Open Thread with Clouds and Lake

Some fluffy clouds reflected in a placid lake (photo taken by moi during a walk last week) feature for this week’s Open Thread. Please natter/chatter/vent/rant on anything* you like over this weekend and throughout the week.

A blue sky with scattered fluffy clouds reflected in the waters of a lake

Blue sky and clouds reflected in Lake Macquarie, NSW, Australia

So, what have you been up to? What would you rather be up to? What’s been awesome/awful?
Reading? Watching? Making? Meeting?
What has [insert awesome inspiration/fave fansquee/guilty pleasure/dastardly ne’er-do-well/threat to all civilised life on the planet du jour] been up to?


* Netiquette footnotes:
* There is no off-topic on the Weekly Open Thread, but consider whether your comment would be on-topic on any recent thread and thus better belongs there.
* If your comment touches on topics known to generally result in thread-jacking, you will be expected to take the discussion to #spillover instead of overshadowing the social/circuit-breaking aspects of this thread.

Posted in Life, Politics, Popular Culture, The Cultural Canon | Tagged | 19 Comments

Women’s suffrage (on paper)

On this day in history, 95 years ago, Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed a proclamation amending the U.S. Constitution to guarantee a woman’s right to vote — after a fashion — with the signing of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Said Alice Paul, of the National American Woman Suffrage Association,

August 26 will be remembered as one of the great days in the history of the women of the world and in the history of this republic. All women must feel a great sense of triumph and of unmeasurable relief at the successful conclusion of a long and exhausting struggle. The suffrage amendment is now safe beyond all reasonable expectation of legal attack. This opinion was secured from high legal authorities by officers of the National Woman’s Party who devoted their efforts after the signing of the ratification proclamation to discover what further steps, if any, would be necessary to protect the amendment. Pending injunction cases were automatically thrown out of court by the signing of the proclamation according to the consensus of legal opinion.

And it was a momentous day, and we should celebrate it. So… let’s do that.

But let’s also not forget that Paul’s statement that “all women must feel a great sense of triumph” wasn’t necessarily accurate, and that many of the women who fought for women’s suffrage wouldn’t be able to enjoy it themselves for another four decades. In much of the country, black women had been excluded from the women’s suffrage movement. Many Southern suffragists felt that women’s suffrage should only be extended to white women, and celebrated feminists including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were explicitly willing to throw black women under the bus in the interest of gaining equality for white women. At Paul’s Woman Suffrage Parade of 1913, black women were welcome to stand in favor of women’s suffrage but were expected to do so from their segregated position all the way at the back of the parade. Between political actions by states and personal actions within communities, black women remained disenfranchised in a way that wasn’t addressed in any substantive, legally enforceable way until the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965 — for which they had to much of the fighting themselves.

So yes, the passage of the 19th Amendment was an important and historical day, and it was a long time coming. But as we acknowledge that, we can’t let ourselves fall into the handy rhetorical trap of saying that the 19th Amendment guaranteed the right to vote for all women, because that just isn’t accurate. At best, women’s suffrage was passed without respect for black women, and at worst, it was passed on the backs of black women. The image of Ida B. Wells at the parade in 1913, forced to stand at the back but working her way through a crowd of thousands to march among the white women of her state’s delegation, is sadly representative of the fight for all women’s suffrage, and we need to remember that.

Posted in History, Law, Politics, Race & Ethnicity, Racism | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Mind your business, Ohio legislature

Let me make this perfectly clear:

I just went through a pregnancy for a much-wanted child. I endured morning sickness that lasted throughout the entire pregnancy. I became so short of breath that I had to stop and rest partway up the stairs in my own home. I dislocated a rib. My heartburn was so bad that I had to take two or three separate medications each day. I had a major placental abruption with a level of blood loss that the doctors termed “impressive,” and placental abruption carries risk to both mother and fetus. And if I want to go through that, that is my decision. And if I decide not to go through with that ever again, no matter what my reason is, that is also my decision.

And my reasons for it are no legislature’s business. Whether or not anybody else thinks it’s a good reason. If someone chooses to have an abortion because of the fetus’s sex, race, disability status–not anybody else’s business.

So how does the Ohio legislature plan to enforce its bill prohibiting abortion due to a fetus having Down’s syndrome? Do they plan to bug doctors’ offices? How would any policeman know what a given woman’s reasons for abortion are? Particularly given that the blood test that can tell you whether your fetus has trisomy-18 or Down’s Syndrome (trisomy 21) is done at nine weeks. That’s quite early. Women have abortions that early for any number of reasons. This is a symbolic bill, and what it symbolizes is that the conversations pregnant people have with our doctors are not private, are not ours. It symbolizes that our decisions are never free from the judgment of others. We are never trusted to make our own decisions about child-bearing. But they are our decisions, and our motivations are between us and those we choose to consult. Forced-birthers using disability rights advocacy as a cat’s paw to muddy the issue doesn’t change that.

Posted in General | 2 Comments

Black Girls and the School to Prison Pipeline

If I say “school-to-prison pipeline,” you may think of the criminalization of African-American boys, almost always for behavior that would merit their white counterparts at most detention. But what about the girls? Just as racist police brutality does not give a pass to black women, so too does the school-to-prison pipeline operate for black girls as well. First, some statistics. According to Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced, and Underprotected, BY Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw with Priscilla Ocen and Jyoti Nanda, a report issued by the African-American Policy Forum and the Center for Intersectionality and Policy Studies at the Columbia Law School, in the 2011-2012 school year in NYC:

Black girls were suspended six times as often as white girls, with 12% of black girls being suspended in a given year.

There about twice as many black girls enrolled in public school as white girls, but they are disciplined ten times as often.

90% of expulsions of girls were of black girls. 90%! Not one white girl was expelled that year. (This strongly suggests to me that schools do not value black girls as students.)

“Black girls receive more severe sentences when they enter the juvenile justice system than do members of any other group of girls, and they are also the fastest growing population in the system” Crenshaw, Ocen, and Nanda write. So when teachers and schools fail to value black girls, punish them unreasonably for minor offenses (Crenshaw’s report opens with several pretty appalling examples), and in other ways discourage them from attending school or devalue the education they get, they are putting them at risk for criminal detention in a legal system that is all too happy to keep them. And as for young men, when young women leave school without a high school diploma, they are far more likely to find themselves stuck in low-wage work with very few routes for advancement.

The entire report is worth reading. Some of the appalling miscarriages of justice described are of a piece with what we know affects black boys as well: zero-tolerance policies that lead to expulsions for carrying nail clippers, for instance, and schools focused far more on discipline and high-stakes testing than education. But much of what Crenshaw writes about is gendered: girls experience metal detectors and searches on their way into school as akin to sexual harassment, as feeling “naked” in front of authority figures; girls who act out are punished to a far greater extent than boys who act out in the same way; boys’ sexual harassment of girls is overlooked while the girls’ responses are punished heavily; sexual abuse and other interpersonal violence is an incredibly strong predictor of girls’ involvement with school disciplinary procedures, and is also a significant reason for girls’ leaving school. And family care-taking responsibilities, including children and older family members, fall far more heavily on the shoulders of black girls than on their male counterparts.

