Team Members: Lauren Gianni, Miranda Shafer, Kelly Sandoval
History & Background
Birth control and abortion have always been heavily debated, but as of recently, conservatives are fervently carrying out plans to place mass restrictions on women’s access to birth control and abortion procedures. More than fifty years has passed since the FDA approved the sale of the birth control pill, giving women the right to choose and control when to get pregnant. After several years of struggling for these rights, women’s access to birth control and abortion is under fire. Limitations on government funding for women’s health services, such as Planned Parenthood, are being heavily scrutinized, mainly due to the fact that these clinics provide abortion services to women. Since 2011, state legislators have passed over 100 anti-abortion provisions. More than seven states completely defunded or attempted to defund Planned Parenthood.
It is no coincidence that this long-standing and controversial debate is being fought during an election year. Many conservatives have tried to re-frame the debate, stating that the strong reaction is simply in opposition to President Obama’s ‘Health Care Bill’, which would require all employers to cover employees’ contraception as part of the employer’s health insurance benefits. Religious institutions have steadfastly fought the bill in that it would force them to pay for services, such as birth control and abortion, that they did not agree on. The bill was later amended to exempt churches and other “houses of worship”. Also, a proposed new law in Arizona would give employers the power to request that women being prescribed birth control pills provide proof that they’re using it for non-sexual reasons. The attack on women has just begun and it is up to women to maintain their rights, whose importance is constantly demeaned and subjugated by men.
Inspiration & Objectives
There are many maddening aspects of the debate, one of them is that politicians have seized upon a woman’s right to choose when to become pregnant and have treated it like “political football” (quote by Sandra Fluke, a third-year student at Georgetown Law School). Also, the conservative party have tried to exclude women from much of the debate about birth control. When the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform assembled a panel to discuss the birth control mandate in President Obama’s ‘Affordable Care Act’, the committee had no women on the panel, and Sandra Fluke was blocked from testifying. Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, of New York, asked: “Where are the women? It’s outrageous that the Republicans would not allow a single individual representing the tens of millions of women who want and need insurance coverage for basic preventive health care services, including family planning.”
The Men’s Health Experts project is in retaliation to the heavily probed debate on women’s health care. Many advancements have been made in recent years in order to give women the right to decide when to have a child – and, many would argue that this has affected the economy in positive ways, as well as reduce areas of crime. It was a struggle for women to gain these rights, particularly in regards to the right to choose whether to have an abortion. The debate has been extensively argued by both side of the equation, “Pro-Life” vs. “Pro-Choice”. Since most of the people wanting to place restrictions on women’s access to birth control and abortion have been men, the Men’s Health Experts project will be a group of women consciously making decisions on men’s health care issues: a nun, a scientist/ doctor, and a businesswoman. The Men’s Health Experts project is somewhat of a parody based off of the absurd arguments placed by these “Pro-Life” proponents, as well as in regards to men thinking they have the right to choose what is best for women, considering they are not women and ultimately do not need to make the same choices. In 2012, the “Pro-Life” movement has escalated into a “Pro-Sperm” movement – hence, the name of our campaign.
News & Current Events
Since the attack on women’s health care began, several politicians have used humor to highlight the illogical statements of the conservative views on the topic. Yasmin Neal, a democrat from the Georgia House of Representatives, proposed a bill that would regulate and limit male vasectomies. Her bill is a response to HB 954, a bill sponsored by Republican Doug McKillips that seeks to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Many others have followed suit:
Virginia State Senator Janet Howell introduced legislation that would require men to receive a rectal exam and a cardiac stress test before obtaining a prescription for erectile dysfunction medication.
Oklahoma Senator Constance Johnson introduced the “Every Sperm Is Sacred” amendment in response to “fetal personhood laws.” The amendment, which was eventually withdrawn, would have added language stating, “any action in which a man ejaculates or otherwise deposits semen anywhere but in a woman’s vagina shall be interpreted and construed as an action against an unborn child.”
