Dropping the F-Bomb

Amanda Shapiro, Resident Blogger (’15, Brooklyn Law School)

How many times has one of your friends started their sentence with “I’m not a feminist, but…”? If you answered “one,” that’s already too many. We [read: self-proclaimed feminists] hear the beginning of that sentence not just from our friends, but from celebrities, professors, acquaintances, and even blind dates. Sometimes, the qualifying “but” isn’t even thrown in; sometimes it’s the conclusory “I’m not a feminist.” A few weeks ago, a fellow female law student told me after class, “I would never call myself a feminist, but pregnancy discrimination has gotten out of control.” Does that mean feminism could finally warm its way into her heart if pregnancy discrimination hit absolute rock bottom? Now, to be fair, some people just refuse to ascribe any labels to themselves [read: hipsters]. But the most common “I am not a feminist” utterer isn’t someone who really doesn’t believe in feminism or hates labels, it’s someone who doesn’t want to be perceived as a feminist, or just does not understand it. I’ve been told “I can’t possibly be a feminist because I like pink and I like to get my nails done.” But when I pressed whether this person believed that there were social and cultural forces that prevented women from achieving equality on par with men, she answered with an unqualified “yes.” So what is it about the F-word that gives people the heebie-jeebies?

Embarassingly, I used to be a feminism-denier when I was an undergrad at Harvard. But there’s nothing quite like being surrounded by scary-rich young men of privilege to turn you into a practicing feminist. It didn’t help my anti-feminism either to learn that many of my friends had been survivors of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault; and apparently, it hasn’t gotten much better. Aside from the traditional, feminist groups on campus where I gained some much-needed perspective, there was also a growing coalition of conservative women. When one of these women (a board member of the campus republicans) was interviewed about her work, she proudly noted that she was a feminist. In response, one of her male, republican colleagues commented “that’s cute that she thinks that.” His comment gets at the source of the ire for the F-word: supposedly, it’s only reserved for certain women – women who don’t shave their armpits, who attend Lilith Fair, who go on diatribes about killing off the male race.

But the crux of feminism is that, as my Women and the Law professor reminds our class, there are many, many feminisms. They don’t all agree with each other. My feminism, for example, has been pulled in so many directions that it now feels like salt water taffy. But they all embrace the idea that something is wrong with the way our society treats women, and it needs fixing. If you can acknowledge that, then you are a feminist. And when you’re ready, I have an extra ticket to the Lilith Fair revival tour with your name on it.


Ruth Dawson, Resident Blogger (’12, Emory University School of Law)

Under a landmark California bill passed last year, individuals covered under another person’s insurance policy will soon be able to seek sensitive services such as birth control, STD tests, and mental health services, without worrying about the disclosure of these services to the policyholder. This person is usually a parent or spouse, a fact which often prevents people from using their insurance to get the medical care they need. Going into effect January 1, 2014, the Confidential Health Information Act (SB 138) closes a loophole in California law, where insurance plans unintentionally violate patients’ confidentiality by sending information about the services received home to the policyholder.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and is thus a particularly important time to be focusing on confidentiality of medical and mental health services. In addition to the common problem of young people heading to a free clinic for routine reproductive care and claiming no insurance (as many of my friends did instead of admitting to their parents that they needed care), this law will have a profound effect on survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and gender-based violence. Maintaining confidentiality is crucial for survivors of assault to feel comfortable and empowered to access the physical and psychological services they need, without fear of stigma, forced disclosure, or cruel yet common reactions, such as victim-blaming.

For this new law to have the wide-reaching impact advocates desire, we must create a smooth system for patients to request confidentiality, educate patients across the state that they have the option to request confidentiality, and train providers in how to effectively implement this system in service provision. The smoother the implementation of this bill, the more likely the new law will be used as a model for patient confidentiality of sensitive services around the nation.  I’m proud that California is making real strides to #keepitconfidential for all patients.

Lady Parts

Mangala Kanayson, Resident Blogger (’15, Emory University School of Law)

Dear LSRJ Blog Reader,

Lady Parts (LP) is a student-run production that highlights the issues surrounding gender, sexuality, and identity, as pertaining to women. Through a series of monologues, LP aims to educate, enlighten, and empower both women and the surrounding community in order to accept, advocate, and celebrate.

