Friday, March 16, 2012

Occupy Your Body: What You Can Do To Stop The War Against Women

In case you’ve spent the last few weeks with your fingers in your ears and your eyes closed, humming loudly, here’s what’s been going on in the news:

--Texas lost $40 million of federal Medicaid money, which funded 90% of the state’s Medicaid Women’s Health Program, because Texas excluded Planned Parenthood from its program. The institution was excluded because, in addition to birth control, cancer screenings and mammograms, Planned Parenthood also provides abortions. This broke federal Medicaid rules, which state that qualified family planning providers cannot be discriminated against. Now, the 130,000 low-income women who benefited from the WHP have nowhere to turn for their medical and contraception needs.

--Arizona is trying to pass a bill which would allow employers—not just religious organizations, but pretty much any employer—to a) deny coverage for female employee’s contraceptives, and b) fire a female employee if they find out she’s using contraceptives.

--And this is on top of Republican presidential candidates like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum making snide, sexist and downright derogatory comments about contraceptive coverage for women.

Let me start off by saying this is not a pro-life/pro-choice rant. This—especially what’s going on in Arizona—trancends that debate. Quite simply, it is an attack on women and their right to gender-specific health care.
I’ve seen a lot of people commenting on the birth control issue by saying, “But some women need birth control for medical reasons (ovarian cysts, heavy/irregular menstruation, etc).” 

You know what? Shit on that. Shit all over that. We shouldn’t have to qualify our need or desire for birth control by necessity of a medical condition. Every woman deserves birth control simply because we have the right to choose whether we want to conceive a child. Period. This issue isn’t going to be resolved by ranting or tongue-clicking, though. We need to take action. Here’s what I suggest we do:

First, write to the state legislators who are authoring and supporting these bills. If you live in an area directly affected by this legislation, write to your representative and tell them in no uncertain terms that, if they support these laws, you will not vote to re-elect them. If you don’t live in these areas, write to Texas’s Lieutenant Governor and the President of the Arizona State Senate, and tell them that you’ll withdraw all revenue from their state (by not ordering from businesses based in their state, or vacationing there, etc) until the bills are scrapped and/or the laws repealed. Even if you don’t live in a state affected by these laws, it’s important to express your adamant displeasure with their actions. It doesn’t matter where you live; we’re all Americans, we’re all women, and we’re all in this together.

Second, write to your representatives on the national level, and urge them to draft and support legislation and close the loopholes currently allowing laws which restrict women’s access to birth control and healthcare to be passed on the state and local level. If you don't know who your lawmakers are, is a great resource which will even send your message for you.

I know it can be intimidating to write letters like this, so I’ve included the letters I’ve written below. Feel free to use these as a guideline, or just copy and paste. Send it to your friends, post it on Facebook, do whatever you want to get the message out. It doesn’t matter if you’re a woman past childbearing age, or even a man. Please, just write.

Dear Federal Legislator:

Recently, states like Arizona and Texas have either drafted bills or passed laws which restrict women’s access to birth control and appropriate healthcare, like mammograms and other cancer screenings, because either the institutions which provide these services also perform abortions, or because the state is choosing the rights of employers over those of employees.
I’m writing to ask that you sponsor—or, at least, support—legislation which guarantees women affordable access to their healthcare rights on a federal level, so that states like Arizona and Texas cannot circumvent or deny those rights to their residents.

Dear State Legislator:  (non-resident)

I recently learned that your state has either passed or is attempting to pass legislation which would restrict women’s access to gender-specific healthcare such as birth control, cancer screenings, and mammograms. I am not a resident of your state, but please know if your government continues to back such laws, I will be as careful as possible to make sure that none of my money ends up supporting businesses in your state. Women have the right to affordable healthcare, including birth control, and your rights as a lawmaker don’t include restricting those specific rights.

