Survive, reproduce. Survive, reproduce. For 3.5 billion years.

I love science. I love how Neil deGrasse Tyson from Cosmos has become a superstar, and how he has lead people to gasp at galaxies. I like astrophysics okay, but mostly because it serves to put my true love—biology—into that bigger context.

Photo by Florida Fish and Wildlife

Photo by Florida Fish and Wildlife

Yesterday, I hung out with 100 people who work in schools, health care, and social services on projects that support pregnant and parenting teenagers. We’ve been getting together with folks in this field because domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking are all too common experiences for teens who are pregnant or have recently had a baby. We were all there to learn about the impact of trauma on the brain (more science) and what we can do to promote healing and resilience.

I eavesdropped on the conversations around me and heard people discussing the teens and babies they help, and the circumstances of their own pregnancies and the pregnancies of people they know. It made me wonder: How it is that we have birth control but still don’t use it all that intentionally? Regardless of our big brains, many of us are relying on the same biological laws that dictate the offspring of the mosquito, otter, and orca.

Sexual reproduction evolved 1.2 billion years ago. Contraceptive technologies were invented in the 20th century. Let’s be generous, round up, and say we have been able to have sex without reproducing for 100 years. Put in this perspective, I’m surprised that I’m surprised. I mean, we haven’t really been at this deciding to have babies for very long, so how could we expect to have a smoothly running social machine around it?

One reason we aren’t being as smart as we can be about reproductive decisions is that sexism is still a thing. Men still control and attempt to control women’s reproductive rights. This goes on politically and in intimate relationships.

Ageism is also still a thing. What other than ageism—and let’s be honest, fear—has us withholding information about reproduction and all forms of birth control from teens?  Some teens struggle (mostly alone) with their deeply held desires to have a child.  While other teens, once pregnant, reject adults shaming them—and rightly so.  Teens in general are suffering as a result of our not trusting them with information about sexuality and reproduction. Ageism and fear are both terrible excuses for our behavior.

Is there any way to speed up our social evolution so that we can all have control over our decisions? Or are we destined to remain . . . wild?

UFC21-LogoThe United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW)* is currently in the middle of their collective bargaining efforts. Why should you care? Because the big name grocery stores are proposing to eliminate health benefits for part-time workers. Even worse, they are asking workers to waive their right to paid sick leave (if they work in Seattle) and any rights to paid sick leave that local or state government might pass in the future.

WHAT?!?—you rightfully exclaim, shocked that the folks who handle the food we eat wouldn’t be given access to healthcare to stay healthy, or paid sick leave so they don’t contaminate the lettuce.

But wait, what does this have to do with domestic violence?

I’m so glad you asked. Like I’ve said before, money (and jobs) have a lot to do with domestic violence. There are plenty of grocery store employees whose jobs are helping them survive violence in their relationships. Their jobs provide healthcare (even for part-time workers), a wage that they can live on, and for those who live in Seattle (and hopefully soon for everyone else), paid sick leave. Paid sick/safe leave in Seattle also allows workers to take time off to deal with domestic violence (like if they need to go to court, relocate, or go to support group). So you see, these benefits can play a critical role in the lives of those experiencing abuse. I recently heard a worker at a UFCW event share how her job was the thing that helped her get out of an abusive relationship. She said that without an income and health insurance for her kids she would never have made the decision to leave.

So what can you do about it? Excellent question.

Let the workers at your local union-represented grocery store know that you support their efforts to have healthcare and paid sick leave. Let the manager know that you are a regular customer and you expect their employees will have a contract that does just that. Get the word out that we need to support good jobs in our communities. Good jobs help survivors stay safe!

*WSCADV is a community partner with UFCW Local 21

Photo by Gage Skidmore

It’s 6:45 am and the morning hilarity is on. My back is to my teenage daughters as I scramble eggs, yell out reminders about packing up homework, and try to listen to the morning news on NPR. Wait a minute, what are they talking about? Who is a prostitute, who is a slut? My girls are both talking at once, reacting to a snippet of the morning news roundup. They want to know why Rush Limbaugh is apologizing for calling a college student names and wanting to watch her have sex. They’re confused. Isn’t contraception a good thing? Isn’t it smart to prevent a pregnancy that you’re not ready for?

Thanks Rush, really. I spend lots of time with my daughters trying to untangle the double messages they receive. Like, what is considered beautiful and sexy; when is having sex appropriate; who controls their body; and what is a healthy and respectful relationship. And now this.

If Sandra Fluke, a smart, thoughtful, law student advocating for women’s access to contraception is publically called hateful names historically used to silence women’s voices, what does it mean for my girls? What will they think about the next time they want to speak up for themselves? What will they think about the role of women in the public discourse? I don’t want them to believe or even think for a minute that because they are female their opinions, experiences, and actions are in any way diminished.

