Today, more than 20 years after Hill first came on the national stage, we better understand that gender justice is not only about women's rights in opposition to men and their privilege—it encompasses the full spectrum of gender and sexuality.
As part of the new Anita Hill Lecture Series, I recently gave a lecture in which I explored how feminism and gender justice relate to the notion of sexual rights, and why this relationship is important. Today, more than 20 years after Hill first came on the national stage, we have a clearer understanding that gender justice is not only about women’s rights in opposition to men and their privilege. Gender justice is increasingly understood to encompass the full spectrum of gender and sexuality, as different people experience these. We now regularly see the rights and needs of gay men, lesbian women, and trans people as part of a feminist analysis. And we talk more and more about how traditional notions of masculinity are harmful to men as well as women. Sexual rights is rooted in the idea that sexuality needs protection and space in the world, which expands the gender justice conversation beyond where it was in 1991.
Like many individuals, I was riveted by the coverage of the Anita Hill hearings, both because Hill profoundly affected my thinking on gender, race, and sexuality at a time when I was grappling with feminism and what it meant in my life and career, and because I admired that she used her courage and voice at great personal risk to herself. With many women being attacked for pushing the envelope on issues of gender justice, it’s important to remember that advocacy, at its core, is about bravery.
In my advocacy on issues of gender-based violence, I have always worked to balance a recognition of the pain and trauma of sexual violence with creating the space for survivors to own their sexuality as they seek economic opportunity and find their own voice. For me, gender justice is an equation of gender, sex, money, and rights, and how these facets intersect with each other. It made sense to examine this in the context of sexual violence, because power dynamics are so clearly implicated in this issue, as they were around workplace sexual harassment when Hill first spoke out.
It’s increasingly important to expand ideas of women’s rights to include larger issues of gender, gender identity, and sexuality, for a number of reasons. First, it’s crucial to recognize that the rights of women are not gained in isolation, and to build on the history in feminism of working toward understanding the intersections of gender, race, and class.
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Second, we are understanding more and more that men too have gendered experiences, and these experiences affect their human rights, as well as the rights of women. Oppressive myths around race and masculinity have resulted in discrimination against African-American and Latino men in the criminal justice system.
Third, activism around gender identity and the rights of transgender people has highlighted crucial aspect of rights around gender and how we perceive and experience it, questioning what we mean by the term “gender” at all.
Fourth, the long-bubbling theory of sexual rights—meaning our human rights as they relate to all aspects of our sexuality, from sexual orientation to sexual violence to the rights of all of us to assert and own our sexuality—brings another dimension to questions of gender justice.
Finally, expanding on traditional conventions of women’s rights means we take to heart the understanding that so much of the subjugation of women and construction of gender roles is rooted in women’s real or perceived sexual power and in sexually related behavior. This is important because it allows us to more explicitly identify and name the problems we seek to solve. Expanded views of gender justice allow us to broaden our collective world view and connect as people who strive to achieve human rights for all. In the context of sexual violence, this approach acknowledges that violence harms and is corrosive for all of us, not just women and girls.
Unfortunately, we still face challenges in that there is little agreement regarding how we solve these issues and create a world that values equality, dignity, and justice for each of us. This is particularly true in cases of sexual and gender-based violence. Current policy efforts focus on an idea that people, especially women, are inherently vulnerable or make bad individual decisions. We need to treat these issues as systemic problems and focus on root causes and collective action—asking questions around the societal, systemic, and policy factors that create the conditions we seek to change and insisting on money and funding for preventive, treatment, and cultural programs that work. This approach is important whether we are talking about sexual assault, sexual harassment in the workplace, or trafficking people. It has been much-discussed in the wake of the juvenile court trial in Steubenville. Ultimately, it is solutions based on collective power and change, and a positive role for government, that will address the deep-seated conditions that allow sexual violence to thrive. Hill brought much of this to light in 1991. This conversation is especially timely since Hill is currently the subject of a new documentary that brings her story and its legacy to new audiences. Looking back and building on her work shows us how far we’ve come, but also lights a path forward for the future.
