Can commodification save reproductive justice?

This is a guest post by Echo Zen. Echo is a feminist filmmaker, blogger, speaker and sexual health advocate, currently deployed in the States to counter the influence of Tea Party moppets. When ze’s not doing ad consulting for birth control, ze tries to blog semi-regularly for Feministe (partly to set a good example for zir sister).

“It sounds ludicrous. Let’s try it.”
“Good. I’m down for anything involving karate and contraception.”*

As Feministe readers may have noticed lately, my crew of summer film students and I have been making short films on kung fu condoms over the past few months. In August we were slated to produce a video on women’s self-defence, but at the eleventh hour we opted for something a bit less conventional. We thought up our new premise while searching YouTube for Tea Party rallies and Jackie Chan clips: “In the near future, extremist politicians has taken over America and banned condoms, because condoms are evil. Trained assassins have been deployed to track down wily condom smugglers, whom they engage in brutal hand-to-hand combat.” Bourne meets Bachmann.

We recently uploaded the second episode to YouTube, where it racked up 1,500 views in a week, thanks to Feministe and afterward Tumblr. For a project that began as an inside feminist joke, it was surprising. And it’s made me wonder if better advertising might be the key to normalising women’s health issues into public discourse.

Ever wonder why marriage equality seems to be outpacing reproductive equality in the States? Perhaps it’s because LGBT Americans have had more success at normalising their voices into the public discourse than we have – for Pete’s sake, the marriage equality people have a Prop 8 musical with Jack Black as Jesus. Where’s our pro-choice Neil Patrick Harris? Where are the humourous adverts acknowledging that women use contraception for pregnancy prevention? Where are the pro-choice comedians who crack jokes about fertilised eggs being people?

LGBT advocates have helped to foster an environment – through sitcoms, reality shows, Hollywood comedies, etc – where it’s not only acceptable but fashionable to embrace and acknowledge such issues. In fact, I’d go further and argue that marriage equality is gaining support precisely because LGBT advocates have fostered an environment where companies have a vested interest in commodifying LGBT identity – through shows like “Queer Eye” and “Glee” – into something to be marketed and sold.

Would LGBT identity be as accepted as it is now if Madison Avenue and Wall Street hadn’t helped to legitimise the LGBT demographic by acknowledging the significance of LGBT Americans as a demographic and as consumers? I doubt it. I’m starting to suspect the key to normalising women’s health into public discourse is to foster an environment where the major cultural institutions in America – Madison Avenue, Hollywood, etc – have a vested interest in legitimising women’s health issues in order to sell things to women. It worked for condoms and breast cancer awareness – for all its shortcomings, the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s pink ribbon campaign has had an immeasurable impact on normalising breast cancer into something survivors can bring into daily conversation without being labeled as defective or unfeminine. And condoms would be nowhere near as popular as they are today if condom manufacturers hadn’t figured out that the key to promoting use (and fighting condom fatigue) is to market condoms as hip and empowering, rather than as healthcare devices.

Yes, commodification often has negative connotations in feminist contexts – the pink ribbon campaign is rife with pinkwashing by businesses peddling products linked to breast cancer. But like it or not, institutions like Madison Avenue and Wall Street are still the most powerful powerbrokers in society – they create norms and legitimise existing ones through commodification. To succeed at de-stigmatising women’s health issues like contraception and HPV, our strategies must ultimately involve securing legitimisation through these institutions, the same way condom and breast cancer awareness campaigns succeeded at normalising their causes into U.S. culture.

But how we do cultivate an environment where that’s possible? The more civilised countries like England may already be airing adverts for abortion services on TV, but the U.S. is years away from a future where makers of birth control pills can even mention pregnancy in their own ads – since the 1960s, most U.S. networks have unilaterally banned contraception adverts that focus on pregnancy prevention over “health-related uses.” (Evidently family planning’s not a health issue.) Even on primetime U.S. television, where the majority of shows contain sexual references or depictions, only 14 percent bother mentioning contraception at all.

