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).
Disclaimer: When I’m not at school, I work in advertising. My mates say I do women’s advertising. Actually I work on healthcare ads for birth control access.
When I was a kid, grownups would tell me, “Only prostitutes need to be on birth control.” As I grew older, I saw these kinds of people being elected to office. By the time I came to university, they were openly waging war on women’s contraceptive rights, lecturing us on how rape survivors don’t need abortion access because you can’t get pregnant through “legitimate rape.”
Well, last week, two-thirds of women our age rose up and voted these creeps out of office – and elected a record number of women. Next year they’ll make up 20 percent of the Senate. One of them is openly lesbian. As a sibling to an LGBT sister, I almost cried when I heard that.
It’s no secret we still live in a male-dominated society. Men still make up 96 percent of CEOs, 83 percent of politicians, 70 percent of doctors. (No wonder my friends say finding a female gynecologist is difficult.) It’s also sort of hard to argue men need to be anymore visible than they already are.
Sometimes though, I realise we could use more men – lots more men, actually, binders full of men. And where we really need them is in the fight for sexual equality… and I’m not (just) talking about gay marriage or even equal pay for equal work, though we’re winning some of those fights. I’m talking about my sister’s right to say she enjoys being sexually active, without being slandered as a slut. I’m talking about parents who want to get toys for their girls, without having to buy something covered in pink. I’m talking about not being questioned over whether the person I might be in love with is promiscuous because ze identifies as bisexual.
Lately I’ve thought a lot about parenthood, not because I have a ton of experience with bearing other people’s children, but because my niece is a part of my life. And I realise that, as hard as it is to believe, she does listen to what I say, and remembers what I do – even if it doesn’t seem that way when I try teaching algebra to her.
It’s a bit like how, some years ago, my mates and I were student representatives at an annual conference for the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. One of the conference attendees seemed terribly delighted to see us there, and many months later she told me the reason she was so excited was because, as a person of colour, she didn’t really meet people who looked like herself at conferences. Even more rarely did she meet people who looked like herself… and were male-identified.
That changed my mind set. See, I got into birth control because, when I was younger and my family threw me out, my friends from Planned Parenthood took care of me. When I went off to university, I promised them I’d go into reproductive health. But that chance meeting at the conference made me realise our responsibilities are greater. Why male-identified advocates need to speak up isn’t because women need men to speak for them, but because men’s voices influence friends, and families.
Granted male allies aren’t the most dependable bunch. As recently as June, President Obama’s Director of Communication couldn’t give a straight answer when asked if the war on women was real, years after the GOP had begun its fanatical assault on women. And there was Obama’s performance at the first 2012 debate, where he failed to mention “woman” or “female”… at a debate on healthcare, unbelievably. By and large, women across the States were the ones fighting back as their male allies appeared flummoxed – none seemed willing to put in the resources or risks that Sandra Fluke, Cecile Richards and countless nameless advocates did, for months on end.
But it matters to my sister that, in a country where over half of men surveyed believe employers should be able to ban women from accessing birth control through their own health insurance, my mates and I lobby against these blatant violations of women’s rights. It matters when I tell my niece that hormones aren’t an excuse for boys to grope or harass her friends. It matters that she knows I’ll always judge her not by what she does between her legs, but by her goals, dreams and achievements.
Someday my niece and her friends will mature their voices, find their own allies. Until then I’ll continue pushing the feminist line, which an English teacher once summarised to me far better than I can, right before the elections. He said…
“The reason I vote is because I’m a father to a daughter. My number-one job is to protect her, to help her to have the most successful life possible. That means protecting her from obscene politicians who wish to violate her reproductive health, who want employers to be able to discriminate against her and pay her less, who want to rape her with a mandatory transvaginal ultrasound should she ever need an abortion.”
That’s what male visibility means to me too. Thank you to all of you who voted. You made the future safer for the people I love.
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