a bird and a bottle

What happens when there’s no sex ed?

With all the recent bad news about abstinence only programs here in the U.S., one hopes that their popularity is on the decline. Sure, there are still plenty of communities in which v-cards and silver rings are the thing, but there’s at least hope, with so many states refusing abstinence only funding, that its influence will wane.

For those who still doubt the potentially disastrous effects of refusing to educate teenagers about contraception (not to mention preventing the transmission of STDs), we can direct their gaze to China’s big cities to see what one result of such a policy might be. As the NY Times reports today, abortion rates are on the rise in China’s urban centers. Why is this happening? It’s not married women trying to avoid fines for violating the country’s one child policy. It’s young urbane women who, though sexually active, have never been taught about contraception or even the basic mechanics of pregnancy.

Health experts say that many single women lack even a basic understanding about reproductive health and contraception. At the same time, premarital sex, once rare, is now considered common, particularly in urban areas. So as more single women are having sex, despite often knowing little about it, they also are having more abortions.

“There is a blind spot in sex education in China,” said Xu Jin, director of the [women’s health] clinic, which is run by Marie Stopes International, a nonprofit group that provides sexual and reproductive information and services. “We are here to fill the hole in the system.”

Using abortion as a way to fill a knowledge hole is the worst nightmare of the wingnut antis. And I don’t think it’s necessarily the best approach either; better would be to educate women on how to prevent pregnancy if they do have sex. Instead, the U.S. – and it seems China, too – have decided to ignore that need and leave women to figure it out on their own. The result? Higher rates of unintended pregnancy and women who have no idea about how their own bodies work. Case in point:

One afternoon in mid-April, Dr. Deng was between appointments when a black telephone rang on her desk. It was a hotline for single women.

“You have a pregnancy problem?” Dr. Deng asked. “Where are you?”

“Gansu,” the caller answered, naming one of the poorest provinces in western China.

“How old are you?” Dr. Deng continued.


The woman had had sex twice in early March and had taken a morning after pill. Her period had come on March 17. She had not had sex since then but it was late April and her period was late. She was worried. Dr. Deng offered reassurance: no sex, no pregnancy.

Oy. On the whole, knowledge is greater about sex and pregnancy here, even (i think) among communities where abstinence only is the norm because of the ubiquity of sex in pop culture. That said, is this really a level of knowledge and a way of dealing with reproductive health that we want to emulate?

Yeah, I don’t think so either.


The good news? Accessible Abortion. The Bad News? It’s in Mexico.

mexico abortion

(translation: (1) Bush, like the pope, is against abortion. (2) Yes, he prefers that they become adults and that they have the opportunity to die killing in Iraq).

Anyone in desperate need of some good news on the women’s health front? Yeah, me too.

Well, here it is: Mexico City today legalized abortion. And by a landslide — the vote in the city council was 49-16!

Here are the details, via the NY Times:

The new law will require city hospitals to provide the procedure in the first trimester and opens the way for private abortion clinics. Girls under 18 would have to get their parents’ consent.

The procedure will be almost free for poor or insured city residents, but is unlikely to attract patients from the United States, where later-term abortion is legal in many states. Under the Mexico City law, abortion after 12 weeks would be punished by three to six months in jail.

OK – so it’s not a perfect law (the parental consent provision is strict and 12 weeks is fairly early). But it’s pretty damn good, and the city should be commended not only for taking a stand in a country where abortion is generally proscribed, but also – and perhaps more importantly – making that stand more than symboling by requiring that the procedure be provided free to poor women. If the “pro-lifers” here were really concerned about life, and about respecting fetal life for that matter, they would take similar steps and push for both birth control and much greater access to abortion.

So, kudos to Mexico City. And thank you, Mexico City, for some badly needed good news.

The Face that Launched a Thousand Ships
April 18, 2007, 9:29 am
Filed under: news, news & views, wider world

It’s an old trope. In 1590’s Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe wrote of Helen of Troy, the woman over whom the Trojan Wars were fought:

Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.

Ah yes, the trope of the beautiful woman who drives men to violence over her.

And it only took a day for it to reappear. Which it did with utter lack of taste in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph (an Australian paper).

The headline of the article reads: “Was Gunman Crazed over Emily?” And the lede, next to a big picture of a beautiful teenage girl:

THIS is the face of the girl who may have sparked the worst school shooting in US history.

The speculation, of course, is about whether the Virginia Tech shooter, who killed this young woman and the RA who tried to help her first, was set off on his violent rampage because of some unrequited love for her. If that’s true — and it seems from the news reports that the shooter did have a history of stalking — then it’s terrible. But it’s also not right or appropriate to say that she sparked the shooting. She was murdered. The blame for this atrocious act cannot be placed at her feet.

(via WIMN’s voices; also at LG&M)

News To Me
April 13, 2007, 11:39 am
Filed under: blogsturbation, civil rights, criminal justice, drug war, news & views, wider world

Apparently, not only is our War on Drugs devastating poor neighborhoods in communities of color in the U.S., it’s also hurting the poor in South America.

According to Benjamin Dangl’s new book, excerpted on AlterNet, the War on Drugs is hitting coca farmers, who are legal and unionized in Bolivia, particularly hard.

Admittedly, I haven’t read the whole book yet, only this excerpt, but I have to say that the thesis that the drug war is having that impact surprises me. I would think that by driving up the price of cocaine in the U.S., the drug war would help those farming it in South America. But I suppose that’s naive — it’s probably putting more money in the pockets of the importers but helping keep the farmers powerless to lobby for better protection and pay.

It’s an interesting – and unexpected – effect of disastrous domestic policy, and it’s worth checking out.

Oh, and check out my most recent post at LG&M.

And We Think We’re So Modern
April 10, 2007, 7:09 pm
Filed under: feminism/s & gender, news, politics, reproductive justice, wider world

Via Ezra Klein – A new UN study out today shows that the gender wage gap is almost as big in the U.S. as it is in the developing world.

gender gap

I haven’t yet read the full report (it’s 40 pages and exams are drawing near) but from what I can tell based on this chart alone, it seems like four countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa do the best in terms of pay parity — one cent better per dollar than the U.S.! How’s that for a rude awakening?! The place in the world that is probably most closely associated with gender inequality based on religion (Saudi Arabia, Israel, etc.) pays women better than we do in the U.S., in all our enlightened glory.

Am I reading this right? Can anyone (who has or has not read the fully study) challenge this assumption, or explain it? My curiosity is piqued.

Is She For Real? Column Blames Women for Military Rapes

In a column in a recent Orlando Sentinel, columnist Kathleen Parker lights into Salon and the NY Times for their recent articles about women in the military, sexual assault, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Why is she so mad at the NYT and Salon? Well, because she thinks that the sexual assaults experienced by numerous women soldiers is “not quite rape.” Huh? Here’s Parker in her own words:

Both stories, however, contain enough errors to raise questions about whether the rape-assault rate is as high as suggested. The Salon story reports, for example, that one woman was “coerced into sex” by a commanding officer, which the Salon writer asserts is “legally defined as rape by the military.”

This is simply not true. According to the Manual for Courts-Martial, rape is defined as “an act of sexual intercourse by force and without consent.” The same woman also was prominently featured in the Times story, where she said she was “manipulated into sex.”

Not quite rape, in other words.

It’s funny that she’s going after two articles for their supposed inaccuracies when, as Salon’s Broadsheet notes, her definition of rape is “not quite” right.

Parker is right — the manual does define rape in those terms. But, reading just a few lines down from the manual’s upfront definition of rape, you’ll find this: “Consent, however, may not be inferred if resistance would have been futile…” The soldier was “coerced” into sex; meaning forced to do something that she didn’t want to do; meaning “resistance would have been futile”; meaning she was raped.

Galling, huh? But it’s not even the worst part. Parker goes on to blame not the patriarchal and chauvinistic military structure for the rapes, but the women victims and their feminist predecessors. I’m not kidding:

Clearly, some of what is considered sexual harassment falls into the category of harmless sport — the usual towel-snapping that is, in fact, a way to neutralize sex.

But more overt sexual aggression may be the product of something few will acknowledge, at least on the record: resentment.

Off the record, in dozens of interviews over a period of years, male soldiers and officers have confided that many men resent women because they’ve been forced to pretend that women are equals, and men know they’re not.

The lie breeds contempt, which leads to a simmering rage that sometimes finds expression in aggression toward those deemed responsible.

Targeting women isn’t excusable, obviously. It’s also not the women’s fault that they’ve been put in this untenable situation — exposed both to combat and to the repressed fury of sexually charged young men.

The fault lies with the Pentagon and others who have capitulated to feminist pressures to insert women into combat. Although women are prohibited from direct ground combat and are assigned primarily to support roles, the lack of clear boundaries in Iraq has eliminated the distinction.

Right. So men are excused because their resentment of women usurping their time-honored role as soldiers justifies these rapes. Don’t blame the perpetrators or their commanders who sanctioned such behavior. Blame feminists who dared to claim that women might not actually be equal to men (gasp!). Blame “feminist pressures” for equality (god forbid!). Yes, the distinction between combat and support has been erased by the unrelenting violence in Iraq. But that’s more an indictment of the war than a reason to point fingers at the brave women who enlisted to fight in it.

But, see, to Parker, not only are feminists and women soldiers to blame for their rapes, they’re responsible for the fact that this war has been such an unmitigated disaster.

Finally, our commanders and fighting men could focus on the business of war rather than tending to gender skirmishes that distract commanders and steal time, resources and energy from the military’s purpose.

Right-o. Because if the men could just focus on fighting the war and not getting killed (rather than tending to silly concerns like equality and rape), the war wouldn’t be going so badly.

This is propaganda in its lowest form.

April 5, 2007, 9:03 am
Filed under: feminism/s & gender, media, news, politics, wider world

The Republican noise machine (Amanda’s great term) is in a tizzy about this photo of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is in Syria.


They’re calling her trip a publicity stunt and a bad idea, and criticizing the fact that Pelosi is in Syria — representing a bipartisan Congressional panel — to begin with. And there’s been a lot of talk about her decision to don the headscart to go into a mosque. Of course, as Amanda notes, the most vitriol has come from Althouse and Glenn Reynolds, who maintain that Pelosi cannot be a feminist and also wear a headscarf. That’s BS. Showing respect when entering a religious house of worship is totally different than endorsing that mandatory head covering.

Of course, as Media Matters points out, the criticism of Pelois’s tip in the first place is disingenuous. Plenty of Republicans have or are planning to travel to Syria to engage in peace talks. And being the hypocrites that they are, the talking heads have seized on the image of Pelosi in a headscarf because they think it will be divisive. Or make her look bad. Or something. It’s a lot of fuss over…nothing.

Especially when she donned it to enter a mosque, just as visitors to Italian churches must cover their shoulders and male visitors to synagogues often wear yarmulkes.

Oh yeah, and given, as Zuzu masterfully points out, that Laura Bush too has worn a headscarf when appropriate to show respect.

It’s a double hypocrisy whammy.