Martha Plimpton is an amazing woman. She’s a brilliant actress, hilarious comedienne and a staunch advocate for women’s rights.
Along with Maureen Herman, Gina Loukares, Kelly Overby, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, Sarah Thyre and Lizz Winstead, Plimpton founded A is For — an organization that fights for women’s reproductive rights in an era where they are being threatened.
Tonight, A is For is joining with the Upright’s Citizens Brigade to present special shows on both sides of the United States to promote A is For and spark laughter. Lena Dunham and Lizz Winstead are guests in the New York show and Busy Phillips, Julie Bowen and Martha herself are doing the Los Angeles one.
I was lucky enough to chat with Martha about A is For, the importance of speaking up and the UCB shows.
Meghan: For people who may be unfamiliar with the organization, what exactly does “A is For” stand for?
Martha: The A in A is For is the Scarlet Letter in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s book of the same name. In the story, it’s a symbol of shame worn by a Puritan woman, Hester Prynne, who has had an affair out of wedlock and borne a child. When she is expelled from her community, and forced to sew the A for “adulteress” onto her breast and wear it for life, she raises her child in isolation from her family and the life she knew, and forges a life of extreme independence and fortitude.
A is For seeks to use the symbolic A, which is recognizable to many people as one of shame and humiliation, as a symbol of strength, pride, and independence, much the way Hester Prynne changes its meaning in her life as the story progresses.
When we wear the A, it can mean whatever we want it to mean: Activism, Authority, Allegiance, Anything.
Meghan: You’re one of A is For’s many awesome founders…do you mind sharing the backstory of how you ladies were inspired to get together and start the campaign for women’s reproductive rights?
Martha: Back in March 2012, a few of us women got together to talk about what we could do in response to the insane verbal assault that Rush Limbaugh laid down on Sandra Fluke when she testified in Congress on the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act. It really pissed us off. Here was a smart, very well-informed law student and private citizen who had been called to testify – and she was initially turned away when she showed up, in favor of an all male panel. None of whom were doctors, just FYI. She was there to talk about the reality that contraceptive care is basic health care for the majority of women in this country, and that it should be covered by our insurance, that we pay for.
Millions of women use contraception. It is basic preventive health care, as defined by pretty much anyone who knows how it works. There are many, many reasons why women use birth control, and here was Limbaugh, and a growing chorus of ignorant bullies, calling Ms. Fluke a prostitute and a slut who wanted taxpayers to pay her to have sex.
It was completely appalling. Not to mention ignorant, to put it mildly. And it just released this hideous floodgate of woman-hating. Even from other women, which is always depressing – women hating on women is a sure fire tool of misogynists to keep us from unifying.
Anyway, here they were piling on this woman who had done nothing more than exercise her right and privilege as a citizen. She had DARED to speak, and she was being excoriated for it. She was being put in her place, if you will. It was enraging. So, finally, people were starting to pay attention to the fact that hey, wait a minute, there are LAWS being passed preventing us from exercising our Constitutional rights, every day, in states all over the country.
This moment is just the tipping point, really. What Rush did was finally reveal to a national audience what is at the heart of so much of the current conversation about women’s health: a deep seated and virulent misogyny. For that alone he deserves some credit.
We wanted to respond to this in a way that had lasting meaning, that would be instantly understood by anyone who saw it, and we wanted to do it in a way that would directly aid those who work every day to protect and provide women with access to their Constitutional right to abortion and reproductive health care, like the Center For Reproductive Rights. So we we got a bunch of wine and some quinoa salad and we talked long into the night. Call it a modern consciousness raising session like they used to have in the 70s. We brainstormed. We already knew that it was in the zeitgeist, as it were. People were already saying things on Twitter like, “Why don’t they just slap a scarlet A on us and be done with it?!” And we thought, “Hey, that’s actually not a bad idea. Why DON’T we all wear a scarlet A and show these morons just how many of us there are?”
So that’s where the idea came from and it’s how we got started.