Like face masks and toilet paper, moments of levity were in high demand in 2020. As many rode out the year homebound and online, social media was a go-to source for a lion’s share of our comic relief. One meme that quickly earned its 15 megabytes of fame was an image of an anguished child, captioned, “Kids in the future trying to learn all the things that happened in 2020 for their history final.”
This has doubtless been a year that defies the usual descriptions or recaps, and behind much of the laughter that sustained us through these last 12 months was a level of grief, anxiety, and anger unlike anything we’ve experienced before. It has often felt like multiple concurrent years.
One was a year marked by a pandemic that reminded us of the precarity of food, housing, and health care in an economy that has long abandoned working families. Another was a year that forced the nation to confront the brutal inequalities that shaped its past and grips the present — a present that has taken Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and far too many more from us. Yet another was an election year — one that brought tension to an apex but ended on a hopeful note.
That election put Arizona in the spotlight when Joe Biden won the state’s presidential race, marking the first time a Democrat took the lead since 1996 — and only the second time since 1948. Nationally, the election marked the first time a woman of color (or any woman) became vice president-elect. Remarking on the history that was just made, Kamala Harris offered two short sentences that instantly went viral: “Make sure to wear shoes, ladies. There’s glass everywhere.”
Finding the words to capture any moment in 2020 was no small feat. Nor was keeping reproductive justice in focus when we were unsettled by everything from record wildfires to the dismantling of our postal service. But our team of bloggers took on the challenge, lending their invaluable voices throughout the year. Six of their pieces are highlighted here to take a look at 2020 and what it meant for gender equality and reproductive justice.
1. ERA: A Personal Look Back
Pictured above: Phyllis Schlafly at her STOP ERA rally. Photo: BETTMANN ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES
In February, Anne Hopkins recounted her personal experiences in the early fight for the Equal Rights Amendment. She took us back to a weekend in 1978, when she and a friend boarded a bus to DC to push for the last remaining states to ratify the amendment — what would have been an overdue update to the Constitution to ensure that gender equality “shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State.” As they joined forces with a crowd of women’s rights advocates, they faced a difficult foe. A career woman herself, Phyllis Schlafly led a fierce campaign to obstruct and dismantle the social progress that feminists had fought so long to achieve.
You can read Anne Hopkin’s account of how the fight for the ERA was defeated then — but continues today — in an inspiring story that speaks to generations of activists.
2. You Are More Than Your Body: Eating Disorder Awareness Week
Every year, the last week of February is a time to boost awareness about eating disorders through nationwide events and online #NEDAwareness campaigns. Tracey S., an education outreach intern at Planned Parenthood Arizona, shared her own experiences with an eating disorder and the emotional and physical toll it took on her. She found help through the “unwavering support system of friends and family who noticed my weight loss.” They put her on the journey back to health, even if she still battles negative thoughts today.
In addition to her own story, Tracey told of the 30 million people in the U.S. who are affected by eating disorders — and the knowledge and resources they can find to recognize the signs and get on their own path to recovery.
3. The Fight for Equality and Inclusion in Sports Continues in Arizona
Also in February, Kelley gave the low-down on Arizona’s HB 2706, a bill that replaces team spirit with a mean-spirited attack on transgender athletes. The bill’s sponsor was State Rep. Nancy Barto, whose backing of the proposed legislation seemed conveniently timed to appeal to hard-right voters in the lead-up to the Arizona primary. HB 2706 would restrict participation in girls sports teams to “biological girls,” and anyone in doubt of fitting the bill would have to “prove” their gender through a physical exam, chromosomal analysis, or other testing. How’s that for small-government conservatism?
The bill is especially cruel in light of the harassment and discrimination transgender students already face. Although the bill died in committee when it reached the Senate, Kelley's call to action is a reminder of why we need to be vigilant in our support of LGBTQ rights — and prepared to defeat the next bad bill that's introduced in the legislature.
4. STD Awareness: Stigma and Sexually Transmitted Diseases
In March, as fears of the COVID-19 pandemic soared to the top of our attention, Anna delved into the troubling language that’s often embedded in discussions of infectious diseases — words and expressions that can cast a shadow of moral judgment on those who are infected. With COVID-19, that language fueled a parallel epidemic of bias incidents against Asian Americans. With sexually transmitted diseases, stigmatizing terms like “dirty” and “damaged goods” reinforce archaic attitudes that view the “wrong” kinds of sexual activity as shameful or punishable. Those attitudes led to knee-jerk and fear-filled reactions to common viruses like HPV or serious diseases like AIDS, shaming people with accusations when constructive dialogue was needed most.
You can read about some language that’s overdue for change in Anna’s eye-opening look at the many ways stigma can sabotage sex positivity and sexual health — and reproductive justice.
5. Meet the Coronavirus Conservatives Who Put Reproductive Justice and Public Health in Danger
In May, Matt explored the conservative backlash against pandemic mitigation efforts — and why that rising tide of right-wing anger seemed to have the same cast of characters as the anti-abortion movement. From the wild remarks of Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) to the militant threats against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the subtext seemed to be the same: that for some, macho attitudes would trump calls for caution as a respiratory infection spreads among us. How much have those same macho attitudes driven the backlash against reproductive rights — and the independence women have gained from them?
Matt explores how misogyny could be fueling both the denialism around COVID-19 and the alarmism around abortion in his tour through recent conservative reactions to mask mandates, stay-at-home orders, and reproductive health care.
6. A Century of Women’s Suffrage
In August, Serena Freewomyn honored the 100th anniversary of a landmark victory for women’s rights, the passage of the 19th Amendment, and the long history of organizing, advocacy, and defiance that made it possible. The trip back in time starts at the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, the first of its kind in the women’s rights movement — and an event that welcomed many advocates and agitators who got their start in the abolition movement. Many attendees, like Susan B. Anthony, felt the two movements were tied together in a struggle against similar forms of subjugation. That observation has lasting relevance, apparent in the inequalities still faced by women and people of color — and especially women of color — today.
Serena Freewomyn tells the history of the 19th Amendment to stress the importance of voting, both to exercise a right that took courage and sacrifice to secure, and to continue the unfinished struggle for social justice. Her piece reminds us to “vote for candidates who support equal access to health care, equal access to employment, and equal access to justice.”
As 2020 entered the final stretch, the blog shifted focus to the November election, offering candidate profiles and updates on races. Whether focused on the ballot or the ongoing work before and beyond the vote, PPAA’s bloggers kept the momentum for reproductive justice going through a year of monumental events — and offered reminders that reproductive justice is a critical part of creating justice for all.
If you're interested in joining our blog contributors or volunteering for PPAA in other ways, please check out the sign-up sheet at www.ppazvolunteer.org.
Tags: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Same-sex, CDC, adoption, body image, weight, eating disorders, coronavirus, sports, activism, voting, covid-19, reproductive health, women, women’s suffrage, history, ERA, Arizona, equal pay, transgender, STIs, safer sex, stigma, LGBTQ, Abortion