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War on Birth Control

I’m so infuriated by the amped-up crusade to stop us from using birth control, I don’t know if I can be coherent. The latest flap in the ongoing battle for control of our bodies – and our souls – is that President Obama, in yet another attempt to placate the Catholic Church, found a way to cover the cost of contraception for women who work at Catholic institutions without the Church’s actual participation. Goody for him. Goody for the church. Not so goody for women, whose rights are considered only secondarily to religious freedom. That mythical guy in the sky takes precedence over living breathing human beings.

The Catholic Church has always opposed women’s natural-born right to determine our own destinies. What’s really shocking is a Presidential campaign waged on the issue of not just abortion, but birth control.  Rick Santorum, a viable candidate for a Presidential nomination, is running around the country shooting his mouth off about the evils of contraception! In the year 2012! It’s surreal. This guy has followers; in fact, he just surged forward in the polls while pushing the national debate on human rights, free choice, and family planning a few centuries backwards.

What I want to know is this: What do these people want? Do they envision a world without contraception as ideal? (It won’t happen, because even if they outlawed condoms and pills, women would find a way to use them. I recently heard that 98% of Catholics do.) Even so, I wonder, do these people actually want every (married) woman to bring forth a dozen or more children in her lifetime — or is this just a ploy to slam women back into their place? Do they want to overpopulate the earth even more than it already is? Do they think this plan will please their god? What exactly is the point?

Another thing I want to know: Do these companies and places that don’t cover birth control cover Viagra and other cock stiffeners? I bet they do. No further commentary needed on that point, is there?

You know, I can see what gets them going on abortion; many of us in the so-called pro-choice camp do understand why abortion disturbs them. But spermicide? This I don’t get. Apparently they don’t give a shit if we die in childbirth or die young, worn out from  pregnancy and motherhood. They don’t want us to have the time or energy to pursue goals outside the home, or make the kind of mischief we’re always making. They don’t want us to have a minute of free time to reflect upon our lives. It’s so maddening I can’t go on writing this.

After a short intermission during which I looked like the above baby, I’ve decided it’s time to take off the kid gloves. And the prim white gloves. And the sexy lacy ones. So here goes. The image that entered my mind this morning when I heard the report about the concession made for the Catholic Church was this: a bunch of priests surveying an endless line of little boys and girls as if they were their own personal playthings. Is that why they want us to keep ’em coming?

I realize I can now be accused of having no respect for religion. Oh well.

Happy New Year

Stevie Wonder was right when he sang Superstition ain’t the way. I have a few New Year superstitions–I guess everyone does, what with the resolution thing–and they’re causing me angst.

For instance: The first song you hear is a message for the coming year.
Result: I’m afraid to take a chance on the radio–and purposely selecting a song is cheating.

(Aha! About an hour after writing this, I found an elegant solution–went to my iTunes library, closed my eyes and hit the Shuffle! The song I got was Waterfall by Cris Williamson: Sometimes it takes a rainy day/just to let you know/everything’s gonna be all right. Now, if I could just find an elegant solution to No. 2!)

No. 2: Your home must be clean as a whistle for the new year.
Result: I’m feeling totally pressured today to finish cleaning.

Actually, the subject of housekeeping has been on my mind a lot lately. It seems like I’m becoming more fanatical as I age, in theory if not in practice. I despise any form of dirt with a passion, and I was not always like this. I think it’s because I’ve seen what happens to a certain kind of woman who lives alone: women who’ve done their own housework all their lives and would never dream of hiring someone to clean. Unfortunately, they can’t see like they used to, nor do they have as much energy. Ergo: a filthy house.

I am not making this up: I helped clean a huge house belonging to a friend’s mother after she died, in her mid-80s. It was g-ross! Even the dishes in the cabinets were covered in slime, that’s how bad it was. I’m nowhere near 80, and I live in a little studio apartment; still, every day it seems to become more important for me to scrub, dust, vacuum, etcetera.

When I was in my 20s and a married lady in suburbia. I used to laugh at the women up and down the block who shined their floors til you could see your own reflection in them. My eight-room ranch house wasn’t really dirty, but I couldn’t use the floors and furniture as mirrors. Truth be told, I was too busy getting stoned with my girlfriends while our collective kids did whatever they did in the playroom.

If only my neighbors could see me now, on my bathroom floor with a toothbrush and Comet, they’d be stunned. I wonder what they’re all doing now, and whether their homes are still so clean?

Happy New Year, Ladies, wherever you are!

Maria Shriver’s Conference

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mariashriverDo you know that Maria Shriver, the First Lady of California, holds a women’s conference every year? For two days in October a gang of high-profile, accomplished women come together in a pristine section of the California coast to meet, greet, and–their primary purpose–empower themselves and each other. If you want to go, too bad–except for the special events, it’s sold out. But you didn’t even hear of it in time, you say? Ah, well–that is because, it seems, only the rich and connected are welcome:

Table of 12 on the floor $3,600
Loge seat $200
Balcony seat $150
Balcony seat – partial view (oh darn, thats just where I wanted to sit!) $125
Includes general sessions, 2 breakout conversations, box lunch, entrance into The Village exhibit hall and the afternoon presentation of The Minerva Awards.

When I saw this price list, I looked every which way on the site for some kindly note about sliding scales, scholarships, or other accommodations for low-income women. When none appeared, I emailed headquarters and asked. This was about two weeks ago; to date, no one’s responded.

imagesMinerva, Goddess of Wisdom

As I said, tickets to the full conference are sold out–but if you want to attend The Miverva Awards only (the goddess Minerva seems to be their patron saint), it’s a bargain at $40–and even includes entry to The Village exhibit, where you can buy, I suppose, women-identified tchatchkalas. Or, better yet, you can go party down with the gals at Night at the Village for a mere $25.

