An Open Letter to Congress

Dear Congress-people responsible for the ridiculously-named  Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act:

Have you heard about the 2006 study* on pre-term births that revealed racism as a very real risk-factor in early labor?

African-American women at every socioeconomic level have higher rates of preterm birth and infant mortality. Incredibly, these rates exceed those of white women who have not even finished high school and those of black women who emigrated to the U.S. from other countries. For example, infant mortality in white women with a college degree or higher is 4 per 1000, while for similarly educated African-American women, the rate is 12 per 1000 births. [Source]

If that is not compelling enough check out the transcript for Unnatural Causes: When the Bough Breaks, one part of an (awesome) documentary series about health disparity in America (that I was lucky enough to be introduced to at a recent YWCA Cultural Competency training!)

I agree – racism is a serious issue – but how about we deal with the racism faced by fully-gestated people first? There are a plethora of reasons why you should care about the racism that fully-gestated people face every day (basic human decency and a sense of justice, for starters) but if none of those reasons compel you, then do so for the fetuses that you care so very much about. Fetuses who are being born pre-term because their mothers bodies are so worn down by the constant stress of racism that they cannot carry their baby to full-term, despite making every effort to do so.

Or, you know, you can keep writing bills that exploit the very real problem of racism in an attempt to screw over women of color even more. Your choice.

– A concerned voter.

*Institute of Medicine Committee on Understanding Premature Birth and Assuring Healthy Outcomes, Board on Health Sciences Policy, Behrman, R.E., and Butler, A.S. (eds.). (2006). Preterm Birth: Causes, Consequences, and Prevention. Washington, DC, The National Academies Press.

Its His Party & He’ll Cry if He Wants To…

As an avid crier myself, I think its time for me to take on the Boehner crying thing. I’ve been trying to ignore this issue for awhile, because it honestly just strikes a bit too close to home, but after a recent episode of the Daily Show managed to stretch the Speaker of the House’s tears into about ten minutes of jokes… I felt as if I had to speak up. This whole situation reminds me of the time that someone told me they were against Palin running for Vice President because she should be home caring for her children. There are so many GOOD reasons to be against her running, and you choose that one? Was my response. Allow me to troth that argument out again: There are so many GOOD reasons to question Boehner, why are focusing on the fact that he tends to cry?

If a female politician cries she gets mocked and her credibility gets questioned because her tears are seen as a sign of feminine weakness, indicating an inability to handle the tough world of politics (then again, sometimes if she DOESN’T cry, its seen as a sign that she is a “bitch.”) If a male politician cries he (sometimes) gets a pass if the situation holds enough gravity, and his tears are stoic enough… but not if he cries as often as Boehner has. Basically, crying in politics is really complicated and not often something a politician can do without criticism. But, why?

In a recently published study at Penn State, researchers sought to explore differing perceptions of crying in men and women, presenting their 284 subjects with a series of hypothetical vignettes.

Reactions depended on the type of crying, and who was doing it. A moist eye was viewed much more positively than open crying, and males got the most positive responses.

“Women are not making it up when they say they’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t,” said Stephanie Shields, the psychology professor who conducted the study. “If you don’t express any emotion, you’re seen as not human, like Mr. Spock on ‘Star Trek,’ ” she said. “But too much crying, or the wrong kind, and you’re labeled as overemotional, out of control and possibly irrational.” […]

For a little historical perspective, says Lutz, author of “Crying: The Natural and Cultural History of Tears,” it’s helpful to look back to the 19th century, when skillful politicians like Abraham Lincoln used tears as a natural part of their oratory.

The tide later shifted against male crying, but in the past 30 to 40 years male crying has gained in acceptability. “Every president since Ronald Reagan has used tears at some point,” says Shields, the Penn State psychologist. [Source]

I don’t love Boehner for many reasons. Off the top of my head: I feel he is hypocritical, he is against legislation that would prohibit job-discrimination based on sexual orientation , he is anti-choice when it comes to reproductive rights, and I find the need for a GIANT gavel just silly. (That last one was a joke!)  However, the fact that he sometimes engages in a perfectly natural bodily function just doesn’t strike me as a valid reason to dislike him.

