New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand ruffled some feminist feathers this past week by saying in an interview she’s “worried that the women’s movement is dead…there’s no functional movement where we’re working together and making sure all women are heard on all these issues.”Many feminists were quick to point out the recent gains in fighting back against abortion restrictions, fighting for equal pay, tougher domestic violence laws, and so on. It seems these feminists stopped reading her comments after the part where she’s worried the women’s movement is dead. The truth is, Senator Gillibrand hits the nail on the head. The feminist movement has been plagued by infighting and splinter groups since its inception. Feminism has not been inclusive to beyond rich, white, heterosexual women. As Jessica Valenti writes in Full Frontal Feminism, “unfortunately, when feminism is talked about, it’s still positioned from the experience of a white, middle- to upper-class, hetero gal. It just is. And if that’s the only way we think of feminism, then we’re essentially erasing the existence of any other woman who doesn’t function within those confines.” Audre Lorde said it is not these differences of race, class, and sexual orientation that separate us women, rather it’s our inability to include diversity: “Certainly there are very real differences between us of race, age, and sex. But it is not those differences between us that are separating us. It is rather our refusal to recognize those differences, and to examine the distortions which result from our misnaming them and their effects upon human behavior and expectation.”
Feminism, like most social movements, has been marred by ugly episodes of exclusion in its past. First Wave Feminism, known for its achievement of getting women the right to vote with the Nineteenth Amendment, was known to be racist. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the leading voices of the women’s suffrage movement, believed white, educated women such as herself were more deserving of the right to vote than African-American men; she was also very dismissive of the plight of African-American women. Second Wave Feminism, which took place from the early 1960s to the early 1980s, was homophobic in nature. Betty Friedan, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), reportedly referred to lesbian feminists as the “lavender menace.” Heterosexual feminists believed including lesbians would give credibility to the notion that feminists were man-hating lesbians and would cripple their ability to enact lasting political change. NOW also refused to include lesbians in its official platforms. This exclusion of lesbian feminists led to radical splinter groups that focused on removing male influence in society. Today’s feminism has been plagued by episodes of transphobia. Transgender women have been excluded from the conversation on how to advance women’s rights because they are not “women born.” The fact that there is a segment of feminism referred to as “trans-exclusionary” radical feminism (TERF) is abhorrent.
All this to say, Senator Gillibrand is right; feminism doesn’t have a unifying platform. That being said, there are many issues where all feminists can find common ground. Feminists can unify behind ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment because amending the Constitution to guarantee equal rights to women is something all feminists can agree on. Feminists can rally around abortion rights and affirming Roe v. Wade because you cannot be a pro-life feminist. Feminists can work for universal education for young girls and ending child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM). While the women’s movement has been successful recently in fighting back against the onslaught of abortion restrictions, attacks on birth control, and lack of action on equal pay, we could take a lesson from the successful gay rights movement by uniting behind common causes to move progress forward.
On Sunday afternoon, nude images of high-profile women began hitting the web after they had been stolen off of their phones thanks to a glitch in iCloud. The revealing images were shared on the forum 4chan and quickly went viral. Close to 100 women, including Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Victoria Justice, and Hope Solo, had their private images posted on the Internet. To make matters worse, the images posted of US Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney were taken when she was a minor, making it child pornography. Let’s get one thing straight: These women did absolutely nothing wrong. If someone wants to take photos of themselves to consensually share with s omeone in private then go for it; there is nothing wrong with taking nude pictures to share. The issue here is the fact that these images were stolen and shared without the consent of these women. There are plenty of images online of naked women who consent to their naked images being plastered all over the web. People are seeking out these images because they were posted against the wishes of these women, upping the titillation factor. Viewing these images only furthers the online abuse of these women.
The response to all of this is not to say “Don’t take nude pictures and you won’t have to worry about getting your phone hacked.” That’s the equivalent of telling women not to wear a short skirt or drink too much alcohol and they won’t get raped. Everyone, whether they’re Academy Award winning actresses, sports superstars, or everyday Americans, has the right to privacy. Unfortunately, with so much information available on these celebrities, it’s too easy to hack into their personal information like their cell phones. Sadly, one response that developed in the wake of this theft Sunday was the #IfMyPhoneWasHacked hashtag on Twitter. Users, many of them being women, tweeted mundane pictures currently on their smartphones which continued the body shaming and victim blaming portion of this theft. This crime was not a hack, it was a sexual assault on these women. Sexual assault needs an expanded definition to catch up with technology which furthers the abuse of women beyond the physical attack. When this is done to women who aren’t in the public eye, it is called revenge porn and we are starting to see laws passed against this. Setting the precedent that celebrity women have no expectation of privacy because of their status and are just there for public consumption is incredibly dangerous.
The posting of these photos further showed just how crappy the Internet is for women. Online misogyny runs rampant through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and online message boards like 4chan. To be clear, this was a targeted attack against these famous women to bring them down a notch, because you can’t argue male celebrities don’t also take nude pictures. The responses saying don’t take nude pictures further highlights the backlash women receive for voicing their opinions. Feminist activists, in particular, receive a torrent of online hate everyday. Some respond to these abusers with humor, while others acknowledge the hate makes it difficult to continue using these sites. These online sites should be platforms for everyone to be heard, but how can women be these advocates if they’re constantly worried about violations of privacy and online threats, including threats of death and rape? As we move further into the digital age, we need to answer the questions that are raised surrounding speech and safety on social media. These sites, especially Twitter, have been too slow to confront this online hate and these threats because they value freedom of speech over the safety of their users. We need to be able to talk about our bodies and have the right to celebrate how we look. We deserve to be able to feel good about how we look naked without being shamed and threatened with violence. If you don’t believe this hate speech is used, take a look at what I’ve received merely for having “feminist” in my Twitter bio.
The next time you decide to make threats from behind a computer screen, remember a human being is sitting on the other side of it.
“The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.” Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 856 (1992). So begins Justice Ruthe Bader Ginsburg’s incredible dissent in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. Building on their buffer zone ruling in McCullen v. Coakley, the Supreme Court further damaged women’s rights by declaring the contraception mandate violates Hobby Lobby’s freedom of religion. Under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), the government cannot substantially burden an individual’s exercise of religion, even if the burden stems from a law of general applicability, unless the law furthers a compelling government interest and is the least restrictive means necessary. Building on this law, in a 5-4 decision, 5 male justices ruled that closely-held companies like Hobby Lobby cannot be compelled to cover contraception in violation of their sincerely held religious beliefs.
Supporters of the decision argue that this is a narrow ruling applying mainly to Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood; this is anything but that. Based on the IRS guidelines on “closely held” companies, over 90% of all corporations in the United States are closely held. That means 90% of corporations now have the ability to tell women what to do with their bodies.
However, it’s uncertain how sincere those religious beliefs really are. Hobby Lobby has previously covered contraception for their employees. Another point of hypocrisy: Hobby Lobby’s 401(k) Retirement Plan invests more than $73 million in mutual funds which includes companies that produce emergency contraceptives, IUDs, and drugs used in abortion procedures. On top of that, Hobby Lobby’s insurance plans cover erectile dysfunction drugs, such as Viagra, and vasectomies. Essentially, the company is just fine with male sexuality; it’s when women engage in sex that they really object. Today’s ruling not only codified religious discrimination, it basically declared misogyny to be a sincerely held religious belief. Oh by the way, Hobby Lobby violates Leviticus 19:19 by selling blended fabrics.
In the majority opinion, Justice Alito made not that this decision only covers the contraception mandate, and not other mandates such as for blood transfusions and vaccinations. He further clarified the decision does not provide a “shield for employers who might cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice.” Apparently, sexism is not illegal discrimination. The opinion further showcases that elections matter and the need for the Equal Rights Amendment.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor and partially joined by Justice Elena Kagan, wrote in her dissenting opinion that this is a decision of “startling breadth.” In it, she specifically notes that birth control is not solely used to prevent pregnancy citing its use in some congenital heart diseases, Marfan syndrome, and reducing the risk of endometrial cancer. Justice Ginsburg also makes note of the impact unintended pregnancies have on women; “women with unintended pregnancies are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, and their children face ‘increased odds of preterm birth and low birth weight’.” Citing the Supreme Court’s decision in Employment Division v. Smith, which ruled the First Amendment is not violated when infringing free exercise of religion is incidental in the application of a general law or regulation, Justice Ginsburg states the contraception mandate is applied generally, is “otherwise valid,” focuses on women’s health and not religious freedom, and any effect it has on free exercise is incidental. Furthermore, religious exemptions cannot have a significant impact on third parties involved. In this case, Ginsburg ruled, “it would deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage that the ACA would otherwise secure.” Justice Ginsburg rejects Hobby Lobby’s argument under the RFRA because its sole purpose was to restore the use of the compelling government interest test in determining cases where free exercise was involved; it was not intended to challenge other areas of law. Justice Ginsburg goes on to say there is no case law prior to the Smith decision that supports the notion that for-profit corporations have free exercise rights. Expanding on this, she writes, “Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community.”
In dealing with the substantial burden issue, Ginsburg writes the challenge to their beliefs are insufficient to warrant this exemption. Justice Ginsburg noted that a woman who shares the religious beliefs of the Hobby Lobby owners is under no obligation to buy health insurance that covers contraception. However, “no individual decision by an employee and her physician – be it to use contraception, treat an infection, or have a hip replaced – is in any meaningful sense [her employer’s] decision or action…Any decision to use contraceptives made by a woman covered under Hobby Lobby’s or Conestoga’s plan will not be propelled by the Government, it will be the woman’s autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults.”
Aside from failing the “substantial burden” test, Hobby Lobby failed to show providing contraception was not a compelling government interest. Contraception serves the public health and women’s well being. Contraception access allows women to avoid the health problems associated with unintended pregnancies, avoid the risks of pregnancy which can be life-threatening for some, and provide treatment for conditions entirely unrelated to preventing pregnancy, like certain types of cancer and migraines. Justice Ginsburg also emphasized Hobby Lobby’s refusal to cover IUDs, “devices significantly more effective, and significantly more expensive than other contraceptive methods…It bears note in this regard that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month’s full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage.”
The answer to all of this is not for women to close their legs and stop having sex. After all, nobody is challenging the right of males to access Viagra.
Now, when it comes to the 4 contraception methods Hobby Lobby objects to, a little biology lesson is in order. Because, thanks once again to conservatives, most of us don’t receive proper comprehensive sex ed. The 4 methods Hobby Lobby objects to are ella, RU-486, Plan B, and IUDs. The Food & Drug Administration does not categorize these as abortifacients, contrary to what the corporations say. These drugs do not cause abortion, they merely prevent pregnancy. ella is a ulipristal non-hormonal drug that blocks the effects of the key hormones necessary for conception. It belongs to a class of drugs called selective progesterone receptor modulator. The only other approved drug in this class of selective progesterone receptor modulators is the Mifepristone modulator known as RU-486, another drug Hobby Lobby objects to providing. Plan B, which is now available over the counter thanks to the Department of Health & Human Services, is a 1.5 mg tablet of levorgestrel that works to block pregnancy. There is disagreement within the medical community over how this prevention actually takes place, whether it is through preventing implantation or through preventing/delaying ovulation. The majority of research reveals it works through delaying or preventing ovulation. Research also suggests the progesterone in Plan B may make it harder to become pregnant by altering the path of the sperm, making it harder to fertilize the egg. Lastly, intrauterine devices (IUDs) prevent pregnancy by disrupting the way sperm moves, making it impossible to reach the egg. It also change the consistency of the uterine lining which makes it difficult for sperm to reach the egg and fertilized eggs to implant. Copper IUDs create a toxic environment making it impossible for sperm to travel to the egg.The majority of the medical community defines pregnancy as beginning once a fertilized egg has implanted in the uterus.
