Tagged with " human rights"
Feb 20, 2013 - Sex Ed, Social Studies    3 Comments

Feminism at the Crossroads

A few times recently, friends have mentioned me on social media as a feminist they admire. As pleased and flattered as that makes me feel, I also get a strong twinge of guilt, or at least conflict.

I don’t think I’m a very good feminist. By the usual standards, I barely qualify for the title. I suffered through one lone Women’s Studies course, in grad school, with much whining and skepticism by both professor and me. I don’t know all the lingo. I can’t take the Pill. You’ll never catch me burning my bra–they were so damn hard to get fitted correctly in the first place.

Okay, that list is pretty unserious, at least in 2013. But I do feel some considerable shame as emails about reproductive choice, equal pay, sexual harassment, gender balance in the media, and any number of other “feminist issues” pile up unanswered in my inbox while I put in hours upon hours on the phone and in the Capitol for rights that may not even benefit me directly.

I want to be worth the faith of those folks who think of me when they hear the word “feminism,” and I want my feminism to be clear in its intent. My feminism sits at the intersection of race and privilege, of sexual and gender identity, of educational and economic advantage, of communication and culture. My feminism is a human right, and it casts a broad net: I become aware of another injustice that touches my feminism because I feel the tug on our common lines, however far away from me it is.

But if your feminism extends so far, what kind of feminism is it at all, you may be asking? If you can find your way, as I do, to issues as diverse as same-sex marriage, teaching multiculturalism, comprehensive health care, rape culture, and the environment, shouldn’t I call it something else? Is my gender the only thing that makes me a feminist?

My answer is no. Women deserve to have their whole voices to be heard. We are more than half of the world population, so if there’s an issue that affects the world, it affects women and we deserve to have a say in it. Women are not a monolith–this gets said frequently, but it bears repeating until it sinks in. We do not all have the same view on issues; there is no such thing as the “women’s vote.” Our circumstances are varied as our bodies.

That said, the common composition and experience women share give us a different perspective than men have, and if we want to build the world to be a more inclusive place for us, our vision has to influence that construction. A quick anecdotal example: My boys were born four years apart. We still had all the baby equipment from Connor when Griffin was on his way, but by way of a mistake and a generous gift, we ended up with a brand-new stroller set to replace our used one. I finished unpacking it and went to set it up for maximum admiration. Remembering the mechanics of our old set, I went at the frame with both hands, but all it took was a flick of my thumb and a twist of the wrist, and it sprang up fully. Instantly, I realized: in those four years, women engineers entered the design room. I’m not saying that men couldn’t design a good stroller. But it felt like a mom who’d wrestled a purse, a crying baby, and a diaper bag spilling its contents into the parking lot had finally had a say in what was needed.

Not every woman is a mom, or even wants to be one. Not every woman will even need that stroller, let alone be able to afford it. Not every woman can even imagine the luxury of letting something other than her hardworking body support the weight of her child for a single moment of the time until that child can toddle along under its own power. And increasingly, many men are partners in parenting who can appreciate one-touch strollers and other magical technology that makes the work of raising a child just a bit easier.

But women experience the world differently than men, and that difference makes us valuable as we search for solutions. Every problem in the world affects women, and we can and should contribute to efforts to counteract problems with our particular set of visions and skills. Strengthening the institution of marriage by making it accessible to anyone who will take that stand for love and commitment benefits women. Teaching multiculturalism to children (and adults) makes us more sensitive and appreciative of the differences, unique histories, and commonalities among people with other races and cultures, which benefits women. Comprehensive health care benefits women’s bodies, as well as improving their ability to participate fully in the economy, to the benefit of their families. And we all live on this planet that changes and suffers and recovers and goes unheeded, like the bodies of too many women who experience the world as a violent place, and they all need healing for life to flourish.

So my feminism will be intersectional. Senator Paul Wellstone used to say, “We all do better when we all do better.” So I’ll work on the issues that resonate with me and my experience as a mom, a wife, a teacher, a bisexual, a pagan, an autistic, a Unitarian Universalist, a white person, a survivor, and the many other people who live inside this woman’s body. One of them is a feminist.

Jan 23, 2013 - Physical Ed, Uncategorized    5 Comments

Freedom of Choice

My mom could have legally aborted me.

Not that she did, obviously. She didn’t even want to. I was her first child, conceived in wedlock at a perfectly reasonable childbearing age.

But I just turned 38 in December, which means that about a year and three months before I was conceived, the Supreme Court ruled on the case of Roe v. Wade and declared that American women had a Constitutionally protected right to seek an abortion for whatever reason they saw fit. And when my mom discovered she was pregnant in the spring of 1974, she had more options than she had only fifteen months earlier.

The historian in me watches the observance of Roe v. Wade‘s 40th anniversary with a mixture of gratitude, dismay, and bemusement. I’m grateful to have lived my whole life in an America where the highest court of the land could write such a powerful statement of trust in women’s wisdom about their own reproductive rights. I’m dismayed that, in the intervening time, people who don’t trust women with such power have been so successful in circumventing this fundamental, adjudicated right.

