Monday, October 29, 2012

Girls' Voices Around the World

Femen by Joseph Paris
Women around the world are expressing themselves.

And paying the ultimate price. 

When freedom isn't free, women of all ages face social persecution, imprisonment, or death as punishment for living as outspoken feminists. October has brought media attention to incidents in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia and the Ukraine where religion, culture, and gender norms continue to stand in the way of women's equality.

Pakistani Teen Triumphs Over Taliban

 Just 10 days after her attempted assassination, Malala Yousafzai showed the world she could stand again. The 15-year-old, an advocate for young women's access to education, was shot in the head by Taliban members who boarded her school bus earlier this month.

She had been on their hit list since 2011 for promoting secularism and idolizing President Obama.

Once his target was identified, the gunman fired a total of four times, wounding Yousafzai and two other girls. CNN reported a near-fatal bullet entered above the back of her left eye and traveled through her jaw and shoulder before lodging in the tissue above her left shoulder blade.  

Giving a first-hand account of life in the Swat Valley, Yousafzai kept an anti-extremist blog for the BBC under the pseudonym Gul Makai.

Some feel the West used her (rather carelessly) as a pawn. Asif Ezdi, a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service, condemned this selfishness in Pakistan's publication the News International:
Malala Yousafzai was a child soldier who was sent unarmed and alone into battle against the Taliban on the propaganda front of what used to be called the “global war on terror”. She was placed in a role similar to that of the teenage suicide bombers of the Taliban and her chances of survival were a little better. It is nothing short of a miracle that she is still with us.
Yousafzai was reunited with her family on Friday. Doctors determined she will need skull reconstruction, but suffered no brain damage. While the heroic young girl recovers in a hospital in England, the Taliban promised they will attempt to murder her again.

Lady Rapper Blazes Trails in Afghanistan

The same week Yousafzai paid the ultimate price for her academic activism, Sosan Firooz was gaining momentum as Afghanistan's first female rapper. She, too, has an anti-Taliban message and a creative platform for her criticism.

Making history while making music, the 23-year-old's single "Our Neighbors" just dropped exclusively on YouTube:

Aware of the dangers facing outspoken women, Firooz's father quit his job to be her full-time escort. After living as a refugees in Iran and Pakistan, the Firooz family returned to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan seven years ago.

According to the Daily Mail the up-and-coming artist is releasing her songs with very limited resources: 
She lives with her family in a mud brick house in a poor neighborhood in north Kabul. She uses an old desktop computer to write music and was given an electronic keyboard as a gift from one of her supporters. She does not have the money to make CDs or a more elaborate music video, but she is determined to keep going.
But low production quality doesn't make her any less controversial. Firooz is taking risks just to dress the part. As Hip Hop Wired reported:
She defies many traditions, taking photos without her hair wrapped, wearing bandanas and other fashion not usually seen amongst Afghan women. A budding actress as well, some of Firooz's family has cut ties with her because she's breaking the old rules. Violence against women who don't follow the traditional ways is not uncommon, and [the] young rapper's life could be in danger.
While her rap identity is problematic, Firooz believes it is "the best way to tell her story." And she isn't the only woman making political statements with music.

Members of Pussy Riot Imprisoned in Russia

Back in the (former) U.S.S.R. women are using punk rock to protest. And after their notorious demonstration cost them dearly, the band Pussy Riot is as well-known in the United States as Bikini Kill

In February, three masked members were arrested and charged with hooliganism for this performance:

Their actual crime? Criticizing the government.

Pussy Riot's punk prayer in the Russian Orthodox church asked the Virgin Mary to rid their country of President Vladimir Putin. Instead, Putin attempted to rid Russia of Pussy Riot.

Media favorite Yekaterina Samutsevich was released earlier this month. With her sentence suspended, Samutsevich filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights.

Fellow members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Maria Alyokhina, 24, were given two years in jail. The New York Times reported Tolokustonnikova and Alyokhina were sent to Mordovi and Perm respectively; the harshest possible facilities. Located in desolate regions, these institutions echo the Stalin-era prison camps. 

Both women are mothers to small children and asked to suspend their sentences as well. Untouched by their maternal pleas, the judge decided to "correct them" with immediate isolation from society. 

