Monday, June 1, 2009

Connor and Dr. Tiller: A Remembrance

It does not seem that very long ago that I spoke with Dr. Tiller on the telephone. After hearing the details about my unborn son's anomalies, Dr. Tiller gave my doctor his home phone number so that I could reach him personally.

It's been nearly 14 years, but I still vividly remember lying on the couch, one hand on my 31 week pregnant stomach and the other gripping the phone, tearfully talking to Dr. Tiller. My husband and I had just found out the very worst news we could have ever received. Our son, Connor, whom we loved and were anxiously awaiting, had horrific abnormalities. In short, we learned through high tech ultrasound that he had only a brain stem and would most likely not survive birth. Devastation would be the most accurate word to describe what I was feeling.

Dr. Tiller talked to me. He spent nearly 30 minutes on the phone with me, detailing the procedure--from the moment a patient arrives until she leaves--in simple, informative terms. Part of the "process" was how to protect myself and be aware of the protesters who lined the path to his clinic. Until he informed me about "physical safety", I had not thought of others. I had thought merely about myself, my husband, and my baby. I recall being so confused and then my confusion turned to anger and then back to utter despair. Who did these people think they were? I loved Connor. I wanted Connor. To think that I would be met with hatred and such misunderstanding in such an unbelievably difficult time... Who did these people think they were?

I was, of course, a distraught parent with a million questions, going through an emotional roller coaster, but Dr. Tiller took the time and care to talk to me.

Dr. Tiller was a brave, kind man who helped thousands and thousands of women in their darkest, saddest hour. The anti-choicers are certainly allowed to call him any name they want. They can grasp at their fiery rhetoric and furious slogans, but he was not what they dubbed him. He was a man. A doctor. A human being who cared for women when they had nowhere else to go. He knew the risk and danger he and his family endured due to his choice, but he went to work each day anyway. For Women. He took a stand for what he believed was right.

It is time now, for the anti-choicers (all of them) to think about what they really stand for. It is time for them to examine the rhetoric and methods they use. Even if a group does not condone violence against doctors or women who seek abortions, each time they use the words, "murder" or "murderers" they are being not just untruthful but are inciting hate and violence. They incite the kind of hate and violence that led one sick man to gun down a fellow human being in cold blood at his church yesterday.

Fourteen years ago, I made a choice. I stayed in Ohio and ultimately did not travel to Tiller in Kansas. Due to my own failing health (nothing makes pre-eclampsia worse than mental anguish and traveling around to pick out funeral homes and teeny coffins), I was induced at 32 weeks in a hospital less than 10 miles from my home. My son, Connor died in birth, 15 minutes before being born. That was my choice. I took my own risks. When I made the decision I made, some told me they were "proud" of me. Some have even called me a "hero" for giving birth to Connor. But the real hero... the person who truly deserved people to be proud of him is the man who risked his life to give mothers like me a choice. The man who ultimately died bringing devastated women a choice... he was the hero.

Today, thinking back on Connor, I want to thank Dr. Tiller. For having been there. For simply... having been there.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Latest Idol "Loser"...Doesn't It Seem a Bit...Sexist???

Ok, I know that many will roll their eyes for one of two basic reasons. Either my few readers will roll their eyes because I am talking about a reality show or some may roll their eyes because it seems I always find the "sexism" in EVERYTHING!

I see it because, well, it's there.

Since the beginning of American Idol season 8, when the judges decided to not separate the genders but rather to allow America to do the choosing, I wondered if we would get the usual 6 guys and 6 girls that the judges ensured. And actually, I was a little happy this time. At first I thought, "if there are more girls who are dynamite than boys, well, then so be it--we could have 8 girls and 4 guys. And then I started to worry. What if the "boy vote" that seems to predominate as of late with "fawning" girls (from prepubescent to adult) swung the votes away from the powerful female presence of season 8?

And then it happened. Each week, when America picked the top boy and the top girl and then the top whoever-got-the-next-amount of votes, we saw week after week, two boys and only one girl. The final week, the judges did their normal "fair is fair" and chose their top 2 girls and top 2 boys (creating a top 13). What did that leave us with? 5 remarkable girls and 8 boys (only 3 of which are remarkable).

It angered me. Two far superior females were let go in favor of "popular" boys. Still, I figured that when the singing competition heated up, the girls would have a fighting chance.

Nope. I was wrong.

Two weeks ago, America voted out Jasmine Murray with her powerful ballad style voice. Yes, she was young, but she sang circles around Scott Macintyre (who happens to be blind), Michael Sarver, (who happens to be a really nice guy), and Anoop Desai (who happens to be annoying but has a cool nickname--"Noop Dog"). Then, this following week, the unthinkable happened. One of the strongest voices this season (although arguable not the best), Alexis Grace, was voted out. Is this just a matter of me being reverse sexist--that perhaps Alexis was not the best--I mean who am IIIII to say who others should like, right?

