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!


Guest post: A Retailer’s Thoughts on Buy Nothing Day

Today’s guest post from Max is a bit outside AWH’s usual race/gender/sexuality wheelhouse, but as always, these issues are intersectional. Economic injustices like income inequality, corporate greed affect all of us, but they disproportionately impact people in marginalized communities.

Hi. My name is Max. I’m a department manager for a Fortune 500 retail company and have also been a proud Occupier since the first few days of my local occupation, just under two months ago now.

Since the Oakland General Strike, rumblings have grown steadily about a shopping strike to take place the day after Thanksgiving. The idea seems to be that if we just don’t spend money, retailers will take notice and…something. This plan has bothered me since I first heard it, and I’ve waited to see if my company would say anything about it. Up until this morning, they were oddly silent before finally releasing a brief memo to managers saying some stores ought to be aware of potential Occupy actions but that, at this time, corporate does not think it a significant concern.

In other words: they’re simply not worried.

In the retail world, a lot of stock is placed on the importance of Day After Thanksgiving traffic and its implications for the remainder of the holiday shopping season. Or at least… There used to be. Since the market crash, shopping patterns have changed and retailers study those changes diligently. Our livelihood depends on it.

One thing we’ve learned is that while people are more cautious in how they spend their money (sale shopping, spending within a budget, spending less all at once) they’re still spending. People in this country, by and large, still care a whole hell of a lot about Christmas gifts. But they’re also holding out a little longer. The last three years people have spread out their spending so it’s closer to Christmas or even earlier than Thanksgiving. Retailers respond to this by pushing the Big Window Theory, setting up Christmas displays earlier and earlier in the hopes it will encourage people to shop more before the season ends.

This means that the day after Thanksgiving isn’t quite as important as it once was. If people don’t shop, retailers are likely to interpret it based on past information: either Big Window is really working or customers are just holding out for a little later and we’ll really need to push those last four weeks. We’ll assume it’ll all roll together and balance in the end. (And to be honest? My thinking is it probably will. Only the most die hard activists will want to undertake a total ban on holiday shopping this year. Personally, I love gift-giving. It’s one reason I was drawn to retail in the first place…)

Whether or not this actually happens, however, it will not affect those at the top, in salaried positions. We’ve seen this before, WE KNOW THIS, and it’s one of the whole reasons we’re protesting: those at the top who write the checks will continue to receive their salaries unchecked and will assign their own bonuses at the end of the year.


Buy Nothing Day WILL drastically affect many people…just not the people we’re intending.

It will affect small department managers like myself who will be held accountable for why our departments saw decreases and what we’re going to do to fix business.

It will especially affect entry-level employees, the vast majority of our retail work force, who will need to be sent home early when business needs can’t support paying them.

It will affect seasonal employees who, as the bottom of the schedule, will be called out first and may even be told the job they were hired for is no longer needed.

It will affect laborers who, next year, will be paid even less for their product on the grounds that we ”had to” gouge prices this year to get people to buy, i.e. the product was just too expensive to begin with.

Buy Nothing Day will hurt exactly the people it intends to support and, more than that, it will likely be a meaningless gesture anyway.

I propose an alternative: Buy Local and Artisanal Day.

Retailers study buying habits extensively. We know when you shop our competitors and study why that might be in order to draw you back to our stores. If our stores aren’t shopped day after Thanksgiving, trust me, we’ll be looking to see where you DO shop. Rather than buying nothing now then succumbing and shopping late in the season, what impact could we make by changing our shopping habits entirely?

This has much greater potential to send a message to the top. It will force corporate heads to see that it’s not just shoppers got ”scared” or ”need more enticement” but instead, consumers are consciously making a choice to take their dollars elsewhere.

The reason this has power is it’s an unprecedented act. Boycotts are nothing new, but a mass exodus to shopping exclusively with local, recycled, and/or artisanal vendors would mark a fundamental shift in the way people shop. It would force corporations to ask WHY.