Pussy Riot, accustomed to anonymity, must adapt now that several of their identities have been revealed. Following her release, Samutsevich told the Atlantic:
Yes, unfortunately, the criminal case exposed our faces -- the faces of the three defendants from the group. But that happened against our will and, naturally, now we are recognized. This is the new situation and we are just going to have to work with it. But there are other members of the group and they remain anonymous. 
Known to speak out behind ski masks, Pussy Riot shares tactics with the Guerrilla Girls of the United States. Self-described as "a bunch of anonymous females who take the names of dead women artists as pseudonyms and appear in public wearing gorilla masks," they wreak havoc in museums-- and elsewhere 

But not all feminists like to hide. In fact, some prefer full exposure.

And when it comes to being heard, Pussy Riots biggest fans depend on it.

Femen Goes Topless in the Ukraine

Inna Shevchenko, leader of the notorious group Femen, protested the Pussy Riot arrests by sawing down an Orthodox Christian cross in August. After showing solidarity with her Russian sisters in Kyiv, she fled to France.  

Shevchenko called the country providing her asylum "the center of feminism" and has made herself quite comfortable.

After opening their international headquarters in Paris, Femen launched a training camp for activists protesting in high-risk areas. In the city of love, their topless troops are preparing for "sextremism":

Most recently members of Femen were spotted at an Ikea in France, protesting the removal of women from catalouges sent to Saudi Arabia. 

Shevchenko told NPR she's been demonstrating for years, but only after the girls removed their shirts did people start paying attention. She said:
In a protest like that I see a great potential of women's nudity [being used] as a weapon. And I understand every time, more and more, that it works. That it is a peaceful way.
Despite Femen's commitment to peace, their adversaries often react with violence. Caught by the KGB after mocking President Alexander Lukashenko, "they were hooded and driven into a forest, stripped and covered in oil, menaced with knives, and told they would never make it out of the woods."

Started in 2008 to combat the sexual exploitation of women, as well as patriarchy in religion and dictatorships, the BBC reported the group now works with 40 members in the Ukraine and 100 abroad.

Femen shares notions of "new feminism" with the women who participate in Slut Walks. Hard to ignore, the overtly sexual tone refutes any claims of living post-feminist and may be indicative of yet another wave-- on a much larger scale.

Women Going to War

Whether with words, music, or a physical demonstration, women are protesting inequality across the globe. And they're suffering the consequences in hospitals, prisons, or constant fear.

But these incidents are anything but isolated. What the United States understands as "the War on Women" cannot be contained. It transcends borders, and though it may look different, the demands are essentially the same.

Women are struggling for their rights on every continent. So this November, remember to protect yours.

And when you vote, do it for all the women fighting the same war on fronts far more dangerous than our own.     

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Merida: You're Doing It Wrong

Well, it's that time of year again. Time for grown women to realize the slutty occupation of their dreams and little girls to transform into whichever princess they favor most. What a magical time. 

Make no mistake. Halloween is tough for the ladies. The choices are so limited. Even at the Girls's Costume Warehouse

Every year, the holiday unleashes conflicting feelings. Candy is good. Objectification is bad. Gendered polyester outfits are terrible. 

Usually, I'm most upset and/or confused by those found in the ladies department. (Sexy Waldo, anyone?)

But this October, it seems my biggest grievance came in a much smaller size. 

Look! Look what they've done to Merida!

Usually, the best archer of the summer box office is rough and tough. She's Disney's redemption; the feminist un-princess we so desperately needed. 

To quote myself--
Princess Merida doesn't clean. Or sing. Or (spoiler alert) get married. Her hair is unkempt, her eyes are wild, and her spirit is free. She races through the countryside on horseback, scales mountains, and reaches unthinkable heights. The liberated leading lady expertly shoots arrows at moving targets. She even rips her own dress to increase her range of motion in a defining moment oozing with symbolism. 
Look again at these dresses. Both costumes are much too fancy, not to mention totally inaccurate. These "Merida" impostors look like they're headed to a ball-- which never happened in Brave.

Consumers wouldn't even know the monstrosities were supposed to be representations of our fearless heroine if Disney hadn't branded the gowns. And why does it seem their young models just visited the Steel Magnolia's beauty parlor?

Regardless, the thing that made Merida so exceptional is that she was completely nontraditional. Unlike any of the other princesses, she was a young girl suited for action. And now, when other young girls want to emulate a worthy role model, they're deprived of the chance because the costumes offered this Halloween are insulting imitations.   

