More Troubling News from the CDC on the Sexual Health of Young Adults

PlannedParenthoodAdvocate

The latest report from the CDC underscores what many already know: teens need medically accurate and age appropriate information and access to preventative health care to build healthier, brighter futures.

by Sarah Stoesz
President
Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota Action Fund

From the Kaiser Family Foundation:

The CDC’s latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) examines the sexual health of young adults and teenagers in the U.S., Reuters reports. "The data presented in this report indicate that many young persons in the United States engage in sexual risk behavior and experience negative reproductive health outcomes," the MMWR states (7/16). For the report, CDC compiled data from several different studies involving hundreds of thousands of teenagers and young adults age 10 to 25. Among other findings, the data indicated that AIDS rates among boys age 15 to 19 increased from 1.3 cases per 100,000 in 1997 to 2.5 cases in 2006.


MPR Midmorning had a compelling discussion today about the report and what should be done to address this troubling trend: http://minnesota.publicradio.org/radio/programs/midmorning/

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Unfortunately, many of the trends evidenced in the report are being seen right here in Minnesota.

Sexually transmitted infections have climbed to historic levels, with Chlamydia rates in the state more than doubling in the past thirteen years (a seven percent increase in the past year alone). In some communities of color, the situation is dire, as health care disparities have led to rates so high that the epidemic has become self-sustaining.

This is an unconscionable public health failure. It’s time for solutions. Minnesota’s young people deserve a balanced, honest approach to sexuality education in order to best make informed, responsible decisions that will preserve their health and well-being.

It’s a complex problem that requires comprehensive solutions; including:

• Support for parents as the primary sexuality educator of their children.
• Medically accurate sex education.
• Access to reproductive health care services.
• Youth development opportunities to engage young people in their community.


As parents, teachers and those working in public health, we have an obligation to simultaneously protect and empower youth by providing them with accurate, age appropriate fact-based sexuality education.

For the past two years, PPMNS has led the effort to advance legislation that would help to reverse this trend. Addressing this public health issue through common sense public policy, accessible health care and community relevant/responsible fact-based education is our priority.

PPMNS is proud to offer 10 education programs across the state of Minnesota for parents, teens, and community members that are grounded in research.

Our Parent-Child Programs support family communication and connectedness; our Teen Councils and Youth Peer Education Programs empower young people with the skills they need to make healthy choices, and our Adult Lay Health Advisor Programs teach adults how to be health care experts in their local communities.

We provide culturally relevant education and outreach services among Latino, Asian and African immigrant communities specifically designed to respond to cultural and linguistic barriers that often keep members of our communities from seeking the health care they need.

The latest report from the CDC underscores what many already know: teens need to know how to protect themselves against sexually transmitted infections. They need medically accurate and age appropriate information and access to preventative health care to build healthier, brighter futures.

Planned Parenthood will continue its work at the legislature, in our clinics and in communities across the state to address this public health and education imperative. Our young people deserve nothing less.

 

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Culture & Conversation Abortion

The Comic Book That Guided Women Through Abortion Months After ‘Roe’

Sam Meier

Abortion Eve used the stories of fictional girls and women to help real ones understand their options and the law. At the same time the comic explained how to access abortion, it also asserted that abortion was crucial to women's health and liberation.

“Can you picture a comic book on abortion on the stands next to Superman?”

In June 1973, Joyce Farmer and Lyn Chevli wrote to the National Organization for Women in Chicago, asking this question of their “dear sisters” and pushing them to envision a world where women’s experiences could be considered as valiant as the superhero’s adventures. They enclosed a copy of their new comic book, Abortion Eve.

Published mere months after the Supreme Court’s January 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, Abortion Eve was intended to be a cheap, effective way to inform women about the realities of abortion. Like the few other contemporaneous comic books dealing with abortion, Abortion Eve‘s primary purpose was to educate. But for a comic dominated by technical information about surgical procedures and state laws, Abortion Eve nonetheless manages to be radical. Though abortion had so recently been illegal—and the stigma remained—the comic portrays abortion as a valid personal decision and women as moral agents fully capable of making that decision.

The comic follows five women, all named variations of “Eve,” as counselor Mary Multipary shepherds them through the process of obtaining abortions. Evelyn is an older white college professor, Eva a white dope-smoking hippie, Evie a white teenage Catholic, Eve a working Black woman, and Evita a Latina woman. Evelyn, Eve, and Evita are all married and mothers already.

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Their motivations for getting an abortion differ, too. Evita and Eve, for instance, wish to protect themselves and their loved ones by keeping their families smaller. Sixteen-year-old Evie is the poster child for sexual naiveté. Pregnant after her first time having sex, she spends most of the comic wrestling with guilt. “It’s all so ugly!” she exclaims. “I thought sex was supposed to be beautiful!”

