“. . . women understand that real lives are too complex, too filled with choices and changes and challenges, to be reduced to snap judgments and blanket statements . . .” — Joanna Weiss
This May 13th through the 19th marks the Department of Health and Human Services’ thirteenth annual National Women’s Health Week – the theme this year being, “It’s Your Time.” Celebrated across America both on an individual basis (such as on May 14th, when women can pledge to participate in National Women’s Checkup Day and make an appointment to visit their health care professional for a well-woman screening) and at public, community institutions such as schools, religious centers, and hospitals (after all, as Melville reminds us, “We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.”).
Front and center this year is the impact of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act. In the First Lady’s interview in honor of National Women’s Health Week with Women’s Health Magazine, she emphasized how the reduction in routine check-up costs and the end to discriminatory insurance practices such as higher flat charges on women due to their more extensive preventative screening needs (mammograms, PAP smears, etc.) would hopefully inspire us women to “take control of our lives and our health.” Likewise, the White House blog reminds visitors that 20.4 million women with private health insurance will have access those preventative health services at no additional cost as a result of the Affordable Care Act – including the young women covered on their parents’ insurance until age 26.
Now, no one is going to take issue with a week that celebrates the well-being of half the population – especially in a political climate bound and determined to villanize women who dare protect their right to affordable and accessible health services. And reminding women to take time to care for themselves is admirable. But some of the avenues by which this goal is being accomplished?
This October’s Breast Cancer Month brought us the “Your Man Reminder” app from the Canadian organization “Rethink Breast Cancer.” Thought process behind this one? Well, since apparently “studies have shown that women are more likely to watch a video if it features a hot guy,” half-naked men fondling themselves to demonstrate the “TLC” method should hone women’s attention on their breast health like a high-powered laser – wunderbar!
And then women have our dear friend ‘Julia.’ We’re not quite sure when our Julia lost her virginity (that time we took her out for margaritas to get her to spill the deets just didn’t work and we’re now banned from the East Side T.G.I. Friday’s), but at twenty-seven, after four years “working full-time as a web designer,” Julia has health insurance that covers her birth control and preventative care “thanks to Obamacare.” And at 31, when Julia decides to have a child (even though we suspect that her boyfriend Craig has been bull-shitting her for the past four years and that there’s no such thing as a T.G.I. Friday’s ‘career track’),“she benefits from maternal checkups, prenatal care, and free screenings under health care reform.”
Yes, these memes are addressing women’s health needs, and we’ve already addressed why that’s such a good and necessary thing. Why then, do these types of campaigns make me feel like I’m five years old again, I’ve fallen off my bike, and Mommy and Daddy are bandaging my boo-boo?
In her piece for the Boston Globe, Joanna Weiss beautifully encapsulates why women should feel uncomfortable with such simplistic representations of their bodily needs:
Women are perfectly capable of projecting policy implications onto their own lives . . . Most women understand that real lives are too complex, too filled with choices and changes and challenges, to be reduced to snap judgments and blanket statements about where we ought to stand. We vote our own priorities, and our own pocketbooks. In that way, we’re just like men.
Leah Berkenwald’s coverage of the “Your Man Reminder,” although it mostly considers the critique of reverse objectification, likewise questions the app’s broad brush approach:
Maybe we should ask for an expansion of the app for lesbians that includes some hot, actively participating women teaching TLC. An app like this could also easily be altered to help remind gay and straight men, who are also at risk for breast cancer, about the importance of doing self-breast exams too.
The idea that women need a shiny, pink, sexy what-not for them to realize that they matter and that their bodies deserve care is offensive. Period. The idea that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius can put out a statement for the week “celebrating the women in our lives” and think that these women will just forget that she played politics with their lives when she overruled the FDA ruling that determined minors should be able to buy Plan B without a prescription is offensive.
Women remember. Women know that a vagina and a complex, complicated life are not mutually exclusive. And women have the right to be angry and a little scared in a culture where political and apolitical actors alike don’t seem to understand these basic truths.