That’s absurd. Virtually all sexually active women in the U.S. – over 99 percent, in fact – have used contraception, according to the National Survey of Family Growth. Yet women’s contraceptive experiences and even existence are routinely obliterated from public view. We’re left in an awkward situation where the majority of women use birth control, yet live in a culture that gives free reign to misogynist pundits and politicos to smear contraception users as irresponsible sluts who can’t keep their legs shut – with nary a peep of public outrage from the 99 percent of women using contraception.

If most Americans are unwilling to speak out in defence of something as basic and universally accepted as contraception, then it’s no wonder that anti-choice extremists are so confident they can wage war on our abortion rights without fear of backlash from the solid majority of Americans who support choice. This year we’ve seen extremist politicians drop any pretense that their war on women is about protecting “fetal life” – the façade of concern is giving way to reveal the foundation of their movement all along: their fanatical hatred of women having any control over their bodies whatsoever, whether through contraception, anti-rape laws, HPV vaccines, etc.

It’s obvious that traditional media outlets are in no position (or mood) to make our voices heard, not when it’s of no benefit to them – i.e. there’s no money to be made. And the U.S. news media routinely engages in complicity with anti-choice extremists, courting controversy by granting “equal time” to anti-choice fairy tales, blindly reporting them as facts.

What other channels are left for us? We do have the Web, through which we’ve routinely publicized the facts, debunked the myths and blogged our stories for years. Yet, vocal as we’ve been, our strategies have done little to stem the avalanche of anti-choice extremism that’s swept the U.S. in the past year alone. We have to rethink our strategy, with our ultimate goal being to legitimise our presence as a massive demographic – the majority, in fact. Some in the U.S. media (besides Rachel Maddow) are just now starting to realise anti-choicers despise contraception as vehemently as they do abortion. This is the time to educate Americans that this fight is about more than abortion rights. Abortion, contraception and family planning are all part of the same reviled fabric of reproductive healthcare that anti-choicers want to shred, as part of their war on women’s ability to control any part of their bodies.

To reframe the discourse, we need the same conditions that enabled breast cancer and HIV advocates to normalise their causes into public discourse – 1) public access to the facts, 2) public figures speaking out about their reproductive health choices, and 3) the reorientation of our narratives within the larger framework of community. We’re people’s mothers, sisters and friends – our reproductive choices ensure the wellbeing of society. This is about more than individuals. It’s about society’s health.

But the most formidable obstacle to de-stigmatising reproductive health is the denial of our voices by traditional media outlets. The prevailing mentality that those who use family planning services are irresponsible sluts who can’t keep their legs shut is why media outlets feel free to discount our voices – they’re more concerned with fallout from a vocal, extremist and fanatical anti-choice minority than they are about the 99 percent of women who use contraception and other family planning services like the rest of us.

If we can’t make ourselves heard through traditional outlets, then we need to generate enough noise through our own outlets to pull our voices from the periphery into the mainstream, where they belong. Whether it involves provocative posters, viral videos or shockvertising campaigns, our messaging needs to appeal to the mainstream media’s need to commodify attention-grabbing stories like “Prop 8 – The Musical” or Rape Crisis Scotland’s brilliant PSA, for their own benefit and advertising revenue. If our messages are compelling enough that the traditional media’s thirst for ratings outweighs their fear of anti-choice hostility, then that’s one more pro-choice voice injected into the national dialogue. Outrageous antics are how anti-choicers ironically make their lies and myths part of the mainstream – I suspect we can do better than their offensive tactics. And I’m fairly certain we can do better than kung fu condoms.

In all honesty, it’ll take a generation of advocates to develop a reproductive rights organising model where we go beyond clinging to what few reproductive rights we have left, and instead fight to expand reproductive equality to all women. The irony of this war on women’s health is that we’re having enough trouble simply maintaining the status quo, yet our highest priority must ultimately be to break the stalemate. The alternative is inaction, sticking with strategies of stasis rather than victory. And we all know how far that’s gotten us in the past few decades.


