Many people were perplexed by last week’s photo of the room full of white men deciding the fate of women’s healthcare. A later photo of the same session with two female members of the Freedom Caucus standing in the background was even more disturbing. Women make up more than half the population yet their presence in this photo are as members of the token minority. A picture says a thousand words. The second photo was posted by the White House’s social media team as an attempt to ‘cover all their bases’.
A true ally or advocate doesn’t make decisions on behalf of others. An advocate asks “How can I serve you?”. Instead, the question from this administration seems to be, “How can I control you?”. Americans don’t need to be reminded of how little control we have. We already know.
While the eugenics program was technically elimiated in the late 1970’s, it is still relevant today. Under the guise of improving the genetics of the human race, it paved the way for racist practices and policies in the United States long before the rise of Nazi Germany. Programs like the Negro Project of 1939 (proposed by Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood), claimed to empower minority families by offering birth control and promoting the sterilization of minority women. Scholars like W.E.B. DuBois promoted the Negro Project while simultaneuously scolding black citizens for being less responsible or intelligent as white citizens. Programs like this made puppets of some of the most prominent and powerful black voices.
The development and continuation of “men’s health” and “women’s health” as mutually explusive healthcare categories perpetuates gender inequality. It also allows for the disregard of an intersectional approach that considers both gender and race. It perpetuates a false dichotomy that doesn’t accurately reflect the fact that birth control, maternity care, abortion, and other “women’s health” issues are largely racial in origin and nature. All women should care about this but let’s not be mistaken; any threat to women’s healthcare will disproportionately affect low-income and minority women.
When opression is detected and made visible, it changes form. While black families were encouraged to use long-acting contraceptives and offered sterilization (an expensive and invasive process) at no cost, white women were offered birth control pills which ultimately became a symbol of freedom and independence. Once it was deemed racist and unfit to sterilize minority women, the role of contraception changed. Contraception methods, which were perfected on black bodies, quickly had the ability to enable the entire American population. What was once a way to control minority populations became a tool for minority populations and women to empower themselves. Today, contraceptives can still be expensive. Women may have to choose between buying contraceptives and buying groceries. Access to affordable healthcare is essential for securing upward mobility for oppressed populations. It removes the need for minority Americans to ask permission to exercise control over their own lives. This control largely lies in the hands of white male politicians and voters. That’s why it makes aging middle America so angry. It makes them less relevant in our diversifying culture and society meaning that they’re equally relevant. It’s no wonder that our law makers aren’t asking our female and minority citizens what they actually want.
Just because the American people have already voted for their elected officials does not mean that they no longer have to listen. As a woman of color, I marvel at the strength of minority people yet I am nagged by the crippling fear (and possibility) that my words and trials will amount to nothing tangible because current structures of power are too strong for me to shake. That being said, having fear is normal. It’s the desire for progress and reform that must be relentless. It must be stronger than the doubt.
If this administration continues to make decisions that limit the freedom of women and minorities, they will continue to make enemies of themselves. They will further divide the country into us vs them. The fact that the administration didn’t think to invite women or minorities into the conversations speaks volumes about how much they care about them. The photo of the two women standing behind dozens of men reflect the administration’s inability to be proactive when it comes to women’s issues.
It’s time that this administration care about American women and minorities as much as they care about what they do with their wombs.