Monday, December 15, 2014

Everyday Sexism: Kids' Edition

By Chloë Phalan

Everyday sexism alert! The other day I was perusing the greeting cards at a local drug store, looking for a birthday card for my nephew who was turning three. He’s a doll—so fun and cheerful and bright! I was looking for a card that would make him smile, make him feel special, and have room for a packet of stickers. The section full of brightly colored birthday cards for kids offered only two choices for a 3-year-old: “Birthday Boy – 3” read one tag, and “Birthday Girl – 3” read the other. Guess which was which! I’ll give you one guess!



I think you could have gotten that one even if the pictures were in black and white. The messages are pretty clear:
Boys, you’re strong and smart and generally awesome—feel good about yourself for being YOU.
Girls, you’re pretty and sweet—feel good about yourself for pleasing others.

Yes, this was my experience at just one store. And yes, they’re just birthday cards. Kids open them, maybe shake them out for any dollar bills (or stickers) that may be inside, a grown-up makes them read it, and then in to the recycle bin they go. But the messages kids get from friends and family—the questions you ask, your tone of voice, your compliments, the games you propose, the chores you assign, the gifts you give, and yes, EVEN THE CARDS—is a huge piece of the personal-identity puzzle kids are constantly working on. A puzzle that shows them a picture of who they are, who they will grow up to be, and where they stand socially.

As “Suz” says in this piece, “All children are born a seed. These seeds carry in them all the predispositions we house in our genes, a massive tree with branches sprouting off at all sides. But from the moment that pink or blue swaddling hits our skin, those branches begin being pruned. What should little girls look like, do, be? What about little boys?”

And the pink and blue surely doesn’t stop with swaddling blankets. Gendered messages are propagated in toy stores, many of which have segregated aisles for “girl toys” and “boy toys.” The girl aisles are overwhelmingly pink, and promote the idea that girls are domestic, maternal, and princesses-in-the-making; the boy aisles are predominantly blue, black, and silver and feature toys that indicate boys as strong and destructive, as well as scientifically and mechanically inclined.

Dinosaurs? That’s a boy thing. Cooking and baking? So girly. Cars and trains? Boys only, through and through. But according to who?

A few young people are challenging the “girl toy” v. “boy toy” status quo, and I tip my hat to them (and their families!):  

Six-year-old Parker Dains penned a letter to ABDO Publishing Company, creators of The Biggest Baddest Book of Bugs, after she read (and loved!) the book, but flipped it over to discover it was part of the company’s Biggest Baddest Books for Boys series. In her letter she recommended that the company change the series to Biggest Baddest Books for Boys and Girls because “some girls would like to be entomologists too.” The company listened, and dropped the “For Boys” part of the name. Sweet!

Seven-year-old Charlotte Benjamin took issue with Lego’s portrayal of girls. Not only was she disappointed that there were “barely any” Lego girls in the kits, but the ones that were included didn’t really do much. “All the girls did was sit at home, go to the beach, and shop, and they had no jobs but the boys went on adventures, worked, saved people, and had jobs, even swam with sharks,” wrote Charlotte. “I want you to make more Lego girl people and let them go on adventures and have fun, ok!?!” YES.

Twelve-year-old McKenna Peterson wrote a similar letter to Dick’s Sporting Goods after flipping through the company’s basketball catalog and noticed a glaring lack of females in the publication. “There are NO girls in the catalog,” wrote McKenna. “Oh wait, sorry. There IS a girl in the catalog on page 6. SITTING in the STANDS.” Burn.

It’s not to say that it’s impossible to find gender-neutral greeting cards, toys, and books. (Technically, that “boy” card was generic, but still filed under “Boy”, so…) It’s also not to say that there is anything wrong with a girl loving the color pink or a boy loving the color blue. But there is really no need to choose that for them.

In the end, I found a card with happy animals and a message that read, “Wishing you a stupendous birthday!” It took about five additional seconds to find it—five seconds that I commit to taking each time I make a choice for a child in my life. I take the time to ask myself not just ‘will it hold stickers' but also 'am I telling them what they should be, or am I telling them what they can be?’


Chloe Phalan is Program Assistant at Legal Voice, where she works to advance justice for women and girls by scheduling meetings and keeping files properly labeled.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Bodily Autonomy Matters to Everyone

By Legal Voice Staff


The notion of bodily autonomy should not be a difficult concept to grasp. It isn’t radical: it is simply that each person should have control over his or her own body. Yet we continue to see policies that deny this autonomy to individuals, particularly women, through rationales often based on religion or other personally held moral objections.

