Dust off reproductive freedom flag
The morning after the Republicans won, well, just about everything, I spent a good half-hour staring at a favorite piece of artwork that hangs in a prominent place in our home.
From a distance, the piece looks like a 13-by-9-inch version of the American flag. Thirteen red and white stripes are stitched to perfection and anchored to a rectangle of dark blue fabric in the upper left corner. A nice patriotic rendering of Old Glory, matted and framed behind glass I swipe every week with my Swiffer.
On closer inspection, however, one sees that Cleveland artist Dawn Hanson was up to mischief when she created this flag, which is part quilt, part craft and wholly political.
Instead of 50 stars, there are four rows of tiny buttons. The first three rows – weeks one through three – are white; in the last row – week four – the buttons are pink. The days of the week run along the top: SUN, MON, TUE – you get the idea.
Hanson titled the piece “Reproductive Freedom Flag.” Patriotism with a punch.
You learn a lot about dinner guests in your home by watching their reaction to an American flag designed to resemble a pack of birth control pills. Men, if they happen to notice it, seldom say anything, but sometimes they shake their heads in what I imagine to be sympathy for my husband.
Women, however, particularly of a certain age, often start to walk past it and do a double take, tilting back on their heels as if an invisible someone just tugged on their sleeves. Inevitably, the smile grows wide with recognition. We remember. Mercy, do we remember.
Typically, our conversations ricochet from our favorite chicken recipes to the latest legislative assaults on women’s reproductive rights. I live in Ohio, after all, where the Republican sweep in 2010 led to more attempts to restrict abortion in the first 15 months than in the previous 10 years of the state Legislature.
On Wednesday morning, I stared at Hanson’s artwork that has launched so many conversations and wondered about the woman who made it. I took the frame down from the wall, found her business card taped to the back and called her.
At 50, Hanson is the co-owner of a marketing firm in Cleveland, but she spent a decade of her young adulthood working in corporate communications in Europe. During that time, she became aware of the difference between women’s rights there and women’s rights here in the United States.
“I started seeing all these stories about limiting not just abortion but women’s access to basic human rights like birth control,” she said in a phone interview. “It was so different from what I was experiencing in Europe.”
Hanson started contributing money to Planned Parenthood’s national organization and volunteered for the Cleveland chapter when she moved back to the U.S. She also returned to the quilting roots of her childhood in Shreveport, Louisiana, merging art with her growing activism. She gave her first “Reproductive Freedom Flag” to Cecile Richards, who is president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Hanson told me she hopes her “Reproductive Freedom Flag” in my house will continue to spark a lot of conversation. I told her I’ve had it up to here with just talk.
In the wake of Tuesday’s Republican rout, I suggested on social media that every woman in America register her uterus as a corporation. It’s the only thing I can think of right now that might stop Republican legislators from meddling with a woman’s reproductive organs.
Across the country, turnout for this election was down, including among women, prompting this observation from The Washington Post’s Nia-Malika Henderson: “One question Democratic and Republican pollsters will be chewing over is whether Democrats’ edge with women is becoming only a presidential-cycle bump.”
I will spare you my immediate response and just ask: How can this be?
How can we not cast our votes in elections that directly affect our health and our families’ futures? How can we shrug our shoulders with the indifference that Republicans count on to whittle away at our rights?
I know women juggle a lot, every day. I still remember an Election Day during my years as a single mother when I stood in front of the cashier at the grocery and counted out the coins in my purse to cover the cost of a handful of items. I offered an embarrassed smile and then panicked at the sight of the “I Voted” sticker on the cashier’s lapel. I barely made it to the polls in time to vote. Sometimes the daily mess of life can make a crucial act of citizenship just another thing on a long to-do list.
But here’s the thing: As long as this country continues to act as if family planning is only a women’s issue, we’re going to need a lot more women getting in the way of legislators, most of them male, who think our bodies are their business.
If you didn’t vote this time, I’ve got to tell you that just for today, I’m at a loss for how to get you to care.
This feeling will pass, I know, because I can’t stand looking at my reflection in the glass over that flag and seeing the face of surrender.
Editor’s note: Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine.