Tuesday, May 25, 2010

'Pro-Life' Might Be a Meaningless Term

Amanda Marcotte makes an excellent point in her column at RH Reality Check:

On this week’s podcast, I interview Jessica Grose, who wrote an excellent article for Slate explaining why the Gallup polling that shows a jump in the number of Americans who identify as “pro-life” doesn’t necessarily mean what it might seem to initially. After all, while 47% of Americans embraced the label “pro-life”, the number of Americans who thought abortion was “morally wrong” actually declined, and support for the right to abortion remains high. So high, in fact, that the only logical conclusion is that some people who identify as “pro-life” must support the right to abortion.

In other words, the term “pro-life” is more of a tribal identifier or a feel-good term than it is a political stance.
This always seems right to me. In my conversations with people about abortion, they tend to think about "pro-life" in terms of what they might do if they were faced with the decision to have an abortion. If they think they probably wouldn't have one for various religious, moral, or even financial reasons, they view themselves as "pro-life." This seems to have little to do with their attitude about whether abortion should be legal or not.

New Study Shows Potential Abortion Providers Discouraged

The Guttmacher Institute reports that a new study, published in the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, shows that there are many obstacles to physicians who desire to perform abortions to actually doing so. The study, which will be published in the journal's September issue, conducted in-depth interviews with 30 obstetrician-gynecologists who had graduated anywhere from 5 years ago to 10 years ago.

Of those 30, 18 said they desired to provide abortions in their practice, but thanks to TRAP laws, employer or hospital policies, or social stigma, only three were actually performing abortions in their practice.

The findings of this study remind me of Carole Joffe's book, Dispatches from the Abortion Wars: The Costs of Fanaticism to Doctors, Patients, and the Rest of Us, in which Joffe interviews many abortion providers and noted the endless challenges to them. The conclusions of the study say, "The stigma and ideological contention surrounding abortion manifest themselves in professional environments as barriers to the integration of abortion into medical practice. New physicians often lack the professional support and autonomy necessary to offer abortion services."

Such lack of support is something that Joffe wrote about in her book. Abortion providers often felt isolated from the rest of the medical community, often giving these providers the cold shoulder in professional settings but then urgently sending patients in need to them. In this way, laws that stigmatize or target abortion providers can have a chilling effect on providers among the medical community.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Is Lisabeth Sandler Feminist? Sort Of.

I was interested to read the recent discussion in the blogosphere over whether Lisbeth Sandler (spoilers ahead), heroine of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (and subsequent sequels The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest) is a feminist figure. It's a question I contemplated while reading the books and watching the made-for-European-audiences film.

Nina Shen Rastogi writes at Slate's Double X:
On one hand, she's a super-smart, takes-no-guff, possibly-Asperger's-having hacker: Awesome! Lisbeth felt like something fresh and different and cool when we first met her: A character who wasn't going to pander to our need to like her. But then, in the second half of Dragon Tattoo (spoiler alert), Larsson has her fall in love with the hero, Mikael Blomkvist, in a way that really irked me. My friend pointed out that Blomkvist comes across like a bad Mary Sue character—i.e., a wish-fulfilling stand-in for the author. (Larsson, before he died, was also a middle-aged, crusading journalist.) The novel portrays Blomkvist as having this mysterious sexual power over women without really giving us a reason to understand why; it just insists that this is the case. And there's nothing about Lisbeth that suggests she would be vulnerable to his inexplicable charms—she has utterly rejected every other kind of human attachment thus far—and yet, she succumbs! Hard! To me, that felt like bending a character unnaturally to fit the logic of the romantic suspense story, and it made me angry. And then, at the beginning of The Girl Who Played With Fire, when Lisbeth gets a boob job, I just threw up my hands.
The primary way to think about The Girl with the ... series is to first remember that Sandler isn't the main character. Blomkvist is. The story is largely about a passionate (male) journalist that is, to use a word I don't really agree with, kind of a slut. As Shen Rastogi writes, the character of Blomkvist is eerily similar to the author's own biography.

