Feminism, sexuality & social justice. With a sense of humor.
There’s been a lot of talk about trigger warnings lately, now that the practice of giving essentially a heads-up on potentially triggering content has leaped from feminist blogs and online spaces to college classrooms. The New Republic reports that the University of California, Santa Barbara “passed a resolution urging officials to institute mandatory trigger warnings on class syllabi.” Oberlin similarly has an official document on triggers that advises faculty to remove material from the classroom that could potentially trigger students and to make triggering content optional.
Here is what smart feminists have said:
Jill Filipovic: “[T]here is the fact that the universe does not treat its members as if they come hand-delivered in a box clearly marked “fragile”. The world can be a desperately ugly place, especially for women. That feminist blogs try to carve out a little section of the world that is a teeny bit safer for their readers is a credit to many of those spaces. Colleges, though, are not intellectual or emotional safe zones. Nor should they be.”
Tressie McMillan Cottom: “[N]o one is arguing for trigger warnings in the routine spaces where symbolic and structural violence are acted on students at the margins. No one, to my knowledge, is affixing trigger warnings to department meetings that WASP-y normative expectations may require you to code switch yourself into oblivion to participate as a full member of the group. Instead, trigger warnings are being encouraged for sites of resistance, not mechanisms of oppression.”
Melissa McEwan: “Being triggered does not mean “being upset” or “being offended” or “being angry,” or any other euphemism people who roll their eyes long-sufferingly in the direction of trigger warnings tend to imagine it to mean. Being triggered has a very specific meaning that relates to evoking a physical and/or emotional response to a survived trauma or sustained systemic abuse…. Speaking about trigger warnings as though they exist for the purposes of indulging fragile sensibilities fundamentally misses their purpose: To mitigate harm.”
Roxane Gay (2012): “Intellectually, I understand why trigger warnings are necessary for some people. I understand that painful experiences are all too often threatening to break the skin. Seeing or feeling yourself come apart is terrifying. This is the truth of my trouble with trigger warnings: there is nothing words on the screen can do that has not already been done. A visceral reaction to a trigger is nothing compared to the actual experience that created the trigger. I don’t know how to see beyond this belief to truly get why trigger warnings are necessary. When I see trigger warnings, I don’t feel safe. I don’t feel protected. Instead, I am surprised there are still people who believe in safety and protection despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”
I tend to come down with Gay—I understand why some people need and want trigger warnings. I imagine, as McEwan points out, that they do mitigate some harm. Editors and moderators of certain spaces—especially feminist ones—know that triggering topics come up often, and that some of their readers have trauma related to these issues. Giving readers a heads-up gives them the choice to opt out.
So where we can help, we should. Trigger warnings and content notices in “accountable spaces” on obvious distressing content like graphic depictions of sexual assault and violence are not difficult to do and can save trauma survivors from pain.
But as someone who has had PTSD, I know that a triggering event can be so individual, so specific, that there is no anticipating it. Last year, a position in yoga class gave me a panic attack because it so closely resembled the position I was in when I had an emergency C-section. Last night—for the first time in over a year—I had a flashback. It took me an over an hour to realize that the trigger was an incessant distant beeping coming from a neighbor’s fire alarm, which sounded like the beeping of my then-two-pound daughter’s heart and oxygen monitors. There is no trigger warning for that. There is no trigger warning for living your life.
Read Next: Jessica Valenti on feminism and the empowerment elite
Yesterday I published an article revealing that TED has never featured a talk on abortion, and—according to TED Content Director Kelly Stoetzel—they had no plans to. After widespread outrage online, the TED staff now says they do consider including talks on talks on abortion and that I took Stoetzel’s quote out of context. In the hours before they published the explanatory blog post, TED—on two different Twitter accounts—called my reporting a “rumor,” “false” and a “misrepresentation.” Head of TED Chris Anderson tweeted, “Internet outrage rule #1. Get really upset about something before finding out whether or not it’s actually true.”
