Birth Control as Birth Control

The summer before I left for college, I went to ask my doctor about starting birth control. I figured I'd plan ahead, odds were that I'd be sexually active, and I wanted to have time to adjust to the pill before I had to leave home.

She was a young, mousey brunette, in a cotton maternity dress, though I couldn't tell if it was just for comfort or actually covering a pregnancy. I didn't want to ask. She leaned towards me, scrutinizing my face, and said, clicking her pen, "Actually, I can prescribe you a gel that will help with your acne more effectively."

Firstly, my face is just fine. When I tried to explain that I really just wanted contraception, she cut me off and asked me if I was sexually active. I said, "I guess, technically, not right now?" For a brief, sarcastic moment, I considered joking about pregnancy, but I didn't want to call attention to the possible baby bump. "Let's just wait on that," she told me.

We don't always like to think about women having sex. We don't like to think about women enjoying sex. Which is why so many of the arguments against the Hobby Lobby Decision, which allowed companies to deny access to contraceptive care on the basis of religious freedom, focus on the fact that contraception use isn't always related to sex. In the National Journal, reporter Lucia Graves argues, "Even if these women never have sex once in their lives, they need to be on birth control." And she's got a point; birth control can be very important for the health of many women. But we can't ignore the 99% of sexually active women who have used the contraception as contraception. The Guardian urges people to stop making excuses. Women are people. And many people like sex. And that's good. That's wonderful. That's healthy. That's human. And that should still be covered by insurance.

People who support the decision started the hashtag #CloseYourLegs, and argued that "whores" who want to sleep around should pay for their own contraception. Sluts should keep their legs closed. Yikes. (Side note: Hobby Lobby continues to cover vasectomies. Double-standard much?). Also, it's not even true; a much higher proportion of married than of never-married women use contraception (77% vs. 42%). But even if it was only us "unmarried sluts" using birth control, that's still not how health care works; Slate has an article that explains it well, but the basic idea is this: the Department of Health and Human Services mandate involves women paying for their own contraception, using insurance benefits they earn by working. 

The decision won't just prohibit the pill, it prohibits all contraception counseling. For a doctor's visit to be covered by the health insurance, the doctor couldn't talk about sex or contraception, and that's terrifying. ThinkProgress addresses this well, "Counseling and education about contraception has been a basic part of a medical visit forever, even before the methods themselves were covered. Before we had prescription drug coverage, we certainly had coverage for the visit to your doctor, and there were never any limitations about what you could talk to your doctor about.”

People are going to have sex. Surprise. So having available contraception and understanding how to use it is the most effective way to stay healthy and lower unwanted pregnancy rates. A study found that birth rates among the teens who received free birth control had less than a fifth of the national teen birth rate (just 6.3 births per 1,000 teens, compared to 34.3 per 1,000 teens nationwide in 2010). Abortion rates were less than half of both the regional and national rates. Dana Singiser of Planned Parenthood says it well: “To prevent unintended pregnancy, women need full information, full coverage and full choice for what type of birth control works best for them.”

Let's just think about that for a second. Hobby Lobby is against abortion. So they're limiting contraception and counseling. They're literally restricting the most effective resources AGAINST unwanted pregnancies and abortion.

The biggest problem with this ruling (which all three female justices ruled against), is the precedent it sets. Feministing points out that a boss "could cry "religious freedom" and get out of offering coverage for anything he disapproves of — from vaccinations to AIDs treatment". In her dissent , Ruth Bader Ginsburg admits: “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.” This article elaborates; the exemption could extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses), antidepressants (Scientologists), medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus). Which shouldn't happen, right? We know that sounds wrong, because we know it's not ok to dictate another person’s medical decisions. Fun fact, that still applies even when that medical decision regards a woman’s reproductive health care.

I got a new doctor, I've been on the pill for awhile now, and I still feel ok about it. I'm human.

The Bechdel Test

The Bechdel Test was adapted from Alison Bechdel's comic Dykes to Watch Out For, in a 1985 strip called The Rule. The test is meant to bring attention to how women portrayed in movies, and involves three criteria.
  1. The movie must have at least two named female characters. 
  2. The characters must have a conversation. 
  3. That conversation must be about something other than a man. 
If a movie fails to meet any of those criteria, it fails the Bechdel Test. keeps an updated list of movies and how they fare. Only about half of the movies in the database pass.

Surprisingly, a lot of popular movies don't even come close. Look at the Social Network (2010). None of the women talk to each other, rather, they exist solely as one-dimensional objects. In an interview Stephen Colbert did with Aaron Sorkin, the film’s writer, Colbert notes that the women portrayed "don't have much to say because they're high or drunk or fucking guys in the bathroom." Sorkin explains that's because women are prizes. Charming. 

