In her essay, “The Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain,” Leslie Jamison discusses a 2001 study called “The Girl Who Cried Pain.” The study looked at the way in which men and women are treated differently by healthcare providers and found that more often than not, pain reports made by women are taken less seriously than those made by men. Researchers also found that men were more likely to be given pain medication because they are more stoic and are less likely to complain of pain. So when they do, health-care providers believed the pain to be more “real” and “serious.” Women, on the other hand, were more likely given sedatives. Though this study is shocking as an entity entirely separate from any other cultural association, it is an interesting insight on how the importance of women’s health has been devalued, belittled and dismissed on the basis of gender stereotypes. What is more interesting, however, is the Senate’s vote to defund Planned Parenthood, an organization so innate to the promotion of women’s health.
Planned Parenthood first opened its doors in 1916 when founder, Margaret Sanger, opened a birth control clinic in Brooklyn with her sister and friend. They dedicated their lives to providing sexual health education to both men and women, funded research on birth control and other contraceptive methods and began the movement to provide family planning services throughout the United States. Sanger’s dedication and work remains the basis of the Planned Parenthood clinics that we drive by on our ways to work or hear about in presidential debate monologues. But, as of December 3, those clinics are soon to lose all federal funding they currently receive.
So, what does that mean exactly? Well, as of the 2013-2014 report released by the organization, federal funding made up about 41% of the total revenue Planned Parenthood received. Because of this, funding clinics were able to offer services such as STI/STD testing, cancer screenings and contraceptives at a very low price for those without insurance or the money to pay for hospital or doctor visits. Not to mention that funding also goes towards educating professionals and the public about family planning and sexual health. In a country undergoing one of the biggest sexual revolutions its history has seen, the need for an open conversation about sex, health and relationships is needed now more than ever. Planned Parenthood has and continues to provide the information that makes these conversations possible.
Unfortunately, talking about physical intimacy is still somewhat taboo. Pop culture is infatuated with sex and the proverb “sex sells,” is still highly recited, but the topic of sex itself is rarely open for honest and realistic discussion. Women are constantly slut-shamed for being open about their sexuality (double standards, amiright?); homophobic and transphobic commentary is still made on a daily basis, even by political leaders (Ted Cruz, I’m looking at you); and the construct that having immeasurable amounts of sex is a basis for being a man is not only unfair but potentially dangerous for those who don’t have access to contraceptives or understand the dangers of STIs and STDs (cinnamon rolls, not gender roles, people). The staff at Planned Parenthood clinics aim to promote an educated society and their importance should not be diminished as left-wing or socialist. Federal funding and support for services that exist to promote societal well-being is not a question of political volleying but rather one of the health and welfare of fellow citizens.
It’s also essential to note that, contrary to popular belief, Planned Parenthood is not just a service for women. One simply has to type the organization’s name into the search bar to discover that clinics provide services for those who identify as men, too. Clinics provide cancer screenings for men who are concerned about the possibility of testicular cancer, can offer information and guidance for male infertility, and provide male contraceptives. And despite the accusations of many, abortions and abortion consultation make up a very small percentage of the services performed. In fact, STI/STD testing and treatment, along with provision and education about contraceptives, made up a majority of Planned Parenthood’s 2013-2014 report. In addition, clinics provide pregnancy tests, breast cancer screenings, information on infertility and more. These lists don’t even include the counseling and information they provide on sexual orientation, body image and general health care. Patients are also able to see a Planned Parenthood clinician for a routine physical check-up.
The defunding of an organization that provides a safe atmosphere for people of all sexual orientations, genders, experience, income and knowledge levels is not just a feminist or women’s issue; it’s a humanitarian issue and one that can only be solved through cooperation and equality between the sexes. As their page says, “Planned Parenthood is rooted in the courage and tenacity of American women and men willing to fight for women’s health, rights and equality.” Planned Parenthood will celebrate its one hundredth birthday next year, a centennial marker of the organization’s necessity and determination to provide quality care, no matter what.