In 1873, Congress passed the Comstock Act as the result of the crusading of one man—Anthony Comstock—who believed that birth control led to far too much sexiness and sexual enjoyment in America, and ought to be outlawed. The Comstock Act defined contraceptives as obscene and illicit, and made it illegal to send birth control through the mail or to cross state lines with it. The act spawned similar laws—known collectively as the Comstock Laws—in twenty-four states. Fortunately for American women, Margaret Sanger believed passionately that a woman had a right to her own sexuality, which included both sexual enjoyment (an important component of sexual health) and reproductive choice. Margaret Sanger was the answer to Anthony Comstock—in 1916 she was arrested for opening the first birth control clinic in America. A few years later, in 1921, Sanger founded the American Birth Control League, and in 1923 she founded the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau, which was renamed the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in 1942.
Sometimes, in debates about sexism or other forms of discrimination—particularly online—people will use a tactic called gaslighting. The term comes from the 1944 movie Gaslight, in which an abusive husband repeatedly dims and brightens the gaslights in their home while telling his wife he has no idea what’s happening, causing her to question her sanity. In an argument or debate, a person using gaslighting will try to make his opponent think her perceptions are skewed or wrong. Gaslighting is not always conscious—it can be used unconsciously as a defensive reaction. However, it can also be used consciously, as a manipulative tactic.
Each week, our nation presents us with opportunities to examine the manifestations of sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination around us. Journalists write articles, actors and sports figures give interviews, hashtags trend—we share information and debate issues, sometimes with a feminist lens but often without one. Most of the time, our media examines the issues of patriarchy as if they are isolated, as if they arise only from the particular dysfunction of a specific person or small group of people. Rarely do we make connections between a particular issue and patriarchy, or the societal framework that supports and reinforces male domination and female submission.
The United States understands genocide to be a terrible thing that other countries have done, or are doing. The eradication of an entire population—civilian women, men, and children—along with their culture and national sovereignty—is something we condemn in our media. When we see genocide happening elsewhere, we debate if and when we should step in with economic sanctions or military action—when it is time to put a stop to a crime against humanity. Rarely, if ever, do we examine our own history long enough to understand that the United States was created by people who committed genocide against the people who were already living here. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, in her book An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, gives us this truth in its fullness, showing us the history we have attempted to deny. She does so “…not to make an accusation but rather to face historical reality, without which consideration not much in US history makes sense, unless Indigenous peoples are erased (p. 7).”
Have you heard of Marissa Alexander? If not, it’s time you did. Her case is one that, as advocate Sumayya …