Female Genital Muti… Yeah, That.

My Int’l Women’s Health & Human Rights class is focusing on adolescence this week, which means a lot of material on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM.)

I’m experiencing a lot of resistance to learning more about it because I think it’s going to leave me feeling furious/heartbroken/disgusted/overwhelmed. (The main text of the class does a good job of combatting this by ending each chapter with examples of organizations working against whatever scourge was just covered. There’s also a forum/discussion area that has already gotten into how to combat the negative reactions this kind of study can bring up.)

But for now, I’m gonna watch some cat videos or something. Whew.

What It’s Like to Be a Woman Online

Regular readers of Vagina News are familiar with the street harassment – an issue that regularly affects 80-98% of women.

But lots of people spend lots more time online than they do outside nowadays. So does this kind of casual, everyday harassment happen on the virtual street too?

(I suspect you already know the answer.)

In fact, women experience 25 times more malicious private messages per day than men do. (How do we know? A simple study that created bots with female-sounding screen names, male-sounding screen names, and gender-neutral-sounding screen names. The bots were present in various chat rooms, but did not speak or participate. The ‘female’ bots received 25 times more malicious messages – an average of 100 per day – than the ‘male’ bots. The gender-neutral bots received 4 times as much harassment as the ‘males.’ (Thanks to my husband for finding & sharing that study with me.)

This is not news to women (myself included) who DO speak and participate online. Journalist Amy Wallace recently wrote about her experiences with online harassment in a New York Times op-ed. I screen every ‘Like’ on the Vagina News Facebook page to verify that the person has some interest in feminist or other progressive issues in an attempt to stop such harassment before it starts. And I’ve learned never, ever to read comments on an article that has anything to do with feminism. (Remember Lewis’s Law… The comments on any article about feminism justify feminism.)

Most men are unaware of these daily realities for women. Organizations like Stop Street Harassment and Hollaback! have begun to tackle the issue of street harassment by proactively increasing awareness. The same approach applies to online harassment. If you experience this kind of harassment, talk to people about it – especially men.


Hey strangers! I know it’s been a while. A whole bunch of life stuff has been demanding a whole lot of time and energy, so thanks for understanding and sticking around.

There’s been lots happening to vaginas lately… Good and bad news on the crazy (and not-so-crazy) states front, the whole ‘blame women for Chris Christie‘ thing, progress in gender parity in government, the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

I’m feeling drawn lately to smart, interesting people talking about these issues in smart, interesting ways. Like:

  • Rolling Stone’s article about the modern anti-choice movement, which details the tactical shift away from fighting Roe directly and toward passing restrictive state laws that drastically restrict access to contraception, abortion, cancer screening, and other women’s health services and the close idealogical and financial links between anti-choicers and the powerful anti-union, pro-gun, Christian fundamentalist lobbies

  • …Or watch Sarah Silverman and Jesus sum it up in a short video rather than a long article.

I hope your 2014 is off to a great start. I feel good things coming this year. Thanks as always for being here.

Death and Texas

Remember Terry Schiavo, the woman who spent 15 years in a vegetative state while her husband and parents battled over whether to keep her on life support? Her case prompted a lot of people to establish Advance Directives to make their wishes clear in the event that they could no longer make their own medical decisions. But an ongoing case in Texas is bringing new attention to how much (or how little) power Advance Directives actually have. 

In the early hours of November 26, Erick Munoz found his wife Marlise unconscious in their home in Texas. He performed CPR and called 911, but her brain had already been deprived of oxygen for over an hour. Marlise and Erick are both paramedics, and had discussed their wishes not to be kept alive by artificial  means. While it’s not clear whether Marlise had an Advance Directive, it really doesn’t matter, because she was 14 weeks pregnant – and that means the state, not Marlise or her family, gets to decide what happens to her.

