Trigger Warnings: How We Are All Still Missing The Point

•August 11, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Today I woke up to find my social media newsfeeds flooded with yet another article condemning trigger warnings as “coddling college students” and once again, was flummoxed by the way that the article talked about trigger warnings and triggers.

I have already articulated most of my thoughts on the value of trigger warnings in my previous writings on the subject, and have also acknowledged that there is absolutely a balance to be met with regards to how we implement the use of content warnings and trigger warnings in academic environments.  That said, as a trauma professional, I have come to realize that a large part of my problem with the discourse on trigger warnings is that they tend to ignore what triggers actually are, and how they impact people.

So, what does it mean to be triggered?

When people talk about trigger warnings, they often refer to the idea that people don’t want to grapple with ideas that make them “uncomfortable”, or that this is about “protecting people from ideas”.  Triggers aren’t just things that make you uncomfortable; we may use the term that way colloquially, but we probably shouldn’t, because triggers in the context of mental health are tied to post traumatic stress/PTSD, and are often things that cause an individual’s brain to believe it is once again in danger by causing them to either mentally re-live a traumatizing event, or re-live the feelings associated with a traumatizing event.

In other words, when a sexual assault survivor becomes triggered, they are not just squirming in their seat because they wish someone would change the subject; they are having flashbacks of what happened, or experiencing a return of the sense of powerlessness, fear, pain, or other feelings associated with their assault.  See the difference?

When people oppose trigger warnings on the grounds that we shouldn’t just shield people from things that make them uncomfortable, they have half a point.  We should be challenging people-~-especially college students-~-to step outside their comfort zone, challenge their beliefs and assumptions, and consider different angles.  We need to be able to have conversations in classrooms about things like intimate partner violence, extreme poverty, racial violence, etc.  Nothing is ever going to change if the leaders of tomorrow are never even asked to consider some of the most pressing issues we face today, and feminists and other proponents of trigger warnings aren’t arguing for an end to the discourse.

But if you’ve never been triggered, or never seen someone be triggered, it may be hard to realize what it is we are trying to prevent, or to allow people to prepare themselves for.  Triggers look different for everyone, and they range from things like shaking, nausea, headaches, and uncontrollable crying to things like flashbacks and dissociation. In the face of triggering subjects, an individual can prepare to ground themselves, and be mentally prepared to engage in an intellectual conversation about something which has had a strong impact on them or someone they care about.  Just to reiterate: these individuals are not just uncomfortable with the subject; they are being forced to revisit traumatizing events in their lives, and for the record, I do not think that giving them a head’s up as to what they are walking into is, in fact, “coddling” them.

All of that said, the other argument I regularly see about trigger warnings is that they won’t be implemented in the real world, and the real world won’t include “safe spaces”, so we shouldn’t make colleges safe spaces either, so people can learn “coping skills”.

I have several responses.

First, people can’t learn “coping skills” if they are struggling to manage their mental health constantly and are being forced to revisit their traumas unnecessarily without adequate resources.  And even if you think people should confront their traumas, there are settings that are far better suited to this than your philosophy or political science class-~-like, for example, therapy, where a trained counselor can actually address the real issues, provide emotional support, and teach someone how to develop grounding techniques and coping skills.  Just because you can force someone to have a conversation in a particular context doesn’t make that context the most constructive place for that conversation.

Second, college is not “the real world” and if college were supposed to just prepare you for “the real world”, colleges would require financial literacy classes and teach you how to write a cover letter and what business casual is.  The fact that I managed to earn my degree without once learning about credit ratings or budget management is indicative of the fact that college is meant to provide an intellectually stimulating and challenging environment that allows us to learn how to think critically, not just how to behave in an office environment.  And if that is the case, we should be teaching people to think critically about how trauma impacts people’s lives and how to talk about difficult subjects respectfully so that productive conversations can be had, and which can include individuals who have firsthand experience with these issues, instead of shutting them out because they’re too busy hyperventilating in a bathroom or feeling so ashamed of their survivorship because of how it’s discussed they feel unable to speak at all.

And yes, those are actual ways I and other survivors have had to respond to discussions of our traumas.

