Dear GOP: Which birth control scenario do you prefer?

The GOP has decided that birth control and women’s sexual health is its (new? Well, not really) campaign playground. This is the go-to wedge issue for politicians who don’t have any good answers for the problems they should be working on: creating jobs, strengthening the infrastructure, fixing the tax crisis, lowering the national debt level, and, you know, maybe dealing with the U.S.’s completely ridiculous tendency to be a mega-interventionist asshole overseas. Among other things.

But there aren’t any easy solutions to these problems, and let’s face it: the national attention span is only going to hold for so long while conservative politicians scratch their heads and wag their jaws over the very real, but somewhat less sensational and emotional, issues. It seems increasingly difficult for the major news networks to sell stories that don’t involve one group making another group really freaking angry, which is where women’s health comes in.

Martha Plimpton, writing at Slate, has some excellent things to say about it:

But notice who is getting the most heat: women. Once again, amazingly, a culture war over women’s health, specifically, their sexual health, has been ignited. Without any serious economic argument against the provisions in the ACA, “matters of conscience” becomes the rallying cry. And women, as always, make the best target. It’s easier to lecture women on sexual morality than it is to explain why all Americans shouldn’t have comprehensive, fair, and equal health care coverage. And it’s easier to wage a campaign of dis-information about Planned Parenthood and the Girl Scouts than it is to bring jobs back to your state.

It’s long been accepted as fact that the availability of family planning services saves lives. Where women have access to these services, children and families are healthier, and society at large benefits. So the question becomes, what is it exactly about family planning that upsets so many conservatives?

She goes on to argue that rather than any coherent objections involving things like economics or science, the biggest problem that Republicans have with family planning is the notion of (hold on to your hat) responsibility. And more specifically, moral responsibility, and the consequences that follow when one doesn’t land under their definition of moral responsibility. In other words, how are young people going to know that having fun, pleasurable sexy-sextimes is bad if they don’t suffer for it afterwards?

It doesn’t even stop there, because it doesn’t matter whether or not you’re young. If you’re a woman, and you want to have sex outside the bounds of marriage and procreation, you are a slut who should be punished. And the most natural punishment? Being forced to carry an unwanted foetus for nine months and then birthing it in a facility that may have the right to deny you lifesaving health services if anything goes wrong because they have a “moral objection” to them.

This is the climate of the birth control debate right now, in the United States of America, in 2012. It makes me sick. And it’s overwhelming to write about. As a young woman who is hugely thankful to be on reliable birth control, the idea that these kinds of dangerous ideas are part of the national dialogue is terrifying. I’m not in a financial situation to raise a child. I’m not emotionally ready to raise a child. Nor is my adult, consensual partner.

You know what I am mature enough to do? Make decisions about my sexual life on my own, without politicians, religious leaders, or anyone else giving me the terms.

Below, I’ve laid out a very, very simple and, in my mind, logical chart loosely detailing the consequences of restricting birth control access. It doesn’t go into the health risks, in-depth economic consequences, or any of the ideologies that have been inspiring the tone of the national debate. All it’s meant to do is illustrate how, at its most basic level, this shouldn’t even be a debate.

Dear GOP: Which scenario do you prefer? Make sure you only invite men to talk it over. You know us females, with all our emotions and shit cluttering up the works.

Scenario #1: Access to affordable birth control is severely restricted across the board, but especially at and below the poverty level. Without birth control, women become dependent on unreliable factors outside of their immediate control to keep from becoming pregnant (the “rhythm method”, condoms [which don’t break often, but do break sometimes], dangerous back-alley abortions, etc). There is a rise in unwanted pregnancies – especially among youth, who are the least equipped to deal with them. These young women and men, forced to become providers for their families before they reach their maturity level and have had a chance to further their educations and start their careers, find themselves needing to rely more on state assistance than they previously would have, bringing the overall cost per child up.
Scenario #2: Access to affordable methods of birth control is increased across the board, but especially at and below the poverty level. With birth control, women and men have an increased ability to decide how and when to start families. They have the “power of timing”. There is a decrease in surprise or unwanted pregnancies, a decrease in abortion rates, and an increase in quality of life for those who do decide that they are emotionally and fiscally ready to raise children. It is not a stretch to surmise, then, that the cost in state assistance per child would also decrease.

