Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Friday, June 18, 2010

FDA Approves New Emergency Contraceptive


Yesterday the Food and Drug Administration recommended approval of an emergency contraceptive that women in Europe have been using safely since last year. The new drug, ella, is designed to be taken up to five days after sexual intercourse takes place, extending the time after sex that women can prevent pregnancy. (Plan B, an emergency contraceptive that must be taken within 72 hours to be effective, was approved by the FDA in 2006 and released for over-the-counter use for women over 17 last year.)

But though this is good news for women who will now have more family planning options, the lead up to the FDA panel vote caused anti-abortion groups to protest that ella wasn’t just an emergency contraceptive — that in fact it was an abortion drug. This issue was heavily reported in a Washington Post piece last weekend, in which it quoted four anti-choice advocates in which they said factually incorrect things:

“With ulipristal [the scientific name for ella], women will be enticed to buy a poorly tested abortion drug, unaware of its medical risks, under the guise that it’s a morning-after pill,” said Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America, which led the battle against Plan B.

Concerned Women for America is an anti-choice group that was founded by Beverly LaHaye, wife of the author of the popular apocalyptic Left Behind series. The current top story on CWFA’s site is a feature that argues repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” is a bad idea. But despite CWFA’s claims, women in Europe have been taking ella since it was approved in Europe last year, and was tested on more than 4,500 women before it was released to the general public there.

Additionally the Post highlighted a common myth about contraception perpetrated by anti-choice advocates: “Critics fear that women who do not realize they are already pregnant will use the drug, unwittingly giving themselves an abortion.”

In fact, according to the New York Times article about the drug’s approval, this isn’t the case:

Animal studies showed that ella had little effect on established pregnancies, suggesting it acts differently than RU-486. Dr. David Archer, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Eastern Virginia Medical School who spoke on behalf of ella’s maker, said ella was not an abortion pill. “I just don’t think there is any element here that would allow me to say that this has an abortifacient activity,” Dr. Archer said.

All too often, science that involves women’s reproductive systems tends to be held to a different standard of reporting. Instead of reporting what the science says about the issue, the reporters often write that “Critics say X,” whether or not X actually has any scientific proof.

In the long run, reporting what “critics” say too often not only gives legitimacy to bogus claims about what contraception does and doesn’t do (Bush-appointed Heath and Human Services officials made a last-ditch effort in 2008 to rebrand contraception as abortion), but it also causes confusion among the general public. If they read “critics say X” they might remember that as fact, whether or not it’s actually true.

Instead of reporting science about women’s bodies as just another political story, it would be nice if reporters treated the stories as what they are — science stories.

Cross posted.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Holla Back DC on the Kojo Nnamdi Show

Today the Kojo Nnamdi had Chai Shenoy, co-founder of Holla Back DC, on his show. Shenoy did a great job, and it was wonderful to see such popular local radio show take on the issue of street harassment.

A couple of men called in saying that street harassment was unacceptable -- but they immediately noted that women shouldn't dress so "provocatively." In essence, they seemed to believe that women brought harassment on themselves because of the way they dress.

Shenoy had a great response, referencing work from Holly Kearl of Stop Street Harassment. Kearl's global research shows that even countries where women are strongly encouraged (or even forced by law) to dress conservatively, street harassment doesn't stop. Shenoy rightly responded, "It's not about what you wear." For Shenoy, street harassment is a form of gender-based violence. The problem is, few people see street harassment this way.

So often the response to complaints about street harassment is that comments like "Hey baby, "Look at you, all sexy today," and "Can I get your number?" aren't meant to be offensive and are complimentary. What men (and most street harassment is perpetrated by men) need to realize is that street harassment, however it is intended, doesn't make women feel good. It makes them feel uncomfortable. When street harassment has happened to me in the past, it didn't make me feel beautiful or wanted.

About a year ago, as I walked down the street near my house nearly a year ago, I experienced some of the worst street harassment of my life. I was walking down 11th Street between Florida and U Streets in Northwest DC. For those that think what I was wearing matters, I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt in the middle of a hot summer day, hair up in a pony tail. A man was driving by, but slowed down his car to roughly the same pace I was walking on the sidewalk. The man proceeded to yell at me about the way I looked and the comments lasted several minutes. I can't remember the exact words he used, but even if they were meant to be complimentary they didn't feel that way to me. After the man finally drove off and I made it back to my house, I was shaking. The harassment made me feel horrible and so, so angry.

My attitude has always been to ignore such harassment, that I shouldn't waste time or energy responding to people that treat me with such disrespect, but Shenoy's interview today made me try to think about it a different way. Though such an encounter might make me feel angry, there may be ways to respond in a polite, rational way without escalating the situation. Perhaps next time, if I can summon the courage, I'll say something like, "I know you mean what you said as a compliment, but I'd appreciate it if you didn't comment on my appearance. It makes me uncomfortable."