When all three female justices on the bench are dissenting on an opinion impacting birth control, something is wrong with the decision. As women’s rights organizations move forward, it’s important to find a solution to this gap that has been created in contraception access. While we should work to close this gap, policymakers and feminists should also fight to make birth control available over the counter. These challenges to abortion clinic buffer zones and the contraception mandate are all part of a concerted effort to chip away at Roe v. Wade and ultimately challenge the constitutionality of abortion again. Today’s Supreme Court decision ruled religious beliefs hold more weight than scientific facts. As an atheist and a woman, my rights to freedom from religion and freedom to make my own health care decisions about my body, are trumped by a corporation’s right to ignore science and impose their religious beliefs on their employees. The effects this will have on women, and could have on LGBT Americans through codifying religious discrimination, are frightening.
This morning the Supreme Court struck down Massachusetts’ 35 foot abortion clinic buffer zone law in McCullen v. Coakley. In a unanimous decision, the Court ruled the buffer zone law placed an undue burden on the protesters’ ability to “engage in personal, caring, consensual conversations with women about various alternatives.”
In 2000, Massachusetts passed the Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act which initially established an 18 foot buffer zone around clinic entrances and driveways. Individuals entering inside the 18 foot zone could not get within 6 feet of a patient without consent for the purposes of counseling or distributing literature. These 6 foot zones were deemed unenforceable and the law was amended in 2007 to establish a fixed 35 foot buffer zone. Under the new law, no individuals may enter the buffer zone except for patients entering or exiting the facility, employees of the facility, law enforcement, paramedics, and utilities personnel, and pedestrians using the sidewalk to get to a destination that is not the clinic.
Writing for the majority that included Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, Ginsburg, and Breyer, Chief Justice John Roberts differentiates between protesters and petitioners. He writes protesters “express their moral or religious opposition to abortion through signs and chants, or, in some cases, more aggressive methods such as face-to-face confrontation.” Whereas petitioners “attempt to engage women approaching the clinics in what they call ‘sidewalk counseling,’ which involves offering information about alternatives to abortion and help pursuing those options.” McCullen claims she and other petitioners have dissuaded hundreds of women from obtaining abortions with their calm, caring demeanor and honest conversations. Petitioners say the buffer zones have rendered them unable to perform their counseling.
Chief Justice Roberts writes that the public sidewalk is one of few places remaining where a speaker can be confident he is not simply preaching to the choir; listeners often encounter speech they would otherwise tune out on other means of communication. The Massachusetts Act is not content-based aimed at restricting abortion-related speech, as petitioners argued, because the law is violated not by what is said, but where they say it. Massachusetts’ bases for the law of protecting public safety and ensuring unobstructed access to clinics are legitimate; “large crowds outside abortion clinics can still compromise public safety, impede access, and obstruct sidewalks.” Therefore, the law is content neutral.
In regards to the buffer zone exemptions, exempting clinic employees to walk in the buffer zone, particularly the clinic escorts who accompany patients into the building, is not an attempt to give more weight to the pro-choice side of the argument on the part of the state of Massachusetts. The exemption is limited to “the scope of their employment,” which merely allows them to do their jobs. Petitioners claimed clinic escorts made disparaging remarks about their efforts and often prevented the petitioners from providing literature to patients. Because testimony did not clarify if this was done inside or outside of the buffer zone, and because clinic escorts are told not to express their views on abortion, the clinic staff exemption does not constitute viewpoint discrimination.
Writing the majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts ruled the buffer zones established by the law place an undue burden on petitioners and significantly limit their ability to provide “sidewalk counseling.” “The Act operates to deprive petitioners of their two primary methods of communicating with patients.” Petitioners are not protesters and merely seek to provide alternatives to abortion. Chief Justice Roberts followed by providing policy recommendations that are less restrictive. Ruling that the law burdens more speech than necessary, Massachusetts can enact laws imposing criminal sanctions on those who obstruct, intimidate, or interfere with someone obtaining or providing reproductive services. Preventing obstruction of clinic driveways is already addressed through local traffic ordinances. Regarding unrestricted access to clinic entrances, police can disperse large crowds that block entrances.
When reading this decision, it should be noted that the Supreme Court justices enjoy hearing arguments and making rulings within the confines of a strictly enforced 100 foot buffer zone. This case highlights how drastically a sympathetic plaintiff can change the entire debate. The Court is completely off the mark in distinguishing protesters and petitioners. Freedom of speech does not guarantee a freedom to be listened to. Clinic protesters have been known to completely block the sidewalk with large posters depicting supposed late term abortions, throw plastic fetuses at patients entering the clinic while standing outside the buffer zone, and threaten women with violence. The decision mentioning the need for police to disperse protesters proves the need for these buffer zones. Violence at abortion clinics is widespread. In Massachusetts, this buffer zone law stemmed from an anti-abortion fanatic shooting 7 people at a clinic. Since 1977, abortion clinic violence has included 8 murders, 17 attempted murders, 42 bombings, and 181 cases of arson.