But finally, I cannot and will not accept the idea that society should just be allowed to marginalize and disregard survivors of trauma just because we have always permitted people to get away with doing so in the past.  I refuse to accept that I need to be okay with rape jokes because other people don’t want to take sexual assault seriously; I refuse to accept that I need to accept jokes about domestic violence just because people don’t want to take abusive relationships seriously.  I have never heard anyone say that combat veterans are too sensitive about their combat experiences or the impact those experiences might have had on them; that disdain is reserved for survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence, those who have lost people to suicide, those who have struggled with eating disorders, etc. We accept only the trauma linked to the most masculinized forms of violence, and write off the ways in which traumas which disproportionately impact women effect the ways in which individuals function within their everyday lives.

And I cannot and will not accept that just because it has always been this way, it will always be this way; I reject, on face, the idea that I need to accept a loss of my own humanity because people don’t want to learn to be more respectful.  Trigger warnings are not such a huge ask; respect for survivors of traumatic experiences should not be seen as an unreasonable request.  I would beg people, as they move to engage in these conversations, to learn more about what it is we are actually discussing-~-and to take this opportunity to do as they would ask survivors of trauma, and engage in some serious intellectual consideration of the other side of this argument.

If you still think this is about just not wanting to discuss certain topics, you are missing the point.

How to Be An Ally Without Being An A**hole (Guest Post)

•July 22, 2015 • Leave a Comment

This post was a guest submission by Corey Nyhus. Corey is a New York-based writer and activist focused on allyship, the power of rhetoric, and long-form poetry.

If you haven’t been living under a rock, by now you have no doubt noticed that there are, in addition to a whole bunch of straight people, a lot of people who fall under the LGBTQ banner in this world.  Because we’re humans and humans are supposedly social animals, we will all inevitably interact, regardless of gender identity or sexuality. And it is my hope that I can rattle some neurons in Straight People Brains, to keep them from mistreating a large portion of their species. I know, don’t all line up at once, but this is basically a quick rundown of how to “increase the peace,” fight hatred, and not yodel heterosexually over the voices of queer people who need and deserve to speak their minds.

1) When Straight People Straightsplain “Butwhataboutstraightpride?”…

Now I’m not always the most alert person, but the last time I checked, I didn’t have a chair and derogatory slurs hurled at me when I sat down to have a meal with my partner in New York City. That would be entirely because my partner would be female, and I am male, and together we would be what is accepted. Queer pride is about showing public solidarity for the millions we refuse to accept. It’s about select people wanting to be comfortable in their own skin because frankly, a lot of Straight People throughout the world would like to see them brutalized for reasons spawned only from ignorance and hatred.

I had a conversation with a kid at my day job the other day. He said “Well now we shouldn’t have gay pride. Because of the marriage. They’re the same as us now. Shouldn’t we get a straight pride parade?” “It’s more about activism and identity,” I told him, and he shrugged and fell silent. I don’t know if he cared, but unfortunately someone like that is only likely to have a portion of their opinion swayed if they hear it from a straight voice—a voice they respect. And they’ll need to hear it over and over again. And on a side note, you can technically jump down the rabbit hole of Straight Pride groups on Facebook and Tumblr. It just so happens that, for some strange coincidental reason, that rabbit hole is a unanimous den for hatred against “Gays,” “Erosion of Family Values” and “AIDS.”

2) Oy with the “Heterosexual Yodeling”

Like I said, by all means, when hate or ignorance is being spread around you, use the Straight Voice—it’s the voice that hateful people sadly value more. But because we straight folk tend to forget it a lot, gay people can still talk on their own. And they do talk. And frankly they should be allowed to talk more. And they don’t need to hear people like me preaching and feeling self-righteous about it. Humble thyself before the church-and-family-destroying megalith that is The Gay Agenda. Now, if you are an “ally”—the phrase always sounded a little too buzz-wordy for my tastes, but call it whatever you want—your use of Straight Voice only applies to conversation with other straight people.

So listen to the voices of your loved ones—and in queer circles beyond your loved ones. The opinions that leave you stunned and beyond words are likely the most correct. If you try to shoehorn your own anxieties into the conversation, you’re just being a heterosexual yodeler—yodeling, I thought, was how people in weird green overall pants communicated with each other in the Alps at first. So my initial intention for the metaphor was “straight people, shhhh.” But according to my cursory internet research, yodeling was eventually incorporated into somber American country and blues and soared shrilly over the instrumentation, though it lost popularity around the 50’s. It ceased to be a language of the downtrodden long ago. Don’t try to bring it back. Queers aren’t your backing blues scale and you aren’t the frontman.  This is America, it’s 2015, and you’re not selling cough drops, so stop. Offer insight only when it’s supportive. Use your voice to amplify, not to overwhelm.

