Aren’t you sick of anti-vagina Republicans who attack Black women’s reproductive choices, gut programs that provide free breast exams to poor women, and brand students who support co-pay free contraception prostitutes? I am. Thankfully, I’ve found some relief in small acts of creative opposition.
There’s Oakland printmaker and digital artist Favianna Rodriguez, who celebrated International Women’s Day by releasing three gorgeous posters with (hilarious) slogans such as “Politicians off my poontang!”
There’s the Kansas women who are “sarcasm-bombing” anti-choice lawmakers’ Facebook pages with TMI about their menstrual cycles, IUD removal and menopause.
And then there’s my favorite form of protest so far, courtesy of legislators such as Georgia State Rep. Yasmin Neal (D-Jonesboro). In high trickster form, these mostly female and Democratic lawmakers have proposed satirical bills that would require men to undergo rectal exams and psychological testing before receiving Viagra, outlaw the spilling of sperm outside of conception, and the list goes on.
Neal contributed to the trend in late February as her Republican colleagues pushed HB 954, a bill that would outlaw even medically necessary abortions after 20 weeks on scientifically dubious grounds that fetuses feel pain at that stage of development.
She shot back with HB 1116, which would ban all vasectomies except those that “avert the death of the man or avert serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.”
A police detective by trade, the Georgia-raised freshman representative even included a reference to criminal justice poverty pimpin’: “Fewer unwanted pregnancies result in fewer children living in poverty and a lower prison population, and this is job killing in a time when social workers, police officers, and prison guards need the employment to feed their families…”
And in a YouTube video that went viral, Neal declared that “thousands of children are deprived of birth in this state every year because of the lack of state regulation over vasectomies. … It is patently unfair that men can avoid unwanted fatherhood by presuming that their judgment over such matters is more valid than the judgment of the General Assembly, while women’s ability to decide is constantly up for debate throughout the United States.”
While HB 1116 didn’t make it out of the Georgia state judiciary committee, the Republican-stacked House passed the so-called fetal pain bill. On Tuesday it sailed through the GOP-dominated Senate health and human services committee.
Neal has appeared on left-leaning outlets such as Current TV and on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show. I recently chatted with this young Black legislator about race, the potential risks of writing HB 1116, and her political future. Lightly edited excerpts:
EBONY: Anecdotally I’ve heard people say that reproductive health rights isn’t a “Black women’s issue.” Do you have any thoughts about racial dynamics in this climate—particularly since Georgia was peppered with billboards defining abortion as Black genocide?
Yasmin Neal: It’s funny. I did get a lot of the responses from people who read about me and thought I was White. I don’t really know what that was about.
EBONY: Did you think it was politically risky to describe a satirical bill on YouTube with a straight face?
YN: Not really. I don’t sugarcoat much, so it isn’t surprising that I would propose a bill that, if passed, would have said that the Georgia House isn’t hypocritical—that if we were going to legislate a woman’s right to control her body, we would do the same for men. And I was very serious about that bill. It wasn’t really meant to be a satire.
EBONY:You truly weren’t trying to be funny?
YN: the bill had passed, we certainly would have modified the penalty [for performing or receiving an illegal vasectomy], which was 1,040 hours of community service. But [otherwise] I was serious. Why is it that when we question men’s rights, it’s funny, but when we tell women what to do with their bodies, it’s considered a very serious issue that we all have to deal with?
EBONY:Did you get any local pushback?
YN: Not at first. I think the issue was with how big it got. Then people were saying I’d ruined my chance at reelection. It was like, ‘What makes her think she’s going to play this huge joke?’ And then some people were saying that as a freshman representative I should keep quiet. But this year some [legislators] are trying to keep President Obama off the November ballot; they’re trying to shut immigrants out of colleges; and they’re trying to legislate women’s bodies. These issues are too big for me to be quiet.
EBONY: So you’re not worried about winning a second term?
YN: A lot of politicians get into office and stay there because they need a job. I had a job before I got elected and I’ll have one after I leave. As an elected representative, it’s my job to speak up.
Akiba Solomon is an NABJ-Award winning writer, freelance journalist, editor and essayist from West Philadelphia. She writes about the intersection between gender and race for Colorlines and is the co-editor of Naked: Black Women Bare All About Their Skin, Hair, Hips, Lips, and Other Parts .