“The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.” -John E. E. Dalberg, The History of Freedom in Antiquity, (1877).
This is an Emergency! is a print portfolio project centered on reproductive rights and gender justice. There hasn’t been a safe time for women, gay or non-gender conforming people in North America since Europeans invaded this continent.The forms of oppression shift over time and while some aspects of life improve, we don’t have full justice and equality in the United States.This is evident in everything from our legislation to the culture at large; exampled in the hundreds of laws which detail and inform us on the exact circumstances under which we are allowed to have an abortion, to Rush Limbaugh’s hateful comments surrounding birth control, or former Senator and Republican Presidential nominee Rick Santorum’s horrendous comments regarding homosexuality.A society which had evolved to exist with full equality and justice would not create such legislation nor ferment such hateful cultural speech.
Instead of being a society which has evolved, the United States suffers from having a cultural and legal system dominated by a very small group of conservatives whose actions are driven by fear; fear of losing power which has been attained and maintained through exploitation and corruption.Those of us who do not conform to the narrow standard of conservatism outlined by this group find ourselves in a constant state of war.We exert our energy, time, money and resources in countering each legislative measure or cultural attack meant to control us.We find ourselves constantly on the defensive, as conservatives tend to succeed in the initial framing of issues through the creation and manipulation of language with words like “pro-life,” “slut,” and “dyke.”Sometimes we reclaim these words, but what if we refused to engage within their paradigm?The narrative they work within is a world of extremes; good versus bad, man versus woman, gay versus straight.Working within such a framework assumes there is only one right answer.It’s time to shift the narrative and focus on creating an alternate world view based on a spectrum instead.
The beauty of a spectrum is that it allows for an infinite range of possibility and nuance.Alfred Kinsey created a spectrum around the fluidity of sexuality.However, it’s not simply our sexuality which is nuanced and complicated.Our identities, beliefs and lives can shift over time and we can liberate our minds and bodies if we begin to think of ourselves as fluid rather than static beings.What if this spectrum is a circle, where two seemingly opposing ideas are in fact next to one another rather than at two opposite points of a line?All parts of a circle work together to create a whole. Artistically this idea is beautifully demonstrated in the circular power of our planet, sun, and moon.I believe justice and liberation can also be achieved by taking a holistic and circular approach.
What do I mean by that? Instead of falling into the “us” versus “them” mentality, we need to reframe the discussion.What if when we are called “sluts” we don’t simply deny or reclaim that word, but instead demand to live in a sex positive culture where we don’t judge one another for our sexuality?Instead of debating who has a ‘legal’ right to live in our country, what if we shift the argument to be that no person should be required to have identity papers to live anywhere in the world, and that all people deserve access to free healthcare and social services wherever they live?What would it mean to be in a community where everyone who has had an abortion (which is 1 in 3 women) would be supported by their community rather than feel they had to hide their experience or be judged?How much freer would our culture be if people did not make assumptions about the gender or identity of others, and our genitals did not define who we are from the moment of birth?How would our experience of love shift if the state and church were not granted the power to define or validate the meaning of our relationships?We need to start asking ourselves what we want our world to look like in order that we can create it into existence and demand that it be protected. All social justice measures must ensure the health and well being of all, not just provide justice for some at the expense of others.
In the 1820’s Henri de Saint- Simon dreamed that artists, scientists, and industrialists would work together to invent, analyze, and create all social initiatives. These words still have power two hundred years later.Artists can work with grassroots organizations to work for the creation of social justice initiatives.We can use art to communicate about the problems with the current realities, to demand justice and to dream up utopia.
This project you hold in your hands is a collaboration of over two dozen voices. These are people who have experienced gender and reproductive injustice and were moved to dream together. Stories, images and multigenerational interviews combine here to give a range of perspectives on how our lives are impacted by our ability (or lack there of) to experience equality.There is no way an endeavor of this nature could be comprehensive; instead it’s meant to be a small glimpse of some of the complex emotions, ideas and perspectives of people dealing with these issues.I hope this project will inspire dialog and communication.The intent is that it be used along with other organizing efforts to shift culture and provide historical perspectives about how these issues impact our lives in the early 21st century.
“This is an Emergency!” was made possible through the input, love, and financial support of over 80 people who supported this project though a crowd funding effort. We are indebted to the grassroots and larger scale organizations which provide continuous support and services through the crucial work they do. These organizations build movements and provide services, advocacy, visibility and legal support. Over two dozen organizations will be receiving a free copy of this portfolio. These organizations can utilize this project for exhibition purposes, use the graphics in their campaigns, sell the portfolio at a fundraiser or in any other way they determine to be useful. “This is an Emergency!” will be made available online. If you own a copy of this project display it on the walls of organizations, schools, galleries and other community spaces. This project is meant to be touched, held and interacted with.Thank you to all who have worked on and supported this project, and interact with it in the future.
With love, Meredith Stern
“It is we, the artists, that will serve as your avant- garde; the power of the arts is indeed the most immediate and the fastest.We have weapons of all sorts: when we want to spread new ideas among people, we carve them in marble or paint them on canvas; we popularize them by means of poetry and music…the song, history or the novel; the theatre stage is open to us, and it is mostly from there that our influence exerts itself electrically, victoriously.We address ourselves to the imagination and feelings of people; we are therefore supposed to achieve the most vivid and decisive kind of action; and if today we seem to play no role or at best a very secondary one, that has been the result of the arts’ lacking a common drive and a general idea, which are essential to their energy and success.”- Olinde Rodrigues (1825)
Meredith: Hey mom, I’d love to interview you about your experiences growing up, and how that influenced the way you communicated with me about birth control. There is so much stigma, fear, and complicated feelings around talking to your kids about sex and birth control.So, I thought it could be interesting for us to have an open talk about them. I remember how we openly talked about all these issues in our household and I didn’t even ever date anyone until after going to college, but my best friend Sadie, whose mom used to show us anti-abortion propaganda and tell us we were going to go to hell if we had sex, got pregnant while we were still in high school.She literally had a shotgun wedding.When we were 17 her dad stood on the porch of his trailer with a shotgun and told her boyfriend (who already had a wife and kids) that he had to get a divorce and marry Sadie.They did get married, and last time I talked to her, she had just had her sixth kid.That always stands out to me as proof that “talking about sex” to your kid doesn’t mean they are going to have it, but trying to scare your kids out of it can have the reverse affect.
