Monthly Archives: August 2010

How Conservatives Killed Their Own Family Values

When conservatives are looking to play the blame-game regarding what they refer to as the decline of the “traditional family,” feminists, LGBT persons, and Hollywood liberal elites are generally on the dice. But Alex Henderson writes on Alternet that if they want to find the true culprit, they should look in the mirror.

What right-wingers mean by family values is something along the lines of a man and woman getting married, on the young side before they’ve sullied themselves with any premarital sex, pop out a bunch of children (sans contraception), and perish the thought of divorce. But one thing any parents (and most non-parents) know: kids are expensive. When people decide to have children later or not at all, when a greater number of people are interested in permanent sterilization, when marriage gets delayed, economic considerations are at the top of their reasons.

Wealth in America has become more concentrated in the hands of an elite few, while an average worker’s wages have not kept up with inflation on basic necessities. Conservatives blocked comprehensive health care reform under the Clinton administration, while the bill that President Obama managed to squeeze through Congress falls far short of what the nation needs. We have inadequate or nonexistent maternity leave, paternity leave, sick days, subsidized day care, and other vital elements of a social safety net. What kind of impact do you think this would have on responsible individuals considering having a family?

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How Did We Strip Away Women’s Reproductive Rights This Year?

Year in and year out, legislators think of new and exciting ways to impose control over a woman’s body … or they just try, try again to pass the old and uncreative means of letting women know we were silly to consider our bodies our own. While we’re never particularly celebratory over these developments, 2010 has seemed like an especially bad year for reproductive rights. With most states done with their 2010 legislative session, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) today released an overview of this round’s changes and what’s popular in violating a woman’s bodily integrity this year.

With President Barack Obama busy shoving health reform through Congress, it seems the only soundbite we heard as often as “death panels” was “government-funded abortion” (or “baby killer,” or some other such permutation). Anti-choicers won a victory with the Nelson Amendment, which imposed mandatory restrictions on abortion coverage while giving states the green light to make life even harder for women, should the mood take them. Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee took them up on that offer with their own exchange bans, and Florida and Oklahoma would have followed if it weren’t for the woman-friendly pen of their governors. Never mind that organizations from the World Health Organization to the American Public Health Association tout what a vital element of health care abortion is.

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The Great Porn Debate

Pornography: one of the great dividing points in the feminist movement. Is it good? Is it bad? Do anti-porn feminists feel uncomfortable getting in bed with the Religious Right? Do sex-positive pro-porn (or “erotica”) feminists get a funny feeling about objectification?

Clarisse Thorn has an article raising this issue on Alternet: “Why I Sympathize With Anti-Porn Feminists — And Love Porn Anyway.” On the one hand, many women just get an icky feeling when it comes to porn. On the other hand, this can be attributed to the fact that the pornography industry caters to men (and often the macho, misogynistic male side at that): it’s the type that’s the problem, not the whole concept. (This is about where I fall.) If porn is seen as degrading to women, is that because of the hyper-focus on cum-shots, rather than an inherent degradation involved in watching somebody having sex? Porn is rarely so attacked as degrading to men, after all.

And there are plenty of women out there — like Thorn herself — who both enjoy porn and think it’s beneficial to society. Why should they be denied their sexuality or the right to appreciate porn just as men do? It reinforces the purity myth that surrounds women. In Thorn’s article, she basically tells anti-porn feminists: I get it. I used to be like you, too. But I have learned, and what I have learned is: porn is good. Yet there’s other evidence that porn, or the type most common today, can normalize sexual harassment and violence for boys. There’s also the separate problem of exploitation and even trafficking in the porn industry, but then again, we don’t advocate banning the production of T-shirts because many of them come from sweatshops — we just push for better regulation and labor standards.

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By Land or by Sea, Immigrants Find Their Way to America

With all the talk about the porous border with Mexico, you’d think we only had a southern border, and that to the north the country tapers off into nothing but thin air. Isn’t that funny? But what you hear even less about are our borders to the east and west — yes, I’m talking about the ocean.

The AP reports that more and more people from south of the border seeking to make a life in America are eschewing the heat of the desert and trying a wetter mode of travel, making their journey through the Pacific Ocean to come ashore on the west coast. Though unauthorized immigration by sea has picked up for those hailing from Latin America due to increased security along the Mexican land border, it’s hardly a brand new phenomenon. After all, if you live on an island, the only way to leave is by water or by air, and many Cubans, and more recently, Haitians, have washed up on our eastern shores. (It’s not called “wet foot, dry foot” policy for nothing.) Sea voyages on this particular route have been popular since Prohibition times, which have some striking similarities to today’s immigration law.

