Monthly Archives: January 2010

CBS Plans to Air Anti-choice Ad During Super Bowl

This year’s Super Bowl is mired in controversy revolving around CBS’s plans to broadcast an ad featuring Florida football star Tim Tebow which will most likely contain an anti-abortion message. The network’s decision is being protested by prominent women’s organizations including the Women’s Media Center, NOW, and the Feminist Majority Foundation, but there is no sign that the network is reconsidering the ad.

The Associated Press reports:

The ad…is expected to recount the story of Pam Tebow’s pregnancy in 1987 with a theme of “Celebrate Family, Celebrate Life.” After getting sick during a mission trip to the Philippines, she ignored a recommendation by doctors to abort her fifth child and gave birth to Tim, who went on to win the 2007 Heisman Trophy while helping his Florida team to two BCS championships.

The ad is being funded by Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian group known for, among other things, opposing LGBT civil rights and purchasing ultrasound machines for crisis pregnancy centers.

Much of the criticism of CBS comes from the fact that the network has a policy which prevents them from airing “contentious advocacy ads.” In 2004, for example, CBS rejected an ad from the United Church of Christ which highlighted the church’s practice of embracing LGBT individuals and others who are not welcome at more conservative churches. Why CBS used its policy to reject an ad that emphasizes tolerance and diversity, while accepting an ad which is not only divisive, but also suggests that women should feel guilty about choosing to undergo a perfectly legal medical procedure, is, in a word, baffling.

From the Women’s Media Center’s letter to CBS:

By offering one of the most coveted advertising spots of the year to an anti-equality, anti-choice, homophobic organization, CBS is aligning itself with a political stance that will damage its reputation, alienate viewers, and discourage consumers from supporting its shows and advertisers.

The ad is condescending and offensive to women who want to make their own decisions about their own bodies. These women know that Tim Tebow’s mother’s decision is important not because she chose to give birth specifically, but because she had a choice at all.

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Filed under Abortion, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

Olympic Committee Leaves Female Ski Jumpers Out in the Cold

Jessica Jerome is the U.S. champion in ski jumping, but unlike her fellow American athletes Ryan Malone (hockey), Sasha Cohen (figure skating) and Apolo Anton Ohno (speedskating), she is not training for the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. The International Olympic Committee does not allow female ski jumpers to compete in the Games. Men, however, have been competing in ski jumping since the first Winter Olympics in 1924.

Instead, Jerome gets up early to teach ski lessons to children, then works the 5 PM-2 AM shift at the Sundance Film Festival to earn money. In between, she tries to squeeze in as much time as possible to practice her ski jumping skills and attempts to brush off the sexism displayed by the International Olympic Committee in refusing to allow women’s ski jumping during the Games.

“It’s almost comical,” Jerome said. “When I hear what some of these people say, my first question is, ‘Do you have a daughter?’ And my second question is, ‘Do you have a soul?'”

Women ski jumpers tried to change things, first petitioning the IOC for inclusion. When that failed they sued the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the right to participate. The case was heard last year and in a decision handed down last summer, the court agreed that the women were being discriminated against but ruled that VANOC was powerless to go against the IOC’s wishes. The decision was upheld in appeals court and last month the Canadian Supreme Court refused to hear the case, extinguishing the ski jumpers’ last flicker of Olympic hope.

During their battle they heard comments that seemed to come from another era, such as the one from Gian-Franco Kasper, the head of the International Ski Federation. A few years ago, he said, “Ski jumping is just too dangerous for women … [It] seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view.”

They’ve heard IOC president Jacques Rogge belittle their efforts. They’ve watched other sports cut in front of them in the battle for inclusion.

Kasper’s arguments hark back to the days when women were barred from universities and male-dominated professions for fear that they were too fragile to handle academics or demanding jobs. Today, though, most people recognize that women themselves should be the judges of what they can or can’t handle.

The article notes that while IOC president Rogge has made public comments in support of gender equity, he also made the decision to bump softball from the sports played during the Summer Games. He defended his position on women’s ski jumping by saying that there weren’t enough high-caliber athletes to compete, yet allowed women’s ski cross to be added to the mix of sports in 2010 despite the ski jumpers contending that there were fewer ski cross athletes worldwide than ski jumpers.

And a major boost for women’s ski jumping would come from it being recognized as an Olympic sport. Knowing that they could someday represent their country and compete for a gold medal would encourage young women to take up the sport and train to become the best athletes in the world.

In the end, representation and equality matter. The IOC’s refusal to allow women to compete in a sport at the highest international level is overtly sending the message that female athletes are not as good as male athletes. They are basically telling girls not to aspire to the same dreams that boys have, that it’s silly for them to work hard and become skilled athletes because women’s sports just aren’t equal to men’s sports. And from there, it’s not that big of a jump to extrapolate that women aren’t as good, as valuable, or as interesting as men. Is that really the message the IOC wants to send to girls around the world?