And I’m utterly bemused by the multiple levels of collective amnesia surrounding the real history of abortion, fraught as it is. The surveys released this week that showed how few women under 30 actually know that Roe v. Wade was about abortion have conjured a great deal of justified facepalming. But I’d like to see a little acknowledgement that abortion is as old as civilization, and that for most of that time, women had control over those decisions. It wasn’t considered a conflict with one’s religious beliefs; every medieval woman knew how to make tea from rue, tansy, bayberry, or pennyroyal to “bring on late menses.” Only with the  pathologizing of reproduction, with male doctors in charge, did abortion become a battleground and women the most unreliable judges of their own best interests.

I’ve said for a long time that I’m unequivocally pro-choice. I turned out for the 2004 March for Women’s Lives in Washington D.C.. I march at Planned Parenthood on Good Friday, as a visible contradiction to the crowds of abortion opponents who clog the sidewalks to shame and condemn the workers inside, despite the lifesaving work (overwhelmingly above and beyond abortion) they do for our communities’ most vulnerable women.

But I’ve always said that, while I’ll gladly fight for every other woman’s choice, I couldn’t choose that for myself. I’m a living, breathing paradox: an anti-abortion, pro-child,  pro-choice American woman. And I am far from alone in this slippery category. In fact, I have a feeling that we’re the silent majority.

I’m incredibly fortunate to have chosen when and how many times I became pregnant, and that I was able to carry those pregnancies to term. That said, my pregnancies were absolute hell. I was nauseated and vomiting 20 hours a day for 5 1/2 months with the first one, 24 hours a day for 7 1/2 months with the second, which contributed to the most excruciating, interminable flares of fibromyalgia in my entire life with the disorder. And as much as I love and prize my amazing, energetic, hilarious, brilliant, gorgeous sons, they both have special needs that make parenting an exhausting challenge on the best of days. As my husband and I age, the chances of another child bearing those same conditions only rise.

So I need to be perfectly honest: if I became pregnant again, I don’t know that abortion would seem as impossible as it once did. My health would suffer immeasurably, leaving me unable to work, so our family’s finances would strain to the breaking point. The upheaval would have a massive impact on the equilibrium and routine that help our sons function, with unimaginable consequences. It’s said that all a child needs from its family is love, but diapers and an active mom help too.

And before someone suggests that I’m too educated and self-aware to face an unplanned pregnancy, let’s be honest: education doesn’t magically repel sperm anymore than a lack of consent. While our kids are a phenomenally effective form of birth control, like any other form, they are not 100 percent foolproof. By age 45, over half of American women will experience at least one accidental pregnancy. And 61 percent of women seeking abortions are already mothers; more than three-quarters of them cite the impact of another child on their precarious balance of responsibilities. (All statistics are from a 2011 study by the Guttmacher Institute.)

I don’t have a story to tell about how abortion has impacted my life. I don’t have an important point to make on this anniversary of a landmark declaration of rights that are in some ways more difficult and dangerous to exercise today than 40 years ago. I don’t even have a deeper analysis of the shift in my feelings on my own holistic, reproductive health.

What I do have, though, thanks to Roe v. Wade, is a choice.

Nov 28, 2012 - Social Studies    14 Comments

Pass the Bucket

I cringe as soon as I hear the bell ringing in front of the grocery store. My kids are primed to be generous, and immediately pester me for pocket change to put in the red bucket. I tell them “no” quietly and, to head off the inevitable “why” that follows, say, “They don’t believe they have to help everyone who comes to them in need, and I don’t want to support that.” I fast-walk the boys into the store and give the bellringer a tight smile.

This routine defies every philanthropic fiber in my being. We take things to Goodwill, we buy poppies from veterans, we buy Girl Scout cookies (okay, that one’s got side benefits). We support public radio and television, we give to our church, we buy ridiculous things from school fundraisers. Lupus, leukemia, lymphoma, lumbago–we give to them all. We collect pennies in UNICEF and Guest At Your Table boxes, which fall apart under the weight of the change every time.

But I will not give one copper penny to the Salvation Army.

SA hits many criteria that appeal to folks who want to do good. They work on first-order needs–feed the starving, shelter the homeless, clothe the poor–often in emergency situations. Especially at the holidays, when so many appeals come from charitable organizations, it can be difficult to prioritize causes, and SA makes it easy: give money here, help people in need. They even use a low-pressure ask, simply ringing a bell, rather than shaking a coffee can in people’s faces.

But SA’s help is given conditionally. If you want a meal, a cot, a coat, you must attend Christian worship. These aren’t gentle ecumenical services, either. You will be told you are full of sin, that your current problems have roots in your inadequate acceptance of Jesus Christ as your personal savior, that repentance and sacrifice are needed, and that only the saving power of the Christian God can take away your temporal suffering. There is fire and there is brimstone. There is even heresy, depending on your Christian theology–SA preaches “Lordship Salvation” which requires constant human effort for salvation.

