Lizz Winstead's Mission To Talk Honestly (And Hilariously) About Abortion
I've long thought that Lizz Winstead — co-creator of The Daily Show, writer on the Huffington Post, comedian extraordinaire, author of Lizz Free or Die, and founder of reproductive rights organization Lady Parts Justice — is the best of the best in comedy. She is not only seriously hilarious, but also has a keen eye for spotting talent (Rachel Maddow, Jon Stewart and so forth) and is an enthusiastic supporter of all things related to women and reproductive rights.
Her current projects support this mission: Postcards From The Vag: Hilarious Stories From People Who Bleed From Their Wherevers, a comedy show taking place in DC tomorrow, offers a unique take on abortion. Instead of treating vaginas and feminism with fragility, Winstead — as well as comedians like Sarah Thyre, Maysoon Zayid — will talk boldly, honestly and hilariously about being a woman.
In a few weeks, Winstead will bring us the reproductive rights-based awards show, The Golden Probe Awards. Winstead's organization Lady Parts Justice organized this event and explains that the “satirical and oh so glamorous awards show" will highlight "just how many politicians are declaring war on reproductive rights." On October 2nd, ladies like Jean Grae, Samantha Bee, Sarah Silverman, Wendy Davis and Phoebe Robinson will get together to call out the idiocy of political figures and legislators who try to claim a stake in the uteruses of women everywhere.
I was lucky enough to sit down with Winstead and chat about all things reproductive justice and beyond.
Reilly Wieland: What do you think is the largest hurdle women have to overcome to get abortion access?
Lizz Winstead: That’s a loaded question, because the largest hurdle has nothing to do with actually getting an abortion — it’s having people understand what’s at play in the legislatures and who the people are and how hard they work at curbing access to abortion.
So for me, if there was a magic wand that I could wave that I believe would help make abortion access easier, it would be a magic wand that made people really interested in what was happening in their state government, and that they would be razor-sharp attentive to who was being elected and how these laws are being made so they would get active there, so they would stop this from happening in the first place.
RW: Very true. So many self identified pro-choice women I know are not aware of all of the hurdles that you have to jump to get an abortion.
LW: Complacency is almost as bad as anything else, because it’s not enough just to be pro-choice as a person or a legislator, you have to be active and you have to personally want to make laws that make it easier to access abortions. So that means being proactive about repealing the Hyde Amendment. Proactive about getting rid of these laws that aren’t even TRAP laws, that are the other laws that are on the books — whether it’s a waiting period, whether it’s counseling that’s bullshit, whether it’s what they accept for payment – all of it.
RW: Why do you think it’s so important to destigmatize abortion and make it something that is lighthearted rather than something that changes your life or is this huge, huge conflict?
LW: I think for me, it’s because it is a necessary medical procedure for a lot of people, and the fact we even separated it out from medical care, the fact that we started having clinics that were separate from just where you get all your other healthcare, already started the stigmatizing what it means, and started playing into the narrative that everybody else has set forth about abortion.
No two people have the same abortion or the same abortion experience, and I feel like we are constantly justifying having abortions in a society that is in conflict with itself — especially when it comes to autonomy and women and pregnant people. It’s like you hypersexualize women and then you call them whores. Then a woman becomes a sexually active person: She may become pregnant even if it’s not right for her to be pregnant, so she has an abortion. You stigmatize her and call her a slut. If she chooses to have the child, you cut services for her and don’t support the choice to do that. So she’s stigmatized in all fronts of being a sexual being.
I want all the rights and privileges of every other human being that walks the Earth, and part of those rights and privileges are to be a sexual being as I see fit, and to have partners as I see fit, and have the health care that I see fit, and to terminate a pregnancy if I see fit. And none of that should define me, none of that should make me feel bad. And no matter how I get pregnant there are no good or bad abortions, there’s only the abortion that you need. And so I feel like the more we say that and the more we talk about that, if one in three women has an abortion in her reproductive lifetime – why is that a bad thing? Why are we stigmatizing it then? Why are we hiding from it? Because we keep feeding into the narrative that somebody else is doing it.