Judy: Hey Meredith, I’d be happy to have this discussion with you. I hope I can be helpful. One thing I can remember off hand that might be interesting or a good story is that I had a friend who was 2 years older than I, and I showed her the book my parents gave me about reproduction. I don’t think they ever talked about sex with me, but gave me the book.It was an illustrated book that explained the reproduction systems, sex, pregnancy and birth. I was 8 yrs when my parents gave me the book and she was 10 or 11 when she saw it, and her parents had an absolute fit.They were very angry at my parents for letting me have a book like that and allowing her to see it. She, like Sadie, got pregnant in high school, and I didn’t.We had a similar book lying around for you and Michael since you were infants, there for you to read whenever you felt like it. I know you were young because you were still scribbling in your books, and scribbled in that one, too. We sent you and your brother off to college with condoms. “Don’t forget these!” “Oh, mommmm” was the reply.
Meredith: You mention that your parents gave you a book when you were a young kid. Did they ever talk to you when you were in high school about birth control or pregnancy? Were you or your friends able to get birth control and if so, how difficult was it? Do you know if anyone in our family ever had an abortion while it was illegal, or anyone you went to high school with? Was there a stigma around talking about these issues?
Judy: My parents didn’t really talk about birth control, etc. One or the other of them tried to talk to me, basically asked if I had questions, but it was awkward. I wish I remember it better, but I don’t. Condoms were available in all drug stores. There was some discussion about whether “the pill” would become legal. It did, but I don’t recall any of the politics around it. There was definitely stigma about abortion; and sex. When I was a teenager, people didn’t talk about sex: it was understood you weren’t supposed to do it unless you were married. Girls would get a “bad reputation” if it got out that they had sex so no one would talk about it if they did it. That is, until later, with the “sexual revolution” and then they could talk retrospectively. That automatically made talking about abortion a big “no no” also. I don’t know anyone who had an illegal abortion, but I remember people had to go to another state to have one.
Meredith: I remember that we had to write a paper in English class in 9th grade where we had to take a side on a heated issue in the media. I decided to write the paper about abortion, and I took a pro-choice stance in the paper. You helped me with research in the library. I remember the reaction from my teacher was really negative, and I got the sense that she was pro-life and didn’t like my perspective on the issue. I also have a memory from around that time of you telling me that if I was going to have sex that you wanted me to be using condoms, but that if I got pregnant you wanted me to tell you. I remember you mentioned abortion as one of the options I could consider if that happened.
Judy: I don’t remember talking particularly about abortion, but I don’t think I would have pushed you in that direction. My memory would be just that you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable coming to us, that we would help you think about options and we’d support your decision.
Meredith: Another thing I really remember was how you wanted to make it perfectly clear to us (my brother and I) that if we were gay that we could tell you and you would love us no matter who we fell in love with. Do you remember what was prompting you to have these discussions with us?
(Note: my mom divorced my biological father when I was 4 and remarried when I was 8 and he is my Dad.)
Judy: Being gay was still a stigma while you guys were growing up. I did have a fear that your biological father would make you feel bad about being gay (if you were gay), so I might have emphasized that there is no reason to feel bad about it.We have gay friends who have been together a long time and lived through the trauma of telling their parents and hiding their partner. Your Dad and I didn’t want you to feel you had to hide in the closet if you were gay.
Meredith: Aunt Fannie, who is our oldest living relative, was always very open with us about having miscarried. Was our family always open with each other about sex, pregnancy, and death? A lot of my friends tell me that their family refuses to talk about any of these issues. Why do you think our family talks about these things?
Judy: I don’t know why.Perhaps it was that my parents were more liberal than theirs, and that carried down the line.
In the early 2000’s, our country entered a problematic period of “abstinence only” programs in high schools which were funded by the Bush Administration.As of 2010, President Obama cut funding to abstinence only programs, and has dedicated funding of sex education programs that effectively reduce teen pregnancy.According to the Guttmacher Institute, “There is no evidence to date that abstinence-only-until-marriage education delays teen sexual activity. Moreover, research shows that abstinence-only strategies may deter contraceptive use among sexually active teens, increasing their risk of unintended pregnancy and STIs. Further, a 2007 congressionally mandated study found that federally-funded abstinence-only programs have no beneficial impact on young people’s sexual behavior. Strong evidence suggests that comprehensive approaches to sex education help young people both to withstand the pressures to have sex too soon and to have healthy, responsible and mutually protective relationships when they do become sexually active.”http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/FB-Teen-Sex-Ed.html
Where to begin?Today I am both discouraged and encouraged.I started college a dozen years before Roe.I had a close friend who traveled to Mexico to have an abortion and came back unable to bear children.I wore a button emblazoned with “Legalize Abortion” over a simple wire hanger.I was surprised and reminded of its iconic power when 46 years later a college student used that image in a poster to protest the Pence Amendment, which would have banned Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funds.After college, I worked in New York.All the women I knew went to the same wonderful ob/gyn, a man sympathetic to every woman’s right to decision making.When I called to tell him I thought I was pregnant he asked, “Do you want to be?”When I said “yes” his enthusiasm could be felt over the phone just as I know his support would have been had I given a different answer.He delivered my daughter Samantha, pre Roe while we lived in NY, and my son Peter, post Roe when we lived in NJ because I refused to go to any other doctor.
I don’t remember my reaction to Roe but I vividly remember the reaction of others when I ran a campaign for Congress a year later.Despite exhortations by consultants, my candidate was straightforward.He supported Roe no wiggling ifs, ands or buts.Pictures of fetuses were left on the steps in front of our house.Catholic supporters risked being called out by their Church.An amazing set of nuns had begun a group called “Network” that measured candidates based on 10 issues.Candidates who agreed on nine of the ten were endorsed.My candidate was endorsed by Network and it became a staple of our campaign materials.Today women are being forced to see pictures not unlike those left on my doorstep and the socially conscious nuns of Network, most of whom are now in their 70’s, are being attacked by their Church.
In 1985 I founded a firm called Martin and Glantz that specialized in grassroots organizing and communications strategies.Our first client was the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL).The organization remained a client for almost ten years.In 1989 during the Supreme Court deliberations on the Webster case, which had the potential to reverse Roe, our firm organized an amicus brief signed by Governors and State Legislators.I remember that the first signatory (by fax for those who remember the time before the internet) was Lowell Weicker, the Republican Governor of Connecticut.The response was extraordinary.At the time, the amicus had the most support from elected officials than any in the history of the Supreme Court.Today, we have the most anti-choice bills introduced into state legislatures than ever before.
