Culture 10 June 2019
As abortion bans and restrictions sweep across the nation, the word abortion has taken on a life of its own, inspiring vitriol wherever it is mentioned, but that isn't stopping women from taking a stand and reminding everyone who these bans will be affecting down on the ground.
Even these celebrities are stepping up and taking on this political movement. Though you may not always associate celebrity with political activism, these women are using their public platforms to make a difference.
Alyssa Milano, a staunch feminist and prominent activist, was one of the first to speak out. However, she wasn't necessarily the most successful. Earlier this month, in response to Georgia's anti-abortion legislation passing, Alyssa Milano called upon the women of Twitter to unite under a shared banner: a sex strike, stating "if our choices are denied, so are yours." It did not take long for the Twitter community to completely shut this idea down; it is heteronormative, trans-exclusionary and more than anything else it completely commodifies women's sex in exchange for something that should be an absolute right (bodily autonomy). Denying men sex is not going to get them to listen, and it certainly won't get them to support abortion.
Thankfully, there are plenty of other women who are also championing the pro-choice cause but with a bit more tact than Milano. Many of them are doing so simply by sharing their own experiences and saying "Hey, abortion is here to stay, because we are going to fight for it." A sex strike may not solve the abortion problem, but maybe these women's stories will.
Busy Philipps, of "Dawson's Creek" and "Cougar Town," opened her late-night show, "Busy Tonight" with an emotional discussion of abortion, but she could not have known the fledgling movement that it would ignite. She begins by bringing up the risks that these abortion bans pose for women in general, but things quickly turn personal. "Maybe you're sitting there thinking, ' I don't know a woman who would have an abortion.' Well, you know me." And that simple three-word-phrase lit up: #YouKnowMe.
Since then, women have come forward in droves to share their stories and show the world just how common abortion is. Philips did not disclose many details of her own procedure, other than it occurring at the age of 15, but the simple fact that she, in a very visible setting, is sharing that she has had an abortion makes a huge difference. And as more women continue share their stories the conversation surrounding abortion is becoming suffused with new life. A necessary step on the way towards assuring the right of bodily autonomy for all people. As with any debate as deeply divided as this, certain terms, phrases or ideas can become more than themselves. As though the word itself represents all that is evil in this world to some people. But the women who actually need access to it get forgotten, turned into statistics or sob stories. The people giving voice to these issues are working to reverse this process and remind the world that abortion is more than what anti-choice advocates make it out to be. Abortion could be a woman who is able to attend college because she didn't have to pay for a child. It could be your second cousin who terminated a pregnancy due to fetal non-viability. It could be you.
Jameela Jamil, actress and body-positive advocate, came forward with her own abortion experience and chose to focus on her lack of regret and the reasoning behind her choice. Some people still see abortion as a monster that will leave a woman full of remorse, but each and every woman has a unique response to the experience. She tweeted that her choice to have the procedure was "the best decision I have ever made. Both for me, and for the baby I don't want, and wasn't ready for, emotionally, psychologically and financially." Jamil's unabashed acknowledgment of her freedom to have an abortion is a refreshing positive affirmation in an often bitter discussion.
Ashley Judd also shared her story on Instagram and Twitter succinctly stating "Raped at 30, I terminated the pregnancy. #youknowme." These posts came almost immediately after the Alabama ban was passed, and she specifically mentioned that "the rapist would have had paternity rights," as would be the case under the regulations of the Alabama ban. Though no other official reference is mentioned, at any rate, the message is clear: Judd is not ashamed of her procedure and she wants the world to know about it.
One of the most poignant stories shared was from earlier this month by actress and model, Milla Jovovich. She took to Instagram to post the story of her emergency abortion and protest these new incredibly restrictive bans. She described the event as "horrific," after going into preterm labor she was informed she would have to remain awake for the entire procedure. This experience was horrific enough for Jovovich, but she also pointed out that under the new bans "women might have to face abortions in even worse conditions." The piercing truth of this statement paints a haunting image of the future, but the women who are standing out may be changing that future.
Though these women have different perspectives on their abortions, they are united by the belief that our society needs to be talking about these stories. People need to know that there are living, breathing people that will, or would have been, affected by such strict abortion bans. This movement is about community, shared trauma and giving women an opportunity to make themselves known and bring attention to the pervasiveness of their struggle. #YouKnowMe is giving space for women to show the world just how common this simple medical procedure truly is. Celebrities, neighbors, friends and every woman in between are using this hashtag to empower themselves and shut down the abortion stigma.
Here at SWAAY we are all about women owning the conversation and that is exactly what #YouKnowMe means. If you have a personal story about abortion, we want to encourage you to use this safe space to share it. This is a community of empowerment, and you will always be supported.
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Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."
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