What’s a campus feminist to do about Pinky Promise?

On my way into the office today I saw the poster at left on the wall in my building.  One of my students notified me that she has seen a similar poster in her dormitory.

Since I didn’t know much about the organization, I consulted their  website:

Pinky Promise is…

A promise to honor God with your body and your life. To refuse to give your body to anyone that hasn’t paid the price for you called marriage. It’s a promise to stay pure before God in EVERY single way. It’s a promise that says, I won’t test the boundaries in my relationship to see how far I can push it sexually–but instead–I want God to have my heart.
 
It’s a promise to God that you will honor your marriage convenant [sic]. It’s saying that I promise not to step outside of my marriage, cheat on my spouse and that I’ll work through every issue.
Thanks for joining Pinky Promise. Find a group or start a group in your area, and lets encourage each other and build a bond between sisters in Christ.
Here’s my dilemma:  I understand the desire to reach out to all women, regardless of faith traditions.  However, I also share a lot of the concerns raised in this post by

“On the surface it seems to be teaching good values: value yourself, don’t cheat, love God. Yet, I don’t know where to begin.  The program seems to be teaching abstinence only sex education focused around the purity myth. According to this, you can love and value yourself, but only on the basis of your virginity.  This extends not only to how you view your own self worth, but how your family views you (as you are making a promise to your father-or other male relative) and worst of all how God sees you. Tying this organization into religion is what stuns me. I do not believe religion is an evil and even if I did this would not be the place to insert my own religious views. I bring religion into this dialogue because  in this instance religion is being used as a means of control to oppress women.

The religious aspect of virginity is all part of a power game by the male dominated religious leaders who read and interpret religious texts through an oppressive lens and then let their interpretations trickle down to those of their faith as the word of God.

At its core though, the Pinky Promise movement is just another way to deny women the right to own their sexuality. For a woman, sex is for making babies not for pleasure. For men it is just the opposite. Which brings me to the point that Pinky Promise is not against sex: if they were they would have both men and women pledge to be chaste. Instead this is just for women. Women having sex is apparently a scary thing. It is, according to such abstinence only pledges, the woman’s role to keep both her own desires under control (because she obviously has a lower sex drive than a man-not in fact true) and control the man’s desires as well. From this flawed logic, it is her fault if she has sex, or is raped because it is her worth on the line and her responsibility to keep herself  pure until marriage. Why this purity matters and why virginity is being used as a test of morality is never explained.

In addition, the entire organization only accounts for straight Christian girls. What about bisexuals? lesbians? If the logic is that women must be pure until marriage, what about those who can’t legally get married and where sex is considered to be something different than male-female intercourse? What about asexuals? By these ideas are we just eternally moral or is there a point where we become to old to stay the chaste virgin? What about Jews? Muslims? Buddhists? Hindus? Are we not all women and therefore all under this umbrella of purity?

There are too many unanswered questions. In addition Pinky Promise has a limited scope and is not fostering communication with God as they claim. They are instead communicating with the patriarchy to keep women uninformed about their sexuality and using the principles of Christianity to enforce this control.

I have written to Pinky Promise but they have not gotten back to me. I will write again. I’ll talk to the organization’s leaders on campus and open up a dialogue. I only ask that you speak out as well. Be informed and be proud of your sexuality. Women are not less sexual than men, no matter what lies we are told to keep us quiet and chaste.”

Opening up a dialogue sounds like a good idea.  The meeting was scheduled to be held at our campus Women’s Center but was cancelled because of Hurricane Sandy.   My student wrote to our Women’s Center director about this but hasn’t heard back yet.  Meanwhile, what do others think of this organization?

Update from Women’s Center Director:

Please know  the Center does not discriminate against women, the various views of women, we welcome all men and women to the Center. We encourage dialogue of opposing views and would be happy to engage you in dialogue with the facilitate for Pinky Promise.  We support and defend the Mission of the Center. We support and defend ” Our Doors are Open’ statement.