I am angry and disappointed that TED would malign my work and reputation rather than take responsibility for their words and work. I asked a TED staffer a direct question about why there had never been a talk on abortion, and I got a direct answer. Here is a screenshot from my e-mail exchange:
There was no misrepresentation or gotcha quote-grabbing. In fact, it is the TED staff that is now using Stoetzel’s quote out of context and in partial form. They don’t even link to my article to let people make up their own minds.
But beyond the question of the quote—the veracity of which is not in dispute, and the context of which is abundantly clear—is the question of the facts. The fact is that TED has never hosted a talk on abortion. The fact is that of all the proposed talks that have been sent their way on abortion, they have rejected 100 percent of them.
I am glad to hear that TED believes “abortion and reproductive care are core issues of social justice and human rights.” But their history, coupled with Stoetzel’s statement, does nothing back up this sentiment. And instead of a promise to carry a talk on abortion in the next TED or TEDWomen conference, the blog post gives us a link to TED’s online forums where commenters have brought up abortion and a list of TED talks which are not about abortion.
Reproductive justice leaders like NARAL Pro-Choice America* and Sea Change have already reached out to TED with the hope of working together. I hope that TED takes them seriously, and that they will make a public commitment to hosting a talk on abortion next year.
At the end of the day, though, this is not just about abortion. This is about institutions creating “feminism” without feminists. It’s about the most powerful setting the political agenda for the rest of us. It’s about the elite feeling so above accountability that they will weasel out of things they actually said by calling it “rumor.”
We can do better. And they should have to.
* Full disclosure: I am on the board of NARAL Pro-Choice America
Read Next: Jessica Valenti on TED’s exclusion of talks about abortion.
I’ve never watched a Woody Allen movie. My parents refused to rent them after he began a “relationship” with Soon-Yi Previn and their explanation stuck with me through adulthood. I was around 13 years old at the time, and always looking to pick a fight—I asked why it mattered since Previn wasn’t his “real” daughter. My parents sat me down and talked about the responsibility adults have to children, and certain boundaries that parents and parental figures must respect.
As I grew older—as I had teachers come on to me as a teen, as I experienced the way grown men get away with sexualizing girls—I understood the significance of what my parents told me. Today, as an adult, I know that when we make excuses for particular, powerful men who hurt women, we make the world more comfortable for all abusers. And that this cultural cognitive dissonance around sexual assault and abuse is building a safety net for perpetrators that we should all be ashamed of.
We know one in five girl children are sexually assaulted. Yet when victims speak out, we ask them why they waited so long to talk. We question why don’t they remember the details better. We suspect that they misunderstood what happened.
We know that abusers are manipulative, often charismatic, and that they hide their crimes well. We know that they target women and children who society will be less likely to believe—low-income women, children of color, the disabled, women who can be discredited as “crazy.” Yet when the caretakers of children who have been abused come forward, we call them “vengeful,” as Allen’s lawyer called Mia Farrow. We accuse them of trying to “alienate” their children from the abusing parent. Or, as one of Allen’s friends did in a shameful article for The Daily Beast—we simply insinuate that the protective parent is just a slut, so how can you believe anything she says anyway?
We know—as Aaron Bady at The New Inquiry wrote—“We are in the midst of an ongoing, quiet epidemic of sexual violence, now as always. We are not in the midst of an epidemic of false rape charges.”
Yet despite all of these things that we know, our culture will bend over backward to inject doubt into Dylan Farrow’s harrowing open letter about being sexually assaulted by Allen.
Because no matter how much we know to be true, patriarchy pushes us to put aside our good judgment—particularly when that good judgement is urging us to believe bad things about talented, white men.
I believe, as Roxane Gay does, that people are skeptical of abuse victims because “the truth and pervasiveness of sexual violence around the world is overwhelming. Why would anyone want to face such truth?” I also believe that deep down people know that once we start to believe victims en masse—once we take their pain and experience seriously—that everything will have to change. Recognizing the truth about sexual assault and abuse will mean giving up too many sports and movies and songs and artists. It will mean rethinking institutions and families and power dynamics and the way we interact with each other every day. It will be a lot.
