying or being identified as a victim. Survivor, for obvious reasons, has a different and much more empowering set of connotations.

Matson’s piece is mostly about communicating that immediate aftermath, and the use of the word “victim” in that context is appropriate – it helps classify what happened as a crime and the person it happened to as in need of medical and legal attention. But it occurred to me that I rarely see the word “rape survivor” in US media. Why is that?

Part of the reason is likely that, while rape is an overwhelming epidemic here, it’s a “domestic crime.” It’s a “private crime,” it belongs in a soft, female sphere in terms of how we classify criminal acts, and we’ve had to work incredibly hard to get it recognized as a criminal act at all. In an international context, however, rape and mass rape are often a weapon of war, or occur in waves following climate disasters that the countries in question don’t have the infrastructure to address in a timely manner (Haiti’s tent cities and the mass rape that occurred there following the earthquake a few years ago are one example of this). Political unrest and attempts to up-end life for political gain in that context are another example – that happened inGuinea a few years ago. At that point, follow-up is about much more than an individual person; unlike survivors here, these are large groups of survivors easily identifiable as having rape in common, and what happened to them and how it is dealt with in the long-term has implications and consequences for the entire country. Rape survivors here are not given the sense that they are a unified group. Rape in the US is viewed as an individual’s narrative, while in many other countries, the narrative is a group narrative. The media follow-up is longer term.

In the US media, once someone is no longer a victim, but a survivor, once the immediate aftermath has passed, there’s no follow-up. The woman who was raped by two police officers in New York City, whose trial was in every paper in the country every day for months, has disappeared. I have no idea what happened to her, and I’ve never seen an article on her again, although the rapists still show up in the news occasionally, mostly to complain about how raping a girl really ruined their lives. The Steubinville rape case – will we ever hear another word about the girl who survived it? In our quest to give the victims privacy – which is something the media only even pays lip service too, repeatedly releasing the names of even underaged victims – are we failing to create a space for people to become survivors? Rape survivors sometimes carve out their own space for that, creating support groups for themselves and for one another, making preventing rape and changing the conversation a mission. Another woman raped by a New York cop is doing just that. But the media is only interested in them  -certainly most interested in them – for as long as they’re a victim. Once a victim becomes a survivor, the story disappears.

It isn’t that way with every crime. The victims of the Boston Marathon Bombing are already survivors, with stories of their courage and their determination to move forward at immediate, lightning-speed already dominating the coverage of their experience, that moment when they were victims already relegated to a yesterday so long gone we can’t remember it. We can only remember that they’re survivors, and that makes us all stronger.

Is there room for that in the conversation about rape? Do survivors want to talk? Can we make their stories heard? Do we want to hear? Most of all, I think it’s fascinating how many experiences that are largely had by women – abortion, rape – have such clearly defined, narrow, and limited permitted narratives. What are we allowed to talk about, what are we encouraged to talk about – and what do we actually want to talk about?

A Country Where Abortion Isn’t Even Considered: Just What Would That Be?

15 Apr

Last Thursday, in a speech before the irrationally titled anti-choice group “Susan B. Anthony List,” failed Vice-presidential candidate and currently underwhelming Republican leader and Representative Paul Ryan said, “We don’t want a country where abortion is simply outlawed. We want a country where it isn’t even considered.”

At present, we have no model for that: no such country exists. Making abortion illegal won’t prevent it from being considered; abortion rates are higher in countries where the procedure is illegal. Outlawing it also makes it more dangerous. Making it illegal won’t prevent it from being considered. Paul Ryan can read, so this must be obvious to him. So if he doesn’t mean to outlaw abortion, what kind of country would we build where it wouldn’t even be an option?

Well, it would ideally be a world in which there were no unwanted or unplanned pregnancies in the first place. Abstinence-only education is possibly the worst way to prevent unplanned pregnancies. Not only do kids have sex, when they do, they’re inadequately informed as to how to find and use birth control. So a country where abortion isn’t considered would have to start with a comprehensive sexual education program from the time children are old enough to get pregnant – nine years old, apparently, but we should start at 7 or 8 to be safe. We’ll obviously have to end child rape, because abortion will surely at least cross the minds of guardians, medical professionals, and child advocates if a nine year old girl is found to be pregnant. In addition, birth control will have to be free, and not only easily accessible, but abundantly available.

Stopping adult rape totally will be a challenge. People will need to be indoctrinated from birth to accept that, once born, their lives, no matter what the costs or circumstances, need to take a backseat to the unborn. Oh, you’re an adult who got raped and now you’re pregnant? To not even consider abortion, you will have to be good and convinced – brainwashed, honestly – to not even consider that your life, sanity, peace of mind, bodily autonomy, independence, future, dreams and hopes should not be 100% certain to take a backseat to carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term that is the product of a traumatic sexual assault. That’s the reality.

