Thursday, December 30, 2010
At any rate, returning borrowed items is a heck of a lot easier than keeping the 72 resolutions penned by colonial minister Jonathan Edwards. (Actually, almost anything is easier than whatever Jonathan Edwards did or told others to do.) So I decided to come up with a manageable number of resolutions that I have some slight chance of keeping.
1. I will seek out and talk to more people who don’t necessarily agree with me. True, those folks are harder to find in Seattle than in some other places, but I am sure they are out there, and such conversations could result in my learning something new or even persuading others to think more openly about controversial or challenging issues.
2. Instead of just rolling my eyes, venting to colleagues, and then letting it go when I encounter something sexist, racist, homophobic or otherwise offensive, I will quietly, respectfully and clearly challenge the remark. For example, why does the author of this article in the Washington State Bar News think that only women file ex parte (without notice) orders in divorces? Perhaps this item should go under the first resolution, but really: can we dispense with the sexist stereotyping? Yes, this will be a hard one to keep, at least as to the ‘quietly and respectfully’ part.
3. In keeping with my nerd identity, I will brush up on the rules of grammar. This one, of course, is to keep me happy and to balance out possible challenges with the preceding two. The groans you can still hear emanate from my co-workers, who think I am too obsessed already, so I will add to this resolution the intent to avoid over-sharing my delightful grammar, syntax and vocabulary findings.
4. Also in the “this can be fun” department, and related to #2, I will keep my eyes open for language that reinforces gender stereotyping, and attempt to send prompt, pithy missives to journalists, public figures, editorial writers and others who default to time-worn phrases like “feisty woman” (are any men feisty? Yes, if they are gay). And while I am on that subject, do we need to know that a woman who stages PR events in Washington, D.C., is “flame-haired and voluptuous”? (That would be “NO,” even if the article is in the Style section.)
5. Seeking greater opportunities to carry out #4, I will learn about subjects in which I am not well-versed, such as economics, transportation, energy science and policy, roller derby . . . .
6. Finally, with all that learning and engaging and scrutinizing, I should be able to find more fun topics to blog about.
If you have resolutions to suggest to me, feel free to comment. I will endeavor to respond cheerfully and with an open mind. (See # 1.)
Happy new year to all, and to all a peaceful, prosperous 2011.
Monday, December 13, 2010
Just a couple of months ago a friend and I were discussing what horrible role models the older Disney films provide girls: Snow White, Minnie Mouse, The Little Mermaid. Always a princess waiting for a man to wake her up, untie her from the train tracks, or give her a voice. Watching the trailer for Disney’s new animated adventure “Tangled,” filled me with hope. Was this going to be the break-out fairy tale that gave Disney women their independence? Would Rapunzel have the free-spirited, go-get-em nature of a Pippi Longstocking? Was Disney finally getting there? Were they at last going to offer us a woman who wasn’t a bone-thin, pale, shell-of-a-person, waiting around for her prince?
Though Rapunzel is certainly sassier than your average cartoon heroine, gender stereotyping lives on in the film in many subtle ways, just under the surface enough to seem harmless and almost quaint. Perhaps the same way that it lives on in our society? From the frying pan she uses to defend herself, to her purpley-pink outfit, she is one hundred percent quintessential princess.
What really intrigued me though was one scene in particular. Rapunzel and her love interest, Finn, are in a sticky situation, threatened by a gaggle of angry-looking men. It seems as though they’re toast… that is until Rapunzel decides to appeal to their humanity. She explains that they’re on their way to see the lights in the sky, a lifelong dream she’s held dear. “Haven’t you ever had a dream?” she asks them. At which point, in true Disney fashion, the big scary tough men begin to sing about their dreams of becoming concert pianists and mimes and whatnot. Beyond the suspension of disbelief this plot twist required, it got me to thinking about how we see women as leaders. We assume that they hold this innate “talk it out” mentality that supersedes any urge to fight or make war. Now that we have some examples of how women govern – granted, they still make up only 17% of congress and have yet to occupy the position of highest power – are they living out this idea we have of women as peacemakers?
Upon further investigation I found that, though a majority of women in the house of representatives voted against the Iraq resolution, 78% of female senators voted for the war, an even greater percentage than that of their male counterparts. I realize that the reasoning behind a legislator’s vote can have a great deal to do with power dynamics and politicking, but I still think that these statistics call into question this notion we have. We think of women as meek and accommodating, but does this hold true when we look at the way that women are governing?
The end of the movie had me excited, as Finn filled the audience in on what happened after the classic Disney happy ending. “I know you’re all wondering if we got hitched. It took her two years to pop the question…” The line turns out to be a “joke”: “Just kidding. I asked her,” Finn concedes. Maybe once we have a first man in the White House, a Disney Princess proposing to the man of her dreams won’t seem so preposterous?
Though I’m still waiting for the Disney heroine who wields a pistol and passes up a love interest in favor of greater adventures, Rapunzel is at least a step in the right direction.
Image credit: Disney
Thursday, December 2, 2010
What the ‘out with the old, in with the new’ sentiment did NOT do was help move the country forward, whether to the left or right. My preference (try not to be surprised) would be to move it to the left, to a nation animated by tolerance, support for human rights, and reinstating the social compact, but increasingly I despair of the likelihood of any movement at all.
So here’s my request to elected officials, whether you’ll be sworn in for the first time in January or you’ve been serving for decades: DO SOMETHING. Something real.
To make it easier, I’ll give you some ideas about things not to do, so you can use that saved time actually to accomplish something:
Don’t pass a resolution honoring a sports team for winning a game (Idaho) or a series (Congress).
Don’t prohibit people from carrying a concealed weapon longer than six feet (Seattle, WA; wouldn’t you like to see someone try?), or making a moose drunk (Fairbanks, AK; though I confess an inebriated moose could be a danger), or using canned corn as bait (Oregon; with or without the can, is what I want to know).
Don’t keep saying “no. Uh-uh. Forget it.” This applies whether you’re trying to preserve tax cuts for the very rich, or ‘reducing the size of a bloated federal bureaucracy’ by killing a childhood nutrition bill. (Really, you’re against nutrition?) And it applies to both political parties: reflexively rejecting every element of the deficit reduction commission’s plan really doesn’t help people who are barely surviving in this continued economic crisis. I don’t know what aspects would work, if any, but that’s why I am in my job, not yours. Just to be clear, that job is to make laws that are in the best interests of the people of your city, state or country. It is NOT to get yourself elected in perpetuity.