Teenager Evie, one of the characters in the comic book Abortion Eve, breaks down as counselor Mary Multipary asks questions about her pregnancy. (Joyce Farmer)

Nonplussed, the older Eves talk her through her choices. As Eve reminds her, “Like it or not, you are a woman now, and you are going to have to decide.”

In an interview with Rewire, Farmer said that the plot of Abortion Eve was a direct outgrowth of her and Chevli’s experiences in the nascent women’s health movement. Both women had started working as birth control and “problem pregnancy” counselors at the Free Clinic in Laguna Beach, California, soon after it opened in 1970. Archival documents at Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute show that Chevli and Farmer visited Los Angeles abortion providers in December 1972, on a business trip for the Free Clinic. According to Farmer, one of the doctors they met approached the pair with the idea of doing a comic about abortion to publicize his clinic.

Earlier that year, the women had produced one of the first U.S. comic books written, drawn, and published by women, Tits & Clits alpha (the “alpha” distinguished the comic from subsequent issues). So they took the doctor’s idea and ran with it. They decided to use their newly founded comics publishing company, Nanny Goat Productions, to educate women, particularly teenagers, about abortion.

At the Free Clinic, Chevli and Farmer had seen all kinds of women in all kinds of situations, and Abortion Eve attempts to reflect this diversity. As Farmer noted in an interview, she and Chevli made sure that the Eves were all different races, ages, and socioeconomic backgrounds in order to demonstrate that all kinds of women get abortions.

Farmer had made the choice to get an abortion herself, when her IUD failed in 1970. The mother—of a 12-year-old son—who was putting herself through college at the University of California at Irvine, she decided that she couldn’t afford another child.

California had liberalized its abortion laws with the Therapeutic Abortion Act of 1967, but the law was still far from truly liberal. Before Roe, California women seeking abortions needed doctors (a gynecologist and two “specialists in the field”) to submit recommendations on their behalf to the hospital where the abortion would take place. Then, a committee of physicians approved or denied the application. Only women who could pay for therapeutic abortions—those needed for medical reasonscould get them.

For Farmer, as for so many others, the process was onerous. After an hour, the psychiatrist who had interviewed her announced that she would not be eligible, as she was mentally fit to be a mother. Stunned, Farmer told the doctor that if he denied her an abortion, she would do it herself. Taking this as a suicide threat, her doctor quickly changed his mind. She wrote later that this experience began her political radicalization: “I was astounded that I had to prove to the state that I was suicidal, when all I wanted was an abortion, clean and safe.”

Farmer and Chevli began work on Abortion Eve before Roe v. Wade, when abortion was still illegal in many states. After the Supreme Court’s decision, they added a page for “more info” on the ruling. Yet even as they celebrated Roe, the women weren’t yet sure what would come of it.

The comic reflects a general confusion regarding abortion rights post-Roe, as well as women’s righteous anger over the fight to gain those rights. On the day of her abortion, for example, Evita tells Eve that, at five months pregnant, she just “slipped in” the gestational limits during which women could have abortions.

Eve explains that women now have the right to an abortion during the first three to six months of a pregnancy, but that the matter is far from settled in the courts. After all, Roe v. Wade said that states did have some interest in regulating abortion, particularly in the third trimester.

“I get mad when they control my body by their laws!” Eve says. “Bring in a woman, an’ if the problem is below her belly button and it ain’t her appendix, man—you got judges an’ lawyers an’ priests an’ assorted greybeards sniffin’ an’ fussin’ an’ tellin’ that woman what she gonna do an’ how she gonna do it!”

Abortion Eve Dialogue

Abortion Eve confronts the reality that abortion is a necessity if women are to live full sexual lives. Writing to the underground sex magazine Screw in September 1973 to advertise the comic, Chevli noted, “Surely if [your readers] screw as much as we hope, they must have need for an occasional abortion—and our book tells all about it.”

Six months after they published the comic, in December 1973, Chevli and Farmer traveled to an Anaheim rally in support of Roe outside the American Medical Association conference. They were met by a much larger group of abortion opponents. Chevli described the scene in a letter to a friend:

300 to 8. We weren’t ready, but we were there. Bodies … acquiescing, vulnerable females, wanting to show our signs, wanting to be there, ready to learn. Oh, Christ. Did we learn. It was exhausting. It was exciting. We were enervated, draged [sic] around, brung up, made to feel like goddesses, depressed, enlightened … bunches of intangible things. I have rarely experienced HATE to such a massive extent. 