* Yes, I know karate and kung fu aren’t the same. Karate is Japanese. Kung fu is Chinese. “Kung fu condoms” is a strictly colloquial term. The system used in our films is Filipino, emphasising the usability of household objects as improvised weapons. That’s why our characters fight with forks and purple vibes. Someday they may fight with IUDs as well – the tips on those things can be quite sharp.

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19 comments for “Can commodification save reproductive justice?

  1. December 19, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    We can embrace the legitimacy of our causes as we lament the reality of commercialization. In the end, it’s all an argument over purity. I hope that in time a pro-life barrage of advertisements finally solidifies public sentiment. But so long as many Americans see the abortion fight as already won, there won’t be an outpouring like this.

    And there’s an argument that states that should abortion ever be seriously challenged, that it would utterly galvanize the Left. So under that argument, abortion rights are safe. I’m not sure I completely believe in that sentiment, but I see what they’re saying.

  2. December 19, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    As much as I dislike the idea that commercialism will lead to true reproductive freedom for women…you make some good points. The downside to commercialism, of course, is that it often ends up reinforcing a very narrow view of, for example, the LGBT population. Like all LGBT-identified people want is to grow up, get married, have some kids, and live in the suburbs. The popularity of the “marriage debate” has effectively silenced the voices of queer folk who want to resist marriage all together, and don’t want their relationships commodified and used for somebody else’s profit.

  3. December 19, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    Bah. The reproductive rights movement still doesn’t embrace or understand reproductive *justice*, so pardon me for being skeptical that commodification is going to increase the rights of folks who don’t have money to burn. Because make no mistake—“Queer Eye” and “Glee” and such is all about who has the disposable income. Mass media hasn’t embraced queer women like Hanifah Walidah. You really think trying to play up the *marketplace power* of women who have *little to no* disposable income is going to do a better job in the fight for human rights? Again, bah. I’m a rust-belt single mother with two jobs. Trust when I say that *no one* is courting my wallet with any shade of representation. They’ve already concluded that *I’m not worth it*.

  4. Echo Zen
    December 19, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    That’s exactly the problem. Commodification occurs only because companies want to appeal to demographics with the fattest wallets — to hell, for instance, with queers who don’t fit their white, middleclass conception of “normal” gay life. I hope there are better alternatives (not just alternatives) to commodification, because if they exist, I’d like to hear them. That’s why I asked Jill to post this piece here, to get informed feedback.

    If the Catholic super-majority in the Supreme Court is reactionary enough to roll back reproductive rights, it will indeed be the biggest booster shot to the pro-choice movement in the history of the Solar System — but the fact it even needs to come to that is absurd. It shouldn’t have taken 9 months of misogynist, xenophobic Tea Party extremism, for instance, to make the American people wake the hell up and fight back with the Occupy movement. Where were these folks when the talking heads of the Tea Party were screaming that Obama was out to destroy America by standing up for the middleclass?

    And it’s precisely the “pro-life barrage of advertisements,” propaganda and lies that’s manipulated Americans into thinking fetuses are babies and that they need to be protected from murderous, irresponsible sluts who’re destroying America by having sex without reproduction. I have colleagues who think this anti-choice push to grant “personhood” to fertilised eggs will help Americans to realise the threat that anti-choicers pose to basic human rights — but I disagree, because there’s more than political calculus involved here. As Jill pointed out in her recent article “Guardian” article (, even if U.S. pro-choicers win every attempt at taking rights away from women and giving them to fertilised eggs, the anti-choicers will have succeeded in re-framing the conversation by brainwashing Americans to think birth control is abortion. It’s how they fooled the American people into thinking late-term abortions was infanticide, committed by stupid sluts who wait till the last minute to terminate (life-threatening) pregnancies. Our political victories are meaningless if they result in reactionary cultural shifts in the national dialogue.

