February 13, 2017
Gender Progress in Ballet
Dana Genshaft’s, Chromatic Fantasy set to the music of Dave Brubeck’s Chaconne from Chromatic Fantasy premiered Friday night at the NYU Skirball Center. Ms. Genshaft was looking - actually squinting - at the sun one day and saw all the colors of the rainbow wavering before her. The ensuing ballet and her search for the right music sprung from this moment. Six dancers - three men, three women - from the ABT Studio Company dressed in different chromatic colors weaved in and out of the music, at times with it and at others at a contrapuntal rhythm. Pairs swapped with ease and trios emerged only to dissolve quickly. The dance propelled, though there were quieter sections, and the colors flowed. A work of beauty and energy resulted.
This work is Genshaft’s first for ABT. Kevin McKenzie, the artistic director of ABT, to his and its credit, is making a concerted effort to commission new works by female choreographers. Last fall it premiered Jessica Lang’s, Her Notes, set to the music of Fanny Mendelssohn, sister of Felix. It was a total success and has been added to the ABT repertoire. Other commissions by female choreographers are in the works at ABT, which is determined to smash the glass slipper. Genshaft more than proved her chops on a program that also featured such luminary choreographers as Frederick Ashton, Helgi Tomasson, Kenneth MacMillan and Liam Scarlett. That she was the only female choreographer is worthy of note only because usually there are none on the programs of any American ballet company. Genshaft was previously a soloist at San Francisco Ballet and teaches choreography in the school there. She is richly deserving of more commissions, including from her home company, which has yet to recognize her home grown talent. Kudos to Kevin McKenzie and ABT for doing so. And kudos also to ABT for commissioning its star, Marcelo Gomes, who gave the New York City premier of his ballet set to Kabalevsky Violin Concerto.
The gender disparity starts early in ballet. The Saturday afternoon performance was family friendly and there were, by my guess, over 100 children in attendance. I counted three boys. The rest girls. Change needs to come at all levels of ballet.
Note: the author is a trustee of the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, which funds commissions of choreographic works by emerging female choreographers.
January 26, 2017
Why Trump's Global Gag Rule international abortion restrictions are so dangerous
The Global Gag Rule is like a cartoon character, no sooner squashed by a falling boulder than it emerges from under the rock that fell on it and goes on its un-merry way, leaving destruction in its path. It was instituted by Ronald Reagan in 1984, overturned by Bill Clinton, reinstated by George W. Bush, overturned by Barack Obama and now has been reinstated by Donald Trump.
Previous versions of the Global Gag Rule, or Mexico City Policy, prohibited U.S. providers of foreign contraceptive aid from using their own funding to providing abortion counseling, services or referrals — even in countries where abortion is legal. Organizations were also prohibited from advocating to decriminalize abortion. Trump’s new “super gag rule” takes the unprecedented step of extending the rule to “all global health assistance,” jeopardizing as much as $9 billion in federal aid for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, Zika, children’s health and other life-saving programs.
But here’s the most insidious part of the rule: Organizations were already prohibited from using U.S. funding for abortion-related services and advocacy, thanks to the 1973 Helms Amendment. The Gag Rule takes the harmful and unnecessary step of dictating what organizations can or can’t spend the rest of their budgets on.
The Global Gag Rule restricts medical professionals in economically developing countries from giving impartial medical advice to their patients, denying them information about avoiding risks and prohibiting informed decisionmaking by women about childbearing. On Monday, the International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region, which oversees sexual and reproductive health programs in the Americas and Caribbean, affirmed that it will not sign the Gag Rule, stating that “Putting a ‘gag order’ on local providers who know the specific laws and needs of their communities is arrogant and flies in the face of common sense and reason.”
The fact is: The Global Gag Rule has been shown to increase abortions worldwide. When the U.S. cuts off the supply of contraceptives, many people in the developing world are forced to go without them. Abortion rates in Sub-Saharan Africa more than doubled after George W. Bush reinstated the Gag Rule.
The Guttmacher Institute found that in 2016, U.S. funding for contraceptives prevented more than 2 million unsafe abortions and 6 million unintended pregnancies, and helped prevent 11,000 maternal deaths worldwide. The Trump-Pence Administration simply ignores the obvious truth that contraception reduces abortions; bans don’t.
Does the President care? No. His aim is to punish women and organizations that serve them — because we stand up for the right to impartial information and dignified and voluntary medical services, including safe abortion. Over the weekend, I marched side-by-side with millions of women across the world to affirm that women’s rights are human rights. Men must stand in solidarity with women to oppose this rule. We cannot abide by a policy that denies a basic human right and puts women’s lives at risk.