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Filed under Equality, Sports

Three Leading Women Activists Perished in the Haitian Earthquake

Among the deceased in Haiti are three feminists who dedicated their lives to working for such rights for women. Myriam Merlet, Magalie Marcelin, and Anne Marie Coriolan founded three of the country’s most significant women’s advocacy organizations. Merlet, former Ministry for Gender and the Rights of Women chief of staff and helped establish Enfofamn – an organization that raises awareness about women through media – was dubbed a “Vagina Warrior” by Eve Ensler, the award-winning playwright and woman behind the V-Day movement to stop violence against girls and women. Anne Marie Coriolan served with Merlet as a top advisor to the women’s rights ministry. Coriolan worked as a political organizer who helped make rape a crime in Haiti. Magalie Marcelin founded Kay Fanm – a women’s rights organization that deals with domestic violence, offers shelters, and makes micro loans available to women working in markets. With these three women gone, there is concern for the future of Haiti’s women and girls. There is still much to overcome in the struggle for equality.

Were these three women alive to help lead the relief effort, women-specific care would be added to the traditional pillars of immediate aid (shelter, food, water, and medical care). Large-scale relief efforts are not best equipped to suit the needs of those left most vulnerable by the disaster – women and children. Women are often the poorest of the poor and have no safety net for catastrophes like this. Because of their roles as caretakers, they have a disproportionate need for relief aid.

Women should be integral to designing and carrying out relief efforts in their local communities. This is what the organization MADRE does. In their traditional roles as caretakers, women know the specific needs of a community: where the elderly live, which households have new babies, if there are disabled people who need special assistance, etc. Not only is this the most effective way to allocate aid resources, but this type of initiative encourages women to become community leaders and is another step in working towards equal political, social, and economic rights for women in Haiti. It is by empowering women that real and lasting change happens.

In the face of disaster, it must be assured that relief and aid be provided to the women that need it most. A dangerous consequence to ignoring the needs of women during a crisis is increased violence and exploitation.

From where we stand…the most critical and urgent issue is what, if any, contingencies the relief/humanitarian agencies are putting in place not only to ensure that women have easy access to food, water, and medical care, but to guarantee their protection.

By donating to organizations like MADRE, CARE, and the Global Fund for Women, we can ensure that women’s needs in Haiti are addressed.

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Filed under Women's health

Blog for Choice 2010: Trust Women

Thirty-seven years ago today, the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade guaranteed American women the right to choose abortion. The decision held that a woman had the right, with her doctor, to choose to terminate a pregnancy in the first months without restriction based on the guaranteed constitutional right to privacy. In honor of the late Dr. George Tiller, the annual Blog for Choice campaign asks: “What does Trust Women mean to you?”

Last May, Dr. Tiller, one of the most well-known doctors who provided late-term abortions, was murdered while attending a Lutheran church service in his hometown of Wichita, Kansas. His anti-choice killer has since stated that he acted in defense of the lives of the unborn. Daily, Dr. Tiller wore “Trust Women” buttons supporting the women he was committed to helping. Today’s anniversary and the Blog for Choice theme reminds us of the importance of trusting women personally and politically.

To trust women personally is to celebrate a woman’s intellect, compassion, judgment, and choices. It is ridiculous to think that women aren’t capable of making the best decisions concerning their families, their lives, and their bodies. Politically, by honoring a woman’s right to choose, Roe v. Wade trusts women. The two are inseparable. To separate political trust from personal trust can only make sense in a hypocritical paradigm. Anti-choice therefore becomes anti-trust.

It is important today to recognize the challenges we still face when it comes to trusting women. To remember Dr. Tiller’s death is to remind ourselves of the violence and hateful rhetoric many clinics, activists, and regular women face everyday. We live in a society that has allowed anti-choice activists to define the nature and discourse of abortion in this country. By critically thinking about the meaning behind Trust Women, we can change the discussion from dependence on polarizing religious and political ideologies, to far more inclusive topics of trust and respect.

Today’s anniversary of Roe v. Wade reminds us not only to celebrate a woman’s choice, but also recognize the challenges the pro-choice movement still faces. By trusting women to make their own decisions concerning their bodies and lives, we encourage respect, compassion, and support for women nationally and globally.

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Filed under Abortion, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

Controversy over New York State Bar Association’s Women in the Law Conference

The New York State Bar Association will be hosting a symposium [PDF] on January 26 to address specific problems women face in the legal profession. At this conference, two panels will discuss the issues facing female lawyers in a “changing legal market where competition is tougher and expectations are higher.”

The unfortunate execution of a conference intended to genuinely help women has triggered significant controversy. The panels, “What’s Our Problem: Current Issues Facing Women” and “Their Point of View: Tips From the Other Side,” focus on the perceived weaknesses of all women in the law. And in fact, the second panel specifically asks men to opine on the strengths and weaknesses of women’s legal skills and work, while women are apparently expected to genuflect to their “distinguished” male colleagues in order to address their specific womanly challenges.

Above the Law summarizes the problem with the idea of asking men to advise women on how to become better women lawyers:

As for the whole symposium: let’s all get together and discuss our problems in the first panel, and then we can bring in distinguished gentlemen to tell us how to fix them. After all, every woman must have the same strengths and weaknesses. You almost expect them to add how to dress to the list of things the gentlemen will be talking about.

