Friday, February 29, 2008

The truth hurts.

I've spent a lot of time over the last ten or fifteen years alternately supporting Planning Parenthood and bitching them out. I recognize that, on the one hand, PP is operating in crisis mode ALL the time - the instructions for dealing with a bomb threat are usually posted on the wall behind the reception area, and the clinic attacks haven't stopped - they've just stopped being reported.

So I understand the defensiveness that comes out when PP is criticized.


Women of color have historically been, and are currently treated poorly by the pro-choice movement and by the very organizations set up to serve women and protect their reproductive rights. "Poorly" is a euphemism here. A big one. The reality is that women of color are not treated the same way that White women are treated by the healthcare system, and that includes Planned Parenthood. The reality is that women of color have had their health compromised, served as guinea pigs, been denied needed medical care, been sterilized without consent or under coerced consent, and Planned Parenthood and the healthcare system have been complicit in this.

Margaret Sanger is still somehow lauded as a birth control warrior, regardless of her blatant attempts to use it to limit the number of Black babies (that's called eugenics). When an organization holds her up as a role model or as someone who should be remembered as a pioneer (there's another interesting (and racist) term right there), what message does this send? Why would anyone expect that women of color would want to be part of such a movement?

And when the response to this criticism is "that happened a long time ago," what then? The implication is that a movement built on oppressing women of color so that White women can have birth control will be a liberatory movement. How could that be, even if the oppression had ended there? I would argue that, while it may be liberatory for some women, it is not a liberatory movement if it depends on the oppression of other women. And that is exactly how this movement has unfolded.

What happened a long time ago is not divorced from what is happening now. We are still living with that legacy. And further, what happened a long time ago continues to happen now. A quick look at the comments in some of the following links illustrates that fact. And I'll be honest - I wasn't aware of some of this. I knew that Norplant was tried out on nomadic women who would not be able to have it removed - and it has to be removed or else it causes serious, life-threatening problems such as ectopic pregnancies. I read Andrea Smith's work on this issue and I had a good sense of what the years since Margaret Sanger have looked like. But I didn't think about it in terms of what happens in daily interactions between doctors and patients, what assumptions color (I use that intentionally) the advice the doctor gives and what s/he hears.

Further, and you need to especially read the comments in the second to last link to get this, all this bullshit about Black Amazon and others somehow silencing Planned Parenthood supporters by criticizing Planned Parenthood (in Black Amazon's case, with one sentence in a post about something else entirely)? This is classic, right out of the textbook. To paraphrase Patricia J. Williams, whose book is unfortunately in my office and not convenient for a better paraphrasing:

A: Women of color have been hurt by Planned Parenthood.
B: I work for Planned Parenthood, and I can't handle what you've just said. I'm upset. I wish you'd never said that.
A: I'm sorry you're upset, but I was upset first. Please listen to what I am telling you.
B: Your upset is upsetting me. You are silencing me with your anger. It isn't fair for you to silence me. I can't listen to you.

Read this
and this
and this
and this
and this.

(Edited to add: Since I posted this, the second and fourth links have been broken as the posts have been taken down. I've pasted in those posts in the comments below.)

I continue to wrestle with what the right thing to do is here, given the current climate for reproductive rights. But I won't accept that we can't have these conversations because of this climate. If anything, this is the very time to have them. If we want to ensure reproductive rights for all women, then we need to ensure that we are promoting the health and safety of women of color - globally - and this means listening to the hard, painful truth.


Also, please help the Southall Black Sisters. This was, in fact, the point of Black Amazon's original post (already linked).


bobvis said...

It looks like the second link is down. Her most recent post includes this:
I’ve officially been silenced, but you know, I’m okay with that.

These WOC have apparently been so oppressed, with their Ivy League educations and whatever else, that it’s their turn to oppress others. Which is fair. Fine. Have it your own way.

Plain(s)feminist said...

...That's unfortunate. She took down both links right after I posted them - they were up when I pasted the links, and when I checked them, they were down.

She actually had quite a few women supporting her and trashing Black Amazon and others in her comments, so this "silencing" charge is disturbing. Especially since she took down her own posts.

Plain(s)feminist said...

The second link was to this now-deleted post - comments were deleted before the post was, so they're gone:

Black Amazon has achieved something of an iconic status in a segment of the feminist / woman-of-color blogosphere. She’s even going to speak at the WAM conference in Cambridge, MA, which I’ll be attending.

And yet she can get away with maligning Planned Parenthood, without being called on it by her many readers:

“It’s not like Planned Parenthood isn’t formed on the basis of one of the most VIOLENTLY racist eugencists who literally compared Aboriginal peoples to apes, and flaunted this fact and EVERY DAMN TIME people damn near wet themselves over her little to no mention is made of it under the apallling guise and with real straight faces under BUT LOOK AT WHAT SHE’S DONE FOR WOMEN.”

While some of us bust our asses getting funding for the invaluable — irreplaceable — work that this terrific organization does, someone uses her status as the Voice of Women of Color to spread a canard. She isn’t my voice.

Full disclosure — I serve on the board of a local Planned Parenthood.

