#FeministFriday No. 21

This weekend in the U.S. we’ll celebrate Memorial Day. Considered the official start of the summer season, people sometimes overlook that the purpose of the holiday is to commemorate all those who died in active military service.

This week’s #FeministFriday will be spotlighting a different horror faced by active members of the military:

Women serving in the military are more likely to be sexually assaulted by a fellow soldier than killed in combat.

In 2012, a Pentagon survey found 26,000 women and men on active duty were sexually assaulted, and 15% of female veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who visited a VA facility screened positive for military sexual trauma.

Of the 26,000 assaults, only 3,374 cases were reported. According to a survey conducted by the Department of Defense, 54% of women and 27% of men did not report because they feared retaliation, while 47% of women and 20% of men did not report because they had heard other victims had a negative experience after reporting.

In 2013, a new Pentagon report found that 5,061 troops reported cases of assault. Many people were optimistic that this nearly 50% increase in reports was indicative of victims “growing more comfortable in the system.”

However, of those reported cases, only 484 cases went to trial, and only 376 resulted in convictions; 816 cases simply weren’t investigated at all. Furthermore, while 15% of cases permitted the accused perpetrator to resign or elect to be discharged in lieu of court-marshal, 90% of the assault victims were eventually involuntarily discharged.

Of all the women serving in the five branches of the military, 4.7% of Army soldiers, 6.5% of Navy sailors, 2.9% of Air Force airwomen, 3.0% of Coast Guardswomen, and 7.9% of Marine Corpswomen have endured an assault.

military1

To be clear, this is not new information. There have been incident reports and statistics of sexual assault in the military since the 1950s. The government is aware that one in three women in the military has been subjected to sexual assault. They just don’t seem all that interested in changing those numbers.

15% of incoming recruits to the United States military have previously attempted or committed rape or some form of sexual harassment/assault — double the percentage of an average paralleled civilian population. According to the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs, rape is considered an occupational hazard in the military and does not qualify as sufficient reason for medical or financial coverage. That’s right, they’re aware that rape is a common occurrence — to the point that it’s on par with getting targeted by enemy fire — and rather than telling perpetrators not to do it, they’re essentially telling the victims that they should have known it would happen.

In that same vein of victim blaming, women who do come forward about being assaulted while on duty are often harassed or stalked, and dehumanized with names like “walking mattress”. Additionally, if a servicewoman accuses a male soldier of rape, and he is not found guilty, she can be prosecuted for filing a false report. Considering only one in five cases are prosecuted, victims are more likely to be punished than their attackers.

In 2011, seventeen U.S. veterans filed a lawsuit against the Pentagon, defense secretary Robert Gates, and former secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Several of the plaintiffs’ cases reported that the victims had been forced by unit commanders to work with or under the accused rapist after reporting them for sexual assault. Unit commanders often have heavy influence over military rape cases, and are able to grant clemency, stop investigations, or change convictions to lesser offenses. They are also able to lead smear campaigns and turn a blind eye towards harassment against soldiers who report assault.

Despite the lawsuit, sexual assault in the military did not receive sharp attention from President Obama and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel until May 2013, when Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Krusinski was arrested for sexual battery. Krusinski was the officer in charge of sexual assault prevention programs for the Air Force, and was unanimously acquitted of even committing the lesser offense of assault and battery.

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Secretary Hagel has since ordered the retraining and recertification of U.S. military personnel whose job is to prevent sexual assault and assist victims, and Congress announced the Military Justice Improvement Act in 2013. The act would require trained military persecutors, not commanding officers, to decide whether sexual assault cases should go to trial, and would no longer allow commanders to set aside the conviction of anyone who has been found guilty of sexual assault, or downgrade a conviction to a lesser offense.

In March 2014, the Military Justice Improvement Act fell five votes short of passing.

Five.

The system is broken, and the government doesn’t care enough to fix it. They don’t care that the violence of rape and the ensuing emotional trauma are compounded by the futility of reporting the attacks to their superiors. They don’t care that female soldiers who have experienced sexual assault while in the service are nearly twice as likely to suffer from PTSD, or that 40% of homeless veterans were raped while serving.

