Silver Lining for the Ladies

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 activism was prescient rather than precious. The anti-rape marches have spread around the world from their origins in Toronto: to New York, New Zealand, London, India, Israel, Colombia, energizing women to stand up and shout back. I promise you’ll be seeing more SlutWalks this year. 

And consider the fact that, in Ohio, legislator Nina Turner has introduced yet another adorably satiric bill in response to her colleagues’ great concern for women’s health: 

"We should show the same attention and love to men's reproductive health as we do to women's," Turner told HuffPost. "And my bill does that."

Specifically, Turner's bill would require men to receive psychological counseling to verify that they have a medical reason for taking erectile dysfunction medications, such as Viagra, before they can legally obtain a prescription for it. It would also require doctors to inform men, in writing, about the potential risks of drugs like Viagra.

And that’s just the beginning! Check out Mother Joneslist of all the “what’s good for the goose” actions—in Delaware, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, and more!

Eeyore: Yup, good luck getting those passed. At the same time, the Pennsylvania governor is telling women to close their eyes and think of England, or something like that, when getting their pre-abortion ultrasounds. Meanwhile, the rhetorical war is eating into young women’s consciousness. Corrosive language about women’s sexuality (or anything, really) can’t be contained: When public figures talk the way Rush and Santorum have been, many, many other folks feel freed to say still nastier things in person. As if it hasn’t been enough that our coarse culture has taught girls to see themselves as sexual objects instead of sexual agents aiming at their own power and pleasure! More girls are going to be bullied as sluts; that’s very hard to get over. Someone needs to launch an “It Gets Better” for slut-shamed teenage girls. 

Tigger: “Slut shamed!” Listen to you! We didn’t have a term like that when we were young; girls who got raped at frat parties had to just suck it up. The evils of “slut shaming” are now something that even men talk about! And look at all the smart reporting on these issues. For instance, at Salon, Irin Carmon reports on the history of the contraception fight, telling us that:

… overall, these guidelines will ideally close the gaps in contraceptive access in a few ways that, while significant, won’t upend the status quo much. They’ll bring into line the lagging states that don’t already require employer coverage of birth control — less than half of them — make it easier to access more effective forms, and eliminate the co-pay that can be prohibitively expensive and usually falls on women. 

And look at how she examines what’s changed:

Throughout the ’90s, women denied contraceptive coverage by their employers (not necessarily for religious reasons) sued them, often successfully: Since 2001, several courts have found that employers not covering contraception were violating Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act, prohibiting sex discrimination….

Back then, religious objections were discussed, but as former White House staffer and current president of the Center for American Progress Neera Tanden recalled in a New Republic piece this week about the 1990s roots of this debate, it “was far from the cries of ‘religious coercion’ that we see today.” It’s odd that Tanden says ”the Catholic Church did not actively resist” a New York state law that only exempted houses of worship from contraceptive coverage, since Catholic Charities went to state court and lost three times.

Eeyore: You’re telling me that Catholic bishops have launched a counter-reformation campaign against contraception and gay rights and are successfully lining up support from Republicans in turning back the clock on women. This is supposed to cheer me up?

Tigger: Oh, come on. Ten years ago, could you have imagined female writers and pundits powerful enough to influence the public discussion? Look at Ms.’s article about Rachel Maddow and Melissa Harris-Perry: good news, no? And Rush is losing his advertisers by the fistful—at least 142, including the U.S. Army!—because of smart young feminists’ social networking

Eeyore: Meanwhile, the Guttmacher Institute has just released the news that more than half of American women of reproductive age live in states that are “hostile” to abortion rights. Check out their map. Isn’t all your positive punditry being viewed in the friendly states? 

Tigger: OK, it’s time to get a grip. Keep focusing on the negative, and we’ll never get out of bed in the morning. Our intellectual great-grandmothers chained themselves to the White House fence to win the vote. They got arrested to legalize contraception. You thought freedom would be easy? There’s always someone who wants to take it away. Every generation has to battle for liberty. Stop whining and do your part.

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