Friday, September 7, 2012

Friday, July 27, 2012

Brave Enough to be Different

During a recent explosion of heroic women archers in film, one summer movie has become an instant favorite and a measurable example of progress in popular culture. The numbers indicate audiences around the world were salivating for a strong female lead as Brave's premiere earned an impressive $80.2 million internationally its opening weekend and became Pixar's number one debut.

Besides records, Disney's latest production broke tropes that often landed the animation juggernaut in hot water. Unsatisfied feminists desperately wanted another kind of fairy tale for their daughters. And that's exactly what they got. Noticeably successful and decidedly different, one might say this was merely Merida's destiny.

"Destiny is the one thing we search for, or fight to change."

Feminists have been worried about the effect Disney's princesses were having on young girls for some time now. Even with a new look, Tangled (a loose interpretation of Rapunzel) followed the same tired formula. Reliant on a male lead to push the story forward, Rapunzel played a supporting role in her own movie and the mark (of progress) was missed completely.

In a New York Times piece titled "What's Wrong with Cinderella?" Peggy Orenstein wondered what Disney's many princesses were teaching her three-year-old, who (thanks to the company's aggressive marketing) was quickly becoming obsessed. Orenstein said:
I've spent much of my career writing about experiences that undermine girls’ well-being, warning parents that a preoccupation with body and beauty (encouraged by films, TV, magazines and, yes, toys) is perilous to their daughters’ mental and physical health.
And when it came to Disney's princess-industrial-complex, Orenstein found the "undermining" shoe fit.

Increasingly concerned by her own princess-in-training's royal preoccupations, she fully investigated the phenomenon in her best-selling book Cinderella Ate My Daughter. After revealing the social and economic forces behind the worrisome trendOrenstein argued "Cinderella [and each of her cohorts] is a symbol of the patriarchal oppression of all women, another example of corporate mind control." And she wasn't alone.

Other feminist mothers have explored whether the infamous girl gang was exploiting or empowering their offspring. Back in 2007, Barbara Ehrenreich made a modest proposal for a princess bonfire with parental pitchforks held high. Erenreich said
 Disney likes to think of the Princesses as role models, but what a sorry bunch of wusses they are. Typically, they spend much of their time in captivity or a coma, waking up only when a Prince comes along and kisses them.
And I myself have raked Disney over the feminist coals for their consistent failure to produce anything beyond an animated guru for the cult of true womanhoodBut since the release of the titillating trailers, we all knew Brave would be different. After years of criticism, a red-haired breath of fresh air would change the theater experience forever.

"Curse this dress."

Princess Merida doesn't clean. Or sing. Or (spoiler alert) get married. Her hair is unkempt, her eyes are wild, and her spirit is free. She races through the countryside on horseback, scales mountains, and reaches unthinkable heights. The liberated leading lady expertly shoots arrows at moving targets. She even rips her own dress to increase her range of motion in a defining moment oozing with symbolism. 

Yes, Merida willingly busts her seams, breaks through barriers and defies gender norms. But in the midst of narrating her own story, she explains how painfully aware she is of the double standards controlling her life. 

Her brothers "get away with murder," while she is constantly reprimanded and reminded to be a "lady." Under her mother's watchful eye, the list of what princesses do not do seems never ending. 

While Queen Elinor enforces piety, purity, domesticity and submissiveness with daily lessons, Merida yearns for something else. Dreading her inevitable engagement, the bride-to-be only wants to "chase the wind and touch the sky."  

"I've decided to do what's right and break tradition."

Disney's newest 'it girl' is insatiable. She doesn't need saving and she resolves her own conflicts. Inspired by co-director Brenda Chapman's own daughter, Merida is a rare gem.

This peculiar princess behavior is matched by two other atypical women characters; an ambivalent witch and a understandably flawed matriarch. 

The witch, known as the Crafty Carver, is neither evil nor menacing. With an impressive skill she practices more than witchcraft, she leads an active life away from her cauldron. She's not chasing after Merida's youth and she doesn't mean the princess any harm. Bordering on mentor, she merely teaches her unexpected pupil a valuable lesson. 

And the Queen, initially defined by female essentialism, is allowed to change over time. Elinor's commitment to domestic tasks and marital submission is challenged by her daughter's dreams. Following a hasty wish and a latent consequence, both learn to communicate their own desires-- and compromise.

