Q&A: Lizz Winstead on the Lady Parts Justice Comedy Tour “Exposing Sexist Sh*t Heads”

Lady Parts Justice (LPJ) is a reproductive justice organization working to push back against anti-choice aggressors and harassment outside of clinics through a touring comedy show called the Vagical Mystery Tour. Headed up by LPJ founder Lizz Winstead, who is also a co-creator of The Daily Show, the tour’s goal is “exposing sexist shit heads” and ending abortion stigma through comedic performances. Touring members of LPJ also offer moral and logistical support to clinics along the way.

The tour ends in Louisville, Kentucky at the same time that an anti-choice extremist group called Operation Save America (OSA) plans to return to the city. In May, the group blockaded the entrance to the clinic to physically stop women from accessing care. (You can donate to a security fund for the clinic.) Their followers were arrested and they’ve vowed to return with hundreds of people. LPJ and the Vagical Mystery Tour plan to be in town to offer the clinic and women of Louisville support.

Ms. caught up with Winstead while she was on the road to talk comedy, abortion access and reproductive justice in the face of aggressive anti-choice protestors.

How has the road been so far?

We’re about three quarters of the way through the tour. It’s been incredibly great to be able to go into a place that normally doesn’t have a big comedy show, like Jackson or Little Rock, that has to do with feminist and reproductive rights. Then to be able to have the person who runs the clinic come on stage and talk about their work and what they do and really hear from the people who are servicing them has been great. People are signing up to help at the show. People aren’t aware of  the extent of clinics’ needs until you have really long conversations with them. Volunteerism takes many forms [and] the people attending the shows are learning this. They’re realizing activism can just be helping a clinic.

How did you plan the tour?

The route was specific to a couple of things. It was states that are in the most need that we could identify in the time that we had. Then clinics that we developed relationships with as well, and then clinics that reached out to us saying we need help growing our activist base. Activists reached out, too. It’s been very fun and also at each stop we go to a clinic and do what they need specifically. We just came from a clinic where we redid the reception area, we put up positive messages and artwork. We bring food and sometimes we take the staff out for a really great night. We worked in Raleigh and North Carolina and we put in a bush to block a protestor. It forced the person yelling into the patient room to yell in front of a fence. Then we painted “end sidewalk bullying” on it.

What’s it like running into anti-choice protestors outside of clinics?

We found that wherever there are women having agency over themselves, on stage or getting healthcare, they get protested. The more we have seen them, the more they reveal it’s not about the mission they claim. It’s really about shaming and screaming at women. When we were in Jackson, Mississippi there were a dozen men yelling. When we showed up, we were able to just continuously engage with them. Without them even realizing it we were moving them slowly down the street to where the entrance to the clinic wasn’t. Women walked in and avoided getting yelled at. We are doing a show in Louisville because of the OSA event. We are not going to be counter-protesting. We are going to raise awareness and we’re doing our show. Also throughout the week, we’re having evening parties related to reproductive justice.

There’s a lot of sexist stuff happening, why focus on reproductive justice?

A lot of the reason we are in this space is that we ran away from abortions and we allowed people who proclaim to be pro-choice to put a lot of caveats on abortion, to hide talking about it, to not talk about it. When people talk about abortion with stigmatizing language like there’s good abortion and bad abortion, I don’t understand. I don’t understand why people put those caveats on it. It doesn’t matter why someone needs one. Those conversations are hard and people are so steeped in societal stigma that they say things without thinking. To be able to do a nice reset and have a conversation with people, to say why is there a “yes but” piece, is important. As someone who had an abortion and had it because I didn’t use birth control when I was young and for the physicians that provide them every day, it makes them feel bad. It makes me feel bad that someone would judge.

The intersection of access and justice and what all that means should mean that anybody should be able to have the family they choose. Whether that’s not kids or it is kids. If we have kids, we ask things like is the world that we live in going to be safe for them? Can they have clean water? A good grocery store? Can they go to school safely? I just feel like they all tie together. If you’re a sexual being—and everyone is and should not be stigmatized for it—and if an unintended pregnancy happens you should have all the options. And if you want an abortion you should be able to say that without feeling stigmatized.

Why don’t we see positive messages about abortion in media or comedy more often?

If American newsrooms had more people with uteruses in them who understand this assault maybe we could center reproductive rights and justice and put it back in its place as the larger human rights issue that it is. It ties into economic justice and if you’re going to talk about poverty, this piece is gigantic in it. For me, I just feel like being able to use comedy as the vehicle has been really important. It’s not like we’re all just talking about abortion. It’s a comedy show full of people talking about life through the lens of these people and when you have black, brown, trans, queer and all kinds of people doing a two hour comedy show based on life, then ice it off by covering the political landscape of the day, it just makes it that much more right.

20160909_121504Michele Sleighel is a Research Assistant at the Feminist Majority Foundation. She has an MA in Communication at the University of Texas in San Antonio and a BS in PR from the University of Texas in Austin and is very proud of her El Paso roots. Find her on Twitter @MicheleSleighel

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