Mission

The Ruthe Boyea Women’s Center exists to provide resources, to advocate, to inform, and to support personal development. The Center offers a variety of services for and about women. We sponsor educational and cultural programs designed to promote gender equity, knowledge of women’s rights issues, leadership, and independence. We encourage understanding and cooperation among women of varied socio-economic groups, cultures, ethnic backgrounds, races and sexual orientations.  We welcome all women and men who enter our doors.

Our Doors Are Open
The Center is open to all of CCSU’s community, men and women. The Women’s Center values and celebrates the multiplicity of women’s lives; recognizes the intersections of gender, race, sexual orientation, economic status, and other significant aspects of individual and cultural identity; accepts responsibility for opposing injustice; and commits itself to service to the University and larger communities.

Women of all backgrounds can drop in and help one another grow towards personal effectiveness and independence.  We encourage understanding and coming together of women of varied cultures, races and ethnicities, as well as different sexual orientations, socio-economic groups and ages.  Our Center is for and about women so that both women and men are welcome to drop in and use our resources, attend activities or just hang out.”

Enough with the #mancession already

via the New York Times Magazine, cover story by Hanna Rosin, “Who Wears the Pants in This Economy?

Earlier this year, Bryce Covert at Next New Deal declared the end of the so-called “mancession” — i.e. the gap between male and female unemployment.  First a definition:

“he term itself was coined by AEI scholar Mark Perry. He was the first to give a name to a striking phenomenon during the recession (officially from 2007-2009): not only did employment tank in male-heavy industries, and not only did they therefore have elevated unemployment rates, but the gap between their unemployment rate and women’s was the largest in post-War record-keeping. This was particularly striking because before the recession — in the months from 2004 to 2007 — unemployment rates were about equal for the two sexes, and women’s even rose higher than men’s for some months. This gap between the two rates hit a peak in August of 2009 at 2.7 percent — men at that point had an 11 percent jobless rate, and women had 8.3. (The gap started closing after that point even as male unemployment rose — women just started catching up with them in the unemployment department.) To sum up, as Perry puts it, “the impact of job losses was considerably greater for men, since almost 6 million men lost their jobs, compared to only 2.64 million job losses for women. More than two out of every three jobs lost in 2008 and 2009 were held by men (68.5%), or alternatively it was also the case that 217 men lost their jobs for every 100 women who became unemployed in 2008 and 2009.”

He points out that much of this was related to the industries most affected by the recession. Construction and manufacturing went into freefall. He calculates that the largest job losses during the recession were in manufacturing — down by 14 percent — and construction — down by 20.2 percent. Men make up 71.2 and 87.5 percent of those industries, respectively. On the other hand, some industries where women dominate were doing well. Education and health services was up 4 percent, 74 percent female, and government jobs were up 2.25 percent, 57 percent female.”

In March of this year, an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center showed “men and women are now on par for unemployment rates, both standing at 7.7 percent. Mark it: the gender gap that had Perry, the media, and manhood so worried has completely evaporated.

On top of that, the supposedly recession proof, female-dominated industries are not faring as well. And the male dominated ones are starting to show signs of life. Construction is up 2.1 percent; manufacturing is up 2. Yet government jobs are down 1.2 percent, and that’s across the board — 1.5 percent at the federal level, 1.4 at state level, and 1.1 at the local level. Those government job losses are driving our current womancession. Job losses, which skewed male, have now turned into skewed job gains. Men had lost 6 million jobs to women’s 2.64 million during the recession, but now women have gained just eight percent of the 1.9 million jobs added in the recovery.

This painful economic period, even if it’s showing signs of improvement, is likely far from over. Men and women are both still hurting in huge numbers. But at least one thing has changed: we can stop calling this a mancession.”
Yet, one would never know this from the Times magazine article, which examines the town of Madison, Alabama, where male-dominated manufacturing jobs have all but disappeared, and historically “female” jobs in health, education, and social services have expanded.

The result:  “a nascent middle-class matriarchy,” in which women “pay the mortgage and the cable bills while the men try to find their place.”