Come on, can’t we have a discussion about access to health care and contraception without vilifying women and girls’ choices? After all, last I heard, the use of Viagra was a legitimate medical option for people without ovaries.

When the news broke last week that the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation would stop funding cancer screening at Planned Parenthood, the internet ran pink with shock and outrage. Outrageous, absolutely. But shocking?

Much has been made of the fact that the decision came shortly after Karen Handel became Komen’s Senior VP for Policy. Just a glance back at Handel’s unsuccessful campaign for Governor of Georgia takes the surprise out of the Komen decision. What should be shocking, outrageous, and frankly unthinkable is that an organization dedicated to women’s health would choose a leader with a political agenda that undermines that work. Handel “doesn’t support Planned Parenthood’s mission.” Have you read Planned Parenthood’s mission? It has to do with “the fundamental right of each individual, throughout the world, to manage his or her fertility, regardless of the individual’s income, marital status, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, national origin, or residence.”

It is that mission―supporting men and women to make informed choices about their sexuality and reproduction―that is under attack. Last week’s decision by Komen, like the vast majority of the political bullying directed at Planned Parenthood, had nothing to do with abortion. Abortion is the sharp point of the wedge that divides us from the people that ought to be allies; it is the tip of a big, ugly political iceberg. The bulk of the agenda beneath the surface is anti-birth control, anti-sex education, anti-sexual freedom, anti-self-determination, anti-woman, and anti-gay. Whether or not it is explicitly racist and anti-immigrant, it is people of color and immigrants who get hit the hardest.

So Komen quickly reversed its decision in response to the enormous backlash. Good. But I for one hope that it is not so easy to regain support from breast cancer survivors and women’s health advocates. I hope the many thousands of runners and walkers and fundraisers Komen relies on won’t let the foundation retreat into safe, apolitical territory where breast cancer awareness is an uncontroversial brand with a massive pink product line. Because women’s health is political. Cancer is political, and so are toxic chemicals, and the corporations producing them, and those corporations’ money. The collective gut reaction of anger and disgust at the Planned Parenthood decision should remind us to connect the dots between access to health care and sexual freedom and environmental justice and racial justice. And demand that any organization that claims to honor women’s lives does the same.

I’m on fire about Occupy Wall Street.

As a child of the 60’s, I will always love a good demonstration.

Occupy!

As a child of a high school English teacher, I will always love words.

Occupy.

From my earliest years, my mom never talked down to me. She always used really big words. A deer in the headlights, I’d ask “what does that mean?” She’d say “go look it up” failing to notice that I was only 4 years old and didn’t know how to read yet.

Happily, I can read now and dictionary definitions offer hours of gleeful irony.

Occupy.

Merriam-Webster’s says occupy means “to reside in as an owner or tenant.” Is Occupy Wall Street asking whether we own our democracy? I find myself inspired by this cartoon I saw on Facebook to ask a much more personal question. Am I, the woman writing this blog, the owner of my own body?

Because I wear neither a bikini nor a burka, I can pretend that I am not occupied by the patriarchy just like I used to think that Wall Street didn’t affect my life. But that would be ridiculous. Of course I am. We all see very clearly now how Wall Street impacts us. I want everyone to come to the same realization about the impact of sexism.

I challenge and cheer all women who are participating on Wall Street and in all the other towns across the land. Shout about your experiences of sexism in every conversation, every chant. Help your sisters and brothers make the connection between how much you earn, what you can provide for your kids, and who decided your wages and if you have ANY access to the healthcare you need.

Women unite. Stop paying rent for something you already own.

Occupy!

Last month, the Affordable Healthcare Act celebrated its one-year anniversary, and still its future as real reform for this country is in question. Although many people put health care near the top of their list of Most Important Issues, I rarely hear anyone describe it as our right. It is rather a “benefit” for those lucky enough to have a job.

What does this have to do with violence in relationships? A lot. For example, if leaving an abuser means losing health coverage for your kids, you may choose to stay. These kinds of choices are going to get tougher for survivors in Washington, as our budget crisis gets worse and the state Basic Health program for low income families looks like it’s going to get eliminated.

I think most folks would tell you that we have a right to live free of violence. And many would agree that we also have a right to determine our own path in life and make our own choices. But the reality is that you don’t get to tap into these rights if you are not healthy and cannot access the care you need. Health care is just one piece of the complex puzzle that put us closer to lives without violence, but it’s a vital piece. Let’s change how we think about health care in this country. It should not be just a benefit. It’s our right.

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