Florida Meets DMV – What Did We Expect?

First, a belated moment of remembrance for Judith Resnik and Christa McAuliffe, the second and third vagina-having US space travelers, both of whom died in the Challenger explosion 27 years ago Monday. Learn more about them if you’re so inclined, they were pretty amazing people.

Now, the Vagina News WTF of the Day. You know how, when women get married, they often take their husbands’ surnames? And how some people object to doing so for various reasons (points to self and waves)? And how some people respond to those objections by rolling their eyes and saying men can just as easily take women’s names, it’s no big whoop, false sexist alarm?

(Mini education break – the Western tradition of changing a woman’s name after marriage comes from the days when women were property, and a new surname marked a change in ownership of the woman from her father to her husband.) 

So this Florida man took his wife’s name because… Well, because he fucking wanted to… And the DMV revoked his license, accusing him of fraud. He challenged it in court, and the decision was upheld. Based on what? Nothing. (Well, nothing but gender bias.) Florida has no law associating name changes with gender; but other states do. In fact, only 9 states have gender-neutral after-marriage name-change laws. (So when you see this issue pop up on your favorite gay rights page, remember you heard it here first!)

So no, men cannot just as easily take their wives’ (or husbands’) names. And yes, that’s sexist. Sound the alarm.

(Today, the Florida DMV issued a big ol’ oops and reissued Mr. Dinh’s license. Please note, that’s his married name, so if you went to high school with him, remember to update your address book, and he probably has a new email address, and if you try to find him on Facebook it might be tricky…)

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When are Catholics not Catholics? When they’re being sued.

Values can be pesky things, Vagina News friends. 

Catholic Health Initiatives is a nonprofit religious organization that runs 170 health care facilities in the US. Those facilities follow the ‘Ethical and Religious Directives of the Catholic Church’, authored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops – which include forbidding non-natural birth control and abortion – because the directives define life as “from the moment of conception until death.”

One of those facilities is St. Thomas More Hospital in Canon City, Colorado. Jeremy Stodghill is suing the hospital for wrongful death. In 2006, his wife Lori came into the ER, pregnant with twins, vomiting and short of breath. Her obstetrician, Dr. Pelham Staples, was the on-call obstetrician that night. He failed to respond to the page alerting him to her condition; She and both babies died less than an hour later. It was determined that she suffered a main arterial block that led to a massive heart attack, and an emergency c-section likely would have saved the babies’ lives.

Attorneys for Catholic Health Initiatives have argued, so far successfully, that in spite of the organization’s policy that life begins at conception, Colorado law defines life as starting at birth, so Mr. Stodghill cannot sue for wrongful death of his children. To put it another way, they deny women access to abortion because they believe life begins at conception, but are using a law that says life begins at birth to avoid legal responsibility for the negligent deaths of two fetuses in their care.

To quote Jon Stewart, “If you don’t stick to your values when they’re being tested, they’re not values: they’re hobbies.”

Bye Bye Ban

Well it doesn’t get any Vagina Newsier than this.

Yesterday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced the lifting of the ban, in place since 1994, of women serving in combat roles in the military.

This is not as straightforward as it sounds. Military branches have until May 15 to submit plans on how to implement the change by 2016. And while this is a significant step in the battle against gender-based discrimination in the military, most of the work to be done is cultural, not administrative. And of course, there are larger questions of war and combat in general, and whether we should be putting people in harm’s way at all, regardless of gender.

But the murkiest part of this change is that it changes a lot less than many realize. The 1994 ban defined combat roles in terms that don’t make much sense in Iraq and Afghanistan; These are not wars in which we get to decide which groups of soldiers engage in combat. So instead of keeping women out of danger or out of jobs some worried they couldn’t handle, the ban has forced commanding officers to twist themselves into semantic knots to put female soldiers where they’re needed without violating the law. Instead of being formally assigned to a ground unit, women get ‘attached’ as pilots or medics, for example. No less likely to face combat, but in compliance with the letter of the law.

(Recommended listening – NPR’s 2007 series on stories of women in combat.)

