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Archive for November, 2009

On November 28, 2009, the New York Times Sunday edition featured an editorial “In Support of Abortion, It’s Personal vs. Political” in the Week in Review. While there were some things I liked about this editorial, there was much to dislike. First and foremost being the fact that Post-Roe women are defined only by what we have NOT experienced, not defined by what we have experienced. Instead of going on and on about what bugged me about this article, I decided instead to re-write it, the way that I believe it should be written. This article reflects elements of my vision for how the changing landscape of the abortion debate should be investigated and reported. This is a work of fiction, which means I have created new lines of dialogue and quotes from actual people listed in the original article – what I wish they would say from a strength and asset-based perspective, instead of the deficit-approach featured.

Enjoy.

“In Support of Wellbeing, Abortion Matters to Women & Families”
By Cheryl Straight Stobilt

In 1999, an airline pilot’s daughter named Aspen Baker was attending college in Northern California when she had a safe and legal abortion at a local hospital. She had been raised a pro-life Christian in Southern California and while she never believed she could make a pregnancy decision for another person, she never believed she would have an abortion herself, until she did. While she was relieved when the procedure was finally over, she found herself with a lot of difficult emotions about the experience and because of the stigma and politics surrounding her decision she was unable to find someone who would listen to her, without judgment or bias.

Today, Aspen Baker is the Founder and Executive Director of Exhale, an organization whose mission is to create a more supportive and respectful social climate around personal experiences with abortion and which runs a national, multilingual post-abortion talkline. At 33-years old, Baker is a member of what many feminist leaders call the “Third Wave,” though Ms. Baker rarely uses the term herself.

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Feminist blogger Kate Harding often takes issue with how cynical the progressives on Daily Kos write about abortion politics, but on Nov. 10, they found some common ground. Two days after the House voted to approve health care reform and the Stupak Amendment, which seemed to catch so many by surprise, Kate wrote on Salon and David Waldman wrote on Daily Kos that the passage of Stupak was entirely predictable. Not a shock. Not a surprise. Disappointing, frustrating, and infuriating, perhaps, but certainly, they agreed, everyone should have seen the Stupak Amendment coming.

According to David, the “lavishly-funded national network of professional abortion rights advocacy groups … somehow found themselves blindsided and rolled by a situation that was 100% predictable (not to mention 35 years in the making).” And Kate wrote, “We were rolled with, like, 35 years of advance warning” and she decried Democrats who “will sacrifice pretty much everything they claim to believe in, just because the words ‘Democratic majority’ sound so much better than the alternative.”

Let’s all get over our collective surprise and admit we need an entirely new strategy. The Stupak Amendment represents our decades-long national reality: deep political divisions about abortion rights and moral judgments against women who have had abortions. If we really want different results, we need different strategies. We can’t count on a president, professional lobbyists, or politicians to transform the abortion conflict or assure justice. We can’t even count on ourselves if our only strategy is to “get angry and gear up for a fight.” What we need to do is change the conversation about abortion.

If we don’t fundamentally and proactively change the conversation we risk deepening political divisions and forcing more people to their own sides, leaving out, yet again, the silenced voices we need most: the voices of women who have had abortions.

If we want to transform the conflict, the voices of these women need to take center stage. A true conflict-transformation approach, according to Eyal Rabinovitch, an expert on this approach, “focuses less on solving the conflict than changing how we engage with one another when we are in it. [It works by] giving voice to all affected by a given conflict and enabling open communication between them.”

Note that it does not work by giving voice to those “who speak on behalf of” or “advocate for” a particular group; those speakers certainly have not been silenced in public discussion. Neither are their voices the ones who need reassurance of open communication. Conflict transformation does not try to force opponents to comprise or agree with each other.

A conflict transformation approach on abortion enables open communication for those who have personally experienced abortion, the people whose voices have been silenced most as a result of the Abortion War. Today’s abortion conflict replaces their voices with stigma, isolation, judgment, myths, stereotypes, and the belief that women are best used as case studies to “prove” that one side or the other is right. Every day at Exhale, the organization I lead, women and their loved ones call our national talkline after an abortion to find the nonjudgmental comfort and support they are unable to find in their everyday lives. At Exhale, we witness the personal impact of this war on a woman’s life and her well-being.

Conflict transformation ensures that every story, every voice, is heard, and that each person’s dignity and humanity is respected.