And we are lazy.
It’s easier to ignore what we know to be true, and focus on what we wish was. But the more we hold on to the things that make us comfortable and unthinking, the more people will be hurt—and the more growing room we’ll create for monsters.
Read Next: Jessica Valenti on how we can protect women’s rights by Backing The Fuck Up.
Feminists are constantly on the defensive. Whether it’s fighting back against sexist media depictions of women, working to hold ground on reproductive rights or arguing that rape is an actual thing that really happens—feminism’s fights are largely reactionary. In the wake of the Supreme Court fight over buffer zones, it occurs to me that we need something a bit more proactive to protect women and their rights. So I’d like to suggest that we implement a national call—a feminist addendum in the social contract—for people to Back The Fuck Up.
When a person is entering an abortion clinic, for whatever reason, protesters need to Back The Fuck Up. Because even if the media does paint anti-choice protesters as “cheery grandmothers,” the people who work at clinics every day know that these people aren’t harmless—they’re harassers. So move over, “grandma.” I need to get in that building.
When we’re walking down the street minding our own business and a man implores us to talk to him or makes a comment about our bodies, a Back The Fuck Up policy would ensure women some much-needed space. Sorry, dudes, I don’t make the rules. Perhaps you can tell that guy over there how much better he would look if he just smiled?
A Back The Fuck Up law would be especially helpful when it comes to male politicians trying to legislate women’s bodies. Have a comment about how rape can’t result in pregnancy? Think that women should be forced to view ultrasounds and listen to medically inaccurate information before they can access abortion? Sorry, guys, Back The Fuck Up. And take a biology class while you’re at it.
For the guys out there who aren’t sure if a woman wants to have sex—or thinks that wearing a skirt, having a drink or going back to their room constitutes consent—just Back The Fuck Up. Take two steps back and listen for enthusiastic consent. If you’re not hearing it, Back The Fuck Up even more.
Internet sexists who try to silence women with sexual threats and/or racial harassment: seriously, Back The Fuck Up.
It’s too bad that we can’t have “Back The Fuck Up” grace the law books anytime soon. But the ethos is one we can all embrace—the idea that women have a right to live their lives free of discrimination and without encroachment on their rights and physical space. It’s really not that difficult to understand, nor is it too much to ask. So until we can walk through the world unencumbered by misogyny, BTFU.
Read Next: Zoë Carpenter on how prochoice advocates are planning an offensive in the States.
In the spirit of end-of-year lists, a small offering: my favorite feminist writing of 2013, complete with quotes. Here’s looking forward to a new year of feminist analysis, activism, and general bad-assery.
Cyrus did not just have black women gyrating behind her. She had particularly rotund black women. She gleefully slaps the ass of one dancer like she intends to eat it on a cracker. She is playing a type of black female body as a joke to challenge her audience’s perceptions of herself while leaving their perceptions of black women’s bodies firmly intact. It’s a dance between performing sexual freedom and maintaining a hierarchy of female bodies from which white women benefit materially.
—Tressie McMillan Cottom, “When Your (Brown) Body is a (White) Wonderland”
For decades, the challenge facing anti-rape activists was to take what is often an intensely private crime—54 percent of sexual assaults are estimated to go unreported—and bring it to national attention as a pervasive crisis. Now that cases regularly crop up in which photos and videos of sexual assaults are circulated on social media, it’s becoming harder to argue that rape is anything but a public scourge. We are all bystanders. We all bear witness.
—Ann Friedman, “When Rape Goes Viral,” Newsweek
Shock turns into disbelief and then rage when Roosh is rejected by heaps of “the most unfeminine and androgynous robotic women” he’s ever met. “Not a feminine drop of blood courses through their veins,” Roosh rants. He concludes that the typical fetching Nordic lady doesn’t need a man “because the government will take care of her and her cats, whether she is successful at dating or not.” He’s not wrong. Several of Denmark’s social services are intended to reduce gender inequality by supporting women, a sort of state feminism that he can’t accept.