Over the last few years, women’s basic reproductive rights have been trampled through systematic discriminatory legislation on the state and federal levels. This backward motion shows no signs of slowing, especially in conservative states that use women’s reproductive autonomy as a political bargaining chip. State legislatures enacted 205 abortion restrictions from 2011–2013, more restrictions than the total number enacted in the entire previous decade. Then, earlier this year, the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. favored corporations’ religious freedom at the expense of women’s access to contraceptive care, a decision that has led to a fresh onslaught of religious exemption lawsuits and requests.

Some of these challenges follow in Hobby Lobby’s footsteps and seek exemptions specifically from the ACA contraceptive care requirement. But, troublingly, others are using the Hobby Lobby decision as leverage for exemptions from other legal requirements, such as the group of religious leaders who urged President Obama to include a religious exemption to his LGBT anti-discrimination executive order.

The aftermath of Hobby Lobby proved what we’ve known for years—an attack on women’s rights can very easily translate into an attack on everyone’s rights. So while bodily autonomy is at the core of the reproductive justice movement—women and their families should be able to decide how, when, and with whom to form their families—Legal Voice is also working in other issue areas to change systems that deny women (and men) the right to control, protect, and make decisions for their own bodies.

For instance: health care coverage for transgender people. In the health care system, transgender people have repeatedly been denied the opportunity to have control over their health care decisions. Both public and private health insurance policies routinely include clauses that specifically prevent transgender people from having the same coverage for medical services that is provided for other policy holders. Some plans exclude coverage for surgical or non-surgical services for medically necessary transition-related care, while in other cases, insurance companies outright deny coverage to the individual. We are currently representing a transgender woman who was denied coverage for gender reassignment surgery by her insurer on the grounds that it was “cosmetic”—despite the fact that her health care providers unanimously regard the surgery as medically necessary under well-established standards of care.

Bodily autonomy is also at the core of end-of-life decision-making and care. Death with Dignity laws provide options for elderly and terminally ill individuals to control their own end-of-life care. People living in states with these laws—Washington, Oregon, and Vermont—have access to one of the greatest human freedoms: to live, and die, according to their own desires and beliefs.

But people living in states without Death with Dignity laws—or people whose secular, taxpayer-supported hospitals have merged with Catholic hospital chains—lack the ability to control what happens (or does not happen) to their bodies at the end of their lives. You may have heard of Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old woman who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and who wanted to die on her terms—without suffering and surrounded by the people she loved. Living in California at the time, Brittany lacked the legal right to request that her physician aid her in dying. To obtain the right to control her end-of-life care and to access appropriate medication legally, Brittany and her family moved to Oregon and, in an act of complete autonomy, Brittany ended her life on November 1.

We believe all people have the right to make decisions regarding their bodies without politicians, insurance companies, employers, hospital policy-makers, or anyone else telling them what decisions to make or how to make them. We have actively worked to change culture and policies that threaten individuals’ autonomy over their own bodies by:
·         Sending a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to renounce enhanced criminal penalties for women on the basis of pregnancy.
·         Working with the Seattle City Council to pass a resolution calling on federal lawmakers to repeal all bans on public insurance coverage of abortion, including the Hyde Amendment.
·         Engaging in civil discourse about sexual abuse, street harassment, non-consensual pornography, and other violations to women’s bodies.
·         Advocating for Washington’s Public Employees Benefits Board (PEBB) to provide inclusive health benefits for transgender people covered by PEBB plans, which they approved earlier this year.

When a woman has the power to decide when and how to get pregnant—or when and how to not get pregnant—she has control over her body. When transgender people have the ability to receive the medical treatment they need without the fear of discrimination, they have control over their bodies. When a woman approaching the end of her life has the ability to make important decisions for herself, she has control over her body.

A woman’s right to her body is her right alone.

Photo courtesy of Steve Rainwater.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Whose (Health Care) Conscience Is It, Anyway?

By Janet Chung
Originally published by Huffington Post
More and more, we live in a world where the religious beliefs of those who want to refuse health care services trump the rights of patients who deserve and need those services. This is untenable. The time has come to return the focus to patients, and an important first step is to protect those health care providers whose consciences tell them that they are obliged to provide health care at least as much as we protect the rights of their colleagues to refuse it.

How did we get here? It's important to understand that this state of affairs has been a long time coming. The U.S. Supreme Court's now notorious decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby is only the latest salvo in an ongoing campaign that makes health care providers' beliefs—not patients' needs—the basis for determining what services will be offered.

