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You Mean You Can Live To 42 and Not Be Married Or Have Kids?

4 Apr

I was 24 before I first realized you could be a woman, live your life and not have kids. Or even not be married when you are “old.” (And by “old” I mean in your 40s because that’s what I thought was “old” was back then, this-author-writes-as-she-rapidly-approaches-age-40).

It was at my second job out of college I worked with a woman who was 42, child-free, single and living alone. And I remember it being almost a revelation to me that “Wow, she didn’t have kids. Like, she’s past that point in her life now that’s even an option.”

Now a few caveats: yes some women have kids past the age of 42, but I didn’t think about it that way so to me it was like she had already crossed the Rubicon of menopause even though I don’t think my coworker actually had. I also don’t know if she didn’t want kids, or couldn’t have kids or anything about why she didn’t have them when I met her.

I remember in a weird way viewing her as slightly alien because she was the first adult woman that I could recall who was “40” and didn’t have a husband and kids. It felt like “Oh I want to avoid that fate.” In fact I may have even told friends “I don’t want to be in her situation when I get to that age.”

It really seems strange to me that I was as old as 24 before I met a single, child-free woman. My parents had been long-time friends with a married couple who didn’t have children – a couple I regarded with some suspicion based on the fact that once on an outing when I was 10 the woman told my mom she hadn’t realized my parents were going to bring me along in a way to suggest she didn’t enjoy my company. This single incident — which as an adult who is nervous around kids I completely understand – gave me a childish sense of rejection. I think in a lot of my books and cartoon TV shows a villain was someone who didn’t like children, and so I decided this woman must be a villain for not finding me awesome and amazing. I realized in a way my thoughts about this childless couple (the villains who don’t like kids) subconsciously, or maybe even consciously, had coated my thoughts about people who didn’t have kids. (Which was something I had to remind myself to overtly fight against when I had dinner with the couple recently…”oh right, I don’t dislike them!”)

What was more startling to me, wasn’t just the thought of a woman never having kids, was also the concept of being “single” at 42 and how I automatically viewed it as a failure of some kind. Of course my mother was friends with some women who were divorced. I’m sure not all of my high school teachers or college professors were married. But they weren’t people I viewed as peers in the way I viewed my coworker. She was a fully-formed 3-dimensional person to me. She wasn’t an abstract construction (“my mother’s friend”) or a distantly-known fact about someone I didn’t know very well.

While I now know many child-free, single adult women, my friends who are close to my age are all paired off, and many have started having kids. None of my closest female friends who are older than 35 are both single and child-free.

This 42-year-old coworker I met when I was 24 was really the first time I understood the idea that not everyone was married and not everyone would have kids. But it was not the time that I realized that this state of being a child-free, single adult women does not necessary mean one has a life of unhappiness. I think I still struggle to realize this fact.

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Abortion Columnist Bingo!

17 Jan

Abortion Column Bingo Ariel fonts

Why My Pro-Choice Relatives Are Not Reproductive Rights Activists

5 Nov

My 62-year-old aunt is very politically aware. During the weekend she stayed with me (the last weekend before the election) she checked Nate Silver’s blog eight times and crowed each time his predictor nudged close to Obama. In 2003 she marched to stop the Iraq war and in January 2009 flew out to DC to be a part of Barack Obama’s inauguration.

I should also mention she lives in Marin County, California, a San Francisco-adjacent suburb that is one of the most politically liberal enclaves in America.

And yet this weekend when I shared with her some of the reproductive rights work I had done, I realized that as politically plugged in as my aunt is, most of the issues we see in “abortion world” were new to her ears.

“What does breast cancer have to do with abortion,” she asked me after reading a “myth-busting” article on the repeated false claims of a link between abortion and breast cancer. She had never heard anyone claim there was, or that this was a repeatedly fought area for reproductive justice activists who work to ensure it’s not cited in materials given to women who seek abortions.

Then I decided to quiz my aunt about other abortion-related issues. Crisis Pregnancy Centers? She took a guess: were they medical centers for difficult pregnancies? TRAP laws? She hadn’t heard the term, but when I started describing the ways states (like my home state of Virginia) were using state regulations to force all the clinics to close I could see she got the idea. Then I asked her what she knew about clinic escorts and I saw she thought it was something that had happened in the 80s and maybe the 90s but wasn’t aware they are still out every Saturday in cities across the country.

To be fair to my aunt, those of us who work in these issues live and breathe this stuff every day. I quizzed her not because I thought she would know every detail but because I wanted to see how wide-spread some of the concepts are. It was clear that she’d heard about the issues that made the national news. She knew about transvaginal ultrasounds and the controversy this election season regarding all the GOP politicians who said wild things about rape.

