Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Did You Hear About the Rear Admiral?

It happened months ago, and yet, I wouldn't be surprised if I wasn't the only one who hadn't yet heard.  With the distressed economy at home and the political unrest abroad, it would have been an easy announcement to miss.  But it shouldn't have been.

This past June, Rear Admiral Sandra L. Stosz became the very first woman to be appointed Superintendent of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.  For that matter, she's the first woman to ever be appointed Superintendent of any military academy.

The fact that the U.S. Coast Guard was the first to take this particular plunge isn't surprising.  It was as far back as 1975 that the Coast Guard Academy opened its doors to women (even before the Department of Defense was ordered to do so by Congress), and shortly thereafter, in 1977, that the Coast Guard opened all of its jobs to women.  Even today, the U.S. Coast Guard is the only branch that does not reserve certain jobs for men alone. That could be one reason why this year's Academy class is comprised of about one third women - a higher percentage than at any other military academy.

In contrast, women weren't allowed to serve in combat positions within the Navy and Air Force until 1993, and even now, the Army and Marine Corps refuse women the opportunity to serve in infantry, artillery, and armor units.  In case the lines here are hard to draw, it's significantly more difficult to rise through the ranks of an organization that does not permit you the opportunity to gain experience in critical roles.

Of course, women have been carrying out Coast Guard duties since even before there was a formal Coast Guard.  As early as 1830, women were responsible for minding the primitive lighthouses, a job which required little formal education, but enormous patience and stamina.  The Women's Reserve of the Coast Guard was formally created by Franklin Roosevelt during World War II (although of course, as frequently happens when women are made visible in great quantities, some assumed recruitment for the Women's Reserve was really a front for a government-sponsored prostitution ring).  But since then, women have moved up the ranks of the U.S. Coast Guard with equal consideration, and many feel that this branch is the most institutionally supportive of professional female development and advancement.

This isn't the first gender barrier that Rear Admiral Sandra L. Stosz has broken.  She was also the first female graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard to even achieve the rank of Admiral.  Now, by accepting her new leadership position at the Academy, she'll serve as an example to not only women in the service, but to other servicemembers, decision makers, and institutions as well.  It'll be inspiring to see what she accomplishes in her new role.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

#140 Reasons Domestic Violence is Not A Joke Battles #Reasons to Beat Your Girlfriend

It was a Sunday like any other.  I had gotten brunch with a girlfriend, done my grocery shopping, and was throwing some laundry in when my phone pinged.  A colleague had sent me a quick email.

"Did you see that one of the hashtags today is #reasonstobeatyourgirlfriend?"

When you've been fighting a fight for a certain length of time, you get a feeling.  It's the "there's-no-way-this-is-made-up" feeling.  It's the feeling that tells you that if you are honest with yourself, you know exactly what you are going to find once you start to dig.

And find I did.

Everything from " if you find out she's a guy" to "she dont make you a sammich on command"

Now, I'm happy to say that there were plenty, PLENTY of tweets that denounced the hashtag, the people using it to support violence against women, and Twitter for allowing it trend in the first place.

And so my Sunday Twitter war began, as I and others fought against the thousands of tweets that were actually causing this to trend worldwide.  Not because I thought that in 140 characters, I could convince anyone legitimately using that hashtag that violence against women is wrong.  But because I simply couldn't stay quiet.  A huge part of fighting these battles is simply fighting back - speaking out - letting people know that we will NOT sit idly by and allow them to make those statements that threaten the safety and health and well being of half of our population.

You're making it trend! Stop talking about it!

As people analyzed why exactly this offensive hashtag had been trending for so long, there was speculation that it was because those of us who were against it were using it to denounce it, which was only making it trend more.  I was accused of just promoting the tag to promote my brand, using this campaign to increase my Klout score, being ignorant and stupid about the way Twitter works, and a host of other things.

And to those people, I would say this.  We did it.  We beat them in their own forum.  If you look up the hashtag now, you'll see that the tweets denouncing it are far more numerous than those supporting it.  And I want people to see that.  I want people to see that this hashtag was trending with violent and offensive language, and that our community took it over, reclaimed this tag, and repurposed it to say with one voice "There is NEVER a #reasontobeatyourgirlfriend."

