Friday, October 28, 2016

Mail Call #9: Michelle Litjens says hello

I am thrilled to report that none other than former state rep Michelle Litjens wrote a letter to the editor in response to my recent column making the case for why we need more women in politics, tying it to legislation over women's health and reproductive rights. Litjens, if you don't remember, was part of the Republican controlled Legislature that passed Act 10 (the extreme, anti-union measure that prompted months of protest in the state), as well as being a hardcore anti-choice, pro-gun advocate. So the ideological bent of her letter should make a bit more sense, in that context. I appreciate that she took time to respond, so I've done the same (in bold, below):

In response to Emily Mills’ article on Oct. 23, “Needed: More women in politics,” while she is absolutely correct about that statement she is completely wrong about others (Crossroads).
We do need more women in politics. When I served in the Legislature, women were less than a quarter of the representatives. But I am unaware of any “institutional and systemic barriers” to women running for office. In fact, the common saying is true: “When women run, women win.” That's just...not a factual statement. Lots of women lose their races. I'm not even say they always lose because of sexism, but to claim that women always win when they run just doesn't make any damn sense. Also, just because you, a single human being, are "not aware" of certain things does not mean those don't exist. This is a fairly straight-forward concept for most.
Women are less likely to run for office because of lifestyle choices candidates are forced to make every day. Will a candidate attend a pancake breakfast, church picnic, fall festival or his or her kid’s basketball game? This choice is easier for a man to make than a woman. Not because society says so, but because women say so. She lost me here. This makes no actual sense. Is she arguing that men have an easier time putting work before their family? I'm honestly not even sure, this statement is so convoluted. Regardless of the details, though, those "choices candidates are forced to make every day" and how men vs. women respond to them is very much tied up in those aforementioned institutional and systemic barriers--a culture that demands completely different levels of accountability from for mothers vs fathers, pays women less for their work, etc.
My exception to Mills’ article is her comments about third-term abortions. It isn’t true that “hardcore anti-abortion activists continue to spout harmful lies” about third-term abortions. Maybe Mills was unaware that abortionist Kermit Gosnell of Philadelphia was sentenced to life in prison for murder. Aaaand PIVOT.
In the grand jury’s report, Gosnell didn’t call it murder, he called it “ensuring fetal demise.” And how did he accomplish this demise? The jury wrote, “The way he ensured fetal demise was by sticking scissors into the back of the baby’s neck and cutting the spinal cord. He called that ‘snipping.’ ” Kermit Gosnell's case is an aberration, and does not reflect anything remotely close to medical best practices in terms of abortion procedure and women's health. He was (rightfully) punished for gross malpractice. What he was doing is already illegal even with the protections provided by Roe v. Wade. And it was a single case. Litjens has long been an advocate for doing away with abortion rights, and during her time in the Legislature sponsored bills that significantly chipped away at (especially rural) women's right to access comprehensive and scientifically-based reproductive care.
Please, Ms. Mills, don’t patronize me by saying we need more women in politics because we need more abortion proponents (it was men who upheld Roe vs. Wade). We need more women in office because women bring a different thought process to the room. We contribute ideas during bill draftings that men just don’t think about because of our differing life experiences. She makes my argument for me. Though I do believe the debate over reproductive rights and women's health would be very, very different had women been at the table all along, I also don't for a moment believe all women think exactly alike on that, or any, issue. But Litjens and I are in agreement that we need more women in office because women bring a different thought process and set of experiences to the room.
Elected women are valued for far more than just their reproductive rights. And, I might also remind Mills, that many of us women would end that reproductive right at birth control.
Michelle Litjens
Former state representative
56th District, 2011-’12
Again, my biggest takeaway here is that Michelle is willfully ignorant of the fact that even she is the product of systemic sexism. It's a little easier when you're a right-leaning white woman, of course, but even then I'm not keen to drive wedges between people who should be fighting to lift each other up over an oppressive system that hurts us all. The first step is learning that we all have different experiences and outlooks, and that just because you personally have not experienced something doesn't invalidate that experience for someone else. And that just because you, personally, would not make a certain decision--doesn't give you the right to dictate whether or not it might be the right thing for someone else.

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