Crossing by sea requires the aid of a smuggler, and it costs about twice as much as the typical land smuggling, to the tune of $5000 for a rocky trip on a small, old boat. Too bad all that cash is going to smugglers rather than, say, to the U.S. for fees to legally immigrate through official channels because we refuse to loosen overly strict restrictions on how many people can enter from Mexico. Immigrating without authorization by land or by sea might be difficult and dangerous, but it’s still for most people more likely to succeed than an attempt to immigrate within the inflexible system, even if you’re trying to join family.

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American Women Cross the Border Seeking Low-Cost Abortions

In the United States, abortion is supposedly legal, despite state restrictions that infringe upon the time and manner in which the procedure can be performed. In Mexico, the country makes no bones about abortion being illegal, with Mexico City the one small exception to the rule. Yet Laura Tillman reports at The Nation that American women are crossing the border into Mexico to address unwanted pregnancies. What gives?

While Roe v. Wade protects American women’s right to an abortion only up to a point. Even during the first trimester when an elective abortion is legal for any reason, many women find that the procedure is inaccessible. Cost is a major factor: just a few days ago, I wrote about low-income women resorting to do-it-yourself abortions due to the prohibitive expense of a legal medical procedure that is nonetheless kept out of all public and some private insurance coverage. Other factors, which vary on a state-by-state basis, include a lack of abortion providers in the area, 24-hour waiting periods, restrictions on how far along the pregnancy can be, parental consent, and stigma.

In Mexico, on the other hand, though abortion is illegal, the Guttmacher Institute reports that the abortion rate there is actually 40% higher than in the U.S. It turns out that for women in America who live near the southern border, heading down to Mexico to buy a cheap bottle of “abortion pills,” usually Misoprostal, can at times look like a better option. And if you need to resort to getting an abortion without a doctor’s care, using Misoprostal to induce a miscarriage is a less dangerous option than many other forms of illegal back-alley or do-it-yourself procedures — although it still carries significant dangers such as internal bleeding or birth defects should the fetus end up being carried to term.

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DIY Abortions on the Rise Among Low-Income Women

Do-it-yourself projects can be fun, but an abortion is not like a crafts project. Unfortunately, the lack of abortion coverage in health insurance is forcing low-income women to attempt to DIY abortions because they can’t afford a safe procedure.

As Robin Marty writes on RH Reality Check, women are turning to the improper use of the drug misoprostal, while others are resorting to more risky, desperate acts such as throwing themselves down a set of stairs or getting punched in the stomach. In a country in which abortion is a perfectly legal procedure, and one that is very safe when performed properly by a doctor, it’s deeply disturbing that women still have to resort to such dangerous methods. The Hyde Amendment’s ban on government funding for abortion puts women in a position where they cannot access health care for their bodies.

Last month, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg warned that while abortion rights are secure for women with money, even if Roe v. Wade were to be repealed, low-income women’s reproductive rights are not on such solid ground. In fact, it seems clear that poor women are already de facto deprived of their reproductive rights by the lack of abortion coverage in health insurance.

Women will continue to take matters into their own hands if financial constraints keep them from getting an abortion. Three-fourths of women who obtain abortions cite the inability to afford a child as one of their primary reasons; if they cannot pay for the procedure out-of-pocket, that’s not going to stop them from making certain they’re not bringing a life into the world they can’t support. We should jeopardize women’s health out of ideology.

Photo credit: Demion

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Saudi Employers Hammered 24 Nails Into Immigrant Maid’s Body

L.T. Ariyawathi couldn’t remember how many hot nails had been hammered into her body by her Saudi employers as punishment for being exhausted. Reuters reports the number of nails discovered by an X-ray at 24. Two dozen nails, hammered into her hands, legs, and even above her eye.

You have to wonder what kind of twisted mind comes up with lodging nails into an employee’s body for the grave offense of being tired when she was overworked. But the torture suffered by Ariyawathi, a 49-year-old mother from Sri Lanki, though darkly creative, is not a major anomaly. Over a million Sri Lankans leave their country for the Middle East seeking work, many of them as maids, who regularly complain of being abused by employers. And Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports that Saudi Arabia has an abysmal track record when it comes to the treatment of its over 5 million foreign workers.

Because Ariyawathi was a poor immigrant woman who didn’t speak the language in her country of employment, she was completely at the mercy of her malicious Saudi employers, who she says also threatened to kill her for not working hard enough. HRW points out that Saudi Arabia’s legal system itself also puts migrant workers like Ariyawathi at risk because of gender discrimination in laws. Female workers are also subject to imprisonment if they become pregnant after being raped by an employer, and the Saudi court system doesn’t pay adequate attention to women’s testimony. Protecting women like Ariyawthi would require serious changes to business as usual in Saudi Arabia.