And all that assumes that they’ve let you in the doors in the first place. SA’s track record for turning away gay and lesbian people in need is well documented, even those in committed partnerships. A British chapter even turned away a naked, injured rape victim because they “only serve men” at their location, despite the organization’s stated policy to make counseling and emergency assistance available to crime victims.

If that doesn’t disturb you enough to pass the pail, consider what happens to some donations. SA has used charitable gifts to support anti-gay legislation in America and abroad. Other SA officials have seen fit to throw away brand-new, donated, Harry Potter toys and books, because they didn’t want to be complicit in turning recipients toward Satan. And still others have simply helped themselves to the largesse they collect for others. We don’t even have a clear idea how much money SA takes in, or how it moves around within the organization, because for most of their operating history, they’ve hidden behind the IRS disclosure shield for churches.

I’ll admit that a big part of my personal problem with this organization comes from our differing views on the definition of “salvation” and how you get there. Militant religion has made me queasy since the first time I understood the words of “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” Never forget that SA stands for Salvation Army, not Salvation Association or Salvation Achievers.

And before their symbol was this: 

it was this: 

I don’t believe anyone needs to be “saved,” and I don’t think scaring and shaming them would do it, even if they did. I believe that good acts are their own reward, and that there should never be a cost for help, especially not one that amounts to emotional extortion in a person’s most powerless moments.

If you really want to do good–and another thing I believe is that everyone really does want to do good–there are so many places that need you. If you feel like freezing your butt off, don’t just stand there ringing a bell–take meals to the homeless and invite them into life-saving shelters on the coldest of nights. If you have a strange attraction to American coinage, collect it for your local food shelf so families can enjoy a special holiday meal. If you want to spread the message of your holy days, help your church or temple with its social justice projects. And if you just don’t know where to start, look right around you. Your neighbors, your friends, your family, you all know someone who’s hurting: a person facing a holiday alone, or hungry, or scared, or without the tools or means to give the children in their lives the wonder and joy so many of us associate with this time of year.

It doesn’t take an army to save people. We can save each other, with our own hands and hearts and wide open eyes.


Excuse me, I’m having a moment here

You know those people who always say, “There’s a reason for everything that happens?”

Yeah, I usually want to kick them in the crotch, too.

But even as I say that, I have to admit that I’ve seen meaningful patterns in my life, time and time again, for which there’s no rational explanation. Doors closing, windows opening–call it what you will. I’ve just found myself in too many places I shouldn’t have been that turned out to lead me to exactly where I was meant to be.

That’s why, when people ask me if I could “take back” my sexual assault or my fibromyalgia or the hell we’ve been through with Connor, I answer, fast as a snap, “No!” Those things made and keep making me the person I am, and I love where and with whom I am far too much to risk changing even one crappy thing in the past.

For the most part, I perceive these patterns from afar, like an aerial photograph of where I’ve been. But I’m in the midst of an amazing moment right now, when I see them crystallizing right before me. I am precisely where I am supposed to be, where I’ve been headed for decades.

I’m volunteering for Minnesotans United for All Families, the coalition fighting the constitutional amendment that seeks to limit the freedom to marry in Minnesota for generations to come. It’s on the ballot in November, the 31st of these elections when a basic human right for a whole group of people is put up for popular vote.

We aim to be the first to defeat this kind of attack.

I’d already committed to be part of this effort, but when one of the organizers here in Saint Paul came to me to ask if I would step up as a team leader and put in about 6-8 hours a week on the campaign (until it becomes much, much more, when the leaves start falling from the trees). Frankly, I might’ve been smarter to say no, but I’d wanted a way to engage more with the campaign so, like the Overcommitment Princess I am, I said, “Bring it.”

I’ve attended trainings and phone banks, planning meetings and launch parties. I’ve met more new people on the campaign than I may have met in the whole time I’ve lived in Minnesota. They’re running a crazy-smart campaign here, unlike anything that’s been attempted anywhere else, focusing on personal conversations about love and commitment, rather than discrimination and legal protections, with over 1 million voters. And the longer I’m in this thing, the more I know that the skills I’ve acquired all come together for this work.

A lot of the work is very similar to teaching. Informing voters, training volunteers, and coordinating teams has shades of lecturing, discussing central concepts, guiding and supporting folks so they can reach their own conclusions on the subject. I appreciate my experience with non-traditional students and different ethnic constituencies–this coalition is so broad and deep, uniting across so many communities.

I’m finding my crisis counselor training to be very useful too. Having intense conversations about values with strangers, neighbors, and friends, as well as training others to have those conversations, requires active listening, something that doesn’t (but should) get taught in everyday life. It’s hard not to use my Rogerian reflective statements, but I’m allowed to get invested in the stories I’m telling and hearing in a way I couldn’t as a counselor. I’m walking with people through memories, and feelings, and judgments that sometimes unravel or take shape at the same time as the words cross their lips. It’s incredibly powerful.

And I’ve already expounded on my commitment to philanthropy and social justice activism here on the blog. Though I still feel guilty when I try to own my bisexuality because I’ve never suffered for that part of my identity, this isn’t only an LGBTQ issue. All you have to believe in to fight this amendment is love. I’m living my happily ever after, despite very long odds–I want everyone to have the same freedom and joy.