—Katie J.M. Baker, “Cockblocked by Redistribution: A Pick-up Artist in Denmark,” Dissent
It’s hard to be told to lighten up because if you lighten up any more, you’re going to float the fuck away. The problem is not that one of these things is happening, it’s that they are all happening, concurrently and constantly.
These are just songs. They are just jokes. They are just movies. It’s just a hug. They’re just breasts. Smile, you’re beautiful. Can’t a man pay you a compliment? In truth, this is all a symptom of a much more virulent cultural sickness—one where women exist to satisfy the whims of men, one where a woman’s worth is consistently diminished or entirely ignored.
—Roxane Gay, “What Men Want, America Delivers,” Salon
So rather than hear about the stigma men feel in terms of taking care of kids, I’d like for men to think more about the stigma that women feel when they’re trying to build a career and a family. And then measure whatever angst they’re feeling against the real systemic forces that devalue the labor of women. I think that’s what’s at the root of much of this: When some people do certain work we cheer. When others do it we yawn.
—Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Why I’m Against ‘Daddy Days’,” The Atlantic
And I want to try and convey to you, broadly, how you are hurting women and hurting your own art form, and how easy it would be to stop. Because right now you’re coming across like a bunch of entitled babies terrified of a few girls in your clubhouse—demanding that women be thick-skinned about their own rapes while you’re too thin-skinned to handle even mild criticism. It’s embarrassing.
—Lindy West, “An Open Letter to White Male Comedians,” Jezebel
After Ti-Grace Atkinson resigned from the Feminists, a group she had founded in New York, she declared, “Sisterhood is powerful. It kills. Mostly sisters.” The observation rang true for so many that it soon became one of the lines most frequently quoted by feminists, or, rather, misquoted: the “mostly” was dropped.
—Susan Faludi, “Death of a Revolutionary,” The New Yorker
She was there to defend her friend. And herself. Though she was not on trial, she seemed to know instinctively that black womanhood, black manhood and urban adolescence are always on trial in the American imaginary.
—Brittney Cooper, “Dark-skinned and plus-sized: The real Rachel Jeantel story,” Salon
But what of the silent masses, the people who quietly vote with their iTunes account, with their concert ticket. I’m imploring you to connect with your humanity, which you are sacrificing for the 49:09 of pleasure you get from hearing this record, to take a stand for Black girls—even “fast” ones—who have been victimized.
—Jamilah Lemieux, “Were YOU Wrong About R. Kelly?,” Ebony
The food, it seems, becomes an extension of this happy nuclear family, the way it should be according to the heteronormative social mandate; with the woman writer only achieving fame and/ or wealth through her pursuits because they are at the service of the family (and not because she is deserving of the accolades in her own right; it’s the combination of cooking/ photography skills and traditional motherhood that makes this business model successful).
—Flavia Dzodan, “Some thoughts about sexual normativity in food writing,” Red Light Politics
Read Next: Bryce Covert on Twitter's male-dominated workplace.
Last night Michigan’s legislature passed a measure banning coverage for abortion in private health plans. Women who want abortion coverage will have to buy an additional rider, essentially planning for an unplanned pregnancy. I understand why opponents of the measure are calling it “rape insurance”—there are no exceptions for rape and incest, and State Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer told her own story of sexual assault and how such a law would have impacted her if she had become pregnant as a result of the attack. It was a brave moment. But the term “rape insurance” does a disservice to women—and to the reproductive justice movement.
It is not just sexual assault survivors who need their abortion covered. Yes, there is an added dimension of cruelty when you’re talking about denying women who get pregnant as a result of rape care and coverage. But we cannot create a hierarchy of “good” and “bad” abortions. Or of “deserving” women. One in three American women will have an abortion, and the circumstances behind that pregnancy is none of our business—and it certainly should have no bearing on whether or not women can afford to access care.