There’s also the issue of non-viable fetuses. At this point, in the world we’re creating, there are only wanted pregnancies. Still, a person who realizes they’re carrying a child who has no brain – literally, a tiny body with no working brain – knows that pregnancy is not going to come to term with a happy ending. There are also cases of children who would only live a few days, in the hospital, in severe pain, fetuses with no heartbeat that for some reason are not naturally still-born and simply remain in the uterus, and other extremely severe fetal medical issues. It’s hard to imagine that one wouldn’t at least consider an abortion when it’s clear that the fetus is no longer alive, or as a mercy when a child who was born would suffer terribly. The solution would probably be to no longer classify this as abortion. It would be considered carrying a pregnancy all the way to term – term would end when a child was born, or a fetus was no longer viable.

So we’re going to have a world in which birth control is free and abundantly available and easily accessible, in which there is no more child rape, and in which adults are conditioned to believe that the life of an unborn fetus is more important than the life of anything else, ever, at all, under any circumstances. We’re also going to stop defining certain medical procedures as abortions. Are we now living in a world where no one will consider abortion?

Probably not. Although abortions for medical reasons – the so-called “health of the mother” exemption – has been mocked by the GOP, pregnancy can still be life-threatening. There’s no way around it. Not having an abortion can still mean that you will die. Or your mother will die. Or your wife, or your partner, or your sister, or your child. At these moments, it would be impossible not to at least consider abortion. Most people would let that option cross their mind. Many people – however selfish this option was made to seem – would consider how much they still wanted their spouse, their child, their parent in their lives. Some people – maybe, under those circumstances, even most people – would have a hard time accepting this preventable death. Hell, we fight cancer even when death isn’t preventable. We really hang on to our loved ones. I think it would be hard to condition that out of people – even for a perfect, abortion-free world.

So if there’s no such thing as a perfect, abortion-free world, it might be worth considering that a perfect world includes abortion. Abortion isn’t a problem, it’s a solution. It’s a medically necessary solution to a number of problems that are part of our real lived experiences: rape, medical complications, miscarriages, and, unfortunately, because humans are imperfect creatures and we make mistakes and because we currently live in a system not designed to any way help us avoid those mistakes, unwanted pregnancies. When abortion is considered no more problematic than any other incredibly useful medical advancement that can and improve millions of lives, we’ll be a huge step closer to a perfect world.

I have some thoughts on how to get there, too. I’d like to think Paul Ryan,  being a smart guy, would want to help, but he probably won’t consider resigning.

Where the Snake Eats Its Own Tail: Marriage Equality and Reproductive Justice

28 Mar

The fight against marriage equality is a losing one. As the SCOTUS spends the week hearing oral arguments on Prop 8 in California (in which voters overturned a court decision that had allowed same-sex marriages in the state) and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage because everyone is an asshole), half a dozen high-profile politicians from both sides of the aisle have tripped over themselves in a rush to support marriage equality and be able to point back in a few years and say they were on the right side of history, however closely they may have timed it. One of these politicians is former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, whose husband, while President, signed DOMA (because he is an asshole). That’s which way the wind is blowing, and no, you don’t need to a weatherman.

Public support for marriage equality has expanded so far so fast for several reasons. Some of it is growing public awareness, while some of it is the result of on-the-ground, grassroots legislative and communications efforts that have been decades in the making. And some of it is very simply that the arguments against marriage equality, now having been stripped down, over and over, to their composite pieces, have proven to stand on extremely thin legal ground. As the cases go before the SCOTUS, the arguments against marriage equality now break down into two recognizable composite pieces: plain old hate and homophobia, and children.

The debate about what’s good for children belongs to both sides of the marriage equality fight. Justice Kennedy, likely to be the swing vote on the issue, raised the question during Tuesday’s argument about the “immediate injury” suffered by children in California whose same-sex parents were not allowed to marry, saying, “They want their parents to have full recognition and status.” Justice Antonin Scalia, who is a well-known asshole, also raised the issue of children raised by same-sex parents while expertly trolling the nation, stating, erroneously, “There’s considerable disagreement among sociologists as to what the consequences of raising a child in a single-sex family, whether it is harmful to the child or not.”

But more important than the general debate over the welfare of children being raised in this country is the essential question of what power the not yet conceived, future children of our nation should have on defining marriage. That may seem to be a ridiculous question, but that ridiculous question now forms almost the entire recognizable legal basis for the fight against marriage equality (hate and fear are perfectly legal but do not qualify as a legal basis for an argument).

