“Protect My Olive: How Policies Around Gender Binaries Affect the Portrayal of Black Womxns’ Olives Within Family Planning Commercials” – by Jameelah Lewis

By Jameelah Lewis • 

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” these are just a few that every person bullied followed by to stay strong, but the question in play here is, how do you stop a bully? It seems that African-Americans are picked on through the media more than any other ethnicity group or marginalized community. This problem has affected the African-American community since the beginning of minstrel shows, and continues to plague the community as decades pass in political, social, and on individual levels. There are many ways in which African-Americans are stigmatized through the media, but the focus here are the ways that African-American womxn and families are affected through the negative portrayals of Black people and family planning commercials. The media plays a part in enforcing negative biases about “certain people” in such a way that a mass of viewers start believing in them too, and these negative interpretations affect the lives of people in reality.

Pussy, cat, taco, yum yum, pearl, and even cookie are only a few names that some people use to refer to anatomical female genitalia, but with so many choices, picking a term that most people understand and that is not too explicit for those who may triggered by the use of words like pussy, olive will be the term that refers to anatomical female genitalia throughout the text. Olive was chosen to represent female genitalia because of the inconsistency amongst olives; which varies in shape, color, size, and likeability. The fact that olives are so diverse, like people who live with and have/ had anatomical female genitalia, it only made sense to reference them as the point that causes so much controversy. Olives are seen as controversial because of the lack of conversation pertaining around who has had control of the olive, how that effects policies around olives, correlating to the way in which olives are perceived by the masses, and how the results of all that causes a lack of diversity when portraying Black womxn’s olives and their ability to start families. Proper outtakes from this research should be the ability to form ideas and methods on including a spectrum of olives within family planning marketing advertisement. In order to regain control around the narrative of Black womxn’s olive from dominant groups by invoking a need for change throughout media is the focus of this piece, and to give an in-depth analysis of why change is needed to occur in order to give liberty and agency to all olives.

It is a necessity that when first speaking about olives, the history of who has had control of a womxn’s olives be discussed first. It is often thought that men have had historical control of a womxn’s olive, which is true, but in America this kind of heteronormative behavior can be justified to an extent due to the Declaration of Sentiments. The Declaration of Sentiments, also known as the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments, is a document signed in 1848 by 68 women and 32 men. The anti-suffragist sentiments set a foundation in which women pledged their whole selves to men with the exclusion of a few things which were some civil, social, political, and religious rights of women. Authors Frances Flannery and Rodney Werline write in their book The Bible in Political Debate: What Does it Really Say?, “The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpation on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her to prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world” (Rollstone, C. 2016). To that point, the Declaration of Sentiments conveys that men have some type of authority over women that is innately installed within themselves. This interpretation is not an original thought conveyed by leaders of that time, as “Edward Rosewater (an avowed anti-suffragist) then retorted: ‘That monopoly was created by a higher power. It is a monopoly created by the Lord’(Gordon et al. 2006, 188; cf. Gardon 2012, 201-233, esp. 206, emphasis mine)” (Rollstone, C. 2016), in which Rosewater justifies that the Lord (religious figures/heads) has an effect on gender binaries and may be one of the first sites of text to install the subordination of womxn with society. In reference to Rosewater’s claim the bible and/or religion was the predecessor and The Declaration of Sentiments was the original form of legalized policies to disenfranchise womxn from having control of their olives.

Previously, before the Declaration of Sentiments, Black slaves with olives were not only restricted of agency and free will, but they were not offered the ability to consent to any actions being taken against their bodies. Starting in the 17th century during the trans-Atlantic slave trade Black folk who lived with olives were being forced to reproduce, and felt pressure to reproduce because the slave masters would offer incentives, but were unknowing about what would come as a result. As slavery kept a booming an economy stable so did the child birth of Black children, therefore the black folk had to bear children not for themselves, but for profit. As time progressed, past the Declaration of Sentiments, womxn became more independent and wanted to express that liberty in all ways possible, and for Black womxn that freedom was crucial. Margaret Sanger; a founder of Planned Parenthood, birth control activist, sex educator, writer, and nurse stated that “No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her own body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother,” (Roberts, D, 2017) as stated the book Killing The Black Body by Dorothy Roberts. Sanger advocated for the right to choose as a means to freedom for women, but the many eugenicists advocated for the rational control of reproduction to improve society and opposed social programs designed to improve the living conditions of the poor (Roberts, D, 2017), thus as a result many people found sterilization as a means of preventing the birth of children who would need public assistance (Roberts, D, 2017).