When I’m trying to give an important presentation, or trying to talk in front of a group, or whatever and I start crying it happens because I can’t help it. I could be wrong, but I am fairly certain Boehner would rather get through his interviews without invoking the mockery that comes along with crying, so he’s probably like me.  The best thing that I, personally, have started to do in these situations is to simply assure the people around me that I am fine, my body just doesn’t seem to realize that and request that they simply ignore my tears. I am lucky that I am typically surrounded by people open-minded enough to see past my body’s involuntary reaction and listen to what I am saying. The more directly  I address the tears, the  less crying I actually do because suddenly I have gone from thinking don’t cry, don’t cry (does that ever work?) to not thinking about the tears at all.

Now, Boehner’s tears could be a total strategy (though I’m pretty sure he is capable of coming up with something more effective than that as a political strategy) but its just as likely that they are something he has serious trouble controlling, like I do.

Do his tears alter the quality of his ideas and words? Nope.

Do they change his political viewpoints? Nope.

Do they effect his ability to do his job?  Only as much as we let them, by blowing his tears out of proportion and making mean jokes.

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Sarah Palin’s “Feminist Card”

This post is my blogging equivalent of “thinking out loud” so take everything said here with a grain of salt… this discussion is hard!

I don’t like Sarah Palin, lets make that clear. In fact, I don’t like her so much that at first I was very happily and vocally joining in with the “Sarah Palin is not a feminist” crowd. However, since my initial gut reaction, I’ve had a bit of an (unpopular) change of heart. In fact, I think Sarah Palin, could actually be a feminist.

Hear me out, let’s start by defining feminism for a quick second.

Feminism “refers to political, cultural, and economic movements aimed at establishing greater rights and legal protections for women.” (Hooray for Wikipedia!)

My feminism goes beyond this and focuses a lot on challenging gender norms, racism, and homophobia as well [intersectional feminism, as I defined it earlier] but I suppose I can’t be so conceited to believe that my feminism works for all feminists.

I think the feminist blogger who writes Angry Feminist Doc says it best:

First, no one is such a Good Feminist as to be able to take away someone else’s right to call themselves such. I believe “feminist” is an identity marker that people choose to apply to themselves. Some people who advocate (who may strongly advocate) causes we may traditionally associate with the feminist movement do not choose to adopt the “feminist” label. We do not force it upon them. And we don’t have the right to be snatching it back from someone (including Sarah Palin) who has chosen to adopt it.

Palin is a woman in politics, in a decidedly anti-woman party. She’s a feminine woman in politics, who fairly consistently calls out the pundits who feel the need to criticize her based upon her body and her femininity; though I may not agree with her politics, I do agree that her intelligence has nothing to do with her looks. She’s a mother who has chosen to devote her time to politics, while her husband  takes on the role of primary-caregiver – and she’s willing to defend that choice publicly. All of these actions are, in my opinion, very feminist ones and I must give credit where credit is due.

However, if Sarah Palin is a feminist, I am going to hold her to the same standards that I hold all feminist leadersand if I am holding her to those standards, well, then she has a lot of apologizing to do. Continue reading

But is She Hot Enough to be a Justice?

I’m not looking to say I told you so, but:

I saw this coming, and its not going to stop unless we start making a fuss and telling our media to stop supporting this ridiculous double-standard. I mean, I understand that TMZ is not a serious news source but, still, that does not give them the right to make fun of Kagan based on her appearance.

When you see things like this, please, write letters to the media source responsible, blog about it and encourage others to do the same, call the editor and leave angry messages… basically, just do whatever you can to register your disapproval or else shit like this isn’t going to stop, and it  needs to stop. It needs to stop because this is a big deal. I mean, sure, Elena Kagan is a strong and confident enough woman that this stupid article won’t hurt her much in the long run, if at al; she’s accomplished more than the “journalist” who pulled this silly photo comparison together could even conceive of… but she’s not the one I am worried about.