Here’s a sampling of what they plan to talk about during “breakout conversations”:
How to Make Your Job Matter or Get a New One
How to Break the Cycle of Stress in Your Life
How to Start a Non-Profit Business or Keep Yours Afloat in Difficult Times
How to Write Your Own Book and Get it Published

How to Start Your Own Business–and, my personal favorite–

How to Sell Yourself

Whaddya say, Maria? Is this any way to treat the po’ women of California?

Sex Research Is Alive and Well

maskDid I go to sleep for a bunch of years and miss some phenomenal developments in the field of sex research? Or did something happen to jump-start sex research after a long dormant period brought on by Nine-Eleven, super patriotism, chastity clubs, and Bush time? I thought research on sex had come to a standstill during the past decade, but Bush only just climbed into his homeward-bound helicopter, and these studies weren’t born today or yesterday. They must have slipped through the radar of an otherwise dark era. In any case, something is happening here!–at least according to a story by Daniel Bergner in last Sunday’s NY Times Magazine.

bettie-pageThey’ve titled the article with that old hackneyed line, What Do Women Want? The tentative answer, based on recent research, is that the question might be unanswerable. But I’m not so concerned with the question; rather, I’m elated at what’s being learned on the way to the answer. It’s like loving the journey as much as the destination–which, come to think of it, is what sex is about: not the orgasm but what you do to get there. And that, my friends, is a distinctly female point of view.

sex-wars-french-postcardBut let us leave aside the old question for the moment. Daniel Bergner, author of The Other Side of Desire: Four Journeys Into the Far Realms of Lust and Longing, reports on studies conducted by Meredith Chivers, a psychology professor at Queens College in Kingston, Ontario. Chivers shows her subjects—men, women, gay, straight, and male-to-female transsexuals—a video program consisting of heterosexual sex, gay male sex, lesbian sex, and animal sex: for the latter she shot footage of bonobo apes doing what they so frequently do. While watching the videos, the men wear an apparatus over their penis that gauges swelling, while the women insert a probe to measure blood flow in their vaginas. Everyone also manually records their levels of arousal with old-fashioned pen and paper. Now, here comes the stunner:

The men’s minds and genitals were almost always in agreement,

while for the women “mind and genitals seemed scarcely to belong to the same woman.”

This comes as no surprise to me, but it did knock my socks—or rather, my panties—off. I’ve known this about myself forever, and several women have confided in me about this disturbing trait, but to my knowledge it has never before been scientifically observed, analyzed, and put into print. Why is that important? I’ll tell you why it’s important: This disconnect between mind and body is something that really fucks with women’s heads. I take that back, partially: I can’t speak for anyone but myself, so I’ll just say it fucks with my head—so much that I’ve suffered profound agony because of it at various times in my life.

swept-awayFor instance, Lina Wertmuller’s film Swept Away…came out during the height of my involvement in the women’s movement, and when I’d just embarked on my first lesbian love affair. I went to see the movie by myself—in retrospect, a smart move—before seeing it with my lover. On that first viewing I sat alone at an early morning, sparsely attended show, my lower body on fire while a constant stream of tears flowed from my eyes. I was in utter despair at the extreme difference between my sexual responses and my brain, meaning my values and who I wanted to be. This was not the first time I’d noticed this disconnect, and it certainly wasn’t the last: I could cite dozens of examples, but my response to a movie is about as sexually personal as I want to get on my blog.

Now along comes Meredith Chivers, to tell me this is not just my own little neurosis. Like the consciousness-raising we did in the women’s movement, discovering this commonality is a huge relief. Seeing it written about as a scientific phenomenon eases the self-blame that’s plagued me all my life and even tainted some of my sexual experiences.

Lisa Diamond, another sexologist, is studying the fluidity of women’s sexuality, so much greater than men’s. Diamond theorizes that women are more relationship oriented, so the gender of the lover isn’t as important as intimacy, no matter who the partner might be. Marta Meana, yet another researcher of this generation who works out of Las Vegas, discounts intimacy as an aphrodisiac, challenging Diamond’s theory.

Despite all the fascinating information these researchers are gathering, they seem to feel frustrated with their work. Chivers says she feels like she’s in a dark, heavily wooded forest devoid of footpaths or any other guidance. Her studies have led her to think that female sexuality is even more complex than we’ve imagined; she points to all the strict cultural codes regulating women’s sex lives as proof of its frightening power. Chivers worries that she might never come close to illuminating her subject.

roseanne

But sex research of the past brought illumination, and it’s safe to say that each generation of women is sexually freer than the previous one. In an episode of Roseanne, she has a conversation with her mother, who confesses she doesn’t know what she likes sexually because she’s never had a chance to find out. Roseanne, who apparently has a rip roarin’ time with Dan, expresses genuine sadness for the mother she’s usually busy hating.

Where has this generational change in women come from, if not from knowledge derived from research? I vividly recall the day Masters and Johnson’s studies were published over forty years ago: my best friend and I, young brides in our early twenties, spent the whole day on the phone talking about it. This New York Times article has similarly affected me. So I’m sorry if researchers feel frustrated, but I want them to keep right on roaming that dark forest.

The link to the Times story is up there in the first paragraph, but here it is again. Now I’m going to Google these studies to see what else is happening out there. I seem to have some catching up to do.