The Disconnect Between the Reproductive Justice and LGBTQ Movements

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During OUTober, I am often reminded of the chasm that exists between the LGBTQ spaces and pro-choice spaces on campus. If I had a nickel for every time someone — specifically white, cis, gay men — questioned my participation in H*yas for Choice because I’m a gay woman, I’d have 10 cents and zero f*cking patience left. It is extremely unfortunate for me to see a blatant disconnect between the LGBTQ movement and the reproductive justice movement, both on this campus and in the greater public discourse in this country. I attribute this distance to a misunderstanding of what reproductive justice means and the way it affects Georgetown and society as a whole.

For me, reproductive justice is affirming everyone’s right to choose when, how, and if they want to exercise their ability to reproduce.

When: This includes protecting access to contraceptives for men, women, and those who do not conform to the gender binary so that they can be in control of their reproductive destinies. Male condoms, female condoms, IUDs, the pill, hormonal implants — you name it, they all need to be available to students regardless of their socioeconomic background or the religious affiliation of the school they attend. Access to contraception and other methods of protection (e.g. dental dams) that prevent the spread of HIV and other STIs is immensely important for both the LGBTQ community as well as proponents of reproductive justice.

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How: This is where I believe we need to expand our understanding of reproductive justice. How people choose to reproduce (if they choose to reproduce in the first place, which we’ll cover later) should be dependent on their own decisions and that of their partner, if they have one. Fighting for reproductive justice means denouncing the coercive sterilization of women in prison, just as much as it means fighting for the right of any couple, or individual, to use in vitro fertilization to conceive a child. When we prevent certain members of society from reproducing based on racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, sexism, biphobia, and other kinds of prejudice, we rob them of their reproductive rights. Both the LGBTQ movement and the reproductive justice movement ought to work together to uphold the right of individuals to reproduce however they choose.

Another aspect of the “how” of reproductive justice is consent. An individual’s sexual agency must not be violated, regardless of whether their perpetrator is their partner. I am glad to see that there have been increased discussions on campus regarding intimate partner violence in the LGBTQ community and hope to see this expanded further in the future. These conversations are especially critical considering that bisexual women endure the highest levels of sexual violence, the stigma surrounding sexual violence, and the demasculinization that male survivors may endure. Rape and sexual violence, especially when committed against people who are able to get pregnant, violate a survivor’s reproductive rights since the victim cannot decide to participate in an act that might lead to conception.

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If: Not all women want to have children! Not everyone who is married wants to have children! Not everyone in a relationship wants to get married! Not everyone wants to be in a romantic relationship! Not everyone wants to have sex! Both movements respect the right of the individual to live out their identity free from pressure to conform to societal expectations of masculinity, femininity, relationships, and parenthood — so, why not engage in more conversations about this intersection on campus!?

Unfortunately, there are shortcomings that both the LGBTQ and repro movements share, but they can be conquered together. Racism, notably in the form of historical erasure that obscures the impact people of color have had on both movements, has led to the persistent marginalization of people of color. We need to celebrate the contributions that people of color have made to both movements and ensure we are being inclusive, especially with our language. The creation of the Queer Men of Color discussion group as well as the GU Queer People of Color organization are important advancements, but more needs to be done by existing LGBTQ and pro-choice spaces on campus. Additionally, as the LGB(T!)Q movement is evolving to address the particular issues trans people face, so must the repro justice movement, including dialogue addressing abortion access and “women’s” health care; once again, language is vital to create safe, inclusive spaces.

The LGBTQ and reproductive justice movements are certainly not mutually exclusive. This is made clear by the many students active in H*yas for Choice who are also part of the LGBTQ community — students like me. If the movements did not have overlapping initiatives, they would be horribly inept at creating a progressive environment where students can feel comfortable acting in ways that are consistent with their identities. More can be done to ensure both movements work in solidarity with each other, and I urge leaders on campus to help facilitate this change.

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Annie Mason (COL’ 18) is the Historian of H*yas for Choice.

SAC, Vaginas, and Free Speech at Georgetown

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This year, I was a producer in Georgetown’s production of Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues.” We had just over 60 actresses, performed in six shows, and ended up donating a few thousand dollars to My Sister’s Place, a local domestic violence shelter. Overall, it was a large, successful operation that went relatively smoothly — that is, until members of the cast attempted to design and purchase T-shirts for themselves to commemorate their experience.