In the wake of this terrible Supreme Court ruling that once again tells women that no one really cares about our rights, I am even more excited to begin working as a volunteer clinic escort at Planned Parenthood next month. Women do not need to be protected from their own decision to obtain an abortion; they need to be protected from the anti-choice zealots who would rather threaten a woman’s safety than allow access to an abortion clinic.
Saturday morning I woke up with an alert on my phone informing me US Women’s Soccer star Hope Solo had been arrested and jailed for multiple counts of domestic violence. She was arrested and charged with 4th degree domestic assault for allegedly punching her sister and 17 year old nephew in the early hours of Saturday morning. Police described her as intoxicated and argumentative throughout the ordeal. Her sister and nephew were left with visible injuries. You will be hard pressed to find a bigger Hope Solo fan than me. A large poster of her, along with multiple signed photos, hang above my bed. I have part of her famous post-2007 World Cup quote in dealing with adversity tattooed on my left ribs, with plans to finish it complete with her autograph. And I named my first cat Hope after her when I adopted her nearly 2 years ago. So I’m sure you can understand why I’m feeling so conflicted over her domestic violence arrest. In short, I feel like a bad feminist.
Male against female domestic violence is so prevalent that we often forget that women can also be the aggressors. This is by no means a defense of men’s rights groups because I abhor everything they stand for. However, it is important to understand that women can exhibit violent behavior too. Nearly all scholarly studies conducted on domestic violence have found escalated rates of mutual aggression by both partners, including studies conducted by feminist researchers. Women are more likely to be the injured party in domestic violence because the male aggressors are typically stronger and tend to choke and punch, whereas women tend to scratch or slap.
In Hope Solo’s case, she was determined to be the aggressor by police and was subsequently arrested. In Washington, a mandatory arrest law is in place when police are called to a domestic dispute. The state also requires the accused to appear before a judge for a hearing to determine bail, which is why Solo was held in jail until this afternoon. Solo was granted release on her own recognizance, but ordered not to have contact with her sister or 17 year old nephew, the alleged victims in the case. She was also ordered not to drink alcohol until her next pretrial hearing scheduled for August 11th. Her attorney argued Solo is the victim in this case, citing court documents which state she was hit over the head with a broom handle and had a BB gun pulled on her, and believe they have a strong case to defend.
It is entirely possible Hope Solo is not guilty in this situation, and I hope she is acquitted of these charges and can go back to playing soccer in preparation for next year’s Women’s World Cup in Canada. The story being told by her nephew clearly has holes in it. As more information comes out, I’m a little impressed that Solo stood up for herself against a verbally abusive male who pulled a gun on her. But one thing has become very clear, I am a diehard fan of a very flawed woman. In this age of social media, we tend to learn things about our favorite athletes and celebrities that we would not necessarily want to know. Athletes don’t grow up dreaming of having their posters on kids’ walls or being perfect role models; they dream of winning titles, accolades, and making money. It’s important to remember that Hope Solo doesn’t owe it to anyone to be a good role model. And that is why, in spite of her off the field flaws, I will continue to cheer for her every time she steps on the field and hope she is in net to win her first World Cup next year.
“You have two choices: Suicide or AWOL.” That is how former Army Criminal Investigative Division prosecutor Myla Haider described the current system for victims of military sexual assault. Sergeant Haider, along with every other female military investigator, was not allowed to investigate rape allegations because females were deemed “too sympathetic” to objectively pursue the case. The result has been catastrophic; military rape victims are treated as liars, interrogated for filing false reports of assault, slutshamed for their supposed behavior that invited the assault, and then face professional retaliation in the form of a reduction in rank and/or charges of adultery and fraternization if their attacker was married.
According to the United Nations Development Fund for Women, one in three women will be victims of rape, sexual assault, or gender-based violence in their lifetime. Within the United States military, this rate is much higher. In 2012, alone, an estimated 26,000 service members sustained unwanted sexual contact, a 34% increase from 2010. The same survey on military sexual assault in 2012 revealed less than three out of every one hundred cases were prosecuted. The numbers are more staggering when looking at cases of sexual assault and rape. Over 20% of female veterans have been sexually assaulted while serving in the United States military. In 2009, 3,230 male and female servicemembers reported being sexually assaulted, according to the Department of Defense. The DOD acknowledges this number is probably on the low end, since an estimated 80% of sexual assault survivors do not report.
To put these numbers in perspective, the military sexual assault rate is at least twice the civilian rate. Only 8% of reported sexual assaults reached the court-martial stage in 2007. To compare, 40% of offenders arrested for sex crimes in the civilian courts are prosecuted. 33% of servicewomen did not report their rape because the person to report to was a friend of their rapist; 25% of servicewomen did not report because the person to report to was their rapist. As a result, women who have been raped in the military have a higher rate of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) than men who have seen combat. 40% of homeless female veterans were raped during their military service.
Rape, especially as a tool of war, is not a new phenomenon, nor is it a new development arising out of the prolonged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A 2003 study revealed 30% of female veterans who served during the period spanning the Vietnam War to the first Gulf War were raped. A 2004 study examining PTSD rates among veterans who served in the military during Vietnam to the present showed 71% of female veterans had been sexually assaulted or raped during their service. Lastly, a 1995 study revealed 90% of female veterans who served in the Gulf, and wars prior, had been the target of sexual harassment.
On Tuesday in her live town hall event with CNN, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced her support for Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s proposed Military Justice Improvement Act to combat the United States MIlitary’s rape crisis. The presumptive 2016 presidential candidate supports her Senate successor’s efforts to remove the prosecution of rape and sexual assault from the chain of command. Senator Gillibrand’s proposal has failed to gain the necessary 60 votes in the Senate to overcome a filibuster. Instead, Congress has passed the less significant reforms proposed by Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has led the charge in reforming the way the United States military prosecutes cases of rape and sexual assault. The senator’s proposed plan, the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA) is the more radical of the two policy proposals. If adopted, the MJIA would remove the prosecution of rape and sexual assault, along with all other crimes punishable by more than one year, from the chain of command and give the power to an unbiased Judge Advocate General (JAG). Specifically, JAG officers must hold the rank of O-6 or higher, be qualified as trial counsel under the UCMJ, have extensive experience in court-martial trials, and not be assigned to the chain of command of the victim or accused at the time of the accusation. This JAG officer would have the power to determine if charges are brought and if a court-martial is convened. The power to review these decisions would be extended to the offices of the military chiefs of each of the service branches.
Although the bill failed to overcome a filibuster, Senator Gillibrand has received widespread support for the proposed reforms. After extensive research on the military’s sexual assault epidemic, Lindsay Rosenthal and Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress concluded the problem will not be fixed until it is removed from the chain of command. Moving the prosecution of sexual crimes to independent military lawyers removes the influence and bias of the chain of command and the potential for retaliation on the victim. Rosenthal and Korb determined “since senior officials in the chain of command not only lack legal training but also have inherent conflicts of interests, the chain of command is the very source of the problem.”
Along with Center for American Progress, the legislation has public support from veterans’ groups, women’s rights organizations, UCMJ experts, and the Department of Defense’s Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services. Supporters include the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), Joyful Heart Foundation, and the National Organization for Women. Rape survivors Lieutenant Ariana Klay and Seaman Kori Cioca have publicly spoken out in support of the Military Justice Improvement Act. In a letter to Congress, more than a dozen military justice law professors supported removing prosecution from the chain of command, appointing the jury for a court-martial by an unbiased officer, and removing the power to review charges and sentencing from commanders.
Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, a former prosecutor of sex crimes, proposed less sweeping reforms to the way the military prosecutes sexual assault. Ultimately, it was Senator McCaskill’s plan that passed in Congress. Attached as an amendment to the 2013 Defense Authorization bill, McCaskill’s plan prohibits commanding officers from vacating court-martial convictions. Other changes call for a review of cases where the commanding officer contests the recommendation for court-martial by a JAG officer by the civilian secretary of the service branch, make reprisals against victims who report crimes a punishable offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and require commanders who oversee the judicial proceedings to justify sentence alterations and consult with the victim prior to issuing a sentence. Additionally, the accused will now be moved out of the unit of the accuser and those found guilty of sex crimes will face a minimum punishment of dishonorable discharge from the service. Lastly, the legislation lifts the previous five-year statute of limitations on sexual assault. Both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees endorsed these policy changes in the debate process. In early 2014, Senator McCaskill followed up the initial reforms by passing an additional measure to combat the rape crisis through the Senate. While still awaiting a vote in the House, the additional provisions ban the “good soldier” defense that would allow the accused to cite prior military service, commendations, and character testimony in refuting the charges. In cases where a military rape occurred on civilian property, the victim would get to determine if the perpetrator is prosecuted in civilian or military court. Finally, officer promotion decisions would now include that officer’s prior handling of sexual assault cases.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has vowed to continue fighting for the passage of the Military Justice Improvement Act. If past efforts on behalf of veterans and minority groups within the military are any indication, military sexual assault victims have a strong ally in Senator Gillibrand.
[This was a creative writing assignment in a course on the synoptic gospels that I [Colleen Ryan] took during the 2013 fall semester with Dr. Kelly Wilson. Students were asked to write a 5-6 page gospel from a particular point of view and to a particular audience. I’m not particularly religious, but if I was this is the type of religion I’d be drawn to. I chose to write a gospel for an LGBT audience. After the course, the professor and I worked on refining the message so that it could be shared with others. Here’s the final product. -Colleen Ryan]
The Gospel for Those Who Love
By Colleen Ryan & Kelly Wilson
In the beginning was love, and love was with God, and love was God. Love was in the beginning with God. In the spirit of that love, many couples began planning their nuptials, including Mary and Addison. Mary and Addison had been in love for over twenty-five years but never had the legal option of getting married until same-sex marriage was made legal in Minnesota. For the couple, walking down the aisle was not only a legal victory, but a personal one as well. About fifteen years before the wedding, Mary discovered she was pregnant; when Addison heard the news, she was ready to end the relationship and dismiss her quietly. That night, lying awake in her hotel room, Addison heard God’s voice. God informed Addison that Mary had been chosen by her to bear a son. God instructed Addison to name their son Jesus. The next day she returned to support the woman she loved.
Nine months later, while traveling in Florida, Mary went into labor. They immediately drove to the nearest hospital where they encountered hostility from the medical staff. The ER nurse told them the hospital did not treat their kind here. They left and encountered a nun who invited them back to her convent. Mary gave birth to a baby boy, named him Jesus, and raised him with the love of her life, Addison. Fast forward to September 2013, on a beautiful fall afternoon, Jesus was overjoyed to see the legal wedding of his two mothers in Minnesota.
