Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I'm Too Spoiled for Facebook Causes Birthday Wish

As a 'Millenial", I find that I have become spoiled when it comes to personalized attention from companies, organizations, and political candidates.  Much like New Hampshire voters who expect to see a candidate knocking on their door at least 3x before the primary election, I expect my support to be courted and appreciated. 

I'm starting to have such feelings about Facebook Causes, and more specifically, the Birthday Wish application.  On one hand, the vast majority of my friends work in the public sector (welcome to young professionals in Washington, D.C.), and therefore I'm sure use it more often than the average American.  That being said, Facebook Causes has been criticized as doing more to raise awareness than to actually raise money.  But here's where my real problem lies: I don't understand the relationship between the Facebook Causes Birthday Wish application, and the cause itself. 

I've done some digging and it seems that Facebook Causes donates the money in one bulk on a monthly basis to the charity.  It appears that Network for Good (which operates all this) doesn't "share or give your information to anyone."  I presume that means to the charity as well.  Big Mistake.  They should at least give you the option of allowing your information to be shared.  I know, I know, we all value our privacy and don't want to be solicited morning, noon, and night for money, especially in this economy.  But I spent a lot of time, money, and effort soliciting donations this year for Women for Women International, an organization I care deeply about and a cause that has always been near and dear to my heart.  After all that effort, I raised almost $1,000 in $20 increments from various friends, coworkers, and acquaintances.  Plus an additional $1,500 that my high school government donated in my name

Frankly, I expected at least some kind of acknowledgement from Women for Women International.  I am not a regular donor, I don't have an account with them, and maybe my $2,500 wasn't the largest donation they've ever received, but I raised money (not to mention awareness) for their organization at the expense of any other organization.  I expect a thank you card.  If I had donated $10 via their website, an automated reply would have come to my inbox, thanking me for my support and giving me more information about the organization.

What's the biggest downside for them?  Loyalty.  Believe it or not, my birthday does come around every year (although I've turned 25 several times now, I admit).  But without that personal touch, a letter of acknowledgement and thanks from the organization, I feel much less inclined to use my network to donate again.  By the way, this isn't unique to this organization.  Last year I picked My Sister's Place as my beneficiary with the same result.

Maybe there are logistics at work here that I'm unaware of.  Maybe legally, Network for Good had to guarantee that they wouldn't release this information - even the information of the person doing the fundraising.  I don't know.  But I do know that in this day and age of instant communications and instant gratification, I do expect to be courted, acknowledged, and appreciated for my efforts.  There is a new website launching called Jumo, started by a founder of Facebook, which hopes to connect people with charities and nonprofits.  I hope it makes an effort to not just be a third party bridge, but also to truly connect the person with the cause.  We'll see.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Why 2010 WAS the Year of the Woman

* Post originally published at Fem2.0
In the aftermath of the midterm elections, as Democrats huddle in a corner to lick their wounds, feminists have spent their time and column space railing against the pre-election notions that 2010 was going to be "Year of the Woman: Part II".  While a record number of women ran for Congress this year - 262 in the House of Representatives and 36 in the Senate - fewer women will come to Washington.  With a few races still too close to call, it appears that female representation in 
Washington will remain about 17%.  For all the talk, you'd think the 2010 elections were a travesty for the women's movement.
Don't get me wrong.  It's an appalling statistic, an embarrassment to the cause and to the country as we grapple with being ranked 73rd in the world for female representation in the lower House.  But the idea that the 2010 midterm elections forced women to take two steps back and one to the side is too short-sighted and narrow for everything the feminist movement is trying to accomplish.
The truth is that women benefit enormously from having positive female role models. And when women run for office, the women's empowerment movement takes a step forward.  I'm confident that consultants, experts, and pundits alike would agree with me on this one: it's virtually impossible to win an election if you don't run.
If anything, the vast number of women who are running for federal office and losing should be inspiring to other women.  Ok, sure, it'd be better if they'd won their races and could actually go to Washington to shape policy as Members of Congress.  However, proving to women all over the country that it's ok to run and lose is a powerful lesson that we also need to learn.
In the past few decades, as women have taken up careers and juggled the housework and child-rearing all at once, there's been an enormous pressure for us to be able to "do it all."  Women are held to extraordinarily high standards.  Particularly as we are still seen to be the exception instead of the rule, female leaders are scrutinized to an absurd extent as our every move, blink, phrase, outfit, and decision are judged as part of the overall conversation on "Can Women Lead?"  Faced with that kind of pressure, the risk of losing an election can be the deciding factor in a long list of reasons not to run for office.
But this year, a record number of women ran for Congress. Personally, I view that as a win for the women's movement.  In the past, female candidates on the losing end of Election Day have often continued to have great careers.  Jennifer Lawless, Director of American University's Women & Politics Institute, and Siobhan Bennett, CEO of the Women's Campaign Forum, are two great examples of women who lost Congressional elections and went on to become powerful voices in their field.
In its 2008 report on Benchmarking Women's Leadership, the White House Project stated that "women candidates, from mayors like Shirley Franklin of Atlanta to presidential candidates like Hillary Clinton, have reported anecdotally that everywhere they travel, women tell them how their campaigns were an inspiration to get involved in politics-and beyond that, to try new challenges in their own lives."  It wasn't their electoral victories, it was their campaigns that were inspiring.  The fact that they were running in the first place.
Women didn't win enough seats to name 2010 "Year of the Woman: Part II" as so many pundits and writers had wanted.  But that depends on how you define the Year of the Woman.  Personally, I'm inspired by the record number of women who ran ambitious and aggressive campaigns this year to serve in the United States Congress.  I can't wait to see what all of them do next.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Park at Night

