#FeministFriday No. 9

In the news this week, a lawmaker said something foolish. Shocking, right?

Many of you have probably heard by now, Idaho State Representative Vito Barbieri (R), thought that the way to a woman’s vagina was through her stomach. This isn’t a metaphor, he actually thought that.

This interesting understanding of the female anatomy came to light while Dr. Julie Madison was testifying against Barbieri’s proposed legislation to make it harder for women to get abortions.

Barbieri: Can this same [gynecological examination] then be done in a pregnancy? Swallowing a camera and helping the doctor determine what the situation is with the —

Madison: Mr. Chairman and Representative, uh, it cannot be done in pregnancy simply because when you swallow a pill, it would not end up in the vagina.

Barbieri: Fascinating.


Oh yes, it is incredibly fascinating. It is completely and utterly fascinating that despite having no logical idea of how a female body functions, this man — who sits on the board of a crisis pregnancy center, by the way — is trying to write laws in order to control the female body.

Lawmakers should not be able legislate a human body when they have no understanding of the human body.  

Sadly, Barbieri is far from the first politician to illustrate his complete lack of biological knowledge, or in many cases complete ignorance of the actual medical procedure or pharmaceutical they were attempting to ban.

For example, abortions.

In 2012, Todd Akin (R-MO) asserted that rape survivors don’t need access to legal abortion services because victims of “legitimate rape” can’t get pregnant because the female body “has ways of shutting that whole thing down” and Richard Mourdock (R-IN), stated that women who are impregnated through rape should not have access to legal abortions because their rape pregnancies are “a gift from God.”

In 2013, Ron Mendive (R-ID) compared abortions to prostitution, while Chuck Gatschenberger (R-MO) compared getting an abortion to buying a car. Joe Fischer (R-KY) tried to legally make abortions a form of domestic violence, and John Koster (R-WA) casually noted that he is opposed to legal abortion in cases of “the rape thing” because providing full reproductive rights to women who have become pregnant from rape would only serve to “put more violence on a woman’s body.”

As it happens in the real world, the biology of pregnancy is exactly the same for both consensual and non-consensual sex. The female body is not able to distinguish sperm that results from a sexual assault. Some women who become pregnant from rape want to carry the pregnancy to term, but others can’t imagine continuing their pregnancy — due to the emotional implications of the paternity (the fact that in many states a rapist can sue for parental rights and custody is horrifying), because of their individual financial situation, because they’re already parenting, because it’s dangerous for their body to attempt to support a fetus, or simply because they don’t want to be pregnant.

These are the same circumstances facing the women who end other types of unintended pregnancies, so ranking women’s experiences against each other to decide who “deserves” to have access to abortion — as if women who have not been raped don’t have a good enough reason to need reproductive health care — is a ridiculous policy, as is promoting the misconception that abortions are violent procedures that cause excruciating pain and trauma to the woman.

Logically, since these lawmakers are so set on blocking access to abortion, they should support access to birth control and contraceptives, right? What better way to prevent a need for abortion than to offer ways to prevent pregnancy in the first place?

Nope, because that would be logical and these are politicians we’re talking about.


It is common knowledge among Republican lawmakers and anyone who listens to Rush Limbaugh that birth control pills are directly correlated to how much sex a woman is having — that is, the women who have sex more frequently need to take pills more frequently. As Limbaugh said on his radio show in reference to Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law student who testified in favor of Obamacare’s birth control coverage, “She’s having so much sex, she can’t afford her birth control.”

Except that’s not at all true. Women who rely on oral contraceptives need to take a pill once a day, regardless of their sexual activity. Furthermore, it completely ignores the fact that over half of the women who use birth control need it for medical reasons unrelated to sex, such as treatment for endometriosis or ovarian cysts, or even to help control acne. According to the Guttmacher Institue, 58% of women on the pill are using it at least partly for medical reasons, and about 1.5 million American women need it solely for medical reasons.

Then there are emergency contraceptives, which are particularly controversial among conservatives. In her bid for a Senate seat, Linda McMahon (R-CT) tried to woo voters with her promise of passing laws that would allow Catholic hospitals to deny emergency contraception from rape victims, as — ironically — a matter of “separation of church and state” based almost certainly on the belief that emergency contraceptives like Plan B are an abortion-inducing drug.

Again, this is scientifically inaccurate. There’s a pretty big difference between preventing fertilization (contraception) and ending a pregnancy (abortion). A pill like Plan B is the former, functioning like any other contraceptive by preventing ovulation. The ovulation process can take up to 48 hours, and sperm is able to stay alive for several days in the female body, so fertilization doesn’t occur immediately after intercourse, which is why it’s possibly to prevent pregnancy afterwards with emergency contraception.

Congratulations, you effectively now know more about reproductive health than many of the people trying to make laws about it.

Congress is supposed to represent us as a nation, yet in a country that is 51% female, we have a current Congress that is 80% male. Given those numbers, it doesn’t seem coincidental that in the first half of 2013 and the first half of 2014, a combined 1,168 bills were introduced to propose legislation to regulate women’s bodies. Zero bills were introduced to regulate men’s bodies in the same time frame. After all, what would restricting men’s reproductive health care even look like?

In 2012, six female Democratic lawmakers wondered the same thing, and actually proposed some legislation meant to highlight the injustice of such intense regulation of women’s reproductive rights.

The bills sought to prohibit vasectomies:

Thousands of children are deprived of birth in this state every year because of the lack of state regulation over vasectomies.

Force men to see a sex therapist before getting a prescription for erectile dysfunction:

The physician shall ensure that the sessions include information on non-pharmaceutical treatments for erectile dysfunction, including sexual counseling and resources for patients to pursue celibacy as a viable lifestyle choice.

And limit where men can ejaculate:

Any action in which a man ejaculates or otherwise deposits semen anywhere but in a woman’s vagina shall be interpreted and construed as an action against an unborn child.

It all seems outrageous. How oppressive and barbaric would it be to restrict access to things that are simply part of normal reproductive health?

Rather than realizing they’re being ridiculous or simply backing off, lawmakers seem to just be trying harder to justify their sexist stances. Pennsylvania Senate candidate Tom Smith (R) explained his position on denying rape survivors access to abortions by saying he could “personally relate to the situation” because his daughter had a child out of wedlock. Yes, he suggested that an unmarried woman who has a child that resulted from consensual sex and a woman who has a child that was conceived from rape both have a “similar effect” on the fathers of the women.

Because, you know, in the debate about a woman’s reproductive choices, the effect it has on the men in her life is really what’s important.

You may have noticed that every single politician mentioned here hails from the Republican party. It’s no coincidence that all of the proposed legislation came from the right as well. Republicans have actually held training sessions to help teach lawmakers how to better talk to women, but the issue seems to extend beyond a lack of PR savvy. Politicians need to go back to health class, and I think they shouldn’t be allowed to vote on any legislation limiting reproductive rights until they can accurately and effectively explain how the reproduction system works.

Leave any questions or comments below, and see you next week!

#FeministFriday No. 8

The Academy Awards are this Sunday — drawing Awards Season ’15 to a close — so I think it’s time to pay tribute to perhaps the most important trend to grace the red carpet:

Actresses are beginning to fight back against sexist reporting, and it’s fantastic. 

It’s commonplace, so normalized that a lot of people don’t even give it a second thought: An A-list celebrity power couple strolls towards an award show venue, only to be stopped by reporters to ask the man about the preparations that went into his work and the prestigious awards and nominations he’s achieved…then ask the woman who designed her dress or to show off her manicure. I understand that in Hollywood fashion is important, so while “Who are you wearing?” isn’t necessarily a bad question, it’s often the only question women are being asked on the red carpet.

Reporter: You look beautiful! Emma: Oh, thank you, that's the only thing that matters.

Reporter: You look beautiful!
Emma: Oh, thank you, that’s the only thing that matters.

It even goes beyond award shows and red carpet pre-shows to actual “serious” interviews. At a press conference promoting The Avengers in 2012, Scarlett Johansson famously called out a reporter for asking her male counterparts “really interesting, existential questions” while she was asked to speak about her diet regime and other “rabbit food questions”. Similarly, Anne Hathaway shut down Matt Lauer for praising the emaciated look she achieved for her role in Les Misérables, stating she didn’t want to give out tips to look sickly in a society that values thinness to an unhealthy degree.

Perhaps worst of all is when reporters do manage to ask questions that venture beyond the realm of dieting, they tend to favor inappropriately invasive inquiries. The same interview with Matt Lauer began with him asking Hathaway about a recent wardrobe malfunction by confronting her with a photo of her own vagina. At another press jun-cit for The Avengers, Johansson was questioned about her undergarments and if she was able to wear any with her Black Widow suit. Both actresses didn’t bother with the questions, Hathaway deftly turning the interview back to Les Mis, and Johansson calling out the reporter’s sexism while keeping an almost bored demeanor that would have made Natasha Romanoff proud.

Wendy: Tell us about your implants! Laverne: Off camera, I can talk to you about it. I’ve chosen not to talk about any of the stuff I’ve gotten done, because I think so often when trans people’s experiences are talked about, far too often we focus on surgery and transition. So I don’t talk about that, but I’m very happy with the situation.

Wendy: Tell us about your implants!
Laverne: Off camera, I can talk to you about it. I’ve chosen not to talk about any of the stuff I’ve gotten done, because I think so often when trans people’s experiences are talked about, far too often we focus on surgery and transition. So I don’t talk about that, but I’m very happy with the situation.

It may seem innocent, or even complimentary, but only asking these women about their appearances sends one overlying message: your looks are more important than the talent it took to get you here.

Generally speaking, reporters should avoid asking women anything that they wouldn’t ask a man, like “how long did it take to do you hair today?” or “what do you have in your pockets?”. Perhaps the best example of this, however, is asking about balancing career and family. When asked how she balances work and her personal life at a premiere last fall, Kiera Knightly didn’t hesitate to ask if they were asking all the men that question; Jennifer Garner recently noted that nearly every reporter asks her about spending time with her kids, yet no one asks the same of Ben Affleck — despite the fact that they share the same children.

Camera: *slowly pans up and down Cate's body* Cate: Do you do that to the guys?

Camera: *slowly pans up and down Cate’s body*
Cate: Do you do that to the guys?

Most of the women attending these events have a lot more interesting things to talk about, anyway. It would be great to see Reese Witherspoon show off her production company to reporters instead of seeing the incredibly creepy “glam cam” show off her dress. I want Kerry Washington to talk about financial abuse instead of her post-baby body secrets. I would love to have someone ask Amal Clooney about her human rights work, or literally anything other than the questions the press has asked her thus far.

Reporter: I think you're going to walk home with more than just a trophy tonight. I think lots of men. Taylor: I'm not going to walk home with any men tonight.

Reporter: I think you’re going to walk home with more than just a trophy tonight. I think lots of men.
Taylor: I’m not going to walk home with any men tonight.

Female empowerment groups like Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls at the Party, encourage critical thinking and supporting female celebrities as more than designer clothing on a photo-shopped body. Alee-o Blanco, a representative from Smart Girls, implores the discussion to continue. “It’s so easy to get wrapped up in it and let it be done once the night is over and the [awards] season is over,” says Blanco. “[But] we see these kinds of questions not just during awards season. For example, when Elena Serova, the first Russian cosmonaut in 20 years went into space, she was asked at a press conference about hair and makeup tips in space and how she would deal with that.”


Leave any questions or comments below, and I’ll see you next week!

#FeministFriday No. 7

The subject of this week’s #FeministFriday will probably come as no surprise to most of you, considering the volume of similar articles I’ve seen floating around the bloggersphere in the last week or so:

Don’t see “50 Shades of Grey” for Valentine’s Day. Don’t see “50 Shades of Grey” as a joke. Don’t see “50 Shades of Grey”.

I’ve seen more articles pop up from different corners of the Internet about this than any other singular pop culture event or social justice issue. They’re all protesting 50 Shades, all for different reasons, all for different agendas.

One of the most common protests I’ve seen is simply due to the lewd and pornographic nature of the story and the apparent immorality of S&M. The story itself is quite pornographic, and it does contain a lot of elements of BDSM — though there is something to be said about a sex positive movie in which the female protagonist doesn’t end up dead.

Personally, I think whatever consensual, legal activities people get up to in private is their business, and really doesn’t concern the rest of the world. This includes the BDSM lifestyle.

Unfortunately, 50 Shades is a complete misrepresentation of an actual BDSM relationship. I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve seen this point stressed repeatedly. A healthy BDSM relationship places great importance on mutual trust, consent, and proper aftercare. The Christian-Ana version forgoes all those things, and adds insult to literal injury by insinuating that the only way someone could actually enjoy BDSM is because they’ve suffered past trauma in their tragic back-story.

Essentially, 50 Shades does as well of a job accurately depicting the BDSM lifestyle as The Big Bang Theory does geek culture. After all, why would E L James bother doing actual research when she can bore readers with lengthy passages of the vaguely-described and wholly uninteresting main character’s “inner goddess” dancing a merengue and the Dance of Seven Veils?

The writing itself is atrocious, and the acting in the trailer looks wooden at best (and passionless at worst). The press tours with the lead actors have revealed a Robert Pattinson level of self-loathing for their career choices, as well as painfully forced interviews where heavy sighs accompany most of their answers. There’s been a lot of comparison to Twilight, both because of their mutual terribleness and because 50 Shades was originally (unsurprisingly) a smutty Twilight fan-fiction.

The press hype, terrible source material, and wide-spread dissatisfaction with the movie’s existence led to a superb observation from my favorite child actor turned excellent human being and anti-50 Shades advocate, Mara Wilson:


Bad acting and worse writing aside, I really have no problem with a story about two adults doing adult things (though I do prefer when they don’t completely misrepresent a subculture). However, I do have a big problem with romanticizing a physically, emotionally, and sexually abusive relationship and normalizing it into a pop culture icon. 50 Shades of Grey isn’t terrible because it has graphic depictions of sex or even because it has graphic depictions of sex with handcuffs; it’s terrible because Christian Grey is a manipulative and abusive waste of printer ink, and he’s being marketed to young women as the perfect relationship.