Let’s try this again. You are supposed to do the following:
Enact laws that help form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common Defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty for all of us.
Sound familiar? Then get to it.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
As holiday travel commenced, the blogosphere filled with stories of the new TSA travel regulations that force individuals to “choose” between projecting one’s naked body image for a security guard or undergoing an invasive pat down of one’s most intimate areas. Advocates appropriately voiced concern for survivors of sexual violence, as well as transgender and gender non-conforming individuals for whom the intrusion would be greater. Amidst this debate, however, I was surprised that an equally important event—the first ever U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary hearing on the ratification of the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and Children (CEDAW)—gained much less attention.
We are the only industrialized nation that has not yet ratified CEDAW. CEDAW affirms basic human rights for women and girls and serves as a tool to end abuses against them. So why hasn’t possible ratification gained more coverage? One blogger pointed out that the TSA uproar received media importance since it was men who were leading the backlash. It may also have something to do with the U.S.’s emphasis on negative rights: we are up in arms at the slightest invasion of our privacy, while many of us sit idly by as hunger increases, access to health care and housing decreases, and prison rates go up. Unlike the invasion of privacy, these poverty-related issues are seen as a result of individual choices—think meritocracy and the American Dream.
Our rights framework is touted for its victories in terms of desegregation, abortion rights, and the repeal of sodomy laws. However, “victory” only goes so far. At present, schools are said to be more segregated, many low-income women lack comprehensive reproductive healthcare, and the criminalization of transgender people continues, therefore for many in the U.S.—particularly low-income individuals who are disproportionately people of color—our framework falls short of ensuring full equality.
A true human rights legal framework supports positive rights. As a party to CEDAW, the U.S. government would not only be obligated to respect and protect women’s rights, it would be required to take affirmative steps to ensure all persons have the means and conditions necessary to enjoy their rights. Does fear of fulfilling these rights explain our reticence in ratifying CEDAW?
Mainstream proponents such as Senator Durbin, chair of the judiciary hearing, avoid the topic. He rightfully recognizes that ratification will give us credibility in the international arena where we demand other governments to uphold women’s rights. But—possibly to appease opponents who see CEDAW as a “tool for mischief”—he claims the U.S. does not need to ratify CEDAW to protect the rights of American women and girls. Yet, ratification could greatly advance women’s rights abroad and on the home front. For example, under CEDAW, the right to access reproductive health services would support repeal of the Hyde Amendment and policies that restrict access to contraception, such as pharmacist refusal clauses, lack of insurance, and abstinence only education programs. Such possibilities for real equality warrant more attention. It’s not too late to join the effort to get CEDAW ratified by the U.S. Senate:
Contact your Senators and urge them to support CEDAW.
Contact President Obama and urge him to make CEDAW a priority.
Support CEDAW grassroots activities in the United States.
Lillian is a former Legal Voice intern and a third-year law student at the University of Washington School of Law, where she recently founded the UW Incarcerated Mothers Advocacy Project and currently serves on the national board of Law Students for Reproductive Justice.
Photo Credit: Brian Glanz
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Statistically speaking, 1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. This data has always perplexed me; I know far more than six women, yet there’s only one woman in my life who is a survivor of sexual assault… or so I thought. I recently received an email from a friend with whom I’ve shared stories and feelings and philosophies of life. Despite all of this sharing, until now, I had no idea that she was a part of the roughly seventeen percent of women who have experienced sexual assault or abuse.
The NBC show “Private Practice” took on the topic of rape last week, depicting a scene where one of its main characters is the victim of a violent sexual assault. There are of course differing opinions on how the show is handling the storyline, but what I find most interesting is that there are a substantial number of comments from women who have been victims themselves. My friend said that watching it is helping her to confront her own attack. This sentiment is echoed in online comments from other survivors.
Also among the comments in the blogosphere is this complaint:
“I was really bothered by the fact that a seemingly strong, independent woman was so afraid that other's opinions of her would change that she didn't report the rape.”
Perhaps this comment has merit, but could it also be simply a truthful depiction of what happens to women, even the strongest among us, when they are sexually assaulted? According to the National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center, rape is the most underreported crime in America – a startling 60% of all sexual assaults are never reported. Our society does not like to talk about sexual assault. Just the word rape makes people uncomfortable. Yet so many women share this horrific experience and many are left to deal with the fallout on their own:
Universities, where women are 4 times more likely to be victims, often have no idea how to handle sexual assault.
Women often feel they don’t have anyone on their side. These women end up in tragic situations, like threatening to jump off the King County Courthouse rooftop, or – worse yet – succeeding in ending their own lives.
Advocacy funding for victims is increasingly on the chopping block, especially during this time of difficult budgets.
Reading the statistics and thinking about just how many women are affected by this issue can make the situation feel overwhelming. Luckily there’s some progress being made out there to help victims of sexual assault feel less alone.
The Voices and Faces Project is attempting to give women a forum for their stories with a series of multi-media projects. Their most recent video combines pictures and quotes from survivors.
“…But when I started to talk about it, it freed me.” In my mind, progress involves an array of changes to our thoughts and actions around sexual assault. But perhaps the very first step is to listen.
Photo Credit: Ariion Kathleen Brindley
Thursday, November 11, 2010
We now observe November 11th as Veterans Day, an opportunity to honor those who have served in the military. Parades, ceremonies and somber speeches occur around the country; banks and government offices close, and children have a day off from school. Yet I have to wonder: what is our true connection to this “holiday” and to the people who volunteer to risk their lives in service to our republic. How many of us actually know an active or recently returned service member? What is our emotional and intellectual investment in their lives, their risks, their sacrifice?
We read the papers (and now can sometimes even see photos of the flag-draped coffins or hear stories on the radio); progressives bemoan the waste of lives and money; President Obama struggles to move the morass to resolution. But do we pay the issue more than lip service?
