How Well-Intentioned Public Health Campaigns Can Wind Up Shaming Women [#quickhit: link]

We can all agree that fetal alcohol syndrome is a tragedy. But although American public awareness campaigns about the dangers of drinking while pregnant have good intentions at heart, recent media initiatives have deployed tactics that shame moms while ignoring bigger issues. Instead of helping improve the lives of women and kids, these public action campaigns veer into borderline Handmaid’s Tale territory.

Because addressing each and every fetal alcohol syndrome awareness organization state by state would be a book-length endeavor, for the purposes of this article I’m going to focus on a nationwide group, the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and the organization in my own state, the Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

For a good example of these campaigns’ paternalistic rhetoric, there is this post from the Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. which repeatedly refers to “women of child-bearing age,” be they “pregnant or not-yet-pregnant.” Being not and never-will-be is not an option, apparently. The organization advises healthcare providers to ask “all women of childbearing age… every woman, every time” about their drinking habits. This is the type of attitude that leads to the sorry scenario in which a non-pregnant patient goes to the doctor for an issue concerning her own health and ends up getting grilled about her lifestyle over the prospective well-being of a hypothetical fetus, regardless of how likely or willing she would be to conceive one and carry it to term. (It has happened to me, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it has happened to you, too.)

Rest: Bitch Media.

“For 43 years the only nipples exposed in mainstream media have been those attached to the large firm breasts of teenagers…

“For 43 years the only nipples exposed in mainstream media have been those attached to the large firm breasts of teenagers and young women displaying them provocatively on Page 3 of the Sun, for the sole purpose of male sexual titillation. Meanwhile, breast-feeding in public has remained taboo.”

[...]

“We tend only to see nipples when it’s for men’s sexual pleasure…it’s quite incredible really how this part of the female body has been sexualised and commodified in this way for men – to the extent that showing pictures of nipples for any other reason, namely the most natural thing in the world, breastfeeding, are censored.”

Essentially, it’s all about marketing: sexy tits have had decades of hard sell, usurping millennia of their quietly useful function as milky mammaries.

Stephanie Davies-Arai and Lucy-Ann Holmes on Shock news: Nipples feed babies!

Sunday feminist roundup (6th April 2014)

- In Brief: American school district preaches sexually active girls are like ‘dirty chocolate’ (lipmag)

- “Why doesn’t she just leave him?”: The result of false narratives on women’s lives (everydayvictimblaming)

- Consent in Institutional Sexism (everydayvictimblaming)

- Study suggests police systematically undercount rape reports (feministing)

- A Bechdel Test for Philosophy Papers (feministphilosophers)

- Womb with a View: Bounty – I’ve got my best “fuck-off face” ready. (feministtimes)

- What Does a Feminist Art Show Look Like in Russia? (bitchmagazine)

- Is This The End of ‘Lads Mags’? (tokenfeminist)

- Sluts and geeks: ‘widespread’ sexism in student club promotion (theguardian)

- How Convenient (fanniesroom)

- Girls weigh in on “bossy” (feministe)

- Cultural Femincide?! What’s that? by @schoolsexism (aroomofourown)

And the best of the quickhits this week:

 

American women like birth control and don’t think companies have right to trample on people’s freedoms

On feministing:

As the Supreme Court takes up the challenges to Obamacare’s contraception coverage mandate today, here are a few more numbers to add to this infographic from Ultraviolet.

According to a new poll conducted on behalf of a few reproductive rights organizations, 68 percent of female voters firmly reject Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood’s argument, saying companies shouldn’t be allowed refuse to cover contraception in their health plans — and more than half disagree strongly. Eighty-four percent agree that the choice about using birth control should be a personal decision and a woman’s boss should not be able to interfere with it. 

The poll shows that support for no-copay birth control coverage is strong – and non-partisan. A huge 81 percent of respondents said they agree with the contraception mandate, including 92 percent of Democrats, 83 percent of independents, 63 percent of Republicans, and 79 percent of Catholics. [Rest.]

#nomakeupselfie You will have seen them

#nomakeupselfie

You will have seen them. They’ve been viral over the weekend. In valiant acts of bravery and generosity, women everywhere have been posting (dark, out of focus and grainy) photographs of themselves WITHOUT MAKE UP. But never fear, for these drastic, selfless acts are all for a good cause: raising awareness and (apparently) money for breast cancer.

