The Fem Spot

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.

Marriage, shmarriage… (Carrie Prejean vs. Perez Hilton)

Posted in Marriage, Pop Culture, queer theory by femspotter on April 23, 2009

April 23, 2009

Legal same-sex marriage has come to fruition in some of our United States. Not because everybody believes that all people should be allowed to enter into a marriage contract with their person of choice and receive equal rights and privileges under the law alongside heterosexuals, but because some people do. And gay rights activists should be proud of their achievement, which seems to be growing and spreading into the most unexpected places. To recap: same-sex marriage is currently legal in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and will soon be legal in Iowa (April 27, 2009) and Vermont (September 1, 2009).

Connecticut? The stingy, puritanical state with the highest average rate of per capita income (as of 2007, according to the United States Commerce Department) and the low average rate of pre-tax income charitable giving (1.3 percent as of 2005 according to Iowa? The seemingly conservative state nestled snugly in the Bible Belt?

Of course, I’m generalizing, which is unfair. While some people who live in these states may be opposed to same-sex marriage, others are not…though neither belief can be said to define the whole state in question. What this legality means for American homosexuals is that they will soon be able to live in legal matrimony in four states where heterosexuals must – by law – tolerate them. This is progress and it is good.

Unfortunately – even though he might have good intentions – the celebrity gossip blabbermouth known as Perez Hilton has set this progress back a bit by refusing to exercise tolerance for those with a different perspective. Apparently it’s all or nothing with him. As a judge at the 2009 Miss USA Pageant on April 19, Hilton posed a question regarding same-sex marriage to contestant Carrie Prejean, Miss California. Here’s her response:

Well I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one or the other. Um, we live in a land that you can choose same sex marriage or opposite marriage and, you know what, in my country and in, in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there. But that’s how I was raised and that’s how I think that it should be between a man and a woman.

Needless to say, out-and-proud Hilton was not pleased with her response and responded by calling her a “dumb bitch” on his blog the following day. He later “apologized” for his attack saying that he was “just soooo angry, hurt, (and) frustrated by her answer.” He took down his initial post but has left this reminder of its sting:

Carrie Prejean, according to Perez Hilton

Carrie Prejean, according to Perez Hilton

See, to me, that illustration is much more offensive than her remarks at the pageant. (I think that image implies that she may have gotten to the top of the pageant circuit by “alternative means.”) Let me explain how her remarks don’t justify the shock and disdain they were greeted by. For starters, it seems to me that Prejean championed the equal rights of homosexuals saying, “I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one or the other,” referring to the choice of marrying a person of either one’s own or opposite sex. Furthermore, her personal belief that the word “marriage” is applicable to heterosexual unions ONLY is the majority viewpoint in this country, though it doesn’t mean that most Americans (Prejean included) advocate hatred. According to one recent poll, while 60 percent of the country is in favor of some kind of legal union between homosexuals, only one third of Americans support same-sex marriage. Even our liberal political pantheon (the Clintons, the Obamas, the Bidens, etc.) don’t advocate same-sex “marriage.” But Miss California: she’s the real villain? From where she stands, she has no ability to impact laws and amendments to the Constitution, crown or no crown.

This issue is truly semantic. As a non-Christian, should I transition the label of my union from “marriage” to “civil union” because I’m not religious, even though I am married to someone of the opposite sex? Marriage, shmarriage… It doesn’t matter to me what you call it; I want everybody to have the right to do it. I feel the same way about polygamy. As long as my tax dollars aren’t supporting the wives and children that a polygamous husband chooses to ignore financially – and as long as there’s no abuse involved, sexual or otherwise – why can’t polygamists have the “marriage” they want?

It seems that Hilton – who is himself the beneficiary of the free speech amendment as a blogger who often has less than eloquent things to say about people in the public eye – is not in favor of free speech for people who don’t share his opinions.

Or perhaps this whole thing is just a publicity stunt?

If that’s the case, and nobody’s feelings are really hurt, then this incident is upsetting me on several levels. In the first place, it’s taking attention from “real” news that’s more important: the state of the economy, women’s rights in the Middle East – and everywhere, new advances in the fields of science and technology, etc. The fact that CNN has devoted so much of its air time to this fiasco – booking Hilton on Larry King Live, for one thing – demonstrates once again the way this news network has devolved to tabloid journalism. (Good thing I don’t work for CNN, or it might have fired me for that declaration just like it did Chez Pazienza! Check out his blog. It’s definitely a better click than the one you might make to Hilton’s blog.) Hopefully this story will get lost in the haze of what CNN considers to be newsworthy: “Octomom” and her antics, tracking the outcome of reality television competitions, and the comings and goings of Sarah Palin and her daughter’s ex-fiance, to name a few of its hot topics.