Do we really understand, at a deep level, the horrifying and increasing rate of sexual assault on women in the military, and the totally inadequate response to it? Does the average person in this country know that a woman who is assaulted has almost no recourse? She essentially waives all her rights when she enters a branch of the service. Victims of domestic violence committed by their military partners are equally bereft of rights, and must depend on the military to protect them. That reliance, sadly, is often misplaced.
Similarly, the persecution of gay and lesbian soldiers continues, not just through the senseless discharge of dedicated military personnel, but with actual physical attacks. While more than 70% of Americans think Don’t Ask Don’t Tell should be repealed, and a majority of service members themselves think the irrational and discriminatory policy should be repealed.
Don’t misconstrue this as an attack on the military and the people who choose to join. For many, if not most of those women and men, military service is their best route to education, vocational training, and better prospects for a post-military career. (Some organizations, such as the conservative Heritage Foundation, dispute this premise.) I applaud those who make that choice. But with the wars stretching on seemingly interminably, I think we all have to ask ourselves: what can we do besides applaud and line the parade routes? They deserve more, and our nation’s integrity demands more.
Photo Credit: Sgtcip
Friday, November 5, 2010
Election talk this week seems to be dominated by the issue of color: A “red wave” has swept the country, from coast to coast. Blue lost. Red won. But little else has been discussed about the shifting demographics in our new 112th Congress. Take women, for example…
Since Jeannette Rankin was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1917, there has been a gradual rise in the number of women serving in the US Congress. In 1932 Hattie Caraway – “the little lady from Arkansas” – was the first woman to be elected to the US Senate, though there have been many years since that the Senate has been void of women. If you go back far enough in the congressional archives, under women Senators you will see this: N/A. Yes, women used to be not applicable to the Senate. The case was the same on a state level: Rose Ann Vuich – the first woman elected to the California Senate – took to ringing a bell whenever her fellow Senators addressed the assembly as "Gentlemen,” as a reminder that there was a woman present. It was the 107th congress (2001-2003) that put our number of female Senators into double digits. Since then the number of women who hold Senate seats has grown steadily, though we’re still only at 17% - hardly a number representative of the American female population. The case has been exactly the same in the House.
Our November 4th election marks the very first time that women have had a net loss in seats. Though we won’t know for sure until the Alaska race is sorted out, it’s looking like women will hold their 17% in the Senate, but lose seats in the House. This fact doesn’t seem to be getting much airtime, but more importantly where is the discussion of why this is the case? What questions do we need to ask in order to reach the goal of more women to represent us in government?
Are women running?
In the 2010 election, women candidates competed for fewer than one-third of the 435 seats at stake in the U.S. House and only 15 seats in the 100 member U.S. Senate. A national Women’s Campaign Forum program called “She Should Run” – which claims to “help women think about running for office”- points out that when women do run, they win at the same rate as men. Yet, women are 50% less likely to run for office.
How do we talk about women running for office?
Slate’s Hanna Rosin provides a narrative about the 2010 election she assumes we can all relate to:
Sarah Palin is Carrie, directing the action; her Samanthas lost, while her Mirandas won. The rules were the same as they are for dating: You can't show too much crazy. Nikki Haley, for example, could have gone either way, with the affair allegations and the Tea Party extremism. But in her demeanor she is so solidly a Miranda that crazy did not stick to her.
Wait, is this Sleepover Friends, or are we talking about election to the United States Congress? Must everything female come down to Sex & The City?
Geraldine Ferraro was asked in the vice presidential debate of 1984 “Do you think... the Soviets might be tempted to take advantage of you simply because you are a woman?” During Hillary’s ’08 bid for the presidency, sexist tshirt slogans abounded, including “Iron My Shirts” and “Life’s a Bitch So Don’t Vote for Her.”
Is the sexism dished out to female candidates part of the reason that women are reticent to run? And are we as women unwittingly adding to that sexism by perpetuating stereotypes?
Is there something to be learned from those who have succeeded?
To date, thirty-eight women have served in the United States Senate; 222 in the House. Perhaps they have something to offer us in the way of advice? A roadmap of sorts, to surviving the landmines inherent in the process of “campaigning while female?”
One thing is clear: We’re losing ground where we should be gaining it. And while the country is busy screaming about partisanship and pendulum swings, perhaps we can create a broader discussion about the place of women in the leadership of our country.
Monday, October 25, 2010
At times, the campaign experience may feel more like a free fall from the 75th floor of the Columbia Tower. Politics is not a spectator sport. That's why I phone bank and walk door to door every autumn during the even years. And I like it... that is the crazy part. I love chatting with voters who have a lot to say when given half a chance. This week I was on the phones. You never know what someone is going to say. That's the fun part and rarely are people rude even though you are entering their space and asking for some of their precious time. Midway into my calls, I spoke with a voter in his eighties who had received his ballot and was making his way through the Voter Pamphlet. He spoke slowly and deliberatively about his review of the initiatives.
So here is a little context:
The State of Washington Voters' Pamphlet is 119 pages long with 35 critical pages devoted to six proposed ballot measures that are game changers. It is not news to this audience that our state has been hit hard by the Great Recession and one of the effects has been a drop in the revenue our state has to fund critical safety net programs. Our legislators last year took hard votes to ensure we honor our values as a state. But first, I want to tell you what the voter shared with me. He said something like this, "It looks like we have government by ballot measure instead of by the people we send to Olympia to represent us." Washington's initiative process may be sacrosanct, but we might pause to consider its impact on the ability of our representative government to function. We can disagree with our legislators' votes and vote them out of office. That's what we do in a representative democracy. Even if we read the many pages describing the initiatives, are we really in a position to second guess their decisions? And worst of all, our initiative process allows unelected out-of-state corporations to cynically spend millions of dollars to undo the work of our elected legislature. How will our legislators ever have the political will to take tough votes to protect Washingtonians?
Now is the time to let our friends, family and neighbors know that Washingtonians need to do the right thing and oppose initiatives that straight jacket legislators AND remove revenue that protects and improves all of our lives.
Vote NO on I-1053, I-1100 and I-1105, I-1082, and I-1107.
Pam Crone lobbies for Legal Voice, and several other social-justice-oriented organizations in Washington State.