Let me start by showing the design. Here it is, in all its glory:

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This is what happened: I designed the shirts, drawing from designs that the V-Day Foundation sells as part of its One Billion Rising campaign. According to Custom Ink’s requirements, the shirts had to have the words “Georgetown University” on them. Additionally, the shirts were being entirely funded by club members — SAC money was not being used to purchase them. After I submitted the design to SAC, I received an email saying the design had been “narrowly approved.” Wary but optimistic, I accepted the decision.

Unfortunately, the following day, I received an email saying a member of the commission had moved to rescind SAC’s authorization because they believed the matter needed further consideration. I was urged to attend the SAC meeting the following week to present the shirts if I wanted them to be approved.

Thus began the saga.

I want to say explicitly that I am not attempting to vilify SAC. They eventually did the right thing — they passed the design 7-4. The reason I waited a few weeks to discuss the incident was to avoid any uproar over something that SAC (eventually) did right. However, that does not mean the situation was not concerning. It demonstrated the persistence of deeply held, frankly misogynistic beliefs regarding women and their sexuality. The ordeal that was required to pass the T-shirt design needs to be discussed because the attitudes some SAC commissioners displayed are also the underpinnings of anti-women, anti-choice, and anti-sexual health legislation and movements at Georgetown and across the U.S.

There were two major arguments some of the SAC commissioners made that warrant special attention. The first was that if members of Take Back the Night wore the T-shirts around campus, small children might see them and parents might find them inappropriate. Let me reiterate that, as you can see, this is not an anatomical depiction of a vagina. It is an abstract representation of a concept of femininity — the very concept the Monologues tries to espouse. Heaven forbid a 6-year-old girl would look at the shirt and see something vaguely reminiscent of what she, herself, possesses. Further, there are metaphorical phallic images everywhere we look — all one has to do is peek out the window of some New South dorm to catch a glimpse of the Washington Monument. There is a double standard, and, as is so frequently the case, the double standard works against women.

GU cast members of "The Vagina Monologues"

GU cast members of “The Vagina Monologues”

The design is simply not pornographic. To say that the design is inappropriate requires a two-step thought process. First, it assumes that the vagina is automatically sexual, an idea that borders on objectification. Second, it indicates that a woman’s vagina is dirty and shameful. It is this kind of thinking that fosters the slut/virgin dichotomy, catcalling a woman as she walks down a street, and — perhaps most seriously — the stigma surrounding a woman who chooses to speak about her sexual assault or to have an abortion. These cultural norms hurt women, and by deliberating for over two weeks about the shirts, SAC perpetuated the existence of these norms.

Additionally, several SAC commissioners likened the image to a T-shirt design they had refused to approve earlier in the year that prominently displayed a beer stein, which they felt promoted underage drinking. Because, clearly, possessing a vagina is a similarly illegal activity.

It makes the university look good to have an active women’s center. It makes Georgetown look good to have a chapter of Take Back the Night and to put on “The Vagina Monologues.” It is something tour guides can point out as they bring prospective groups through campus. However, by threatening to reject the design, SAC, acting in its role as an advisory commission to the university, said that these are important issues to discuss in a very small, enclosed theater for a few nights a year. Carrying on the dialogue for more than a few hours every February by wearing shirts that symbolize the essence of the show would clearly be too much discussion, SAC implied. It’s a free speech issue, and H*yas for Choice has always contended that the university pays lip service to free speech, but frequently fails in their implementation of it. Unfortunately, this debacle with SAC epitomizes that constant struggle.

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Emily Stephens (SFS ’17) is the secretary of H*yas for Choice. 

Being Pro-Choice at Georgetown

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Many of our peers — some accusatory, some simply curious — have asked us, “Why would you, somebody who claims to be pro-choice, come to Georgetown? Don’t you know that this is a Catholic institution?” A few of our members have chosen to address this so-called “quandary,” and their voices serve as our humble response.

Yijin Yang (COL ’17)

As a pro-choice individual, I chose to come to Georgetown for a number of reasons — the academic and extracurricular opportunities, the Jesuit ideals, the location, and the community’s commitment to reflective and relevant dialogue. I did not choose Georgetown because it was perfect. I came to this school knowing that there would be policies with which I would not agree, people with whom I would not share the same views, and things I would like to change. This is the case with any place that values positive change and healthy debate, and Georgetown is no different. We are all working to make Georgetown the best place it can be, and change and discourse are natural for any community that shares this goal.

Abby Grace (SFS ’16)

My decision to come to Georgetown was largely motivated by the Jesuits’ remarkable tradition of academic inquiry. Georgetown’s focus on the whole person, and its subsequent emphasis on professors that not only produce great research, but also are invested in their students’ individual growth, drew me to this campus. Boiling down the Jesuit tradition to a blind acceptance of the Catholic Church’s stances on reproductive health is simplistic. I’m thankful that I have had the opportunity to be a part of this tradition, and I know that my educational experience has been enriched by Georgetown’s Jesuit identity.

Sarah Rabon (COL ’16)

My personal religious beliefs inform my pro-choice advocacy. As a prospective Hoya, I was always told that my religious convictions would be tolerated and respected at Georgetown.

Lily Westergaard (COL ’15)

I came to Georgetown because, to me, it is evident that cura personalis is in line with my pro-choice views. In a perfect world, “care for the whole person” would extend to sexual health, reproductive justice, and bodily autonomy. Our Jesuit identity should serve to bolster these principles, not as a reason to repress an important part of the human experience. Reproductive rights are human rights.

Paige Bradley (COL ’17)

Although I knew Georgetown was Jesuit, that facet of the school’s identity did not factor into my decision to come here. I did not believe it fair to have the religious affiliation of the student body play a significant role in my college choice. Thus, I had to come to terms with the fact that Georgetown is a Catholic institution and that I would have to respect the choices and beliefs of many peers with whom I would not see eye-to-eye. That being said, I think groups like H*yas for Choice serve an especially important purpose here. Not every Georgetown student — or even a majority (I believe) — is Catholic, and even students who are Catholic need adequate access to sexual-health resources. If the school cannot provide this — an unfortunate reality, but an understandable one, considering Georgetown’s strong religious affiliation — then it is the job of the students to fill that important void. The health, safety, and happiness of our peers depend on it.

Gabi Emma Hasson (COL ’17)

I chose to attend Georgetown because of — not in spite of — its Jesuit values. Georgetown was not originally my top choice, and I was pretty ready to submit my deposit to the University of Pennsylvania two years ago — until I actually visited Georgetown during a GAAP Weekend. I was completely inspired by Georgetown’s core, Jesuit values, and I remain wholly unconvinced that Catholic doctrine and pro-choice feminism are fundamentally incompatible. Specifically, Georgetown’s ethics of cura personalis and being “men and women for others” support the logic of reproductive justice. Seeing H*yas for Choice members commit themselves to upholding the sexual health of their community and to clinic escorting on a weekly basis further vindicates me — that is truly caring for the whole person; that is truly dedicating yourself to the good of others.

Emily Stephens (SFS ’17)

Silly me for thinking I could choose a school based on the merits of its international relations program rather than based on its antiquated policies on contraception and birth control! I chose to go to Georgetown for the same reason I’m choosing to study abroad in China next year, even though its government routinely and systematically censors the Internet and news: because the benefits outweigh the injustice of free-speech repression. That doesn’t mean I don’t have the right to criticize the Great Firewall, and it doesn’t mean I don’t have the right to put condoms on my door and table in Red Square.

Matt Healey (SFS ’18)

Reproductive-rights issues are among several topics that I knew I disagreed with Georgetown’s administration on when I chose to attend the university. However, I believe that the many benefits of a Georgetown education are worth pursuing. Ultimately, I know that my own opinions will be respected and listened to here — as long as I speak up. I hope that my voice can help move Georgetown forward over time.

Scandal, Cosby, and UVA: The Problem of False Assault Accusations

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Scandal, the intense and innovative drama from the mind of pop-culture engineer Shonda Rhimes, has never hesitated to tackle contemporary issues. Aside from the flux of murders and affairs, Scandal typically promotes admirable positions — wear the white hat, stand up for your friends, try not to commit election fraud, etc. One repeated plot point, however, is both troublesome and redundant, and it begs an important question: Why are there so many false rape accusations on an otherwise progressive show?

Although assumedly feminist Olivia Pope and her creator take the best position whenever this issue arises, one still has to wonder why it has arisen so often. In the first season, a playboy (who, it turns out, really is a rapist) is accused of rape by a woman he never assaulted. In an episode from the next season, a major plot point revolves around a woman shouting “rape” when caught by her husband in a consensual affair. And in the current season, yet another woman lies about being assaulted.

