At MOMocrats: Roundtable discussion of HHS’s overruling of FDA recommendation on Plan B

Over at MOMocrats, Cyn has posted a roundup of an email discussion between some of the MOMo contributors, myself included, about the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) decision to overrule the FDA recommendation to make the “morning-after pill,” or Plan B, available without a prescription to people of all ages (it’s currently over the counter for people over 17). The decision of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, as well as President Obama’s comments in support of this decision,  have sparked a sharp backlash from many (though not all) feminists and women’s rights/health groups. As the MOMocrats post shows, reactions from women’s health advocates to this decision are far from monolithic, and many who strongly disagree with  HHS’s and President Obama’s decision also see complicated and complicating factors underlying this issue (I’m included in that camp). To quote Cyn’s conclusion, “We wrestle with tough questions and have differences of opinion and yet are all at our core profoundly committed to pro-choice as part of reproductive justice.”

I have more thoughts on the subject that I hope to be posting soon to the MOMocrats blog; of course I’ll share that post here as well.

I took a longer break from blogging than anticipated, but new posts will resume tomorrow!


Always my son

NaBloPoMo Day 11: Just a video and article recommendation today. There’ll be a guest post on this blog tomorrow and a post by me at another blog, so I figure I get a free space to work with!

Colorlines shared this lovely video about a young gay Latino man and his family not only coming to fully embrace him and his sexuality, but also to provide support for LGBT youth and their families. The video touches on some interesting issues around ethnicity, masculinity, and sexuality, and religion as well. I particularly loved what the dad had to say about rethinking his approach to masculinity when he realized how damaging his assumptions had been to his son and their relationship. The Colorlines article about the Family Acceptance Project that this video came out of is also really worth reading – it’s a project focusing on how families of LGBT youth of color respond to their coming out. This video is the first of several resources they’re hoping to develop for different communities that tell stories of families of color who have accepted their LGBT children.

Gender, race, and the cult of true womanhood, cont.

Part 1

Growing up, I had to make sense of two divergent messages I heard about female sexuality. On the one hand, there was the constant refrain about “Women” as a monolithic, universal category, utterly separate and distinct from “Men.” This idea was pounded into our heads through every possible means: in sermons and books, at conferences and bible studies, in magazines and constant exhortations to the “ladies” about the importance of modesty and to “the men” about fighting lust.

And of course it pervaded church culture and family life in less official but also powerful ways: the joking-but-not-really comments from boys and men about whom they would “allow” to court their female relatives, and the dire consequences awaiting any man who dared to touch their sister or daughters without prior approval. The warnings to girls and women that we must withhold sex from men in order to lure them into marriage. The pervasive refusal to even consider the possibility that women might want to have sex – even, horrors, outside of marriage – and the complementary assumption that men were always and only really interested in straight sex.

The message was pretty clear: the bedroom for men, the altar for women. End of story.

Except the story wasn’t so simple for me. At the same time that I was being taught to equate “true” femininity with chastity and sexual reticence, I was also learning that many people I went to church with saw black women as having a habitually unchaste and voracious sexuality. A similar disconnect existed between the notion that “women” are nurturing, warm, oriented towards family and the home, and on the other hand, pernicious stereotypes of black mothers as neglectful, irresponsible, unfit parents who either lacked or rejected “normal” maternal sentiment and behavior.

Offhand comments from pastors and church members alike, snide asides, jokes in which black female sexuality was a frequent punchline, and widespread willingness to pontificate about the moral and cultural failings of black communities made it unmistakably clear that the prevailing assumptions about black women stood in sharp contrast to everything I was told came naturally to “Women.”

These are some of the messages I heard about black female sexuality (hopefully unnecessary disclaimer: this is a description, not a statement of agreement on my part with any of the moral judgments that follow!):

– Black girls and women are sexually active early, often, and with multiple partners.
– Corollary: black girls and women can usually be assumed to be sexually active, or soon to become sexually active, with no information or evidence for this apart from their blackness.
– Black girls and women are unrestrained and irresponsible with both sexuality and reproduction, e.g.: black women become parents at a very young age, are usually single or unmarried parents, have large numbers of children, fathered by different men who are seldom involved in parenting their kids.
– Corollary: black girls and women in public with children can be assumed to be single parents of those children, with no information or evidence for this apart from their blackness.
– Black mothers do not adequately provide for their children, are often unemployed by choice and on public assistance.
– Corollary: older black girls or women with children in public can be assumed to be unwed parents of those children supported by the hard-earned money that the government steals from hardworking, white, married people pay in taxes. In other words, black women suspected of being unwed parents are also lazy mooches (never mind that the majority of people on welfare are white Americans, never mind that being on welfare is hardly the primrose path conservatives seem to imagine).
– Black mothers are neglectful, lazy, and abusive in their parenting.

