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Little somethin’ about agency

4/18/13

Reposted without permission from: http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/04/17/1883121/west-virginia-abstinence-assembly/?mobile=nc

 

High Schooler Protests ‘Slut-Shaming’ Abstinence Assembly Despite Alleged Threats From Her Principal

By Tara Culp-Ressler on Apr 17, 2013 at 2:55 pm

High school senior Katelyn Campbell

A West Virginia high school student is filing an injunction against her principal, who she claims is threatening to punish her for speaking out against a factually inaccurate abstinence assembly at her school. Katelyn Campbell, who is the student body vice president at George Washington High School, alleges her principal threatened to call the college where she’s been accepted to report that she has “bad character.”

George Washington High School recently hosted a conservative speaker,Pam Stenzel, who travels around the country to advocate an abstinence-only approach to teen sexuality. Stenzel has a long history of using inflammatory rhetoric to convince young people that they will face dire consequences for becoming sexually active. At GW’s assembly, Stenzel allegedly told students that “if you take birth control, your mother probably hates you” and “I could look at any one of you in the eyes right now and tell if you’re going to be promiscuous.” She also asserted that condoms aren’t safe, and every instance of sexual contact will lead to a sexually transmitted infection.

Campbell refused to attend the assembly, which was funded by a conservative religious organization called “Believe in West Virginia” and advertised with fliers that proclaimed “God’s plan for sexual purity.” Instead, she filed a complaint with the ACLU and began to speak out about her objections to this type of school-sponsored event. Campbell called Stenzel’s presentation “slut shaming” and said that it made many students uncomfortable.

GW Principal George Aulenbacher, on the other hand, didn’t see anything wrong with hosting Stenzel. “The only way to guarantee safety is abstinence. Sometimes, that can be a touchy topic, but I was not offended by her,” he told the West Virginia Gazettelast week.

But it didn’t end with a simple difference of opinion among Campbell and her principal. The high school senior alleges that Aulenbacher threatened to call Wellesley College, where Campbell has been accepted to study in the fall, after she spoke to the press about her objections to the assembly. According to Campbell, her principal said, “How would you feel if I called your college and told them what bad character you have and what a backstabber you are?” Campbell alleges that Aulenbacher continued to berate her in his office, eventually driving her to tears. “He threatened me and my future in order to put forth his own personal agenda and make teachers and students feel they cant speak up because of fear of retaliation,” she said of the incident.

 

Despite being threatened, Campbell is not backing down. She hopes that filing this injunction will protect her freedom of speech to continue advocating for comprehensive sexual health resources for West Virginia’s youth. “West Virginia has the ninth highest pregnancy rate in the U.S.,” Campbell told the Gazette. “I should be able to be informed in my school what birth control is and how I can get it. With the policy at GW, under George Aulenbacher, information about birth control and sex education has been suppressed. Our nurse wasn’t allowed to talk about where you can get birth control for free in the city of Charleston.”

Campbell’s complaints about her high school reflect a problematic trend across the country. There are serious consequences when figures like Stenzel repeatedly tell young Americans that contraception isn’t safe. Partly because of the scientific misinformation that often pervades abstinence-only curricula, an estimated 60 percent of young adults are misinformed about birth control’s effectiveness — and some of those teens choose not to use it because they assume it won’t make any difference. Predictably, the states that lack adequate sex ed requirements are also the states that have the highest rates of teen pregnancy and STDs.

Some of Campbell’s fellow students at GW High School are also rallying for her cause. They plan to take up the issue at a local board of education meeting, which is scheduled for Thursday evening.

What makes a woman?

4/14/13

What makes a woman?

Who decides that?

In composing this portfolio, I decided I wanted to branch out beyond articles, blog posts, websites, and talk to people in my own life.  I sent out 4 questions, that can be seen in a variety of the other posts below, to family members, friends, acquaintances.  The responses I’ve gotten back have commented on everything from society’s sense of entitlement to pregnant women’s bodies, the invisibility of aging for women, the back-handed slap of being a mostly straight and very beautiful woman being eaten alive by men’s desires, the complexity of meaning behind the hijab, to where and why we feel safe or unsafe.  They have been honest and beautiful, as are these women.  But I made a mistake, I think.

