Thursday, July 21, 2011

Department of Health and Human Services to decide on new birth control measure

I have always wanted to have a baby. Lots of them. Call me unrealistic or old- fashioned, but I've always wanted a big family. My parents were each the second child of five, and all of my aunts and uncles had at least two children. Many of my cousins now have at least two children. My brother has two sons and another baby on the way, and my sister has two children also. I have a very large extended family with lots of small children and babies and I love it. I've always wanted the same kind of family for my kids.

But only when I'm ready.

I've been on some form of birth control for 6 years. When I was 17 and started having sex with my boyfriend, my parents made me go on the pill. I would have done it myself, but I was too scared to approach my parents about it (I knew they'd be pissed, and they certainly were) and I was too embarrassed to go to the Planned Parenthood clinic in my small town, because word would get around. (Evidence: the first time I bought condoms from our local drug store, the next day in my gym class everyone was talking about it.)

My boyfriend at the time and I always practiced extremely safe sex- with condoms and the pill. We both understood that a baby would deter us from many of our goals and aspirations. I also really didn't want to end up like the majority of my female classmates, 10 of whom had kids or were pregnant at the time of graduation and at least 50% have 1-2 children now. Most of them were unable to go to college and stayed in our tiny hometown. They didn't get to travel, to explore and be young and independent. Some of them chose it, but I can't help but think that some of them were trapped.

I have always been very lucky with my birth control. Planned Parenthood is a wonderful and absolutely necessary organization, providing a vital resource for women and girls of all ages. Between their services, their "Family Planning Program" that I was able to enroll in, and my parents insurance, I never had to pay for my pills. When I made the switch to an IUD almost two years ago, I didn't have to pay any out of pocket costs or copays for that either.

At the time I first started taking the pill, I was also working at a pharmacy. I watched as many women came in every month and paid up to $40 for the pills I was getting for free, because their insurance forced them to pay outrageous copays- more so than most other prescriptions, be it heart medication or narcotics. I remember how I dreaded having to pay that much for my pills, and I didn't understand why I was getting it for free, but for employed women with health insurance had to pay so much money. Luckily, this may be changing very soon!

A new measure to be decided by the Department of Health and Human Services would mandate that birth control be placed on a list of services for women that would be covered by insurers with no copays. Even though organizations like Planned Parenthood and other clinics have been working hard to provide free or inexpensive birth control, they can't possibly reach every woman (especially when some of their funding is no longer given) and it is time we acknowledge this as a nation and set a precedent. Everyone deserves the right to make their own choices with regards to their reproductive health. 

I say I am lucky because I was aware of and able to use the resources at hand to make sure that I was able to protect my body and make responsible choices. But not everyone can do what I did. It's not always about waiting to have a baby or preventing teen pregnancy. Sometimes it's about the health and safety of the mother and the child. We need more resources widely and readily available to provide women with birth control.

For more info, please visit the National Women's Law Center site. You can find info there on the Blog Carnival (happening now!) and a petition you can sign. Let's work for progress in women's health issues!!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

My Turn to Weigh In

I have to start by saying I’m tired of this argument. I’m disgusted by some of the things that have been said and done by people in our movement. By the lack of support that we have shown each other, and the blatant disregard for some of our very own principles.

I’m quite sure that at this point, we all know what we’re talking about, but for those of you who may not, or may have only gotten part of the story; here is my summary of what’s been going on.

On June 20th, Rebecca Watson of Skepchick posted this video regarding an experience she had while recently in Dublin attending a conference. This video was posted on June 21st in response to Rebecca’s video and this post was created on June 22nd in response to Rebecca’s video. All three of these women attended CFI’s annual Student Leadership Conference that took place June 23rd-26th, and unless I am mistaken, it was the first time they had all met. I have met Rebecca a few times; she gave a fantastic talk at CFI Amherst in April regarding “Women’s Intuition.” I met Rose at the conference, but I was never formally introduced to Stef McGraw.
Rebecca was scheduled to give a talk at the conference, and decided to begin by speaking about her video, and the responses she received. I was working at the conference, but was unable to sit in on Rebecca’s presentation. I know that she did mention Stef McGraw (author of the post on UNI Freethinkers and Inquirers blog) by name, however other than that I do not have a firsthand account of what Rebecca said in her talk. What I do know is that this subject has dominated conversation ever since. Even though the conference ended, the discussion has continued in online forums. I have seen a slew of articles/blogs about this subject, from all different viewpoints and from both sides of “Rebeccagate.” Some I completely agree with, and as usual, some I disagree with, and some I find absolutely despicable. I have included links to some posts here where I find them to be most applicable.