Republicans voted to ratify their 2016 platform this week, codifying what many deem one of the most extreme platforms ever accepted by the party.
“Platforms are traditionally written by and for the party faithful and largely ignored by everyone else,” wrote theNew York Times‘ editorial board Monday. “But this year, the Republicans are putting out an agenda that demands notice.”
“It is as though, rather than trying to reconcile Mr. Trump’s heretical views with conservative orthodoxy, the writers of the platform simply opted to go with the most extreme version of every position,” it continued. “Tailored to Mr. Trump’s impulsive bluster, this document lays bare just how much the G.O.P. is driven by a regressive, extremist inner core.”
Tucked away in the 66-page document accepted by Republicans as their official guide to “the Party’s principles and policies” are countless resolutions that seem to back up the Times‘ assertion that the platform is “the most extreme” ever put forth by the party, including: rolling back marriage equality; declaring pornography a “public health crisis”; and codifying the Hyde Amendment to permanently block federal funding for abortion.
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Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the platform, which the Susan B. Anthony List deemed the “Most Pro-life Platform Ever” in a press release upon the GOP’s Monday vote at the convention. “The Republican platform has always been strong when it comes to protecting unborn children, their mothers, and the conscience rights of pro-life Americans,” said the organization’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, in a statement. “The platform ratified today takes that stand from good to great.”
Operation Rescue, an organization known for its radical tactics and links to violence, similarly declared the platform a “victory,” noting its inclusion of so-called personhood language, which could ban abortion and many forms of contraception. “We are celebrating today on the streets of Cleveland. We got everything we have asked for in the party platform,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, in a statement posted to the group’s website.
But what stands out most in the Republicans’ document is the series of falsehoods and myths relied upon to push their conservative agenda. Here are just a few of the most egregious pieces of misinformation about abortion to be found within the pages of the 2016 platform:
Myth #1: Planned Parenthood Profits From Fetal Tissue Donations
Featured in multiple sections of the Republican platform is the tired and repeatedly debunked claim that Planned Parenthood profits from fetal tissue donations. In the subsection on “protecting human life,” the platform says:
We oppose the use of public funds to perform or promote abortion or to fund organizations, like Planned Parenthood, so long as they provide or refer for elective abortions or sell fetal body parts rather than provide healthcare. We urge all states and Congress to make it a crime to acquire, transfer, or sell fetal tissues from elective abortions for research, and we call on Congress to enact a ban on any sale of fetal body parts. In the meantime, we call on Congress to ban the practice of misleading women on so-called fetal harvesting consent forms, a fact revealed by a 2015 investigation. We will not fund or subsidize healthcare that includes abortion coverage.
Later in the document, under a section titled “Preserving Medicare and Medicaid,” the platform again asserts that abortion providers are selling “the body parts of aborted children”—presumably again referring to the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood:
We respect the states’ authority and flexibility to exclude abortion providers from federal programs such as Medicaid and other healthcare and family planning programs so long as they continue to perform or refer for elective abortions or sell the body parts of aborted children.
The platform appears to reference the widely discredited videos produced by anti-choice organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP) as part of its smear campaign against Planned Parenthood. The videos were deceptively edited, as Rewire has extensively reported. CMP’s leader David Daleiden is currently under federal indictment for tampering with government documents in connection with obtaining the footage. Republicans have nonetheless steadfastly clung to the group’s claims in an effort to block access to reproductive health care.
Since CMP began releasing its videos last year, 13 state and three congressional inquiries into allegations based on the videos have turned up no evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of Planned Parenthood.
Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund—which has endorsed Hillary Clinton—called the Republicans’ inclusion of CMP’s allegation in their platform “despicable” in a statement to the Huffington Post. “This isn’t just an attack on Planned Parenthood health centers,” said Laguens. “It’s an attack on the millions of patients who rely on Planned Parenthood each year for basic health care. It’s an attack on the brave doctors and nurses who have been facing down violent rhetoric and threats just to provide people with cancer screenings, birth control, and well-woman exams.”
Myth #2: The Supreme Court Struck Down “Commonsense” Laws About “Basic Health and Safety” in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt
In the section focusing on the party’s opposition to abortion, the GOP’s platform also reaffirms their commitment to targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws. According to the platform:
We salute the many states that now protect women and girls through laws requiring informed consent, parental consent, waiting periods, and clinic regulation. We condemn the Supreme Court’s activist decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt striking down commonsense Texas laws providing for basic health and safety standards in abortion clinics.
The idea that TRAP laws, such as those struck down by the recent Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health, are solely for protecting women and keeping them safe is just as common among conservatives as it is false. However, as Rewireexplained when Paul Ryan agreed with a nearly identical claim last week about Texas’ clinic regulations, “the provisions of the law in question were not about keeping anybody safe”:
As Justice Stephen Breyer noted in the opinion declaring them unconstitutional, “When directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”
All the provisions actually did, according to Breyer on behalf of the Court majority, was put “a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion,” and “constitute an undue burden on abortion access.”
Myth #3: 20-Week Abortion Bans Are Justified By “Current Medical Research” Suggesting That Is When a Fetus Can Feel Pain
The platform went on to point to Republicans’ Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a piece of anti-choice legislation already passed in several states that, if approved in Congress, would create a federal ban on abortion after 20 weeks based on junk science claiming fetuses can feel pain at that point in pregnancy:
Over a dozen states have passed Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Acts prohibiting abortion after twenty weeks, the point at which current medical research shows that unborn babies can feel excruciating pain during abortions, and we call on Congress to enact the federal version.
Major medical groups and experts, however, agree that a fetus has not developed to the point where it can feel pain until the third trimester. According to a 2013 letter from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “A rigorous 2005 scientific review of evidence published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester,” which begins around the 28th week of pregnancy. A 2010 review of the scientific evidence on the issue conducted by the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists similarly found “that the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior” to 24 weeks’ gestation.
Doctors who testify otherwise often have a history of anti-choice activism. For example, a letter read aloud during a debate over West Virginia’s ultimately failed 20-week abortion ban was drafted by Dr. Byron Calhoun, who was caught lying about the number of abortion-related complications he saw in Charleston.
Myth #4: Abortion “Endangers the Health and Well-being of Women”
In an apparent effort to criticize the Affordable Care Act for promoting “the notion of abortion as healthcare,” the platform baselessly claimed that abortion “endangers the health and well-being” of those who receive care:
Through Obamacare, the current Administration has promoted the notion of abortion as healthcare. We, however, affirm the dignity of women by protecting the sanctity of human life. Numerous studies have shown that abortion endangers the health and well-being of women, and we stand firmly against it.
Scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that abortion is safe. Research shows that a first-trimester abortion carries less than 0.05 percent risk of major complications, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and “pose[s] virtually no long-term risk of problems such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or birth defect, and little or no risk of preterm or low-birth-weight deliveries.”
There is similarly no evidence to back up the GOP’s claim that abortion endangers the well-being of women. A 2008 study from the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion, an expansive analysis on current research regarding the issue, found that while those who have an abortion may experience a variety of feelings, “no evidence sufficient to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors.”
As is the case for many of the anti-abortion myths perpetuated within the platform, many of the so-called experts who claim there is a link between abortion and mental illness are discredited anti-choice activists.
Myth #5: Mifepristone, a Drug Used for Medical Abortions, Is “Dangerous”
Both anti-choice activists and conservative Republicans have been vocal opponents of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA’s) March update to the regulations for mifepristone, a drug also known as Mifeprex and RU-486 that is used in medication abortions. However, in this year’s platform, the GOP goes a step further to claim that both the drug and its general approval by the FDA are “dangerous”:
We believe the FDA’s approval of Mifeprex, a dangerous abortifacient formerly known as RU-486, threatens women’s health, as does the agency’s endorsement of over-the-counter sales of powerful contraceptives without a physician’s recommendation. We support cutting federal and state funding for entities that endanger women’s health by performing abortions in a manner inconsistent with federal or state law.
Studies, however, have overwhelmingly found mifepristone to be safe. In fact, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals says mifepristone “is safer than acetaminophen,” aspirin, and Viagra. When the FDA conducted a 2011 post-market study of those who have used the drug since it was approved by the agency, they found that more than 1.5 million women in the U.S. had used it to end a pregnancy, only 2,200 of whom had experienced an “adverse event” after.
In New York City, activists called attention to the role the union plays in preventing police accountability. The activists called for the firing a police officer who fatally shot 37-year-old Delrawn Small while off duty in a road rage incident on July 4.
Several activists demanding police accountability were arrested at a local police union building in New York City during a protest that began during Wednesday’s early morning hours.
Organized by the Black Youth Project 100 (BYP 100) NYC, the Million Hoodies Movement for Justice, and The Movement for Black Lives, the protest was held at the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association headquarters building in Lower Manhattan.
The action was part of the two-day #FreedomNow national call for justice for Black lives. The movement seeks to counter failed policing strategies and disparities in health, education, and housing across the United States.
Rahel Mekdim Teka, the organizing chair for BYP 100 NYC, said in a statement Wednesday that police are trying to manipulate conversations on protecting Black lives by leading the public to believe law enforcement officers are at risk.
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Police officers in Louisiana were recently given hate crime protections after the state’s Republican-held legislature passed the so-called Blue Lives Matter bill. Texas is primed to become the next state to give law enforcement officers hate crime protections, even as violence against police has plummeted in recent decades.
“They are not at risk. Police officers are the threat. Police do not keep us safe,” Teka said. “Police do not protect us. They are the danger that keeps Black people unsafe. We [must] divest from institutions that do not value us and instead invest in Black communities.”
In New York City, activists called attention to the role the union plays in preventing police accountability. The activists called for the firing of New York Police Department (NYPD) officer Wayne Isaacs, a three-year veteran of the NYPD who fatally shot 37-year-old Delrawn Small while off duty in a road rage incident on July 4.
Isaacs has been placed on “modified duty” and assigned a desk job while the office of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman investigates Small’s death. The NYPD announced that the officer had been stripped of his gun and shield, the New York Daily News reported.
Monica Dennis, a Black Lives Matter organizer, tweeted protesters’ demands, charging that the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association “only serves to protect violent officers.”
Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch issued a statement about the protests and arrests on the union’s Facebook page.
He called the protest “a display of misdirected and misinformed anger that should have been pointed at City Hall, not the police officers who were on hand to protect the demonstrators’ First Amendment rights.”
Lynch criticized protesters for entering the lobby and not dispersing when ordered. He asked local politicians to support police officers and to denounce violence against law enforcement.
The New York protest was among several similar actions across the country. In Washington D.C., protesters with BYP 100 DC and Black Lives Matter DC “occupied” the legislative office of the National Fraternal Order of Police, according to a notice on the BYP 100 website.
D.C. protesters wanted officers who supported their fight for justice and accountability to show solidarity by not paying their dues.
On Twitter, Mervyn Marcano, a communications strategist for the Movement for Black Lives, said the successful shutdown in D.C. had lasted more than six hours.
Clarise McCants, an organizer for BYP 100 DC, said in a statement that the FOP functioned like a college fraternity.
“Just like college frats that further rape culture by closing ranks to protect members who are sexual assailants, the FOP has proven that their primary commitment is to protect the worst of their members behind the ‘Blue Wall of Silence’—even in the most heinous of circumstances,” McCants said.