Friday, June 20, 2014

By Holly Grigg-Spall

[Originally Published in Society for Menstrual Cycle Research]

The recently released rom-com ‘Obvious Child’ has been discussed far and wide for its mature, sensitive and funny approach to the topic of abortion and yet I have not seen one comment on the fact that this movie also makes mainstream (and yes, funny) the topic of cervical mucus.

In the opening scene stand-up comedian Donna (played by real-life comedian Jenny Slate) is performing on stage at her local open mic night. She wraps up with a joke about the state of her underwear and how, she describes, her underpants sometimes look like they have “crawled out of a tub of cream cheese.”

She claims that they often embarrass her by looking as such during sexual encounters, something she feels is not sexy.

Of course, by “cream cheese” I immediately assumed Donna meant cervical mucus. Unless she is supposed to have a vaginal infection – which seeing as it is not discussed amongst the other myriad bodily function-centric conversations in the movie, I doubt to be the case – then it’s clear she is detailing her experience of cervical mucus.

Later on that night, when Donna meets and goes home with a guy, has sex and then wakes up in bed with him the following morning, she sees that her underwear is laying next to the guy’s head on the pillow. Not only that, but this is one of those situations she finds embarrassing as the underwear is actually covered in the aforementioned “cream cheese” or cervical mucus. She cringes, retrieves the underwear and hastily puts it back on under the covers.

At this scene we can assume that the presence of visible cervical mucus indicates that the character is in fact fertile at this time during the movie. Even if we didn’t know this movie was about unplanned pregnancy, perhaps we would know now. Apparently Donna is not on hormonal birth control, and she’s not sure if, in their drunkenness, they used a condom properly. So, I speculate, if Donna had known she was fertile and that the “cream cheese” in her underwear was actually one of the handy signs of fertility her body provides, then she may have taken Plan B and not had to worry about an abortion. But, then, of course, we wouldn’t have had the rest of this movie. We would have had a very different movie – a movie someone should also make.

But it goes to show how some body literacy might go a long way in helping women make more informed choices. The abortion sets her back $500 and causes some emotional turmoil. A dose of Plan B is cheaper and easier to obtain, although not without some side effects. Maybe even, we can speculate, if Donna had known she was fertile she might have avoided PIV [Penis In Vagina] sex that night.

It’s great to see a movie approach the choice of abortion as though it really were, well, a choice. But isn’t it interesting that in doing so it shows how women can be hampered in their choices by a lack of body literacy?

We often see women in movies discussing their “fertile time” in regards to wanting to get pregnant – and so meeting their husbands to have sex at the optimum time in usually funny, crazy scenarios. Sometimes we have seen women taking their temperature or using ovulation tests and calendars to figure this out. However, I think this might be the first mention of cervical mucus in cinema.

I had the honor of seeing this movie with longtime abortion rights and women’s health activist Carol Downer and getting to discuss it with her after. Carol pioneered the self-help movement and self-examination, adding much to our collective knowledge of our bodies. 

This is what she had to say:
"I enjoy the genre of romantic comedies with all their faults; I’m not as critical of them as I am of other genres, and ‘Obvious Child’ more than met my expectations.
I particularly liked ‘Obvious Child.’ I liked the uninhibited tipsy lovemaking scenes that showed casual sex at its best. Then, the complications that arose when she found out she was pregnant and needed to have an abortion and when he continued to be very interested in having a real relationship rang absolutely true to me. It’s just our luck, isn’t it, to get pregnant when there’s no realistic way to continue the pregnancy? The women, married or unmarried, who get abortions have some variation of this experience. When we have such bad timing, it’s the pits! I loved that their relationship grew in facing the regrettable necessity of the abortion and the recovery together, and you get the feeling that the relationship has a good future ahead of it. A darned good story."

Friday, June 13, 2014

Kathryn Joyce’s Quiverfull, road map of the Christian Patriarchy Movement

By Carol Downer

I recommend that you leave the frothy page-turner at home when you do your summer reading. Instead, read Quiverfull by Kathryn Joyce--every single word of every single page, with my comments about Joyce’s antinatalist bias in mind, as though your reproductive freedom depends upon it, because it may.  Joyce (a contributing writer for Nation Magazine) does an excellent job of reporting the self-labeled Christian Patriarchy Movement, a counter-culture which lives the values of sixteenth-century Calvinism, where the father is the spiritual and earthly leader of the family. 