Even my training as a historian gives me perspective that adds to my sense of privilege at being a part of this. In my religious studies work, I’ve looked at the civil terms and religious blessings on personal commitments in a wide variety of cultures and eras, which is powerfully erosive of many arguments in favor of such an amendment. And knowing the history of milestones like the Loving v. Virginia case, which made interracial marriage legal for once and for all in America in 1967, has opened my eyes to the historical importance of halting the tide of these amendments at last.

So I’m having a moment here. Minnesota’s having a moment too, deciding what kind of state it wants to be. But my moment (as egocentric as it sounds to say it) is more empowering than I think anyone at Minnesotans United knows or cares. I doubt my qualifications, my value, my ability to be useful to anyone, all the time. Every time I recommend myself for something, my heart’s in my throat like I’m jumping off a cliff. I even feel weird thinking about getting business cards made up, because honestly, who would ever want or need to remember me enough to keep my stupid square of cardstock?

But on this campaign, I feel useful. I’m doing good work. I can contribute my skills and my passion, and have it matched and encouraged and appreciated. I feel needed–me, with my quirky, particular bag of tricks. I’m so grateful for the experience that I even offered to dye my hair back to a plausibly human color, if they thought that the coding that happens on first contact would be detrimental to my ability to help effectively. Their response? “No way. Rock the pink hair. We need the pink-haired to feel included too.”

That’s love, folks. That’s what we’re fighting for. And what I’m doing will help us win.


I attended my first caucus in February; I’d only ever voted in primary states before, so I was keenly interested to see what this approach to local politics had to offer.

What did I get from it? I got elected precinct chair. I also got acute pancreatitis. (Okay, caucusing didn’t give me that–a gallbladder full of gravel did–but I was permanently scarred. No, really.)

As a result of the political events of that night, I also had a delegate’s seat at the Democratic, Farm, and Labor (DFL) party’s State Senate District Nominating Convention on Saturday. What I didn’t have on Saturday, though, was a babysitter, so with the Darling Husband guest-of-honoring it up at a convention in New York, I had convention credentials, two sons, and only one option: these poor kids were about to get a Saturday morning, non-musical lesson in civics.

I’d have just stayed home, but between the caucus and the convention, the new redistricting lines were announced. The new State Senate district boundaries put two long-time Democratic politicians up against one another, and I suddenly found myself being courted like I haven’t been since the DH slipped those emeralds on my finger in Aberdeen. Mailings, phone calls, invitations, even a house visit! I knew my vote would really count, win or lose, so ditching wasn’t an option.

Connor (L) and Griffin (R) at our little bastion of non-political entertainment at the MN DFL SD66 nominating convention. Note the balloons on the rows of seats behind them.

We went loaded for bear–computer, DVDs, iPhone, books, toys, and a host of questionably healthy snacks–and I’m going to tell you up front that the boys were outrageously, unexpectedly, refreshingly well-behaved. Really, I couldn’t expect better from any kids their age in similarly boring circumstances. About halfway through, Connor decided he was happier over by me on the convention floor. I explained what was going on, answered some of his questions, and he listened for a while. Eventually, we started playing Squares, which was far more consuming than the parliamentary maneuvers. Sadly, I did about as well as my favored candidate that day.

The different wards and precincts were arranged in rows of chairs, with balloons on the ends, marked with the appropriate numbers (we were in Ward 4 Precinct 13, so our balloon read W4P13). As with everything that requires people to sort themselves into appropriate groups, things immediately got confusing when delegates were required to take their seats. They counted off each precinct, and though the row in front of us was marked W5P3, it became apparent that no delegates from that precinct were in attendance. Connor happened to be seated in the chair to which that balloon was tied, and the woman running the convention indicated that the balloon should be taken down, to avoid any further confusion about that precinct.

I’ll let Connor take the story from here:

I asked if I could have the balloon. She said yes, but I shouldn’t take it out of the room, so it didn’t cause a fire hazard. [Mom: Balloons are fire hazards? Connor: No, it’s not; it just sets off the fire alarm. Mom: Oh. Huh.] The lady next to Mom had a Swiss army knife on her keychain, and she helped me cut it loose. 

Exhibit A: The Balloon, tied up in quarantine.

I took it over to show Griffin, when two sergeants-at-arms came over and stopped me. A nice woman said, “Don’t go out of the room with it.” I said, “I’m not going to take it out of the room.” Then she said, “Okay, but still, I don’t want you walking around with it.” Then the other sergeant-at-arms said, “Either give it to us, or pop it.” So I said, “But the people said I’m allowed to have it.” The nice lady asked, “Who were they?” I said, “They’re the people on the stage. My mom said it was okay.” Then the man said, “Are you arguing with me? Give us the balloon.” So I gave it to them. I felt very sad, like I didn’t have any power at all. And the worst part is, they didn’t do anything with the balloon! They just tied it up to a pole! 