Sandler is a somewhat complicated figure -- I, too, found the breast implants giving her a new sense of confidence odd -- but she is most definitely a strong female character, something often lacking in American media. And much as I'd like to see more feminist characters in popular culture, I don't have a litmus test and recognize that a less-than-perfect character makes for a more interesting one. Sandler is tough as nails but she's also extremely damaged. Is that feminist? It is and it isn't.

Finally what's important to understand about The Girl with the ... series is that the whole thing is uniquely Swedish. Sweden is, in itself, an oddity among Western countries. It comes with a litany of social (the right might even say socialist) policies -- what people seem upset about is that men aren't taking enough paternity leave. There has long been a strong feminist movement in Sweden; the country has the second-highest percentage of women in parliament. And though human trafficking is a key plot point in the series, it is often regarded as the country that has taken the most progressive and harm-reducing measures toward prostitution generally. Punishment toward johns is harsh while the sale of prostitution has been decriminalized. The books' attitudes toward marriage (which didn't really appear in the film as much), highlighting a very open marriage, was also very Swedish. In Sweden, marriage is viewed as a purely religious institution and most Swedes identify as not particularly religious. Marriage trends have been on the decline in the country. While Sandler may not be particularly feminist herself, she comes from a place with very feminist policies.

In other words, Sweden has a very, very different attitude toward gender politics than Americans do. It seems odd to me that we have feminists decrying such a Swedish book for not being feminist enough. I only wish that America produced the kind of literature that took human trafficking seriously, wrote strong (albeit damaged) female characters, and took more progressive views toward gender roles. And that is why I think an American version of the film will hurt my soul.

Susan B. Anthony Was Many Things, But Not Pro-Life

In the past few years, pro-lifers have taken up the feminist moniker. Sarah Palin, who seems now to make a living of speaking fees, has appeared before pro-life audiences touting feminism as a way for women to support anti-choice legislation.

The root of this newly adopted feminism seems to be from the work of long-recognized first-wave feminist Susan B. Anthony, who is dead and therefore can't make a stand on the subject. The group Feminists for Life have photos of Anthony on their websites as well as links to the "whole history" of feminism. Furthermore, there's the Susan B. Anthony List, a sort anti-Emily's List, which is a political PAC that seeks to get pro-life women elected to office. It was at a Susan B. Anthony List breakfast that Palin noted that Anthony was her inspiration for entering the pro-life movement.

But two historians, Ann Gordon and Lynn Sherr, over at the Washington Post's On Faith section note that whatever ideals modern pro-lifers may want to ascribe to the historic figure, her stance on abortion simply can't be one of them:
For nearly 30 years, both of us have been immersed in Susan B. Anthony's words - Ann as the editor of Anthony's papers, Lynn as the author of a biography. We have read every single word that this very voluble - and endlessly political - woman left behind. Our conclusion: Anthony spent no time on the politics of abortion. It was of no interest to her, despite living in a society (and a family) where women aborted unwanted pregnancies.
Generally the works ascribed to Anthony come from a newspaper she owned following the Civil War. But the article in question was simply signed by "A." and there's no historic evidence to suggest that Anthony was the author or that she ever used such a signature.

And, the authors go on to point out, other tenants of Anthony's ideology directly contradict other intersecting movements for today's pro-lifers. Though pro-life folks generally find allies in the small-government conservatism movement, Anthony herself was a strong federal advocate:
In a shout-out to the Tea Party Friday, Sarah Palin said, "That's enough, federal government, enough of your overreach, and we're going to do something about it!" This in the name of a leader who, in her lifetime, was one of America's most consistent advocates of federal power, with its promise of overriding ill-conceived and discriminatory state laws.
So while many modern pro-lifers may want to take up Anthony as a face of their cause, it seems they're simply rewriting history.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The 'Bad Mother' Meme

Just in time for Mother's Day, Julia Baird writes for Newsweek about "bad mothers" and how they give us all hope that women can be remembered for their careers and not their status as mothers. But her examples are interesting ones (I think intentionally so):
When reporters told Doris Lessing she had won a Nobel Prize in Literature as she was hauling groceries out of a cab in 2007, she said: "I've won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one, so I am delighted. It's a royal flush." Few would dispute that she is a brilliant writer. Her work is lucid, inspiring, and provocative. But it would be hard to argue that she was a brilliant mother. When she fled to London to pursue her writing career and communist ideals, she left two toddlers with their father in South Africa (another, from her second marriage, went with her).
Lessing is used as an example of a "bad mother" because she made a move that many men have made for their careers: Leaving her children home with her partner while she pursued her own career objectives.