Our enemies are many, and most of them are Republicans or Christians who don’t want to see women have autonomy or receive basic healthcare. Because yes, that’s what Planned Parenthood does: They provide healthcare, STI testing, pre-natal care, birth control, sex education, and yes, abortion.

They are by policy respectful of women — women who are teens, women who are brown, women who are poor.

Indeed, the CEO of my chapter is black. Half the board is “of color.” We have two teen high school students on the board. We have twice saved California from legislation that would’ve put disadvantaged teens — especially those from abusive homes (who tend to be women of color) — at risk (the parental notification laws).

A new version of the parental notification law is going to be on the ballot again this year. And this time, it’s worse: They have designated family members whom you can go to, if you are a pregnant teen who needs an abortion and fears her parents. But if you do not go to your parents, if you go to your grandmother, your parents will face abuse charges.

This proposed law takes a bad situation — a pregnant teen with no resources — and makes it worse — a pregnant teen who has gotten her parents into trouble with the law.

Imagine the consequences.

Guess who is fighting — and fighting hard, for the third year in a row — to protect women from this attack on their rights and safety? Planned Parenthood.

Which some college-educated people who ought to know better malign out of… what? ignorance? anger? If anger, anger at what, exactly? The great and necessary work this organization does?

I’m going to take this opportunity to ask my readers to make a donation — even a small donation would help — to help us fight this important political battle. I am personally raising $15,000 by mid-year; I can use all the help you can give!

Please note that because it’s a political cause, it will not be tax-deductible. But if you provide your name and address, Planned Parenthood will send you a thank-you note.

You can make donations here. Be generous!

Plain(s)feminist said...

The second to last link, another deleted post with deleted comments, is below. It was the comments to this post that were particularly germane, since some people were complaining about being "silenced" by Black Amazon and others. Which is too bad, since I think that this post was probably an honest, if too little too late, attempt to understand. The comments, however, went in a different direction altogether, but they are gone:

Sylvia, Black Amazon, BrownFemiPower, et al:

My understanding has always been that the only people who attack Planned Parenthood are those who oppose women’s rights, especially their right to control their bodies.

Seems I was wrong.

I am a Pakistani immigrant, from a poor background, who came to this country seeking a better life. I left my family and still don’t have the benefit of their support. I know what it’s like to have no rights and few options. I’ve been there. [If you’re interested, my privilege test is here.]

Which is part of the reason I’m doing what I can for Planned Parenthood. I don’t think of them as part of the problem.

But if they are, I want to know the reasons why. Because I can influence change.

I serve on two boards. One is for the non-profit organization, and there, my role is to create policy and influence changes in policy. The other is for political action, and there, my role is primarily fund-raising, awareness raising and hobnobbing with local politicians.

On the policy-forming board, I am valuable only insofar as I can represent “my” community. I am supposed to be their voice. What I have to say counts. What my community wants counts.

The demographic that comes closest to me in the blogosphere is the WOC online community, who probably have a lot in common with me, but seem to regard me as the enemy.

Can you believe me if I say that I am not the enemy?

I was angry that Black Amazon would irresponsibly (as I think) attack an organization that is part of the solution for women, especially for women like the teenager I was. The thing is, we have enough real enemies out there, and the battles we have to fight with those real enemies take away from the care and services we could be providing to needy women. These women’s lives are jeopardized by the negative publicity that anti-choice groups disseminate and the funding they take away from the clinics.


If there is a consensus in a certain community that Planned Parenthood deserves criticism, I want to hear from you:

1) What is Planned Parenthood doing that you find objectionable? Be specific — point to practices and policy. If possible, give me your sources.

2) What can Planned Parenthood do to give you confidence in the organization and its intentions?

3) What should Planned Parenthood do differently from what it’s doing now, in any area?

I’ll repeat an important point: I am not the enemy. Nor do I want to silence anyone. In fact, I would respectfully request that you not act in a silencing manner. The fact that nothing Black Amazon says can be criticized without accusations that I am objecting to her right to speak, is very problematic, and the comments on the post below this one make me feel like I should’ve kept my mouth shut.

Which is the very thing you accuse other bloggers of doing to you.

So tell me — what should I tell my fellow board members in my next board meeting (next Wednesday) about what the organization should stop/start doing?

Moderation is off — the floor is yours.

Plain(s)feminist said...

And finally - the reason I am reposting deleted posts is because after deleting these posts and some really awful comments, Apostate writes (this comes after what bobvis pasted in):

Judging from the supportive emails I’ve gotten, a lot of folks out there feel silenced.

I am just not ok with leaving that out there to suggest that an army of women of color went after her and shut her up or somehow oppressed her.

belledame222 said...

her lurrrkers support her in email...

that's...actually embarrassing. oh, cringe.

anyway. Sylvia has a fucking amazing post now also, btw

belledame222 said...

and yeah, though, it is totally bogus to claim "silencing:" no one else told her to take down those damn posts, in fact just the opposite.

Daisy said...

If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. If you can't hold up your end of a discussion, that isn't the same as being "silenced"--that's being unable to defend your position.

Don't blame WOC or anyone else for your decisions in this matter.

bobvis said...

