Politics for the Cure?

6 Feb

By Abby Finkelman. Originally published in the Saint Rose Chronicle, February 7, 2012.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure is the organization behind the Race for the Cure. They also partner with corporations to put their pink ribbon on on everything from yogurt to handguns. Planned Parenthood is an organization which provides, among other things free and low-cost breast cancer screenings, OB-GYN care, STI testing and treatment, counseling, vasectomies, and sexual education. Oh, and abortions. Abortions comprise approximately 3% of what Planned Parenthood does.

Until January 31st, Komen gave grants to Planned Parenthood. The money paid for breast exams and mammograms for woman who would otherwise not have been able to afford them. Planned Parenthood conducts over half a million breast exams each year. They catch breast cancer. They enable (and help) women to get treatment. They save lives.

The money that Planned Parenthood was receiving from Komen was designated for breast health. It was not used for any other purpose. Don’t believe me? “Affiliate funding to Planned Parenthood is reviewed twice-yearly to ensure that it is being used only for breast health services. If reviews showed the funds being used for any other purpose, the funds would be withdrawn. Komen does NOT fund abortions.”

That’s from a letter on the Susan G. Komen website in June, 2011. The letter is no longer there. Yes, as recently as June the Komen Foundation was defending its association with Planned Parenthood. So what changed? That depends on who you ask. If you ask Komen, they’ll tell you that it’s because of a rule they have where they don’t fund organizations under Congressional inquiry. Except, there are a couple of problems with that reasoning.

Planned Parenthood is already subject to regular checks by the government to ensure it’s not misusing funds; this new inquiry is being run by a hardcore Republican. Other members of the House have criticized him for wasting time and money, because the investigation is pointless and politically-motivated.

The inquiry started several months before Komen issued the statement. This “rule” is new. And, according to board members who have spoken out, it was enacted solely to target Planned Parenthood. Indeed, Komen is continuing to give money (to the tune of $7.5 million) to Penn State, which is, guess what, under Congressional investigation. And for reasons to which I don’t think anybody objects.

Not convinced that this is political? This all started not long after Karen Handel was appointed senior vice president of public policy at Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Karen Handel is a former Georgia Secretary of State. She also ran for governor in Georgia in 2010. Her campaign website included the following: “First, let me be clear, since I am pro-life, I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood…Since grants like these are from the state I’ll eliminate them as your next Governor.” In other words, she ran on a promise of eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood. Sound familiar?

Recap! Susan G. Koman Race for the Cure, which had previously been heavily criticized for trademarking “for the cure” and taking legal action to stop other nonprofits from using the phrase, as well as for “pinkwashing,” or partnering with, and “pinking” companies whose products may contribute to causing cancer (also, handguns, which definitely cause death), while not even raising money very effectively, pulled its funding for breast health care from Planned Parenthood, which spends 3% of its time providing abortions and the other 97% providing health care for women who have nowhere else to go. Komen did this because of political pressure from the right and because it hired a woman who hates Planned Parenthood.

But here’s the bright side: in the 24 hours after the announcement was made, Planned Parenthood raised $650,000. Then, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he will donate up to $250,000 more in matching funds. That’s $900,000. I’m willing to bet that by the time you read this, it will be over a million dollars. Money which will have no constraints, by the way. Karen Handel pulled $680,000 for breast health and motivated people to raise $1,000,000 for any service Planned Parenthood needs to provide.

Additionally, at least two executives at Komen have resigned. One says that due to confidentiality agreements, she can’t say why, but in her statement she says that she’s an “advocate for public health” and “believe[s] it would be a mistake for any organization to bow to political pressure and compromise its mission.” Another was their top public health official. Also, Komen affiliates across the country have denounced the decision. Things are not looking so great over there.

…I wrote all of that last night, February 2nd. I wrote more, too, but I’m rewriting it now, because this morning (while, incidentally, sitting at Planned Parenthood waiting for a friend to get her birth control, which would have otherwise cost her $65, money she doesn’t have) I got a news alert from the New York Times: “Cancer Group, Reversing Course, Says It Will Maintain Planned Parenthood Funding”.

Actually, not quite, as it turns out. Komen has changed their “guidelines” to say that the investigation “must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political”. But all that means is that Planned Parenthood is again eligible to apply for funding, which is no guarantee that they will receive it. The funding that it had already been granted for this year wasn’t going to be revoked to begin with. Still, if nothing else, this has demonstrated the power of the internet to at the very least make huge organizations pay attention. It has also demonstrated that when it comes to the people and not the politicians, the pro-woman’s health side is still strong.

The Komen Foundation also pulled its support late last year (previously around $12 million) for any research that uses stem cells, despite the promise that stem cells hold for treating cancer. That money does not appear to have been restored. Said money was never for embryonic stem cell research. It was just going to institutions where other scientists were doing embryonic stem cell research.

So, am I glad that Planned Parenthood is eligible to apply for funding again? Of course. Am I appalled that it took this sort of outcry to make that happen? Yes, but not surprised. Do I think Komen is not really reversing course but just pretending to in order to bow to different pressure? Pretty much. Am I proud of the pro-woman’s health community? Unequivocally.

Because we fought back. Pro-choice, anti-choice, men, women, black, white, young, old, poor, rich, we fought back, we raised a huge amount of money, and we forced them to listen. Personally, I (and many others) donated to Planned Parenthood in honor of Karen Handel, meaning she’ll get a nice card thanking her. Others called their congresspeople. Others told their stories on sites like Planned Parenthood Saved Me We all worked together, and it was amazing.

For more information on this, including ways to help, you can visit our website, where there is a page with links to press releases, news sites, blogs, and more, at bit.ly/strosewi.


It’s Not About Abortion

2 Feb

By Abby Finkelman. Originally published in the Saint Rose Chronicle, April, 2011.

Barack Obama has not done everything he said he would. Guantanamo Bay is still up and running (thriving, really; Khalid Sheik Mohammed is even going to be tried there), same-sex couples are still denied equal rights all over the place, huge corporations are still paying no taxes, health care reform was a joke—you get the idea. According the nonpartisan, Pulitzer Prize-winning site PolitiFact.com, he has actively broken 41 of his promises. As someone who cast a Democratic ballot in 2008, I am not impressed.

But two weeks ago, during the negotiations to prevent the federal government from shutting down, he said 12 words that make me forgive him almost all of it. “Nope. Zero. Nope. Zero, John, this is it. This is it, John.” The “John” was Speaker of the House John Boehner, and the “zero” was the amount of funding for Planned Parenthood that the president was going to let be cut.

The debate over federal funding for Planned Parenthood, and whether or not the Republican-controlled House was going to be able to cut it, has been fierce, inspiring petitions, letter-writing campaigns, and rallies all over the country (including in Albany). Even though Planned Parenthood receives only around $360 million a year (the federal budget is about $3.6 trillion), and even though only about 3% of what Planned Parenthood does is abortion-related, and even though it is banned from using federal money for abortions anyway, the Republicans have been determined to destroy it.

But they didn’t. They’ve certainly destroyed other programs that help women, but, for now, Planned Parenthood stands. Some of you reading this may wonder why that’s such a good thing. Well, if Planned Parenthood spends only 3% of its time providing abortions (not all locations do so, and in many states it remains virtually impossible to get an abortion), it must be doing something for the other 97% of the time. Here are a few of the ways in which it fills that 97%.

Pelvic exams. Pap smears (which women need once a year). Confidential screening for STIs, for women and men. Birth control. The morning-after pill. Cancer screenings. The vast majority of these services will be provided to women who are poor, sometimes up to 150% below the poverty line. They provide them at reduced cost, or free. If you don’t like abortion, it’s estimated that Planned Parenthood’s services prevent 620,000 unplanned pregnancies and 220,000 abortions every year. They find countless cases of cancer and STIs, which might otherwise go untreated until it is too late.