In short, I was left to reconcile the following contradictory messages:
woman” = “natural” and “God-given” sexual reticence, “natural” desire for marriage and “the home” as boundaries that contain sexuality and reproduction, and “natural” desire to submit to male “leadership.”
black woman” = hypersexuality, reproductive excess, parental neglect, and the absence of husband/father figures (in other words, the absence of patriarchal covering and authority).

On top of all that, these negative stereotypes were so strongly associated with blackness as to make them seem almost like an innate racial trait. People widely assumed that these behaviors could be taken for granted as characterizing random black women they saw in public, or on TV. Unsurprisingly, these assumptions also affected how black girls and women who weren’t strangers, but part of the church community, were perceived and treated by the white majority of the congregation and even by other black members. These stereotypes so strongly shaped how the church viewed black women inside and outside the community that they rose to the level of “just how black people are.”

As I’ll discuss in the next post, these stereotypes were not isolated to my church or my denomination (or to Christians in general, to be fair); rather, they were representative of beliefs about black people and especially black women that are still quite common among white religious conservatives.

“Christian Privilege: Not Being Allowed to Dominate Others Doesn’t Mean You’re Being Oppressed.”

I loved this post on Christian privilege and marriage equality by Mike Gillis. It’s a very succinct explanation of the problem with religious arguments against civil recognition of same gender marriages: i.e., limiting the rights of others based on the tenets of one faith (really one interpretation of a faith out of many, in this case) unjustly privileges that faith and its members over all other members of society. And as Gillis notes, Christians who believe their religious opposition to marriage equality should be enshrined as law are also discriminating against other Christians who support marriage equality – insisting that only their interpretation of Christianity can be the basis of general laws. That’s some kind of privilege.

If your religious beliefs condemn marriage between two people of the same gender, then you shouldn’t marry people of the same gender. While you have the freedom to limit your own behavior in matters of sexuality, diet or religious observance, you don’t have any power to limit the rights of other people, particularly those in other religions or with no religion.

If someone else is allowed to marry their same-sex partner, the anti-gay marriage advocate is affected in no way, oppressed in no way, their right to hold those beliefs is violated in no way.

Just as orthodox Jews aren’t victims of oppression when other people are allowed to legally watch television and use electric appliances on Saturday. Just as Muslims aren’t victims of oppression when other people are allowed to legally purchase alcohol. Just as Hindus aren’t victims of oppression when other people are legally allowed to eat beef.

You are expecting a level of cultural dominance that is completely unreasonable. You are expecting the right to to demand that your religious practices be taken as civil law and that the prohibitions of (I assume) Christianity be enforced on everybody — including non-Christians and Christians of denominations that accept equality in gay rights.

Read more here.

Roundup: ELEVATE bloggers

Sharing the love with my fellow sister bloggers who also partnered with the Black Women’s Health Imperative to raise awareness for National HIV Testing Day. Check out their fabulous blogs and show them some love, too!

And don’t miss Franchesca’s hilarious and informative “Every Girl in the World Should Get Tested” video below!

ELEVATE the Conversation: Fighting the stigma and campaign against HIV Testing

Given my fundamentalist background, I’m especially aware of the barriers posed by sex-negative, stigmatizing, false assumptions and beliefs about HIV testing. Beliefs that AIDS is a “gay disease,” even a punishment from God for a “homosexual lifestyle.” Abstinence-only programs that teach young women that that the only protection they need from pregnancy or STIs is “purity” and “self-control” before marriage – loading the language in a way that suggests that only immoral people who can’t control themselves need sexual or reproductive health services.

These messages stigmatize sexuality in general, by making it out to be something dirty, and especially stigmatize queer and female sexuality. They lull people into a false sense of safety by implying that being (or behaving) straight, or only having sex with one’s spouse, are some sort of protection against HIV. They discourage people from getting tested.

We need to elevate the conversation around HIV by combating these false and dangerous stereotypes. Thetruth is that HIV can be transmitted in a variety of ways, and testing is important for anyone who is sexually active, regardless of sexual behaviors or orientation. Furthermore, heterosexual contact is now the primary mode of infection in the general population, and among black women specifically.

