Friday, September 3, 2021

I Am Thinking Today About the Women in Texas

My only tattoo which I got right after Brett Kavanaugh
was confirmed to the Supreme Court    

How many women in the U.S. found out today that they are pregnant? Hundreds? Thousands maybe?

Of those women, how many live in Texas?

Today I am thinking about those women.

For some, this is joyful news. Some of these women probably have been trying for a baby for months or years. Some probably didn't expect or plan for it, but are still excited despite it being a surprise. I am of course happy for all these women.

For other women, though, today is the worst day of their lives. However they came to be pregnant, they do not want to be pregnant. And their state government has put a bounty on their heads if they decide to do anything other than carry to term. Their state government has given their neighbors 10,000 reasons to remove their bodily agency and make their lives hell. The question of with whom to share this news just got a lot more complicated. 

Let's get one thing straight: Whether or not to have an abortion is a decision that no woman wants to be in a position to have to make. Being grateful to have a choice is not the same as enjoying making it. I don't think it's wild to suggest that if it were possible to travel back in time and not get pregnant vs. have an abortion, most (if not all) women would choose the former. The barriers of time and space, however, result in many women having to make a decision they would prefer not to have to make. 

Still, nearly all women who make the decision to get an abortion don't regret it. The few who do make a lot of noise. I don't want to discredit their pain. It's real, it's their truth. But given that it is such a slim minority, it is what researchers would call statistically insignificant and should not be the focus of the debate. 

Another thing: Banning abortion will not make abortion obsolete. Women with money and privilege will still get them. So restricting access to abortion only harms poor women. The women who can't afford to take off work to cross state lines. Who can't afford the procedure. Who can't get a ride. Who can't arrange childcare. It only makes dangerous abortion drugs and procedures more common than safe ones. 

Almost 1 in 4 women in the U.S. will get an abortion before age 45. How these unplanned pregnancies occur should not, from a policy standpoint, matter. The woman who was raped is no more or less deserving than the woman whose partner's condom broke, or who forgot take her birth control pill, or who grew up in one of the 26 states where sex education is not mandated (or one of the 5 states where abstinence is the only method of pregnancy prevention that is allowed to be taught). 
It doesn't matter if you're 14 or 40.

I was 25. I was living in New York and I went to a clinic referred by my OBGYN. It's not a particularly remarkable or harrowing story. And I'm in the 95% who do not regret the decision I made. But this isn't about me; I only share this information because I don't think it should be taboo to talk about or that anyone should feel ashamed about having gotten an abortion for whatever reason. Bottom line: If a woman is pregnant and does not want to be pregnant, she should be able to get an abortion if she wants one. The End, thanks for coming to my TED Talk. 
Finally, an existential question that might seem crazy to ask: Is it always better to be born?
I'm thinking of babies born to people who don’t want to be parents, who don’t have the means or skills to properly care for a child. Who don’t have a stable, safe environment in which to raise a child. Who struggle just to feed and take care of themselves. I think of the struggles facing the children born to those parents. Who may end up being emotionally or physically abused or neglected, who may come to understand that they were/are unwanted. Against all odds, yes, some of them will thrive. But some most definitely will not. 

Not to mention we’re also in the middle of a mass extinction event. We feel like the world is ending because, well, it is. The planet is literally dying and the earth's ecosystems are collapsing. I'm thinking of the tremendous challenges ahead for future generations. Do we really want to be making it harder for people to decide whether to bring children into this world we are in the final stages of destroying?

Anyone born now is going to grow up dealing with the catastrophic repercussions of our climate science denial (not mention other reckonings coming like the backlash of unchecked capitalism and the hard work of dismantling white supremacy and systemic inequality etc etc). The unborn that some want so desperately to protect - I wonder, are we essentially consigning them to an existence defined by pain and struggle? Dropping them into a hopeless, unsalvageable situation they cannot fix?

These are questions I think about, when I think about having children. The future of our species is an open question, but I'm pretty sure policing reproductive health and forcing women into motherhood is not the solution. There are people alive right now who are suffering due to a lack of resources, from healthcare to clean water to housing to education, who are more deserving of our energy and attention.