There are many challenges facing women in the legal profession that should be addressed, but shame on the New York Bar Association for approaching them from such a sexist perspective. Feministe addressed the poorly framed conference objective by asking if “[female lawyers] would face fewer challenges if it wasn’t always assumed that we’re the ones with the problem.”

And while the conference organizers were no doubt genuine in their intention of recognizing the challenges women face in the workplace and working to overcome them, the chauvinistic execution of the New York State Bar Association’s conference fails to express that many “problems” affecting women also affect men in the profession. Balancing work and family and advancing in the profession have come to be universal challenges in a difficult and time-consuming career path, and a collaborative effort at addressing those issues would be a more effective strategy.

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Filed under Employment, Equality

Is Refusing Bed Rest a Crime?

That’s the question posed by Lisa Belkin at the New York Times, as she covers the case of Samantha Burton, who, after refusing her doctor’s advice to go on bed rest during her pregnancy, was not allowed to be released from a Florida hospital. The answer is obviously an emphatic “no,” and in her blog post, Belkin outlines why.

Burton was in her 25th week of pregnancy when her doctor advised her to go on bed rest because she was showing signs of miscarrying. Burton told him that bed rest, which could have lasted as long as 15 weeks, was impossible because she couldn’t take time off from her job, and furthermore, had two toddlers to take care of.

According to Belkin:

She was ordered to stay in bed at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital and to undergo “any and all medical treatments” her doctor, acting in the interests of the fetus, decided were necessary. Burton asked to switch hospitals and the request was denied by the court, which said “such a change is not in the child’s best interest at this time.” After three days of hospitalization, she had to undergo an emergency C-section and the fetus was found dead.

Her lawyer, with the ACLU’s help, took the case to a higher court, challenging the state’s original decision and “charging that a dangerous precedent had been set.” The brief[PDF] filed by ACLU lawyers argues that the original decision was unlawful because it manipulated a court’s right “to order medical treatment for a child over a parent’s objection,” to apply to an unborn fetus.

From the brief:

To ignore this fundamental constitutional distinction between the state interest in protecting fetal life and its interest in the protecting the lives and health of people is to risk virtually unfettered intrusion into the lives of pregnant women.

As Belkin suggests, this case raises the important question of where to draw the line. Does this precedent mean that the state can forcibly hospitalize a pregnant woman for not eating enough? What about eating too much? For having a glass of wine with dinner? The government has no right to interfere in decisions like these.

Dahlia Ward, of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project sums it up:

While we each may have strong opinions about such behaviors, our government cannot interfere in a woman’s personal private medical decisions. Allowing the government to make medical decisions for pregnant women means that literally every decision and every activity a pregnant woman engages in could be regulated by the state. And certainly the possibility of state-mandated hospitalization for those who have engaged in “unhealthy behaviors” would deter some women from seeking any prenatal care for fear of being punished. In that situation, everybody loses.

We will keep you updated on the results of this case, the results of which are crucial for women’s privacy rights.

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Filed under Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

Title IX Used to Defend Gay Teenager

The Justice Department has intervened in a New York court case to argue that Title IX’s protections against sex discrimination apply to gender identity as well. The case involved a private law suit against a school district where a student, “J.L.” experienced harassment because, in the eyes of his peers, he had “feminine characteristics.” The school, according to the lawsuit, did little to intervene.

According to court documents,

“J.L. is a fourteen year old male whose gender expression does not conform to male stereotypes. J.L. dyes his hair, wears make-up and nail polish, and engages in physical expressions that are stereotypically female, e.g., swinging his hips and singing in a high pitched voice.”

The complaint alleges that when J.L. was in seventh grade, students at the school subjected him to verbal sex-based harassment on a regular basis. His father complained multiple times to the school, but “the district failed to investigate, or conducted incomplete investigations of the allegations.”

Title IX declares that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

The Justice Department argued that because the discrimination against the teenager was based in sex stereotyping and gender roles, J.L is actually protected by Title IX’s provision against “sex discrimination.” In other words, “sex discrimination” can also include discrimination against individuals whose gender identity does not correspond with sex stereotypes. This reasoning has been adopted by federal courts to apply in employment discrimination cases, such as Prowel v. Wise Business Forms, in which the Women’s Law Project and Legal Momentum submitted an amicus brief [PDF] on behalf of 21 organizations representing women in nontraditional occupations. The brief argued that if sex discrimination claims fail anytime the record also contains evidence of sexual orientation discrimination, Title VII would be eviscerated as to the very women who are most victimized in the workplace:  women in nontraditional employment.

Gay rights leaders have welcomed the Justice Department’s intervention on behalf of J.L., and by extension, other students who face harassment because of their gender identity. Their intervention, along with the recently passed hate crimes law, shows promise in terms of securing and protecting the rights LGBT individuals, which ideally includes passage of a trans-inclusive Employment Nondiscrimination Act.

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Filed under Education, LGBT, Sexual orientation, Title IX