I started collecting sources for this post back in April, and the interruption to my blogging has taken its toll; this topic deserves a far more thoughtful piece. But the perfect is the enemy of better-than-my-silence on this issue, and this site of oppression, at the intersection of race and gender and all too frequently, disability, needs to be a topic of discussion among feminists.

Particularly white feminists, because there’s another side to this issue. The side with the active voice. Black girls are suspended, are expelled, are disciplined. But who is it who’s suspending, expelling, and otherwise pushing these girls away from education and toward the criminal “justice” system? Mikki Kendall notes in this interview that “80% of teachers are white and mostly women.” Who is waging this war on black children, boys and girls? Principals, sure, but the teachers on the frontlines are mostly white women. This is a situation where white women are enforcing race and gender norms at the expense of black girls. I have not been able to get my hands on Kendall’s piece about this for Bitch Planet (I keep trying to buy the issue digitally, it keeps not working) but I’d bet solid money that what she has to say is worth reading. I’m going to try and order it from my local comic shop. I’d welcome comments from, well, everybody, obviously, but if anybody has read it, I’d be particularly interested to hear about it.

Posted in Education, Gender, Race & Ethnicity, Racism | 3 Comments

Friday Hypocrisy Link Dump: Ashley Madison edition

Hey, what goes on in a person’s bedroom is their own damn business, and the number of people wittingly or unwittingly invited into a couple’s relationship is also their own damn business. (My personal feeling is that honesty is the best policy, but you do you.) (Or other people, if that’s your thing. Like I said, not my business.) That said, if you’re going to actively fight against marriage equality on account of family values, and claim that it will result in the collapse of traditional marriage and the destruction of families, it helps to have your own marriage on the up and up. It definitely helps to not turn over your credit card information and personal profile to a site dedicated to helping people have affairs like some kind of extramarital OK Cupid. Especially when that site is vulnerable to hacking and massive data dumps. Fr’instance:

19 Side Pieces and Counting. Josh Duggar was one of the stars, in case you hadn’t guessed from the name, of the recently-canceled TLC show 19 Kids and Counting and former executive director of the Family Research Council, from which he was forced to resign after his molestation of five girls (four of whom were his sisters) was revealed in May of this year. But that was when he was a teenager, and now he’s made his peace with God, and now he’s an adult and a better person. (I will grant you that child molestation is way worse than marital infidelity, so good on you with the baby steps, J.D.) Yeah, within the recent leak of Ashley Madison user information were not one but two accounts with his name and address (one in Arkansas, one in Maryland, both his) to the tune of nearly $1,000, running from February 2013 until May 2015 (which, coincidentally, happened to be when the molestation was revealed). Account details indicate that he was looking for (among other activities) “conventional sex,” “one-night-stands,” “sensual massage,” and “bubble bath for 2,” from a woman who is (among other qualities) “stylish/classy,” “naughty girl,” “a good listener,” “has a secret love nest,” “natural breasts,” and “Proverbs 31 woman.” (Okay, I made that last one up.)

While Duggar hasn’t responded to the Ashley Madison revelation, he has copped to a porn addiction, saying that he has been “the biggest hypocrite ever.” But that depends on if you’re calculating gross hypocrisy, or hypocrisy per capita:

Give ‘Em Hell, Alabama. We can’t forget the news that the state of Alabama leads the nation in college football championships, professed conservative values, and paid infidelity. An analysis of the leaked Ashley Madison data shows that Alabamians spent about $5.50 per capita in pursuit of strange, head and cheating shoulders above second-place Colorado, which spent about $4.50. Rammer Jammer, Yellowhammer.

The Big Easy. Marriage might be between one man and one woman, but infidelity is pretty much infinite. For the Ashley Madison trifecta, we have the director of the Louisiana Republican Party, Jason Dore, who also had an Ashley Madison account dating back to 2013. He’s said that while the account was created under his name and personal credit card information, it was actually for use by his former law firm, Dore Jeansonne, for “standard opposition research.” He said in a later statement that he also “only subscribed to Playboy to read the articles.” (Okay, I made that part up, too.)

Your Tax Dollars at Work. To be perfectly fair, furtive pursuit of affairs is not limited to conservatives. Hundreds of U.S. government employees from both sides of the aisle have been logging in to the site from the office, using .gov and .mil email addresses, because taxpayers and constituents are definitely interested in funding governmental hunts for extramarital activity. Users included House and Senate workers, workers in more than two dozen executive agencies, and at least two assistant U.S. attorneys. Profiles included “liberal democrat,” “Educated Professional Democrat,” “A Democrat who loves to kiss,” “Refined Republican,” “Republican 2:16” (and I’m praying that refers to a bible verse), and “Life is a blur of Republicans and meat.”

Please let this be a reminder that everything that’s on the Internet is going to come off of it eventually, and that if you’re on a lengthy, widespread, self-righteousness-fueled campaign to destroy relationships and control people’s lives and bodies in the name of “traditional families,” make sure your own “family values” don’t mean Looking for identical twins pref. blonde for bathtub fun, maybe more.

Posted in GLBTQ, Marriage, Politics, relationships, Religion, Reproductive Rights | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Investigations reveal that no, seriously, Planned Parenthood isn’t selling baby parts

Recently, I disassembled accusations that Planned Parenthood is selling baby parts. (My argument was basically, “No, both Planned Parenthood and just about everyone in the medical field who knows anything about tissue research and donation agree that Planned Parenthood isn’t selling baby parts, and here’s supporting data.”) Following multiple independent investigations, however, it was revealed Friday that… Planned Parenthood still isn’t selling baby parts.

The investigations were launched after the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group, began releasing hidden-camera videos in July that supposedly depicted Planned Parenthood physicians and staff members discussing the sale of fetal parts. Conservatives and anti-abortion activists have argued that Planned Parenthood is illegally benefiting from the sales, but the health organization says that any associated fees are simply to cover the cost of processing, storage and transfer of the tissues for medical research, and that all donations are made voluntarily. Planned Parenthood has said the videos are misleading and heavily edited.

[…]

“In every state where these investigations have concluded, officials have cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing,” said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement Friday. “We’ve said all along that Planned Parenthood follows all laws and has very high medical standards, and that’s what every one of these investigations has found. This campaign by anti-abortion extremists is nothing less than a fraud, intended to deceive the public with patently false claims in order to pursue an extreme political agenda.”

In the wake of the original video release, Congress announced plans to investigate Planned Parenthood, and 11 states have launched their own investigations. In Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, and South Dakota, all Planned Parenthood affiliates have been found to be working in complete compliance with all laws. In Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas, investigations also aren’t likely to uncover wrongdoing, since Planned Parenthood locations there don’t donate tissue at all or don’t even have centers performing abortions in that state. (Investigation into whether citizens are pissed that their tax dollars are being used to investigate activities that literally aren’t happening have yet to be launched.)

Several articles in support of Planned Parenthood appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine this month, reiterating that investigations into the allegations have been fruitless and confirming the value of tissue donation and the importance of Planned Parenthood to women’s health. R. Alt Charo, JD, says plainly that “we have a duty to use fetal tissue for research and therapy,” and that the investigations into Planned Parenthood haven’t revealed wrongdoing but have resulted in calls to defund PP and to outlaw the use of fetal tissue in research. And Drs. George P. Topulos, Michael F. Greene, and Jeffrey M. Drazen wrote:

We strongly support Planned Parenthood not only for its efforts to channel fetal tissue into important medical research but also for its other work as one of the country’s largest providers of health care for women, especially poor women.