The argument being made against marriage equality is known as “responsible procreation,” and Jeffrey Rosen explains it:

If the Court does decide the Perry case on the merits, it will come down to this claim: Because only straight people can impulsively and accidently have illegitimate children out of wedlock, they need a stable institution of marriage to discourage them from doing so and to force them to focus on the consequences of their animalistic passions. But as Justice Kagan noted, the idea that denying marriage equality to gay couples would encourage monogamy and responsible procreation by straight couples is hard to follow, let alone to fathom.

That is a fairly kind and comprehensible way of explaining what is actually an extremely opaque argument brought forward by the lawyers for Prop 8, which went as follows:

[S]ociety’s interest in responsible procreation isn’t just with respect to the procreative capacities of the couple itself. The marital norm, which imposes the obligations of fidelity and monogamy, Your Honor, advances the interests in responsible procreation by making it more likely that neither party, including the fertile party to that … marriage will engage in irresponsible procreative conduct outside of that marriage. Outside of that marriage. That’s the marital—that’s the marital norm.

This is what’s so fascinating: the right’s last great hope of limiting the definition of marriage is to do it by insisting that it the only way to continue to effectively legislative reproductive options. That’s amazing. This is an argument against same-sex marriage that actually says, “We need marriage as a tool to control what people who can have children without planning them are allowed to do. Same-sex couples have to plan children* so they don’t need to be controlled by us so we should not give them marriage.” I mean guys. Really. What. I can’t even.

Equally fascinating is the notion that marriage equality has come so far in the 12 years since the state of Massachusetts first allowed it that simply arguing against LGBTQ rights is no longer as effective as arguing in favor of controlling people’s reproductive options. Conversely, arguing the need to control people’s reproductive options, no matter how bizarre an argument that is, is now so effective that other kinds of rights can be allowed or denied based on the perceived need for this control.

An interesting side-note to all of this is Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s argument directly relating marriage equality to Roe v Wade. She had previously raised, and raised again on Tuesday, the issue of marriage equality simply moving too fast – based on her conviction that that was the issue with Roe. “It’s not that the judgment was wrong, but it moved too far too fast,” she said, and has expressed concerns that marriage equality could face the same difficulty if not handled properly by the court.

I am over-the-moon excited by the push and the public support for marriage equality I am seeing this week. I can only hope we see something like it in the near-term for reproductive rights, and the framework we are seeing in these arguments is not a portent of legal battles to come.

*Uuuugggghhhhhh wild assumptions inaccuracies etc these people are assholes.

Dealing with the Tragedy and Trauma of Loss in a Reproductive Justice Context

25 Feb

When the first rumors began to spread about a woman who had died following an abortion performed by Dr. Leroy Carhart, one of the last doctors in the country willing to perform third trimester abortions, the Gang gathered around our proverbial fireplace to talk it out.

Our first reactions were, as always, a enormous outpouring of empathy for the woman and her family – not just for the loss of her life, but for the invasion of their privacy and lack of space to grieve that would now be inevitable. This was accompanied by a sinking feeling of dread at all that we knew would now happen. There would be the aforementioned invasion of privacy by anti-choicers. There would be loud insistence that they had been right all along, that abortion is inherently unsafe, even though the exact opposite is true – women are 14 times more likely to die from complications of childbirth than from abortion.* Anti-choicers would use this to attack pro-choice work, insisting that we don’t care about women and babies, and we’re all essentially murderers. Meanwhile, we’re grieving for the loss of one of our own, and worrying about the future of one of the few doctors left in the country who unequivocally supports the right to choose at the cost of his own privacy and safety. We also discussed the fact that for at least a week or two, all information would be a rumor, the loudest and sometimes the only voices would be anti-choice, and we would need to wait for real information, out of respect for the woman and her family, before we could talk about the case.

It went down just like we thought it would.

Anti-choicers, with no information about what had actually happened to the woman who had been Dr. Carhart’s patient, immediately began harassing out pro-choice advocates online, including, among a bunch of other crap, this early tweet to our editor. We advised everyone to use the “block” function liberally. Then the Washington Post reported that anti-choicers had illegally invaded the woman and her family’s privacy by first obtaining (ILLEGAL) and then publicly broadcasting (FUCKING ILLEGAL) her medical records from the hospital. And throughout this, of course, there were a million articles and blog posts on anti-choice newsfeeds and websites nearly rejoicing in this woman’s death, since they were sure it meant a huge political win. That kind of thing is really hard to take, although it lead to some good conversations about how tragedy and death are politicized in all social movements, and in what ways that is effective and respectful or disrespectful depending on the circumstances.