We transform conflict when we take a public stand for each and every woman who has had an abortion, despite how uncomfortable her story makes us feel, or how inconvenient her truth may be to our position. We humanize the issue of abortion when we create room for those who have had abortions to feel supported, respected, and connected to one another.

Personal stories have the potential to change the way we think about abortion and the women who have them, and we must elicit them with openness and an authentic desire to learn. Because it is through personal stories that we can explore the real impact of abortion—positive, negative, and everything in between—in the lives of women and their families, and find new solutions to promote their health and well-being.

We should expect this new strategy to be messy—in fact, we should hope for that. Thelar Pekar, a communications expert, writes: “Story sharing, if done correctly, results in chaos. … Story begets story, which begets story, which eventually … begets chaos. [We should be] surprised, delighted, and frightened by what [we hear.]. Only then, out of chaos, will clarity, innovation, and/or change emerge.”

The impact of this approach on our cultural conversation about abortion will not be predictable like the Stupak Amendment or the political motivations of Democratic leaders. It gives us a real choice with real consequences, just like abortion: we can choose the same battles and get entirely predictable results or we can take a risk and try different strategies with unpredictable outcomes. Listening to personal abortion stories and enabling communication between women who have had abortions is messy, and it grows the possibilities for peace.

This is Pro-Voice.

If you want to be a part of transforming the abortion conflict and building peace, start by being pro-voice in your online discussions about abortion. Here are 5 simple tips:

• Be Authentic—Speak from your own personal experience.
• Be Respectful—Be aware of times you’re reinforcing an “us-versus-them” mentality.
• Avoid Jargon—It tends to be alienating at worst and boring at best.
• Remember Your Readers—Online, your readers could be your friends or family, even your daughter or mother. What would you want them to read?
• Practice Self-Care—If you find yourself drawn into a frustrating or infuriating online discussion, take a deep breath. Allow yourself to back away.

Whether or not you have personally experienced abortion, you can be a champion for women’s voices. Speak from your own personal experience and tell a story about a time you felt heard, truly heard. How did it change the conversation? How did it change your life?

The Abortion War today needs this pro-voice strategy. Instead of seeking only political solutions—where we end up “blindsided” by political sacrifices like the Stupak Amendment—we need a strategy for deep, fundamental culture change. We need to transform hearts and minds.

We start by taking the idea of the Abortion War seriously. Very, very seriously. We must recognize that we are a nation deep in conflict, and instead of trying to win with politics, we must work towards building peace. I believe we can do that by being pro-voice.

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A woman who has had an abortion and who goes online in search of support and connection will undoubtedly find everything that is wrong with the abortion debate in this country. Shame, stigma, anger, violence, and judgment around abortion are the status quo online. Imagine if instead each woman found what she really needs: respect and understanding. Exhale envisions a better online world for women and their loved ones post-abortion and we need your help!

Exhale is in the running to receive a free, new website through the Free Range Youtopia Grant program, worth $15,000! There are more than 400 great ideas competing for the prize, and we need your vote!

Vote for Exhale today and you will take us one-step further towards our goal of a new social website that champions listening, promotes storytelling and builds empathy for every woman who has had an abortion.

Vote!

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I live in Oakland, California and I love it. Lake Merrit is one of my favorite spots. Because I grew up on the ocean I need to be around water and so I always pretend the Lake is the ocean. It works, especially on hot summer days.

If you haven’t been here, you should check it out the next time you visit the Bay Area. There is a gondola, a bird sanctuary, and it’s regularly used for exercise. Families, women, men, couples, and people with dogs, strollers or on bikes take the 3-mile journey around the Lake on a daily basis.

Sometimes, driving by at night, I will see a man running, alone, listening to his music on an ipod. And I will be jealous. So jealous.

I will be jealous because that man is doing something that I will never in my life have the chance to experience. I will never run, alone, around the Lake at night, oblivious to my surroundings while enjoying music on my ipod. Never. Not a chance.

Not because it’s Oakland. Because I am a woman and rape is always a threat.

I was probably about 12-yrs old the first time I took a self-defense class. I learned a lot of tricks to stay aware of my surroundings and how to fight back. But the thing that sticks out most in my mind all these years later is what I was told to scream, should I ever find myself attacked.

“Never,” the instructor said, “should you yell RAPE. Always, yell FIRE.” If you yell RAPE, no one wants to be involved, but if you yell FIRE, everyone wants to be a hero.

