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A Sex Strike Won't Reverse The Abortion Bans, But Maybe These Women's Stories Will

Culture

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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Politics

Michael Bloomberg Can’t Handle A Woman With A Voice (aka Elizabeth Warren)

Elizabeth Warren majorly called out "arrogant billionaire" Michael Bloomberg for his history of silencing women through NDAs and closed-door settlement negotiations. Sound familiar? Probably because we already have a president like that. At this point, Bloomberg may just spend the remainder of his (hopefully) ill-fated presidential campaign roasting on a spit over a fire sparked by the righteous anger of women. A lesser punishment than he deserves, if you ask me.


At last night's Democratic debate, Michael Bloomberg could barely stammer out an answer to a question on whether or not he would release any of his former accusers from their nondisclosure agreements. His unsatisfactory response was basically a halting list of what he has done for certain nondescript women in his time at City Hall and within his own company.

But that certainly wasn't enough for Elizabeth Warren, nor should it be, who perfectly rephrased his defense as, "I've been nice to some women." Michael Bloomberg is basically that weird, problematic Uncle that claims he can't be racist, "Because I have a Black friend." In a society where power is almost always in the hands of straight, white, cisgendered, men being "nice" to a lucky few is in no way a defense for benefiting from and building upon the systematic silencing of all marginalized communities, let alone women. Stop and frisk, anybody?

Here is a brief clip of the Warren v. Bloomberg exchange, which I highly recommend. It is absolutely (and hilariously) savage.

But let's talk about the deeper issues at hand here (other than Warren being an eloquent badass).

Michael Bloomberg has been sued multiple times, yet each time he was able to snake his way out of the problem with the help of his greatest and only superpower: cold, hard cash. Each time these allegations have come up, in Warren's words, he throws "a chunk of money at the table" and "forces the woman to wear a muzzle for the rest of her life."

As reported by Claire Lampen of The Cut, here are just a few of his prior indiscretions.

  • Pregnancy discrimination—Bloomberg reportedly told a former employee of his to "kill it," in reference to her developing fetus.
  • Sexual harassment—You could literally write a book on this subject (someone did), but for the sake of brevity...
"I'd like to do that piece of meat" - Michael Bloomberg in reference to various women at his company.
  • Undermining #MeToo—Not only did he defend the accused, but he went on the disparage accusers every step of the way.
  • Defaming transgender people—Though he claims to support trans rights, he has also been qupted multiple times as referring to trans women as "some guy wearing a dress."
Yeah... That's not a winning formula for me, Mike.

Furthermore, Warren points out the simple fact that if, as Bloomberg claims, these instances were simply big misunderstandings (He was just joking around!) then why go to all the trouble to cover them up? Does Michael Bloomberg think women can't take a joke? Or can we only surmise that the truth of these events are far darker and dirtier than we could even imagine?

Certain commentators have called Elizabeth Warren's debate presence "agressive," especially in regards to this instance but also continually throughout her entire campaign. If asking poignant questions to known abusers who are seeking to further their own political power is considered "aggressive," then I am here for it. Bring on the aggressive women, please and thank you.

Calling a woman aggressive for being confidant and direct is a gendered complaint. You don't see anyone whining that Bernie is "aggressive" when he goes off on a screaming tangent. Also, have you seen our president? He's basically the poster boy for political temper tantrums. But still, it's Warren that is deemed "aggressive," for honing in on the exact issues that need to be considered in this upcoming election.

This type of derisory label is another aspect of how our society silences women—much like Bloomberg and his NDAs. Because "silencing" is more than just putting a "muzzle" on someone. It's refusing to listen to a person's cries for help. It's disregarding what a woman has to say, because she's too "aggressive." It's taking away someone's power by refusing to truly hear their side of the story. Because if you aren't listening, responding, or even just respecting someone's words, they may well have said nothing at all.

"Silence is the ocean of the unsaid, the unspeakable, the repressed, the erased, the unheard." - Renecca Solnit

Nondiscolusure agreements are a legal gag for people who have experienced harassment and abuse at the hands of those above them.

Gretchen Carlson, possibly the most famous person subject to an NDA, is one of these people. Her story is so well-known that it has even been immortalized on film, in 2019's Bombshell. Yet she is still forced to maintain her silence. She cannot tell her side of the story even when Hollywood can. She was cajoled into her current position after facing harassment in her workplace. She didn't have the power then to do more than accept her fate. And now, she doesn't have the power to tell her story.

She was, and still is being, silenced.

After her experiences, Carlson was moved to fight for all women to have the power over their truths. In a recent op-ed for the New York Times she declared: "I want my voice back. I want it back for me, and for all those silenced by forced arbitration and NDAs."

Carlson may still be tied to her NDA, but there are those who go a different route. Celeste Headlee, who wrote an op-ed on SWAAY about her experience, chose to break her nondisclosure agreement. Though doing so undoubtedly opened her up to numerous legal ramifications, she knew that she could no longer "sign away [her] right to justice."

Because that is what an NDA is all about, signing away a person's right to justice. Their story is their justice. Their NDA is a lock and key. Headlee may have broken through that lock, but she must face the consequences.

Neither Carlson nor Headlee are any less brave for how they have handled their journeys. They are both actively working to shift the cultural and political norms that led them here, and their work will, with hope and time, lead to real change. But they are just two drops in an ocean of women who are held hostage by their nondisclosure agreements, by men like Michael Bloomberg, and by a society that would rather silence them than let truth and justice be had.