Monthly Archives: June 2010

Doctor Testing Prenatal Drug to Prevent Homosexuality and “Low Maternal Interest”

Fellow Women’s Rights blogger Pema Levy recently wrote about a Cornell University professor who mutilates girls’ genitals to make their “oversized” clitorises more attractive. Now, The Stranger reports that a Dr. Maria New is offering a risky steroid, dexamethasone, to pregnant women to prevent their daughters from having genitalia that looks too “male.”

But Dr. New’s research isn’t just about the cosmetic stuff: she’s looking at the drug’s potential to prevent girls from developing same-sex attractions; “abnormal” lack of interest in dolls, babies, and traditional mommy-ing; and “masculine” career interests.

Prenatal “dex” is used by Dr. New to prevent the development of androgynous or masculine-looking genitalia in girls with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH), which is caused by an overproduction of androgens. This is an already controversial practice and has raised ethics questions: as Time magazine discusses, dex carries significant unknown dangers and doesn’t address the underlying disorder, which can pose serous health problems in both boys and girls.

Yet Dr. New, instead of dialing back and worrying about the potential harm that she is doing, sees an opportunity to take that research further and find a way to make sure we only reproduce straight stay-at-home moms. She believes her research demonstrates a connection between excess production of androgens and girls who are queer or exhibit “masculine behavior” in “childhood play, peer association, career and leisure time preferences.” So Dr. Maria New is essentially saying that things like, oh I don’t know, wanting to be a scientist, are “abnormalities.”

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American-Born Teen Deported After Failing to Wear a Seat Belt?

Nineteen-year-old Luis Alberto Delgado should have been wearing a seat belt: not only was his safety at sake, but failing to buckle up is illegal, and I know how many readers here feel about illegal acts. Normally, the offense is punishable by a fine of $25 to $50 in Texas, where Delgado and his older brother (the driver) were pulled over. However, in Delgado’s case, it lead to a swift deportation, leaving him stranded in Mexico, unable to reenter the United states legally. Yet Delgado asserts that he is an American-born citizen. And he has the birth certificate, Texas ID, and Social Security card to prove it.

What proof did immigration authorities have that Delgado was not an American? Why, the fact that he speaks poor English, of course. That alone was enough to convince the police to call U.S. Border Patrol, enough to make immigration authorities insist that he had fake papers, enough to motivate them to coerce Delgado into signing papers that he believe would allow his release, but actually led to him being immediately removed to Mexico. “What they did to me was discrimination,” Delgado told the Houston Chronicle from Mexico, where he is waiting after he says he was told by border officials that attempting to reenter the U.S. after deportation could result in a 20-year prison sentence.

Delgado explains that he was born in Houston, TX, but moved to Mexico and spent most of his childhood there, hence his shaky English. Nonetheless, the quality of Delgado’s English is not grounds for assuming he is in the United States illegally; as he says, it is discrimination, and very much like the case of the man who was detained for “looking Mexican.”

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It’s Time to Offer the Pill Over-the-Counter

Have you ever carefully packed for a holiday vacation, then realized after getting on the plane that you forgot those precious pregnancy-deterring pills? As responsible user of birth control, you don’t like forgetting a single pill. You know that if you miss a few days while trying to get a hold of somebody who can call in a prescription, hormonal birth control becomes drastically less effective, raising your risk of pregnancy and making other forms of back-up contraception necessary. Wouldn’t it be nice if all you needed to do was drop by Hawaii’s closest pharmacy and pick up an over-the-counter replacement package of pills?

Kelly Blanchard, president of Ibis Reproductive Health, a nonprofit research organization, asks: Well, why shouldn’t you? In a recent New York Times editorial, “Let the Pill Go Free,” Blanchard says that, half-a-century after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the birth control pill for use with a prescription, it’s time to reassign it to OTC status.

In most cases, getting a prescription for the pill is little more than an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy. Sexually active or planning to be? Don’t want to be pregnant? A gyno will scribble their illegible doctor’s signature on a prescription form and send you on your merry way. “Women don’t need a doctor to tell them if they need cold medicine or condoms, and they shouldn’t need a doctor’s permission to take the pill,” Blanchard writes. “Over-the-counter sales would expand access to safe, effective contraception, and help women take control over their sexual and reproductive lives.”

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Senate Candidate Sharron Angle: Your Rape Is Part of God’s Plan

Apparently virgin births aren’t in style anymore, and if the Christian God wants to get a woman knocked up, he has to send a rapist to do the job. At least, that’s the best I can figure out what Nevada Republican Senate nominee Sharron Angle means when she says that an abortion is never acceptable, not even in cases of rape and incest because, well, God has a plan for everyone’s life.