Short term it may have some of the same affects as Buy Nothing Day, but hopefully in the long run it will mean more. Additionally, shopping artisanally (especially through vendors like will help more of us than you realize – why do you think many of us took retail jobs in the first place? We couldn’t make ends meet as artisans.

To date, the Occupy movement has had one major, undeniable impact on the sociopolitical landscape. It has gotten people together thinking, caring, and talking about our economy who until now have been silent and complacent. It has shown us that, collectively, we still have a voice, and if we do not insist on using it those in power will do everything possible to take it away again. We cannot let that happen. We will not.

This holiday season presents a unique opportunity to speak to retailers using their favorite language: our wallets. I beg you to consider your options and make sure this opportunity does not drift by ignored or used ineffectively. Let’s make sure they hear us. Together we can, and must, BE the change we were promised.

Bob Jones, Mark Driscoll, and C.J. Mahaney, cont.

Part 1

John Jensen’s post about the criticism he’s gotten from other Christians for swearing got me thinking again about about the skewed moral priorities that often prevail in evangelical churches. Growing up, we were led to believe that all sorts of personal choices disqualified someone from being a “real” Christian – swearing, listening to “ungodly” music, voting a certain way, wearing certain clothes. Before I went to college, I honestly thought it was impossible to be a Christian and a Democrat.

But I was never taught it was impossible to be a good Christian and a racial separatist.

To the contrary, my experience was that fellow conservative Christians, white ones in particular, were extremely reluctant to call BJU’s opposition to interracial marriage what it so obviously was: blatant racism. They had no trouble saying they disagreed with the ban, that they believed in racial unity in Christ. But few people would go so far as to actually call the ban racist, much less make a real issue of it.

Instead people stressed that Bob Jones and others at BJU were our “brothers in Christ” and that they loved Jesus, loved the Gospel, and were working hard for the kingdom. Yes, they said, Bob Jones is wrong to oppose interracial marriage, but no one is perfect; we’re all sinners and we all make mistakes. All of us are wrong about something. Making a public issue out of BJU’s sin would be self-righteous. It would be wrongly attacking a fellow Christian and creating division and conflict in the church, making the church look bad to the secular world.

Besides, Bob Jones wasn’t really racist – he didn’t hate black people, he just honestly believed the Bible required segregation. BJU never went quite so far as to say “We hate blacks,” so the churches I attended not only did and said nothing to oppose their racism, they also supported BJU and affiliated institutions by purchasing their books, and holding BJU up as a good Christian university that good Christian families could send their kids to.

There are days I think BJ III would have had to put on a hood and burn a cross on Jesse Jackson’s front lawn to spark any serious uproar in white conservative Christian circles. Even then I think it might have been dicey.

Evangelical responses justifying Mark Driscoll’s hate speech or C.J. Mahaney’s autocratic leadership of SGM illustrate the exact same kind of thinking that allowed BJU’s ban on interracial relationships to stand for so long. Put simply, there’s a pattern of making excuses for fellow evangelicals, as well as a culture where certain “sins” are arbitrarily and bizarrely prioritized over others.

Saying “shit” gets you flack for being a bad example, not being “holy,” and being a “stumbling block” to others. But engaging in hate speech or abusive behavior that actually traumatizes people is apparently not a sufficiently bad example or “unholy” or “stumbling” enough to warrant public criticism. Anyone who disagrees will be accused of “libel” and “slander.”

I mean really, this is the same crowd that just months ago pitched very public tantrums over a video of Rob Bell asking questions about hell, and over Ann Voskamp’s erotic spiritual imagery. These folks were quick to warn of the spiritual danger of Bell’s and Voskamp’s writings (without having read them) and to paint them as stealth pagans.

Now this same crowd is accusing critics of libel and slander for pointing to a clear, public record of Mark Driscoll’s bigoted, bullying behavior, and for simply discussing countless compelling stories that point to SGM being a ministry that perpetrates and enables all sorts of abuses against its members.

The hypocrisy, the moral relativism, and double standards are quite blatant.