They don’t care about Kate Weber, who was raped by a repeat offender one week into an Air Force deployment to Germany at age 18, then stalked and harassed after reporting the attack.

They don’t care about Brittany Fintel, who was pinned down on a bed by a superior, then told she had an “adjustment disorder” and taken off the ship when she reported the attack.

They don’t care about Carri Goodwin, who was discharged from the Marines for bad-conduct after reporting her rape, and died from drinking to excess five days later.

They don’t care about Jessica Hinves, who was raped by a member of her squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, then saw her case thrown out with no explanation the day before the trial was to begin.

They don’t care about Sue Foss, who suffers from such severe PTSD as a result of her rape in the Army, she hasn’t been able to hold a job to care for herself and her daughter.

They don’t care about Sophie Champoux, an Army Sergeant who committed suicide under suspicious circumstances after being repeatedly raped while on active duty.

The fact that any of this has happened — and is still happening — is proof that they don’t care.

These women are risking their lives to protect our country, yet our country would rather allow rapists to continue serving in the military than return the favor. Our soldiers deserve better, and we need to do better.

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

 

Sources:

Incidents of rape in military much higher than previously reported

Pentagon Study Finds 50% Increase in Reports of Military Sexual Assaults

Women Who Risked Everything to Expose Sexual Assault in the Military

Sexual Violence Victims Say Military Justice System is ‘Broken’

Lawsuit Says Military is Rife is Sexual Abuse

Air Force general’s reversal of pilot’s conviction for sexual assault angers lawmakers

Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski acquitted of groping woman in lot

America’s Military Injustice

Submission For the Record of Wounded Warrior Project

United States Department of Defense: Sexual Assault Prevention and Response

Did Scandal‘s Military Rape Episode Go Too Far?

The Women’s War

Report of the Defense Task Force on Sexual Harassment & Violence at the Military Service Academies

Sexual Assaults in Military bring Shame, Not Action

Uniform Betrayal: Rape in the Military

#FeministFriday No. 20

Just in case the past 20 weeks of posts haven’t clued you in yet, I am a feminist. Feminism is something that is important to me, and that I believe is extremely important for society as a whole to embrace.

However, according to quite a lot of people, feminism is apparently not relevant or important enough to be any sort of priority for anyone, which makes this week’s #FeministFriday that much more upsetting:

A U.S. college student was murdered last month for calling herself a feminist. 

Grace Rebecca Mann, a junior at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia, was an active member of her campus community. Described as “bubbly” and “a force of nature” by friends and family, Mann served in the Student Senate, was a board member of the Feminists United on Campus (FUC) group, an appointee of the school’s task force against sexual assault, and a member of the Gay Men & Lesbians’ club, among other activities.

Mann, at a UMW Feminists United rally

Mann, at a UMW Feminists United rally

Earlier this year, FUC filed a disturbing complaint with the Department of Education, stating that UMW condoned a sexually hostile environment that disregarded the safety of students. It went on to say that female students were abused over Yik Yak, an anonymous social app that lets people post, or “yak” to people in a 10-mile radius.

Members of FUC allegedly received over 700 overtly sexist or threatening “yaks” about the group as a whole or individual members, and claim school administrators were alerted to the situation and did nothing.

FUC became the target of contempt on campus in March after a member wrote an op-ed for the school newspaper, accusing the university of being an antagonistic environment for feminists. The article cited the men’s rugby team at UMW as an example of the author’s claims, pointing to a team chant that mentioned “violence against women, including murder and battery, sexual violence against women, including assault, necrophilia, and rape.”

A recording of the aforementioned chant was then leaked, resulting in the team being dissolved indefinitely and requiring all 46 members to attend sexual assault training courses. According to the official complaint, the fate of the rugby team exacerbated anger against FUC on Yik Yak.