So I'm thinking today about the women in Texas. They need more than my thoughts, however. They need all the help and protection they can get, so here are some places I am sending my money:

Friday, November 11, 2016

Open Letter to the Trump Supporter Who Contacted Me About My Star Tribune Article

November 11, 2016

Dear Mr. [redacted],

Thank you for reading my essay in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about the challenges of teaching during this election. I appreciate you taking the time to reach out and express your views. Most of your e-mail explained why you are supporting Donald Trump for President, and I don’t think it would be productive for me to respond to your opinions on that matter (though I respect your right to believe whatever you want and vote accordingly).

However, I do want to engage with your claim that you are “99% sure” that despite my efforts to maintain a politically neutral persona in the classroom, my students knew that I would be voting for Hillary Clinton. I think you may be right, and I want to explore why.

It can’t be because of my race or gender, given that 53% of white women supported Trump. And it can’t be because of where I grew up and where my family resides – I’m from Missouri and still have family there, as well as in Florida and Arizona, all of which are red states. So what could have given me away? Let’s get to the bottom of this.

Given that I teach at a university, my students could probably guess that I myself hold a college degree, and indeed, it was non-college-educated voters that accounted for much of Trump’s base. So that could have been a clue, that as someone who is not just a product of higher education but also is dedicating their career to it might not support a candidate who appeals to uneducated voters and is being sued for creating a fraudulent for-profit “university.” 

Could it have been that I repeatedly encouraged them to exercise their right to vote and provided them with information about how and where to register? That might have indicated my leanings, since the Democrats historically are the party that tries to enfranchise voters and not suppress them by doing things like gutting the Voting Rights Act (which a Supreme Court with a conservative majority did in 2013). And since millennial voters did overwhelmingly vote for Clinton, one could argue that I assumed encouraging my students to vote would translate to a victory for Democrats.

Or maybe it's that I require them to cite their sources and only rely on credible information in their papers, since Trump proved in all three debates and countless interviews to have little regard for facts. For instance, he said crime in inner cities is up; it’s actually way down. His comments about late-term abortions were fraught with dangerous misinformation. There are many more examples I could cite. I teach my students information literacy and how to back up their arguments with actual evidence – an approach that seems completely at odds with President-elect Trump.

But now that I think about it, I think maybe I showed my hand on the very first day of the semester, when I didn’t cordon off a section of the classroom for the students who were “other” (and by other, I mean not white/straight/Christian/able-bodied/cisgender) and disrespect their personhood. Maybe that was when a collective lightbulb went off and they all realized Professor Vagnino does not support Donald Trump. And every day since that I have endeavored to move through the world as an articulate, intelligent, compassionate human being who cares about the welfare of others and the planet-- perhaps that tipped them off. When my students disagree with me or each other, I don’t threaten to put them in jail or deport them. I don’t even threaten to flunk them. My classroom is a safe and tolerant space, and yes, there is a trigger warning in my syllabus since we cover some very sensitive topics that relate to our course theme of mental health.

So which of these things was the culprit? I guess we’ll never know. Maybe I just don't come across as a woman who would enjoy a non-consensual pussy grab. But I can see why you think it might have been apparent, my preference of one candidate over the other. And to that, I say: Guilty as charged.


Katie Vagnino

Thursday, April 28, 2016

So You Think You Don't Like Poetry

If you had told me that a Beyonce visual album would have introduced me to my new favorite poet/poem, I might not have believed you. But here we are, and thanks to "Lemonade," I have discovered this poem by Warsan Shire. Let's just say it hits very close to home.

for women who are "difficult" to love

you are a horse running alone
and he tries to tame you
compares you to an impossible highway
to a burning house
says you are blinding him
that he could never leave you
forget you
want anything but you
you dizzy him, you are unbearable
every woman before or after you
is doused in your name
you fill his mouth
his teeth ache with memory of taste
his body just a long shadow seeking yours
but you are always too intense
frightening in the way you want him
unashamed and sacrificial
he tells you that no man can live up to the one who
lives in your head
and you tried to change didn't you?
closed your mouth more
tried to be softer
less volatile, less awake
but even when sleeping you could feel
him travelling away from you in his dreams
so what did you want to do love
split his head open?
you can't make homes out of human beings
someone should have already told you that
and if he wants to leave
then let him leave
you are terrifying
and strange and beautiful
something not everyone knows how to love.

