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    Let’s Talk About Women

    By Joanie Juster–

    As I write this column, women have been dominating the news lately, for better and worse. I’ll get to the better (really, fabulous!) in a moment, but let’s start with one of the worst: the Arizona Supreme Court, whose justices on April 9 ruled to enforce an 1864 law (!) that bans nearly all abortions. The law, which predates Arizona’s statehood by nearly 50 years, provides no exceptions for rape or incest, only allowing an abortion if the mother’s life is in jeopardy. Under the law, it is suggested that doctors can be prosecuted for terminating pregnancies.

    The backlash from women across the country was fast and fierce. Even many Republicans tried to walk back from the ruling, realizing how it had crossed lines that would wreak havoc in the lives of so many women—not to mention, alienating untold numbers of voters in a crucial swing state during an election year.

    This ruling came just three weeks after Arizona State Senator Eva Burch gave a searingly personal speech on the senate floor, detailing, from her own long experience of difficult pregnancies, exactly why abortion is necessary healthcare. She has had to endure abortions and miscarriages in the past due to nonviable pregnancies. And now that she is once again pregnant with a nonviable fetus, she faces the reality of having to leave her own state for necessary healthcare, thanks to the extremist laws backed by her Republican colleagues—all of whom, by the way, walked out during her speech.

    Arizona’s Democratic governor, Katie Hobbs, is doing everything she can to stand firm against this extreme Supreme Court ruling, and to protect the health care and bodily autonomy that Arizona women—and all people—need and deserve. And she emphasized the importance of the November elections. There are powerful forces trying to take women back to 1864. Don’t let them succeed.

    And if you haven’t seen Senator Eva Burch’s speech, here’s the link; I guarantee it will be worth your time:

    Women’s Sports in the Spotlight and a True Ally Stands Up

    Tennis great and social justice icon Billie Jean King famously said, “Sports are a microcosm of society.” The truth of this statement has been especially evident lately as we’ve seen the dual spectacles of women’s rights and bodily autonomy under attack by political extremists on one hand, while at the same time women athletes are making history, breaking barriers and records right and left. Just in the past month we have witnessed—among many others—these remarkable stories:

    • 22-year-old Caitlin Clark, a senior playing for the University of Iowa Hawkeyes, became the highest-scoring basketball player—male or female—in NCAA Division 1 history. She has been shattering records and redefining what a female basketball player is capable of.
    • March Madness soared to a whole new level as the NCAA women’s championship game between the Iowa Hawkeyes and the formidable, undefeated South Carolina Gamecocks shattered viewership records, eclipsing by far the television audience for the men’s championship game. If you didn’t watch it, you missed an historic event, and one hell of a game.
    • In March, Bay Area fans of women’s soccer got to cheer the new BayFC team, the first National Women’s Soccer League team in the Bay Area.
    • The Bay Area’s newest professional baseball team, the Pacific League’s Oakland Ballers, signed a female pitcher, Kelsie Whitmore, as the first woman to play in that league.
    • The San Francisco Giants’ Alyssa Nakken, who made history in 2022 by becoming the first woman to coach on the field in a regular season major league game, made history again by showing up for work at the ballpark on Monday April 8, fresh from maternity leave, with her husband and new baby in the stands.
    • A feature film about a real-life female athlete—legendary distance swimmer Diane Nyad—was nominated for two Academy Awards, for the brave performances by Annette Bening as Nyad and Jodie Foster as her best friend and coach.
    • Tara VanDerveer, the revered head coach of the Stanford Cardinal women’s basketball team, announced her retirement from the post she had held since 1985. In January 2024 she won her 1,203rd game as a head coach, becoming the head coach with the most wins in college basketball history, women’s or men’s. VanDerveer helped shape and redefine women’s basketball, and women’s sports in general, over her decades in the game.

    All of these accomplishments are extraordinary, groundbreaking, and worth celebrating. But one of the most important moments in women’s sports came during a press conference the day before the NCAA women’s championship game. The South Carolina Gamecocks’ storied head coach, Dawn Staley, was fielding questions from the press. Staley, 53, had a remarkable career as a player, and is now considered one of the greatest coaches in college basketball history. She is also direct, no-nonsense, and has no patience for bs.

    So, here she was answering questions from the press the day before one of the biggest games of her career, and a writer with an agenda asked her whether “biological males” should be able to play women’s sports.

    Staley looked weary, tired of having to swat away fools. Her look said, “Seriously? The day before the championship, that’s your question?!” But she didn’t let him phase her. She took a moment, then said, “I’m of the opinion, if you’re a woman, you should play. If you consider yourself a woman and you want to play sports or vice versa, you should be able to play. That’s my opinion. You want me to go deeper?”

    The troll-with-an-agenda, not able to take a hint, doubled down, asking whether Staley thought transgender women should be allowed to play. So, Staley doubled down, too, while acknowledging that she would be taking heat for doing so. “Yes, yes,” she said. “So, now the barnstormer people are going to flood my timeline and be a distraction to me on one of the biggest days of our game, and I’m okay with that. I really am.”

    That’s what an ally does. She spoke her truth, standing up for the rights of transgender athletes to play and compete, and was willing to take the consequences on a national stage. And she had the last word, as her Gamecocks crushed the Hawkeyes the next day, capping their historic, undefeated season. Thank you, Dawn Staley.

    Don’t Miss Patricia Racette Sings Piaf

    One of the great singing actresses of our time is coming to San Francisco to present an evening of songs made famous by one of the greatest singing actresses of a previous generation. Patricia Racette Sings Piaf is coming to the Presidio Theatre on April 19 and 20, and you should run to get your tickets now.

    Once upon a time, back in the late 1980s, I was lucky enough to have the job of coordinating the national auditions for the Merola Opera Program—the world-renowned training program for young singers and coaches at San Francisco Opera. The job gave me a front-row seat to the beginnings of some legendary careers.

    Patricia Racette

    I will never forget the day a young woman showed up for her audition in New York. She was a bundle of raw talent and energy, and knocked the socks off the audition committee. She was signed immediately for the Merola Opera Program, progressed through SFO’s advanced Adler Program, and went on to a storied career starring in opera houses around the world.

    Patricia Racette’s rich voice, combined with her ability to plumb the depths of a character’s emotional truth, has made her one of the most captivating performers of our generation. She is also a forthright advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, coming out very publicly in a 2002 Opera News cover story. She insisted that Opera News include her coming-out statement, saying that her sexuality and her relationship with her wife, Beth Clayton, were integral to who she is as an artist.

    Don’t miss this concert. Get tickets here:

    Thank a Volunteer

    April is Volunteer Appreciation Month. Look around you—there are volunteers everywhere, giving their time, effort, and skills to make our world a better place. Thank them; let them know how much you appreciate what they are doing. And better yet—join them. I guarantee your life will be richer for the experience.

    Joanie Juster is a long-time community volunteer, activist, and ally.

    In Case You Missed It
    Published on April 18, 2024