‘After Tiller’: The Lives of the Last Late-Term Abortion Doctors

After Tiller

On May 31, 2009, Dr. George Tiller was shot to death during a church service in Wichita, Kansas.  Dr. Tiller was one of only five doctors in the United States who performed abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy.  Now, there are four, and the documentary After Tiller examines their lives and livelihoods in the wake of Dr. Tiller’s death.

These four doctors are regularly harassed by people who proclaim themselves “pro-life,” yet have no qualms about killing – or celebrating those who do the killing – of abortion providers.  The film asks them why they choose to put themselves in harm’s way, why they choose to make themselves social pariahs.  Over the course of the 85-minute run-time, we learn about how these doctors’ lives have been threatened (death threats are a regular part of their daily life), how their livelihoods are impacted (one doctor was forced to relocate after his state outlawed late-term abortions, and he had an extremely difficult time finding a landlord who would rent to him), and how their personal lives suffer as a result of the trials they endure.  That they choose to stand up for their belief that they are providing a needed service and continue their practice in the face of such overwhelming opposition is nothing short of miraculous.

The film uses interviews and footage from consultations with patients to provide a look into the lives of the four doctors.  It’s no secret that abortion is a politically charged topic, but many people, including the doctors who perform them, treat late-term abortions as much more serious than abortions conducted at the beginning of a pregnancy.  As is detailed in the film, the late-term abortion procedure is fundamentally different from the procedure done earlier in a pregnancy, and the line between “life” and “not life” becomes extremely hazy.  But the facts remain that pregnancy is still a function of a woman’s body, and there are numerous reasons why women choose to get abortions, even at such a late stage of the pregnancy.  In one of the most emotionally powerful interviews in the film, one of the doctors states that she believes that she is working with babies, not fetuses, but that the physical and mental health of the mother outweighs the viability of the baby.

Because that is why these doctors do what they do: the health of the mother.  As the anti-choice crowd so often forgets, the health of the mother, both physical and mental, often hangs in the balance when deciding whether or not to get an abortion.  After Tiller’s use of footage from patient consultations proves again and again that abortion is one of the hardest choices women will ever make.  The film shows women who are torn apart by the decision.  The stigma placed upon the procedure by our society certainly doesn’t help with the decision.  These consultation scenes hammer home the importance of the doctors’ work; although the doctors are the subject of the documentary, the most emotionally powerful scenes are the consultations, highlighting why the doctors have made their decisions to continue their work.

After Tiller certainly won’t change any minds about the morality of abortion.  But it is a powerful piece of filmmaking, reminding those of us who support a woman’s right to choose why that right is so important, and how fragile that right is.  Four doctors in the entire country have the necessary training to perform a procedure that is necessary, if not desired, by some women.  And there are many out there working to change that number to zero.

Why Men Need To Be Feminists


Hello!  I am honored to now be posting on The Sexy Feminist from my own byline.  You may recognize my name from a few guest posts that have gone up over the past two months, and I look forward to contributing my voice along with Jennifer, Heather, and the entire Sexy Feminist community.  I would like to begin by writing about why, as a man, I am excited and honored to contribute here.  I have had a lot of fun researching and writing my previous posts, but my feminism is something I take rather seriously.  I am certainly not alone as a male feminist, but the phrase “male feminist” comes off as strange or oxymoronic to many.  I’m here to express why that point of view could not be further from the truth.

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Why We Need More Naked Women

It says a lot about the state of our relationship to our bodies that I cried from watching this simple video (embedded below) about a simple photo project: Jade Beall is putting together a book of real, untouched black and white photographs of real women’s bodies. Looking at these gorgeous images, with all their supposed “flaws,” you realize how seldom we see other non-model women’s bodies. You also realize how critical it is that we do so.

We’re so used to thinking that women’s bodies are for straight men’s enjoyment that we forget there could be real advantages to presenting images of the naked form outside of Victoria’s Secret ads and Playboy pictorials. This is where women’s bodies, and even sexuality, truly becomes empowerment. I recently did a boudoir photo shoot with my sister, Julie, who runs Chicago Doll Photography, and it is empowering, as a real woman, to treat yourself like a model in the good ways. You don’t have to objectify yourself to feel the effect; there’s simply a power in treating yourself as worthy of being photographed this way, as if you are as “beautiful” as those VS models. It starts sounding cheesy pretty fast here, of course: You are beautiful! You do deserve it! That’s only because the ad industry has taken these images and these ideas from us and used them to sell products to us that supposedly make us more beautiful since advertising began.

This is why we called ourselves Sexy Feminist — because feminism like this is sexy, and wonderful, and delicious, not because we’re trying to be sexy to straight men. This is what the female gaze looks like, cast upon other female forms:

Watch the video, donate money, volunteer to pose, spread the word, buy the book when it’s out — we should all do whatever we can to support The Beautiful Body Project, and anything else like it.

Empowering Afghan Women

witw-logoWomen in Afghanistan still suffer some of the worst gendered conditions in the world: forced marriages, lack of education, and conditions far beyond anything we can encapsulate in even those awful-sounding soundbites. One of our favorite organizations works to empower women there through fostering and publishing their writing about their lives, the Afghan Women’s Writing Project. Another idea: Giving women there economic power by fostering sales of their crafts. Read more at The Daily Beast’s Women in the World.

In Praise of Angelina Jolie

Angelina_Jolie_Cannes_2011Not that we needed more reasons to admire Angelina Jolie, but today’s is a doozy: She wrote a beautiful, revelatory essay in The New York Times about her decision to get a preventive double mastectomy. Jolie continues to show nothing short of genius for leveraging the tabloid press’ obsession with her—as one of the world’s most beautiful women, as a super-famous person married to a super-famous person under super-famous circumstances—for nothing but good. She’s drawn attention to countless good causes and to overseas crises no one wants to deal with. And now she’s sharing her very personal story to help other women.

In the piece, she walks us through the entire procedure, first telling us about her decision: Her mother died of breast cancer quite young (at 56), and the 37-year-old Jolie found out that she has the faulty gene that often causes the disease. So now, at 37, she decided to have her breasts removed, an intense surgery, but one that brought her risk down from 87 percent to 5 percent. She doesn’t hold back on the gory details of the treatment, but her description demystifies it for anyone considering it: “The operation can take eight hours. You wake up with drain tubes and expanders in your breasts. It does feel like a scene out of a science-fiction film.” But she also reassures women that she got through it and that her life is back to normal now. She also talks about the importance of having a supportive partner, a key to taking the break from life that’s necessary and to recovering.

She notes that she had the standard breast reconstruction post-surgery, which would have allowed her to undergo this entire procedure without going public about it. But she chose to share it, in the classiest way possible. She even includes what we all really want to know: “On a personal note, I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.” Her story, however, only increases her humanity—and her bravery.

Iranian Men Protest Violence Against Women–In Dresses

 After a judge in Iran thought it a fitting punishment to force men to wear dresses for their crimes (because, you know, being a woman is the most shameful thing ever), the enlightened men of Iran spoke up–and suited up. A campaign to protest the sexist sentence, and the violence against women that permiates their society, has gone viral. Hundreds of Iranian men are posting photos of themselves in dresses and sharing messages of support and solidarity with women. Ahmad Rafat, an Iranian journalist, sent this message with his photo: “There lies such sanctity in women’s clothing that not every man deserves to wear it.”

Feminism Through Art: Meet Hangama Amiri

© Hangama Amiri

Looking at the painting, “Girl Under the Taliban,” (left) by Hangama Amiri is like being slapped across the face with a reality check. In it, a young woman sears a determined stare into the viewer’s mind with one eye while the other burns with fire. She’s clutching a textbook in one hand and a burqa in the other. It assaults you with its literal message of oppression, but confounds even more with its rich complexity. It’s the story of Nargis, a 13-year-old Afghan girl banned from seeking education under the Taliban. It is not a unique story, but it’s one that isn’t being told nearly enough.

“Girl” is the third in the series, “The Wind-Up Dolls of Kabul,” by artist Hangama Amiri. She has made it her mission to tell stories about Afghan women through her work.

Amiri could have had the same story as Nargis–or one much worse. Her family fled Afghanistan in 1996 when the Taliban took over. She spent several years as a refugee and finally settled in Canada, where she went to college, became an artist in residence and began her career. “The Wind-Up Dolls” series is Amiri’s first solo exhibition and has come to define her feminist identity as well as the arc of her artistic vision.

She talks to Sexy Feminist about her inspirations, the concept of feminism in Afghanistan, and the way art is an important part of the global discourse on the treatment of women. [Read more...]

Celebrating Earth Day: Why Environmentalism Is Feminism

In this excerpt from our new book, Sexy Feminism, we argue why caring about the earth is the kind of activism that can actually save the world. We hope you’re inspired to do something today. We’d also love to hear what you’re doing to help Mother Nature while promoting equality for all. Email us at editors@sexyfeminist.com or comment below.

Why is environmental activism a feminist cause? At its core, feminism is about humanitarianism. Everyone must do her part to ensure a brighter future for the global population. Consider a few recent examples of natural disasters:

The 7-magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010 was the nation’s most devastating in two centuries, not for its force but for the insurmountable destruction. This already-struggling country was not equipped to take the brunt of such a tremor, which resulted in the cities crumbling. The death toll of 300,000 and more than 2 million left homeless was the worst blow. The unthinkable crimes against women (rape, beatings) and children (abandonment, illegal trafficking) that followed was the violent aftermath.

Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of starvation in the world — more than 40 percent of its residents are classified as malnourished, and 45 percent of all children are starving. This nation is one of the poorest on the planet, and it also has a history of natural disasters — tropical floods, cyclones, tornadoes, and monsoons hit every year.

In 2007, Cyclone Sidr killed nearly 10,000 people and caused a whopping $1.5 billion in damage — about 2 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.

Even when disaster strikes industrialized nations — such as the 2010 earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the ongoing hurricanes and flooding in the southern United States — those that suffer most are families already living at or under the poverty line. Every time one of these environmental catastrophes strikes, humanitarian efforts are derailed, making already bad situations much worse.

In addition to donating to charities that fight against these atrocities, you have to live your life with respect to how it affects the environment. It matters.

Sexy Feminist Action Plan

Reduce, reuse, recycle. It’s more than just a catchy slogan; it’s something that should be a part of everyday life. Simple, consistent actions can make a world of difference — and just the difference the world needs to survive. Some ideas:

We’d like to demand you never use another plastic bottle or grocery bag, but this is easier said than done. Invest in reusable everything until you no longer need these items, and recycle anything and everything you can. Visit your county’s website for details on everything that’s recyclable. It’s fascinating, surprising, and comforting to know how many things you can toss in the bin to be reused rather than piled in a landfill.

Drive less.

Walk more.

Plant a tree or join a community garden.

Clean out your closets twice a year and take your duds to a recycled-clothing store for credit, where you can buy new looks for way less. This is also a good way to shop when it’s 90 degrees in December but retail stores are stocked with wool turtlenecks and fleece leggings. (This could be happening more, thanks to global warming.)

Get crafty; create new uses for old things. We admit, we suck at this, so enlist a crafty friend or children (they are all awesome at this) to help spark some ideas.

Be a conscious consumer. If more of us buy consciously and demand better products from the corporations that sell us all the stuff we use, then that’s what the marketplace will supply. That’s how green cleaning products became mainstream and how the unfair, unsafe, and inhumane labor practices of some major manufacturers became public knowledge (visit Sweatfree.org for a directory of retail stores and companies that do not work with sweatshops). Every time you open your wallet, you’re sending a message. It’s an opportunity to speak up without saying a word.

Excerpted from “Sexy Feminism: A Girl’s Guide to Love, Succes, and Style” (2013 by Mariner Books). © Jennifer Keishin Armstrong and Heather Wood Rudulph – All Rights Reserved

Revisiting ‘The Beauty Myth’

beautymythI just finished re-reading Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, which I haven’t actually read since college women’s studies class. It was pretty new then — I distinctly remember Wolf visiting Northwestern’s campus to fire us all up about the idea of Third Wave feminism — and it certainly spoke to me, as a budding feminist and beauty product enthusiast. But revisiting it now, 20 years later, evokes an all-too-common feeling I get when reading old feminist texts: Holy shit, nothing has changed. Or, actually, things have only gotten worse, in this case — I couldn’t help wondering what Wolf would make of bikini waxes (perhaps they’d warrant their own chapter, as they did in the book I co-authored, Sexy Feminism) or “vaginal rejuvenation.” At one point she evokes the spectre of sewed-up labia as a possibility in a terrifying future. Welcome to that future.

If you’re not familiar with this book, first, I recommend reading it immediately. If you’re a woman, it will change your life; you will realize you are not irrational, or crazy, or silly. There are compelling reasons you find yourself comparing your wrinkles to other women’s on the subway, or secretly delighting in shots of celebrity cellulite, or spending your whole paycheck at Sephora. Those reasons are systemic, cultural, and hell-bent on patriarchy.

Yeah, it’s a little depressing, but awareness is the first step. And at the end, Wolf outlines some great ways for us to take action against the Beauty Myth — which we must continue to do so that our daughters will look back at us and laugh: Why did you think you had to lose another ten pounds? I’m recording some of those ideas here in handy list form, both to remind myself, and in hopes that anyone else might join me:

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Women in the World Wrap-Up: Remembering Nora Ephron, saving women’s lives, succeeding at business, and more …

Hillary Clinton addresses the Women in the World summit. Courtesy of Daily Beast.

We were lucky enough to be among the hundreds of women gathered in New York Friday for the Daily Beast’s Women in the World summit, where we were inspired by Hillary Clinton, Oprah, and many other amazing famous and non-famous women. Here, a few of the tidbits we learned:

* Nora Ephron knew who Deep Throat was. She predicted correctly to Tom Hanks years before Mark Felt’s identity as the Watergate informant was made known to the world.

* For less than the cost of a Diet Coke, we can provide women with kits that help save their lives in high-risk childbirth.

* The CEO of Sam’s Club is a kickass woman named Roz Brewer. Her message to aspiring female execs: ”You know it. You just need the confidence to go for it. Trust your intuition. Let your voice be heard.”

* Human trafficking is one of the three fastest growing criminal activities in the world. For more information on how to help, check out the amazing work of Joy Ngozi Eleilo, the UN’s special rapporteur on trafficking.

* Diane VonFurstenberg’s mother, a holocaust survivor, weighed just 49 pounds 18 months before VonFurstenberg was born. “As long as we know we should never be victims,” VonFurstenberg said of her mother’s legacy in action, “we can win the war.”


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