In 2013,  Emory Law Students for Reproductive Justice, in partnership with the corresponding student organizations at the Public Health and Medical Schools, brought Eve Ensler’s play “The Vagina Monologues” to the Emory Graduate community for the first time. This year the show has progressed toward new goals. In the interest of creating a more diverse and inclusive show this year’s production will be featuring monologues written by Emory students about the modern day triumphs and hardships of being a woman. We are particularly interested in exploring the intersectionality of other aspects of identity (age, race, orientation, class) with womanhood and how our experiences are both shared and different.

If you’re in the Atlanta area and interested in acting or would like to learn more about the production, please click here and get involved. The show is on March 20, 2014 at 7pm in Tull Auditorium. We look forward to seeing you in March! If you’d like to support us but are unable to do so in person, please consider donating to our beneficiary SPARK on behalf of LadyParts here.


It’s a “Football Thing”

Melissa Torres-Montoya, Resident Blogger (’11, University of California, Berkeley School of Law)

When a prosecutor announced in early December that now 2013 Hiesman Trophy winner, Jameis Winston, would not be charged with rape, his attorney took to Huffngton Post and described Winston and other athletes as “targets” for rape accusations.  Specifically, attorney Tim Jansen said,

“If anybody that knows this young man – he’s poised, polite, he’s the nicest young man and I believe he was targeted. These athletes are targeted by these young women. And if they don’t get what they want, or they expect more, a lot of times you see in these, date rape things, maybe they’re embarrassed, maybe they regret it, maybe he didn’t call her, it’s not the first time I’ve had a case like this with an athlete.”

The best defense is a good offense.  And here, Jansen, attempts to create a narrative that obscures the more prevalent issues that our society faces with rape, binge drinking, and sports culture.  I am not contesting that false rape accusations may occur and that such false accusations are problematic because they diminish the credibility of rape victims, I am arguing that the bigger issue here is not that athletes are targeted but that far more rapes occur then are reported or prosecuted.  That the day the charges were dropped, the media blasted out his attorney’s response to this instance of rape as male athletes at large being “targeted,” loses sight of how only 40% of rape gets reported to law enforcement, only 37% of reported cases are prosecuted, and only 18% of these cases end in a conviction.  These statistics indicate that rather than there being an epidemic of targeting men with false accusations, instead perpetrators of rape are often unlikely to face legal consequences for their actions

Moreover, if we are discussing targeting, I would argue that on college campuses it’s more common that inebriated young women are targeted for sexual intercourse — consensual or otherwise.  The culture of binge drinking leads to situations where one or even both parties of a sexual encounter lacked agency creating a problematic murkiness regarding consent of the encounter.  This case is no exception, whether or not Winston is guilty or innocent of rape, it is clear that drinking was involved and clouded the perceptions of the events of the night by all involved.   Facts also point to some seriously troubling sexual norms for those athletes – Winston’s teammate described going in and out of the room where Winston was having sex with the accuser to also have sex with her, citing such behavior as a “football thing” because she was acting like a “groupie type.”

In short, rather than spotlighting comments about athletes being “targeted” by rape allegations because a girl didn’t get a call back, the media should be exploring how we have a long way to go as a society so that all victims of rape can come forward and report this crime and sparking conversations about how problematic binge drinking and sports culture perpetuates this very critical issue.

Do you know about the Helms Amendment?

Candace Gibson, Resident Blogger (’12, University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law)

Many of us know about the Hyde Amendment, but do you know about the Helms Amendment?  The Helms Amendment was passed in 1973 to the Foreign Assistance Act, restricting abortion funding abroad. Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary – here are the top 5 things you need to know about how it hurts women globally.

  1. Both the Helms Amendment and the Hyde Amendment are restrictions on abortion care that deny women at home and abroad the care they need.  Both were passed soon after Roe v. Wade became law.
  2.  The Helms Amendment attaches restrictions on abortion care to overseas federal funding.  It not only withholds access to safe abortion services but it also denies women information on abortion care.  Millions of women rely on U.S. funded programs in their countries for their reproductive health care.
  3. The Helms Amendment contributes to 47,000 deaths each year because women are forced to seek unsafe abortion services.
  4. Unfortunately, the Helms Amendment has also negatively impacted efforts to increase the use of contraception for women who would like to begin a contraception regimen after seeking abortion services.  Studies show that women are more likely to use contraception following abortion care when family planning services are offered at the same facility where they received abortion services.  Due to the Helms Amendment, women must find family planning counseling and services at another facility, lessening their ability to receive contraception.
  5.  Latinas in the developing world are greatly affected by the Helms Amendment because it deincentivizes efforts to decriminalize or legalize abortion care.  For instance, 18 states in Mexico have passed constitutional amendments that declare the sanctity of life since conception.  In these 18 states, women will not be able to get the care they need because they are less likely to have providers who are not receiving U.S. funding.

For more information, check out this factsheet by our friends at Ipas.

The Rape Apologist

Amanda Shapiro, Resident Blogger (’15, Brooklyn Law School)

As a TA for a criminal law class this past semester, I witnessed some pretty scary comments about sexual assault from law students.  Those comments were the inspiration behind this post.

A “rape apologist” is someone who sympathizes with the rapist (The onion has summarized this affliction oh-so-well.)  Here’s how to identify and treat the symptoms of such a person:

  1. The raised eyebrow at the mention of rape. Treatment: pretend you were talking about rate…s of inflation in this country. Get out while you still can!
  2. Outlining his perfect rape apology scenario: “So things are getting hot and heavy between a girl and a guy. She decides she’s not into it, but she just lies there, and doesn’t say anything. And the guy still thinks it’s great, so he keeps going. How can you blame him when she doesn’t say anything?” Treatment: “Does that sound like good sex to any reasonable human being? You make sure your partner is properly lying like a frozen, dead fish, you don’t speak, and you just continue? LADIES: GET IN LINE, THIS GUY JUST CONTINUES.”
  3. The proper allocation of blame: “The ‘victim’ [read: air quotes] needs to ask what she was doing to cause her rape.” Treatment: “Sir, I believe you are speaking to personal responsibility. You know what’s a good barometer for personal responsibility? Simply asking your partner, ‘is this ok?’
  4. “Science” that conveniently apologizes for rape: “Besides, science says that men are biologically predisposed to commit rape. So, come on: science…” Treatment: “I believe you are referring to Thornhill and Palmer’s A Natural History of Rape, which can be summarized as: ‘male scorpionflies seem to rape, therefore male humans obviously need to rape.’ You should read Besteman and Gusterson’s book, Why America’s Top Pundits Are Wrong. They are leading anthropologists who de-bunk biological determinism. But I understand if you’re too busy reading… Reddit…?”

If you or someone you know suffers from rape apology, there is still hope. Call that person out on it today!

Gloria Steinem Knows Immigration Reform is a Woman’s Issue.

Christine Poquiz, Resident Blogger (’12, University of California, Davis School of Law)

It was a little surreal meeting Gloria Steinem, someone I’ve read and heard about and idolized my entire life. Even though she denies it, she IS a feminist icon.


Christine Poquiz [far right] with Gloria Steinem and NAPAWF staff

So it was definitely a fangirl moment hearing her talk about immigration reform at the National Press Club where, in 1972, she became its first female speaker. While Steinem was in Washington, D.C. to receive her Presidential Medal of Freedom,  she took the time to also speak at a We Belong Together event about the importance of comprehensive immigration reform as a feminist issue.

Joined by Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and activists sharing their personal stories, Steinem spoke up on why immigration is a critical feminist issue.  “The truth of the matter is, there is an unrealistic portrayal of who immigrants really are. 75 percent of all immigrants are women and children, while 51 percent of all undocumented workers are women… Throughout history, women were the ones who moved. We moved into husbands’ family homes, we moved for a better life, we moved for our children.” She noted that if we traced those paths of women moving, it would look like “lace across our globe,” and that we are all connected by that “lace.”

As a Reproductive Justice Fellow at the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), I’ve been working on comprehensive immigration reform policy for the past year.  People often ask me “how is immigration connected to reproductive justice?” To me, immigration is so clearly entrenched in reproductive justice that it’s hard for me to understand why people can’t see it. As Steinem mentioned, over 51% of immigrants are women. Our current immigration policies cater to men, devalue women’s work, deny women healthcare and basic labor protections, and separate families. Because of deportation fears, undocumented women are reluctant to report domestic abuse and other crimes against them.