    Franlky I say to hell with this charade that “Roe v. Wade” is still the law of (all) the land in places like South Dakota or the Rust Belt. If anti-choicers (or Jennie McCormack) take abortion rights back to the Supreme Court for the justices to either affirm or overturn. Then the American people won’t continue living under the delusion their reproductive rights are still constitutionally protected.

  5. December 19, 2011 at 5:11 pm

    Echo Zen, I don’t think you’re hearing me. Commodification won’t work in this instance because the rationale for it—the profit—isn’t there. It’s a non-starter.

    More importantly, we’re in the state we’re in because the Right has effectively exploited the pre-existing divisions within the feminist movement. For the past thirty-five to forty years, the Right has been able to re-brand feminism as a “white, rich woman” thing, often with a great deal of help from the mainstream feminist and reproductive rights movement. The feminist movement itself assumes that women like me are either unfeminist or actively antifeminist. That’s a big problem. When a large part of the intended audience feels ignored, dismissed, disrespected…..that doesn’t build a movement. You used the term “reproductive justice.” That encompasses a damn sight more than access to birth control or abortion. A hell of a lot of working women already have their BC needs effectively limited to OTC. Can you imagine the number of women whose ears would perk up if reproductive justice were taken seriously? If universal healthcare and universal childcare and well-funded public schools were part of the platform?

    Because as long as there are no challenges to the Right’s portrayal of reproductive rights being about the right of college kids to fuck, you can rest assured that everyday working women are still going to be VERY concerned about their reproductive rights, they are just going to continue to assume that they are already left to fend for themselves in that regard—that there is no mass movement that has *their* interests in the forefront, because *the movement* doesn’t see us as their demographic.

    Shit, man, you did it yourself in your comment….invoking the “Catholic super-majority” as if that means something. In my community, the Catholic super-majority of women in the pews *are using birth control and voting for pro-choice candidates*. My Senator, Dick Durbin, is Catholic. He is pro-choice and attends Mass at the parish close to the Italian deli I go to (and sometimes, he’s in there, too!). Then you invoked Occupy, which is very noted in activist circles as being wealthier, whiter, and younger than most folks on the )eft. Might I add, they also can’t organize their way out of a wet fucking paper bag. Where was the anger at Tea Party shenanigans? In the union halls, in the immigrant rights movement, in the civil rights movement, in the movement to close the race gap and economic gap in the public schools, it was *all over* the fucking place, and ignored as usual—the better to offer the illusion that dissent is isolated.

    The shorter version? Overturn the racism and classism in the feminist and reproductive rights movement. End the heterocentrism and transphobia too. Make the movement(s) *accountable* to everyone who needs the movement(s). Make them *representative* of everyone who needs the movement(s). *Expand* the boundaries of what is being fought for.

  6. Echo Zen
    December 19, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    In fact 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women in the U.S. use BC. So the fact there exists any controversy over women’s access to contraception is utterly farcical. But it’s no surprise that the voices of extremist leaders like the USCCB in no way represent the values of U.S. Catholics who live in the real world.

    As you’ve already alluded, the notion that reproductive justice will succeed through single-issue politics is a crock of bollocks. Women’s health advocates know this — we know who we’re representing, because they (patients) come to us. And we know we’re fighting for more than abortion or contraception – we’re fighting for reproductive healthcare for every community, because underserved communities depend on our services.

    What we need is to make our voices heard. We’ve pointed out for years that anti-choice extremists won’t stop at abortion or BC, but intend to outlaw anything that allows women to live their lives outside anti-choicers’ vision of women as subservient housewives. That’s why they’re hell-bent on cutting Head Start, rolling back maternal health provisions, and ripping out funding for domestic violence laws.

