Broad Recognition


A Look Back: Last Week in the “War on Women”

Real talk: last week was a frustrating week to be a feminist. We saw abusers glorified, women silenced, and reproductive rights denied. A look back:

Chris Brown’s “comeback:” The week got off to a bad start on Sunday when Chris Brown, the R&B star notorious for assaulting his then-girlfriend Rihanna, performed at the Grammys. Just three years after the assault, which took place the evening before the 2009 Grammys, he’s been returned to the position of lauded celebrity figure. The “comeback” came, not coincidentally, days before Brown released a lead single and a month before the release of his fifth album. He also won the Grammy for Best R&B Album that night.

It’s reprehensible that both the entertainment industry and the American public absolved a public figure of such violence—a felony, by the way, that he pled guilty to— in three years. But even at the time of the incident, public sympathy was with Chris Brown. After the infamous photograph of Rihanna’s battered face emerged, apologists—Carrie Underwood, Lindsay Lohan, Nia Long, Mary J. Blige—were quick to all but defend him. Jay-Z was the lone voice of reason, reminding fans, “You have to have compassion for others. Just imagine it being your sister or mom and then think about how we should talk about that. I just think we should all support her.” When Usher commented the following March that a picture of Brown jet-skiing was probably not the best way to reform his image, the backlash was so severe that Usher was forced to apologize.

Sorry, Grammys: The Grammys’ executive producer, Ken Ehrlich, doesn’t really seem to get it either. Earlier this month, he told ABC News that the Grammys were “glad” to have Brown back. Ehrlich said, “I think people deserve a second chance, you know. If you’ll note, he has not been on the Grammys for the past few years and it may have taken us a while to kind of get over the fact that we were the victim of what happened.” That’s right, the Grammys were the victim of Chris Brown’s violence. Got it.

The worst Twitter trend ever: Twitter’s by no means a feminist’s best friend (sexist hashtags, anyone?), but it reached a new level of awful this week when young women who are Chris Brown fans exclaimed, en masse, that, essentially, they wouldn’t mind being beat up by such a heartthrob. Again: domestic violence is no big deal, because Chris Brown is famous and totally hot.

No patience for PETA: The animal rights organization known for its horribly misogynistic media campaigns decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a new ad. Here’s what I learned: real men go vegan, and when they do, the sex will be great—meaning he’ll beat the shit out of you.

Ultrasounds required for abortions: In Virginia, the GOP took their habit of invading women’s bodies to the extreme this week. A proposed “informed consent” bill requires a woman to undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion. Sadly, that requirement is nothing new. But since most abortions occur within the first twelve weeks, most women seeking abortions will have to have a penetrative transvaginal ultrasound, since that is the only way to obtain an ultrasound image in early pregnancy. Such a practice is insulting to a woman who obviously knows that she is pregnant and has already made the often difficult decision to terminate the pregnancy.

The sonogram itself is not only an invasive, medically unnecessary procedure. In January, the FBI expanded its definition of rape as such: “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” Since the penetrative ultrasound is mandatory for an abortion, it cannot really be consented to, meaning that the ordeal itself could very well be classified as rape.

Additionally, Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick has noted that, while the woman can choose whether or not to look at the ultrasound and/or to listen to the fetal heartbeat, the doctor will make note of that in her record. In Lithwick’s words, “I guess they were all out of scarlet letters in Richmond.” A protest on Monday delayed the vote, but Republicans in Pennsylvania’s state legislature are proposing a similar bill.

Personhood, again: Virginia’s not a great place for reproductive autonomy right now. Last Wednesday, its House passed a personhood bill. This comes despite polls showing that Virginians are opposed to the measures: 52% are against personhood and 55% are against the ultrasound requirement.

Oklahoma’s on a similar track. On Wednesday, the state Senate approved a “personhood” bill like the one defeated in Missouri this fall. The bill will head to the House, where it is also expected to pass. Embryos and fetuses will then have “all the rights, privileges, and immunities” of Oklahoma citizens. The Oklahoma State Medical Association opposes the bill, because of the terrible effects it will have on the delivery of reproductive medicine and availability of birth control.

FOX pundit on military rape: When confronted with the staggering statistics on military sexual assault, Fox commentator Liz Trotta asked, “What did they expect?” She criticized “the feminists” for wanting to be “warriors and victims at the same time,” advocating for such silly and expensive things as sexual counselors, victims’ advocates, and sexual response coordinators. These are all demands from “women in the military who are now being raped too much,” whatever that means. When the host tried to argue that perhaps service members do deserve some protection, Trotta was indignant. “That’s funny, I thought the mission of the armed forces was to defend and protect us, not the people who were fighting the war!” When even a Fox host thinks rape apologism has gone too far, you know that rape apologism has gone too far.

Give ‘em some aspirin: Foster Freiss, a mega-donor to Rick Santorum’s campaign, doesn’t really see what all the fuss is about birth control. It’s not that expensive. There are more important things to worry about. Heck, in his day, “they used Bayer aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.” Salon’s Irin Carmon translated this obscure comment: “he didn’t mean applying the aspirin vaginally — he meant that the sluts should just keep their legs shut.”

Freiss may be a major donor, but he needs to study up on his candidate. He asked, “Do you honestly think that if Senator Santorum becomes president, we’re going to get rid of contraceptives?” Well, given his extreme anti-contraceptive views, yeah. But let’s hope not.

Hooking kids on sex: This video about Planned Parenthood’s crusade to create a generation of sex addicts (by providing them with factually accurate information about their bodies and materials for safe sex!) would be hilarious, except that there are people who are taking it seriously.

VAWA reauthorization blocked: The Violence Against Women Act, signed into effect under Clinton in 1994 and reauthorized in 2000 and 2005, is up for reauthorization. Yet Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee blocked it this month. Their objections? An explicit ban on sexual orientation or gender identity-based discrimination within the organizations receiving VAWA grants; greater availability of visas for undocumented immigrants hesitant to come forward lest they risk deportation; and limited jurisdiction for Native American tribes to prosecute cases internally, whether the accused is Native American or not.

Lines crossed, definitely: Who’s better qualified to discuss women’s contraceptive needs than a bunch of men? The House Oversight Committee assembled a panel of them—Baptist and Lutheran ministers, a Catholic bishop, and an Orthodox rabbi—to speak at a hearing called “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State.” The hearing is another step in the discussion over whether President Obama’s decision to require employers to provide health insurance that includes contraceptive coverage. Democrats asked Chairman Representative Darrell Issa to allow a woman to speak, but he refused on the grounds that “the hearing is not about reproductive rights and contraception but instead about the Administration’s actions as they relate to freedom of religion and conscience.” The woman, Sandra Fluke, is a Georgetown 3L and a past president of Georgetown Law Students for Reproductive Justice. Fluke had planned to tell the story of a friend’s experience with an ovarian cyst. When Fluke’s friend couldn’t afford the medically necessary birth control to treat the condition since it wasn’t covered by Georgetown’s student health insurance, her condition worsened until she had to have the ovary surgically removed, jeopardizing her ability to have children in the future. (Her prepared testimony is available here.)

Bonus good news: Rock on, CT-3. The jury’s out on whether New Haven’s Representative Rosa DeLauro is a fucking hipster but she is definitely a much-needed voice on women’s reproductive freedom. This statement, which she submitted to the oversight committee, is an eloquent defense of women’s right to health care – not that it should need defending.


Julia Calagiovanni is a freshman in Yale College. She is a staff writer for Broad Recognition.

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