Commentary Politics

Take Your Foot Off My Neck

Charlotte Taft

The glee with which male politicians are willing to strip women of their most basic rights is staggering. And it is crushing to recognize that so many smart, caring women will spend their time, precious energy, and scarce resources begging men to please, please harm women just a little bit less.

I am furious. As the Director of the Abortion Care Network, a non-profit organization that supports independent abortion providers and challenges stigma, I know more than I want to about the recent attacks on women’s reproductive choices. The Congress of the United States should be ashamed for passing HR 3, which would impose permanent bans on federal funding of abortion. HR 3 will also make it nearly impossible to obtain healthcare insurance for abortion care and even some forms of contraception.

The glee with which male politicians are willing to strip women of their most basic rights is staggering. It is devastating to read the dozens of e-mails that come to me every day detailing the myriad ways in which women’s lives, well-being, and health are being savagely attacked in Congress and in state legislatures across the country. And it is crushing to recognize that so many smart, caring women will spend their time, precious energy, and scarce resources begging men to please, please harm women just a little bit less. We want to believe that they do not hate us—that they respect us as full human beings, and yet every day the evidence mounts that this is not the case. I realize that I’m not supposed to say that. I’m not even supposed to notice.

In 1837, Sarah Moore Grimke an early feminist who lived at a time when women had no right to own property or to vote, or to have custody of their children, or even to speak in public said, “I ask no favors for my sex…All I ask is that our brethren take their feet from off our necks…”

Almost two centuries later the legislation, the pontificating about morality, the pretend defense of taxpayer dollars, is all a disguised symptom of the continued deep seated bedrock belief of Patriarchy that women are evil and dangerous and that their power must be contained. Patriarchy is a worldview that enshrines the rule of the fathers—the idea that there is a God-given superiority of men, which gives them the license to control and use women and everything on the planet for their own purposes. I understand that some women find their value and safety in identifying with those in command, but my heart aches when I see women joining the club to hate women and control their choices. Some days I think there has been a time warp and I have woken up an old world with the view that there are good women and bad women. Good women are the ones within a man’s racial, religious, and class group who behave themselves as expected. The bad women—anyone of a different race or class, or who doesn’t know her place– is subject to whatever treatment the men can get away with.

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Just as Patriarchy isn’t only for men, Feminism isn’t only for or about women. Feminism is a worldview that adopts the radical idea that there is intrinsic value in both women and men. In the Feminist view, a just society recognizes the full humanity of both, and includes policies that enable both to live as full human beings. Allowing women to fulfill their potential means at minimum creating reproductive justice, excellent affordable childcare, the ability to keep themselves and their children safe from violence or sexual predation, and opportunities to develop their full potential (social characteristics that also benefit men).

In the nineteen seventies women had a brief and powerful experience of transforming the system in which we live. Millions of women of all races, classes and cultures began to question assumptions about their place in society. We learned about the women who had worked for social justice before us—we pressed for changes in laws and federal priorities. Women shared stories of our lives, our hopes and our dreams. Many recognized that feminism didn’t mean having a larger piece of a scarce thing called ‘power’—but experiencing the power within us—the power to create a world in which all are honored and included. But something happened that dissipated that extraordinary energy. In 1985 Ellen Goodman wrote a column in the Boston Globe:

Sisterhood May Be Losing Out to Equality: …The question—What has happened to that always tenuous bond called sisterhood?…There was a time, and not that long ago, when women began to focus on what they had in common, what they had suffered in common. There was a sense of community created out of this fresh awareness—out of anger, too, and a belief in change. A certain population of women thought of themselves as women first, and found some self-conscious assurance in the slogan, “Sisterhood is powerful.”

Today much of that energy has been dispelled in the best possible way: by success. The head of steam from women has been dissipated by new opportunities…”

Can it be that the incredible momentum of feminism was derailed at least in part by opportunities?–by the illusion of equality? Whatever the causes of the derailment, our work was by no means finished, and our need for Sisterhood was by no means done. The Equal Rights Amendment—the most basic call for equality for women– had been defeated; the 1971 Comprehensive Child Development Act which would have provided child care for all women had been vetoed by Richard Nixon; rape and domestic violence were still endemic in the society; there was no equality in political representation. As the feminist movement was declared to be over, we were encouraged once again to view our successes and failures as our personal problems and not as associated with continuing systemic gender discrimination. With each new President—each new Congress, we assess the rise and fall of our freedom and our well-being—like investors watching the stock market go up and down—helpless to do anything about it. Today we watch as men who lay claim to morality deny fundamental healthcare and fundamental human choices to the poorest women in our society (who are of course the mothers of the poorest children in our society).

