Monday, March 20, 2017

Standing Pink

Sometimes I stumble across a headline that makes me giggle at its shear absurdness.  Like this one from NPR:

Satirical Texas Bill Would Fine Men’s Masturbation, Set Viagra Waiting Period

Apparently Texas State Representative Jessica Farrar introduced a bill that would “fine men for masturbating, allow doctors to refuse to prescribe Viagra and require men to undergo medically unnecessary rectal exams before any elective vasectomy.”  In addition, doctors would be required to hand out pamphlets called A Man’s Right To Know, based off of similarly-named pamphlets women are already given in Texas. 

I took a look at this colorful handout, available here, and it is . . . well, terrifying.  Dotted throughout with photos of severely worried-looking parents and babies’ feet (for some reason), “A Woman’s Right To Know” is risk-aware as fuck.  So much that if the medical rape outlined throughout the pamphlet doesn’t make you keep your baby, the extraneous list of medical complications at the end just might.        

Of course, Farrar knows her satirical bill won’t pass.  She just wants her colleagues to feel the heat a moment when their dicks (and ass holes) are subject to the invasive, legislative gaze women everywhere already experience.  And with the Trump Administration’s “bigger-than-Obama’s” health care plan threatening to defund Planned Parenthoods across the country by banning Medicare from reimbursing them, millions of people are in danger of losing affordable access to often life-saving medical and reproductive care.

That is why my husband and I joined with women from our area on March 16th to stand with Planned Parenthood as they delivered over 1500 signatures to Representative Susan Brooks (IN-R) from people opposing the defunding of Planned Parenthood.  The experience would have been more significant if Representative Brooks were there herself, though the staffer who greeted us assured us—out of the side of her mouth—that female health is important to Brooks because, well, she’s a woman. 

Except, having a vagina does not an ally make in this fight, especially when you are an affluent white woman who believes Planned Parenthood would be OK if they just made the abortion part of it separate from the health care part.  Meanwhile, abortion services account for only 3% of Planned Parenthoods’ total services, which can include anything from employment physicals to STD screenings.

Another suggestion Representative Brooks’s office had for the gathered was seeking out Federally Qualified Health Centers.  Though she couldn’t name a single one, she assured us they are there and that Representative Brooks was pushing for more federal funding for these particular places.  A few questions remain:  Will they offer the same services as Planned Parenthood?  Are they accessible?  In answer to the latter, no, they are not.  If defunding Planned Parenthood means turning to one of these nameless places, people in lower-income and/or rural areas may not have access to them, which is one point Brooks and her office failed to mention.

Marginalized communities are the most vulnerable and stand to lose the most by limiting access to health and reproductive care.  As one woman so colorfully explained to me: "when people think pro-life, it isn’t the brown babies they’re thinking about.”  That is because the bodies of people of color, and especially trans women of color have historically been undervalued socially while being ogled, fetishized, and tallied for imperialist gains.  As Loretta Ross (2001) explains:

“…the reproductive health rights of women of color are constantly compromised by poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, and injustice.  There is a dialectical relationship about what happens to women of color in other countries and what is visited upon women of color in the United States: all of our human rights are restricted by a white supremacist construct that de-prioritizes our needs while exploring our bodies for the reproduction and maintenance of the economic system (79).”

This racial intersection was seen at the Women’s March on Washington in January, an event dominated by white faces and privileged celebrities, like Madonna who, I discovered, joked about blowing up the White House.  Imagine if Beyonce had made a remark like that!  Of course, this racial disparity didn’t go unnoticed.  As historian of African-American women’s history Ashley Farmer explained shortly after the march on Washington: “When we actually get down to representation or creating a list of demands or mobilizing around a set of ideas it tends to be that white middle-class or upper-class women’s priorities get put above the rest.”

I would go a step further, Ashley, and say it is the cis, hetero-normative, able-bodied white women that get preferential treatment.

Perhaps one of the most poignant things I heard come out of the Women’s Marches that occurred across the country, however, is that it is time we all just shut the fuck up and start listening to these marginalized communities, which brings me to my third and final point: 

Shut up.

Leaving Representative Brook’s office that night, I was asked why I didn’t say anything.  Instead, I stood there, listening to the women around me explain why defunding Planned Parenthood would be detrimental to them and the other women in their lives to a woman who was probably relieved to see the back of our heads.  If I had known these women better I would have said “Because people with dicks have said enough about the female anatomy.”  (And, yes,  I understand the hypocrisy of me making that statement and writing this blog post.)  But it has to be said.  They have said enough about our bodies, too, but people in power have always had something to say about a woman’s body.  My silence was my solidarity and a plea to the men in congress to shut up and listen to the women affected by the decisions THEY are making for THEIR bodies.  

Planned Parenthood isn’t doling out the abortions.  The people who perform them aren’t wringing their hands for another “kill.”  Planned Parenthood performs a medical procedure that may not be right for all vulva-bearing bodies.  The choice to carry a baby to term is, I think, one of the most intimate ways someone can take agency over their own body.  Similarly, the choice to terminate that pregnancy is an immensely personal one, often filled with a myriad of emotions—none of which need to be exacerbated by a bunch of sign-wielding strangers preaching hell, damnation and fire or a bunch of dicks in congress legislating the exact moment life begins.  If anything, this conversation could lead to new clues about our bodies and its development, including the development of our children . . . because life doesn’t begin when a sperm crashes into a egg.  That just isn’t how the human body works.   

Until next time, my lovelies,