#FeministFriday No. 27

On the eve of the 239th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence of the United States, I think it’s important to reflect on history. Not just necessarily our own personal histories, nor the history of our country and allies, but also the lost histories — the stories of the losers, of the conquered and defeated and ignored because those are the really interesting perspectives.

Take the American Revolution, for instance. I probably learned about the Boston Tea Party and Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride twelve times in as many years, but no lesson was as fascinating as the one from my British sixth-grade American History teacher, who told us all about those treasonous terrorists, Washington and Jefferson.

Today’s #FeministFriday is all about the stories of those who have been left invisible by history, which are all too often women. Most people know who Marie Curie, Elizabeth I, Frida Kahlo, Amelia Earheart, Sandra Day O’Connor, Harriet Tubman, and Dr. Sally Ride are, and even why their lives and contributions to their fields were so important to history. These women are undoubtedly important to our human heritage, but a handful of paragraphs sprinkled throughout the pages of history aren’t recompense for ignoring complete tomes of women through the ages.

I loved studying history, but I can’t help but feel that the curriculum was somewhat lacking. To supplement, here are some of the most amazing women from history that you never learned about in school.

khutulun

Name: Khutulun

Lived: 1260-1306, Central Asia

Occupation: Mongolian Warrior Princess

In the 13th century, when khans ruled Central Asia and skill on a horse and with a bow and arrow was more important than brute strength, Mongol women made just as fierce warriors as their men.

One woman, Khutulun, had the combination of both skill and might. She was a devastating cavalrywoman and one of the greatest wrestlers the Mongols had ever seen. Born to the ruler of a swathe, she repeatedly helped her father repel invading hordes commanded by Khublai Khan (who happened to be her great uncle). Explorer Marco Polo recounted that her favorite tactic was to seize an enemy soldier and ride off with him.

Khutulun declared that she wouldn’t marry any man who couldn’t beat her in a wrestling match, and those who lost would have to give her their prized horses. Suffice to say, by the time she was in her 20s, she was a spinster by Mongolian standards and owned many horses.

Honorable mentions for women in the field of Combat:

Boudica(aka: the original Braveheart) led her tribe of British Celts in a bloody, and ultimately doomed rebellion against the Roman occupation.

Tomoe Gozenone of Japan’s few known female warriors, fought in the Genpei War in the 12th century, and was described as a peerless swordswoman, horsewoman, and archer, and had a taste for beheading her enemies.

Mai Bhagoconsidered the 18th-century Sikh Joan of Arc, she shamed Skih men who had deserted their Guru in the face of Mughal invaders into returning to battle, defeated the enemy, became the Guru’s personal bodyguard, and later retired to devote herself to meditation.

Maria Bochkarevaa Russian peasant who fought in World War I, formed the terrifyingly-named Women’s Battalion of Death, and won several honors, only to be executed by the Bolsheviks in 1920.

Nancy WakeNew Zealand-born British agent who commanded more than 7,000 resistance fighters during the Nazi’s occupation of France in World War II. She became the Gestapo’s most wanted person, and the Allies’ most decorated servicewomen.

nana asmau

Name: Nana Asma’u

Lived: 1793-1864, Nigeria

Occupation: Princess, Scholar, Political Adviser

Born the daughter of a powerful ruler in what is now northern Nigeria, Nana Asma’u was taught from a young age that god wanted her, and all women, to learn. Her father believed that sharing knowledge was every Muslim’s duty, and ensured she studied the classics in Arabic, Latin, and Greek.

By the time her education was completed, she could recite the entire Qur’an and was fluent in four languages. She corresponded with scholars and leaders all over the region, and penned poetry about battles, politics, and divine truth. When her brother inherited their father’s throne, she became his most trusted adviser.

While she could have settled for being respected for her learning, she was instead determined to pass it on, and trained a network of women teachers — the jaji — who traveled all over the kingdom to educate women. Their students were known as the yan-taru, or “those who congregate together, the sisterhood.” Two centuries later, jajis continue to educate women, men, and children in the name of Nana Asma’u.

Honorable mentions for women in the field of Activism:

Huda Sha’arawipioneering Egyptian activist who encouraged women to demonstrate both against British rule and for their own rights, and shocked 1920s Cairo by tearing off her veil in public. She went on to help found some of the first feminist organizations in the Arab world.

Edith CavellEnglish nurse who treated German and British soldiers alike during World War I, and helped Allied troops escape from occupied Belgium, for which she was charged with treason by the Germans and sentenced to death by firing squad. Her last words were, “Patriotism is not enough.”

Beate Sirota GordonAmerican who ensured that women’s rights were included in Japan’s constitution when it was rewritten after World War II. She was 22 at the time.

Lillian Masediba NgoyiSouth African woman who fought against apartheid, was the first woman elected to the committee of the African National Congress, and helped launch the Federation of South African Women. Confined to her house by banning orders, she died in 1980 without ever seeing the democracy she had given her liberty for.

policarpa salavarrieta

Name: Policarpa Salavarrieta

Lived: 1790-1817, Colombia

Occupation: Revolutionary

Daring, sharp-tongued, and defiant, Salavarrieta fought to free her land, in what is now Colombia, from Spain’s rule — all while pretending to sit in the corner and sew.

Born around 1790, she grew up amid rebellion, as resistance to the Spanish Empire strengthened across South America. Determined to play her part, she moved to Bogota in 1817 and posed as a seamstress and house servant to Royalist households, where she could gather intelligence and pass it on to the guerrillas, and pretend to flirt with soldiers in the Royalist army, urging them to desert and join the rebels. She was actually sewing the entire time, as well — sewing uniforms for the freedom fighters.

She was eventually discovered, and when soldiers came to take her, she kept them engaged in an insult match while one of her comrades burned incriminating letters. She refused to betray the cause, and was sentenced to death by firing squad in November 1817. Dragged into the city’s main square to provide an example for anyone with thoughts of rebellion, she verbally harassed the Spanish soldiers so loudly that orders had to be given for the drums to be beaten louder to drown her out. She refused to kneel, and her final words her reportedly a promise that her death would be avenged.