[…]

It is shameful that a radical antichoice group whose goal is the destruction of Planned Parenthood continues to twist the facts to achieve its ends. We thank the women who made the choice to help improve the human condition through their tissue donation; we applaud the people who make this work possible and those who use these materials to advance human health. We are outraged by those who debase these women, this work, and Planned Parenthood by distorting the facts for political ends.

House Democrats, for their part, are calling for an investigation of the Center for Medical Progress (again, not to be confused with the Center for Medical Progress at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research), the anti-choice group that shot the undercover videos, edited them misleadingly, and posted them online. The Center has allegedly used fake IDs in the course of making the videos and appears to be soliciting donations as a 501(c)3 “medical charity.”

In the meantime, governors of Arkansas, Georgia, and Louisiana have moved to block Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood (which may or may not be legal). A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, however, has shown that despite the hit that Planned Parenthood has taken to its image in the wake of the videos, more than 60 percent of respondents said they supported federal funding for prenatal care and women’s health exams, and 54 percent supported funding Planned Parenthood, specifically, to do it.

(h/t The Maddow Blog)

Posted in Health, Law, Medicine, Politics, Reproductive Rights | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

In which, God help me, I find myself defending the Alpha Phi video

For young men and women in the Greek system in U.S. colleges, the end of summer means the start of rush season. It’s the time when they start recruiting hard for people to beg to join their fraternity or sorority, so they can reject most of them a couple of months from now. It’s a practice seen by many but understood by few outside of the tightly insulated system, and most non-Greeks are okay with that, but sometimes the curtain gets pulled back and you see, for instance, this summer’s recruiting video from Alpha Phi sorority at the University of Alabama.

There are piggyback rides. There are winks and kisses blown at the camera. There’s lots of jumping into a lake. There’s lots of bikini-top-wearing and up-and-down-jumping. There are lots — lots — of shots filmed from behind at butt level. And there’s color ranging from platinum blonde to dirty blonde, with the occasional token brunette thrown in for diversity.

There can be an amount of fremdschämen involved in watching these young women slo-mo bouncing in bathing suits. The Internet quickly, as it does, filled with dismissive comments about hair dye, bikinis, and speculation on the women’s intelligence. A friend who was a member of a sorority at Alabama and continues to treasure her time there said that with the amount of time she’s spent defending herself as a former “sorority girl,” this video makes Greek life look even worse to people outside of it. And one writer for al.com is of the opinion that the video is basically the worst thing to happen to women in modern time — certainly up in Donald Trump territory.

No, it’s not a slick Playboy Playmate or Girls Gone Wild video. It’s a sorority recruiting tool gaining on 500,000 views in its first week on YouTube. It’s a parade of white girls and blonde hair dye, coordinated clothing, bikinis and daisy dukes, glitter and kisses, bouncing bodies, euphoric hand-holding and hugging, gratuitous booty shots, and matching aviator sunglasses. It’s all so racially and aesthetically homogeneous and forced, so hyper-feminine, so reductive and objectifying, so Stepford Wives: College Edition. It’s all so … unempowering.

Are they recruiting a diverse and talented group of young women embarking on a college education? Upon first or even fifth glance, probably not. Hormonal college-aged guys? Most assuredly yes. Older, male YouTube creepers? A resounding yes.

Like the many other videos of its ilk found online for sororities far and wide, it’s supposed to work as a sales tool to draw in potential new members (PNMs). But unlike many other videos, Alpha Phi’s video stands out in the “beauty and bounce” category and in its production value. Yes, sororities are known for being pretty and flirty; they aren’t bastions of feminist ideologies. But perhaps they shouldn’t completely sabotage them either.

And I’m currently really resentful of op-ed writer A.L. Bailey, because now I find myself defending a video full of pool-noodle fights and glitter. Nice job, A.L. I hope you step on Legos.

I will grant you, right off the top: This video makes Alpha Phi look kind of silly. As a video meant to promote the sorority, which includes philanthropy and scholarship within its mission, it pretty much portrays Alpha Phi life as one long music video full of back handsprings, piggyback rides, and “Blessed” bathing suits. It looks, and I’m not joking, like an extended cut of the opening scene of Legally Blonde, without any indication of self-awareness or self-parody.

(As for slamming the video for its lack of diversity… talk to UA’s entire Greek system about lack of diversity. And that’s not a blow-off in the manner of “of course this WWII period movie is all white! Things were segregated back then!” It’s a reminder that the racism that put University of Alabama Greek system in the spotlight two years ago still remains unaddressed in any substantive manner. The video is all white? We can talk about the fact that they had literally no women of color in their casting pool.)

As a marketing effort, the video really does present the sisters of Alpha Phi as pretty things to look at in bathing suits and short-shorts. There’s no way around that. And there are almost certainly men who are responding pruriently to that message (just as there are men who will respond thusly to a woman in a calf-length parka on a city sidewalk in November). It’s silly. But it’s not the root of all misogynistic evil, and in her condemnation of the video and the women in it, Bailey seems a bit confused as to what the roots really are. In the op-ed, she lists women’s struggle for control over their reproductive health, the struggle for a fair wage, women speaking up about Bill Cosby, and Donald Trump’s dismissal of and insults against women as signs that women aren’t yet being taken seriously. Then she essentially lays this on the women of Alpha Phi, who, “with all their flouncing and hair-flipping, are making it so terribly difficult for anyone to take them seriously, now or in the future.”

Not being taken seriously is not the reason women are still fighting for equal pay and reproductive rights. Congress isn’t debating laws that shut down women’s clinics and put women’s health under the control of major corporations because they think we’re all just “hair-flipping” “bimbos” who can’t be trusted with these decisions. They’re doing it because they have agendas to support and power structures to maintain (and respectable, non-hair-flipping, non-bimbo women to take part in it all). And when women’s rape accusations are disregarded because of the way they look, act, or dress, it’s not because of women like the ones in the video — it’s because of the stereotypes that are perpetuated against women like them. Tank top-clad sorority videos aren’t going to take down the patriarchy, but they’re also not the sole barrier standing in the way of women’s rights. Not even a major barrier.

Here’s something that’s bad for women: the fact that we can lay out all of the above concerns — the gender wage gap, the fight for reproductive rights and access to health care, dozens of women allegedly being raped by a man shielded for decades by the power of celebrity, and a frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination being a man who (among many other offenses) speculated disparagingly on Megyn Kelly’s menstrual cycle after the debate — and decry the insidious threat of a sorority video in the same breath. That’s not to say that we can’t care about several issues at once; nothing happens in a vacuum. But this video? Not just that it’s another concern, but that it’s so problematic that it’s actively enabling all of the others?

Seriously? In the world of female objectification, this video is tame. It’s on level with the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, certainly short of Playboy’s “Girls of the…” college series, light years short of Girls Gone Wild. This is Girls Gone Stereotypical. That’s not helping women, but laying the full weight of the feminist movement on these women’s tanned shoulders is unrealistic.