I’m about to teach my first session of a course on the New Deal, so I’ve heard this tale of men “emasculated” by hard economic times. At that time, Norman Cousins had the immodest proposal that the way the end the Depression was to fire all the women, “who shouldn’t be working anyway,” and hire men in their place.  Some places of employment actually followed that advice: for example, the majority of public schools refused to hire married women as teachers, and many had a policy of firing women who married.  Yet, at that time, men were even more reluctant and/or unprepared to take on “women’s work” — which was even more poorly compensated than it is today.

One would think that times have changed enough that men in the 21st would be secure enough in their masculinity to seek work in the expanding “female” fields. According one man who was interviewed, one reason they don’t is because these jobs pay far less than they were accustomed to earning.  A more important reason, though, was  “We’re in the South . . .A man needs a strong, macho job. He’s not going to be a schoolteacher or a legal secretary or some beauty-shop queen. He’s got to be a man.”

Since the article only covered white, married, heterosexual couples I’m wondering how representative this is of the South, let alone the rest of the country.  Perhaps Rosin’s forthcoming book will look at a more diverse sample of the American people. Meanwhile, read Covert’s excellent response to Rosin’s other articles.

Signal Boost: Our Bodies, Our Votes Campaign

From Judy Norsigian:

Our Bodies Ourselves has just launched : OUR BODIES, OUR VOTES.

The goal of this campaign is to retain and restore women’s access to reproductive health care and rights, now under attack in almost every state across the country.

Please read our press release, which quotes both Dr. Marcia Angell, former editor-in-chief of The New England Journal of Medicine, and Dr. Timothy RB Johnson. Both are medical leaders who are deeply troubled by recent trends to undermine the provision of evidence-based reproductive health care and the doctor/patient relationship.

The Our Bodies, Our Votes campaign includes: 

* Our Bodies, Our Votes bumper stickers. Order stickers here with a donation to OBOS:  — only $10 for 3 stickers!

* OurBodiesOurVotes.com, with information on contraception and abortion, plus news and activist resources and free virtual stickers you can add to your blog or social media.

* OurBodiesOurVotes.Tumblr.com, where everyone can post and view photos of Our Bodies, Our Votes stickers appearing across the country.

I hope you will join us in spreading the word by forwarding this email to friends and colleagues who care about women’s access to reproductive health care, and by sharing the links with your networks. If you’re on Twitter, here’s the campaign hashtag: #obov2012

Finally, please make a donation to support our ongoing work to preserve access to reproductive health care.

Thanks, as always, for your support and for your own efforts to improve reproductive health care for all.

 

Best wishes,
Judy

P.S. To stay up to date with OBOS news, sign up here (with options about how often you will be contacted):

P.P.S.  As some of you may know already, the Library of Congress included “Our Bodies, Ourselves” in its new exhibition of Books That Shaped America, and Time magazine named the book one of the 100 best and most influential nonfiction English books written since 1923.  The 2011 edition has received critical acclaim and was selected by Library Journal as one of the eight best consumer health books of the year.

If you want to earmark a generous donation towards a new initiative to get this book into the hands of 10,000 young college-age students, please contact me directly. Thanks so much for your interest and support!

Judy Norsigian, Executive Director

Our Bodies Ourselves

5 Upland Rd, Suite 3

Cambridge, MA 02140

tel: 617-245-0200 x11  fax: 617-245-0201

Email:  judy@bwhbc.org

Website: www.ourbodiesourselves.org

Blog: www.ourbodiesourblog.org

Review of Leslie Reagan, Dangerous Pregnancies: Mothers, Disabilities, and Abortion in Modern America

via H-Disability

Leslie J. Reagan. Dangerous Pregnancies: Mothers, Disabilities, and Abortion in Modern America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010. xv + 372 pp. $27.50 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-520-25903-4.

Reviewed by Heather Munro Prescott (Central Connecticut State University)
Published on H-Disability (March, 2012)
Commissioned by Iain C. Hutchison

Prescott on Reagan

This book continues the compelling story of the history of abortion in the United States that Reagan began in her award-winning book, When Abortion Was a Crime (1998). The title Dangerous Pregnancies refers not to pregnancies that were dangerous to the lives or health of mothers, but to the “dangers” to home, family, and society posed by the birth of “defective” babies. Focusing on the responses to the German measles epidemic in the United States during the early 1960s, Reagan shows how fears of disability helped lend legitimacy to the abortion rights movement.