Sure enough, she continued to inspire the revolutionary forces long after her execution.

Honorable mentions for women in the field of Liberation:

Manuela Sáenza contemporary of Salavarrieta, she became the co-revolutionary and lover of Simon Bolivar, and helped him escape assassination.

Vera Fignera member of the 19th-century Russian middle-class who abandoned her social circle to train as a doctor abroad. She returned at the time of revolution against the czar and helped plot his assassination, before being betrayed, arrested, imprisoned, and exiled.

The Mirabal SistersPatria, Dede, Minerva, and Maria from the Dominican Republic opposed dictator Rafael Trujillo throughout the 1950s. All except Dede were murdered by Turjillo’s henchmen on 25 November 1960. In honor of the slain sisters, the United Nations General Assembly designated the 25th of November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

ching shih

Name: Ching Shih

Lived: 1775-1844, China

Occupation: Pirate

Born Shi Xianggu, she worked as a prostitute on a Cantonese floating brothel until she was captured in 1801 to marry pirate commander Cheng Ti. She had conditions to the marriage — equal share in his plunder, and a say in the pirating business — and Cheng complied. Their husband-and-wife team was a success, but lasted just six years before Cheng Yi was killed in a typhoon; at his death, his wife took over his name (Ching Shih means “widow of Cheng”), and his fleet.

Now at the head of one of Asia’s largest pirate crews, the Red Flag Fleet, Ching Shih revealed herself to be the brains of the operation. Her strength wasn’t in sailing (she put the first mate in charge of the ships after instituting one of the strictest pirate codes ever seen before or since), so she devoted herself to new ways to get rich on land, including extortion, blackmail, and protection rackets.

By 1808, her force had grown so formidable that the Chinese government sent its ships to defeat it. Faced with the Red Flag Fleet’s firepower and Ching Shih’s inspired naval strategies, the armada failed spectacularly, as did those subsequently sent by the British and Portuguese navies. Eventually China offered a truce, and just nine years after she’d negotiated a pre-nup with Cheng Ti, Ching Shih extracted stunningly favorable terms from the Emperor: in exchange for disbanding her fleet, she won amnesty for all but a handful of her men, the right for the crew to keep their loot, jobs in the armed forces for any pirate who wanted one, and the title of “Lady by Imperial Decree” for herself.

She retired to Canton to open her own gambling den, married her second-in-command, and died a grandmother at 69.

Honorable mentions for women in the field of Business:

Omu Okweia Nigerian businesswomen who built a trade network between Africa and Europe, relying primarily on her own intellect. By the 1940s, she was one of Nigeria’s richest women, with 24 houses and one of the country’s first automobiles.

Victoria Woodhull Martinan American stockbroker, who set up Wall Street’s first female-owned brokerage company in 1870 with her sister Tennessee, and made a fortune on the New York Stock Exchange. She was also the first woman to run for U.S. President, under the Equal Rights Party in 1872.

Gertrude-Bell

Name: Gertrude Bell

Lived: 1868-1926, Britain

Occupation: Traveler & Writer

Born in 1868 to a wealthy industrial family in northern England, Bell excelled in her studies at Oxford. After graduating with the first first-class modern history degree the university had ever awarded to a woman, she traveled the world twice, became one of the world’s most daring mountaineers, taught herself archaeology, and mastered French, German, Arabic, and Persian.

Her intimate familiarity with the Middle East, whose deserts she explored and whose most powerful chiefs she knew personally, made her an invaluable recruit to British intelligence when World War I broke out. After the armistice, she became one of the driving forces of British policy in the Middle East. She mapped out the borders of what would become Mesopotamia and ultimately Iraq, installed its first king, and supervised who he appointed to his new government.

Just days before the Iraqi government was inaugurated, Bell was found dead from an overdose of sleeping pills. One of her Iraqi colleagues once told her that the people of Baghdad would talk of her for a hundred years, to which she responded: “I think they very likely will.” By accounts, for better or worse, they have.

Honorable mentions for women in the field of Exploration:

Jeanne Bareta French sailor and expert botanist who became the first woman to sail around the world in 1775. She disguised herself as a man so she could assist her lover, botanist Philibert de Commerson. One of them — quite probably Baret — discovered the bougainvillaea plant.

Isabella Birda 19th-century Englishwoman who traveled through Asia, North America, and the Middle East, founded the John Bishop Memorial Hospital in Srinagar, and became the first woman to be accepted into the Royal Geographical Society. She also famously refused to ride sidesaddle.

Kate Marsdena British nurse who rode across Siberia on horseback in 1891 on a quest for a herb she had heard could cure her patients of leprosy. The herb didn’t live up to her hopes, but she founded a leprosy charity and wrote several books about her experiences.

night witches

Name: The Night Witches

Lived: World War II, Russia

Occupation: Fighter Pilots

Officially, they were the members of the Soviet Air Forces’ 588th Night Bomber Regiment, one of three all-female Soviet squadrons formed in 1941 by order of Josef Stalin. To the German pilots they fought, however, they were tormentors, harpies with seemingly supernatural powers of night vision and stealth. Shooting down one of their planes would automatically earn any German soldier the Iron Cross.

The few hundred women who belonged to the all-female squadrons were the first of any modern military to carry out dedicated combat missions, rather than simply provide support, but the 80-odd Night Witches had arguably the toughest task of all. Flying entirely in the dark, and in plywood planes better suited for dusting crops than withstanding enemy fire, the pilots developed a technique of switching off their engines and gliding toward the target to enable them to drop their bombs in near silence; they also flew in threes to take turns drawing enemy fire while one pilot released her charges.

