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Archive for November, 2009

The Planned Parenthood Action Fund has created a petition for letting representatives know that women’s health care is not optional. I think the situation calls for significantly more action than just signing a petition, but it’s a start.

The Action Fund, by the way, is the PAC associated with Planned Parenthood’s political efforts. They tend to focus on issues of abortion rights, so it’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that’s all the organization does.

In fact, Planned Parenthood, sans Action Fund, is the nation’s largest provider of women’s health care. Just think about that for a second. Several business types, such as Peter Drucker, believe that the nonprofit sector is the American capitalist version of socialism. What does that imply? So many women are unable to afford health care through other channels that “socialized” medicine is already the norm. The critical difference is that, in this American version of socialism, their care still depends on the voluntary — and often inadequate — generosity of others.

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Other voices

There’s a fantastic piece by Judith Warner in this morning’s New York Times on the House health care bill in the context of greater cultural currents. The whole thing is worth reading, but here’s a sample:

[T]rue self-determination [for women], on the most intimate level, has remained problematic, particularly in the past decade or two, as memories of the prefeminist ’60s have dimmed. At the same time, some of the more insidious elements of the long-brewing antifeminist backlash have become an accepted part of our cultural landscape.

We’ve seen this for years in the way we talk about motherhood: celebrating selflessness, demanding an almost inhuman degree of child-centeredness, positioning the interests of mothers in opposition to those of their children, as our political and personal debates so often do. Nowhere has this come to be more true than in the abortion debate, in which anti-choice activists have pitted the lives of unborn children against the selfishness of their mothers.

I expected the digest site Arts & Letters Daily — which compiles articles of note from publications including the Economist, Slate, the New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal, the Nation, and several UK papers — to be buzzing with feminist commentary and rebuttal this week, but . . . nothing. I hope this means the women who are maddest are busy making phone calls and meeting with their representatives. A restriction in civil liberties for half the population ought not to go unnoticed.

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Susan B. Anthony said in 1896 that “the bicycle [had] done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.” She was referring to the way bicycles — then a relatively recent invention — offered women a way to get around in relative independence and safety, and thereby to leave their homes and go to work.

A century later, the urban woman would still do well to look to bicycles as tools of equality. True, personal transportation has been through several revolutions. And we’re no longer trammeled by Victorian social conventions about feminine modesty and domesticity (at least, not explicitly; these standards are still very much in effect in such institutions as abstinence-only education, but that’s a discussion for another day).

But women do still face significant wage inequality. The median income of a woman in Chicago, for example, is $30,536. Median income for a Chicago man is $35,907. That’s a discrepancy of just over $5,000. (Nb: the source link that provides these figures is broken. One other source estimates that the discrepancy is smaller, closer to $3,000. On a national level, the discrepancy is closer to $10,000, but since today’s post deals with local solutions, the national figures are of limited use.)

A woman making that median income can talk to her legislators, of course, and tell her employer about instances of bias and inequality, and for God’s sake ask for a raise — although I’d like to see the employer who’s willing to concede a 20% raise.

The woman interested in a more direct solution could simply sell her car, and replace it with a bicycle. Estimates of the savings associated with not having a car in Chicago vary from roughly $5,000 to over $10,000 per year. Even the most conservative figures effectively erase the median wage gap.

This solution should not be mistaken, of course, for actually erasing the wage gap. That won’t happen until a woman’s buying and saving power is equal to a man’s, without her having to take any additional measures. And the bicycle solution is less feasible for women in rural areas, or in cities without reliable mass transit. It’s also a challenge for women who need to transport small children.

Still, for a wage-equality plan that can directly and quickly improve the income of individual urban women, look to the bicycle. In addition to the financial windfall, a woman who bikes and walks has exercise built into her day; her commute can improve her physical and mental health and reduce her health-care costs. In a city with highly congested traffic — where bicycles can outpace cars — she may also discover that she has more time. She may find that simply by making her face visible above the handlebars, not hidden behind an impersonal windshield, she meets more of her neighbors and is more involved in the social life of her community. That, in turn, could reduce her likelihood of being a victim of violent crime, increase her engagement with local government, etc., etc., etc.

Or, as Susan B. might have said, “Put on your helmets, girls! There’s a long ride ahead.”

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Is anyone else tired of watching politicians — most of whom are physically incapable of pregnancy — trot out abortion policy as a handy impediment to real change?

The GOP has been using this strategy since the 1990s (as Thomas Frank documents in What’s the Matter with Kansas?), but the right and the left are equally guilty of rising to the bait. Frank points out that most politicians who employ this tactic don’t actually intend to do anything to abortion law. Instead, the GOP uses it because it’s a bitterly divisive issue, and it fires up the wheezy old engines of the culture wars; a drastic anti-choice stance often helps a politician garner votes from those who might otherwise side with Dems.

Of course, if you’re on the left, each time this happens you have to wonder, What if they mean it this time? Because they have been known to mean it in the past, once or twice. If you’re on the pro-choice e-mail lists (NARAL, etc.), you know that abortion-rights organizations respond to each possible threat with equal seriousness, like the security screeners at an airport. Which means that plenty of people squander time and money and effort fighting a tiger that turns out to be paper.

In the case of the health care bill, one tiny aspect of women’s health care is being used to stand in the way of something that could improve the health of millions. It’s nauseating that we currently face a choice between a biased private system and a biased public option, both of which treat women as second-class citizens. It’s even more nauseating that politicians, given the opportunity to create equality, have opted instead to play politics with our bodies. Again.

The Rove-era GOP is not known for subtlety, nor for knowing when to stop beating the proverbial dead horse, so I assume we’re in for years more of the same, at least until voters — both on the left and on the right — get too fatigued or too savvy to go on responding. Here’s one voter who has reached that point.

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The House’s health care reform bill has passed. I’m happy that we have some sort of official progress on the issue. But for women, this hardly looks like progress at all.

Evidently abortion rights were behind much of the House’s wrangling. Getting the bill passed required a major concession — preventing government-funded health care from providing access to abortion providers. Women’s preventive health care has also taken a hit.

I’m not going to assume that all feminists are (or even should be) in favor of abortion rights. (I will point out that being pro-choice means nothing more than believing that abortion is a difficult matter of personal morals and circumstances, and as such it’s a far more inclusive stance than the right makes it out to be.) But hashing out the same tired abortion debate misses the greater point, which is that a nation’s health depends heavily on the health of its female citizens, and the health of a nation’s women depends heavily on their access to reproductive health care.

It is not just that reproductive health care keeps women economically productive; nor that it helps women contribute equally; nor that it helps them raise children in conditions that help the children grow up to be productive; nor that it prevents chronic conditions that — left untreated — turn into personal financial hardship for the sufferers and high cost burdens for the state.

It is not just that women have no hope at economic equality without equal access to health. And it is not just the outrageous bias built into the present system, where we pay higher insurance premiums (out of wages that are lower than men’s wages for the same work), we shoulder the majority of costs for birth control, and we can be excluded from coverage by insurers who consider rape a pre-existing condition.

The bigger issue is that health care reform is economic reform. Regardless of their stance on abortion, I think most Americans, men and women, will agree that economic reform is desperately needed. Perhaps in time the economic argument will succeed where the moral one has struggled.

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