I’m also quite frankly tired of being on the defensive. So they go, "You’re a baby killer!" I’m like, "I’m sorry, if you know where there are baby killers I will gladly join you and go fight them, because I think that’s bad. People who kill babies are terrible people. So together we can bond over that."
RW: There you go, exactly. Pro-lifers, we’re on the same side!
LW: So I’m tired of running away from it, and I would like this generation to start putting [abortion] in its rightful place, which is within the panoply of healthcare that somebody might have to have in their lifetime. And to have people be able to start rethinking the way we talk about it, to say "abortion" more, to celebrate the clinics that provide them the way we would any other place that is making the world a better place for people, especially disadvantaged people and people of color.
I feel like if I talk about my abortion, and those of us who can talk about our abortions really do, it also just gives a space for people who have had one, who might not be able to talk about it, to at least feel like they’re part of a community. Maybe one day they’ll be able to also, but if they aren’t that’s fine, too. At least they know that they’re not alone and that there are options other than shame and stigma.
RW: I love your app Hinder, I think it’s hilarious and send it to so many people. How did you come up with the idea?
LW: For me, I felt like if we are going to be an organization whose mission is to bring the abortion conversation into pop culture spaces, one of the biggest things that everyone does is use a dating app. So if you’re on a dating app, especially a hookup app, maybe you’re going to hook up, maybe you’re going to hook up with somebody that you don’t want to have kids with. Those things are real, right? So if there’s a culture that exists in the world that is so popular that people have an app for it, I thought, "You know what? What if we do something that looks like that, that exposes people who are politicians and who are powerful influencers who are literally trying to force you to maybe have a person’s baby."
RW: I read an article a few weeks ago that said Apple had originally rejected the app? What action was taken to push it through?
LW: It’s going to make you mad on two fronts. The first front was, they rejected it because they don’t do political, people can’t have an overt political app on the iTunes store.
RW: But I have the Hillary Clinton app on my phone!
LW: They said in terms of service agreement, that these rules don’t apply if you are a political satirist. And iTunes didn’t bother to
a) think that there would be a woman who’s a political satirist
b) think that there’s a woman who’s a political satirist who’s maybe the top political satirist of women in the country. They didn’t do any Google searches. So what happened was, I called up our publicist and I said, “Hey can you just get an article out on Hinder, and I want to talk about the fact that we got rejected.” And so we wrote an article and I told them that they rejected it because, for politics, and if I had been a political satirist it would have been fine.
RW: Why did you decide to produce an awards show centered around abortion now?
LW: It’s a show that is about abortion stories, and also stories of basically walking the Earth as a female. We’ve got some abortion storytellers, we have an incredible improv team who have incredible sketches about rape culture, about income inequality. We have the prospectus of the Muslim American, a Palestinian woman, and a Hispanic Muslim, a black woman, a queer black woman, and some white women. But we have a lot of prospectives of people who have gone through life already being shit on by a patriarchal society. We’re kind of using the jumping off point of what Donald Trump promises to do, and then we’re going to focus on those stories and narratives.
It's our third year of doing the V to Shining V campaign that we do in the fall. The goal is to have a gathering in the fall about six weeks out from an election so that people can talk to each other, have fun, but also learn about what’s on the ballot, learn about the candidates who want to be in their local governments, proposing these laws. And so we thought because this is an election year, we should do a big national awards show with a bunch of really cool celebrities that everybody loves — from Samantha Bee to Jessica Williams to Sarah Silverman. There’s just a whole host of people who are participating in this, so that we can give out awards in these categories and people will laugh, have fun, but then also learn about the profundity of how much priority and time serving abortion access is taking up in their state government, and learning who they are and learning to vote against them. We'll hear these candidates in their own words — we’ll show clips of them talking, just like you would see a movie clip at the Oscars — and then give them an award with a uterus. It's a full-on hilarious two hour big entertainment show giving people some real information to get them off their asses.
RW: It sounds like it'll point out that these candidates are not just anti-choice, but that they're being absurd.
LW: Absurd, and also how much power they have, and what they’re doing with it. It will give people an opportunity to say, "Oh, now I know who is fucking around in my state. I know who to vote against, and I’m going to tell my friends, and I might just go out and get people registered to vote."
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