Wednesday, April 13, 2016

jane: an abortion service

Last night, I got a chance to see Jane: An Abortion Service at the Clinton Street Theater, which was being screened as a part of their ongoing reproductive justice film series.

The film itself is a documentary from the mid 90s focusing on a group of young women in Chicago who formed a feminist collective that helped women, particularly poor women with limited options, get abortions before Roe v. Wade legalized the procedure. Women who, for whatever reason, weren't ready to have a child were desperate for help. They were being pushed by social pressures to have children when they weren't ready and to marry people they didn't necessarily want to be with all because they got pregnant. They were treated like pariahs and had few places to turn.

Jane, a collective of young women in Chicago, saw the need for these women to have access to safe abortions and created a service that (illegally) met this need from 1968-73. The movie, while a bit dated, was extremely moving and educational. Parts of it made me uncomfortable, while others made me appreciate anew the struggles of women the many ways they've met these challenges head-on, tying into broader struggles against things like racism and economic inequality.

As an added bonus, Judith Arcana, a writer and 'Jane' featured in the documentary, was there for a Q&A at the end.

While many people have moral objections to abortion, especially at later stages of pregnancy, I believe in a woman's right to choose when to have a child. A fertilized egg/embryo is, for all intents and purposes, a part of a woman's body, and no one should have the right to tell another person what to do with their own body.

Also, having abortion be legally available and easily accessible makes it safer for women. Without it being so, women who aren't ready to have children, are impregnated against their will, etc. will either be forced to have unwanted children, which isn't good for them or the child, or else have to rely on alternative and often unsafe methods of terminating pregnancies, e.g., herbal abortifacients that may be toxic; illegal and unsafe 'back-alley' abortions (which result in an estimated 70,000 deaths per year worldwide); etc.

Another major reason I support a woman's right to choose is that, for centuries, the dominant ideology has been that a woman is essentially a walking womb and her place is the home, and anything that gives women the ability to share equally in public life and pursue things like education and careers is anathema to that. It's no surprise, then, that the majority of those who are against these things are the ones who have the most to lose, older white men.

Ultimately, it's about power. Allowing women (and men) to use contraception and decide whether they want to have a child if pregnant, not to mention having those things be safe, easily accessible, and covered by insurance, takes away what little power patriarchal institutions still have over women, which is why I fully support women's reproductive rights, as well as anything that gives women an equal share in the sphere of public life.

Although this 'right' was recognized in 1973, there has been a great deal of pushback erodding access. From the Hyde Amendment to the numerous state laws restricting providers and forcing women to endure unnecessary and even humiliating treatment/procedures (e.g., mandatory waiting periods, sonograms, and counselling that's often biased and designed to frighten women from having an abortion), women are finding themselves in a similar position as they were pre-1973. As of today, about 88% of all US counties have no identifiable abortion provider.

As a man, I don't have to worry about becoming pregnant before I'm ready and having to make such a difficult decision, which is a relatively privileged position. But as a person committed to gender equality, I feel it's my duty to listen to women about what they want and need and give them the space to make their own decisions about their own lives.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

transgender day of visibility

I went down to Pioneer Square for the Portland Transgender Day Of Visibility in support of the transgender community, and ended up doing a little canvassing for NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon in the process.

One of the things I took away from many of the speakers is that, if you care about equality in whatever form, it's important to be vocal about it. In the struggle to dismantle the oppressive systems that serve to keep us separated from one another, we must also help to create connections with, and safe spaces for, those who find themselves the 'least among us' and marginalized in this neo-colonial, white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal society.

Being vocal about supporting transgender individuals is especially important because so many are targeted for physical and sexual harassment and violence, not to mention all the issues trans individuals face with employment, insurance, mental health (due to things like harassment, rejection, and violence), and housing. It's not just about being 'open-minded,' it's about changing societal attitudes towards LGBTQ people and helping protect them from the alienation, ostracization, and violence they face every day.

And when it comes to gender equality, I fully support organization like Planned Parenthood and NARAL because women are still perceived as walking wombs; and allowing women (and men) to use contraception and decide whether they want to have a child if pregnant, not to mention having those things be safe, easily accessible, and covered by insurance, takes what little power patriarchal institutions still have over women, which is why I fully support women's reproductive rights, as well as anything that gives women an equal share in the sphere of public life.