Dear State Legislator: (resident)

I recently learned that you have either passed or are attempting to pass legislation which would restrict my access to gender-specific healthcare such as birth control, cancer screenings, and/or mammograms. As a resident of your state, please know that your continued support of such laws will guarantee my lack of support at the polls next election. Women have the right to affordable healthcare, including birth control, and your rights as a lawmaker don’t include restricting those specific rights.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Why Amazon Is Not The Enemy

I’m getting a little tired of people ganging up on Amazon. It’s the Internet’s version of the Antichrist, as far as some critics are concerned. The publishing community is quaking under its shadow, and according to most, it’s the reason Borders and numerous other small bookstores have folded.
            I don’t agree. Aside from groceries, I do a good 90-95% of my shopping on Amazon. Because Amazon offers me the widest selection with the lowest prices, the best customer service, and the fastest shipping.
            Do other online stores offer me a $75/year membership  to have all my merchandise shipped to my house in two days for free? No. Do they offer the most competitive prices on the Internet? No. Have they, on the very few occasions when I’ve had an issue, offered me customer service which solved my problem in a matter of minutes? No. And that’s not Amazon’s fault. It’s the fault of its failing competitors.
            How did Amazon manage to become the number one online retailer in the eighteen years since its founding? By giving customers something different, something they wanted, and doing it better than anyone else. Just like Google, and Apple, and Walmart. Remember all those little browser systems, like AltaVista? Remember IBM? Betamax? Blockbuster? All losers in the same types of wars.
            We live in a capitalist country, and capitalism is war. Businesses must fight to earn the consumer’s money. The only way they can win is by, a) offering the same product in a better way than its competitors (lower price, higher-quality product, faster shipping, etc), or b) offering something completely new and desirable, and making sure that, over time, it remains the most desirable of its type on the market. The best companies, like Apple and Amazon, do both.
            Consumers are fickle beasts. And no matter how much brand loyalty they supposedly have, if they’re given the right incentives, they will defect. I’ll give you two examples. The first is Redbox. Now, Redbox knew they couldn’t compete with Netflix on open ground. Instead, they exploited Netflix’s weakness—the unavailability of brand new movies on Netflix’s streaming service. Rather than wait two days or more for Netflix to ship a new movie they were in the mood for now, customers could take a short drive to a conveniently located Redbox kiosk and get that movie right now. Two years ago, no one had heard of Redbox; now there’s one at virtually every gas station in my area.
            The second example is a personal one. Last year, when Maureen Johnson’s book The Name of the Star was announced, I preordered it months in advance for my Kindle. Then Ms. Johnson tweeted that anyone who ordered from Books of Wonder in NYC would receive a signed copy and a fridge poetry magnet set she’d designed herself. Even though it was ten or fifteen dollars more expensive, even though I had to delay gratification a week while the book shipped, I canceled my Kindle preorder and placed my order through BoW. Because BoW and the author collaborated to offer something Amazon couldn’t. That’s how you stay in business.
            Put simply, in my opinion, the burden of staying in business is on the business, not on the consumer or on other, larger businesses. If the market changes, business must change with it; adapt or die. Once upon a time, Amazon was the little guy; so were all the big kahunas out there. But they earned their place and fought their way to the top by setting themselves above and apart from the competition. And it’s up to their current competition to do the same. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Why you should, sometimes, talk to strangers

            This morning…oh, this morning. I should have known when I started off the day by pouring my Cheerios into my tea mug instead of my cereal bowl.
         Around 7:15, I’m on my way to work and I get a text on my phone:

Unfamiliar number: Hey baby
           Clearly, this text was not meant for me. Still, I respond:

Me: Though I appreciate the endearment, I think you have the wrong number.
            Five minutes later:

Unfamiliar Number: You sound really nice. I’m Brenda. (I’ve changed the name, just in case this person would happen to come across this and get embarrassed…though somehow I get the impression that “Brenda” is embarrassed by very little.)
Brenda: I like the way you talk.
            I'm feeling a certain sense of admiration for Brenda. She seems like a real “lemons to lemonade” kind of girl. A wrong number isn’t going to stop her from trying to make a deep human connection.

Me: Well, Brenda, I’m female and married. Have a great Friday!
Brenda: You to Hun. You are so cool! Have a great wonderfull day! (note: I’ve kept the misspellings in, as I feel it pays tribute to the rustic charm of her dialect.)
            Thirty minutes later, I’m in the midst of texting my friend Valayre and telling her all about my conversation with Brenda when I get another text:

Brenda: Are you bi?

Val: OMG. What are you going to tell her?
Me: What do you think? I’m scheduling my first clandestine lesbian interlude as we speak!
Me again: J/K of course, I told her no, sorry.
            But Brenda is no woman scorned:

Brenda: You are awsome!
            As much as I’ve laughed—and continued to laugh all day—I think we could all learn something from Brenda. I mean, talk about rolling with your punches! Wrong number? Hey, love the one you’re (texting) with. Wrong sex? It’s cool. Let’s compromise! Still rejected? That’s okay. Because you are AWSOME.