- Mindy Tucker
- 'DON'T MESS WITH ACCESS': Lady Parts Justice League founder Lizz Winstead ("The Daily Show") and her team are on tour, blending comedy and reproductive rights activism.
The Lady Parts Justice League is a self-described "coven of hilarious badass feminists who use humor and pop culture to expose the haters fighting against reproductive rights." Their business is cracking jokes in the name of reproductive justice, but they are unfailingly serious about it. Ahead of the League's appearance at Vino's Saturday, June 10, as part of its "Vagical Mystery Tour," I spoke with co-founder (and co-writer for "The Daily Show") Lizz Winstead. On the other end of the line, I heard a familiar voice, a signifier of unseen activity and motion — that slightly broken robot script, the one you've heard saying "Welcome to Comcast, home of Xfinity." Instead, this one says, "Welcome to Lady Parts Justice League. If you know your party's extension, you may dial it at any time."
The name "lady parts," we should say, isn't a way of equating womanhood with vaginas, as any of the trans tour members will attest, but a direct reference to an incident that happened in June 2012 on the state House floor in Michigan, when Democratic Rep. Lisa Brown was banned from the floor for using the word "vagina" when arguing against a transvaginal ultrasound bill. Republican House leaders, when asked what she should have said instead, suggested "lady parts."
Our conversation follows:
Do you feel like part of the reason abortion itself keeps getting shoved into the shadows and the backrooms of conversation is because we won't even say those words?
One hundred percent. Somewhere down the line, people ceded the conversation — about abortion, about the uterus, about all of it — and gave somebody else the moral high ground. I mean, the fact that we say the term "pro-life" about people who execute abortion doctors and who never care about the rights of a pregnant person: Shame on us. It is, in large part, why we're doing this. To bust the shame, to bust the stigma. ... In Arkansas, we have a trans man on our tour, Ian Harvey, who is going to talk about his uterus extensively. We have trans women on our tour. We have women of color. We have cis women. We have everybody who has to deal with this experience talking about it in solidarity. ... I think it's important for the reproductive landscape to be represented ... and to repeat over and over again that those who are creating this legislation — people who cannot even say the word "vagina" — think they are entitled to control it legislatively.
For people who don't have reproductive rights issues at the forefront of their minds, or may not know that abortion options are very different for people with deep wallets, can you talk a little bit about the economic factor here? Specifically, how does restricting access to abortion screw over poor women exclusively?
Well, I think that there's never been a world without abortion. There just hasn't. In a perfect world, you could reduce it. Like, isn't it better to have dental health care than to have to go have your teeth yanked out? How about if we are preventative in all of our care? I don't know why we indulge people when they say, "We want to reduce abortion, and the way that we want to do that is to reduce access to affordable birth control." It's like, what are you talking about? That's not even real. So, people of privilege are often the ones talking about abortion. They'll even frame it in things like, "Well, you just get in your car and — " Hold up. Not everyone has a car. Not everyone is on some route where you can take the bus. Not everybody can take off a day or two of work because they have to go back a second or third time because of a waiting period. Not everybody can afford to travel to another state if they can't get the care they need somewhere close. Or child care. Over 60 percent of people who have an abortion have more than one kid, and it's an economic decision for their family. ... As we're seeing, people are not equating the economics with access to birth control. Even people who are on "our side" are saying things like, "We can't have 'wedge issues,' that's where we need to compromise." Well, I'm not a wedge issue. I'm a person. And I can't be sort-of-pregnant, so I shouldn't have sort-of-options.
In an interview with Time magazine in 2015, you pointed out that it's common for us to be TOTALLY shocked and wave our hands in the air, like, " 'How did THIS guy get into the Senate? He's awful!' " And that happens because we didn't see his or her (OK, mostly his) trajectory. "...Well, because they were on the school board, and then the city council, and then the state legislature, and you never knew it." What have you seen elsewhere that's effective in helping women stay hip to what's behind those names on the city, county and state election ballots?
Well, I do think that these Indivisible groups are working, and I think this is the first time we've actually seen people talking about midterms — people who I know, people who are good people but they didn't care about midterms. They didn't understand it. Now we're seeing people look at who's on their school board, who's on their city council, who's running for mayor. It's fascinating that a woman needs to be asked multiple times to run for office, and apparently a guy who's, like, scratching his balls, is like, "Yeah, can I finish scratching my balls? Yeah, I'll run the country." Honestly, men just do it. They don't ask if they're good enough, or if they have all the skills. It's like anything else. You can't have all the skills to govern. You can have some skills, and you can have a passion, but to learn how to govern, you have to get to know the people you're gonna govern. You can be no better advocate than if you literally start listening and talking to people and sharing what their needs are. ... We're seeing people do that because their needs are not being met, and they're saying, "Where can I step in?"
Right. Midterms are where it's at.
Yes. If your issues are repro stuff, or LGBTQ stuff, or gun stuff, or prison stuff, or voting stuff, those things are state ledge-driven. Also, for somebody new to politics, you can win some of those races. You can go door-to-door. A lot of times those are the races that are lost by 50, 100, 300 votes. And for us, it means that people have gotten hip even on local levels of government to not talk about the hot-button issues so they won't be perceived as an extremist. So it's important to check out somebody's LinkedIn page. What church do they go to? Is it a church that's loving and kind, or are they a fire-and-brimstone church that points fingers? Who does this person work for? What have they said on Twitter or Facebook? Or you can go to local extremist organizations and see who they've invited to speak. A lot of times, those speeches are videotaped, and it might be on the website for Arkansas Right to Life, or the National Organization of, um ... People-You've-Blocked-on-Facebook. So, we all have to be a little but sleuthy, but it really does pay off. ... A politician will only move if they see that their inaction will lose them a seat. So we have to show them by being bodies out in front, that yes, the decisions they make matter, and they're gonna matter for me when I go vote.
It's hard for me to fathom how difficult it is to be an abortion provider in Arkansas — to have not taken an easier road somewhere in medical school, and to know that every day when you show up to do your job, there are going to be protestors there. Do you know anything about your plans with the clinics while you're here?
It's kind of a two-pronged thing. So for us, we're doing a comedy show, and then we're having a talkback with a provider or a clinic escort. I'll have a conversation with them after the show so they can talk directly with your community about what they need. The biggest thing for us is that we know from experience – and we've done this in Jackson, Miss., we've done it in Montgomery, Ala. – we have relationships with the activists and the clinics and what we know is that there are people doing excellent work. Sometimes, we're small but mighty, but we need some folks to step in and help out. Through our comedy, by getting two or three hundred people gathered in a room to have a really good time, people can sign up to be a liaison to the clinic, or to help get the coffers for the abortion fund going, or to volunteer for the hotline. It helps you guys grow the community. People sign up, they get screened, and they can carry on the work long after we're gone.
"Lady Parts Justice League: Vagical Mystery Tour," featuring Lizz Winstead, Ian Harvey ("Transparent"), Joyelle Johnson and Alex English ("Night Train with Wyatt Cenac"), lands in Little Rock on Saturday, June 10, 7:30 p.m., $15. Tickets are available at Eventbrite or at