That wasn’t the last feedback that Chevli and Farmer received about their views on abortion. In fact, during the course of Nanny Goat’s publishing stint, the majority of complaints that the independent press received had to do with Abortion Eve. Several self-identified Catholics objected to the “blasphemous” back cover, which featured MAD Magazine‘s Alfred E. Neuman as a visibly pregnant Virgin Mary with the caption: “What me worry?”

As archival documents at the Kinsey Institute show, other critics castigated Chevli and Farmer for setting a bad example for young women, failing to teach them right from wrong. One woman wrote them a letter in 1978, saying “You have not only wasted your paper, time, money, but you’ve probably aided in the decision of young impressionable girls and women who went and aborted their babies.”

Farmer and Chevli responded to such charges by first thanking their critics and then explaining their reasons for creating Abortion Eve. In another response, also in the Kinsey archives, Chevli wrote, “Whether abortion is right or wrong is not our concern because we do not want to dictate moral values to others. What we do want to do is educate others to the fact that abortion is legal, safe, and presents women with a choice which they can make.”

Today, abortion opponents like Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson (R) frame abortion as the “dismemberment” of unborn children, suggesting that women who seek abortions are, in essence, murderers. With Abortion Eve, Chevli and Farmer dared to suggest that abortion was and is an integral part of women’s social and sexual liberation. Abortion Eve is unapologetic in asserting that view. The idea that abortion could be a woman’s decision alone, made in consultation with herself, for the good of herself and of her loved ones, is as radical an idea today as it was in the 1970s.

Culture & Conversation Media

Exploring Jewish Identity Through the Eyes of Women Artists

Eleanor J. Bader

According to scholar Tahneer Oksman, women illustrators from the United States and Canada use their drawings to make sense of their religion, culture, and sometimes complicated relationships to Israel.

The seven women whose graphic autobiographies are deconstructed in Marymount Manhattan College professor Tahneer Oksman’s “How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?”: Women and Jewish American Identity in Contemporary Graphic Memoirs” are all successful North American artists. But to a one, they have had to confront and surmount anti-Semitism and sexism. Alongside common decisions about career and lifestyle, each illustrator has had the added task of determining how, or if, she wants to relate to contemporary Jewish life, and how, or if, she wants to align herself with the state of Israel.

Oksman’s narrative presents these conundrums honestly, if academically. She analyzes how the graphic works address the complications of being part of a secular, often-contentious, and non-monolithic Jewish community. Indeed, “How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?” showcases the wide diversity among those who call themselves “cultural Jews,” women linked to their ancestors by blood rather than faith. Differences are highlighted, and the book asks important questions about bones of contention that the Jewish community must confront, from the conflation of Judaism with Zionism to the challenges that arise from persistent stereotypes about female Jews.

But as provocative as it is, the book also has deficits.

The book would have been enriched, for example, by a discussion of art created by women enmeshed in religious life, such as devout British cartoonist Keren Keet, who humorously depicts the high-wire juggling it takes to balance raising children with paid work and religious obligations. Similarly, there are no depictions of women who are minimally observant but not devout in either Oksman’s text or the accompanying visuals. Furthermore, it is unclear how Oksman selected the artists she featured, since there are many other Jewish women in the graphic arts—among them Leela Corman, Miriam Katin, Diane Noomin, Racheli Rotner, Ariel Schrag, and Ilana Zeffren.

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The book opens with a discussion of “the serial selves” of Aline Kominsky Crumb, who was born into an upper-middle-class Long Island family in 1948. Her multiple self-portraits illuminate key developmental milestones, from her refusal to get a nose job or straighten her hair—acts that separated her from every other ninth-grade girl in her class—to her relief at finding other “freaks” in New York City’s Greenwich Village in the late 1960s and ’70s. One 1989 illustration looks back at the cookie-cutter sameness that marked her adolescence and pointedly asks why “boys get to keep their noses.”

This seemingly innocent question straightforwardly pinpoints the sexist expectations of the early 1960s and reveals an astute observation about the double standards that young women—indeed all women—faced then, and continue to face today. In fact, one of Kominsky Crumb’s earliest cartoon alter-egos, Goldie, became an exemplar of sass when, in 1972, she declared that “after years of trying to please other people, I set out to live in my own style.”  She is smiling in the drawing, driving off in a sports car “void of fear.”

Aline Kominsky Crumb illustrated her personal journey of moving from fear and uncertainty to freedom.