Reagan goes beyond her earlier work by linking the history of reproductive rights to two other fields of scholarship: the history of epidemics and infectious disease; and the history of representations of people with disabilities. She shows that in marked contrast to earlier epidemics, the German measles outbreak did not single out nonwhite or other stigmatized groups as sources of infection. Nevertheless, race was at the center of media representations of the disease. Responses to the epidemic highlighted how the birth of a disabled child wrecked havoc on the status of white, middle-class, heterosexual, nuclear families. The epidemic came closely after alarming reports about severe birth defects in infants born to women who had taken the sleeping pill thalidomide while pregnant. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had not approved the drug, some American women were able to obtain the drug from overseas. The story of Sherri Finkbine’s efforts to obtain an abortion after she discovered she had taken thalidomide while pregnant with her fifth child, helped transform attitudes towards abortion in the United States. During the pronatalist 1940s and 1950s, media coverage emphasized the deviant nature of abortion and of the women who sought these procedures. Finkbine’s story, along with that of other white, middle-class mothers who had contracted German measles while pregnant, transformed the image of abortion “from a shameful, thoughtless, and sick action to an ethical and responsible one” that protected families from the “burden” of raising a severely disabled child (p. 104).

Despite these changing attitudes towards abortion, significant barriers remained even for those who sought to terminate “dangerous pregnancies.” Reagan contrasts the cases of Barbara Stewart and Sandra Gleitman, who with their husbands filed “wrongful birth” cases against the hospitals that refused to provide abortions after the women had been exposed to German measles while pregnant. Both cases showed that hospital abortion committees were fickle and arbitrary. For the Stewarts, an African American couple, race posed an additional hurdle. While they had private health insurance, racial discrimination denied them access to physicians who had connections to hospital abortion review committees. By demonstrating the central role that race played in these deliberations, Reagan answers Chris Bell’s suggestion that disability studies scholars need to pay more attention to the experiences of “people of color.”

Reagan is less successful in showing how the German measles epidemic contributed to the emerging disability rights movement. She describes the work of “rubella parents”–most of whom were white and middle class–who fought for and won the right to public education for children with physical, sensory, and intellectual impairments. These parents were successful largely because rubella and its effects were not confined to the poor or to “people of color,” and because their arguments focused on the core middle-class value of access to education. Reagan also periodically mentions persons with congenital rubella syndrome and other disabilities, including those who objected to the “humane” and “merciful” reforms that made it easier for women to abort fetuses with birth defects. Reagan claims that even the suits filed by the Stewarts and Gleitmans reflected an aspect of this rights movement, since their aim was to get resources for their children. Yet Reagan underestimates the countervailing power of terms like “therapeutic abortion” and “wrongful birth” to reinforce prevailing beliefs that disability is a fate worse than death. Rubella immunization campaigns weakened the disability rights perspective even further. They used sentimental images of “pathetic” rubella children and played into popular notions of disability as a “tragedy” that could be prevented through universal vaccination against German measles.

Reagan shows how the rhetoric about “dangerous pregnancies” backfired during the 1980s and 1990s. Opponents of vaccination have seized on these same fears by alleging that vaccines cause autism, and that by refusing to vaccinate their children, they are saving themselves from the “heartbreak” of raising a disabled child. The discovery of fetal alcohol syndrome and other defects caused by environmental factors “erased” the history of women fighting for accurate information about potential threats to their babies and the right to abort “defective babies.” Public health campaigns by the March of Dimes and other organizations recast pregnant women themselves as risks to the unborn. Reagan rightly concludes that German measles acted as a “crucible for change” by prompting dialogue about reproductive rights, civil rights, and disability rights, but this change was incomplete. Abortion rights are increasingly under assault, and stigmatizing language about disability and misconceptions about persons with disabilities remain with us today.

If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the list discussion logs at: http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl.