It is clear that members of FUC felt unsafe on campus during this time. On March 23, the group posted the following message on its Facebook page:

To all of our members, if at any time you feel unsafe or threatened, or just need someone to talk or vent to, please feel free to reach out to any of e-board, or at least have someone you trust that you can talk to. If any of you receives any threats, however, please also make sure to contact the UMW police! No matter what happens, remember that Feminists United is here to support our members, and that your safety and well-being comes first.

On April 17th, between an event highlighting the bullying of gays and a political rally, Grace Mann stopped at the Fredericksburg, VA home she shared with three other UMW students.

At 3:00 PM, police were called to the house after her two female roommates came home to find her unconscious and bound. The roommates performed CPR and she was taken to a hospital, where she died.

Steven Vander Briel, Mann’s third roommate — as well as a former member of the rugby team — was arrested later that day. He allegedly told the other roommates that he assaulted Mann and fled. He has been charged with first-degree murder and abduction and is being held without bond.

Mann’s friends and family described her as untroubled and happy in the days leading up to her death. She was preparing for finals and had a schedule full of political activities, which was normal for her.

“She just wanted the world to be a beautiful place, a safe place, and a kind place,” said Grace’s father, Judge Thomas P. Mann of Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. He added that she hoped to become a lawyer and work on human rights issues.

Feminism matters for an abundance of unique and important reasons, and if you say that feminism is no longer relevant or isn’t necessary to our society then you’re saying that you’re fine with the current state we live in.

You’re saying that the rate of sexual assault at colleges and universities isn’t a problem, and that female college students who don’t feel safe on their own campus should just deal with it.

You’re saying that the UMW rugby team was punished unjustly, and that groups like FUC deserve to be taunted and threatened.

You’re saying that you’re fine with the fact that it’s 2015 and a 20-year-old woman was strangled in her own home because she actively worked for feminist causes in her community.

mannmemorial

Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but if your opinion is that feminism doesn’t matter, it isn’t feminism that’s irrelevant to modern society.

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

#FeministFriday No. 19

This Sunday is Mother’s Day, a day to celebrate the maternal figure or figures in your life that work non-stop and make countless sacrifices to better your life and support your endeavors.

If you’re having trouble thinking of ways to celebrate the moms in your life, just make sure that they know you appreciate and value them much more than the Department of Labor does:

Working mothers in the United States do not receive any paid maternity leave benefits.

“Now wait just a minute,” some of you are probably thinking. “My sister/neighbor/coworker took three months of maternity leave from her job and she still got paid. You’re making things up!”

Short of any imagined internal monologues of my readers, I’m not making anything up.

Yes, many companies do offer paid maternity leave for their employees, often up to twelve weeks. Some companies will even go so far as to offer paid paternity leave for new fathers, or additional sick days for parents to use while caring for their sick children.

Paid maternity leave has become somewhat of a given in Corporate America, and while the Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees new mothers twelve weeks of unpaid leave from their jobs, the fact remains that legally, an employer has no obligation to give any employee a paid leave of absence following the birth of a child.

“The United States is so progressive,” you may be thinking. “Surely we’re not the only country that does this.”

You are correct, at least in the aspect that the United States isn’t the only country to offer zero weeks of paid maternity leave. Specifically, it is one of three countries with this policy. The other countries are Papua New Guinea and Suriname.

Source: WORLD Policy Forum

Source: WORLD Policy Forum

I think it’s especially interesting to note that not only do most “developed” countries offer a minimum of 26 weeks of paid maternity leave (as does Iran, incidentally), but the countries we often consider part of the “third world” or associate with human rights atrocities – including Afghanistan, Libya, and North Korea – guarantee an average of 14 weeks of paid leave for new mothers.

“This is ridiculous!” you may be thinking. “What kind of employer wouldn’t offer paid maternity leave for an employee?”

Well, often the jobs in question are of the blue collar or minimum wage variety; considering our society doesn’t seem too bothered to care about protecting the rights and wages of low-income employees in the first place, this shouldn’t be surprising.