 

I purposefully sent these questions only to women.  I questioned this decision, but ultimately felt that the questions were designed to explore sexism from the perspective of those experiencing it, on a very personal level.  I would love to work on a whole new project that explores sexism and rape culture from men’s perspectives, but for the purposes of this assignment, I wanted to hone in on the female experiences of rape culture, safety, the male gaze, beauty, sexuality, etc.  

 

But one friend who I sent it to is a lesbian with a very masculine gender performance.  She uses feminine pronouns but over the years of our friendship, I have heard her say things to indicate this is more for logistical than preferential reasons.  She has a gender-neutral name and is often mistaken for a man, both in person and on paper.  She is often asked if she is trans* or transitioning.  She answers no, at least when I’ve heard her, but makes no claims to feel connected to an identity as a woman either.  Several days after sending these out and looking over responses, I had the thought that sending it to this friend as part of “my group of women” was incredibly thoughtless.  I’m not sure what -ism that falls under, but I’m fairly sure I’ve made a mistake.  I can’t decide what to do about it because if I say something and she did not think twice about it, I am singling her out in an uncomfortably way.  Or maybe I’m the one it would be uncomfortable for.

S: “knowing I am more likely to get harassed on the street with my hair done”

4/10/13

1) What physical spaces do you feel safe or unsafe in?  Emotional spaces?  How does this relate to your race, age, sexual orientation, background, class, etc?

I feel safest in middle-class urban environments (this is difficult to pinpoint, but I’m going to go with the parts of cities filled with businesses, moderate-cost housing, with mixes of blue and white-collar workers): this is probably due to being raised in a predominantly white, middle to upper-middle class suburb. Being mixed race, I feel safer around racially diverse areas, and being a sexual minority, the city provides me with a much larger community of other sexual minorities to feel more comfortable around. 
As far as emotional spaces, I feel most safe in spaces that are open-minded and liberal. Because I am often faced with environments in which I am a minority, openness helps to ease my discomfort with being different.

2) How do you perceive your own physical appearance and those of other women?  How do you think others perceive you physically?  What elements contribute to these perceptions?

I perceive myself to have a mildly masculine presence in comparison to most other women. I feel most comfortable in men’s clothing (however, due to the lack of masculine clothing cut for women’s figures, this is difficult to accomplish). I think others perceive me to be more feminine than I feel at times, but this is usually heterosexual women that I feel that from. At least heterosexual women with little exposure to masculine women. I think this is maybe because my face has soft features, and I like to wear makeup, and I have a curvy body.

3) How do you feel walking outside as a woman?  Safe, unsafe, targeted, ignored, harassed, invisible?  Does this change depending on where you are, how you are dressed, who you are with, who else is around?

When I am by myself and my hair is down, I am more aware of being stared at and am more alert, knowing that I am more likely to get harassed on the street with my hair done. I don’t necessarily feel unsafe, but I feel mildly uncomfortable. This discomfort is heightened when I am alone in lower-income areas with a predominant Black/Af Am population. This could be for a number of reasons, but sometimes I feel it might be that I’m perceived as more attractive in these communities, or it is just more culturally normative, but I’m not sure.

4) What does the intersection of your woman-ness with other elements mean to you?  I.E. race, class, age, ability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, I’m sure I’m missing some.

I enjoy being a part of the LGBTQ community, because I don’t feel as much pressure to conform to the generic expectation of what a woman should look like. I still cave partly to this pressure in professional settings (like I won’t wear a tie to an important interview even though I want to). Also professionally, there is always a women majority in any setting I’m in, which I think actually helps in expressing myself as whatever type of woman I want. I think that’s because I expect diversity in a large group of women, whereas if I’m in a group of men, I feel like I’m almost representing all women in a way.

10 Things to End Rape Culture

2/4/13

Reposted without permission from:

http://www.thenation.com/article/172643/ten-things-end-rape-culture#

Rape culture exists because we don’t believe it does.  From tacit acceptance of misogyny in everything from casual conversations with our peers to the media we consume, we accept the degradation of women and posit uncontrollable hyper-sexuality of men as the norm. But rape is endemic to our culture because there’s no widely accepted cultural definition of what it actually is.  As Nation contributor and co-editor of the anthology Yes Means Yes Jessica Valenti explains, “Rape is a standard result of a culture mired in misogyny, but for whatever reason—denial, self-preservation, sexism—Americans bend over backwards to make excuses for male violence.” But recent headline-grabbing instances of sexual assault, from Steubenville, Ohio, to Delhi, India, are prodding Americans to become self-aware about the role we play in propagating a culture that not only allows but justifies sexual violence against women. Activists Eesha PanditJaclyn Friedman, filmmaker Nuala Cabral and The Nation’s Valenti believe that we can end rape culture. They’ve suggested the following “Ten Things” to end our collective tolerance for violence against women and create an environment that empowers both men and women to change the status quo.

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1. Name the real problemsViolent masculinity and victim-blaming. These are the cornerstones of rape culture and they go hand in hand. When an instance of sexual assault makes the news and the first questions the media asks are about the victim’s sobriety, or clothes, or sexuality, we should all be prepared to pivot to ask, instead, what messages the perpetrators received over their lifetime about rape and about “being a man.” Here’s a tip: the right question is not, “What was she doing/wearing/saying when she was raped?” The right question is, “What made him think this is acceptable?” Sexual violence is a pervasive problem that cannot be solved by analyzing an individual situation. Learn 50 key facts about domestic violence. Here’s one: the likelihood that a woman will die a violent death increases 270% once a gun is present in the home Remember, a violent act is not a tragic event done by an individual or a group of crazies.  Violence functions in society as” a means of asserting and securing power.”

2. Re-examine and re-imagine masculinity: Once we name violent masculinity as a root cause of violence against women, we have to ask: Is masculinity inherently violent? How can you be a man/masculine without being violent?  Understand that rape is not a normal or natural masculine urge. Join organizations working to redefine masculinity and participate in the national conversations on the topic.

3. Get enthusiastic about enthusiastic consent. Rape culture relies on our collective inclination to blame the victim and find excuses for the rapist. Enthusiastic consent — the idea that we’re all responsible to make sure that our partners are actively into whatever’s going down between us sexually — takes a lot of those excuses away. Rather than looking for a “no,” make sure there’s an active “yes.” If you adopt enthusiastic consent yourself, and then teach it to those around you, it can soon become a community value. Then, if someone is raped, the question won’t be, well, what was she doing there, or did she really say no clearly enough? It will be: what did you do to make sure she was really into it? Check out this Tumblr page on enthusiastic consent.

4. Speak up for what you really really want. Because so much victim-blaming relies on outdated ideas about women and men’s sexuality, taking the time to figure out what you actually want from sex for yourself and learning how to speak up about it can be a revolutionary act, and inspire others to follow suit. Bonus: it will almost always improve your sex life, too! Jaclyn Friedman wrote a whole book on the topic.

5. Get media literate. Media, like everything else we consume, is a product; someone imagined, created and implemented it. Ask the right questions about who creates media that profits off the objectification of women, especially women of color.  Feed your mind and heart with media that portrays women as full human beings with the right to bodily autonomy. Go to FAAN Mail to learn how to “Talk Back” to media creators and browse their Facebook page for alternative artists. You’ll not only be healthier yourself, but you’ll be simultaneously calling into being a media ecosystem that will be healthier for everyone.

6.  Globalize your awareness of rape culture. Yes, different societies have particularities when it comes to gender based violence, but it is counterproductive to essentialize entire nations/cultures/races. Look to global strategies—like creating momentum for the US to ratify the global Convention on the Elimination of Violence Against Women and participate in addressing the phenomenon of rape as a tool of war. Also, let’s reauthorize Violence Against Women Act before we cast aspersions on the misogyny of other cultures, shall we?

7. Know your history: For those of us who live here in the US, we must acknowledge and learn from the US’s long history of state sanctioned violence. Consider the genocide of Native and First Nations people, the ever-present legacy of slavery, the lackadaisical relationship we have with due process (i.e. Japanese internment, Guantanamo) and the gendered nature of all this. There are no quick links for this one: you’ll have to read some big books.

8. Take an intersectional approach. The numbers tell us most but not all of what we need to know. What the numbers can elide is the lived reality of women, LGBTQ people and others of us whose stories don’t make it to the headlines. Don’t forget that sex and gender are different and there are more genders than two. People who are gender-non-conforming, gender queer, trans and/or those who complicate the gender binary experience violence at disproportionate rates. Think about how a person’s income, race, sexuality, and citizenship and immigration status would impact their ability to use the criminal justice system as recourse, and come up with strategies that addressthose challenges. Move the most vulnerable from the margin to the center to develop effective solutions.

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9. Practice real politics. You may be crystal clear about your own rejection of rape culture, but when someone you know calls a woman a slut, approach him/her from a place of empathy. Try telling them that you know they probably meant no harm, but that you’re concerned that they may be doing some anyhow. And then explain why. And be patient: very few of us change our views in an instant. It may take time and repetition for it to start to sink in.

10. Lobby your community. Rape culture thrives in passive acceptance of female degradation, victim-blaming and hyper-masculinity in our communities, both physical and digital. Report abuse on Facebook. Lobby college administrators for more safe spaces to discuss sexual assault on campus. One in five women are assaulted during their college years, yet many colleges don’t have a competent system for reporting incidences and punishing perpetrators.  Go here to learn what to do about rape on your campus.

Two More Ways to Fight Rape Culture

Don’t laugh at rape. Most people aren’t rapists. But most rapists believe that everyone does it. What’s more, you can’t tell if you’re in the presence of a rapist. They don’t look any different from the rest of us, and may be perfectly good company. So while it might seem harmless to you to laugh at a joke that makes light of rape, your laughter could be telling an unknown rapist in your midst that you think rape is hilarious. And what’s worse: letting go of a laugh once in a while, or accidentally enabling a rapist? Your call.

Tell your story. Every political issue has a personal narrative that helps form connections to the issue and bolster support for present and future victims. Read Akiba Solomon’s account of the how she bridged the personal and the political in the struggle over reproductive justice. If your personal account is not ready for an audience, start by telling your story to yourself.

It is not enough to bring individual perpetrators of rape and sexual violence to justice.  Since the problem lies in a culture that is entertained by degrading acts and images of women, the solution is to look at the individual acts as a symptom of rape culture and solve it holistically.  We all have a part to play in allowing rape culture to exist—so, we can all do something to eradicate it.

Conceived by Walter Moseley and co-edited by Rae Gomes.

 

women’s studies

1/30/13

women’s studies

You think feminist and hope it applies.

You hear feminist and want to hear me quote something furious

and profound always quick and on the tip of my tongue

addressing and including everyone marked with the double-X:

us daughters of cain.

but what I want to say is not PC because I too have been

taught and told and marketed and still I am inclined to believe

my grandmother knows more about being a woman

with her scrapbook of wedding photos, that holocaust bride

waving to herself in the pearl mirror,

who went on to survive every member of her family

(the men going first)

her grief poised and dignified and ex-

cruciating

her mourning period unending/more a woman

than any pierced and fidgeting barista

head shaved beneath her bandana

overcharging me for coffee and space to clear my mind

but again here I am just how they taught me

comparing and disdaining

I will not stop paying 19.99 plus shipping and handling for

each new European hair removal device

HAIR OFF SMOOTH AWAY LASER THIS MOTHERFUCKER

even when you tell me how I have internalized the patriarchy

how it lives inside me now.

I will wear my skirts short and I will happily admit that both of the following

are true: sometimes it is terrible, these noises shouted each time you leave

your house and sometimes it is liberating to be called beautiful with no

response expected.

You hear that I am a feminist and you want answers

NOW

and also to know that I am certain of them and together we are unshakeable stoppable.

here: what I have for you

is this poem.