Mostly I’m worried about the smart and ambitious young women who see things like this, and begin to doubt themselves. The women who are forced to wonder am I pretty enough to dream of being a public figure? instead of Am I intelligent enough to be a judge? Do I have what it takes to go into politics? Am I talented enough to be an actor, or a singer, or a dancer? and so on. Look at Hillary Clinton, look at Susan Boyle, look at Sonia Sotomayor, just look around at all of the talented, intelligent, powerful women who are constantly being judged based on their looks first and their appearance later. Is this happening to men? Not really, no (and when it does, it’s just as wrong).

As a young woman who went through years of insecurity before gaining the awareness and confidence to say fuck being beautiful, I’m going to change the world; a woman who still has off days where she feels beaten down and useless, just because she isn’t pretty enough; as a woman who is worth more than this I implore you to speak up and fight for this change. I’m willing to bet that if we just cut it out and focused on the relevant features of these women we would see a shift in our culture, a shift that leads to more young women pursuing their dreams (while not necessarily worrying what they look like) and thriving because they don’t have to worry about being pretty enough to be taken seriously.

[Admittedly old image courtesy of a Jezebel post that I just managed to find today.]

Here We Go Again

I love my country but, at the same time… sometimes I’m incredibly disappointed by American culture. This would be one of those times.

When I was informed that Obama had selected his next Supreme Court nomination, and that the nominee was a woman I was immediately anxious. I wanted nothing more than to share in the excitement that others around me felt but, at the same time, I knew this was going to go bad fast. As everyone around me chattered excitedly about her qualifications and experiences all I could think was here we go again…

Just like the Sotomayor bashing began not a day after her nomination, so the Kagan bashing begins… this time instead of racism we get homophobia oh, great.

Some “Choice” Quotes

[From an article that laid out “evidence” for an against Kagan being a lesbian, published by Gawker] “ Let’s just get this out of the way. Kagan has a dykey haircut. Yes, it borders on stereotype, but the easiest way to spot any lesbian is based on her tonsorial choices and Kagan’s short ‘do says more ‘Melissa Etheridge concert’ than it does ‘wash-and-go busy professional.’ That’s not good or bad, it just is.” […] “When she worked at the University of Chicago, she played softball. There are pictures to prove it. Sorry, but softball=lesbian.” […] “Okay, since we’re digging out the circumstantial evidence, there is a picture of Kagan from 1977 where she is wearing a plaid, flannel shirt. Sorry, but, like softball, flannel=lesbian.” […] “The Kagan lesbian rumors aren’t new, but she’s never made a public statement denying them. Here’s the basic rule on gay rumors: If someone doesn’t deny them or won’t talk about them, then they are true.”

[This is a whole article:] “Well no wonder the White House was so concerned with anyone thinking Elena Kagan, the solicitor general, is a lesbian: Tomorrow he’ll nominate her to the Supreme Court, NBC’s Pete Williams reports. Undoubtedly, Obama has the answer to her sexuality; don’t expect anyone to share it until after she’s confirmed.

[And a conservative blog post, for good measure:] “This is hilarious. Potential Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan is gayer than the first three rows at an Indigo Girls concert, and yet the White House acts all outraged that conservative writer Ben Domenech incorrectly described the unmarried 49-year-old as “openly gay.”

Kagan is not officially so open about it, and this gives the White House a chance to pretend that Domenech is part of a right-wing homophobic whisper campaign. In the process, as Moe Lane notes, the White House reacted “in a manner that explicitly and authoritatively denies that Ms. Kagan is gay” – a denial that thereby makes it legitimate news if, in fact, Kagan is gayer than your average NCAA Division I varsity women’s softball team.”

Elena Kagan does not publicly self-identify as queer and, yet, because of her short hair, her tendency towards pant-suits, and her single status America has decided she can only be a lesbian. We (or, the media) has decided she is a lesbian and now that’s all we’re going to talk about… just as Justice Sotomayor’s Latina heritage was pretty much all anyone could focus on during her process.