What makes it bad for women is not the fact that these women might, in the future, be called “bimbos” by male coworkers who’ve seen the video, but that society continues to evaluate women and rate them on a scale from Bimbo to Sexless Hag and treat them accordingly. It’s not the fact that it’s portraying a bouncy, perky, bikinied version of sorority life but that that’s the message, and not philanthropy or academics, that’s actually effective in getting young women to pledge sororities. It’s not the idea that the women of Alpha Phi might have nothing more to offer than “beauty and bounce,” but the idea that writers like Bailey look at them and see nothing but a 72-woman takedown of the feminist movement.

This is not a helpful video, from a purely feminist standpoint. It doesn’t promote a woman’s value beyond her ability to look pretty in cut-offs. It’s not empowering; it’s not “empowerful.” It’s five and a half minutes of pure eye candy. It’s as white as white can be (minus, of course, the football player cameo), and that’s because the sorority itself is as white as white can be within a super-white UA Panhellenic. And it makes me sad that when these young women chose to make a video promoting their sorority, they defaulted to spray tans, bathing suits, and, for some reason, literal piles of glitter. While women should be free to make their own choices for their own bodies and their own lives, we can’t pretend that those choices don’t have wider repercussions, and we’re still free to criticize those choices. That said… it’s a sorority recruitment video. It’s the video embodiment of what Alpha Phi is pretty sure prospective pledges are looking for in a college experience. It’s a reflection less on the value of women as a whole and more on the questionable choices of Alpha Phi’s recruitment committee. (Incidentally, UA’s Alpha Phi chapter has since taken down the video and almost all of their online presence, so… there you go, Bailey. No more bikini shots.)

So. We can accuse Alpha Phi of singlehandedly (72-handedly?) dismantling the feminist cause, promoting the objectification of women, and setting a shameful example for our daughters, via their admittedly objectifying, unintentionally comical video. Or we can say that they look like they’re having fun, that we all did silly things in college, and — most of all — once again — as ever — that telling women that their expressions of femininity and sexuality are betraying the sisterhood isn’t going to make them put on a turtleneck and join the cause, it’s going to alienate them and tell them that there’s no place for women like them within the movement. If you want a young woman “blessed with potential” to work for change within a deeply flawed system, and to fight against racism, rape culture, and Donald Trump and for equal pay, reproductive rights, and access to health care, you can go ahead and tell her she looks like a Playboy Playmate who’s a poster child for detrimental stereotypes and clichés, flouncing and bouncing and sabotaging feminist ideologies. Get back to me about how successful you were with that.

Posted in Beauty, Body image, Education, Racism | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Going Off: A chronicle of becoming unmedicated

[Content note for depression, anxiety, and the medical treatment thereof]

In a series of posts on the NYT’s “Anxiety” blog, starting in February, Diana Spechler has been documenting the process of (with her doctor’s supervision) going off of the prescription meds that had been treating her anxiety, depression, and insomnia for over a year. Going Off opens with “Breaking Up With My Meds,” outlining how she came into psychopharmacology and why she wanted to get out of it.

I went to the psychiatrist, who told me that with medication, we would aim to get my mood as close to 100 percent as possible, my anxiety as close to 0 percent as possible. Reaching perfection would give me the best shot at success when I later weaned off.

[…]

Now, looking at the depression graph, I see that I never reached 100 percent. I briefly hit 90. I’m fairly certain that feeling 100 percent is an urban legend. “I still want to wean off all of it,” I tell my doctor. I’m taking a fairly low dose of everything now: 200 milligrams of bupropion, my antidepressant; 100 milligrams of trazodone, my sleeping pill; and 1 milligram of lorazepam, for anxiety.

“I’m in a tough spot,” he says, wheeling back to his desk, “because meds do help you. And meds are what I have to offer.”

I’ve written about my relationship with Bipolar II, and particularly the way that my (self-perceived, at least) creativity seemed more plentiful when my mind was more scrambled. I also noted that, having to choose between my current level of wellness and my previous level of creativity, I’ll keep taking those pills. I think back on the scary, unmedicated then, and the stable, medicated now, and there’s no question.

The big difference between Spechler’s situation and mine (outside of the fact that she’d qualify as a writer-writer, rather than a copywriter-and-blogger-with-three-crappy-unfinished-novels-clogging-up-my-hard-drive-writer) is that my drugs play nicely together, and hers didn’t. The three medications she took combined to cause hair loss, constant thirst, a lack of interest in exercise, and — the dread of any writer (even the CABWTCUNCUMHD kind) — a slow, dull mind. For her, by her personal mental-health calculus, the now wasn’t actually better than the then. It was just a different kind of trouble. And so, with her psychiatrist’s reluctant support and close supervision, she looked for another way.

We strike a deal: He’ll help me get off all of my medication if I come in for more appointments, keep in closer contact with him. He recommends a few therapists, too, jotting down their names and numbers on a pad of paper. I doubt I’ll call them. I left therapy a year ago and still enjoy my freedom from it. I’ve tried other alternatives to medication, as well. Yoga. Meditation. A light box. Veganism. Blackout curtains. Fish oil. Quitting alcohol. Quitting caffeine. Nothing has helped as much as meds have. But at this point, I care less about my anxiety and depression worsening, and more about getting back to being me.

[…]

Psychiatric disorders are no pea. Depression and anxiety are diffuse, nebulous, ever-mutating. Pills, on the other hand, are concrete little things — pebbles to pluck from the bottom of a shoe. And that’s my goal — to pluck the pebbles, to get back to basics, to believe in my body as a self-sustaining ecosystem.

I’ve got this, my body is telling me lately. Let me show you I’ve got this.

The series is interesting not only because of the process of getting off of the drugs, but also her accounts of her experiences getting on — her emotional state from the beginning, her relationship with her body, the initial process of auditioning new drugs and new combinations. Her path is dotted with familiar experiences (breaking up with a boyfriend, albeit complicated by her ongoing breakup with her drugs) and experiences that might only seem familiar to some (cyclical anxiety about caring for a houseplant).

She also talks about her muse coming back. That one makes me kind of jealous. Not inclined to follow her path, but jealous just the same.

In her most recent installment, Spechler lists “10 Things I’d Tell My Former (Medicated) Self.” It’s a list aimed at her-in-the-past, not a list of things other people should know about coming down off of psychoactive meds — everyone is different, and her notes pertain directly to past posts in the series — but they are a bit of insight into one mind with not-all-uncommon experiences. And they give an important view of the relationship of society and mental illness, and people with mental illnesses, and people’s perceptions of people with mental illness. Whether you’re starting or stopping meds or not taking them at all:

9. Everyone has an opinion about depression. Everyone has an opinion about psychiatric medication. If you tell people who don’t know you that you’re on medication, or that you’re trying to get off of medication, some might shout their opinions. At times, you’ll feel like you must have wronged them, if all this vitriol is landing on your head. But their reactions have little to do with you. You are all products of a society with arbitrary taboos, a society that has made mental health a fraught topic, that hasn’t learned how to talk about mental health without worrying about what others will think. Let them shout. They need to shout. Don’t be afraid. You have a right to voice your experience. Maybe it’s not just a right but an obligation — to fight this collective shame with your clearest, most honest words.

