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Laws “Protecting Women” Harm Them, Instead

Too many women die trying to do it themselves.

Too many women die trying to do it themselves.

Laws “protecting” women often end up harming them, instead.

That’s because limiting liberty is the real aim.

In 1905 a laundress sued her employer for making her work more than 10 hours — Oregon’s legal limit for women back then. The case eventually wound up at the Supreme Court, where her employer made this feminist argument:

Limits on women’s work hours discriminate against them.

But the Justices upheld the law, saying that women are like children, both needing special care. Read the rest of this entry

More Suicide in “Values Voters” States

Your values are killing us

Your values are killing us

Values voter.

That’s what you’re called if you vote your principles on gay rights and reproductive rights.

So long as you vote anti-gay and anti-choice, anyway.

Really?

Are those the only values? And are they good ones?  Read the rest of this entry

Jailed Mom Bought Abortion Pill Online

Mom jailed for helping desperate, pregnant daughter.

Mom jailed for helping desperate, pregnant daughter.

A 39-year-old mom from rural Pennsylvania is serving 9-18 months in jail for buying a pill online to help her daughter induce a miscarriage.

It all began when Jennifer Whalen’s 16-year-old daughter came to her after learning she was pregnant. Jennifer said she’d support any decision her daughter made. After taking a few days to think over her options, the teen determined she couldn’t have a baby so young, and asked her mom to look up clinics, according to the New York Times.

But Pennsylvania’s strict abortion laws left few options. Read the rest of this entry

Criminalizing Abortion Doesn’t Stop It

Birth Control Pill ContainerMy born again friend worries about me. I want to keep abortion safe and legal. But she wants me to shout down sinners and demand restrictions. I’ll go straight to Hell, for sure.

Truth is, I don’t really like abortion, and I wish that no woman ever felt a need to get one. At the same time I know that accidents happen, mistakes happen, that women become desperate, and that one third of American women have an abortion at some point in their lives.

I also know that criminalizing abortion doesn’t stop it.

A global study by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Guttmacher Institute found that abortion rates are about the same in countries where it is legal and where it is not.

Read the rest of this entry

Why Is the Right-Wing Attacking Women?

While protecting Big Oil and billionaires, right-wingers brazenly push cuts to programs – many life-saving – that largely affect women: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, nutrition programs for women and children (WIC), and prenatal care. A woman’s right to choose is under intense attack with Planned Parenthood and Title X on the chopping block, despite providing low income women with birth control, cancer screenings, and tests for STDs, including H.I.V. And then there’s Rep. Joe Pitts’ proposed bill allowing hospitals to refuse to terminate pregnancy even to save a woman’s life. All famously reported in a New York Times piece entitled “The War on Women.” Nothing’s gotten any better since.

Why attack women?

Balancing the federal budget on the backs of the middle-class and poor (where so many women reside) so that wealthy interests and campaign contributions may thrive seems like a good deal to many politicians.

But why the laser-like focus on limiting women’s reproductive rights? Not a lot of money in that. But it’s a vote getter. Still, why is this stance so appealing?

Karen McCarthy Brown, Professor of Anthropology of Religion at Drew University, suggests that limiting women’s reproductive rights creates a sense of stability and empowerment for many. In command of the bodies of women, the power of the flesh, and life, itself, it’s a big deal. Plus, those who value order and stability benefit by “understanding” that men are men and women are women, each in separate spheres, and each knowing their place. So the world becomes simpler and more manageable in black and white. It can all be a huge psychological relief to those doing the controlling and for those who feel the world is under control.

Pretty sad that some coerce others to gain this relief. Surely there’s a better way.

Relatedly, on an interpersonal plane, men who seek to feel empowered by dominating their partners sometimes destroy contraception, hoping their wives or girlfriends will feel more trapped and dependent by the need to care for children.