Recently Stef McGraw posted her response to Rebecca’s talk on UNI’s Freethinkers and Inquirer’s blog here. I appreciate this post, as it is far more level-headed and rational than a lot of the comments, tweets, and other blog posts I have seen. She does well also to clearly separate two issues out of the fray, which is similar to what I am trying to do here. Franklin Kramer, another student who attended the CFI Student Leadership Conference also did a great job breaking this all down into clear questions that he hopes will help people separate the issues at hand. His post can be found on Illini Secular Student Alliance blog.

A lot of people have been upset by Rebecca’s comments regarding the man in the elevator. I don’t want to share too much of my own opinions right now. I don’t think it’s relevant at this point. I don’t want to muddy the waters; my goal here is to try to provide some much needed perspective to all involved. What I do share of my own thoughts is what I feel most strongly about. If you are interested in hearing/discussing more, please contact me and I’d love to chat with you about this.

There is a cold hard fact that no one seems to be acknowledging. ONLY Rebecca was in the elevator in Dublin with the man in question. Therefore, ONLY Rebecca has the right to decide whether or not he made her feel uncomfortable, whether or not he was sexually objectifying her and what that may mean for the Skeptical/Atheist/Feminist/Freethought movements on the grander scale. It is her experience, and while you may want to give your two cents, please bear that fact in mind. You are, of course, entitled to your two cents, your opinions, your thoughts and your outrage. However, having your own thoughts does not make you unequivocally right. There is a fantastic article that I think is highly relevant to this situation here. Please read, as I think it is very well balanced, providing support and advice for women while not bashing men.

Part of the truth of our world is that the sexes are not equal. The fact of the matter is that women face extremely different challenges than men. In the workplace, in social settings and especially when it comes to personal safety, there are different obstacles to overcome and different situations we face. Each woman needs to “set their own risk tolerance,” and each man needs to learn to understand and respect that tolerance varies by woman and it is NOT a man’s right to disregard that for any reason.

Rebecca has limits of what she will tolerate, and whether or not you agree with them, I believe she deserves respect for sticking to them and never letting a man overstep those boundaries. I think it is a poor reflection on those who consider themselves feminists to be so hypercritical of another feminist for sticking to her own guns, and on those who consider themselves freethinkers to be so inflexible and unwilling to listen to or tolerate differing opinions or viewpoints. I may not have been part of this movement for a very long time, but it does seem to me that in solidarity and support we feminists should stick together and we freethinkers should strive to create a safe, open environment for rational discussion of all topics. That is not the environment I feel we’ve created recently, and that disappoints me.

The other part of this argument that has caused a lot of hullaballoo (what a fantastic word) is whether or not it was appropriate for Rebecca to name Stef McGraw specifically in her talk during the conference and use her comments. When you put your opinions and ideas out into a larger forum you will receive some criticism, something Stef acknowledged in her most recent blog post and something I commend her for. Not all of her peers have been mature enough to acknowledge this fact… or mature at all for that matter.

However I think that we must take this one step further. Yes you will be criticized for your actions or your words. Not everyone will agree with you and some people will vehemently disagree to the point where you may lose supporters or friends. Unfortunately, this is part of life. It sucks. Life is hard. People will not always do the things you want them to or hope they will do. I can honestly say that had I been in Stef’s situation, I would probably have had a similar reaction; shock, perhaps some embarrassment, and a little hurt. But at the same time I cannot find fault in Rebecca’s actions; she was merely operating under the construct I just discussed: if you voice your opinions some people will take issue with them and publicly disagree with you. Again, we all must realize that submitting ourselves and our minds to a public forum puts us in a vulnerable position. People will not always treat you how you wish to be treated but we need to learn to deal with it in a rational, level-headed, mature manner. Rebecca understands this, I understand this and Stef seems to understand this.  PZ Meyers had this to say and Barbara A. Drescher said, “Open discussion, including criticism, is how shared knowledge is built,” in her post “On Sexism, Objectification and Power,” and I couldn’t agree with her more. Hemant Mehta disagreed with Rebecca quoting Stef but asked everyone to “Calm the Fuck Down.” I also could not agree with that sentiment more.

So what do we take away from this? I would hope that if we can all step back for a few moments to consider these key points, to take a wider perspective of the issue and to look at it from a few different angles, we could begin to rebuild what may have been damaged. Feelings were hurt, relationships-both professional and personal- were effected, and I believe somewhere a line was crossed between criticism and open season on the people involved. But in my humble opinion there is no reason why we cannot rebuild our forum. Let’s get back to a place where we can talk about this calmly, openly and without any danger of attack. It’s what I admired so much about the movement when I became involved, and I hope I’m not the only one looking to get back to that.