(WOMENSENEWS)– Lizz Winstead is fond of the word "psyched." She uses it when she talks about her career as a writer, actress and comedian, her passion for feminism and reproductive rights.
So the co-founder of Comedy Central’s "The Daily Show" on cable TV is decidedly psyched about Sept. 27, which Winstead proudly declares the first annual "V to Shining V Day." (While the Vs stand for vaginas, the day has no formal ties to Eve Ensler, author of the Vagina Monologues, or V-Day, the global antiviolence movement Ensler started.)
V to Shining V Day is planned as a chance for women to send their legislators loud messages against "archaic" legislation affecting abortion and women’s health. Possible examples: Missouri’s 72-hour abortion waiting period law passed on Sept. 10 and Colorado Rep. Stephen Humphrey’s proposal to define life as beginning at conception, including in the events of rape or incest.
Winstead, in a recent phone interview, said the last weekend in September is also a time for awareness raising, when women pinpoint particular legislators or legislation and make sure other women know what’s going on.
The event grows out of Winstead’s website, ladypartsjustice.com, which revels in naughty language and which her team has deemed "not safe for work." The site features videos criticizing legislation restricting access to reproductive health care in states across the nation. Merry makers prepping for Sept. 27 are invited to register theme parties on the site that aim to fight archaic abortion legislature advancing nationwide.
As the date approaches, Winstead said, organizers around the country are signing up to host parties such as "reproduction, rights and rum." Party kits suggested by the site include paper exam gowns meant for inscribing messages of reproductive justice. The cruder the better: "Stirrup some shit!" "Spread awareness!"
A Simple Message
Beyond the snarky humor, Winstead said there is a simple message at the core of all the political theater. "We want to make sure everybody is afforded the same rights to affordable birth control, anything that is going to help everybody control their destiny and their time on this earth."
The website’s interactive map shows visitors where they can find such get-togethers in their states.
Winstead is hosting her own public party in Minnesota, joined by a handful of comedians. Stand-up comedian and writer Sarah Silverman is returning home to New Hampshire for her community festivity. Pennsylvania native and CNN journalist Sally Kohn is heading home to host a comedy show and musical sing-a-along.
Winstead began Lady Parts Justice as an organization in 2012. Its name was inspired by Michigan state Rep. Lisa Brown, who was barred from speaking on the state house floor after she used the word "vagina" in a speech opposing BH 5711, a 2012 bill that included legislation to more heavily regulate abortion providers and ban all abortions after 20 weeks. Despite Brown’s testimony, HB 5711, the "abortion super bill," passed through the House.
Since the organization’s beginning, Winstead has developed it into a media platform that combines comedy with educational videos about legislation hindering access to reproductive health care.
For Winstead, the Lady Parts Justice journey began with a cross-country trip to her home state of Minnesota. In 2011, she packed up the details of her hurried New York life, her materials for an upcoming book and her two dogs and pointed her car toward home. Instead of finding a backwoods retreat, she encountered an attack against Planned Parenthood in her home state.
"It was right when the Conservative 2011 congress took over and when the Tea Party members were elected," said Winstead. "The first thing they did was try to defund Planned Parenthood, public radio and national parks. And I was like, "’Are they performing abortions on Car Talk in Yosemite?’"
She saw the attack on Planned Parenthood in her own state mirrored in similar anti-abortion legislation across the United States.
After finishing work on her book, "Lizz Free or Die," Winstead made her way back to New York. Along the way, she stopped in five states to raise a few eyebrows with six bawdy comedy benefits that educated audience members about little-known women’s health legislation.
While she was at it, she got a few people to crack open their checkbooks to benefit Planned Parenthood.
Winstead said she quickly became a default expert on all things concerning women’s reproductive health. She met with clinicians and physicians and began to relay the information she learned about national abortion restriction legislation to her fan base.
"They got very fired up when they heard the stories, and I thought, ‘I can’t do this by myself’," said Winstead. "’I need a bigger platform on which to reach people.’ So, I called up Sarah Silverman and asked if she wanted to make a video. She said yes."
Silverman, known for her daringly crude sense of humor, was just as disturbed as Winstead when she started focusing on all the reproductive health laws spreading across the country. Silverman was one of the first comedians to join Winstead’s crew, but soon she began attracting other comedic friends and a team of organizers to create Lady Parts Justice, which boasts the slogan, "Kicking politicians out of vaginas since 2012" and a uterus mascot named Eunice.
"What I think comedy can do — and what I’ve seen comedy do — is bring people in who maybe don’t identify as political, who maybe don’t identify as activists, and they hear, ‘Wait, I can’t get access to birth control?’" said Winstead.
A July 2014 Out Magazine story featured Winstead and the Lady Parts team as seeking justice and inclusion for all communities.
After that, however, a writer for Slate criticized the movement for using a name that might exclude a person who identifies as female but hasn’t undergone sex reassignment surgery.
Winstead shakes off any question of her dedication to full inclusion and said the "lady parts" moniker is not literal and belongs to anyone who identifies as a woman.
She said her videos often feature awareness education about the trans community and that making Lady Parts Justice inclusive has been one of her biggest efforts since it began.
"I genuinely am overwhelmed with fear and pain and anger that access is going away," said Winstead. "I’ve talked to trans women who have been to traditional places to get health care and felt marginalized and shamed… I’ve felt really lucky to talk to physicians and say, ‘Can you talk to your community?’ Because I have people coming to me saying, ‘There’s not enough education’."
Hilary Weaver is a Missouri-based freelance writer and student at the Missouri School of Journalism.
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