Gender & Sexuality

Did Virginia Pro-Choicers Blunder?

NARAL Pro-choice Virginia
I definitely agree with the central point of Sarah Kliff's post —namely, that the ultrasound law that ultimately passed in Virginia is almost as bad as the bill mandating transvaginal ultrasounds that was initially proposed. Like Dahlia Lithwick , though, I don't really agree with the Kliff's framing argument that the passage of a slightly-less-bad set of abortion regulations resulted from a pro-choice "blunder." It's not as if there's some magic technique that can enable pro-choice groups to stop Republican governments from passing bad abortion regulations that they want to pass. Pro-choice groups were able to stop the most extreme form of the bill because the effective requirement of a transvaginal ultrasound turned out to be highly unpopular . Less invasive ultrasound requirements, conversely, like a lot of abortion regulations are bad public policy but are not necessarily not unpopular despite the best efforts of pro-choice groups. In these circumstances, supporters of...

The Reactionaries Were Right!

(Stacy Lynn Baum/Flickr)
When it comes to the Obama administration’s contraception mandate, progressives minimize the extent to which this is actually about a woman’s ability to have sex without pregnancy. Despite right-wing crowing about her sex life, Sandra Fluke’s congressional testimony was about the medical need for hormonal birth control—not her desire to enjoy sex without having to worry about pregnancy. The problem with this is that it obscures the extent to which recreational, non-procreative sex is as common as breathing in the United States, and reinforces the troublesome notion that there is something shameful about female sexuality. Aside from the value that comes with affirming women’s autonomy, the upside to embracing sex in this fight is that it opens the door to stronger arguments for why the administration is right to mandate contraception coverage in insurance plans. At the New York Times , Annie Lowrey flags a study that shows contraception has been an unambiguous good for the economic...

Is Roe v. Wade Really Still the Law of the Land?

(Flickr/Steve Rhodes)
The Los Angeles Times has a devastating article about one woman’s reluctant quest to replace Dr. George Tiller, the murdered Kansas abortion provider. The woman’s name is Dr. Mila Means: After his killing on May 31, 2009, the decision to step into his place did not come as an epiphany but rather over time, with sad reluctance. In the past, if her patients with unwanted pregnancies asked where to get an abortion, she sent them to Tiller. After his death, women seeking the procedure increasingly turned to her for advice, often with panicked eyes and voices, asking what to do and where to go. "I didn't have an answer," she said. "I kept thinking one of the OB-GYN doctors would start, but slowly it became apparent no one was going to step up." But Means had no idea what “stepping up” would involve: A letter arrived from an antiabortion activist who befriended Scott Roeder, the man convicted of killing Tiller, after he went to prison. That letter, now in federal hands, warned Means to...

Obama, Black Voters, and Same-Sex Marriage

Registering voters during a Mardi Gras parade in Louisiana. (Barack Obama/Flickr)
On Twitter, I’ve been in something of a friendly back-and-forth with The New York Times ’ David Leonhardt about the African American vote and President Obama’s support—or lack thereof—for same-sex marriage. In its most recent survey , NBC News and the Wall Street Journal found that 49 percent of Americans favored same-sex marriage, while 40 percent opposed. What’s more, for 54 percent of Americans, the question of support or opposition wouldn’t make a difference in how they voted. Leonhardt considered this in the context of African Americans. Given the degree to which black voters are less likely to support same-sex marriage—only 36 percent do, according to a recent Pew poll —is it possible that Obama would lose African American votes if he moved with the curve and endorsed same-sex marriage before the election? Leonhardt says yes . “[It’s] Hard to believe the effect of any such high-profile, contested issue will be zero. And some states are likely to be v[ery] close.” As you probably...

Romney's Spine, Or Lack Thereof

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Ahead of the likely celebratory night for Mitt Romney's supporters, I wrote a cautionary note this morning about why neutral observers shouldn't take Romney's success in the Republican primaries as a sign of they accept him as a moderate. Instead, Romney has gained his spot in the party by aligning himself with every conservative whim. Still, conservatives don't fully trust Romney's sincerity. The former Massachusetts governor will have to watch his back at every turn in the general election; any misstep from conservative dogma will incite a round of handwringing among movement Republicans who would view it as confirmation of their worst fears about Romney. Unlike, say, Rick Santorum, who can adopt the occasional heterodox view without fear of being tarnished a RINO (Republican in Name Only), Romney must maintain a perfect track record to keep conservatives satisfied. That predicament could very well cost him in the general election. His favorability among the broad electorate has...