Posted in Health, Media & Media Literacy, Medicine | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Q&A: Avoiding Looking Creepy?

A substantial subset of the geek population wants to help with propagating their species, and a substantial subset of that even aspires to do so without creeping out others. Today let’s explore the differences between creepiness and socially awkwardness…

PROBLEM

a common concern amongst male geeks is that they might appear creepy, when they talk to girls.
since many geeks feel socially awkward, one bloke recently asked us how to avoid creeping on girls.

SOLUTION

at our weekly LAN party, we formulated 5 tips for geeks who lack either social skills or confidence.

JENNIFER H.

“awkwardness isn’t creeping. awkwardness is mistakenly crossing a line, but saying you’re sorry.”
“creeping is knowing boundaries yet flouting them, or refusing to say sorry when you cross the line.”
“to the socially awkward, i’d say keep practising your social skills. you’ll level up eventually.”

CIARA M.

“i have no advice for socially awkwardness. changing that requires years of hard, honest practice.”
“however, truly awkward people are rarely creeps. the two factions are virtually opposites.”
“if you show you’re open to learning from awkward blunders, rest assured you can never be a creep.”

BRYNNE C.

“awkward guys and creepers don’t act the same. their minds, even souls, are completely different.”
“awkward guys know they’re awkward. if they realise they screwed up, they tell you they’re sorry.”
“if you don’t act defensive, you won’t be taken for a creeper, but simply someone who’s learning.”

KATRINA R.

“creeps behave entitled. it’s not that they don’t understand boundaries. they just don’t give a damn.”
“if a guy simply offers excuses for the way he acts, he’s a creep. creeps don’t care who they hurt.”
“if you want to show you’re not a creep, call out guys who creep on girls. prove that you care.”

MELISSA A.

“if you see guys creeping on others, at cons or at events, step in. it shows where you stand.”
“if you’re socially awkward, stepping in shows you give a damn about the way others feel.”
“actions speak more loudly than intent, so prove intent through your actions. it’s that simple.”

Agree or disagree? Post away in the comments.

We’ll do one more episode this month, before moving onto something slightly different next month. Stay tuned!

“Q&A” is an on-going effort to bring more original content to Feministe, via conversations with other feminists. If you wish to send hate mail, please direct to the Republican Rape Caucus.

Posted in Dating, relationships | 5 Comments

Bic celebrates Women’s Day by encouraging you to think like a man

Happy Women’s Day, South Africa! So, Bic is really bad at women.

Bic continues to have trouble talking to women.

The pen maker, which was the object of ridicule a few years ago for its absurd “Bic for Her” pens, failed spectacularly in South Africa this week, posting a tone-deaf ad on social media for national women’s day that drew swift criticism — and soon led to an apology.

The disastrous ad? One that encouraged women to, among other things, “look like a girl” and “think like a man.” (#HappyWomensDay, y’all!)

I’m assuming that as we think like a man and work like a boss, we’re supposed to write like a woman with our special lady pens.

Bic initially attempted to smooth things over by deleting the ad and posting a lovely fauxpology to anyone who took offense, because again, Bic is really bad at women.

We would like to apologize to all our fans who took offense to our recent Women’s Day Post. We can assure you that we meant it in the most empowering way possible and in no way derogatory towards women. We took the quote from a “Women in Business” blog site. The blog site explains the quote and what its intentions were when it was written. BIC believes in celebrating women and the powerful contribution women make to our society.

Then they deleted that and replaced with an actual apology saying that they “completely understand where [they]’ve gone wrong” (one can only hope) and that all feedback is being closely considered to “ensure something like this will never happen again.”

Of course, the ad inspired plenty of parodies that are way more entertaining, evocative, and — I think — inspiring than the original, so maybe that’s somewhere Bic could start.

Posted in Advertising | Tagged | Leave a comment

Ask a Bisexual: “Can Men and Women Ever Just Be Friends?”

Guest blogger bio: L.M. is a bisexual genderqueer woman living in the Pacific Northwest. She writes about gender, culture, and geekery on The Lobster Dance (http://odorunara.com) and about the intersection of food and gender and geeky cake decorating at I’ll Make It Myself! (illmakeitmyself.net). This post first appeared at The Lobster Dance on July 17.

In this Feminist Friday post, I’m going to discuss bi1 erasure in social science research and news coverage. It’s bad enough having to do the closet hokey-pokey literally every single day of my life2, but when heterosexual/monosexual/cisgender social scientists and writers decide to pointedly ignore non-monosexual folks or write their thrilling conclusions about our personal lives without our input3, it very much affects us.

Edit: WordPress was supposed to embed posts from tumblr and didn’t. The head image is from this post.

Exhibit A: Erasure by Exclusion as Data

This very scientific article from 2012 from Scientific American (the link is from donotlink, so click away) is here to sell you a pack of lies (which hurt het folks, too!):

Image: Scientific American, Headline reads "Men and Women Can't Be 'Just Friends'"

NO.

While it’s very worthwhile to study what makes people attracted to each other, it’s harmful and unfair to only study straight-identified college students.

Source: ghostrumors

Source: ghostrumors (reblog from there)

Myth: We can’t study bisexuals because they either refuse to self-identify or they’re mercurial and will change their sexuality, or both.

Fact 1: Your straight-identified college students are not all going to identify as straight forever. I, too, was a straight-identified college student who was so duped by the heterosexual industrial complex that I didn’t understand that I was bi even after I fell for a woman for the first time when I was 21. It literally took me over a year, during which many queer things happened, after that to come out to myself because I was totally straight, right?

Sexualities evolve over time, particularly in your 20s.

Fact 2: The length of a friendship matters. You could meet a new friend in college or anywhere and be on the fence about whether you wanted to be just friends or be more than friends, and you might have a crush on someone for a long time and not act on it because your friend is partnered or isn’t attracted to you because of gender or isn’t attracted to you, period. Sometimes crushes go away; sometimes they don’t.

Fact 3: Some of us don’t self identify because you either don’t ask or because we know that if we answer, we’ll be dismissed as “halfway to gay” (especially men) or “just doing it for attention” (especially women) or “just confused”–even by researchers, feminists, monosexuals (both straight and GL), and allies. More on this in Exhibit B.

The results of the research are actually fascinating, but what’s strange is that the conclusions drawn by the writer are completely off base:

The results suggest large gender differences in how men and women experience opposite-sex friendships. Men were much more attracted to their female friends than vice versa. Men were also more likely than women to think that their opposite-sex friends were attracted to them—a clearly misguided belief. In fact, men’s estimates of how attractive they were to their female friends had virtually nothing to do with how these women actually felt, and almost everything to do with how the men themselves felt—basically, males assumed that any romantic attraction they experienced was mutual, and were blind to the actual level of romantic interest felt by their female friends. Women, too, were blind to the mindset of their opposite-sex friends; because females generally were not attracted to their male friends, they assumed that this lack of attraction was mutual. As a result, men consistently overestimated the level of attraction felt by their female friends and women consistently underestimated the level of attraction felt by their male friends.

That’s not a function of (cis/het) men and women being unable to be friends, that’s male privilege. Men are taught to dismiss women’s sexualities, opinions, and feelings; for straight men, all women (not just the straight ones, either) must be wildly attracted to them, because that’s what women do!