So yes, we used the hashtag and we made it trend longer.  But we turned it into a campaign to spread awareness about domestic violence, about violence against women.  We turned it into a crusade.  We weren't calling for it to stop trending at that point - we were calling out Twitter for allowing it to trend in the first place (for those who were following, Twitter believes that #FuckYouWashington should not have been allowed to trend last week despite over 28,000 tweets, because it was offensive.  Inciting violence against women, however, is ok.  @DickC, CEO of Twitter, acknowledged the problem and had this to tweet in response to questions about Twitter's "trending tweets" policy:

In response to the popularity of this tag, Courtney at Feministing started this campaign, called #140reasonsdvisnotajoke.  As you may have guessed already, the 140 reasons are the names of 140 victims of domestic violence.  And over the course of these 48 hours, Fem2pt0 is going to be tweeting out absolutely every one of them.

Will you help us spread the word by retweeting ONE of our posts listing the names of these victims? You can find our twitter stream here:!/fem2pt0
These names are just a fraction, a tiny fraction of the victims out there.  So please follow us as we tweet from #140reasonsdvisnotajoke.  Share your outrage, and show the world that these jokes represent real people, real victims, and real casualties.

1.3 million women will be victims of domestic violence this year. The law of odds say that most of their abusers are probably online.  Were they using the #reasonstobeatyourgirlfriend hashtag on Sunday?  Perhaps.

Want to learn more?  Sadi has an awesomely funny post on Tiger Beatdown as she tries to set you up on dates with the classy men using this tag. On a more serious note, if you or someone you know needs help related to domestic violence, please check out these resources:

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ayúdame, Por Favor? I’m Lost and I’m a Girl

I spoke neither French nor Arabic, and the nice man in the booth was trying to explain something to me in a mix of the languages.  But it only took a minute or so of passionate pantomime for me to understand:  They only sold one-way tickets.  I would have to buy another one on my way back,

As I settled into my seat on the train from Casablanca, no less than 4 people – two men and two women – approached me to ask if I was ok. Did the man in the booth not give me the right change?  Did I know where I was going?  Did I need help?  Did I have enough money?

As I spent the week traveling with my friend Kim, I found it strange to be in a country where women were considered generally incapable.  Everywhere we went, people wanted to help us – everything from lifting our suitcases to steering us through the town.  And these weren’t people who were expecting anything in return – they didn’t ask for money or pressure us into visiting their stores.  It’s true that they were mostly men, but even so, young American women learn early on to tell the difference between men who pay undue attention to us (creepy) and men who want to watch over us and help us in a grandfatherly sort of way.  We were encountering the latter – everywhere.

And so this past week, when I went to Mexico with five girlfriends, I remembered the Morocco trip from a few years back, and I wondered how I would find it.  Traveling as a woman through such a patriarchal culture.

I found out the day I decided to go horseback riding in an adventure park just outside Cancun.  Getting there would necessitate a ferry, a cab, and a bus, but my Spanish is decent, and I wasn’t in any hurry.

Getting there and back was an all-day disaster, replete with missteps, wrong buses, and mislabeled signs.  And yet, every step of the way I encountered it - this overwhelming desire of the people to help a young girl find her way.  One of the owners of the park offered to drive me to the nearest bus stop so I wouldn’t have to walk in the heat.  He let off on the side of the road, told me none of the buses came with any regularity, but just to wait here and surely someone would pick me up.  (See the photo?  Yeah, that road).

And so I waited at this bus stop, and when people stopped to offer me a ride, they literally drove out of their way to deliver me – hand to hand – to someone else who would help me get the rest of the way.  One person waited with me at one intersection for 40 minutes until another bus came along, when he sternly told the driver to make sure I got to my destination, as though I were an Unaccompanied Minor.

When you travel as a woman in a foreign country, particularly one in which you don’t speak the language fluently, you need to be very, very careful.  We’re taught this.  We’re taught that it’s the unfair reality that women are more vulnerable than men, and that we are at greater risk.  This is not untrue.

However, what is not spoken about as often is the privilege that women also enjoy.  If people think of you as vulnerable, you are also seen as incapable – helpless, hopeless, perpetually in need of a hand.   And I’ve started to realize that I experience this everywhere I go.

Men are always coming to my “rescue” - helping me with an especially heavy suitcase, pointing me in the right direction when I’m lost, telling me the time or giving me even unsolicited information.  Particularly if I am smiling and cutely stammering through an overly simplified vocabulary with a terrible Spanish accent . . . well, I can pretty much get all the help I want.

When I finally got back to my hotel, I stopped to wonder.