    What do they have to do with reproductive justice? Everything, as you’ve already alluded. It’s no secret that anti-choicers hate healthcare for poor Americans, funding for public schools, single mothers having access to affordable childcare — in short, anything that violates anti-choice patriarchy. And who do these attacks disproportionately affect? Low-income families, women of colour, under-served communities… y’know, folks whose needs aren’t usually considered important. Hell, I just gave a quick example to some university students about intersectionality between race, class and reproductive justice, in the context of Obama’s Plan B decision. That decision was bad news for teens generally, but who will it disproportionately affect? Again, no surprise — Latinas will bear the brunt of it, for reasons of insurance and economics.

    Of course we’ve been consistently dismissed as hysterical ladies who overestimate the extremism of anti-choicers’ goals. (Evidently shooting abortion providers wasn’t a clue.) Still, we’re not blind to the fact that the key to a better pro-choice movement is recognising intersectionality between different groups. The organisations I work with actively implement this – heck, you can’t effect change in a metropolis without representing and unifying communities of all backgrounds.

    We know what we’re fighting for, but — like the media that handed the microphone to the Tea Party while ignoring the voices of the struggling and unemployed — we’re trying to be heard. We know where reproductive justice is most needed – it’s in LGBT communities, workingclass neighbourhoods, schools. If the pro-choice orgs in your state come across as elitists, I’m sorry – those people are supposed to be our allies. But my colleagues and I are working to empower communities to fight back. What I’m trying to figure out is how to make enough noise on our way to critical mass.

  7. I just want to be equal human
    December 19, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    I think that the problem is that we are women. We are not seen as first class equal human beings still. We do not get paid fairly and most of us are poor. I think like what others said we don’t have the funds! You basically cannot do anything without money in the public world. the media is still controlled and owned by men.
    I like your positive upbeat wanting to help but there is no money. Maybe some philanthropist will see our plight and help but I am not holding my breath!
    Don’t forget that women have been ostrisized and blamed for all evils since the beggining of time and it is written in blood by most religious institutions.
    I think the reason that the gay lesbian cause has come out mainstream is because men are invloved it is not just a womens issue. if that had been the case nothing would have been accomplished at least not for another 1,000 years. i think many woman have thrown in the towel on the fight for equal rights we just don’t see a way out including me and I am very vocal and not afraid to speak the truth. Scratch that i am still fighting for my daughters future!! Thank you forc aring we need more men to get involved. The right to vote was one by one vote from a pleading mother to her son. His one vote gave us women a voice.

  8. Athenia
    December 19, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    I’m not sure if commodification is the word I’d use, but most definitely, reproductive justice needs to be seen as normal–which is definitely something songs, movies and youtube video can do.

  9. MadGastronomer
    December 19, 2011 at 11:07 pm

    OK, first of all, it looks like marriage equality is outpacing reproductive rights because marriage equality was nowhere at all fifteen years ago, and is currently gaining ground. Reproductive rights activists are fighting to keep the ground we have. They aren’t really comparable fights in the current day. They’re at completely different stages of the battle.

    Also, marriage equality is NOT a win for most trans people who aren’t LGB. It might be handy if they haven’t changed their gender markers, and want to get married now, and happen to live in a state where their partners’ gender markers currently match theirs. If there was such a thing as a state that had marriage equality but didn’t allow trans people to change their legal gender markers, that might be useful to some people, but as far as I know, none exist. LGB trans people, of course, get the same benefit from marriage equality that LGB cis people do — but most trans people aren’t LGB, anymore than most cis people are. And meanwhile, all the focus on marriage equality has left more important trans issues, like basic employment and housing protections, to be largely ignored by LGB cis people who claim trans people as part of the community, but don’t actually give any support to trans issues (*cough*BarneyFrank*cough*). So, could we maybe not refer to marriage equality as an LGBT issue?

  10. Echo Zen
    December 19, 2011 at 11:44 pm

    Yes, marriage equality only appears to be outpacing reproductive equality, because there’s room to grow for the latter whereas the latter has been losing ground for decades. But support for marriage equality has certainly outpaced support for reproductive equality — I linked to an article on a study indicating that among recent generations, while they support marriage and reproductive equality equally, their support for the former is stronger and more resonant for them than for the latter because they see the negative effects of marriage (in)equality and everyday discrimination on their friends, whereas women’s reproductive experiences are generally absent from public discourse and from U.S. media.