“We simply couldn’t grasp that the Soviet airmen that caused us the greatest trouble were in fact women,” one top German commander wrote in 1942. “These women feared nothing.”

Honorable mentions for women in the field of Flight: 

Amy Johnsonbecame the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia, among other feats. She was killed making a transport flight for her country during World War II.

Maryse Bastiéa pioneering French pilot who set several of the earliest long-distance records for women. She went on to found her own flying school near Paris.

Bessie Colemanthe daughter of sharecroppers, she was first African-American to hold an international pilot’s license. Denied training in the United States, she traveled to France to qualify, and returned home to perform daredevil stunts under the stage name “Queen Bess.”

Hedy-Lamarr

Name: Hedy Lamarr

Lived: 1914-2000, Austria

Occupation: Actress, Inventor

You probably have heard of Hedy Lamarr, the legendary beauty who had a career spanning two decades of playing femmes fatale in Hollywood movies. What you probably haven’t heard is that in her down time, Lamarr was coming up with the system of wireless communication that would later form the foundation of cellphones, Wi-Fi, and most of our modern lives.

Born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler to Jewish parents in Vienna in 1914, she courted scandal by appearing naked in the movie Ecstasy at age 18, and briefly marrying a Nazi arms dealer before fleeing Austria for France, and then Britain, where she met Louis B. Mayer and secured a $3,000-a-week contract with MGM Studios.

Between filming at the height of World War II, Lamarr and composer George Antheil came up with the idea of a “Secret Communications System” that would randomly manipulate radio frequencies as they traveled between transmitter and receiver, thus encrypting sensitive signals from any would-be-interceptors.

Their invention, patented in 1941, laid the groundwork for the spread-spectrum technology used today in Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, and some cellphones. Lamarr also came up with soluble cubes that would turn water into something like Coca-Cola, as well as a “skin-tautening technique based on the principles of the accordion.”

Honorable mentions for women in the field of Invention:

Eva Ekeblada Swedish noblewoman who discovered how to make flour and alcohol from potatoes in 1746, and was the first woman admitted into the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Her technique is credited with making thousands of Swedes better fed.

Dame Barbara Cartland: in 1931, the British author best known for penning romance novels helped develop a technique of towing gliders long distance. It was later used to deliver airmail and transport troops.

Grace Murray Hoppera US Navy officer known as “Amazing Grace,” who devoted herself to programming after World War II, led the team that invented the first program to convert normal English into computer commands, and coined the terms “bug” and “debug,” which originated from when she picked moths out of an early computer.

 

Leave any questions or comments below, and see you next week!

#FeministFriday No. 26

As I am on vacation, this week’s #FeministFriday is by guest blogger and fellow Time Lady, Marie Mikhail.

 

I’m certainly not even close to the first person to think it, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t emphasize what thousands of us are thinking and saying at this very moment:

Taylor Swift is AWESOME.

Why is she all-caps worthy awesome? Let’s talk about it.

Tay-haters beware, this is about to get praise heavy, and if you’re feeling any negativity you’ll just have to shake it off.

While I couldn’t possibly list all of the reasons why Taylor Swift is AWESOME, here are a few:

  • She supports strong women: The music video for “Bad Blood” features an insane cast of kick-ass women who — in the span of a four minute music video — put the women’s roles in feature-length, blockbuster hits like Avengers: Age of Ultron to shame.
  • She loves her fans: Prior to the release of her newest album, 1989, Taylor invited several groups of fans (1,989 to be exact) to her home for the 1989 Secret Sessions” to preview the album, eat cookies, and play with her cats. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.
  • She reads her fanmail: (Do people even send fan letters via snail mail anymore?) A longtime Superfan of Taylor invited her to her bridal shower and wedding, and she attended the bridal shower with presents and homemade treats in tow.
  • Her dad is your dad: Seriously. He makes photobombing appearances in several Instagram shots that make you feel slightly embarrassed for Tay, while still laughing because your dad makes that same face when he photobombs your selfie.
  • She’s relatable: If you’re like me, you grew up with Taylor. No, but actually we’re only a few months apart, and — unlike most celebrities my age — I can relate to Taylor not just in her music, but her current stage in life.  Her music has clearly evolved since the days of “Teardrops on my Guitar” and “Love Story”, and she’s living the life of the average 20-something: moving to the big city from a hometown, balancing a career and personal life, attending multiple wedding and baby showers, facing the realities (sometimes horrors) of real world dating,  posting endless videos and pictures of her pets — she’s experiencing life at 25, just like everyone else.

tswift3

In addition to all of the awesomeness listed above, the biggest reason-for-awesomeness I want to focus on is her latest album. 1989 sets a new tone for her music, her lifestyle, and her followers with songs that shift from the break-up and lovesick-heavy anthems of past releases to songs of empowerment and independence. Musically, she’s done a complete 180, as 1989 marks her official shift to Pop Music, and collaborations with artists such as Imogen Heap and Jack Antonoff giving her album a dynamic that illustrates her transition and growth as an artist.

I shamelessly praise 1989 on musical value alone — the 80’s pop vibes, the addition of synth, the nod to early ‘80s New Romanticism movement in the aptly titled bonus track “New Romantics” — and the lyrical content only adds to its absolute fantastic-ness.