Angle’s words in response to being asked to clarify that she opposes even rape and incest exceptions: “You know, I’m a Christian and I believe that God has a plan and a purpose for each one of our lives and that he can intercede in all kinds of situations and we need to have a little faith in many things.” So God intercedes by allowing or instigating rape, and women need to have faith that giving birth to the rapist’s baby is in God’s plan, and they aren’t allowed the free will to choose otherwise?

But maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe Angle just subscribes to the suggestion of one Chicago crisis pregnancy center that getting an abortion is just silly because 25% of pregnancies will end in miscarriage anyway. So rape and incest victims just need to sit around and wait, knowing that God will “intercede” and cause a spontaneous abortion.

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Fired for Speaking a Single Word of Another Language?

Many hospitals feel the urge to impose an English-only policy in the Emergency Room. Life-or-death situation, everybody needs to be on the same page, all that jazz. The policy seems somewhat unnecessary, since common sense should dictate that people will communicate in an intelligible language in such high-risk jobs, but I’m not going to pick apart hospital policy that seems to have a rational grounding. On the other hand, I do take issue with the utterly ridiculous firing of a group of nurses for speaking another language during their lunch break.

“Pass the salt” is hardly a communication that somebody’s life depends on, so if a group of Filipina nurses wants to speak Tagalog over sandwiches, how about everybody else mind their own business? If they want a non-Tagalog speaker to pass them the salt, I’m sure they’ll put the request in English. I fail to see what rationale basis this provides for firing, nor who is harmed by hearing another language with a cool name like “Tagalog” spoken.

Yet the Bon Secours Hospital in Baltimore City seems to feel that overhearing hard-working nurses shooting the breeze in another language while on break is grounds for immediate termination. The hospital offered no critique of performance, just outrage at hearing non-English words spoken. A secretary who was also fired never imagined that she would get in trouble for exchanging words in her native tongue, since her work has nothing to do with patient medical care. In fact, she’s not sure what word, exactly, she was fired for, but thinks it might have been calling a Filipino doctor “Kuya” (“Sir”).

That’s right: the hospital’s policy is so vague, speaking a single word in Tagalog (or any other language besides English) is enough to set off the firing of an otherwise exemplary staffer.

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Transgender Woman Dies After Incarceration in Men’s Prison

Veronica Baxter was arrested on drug charges in Australia in March 2009. Six days later, the price she paid for this relatively minor infraction was death. And the questions surrounding this suspicious circumstance start with the moment she was placed in an all-male prison.

Baxter, a transgender woman, had been publicly female-identified for 15 years. And, as Michael A. Jones points out on the Gay Rights blog, under Australian law, transgender persons are supposed to be incarcerated with the gender of their choosing. Furthermore, due to high rates of physical and sexual violence against transgender inmates, Australian law mandates protective segregation of transgender inmates. Yet, instead of keeping a close eye out for Baxter’s safety, guards left her for up to 14 hours without checking in on her — and then her body was found hanging from her cell.

This appears to be a case of gross negligence on the part of prison guards, if not something more sinister. As a 34-year-old woman in an all-male prison, Baxter was in an extremely vulnerable position; that she was even incarcerated with men in the first place raises questions about the potential transphobia of those who failed to send her to a facility for women.

As an added bonus, Baxter’s status as an indigenous woman pulls a racial dynamic into the murky picture. Increasing rates of aboriginal incarceration and reports of police misconduct in a highly-publicized death a few years ago have incited controversy over the treatment of indigenous peoples in Australian society and by law enforcement.

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“Real” Beauty According to Dove: No Blemishes, Curves, or Muscles

It’s one thing when companies that sell beauty products use airbrushed models whose “perfection” is supposed to make other women feel bad enough about themselves they go right out buy whatever latest item will fix their self-image problem. But Dove brings this to an astounding level of hypocrisy by defining what a “real” woman is for its “Real Beauty” campaign. Hint: Unless you look exactly like a model, your beauty isn’t real enough for them.

New York Magazine has printed Dove’s casting call requirements for its upcoming “Real Beauty” campaign. To start, actresses, models, and reality stars, or anyone carrying a head shot, do not qualify as real women. You are all fake women, and Dove doesn’t want you.

So what makes a “Dove girl”? The casting call reads in all caps, “MUST HAVE FLAWLESS SKIN, NO TATTOOS OR SCARS!” Yes, because real women never have a spot on their skin, they don’t get tattoos (sorry, Pink), and they certainly never do anything athletic enough to sully their body with a scar. Sadly, a schoolyard tumble when I was five-years-old that left its mark on my knees disbars me from appearing in a towel to advertise Dove products. Another dream dashed.

