Susan Weidman Schneider on the processes of making change.
Gloria Steinem, who just celebrated her 80th birthday, wrote to congratulate Lilith a few years ago on one of our own landmark anniversaries. She praised the magazine for doing its groundbreaking work “with anger and delight.”
“Lilith creates a voice where there was silence; it saves what is good within the patriarchy while transforming what is destructive; it offers scholarship for argument and women’s personal voices for enlightenment; and it does all of this with anger and delight, good writing and humor,” she wrote.
At the time, I was charmed by the fact that anger was on Gloria Steinem’s approval list, and charmed also that in Lilith it was paired with wit. Somehow that took the curse off anger. I’ve always held fast to the idea that the ways in which we work for change matter. And I’ve never believed anger works as a teaching tool. As reviewers have pointed out, the light tone of the new romantic comedy “Obvious Child,” with its straightforward portrayal of an unmarried woman’s uncomplicated abortion, can do more for abortion rights than outraged op-eds. Could be.
But now, in the wake of recent news out of the U.S. Supreme Court, I’m ready for just plain anger. The righteous kind. And we don’t even have to dress it in wit.
It’s not often that an issue arises where you can feel equal outrage as a woman and as a Jew. June’s U.S. Supreme Court decision that some corporations have the right to deny employees contraceptive coverage under their health insurance plans means that one religious group—Christians who believe that contraception methods equal abortion—has the right to foist its beliefs on the bodies—on the health—of a whole nation of women. It’s enraging.
Here is the scathing dissent written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
“Would the exemption…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions ( Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]…Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision.”
Our collective response to this decision to have corporations control women’s bodies has got to be anger, staying true to our own feelings and not masking them.
As I look through Lilith’s archives at our coverage of abortion rights, contraception, and laws affecting our bodies (and hence our minds) I notice a change of tone through the years. First it was diagnostic and hortatory: Here’s what’s wrong, and here’s how you should fix it. Righteous anger was a staple, and writers hoped it would help move the needle, help push for positive change and more rights for women.
Then, anger began to be replaced by nuance. In almost every Lilith article or blog post now, we as editors encourage writers and thinkers to probe how deeply they can go in exploring all sides of a story. We want readers to understand motivation, to ask the many what-ifs. In fact, we pride ourselves on nuance.
But in the case of the recent news, why delve into the motives of the justices who decided that it was OK to deny an entire class of people—women—the insurance coverage for drugs or devices they need? The five male justices seem to have accepted as truth the misunderstanding of the plaintiff, the Hobby Lobby crafts corporation. They were looking to limit contraception access based on a religious belief that abortion is wrong, and that the medicines and devices used for contraception actually cause abortions—a misunderstanding of how contraceptive drugs and IUDs work in the first place. (Disappointingly, some right-wing Jewish religious organizations filed an amicus brief in favor of denying coverage.)
Lilith has written from time to time about the schism between Christian and Jewish dogma on matters of reproduction. But I can’t think of a case where that difference is highlighted quite so starkly. The damage to women is obvious. The damage to Jews includes the setting of a bad precedent —that the religious beliefs of one set of Americans has the power to affect the way others practice their religion.
Women living—and voting—in the United States are horrified, are at risk, and are angry at the decision made by five men. It’s a decision that will likely bring bad news and bad consequences to women, who now have fewer rights than corporations do. The horror —and the accompanying anger —are justified.
At one of the gatherings marking Gloria Steinem’s birthday, Letty Cottin Pogrebin remarked that “Well-behaved women won’t change the world.” I don’t expect that by getting mad we’ll get even—whatever that would mean in a world where men do not need contraceptives. But we can get results. Especially at the polls, and especially in our local communities. When women’s needs are denied en masse, righteous anger can be a tool to shape election outcomes and the court cases to come.