Even though I’m all for raising awareness and generating discussion around women’s health issues, I’m in the critical camp when it comes to social media awareness-raising and charity worship. While other cynics are criticising the #nomakeupselfie crusade because they see it as little more than narcissism thinly veiled behind slacktivism, I take issue with the concept on radical feminist grounds. I don’t disagree with selfies; you can rock that arm-dislocating, mirror-angling feat of exhibitionism — I’m not going to stop you. What I disagree with is the concept that images of women in their plain state are subversive, and can be used as a radical, attention-drawing act of awareness-raising.

I cannot participate in this current trend, even if I wanted to, because all my selfies are #nomakeupselfies. Having never worn makeup, the #nomakeupselfie trend excludes women like me, and seems to imply and reinforce heteronormative gender roles and modes of embodiment.

What this has highlighted for me is the extent to which makeup is constructed as synonymous with femininity in our culture. If the concept of an image of a woman not wearing makeup on your news feed is enough to make you look twice, and then become aware of the gravity of breast cancer, it signifies just how normalised makeup is, and by extension, the abnormality of the plain faced woman. [Rest.]

Birth Control Doesn’t Encourage Risky Sex. Someone Tell the GOP

Birth Control Doesn’t Encourage Risky Sex. Someone Tell the GOP

Page 3 vs breast cancer: whose side are YOU on?

Do you like Page 3? Or do you hate breasts and want them to have cancer? That is the dilemma that the Sun issues on today’s front page, where the paper announces a collaboration with the charity Coppafeel to promote self-screening among young women. The initiative is called Check ’Em Tuesday and it’s not so much a public health initiative as a war: according to the headline, it’s “PAGE 3 V BREAST CANCER”. So which side are you on?

It’s very sweet of the Sun to take an interest in my boobs. In fact, it’s downright incredible, since my boobs are basically anathema to Page 3: they’re had-a-couple-of-babies, been-through-a-few-years-of-breastfeeding, gained-and-lost-the-odd-cup-size, attached-to-a-30-something-feminist boobs. I mean, I like them a lot. We have good time together. But Sarah, 32, from Bath is not likely to make a topless visitation to the newsagents soon, or indeed ever (unless the Sun decides to give me the Clare Short treatment).

I don’t want to sound cynical, but consider this: the Sun’s concern for my rack may not be fully sincere. Page 3 is under pressure. The No More Page 3 petition has over 130,000 signatures, and there’s a growing feeling that a topless teen is not a good use of a page of newsprint. However much the Sun and its defenders want to cast Page 3 as a cheeky bit of fun or a charming Fleet Street tradition, women are taking a second look at it and coming to the conclusion that, actually, this is some sexist bullshit. [Rest.]

Protect Our Sisters From FGM This International Women’s Day

March 8th is International Women’s Day, yet we still have A LOT to get done before we can confidently say that women around the world are receiving equal rights. In fact, there is a war against the pride and beauty of women’s genitals going on right now — the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). You can learn more and sign a petition to help end this horrifying practice here. [Rest.]

Breast cancer awareness should be much more than tits out for the lads

Breast cancer awareness should be much more than tits out for the lads

In 1992 when I was 20 my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her own mother died in 1986 and her mother was also killed by it. For two years I watched her fight, after she had a double mastectomy we soon learned that her cancer was terminal and treatment would be palliative only but she was determined to live as long as she could and as well as she could. We went through some dark times, when she was hunched over the toilet bowl after another round of chemotherapy, when she reacted badly to the antiemetic drugs, when she cried at the thought of leaving us. It wasn’t all awful though, she had a wicked sense of humour and we laughed a lot during those two years, people who knew her will remember somebody who was a positive force and an inspiration and comfort to other cancer sufferers.

She died in 1994 aged just 42 years. I am now 41 and so have lived most of my adult life without a mother. With my family history I’ve always been aware of my own risk and last year had my first mammogram which was thankfully clear but I’ve been told I should have them yearly. [Rest.]

When They Imagine Clothes For Models, Here’s What Actual Women Would Have To Look Like

When They Imagine Clothes For Models, Here’s What Actual Women Would Have To Look Like (upworthy)

A new ad campaign warning of the dangers of anorexia produced these evocative photos of what a real woman would look like if the sketches were representative of real life. The models themselves are Photoshopped but nonetheless are a reminder of the dangers posed by unrealistic expectations of beauty promoted throughout our culture.

The pictures are powerful, no doubt, but the implication that one can say “no to anorexia” is problematic. That’s a very worrying assumption that eating disorders are simple choices rather than complex socio-psychological and physical conditions?

“Every Saturday morning, I volunteer as a clinic escort at an abortion clinic

Every Saturday morning, I volunteer as a clinic escort at an abortion clinic in New Jersey. I’ve been called every name I can possibly think of: murderer, baby killer, “deathscort,” even a “stuck-up bitch.” I’ve been told I’m going to Hell, that I have a wicked heart, that I am an evil woman. I have even been sexually harassed by a male protester. But no matter what, I do not respond. None of us respond. We don’t even make eye contact with the protesters. We have learned to tune it out, more or less. But when these horrific insults are hurled at patients, I won’t lie: It sometimes becomes difficult to bear.

- Lauren Rankin, “Soundtrack for Abortion Clinic Escort: Lies and Vituperation With a Side of Prayer” (via truth-out)

Breast cancer isn’t sexy. Nipnominate’s cleavage shots trivialise a devastating illness

[…]

But to me there’s something offensive about seeing pictures of healthy women in push-up bras posting cleavage shots to support breast cancer sufferers. Breast cancer is a devastating illness. It isn’t sexy. Attempting to “fight” it with amateur glamour shots is an exercise in narcissism, and trivialises a serious medical matter. The model Brandy Brewer was praised for lending her support to the campaign and introducing a considerable number of Twitter followers to the fundraising effort, but the lacy bra, lip gloss and open-mouthed expression on her selfie seems to say “Hello boys”, not “I’m here for the girls”.

Women who haven’t suffered from a debilitating illness, but claim that a sexy selfie is a good way to boost their body confidence, need to think hard about their motives. From where I’m standing it doesn’t look like a show of support, but an attempt to titillate. If I’d had a mastectomy, I wouldn’t feel comforted or supported if a group of attractive, healthy women tweeted pictures of their bouncing breasts to boost the profile of breast cancer care. I’d feel alienated and angry. We tacitly treat breasts as the ultimate feminine attribute, which makes it all the more traumatic and bewildering if you lose them. If we’re going to help breast cancer survivors, we need to challenge and criticise this way of thinking. Why are we celebrating breasts, when we should be celebrating women?

If we’re going to raise awareness of the issues surrounding breast cancer, we really don’t need to start by raising awareness of breasts. They’re everywhere. You can see them on TV in the afternoon, and in some of our national newspapers. The problem is that almost all the breasts on display are ornamental. They’re being offered up for someone else to look at. We still can’t make our minds up about whether or not it’s OK to breastfeed in public, but we’ve become used to constantly seeing breasts, or the suggestion of breasts, in a sexual context. The trouble with nipnominate is that it isn’t showing breasts and bodies in a revolutionary or new way. [Rest.]

Breast cancer isn’t sexy. Nipnominate’s cleavage shots trivialise a devastating illness

Woman Loses 100 Friends After Posting Beautiful Post-Surgery Photos On Facebook [NSFW]

On her 32nd birthday, Beth Whaanga was diagnosed with breast cancer; valiantly fighting back against the illness, she asked her friend, the photographer Nadia Masot, to take portraits of her nude body after a double mastectomy and hysterectomy as part of Under the Red Dress, a project designed to spread awareness about regular breast and pectoral examination. The beautiful series of images features Whaanga, a mother of four, gazing fixedly at the camera, acknowledging her scars, and proudly exposing her resilient body. [Rest.]

“Under the ideology of austerity women are facing what is termed by the Fawcett society

Under the ideology of austerity women are facing what is termed by the Fawcett society as ‘Triple Jeopardy’. That is: cuts to vital frontline services, job cuts in the public sector where two-thirds of jobs are held by women and benefit cuts. Under the current government maternity and paternity pay, which of course is largely taken by women, will be frozen from 2015 for five years which means a huge cut in real terms.1 The gender pay gap, already 19.6% among all workers or £5000 a year on average, increased this year for the first time in five years. Additionally 62% of legal aid recipients are women and forthcoming cuts mean that 361,200 women will lose access to legal aid. Violence against Women services which include centres for the victims of sexual and domestic abuse were cut 31% between 2010 and 2012.4 The effect of these cuts are particularly pronounced where race intersects with gender. A report by academics at the University of Warwick estimates that unemployment amongst Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic women has risen in Coventry by 74.4% compared to 30.5% among white women between 2009 and 2013. To anybody who believes these “savings” to be a necessity I would point out that George Osbourne still manages to find enough money in the budget to grant a £3 billion annual tax break to the oil and gas industry.