What else does Dove want? “Nice Bodies..NATURALLY, FIT Not too Curvy Not too Athletic.” Really, what real woman has curves? And a proper lady doesn’t have a bunch of muscles; leave the athleticism to the men. Real women keep off the extra pounds by starving themselves, not exercising.

So: are you a real woman? Because it seems that, according to Dove, I only know fake women.

Photo credit: Sara Goldstein

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Did You Get Tested This Sunday?

There’s nothing like a clean bill of health to inspire you to take advantage of those sultry summer nights for a bit of seasonal romance. June 27th was National HIV Testing Day — did you get tested?

If not, never fear. Every day can be HIV (and other STD) Testing Day. You can even have an STD testing party like my favorite characters from Girls With Slingshots. Of course, it’s not all fun and games: sexually transmitted infections, and especially HIV/AIDS, are worth serious concern.

In the United States alone, approximately a quarter of a million people are estimated as living with undiagnosed HIV, meaning both that they’re not getting the treatment they need, and that they could unwittingly be infecting their sexual partners. Though you may have heard otherwise, HIV doesn’t discriminate based on gender or sexual orientation; women now comprise a growing percentage of HIV cases, currently at 25% of new infections. For young black women aged 25 to 34, HIV is now their leading cause of death.

Whether you think you’re at high risk or not, health experts now recommend getting tested regardless. Yes, whether you’re a fan of multiple one-night flings or are a one-horse kind of girl, get checked out anyway. It’s better to be safe than sorry in this case, and that means going in for that STD test on a regular basis. When caught early, before symptoms of any kind begin to show, a preemptive course of treatment can significantly improve life expectancy and quality for those infected with HIV.

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Justice Department Fails to Meet Deadline to Eliminate Prison Rape

This Wednesday we should have welcomed the institution of national standards to put an end to an epidemic of rape and sexual assault in prisons, a deadline mandated by the Prison Rape Elimination Act. But Attorney General Eric Holder let that deadline pass on by without even trying to make it. In fact, Matt Kelley reports on Criminal Justice that Holder isn’t at all on target: he’s planning to miss the deadline by at least a year if not more.

In the meantime, incarcerated men, women, and children continue to be without protection, subjected to a cruel and unusual punishment that was not a part of their sentence. As I’ve written before, the Supreme Court has ruled, “Sexual abuse is ‘not part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society.” But you wouldn’t know it from the statistics: according to a Congressional report, as much as 15% of the prisoner population has been a victim of sexual assault, either by fellow inmates or guards.

This abuse occurs in prisons, juvenile centers, and immigration detention, where officers have frequently told detained women that they will be deported if they don’t submit to sexual abuse. In some situations, survivors of brutal rape have had to be hospitalized, as in the case of Kimberly Yates, who shares her personal story on Alternet: “Officer Woodson would take me to the warehouse in the basement of the detention center, and that is where he raped me. After the first time, he told me that if I ever told anybody that he knew where my family lived, where my children lived, threatening to hurt them. I was afraid for myself and my family, so I did not say a word to anybody.”

Eric Holder and the White House seem to think that the rape of incarcerated men, women, and children under government control isn’t worth making a priority. But nobody deserves to be raped, no matter their crime. Make it clear that the time to address prison rape is yesterday, and that you won’t stand for heel-dragging on this issue, by signing this petition now.

Photo credit: Lisa Norwood

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World Cup Player Slaps Woman Reporter

After his team lost to the United States on Wednesday, Algerian soccer player Rafik Saifi strode up to a female journalist and silently slapped her across the face.

Algerian reporter Asma Halimi automatically hit back, getting her escorted out of the stadium by security. So what “justified” this act of violence against women? Apparently, a year ago Halimi ran a story revealing that the soccer player had just gotten engaged to a French woman, a fact Saifi was trying to keep on the down-low in his country. Halimi wasn’t even creating tabloid gossip from rumors (not that this would justify violence either); Saifi had given an interview where he discussed his fiancee to a foreign paper, and Halimi just published a translation of his own public words back home.

Did Saifi hit Halimi because she outed one of his secrets to his countrymen? Or did because he was frustrated about losing the game and women often look like the nearest punching bag in such situations? While Saifi clearly held onto a grudge, I’m inclined to say that Halimi was assaulted because he’s a sore loser and because society lets men get away with abuse. I doubt that if Halimi had been a man, Saifi would have walked up and slapped him in the face.

Sarah Menkedick has already written about the rise in domestic violence during big sporting events such as the World Cup, and that the response is just to warn women to steer clear of potentially abusive partners after a big game. I guess Halimi should have stayed home from work so she didn’t look like such an appealing target for an attack. Or maybe the referee needs to get in the game and call foul on violence against women.

Photo credit: jasonwhat

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