I would bet all of my relatives (all ardent Pro-Choice voting Democrats) would have about the same level of knowledge. My father told me that the most animated my mother (age 67) got watching the Democratic National Convention was during Sandra Fluke’s speech.

Many reproductive rights activists have written about having family members who don’t support Choice. But in my family everyone supports legal abortion and wide access to contraception (this may have something to do with the fact we’re Jewish). If I probed a little deeper I’m sure I’d get some responses that would sound like an anti-Choice view, (I’m sure I’ve heard relatives something along the lines of “I support Choice but I think third-trimester abortions are wrong…”) but no one even in even my extended family would ever vote for any initiative, amendment, or candidate to limit abortion access. And if it was a family member who needed that third-trimester abortion all of them would be supportive.

My family is comprised of “undecided voters” who don’t follow politics. They might not all live and breathe the minutia, but most read articles about the election, watch the debates, and generally knew who they would vote for before the primary was over (or before it started). Millions of Pro-Choice voters are just like my family. They’re not “low-information” voters, but they maybe “low-information” when it comes to reproductive rights issues.

Only when reproductive rights raise to a certain level of notoriety do these type of voters become aware. What’s level does it have to rise to catch their attention? It means making the 6 pm news repeatedly, be discussed on the front page of the local paper, and it doesn’t hurt to also be on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. When they hear about anti-Choice idiocy, (such as the Todd Akin’s statement) it engages them. But for the wider populace to become aware of “news” it has to be utterly ubiquitous — repeated ad nausea for weeks on end by talk show hosts and newspaper columnists.

The silver lining to Anti-Choice politicians is this election is there was a never-ending stream of nationally embarrassing remarks that made the national news, which then trickled down to electorate. But after the election all my relatives (and millions like them) will go back to an inert political state on reproductive justice, only to come out for the next election in 2014.

Conor Friederdorf of The Atlantic: “Abortions for Some, Miniature American Flags For Others”

5 Aug

If you want to be taken seriously as a pundit in political circles you’ll have to state where you come down on the whole “abortion question.” Here’s the thing about pundits. Those that are journalists, meaning they do actual reporting as well as opining, are nervous as hell about declaring their views on any policy, let alone one with such entrenched sides like abortion. To declare what your views are on any topic is to make you an activist, which is a dirty name to call a journalist. (Trust me, next time you want to annoy a reporter, call him/her an “activist.” They’ll hate it more than the term “biased.”)

So when Conor Friedersdorf, associate editor at The Atlantic, writes about abortion, how can he protect himself from charges that he’s “pro-choice” and therefore an unreliable “authority” to write about abortion? I call it the Just-Make-It-Barely-Legal position, a stance favored by other pundits like Will Saletan. This stance allows pundits to make sure they cover all sides; they don’t want abortion outlawed, but gosh darn it, why can’t society find options for women other than abortion because it so darned sad to them. Yup, Friederdorf knows how to thread the needle on the abortion question: keep it legal but make sure to tell everyone how personally queasy it makes you to have it available.

My position on abortion is an uncommon mix. As a purely constitutional matter, I don’t think Roe vs Wade employs sound judicial reasoning, and it seems to me that our founding document, properly read, would leave the matter to the states. Personally, I’d endure a lot of suffering to avoid being complicit in an elective abortion (as opposed to one undergone to protect the health of the mother). But I am against laws banning abortion. Though I believe that human life starts very early in a pregnancy, I am not certain enough I’m right to send someone to jail based on what is, for me, a guess.

Now that Friederdorf has inoculated himself against charges that he’s too pro-choice (“abortions for some, miniature American flags for others!”) he’s free to mansplain about how other pregnant ladies should feel, especially after watching how Sarah Palin handled her last pregnancy.

As a general matter, Sarah Palin and her politics of victimhood, personality and resentment are negative influences on American political culture. On the subject of abortion, however, she has shown one way forward. Her decision to have a Down syndrome baby surely helped stigmas against developmentally disabled kids to fall, and her daughter’s pregnancy and subsequent celebrity also sent the message that carrying an accidental pregnancy to term is a doable thing that needn’t destroy one’s life. (It also reduced the stigma attached to teen pregnancy — a likely precondition for significantly reducing the abortion rate, as many social conservatives have come to see.)

I would love to know if Friedersdorf, after finding out a friend was pregnant (or a parent of a teenager) would honestly tell them “Look Sarah Palin/Bristol Palin decided to come to term, so you can too!” Of course not. It’s bullshit punditry that sounds reasonable but in fact makes no sense in a real-world application. But it’s split-the-baby-down-the-middle stance means Friedersdorf is a very serious thinker about abortion.

