It’s Back Up Your Birth Control Day! (And in Defense of The Funny)

March 30th marks the 10th anniversary of the Back Up Your Birth Control Day of Action, and there is tons of action to take to advocate for emergency contraception. Just a couple from the campaign’s website:

There are a dozen other ways to spread the word, even if it’s just sending one of these ECards the campaign created (one included above) or spread this Why The Fuck Should I Use Emergency Contraception? Tumblr around.

Now on to the controversy. When I first saw that Tumblr, I was thrilled to see an organization (one I admittedly used to work for) take a refreshing, funny and bold messaging strategy — anyone who does non-profit work knows it ain’t easy. But then I saw this post on Abortion Gang:

Shame on you,, for this incredibly disrespectful attempt to cater your message to young folks.  I’m not even sure what it is exactly that you are trying to attempt with this tumblr, to be honest.  BUT I will be damned if Ima just sit here and keep clickin’ on the insults, generalizations and fucked-up stereotypes you are propagating about young people with vaginas (like me) who need access to emergency contraception.

Go read the whole thing to get a feel for it. I agree that the Tumblr is cisnormative and heteronormative; there is no doubt that there’s a straight and cisgender demographic they’re targeting. But the rest of the post and the subsequent twitter war directed at the creators of the Tumblr thereafter is really problematic for a few reasons:

There are many people who need EC who did it because they simply made a mistake. Fuck it, I have. I had consensual unprotected sex fully knowing the consequences of that action, and took EC the next day. Thank god. I’ve also had consensual sex with a person whose last name I didn’t know. Does that make me a “drunken slut”? No, but I have made fun of myself for it. It’s funny. So does joking about it make me a “drunken slut”?

I guess what I’m saying is that demonizing an awareness campaign for addressing the fact that people have unprotected sex is shaming in itself. More specifically, it shames the people who have had those experiences, because sometimes — let’s face it folks, a lot of times – this is what happens. Saying that having unprotected sex is “flippant” and “self-centered” is shaming. Like Miss Polk said in her comment, this value judgment is coming from the post, not the campaign. This is representative of what some young people experience as sexual beings, whether it happens because of a lack of comprehensive sex education, consensual sex during a wild night out, or just the excuse of being in “the passion of the moment” with your man and know you have the option of EC as a back-up — people make these decisions, whether they were being irresponsible or not. It’s essential to educate our youth in productive ways and express that using multiple forms of contraception is the most effective way in preventing STIs and unintended pregnancy — but we also can’t shame them if they don’t.

There’s also the issue of truth-telling in our activism. The reason why this campaign is effective is that while many people won’t identify with the campaign, many people also will — it’s personal and funny.  Many folks who use EC — and advocate for it — have brunch with their sassy girlfriends (ahem), use multiple forms of contraception, watch Top Chef, or don’t have an orgasm easily. Maya (one of the two young people who created this campaign) responded on her blog:

Believe it or not, it is possible to be a woman who spends a lot of time organizing for social justice AND ALSO watches bad tv marathons and has had drunk, unprotected sex. I have done it. And acting as if these are two mutually exclusive categories of women and claiming that we shouldn’t acknowledge the experiences of the latter—that to do so is, in fact, automatically sexist—is pretty much just a spruced-up, self-righteous “feminist” version of slut-shaming in my book.

I don’t claim to “represent the feminist movement”. But my feminism is about truth-telling. Even when the truths aren’t that pretty. Even when they support uncomfortable stereotypes. Even when they don’t reflect every other woman’s truth.

I think a larger issue here is that this Tumblr (and the campaign) uses humor to advocate for EC, and I get the feeling time and time again that using humor in feminist activism is often labeled as offensive — maybe out of some sort of fear that we’re not taking the movement seriously enough. But I think attacking feminist humor is a seriously big problem.

A recent example is when our bowling team for the National Abortion Access Bowl-a-thon was asked to change our team name after being criticized by ClinicEscort on Twitter (and others called the National Network of Abortion Funds complaining), who felt that the team name “Boehner Killers” was inciting violence. After we decided to change the name to avoid unnecessary and time-consuming drama to try and fight for it, NYAAF made sure to hit ClinicEscort up and let them know that we changed the name — who declared it a victory. Because of a boner joke. A joke that, when I thought up the team name, didn’t even register as inciting violence — it was just a funny sexual pun on John Boehner being a boner killer. And feminist activists forced us to change it.

This isn’t to say we don’t have reasons to be self-critical, hold ourselves accountable when we fuck up, and help each other grow as feminists — I think that’s incredibly important. But we’re doing ourselves a serious disservice if we’re going to spend our precious time attacking one another about boner jokes and EC campaigns while our rights are constantly being attacked by the people who are spending all of their time fighting us.

And if we can’t use humor in our activism? Well, then we’re just completely fucking ourselves. As a Feministing co-founder, I can tell you with confidence that while the incredible voices, the content, the analysis and the community is what makes Feministing the blog we are today, one of the most important reasons why we became so widely read is because we used humor. Being funny and personal, making fun of ourselves, and advocating for feminism in creative ways is absolutely critical for the movement to succeed. Not only because we need it to survive the often depressing reality of injustice we’re constantly fighting, but also because it’s one of the most powerful tools we have to recruit other young people to get on the feminist bandwagon. And that is something worth taking a chance on a boner joke for.

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