During the 1989 Supreme Court deliberations, my 75 year old mother (I was 46) haltingly told me her personal story.Three years after I was born she became pregnant again.Her doctor told her that she would die if she carried the pregnancy to term.He also told her that he would not perform an abortion.She and my father struggled with the decision.My father made the argument that her two children, myself and my older brother, needed her and he couldn’t bear the thought of losing her.Asking around she found out about a doctor who would “take care of her.”Somehow he managed to find her a hospital bed probably by saying she needed a D & C (dilation and curettage).My mother described being put in a room down a corridor with no other patients.Her meals were left outside her room rather than brought to her bedside.Only her doctor cared for her while she was hospitalized.She felt humiliated and so demeaned that she was incapable of telling her activist daughter about this circumstance until she knew she was close to dying.I was filled with anger and resolve.My mother and I never had a particularly close relationship.She was demanding and we were of the 1950’s style “avoid difficult conversations” mother-daughter generation.Nevertheless, I credit her with infusing her values in me when I was growing up and again, when I was 46, powerfully influencing my attitudes and actions.
Not long after, I helped design and organize the 1992 Women’s March on Washington in response to another Supreme Court case.As much of an activist as I am, I have never been much of a marcher but that day in April, my husband Ron, Peter and I were joined by Samantha who came to Washington from college.We stood among the throngs, mostly unable to hear the speakers but definitely able to feel the energy.1992 turned out to be the Year of the Woman at the ballot box.Samantha called me after the election when she had the opportunity to vote for two women for the US Senate, a woman for Congress and a woman for the state legislature.She said, prophetically, “I know it’s great mom but I also know it’s not enough.”How true.
The reproductive rights movement over the past twenty years seems to have become a bit complacent.Core activists – mostly my age – were vigilant.Abortion was more of a voting issue for those who opposed it than for those who supported the right.Medical advances made the issue more complicated.And, of course, Roe was considered settled law.
Today we are facing a crisis of unimaginable proportions.Abortion has always been a lightning rod for legislative attack.The number and sophistication of proposed restrictive legislation is unprecedented.1000 plus bills that restrict access to reproductive health and rights have been introduced in state legislatures this year.80 restrictions have been passed by one house.10 have been enacted.Women stopped legislation requiring vaginal probes in VA but could not stop the legislation in TX.States like Pennsylvania passed sonogram laws with the Governor saying women could “just close their eyes” if they didn’t want to look at the sonograms that are required to be placed virtually up against their eyeballs.Legislation to ban funding of Planned Parenthood has been signed into law in a number of states and is being argued in the courts.Planned Parenthood clinics are being forced to close down.
The fact that contraception has become a flash point is scary.I feel as though I am living somewhere in a world squeezed between the Scarlet Letter and The Handmaid’s Tale.The impunity with which Rush Limbaugh could call a young woman a “slut” with no comment from the Republican nominee and silent agreement by the Catholic Church is alarming.It is unnerving that members of Congress voted for an amendment to allow Catholic Hospitals, Charities and Colleges to deny coverage of contraception and then were surprised when their constituents reacted in horror.
The current gender gap in the Presidential contest is not about any one legislative vote or widely reported comments.It is about the din of disrespect for women unlike anything I have witnessed.Sure, I have lived through a lot of discrimination – was my being fired from a job when it became apparent I was pregnant just a coincidence?; how many times when I was pregnant and running a Congressman’s office was I asked if I were his secretary?; what was the pay differential between my jobs in advertising and politics and the men along side me?; and, so on.There were no anti-discrimination laws until after my first pregnancy and we only now have some semblance of equal pay requirements.What distinguishes the current environment is the outspoken pride with which some of the attacks on women are taking place and the seemingly coordinated legislative attacks on reproductive health.
I don’t think a renewed effort around an Equal Rights Amendment is valuable.We don’t have time, shouldn’t spend the dollars and could well not win.We need a revolution by young people.I can’t stand that I have stood for women’s rights for my entire adult life (if you measure from age 18 that would be over 50 years) and still need to fight.I am not without energy.I am simply becoming beaten down.No amount of progress can substitute for the emerging national demeaning of women.
I remember when Samantha led an amazing revolt against an anti-women dictum at a Jewish summer leadership camp she attended.I remember when Peter refused to buy Dominos Pizza in high school because its owner was virulently anti-choice and the owner put his money where he mouth was; and when Peter wrote a paper about Roe.Both my children generously gave part of the very small inheritance they received from their grandmother to have a room named after her at a local Planned Parenthood.Both are stalwarts to this day.
However we need to get beyond those with these issues in their DNA.From my perch as Chair of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund I was able to watch and be encouraged by the outpouring of support for the organization during the Pence Amendment debate and when Komen for the Cure announced its decision to stop making grants to local Planned Parenthood affiliates.Much of the support came from young people.The average age of Planned Parenthood supporters dropped precipitously.
I believe only greater engagement of women at all levels of power will create change.It is the women in Congress who force public discussion of the issues before the body.It is women in the workplace who will need to stand for their own and their colleagues’ rights.It is women using the web to tell their stories, to create awareness and to offer opportunities to become part of the social media fabric of activism.It is the socially engaged artists who will use their art to spread their views.It is women not defined by party but by gender who will have to respond.I am encouraged by my sense that young women are willing to be part of this revolution.I worry that they may mostly exist within my “bubble.”But, I don’t have time to worry.I must use my time – as you must use yours in keeping with the old adage, “don’t mourn, organize.”
If there was an ABC list or a primer on understanding abortion in a practical manner, particularly for a woman facing that decision, I suspect a large portion of Peg Johnston’s essays would be there.Refer to We Have Met the Enemy, and She/He is Us for a quick and straight forward overview on addressing the stigma of abortion. Lose the Adjective helped me describe tiny changes in perception that could go a long way in addressing that stigma.In Opting out of the Abortion War she addresses a major issue in the arena of politicizing abortion.She states, “After battling ‘the anti’s’ all these years, it came as a revelation to me that abortion politics is only a peripheral annoyance to women who are trying to decide what’s best for their lives. But only after getting “unbound” from the battle could I find a way to write something useful for people facing this decision.” And that’s what she did.As part of her work, Peg has created a series of workbooks for those facing pregnancy and questioning. The Pregnancy Option Workbooks (http://www.pregnancyoptions.info/) are available in English and Spanish. These workbooks are used by tens of thousands, in print, at clinics and online.