Entertainment Weekly last week (the edition days before she was voted out) had her at #5 of 13. I am not alone in respecting her voice. She was superior to most of the boys.

Each time America has had a choice so far, "the boys" have come out ahead. Why? Is it really because they are the better caliber singers? Is it because guys who vote tend to vote for the guys they think are cool and women tend to vote for the guys they think are "hot" or "sweet?" I know what I think, but maybe those of you who do not follow idol may want to this year...

Just to see if there is any proof to my argument!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Contempt for Women: Just another punching bag

I'm just going to ask it. Why are people hating on Nadya Suleman so much? I know, most will not recognize her name, so I am probably going to have to use the awful name the media has given her: the "Octomom." That is the only time I will use it, for I think it enables us to not view her as a human being but instead distance ourselves from her humanity and use her as a punching bag. She has a name, and it is Nadya Suleman.

No one tries to understand her motivation, her emotional or mental make-up, and certainly no one seems to focus on caring about the children who are now here.

I opened my Newsweek last week and was delighted to see someone trying to get to "the other side" regarding Nadya, but I kept wanting the writer to go further. The thing is, it's tricky, the current feeling is all hate for Nadya, so even though the article was a mild attempt to get at deeper complexities of the issue, the writer will still--no doubt--receive hate mail for being "too nice" to Nadya.

What's wrong with us? Why do we kick people when they are down? And more specifically, why do we love to just shit all over women?

Do I think it was wise of Nadya to have the first set of babies let alone the second? No, but I find myself focusing instead on a question like, "What was her doctor thinking?" Someone said "yes" to Nadya Suleman.  Someone cared more about money and/or ego than about this woman or her children's lives. 

Why do we have such disdain for Nadya, but we love Angelina Jolie with her mission to have her own oversized brood? Or why do we love the TLC show Jon and Kate Plus 8? Kate had eight babies and she has a television show (although there is a underbelly of contempt for her too since cameras have caught her being snippy with her husband on the show). There is an acceptance and even a legitimizing force in our media to have multiples, yet when someone who may have emotional/mental problems copies what she sees applauded in our culture, we jump on her like a lion that hasn't eaten all year. We don't just pounce and move on, we ravage the carcass even after there is nothing left to pick at.

People scream that they won't give her a penny, but it's not really she who needs those pennies. Her children do. You know, the ones we profess to care so much about. People shout that her kids should be taken from her, but splitting siblings from one another and from a mother who does love them is not really wise or compassionate. People scoff that her face has had too much plastic surgery and that she looks like Jolie, but our society force-feeds the idea to women that they have no value if they do not look a certain way. Again, my question goes to her cosmetic surgeon, "what were you thinking?"  Why don't we care more that there are butchers who sit and wait for their prey. And for any amount of money, they will carve every inch of us up.

Women have value in two ways in our society... as mother and as sex/beauty object. But we hate her for her extreme desire to meet both societal needs. We create the beast, but shun her when she does what we have created. It all seems so wrong to me. The situation makes me sad, not angry. Yet others have a visceral hatred. People don't just want her to wisen up, they want her dead. She has had death threats!

And now, with a porn producer offering her a million dollar movie deal, we see what this has all been about. We want to hate someone.  Porn offers are not what they once were. I remember when Dana Plato from Different Strokes was in Playboy. I understand (even if I detest it) that people had morbid curiosity about a female they saw in a pre-raunch television show--how might she look naked?  That is not what the latest offers to be in porn are about. People want to see Nadya in porn so they can scoff at her, so they can continue to feel superior to her, so they can show that "stupid bitch" what she is really worth.

Thankfully, she turned those offers down, or we would have been barraged by more zingy one- liners and interviews about what a whore she really has always been. It repulses me to think of people masturbating with and through contempt for Nadya, turning her from mother to her inevitable place as whore. But what's new? People have been "getting off" on her suffering in some form for months now. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Request for "Specifics"

One of my followers requested more specifics, less generalities about pornography's prevalence and influence I wrote about last time. 

Ask and you shall receive.
  • Among all internet websites, 4.2 million of those (12%) are pornographic
  • On a daily basis 25% or 68 million of all search engine requests are for porn
  • Every month 1.5 billion pornographic videos are downloaded
  • Average age a young man views his first hardcore pornographic act--11 years old
  • US Revenue each year for pornography: $13 Billion (compared to only $9 Billion for mainstream Hollywood films)
  • 89.8% of all scenes (250 top rentals/top purchases) contained scenes of verbal/physical aggression and violence
  • 94.4 of the above acts were targeted at women
All the stats and facts above can be found in Miguel Picker and Chyung Sun's important documentary, The Price of Pleasure. View the documentary for free on the Media Education Foundation site. 