Thanks to Shenoy and the work she does at Holla Back DC, for making me think more about this issue.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Via Kevin Drum, Forbes has an interesting interactive map that shows migration patterns from the county you live in. Looking at the map I "made" for Washington, D.C., it seems I'm not alone in coming from Minneapolis to the nation's capital.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Something to Read and Think About

Hanna Rosin's post on Double X today on Nikki Haley finishing first in the Republican primary for governor of California reminded me that I hadn't yet read Kerry Howley's thoughtful piece on feminism in bookforum yet. So I took some time today and read it. I don't have any commentary on it yet, but I will say that the piece made me think. Go read it. It might make you think too.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Truth in Advertising: Baltimore Urges Crisis Pregnancy Centers to Post Clarifying Signs

Recently the Baltimore city council passed an ordinance targeting Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs), made famous by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.)'s 2006 investigative report that revealed these anti-choice centers were distributing false and misleading information on sexual and reproductive health. The ordinance requires all CPCs to post signs saying that they do not provide birth control or abortions or give referrals of where to obtain these services. Now, it seems the ordinance is getting challenged by the Archbishop of Baltimore and the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, Inc., one of the centers targeted by this ordinance. An email from the CRR says:
Today, the City asked the court to dismiss the case, arguing that the Archbishop's claims against the ordinance are not supported by the facts or the law. The ordinance protects women from deceptive advertising and ensures that women seeking birth control or abortion services have prompt access to those services.
Based on an earlier report of the challenge from the Baltimore Sun, a CPC that doesn't comply with the ordinance within 10 days could be fined up to $150 a day.

More Samantha Bee

Oh my god. Jessica Wakeman's second part of the Samantha Bee interview is even better than the first. It covers:
  • pubic hair
  • Botox
  • orgies
  • princess fantasies
Pretty much the best thing ever.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Helen Thomas Retires

Helen Thomas as I'm sure everyone on the Internet read today, retired after making controversial comments about Israel/Palestine. Adam Serwer had some good things to say on the subject. I, like Adam, am not going to defend her remarks themselves. I don't think anyone really is. But I thought I'd recount my own personal reaction to Helen Thomas' retirement, since -- hell -- it's my blog.

I had the honor of actually sitting at the same table with Helen Thomas at some feminist event a while back (I can't even remember which one) at the National Press Club, and was fascinated to hear her personal accounts of starting a career in journalism, well, before women really had careers, in journalism or otherwise. She told us a story of an event where women were given awards for their work in journalism and the presenters wanted to hold the event, of course, at the National Press Club. But back then, women weren't even allowed to be members of the National Press Club, so the award ceremony couldn't be held there, since the women wouldn't be allowed inside.

It is for that reason that I respect and admire Thomas. She is a fiercely independent woman who fought her way through endless sexism and injustice and was never afraid to speak her mind while doing it. Others remember her for asking the tough questions of the Bush administration when everyone else was afraid to. She had too much seniority to care what President George W. Bush or his colleagues thought -- and she had too much seniority to be kicked out for asking the questions.

But. And there is a but.

Thomas wasn't always right about things. In fact, when I saw her speak at a feminist conference in 2008, I was dismayed to hear her echo the sentiments of Gloria Steinem and other second-wave feminists who seemed to be claiming that Barack Obama's popularity was proof that racism had long faded and sexism remained real and present as Hillary Clinton's campaign floundered. I can't necessarily blame her for her sentiment. It seemed common enough among women of her generation, who marched the marches and fought the fights in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s. But a lot of young women sitting in the room with Thomas felt she was out of touch and that playing oppression Olympics wouldn't do anyone any good. Her recent remarks seem to reflect the same idea.

I believe Thomas, like so many prominent figures in politics and public life -- not just today, but throughout history -- have to be viewed in a complicated way. You have to acknowledge both the great strides and the shortcomings. To do less is not to do justice to these fixtures in public life.

(Flickr/John McNab)

'Jersey Shore,' 'Celebrity Rehab' Stars Pop Valtrex, Other STD Meds

Alyssa Rosenberg alerted me to this rather disturbing story about how reality television producers of shows like "Jersey Shore" and, um, "Celebrity Rehab" (I had no idea such a show even existed) constantly worry about STDs on their show -- presumably because they don't want to be sued for spreading them.
"The network [VH1] requires me to do stuff with my patients that has no relevance to anything," Dr. Drew Pinsky, the host of "Celebrity Rehab," says.

"Like everyone on the set has to take [herpes medication] Valtrex," he said.

"We hand it out like M&Ms!" ["Jersey Shore" creator SallyAnn] Salsano said. " 'Hey kids, it's time for Valtrex!' It's like a herpes nest. They're all in there mixing it up."

Although one's gut reaction might be to be grossed out by this, it seems to me that reality shows that worry about such STDs, despite having a slightly different mission, could use this as a teaching moment (yeah, I know, I'm talking about MTV, here). But the reality is that most people keep sex and STDs separate in their minds -- rather than noting that basic precautions can and should be taken if one is sexually active. Producers could even film reality stars popping the Valtrex, yet the producers gloss over it, leaving it as a behind-the-scenes detail. Unfortunately, STDs are very real, but they'll never make it into "reality."