I have two major issues here:

1) Who the fuck are we to project any identity onto anyone else? Not one of the people reporting on this stories knows that Kagan is queer, because she does not openly identify as queer. Sure, she might be… but she also might not be. It’s her right to keep that information private if she so chooses and its really disrespectful to us as a culture to make assumptions about her sexuality, and then base our critique of her potential presence on the Supreme Court on these speculations. Short hair, pants, and a lack of a male partner does not a lesbian make… sure, some lesbians do meet all of those characteristics, but so do some straight women. The only way we can really know the truth about Kagan’s sexuality is to hear it from her when and if she is ready to disclose… which brings me to my next point.

2) Maybe she is queer… who knows? But if she is… SO WHAT? This idea that a Latina woman, or a queer woman, or even just a woman is going to be more biased than a straight white man and, thus, should not be appointed to the Supreme Court is sexist, racist, and homophobic because it operates on the assumption that straight white men are the default perspective in society… an assumption that many Americans seem to make on a constant basis. Well, I have news for those people: men are socialized differently than women, white people have a lot of privileged in our society and thus will often develop a view of the world that is different from a non-white person’s  just like straight people living in a heteronormative society (like ours) tend to see the world in a different way than queer people do. Everyone has different lived experiences, and thus, everyone brings a different bias to the table. Even people with the same heratige, the same skin color, the same sexuality and gender identification, and so on live different lives and, thus, develop different biases and lenses in which to see the world.

NO PERSON IS UNBIASED OR “MORALLY DEFAULT” so why are we acting as if a justice’s sexuality, or ethnicity, or whatever should even matter? What I am concerned about right now is Kagan’s history – what she has done, what she believes, her experience with law... you know, the relevant stuff? I just wish the rest of this country would be too.

ETA That said, there are some very legitimate criticisms of Kagan. This post in particular makes me incredibly concerned, and the fact that she is anti-equal marriage is another point of contention for me.

The haircut: Let’s just get this out of the way. Kagan has a dykey haircut. Yes, it borders on stereotype, but the easiest way to spot any lesbian is based on her tonsorial choices and Kagan’s short ‘do says more “Melissa Etheridge concert” than it does “wash-and-go busy professional.” That’s not good or bad, it just is.

Liveblogging Ann Coulter

The Situation so Far: It was announced a few weeks ago that Ann Coulter would be coming to speak at my college. In response Feminists United and PRIDE decided to protest her presence; however, we wanted to go about this protest in a way that wouldn’t feed into the Ann Coulter media machine. We had to think outside of the box. Luckily our adviser had an awesome idea… we would give away “Ann-ti Coulter” Buttons, asking for a donation of a dollar per button, and donate all of the money to a worthy organization (we choose the ACLU.)

Today is the day it all goes down & so far we have raised $300 with the buttons!

I’m going to try my hand at “live-blogging” or an approximation thereof by blogging our progress through out the day and then blogging my response to her speech as soon after it occurs as possible (unfortunately no laptop in the event because my crappy Dell is not discreet or really that portable anymore.) Check back to this post for updates through out the day!

11:35am: Some awesome people came in to get buttons, one guy had a handmade “Fuck Coulter” tee shirt on. It’s a little more inflammatory then the message I have been communicating all along but still, more power too him. It gets frustrating sometimes, trying to be the reasonable middle-of-the-road one; constantly advocating for open dialogue and so on. Sometimes I wish I could just let my anger out like that…  even though I know it’s not a productive way of starting a dialogue. Still, it was an awesome shirt.

12:49pm: Unrelated, but… all I have had to eat today is a ring-pop (blue, so my mouth is now blue), two oreo cookie balls (oreos mixed with cream-cheese, which sounds & looks disgusting but tastes like cookie dough), and a Hi-C Juice Box. Breakfast of champions? (Anyone know how to get blue off one’s teeth?)

3:18pm: I wish there was more to say… this live-blogging thing seems like a fail. I made more buttons about an hour ago because we were running out. We’re going to try giving them out outside the event which should be interesting. I’m really proud of the amount of dialogue that this campaign has managed to spur so far. Aside from some name-calling on facebook (from both sides) and some poster ripping down (from random people against Ann Coulter) we’ve managed to remain fairly calm and civil. I’ve had some interesting conversations with people organizing the event about Coulter’s way of speaking – some of them even agreed with my take on her “style” as an overly offensive one that relies heavily on name-calling with little attention to substance. Check out the school newspaper articles about the event for an idea of the dialogue!