Exhibit B: The Sergeant-at-Arms (not the nice lady, the other one)

I came over to tell Mom and the other people in her precinct. They all said that that wasn’t fair. I said this convention was ageist, and they said I should go to the microphone and ask if the DFL platform was anti-fun. I think they were joking. But Mom gave me her phone and told me to take pictures, like a reporter, and that we would tell the story on her blog. That made me feel better, because I was, like, “Now everyone will know about this! Everyone will remember this day as BALLOONGATE!”

I’m pretty sure we need a Schoolhouse Rock episode to explain this travesty of justice.

Mar 31, 2012 - Social Studies    No Comments

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, Part II

Last week, I started a new feature on the blog called Friday Night Lists, with the first of three lists of people I’d love to sit down with, around a dinner table, and talk the night away. Last week, I gave my picks from the pool of living participants. This week, I’d like to introduce you to my guest list drawn from all of history. Like last week, I’ll give a brief blurb about why I’ve picked each person, and I’ll provide a link, in case you’d like to learn more about the ones I’m introducing you to/reminding you of.

As with all my lists, I’ll inevitably forget someone–much footstomping and cursing will follow. So please share your picks, to help remind me in case my sons ever do manage to build a TARDIS out of a refrigerator box.


  • Christine de Pizan: medieval author; philosopher. Her clever allegory City of Women books make the case for a feminist perspective on Christianity, without proposing that women’s only place in the world was as an empty vessel for children or the Holy Spirit.
  • Constance de Markievicz: politician; rebel; founder of the Fianna Eireann. She dressed like a man, sat at the table with the intellectuals who planned the 1916 Easter Rebellion, and trained the generation of boys and girls who would see through the dream of an Irish Free State.
  • Edward R. Murrow: journalist. Through the new medium of radio, Murrow brought the early days of World War II into American homes, fearlessly reporting from London throughout the Blitz, and from many other hazardous locations. As if that weren’t brave enough, he stood up to the McCarthy witch hunts in the name of free speech and accurate reporting.
  • Franklin Delano & Eleanor Roosevelt: four-term president of the United States; First Lady & activist. He engineered the New Deal and the American social safety net, then gave the nation a moral compass to get through World War II. She was a smart, welcoming First Lady, and an inspiring advocate for peace when she founded the United Nations. They weren’t perfect, but my admiration is boundless.
  • Hatshepsut: king of Ancient Egypt. She stands out as a fearless female leader in the midst of millenia of patriarchal influence. She wasn’t satisfied with the qualified, subordinate title of “queen;” she dressed and ruled like the great kings of the Nile.
  • Jim Henson: puppeteer; director; artist. Who could possibly envision everything from Sesame Street to the Skeksis, and a million sights in between? His respect for children, smart and wacky sense of humor, and gift for finding the humanity in every sock and stick was half of what defined my idea of imagination as a child.
  • John Lennon: singer/songwriter; artist; activist. Half of the greatest songwriting team of all time, he lived a second act that spread the word of love and peace, before ending far too soon.
  • Katharine Hepburn: actress; author. She was brainy, cool, elegant, funny, and smart-mouthed. I watched everything of hers I could find as a kid, much of it on the big screen, from “Kitty Foyle” to “The Philadelphia Story” to “The African Queen.” She brought immeasurable class and fearless grit to every aspect of her life. I even wear my long hair in a bun, in hopes that someday, it’ll just stay like that, just like hers.
  • Margaret Sanger: nurse; midwife; sex educator; founder of Planned Parenthood. She knew that a woman’s power over her reproduction was even more important for her ultimate health, wealth, and upward mobility than suffrage. As you wonder how birth control is even a topic for debate in 2012, spare a moment for dear Margaret and the sheer will and courage it took to fight that fight in public 100 years ago.
  • Oscar Wilde: author. He skips from whimsy to horror to cutting satire so fast, it gives a reader or theatergoer whiplash. He was persecuted as a political pawn for whom he loved, and he bore the humiliation and suffering with honesty and dignity, when his opponents had none.
  • Richard Holbrooke: diplomat. It pains me that he’s not on the list of Living Guests. His knowledge of such difficult regions of the world is sorely needed, as is his skillful, sensitive hand at negotiations which ended the Bosnian conflict in peace.
  • Samuel Clemens: author. Witty, insightful, playful, and profound, Mark Twain remains my favorite author of all time, bar none. Every time I read his work, there’s a new revelation.
  • Theodor Seuss Geisel: author/illustrator. Dr. Seuss’ books shaped my childhood as much as did Jim Henson, with their psychedelic, whimsical characters and cleverly wrought language. We hardly noticed the messages of basic human rights, environmentalism, and peace, but they left their mark.
  • Thomas Jefferson: author, inventor, architect, third president of the United States. He had a completely unique view of the world, and it gave us a future we’re still unfolding. I want to compliment him on his beautiful home and garden, then grill him on his notions of “inalienable rights.”
Feb 16, 2012 - Political Science, Sex Ed    No Comments

By Any Other Name

The Rachel Maddow Show reported, on their Tuesday 14 Feb 2012 episode, about a bill recently passed by both houses of the Virginia State Legislature that would require a transvaginal ultrasound for any woman who wants to have an abortion in that state. Governor Bob McDonnell, a Republican, has said he plans to sign the bill when it arrives on his desk.