In the months leading up to the statewide legalization of same-sex marriage, there were widespread protests citing its harmful effects it would have on traditional marriage. For the first time in Jesus’ life, he began hearing that his mothers were a detriment to society, children, and the institution of marriage. He heard that their marriage would threaten existing marriages between a man and a woman. Jesus was shocked and thought, “If only those people knew my moms, they would not say those things.” He took note of these protesters and tried to understand their motives. Seeing the pain they caused his moms, he realized his mission was to bring the message of love, compassion, and inclusivity to all.
After graduating from high school in Minnesota, Jesus ventured east to Georgetown University; he would study political science to help elect political candidates that supported same-sex marriage and equality for LGBT Americans. As the semester progressed, his roommate, Nathan, confessed he was struggling with his sexuality. While Nathan had always supported the LGBT community, he was angry and bitter once he realized that he, himself, was a gay man. He told Jesus that he did not believe he deserved to be happy and feared revealing this closely guarded secret to family and friends. Nathan continued to voice his frustrations about his sexuality, his fear of being rejected, and his desire to remain in the closet where he could hide from others and himself. He confessed he had turned to alcohol as a coping mechanism; he would get drunk to quiet the storm inside his head. Nathan admitted that even just saying the words “I’m gay” aloud still struck fear and shame in his heart.
As Jesus listened to Nathan, he remembered Claire, his friend from high school. He shared with Nathan her story of being mercilessly bullied and verbally abused to the point of wanting to commit suicide and how her friends lovingly reached out to her and helped her speak her truth without shame. He turned to Nathan, grabbed his hands, and said, “Nathan, what Claire realized, and what you will realize someday, is that your sexuality is a gift from God—you are made by God, and God doesn’t make mistakes.” Tears began to stream down Nathan’s face. “Will it ever get better?” he asked Jesus. “Nathan,” Jesus said, “both of my moms struggled to accept themselves when they were younger; they struggled with being open about their relationship, and look at them now. It will get better. You deserve to love and be loved by another, and I cannot wait to meet the man you want to spend the rest of your life with.” Nathan cracked a smile. “I’m serious,” Jesus said. Jesus’ compassion and acceptance led to Nathan becoming his first disciple. Nathan dropped his fear and self-hatred and followed Jesus. Throughout college, Jesus became friends with other gays, lesbians, and transgender students, along with straight allies, feminists, and religious classmates. This core group of diverse young acolytes would follow him beyond college, as his disciples, to help him promote his message of acceptance and love to all Americans.
As marriage equality legislation moved at a furious pace in state legislatures across the country, Jesus and his disciples traveled to Chicago to witness the first day of legal same-sex marriage in Illinois. When they arrived at city hall, they noticed people from the National Organization for Marriage, One Million Moms, the Family Research Council and other organizations picketing with signs that read “One Man + One Woman = Marriage,” “Marriage should be reinforced not redefined,” but the one that caught Jesus’ eye read, “Children need a mom and a dad.” He pointed it out to his moms and grabbed their hands. Others, standing in support of marriage equality carried signs that read “Love is Love,” “Gay Rights are Human Rights/Human Rights are Gay Rights,” and “Proud Child of Two Dads.”
As Jesus walked up the steps of city hall, some of the protesters shouted to Jesus, “This violates the natural order; God created Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve.” They expected Jesus to take up a sign in protest and stand alongside of them; instead, Jesus escorted loving and excited couples into city hall. When the protesters accused Jesus of supporting the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, he stopped, turned around at the top of the steps, and said, “You have heard it said that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for the sin of homosexuality, but I say to you, that story is about gang rape and a violation of ancient hospitality codes. It’s ironic, don’t you think, that your inhospitality of homosexuals is actually the sin of Sodom.” Being overcome with the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus continued, “You have heard it said, ‘If a man lies with a male as with a woman, they have committed an abomination,’ but I say to you, do you not understand that this same book tells you that eating shellfish and pork and trimming your beards is an abomination? You have heard it said, ‘Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another,’ but I say to you, Paul was writing to a completely different culture and had no concept of sexual orientation and therefore has a limited view of humans. We’ve learned a lot in the last 2,000 years, not only about humans but also about the world. Did you know that people argued that the sun revolved around the world because the Bible suggested that the earth is fixed?” A protestor shouted from the group, “It seems like you are picking and choosing from the Bible, Jesus.” Jesus replied, “You are correct, and so do you. Deuteronomy 21 says you should stone your children for disobeying you. Do you? 1 Peter 3 says you should not wear jewelry. Do you obey this? Deuteronomy 22 says that if a man rapes a woman then he must marry her. Do you agree? Matthew 19 suggests that you should sell all you have and give to the poor. Have you done this?”
Then Jesus gestured to the whole crowd and loudly proclaimed so that even those at the foot of the steps could hear, “After God created the first person, God stated, ‘It is not good for the human to be alone.’ Why, I ask, do you think LGBT people should be condemned to a life of loneliness because they do not love whom you think they should? Do you really think that the God who liberates people out of slavery in Egypt wants people enslaved to the confines of the closet? I say to you love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.” The crowd was stunned because Jesus was teaching with authority and compassion.