    Of course it’s not just women’s reproductive stories that are annihilated from the discourse, but women’s stories generally. That’s why it’s easy for lawmakers to dismiss or ignore women’s experiences, because we never see them — same goes for working-class folks, communities of colour, etc. All these issues have their tentacles wrapped around each other. It’s one reason my mates and I are attempting to attack the issue of women’s non-visibility by speaking out through social media.

    Still, I was wrong to refer to marriage equality as an LGBT issue. I apologise for that.

  11. MadGastronomer
    December 20, 2011 at 12:39 am

    Thank you Echo Zen.

    I’m all for increasing visibility of reproductive health issues and women’s stories. I don’t have much of a platform myself, but every time I end up in a conversation about reproductive rights, I tell my abortion story (it’s one of those nice unambiguous ones, that the “exception” laws don’t leave room for anyway, which can get through to people, plus, y’know, it’s mine, and sometimes it’s powerful just to hear someone tell their own story). I talk about my reproductive choices openly and unashamedly, and encourage others to do the same. It’s not much, but it’s what I can do from here. If I were any good at being funny, I’d be funny about it, because that’s useful, too.

    I think framing it as a competition between marriage equality and reproductive rights skews both issues badly, and obscures things that are important. “What can we learn from the marriage equality movement?” is a very different thing to say than, “Marriage equality is way ahead of us! Why isn’t this movement like that one?” I think your ideas for the reproductive rights movement are terrific. I also think your framing of how to address things doesn’t do a lot of good, and erases some of the history and context of both movements.

  12. DonnaL
    December 20, 2011 at 1:36 am

    MadGastronomer: If there was such a thing as a state that had marriage equality but didn’t allow trans people to change their legal gender markers, that might be useful to some people, but as far as I know, none exist. LGB trans people, of course, get the same benefit from marriage equality that LGB cis people do — but most trans people aren’t LGB, anymore than most cis people are.

    I agree with you that employment, housing, and public accommodations protections (a trans-inclusive ENDA plus more) are, generally speaking, far more important to trans people than marriage equality. But not all of your statements are entirely accurate. For example, a heterosexual trans woman born and living in New York City, who wants to marry a man, is unquestionably helped by marriage equality if she hasn’t had GRS, since she would not be permitted to change her birth cetificate to female, and, therefore, would be unable to marry without marriage equality. In fact, although birth certificate changes are possible in 47 states, only one of them (if I recall correctly) presently permits such changes for trans women without genital surgery. And even if someone has had GRS, the birth certificate change process, at least in New York City, is unbelievably ridiculous and invasive in terms of the number of hoops that have to be jumped through; you practically need to submit a videotape of the surgery. So marriage equality very definitely helps both LGB and non-LGB trans people. And, by the way, although statistics about trans people are notoriously unreliable for a number of fairly obvious reasons, every study I’ve ever seen shows, at least for trans women, a significantly higher percentage who are LGB than among cis women. So, yes, I think it’s safe to say that marriage equality is definitely an LGBT issue, and it isn’t really fair to make a unilateral assertion to the contrary, whether or not you’re trans yourself. And Echo Zen shouldn’t have to apologize for referring to it as such.

  13. MadGastronomer
    December 20, 2011 at 3:00 am

    Donna, while you have a point, New York does not actually require a birth certificate to marry, although that is the most common way to satisfy that requirement (I can’t even figure out what it means by “census record”). Most states don’t require a birth certificate to marry (Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Montana, Rhode Island, Vermont {sort of: an individual clerk can require it}, and Wisconsin require certified birth certificates; another eight {including NY} make it difficult not to; everybody else has at least one other option), and a lot of people can’t produce birth certificates at all for various reasons. Some of the states that won’t change birth certificates (either without GRS or at all) will invalidate marriages of trans people even with changed birth certificates, if a trans person’s history becomes known (such as Kansas and Texas). Some states won’t uphold any marriage for a trans person if the person’s history is known. Certainly matters of documentation and recognition are a long-standing problem for trans people, which does give rise to marriage equality incidentally benefiting some trans people, but it’s not an inherently trans issue. The benefits of same-sex marriage for heterosexual trans people are a side effect of legal recognition problems that should be addressed directly, something that LGB communities are failing to support trans people on. It’s a workaround, not a solution. Both problems need to be fixed. Same sex marriage removes only one class of problems.