In addition to an absence of paid leave, pregnant women working in these environments often find themselves forced out of jobs unnecessarily, or denied reasonable job modifications that would allow them to continue working:

A pregnant retail worker in Salina, Kansas was fired because she needed to carry a water bottle with her to stay hydrated and prevent bladder infections.

A pregnant activity director at a nursing home in Valparaiso, Indiana was terminated because she was unable to complete some physically strenuous aspects of her job without assistance due to her high risk of miscarrying.

A pregnant delivery truck driver in Landover, Maryland had a lifting restriction, and was forced out on unpaid leave rather than given light duty.

Title VII protects a woman from being fired because she is pregnant; however, it does not prohibit termination for being unable to fulfill basic duties due to pregnancy, forcing many women to choose if they would rather risk their paycheck or risk their pregnancy.

“Well, of course the pregnancy should be a priority over a paycheck!” you may be thinking. “Money isn’t everything, after all. No need to be greedy and risk the pregnancy.”

Well, that’s an incredibly classist and condescending way to look at this, and I’m going to have to ask you to check your privilege.

“Fine, but why should women be guaranteed paid maternity leave?” you may be wondering. “Why should women get paid for months for not doing anything?”

First of all, if you consider what a new mother does during her maternity leave as “doing nothing” please leave your mother’s contact information in the comments section so I can send her the heartfelt Mother’s Day greeting that you clearly won’t be bothered to give her.

I am not a mother. I might be someday, but for now I am not, so I can’t pretend to have firsthand knowledge of any of this. That being said, I have read hundreds of articles and mommy blogs, and heard firsthand from mothers with an enormous variety of experience that motherhood is one of the (if not the) most difficult, trying, and thankless jobs in the world.

Rewarding? Absolutely.

But it’s tough.

And while there’s probably much debate over whether the worst phase of parenting is the Terrible Twos or the Terrible Teens or the Terrible Twenties-and-still-living-in-our-basement, I’m going to go out on a limb and say the whole recovering-from-giving-birth-and-adjusting-to-an-entirely-new-human-being phase isn’t exactly a cakewalk.

The International Labor Organization standards state that women should be guaranteed at least 14 weeks of paid maternity leave, citing this time as “critical in enabling mothers to recover from childbirth and return to work while providing adequate care to their children.” Oftentimes when leave is too short, mothers may not feel ready to return to work and drop out of the workforce, which can create financial strain. Additionally, abbreviated maternity leaves have been linked to higher rates of caesarian sections and post-surgery complications, lower birth weights, failure to establish breastfeeding, and higher rates of postpartum depression.

“What about the bottom line?” you may be thinking. “How much will this cost, and how can businesses justify the spending?”

You mean besides the common human decency of allowing a pregnant person to earn a living?

“Yes,” you may be thinking. “How does paid maternity leave help the economy?”

There are workplace and public policies that plan for time off and income replacement in case of illness or injury. There are 401Ks and social security for when employees retire or can no longer work. It makes sense that there be a coordinated, uniform workplace and public policy that offers time off and at least partial income replacement when people, inevitably have children.

Paid Family Leave (PFL) would simply acknowledge and address a reality that directly impacts every business and therefore, should be planned for strategically, uniformly, and deliberately.

Furthermore, women in states with Temporary Disability Insurance and PFL programs are less likely than women in other states to receive public assistance or SNAP income following a child’s birth, particularly when they also take paid leave.

Paid maternity leave keeps a family financially stable, grows the economy, and decreases health care costs. It means better health for the mother and the child, and lowers the risk that public assistance will be needed for food, rent, or utilities.

Every “developed” nation in the world, not to mention others that are often considered “inferior” to the U.S. have found a way to make the practical and cost-effective public policy into reality. It’s time for the United States to catch up with the rest of the world.

Happy Mother’s Day to all my mom readers! Everyone else, don’t forget to thank your moms for everything they do.

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

 

Sources:

Is paid leave available for mothers of infants?