Plenty of other state legislatures have advanced measures requiring ultrasounds before a woman can obtain an abortion [1]. There is no medical function for this procedure. The logic seems to hinge on the idea that, somehow, seeing the little bean with a flickering heartbeat will convince women who haven’t fully thought through what they’re about to do to stop and treasure the full humanity of the creature growing inside them. This may well be the case for some women; for others, it’s just one more hoop that must be jumped to obtain a medical service that is both heartwrenching and necessary.

But the Virginia variant is the first of which I’ve heard that requires an ultrasound performed not by swooshing the wand around in a schmear of goo on the abdomen (transabdominal ultrasound, or TAU), but by inserting a hard plastic probe several inches into the woman’s vagina (transvaginal ultrasound, or TVU). The American College of Radiology and the Radiological Society of North America say that TVU can be useful in early pregnancy;  TVU can detect a pregnancy as early as 30 days’ gestation [2]. It’s also good for getting a better look at the uterus and ovaries [3], but a 1991 study reported that ultrasonographers gained additional information from TVU over TAU in only 35 percent of cases [4].

Ultrasound image of a first trimester fetus

Frankly, in the first trimester, there isn’t a whole lot to see, no matter how good the picture. Subjecting a woman to an ultrasound before abortion is a strategy; whether or not it is an effective one is an issue of contention. A 2009 study published in the European Journal of Contraception and Reproductive Health Care found that, when given the option, 72 percent of women chose to view the sonogram. Of those, 86 percent said it was a positive experience, but not one changed their mind about the abortion. 83 percent said that seeing the sonogram image did not make the decision any more emotionally challenging than it already was [5].

But none of these things are why Virginia legislators want the specific requirement for transvaginal ultrasound on the books, though. They want it to be intrusive. They want it to be uncomfortable. They want it to be humiliating. They want to show that the state has the power to make you submit to this penetration before you can do what you want with your body.

And there’s a name for that: Rape.

The Code of Virginia § 18.2-67.2 describes the felony of  object sexual penetration as

“…inanimate or animate object sexual penetration if he or she penetrates the labia majora or anus of a complaining witness, whether or not his or her spouse, other than for a bona fide medical purpose…and [t]he act is accomplished against the will of the complaining witness, by force, threat or intimidation of or against the complaining witness or another person….” [emphasis mine]

This is no light offense–it carries a penalty of “confinement in the state correctional facility for life or for any term not less than five years.” There’s also an interesting clause in the penal code which says that

“where the offender is more than three years older than the victim… shall include a mandatory minimum term of confinement of 25 years…where the offender is more than three years older than the victim, is for a term less than life imprisonment, the judge shall impose, in addition to any active sentence, a suspended sentence of no less than 40 years.” [6]

The Virginia law would require women to sign a consent before the ultrasound procedure, but since the state would be effectively holding the woman’s medical choice hostage to obtain that so-called “consent,” I believe there’s a strong argument to be made for coercion, which is also illegal and invalidates that consent.

Before anyone mistakes my intent, I’m not proposing that ultrasonographers should be thrown into jail for abiding by the pending bill if it’s implemented. I’m proposing that the legislators and governor who pass this law should be thrown into jail for conspiracy to commit felony rape.

Rape is psychologically devastating. It wreaks changes on a person’s life and outlook that are no less than tectonic. Survivors are simply never the same. All this, I know from personal experience. If preserving the physical, mental, and spiritual health of the woman is truly the chief concern of the legislators behind the unprecedented wave of attacks on a woman’s right to choose, they wouldn’t heap degradation, humiliation, and involuntary, unnecessary physical penetration on those women.

Unless that’s their real goal. And if that’s the case, any claim that they’re on the side of the angels should be laughed right out of the room.


[1] http://www.guttmacher.org/statecenter/spibs/spib_RFU.pdf

[2] http://www.prochoice.org/education/cme/online_cme/m4ultrasound.asp

[3] http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=obstetricus

[4] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1785220

[5] http://www.livescience.com/12886-abortion-sonogram-research.html

[6] http://law.justia.com/codes/virginia/2006/toc1802000/18.2-67.2.html

Dec 15, 2011 - Political Science    1 Comment

Superior Volunteerior: Reverb Broads 2011 #14

Snuggled up with my boys on the capitol steps for the Read-In For Civility, in support of Neil Gaiman and libraries, May 2011

Reverb Broads 2011, December 14: Is volunteering something you do regularly? If yes, where do you volunteer? If not, why not? (courtesy of Kassie at http://bravelyobey.blogspot.com)

I am a total philanthropy geek — so much so that, last fall when I helped admin an event called Speak Out With Your Geek Out, I wrote about loving philanthropy like some people love video games and stuff. I love helping, and I love geeking out about new ideas and systems for getting that help to the people and places that need it most.