One of the campaigns NAPAWF leads, in partnership with the National Domestic Worker’s Alliance, is the We Belong Together campaign (WBT). WBT highlights the struggles immigrant women face and is uplifting women’s voices and addressing what women need in immigration reform. WBT has also helped mobilize allies in the women’s movement who don’t traditionally focus on immigration, like Moms Rising and the National Council for Jewish Women. WBT momentum has been escalating the past year – from advocacy Hill visits to Senate hearings for immigrant women to mass civil disobediences in front of Congress. The Gloria event last week is a perfect illustration of how WBT brings together unexpected allies.

Senator Hirono, who has been our strongest advocate for women in immigration reform, spoke about her own personal experiences as an Asian woman, and her continuing struggle to speak out and push back against gendered expectations that make us uncomfortable with calling attention to ourselves. Everyday she tells herself, “I’m going to say something!” (I will explore this further in another blog post). During this critical debate on immigration reform, women have been stepping up and speaking out, and we need to continue to do so and urge our sisters to do so. Immigration is a woman’s issue. 

While, with just 10 legislative days left in the year, immigration reform seems a little beyond our grasp, these amazing women fueled my motivation, and the motivation of the hundreds of people watching, to get our broken immigration system fixed and make sure women aren’t left out.


Taking the Morality out of Abstinence

Mangala Kanayson, Resident Blogger (’15, Emory University School of Law)

In our quest to destroy the virgin/whore dichotomy by de-vilifying those who do not conform to or believe in the idea that abstinence equates with inherent moral worth, we may inadvertently alienate those who do happen to conform to (but not necessarily believe in) this ideal. This presents the danger of continuing to play into the dichotomy while simply switching the moral values assigned to each role instead of destroying both roles completely and allowing women to assign moral worth to themselves on their own terms.

Perhaps because abstinence is so often considered an ineffectual waiting period rather than a tool (like a condom or an HPV vaccine) that one uses to acquire and maintain a level of security while achieving one’s goals, it is easily glossed over in conversations about sexual health and as a result is presented as a non-option for “normal” and “sexually healthy” individuals.

One harsh result of this inadvertent oversight is that aside from reiterating the media’s insistence that having sex must be our primary concern (billboards in a major city or ten minutes watching television will confirm this), it teaches those who have ever had a previous sexual encounter, whether consensual or not, that continued sexual activity is always the healthy course of action moving forward. Reclaiming one’s sexuality in the case of rape or other sexual trauma takes various forms as unique as the individual doing the reclaiming, but here the dismissal of abstinence as a valid and affirming decision actually limits the choices of survivors.

As much as we want to be sex-positive, we must not forget to affirm the importance of choice. The type of birth control a person chooses to use should not define her worth as a person, and the decision not to have sex should be just as validated as the decision to be sexually active. It’s high time we stopped aiming for extremes and began focusing on aligning in the center, away from competing notions of sexual liberation versus sexual repression. Let’s take the morality out of abstinence.

Django Rechained

Rosie Wang, Resident Blogger (’14, Columbia Law School)

Going into the midnight premiere of Django Unchained, the only real context I had was that (1) It was a Quentin Tarantino movie and (2) in Spike Lee’s opinion, it was racist. Coming out of it, I thought, “Wow, that was breathtakingly racist.” And not because of the copious use of racial slurs (which is what Mr. Lee objected to).

There’s something much more subtle and insidious in it’s portrayal of slavery: It adopts wholesale and without irony some of the worst plantation tropes and erases and reinterprets the historical narrative of black women’s lack of reproductive autonomy.

In Django Unchained, a German bounty hunter frees a slave, Django and partners up with him in capturing criminals. Django is dedicated to finding and rescuing his wife Hildy, who now belongs to a plantation owner who has male slaves killing each other for sport. It’s supposed to be okay for Tarantino to write and tell this story because it is a revenge fantasy of slaves rising up against their masters and thus subversive and empowering. However, there is a lot that goes wrong in the execution of this idea.

The black body is on sensationalistic display in a way that no white body equivalently is. Hildy is put in the “hot box” for trying to run away, and has water splashed over her nude body when she is released. Django is suspended upside down, naked and about to be castrated after his true intentions to save his wife are revealed.  Nearly naked black men fighting to death appear on screen multiple times. These are fraught images because the institution of slavery viewed black women’s bodies as  open for sexual consumption and black men’s bodies as threatening and open for torture. The way Django Unchained offers images of naked black bodies for visual consumption is exploitative and revels in the morbidity of the scenes, rather than aiming for historical accuracy.

With no historical background knowledge, someone watching the first scene depicting a plantation might think that a black woman’s life under slavery consisted of swinging on oak trees in hoop skirts – as long as she didn’t try to escape. In reality, coerced reproduction and rape is the way that slavery was sustained and slave owners’ wealth multiplied after the 1807 ban on the slave trade. The monetary worth of slave women being auctioned was determined by speculations on her reproductive capacity. Slave owners would pair their slaves with multiple partners and force them to engage in sexual activity without regard for any person’s consent. Slave women were especially vulnerable to sexual assault by their masters and the resulting children from such rapes were targets of violence by the master’s wife.

Harriet Jacob’s narrative of her own experience, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl describes her 55 year old master beginning sexual advance on her when she was 15. She eventually forms a relationship and has two children with another white man as the only method for escaping him. Children were often sold away from their mothers, dashing any potential of forming family bonds. Hildy is 27, and some mention is made of her role as a sex worker, but the very real reproductive consequences are never addressed. The legacy of all this is an entrenched distrust of the medical system among many black women which leads to poor health outcomes and the stereotype of not being able to be trusted to make their own reproductive decisions.

Who decides? Reproductive Justice advocates think you should

Elisabeth Smith, Resident Blogger (’14, University of Washington School of Law)

On Saturday, February 2nd, my LSRJ chapter hosted a conference titled “Reproductive Justice: Meta Rights and Milestones.” In the process of organizing the conference, I’ve thought a lot about RJ’s meta rights: the right to have a child; the right not to have a child; and the right to parent the children you have with dignity, free from violence and oppression. Two recent news stories demonstrated how some people with privilege have attempted to limit those rights by ridiculously redefining them.

I’m sure you’ve all heard about the New Mexico GOP state representative, Cathrynn Brown, who introduced a bill last week that would bar abortions for rape victims. How you ask? Well, by making it a felony for women who become pregnant as the result of rape to have an abortion because an abortion is, by the bill’s definition, evidence tampering.


When this story went viral, the esteemed representative released a mind-twister of a statement:“House Bill 206 was never intended to punish or criminalize rape victims. It’s intent was solely to deter rape and cases of incest. The rapist–not the victim– would be charged with tampering of evidence.”

So, the rapist whose assault “created” the evidence would also be charged with tampering with that evidence if his victim chose not to have a child? Hmmm. Try substituting another crime into this scenario if you want to really see how ridiculous it is.

Just over the border in Colorado, another story emerged. As a defense to a medical malpractice suit, lawyers for St. Thomas More hospital, a Catholic hospital in Cañon City, Colorado, argued that a fetus is not a person.  The hospital is run by Catholic Health Initiatives, a national chain that follows the Ethical and Religious Directives of the Catholic Church authored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Part IV of the directives state “The Church’s defense of life encompasses the unborn and the care of women and their children during and after pregnancy. [at p23] Many people have crowed about the hypocrisy of championing the legal argument that a fetus is not a person while at the same time prohibiting abortion and contraception on the theory that life begins at conception.

In New Mexico, a fetus becomes evidence and at Catholic hospitals following the bishops’ directives, a fetus is a fetus in cases of medical malpractice, but not when someone would like access to contraceptives or abortion. In such cases, your ability to decide how and when to have a child or how to grieve for lives that you anticipated welcoming is interpreted through the prism of someone else’s ideology and whether its convenient for them to demonstrate some consistency.

Those who oppose the right to have an abortion need to demonstrate integrity to their position. Abortion is not felony “evidence tampering” and if life begins at conception, it does so even when money is at stake.