Not for the faint of morale.
Not for the faint of morale.
How do people usually talk about disability, and is this model of thought applicable to thinking about mental illness and depression? Writer S.T. takes us on a journey through her own experience, both experiencing mental illness and researching the subject.
My sophomore year of college, I went through the worst depressive episode of my life. Making it to class – not even participating, just getting myself there – was a victory. I could barely leave the apartment, and some days, I couldn’t even leave my room. Pulling out details is difficult – most of the year is still submerged in a thick fog – but I remember sleeping through a psychology exam in November. The next day, I went to see my professor, sobbing hysterically in her office as I tried to explain why I had slept through two alarms. Abstractly, I knew what depression was, but as I sat there under her unsympathetic gaze, I didn’t feel like I was suffering from an illness. I felt like I was just lazy, weak, a bad student. A failure. My professor was hesitant to give me a makeup test. Her anger felt physically painful to me, but it was a pain I felt certain I deserved.
Recent remarks by Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright which have been reduced to ‘the boys are with Bernie and you’re a bad feminist if you are too’ made me desperate to know whether or not this divide between the Democratic candidates is a fair one. And what would a supporter of each candidate have to say about it? After scouring the internet for robust writing by women about the election, particularly about their candidate preferences, and coming up relatively empty, I decided to call upon some brilliant women I know for their thoughts. This roundtable was primarily inspired by recent talk around the overly simplistic “sexist Bernie Bros” vs. “Hillary feminists” as well as an article from Monday declaring that single women are the most powerful voting block. I wanted to find out what women think of how the media is portraying them as supporters of each candidate (or not), as well as their rationale for choosing one over the other.
Below is a conversation that occurred from Wednesday February 17-February 21 between myself (a supporter of both candidates), a Bernie supporter, and a Hillary supporter.
MH: Hey all! I wanted to begin with the source material: Weekend of February 5-7 at a rally for Hillary supporters, Madeleine Albright said, “A lot of you younger women think it’s been done. It’s not done! You have to help! Hillary Clinton will always be there for you. And just remember there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” Subsequently, Gloria Steinem made an offhand remark Friday February 5 in her interview on Real Time with Bill Maher, “Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.” To be fair, she followed it up in the “Overtime” section of the show with, “We’re not voting for Sarah Palin, excuse me! We’re voting for a woman who represents the majority of women and men. Of course we’re not voting for [her just because she’s a woman]… Most of us are raised by women. Whether women or men. Because we are mostly raised by women, we associate female authority with childhood, emotionality, irrationality… I really don’t think we will be able to recognize human talent in all of its forms when men are raising children as much as women are and women are in the public forum as much as men are.”
I found these comments and the backlash against Albright and Steinem really fascinating because it encroaches upon this territory of feminism that is still quite uncertain: would a female president be a different kind of president? Is it inherently meaningful that the leader of the free world is a woman? If so, how?
What is your general reaction to the divide among women voters that Albright and Steinem establish above, that “good feminists are with Hillary // Bad feminists and bros are with Bernie”?
AD: I just want to start by saying that the comments made by those so-called “feminist” women really grate!! They are so patronizing to younger women, as if we AREN’T making informed political decisions. And, at least in the super-progressive liberal circles I run in, women *don’t* think the battle for equality is “over,” rather they are attuned to the many other facets of feminism, i.e. intersectional feminism that cares for poor, immigrant or women of color, among others.
Also, it would be one thing if the two candidates running had roughly the same politics–in that case the “you’re sexist//you don’t understand women’s struggles” accusation might stick better–but Bernie and Hillary really have fundamentally different politics, and to me that makes all the difference. In my view, Sanders’ strong aversion to war, his fight for a $15 minimum wage, and his proposals for universal healthcare and free public college education will significantly impact women who are most at-risk—that is minority, poor, non-American women—in addition to the policies he shares with Clinton (Planned Parenthood support, LGBTQ rights, minimizing the gender pay gap), are what earn him my young feminist support. His stubborn hatred of the big banks also makes my anti-capitalist heart skip a beat.
That said, I do think having a woman president would be great, if only to break the (largely white) male leader streak. I just don’t think that a victory for one woman is a victory for all women. I’m also not sure that I see an essential “difference” in the way a woman would lead…women are for sure not a monolith…is that the question? Interested in getting into this more.
MH: I definitely agree that the patronizing tone of Steinem and Albright was disturbing (Steinem later apologized and on that very same episode said young women are more radically feminist than we [her generation] ever were) though I tend to expect this kind of hypocrisy from white feminists, and especially white feminists in their 70s and 80s. But I disagree that Bernie and Hillary have fundamentally different politics currently. I think I would agree that their track records demonstrate some differences, but I cannot imagine Clinton being against the markers of Sanders’s platform you mention “fundamentally.” I think they are actually fundamentally the same politically (they believe in equality of wages, fair immigration regulation, some kind of racial justice) but they have different approaches and/or strategies. Maybe I misunderstand the difference between politics and strategies? I’m really interested to hear from Sophie on this front.