If I’d been a man instead of a woman, would people have been as willing to help me get home?  Is it socially permissible for men to shyly and cutely ask for that kind of help, or that kind of protection even, when traveling?  If I were to be attacked on the street, would people rush to my aid faster because they heard a woman – not a man – scream?

If women are seen as more vulnerable, are we also receiving more help and protection than men are?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How to Pressure a Woman Into Sleeping With You

Jane is out with Tom on their -th date and they go back to his apartment where they start to hook up.  He asks if he should get a condom.  She says no, she doesn't want to sleep with him tonight.  (She says 'tonight' whether she means it or not because she doesn't want him to dump her immediately, thinking he'll never get any).  He gives her a smile, caresses her cheek, and says "ok, that's fine."

This is about the time when Tom starts to stroke his own ego.  He thinks to himself, "I am such a good guy.  I can't believe those jerks who would push themselves on her.  More women should recognize what a good guy I am.  In fact, why can't more men be more like me?  Look at me being all respectful and all.  I'm even sticking around, to show her how ok with this I am.  God, I'm a good person."  

Jane, in the meantime, is breathing a very quiet sigh of relief.  "That wasn't so bad," she thinks.  "Look, he's even sticking around - he didn't get up and leave the second I said no.  He didn't make me feel guilty, he didn't ask me why not.  He asked permission first, and was perfectly gracious when I said no.  What a good guy."

And they're both feeling pretty good about what a good guy Tom is.

Friday, June 17, 2011

So This Is Me, Then

Sweat is my cleanser and heat is my intensity. Tears are my release and smiling is my ecstasy. Dance is my expression and song is my desires. Sunrise is my potential and sunset is my reflection. Fish are my absurdity and meat my guilt. My home is my foundation and my country house is my tradition. Hiking is my peace and my introvert and skydiving is my novelty and my excitement. Reading is my learning and debating is my growth. Hugging is my energy and talking is my expanse. Space is my insecurity and waves are my challenge.

So this is what inspires me. Starry starry nights and gingerbread houses, purple crayons and flowers in bloom. Childhood giggles and brilliant sunlight, down comforters and matching socks. Music (too much to say here!) and ballet, African drumming, Indian dancing and 19th century philosophy. Smiling and laughter which transcends languages, fantasy tales and magic wands. Sign language and the loyalty of animals, the path of the sun. The chirping of crickets, coqui frogs, waterfalls, mountains. Dazzling lights and reaquainted friends, clean curtains and Easter bonnets. Lending a hand, songs by campfire, and the connecting of souls.

And faith is my guide
love is my life
and I.

And I. I am my passion.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Attributes of a Gracious Woman

Respect: A gracious woman respects other women. She doesn’t claim to only associate with men because women are whiny; she doesn’t speak badly of women behind their backs. She doesn’t call women the names that men have used to degrade and to objectify us for thousands of years. She doesn’t demean other women in order to fit in with the prevailing culture - to pretend that she is more secure than she is. She respects the integrity of other women’s personhoods, and she treats those women as she would will that she herself be treated.

Honor: A gracious woman holds herself to a higher standard than she holds the world around her, and she endeavors to live up to that measure. She is agile and resourceful, but never deceitful or manipulative. She develops her own definition of right and wrong and strives to adhere to it. She constantly reevaluates that distinction as she goes about her days, learning as much about herself as she does about the world and her place in it.

Integrity: A gracious woman’s integrity combines confidence with humility. The strength not only to admit to mistakes, but also to embrace the discomfort or punishment that must sometimes accompany such errors. She is honest about her shortcomings and faces them with an open mind and a brave heart.  Always, she says what she means and means what she says.

Compassion: A gracious woman feels deeply - for pain, strife, struggle, loss, desperation, and fear. She makes a conscious decision to take the emotion into herself. She doesn’t just sympathize - she empathizes. She strives to understand the emotion, and she allows herself the loss of control that accompanies such compassion. To truly be someone else in suffering – even if just for a moment - and to make that pain her own. She understands that pain, and when judging others, she uses only her heart.

Self-Reflection: A gracious woman knows that at the end of the day, her thoughts, her actions, and her life are all her own. She looks back on the choices she has made – from the big to the small – and she weighs the merits of those choices within her own context. Day by day, she asks herself, what does this choice mean for me? How will this choice make me feel? Will I be closer or further away from the “me” that I want to be? To judge herself, she uses her head, and she grows from that self-reflection.

