Gender & Sexuality

The Peak of Her Game

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, listens to questions from lawmakers during her testimony on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, January 23, 2013, before Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. W ith due respect to Barack Obama, his second inaugural address—containing not a single phrase likely to end up chiseled in stone, but a tactical masterpiece in its GOP-marginalizing, progressive redefinition of what the traffic will bear—wasn't the best political TV of the week. The best political TV of the week was Hillary Clinton's testimony in front of the Senate and then House Foreign Relations Committees on Wednesday. After licking their chops for weeks at the prospect, Republicans eyeing 2016—specifically, potential contenders Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, both of whom were among her quizzers—may be wondering why...

Equal Opportunity Soldiers On

Flickr/Beverly & Pack/U.S. Army
You know what repealing "don't ask, don't tell" did to change the military, right? Nothing, absolutely nothing. It acknowledged what was already true: lesbians and gay men were doing their jobs, just like everyone else. With the repeal, of course, thousands of people were freer to breathe easily, but nothing else changed. That’s going to be the biggest consequence of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s announcement yesterday that women can serve in combat roles: nothing, absolutely nothing. Because women are already there, dying on the front lines. They’re already “attached” to combat units in roles that aren’t officially combat positions—maintaining equipment, taking fire after setting up camps as logistics officers, going on combat patrols as intelligence officers, and piloting helicopters and planes through combat zones (check out the plaintiffs ' brief in the ACLU's lawsuit against the Department of Defense for the exclusion rule). They’ve gotten Purple Hearts , been hit by IEDs, and...

Workers, Not Babysitters

There's still a long way to go to ensure domestic workers have the same protections as other workers, but progress is coming. 

Flickr/brk in bklyn
S ome very welcome news may break soon for the domestic workforce: the White House appears to be close to announcing a rule change to the Federal Labor Standards Act, finally including home health aides—those who bathe, nurse, toilet, and care for the elderly and disabled in their homes—in its protections. It may sound out of another century, and it is, but home health care workers had been excluded from federal overtime and minimum wage protections through a companionship exemption. It was designed to leave out only those who provided company, but had become so widely interpreted as to encompass a vital, booming workforce. The administration has long been sitting on the decision to change the rule, but outgoing Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis recently told The Nation , “there’ll be movement on that. We’ll shortly see progress made there.” If and when this change is announced, this workforce will be formally recognized as “workers,” not babysitters making pin money. The symbolism can’t...

Women to Serve In Combat Units

Flick/U.S. Marine Corps
Today, acting on the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that he is lifting the ban, in place since 1994, on women serving in combat roles in the United States military. One has to wonder how much longer this would have taken had we not had the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but the reality on the ground—that women have been fighting and dying alongside their male colleagues for the last decade—made this almost inevitable. What changes now is that women can serve in units like infantry that are designated as combat units. I'm sure some conservatives are going to start hemming and hawing about how the lack of upper body strength among your average lady-type means this will accelerate the wussification of the U.S. military, and how it was just inevitable under Barack Obama's plan to destroy America. No doubt we'll hear that from Rush Limbaugh, who probably couldn't do a push-up if there was a capital gains tax cut waiting at the top of it...

Freedom to Choose, Freedom to Marry

Is sex evil unless it leads directly to babies? Is marriage only legitimate if it fosters offspring, or is it also for intimacy? The U.S. Supreme Court issued three decisions between June 7, 1965 and Jan. 22, 1973 that collectively give the answer: No. Roe , the last of them, can be thought of as the exclamation mark. As we reflect on the 40th anniversary of that decision, there's another group that has Roe to thank for the rights it enjoys today: LGBT Americans. While many of us in the LGBT community see parallels between the gay and women's rights movements, we often overlook the direct role of Roe in establishing a right to same-sex marriage: If women are permitted to have sex without offspring—even if their contraception fails and those little cells start dividing inside them—then it must also be okay for women and women, or men and men, to have sex without the possibility of fertility. Reproductive freedom and LGBT freedom are two sides of the same idea. To explain, let me take...