This article and research also completely ignore the concept of non-monosexuality. “Homosexuals” get a blurb at the end, but not any other queer sexuality, and the researchers use old research (from 1995, the height of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell mentality) that manages to, in one paragraph, dismiss queer women’s sexuality (note that most of the research team appears to be women), paint “homosexual” (monosexual gay men and lesbians), especially the men, as untrustworthy platonic friends, and assume that queer folks are just like straight people:

Research suggests that homosexuals have mate preferences and strategies that generally parallel those of their heterosexual counterparts; it is the sex of their desired partner that differs (Kenrick, Keefe, Bryan, Barr, & Brown, 1995). Thus, homosexual men and women should experience attraction to their (purportedly platonic) same-sex friends. Moreover, given men’s stronger short-term mating orientation, homosexual men should feel more attraction to their same-sex friends than homosexual women should to their same-sex friends
(Bleske-Rechek, Somers, Micke, Erickson, et al., Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 2012, 592-3) [emphasis mine]

What possible reason could you have for excluding queer people, especially non-monosexual ones, from your research? Listen up, researchers: you want the group who can theoretically be attracted to anyone–they also have “‘hot’ friends” and “‘not’ friends,” but those have no basis in gender. Which leads me to our next exhibit:

Exhibit B: Erasure by Inclusion as Data, or We’re Not Confused; YOU Are.

When researchers actually acknowledge the existence of bisexuals, it’s typically to treat us not as the key to understanding the sliding scale of attraction and friendship, but to conflate bisexuality with myths of bisexuality that derive from the male gaze and male privilege (the assumption that women’s sexuality is only “for” men and does not exist outside of the patriarchy). Furthermore, the correlated assumptions that bi is “half gay and half straight,” that a person’s partner(s) or lack thereof at any given time indicates sexual orientation, and that bisexuals are insincere, experimenting, or confused monosexuals are the reasons why bisexuals are more likely than monosexuals to have poor mental health, are at higher risk of intimate partner violence–particularly violence based in biphobia, and suffer from poor physical health.

male character: *flirts with many girls but has a (subtle) romantic/sexual moment with a guy*
one half of the fandom: omg did you see that, he’s sooo obviously GAY!! he’s just pretending to be interested in girls!
other half of the fandom: stop making him gay, he only flirst with girls! he and that other guy are just FRIENDS!!
bi/pan/polysexual people: *look into the camera like they’re on the office*
Source: queenofnedcan

Exhibit B is a bit of the reverse of Exhibit A: a social-science researcher publishing a blog post about an unscientific study with a lot of conjecture about bisexual motivations: Lisa Wade’s “Bisexuality and Dating on OKCupid” from Sociological Images (2010), which summarizes OKCupid-cofounder Christian Rudder’s “The Big Lies People Tell In Online Dating,” an analysis of data gathered from users of the online dating site.

While the piece is old in terms of the Internet, it’s on a huge sociology blog run by a respected feminist professor, and 2010 is recent enough in queer history that the language in original piece and the edited piece simply should not exist. Furthermore, there’s very little on Sociological Images on bisexuality itself outside of it being included nominally in “LGBT” pieces, so that doesn’t make me feel as if it’s a past mistake that has been addressed fully by paying closer attention to the voices and concerns of actual non-monosexuals.

[Lies People Tell on the Internet] “I’m bisexual.”

REALITY: 80% of self-identified bisexuals are only interested in one gender.

OkCupid is a gay- and bi-friendly place and it’s not our intention here to call into question anyone’s sexual identity. But when we looked into messaging trends by sexuality, we were very surprised at what we found. People who describe themselves as bisexual overwhelmingly message either one sex or the other, not both as you might expect. Site-wide, here’s how it breaks out:

This suggests that bisexuality is often either a hedge for gay people or a label adopted by straights to appear more sexually adventurous to their (straight) matches. You can actually see these trends in action in the chart below.

Myth: Self-identified bisexuals are secretly monosexuals and most of them are liars. But we love you bi people anyway!

Fact: “Self-identified bisexual” is already an issue because of the utter lack of choices in 2010 regarding gender and sexuality. I did my time on OKCupid rather recently, right when the additional sexual orientations and genders were approved, even later even than Facebook’s were, despite the fact that they’re extremely relevant to a dating site when you’re trying to find someone who matches you. Before the changes, you would find a lot of queer people who would write “Please note: I marked bisexual because I am bi-romantic and asexual and OKC doesn’t give me this as an option; I am a trans man but I listed myself as a lesbian because I’m interested in dating queer women and am afraid of straight violence.”

The labels exist for finding potential matches in your group(s) of interest, but the profile allows the user to explain further if they so choose. That said, having your labels recognized and available is critical.

Myth: Bisexual people are “more sexually adventurous” and therefore straight women who want to attract straight men will lie about being bi to get attention/sex.

Fact: Look at what bi users have to write in their profiles to clarify their sexualities are not a trend, not for attention, not for experimenting, not a hedge for gay people.

Myth: “Again, this is just the data we’ve collected.”

Fact: No, it’s your biphobic conjectures about our motivations.

 

tumblr_ngcoheyh6M1s1v6uho2_500

Source: soloontherocks “Bisexuality is not half gay and half straight. Bisexuality is not in between gay and straight. Bisexuality is not gay when dating the same gender and straight when dating a different gender. Bisexuality is not gay-ish or straight-ish. Bisexuality is its own fully independent self-contained complete orientation. It is its own flavor, not a patchwork of others. Now do you get it?”

The figure below plots age against the percent of self-identified bisexual men who message both men and women, only women, or only men. The percent that are bi in practice as well as theory message both men and women drops by about half between the ages of 18 and 54 (from about 20% to about 10%), but men in their 30s and early 40s are much more likely to message only women. Ticking biological clocks and hopes for a wife and kids perhaps?

The narrowing blue swatch may reflect the possibility that men who once identified as bisexual have come to terms with being plain ol’ gay (but the data isn’t longitudinal, so it may be a cohort thing instead of a life stage thing).

Or perhaps the distribution is the result of an interaction between age and who it’s easy to meet. Maybe young bisexual guys have an easy time meeting women and turn to the internet to meet men; whereas men in their 30s and beyond find it easy to meet men and so turn to the internet to meet women?

Myth: Bisexuals just want to have heterogamous nuclear families; bi men are secretly monosexual gay men; if you don’t message “both” (there are more than two!) genders equally, you’re not really bi.

Fact 1: Not all bisexuals experience attraction equally divided among every gender. Some people may be bi-romantic but prefer one/some gender(s) over others for sexual partners; or are bi-romantic and asexual or bisexual but aromantic; or tend to prefer to befriend or date or have sex with certain genders; or prefer to message certain people of genders on an online dating site; or just happen to be matched at a higher percentage with people with the same or a different gender.

The comments on the Sociological Images piece are real bi and non-monosexual folks talking about their experiences dating, on OKC, and in life and when both pieces are poor examples of research and exclude bi voices.