Value: A gracious woman is worthy. Worthy of trust, faith, praise, admiration, respect, and love. She knows that both her life and her company have value, and she expects others to know it, too. She recognizes when she is being treated worse than she deserves, and she does not allow people to come into her life with negative purpose. She knows exactly how much she is worth, and she demands that others respect her accordingly.

Courage: A gracious woman is strong of heart. Her courage is not for display; it is for neither the praise nor the admiration of others. It is for times of fear or of uncertainty, for times when action is called for instead of words. Her courage is not easy – it is a decision to combat a negative environment with positive energy. To affect change with that power. Her courage risks the security of her entity for the freedom of an idea.

Passion: A gracious woman has a fire in her soul. Whether shy or engaging, quiet or outgoing, she has a personal stake in the life that she leads, and she strives to make the most of it. She puts everything she has into everything she does, and she feels the desire for accomplishment deep within her. She sets her own goals and weighs her successes and failures by her own measures. She gets back up because she must. Because she feels the drive to achieve. Her passion is her fuel, and her dreams know no bounds.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

In Which I Defend a Cave-Dwelling Prostitute for Easter

Tomorrow, I will join millions of Christians around the world in celebrating the resurrection of Christ and the saving of humanity.  But as I stood in services for Holy Thursday this week, I thought instead of the women in Christ's life who have been ignored, misrepresented, and used in the politics that infused the rise and spread of Christianity.

When I think of the saying "a lie makes its way halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its shoes on," I think of Mary Magdalene.  It all started with a man who wanted to make Mary Magdalene out to be more than she really was - a humble servant of Jesus' and arguably the "apostle to the apostles".   That man was Pope Gregory the Great, who, in 591, did something that I think of as truly miraculous - he merged several different women into one.

Pope Gregory gives a sermon in which he carelessly combines Mary Magdalene with the woman of the seven demons (a sinner who washes Jesus' feet with her hair), and then that of Mary of Bethany, who anoints Jesus with nard.  It's not long afterwards that Mary Magdalene takes on even more personalities - that of Mary of Egypt (a prostitute from the fourth century who converted to Christianity and lived the rest of her days in a cave) and in some traditions even the woman who committed adultery and was sentenced to be stoned, when Jesus famously says "let he who is without sin cast the first stone." (While we're on the topic of made-up stories, this incident is widely accepted among biblical scholars as never having happened - the story was added centuries later to one of the Gospels that ended up making it into the New Testament as we now know it).

It's disheartening, really, to see the life of a woman like Mary Magdalene so egregiously misrepresented for the Church's political purposes.  And don't be fooled - the reshaping of Mary's image was intentional.  As the Christian Church rose in the first 15 centuries to a prominent place of leadership and power, women were summarily pushed away, cast as manipulative, scheming, witches out to destroy the Church.  So instead of celebrating Mary's role as one of the first leaders of the Church and an apostle who spread the word of Jesus, she was instead cast as a symbol - the embodiment of the love of Christ that is so great, it can redeem a prostitute.

 This idea of Mary as the repentant whore who became a lover of Christ functions within the Church as a nod to the patriarchal hierarchy, one that celebrates obedience to male authority and sexual control over the feminine.  As a repentant sinner, Mary''s femininity is restored to its proper place - a femininity that does not exert itself sexually and is submissive to domination by the male power structure.  Indeed, one of the most recognized depictions of Mary Magdalene portrays her groveling at the feet of Christ.   Most other popular depictions show Mary in a sexual pose, half or completely naked, in a state of barely controlled eroticism.  It is only her desperate faith and supplication to Jesus that keeps her sexuality in check.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How to Make a Girl Cooperate After You've Abducted Her

Slap her.  That's right - I didn't want to hold you in suspense any longer.  None of this 'teaser sentence' stuff where you are halfway through the blog post before you get the answer that you've been waiting for.

The answer is: slap her.  At least, that's what a new video game, "Duke Nukem Forever" (set to be released in June) is telling its players.  As part of this video "game", you abduct women, and then if they make a fuss (as we women are so prone to doing), you just give her a "reassuring slap".

 Now in case you thought this was just a minor part of the video game (maybe its designers aren't TOTAL misogynistic jerks), you'll feel reassured when you read that Duke Ferris, the Editor-in-Chief at, told one news outlet that "the game is meant to objectify women - that's the point."

Here's what happens: the game begins with the Duke getting "implied oral sex from a set of twins wearing school uniforms".  Solicitation from minors?  Check.  Statutory rape?  Check.  Assertion of patriarchal hegemony?  Check.  Then things get worse.  You get abducted (I'm sorry - when I say "you", I mean the woman in the scene.  Even if I'm playing a video game, I identify more with the female character being assaulted than I do with "my character" on the screen) - so, you get abducted, and shriek.  What does the protagonist have to do?  Why, press a button, and you are slapped.  Other scenes aren't too much better, requiring the player to seek out sex toys and pictures of topless women.

Of course, this isn't the first time we've seen such things in video games.  A few years ago, "RapeLay" (no, I could NOT make up that name) made headlines for giving gamers the opportunity to assault a girl on a train platform, follow her onto the train and assault her again, and then also attack her sister and mother.   The player can even be joined by his friends so that they can all engage in some good old-fashioned male bonding as they stalk and rape these women over and over and over again.  But it's ok, because this particular girl on the platform had earlier accused you, the player, of molesting her, and who doesn't love to see a woman put in her place?

After hearing the outrage from women's groups (there we are making a fuss again), the game was removed from
some store shelves.  But in this day and age, all that means is that it went viral.  Nothing like having sexual assault of female playthings be available (for free in this case) to anyone who's willing to click a button promising they're over 17.

Now let's just clarify something: not all video games are drenched in sexism and misogyny.  One day, I probably will play some Katamari Damacy just for the fun of it.  But unfortunately, too many games do fit this mold.  And even more unfortunately, these games aren't difficult to find, buy, or even download for free.

Sexism in media and pop culture is one thing - and even that's bad enough already as is.  But if I were a young boy exposed to this sort of misogyny on a regular basis, there's a better than even chance that I'd grow up to be a violent rapist, too.  It'd look
something like this (for those who believe such things are rare and women just enjoy kicking up a fuss for no reason).

Plenty of other feminists have picked this story up as well, including Rachel at
Feminist Fatale who has the patience to give more background on the defense offered by the creators and supporters of the game.

So, those who know me know that as much as I love to rant and rave about such things, I love to give people concrete action to take even more.  Here's what to do: Shelby Knox,'s rockstar Director of Organizing for Women's Rights, has launched a petition directed at Wal-Mart demanding that they not sell the game unless the Capture the Babe segment is removed.

As I mentioned earlier, taking the games off store shelves isn't a full proof way of keeping it out of the hands of minors, but it's a start.  We also need to spread the word so that parents know exactly what's in these games and take concrete, firm steps to teach young boys (and girls) the right and wrong ways to think about, interact with, and treat women.

So, tell your friends,
sign the petition, and if you're a parent, for heaven's sake keep these types of video games out of the hands of your kids.  Our lives really are at stake.

This piece was cross-posted at Fem2.0

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tick Tock of a Young Professional Woman

8:15 AM  I walk up Columbia Road and take note of four men sitting on the stoop and smoking.  They are about 5 yards away.  They haven’t noticed me yet, but they will.  I gauge the odds of their verbally harassing me to be about 2 to1 if I walk past them. (This is something women learn to do early in life – assess the potential threat level of any male in our immediate surroundings.)  I decide to cross the street.  They notice.  They aren’t interested enough to get up and follow me, but they amuse themselves by shouting at me from the stoop.  hey mama, where you goin’ in such a hurry.  why don’t you come back and join us.  show me that pretty smile.  Several people on the sidewalk glance back and forth between us, but then quickly look away.

8:25 AM I slide into a seat on the green line heading downtown.  A half dozen empty sets of seats, but a man sits down next to me anyway.  His leg presses up against mine.  I move away.  It’s a metro car – the seats aren’t large; maybe I’m imagining it.  I feel his leg press against mine again, this time with a little pressure.  I don’t want to call attention to myself by asking him if I can pretty please get up.  I tell myself I’m just imagining it, but I know I’m not.  His leg is still pressing against mine.  At Mount Vernon Square, I mutter an ‘excuse me’ and quickly push my way out to the platform.  I wait, but it’s 9 minutes ‘til the next train will come.  I’m going to be late to work.

12:44 PM:  I walk into the conference room.  My boss is seated with three lobbyists – all middle-aged white men.  One shakes my hand and immediately shortens my name to a familiar and infantilizing Abby instead of Abigail.  I correct him, but flush as he smiles patronizingly at my correction.  Another laughs when he shakes my hand next, saying “well, Abigail, you certainly look very professional today.  Thanks for joining us.”  Black suit, heels, matching pearl jewelry and my hair in a bun.  I want to ask him whether it’s the fact that I’m young or female that makes him so surprised to see that I know how to dress myself, but my boss frowns at me.  I keep my mouth shut.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Banging Chicks: The Language of Violence and Sexuality

Yesterday, my fellow Fem2pt0 blogger Maggie Arden wrote a post called "Words Matter" about the use of language to devalue women. She was right about the idea that our every day language and the portrayal of women even in just the written media contributes to the overall discrimination of women.

But the problem is even more complex than having to check a box on a form indicating whether I'm a Ms. or a Mrs. Something as subtle but as powerful as language is a window into how we perceive half of our population, and also an indicator of the value we place on gender in our society, leading to real life consequences for those on the receiving end of discriminatory verbiage.

The Department of Justice reports that in 2006 alone, there were 233,019 acts of rape, attempted rape, and sexual assault committed against women in the U.S. We know that rape is about power and control, not sex; men are taught to be strong and fierce, while women are supposed to be the passive recipients of that power.

We need only to look at the language we use to talk about sex and gender relations to see the power struggle play out. Men are taught to view their sexuality as a weapon, while women are taught to view their sexuality as a fragile flower, to be protected against the invader. This idea isn't new: Sigmund Freud describes the links between male sexuality and violence in “Symbolism in the Dream”, stating that “[t]he male organ is symbolized by objects that have the characteristic, in common with it, of penetration into the body, and consequent injury, hence pointed weapons of every type, knives, daggers, lances, swords." 

Looking at it from another perspective, language itself is replete with violent imagery when describing relations with women and girls. Examples include phrases such as: “I tried to get her in bed but got shot down”, “he’s always hitting on women," “she’s a knockout," “what a bombshell," etc. These metaphors subtly reinforce the violent nature of gender-based discrimination and sexuality. Even examining a historical wartime context, in the United States, an important aspect of the arms race was phallic worship: in fact, “missile envy” was one of the primary motivating forces in the nuclear build-up. It is interesting to note that the nuclear scientists involved in the development of the atom bomb consistently referred to a successful bomb as a "boy" and a failed attempt as a "girl."

Even today, both the military itself and the arms manufacturers routinely exploit the phallic imagery and promise of sexual domination that their weapons so conveniently suggest. Phrases such as "digging deep," "penetrating the enemy," and countless others used in promotional materials instill an element of sexual domination and conquest to the operations. The idea of one’s forces "penetrating the enemy" is particularly relevant when one considers the value of land and its symbolism in warfare, surrendered as a spoil of war. When one additionally considers that land has traditionally been assigned a feminine identity (i.e. Mother Earth), one can see that this language supports even further the sexualized context of war and plunder. When considering the assigning of gender roles to failed versus successful bomb attempts, it is not difficult to see that the "boy" would have ultimate power of violent domination over female Nature.

It's not just in our words that such messages are being passed on either: think of the mutilated and dead women replete in Kanye West's "Monster" video. Melinda Reist writes that "this is the message they are imbibing... that men are brutal and dominant, and men enjoy dead women as sex and entertainment. The female body is to be devoured, reduced to the same status as meat." So even the images we are surrounded by every day reinforce the ties between violence and sexuality.

So the question is, why does any of this matter? And the answer is, because gender discrimination is not just a question of what is in our laws and on our books. We are moving ever closer towards gender justice and equity, but part of that movement is recognizing where and how discrimination and devaluation exists. And here in our culture and our society, our language perpetuates the idea that men are sexually violent aggressors seeking to dominate and control passive and fragile women.

As Maggie pointed out yesterday: words matter.  We can change all the laws and all the policies we want, but gender discrimination and violence against women are destroying the lives of millions of women and girls all over the world every day.  So the next time you want to encourage a friend to "bang a girl," think about what message you are sending, and what it says about how you value the women in your life.

Monday, March 7, 2011

This is a Song

This is a song for the birds that do not sing
for the overstuffed breasts and the deeply cut wings
for the cows who were too fat to kill yesterday
but who were captured and shipped off anyway
to die a brutal death
for the song of the dinner table.