Texas (and 11 other states) automatically invalidate a woman’s Advance Directive if she is pregnant. 14 states abide by the Uniform Rights of the Terminally Ill Act (URTIA), which requires that a pregnant woman be put on life support if it is probable that the fetus could be carried to term. (Only 4 of those states make an exception if carrying to term will cause the women physical harm or untreatable pain.) Some states use a ‘fetal viability standard’ to determine whether to honor a woman’s wishes, and 14 states have no language on the subject, leaving room for ambiguity and protracted legal battles. Only 5 states allow women to specify different directives based on whether or not they’re pregnant.

It’s important to understand that these laws don’t result in a hospital visit from a government official whose job it is to determine whether a woman’s wishes should be honored. What they really do is control doctors and hospitals by threatening legal action if patients’ wishes are honored. (The consequences of that threat were made terribly evident earlier this year in the death of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland.)

Today, Marlise Munoz remains on life support, against her wishes and those of her husband and family. No one knows how long her fetus was without oxygen or nutrients, and it will be another 6 weeks before doctors can determine whether and when it can be delivered.

You can learn more about Advance Directives and end-of-life rights in your state here.

Undoing the Downton Damage

It’s the holidays, so lets keep it light.

Downton Abbey. I don’t care if you watch it or love it or whatever (I will take any excuse to watch Maggie Smith work her magic,) but we all know it’s a thing. One of the central conflicts of Downton Abbey (this is not a spoiler, and if you think it is, you have an overly broad definition of ‘spoiler’) is the fact that in post-Edwardian England, inherited titles (like that of the show’s patriarch, the Earl of Grantham) could only be passed to a male heir. Hence the desperation to marry daughters off as early as possible, to preserve titular legacy.

Turns out that while society has evolved such that the viewing audience generally agrees that’s some sexist bullshit, the law was never changed. So a  bill has been proposed in the House of Lords that would “allow dukes, earls, viscounts and other hereditary peers to pass their titles along a female line of succession.” (The bill left out ‘baronets,’ which apparently are kind of like knights but fancier, so four families have come together to get them included.) And it looks like it will pass. Because who can believe this hasn’t already happened?

So while inherited titles are ridiculous, at least they may soon be ridiculous in a non-sexist way.

Pip pip, cheerio, and happy new year!

One More Reason to Love Jennifer Lawrence

It’s Christmas eve, and whatever that means for you, for me it kicks off a week of watching movies.

If you’ve ever wondered how Hollywood decides which stars to put in movies, it has a lot to do with ROI – return on investment – or how many dollars a star brings in for every dollar s/he is paid.

Like other industries, Hollywood has a habit of paying female stars less than their male counterparts. Funnily enough, that increases their ROI. Right now, the four stars with the highest ROI are women.

Wage gap aside, it was a good year for women in movies. (Have you seen The Heat? See The Heat!) Here’s to more progress in 2014.

Michigan, “Rape Insurance,” and Pro-Choice’s Choice

I have a bit of a policy when it comes to state laws restricting reproductive rights… I don’t pay much attention until they pass. Covering proposed laws would be all-consuming – there were 694 in just the first three months of 2013 – and doing so would distract from the more important issue; The anti-choice strategy of getting one of these laws appealed up to The Supreme Court, in order to get Roe v. Wade overturned.

Which brings us to Michigan, where legislators recently passed a law that prohibits private insurers from covering abortion, even in cases of rape or incest; Women who want coverage for abortion must purchase a separate rider at an additional cost. Supporters argue that the law protects anti-choicers from having to pay for something they object to; Opponents argue that the law places financial restrictions on abortion access, and that by denying coverage even to victims of rape or incest, the state is essentially telling women that they must either buy ‘rape insurance‘ or risk bearing the cost of ending a pregnancy borne of rape. The bill was presented to the legislature by way of a petition signed by just 4% of state residents, and is opposed by more than 60%. It’s an all-too-common case of elected representatives opposing the will of the people, in service to a different master.

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