Winning the Battle, Losing the War

(Flickr/VCU CNS)
Pro-choicers, for obvious reasons, were inclined to celebrate when Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell backtracked on a bill that would have required women to obtain transvaginal ultrasounds before obtaining an abortion. Finding an arbitrary abortion regulation that was actually politically toxic feels like a major victory, especially if it could translate to other states. Unfortunately, as Dahlia Lithwick and Maya Dusenberry point out, even in Virginia the victory is proving to be largely hollow. While the bill that McDonnell is about to sign is a marginal improvement over the original because it allows women to opt out of a transvaginal ultrasound, it's still terrible legislation. Dusenberry does a superb job of explaining why the slightly-less-intrusive bill is still terrible: it adds a substantial cost to women seeking to obtain an abortion while providing no medical benefits, its burdens fall disproportionately on poor and rural women who already have less access to reproductive care...

Not a Fluke

(AP File Photo)
My heart broke over the weekend when I read, over at DailyKos, " I've spent the past 2 days trying to convince my 16 y/o she is not a 'slut.'" (Thanks to Garance Franke-Ruta for the pointer.) Until I read that article, I have been focusing my attention on the good news: The assault on reproductive rights, from Komen and Santorum on, has finally made clear that the attacks on abortion are really just the front line of a greater assault on contraception and women's health. I've been assuming that this shock wave will mobilize young women, showing them that they cannot take feminist gains for granted. But the heartbreaking story told by "Beantown Mom"—in which a crew of mean girls viciously bullies a fellow high school student who's taking the Pill for health reasons—reminded me that there are real-life consequences to the vicious language used to describe those who use contraception. (Perhaps Rush Limbaugh can be persuaded to start a reparations fund to pay for the viciousness that he...

What's Behind the Slut-Shaming

The Tree of Death and Life, Berthold Furtmeyr, 1481
As leading Republicans have been asked about Rush Limbaugh's typically despicable attacks on Sandra Fluke—the law student who testified before congressional Democrats about the importance of health insurance coverage for contraception—they've offered some pretty weak responses. Mitt Romney said that when Limbaugh called Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute," "it's not the language I would have used." Perhaps he meant that he would have called her a "harlot" or a "trollop." Rick Santorum, whose opposition to contraception is well-established, said that Limbaugh was "being absurd, but that's, you know—an entertainer can be absurd." Before we move on to this week's controversy, it's important to note just what kind of venomous beliefs this episode has brought to the fore. Republicans are insisting that this isn't really about contraception, it's about religious freedom. But for some people, it's about something much more fundamental: the dire threat of uncontrolled female sexuality. Limbaugh...

A Social Network of One's Own

Pinterest is quickly becoming the safest place for women to socialize on the Internet.

(Flickr/GoodNCrazy)
I initially visited Pinterest after hearing its praises sung for being a remarkable organization tool with a social component, but all I saw at first were pictures of clothes, interior-design ideas, and cheesy photography coupled with “inspirational” mottos and prayers. Few things make me hit the “unsubscribe” button faster than seeing a black-and-white picture of a lake emblazoned with pabulum about living life to the fullest, but my hostile reaction belied a bit of the internalized sexism in the heart of even the most stalwart feminist. After all, I love fashion and design, so why wouldn’t I want to see more of it if not for the fear that it might be too girly? It doesn’t take long for a blog-loving feminist to find the ugliness of the “ew, girly!” reaction. Women dominate on Pinterest— around 70 percent of users are female —and the site drives more traffic to commercial sites than Google+, YouTube, and LinkedIn combined. Pinterest's popularity means that the male-dominated world of...

"Marriage Equality" Coming to the Dem Platform Soon

Last night my editor emailed me, asking if I wanted to comment on a press release from the national group Freedom to Marry, which announced that still more of President Obama's campaign co-chairs have signed on to FTM's campaign to add marriage equality to the Democratic Party platform. The Advocate had the scoop : U.S. senator Michael Bennet of Colorado joined California attorney general Kamala Harris and U.S. representatives Jan Schakowsky of Illinois and Charles Gonzalez of Texas in favoring Democratic platform language that affirms marriage rights for same-sex couples. Organized labor's representation on the committee — the AFL-CIO's Maria Elena Durazo of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor — has also indicated her support for adding to the platform. All five are among the 35 national cochairs tasked with on-the-ground outreach and advising the campaign on key issues. FTM launched this campaign with a stunning "get": House minority leader Nancy Pelosi was the first endorser...