Execution & Design
In the article, “If Men Could Menstruate,” Gloria Steinem wrote: “Logic has nothing to do with oppression.” The Men’s Health Experts project uses humour to capture the illogical arguments made by men and the proponents of the Pro-Life movement. Our “Pro-Sperm” campaign is a series of projects in order to make the other side of the argument heard, while highlighting the absurdities of the debate. We plan to host a Men’s Health Experts Panel, in which we will engage with the public to promote bizarre and alternative birth control methods for men. We will also showcase a radical ad campaign deeming women, the more responsible sex, the lead decision makers on men’s health. We plan to incorporate an Arduino/ Processing project, as well as a MANstration March event.
1. MANstruation March
As a means of furthering gender role reversals, we will use this intervention to re-imagine how contraception would be viewed if the men were the ones forced to take responsibility for resulting pregnancy. We will assemble a flash mob of ‘pregnant men’ who will roam the streets of New York, assembling in Union Square. The men will have pregnant bellies, they will walk in the strained manner of a woman in the late stages of pregnancy and wear shirts that exhibit reasons men generally give women for forgoing protection “she said she was too big,” “she’s allergic to latex,” “if I trust her we don’t need protection.” Twitter will be the main forum for organizing and the men’s shirts will have the hashtag (#MANstruation) on the back.
Saturday, April 14th, 11:00am – 1:00pm
Location: Union Square
2. Bizarre Forms of Birth Control for Men
3. Flyers/ Twitter/ Tumblr Account
Readings & Inspiration
We gathered a great deal of inspiration from class readings. In particular, we were inspired by the tactical implementation of humor in performance art as a way to question, challenge and re-think sociopolitical norms introduced by Guillermo Gomez-Pena in his work “In Defense of Performance.” He explains the role of humor for the performance artist:
“if we utilize humor, we are not seeking laughter like our comedian cousins. We are more interested in provoking the ambivalance of melancholic giggling or painful smiles, though an occasional outburst of laughter is always welcomed (22).”
Gomez-Pena’s goes on to explain that our bodies are occupied territories and that the goal of the performance artist is to decolonize our bodies and to make these ‘decolonizing mechanisms’ apparent to the audience. He explains the strategy of impersonating the oppressors as a means of study and a sort of “reverse anthropology (25).” There is clearly an element of reverse anthropology in our Men’s Health Experts Panel.
Gomez-Pena even taps into the threatening nature of performance art in the eyes of conservative, US politicians stating:
“when a politician attacks performance art, it is because they get irritated when they see their own parochial and intolerant image reflected upside-down in the mirror of art (36).”
We hope our own mirroring will raise awareness of the legislative attacks on women by conservative legislators.
Another influence on our work was Augusto Boal’s “Poetics of the Oppressed.” In this piece, he reflects on his time teaching in Peru and his “Theater of the Oppressed” methodology, as derived from Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed. He explains that through poetics, the spectator is the protagonist and man moves from object to subject (126). This interactive theater is another means of de-colonizing the body, because on the stage of ‘ public consensus’ one does not passively respond to theater, they are creating it and creating personal and societal meaning from it. This process teaches people to question and challenge the personal and systemic oppression they encounter, so that “they cannot go on being the passive victims of those images” (155). While our work does not require the public to directly participate in the creation of the images, it will require their internal participation to create meaningful connections between our performance and the current structural oppression towards which we are alluding. Further, in light with Boal’s poetics, we hope that our interventions will provide a lens through which spectators will begin to question and participate in challenging oppressive structures they confront, particularly as it relates to reproductive rights.
Lastly, we were motivated by the work and writings of Krzysztof Wodiczko. Although, appearing as surprise attacks,Wodiczko’s large-scale projections involve a great deal of planning and research. His installations strategically occupy a central public space, revealing the voices and images of marginalized people within that community, and use that public display as a catalyst for dialogue for pertinent and evaded social issues. We were taken with how site-specific his work is, its ability to move beyond the gallery space and expose relevant issues. We were also intrigued by the type of processing technology he has utilized in his 80+ projections worldwide. We aspire to adapt his tactics and technology in our sound collection and arduino project.