 Warsan Shire. She looks pretty easy to love to me.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

What I Know About Football

For most of my life, my attitude toward football has been indifference mixed with a little disdain. I had no interest in understanding its rules; it looked barbaric and chaotic. Men in suits commenting on the plays. Men on the sidelines calling the plays. Men on the field chasing and tackling each other. Men in bars and on couches cheering. Men men men men men. The only women you really see or hear about are the egregiously underpaid cheerleaders and the wives and girlfriends who make headlines when a player gets suspended for beating them.

In spite of this, I have always made a habit of watching the Super Bowl, and sometimes even hosting a viewing party. But that's only because I like spectacle and taco dip. The halftime show is always a shitshow for one reason or another (wardrobe malfunctions! left shark!) and the ads are usually amusing. And let's be real, I will jump on any excuse to entertain -- I love throwing parties. Oscar parties, election night parties, and sure, even Super Bowl parties. When it comes to parties, I don't discriminate. I never cared about the actual outcome of a Super Bowl game -- I would just randomly pick a team to root for, and be only mildly disappointed if they lost.

But as Elphaba in Wicked would say, something has changed within me. Something is not the same.

I sort of like watching football now. (I am actually watching the Broncos/Steelers game as I write this. Go Broncos!)

I know. It's crazy. But I live in Wisconsin, the state with the most notoriously rabid and devoted NFL fan base. Inevitably, I started watching more games -- purely for social purposes. Everyone knows when the Packers are playing. And when there's a game, the streets in Eau Claire are like a ghost down, eerily deserted. Because literally nearly everyone is glued to their TVs. Bars that don't serve food regularly have free food on game days -- crockpots of deliciousness, hot dishes galore, lemon and lime jello shots at the ready. 

The more I saw, the more I had to (somewhat begrudgingly) respect the complexity of the game. Because it really is complex. And the athleticism is astounding. It doesn't hurt that Aaron Rodgers is easy on the eyes AND the king of Hail Mary passes. Seriously. So for the first time in my life, I actually self-identify as a fan of a professional sports team. I am a Cheesehead. And I am proud. I am seriously considering buying Packer paraphernalia.

Now I would like to show off some of the things I have learned, mostly from watching with people who have been watching football their entire lives. Every game I feel like I learn something new!

1. It is important to "protect the pocket." I think this refers to keeping the quarterback from getting sacked before he can throw the ball. The pocket "collapsing" is bad for the offense. I think.

2. A football team is really like several teams! There are the offense guys and the defense guys, and the special teams guys like kickers. I JUST LEARNED THIS!  I had no idea the quarterback didn't play the whole game. Mind. Blown.

3. People talk a lot about "the line of scrimmage." Important shit goes on there. I'm not sure exactly what. Regardless, "scrimmage" is a fun word to say. Also fun: "blitz."  

4. Penalties can be declined. I find this a little confusing, to be honest -- in other sports, I'm pretty sure fouls are fouls.

5. Time outs are not just breaks -- they are strategic ways to slow down the game and are often reserved for the final minutes. But the clock also stops during a time out, so I'm not sure how that works. Maybe it can break the other team's momentum? I just know that if a team still has all their time outs toward the end of the game, and they are losing, it's good that they have those time outs. For some reason.

6. There are tricks! I just learned about fake punts, when the punt team (another team!) comes on the field, but then instead of punting, the QB runs a play. They fake out the other team, and it's sneaky.

7. Everyone is guilty of holding, but the goal is to not get called on it. And which way your body is facing can mean the difference between getting busted for pass interference pass interference.

8. Fumbles are exactly what they sound like. Adrian Peterson fumbles a lot, which is a bummer for Vikings fans.

9. Onside kicks are rarely successful but are exciting to watch.

10. Calling a time out right before a field goal is called "icing the kicker" so he might get psyched out and miss. It's kind of mean, in my opinion. Dude's been waiting to whole game to do his thing, so just let him, alright?

I'm really impressed with my knowledge. But not as impressed as I am with Aaron Rodgers's arm.