Sanger, the grandson of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, is the current chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council. He was the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood-New York City for 10 years.
January 20, 2017
When I was in college in 1966, a dear friend who I had not seen in a year told me she was pregnant and needed an abortion. She was desperate-and broke. Abortion was illegal. I asked around and got the name of a physician in Washington, D.C., called him, made the arrangements and raised the money for my friend. The doctor turned out to be professional and everything went as smoothly as it could given the circumstances, but I decided that I would do everything I could to ensure no other woman went through what my friend endured. In a way, the experience awakened my social conscience. I gave my first reproductive rights speech in 1969. I have devoted the last 30 years of my professional life to reproductive and sexual freedom and rights with Planned Parenthood of New York City and with International Planned Parenthood Federation. I was at Cairo for the International Conference on Population and Development in 1994, where women were put at the center of the development agenda and in Beijing for the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, where Hillary Clinton proclaimed that Women’s Rights were Human Rights. Women around the world today are in the same position my friend was in this country in 1967. There weren’t a lot of men in Beijing but I was proud to be there and to speak at the NGO Forum on the role of men in women’s rights. We are all in this fight together. And I am proud to join women and men from throughout the country, throughout the world in our collective roar for women’s rights.
Not for Women Only - Family Planning for Families
I’m in a Planned Parenthood health center. Men are in the waiting room, as well as women and infants. Primary care, including dermatology, urology, and pediatric care, are offered to all comers. But that is not all. In one adjacent building, there is a cooking class and an adjacent café where the teen (and some adult) budding cooks sell their culinary creations to the public. In another building, teens are learning to cut and style hair; next door teens are measuring customers for made-to-order clothes; and in yet another space, teens are rehearsing a play about responsible decision making and warning against illegal abortion. Nearby are the classrooms of a primary school for the orphan children of the neighborhood. A steam bath in another building has a steady stream of customers from the community.
This is Planned Parenthood? Or have I wandered into some alternative universe?
I’m in Fes, Morocco at the Complexe Lalla Fatima Zagra Laazizia, run by Moroccan Family Planning Association, or, more properly, the Association Marocaine de Planification Familiale (AMPF). AMPF is the Member Association of the International Planned Parenthood Federation in Morocco. Founded in 1971, AMPF saw that providing sexual and reproductive health care had to be done in the context of empowerment of women and of disadvantaged young persons, male and female. Family planning had to be part of life planning and life opportunity and needed community support so as to be seen as integral to the futures of girls and boys, women and men. AMPF decided it had to be embedded in the community to succeed. No isolation for them. No services only below the waist.
No women only. In this it has succeeded.
The nation of Morocco is among the most liberal in the Arab world and is developing rapidly. According to the United Nations, the population is approximately 35 million people, and the birth rate is 2.6. The birthrate in the Arab world is 3.5. According to the World Bank, maternal and infant mortality are declining rapidly in Morocco and the Arab World, with maternal mortality in Morocco at 121 (down from 317 in 1990), versus 156 in the Arab World (down from 289 in 1990). Thus, Morocco had had above average maternal mortality in 1990 and now is lower than average. The under-5 mortality is 28 (down from 239 in 1990). In the Arab World it was 37 in 2014 versus 249 in 1990.
While the life expectancy at birth is 73 years for men and 75 years for women, the educational and economic disparities run in the other direction. According to the UN, 59% of boys are enrolled in secondary school but only 53% of girls. These rates are slightly less than the Arab World at 64% and 58% respectively. In University, the ratios even out with about one-quarter of both young men and young women enrolled. The greatest disparity is in labor force participation, where only one-quarter of women are participating, whereas three-quarters of men are.
Birth-control is available for free in government health clinics and abortion is widely practiced, but is legal only in cases of danger to the health of the woman and in cases of rape, incest or fetal defect (these latter exceptions were added this year.) The contraceptive prevalence rate is 68%, with the modern contraception rate being 58%. The percentages for the Arab world are 51% and 43% respectively.
The Moroccan Family Planning Association operates 30 sexual and reproductive health centers and, in addition, has seven mobile health units. It offered over 1.7 million reproductive health care services last year.
The MFPA clinic and complex in Fes is located in a disadvantaged neighborhood called Sahrij Gnaoua. The Complexe serves the 70,000 inhabitants, where the birth rate is about five children per woman. The illiteracy rate is 55% for women and 35% for men. There is only one Ministry of Health center for this entire population and one doctor from the private sector.
The Complexe enables women to make choices about their lives, gives young girls and boys opportunities for the future, campaigns against gender-based violence, and creates a social enterprise model and mutual aid partnership between the clinic and all its programs and the entire neighborhood.
