Category Archives: Body Image

The Role of Reproductive Freedom in Ending Domestic Violence

The right to determine what happens to our own physical selves has everything to do with our safety and wellbeing.  Attacks bodily autonomy are central to the issue of domestic violence. The behavior of those who commit domestic abuse is rooted in the belief  that they have the right to make decisions about every facet of their partners’ lives, including their bodies.

Survivors tell us that their abusers, using a wide range of coercive tactics, dictate what they wear, when and what they eat, where they go, who they see, when they sleep, and whether they can hold their children in their arms. They tell us they are not allowed to say “no” to sex, and when they do they are assaulted. They tell us they are grabbed, touched, hit, kicked, stroked and held in ways they do not want, and which they are unable to repel. In short, abusive people systematically work to strip survivors of their autonomy and their ability to make choices for themselves without risk of retribution.

Often, abusers focus on their partners’ reproductive health as a means of maintaining control over their partners’ lives. This is called reproductive coercion, and it particularly—though not exclusively—impacts women, for whom a pregnancy can make the difference between breaking free of and being connected to their abusers forever, through shared parenting if not through the relationship.

Women tell us about preparing to end the relationship, having painstakingly put together plans for starting over—a place to go, some income, childcare and transportation—when they realize they are pregnant. Maybe he tampered with her pills, or maybe he poked holes in the condoms, or maybe he raped her. No matter the tactic, with a new baby all of those carefully laid plans are often rendered unworkable. Some women tell us that this happened to them more than once: “It’s like he always knew, just when I was getting ready to go.”

Others tell us about how their abusers kept them from ending a pregnancy, sometimes physically keeping them from going to a clinic for an abortion, sometimes showing behavior change that lasted only until the baby was born. And still others tell us about how their partners supported them, even encouraged them, to get an abortion—and then later used the knowledge of the procedure as a weapon, blackmailing and shaming them with it. Abusers are often perfectly willing to capitalize on the social stigma associated with abortion, as doing so allows them to isolate their partners even further.

Reproductive freedom matters for survivors of domestic violence. It matters because it is an essential part of safety planning around reproductive coercion. It matters because the ability to become pregnant leaves women vulnerable to abusers in a very specific set of ways, and women need to be able to manage that vulnerability in whatever way works best for them.

Reproductive freedom also matters because the belief that anyone other than a woman herself has the right to control what happens to her body is a key part of the culture than condones abuse in the first place. At the core, it is an abuser’s belief that his rights take precedence over hers that drives his behavior, and his belief has been culturally supported for millennia, in laws that treated women and children as property and gave men the final say over their lives.

In just one example, it was only in 1985 that raping one’s spouse was finally outlawed in Maine. Before that, our laws maintained that a husband’s right to his wife’s body was absolute; that once she was married, she had given up her right to choose when and if to engage in sexual activity. But by 1985, our understanding had evolved. We saw that women have the right to decide for ourselves what happens to our bodies—and that right must be recognized and upheld under the law.

The same understanding needs to be applied to our discussions around reproductive freedom.

Access to a full range of reproductive health care, including abortion, not only helps survivors counteract the abusive tactics used by their partners, but it sends a message of accountability to abusers, as well. Because a culture that insists that only a woman can decide what happens to her body is one that will be able to stand beside survivors and affirm, “Your body is yours, and no one else’s, and we will support you in keeping it that way.”

Used with permission by MCEDv and also appeared on the MCEDV Voices Blog March 7, 2017

What is a community organizer and why does MFP have one?

Maine Family Planning would like to welcome guest blogger (and co worker) Cait:

I’m Cait, and I’m lucky enough to be Maine Family Planning’s new community organizer. I’ve been organizing with the statewide Health Care is a Human Right campaign for the past four years, and I’m very excited to bring my passion for human rights, reproductive justice, and a deep love of Maine people to my role at MFP.

One thing I get asked a lot is: What does a community organizer do? A lot of things! Here are a few that are very important:

  • Build people power. The overarching goal of community organizing is to put ordinary people in touch with their own power by learning about our rights, joining with others to analyze problems we face, and working collectively to advance solutions. Some solutions are policy-oriented, and to that end, I will build bridges between Maine people and what’s developing in Augusta and Washington, DC. My hope is to make sure that you know who represents you at the state house and in congress, and how to communicate with elected officials about the reproductive rights and justice issues that matter to you.
    Other problems we face around reproductive rights and justice are less concrete and more cultural—such as abortion stigma, ageist ideas on young people’s sexual and reproductive lives, or stigmatizing responses to addiction. In approaching these deeply embedded attitudes, we can build power through public education efforts and campaigns that tackle stigma; creating welcoming forums where communities share stories and build relationships; and other diverse, localized initiatives that bring people out of isolation and into contact with new information and ideas.
  • Listen. One of the most important things I’ll do in this role is ask questions & listen to the stories of clinic patients and providers, students, young people, parents, grandparents, and anybody willing to share with me. Organizing’s power stems from an unshakable belief that our lived experiences provide the best raw material for policy and social changes that truly meet our needs and dignify us. Your insights about your community or school, and experiences accessing reproductive care, will guide the work we do together.
  • Share. My hope is to foster a grassroots network of volunteers across Maine who want to get trained up to lead and grow local efforts to advance reproductive health, rights & justice in their towns. This means hanging out with me a fair amount at first, so I can share all the stuff I know about organizing, community work, and all the important things MFP does. Developing leadership in others is the best thing I can do; basically, a good organizer makes more organizers!
  • Turn strangers into neighbors. I love Maine and its people with all my heart, and I know how much the majority of us care about our neighbors. We’re the kind of folks who are a funny mix of proud and humble, and we show up for each other, even if we do it quietly. As an organizer, I go out into the world with a goal to help folks expand our sense of who counts as a neighbor. I want to engage new people every day in honest conversations and creative actions until we truly embrace the notion that every person in this state is our neighbor. We need to look out for each other and defend everyone’s right to lead lives of health, autonomy, and dignity.