Taylor expertly eased us into this album with the release of pop anthem “Shake It Off”. It’s is a jab at her haters in a fully pop voice, and sets the tone for the rest of the album. With each song from 1989, Taylor Swift makes a bold statement about being her own person and not letting that person be defined by the world’s opinion of her. “They take their shots, we’re bulletproof,” a line from “I Know Places”, illustrates this point perfectly. There will always be people “whispering as they pass by,” and she’s not going to let it affect her anymore, nor will she blame herself for the way others have hurt her; in fact, she “could build a castle out of all the bricks they threw at” her. Taylor effectively challenges all the haters and all the bulls*** in serious “come at me bro” fashion, and it’s awesome.

tswift1

“If you’re upset and irritated that I’m just being myself, I’m going to be myself more” – Taylor Swift, from an interview with Billboard

She goes one step further to discuss relationships. Unlike the break-up ballads for which she has become known from past albums, Taylor establishes from the get-go that “we took our broken hearts, put them in a drawer,” effectively determining the course of this album as something new and different. Instead, she discusses the different facets of relationships; “Style” touches on physical attraction, while “Clean” touches on the deeper part of love and the difficulty of moving on. In “All You Had To Do Was Stay”, she states that she won’t go back to someone who has wronged her, that “people like me are gone forever, when you say goodbye.” Her latest single, “Bad Blood”, is among my favorites. While the video shows a girl-on-girl conflict, the lyrics could easily translate to a romantic relationship as well, and I appreciate the versatility.

“Blank Space” is the most drastic difference from her previous work. Taylor pokes fun at the media’s view of her failed relationships with lines like “you look like my next mistake” and “they’ll tell you I’m insane”. While using public opinion to create a caricature, she also sends important messages through the song, including that people make mistakes — it’s part of this roller coaster called adulthood — and one of empowerment: if you want to date someone that is likely a mistake, play the field, or get wrapped up with a bad boy, you do you!

tswift2

Though maybe consider investing in waterproof mascara.

Despite the maturation of her lyrics and musical evolution, this album is familiar territory for Taylor. 1989 is still autobiographical; she is sharing her personal feelings with her audience just as she’s always done, only this time, she’s taken a new tone. It’s a tone of strength and empowerment, one that dares the negative-minded to challenge her and at the same time, encourages listeners to do as she does: ignore those who put you down, don’t blame yourself for how others hurt you, and ultimately, don’t be afraid to be your own person. Taylor’s voice is one of the most honest and universal of our generation. There’s a certain maturity and strength behind 1989, and I appreciate the message it sends to listeners. Mostly, I admire her bravery to be herself in front of the whole world. All in all, I’d say she’s pretty AWESOME!

A special thanks to Lindsay for allowing me to guest blog this week…I enjoyed it immensely. Now, I’m off to listen to 1989 on repeat. Thanks for reading!

#FeministFriday No. 25

I’m going to try to make this quick because as I type, I’m getting ready for vacation.

This week’s #FeministFriday is further explaining the pro-choice movement, mostly because I’m still getting asks about why I want to force women to kill their babies, and also because this is a thing that actually happened:

Last week, Ilyse Hogue announced she was pregnant with twins, due in July. This caused mass confusion in the anti-choice community.

Why?

Ilyse Hogue is the president of NARAL Pro Choice America, an organization dedicated to protecting and expanding reproductive rights in the United States.

Her pregnancy has apparently proven confusing for the people who argue with her for a living, to the point that when she walked into a hearing on Capitol Hill, an anti-choice advocate pointed to her swollen belly and asked, “Is that real?”

They literally thought she was wearing a fake baby bump to a federal government hearing just to mess with them.

Most anti-choice organizations haven’t publicly commented on Hogue’s pregnancy, because if we’re being honest, that would be almost ridiculously tacky. Unfortunately the emphasis of that last sentence is “most“.

The American Spectator, a conservative magazine, published a piece by Esther Goldberg, who speculated that Hogue had used fertility treatments to get pregnant, as if that were in some way shameful. She went on to remark that the pregnancy, “marred her perfection as a lib-fem” and sarcastically commented that now Hogue realizes how important choice is:

“Rest assured, readers, that she received ‘nothing but support.’ Whew! And then she had yet another epiphany: NARAL was all about choice. Hogue wasn’t obligated to abort her twins. She could choose to have them. Lucky babies! How much more wanted and loved they will feel when she tells them that they were chosen, that they are alive because she chose not to kill them.”

That’s all just in really excellent taste, Esther.

It’s clear that Goldberg may not realize that NARAL doesn’t advocate for mandatory abortions, insofar as it almost seems impolite to point out that the words “pro-choice” are literally part of the organization’s name. Additionally, their mission statement — which I’m sure someone at the Spectator could have figured out how to Google — reads, “NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation’s mission is to support and protect, as a fundamental right and value, a woman’s freedom to make personal decisions regarding the full range of reproductive choices through education, training, organizing, legal action, and public policy.”

“It’s like, ‘What don’t you get about choice meaning choice?'” recalled Hogue to the Washington Post. That’s the thing about the Pro-Choice movement: choice. No part of our agenda includes mandatory abortions for all pregnant people, because that wouldn’t be the best fit for every single pregnant person in the country.

Much like mandatory birth isn’t a viable option for every single pregnant person in the country. 

Pro-Choice

Are Pro-Choice activists pro-abortion? Absolutely. Being Pro-Choice means protecting pregnant people’s access to safe, legal abortion, but that’s not the only part of being Pro-Choice. We’re pro-birth. We’re pro-parenting, and pro-adoption, and pro-choosing-the-best-option-that-fits-your-own-individual-and-unique-needs. We’re pro-birth control and pro-sex education because it will reduce the need for abortion and give teenagers the information they deserve to make good decisions for themselves. We’re pro-healthy pregnancies because the people who choose to carry their pregnancies to term should get all the support they need.

Meanwhile, the activists claiming to be pro-life are actually pro-violence to intimidate doctors and patients, pro-abortion bans that block safe abortion procedures, and pro-restrictions that limit insurance coverage and make it nearly impossible for low-income women to access health care. They’re pro-Crisis Pregnancy Centers that intentionally mislead women, pro-distorted science to instill fear, and pro-laws that jeopardize the safety of young women.

Even supposed pro-life politicians who talk about “respecting life” in their effort to ban abortions can’t be bothered to be pro-life for born persons, opposing the Children’s Health Insurance Program — a federal program that provides millions of children with access to basic health care — and refusing to support laws that would help pregnant people who choose to continue their pregnancies.

