Inner Happiness Is Not a Luxury: On Feminism & Mental Health

By Crysteaux Sun, Social Media Intern

Everyone can use this reminder: one major function of feminism is to keep us sane in a world where gender equality isn’t yet where it should be. Although it might seem ultra-progressive, feminism ultimately seeks to guarantee something pretty basic: healthy, happy lives for people of all genders.

You’ve probably seen Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk about body language, where she stresses that the way you carry yourself affects your mind, and she finds that lots of women curtail their potential when they assume closed off stances. It’s a physical act of self-censorship we’ve been conditioned to perform. Searching “shy” on Google brings up images of mostly women; searching “feminism” on Tumblr conjures up loads of motivational messages along the lines of putting oneself first.

Selfish: how anti-feminists and cynics might describe those messages. 

Empowering, spunky, assertive: words we might use ourselves.

Right, but first and foremost, such motivation is preventativepreventative against the tendency to hold ourselves back women have been conditioned to have.

All women suffer from unreasonable societal pressures, which can control  us, whether we know it or not. Eating disorders are a visible and all too common example. As women we receive a huge number of conflicting societal messages about how we should live our lives. One antidote is to get to be our own best advocates, but it’s hard work. We have to put ourselves first. We have to know who we are.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, women are 70 percent more likely than men to experience depression during their lifetime. But mental health issues don’t exist in a vacuum. It seems extremely likely that a society which constantly lets women down and limits our autonomy holds some responsibility for our mental health struggles.

“Women have low self esteem.” This has become a dominant paradigm in our culture, as evidenced by the success of ad campaigns from Dove and Pantene that operate on the idea that women don’t think much of themselves. We accept this paradigm as a given. Our society is comfortable with it. But we shouldn’t be. Luckily, the intersection of feminism and mental health may hold an answer – after all, gender equality is about more than counting women in the boardrooms. It’s also about making sure all of us have a fair shot at happiness and self-respect.

Crysteaux Sun is a Social Media Intern at NARAL Pro-Choice Washington.

All The More Reason To Respect Women’s Choices: On the Complexity of Birth & “Personhood”

Though we don’t always acknowledge it, the experience of giving birth is complicated and potentially dangerous. Miss Celania of Mental Floss delineates this, and suggests that as childbirth technologies and safety have improved, the birth experience has become less communal. In the past, childbirth was treated with less outside intervention. Now, it’s kind of the opposite, as evidenced by the current increase in C-sections. However, both past and present, whether it’s clergy or doctors, there have often been circumstances of outside interference with women’s choices in giving birth.

Take C-sections, for example. Though sometimes medically necessary, there have been cases where women have undergone C-sections despite stating that the procedure was performed against their wishes. We’ve also heard of cases where C-sections have been performed on women who were carrying nonviable fetuses or otherwise could not consent to the procedure.


The medical establishment gained a role in childbirth around the Renaissance. This marked a change of power between female midwives and male doctors. I don’t mean to imply that the world would be a better place if this shift hadn’t happened. Modern medicine has been indispensable to making childbirth safer for women. But this doesn’t mean that regression – when it comes to childbirth – isn’t possible. To the contrary, the worst kind of this has emerged in recent years in the separation of woman and fetus into two levels of concern.

The Personhood Movement, which (absurdly) pursues legal protections for fetuses, has taken this mentality to an extreme, prioritizing potential future people over pregnant women and their own bodily autonomy. This is the type of warped thinking that leads to interpreting childbirth or pregnancy complications as a murder. This fixation on protecting fetuses did not emerge only recently, and it often targets women who experience medical complications – and even blames women for them – especially women who have the slightest involvement with drugs.

For example, this spring, Tennessee enacted a new anti-choice law that permits the criminal investigation and conviction of women with a history of drug use who experience abnormal births. The law doesn’t improve drug programs, and critics–pro and anti-choice alike–project that it will result in tremendous stress for pregnant women and will actually motivate more abortions.