A funny thing happened after reading Peg Johnston’s writing. I related to her feelings, emotions, thoughts and concerns.I also discovered that she had laid out some very practical terms to better understand the Abortion debate, to help women who have had to make that decision and for people who wish to provide support for those women.Practical! It’s amazing what abortion becomes outside of the framework of a rhetorical battle.In other terms it can be framed as a difficult choice, a chance for a serious evaluation of your life and your relationships.Like a major illness, accident or life event.After being inspired to get in contact with her, I was lucky to have her graciously agree to talk to me personally and intently.
Peg Johnston and I spoke at length about my abortion and her history supporting those who had abortions.She commented, “I see a lot of young women who come in and their relationship with their boyfriend is that they’re kind of pals until the abortion. The physiological differences really put them in a different place, and an abortion brings your attention to that.”
When I ask what she thinks about the current political push against abortion with measures in Congress, she replies, “I think it’s kind of a last push.It’s our feeling that if everybody had free speech on this issue, so to speak, a lot of this craziness around abortion would disappear. There would be a lot of opinions out there, instead of just the one opinion that the anti-abortion people are pushing.”
Her opinion is a soft and reasoned one. When I asked of her experiences growing up and of the level of openness around birth control, she said “there wasn’t any.”Even though her mother worked at Planned Parenthood, they had limited conversations or openness about birth control between them.I see her voice helping to carry the abortion movement forward towards becoming a place for women to come into their own and feel empowered to make decisions without feeling ashamed.
When explaining work at her current office she tells me there are two different types of abortion providers; the kind that treat it as a medical procedure, and the kind that treat the whole person including their emotional experience. We talked about the importance and significance of the abortion experience. She clarifies for me “What the procedure does is just empty the uterus but the significance comes in the whole experience that women and their loved ones bring to it as well as whatever the provider offers.”Peg encourages women to feel lucky about having an opportunity for contemplation.
While not everyone may have the personally gratifying conversation I had with Peg Johnston, a truly well spoken and gracious soul, anyone who is touched by abortion can benefit greatly from her wealth of knowledge and the resources she has created. I strongly urge you to explore her resources whether you are looking to have an abortion, deal with an abortion you’ve had, or just to have a conversation around it.Personally, having spoken with her has changed my life. She has helped me feel not only less ashamed, but also proud to be open about my abortion experience.
Peg Johnston has been director of an abortion facility in Binghamton, NY since 1981 and has been active on the national stage in her efforts to provide compassionate abortion care for women. She is a past president of the Abortion Care Network, the Abortion Conversation Project, and the National Coalition of Abortion Providers.Peg is the primary author of several patient aides, notably the Pregnancy Options Workbook, Healthy Coping After An Abortion, Mom, Dad, I’m Pregnant… and Especially for Men. She has also written several influential essays including: Opting Out of the Abortion Wars, We Have Met the Enemy and S/he is Us and Lose the Adjective.
I was born in 1945 into a very loving and caring Jewish family. We believed in treating people with dignity and respect. I was brought up with the belief that when faced with injustice we should struggle for justice. My early childhood was spent in Brooklyn New York and then we moved to the North shore of Long Island. I went to high school and found it to be stultifying. The cheerleading team wouldn’t let African Americans on it, or anyone who didn’t fit into a very narrow definition of “appropriately good looks”. It was a life with constraints that I found difficult and I was a rebellious teenager.
I went to the University of Chicago in 1963 and found a community who shared the values that I cared about and the movements were starting then. I became active in the Civil Rights Movement and joined CORE (Committee on Racial Equality) in support of the sit- ins against Woolworth’s segregated lunch counters in the South. I set up our campus group of Friends of SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee). In 1964 I went to Mississippi with the Freedom Summer Project that gained a lot of visibility in this country when three young men, Andrew Goodman, James Earl Chaney, and Mickey Schwerner, were killed while part of the voter registration efforts. What is even more dramatic to indicate the state of terror people were living in Mississippi, is that while people were looking for those three, the bodies of eight black men were found murdered and mutilated and those murders were not investigated until a few years ago. In general that kind of abuse and terror has, if not stopped, at least dramatically lessened—because people organized. Situations like that with Treyvon Martin make it clear that it’s not over, but there have been enormous changes because of organizing. You ask about the racial make up of the movements: In the south, the Civil Rights Movement was largely a black movement with white support. It gave me a profound respect for the great courage and strength of the poor people in the south who were generous with us, as white supporters, even at their own risk. Much of the northern Civil Rights Movement was more integrated, including SNCC. Some of the other student movements happened on campuses which had only 5% or fewer students who were African American so they were less integrated.
In 1965 there was an SDS conference in Champaign Urbana, Illinois. SDS was the largest student organization in the country at that time. One of my teachers, Dick Flacks, said there would be a discussion of the “woman question” and recommended I go. I came back and set up the first women’s group on campus in the country at that time. I also helped to set up what may have been the first independent woman’s organization in the country. We created a project called “significant response” to see how men and women were responded to in classes. We found that men were responded to four or five times more often than women. One of my friend’s was raped in her bed at knife point at her off campus housing. We went with her to campus heath for a gynecological exam and they lectured her on her “promiscuity” and she was told student health didn’t cover gynecological exams. Of course now, due to organizing, campus health does cover gynecological exams, and you get careful and supportive counseling when something like that happens. If you organize you actually can change the world, but only if you organize will you be able to change it.
In 1965 I was told that the sister of a friend of mine was pregnant and suicidal and wanted an abortion. I hadn’t thought of that issue before. It was a much more innocent time. I searched for a doctor to try to help her. I was more or less practicing the golden rule; that we should do unto others as we would want others to do for us. I’ve never faced the issue of abortion myself. I tried to find a doctor through the Medical Committee of Human Rights; which was the medical arm of the Civil Rights Movement. I found Dr. T.R.M. Howard. He was an extraordinary man. Though I hadn’t known it at the time, he had been a freedom fighter in Mississippi who came to Chicago when his name appeared on a KKK death list. He performed the abortion procedure and it was successful, and I really didn’t think about it again. About a month later someone else called me because word had spread. I called Dr. Howard again and he provided another successful procedure. A month later, someone else called and then I realized this was really a problem that maybe a lot of women had. Actually around 1 in 3 women of childbearing age will have an abortion in their lifetime. There was a slight downturn during the Clinton years that may have been because of the fear of AIDS. But other wise the figures have been pretty consistent both before and after the law changed. The real question is whether you can have the procedure in a safe, secure, and supportive environment, or whether you also face the fear, terror and lack of safety when it’s illegal. There had been the feasibility of going to Sweden or other countries, but you had to have a lot of money for those flights in addition to the cost of the procedure. I talked more to Dr. Howard about the abortion procedure so I could understand it, and then I agreed to send women to him if there would also be a follow up with them. Then we negotiated the price. At that point the price for an abortion was $500. As more women came through, I negotiated it to be lower in price so it could be more affordable for the women and I provided counseling for the women. A few years later, Doctor Howard died and I found another person, named Mike, who would do these procedures.