So often female characters are static, stereotypical and boring, not to mention at each other's throats. But the women of Brave are surprisingly dynamic. And the men aren't so bad either.

While Merida's mother battles traditional femininity and societal pressures to conform, her father is a constant ally in her nontraditional pursuits. He encourages her adventures, takes pride in her outdoor accomplishments and insists, "learning to fight is essential-- princess, or not." 

Rough and tough (with a wooden leg to prove it) this is the most supportive Disney father yet. As King Fergus looks over Merida's suitors, he sees none fit to marry his daughter. He only wants what she wants. 

Yet Queen Elinor tries to convince both parties an arranged marriage is what Merida has been preparing for her entire life. And Merida attempts to alter her future by disrupting the present-- which is rooted too deeply in the past. 

In a story centering on mother-daughter relationships, the tension between young and old feels like the struggle defined in Betty Friedan's The Feminine MystiqueAnd as the characters of Brave examine the legends shaping their lives, they are creating an historical narrative of their very own.

"Legends are lessons. They ring with truth."

While Chapman was inspired by the Grimm Brothers, her story doesn't rely on a pre-existing fairy tale. In fact, it feels more like mythology. Or maybe one of Aesop's fable. And that's the point.

Our overall enjoyment of this movie is ultimately defined by the difference between fairy tales and legends. Fairy tales are an escape, full of impossibilities and told only to entertain. 

Dependent upon dichotomies and stereotypes, a fairy tale romance followed by an extravagant wedding is predictable and anything but progressive. Men are charming and responsible for resolving conflicts-- usually with their swords. Women are beautiful and rewarded for adhering to the cult of true womanhood by ascending the socioeconomic ladder.

But legends have substance. They are as diverse as the people who repeat them. The action revolves around something worth knowing and the story is a creative vehicle to relay information. 

So rather than mislead our children with an archaic blueprint for happiness, Brave tells them to create their own. It teaches them to do what they want, despite social pressures to do what's expected-- and the all important art of negotiation. 

"You only have to be brave enough to see it."

These visual displays are especially important for our little women. Two years ago the American Psychological Association released a very special report on the sexualization of young girls. According to the APA's task force, the constant objectification (at all ages) is causing visible and lasting damage. 

Thanks to television, music, magazines and even toys, girls are learning to be "sexy" before they fully understand sex. Cultural obsessions with beauty, attraction and arousal are overwhelming for those watching while female. Girls experience depression and low self-esteem when bombarded by messages explaining their worth begins and ends with their bodies.  

Pair that with the passive attitude and limited aspirations of a typical princess and you've got a Stepford wife in training.

SPARK was created in response to this eye-opening APA report. The Sexualization Protest: Action, Resistance, Knowledge is a movement "designed to engage girls as part of the solution rather than to protect them from the problem." Forming coalitions to resist being used, hurt or patronized, SPARK is working to eliminate photo-shopping in teen magazines, gender-policing in children's toys, and negative imagery in the media.  

A similar project, "MissRepresentation" is trying to empower women while rejecting media labels that limit them. No stereotype goes unchecked here. The popular documentary by the same name attempted to "break that cycle of mistruths" and reminds us; "You cannot be what you cannot see." 

And that's why it's so importance for strong female characters in seemingly innocuous animated films to delight our daughters. In a recent interview with the Ms. Magazine where she enthusiastically described the film, Chapman said:
We need to give young girls role models with real messages about what they are capable of. There are so many films made by men that seem to put them in boxes, rarely ever giving women characters the freedom to express themselves in a genuine way. Girls and women can be strong in so many ways. Little girls are getting cheated out of seeing and believing that in our current media.
As Elinor and Merida decided together, children should be free to write their own stories and follow their own hearts. And we couldn't agree more.

Brave is still in theaters-- and not to be missed. So whether you're seeing it for the first or the seventh time, let Disney know (with your box office dollars) Merida is our favorite princess yet. Maybe we'll get more just like her.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

8 Things Everyone Should Know About the Ongoing Birth Control Debate

Photo by M. Markus
Women's health advocates are all too familiar with the idea of living "uncovered." When private insurers willingly pick up the tab for Viagra and not contraception, women are forced to pay for their reproductive rights-- out of pocket. And regulating a monthly cycle can be costly.