April 8th, on Page 2

April 1st, on Pages 4 & 7

March 25th, on Page 7

8:32pm Well, that was “fun.” First things first, to set the scene: We walked in to a group of very well dressed people mulling about the lobby outside of the theater. We were the first recognizable Ann-ti Coulterites in the room, worse than that, we were surrounded by women who looked just like Coulter from behind; skinny with long blonde hair. It was unsettling, since I kept “seeing” her out of the corner of my eye even though I knew there was no way she’d be outside mingling before the event. I felt a bit awkward for a moment in my rainbow skirt, with my rainbow nails, and three Ann-ti Coulter pins but then three students quickly came up and asked  if we had any pins left and I was put at ease. My grandma was also a big help, since she was here to support Coulter… it made me feel a bit at ease to be with someone who “fit in” as silly as that sounds.

After passing through a metal detector (which the pins set off, causing a bit of a headache for security all night) we entered into the auditorium to discover the first three rows were roped off. As people finished trickling in I realized that those rows were reserved for the middle-aged Republicans that the club had outsourced to attend the event. I have nothing against middle-aged people or people who don’t go to Ramapo attending our events (clearly, as I was sitting next to my pro-Coulter grandma who I had invited to the event!) What I do take issue with is the intentional packing of the front three rows with off-campus people, thus, synthetically creating an environment that does not match up with the buzz that existed on campus. There were plenty of Ramapo students on both sides of this issue who wanted tickets but didn’t get them, I’m sure they wouldn’t appreciate the way this was handled. (Though, I do understand that the College Republicans received major funding from outside organizations and this was likely one of the conditions they had to abide by in order to receive those funds.) Shouldn’t a college event be, primarily, for the students of that college?

Anyways, be back shortly with the actual speech!

8:55pm One of the College Republicans introduced Coulter by making the claim that bringing her here promoted diversity because “diversity is about more than the color of our skin or our religion, its about your ideas and beliefs as well.” I actually agree with that statement. However, inviting a speaker who often uses racially charged, homophobic, anti-semetic etc. insults  to silence the people who has an opinion that differs from hers is not a way of promoting diversity. There are many Conservative speakers who manage to conve their different views in a way that promotes open dialogue and real conversation… real diversity of opinion, if you will. Ann Coulter? Is not one of them. When you silence a student asking a valid question by calling him “gay boy” you can’t be one of them. Sorry, College Republicans… good try.

Coulter started her speech by telling us, “to hear my remarks in English please press or say one now.” Ha. ha. This was a relatively tame (albeit annoying if you, like me, believe more than one culture can happily coexist in a country) beginning, which was immediately followed by a comment about how glad she was to be here, and not in Canada. (I so called that joke.)

She then launched into what felt like fifteen-ish successive Bill Clinton sex scandal jokes (because apparently its still 1995) interspersed between comments like the following:

(Full disclosure, I may have misplaced a word here or there. I’m waiting to see if I can get a recording but all recording devices were banned from the event. All of these quotes are from the notes that I took as faithfully as possible; everything in quotations represent her actual words, the rest is very careful paraphrasing because I was writing by hand and I don’t know shorthand.)

It seems like Barack Obama wants to be the first and last black president. (In regards to his unpopularity after pushing the Health Care Bill through.)

The issue I take with this remark comes not from her conclusions about the bill but, rather, from the assumption that Obama’s actions be they good or bad somehow reflect upon an entire group of people. I don’t believe in race as anything more than a social construction anyways, but really? Even if you do you have to recognize the ridiculousness of a comment like this.

What follows IS paraphrasing and triggering so, fair warning if you click the cut!