Photo credit: Andrea B. Italia

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Colorado Prisoners Forced to Spread Labia for Cavity Search

Update: Victory! Colorado prisons will no longer be engaging in degrading “labia lift” strip searches.

Female prisoners in Colorado are now forced to spread open their labia so that guards can peer into their genitals at close range. Does this strike anybody else as overkill?

Stephanie Hallett at Ms. Magazine’s blog reports that Colorado already had an invasive policy of “bend over, squat, spread and cough” for anal cavity searches, but this new addition takes the standard prisoner strip search to a new level of humiliation and violation. An estimated 80% of female prisoners have a history of being sexually abused and some suffer from PTSD as a result, which means that flashbacks can be triggered by a practice that forces them to lift their labia and sometimes clitoral hoods so that a guard can leer in from inches away with a flashlight beam. Prisoners who have tried to refuse compliance have been threatened with pepper spray.

This extreme policy on strip searches for contraband makes me wonder just how much and how easy they think it is for a woman to stuff items in there. Colorado must have a really, really bad problem with contraband, and being searches those repeat offenders who simply can’t be trusted not to be especially devious, right? I mean, they wouldn’t needlessly do something tantamount to sexual assault, triggering PTSD and reducing women inmates to tears, right? Well, the ACLU and ACLU of Colorado, which are calling for an end to this policy, say that this “degrading, gratuitous and unconstitutional” search is being used in searches where guards have no suspicion that the prisoner is actually trying to hide contraband.

This kind of invasive search of a woman’s body is not necessary for the safety of the prison, does harm to women’s well-being (especially sexual assault survivors), and seems more intended to humiliate than anything else. Tell Ari Zavaras, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, to rescind the degrading new policy immediately.

Photo credit: paper or plastic?

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DHS Gets Priorities Straight on Deportation

The United States immigration system suffers from a record backlog, with about a quarter of a million cases awaiting hearing. In the most bogged down places in the country, detainees can wait up to three years for a deportation hearing. That’s three years in prison for people who, remember, haven’t been convicted of any crime. Not even an administrative immigration violation: undocumented immigrants are pressured to sign voluntary deportation forms so they can be shipped off immediately, so the people waiting in detention for a court hearing are those who want to contest their removal. They are only suspected of being undocumented immigrants. And yes, we do make mistakes, even detaining American citizens.

Whether or not these detainees end up winning their cases and being allowed to stay in the U.S., they’ve had up to three years of their lives and freedom stolen away. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been notoriously stubborn on switching to humane (and less expensive) alternatives to detention, such as ankle monitoring bracelets, which would let people without serious criminal records go about their lives as they wait and wait for their hearing. Meanwhile, the detention system sucks in $1.7 billion of taxpayers money in a waste one judge called “mind-boggling,” but lines the pockets (and lobbyists’ pockets) of private prison contractors such as The GEO Group, Inc. and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s friends at the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).

Finally, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is doing something about this inhumane system and money pit by moving to dismiss the cases against suspected undocumented immigrants who don’t have a serious criminal record. The Houston Chronicle reports that ICE spokesman Richard Rocha states that this is to enable them to focus on those undocumented immigrants who do have a criminal background and might endanger public safety or national security.

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Kelly and Antoine Dodson and the Bed Intruder Song

Antoine Dodson became an internet sensation after voicing his anger over the attempted rape of his sister Kelly, a rant that was remixed into the “Bed Intruder Song.” The song, which has been deemed hilarious by the internet masses and received over 12 million views on YouTube, was sold on iTunes, where it raised enough money to allow the Dodson family to move out of their home in the projects to a better neighborhood.

But while that seems like a happy ending, bloggers like Tamara Winfrey Harris on Race in America want to know: “What’s So Funny About Antoine Dodson?” Harris writes, “Part of the Dodson meme is, I fear, about laughing at mannerisms that the mainstream associates with blackness, gayness and poverty. There is nothing amusing about a young woman assaulted in her home. And so, I worry that people are laughing at Antoine: his flamboyance and perceived gayness; his use of black colloquialisms, like ‘run tell dat,’ his grammar and accent.”

In an updated YouTube video, Antoine and Kelly thank the people who helped them make this change through their financial support, while Kelly tries to explain that, well, she can’t explain what she’s feeling as a sexual assault survivor. She refers to her fears and those of her two-year-old daughter, and how the attempted rape has had a huge impact on her family. If Antoine hadn’t heard the intruder and intervened, Kelly would have been raped, or, she fears, even killed. This is something that gets lost when people are laughing over Antoine’s rant-turned-rap, and though Kelly now expresses gratitude that the song help provide a better life for her family, she still complained, “I was very upset about it because they were taking it as a joke and I was feeling like they were not looking at the part where I was the victim.”

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