How Far We Have Not Come: Postfeminism and Women’s Healthcare

by Maria Danna

In contemporary American society, postfeminist ideology has us believing that women have finally achieved equality and are on equal footing with our American male counterparts. In fact, there is no need for any more social progress because we have succeeded, the glass ceiling has been shattered (Gill)! Not only is this a myth, but postfeminist discourse about our supposed equality is being both reinforced and opposed in the mainstream media; there is no debate more current and prominent in our society than the battle over women’s healthcare.

Through memes, blogs, and various other social media and news outlets, many are poking holes in the postfeminist rhetoric of female equality. With a nod to the fact that there is a significant gap between representation and reality, there is a contemporary backlash of feminists who say that we cannot be equal until we are granted the right to do what we want with our bodies (Douglas). Yes, women have access to healthcare, but whether or not that is affordable or within reach is highly debated. But some are still asking: what is everyone complaining about it? And how is media influencing our response to these policies being put into place?

How we express solidarity is by rebelling against the enlightened sexism that runs rampant both in the government and the political sector as a whole (Douglas). Conservative white men who hold high government positions are threatened by the rise of female representation, and are resurrecting sexist and dangerous ideas about what women should and should not do with their bodies (Douglas). Luckily, there are now women in positions of power – Wendy Davis, a Texas state senator, just recently made waves for filibustering an abortion bill for 11 hours without sitting, drinking, eating, or using the restroom while thousands of supporters cheered her on. But there are just as many people supporting the agenda of enlightened sexism, who argue that healthcare SHOULD be more expensive because our internal sex organs, breasts, and reproductive capabilities require more medical care.

Of course, “affordable” is a relative term when it comes to healthcare – especially when not every American woman has health insurance, and even when they do the premiums are the highest among women who are in prime child-bearing years. Healthcare options greatly vary from state to state, not to mention that conservative legislators are trying their very hardest to eliminate options of birth control, while simultaneously restricting abortion policies. In fact, the Republican GOP is SO concerned about reproductive rights that the government shut down due to their protests. Jezebel’s article about the Who is Really to Blame for the Looming Government Shutdown? Sluts. satirically delves into the irony of a male-dominated government trying to dictate what women can do with their bodies. Clearly, the white, male dominated hegemonic government feels uncomfortable with losing any kind of power or dominance over the women and people of color – they are focused on maintaining her power by policing what women can do with their bodies (Lull).

There is such a huge debate about whether or not birth control should be covered with no copay through insurance. As a pharmacy technician, I find conservative’s fear of funding birth control incredibly ironic considering that insurance typically has no issues or covering Androgel (a testosterone supplement), or Viagra. Both medications cost astronomically more than a generic birth control pill, and with an influx of men who are opting to have more sex and therefore increasing their virility, it’s very ironic that they won’t fund the birth control to counteract their increase in sexual activity.

Not only does postfeminism assert that structural inequalities are a thing of the past, it neglects to mention that many of the strides made by women, were only made by white women. The disparities between women of color and white women in reference to absence of proper healthcare is absolutely staggering. Women of color lack representation in politics, and they are also disadvantaged in terms of income and education in order to make better informed choices. There can’t be safer and healthier choices without actual options, and dissension and disapproval of these lack of options are made known in the compilation of statistics comparing and contrasting the rates of abortion, unplanned birth, and unintended pregnancy rates between white, black, and hispanic women.

If equality is achieved, where are the women leaders who are speaking up for the other half of the American population?  It is mostly old, conservative, white men who represent a country that is comprised of so many different racial and ethnic groups. How is it that in this era of postfeminist equality, white men are STILL policing women’s bodies while slut-shaming us in the process? Women, especially women of color, should have equal representation in policy making in order to defend our rights. Those women who have infiltrated the male-dominated government are subjected to criticism that is outside of the norm, instead of criticizing policies or their agenda, the criticism relies on their bodies. Central to postfeminist media culture, it is all about the ideas of femininity as a bodily property and the natural sexual difference between men and women (Gill). Female politicians are cut down and degraded if they do not embody these norms of femininity.