I’m so grateful to be on board with all the dedicated clinic workers and practitioners, administrators, advocates, and educators at Maine Family Planning. I can’t wait to see what we’re able to accomplish when y’all out there join us! Contact me at cvaughan @ mainefamilypanning.org or 207-480-3518 to get started.

Misgendering Your Transgender Friend

Imagine a scenario: you’re talking to your friend, when suddenly, you use the wrong pronoun. It makes things awkward and you have no idea how to proceed. The question is: What do you do when you misgender a trans person?

Your first reaction may to be to freak out and apologize repeatedly. Don’t! This could manipulate your friend into feeling guilty,   something they shouldn’t have to feel. In order not to overreact, you might feel inclined to ignore the mistake and move on. This could also be problematic and lead to your friend thinking that you don’t care.

But you do care about your friend. You didn’t mean to misgender them, and you want them to know that. The response is simple: apologize once, correct yourself by using the right pronoun (most important—this reaffirms their identity!), and continue with the conversation. This approach lets them know that you realize that you made a mistake, without making them feel like they’re an inconvenience to you.

Pronoun slip-ups happen to everyone. The most important thing is that you let your trans friend know that you support them 100%. Practice their pronouns so you get them right next time!

This is a guest post by Adam, one of Maine Family Planning’s student interns.  Adam is pursuing a degree in creative writing. When he’s not writing for class or for Maine Family Planning’s blog, he’s petting cats.

Self-care is a Political Act

It feels like I’ve been drowning in articles about New Year’s resolutions this week. I struggle with the whole Resolution thing, though, because it often seems that January is a time when we’re encouraged to declare war on our lives (or at least our bodies). We spend so much time working to reclaim our bodies from those who would control us—why turn the tables on ourselves every New Year?

self preservation lorde

I think we do battle with ourselves plenty over the course of the year. I don’t think we need to feel pressured to do (yet one more) thing that brings more stress, makes us feel bad about ourselves, or ultimately doesn’t serve our physical or emotional well-being.

What’s more, many of us spend a lot of time doing important work: taking care of others, working for social justice, and doing our part—however small—to try to make the world a better place. We’re told that the work itself should be its own reward, when in truth, it can be both rewarding and also really exhausting. We’re told that self-care is frivolous, superficial, or an excuse to disengage. Many of us—women especially—are shamed into ignoring their own physical and mental health, sometimes to the point where we just don’t have the energy to participate in the work that we care about deeply.

The world can be a scary, discouraging, sometimes tragic place, but it’s a world that needs youContinue reading

Who’s Being Excluded? A Body Image Conversation.

This post was written by Anna Rabasco, an intern at Maine Family Planning and a senior at Colby College. Anna is passionate about reproductive rights, watching documentaries, and eating cheese.

feet in sneaks

The topic of body image is all over the blogosphere and magazines, and last month, Colby College joined the conversation. At the recent Body Image Narrative event, students from Colby submitted stories about their personal experiences with body image. The event provided a look into how body image is being talked about, albeit within the context of a small liberal arts college. Many of the stories involved messages of struggle and hope. Here is a quote from one of the narratives:

The calories needed to be burned. The food needed to stay away. The voice needed to be happy. This cycle went on for a few months….There is a lot left that I need to work through, a lot of healing that still needs to be done, but I am strong now.

Many of the narratives contained similar themes that come up in this quote – a struggle with disordered eating and the journey to overcoming that struggle. While these narratives were powerful and the response from the audience was overwhelmingly positive, there were certain audience members who expressed their disappointment with the lack of diversity in the stories. Out of twelve narratives read, only one was from a male viewpoint. Most of the stories had white, cisgender, able-bodied authors, and focused on eating disorders, rather than positive stories of body image.

So why did this event attract the stories that it did? Why did certain groups of people feel comfortable sharing, while others didn’t?  Continue reading

May We Suggest a New Year’s Revolution?

It’s January, which means it’s New Year’s Resolution season. Maybe you resolved to take good care of your health, to give back to your community, or to save more money.  Because taking care of ourselves can be a political act (as Audre Lorde reminded us), might we suggest you make a New Year’s Revolution, instead?

Whether or not your resolution feels revolutionary, there’s something nice about a new year and a fresh start– and it’s especially satisfying to know you’ve done something kind for yourself (we can help!). Continue reading