Citation: Heather Munro Prescott. Review of Reagan, Leslie J., Dangerous Pregnancies: Mothers, Disabilities, and Abortion in Modern America. H-Disability, H-Net Reviews. March, 2012.
URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=33916

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Invigorated and Exhausted from American Association for the History of Medicine meeting

I got back from the annual meeting of the American Association for the History of Medicine meeting yesterday as as usual am bursting with ideas and buried in work.  So, this will be quickie overview with more reflection and analysis at a later date.

First, I’d like to report that my forthcoming book  (cover photo at left) is moving much closer to actually being out.  I received the page proofs about a week ago and am working on getting them back ASAP.  Unfortunately the editor decided not to have them available at the meeting because they aren’t corrected — but there’s always next year.  Hopefully they will be available at the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians next month.

Meanwhile, I got an opportunity to plug my book and establish myself as an authority on the “morning after pill” in an interview for a documentary by Caryn Hunt, President of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women.  It was a lot of fun and I wasn’t as nervous as I expected.  Also, I got a new suggestion for a doppelganger. Thanks,  I agree!

My presentation on The Pill at 50: Scientific Commemoration and the Politics of American Memory went very well and I had a substantial audience (at least 30) despite it being on first thing on the last day of the conference.  The reaction was enthusiastic (especially from this leading authority on the history of the Pill) so I’m planning to expand this and submit it to the Bulletin of the History of Medicine.

Since I’m teaching in a public history graduate program, and living in Connecticut, my “commemorative mania” will continue with some kind of commemorative event celebrating the 50th anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965 (which follows soon after my own half-century mark).  Not sure what this will be but the folks at Yale and Planned Parenthood are keen so looks like it will happen.  I also told the editor at Rutgers that I’m interested in doing a narrative history (as opposed to a legal history that uses Griswold as a lead-up to Roe v. Wade rather than an event in it’s own right).  As it turns out, a very distinguished senior historian of medicine and public health was one of the witnesses who testified.  It seems that the New Haven police was willing to shut down the clinic so that birth control advocates in the state could use this as a test case, but they needed evidence that the clinic was dispensing birth control.  This historian was a graduate student at Yale and was one of Dr. Buxton’s patients.  She volunteered to get the evidence (a tube of contraceptive jelly) and then went straight to the police department to turn in the incriminating evidence and give a statement.  When she blurted out that contraception was “women’s right”, the Irish cop asked her, “don’t you mean a married woman’s right?” What a story!

I heard lots a great papers and connect with all my history of medicine buddies.  However, work awaits so I’ll have to continue these conference report later (most likely much later since research papers and finals will be landing on my desk shortly).

Blogging for Emergency Contraception

via Back Up Your Birth Control.  Today is the 10th annual national day of action for Back Up Your Birth Control, a media campaign sponsored by the National Institute for Reproductive Health. I’ve agreed to blog to raise awareness about this.

Because I’m a shameless self-promoter, I’m also going to start with an update on my forthcoming book, The Morning After: A History of Emergency Contraception in the United States.  The page proofs will be arriving in a couple of weeks.  Meanwhile, here’s the blurb that will appear on the publisher’s website, catalog, and the book cover:

“Since 2006, when the “morning-after pill” Plan B was first sold over the counter, sales of emergency contraceptives have soared, becoming an $80 million industry in the United States and throughout the Western world. But emergency contraception is nothing new. It has a long and often contentious history as the subject of clashes not only between medical researchers and religious groups, but also between different factions of feminist health advocates.

The Morning After tells the story of emergency contraception in America from the 1960s to the present day and, more importantly, it tells the story of the women who have used it. Side-stepping simplistic readings of these women as either radical feminist trailblazers or guinea pigs for the pharmaceutical industry, medical historian Heather Munro Prescott offers a portrait of how ordinary women participated in the development and popularization of emergency contraception, bringing a groundbreaking technology into the mainstream with the potential to radically alter reproductive health practices.”

I had to stop somewhere, so the book shortchanges the most recent developments — especially the most recent efforts to use of social media to raise awareness of EC. [BTW, the Back Up Your Birth Control campaign has a Facebook page and you can find related posts on Twitter using #backitup and/or by following @nirhealth).

The use of the Web to promote EC originated in the early 1990s with the emergency contraception website at Princeton. The Back Up Your Birth Control Campaign began amidst the battle to get the FDA to approve Plan B as an over-the-counter drug.  What’s interesting to me as a historian is the use of graphic artist J. Howard Miller’s “We Can Do It” poster, which he created for Westinghouse under the sponsorship of War Production Board (this image should not be confused with the Norman Rockwell painting “Rosie the Riveter” that appeared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post May 29, 1943, and is still under copyright.  The Rockwell paiting was recently acquired by the Bentonville Museum in Arkansas, founded by Wal-mart heiress Alice Walton and the Walton Family Foundation — oh the irony!).  Personally, I like the Rockwell image better, but do you think the Waltons will allow anyone to use it without paying major $$ — not bloody likely!  “We Can Do It” does not have such copyright restrictions, so various groups use it freely.  (for more on these images and American popular culture, go here).  It’s become a feminist icon of female empowerment, but this article demonstrates that “during World War II the empowering rhetorical appeal of this Westinghouse image was circumscribed by the conditions of its use and by several other posters in its series.”

Returning to EC — the history of the various awareness campaigns over the years is fascinating but was nearly impossible to illustrate in the book because, like many of us, the organizations that created these images didn’t preserve them once they were no longer useful.  Others put them on their websites, then discarded the original files.  Then there’s the problem of finding the copyright holder and getting permission from him/her.  Here’s an image that I couldn’t use because there was no digital file that had a high enough resolution for reproduction — it also nicely sums up my frustrations with the whole process:

image courtesy of Canadian Federation for Sexual Health

So, here’s a recommendation for the Back Up Your Birth Control Campaign — back up your “born digital” materials and preserve your digital heritage!

Women’s historians and Dukes v. Wal-mart, or what we learned from the Sears case

image courtesy of @ACLU via twitpic

via New Deal 2.0. which in honor of women’s history month, has a series of posts on “the surprising story of how women became citizens — and how their economic lives have evolved along with their rights.” Yesterday’s post considers the oral arguments that will be made before the U.S. Supreme Court  in the Dukes v. Wal-mart Stores, Inc. case “that will determine the power of women — and all Americans — to stand up to employer abuses.

While I wait to see what the SCOTUS says in this case, I’ll reflect on another case involving a retail giant — Sears — that happened 25 years ago when I was just a wee Clio graduate student at Cornell.  In the Fall of 1986, the hot topic among those of use studying women’s history was the recently decided district court case, EEOC v. Sears, in which two prominent women’s historians, Rosalind Rosenberg  and Alice Kessler-Harris served as expert witnesses.  Rosenberg, testifying on behalf of Sears, argued  “Men and women differ in their expectations
concerning work, in their interests as to the types of jobs they prefer or the types of products they prefer to sell. . It iss naive to believe that the natural effect of these differences is evidence of discrimination by Sears.” In other words, the reason that men were in high paying commission sales jobs (e.g. automotive, appliances) was because women chose other areas to work.

Kessler-Harris countered, “What appear to be women’s choices, and what are characterized as women’s ‘interests’ are, in fact, heavily influenced by the opportunities for work made available to them . . . Where opportunity has existed, women have never failed to take the jobs offered. . . . Failure to find women in so-called non-traditionall jobs can thus only be interpreted as a consequence of employers’ unexamined attitudes or preferences, which phenomenon is the essence of discrimination.”

Unfortunately for the EEOC who filed on behalf of female employees, the court believed Rosenberg and declared that Sears did not discriminate based on sex.  As Ruth Milkman observed in her analysis of the case in Feminist Studies in 1986, “Historians, even feminist historians, frequently disagree with one another. But it is difficult to imagine a forum less tolerant of the nuanced, careful arguments in which historians delight than a courtroom.”

This may explain why, to my knowledge at least, there haven’t been any women’s historians speaking about the Dukes case.  Then again, maybe like me, they’re waiting to hear what happens with the Supremes.  Based on early reports, things don’t look encouraging.