Fact 2: I am a real, live bisexual who sent messages only to women/nonbinary individuals on OKC. Why?
a. My profile was “hidden from straight people” because, while I like men, I don’t have the emotional energy to sort through all the misogynistic messages hoping to find someone who isn’t just fetishizing me.

b. Also, if I were to date a man, I’d prefer to know him in person first to make sure that he is an actual feminist and ally, because I just spent my 20s with a man who used my sexuality, gender identity, and activism to gaslight me to the point where I was convinced I couldn’t be loved by anyone.

c. This same experience of being shamed for being bi and nonbinary extended to monosexual women friends, both straight and lesbian, who shamed me for being attracted to both men and women and for my gender expression (too butch! and also too femme!), so I mostly avoided going on dates with binary lesbians because I was scared.

Gosh, how could I resist my monosexual women friends, though? Oh, wait, it’s because Bleske-Rechek et al. understand my “mating patterns” with my “purportedly platonic” women friends. Of course.

Returning to the OKC blog, the post ends on this frankly ridiculous excuse of a conclusion:

12% of women under 35 on OkCupid (and the internet in general, I’d wager) self-identify as bi. However, as you can see above, only about 1 in 4 of those women is actually into both guys and girls at the same time. I know this will come as a big letdown to the straight male browsing population: three-fourths of your fantasies are, in fact, fantasies of a fantasy. Like bi men, most bi women are, for whatever reason, not observably bi. The primacy of America’s most popular threesome, two dudes and an Xbox, is safe.

Myth: Bisexuals are only doing it for the attention from straight men. All “bisexuals” want is to be in MFF threesomes. This is the only way to express bisexuality.

Fact 1: Bisexual women do not exist for male fantasies, regardless of the partners they choose.

Fact 2: Group sex, whether as a one-time deal or an ongoing relationship (like a closed triad), should come from a place of mutual enjoyment on for all parties, not of a sole focus on male pleasure. Unless all the participants are men.
Fact 3: Male privilege is a hell of a drug. Rudder is not seeing the data objectively, he’s seeing an interpretation based on his biases and prejudices. See Exhibit A.

In Closing

When you publish research and opinion pieces that cater to the idea that bisexuals are cheaters, fakes, and liars because you couldn’t be bothered to actually listen to non-monosexual voices and interpret data based on your naive assumptions about a diverse group of people of whom you have no knowledge, you are literally killing us. People read your research, or they see summaries of it in magazines and blogs, or their friends tell them about rumors they heard which you corroborated because you couldn’t be bothered to listen to the voices of actual bi and queer individuals. Your ignorance contributes to our doctors being unable to or refusing to help us, to mental health care providers shaming us to the point of no longer wanting to seek help (actually happened to me twice), to monosexual partners thinking that gaslighting us (also happened to me) or beating us is what we deserve.

And heterosexuality isn’t “normal,” it’s just common.

You want to know if men and women can just be friends? I’ll tell you, and you can call the SSRC and tell them, too.

Yes, we can. Unless male privilege ruins it.

Notes

1. Also pansexual, omnisexual, aliasexual, polysexual erasure. My operating definition of bisexual is Shiri Eisner’s: attracted to genders who are like me and different from me.
2. You put your heterosexist-assumptions limb in, you take your monosexist-assumptions limb out, you put your gender-binary limb in and you wave it all about. You do bi hokey-pokey and turn assumptions all around, this is your living hell.
3. Nothing about us without us.

Posted in GLBTQ | Tagged | 12 Comments

No, Planned Parenthood isn’t selling baby parts, and here’s why the lie is so toxic.

The anti-choice narrative since Planned Parenthood’s inception has been that PP has been ghoulishly profiting off of abortions, both by dragging in huge amounts of cash for the procedure and (as is currently under discussion) selling baby parts for exorbitant prices. First of all, I have to inject some basic common sense: If you’re hearing rumors that gloriously satisfy your hate-on for an organization while simultaneously sounding like a late-season plot of Charmed, they’re probably not entirely, or even a little bit, valid. “They sell and/or eat dead babies” has been a charge, throughout history, lobbed against the Chinese, Jewish, pagan, and so many other marginalized people, and never substantiated because people don’t do that. Even the people you’d really, really like to paint as monsters.

Anyway.

Recently released hidden-camera video, at the heart of the current attack on Planned Parenthood, would seem to confirm those very accusations. The nine-minute video, purporting to show PP Senior Director of Medical Services Deborah Nucatola selling fetal tissue to medical research labs, was produced and released by the Center for Medical Progress. (Three more similar videos feature the president of PP’s Medical Directors Council, Mary Gatter, and other current and former PP staff.) Taken on its own, the inflammatory video seems to provide evidence that Planned Parenthood is ruthlessly harvesting body parts on demand and selling them to the highest bidder.

There’s a reason for that. The Center for Medical Progress really, really wants you to take the videos as evidence.

Th[is Particular] Center for Medical Progress

While the Center for Medical Progress, founded in 2013, sounds like a legitimate research-related organization, it’s actually a “group of citizen journalists dedicated to monitoring and reporting on medical ethics and advances” — focusing largely on abortion (although they have 501(c)3 status and solicit donations as a “biomedical charity”). Their main — or, judging from their site, possibly only — ongoing endeavor is their “Human Capital project” purporting to “document[] how Planned Parenthood sells the body parts of aborted babies.” Central to their project is video footage “presented in two formats: 1) as summary videos of specific undercover encounters, and 2) as a multi-part documentary web series, ‘Human Capital[.]'”

A distinction that definitely, absolutely needs to be made: The “Center for Medical Progress” falsifying these videos is not the Center for Medical Progress at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. One is devoted to “articulating the importance of medical progress and the connection between free-market institutions and making medical progress both possible and widely available throughout the world”; the other is devoted to painting horns and a goatee on everything related to Planned Parenthood.

Incidentally, during their creation and use of aliases and fake biomedical companies for their sting, the Center’s David Daleiden (former director of research for premier misleadingly-edited-video production company Live Action) and crew appear to have fraudulently acquired a credit card in the name of one of Daleiden’s former grade-school classmates. While, of course, this absolutely doesn’t directly contradict the accusations against Planned Parenthood, it does give you an idea of the Center’s dedication to truthfulness.

The Doctored Videos

That term used by the Center for Medical Progress to describe their work — summary videos — is crucial to the entire discussion, because the undercover footage has been “summarized” much in the way Iron Man could be “summarized” as a conflict between a genius inventor and his career-military friend as the inventor comes to terms with the realities of his involvement in the military-industrial complex: i.e., bullshittily. Footage removed from the nearly three-hour video, and only released in past weeks, completely contradicts the purpose of the released “summary” by specifying in so many words that Planned Parenthood is not making money off of the “sale” of tissue.

FactCheck.org provides access to the edited version of the video, first released by the group, and the unedited version, released later. One main difference? The unedited version makes it clear, repeatedly, that Planned Parenthood clinics are not making a profit from “selling” tissues. Their only goal in taking money during the tissue donation process was to recoup the costs associated with collecting, preserving, and transferring the tissue, so that clinic operations wouldn’t be affected and patients could continue to receive the services they rely on.

At one point in the unedited video (which was also released by the group), Nucatola says: “Affiliates are not looking to make money by doing this. They’re looking to serve their patients and just make it not impact their bottom line.”

