Jessica Valenti | The Nation

Jessica Valenti

Jessica Valenti

Feminism, sexuality & social justice. With a sense of humor.

An Appreciative Goodbye

Jessica Valenti

The Nation has always been special to me—when I was growing up, my parents always had a copy on the coffee table, and Katha’s column was some of the first feminist writing I ever read. Being exposed to The Nation from a young age had a real impact on my politics and worldview, and it’s continued to be a place where I’ve learned and grown.

It’s been an honor to write for The Nation, and its incredible editors and writers have been smart, supportive and inspiring. So it’s with a lot of sadness that I say goodbye. Starting April 21, I’ll be writing a daily column at The Guardian.

I am so proud of the work that I’ve done while here—my pieces on topics from rape and domestic violence to abortion politics and pop culture. I’m especially grateful that my editors Emily Douglas and Richard Kim helped me to hone my arguments and strengthen my writing. I’m leaving here a much better writer than I came in, and that’s thanks to them. I am also grateful to The Nation community, online and off, for their passion and support—thank you for reading my work, and for challenging me to be better.

I hope you’ll both follow my writing at its new home and continue to support the wonderful and important work that The Nation does. I know I’ll always have a copy on my coffee table for my daughter to see as she gets older.

Thanks for everything—and goodbye!

Women on the Side: Why Anti-Choicers Won’t Win

Anti-choice march

Anti-choice march in Louisiana (Photo courtesy of Kenneth Murphy, CC 2.0)

As I was giving a speech at a Virginia college recently, there was a visibly annoyed young man in the audience. He shifted around in his seat and scowled. During the Q&A, his hand was one of the first that shot up.

He asked why I kept talking about abortion as a women’s rights and health issue. How could I possibly argue this, he wondered, when abortion was clearly an issue of “children’s rights.” In his mind, women were beside the point. Ancillary, really.

His frustration that I would talk about abortion as an issue of bodily rights and integrity reminded me of why Republicans will never truly win women over. Anti-choicers cannot escape the truth of their movement: despite rhetorical efforts to the contrary, the foundation of fighting against abortion accessibility is the idea that women are less important than the pregnancies they can carry.

Anti-choice politicians can name legislation that mandates unnecessary ultrasounds a “Woman’s Right to Know,” and protestors can carry placards that say “women deserve better” than abortion. But the strategic shift from calling women murders to labeling them victims of abortion will never work, because we understand that in either case our health and rights are beside the point.

The bill in Iowa that would have allowed patients to sue abortion providers for up to ten years after the procedure for “pain and suffering” was not about protecting women—it was about punishing providers. Pushing misinformation about links between abortion and breast cancer (that have been widely debunked) isn’t meant to preserve women’s health, but to scare them. And insisting that “pregnancy is not a disease” is not a tactic meant to help women who want to be parents, but to force all of us to be.

But perhaps the most misogynist sticking point in anti-choice ideology is the veneration of women who die for their pregnancies. Last month, conservative writer Brent Boznell wrote a piece at Newsbusters in memoriam of a woman who died after the birth of her third child.

Thirty-six-year-old Caroline Weiner had been diagnosed with HELLP syndrome—a deadly disease that I also had when pregnant with my daughter—and was advised by doctors that another pregnancy could kill her:

They feared her body might not withstand a third pregnancy. But this was a woman who loved children, and even more, loved her faith. “If God grants me a child, I will bear that child.” It was as simple as that. She rejected the advice. She became pregnant. The childbirth was almost catastrophic. It almost killed her.

She died a few weeks later.

Rejecting medical advice to risk dying and leaving behind your existing children is not the choice I made when I became pregnant again after HELLP, but I’m glad Weiner was able to make her own medical and family decisions. What is galling, however, is how her death positions her as the perfect selfless mother in Boznell’s eyes. The ideal woman is as willing to place her pregnancy above her own life through medical decisions as anti-choicers are through policy.

