The mass shootings in Littleton, Newtown, and the Washington, DC Navy Yard have become a rallying cry for gun control in the United States. Yet, on average, every day across the country at least three women are killed by intimate partners, the majority shot to death. Guns and domestic violence are a lethal combination in …
Nov 18 2015
Aug 10 2015
By NY Brit Expat
An incident at dinner in Italy during my vacation there and the subsequent discussion has driven me to prioritise this piece. Following a wonderful dinner at a local restaurant, one man decided that it was time for us to listen to his misogyny on women’s reproductive rights. I knew he was saying offensive things as the two English speakers at the table refused to translate what he was saying. Upon my insistence, he tried to speak in English, but what he was saying was so offensive I refused to believe he was saying it. I turned to my husband and the other English speaking friend and they shook their heads yes, that is what he was saying. This man argued that women have to the right to choice but if they get pregnant with a child they do not want, they must be forced to carry the child to term and to give it up for adoption. Those that know me would not be surprised at my angry response in which I spoke of women having the right of property in their own body, spoke of bodily autonomy and reminded him that we were not incubators, but human beings. I concluded by calling him a misogynist and telling him that this was not an opinion but hate speech.
Abortion has been legal in Italy since 1978 when Law 194 was passed. While not a perfect law, it was won after intense struggle by the women’s movement. This law not only guaranteed access to abortion, but access to reproductive health care, contraception, and a whole range of rights for women and these were tied into public health provision. Like in the US (and this has been a failing in both countries), the conscientious objector clause has led to a decrease in the numbers of medical professionals willing to carry out the procedure on religious grounds (and in the US due to pressure from anti-abortion activists). So to hear someone (who is not religious) babbling this crap at me following dinner was way too much. So, who ruined dinner? Was it him or me?
This incident highlighted something that has become extremely obvious and this applies both to women’s rights and to racism. The days when someone who held these offensive positions knew to keep their mouths shut is long gone; instead they pose hate speech as opinion and demand their right to preach it. Our response must be swift and strong so that these troglodytes are driven back to the primordial soup from which they have barely crawled out from.
In a follow-up discussion on the way to the car park, I told my English speaking friend what just passed the British parliament as part of the Welfare Bill. I told him that the Tories are changing the nature of the social welfare state which covered all women (child-tax credits, child benefits) to only cover the poor and working class. And then I told him about the limits to benefits only to 2 children in the future. I explained that the former made it easier to eliminate benefits totally (why should taxpayers take care of the working class – employed and unemployed — after all?). I explained the latter policy was a form of eugenics and was a neo-Malthusian policy. While he agreed with the former (he is a mainstream neoclassical after all), he was horrified at the latter (maybe because he has 5 children and has benefited from receiving benefits in several countries to help with covering the costs for all his children).
When women talk about reproductive rights and justice they are not only speaking about women’s rights to not have children. This is an essential part of reproductive rights: the right to choose not to have children, to have access to birth contraceptives abortion and voluntary sterilisation. But we are also speaking of the right of women to have children and to determine when and how many. This right has been most often denied to working class women, disabled women and to women of colour. Sterilisation abuse and forced usage of birth control against working class women, disabled women and women of colour is part of a long-term agenda of eugenics and neo-Malthusianism.
Wealthier white women fought for the right to not have children and to choose when they had them and to demand sterilisation without the consent of their husbands. Eugenics law that promoted the “betterment of the human race” by forcing wealthier white women to have children also led to laws that demanded the use of birth control to access welfare benefits and forced sterilisation for working class women. These laws have been the tools of choice against working class women, women of colour and disabled women and have been used to prevent their choosing to have children and to limit the numbers that they had. In the US, to this day, eugenics laws are still on the books to be used against disabled women; Buck vs Bell (1927) in which the Supreme Court ruled that compulsory sterilisation of the unfit did not violate the Due Process Clause of the US constitution. This endorsement of negative eugenics has not been repealed and still stands as US law. So to say that to leave things of the past in the past doesn’t really hold up as these things of the past tend to revive. After all, patriarchy is still strong and these arguments are not only a position of patriarchy but of the bourgeoisie that does not feel the need to humour women in their bizarre beliefs that they, not the family, not the church and not the state control their own bodies.