Friedersdorf is under the delusion, either because he’s a man or because he’s never spoken to an actual woman, that women turn to abortion because of cultural reasons and that if we just change the culture, by having more movies like Knocked Up and Juno, we can reduce abortions in America.

Of course this makes no sense at all, since popular culture almost NEVER portrays abortion as a reasonable option, but for some reason it’s still a very popular option amongst women who find themselves unable to carry a pregnancy to term. Perhaps Friedersdorf, and other “very serious pundits” like himself, instead of making sure they have plausible deniability on the abortion question, should actually talk to women who’ve had abortions and figure out if a change in “culture” might have made them change their minds. Perhaps that would be a culture of universal healthcare, inexpensive daycare and housing, as well as an economy with lower than 9 percent unemployment. Let’s change that culture first instead of believing ladies need to watch Knocked Up a few more times.

Guess the Anti-Choice Filmmakers’ Real Message (Hint: It is Not About Abortion)

14 Jun

You may have heard about a few new anti-choice movies that will likely not be coming to a theater near you any time soon. The first to hit the internet was “Life Zone,” a psychological thriller about three kidnapped pregnant women held against their will. The trailer brims with local commercial-level line readings. But it boosts at least one “real” actor, Robert Loggia (who appears on screen via video and all his scenes were filmed remotely). A Soprano-level actor! That means it must be professional!

Another movie trailer making the rounds is “Gates of Hell” or what the producers of the unfinished product are calling a “documentary” of 2016 about a band of black terrorists who seem to go around the country killing abortion providers because they are racists. Or black women are. I don’t know, it’s all kind of confusing because the filmmakers would like a $100,000 to finish their movie.

Can I admit I kind of want to see “Life Zone?” The description sounds like it’s ripe for Mystery Science Theater 3000 style-riffing. From the Jersey Journal which attended the premiere at the Hoboken International Film Festival the final plot twist sounds like it came straight from the anti-choice cerebral cortex:

Three pregnant women wake up imprisoned in a hospital. Their only other contact is with their jailor – a mystery man played by Robert Loggia who occasionally appears on video to answer the women’s questions and explain the consequences of their disobedience – and an obstetrician, actress Blanche Baker as Dr. Victoria Wise, who will deliver the captive women’s babies whether or not their pro-choice views are changed.

It turns out Dr. Wise’s husband left her because she turned out to be barren cause she didn’t eat right and worked too hard and stuff.

Of course two of the three imprisoned women become happy about being imprisoned and being forced to give birth, but one, stubborn Staci, just can’t take the idea of giving birth to a real live child. So she tries to cause a miscarriage but instead gives birth to twins while the other two women give birth to their single babies. (Discussion question: Was Staci more blessed than the other two women or more punished for having to give birth twice? Hold that thought.)

But in the final fucked up plot twist the real moral of the story is revealed.

Later, Staci wakes up. The two new mothers are no longer captives, they’ve presumably ascended to heaven with their babies. It’s revealed all along the women had been in Purgatory, after having died on the operating table of abortion clinics. But because Staci attempted to miscarry even after a second chance at motherhood, and because she never accepted the error of her ways until she experienced the physical joy of giving birth, of seeing her children for the first time, she will be doomed to eternity in Hell.

Loggia is Satan and he informs Staci she will spend all eternity in a cycle of pregnancy and childbirth and Dr. Wise will forever be her doctor, as the movie’s final twist plays out: Wise too will spend eternity in Hell. She was so weak she committed suicide when her marriage collapsed and must suffer the fate of forever bringing life into the world, endlessly having to appreciate what she did not value on Earth.

And there is the anti-choice message laid out: women should literally be punished with childbirth. Childbirth is your enteral punishment from Satan. I’m sure the director also thinks their punishment should be eternal rape from Satan as well. Also in case you didn’t notice this life lesson: women who work too much will become barren and kill themselves. Rarely is the true anti-choice id spelled out so explicitly.

Strangely in the other anti-choice movie “Gates of Hell,” women, especially the black-race destroying black women, aren’t featured at all in the trailer. That’s because the movie’s target message is also racial as well as misogynist. As Jess Taylor at Pandagon best describes the trailer for “Gates of Hell:”

…the crux of this is clear: evil big government liberals use abortion as a secret method to commit mass genocide against blacks. Blacks who are also the most reliable group of voters for evil big government liberals. And are also a part of another conspiracy to have public money funneled to them so that they have more kids.

It’s like a completely useless cycle where you earn money to buy matches to burn money, but it involves black people, so the soundtrack is by Young Money.