Wednesday Article Round-Up: Politics and Contraception

In the ongoing debate on the Virginia vaginal probing/ultrasound bill, Meghan McCain went on the Maddow show to explain why the bill scares her. It’s worth pointing out that McCain is pro-life and a Republican, so this kind of vocal opposition to the bill from the GOP’s own party is really becoming indicative of how extreme their own members are starting to find these agendas.

If you’re wondering about the language the Feministing article uses to describe non-consensual vaginal probing, the FBI has revised its definition of rape:

Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.

I’d say that’s pretty much a spot-on description of this bill, which gives neither doctors nor patients the right to refuse the probe. Fortunately, however, Republican lawmakers have put off voting on the bill yet again, likely in large part to the 1,000-strong silent protest that was held outside of the capital.

In other news, however, in a move of satirical brilliance (and in the current spirit of representatives penning facetious laws to highlight the other batshit crazy things being proposed all over this great nation), state lawmaker Yasmin Neal (Dem) has put forward a bill that would limit the availability of vasectomies to men. Neal’s reasoning?

Thousands of children are deprived of birth in this state every year because of the lack of state regulation over vasectomies. It is patently unfair that men can avoid unwanted fatherhood by presuming that their judgment over such matters is more valid than the judgment of the General Assembly, while women’s ability to decide is constantly up for debate throughout the United States.

Well said, Representative Neal, well said.

Slate has an excellent article by William Saletan tracking Mitt Romney’s history of stances on abortion. It’s a long read, but worth it. Romney has a complicated relationship with the idea of abortion, influenced by his upbringing, religion, and perhaps most importantly, what he’s willing to say to be elected.

And just in case you still thought that Rick Santorum was pretty solid on his views, the Huffington Post has discovered that, in fact, he and Romney are fellow sailors on the Good Ship Flip-Flop: Santorum was pro-choice before he ran for congress. Jezebel has a hilarious summary of his journey here.

As a woman, I don’t want to live in fear for my right to choose the direction my life takes. An unwanted pregnancy changes everything, and if the mother isn’t ready to have a child, it is not in the best interests for either of them for the child to be born. It really is that simple.

Horrifying Twitter Trends: #femalesouthereshapedlike Edition

Truly horrific hash tag trends on Twitter are nothing new. They seem to pop up almost every day, and, since I’ve been on Twitter for several years now, you’d think I’d be accustomed to them.

I guess not.

The #1 trending topic in the Minneapolis area right now is the tag #femalesouthereshapedlike, or, if you have trouble reading long strings of words all smushed together, “females out here shaped like”.

If you click on the tag, which I don’t recommend, you’ll see that some of the top tweets include a picture of the (headless) naked torso of a woman juxtaposed with the face of Homer Simpson. Her breasts and belly line up with his eyes and mouth, and I suppose the viewer is supposed to laugh or snort in astonished surprise that, oh my god, this chick is so ugly! She looks like Homer Simpson! And it’s not even her face!

I don’t know who this faceless woman is, or how her picture ended up on Twitter. Maybe she’s even the one who started the meme. I doubt it, but this is the internet, and it’s always a possibility. Nevertheless, I can’t help but see this as just one more manifestation of our culture’s compulsive tendency to fat-shame, slut-shame, and yes, if I may phrase it like this for continuity, woman-shame.

But wait! It gets better!

If you read further down, you’ll find an addendum to the meme:

#femalesouthereshapedlike…[insert object of choice]

It’s as if someone was sitting alone in their house one day pondering feminist theory and suddenly thought to themselves, “The objectification of women/men/bodies is a serious cultural issue. HOW CAN I EXPLOIT THIS FOR LULZ?” And then they decided to randomly start comparing women’s bodies to various household items.

Don’t believe me?

How a woman could be shaped like anything other than a woman is beyond me. Graham crackers? Half-squeezed toothpaste? The glass Coke bottle thing I can understand, since that has an actual historical basis, but that’s about the only thing that makes sense to me. And it’s still objectifying.

For anyone who would accuse me of taking lighthearted joking too seriously, I’m going to end by pointing out that this is not ironic, underhanded, subversive snark aimed at increasing awareness of the many ways in which women are told that their bodies are always up for public consumption and judgement. There are not “just a few” people who participate in this kind of thing. This is not harmless. Most of the objects named are derogatory: freezers (“short and wide”), a “garbage bag full of bricks”, dill pickles…you name it. It’s fucking weird.

And it’s sexism.

(116 new tweets using that hash tag in the ten minutes it took me to write that. No, really.)