Is Virginia State Sen. Janet Howell a Good Role Model for the Left?

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What Women Really Think
Jan. 31 2012 2:00 PM

Is Virginia State Sen. Janet Howell a Good Role Model for the Left?

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If women are subject to unnecessary ultrasounds, shouldn't men receive the same kind of treatment?

Photo by GENT SHKULLAKU/AFP/Getty Images

Internal critics of the Democratic Party often complain that liberals lack gumption, especially when it comes to dealing with the more theatrical side of politics. If conservatives often work by appealing emotionally to people’s prejudices, hopes and fears (see the current GOP primary sideshow), liberals generally depend on the allure of the “reality-based community” (a land of supposedly self-evident facts and compassionate common sense) to make their case. But in a game that seems to get less reasonable with every election cycle, the Left may need to better master the fine art of political stuntsmanship in order to compete.

How’s this for a template? The Huffington Post reported yesterday on an ingenious protest gesture performed by Virginia State Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) in response to the GOP-dominated legislature’s move to require abortion-seeking women to undergo a manipulative and medically unnecessary ultrasound prior to the procedure. Noting with concern that men in her state may currently receive treatment for erectile dysfunction without the benefit of similar medical meddling, Howell proposed an amendment to the ultrasound bill that would require a thorough rectal examination and cardiac fitness test of patients before they can receive any little blue pills. According to Howell, it’s only fair that men be subject to at least as much bureaucratic oversight of their bodies as women are:  

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"We need some gender equity here," [Howell] told HuffPost. "The Virginia senate is about to pass a bill that will require a woman to have totally unnecessary medical procedure at their cost and inconvenience. If we're going to do that to women, why not do that to men?"

While the symbolic measure was (just barely!) rejected (21 to 19), Howell’s wry procedural commentary on the situation is the kind of reframing maneuver that often better demonstrates the absurdity of the target than a debate based on facts and figures ever could. As things heat up this election year, let’s hope we see more of the same. 

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.

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