since my brainpower is completely taken up with working on these class-papers, I figure I should repurpose at least a few of them for blogging; at least the ones from my Social Inequality class, since they’re relevant to my blogging in general. So, here’s the first one.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Planned Parenthood in the Media: Dividing Gender and Class issues
The Media have become one of the biggest influences on how we perceive and interpret the world. In terms of the Dimensions of Oppression discussed by Patricia Hill Collins (2011, pp. 763-768), it has become an important social institution, as well as a producer and distributor of the symbols that create the Symbolic Dimension of Oppression. This is true both in its fiction as in its non-fiction: in his essay “Media Magic: Making Class Invisible”, Gregory Mantsios describes the ways in which the Poor and the causes of their poverty are disappeared and distorted in the Media in their news programs. These are narratives that create strong symbols and dichotomies between “them”, the poor and “us” the wealthy.
Most of the time, the poor don’t show up in the news-media at all, even if the issue under discussion affects them or relates to them in some way., because the story is written from an “us” perspective, and the “us” are middle-class and wealthy people. And if the poor are mentioned in the media at all, they’re usually either blamed for their condition, considered undeserving of help, or considered a problem to “us”.
Currently, the importance of the news media as a symbol-making institution is best represented by the way the issues surrounding a bill that would defund Planned Parenthood are being presented in the news, and how that presentation shapes any discussion and defense of Planned Parenthood is being held in society. Planned Parenthood is a non-profit organization that provides various services to women, and it discounts them or even provides them for free for low-income women. It also provides some services to men (cancer screening and STD treatment and diagnosis, for example), which are similarly discounted for poor men. On February 11th, the US House of Representatives voted in favor of banning all federal funding for the organization. The media and politicians have been discussing this event in one of two ways, either focusing on abortion and women’s sexuality, or on fiscal responsibility that requires cutting the budget. An excellent example of that framing is evident in Judson Berger’s article from February 5th, in which he writes “Republicans are trying to juggle the abortion issue as they wage a separate, and more high-profile, battle in Congress over spending.” Another article on CNN.com mentions that proponents of the ban are saying that current restrictions on abortion funding aren’t enough because “applying the government’s money to other procedures leaves more of the group’s own cash on hand to allocate to abortion-related services”. The same article says that the cuts are “part of a continuing resolution that included dramatic spending cuts across a range of programs” (Political Ticker, 2011). In other words, the media uses the symbols of an innocent, righteous, and victimized “us” (the middle class, the men, the “morally responsible” women) who are being asked to shoulder an ethical and financial burden on behalf of a “them” (the non-taxpaying poor, sexually irresponsible women) that is demanding an unethical service to be provided from “our” taxpayer money, even though they brought the problem on themselves (see Mantsios’ “The Poor Have Only Themselves To Blame” narrative, p. 95) and who are undeserving of help because of their immoral behavior both in terms of what led to their situation and the service they demand (Mantsios’ “The Poor Are Undeserving”, p. 94). The best example of this particular line of argument could in fact be seen when Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) debated the defunding of Planned Parenthood, as broadcast on C-SPAN and distributed on the internet via YouTube and MediaMatters: his argument for defunding Planned Parenthood was that “they” were “invested in promiscuity” and that “we” needed to “stand on principle” and not fund them. The narratives are those Mantsios describes as being used against the poor, but in this case they are strengthened, in terms of the othering they do, because they’re used for not one but two of the opressive categories identified by Collins: class and gender. The othered aren’t just undeserving and guilty poor, they are undeserving and guilty poor women, making the “them” an even smaller, even more marginalized, and even more easily ignorable group less likely to be in any way connected to “us” and “our” problems and needs.
The fact that Planned Parenthood is a health-care provider for the poor for such things as cancer screening, UTI treatments, and even diabetes testing is not mentioned in either article. Neither is the fact that the tax-burden is minimal, and that tax-payers themselves often either use their services themselves, or have within their communities people who do. The effects on the health of those people from various backgrounds who might now lose access are ignored entirely by the Media coverage of the discussion. No mentions are made of what will happen to people from a wide section of the population, including plenty of people belonging to the “us” category (middle-class students, married women with children, men who go for cancer testing) if clinics have to close, or if they won’t be able to provide their services at reduced cost or for free any longer. These realities have been excised from Media discussion in favor of the negative, dichotomous symbolism.
