Gender & Sexuality

The Anti-Women VP Choice

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
As Paul Waldman noted earlier this morning, Mitt Romney will be in a tight spot once he's finally clinched the nomination and has to pick a vice-presidential candidate for his ticket, a decision that gets trickier by the day thanks to the elongated primary season. On one side he'll be pressured to appease all of Rick Santorum's supporters, either by granting the second slot on the ticket to the runner-up or another social conservative of his ilk. On the other hand, Romney will have just finished a nomination that has pushed him further and further to the right, so he'll need someone who won't alienate the broader general-election voter base. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's name is often near the top when people list possible VPs. He's popular among the conservative grassroots, but falls under the category of typical bland white guys that voters are accustomed to and will receive little notice. It doesn't hurt either that he is the sitting governor for an important swing state. Yet...

Silver Lining for the Ladies

Women protesting at White House in 1917
Tigger and Eeyore are battling it out inside me this week. I can’t tell whether to be depressed over what Maureen Dowd calls “the attempt by Republican men to wrestle American women back into chastity belts” or invigorated by the myriad ways women are chronicling it and fighting back. Are women really gonna get dragged back to the scarlet-letter era—why not just repeal the 19th amendment!—or is all this going to set off a revitalized third feminist wave? Eeyore: In a surreal move, the Arizona Legislature’s Senate Judiciary committee has introduced a bill that would: … permit employers to ask their employees for proof of medical prescription if they seek contraceptives for non-reproductive purposes, such as hormone control or acne treatment. If she’s slutty enough to be using it to have sex, well, no coverage for her! Tigger: Hey, at least it’s time to stop being ambivalent about the SlutWalks ! It sure has become clear that that particular eruption of take-back-the-word feminist...

Celebrating the Defeated

(Flickr/FadderUri)
Three former Iowa Supreme Court justices might not have received much love from their constituents, but they're about to be granted a national accolade. Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Associate Justices David Baker and Michael Streit were voted off the bench in 2010 after conservative activists organized against their retention election, a typically routine procedure that became political overnight. Conservatives—led by failed gubernatorial candidate and evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats—were outraged when the state Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2009. The state's constitution is difficult to amend, so they decide to voice their displeasure by removing those three justices with funds provided by major social conservative organizations such as the American Family Association and the National Organization For Marriage. Liberals were caught off guard—unprepared to run a defensive campaign—and the three justices chose to sit out the election under the belief that it...

Texans Fight Back Against Cuts

(Flickr/WeNews)
It's hard to overstate just how dire the situation is around women's health care in Texas. The state has the third highest rate of cervical cancer in the country and one in four women are uninsured. After cutting family-planning funding by around two-thirds last legislative session, conservative lawmakers are now standing by their decision to cut off Planned Parenthood from the state's Women's Health Program, a move that ended $35 million in federal funding. (Here's a timeline of the fight .) Governor Rick Perry, who bragged about the decision at the recent CPAC conference, has said he'll find the money to keep the program—while still barring Planned Parenthood. No one seems to know exactly where he'll find the money, given that the state has already underfunded Medicaid by $4 billion last session. In the meantime, Planned Parenthood, which serves 40 percent of the 130,000 who rely on the Women's Health Program, has already had to shut down more than a dozen clinics . Non-Planned...

What’s Right with This Picture?

Getty Images
Lately, I’ve been very Eeyore-ish about women’s lives. There’s plenty of reason for that. Ruth Rosen nicely lays out the backlash against women’s reproductive lives in her article about the current counter-reformation , as she puts it, against women’s bodily autonomy. Of course, any attempt to roll back women’s reproductive rights is an attack on women’s economic independence, since women can only control their educational and financial lives if they can control their fertility. (Did I mention here that a recent new study showed that women with access to the Pill in the 1970s were making 8 percent more in their fifties? That can be the difference between retirement and working the checkout line when you’re 70.) But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s the wage gap, which is closing only because men lost so much more in wages during the recession. There’s the “ mancovery ” that Heather Boushey delineates, in which men are getting their jobs but women are not. There’s the byline...

Americans Still Support the Birth-Control Mandate

(Stacy Lynn Baum/Flickr)
To go back to The Washington Post poll for a moment, there is a little good news if the Obama administration is still fretting over its handling of the contraception mandate. By a margin of 61 percent to 35 percent, Americans believe that health insurers should be required to cover the full cost of birth control for women. This even extends to religious-affiliated employers—like hospitals—which were the focal point of the controversy. According to the poll, 79 percent of those who support the birth-control mandate also support it for religious-affiliated employers. Now that the controversy is over, for the most part, it’s obvious that this is good territory for the administration, and they should continue press their advantage. Already, as The New York Times reports , Republican missteps have created an opening for Obama to improve his standing with moderate and Republican-leaning women. Indeed, as the year goes on, I expect that this view will become a little more prevalent: “We all...

Rush Limbaugh's Bust Is a Go

Imagine you were the speaker of the Missouri state House. In addition to legislating and naming committee chairmen, you'd also have a pretty awesome perk: choosing who gets bronze busts in the state Capitol rotunda. Who to pick might be a challenge. As The New York Times notes , there are a lot of famous Missourians without the giant casts, from modern folks like Maya Angelou to old West heroes. House Speaker Steven Tilley, tasked with this momentous decision, picked Rush Limbaugh. And no amount of calling people "sluts" is going to persuade Tilley to change his mind, telling the Times, "in my part of the state, we're proud of him." The Times story notes that Mark Twain will be among the others getting enshrined with Limbaugh. You can only wonder what he would have to say. I'm guessing it would be wittier than a joke about watching women have sex in exchange for birth control access.

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...

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