This is a guest post by Anna Lekas Miller. Anna Lekas Miller is a freelance writer and rabid feminist based in New York City. Her work has appeared at GlobalComment, The Nation, Gender Across Borders, and the Electronic Intifada as well as many a 140 character rant that can be followed @agoodcuppa.
I just wrote a piece about sexuality education for The Nation. Someone in my life (male) wrote to me, and told me that though he liked my language he questioned whether I truly meant to describe a lack of access to sexual health information as a “war” on women. He thought that it was too strong a word, and implied that I was lazy in my final choice of language. With all due respect to him, I wrote this response to let him know that I most certainly fucking do believe it is a war on women.
Lacking access to information isn’t just something that “kinda sucks” — it’s potentially dangerous and life altering. For example, I didn’t know what Plan B was until I needed it. Luckily, my boyfriend’s roommate had been in that situation before, and told us that we could get Plan B at Walgreens. My boyfriend took full responsibility and paid the $50 to buy it for me. I also live in New York City, meaning that I could walk down the street to Walgreens and purchase it.
I was mortified to ask the Pharmacist for Plan B. I felt like a complete whore for having consensual sex where the condom just happened to break. In this country, if you are a girl who acknowledges her sexuality, you feel like whore by default.
So, what if I hadn’t lived in NYC? What if I had lived in the middle of Texas and needed to get a ride to a Planned Parenthood that was 50 or even 100 miles away? What if I lived in South Dakota or Idaho or North Carolina? What if I didn’t have the money? What if some bullshit (that has happened to three of my friends) happened where I went and they said “I’m sorry – we are out of Plan B. We will have it in two days and you can come back then.” (I’ll give you a hint, its not called the “two days after you fuck” pill). What if I had been alone and my sheer embarrassment had gotten in the way? What if my boyfriend just straight up hadn’t had access to that key information and I was just doomed to being pregnant because no one else had ever bothered to tell me anything?
I would have a two-year-old kid at this point. My boyfriend might have stuck by me to raise it with me. He also would have had the option to leave me on his own accord without consequences. Even if I had decided to give the kid up for adoption, pregnancy is an exhausting and emotional process that requires you to take time away from school and work which only further educationally and economically marginalizes women.
Condoms break and Plan B is a really easy fix. There are also numerous types of birth control that are specially designed to work for different women. They are also meaningless if women don’t know that they exist in the first place.
The sexual health information barrier disproportionately affects one portion of the population more than another, and that portion happens to be women. I am passionate about politics, but sexual politics is in its own class because its battleground happens to be on my body. Declarations of war on access, information, or access to information on women’s sexual health take the decision of what a woman will and wont do with her body, or how a woman will or wont plan her family out of her hands and into the hands of arbitrary circumstance. Will she know where to turn for reliable information on contraception? On health insurance? On cervical cancer? On abortion? Will the services she needs be safe and affordable? Can she take advantage of them without inconveniencing her life by driving many miles or having to stay overnight in another city? Is she able to access both this information and the necessary services?
Perhaps she knows this information. Perhaps she has a supportive network of friends that is able to tell her where to find this information. Perhaps she does not.
I was lucky in all of my circumstances. I was lucky that I had a boyfriend who helped me find the information I needed. I was lucky that I lived in a city where I could get Emergency Contraception from the pharmacy, Planned Parenthood, or the Student Health Center within an hour. Not every woman is as lucky as I am. Many women are not able to get the preventative information they need in order to avoid an unplanned pregnancy, an STD, or cervical cancer. This will affect them for the rest of their lives.
This war on information is a battle. This war on information is injustice. This war on information is a strategically arranged set of operations designed to victimize and control a specific group of people. This war on information is war.