An election, a superstorm, and high-profile battles over women’s health marked 2012 — not to mention a whole lot of Lena Dunham.
In January and February, the birth control wars raged. The year began with a major kerfuffle: Planned Parenthood got dropped as a funding partner by the Susan G. Komen Foundation — an intra-nonprofit war which felt like the inevitable result of 2011’s long political campaign to [demonize Planned Parenthood’s services] (http://blogs.forward.com/sisterhood-blog/150685/how-planned-parenthood-became-a-liability/). But then something strange happened: the entire Internet revolted and Susan G. Komen had to bow and scrape its way back into the fold, but not before damaging its reputation perhaps irrecoverably.
Very soon thereafter, as if underscoring the point that standing up for women’s health shouldn’t be a political liability, the Obama administration took a bold but necessary stance: mandating no co-pay (not free!) birth control coverage under Obamacare. Needless to say, conservatives (looking at you, Catholic bishops!) were not pleased. The battle over this provision provided some memorable images: the testosterone-rife congressional panel, featuring stern-looking men in religious garb moralizing about women’s health, and the excluded activist Sandra Fluke, who was called a “slut” by Rush Limbaugh and was even attacked by some right-wingers for having a Jewish boyfriend.
Unless you’ve been hiding under an avalanche of pink ribbons, you probably know that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But amidst all the “pinkwashing” of products and ubiquitous placement of “Save the Tatas” bumper stickers, there’s plenty of backlash.
Many feminist bloggers take issue with the idea that we must merely “be aware” of breast cancer. Critics point to the commodification of the disease and to organizations like Susan G. Komen foundation, which sometimes imbue a stylishness to acknowledgment of the disease but don’t reflect the harsh reality of suffering. Like the weather, everybody talks about it, but nobody does anything about it. Well, we can do something besides sponsoring 5ks and having regular mammograms. We can get screened.
If you don’t already know about at-home genetic testing for the BRCA 1 and 2 genetic mutations common in women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, all you have to do is spit into a tube and put it in the mail. But very few of us have actually gone so far as to get screened. I know there are reasons for this, ranging from fear to expense, but I got tested anyway. Here’s why.
The Disease Shows Up On Both Sides of My Family
I found out about BRCA screening while I was in college, but I didn’t get screened until I was 29 years old. My mother’s sister died of the disease at age 60, and my father’s mother perished from it at the same age. I have no idea how many other “second degree” female relatives of my grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generations would have died of it since most of them were killed in the holocaust, but one relatively close incident on each side is enough for me. That knowledge, plus the fact that about 3% of Ashkenazi Jewish women are carriers of one of the three common BRCA 1 and 2 mutations (much higher than the frequency among the general population) was enough to put the home test on my to-do list. Even still, I wasn’t convinced.
This is the fifth post in a Sisterhood series on women, apologizing and Yom Kippur.
As we get closer to Yom Kippur and muse on atonement — what it means, what we should atone for — it’s worth probing the gendered nature of apologies. To begin with, it seems obvious that women in our society are conditioned from an early age to apologize too much and for the wrong sins.
I’m a strong feminist and I’m as hyper-aware of these dynamics as anyone. But I’ve got my share of neuroses, and so I still get told by my loved ones to “knock it off with the sorrys.” I tend to proffer “I’m sorry” as a buffer when I’m asserting needs or desires that may inconvenience those around me.
So yes, women — or really anyone adversely affected by gender roles in that particular way — need to resolve during the holidays to apologize less. We don’t want to dilute the value of apologies; we ought save them for when we truly mean the mea culpas, like when we’ve completely screwed up as opposed to when we’re, you know, expressing our opinion, asking for a favor or infringing on someone else’s time.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are the apologies we receive. As someone who writes about political culture, I’ve spent much of the year analyzing the apologies offered to various women who have been insulted at record levels in recent months. Indeed, it was a banner year for misogynist comments followed by non-apologies. And those apologies, often phrased as “I’m sorry if you were offended” or “I’m sorry for what I said, but not what it meant,” get used quite a bit when the initial comment or action offended women.
Not to flog a whimpering horse with a frayed pink ribbon, but since the Komen defunding of Planned Parenthood story broke last week, and the organization got whiplash from social media-fueled opposition before standing down and agreeing to rescind its ill-advised policy, more Jewish players in the story have emerged.
It turns out that Ari Fleischer, a fellow Jew, long-time friend and fellow Republican of Komen CEO Nancy Brinker, was secretly involved with interviewing candidates for the Komen vice president position filled by anti-abortion former political candidate Karen Handel. In an interview with at least one candidate, according to the blog Think Progress, he focused on how Komen should handle Planned Parenthood, which provides a range of reproductive health services, including breast exams and abortions.
Think Progress, which broke the story of Fleischer’s involvement, is a progressive policy-focused blog. The Washington Post then interviewed him further about his role in the debacle here.
Fleischer, of course, was President George W. Bush’s press secretary and since leaving the White House founded Ari Fleischer Sports Communications, a press management firm which counted Tiger Woods among its clients after the golfer’s public acknowledgement of his sex addiction.
We just heard that the Susan G. Komen board of directors reversed course and will continue funding Planned Parenthood after all. “We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives,” Founder and CEO Nancy G. Brinker said in a statement released from Komen’s Dallas headquarters.
It was a stunning admission by an organization that was bombarded with angry complaints over the move to drop Planned Parenthood — supposedly because of a change in Komen’s grant-making criteria. But the political motives were just below the surface, and it was difficult not to come to the conclusion that Komen cut off Planned Parenthood because it is the women’s health organization that the right now loves to demonize.