If you think these things don’t apply to you, look around at the nearest five women. At least one of them will use Planned Parenthood in her lifetime. One in five. And more than a few men, but this is column is called the View from Venus. And the view today is cloudy. We don’t have equal pay, we don’t have maternity leave, we don’t have childcare, we don’t have solid rape, “domestic” violence, or sexual harassment laws, and TV networks seem to think we’re primarily interested in wedding dresses. But, for the moment, we will have a place to get reproductive care when we have nowhere else to go, control over our own destinies, and the power to grow up and start our own TV networks.

Prepare for Black Friday with an early Cyber Monday!

17 Nov

Here’s just a quick and friendly reminder from your neighborhood Women’s Initiative member that our Cyber Monday event will be on November 21st from 7-11 in the main lounge! We’ll have discussion, tips, and stations to discover how anonymous you truly are on the internet, and how to protect yourself from online harassment.

You don’t have to stay the whole time, and snacks will be provided! Tell a friend and make sure to brave the cold-ish weather and come!

**Also, there will be a raffle for FREE PRIZES like t-shirts and a subscription to Bitch magazine! Who wouldn’t want to get free things before Black Friday?

-The Women’s Initiative

P.S.–(Props to whoever got my reference in here! It’s pretty old school).

A Guide to Becoming Rich and Famous

16 Nov

Here is this weeks The View From Venus column, which can be found in the November 15th issue of The Chronicle, or on their website.

A Guide to Becoming Rich and Famous

by: E-board member Emily Perez

This week, instead of focusing on an issue specific to women, I have decided to write about one that concerns the human race in general. I want to write about compassion; the rarity of it, the appreciation of it, and the enduring power of it. If you are a Facebook user, you may have noticed a recent effort by senior Justin McCormack to strengthen our community with The Saint Rose Kindness Movement. When asked about the origins of his online campaign, McCormack noted that, “Saint Rose has a wonderfully close knit community.However, over the years I have noticed a disheartening trend on campus. When I pass by people that I’ve met but don’t know too well, they never seem to acknowledge that they know me. Often times I’d wondered if maybe it was just me that this happened to. It was not until a few weeks ago that I realized it wasn’t…That’s when I came up with the idea for the ‘Saint Rose Kindness Movement.”

“The intention of the movement is very simple: All it asks is for you to smile, wave, nod, maybe even say ‘hi’ to the people you pass throughout the day…This simple act of kindness can often make a person’s day and can sometimes spark new friendships. My hope is that it will at least bring some smiles to people’s faces and make everyone’s day a little brighter.”

Some people may question how greeting someone on the sidewalk on the way to class or stopping to help someone pick up their belongings could affect change. Sometimes I think of all the good things I have thought about other people and never said, of the unacknowledged blessings granted to me, and the muddle of unuttered declarations of thankfulness for those who have changed my life with their actions.  Regret colors my reflections on all I could have done to pay forward the gifts I have received. In order to engender compassion and gratitude in our day to day actions, I propose that we carry out the mission of the Saint Rose Kindness Movement by striving to bring attention to the moments of beauty we experience.

Do you share with others when you encounter a moment of unanticipated kindness, joy or love? Do you let the silver-lining moments of the day fade into nothingness, or do you sustain their shine by taking them as an opportunity to affect change?

For every act of kindness you observe in a single day, I challenge you to share what you saw and respond with your own demonstration of compassion and generosity. You might not be able to measure the magnitude of this change in your daily life, but it will run deep in the hearts of those you help.

We all need to stop and reflect on what we could be doing to support each other in these difficult times, because even the smallest act can make all the difference between floating and falling. Instead of constantly monitoring our own progress in trying to become the best, the most well known, the most sought after, we might instead try to redefine our standards of success in terms of how powerfully we have affected the lives of those who inhabit our world. To that end, I would like to close with words from the poem “Famous” by Naomi Shihab Nye:

“I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.
I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.”

St. Rose’s Selective Health Care

8 Nov

The View from Venus (November 8th, 2011)
Tiffany Knapp

Something many students may not be aware of is St. Rose’s policy on birth control access, namely that they don’t allow Health Services to provide or be involved in the administration of it. This is attributed, as one might expect, to the Catholic history of St. Rose. While I understand that the traditions of the College should be honored and not forgotten, I disagree with forcing particular religious values on the body of students, particularly now that St. Rose is a non-parochial institution. When being recruited to the College of Saint Rose, I asked about the Catholic traditions of the College and how they impacted the academics and student life on campus. I was told that they didn’t, because St. Rose was no longer a Catholic institution. However, the College has decided to take a “zero tolerance” stance on this issue on the basis of religion, and does not allow for our Health Services office to provide condoms or administer birth control.

This applies in particular to a type of birth control called Depo-Provera, which is a shot. I myself am on this type of birth control, and ran into a recent issue with being able to take it. Because Health Services is my only option for health care here at the College, and all this service requires is a nurse’s visit for a shot, I went to Health Services, requesting that they administer it. I was informed that they would not be able to because the College restricts the type of medical care they are allowed to give – had the shot been anything but birth control, they would have been allowed to assist me. However, because the Depo shot is used primarily as a means of birth control, the College has prohibited Health Services from administering it to students. I was directed either to Urgent Care or Planned Parenthood, both of which are a reasonable distance away from the College. Lacking a vehicle, this presented a problem.

In addition to being a general inconvenience, the assumption is that everyone who is on birth control is using it primarily as a means for birth control. There are medical conditions which are treated with it. For example, I knew a girl who was also on Depo (and was also turned away from Health Services) in order to regulate her hormones so that she would be able to have children some day. Without this regulation, she could have become barren – by being refused care by St. Rose, she may well have been risking her dreams of children some day. Severe menstrual cramps, mood swings, and even acne are treated with birth control as well.

Furthermore, the basis for this ban is a particular religion, to which not all students on this campus may subscribe. First, the College is no longer religiously affiliated. Yes, it has Catholic traditions and background, but not all traditions need to be carried into the future. In addition, a variety of religions are represented on campus, and not all of those view birth control in the same way that Catholicism does. Being raised Irish Catholic, I can say from experience that not even all Catholics agree with banning access to all types of birth control.

This narrow viewpoint does not reflect the wide range of campus values, and forces students to adopt particular values that they may not agree with – and they aren’t told this when they enroll, even if they explicitly ask if the Catholic traditions of the College are going to affect them. The College of Saint Rose has misled its prospective students into a sense of religious freedom, when in reality, Catholic values are imposed upon them.

The View from Venus (November 1, 2011)

3 Nov

Below is this week’s “The View from Venus” article written by a founding member of the Women’s Initiative, Grace O’Shaughnessy. 🙂

By Grace O’Shaughnessy

The Saint Rose Women’s Initiative began as an answer to a question: Why are there no spaces for women’s issues to be discussed on campus?

It can often be hard for women by themselves, particularly of college age, to identify what advocacy roles they can take. By coming together and discussing their experiences within the social-historical context of twenty-first century college life, ideas about how women can advocate for themselves and others becomes more clear.

I was among the founding members of the Women’s Initiative. Teaching others about women’s issues taught me all the ways women embody feminism. Some women eschew the label, relegating it to a relic of 1960s bra-burning radicals (which, I should note, is a myth. They didn’t actually burn bras in the ‘60s). Through discussion, they often found that they had not yet realized the term “feminist” could encompass their feelings of oppression and desire for liberation. Others embraced it loudly, taking to the streets, the web, and the classroom to spread the women’s movement.

In other words, we found that feminism is a big tent. Two cases embody the scope of this ideology.

First, I can recall meeting a member of the Women’s Initiative several years ago who joined because she contracted the human papillomavirus (HPV) and felt that it was a huge women’s public health concern. She joined solely to promote this message and we embraced her. We affirmed that all issues had inherent worth and told her that she brought a dialogue to the table that many could not.

Similarly, I remember a more radical feminist at one of our first events, a women’s resource fair. At this fair were various women’s health organizations that focused on reproductive justice issues. One group represented a pro-life stance, another was pro-choice. While at the event I saw a student raging against the pro-life representative, conveying what it meant to have a pro-life organizer at a historically Catholic college. I saw that energy as an opportunity and encouraged the radical to join the Women’s Initiative.

