Banning “Bossy” and Banishing Women’s Clinics
Between Privileged and Low-income Women
Privileged and low-income women have reasons to confront discrimination. While privileged women want to ban the word “Bossy” as detrimental to female leadership, governors like Rick Perry of Texas, banish Whole Woman’s Health clinics that provide services and abortion to low-income women in underserved rural communities.
Sheryl Sandberg, Condoleezza Rice and Anna Maria Chávez want to ban “Bossy,” as a word used to mock women. “Bossy,” they argue, is demeaning, meant to cast women as out of the bounds of femininity, and unseemly aggressive. The three successful women, Sandberg, Rice, and Chavez claim that ‘Bossy’ deters girls from striving to become leaders. To open the gate of success for girls they are launching a project “Ban ‘BOSSY.’
At the same time Republican leaders pull no punches when it comes to restricting women’s rights. They are ready to defeat women’s legal right to their bodies that has been affirmed in Roe V. Wade and they do it by using the notion of states’ rights. Let’s recall that in principle the Supreme Court affirmed a woman’s legal right to abortion and stated in Roe V. Wade that the “zone of privacy” was “broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.” Yet Republican governors, like Rick Perry, deny women the Supreme Court’s notion of “zone of privacy” and the right to make decisions over their bodies at any stage, (including the Court’ absolute right in the first 24 weeks) and under any circumstance. In Texas women’s clinics have provided healthcare, screening, contraceptives and abortion to low-income women in underserved rural communities; with the recent closings, these clinics are now almost extinct. Texas has already cut funds to Planned Parenthood and denied Medicaid funding to low-income women thus denying women their legal right to abortion.
The women’ health clinics have been banished by deliberate design and publicly, by a Republican administration. The governor, “Mr. Perry has stated that one of his goals in office is to ‘make abortion, at any stage, a thing of the past,’ and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, suggested last year on Twitter that shutting clinics was part of the purpose of the law, known as House Bill 2.” [NY Times]
Governor Perry and Lt. Gov. Dewhurst shine the light on the fact that America is a problematic democracy for women. When federal laws support democratic moves toward equality, states can, and do, defy them and have done so for a long time to curtail and undermine civil rights. In the case of women’s clinics, the state can do it by imposing new rules under the guise of new “medical guidelines,” as in the Texas House Bill 2, which force clinics that offer abortions to close.
In some places in America the Civil War is still simmering in public view; some places seem resentful of civil rights, and still fly, literally and figuratively, the Confederate Flag. There are still people in Texas who would like to secede from the nation. The petition to pull out of the union by Texans last year while denied by the White House exposes a simmering resentment of civil rights. States’ rights are the historic American maneuver to deny civil rights to African Americans, LGBT, undocumented immigrants and to women.
For low-income/underserved women, banishing clinics that provide abortion is a return to a time when women had to resort to harmful and dangerous abortion technologies. “More women may take matters into their own hands. The Rio Grande Valley already has one of the highest rates of self-induced abortion in the country. A 2012 survey found that 12 percent of women in clinics near the Mexico border said they had attempted to end their pregnancy on their own before seeking professional help…They’re getting drugs from Mexico, drinking teas, eating herbs, falling down the stairs on purpose or convincing their boyfriends to beat them up…Any of those methods could be fatal.” [Bill Moyers]
There is, however, an interesting wrinkle in the Texas case, a departure from the governor’s position and it is Anita Perry. The governor’s wife is on the side of the Supreme Court principle of “zone of privacy.” When Anita Perry was asked whether the “governor’s got it right, the administration has it right?” Her answer was, “I see it as a woman’s right. If they want to do that, that is their decision… Just like it’s a man’s right if he wants to have some kind of procedure.” [Think Progress]
Yet, her view of abortion as a woman’s right does not alter the governor’s closing of clinics; the locus of power is in the political structure. When clinics that provide women access to abortion are forced to close it means that women lose their legal right. They lose the right to the “zone of privacy,” defying Roe V. Wade, which is the law of land.
When clinics are closing privileged women and low-income women are not affected equally. Privileged women can and do have access to good quality health care, have the financial means for contraceptives, and have access to safe abortion outside states like Texas. Their “zone of privacy” would not be violated; it would still be “broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.”
Privileged women may believe that because they have wealth and social prominence they are removed from low-income rural women. Roe V. Wade is still there for them. They would not have to resort to life-threatening technologies should they need abortions. They would not depend on women’s clinics like those that just closed in Texas. Privileged women may not see the closing of clinics as their issues.
Women like Sheryl Sandberg, Condoleezza Rice and Anna Maria Chávez embark on banning the word “Bossy” and clearly language is significant and needs attention. At the same time denigrating terminology is symptomatic of a larger inequality, and getting rid of a word, avoids, rather than confronts the issue of inequality in America. Inequality does not skip the privileged in powerful places. Sheryl Sandberg’s own words point to it: “Women still represent only 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. And more worrisome is that the number has been stagnant for a decade. What hasn’t changed fast enough is our acceptance and encouragement of female leadership.” [Parade]
Inequality for women in America needs more than abolishing words. There has to be an acknowledgement of that the word “Bossy,” the closing of women’s health clinics, denying women the right over their bodies, sexual assault in the military, women’s low numbers at the centers of political and economic power are all interconnected. All are symptoms of the same inequality.