Obama the Patriarch

I usually stay away from commenting on Obama’s presidency because, to be honest, I was just a kid during all the previous presidencies I’ve lived through and really have no comparison to make.

However, a recent statement by Obama has caused me to come out of my apolitical cave and rage. After the FDA made a recommendation that Plan B One-Step, a form of emergency birth control that is available over the counter to anyone over 17, be available to girls under 17 without a prescription as well, Kathleen Sebelius, Obama’s secretary of health and human services, overruled the FDA’s recommendation. This is disappointing enough as is, but then Obama came out in support of her and said the following:

“I will say this, as the father of two daughters: I think it is important for us to make sure that we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine….And as I understand it, the reason Kathleen made this decision was she could not be confident that a 10-year-old or an 11-year-old going into a drugstore should be able — alongside bubble gum or batteries — be able to buy a medication that potentially, if not used properly, could end up having an adverse effect.  And I think most parents would probably feel the same way.”

As usual when I write about women’s issues, I literally don’t even know where to start with this. First, and perhaps most obviously, I don’t understand why we’re having all this conversation about 10- and 11-year-olds. The change would have applied to all girls under 17, and the majority of teenage girls who might need to buy Plan B are not 10 and 11. Try 15 and 16. If Obama and Sebelius are that concerned about 10- and 11-year-olds specifically, they could’ve asked the FDA to recommend allowing only girls 12 and over to get Plan B without a prescription.

Second, and also very tellingly, if the FDA has deemed Plan B safe for over-the-counter use, who are Sebelius and Obama to assume they know better? Sebelius has a BA in political science and an master’s in public administration; Obama has a BA in political science and a law degree. Unlike many cynics, I don’t necessarily doubt that these two have the knowledge and ability to perform their respective jobs, but I would not trust them over the doctors and researchers who staff the FDA when it comes to medical issues.

Third, Obama immediately reveals what this is really about when he says, “as the father of two daughters…” Understandably, Obama would be worried for his two daughters if they were ever in a position to need Plan B. However, for all of the battling that Obama has had to do with the Far Right of this country, he clearly doesn’t seem to realize that many girls don’t have daddies like Obama who would care for them, be able to afford doctors’ appointments, support their right to get an abortion, and guide them through a decision. For many girls, it would be a choice between obtaining Plan B on their own or being shamed, abused, disowned, and/or forced to carry a baby to term.

Finally, I’m disturbed by the ageist and patriarchal notion that young women are somehow incapable of making their own decisions about sexual health. Yes, children need and should have access to guidance from adults. In a perfect world, every girl would be able to go to her parents for help with something like this. But that’s not the world we live in, and we must make do accordingly. Not only has the FDA already determined that Plan B is safe, but, unlike many medications that are available over the counter to children, you can’t overdose on it or otherwise fuck it up–when you buy it, you only get one.

Furthermore, there are other ways to make sure young teens know what they’re doing when it comes to emergency birth control. For instance, mandate pharmacists to provide an option for girls to privately ask them questions about how to use Plan B. Pharmacists know a lot. Why not use them as a resource?

Much has been made of Obama’s failure (or lack thereof) to support women’s rights, and it’s a debate I don’t normally follow because one can really spin it either way. On this issue, however, I would argue that Obama has definitively failed to support women and girls. Instead, he has promoted the antiquated notion that beliefs trump science when it comes to reproductive rights.

Bullying as a Social Regulator

If only it worked this way.

I came across a post by Tea Party Nation blogger Dr. Rich Swier called “Bullying, Peer Pressure and Gulf Coast Gives.” (You need a TPN account to see it, unfortunately.) I won’t describe the way in which the contents of my stomach forcibly exited my body upon my reading this, and I will also ignore the homophobia in this article because it’s obvious and there’s no need to comment on it. Rather, I’m going to simply explore an interesting idea that Swier brings up.

In this article, Swier is opposing Gulf Coast Gives, a charity foundation that, among many other things, advocates against LGBT-related bullying. He opposes this foundation because he disagrees with its stance on this issue:

This is not bullying. It is peer pressure and is healthy. There are many bad behaviors such as smoking, under age drinking and drug abuse that are behaviors that cannot be condoned. Homosexuality falls into this category. Homosexuality is simply bad behavior that youth see as such and rightly pressure their peers to stop it…

I agree with Gulf Coast Gives that “LGBT youth are up to five times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight counterparts”. Homosexuality, like drugs, harms young people if they experement with it. That is the greatest tragedy.

Again, I’m going to just ignore the self-evident homophobia and dissect Swier’s concept of bullying as some sort of social regulator. He reframes bullying as “peer pressure” and claims that it prevents young people from engaging in unsafe behaviors, in this case, homosexuality.

Leaving aside for now the fact that, unlike the other behaviors listed here, homosexuality is not a choice, I am left to wonder if Swier somehow managed to completely miss the reasoning behind all the anti-drugs and alcohol campaigns that public school kids are subjected to these days. Peer pressure isn’t typically a force that promotes healthy behavior. If it were, we wouldn’t need all these “just say no” lessons to teach kids how to resist it.

It seems that bullying and peer pressure serve more to encourage “normalcy” than anything else. Luckily for Swier’s argument, heterosexuality happens to be normative. But so are underage drinking and, in some circles, smoking and drug use. People don’t get bullied for doing things that are unsafe; they get bullied for doing things that are “weird.” Contrary to Swier’s argument, kids and teens don’t see homosexuality as “bad behavior.” They see it as weird.

Not only do kids not bully each other for doing things that are actually unsafe, but they frequently bully each other for doing things that most adults would see as positive. I’m sure that even social conservatives would agree with me that reading books is good for kids. Yet every avid reader I know, myself included, was made fun of for it in grade school. To quote the great Bill O’Reilly, you can’t explain that.

Of course, norms change. Homosexuality is becoming increasingly accepted in American society, so it’s only a matter of time before that acceptance starts trickling down to kids and teens and Swier’s argument starts falling apart, like all Tea Party arguments inevitably do.

Kids These Days

I am going to do something I rarely do–label something with an “ism.”

A post on CNN’s health blog, The Chart, points out that oral sex can increase cancer risk–valuable information, to be sure. But for some unknown reason, the blog frames the information like this:

Here’s a crucial message for teens: Oral sex carries many of the same risks as vaginal sex, including human papilloma virus, or HPV. And HPV may now be overtaking tobacco as the leading cause of oral cancers in America in people under age 50.

“Adolescents don’t think oral sex is something to worry about,” said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. “They view it as a way to have intimacy without having ‘sex.'”

Actually, the author of this blog and the professor quoted in it might be surprised to know that adults also occasionally engage in oral sex, so this might be a “crucial message” for them as well as for teens. In fact, sometimes these adults even view it as a way to have intimacy without having ‘sex’!

But of course, there’s no need to miss another valuable opportunity to insert a “kids these days” reference into a completely unrelated topic. Which is, yes, ageism.

On another note, since when does a random doctor or professor get to unilaterally define “sex”? Just because oral sex undoubtedly carries risks doesn’t make it equivalent to, say, vaginal or anal sex. Different people ascribe different significance (or lack thereof) to different sexual behaviors. To many people, oral sex is not as “serious” or meaningful as penetrative sex. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be aware of its risks, but it does mean that no higher authority can or should try to define “sex” for everybody.