Sate by State

Over at RH Reality Check, Robin Marty notes that Minnesota is one of the very few states that ensures access to abortion through a 1995 state Supreme Court ruling, Doe vs. Gomez. She notes:
In 1995, the Minnesota State Supreme Court ruled via Doe vs. Gomez that the right to choose is in fact a fundamental right for women in the state of Minnesota. Based on this fact, the ruling states that the state cannot selectively cover pregnancy-related services by funding prenatal care and childbirth expenses while refusing to cover abortion services, as such support would be an implicit denial of a woman’s right to chose to carry a child to term or not. Not funding abortion services then adds “undue financial constraints” to for low-income women, eliminating choice. Hence, any law that would be passed in the state that would eliminate such abortion funding would necessarily be ruled unconstitutional.

Minnesota isn’t in fact the only state that has passed legislation or had court cases ensuring that low–income women have access to abortion, either via a form of Medicaid or other state funding. Massachusetts, New York, California, Oregon and Washington are also states that do the same, with abortion coverage rules that are actually considered more lenient than federal laws governed by the Hyde Amendment. But what states pass, legislators can sometimes manage to take away. According to a Planned Parenthood fact sheet on the court case, Doe vs. Gomez was used as a precedent for abortion funding in Arizona, Florida, and Texas. Sadly, in Arizona this year public funding for abortion was restricted to helping women who needed abortions in cases of rape, incest or life endangerment, something Texas had already changed as well. Florida is attempting the same, with the law passed but still not yet signed by Governor Crist.

For better or worse, each state is making its own decisions about whether women have access to abortion. In Minnesota, they decided that the lack of affordability is a restriction the right to choose. It's great that women in Minnesota have that access, but not everyone does.

Feminist Hulk: as Awesome as Everyone Thought

There are some concepts that are awesome to those that sit at the intersection of extremely niche subsets of the population. A perfect example of that is femisthulk, at Twitter personality created by someone only known as his “literary life-partner, J.” It gets right to the heart of feminist comic book nerds. Over at Ms.'s blog, Feminist Hulk and J do an interview with the magazine. I think my favorite part might be when Feminist Hulk says, "HULK HAVE PENIS, IDENTIFY AS MALE, SO HULK COULD BE CONSIDERED CISGENDER. HOWEVER, HULK DELIBERATE IN CHOICES, RESIST PRESSURE TO NATURALIZE OR PRESCRIBE GENDER SCRIPT. SO, HULK COULD BE GENDERQUEER. DEFINITELY HAVE GENDERQUEER POLITICS."

Samantha Bee's a Mom, but Do We Have to Talk About It All The Time?

Today the illustrious Jessica Wakeman has an interview with the equally illustrious Samantha Bee -- one of my favorite performers on The Daily Show. The interview touches on something that's hard to avoid: Samantha Bee is a mom. It definitely comes up in the interview, especially in her great answer to the following question.
Did becoming a parent at all affect what kind of humor you found funny? Are some topics off-limits now?

I don’t know that I ever found jokes about rape or murder too funny (laughs), but I guess it depends contextually. But no, I don’t think [becoming a parent] changed my sense of humor at all. I do think that [motherhood] did change my personality a little bit in that I became insanely sensitive to stories about child abuse. I never really personalized those news stories before and now I completely personalize them and I feel homicidal towards people who hurt children. It’s not like I ever supported [child abusers’] cause beforehand, but definitely I’ve taken so much of a harder line on people who are terrible to children. I don’t know where that came from! But I became homicidal-y protective of my children.

Samantha Bee is pretty public about the fact that she's a mom. She did many bits while pregnant and has even worked her pregnancy and motherhood into some sketches. Women out there who are mothers (I'm sure mine included) wouldn't argue with the fact that being a mother really changes you, but I'm always surprised when one of the first questions famous women are asked is about the fact that they're mothers.

Case in point, Bee did an interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air last week. It certainly wasn't the first question, but she made sure to ask her, (I'm paraphrasing here because I didn't transcribe and a full one isn't available on the website) "Isn't it hard to be a mother of three children while trying to have a career?"

Bee was hasty to note that The Daily Show is an extremely accommodating employer for her as a mother. While I'm sure it's a sentiment any mother of three (or any number, frankly) could sympathize with, I was still surprised that an interviewer of Gross' caliber would still think to ask the question (with subtext, of course) of how a woman can possibly have both a career and children.

Granted -- for those of you who listened to the whole interview, the question seemed related to the fact that Bee talks about her own family growing up so much, and Gross was couching the question in relation to how Bee's life now -- as a mother working with her husband -- is different from how it was growing up.

Still. I tend to sigh. Not because Bee is open about her place as a mother, but because there is still a part of us that finds motherhood and careers at least somewhat incompatible. In the dozens of interviews I've heard Gross conduct, I've never heard her ask male guests quite the same kind of question.

In any case, I'm a fan of Bee's work on The Daily Show, and I can't wait to read her new memoir, I Know I Am, But What Are You?.


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