Voting: I don’t love it, but I’ll always do it.

Artwork by Faviana Rodriguez

originally posted at the Strong Families blog.

I’m not the kind of person who gets excited about voting. I’ve heard stories from friends of going with their families to the polls as children, of preserving their “I voted” stickers on laptops. I was never like that. My parents always voted, but it wasn’t an event. More of a responsibility – as immigrants, they had to earn their vote, and I suspect they never wanted to take it for granted.

The states where I grew up didn’t help my enthusiasm. I spent my childhood in Texas and have been in California ever since.  In my states, there’s always a clear winner and loser when it comes to Presidents – we know where those electoral votes are going even before the campaigns start. That’s how it’s always been, how it will always be. My votes have hardly felt special or significant, like they probably would have if I lived in New Hampshire.

Voting in local elections made things feel more significant but still not particularly thrilling. There was always so much rhetoric to weed through, so many arguments back and forth that were never targeted to me because I’ve never been a swing voter or an undecided. People don’t want me in focus groups to determine what language resonates with me. I’m not courted by the Gallup pollers.

Voting feels like an inconvenience more than anything. An important inconvenience. But I do vote, even though my individual vote doesn’t feel really important. Despite the limitations of our country’s bipartisan setup, and the electoral college, and even voter laws, I think voting is a privilege. It’s something that, under different circumstances, I may not have had. It doesn’t make me feel like my voice is being heard, but it reminds me that I have a voice and that I’m able to use it in a number of ways. It helps me acknowledge the thousands who fought for their right to be counted. I don’t think voting needs to feel idealistic and warm and fuzzy. It can feel complicated and a bit nauseating and maybe even hopeless, especially when we don’t agree with 100% of a person or policy. But I will still vote.

We want voting to feel like a way to create all the changes to the systems that impact us. The reality is, voting is just one of the ways we speak up. We organize. We write. We tell our stories. We advocate for new policies and laws. We canvass our neighborhoods and make asks of our decision makers when there are no cameras watching. We challenge and criticize the people we elect to hold them accountable for the promises they made. Combined, it’s a great big picture of what it means to make our communities and country better.

So vote. Do all the things you do, and also vote. If you can’t vote, tell people to vote. If you don’t know what to vote for, find ways to help you make a decision. It may feel too insignificant to matter, but it’s also too important to ignore.

Nina is the Development Manager at Forward Together. She loves the internet and a good cup of tea. You can follow her on twitter @msninaricha

When Brits Called the Midwife Instead of the Doctor

Originally posted at Ms. Magazine blog.

A new six-part BBC TV series that aired in the UK beginning in January, Call the Midwife, will start airing in the U.S. on PBS this Sunday. Written and directed by women (Heidi Thomas and Philipa Lowthorpe), it’s based on the memoir of Jennifer Worth, a British nurse who served as a midwife in East London in the 1950s, during the aftermath of World War II.

In the pilot, we’re introduced to bright-eyed Jenny Lee (played by Jessica Raine), who joins Nonnatus House, where a group of older nuns and younger women serve as midwives in their poverty stricken neighborhood. Jenny and her peers are a new class of women, who have postponed or perhaps sidestepped lives as wives and mothers, opting for a career instead.

Through the course of the episode , we see the conditions of being pregnant at that time and in that place: There are a lot of sanitation issues and there’s no birth control–just child after child. We see the contrast between the inexperienced midwife and her clients, who are old pros at delivering children. And the technology is limited–the scene in which Jenny reviews her medical kit, complete with glass rectal tube, left me grateful for the plastic stirrups in my gyno’s office that don’t make my feet cold.

The central patient in the pilot is Conchita Warren, a woman from Spain who speaks no English and is married to a Spanish Civil War vet from Britain who speaks no Spanish. Spoilers start here! They’re completely in love, and she’s pregnant with her 25th child. When Conchita suffers a mild concussion as a result of a fall, forcing her into early labor, Jenny rushes to her home to deliver the baby. She needs a doctor, Jenny says. It’s the first reference we hear–and, later, see–of the medical industry, hospitals and men in white coats. And while those coats show up, urging the mother to take her and her baby to a hospital, they seem out of place. Perhaps it’s because the doctors are all men, or perhaps because, until this point in the episode, it’s the mothers who seem to know what’s best for themselves. But British culture is changing, even in this moment, as the doctors and Jenny urge Conchita to go to the hospital, because that’s where premature babies and mothers with concussions have a chance of surviving. Conchita nonetheless clutches her child and asserts herself: The child stays with me, she tells them.