The Complexe is a model for how reproductive health care services can be part of an entire fabric of a neighborhood and garner community and nationwide support. They partner with 65 community groups and do sex education programs in the community schools. Women sit in the hammam and discuss sex and ways to prevent intimate partner violence. There is no opposition. No picketing. No harassment. It is one of Morocco’s great success stories. There are lessons to be learned here.
January 13, 2017
Breaking the Waves - The Opera
Breaking the Waves, the breathtaking new opera by composer, Missy Mazzoli, and librettist, Royce Vavrek, had its New York premier on January 6, 2017 at NYU’s Skirball Center. It had premiered in Philadelphia in September 2016 at Opera Philadelphia, which had co-commissioned the work with Beth Morrison Projects. Based on the Lars von Trier movie of the same name, the story is set in an insular (literally) community on the Isle of Skye off the west coast of Scotland. A young woman, Bess, a member of the tight-knit religious community, marries an outsider, Jan, to the great consternation of her congregation. He works on an offshore oil rig (for us literalists, there are no oil rigs off of Skye - they are all in the North Sea on the other side of Scotland). Bess prays for his early return. He is injured and paralyzed and, from his hospital bed, asks Bess to have sex with other men and to recount her liaisons to him. The reasons for this request are murky (to keep their marriage and his hopes alive?) but her assent seemingly isn’t: she feels guilty for praying for his early return, feels she may have caused his accident, wants to do the right thing by her husband and believes she will thereby cure him. That said, Bess does like sex, as we saw when she asked Jan to consummate their marriage in a loo at their wedding reception - envisioning it to be a romantic setting when it was anything but. As she sets forth, hesitantly, on her sexual adventures/redemption, is she fooling herself, or her husband, or is she delusional, or full of faith? She certainly does not enjoy the sex. She is degraded, humiliated and victimized and meets a tragic end. Her husband recovers, presumably redeemed by her sacrifice.
A jagged stage set represents the jagged coast and sharp-edged lives of the residents (and the jumbled souls and psyches of the protagonists). The characters are trapped in a judgmental religious world, with clear rules and no mercy inside or outside the church. Bess is a small woman, as portrayed by Kiera Duffy, but with a large, clear voice, like the church bells that miraculously sound at the final curtain. A 15-piece orchestra conveys Mazzoli’s haunting and jagged score that captures the conflict, desperation and agony of Bess and Jan. A chorus, of 12 men, in soiled black overcoats and black hats, representing the church elders and Bess’s tormentors and assailants, were appropriately oppressive, unforgiving and menacing.
The libretto was pared down and to the point. The staging was dramatic, and the voices were uniformly excellent. Kiera Duffy’s brave portrayal of Bess was riveting. She, and the opera, deserved the standing ovation the audience gave at the end.
Note: the author is a trustee of the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, which makes grants to Opera America, which funded the commission of this opera.
December 19, 2016
Halfdan Mahler, the former Director General of IPPF from 1988 to 1995, died on December 14, 2016 in Geneva. Dr. Mahler was formerly the Director of the World Health Organization and served there during the onset of the AIDS crisis from 1973-1988. I met Dr. Mahler at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1994. He was an imposing presence, at ease in the corridors of power and comfortable within the UN system of reaching consensus, even as he led IPPF in pushing for the recognition of the empowerment and rights of women in the final document. In addition to AIDS, Dr. Mahler focused on unsafe abortion as a scourge that must be eliminated. His leadership brought the IPPF Member Associations into uncharted (for some) territories of AIDS, abortion and the rights of women and he will be remembered for his firm vision and diplomacy that made it happen.
November 30, 2016
Pipilotti Rist: Pixel Forest
Swiss video artist Pipilotti Rist is a crowd pleaser. On our first visit several weeks ago to the New Museum
where her show, Pipilotti Rist: Pixel Forest, is up until January 15, 2017, the attendance was modest. Last week on our second visit, the line outside went around the block. Word had spread. The mostly Millennial hordes crowded the three floors of the museum devoted to the show, iPhones at the ready, posing, snapping, reviewing, re-posing, snapping again.
A viewer could walk through suspended sheets of sheer fabric on to which Rist projected videos. Or one could stick one’s head into a box to view another. Or one could lie on mattresses or cushions on the floor and take in the videos on the walls and ceiling. In another section, you had to walk through a forest of 300 glass LED light ornaments hanging from the ceiling, spaced maybe a foot apart. The idea was to slow down, be in the ornaments, observe the colors and pixels on the ornaments, make out the patterns, navigate carefully, not to disturb the hanging pendants, or, worse, crash them together. The visitors, being blithe New Yorkers and high-spirited Europeans - I heard at least a half dozen languages - were routinely knocking the glass lights into each other. A security guard told me that four pendants had been shattered that day, and it was only 2 pm. He routinely radios the curatorial staff and they come armed with replacements, stepladders and, presumably, a broom and dust pan. All part of the intended experience, I imagine. Breakable, elusive art. The fragility of life.