In the end, all these struggles are connected because the roots of these various forms of inequality are the connected and reinforce one another. And it's only by joining together in solidarity that we can uproot them and create a better world.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

excerpt from an existentialist's diary

An existential malaise has fallen upon me of late, with its feverish yet indescribable woe and melancholy. Truly, how does one put into words the terror of reality and its semblant meaninglessness? How does one express the despair of existence when all pretenses are dropped and the chaotic banality of our frailty and suffering become so apparent, so oppressive? How does one look at the face of death and its unquenchable emptiness and then turn around and describe it to another? How does one communicate the anguish of their hopelessness or the infinite sadness of their loneliness to another any more successfully than a shade can impart their innermost thoughts to the living when each is separated by an insurmountable divide? How does one confide these things when the coarseness of words fails us, when we're unable to peer into one another's hearts and read the subtle language of the soul? They say that the eyes are a window into the soul, that pneumatic void. And what would that soul say if it could speak, that deep, dark abyss that lies at the heart of our individual beingness? What secrets would it share that our lips are incapable of divulging?

Monday, January 4, 2016

malheur wildlife refuge standoff and the deeper implications of privilege

Apparently this happened while we were on the coast. My initial reaction is that this is a great example of privilege, one with deep implications:



Privilege in and of itself is difficult to talk about since it makes a lot of people uncomfortable, especially those in privileged positions. Nobody likes to think that they have some kind of natural advantage in life over others, that they have it slightly easier than someone else just because of who they are. I like how Roxane Gay puts it in Bad Feminist:

We tend to believe that accusations of privilege imply we have it easy, which we resent because life is hard for nearly everyone. Of course we resent these accusations. Look at white men when they are accused of having privilege. They tend to be immediately defensive (and, at times, understandably so). They say, "It's not my fault I am a white man," or "I'm [insert other condition that discounts their privilege]," instead of simply accepting that, in this regard, yes, they benefit from certain privileges others do not. To have privilege in one or more areas does not mean you are wholly privileged. Surrendering to the acceptance of privilege is difficult, but it is really all that is expected. What I remind myself, regularly, is this: the acknowledgment of my privilege is not a denial of the ways I have been and am marginalized, the ways I have suffered. (17)

And since privilege is relative, it's not easy to see, often going unnoticed because it manifests itself as a lack of discrimination that isn't always readily apparent until we take a broader look at society as a whole. We are, in effect, often blind to our own privilege, or that of others, until we take a closer look at how different groups are treated in similar situations.

In this case, a group of armed, white men who feel entitled to public land and more lenient sentencing for poaching and arson have taken over a federal wildlife refuge building and are currently being given a wide berth by authorities. Would the same be true if it were a group of Blank Panthers or Muslims? How about the Black Lives Matter movement? I sincerely doubt it. No other group in the US could occupy a government and have such a measured response. No other group would get such subdued and even somewhat positive media coverage, let alone a modicum of public support. If it were any other group, that just wouldn't be the case.

Muslims are automatically labelled terrorists in the media whenever they do anything, violent or otherwise. Black men, thugs. But a white man shooting up a Planned Parenthood or movie theatre? Possibly mentally ill. And armed white men trying to expropriate public land and threatening violence if they're confronted? Well, they're simply patriots, militia men, anti-government protesters, etc. And police seem to show remarkably restraint when it comes to armed white men, like the recent Planned Parenthood shooter, Robert Lewis Dear, who was apprehended alive after killing 3 people and wounding 9, or James Holmes, who killed 12 and wounded 30, but not so much when it comes to a black kid playing with a toy gun alone in a park.

But I digress. It's not just about racial privilege, it's also about political privilege and social power in the form of capital accumulation. As @nerdosyndical points out, "The armed white people trying to dissolve a national wildlife refuge are not practicing terrorism, they are practicing enclosure. They are trying to privatize public (not common) space for personal and private accumulation of capital." Land is part of the dispute. Who gets to use it and for what. Grazing and hunting rights seem to underlie some of this, which hints at the history of US settler colonialism and process of enclosure, where common land is 'enclosed' and thereby restricted to the owner. These men feel entitled to this land, and they've taken drastic steps to assert that perceived right.

But what of Native American claims to land that was taken or promised, many of which are supported by treaties that the US government never honoured? What about Palestinians who are being forcibly removed from their land by Israeli colonizers? These are some of the questions that this incident should raise as I think they point towards the heart of the problem, capitalist class relations and how they manifest themselves.