But the "bad mother" meme has been popping up a lot lately. Kara Jesella wrote last year for The American Prospect about confessional "bad-mom culture."While some women, like the ones Jesella wrote about, thrive on the rebellion of being a bad or selfish mother, it's clear that women are judged and judged harshly for their performance as mothers.

One thing is clear, women (and often men) are extremely judgmental about motherhood. Most often this judgment comes among their peers -- whispers behind backs at playgroups or "I would never" emails on listservs. When it comes to women in the public eye, however, the petty comments on women's performance as mothers becomes legitimate discussion in the media, despite the fact that men's performance as fathers is rarely the subject of such discussion. Some of that is due to the fact that some women are famous because they are mothers (see Kate Gosselin or Ocotomom). But I've never understood this weird obsession with rating others' performance as mothers. It seems like motherhood is hard enough as is without others judging you all the time.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Sarah Haskins Passes Off the Golden Tampon

Jezebel Wrongly Claims American Acadamy of Pedeatrics 'Endorses' Female Genetial Mutiliation

I'm a regular reader of Jezebel and have even written for it, but today they majorly screwed up. They wrote a post based on this PR Newswire story that says:
International human rights organization Equality Now is stunned by a new policy statement issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which essentially promotes female genital mutilation (FGM) and advocates for "federal and state laws [to] enable pediatricians to reach out to families by offering a 'ritual nick'," such as pricking or minor incisions of girls' clitorises.
But when you actually go to AAP's website, there's this release that seems to say the opposite:
Ritual cutting and alteration of the genitalia of female infants, children and adolescents, referred to as female genital cutting (FGC), has been a tradition in some countries since ancient times and continues today in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. According to a new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), “Ritual Genital Cutting of Female Minors,” in the May issue of Pediatrics (published online April 26), the AAP opposes all forms of female genital cutting that pose a risk of physical or psychological harm, and encourages its members not to perform such procedures.
When I put in a call over at the AAP, the woman on the phone seemed just as surprised that I was that such a thing had been reported. I'm still waiting back for an official press person to respond, but the woman on the phone was basically wondering where I had gotten such misinformation.

Maybe next time, Jezebel will bother to check the actual site.

Update: Tracy Clark-Flory actually talked to a doctor over at the AAP and delves into what actually changed about the policy and why it's controversial.


Student Must Pay $80,000 Due to 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Policy

Today over at Campus Progress I talked to a 21-year-old senior at UNC-Chapel Hill who came out as a lesbian to her ROTC commander and was discharged due to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Now she may have to pay back nearly $80,000 in scholarship money. Check out the interview here.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The NFL Team Asks Draftee 'Gay or Straight?'

Geno Atkins Geno Atkins was asked during the NFL draft if he were straight or gay.

Via Outsports, the new defensive tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals, Geno Atkins, told reporters that the only "unusual" question he was asked during the draft was whether he was straight or gay. Atkins didn't disclose his answer, but it's a bit odd that the Bengals would even ask the question in the first place.

Outsports surmises that this questions was probably just a one-time thing and not standard procedure for the NFL, but the fact that the Bengals even thought to ask is indicative of how difficult for the NFL to accept non-straight players.

In fact, in a 2004 book by then-New York Times writer Mike Freeman, he interviews anonymously a closeted NFL player that goes by the pseudonym Steven Thompson. In an update last year, Freeman noted that homophobia, particularly in the African-American community, is still rampant in professional sports like the NFL.

The parallels between the military and the NFL seem obvious. Both are hyper-masculine institutions that often mistake sexual orientation with the ability to effectively master a physical job. It may be a long time before we see an openly gay NFL player, but I hope it's sooner than I think.