Referring to this measure as requiring women to have “rape insurance” is also a political misstep—what happens if Michigan anti-choicers decide they can live with a rape exception? Most women will still not have coverage for the care they need. This is similar to what happened in Virginia when feminists protested a transvaginal ultrasound mandate as “state rape.” Focusing on the most controversial aspect of the law got a lot of attention, but it also meant that once the transvaginal requirement was removed, low income women still lost out—because an abdominal ultrasound mandate remained, forcing women to pay hundreds of dollars out of pocket for an unnecessary procedure.
I understand why many in the pro-choice movement focus on the most extreme examples when we talk to the media; they are truly harrowing and serious issues. And we need public support—but not at the expense of our feminist values.
As Merritt Tierce, executive director of Texas Equal Access Fund, told me in an interview last month: “The lawsuits and the media coverage always focus on the most sympathetic cases, without acknowledging that while of course those cases absolutely deserve our sympathy, most women will not experience anything like what they see and hear in the media.”
If we want to battle the stigma around abortion, we cannot separate it out from women’s general healthcare—or suggest, even implicitly, that some people are more deserving of abortion care than others. Michigan’s policy is unjust and sexist, and it punishes women—that should be enough to oppose it.
Read Next: Why Jessica Valenti doesn’t want to watch TV shows anymore.
SPOILERS: Sons of Anarchy, Downton Abbey
I’m done with television dramas. I don’t say this lightly—I’m a tremendous TV fan. When my daughter was in the hospital for two months, my husband I binged watched Friday Night Lights every night to keep our minds busy. I revisit old favorites like Buffy and Battlestar Galactica when I’m bored. I am obsessed with Scandal. I love TV. But I can’t bear to watch another female character get hurt.
The straw that broke this feminist’s back was the season’s finale of Sons of Anarchy. The last few episodes of the show had audiences wondering what would happen to Maggie Siff’s character, Tara—she betrayed her increasingly violent husband Jax, lying about a miscarriage and later taking their two sons in an effort to get them away from the criminal motorcycle club. The tension had been building for weeks, with Tara becoming more desperate—but fans of the show knew that Jax’s moral wavering made it unlikely he would kill her. Indeed, in this last episode he tells Tara to “save our sons” and plans to turn himself in and save her. Instead, writer Kurt Sutter decided to have club matriarch Gemma kill Tara—and in the most violent and ignoble way.
I didn’t watch the death scene, but with a half hour left in the show I knew it was coming. I Googled to confirm my suspicions and shut the show off in disgust. I won’t watch it again. In part I was annoyed that Sutter let Jax stay the good guy in the end while still putting a female lead through an awful ordeal (and not for the first time). But more than that it was sheer exhaustion. I am so tired of seeing female characters getting raped, beaten and killed—all for titillation or to move along a male character’s arc. Call her the Manic Pixie Dead Girl.
Or ‘raped girl’, for that matter. I won’t be watching the new season of Downton Abbey because I found out that a major female character will be sexually assaulted. It’s become impossible to enjoy most quality television shows because the hurt or endangered women device is so frequently used. And if a character is pregnant, forget it—you pretty much know she’s a goner.
Yes, dead or harmed women in television is nothing new. There are entire series dedicated to the practice (I’m looking at you, SVU!). But lately, I’ve just found it too… stressful. I watch my favorite female characters with my heart in my throat, just waiting for the inevitable to happen. Women have to fear and anticipate violence and sexual assault in their everyday real life—I don’t want to fear for it in my entertainment as well. It’s bad for my soul.
Edgar Allan Poe once wrote, “The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.” Too many male writers and directors buy into this narrative. But I don’t have to.
Read Next: Michelle Goldberg on why Linda Tirando is not a hoax.
Today the Supreme Court announced it will hear two cases concerning the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that companies’ insurance plans cover birth control. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties claim the mandate violates their belief against certain kinds of contraception—pitting female employees’ right to a nondiscriminatory health plan against a company’s religious freedom. (I also fervently hope these companies are fighting as hard to ensure that their unmarried male employees don’t have access to sin-pills like Viagra.)