    The idea that all LGB issues also benefit trans people erases the ways in which LGB people fail to support or even actively work against trans issues, and erases the intersections of these issues, and so, yeah, I object to labeling all LGB issues as LGBT issues. I’m not saying that marriage equality does not affect straight trans people, I am saying that it is not an inherently trans issue, and that labeling things as trans issues when they are not about the difficulties of being trans in our society leads to erasure and further discrimination. Framing all LGB issues as trans issues can be used to pressure trans people into supporting issues that do not affect them personally by people who will not return that support.

    And I never said that the percentage of LGB trans people was the same as the percentage of LGB cis people. I said that in both cis and trans populations, LGB people are a minority. As far as I have ever read, reputable studies do indicate that fewer than half of trans women are lesbian or bi.

    For the record, I am cis, but these issues intimately concern me, because my fiancee is trans. We live in a state with everything-but-marriage domestic partnerships, no birth certificate requirement to change ID, and no birth certificate requirement to marry. Actually, my fiancee says, we could probably legally get married with her old passport, but the marriage could easily be invalidated because it no longer matches her legal name or gender. Not that we’d do that.

  14. saurus
    December 20, 2011 at 7:57 am

    Sure, commodification will save reproductive justice for an extremely narrow subset of women in a extreme narrow subset of situations, if that’s what you call “save” and if that’s what you call “justice”.

  15. Rhubarb
    December 20, 2011 at 11:07 am

    Once again, the good becomes the enemy of the perfect.

    Of course media images will overwhelmingly portray the most attractive, normative people from the largest demographic groups. That doesn’t mean that every woman won’t benefit from things like ending bogus “conscience” exceptions for pharmacists who refuse to carry BC and laws that aim to drive reproductive health facilities out of business. These are great things for everybody.

    Yet the whole project is suspect because it doesn’t include everybody in the Oppression Olympics medals ceremony. And people wonder why feminism doesn’t have as much of a political impact as evangelical Christianity – it’s the whole “circular firing squad” thing.

  16. December 20, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Rhubarb, with all due respect, this isn’t the good being the enemy of the perfect, but about the very *real* problem that the feminist and reproductive rights movement has with focusing on—and hence, being perceived as—a movement for young, white, middle-class-and-on-up women. The problem isn’t that the movements are focused on the largest demographic, but a very small one.

    I still call myself a feminist…and you know what folks–my folks, the people who are in my world(s), who share my identit(ies) say? “No you’re not.” No, because I don’t fit the template. No, because I’m not a white-collar professional. No, because I have no feminist credentials—no degree, no feminist travels, not the right kind of volunteer work, no connections, no background in theory, no feminist mentors to vouch for me. All I got is my shop-floor feminism, learned from union women (especially those in my family). I might as well add, “no, you’re not a bitch”, because forty years of really savvy media and image manipulation by the right wing has done a very effective job of character assassination of feminists; the face of feminism where I live is pretty much….Martha Stewart, but with unshaved armpits.

    And sure, you can talk about the dumb proles out here in the sticks being brainwashed—have at it. Nothing we haven’t heard before. But know this: the biggest reason feminism doesn’t have a pretty face out here is because it has *no presence* here. We are *already* not seen as a worthy commodity by institutions that claim to be allies.

