Category: Activism

“A singularly intricate situation has developed in Washington”: Some Historical Background on Hobby Lobby

By Lauren MacIvor Thompson

If Progressive Era birth control reformer Mary Ware Dennett hadn’t been cremated in 1947 immediately following her death, she’d be rolling over in her grave today. Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (or Burwell as the decision was handed down) has abruptly called forward again the long legal story of the fight for reproductive rights. Other landmark cases along this path have included Griswold v. Connecticut (1965); Roe v. Wade (1973); Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989); Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), and somewhat more recently, Gonzales v. Carhart (2007). What’s Dennett got to do with all of this and why does it matter? We have to go back eight-five years ago to examine Dennett’s activism and her legal case, to understand the political background for Hobby Lobby.

Make Love Not War: Changing the Conversation on Abortion

By Jacqueline Antonovich

Things have been pretty hectic lately for the folks who work and study in Lane Hall, the small, historic building at the far end of University of Michigan’s central campus. Over the past two months the building that houses the Women’s Studies Department and the Institute for Research on Women and Gender (IRWG) has been the target of anti-choice protesters. Lane Hall has been peppered with anti-choice leaflets, the main entry steps have been vandalized with chalk, and protesters have picketed the sidewalks in front of the building. Staff in Lane Hall have also been fielding phone calls from angry activists, alumni, and others. As Debra M. Schwartz, senior public relations representative for IRWG told me recently, “Some of us in Lane Hall and a few other university offices have been distracted from our routine work. But, in general, the protest has scarcely been noticed on campus. It feels like a tempest in a teapot.”

Announcing the First Ever Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at the Berkshire Conference

By Heather Munro Prescott

Last year I reported on the gender gap in Wikipedia and efforts by women’s historians and others to remedy it. To recap: Several years ago, the Wikimedia Foundation, the organization that runs Wikipedia, collaborated on a study of Wikipedia’s contributor base and found that less than 15 percent of its hundreds of thousands of contributors are women. These sobering statistics gained widespread publicity in a January 2011 New York Times article by Noam Cohen and an ensuing flurry of media coverage in various venues, including Mother Jones, the Atlantic, and NPR. Blogger Tenured Radical (aka Claire Potter) reported on gender bias in Wikipedia in an article titled “Prikipedia? Or, Looking for the Women on Wikipedia.”

Censoring the Maternal Body

By Rachel Epp Buller

In the last decade or so, scholars across disciplines have worked to shed light on the complicated ways in which Americans praise the pregnant body while simultaneously rejecting the post-pregnant body. For example, in a recent guest post for Nursing Clio, Carrie Pitzulo traces the history of how the pregnant body has shifted in our societal perceptions, from scandalous and invisible, to highly celebrated, at least in the case of thin, white women and especially in cases of celebrity pregnancies. In Pregnant Pictures, Sandra Matthews and Laura Wexler examine the ways in which we create roles for women (and how women resist those roles) through visual images of pregnancy.

Circumcision Debate: Cut the Hyperbole

By Elizabeth Reis

What frustrates me about the circumcision debate is that both sides exaggerate their claims. Maybe this happens with most controversies, but I am particularly attuned to this one because I have been researching the history of circumcision in the United States. A recent article by Brian J. Morris and others in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings overstates the health benefits of circumcision and downplays the risks. They argue that the public health benefits (i.e. reducing sexually transmitted diseases) are so great that circumcision should be mandatory. Mandatory?

Obama, Ryan, O’Reilly, and the Poverty of the Political Imagination

By Austin McCoy

President Obama, Paul Ryan, and Bill O’Reilly walk into a bar. Rather than engage in abstract conversations about the role of America in the world or the federal government’s role in the market, they decide to talk about an issue where they can forge some common ground. What issue could the three men come together around? It is probable they would likely converge around trying to explain and address the poverty of black men and women in the United States. This common ground is possible because national conversations about public policy never seem to escape the orbit of culture, meritocracy, colorblindness, and normative understandings of gender and family. More specifically, Ryan’s, Obama’s, and O’Reilly’s recent comments on the subject revolve around two political archetypes—the heteronormative family and the black male. When considered together, they take a special place in our nation’s “gendered imagination.”

Eating to Live: A Short History of Health Rap

Political hip hop songs tend to focus on the typical manifestations of state violence, structural racism, and corporate capitalism—police brutality, poverty, the prison-industrial complex, ghettoization, and war.  Themes of healthy eating and food justice, however, are underappreciated topics in rap music. One is more likely to hear rap songs about drug, alcohol, and eating binges… Read more →

Let’s talk about sex work…in Northern Ireland

By Helen McBride

In 1999, Sweden passed the Law against Procurement of Sexual Services, criminalizing the purchase of sex, which punishes johns but not prostitutes. Worldwide, the law is considered a progressive way to improve the lives of sex workers while also combating the root causes of exploitation in the industry. Currently up for debate in Northern Ireland’s government is a similar measure, a new law, titled the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill, which seeks to limit human trafficking in Northern Ireland. Clause 6 of this bill emulates the Swedish model in an attempt to criminalize those who pay for sexual services. Problematic, however, is the lack of distinction made between individuals who choose to become sex workers and those who are trafficked.

Visual Campaigns against AIDS, Then and Now

Once upon a time, AIDS was a focal point for artists in the United States. My design students and I recently read Maud Lavin’s Clean New World: Culture, Politics, and Graphic Design, in which she discusses the rise of political art and design in the 1980s after the election of Ronald Reagan.1 The Eighties —… Read more →

Renisha McBride and the Killing of Black Bodies

By Austin C. McCoy

Renisha McBride’s death once again reveals how the criminalization and dehumanization of black youth and the violent policing of black bodies persists in spite of triumphant declarations of post-racial America. On November 2, nineteen-year-old Renisha McBride became the latest African American to die because someone perceived her presence as a threat. That night, McBride was involved in a car accident with a parked car in Detroit. Two hours later, she was shot dead in the face at a house in Dearborn Heights. McBride’s parents claim she was looking for help. The homeowner thought she was trying to break into his home, and his gun discharged accidentally.