As for Goldberg’s point that Hogue’s future children will feel much more wanted and loved when she tells them that they were chosen, I get that it’s supposed to be sarcasm, but she isn’t wrong. Why wouldn’t a child feel happier and more loved knowing their parent truly loved and wanted them when the parent willingly chose to give birth rather than being forced because they had no other option?

Leave any questions or comments below, and see you next week.

#FeministFriday No. 24

I powered through because sleep is for the weak, and the whole post was still rattling around in my head. 

As the temperature on the thermometer rises, so does the chances of strange men yelling unwarranted comments at women and girls everywhere.

Street harassment is not a compliment; it is harassment. 

Street harassment includes cat calls

“Damn, girl! You’re looking fine!”

Unwarranted sexual advances

“You got some sexy legs! I’d tap that.”

Invading personal space

“Hey girl, where you going?”

Rude gestures, whistling, honking…you get the idea.

Every single woman reading this has experienced being harassed by a stranger on the street. What’s worse, is most of the women reading this post have probably experienced it so much, all the incidents kind of blend together into a perpetually uncomfortable outdoor experience.

my-name-is-not-hey-baby

For the men reading this, you probably have a few questions, if not several indignant objections. Let me take a swing at some of the general ones that typically come up:

“I’m just trying to pay a nice compliment!”

Based on most of the comments I’ve received in the last ten or so years of my life, I feel the need to ask where the hell you learned how to compliment people. A good general rule is if you wouldn’t say it to your grandmother, kindly refrain from saying it to a complete stranger on the street. Unfortunately, this rule does still leave a bit of gray area for more innocent comments like, “You have such a pretty smile!”

While that particular comment isn’t rude or uncalled for per se, you still probably won’t get a positive response. From a woman’s perspective, 9 out of 10 strange men are probably completely innocuous, if not nice and polite. However, since we also have virtually no way of discerning if you’re #10 or not during whatever brief social interaction you’re trying to force with us on the bus, we’re probably going to come across as cold because aloofness tends to be an excellent defense.

This may seem unfair, but if I handed you a bowl of M&Ms and told you 10% were poisoned, how eager would you be to eat a handful?

I never cat call.”

If you also raised the previous objection, I don’t believe you.

However, if you actually never ever throw unsolicited comments (no matter how well-intentioned) at women you’ve never met, that doesn’t mean that other men aren’t. Additionally, you don’t get brownie points for being a decent human being.

“You probably love the attention.”

Oh yes, I love it. I love not being comfortable enough to run outside at certain times of day, and feeling the need to have an app on my phone that allows me to immediately alert police if I’m in trouble, and that I’ve Googled the most effective way to punch someone with keys between my fingers.

Love it.

“The way you dress probably invites it.”

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA no.

Also, get your victim blaming ideologies off my blog.

I have been objectified at high volumes in business casual attire on my way to work, in remnants of a cosplay after spending all day at a convention, and in grubby work-out gear with no makeup while loading groceries into my car and desperately needing a shower.

My friend has been harassed on the street in layers of over-sized sweat pants and sweat shirts, shapeless jackets, and scarves. Another friend was inside a car at a gas station, with the doors closed and windows rolled up, while a man tried to hit on her from another pump.

This woman was cat called while wearing an ankle-length puffy winter coat.

I’ve also received comments while wearing shorts and tank tops in the summer or little dresses when going out with friends, but don’t for one second tell me that those situations were any more my fault than any of those previous examples. It’s my body, and my wardrobe, and my choice to avoid heat stroke or rock a sexy party dress, and nowhere is an open invitation warranted for anyone else to comment on those choices, particularly if I have never seen you before in my life.

You can tell me that “men are visual creatures” or “men are more sexual and can’t naturally control themselves” or any other rape apologia bullshit you want to promote, but if you have issues with what I’m wearing, that is your problem, not mine.

Furthermore, if women wearing shorts on the street are so distracting that men can’t help but make lewd comments, why on earth are men allowed behind the wheel? There are women in form-fitting yoga pants in full view of male drivers everywhere that could very easily cause them to crash! Why hasn’t Lulu Lemon been sued for promoting reckless driving???

car crash

It is not the responsibility of women to sacrifice our comfort or choices to avoid the arousal of men. Our bodies are not inherently sexual, nor are they a public commodity, so stop treating them as such.

The overwhelming majority of my male readers will never experience what women do walking down the street, so let me tell firsthand that it isn’t fun. In some cases it can be downright terrifying.

The best way I can think to explain it is those kiosks at the mall. You know the ones I’m talking about, not the tacky phone cases being sold by bored college students, but the overzealous living infomercial trying to convince you that the lotion he’s selling will change your life.

Those guys are super annoying, right? You’re probably at the mall for a specific reason, and on your way to the Apple Store or Anthropologie, there’s that guy obnoxiously doing everything he can to get your attention and insert himself into your path.

Now imagine that the things he’s saying make you uncomfortable, and he’s several inches taller than you and outweighs you by at least fifty pounds. Imagine that as you avoid eye contact and keep walking, you know in the back of you mind there’s about a one in five chance he’s going to just keep following you. Imagine that as you consider telling him you already bought lotion just to see if he’ll leave you alone, you know he might not like that and may just decide to stab you.

Now imagine that’s what happens every single time you walk outside in any area populated by humans.

It’s frustrating that many men have to actually project themselves into a situation before realizing that they shouldn’t put women in the same position, rather than accepting that women are human beings and deserve respect. At the same time, if it gets men to stop cat calling it’s at least a step in the right direction.

Just about everyone was taught, “Don’t talk to strangers!” at some point. This clearly isn’t working on the street harassment front, so I’m going to drop some wisdom that my mom imparts on her kindergarten class every year. This should be especially helpful for the “more visual” men in the audience:

“Keep it in your thinking bubble.” 

If five-year-olds get it, hopefully the general male population can figure it out.

Leave any questions or comments below, and see you next week!