3) Embrace the Weirdness of Abstract Compassion, and the Quest for Peace

How can we foster happiness and health if our civilization pushes back against it? I don’t know, but I think it can begin with us all understanding that our compassion alone has limitations. This one is for if you have zero personal stakes in LGBT issues—you have no loved ones who are queer, but you do care, and you educate yourself on the queer issues cycling through your newsfeed. I say to this straight person, you are, admittedly, in a weird spot. You feel compassion abstractly—you know hate crimes are vile, you know tormenting someone for their gender dysphoria is grossly immoral—you know the institutions are bad, but it all seems institutional alone, like it’s a metaphysical evil. You never have to clean up the blood. So you treat it with hashtags alone. Don’t get me wrong, that stuff can be great for showing symbolic support, but symbols just don’t hold weight after a little while, if nobody offers to physically clean up and push back. So for you, maybe write a stupid list to yourself, do some introspection, and get to know people out of your usual straight bubble. But don’t treat your friendship like charity-~-never forget that this struggle is very much a struggle to treat people like actual people.

And for the straight people with queer loved ones—family, friends, mentors—I assume that your love for them runs deep. You don’t want to see them hurt. You don’t want them to become a suicide statistic. Believe me, Straight Ally Reader, that love runs deep in me too. But our stakes will never be as high as the stakes of our queer loved ones. Their lives are immediately threatened by the deluge of hate. Our concern and anxiety about them is just runoff.

Celebrating 4 Years

•July 20, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Hey there, Radical Readers!

This month The Radical Idea is celebrating its fourth birthday-~-that’s four long years of researching, writing, and posting about the things we all care about-~-and in honor of this occasion (which I admit I will probably find more momentous next year when we finally hit half a decade), I’ve decided to compile a list, not of the most viewed posts on The Radical Idea, but of some I just liked (or that other contributors on the blog have particularly liked).  And so, in no particular order, here they are:

1. On Doing Gender and Being Gendered: Or, How You’re Socially Constructed Too

2. Devaluing Women’s Work, Devaluing Women: A Feminist Perspective On Staying Home

I’m all for feminism fighting for women of color to have choices, but not for feminism to stand by and let women who do this important work be talked down to or treated like they are lesser members of society.  Who is to say that the woman watching your children is doing something less important than the teacher leading class or the lawyer defending a drug trafficker?  Who is to say that the woman cleaning your house isn’t providing you with a service just as valuable as the service provided by your accountant?

3. Like a Virgin: How Society Invented Virginity and Vilifies Sex

4. Trigger Warnings: Why I’m Offended You Think It’s About Being Offended

Imagine for a moment that someone was injured.  Maybe they have a sprained or twisted ankle.  And they were with a group that was considering going on a hike.  Would you force them to go on the hike, or would you ask them if they were up for it.  You’d ask, right?  You’d ask because they’re injured, but they know their own physical limitations, and maybe they can handle a hike on a twisted ankle, but maybe they need to sit this one out, and wait until they’ve healed, and then they can go back to hiking.

Trigger warnings are the conversation where you ask if everyone is ready to go on the hike, so someone can brace up or tell you they need to sit it out.

5. Staying, Surviving, and Defying the Good Victim Paradox: A Perspective on Domestic Violence

6. Fox News, Annie Get Your Gun, and a Glance at the Calendar

Because feminism doesn’t argue that women shouldn’t be feminine: it argues that femininity doesn’t have to be this pitiful secondary concept.  Femininity and strength aren’t mutually exclusive.  You can be beautiful and empathetic and caring and still be smart and ambitious and successful.  Feminism says that we got our idea of femininity all wrong, that we underestimated women and what they’re capable of for centuries.  Anyone who says that you can’t be feminine and a feminist is lying to you, or doesn’t understand feminism in the slightest.  Feminism says “yes we can” when the Patriarchy says “You can’t, now make me a sandwich”.

7. What Does Choice Really Mean?

8. Gay Marriage Has Nothing To Do With Love: Anti-Assimilation and a Radical Vision of Queer Revolution

Inclusion is not liberation. Assimilation is not liberation. Why is it that our goal is assimilation into the hetero-patriarchal institution of marriage? The marriage equality movement has attempts to depoliticize the inherently political nature of living as a queer individual into a discussion centered more often than not on whether or not it is “right” to be queer. We’ve wasted so much time arguing with people about the morality of our identities that we haven’t been able to take a step back and assess why and if we want to get married in the first place.

9.  On Feminism, Relationships, and How We Aren’t Fish

10. Why I’m Tired of Being Polite

We are being talked over by money, reputation, perceived social value.  We are being talked over when individuals like Bill Cosby and Charlie Sheen are permitted to have massively successful careers in spite of allegations and convictions which demonstrate that they are abusers.  We are being talked over when we celebrate and protect male student athletes at the expense of female student survivors.  We are being talked over when very real issues regarding consent education and the need for better response mechanisms at universities are overshadowed by schools desperately blaming institutions like Greek life.  We are being talked over when survivors are still being functionally put on trial because they need access to services, or simply want justice.

I’ve come a long way as a feminist and a blogger in the last four years; the posts I chose to highlight here (only some of which are mine) represent a range of issues I’ve had to learn to apply a feminist lens to, issues I wasn’t necessarily interested in before I started writing The Radical Idea.  I’ve learned so much, in these last four years, about intersectionality and what it means to look at the different sides of an issue, and it is an ongoing learning process for me, all the time.  I hope that all my readers remember that, wherever you are in your feminist journey, it is a journey.  There is no magical button that we press that suddenly erases every problematic thing society has taught us, and if you find yourself still mis-stepping, it is okay.  Every feminist I know has moments where they say something without realizing what the implications were, or say something they do not mean.  The important thing, as I have learned from writing this blog, is to learn from those moments.

To those of you who have stuck with me, whether it is over months or over years, thank you.  And for those of you who just casually read this blog, thank you as well.  Writing is great in and of itself, but it’s even better knowing you are out there reading.  Special thanks to Corey Nyhus and Matt Massaia, who have been guest writing for this blog; your thoughts and perspectives are extra appreciated-~-and if anyone ever wants to send a post my way, please do not hesitate to reach out and email me at radicalbutlogical@gmail.com.

A Few More Thoughts on HB2

•July 8, 2015 • Leave a Comment

IMPORTANT UPDATE: AS OF 6/29/2015, in a 5-4 order, the Supreme Court has moved to block the implementation of HB2 until the Court can review the law later this fall.

That said, while I was doing the research for my last post on HB2 and the Fifth Circuit’s ruling in Whole Women’s Health v Lakely, I started revisiting the relevant jurisprudence for the case, and while I didn’t have the chance to include all of it in my previous post, I think it’s worth revisiting.  Keep in mind, I’m not a lawyer, but I think the constitutional issues surrounding this case are important and interesting, and worth taking a look at. Please, please, if you read this, take the time to also read the court’s decision, look at the case law yourself, and look at other interpretations as we all try to puzzle out what this case actually means for reproductive rights.

As we all know, the initial standard for abortion restrictions in the United States comes from the landmark 1973 case Roe v Wade, wherein the court ruled that up until the point of viability the legislatures had no right to interfere with the medical decisions made between pregnant people and their doctors.  The Court recognized a broad constitutional right to privacy, which included the right to terminate a pregnancy free from interference.  The decision in Roe also drew a brightline at the end of the first trimester, stating that states had the right to regulate abortion “to the extent that the regulation reasonably relates to the preservation and protection of maternal health.” It’s that standard-~-that regulation relates to maternal health-~-that Texas is citing in defense of HB2, though it seems clear that the state should be forced to prove that there is a significant relationship between the standards they are trying to impose and patient outcomes if they are going to claim this as the basis for constitutionality.  On top of that, as acknowledged by the Fifth Circuit in their recent ruling, the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v Wade only acknowledged maternal health as a compelling interest after the first trimester.

In addition to Roe, there are three cases I want to talk about in relation to Whole Women’s Health v Lakely, though, and they are as follows: Doe v Bolton, Akron v Akron Reproductive Health Center, Inc (Akron I), and Planned Parenthood of Southeast Pennsylvania v Casey.