This is a song for the tears that are shed
for those who sleep in fear and wake in dread
chained all day to iron posts
a little bit alive but mostly dead
clasping their hands and their hearts together
praying and hoping to become birds of a feather
dear god, make me a bird so i can fly far far away

This is a song for the birds that do not sing
for the man and woman who fight and die
bc there’s twice as much talking as there is listening
for the whales that cry into the dark of the night
their screaming voices blending with the blood in the water
as they are carried up into the light.
for the buffalo massacred across their homeland
stripped of their hides and sold by those
who stuff and scalp and torture and refuse to understand
the notes of the song of the bird that does not sing
the bird who is trapped and tied and destined for a life of suffering
those who no one hears wail into the peace of the night
the silence engulfing the pain in their plight
this is a song for that silence

This is a song for the silence of the lamb
for the betrayal and the disappearance of faith
for those whose hearts and minds are trapped at the gate
unable to break the bonds of captivity
not wanting to see whats beyond their ability
captured by the limitations of their eyes
not realizing that faith and love are nurtured inside
looking everywhere, no idea where to start
but the end of the last one
is the beginning of the next one
and your prayers and your dreams gotta come from the heart
otherwise whats the point
no pain no gain, ain’t that the truth

This is a song for the birds that cannot sing
because theyre overstuffed with mcdonalds and burger king
the largest market magazines trying to buy
more this bigger that greater fish to fry
but one day you realize its all just words
and all that 'stuff' you wish for just sounds absurd.
this is a song for the almighty advertising industry of America.

This is a song for the you and for the me
only with greed and with hate are we trained to see
nothings ever enough
always wanting more stuff
who are taught to take it from?
but all thats a changing
as our hearts and minds are fiercely escaping
choosing for ourselves how we want this world to be
setting first ourselves then other life forms free
reaching for our goals
making our ignorance and fear and hate unroll
into the darkness
where its supposed to be
and where its end will be beginning

as our joy and freedom dance
to the tune of the songs
of the birds that sing

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Is it so bad to redefine rape? HR3, #DearJohn, and Women’s Sexuality

Despite promising to focus on jobs and the economy, Republicans have introduced HR3, “The No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act," which would make it virtually impossible for any woman anywhere to use insurance to pay for an abortion. Many excellent pieces have been written by the feminist community about the monstrosity that is this bill, and I don’t disagree with them. However, the idea of ‘redefining rape’, as the Republican efforts have been labeled, did get me thinking.  Our society lacks sufficient or appropriate language to define women’s sexuality, and therefore has difficulty as well in defining rape.

As anyone who has been involved in the conversation about reproductive health (from either side) knows, this issue is far more complex than whether or not abortion is murder, and when is abortion justified?  The trouble with defining rape (and therefore when some feel abortion is acceptable) is that it is not just an experience that a person goes through – it’s an experience that Flickr/Steve Rhodes (Creative Commons).involves another human being (or several), and one that has specific legal consequences (you know, supposedly). But I know too many women who have said, “I think I might have been raped – I’m just not sure.” And not because they were passed out and don’t remember anything, but because our society does not like to talk about women’s sexuality, and therefore cannot figure out how to talk about women’s choices when it comes to their own sexuality.

Jessica Valenti’s latest book, “The Purity Myth,” is what first got me thinking about this concept. Support hotlines where young people can go for information about health issues frequently get the question, “I did xyz, am I still a virgin?” Despite there being no medical definition for virginity, this is what women are thinking about constantly and struggling with constantly – the questions surrounding our sexuality. Except that nobody wants to talk about it and we don’t have language as a culture or as a society to address women’s sexuality.

Where does this play into the concept of rape? Congressman Chris Smith and his buddies want you to prove you were raped – I imagine this includes you being rushed via ambulance to an ER because you almost died from injuries sustained holding off attackers on your way back from Bible study. But as feminists rightly point out, what about the child who is forced into sexual acts? What about the fact that women are trained by society to be docile and passive and agreeable, and are even taught NOT to fight back sometimes because it could put their lives in further danger? All of these are reasons why Chris Smith’s bill is, in itself, a violent act against women.