The real impact of the ban is that while woman have been fighting alongside men in combat roles all along, they’ve been ineligible for combat pay, awards and recognition, and high-ranking combat titles that lead to promotion. Maj. Mary Jennings Hegar, an Air National Guard helicopter pilot and one of the plaintiffs in an ACLU federal suit filed in November, “was was shot down, returned fire and was wounded while on the ground in Afghanistan, but could not seek combat leadership positions because the Defense Department did not officially acknowledge her experience as combat.”

The end of that bullshit is what we’re celebrating.

Mr. Douchehat Thinks I’m Decadent

Today, I learned of the existence of a recent op-ed in the New York Times called “More Babies Please”, by one Ross Douthat. His basic premise is that people who choose not to have children are destroying America. (Please note that I’ll be referring to him as Mr. Douchehat, because I’m a modern woman who doesn’t care about anyone but myself. More on that later.)

It so happens that, while listening to the radio today, I heard that children now make up a smaller portion of the population in California than at any other time since the baby boom. As someone who lives in California, my reaction was, “Fantastic. Less screaming now, more parking spaces in 15 years.” But apparently this is a bad thing when one looks at children as “resources” whose primary purpose is to pay for the retirement of everyone born before them. How foolish I’ve been not to see them as such.

Back to Mr. Douchehat. Up to you if you want to read the article, I’m just here to tell you what’s insane about it.

– He uses the words “fertility” and “birth rate” interchangeably. “It’s a near-universal law that modernity reduces fertility.” Really? I’m pretty sure modern medicine has done a lot for fertility. Ask the bazillion women I know who had kids after 35. Aside from being annoying, this mistake is a linguistic clue that he’s unaware that what distinguishes fertility from birth rate is CHOICE.

– He blames increasing support for gay marriage on “a broader cultural shift away from a child-centric understanding of romance and marriage.” Not compassion, or ethical progress, or advances in the ongoing battle against bigotry. It’s that we forgot that the point of marriage is babymaking. Except that it isn’t. As I learned in Stephanie Koontz’s excellent book, ‘Marriage: A History’, marriage was invented to facilitate the transfer of wealth between rich families. Have all the trysts you want, rich guys… Only your rich wife’s kids will inherit your money! Take that, bastard kids! Marriage sprung up to prevent redistribution of wealth due to babymaking, not to encourage it. (I swear the ‘Downton Abbey’ parallels are unintentional.)

– And finally, toward the end of the piece, Mr. Douchehat writes:

“The retreat from child rearing is, at some level, a symptom of late-modern exhaustion — a decadence that first arose in the West but now haunts rich societies around the globe. It’s a spirit that privileges the present over the future, chooses stagnation over innovation, prefers what already exists over what might be. It embraces the comforts and pleasures of modernity, while shrugging off the basic sacrifices that built our civilization in the first place.”

You hear that ladies? You thought you weren’t having kids because there are already so many kids in need of loving homes, or you don’t like the world they’d grow up in, or you don’t think you could give them the life you’d want to, or you have other life goals. Nope. It’s because you’re a rich, ungrateful, lazy hedonist. 

Now, I’ve made a leap. Mr. Douchehat doesn’t overtly blame women; it is the New York Times, after all. But who exactly is neglecting their child rearing responsibilities when women spend twice as much time on child care than men do? And what could it be about “modernity” that causes a lower birth rate, if not the availability of contraception and legal abortion? 

Make no mistake, the crisis of fewer babies is the fault of the privileged modern woman, and Mr. Douchehat won’t have it.

America’s Rape Problem

I’ve gotten a number of messages recently about two terrible stories in the news right now – the night-long assault of a young women in Steubenville, Ohio (which has led to the exposure of the horrifying celebration of the assault on video and social media, and the ongoing systematic protection of known serial rapists by school officials and law enforcement) and the overturning of a rape conviction in California simply on the basis that the victim wasn’t married. 

These stories come in the immediate aftermath of the House’s failure to renew the Violence Against Women Act (which provides funding for critical programs to help women who have been victimized) and the death of a young woman in India after a brutal and public gang rape, prompting national outrage over the government and culture’s role in allowing such violence to be commonplace.

I’ve been struggling to face writing about these stories and what they have in common, so I thank Jessica Valenti for doing it first. I very much hope you’ll read this article, follow the links to the cases mentioned above, and start talking about these issues wherever you see fit.