In terms of the very essentialist-leaning question I posed, What difference would a female president make? I think the answer is interestingly twofold: on the one hand, a female president would make no difference and on the other hand it would make all of the difference. That is to say, I don’t think it would make a difference to the day-to-day job of President, but it would make a substantial symbolic difference. Not only will a whole generation of young American women grow up thinking that femininity and the presidency (and, by extension, a stereotypically subservient gender marker and authority) are no longer mutually exclusive, but also the country will take on a different global symbol. As seductive as these historic and symbolic changes are, I support Sanders (for now) because I prefer someone whose ideals hope to generate “real” change rather than the mere visual appearance of change. Some of the celebrity endorsements of Hillary have backfired for me in this way, namely http://www.people.com/article/lena-dunham-hillary-clinton-campaign-video-celebrities. Though I know that’s not necessarily a fair assessment of reasons to support Hillary.
I want to add that it does not matter so much to me whether or not Sanders achieves the changes he pronounces, but rather the mere fact that he says them out loud. The word “fearless” has been attributed to Sanders and many feminist Clinton supporters have claimed that Hillary cannot perform in such an aggressive way because she would be, as Nicki Minaj would say, a “bitch” whereas Bernie is a “boss.” What do y’all think of this inequality in how Bernie and Hillary are judged? Is it real or imagined? Should it sway our votes? Or, feel free to respond to any and all of the random statements I’ve made above.
ST: Maya, I agree that Bernie and Hillary don’t have fundamentally different politics. I do think Bernie speaks more to and for the working class, which I like, but I don’t think Hillary is in any way a corporate shill. I’ve read a couple good pieces dismantling that lately (here—though the first couple paragraphs seem no longer true, Bernie definitely has a shot at pulling the nomination). I think, for the most part, the distinction you draw between politics and strategies is correct. There are places where their political views differ—I agree with Bernie on the death penalty (he is squarely against, whereas Clinton is an “in the rarest of cases only” person), but Clinton on gun control. Bernie is far from a gun nut and it makes a difference that he’s from a rural area, but having grown up in DC, I am for the strictest gun control possible. When it comes to the strategy for implementing the politics they basically agree on, Hillary’s strategies just make more sense to me. For example, when it comes to college tuition — I don’t think making public colleges free for everyone is feasible or necessary. I am very lucky in that I was able to go college without going into debt. I did not need and therefore did not deserve to have public resources go towards making college free for me. Clinton’s plan — detailed here — seems like a much more feasible way to make college free by significantly reducing tuition, making community college free, and replacing loans with grants.
I also agree, Maya, that having a female president would make a difference in an important symbolic way. A generation of women and men will grow up without seeing a distinction between femininity and presidential authority. Of course identity doesn’t trump politics; Carly Fiorina or Ben Carson would both be nightmares. But, I would love to see my niece and others in her generation grow up and hit voting age without having yet lived through a white male presidency, where gravitas and authority weren’t associated with white men (I imagine that were Clinton to become president, she would face some of the same ridiculous shit Obama has faced. As much as the GOP tends towards partisanship in general, I cannot imagine the same level of obstructionism with a white male president).
It feels to me like Albright was more patronizing than Steinem; the rest of everything Steinem said in that interview (notably, the interview was with Bill Maher, who is kind of the worst) was complimentary towards young women’s activism and involvement in politics. That she’s in her 80s and has been working towards this for most of her life doesn’t justify the dumb part of what she said, but I think it does make some sense of it.
I think from both Hillary and Bernie camps, although as far as I have seen, more from Bernie camps, there have been a lot of patronizing assumptions made about women: that women only vote for Bernie because of “the boys,” that women are only voting her Hillary because she has a vagina, etc.
Aldona—to call people sexist *simply* for supporting Bernie over Hillary is absurd and offensive and unfair, and absolutely a thing some people do. But, a lot of the criticism leveled at her is sexist and/or misinformed. Maya’s Nicki Minaj analogy seems apt. The thing that has bothered me most are the memes that have nothing to do with their politics.
AD: Okay, I definitely have to elaborate on what I mean by “fundamental” because I stand by it. I was not clear in my original comment, and definitely like the policies/strategies distinction. There are two aspects of Bernie Sanders’ campaign, and by extension what I believe his presidency will look like, that stand out to be as fundamentally different than Clinton’s, regardless of similarities in their positions on key issues. They are (1) he is unwilling to take campaign donation money from large special-interest groups, and (2) he doesn’t talk about trying to work with Republicans. Those are the fundamental differences I see, although I do also like how he goes further than Clinton on the issues they dis/agree on (he wants a $15 min. wage, she only wants it raised, for example).
