On March 13, 1995, in the small Scottish town of Dunblane, a forty-three-year-old man, Thomas Hamilton walked into a primary school with four handguns and opened fire, methodically killing sixteen children and one adult teacher before killing himself. The unprecedented massacre of children led, within two years, to legislation that imposed a total ban on the private ownership of handguns in the United Kingdom. Today, no one in the United Kingdom can privately own a handgun or a semiautomatic weapon. There was not much hand wringing or heated debate over this legislation. It was discussed, and enacted, with overwhelming public support, in response to the mood of national shame and grief over the killings.
…Most Americans by now have a passing familiarity with the way the anti-choice movement has grown past attacks on abortion and is moving on to attacks on contraception access, from defunding Planned Parenthood to fighting the Obama administration on an HHS requirement to make contraception available without a co-pay to women with insurance. What they may see less of is the war on contraception that’s going on in the culture. Anti-choice activists have been turning up the volume on misinformation campaigns aimed at creating doubt in the public, especially among young people, about the efficacy of contraception. These efforts started in earnest under the Bush administration, with the explosion of federally funded abstinence-only programs. As those programs have mostly receded due to utter inability to convince kids to abstain from sex, efforts like 1 Flesh and the Pill Kills have stepped up to try to sow doubts about the use of contraception.
Abstinence-only programs were justified by claims that they were about discouraging teenage sex altogether, but considering how much anti-choice literature tells romantic stories about how unintended pregnancy led to ecstatic proposals and happily-ever-afters, one gets the feeling they also would be happy with an uptick in the unplanned pregnancy rate. Sites like 1 Flesh make the “more pregnancies” agenda clear; the site specifically argues against the use of contraception even in marriage, which can’t serve any other purpose in the reality-based world except to increase the rate of unintended pregnancies.
Unfortunately, the new strategies that 1 Flesh is using might actually be effective in achieving this goal, because unlike the old church lady-style methods of anti-contraception efforts, 1 Flesh is tapping into preexisting cultural myths and narratives about contraception that are already known to cause people to be inconsistent in their contraception use.
They go straight for some common beliefs: 1) condoms ruin sex (as Dan Savage has noted, if condoms decreased sensation that much, you’d think men would notice more when they broke); 2) the pill has a lot more negative side effects than it actually has; and 3) condom breakage is more common than it is. In other words, the usual comportment of myths that sex educators find they have to debunk coming from all sorts of people, even those who don’t have any relationship to the Christian right whatsoever.
1 Flesh also promotes the idea that birth control doesn’t do anything to reduce the unintended pregnancy rate. That this idea might have traction in the public at large already might seem asinine (what are people using all that contraception for, if not to prevent pregnancy?), but even without Christian right propaganda, the idea that birth control doesn’t do a very good job at preventing unintended pregnancy is surprisingly widespread. Earlier this year, Guttmacher released a study where it quizzed over 1,000 young people between ages 18 and 29 about their contraception knowledge. Unsurprisingly, the usual myths about condom failure and pill danger were well-represented, but the big surprise was that the myth that birth control doesn’t actually matter was also widespread.
A shocking 40 percent of the young people surveyed believed that using birth control doesn’t actually do much to prevent pregnancy, agreeing with the statement, “when it is your time to get pregnant, it will happen.” In other words, they had a magical belief that somehow the universe would prevent them from getting pregnant when it wasn’t time, even if they’re not using contraception at the time. This preexisting belief is one that groups like 1 Flesh are trying to encourage by spreading lies about how birth control doesn’t change the unintended pregnancy rate.
Why is it so easy for people to underestimate not just the effectiveness of birth control, but also how likely they are to get pregnant if they don’t use it? Part of the problem is, ironically, that birth control is so effective, but so hidden. Much as the anti-vaccine movement could only erupt in a culture where the diseases the vaccines prevent are out of sight and easy to dismiss, contraception works so well at suppressing fertility that many people have no idea how high fertility rates would be without it. Sex is everywhere: TV characters have it, songs on the radio are full of it, and most friends gossip about it. But contraception is rarely discussed in much detail, if at all. It’s easy for someone to look at all this booty-knocking and the relatively low birth rate and conclude that it’s not that easy to get pregnant instead of concluding, correctly, that contraception use is widespread.