UPDATE: Thanks to commenters for pointing out that the Bengals couldn't have been the ones that asked the question because they didn't meet with him before drafting him. According to this NFL story, Atkins says he "couldn't recall which one."


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Co-habitation and Abortion

2165411154_7058f0ae06Nearly half of all women seeking an abortion have been in a relationship for a year or longer with the man who got them pregnant, according to a new Guttmacher study. (Flickr/moriza)

Yesterday Guttmacher Institute, a sexual and reproductive health public policy institute, released a report (PDF) on demographic information of women seeking abortions in the United States. Jodi Jacobson already did a fantastic job of looking at the numbers -- the number of poor women seeking an abortion have increased by nearly 60 percent since the study was last done in 2000. It's not surprising, considering that all women in poverty also increased by 25 percent over that same period of time.

But there was one interesting point that I thought was worth pulling out a little bit more. The study also talks about women who obtained abortions may not fit into the stereotype of a woman who made a mistake on a one-night stand. The Guttmacher study notes that nearly half of all women obtaining an abortion had been in a relationship for a year or longer with the man who had impregnated her. Although unmarried women make up the vast majority of those seeking an abortion (85 percent), 29 percent of those women were co-habitating with their partners.

Co-habiting women also have above-average rates of contraceptive failure and unintended births. Future research might help uncover the relationship dynamics that contribute to these patterns. For example, do cohabiting couples have sex more frequently than other groups, use less effective methods or use their methods less consistently? Does the “less legal” status of the relationship make discussing or agreeing upon childbearing goals harder for cohabiting couples? Are unintended pregnancies more common among cohabiting couples who already have one or more children than among cohabiting couples with no children? At any given point, only a small proportion of women are in cohabiting relationships (8%), but at least half will occupy this relationship status at some point in their lives.
This is interesting because abortion is usually framed as a women's issue (and as only a woman's issue), but the Guttmacher study indicates that abortion is likely more related to couples. The issue definitely deserves further exploration and may even shift the discussion from how women feel about abortion to how couples decide what to do with an unintended pregnancy.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What UVA's Respone to Murder Case Says About Sexual Assault

NCAA LACROSSE: Virginia vs North Carolina - Big City ClassicGeorge Huguely playing lacrosse for UVA prior to his arrest. (Flickr / Alan Maglaque / Southcreek Global)

The University of Virginia in Charlottesville had a pretty horrifying case in which one lacrosse player, George Huguely, has been arrested in connection with the violent killing of 22-year-old Yeardley Love, a woman with whom he was romantically involved. The case itself is is still under investigation, but Amanda Hess over at the Washington City Paper's blog The Sexist notes that UVA's response has been, well, kind of dumb:

UVA police have instructed students how to avoid and/or respond to the following: An attack on the grounds of the university. Getting hit by a car. A late-night street attack. An attack by an unknown intruder. An attack through the window. An attack by a prowler. An attack by a peeping Tom. An attack by a suspicious filmmaker.

Police believe that Love was killed by a more likely suspect—a man she knew. In general, women, and particularly young women, are more likely to be killed by someone they know than by a stranger. So why hasn’t UVA included any information here about domestic violence?

Although the case at UVA is extreme -- we're talking about one student murdering another, potentially relating to the romantic relationship they had -- but other kinds of dating and romantic violence are far more common. As I've written before, our language around acquaintance or date rape in particular tends to be rather reductive.

When schools give advice to young women, it tends to be either of the "watch out for strangers in the bushes" variety or it cautions young women not to get "too drunk" and to stay in groups. I tend to think that such "strategies" for avoiding assault lead not only to women living in fear but also indicate that if young women just follow the rules set out for them, they'll avoid sexual assault. The result, of course, is ultimately that women who don't follow the rules have done something wrong.

Ultimately the danger, as Amanda points out, is that young women are most likely to be assaulted by those that they already know and trust. Schools would do well to better publicize domestic violence hotlines and education about how to get out of a relationship that involves violence.

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