This law is presented – falsely – as focused on keeping babies healthy while actively trying to control women’s reproductive decisions. Much of anti-choice sentiment puts a disproportionate weight on women’s culpability for poor birth outcomes. The Tennessee law and 16-year-old Rennie Gibbs’s unjust indictment are prime examples of this unfair targeting of women and children.

And it doesn’t end with drugs. It doesn’t end anywhere. In 1987, both cancer patient Angela Carder and her newborn perished after her doctor made the unilateral decision to deliver the baby via C-section before she died. Yet even after this debacle, some doctors and politicians continue to claim medical, legal and moral high ground over pregnant women, such as Samantha Burton and Lisa Epsteen in 2013.

Ultimately, the innate complexity of childbirth has been used as an excuse to subjugate women and punish their choices. Childbirth is complicated, and it can be dangerous. But that’s all the more reason to respect women’s choices when it comes to pregnancy and birth.

Featured image via TipsTimesAdmin on Flickr.

The 4 Most Clueless Pro-Hobby Lobby Statements, Refuted

By Tim Marshall, Millennial Advisory Councilmember

In the past month, we’ve all felt the impact of the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision.

After all, as advocates for the right to reproductive choice, subsidizing family planning was a hard-won victory in 2011. Before I begin sounding like a Michael Moore voice over, I won’t focus on what we lost and what we stand to regain – we all know what happened. Instead, my purpose in writing this is to recap some of the worst conservative responses and laugh at their ineptitude. I hope you enjoy, readers:

1. One of the most misinformed statements comes from Conestoga Wood itself, the parent company of Hobby Lobby. They justify not covering contraceptives under the principle that “birth control is akin to abortion.”  Now, just about anyone reading this knows that isn’t true; however, this gem loses its luster even more when we take into consideration the considerable drop in abortion rates since the introduction of the contraceptive mandate. With that knowledge in my back pocket, I can assume Conestoga either plays Fox News on a loop in their boardroom (I imagine something cigar-smoke-filled, probably wood paneled) or that they simply want to cut costs.

2. Speaking of Fox News, we can all predict a certain amount of virulent support of the case’s passage from that particular “news” network.  Immediately following the law’s passage, Megyn Kelly joined Bill O’Reilly to review Sandra’s Fluke’s post-trial statement. Following the expected groans of exasperation and the typical connection from contraceptive coverage to abortion, Kelly spins the case in a new direction. She’s quoted as saying, “This is about the attempted war on the religious right, not the ‘war on women,’ “ in response to Fluke’s statement that the law’s passage infringes upon reproductive rights. My response to Kelly: YOU ALREADY WON. It’s clear, too, that contraceptive access is unlikely to be a problem for Kelly – she’s got privilege that, say, a woman working retail for a certain craft company does not. It’s sad to see her fighting this hard to limit access for other women. Kelly is also quoted as saying “I listen to FoxNews, that’s it!” when O’Reilly weighs in with outside information.  Clearly, she’s a great resource on reproductive care access. A veritable fount of knowledge.

3. Another shared point made by various conservative pundits? Claims that subsidizing contraception is an “overreach of government.” Oh, brother. Because a corporation dictating your personal reproductive decisions is really more of a helping hand, apparently.

4. The last major point I keep seeing is this idea that had the case gone the other way, our nation would be impinging on the free exercise of religion, as protected in the constitution. On the other side, however, limiting contraceptive choices is just as egregious, considering the founding fathers worked to promote the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which, you know, is pretty in line with BODILY AUTONOMY.

Now, before I end up hollering on a table a la Norma Rae, I’ll finish by saying that this court decision, regardless of the nonsensical evidence backing it, leads to a slippery slope.  Who knows what hard-won fight towards social equality and universal health we may lose next? I for one look forward to fighting to take it back in November. In the meantime, laughter is the best medicine, and in that regard, the GOP back-pedaling machine is the gift that keeps on giving.