Photo Credit: Theresa Thompson
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Pink – the seemingly official color of womanhood – is such an obvious choice for a salute to the strength of those who are hit with the heavy load that is breast cancer. And we all know what red is for. It’s plastered everywhere in ribbons and t-shirts, accompanied by throngs of supporters in walks and runs and fundraising breakfasts. But what about purple, October’s lesser-known color of awareness? How many people even know that October is the month in which we stop to remember how many people’s lives are affected by domestic violence?
I get it. Domestic violence is a complex subject to grasp – often carrying with it more questions than answers…
Should we support a woman’s decision to stay in an abusive relationship?
Are we breaking up families with mandatory arrests of batterers?
How do we keep women from being arrested when they fight back in self defense?
The issue of domestic violence is missing that clear villain that we have in breast cancer. And with all the varying factors - religion, culture, race, among others – the cure seems much more complex as well. Perhaps this is partly why our society is so reticent to talk about it?
In reading the blog of our good friends over at WSCADV, I came across this picture:
It got me to thinking about what kind of a world we’re setting up for our children. How will we make things different for them? How will we make sure that their world is free of violence? While researchers are coming closer and closer to cancer cures, domestic violence rates continue to climb. We owe it to the next generation to continue to dialogue about this epidemic, however confusing and uncomfortable it may be.
We also owe it to them to support programs that explore preventative tactics, like the King County Step Up program that provides counseling, support, and education for teens who are involved in domestic violence. Sadly, it is the only one of its kind in the country, and will be on the chopping block if King County Prop 1 doesn’t pass in this November’s election. Also set for huge funding cuts are the Eastside Domestic Violence Program , Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and the Domestic Abuse Women’s Network.
So what can you do? You can start by donning a purple ribbon, and then make it mean something by encouraging everyone you know to preserve imperative domestic violence services by voting Yes on King County Proposition 1. Then you can help us to keep the conversation going…
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Unfortunately, recent news has also been filled with tales of young people stuck in deep metaphorical holes. Several LGBT teens, and teens bullied by people who perceived them as gay, have committed suicide in the past several weeks. Gay teens in U.S. schools seem, at the moment, to be in a sort of collapsed mineshaft socially: GLSEN reports that 9 out of 10 gay teens experience harassment at school.
You might ask, where’s the high tech apparatus that will haul the gay kids out of that hole? High school is difficult enough for so many young folks that no one deserves the added stress of ostracism and bullying.
To the rescue: Dan Savage’s It Gets Better project on YouTube. Savage, a writer in Seattle, made a video with his partner to tell LGBT youth that, no matter how bad thing seem, life gets better when you grow up. Hundreds of people have posted videos in response, mostly featuring gay adults who offer their own happy lives as proof that it’s possible to survive the difficulties of growing up gay.
Like the photos of joyful miners reuniting with their families, the It Gets Better videos are inspiring. Entries have come from regular folks, celebrities, and even the entire city of San Francisco:
Thankfully, this isn’t the only moment of inspiration that I’ve noticed lately. Let’s hope we can all keep finding ways to pull each other out of deep, dark places.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
For sports fans in Seattle, it’s been a dry year . . . er, decade.
Seahawks? Don’t think so.
Sonics? Who remembers them?
Sounders FC? Maybe, but holding your breath is hazardous to your health.
If you’re a real sports lover, however, you’re still feeling the high from the stupendous display of athleticism, sportsmanship, and teamwork put on by the women of the Seattle Storm, who swept through the WNBA playoffs without losing a game. For that matter, they never lost a game at home this season. Now THAT’S sports at its best.
Which started me wondering: What distinguishes the Storm from the other pro sports teams, and what can we learn from those differences? Plenty, and all without resorting to catty comments about spoiled pro male athletes. First off, there’s the ownership. These are women who are not in it for the money (just ask them how their investment is paying off financially). They are in it because they love sports. Three of the four played sports in college, all in the very early days of Title IX. They are fans first, team owners second, and they stepped forward to keep the team in town. (I confess, we revere all the Storm owners, but are especially proud of Anne Levinson, who served on this organization’s Board of Directors in the 1980’s.)
Compare that to the owners of the various men’s pro teams. Sure, Paul Allen also stepped forward to keep the team in town, but neither he nor the others seem to have the passion for sports that makes them vibrate with enthusiasm and commitment, the way you can see the Storm owners do during games. Somehow you get the feeling the baseball and football owners (and not just in Seattle) revel in the ‘being the VIP’ status, and there’s no question the long-term financial benefits are significant. Okay, props to Drew Carey and the Sounders FC ownership: they too love the game and appreciate the fans.
Then there’s the thoughtful team-building, permitting CEO Karen Bryant and Coach Brian Agler to take their time bringing together the players to complement Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird --- and thereby also emerge as stellar players in their own rights. This is playing for keeps, and not racing around after this year’s brass ring.
Why does this matter? Well, four days after the Storm took the championship, some of us celebrated the anniversary of Billie Jean King’s defeat of Bobby Riggs, which some view as a catalyzing event for women in sports and just as important, for the credibility of women’s sports. Billie Jean showed the world that women athletes are just that: athletes. Not girls in skirts, not dilettantes marking time until tea and crumpets are served, but strong, committed, talented athletes.
Compare the hoopla and the large serving of condescension surrounding the King-Riggs match with the respect, admiration and downright awe Jackson, Bird, Cash and the others receive and deserve. It makes those of us who played sports long ago (track and field, if you must know) and those of us who didn’t but longed to, or who felt we would be despised (and were often right), or who enjoy being fans without playing, smile and be thankful for the role models --- on and off the court --- that these amazing young women are for our community and our country. And for all of us at Legal Voice, where our very first case was about equity in athletics, it rings a bell of vindication and celebration. Go Storm!
Photo by the Associated Press.
Friday, September 10, 2010
Let’s say I am vegan. For ethical reasons I eat and use absolutely no meat products. I also work as a cashier at the local food co-op. When my customers come through the line with a slab of bacon, I tell them that my conscience will not allow me to sell it to them.
Would I be allowed to do this?
A recent decision by the Washington State Board of Pharmacy to rewrite an existing rule that requires a pharmacy to dispense medication on-site and in a timely manner is sparking quite a debate in the comments section of the Board of Pharmacy website. On the one side there are those who argue that maintaining access to prescriptions for all patients is imperative and that delays in access can often cause dire consequences. On the other side, we are reminded of the efficacy of the free market, the fact that our country was founded on religious freedom, and - of course - that emergency contraception is an abortifacient (that great myth that will surely outlive us all). Let’s take these piece by piece:
The Free Market Argument
Has anyone heard of the FDA? The Food & Drug Administration regulates - you guessed it - our food and our drugs. If you make and sell certain food products, you are required to include nutrition information. Certain drugs are illegal and cannot be sold by anyone at anytime; some drugs may be sold over-the-counter; other drugs may be sold only be prescription. The FDA does not care whether you (or your business for that matter) think that a particular drug is safe for consumption. It creates a set of rules that apply to various drugs, restricting what can and cannot be sold. Same deal with the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA has a whole page of regulations that businesses must comply with. The Washington State Health Department compels anyone serving food to keep cold foods at a certain temperature, to have hot running water, and about eighty other things that your establishment can be shut down for not doing. Need I go on?
So then, we have established that our “free market” is not so free. There are regulations; there are rules; there are general standards that we have agreed to live by, no matter what our individual morals or preferences. There may be many occasions when regulations conflict with a person’s conscience. Are we willing to allow non-compliance with each instance? And what are the consequences for others when that happens? Doesn’t that then take their personal freedom away or potentially threaten their safety?
If I remember correctly, our forefathers were reacting to religious oppression when constructing the constitution. There are two sides to the religious freedom coin: a right to practice one’s religion, and the right to choose not to practice a particular religion. I would argue that denying a person a drug that has been lawfully prescribed violates the latter. By refusing to dispense a person’s medication you are forcing them to comply with your own personal beliefs. But no matter how you see it, the current Board of Pharmacy rule requires the pharmacy to make sure patients get their medications - so the pharmacy can work with the objecting pharmacist to plan for how to make sure their exercise of conscience doesn’t harm someone else. We can respect individual religious beliefs, without imposing hardship on people who need medications.
The fact that emergency contraception is not an abortifacient is almost irrelevant in this debate. The scope is so much wider than one particular drug. Imagine what would happen if a pharmacy were allowed to make decisions about the drugs that you may and may not have based on its own personal preferences, instead of professional judgment. Where does it end? What if your pharmacist doesn’t believe in antibiotics, or antidepressants, or __________ (fill in the prescription you pick up from your local pharmacy monthly)?
I’m all for individuals making decisions based on their moral code. What I have a problem with is forcing others to also play by the rules of that person’s conscience. As a society we are constantly creating a play-book that we all agree to follow along with. Because if we all acted exactly as each of us desired individually, we would have utter chaos. And if I have it right, that’s not exactly what we’re going for.
Monday, September 6, 2010
We’ve heard that men have lost more jobs than women in the recession, and given the drastic drop in manufacturing and construction, traditional strongholds for working men, that’s a logical result. But it doesn’t mean women are skating to prosperity. Nor that women are benefiting at the expense of men. Far from it.
Rather, while job loss is happening to all workers, even when they have employment, women continue to experience profound discrimination. Sometimes it’s pay disparity, the same old-same old story. Which is why we hope the U.S. Supreme Court will affirm the decision of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that women employed by Wal-Mart may bring their sex discrimination lawsuit as a class action.
But apart from blatant discrimination, there are other, more insidious forces at work. The demands we make of all workers in this 365/24/7 society, combined with stereotypes about women, compel difficult, often impossible choices. Why is it the last three women nominated for the U.S. Supreme Court were single women without children? What does that say about success?
And how can it be that some of the companies most-lauded as ‘family friendly’ are in fact hotbeds of sex discrimination? Here’s how it can be: we still think parents – especially mothers – can’t function as full workers. Their attention will be diverted, whisper evil little voices. They won’t really do as much work as a non-parent. They will probably quit soon anyway. Nonsense.
Setting aside the fact that most families need two incomes (even when they are single-parent families), these stereotypes are false and damaging. That’s why Legal Voice is proud to represent Norma Maxwell, who was first treated abominably by her employer while she was pregnant (requiring her to apologize to her co-workers for her ‘bad attitude’ and assure them she was happy to be pregnant), and ultimately fired because her employer believed (and stated under oath) that there was “no way Ms. Maxwell could put in four hours of work if she worked from home”. This was notwithstanding the fact that she had worked from home with a child before.
Mothers and fathers who embrace their roles as parents and workers deserve our support. Our society would be far better off if we not only accepted, but admired and respected them.
Ms. Maxwell's trial starts on Tuesday, September 7th. Great timing, I think. Here’s to workers everywhere: Happy Labor Day!
Thursday, August 26, 2010
But first, some celebratory background: This video notes that although the U.S. as a nation did not grant women the right to vote until 1920 (women’s war work and increasing education and independence having pushed things toward success), several states, including Idaho (1896), Washington (1910), Oregon (1912), Alaska (1913) and Montana (1914) extended the franchise to women before the 19th Amendment passed. Not that it was easy: in Washington alone, there were efforts from the very beginning of the Territory in 1854, and several passed, only to be rescinded the next time the legislature met. (Couldn’t make up your minds, eh, gentlemen?)
Even as the national effort in the United States was building, as shown in this fun edu-cartoon (though I'm going to assume the robot is female, just because) women were getting the vote in other countries: New Zealand in 1893, Australia (partially) in 1902, various European countries in the first two decades of the 20th century. Don’t get too excited, though: there are still at least six places in which women do not have the right; extra credit if you guess the one NOT in the Middle East or the Asian continent.
Progress, indeed. But being able to vote does not denote equality. In fact, it’s pretty widely acknowledged that we are a long way from true equality. That’s even more apparent when you start looking for responses to the anniversary of suffrage or the perceived (let alone actual) state of equality. Let me get this straight: yes, I’ve heard before that women want to stay home and care for their children, so pay inequity is their own fault, but that wanting equity is greedy and Scrooge-like? Come on, U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- get real!
The seeming retreat nationally on women’s right to control their own reproduction is another sign we have work to do. (Didn’t we do that before? Oh, right: some fun never ends.)