I mention Doe v Bolton for a couple of reasons: first, because the Court ruled in this case that the requirements of the law in question were not “reasonably related to the purposes of the Act on which it is founded”; that is to say, if the regulations in question do not actually protect and promote maternal health, their application to abortion ought be considered unconstitutional.  The second reason I mention this case is this: the Court struck down the law in question because it applied to first-trimester abortions, and HB2’s medical abortion restrictions are specific to the first trimester, which is when medical abortion is utilized.

I suppose it’s worth mentioning that between the time at which Doe v Bolton was decided, and the time at which the Court heard Gonzales v Carhart or Planned Parenthood v Casey, the Court also affirmed Roe in Akron v Akron Center for Reproductive Healthcare (Akron I).  Though the part of the decision I’m about to cite from Akron I was partly reversed in Casey, I wanted to mention it because the Court had ruled that regulations could not interfere with the doctor-patient consultation process, and that states could “regulate the abortion procedure to the extent that the regulation reasonably relates to the preservation and protection of maternal health” and does not “depart from accepted medical practice.”  So, again, we should be deferring to some standard of scientific proof in the application of these regulations, something which is dubious with regards to the specific regulations included in HB2 (especially, again, with regards to the regulation of medical abortion). The Court also found that the justifications provided for the standards examined in Akron I defied current medical knowledge that abortion could safely be performed in a physician’s office, and thus the standards were unconstitutional.  Why this standard is not being applied in Whole Women’s Health v Lakely, I’m not sure (but again, I’m not an appellate lawyer, and I could be missing something from the Casey decision).

In Planned Parenthood v Casey, however, the Court modified the existing jurisprudence, shifting away from the initial application of strict scrutiny to evaluate compelling state interest with regards to abortion restrictions.  The opinion in Casey stated that for regulations to be unconstitutional, they had to do more than just make it more difficult to access abortion; the standard put forth was that of an “undue burden” set by the legislature in order to access abortion services.  The Court subsequently defined an “undue burden” as a “substantial obstacle” to accessing this care.  The ruling has also been interpreted to mean that pre-viability regulations are constitutional if they do not create a substantial obstacle and they can be reasonably tied to the compelling state interest.

This is where our problem lies, as far as I can see: Texas is claiming that it has a compelling state interest to protect fetal life and maternal health, and as such is imposing regulations that actually have very little to do with either of those things; but in order to actually strike down the law, opponents are going to have to show that either 1) this compelling state interest does not exist-~-which the Fifth Circuit has already ruled it does, based on Justice Kennedy’s opinion in Gonzales v Carhart-~-or that 2) these measures do not actually further said state interest, or that 3) these regulations pose a substantial obstacle to accessing abortion care.  Even though Casey partially reversed the previous jurisprudence related to abortion regulation in the United States, I think it could be argued that parts of the decisions put forth in Doe v Bolton and Akron I, specifically with regards to deference to medical knowledge and standards, could be used to combat the regulations outlined in HB2.  This is because the Fifth Circuit’s opinion, with regards to Gonzales v Carhart, points out that the legislature may impose regulations in areas of medical uncertainty, which this may not qualify as.  If the legal standard is deference to the medical community, there may well be a solid legal challenge to the relevance and/or necessity of these standards, which might allow the more-balanced Supreme Court to strike down HB2.  On top of that, there may be a legal challenge regarding undue burden related to the total absence of open clinics in western Texas, since the Fifth Circuit has previously ruled it unconstitutional for a state to force its citizens to go to another state in order to access abortion services.

I don’t know if I’m right about my legal analysis here.  I’m not a lawyer, just someone fascinated by these parts of the law.  But I hope that opponents of HB2 are able to make a compelling and viable challenge to this law that will be reasonably considered by whichever body to which they next appeal, because Whole Women’s Health v Lakely could well become a dangerous legal precedent, limiting facial challenges to abortion restrictions and giving legislatures significant latitude in their quest to limit access to reproductive healthcare.  I’ve read the past cases, and all I (or anyone not a part of the legal team working to get this law struck down) can do is watch, and wait.

Selling Ourselves Out: The Corporatization of Pride in America

•June 27, 2015 • Leave a Comment

This piece is a guest submission by Matt Massaia.  Matt is a New York-based poet, artist and activist who writes about queer identity, long-form poetry, cultural hegemony, and the liminal nature of sexuality in Dionysian ritual.  You can see Matt’s previous guest submissions on The Radical Idea here.