It has now become clear that the woman died of rare complications that can occur after vaginal birth, c-section, or abortion. There is no way to tell if a woman will experience these complications.One source in the article describes it as the obstetric equivalent of being hit by lightning. All appearances, including a gift registry, suggest that this was a wanted child and that health complications for either the mother or the fetus required the third-trimester procedure.

It’s disheartening that we knew exactly the way this story would unfold, but it demonstrated to me that we have solid, responsible coping mechanisms in place. Here are what we can offer as some best practices for dealing with a tragedy like this:

1) Don’t believe the hype. Don’t believe anything you’ve heard until reputable, mainstream news sources are releasing reliably sourced information. In the beginning, while we do our job of hanging back respectfully and waiting, anti-choicers will be gearing up a political campaign of epic proportions. They love this shit. At this moment, they’re like dogs after the juiciest bone of their lives. They are not going to wait to discern what’s true. While it’s painful, let them do their thing. Don’t respond on social media, don’t make a statement. Remember that while we as out pro-choice activists are targeted by these people and hear their messages all the time, most of the world is totally unaware that they exist. Practice self-care and respect for the human lives involved by not engaging until you have more information.

2) Allow yourself to grieve in complicated ways. You are allowed to grieve for the loss of a community member while also feeling fear for the medical professionals involved. You are allowed to acknowledge the reality that anti-choicers will attempt to exploit a woman’s death for political gain, and you are allowed to feel dread. It is extremely unfortunate we couldn’t mourn in a straightforward manner, but knowing that the consequences of the tragedy will be complicated and political and not looking forward to that at all does not make you less compassionate or less aware that a real human life has been lost and that is awful.

3) Do not engage. Do not engage. Do not engage. You’re not dealing with rational people, and yes, as an out pro-choice activist, they do want to hurt you. You’re not required to get involved, and as much as you want to yell, you don’t have all the information yet, and you need to remember that they don’t either – see #1.

4) Seriously engage with the real issues. Once you know what the real issues involved in the case are, consider them. In this case, the real issue is that a woman experienced an extremely rare complication; it has nothing to do with abortion one way or another. But it’s also the case that a woman who wanted to keep her pregnancy found out very late that it wasn’t viable and required a third-trimester abortion, which is illegal in almost every state. She was lucky to find a doctor who would perform the procedure, and that doctor is under constant attack, a fact which this incident only serves to highlight. There may come a time in the next few years where someone with an unviable pregnancy has literally no options. Let’s talk about that.


*This should be a sign that our maternal care is fucking abysmal and in a comprehensive reproductive justice framework we should really try to do something about that. However, that being said, pregnancy itself is a project that takes a significant toll on the body and, even under optimal circumstances (which the US does not offer, especially for poor people and people of color), poses inevitable risk. Being pregnant is and will always be riskier for someone’s health than an abortion. So bless all of you willingly and happily bringing bright and beautiful children into this world, cause it is no easy thing.

Can We Get Some #RealTalk on Pregnancy?

6 Feb

We don’t just consume media every minute of every day, we are force-fed media. Media is unavoidable. It’s on the computer, where many of us do a lot of work. It’s on the TV, where we sometimes go to relax. Here in NYC, it’s on every single street. You can’t leave your apartment without being assaulted by socializing images and ideas. So until I was 23 and my best friend had a baby, almost everything I knew about pregnancy came from media – television shows, movies, and magazines. I could hardly remember my mother’s two pregnancies after my birth, so I didn’t have much, as it were, up-close-and-personal experience.

But even if I did, it wouldn’t have mattered, because here’s the thing about pregnancy: everyone lies about it.

Lies! So many lies. And so much lying by omission; so much just not-telling about the truth of pregnancy. Media has a nicely packaged version of pregnancy that is meant to make it look difficult, but funny, and ultimately completely worthwhile. This is understandable, since most media is run by people who can never, ever actually get pregnant. I have a theory about the lying and lying-by-omission done by people who have understand pregnancy on more intimate terms, too. I think that people who know the truth about pregnancy lie about it because if we knew the truth about pregnancy, almost no one would ever consent to being pregnant.

I always thought there was a secret mommy-club I wasn’t part of, where women (in the time and place where I grew up, pregnancy, parenting, and everything else were highly gendered) sat around in little sewing-type circles, drinking tea and lightly sharing what I viewed as some of the most mysterious secrets of the universe. And I was right. There is a secret mommy club. When my first close friend got pregnant, I was inducted as an honorary member and given a special pass, which I still keep on a lanyard for when I need it. The mommy club pulled back the curtain for me, and what I saw behind it scared the ever-loving shit out of me.

