The Fem Spot

Teen pregnancy – oh, the glamour!

Posted in Uncategorized by femspotter on June 2, 2011

June 3, 2011

I am excited to announce the launch of “Babies Having Babies: Bun in the Media” over at Xhibit P. I was asked to write a piece for this edition of pop in perspective. I also did a video interview. Check ’em out and make sure to comment and forward to your friends. Thanks!

Click Here to Read “The Glamour of Teen Pregnancy” by Me

Click Here to Watch My Video Interview

Bargaining with abortion

Posted in Politics by femspotter on March 20, 2010

March 20, 2010

In its 11th-hour, the health care bill is still in need of support from approximately 12 holdout Representatives, even after Dennis Kucinich’s recent high profile flip from “no” to “yes.” That has House Democratic leaders scrambling, reports The New York Times.

It was not immediately clear if the bill could win approval without some concessions to Democrats seeking tighter abortion restrictions.

In similar late-hour wrangling in November, Representative Bart Stupak, Democrat of Michigan, succeeded in winning approval of tight limits on insurance coverage of abortions in the House health care bill.

Mr. Stupak has said he would oppose the current measure without similar limits. Other Democratic opponents of abortion have said they are satisfied with the language in the Senate bill that bans the use of federal money to pay for coverage of the procedure, and they have pledged support for the package, expected to come to a decisive vote in the House on Sunday.

Mr. Stupak introduced a resolution on Friday that would add tougher abortion restrictions to the bill after it is approved but before it is sent to the president — a technique typically used to make minor or technical changes with the consent of both chambers, an unlikely prospect.

‘We don’t want another vote on abortion,’ said Representative Diana DeGette, Democrat of Colorado and a champion of abortion rights, as she left a meeting Friday evening in the office of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. ‘We are not going to vote for a bill that restricts women’s right to choose beyond current law.’

I find that as a liberal and a feminist – not a Liberal Feminist, per se, I am torn: I want to see this hopeful yet insufficient stab at health care “reform” succeed, but I am not willing to sacrifice the already meager rights that women exercise in exchange for similarly meager reform. As the article points out, federal money will not be used to cover abortion procedures under this bill. What more – or less – do these opposing Democrats want? Do they want to overturn Roe v. Wade, the historic “do with your body what you will” compromise that we all should be able to live with?

Up until now, I have avoided writing about health care reform because it seemed unlikely and because it didn’t strictly relate to my feminism. It is my belief that had this country elected Hillary Clinton to our highest office, she would have successfully banged the shit out of health care reform by now: no white glove summits coddling Republican misers and certainly no talk of making abortion the pigeon for her bill. But President Barack Obama has her safely out of sight and mind, tucked away in Moscow discussing diplomacy with Israel, where she can’t reach out and smack Stupak upside the head. Clinton is, after all, one of the most poised supporters of reproductive health rights working in the United States government today. So, were she installed in the Presidency, I probably would not have weighed in either.

But as a liberal – and one a stone’s throw away from embracing socialism, I have been ruminating about health care without specific regard to feminist issues like abortion or breast cancer, etc. I have thought about the Unconstitutional and unfair nature of our capitalist, for-profit health care industry and how it reflects our capitalist legal system wherein the rich get bigger and better services than the poor. And in these two systems, there’s money to be made at every turn.

Traditional moms and dads don’t want their sons to grow up to be doctors or lawyers, or their daughters to marry said doctors and lawyers, for the greater good; they want them to grow up to become doctors and lawyers because, in this country, that’s where there’s honorable money to be made – and by “honorable” I refer to money for service rather than money for little to no contribution to American Constitutional ideals. These moms and dads love to brag about Johnny Jr. and his impressive degrees from Harvard and Yale…oh, and by the way he saved a life today. It makes sense in America that if you educate yourself and work hard, you make money. That’s capitalism: the American dream. Of course, now mom and dad can also brag that Johnny Jr. is a pharmaceutical sales representative or insurance executive, because there’s “McMansion” money to be made there too.