Jenny is instructed to visit Conchita three times a day until the baby reaches a healthy weight, which sounds completely normal in the show and completely shocking to a modern audience. For many of us today, the idea of having so much personalized care would be reserved for the few who could afford it. Here, in 1950s East London, that kind of care is assumed and accessible to all.

The show drives home the intimate and personalized nature of midwifery and the reality that such care was replaced by advancements of medical technology and a male-dominated industry. We’re able to see how different the culture of childbearing was–one with women caregivers, home visits and so much more trust in, and compassion for, pregnant women and their bodies. The midwives aren’t the heroines, Jenny tells a woman who suffers a miscarriage, the mothers are. It’s a bit overly sentimental, but it’s true, and it’s a message I suspect will carry through the rest of the series.

If you enjoy it, there will be more: A second season of the series has already been commissioned.

Victoria’s Secret Does it Again: When Racism meets Fashion

Originally posted at Racialicious

In case you missed it, Victoria’s Secret recently launched a new lingerie collection. Entitled “Go East,” it’s the kind of overt racism masked behind claims of inspired fashion and exploring sexual fantasy that makes my skin crawl.

From the website: “Your ticket to an exotic adventure: a sexy mesh teddy with flirty cutouts and Eastern-inspired florals. Sexy little fantasies, there’s one for every sexy you.” The collection varies in its level of exoticism. The “Sexy Little Geisha” is a perversion of its reference, featuring a sultry white model donned in lingerie, chopsticks in her hair, fan in her hand. Other items in the collection include red sleepwear and nightgowns with cherry blossoms. I might have glossed over some of these pieces entirely–except the catalog descriptions had me reeling. “Indulge in touches of Eastern delight.” Translation: “Buying these clothes can help you experience the Exotic East and all the sexual fantasies that come along with it, without all the messy racial politics!”

When someone creates a collection like this, making inauthentic references to “Eastern culture” (whatever that means) with hints of red or a fan accessory or floral designs, it reinforces a narrative that says that all Asian cultures–and their women–are exotic, far away but easy to access. It’s a narrative that says the culture can be completely stripped of its realness in order to fulfill our fantasies of a safe and non-threatening, mysterious East.

But when a company takes it one step further by developing a story about how the clothes can offer a sort of escape using explicit sexualized and exploitive language, it takes the whole thing to another level. It’s a troubling attempt to sidestep authentic representation and humanization of a culture and opt instead for racialized fetishizing against Asian women.

There’s a long-standing trend to represent Asian women as hypersexualized objects of fantasy, so it’s telling that none of the models wearing the “Go East” collection appear to be Asian. Perhaps this is a way for the company to distance itself from accusations of racism, given the backlash of previous campaigns such as “Wild Thing,” a fashion show segment in which black models wore “tribal” body paint and African-themed wraps. In the case of “Go East,” Victoria’s Secret is avoiding a stereotype by removing Asian women from the picture while still capitalizing on it. The lack of Asian women here simply exposes the deep-rooted nature of the Orientalist narrative, one that trades real humanness for access to culture. Besides, it can only feel sexy and exotic if it’s on an “American” body–without the feeling of accessing something foreign or forbidden, there can be no fantasy.

I’m not trying to deny that people have their own unique sexual desires and sources of pleasure. But like all things, sex and sexuality don’t live in a bubble. They intersect with our historical and cultural contexts. Donning a “sexy Geisha” outfit to get the ball rolling in the bedroom remains offensive because it confirms a paradigm in which Asian people and their culture can be modified and sexualized and appropriated for the benefit of the West. This particular kind of racism has existed for a long time, and we’re far from moving beyond it.

Nina Jacinto is a blogger and the Development Manager at Forward Together. She loves the internet, bargain shopping, and a really good cup of tea.

Until the war is over

Originally posted at Feministing Community page

Perhaps we should be done talking about Akin’s “legitimate rape” remarks and the GOP’s hollow attempts to distance themselves from his stance while simultaneously laying groundwork for an abortion plank that has no mention of exceptions around rape or incest. But we can’t be done. We can’t be done because Akin isn’t done. We can’t be done because Akin isn’t a lone gunman in this War on Women. He’s part of an army of people who believe, be it because of politics or religion – or maybe because they just didn’t have great sex-education – that women can’t (and shouldn’t) make their own decisions about their own bodies.