I have been exposed to more images of fake baby-bumps that I have been exposed to actual people’s real, pregnant bodies. As a result, I thought pregnant bodies had sort of big, round, firm bellies, like a safe case for the baby – like a guitar in a guitar case. THIS IS NOT TRUE. A pregnant belly is a lot more like a sac that an alien is growing in, and it’s freaky. Babies move in-utero and sit on your spine, on your vital organs – one friend, while in-utero, sent her mother to bed for several months because she just loved to lie on a major artery and she CUT OFF HER MOTHER’S BLOOD SUPPLY. Once, my friend’s baby reached it’s little hand out, from the womb, to high-five me. I could see a hand trying to reach through my friend’s stomach, from the inside. Guys, pregnancy is horror-movie-level WEIRD, and that is no joke.

Morning sickness? That ain’t some cute shit you see in the movies where you throw up once or twice and then the truth slowly dawns all over your face and then you run to the drug store, pick up a test, and flash-cut to you sitting on a toilet holding a stick with a plus sign and then it fades away so you can hurry up to the setting-up-the-crib montage. Morning sickness often doesn’t fade away. Morning sickness is crippling. For some pregnant people, morning sickness is code for “7 months of constantly having the flu, running a slight fever, vomiting several times a day.” You should read the whole post I just linked to. It’s by a young woman who’s pregnant and it mostly details sitting on or near the toilet literally all day, every day.

My friend is breastfeeding. Her hair is falling out. Her dentist told her she’s losing so much calcium to the adorable, beloved parasite (this is the cutest parasite in history, you have no idea) that she may need dental surgery.

Mood swings? Hollywood loves to make mood swings the funny center of a relationship up-and-down that starts with yelling and ends with The Woman sitting on the couch, crying, admitting that she feels fat and powerless, and The Man sitting down, the weight of everything she’s doing for him suddenly settling upon him, vowing to do better, Exeunt Stage Right, Consumed By Bliss. Except that mood swings for several of my friends more closely resembled crippling depression. They were unable to get out of bed. They felt powerless because pregnancy had actually rendered them powerless; they couldn’t go to work, or go to the grocery store, or do really fucking basic things for themselves, and it felt awful. And their partners felt despair, because they too were powerless, because they could go to the grocery store and pick up flowers and say nice things but they couldn’t make it better.

There came a time in my life where people started being honest about pregnancy and I started listening, but many people I know got pregnant before anyone had explained to them seriously what being pregnant might mean. When I describe immobility, helplessness, depression, severe physical discomfort, daily vomiting, and hair loss, I am not describing pregnancy worst-case-scenarios: I am describing common side effects of pregnancy.

And that’s just pregnancy. That’s not even getting in to childbirth itself. Do you know what a vaginal tear is? If you think you may ever give birth, it’s a fairly common phenomenon you may want to familiarize yourself with.

I may get pregnant someday; I may decide to have kids someday. But in the meantime, I interrogate pregnant friends and family members, in their most vulnerable, defenseless, pregnant state, like it’s my job. If I am ever going to do this thing, I want to know, as much as I possibly ever can, exactly what I have gone and gotten myself into. And I want my partner to know as well. I want both of us to be aware of what carrying a child will mean for my body, and what those changes, and frankly, that damage, will mean for our life together. I want a shared honesty about what could essentially be termed a temporary insanity brought on pregnancy and what that would mean for our home.

I see The Truth About Pregnancy being shared more and more, but still mostly in female-dominated spaces, like “mommy blogs” and Pinterest. I’d love to see young people move towards a complete honesty of what this experience means to them, or meant for them, and what elements of that experience seem unique or commonly shared.

In other words, “Sit down, honey. We need to talk about vaginal tears.”

2013: Is This the Year We Rise?

3 Jan

2011, my first year immersed in reproductive justice activism, was not a year for reflection; it was an unquestionably desperate time. States enacted a record number of abortion restrictions, blowing prior records out of the water. We were introduced to the vast, sprawling results of a decade of quiet, on-the-ground dedication by the anti-choice movement to eradicating not just our right to an abortion, but our rights and access to a wide array of other reproductive options as well. “Personhood” became a thing. It was that kind of year.

In important ways, it was a year that galvanized many sane, rational people. who might otherwise avoid anything that could be construed as a political fight, to throw their collective hats in the ring. For decades, young women, poor women, and women of color especially had lacked comprehensive access to abortion services. With middle and upper-class people’s access suddenly threatened, reproductive rights were, for the first time in a long time, a perpetual front-page story.