However. A friend of mine told me in confidence that he had been accused of rape a long time ago. Mostly, it had hurt him deeply. According to him, the woman had never said no, she never hesitated or indicated that she didn’t want them to keep moving forward, and she had exhibited no inhibition during the act. Anti-choicers call this “buyer’s remorse." Let’s be clear – that’s crap. But the truth is a little more complicated. Perhaps she felt pressured into having sex; perhaps it happened so quickly that (because women aren’t taught to be aggressive) it was over before she could even formulate a thought about it. These sides aren’t mutually exclusive. But are we really expecting men to stop every three seconds and ask, “Are you ok?”  And then how do they know for sure that you are, and that you aren’t just responding to what you perceive as pressure? Also, do women ask such questions?

The point is, sexuality is complicated, and the question of rape simply can’t be subjective. It’s a crime against another human being and is (supposedly) punishable. But women aren’t given the opportunity to talk about the difference between being pressured into having sex, and being forced. Or the difference between doing something they didn’t want to do, and a man forcing them to do it. The only way to truly reconcile these issues is for A) everyone to recognize the difficulties and try to communicate as much as possible when the question arises, and B) to start talking more openly about women’s sexuality.

I was concerned when I started writing this post that some feminists would skim it quickly and then start a rampage against me for supporting HR3 and setting women’s rights back. So let me close by being 100% clear. The Republican supporters of this bill, also, do not recognize the complex issues surrounding rape, and instead are using this bill as an outright attack on women.  When Republicans redefine rape, as they do in this bill, they basically are saying that you were not raped unless you came within inches of your life fighting, and then were lucky enough to be kept alive.

So the way they have redefined rape is unacceptable, and anyone who views women as human beings should be up in arms about it. But the idea of redefining rape, and encouraging women to talk about their sexuality and sexual experiences, is one that is worth exploring in our communities and schools. Not yet in our legal system, because, for now, that would inevitably let more rapists off the hook; but for the time being, let’s at least start talking about it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The State of (Women in) the Union: Tonight's Speech

 The very first exchange in Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues is as follows, “I bet you’re worried.” “We were worried.”  “We were worried about vaginas.”  I’ll admit it, after being a fervent Hillary Clinton supporter for years (and not just because I’m a New Yorker or a Seven Sisters College graduate), when Barack Obama won the nomination, I was worried.  It’s not that I doubted that he was pro-choice, or that he was a liberal.  It’s just that politics and policymaking is often about sacrifice and compromise.  And I was worried that women’s rights would be the first thing to go.

I wasn’t wrong.  There were times when the Obama Administration did, in fact, use women’s reproductive health as a bargaining chip.  We saw it, for instance, when President Obama agreed to remove funding for family planning for poor women from the economic stimulus package in an effort to gain Republican support for the bill.  It should be noted that his gimmick did not work.

But despite some setbacks, overall, the state of women in the United States is better than it was before, under Barack Obama’s leadership.  One hopes that in tonight’s State of the Union address, President Obama will acknowledge the gains made for women’s civil rights, reproductive health, and economic security and make a further commitment to pursuing policies that benefit half of his constituency.  Let’s review some of the successes:

1)    Overturning the Mexico City Policy (otherwise known as the Global Gag rule), which denied US dollars to Non-governmental organizations overseas that perform or promote abortion services as a method of family planning;

2)    Signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which resets the 180-day statute of limitations for filing an equal pay lawsuit with each individual discriminatory paycheck;

3)    Creating a White House Council on Women and Girls, which assessed the current efforts of every executive agency and department to further the progress and advancement of women and girls and made recommendations for future improvements;

4)    Promoting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education, giving young girls more encouragement and opportunity to pursue careers in these cutting-edge fields;

5)    Expanding programs for victims of domestic violence; and

6)    Making contraception (Plan B One Step) available to female soldiers serving overseas

Of course, it hasn’t all been roses and sunshine.  The Obama Administration has also continued funding for abstinence-only education, and supported the so-called Conscience Clause, which allows medical professionals to deny treatment to women seeking reproductive health care.

Clearly, there is still much work to be done.  Despite now making up 50% of the workforce for the first time in history, women are making 77 cents to the dollar that men make – which is actually a decrease since 2007.  Domestic violence is still high on the list of health risks to women in America, and the American people need President Obama’s help in staving off Republicans attempts to deny choice and medical services to women.  Already, Republicans have introduced bills such as HR 3, which would repeal the health care reform bill that benefited so many women, and HR 217, which would slash funding for family-planning clinics that provide important preventive medical care, including birth control and cancer screenings, to millions of women and men every year.

Tonight, President Obama will speak to the nation about the State of our Union.  Hopefully, he will not forget who makes up half of the population of this union, and he will come out strong for women’s rights.