Most American women—99 percent—will use birth control at some point in their lives. Twenty-seven million women are being covered by this provision right now. So I have to wonder what companies that don’t want to cover birth control will tell their female employees should the contraception mandate be struck down. Abstinence? Aspirin between the knees, perhaps?
There’s also an incredibly slippery slope here—if employees’ health plans have to adhere to company owners’ religious beliefs, what happens if your boss doesn’t believe in vaccinations? Or as Guardian columnist Jill Filipovic tweeted, “What if your blood transfusions violate your employer’s religious beliefs? No surgery coverage?” Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America said in a statement, “Allowing this intrusion into personal decisions by their bosses opens a door that won’t easily be shut.”
Judy Waxman, vice president of health and reproductive rights at the National Women’s Law Center, says these scenarios are real possibilities. “What if an employer believes women should be subservient and doesn’t believe in providing the same wage and hours for them as male employees?” She relayed one case where a private school denied health insurance to married women, because school management believed husbands are the “head of the household” and should provide for their wives.
The truth is that this is not about religious freedom, it’s about sexism, and a fear of women’s sexuality. When Sandra Fluke testified in favor for birth control coverage, she wasn’t criticized for trying to curtail religious freedom—she was called a ‘slut’ and a ‘prostitute’. When the FDA held up over-the-counter status of emergency contraception for years, it wasn’t because of the medication’s efficacy or potential health risks but because of a fear it would make girls promiscuous. The same thing happened when the HPV vaccine was being reviewed. Just this morning, I came across a conservative political cartoon that really says it all.
Reproductive health needs are just that—health needs. But because we live in a country that has a ridiculous hang-up over women and sex, we’re still debating the morality of birth control and calling women whores instead of giving them the care they need. We know why conservatives want to limit birth control access—they show their true colors every day. So let’s not pretend these cases are about religious freedom or employer’s rights. Call it what it is: misogyny.
Lee Fang shows how former Walmart execs are involved in Black Friday Sabotage.
Last week, an appeals court lifted an injunction on Texas’ exceedingly restrictive abortion law, which forces abortion clinics to obtain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. This requirement—which went into effect when the injunction was lifted Friday—may close a third of the state’s clinics, according to research carried out by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project. Yesterday, attorneys for providers asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the injunction. I spoke with Merritt Tierce, executive director of Texas Equal Access Fund in North Texas about the law, how Texas women are faring and what we can all do to help.
Can you explain a bit about what TEA Fund does, for our readers who may not be familiar with abortion access funds?
TEA Fund provides financial assistance to low-income women who want an abortion and can’t afford it. Our clients are usually referred to us by one of the clinics we work with—I used to say one of the “dozen or so” clinics we work with, but now it’s basically down to three, plus one in New Mexico and one in Louisiana. Our volunteers conduct a brief intake interview to assess the caller’s need and situation. If the caller meets our eligibility requirements, we will commit an amount between $25 and $400. We never cover more than half the cost of the procedure, and our average grant right now is about $150. The money is paid to the clinic after the procedure is performed (we’re billed just like any other vendor). We are a small 501 (c) (3) nonprofit with an annual budget of about $200,000. We are usually able to help about 1,000 women annually, but have never been able to meet the need. We could easily commit $10,000 each week, and right now we commit only $3500.
Late last week an appeals court upheld a Texas law that widely restricts abortion access—one third of the state’s clinics could close as a result. How prepared was the TEA Fund and other reproductive justice organizations? Have you been girding yourself for this kind of loss?
We have all been preparing for the law to go into effect since the end of July. Clinics have been working overtime to try to get [hospital admitting] privileges for their physicians. The Texas Policy Evaluation Project has done phenomenal work compiling the data to predict the impact the closures would have on the state. NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Whole Woman’s Health, and Planned Parenthood have been coaching all of us to remember this is a long game. The fury and momentum we all felt coming out of this summer has to be sustained, and converted into concrete actions and votes.