Mississippi's Last Abortion Provider

T welve years ago, Dr. Willie Parker was at home listening to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I’ve been to the mountaintop” sermon. Parker had heard the words many times before. But this time, he found himself focusing on King’s interpretation of the Bible story of the “good Samaritan,” who stopped to help a man who had been left for dead by robbers. Though others had passed the man by, the Samaritan stopped, King explained, because he didn’t think about the harm that might befall him if he did. Instead, he asked what might happen to the dying man if he did not. Parker, an ob-gyn who had been practicing for 12 years at the time, suddenly felt that King’s words held meaning for his own work. Having grown up in a religious family that was active in the Baptist church (Parker was “born again” and preaching the gospel at 15), he had been brought up to believe that abortion was wrong. Up to that point, he had never provided one. He’d refer women to other providers, but was too conflicted about...

The Demographics of Abortion: It's Not What You Think

Why does the ’70s-era image of the white, middle-class teenager as the typical abortion patient persist?

AP Photo
In the 40 years since Roe v. Wade , quite a bit has changed about the abortion debate. Evangelicals have taken the helm of the anti-choice movement, once dominated by Catholics. The movement has shifted strategies repeatedly—from stoking moral outrage and blocking abortion clinics to feigning concern for women’s health and, most recently, passing innocuous-sounding building regulations aimed at eliminating access to abortion. For its part, the pro-choice movement has mellowed since the days radical feminists crash ed town halls into a professionalized juggernaut of lobbyists and lawyers with a mighty service arm known as Planned Parenthood. But one thing that hasn’t changed since 1973 is the public image of what a typical abortion patient looks like: A middle-class, white high-school or college student with no children whose bright future could be derailed by motherhood. Hollywood portrayals of abortion patients are few and far between, but largely reinforce this understanding; Juno...

Looking Back at Pro-Choice's Battles

AP Photo/Nick Ut
(AP Photo/Doug Mills, file) In this April 5, 1992 file photo, pro-choice demonstrators gather on the Ellipse near the White House in Washington. For many abortion-rights activists, the debate over health care reform has been frustrating, even disheartening, as they see their political allies on the defensive over the issue and their anti-abortion rivals on the attack. It's been 40 years since the Supreme Court's landmark decision over a woman's right to choose in Roe v. Wade . How has the landscape over the issue of abortion and the politics of reproductive health changed since? Here's a round-up of our best coverage over the past decade on the changing climate, both in public opinion and in legislatures inside the Beltway and out, over abortion. 2012's War on Women , E.J. Graff "For the ladies, the year’s sound track could have been a strangled gasp, followed by snorting and laughing out loud. The attacks on women’s health, on contraception, on abortion, on the definition of rape—it...

The Line between Roe and Wade

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
F orty years after the Supreme Court found a constitutional right to abortion in the Fourth Amendment on behalf of “Jane Roe”—a 25-year-old single mother in Texas named Norma McCorvey—America is as unsettled as ever on the issue. This is for two reasons that, by their nature, are at odds with each other. The first is that abortion is a metaphysical enigma to which neither wisdom nor experience provides a definitive answer; we’re therefore left to fashion an imperfect political response to a question that’s fundamentally spiritual. The second is that, as with other more banal political matters these days, into the vacuum of what human beings can know about the soul rush ideological extremes that concede nothing to ambiguity let alone another point of view. At the center of the dilemma over terminating a pregnancy is this consideration: At what point does a biological entity initially part of a woman’s body cross into the realm of its own humanity? Merely asking this is anathema to...

What's Left of Roe

Barack Obama's re-election might make the landmark decision safe for now, but its meaning has eroded over the years.

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, file)
Since the ruling was handed down 40 years ago today, Roe v. Wade— which held that the constitutionally guaranteed right to privacy included a woman's right to choose to have an abortion—has been subject to an ongoing legal and political assault. This assault has not succeeded in getting the decision overturned. But it has caused the scope of the opinion to become narrower in ways that have disproportionately affected the rights of women of color, poor women, and women in isolated, rural areas. The re-election of Barack Obama might make Roe safe for the time being, but it is worth taking stock of how its meaning is being eroded and what the future battles would be. The first major conservative victory in the struggle to narrow Roe v. Wade was the Hyde Amendment, which prohibited Medicaid funds from being used to provide abortion services. The Hyde Amendment split the pro- Roe v. Wade coalition on the Supreme Court, and was ultimately upheld in a 1980 5-4 decision . Three of the...