Sep 14 2014
I have recently been thinking a lot about building a feminist movement irrespective of our differences of analysis and experiences of oppression and exploitation. As I often do when looking for assistance, I turned to those that have experience and a wealth of information hoping to learn from them. This time, I turned to Bell Hooks (Feminist Theory: from Margin to Center), for inspiration and she provided so many brilliant insights, that I am going to reference some of her many ideas throughout this piece.
Feminism is often defined as a movement and an analysis that maintains that women must have equality in the economic, social, cultural and political spheres. It has never really been a singular movement; it is more correctly defined as a collection of movements trying to achieve the aims of equality for women in various spheres. The need for this movement derives from the clear inequality that women face on a daily level whether in the home, at work, in ability to access things from the most basic fundamental right of controlling one’s own body to accessing the same work at the same pay as men, from equal and shared responsibility for household labour and raising children to accessing the political sphere on an equal level to men.
Apr 06 2014
This year, I was invited to speak at an international women’s day event by the sisters of the Cardiff Feminist Network as part of a series of actions which included a Take Back the Night march, a pro-choice rally and then an event in a park in which there was poetry and various speakers addressing a number of topics including feminism, violence against women, the oppression of Palestinian women, and my talk on the impact of austerity on women in Britain. There was food, a wonderful audience of committed feminists taking place in a public park where in effect since there was no license or permission, the group had taken use of public land to have a celebration of International Women’s Day. My talk was kindly taped by a friend and comrade, Nick Hughes, who then posted it on facebook and on then youtube.
The talk was long, not because it was planned that way; but one person who was supposed to speak was late and the food was not ready to be served. So, since I carry around so much information with me when I am planning to speak, I was able to talk for almost a half hour.
So today’s anti-capitalist meetup will actually be like a meetup. That is, we will have a speaker (me), my talk (minus the spontaneous bad jokes and righteous anger) will be here to read. Then we can actually have a discussion on the topic, since the speaker is right here. This was supposed to go up on the 16th of March, but was preempted by the deaths of Bob Crow and Tony Benn which needed to be commemorated. The issues addressed in my piece, unfortunately, are still extremely relevant.
Jan 20 2014
We are coming up to the 41st anniversary of Roe vs Wade and Doe vs Bolton. A couple of days ago, I received an email from the Center for Reproductive Rights entitled “Victory in North Carolina” saying that a federal judge (Catherine Eagles) struck down the North Carolina law forcing physicians to give an intravaginal ultrasound and discuss it with patients seeking an abortion (see for further discussion: http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2014/0118/North-Carolina-forced-ultrasound-law-struck-down-on-First-Amendment-grounds). This was seen as a victory. In the most obvious and narrow definition of the word, i.e., the defeat of the bill, it was a victory. However, the fact that we are facing increasing attacks on the ability of accessing a constitutional right 41 years after its being granted cannot be seen as a victory, it is demonstrable proof that patriarchy is still extremely powerful and has no intention of giving up the fight to control women’s bodies. Essentially, we are fighting a defensive struggle against an ideological perspective of divide and rule called patriarchy which can bring religion, power, and money to maintain male hegemony in the societies in which we live. That does not mean that all men are our enemies, we have many male allies in this struggle; but we need to recognise that this ideological perspective still exists and is not going to go quietly into the night. It also means that in order to address women’s liberation truly, we cannot concentrate on issues, but rather the general issue that is at stake.
Abortion rights must be addressed in the context of the general struggle for women’s liberation containing both the oppression of race and gender and class exploitation. That is the struggle that affects the majority of women worldwide. This is not to say that everyone must address every issue, but we must always keep the general picture in mind when we struggle on separate issues. Struggling to maintain Roe v Wade is necessary, but it is insufficient given the Hyde Amendment. Struggling for reproductive rights without recognising the general oppression of women means that that the issues that affect the majority of women remain in place. Non-recognition of the different histories of women of colour due to colonialism and racism means again that the voices of all women will be ignored.
Thanks to Elise Hendrick for comments on an earlier draft!