A mainstay in this assault is a fresh barrage of laws containing so-called "conscience clauses," designed to give health care providers the right to refuse to offer services that they personally disapprove of, regardless of patient needs. In recent years, such state and federal laws have been expanding their reach in troubling new ways. Where they once focused on the right of providers to refuse to participate in specific services, primarily abortions and sterilization, they are now even broader in scope. For example, pharmacists in many states have the right to refuse to dispense any medication—and some have exercised that right to deny women emergency contraception based on the categorically false belief that such contraception causes an abortion.

Longstanding exemptions for not just individual providers, but also religious institutions further widen the gap between what patients need and what providers are required to offer. For example, in my home state of Washington, the insurance code provides that religiously sponsored plans can opt out of including legally mandated insurance benefits in their plan offerings, based on conscience. Elsewhere, hospitals that generally are required by law to provide emergency contraception to patients who have been sexually assaulted may refuse to do so on religious grounds. Similarly, even before the Hobby Lobby decision, religious institutions, such as houses of worship, were exempt from the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive coverage requirements, and nonprofits with religious objections to ACA coverage requirements could refuse as well. The Hobby Lobby Court then further extended this doctrine, adding for-profit employers with religious objections to the list of entities exempt from providing otherwise mandated health care benefits.

While the Hobby Lobby decision focused on contraceptive coverage, it would be a mistake to think that its reach stops there. By recognizing a for-profit corporation's religious free exercise rights, the Court opened the door to religiously-based refusals of services of all sorts. For example, some providers object to aid in dying, or providing health care services of any kind to LGBT patients. Some religions proscribe vaccinations or blood transfusions. What's more, courts, not wanting to become arbiters of spirituality, do not question the sincerity of claims of religious belief. Thus, a religious objection might just prove to be the trump card justifying denials of such health care services.

This situation is unacceptable. The time has come to accord legal protection to other forms of "conscience." Providers should be protected if their religion or conscience compels them to provide care, not only when they choose to refuse it.

This broadened frame for conscience clause protection is especially needed in light of the precipitous rise in religiously affiliated health care systems; the number of Catholic-run acute-care hospitals increased by 16% from 2001-11. These hospital systems usually come with accompanying restrictions on services based on religious institutional doctrine. To comply with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care, a Catholic-affiliated hospital may require its employees, as a matter of policy, not to provide certain services, including non-emergency pregnancy termination, medication for aid in dying, and infertility treatment. These prohibitions can extend not only to employees of the hospital itself, but also to affiliated clinics, hospices, physicians with admitting privileges—even separately owned medical practices that lease office space from a religiously affiliated health system. Studies of physicians at religiously affiliated hospitals have found over half (52%) of ob-gyns and one in five primary care physicians experienced conflict between the care they wanted to provide and hospital policies.

Institutional policies should not be allowed to prevent health care professionals from exercising their professional judgment, to practice evidence-based medicine, and to provide comprehensive care to their patients.

At best, privileging the conscience of providers who refuse care results in inconvenience to the patient and delay of care. At worst, it results in a complete barrier to timely access to health care -- such as when there is a time-sensitive medication that a pharmacist refuses to provide, or a procedure that no hospital in the region will provide.

It is time to recognize the hypocrisy of protecting only the moral beliefs of those providers who use their beliefs as a basis for refusing to provide care. We need to also protect the providers who believe it is their duty to provide care, and thus, protect the patients who need care. A core ethical obligation for medical professionals is nonmaleficence—do no harm. That form of conscience deserves protection, too.

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Janet Chung is Legal and Legislative Counsel at Legal Voice, where she works to advance reproductive and economic justice for women through advocacy, litigation, and legal rights education. She is a Ford Foundation Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Step Backward for Sexual Assault Survivors

By David Ward

For years, sexual assault survivors and advocates have worked to change the legal system’s response to sexual violence. We’ve fought to ensure that survivors of sexual assault are able to report crimes without fear that their conduct will become the focus of the case. But a ruling last week by the Washington Supreme Court threatens to move us backward.

In its decision in the case of State v. W.R., the Court reversed 25 years of Washington precedent concerning the burden of proof in rape cases. And the ruling raises serious concerns that it will become even harder to obtain justice for survivors of sexual assault, which is already one of the most underreported and under-prosecuted crimes.

To understand the impact of the ruling, it helps to understand how the law has changed in Washington over the years.

Washington significantly reformed its sexual assault laws in 1975. Before then, rape was defined as sex “committed against the person’s will and without the person’s consent.” As a result, the State had the burden in rape cases of proving that the victim had not consented—a standard that focused on the victim, rather than on the perpetrator.