During the 2013 NYC Pride Parade, I was standing street-side against the barricades outside the Stonewall Inn. A whole mess of summer sweaty, heavily rainbowed queers clustered on Christopher St in the late afternoon. Roving sidewalk carts purveying Pride-themed beads, flags, pins, wings, skirts, whatever. Secret Coke bottles full of rum. Inexplicable teenagers asking me if I had weed to sell. And then the onslaught. Little promotional giveaways thrown from floats, motorcycles, Andrew Cuomo’s ilk, the requisite Lady Gaga, glorious high heels, beautiful boys dancing in their underwear, lovingly protected by the NYPD.

Then comes the Citibank float. I’m checking my phone to find where my companions are and I hear from the DJ a very loud, very exuberant “WHOSE STREET? OUR STREET!” People on the street echoed. I wanted to leave. The “who’s street? our street!” chant brought me back two years prior, when Occupy Wall Street began its marches around Manhattan. I remember being in that no-barricade mass, the fed-up “whose street? our street!” circling the Stock Exchange. Hearing this at Pride coming from a float backed by Citigroup (who, after helping crash the market in 2008, received a measly $476.2 billion bailout) was just a little too uncanny for me.

While for us this is some kind of cruel irony, for various corporations it’s an attractive selling point. Not only have pride events nationwide become more corporate oriented—“Pride” is now a marketing strategy. From VIP post-Pride dance parties and night clubs to fashion and drugs to prevent the spread of HIV, gay culture privileges money. Those with money and societal privilege are able to live desirably while ignoring the ever increasing population of queers who are women, trans, of color, undocumented, or poor. “The Gays” are a demographic to sell to.

Thanks to increasing cultural acceptance, (predominantly white, affluent, male) gays are now welcome to be complicit in the capitalist consumer system just like every other good-hearted, red-blooded American. And what better way to let you know that you’re welcome? To hire a drag queen to toss you a frisbee that has “TD Bank” printed on it. Some cute twink wearing only a pair of red briefs chucks a Delta Airlines stress ball at you. Election year politicians hand out stickers. All of this operates under the assertion that we can market to the queers by making them think we’re on their side. Corporate entities appropriate remnants of counterculture, subculture. Revolutionary scraps are repurposed into something that is not only digestible but sellable.

Corporations and celebrities prey on the aesthetic of Pride as well. At my first Pride, I heard “Born This Way” play eleven times throughout the parade. Media, such as Macklemore’s “Same Love,” panders to queer people, using the illusion of superficial support to draw in consumers. Looking at the list of this year’s NYC Pride official sponsors, I question why the organizers of NYC Pride would accept sponsorship from companies such as Wal-Mart (which employs the forced labor of incarcerated women to “demanufacture” products for resale), AT&T (which has dumped union labor in favor of prison labor), and Citibank (which, thanks to its policies, might be the biggest money launderer in the world for sundry violent drug cartels).

We are “winning” the fight for “marriage equality,” which is going to predominantly serve rich, white gay people. Let’s not forget that the first Gay Pride was a riot at the Stonewall Inn, where working class queers, undocumented people, trans individuals, and people of color fought back for the right to be public with their identities. But now we can go corporate and praise these companies who profess that they care about equality. According to The Wall Street Journal, Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat received a $4.5 million dollar bonus on top of a $13.5 million dollar salary. That just reeks of equality to me.

I believe that Pride events are beautiful things or can be beautiful things when we act in solidarity with all queers who have been marginalized and demand actual revolution. I want to see Pride honor lives lost to disease and police violence. It should nurture sex and body positivity. Include, rather than exclude. Amplify the voices of undocumented and working class queers. It should be a time when we celebrate the victories that we have made and acknowledge the places where we’ve fallen short, where our actions haven’t matched our rhetoric. When that Citibank float rolled by me, I heard “whose street? our street?” become not a call for radicalism and change, but a haunting reminder that yes, these are their streets and G-d help you if you’re not ready to comply.

Congress, We See You Trying to Defund Family Planning

•June 19, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Remember when, after the midterm elections, Mitch McConnell said that his goal was to make Republicans “less scary”?  I have news for him, and for the rest of the GOP leadership: you’re failing.  And if the Republicans want to claim they’re not waging a war on women, their recent move to de-fund family planning programs through Title X make it clear that much as they may claim they are just being “fiscally responsible” or that they are trying to respect what the voters want, their real motive is, frankly, misogynistic in nature.

As far as I can tell, a lot of the reporting on this new budgetary proposal has portrayed this as yet another attempt to de-fund Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, and it is true that Planned Parenthood Federation of America is one of the largest and best-known Title X organizations in the United States, but it is not the only one. Back when Title X was initially introduced, it had broad bi-partisan support; in fact, Richard Nixon actually stated that “no American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition”.  Today, it funds over 4000 health clinics and provides no- or low-cost family planning services to individuals who make less than $25,000 a year, and has made a huge difference in the lives of low-income individuals and families in the United States.

“An elimination of Title X would have a devastating impact on the 4.7 million Americans who may no longer have access to high-quality, patient-centered family planning and sexual health care services,” said Clare Coleman, CEO and president of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, in a comment to the Huffington Post. “For many of these women and men, a Title X-funded health center is their only access point to the health system and the only health care they receive all year.”

Unfortunately, Title X in general and Planned Parenthood in particular have been under attack for several years now (in fact, Planned Parenthood has its own tag on this blog because attempts to de-fund it were so frequent when I first started blogging).  Spurred by a shift in the Republican party towards the right, and prompted by the increasingly loud voices of the anti-choice minority, Congress has repeatedly managed to conflate Title X funding with funding for abortion, despite the fact that Hyde Amendments prohibit any funding of abortion through federal taxpayer dollars.  Never mind that the majority of the country is pro-choice; Congress seems determined to eradicate any semblance of support for anything remotely related to abortion.

There are two reasons I am willing to say that these actions are not about “protecting life”, which is the stated reason why the anti-choice lobby opposes abortion, and is really about controlling and shaming pregnant people for making their own reproductive choices.  The first is that if one really wants to reduce abortion rates, one should be investing in preventative measures like contraception.  Realistically speaking, centuries of shaming women for having sex has not actually resulted in women not having sex, and making abortion illegal only serves to make it riskier; the best way to reduce the demand for abortion is to increase access to birth control and adequate sex education, but Congress doesn’t seem interested in doing either; in fact, they are doing the opposite with this move to eliminate funding for Title X.  Second, given that pregnancy is surprisingly dangerous, and the United States actually has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the developed world, eliminating the ability of potentially pregnant people to control when they get pregnant or prevent themselves from getting pregnant if they believe the pregnancy could put them at risk, in no way protects life.  Realistically speaking, family planning saves lives, which means if you’re against family planning, calling yourself pro-life seems a misnomer.  What these individuals really are is against the bodily autonomy of individuals with the ability to get pregnant.

Congress isn’t just trying to defund Title X, for the record: they are also trying to roll back parts of the Affordable Care Act as well as federal funding for comprehensive sex ed.  Again, this is because Congress is acting on ideologically motivated grounds, to shame individuals who engage in sexual activity outside the proscribed context of marriage, or who (even within the context of marriage) have sex but do not wish to have children.

Where’s that gif I used the last time I had to post about Congress?  Found it…

joshymansickofcongress

It isn’t just ideologically problematic, though, it’s downright impractical, which is the other reason why I, as a citizen and a taxpayer, am appalled by this move.  Abstinence-only sex education has been proven not to work, yet Congress is still pushing to fund it instead of comprehensive sex education.  Family planning programs are incredibly cost-effective, and some studies have even shown that family planning investments through programs like Medicaid actually save states money.  Family planning is also a longer-term investment, allowing individuals to finish their education and pursue higher-paying careers, allowing individuals to break out of the cycle of poverty and to facilitate greater access to services and education for their children.  Even if there are people who do not support funding for these programs, the reality is that people’s tax dollars go towards things they do not like all the time (for example, my tax dollars presumably help pay Mitch McConnell’s salary, and there is nothing I can do about that), and we should be assessing policies based on the outcomes they produce, particularly when they don’t actively infringe on the fundamental rights of other individuals within our society.

If this were really about providing for good public policy, we would be fully subsidizing family planning and HIV testing, and promoting access to educational programs, but we aren’t.  Congress is allowing a reactionary branch of the Republican party to dictate how Americans are able to access services necessary to evaluate and take care of their own health.  For a party that claims government is too big, the GOP seems determined to make sure it is able to fit in doctors’ offices and people’s bedrooms as often as possible.

 
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