(Aline Kominsky Crumb/Columbia University Press)

Then there’s the issue of having and being a Jewish mother. “As an identity that has been chosen by her, like becoming a wife and artist, motherhood has the potential to signify a role that allows Kominsky Crumb to feel free and further indulge in her own style,” Oksman writes. “Yet as her comics reveal, motherhood is always inevitably associated with inheritance—the inherited relationship she shares with her own mother as well as stereotypes about Jewish mothers, not to mention mothers more generally, that characterize much of popular North American art and literature.” For Kominsky Crumb, this requires taking on the smothering Jewish mama stereotype at the same time that she grapples with her own fraught relationship with an overbearing mom.

Additionally, the anti-Semitic trope that describes Jewish women as gold-digging, self-centered, vain, and materialistic is fodder for Kominsky Crumb. She pokes fun at this hackneyed notion while simultaneously critiquing her Jewish peers for elitist and “princesslike” behaviors. It’s a nuanced and critical posture revealing her placement both within and outside Judaism.

Other Kominsky Crumb drawings present what Oksman calls “the struggle to negotiate between inherited and chosen identities,” that is, responsibility to the tribe—the large Jewish diaspora—versus responsibility to the self.

This stance is taken by other Jewish feminists as well. In fact, Kominsky Crumb’s younger counterparts mine similar turf—and from a similarly distanced place. In Vanessa Davis’ 2010 graphic memoir Make Me a Woman, she reflects on her bat mitzvah’s material excess. According to Oksman, when Davis discovered the class privilege of her upbringing, she had to come to terms with the “realization that it was not a universal background for all American Jews.” This understanding reoriented Davis “in relation to her own history and [set] her on a path to understanding her Jewish identity as highly individualized or a matter of location.”

Similarly, artists Miss Lasko-Gross and Lauren Weinstein explore what it means to be culturally Jewish and connected to the community by ancestry while choosing to remain non-religious. How this stance has influenced their values, morals, and relationships throughout their lives is described and analyzed.

The goal of their autobiographical stories seems geared to evoking the reader’s empathy, and Oksman’s narrative and the accompanying graphics are deeply resonant. Still, it’s standard coming-of-age stuff, and despite the specific cultural angel, it will feel familiar.

More compelling is the book’s look at how Sarah Glidden and Miriam Libicki tackle the subject of Israel. Glidden’s 2010 How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less and Libicki’s ongoing jobnik! series address the ambivalence of many secular American and Canadian Jews toward the Jewish homeland. 

For Glidden, a free ten-day trip to Israel sponsored by Taglit-Birthright, an organization that brings scores of 18-to-26-year-old Jews to the “promised land” for a highly orchestrated tour, is an opportunity for adventure, albeit one rife with political discomfort. Expecting a “regional propaganda tour,” the self-described progressive humanist initially remains aloof from her fellow travelers. Later, however, she realizes, as Oksman puts it, that “approaching a so-called unfiltered look at Israel requires not isolation but connection with others. Avoiding the biases of people around her is not enough; she must explore them as well as consider them in relation to her own biases,” especially as a U.S.-born critic.

Two illustration panels from chapter 3 of How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, p. 77. Copyright © Sarah Glidden 2010.

(Sarah Glidden/Columbia University Press)

Miriam Libicki, on the other hand, served in the Israeli Army subsequently produced issues of the jobnik! comic series since 2003. As a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen, she volunteered for the Israel Defense Force in the late 1990s, and her graphics present her transition from gung-ho militarist to anti-occupation “peacenik.”

Libicki also addresses gender discrimination. She was not only sexually harassed by male IDF soldiers, but was assigned mundane secretarial duties rather than the more challenging work she craved. In addition, Libicki writes that her contemporaries saw her as bizarre: “For the Israelis, being in the army is an inevitable fact of life,” Oksman notes. “Their identities as soldiers are, by necessity, integrated into their identities as young people socializing with one another. For Miriam, growing up in Ohio, being in the Israeli army is a significant act. It represents a sacrifice she has chosen to make .… Miriam’s unquestioning affiliation to Israel and the Israeli army therefore actually distanced her from those around her,” and left her with ample time to think about both her isolation and politics.

There is pain in Libicki’s account, just as there is pain in the other stories featured in ”How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?” Indeed, as each woman’s story unfolds, a profound sense of disequilibrium surfaces. This is too bad, since the joy of belonging—the comfort found in repeated rituals, food preparation and consumption, and sisterhood—is missing from most of the accounts. Oksman writes that the seven cartoonists featured “adopt notions of Jewish difference to establish an encompassing metaphor for Jewish American women’s marginalized status within an already tenuously defined and situated community.” Sadly, in focusing almost exclusively on distance, the connections that bind Jewish women to one another, and that exist between Jews and the rest of humanity, fall by the wayside.