By 1966 I met the man (who became my husband) in a sit- in against the Vietnam War. He had been the National Secretary of SDS. We were married in 1967 as I graduated and in 1968 I was expecting our first child. At that point I was also going to graduate school, I was very involved in movement work, and I was teaching. There was a lot going on so I decided I needed to pass on this counseling service to others. At movement meetings I’d ask if there was anyone who would like to discuss abortion or get involved in dealing with abortion. Several women responded and we created the group that became Jane; the Underground Abortion Collective. I passed on all I knew about the procedure to the group and how to support the women, the cost, and the loan fund we had created. They then created a much more thorough system for support of the women. The women from Jane started watching and assisting Mike. More and more women were seeking abortions from Jane. The women in the service were bold, and there was a growing women’s movement which was about taking our lives into our own hands. So, Mike taught the women how to perform the procedures and the women in Jane started doing the procedure themselves. By the time the law changed in 1973, Jane had performed 11,000 abortions. There were starting to be more public actions around abortion. There were speak outs where people told their stories, there were demonstrations on the issue. In 1972 before the law changed, there was a raid on Jane in the area where women were supported in a waiting room before they were taken to various houses where the procedures were performed. Seven women were arrested and no one would testify against them; either because they were really for the service, or because they didn’t want to be drawn into this law suit. While the women were awaiting trial the law changed. There was discussion about whether or not the service continue, and they decided not to continue.
In the years that followed, we really lived a movement life, in support of all the struggles of the day. We had two kids and little money. By 1970 there was a National Women’s Strike, which was a day of action and the theme was “Don’t iron while the strike is hot”. The Women’s Movement really burst forth and I became more active in that arena. I started an organization called the Action Committee for Decent Child Care. We set up a child care center, changed the child care licensing laws, and we raised a million dollars to invest in starting child care centers since women were entering the work force. The Action Committee for child care was 50% white, 50% African American and Latino, which at that time was a remarkable effort. If you work on the issues people care about, people will come out for those issues. Earlier on in 1966 Doctor King had come to Chicago and said the way to civil rights was through labor rights. So, I also started union organizing. In 1973 I won money from a back pay lawsuit for being fired for union organizing. With that money, I started the Midwest Academy Training Center for Organizers. There are three principles of the academy which are
1.Win victories to improve people’s lives so it’s not an abstract fight.
2.Give people a sense of their own power. It’s not that you try to win something for someone else, rather, you organize together.
3.Change the relations of power so there is structural reform. We hold powerful institutions accountable and build popular organizations.
The Academy still exists and has trained hundreds of thousands of organizers, from Planned Parenthood, NARAL, NAACP, Sierra Club, and thousands of small groups. We also started building state wide multi-issue organizations, which was a new kind of organization. There had been community groups and national organizations, but this was a kind of intermediate level group. It was hard to win enough at the local level, but without local support, you just were an advocacy group that didn’t involve people on the national level.
I tried to find ways to align labor, community, religious institutions, and public interest groups. We set up the Citizen Labor Energy Coalition which was a national organization fighting on energy policy, but it became the infrastructure for a very sizeable portion of the Progressive Movement today. I became head of that, and then co- chair of a national network of a multi- issue organization called the Citizen Action. In 1980 when Reagan was elected, I realized we needed to do work in elections. I had been somewhat anti-elections before then, believing that money corrupted politics. I still believe that is true in politics. But I also thought, we have to fight in the electoral arena otherwise we are fighting with one hand tied behind our back. I became very active in Chicago politics and became the deputy field director of Mayor Harold Washington’s campaign. He died in 1989. At that time I was commuting to Washington every other week for work with Citizen Action. Then my husband’s job moved to DC so we moved. He is now the leading staff person for American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, a labor union. In 1992 I was running the Carol Moseley Braun Field Effort when she won her senate race. It was an extraordinary and robust field operation. In 1993 when I was still living in DC I was recruited to work at the Democratic Party when Clinton was elected. I was hired to set up a field operation, then to work outreach for the Clinton health care plan. In 1994 there were great defeats for Democrats and I set up a training academy that in part became the basis for modern political training. In 1998 I started doing international pro-democracy work in several countries around the world. In 2000-2002 I ran the NAACP National Voter Fund. Until the Obama campaign, it was the largest African American “Get out the Vote” effort. To give you a sense of that work, in the year 2000 with the contested election, the African American vote swelled by 60% in Florida. This is one of the reasons I believe Bush felt he had to steal the election, because there was nothing else his forces could do against this large turnout. While Bush was President I was asked to set up the first campaign for immigration reform.
Next I worked on building an organization called Amos, which doesn’t exist anymore, but was designed to move social justice deeper within the heart of the Jewish community. There had been a turning away from that work within the Jewish community for a variety of reasons, and this helped to support what is now a very robust world of Jewish social action and justice work. I would still work on coordinated efforts and elections. Then I was hired by the AFL-CIO to manage their healthcare campaign. Then when Obama was elected in 2008 I ran the first campaign for the Obama budget which was the first issue campaign working outside of, but with some coordination with, the Administration. While I was doing that I was recruited to run the campaign for financial reform which ended up winning the Dodd- Frank Bill. I am now mostly working to build a field office for Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security, and to drive those issues in this election. I’m also working with a group that came out of Occupy, working on money and politics.