NOTE: This is an older piece I wrote, but I wanted to share it with my new readers ~

About a block west of the corner of Calvert Street and Connecticut Avenue lies Walter Pierce Community Park.  A playground, baseball field, dog park – it has it all, even benches where the homeless population seeks some comfort during the night.  I usually cut through the park on my way home to Ontario Street, a lesser known, smaller street off to the side that lies directly opposite the swing sets and seesaws.  The thing is, sometimes it’s dark out.  I know summer is drawing to a close when I return home on a weekday after dinner with friends, and pause at the entrance to the park, just as the sun is setting beyond the tree line.  The entrance is lined with benches and bulletin boards, a paved path curving its way into the brush, inviting you to come and to stay and to play for a while.

Usually I turn away, walking straight on Calvert and turning further up on Adams Mill Road, adding 7 minutes to my commute.  I wish that as a woman I could be as strong and as brave and as confident as my words claim that I am.  I wish I didn’t have to force myself to turn away.  I wish I could say “screw you!” to the world, to the dangers of a dark, deserted park, and defiantly stride down that path.  I wish I didn’t cry as I turned away from the park.  But I do.  I do that sometimes.  Cry, I mean.  Oh I rant and rave and scream and swear, challenging the world and its misogyny and hypocrisy.  I call out my friends when they make sexist jokes and I support women’s empowerment in every way a person can.  But sometimes, I just cry. 

I wish I could always be the change I wish to see in the world.  I wish I could say that I want women to be able to walk through a community park at night, and therefore I'll do it damnit, just to show the world that it will not dictate my actions to me.  That it cannot force me to change my behavior or to view myself as any less capable because of my sex.  But it can.  But it can and it does.  And so I cry.

For the ravaged vaginas of Darfur, for the sold virginities of Saudi Arabia, for the bruised skin and broken bones of America, I cry.  For the pay disparities, the burden of proof, the fear of rape and for the stares of men as I pass them, making me feel as though my body is something I need to protect instead of something I need to love . . . for the feeling that being a woman is a bad thing, for that, I cry.

Because sometimes, I love my body so much, and I love the legacy that being a woman grants me, so much.  Because I love the curves of my love handles and extra fat on my thighs.  Because I love the hair that grows all over me (I am a mammal, after all) and the sensitive skin beneath my breasts.  And because the world cannot always see this, sometimes I rant and rave and scream and swear.  But sometimes, instead, I cry.  And until the world cries with me, for the oppression and the fear and the humiliation and the pain, until then, I turn away from the park at night.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

And They Call Us Feminazis

As I'm sure is "new news" to few, last Wednesday, members of the DKE fraternity marched with their pledges around Yale chanting slogans such as “No means yes, yes means anal."  Broad Recognition, Yale's feminist magazine, published a scathing condemnation of the incident and the perpetrators.  A Yale Daily News Editorial responded by claiming that while the incident was despicable, the Women's Center's response was an overreaction, serving only to perpetuate the "radical, alienating habits of years past."  Then, when there were complaints about that editorial, the Board ran one more clarification.  Needless to say, it's been a long week.