And then there are your political tyrants. Steven Conn, Associate Professor of History at Ohio State, tells us that in the 20th century the most despicable regimes were fixated on controlling women’s reproductive lives. Outlawing abortion and closing family planning centers were among the Nazis’ first moves. Eventually abortion became a capital offense. Stalin outlawed abortion in 1936.  Romanian tyrant Nicolae Ceausescu banned contraception in 1966. By 1986 miscarriage became a matter of criminal investigation. China still coerces women into abortion and sterilization. Interesting that Conn  observes:

The day after the evil Ceausescu had been executed, the National Salvation Front issued two decrees; it lifted the ban on the private ownership of typewriters, and it repealed the laws that policed pregnant women.

The eerily similar workings of right-wing extremists lend an ironic twist to their claim of being all about freedom through free markets. Women must be controlled, but markets must be free?

But what’s a little nonsensical hypocrisy among right-wing despots?

This post is part of a web carnival promoted by a coalition of women’s organizations to discuss the current attacks on historic gains for women and mobilize women voters in 2012. See the Twitter hashtag #HERvotes.

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Have Abortion Rights Led to a World of Missing Women?

A woman’s right to safe, legal abortion has created a world of missing women, according to the most recent anti-choice talking points.

A new book by Mara Hvistendahl, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men reports that in the natural scheme of things, 105 boys are born for every 100 girls. But those numbers are skewed in many countries: In India 112 boys are born per 100 girls, in China 121, in Azerbaijan 115, in Georgia 118 and in Armenia 120.

Hvistendahl does not blame the right to chose. But others do. Conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat and Jonathan Last of the Weekly Standard (writing a book review for the Wall Street Journal) look at this study and blame abortion rights. Feminists cannot be consistent advocating the right to choose while criticizing sex-selective abortion at the same time, they say. In their view, abortion must be restricted in order to save the world’s girls and women and regain the natural sex ratio.

But the right to choose is not the problem. The core culprit lies in valuing male children over female. When girls are esteemed as much as boys, parents will no longer seek to have sons and not daughters.

Douthat wrongly claims that patriarchy isn’t the core problem. He sees women’s empowerment as leading to more sex selection, not less, with many women using their increased autonomy to choose sons. Somehow he fails to see that patriarchy lies behind the phenomenon. Strange, since his next sentence admits that sex selection occurs “because male offspring bring higher social status.”

Unfortunately, patriarchy becomes embedded in women’s and men’s minds alike. If males are more valued in a society, women unconsciously pick that up at a young age. Or they may ask their parents, who are likely to reinforce the status quo. Is it any surprise, then, that so many women choose sons over daughters, hoping to increase their own worth?

Meanwhile, the proposed remedy of abortion restriction would only devalue women further.

Another recent New York Times article introduces us to Danielle Deaver of Nebraska, a state which restricts abortion after 20 weeks. She was devastated when her water broke at 22 weeks, leaving her fetus little chance of survival. She risked serious infection without induced labor, but that wasn’t allowed under the new law. She had to wait another 10 stressful days until she went into natural labor. The baby only survived 15 minutes, while Deaver developed an infection. Angered, she said, “This should have been a private decision, made between me, my husband and my doctor.”

Last year, there was another even more horrifying instance of how restrictive, moralistic abortion policies impact women’s lives. In this case, a Polish woman named Edyta died because doctors felt that treating her colon condition could lead to miscarriage or force an abortion. As writer Brittany Shoot explained,

Poland is one of several countries (along with Italy, Hungary and Croatia) in which doctors, not unlike pharmacists in the U.S., can refuse to treat someone on moral grounds.

Do these restrictions really value women? Or do we become disposable nothings whose bodies, hearts and minds don’t really matter?

Despite what Douthat and Last say, feminists are consistent in being pro-choice while criticizing sex-selective abortion. We must get at the root of the world’s missing women–the devaluation of women–and not try to remedy it with a “cure” that exacerbates the core problem.

I originally wrote this piece for the Ms. Magazine Blog. It appeared June 29, 2011

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Turning Indian Girls Into Boys

Indian parents are paying to have their daughters turned into sons through sex-change operations that cost about 145,000 rupees ($3,200). Up to 300 girls have been surgically turned into boys in one city.

The procedure involves fashioning a penis from the little girls’ female organs. Afterwards they are injected with male hormones, which they will need to take throughout their lives. The procedure will leave these children impotent and infertile in adulthood. No sons or daughters for them.