We also need to elevate the conversation around HIV testing by promoting positive messages about sexuality and sexual health. That sexual expression is a normal part of most people’s lives, and that it can and should be enjoyable, empowering and, safe. That taking care of our sexual health is part of taking care of our general health. That sexual health services are basic health care, period, no more shameful and no less necessary than vaccinations or physicals (in fact, the CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13-64 be tested at least once as part of their routine care). That getting tested for HIV is an act of self-care and self-empowerment.

It’s particularly crucial to intentionally and aggressively promote these messages at a time when women’s health, especially Black women’s health, is under intense attack. Conservatives have escalated efforts at the national and state levels to defund programs and organizations like Title IX and Planned Parenthood, which disproportionately serve women of color and women in under-served communities. These attacks are undertaken under the false pretext of preventing taxpayer money from being spent on abortions, already illegal in most cases. What these attacks really do is strip funding from programs that give Black women access to sexual and reproductive health services that save lives and are indispensable to women’s health – like HIV testing.

Further, in the past year Black women (and now Latina women) have been the targets of misogynist and racist ad campaigns that paint abortion as a tool of racial “genocide,” implicitly painting Black women as the greatest threat to their own communities:

Creating a perfect storm of race, class, and gender-baiting in the midst of the abortion and health care debate, these ads imply that Black women are either ignorant dupes of racist, profiteering abortion providers, or uncaring enemies of their people, willing to make Black children an ‘endangered species’ to further their own selfish goals. – Eleanor Hinton Hoytt

These ads demonize Black women for making use of reproductive health services. Their anti-woman, anti-Black rhetoric is a full-on assault on Black women’s health as a whole, and on Black communities.We need to push back and send a loud and clear message with the truth about Black women’s health. The truth is that when we’re in the dark about our HIV status, we’re in the dark about how best to take care of ourselves. The truth is that when we get tested, we take charge of our own health, and we help our communities. The truth is that when we have access to comprehensive reproductive and sexual health care, we are healthier, and our communities are healthier.

Never been tested? Do it today, this week, do it as soon as possible. It doesn’t take long, and all it takes is a cheek swab (no needles!). Check out the Elevate Campaign Website to find a center near you.

National HIV Testing Day: ELEVATE the Conversation

Today is National HIV Testing Day. Are Women Human? is partnering with the Black Women’s Health Imperative to promote the ELEVATE Campaign, aimed at raising awarenesss about HIV among Black women, and getting more Black women tested for HIV. As with so many issues, the impact of HIV/AIDS on individuals and communities is dramatically shaped by factors like race, gender, and class.

There’s overwhelming evidence that we desperately need HIV prevention efforts that take these factors into account, creating culturally appropriate outreach and services, and empowering and making visible under-served populations that are most affected by or vulnerable to HIV. Black women are disproportionately affected by HIV. The stats on rates of infection are alarming [Source: ELEVATE campaign unless otherwise stated]:

  • While the U.S. population is 13% Black, 45% of Americans newly infected with HIV are Black.
  • AIDS is the number 1 cause of death for Black women ages 25-44.
  • 1 in 30 Black women will be diagnosed with HIV at some point in their lifetime.
  • Black women account for 9 out of 10 new HIV infections in women. [Source:
  • Black trans women are particularly at risk, with studies suggesting that rates of infection could be as high as 56%over 15 times the rate of the general population of Black women. [Source: Center of Excellence for Transgender Health, PDF]

Most of these cases are in communities where resources or opportunities are scarce; women are struggling to find jobs, to provide for themselves and their families, and to access preventative services like HIV testing. As Eleanor Hinton Hoytt, president of the Black Women’s Health Imperative, notes, this is further complicated by the fact that the impact of HIV on black women is often overlooked or poorly addressed:

HIV infection among Black women is a complex mix of economic, social, cultural, biological, environmental, and behavioral factors. The HIV statistics about Black women are often buried within the statistics of the general HIV/AIDS population or are lumped together with statistics on Black men. This practice disguises the compelling evidence that Black women represent a disproportionate number of HIV cases, compared to our representation in the overall female population in the US.

Clearly HIV awareness and testing is an important issue for anyone who is sexually active. However, it’s clear from these numbers that it’s particularly important for Black women that we get tested, and that we work to raise awareness of and access to HIV testing among Black women and in Black communities.

Stigmas, stereotypes, and misconceptions around HIV transmission and sexual health in general, as well as deliberate efforts to undermine women’s access to essential health services, pose a significant barrier to HIV testing. I’ll say more in a post later today about how these challenges and how we can respond to them proactively.

Never been tested? Do it today, this week, as soon as possible. It doesn’t take long, and all it takes is a cheek swab (no needles!). Check out the Elevate Campaign Website to find a center near you.