This abrupt turn-around was surely caused by the fury unleashed on the Internet, and that is both a civic wonder and a scary thought. Since I was one of the ones infuriated by Komen’s initial decision — expressed in this editorial — I’m relieved and proud that the voices with whom I agreed had this kind of impact.
But will I feel so thrilled if the subject was something I abhorred? If the fury was unleashed in a less inviting direction?
Women who have long supported the breast cancer fundraising organization Susan G. Komen for the Cure are today taking off their pink ribbons (metaphorically, at least) to protest the news that it has cut off funding to Planned Parenthood because the health provider it is under investigation by a right-wing Republican member of the House of Representatives, Cliff Stearns.
Komen, which was started by its namesake’s sister, former U.S. ambassador Nancy Goodman Brinker, who was interviewed by The Sisterhood here, funds breast cancer research, screening and treatment programs. Brinker is Jewish and today is the group’s CEO.
Komen last year provided $680,000 to 19 Planned Parenthood affiliates for breast health screening exams. While Planned Parenthood has been targeted for years by anti-choice protesters and politicians who have pledged to defund it because it provides abortions, the organization, which has nearly 800 clinics, is probably also one of the nation’s largest providers of affordable women’s (and men’s) health services. The organization says that “more than 90 percent of Planned Parenthood’s healthcare is preventative,” including contraception, testing for STDs and screening for cancer, along with general reproductive health care.
The Girl Scouts have long been synonymous with wholesome American girlhood, with their cookies and their uniforms and their appearance in a late ‘80s movie with Shelley Long. But recently they’ve come under attack because some affiliates have decided that young girls on the cusp of puberty might want to know the facts of life, based on science, evidence, and individual choice — the of healthy, judgment-free ethos that Planned Parenthood promotes.
The problem is that Planned Parenthood, once championed by the likes of the Bush family and Richard Nixon, is now public enemy #1. After efforts to defund and discredit the storied institution have taken root, suddenly the health provider has become a pariah. And now those opposed to Planned Parenthood using a single brochure from the organizations to make the case that the Girl Scouts possess a “radical feminist” mission to corrupt the young women of America. And, what, turn them into tolerant, self-assured, confident young women in charge of their own sexuality? Heaven forbid.
The scandal du jour comes courtesy of two former Scouts, the Volanski sisters, now being backed up by several major anti-choice organization after they started a blog dedicated to exposing the Scout’s supposed secret agenda. According to The Daily Beast’s Alizah Salario:
The people awake at 7:15 a.m., when I left the house this past Saturday morning, were walking their dogs, washing off the streets in front of their stores and picking up a bite to eat. Usually, I’m never awake before 10 a.m. on Saturdays, so even if I pretend I’m going to make it to shul, it never works. On this day, though, I was on the train at 7:30 a.m.; an hour later, I was at a Planned Parenthood clinic, wearing a blue smock labeled “volunteer.”
The protestors showed up by 9 a.m., which apparently they do on the first Saturday of every month. There were probably 45 of them, with crosses and rosaries and a bullhorn — even a violin — chanting the Catholic “Hail Mary” prayer over and over.
There were also some men from Bikers for Life, walking around with flyers. The whole point of an escort is to get people who need to get into the clinic into the clinic. Sometimes, that means going over to the person telling a woman she’s about to murder her baby and helping her extract herself from the lecture; other times, it just means making eye contact and opening the door.
If the government shuts down today, we’ll have come to a new zenith of institutionalized misogyny in American government — a level of disregard for women that is so powerful it might bring that government to a halt. Even if it doesn’t and a deal is reached, the fact that women’s health was the last thing standing in the way of an agreement for over 24 hours is both alarming and telling.
As I and others have been noting during the past two days, the negotiations to settle on a budget and a avoid a catastrophic government shutdown (which still could happen in the next few hours) almost entirely boiled down to the issue of Planned Parenthood funding.
While many had predicted that the House GOP’s drive to strip the institution of its family-planning federal funding under Title X — the Hyde Amendment currently prevents it from receiving abortion funding — would be easily killed in the Senate, they underestimated, in my opinion, the sheer level of hatred for women’s bodily autonomy by some members of the D.C. legislative corps.
It’s finally happened. Earlier this afternoon the House voted 240 to 185 to deny all federal funding to Planned Parenthood. Even worse, this was a vote to end all Title X funding — that’s the funding that is devoted to providing preventive health and comprehensive family planning services to low-income families. Planned Parenthood currently receives zero federal funding for abortion, thanks to the Hyde Amendment. So while ostensibly done in the name of anti-abortion policy, today’s amendment sponsored by Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, was really an all-out attack on poor women’s health care.
As Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Cecile Richards said in an email to supporters today:
Minutes ago, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to bar Planned Parenthood from all federal funding for any purpose whatsoever. That means no funding to Planned Parenthood health centers for birth control, lifesaving cancer screenings, HIV testing, and other essential care.
Or as the Awls’ Choire Sicha summed it up more sarcastically: “240 Politicians Come Together in Support of Teens Having STDs.”
I’ve spent the week reporting on the all-out assault against abortion access that’s happening state-by-state in America right now. It’s a scary scene, demonstrating how quickly many lawmakers will move against women’s bodily autonomy once they gain power.
But on the national level, the most headline-worthy move against women has been a new bill in Congress, H.R. 3, the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” or as NARAL calls it, “Stupak on Steroids.” which would not only strip existing abortion funding, it would redefine “rape” as forcible, leaving most instances of sexual assault in a gray area when it comes to abortion funding. In other words, the government can essentially analyze your rape to determine whether it’s worthy of abortion funding. Irin Carmon at Jezebel has an excellent analysis of why this language, even if it was accidental in intention or not really meant to be codified into law, is dangerous just in its existence. Several bloggers have started a #DearJohn Twitter campaign to draw attention to the bill (the John in question being Speaker of the House Boehner).