    Let me be blunt. The feminist and reproductive rights movements are treading-water-to-failing because they are lifting a page from the Democratic Party playbook and abandoning the base in search of the tonier (and more fickle) “swing” set. First rule of organizing? Don’t alienate your natural base or allies. Another rule? Be prepared to meet people’s *immediate* needs. Not second-tier or third-tier needs. Another rule? LISTEN. Let people tell you what *their* needs are. Their triage may be different from yours, and is almost guaranteed to be if you have different identities and life situations.

    Maybe someone smarter than me can step in and explain how the nonprofit industrial complex has affected feminist and social justice movements; in my world of the building trades, we’d call it being “double-breasted”…having divided loyalties as a result of having a foot on each side of the fence (in the trades, a shop having a union and nonunion branch. In the nonprofit industrial complex, having to assuage wealthy donors and hence perpetuate the oppressions—usually passively, sometimes actively—they ostensibly are organized to fight against.

    Tellya what—just for shits and grins, google “PRIZM clusters”. That oughta be a good explanation as any as to why commodification won’t work.

    It’s easy to paint me and others offering critiques as playing the Oppression Olympics; it’s a lot harder to step into our perspective. My whole life I’ve been told by mainstream feminism that getting more women into positions of power in the current system will, in and of itself, fundamentally change the system. That women of privilege will behave differently than men of privilege. I have yet to see any evidence for that. Every benefit I have in my life was the result of *collective* action—mass movements. Mass meaning “every-damn-body”. (hell, even the white privilege I have is the result of organized effort by Sicilian and southern Italians to be recognized as white). Mass movements. Not appeals to individualism, not consumerism, not materialism. That’s not ideological purity—it’s just the facts. We really *aren’t* what we buy. We really *don’t* live in our heads, or isolated from the community around us. The rugged individual is a myth that needs killing.

    But please, go on. Keep seeking that Holy Grail of just the right media, just the right phrasing. It sure the hell beats being *evangelical* about feminism.

  17. Echo Zen
    December 20, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    As Athenia mentioned, I don’t know if commodification is the right word for what I’m suggesting, i.e. ways to boost the visibility of women’s reproductive experiences in the national dialogue. Technically my job is to effect policy change, but right now I’m focused on figuring out the best way to make our voices heard through traditional media outlets.

    I don’t know if there really is a “best” way, but most of the examples the article involve viral marketing and humour, like Rape Crisis Scotland’s PSA. Currently I’m collaborating with several organisations on a proof-of-concept campaign for rape awareness, using humour and cartoons to highlight the absurdity of rape culture. If it succeeds on launch, we’ll extend our messaging into other aspects of women’s safety, such as reproductive rights, IPV, etc. A lot of voters see sexual violence, reproductive rights, healthcare reform, etc as discrete issues, but they’re all cut out of the same fabric of women’s safety — an attack on any of these is an attack on women’s safety, period. Politically, rape seems like the safest issue (relatively speaking — there are still plenty of pro-rape politicians in the U.S.) from which to initiate a dialogue on women’s safety, and then to branch out into touchier areas. What are people’s thoughts on this? Are there better alternatives?

  18. Athenia
    December 20, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    I’ve always thought blogging was awesome, but then I was featured in one of Trixie Films videos on the NYC Slutwalk and I realized how different the event could be perceived visually rather than through blogging. So, I really do think videos, pictures, ads etc that change the dominate “narrative” of our lives is incredibly important.

  19. DouglasG
    December 22, 2011 at 8:33 am

    The way I understood it from the inside, LG(B) gains came about more because we were seen as such an easily tappable talent pool. At a time when the battlefield concerned nothing beyond such things as housing and employment, a few bright corporate people figured out that treating us (almost) like human beings would be a win all around. The corporation would attract and be able to select the cream of a previously overlooked crop (and, at least before other corporations caught on and began competing, they didn’t have to do all that much), we would be getting much more from the private sector than we could from the public, and above all we’d make such good worker bees (not only loyal, but with far fewer family demands on our time).

    Whether that’s more flattering than being viewed as desirable consumers is open to interpretation.

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