Why I #StandwithWendy

Posted by on Jun 30, 2013 | 33 comments

This post isn’t about food, and if you’re a subscriber of my blog because you like food, I hope you’ll read it anyway. This post is about living in Texas as a woman, and why I’ll be wearing orange at the State Capitol at noon on Monday. I hope you’ll join me. And if you want to read a post about food, Liz Goulding over at The Dallas Observer is killing it lately.

A presentation by Aim for Success, similar to the one given at my elementary school.

A presentation by Aim for Success, similar to the one given at my elementary school.

When I was eleven years old, my school class took a break from learning one afternoon to attend a presentation about “Aiming for Success.” We filed quietly into the library where we listened to two youth pastor types give a lecture on “purity,” and “self discipline.” The focus of their pep-rally style presentation was sexual decision making, namely how practicing abstinence was the only possible way to achieve success as a teen. As they talked, a slide show of herpetic lesions, along with buzzwords about success and goals played behind them. There were other props, too.

“You only get one chance to unwrap a present,” lectured the speaker while she held up a shiny, pink package sealed with a bow. “Once you take off that bow, it’s never special again.”

My eleven year-old self had never considered sexuality in this way, and I was confused. Was I the present? If so, who had wrapped me up in the first place? Did boys have bows, too? And what if I felt like unwrapping my present with a girl instead?

Nothing we discussed in the school library that day helped clear that up. We didn’t talk about consent, contraceptives, or even the basic anatomy of our rapidly changing bodies. We also didn’t talk about what to do if you did want to have intercourse, which seems pretty germane since up to 10% of the children in my class actually were. Instead we focused on abstinence– the one decision they said was right for everyone. At the end we all signed “purity promises,” passing them around to each other like yearbooks. I kept mum about all my questions and signed the agreement.

The group presenting that talk was Aim for Success, a right-wing, abstinence only education group which was founded in Dallas, Texas, in 1993. Based on my math, I was probably one of the first little girls to listen to Aim for Success, and since then they have become the nation’s #1 provider of abstinence education, reaching over 2 million people. Their programs are funded with a mix of private dollars (read: PTAs, churches, etc.) and government funds (read: tax dollars.)

I attended Aim for Success programs again in 7th, 8th, and 9th grades. Every year the herpetic lesions on the slide show got more graphic, and we all dutifully signed the “Purity Pledges” at the end. Those days in the school library were my first bitter tastes of life as a woman in Texas. I learned that the rules are different for boys and girls in this state, and that the people in charge will coerce my sexual decision making any way they can.

Not surprisingly, by the time I hit puberty I was full of ambivalence about sexuality, both my own and that of my peers. I viewed sex as all-or-nothing. The present was either wrapped or unwrapped. It never occured to me that I might be able to explore my own needs and negotiate a mutually beneficial relationship with a supportive partner. “Once you take off that bow, it’s never special again,” I remembered.

My feelings towards sex began to change in the office of a Planned Parenthood when I was 16. I had been fooling around with my high school boyfriend for a while and, thank God, my mother figured out what was going on and told me to make an appointment. I skipped class one Tuesday and drove myself to the nearest clinic, about 20 minutes from my house. There, a compassionate nurse practitioner named Dolores gave me The Talk.

She showed me a model of the vulva, and helped me understand how to take care of my body. We talked about ways to say “yes” and “no” to a sexual partner, and she emphasized that my own judgement– not another person’s religious belief or sexual desire– was the most important factor to consider when deciding whether to give consent. I remember being caught off guard when she asked, “What are your goals in the next few years?” before discussing my contraceptive options. It was one of the first times an adult had talked with me about my body without preaching or judging. For the first time, my choice mattered most.

These days I reject the teachings of Aim for Success and other anti-choice groups because I feel their messages are deeply damaging to women.  After nearly 20 years, my confusion about that pink present metaphor has matured into anger and deep resentment towards those who use it.  There are millions of women in this world who have safe pre-marital sex as part of a consensual, loving relationship. They grow up to be successful women. I am one of those women thanks in large part to Planned Parenthood. That talk with Dolores was the first step in a long road for me, one that led to the Capitol building last week.

My view of the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday night.

My view of the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday night.

There have been various attacks on women’s rights in Texas my whole life. They started long before my generation, and if not for the influence of Aim for Success and Planned Parenthood in my life, I might not think they affect me much at all. The truth is, millions of Texas women are harmed by the gradual erosion of our rights. Rick Perry and the Governor before him have been seemingly all-powerful in Texas my entire life, passing legislation by any means necessary that is harmful to women and minorities.

Governor Perry’s most recent blow came this summer, when he called a special session of the Legislature to pass Senate Bill 5– a group of laws that severely restrict women’s access to healthcare from providers like Planned Parenthood. If those laws had been in effect when was 16, I never would have been able to visit the Planned Parenthood near my home– it is one of the clinics that will close if the laws pass. Senate Bill 5 has been panned as unsafe for women by moderates, women’s rights advocates, and even doctors. In fact, according to ThinkProgress80% of Texans do not want their lawmakers considering this bill in a special session, and 63% of Texans think the state already has enough anti-abortion laws on the books.


Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, daughter of former Texas Governor Anne Richards, walked through all four stories of the Capitol Building on Tuesday evening greeting protesters. She announced at 3 AM on Thursday morning that SB5 was defeated.

I was one of the protesters against Senate Bill 5 at the Capitol on Tuesday. I went along with 1500+ other folks to support Senator Wendy Davis during her heroic, 13-hour stand for women’s rights. Being part of that grassroots gathering of women and the men who love them was one of the most empowering experiences of my life. Senator Davis’ efforts, along with one final outcry from protestors, successfully stopped the passage of Senate Bill 5. It was exhilarating knowing that my body was one reason women in Texas still had access to healthcare on Wednesday morning. Less than 24 hours after Senate Bill 5 died, though, Governor Perry called a second special session to put it and the house version of the bill back on the table. He has made it clear that women’s consent is not a consideration here, and it feels chillingly like I’m back in that elementary school library.

This fight is personal. For years I have heard from Texas Republicans that because I am a woman, I am not equipped to make decisions for myself. Senate Bill 5– now called Senate Bill 9 and House Bill 2– carry the same bullshit message I heard in the sixth grade. The difference is, this time when I hear it I can stand and shout, “NO!”

What I do with my body is none of the government’s business. I have had enough intrusion into my private life, and I do not plan to sit quietly while old men sit behind closed doors and make my healthcare decisions for me. I will be wearing orange at the Capitol on Monday. And again during the remainder of the second special session. And again on the campaign trail in 2014. This is my body. My choice. My vote. And I want them to know it.

If my experience or the thousands that have been shared in the past week resonate with you, I hope you will take a few minutes to read more about Senate Bill 9 and House Bill 2, and why they are harmful to women. Please consider wearing orange, the color we have adopted for women’s rights. Please consider joining me at the Texas Capitol on Monday. Together with thousands of other protesters, I will be standing with Wendy Davis and Texas women.

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  1. Wonderfully stated. It puts me in mind of what Elizabeth Smart has said about her experience being abducted and raped. She had been taught that her purity was what gave her worth, and after it was forcibly taken from her she felt stripped of her worth, which is why she did not try to escape from her rapist!

    I went to planned parenthood in my 20s when I did not have health insurance. That was where I received my basic women’s health exam and was able to talk about contraceptives AND abstinence. Yes, Planned Parenthood mentioned abstinence as the best way to prevent pregnancy or STDs. Shocking, I know. Given that during this time I had a friend who was diagnosed with (and eventually died of) cervical cancer I will be forever grateful for the medical and emotional care I received at Planned Parenthood. If closing those clinics means that even one Texas woman loses access to care that is one too many.

    • Keri, thank you so much for sharing this. I really identified with Elizabeth Smart’s perspective when she shared it, and I wish that more women would speak out. Also, it sucks that women are dying of diseases that so often can be prevented or treated with access to medical care. I am so sorry that you lost your friend.

