War on Women Rally

War on Women Rally

Last Saturday I went to the War Against the War on Women Rally in Louisville, Ky. There were rallies in multiple cities across the country, which were organized by Unite Women. These rallies are mainly in response to the surge in conservative politicians attempting to roll back women’s rights and healthcare. Not only abortion rights are precarious, but also access to birth control and sex education are being framed as frivolous and unnecessary by mostly male politicians and pundits. It’s amazing and a bit disheartening that even in 2012 we are having to protest this nonsense.

Even so, I did have a fine time at the rally, meeting up with old friends and making some new friends.

While I was there I met some of my friends from my time as a Clinic Escort.

And I saw a friend I had met though the Atheist Women of Louisville group.

I also took the opportunity to do some atheist activism at the rally, wearing my American Atheists convention t-shirt and taking slips of paper with the information for Louisville Atheists and Freethinkers. In all, about four or five people expressed interest in discussing atheism and I handed them information. Maybe we will see some more new faces at the meetups.

Source: http://teampowerment.tumblr.com/

I was a bit nervous on the way there about being so open about my atheism at the rally, but I am glad I did. I’m not usually good at going up to complete strangers and striking up conversation, but this gave me a topic to start with. The first response I got was from a couple of younger women who got excited when they read the back of my shirt and asked if I’d heard of the Rational Response Squad and the Infidel Guy (I had). One of the volunteers at a table looked over my shirt and replied “I’m kind of an atheist too.” I also got to hear the story from another woman about how her daughter (now grown) had been called out by school administration in a Louisville high school for not standing for the Pledge of Allegiance. She was sent to the principle’s office and her mother called. The daughter’s reason? She was an atheist and didn’t agree with “under God” being in the pledge. The mother pointed out that this was her daughter’s right to expression, and the school administrators didn’t argue with her on this point. But they vaguely noted that there could be ‘consequences’ for such actions. Apparently these consequences never materialized in any real way besides her being sent to the principal’s office and having her mother called, as if she has started a fight or something similarly disorderly. How many such stories do we never hear about?

There were some speakers too, and I listened when I wasn’t busy talking to the attendees. Rep. John Yarmuth was there, though unfortunately I got there just as his speech was ending. I heard a talk by a representative of the Kentucky Coalition for Reproductive Choice, who spoke about why people of faith should support sex education and abortion rights. Cate Fosl was there from the University of Louisville and spoke about social activism and the Anne Braden Institute, which I had not heard of before but will now need to look into.

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The Vagina Monologues: My Thoughts

The Vagina Monologues: My Thoughts

The Vagina Monologues has been in production since 2001, the same year that I transferred my college career to the University of Louisville. I never got around to actually seeing UofL’s annual production of the play until this year. Last Friday in fact, and with my husband. Nevermind that I was a bit nervous about telling him I wanted to go see a show with the word “vagina” in the title. I was open to going by myself if he was not interested, but in the end (and after looking up a few reviews online) he decided to come with me.

The Vagina Monologues at UofL

I was not sure what to expect, even though I had the book. I’d first purchased the book about the same time the play came out, and when I took my single Women’s Studies class at UofL to help fill a requirement in my general education. Women in American Culture. Many ideas that were discussed in the class were very new to me at the time. Things like the way women are sexualized and infantilized in a lot of ads (often at the same time). It was my first exposure to feminist ideas, and it was such a departure from my accustomed mode of thinking that it made my head spin. I remember commenting on a story about how a college-age woman was raped at a college party that maybe she should have been more careful and not gotten drunk. And got jumped on for it, rightly, though I didn’t quite understand the problem at the time. Blaming the victim? Novel idea to me. That I ever made a comment like that amazes me.

I read the class materials with fascination. Stories of fat women, skinny, blacks, whites, Latinos, lesbians, transsexuals… Especially the latter two. I’d been indoctrinated with stories about how it was bad and a perversion of God’s plan to be gay or otherwise live outside the “normal” sexual binary system. I don’t think I’d thought about gays as real people until I read the stories. It’s hard, at least for me, to judge someone as alien and other once they have let you into their story. This interest is what lead me to purchase the book for The Vagina Monologues and read it.

It has been several years since I read the book, though as I watched the play I remembered a few bits and pieces from my reading. It had been so long since I’d read it that I went into the play not really still not knowing what to expect. And reading a transcript and seeing a performance are quite different things, as this experience reminded me. With a book you can skim or skip bits that make you uncomfortable, but when you are watching a play it’s more of a commitment to see the whole thing.

The V-day logo

With my scant memory of the book I didn’t know if this was going to be, as one reviewer put it, an embarrassing “moan fest” or if there would be man-bashing (especially with my husband there). I didn’t want to be made to feel scared, like a victim, like the world is in conspiracy against my personal fulfillment. Those old stereotypes of feminism still haunt me. The play had none of those things, and rather than being angry many of the monologues were actually raucously hilarious. The discussions covered some intense topics like genital mutilation and the use of rape as a weapon of war in the Congo, which were horrifying as they should be and at time made me want to sink down in my seat, but still I listened and let the descriptions wash over me. And even they were not angry, but intensely personal. Then there was the monologue about different types of moans which was the most hilarious of all even though I had worried it would be awkward and embarrassing. The women on stage recounted the responses the interviewees had given to questions like what their vagina’s would wear (which stretches my artistic imagination to the limit) and what it would say and what do they call it?

The most wonderful part to me is that I identified with a lot of the stories myself. Face it, the vagina is not something that gets a lot of press. I recall parts of my childhood and teen years when “down there” was a total enigma to me…I was told that a guy can get you pregnant if he puts his penis there but other than that I was not told much else. I first was exposed to the ideas of “clitoris” and “orgasm” though a sneakily read issue of Cosmo. I know I am not the only girl who has dealt with this guilty silence about her own sexuality. Why such taboo and secrecy about something we all share? Presentations like The Vagina Monologue help.

I’m glad I went to see it. Maybe I will go again next year.

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Observations of an atheist abortion clinic escort…

I hadn’t been in a couple of months, but yesterday I decided to get up early to escort at the clinic. Thursday was the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, so the issue of choice and personal freedom was on my mind. After not being there for a while the scene was especially eery, or maybe that was the fog from the river. It’s easy to forget about the gauntlet these women are forced to run in order to go to the doctor.

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Doing what I can

As anyone who has seen my tweets or Facebook page yesterday knows, I have added a new role to my personal resume. Yesterday, I got up at 6am and went down to the local abortion clinic and volunteered as a clinic escort.

I didn’t even know this opportunity existed until last Tuesday, when a lady at my Atheists and Freethinkers meetup spoke up about the situation at the clinic in Louisville. I sought her out after the meetup and talked about what was going on. I found out that every morning that the clinic is open, there are protesters standing outside the door harassing women who need the services provided within. And that there are a handful of people who regularly volunteer as escorts to help these women get though the gantlet and exercise their autonomy. So, I decided to get up early on Saturday and see for myself what was going on. The lady I meet at the meetup keeps a blog about the goings-on at the clinic, so if you want a good general idea of what I saw yesterday morning  Every Saturday Morning is a good place to start.

It was not until May 31 this year that I really got galvanized on the abortion rights issue. That was the day that Dr. Tiller, at the time one of only three doctors who perform late-term abortions in America, was murdered right in his church on Sunday morning. To be perfectly honest, I’d never even heard of the man before, nor had I known just how rare were doctors who provided late-term abortions.  I was actually very ambivalent about late-term abortion and whether it should be legal or not, until I read the stories of the women and the men who love them who went to Dr. Tiller for help. He knew the danger that he was constantly in, as previous attempts had been made on his life. I could not help but admire the man and the risk we was willing to take for women’s health and lives.

You can read and watch about Dr. Tiller and the lives he has touched here, and here, and here.

What I found particularly hateful and repugnant about this murder was the reactions and words of some of the leaders of the “pro-life” movement. I wrote a bit about that in this previous post, and the way I felt about it when I wrote that post has not changed.

So after all this, when I saw that I had this sort of opportunity to stand up for the rights of women, I had to stand up and take it. I’ve never felt so galvanized about anything in my whole life. It’s the bit I can do and I’m doing it!

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