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What is reproductive justice?



September 2014
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In my binder full of women, I would put my grandmother, who had a baby when she was 17 in a small judgmental town, who still earned her diploma, who later went on to earn a college degree, who taught hundreds of children to read (including me!) and to love who they are.

I would put my friend the single mother, who is a tireless advocate for the arts, who is raising a bright and intelligent daughter who will grow up to be someone people want to know.

I would put my friends who did battle with postpartum depression alongside me, who are fierce warriors, who would do anything for their children, and who have triumphed over a terrible inner beast that most people will never realize they fought.

I would put Jane Addams, who I gave an oral report on in fourth grade, who founded Hull House, who pioneered social welfare programs for the poor and for immigrant families.

I would put Gloria Steinem, who gave me hope as a budding feminist in a small conservative town.

I would put my step-sister, whose father told her to not to waste her time and to go to secretarial school, who is now a practicing veterinarian.

I would put my midwives and my doulas who gave up sleep, who don't earn enough money, who helped me get my baby here, without whom I could not have birthed myself into motherhood.

I would put my friend who has been battling cancer, who has had to give up so much, much more than is at all fair, to win over that horrible disease, who has done it all with her fighting shining spirit intact.

I would put my husband's grandmother, a woman I never got the privilege to meet, who lost a husband when their children were teenagers, who went back to work and held down multiple jobs while grieving the sudden loss of her best friend, who managed to carry three children through their own grief, send them to college, and give them happy lives, all without flex time or equal pay.

I would put my stepmother's mother, who raised six children and worked multiple jobs, whose only words for her children were kind, whose only vice was two pots a day of black coffee, who never complained, who is one of the millions, billions of women who work hard, love harder, and are left completely unsung.

Who would be in your binder of women?
Category:general -- posted at: 2:07 PM

Rape is not a metaphor. Rape is a very real, very clear act. Rape is when someone puts something on or inside your body, or makes you put part of your body in or on theirs, and you’re not on board with the idea.

That’s it. Not a hard concept. Very commonly, rape is when a man puts his penis inside a woman’s anus, vagina, or mouth and she is not on board with that.

Rape is specifically that.

Here is what rape is not:

Rape is not when something is really difficult. Rape is not a three hour long accounting exam in college. Rape is not a business presentation where you are hammered with difficult questions from a testy group of potential investors. Rape is not a long trip where two of your flights got cancelled and there was no kosher meal on the airplane.

Rape is not when something costs more money than you think it should. Rape is not four dollars a gallon for gasoline. Rape is not the income tax you pay, nor is it your cel phone bill. There are other words for that. Expensive is a word that comes to mind. Unaffordable. Costly.  Exorbitant. But your ebill from Sprint cannot put its penis inside your vagina without your consent. Therefore, it cannot rape you.

Rape is not success in the face of a daunting task. You cannot rape a basketball game. You cannot rape a speech you had to give.  You cannot rape the SATs. It is a physical impossibility to rape an experience. You can only rape another living creature. That is what makes rape a rape.

Rape is not all the other things you take it to mean that aren’t the actual definition. Rape is not a metaphor. Rape is a concrete act of violence and humiliation perpetrated on 207, 754 people in the United States every year. How long have you been reading? Two minutes? More? Every two minutes in this country someone learns the actual definition of rape because they live it.

Using a word like this casually is a byproduct of privilege. Recently, a coworker of mine stood at the front of a room during a training and said, “These businesses used to really rape each other on pricing.”

While everyone else in the room continued to listen, to ask questions and be engaged, I could not.

I was banished from the room to a dark bedroom thirteen years ago, where a man put his penis inside me without my permission. I was suddenly at my most vulnerable, my most powerless, and my flight or fight response was activated. The pain of rape culture, of my friends’ rapes, of my own rape came crashing down on me. It was like a live grenade was tossed into the center of the conference room and no one felt the blast but me.

Privilege protected the others in the room from that blast, nearly all of them white males. They are privileged not to grow up being taught they they are in constant danger of rape. They don’t attend seminars in freshman college orientation about how to avoid being raped. They don’t have friends who have been assaulted and raped whose stories they hear because no one else will listen. While it is true that men are also victims of sexual violence, most of the victims are women. And rape and the threat of it has been used for thousands of years to control and strip away our power.

What's so sad is that for the man standing in front of that room, rape is metaphorical. And for the majority of the population, it's not.