In 1939, the Birth Control Federation of America, now known as Planned Parenthood, established a Division of Negro service formed by Margaret Sanger who was also a eugenicist. Sanger believed that, “‘The mass of Negroes, particularly in the South, still breed carelessly and disastrously, with the result that the increase among Negroes, even more than among whites, is from that portion of the population least intelligent and fit, and least able to rear children properly’ -Sanger” (Roberts, D, 2017). Over many years’ eugenicists removed the uterus of Black womxn in efforts to control human population by only breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics (Roberts, D, 2017), in which ethnocentric scientist believed only white people were fit enough to reproduce. In 1990, 51 years after the establishment of the Division of Negro service through planned parenthood, a new birth control was introduced as a solution to reduce poverty in areas with high populations of people of color (Black people). Norplant, an implant set to last 5 years to prevent pregnancy, had the support of former KKK grand wizard David Duke within its first four year, and by 1994 Norplant got approved by states and had already spent 34 million on Norplant-related benefits (eg Medicaid and even low cost or no insurance) (Roberts, D, 2017). Due to the fact that Black people disproportionately rely on welfare to support their children and selves, while one-third of all Black adults and half of all Black children live in poverty, therefore it is not shocking that Black women are five times more likely to live in poverty than their white counterparts and thus will be solicited to take Norplant. As the continuation of social control thrives throughout America the enhancement of implants like Norplant allows Nexplanon, a similar drug, to affect womxn of this current generation.

The fact that gender division in America is intersectional with racial injustices established, and continues to, keep womxn in a childish state of ignorance in an effort to “prevent” their full development and empowerment so that men could make the choices for them, even regarding laws and policies around the olive.

Prior to Roe v. Wade, allowing womxn the right to receive legal abortions, womxn who sought medical treatment in hospital emergency rooms following botched abortions were required to sign a paper stating the name of the abortionist and who the father of her baby was before she could be medically treated; this demeaning practice resulted in many womxn dying before receiving treatment due to self-inflicted wounds (ushistory.org.  2017). The purpose of not allowing womxn to be in control of their reproductive and health rights was to establish dominance within a culture of patriarchy formed in America. Soon after the legalization of abortion in 1973, “The National Right to Life Committee formed with the explicit goal of reversing Roe v. Wade. The issue is fundamentally thorny because it involves basic faiths. Those who believe life begins at conception feel that the unborn child deserves the same legal protections as an adult” (ushistory.org. 2017), as the use of religion has been cited multiple times as the reason womxn are treated as less than men, or to revoke their rights in a scheme to refrain womxn from being in control of their bodies and olives. After Roe V. Wade Female purity was also viewed as a weapon to be used by “good” women to keep men (both sexes) in control of sexual needs, which is currently being utilized to dismiss female sexuality within various realms, for example; religion, media, schools, and popular culture.

In the year of 2017, the vice president of the United States, Mike Pence, “delivered the tie breaking vote on a resolution reversing an Obama administration rule that prevented states from withholding family-planning dollars from Planned Parenthood and other clinics that provide abortions” (Cunningham, P. 2017), states author Paige Cunningham of the Washington Post. The decision that was made in the senate that day changed the discourse for womxn in more ways than one; it showed society that men still think of womxn as subordinate, incompetent of making their own decisions regarding health and family planning, and that men have some kind of innate supremacy over womxn. Before that action took place there was said to be thirteen states that already withdrawn the use of title x, family planning, dollars from health providers that offered abortion as an option before Pence regranted that right to the states (Cunningham, P. 2017), meaning that local state government can make decisions regarding womxn’s rights with policies that adhere to stereotypical gender binaries. The parallels between what womxn experienced 100 years ago and currently is uncanny, to the fact that the same problems are still hindering womxn from receiving full ownership of their olives. When funding for planned parenthood is threatened of being cut from federal spending it affects all people, but it is a fear for many Black womxn who’s main source of health care may come from Planned Parenthood. Defunding planned parenthood has been a goal for many people since the legality of a womxn’s right to choose was upheld in Roe v. Wade, and now that men have exuberated their dominance over womxn with that triumph, the chaos that is brewing due to reversing generations of progress for womxn to obtain their rights is unimaginable. Though no action has been taken yet the fear is only heightened and accelerated with the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Due to gender binaries that have been released on to society by powerful and influential forces, not only has the anatomical female gender been disregarded publicly, but also, misrepresented throughout the media as well due to the chilling effects of living in a heteronormative patriarchal system. Within the cold reality of understanding that a womxn will not be given proprietary rights over their olives, it is also to understand that the word “women” does not represent all womxn. Michael Chavis, a student at Minnesota State University, wrote in his thesis “…McIntosh’s (1989) theory of white privilege explains that whiteness is invisible…” (Chávez, M. 2015), and allows those who are white to flow between ethnic groups and appropriate culture without notice which is one explanation to visible disparity of people of color being represented within family planning commercials. Since the first minstrel show Black womxn have been mischaracterized “When the primary televised narratives about race and gender are Jezebels, Mammies, and Sapphires…our collective cultural understanding of who women of color ‘are’… becomes poisoned…” (Smith, S., 2013), states the author Siobhan Smith. Throughout history it is seen how men have forced their interpretation of what a womxn’s role in society is, and Black womxn have always been portrayed as matriarchs and subordinate. Black womxn have been disenfranchised in a world with a target on their foreheads since the first slave got to America, and as time progressed the problems kept multiplying. The mass dehumanization of Black womxn began to occur within the media; from shows that glamorized the image of the sassy Black womxn (Sapphire), music videos that hypersexualize them (Jezebel), and even magazine covers that portrays Black women as exotic and animalistic all have had effect on how Black Women are viewed.

Due to the steps backwards being taken regarding womxn’s journey in gaining agency around their olives, the lack of diversity within family planning commercials has seem to be more prevalent than before, though Black womxn having children has never been something glamorized. As Kacey Y. Eichelberger in a publication stated, “The history of family planning for Black women is one of the most abhorrent in medicine, with eugenics campaigns and forced sterilization disproportionately targeting Black women” (Eichelberger, K, 2016), it left Black womxn disadvantaged in process of obtaining access to their olives. With the consciousness of this history Black womxn are then not represented within media pertaining to family planning, and referring to; Clear Blue Easy pregnancy test commercials, Error Proof Test (E.P.T.) commercials, and First Response pregnancy test commercials in which predominantly portray white women as family planners. As well as, Planned Parenthood online commercials that only represent the Black womxn’s olive when it pertains to receiving an abortion, therefore making it seem as if a Black womxn’s womb as morbid or and inhabitable place. Within all of these major media outlets for pregnancy test and family planning nowhere are women of color portrayed in a positive outlook. It would be too much to assume that all of these major companies that promote womxn’s rights would reflect the diverse U.S. culture in which their major consumer reside, but instead they exclude everyone who doesn’t look apart of the Caucasian nationality. Therefore, when Eichelberger also claimed “the significant disparities Black women face across their reproductive lives, and conclude that these outcomes are not only statistically significant, but morally significant and fundamentally unjust” (Eichelberger, K, 2016), it gave a deeper sense of how detrimental it is to have a lack of illustration amongst Black womxn’s olive because of the history around them, the negative connotation associate with them throughout the media.

In the year of 2018, it is still made prevalent that men control womxn’s olives because of their ability to create legislation and images that affects one’s perception, but due to recent movements that have been encouraging and empowering womxn, it is time for the up and coming generation of womxn to speak up for themselves, voice their opinions, and fight for the justices of all. Recently, there has been an uproar of activist speaking upon issues that mean something to them; may it be equal pay in the workplace, equality in the standard of life, abortion rights, the #MeToo movement and anything under the spectrum of womxnhood people are talking. For instance, bitchmedia.org is a website where activist for womxn’s rights post, engage, and discuss current issues that pertain around women’s olives, directly and indirectly. Another way to make a change is to voice the opinions of everyone. The most efficient and effective way to do that is gather a group of people who share the same values, coordinate a message or a purpose for why that opinion matters, and then spread that message in any way possible; may that be community meetings, gatherings after school, lobbying to politicians, voting in elections, and even just posting on Facebook are all valuable methods in ways to voice the opinions of people. Lastly, to make a change everyone has to be included. It is not the duty of another to disenfranchise anyone due to the suffering and/or the mistreatment felt upon themselves buy a larger force, it is only to include and represent the strengths and qualities that each person. With these methods, and more to be derived, is how change will occur and womxn will be awarded full guardianship of their olives.

The intentions of this piece were “to give an in depth analysis of why change is needed to occur in order to give justice to olives and to begin conversations revolving around how to protect perceptions of olives,” and the objective was completed with a historical implication around who has had control of womxn’s olives, policies that legitimized the control of olives, and with examples of modern media that does not include olives of color. The context that is provided is just a tool to inform the readers of the biases that are amongst them, and it is the job of the readers to do justice with the information received. If change is not what is desired after reading this piece, then it should put into perspective on what side of the fence you stand on in this argument, though this is not a piece that is meant for everyone, just those who believe that a womxn’s olive should be protected.

Works Cited

Rollston, Christopher A. “Women, the Bible, and the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution.” The Bible in Political Debate: What Does it Really Say? (2016): 155.

Ellis, Atiba R. “Economic Precarity, Race, and Voting Structures.” Ky. LJ 104 (2015): 607.

Jewkes, Rachel, and Loveday Penn-Kekana. “Mistreatment of women in childbirth: time for action on this important dimension of violence against women.” PLoS Med 12.6 (2015): e1001849.

ushistory.org, . Roe v. Wade and Its Impact. Philedelphia, U.S. History Online Textbook, 2017, http://www.ushistory.org/us/57d.asp. Accessed 5 May 2017.

Cunningham, Paige. Pence breaks tie to allow states to strip family-planning dollars from abortion providers. The Washington Post, 2017,   https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2017/03/30/pence-breaks-tie-on-debate-for-planned-parenthood-measure/?utm_term=.5684d0a93c19. Accessed 8 May 2017.

Chávez, Michael. “Representing Us All? Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Orange Is the New Black.” (2015).

Patterson, Ashley N., Arianna Howard, and Valerie Kinloch. “Black Feminism and Critical Media Literacy: Moving from the Margin to the Center.” Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism 15.1 (2016): 40-64.

Eichelberger, Kacey Y., et al. “Black lives matter: claiming a space for evidence-based outrage in obstetrics and gynecology.” (2016): 1771-1772.

Roberts, Dorothy E. Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty. Vintage Books, 2017.

Jameelah Lewis is a recent graduate from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas with a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice minoring in African-American Studies.  She knows Black Lives Matter and advocates for a system of education not mass incarceration.

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