But it is not only the poorest most vulnerable women who are attacked today. As these legislators make it nearly impossible for women to secure health insurance coverage for abortion and possibly even birth control, they now tread on the imagined ‘rights’ of women who thought we had actually earned respect—who thought we were protected, entitled—white women—middle class women–women with husbands–women with good jobs and good families—women who are part of the majority culture. As long as any women are vulnerable, all women are vulnerable. 

I am heartened that there are good men who stand with us—who recognize that creating a partnership of masculine and feminine principles is desperately needed for the survival of the species. But they are far too few, and we don’t hear their voices from the seats of power. 

For centuries women have done everything we can think of to be included, accepted, respected, not harmed. There have obviously been many changes in women’s lives and people may argue that feminism is no longer needed—it’s passé. But even in our modern day when women in the U.S. have the right to vote and to be part of the full life of the nation, we are second-class citizens. And competing for a piece of this pie is like ‘fighting’ for peace. You cannot get there from here.

I know that women who point this out are likely to be dismissed as ‘man haters’. So dismiss me if you can’t handle the painful truth. If you think I am overstating the case, let’s just look at one tiny awful piece of evidence. In the United States an estimated 250,000 rapes of women are committed by men every year—a woman is raped every 2 minutes. Can we deal with the almost unbearable reality that we have not been able to stop men from raping women for one day in one city in one country on the planet? Let’s face the fact that after 5,000 years, our brethren will not, in fact, remove their feet from off  our necks.           

Those in power do not give it up. Way back in 1987, Sonia Johnson wrote about this in Going Out of Our Minds:Roe vs. Wade has won another victory for patriarchy: it has kept women focused upon and deeply emotionally invested in the system. Since the moment the decision was handed down, men have forced feminists in dozens of states to spend among them millions of hours trying desperately not to lose it piece by piece. Now, regardless of which party is in power, the groundwork has been laid:…women are being subsumed into and consumed by the state function of motherhood, and their hopes for help are bound firmly once more to the state. The Supreme Court will continue, now that the decision has accomplished its purposes, to gut Roe vs. Wade, perhaps retaining as much as is necessary to keep feminists still trusting the system, still under control. …When will we learn that, since they depend for their very existence upon keeping us colonized, we cannot depend on patriarchal institutions to give us self rule.”

So as we watch our human rights—our rights to make the most personal of all choices—stripped away bit by bit, we must resist the pressure to narrow our concerns to single issues. We must redefine Reproductive Justice to include every aspect of women’s reproductive lives including abortion, adoption, parenting, contraception, childcare, miscarriage support, childbirth education and services, and infertility. Women must reach out to each other again— reminding ourselves and each other of our intrinsic value. This the most risky and uncharted path to the transformation of power that was begun by our foremothers so many years ago—and is, perhaps, the next step to true human civilization.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: The Sexually Transmitted Infections Edition

Martha Kempner

A new Zika case suggests the virus can be transmitted from an infected woman to a male partner. And, in other news, HPV-related cancers are on the rise, and an experimental chlamydia vaccine shows signs of promise.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Zika May Have Been Sexually Transmitted From a Woman to Her Male Partner

A new case suggests that males may be infected with the Zika virus through unprotected sex with female partners. Researchers have known for a while that men can infect their partners through penetrative sexual intercourse, but this is the first suspected case of sexual transmission from a woman.

The case involves a New York City woman who is in her early 20s and traveled to a country with high rates of the mosquito-borne virus (her name and the specific country where she traveled have not been released). The woman, who experienced stomach cramps and a headache while waiting for her flight back to New York, reported one act of sexual intercourse without a condom the day she returned from her trip. The following day, her symptoms became worse and included fever, fatigue, a rash, and tingling in her hands and feet. Two days later, she visited her primary-care provider and tests confirmed she had the Zika virus.

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A few days after that (seven days after intercourse), her male partner, also in his 20s, began feeling similar symptoms. He had a rash, a fever, and also conjunctivitis (pink eye). He, too, was diagnosed with Zika. After meeting with him, public health officials in the New York City confirmed that he had not traveled out of the country nor had he been recently bit by a mosquito. This leaves sexual transmission from his partner as the most likely cause of his infection, though further tests are being done.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s recommendations for preventing Zika have been based on the assumption that virus was spread from a male to a receptive partner. Therefore the recommendations had been that pregnant women whose male partners had traveled or lived in a place where Zika virus is spreading use condoms or abstain from sex during the pregnancy. For those couples for whom pregnancy is not an issue, the CDC recommended that men who had traveled to countries with Zika outbreaks and had symptoms of the virus, use condoms or abstain from sex for six months after their trip. It also suggested that men who traveled but don’t have symptoms use condoms for at least eight weeks.

Based on this case—the first to suggest female-to-male transmission—the CDC may extend these recommendations to couples in which a female traveled to a country with an outbreak.