The words “the personal is political” has never resonated more with me than it has in this last year. The outpour of anti-choice legislation, the attacks on every aspect of reproductive justice, is a terrifying reminder than my rights can be bought and sold for an election without my permission. And I know the motive behind this attempt to stifle autonomy for women must be political because nothing adds up. If Romney means what he says, for example, and makes exceptions for abortions in cases of rape because he still cares about women, how does he think that’s going to go? If one of the 32,000 women who are estimated to be pregnant from rape each year tries to get an abortion in a country that restricts them almost entirely, where will they go if the clinics are mostly closed? If there is no funding? What will they do if they are too afraid and fearful for their lives to say that they were raped? What if they are ‘too young’, or ‘too poor’, or ‘not American enough’ to be supported by the systems that claim to support them? There’s no science or research or logic to it – just repeated attempts to take control of how we live our lives.

And there is so much shame around how we choose to live, especially those that are trying to thrive in the margins. We are shamed for using birth control and we are deemed careless for our unexpected pregnancies. We are criticized for parenting at too young an age, and we are made to feel embarrassed for seeking access to reproductive health services. We are scolded by those who will never have to make the decisions we will have to make about bearing or raising a child and we are patronized when we speak out about our rights. It’s the kind of shame we may spend our whole lives trying to resist, keeping it from tangling itself in our hearts and our minds.

But we can count on each other – we can share our stories and tell each other it’s ok to be mad or sad or hopeful or ashamed. We can keep speaking out and keep changing our homes and our communities and we can keep fighting until there are just our bodies, alive and safe and well.

Loving so much it hurts: Why I’m not sure if I can be a mom

cross posted at the Strong Families blog.

I remember the first time I talked to my partner about children.

It was early on in our relationship and felt safe to ask about, since it was still clear we weren’t necessarily talking about children we’d have with each other. “How do you feel about having children?” I had asked. I sank back into the couch, preparing myself for the long response that would inevitably follow. After all, I thought, this is parenthood we’re talking about.

“I’m not ready to have children now. But I will one day. I’ll be really excited to be a father when it happens and I think I’m going to be a good parent.”

You know that feeling when someone kicks a soccer ball into your stomach accidentally? That sums up what happened when he said that to me. You think you’re going to be a good parent? Who knows that for sure? How did you respond to this question with so much confidence and integrity? Right as I was struggling to inhale, my partner batted the dreaded question back to me.

I don’t know how people can be so calm answering a question about being a parent. The question of motherhood — of raising a child, of being a mother to another human life — is so loaded for me that I spend an equal amount of time trying not to think about it and obsessing about it.

I have a running list of things that immediately come to mind when I envision myself as a mother:

1. What if they don’t like me?
2. What if they grow up to be conservative and vote for a future Bush? What if they rebel against all my politics and want to donate to anti-choice organizations?
3. What if they reject their South Asian roots?
4. What if they’re extroverted?
5. What if I don’t like them?
6. What if we’re not as close as my mom and I are?
7. How will I raise a child who has male privilege or passing-for-white privilege?
8. What if the child likes my partner more than me?
9. How could I handle raising more than one child? (Note: I am an only child.)
10. What if I don’t like being a parent and spend my whole life secretly regretting it?
11. What if I’m too clingy and fuck them up for the rest of their lives?
12. What if something tragic happens to them?

I realize that this list is a testament to how NOT ready I am to be a mother. There are just so many factors to consider! And I’m a cautious, anxious sort of person. The fear alone of caring for another human life in such a seemingly unique and powerful way is enough to send me down the path of hyperventilation.

I thought I would find solace with friends around this issue. Not so. Most of my friends are head-over-heels for babies and children and chastise me about ever questioning becoming a mother one day. They can’t wait to meet new children, play with them, and hold their sticky hands. The rest of my friends seem to have resigned to parenthood — they see it as an inevitable next step after finding and marrying a partner. My response to meeting children is about as awkward as meeting anyone else. Baby talk makes me a bit nauseous and the only children I’ve ever really liked are quiet, intelligent, and feel just as skeptical about themselves as I do.

Then I think of my own mother. She narrates her decision to have a child with that knowing half-smile that says, “You feel this way now, but you’re going to laugh in 10 or 15 years when you look back on this.” She had decided in her early twenties to never raise a child. But then, when she was 30 and five years into her marriage, she gave birth to me. She and I have never teased out the skepticism or resentment she may have had about giving birth to a child. Perhaps she felt an obligation to fulfill the traditional roles of wife and mother, like her mother before her. I suspect she wonders what life would have been like without me in it, but I think overall, she is pretty happy. Not to toot my own horn too much or anything, but my mother raised a relatively competent and intelligent child who believes in serving her community for the rest of her life. She also happened to raise someone who loves her mother so much, it kind of hurts sometimes.