Several new organizations have been created since the 2013 legislative session ended, and we are working with the new groups and our longtime allies the Lilith Fund [a reproductive equity group that assists women exercise their right to abortion] and Jane’s Due Process [a nonprofit that provides legal representation to pregnant minors] to ensure that we support one another’s efforts as efficiently as possible. We have also all increased our fundraising, knowing that not only would we be facing calls from more people, but that each person who needs financial assistance would need more after the law went into effect.
What are you hearing from the women you work with? Are they already feeling the impact of the law?
There have been a variety of responses from fear to anger. Many have had to reschedule their appointments at a different clinic. That means the people who scraped together the $100 for the sonogram will have to pay for it again, and wait twenty-four hours again, because of Texas’ sonogram law: the provider who performs the abortion must administer the sonogram. So if you go to a different clinic, there’s nothing the clinic can legally do to see you without starting all over. The rescheduling itself means that some women will be unable to afford the abortion because the cost will increase as the pregnancy advances.
My sense is that most of these women did not know much about what has been going on in the Texas legislature. It’s important to acknowledge that simply being able to pay attention to the news is a luxury many people don’t have, especially people who are struggling to find food, shelter, employment or healthcare, or people who are trying to escape intimate partner violence. What’s so infuriating about these laws is that the people who have the least ability to fight back are the very people the laws affect most severely.
What can people expect to see in terms of the law’s impact over the next few months?
More women will try to have an abortion outside of the healthcare system. The use of Cytotec (misoprostol) will increase, especially in south Texas and the Rio Grande Valley, where it is more easily available (and where there is now no access to abortion). Inevitably some women will harm themselves as a direct result of the clinic closures. Many women will continue unwanted pregnancies because they have no other options. Because of the shame and stigma that surround abortion, we may not hear these stories in detail; however we know that, historically, this is what happens when abortion access is restricted.
We can also expect to see the fight continue and intensify, as a result of the severe body blow this law has dealt. We were angry; now we are nuclear.
Almost every anti-choice talking point I’ve read about this law mentions that restrictions on abortion are meant to “protect women.” What’s your response to that?
What I see in the state’s argument and the Fifth Circuit’s ruling is an obvious prejudice toward women who seek abortion for any reason, and consequent decisions that exploit the legal limits of “undue burden” to push on the meaning of “undue.” I see a really Calvinist sadism in the perspective that any woman who wants an abortion for any reason must bear whatever burden there is to be borne en route to that abortion. The burden is, in truth, her punishment from the state.
It’s insane to me—and I mean truly insane—that they have made any headway at all with the idea of “protecting women,” because abortion is safer than not only most medical procedures but a ton of other things people do every day. The only climate that could have allowed this preposterous cloak of an angle is widespread ignorance about abortion that allows the taboo to remain intact.
What’s next for Texas reproductive justice activists in the short and long term?
We are working to establish a statewide practical support network, to help people get to the remaining clinics by assisting with transportation and lodging costs and arrangements. Texas is an enormous state with limited public transportation, especially from the rural areas that have been hit hardest by clinic closures, so this is the key focus for all of us right now. Long-term our focus will be to elect pro-choice leaders who can begin to restore access to reproductive healthcare. Another area of primary importance is educating the public about abortion, so that everyone is on the same page about what it really is. Basic abortion realities have to be common knowledge, or we will continue to be vulnerable to these attacks.
What can people who don’t live in Texas to do help, besides donating to groups like the TEA Fund? (Though they should certainly do that as well!)
We definitely do need the money! But we also implore people to recognize that this situation is not solely the result of extreme conservatives having their way within an extremely conservative state. It is just as much a result of political complacency and/or neutrality among an immense population of Texans who actually do support reproductive rights, just as a majority of Americans do. But silent support of justice and freedom doesn’t cut it.
If people who aren’t necessarily activists or writers or politicians had been more “out” about abortion, it could have been normalized over the past forty years. The stigma could have been broken down and abortion could have been assimilated into the mainstream practice of healthcare, where it belongs. Instead we legalized abortion but let it remain taboo, and that’s exactly what has given the religious right room to work in. The only way to make abortion acceptable and keep it legal is to learn about it and talk about it—and I specifically mean in everyday conversation.