I have 4 grandchildren and it’s been an intense and wonderful life. Overall I love this work. I have never enjoyed any other work as much as organizing. It is exhilarating to see people come together, and gain confidence in their own life, and to change how the world works. There are times when it is difficult and we don’t win, or have setbacks that are very severe or when we don’t get support we deserve. The hours can be long, but even under all those circumstances it’s worth it because have I seen how the world has changed when we organize. I particularly like the interconnections of issues with elections which provide ways to build people’s power and democracy. One of the great benefits of election work is that we can build a mighty coalition, even between people who wouldn’t normally work with each other. Working on elections changes the scale we think about, it changes the types of people you work with, and the discipline of what we do. I really like working on issues within elections because it means working on issues people really care about, and that have real consequences for people. There was a time in the 1960’s when people said they were willing to die for freedom, and I made that choice myself. I think now, people really need to think about whether we are willing to live for freedom. That involves the more monotonous work of standing on a corner, or getting petitions signed, and talking to people different than us. And all the time organizing. With organizing we can change the world for the better. We have done it before and we can and will do it again.
My partner of 47 years was born to a French mother and an Italian father in a small town in Uruguay, South America in 1940. He started studying piano at age 5 and began composing at age 15. In 1957 he moved to Montevideo, the capital, to study music. In 1962 he immigrated to the USA to study composition and received a scholarship from Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore where he graduated in 1967. I was born in Washington, DC in 1945 and grew up there until age 10 when we moved to the mushrooming, pre-Beltway Maryland suburbs. I attended the University of Maryland, College Park from 1963-67 and graduated with a BA in English. During my freshman year I discovered modern dance. From that revelation on dance became my unquestioned path and opened many doors.
All my life I’ve attempted to not allow myself to feel victimized for being who I am, trusting myself through trial and error. I realized I was not like other boys, or the way a young male is “supposed to be” growing up in the 1950’s-60’s. My step-grandmother unhesitatingly labeled me “sissy” for trying to play the piano. An 8-year old has little ammunition to fire back when hurt by elders. I learned. Although persecution was sometimes the encountered situation, I found ways to avoid confrontation, bullying or being beaten up in junior high school. My partner has spoken of his childhood when he too was singled out for being who he is and doing what came naturally. He handled it differently and successfully. He confronted the classmates who teased his younger sister and taunted him. He fought back defending her which seemed to prove to them that he was macho.
1965 was the year my partner and I met. No joke, it was love at first sight immortalized in Some Enchanted Evening. It was at a Halloween Party, gay and found through the grapevine, near Washington, D.C.’s DuPont Circle. The area was an “artistic” neighborhood and gay. “Gay” at the time meant more or less “carefree” and did not refer to homosexuals who were beginning to emerge from the closet, and who usually did not openly invite the topic as today. Perhaps the term was incubating around that time. In those days gay bars existed but discreetly. There was always the possibility of an undercover cop or raid. At the Georgetown Bar and Grill on Wisconsin Avenue, every time the front door opened, conversation stopped and heads turned to check who entered. Funny that one of the bars, the Hideaway, was off Pennsylvania Avenue near the FBI building. We’ve all heard that J. Edgar Hoover covered up his alleged homosexuality.
From the moment we met, my partner and I were contentedly engaged with each other and with going to school for music and dance. As part of my graduation, he composed a score to six short poems I wrote for the dance I choreographed. That began our artistic collaborations that continued with my dance company until 1990 and still exists today as I help him with his music projects. We’ve been doing this for 45 years.
Dance became my “devout calling” in 1964 and New York City was Mecca. In 1969, however, my partner was invited by the West German Senate to be a composer-in-residence in West Berlin. I make the distinction “West” because the Cold War in those days was deadly hot and no game unless played for life or death. Berlin is unified today. Then it was a divided, dangerous, depressing place with old women in feathered hats who had lost their husbands and sons in WWII, and isolated by East Germany with USSR backing. For a year we made music and dance that kept us busy performing and touring. While out of the United States, we missed historic and life-altering events back home during 1969 such as the Stonewall Riots. We did witness the first man-moon-walk in front of an appliance shop window full of television screens. Although we could have stayed in Europe, New York City was where dance was happening and that’s where I desperately wanted to be. My partner, fortunately, supported me. But there were issues. For one he was not a citizen. Eventually the Green Card situation got worked out with help from, then Vice-President, Spiro Agnew. We confidently moved to New York in May 1970 with $400 between us, no jobs, but had rented an $86 per month tub-in-the-kitchen apartment in the West Village. I was 25. My partner was 30.
We lived near Stonewall and the gay scene. The world of the 1970’s had changed for the better it seemed, with optimism yet numerous demonstrations. Peace. Love. Hippies. LSD. Recreational sex. Flower children. The Twin Towers were rising. A sense of freedom resulting from liberation was in the air. We were part of it; in it. Good vibrations! But living our music and dance was paramount. Creativity takes time. Time for distraction and reflection. Didn’t Einstein observe that the residue of seeming inactivity is creativity? In part, our being active in our respective fields kept us inactive in others such as Gay Liberation. However we were committed as much to that as to the end of the Vietnam War, freedom for all minorities led by the Black Is Beautiful/African-American call to arms by peaceful protest marches, as well as the desired impeachment of Richard Nixon; but brought to numbing reality with the assassinations of JFK, RFK, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.
We were fortunate to live during this upbeat era not only because of these confrontations fighting against discrimination and advocating social causes and equality, but also because the arts were flourishing. Dance was in its golden age. New music got easy attention. The National Endowment for the Arts was recently created. All this evolution was productive for us and our careers. We were content with how things were improving, at least changing in seeming positive ways. New York was home for the next 27 years. Looking back, that yesteryear optimism is sorely missed today. It now seems universally tainted with inertia and replaced by cynicism.
Since my partner I were employed by New York City institutions that were forward looking regarding domestic partnership and concerned that their employees’ rights were equal and on par with all New Yorkers, we decided to “get married” so to speak. We took Domestic Partnership solely for financial, health rights, tax and legal reasons. The ceremonies and receptions, the institution of marriage, did not matter. The point is that we deserve all benefits every legally married couple is offered despite being indifferent to social, societal, ceremonial aspects of walking down the aisle. On July 21, 1994 with our neighbors, a gay couple of our generation who were together for many years, we became Domestic Partners. We four best friends and reciprocal Best Men subwayed to City Hall and tied the knot in the eyes of New York City law one summer afternoon at lunchtime. With Domestic Partner Certificates signed, sealed and packed in our briefcases, we decided not to return to work but celebrate. We took our honeymoon cruise on the Staten Island ferry after which we strolled up lower Broadway to have dinner at the classy restaurant, Chanterelle. We were royally received befitting queens and felt like kings. I say this because the four of us felt as though we did not fit a stereotype of “Oh he’s femme; the other’s butch.” Pegged into one role or part is as false as pretending to be straight to fit in to be accepted or succeed. We are ordinary folk who are homosexuals and beyond that which matters more; and who want to share similar life views, values and goals, not just a singular lifestyle; and will accept everyone while expecting everyone to accept us.
On “retirement” we moved to Bucks County, Pennsylvania. We found that we comfortably fit in as who we are; two older gentlemen, partners of the same sex, without a suburban lifestyle mentality. We were welcomed by fantastic neighbors who are straight with children. When we moved to Pennsylvania, the New York City Domestic Partnership became legally worthless. Once again it was our neighbor friends, who had also retired to Bucks County, who told us they were planning on having one adopt the other for legal benefits. They were in their 60’s. After they successfully became father and son, the older adopting the younger, we followed. My partner adopted me as his son on April 10, 2000. “Adult” adoptions were the last of the day on the court’s schedule, after the norm which involved young-aged children with their parents and accompanying adults. We detected no negative or discriminatory attitude from those conducting the proceedings. I believe the judge was a Republican. It is funny to think that if Pennsylvania ever approves gay marriage, we would have to de-adopt if we wanted to marry. A dad marrying his son would be incest and a crime.
At our age, we know it’s not like those days of our youth when homosexuality was more a subculture, somewhat underground, and not as mainstream as today. There is also a different brand, different level of bullying these days but with familiar outcomes. There will always be everything possible and unpredictable that results from being human, from the positive to the bad that must be dealt with generation after generation. Talking about problems helps. How much is solved is both an individual and collective proposition. Each one of us must confront our preconceived notions and stereotypes that might border on prejudice and discrimination, even those of us who have faced and still face hostility and seek equality. Do we feel confident our rights are secure and will be protected and defended? This is not easily delivered, and is a task that requires vigilance in a fickle and ill-adjusted world in a partisan, political climate. We are as normal as mom’s apple pie, and want what every person desires in their daily, ordinary lives: respect and tolerance. Expectations are not always reality.
Molly Fair interviewed Virginia Reath RPA MPH.Virginia has spent the last 30 years as a practicing clinician and educator in the field of Gynecology and sexual/reproductive health for women. She is a committed feminist and activist as well as a practicing visual artist.She is at a crossroads creatively and professionally, having recently ended her GYN clinical practice to focus on art making.In the future she plans to open a different model of health practice to provide health counseling and consulting with an integrative approach on a wide variety of women’s health concerns.
Molly: What politicized you early on as a feminist and how did you become involved in reproductive justice issues?
Virginia: My father was active in social justice issues throughout my life, so that was instilled in me.I was a young, feminist artist when I was at Bard in 1971. I had always wanted to be a painter, but when I arrived there were all these male, post-abstract expressionist teachers who were angry about the popular consensus that painting was dead. That was hard for me.There were no women in the painting department at that time.Through the Feminist Alliance at Bard, we were able to recruit more women artists. We were able to getElizabeth Murray, and although she was not an overtly political person she was a great inspiration to me.She was a woman, a painter, a mother, a feminist and she said to me, “you can do it all.”
I’ve always had a secret interest in physiology and the body, but I never thought of myself as a science person by any stretch of the imagination. I got involved in reproductive rights because there were no reproductive health services at Bard.The health service was basically an infirmary with a nurse in a white hat and uniform who took your temperature and gave you an antibiotic.So we started a Jitney service for women to go to Planned Parenthood in Hudson.Also around that time I went to a woman gynecologist to try to get a prescription for the birth control pill.The woman was awful and basically called me a slut.It was one of the worst experiences, and this was from a woman!Some of my friends had experienced traumatic illegal abortions.So the accumulation of all these events pointed to what was wrong with women’s health and women’s rights.
My friend told me about a mother and daughter team who visited Bard University to give a workshop on self-help exams- Lolly and Jeanne Hirsch.They put out The Monthly Extract: An Irregular Periodical.I also had a friend who owned a speculum and I was totally fascinated with it. This was also around the time of the Our Body Ourselves Collective out of Boston.I started a self help group with several other women at Bard, and we learned how to perform a speculum exam.It strikes me as funny that I led this because I was more modest than some, but there I was jumping up on a table and inserting a speculum in front of ten other women.
I became more and more interested in the body, women’s health care, contraception and reproductive justice. The only career choice I was aware of was doctor or nurse.I didn’t think I had the chops to do medical school. I realized I wasn’t going to cut it as a nurse since at that time nurses were completely subservient to physicians. I dropped out of Bard in my final year in 1974 and enrolled in a pre-med program at NYU. I worked at the Women’s Chelsea Health Collective, which was a whole new movement of women’s health.
Through my political activism I heard about a program that sounded similar to “barefoot doctors” in China and Cuba. These were not full MDs, but people with training in primary medicine and care. During that time in the 60’s and 70’s Vietnam Vets who were trained as medics were returning back to the States.These men were very capable but had no formal medical training.There was such classic machismo in the system that men weren’t going to be nurses, so a program was created by AMAcalled a Physician Associate.The position was a truncated intensive study in primary care only.The qualifications for entry were to have a basic college education with some medical background, so I was able to gain entry based on my experience as a candy striper! I also began working as a volunteer at the South Bronx Free Heath Clinic.
Around the same time I took part in an organized march at the Whitney coordinated by a group called Artists Against Attica.I had perceived there was no political life as an artist because that’s what happened to me at Bard.But I started meeting a lot of artists who were political, which was a revelation to me. I hung out at Magoo’s Bar and became part of the downtown art scene.I became involved in a group called Artists Meeting for Cultural Change, and suddenly thought, “I fit!”I met Lucy Lippard, Leon Golub, Nancy Spero and the women who started Heresies.Then I was accepted into Johns Hopkins University into their medical program.I felt that I was straddling two worlds. I was conflicted between going there and staying in NYC to make art. In the end Hopkins won out.
After obtaining my PA from Hopkins, my first serious women’s health job was at one of the only abortion clinics in Brooklyn in 1978. It was an eye opener.This clinic was a mill; we saw 40 people a day. I realized women need better care than this. Every day for 2 years I was sprinkled with holy water and called a murderer. It really hit me that this was a war.I really became more of an activist for reproductive rights while learning my skills in OB/GYN. I’d also had 3 abortions myself.
I moved to upstate New York with my then husband and worked in a community health clinic in a trailer behind a church in Pinebush and later at the Monticello Planned Parenthood.I learned about the lack of access rural women had for reproductive health; basically none.At the same time I was working part time in an abortion clinic in the city. I was getting different experiences and seeing the world of women’s health, particularly reproductive well being, and it wasn’t good. In both rural and urban areas women’s healthcare was a failure. But I was committed to the cause. I completed a Masters in Public Heath and Community Education at Hunter College in 1983. By 1995 I had worked in almost every abortion clinic in NYC.
I always managed to keep an art studio but my clinical work was erasing my art life. Eventually I realized I was totally unhappy working my ass off in these clinics and I knew the only way to make a living and make art was to get a part-time job that paid enough.I was initially conflicted about going into private practice since I was a political person and felt I should be doing more community health clinic work for the disenfranchised.But I had given it my all, and it took everything I had.
When I started seeing my own patients I developed a long lasting relationship-based practice.There is something wonderful about having a practice like that because you get to know people over a long time and become part of their world.I treated women as whole people.I didn’t want to just be the “vagina doctor.”Taking care of women’s sexual health and treating their reproductive organs required a kind of trust.Because they trusted me with their bodies, I had to honor and respect that.In that way women could access their own health and feel a true sense of empowerment.I ran my practice in line with my political work and began to gain balance.
Molly: Could you describe your integrated approach to health care?
Virginia: I was one of the first groups of clinicians to be asked to join the Center for Health and Healing at Beth Israel at the Continuum.This was a strong integrative group practice. I began to learn more about nutrition, homeopathy, acupuncture, Reiki, herbs and supplements.I studied the power of healing with different methods than simply prescribing drugs. Over the past 20 years I have used herbs and homeopathic remedies along with bio identical hormones for gynecology conditions.I’ve learned they work! But I learned a lot from listening to my patients.Medical practices no longer have time to spend with patients because of HMO’s.Western medicine is heavily influenced by pharmaceutical companies and politics. Articles in medical journals are sponsored by these companies.
Now patients ask, “Where else can I go to get this kind of care?” and I don’t have many people to refer them to. I tell my patients to ask questions, to investigate the answers and to push for what they think is the right way to be treated. I hope to teach a program which can integrate the use of different modalities into medical practice.
Molly: What have your experiences been like as an educator?
Virginia: In the early 1970’s I became part of a very important group called Health Right which was a group of women activists including Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English.I was teaching how to do self-help exams at prisons and union halls.One day we went to Greenpoint Prison which we thought was a women’s prison but turned out to be a men’s prison.We had planned to talk about Birth Control, but wondered if we should change the talk.We didn’t. It was one of the most compelling groups I have spoken with in my life. They were so uninformed about women’s health and had no idea what women had to go through to protect themselves from getting pregnant.
I taught sex education workshops in schools and was approached by Cyd Pullman to teach at a program she ran called the Girls Project.It was an after school program on the Lower East Side in New York for pre-adolescent girls.The focus was on self-empowerment because there was fear about what was happening to young girls who started to fail around the age of 12.I taught about puberty and sexuality at the Project for 10 years.Many of these girls were horrified that I was talking about periods, but I made it fun for them.I developed a skit and a rap called Changing Like the Moon and within an hour that group of squeamish kids were giggling and screaming “I wanna be a vagina, I wanna be an egg, I wanna be a hypothalamus, I wanna be a uterus!” It was amazing to watch that evolution.Women, now in their 20’s, tell me it was the most important class of their lives.
Molly: Tell me about your work advocating for abortion legalization.
Virginia: I’d been working on the issue of abortion and in family planning clinics and wanted to learn how abortions were done.I learned about manual vacuum aspiration (MVA) and menstrual extraction, which came out of the feminist movement. We continue to advocate for the use of this procedure. It is now used in medical offices so women do not need to be in a clinic to have an abortion or need a dilation and curettage (D & C) after a miscarriage. We need more health care practitioners to learn and perform them. I also supported the early study of the pill RU-486.One of my great honors was being the recipient of the ACLU Reproductive Rights Award in 2001.
Molly: What do you see as the next battles for reproductive justice for women?
Virginia: In terms of access, we are in the grey zone right now, and it is unclear which way the pendulum will swing.It must give us pause to recognize that not everyone has the essential nature of choice.We need more physicians providing abortions, better contraceptive services and options.The health care system as it exists today is abominable. The system doesn’t serve women, people or clinicians; it serves insurance and pharmaceutical companies.
I would like to see the fight come back to the issue of women and children because that’s important. I feel it is imperative that we develop collective childcare. The notion that we have to do it all on our own is wrong on all levels. For many women, particularly working women wanting a family, having children becomes an economic and emotional dilemma. That shouldn’t be the case in 2012 in the USA.It’s bizarre that we work to pay another woman to care for our children, so she can have someone else care for her children and so forth .We need to take a hard look at this perpetual nanny system and realize we have abandoned women, families and children. We are communities who live together and depend on each other. Our culture treats working women trying to balance a career and family in a way that is retaliatory.It’s as if since we need a job and want a family we should not ask anyone for assistance and be forced to succeed or fail on our own. That attitude endangers too many people women men and children.I find that unacceptable.
Molly: What do you think about all the laws in the past year to limit abortion?
Virginia: The Political Right has been very smart in their strategy.They took their fight to individual states and were able to galvanize restrictions here and there.I do think there is a failing on the Movement side.The language has always been poor and ineffective.For instance, I don’t even know what the term “reproductive rights” means.The term “reproductive justice” means way more to me.The language has been this way for years; for instance, why do we use “pro-choice” and “pro-life?”The real division is anti-choice and pro-choice.Don’t give me this pro-life bullshit, I’m pro-life!
I think we are in trouble. All we can do is stand up for ourselves, other women and children. If this is a war we need to take a stand. We have to stop being afraid of the word feminist.A feminist is one who believes that women are citizens of the world.We believe in political, economic, social and sexual liberation: parity and justice.How could anyone really fight against that unless they want to be an instrument of subjection, domination and discrimination?There is a fight and it’s definitely around women.
Molly: What’s next in your life, now that you’re ending your practice?
Virginia: Over the last couple years, in some ways my life in reproductive medicine and women’s reproductive sexual health has been as an artist and an activist. But many years ago I realized I couldn’t torture myself anymore, and that I was an artist.That’s how I approached the world, and medicine, and my practice. I know this now,that my practice in medicine is also my art.And now I’m leaving my practice to my unfinished business of making art.