Understanding the narratives Mantsios describes can help see past the narratives trying to frame people who use Planned Parenthood as “the other”. But that alone is not enough, because Mantsios essay focuses only one one dimension of oppression, i.e. class, while the issues surrounding a defunding of Planned Parenthood involves both class and gender oppression.
Patricia Hill Collins’ essay “Toward a New Vision: Race, Class, and Gender as Categories of Analysis” can help broaden the perspective and make it possible to understand the issues surrounding Planned Parenthood not in terms of divisive “othering” and entrenched interests, but rather as an issue that spans the different dimensions of oppression. This may enable people to look at the services Planned Parenthood provides as being beneficial to people in all sorts of different groups, groups that maybe wouldn’t otherwise be able to see each others as allies in the provision and maintenance of health-care access. Her suggestion of how to find new ways to conceptualize race, class, and gender away from dichotomous either/or categories that classify someone as either oppressed or oppressor(2011, p. 762) can help feminists fighting for women’s reproductive rights see poor men and conservative charities for the poor not as oppressors withing the Patriarchy, and conversely can help organizations trying to help the poor see middle-class feminists not as oppressors within the class-structure. Similarly, her description of how to transcend the barriers that were erected in identity-politics by splitting people into distinct categories by race, gender, and class and form alliances on common causes(2011, pp. 770-771) provides useful advice on how to overcome social and cultural differences of opinion on issues that divide people, in order to make it possible for all of them to work together on issues that they share in common. Her example of a inner-city school in which people from all sorts of different spheres came together with the common goal of educating Black children can very well be transferred to the discussion about Planned Parenthood. The same goes for her suggestions for how to build empathy between people who are affected differently by the different oppressive structures of society. Instead of focusing on Planned Parenthood as a place where “the other” (“immoral women”, “non-taxpaying poor”) receive services, such discussions would be able to focus on the very broad range of services provided, as well as the very broad range of people using them: affordable cancer screenings for men and women, birth-control for poor families who can’t afford any more children, regular health-checkups for students and poor women and men, etc.
Being able to visualize such common-ground issues affecting a broad intersection of people could make it possible for more people to feel invested in the organization and look past the divisive Media narrative. It could enable them to cooperate with others in the fight against the ban. Building empathy between women who feel their reproductive choices attacked, and the poor who have their access to basic health-services limited, can also foster discussion about the real dimensions of whom Planned Parenthood is helping, and in what ways. And it can diminish the effect of the two-pronged attack on Planned Parenthood, on the one hand from the moralistic stance on women (targeted at conservative groups and men), and on the other from the fiscal stance against poor people (targeted at middle class and wealthy people). Only if we learn to empathize with the experiences of people in group to which we do not belong ourselves, understand that many people fall within both categories, and understand that while everyone is affected by issues of gender and class (as well as race) differently, with different aspect being visible and salient to them to different degrees (Hill Collins, 2011, p.763), no one is unaffected entirely, can we begin to look pas the single-focus divisive Media narratives and instead look on the actual range of effects of defunding Planned Parenthood. Effects that aren’t shown in the narratives provided by the Media, which prefers to ignore the poor altogether and prefers to show those who use Planned Parenthood’s services specifically and solely as women seeking abortion, usually portraying it as a moral failing.
Berger, J. (2011, Feb 5th). Abortion Debate Returns to Capitol Hill as Lawmakers Weigh New Restrictions. FoxNews.com. Retrieved from http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/02/05/abortion-debate-returns-capitol-hill-proposed-restrictions-advance/
Hill Collins, P. (2011) Towards a New Vision: Race, Class, and Gender as Categories of Analysis and Connection. In T. Ore (ed.), The Social Construction of Difference & Inequality(5th ed.) (pp. 760-774). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill
King, Steve (2011). MediaMattersAction YouTube-Channel. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vex77n65nJ0
Mantsios, G. (2011) Media Magic: Making Class Invisible. In T. Ore (ed.), The Social Construction of Difference & Inequality(5th ed.) (pp. 93-101). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill
Political Ticker (2011, Feb. 28th). Boehner in ‘war’ against Planned Parenthood. CNN Politics. Retrieved from http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2011/02/28/boehner-in-war-against-planned-parenthood/