I don’t believe everyone against abortion expects women to die for their pregnancies, but the way women who do are placed on pedestals should give us great pause—and remind us just how expendable we are in their world view.

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Republicans can continue their desperate move to convince Americans that being anti-choice is actually pro-woman. But we are not stupid, and they are not fooling anyone. The more anti-choice politicians, pundits and activists underestimate women by continuing with their rhetorical sleight-of-hand, the more they reveal themselves. The anti-choice movement cannot erase us from our own lives by insisting that abortion isn’t necessary. The more they try, the stronger we’ll get.


Read Next: Jessica Valenti on feminism and the empowerment elite

Feminists Talk Trigger Warnings: A Round-Up

College seminar

Students participate in a college seminar (Irina Stelea/Wikimedia Commons)

There’s been a lot of talk about trigger warnings lately, now that the practice of giving essentially a heads-up on potentially triggering content has leaped from feminist blogs and online spaces to college classrooms. The New Republic reports that the University of California, Santa Barbara “passed a resolution urging officials to institute mandatory trigger warnings on class syllabi.” Oberlin similarly has an official document on triggers that advises faculty to remove material from the classroom that could potentially trigger students and to make triggering content optional.

Here is what smart feminists have said:

Jill Filipovic: “[T]here is the fact that the universe does not treat its members as if they come hand-delivered in a box clearly marked “fragile”. The world can be a desperately ugly place, especially for women. That feminist blogs try to carve out a little section of the world that is a teeny bit safer for their readers is a credit to many of those spaces. Colleges, though, are not intellectual or emotional safe zones. Nor should they be.”

Tressie McMillan Cottom: “[N]o one is arguing for trigger warnings in the routine spaces where symbolic and structural violence are acted on students at the margins. No one, to my knowledge, is affixing trigger warnings to department meetings that WASP-y normative expectations may require you to code switch yourself into oblivion to participate as a full member of the group. Instead, trigger warnings are being encouraged for sites of resistance, not mechanisms of oppression.”

Melissa McEwan: “Being triggered does not mean “being upset” or “being offended” or “being angry,” or any other euphemism people who roll their eyes long-sufferingly in the direction of trigger warnings tend to imagine it to mean. Being triggered has a very specific meaning that relates to evoking a physical and/or emotional response to a survived trauma or sustained systemic abuse…. Speaking about trigger warnings as though they exist for the purposes of indulging fragile sensibilities fundamentally misses their purpose: To mitigate harm.”

Roxane Gay (2012): “Intellectually, I understand why trigger warnings are necessary for some people. I understand that painful experiences are all too often threatening to break the skin. Seeing or feeling yourself come apart is terrifying. This is the truth of my trouble with trigger warnings: there is nothing words on the screen can do that has not already been done. A visceral reaction to a trigger is nothing compared to the actual experience that created the trigger. I don’t know how to see beyond this belief to truly get why trigger warnings are necessary. When I see trigger warnings, I don’t feel safe. I don’t feel protected. Instead, I am surprised there are still people who believe in safety and protection despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”

I tend to come down with Gay—I understand why some people need and want trigger warnings. I imagine, as McEwan points out, that they do mitigate some harm. Editors and moderators of certain spaces—especially feminist ones—know that triggering topics come up often, and that some of their readers have trauma related to these issues. Giving readers a heads-up gives them the choice to opt out.

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So where we can help, we should. Trigger warnings and content notices in “accountable spaces” on obvious distressing content like graphic depictions of sexual assault and violence are not difficult to do and can save trauma survivors from pain.

But as someone who has had PTSD, I know that a triggering event can be so individual, so specific, that there is no anticipating it. Last year, a position in yoga class gave me a panic attack because it so closely resembled the position I was in when I had an emergency C-section. Last night—for the first time in over a year—I had a flashback. It took me an over an hour to realize that the trigger was an incessant distant beeping coming from a neighbor’s fire alarm, which sounded like the beeping of my then-two-pound daughter’s heart and oxygen monitors. There is no trigger warning for that. There is no trigger warning for living your life.


Read Next: Jessica Valenti on feminism and the empowerment elite

TED Backpedals on Abortion Stance After Outrage

TED talk

A TED talk in 2009 (Jurvetson/Flickr)

Yesterday I published an article revealing that TED has never featured a talk on abortion, and—according to TED Content Director Kelly Stoetzel—they had no plans to. After widespread outrage online, the TED staff now says they do consider including talks on talks on abortion and that I took Stoetzel’s quote out of context. In the hours before they published the explanatory blog post, TED—on two different Twitter accounts—called my reporting a “rumor,” “false” and a “misrepresentation.” Head of TED Chris Anderson tweeted, “Internet outrage rule #1. Get really upset about something before finding out whether or not it’s actually true.”

I am angry and disappointed that TED would malign my work and reputation rather than take responsibility for their words and work. I asked a TED staffer a direct question about why there had never been a talk on abortion, and I got a direct answer. Here is a screenshot from my e-mail exchange:

There was no misrepresentation or gotcha quote-grabbing. In fact, it is the TED staff that is now using Stoetzel’s quote out of context and in partial form. They don’t even link to my article to let people make up their own minds.

But beyond the question of the quote—the veracity of which is not in dispute, and the context of which is abundantly clear—is the question of the facts. The fact is that TED has never hosted a talk on abortion. The fact is that of all the proposed talks that have been sent their way on abortion, they have rejected 100 percent of them.

I am glad to hear that TED believes “abortion and reproductive care are core issues of social justice and human rights.” But their history, coupled with Stoetzel’s statement, does nothing back up this sentiment. And instead of a promise to carry a talk on abortion in the next TED or TEDWomen conference, the blog post gives us a link to TED’s online forums where commenters have brought up abortion and a list of TED talks which are not about abortion.

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Reproductive justice leaders like NARAL Pro-Choice America* and Sea Change have already reached out to TED with the hope of working together. I hope that TED takes them seriously, and that they will make a public commitment to hosting a talk on abortion next year.

At the end of the day, though, this is not just about abortion. This is about institutions creating “feminism” without feminists. It’s about the most powerful setting the political agenda for the rest of us. It’s about the elite feeling so above accountability that they will weasel out of things they actually said by calling it “rumor.”

We can do better. And they should have to.

* Full disclosure: I am on the board of NARAL Pro-Choice America

Read Next: Jessica Valenti on TED’s exclusion of talks about abortion.

Choosing Comfort Over Truth: What It Means to Defend Woody Allen

Woody Allen

Director and actor Woody Allen poses as he arrives for the French premiere of Blue Jasmine in Paris, Tuesday, August 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

I’ve never watched a Woody Allen movie. My parents refused to rent them after he began a “relationship” with Soon-Yi Previn and their explanation stuck with me through adulthood. I was around 13 years old at the time, and always looking to pick a fight—I asked why it mattered since Previn wasn’t his “real” daughter. My parents sat me down and talked about the responsibility adults have to children, and certain boundaries that parents and parental figures must respect.

As I grew older—as I had teachers come on to me as a teen, as I experienced the way grown men get away with sexualizing girls—I understood the significance of what my parents told me. Today, as an adult, I know that when we make excuses for particular, powerful men who hurt women, we make the world more comfortable for all abusers. And that this cultural cognitive dissonance around sexual assault and abuse is building a safety net for perpetrators that we should all be ashamed of.

We know one in five girl children are sexually assaulted. Yet when victims speak out, we ask them why they waited so long to talk. We question why don’t they remember the details better. We suspect that they misunderstood what happened.

We know that abusers are manipulative, often charismatic, and that they hide their crimes well. We know that they target women and children who society will be less likely to believe—low-income women, children of color, the disabled, women who can be discredited as “crazy.” Yet when the caretakers of children who have been abused come forward, we call them “vengeful,” as Allen’s lawyer called Mia Farrow. We accuse them of trying to “alienate” their children from the abusing parent. Or, as one of Allen’s friends did in a shameful article for The Daily Beast—we simply insinuate that the protective parent is just a slut, so how can you believe anything she says anyway?

We knowas Aaron Bady at The New Inquiry wrote—“We are in the midst of an ongoing, quiet epidemic of sexual violence, now as always. We are not in the midst of an epidemic of false rape charges.”

Yet despite all of these things that we know, our culture will bend over backward to inject doubt into Dylan Farrow’s harrowing open letter about being sexually assaulted by Allen.

Because no matter how much we know to be true, patriarchy pushes us to put aside our good judgment—particularly when that good judgement is urging us to believe bad things about talented, white men.

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I believe, as Roxane Gay does, that people are skeptical of abuse victims because “the truth and pervasiveness of sexual violence around the world is overwhelming. Why would anyone want to face such truth?” I also believe that deep down people know that once we start to believe victims en masse—once we take their pain and experience seriously—that everything will have to change. Recognizing the truth about sexual assault and abuse will mean giving up too many sports and movies and songs and artists. It will mean rethinking institutions and families and power dynamics and the way we interact with each other every day. It will be a lot.

And we are lazy.

It’s easier to ignore what we know to be true, and focus on what we wish was. But the more we hold on to the things that make us comfortable and unthinking, the more people will be hurt—and the more growing room we’ll create for monsters.

Read Next: Jessica Valenti on how we can protect women’s rights by Backing The Fuck Up.

Back The Fuck Up: Protect Women’s Rights by Getting Out of the Way

Back The Fuck Up

(Original photo: AP Photo/Josh Reynolds)

Feminists are constantly on the defensive. Whether it’s fighting back against sexist media depictions of women, working to hold ground on reproductive rights or arguing that rape is an actual thing that really happens—feminism’s fights are largely reactionary. In the wake of the Supreme Court fight over buffer zones, it occurs to me that we need something a bit more proactive to protect women and their rights. So I’d like to suggest that we implement a national call—a feminist addendum in the social contract—for people to Back The Fuck Up.

When a person is entering an abortion clinic, for whatever reason, protesters need to Back The Fuck Up. Because even if the media does paint anti-choice protesters as “cheery grandmothers,” the people who work at clinics every day know that these people aren’t harmless—they’re harassers. So move over, “grandma.” I need to get in that building.

When we’re walking down the street minding our own business and a man implores us to talk to him or makes a comment about our bodies, a Back The Fuck Up policy would ensure women some much-needed space. Sorry, dudes, I don’t make the rules. Perhaps you can tell that guy over there how much better he would look if he just smiled?

A Back The Fuck Up law would be especially helpful when it comes to male politicians trying to legislate women’s bodies. Have a comment about how rape can’t result in pregnancy? Think that women should be forced to view ultrasounds and listen to medically inaccurate information before they can access abortion? Sorry, guys, Back The Fuck Up. And take a biology class while you’re at it.

For the guys out there who aren’t sure if a woman wants to have sex—or thinks that wearing a skirt, having a drink or going back to their room constitutes consent—just Back The Fuck Up. Take two steps back and listen for enthusiastic consent. If you’re not hearing it, Back The Fuck Up even more.

Internet sexists who try to silence women with sexual threats and/or racial harassment: seriously, Back The Fuck Up.


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It’s too bad that we can’t have “Back The Fuck Up” grace the law books anytime soon. But the ethos is one we can all embrace—the idea that women have a right to live their lives free of discrimination and without encroachment on their rights and physical space. It’s really not that difficult to understand, nor is it too much to ask. So until we can walk through the world unencumbered by misogyny, BTFU.

Read Next: Zoë Carpenter on how prochoice advocates are planning an offensive in the States.

My Top Ten Favorite Feminist Articles of 2013

Rachel Jeantel

Witness Rachel Jeantel gives testimony during George Zimmerman’s trial. (AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Jacob Langston)

In the spirit of end-of-year lists, a small offering: my favorite feminist writing of 2013, complete with quotes. Here’s looking forward to a new year of feminist analysis, activism, and general bad-assery.

Cyrus did not just have black women gyrating behind her. She had particularly rotund black women. She gleefully slaps the ass of one dancer like she intends to eat it on a cracker. She is playing a type of black female body as a joke to challenge her audience’s perceptions of herself while leaving their perceptions of black women’s bodies firmly intact. It’s a dance between performing sexual freedom and maintaining a hierarchy of female bodies from which white women benefit materially.

—Tressie McMillan Cottom, “When Your (Brown) Body is a (White) Wonderland

For decades, the challenge facing anti-rape activists was to take what is often an intensely private crime—54 percent of sexual assaults are estimated to go unreported—and bring it to national attention as a pervasive crisis. Now that cases regularly crop up in which photos and videos of sexual assaults are circulated on social media, it’s becoming harder to argue that rape is anything but a public scourge. We are all bystanders. We all bear witness.

—Ann Friedman, “When Rape Goes Viral,” Newsweek

Shock turns into disbelief and then rage when Roosh is rejected by heaps of “the most unfeminine and androgynous robotic women” he’s ever met. “Not a feminine drop of blood courses through their veins,” Roosh rants. He concludes that the typical fetching Nordic lady doesn’t need a man “because the government will take care of her and her cats, whether she is successful at dating or not.” He’s not wrong. Several of Denmark’s social services are intended to reduce gender inequality by supporting women, a sort of state feminism that he can’t accept.

—Katie J.M. Baker, “Cockblocked by Redistribution: A Pick-up Artist in Denmark,” Dissent

It’s hard to be told to lighten up because if you lighten up any more, you’re going to float the fuck away. The problem is not that one of these things is happening, it’s that they are all happening, concurrently and constantly.

These are just songs. They are just jokes. They are just movies. It’s just a hug. They’re just breasts. Smile, you’re beautiful. Can’t a man pay you a compliment? In truth, this is all a symptom of a much more virulent cultural sickness—one where women exist to satisfy the whims of men, one where a woman’s worth is consistently diminished or entirely ignored.

—Roxane Gay, “What Men Want, America Delivers,” Salon

So rather than hear about the stigma men feel in terms of taking care of kids, I’d like for men to think more about the stigma that women feel when they’re trying to build a career and a family. And then measure whatever angst they’re feeling against the real systemic forces that devalue the labor of women. I think that’s what’s at the root of much of this: When some people do certain work we cheer. When others do it we yawn.

—Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Why I’m Against ‘Daddy Days’,” The Atlantic

And I want to try and convey to you, broadly, how you are hurting women and hurting your own art form, and how easy it would be to stop. Because right now you’re coming across like a bunch of entitled babies terrified of a few girls in your clubhouse—demanding that women be thick-skinned about their own rapes while you’re too thin-skinned to handle even mild criticism. It’s embarrassing.

—Lindy West, “An Open Letter to White Male Comedians,” Jezebel

After Ti-Grace Atkinson resigned from the Feminists, a group she had founded in New York, she declared, “Sisterhood is powerful. It kills. Mostly sisters.” The observation rang true for so many that it soon became one of the lines most frequently quoted by feminists, or, rather, misquoted: the “mostly” was dropped.

—Susan Faludi, “Death of a Revolutionary,” The New Yorker

She was there to defend her friend. And herself. Though she was not on trial, she seemed to know instinctively that black womanhood, black manhood and urban adolescence are always on trial in the American imaginary.

—Brittney Cooper, “Dark-skinned and plus-sized: The real Rachel Jeantel story,” Salon

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But what of the silent masses, the people who quietly vote with their iTunes account, with their concert ticket. I’m imploring you to connect with your humanity, which you are sacrificing for the 49:09 of pleasure you get from hearing this record, to take a stand for Black girls—even “fast” ones—who have been victimized.

—Jamilah Lemieux, “Were YOU Wrong About R. Kelly?,” Ebony

The food, it seems, becomes an extension of this happy nuclear family, the way it should be according to the heteronormative social mandate; with the woman writer only achieving fame and/ or wealth through her pursuits because they are at the service of the family (and not because she is deserving of the accolades in her own right; it’s the combination of cooking/ photography skills and traditional motherhood that makes this business model successful).

—Flavia Dzodan, “Some thoughts about sexual normativity in food writing,” Red Light Politics

Read Next: Bryce Covert on Twitter's male-dominated workplace.

Please Don’t Call it ‘Rape Insurance’: Michigan’s Anti-Choice Bill Hurts All Women

Michigan State Sen. Gretchen Whitmer

Michigan State Senator Gretchen Whitmer (AP Photo/Michigan Legislature, File)

Last night Michigan’s legislature passed a measure banning coverage for abortion in private health plans. Women who want abortion coverage will have to buy an additional rider, essentially planning for an unplanned pregnancy. I understand why opponents of the measure are calling it “rape insurance”—there are no exceptions for rape and incest, and State Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer told her own story of sexual assault and how such a law would have impacted her if she had become pregnant as a result of the attack. It was a brave moment. But the term “rape insurance” does a disservice to women—and to the reproductive justice movement.

It is not just sexual assault survivors who need their abortion covered. Yes, there is an added dimension of cruelty when you’re talking about denying women who get pregnant as a result of rape care and coverage. But we cannot create a hierarchy of “good” and “bad” abortions. Or of “deserving” women. One in three American women will have an abortion, and the circumstances behind that pregnancy is none of our business—and it certainly should have no bearing on whether or not women can afford to access care.

Referring to this measure as requiring women to have “rape insurance” is also a political misstep—what happens if Michigan anti-choicers decide they can live with a rape exception? Most women will still not have coverage for the care they need. This is similar to what happened in Virginia when feminists protested a transvaginal ultrasound mandate as “state rape.” Focusing on the most controversial aspect of the law got a lot of attention, but it also meant that once the transvaginal requirement was removed, low income women still lost out—because an abdominal ultrasound mandate remained, forcing women to pay hundreds of dollars out of pocket for an unnecessary procedure.

I understand why many in the pro-choice movement focus on the most extreme examples when we talk to the media; they are truly harrowing and serious issues. And we need public support—but not at the expense of our feminist values.

As Merritt Tierce, executive director of Texas Equal Access Fund, told me in an interview last month: “The lawsuits and the media coverage always focus on the most sympathetic cases, without acknowledging that while of course those cases absolutely deserve our sympathy, most women will not experience anything like what they see and hear in the media.”

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If we want to battle the stigma around abortion, we cannot separate it out from women’s general healthcare—or suggest, even implicitly, that some people are more deserving of abortion care than others. Michigan’s policy is unjust and sexist, and it punishes women—that should be enough to oppose it.

Read Next: Why Jessica Valenti doesn’t want to watch TV shows anymore.

Manic Pixie Dead Girl: Why I’m Done With TV Shows

Sons of Anarchy

A promo for Sons of Anarchy (Courtesy of FX)

SPOILERS: Sons of Anarchy, Downton Abbey

I’m done with television dramas. I don’t say this lightly—I’m a tremendous TV fan. When my daughter was in the hospital for two months, my husband I binged watched Friday Night Lights every night to keep our minds busy. I revisit old favorites like Buffy and Battlestar Galactica when I’m bored. I am obsessed with Scandal. I love TV. But I can’t bear to watch another female character get hurt.

The straw that broke this feminist’s back was the season’s finale of Sons of Anarchy. The last few episodes of the show had audiences wondering what would happen to Maggie Siff’s character, Tara—she betrayed her increasingly violent husband Jax, lying about a miscarriage and later taking their two sons in an effort to get them away from the criminal motorcycle club. The tension had been building for weeks, with Tara becoming more desperate—but fans of the show knew that Jax’s moral wavering made it unlikely he would kill her. Indeed, in this last episode he tells Tara to “save our sons” and plans to turn himself in and save her. Instead, writer Kurt Sutter decided to have club matriarch Gemma kill Tara—and in the most violent and ignoble way.

