Pregnancy Discrimination, Gender Parity in the Media, and Being Out in Sports


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Dee Dee Bridgewater

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Transcript

On this episode of Reality Cast, I’ll be talking to a representative from Media Matters about their study of gender balance on cable news. Pregnant women’s right to medical care is under attack, and it looks like February will be the month people really started talking about sports and gay rights.

Dee Dee Bridgewater, jazz singer and NPR host, offered her voice to the Draw the Line campaign by talking about her illegal abortion she had in 1968. Her testimony is very brave.

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This is a nice reminder that the abortion debate isn’t about whether or not abortion is good or moral so much as it’s a debate over whether or not women should get the abortions that they will definitely be having in safe, supportive environments or whether or not they should be forced to humiliate themselves and put themselves in danger. That’s all there is to it.

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We love to idealize pregnant women and new mothers in our society, from sentimental Facebook updates to push presents to soft music in commercials about family that are supposed to make you cry. It’s this idealization that allows anti-choicers to float the idea that pregnancy is so wonderful no one should be able to get to say no to it. But all that idealization tends to evaporate the second that anyone starts demanding that pregnant women actually get the real support and care they need to have healthy pregnancies with good outcomes for mother and child. The recent debates over health care have really driven home how true this is. AOL CEO Tim Armstrong came under fire recently for deciding to sneer at women who had complicated pregnancies. Armstrong, who made over $12 million in 2012, stepped in it big time.

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Since it could only be a couple of women he was talking about, the big angle was that he invaded their right to privacy and made a spectacle out of their sufferings. He immediately apologized, though it was also unearthed that he had been sued in 2005 by a woman who accused him of basically punishing her at work and even kind of harassing her for daring to be pregnant with quadruplets. She lost all but one of the fetuses during that high stress period. But regardless of Armstrong’s sincerity here, this entire episode points to a larger trend: We Americans claim we love babies, some of us so much so that we think women should be forced to have them. But the second we’re asked to demonstrate that love one teeny weeny bit, then everyone starts squalling about how it’s unfair and mothers should be completely on their own and how dare you ask anyone to do anything supportive for anyone else. On Fox News, host Martha MacCallum denounced Armstrong for his remarks but then tried to blame the whole thing on Obamacare.

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They claim they aren’t blaming the babies, of course, but c’mon. They’re trying to claim, as is Armstrong, that Obamacare is somehow forcing AOL to shell out more for insurance benefits, but as the LA Times business reporter Michael Hiltzik pointed out, “As a large employer, AOL doesn’t face any new healthcare mandates under the Affordable Care Act, except to allow employees to keep children on their health plans up to age 26.” Fox News, therefore, is using these babies in exactly the same way that Armstrong was, in an attempt to scare the audience into thinking that all our health-care costs are going to skyrocket specifically because pregnant women are supposedly greedy gobblers of all the health care. Never mind that health insurance plans generally had maternity coverage before, and, at best, Obamacare just shores it up and makes it more secure.  For some reason, women using the health-care system to have babies is second only to women using the health-care system to cover contraception in terms of conservatives griping about how unfair it is that people can use their insurance plans. The right-wing media is not generally trying to scream and yell at how unfair it is that you got cancer and got to use more of the insurance than I did by not getting cancer. But when it comes to women and the management of their reproductive systems, we’re apparently supposed to pay cash for everything or else we’re supposedly getting away with something. Take Rep. Phil Roe’s messed up remarks at a Heritage Foundation summit.

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He and his wife’s, uh, fixing was, I guarantee it, covered by insurance. In fact, sterilization is now mandatory in all insurance plans under the contraception mandate. His children no doubt got all that pediatric care he is now denouncing. Since he’s a congressman, should he get prostate cancer or testicular cancer, something his female colleagues can’t get, that will also be covered, despite his insistence that insurance companies should only cover the care that every single person in the plan could anticipate needing. This is a very confusing health-care policy, and from someone who claims to oppose confusing health-care policy! Okay, so it was good for health-care plans to cover obstetricians and pediatrics when he and his wife had kids, and it was good for health-care plans to cover contraception when he and his wife got “fixed,” but now that they have no more need for that, your health-care plan should not cover any of that and you should pay cash. I’m not sure a health-care system that only covers what Phil Roe and his wife currently need is really the best idea. It certainly doesn’t seem fair. It seems narcissistic, in fact.

Here’s the thing: The claim that health-care plans should only cover what the person speaking currently needs right this minute and no more and no less is clearly nonsense. That’s why it’s inevitably tied to maternity care, pediatric care, or contraception care. The hope of the speaker is that cultural misogyny will do the work, that people will get so caught up in being mad at women that they had sex that they’ll say of course maternity care, pediatric care, and contraception care, because they all go back to a woman’s, uh, sinful decision to have sex, should be treated like luxuries instead of standard care. You know, like the kind men get. But what he’s really arguing for here is ending the insurance system altogether and replacing it with a pay-as-you-go system. That argument will never fly, so instead you get this misogynist drivel to distract you instead.

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insert interview

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Gay rights and acceptance have gained a lot of ground in recent years, at least in the United States. Gay marriage is being legalized one state at a time, the federal government is recognizing gay marriages, gays can serve in the military and polling data shows that the youngest generations don’t even get why this was ever really an issue in the first place. But there’s one area where things seem often just as backwards as they ever were: sports. Out gay athletes are few and far between, especially in men’s sports. A lot of people justify this by simply saying that there’s no reason to bring sexual orientation into sports, but gay rights supporters will point out, correctly, that this is just another way of telling people to stay in the closet. But in the past couple of weeks, the standstill on this issue shows real sign of movement and the refusal to talk about it and the attempts to just keep it in the closet in the sports world are beginning to crumble under immense amounts of pressure. The big issue, of course, is the Sochi Olympics. Seeing as they are in Russia and seeing how Russia is currently in the process of persecuting gay citizens under its ridiculous ban on gay “propaganda” that is so vague that being out is in and of itself propaganda, simply not acknowledging the issue ends up being straight up complicit with homophobia and persecution. So yes, people are talking. And it’s fascinating. President Obama made a bold move to make his views known.

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A third delegate, Brian Boitano, came out shortly after being appointed. Billie Jean King had to cancel her trip at the last minute because of her mother’s illness, but she gave an interview where she recommended a way for the media to help get pro-gay opinions out into the coverage of the Sochi Olympics.

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Overall, the Sochi situation has meant that the issue of gay rights and being out as an athlete is being talked about, a lot. The fact that there aren’t very many out athletes is beginning to look kind of strange, because it can only mean that a lot of people are living in the closet for years at a time while pursuing an athletic career. The fact that the Olympics employ rainbows in their branding has been a big boon to this, because you can’t turn on any Olympic coverage without being subtly reminded of the discourse. Retired ice skater Johnny Weir, who is openly out, is one of the most prominent commentators for NBC for the Olympics. He has used this platform to get even more attention by wearing the outrageous but always stylish clothes that he favors, which ends up operating as a visual argument for why the ugly, hateful conformist attitude behind the gay propaganda law is so sadistic and dehumanizing. It’s all very interesting.

During it all, the focus on gay visibility shifted abruptly over to the question of football as college player Michael Sam, who was generally expected to do well in the NFL draft, announced that he is gay. If he gets drafted, he’ll be the first NFL player to be out while playing. He gave an interview to ESPN when he came out to the public at large.

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That’s if he gets drafted, however. Unfortunately, there’s very real fears he won’t be and that his sexual orientation will be the reason. Sam is the SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year, and the NFL tweeted out their support for him, but immediately the media was flooded by anonymous NFL executives giving worrying comments about how this could hurt Sam’s prospects. The concern trolling in the mainstream media was irritating enough, but then, of course, you had the ugliness in the right-wing media.

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No real need to argue against this rant, as it’s nonsensical rambling, an attempt to come right out and say that he thinks gay people should be discriminated against without saying that. The notion that it’s somehow standing up for gay people by barring them, on the basis of homosexuality, from sports, is farcical on its face, and may even be dumber, if that’s possible, than claiming straights are under attack because gay people want to be included in mainstream America. But this is the kind of incoherent response that homophobes are coughing up, which is why this discussion about gay athletes and coming out is long overdue. It’s not like the opposition has anything intelligent to say on this, after all.

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And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, micromanaging how women clothe themselves edition. HeartCry Missionary Society founder Paul Washer put a sermon on YouTube where he goes on and on and on about how women need to dress themselves.

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You’ll notice that, as usual with these things, the rules are vague and always available for being changed on a moment’s notice. He is so broad here about clothes outlining your body being wrong, you can’t help but wonder if he thinks that belts and fitted blazers are the devil’s work. Maybe? Who knows with these guys. The one thing you learn quickly about modesty is it’s a competition. You bully women into wearing longer skirts, then they have to get even longer to be more modest. Then the clothes have to get baggier. Then you have to cover your hair. And so on. It’s an ever moving target, on purpose. I recommend that people practice minding their own business, which is easier and has the advantage of being the same standard, every time.

Follow Amanda Marcotte on twitter: @amandamarcotte