The problem with capitalism is that it is not self-corrective. The American dream, once attainable by a strong middle class, has become perverted to the point where it is no longer readily attainable. Less and less, people are able to earn enough money to own their own homes and support their families without government intervention. Seen an ad for a multimillion-dollar home lately? The $20 million mansion has become the new American dream. Who needs it? Nobody. But there’s nothing in our capitalist system that corrects or reverses this economic flow, which pushes all the money in one direction: up. Capitalists believe that people charitably give their wealth proportionally, stimulating the economy from the bottom up, and that the system will work because of human compassion. Socialists know that people do not naturally want to share with each other; that’s why they build in sharing through centralized health care, etc. If you’re in the top 1% of the American population, you can afford great doctors to treat you when you’re sick and great lawyers to defend you when you’re accused of crimes. There are none to few “wealthy” people on death row. And I’d be willing to bet that there are no wealthy women contacting women’s welfare groups for abortion funding either.

When did our Constitutional rights to “general welfare” and “liberty,” i.e. health care and justice, get eroded away to the point where only the wealthy are entitled to them?

Health care reform measures are now in play to correct this Constitutional “welfare” discrepancy, but they have many conservatives crying “Socialism.” Gasp! “We can’t be socialists here. This is the United States of America, land of the pursuit of happiness.” Of course, that pursuit is short-lived when you can’t get chemo treatment or when you spend the first 18 years of your life as an unwanted child schlepping around in our child welfare system.

Health care becomes a feminist issue when abortion and mammograms – to name a couple of women’s services – become bargaining chips toward the long overdue, liberal end: medical coverage for all Americans. In November, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended that women in their 40s should no longer get annual mammograms to screen for breast cancer, despite the rising rates of breast cancer in the U.S.: the current statistics are that 1. just under one in eight American women (12%) will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime and 2. that the 39 million mammograms that occur each year in the U.S. cost the health care system $5 billion. Are those one in eight female lives enough justification for money that the war in Iraq surpasses in expense on a monthly basis? Mammography is highly controversial, with some arguing its benefits and others its harms. But it is a controversial issue that belongs mainly to women – who rally and march at countless fund-raising events for breast cancer research each year – and should not be evaluated strictly on a cost basis, which the task force said was not a consideration. Somebody calculated and reported the cost, however. Hmmm… Whatever you do, don’t think about the elephant in the room. The proposed health care bill will extend coverage to 32 million people at a cost of $940 billion over 10 years. At $50 billion (5.3% of the $940 billion), mammography might be poised to take a hit for the good of the many.

And if Stupak gets his way, reproductive rights will also take a hit. In 2009, Stupak introduced a successful amendment to the House bill, which restricts women who receive government-subsidized health insurance from choosing health plans that cover abortions – according to the National Abortion Federation, roughly two thirds of health insurance providers offer some kind of coverage for abortion procedures. In other words, he threw the bill into a morality crucible. No longer was the issue about women’s health, the issue became about restricting women’s choices on the basis of the opposition to abortion’s morality. This amendment reduced the bill to a coin on a string: We’ll give you money for health care if you don’t actually try and obtain the health care you need. Might this influence health insurance providers to stop covering abortions so women will elect their coverage with government subsidies? Stupak wants this clause put back in the bill owing to what he calls his strong Catholic faith.

The only reason I’m listening to Stupak is because he has a very big microphone in front of him, put there by the voters of Michigan. At the end of the day, I don’t believe that Stupak or any man should get a say in whether or not abortion is legal or afforded by tax dollars. It’s not their issue; it’s ours, women – whether we’re for or against legal abortion! We should discuss and legislate. Male legislators should shut the fuck up about it because they’ll never have need or want for abortion! (Similarly, I am completely silent about penile enhancement procedures and vasectomies.)

I can understand not wanting your tax dollars to go to something you’re morally opposed to; but hey, sack up – my tax dollars support the “war on terror” and I’m morally opposed to that! Bottom line: Stupak, this is not up to you and your penis. Abortion is an issue for womb-bearers only, unless said womb-bearers are in loving, committed relationships with men and seek male approval on an individual basis.

You want to bring Catholicism into this? That’s Unconstitutional, according to Thomas Jefferson’s interpretation of the First Amendment, but I’ll go along. According to The New York Times, “a group of nuns has once again exposed the long-running rift between liberal and conservative theology in the Catholic Church.” Progressive Catholics, including a group of nuns, have said that they would support the Senate bill while the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has said that it would oppose it. Nuns win in my book, not because I agree with their stance, but because…they’re women! Though it’s doubtful that these nuns will ever take advantage of abortions, they believe that the bill does not make abortion more widely available than it already is. (Shucks!) Regarding the 59,000 nuns who maintain their anti-abortion stance yet support the bill, Stupak told Fox, “With all due respect to the nuns, when I deal or am working on right-to-life issues, we don’t call on the nuns.” Instead, he turns “to leading bishops, Focus on the Family, and The National Right to Life Committee.” That’s right, you misogynist, self-important windbag: ignore the women and their views…on this women’s issue!