It should not be a privilege to have a reduced threat of rape in your demographic. It should not be a privilege to be able to consider rape as a horrific thing that happens to other people somewhere somehow in circumstances you have trouble grappling with. It should not be a privilege to talk about rape as though it isn’t a real threat, as though it is fabricated by women who are looking for some attention or advantage over their attackers.

But all these things flow from privilege, from power.

As someone who has learned the definition of rape through experience, cruel, stark, eviscerating experience, I am here to tell you that rape is a physical act. It is real. And it is most certainly no metaphor for that time you had to shovel your driveway in January.  

Category:general -- posted at: 5:37 PM

Hello friends. I hope you enjoy our newest episode(s) with Heather. It has been a privilege to talk with each guest I've had on the show. 

I want to write a little bit today about silence. In this era of threatened rights for women, silence is deadly.

It is easy to talk about "legitimate rape" and to completely misunderstand human reproduction when you do not realize you KNOW women who've been raped, or women who've had abortions, or women who've faced reproductive injustices. 

The statistics show that most everyone knows a woman who's been sexually assaulted or had an abortion. But because of shame and silence, we keep these facts from everyone around us, shielding some people in our culture from the task of developing compassion and confronting deeply ingrained yet ultimately false stereotypes.

One person that understood this in a very public way was Harvey Milk. It was and is easy to think and believe all kinds of idiotic things about an 'other.' But when Milk said "come out, come out, wherever you are," he was trying to get people to realize that LGBT folks aren't an 'other.' They're the neighbors you've known for years. They're your doctor. They're your lawyer, they're an old family friend. And you already know they aren't bizarre. So now that you know they're gay, it's a lot harder to accept the idea that they're a threat. They've never been a threat. They've been and are your friends.

The same principle can apply to those of us who have endured assault, rape, and battery. Those of us who've chosen abortion, those of us who've lived in poverty, those of us who've had to rely on life-saving organizations like Planned Parenthood for our healthcare. These are not problems that "those kinds of women" have. These are issues that we ALL have. And it is easy to accept lies about the need for abortion rights and contraception and sexual assault when you don't have to meet the eyes of those its affected every day. Or at least, if you don't realize those are the eyes you're looking in on a daily basis.

That is why I started this show and ultimately why I came out about my rape. I will not keep my silence anymore just to provide comfortable ignorance for someone else. Dare to speak up and speak out, women. Your lives are depending on it. 

Category:general -- posted at: 4:25 PM

The conclusion of Heather's story.

Listen here on the website or download on iTunes. Check out our facebook and Twitter for info on upcoming guests. And if you'd like to be a guest or you want something featured on the show, hit us up at broadlives at gmail dot com.

Direct download: Heather_part_2.mp3
Category:Episodes -- posted at: 3:20 PM

This is part 1 of my interview with Heather, Broad Lives listener and fierce Madison mama.

Heather's birth story touches on so many topics close to the heart of this show:

  • What does it mean when you try for days to birth your child, and a c-section becomes your only option left?
  • Where are the places that women can share nuanced and complicated stories of birth?
  • What does it take for a same-sex couple to become parents, and to ensure their family's future security?
  • I want to thank Heather so much for coming on the show. I was an honor to record her story.

*Note: Because of the length of the interview, I split it into two parts of ease of download. This is part one. Be sure to download Episode 9 Part 2 to hear the conclusion.

Listen here on the website or download on iTunes. Check out our facebook and Twitter for info on upcoming guests. And if you'd like to be a guest or you want something featured on the show, hit us up at broadlives at gmail dot com.

Direct download: Heather_Part_1.mp3
Category:Episodes -- posted at: 3:17 PM

...aaand we're back! After a brief hiatus we've got a fresh episode for you with Rabbi Bonnie Margulis.

Bonnie talks about the rarely discussed role of clergy in advocating for reproductive rights. We get to hear about Bonnie's work fighting for this cause, counseling women considering abortions, and training other clergy to do the same.

In another piece of hidden history, we hear about the Wisconsin clergy's response to the Budget Bill Protests and the WI Recall efforts. What happened when people began studying Torah outside Gov Walker's office? What were top Walker aides' responses to clergy's arguments for the morality of workers' rights?

Find out in this great episode.

And check out these links to the wonderful organizations Bonnie mentions.

WI Religious Coalition for Reproductive Justice

Madison Area Urban Ministry

Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice

Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice

You can listen here on the website or download on iTunes. Check out our facebook and Twitter for info on upcoming guests. And if you'd like to be a guest or you want something featured on the show, hit us up at broadlives at gmail dot com.

