Commentary Media

Project TMI: The Feminist Humor Defense Against the Assault on Our Bodies

Ramey Connelly

It's a strange sensation to start something as a joke, expecting that only your friends on Facebook will see it, and then all of a sudden to see it all over the internet. That's what happened with my decision to report on my menstrual cycle to all of the Virginia legislators (not just the Republicans, contrary to popular news sources) who voted "yes" on HB462, the "mandatory ultrasound" bill. 

It’s a strange sensation to start something as a joke, expecting that only your friends on Facebook will see it, and then all of a sudden to see it all over the internet. That’s what happened with my decision to report on my menstrual cycle to all of the Virginia legislators (not just the Republicans, contrary to popular news sources) who voted “yes” on HB462, the “mandatory ultrasound” bill.

The idea itself started as a passing snarky comment, at a meeting of the Richmond Reproductive Freedom Project- the abortion fund with which I work. It was before the bill even passed- I think we were discussing all of the current legislation that was slated to legally subjugate women – HB1, HB462, etc. I made a comment about how we should keep legislators updated on our bodies, since they are “so concerned” about them. I may have also mentioned sending hand-painted valentines using menstrual blood. Just sayin’.

A few weeks later I was at home, sick in bed, and getting really bored. I was browsing Facebook, and found myself getting angrier and angrier as I read through a frenzy of posts about the newest competitors in the “which state can oppress people the fastest” Olympics. And all of a sudden, something kind of snapped. All of my rage, all of my disgust, my stir-crazedness, culminated into a sarcastic Facebook post. I started with Senator McDougle, the Republican Caucus Chairman, and then made my way down the list of Representatives who had voted in this absurdist, shaming legislation. I went to each one, and I wrote this message:

Hi Senator/Delegate _____________! I just wanted to let you know, since you’re concerned with women’s health, that my period started today! Color looks good, flow not too heavy. Cramps are pretty manageable but don’t worry – I’ll make sure to let you know if that changes! Thanks again for caring so much about women and our bodies!

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I took a screenshot of my post on McDougle’s wall, and posted it on my page. My friend Stacey Burns, the Online Communications Coordinator at the National Network of Abortion Funds, asked if she could post it on Twitter, and from there it made its way to the RHRealityCheck tumblr page, and it went on, and on, and on… all of a sudden, in what a friend dubbed “Project TMI”, women all over Virginia were doing the same!

A few folks were critical, calling me “catty,” “bitchy,” and “overly emotional” (is it coincidence that these are all insults frequently used to delegitimize women’s opinions? Probably not); others said that I was “playing into” the idea that menstruation is “icky.” With that I greatly disagree. I’m not ashamed of my body, or the way in which it functions. I think that menstruation is an amazing thing, and I believe that others who posted openly and honestly about their bodies did so without hesitation, without shame. I believe that this was intrinsic to why Project TMI is such a hit – it is a way to fight back against legislators who were attempting to shame us, who were attempting to tell us not to worry our pretty little heads, because they were there to take care of things for us.

So, despite some critiques, most were hugely supportive. It spread like wildfire. Last I heard, there are efforts to do the same in Arizona and Texas and now in Kansas as well. And I think that it SHOULD continue. In this time of desperation, where it has become blindingly apparent that our government doesn’t give a damn about female-bodied people, as well as other historically-marginalized peoples, I think that a touch of humor was sorely needed. People are hanging onto it as a shred of humanity, as a way to call out to our legislators, to demand accountability. These legislators have no problem playing doctor in the GA – so why not have some follow through, and play doctor to your constituents? Because that’s who these people are that are posting these items. We are not mere “protestors”. We can’t be dismissed as “humorless feminists” (because, let’s face it, this is utterly hilarious).

We are constituents. We are the people who are being represented by these legislators. Legislators like Dave Albo, for instance, who voted “yes” on HB462. In a disgusting display of public misogyny disguised as a (pathetic) attempt at humor, Delegate Albo felt it necessary to stand on the House floor and tell an utterly inappropriate story about how his wife wouldn’t have sex with him because of it – but he couldn’t even bring himself to say the word “vagina!” Instead, he used the sanitized “trans-v this, trans-v that.” Because apparently, when it comes to vaginas, it is always necessary to retreat to adolescent baby-talk. Legislators need to know that if they can’t bring themselves to say the word “vagina,” they probably shouldn’t be legislating them.

This is a way to show our legislators that misogyny isn’t funny. But rather, that anything they can do? Feminists can do it better.

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.