But what REALLY bugs me about this is the fact that it forces me – a feminist blogger – to defend a beauty queen: a woman participating in a competition that reduces her to the status of an inanimate object. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not that kind of feminist. If Prejean is happy doing what she is, then I believe she should enjoy herself and I’m sorry that expressing her personal opinion may have cost her first place in the Miss USA Pageant. I’m the kind of feminist who thinks women should do whatever makes them happy without harming others: from raising kids to performing in porn movies to running businesses to running for President… But Prejean is not the person we should be listening to when we want to have a serious discussion about issues like same-sex marriage. She’s not qualified to make decisions about that for the mindless idiots who might hear her answer and agree with it because she’s very pretty! That spot should be reserved for somebody who has considered both sides of the argument and can render a “fair” decision, or at least for somebody who is prepared to answer the question with clarity. In a beauty pageant, the questions are a surprise.

Come to think of it, I don’t think Hilton should be the one to represent the gay community either. He’s definitely not qualified. And he’s made it his mission to “out” suspected homosexuals claiming that it’s their duty to be out and proud the way he is. There’s such a thing as personal privacy, Hilton. You’re not calling these alleged “closeted homosexuals” on their hypocrisy; you’re robbing them of their privacy. If I were a member of this community, I would resent the fact that Hilton has positioned himself as a gay crusader of sorts and despotically seized the spotlight as a representative of my cause. For me, this would be like waking up one otherwise average day to find out that I am being represented – as a feminist – by Ann Coulter. I don’t agree with anything she stands for – just the fact that she stands tall in her beliefs, so I would feel horrible if hers was the standard feminism by which mine was judged.

I aspire to live in a time and place where everybody can be who they are without criticism for it, and they don’t require the attention of others to validate their sameness or contrarily their uniqueness: where – as Gore Vidal envisioned – we will not be labeled as “homosexual” or “heterosexual” people for the homosexual or heterosexual acts we do.

Somebody whose take on same-sex marriage I would have liked to have heard perished on April 12 at the age of 58. Queer Theory “founder” Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick – who died from breast cancer (a disease that I’m convinced would cease to be the rampant epidemic that it is if it affected more men) – was apparently a straight girl like me, but one who posed interesting ideas about Jane Austen and masturbation, as well as insightful observations about the male characters in the works of Henry James, and more. Sedgwick thought that it is dismissive to read only heterosexual intent in the established literary canon, and reductive to assign the label “homosexual” to that same body of work. Instead, consider sexuality as if it were something elastic and something that has nothing to do with the words society uses to define it. The same thing can be said for gender: it doesn’t exist except for what we – as a collective society – say it means (masculine means strong/aggressive, feminine means weak/passive etc.). Sedgwick – having considered all of the relative social issues – is somebody I’d have liked to hear discussing gay rights issues, rather than the bland and beautiful Prejean or the offensive and rigid Hilton.

Perhaps Boy George said it best: There’s this illusion that homosexuals have sex and heterosexuals fall in love.  That’s completely untrue.  Everybody wants to be loved.

…even Prejean with her unattractive perspective. …even Hilton with his vulgar scribbles.

Farewell to The L Word: “this is the way that we live”

Posted in Feminist Theory, Film and Television, Pop Culture, queer theory, Sexuality by femspotter on March 12, 2009

March 12, 2009

I have many topics to rant about these days (misogyny in the Watchmen movie, the debate over castration of sex offenders in Europe, Campbell Brown’s ludicrous claim that her opinion-based “news” broadcast on CNN contains neither bias nor bull, the Rihanna scandal, etc.). Isn’t it a lovely time to be a woman! (It’s raining out and I’m entitled to be grumpy!)

After last Sunday’s broadcast of the final episode of The L Word, it got less lovely, I’m afraid.

The show’s creators claim to be astonished that so many straight women have feverishly tuned in to watch the lives of Los Angeles lesbians unfold over the past six seasons. Why? What other television programs do we have that are devoted entirely (and seriously) to women? Other shows about women often depict lives that revolve around men. Not The L Word.

True: the show does have its schmaltzy moments. It’s gone out with a bang: the “Who Killed Jenny Schecter?” bang. But it has also given us a lot to chew on over the years when it comes to the difficult challenges that face all (or many) women, gay and straight. I’d like to pause for a moment of silence in memoriam, and then tell you what this heterosexual woman learned from The L Word, and why she will miss it.


The L Word gained notoriety early on rather than being swept under the rug owing to some pretty impressive star power. Many actors worry that “playing gay” will land them in typecasting hell. But once the beautiful – and surprisingly soft spoken despite the often harsh tones employed by her character – Jennifer Beals signed on to play Yale-educated, interracial art connoisseur Bette Porter, all of the rest of the chips fell into place. Beals – perhaps best known for the movie Flashdance (1983) – brought poise and intelligence to this keystone role. I love that the creators adapted some of her most interesting attributes for the character: Beals is a Yale graduate with interracial heritage.

Before long, actresses like Margot Kidder (iconic for her role as scrappy reporter Lois Lane in the Superman films) and Kelly Lynch – and even cultural heroines like Gloria Steinem – were making cameo appearances on the show. And by the end of its six seasons, controversial, full-figured  comedy actress Cybill Shepherd, out and proud lesbian funny lady Jane Lynch, and Oscar winner Marlee Matlin (playing the first deaf lesbian romantically involved with a hearing lesbian in television history) were regulars. Throughout, Bette, Tina, Shane, Alice, Tasha, Max, Helena and Jenny would meet and eat at The Planet, owned by Kit (Pam Grier – renowned tour de force black American actress). (If any of those descriptions sound insulting, I assure you that they are all reasons to be proud in my book!)