Note, the Bechdel Test isn't a real test. It doesn't actually prove anything about how sexist a movie is. Take Gravity (2013). It fails right away, because there's only one named female character, but it's not a sexist movie. Rather, I think Dr. Stone is a well-protrayed three dimensional character.

Passing the test doesn't guarantee that a movie isn't sexist, either. Twilight: Eclipse (2010) passes all three criteria, but there's enough sexism in ten minutes of that to make me gag for weeks. 

The test isn't always clear. Look at the The Lego Movie (2014). Does Unikitty count as a female character? (Actually, can a lego even count as a male character?) I loved this movie, I didn't think it was sexist, but until right now, I didn't realize how few females were in it. That's the type of thing the Bechdel Test is meant to bring attention to.

It's not about checkmarks. It's about trying to get people to realize that portraying three-dimensional characters, both male and female, is an important thing. Failing the Bechdel Test doesn't mean it's a bad movie. Honestly, I don't cry when I don't see strong women in the media, I just think it's weird that having well developed characters isn't the norm, and we should represent real life better. Really, I'd just like to see better movies, not just half-assed attempts to fill quotas.

This is not what I want. 
Often, we find movies that technically pass the test, but only with cliched and superficial characters. That's why movies that fail the test generally perform better than those that pass. Most established filmmakers are male, and there's a lot of well-developed male centered stories, and a lot of good male centered movies. People know how to write three dimensional men, and audiences have been satisfied with that for awhile. 

However, things are changing. Box office sales are falling, and part of that is because women are getting tired of movies that don’t speak to them or accurately represent them. On the other hand, movies aimed at women are reaping the benefits, like The Fault in Our Stars, Frozen, and Maleficent, which made more domestically than Amazing Spider-Man 2!

Look, my life doesn't always pass the Bechdel Test. Sometimes my friends and I talk about Russian literature, and sometimes we talk about cute boys, and that's ok. What's not ok is portraying women as prizes or sending the message that only guys are people. So let's try to balance it out, shall we?

P.S. I just saw Bad Words. It fails the Bechdel Test, but I like all the characters, and it's effing hilarious. Go watch it.

The New F-Word (#WomenAgainstFeminism)

On Friday, this Buzzfeed article went viral, featuring posts from a tumblr called WomenAgainstFeminism. A handful of people shared it on my newsfeed, which was a handful too many for me. Most of the posts look something like this:

Equality? That's literally what feminism IS. Look, I changed some of it, now it makes sense. 

The tumblr isn't actually against equality, it just criticizes the feminist movement for being sexist. Ironic. Most of the signs focus on "real equality", not demonizing men, being capable of being independent. In other words, feminism. 

Feminism means equality. That's it. But feminism has become a dirty word. Here's how I see it: #WomenAgainstFeminism (I'll just say WAF from now on) attacks the extreme slice of feminists who equate feminism with misandry (the hatred of men) and play the victim card a lot.

Example. This isn't what feminism is about, this girl hasn't actually been victimized by men looking at her. "Stare Rape" isn't a thing, it just discredits people who have actually been raped. This is pretty damn offensive, and is part of the basis for WAF. So I guess I get it. WAF is attacking women for their extreme, and often offensive, viewpoints.

I say "attack" because of the aggression and insults they use. It's not just that they find some feminists misguided, they blatantly accuse all feminists of being "[j]ust a bunch of whiny brats looking for attention by competing to see who can tell the biggest 'weak woman' story... insecure narcissists who want to be praised for saying the glass is half empty and claiming they are victims, as if that makes them morally superior to the rest of us who stand on our own two feet."

WAF accuses all feminists of simultaneously projecting their issues with men onto all women, putting men on a pedestal, and accusing all men of being evil. WAF attacks feminists in a way that generalizes the entire group as being awful, and they're doing this because they believe that feminists generalize all men as being awful. In other words, they're doing exactly what they're criticizing.

You're getting pretty pretty damn hypocritical there, WAF
Every group has extremists, in this case, it's feminists who claim that the glass is always half empty and that all women are horridly oppressed by men, the "feminists" (picture me making big air quotes here) who confuse the movement with misandry. Extremists can make any group look bad, but that doesn't mean they represent the entire movement. It doesn't mean you have to demonize the group and remove yourself. Of course I'm offended by the extremists. I'd like to distance myself too, and claim that I'm not like that, but honestly, I probably fit their definition pretty well. I have a blog, and I tend to whine about feminist issues, so let me reiterate my mission for this blog here.

There have been three major waves of feminism. Currently, there isn't a fourth, but many people have advocated for one because of the lack of activism in other waves of feminism regarding current issues, such as domestic labor, harassment, discrimination, body and slut-shaming, reproductive freedom, violence, and so on. Look at how far we've come. I'm not oppressed; I can wear what I want and say what I want. I can make my own choices, and that's fantastic. But it's not universal. There's still more to talk about, and we won't get anywhere by demonizing men, and especially not by demonizing each other. I'm not comfortable sitting still with the way things are. That's why I write this blog. That doesn't mean I'm accusing men, and that certainly doesn't mean I see myself, or other women, as victims just because of gender. I know not everyone agrees with me, and I wouldn't force anybody to. At the end of the day, I support political, social, and economic equality regardless of gender, and that's why I'm a feminist.