Mainstream media outlets are allowing us to examine these gendered inequalities in a way that is unprecedented. The backlash via blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and the like whenever a fiery political statement is made regarding women and their reproductive rights is a powerful and significant movement. Whenever a belligerent, radicalized statement escapes a politician’s mouth, there is a meme that goes viral in mere minutes. We are beginning to call into question these sanctions on the bodies of women, and media outlets are fueling and encouraging us to ask ourselves the big questions about who holds the power, and how we aren’t as equal as we thought we were after all.

Works Cited

CNN. “Wendy Davis attempted filibuster in Texas”. YouTube. 23 June 2013. Web. 18 October 2013

Douglas, Susan J. Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism’s Work is Done. New York: Times Books, 2010. Print.

Gill, Rosalind. “Postfeminist Media Culture: Elements of a Sensibility.” European Journal of Cultural Studies 10.2 (2007): 147-66. Print.

Guttmacher. “Infographics: Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Reproductive Health Outcomes.” Guttmacher. Web. 18 October 2013.

Hartmann, Margaret. “John Boehner’s Woman Problem Makes for Delightful Meme.” Jezebel. 2 March 2011. Web. 18 October 2013.

Lull James. “Hegemony.” Media, Communication, Culture: A Global Approach.” New York and Chichester, UK: Columbia University Press, 1995. Print.

Ryan, Erin G. “Who’s Really to Blame for the Looming Government Shutdown? Sluts.” Jezebel30 September 2013. Web. 18 October 2013.

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2 comments

  1. m0llydelaney · · Reply

    Honestly, I do not know much about the government or health care, so I really enjoyed reading your critique. The idea that is perpetuated by the media that women have “made it” and “can have it all” is definitely not a representation of our society. Women are vastly underrepresented in positions of power, especially government, which is troublesome considering women make up about half of our nation’s population. The result (which you pointed out) is the silencing of women’s interests. I do agree that women are starting to gain more political power and support. Wendy Davis is a great example as well as women’s recent role in ending the government shut down (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/16/shutdown-women_n_4110268.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000010). I think you are right in connecting internet trends to new social trends. Our generation is not as reliant on giant news corporations as older generations were. Since we can use the internet, we can be more critical and find alternative news. In the mass media, the news corporations are actually conglomerations and there are little to no alternative opinions produced with the same power. The internet is a level playing field. People are turning to the internet for information and using the internet to make social change (the group Anonymous is a good example of this). I think people are starting to become more aware of the “enlightened sexism” that lies beneath the surface of the mass media and political discourse. With the rise in the internet as a political tool, I wonder when it will gain more legitimacy. I think there is still skepticism of people who use the internet to challenge social practices because they aren’t making any “real” change (like voting, staging protest, or doing some other physical action). Maybe once our generation starts taking office the internet will be utilized more as a legitimate forum for political discourse where politicians take the demands of the public seriously.

  2. Your article stood out to me the most based solely on the title. This problem is so prominent in recent years, especially due to the passing of the Affordable Health Care Act. Health care should mean ALL health care inclusively, with women’s reproductive health being a part of that equation. Yet so many people are arguing to exclude it from the health care laws for multiple reasons. I recently read this article (http://www.christianpost.com/news/christians-question-hobby-lobbys-defense-biblical-stance-against-obamacare-lawsuit-87935/) about a business called Hobby Lobby based out of Oklahoma. They recently won a lawsuit against the Obama administration because they claimed that his mandate to include contraception in health care violated their Christian beliefs. The store is supposedly operated on a Christian basis and therefore they refuse to include contraceptive health care to employees. There are more and more companies following suit, claiming that their religious beliefs go against providing these types of things for employees. My question is, are you required to be strictly Christian to work there? Is that discriminatory? Even if you are religious, how does birth control and other forms of contraceptives go against your beliefs? I found it very interesting that you mentioned Viagra and testosterone being covered. How ironic! Great topic and great article. It really shows how far we haven’t come.

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