How the Zero Weeks of Paid Maternity Leave in the U.S. Compare Globally

Legislation to Protect Pregnant Workers from Discrimination Announced

Maternity and paternity at work: Law and practice across the world

Maternity Leave Good for Mother and Baby

Paid Leave is Good for Economy

3 Reasons Why Card-Carrying Capitalists Should Support Paid Family Leave

#FeministFriday No. 18

This week’s #FeministFriday coincides with the best weekend of the whole year:

It's Comic Con, y'all!

It’s Comic Con, y’all!

Today through Sunday, the Time Ladies and I will storm the Minneapolis Convention Center in all our cosplaying glory, with thousand of other fans, heroes, artists, experts, and purveyors of all things geek.

It’s fantastic.

However, while I was putting the finishing touches on my utility belt last week, my dad made a passing comment about our attendance:

“It must just be you girls there with all the guys. They must love that some girls come.”

An innocent assumption, though incredibly inaccurate. I reflected that attendance last year had been split pretty evenly, which served to surprise my dad, and I realized that it is still legitimately surprising for some people to discover that it’s normal, and even common to have girls be genuinely interested in geek culture.

Girls in geek culture exist — and of course, so does sexism.

Traditionally, the image of the Average Geek is of a loser guy, chock full of useless trivia, obsessed with comic books and sci-fi television programs and online role play games. The Average Geek is acne-riddled and pale from never leaving his mom’s basement, was bullied in high school, and is completely socially inept — particularly when it comes to women.

The Geek Girl, on the other hand, is nothing short of a unicorn. She’s rare enough to be considered a myth by many, is a self-proclaimed social outcast, but is still conventionally beautiful and intelligent, if a bit ditzy. While lesser geek girls play Mario Kart 64 and gush about nothing but Harry Potter or perhaps Supernatural, The Geek Girl has read every Wonder Woman comic in existence, loves Halo, and always cosplays slave Leia from Return of the Jedi.

When The Geek Girl visits a comic book store or a convention, she is the only female in the vicinity, perhaps the only female to have ever entered the premises, and every Average Geek shuts down because they’re so shocked and awed to be in the presence of a female who can identify the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek — and is actually interested.

Today’s ridiculous stereotypes brought to you by The Big Bang Theory brand of geek culture.

Stereotypes are steeped in reality, but it’s important to understand whose reality. Once upon a time, being a geek meant a social death. It wasn’t cool to play Dungeons & Dragons or have extensive knowledge of Middle Earth mythology. If any aspect of pop culture or personal experience is to be believed, nerds have long been the social — and sometimes literal — punching bag for their more “cool” peers.

Except this is no longer typically the case. Sure, Klingon hasn’t exactly taken over as the hot new method of communication, but geek culture and pop culture are beginning to be one in the same. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.Agent CarterArrowThe Flash, and Gotham are some of the most popular TV shows on the air, and Guardians of the Galaxy — a film based on one of Marvel’s relatively unknown B-list comics — was the highest grossing film of 2014. People are so excited about the new Star Wars, the official trailer had millions of views within hours of being released, and HBO’s medieval fantasy hit Game of Thrones is the most pirated media on the Internet.

Liking geek culture no longer makes you weird or uncool, because thanks to the Internet and services like Netflix, more people than ever before have access to the plethora of different fandoms and extended universes, and the increased interest has resulted in the explosion of new material we have now.

For a lot of geeks — myself included — this is a wonderful development for an ever-evolving environment. A bigger community of geeks means more opportunities to celebrate and discuss fandoms and outlets that we love and have had an impact on our lives.

But like any sub-culture that gains mainstream popularity, there are fringe radicals (which in this case have nothing to do with Agent Olivia Dunham); purists who have named themselves the gatekeepers of the community.

For the most part, the credentials of these “Geek Gatekeepers” are simply that they have been fans for longer than you have and thus have the authority to determine whether or not you’re a real fan. More often than not, their credentials also include being male and determining that you — as a silly female — could not possibly be a real fan.

Fake Geek Girls! the Gatekeepers cry.

You only like Thor because you think Chris Hemsworth is hot!

You watch Doctor Who? You probably haven’t seen the Classic Era, I bet you just watch for Matt Smith.

You play Call of Duty? Prove it, who founded Treyarch? You don’t know? Get back in the kitchen. 

You’re only cosplaying Black Canary to get attention. Have you even read Birds of Prey

I don’t understand this. Why on earth would knowing obscure pieces of trivia about Jack Kirby deem a girl “worthy” to wear a Fantastic Four t-shirt? And why is not knowing definitive proof that she’s a poser and is only trying to impress guys? Do Gatekeepers really think that the presence and motivation of girls in geek culture only revolves around males?

fakegeekgirl

One theory for this behavior is that Gatekeepers have been raised on stereotypes that they can’t get a girlfriend because girls don’t like the geeky stuff they like; therefore, when faced with a multitude of real, live girls who do like the same geeky stuff they like and still don’t want to date them, they’re also faced with the reality that the problem might lie in their personality, not their interests.

Harsh? Maybe, but last summer when female game developers Brianna Wu and Zoe Quinn, and media critic Anita Sarkeesian began to point out sexism in the video game industry, the backlash from the male gaming community came in floods of misogynistic slurs, rape threats, and death threats. Quinn’s home address was published on 4chan, and Sarkeesian had to cancel a lecture at the University of Utah last fall due to threats of “the deadliest school shooting in American history” because male gamers couldn’t handle the idea of women being featured more prominently in video games.

Harsh.

The geek community is supposed to be a retreat. It’s a place where people can go to escape reality and live in a world where they can hunt zombies, or train dragons, or travel in time. Instead, for women it’s often a place to be objectified and harassed, and it needs to stop. There is no good reason for trying to keep anyone out of the geek community, and getting bent out of shape because there are girls in a fandom says a lot more about the Gatekeepers than it does about the girls.

Particularly since none of the Gatekeepers seem to realize that science fiction was invented by a teenage girl.

We have a long way to go in terms of representation in geek culture — and not just with The Big Bang Theory. Programs like The Flash, Agent Carter, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have done a good job bringing female (and WOC!) characters into the fold, but the big screen remains a boys club, even among reports that JJ Abrams cast more than one woman for his upcoming Star Wars trilogy.

Black Widow was markedly left out of Avengers and Winter Soldier merchandising, despite being prominently featured in both films, and fans have been begging Marvel for an origin movie since Scarlett Johansson reprised the iconic role in 2012. The super spy was left out of the studio’s impressive cinematic roster, which means of the twenty-two movies currently produced or planned by Marvel, only two will not feature a white male in the lead role, and only one will revolve solely around a female character. Others, like Antman, completely disregard important female characters like Janet van Dyne (who, in the comics, was a founding member of the Avengers and made Hank Pym’s shrinking suit possible).

Fox faced criticism last year for X-Men: Days of Future Past, in which they shoehorned Wolverine into Kitty Pryde’s pivotal time travel role, and cut Rogue to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo. DC and Warner Brothers have plans for a Wonder Woman film and the inclusion of the Amazonian warrior in The Justice League, which will be a nice change from the combined six movies starring Batman and/or Superman released in the last decade.

Though not as progressive as this change.

Though not as progressive as this change.

Sci-fi writer/director/producers with cult-like followings, such as Joss Whedon and Steven Moffat, pride themselves on producing strong female characters, which upon further inspection prove to be nothing more than subtle variations of the same tired tropes: conventionally pretty, sassy, possesses a unique quirk that makes her mysterious or particularly enigmatic, brave, intelligent, sexually confident, fiercely loyal, has a penchant for short skirts/low cut tops/tight clothing, and at her core is completely terrified of losing her one true love.

It’s the laziest kind of sexism, and if you think I’m exaggerating, I just described Buffy Summers, Willow Rosenberg, Cordelia Chase, Tara Maclay, Faith Lehane, Zoe Washburne, Kaylee Frye, Inara Serra, River Tam, Echo/Caroline Farrell, Sierra/Priya Tsetsang, Natasha Romanoff, Melinda May, Daisy Johnson, Jemma Simmons, Reinette Poisson, River Song, Amy Pond, Clara Oswald, Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint, Irene Adler, and Mary Morstan-Watson — all of whom have been heralded as strong female characters under the rendering of Whedon or Moffat.