But if you do not go to your parents, if you go to your grandmother, your parents will face abuse charges.

Please excuse my ignorance. Why would a teen's parents face abuse charges if she went to her grandmother when she wanted an abortion?

Donna said...

Bobvis, If I had to guess it's because some of the reasons that pro-choice people give why a girl shouldn't have to have parental notification is, what if her father/step father is the one who got her pregnant (is raping her), or what if she is afraid her parents will beat her or throw her out of the house if they find out. The anti-abortion asses who wrote this law are calling the ante on that and saying that the only reason you would need to have grandma or another relative for notification is because your parents are definitely abusive and so they must be charged. I think that most girls wouldn't want their parents to know simply because they don't want to let them down, don't want to disappoint them. That is a valid enough reason.

Anna said...

Re: Margaret Sanger.

I have trouble coming down on people in the past for their fucked up opinions about things. I mean, honestly, had either one of us lived in that time period, in the same situation we're in now (white, college educated, feminist activists) we would both almost certainly subscribe to some form of eugenicist opinion. She was in some ways clearly a model - many of her arguments in favor of birth control are the exact ones that pro-choicers use today (which is probably part of the problem with the pro-choice movement, but that's another story).

I don't think that means we can't explain where/why she was incorrect about many things (or that I don't point that out in my fact, that's often the only thing my students pick up about early twentieth century women activists), and I don't think it excuses PP's current attitude toward women of color (and lots of other people too). I just feel that, as someone who studies history, if I got angry every time I encountered a historical figure who had a point of view that I consider ridiculous, I would have jumped out a window a long time ago.

Plain(s)feminist said...

I have trouble coming down on people in the past for their fucked up opinions about things. I mean, honestly, had either one of us lived in that time period, in the same situation we're in now (white, college educated, feminist activists) we would both almost certainly subscribe to some form of eugenicist opinion.

Well, first, that's not necessarily the case - there is a long history of white antiracism.

But second - so what? I mean, this suggests that we should not acknowledge her racism because we might have done the same thing. But doing that would still have been wrong. Why is it not ok to point out things that were wrong?

I just feel that, as someone who studies history, if I got angry every time I encountered a historical figure who had a point of view that I consider ridiculous, I would have jumped out a window a long time ago.

I see what you're saying, but for me, what is frustrating about the historical figure of Margaret Sanger is that she is held up BY PP uncritically as a hero (remember the Roe v. Wade event a couple of years ago that celebrated Sanger?). It's not about considering her beliefs ridiculous - it's about what it means that PP, which is not innocent of racism in its services to women of color, even with its good intentions, presents her as a hero - what it means that the pro-choice movement presents her as a hero.

Look at this piece, for example, and how it blatantly says that anyone who disagrees with this rosy picture of Sanger is anti-choice. And how Sanger's support of eugenics is described in this way: "Sanger also entertained some popular ideas of her own time that are out of keeping with our thinking today."

We generally don't look at slavery in this way - we generally recognize that white people who supported slavery may have been going along with the "norm," but we also recognize this as a moral failing. Why, then, do we excuse Sanger?

I think the reality is that people are not evil or good: they are complex. Sanger did heroic things for some women and deeply oppressive things to others. It's fine to say that Sanger was a product of her times, but I don't think that gives her a pass. I think, rather, that it is a perfect opportunity for us in the pro-choice movement to point out how even someone like Sanger was swayed by nativist, racist, and classist arguments of the day, just like some of the arguments we hear now; and that this is one of the struggles that PP and other reproductive rights groups has not yet won because it *still* is swayed by nativist, racist, and classist arguments of the day - as are many of us. Acknowledging this and working to change it would go a long way toward creating safe healthcare for women of color and building solidarity among women who struggle for reproductive rights.

bobvis said...

[If we lived back then,] we would both almost certainly subscribe to some form of eugenicist opinion.

Well, first, that's not necessarily the case - there is a long history of white antiracism.

Throughout this whole mess, I have been wondering this myself. Is it really true that all white people were eugenicists in Sanger's time? I am admittedly not anything close to a historian, but I question this.

My understanding is that "eugenics" was a movement at the time. If the principle beliefs behind eugenics were widely taken for granted at a societal level, it would not be a movement. My understanding though was that supporters *at the time* were called eugenicists. This means that they were different from "regular" people in their beliefs, which implies Sanger chose this unpalatable belief rather than just inherited it from her environment.

(Please attach the same disclaimer plain(s)feminist has put forth to my own words here. I am questioning a particular set of beliefs of a particular person. I will let Santa decide who should go in the Naughty and Nice columns.)

Anna said...

All kinds of feminists (radical feminists like Sanger, Alice Paul, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Charlotte Perkins Gilman) and moderate feminists (every prominent white suffragist I can think of) used racist/eugenicist arguments to advance their own causes in the early twentieth century, and explicitly barred black women from the movement.

Racism and eugenics were a big part of the worldview of a lot of people then - including progressive reformers of almost all sorts, feminists, social scientists, etc, etc, etc. There might be a "long history of white antiracism," but I don't see evidence of that in the women's movement and the progressive movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s, which was the circle in which Sanger was running.

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