I’ll for sure vote for Hillary Clinton if she gets the nomination, but speculations about who can better work with Republicans seem absurd to me. I don’t see the GOP as rational, responsible, or caring lawmakers at all and am pretty sure they’ll stubbornly oppose any Democrat in office. I am positive Obama’s blackness has fueled their hatred, but am also fairly positive that the Republican party is so fucked up and antagonistic at this point that even though a white male president might not meet the same level of obstructionism, obstructionism would still make things unworkable, and conceding to the GOP’s increasing extremism on any level would be harmful. The only solution I see is to vote them out of office and get special interest lobbyists out of the government process completely, not to try to work within our already-messed-up framework.
Thankfully, I have not really been witness to the “Bernie bros” that I see everyone talking about, nor do I watch cable news, so I haven’t seen much of the sexist attacks on Hillary Clinton that you mention. (Although my roommate did tell me how much she “hates Hillary’s voice”…cringe) I really want to push back against the “bitch/boss” thing though. The moments I can remember in which the nation really loved Hillary Clinton are also times when she was, or appeared, unapologetically in charge (I’m thinking “Texts From Hillary” http://textsfromhillaryclinton.tumblr.com/, and the Benghazi hearings specifically). The criticisms of Hillary Clinton I’ve seen from my FB vantage point have been how she doesn’t go far enough with her progressive politics. I have yet to see evidence that sexism is the reason for this hesitation but keep on seeing writers insisting on it. It’s worth considering the myriad privileges she has as a rich, cis, straight white woman who has many long-standing powerful political connections. I find it hard to believe such a woman would structure her politics around “bitch” accusations…I could be wrong, but I have yet to see anything more than conjecture to bolster that claim.
As for seeing a woman in the White House, I have no doubt it will happen within our children’s lifetime. It could even happen in 2016, which would be great, but I’m too excited about Sanders, his democratic socialism, and his larger critiques of the political system to not vote for him in the primary.
ST: I agree with your assessment of the GOP; very much not a fan (have either of you seen the document circulating the internet right now that’s taken from something Mitch McConnell wrote in law school? He states very clearly that the senate should not take a SCOTUS nominee’s political philosophy into account. The hypocrisy is incredible). But I think it is inevitable that we will have to work with them. They control Congress right now; even if they don’t hold onto congressional control this election, midterm elections with a democratic president in office tend to result in GOP congresses.
Something I’ve seen circulating facebook a lot that has struck me as, at least, as somewhat sexist are those memes with questions about random things (music, etc) and made-up answers marking Bernie as “cool” and Hillary as not. Which is maybe some of what Steinem was getting at in her “where the boys are” statement—not that young men are making their political decisions thoughtfully and young women are just following them, but that everyone is gravitating towards the “cool” candidate, and “cool” is often synonymous with “guy stuff.” (This does, of course, still imply that young voters don’t really know what they’re doing. Plenty of them probably don’t—there are people who research and think and decide to support Bernie for lots of real reasons and there are people who support him because it seems like the cool thing to do; there are people who support Hillary just because it seems like the thing to do for them, too).
A note that doesn’t directly have to do with this conversation: more than getting special interest lobbyists out of government (overturning Citizens United is super important, but would leave a lot to be desired), we need major, major redistricting. That is the best way to get congress to actually represent the interests of the country.
I also don’t think Bernie is quite as radical as he advertises, which isn’t surprising from a politician (which he is). That’s not to say he isn’t progressive or wouldn’t *largely* act in what I think are all of our shared interest. But Dolores Huerta just endorsed Hillary, citing their respective records on immigration:
“My question for Bernie is, where the heck was he for the last 25 years? Where was he on immigration reform? On indefinite detentions? On vigilante justice against undocumented workers? He was nowhere. That’s where.
Perhaps he’s had a change of heart, in which case, great. But why is he speaking as though we, the advocates and community members working for years to keep families together and push for immigration reform, haven’t been trying to make any progress until now? Specifically, why is he pretending like Hillary Clinton hasn’t been on the right side of this while he was on the wrong side? She’s got the track record to prove that she was in the fight with our community, Ted Kennedy, and President Obama. Bernie certainly doesn’t.”