And volunteering is something I was brought up to do. As I’ve mentioned before, my grandma taught Red Cross first aid and swimming classes, and led Girl Scout troops for ages. My mom ran a dozen things at our church, not least of which the Sunday School program for a while, and did a stint as PTO president, too. And they were both the kind of people who wrote little cards to sick friends, or drove old people to doctors’ appointments — in fact, by the time she stopped doing that, my grandma was regularly driving people a decade or two younger than her, who would tell her how horrible it was to get old!

So it should come as no surprise that I volunteer in lots of places, all the time. This year, my sons’ school is the main focus of my volunteerism, so much so that it’s actually made me cut back on my level of involvement other places. I had to give up my shifts at the library when I picked up more work hours, and when I got elected president of the PTO, something had to give, so I dropped out of church choir for the time being.

As I’ve said before, we are incredibly blessed with an awesome neighborhood school, and I absolutely love volunteering there. This is going to sound horrible, but I like my own kids better when I’m spending time with other kids. I read aloud in their classes, I chaperone field trips, I advise the Student Council, and I do a whole host of things for the PTO. The kids all know me by name, and they wave and grin and stop me to tell me new (horrible) jokes and Important Things about their lives. I get paid in spontaneous hugs and flattering adoration. It’s a pretty awesome deal.

At the March for Women's Rights in Washington D.C., April 25, 2004. My sign says "Pro-Choice, Pro-Child"

I’m also very active politically. There are few things I like more than puttin’ on my protest boots and pounding the pavement for a cause I believe in. I dragged my family down to the capitol steps on a bright spring afternoon for a Read-In for Civility, after a stupid state legislator insulted awesome author Neil Gaiman for taking public money for a library program. I helped a friend with his city council campaign. I marched with supportive signs in front of Planned Parenthood on Good Friday. I attended activist training with Minnesotans United for All Families to help fight the proposed “marriage amendment” next year. When I believe in something, I think it’s worth acting on.

All of this is to compensate for the fact that we have almost no money at all to spare for charitable causes. I struggle constantly with wanting to support every worthy cause I encounter, especially this time of year, when the appeals are coming in hard and fast. I’ve reconciled the fact that time and talent are just as valuable to many organizations as treasure, but my heart still hasn’t relinquished all of the guilt that comes from having to turn down so many appeals. It’s hard to esteem your gifts when you don’t always esteem yourself.

Kid hugs go a long way, though.

Nov 20, 2011 - Sex Ed, World Religions    4 Comments

To my friends, who are exactly as they should be

Today is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. I don’t want to diminish the grief and anger that is right and righteous at the discrimination, mistreatment, ignorance, imprisonment, torture, and killing of transgender people one bit — we need every single ounce of that outrage to keep fighting for a more just and welcoming world.

But today, I want to count my blessings more than my tears.

I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have several trans friends. Some are new acquaintances, some I’ve known for almost 20 years. Among them are scholars, writers, counselors, teachers, and public servants. Some are activists; some expend all their available energy to fight the battles in their own lives. I’ve held hands and marched with them. I’ve shared dinners and debates with them. I’ve sat through long nights, separated by miles but joined by phone lines or computer screens, bearing witness to the confusion, pain, and sorrow that comes in crushing waves.

They make me feel so, so lucky. Lucky not to have to fight and explain why I am who I am — lucky that they count me a friend.

I’ve never had a moment of doubt with them. It’s very simple: each one is precisely who they are meant to be. I couldn’t imagine calling them or seeing them as anything but the person they are, because the beacons of their souls shine so clearly and brightly. Refusing to accept something that so obviously is what it is would be absurd. There’s a name for doing that: delusion.

Trans people pay an enormous price when they stop resisting the voices, internal and external, that insist that they be something they’re not. But it hasn’t always been that way. A variety of cultures, across time and distance, haven’t just not repressed or reviled trans people; they valued them as closer to the universal sacred. They walk between worlds, working the shadowy seam of human existence. It’s no great leap to think they have insight or power over other liminalities.

So today, as I light a candle for my friends whom I treasure — some I’ve come so terrifyingly close to losing to the darkness — and for those whose family and friends’ lights were extinguished, I do it with the words of this prayer by Rev. Amy Zucker Morgenstern from “We Pray: Prayers  To and For the Transgender Community”:

“To all trans and other folk who are hurting and afraid, I wish you peace and happiness. No god worthy of our worship could do anything but love you, and no true church could ever exclude you. I feel very blessed to share this life with you.

The Hindu god Indra is said to have created reality as a great net, with jewels at each intersection of the threads. Every jewel is reflected in every other, and they are all connected by the infinite, intricate web. The jewels are sacred and so is the net that connects them. And so I pray:

Dear God, you are the between-spaces of our lives. Where one hand reaches to touch another, you are there. Where eyes meet across the crowd and confusion and find understanding, you are there. Where the spark leaps from one mind to ignite another, that is you. Wherever we connect, you are the connection.

