That’s life!


Finally, uteri are no longer political footballs. (Isn’t that a visual?)

Since President Obama signed the order prohibiting the withholding of Title X family planning funds for any reason short of gross agency incompetence, meeting women’s reproductive and health rights is no longer political fodder. Yes, men do receive family planning services from the thousands of agencies that help with birth control, cancer screenings and similar services, but most family planning recipients are women. So there really isn’t an equality issue at stake here. The issue is, and has always been, who gets to determine who’s in charge of life.

The kind of life I’m referring to has little to do with the decades-long war we have been fighting over whether women should have the right to an abortion. Let’s talk about what it really means to be on the side of life.

As I see it, anyone claiming to be pro-life must also be pro-choice. That’s not a contradiction in terms unless you are speaking in capitals: Pro-Life and Pro-Choice. Once you head to the big letters, you arrive at the political screaming match over abortion. I have been listening to it much of my adult life. I’m tired of it. I want it to stop.

I’m talking about the life that we animals and plants live. The essence of life is to be able to choose. Mostly those choices involve what is best for a particular animal or plant, aka survival. It’s freedom from constraint of any kind. While that may sound chaotic, that’s life. Choice doesn’t always mean choosing correctly, or wisely, or in ways I might have chosen. But to live is to choose. Take away choice and you have dictatorship. We humans get in the most trouble when we think, and act as if, we have control over anything other than the person walking around inside our own skin. We can make laws governing consequences to the choices we make, but ultimately choice is up to us.

Being pro-life also means being pro-environment. Here’s a pretty good checklist of where our environmental priorities need to be: Air, water, food. Shelter and clothing are up there, but not at the top of the list. After that it’s pretty much a free-for-all. As it should be. That’s life.

Most living organisms die within minutes of being deprived of oxygen. The end comes a little more slowly without clean water; about 3 days for the average human. Some people, most spectacularly religious ascetics, have been able to live for months without food, although the price they pay in damage to muscle and organ systems is high. But that’s a choice. The point is one doesn’t absolutely have to eat three squares a day to keep going. There’s no argument that air and water are absolutely essential to life.

The nation’s air and water are far cleaner now than they were when I was growing up with a front-row seat to the burning Cuyahoga River. That fire in 1969 captured the national imagination two years after I graduated from high school; Earth Day came one year after that.

Yet, there are now in Congress people who would roll back those basic environmental protections, as if our air and water are clean enough that we can afford to make them dirty again. They say we cannot afford the luxury of continued protection of these essential natural resources. I suspect many of those same people are Pro-Life.

They clearly aren’t reading the current scientific literature pointing to air and water pollution as culprits in our ongoing struggle against a host of diseases that were unheard of 100 years ago.  Fracking, hailed as the savior of the domestic energy industry, is being implicated in rising incidences of breast cancer and other diseases because of the toxic stew of chemical needed to separate oil from the rock in which it is embedded.

These anti-environmentalists are the same people who call climate change a hoax. They attribute the increasing number of catastrophic weather events, rising overall global temperatures, rising seas and increasing numbers of species extinctions all to some natural blip in weather patterns that will soon straighten itself out. They contend that we don’t need to jump through the hoops – pay the cost – of finding renewable energy sources.

Even if that were the case, a couple of questions: What’s the harm in clean energy? And what happens when the oil, gas and coal run out, which they will do? The phrase “renewable energy” is premised on the fact that fossil fuels are one-time use materials. Even if they weren’t so dirty in their production, use and disposal, once fossil fuels are gone, they’re gone. Then what?

Even those in favor of Life might be interested in answers to those questions. What’s the point of bringing a baby into the world if it will only die because the air it needs to breathe and water it must drink are poison and the food it needs to thrive is so adulterated that it kills  long before our God-given expiration date. Unless, that is, they see this planet as a lost cause and really don’t care what happens next. What’s pro-Life about that?