And, while Sanders certainly gets points for voting against the Iraq War, his record also isn’t exactly that of a pacifist. He has made deals with Lockheed Martin, and seems to support military technology development when it benefits Vermont’s economy:
During his 2012 reelection campaign, Sanders ran against a Republican who opposed the F-35 as a waste of resources. Sanders was all for it. In a 2012 statement, Sanders made the point that the F-35 would have to be located somewhere, whether in Florida or South Carolina or Vermont. “I would rather it be here,” he said.
So I will stick by my view that politically, there is no fundamental difference. Both of them are progressive. Both of them have also voted and acted, at times, in ways that do not mean the highest progressive standards—standards we should continue to hold, while also knowing that in part *because* we live in a democracy (sort of), and not everyone shares those standards, they won’t always be met (again, redistricting will help get more accurate representation of the country’s interest, as will getting rid of racist and utterly unnecessary voter-ID laws). And, because I think that they are on pretty even footing in terms of their values —both the values they hold and their commitment to those values —because I find Hillary’s plans more specific and more feasible, because I think Hillary would be better at the sort of politics necessary to battle obstructionism, and, yes, because she is a woman with all of the above qualities, she is getting my vote (if Sanders wins the nomination, though, I will not only vote for him but volunteer for him, as I will do for Clinton if she wins).
MH: As often happens when you begin to talk about any two things that the media has made out to be diametrically opposed like Sanders and Clinton, the truth behind such opposition is much more ambivalent and complicated. Are some Bernie supporters sexist? Probably. But is it automatically anti-feminist to not support Hillary? Hell, no. Would a woman in the White House change the world? Nah. Would this particular woman in the White House make a significant impact on the trajectory of the country? This is where the true disagreement between supporters of each candidate lies. The only silver lining that I can see resulting from the heated divide that the media draws between this false marker “Bernie Bro” and “Hillary feminist” is that it has spurred us to talk about the very real facts of misogyny, ageism, anti-semitism, and economic (dis)advantage in this country. So whoever wins the nomination, at the very least, we as a general public have thought an awful lot about their identities and hopefully this, directly or indirectly, makes their presidencies that much richer and capacious.
In case you, like us, are still catching up on this whole thing.
After a seeming eternity of WWF-style debates and speculative articles, primary season has officially begun. Iowa’s Caucus last Monday will be followed by New Hampshire’s primary on February 9th. Because most of you are sane, and therefore probably don’t spend all your free time refreshing fivethirtyeight.com, here is a breakdown of what happened in Iowa, and what that means (to the best of my knowledge and guesswork) for New Hampshire and the rest of the primary season.
First, ‘How The Hell Do Delegates Work?’ or ‘America’s Electoral System is Really Weird’:
Delegates are people who represent their states at the conventions that formally nominate a presidential candidate – the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention. There are more rules to selecting delegates than I am capable of writing about: each party has their own set of rules, but those rules also vary state-by-state. Sometimes, there’s even variety within a state and a party, meaning that there are over 100 approaches to choosing these people. Nationally, Republicans have a little over 2,000 delegates, and Democrats have a little over 4,000. State primaries basically tell these delegates who to support at the national conventions, and then the delegates vote for the candidate they now support. So when I say that a candidate “got” X number of delegates, I mean that X number of delegates have pledged to vote for that candidate at their respective party’s convention. Then there are these things called “superdelegates,” who can basically do what they want. So, that’s that.
Further reading: here
The GOP – What Happened:
Iowa Republicans had 30 delegates up for grabs. Father of the year Ted Cruz won, with 27.6% of the popular vote and 8 delegates. A very-bitter Donald Trump came in second, with 24.3% of the popular vote and 7 delegates. Marco Rubio came in third with 23.1% of the popular vote; he also got 7 delegates. Dr. Carson came in fourth, with 9.3% of the popular vote and 3 delegates; the rest of the candidates still in the running received 1 delegate each, and Chris Christie and Rick Santorum received 0.
The GOP – What This (Maybe) Means:
Cruz won, but as you see above, this only places him one delegate ahead of Donald Trump and Marco Rubio. For a long time, it’s felt like Cruz has been seen as a “reasonable alternative” to Trump, even though his policies are to the right of Trump’s; this New Yorker cartoon sums up my feelings well. Coming in second was probably a much-needed blow for Trump’s ego, but Cruz’ win has many liberals worried about the possibility of putting a religious demagogue in office. But the most interesting analyses of the GOP race in Iowa center around the third runner-up, Marco Rubio. Election guru and intellectual crush Nate Silver explains why Iowa could signal an eventual nomination for Rubio:
[Rubio’s] chances of winning the Republican nomination nearly doubled…from 30% to 55%.
Here’s why: Presidential nominations are a lot like the stock market. In the long run, they’re reasonably well governed by the fundamentals. In the short run, they can be crazy. Iowa represented the equivalent of a stock market correction, a sign that sanity might prevail after all.
…In the nomination process, the most important fundamentals are what we call electability (can the candidate win in November?) and ideological fit (does the candidate hold positions in line with the consensus of her party?). A party would prefer to nominate a candidate who scores well in both categories.
Rubio fits the bill, perhaps uniquely among the remaining Republican candidates. His image with general election voters is not great, but it’s better than the other leading Republicans. He’s also quite conservative. That’s convenient, because Republican voters are quite conservative also. In fact, Rubio is almost exactly as conservative as the average GOP primary voter.
In other words, Rubio makes more sense as a strong candidate for the GOP, and early polls don’t always mean a lot. By proving his ability to do better than predicted in Iowa, Rubio has helped set a path for himself towards the nomination.
The Dems – What Happened:
Iowa Democrats had more delegates – 44 up for grabs (52 total; 8 of them are “superdelegates”) – and many fewer candidates. Martin O’Malley hung in there way longer than anyone expected, but with 0.5% of the popular vote and no delegates, he finally dropped out. So really, Iowa came down to an incredibly close race between Hillary Clinton, who got 49.8% of the popular vote and 23 delegates, and Bernie Sanders, who got 48.5% of the popular vote, and 21 delegates.
It was an incredibly tight race, and one that has raised a lot of questions, central among them what the hell was going on with that whole coin toss thing. I don’t think there is any way to explain away the absurdity that anything in an election be decided by a coin toss (apparently in Mississippi, they draw straws. Like, actual straws). But, while there is much to be said for a better method of tiebreaking (and for a better method of nominating candidates overall, and for just scrapping the whole electoral college altogether), some seem to think that Hillary only won Iowa due to improbably winning 6 out of 6 coin tosses. NPR offers a good breakdown of why this is not accurate, and of what actually happened.
The Dems – What This (Maybe) Means:
There are many more clear analyses being drawn from the Republican’s results than from the Democrat’s. Nothing has been massively shaken up by Iowa. Clinton is still ahead, and Sanders is still very close behind, as he has been for the past couple of months. Sanders will almost definitely win New Hampshire – he’s from the next state over, and, from my own door-to-door canvassing experience in 2012, a lot of New Hampshire sort of looks and shouts about things just like Sanders – but Iowa, where they basically tied, and New Hampshire are demographically similar (they’re very white). Clinton still polls better among nonwhite voters; Janell Ross at The Washington Post offers a compelling explanation as to why.
Her paragraph on condescending language is worth pulling out, by the way:
Those who “Feel the Bern” invariably insist that those who don’t are either dumb, don’t understand their own political needs or what and who will truly help them. To some degree, that’s normal when people get really passionate about a candidate or a campaign. But given the professed progressive leanings of those in the Sanders camp and what’s widely known about the group’s near-racial homogeneity, it’s a response that seems like a rather large and telling contradiction. It is a response that seems devoid of any recognition that patronizing language, paternalistic “guidance” and recriminations are, at the very least, the active ingredients in modern and sometimes subtle forms of bigotry. Besides that, condescension is not often convincing.
In other words, Iowa was good for Sanders, but neither great for Sanders nor surprising. Clinton still looks like she will hold the lead, unless Sanders is able to significantly change his perception among voters of color.
What Does This (Maybe) Mean Overall?
Let’s say Rubio wins the nomination. In a matchup against Clinton, RealClearPolitics gives Rubio a significant edge; in a matchup against Sanders, Rubio still has the edge, but a less significant one. But don’t give up all hope, or assume that Sanders would necessarily be stronger against Rubio than Clinton. Smear campaigns matter a lot, and because they have largely been at the forefront of their respective parties, Clinton and Trump have received the majority of smear tactics from the opposing party. If you look at Trump’s matchups, he does quite poorly against both Clinton and Sanders. The GOP has been assuming Clinton’s nomination – and thus working against her – for years. They’ve barely started on Sanders, but I have no doubt that if he wins the nomination, the dirt will begin to fly. Similarly, if Rubio does become the clear frontrunner, Democrats will start to focus on him, and we might see his numbers go down, too.
Is that all clear? No? Good. Happy election season!
Rolling Stone took a hard stand on employing white men who don’t need help by creating the obvious and very necessary journalistic pairing of actor Sean Penn and drug kingpin El Chapo. We read it so you don’t have to.