The Madhya Pradesh government is investigating.

By nature, 105 boys are born for every 100 girls. But in India the rate is 112 males per 100 females. The country now has seven million more boys than girls under age six.

As it is, dowry is so expensive – perhaps as much as a car or a house – that families feel they cannot afford daughters. Surgery is cheaper.

None of this bodes well for Indian society. Men will not be able to have wives or  children. Sex trafficking will continue to rise, and women will be sold into marriage, turning the female of our species increasingly into property.

Such is the curse on cultures that so value males over females.

Unfortunately, education has not increased the value of women and girls. Ranjana Kumari, of the Centre for Social Research, and a fervent activist against sex-selective abortion, told The Telegraph:

The figures are getting worse. In 2001 there were 886 girls born to every 1,000 boys in Delhi. Today there are only 866. The more educated and rich you are, the more there is killing of girls.

In the U.S. conservative columnists have begun blaming abortion for skewed sex ratios.

Really? Without abortion, parents may still try the sex-change thing. Or they may abandon or kill daughters after they are born, or they may fail to give daughters food or medical attention, as they have done for centuries. Or they may still try to abort, as they currently do, despite its illegality in India.

The core problem isn’t abortion or ultrasound or sex-changes or neglecting, abandoning, or killing daughters.

The core problem is that males are valued over females, world-wide, to all of our detriment. As a New York Times reader named George put it:

If men do not appreciate and value women as they should, they will find themselves rendered similarly impotent and lost, the inheritors of their misguided social practices.

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Women Should Get Rape Insurance?

When women are raped the emotional fallout can be great. My brother had a girlfriend who had been date raped. On occasion she would suddenly begin crying because of this. Sexual dysfunction is common, with sex drive evaporating. One man I know of said a woman went numb when he initiated sex after weeks of dating. When he talked to her about it, she said she had been raped, and now leaves her body, mentally and emotionally, whenever sexual encounters arise. Many become anxious or depressed. Some experience posttraumatic stress disorder.

No wonder rape is the crime women most fear, other than murder. We plan our days and activities around it, we avoid going out alone at night, we consider the safest route, we get a friend to join us, we avoid strange men. The list goes on.

Now Kansas state Rep., Peter DeGraaf expects us to add one more thing to our list: purchase what, for many, would be essentially rape insurance.

DeGraaf wants to ban insurance companies from offering abortion coverage as part of their general health plans, even if the pregnancy results from rape. Instead, women should buy separate, “abortion-only policies,” he says. And at an extra cost.

When challenged that this expectation was heartless for rape victims who have already endured enough, DeGraaf simply explained that everyone needs to plan ahead in life. “I have a spare tire on my car,” he offered. “I also have life insurance,” he added.

Spare tire. Abortion insurance, just in case you’re raped. Yeah, the two are equivalent.

Sexual assault is too often trivialized in our culture. Some think women secretly want it or ask for it. Many think it’s not that traumatic. We see this when a 16-year-old cheerleader is ordered to cheer her rapist or get kicked off the squad. She took her case to court and lost and is now expected to pay her rapist’s court fees (he pled guilty to a lesser charge).

Most of those who govern rape victims are powerful men, whether legislators, school superintendents, or the courts. They rarely worry about becoming victims of sexual assault, themselves, and too often see the attacks as trivial.

Hard to believe DeGraaf is also an associate pastor. I wonder what sort of empathetic counseling he hands out.

Georgia Platts

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Higher Suicide Rates in Conservative “Values Voters” States

Values voters. That’s what those who vote their principles on gay rights and abortion are called. So long as they vote anti-gay and anti-choice. 

Really? Are those the only values? And are they good ones? 

Why is voting to deny gays and lesbians equal rights a value, while voting to defend their rights is not? Why is voting against the right of women to control their bodies not a value? Abortion rates are about the same whether legal or not, so many girls and women die when safe and legal options are not available. 

Are they called values voters because they vote their morals against their pocketbooks? Plenty of well-to-do liberals do the same thing, voting for greater equality and opportunity for women, people of color, gays and the poor against their own financial interests.  