2012 was, without a doubt, The Year They Went Too Far. While we settled into the Sisyphean grind of rolling back 2011’s anti-choice advancements, anti-choice legislators set out to make such complete asses of themselves that they did the forward-progress work we simply didn’t have the time or energy for on our behalf. 2012 was the year of “legitimate rape,” “some girls rape easy,” “emergency rape,” and, you know, “the rape thing.” In 2012, while we were desperately trying to make sure states didn’t shut down every single abortion provider within their geographical boundaries, anti-choice activists were rolling out our public relations campaign for us, revealing, as they never had before, that real, human lives were worth nothing to them in the face of their ideologies, and that those ideologies were inherently, viciously misogynistic. 2012 saw the second-highest number of abortion restrictions ever enacted – but the number was still less than half that of 2011’s staggering assault. Things went, in a year, from essentially the worst ever, to only slightly worse than average.

But really, fundamentally, 2012 was the year that the carefully invisibilized monopoly white men have held on power since the founding of our nation began to obviously, visibly slip. Money didn’t win the election. We sloowwwly rolled back the anti-choice tide. It wasn’t just ok to say that “some girls rape easy” – every member of the “rape caucus” up for re-election lost their bid. And when I went to visit a friend in a deep red state, his usually polite, white, conservative, deeply religious father veered off from what had been a casual discussion of politics and yelled at me until I cried.

One minute we were talking in their perfectly normal suburban kitchen, and the next moment I was symbol for every misplaced frustration this man was feeling. White men haven’t lost power: they still have all the money, all the corporate boards and presidencies, and almost all of Congress. But they have lost what they took for granted, what they took to be understood – that the world was a certain way, that certain things were the absolute truth, that their absolute truth was known and accepted. For years, politicians ranted that the wealthy and the white and the heterosexual were losing the country, and they loved to get everyone fired up. They’d all shake their heads and talk about the “hostile takeover” and lament that it was all slipping away and they couldn’t stop it. But it was never real; the possibility that a black man would be President, gay people would be allowed to adopt children and get married, and people would generally agree that rape really, actually wasn’t something women asked for was just the bogeyman they used to keep the donations coming in and gun sales up. They had no idea what it would truly feel like to lose. They never, ever lost. And watching the results come in election night, they knew what it meant to lose – and frankly, it’s driven a lot of them completely batty.

None of this is to say the war for equality, justice, and open access to resources, in the US or certainly world-wide, is close to over. Climate change may wipe out humanity before we achieve any of those things (I am totally serious about this). But like the anti-abortion initiatives we turned back this year, the tide on the Unquestioned Reign of White Male Privilege has, in fact, begun to turn. This is real.

I love new beginnings. I love a fresh start. I go into 2013 with enthusiasm and arms wide-open. But that doesn’t make history disappear, and we can’t leave any of the violence of recent history – mass shootings, targeted assassination attempts, subway hate crimes, mass sexual assault in war-time – behind in 2012, to simply fade into obscurity. 2013 doesn’t start clean. 2013 starts with the fight for recognition and justice for a 23 year old woman in Delhi, India, who was gang-raped so brutally that she died of organ failure in the hospital.

Her courage in speaking out about her rape and murder was the spark that lit a fire that has spread across Delhi. On the second day of 2013, thousands of women marched in silence, signs held aloft, declaring that rape-culture’s day had passed in their city. Women who live or have lived in Delhi have written fiercely enraged blog posts and made demands in The New York Times. Their story is the story of a thing gone too far, an unspeakable act that has silenced and galvanized a city. And Newtown might be the story of how a tragedy so unimaginable it still doesn’t seem real woke a nation from the cherished myths that were killing their children. And Malala might be the story of how a world realized that girls everywhere need us to pay attention and protect their right to live freely, to go to school, and to dream.

But I think there’s a chance that this is one story. There is a chance that this is the story of how people with more power learned to listen to those with less; how people accustomed to having a voice learned to listen to those who have not been given the opportunity to speak. There is a chance this is the story of how vital global conversations began, how we refused to allow the same violence to continue in perpetuity until our daughters sons daughters were marching through the streets to win for themselves what we had failed to bequeath them. There is a possibility, however slim, that 2011 was the story of how bad things can get; that 2012 was when we declared the status quo wholly unacceptable; and that 2013 is the year that we rise.

Many astrologers insist that Mayans didn’t believe the world would end in 2012; they believed the worldas we know it was coming to an end. There is a school of thought that says 2013 ushers in an age of enlightenment; there are astrological phenomena similar to those that occurred during the Renaissance and parts of the Romantic period. I don’t think everything will get better this year. But I believe this could be the year we insist things must get better, that we will make them better, and that “no” is simply not an option.