The relative privilege that white men currently enjoy, for example, has its origins in the socio-economic paradigm the US (and arguably most of Western society) was founded upon, which from the start was created by, and mainly for, white, heterosexual, Christian, male property owners. And while there's certainly been progress towards a more egalitarian society, the structural roots of socio-economic inequalities that create hierarchies of privilege are still buried deep within the makeup of our society and culture, hidden in plain sight. This is merely an exaggerated illustration of historical processes that have been taking shape for centuries.

The real focus, then, shouldn't be their gender or their race so much as the underlying socio-economic framework that's made these things the focus for so long—a complex system of social relations forming the material basis on top of which oppressive and exploitative hierarchies are built, a foundation we must recreate if we're ever to transcend privilege and oppression.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

many new oregon laws set to help women

Some of the new laws taking effect in Oregon at the beginning of the year, many of which should, at least theoretically, help protect women:

New batch of Oregon laws take effect in January

In the workplace, for example, "Domestic workers like nannies and housekeepers will be extended several new protections in 2016, including mandatory breaks, paid vacation time and recourse against harassment." Most domestic works are women and immigrants, who are often exploited and harassed and have few legal protections and avenues of recompense.

Another law going into effect will double the statute of limitations on rape, "allowing prosecution up to 12 years after the crime occurred instead of six," and if it happens to a minor, they'll have until 30 to come forward. In addition, "Secretly filming someone in a place of 'presumed privacy' — including bathrooms and locker rooms — will be upgraded from a misdemeanor to a felony in 2016." Because that's just fucked up and creepy.

And despite all the recent attacks on women's reproductive rights, "Pharmacists will be allowed to prescribe birth control directly to women, saving them a trip to the doctor’s office, and insurers will be required to cover up to a 12-month supply in one purchase."

Onwards and upwards!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

the paris agreement

Unfortunately, the new Paris agreement is far from what we need. Despite having the knowledge and technology to make and use energy sustainably, despite knowing that we have to reduce our energy usage and greenhouse emissions immediately to potentially avoid the worst case scenario, the world is settling for less because it's easier/more profitable for those who currently own and control the means of production. As a result, the world will continue to steam towards environmental catastrophe while all the more economically developed countries are patting themselves on the back for "addressing the threat of global climate change."

It's certainly encouraging that steps are being made in the right direction; but we have to stop looking at this issue in terms of whether solutions are economically viable in a for-profit capitalist economy and start exploring alternatives like our lives depended on it. Instead of adopting agreements that fall short of what's needed, we have to dismantle our existing fossil fuel infrastructure and create a whole new approach to production and distribution. And we can't simply rely on politicians to do it for us; working-class people have to take a stand, make our voices heard, and help build the next environmentally viable economy.

Friday, November 27, 2015

the less noble sex

A while back, a friend of mine gave me a copy of Nancy Tuana's The Less Noble Sex and I've finally gotten around to reading it. It's one of the best/most interesting books I've read in a long time and I highly recommend it, especially for anyone interested in the history of sexism in the West (or anyone who doubts its existence/influence, for that matter). In particular, it details how patriarchal biases about women's innate inferiority (along with a healthy dose of Eurocentrism) have permeated philosophy, religion, and science for centuries, conditioning everything from how we interpret myths to how we view and treat women (as well as non-whites) today. For all the positive contributions of great minds like Aristotle and Darwin, there's a lot of negative social conditioning that must be understood and ultimately undone.

I've long thought, for example, that most of social and legal barriers to the use of contraception, as well as a woman's right to choose, stems from patriarchal ideology. And The Less Noble Sex has further solidified that opinion. In particular, the book details the extent which patriarchal biases on the part of philosophers, religious leaders, and scientists (the majority of which have statistically been male) have influenced their ideas and empirical observations, both shaping and reinforcing the image of man as intellectually and rationally superior to woman, limiting women to their "natural" role as mothers and caregivers, leaving the sphere of public life to the care of men.

For centuries, the dominant ideology has been that a woman's place is the home, and anything that gives women the ability to share equally in public life and pursue things like education and careers is anathema to that. It's no surprise, then, that the majority of those who are against these things are the ones who have the most to lose, men. Ultimately, it's about power. Allowing women (and men) to use contraception and decide whether they want to have a child if pregnant, not to mention having those things be safe, easily accessible, and covered by insurance, takes what little power patriarchal institutions still have over women, which is why I fully support women's reproductive rights, as well as anything that gives women an equal share in the sphere of public life.