Repeating, almost annually, the stereotype that women frequently pretend to have been assaulted becomes problematic regardless of the context. Whatever the writers’ intentions, emphasizing the idea that false reports of rape are extremely common is problematic in a show that has such an impact on our culture. In light of recent events, it is even worse.

Recently, Rolling Stone issued a statement regarding its explosive piece about sexual assault and its consequences at the University of Virginia. The article in question is gripping and gruesome, combining a first-hand account of a brutal rape at a frat house with vivid observations about modern university life. The magazine’s statement claims that, in light of recent information, the subject of the article was not a reliable source of information. The publication places the blame on Jackie, the alleged victim, rather than acknowledging flaws in its reporters’ investigations and its own fact checkers’ efficacy.

Rolling Stone’s statement was almost as incendiary as the article itself, and many readers jumped quickly from the realization that not all of the facts presented were accurate to the conclusion that the entire piece was fiction. This, sadly, is not the truth. Jackie’s story aside, the article reveals the dangerous culture that thrives on campuses nationwide. It references survivor groups, reveals unsavory UVA traditions, and reports on observed aspects of the intense party scene. Even if Jackie’s story is false, there are countless, very true, stories just like it.

If Jackie was lying, if she made it all up — which comments from her friends imply is very unlikely — she has done an enormous disservice to victims everywhere by taking their pain for granted and, more significantly, perpetuating the damaging idea that women routinely invent rapes to gain attention. What’s worse is that now, to a certain extent, the truth is irrelevant. Even if her story is verified completely, the damage to the national psyche has been done.

The news of accusations against Bill Cosby, another recently inescapable story, has been met with criticism in many places. Although women have been coming forward for years with claims that they were assaulted by Cosby, the recent ignition of the topic in the media has caused widespread, often negative attention. Predictably, many have questioned the credibility of the women making these accusations, saying that there is no reason to believe their stories. Most would rather trust in the persona of a beloved celebrity than give credence to the idea that he could be a serial rapist.

For those who stand by victims, it can be difficult to understand this tendency. Yes, Cosby is innocent until proven guilty, but with more than fifteen women presenting detailed accounts of rape, innocence seems less realistic every day. While it is certainly possible that one or two of these women are seeking to benefit personally from the popularity of the story, it seems astronomically unlikely that every one of them made it all up. These women, especially those that have been speaking out for years, originally stood to gain little and lose much from sharing their stories. Besides, as public opinion has squashed these women’s unpopular accusations, Cosby has been clinging to his assumed innocence for years. Maybe it’s finally time for some guilt.

So why are so many people dismissing the claims against him? Why are UVA students posting #DontStandWithJackie on social media? Why, in a year where we’ve finally made some progress in discussing sexual assault, is it still the natural reaction to accuse victims of lying?

Olivia Pope says it best: “I hate to accuse a woman who says she’s been sexually assaulted of lying. I really do… Women don’t lie about that. There is overwhelming evidence that women do not lie about being sexually assaulted, but you are.” And regardless of whether Jackie and Cosby’s accusers are lying, the terrible truth remains; sexual assault is pervasive, destructive, and notoriously difficult to report in our culture.

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Maddi Kaigh is a student at Georgetown University and member of H*yas for Choice.

It’s Time for Male “Feminists” to Step Up Their Game

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In recent months, a new cohort of celebrity male “feminists” has jumped onto the pop-culture scene. With Emma Watson’s “He for She” campaign and Aziz Anzari’s viral “David Letterman” appearance, male feminism, once an oxymoronic term, is suddenly en vogue. Cisgender men, especially cisgender men in the public eye, are declaring their support of feminism and pulling in praise and adoration from all corners of the Internet. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s important for cisgender men to self-identify as feminists, but it’s time for these men to put their money where their mouths are.

Male feminists need to realize that feminism is not just an identity; it is an active practice. Womyn can achieve this active practice by resisting patriarchy within their own lives. It is a radical practice to love and respect oneself in the face of misogynistic propaganda and structural violence, let alone to deconstruct the social systems that create this propaganda and violence (this does not mean that womyn’s feminism is in anyway limited to self-care and consciousness raising). Additionally, patriarchy pervades female experience down to the micro level, making even small, private triumphs true acts of resistance. In contrast, patriarchy does not negatively impact male experience on the macro level. This requires men to resist in active and public ways.

Since misandry (barf) is a myth and cisgender men do not face structures of oppression because of their gender, they are required to fight patriarchy outside of their own lives to have their feminist credentials approved. A cisgender man who claims feminism just barely meets the baseline for not being an asshole. The act of claiming feminism is not feminism itself and it is by no means praise-worthy. Going further, the act of saying that you support equal pay or respecting your female family and friends does not make you a feminist, it makes you a decent person. When men claim feminism without actually working to deconstruct patriarchy, they’re having their cake and eating it too. They are reaping the social adulation of an identity which is currently very trendy, while profiting off of the political, economic, and social oppression of women that has existed and will continue to exist for hundreds of years.

To be a true male feminist, you need to do something about patriarchy. You need to join the movement (be prepared to follow, not lead). I know this is scary, get over it. Womyn have been organizing around these issues in the face of violent oppression, economic exclusion, and social isolation for centuries. A slap on the wrist by a conscious peer is the biggest risk you face in the feminist movements. Even if this does happen, take it as an opportunity to learn from your mistakes.

You may also be asked to stay away from certain feminist spaces, as it is important for womyn to be able to share and reflect on their experiences without the triggering opinions and invasions of men. When asked to leave, do it. This does not require you to totally retreat from feminism, but to avoid certain safe spaces within the movement. Remember, despite what society has taught you, your thoughts and contributions aren’t always important. Plus, there are plenty of spaces that you can work on making safer for feminism, rather than occupying spaces that are already protected.

If you can handle these basic stipulations, there are a myriad of ways for you to get involved. Attend a march or a rally, volunteer at a reproductive health clinic, fundraise for womyn’s shelters, challenge the misogyny of family and friends. Just do SOMETHING, if you insist on claiming the identity.

Once you find that “something”, throw yourself completely into it, without concern for praise or reward. Be so fulfilled by the activism itself that you don’t need to be thanked for the difference you are helping to make. Know that you are working to deconstruct violent and unfair systems and be satisfied with that. Your reward for your feminism is not a Jezebel post or pop-culture praise, but a freer and fairer world for womyn.

So my fellow male feminists, its time for us to step up to the plate, shed our frail egos, and take a true swing at patriarchy.

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Vincent DeLaurentis (SFS’17) is the Vice President of H*yas for Choice and a dedicated male feminist. 

Pro-Choice Profile of the Week: Vincent DeLaurentis

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Vincent DeLaurentis

SFS ’17

Fun Fact: The only time I’ve cried in the last year was at the On the Run Tour, when Beyoncé walked out.

Do you identify as pro-choice? If so, why?

Of course I identify as pro-choice! I believe that all people should respect a woman’s right to body sovereignty. Additionally, I believe that strong support for reproductive justice is essential to wider liberation movements. Queer justice, racial justice, economic justice are all contingent upon supporting and defending reproductive justice.

What does feminism mean to you?

As a trans-affirmative radical feminist, feminism takes on several meanings for me. First, I believe that patriarchy, or the systematic, violent domination of women by men, is a real phenomenon that must be dismantled. Second, I believe that all women should be included and embraced by feminism, including trans women. Third, I believe that feminism must be intersectional, meaning that it must confront issues of racial, heterosexual, cisgender, class, and ableist privilege. Finally, as a male feminist, I believe that I have a duty to deliberately avoid some feminist spaces and to attempt to convert non-feminist spaces into feminist spaces.

Who in the media inspires you?

I don’t know if she counts as a media figure, but my current, favorite feminist is Angela Davis (her FBI mugshot is my desktop background).  I love Angela’s radical approach to economic justice and her ability to explain the intersections of race, class, and gender.

If you could be any form of contraception, what would you be?

I would totally be an IUD because I’m a little pricey, but super dependable.

Pro-Choice Profile of the Week: Yijin Yang

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Yijin Yang

NHS ’17

Fun Fact: Oprah was my favorite show in 5th grade.

Do you identify as pro-choice? If so, why?

Yes, I do identify as pro-choice because I believe that I should be the one making the decisions about what happens to my body. Ownership over your own reproductive health is a right that every woman deserves. I do not believe that governments or other individuals should have a say in the choices I make regarding my body and health.

What does feminism mean to you?

Feminism means equality. For me, it doesn’t mean that women are better than men; it simply means that women and men are equal.

Who in the media inspires you?

Recently, Emma Watson gave a magnificent speech at the UN conference, so she is definitely an inspiration for me. And, she really takes the role of being a public figure seriously.*

If you could be any form of contraception, what would you be?

I would be an IUD because I’m reliable and loyal (for up to twelve years).