To this day, if I ever find myself walking to my car at night, alone, I repeat “FIRE, FIRE, FIRE” in my mind over and over in case someone attacks me. I want to be ready with the right word. I want someone to want to be a hero.

The fact that I haven’t been raped has everything to do with luck. It could happen at any time, in any city, day or night. These are the statistics. While never running alone at night or being prepared to yell FIRE may make me feel better and more in control, I don’t know that it’s actually lowering my risks of being attacked.

When I look back on life, especially all the times I was drunk in high school hanging out with the guys, I’m actually quite amazed that I escaped without assault. How sad is it, that I see this as lucky, instead of normal? I know it’s not normal. Almost every friend of mine from high school has a story, a story of a time when they felt threatened, when they went farther than they wanted to because they were afraid, and when they were forced to perform against their will. Almost every friend. I don’t think a single one of them ever reported it. We probably just avoided those guys in the future. We didn’t go to their party.

When I think about how lucky I am to have escaped rape on those drunken nights in high school, I know that I have yet to escape the threat of rape. No one really does. Even if I make it to 90, rape-free, and end up in a nice, quiet nursing home, my chances of being abused may have actually increased. Sexual assault and abuse of elders is on the rise.

This is what it’s like to be a woman in a rape culture.

When I think of the young woman in Richmond who was attacked, it is hard for me to describe my feelings. Pain. Agony. Sadness. Horror.

I think of all the women I talked to when I was a sexual assault counselor at BAWAR, and I know that healing is possible, and I know the road can be long.

I think about her family, her friends, and her community. I think about the family members of those young men who attacked her and how mortified and disappointed they must feel and I know that healing is possible for them too and that their road is also long.

Rape is not only a product of urban environments. Neither is being bystander. It is not just young black men perpetuating violence against young women. Rape happens in every community, in every environment, within and between every race. It is worldwide.

Rape, as every anti-violence advocate knows, is never about sex and always about power and control. It is used as a weapon. It is used to intimidate and to hurt others. It can be used by a husband against a wife, a famous celebrity against a promiscuous groupee, an uncle against a niece, a militia against a community, a prisoner against a fellow inmate. It knows no bounds across race or sexual orientation – straight men can rape other straight men.

It’s about power, not about sex.

None of these forms of rape are acceptable. It will not be OK for these young men to have done to them in jail what they did to the young woman. Violence as revenge, to exert power and control, is not the way to transform a culture from one that accepts rape as the status quo into a culture that supports bystanders willing to intervene when someone yells – or sees – RAPE.

Most of all, it does not help to have people like Deepak Chopra say on national television that these rapists and bystanders are emotionally retarded. This makes my stomach hurt. If one in six women will be assaulted in their life, we are all bystanders. We have all stood by and watched, and laughed and took pictures because if we haven’t done something to end violence against women and communities of color, then we may as well have. Because we’re standing by, letting it happen.

So, what do we do? We do as Akua Jackson, Director of Programs for Youth Together said in her CNN interview: we all take responsibility. Parents, teachers, youth, organizations, law enforcement, elected officials, clergy, community members. Preventing rape, stopping rape, is everyone’s responsibility.

Each of us can stop being a bystander. We can be an ally. An advocate.

What I remember most from my days as a rape-crisis counselor was how few women who are raped are believed, and how few report (and often, for good reason). The primary thing we did on the BAWAR hotline is believe callers when no one else would. Rape is so horrible and unimaginable in most of our minds that we would rather play tricks on ourselves than deal with the reality of a rape of someone we love, or of the truth of someone we love being a rapist.

That night in Richmond, it seems that every single person made the wrong choice. The wrong choice to rape. The wrong choice to watch. The wrong choice to laugh. The wrong choice not to act.

Luckily, we get to make the right choice.

We can start by showing our support for this community and these families and the many people, leaders, youth and organizations who have made significant progress in creating a safer, more just community in Richmond. We can let them know we are with them and we believe.

Community Healing Event and Candlelight Vigil at Richmond High School

What: Community Healing Event
When: Tuesday, November 3, 2009, 3:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Where: Richmond High School (back Football Field), 1250 23rd Street, Richmond, CA
Who: Students, Teachers, Community Leaders, and Public Officials

Then, perhaps, I can achieve my dream. To run at night, alone, without fear. And a smile.

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