Why are progressive ethics seemingly invisible? 

I got to thinking about this while looking over research that finds teen suicide rates are higher where values voters live. 

According to a Columbia University study, suicide attempts by both gay and straight teens are more common in politically conservative areas, even among kids who weren’t bullied or depressed.  

The difference in suicide rates might have something to do with differences in conservative and progressive principles. 

Conservatives focus on tradition and authority. 

Progressives recognize the worth and dignity of each human being, whether female or male; black, white, or brown; gay, straight, bi or trans. And progressives seek to avoid inflicting harm on others. 

No wonder teens are less likely to commit suicide in communities that hold these ideals. 

Interestingly, the Bible, which is a major source of conservative morals, contains a progressive message.   

True, Leviticus 18:22 does say, “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman,” which many interpret as banning homosexuality. But Leviticus 20:13 deems killing the proper punishment. Yet I don’t know anyone who insists on adhering to both points, leaving them inconsistent in relying on Biblical authority. 

At the same time, Jesus declared the greatest commandments loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40). 

When it’s all about love and the golden rule, good progressive values, there will surely be much less suicide. 

Georgia Platts

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What Happens When “A Woman’s Place is in the Home”?

See anything odd in this argument about why rape should be illegal?

“Women’s power to withhold or grant sexual access is an important bargaining weapon… it fosters, and is in turn bolstered by, a masculine pride in the exclusive possession of the sexual object… whose value is enhanced by sole ownership.”

How about the lack of concern about women’s suffering from violence and violation? Nope; women are instead straightforwardly called sex objects that are owned by men.

Understanding the roots of this strange view brings me to a project sponsored by CARE, a poverty-fighting group who are discrediting “The Top 10 Myths about Women” for the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. To understand what went wrong with the above explanation on rape, it helps to consider this myth: A woman’s place is in the home.

What would happen if that wish actually came true?

If women are home, they’re missing elsewhere–among professors, researchers, law schools, courts, Congresses, media, business managers and religious hierarchies. And what happens when women are largely absent in the halls of power? Consider a few scattered examples:

    * Turning first to the strange thesis on rape’s illegality, consider that the article was published in the 1952-53 Yale Law Journal, when the editorial board was 95 percent men, and lacking much female perspective. And, in the 1950s women’s psychology was not studied much because male researchers focused mostly on men.

* In the Old Testament (Judges 19:22-29) depraved men pound at a door, demanding a male guest be turned out to be raped. A concubine is sent out instead, to “use and do whatever you wish.” The woman is raped and abused throughout the night. At daybreak she staggers home, falls down and dies. No one seems too upset at her suffering. The concern back then was over defiled property (the concubine). Whether you take this story as historical fact, or simply as evidence of the writer’s bias, a male-dominant power structure is in play.

    * In 2009 Arizona Senator John Kyle declared to an 83% male Senate that maternity leave needn’t be mandated since “I don’t need maternity care.” Well, if a man doesn’t need it, clearly it’s not important. You have to wonder if he’d be so brazen in a Congress that was half women. 

    * More recently, in the current 83.6% male House of Representatives, Rep. Bobby Franklin of Georgia introduced a bill to criminalize some miscarriages. Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Pitts feels hospitals should be able to refuse to terminate pregnancies even to save a mother’s life. Others want to slash support for international family planning and reproductive health care. Or as the New York Times summed it, a war on women is being waged.

    *  Soon after Justice Sandra Day O’Connor exited the Supreme Court, leaving an eight men and one woman jury, the ban on “partial birth” abortion was upheld. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the sole remaining woman, noted, the ban saves no lives, but makes the procedure more dangerous for women.

We need women out in the world in places of power. Not surprisingly, women med students are pushing for abortion training at Bay Area universities (most prominently UC San Francisco and Stanford) so that women’s lives can be saved.

When women’s place is in the home, women are at the mercy of the patriarchy’s ways of seeing. And that is more than a little scary.

Georgia Platts

March is Women’s History Month

A version of this article was originally posted on the Ms. Magazine Blog on March 4, 2011

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