I didn’t watch the death scene, but with a half hour left in the show I knew it was coming. I Googled to confirm my suspicions and shut the show off in disgust. I won’t watch it again. In part I was annoyed that Sutter let Jax stay the good guy in the end while still putting a female lead through an awful ordeal (and not for the first time). But more than that it was sheer exhaustion. I am so tired of seeing female characters getting raped, beaten and killed—all for titillation or to move along a male character’s arc. Call her the Manic Pixie Dead Girl.

Or ‘raped girl’, for that matter. I won’t be watching the new season of Downton Abbey because I found out that a major female character will be sexually assaulted. It’s become impossible to enjoy most quality television shows because the hurt or endangered women device is so frequently used. And if a character is pregnant, forget it—you pretty much know she’s a goner.

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Yes, dead or harmed women in television is nothing new. There are entire series dedicated to the practice (I’m looking at you, SVU!). But lately, I’ve just found it too… stressful. I watch my favorite female characters with my heart in my throat, just waiting for the inevitable to happen. Women have to fear and anticipate violence and sexual assault in their everyday real life—I don’t want to fear for it in my entertainment as well. It’s bad for my soul.

Edgar Allan Poe once wrote, “The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.” Too many male writers and directors buy into this narrative. But I don’t have to.

Read Next: Michelle Goldberg on why Linda Tirando is not a hoax.

Birth Control Coverage: It’s the Misogyny, Stupid

Birth control medication

Boxes of birth control medication and viagra in a supermarket. (Reuters/Mark Blinch)

Today the Supreme Court announced it will hear two cases concerning the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that companies’ insurance plans cover birth control. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties claim the mandate violates their belief against certain kinds of contraception—pitting female employees’ right to a nondiscriminatory health plan against a company’s religious freedom. (I also fervently hope these companies are fighting as hard to ensure that their unmarried male employees don’t have access to sin-pills like Viagra.)

Most American women—99 percent—will use birth control at some point in their lives. Twenty-seven million women are being covered by this provision right now. So I have to wonder what companies that don’t want to cover birth control will tell their female employees should the contraception mandate be struck down. Abstinence? Aspirin between the knees, perhaps?

There’s also an incredibly slippery slope here—if employees’ health plans have to adhere to company owners’ religious beliefs, what happens if your boss doesn’t believe in vaccinations? Or as Guardian columnist Jill Filipovic tweeted, “What if your blood transfusions violate your employer’s religious beliefs? No surgery coverage?” Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America said in a statement, “Allowing this intrusion into personal decisions by their bosses opens a door that won’t easily be shut.”

Judy Waxman, vice president of health and reproductive rights at the National Women’s Law Center, says these scenarios are real possibilities. “What if an employer believes women should be subservient and doesn’t believe in providing the same wage and hours for them as male employees?” She relayed one case where a private school denied health insurance to married women, because school management believed husbands are the “head of the household” and should provide for their wives.

The truth is that this is not about religious freedom, it’s about sexism, and a fear of women’s sexuality. When Sandra Fluke testified in favor for birth control coverage, she wasn’t criticized for trying to curtail religious freedom—she was called a ‘slut’ and a ‘prostitute’. When the FDA held up over-the-counter status of emergency contraception for years, it wasn’t because of the medication’s efficacy or potential health risks but because of a fear it would make girls promiscuous. The same thing happened when the HPV vaccine was being reviewed. Just this morning, I came across a conservative political cartoon that really says it all.

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Reproductive health needs are just that—health needs. But because we live in a country that has a ridiculous hang-up over women and sex, we’re still debating the morality of birth control and calling women whores instead of giving them the care they need. We know why conservatives want to limit birth control access—they show their true colors every day. So let’s not pretend these cases are about religious freedom or employer’s rights. Call it what it is: misogyny.

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