What’s more, close analysis of the opposition to gay marriage reveals deeply embedded gender stereotyping and the desire to restrict not only women’s decision-making, but their roles in society. Ultimately, those opposing marriage between people of the same sex are hawking their view of what a ‘normal’, desirable relationship is, and believe me, it doesn’t include full female independence and autonomy. Rather, that world view relies on inequality and power imbalance. And that’s just not the way the world is anymore. But that too will change. As Judge Vaughn Walker said in his thorough, well-reasoned, fully-supported ruling: Marriage under law is a union of equals.
Still, notwithstanding the remaining challenges, we can pause today, pay tribute to those women (and some brave men) who fought, first for the abolition of slavery, and then for women’s suffrage, and who triumphed on this day in 1920. Thank you, Susan, Elizabeth, Lucretia, Belva, Emmeline, Christabel, Alice, Emily . . . I hope you are resting in peace.
Monday, August 23, 2010
A continuation of my occasional exploration of topics related to egg donation, surrogacy and assisted reproductive technology…
A writer recently shared a story about his and his partner’s decision to raise a child. As a gay couple, they chose paid surrogacy as their path to parenthood. He writes about “shopping” for a surrogate, even comparing the process to online dating. (I’ve written before about how donors are chosen and compensated.)
The part of this story that stood out to me, though, was an assertion about the relationship between the child, the donor/surrogate, and the two dads:
We’d been instructed by our surrogacy agency not to use the “m-word.” “This child will have two fathers,” the staff member scolded. “He or she will have an egg donor and a surrogate, but no mother!”
Untrue, right? Every human baby comes from genetic material from a man and a woman. No exceptions. Every child has a genetic mother.
That’s too literal a reading of the surrogacy agency staffer’s quote, though. She’s claiming that since the two dads intend and plan to raise the baby as their own, it doesn’t matter much whose genetic material is involved or what are the circumstances of the pregnancy.
Julie Shapiro summarizes the flip side of this opinion.
It seems to me that a woman who is pregnant has an ongoing relationship with the soon-to-be child that is clearly parent-like. All the needs of the developing fetus are met, 24/7, for nine months. Thus, when a woman gives birth, she is a mother of that child. And so yes, every child must have a mother.
Ultimately, the couple in the story finds an egg donor closer than they ever imagined: the partner’s sister offers to give the couple her eggs. She undergoes the donation process. Another women acting as a surrogate gives birth to twins, which the writer and his partner are now raising.
The twins are the product of two men (the couple’s mutual desire to have kids; the writer’s genetic material) and two women (one a sister/aunt/egg donor, the other a genetically unrelated surrogate).
Who is the mother? Is there a mother? I think the answer lies in definitions of motherhood – genetic vs. social.
I’m inclined to side with the agency staffer and say that the twins in the story have no mother. They would never have been conceived if not for the egg donor – but she didn’t give birth to them. And they would not have been born if not for the surrogate – but the couple might have chosen another woman to give birth to the child, so her involvement seems arbitrary in a way.
But if I frame the question another way, I’m tempted toward a different answer: Because it takes a woman’s genetic material to create any child, the twins do have a genetic mother. So, what is the role of the genetic mother in the lives of these twins?
The sister/aunt/egg donor in this story is happily involved in the lives of the babies – she will get to see them grow up, even if not as their (social) mother. And that seems like a satisfying arrangement for all involved. There’s no need to deny her status as the kids’ genetic mother - she’s part of the family.
It’s unclear if, how and when the twins - still infants - will learn the story of their birth. It also seems to me that the folks in this story were fantastically lucky to have negotiated such a happy agreement, but it is one one that contains threads that people entering into egg donation and surrogacy situations might wish to strive for: mutual respect, consent, and benefits for everyone involved.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Last month’s Massachusetts case that found DOMA to be unconstitutional, and Judge Walker’s more recent, beautifully authored Prop 8 decision have brought about a lot of discussion on the current footing of marriage equality. There are those who think it’s not the right time for a legal challenge. It’s true that it will almost certainly end up in the hands of the Supreme Court, where a majority of support for the issue is anything but certain. There are those who rushed to the courthouse after Judge Walker’s ruling was announced, thinking that the road to equality had reached its conclusion, at least in the state of California. There are those who appreciate the statement that Judge Walker made, regardless of where the case goes from here. And then there’s Chloe who, after tolerating the recitation of my favorite parts of the Prop 8 decision, said simply “yeah, but wasn’t all that stuff obvious already?” (or something to that effect)
Richard Socarides, President Clinton’s senior adviser on gay rights, opines that both the DOMA and Prop 8 decisions “… provide President Barack Obama, a constitutional law scholar, with an important opportunity to shift his views on same-sex marriage.” “He can do so,” he continues, “by reminding people that respect for the constitution, the rule of law and the courts are the principles upon which this country was founded.” Though no one’s quite sure where the case will go from here, isn’t it possible that these rulings will have some sort of sway with politicians, as well as the general populace?
In fact, it seems to me that these legal wins are only adding strength to the string of events that have been creating a shift in the tide of public opinion. Take the Miss America Pageant (no, I’m not being ironic). The newly crowned Miss New York is running on a pro-marriage-equality platform, the very first beauty pageant contestant to do so. Claire Buffie, who is also an executive member of New York's PFLAG chapter, explained in an MSNBC interview, that ”through the Miss America organization I have an opportunity to speak about the equality and respect that we all deserve as Americans, and through (the organization) I can have a loud voice on this topic.”
Add to that Mexico City’s recent court decision finding gay marriage to be constitutional, and the passage of marriage equality in Argentina, Iceland, and Portugal, and perhaps we have the beginnings of a worldwide equality wave, that will eventually swoop up all in its path?
In the meantime, I thought this idea from my friend Eric was particularly clever: “We should campaign to have a well respected Dictionary replace the word "marriage" with a definition more in line with this conversation. Simply replace any gender references with "human." Let's just have MARRIAGE. no _____ Marriage, just MARRIAGE.”
1a. the state of being united to a person.
Operation Merriam-Webster: Commence
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Everyone acknowledges that abortion is a hot-button issue, a critical battleground in the “culture wars”, a subject that causes ordinarily rational people to get exceedingly worked up. Yet amid all the rhetoric about the sanctity of human life and the autonomy of the woman, we spend precious little time taking the question to its logical extension: if abortion is illegal, then what happens?
We know what happens in Mexico: women go to prison. For up to 30 years, in the state of Guanajato. The authorities in that state dispute the claim, saying that while 166 women have been ‘investigated’ for the crime of having an abortion, the outcomes of those investigations have varied. Oh, okay: that’s different. I guess.
What about in the United States? Well, occasionally legislation is introduced to address the question. Sometimes wrath falls on the physicians for providing abortions (Florida), and sometimes it descends on women, as in the bill in Utah that makes it a crime to commit an act that results in the death of an unborn child outside the parameters of legal abortion (which by the way could include punishment for a miscarriage or negligence while pregnant). And of course there is the nun who was excommunicated for permitting an abortion when the woman's life was in danger, though that isn't a question of secular criminal law.
But the question of punishment turns out to be the black hole in the abortion debate. There is plenty of sound-bite posturing about the topic in general, but when it gets right down to it, try asking an anti-choice person what he believes should be the punishment for it, and you’ll get faster tap-dancing than Savion Glover on a good day. If you don’t believe me, check out this clip from an apparently neutral reporter who asked anti-abortion protesters in Illinois their opinion. Not only did most of them not have an opinion, they copped to never really having thought about it. The same goes for some politicians running on a pro-life platform.
It’s a critical question, and kudos go to America, The National Catholic Weekly, which examined the question way back in 2005, in an article that pointed out the difference between the moral position opposing abortion and the political policies that follow from the moral position. If abortion should be illegal altogether, what should be the consequences? If it were illegal except in the case of rape or incest, or when the woman’s life is in danger, how do you distinguish the punishment in those cases from when the exceptions are absent?
We can’t expect intellectual or policy integrity on every issue (perhaps not on any issue, but let’s ignore that for the moment). But I wonder if the conversation could be shifted if we aimed for the heart of this debate. Don’t just tell me you oppose abortion: tell me what you think should happen to me -- or your sister, your neighbor, your teacher or your daughter -- if one of us has one.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
Up to 15 million women who now are uninsured could gain subsidized coverage under the law. In addition, 14.5 million insured women will benefit from provisions that improve coverage or reduce premiums.
As we’ve discussed on Speaking of Women’s Rights before, the health care reform debate has been contentious, frustrating, and at times, kind of silly. But news like this is a reminder to have hope. Health care is a basic human right, and a piece of legislation that improves the lives of thirty million women is a good starting point on the long path toward equal rights for everyone.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
For most intents and purposes, I didn’t notice my minority status at Berklee College of Music. Mostly I was in an environment with people who were just like me: obsessed with anything having to do with music. Back in 2002, Berklee’s overall student body was 80% male. It wasn’t as noticeable in vocal labs, since the majority of voice majors were women. But I vividly recall sitting in the back of music theory classes while the boys sat up front, shouting out the answers.
The area with the greatest gender imbalance at Berklee has always been the prestigious Music, Production, and Engineering department. Spots in this program are coveted and only obtained by about 2% of the student body. Of the 100 students graduating with a Berklee degree in MP&E this past May, can you guess how many were women? A whopping three. You might be surprised to learn that this percentage is just slightly below the national average of women in the audio engineering profession (roughly 5%).
Though the ratio of women to men is improving in Berklee’s general student body – women made up 29% of the 2009-2010 school population – the degree with arguably the best chance of landing you a job after graduation (or one outside of the college’s admissions department anyway) - is predominantly bestowed upon men.
Considering this, you can imagine how heartening it was to read about the opportunity young girls are being afforded this week through a day camp called Girls Rock! Seattle. Throughout the week girls ages 8-16 will be forming bands, learning to play instruments, and putting on a finale show together (at Nuemos this coming Saturday). But beyond that, these girls are learning more in-depth information about the music industry. “It’s all about girls becoming familiar with what goes on behind the scenes. You go to a show and see the performance, but then you can go to camp and see how the house sound is run, how to sound check […] you learn how important all that is to running a concert,” says local musician and Girls Rock! Seattle instructor Anomie Belle. Belle teaches a course called “Audio Recording and Electronic Music Production,” at the camp, and is hoping to help girls “take electronic music in their own hands…”
Also encouraging is NPR’s new series “Hey Ladies: Being A Woman Musician Today,” which began with a questionnaire that was sent to over 700 female musicians “ranging from American Idol contestants to klezmer drummers to metal songwriters to opera divas.” The responses have been used to craft radio pieces that began airing recently on the common struggles that women face in the music industry.
More inspiring still is the fact that I could write all day about the myriad projects that have been created with the goal of increasing female participation in music fields usually dominated by men. Listservs for women in the music industry, indie music conferences, and programs like Women’s Audio Mission - a San Francisco-based organization that provides training in the recording arts and audio technology, as well as female mentors for young girls interested in the field - are all striving to create more opportunities for women.
Will all of these programs make a difference? Might the tech-savvy Millennials be the generation to break the music industry gender boundaries? Will new studies that tell girls they’re not inferior in the STEM fields after all be the key bit of info that pushes a greater number of women into the more tech-heavy music professions? We can only hope.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
A friend and I joke about shrill feminist attorneys and how we aspire to be like them. The line comes from a Simpsons episode where famed feminist attorney Gloria Allred shows up at the family’s Thanksgiving. Best known for representing Amber Frey, a witness in the Scott Peterson case, Nicole Brown Simpson’s family in the OJ Simpson murder trial, and most recently Rachel Uchitel, Tiger Woods’s mistress, Gloria has been making waves in the news and advancing women’s rights for decades. In one of her most famous lines, she called the exclusion of an 11-year old girl from the boy scouts “gender apartheid.”
Gloria’s latest appearance came last week when she was interviewed for bigthink.com. In the interview, she explained her philosophy on feminism: “if you are not a feminist, then you’re a bigot.”
I was not too surprised when I started reading the comments to her interview and I saw lines such as “Women have ruined [an] entire generation of fatherless children.” I expect to hear an outcry from those men who’d prefer that women remain second-class citizens—who feel threatened by the power of shrill (read: strong) women. Without meaning to, those men illustrate precisely the point that Gloria is making.
What always gets to me, though, is how many women on these forums seem to be opposed to fighting for equality and who would rather settle for the status quo or even worse, criticize women who are fighting for our rights. My question is: what are these women afraid of? My best guess is that they don’t want to be seen by men as stepping out of line. They’d rather believe the rhetoric, disseminated by such women as Christina Hoff Sommers, that feminism is akin to male-bashing. They’d rather be on the side of those with the power than with the ones fighting for equality.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for the successes of women who’ve come before me—we all owe them great homage. But, like Gloria, I’m not ready to simply accept how far we’ve come and let that be the end of the story. I’d rather keep fighting for women’s legal rights and see where we can get.
Lindsey Siegel is an intern at Legal Voice and a law student at the Washington College of Law.
Monday, July 19, 2010
Did you know that just a few months ago ABC and Fox refused to show a commercial unless it was censored because they found it gross? Ashley Graham, a plus sized model, was featured in a Lane Bryant lingerie ad. Lane Bryant purchased a time slot during a Dancing With The Stars episode, but it did not air. As part of an assignment for school, I conducted an interview with Ashley, and when I asked her how she felt when she discovered her commercial had been banned she said, “I immediately heard it was because there was too much cleavage and skin. But then that would be a HUGE double standard, considering all the Victoria’s Secret commercials and skin we see all over the television! So therefore, I assumed they (FOX and ABC) were prejudice against a fuller figured woman. But at the end of the day it didn't hurt my feelings because I've been dealing with people who are like this all through school."
I asked Ashley a few more questions;“What goals do you have as a plus sized model?” and in return she offered, “To get people to stop calling us plus size. In the modeling industry we are all models. So why do I have to be labeled as a 'plus size' when I'm not even plus? The skinnier models aren't called skin and bone size.” I think she’s right. Why are people labeled skinny or over weight or plus sized? We are all the same on the inside, and that’s what matters most.Take a look at the Lane Bryant video...
Now view the latest Victoria's Secret Nakeds commercial. See the similarities?
Now tell me, what does the Lane Bryant commercial show that the Victoria’s Secret commercial does not? That’s what I want you to think about. There is no difference – and the Victoria’s Secret commercial has enjoyed a successful TV run.I wonder if any of you saw the Glee episode where Mercedes, a high school student, was asked to lose 10 pounds to make the cheer squad. One thing that really stood out for me was a scene from the end of the storyline when Mercedes asked her classmates. “how many of you at this school feel fat, how many of you feel like maybe you’re not worth very much or you’re ugly or you have too many pimples and not enough friends?” Why did people raise their hands? Maybe because they feel inadequate. Maybe because media portrays women who are in their 20s and 30s as 14-year-olds,, my age! Or maybe because the average ‘Super Model’ weighs 108-125 lbs, my size! When I see those models on the television or in magazines or catalogs I think they are very pretty but I wonder if they are healthy. The clothes make them look glamorous but underneath they must be skin over bones. I wonder if they feel inadequate too.
Ashley Graham lives and works in New York City and will be getting married in August 2010.
Katherine McMahon is an incoming eighth grader at Seattle Girls’ School. When she is not blogging, she is dancing.
1. Personal communication with Ashley Graham, May 5, 20102. Ashley Graham | Model for Lane Bryant nearly banned by TV
Thursday, July 15, 2010
I nearly lost it yesterday when I came across an article in the New York Times about a list of supposed illegal immigrantsthat had landed in the hands of law enforcement and media outlets all over the state of Utah. The list caused widespread panic among the Hispanic community and a wave of outrage across the country. An accompanying letter – sent by something called the “Concerned Citizens of the United States” called for deportation of the individuals on the list as well as the publication of their names in the media. It’s hard to say exactly which part of this whole debacle is creepier, the fact that many of the names were accompanied by privileged medical information, or the quote from the end of the letter: “We will be listening and watching.”
Sometimes it seems that the hate in this world is taking over. But then I hear stories about people who are doing really brilliant and beautiful things to counteract all of the hate. Here’s my short list for you: A bunch of people who are not letting the negativity get them down, but instead, using their frustration to fuel efforts to make the world a better place.
Artist Eroyn Franklin recently took on the task of depicting the Northwest Detention Center, located in Tacoma and home to immigrants who are waiting to find out whether or not they’ll be deported. Though Franklin was not allowed to photograph the inside of the center, she spent 6 months after her visit there illustrating what she had seen. The Seattle-based artist’s goal was to "… show people what it looked like, what it felt like inside these places." The exhibit is currently showing at Gallery4Culture in Pioneer Square.
The If Project began while Seattle Police Officer Kim Bogucki was running programs for children whose mothers were incarcerated. Noting that children whose parents are in jail have a 70% change of ending up there themselves, it occurred to her that the inmates may have ideas about how to change things for their kids. So she posed this question: “If there was something someone could have said or done that would have changed the path that led you here, what would it have been?” Since the question was first asked, Bogucki has received more than 240 essays. Though the If Project focuses on finding ways to “break the chain of felonies that have brought them all here, in the hopes of preventing others from doing the same,” it also gives these women a chance to be heard, which is something they don’t often experience. You can hear one woman’s story of how the If Project has touched her life on NPR HERE.
New on the scene, Team Up For Nonprofits views music as the ultimate way to tap into the philanthropic leanings of the Seattle’s younger generation. Its goal is to produce great shows that benefit a particularly deserving local nonprofit organization. Their first endeavor – a show at the newly minted Hard Rock Café featuring Common Market’s Ra Scion, DJ B-Mello, Project Lionheart, and Sol and Dice, benefitting Seattle Against Slavery – was a great success. It makes good sense: awesome shows + money for great causes = everybody wins.
Lambda Legal has tried a more kitschy approach to fighting fear and hatred. After Linda Lingle vetoed Hawaii’s civil unions bill last week, the organization has taken to sending her postcards in Classic-Hawaii-Tourist-Camp style that read “Equality: Wish You Were Here.”
You see now? The world isn’t such a bad place after all. The media will always overwhelm us with tales of injustice. But I like to think that for every ignorant action there is person out there fighting for what’s right.