Phony Outrage

Serious Threat to Women’s Rights
Gets a Hilarious Twist on Twitter

There are several ways of framing what happened yesterday at the Michigan State House. During a heated debate over an extremely restrictive piece of legislation on women’s reproductive rights, Rep. Lisa Brown was summarily banned from the floor for uttering a medically-sanctioned word for the female anatomy: vagina.
It was a brutal, authoritarian attempt to silence free expression. It also embodied for a moment the extreme right’s concerted effort to turn back the clock on a major issue concerning women. But the incident ignited something else too: one of the fastest, busiest, and funniest strands of Twitter commentary. Within hours, #VaginaMovieLines had shot up to the top of the social network’s trends index.
Whether it also elevated the debate over reproductive rights to a new national level of stridency and radicalization remains to be seen. The implications of revisiting the landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade by the current mostly partisan Supreme Court Justices are obviously scary, as one political party has embraced a flight back to the past, and the other seems unwilling to show spine.
It certainly will enhance Rep. Brown’s stature, though, even if only for her passionate and articulate defense of, ultimately, one of the basic Constitutional tenets this country’s been founded upon: the separation of church and state.
For make no mistake, behind the pro-life and religious freedom rallies of lately, sits the institution with the most to gain from a return to the faith-based medieval times, when it ruled unchallenged: the church. It’d be a great way to regain the moral authority that it has since slandered, when so consistently hid and denied the evidence of rampant sexual abuse of minors entrusted to its care.
By baring her own beliefs as a Jewish person, and immediately withdrawing them from having any bearings on the discussion, Rep. Brown effectively framed the issue of women’s prerogatives over their own body within a context of health care and individual choices that all citizens must be entitled to enjoy, in a democratic society.
In other words, if you don’t believe on it, do not do it or let anyone do it to you. But everybody else must be allowed to proceed according to their own volition. That’s essentially what Roe vs. Wade determined, and every major study has shown that it did save thousands of lives and it did help a generation of women to make better informed decisions about their own bodies.

Such decisions may become infinitely harder in Michigan, if it’s up to House legislators. They just passed Wednesday the first of three sets of bills that may catapult the economically depressed state to the forefront of the struggle to keep in place federal laws protecting a woman’s right to choose how she’ll deal with her pregnancy. The state Senate will vote its own version in the fall.
The House bill introduces new insurance and licensing requirements for clinics and ban abortions that take place more than 20 weeks after conception. It also aims at regulating the use of an abortion pill and set draconian guidelines for the disposal of a fetus. According to women’s rights groups, it may in fact shut down most abortion clinics in the state.
The same groups though received a boost nationwide yesterday, when the video of Rep. Brown’s speech on the floor went viral and social networks went abuzz with commentary.
For Twitter, it was a moment not unlike the Arab Spring. In February, Middle Eastern and North of Africa pro-democracy protesters took to it to report what the media was prevented from doing it: what exactly was going on the ground. So it’s also sadly ironic that, as we speak, that movement may have suffered a fatal blow, as the Egyptian Parliament has just been dissolved and the military remain in control of the country.
While Rep Brown’s speech was making the rounds through progressive and general media outlets, a quasi-spontaneous commentary began trending on Twitter. As usual, it’s unclear who started what, but soon enough the hashtag #VaginaMovieLines was getting adherents, who were combining famous movie quotes with the word that so outraged some Michigan house representatives.
As the buzz rose to a feverish pitch, and the minute by minute updates included some dozens of new commentary, one could see a high percentage of joiners still not sure about why the word was even being used like that. It was quite instructive to follow it for a while, just to see how long it’d take for those to become acquainted with what was going on. Mainly, of course, after a few laughs.
About, it’s never too much to emphasize, what’s simply one of the most important health care issues of the past few years, at the core of the Obama administration’s push to reform the system. It also highlights once again the contradictions on the position adopted by religious groups, specially those that receive government funding to support their highly-profitable universities and hospitals.
As independent institutions, they wouldn’t need to be required to follow a curriculum or a line of medical care and education, based on, well, the theory of evolution, the modern concept of gender equality, or even the independence of the state to dictate its policies regulating society.
At the same time, if that’s their prerogative, they should not receive a penny from the government to pursue their own conflicting policies and beliefs. Beyond common sense, this is, in fact, the opinion of most independent scholars and federal policy experts, to whom the government has a mandate to administer taxpayer money according to interests of the majority over that of special groups.
It’d take a lot of spontaneity and sense of humor, though, to turn such an academic and, up to a point, hard to tackle subject into a brief relief for Americans who, normally, don’t have the time to waste with prolix and often pointless legislative debates. Given this week’s staggering toothless way Senators have treated a lying Jaime Dimon, the CEO of $4 billion-less JP Morgan, who can blame them?
It’s also, once again, another reason why comedians, and humor in general, have become so crucial to inform the times we’ve been living in. As state and federal legislators all over are playing their numbers game, firing teachers and cutting down social programs, while extending red carpets to the wealthy and the affluent, regular Americans find other ways to laugh and wise up.
All Orwellian issues of privacy and  surveillance apart, along with our immensely undignified taste for celebrities and thugs, there’s still a percentage, a bandwidth for social commentary and instruction, available within even the most vain of social connections that surrounds us. No wonder corporations pay big bucks to pollute those waters with their salespitch and vanity fare.
While they use it to sell us soap, why can’t we occupy it to exchange our own wares: our longing for justice, peace, understanding and all that? Whereas some level of spontaneity may be lost, something else more important may be reaffirmed: our ability to touch and get closer to each other. Or crack us up, which in our case, it’s so very easy.

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