Ken Mehlman's Regrets

(Flickr/Kat Ruddy)
In 2005, the chairman of the Republican National Committee went before the NAACP and told them that the "Southern Strategy" the GOP had been employing for the previous few decades was, for all its political benefits, a moral misjudgment. "I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong," he said. That chairman—Ken Mehlman, the campaign manager of George W. Bush's 2004 re-election—didn't get a lot of love from conservatives for what became a virtual apology tour (he gave multiple versions of the same speech to African-American audiences), and it didn't seem to have any impact on his party. And today, Tom Schaller interviews Mehlman about same-sex marriage, and hears similar notes of regret about the way Bush's 2004 campaign used the issue as a wedge to paint visions of a homosexual threat and get conservatives to the polls: "At a personal level, I wish I had spoken out against the effort," he says. "As I’ve been involved in the fight for marriage equality, one of...

Right to Know Versus Right to Withhold

In the debates over pre-abortion ultrasound bills, advocates often say such measures are vital to ensuring that women have all the relevant information. The argument is often based in part on the idea that abortion providers make money off of the procedures —and therefore may try to trick women into terminating their pregnancies . The reasoning also assumes that when deciding to have an abortion, a woman should know the physical details of the fetus, like how many fingers and toes have developed. That's why—in a messaging win for social conservatives—the pre-abortion sonogram requirement is often called a "Woman's Right to Know" legislation. But, Kansas Republicans may spoil all the fun. The state House is working on legislation that would allow doctors to withold information if it will help prevent an abortion, as well as requiring doctors to tell women that abortions increase odds of getting breast cancer—a theory many public health organizations reject. Forget right to know—the...

Blunt Amendment Fails in the Senate

(Flickr/Stacy Lynn Baum)
For a brief moment yesterday it looked as though some GOP senators were ready to step back from the ledge, and reject their party's assault on women's rights. A handful of Republican senators were hesitant to endorse the controversial Blunt amendment, which would allow any employer—both secular and religious—to reject covering individual aspects of health insurance they find morally questionable, not just contraception. Even Mitt Romney expressed opposition to the bill when an Ohio reporter explained the implications before his campaign quickly realized they had defied party doctrine, and issued a clarification, which reversed Romney's earlier statement. Any qualms with the legislation evaporated when it was put to a vote this morning. The measure failed 51-48, but Republicans voted with their usual lockstep discipline. Soon retiring Senator Olympia Snowe was the lone Republican opposing the measure and three Democrats—Ben Nelson, Joe Manchin, and Bob Casey—crossed the aisles to join...

Thursday Miscellany

Let's start with the Eeyore. Yesterday I wrote that women don't count —at least, not to the news media. Right after I posted that, I learned that Katha Pollitt wrote about the same recurring problem last year, brilliantly, of course. One of her key points: if you want more women writers, you need more women editors. Do read her piece. It's depressingly relevant and, of course, funny: I've written so often about the dearth of women in high-end magazines, including my own home base, The Nation , over so many years, and to so little effect, that sometimes I see myself, sitting at the kitchen table in some year like 2050, enjoying a nice bowl of reconfigurated vitamin-infused plastic bags, and over my phlogistatron will come the headline "Study Shows Men Write 85 Percent of Articles in Interplanetary Media. Martian Weekly Editor in Chief: Where Are the Women?" Who's winning the economy—men or women? Bryce Covert wrote an important piece for The Nation about the myth of "the mancession"...

Santorum Beats Dan Savage

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Rick Santorum came up short in Michigan on Tuesday night, but it was of no matter. After months of turmoil he'd achieved a primary goal of his presidential campaign: his Google problem. That's right. When normal, God-loving Americans direct their web browsers to Google and type in the former Pennsylvania senator's last name they are no longer greeted by spreadingsantorum.com as the first result. Created by sex columnist Dan Savage in response to Santorum's comparison of homosexual relationships to man-on-dog sex, the Web site coined a sexual neologism, redefining Santorum's last name as " The frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the by-product of anal sex." Thanks to enthusiastic fans, the simple webpage sat atop the Google rankings for years, bedeviling the politician at every turn. "Savage and his perverted sense of humor is the reason why my children cannot Google their father's name," Santorum wrote in a letter last year, and his eldest daughter Elizabeth told...

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