Each of us is a jewel in Indra’s net, shining like dew in a spider’s web. Praise to you, the web that connects us one to another!

When we are in the in-between, on our way from the intolerable to the unknown–

When we defy the categories that small minds invent and dare to imagine something beyond–

When we seek others who are on a journey, on a threshold, on the margins, any of the shimmering intersections of our lives–

When we listen to the possibilities whispered within and step into mystery, with trust, with fear, with trembling– may we find peace, for we dwell in your sacred place.”

To my brave, beloved friends, you have my love, my gratitude, my admiration. Be good to yourself, for you are nothing but good to me.

On a Note of Triumph

It’s Veterans Day, a holiday which I think is getting a whole lot more notice this year on this uncommonly parallel date. Of course, the day and the men and women it honors deserves this much attention every year, but we Americans aren’t particularly gifted at long memory, with such a skinny history on this continent, or laser focus, as our culture is built on perpetually scanning the horizon for the next and the new.

I’ve been incredibly blessed with extraordinary history teachers, from a very early age, as I’ve mentioned earlier. This only fed my inborn affinity and curiosity for the subject, so add what I’ve learned  on my own perambulations to all the excellent instruction I’ve received. In all, I’d like to think myself pretty broadly informed about our past.

So I was shocked and kind of appalled at myself when I discovered a gap in the shape of a man named Norman Corwin. Corwin was a writer and producers of radio dramas for CBS, a colleague of Edward Murrow’s. He made weekly radio dramas throughout World War II, and because CBS was the underdog network, they gave him absolute free rein to do his war dramas however he liked, without having to show scripts or even titles to executives before the hour of its airing.

I’ll give you a minute to just imagine about a world where that happens.

On Armistice Day in 1945, his drama “On a Note of Triumph” aired to an estimated audience of 60 million listeners. America’s population as of July 1, 1945 is recorded as 139,928,165, so that’s almost HALF of the people in America, listening to the same thing at the exact same time. Again, take a minute to just imagine that. It’s a vaguely appalling thought, when we consider the things that get “big ratings” these days, though they’re just a fraction of the population compared to Corwin’s audience.

But they weren’t listening to anything like what we get in media these days. Carl Sandburg called On a Note of Triumph “one of the all-time great American poems.” This isn’t any exaggeration. It is elegant and poetic, reminiscent of Walt Whitman’s work. We just don’t write like this anymore, and we certainly wouldn’t expect an audience comprising half of all Americans — adult and child, more and less educated — to hang on every word of this kind of text anymore.

I found myself crying in the warehouse today, though, listening to some of the most beautiful literature I’ve ever heard in my life. I cannot urge you strongly enough to listen to the entire thing, but I want to share the passage called “The Prayer” here. I’ve got a lot to say about this passage — about the claims of moral rightness that it makes about science, for instance, so foreign from our current cultural notion of ignorance as somehow desirable — but I’ll do that later. For today, please just absorb Corwin’s words about sacrifice and justice and peace.

And share them, because if people made speeches like this, that articulated the best of America, in her halls of power, maybe we would look our veterans in the eye more often when we thank them for their service.


“The Prayer”

An Excerpt from On a Note of Triumph, by Norman Corwin (first broadcast on CBS May 8, 1945)

Music: Preparation: a slow, quiet, reverent theme which builds, not too quickly or obviously, under the Petition:

NARRATOR. Lord God of trajectory and blast,
Whose terrible sword has laid open the serpent
So it withers in the sun for the just to see,
Sheathe now the swift avenging blade with the names of nations writ on it,
And assist in the preparation of the plowshare.
Lord God of fresh bread and tranquil mornings,
Who walks in the circuit of heaven among the worthy,
Deliver notice to the fallen young men
That tokens of orange juice and a whole egg appear now before the hungry children;
That night again falls cooling on the earth as quietly as when it leaves Your hand;
That freedom has withstood the tyrant like a Malta in a hostile sea,
And that the soul of man is surely a Sevastopol
Which goes down hard and leaps from ruin quickly.
Lord God of the topcoat and the living wage
Who has furred the fox against the time of winter
And stored provender of bees in summer’s brightest places,
Do bring sweet influences to bear upon the assembly line:
Accept the smoke of the milltown among the accredited clouds of the sky:
Fend from the wind with a house and a hedge
Him who You made in Your image,
And permit him to pick of the tree and the flock,
That he may eat today without fear of tomorrow,
And clothe himself with dignity in December.
Lord God of test-tube and blueprint,
Who jointed molecules of dust and shook them till their name was Adam,
Who taught worms and stars how they could live together,
Appear now among the parliaments of conquerors
and give instruction to their schemes;
Measure out new liberties so none shall suffer for his father’s color
or the credo of his choice:
Post proofs that brotherhood is not so wild a dream
as those who profit by postponing it pretend:
Sit at the treaty table and convoy the hopes of little peoples through
expected straits,
And press into the final seal a sign that peace will come
for longer than posterities can see ahead,
That man unto his fellow man shall be a friend forever.

Music: up to a grand conclusion.