To add even more confusion into the mix, heavy media coverage of infertility in light of exciting new technologies to fix the problem has had the side effect of encouraging people to overestimate their own chances of infertility. Researchers at John Hopkins University found that 19 percent of women and 13 percent of men ages 18-29 believed that they were likely to be infertile, though they had no evidence to believe this. The drumbeat of stories about couples who have a hard time conceiving might also contribute to the misconception that getting pregnant without contraception is more infrequent than it actually is.
In reality, a sexually active woman who uses no contraception has an 85 percent chance of getting pregnant within a year. Anti-contraception activists go out of their way to conceal this fact, hoping women feel that their risks of skipping contraception are much lower than they are. It would be laughable if the only audience for this anti-contraception propaganda were folks with good sex education and a solid knowledge of how effective contraception really is. Unfortunately, they’re speaking to a larger audience already rife with misinformation about contraception and fertility; an audience that might not like the anti-sex message, but could be influenced by the anti-contraception one.
Amanda Marcotte exposes 1 Flesh and other campaigns spreading misinformation about contraception. 1 Flesh doesn’t just promote condomless sex, they are aggressively anti-birth control of any kind, which presents a serious threat to the health and well being of young folks.
This to me is the equivalent of the South African Minister of Health pronouncing that condoms do not prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, but may actually help it spread (this is something that actually happened about 5 years ago). It is horrendous, and misleading, and taking advantage of the fact that many people, especially young people, do not have access to adequate education and information about sex and sexual health.
Since moving back to New York a year ago, I’ve gotten a little bit more involved with politics than previously, because one day I would like to be a major mover and shaker in the education world. I figure, rubbing elbows now is a good thing to do. At informal gatherings or meetings (say the Education Committee meeting of the MYD, which often takes place at a coffee shop or Cozi), I don’t get too concerned, but when it comes to fundraising events, I begin to think about what a boy’s club politics still is.
As women, being in politics often means we need to look like this:
or like this:
Michelle Obama is sometimes seen as being “too fashion forward,” in a way I’m sure Jackie O was never the victim of; and all for attempting to carry out her duties while looking put together and attractive. Is it really so wrong to wear something like this:
Anyway, I’ve never been a skirt suit kind of girl. Actually, I’ve never really been a suit kind of girl at all, invariably staying away from pant suits as well. I just feel cranky and uncomfortable all day when I’m wearing one. In the summer especially, I much prefer to wear a work-appropriate dress than anything else. As I prepare to hit up a series of political fundraisers over the next few weeks (one that I am hosting), I can’t get this image out of my mind:
Do I really have to look so boring to be taken seriously? Ok, so I’ll give up my neon, florals and platform sandals if need be, but a black suit or beige dress? No way!
At what point can a girl no longer be seen as a woman, even if she has all the right ideas and knows how to get things done? Do I really need to be boring for the shmoozing, or can I liven things up a bit?
In the past year, we’ve been hearing a lot about “Winning.” Everyone from Charlie Sheen, to Rick Santorum, to Barack Obama want to say that they are #winning, hashtag and all. But are we really? I mean, as a country? As humans? As a world?
Racial tensions in the US have rarely been higher (in my lifetime) than they are right now. As a country we are facing a number of issues that have brought to bear just how backwards we really are, and it is difficult for some (hopefully many) of us to feel proud of our country during this time of emotional and political crisis.
- SCOTUS (the Supreme Court of the United States) is hearing testimony on whether or not women should be guaranteed access to birth control by law, and the outlook is not as positive as one might hope.
- Most if not all of the Republican presidential hopefuls seem to disregard human rights, supporting only those who look, act, and think the way they do. This does not make them unpopular- these bigoted and narrow positions will help them win their party’s nomination (although probably not the White House come November). They are overwhelmingly anti-gay, anti-minority, anti-woman, anti-education, anti-tax, anti-government, and anti-corporation (except Mitt Romney who would lose the nomination if he was accused of being any more hypocritical). They are pro-Christian morals and politics, pro-guns, and pro-militarization. They believe that dis-investing in social and community programs will strengthen our country and economy, and that continuing to spend excessively on “defense” and our military presence around the world benefits us.