Who Has Abortions and Why it Matters

Guttmacher Institute
The Guttmacher Institute has a useful set of charts detailing the state of abortion in 2013, apropos of Roe ’s 40th anniversary. The short story is that abortion is far more widespread than Americans tend to think; by age 45, almost half of American women will have an unintended pregnancy, and nearly one in three will have an abortion. Sixty percent of women who have abortions already have one child, 44 percent are married or have a partner, and 69 percent are economically disadvantaged. Conservative rhetoric notwithstanding, the vast majority of abortions occur in the first trimester, and 73 percent of women who have abortions are “religiously affiliated.” Unintended pregnancies and unplanned births are highest among African Americans and Latinos, and accordingly, those groups have the highest abortion rates—40 percent for blacks, 29 percent for Latinos. The most interesting facts—and the ones which should complicate the conservative message on reproductive rights—are on the economic...

Roe v. Wade Was About ... the Environment?

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, file
Of course most young people don’t know what Roe v. Wade is. Why should they? I know nothing about the battle of Dunkirk or the fields of Verdun. Most people have a vague idea about the battles of the past; they care most about the battles they’re fighting today. And for young people, the abortion battle is over; why do they need to know its name? Here’s the background: Yesterday, the Pew Research Center released a poll on American attitudes toward Roe v. Wade on its 40 th anniversary year. Among the findings: while upwards of six out of ten Americans know the historic decision was about abortion, fewer than half of those ages 18-29 did. Just 44 percent, in fact. Numbers are higher if you’ve been to college or graduate school, of course, where you’re likely to have been forced into some public policy or contemporary issues class or conversation. But once they know what it is, they want it to stay legal. Less than one-third—27 percent—of that age group wants it overturned. Young people...

Millenials Don't Know Much About Roe v. Wade

Pew Forum
The rapid acceptance of same-sex marriage, and the growing acceptance of marijuana legalization, has a lot to do with the changing demographics of the country. As a class, young people are just more tolerant and less prohibitionist than their older counterparts. To a degree, this extends to abortion. According to the most recent survey from the Pew Forum, 68 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 oppose overturning Roe v. Wade , as opposed to 27 percent who want to see it overturned. The only other group as supportive of Roe are 50 to 64 year olds, who were teenagers or young adults at the time that Roe was decided. It’s worth noting that while Millenials are broadly supportive of Roe , relatively few know that the ruling has to do with abortion: What’s more, the public remains deply divided on the moral question of abortion: 47 percent say that it’s morally wrong, while 13 percent say its acceptable, and 27 percent disagree that it’s a moral issue at all. This, I think, points to...

The Matriarch

Remembering Gerda Lerner, one of the founders of women’s history

AP/Wisconsin State Journal, Sarah B. Tews
AP/Wisconsin State Journal, Sarah B. Tews Gerda Lerner in 2001 A letter written by the incorrigible muckraker Jessica Mitford in November 1975 contains an amusing portrait of Gerda Lerner, a founder of the field of women’s history. The unlikely pair had been thrown together by overlapping residencies at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center on Lake Como. The journalist recounts their collision to her daughter in an epistle that takes the form of a five-act comic play—with “grim” Gerda the object of one of the Mitford sister’s notorious teases. “Sample tease,” Mitford writes. ‘Gerda: ‘I’m here trying to structure my book...’ Me: ‘Really? How very quaint, I’m trying to write mine.’ I’ve got her so she doesn’t know which end is up,” writes Mitford, delighting in what was surely an unfamiliar posture for the formidable Lerner. The women’s differences are attributable to a clash of styles, not of their similar leftist principles. Mitford found the historian’s unrelieved earnestness...

Did Jodie Foster Just Come Out?

Dan Steinberg/Invision/AP
On Sunday night, as Jodie Foster accepted her Cecil B. DeMille award for lifetime achievement at the Golden Globes, made an awkward and extremely peculiar speech. No one seems to be entirely sure what she was saying. Was she retiring from acting? Was she coming out even though she didn’t actually say she’s a lesbian—and even though she’s made out-ish comments and gestures in the past? Here are the parts that suggested coming out most clearly: So I'm here being all confessional and I guess I just have the sudden urge to say something that I've never really been able to air in public, so a declaration that I'm a little nervous about. But maybe not quite as nervous as my publicist right now, huh Jennifer? Um, but uh, you know, I'm just gonna put it out there, right? Loud and proud, right? So I'm gonna need your support on this — I am single. Yes I am, I am single. No, I'm kidding. But I mean I'm not really kidding, but I am kind of kidding…. I hope you’re not disappointed that there won’...