The group offered a space for her to harness her rage. We discussed on a personal level what reproductive issues mean to women, and feminists, of all kinds. There were those that felt comfortable with the issue and those that didn’t. More than anything, it served to demonstrate how the Women’s Initiative could bring together a diverse group.

I took my experiences of organizing groups around themes of social justice at Saint Rose to pursue a Master’s in Social Work in Nonprofit Management at Columbia University. Today, the struggle is different. I am faced with my feminist identity in ways I have never been. Simultaneously, my workload means I don’t have the time to lead and organize in ways that I once did and am not actively a part of a women’s community on campus. This is a difficult tension. Furthermore, living in New York City, amongst millions of people, I see how gender disparities are intersecting with class and race more than I ever have. It challenges me to think more critically and re-examine all of the assumptions I have had.

The artist Chuck Close said, “I have been married for forty years. It’s not one marriage. By then you’ve had four or five totally different marriages.

This is exactly how I feel about feminism. As we get older, the concepts of our ideologies evolve, but that is no reason to discount the authenticity of what we think or what we have thought. The most important thing is to think critically and discuss widely.

It is my hope that the Women’s Initiative is still and will continue to be that place for growth.

Rape Culture and Sports

28 Oct

View from Venus column, October 18th, by Abby Finkelman. This is the column I am least satisfied with, because it really needed more examples, and numbers, and I simply didn’t have the space to give them. Still, I hope it provokes some thought. It is also, as always, available on the Chronicle website.

Sports and the Culture of Rape

If you want to harass, assault, or rape a woman, I suggest being an athlete. Not only will people be inclined to believe you when you deny it, they’ll help out by calling your accuser a slut, insisting that she must have wanted it, and possibly sending her death threats.You don’t have to be big time. Just a local star will do. Like the high school cheerleader in Texas who was kicked off the squad after refusing to cheer the name of the boy who raped her. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed her lawsuit as “frivolous” and is requiring her to pay the school’s $45,000 in legal fees. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Lisa Olson won her suit against the NFL after she was harassed by New England Patriots players. But I’m guessing the $65,000 the team and players were fined was cold comfort to her after the award-winning sports journalist had to leave the Boston Herald and move to Sydney because of the death threats, slashed tires, and burglarized apartment. Yes: a woman was sexually harassed while doing her job, and when she told the public about it the response was to send her death threats.

That was in 1990. In 2010, Inés Sainz, a reporter for Mexico’s TV Azteca was harassed in the locker room of the New York Jets. Sainz is, well, a very attractive woman. And she dresses, well, the way very attractive women are encouraged to dress. And so when NFL players ogled her and made lewd comments, she was blamed. Her looks and her clothing were the story. When I quickly Googled her, the first hit was Wikipedia. And the second was from bleacherreport.com, a piece titled “20 Most Distracting Sideline Reporters Ever,” featuring a slideshow of “some of the most distractingly hot sideline reporting ladies ever”.

I just wrote a paragraph about Kobe Bryant, and then deleted it, because I don’t want to get sued for libel. So I won’t comment on whether or not I think it’s likely that the woman who accused him of rape dropped her case because of the things people were saying about her in the press (that she was a gold digging famewhore, for instance), and because of the death threats she was receiving, and because she didn’t like having her character and mental health dragged through the mud on television (not that it matters if she has lots of sex or is bipolar). And since I’m not calling him a rapist, I won’t say that it’s rape culture that allows this to happen.

That’s an extra layer of problematic, there. Ranks close around these stars–the University of Washington football team in 2000 is a good example; they covered up numerous crimes by numerous athletes, including a violent rape, because, the head coach said said “[w]e don’t give up on a player because he makes one mistake”–and even accusing them of rape requires money, because they don’t just have fans willing to slash your tires. They have legal teams.

I don’t know what it is about sports that encourages the tropes of rape culture. It affects other sorts of celebrities (Roman Polanski comes to mind), but sports culture and rape culture are deeply linked. I suspect it’s a combination of the team effect, rabid fans, and a generally “macho” atmosphere, and lawsuits (if you can afford them) aren’t going to change any of that. What will is simple, really. The fans, the players, and the management just have to decide that women’s rights–human rights–are more important than winning.