We need knowledge to answer those what-next questions, so being pro-life also means being pro-education. No doubt one can live a rich and meaningful life without formal education. Still, we have this cultural conceit that we are civilized and as such need a system by which many of us can learn a lot of important things others of us have picked up over the millennia. The system is education and what is learned is knowledge.

Answers to  “What next?” questions require more than a little knowledge. A lot of the knowledge we are generating now suggests there really isn’t a “next” unless we change course as a species inhabiting this planet. Now.

In fact, it seems to me a necessary piece of being pro-Life is to be pro-ALL-life. Not just unborn human babies, but plants and topsoil (it’s alive, trust me) and elephants and skinks and followers of certain religions and gut bacteria and Tasmanian devils and, well, everything. There is a reverence for all life that seems to be missing from the political battles waged over Life. Without such reverence, it is too easy to compartmentalize some lives as more precious than others. When that happens, life loses.

I understand but don’t share the perspective of people whose rallying cry is “Save the Planet.” Frankly, I’m not concerned about Mother Earth. She is the ultimate pro-lifer. If, or more likely when, she gets tired of us two-legged brats running around fouling our nest (and the nests of every other creatures we share this Blue Marble with), she’ll simply wipe us out. Clever lass that she is, she’ll make it look like an inside job. Still, I suspect when we reach the environmental tipping point, we’ll start to disappear. Maybe it’ll be by Big Flood, or Big Disease, or Big Poisoning or lots of little killings. But we’ll be gone. Who says humans as a species is exempt from the Sixth Great Extinction, under way right now?

With us gone or at least greatly diminished, Mother Earth will, as she has for the gazillions of years since the Big Bang, build a world in which life can exist. She’s done it many times before, without humans. She’ll do it again. That’s life.




No More Ms. Nice Guy

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Aghast. That’s the only word for it

Let’s be clear: I’ve been on vacation for the past two weeks, so I have not been bombarded with news morning till night as I can be at home. Frankly, I’ve found that life is so much more fun without a steady stream of politics, violence and natural and manmade disasters that I rarely indulge beyond my beloved daily newspaper. Which has a crossword puzzle, I might add.

And yet, even in Central Europe, the onslaught of stories of men caught doing what seems to be very natural — abusing, harassing and otherwise misbehaving toward women — has woken me from my nap. That makes me very cranky.

Fox News — a mutually exclusive pairing of words if ever there was one — seems to be leading the parade. I just watched a montage of comments male hosts have made, on air, to their female counterparts. Apparently these guys were raised by wolves who had been cut from the pack. I’ve seen more respect toward women among street people. To think that any self-respecting journalist would tell a co-anchor on a news show that she was “hot in leather” is something I wouldn’t have believed if I hadn’t seen it.

Then there’s the wannabe 4-star general who just got outed by a pissed off girlfriend after an 11-year affair. And no one knew? That’s surely a fiction someone’s  promoting to cover his ass (I am making a statistical assumption that it’s a he). Someone knew; someone always knows. Other than the principals, of course.

Can I add these most recent examples to the ongoing list that includes David Petraeus, Roger Ailes (or should I just add him to the rest of the Fox troglodytes?), Bill Cosby, John Edwards, yes, even our beloved Bill Clinton? These instances are simply easy to reach off the top of my head; the specific list is so long, I don’t even know where to start. Oh, how about the Stanford swimmer who thought it was just fine to rape an unconscious woman? Or the judge who saw nothing wrong with slapping his wrists? Or whoever thought to let him out early? Really?

What is it that gives these, and apparently most, men the idea that women are simply to be played with, fawned over, debased, casually ignored and, in cases too numerous to count, treated as chattel, violated, beaten and killed? I single out for special inclusion on this list those men who believe that women’s reproductive systems are public property, to be regulated and treated as someone’s religious battlefield.

You’d think there was some kind of conspiracy against women. Oh right, there is. It’s called the patriarchal culture. The one that has kept men in charge of everything. Particularly women. For nearly all of human history. (See my July 31 blog, “It’s About Damn Time.”) But the grip that men, particularly white men in this culture, have on things is slipping, and it’s scaring them to death. What will happen if they can’t control everything? We’re about to find out.