The Rist videos projected on walls and ceiling continue the theme and confuse. Are you, the observer, inside the body or outside? Underwater scenes, filmed in the Rhine, are surreal, bubbles and particles - of what? - abound. You are taken down narrow passages - are we in an artery, is this human skin we see and feel? Are the amoeba in the river or in us? Rist calls her art “glorification of the wonder of evolution”.
The installation envelopes with its dual screens surrounding you. You lie there not wanting to leave, yet conscious there is a waiting line. The accompanying music completes the envelopment. The experience takes you outside yourself and inside at the same time.
November 21, 2016
Audra McDonald, the star of Shuffle Along on Broadway, found herself pregnant last May, and, a month later, the show’s producers cancelled the remainder of the run, instead of bringing in another performer to take over her role. The producers had purchased an insurance policy from Lloyds, which reportedly covered them in case Ms. McDonald was unable to perform because of “accident or illness”. Putting aside whether the pregnancy was an “accident” (this will be litigated), is it an “illness”?
While there are laws and cases on this (one report says, “no
“), a look back at perhaps the first case on this issue, involving my grandmother, Margaret Sanger, might be instructive.
One hundred years ago, on October 16, 1916, she opened America’s first birth control clinic in Brownsville, Brooklyn. After ten days, the police shuttered the clinic as being in violation of the Comstock Law, which prohibited a person “to sell, or give away, or to advertise or offer for sale, any instrument or article, drug or medicine, for the prevention of conception; or to give information orally, stating when, where or how such an instrument, article or medicine can be purchased or obtained.”
My grandmother freely admitted violating the law, as she dispensed birth control information to the women jamming her clinic, was convicted and was sentenced to 30 days in prison.
She appealed her conviction, an unusual step since she had admitted her guilt, and argued that what she had done was within the exception to the law, which stated: “An article or instrument, used or applied by physicians lawfully practicing, or by their direction or prescription, for the cure or prevention of disease, is not an article of indecent or immoral nature or use, within this article.”
The issue came down to, what is “disease”.
My grandmother argued that pregnancy was a “disease”.
The New York Court of Appeals in 1918 in Sanger v. New York
first noted that my grandmother was a nurse and not a physician and thus was not covered by the exception.
Nonetheless, obviously in sympathy with what she was doing, the Court unanimously said:
“This exception in behalf of physicians does not permit advertisements regarding such matters, nor promiscuous advice to patients irrespective of their condition, but it is broad enough to protect the physician who in good faith gives such help or advice to a married person to cure or prevent disease. ‘Disease,’ by Webster’s International Dictionary, is defined to be, ‘an alteration in the state of the body, or of some of its organs, interrupting or disturbing the performance of the vital functions, and causing or threatening pain and sickness; illness; sickness; disorder’.”
My grandmother took this to mean that pregnancy was exactly that - an alteration in the state of the body, and an “illness”. She was thereafter free to open her birth control clinics, mostly unhindered by the law, though raids happened from time to time.
While insurance law and contract law are a world of their own, public policy, and dare I say common sense, can intrude, just as the NY Court of Appeals showed in 1918. Pregnancy is no walk in the park, or on stage. If the Lloyds policy didn’t specifically exclude pregnancy, shouldn’t they be on the hook?
Alexander C. Sanger
Mr. Sanger previously served as the President of Planned Parenthood of New York City (PPNYC) and its international arm, The Margaret Sanger Center International (MSCI) for ten years from 1991 - 2000.
, the grandson of Margaret Sanger, who founded the birth control movement over eighty years ago, is currently Chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council.
Mr. Sanger speaks around the country and the world and has served as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund.
With reproductive freedom in jeopardy, Alexander Sanger, grandson of renowned family planning advocate Margaret Sanger and a longtime leader in the reproductive rights movement, has taken an urgent, fresh look at the pro-choice position—and even the pro-life position—and finds them necessary, but insufficient. In Beyond Choice he offers the first major re-thinking of these positions in thirty years.
“Well researched and readable, Beyond Choice should be required reading for both pro-choice and pro-life supporters.”
—Governor Christine Todd Whitman
» Much more on Beyond Choice, including an excerpt, discussion guides, reviews
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Revisited: Reproductive Freedom for All?
Hypatia, Indiana University Press
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Elaine Hopkins, The Journal Star
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Jamie Smith, The Daily Vidette
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