None of this is helping people accept the idea that girls are active members of the geek community, or that girls are there for any other reason but to impress guys. That being said, we are there, we’re not a rarity, and most importantly, we are there for ourselves.

I’m going to enjoy Comic Con because it is the best weekend of the year, and I get to spend it with my best friends, surrounded by things we love, in fabulous cosplays of our own design. If anyone wants to call us or any other girl in attendance “Fake Geek Girls”, they can frak off.

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

#FeministFriday No. 17

Last summer, my mom asked me to pick her up some razors on my weekly Target run. I obliged, and got her a package of men’s disposable Gillettes. She was annoyed that I bought men’s razors until I explained that the razors were exactly the same except for the color of the handles — gray, instead of purple.

Oh, and that the men’s razors cost $5.99 for a pack of 4, while the women’s were $6.99 for a 3-pack.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a one-off isolated incident, or even a case of Target making a pricing mistake, but part of a larger consumer problem known as the Pink Tax.

The Pink Tax is the standard extra amount charged by manufacturers and retailers for products and services marketed for women.

Obviously the average woman is going to spend more money on certain products and services than men simply because they have different needs; for example make up and hair tools, and in the case of cis-women, tampons and gynecology appointments. However, discounting those types of purchases, the average woman still spends an extra $1,351 every year due to the Pink Tax, on top of the fact that women are being paid less than men in the first place.

The Pink Tax affects nearly every needlessly gendered product, including toys, soap, and even chocolate, but the most common offenders are listed below.

...Why?

Just…why?

Clothing

I could probably write a college thesis on the frustration and horror that resides in the women’s clothing industry, but I’ll save my fake pocket and flimsy material rants for another time and just focus on pricing today.

Last year, Old Navy fielded complaints for charging more for women’s plus sized clothing, but not for men’s. Plus sized women’s jeans were priced $12-$15 more than the standard sizes, while there was no difference in pricing for the men’s plus and standard sizes.

Gap, who owns Old Navy, released a statement that claimed the additional cost was because “they are created by a team of designers who are experts in creating the most flattering and on-trend plus styles, which includes curve-enhancing and curve-flattering elements such as four-way stretch materials and contoured waistbands.”

Based on this explanation, Old Navy apparently doesn’t care about creating flattering, on-trend styles for plus sized men, or providing them with clothing designed for their bodies.

Old Navy certainly isn’t the only clothing manufacturer guilty of the Pink Tax, but they might be the only ones to claim the 12-year-olds working in sweatshops in Bangladesh as their expert designers.

In addition to the retail price of clothing, services like dry cleaners employ a Pink Tax. In 2009, New York City Resident Janet Floyd surveyed several dry cleaners and found that men paid an average of $2.86 per shirt, compared to the $4.95 paid by women. According to some dry cleaners, their machines are built to launder men’s garments, which somehow makes women’s clothing more labor intensive. In some cases, cleaners will only dry clean — rather than launder — women’s shirts, despite charging more.

Self-Care Products

These are the kinds of things you buy from a drug store: razors, shaving cream, deodorant, face wash. All of them are subject to the Pink Tax.

A news station in Atlanta visited several local stores and found the following pricing discrepancies:

  • Target Generic Razors
    • Men’s 5-pack, blue handles: $4.99
    • Women’s 5-pack, pink handles: $10.99
  • CVS Gillette Shaving Cream
    • Men’s 7 oz. Sensitive Skin: $3.79
    • Women’s 7 oz. Satin Care: $3.99
  • Degree Deodorant
    • Men’s 2-pack of 2.7 oz.: $3.99
    • Women’s 2-pack of 2.6 oz.: $7.79
  • Neutrogena Face Wash
    • Men’s 5.1 oz. Invigorating Face Wash: $5.99
    • Women’s 4.7 oz. Deep Clean Invigorating Scrub: $7.69

It’s important to note that these products are often identical, save for the color of the actual product, or the design of the package, which incidentally is often what manufacturers point to as the source of the price differences.