Direct download: Bonnie.mp3
Category:Episodes -- posted at: 3:56 PM

Congressional Candidate, State Rep, and former Exec Dir for NARAL Pro-Choice WI Kelda Roys joins us this week. We talk political campaigns, the history of abortion rights, and (cover your ears, Michigan Republicans!) VAGINAS.

I'm thrilled to have her on the show. I haven't had a political crush this intense since Russ Feingold.

Check out Kelda's website at She's also on twitter @keldahelenroys and on Facebook.

Check out Jezebel's coverage of Glenn Grothman's refusal to face Kelda in a debate here. And you can read Jez's report on her campaign here.

Listen here on the website or download on iTunes. Check out our facebook and Twitter for info on upcoming guests. And if you'd like to be a guest or you want something featured on the show, hit us up at broadlives at gmail dot com.

Direct download: Kelda.mp3
Category:Episodes -- posted at: 7:10 PM

Our next episode will feature former head of NARAL Pro-Choice WI, current State Rep, and Congressional Candidate Kelda Helen Roys. She's only 32 years old, and she's already spent nearly a decade making reproductive rights a legislative priority.

Here's a quick excerpt from our conversation:

"To me, reproductive rights are really about whether women are human beings. Whether we are moral agents who are capable of forging our own destinies. It's as simple as that. When women have control over their own bodies and family decisions, women get to participate fully in civic life."

-Kelda Helen Roys

Say on, sister. Say on!

Category:general -- posted at: 3:11 PM

Listeners. I've been having conversations recently about the "self-identifying woman" clause of the show's pupose. I've been challenged to think about how that might exclude, among others, trans or intersex people. 

I was given permission to post this excerpt from an email exchange:

I agree in that women are all too often spoken for, and about.  I think it is critical that people not have their experiences or the effects of those experiences articulated for them by others.  I also think that reproductive justice, as a movement, has important ties to gender justice movements, and thus isn't usually very likely to support separatist, "woman only" spaces or projects because of it's inherent exclusion of trans and genderqueer folks.  

When I read your "or anyone who identifies as a woman" piece I assumed you meant trans women.  I personally feel like it is more respectful to just out and say trans women, if that is what you were intending, because trans women aren't people who just "identify" as women...they are women...they just are trans women, just as there are cis women.  

If you keep it open to just cis women and trans women, you will still miss the voices of genderqueer folks, trans men, and intersex folks who have potentially experienced similar and important things in the world of reproductive health.  I don't think their voices can be excluded if a project is truly to be one guided by reproductive justice principles.  

This project came from a very personal place for me. During my birth experience, I felt shouted down, bullied, and stripped of my dignity. That experience stirred up every other painful memeory in my life in which I was coerced and silenced because of my gender. So, I set out to create what I personally saw as a safe space, ie a woman-only space.

But, as "Anonymous' points out, while that might signify safety to some, to others it suggests exclusion and hair-splitting.

I want to weight the avlue of female-only spaces against what we're missing out on by excluding other voices. What do you think? Should the show's mission statement change? I would LOVE feed back on this! Let's get a conversation going!

Category:general -- posted at: 1:40 PM

I hope everyone got a chance to check out Zakiya's website, particularly the research tab, where she discusses her work in greater detail. You can also read one of her early pieces here.

Zakiya also mentioned lots of interesting organizations and publications in the podcast. She was kind enough to send me a list of great links and resources for further reading. I'm diving into this list, and I hope you do too!

Reproductive Justice Organizations

California Latinas for Reproductive JusticeForward Together
National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

Further Reading
Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty - Dorothy Roberts (This book contains a fascinating chapter, The Dark Side of Birth Control, about Margaret Sanger and her relationship to eugenics movements.)

Women of Color and the Reproductive Rights Movement - Jennifer Nelson
Undivided Rights - by Jael Silliman, Marlene Gerber Fried, Loretta Ross and Elena Gutierrez
A New Vision - Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice
Reproductive Justice Briefing Booklet
Our Bodies, Our Crimes: The Policing of Women’s Reproduction in America - Jeannie Flavin

Birthright: What’s Next for Planned Parenthood - Jill Lepore in The New Yorker

Further Viewing

Listen Up! New Voices for Reproductive Justice


Feb 2012 data from Pew on birth control mandate, contraception and religion

May 2012 Gallup data on contraception and religion

Court Cases

Buck v Bell- case of Carrie Buck “a feeble minded white woman” who was forcibly sterilized in the 1920s

Relf v. Weinberg: The case of the Relf sisters age 14 and 12 who were forcible sterilized

Category:general -- posted at: 8:28 PM