While abortion remains a heated partisan issue, birth control seemed all but forgotten-- practically apolitical. Financial barriers aside, birth control hadn't seen government restrictions since 1972.

Then suddenly, the notion of dreaded Obamacare providing women with contraception for a nominal fee cracked open a moral controversy many assumed was over and done with decades ago.

Not only has the sexual revolution erupted once again, but the medical instigator is a very hot topic in this year's primaries. For the first time in a very long time, the government, the Church, and the media are all equally obsessed with the pill.

But in the midst of all this coverage about contraception coverage, what's really worth knowing?

1) Following FDA approval 45 years ago, the Catholic Church almost accepted birth control. 

While today's Catholic Bishops are completely uncompromising, the religious authorities of the past were more considerate with contraception.

After Envoid was approved in 1960, Pope Paul VI organized a commission on birth control. "In 1967, the commission’s report was leaked to the press, revealing that a significant majority of its members favored lifting the ban, including 60 of 64 theologians and nine of the 15 cardinals." 

But in 1968, Paul inexplicably sided with the minority, forbidding the use of birth control just as it was becoming widely available. His final opinion was the basis of the Church's "Humanae Vitae"-- a crutch religious conservatives still lean upon today when attacking women's reproductive rights.     

2) Republicans used to think paying for birth control was a good idea. 

When Nixon was president, the Republican party overwhelmingly supported contraception, especially for the poor. A much younger George H.W. Bush argued "the federal government should pay for birth control for low-income women" when he sponsored Title X in 1970. As described by the Department of Health and Human Services: 
The Title X family planning program is intended to assist individuals in determining the number and spacing of their children. This promotes positive birth outcomes and healthy families. The education, counseling, and medical services available in Title X-funded clinic settings assist in achieving these goals.
In recent years, conservatives have attacked Title X and family planning facilities like Planned Parenthood, attempting to revoke the sensible program past members of their party initiated. And those currently competing for the republican candidacy would take the anti-choice movement a step further, restricting access to birth control through insurance and employment loopholes

As the right focuses on social issues and attempts to police fertility, they've successfully distracted the nation from debt, unemployment and all the financial problems for which they have no solutions. In the midst of an election showdown, this proves what everyone knew all along-- none of these candidates are qualified. And unfortunately, women are suffering during this obvious attempt to hide their inadequacies.

3) Today, the right rationalizes denying women contraception as protecting religious freedom.

Following President Obama's birth control mandate, many Republicans snarled this debate has nothing to do with reproductive rights. According to internet watchdogs at Salon, conservatives perceive the stand-off as an opportunity "to prove to Americans that Barack Obama truly does want to weasel his way into every aspect of American life."  

Catholics are claiming Obama has declared war against their conscience. Supportive Republicans are claiming the Obama administration is initiating its master plan for total control. Either way, women are in danger of losing access to contraception, yet another reproductive right, making women's health the real issue. And 6 out of 10 Americans believe that is what this is really about.

But the church and half the state keep insisting this is just about them and their morals.

4) When the debate is framed this way, women's voices are not heard.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing that shook the nation was titled  "Lines crossed: Separation of church and state. Has the Obama administration trampled on freedom of religion and freedom of conscience?" On February 16, an all male panel comprised of "religious experts" sat down to make a final call on women's birth control usage.

"Religious people determine what violates their consciences -- not the federal government," said Reverend Dr. Matthew Harrison. "Please get the federal government, Mr. Chairman, out of our consciences."

But what if religious people's consciences violate other people's consciences? Or worse? 

What if their holy notions interfere with a standard of living legally protected by two Supreme Court decisions? Who would be qualified to offer a counter-point then? Certainly not women. 

Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown Law School student, was prepared to to tell the story of her friend who lost an ovary due to lack of contraceptive coverage. But committee chair Darrell Issa rejected her testimony. 

Why? According to Issa, Fluke was not "appropriate and qualified" to speak on the matter. 

Yet Fluke was ready to discuss other medical benefits of the pill-- and the dire consequences of living without it. Proven to control endometriosis, irregular periods, unbearable cramps, and even acne, many women are taking birth control without trying to prevent pregnancy. 

Perhaps this information is worth considering before religious institutions demand their right to deny American women their prescriptions? Issa certainly didn't think so. And neither do the men who think contraception usage is nothing more than the ultimate indicator of a promiscuous girl.

5) Conservatives thinks women who use birth control are sluts.

Following Fluke's testimony, Rush Limbaugh told the world that if he had to pay for birth control, he wanted to get something out of it. What did he suggest? Women posting tapes of their sexual encounters online for him and fellow tax-payers to enjoy.

In addition to making illogical and offensive demands, Limbaugh insulted and personally attacked the brave witness willing to speak on behalf of all women. He said:
What does it say about the college coed Susan [SIC] Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex?," he said on his radio show. "What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.
Limbaugh has since issued a half-hearted apology. He also lost a considerable number of sponsors. But that doesn't change the fact several people still agree with him-- including all of the republican party's presidential wannabes.

6) The Republican candidates don't support choice. 

According to Mitt Romney, only loose women are on the pill. Or maybe hussies. Or floozies. When questioned about Limbaugh's unfair assessment, Romney merely said "that isn't the language I would have used." But he didn't challenge or condemn Limbaugh's outlandish behavior. 

And when it comes to the debate itself, Romney is consistently inconsistent-- as usual. 

At the beginning of February, he called Obama's plan for contraception coverage "a violation of conscience," aligning with his memorable 2007 promise to be  "pro-life president.

Then, at the end of February, Romney told an Ohio reporter he didn't like "the idea of presidential candidates getting into questions about contraception within a relationship between a man and a woman." But about an hour later, Romney back-peddled into that very relationship

Caught having more positions than the Kama Sutra, "campaign Romney" remains frighteningly conservative-- and a sworn enemy of reproductive rights, vowing to "get rid"of Planned Parenthood. 

But even more worrisome than the man who will do anything for a vote are the rigid views of the republican playboy (married three times) who asked his former wife for an open marriageNewt Gingrich called Obama's birth control mandate an "outrageous assault" on religion, scoring big points for his podium-worthy overreaction. 

Consistently anti-choice, this candidate supports a fetal personhood amendment and thinks "post-conception" birth control should be illegal. As Gingrich stumbles along the campaign trail, he focuses heavily on contraception to criticize Obama and rally support from his radical fan base whom he has (literally) promised the moon

And in the midst of all this political exploitation, gross hypocrisy, and delusion of grandeur, Rick Santorum took a firm religious stance against science he obviously does not understand. In a 2006 interview, Santorum explained he (begrudgingly) supported Title X, though he was personally opposed to birth control-- because it doesn't work.

Also, he said it's harmful to women and harmful to society-- an opinion informed by the Humanae Vitae, or similar religious documents, no doubt.

But when you ask the medical experts and those experienced with women's health, it works just fine. Planned Parenthood, the infamous family planning clinic whose own Title X funding has been threatened by misguided conservatives like Santorum, explains "less than 1 out of 100 women will get pregnant each year if they always take the pill each day as directed." 

Taken regularly (at the same time every day) oral contraceptives more than 99 percent effective-- but only if you're willing to accept the data collected by medical doctors and the personal experiences of women as reliable evidence proving a well-known truth. And everyone knows Santorum relies on feelings rather than facts.

7) The people who (financially) support these candidates don't support choice.

The Republicans that pray together stay together-- and spread misinformation together. According to Santorum's friends with money, Aspirin is an effective form of birth control. 

But contrary to the ancient wisdom of Super PAC investor Foster Friess, the only thing aspirin will block is a headache. Another incriminating soundbite from camp Santorum, this one happened on MSNBC:

“You know, back in my days, they'd use Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn't that costly," he said. 

The comment was made the same day the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was hosting its panel made up entirely of men. Yes, the birth control debate escalated quickly, peaking in February with a particularly rough 24 hours for women in America.

But to be clear, while this medication may relieve pain caused by old rich white men's privileged commentary on women's reproductive health, it definitely will NOT prevent pregnancy.

8)Many politicians are controlled by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Long before the birth control mandate was announced, Roman Catholic bishops across the nation were preparing to fight. A contraceptive discrepancy was just the excuse they needed to declare war on those threatening their religious freedoms-- or political power.

According to the New York Times, "The speed and passion behind the bishops’ response reflects their growing sense of siege, and their belief that the space the Catholic church once occupied in American society and the deference it was given are gradually being curtailed by an increasingly secular culture."

The driving force behind the anti-contraception movement, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has obstinately rejected Obama at every turn. While the Catholic Health Association was pleased with the compromise the President offered on February 10, the bishops were not.