  2. Thank you… well put!

  3. All I can say is Thank You from me and thank you from my daughter. Orange has ALWAYS been my favorite color and now I can add yet anther reason why I wear it proudly.

    • Thank you, Kristina. I hope J. NEVER has to hear a presentation like that one. :)

  4. Kathryn, I am so proud to know you, and to watch you and our friends defend Texas women. I wish that I could be there with you in the capital. This Texan woman has had enough – it won’t stop me from moving back to the state, but it will make me much more aware and active in politics when we return.

    • Come home soon!! Seriously, I can’t wait until you’re just down I-35.

  5. OMG! I remember the “pink present” line. I must have had the Aim for Success presentation, too, when I was 11. I specifically remember being told that the AIDs virus is so small that it could pass through the holes of a condom. But I remembered from science class that the virus needs fluids to travel with and if semen is too big to pass through tiny holes then how could the virus get through? I also remember (maybe a later presentation in jr high) one of the presenters was a “born again virgin” and I was like “how come she gets to rewrap the pink present but I don’t?” Totally conflicting messages. I also remember the pledge you filled out. I don’t remember if I did it or not. Those presentations were totally demeaning.

    • I had forgotten that whole bit about the AIDS virus– so scary! Thanks for reminding me, and for validating how crappy those presentations were.

  6. Beautiful piece. I was a 20 something in Texas before Roe v. Wade. We cannot go back. I have horror stories. Thanks for filling me in on AFS. That’s totally daft.

    • Claudia, thank you for fighting back during Roe v. Wade and for sticking with it today!

  7. I loved your post about your personal experiences. It’s so hard to wrap my head around why anyone in the government would want to restrict access to sex ed, contraception, women’s health, and safe abortion. It’s one thing to not want to participate, but to actively try and stop women from controlling their own bodies is nothing short of pure evil misogyny. I’m so glad so many people are standing up and saying NO MORE!

    • Thanks, friend! Your support means a lot– hope to see you at the capitol this session.

  8. Extremely well written post and I’m proud to know you.

  9. Thank you for being there! I am flabbergasted reading about your experience in Texas schools. I was only a few years ahead of you in school, but thank goodness I did not have to deal with the “purity pledge” nonsense. I am going to barf if my daughter has to.

  10. Dixie, I remember the “AIDs virus can pass through a condom” line as well, the implication being, don’t even bother with condoms, they won’t work… a terribly irresponsible message to sell to teens.

    Great article Kathryn. I’m no longer living in Texas, but still a Texan at heart. Proud to see you standing up for women’s rights at home.

    • Thanks, SJ! I was so nervous about how friends from Duncanville would respond to this post, so your support means a lot. :)

  11. That Abstinence-only education sure worked out well for Briston Palin, didn’t it?

  12. Thanks for the shout out! I was there this afternoon- just got back to Dallas. I was thinking on the way home that more information is always the better choice. No matter what the issue- sexual health, science education in schools, etc, people that are on right side of history are the one that fight for more access to accurate information. So cheers to that!

    • Thanks for making the drive to Austin! Keep up the great work in DFW, Liz.

  13. Kathryn, this is an incredible post. I very specifically remember the shame inflicted in our yearly abstinence assemblies in high school. Those young girls who had “deflowered” themselves were now subject to further sullying of their reputations, which for some caused a vicious cycle of self-devaluation and promiscuity.
    Some other lines from these horrid things: “When you have sex with someone, you are also having sex with everyone they’ve EVER had sex with. And all of the people those people had sex with.” Ergo, when you have sex, you’re boning all of humanity?
    “I waited and had sex with my wife on our honeymoon to Disney World!! It was awesome!” #yeahibet

    While I hope I nor my daughter are ever in the position to need to choose, the need remains for these facilities. What awaits the woman who is forced to carry this child? She is often low income and needs to apply for more subsidized programs–isn’t this the very thing that just really pisses the GOP off? They want her to keep the baby and become financially independent while she can’t educate herself and can barely afford decent childcare? It is so frustrating!