Interested in hearing Stupak duke it out with Kentucky Democrat John Yarmuth – who notes that, under Stupak’s amendment, women would have “to plan for an unplanned event” – on “Hardball?”

Blah, blah, blah… Rachel Maddow and (female) guest are much more articulate, not to mention relevant.

This bill doesn’t satisfy me on liberal or feminist planes, but it’s a step in the right direction politically. When it comes to abortion, however, the bombast coming from male politicians needs to cease. Men, this is not your decision to make. You do not get to control what we do with our bodies for the sake of our health and the sake of our happiness. It is yes! Unconstitutional for you to think you can strip away our rights to life and pursuing happiness at the hands of abortion…or mammography or any other women’s health service you deem inconsequential. You can decide you’re the experts and tell us which brand of tampons to wear, but don’t expect us to listen. And if you take away legal abortions, women will go back to bleeding to death for our rights. Stupak, you want to threaten Nancy Pelosi with your 40 plus dissenting votes? We threaten you with dead pregnant women and their similarly dead unborn.

Bea Arthur bows out

Posted in Film and Television by femspotter on May 8, 2009
May 8, 2009
Bea Arthur...very tall, very funny

Bea Arthur...very tall, very funny

Maude Findlay was 47 years old and pregnant. What to do? Bring an unwanted baby into the home of two “over the hill” misfits in an unstable marriage? Disrupt her life – not to mention risk it – for almost a year and then give the baby away to mythically perfect adoptive parents? Abort the pregnancy?

This must have been a tough decision for Maude. But it was really a choice for Bea Arthur who, in playing Maude on Maude in 1972 – before the monumental Roe v. Wade decision of 1973, two months later – became the first actress to portray a lead character undergoing an abortion in television history.

However did Arthur reconcile her decision to play the liberal-minded, outspoken housewife who befriends homosexuals, supports the civil rights movement and advocates legal abortion? And Maude was the f-word too: f- f- f- feminist! Was that even allowed in 1972? Ms. Magazine was less than a year old and the National Organization for Women (NOW) was founded a mere five years before that. And then came Maude: mouthing off to her husband, harnassing her own reproductive rights, and taking a part-time job despite her hubby’s antiquated protests.

Last week, I read that Arthur (5/13/1922 – 4/25/2009) had died. I cried. I feel a tremendous amount of gratitude for all women who – however subtly – have chiseled away at the myths, the stereotypes and the expectations that make it difficult for other-than-standard beauties to thrive in this superficial world of ours. Standing 5 feet, 9 inches tall on bare feet and bellowing sarcasm with a distinctively low, husky voice, Arthur broke the mold. How? Perhaps, by simply not being afraid of it: “I can’t stay home waiting for something different,” she said once. “I think it’s a total waste of energy worrying about typecasting.”

After a semi-successful career in theatre, the actress broke into television with a memorable performance on All in the Family, from which Maude spun off. It was a picaresque show, really, because every good thing Maude wanted to do with the best of intentions always went wrong. But she was likable enough for most with her big heart and contrarily acerbic wit.

And later, in 1985, there came The Golden Girls: a show about four middle-aged to senior women living it up together in sunny Miami, Florida. As Dorothy Zbornak, Arthur wasn’t nearly as socially clumsy as Maude had been; but Zbornak was the butt of everybody’s jokes about being unattractive and sexless over the age of 50. The show won the Emmy for “Best Comedy Series” twice, in 1986 and 1987, and garnered each of the four women Emmy’s for their individual performances.

Arthur became famous for her deadpan sarcasm with lines like: You’ll have to excuse my mother. She suffered a slight stroke a few years ago which rendered her totally annoying…and…Well, I guess after a hard night of pillaging and raping, a Viking would want a little something to go with his cocoa.

I loved The Golden Girls. It gave me something to look forward to – namely fun and friendship…and cheesecake – in those years after my youth has faded and – as Hollywood has always envisioned it for me – my life is over. Here were four women who looked after themselves and each other. Men were accessories, often present for the sake of “war between the sexes” comic spectacle. Men were always disposable; until, as television luck would have it, Dorothy married Blanche’s (Rue McClanahan) uncle Lucas, played by Leslie Nielsen. The show fell apart when Dorothy left and was canceled the following season.