One day, when Jesus was visiting the sick in a Catholic hospital in Alabama, he came across a man dying of AIDS. The man’s partner of 30 years was denied access to his bedside. When Jesus questioned the hospital about this lack of compassion, the staff told him the man had committed a mortal sin. They brought Jesus to the man in order that he might pray for him. When Jesus entered the room and began to pray, the frail man opened his eyes. The man said, “I have not lived an especially religious life. I have not attended church in years, and at times have wavered in my beliefs.” The hospital staff rolled their eyes and groaned in a manner that revealed their obvious disgust. Jesus silenced the staff, looked at the man, and said, “My son, many have rejected you in the name of religion; therefore, it does not shock me that you have not found a home in church. These people around me want to judge you. In you they do not see a human being; they see a sexual act. They are misguided.” The man took Jesus’ hand, “My whole life I have been told by Christians that I am a sinner. Do you agree?” Jesus responded, “All people are sinners, my son, but you are not a sinner for loving and being loved by that man in the hallway. A wise man once said, ‘If you are pursuing God, who am I to judge?’ and I agree with him. Love God, and love that man in the hallway.” Jesus then instructed the hospital staff to allow this man’s partner to visit him. The staff, after witnessing his compassion, obeyed. Seeing Jesus’ understanding of his love for his partner, the man’s pain and suffering from the disease ceased. When the man touched his partner’s hand, tears streamed down both of their faces, and the staff truly saw the men for the first time and were able to witness their love.
After Jesus left the hospital, he asked his disciple Meredith what people were saying about him. Meredith said many believed he would become president and end suffering for LGBT people; others believed he was an activist bringing an end to the evil age of homophobia and transphobia. Jesus then asked Meredith, “Who do you say I am?” Meredith replied, “You are the messiah working to restore values of love, compassion, and inclusion to the country.” Jesus replied, “You are correct. This is not accomplished until every single LGBT person both young and old knows that they are a gift to the world and they deserve to love and be loved. This does not happen overnight. I will suffer, as will many of you. Hear me, love will conquer hate. But this does not happen by calling people bigots and engaging in heated debates; rather, we will overpower it with love. If a coworker calls you a fag, tell him he is acting out of fear. If a classmate calls you a dyke, remind her that she is created for a better purpose than dehumanizing her neighbors. If people work to strip you of your basic human rights, remind them of your humanity by treating them with respect.”
While he was traveling the country, those who did not accept LGBT people felt the growing threat of Jesus’ social and political engagement. When Jesus worked in Texas with the It Gets Better Project promoting acceptance among LGBT teens, a teen was bullied to the point of committing suicide. Enemies of Jesus conspired with law enforcement to frame him for the murder, and charge him with a capital offense. He was found guilty and was condemned to death after the jury was stacked with individuals who found him to be a growing threat.
On the evening he was scheduled to die, his disciples were unsuccessful in preventing the inevitable. After the Texas Supreme Court refused to grant a stay and the governor failed to grant clemency, despite pleas from both sides of the aisle, Jesus, his mothers, and his disciples gathered at the penitentiary for his last meal. As they sat down to eat, Jesus invited his prison guards to the meal. He took the bread, gave thanks, then gave it to his disciples, his moms, and his prison guards, and said, “Take this and eat. It is my body, which I will give up for you.” He then did the same with the wine. “This is my blood, which I will pour out for you and the many like you who have been oppressed for far too long. Do not ever turn people away from this table, for you know what it feels like to be turned away. This table should be a hallmark of inclusion. Other places will build walls to keep people out, but I say to you, make a meal and invite people in.”
When the clock struck midnight Jesus was escorted to the room where he would be put to death. As he was being strapped down to the table, the executioner prepared the syringes with the drug cocktail that would end his life. As this process was being completed, Jesus uttered his last words to his mothers, who were on their knees in tears. He said, “Forgive them, mothers, for they do not know what they’re doing.” Then, he turned his head to the crowd, and declared, “I’ll be with you always. Whenever you see love, compassion, and inclusion, I am there in your midst.” The executioner plunged the needle into his vein. With this, at 12:05 a.m., Jesus breathed his last.
His mothers and disciples left the prison together and drove home in utter silence. When they turned onto their street, Emmaus Road, they noticed that pastors, rabbis, imams, and over five hundred people had gathered alongside their street with candles singing, “We Are Called.” Remembering Jesus’ words from the table, his mothers knew their son was alive.
“We are Called”
Song by David Haas,
Verse 1: “Come! Live in the light! Shine with the joy and the love of the Lord! We are called to be light for the kingdom, to live in the freedom of the city of God!
Refrain: We are called to act with justice. We are called to love tenderly. We are called to serve one another, to walk humbly with God.
Verse 2: Come! Open your heart! Show your mercy to all those in fear! We are called to be hope for the hopeless, so all hatred and blindness will be no more!
Verse 3: Sing! Sing a new song! Sing of that great day when all will be one! God will reign and we’ll walk with each other as sisters and brothers united in love!
The latest theory developed to explain women’s lack of equality in the workplace is the “confidence gap.” In their book The Confidence Code, journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman argue women’s lack of confidence and belief in themselves is what is really holding us back from positions of power. Quite frankly, Kay and Shipman are way off the mark with this one. Confidence is not what is holding back women; institutionalized sexism is. Increased confidence cannot make up for the fact that women make $0.77 for every $1 men make. Women are nearly twice as likely (18% to 10%) to face discrimination in the workplace. Female entrepreneurs worldwide face greater obstacles to accessing the capital necessary to launch their businesses than their male counterparts. Women can still be fired for becoming pregnant and do not always have access to paid maternity leave. (My previous post addressed the lack of paid maternity leave in the US, the only industrialized country without it)
If a lack of confidence was holding women back, we wouldn’t need campaigns like Sheryl Sandberg’s “ban bossy.” Confident, authoritative women are seen in a negative light. This socialization stifling leadership qualities begins in elementary school, where female students are called on less and interrupted more. This persists throughout education to the point where women’s opinions are devalued to such an extent that they are viewed as no longer worth sharing.