According to its before-the-finale special, The L Word challenged many of the stereotypes heterosexuals believe about lesbians: they hate men, they wear flannel shirts and Birkenstock sandals everyday, and they experience “lesbian bed death” the longer they sleep together. Because some of the sex scenes have been very explicit over the years, the show also lifted the veil over female same-sex sexuality. I confess that I often found the career and friendship exploits more enticing than the steamy love scenes, but it was definitely interesting to learn and understand the mechanics of a sexuality that I haven’t personally been privy to.

The L Word brought lesbians to a mainstream audience, and with “Les Girls” came some of the most important revelations for women in television history. I cried with Alice when her best friend Dana died from breast cancer. I looked with horror upon Dana’s amputated breast, clearly shown for all the world to see. We never get to look at breast cancer that way. We never get to see that butchery to women’s bodies.

Similarly, it’s also uncommon to spend time with a female character who identifies as a male and works toward transitioning from one sex to the other. Bravo to actress Daniela Sea (Moira/Max) for portraying this difficult life alteration with dignity and honesty. I cried for him every time he had to look in the mirror and see himself wearing a “costume,” the female body he was born with.

Kudos to the show for bringing smart alec Alice into our lives. I related to her desire to “figure out” the world we live in by creating “The (Sexual Connection) Chart,” forcing the issues, pushing people’s buttons and speaking her mind. Come to think of it, I need to get myself one of those “I Love Alice” tee shirts from the show’s online store so I can wear it with pride: gay pride and feminist pride. (That’s right! I’m a straight woman with lesbian pride.)

I cried with Bette and Tina when they took their daughter Angie to the hospital with a high fever and the receptionist demanded that they decide which parent would represent Angie because the receptionist couldn’t comprehend one child having two mommies. I sympathised with Jenny when she sliced open her skin on the bathroom floor (as she’s done since childhood) and Shane found and comforted her. I cheered for Kit when she and Helena bought back The Planet and threw that witch Dawn Denbo out on her butt! I’m cheering now even though I know it’s time to say “goodbye.”

But the most important moment I experienced while pondering The L Word was to finally understand the politics behind the lesbian identity. It used to bother me when people (children) would tease me for my feminist ideals saying, “You must be a lesbian!” Why must I be? Not all lesbians are feminists and not all feminists are lesbians.

In late 2007, while writing an MA English paper on warrior sex and gender in an epic poem, I realized that I actually am a lesbian: I am a metaphorical lesbian. It dawned on me that, just as lesbians fight to be taken seriously as individuals in a world that applauds beauty and simple-mindedness in women and validates strength only in women who stand behind their men, I too fight to be taken seriously as a woman: just me, not me in relation to my husband or father, not me in relation to femininity. I refuse to model myself after a feminine ideal that isn’t natural for me. As a queer theorist, I reject the notion that sex and gender must always go hand in hand.

I wrote:

The “metaphorical lesbian” has been established, first by Bonnie Zimmerman in her essay “Lesbians Like This and That: Some Notes on Lesbian Criticism for the Nineties,” and then again by Elizabeth LeBlanc in her essay “The Metaphorical Lesbian: Edna Pontellier in The Awakening.” There is a political component to lesbianism that hasn’t always existed for gays. Historically, gay sex has been acceptable for free men, so long as they were in the active role of penetrator. This active role is associated with masculinity, while passivity is associated with femininity. According to Freud, it “is clear that in Greece, where the most masculine men were numbered among the inverts, what excited a man’s love was not the masculine character of a boy, but his physical resemblance to a woman as well as his feminine mental qualities – his shyness, his modesty and his need for instruction and assistance” (10). Kirk Ormand refers to some women of Ovid’s poetry as “impossible lesbians” because, with two female and thus passive participants, sexuality is at best limited and at worst unachievable. Lesbians therefore have something to prove: they must proclaim their active and yes, masculine, nature, and furthermore, they must convince the world that this nature is acceptable or even “normal.” “Because ancient Rome perceived sex as essentially predicated on an asymmetry of power, one of the two parties must be active and, if a woman, therefore monstrous” (Ormand 85). Lesbianism, as a political force, is thus parallel to feminism because both movements seek to achieve acceptance for socially unacceptable women: the active/masculine woman or metaphorical lesbian.

I never could think about lesbians without stereotypes until I got hooked on The L Word, and thus I certainly could not think about myself in relation to them. If someone accused me of being a lesbian today, I’d tell them, “Yes, I am.” Like “political lesbians,” I refuse to be defined by my relationship to men: daughter, wife, etc. I refuse to be compared to the feminine ideal and found lacking. I am a masculine woman. I wear dresses and boots. I’m pretty and tough. I’m not afraid to stand up for people and animals who can’t stand up for themselves…just like Alice!

I’ll miss the girls. I really liked them all…except for Jenny…but everybody is missing her these days anyway.

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