Austerity is a Feminist Issue (belle-jar)

2013 is supposed to have been an amazing year for feminism. The increasing coverage of feminist concerns in mainstream media and the activism of campaigns like Everyday Sexism, No More Page 3 and the furore around getting Jane Austen onto £10 notes has been a welcome reminder both of how much support the feminist movement enjoys and of how much more work there is to do. Yet so many of the campaigns and controversies debated this year relating to feminism have been obsessed with image, representation and appearance. Transfixed by its own reflection, the media and many feminists within it seem to believe that Page 3 and Miley Cyrus’ twerking represent the most pressing obstacles to equality for women.

Although the objectification of women in visual culture is worth fighting against, what these images show is merely a mirror of women’s unequal position within our society. Women do not occupy many positions of power, women are under-represented in parliament, and women are paid less than men for the same jobs. Undervalued economically, side-lined politically and belittled socially it is little wonder that many men can’t see what harm there is in having a semi-naked near-teen in a national newspaper. Society’s not giving the message women are good for much else.

Part of the complacency that seems to characterise feminist apathy towards campaigning on political and economic issues seems to be grounded in one of the most pernicious myths of neoliberalism, namely that society is always progressing and improving. This fallacious belief that the gender pay gap will close itself, that women will gradually be more and more represented in positions of power and that, as we become more tolerant and open, domestic and sexual violence will fade away is incredibly dangerous. Austerity, and here I mean the ideology of permanent austerity that David Cameron pontificated about from his gold throne poses the greatest threat to feminism of our generation. With £41 billion of cuts to public services and welfare planned in spite of growing GDP, it is clear now more than ever that austerity and the permanent reduction of the state is a political belief and not the necessity Cameron originally claimed. [Rest.]

Did You See How Republicans Tried to Tamper With Women’s Health Insurance…

Where are the women? That’s the question I asked nearly two years ago when an all-male panel testified to the House Oversight Committee on restricting women’s access to contraception. And it’s the question I asked again at the start of this year when another all-male panel green-lighted a bill to restrict women’s access to constitutionally protected abortions.

For years, Republicans have tried to get between a woman and her doctor. Now they’re trying to come between a woman and her health insurance company.

This week, the House of Representatives voted 227 to 188 to approve the deceptively named “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” (H.R. 7). Just one Republican, Congressman Richard Hanna, joined Democrats in voting against the bill, even though the law already says no taxpayer dollars can be used to pay for abortions.

Access to abortion is, unfortunately, already denied to women on Medicaid and restricted for federal employees, military personnel, Native American women, poor residents of the District of Columbia and federal prisoners due to the Hyde Amendment. H.R. 7 has nothing to do with taxpayer funding and everything to do with restricting abortion access even further. [Rest.]

The Pope’s beliefs about abortion will become relevant the day the Popebecomes pregnant

Yes. On newstatesman:

Oh, Pope Francis. He was doing so well. For almost a year, liberals all over the world allowed themselves to believe that this Pope was different, that this Pope was more interested in the loving-each-other aspects of Christianity than in stigmatising contraception and shaming homosexuals. Then, in his annual speech on the state of the world, Jorge Mario Bergoglio gave a resounding statement against sexual freedom and abortion rights, reminding us all that whatever else the Pope is, he is still the head of the Catholic Church. In other news, bears – despite a massive global rebranding effort – still shit in the woods.

Say what you like about the last guy, but at least he didn’t pretend to be progressive. Right now, I find myself actually missing Benedict XVI, with his snazzy red shoes and squinty evil grin. If you’re going to be Pope, you might as well do it properly. If you’ve waited your whole life to be despotic commander with millions of followers, you should at least enjoy yourself. [Rest.]

Sunday feminist roundup (22nd December 2013)

I’m looking forward to a long break over the festive. Hope you are too. x

- The London clinic fighting back against female genital mutilation (newstatesman)

- A year after the Delhi gang-rape, more must be done to stop abuse of women (commentisfree)

- Rochdale child grooming report should be a wake-up call for police (commentisfree)

- The Politics of Gender and the Policing of Sexuality in Turkey (criticallegalthinking)

- FWSA Blog » Prostitution, Pornography and the Illusion of ‘Choice’ (fwsablog)

- Virginity Is A Social Construct (bellejar)

- Stars in court: Some stellar reputations are shatterproof (independent) – on the slating that Nigella has received for a bit of coke and the apathy towards the horrific allegations made towards R Kelly.

