Alabama and Melinda Gates

It could be a coincidence that I began reading Melinda Gate’s book The Moment of Lift while Alabama men were busily using bogus science to break an American law that has given women control over their own bodies for the past 40 years, but I think other forces might have been in motion in the universe. The reproductive rights that American women won in the 1960’s and 1970’s gave the United States a reputation for being one of the most enlightened places in the world for women and girls. Both contraception and the right to an abortion did as much to open up higher education and personal wealth to American women as World War II did to open up factories, office jobs, and family security.

I was there when it happened. I came from a poor family. My mom had eight children, probably at least four more than we could afford. My mom did not want to be a working mother. She was shy and nervous and suffered from low self-esteem. She was a good mom. All the kids in the neighborhood liked to hang out at our house. Several working mothers trusted her enough to pay her to look after their babies and in this way she contributed to the family income without having to, as she put it, “work out (of the home)”

But I was embarrassed when my mom got pregnant for the eighth time. I knew the economies we already had to make in our household, the old cars held together with bubble gum and bobby pins, the day-old bread, the cans of unlabeled food cheap at the supermarket that made dining a sometimes disappointing mystery, the struggle to shoe us all, the clothing contributed by neighbors. It wasn’t nice of me to react in this way but I was a young teen and it was tough to hold it in.

Melinda Gates, pregnant with the Gate’s first child, on the way back from a trip to China, told Bill Gates that she did not plan to keep working after she had the baby. Of course, as she reminded her husband, they were fortunate because they did not need her income. This is the way women were raised. If you had children you should stay home with them. It didn’t take Melinda Gates long to change her mind. At first she did not identify as a feminist, now she describes herself as “an ardent feminist” and she has earned the props to back it up.

She describes being a feminist in this way, “being a feminist means believing that every woman should be able to use her voice and pursue her potential, and that women and men should all work together to take down the barriers and end the biases that still hold women back.” Melinda Gates, a devout Catholic does not speak up much for abortion rights, which would be hard to reconcile with her faith but she doesn’t speak up against them either. She has invested time and money using the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation set up in 2000 to make sure that women everywhere have access to contraception.

After a trip to Africa Melinda discovered that millions of children around the world are dying because “they are poor and we weren’t hearing about it because they were poor.” This led the foundation to invest in vaccines and delivery systems. At vaccination centers Melinda met women who had walked long distances to get their children’s shots but also their own shots, an injection of long-acting birth control so that they could plan their families.

“Increasingly on my trips, no matter what their purpose, I began to hear and see the need for contraceptives. I visited communities where every mother had lost a child and everyone knew a mother who had died in childbirth. I met more mothers who were desperate not to get pregnant because they couldn’t take care of the kids they already had. I began to understand why, even though I wasn’t there to talk about contraceptives women kept bringing them up anyway.”

She continues, “[w]hen women in developing countries space their births by at least three years, each baby is almost twice as likely to survive their first year –and 35 percent more likely to see their fifth birthday.” She tell us about a long-running public health study dating from the 1970’s. Half the families in villages in Bangladesh were given contraceptives and the other half were not. Twenty years later, the benefits accrued to the half on contraceptives; mothers were healthier, children were better nourished, families had more wealth, women had higher wages, sons and daughters had better schooling.

Melinda Gates does not only discuss reproductive rights in her book. She goes on to discuss schooling and equal pay for women, but she also talks about what is happening in America right now. “It’s a mark of a backward society –or a society moving backward—when decisions are made for women by men. That’s what is happening right now in the US.”

She tells us that if the policies of this administration are successful “more than a million low-income women who now rely on Title X funding to get contraceptive services or cancer screenings or annual exams from Planned Parenthood will lose their healthcare provider.” And she also tell us this, “for women outside the United States, the administration has proposed cutting its contribution for international family planning in half and cutting its contributions to the UN Population Fund to zero.”

“The administration also proposed eliminating the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, which would end a crucial supply of contraceptives for teens who need them.”

Reading The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates on the very days when a law outlawing abortion is being sent to the governor of Alabama for her signature seems to argue for the possibility of “divine intervention”. The opponents of abortion feel that the Supreme Court is ripe to overturn Roe v Wade and they are making their moves, hoping the case which will assuredly be filed against this unconstitutional law will make it to the Supreme Court and that the Supreme Court will make abortion illegal in America.

Backwards, backwards. I don’t believe women will go there for long. These same men and women who oppose abortion also oppose contraception. If they win on the abortion issue, contraception could well be their next target. And women around the world who are just beginning to have the tools to fight the oppression of women and how it affects their families, and the woes of poverty for their children, whether these barriers arose from tradition or malign intent, or religion, will go down with us.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Wired

You can find me at as brissioni.




Voting By Gender

Once upon a time there were so few women running
for public office that I imagined I would vote for a woman candidate anytime I
was given the option. I realize that women are individuals and have their own
opinions but there was a sort of prevalent myth that all women would prove
superior to any man when it came to governing (or running a corporation for
that matter). Females would be less power-driven, less money-hungry, and their
own struggles to advance would make them sympathetic to people just beginning
the climb. That was very naïve of me, and perhaps I am not the only woman who
harbored these dangerous overgeneralizations.
This meme which says that women are essentially
good and that they will always govern better than men, lead better than men,
and share a kinder, gentler, more positive approach to social needs does not
reflect human nature with its tendencies to include both smart choices and
dumb, selfish choices, and we know that this is the nature of women as much as
it is the nature of men. Men may be hard-wired to be more aggressive, but given
the opportunity some women seem to have no trouble expressing this same trait.
We have been presented with women candidates who
have been mind-bogglingly bad choices for our government. We have met Sarah
Palin, who is not evil but who I would not trust to govern America for a single
second. Although she seemed like a wise choice by Republicans to challenge an
African American male candidate from the other party that only lasted until she
opened her mouth. I never was tempted to vote for Sarah Palin because, by the
time she was running, Republicans had already moved too far to the right for
me, but I was worried that more moderate Democrats might fall for her.
I was fooled by a local candidate, Ann Marie
Buerkle, who ran against Dan Maffei for the House of Representatives. There
were no negative ads to enlighten us about how much Ann Marie was wed to the
Tea Party (shame on the Democrats) and people felt that Dan Maffei was not
backing Democrats the way he should have (and some felt he was just a
Democratic rubber stamp), so I voted for Ann Marie Buerkle, a stubborn right
winger who answered all Town Hall questions by repeating Republican talking
points. I decided that was the last time I would vote by gender, or elect a
candidate I had not researched.
Since then I have caught the act of Michele
Bachmann and Marsha Blackburn. If I needed any more proof that there is no
generic “woman”, that women fall along the political spectrum just as men do,
recent events have set me straight. And while it may be true that there are
more women among the Democrats than there are among the Republicans, if the
opposition needs to find a female candidate who plays for their team they have
proved to us that it can be done.
We do have some great organizations that vet true
blue Democratic women and that service is very helpful to voters. Emily’s List
is among the best of these and Planned Parenthood has gotten good at this
lately because a candidate’s stand on women’s health issues separates along
party lines in most cases. Democratic women already in Congress are also quite
active these days in vetting women candidates.
Still, I have learned my lesson that merely voting
by gender won’t do. There is no replacement for reading about candidates,
hearing their opinions, and checking their voting record in office if they have
one. Checking who endorses a female candidate also helps me choose now that I have
given up my gender blinders. I will still be happy to have a gender bias
whenever a female candidate shows that she wants to further the political
issues that are important to me.
In the case of Hillary, I don’t see how she could
disappoint me as a candidate unless she is in a primary race with someone who
can get elected and who will fight to the left of her. I’m worried that Hillary
is too moderate to fight the good fight that needs to be fought against a
maddeningly extreme right wing. I hope I can vote by gender in this case, but
that is no longer a given.
By Nancy Brisson