#FeministFriday No. 24: Technical Difficulties

The day has sadly come where I am unable to deliver on my promise of bringing you a Feminist Fun Fact each and every Friday.

I realize that it’s Monday, bear with me for just one second.

After a bit of delay, I finished a post about street harassment, at approximately 11:52 PM CST this evening, at which point I clicked Save, and WordPress proceeded to delete the entire post.

Bad words were said.

Because I live by the “write dangerously” standard of blogging, this was my first and only draft, written without notes or an outline.

I know, I know, and if I hear one “that’s what you get” I will find you.

Under normal circumstances I would go about trying to recreate the post to the best of my ability; unfortunately, I simply do not have time to do that this week with my work and personal schedule.

This isn’t the end of the series; I will rewrite and publish #FeministFriday No. 24 as soon as I possibly can.

Regularly scheduled blogs will return this Friday with #FeministFriday No. 25.

#FeministFriday No. 23

The average life expectancy of a transgender person in the United States is 30 to 32 years.

Just hang on to that for a minute.

Unless you literally live in a cave, I’m sure everyone here has seen the Vanity Fair cover released June 1st, featuring Caitlyn Jenner. #CallMeCaitlyn began trending world-wide, and there was an enormous outpouring of love and support on social media.

caitlynjenner

*Flawless plays in the distance*

It is amazing that when a trans person can present her authentic self to the world for the first time, that it can be celebrated so universally. There’s no question that Caitlyn is beautiful, which led to many people commenting on how gorgeous she looked in the photo spread, which as Jon Stewart pointed out on The Daily Show, quickly spiraled into objectification:

“It’s really heartening to see that everyone is willing to not only accept Caitlyn Jenner as a woman, but to waste no time in treating her like a woman. You see, Caitlyn, when you were [Bruce] we could talk about your athleticism, your business acumen. But now you’re a woman and your looks are really the only thing we care about… So Caitlyn Jenner, congratulations. Welcome to being a woman in America.”

The incredible Laverne Cox released an encouraging statement for Caitlyn wherein she commented, “Yasss Gawd! Werk Caitlyn! Get it!” then went on to reflect critically on what it truly means to be transgender today. She notes that in addition to Caitlyn’s newly revealed outer beauty, her heart and soul and ability to let the world into her vulnerabilities are the most beautiful things about her.

The actress and spokeswoman then spoke about representation. “I have always been aware that I can never represent all trans people,” Cox said. “I am able to embody certain cisnormative beauty standards…there are many trans folks who will never be able to embody these standards. More importantly, many trans folks don’t want to embody them…I started #TransIsBeautiful as a way to celebrate all those things that make trans folks uniquely trans.”

She also emphasized that transgender people come from all races, gender expressions, abilities, sexual orientations, classes, immigration statuses, employment statuses, and transition and genital statuses, hoping that Caitlyn understands that the current support she is receiving can translate into “changing hearts and minds about who all trans people are, as well as shifting public policies to fully support the lives and well-being of all of us.”

Cox brings up several good points, including the fact that there are several acceptable problems to have with Caitlyn Jenner as a mainstream narrative:

  • As a wealthy, white celebrity, the experiences of Caitlyn Jenner are not representative of most trans women
  • Many trans people do not conform to cis beauty standards, which often affects their acceptance by society
  • The narrative of visibility as a goal is problematic for many trans people who are placed in danger by hypervisibility
  • “Trans Media Moments” such as the Vanity Fair spread don’t help very much by focusing on one successful trans person instead of the systematic oppression they face
  • Caitlyn has described herself as conservative, which, even though she hopes to make the Republican Party more trans-inclusive, implies some other oppressive views

All of those issues are legitimate, thoughtful critiques of an imperfect system.

Unfortunately, most of the problems being raised around the Internet are of the transphobic, transmisogynistic, and generally shitty variety. Many people have continued to misgender Caitlyn, and make extremely offensive and distasteful comments about her and her experience.

Apparently any prior achievements she achieved are now void.

Apparently any prior achievements she achieved are now void.

Perhaps the worst displays I’ve seen of this are of the op-ed pieces that attempt to invalidate the unique and varied experiences of transgender people all over the world, typically with unsupported claims and pseudoscience. Most notably is this article, which I’ve seen posted on several social media platforms and in one case created a literal firestorm of comments on my Facebook newsfeed.

The article, titled “Sex Change” Surgery: What Bruce Jenner, Diane Sawyer, and You Should Know, was published over a month ago after Caitlyn (still referring to herself as Bruce at the time) sat down with Diane Sawyer to discuss what she was going through.

The author, Walt Heyer, who “suffered through ‘sex change’ surgery and lived as a woman for eight years” tells a tale of “the dark and troubling history of the contemporary transgender movement, with its enthusiastic approval of [sexual reassignment surgery (SRS)], [leaving] a trail of misery in its wake.”

His claims are mostly founded in his experience, where the surgery fixed nothing, but instead amplified and hid deeper psychological problems. He also cites the history of the movement, which was founded by three men — most notably Dr. Alfred Kinsey, a biologist and sexologist — who believed all sex acts were legitimate and were activists for pedophilia, bestiality, sadomasochism, incest, adultery, prostitution, and group sex.

Heyer also tells harrowing tales of SRS gone wrong and unethical doctors, such as the case of David Reimer. As a two-year-old, David’s parents brought him to Dr. John Money to repair a botched circumcision. Instead, Money decided to experiment with his theories of gender, and surgically changed David’s genitalia from male to female, ordering his parents to raise David as a girl. Unsurprisingly, David — called Brenda — was suffering from severe depression at age 12, and at age 14, after learning the truth, chose to undo the gender change and live as a boy.

The rest of the article is peppered with similar horror stories and suicide statistics, claiming that SRS does not alleviate severe psychological problems, and that choosing SRS is a disastrous decision that leads only to danger.

It’s clear that Heyer has led a life full of traumatic experiences and possibly quite a bit of internalized transphobia. However, his own experiences, while valid, cannot pretend to represent every trans person in the world without causing harm.

If the sole point he was trying to make is that SRS does not wholly fix the years of psychological trauma caused by gender dysphoria, I could get on board with that. It’s actually an important message to know; SRS isn’t a magic cure for all of your problems any more than any other surgery could be. It’s certainly a step towards healing, but there are other factors involved that must be taken into consideration and treated independently.

However, if that was the message Heyer was attempting to convey, he did a fantastically horrible job.

Bringing up that the founders of the movement were also proponents of things like pedophilia and incest not only isn’t relevant information, but mis-categorizes the transgender movement and perpetuates false stereotypes that trans people are choosing a life of perversion.

Heyer maintains that “it is intellectually dishonest to ignore the facts that surgery never has been a medically necessary procedure for treating gender dysphoria and that taking cross-gender hormones can be harmful.”

Interesting that he brought up medical facts, as I decided to do the same thing with much help from EM Orstad, current PA student at the University of Iowa, co-author of this post, and generally excellent human being.

Everybody hang on, we’re about to talk crazy science.

@Heyer

@Heyer

A 2014 study on psychosocial adjustment to sex reassignment surgery of six transgender individuals in Croatia found that despite facing numerous social and medical obstacles throughout their transition process, the transitions were ultimately successful:

“Despite the unfavorable circumstances in Croatian society, participants demonstrated stable mental, social, and professional functioning, as well as a relative resilience to minority stress. Results also reveal the role of pre-transition factors such as high socioeconomic status, good pre-morbid functioning, and high motivation for SRS in successful psychosocial adjustment. During and after transition, participants reported experiencing good social support and satisfaction with the surgical treatment and outcomes. Any difficulties reported by participants are related to either sexual relationships or internalized transphobia.”
(Jokić-Begić, Korajilija, Jurin 2014)

In addition to successful adult transitions, another 2014 research article discusses the rationale behind the current standard of making individuals suffering from gender dysphoria wait until age 18 to undergo SRS, as evidence supporting waiting until 18 is weak from a scientific standpoint. Currently, the main reason to wait is to prevent postoperative regret as illustrated by Heyer; however, there is not a large enough sample size of people who have experienced SRS before age 18 to provide enough support for that argument.

Based on this study, there are many reason trans girls desire SRS before age 18, particularly centered around being able to continue “passing” as girls after puberty and fear of peer reactions. From an anatomical standpoint, girls who start hormone therapy before puberty would be unlikely to have the standard penile inversion surgery to create a vagina due to the penis being pre-pubertal sized, but there are alternatives available, such as taking a portion of the sigmoid colon to create the vaginal canal.

The David Reimer case, which is fully evident of postoperative regret in a minor, is not representative of a typical trans experience. Money’s actions were completely unethical and took place in 1967, long before any regulations had been put in place:

“They changed his external genitalia before he was old enough to even have a concept of gender. They essentially gave him gender dyspohria; statistically speaking, [he] was more likely to have matching external genitalia and gender identity, so to reassign his sex at such a young age and then say that SRS for trans individuals is bad is such a flawed argument. This was not SRS chosen by a trans individual, this was SRS on a baby who had no autonomy in this choice. It would never happen now. Some babies do undergo genital remodeling surgery, such as in cases where they are born with both male and female genitalia, but that is not what happened in [David’s] case, and not analogous to trans SRS.”
(Orstad, 2015)

Today, people who identify as transgender — particularly minors — need psychological evaluation by multiple professionals to ensure that SRS is appropriate.

As for Heyer’s claim that SRS leads solely to misery, while there is a statistically significant proportion of the trans community who do not feel that SRS improved their quality of life, the main majority feel a significant improvement:

“We systematically reviewed the literature to determine the benefits of hormonal therapies given to individuals with GID as a part of sex reassignment. We found 28 studies with fairly long follow-up duration that demonstrated improvements in gender dysphoria, psychological functioning and comorbidities, lower suicide rates, higher sexual satisfaction and, overall, improvement in the quality of life. Individuals with early onset transsexual manifestations and those with homosexual tendencies may have better prognosis. Individuals with pre-existing psychopathology tend to have worse prognosis. Limited data suggest that [male to female] transsexuals may have worse outcomes than [female to male] counterparts… It is also important to recognize the impact of cultural factors and treatment availability on the outcomes of reassignment therapies. Cultures that reject gender atypicality would subject transsexuals to more victimization and social stigma, which may worsen pre- and posttreatment social and psychological functioning levels. Individuals in countries without access to treatment may also have worse outcomes. Therefore, cultural differences should be considered when applying the results of this review, mostly derived from European studies, to other populations.”
(Milrod, 2014)

It is important to note that the study quoted above was based more on observational studies than clinical trials or case control, meaning the level of evidence garnered is weaker; nonetheless, the studies do not find that transitional therapies are overall harmful, rather the opposite.

This concludes crazy science with EM Orstad.

You may be wondering what the point of all this is, or if I have any plans of a conclusion in the near to immediate future, but I’m bringing it all back around, I promise. As you may recall, I told you earlier that the average life expectancy of a transgender person in the United States is 30-32 years. For some perspective, during the Dark Ages, even during the time of the Black Death, a person could expect to live a couple of years longer than that.

While support of transgender people like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox may offer evidence that society is a more hospitable environment today than it has been in the past, the fact remains that a transgender person is still 20 times more likely to be assaulted than their cisgender counterparts. They are 16 times more likely to be murdered, often legally due to “trans panic” being an actual legal excuse for murdering a human being in broad daylight.

Source: Montreal Gazette, 2014

Source: Montreal Gazette, 2014

Eight known transwomen have been murdered so far in 2015 in the United States, the first seven of which occurred before March. The figure may be even higher, as trans and gender-nonconforming victims often get misgendered in news and police reports.