If I were certain white men, I’d be scared shitless someone would slit my throat in the middle of the night. Not that I’m advocating violence of any kind. Hardly; violence never solves anything, even though guys think it does. I understand, and often experience, the rage that comes with being seen and treated as property, as a toy, as a being whose only real function is sexual, either as an avenue to male pleasure or as a womb.

That’s the only way I can wrap my head around the abominable behavior too many men exhibit toward women, even — especially — in public. Were little boys taught that because they were boys, they could behave essentially without boundaries, that the world would think it just fine as long as they got rich, won the game, earned the trophy — succeeded? I know I was taught from day one that I had to be very conscious of my actions, that my job was to make sure I didn’t make a fool of myself or discomfort anyone else. Clearly, the men in my examples were not given the same operating manual as I.

I know it’s at least part of the reason that, even though men and women can behave the same, the world judges that behavior very differently. In men, ambition is good; in women it’s “uppity.” In men, leadership is expected; in women it’s being aggressive. Men without makeup are just guys; women are ugly (tired, washed out, plain = look bad). Again, I could go on.

Frankly, I’m sick of it. Of the whole gender farce. Of pretending that men really do know more, can do more, are better at. . . name anything but feats of physical strength. And watching women’s weightlifters and wrestlers, that is about to be added to the list. It’s ridiculous. My experience is that women are at worst the equals of men. In my experience, most women are really much stronger, smarter, more adept, more flexible, funnier and wiser than most men. We have to be, because we do almost everything. As the saying goes, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did, but backward and in heels.

Male CEOs have one job, being CEO. They have vice presidents and assistants doing everything else. Female CEOs, unless they are single and without living family, have several jobs. Sure, they have the same cadre of minions to take care of the business that male CEOs have, but who handles their personal lives? They have to run the company, satisfying the board and shareholders. And still they have to take care of family and the myriad other things that women just do because that’s their job. Men are not expected, as a function of their gender, to fret about day care or meal planning or where their parents are going to spend their final years. Men can — and usually do — have hobbies. But life and death, quality of life issues are rarely if ever, on their to-do lists.

Men in the military can be soldiers, or sailors or Marines or whatever. They don’t also (often) have to  protect themselves from their fellow soldiers. Female soldiers do, all the time. In combat women have not one enemy, but two. There’s the bad guy, and then there’s the guy in the next foxhole who “just needs a little relief” from the stress. Hello, GI Jane.

And yet women succeed as CEOs despite the double workload. They do it because women have always had to do it. No matter their level of success in the world, no matter what they make (or most often don’t), women have managed because that is what they do. Excellently in most cases. If a woman were to fail, the board would be perfectly justified in never hiring a female CEO again, right? Funny, men fail all the time but the boards just keep hiring men all the time. What’s up with that?

Frankly, to my view, if survival of the human race had been left up to men, we’d be extinct. We’re heading there now. Yet men have the gall to treat women so abysmally my mouth drops open at their chutzpah.

No more. I won’t put up with being treated badly, and I intend to challenge any male I see treating another woman badly. We have to start making a stink. Being nice has not had the intended results.

I need to enlist men who agree me. I know you’re out there, I’ve met many of you and you have friends. I need you to challenge these cavemen. Even if every confrontation I have results in permanently changed male behavior (when pigs fly), the problem is just too big and the behavior too entrenched to change how things are very quickly. Men who are inclined to bad behavior will pay attention to another man before he’d listen to a woman telling him he needs to shape up.

Good men have to challenge this endemic behavior in their fellows.  I suggest we start with the wannabe Troglodyte in Chief.

We can’t afford to give these assholes a pass any longer. To let them off leads them to believe their behavior is in any way acceptable. They need to made pariahs until they learn to behave as human beings.

We can’t afford to meet the challenges of the future hamstrung because half the people we need to solve our problem are tied and gagged and kept in the basement, barefoot and pregnant.

It’s time. No more Ms. Nice Guy