See the preview here.

The documentary is 56 minutes in length. Everyone has 56 minutes to learn what pornography really costs.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Apples Vs Oranges

I have a great bunch of students. They have been so receptive to the Raunch Culture theme in my composition classroom, and many have talked with me privately about learning a great deal and "changing the way they see pornography." But, even after all the headway and all the important conversations, some still don't get it. And, who can blame them. I don't think most people do get it.

We were discussing Pamela Paul's Pornified where she argues that "Those who defend pornographic images that denigrate women would be loath to defend Little Black Sambo books or Nazi artwork."

So, during our conversation, I had a student say that its "apples and oranges" to compare racist acts/words/images with sexist acts/words/images because one (racism) is meant to hurt a people and pornography is not.


Um, its no different.

Thankfully, we live in a society that deems racism inappropriate. We do not have cartoons or pictorials of lynchings and if they are out there, no one besides a bunch of Kluxers are defending them.

Again, a few students said, "well lynchings are about hurting blacks. They did not choose to be lynched." So, we come back to "women ask for it."

When people brought up how "articulate" Obama was during the primary season, many people were angry (as they should have been). How dare someone assume he would not be articulate. That is racist. Not that long ago, with the political cartoon that depicted the "washington elite" as a dumb monkey, many argued that the cartoonist was being racist, calling Obama an "ape." The issue was plaguing the airways for over a week. Countless talking heads pontificated about how "wrong it was" even though many could say the chimp stood for politicians in general.

The animosity over the blogger posting a picture of a White House with watermelons growing outside of it was fierce. Countless talk show hosts and comedians used their minutes to berate the "hatred" the blogger "must have held." People were astonished that the blogger could be so cruel, outdated, bigoted.

I am the first person to say there is no place for racism. But what appalls me is that nearly no one fusses when the contempt, loathing, and denigration is targeted at women.

I brought up another quote from Paul to my class. "Not only do pornographic images stretch the definition of 'speech' but, as disseminated in the marketplace, they have a similar demonstrable effect on women as a white person making a threatening and vulgar racial epithet toward a black man or woman, which courts have already ruled to be unprotected by the First Amendment."

So, I wish I had asked them this...

Why do we spend so much time and energy denouncing racially motivated "speech," but we do not spend one second decrying women being gagged, raped, and scoffed at? Watermelons on the White House lawn is not ok, but laughing at pornography and how cool it is to see Stacey crammed full of 3 different cocks at once... well, THAT is protected "speech?"

No. The reason one is protected by the first amendment and the other is not is that we are more sexist than we are racist. Most people grasp that the color of our skin does not dictate our value. We now understand that all humans are created equal; well, unless they have a vagina.

We live in a gendered constructed society. The more feminized woman, the more masculinized man.

We value that which is man, but not that which is female.

We allow pornography because we do not like women very much. We think it is ok to degrade and dehumanize them because "they let it happen." "They asked for it."

We think of all sorts of excuses to convince ourselves it is alright to use women like trash receptacles. To value them only as an object to "get off" on.

One student astutely said, "well, its all about money. People are not going to buy racist paraphernalia. Its all about capitalism."

He is right. Woman as commodity, making others a fortune.

Now that is rich... and proves my entire point.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sorry it has been so long...

So... for those few who read me, I am sorry its been so long. I could complain for a paragraph here about why... but really.. its that often the task of writing about gender issues is either too painful or I am sick to death of thinking about it.

I am currently teaching "Our Raunch Culture" in my composition courses, and the theme,  has been a hit. Surprisingly, men have reacted favorably even more than the women. I have had so many guys say to me that they have totally re-thought their views on pornography and their role with it. There are no grand promises or "look at me, aren't I great" attitudes, but instead, I have had real, honest, complex conversations where men really seem to see the degradation to women, humanity--but just as importantly, to themselves--that porn causes. 

My gratitude is huge to such leaders in the anti-porn movement as Dr. Robert Jensen, Dr. Gail Dines, and Dr. Rebecca Whisnant for their powerful slideshow presentation: "Who Wants to be a Porn Star" and also Media Education Foundation's The Price of Pleasure documentary. Both harrowing visuals really moved students and reached them at a profound level.

Pamela Paul's Pornified has been invaluable at illustrating that porn is not really a "free speech" issue afterall. It is a relationship issue. Relationship with self, with others, with humanity.

The internet is vast, endless. The porn that occupies it saturates all corners. The only way out of the dark spot we find ourselves in is through an understanding of what we want for ourselves and others. We control what goes in and what comes out.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I'm tempted to say, "We Won," but that's not quite correct...

...I firmly believe that tonight, after years of painful division, America Finally Won.