- George Zimmerman, the man who shot Trayvon Martin in the back, is not only still on the street, but in fact supported by many in his community, his state, and around the country. While many people are appalled by what appear to be the facts of the case (it does not help that Zimmerman was recorded speaking to the police who specifically told him not to follow Martin), others say that Zimmerman should be lauded, that we should be cautious about wearing hoodies (really? Blaming a sweatshirt?), and that there should be no mention of racism when speaking about it because both men are of minority background. Laws like the Stand Your Ground Law in Florida should be repealed in all states and municipalities where they exist. No one should be allowed to shoot at will without concern for consequences as long as they say they felt threatened.
I do not believe that it is our responsibility, nor our right, as Americans to dictate how other countries should live. I am particularly wary of the way of thinking that says because we are American we should and we shall. I think that it is a narrow point of view that thinks all people should be like us. I think that there have been few times in US history when we could honestly and proudly say we were doing something better (and before) others. Politically in this country, we have effectively come to a standstill- our federal government has nearly come to a grinding halt in numerous times in the last year because partisanship is more important than the needs and rights of our citizens.
Throughout the world right now, there are too many aggregious things happening to count. Throughout the Middle East governments are falling, or not falling, with catastrophic results. Humanitarian, political, and military efforts have in large part failed to mend what is broken. Neighbors do not know whether or not to trust one another, families are falling apart, and millions are left homeless, country-less, and terrified. A desire to give aid is natural, but any desire to give advice (on the part of the US Government, or people) at this time should be ignored. What right have we to tell people what to do when we can’t even figure it out for ourselves?
A wonderful, truthful post. Proud to have worked at Esquire.
A final headache for Chinese expats is that, when you move to an oppressive Western capitalist society, you encounter a working class that can throw its weight around. Europe’s toiling masses sometimes go on strike, leaving streets unswept and commuters stranded. Chinese expats find this shocking. Though there are stoppages in some factories in China, no one strikes in the public services there, says Mr So. “If they did, there would be trouble.”
—"A tale of two expats." The Economist. January 1, 2011. p. 64.
Why it can Strictly be Said That the People Govern in the United States:
In America the people appoint both those who make the laws and those who execute them; the people form the jury which punishes breaches of the law. The institutions are democratic not only in principle but also in all their developments; thus the people directly nominate their representatives and generally choose them annually so as to hold them more completely dependent.
—Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Part II, Chapter 1.
I don’t think of Politics as a subject I’m really qualified to talk about most of the time, and until recently, a certain disinterest on my part meant that I not only was unqualified, but also really uninformed. I have decided to break out of that old idea however, because I think people need to have their say; that’s the point of democracy, right?
I don’t have an answer, or really a solution, for the problems I see around us. Most of the time, I’m still unsure of where I stand, and what I think should change. However, I wonder, how is it possible that everyone can agree change is needed, but no one does anything. I know, I know, I’m a student of history… it’s easier to come together as a group to decide you don’t like something than it is to come together about what should be done.
It is easy to blame the policy makers, the justices, the hidden board-room schemes, for the problems we face, in business as well as in politics, just now. However, especially in the US, the first people we have to blame are ourselves. We choose the policy makers, who in turn choose the justices, and participate in the schemes. If we’re unhappy with what’s happening, how our elected officials are acting, then it is up to us to not return them to office.
I have had more time on my hands than usual, spent in front of a computer through no choice of my own, this summer. Internships are the perfect time to read the newspaper online, and do research. I think this is what has inspired me. I read nearly the whole New York Times every day, and I certainly read all of the headlines. This is a local, state, national, and international problem.
The state government in Albany just passed budget and tax resolutions 125 days late… the second latest it’s been done in the history of New York State governance. The motions passed by a margin of Democrats to Republicans, meaning that even though some Republicans had participated in the writing of the budget, and supported it, none of them voted for it. We are supposed to be rising above partisanship, but our party lines hold us back. The worst part of the party lines is that at the moment, the difference between most Democrats and most Republicans is simply the color of the pin they wear on election day.
We all want to decrease the deficit (on city, state, and national levels). For the most part, we understand that increasing taxes is one of the way this will be done, and many agree that getting rid of the federal breaks for the wealthy might be a good place to start. We all agree that spending has run amok, and the executive branch is recommending fixes to the problem that are unanimously shut down by those on the other side of the aisle. We are suddenly protecting, and doing what is best for the party, rather than the country. This is not what politics should be about.