Why mobility is a free speech issue

On Monday, Sept. 25, according to the captioning of a HuffPost video,

Over 200 protesters gathered at a Senate Finance Committee hearing for the latest version of the Graham-Cassidy Bill, the latest effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, which would gut Medicaid and allow states to raise premiums on individuals with pre-existing conditions. Protests began as soon as the hearing did.

The next day, The New York Times ran an article with the following lede:

Saudi Arabia announced on Tuesday that it would allow women to drive, ending a longstanding policy that has become a global symbol of the oppression of women in the ultraconservative kingdom.

Other than the week in which they took place, these two events have something else in common: They both illustrate how mobility — or lack thereof — is a free speech issue.

Medicaid is crucial for mentally and/or physically disabled people wishing to live with agency and autonomy. Yet, as stated on the website of Disability Rights Ohio, “an individual with a ‘pre-existing condition,’ such as mental illness, may be denied coverage for that condition as long as other employees … are denied coverage for their pre-existing condition.”

So, in the absence of Obamacare, people with disabilities (PWD) may not be able to afford or have any access to subsidized medication or other essential kinds of treatment. Moreover, many PWD (*raises hand*) can’t work part-time jobs, or even, whether due to architecture or any number of other reasons, full-time jobs, making them inherently ineligible for company insurance. No employer = no employer coverage.

Obviously, speech isn’t always spoken or uttered in protest; a person may be born with a significant speech disorder or impairment, or simply have no desire to speak out on a particular subject on a given occasion.  But when a person with a disability wishes to exercise their right to free speech, it is absolutely (and, in the U.S., constitutionally) essential to allow it. Yet while it seems that healthcare has been saved, at least for the time being, this was not the first time that PWD were forcibly removed from a public forum simply for exercising their first-amendment rights; as such, it is likely not the last.

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U.S. Capitol Police arrest a protester. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Mobility Matters

The New Oxford American Dictionary gives two definitions of mobility: “the ability to move or be moved freely and easily,” and “the ability to move between different levels in society or employment.” 

It may seem, then, that these PWD do have mobility; after all, the ones with physical handicaps are equipped with wheelchairs. However, although they may move easily, they weren’t being moved freely. Though they peaceably assembled, Capitol police stripped many of the protestors of their mobility by pulling their wheelchairs out of the room against their will, thus keeping them from advocating for the preservation of what they need to be socially mobile: Medicaid. 

‘Moving’ Forward

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A woman behind the wheel in Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Faissal Al Nasser/Reuters)

Assuredly, Saudi women are reacting so elatedly to the news because of the newfound agency it has brought them. And they apparently were not the only ones celebrating. To quote Ben Hubbard, “Saudi leaders … hope the new policy will help the economy by increasing women’s participation in the workplace.” 

What the my dictionary app fails to mention is that in its entry on mobility, the first definition begets the second: The ability to move freely and easily facilitates movement between different levels in society or employment. Whether they seek employment, or guaranteed well-being even in unemployment, all people, including and especially women and PWD, have the right to move or to stay right where they are, thank you very much. And we need to do everything we can to protect that right.

‘What Happened,’ and what needs to happen now

This week, my hero, better known as Hillary Rodham Clinton, had a slew of TV news appearances. Watching her on The Today Show on Wednesday morning, and The Rachel Maddow Show on Thursday night, it all came rushing back: that singular moment when she seized the Democratic nomination; my confidence that during the General Election, she would win the popular vote; and the complete, unprecedented (un-presidented?) devastation on election night, when I realized that I had been only half right.

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Hillary Clinton in her Sept. 13, 2017 appearance on the TODAY Show.

The specifics of her second bid for president and its catastrophic end are well-documented elsewhere. What Clinton focused on during her appearances is the namesake of her new memoir: What Happened.

What, indeed.

According to Clinton, the major blow was dealt by James Comey, the (now former) director of the FBI.

Granted,  Clinton wouldn’t have taken such a severe political beating last fall if Comey hadn’t had such a massive and very public brain fart. I am loath to diverge with my girl Hill, but there was another less obvious but more destructive factor at work than mental flatulence.

The true culprit — the reason Donald Trump is now the president of the United States — is misogyny.

We have made great strides toward doing away with sexism; I readily and joyfully admit that. Misogyny, on the other hand, endures. Pernicious, and systemic, it was without a doubt Clinton’s downfall. Misogyny inheres in our society because, as Clinton so accurately put it, an endemic, generalized hatred of women has been passed from generation to generation.

Freedom from misogyny would require an entire generation to grow up never witnessing an act of sexism — for sexism, essentially, to cease to exist anywhere in the world. Thereupon, that generation would then need to raise their children in a world in which female-identified people never experience discrimination. Only by forming a united front in the name of love and equity can we hope ever to see a woman in the Oval Office.

Now, it certainly didn’t help that the Electoral College is still a thing. But it is no coincidence that the person who should have succeeded President Barack Obama was passed over in favor of one accused multiple times of sexual assault, whose behavior and language (“Grab ’em by the pussy!”) don’t exactly make him look innocent. Too much of the U.S. population operates under the notion that a powerful man is forgivable — nay, even trustworthy — while a powerful woman needs to be punished. 

I will never get over the events of Nov. 8, 2016. I will never forget the feeling in the pit of my stomach when the election swung in Trump’s favor. And I will always resent the fact that someone of the female gender probably won’t be elected to the highest office in the land during my mom’s lifetime.

But we can’t allow what happened to defeat us. It’s time to start the generations-long work of eliminating misogyny — completely, and forever.


*Clinton begins to address sexism and misogyny at about 07:44. However, you definitely should watch this video in its entirety, because it starts with Rachel Maddow showing Hillary Clinton a funny panda video. Seriously. The greatest moment in television history? I think YES.

My love-hate relationship with Big Pharma

As almost every single person I have ever met knows (because you better believe I tell them!), I have chronic attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, better known as ADHD. Usually, those who are assigned the sex “female” at birth are diagnosed much later than their male peers, if at all. Boys with ADHD tend to be hyperactive, while girls often exhibit symptoms of inattention, which are less noticeable to an elementary school teacher or parent with no formal training in psychiatry or neuroscience. I, however, was both hyperactive and inattentive.

Getting diagnosed at age 5 enabled me to start receiving treatment for my disorder even before I started kindergarten. That treatment came in the form of Ritalin, a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant medication. I am not going to attempt to convince you that my parents and pediatrician opting to medicate me was healthy, moral, or necessary. No, I am going to skip that full-disclosure part of most ADHD narratives and get right to the point.

Big Pharma is not doing too much; it is not doing enough. The longest-acting stimulant medications — stimulants being the first-line pharmaceutical treatment for ADHD — last about 12 hours.

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That is all: Twelve hours a day.

I, for one, am hard pressed to function as a productive member of this (capitalist) society in 12 hours a day. Moreover, in fact, that whole 12-hours-of-effectiveness thing is not entirely accurate; generally speaking, these drugs take effect after 30 minutes or more (in my case, 40 minutes on the dot). Bearing in mind that many people with ADHD take short-acting, immediate-release versions of these stimulant medications as “booster dosages,” as well, we are talking one missed hour a day.

It may seem that as long you are motivated, 11 hours is plenty of time to do all the activities that comprise one’s day. I hate to say it, but frankly, that is wrong on multiple levels: First of all, one need only consult the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to see the average length of time spent doing things such as eating, working, shopping, and cleaning exceeds 11 hours. Additionally, one of the quintessential realities of ADHD is that people with it symptomatically experience a lack of motivation. In my case, that lack of motivation is a frequent guest-star — this, despite the fact that I never, deliberately or otherwise, refrain from taking my prescribed treatment regimen in its entirety.

I challenge Big Pharma to step up its game, because amid all the accusations that it is contributing to the overmedication of children, the fruits of its labor — the major CNS ADHD medications — aren’t even close to consistently, sufficiently medicating us, adults.

 

Learning from ‘Sexual Politics’ after losing Kate Millett

As a feminist (read: human being), I was saddened to learn last night of the death of Kate Millett. There is still so much we can — and must — learn from her.

It is 2017, but ‘the patriarchy’ continues to represent, metonymically, a societal system in which men enjoy power. Just as descent continues to follow the male line, so, too, do males continue to hold The Power, and to the exclusion and detriment of Woman. In Sexual Politics (1970), Millett declared of the patriarchy,

So perfect is its system of socialization, so complete the general assent to its values, so long and so universally has it prevailed in human society,” that it “scarcely seems to require violent implementation.”

But why did the patriarchy manage to survive? How could this happen on our watch? Once again, we need to take a page out of Kate Millett’s book.

Despite our supposed leaps and bounds vis-à-vis sexual equality over the last half-century, the patriarchy has endured with seemingly no concerted efforts dedicated to its maintenance. In this patriarchal society (emphasis on ‘patriarchal’), women learn from day one to covet maleness, especially in comparison to femaleness — in terms both of sex and of gender. Millett observed,

Patriarchal circumstances and beliefs seem to have the effect of poisoning the female’s own sense of physical self until it often truly becomes the burden it is said to be.” Thus, “The female is continually obliged to seek survival or advancement through the approval of males as those who hold power.”

The upshot, unfortunately, is divisive competitiveness, which is one of the most powerful tools in the patriarchy’s arsenal.

Not only is divisiveness an instrument of the patriarchy, but also, in fact, patriarchy is actually to blame for that selfsame tendency of mainstream feminism toward divisiveness. We have all been conditioned to believe that, as women, we are ill equipped to handle complexities; after all, Millett professes,

A large factor in their subordinate position is the fairly systematic ignorance patriarchy imposes upon women.”

That being the case, the Third Wave’s unprecedented awareness of and attention to the multivalent nature of the feminist movement has manifested in schismatic individualism. For example, one of the principal issues for cisfemale feminists who have sex with men is ongoing access to safe, affordable birth control; however, self-identified lesbians insist that this has no relevance to them; obviously, this is technically correct. Like so, we operate under the notion that it would simply be impossible for lesbians to fight for reproductive justice for straight women while still fighting for equality for themselves, let alone that straight women should advocate for gay women’s equality, specifically, despite it offering no direct benefit to them. On a similar but broader scale, there is a well documented generational disconnect between young and old feminists, as well.

Ignorance, whether imagined or real, is not the only reason that the fight to overthrow the patriarchy has been so prolonged. Even the most awakened, card-carrying feminists have not yet healed from the pernicious effects of patriarchal upbringing entirely. Some of us do it unconsciously, with good intentions; others do it proudly, invoking the singularity of lived experience and situated knowledge. The salient point is, we are doing it: continuing to live according to the dictate of ‘every man for himself.’ The patriarchy has us right where it wants us. Whether or not we care to admit it, this is still very much a man’s, man’s, man’s world; it is so because we have allowed it to be.

Referring to society at the time, Millett observed,

Just as every minority member must either apologize for the excesses of a fellow or condemn him with a strident enthusiasm, women are characteristically harsh, ruthless and frightened in their censure of aberration among their numbers.”

This continues to be painfully accurate. Amid the divisiveness, feminists have managed to unite on one front; irrespective of race, sexuality, or class, there already is a shared tendency among many feminist activists to obstruct women with disabilities from joining their ranks.

An oft-invoked criticism of Sexual Politics is that it lacks sufficient acknowledgment of the genuine differences in the typical lived experience of members of individual communities on the grounds of class and especially race. Accordingly, Millett herself is accused of failing to take into account the historicity and the very existence of different groups of feminist activists belonging to each respective community, which comprised the larger so-called women’s movement at the time and still do today. For example, black feminism, aka womanism, has existed for as long as mainstream (read: white) feminism, yet always had a distinct political agenda; while the suffragists were fighting for their right to vote, black women were living in a world in which even their husbands were still waiting for enfranchisement. However, one need only sit down and carefully read the second chapter of Sexual Politics to realize that Millett had no intention of contributing to the erasure of the Black-feminist experience, or of downplaying its distinctness from her white feminism. Rather, she was making the case that in scope and endurance, sexism superseded racism: When Millett wrote her doctoral-thesis-cum-magnum opus, in the late-1960s, she noted,

The priorities of maintaining male supremacy might outweigh even those of white supremacy; sexism may be more endemic … than racism.”

Is this true now, as we approach the end of the second decade of the new millennium? Well, the United States had its first black, male president eight years before the majority of the country voted for a white, female one; moreover, despite winning the popular vote, she was still beat to the Oval Office by an uber-conservative, white man. Racism and sexism both still exist, but it would appear that sexism is more comprehensive, more pervasive, and yet more insidious.

In the television adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale that aired on Hulu earlier this year, people of different ethnicities comprised the cast, yet there was no discussion of race, and racism was never discernible. All women were equally enslaved by the patriarchy — which, it bears mentioning, an exclusively white-male government facilitated and preserved.

Almost 50 years after the original publication of Sexual Politics, Millett reminds us that we are more alike than we are different, and so we must not allow ourselves to succumb to self-doubt or divisiveness. We all want, and need, the same thing: an end to the patriarchy. That day will only come when we have learned to trust ourselves and realize that we can, and should, fight for the rights of our sisters while still advocating for our own.