I’m calling 50 Shades of Nope on that bullshit.

Some of you may recall that my #FeministFriday from two weeks ago was about abusive relationships. Reading down the list of warning signs of abuse is like reading a character description for Christian Grey, and it’s sickening.

Christian is described as a dark hero – brooding, mysterious, exceptionally handsome, and impossibly rich. He’s stubborn and set in his ways, but he changes because of his love for Ana.

This is an incredibly dangerous precedent to set in the minds of impressionable young women. He’s not a tortured soul that will prosper into goodness with the help of unconditional love; he’s a violent psychopath.

Just a few frightening characteristics displayed by Christian Grey towards Anastasia Steele include:

  • Stalking
  • Possessive Tendencies
  • Intimidation
  • Manipulation
  • Extreme Mood Swings
  • Kidnapping
  • Controlling Behavior
  • Threatening Language
  • Refusing to Communicate
  • Guilt Tripping
  • Forcefulness
  • Constantly Demanding Attention
  • Isolation
  • Coercion
  • Public Humiliation
  • Disregard for her Feelings and Wishes
  • Physical Assault
  • Sexual Assault

And all of those things happen in the first ten or so chapters, before Ana ever agrees to enter into a relationship with him.

Is this really the goal to which our relationships should aspire? He stalks me because he cares, he threatens me because he loves me, he hits me because he had a crappy childhood, and I stay with him because (spoilers!) I get a diamond and a house and a baby out of the deal.

This cannot be the standard because not only does it send the message that it’s normal for abuse to occur, it tells the victim that there’s something wrong with them if they don’t like it.

Don’t see 50 Shades of Grey for Valentine’s Day. Don’t celebrate a romantic day with your loved one by supporting intimate partner violence.

Don’t see 50 Shades of Grey as a joke. If you just want to laugh at how terrible it is with your friends, be socially responsible and find a pirated copy online.

Don’t see 50 Shades of Grey. Take your $8.50 (or more) and donate it to a women’s shelter or sexual assault center or to an organization like the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Use the two hours of your life that you didn’t waste at the movie theater to attend volunteer advocate training so you can help victims of abuse and assault.

At the very, very least find yourself something smutty that doesn’t glorify abuse and doesn’t read like a literary catastrophe.

Leave any questions or comments below, and see you next week!

#FeministFriday No. 6

Real men don’t rape.

Real men don’t hit.

Real men don’t buy girls.

Real men don’t eat quiche.

Real men don’t — Stop it.

What, exactly, is a real man? I see this concept everywhere, particularly in testosterone fueled advertising campaigns, and it creates an interesting question of gender roles, as well as raises an important matter:

Real men are a real issue.

The assertion that “real men don’t” needs to stop because the last time I checked, the men who are abusing women and breaking the law and eating delicious cheese pie things aren’t fictional characters.

According to pop culture and marketing, a real man

  • Can defend himself
  • Is the head of his household
  • Doesn’t settle for handouts
  • Is chivalrous
  • Lifts
  • Grows thick facial hair
  • Eats meat. Lots of meat
  • Like almost a ridiculous amount of meat
  • Is athletic
  • Mainly cares about sex
  • Drinks beer
  • Enjoys using power tools
  • Hunts or fishes to assert his dominance over nature
  • Needs male branded soap in order to clean himself

Even if you don’t take into consideration that by this default anything feminine is inherently weak, this idea of a real man is ridiculous. We are told collectively from the time we are small that men and maleness are strong and tough and resilient, but apparently masculinity is so fragile that it can be shattered with a plate of quinoa.

real men

This Google search was wild.

As a result, I see men not only react defensively towards perceived “unmanly” things, but also towards people identifying as women or other genders “encroaching” in their manly territory. It’s a common, sometimes angry rhetoric, that being a man doesn’t mean the same thing that it used to — back when men were MEN! Yes, because a woman can learn to use a power drill and become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, men can no longer be men.

Toxic masculinity, everyone. As far as anyone should be concerned, if you identify as male, congratulations, you’re a real man.

Yes, a man can have a majestic beard and make all of his furniture by hand, but a man can be the survivor of abuse. A man can crave chocolate and drink daiquiris. A man can have a vagina. A man can be an amazing human being. A man can be a monster. None of those things make him any less “real”, or mean that society should write him off as a fluke or a phony.

All men are real, and so are their problems. Ignoring them doesn’t solve anything, it just allows other people to feel superior because they’re different.

Leave any questions or comments below, and see you next week!