Shipman and Kay’s confidence theory only further contributes to society’s belittlement of women, the same society that says employers can fire females for being too attractive (I’m looking at you, Iowa Supreme Court) and unpaid interns are not protected from sexual harassment because they are technically not employees. The message being sent by our current society is one that does not value the full dignity and autonomy of women as human beings. No amount of confidence can counteract that. Women can more effectively achieve equality by calling attention to these forms of ingrained sexism and working to change them. Change can begin to take place once we have paid maternity leave, raise the minimum wage, and have unrestricted access to reproductive health services. While some women, as well as some men, lack confidence which holds them back, categorizing all women as lacking confidence only harms our chances of gaining economic equality. It’s time we stop pushing these self-help theories developed predominantly by wealthy, white women, and start working to eliminate barriers to economic independence.
For further feminist reading debunking the confidence gap:
It’s Not the ‘Confidence Gap’ – Here’s What’s Really Holding Women Back by Elizabeth Plank (another favorite feminist of mine)
10 Ways Society Can Close the Confidence Gap by Soraya Chemaly
The Female ‘Confidence Gap’ is a Sham by Jessica Valenti
There are few political labels I dislike more than that of “pro-life” applied to those who oppose abortion. Abortion was established as a fundamental right for women by the Supreme Court in 1973 with Roe v Wade. 41 years later, the war on abortion access is still raging. Over the past three years, there has been in a surge in the number of abortion restrictions passed in state legislatures throughout the country. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a leading advocate for reproductive rights, 22 states passed restrictive abortion measures last year; these restrictions included bans before women would know they are pregnant (typically 6 week bans), increased regulation of the doctors and clinics that provide the procedure (such as unnecessary ultrasounds, doctors needing hospital admitting privileges nearby, and waiting periods), limits on the use of medication abortions, and insurance coverage bans on the procedure. 43 state abortion restrictions were passed in 2012 and 92 were passed in 2011.
Texas has been leading the way in eliminating women’s access to abortion care. In spite of Wendy Davis’ famous filibuster that ultimately launched her gubernatorial bid, legislation banning abortions after 20 weeks and requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals became law. Currently, there are just 24 abortion clinics in Texas, down from 44 in 2011; when the law takes full effect in September there will be just 6 clinics providing abortion in the entire state of Texas.
The situation is more dire in Mississippi as the fate of the last remaining abortion clinic will be determined by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Jackson Women’s Health Organization has two doctors fly in from out of state to provide abortion care. Like Texas, Mississippi law requires providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic. So far, the two doctors have been denied privileges at 13 hospitals.
Proponents of legislation requiring abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic say it is in the interest of the patients. The truth of the matter is that, statistically speaking, abortions are safer than carrying a pregnancy to term. A 2012 study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology revealed the maternal mortality rate of a full-term pregnancy to be 8.8 per 100,000. The risk of death connected to abortion was found to be 0.6 deaths per 100,000 women. In other words, a woman is 14 times more likely to die by carrying a pregnancy to term than having an abortion. This is not pro-life.
Other states have been much more ambitious in limiting abortion access. Several states are fans of using outdated FDA regulations from when abortion was first approved. Unsurprisingly, Texas is one of these states. 14 states mandate a patient can only take medication abortion in a doctor’s office in the presence of the physician. This restriction disproportionately affects rural and impoverished women, those most in need of uninhibited access to abortion. North Dakota successfully passed a “fetal heartbeat” bill that banned abortions starting at 6 weeks, before the majority of women know they are pregnant. This law was struck down by the U.S. District Court, ruling, “A woman’s constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before viability has been recognized by the United States Supreme Court for more than 40 years. The United States Supreme Court has clearly determined the dispositive issue presented in this lawsuit.”
On the national level, the GOP-controlled House has tried repeatedly to ban federal funding for abortion since 2010. The infamous “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” would have banned all insurance plans in the Affordable Care Act marketplace from covering abortion, force small businesses to pay extra taxes for offering health insurance that included abortion coverage to their employees, and eliminate the ability to charge abortion as a medical expense under IRS codes unless in cases of rape, incest, or maternal health. Essentially, the IRS would get to determine what constituted rape and incest by auditing victims for potential tax fraud.
Let’s be clear. Just because women have the anatomy to have children doesn’t mean we want to or have to have them. We should be cautious not to create a hierarchy of humanity based on who does and doesn’t reproduce. 52% of Americans support at least some form of legal abortion. As Jessica Valenti rightly puts it, “what anti-choicers don’t understand – and almost never reflect in their policy or prose – is that pregnancy, abortion and birth are too complicated for assigning strict moral designations, let alone to legislate.”
The hypocrisy in this “pro-life” movement is that they are not always pro-life; they are pro-birth. Opponents of abortion tend to oppose contraception access and comprehensive sexual education in schools, two policies that would decrease the abortion rate. They rail against the killing of unborn babies, but are curiously silent when the baby is born. The United States is the only industrialized country in the world that does not provide mothers with paid maternity leave; instead employers can legally fire women for being pregnant.
So long as pro-lifers are going to force women to have these children, we must have the economic mechanisms in place so they are not relegated to a life of poverty. If anti-abortion activists truly were pro-life, there would be more widespread support for Senator Tom Harkin’s Fair Minimum Wage Act to raise the rate to $10.10/hour, as women comprise nearly two-thirds of the minimum wage workforce. If anti-abortion activists truly were pro-life, there would be overwhelming support for Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s comprehensive Opportunity Plan to provide paid family leave, raise the minimum wage, provide universal pre-K, affordable child care, and equal pay for women.
If men were the ones giving birth, would we really still be having this debate 41 years later? If you don’t think voting matters, just remember this wave of attacks on women’s reproductive rights began after the surge of Tea Party candidates won in 2010, and we can vote them out in November.