Dec 01 2013
This week has a certain nostalgia for me. I am working the last four shifts in my home, Humboldt County. Nestled between pristine redwoods and dramatic cliffs overlooking the west coast of California, I want to stay here, but cannot. I am feeling the full force of the United States health care crisis. In the four years I have worked here eight of ten obstetricians in the southern half of the county have left, and now I find I am one of them.
Two obstetricians, far apart geographically and serving two different hospitals, are all that is left to serve an area once supporting 10 obstetricians. Both doctors are men over 60, who have a tough future ahead of them. Without outside help there is no way they can see all the patients that will need them. They have to remain within 30 minutes of the hospital and can be told to come to work any time of the day or night. They can never have a moment off, a full night’s sleep, a drink of alcohol to ring in the New Year. Watching a full length movie, or having a nice dinner with the spouse without interruption is a thing of the past. Neither of the remaining doctors can get sick or injured. This is really asking them to be super human and there is no cavalry on their horizon. In fact, if Catholic Health Systems is successful at closing one of the two hospitals, only one physician will remain.
As a young person, I wanted to take my medical skills to a disadvantaged third world nation. Looks like I got my wish – right here in the US. How did we get here?
Aug 18 2013
The following is a guest diary by Diana Zavala. An educator, political activist and single mother of two, this is the second guest diary that Diana has written for us. Diana presented this piece as part of the panel at Left Forum 2013 organised by Geminijen.
Three years ago I found myself closing the chapter on my marriage. I did this against the advice of my friends who tried persuading me to stay for the children, for the sake of security and until I finished my studies. I had spent 10 years in an unsatisfying marriage and the thought of one more day for the sake of something/somebody else just was not acceptable. I left the marriage and while the emotional release was satisfying; but being independent and having to be responsible for my family was a reality I don’t think I fully grasped.
I decided there had to be a way that women in my situation could qualify for public assistance. Here I was a student, with two kids, huge rent bill, no health insurance, but these circumstances were only temporary I thought, and with a little assistance I would be able to overcome them and get myself back on my feet. I thought ‘hey, I’m not the quintessential “welfare queen” so demonized by society’, I’m someone who needs help and can become independent with some assistance. I discovered it wasn’t the case, that women who were in my predicament had no safety nets available for them to bounce back. I didn’t qualify for anything because I had too much money from child support which was just enough to cover the rent. The Welfare office recommended I become homeless in order to apply for Section 8 housing and I didn’t qualify for Food Stamps, nor did I qualify for Medicaid.
Here it was, I had been a high school teacher before getting married, I left teaching to care for my son while my husband’s career progressed and so did his income and retirement. I had no money and no savings and was being advised to become homeless so I could qualify for housing assistance and food stamps, so I could provide for my children.
I had walked into the office feeling like a strong feminist who had left her marriage choosing independence from a husband and who could make it on her own. I was college educated, employable, and young enough to have energy to fight and overcome. I came out of the office understanding that my situation was no different from other women who leave, that while I had education and language, my status as a single mother did not differ much from that of my mother’s when she immigrated from Honduras after she divorced my father.
Jul 07 2013
This piece is a summary of a paper that I presented at the Left Forum in a panel organised by Geminijen. If you want to see a copy of the longer paper (which is being edited for English and clarity), send me a personal message here with your email and I will send it to you. Fran Luck who is the producer of the radio series “Joy of Resistance: Largest Minority” on WBAI was in the audience and asked us to appear on her show. If you would like to listen to Geminijen, Diana Zevala (who has written for the ACM on education), Barbara Garson and me, please click here: http://archive.wbai.org/files/mp3/wbai_130703_210001wed9pm10pm.mp3).
While in no way denying the impact of the introduction of austerity upon the working class, the disabled and the poor as a whole, there is no question that the impact of austerity on women is far greater. This is due to the job losses in the state sector where women’s labour is predominant, our historically lower wages due to the undervaluation of traditional women’s labour in a capitalist labour market leading to greater dependence upon the social welfare state, and our overwhelming responsibility for reproduction of the working class and how that impacts on our working lives. The failure of the state to provide completely for social reproduction especially in childcare and care for the infirm and disabled has resulted in women having: 1) discontinuous working lives; 2) and the predominance of our labour in part-time employment.
With incomes falling in the advanced capitalist world as part of general economic policy, women face greater threats than men due to our responsibility as primary caretakers of children, the disabled and the elderly. Women are facing lower incomes, lower pensions, and an increasing reluctance for the state to support women in the workplace through provision of child-care and after-school programmes and shouldering carer responsibilities for the elderly and infirm. Given the transformations in general employment possibilities towards increasingly underemployed and part-time labour, we will begin to face competition from men for the jobs we have normally held while benefits are increasingly run down.
We face increasing economic insecurity without sufficient state assistance to ensure that our children and families can have a decent standard of living provided through employment. Women can no longer depend upon the fact that our labour is of sufficient value to capitalists as men also face increasing precariousness in their employment, and in the absence of a strong labour movement or left-wing movements, can serve the same role of an easily intimidated low-paid work force.
The destruction of the public sector enabling the weakening of the last bastion of trade union organisation to force through even lower wages and a reduction in social subsistence levels of wages along with a further deterioration in working conditions on the basis of non-competition with emerging and peripheral economies is nothing less than a race to the bottom and women will be the first, but not the last, victims of neoliberal economics in the advanced capitalist world.
This piece will be divided into 3 parts. The first is composed of some general statements on austerity. The second part will discuss the women’s labour market in Britain and the impact of austerity. The third part addresses the attack on the universal social welfare state in Britain and its impact upon women.
Apr 23 2012
[The conversations represented here took place over the last week and are compressed for your reading pleasure. My husband and I are real people and said the things represented here. The rest of the dialogue is provided by intentionally fictionalized characters that are not meant to represent any one person. All sentiments and facts expressed here are genuine to the best of my recollection, but the characters saying them were selected by drawing names from a hat. I, alone, am responsible for this content.]
“They canceled Andrianna’s tubals yesterday,” I inform Steve in the hall outside the conference room. “They didn’t even give her a whole day’s notice so she could talk to her patients before they did it.”
“I got virtually no notice either when they canceled mine on Monday,” he replies.
“Really?” I am shocked by this. I have never heard of a hospital canceling cases so abruptly without involving the surgeon. “Who ordered the cancellations like that?”
“Don’t know. We’re only told the surgery scheduler, but someone gave her the order.”
We enter the conference room to find Norm waiting for us. The other gynecologists filter into the room. Both the hospitals the Sisters of Orange own are represented: the hospital in my town, St. Joseph’s, and the one south of us, Redwood Memorial.
“We had hoped this would blow over but the sisters feel backed into a corner.” Norm starts. “They have no choice but to get tough on this issue.”
“What brought all this on?” Steve asks.
“The edict came down from the new Bishop in Santa Rosa,” Norm says, “but we got targeted when they pulled the diagnosis codes for the hospital. It was obvious we were doing more sterilizations than they were in Southern California.”
“In Southern California you can go down the street from any Catholic institution and run into a secular hospital.” I try to defend us. “The Catholic Church bought almost all the hospitals in this area. For the last six years they’ve been trying to drive the last secular hospital under.”
“Never the less, we were doing a lot of tubals for ‛psychological’ reasons.”
“We were hardly doing a lot of sterilizations,” I say. “Other hospitals preform far more tubals a year. The stigma the Church gives the procedure already curtails many woman from asking for sterilization.”
“So what’s the plan?” Steve says, rescuing the meeting from disintegrating into complaints about the Church.
“Nothing.” Norm states. “This is a game we can’t win. The more public pressure the Catholics face, the more they will dig in. We have to keep quiet and wait. That will take the pressure off the nuns. When you’re approached by the media, and you will be approached, my advise is to refer them to the CMO. That’s what he gets paid for. Don’t talk to the media, or write letters to the editor. Don’t talk to your patients about it. We need to keep the lid on this to stop it from blowing up.”
“Too late. The patients already know.” I inform him. We all know there was an article in the local alternative paper, The Journal. The “real” paper in town, the Times Standard, has been silent on the issue. “I spent half an hour at a Pap smear today with an irate woman who vented the whole time about how this was unreasonable and unfair.”
“I wouldn’t encourage her. And don’t talk to your staff about this either,” Norm says.
“How am I going to do that? I’m taking my patients to Mad River. They all know why I stopped operating at St. Jo’s.”
“What do you say to the patients?” Steve wants to know.
“The truth. I don’t think it’s fair to deny all the women in an entire county a procedure on religious grounds. And the patients agree with me. I have an eighty year old woman who lives as far south in the county as you can go. I told her why I was taking my patients north, but seeing where she lived and considering her age I told her I would make an exception for her and operate on her at St. Jo’s. She told me, ‛Don’t you dare. I don’t want to support that any more than you do.’ This octogenarian wants to drive past the two hospitals the Sisters own to have her surgery at Mad River Hospital.”
“This hospital is facing hard times right now.We’re barely holding on ourselves. We can’t afford to lose any patients. We don’t want to lose patients or doctors.” Norm seems genuinely alarmed.
“Great. Go back to the way it was, and I’ll bring my surgeries back to St. Jo’s.” I feel for Norm, but I will not be moved.
“Look, if they made us take all the hysterectomies to ethics committee, the way they threatened to, then I would do the same thing.” Wendy said. “But it’s just the tubals.”
“The only reason they didn’t is because they found out the insurance companies already reviewed all our hysterectomies and would not pay without an adequate medical diagnosis.” I tell her. “They weren’t being magnanimous. They just didn’t want to duplicate the work.”
“You can’t take your surgeries to Mad River.” Quinn, always the practical one, tells me. “I’ve looked at the labor numbers. St. Jo’s is hemorrhaging money in Obstetrics. The hospital will take the Laborist program away. The only reason you came here was for that program. You don’t want to see it die, do you?”
“I don’t.” Everything he says is true. Medicaid doesn’t even cover the cost of deliveries for most hospitals. The one wing devoted exclusively to women is a loss leader for most hospitals in the nation. Obstetricians get treated like the red-headed-step-children of the family of physicians because we don’t make the hospital any money. Having a Laborist program is a rare luxury. It meant I could sleep through the night for the first time in years, watch a whole movie in a theater, have a conversation with my husband–uninterrupted by the other woman…one with vaginal discharge. I do desperately want to keep that indulgence. “It’s not just about what I want. If they take the Laborist program, there’s little reason for me to be at St. Jo’s at all. I’ll not just take surgery to Mad River, I’ll take my labor patients as well.”
“If we don’t support the hospital it won’t be there to care for us.” Wendy says. “I for one want a hospital here when I retire.”
“Not taking care of the needs of half of the population is not caring for us.” I can feel my control slipping. “If they are unwilling to serve half the population’s health care needs, what are they doing in the business in the first place? They should sell the hospital-preferably back to the community to be run cooperatively.”
“This happens every seven years or so.” Elroy, the oldest member of our tribe, says. “The last time it was a new nun sent to take over the hospital. She had all the tubals canceled too.”
“How did that get resolved?” I ask.
“She died and it got forgotten.”
“So we’re waiting for the Bishop to die? Or just waiting for him to change his mind?” I say with more than a little heat. “The Bishop isn’t the only one with strong feelings on this.”
“The hospital can make it hard for you.” Adrianna has arrived late to the party due to her patients. “Remember Tony? He got in that spat with the hospital and started talking to people-even people in the Foundation. It got back to the Board of Trustees and they dragged him into Medical Executive Committee. Now he has that mark on his record forever.”
I know she is trying to warn me. I’m no stranger to this tactic. Though I have not seen it used at St Jo’s, I’ve seen it used elsewhere to strike fear into doctors. A hospital will use its power to remove incompetent doctors on a doctor who is medically competent but has a disagreement with the hospital. They sacrifice one physician, ending his or her career, to scare the other physicians into compliant silence. There are even courses for hospital administrators instructing them how to do this effectively. I’ve avoided such abuses of power so far, but I’ve seen it used time and again on colleagues.
“Look, it’s not just our patients. I was already scheduled to talk about this subject on a national level. I can’t act like it’s not happening to me on a personal level as well. You see, I’m an editor of this blog…”