Because the world is a totally normal place that makes sense, actor Sean Penn interviewed then-escaped, now re-incarcerated Mexican drug lord “El Chapo” in October, and recently published his interview in Rolling Stone, the prestigious magazine famous for its responsible journalism and flawless coverage of my alma mater. The piece is over 10,000 words long, roughly 9,000 of which are completely superfluous. I wanted to do a breakdown of just how ridiculous the writing is. I really tried, guys. But I couldn’t get through more than a couple of paragraphs at a time without needing to lie down. If you don’t want to spend forty-five minutes of your life on Sean Penn’s attempt at radical-chic gonzo journalism, I have pulled out a few gems below, along with my rough attempt at translation:
The Rabbi who spoke at the White House told the audience that his father came to the United States on the St. Louis, its last journey to the United States before making its famous “Voyage of the Damned.” As Obama said Wednesday night, now, it is other boats being turned away from potential asylum. Thus, as Jews, as people who have ourselves been turned away when seeking refuge, or have been accepted, begrudgingly and with a high tax for being who we are, we must open our doors to refugees, open our doors to the stranger as we are commanded to do each year on Passover.
Wednesday night – which happened to be both the 150th anniversary of the passing of the 13th Amendment and the fourth night of Chanukah – I stood in the White House, listening to President Barack Obama and a Rabbi (whose parents were both Holocaust survivors) talk about the origins of the holiday. Relative to Christmas, Chanukah is minor, but the story fits in with several other Jewish holidays – “they tried to kill us, they failed, let’s eat.” But I was pleased by the serious tone both the President and the Rabbi took; they both talked about the refugee and immigrant experiences of Jews, and how now, it is a different group that is in trouble, a different group to whom we must extend a helping hand. Both leaders drew a connection I often feel, between Judaism and compassion to those in need, and to hear a similar message from my president was deeply moving.
S.T.’s note: I wrote most of this story on Wednesday morning. Wednesday afternoon, I was just finishing up when the news of the San Bernardino shooting broke. That mass shootings pile up on top of one another so rapidly that one occurs as I wrote about one from a few days earlier is both tragic and outrageous. As of now, we do not know what was behind the San Bernardino shooting, if anything. I decided to go ahead with this piece because there is a link between words and actions, between violent speech and violent deeds; we see that link in violence against women, in violence against black men and women, in violence against Muslims. But the only thing that connects every single mass shooting that has occurred in the U.S.—in 2015, by the way, there have been more mass shootings than days in the year so far—is the guns. I am at a complete loss as to how we address gun control. So I talk and write about the things I feel capable of talking and writing about.
Some days—some weeks—it feels impossible to find the good in news about women’s reproductive health and rights. Still, it is important not to lose hope completely, so I will tell you that the state of Alabama has stopped trying to defund their (two) Planned Parenthood clinics, and is even covering Planned Parenthood’s legal fees. That is about all the good news I feel I can bring you today, but the resilience of Colorado’s Planned Parenthood clinic and spike in donations after Friday’s devastating shooting cannot be overlooked.
Now, let’s talk about the shooting. Where do we begin? Do we begin with the event itself? On Friday, November 27th, the day after Thanksgiving, a man entered Colorado’s only Planned Parenthood clinic, and murdered three people, wounding nine others. Do we talk about the murderer, Robert Dear? He certainly fits the profile. His ex-wife, Barbara Micheau, divorced him in 1993, describing him as a “serial philanderer and a problem gambler, a man who kicked her, beat her head against the floor and fathered two children with other women while they were together.” According to both Micheau and Dear’s own statements, he has a history of justifying his actions through the “belief that he will be saved.” Dear has a clear history—domestic violence, vandalizing a different Planned Parenthood clinic, praise for other anti-abortion terrorists—of radically violent misogyny.
Or do we talk, again, about gun control, hoping desperately we aren’t just throwing our voices into the wind? In a sharp condemnation of the way much of America reacts to this sort of senseless violence, President Obama said Saturday that “If we truly care about this — if we’re going to offer up our thoughts and prayers again, for God knows how many times, with a truly clean conscience — then we have to do something about the easy accessibility of weapons of war on our streets to people who have no business wielding them.” Just days later, another mass shooting occurred in San Bernardino, with 14 killed and 14 more injured. I am, in all honestly, too exhausted to say anything further on gun control. Over and over and over, Americans cower in fear in movie theaters, malls, schools, offices, because we cannot, or will not, take real action on gun control. I don’t know how to talk about it anymore.
Maybe we talk about the victims. There are three in Colorado—I made a donation to the Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic in their name, and if you have the means to do so, I urge you to do the same. Their names are Garrett Swasey, Ke’Arre Stewart, and Jennifer Markovsky. All three of them leave behind young children. All three of them were there to help others. Garrett Swasey, a police officer, was killed responding to the call from the clinic. Ke’Arre Stewart, an Iraq war veteran, had gone to Planned Parenthood to accompany a friend. He was shot outside the clinic, and ran back in to warn others with his dying breath. Jennifer Markovsky was also there to support a friend (her friend was also shot, but is not critically injured), and has been widely described by those she left behind as a kind-hearted person who would do anything for her friends, husband, and children.
But more than anything, I want to talk about the way we talk about abortion. As an individual, Robert Dear is a misogynist Christian extremist, a right-wing terrorist, no more connected to Christianity than Jihadist terrorists are to Islam. As individuals, each of the three victims cared for the people in their lives—the friends they accompanied to the clinic, the children they raised, the citizens they died protecting—and leave behind devastated families. As national phenomena, gun control and large-scale violence are issues we need to fight with everything we’ve got. But while this violence and the devastation it has caused are being described, and rightly so, as “senseless,” it is not random, nor, in a sick way, is it all too difficult to understand.
I do not think that responding to this atrocity by talking about abortion rights is simply a calculating move to further a political agenda while in a national spotlight. I think it is insulting to those who have died to pretend that there was no reason they were killed, nothing behind the violence. In particular, Stewart and Markowitz were killed because they made the decision to be there for their friends as their friends sought basic healthcare. They were killed—Robert Dear killed them—because, whatever their respective personal beliefs, they assisted women they cared for in getting necessary medical care from one of the only places in the state that offers it, or at least offers it at an affordable price.
I do not know what sort of care those women were seeking. I do not know if they were there for abortions or ultrasounds, pap smears or breast exams. I don’t care. If anyone tells me that “they weren’t even there to get abortions,” or repeats the statistic that only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services are actually abortion, my stomach will tighten. Yes, the other 97% of Planned Parenthood’s services are very important. Yes, millions of women—and some men, too—will lose access (do lose access) to important healthcare when Planned Parenthoods are shut down or attacked because of that 3%. But when we justify Planned Parenthood’s existence through all the other wonderful and important work it does, we suggest that abortion needs to be justified. That maybe there’s something a little icky about abortion. That maybe we should just focus on the other things, and not talk about that too much.
Let me be clear: I fully understand why, as an individual, religious or not, some people feel that they would never be able to get an abortion. I fully understand why some people are deeply, deeply uncomfortable with the idea of anyone getting an abortion. And perhaps for some people, some of that discomfort will never go away. But I also feel certain that the more we talk about it, and the more open and varied ways we find to talk about it, the more that discomfort will dissipate. Still, it is okay to feel discomfort around abortion; what is painfully necessary is to extend that discomfort to include empathy. And the way the most vocal advocates of the anti-abortion movement speak does everything it can to quash any semblance of empathy for women seeking abortions.
So, let’s talk about talking about abortion. When I was thirteen, I was in DC’s Dupont Circle with my dad and some classmates. What looked like a mini version of one those buses designed for tours—railings and a megaphone affixed to the top—drove by. But this bus was plastered with pictures of tiny, half-formed fetuses, covered in blood and goop, faces contorted as if they were crying out in pain. The megaphone at the top blared rhetoric about “baby-killers,” “murderers,” “sin,” but mostly I remember those pictures, so much larger than life and so graphic. That was fourteen years ago; since then, anti-abortion rhetoric has gotten a stronger hold in American media and politics, and reproductive rights have been rolled back across several states. Over the summer, an undercover video making it seem as if Planned Parenthood runs some sort organ farm, made waves and inspired even more regressive legislation; despite being debunked, these videos succeeded in generating more fear and hate around both abortion itself and Planned Parenthood in particular. It is widely reported that after he was taken into custody, Robert Dear said “no more baby parts.” It would seem that these videos had an impact on him. As Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus succinctly puts it: “inflammatory rhetoric inflames.” Marcus cites the rhetoric of those like Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina. Let’s not forget Ben Carson’s comparison between abortion and slavery. And that’s just this political season. The extreme right-wing rhetoric is toxic and dangerous, and the extreme right-wing terrorists who follow this rhetoric (not just around abortion) are a national crisis. But to return to my earlier point, we also need to talk about how pro-choice people discuss abortion, because often, there are issues there too.
For some people, abortion is a decision made out of desperation, an incredibly difficult one, a sacrifice for already existent children. Two women I know have told me very similar stories about their mothers: pro-life Catholic women who got pregnant when they already had children to care for, whose pregnancies—for health reasons, for financial reasons—would have rendered them incapable of caring for the children who needed them. Both of these women did something they believed was ‘sinful’ in order to provide a life for the children they had. On the other end of the spectrum are women like Emily Letts, who knew immediately that she did not want to be pregnant, and for whom an abortion was a simple medical procedure. There are as many reasons for getting an abortion, as many feelings about one’s own abortion, as there are women who have had them. There aren’t right or wrong reasons for not wanting to continue a pregnancy or have a child. There are not right or wrong ways to feel about one’s decision. It is important to note that 95% percent of women who have abortions do not regret them afterwards (and there will always be a small percent of people who regret any major decision, this is inevitable).
This is what we need to talk about. Not only the women who we think of getting abortions out of desperation—young teenagers, rape victims, women with health issues—they are very important. But the women who simply know that they are not ready to have children, that they do not want to spend nine months of their life going through major body changes, conducting their lives differently, are just as important. While, on the one hand, we need to work on sex-education and access to birth control to make abortions rare in addition to safe and accessible, we also need to normalize abortions. We need to hear more stories. We need to say the word out loud, and not in hushed tones or with euphemisms. The Colorado shooting was an act of terrorism, meant to both punish people for going against an extreme ideology and scare people away from seeking abortions or providing them. We need to push against this terror, to make the world safer for women seeking abortions and the men and women who provide them. So let’s talk about gun control, let’s talk about violence, let’s talk about extremism, let’s honor the dead. But let’s also talk about abortion, and do so openly and unafraid.
Editor’s Note: Hey friends! I’m pleased to bring you our new feature, Bookshelf. Each month we’ll hear from Acro Collective creators on what they’re reading. For November, our creators delve into a diverse mix of texts. As we all head off into holiday season, remember to set aside some time for yourself—perhaps with one of these good reads? Continue reading “Acro Collective Bookshelf : November”
S.T. interviews the Unconcious Bias Project’s Cat Adams on bias in STEM fields and how we can bring about a new, more effective form of “diversity training.”
We all know STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields are rife with sexism. It seems like every week, there’s a new story about sexual harassment, or absurdly sexist statements about how women can’t science. And, of course, the many other forms of bias that plague us – racism, homophobia, transphobia – are prevalent in STEM fields too. (And, you know, everywhere.) Sometimes it just feels like everything is terrible and everyone is terrible to each other. But, there are also a lot of awesome people working hard to change things, in STEM and elsewhere. This week, I talked to Cat Adams, a PhD student a UC Berkeley who is fighting biases in STEM fields through The Unconscious Bias Project, which, in her words, is designed to “help people be more awesome to each other.” You can follow her and her project on facebook and twitter. Our interview is below.
Right now, the “good” is less about “awesome things happening” and more about “some of the terrible things that could have happened didn’t happen!”
The Senate did not pass the House’s bill to defund Planned Parenthood. So, that’s good, considering one in five women have used Planned Parenthood’s services, and 2.7 million women and men visit Planned Parenthood centers annually.
The Government has not shut down. That’s good. Two years ago, the Republicans successfully threw a massive temper tantrum, and effectively screwed over roughly 2 million people for two weeks; 800,000 did not work at all, and another 1.3 million were required to go to work without knowing when – or if – they would be paid.
Planned Parenthood has also raised a fair amount of money amidst all the crazy; donations have spiked recently, and my favorite trend is donating to PP in the name of virulently pro-life politicians.
Speaking of donations, however, despite reports to the contrary Mark Zuckerberg did NOT donate just shy of one million dollars to Planned Parenthood. Several years ago, he donated 18 million Facebook shares to a charitable umbrella organization; Planned Parenthood is one of the many organizations it supports. This is hardly catastrophic news, but since most of the “good” news I have to report is about bad things that didn’t happen, here’s a piece of “bad” news about a good thing that didn’t actually happen.
While Planned Parenthood has not been defunded at the national level (yet), there are people out there doing everything they can to make sure individual clinics can’t run. Recently, a Planned Parenthood clinic outside LA was a victim of arson.
The Absolutely Terrifying:
While it’s good the government is still up and running at the moment, that could very well end soon. I’m not sure which is scarier: what would happen with a government shutdown, what would happen if Planned Parenthood does get defunded, or the fact that the Republican Party (who could hold the Presidency in just over a year) is willing to hold the country hostage to its demands (not to mention the fact that my two-year-old niece’s temper tantrums don’t come close to rivaling those of the GOP).
Even if the GOP doesn’t manage to shut down the government, they still might have other ways of defunding Planned Parenthood. Representative Reid Ribble, of the somewhat ironically-named “House Freedom Council” (‘freedom’ is just a thing for straight white men, right?) is determined to strike a bargain with the democrats over Planned Parenthood funding. While this seems somewhat unlikely, in 2011, President Obama did capitulate to GOP demands re: abortion restrictions in our nation’s capital (they can’t vote, so who cares?) in order to avoid…you guessed it…a government shutdown.[*]
[*] Note: The author is from DC, and has very strong feelings about DC’s congressional impotence. She is aware, however, that the rest of the nation does not feel as strongly.