Dorothy was difficult to love for some, as Maude had been before her. I found her sarcasm funny, but when I wrote to my mother about Arthur’s death she couldn’t commiserate: “I found it difficult to watch her,” my mother wrote. “Not because of the issues but because she was so loud (coarse, rude) about them. It is possible that loud is necessary to get attention for these issues about which I was already on board. Too close for comfort, maybe.”

What’s of particular interest to me is that, perhaps like many, I had always assumed that the coarseness of Arthur’s characters – the stuff of my mother’s discomfort – went part and parcel with her “real” self. But apparently, the real Bea Arthur wasn’t loud or rude in private life. And remarkably – though they reportedly consumed more than 100 of them during the taping of The Golden Girls over seven seasons – Arthur hated cheesecake! So she opened her mouth AND she stuffed her face for show business – and feminism!

In an Entertainment Weekly tribute, McClanahan remembered Arthur’s softer side:

As a friend she was giving and loving to me. She was a very close, quiet, rather timid person, very gentle. I saw someone say something once that they didn’t mean to be a cutting remark, but it hit her wrong, and she immediately burst into tears. That was not seen very often, but those emotions were right under the surface…That height…and that deep voice, and that manner she was able to summon up, made people think she would be difficult. But she wasn’t.

Another costar Betty White called Arthur “a big part of my life,” while writer-producer Mitchell Hurwitz added, “I really loved her…Her warmth wasn’t superficial – it was genuine and bespoke true compassion. And it was this same inner sweetness that made her comedy so real and touching, and made her such an inspiration,” in another EW article.

Just as she was sweeter than her television incarnations, Arthur was the unlikely “women’s libber” too. She was married to stage director Gene Saks for 28 years (1950-1978) and the couple adopted two sons. Arthur maintained during her Maude era that “I’ve never felt that being a wife and mother isn’t enough,” according to this source.

Later on after their divorce, Arthur began to question the meaning of female identity as juxtaposed with marriage: “I don’t think I ever truly believed in marriage anyway,” she told an interviewer in 1985. “I guess marriage means that you’re a woman and not a…person.”

Recalled McClanahan:

I think, in both of those shows, we really did change the perception of a woman’s role. I don’t think anybody thought that it was okay to be a feminist back when she was doing Maude. And I’m sure that [show] released a lot of inhibitions. I know The Golden Girls certainly did because I’ve got fan mail saying “Thank you for allowing me to act and dress like I feel.” Because in those days, when you were over 50, you were supposed to be wearing certain types of clothes and behaving a certain way. And women were writing saying “Thank you, thank you, thank you for the freedom, for the release, for the permission.” And I’m sure Bea got that same kind of fan mail, too.

What is okay behavior for a married woman vs. a single gal? How much money am I supposed to make? Who am I really? These are ongoing discussions I hold with myself – not to mention in this forum. What I appreciate most about Bea Arthur is that she brought these issues to life as a fearless performer of women on the fringe of social acceptance: the sassy yet earnest housewife of an archaic thinker and the sarcastic yet intelligent over-50 divorcee who’s continually disappointed in life. She made these women likable to me – thus, I’m not afraid to turn out unloved by others. I can love me.

Bea Arthur on Broadway - Just Between Friends

Bea Arthur on Broadway - Just Between Friends

The real Bea Arthur always wanted to sing on the stage, despite the mediocrity of her singing voice. Hers was a variety show with music and comedy, the kind only she could deliver. “I wanted to see if I had the guts to just come and be myself,” she told the audience at one performance of her one woman Broadway show Just Between Friends in December, 2001.

She was 79 years old and had finally reached the pinnacle of her career. I’m 29 and nowhere near that spot. Arthur would probably tell me that there’s no rush.

I was glad to read that today’s funny women of television know how much they’ve benefitted from Arthur playing Maude with integrity. Tina Fey told Entertainment Weekly in an interview, “You could argue that every strong female comedy character, from Murphy Brown to Roseanne to Amy Poehler rapping at nine months pregnant on (Saturday Night Live), is in some way indebted to Maude and to Bea Arthur. Ms. Arthur sandwiched both sides of Three’s Company – Maude was before, and Golden Girls was after – and made TV a little safer for women.”

But, Tina, with topics like abortion to play out, she made the world safer for real women too!

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