Through her interviews and participant observation, Joyce found that Quiverfull families model themselves on the white settler families of pre-Revolutionary English colonies in North America whose economy was based on forcibly exploiting the natural resources of the indigenous people, the slave trade and slave labor.

You will get a glimpse of how women in this movement see the shortcomings of our feminist movement, and you may be uncomfortable with how well the shoe fits.  Hopefully, rather than dismissing these womens’ criticisms, you’ll ask whether our feminist movement has stayed true to its goals of liberating ourselves, and if present-day mores have improved women’s lives or created a more equal society.

Reading Joyce’s description of the movement in the first 12 chapters prepares you to understand Chapters 13 through 18.  Starting with “Trust and Obey” and “Blessed Arrows”, Joyce gradually introduces the reader to the foundational beliefs underlying pronatalism, “the policy or practice of encouraging the bearing of children, especially government support of a higher birthrate.”

Chapters 15, 16 and 17, “The Natural Family”, “Return to Patriarchy” and “Godly Seeds” digs a little deeper into history and politics, presenting an excellent review of nationalists’ and nativists’ use of social policy to advance national interests through tax policies favoring large families, and their use of strategies, such as homeschooling, home businesses and home-based churches to spread the ideology and the theology of patriarchy.  Denying racism, the Christian Patriarchy Movement, seeks to “be fruitful and multiply” to increase white Christians, but at the same time accepts converts to Christianity and recommends that white Christians adopt children of color.

Studying these chapters provides the basis to understand Chapter 18, “Demographic Winter”, the blockbuster centerpiece of Joyce’s book.  The various strands of history, politics, and religion are pulled together to showcase the Christian Patriarchy Movement’s vision of the death of Western Civilization unless the United States and Europe start producing enough babies to the replace the old and dying.  And, they have the cold, hard demographic facts to back them up.  It’s being called, “the baby bust,” “the birth dearth”, “the graying of the continent”.  Joyce attributes this to a “race panic” as low fertility among white couples coincides with an increasingly visible immigrant population across Europe.

As one reads this book, one begins to conjecture that perhaps the current race of State legislators to pass TRAP laws (Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers), and the increasingly reluctance of the Supreme Court to rule regulations that raise barriers to women seeking abortion as unconstitutional is this fear of “demographic winter”.  Joyce seems to be implying that this is “just a prelude for a new cold war, a ‘clash of civilizations’ to be fought through women’s bodies, with the maternity ward as battleground.”

So, Joyce has done a brilliant job of observing, describing, quoting and analyzing the pro-natalist underpinning of the Christian Patriarchy Movement, and she has educated her readers about all the dry-as-dust pronatalist tax policies and the demographic realities internationally.  We will be wise to understand the gravity of her message; pronatalists are determined to encourage the Western world to make more babies, therefore they respect women’s reproductive rights only as long as those rights are to have as many babies as possible.

BUT, we feminists will never start to effectively fight this battle to control our own sexuality and reproduction if we forget that there are two sides to this battle.  It is not the right-wing versus the feminist and their liberal friends.  It is the right-wing pronatalists versus the wealthy and influential anti-natalists.  These are the families, such as Bill and Melinda Gates, the Rockefellers and Warren Buffet, and other capitalist friends who have no more regard for a woman’s freedom to control her body, than the right-wing, pronatalist Koch Brothers, et al.  They just favor a different way of solving social problems, such as global warming and poverty.  They believe that these problems are caused by too many people.  They don’t put their efforts toward changing consumption patterns, having a more equitable distribution of the wealth and allowing the occupants of the land, rather than corporations, to use resources to benefit their own people.  They are doing everything possible to discourage women from reproducing.  They’re against “teen pregnancy”.  They’re for any social trend that reduces women’s fertility: gay and transgender lifestyles, women going to college and having careers, later marriage, and the use of contraception such as the Pill, abortion, and sterilization.  (The Christian patriarchal right opposes each of these social trends).  There is a anti-natalist equivalent policy to those pronatalist policy listed in the book.

And, for every bombastic quote of a pro-natalist leader, such as Yasir Arafat’s “the womb of the Arab woman is my best weapon” can be matched with a quote from an antinatalist, such as Paul Ehrlich, who wrote the “Population Bomb”.

I hope I’ve encouraged people to read the book.  It’s time that feminists who oppose policies that control women’s reproduction, whether it be employed by the pronatalists or the antinatalists start developing our own strategies, independent of the anti-natalist-controlled “pro-choice” movement.