Sunday, January 25, 2009

Period Control

Margaret Sanger's "Birth Conrol--A Parents' Problem or Woman's?" addressed the historically controversial issue of maternal regulation of infant production. She argues that women have been enslaved by their biological reproductive function, and she alone has the burden of "carrying, bearing and rearing the unwanted children" (139). Yet because the nature of human reproduction requires two parties, she urges that "responsibility of controlling the results should not be placed on the woman alone" (138). Although concluding that birth control is indeed a woman's problem seems to be contradictory to her "persistent urging" that it should not be, it actually highlights an underlying issue in regards to sexual activity that continues today. If consensual, the responsibility of safe sex should fall onto both parties. Logical, right? Unfortunately, because of biology and patriarchy, the responsibility more often than not falls on to the woman.

And you've just gotta love a society with heath care coverages that offer aging men the chance to recover some semblance of their erectile masculinity (Viva Viagra!) yet deny sexually active women of all ages the right to control and regulate their baby makers as they see fit.

Although Sanger's article still (unfortunately) continues to be relevant in the so-called "liberated" twenty-first century in terms of birth control being a "chick" thing, there isn't as much outward social resistance to birth control as there was in her time. Sure, we've got relgious right-wing extremist groups like Army of God who declare that "women using an oral contraceptive are committing abortions on themselves," anti-choice pharmacists that deny medical prescripions on the basis of brainwashed conservatism, and papal denunciations, but for the most part, birth control has become a socially accepted practice. That is, if you're using it to control your periods.

Sarah Haskins, a writer and performer for the 24-hour news channel parody Current has a bi-weekly segment entitled "Target Women." For approximately three minutes, Haskins shows media clips on a specific topic (Yogurt, Weddings, Sarah Palin, Number Two, etc.) and points out how sexist and stereotypical ads are that targeted to women. She did a segment on birth control, and how it's marketed as period rather than baby control: "Fewer periods, yaaay. Now we don't have to leave the tribe and go sit in that hut for a week. That was a bummer." Although satirical in nature, the birth control segment of Target Women illustrates Sanger's main argument that birth control is essentially a woman's problem. However socially accepted period control is now, there continue to be threats against women's control of their bodies. Until sexual responsibility is shared between partners and the religious right dissolves, women's access to affordable birth control and safe abortions will continue to be compromised. Though we still have far to go, it's important to remember that we've come a long way and to continue to fight for Margaret Sanger's reproductive justice: "Woman must not accept; she must challenge."

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Feminism: A Many-Headed Monster?

Last semester in WS100, we did an activity where we had to ask a few people what their definition of feminism was. Naturally, I wanted to know what my non-feminist friends and family thought it meant, considering all the times that I've gotten those glazed over and uncaring stares when I get on a tangent about societal injustices committed against women. I got a couple "I don't knows" (which really bugged me, because hello, I've explained it how many times?) and generic "women who fight for women's rights" (which is true, yes, but it's so much more than that). I'd have to say that the most interesting was from my grandmother, who said that while she thought they did some good things (equal pay...which, incidentally, I didn't bring up the twenty-four cent disparity on the grounds that she a) probably doesn't care and b) is retired), she thought they took some things too far. She was rather ambiguous on what exactly the thing they took too far was, but she did say with some degree of certainty that she doesn't like their short hair because it isn't feminine enough. So, in shifting from my socially conservative grandmother to my liberal feminist textbook, I was somewhat taken aback when feminism was described as

"A many headed-monster which cannot be destroyed by singular decapitation. We spread and grow in ways that are incomprehensible to a hierarchial mentality."

Now, maybe it's the overly imaginative English nerd in me, but the words "decaptation," "spread," and "grow" were somewhat unsettling to me. Decapitation makes me think of the loss of head, which is incidentally where the brain is located. The brain is an important organ not only in terms of the whole "living" thing that humans do, but going along with bell hooks' article, it is also essential to feminist theory and to our early feminist life experiences as well. Spread makes me think of incurable diseases, namely the Black Plague, and grow (within the context of the sentence and being right after spread) evokes mental pictures of those weird pus-filled boils that grow under the armpits of plague victims. Essentially, this disturbingly visual definition took me back to the plague-infested fourteenth century rather than our so-called "liberated" twenty-first century.

After we discussed it in class, however, I did consider it from a different standpoint. The many heads of feminism fight on many different fronts to fight against patriarchal injustice, and because there isn't just one head (or rule of the father), hierarchies are powerless to stop or contain it because it doesn't understand feminism's multiple mentalities. Although I still don't care for the definition based on the heebie jeebie factor, I can understand what the author is trying to convey about the nature of feminism. Incidentally, this happens to be one of the really great things about feminism. Because of the multitude of different theories and opinions of the meaning of feminism, you (as a feminist) are forced to think outside of your own experience (and oftentimes, comfort level) to listen to the experience and views of others. On the same token, however, this can also be a downfall, because many self-identified (and some non-identified who still fit the general "yea women's rights" definition) feminists disagree on fundamental women's issues, the most obvious being choice. I identify myself as ardently pro-choice; I'm all for easy and affordable access to all forms of contraception, including abortion if the woman so chooses. Although I myself would probably not choose to have an abortion, I recognize that not all women are as fortunate as I to have a family support system with all kinds of financial and emotional aid. On the other hand, I have a friend who was Catholic School pro-life brainwashed who still identifies as feminist (gotta love publicly-funded sex education programs that scare the abstinence pants onto unsuspecting young pubescents). I personally don't believe you can be feminist if you don't support a woman's choice to do what she feels best for her family and for her body. But who am I to say that just because I have a fundamental belief in a woman's choice that someone else who believes in the "sanctity of life" (which, in my experience, loosely translates as "women aren't people, because their bodies aren't their own sanctuaries") doesn't have the right to identify as feminist?

Because there are so many different feminist identifications and definitions, I like to stick with my own. It's short, simple, somewhat inappropriate, and really reflects my personality. It implies a sort of stubbornness that results from many, many years of taking too much patriarchal bullshit; it has a confrontational nature in which efforts to contain and control will be met with resistance; and finally, it has a conclusiveness that lets the perpetrator know that its power is limited and its days are numbered.

Feminism is a big fuck you to patriarchy.