That should include not only the tragic, compelling stories of people who were raped, or fetal anomalies, or maternal health issues, but the story that is in fact the most common abortion story: the first-trimester procedure chosen by someone who just doesn’t want to have a baby right now. The lawsuits and the media coverage always focus on the most sympathetic cases, without acknowledging that while of course those cases absolutely deserve our sympathy, most women will not experience anything like what they see and hear in the media.
Fewer than 1 percent of abortions occur after twenty weeks, so even if people do feel tremendous sympathy for those cases, it’s remote. It is too easy for people to shut out experiences that seem too foreign, and statistically it isn’t likely that a woman who needs an abortion will be able to identify with any of the experiences she has seen in the media.
To my mind that is itself a tragedy, because if a woman gets to a place in her own life where she needs an abortion, she should know that abortion is common. She should know that abortion is extremely safe. She should know that it won’t affect her ability to have children later. She should know that many of the women she knows have had abortions. Instead she walks into the clinic and she doesn’t know any of these basic realities and she feels very alone.
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Owen Davis and StudentNation take a closer look at the schools—and the kids—opting out of testing
Feminists spend a lot of time taking journalists and media institutions to task for the way they cover rape—and for good reason. Victim-blaming runs rampant in headlines and news features, sexual assault is often misnamed or mischaracterized, and women’s behavior is treated with more scrutiny than rapists’ crimes. Media makers are smart, interesting people who—like all people—make mistakes. But even well-meaning missteps cause harm. So for those writers, editors, producers and pundits who are looking to cover stories about sexual assault in a fair and accurate way, here are some suggestions:
—When an adult is charged with assaulting a minor or someone is someone is accused of assaulting an unconscious person, don’t refer to the crime as “sex with a child” or “sex with an unconscious person.” Call it rape—because that’s what it is. I understand there are legal issues to consider when a perpetrator has been accused but not found guilty, but even an alleged crime needs to be accurately described. “Sex” with someone who is unable to consent because of age, consciousness or ability is not sex; it is always rape.
—If you find yourself writing or editing a sentence that describes what a rape victim wore, the kind of makeup she had on or that she acted “older than her age” (I’m looking at you, New York Times)—stop it. Cut it. Burn it with fire. Unless it is of direct importance to the case—like this infamous Italian case where criticism over a judge’s comments on clothes were taken to task—it’s not only unnecessary, it’s harmful. Victims of sexual assault are already blamed enough in our culture without the media perpetuating the lie that their behavior had some bearing on the violence that was perpetrated against them.
—If the victim you are reporting about comes from a marginalized community—if they are queer, trans, poor, disabled, an immigrant, a person of color or a sex worker—take extra care that the pernicious stereotypes that surround that community do not impact your piece. Make broader links—different communities have different and disproportionate rates violence perpetrated against them. Interview people who are experts on this. Include information and expertise from organizations that work within these communities.
—If you run a story exploring the reasons why rape happens, focus on the perpetrator, not the victim’s behavior. Because despite what Emily Yoffe writes, the common denominator in most rapes is not young women drinking, the common denominator is rapists.
The United States does not have a rape problem—it has a rape epidemic. A woman in this country is raped every two minutes, 42 percent of victims are raped before they are 18 years old. One in three Native women report being raped, as do almost 19 percent of black women. Ninety-seven percent of rapists will never go to jail.
It’s our responsibility as journalists to ensure that we are covering stories of sexual assault with truthfulness, care, and in a way that does not make the country a safer place for rapists. We are not just media makers—we shape the culture as well. So let’s make it a culture that’s safer and more just for girls, women and all survivors of sexual assault.
I know this is not a complete list—if you have more tips for how to write about rape, tweet them at me! I’ll update this post with more suggestions and resources (with credit to you, of course!).
Reed Richardson seeks to understand how another issue is being misreported: healthcare.