I stand with you

StandWithPPIn September, my Facebook feed became saturated with the #IStandwithPlannedParenthood campaign. People I haven’t seen or heard from in over 10 years were talking about going to Planned Parenthood and how it helped them. I wasn’t surprised by all the support—Planned Parenthood has helped me too. But I was surprised to see a post from one of my closest friends where she shared her experience going there for an abortion. I realized that during that time period I had seen her almost every day. I had sat with her in class, done homework with her, and gone out for meals, all the while having no clue that this was going on in her life.

I debated for a long time whether or not to bring it up, but I eventually did. I told her how bad I felt that I hadn’t noticed that something so difficult was going on in her life. She said it was hard to go through alone, but didn’t talk about it because she was ashamed, embarrassed, and thought no one would understand. Of course that made sense to me, I’ve had those times too. I felt that way about the time a guy I was dating in college assaulted me, even though I know that’s fairly common. It was a sad moment when we realized that we could have been supporting each other. Then we got mad. Why didn’t we feel comfortable talking to each other? Gah, patriarchy had been wining!

But ever since that time, we’ve been using our experiences to fight against the patriarchy. She’s using her experience to demand that health, reproductive care, and options are widely available. My experience has been a slow burning fire that keeps me committed to my work in the domestic violence movement. Instead of standing by ourselves, we are standing side by side.

Tactical frivolity

Is it me, or is there a ridiculous level of horrible news stories lately? My usual reaction is to feel outrage, which I will defend: Outrage is an honest and legitimate feeling. But then I read an article about Mary Numair, who single handedly broke up an anti-choice protest in front of a Planned Parenthood. How? By standing beside them yelling “Yeast infection!” and holding a sign thanking Planned Parenthood for helping her with that particular issue. Her description of how the protesters reacted is hilarious.

Photo courtesy of Mary Numair
Photo courtesy of Mary Numair

I love her use of humor (maybe fueled by some internal outrage) in this protest. Turns out there’s a term for this: tactical frivolity. Finding levity in tough situations makes space for us to contemplate them in a way that rage and indignation do not. And using humor can lower defenses and resonate with people in a different way than being confronted with anger or even charts and facts.

Mary Numair’s story was a beautifully timed reminder of this amid a tsunami of heart breaking news. She literally created a safer space for others in a way that was light, funny, and in no way harmful to the other protesters. She sent a loud-and-clear message about an issue that was important to her and it resonated far beyond her community. Fantastic!

I’m going to keep feeling outrage. I need that in my work to end violence against women and girls. But I’m also feeling inspired to figure out some new ways to engage with people. I mean, we all know violence isn’t funny, but perhaps there’s a way to use humor to make the topic more approachable that would ultimately make us more effective. Maybe I’ll ask Mary if she has any ideas.

Teens want to talk

“It might be easier if you talk to my teenagers and I talk to yours.” That’s where a chat with a good friend went when we realized our teenagers no longer wanted to discuss sex with us or their dads. Even though I have had pretty frank conversations with them in the past about emergency contraception, responses to street harassment, and grinding at dances, I understand that I’m not their only source of information. Most teenagers I know think that conversations at home, school health class, and with their friends are all they need. Maybe so, but I know my daughters forget things and don’t always have the most current information. Sometimes they are just plain wrong. And I’m sure they’ve never practiced telling someone they care about “No, I don’t feel comfortable doing that.” Whatever that is—sex acts, drugs, drinking, or anything else.

Some of the complicated conversations I want someone to have with my kids:

  1. Medically accurate information about all available forms of birth control
  2. Knowing how to respond when a friend or potential partner oversteps their boundaries
  3. Deciding when is the right time to have sex
  4. Knowing how to freely say yes or no to anything involving your sexuality
  5. What to do or say if a friend has difficult questions or secrets they don’t feel comfortable keeping
  6. Knowing where to get good information and help—online or in-person
  7. Strategies for stepping in to help someone else
  8. Knowing the qualities of a healthy relationship and believing they deserve it
  9. Knowing how to talk to a friend about his or her relationship

teens-talkingI think teenagers want lots of chances to talk about these things. As a parent, your best bet may be to find the right person to initiate those conversations. Think about a terrific woman or man that you trust who could engage your teenager. It might be a relative, friend, or an educator from Planned Parenthood. You could set up one or several conversations with this trusted adult, add some food, a couple of your teenager’s close friends and leave for a few hours. I did this with my daughters. I know it was a success because one of my daughters said to me “we talked about a lot of things that I wouldn’t want to talk about with you.” I understood what she meant. With me, she has to worry about my judgment or if I’ll ask too many follow-up questions. This way, we can pick up the conversation whenever they want and I sleep a little better at night.

Silenced

Silenced. A word often associated with domestic violence and how victims feel. So while scanning my Facebook wall the other day, the title of a link caught my eye: Silenced: Gender Gap in the 2012 Election Coverage. It’s an infographic (which is apparently a schmancy graph) showing a glaring gap in major media outlets’ use of quotes from women—including on issues that by and large affect women!  I sound surprised, I know. Some of you might say, Traci, really this shouldn’t be so shocking. It’s still a man’s world. Blah blah blah. I know.

Even on “women’s issues”—historically regarded as less important and thrown aside only to surface when politically hot—women don’t rise to the level of legitimate sources of information. So what makes the media go to men for expertise on Planned Parenthood, birth control, abortion, and women’s rights? I think sexism is the obvious answer. Our voices are perceived as invalid, even on issues that affect us more.

Why is this such a big deal? Because the media shapes what we think about and how we think about it. It is an extremely powerful tool, and if you, your mom, and that weird cousin of yours, are not hearing from women as well as men, you are not really getting the whole picture. None of us are. Decisions are being made, opinions are being formed, and without the voices of women.

But we can’t let this get us down. We have to continue to speak up. About domestic violence and all the other issues in this infographic. And also about the economy, workers’ rights, and everything else not considered a “women’s issue” because really, all issues are women’s issues, and what women have to say about them matters.

Seeing pink

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.

My choice? Healthy families.

I don’t think I can read one more article about how Planned Parenthood is being defunded. So I’m writing about it instead. (Don’t test the logic of a woman seven months pregnant!) It seems that there are a few misconceptions out there about what Planned Parenthood spends most of their time doing (hint—it’s not abortions). 

This makes my heart heavy. I personally owe my ability to plan for my family to Planned Parenthood. And they’ve been vital to many women’s ability to stay healthy.

What does this have to do with violence in relationships? A lot. Many abusers sabotage birth control or make the consequences of not having sex too scary. This limits a woman’s choices around getting pregnant and increases her risk of sexually transmitted infections. Basically, this kind of abuse can affect a woman’s plan for her life and overall health.

For a lot of uninsured folks, Planned Parenthood is one of the only times they see a medical professional. I’m not an expert on how Planned Parenthood screens for abuse, but I have been to clinics in Georgia, North Carolina, New York, and Washington State, and can say that there was information in all those clinics about local domestic violence programs. I fear that the defunding of Planned Parenthood will mean one less place a survivor of abuse might get help.