While supporters of the Bush Administration and its policies continue to claim freedom and democracy around the world as the great legacy of the American state, they choose to ignore the ongoing and ferocious war on women and women's sexuality being waged by the United States government against half of its own population, and against half of the population of the world. We already have a massive movement against a woman's right to choose which has been escalating since the 1970s, and is still growing. The sickness is spreading inside the US, shown most recently in the FDA's refusal to approve the female sex-drive enhancer Intrinsa and this week's outrage -- the refusal of the Supreme Court to overturn an Alabama law banning the sale or distribution of sex toys. Internationally, the repercussions of this oppression are far more serious -- for now.
You may remember the recent media buzz around Intrinsa, a transdermal patch developed to counteract the loss of sex drive and the ability to enjoy sexual pleasure in women whose ovaries had been surgically removed. Unlike Viagra, the FDA immediately opposed Intrinsa, claiming that it had the "potential for being prescribed to women who are on a quest for sexual stimulators but aren't good candidates for the drug." They quickly raised doubts about Intrinsa's benefits, and questioned whether the modest improvements in women's sex lives shown in studies were worth the drug's potential (though unverified) cardiovascular and cancer-related risks. While Viagra is known to have the same risk factors, including its use by unqualified patients and even as a recreational drug, it is prescribed for men every day in this country, so they can enjoy sex, which they would not be able to do without the drug.
Why the double-standard? While men suffering from impotence are able to receive medication (sometimes even covered by medical insurance) that allows them to engage in sex and enjoy it, the "modest improvements" to women's sex drives attributed to Intrinsa are just not worth the possible, but untested, risks of the drug. Why is it more important for men to be able to achieve an erection than for a woman to enjoy sex?
A peek into the scarlet state of Alabama might shed a little more red-light on the situation. Last week, the United States Supreme Court refused to hear challenges to an Alabama state law that forbids the "sale or distribution of any device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs." So ladies, those "back massagers" from Sharper Image are probably still available, but forget the Ron Jeremy scale model.
Interestingly enough, the fine legislators of Alabama fail to include stimulant drugs like Viagra and Levitra under the auspices of the genital-stimulation law. And, even more twisted, the law allows for the sale of sexual devices "for a bona fide...legislative, judicial, or law enforcement purpose." My imagination is apparently not wild enough to come up with even one scenario in which a senator, judge, or police officer would need a vibrator in order to properly do his job. The average American woman, on the other hand, benefits quite a bit from sexual satisfaction.
The plain fact of the matter is that powerful men on the religious right are determined to bomb women's rights back to the Dark Ages, or at least the early 20th century. In August of 2004, the Pope's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released a major statement outlining their view of the status of women in society. They actually had the audacity to declare that women who resist their subordination to men too strongly are "giving rise to harmful confusion" and distorting their "natural characteristics" which apparently include "listening, welcoming, humility, faithfulness, praise, and waiting," whatever the hell that means. Pontificating further, they claimed that the fight for gender equality makes men feel "antagonistic" and is having "lethal effects on the structure of the family."
In the international sphere, this "President" has repeatedly decimated US funds for the United Nations Population Fund. In 2004, Bush cut $34 million in funding that would have helped fund maternity hospitals, family planning advice, and sterile emergency birth kits for refugees and other destitute women in the developing world from the UN Population Fund. The Fund has no ties to abortion clinics or other abortion providers, and has actually fought to stop the practice of forced abortions in China. Why does pro-life George W. Bush want women to die unnecessarily in childbirth and from illegal abortions that could be avoided if these women were just provided with adequate medical care? Why would a man who advocates a "culture of life" cut funds from programs that help downtrodden, uneducated women gain access to reproductive information and birth control, and medical treatment for AIDS, genital mutilation, and rape? Doesn't he realize that hundreds of thousands of mothers and children are dying from preventable birth-related illnesses every year around the world--sometimes for such simple mistakes as an attendant's failure to wash his hands?
And doesn't our venerated leader realize that supporting women's rights internationally will change the course of politics around the world? In countries that currently breed the most anti-United States terrorists, women's rights are nearly nonexistent. Ironically, when George W. Bush takes a stand against women's rights, either here at home or abroad, he aligns himself with those men he claims to despise -- men like Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, and Mullah Omar.
How long do the women of the world have to pay for the mythical deeds of Eve? How long do American women have to suffer the laws made, not by their peers, but by egomaniacal male politicians? How many more years will pass as we suffer alongside our sisters around the world, without adequate medical care, without the right to control our own bodies? How long will the "free" women of the United States quietly accept 76 cents as equal to 100? How many decades must we continue to return to work 4 weeks after giving birth because the law won't save our jobs after an arbitrary amount of time?
How many women have to die around the world because we refuse to give them a chance to be healthy mothers?
Who is the "culture of life" for, if not those members of society who bring life into the world?
Katherine Brengle is a 23-year-old college student and writer from Massachusetts. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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