But in 1975, the Legislature changed the law to remove the victim’s non-consent as an element of the crimes of first or second degree rape. Instead, the Legislature required the State to prove the use of forcible compulsion by the defendant. This change in the law was intended to ensure that the focus in rape cases would be on the defendant’s conduct, rather than on the victim's.

In 1989, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that if a defendant asserted consent as a defense to a charge of rape by forcible compulsion, the defendant had the burden of proving this defense by a preponderance of the evidence. The Court reaffirmed this ruling in another case in 2006.

But by a 6-3 margin last week, the Washington Supreme Court reversed its previous rulings. The Court held that if a defendant is charged with rape by forcible compulsion and asserts that the victim had consented, the State must now bear the burden of disproving the victim’s consent beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant will no longer have any burden of proving a defense of consent.

Legal Voice joined with our allies at the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, and the Sexual Violence Law Center to submit an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in this case. We argued that requiring the prosecution to disprove that the victim had consented would turn the clock back by shifting the focus of rape cases to the victim's actions, rather than on the defendant's conduct.

Justice Susan Owens agreed with our argument in a powerful dissent, which was joined by Justices Steven González and Charles Johnson. The dissent noted that “placing the burden on the State to disprove consent wrongfully puts the victim’s actions and reputation on trial” and would “invalidate years of work undertaken to properly refocus our rape law.”

The dissent also warned that “if victims believe the trial will focus on their behavior rather than the perpetrator’s actions, they will be less likely to report the rape” and that “if they do report the rape, they may feel that they themselves are on trial when the focus shifts to their actions rather than the crime against them.”

Needless to say, we agree with the dissent and we are disappointed by the Court’s ruling. We cannot go back to the days when rape trials focused on survivor’s conduct rather than on the defendant’s actions. The ruling makes it all the more necessary for us to keep working on all fronts to ensure that the law provides justice for sexual assault survivors and that their voices are heard.

You can help by encouraging friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, and students to sign up to receive our messages and together we can work to change our culture and how survivors of sexual violence are treated.

David Ward is Legal & Legislative Counsel at Legal Voice, where his work focuses on gender violence, family law, and LGBT rights.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Your Voice, Your Choice, Your Vote

On August 26, 1920, when the 19th Amendment secured American women the fundamental right to vote, women's lives were greatly changed. The women who came before us rallied behind a shared understanding that women are equal citizens, and stopped at nothing to secure our right to vote.

So today, we ask you to use that right that women fought so hard to give us. The easiest way to ensure your values are prioritized by your local and national government is by voting into office legislators who stand with you on important issues.

Ask legislators and candidates, Where do you stand on ensuring...

...women have paycheck fairness? Do you support legislative improvements, including:

  • requiring employers to demonstrate that wage disparities are based on factors other than sex? 
  • prohibiting retaliation against workers who inquire about their employers' wage practices or disclose their own wages? 
  • strengthening penalties for equal pay violations? 
...providers and patients together decide what is best care, without interference from restrictive hospital system policies controlled by religious directives?
  • If your local hospital system and your providers are contemplating a transaction with a religious-based health system, what limitations will the legislator or candidate agree to? Are they committed to providing access to a full range of comprehensive reproductive health care and counseling, nondiscrimination against LGBT patients, and—for Oregon and Washington—counseling and referrals for requests for information about the Death with Dignity Act? How are they demonstrating that commitment? 
...businesses don't have license to discriminate based on their own beliefs and to deprive patients of access to insurance coverage to comprehensive health care services? Are you looking for ways to guarantee:
  • employers do not follow Hobby Lobby's example and deprive women of access to basic contraceptive health care? 
  • employees' access to other needed services (e.g. HIV treatment, vaccination, infertility treatment) are not subject to the religious beliefs of individual employers? 
  • LGBT people will not be discriminated against in access to healthcare services, employment in health care, and other public accommodations? 
...survivors of sexual assault receive justice? Will you work to protect women from:
  • the family laws that allow perpetrators to assert parental rights to children who are conceived through rape?
  • the school system, which routinely overlooks its obligation under Title IX to address sexual harassment and assault, and to take immediate action to ensure equal educational opportunity? 
  • the criminal justice system, which consistently refrains from testing rape kits and allows rapes to go uninvestigated if alcohol is involved?
The issues that matter most to you should also matter to whoever you vote for. For more information about the candidates on your ballot—as well as logistical voting information specific to your area—type your address in the box below. Remember, it's your voice, your choice, your vote. Use it!