"When one door closes, another dress opens," says an ad exec on HBO's hit show Mad Men . I admit it: lately I've been mad about Mad Men , scrambling through episodes with a strange intrigue of looking through a portal to a time when lady secretaries were totally subordinate to their suited bosses. Gawking and groping women was par for the corporate course, and brandy and cigarettes were meeting staples--just another day at the office. It's a fascinating look into a foregone era, one most of my twenty-something colleagues never experienced and possibly can't even imagine.
image from AMC Mad Men website
While it may seem quaint that ladies fussed about lipstick and putting steak on the table by 5:30pm while the boys did the "real work," there's nothing cute about the full picture: sexual harassment in the workplace, back-alley abortions, limited access to birth control for the privileged few, rampant homophobia and racism, glass ceilings that must have seemed shatter-proof.
Now some fifty years later we can look back with an incredulous (and satirical) eye -- yet some of the key things that set us apart from those bygone days seem to be reemerging. This past year women's reproductive rights have come under threat in an alarming way. Heck, Michigan State Rep. Lisa Brown couldn't even say the word "vagina" without being censured by her conservative male colleagues.
The latest assault came last week when Republican Missouri Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin said that victims of "legitimate rape" don't get pregnant because "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." Someone quickly posted a facebook meme that said ""Good news -- your body shut down that rape baby.' Said no doctor ever." If elected vice president, Paul Ryan is determined to shut down Planned Parenthood health centers and cut women off from crucial health care. Ryan voted against the Lily Ledbetter fair pay act that allows women to be paid the same amount as men. Republican values prioritize building killer drones and new weapons of mass destruction over providing affordable, accessible healthcare. Women's rights are taking a serious pounding from anti-choice legislation to economic inequality that disproportionately affects women. The new GOP mantra: Women's rights? They can take what's left.
I'm part of the generation that embraced Take Back the Night rallies in college, marching through the city streets declaring that our short skirts were not an excuse for rape. It's the generation that stages readings of Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues and reclaims the word "slut" in national walks. I grew up wearing pants, wielding power tools, and playing soccer. My first gynecology appointment was at a Planned Parenthood. To me and many of my classmates at Barnard College, protesting the Afghanistan and Iraq wars was a natural extension of our feminist principles and understanding that occupation wouldn't lead to liberation. Women's leadership and self-determination are key to a successful, thriving society. I'm of the mindset that if you can't say the word vagina, don't legislate it. And there are thousands of like-minded women across this country, Mad Women whose outrage is fueling powerful action.
We, and our vaginas, are angry that our bodies are repeatedly violated by attempts to control our access to healthcare and our responsibility for our futures. But we won't allow that anger to fuel violence or rage. Instead, we creatively unleash our voices for equality. As Eve Ensler said, "My vagina's furious and it needs to talk."
That's why CODEPINK is organizing a vagina posse ( www.codepink.org/rnc ) to speak out about the war on women at the Republican National Convention in Tampa next week. We'll take to the streets in giant vagina costumes and sing "Take Your Vagina to the RNC," ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?
The past couple of weeks in the lead-up to the RNC I've found myself saying "vagina" on public radio, something that I've certainly never done before. It's strangely empowering. Just saying the word takes the mysticism out of it -- makes it less intimidating. Vagina. Vagina. Vagina. My body, my choice, my voice.
Unlike Mad Men's world of advertising, which seeks to fool and trick people into believing in something (usually superficial), activism is about making the invisible truth visible. We are in the business of exposing reality--yes, sometimes at the cost of what may seem vulgar or inappropriate. Putting daylight on the truth can illuminate the way forward. One vagina at a time.
It's time to close the door on the era that trumpeted the subjugation of women. And it's time we unzipped the lies and aired the truth: vaginas are powerful and beautiful, and whatever your genitalia, everyone deserves to have access to reproductive care and full health coverage.
Rae Abileah is the co-director of CODEPINK Women for Peace ( www.codepink.org ). She lives in San Francisco, CA