Kelly, Lauren and I created The Men’s Health Experts, that consisted of a nun, a scientist, and a politician. We formed our collective to highlight the absurd attacks on women by right-wing politicians. Why a nun, a politician and a scientist? Just as the February 16th House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform panel assembled to discuss the birth control mandate in President Obama’s ‘Affordable Care Act, consisted almost entirely of men; our panel of experts consisted entirely of women who made decisions about men’s reproductive choices.
We began to discuss our final project in February and attacks to women’s reproductive rights were very much in the news. The three of us are pro-choice and we wanted to highlight how women’s reproductive rights were under attacked. However we struggled to find a new way to address this issue. We decided to use humor to show the absurdity of conservative men’s arguments.
We were inspired by the Yes Men who use humor and public theater to draw attention to their social causes. Several politicians and comedians have also used humor to highlight the illogical statements made by conservative politicians. For example, 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 followed suit:
- Yasmin Neal
- Nina Turner: A Senator from Ohio state who proposed a bill that would require that men who take Viagra get a cardiac stress test to ensure that the patient is ready for sexual activity, as well as written proof from a recent sexual partner that the patient has suffered from erectile dysfunction within the last 90 days. The bill stated: “”The physician shall ensure that the sessions include information on non pharmaceutical treatments for erectile dysfunction, including sexual counseling and resources for patients to pursue celibacy as a viable lifestyle choice.”
- 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 The amendment, which was eventually withdrawn, would have added language stating, “any action in which a man ejaculates or otherwise deposits semen anywhere but in a woman’s vagina shall be interpreted and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.”
- Pro-Choice activists spammed Sen. Ryan McDougle facebook page, after he backed a bill making it mandatory for women to get ultrasounds in order to have legal abortions
- All Woman Panel Has Some Great Ideas About Men’s Sexual Health
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.”
In the article Gomez-Pena’s explains 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.” There is clearly an element of reverse anthropology in our Men’s Health Experts Panel.
Tactical Methods and Interventions
Given our decision to use satire as our mode of entry, we began the challenging task of devising interventions that would create an appropriate balance of tactical absurdity, while staying grounded in a very pressing issue with serious ramifications that affect us personally. It was our goal to use a series of tactical interventions to heighten awareness of the ongoing legislative attacks on women. We re-framed the issue, using humor to highlight the absurdities of the far right wing position.
In order to legitimize our group and garner more attention from the public, we created a website, http://www.menshealthexperts.wordpress.com, to host our projects, news, upcoming interventions, resources, etc. The website featured an ‘about us’ page that describes who we are, how the project was conceived, and what our goals are. We also created a twitter account, wrote a press release. The three of us staged various interventions: from our first performance in Times Square and Fox News as The Men’s Health Experts, to the bizarre forms of birth control for men video, to the men’s interviews, and finally the MANstruation March in Washington Square Park. Through these interventions we were able to enlighten, provoke, and create a spectacle that forced the public to recognize that this was everyone’s issues and an important one.
Times Square and Fox News Intervention
Birth Control for Men
Poster for the flash mob
One of our main critiques was that our group relied on ‘college humor,’ suggesting that we simply used vulgar language and silliness without informing the public, highlighting the seriousness of the issue or reaching our target audience. We believe that the disarming power of humor is one of the best ways to reframe a debate and attract people otherwise disinterested in the issue. People are inundated with information, they hear about bills and politicians all the time, they walk down the street and are bombarded with petitions. We wanted to create a spectacle, so that these issues become memorable. It would be a huge accomplishment if an average guy scrolling through the news comes across an article on transvaginal ultrasounds and immediately thinks of the girl in the lab coat talking about anal probes and how unsettled he felt. That instant visceral response, that lasting image, instantly puts him in someones else’s shoes (or perhaps stirrups, as the case may be) and helps him to feel intimately connected to the image. Is this uncomfortable? Yes, but isn’t change supposed to be?
One of the most innovative critiques we received, was the suggestion that we involve young girls in our project and work with them to develop interventions collectively. Although we sought out collaborators, it did not occur to us to reach out to community groups. Following this suggestion would allow us to inform and empower young women to have a voice, be seen and take control over their bodies. Young women are inundated with such negative concepts about their bodies and sexuality. How wonderful would it be to learn at a young age that your voice matters, that you can create change and who you are is nothing to be ashamed of? This is definitely a route we would consider moving forward.
Clearly, our most difficult task was to simultaneously garner attention and inform the public. Our videos are evidence of what we managed to achieve, capturing the lasting impressions we created on some individuals. Hopefully these impressions will lead people to question and discuss these very vital issues.