I think it’s this idea of “loving so much it hurts” that makes me want to scream and run away from the land of mamas. Caring for someone with all your heart that way requires a tremendous amount of trust in oneself, and even more vulnerability. Opening up our heart to love, and letting in everything that comes with it — happiness, sadness, fear, intimacy, risk, compassion — sounds…terrifying. I struggle with this already as a daughter, as a person in a committed romantic relationship. I feel this way as a best friend. How can I take this on as a mother? The insecure and scared person inside me who has experienced and remains afraid of loss says, What if I can’t handle it?

This Mama’s Day, I’ll spend the day with my own mom, curled up close to her, taking in the smell of her hair and the softness of her hands. I’ll wonder if I can ever be like her and take on the work that she did. I’ll thank her and all the people and institutions that have allowed me to consider motherhood, have allowed me to see it as a future option, and not an obligation or unexpected label. And until I know, I’ll keep wondering, keep being scared, keep asking questions.

The Pill is turning 50: Has it lived up to its reputation?

We can all agree that the pill has changed the course of reproductive justice, but Laura Eldridge encourages us to take a more critical look at the pill and its possible limitations.

Oral contraceptives have allowed women to take more control over their sexual health and to planned their lives with more assurance. The pill has been shown to do more than just prevent unintended pregnancies: studies have claimed that the pill does everything from treating severe menstrual pain and acne to decreasing urinary incontinence, preventing bacterial vaginosis and pelvic inflammatory diseases. Sometimes the pill is painted as a wonder drug – it’s over 99% effective in preventing pregnancy when taken correctly and it can reduce many symptoms of premenstrual syndrom.

Eldridge’s article challenges our opinion of the pill slightly, by reminding us of its history and its consequences. Hormone based drugs still show risks among women, including mood swings and a crushed libido to strokes and heart attacks caused by blood clots. The actual creation of the pill was a result of years of testing on poor women, and part of the need for the pill did not come from preventing pregnancy overall, but for population control among poor communities of color. Eldrigde writes, “The pill was able to be born because of deep social and economic injustices, not solely as a response to them. The pill trials were conducted on poor women in Puerto Rico, in part because they had fewer legal protections against some of the dangers of new drug trials.”

Issues of racism and sexism emerged from the creation and use of the first pill, as female doctors were often scoffed at for their concerns about possible side effects, and as the mission of the pill became so much about keeping disadvantaged populations from procreating. Barbara Seaman wrote “The Doctors’ Case Against the Pill” which documented the side effects women faced as a result of taking the pill, shedding light on the little information that was provided to these women from drug companies.

Things are different today: the hormone dose in pills has reduced significantly, and there are yards of warning label attached to each form of oral contraceptive. Perhaps most moving of all, Eldridge reminds us that these changes are “due to the tireless efforts of the women’s health movement.”

Part of looking back and seeing how far we’ve come is, indeed, also about seeing how far there is to go. This month especially, we need to consider how much work still needs to be done to provide adequate and accurate sexual health resources for all communities, how more innovative birth control methods must continue to be created for women AND MEN, and that the stigma around the right not to have a child must still be eradicated.

It’s Back up Your Birth Control Day!

Advocates around the country are encouraging people to back up their birth control today, March 24th, 2010. Though many of us are well aware of the advantages of emergency contraception, Back Up Your Birth Control Day is a day to spread the word and encourage women to never take their sexual health for granted – that means being prepared!

While we may use other forms of contraception, there is always a chance that you may have unprotected sex. So make sure you are aware of and have a back up of your birth control.

Currently there are two types of emergency contraception on the market – Plan B Onestep is one pill that you can take up to 72 hours after having unprotected sex. A generic version of the drug is also available, called Next Choice. Both are available to adults without a prescription – Plan B One Step is available to individuals 17 and older without a prescription.

Condoms break, and people forget to take the pill sometimes, and things happen. Having access to a contraceptive backup is imperative for all women, particularly young women who are more likely to have unprotected sex.

Although a judge ordered the FDA to reconsider the current restrictions on emergency contraception a year ago, little has been done to make EC accessible and easy to obtain. Even if you don’t need a prescription, you have to go to a pharmacist and provide a legal ID. Although research has shown that there are no medical grounds for limiting access to emergency contraception, the FDA has not enforced any changes to the way the drug is sold. We need to be able to buy EC the way we would condoms, and increase the education avaialble in our communities about the option to use emergency contraception. It’s better than the shame and anxiety that currently exists around the drug for so many people!

There are many ways to take action on this day – for more information, check out the campaign’s website here.