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Health Care Reform as I Understand It

With everyone so eager to share their opinion on the historic health care bill that just passed, I figured I’d throw my two cents into the ring. Rather than provide you with an opinion on how I think this is going to play out, I’m simply going to lay out the provisions of this bill (as best as I understand them from a survey of articles that range from The New York Times to Fox News to Feministing.) I couldn’t resist throwing in a little opinion though… which is why the provisions are categorized into Good, Bad, and Questionable. I hope this helps make this whole debate just a little bit more comprehensible.

– The Good:
Most awesomely, this bill will expand insurance coverage to thirty-two million uninsured Americans. This will be accomplished, in part, through insurance exchanges. These exchanges would allow small business owners, and uninsured individuals to buy insurance through state-based exchanges that include subsidies for people who make from 100 to 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

The bill also puts strict regulations in place that will (hopefully) ban insurance companies from charging higher premiums or even denying coverage of people with preexisting conditions, as well as ban companies from charging higher premiums for women. It would also require insurance companies to provide maternity care.

This bill will also expand Medicaid so that people who make up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level will be covered, and close the Medicare “donut hole” which is a costly gap that vastly pumps up the price of prescription drug coverage for senior citizens.

The bill will allow parent’s insurance to cover their children through the age of twenty-six.

– The Questionable:
With a few exceptions, this bill would require all U.S. citizens to purchase insurance or pay a $695 annual fine, and require businesses with fifty plus employees to provide them with insurance or pay a two-thousand dollar fine per employee every year if any employee receives federal subsidies for purchasing insurance. (However, the employer mandate has been removed by the Senate.)

– The Bad:
Essentially, women’s health was thrown under the bus in order to pass this bill. Obama’s executive order that all abortion funds must be kept separate from any federal funds used in supplying health insurance will essentially cause all insurance companies to drop abortion coverage altogether; the alternative for the companies (maintaining records that separate out special ‘abortion funds’ from money that the policy-holder pays directly without government aid) is a record-keeping logistical nightmare.

This article
by Jon Walker says it best:

“The system of exchanges and affordability tax credits could easily be modified to ensure federal funds are not used to pay for abortions, while still not taking away the ability of women and small businesses to buy insurance packages that cover abortion. Having an individual mandate that forces women to buy insurance, but also a law that prevents them from getting insurance that covers a legal medical procedure, is a disgusting abuse of women’s rights.”

The other major fail in this bill concerns immigration. This bill as it stands would not allow undocumented immigrants to buy insurance on soon to be established exchanges, even if they are willing to pay the full cost out of pocket, with no government aid. Not only is this policy cruel, it also makes no sense fiscally. Walker explains it well:

“The more undocumented immigrants that pay for their own health care, the more taxpayers save by not being forced to pick up the cost of undocumented immigrants’ uncompensated care when they use the emergency rooms.”

[UPDATE] The bill also re-instates funding for the failed abstinence-only education initiative that is commonly referred to as Title V. The reputable studies out there all point to comprehensive sex education (that includes discussions about celibacy) is the most effective way to prevent pregnancy and the spread of STIs. Abstinence only does not work – it does not stop teenagers from having sex, and when they do have sex students who have only received abstinence education tend to use less (if any) protection. Again, I understand compromises have to be made but really now? Between the abortion strike-down and this you’d think our government wants more women to become dis-empowered mothers-without-a-choice*. That is not okay with me.

What Comes Next? Recognizing that, for the most part, this was a big step in the right direction is integral; but that’s all it is, a step. Now its time to bring the focus squarely onto reproductive rights (including access to safe, legal abortions for people of all income levels) and push to get some pro-choice legislature through as soon as possible. Another push to make it so illegal immigrants can purchase insurance will hopefully happen as well, since denying them coverage, even when they can afford it, is detrimental to both the health of our country and the health of the people we are refusing to cover.

Crossposted @ Amplify.

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* I am not implying that anyone is dis-empowered because they are a mother. What I am saying is that being forced to choose motherhood (because you were not given the information to prevent pregnancy, nor did you have access to a means of ending your pregnancy)  is dis-empowering. Shouldn’t we be working towards a country where every child is wanted and every parent wants to be one?