I Am Terrified of Having a Daughter

6 Dec

One of our authors wrote what someone called a “beautiful love letter to her eggs” (it really is!) and I found it made me warm and sort of gooey. I thought about what I would like to say in a letter to a someday-daughter – I’m surrounded by children now, in my office, in my personal life, they’re everywhere – and I got a little stuck because, try as I might to think of something inspiring or powerful or comforting, something that I would have liked to read during the difficult years in my life, all I could think, the one sentence thundering through my head, was sad and resigned:

“I hope the world doesn’t fuck you up too badly, sweetie.”

I’ve only ever thought, when I’ve thought of having children in passing, of having a daughter. I think this is because I believe it represents, given my personal values, the greater of the two gendered challenges. By “challenge” I mean “a thought so fucking terrifying it cripples me.” Daughters. Little girls. All the neediness, the insecurity, the vicious things visited upon young women from infancy through adulthood – what could be more terrifying as a parent? It’s terrifying as a big sister, an aunt, a cousin, and a friend, never mind as the first and last line of defense that a parent often represents or expresses the desire to be. How can I fairly bring a girl into this world knowing that the odds of her being raped, assaulted, and abused are so very, very high? What of the smaller daily humiliations and their physical manifestations, like the high rates of eating disorders?

I think the best way I could raise a “boy” would be with self-respect, respect for others, kindness and feminist values. I think I would be almost too pleased to raise a gender non-normative kid, knowing that their challenges would be so utterly unique and hoping they would trust me so we could face them together, invent new ways to live. But a girl? A child who wants to present as a girl, be recognized as a girl, live and move through the world as a girl? That thought unhinges me. So much can go wrong. So much is beyond me, beyond my control. I would wake up every morning knowing for a fact that the world would enact some pretty awful hurts on her, and the best I could ever do would be to teach her to minimize the damage, to get up every morning and live with the most joy she’s personally capable of, and to never give up. Is the difficulty of life as a girl the life I would want to offer a child? I’m grateful for mine, certainly, but I wonder if I could consciously choose to bring a child into what I know would be a difficult if not debilitating reality. And, most importantly, I wonder if I could possibly rise to the challenge of giving that child everything it would need and never faltering in my own faith and belief.

We’ve got a baby girl in my office for the month whose mother is just rejoining us after maternity leave. This mama is fierce beyond belief; tiny of body but huge of spirit, her presence takes up a whole room. Baby is going to be bilingual, beautiful, and a force to be reckoned with. The earliest years of her life will be spent between continents, and in New York City; she will always be surrounded by strong, loud feminists who don’t hesitate to yell and share opinions, who never let her spoiled butt hit the chair because everyone wants to hold her and tell her how amazing she is. It doesn’t seem like a bad life at all, I’ll tell you. But what about when she goes to school? What about mean spirited classmates? What about the news, when she realized her parents are immigrants and she’s the only naturalized American citizen? What about the “what ifs” I can’t even contemplate here, the things that happen around the world every second of the day that break us? What about when we can’t all carry her all the time?

What do you think? Do you want kids? Do you think, or care, about gender? Anyone want to talk about the intersections of race, ability, class and sexuality that I didn’t even touch here? I have questions!

So You Want to be a Working Feminist!

16 Oct

In the five (six! six?) years since graduating college, I have worked in progressive non-profits, international humanitarian aid, at a start-up pro-choice organization, and for a few months as a volunteer in Rwanda. I don’t know how to quanitify this particular set of experiences, but an anonymous post back in July – Why is it so hard to find a feminist job? – led me to believe I might have something useful to contribute to the conversation. Let’s call this kind of employment “working for good,” whether it’s in reproductive justice or animal rights, fighting fracking or the keystone pipeline, or pounding pavement trying to get progressives elected to office.

So you want to work for good!

The absolute first thing you need to do is decide where this priority fits into your life. How important is it to you to work for good? And, once you have decided that this is a priority, how important is it to you that you get paid to work for good? In a previous post that sounds totally unrelated to this topic, “There’s No Right Time to Have Kids,” I made a point that is actually incredibly relevant to this decision-making process: you need to order your priorities. As Anonymous pointed out, the vast majority of for-good work is concentrated in metropolitan, coastal areas. If you want to work in policy, your options are DC, DC, and the occasional less hands-on job in NYC. If you want to work for one of the leading women’s-rights organizations, you’re looking at NYC, NYC, NYC, DC, and the occasional SF. If you want one of these jobs, you probably need to be ready, able, and willing to move. Probably at a moment’s notice, for very little money.

Why are all the “good jobs” concentrated on the coasts? Because that’s where the money is. Here’s an important thing to know: non-profit is just a fuzzy, friendly way of saying “tax shelter.” Some non-profits do really good work. Some non-profits do really crappy things. All non-profits spend an overwhelming amount of time fundraising. You won’t believe it’s real even when you’re part of it. Aside from that, it’s clustering. Many for-good jobs are in DC because the national office needs to be close to Congress. Many non-profit and feminist jobs are in NYC because you want to be where your colleagues are, where the UN is, and where you will have the most access to big events, TV stations, and – I mentioned money, right? – donors. It still isn’t a perfect system, because you’re always not somewhere. Executive Directors in NYC have to travel to DC frequently and vice versa, and everyone has to travel to LA.

I’ll move. How do I find one of these jobs? There are more job lists than you can possibly imagine. For DC jobs, for $5 a month (used to be free, sorry!) get on Tom Manatos’ job list. Check Congressional websites directly. Get on twitter and follow every org you love – they’ll often tweet job postings. Make a list of every place you want to work, figure out where on their website they post their jobs, and check that part of the website every few days (this is how I got my job in NYC). When someone mentions an org, go right to the website, and if you like it, add it to the list. AWID has a great feminist job listing you can sign up for. And guys – Idealist, Idealist, Idealist. I got one of my DC jobs from there. Contact your friends who do the work you want to do and tell them you’re looking, they will send you things. When you apply for a job, see if you know anyone who knows anyone. Lots of people want this work and not much of it pays, so knowing someone who knows someone might be the difference between your resume getting a cursory scan and being really carefully examined. Finding a job is work. It takes a long time, even for people with tons of experience and many contacts. The more flexible you are the easier it will be. And if you can’t or won’t be flexible, remember what you’re gaining. It’s not, “I can’t find a job,” it’s “I have a loving partner and a dog and I get to keep them and that’s awesome.” Remember, these are your priorities. You have to own them.

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I Know Women Who Are Glad That They Had An Abortion

24 Aug

I finished reading this post by Lidia Yuknavitch at Rumpus on “Explicit Violence,”  (trigger warning for sexual assault) and before you click on it, let me just say, yes, I think it is an incredible essay. It is compellingly written and it gets to the core of many of the intersections of violence we experience between poverty and gender and sex and sexual orientation. But it is brutal. It is explicit. And it contains images of rape and violence I am going to try and drink away tonight.

I wanted to tell everyone who felt like they could handle it to read it, but then I got to the end, where the author says:

I carry deep shame in my body for the zygotes. I don’t know a single woman alive who is “happy” to have had an abortion. Or two. Or four. And it’s not just me. Other women. Republicans. Democrats. Unaffiliated women. Atheists. Christians. Muslims. Buddhists. Armies of us walking around carrying our body secrets. Our shame over the zygotes. Or maybe there’s something deeper than shame—maybe there’s a second self I had to kill in order to live. The Lidia who believed she deserved it. Could take it. Should. It was a choice.

This needs to be addressed – again.

I know women who are happy about their abortions. Happy. Glad they had one. Maybe not glad that they had to have one, that they found themselves at those intersections of life and sex and often poverty that lead to abortions, but I know people who had abortions because they were giving birth to long-cherished dreams instead of children, or who would have stayed with a man they shouldn’t have and are now very, very glad they had an abortion instead of making a series of mistakes, one of which might – might not, but might – have been a child brought into a home where it wasn’t wanted with parents who did not want to parent.

I know more than a single woman who is “happy” to have had an abortion. And if you read this blog, you do too.

No single experience is the only experience, and we are all products of our own historical moment. The author is, very explicitly, a product of a great deal of shame and violence and a generation of “safe, legal, and rare,” a communications strategy designed to keep women from making their own healthy reproductive choices through deep-seeded invented patriarchal morals right before our generation where they figured out they could keep us from making our own choices by making our options inaccessible.

Some women mourn either their abortion or the fact that their circumstances meant that they had to have an abortion. Some women do not mourn their abortion or their circumstances. Some women experience deep gratitude for their abortion, and even a gratitude to the child they didn’t have for never being born. And some people who have abortions are not women.

There are strategic narratives deployed over which a multitude of gorgeous, fractured, layered, desperate, joyous and despairing real lived experiences cannot be easily laid. People are still reaching for them, because they are accessible to us; these narratives tell us how to tell our own stories. “When you tell about your abortion, tell them you are so sorry it had to happen.” Yes, if you feel that way, do. Tell me everything. I am listening to you with all of my heart. But don’t make your story everyone’s story. So few of us have a platform from which we can be heard, please be generous and say, “Here is my story, now tell me yours.” Allow us to belong to one another.