First, the incident.  There isn't much to add to the "insert-your-favorite-negative-adjective-here" characterization of what happened, except to say this.  The words uttered and the sentiments expressed weren't just "offensive" or "disgusting" or "obnoxious".  For many women, such an incident can also be incredibly frightening.  Almost two-thirds of American college students are the subject of sexual harassment, and one in three women worldwide will experience some form of gender-based violence (frequently sexual) in her lifetime.  The truth is, enduring rape culture day in and day out can be a petrifying existence for a woman.  So I'll just add "scary" to the list of adjectives.  There are too many instances when mob mentality, alcohol, and nighttime can turn violent words into violent actions.

The Yale Daily News goes too far in asking that we not be quite so outraged, and instead view this as a learning opportunity.  There's been an effort in recent years to "engage men" in the fight to end violence against women and girls.  This is an admirable goal as we certainly can use all the help we can get.  However, sometimes such campaigns get carried away by claiming that the perpetrators didn't mean it, didn't know any better, and if we just educate everyone it'll all go away.  The pledges at Yale's DKE chapter are hardly uneducated, uninformed, unenlightened children raised in some remote culture that makes no attempt at gender equality.  Asking that we just invite them to sit down and discuss it so they can see the error of their ways is, frankly, absurd.

Secondly, 90% of college women who are the victims of rape or attempted rape know their assailant.  Yet the Yale Daily News claims that "the Women’s Center should have known better than to paint them as misogynistic strangers and attackers among us, instead of members of our community".  This is really baffling to me.  Just because they are members of the Yale Community doesn't mean they aren't potential attackers or that they don't possess misogynistic viewpoints.  This is exactly the kind of permissive attitude that ensures such attitudes and behaviors will continue.

The Yale Daily News essentially asked the Women's Center to 'take it down a notch' so that people who didn't share such strong views didn't feel so alienated and the College could, in essence, use this as a learning opportunity.  Sometimes we're called bitches, sometimes we're called witches, my personal favorite is 'feminazis.'  You know, because demanding a safe world for women is roughly equivalent to the mass torture and slaughter of 5 million people.  Unfortunately, when we are having trouble convincing people there even is a problem, presumably the Yale Daily News can understand why we feel the need to get loud.

The Women's Center, with DKE's support, is now hosting forums to talk about the Yale's Sexual Climate.  I haven't seen any reports anywhere, but I really have to wonder how many men voluntarily attended.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Talking About Reproductive Rights in a Recession

The New York Times recently reported that Democrats in tight races are starting to focus on abortion rights as a strategy for attracting base voters. All I can say is, it’s about time. Republicans have argued that the new emphasis on abortion rights is an effort to distract voters from jobs and the economy, claiming that Democrats know they can’t win on the issues that really matter.
It’s no secret that the economy is the number one issue for Americans this fall. However, Democrats have made a huge error in focusing so narrowly on job creation. Financial stability and job security permeate every aspect of American life. While it’s a relief to note that the Democratic establishment has finally remembered that it is pro-choice, even the campaigns that are talking about it are doing so in a vacuum – Republican strategists are likely not the only people thinking it’s a “desperate attempt made by desperate campaigns.” Instead, Democrats should be making the case for the connection between reproductive health and the economic crisis.
Reproductive health is not just about a woman’s right to choose what happens with her body, it’s also about her right to choose what happens to her life. Many women indicate that their financial stability greatly affects their decisions about when to have children. Considering how opposed so many Republicans are to “hand outs” like welfare, (also known as much-needed assistance to those in desperate need of aid), they are often irrationally unwilling to give poor women the tools they need to prevent unplanned births, including comprehensive sex education and funding for birth control.  Last year, half of all pregnancies in the United States were unplanned – approximately 3 million. For the more than 2 million women who have lost health insurance as a result of the recession, unplanned pregnancies pose even greater burdens on already strained finances.
This recession has hit everyone hard. But this economic crisis is not an independent issue, unrelated to women’s access to reproductive health.  The Democratic Party would do better to remind voters that these issues do not exist in isolation, but rather are directly related. Want to make a poor women’s life more difficult in these tough economic times?  Restrict her access to reproductive health. See how fast the economy recovers with hundreds of thousands of children whose parents can’t afford to take care of them or themselves.