The Limits of Communication

Shocking news from the World Health Organization, charting an appalling 50% surge in HIV-related deaths of teenagers aged 15-19. The Guardian summarizes some of the contributing factors, including lack of access to services and treatment and gender inequality that makes young women vulnerable to sexual exploitation. As the article notes, “Unicef is using television, radio, mobile phones and social media to disseminate information about HIV to young people in six African countries, and to link them to services,” but that is simply not enough: “The agency found that while there was a good level of knowledge on the benefits of using a condom, there was still a reluctance on the part of young people to ask partners to be tested.” The social barriers to HIV prevention, that stop people from insisting on condom use or even raising the issue of HIV-testing, remain. These sky-rocketing numbers of infections and deaths are really something we need to think about as we countdown to World AIDS Day on 1st December.

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New Comic Book Tells the Story of Margaret Sanger

Cover of comic book The Wom an Rebel

Interesting new project from comic book author and illustrator Peter Bagge, published by Drawn and Quarterly earlier this week. From the publisher’s website, you can download a preview of the book, which tells the story of Sanger’s first marriage and the catalyst for her work to legalize birth control in just six pages of illustrated narrative! Quite thought-provoking to see her personal and professional life summarized in this way. Also intriguing that the author/publisher chose the moment Sanger always described as inspiring her work – when she apparently witnessed a doctor refuse to tell a woman who had nearly died from an illegal abortion how to prevent future pregnancies – as the one to publicize the comic book. Sanger included the story in her own film about her work, Birth Control (1917), and frequently referenced it to justify her campaign to legalize contraception. Perhaps no coincidence that this justification is again front and center in this latest rendering of the history of the birth control movement and the woman who led it.

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Soap Operas as Soapbox…

At the same time that UK soaps appear to be declining in quality and relevance, the format continues to be used to promote family planning and changes in attitudes towards women around the world. I discuss the Mexican origins of soap operas for social change in my book, but it is interesting to consider the longer history of television soaps as a forum for social issues, as the creator of Britain’s Liverpudlian drama Brookside does in the Guardian this week. UNFPA still has faith in the format, supporting a recent and successful initiative in West Nile along with numerous similar projects for television and radio. In the UK, it seems, any connection between real life and the events depicted seems to have been stretched beyond belief in the fashion for extreme storylines. Perhaps the UK model would benefit from a more realistic focus on the mundane challenges of everyday life?

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Congratulations to New Graduate Martine Gouw!

This month I led my first ever graduate student thesis defense – congratulations to Martine Gouw for completing her MA in American Studies. Martine took my fall semester course on Family Planning Media in National and International Context, and wrote an ambitious and fascinating thesis on the rhetoric of the “war on women” in the US – focusing especially on the issue of reproductive health. All best for your future endeavors Martine – I hope you can come back online for a guest post on your topic!

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Slate on the “Cleverest New Abortion Law”

The battle over reproductive rights continues in the US with a new attempt to limit the use of drugs to induce medical abortion. The case has been accepted by the Supreme Court and looks set to propel abortion politics back into mainstream debate once again in the coming month. Slate examines what the case represents for the ongoing state-by-state anti-abortion campaigning – arguing that the case represents another canny strategy to limit access. Most significantly, as these kinds of legal challenges become increasingly technical (relying on FDA policy minutiae as this one does, for example), what are we likely to see in terms of popular media campaigning on both sides of the issue? How easy is it to distill the issues in this case in a slogan or a poster?

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As the first copies of the book make their way to readers in the US and Europe, I am launching this blog to highlight news and events on the topic and to gather feedback from readers. I’ll also use this forum to host discussions led by guest bloggers, and to showcase class activities for the MA course American Family Planning Media in National and International Context at the University of Amsterdam (Spring 2014). If you would like to participate or share ideas for a special post, please comment here or contact the author directly.

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