And they intend to use the other two branches of the government to get exactly what they want.

The Bishops pushed for the "Respect for Rights of Conscience Act," relieving all insurance providers and purchasers from covering any product or service they are religiously or morally against. Sponsored by Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), the Blunt amendment was killed in the Senate by just 3 votes.

Yet Bishop William E. Lori, chairman of the Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, swore they "will continue their strong defense of conscience rights for all people."

Hoping to protect "the heart of democracy," Lori explained the Bishops would turn their attention to the House of Representatives and explore their options using both the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. 

And while the right is supposedly infuriated by government interference in religion, they seemingly have no problem with the very vocal leaders of the Catholic Church influencing American politics.


Catholic Bishops aren't the only ones getting organized. This, and other controversies have reignited the passion behind modern-day feminism. Young women born in a (supposedly) post-feminist world are beginning to understand; from abortion to birth control, nothing is ever guaranteed.

The recent onslaught of legislation attacking women's reproductive freedom serves as a serious wake up call.
Besides the Blunt Amendment and plans to retire Title X, lawmakers have been cooking up all kinds of ways to get the government inside the womb. Not only is the personal still political, but politics have become exceedingly personal.
  • The Ohio Heartbeat Bill wanted to deny women an abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected-- as early as 6-ish weeks. This occurs well before the average woman has had enough time to realize she's missed a period and might be pregnant.
  • The failed Mississippi Personhood Amendment, granting "citizens" rights from the moment of conception, would have made it impossible to get an abortion and many kinds of birth control. 
  • Virginia's Transvaginal Ultrasound Bill would have required women to be raped by the state before obtaining an abortion. This uncomfortable and degrading stipulation serves no medical purpose and demonstrates how far anti-abortion advocates in the House and the Senate are willing to go to impose their beliefs on women's bodies. 
  • House Bill 2625 in Arizona would require women who obtain birth control with insurance offered by their job to provide employers with proof they are taking the prescription for reasons other than preventing pregnancy. If they should fail to produce medical evidence, they could be fired for offending their boss's moral position. 
From state to state, the list goes on and on. And astonishingly enough, women have managed to maintain a sense of humor throughout this infuriating regression. From blasting Senators' Facebook pages to proposing their own legislation, feminists have found new and unique ways to protest the undeniable war on women.

While some have questioned the dramatic comparison, this is indeed a prolonged conflict characterized by extreme aggression, social disruption, and, if the right continues to treat women as means to an end, even high mortality.

As for the birth control debate, this is just one strategy in the "pro-life" playbook. Because for some, overpriced pregnancy prevention might as well be illegal. What good is access to something you can't afford?

And while Republicans want to keep the state out of the Catholic Church, democrats are desperate for the Church to remove itself from state business. It really goes both ways. 

But, as everyone can plainly see, this isn't about religion at all. It's just about women and 40 years of guaranteed access to safe, effective birth control.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Happy Galentine's Day

That's right. It's time for everybody's favorite February holiday.

Kickin' it breakfast style. Ladies celebrating ladies.

It really is the best day of the year.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Komen Gives $ Back; VP Should Give Up

Nearly a year after the United States House of Representatives launched the first of many attacks on Planned Parenthood, the "pro-life" agenda  managed to overshadow women's health once again. But this time, it was a beloved nonprofit jeopardizing the lives of low-income women.

After attempting to yank $680,000 in funding from Planned Parenthood last Tuesday, the now infamous breast cancer foundation Susan G. Komen for the Cure uploaded this contradictory YouTube explanation. In a rather guilt-ridden personal message, founder and CEO Nancy Brinker claimed she was still committed to the women who needed her most:

And she would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn't been for those meddling journalists, feminists, internet activists, politicians, tweeters, bloggers, concerned citizens and logical thinkers. 

Despite Brinker's assurance these were just ordinary financial revisions, many continued to suspect politics were influencing the organization's budget cuts. And critical voices would not be quieted until Komen reversed its decision-- which it did, just three days later.

While others responded with shock, horror and disbelief, I was reminded of my previous complaints about the pink juggernaut-- like Komen dominating awareness ribbons until the world became more concerned with breasts than the well-being of an entire woman. 

For instance, this much sexier cause overshadows heart disease, which kills more women each year than all the cancers combined. And while February is (appropriately enough) American Heart Month, it pales in comparison to Komen's yearly takeover of Pinktober.

As we incessantly race for a cure, the unmistakable color has inseparable connotations of cleavage, reminding us the marketing of all things pink isn't just for little girls anymore. It's also wildly popular. Bloomberg Businessweek reported "Komen was the most valuable nonprofit brand in the world"-- before their blunder, of course

Komen's foundation reported almost $500 million worth of total assets in 2011; nearly $30 million more than the year before. Given these figures, Tuesday's denial of less than $700 thousand to an organization offering breast exams for women without health insurance seemed to be splitting a fiscal hair.

The decision was disguised as a new policy denying any grant applicants currently under government investigation. Yet the sudden change only affected Planned Parenthood. An aftershock of the dreaded Pence amendment limiting Planned Parenthood's federal funding, Cliff Stearns (R-Flo) has officially "inquired" whether the health center used any government dollars for abortions-- and this was the Komen loophole. 

The New York Times reported Brinker was pressured by "pro-life" supporters threatening to demonstrate on the sidelines of her races. Unless they were appeased, these ruthless protesters would reveal the foundation's dirty little secret; Komen gave money to clinics offering affordable breast exams, as well as abortion services.

Since last year's socially conservative republican campaign to collapse Title X, Planned Parenthood and abortion have become synonymous. Yet the healthcare provider's own statistics paint a very different picture. 

In the nearly 800 establishments visited by five million men and women across the nation each year, only three percent of their services are abortions. Yet 770,000 pap tests screening for cervical cancer are administered annually, as well as 750,000 breast exams-- paid for by the Susan G. Komen foundation. 

Many were concerned when they realized a cut of almost $700,000 in annual funding would compromise healthcare for the 1 in 5 American women who will visit a Planned Parenthood in her lifetime. But after recognizing the action was a transparent bow to anti-abortion advocates, supporters of Planned Parenthood were rightfully outraged.

Some called for the de-funding of Susan G. Komen, reinforced a Facebook page with over 19,000 fans. The controversy dominated Twitter. And Komen received a letter from two dozen democratic senators on behalf of Planned Parenthood. Even employees within the foundation itself were angered enough to break ties. 

Ex-managing director of Komen's community health-programs Mollie Williams refused to comment, honoring the confidentially of her previous employer. However, the Atlantic reported Williams, who was responsible for distributing the foundation's grants each year, resigned immediately following the board's decision to cut off Planned Parenthood.

Of course the most productive objections were the counter-donations Planned Parenthood received in the midst of this unfortunate event. The health center earned $3 million from more than 10,000 donors in just a few days.

“When it broke, it just caught fire,” said Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards. “This is an extraordinary outpouring of support.”

But the best was yet to come, as Friday brought the reversal of Komen's decision. Brinker apologized “for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives," in an official statement featured on the foundation's website. 

More importantly, the entire Komen camp continued to insist their motives were apolitical. 

"We have been distressed at the presumption that the changes made to our funding criteria were done for political reasons or to specifically penalize Planned Parenthood. They were not," said the board of directors.

Yet, yesterday morning the Huffington Post reported emails from Komen's vice president for public policy proved otherwise. 

Karen Handel, already a person of interest in this charity scandal, ran for governor of Georgia in 2010-- right before she entered her position at the Komen foundation. Her campaign was endorsed by Sarah Palin who surely approved of Handel's firm stance against abortion. Handel described herself as "pro-life," which she believed explained why she did not support Planned Parenthood. 

Since taking her new job, Handel has focused solely on the demands of abortion opponents. Apparently it was her idea to blame government investigations. And Friday, when the rest of the Komen foundation was ready to cave, HuffPo's confidential source said Handel wanted to continue fighting her losing battle.

While Handel should most definitely be punished for her misuse of power within the nonprofit, there's an entire board of directors who went along with her evil plan-- including Brinker. Following through with all parties involved is a must, sending the American people's message that deceitful philanthropy will not be tolerated and liars will be held accountable. 

It's true what they say; it takes a lifetime to build a reputation, and only a moment to destroy it. But, as the Susan G. Komen foundation falls from its pink pedestal, there may be a silver lining-- like other causes finally garnering some attention and their respective ribbons reaping the financial benefits of valuable product placement. 

Or maybe someone else will step up to save the boobies