A lot of good news, coming out of Oklahoma of all places. Melinda Gates takes on the pro-contraception cause, and Congress attacks D.C.’s right to set their own abortion laws.
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On this episode of Reality Cast, an attorney from the Center for Reproductive Rights will be on to talk about all the kicking ass they’ve been doing in Oklahoma. Melinda Gates has taken on contraception as a cause, and Congress is messing with D.C.’s right to protect its female residents yet again.
Chattanooga County in Tenneessee has been in a battle over family planning funding. There were weak attempts at first to make it about abortion, but that’s faded because everyone knows that it’s just an attack on preventing pregnancy. In an attempt to protect the funds, pro-choice forces rallied, with religious leaders reminding people that being a Christian doesn’t mean wanting women to be pregnant non-stop.
- Chattanooga *
Accepting people have sex and that’s okay is really the breaking point here. The religious belief that sex is evil simply can’t be the guiding force of government.
After years of hemming and hawing and dancing around the issue because it’s supposedly “controversial”—mainly because of meddling religious fundamentalists—Melinda Gates and the Gates Foundation have finally given into pressure to admit openly what everyone has know for a long time, which is that a major key to actually improving the lives of people around the world is contraception. We know that people who can control their family size do better financially, get more education for their children, and absolutely suffer fewer health problems, especially maternal and infant mortality. Of course, it also helps people in a very direct way, which is it gives them the chance to have healthier, happier sex lives, which is an important part of being human and a fundamental right. Of course, that’s rarely talked about precisely because there’s so much taboo around the notion that people, especially women, should feel, you know pleasure. It’s easier to talk about keeping people alive, but discussions around making sure those lives are worth living, that those lives include joy and pleasure, is just a step too far.
To her credit, Melinda Gates did stick her toe in the water of talking about sex as a good in and of itself in her TED Talk explaining why she supports contraception access.
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Putting sex right up front is a critical thing to do in this discussion, because the objection to contraception is, at its heart, an objection to sexual pleasure, especially for women. The objections to contraception by and large stem from people who believe that women’s role is subservient to men’s, and fear that women who feel pleasure without having to pay a steep price are going to start getting uppity. Often, conservatives have suspicions of pleasure altogether, and argue that the righteous life is a grim march to the grave, filled with duty and work, and that pleasure that doesn’t come with a steep price is somehow frivolous or wrong. Sex for pleasure creates all sorts of angry emotions for them, and they want to shut it down, and force people—at least other people—to only have sex that’s unsatisfying or infrequent or preferably both. They know that opinion is unpopular, so they prefer not to talk about it directly. That’s why it’s smart to do what Gates does here and to lead with a discussion of sex, and basically dare your opposition to make an anti-sex argument.
Unfortunately, that’s about as far as Gates is willing to take on the anti-pleasure, anti-sex brigade. She spends the rest of the talk framing contraception within the context of marriage and family, and avoids talking about the sexual health needs of people who have sex lives outside of the context of marriage.
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I sighed a huge sigh during this portion of her talk, for a number of reasons. First of all, there’s no real definition of “promiscuity”. One person’s slut is another person’s prude. The hardline Catholic view basically frames any woman who wants sex for orgasms instead of babies as a giant slut. Once you bring the concept of “promiscuity”, i.e. the idea that women can like sex too much, into the picture, you undermine your arguments for contraception. You basically are saying some women have sex for the “right” reasons and some for the “wrong” reasons, and accept that the latter group doesn’t deserve to have the same level of control over their bodies as the supposedly good girls. But who’s a good girl? Are we going to set a level for how many partners are too many? How many times? Whether or not you enjoy it yourself, or are only women who endure sex to please a husband really good girls? As long as we believe in “sluts”, contraception will remain controversial. And as a public health thing, separating women into good and bad categories based on the amount of sex they have is just counterproductive. So-called “bad” and supposedly unworthy women often need the most help of all. If we’re actually interested in helping families and children with improved access to contraception, we should include the families and children of women who we might feel entitled to judge as somehow less-than because they like sex too much or have too much sex in our small-minded opinions.
I don’t want to be too hard, however, because outside of this part, it was a really good talk. Gates put heavy emphasis on facts and figures, pointing out that in places where contraception access is easy, two-thirds of adults use it at any point in time, which suggests this is a universal desire. She also talked about contraception as an economic issue.
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So don’t get me wrong. I think talking about contraception as it primarily is used by most people most of the time, which is in committed relationships and with an eye towards having children—just not too many—is great. I think it is a family issue, and should be addressed as such. But until we speak inclusively of people who use contraception for things like sex work or who live lives outside of the nuclear family model, we’re limiting the discussion. We need to put our opposition on the defense, and make them explain why they think that having sex for pleasure or having sex outside of relationships is so wrong that we should punish not just women but also children for it.
One of the most irritating examples of the narcissism of the anti-choice movement is the continual attacks by congressmen—national congressman—on the sovereignty of Washington, D.C. when it comes to abortion rights. There’s the constant tug-of-war over funding of abortion in D.C. and now anti-choicers in Congress are trying to ban abortions beyond 20 weeks. This is an assault on D.C. in two ways. One, it’s an assault on women in D.C. who need abortions after 20 weeks, usually because they’re going through some traumatic health problems. Second, it creates a massive legal and financial burden, because the ban is in direct violation of the Constitution, and defending it will cost money. So, D.C. is being used against their will by misogynist congressmen who are grand-standing about women’s rights. The effort is being led by Rep. Trent Franks.
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In case what was going on wasn’t obvious enough, things got even more heated when D.C.’s representative, Eleanor Holmes Norton, who shamefully doesn’t have a right to vote in Congress, demanded that she at least be able to testify on behalf of the people she represents. She was swiftly reminded that anti-choice nuts see the residents of D.C., especially the women, as subjects and not citizens. Which is to say they are denied not just a vote about the policies that affect them, but even a voice in the proceedings.
Congresswoman Norton was on Rachel Maddow’s show to talk about getting shafted this way.
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The whole thing is really an encapsulation of how anti-choicers view the entire issue of reproductive rights, which is that the people who are affected by them should not be allowed at the table, should not have a voice, and certainly shouldn’t have a say. The reason that Franks and his anti-choice cadre are so cavalier about stomping all over the self-determination of D.C. citizens on this issue is they simply don’t believe that women have the basic right to self-determination when it comes to the use of their bodies and their reproductive systems. Our minds and wills are simply seen as unfortunate obstacles. Franks and his associates simply believe they’re the rightful owners of women’s bodies, and so hearing from a representative speaking on behalf of her female constituents is seen as beside the point.
Luckily, Norton had some support from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
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I’m going to note that Pelosi also appears to generally support D.C.’s right to actual, not just symbolic, representation, since she suggested that it’s wrong that Norton doesn’t have a vote. The ability to mess with the health care rights of D.C. residents is just one of many reasons that many in Congress block giving the district more rights, but it’s certainly one of the most continually appalling reasons. Not that I’ve ever seen a good reason for denying them their rights.
And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, well that’s repulsive edition. I hesitate to even play this clip from Rush Limbaugh’s show, it’s so disturbing. Rush’s attempt to prove he’s not sexist is, well, creating a club called “Rush Babes”, on the laughable grounds that because he likes to touch ladies with his penis, Rush is somehow shielded from being a sexist. It may be the biggest strawman argument of all time, and it led to this.
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He’s trying to shield himself from sexism by sexualizing underage girls with the term “babe”. Color me unconvinced.