Tim Marshall is a founding member of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington’s Millennial Advisory Council.

Friday Femorandum: Striking Down TRAP Laws, Defending Margaret Atwood

Welcome to the Friday Femorandum, our weekly roundup of reproductive rights news.

Here’s what happened in reproductive politics this week:

A federal judge struck down Alabama’s admitting privileges law – a TRAP law that would have shuttered 3 of the state’s 5 clinics: “If this requirement would not, in the face of all the evidence in the record, constitute an impermissible undue burden,” Judge Thompson wrote, “then almost no regulation, short of those imposing an outright prohibition on abortion, would.”

How do court rulings impact health policy? Broadly, reports the WSJ, analyzing recent rulings and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

“An Index of Harm”: Charting the devastating impact of the GOP’s Medicaid politics on rural Southern communities.

“Susana wasn’t charged with abortion, but rather with homicide of a blood relative. This crime applies to people who kill their spouse, sibling, parent or child.” In Argentina, a woman – and her friends who supported her – are being illegally imprisoned for her abortion.

“What I Said When They Came For The Handmaid’s Tale.” A teacher stands up for Margaret Atwood’s feminist allegory.

This might be a good time to remind you that our Millennial Advisory Council runs a feminist book club.

The GOP’s “laughably belated, transparent, last-ditch effort to attract female voters before the midterm elections in November” is just as embarrassing and misguided as it sounds.

I’ve never really believed that much of anyone really, truly thinks that abortion is murder. If you look at actions, rather than words, it just doesn’t add up.” The American Prospect deconstructs a ubiquitous anti-choice tagline with logic.

“Pregnancy is a lot more like war than we might care to admit.”

“I don’t believe that history is going to spontaneously take us forward, so going towards more equality needs us to be politically proactive.” France just passed a lawthat allows women to obtain abortion services “during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy with no questions asked” in an effort to increase gender equality across the country.

Thank you for being pro-choice. You restore our faith in humanity every day.

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Friday Femorandum: This Clinic Stays Open

Welcome to the Friday Femorandum, our weekly roundup of reproductive rights news.

Here’s what happened in reproductive politics this week:

Let’s lead with the good news.

Mississippi’s last abortion clinic will stay open.

“This would be his civil-rights struggle. He would serve women in their darkest moment of need. “The protesters say they’re opposed to abortion because they’re Christian,” Parker says. “It’s hard for them to accept that I do abortions because I’m a Christian.” Dr. Willie Parker flies from Chicago to Mississippi’s last remaining clinic to provide abortion care. He is a hero. You might want to read this profile at Esquire with a box of tissues. Or three.

In the wake of SCOTUS’s ruling against buffer zones around abortion clinics, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick just signed a bill into law that bans protesters from blocking patient access.

On misogyny and Mars Hill Church.

A new reason to ban cartoon villain Hobby Lobby: They allegedly fired an employee when she requested medical leave for her pregnancy.

And then they tried to cut off her unemployment benefits.

Wait, what? That’s actually crazy. Dear Hobby Lobby: that is discrimination, and it is illegal.

Here’s where you can learn more about boycotting Hobby Lobby.

Dr. Deb Klein takes on anti-choice “informed consent” legislation, because mandating that doctors lie to women has nothing to do with truth in medicine.

If you haven’t voted yet, there’s still time. And if your ballot is afflicted with sticky envelope syndrome, scissors are a county-approved solution.

ICYMI, here are our endorsements. Vote!

“While it’s true that we’re mocking people, we consider the chief value of what we’re doing the solidarity that we demonstrate for the individuals or families that need to use the clinic’s services for whatever reasons they may have.Generally, upon arrival, they only encounter hate. We want to offer a rejoinder, however slight.” The amazing couple behind Saturday Chores (see below) speaks!

Thank you for being pro-choice. You restore our faith in humanity every day.

Subscribe to the Friday Femorandum.