More Signs of Gonorrhea’s Growing Antibiotic Resistance

Last week, the CDC released new data on gonorrhea and warned once again that the bacteria that causes this common sexually transmitted infection (STI) is becoming resistant to the antibiotics used to treat it.

There are about 350,000 cases of gonorrhea reported each year, but it is estimated that 800,000 cases really occur with many going undiagnosed and untreated. Once easily treatable with antibiotics, the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae has steadily gained resistance to whole classes of antibiotics over the decades. By the 1980s, penicillin no longer worked to treat it, and in 2007 the CDC stopped recommending the use of fluoroquinolones. Now, cephalosporins are the only class of drugs that work. The recommended treatment involves a combination of ceftriaxone (an injectable cephalosporin) and azithromycin (an oral antibiotic).

Unfortunately, the data released last week—which comes from analysis of more than 5,000 samples of gonorrhea (called isolates) collected from STI clinics across the country—shows that the bacteria is developing resistance to these drugs as well. In fact, the percentage of gonorrhea isolates with decreased susceptibility to azithromycin increased more than 300 percent between 2013 and 2014 (from 0.6 percent to 2.5 percent).

Though no cases of treatment failure has been reported in the United States, this is a troubling sign of what may be coming. Dr. Gail Bolan, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, said in a press release: “It is unclear how long the combination therapy of azithromycin and ceftriaxone will be effective if the increases in resistance persists. We need to push forward on multiple fronts to ensure we can continue offering successful treatment to those who need it.”

HPV-Related Cancers Up Despite Vaccine 

The CDC also released new data this month showing an increase in HPV-associated cancers between 2008 and 2012 compared with the previous five-year period. HPV or human papillomavirus is an extremely common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, HPV is so common that the CDC believes most sexually active adults will get it at some point in their lives. Many cases of HPV clear spontaneously with no medical intervention, but certain types of the virus cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, penis, anus, mouth, and neck.

The CDC’s new data suggests that an average of 38,793 HPV-associated cancers were diagnosed each year between 2008 and 2012. This is a 17 percent increase from about 33,000 each year between 2004 and 2008. This is a particularly unfortunate trend given that the newest available vaccine—Gardasil 9—can prevent the types of HPV most often linked to cancer. In fact, researchers estimated that the majority of cancers found in the recent data (about 28,000 each year) were caused by types of the virus that could be prevented by the vaccine.

Unfortunately, as Rewire has reported, the vaccine is often mired in controversy and far fewer young people have received it than get most other recommended vaccines. In 2014, only 40 percent of girls and 22 percent of boys ages 13 to 17 had received all three recommended doses of the vaccine. In comparison, nearly 80 percent of young people in this age group had received the vaccine that protects against meningitis.

In response to the newest data, Dr. Electra Paskett, co-director of the Cancer Control Research Program at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, told HealthDay:

In order to increase HPV vaccination rates, we must change the perception of the HPV vaccine from something that prevents a sexually transmitted disease to a vaccine that prevents cancer. Every parent should ask the question: If there was a vaccine I could give my child that would prevent them from developing six different cancers, would I give it to them? The answer would be a resounding yes—and we would have a dramatic decrease in HPV-related cancers across the globe.

Making Inroads Toward a Chlamydia Vaccine

An article published in the journal Vaccine shows that researchers have made progress with a new vaccine to prevent chlamydia. According to lead researcher David Bulir of the M. G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at Canada’s McMaster University, efforts to create a vaccine have been underway for decades, but this is the first formulation to show success.

In 2014, there were 1.4 million reported cases of chlamydia in the United States. While this bacterial infection can be easily treated with antibiotics, it often goes undiagnosed because many people show no symptoms. Untreated chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can leave scar tissue in the fallopian tubes or uterus and ultimately result in infertility.

The experimental vaccine was created by Canadian researchers who used pieces of the bacteria that causes chlamydia to form an antigen they called BD584. The hope was that the antigen could prompt the body’s immune system to fight the chlamydia bacteria if exposed to it.

Researchers gave BD584 to mice using a nasal spray, and then exposed them to chlamydia. The results were very promising. The mice who received the spray cleared the infection faster than the mice who did not. Moreover, the mice given the nasal spray were less likely to show symptoms of infection, such as bacterial shedding from the vagina or fluid blockages of the fallopian tubes.

There are many steps to go before this vaccine could become available. The researchers need to test it on other strains of the bacteria and in other animals before testing it in humans. And, of course, experience with the HPV vaccine shows that there’s work to be done to make sure people get vaccines that prevent STIs even after they’re invented. Nonetheless, a vaccine to prevent chlamydia would be a great victory in our ongoing fight against STIs and their health consequences, and we here at This Week in Sex are happy to end on a bit of a positive note.