- Mi bombo es mío: feminism, culture and choice (glosswirch) – on abortion in Spain.

- Domestic abuse: half a million victims ‘too terrified to come forward’ (theguardian)

Older women rally to save the NHS in the northwest

On the feministtimes:

“The NHS is one of the best things about this country and this government is going to ruin it,” says Sue Richardson, one of a growing number of women who have become active in campaigns to oppose the privatisation of the NHS. In her 60s and a publisher of local history pamphlets, she reflects the new intake into one of the most vibrant political campaign in this country, Keep Our National Health Service Public (KONP).

KONP was started in 2005 by Jacky Davis, radiologist, and John Lister of Health Emergency together with other health professionals to oppose the Labour government’s introduction of the private sector into the NHS. The umbrella organisation has over the last year galvanised opposition to the coalition government’s Health and Social Care Act 2013 which, Davis says: “has aggressively pushed privatisation and dismemberment of the service.”

Richardson lives in a village outside Bolton in Greater Manchester and decided to join KONP when her local hospital A&E was threatened with closure: “Both my late mother-in-law and husband were treated there and I was really suspicious about the bad publicity that came out about the hospital just before they announced the closure of the A&E.” Over the last year she has petitioned, attended meetings and demonstrations and become an active member of her local group. [Rest.]

The worst breastfeeding initiative I've ever come across

Heard this yesterday morning. Nearly fell off chair. As cynical and manipulative initiatives go, this ticks several boxes.

It adds insult to injury that the scheme is being tried out among “disadvantaged” women on low incomes, whose breastfeeding rates are lowest of all. The thinking seems to be that these are the people who can be told what to do.

, theguardian:

Unless you’ve been living on another planet the last few years, here’s one thing you’ll be certain about. Breast is best. Babies who are breastfed are less likely to get infections in their early months; probably won’t get diarrhoea or constipation, which is virtually unknown; and are at lower risk of eczema. When weaned, they are more likely to enjoy the taste of solid food. As they grow up, their IQ is higher, and they are less likely to need orthodontic treatment. As adults they have lower cholesterol, and a reduced risk of diabetes or obesity.

It’s not just babies: mothers who breastfeed are healthier. They’re at lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer, and postnatal depression. If ever nature gave us a key to improving health now and into the future, this would surely be it. So it has to follow that as a society we should be doing all we can to encourage every new mother to do it.

That presumably is the thinking behind a study being run in Derbyshire and South Yorkshire where, we learned today,mothers are being offered shopping vouchersworth up to £120 if their babies are breastfed to six weeks, and a further £80 if they’re fed to six months.

I fed each of my four babies until the age of three. I think it’s tragic that more women don’t do it, and I believe low breastfeeding rates in Britain are a scandal. In fact, I never imagined I’d end up writing a piece against a project designed to promote the practice. But I think this idea is just about the worst pro-breastfeeding initiative I’ve come across. In fact, I don’t think it’s pro-breastfeeding at all: I think it’s a patronising, naive, ill-thought-out gesture. [Rest.]

Related:

New U.S. Study Highlights Need to Include Men in Strategies to Prevent Unintended Pregnancy

On guttmacher:

About 40% of births are reported as unintended by men, mirroring rates of unintended births among women, according to “Exploring U.S. Men’s Birth Intentions,” by Laura Lindberg and Kathryn Kost of the Guttmacher Institute. Roughly two-thirds of unintended births are mistimed, according to the fathers, while about one-third are unwanted.

The authors’ analysis of data from the 2006–2010 National Survey of Family Growth found that rates of unintended births vary significantly by fathers’ union status, age, education level, and race and ethnicity. For example, three out of four births reported by single men were unintended, compared with only one of four births reported by married men. Surprisingly, more than one in ten single men indicated that they did not know about the pregnancy until after the child was born.

Unintended births were more common among younger men and men with lower levels of education than among older and more educated men, respectively. Racial and ethnic disparities were also apparent. Unintended births were especially prevalent among black men, the majority of whose births were unintended (51%), while smaller proportions were unintended among Hispanic men (38%) and white men (34%). [Rest.]