Bob Jones, Mark Driscoll, and C.J. Mahaney

It occurred to me that Bob Jones University, Mark Driscoll, and C.J. Mahaney have a lot in common. The connection might not be immediately obvious, but bear with me.

Stuff Fundies Like posted a 1995 letter from fundamentalist leader Bob Jones III (BJ III. Yes, really!), defending his university’s now defunct ban on interracial dating. When a student challenged this policy by pointing out that in the Bible, Moses, a Jew, married an Ethiopian, which would seem to be an interracial marriage, BJ III responded:


Bob Jones III
November 15, 1995

Dear Peter:

As a young man, you would do yourself a favor to back off and listen to your family and others who know a lot more about the road of life than you do because we’ve been there.

No, I can’t see your point of view. I am sorry. I don’t suppose that surprises you.

You don’t have to agree with the school’s position on this matter to stay here, obviously; but you do have to keep your disagreement to yourself, because griping isn’t tolerated.

As I mentioned the other day in Chapel, 40-50 years ago in America, it was understood by believers, North and South, that interracial dating was not proper. There would have been a few radicals, of course, that would not have agreed, but it wasn’t even discussed in churches because it was just understood.

You and others of your generation who have allowed yourselves to be brainwashed by the media have been sold a bill of goods.

Yes, Moses married a non-Jew. That was what he was criticized for, and the issue for which Miriam his sister was judged by Godwas her criticism of the leader God appointed and the divisiveness that it brought. The race of Ethiopians has to do with what part of Ethiopia they come from. Haile Selassie, the former ruler of Ethiopia, and the ruling family are not black. To make a racial issue out of this is to argue a point beyond all reason.

I could spend my time dealing with this issue, but I am not inclined to because I don’t think you really wan tot know but that you want to argue. Forgive me if I have misjudged you, but that is how your note comes across.

Kind regards.


Riiiight. It’s not even worth trying to take all that apart. I just love how he basically equated “white racist Christians” with “believers” and everyone else with “radicals.” Also “reading comprehension” and “sharing an opinion” are, apparently, griping and dissent, not to be tolerated at BJU circa 1995.

To be honest, I’m not particularly surprised that BJU’s leaders were, and in all likelihood still are, opposed to interracial dating. Many white conservative Christians still are. Nor am I surprised that it took the pressure of overwhelming negative publicity for BJU to finally drop the ban in 2000. That’s pretty much how it goes when it comes to injustice and oppression. People who know better have to raise a stink for things to change.

What I have always found remarkable about the longevity of BJU’s ban is precisely the fact that other conservative Christians in large part didn’t protest the policy, and instead dealt with it with silence and complicity. Most conservative Christian leaders and churches did and said nothing to challenge an institutionalized, blatantly obvious form of racism at a nationally known conservative Christian university.

Most such Christians would deny having any problem with interracial relationships per se. Most would claim to believe racism is a sin. All of them would claim to believe in the unity of the church and the equal humanity and worth of all people.

Yet the end of the ban at BJU had virtually nothing to do with the Christian church. It came largely thanks to the evil liberal secular media.

The scandal here isn’t that some Christians are prejudiced, or even blatant racists. That’s true of all kinds of people. The scandal is that the media did the job the church should have done in calling out, pressuring, and, yes, publicly shaming BJU for their racist policy.

Here’s the connection Mark Driscoll and C.J. Mahaney: There’s a disturbing pattern of evangelicals tolerating and making excuses for egregious and oppressive behavior when the people engaging in it are their kind of Christians. This is frequently coupled with a tendency to turn on and ostracize anyone who dares to call out prejudiced or harmful behavior for what it is.

We can see this in the backlash against Rachel Held Evans’ posts calling on Christians to denounce Mark Driscoll’s bullying speech and misogynistic teachings. We can see it in the SGM board and SGM defenders accusing Brent Detwiler and ex-SGM bloggers of “slander” when we dare to openly discuss even established and admitted facts about the pastors.

Part 2 of this post here.

“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.

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.