One might argue, if one were painfully naive in a manner that bordered on certifiable brain damage, that this is simply an effort for “pro-lifers” to get their message out using the corollary of violent black people uprising against a system of oppression.

Now the movie has been made by a Finnish director and a white executive producer Jason Mitchell. Mitchell, which Taylor points out, seems to be okay with the killing of black people as long as they are gay.

Jason here advocated for the Ugandan anti-gay bill that would have allowed the government to kill gay Ugandans. For being gay, not for having abortions, which is a totally different thing.

Without seeing the whole movie it’s hard to tell exactly what issues with black men and women Jason Taylor has, but I’m sure not-to-far-from-the-surface is a belief in his (white) racial superiority.

In addition to those low-budget freak fests the Los Angeles Times also notes another movie – one with an actual chance of distribution — has an “Easter egg” surprise for anti-choicers. “Doonby” is about a handsome drifter (played by Dukes of Hazard’s Bo Duke) who comes to town, and has a mysterious past. But a subplot in involves an unmarried woman who apparently is seeking an abortion and an elderly woman who tries to talk her out of it. The woman is played by Norma McCorvey, the “Jane Roe” of Roe vs Wade fame who later converted to Christianity. This is her first acting role.

Of the three, “Doonby” is the only film to seem to have a budget (it also has Martin Sheen’s less talented brother!) and might make it onto the independent film circuit, whereas “Gates of Hell” (if it’s ever finished) and “Life Zone” will probably be coming to a church-basement near you.

How to Better Fund A Pro-Choice Movement

3 May

A guest post by Sarah Erdreich and Rachel Joy Larris.

Several weeks ago, two of the major organizations devoted to protecting women’s reproductive rights, NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood, along with a host of other civil rights organizations, brought thousands of people to Capitol Hill to lobby Senators and Congressmen on reproductive rights. (There was also a rally, featuring speeches from senators Chuck Schumer and Barbara Boxer, and celebrities like Ed Harris and Amy Madigan.)

NARAL’s supporters were given a packet of information on HR. 3 and the bill to defund Planned Parenthood. However, they were not directed to lobby Republicans, or given information about where to find Republican lawmakers; instead, supporters—many of whom came from across the country—were told if they wanted to talk to Republican lawmakers that was up to them, but NARAL wasn’t going to send them into the “lion’s den.”

As for the Democratic representatives, even the offices of ardent pro-choice supporters like Ohio’s Betty Sutton and Virginia’s Jim Moran had no idea it was a pro-choice lobby day. Other offices were aware of this, and had appointments with constituents who traveled from far away. But supporters were not directed to Harry Reid’s office, and were not told to specifically mention the issue of Medicaid coverage of abortions in the District of Columbia. This was an issue that DC’s Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton knew might become a bargaining chip in the federal budget standoff, even if Harry Reid said he was standing firm for Planned Parenthood’s funding.

How much the actual lobby day and rally influenced the eventual outcome is unclear, though it was obvious that the supporters brought a great deal of energy and passion to the day. But as we reflect on our own experiences of the lobbying and the rally, it’s hard not to feel a bit disillusioned, both with the Democratic Party and the current strategies used by the major national pro-choice organizations. Too often, Democratic politicians sacrifice their pro-choice constituents’ interests—but this outcome is made possible because the current strategy of growing pro-choice political power isn’t working. While the majority of the country does not want abortion to become illegal, anti-choice politicians feel more allegiance to their constituency than pro-choice politicians. This is not simply a fault of individual politicians. It is an artifact of how the pro-choice political community does its organizing work: from the top down.

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What Unions and the Pro-Choice Movement Have in Common

14 Mar

If you’ve been following the news in Wisconsin and Ohio, you’ve seen the stories about unions fighting for their existence. In a very real way, 2011 could be the end of many state public worker unions. But just when the outside threats are greatest, so has been the unions’ response. Some have said that for the first time in years workers are truly energized to fight.

There are some parallels with the reproductive rights movement. This year women are facing unprecedented movements against all forms of reproductive healthcare. And while not every person is born with a union card, every woman is born with the potential to get pregnant. Since every man and woman is born with a desire to have sex. It doesn’t take a political education for women to learn they’re going to spend most of their sexually-active lives trying not to get pregnant.

So why isn’t there more outrage over the recent moves to defund Planned Parenthood? Over the moves to equate tax-deductions for health insurance that covers abortion the same as “government money for abortions?” For the same reason that, while polls show majority support for unions and that most people want to be in a union themselves, most of the people standing outside the state capitols in Wisconsin and Ohio are already union members. It’s because the silent support of the majority who won’t be moved to act until it’s their ox being gored – by which then it may be far too late.

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