According to a 2011 report from the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National LGBTQ Task Force, 41% of trans respondents reported attempting suicide, compared to 1.6% of the general population. Rates were particularly high for trans people who reported job loss due to transphobic bias (legal in most states), bullying or harassment at school, or surviving physical or sexual assault.

The same report notes that the combination of structural racism and transphobia severely hampered the lives of trans people of color, who fare worse than their white counterparts across the board.

The trans community is facing deadly levels of social and institutional bias and the staggering numbers of trans women of color being killed and other trans people committing suicide makes it clear that there’s a larger problem that can no longer be ignored.

We need to stop debating the existence of transgender people and the why’s and the how’s of the transgender movement. Instead, we need to start paying attention to and valuing trans lives — all trans lives.

Leave any questions or comments below, and see you next week!

 

Works Cited:

Nataša Jokić-Begić, Anita Lauri Korajlija, and Tanja Jurin, “Psychosocial Adjustment to Sex Reassignment Surgery: A Qualitative Examination and Personal Experiences of Six Transsexual Persons in Croatia,” The Scientific World Journal, vol. 2014, Article ID 960745, 12 pages, 2014. doi:10.1155/2014/960745

Emily Orstad, “THIS WOULD NEVER HAPPEN TODAY: A Modern Medical View of David Reimer,” Time Ladies, vol. 2015, June 2, 2015

Milrod, C. (2014), How Young Is Too Young: Ethical Concerns in Genital Surgery of the Transgender MTF Adolescent. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 11: 338–346. doi: 10.1111/jsm.12387

 

HUGE thanks to Emily, I could not have written this article without your research prowess and understanding of all things medical and sciencey. 

#FeministFriday No. 22

I don’t want to talk about Josh Duggar.

I don’t want to talk about his admission of guilt, or his cowardice in waiting to come forward until after the statute of limitations had passed.

I don’t want to talk about his parents, Jim Bob and Michelle, supposed pinnacles of their religious community, and the fact that they protected their son’s crimes, and doled out the punishment of getting a “stern talking to” from a state trooper and family friend, or that said family friend is currently serving time for child pornography.

I don’t want to talk about his family’s television show, or what will happen if TLC does or doesn’t decide to keep it on the air.

I don’t even want to talk about the irony that Josh was serving as the executive director of the Family Research Council to advocate for a ban on gay marriage in order to protect children, or that Jim Bob publicly stated in his 2002 bid for U.S. Senate that he thinks incest and rape should be punishable by death.

Yet another example why the movement is anti-choice, not "pro-life"

Yet another example why the movement is anti-choice, not “pro-life”

 

I don’t want to talk about Josh Duggar, because I am sick and tired of hearing how everything he and his parents did will affect him and his parents, while I have yet to hear a single word about how his victims will be helped.

The five girls Josh molested — at least some of whom were his younger sisters — weren’t just victimized by Josh, but their entire lifestyle.

The Duggars are strict Baptists, adhering to many of the principles of the “Christian patriarchy” movement. Christian patriarchy, also known as the “quiverfull” movement, is a strain of fundamentalist Christianity that emphasizes a combination of beliefs that run counter to mainstream America: absolute female submission, a ban on dating, homeschooling, a rejection of higher education for women, and shunning of contraception in favor of trying to have as many children as humanly possible.

Jim Bob and Michelle raise their children by many of these tenets. They advocate against birth control — even stating false correlations between birth control and miscarriages — have decided on homeschooling for all their children, prohibit dating (and kissing and unchaperoned interactions with romantic prospects before marriage), and require extreme modesty in dress at all times.

Many of these lifestyle choices are not inherently bad for an environment to raise children; however, the combination and execution of all of them together make the situation ripe for victim blaming.

Advanced Training Institute (ATI), the conservative Christian home education program run by the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) and used by the Duggar family teaches disturbing, victim-blaming lessons about sexual abuse.

One document from ATI, “Counseling Sexual Abuse,” strongly suggests that victims are to blame for their own abuse. The guide instructs victims to ask themselves “Why did God let it happen?” and offers potential reasons like “immodest dress,” and “being with evil friends.”

Another document, “Lessons From Moral Failures In A Family,” tells the story of a family dealing with the consequences of their son sexually abusing some of his younger siblings. It includes a statement from the boy in which he blames his behavior on laziness, a lack of moral purity, and the “immodest” behavior of his young sisters, including wearing dresses and having to change his sisters’ diapers. The authors of the document agree with the boy’s assessment.

At an ATI convention for teens in 1997, IBLP founder Bill Gothard spoke about the “Counseling Sexual Abuse” document, and told the young members of the audience that sexual abuse isn’t really that terrible because “it only affects one’s body…not the more important parts of our being: soul and spirit.”

In case you weren’t aware, this is horrific advice. The program not only questions whether the abused was at fault, but also tries to convince the victim that being abused was a good thing.  Yet, for the the thousands of families in the ATI program, including the Duggars, Gothard would be the first place they would turn in a case of sexual abuse.

Gothard resigned from IBLP last year in the wake of accusations of sexual harassment or assault from 34 different women.

What does all of this tell us about Josh’s victims? Not only were they victimized by Josh, they were victimized knowing he wouldn’t face punishment. They were victimized, in some cases, being forced to remain in the same household as their abuser. They were victimized every day they learned their lessons, or heard stories of immodesty, and sermons on immorality, believing that it was their fault they were abused. They were victimized growing up in an environment that told them their only worth was their purity, and victimized again believing they were no longer pure.

Survivors of sexual abuse have enough trauma to overcome without being made to believe their whole life that it was their fault it happened, and they’re worthless because it did.

So I don’t want to talk about Josh Duggar or how his family will cope without their show on TLC if it gets cancelled. I want to talk about what we’re doing to help the women he abused, and how we’re going to make sure no other girls have to go through what they did.

Leave any questions or comments below, and see you next week.