Dude, Where Are My Reproductive Rights?

Sarah Seltzer

Dudely subculture -- the smart-funny-cool-ironic hybrid that defines our age and has raised effective challenges to everything from Iraq war to the surveillance state -- has been too silent when it comes to the rights of women that have been so viciously been eroded in the past eight years.

Last weekend, in Boston for the Women, Action and the Media conference, I met a lot of brilliant women, activists and journalists alike, and left thoroughly inspired by their amazing work.

But after the dust cleared, the one image I couldn't shake from my mind was a new perspective I got on a man, a man that I will always have a deep, abiding affection for, a man with whom I spend nearly every night.

I'm speaking, of course, of Jon Stewart.

Jon came up during a panel on reproductive justice featuring Rewireers Emily Douglas, Amanda Marcotte, and Cristina Page along with Pro-Choice Public Education Project executive director Aimee Thorne-Thomsen. During the question and answer session, Cristina mentioned that a Daily Show staffer had dismissed the idea of her appearing on the show to promote her book, "How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America." The reason? The topic was "too serious." And yet, Page pointed out, Stewart constantly has guests who come on to talk about Iraq, which is as serious as it gets. But somehow the Daily Show writers have managed to find ways to mix humor with biting analysis in their discussion of the war.

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The actual answer is not that abortion is too "serious," but it's that it's a serious women's issue, and is therefore marginalized by our misogynist society. Reproductive justice as movement is wrapped up with female bodies and female sexuality, and poses a challenge to class and race privilege. None of these concepts have been adequately absorbed by the hip, progressive movement of which Stewart is a figurehead.

As a friend said to me after the panel, the problem women's advocates face in trying to conquer popular media is that "sexism is cool."

After her comment, I thought about Stewart's guests, the people who show up at the end of each show hawking a newly-released hardcover book. There's no question that most of them are men, a lot of them are men who write "serious" books about war, the economy and politics. And the show's (wonderful) cast is also mostly male — Samantha Bee alone has been holding it down for her gender since I started watching the show in the 2004 election.

The show, I realized, is kind of a frat-house, albeit an incisive, witty, and progressive one.

But The Daily Show isn't the only problem — it's just a symptom of a larger cultural illness. When Stewart's counterpart Stephen Colbert, who is more feminist-friendly than most men on TV, introduced his writers after the strike, even they were predominantly male. The fact is that these dudes, with their scraggly hair and sneakers, pen hilarious — and sometimes painfully cutting — critique of every reactionary aspect of our society, and that includes anti-feminists. Compared to the staffs at shows like Letterman and Leno, I'm guessing Colbert's writers' eyes are less likely to glaze over when they hear "abortion" or "reproductive rights." But it would be nice for there to be a few more women among their ranks, whose perspective might give advocating for our issues, not just making fun of those who seek to undermine them, a position of centrality within the broader progressive conversation.

The dudely subculture — the smart-funny-cool-ironic hybrid that defines our age and has raised effective challenges to everything from Iraq war to onscreen taboos to the surveillance state — has been too silent when it comes to the rights of women that have been so viciously been eroded in the past eight years (and incidentally, silent about the very real connection between the two tragedies).

Bill Maher offers unbelievably insightful, BS-free comments about foreign policy, and the best discourse on TV, but gets the heebie-jeebies from public breastfeeding, and that's just the tip of his women-bashing iceberg.

Meanwhile on the less political side of things, Judd Apatow, comedy's boy wonder and the smartest person in Hollywood (says Entertainment Weekly), is lauded for a movie that ends with the male character affirming that not wearing a condom was the best thing he ever did. Apatow has edged film forward by showing everything from a crowning baby to full-frontal male nudity, but as Katherine Heigl noted (and got slammed for), he managed to challenge these conventions while setting back the status of women onscreen.

"Dude" culture is not just a male thing — just spend a couple of day reading Slate's the XX factor to get an idea of how some women from a fairly liberal, funny and intellectual background, think advocating for women's rights too strongly is decidedly uncool.

The problem for those of us who want to make women's lives better — through sex education, contraception, health care and yes, safe legal abortion — is that we're caught in a world that devalues us as people, and therefore devalues our legitimate concerns and even our health crises.

But the hope that we have is in the burgeoning reproductive justice framework. In its emphasis on all women's bodily autonomy, on the entire spectrum from sex-ed to contraception to children's health care, it gives us a chance to critique the right-wing's hypocrisy. The hypocrisy of claiming to love children but denying them health care, of claiming to hate abortion refusing to take realistic, practical steps to prevent it. Slowly, our culture is waking up to this absurdity, and as Amanda said at the panel, this is our moment to seize.

We have to attack using a two-pronged fork. By directly challenging cultural misogyny in mainstream popular media, we are paving the way for our legal and social rights. And by using the powerfully holistic framework of reproductive justice to advocate loudly for those rights, we can enable our allies — like Stephen Colbert — to ramp up coverage of "women's" issues without causing any viewers to change the channel.

News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.