The anti-feminist movement is not new. People have been accusing feminists as being man-hating and crazy for centuries. Look at the anti-suffragism movement in the late 19th century. It was composed mainly of women, and portrayed suffragettes (those who advocated for the female right to vote) as masculine, accused them of destroying their families, emasculating their husbands, and aiming for female supremacy.

There's a ton more of these over here, if you're into that sort of thing.

What's up with all this man hating? I don't hate men. I love men. Seriously, guys, call me. 

Real feminists do not hate men. Many real feminists are men. The movement is against female supremacy, it's against all supremacy, because sexism hurts everyone. Hell, look at the gender gap in prison sentencing, most women will be sentenced for less time than a man for the same crime, and I think that's sexist and unfair.

I understand the desire to separate yourself from the extremists who give feminism a bad name, even if you still believe in the same things. I'd like to do it too, but I won't. I call myself a feminist because I want to align myself with the movement before me. Because I recognize and respect how far we've come, and I'm proud.

I don't think its helpful to demonize an entire movement. WAF is destructive. They promote things like slut-shaming and belittle problems that are actually huge issues. They're trying to destroy a movement that promotes equality just because of a handful of extremists who don't understand what feminism is supposed to be.

This is called slut-shaming. It is not ok. Also, since when are feminists sluts?

If you don't want to be a feminist, that's perfectly fine. But you're not going to get anywhere by accusing other people of being "whiny narcissists". I don't agree with people who equate feminism to misandry, but I don't think they're weak or evil. I also don't think that WAF is evil, just misguided. As my personal favorite commenter put it, WAF seems to be saying one thing...

Laci Green, though I sometimes disagree with her, and who sometimes annoys me, makes some very good points in her video about why she's a feminist. Check her out here.

Bitches Say No

The Tour de France is a grueling, multiple stage bicycle race that totals over 2,200 miles, primarily located in France. The first race was staged in 1903, and quickly became a famed and time honored tradition. Another decades old tradition, unfortunately, is the idea that a hero deserves a woman as a reward.

We promise the hero a prize, and that prize is usually in the form of a girl, though she usually doesn't have much of a say. Cracked lists some examples, "Neo saves the world and is awarded Trinity. Marty McFly gets his dream girl, John McClane gets his ex-wife back, Keanu "Speed" Reeves gets Sandra Bullock, Shia LaBeouf gets Megan Fox in Transformers, Iron Man gets Pepper Potts, the hero in Avatar gets the hottest Na'vi, Shrek gets Fiona... and so on."

You've probably all seen this picture. So romantic. Nobody seems to care that it's nonconsensual, or that the sailor was drunk, or that his girlfriend (and later wife) was looking on in the background, or that the nurse (who was actually a civilian dental hygienist) wasn't strong enough to fight him and resigned herself to be forcefully kissed by a stranger. Nobody cares, because the soldier is a hero, and a hero deserves his reward and celebration.

So why is this relevant to the Tour de France? Well, we're still seeing a kiss from a beautiful girl as a reward, part of a well-deserved celebration. The hero, in this case, is Italian cyclist Vincenzo Nibali who won Stage Two of the tournament this past Sunday, July 6.

He goes in for a kiss, and she turns away. Not a big deal. I don't think he's at fault for trying to kiss her, it's pretty customary, and I don't think she's at fault for turning away (though it may have been a bit of a faux pas, as la vise is fairly common). Could've simply been a miscommunication. What bothers me is what a big deal this has become.

The podium girl has been accused of denying him and being a bitch. We could all just shrug this off as awkward, but instead, many people have gotten worked up about how she could have the nerve to shun him. The YouTube of the clip has been taken down, but there's no shortage of commenters.

Whether or not she actually rejected him doesn't seem to be an issue on anyone's minds. Regardless, the reaction has blown a tiny awkward situation into a big deal. When we treat rejection like a big deal, we make it into a big deal, and when it's a big deal to say no, it can become very difficult to do so. Everyone has the right to say no, it doesn't depend on how attractive they are or how much the other person "deserves it".

The other issue I want to mention here is this: in the same way that women aren't defined as rewards, a man's worth shouldn't be defined by how much women like him or how much "action" he can get. Daily Mail captions a photo, "Nibali was able to have a laugh on the podium with a cuddly toy lion after being rejected".

Of course he was able to be happy. Being rejected, or snubbed, or whatever you want to call it doesn't take away from what he just accomplished. A person's worth doesn't come from successfully kissing another. Rejection isn't the end of the world.