Nucatola also says, “No one’s going to see this as a money making thing.” And at another point, she says, “Our goal, like I said, is to give patients the option [to voluntarily donate the tissue -C] without impacting our bottom line. The messaging is this should not be seen as a new revenue stream, because that’s not what it is.”

Media Matters highlights three particularly heinous edits in the first video (and seven more in the three following videos) completely shifting the reality of Planned Parenthood’s service: that tissue is being donated, not sold; and that all tissue donation is done in accordance with all laws and ethical standards, and with the consent of the patient. The 141 minutes cut from the meeting with Nucatola were removed because they were full of the truth.

Why Money Is Associated with Tissue Donation

Medical research is so very important to improving and saving lives that it would be nice to think that tissue donation was done as a matter of pure generosity, with no money changing hands at any point. Unfortunately, that’s just not practical. Regardless of the type of tissue, donation can be expensive for the donor institution. Planned Parenthood is, at their own expense, carefully preserving tissue that would otherwise be discarded, and those are costs they can’t afford to absorb without affecting patient care.

FactCheck.org consulted three different experts in human tissue research — Harvard University and Brigham and Women’s biodepository director Sherilyn J. Sawyer; International Society for Biological and Environmental Repositories president (and former NCI Office of Biorepositories and Biospecimen Research deputy director) Jim Vaught; and ASU National Biomarkers Development Alliance chief medical and science officer and former NCI director of biorepositories and biospecimen research Carolyn Compton — about PP’s quoted $30-100 per specimen. They all had the same response: That price is reasonable, or even low, for clinical operations to recoup their costs. Sawyer went so far as to say that “$30-100 probably constitutes a loss for [Planned Parenthood].”

In reality, $30-100 probably constitutes a loss for [Planned Parenthood]. The costs associated with collection, processing, storage, and inventory and records management for specimens are very high. Most hospitals will provide tissue blocks from surgical procedures (ones no longer needed for clinical purposes, and without identity) for research, and cost recover for their time and effort in the range of $100-500 per case/block. In the realm of tissues for research $30-100 is completely reasonable and normal fee.

And Compton agreed, “‘Profit’ is out of the question, in my mind. I would say that whoever opined about ‘profit’ knows very little about the effort and expense involved in providing human biospecimens for research purposes.”

One quote that the Center for Medical Progress benefits the most from omitting addresses the real importance of recouping the costs associated with donation: “Really their bottom line is, they want to break even. Every penny they save is just pennies they give to another patient. To provide a service the patient wouldn’t get.” This, of all statements made in the video, contradicts the Center’s goal of smearing Planned Parenthood as a heartless, money-hungry institution: the reminder that the focus of their work is giving care to people who otherwise would go uncared-for.

The Reality of Fetal Tissue Research

Depending on your feelings about fetal development and pregnancy — and a lot people do have very emotional connections to the subject — the idea of research on fetal tissue might seem macabre. One major criticism of the released video is Nucatola’s matter-of-fact, offhand description of the tissue used in research, and it is disconcerting to watch her scarf down a salad while talking about fetal livers — Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards has said that Nucatola has been reprimanded for her tone, and Richards apologized, saying, “Our top priority is the compassionate care that we provide. In the video, one of our staff members speaks in a way that does not reflect that compassion. This is unacceptable, and I personally apologize for the staff member’s tone and statements.” People expect a more solemn, respectful approach to this subject. And, in fact, some researchers who work with fetal tissue have said that they, themselves, have feelings about the source of tissue for their crucial research. In the New York Times, researcher Nathalia Holt describes how they “plan[] [their] experiments, trying not to waste a single drop,” and says that “even with [their] preparations, justifications, and the sheer excitement that accompanied [their] research, the fetal cells brought sadness.”

But Holt also reminds us that cells extracted from tissue from two fetuses in the 1960s are still being used to produce vaccines for hepatitis A, rubella, chicken pox, and shingles; that fetal stem cells have been used to treat spinal cord injuries; and that “progress is being made in the use of stem-cell therapies against cancer, blindness, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, HIV, and diabetes.” Last year, the NIH gave $76 million in grants for fetal tissue research. Regardless of your feelings about where the cells come from and how they’re acquired, lives are changed and saved because of the tiniest bit of tissue.

And that knowledge can be a comfort to women and families faced with the loss of a pregnancy. Katie Lyon wrote for Time.com about her abortion at 22 weeks of a very much wanted pregnancy. An ultrasound showed that the fetus had, among many other problems, spina bifida and a tethered spinal cord. After much discussion, and after much consultation with her doctor, they decided to end the pregnancy — “the right decision for us as a family,” she says. And they decided to donate the fetal tissue for medical research.

It was horrible for us to have to end a much-wanted pregnancy, but we made the best of it by donating the fetal tissue for research. We contacted our genetics counselor, who coordinated the donation with a spina bifida research project funded by the National Institutes of Health. We figured that donating the tissue could perhaps spare other families the painful situation we found ourselves in. It was clear to me and my husband that the question of what caused the spina bifida needed to be studied.

I feel fortunate that I had the chance to donate the tissue — I was able to turn my pain into something that could benefit someone else.

I want people who are politicizing the option to donate fetal tissue to think about the implications of removing this option. I want them to think about people suffering from diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS and sickle cell disease — and to consider those people’s family members who no doubt want their loved ones to live longer, fuller lives.

Why would anyone want to destroy the chance to save another person’s life?

Any tissue donated by Planned Parenthood is with the consent — or at the request — of the patient, because they know how important that generosity can be and how far it can reach.

Why the Lie Matters So Much

It can’t be said enough, because for some reason, some people aren’t grasping it: Planned Parenthood is a source of primary care for millions of people, mostly women, who would otherwise have to go without. It’s estimated that one out of five women in the U.S. will go to Planned Parenthood at some point during her life, and four out of five of its patients live near the poverty line. Ninety-seven percent of procedures performed by Planned Parenthood clinics every year are devoted to making, and keeping, people healthy, regardless of income.

The House of Representatives is currently undertaking an investigation, almost certain to be lengthy and fruitless, based on intentionally misleading videos and the violation of laws that aren’t being violated. And regardless of the outcome, these accusations are going to stick to Planned Parenthood for decades — there’s no shoving “remember when PP sold baby parts?” back in the barn now that the rumors have been released into the wild.

And this afternoon, the Senate will be voting on legislation to pull federal funding from Planned Parenthood — nearly half their budget, in the form of Medicare and Title X funding. It wouldn’t affect abortions provided by Planned Parenthood, which can’t (with very few exceptions) be funded with federal dollars — just the other 97 percent of their services. It would come at the expense of men, women, and children who rely on Planned Parenthood for cancer and STD screenings, medical treatment, birth control, well-person care, education, and prenatal care.

It’s about the health and wellbeing of adults and children now, and ones who will benefit from medical breakthroughs in the future, and this group is trying to destroy all of that with four videos that they’ve known were deceptive from the start. And people — bloggers, citizen journalists, social media reactionaries, government officials, people who are primed to believe the worst about Planned Parenthood at any chance they get — are falling for it and spreading the lie. It’s often said that to the anti-choice crowd, living women will always take a back seat to fetuses; it’s rare that we actually get to see that so explicitly in action.

Posted in Class, Health, Law, Medicine, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights | Tagged , , | 17 Comments