    On a solely logical level, I have failed to understand what someone’s religious views have to do with another person’s body.

    • Oh man, that “sex with everyone…” BS is just so gross and wrong. I share your frustration with the GOP– glad to march for you and your daughter this week at the Capitol. :)

  14. Your message…

    • That was from me, Rebecca Henderson. I just have no experience with blogs, old lady that I am! ;-)

      • Becky, thank you!! Your kind words here and on Facebook totally made my day.

  15. One question: who speaks for that unborn child?

    What about their choice?

    Always, conveniently, left out of the discussion.

    • Kelly, I disagree with your point of view. I believe that comprehensive sex education and access to contraceptives are key to preventing many abortions. By providing those services, Planned Parenthood prevents abortions in a way that is more effective than anti-women’s groups like Aim for Success. As for leaving the unborn out of the discussion: at no point in my experience have I been pregnant or sought abortion care, so I can’t speak personally about that.

  16. Thank you for sharing your story. Growing up in Texas I had a very similar experience with abstinence groups and their unreal expectations and the dissonance from the self that I believe their message creates. Planned Parenthood was there for me too at a time when I felt I had nowhere else to turn. This was during the Reagan era when funding cuts first began to be felt. These cuts sent a shock wave through my local Planned Parenthood organization and through all of us who relied on them for not only contraception but also support and education. It is the discourse about our bodies and the feeling that we are supported and have a network of support that are at the heart of the services that Planned Parenthood and others provide. Without these more abortions happen. More disconnect from our own bodies happen. More pain and regret. Not less. This is the message who’s time has come.

  17. Kathryn,

    A tweet sent me to this post and I am so grateful that it did. I am a soon-to-be nurse midwife in Michigan, where my state legislators recently passed similarly restrictive bills and where abstinence only “sex education” runs rampant. I am looking forward to one day providing comprehensive, evidence-based care to my future patients and your account of Dolores providing you with factual information and compassionate care when you most needed it is inspiring. Thank you for sharing your story!

  18. Hi,
    Thank you for writing this post. It’s social suicide NOT to sign those stupid pledges when you’re under teacher and peer pressure. No different than people making you feel like an outcast if you don’t hear “Jesus whispering in your heart” Ugh. I know this isn’t a religious discussion, but it’s exactly the same to me. NOBODY has the right to dictate your beliefs or your body! SEXUAL EDUCATION / SERVICES IS EXTREMELY VITAL FOR TEEN GIRLS, and I’m so proud of Wendy Davis and everyone who is stepping up for her. Signed, adult who was lucky that Planned Parenthood caught stage 4 cervical cancer in my 20’s.

  19. WOW! Am so passing this post on to like-minded people. I am from a state that had and has comprehensive sex ed and was curious as to what this was all about. So I went to my son’s junior high school last night to get the “parent” meeting. BOY. Was THIS a shocker!
    Sure. A large % of what Aim says is great, i.e. respect yourself and others, what you do now will effect your lives in the future, etc. True and fabulous! Then they started on their misinformation rants. The best one was a story of a young man who started viewing porn and because he looked once and then could not look away, he became addicted to it. (I’m not making this up!) Long story short, said boy wound up raping and killing a girl years later!!! (AGAIN. THIS IS WHAT THEY SAID!!!)
    I had no idea that our PTA paid for this crap. Am sure that their intentions were good and truly want to prevent teen pregnancies. Obviously, in Texas, that has NOT worked out so good.
    If I were a teen listening to this all, I’d have walked away with this: I can only get pregnant 5 days out of the month and contraceptives are not reliable.
    Great. If anything I say that this organization is SPREADING disease throughout the land. Oh, and by the way, what about those Texans who CANNOT get married or even want to get married but don’t want kids?
    This totally ignores all logic.
    I am phoning my school tomorrow to demand that I attend a kids’ section of this program because I do NOT trust these people in any way, shape or form.

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