Alabama and Melinda Gates

From a Google Image Search – Wired

It could be a coincidence that I began reading Melinda Gate’s book The Moment of Lift while Alabama men were busily using bogus science to break an American law that has given women control over their own bodies for the past 40 years, but I think other forces might have been in motion in the universe. The reproductive rights that American women won in the 1960’s and 1970’s gave the United States a reputation for being one of the most enlightened places in the world for women and girls. Both contraception and the right to an abortion did as much to open up higher education and personal wealth to American women as World War II did to open up factories, office jobs, and family security.

I was there when it happened. I came from a poor family. My mom had eight children, probably at least four more than we could afford. My mom did not want to be a working mother. She was shy and nervous and suffered from low self-esteem. She was a good mom. All the kids in the neighborhood liked to hang out at our house. Several working mothers trusted her enough to pay her to look after their babies and in this way she contributed to the family income without having to, as she put it, “work out (of the home)” 

But I was embarrassed when my mom got pregnant for the eighth time. I knew the economies we already had to make in our household, the old cars held together with bubble gum and bobby pins, the day old bread, the cans of unlabeled food cheap at the supermarket that made dining a sometimes disappointing mystery, the struggle to shoe us all, the clothing contributed by neighbors. It wasn’t nice of me to react in this way but I was a young teen and it was tough to hold it in.

Melinda Gates, pregnant with the Gate’s first child, on the way back from a trip to China, told Bill Gates that she did not plan to keep working after she had the baby. Of course, as she reminded her husband, they were fortunate because they did not need her income. This is the way women were raised. If you had children you should stay home with them. It didn’t take Melinda Gates long to change her mind. At first she did not identify as a feminist, now she describes herself as “an ardent feminist” and she has earned the props to back it up.

She describes being a feminist in this way, “being a feminist means believing that every woman should be able to use her voice and pursue her potential, and that women and men should all work together to take down the barriers and end the biases that still hold women back.” Melinda Gates, a devout Catholic does not speak up much for abortion rights, which would be hard to reconcile with her faith but she doesn’t speak up against them either. She has invested time and money using the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation set up in 2000 to make sure that women everywhere have access to contraception.

After a trip to Africa Melinda discovered that millions of children around the world are dying because “they are poor and we weren’t hearing about it because they were poor.” This led the foundation to invest in vaccines and delivery systems. At vaccination centers Melinda met women who had walked long distances to get their children’s shots but also their own shots, an injection of long-acting birth control so that they could plan their families.

“Increasingly on my trips, no matter what their purpose, I began to hear and see the need for contraceptives. I visited communities where every mother had lost a child and everyone knew a mother who had died in childbirth. I met more mothers who were desperate not to get pregnant because they couldn’t take care of the kids they already had. I began to understand why, even though I wasn’t there to talk about contraceptives women kept bringing them up anyway.”

She continues, “[w]hen women in developing countries space their births by at least three years, each baby is almost twice as likely to survive their first year –and 35 percent more likely to see their fifth birthday.” She tell us about a long-running public health study dating from the 1970’s. Half the families in villages in Bangladesh were given contraceptives and the other half were not. Twenty years later, the benefits accrued to the half on contraceptives; mothers were healthier, children were better nourished, families had more wealth, women had higher wages, sons and daughters had better schooling.

Melinda Gates does not only discuss reproductive rights in her book. She goes on to discuss schooling and equal pay for women, but she also talks about what is happening in America right now. “It’s a mark of a backward society –or a society moving backward—when decisions are made for women by men. That’s what is happening right now in the US.” 

She tells us that if the policies of this administration are successful “more than a million low-income women who now rely on Title X funding to get contraceptive services or cancer screenings or annual exams from Planned Parenthood will lose their healthcare provider.” And she also tell us this, “for women outside the United States, the administration has proposed cutting its contribution for international family planning in half and cutting its contributions to the UN Population Fund to zero.” 

“The administration also proposed eliminating the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, which would end a crucial supply of contraceptives for teens who need them.”

Reading The Moment of Liftby Melinda Gates on the very days when a law outlawing abortion is being sent to the governor of Alabama for her signature seems to argue for the possibility of “divine intervention”. The opponents of abortion feel that the Supreme Court is ripe to overturn Roe v Wade and they are making their moves, hoping the case which will assuredly be filed against this unconstitutional law will make it to the Supreme Court and that the Supreme Court will make abortion illegal in America. 

Backwards, backwards. I don’t believe women will go there for long. These same men and women who oppose abortion also oppose contraception. If they win on the abortion issue, contraception could well be their next target. And women around the world who are just beginning to have the tools to fight the oppression of women and how it affects their families, and the woes of poverty for their children, whether these barriers arose from tradition or malign intent, or religion, will go down with us.

Women, Trump, Religion, Money

 

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You may wonder why Evangelicals don’t oppose 45, whose “sins” are coming home to roost and lowering the tone of our national discourse. But you don’t have to travel too far in your thinking to understand that Trump’s misogyny is tailor-made for furthering the policies of fundamentalist Christians. Iowa just passed a law that makes it a crime to have an abortion after 6 weeks. So far no one has overturned this law which violates the intent of Roe v Wade, a law with Supreme Court clout behind it. Perhaps this is true because Trump is packing Federal courts with conservatives as quickly as Congress can confirm them.

Evangelicals and Trump seem to agree that women are the root of much of the evil in American society. When women went to work families fell apart, they claim. Many conservatives feel that the demise of the nuclear family changed the entire tenor of American society and not for the better. They blame the disruptions to the nuclear family on educating women for careers that take their focus away from preserving close families. They also blame this statistical piece of data about fewer nuclear families on women’s liberation and feminism, birth control and legal abortion. But the true roots of this story, at least for these originalists, are in the Garden of Eden. Women led men into the original sin.

Some Evangelicals tend to also be white supremacists (these days) who bemoan the lack of large white families, the dearth of women who are baby factories turning out white infants to keep America white. I don’t know if you have been reading David Brooks in the NYT’s. While I would never identify Brooks as a white supremacist, he does feel that American values and our whole national psyche suffered as families lost strength. He places a lot of the blame on technology but behind his Luddite arguments are the missing elements that supposedly gave America, once upon a time, it’s sense of community. Those missing elements are moms and religion (the role of the church in community life). When women went to work, white women stopped having babies, that is the crux of the matter for Evangelicals, for white supremacists, and perhaps, in a different way, even for David Brooks.

Beyond that there is, of course, a religious belief that abortion is wrong, that God doesn’t like it and that it is probably a mortal sin, even though mortal sin is more a Catholic thing than an evangelical thing. Many believe that if they let women abort babies they are dooming their immortal soul and will never be accepted in Paradise when they leave this life. So they dictate what others can do because they feel they must for both reasons of faith and to insure their passage into heaven.

Lately Evangelicals have decided that life is so sacred that it is wrong to use birth control. Just as some schools are moving back to preaching abstinence; women are being burdened with a message that links abortion and birth control. Evangelicals seems to be saying to women, if you don’t want babies don’t be promiscuous; if you get pregnant, regardless of the circumstances, have the baby. Most of this enormous burden of judgmental religiosity is coming from men, who are responsible for every baby ever born and for the circumstances under which they are conceived (at least most of the time). Allowing this message to have power over women’s lives sends them spiraling backwards to pre-contraception days.

Donald Trump lives deep in the old Madonna-whore complex. Wives are placed on a pedestal and treated like queens (for a while at least) and other women who like their sexuality, or who exploit their sexuality, or who are exploited for their sexuality are Donald’s whores. He may also treat them well for a while, but they are not supposed to have children by him and they are definitely not squired about for public consumption. If they did get pregnant, which could happen because his pleasure comes without protection, I assume an abortion would suddenly gain favor.

And so, not totally by surprise we find this article at salon.com

https://www.salon.com/2018/05/17/is-donald-trump-literally-selling-off-womens-human-rights-for-personal-profit/

“The slow drip-drip of revelations about exactly how deep Donald Trump was in with the Russians comes out on top of a veritable sea of corruption stories flooding out of the White House. But one scandal that’s getting less attention might end up having more dramatic impacts in the long run. It could end up drastically undermining women’s rights to get abortions, to prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, and even to protect themselves from cancer. New evidence suggests that Trump is, in effect, selling off women’s rights to religious fundamentalists, and personally profiting from doing so.”

It is certainly true that women’s rights have moved far down on the list of media priorities. There are so many attacks on various aspects of American traditions, laws, and practices that we mostly feel like victims of whiplash. Sleaze sells better than outrage. With hush money changing hands and Stormy Daniels piquing interest or moral judgment, and lawyers dominating our news cycles women’s issues, never of great interest to anyone other than women, have fallen by the wayside. (Although, of course, the treatment of Stormy Daniels, et al, is a women’s issue.)

“It’s not unusual, especially in the era of dark money, for special interests to buy off candidates by spending lavishly on campaigns. But with the SBA List’s hotel choice and questions about the Trump-inauguration money’s final destination, there’s strong reason to worry that Trump is simply profiting directly from influence-peddling. What anti-choice activists appear to be getting in exchange is terrifying: An all-out assault on legal abortion and affordable contraception that could roll back decades of progress for women’s autonomy and reproductive health,” says Amanda Marcotte, the author of the article.

Not all women enjoy child-rearing, at least not if it is all they are allowed to do. Women tend to be born with brains as functional as those of men. When women’s brains are solely concerned with healthy baby meals and children’s literature, songs and play activities it can make a grown human woman feel brain dead. I am not saying women don’t love their children. It would be great if all of the women who thrive on child-rearing could concentrate on that pleasure. I am saying that there are women who do not find fulfillment in raising children as their sole profession. In fact there are women who become depressed if they do not have a job to do out in the world away from their family for at least part of the day. There are women who go mad if they cannot create and study and read and exercise their minds just as they exercise their bodies. Much of Freud’s oeuvrewas based on the mental states of women who were suppressed in one way or another. Limiting human endeavors can have profound effects on anyone. There is scientific data about this if only these people valued science.

What will women’s lives be like when 45 is finished with us all? Will we be under the supervision of fundamentalist religious leaders as we see in other parts of the world? We can certainly see the relevance of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and why it has returned as a popular mini-series on TV. The battle was already lost for at least 4 years when Trump was elected. We resist but we worry. Will that be enough? And 45 is being handsomely paid to help take rights away from women? That just adds insult to injury.

See new developments 5/18/2018: