by: Sarah J. Jackson
I just finished reading 99 Nights With the 99 Percent by journalist Chris Faraone. For his book, subtitled “Dispatches From the First Three Months of the Occupy Revolution,” Faraone spent 99 nights (including days) in various cities across the country with Occupy protesters to examine who these individuals are, what they believe in, and what their daily grind consists of. Faraone’s narrative made me think about birth control. If you think that sounds like a wild leap, it’s not, bear with me.
If the Occupy movement has accomplished anything over the last seven months it has been to change the narrative about how we talk about economic inequality in this country. You can now go anywhere in America and conversations about “the 1 percent” and “the 99 percent” are commonplace. While some conservatives have fallen into the old narrative of labeling this rhetoric “class warfare,” there is no doubt that economic inequality exists in this country and that many Americans outside the Occupy Movement became sympathetic to these protests because of the acknowledgement that they too are part of the 99 percent being affected by this inequality. American citizens now have a better vocabulary for describing the economic system that unfairly benefits those in the 1 percent while they struggle to pay their mortgages or send their children to college. Many of these citizens have been empowered to speak up and make change in their own communities because being a part of something larger than themselves, a part of the 99 percent, is a powerful thing.
So back to birth control. Women make up 51 percent of the U.S. population and within this population there is another 99 percent. More than 99 percent of American women who have ever been sexually active have used birth control. 99 percent. Further, some women who use birth control aren’t even sexually active but need it to treat a variety of medical issues from extremely painful periods and ovarian cysts to acne. All these women have to worry about paying for birth control, about whether their employers will include birth control coverage in their insurance, about whether their local pharmacies will sell them the birth control they desire, about the ridiculous archaic sexism that suggests that this huge number of women are somehow lacking in morality simply because they choose to be in control of their own health, sexuality, and reproductive destinies. Further, women who are struggling financially are disproportionately affected by both attacks on birth control and continuing economic inequality.
Just like the vast majority of Americans want an economic system that is just and want banks held accountable for predatory lending and other amoral (and sometimes illegal) practices and the government held accountable for enabling these practices, the vast majority of women—and the men who care about them—believe access to birth control is a right. The idea that women, 51 percent of the population, should have equitable health insurance coverage and the power to decide their own reproductive destinies is as much a no-brainer as the idea that in a democratic nation the rich should not be getting richer by neglecting and taking advantage of the poor.
So let’s occupy birth control. Women who use birth control, and the men who support them, need to speak up and speak out about this issue. Women, who have the unquestionable right to decide their own destinies, are the 99 Percent. Imagine if we used Faraone’s idea (I’m assuming he’ll forgive me for stealing it) and spent 99 nights with the 99 percent of women all across America who use birth control. We would surely meet women of all walks of life, ages, races, professions, and belief systems who are making a difference in their communities and families.
Let’s tell our stories, let’s put a human face on this issue, and let’s take away the power of those who seek to shame us for doing something that the majority of our fellow citizens do. The Coalition to Protect Women’s Health Care with Sandra Fluke has created a space where women can “have their say” by uploading YouTube videos about why they use birth control.
I’m having my say by writing this piece. My name is Sarah Jackson, I am part of the 99 percent, and I use birth control. Tonight is Sunday and my night includes prepping for the three courses that I teach every week, grading student papers, walking my dog Nellie, watching The Walking Dead, baking a raspberry peach cobbler, and having my weekly Sunday night conversation with my mother, the woman who taught me that I deserve the same rights to healthcare, education, pay, and respect as men. Among other things, access to birth control has allowed me to pursue education, travel the world, and serve my community by actively working with youth and in educational equality initiatives. It has allowed me to decide when to start a family so that if and when I do, I am both willing and ready to do so. I hope this piece gets 99 comments from 99 women (and how about 99 more from male allies!) who, like me, believe in a country, and in politicians, who understand that access to birth control is not a political issue, it is a social justice issue, it is a right, and it is NOT up for debate.
Sarah Jackson is a Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow at Northeastern University in Boston, MA. Her research and teaching focus on how media discourses of race, class, and gender reinforce and/or challenge concepts of national belonging. Outside her academic life, Sarah volunteers with youth in educational equity programs, does a lot of yoga, and fantasizes about being an artist. Read more of her writing on Wandering In Love and follow her on Twitter @sjjphd.