I think I can get over not having flowers plastered all over my deodorant label if it means I’ll spend almost half as much as I am currently.

Vehicle Repair

I hoped this was nothing more than a tired cliché, but Northwestern did a study that had men and women call various repair shops asking about the cost of having a radiator replaced. Women who seemed uninformed on the phone were quoted and average of $406 for a job that should cost $365. Men who acted similarly clueless were on average quoted $383.

Tampons

I touched on this earlier, but I think it’s worth mentioning again. Tampons, pads, and other menstrual hygiene products are going to cost more for cis-women than they will for cis-men, because cisgendered males have no reason to buy those products.

That being said, the average cis-woman will spend over $3,000 on pads and tampons in her lifetime. We’re already being paid anywhere from 90% to 55% of what our male counterparts earn, then expected to spend sometimes twice as much money than those same males on products that are considered basic necessities, then on top of all that we have to pay another couple thousand dollars on a natural bodily function we have no control over.

Sanitary products are vital for the health, well-being, and full participation of women and girls across the globe, so much so that the UN has called the stigma around menstrual hygiene “a violation of several human rights, most importantly the right to human dignity.”

Access to tampons and pads for low-income women in the United States is a real problem. Food stamps don’t cover feminine hygiene products, so some women resort to selling their food stamps to pay for the “luxury” of not bleeding everywhere.

In the US, breast pumps, vasectomies, and artificial teeth are sales tax-exempt and tax-deductible medical care, and Viagra has been covered by most insurance plans practically since its inception. Meanwhile, tampons aren’t even exempt from sales tax in most states. In principle, menstrual care is health care, and should be treated as such. Much like the idea of insurance companies covering the cost of birth control was met by outrage in the right-wing political community, the idea of women even getting small tax breaks for menstrual products provokes mocking and incredulousness because some people lack an incredible amount of empathy.

And probably because it has something to do with vaginas.

In 1986, Gloria Steinem wrote that if men got periods, they “would brag about how long and how much”. Boys would talk about menstruation as the beginning of their manhood, that there would be “gifts, religious ceremonies” and sanitary supplies would be “federally funded and free. Of course, some men would still pay for the prestige of such commercial brands as Paul Newman Tampons, Muhammad Ali’s Rope-a-Dope Pads, John Wayne Maxi Pads, and Joe Namath Jock Shields — ‘For Those Light Bachelor Days.'”

I can live without menstrual bragging, but she brings up a good point: why aren’t tampons and pads free? Or covered by insurance? Or food stamps? Or at the very least, not taxed?

Probably because they’re sold in pink packages — silly me.

tampon aisle

We’re making some progress with the Pink Tax. Under Obama’s Affordable Care Act, insurance companies can no longer charge women more for identical services, and insurers must also cover birth control, much to Rush Limbaugh’s chagrin. Incredibly, California passed a law prohibiting gender discrimination pricing in 1996 that threatens business a minimum fine of $1,000 if found guilty of charging women more. However, California also has a law that guarantees sunshine to the masses, so no word on how well the pricing law is enforced.

Public shaming of companies on Twitter and the French site Woman Tax has garnered some positive impact, but for now the best way to avoid the Pink Tax seems to be avoiding anything explicitly marketed towards females.

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

#FeministFriday No. 16

As the weather continues to improve we can begin putting our parkas, heavy sweaters, and fleece-lined leggings into storage as our warmer-weather wardrobe gets to come back into rotation. That is, unless you’re one of the many thousands of middle or high school students expected to follow a dress code.

Dress codes are sexist and promote rape culture. 

Sign: "I'm sorry, can you see my shoulders?" Men are never told that their legs, arms

Sign: “I’m sorry, can you see my shoulders?”
Men are never told that their legs, arms or stomachs are a problem for other people. They are seen as human and are very rarely seen as something there for your sexual exploitsWe are thirteen through eighteen-year-old girls. If you are sexualizing us, YOU are the problem.  Dress codes are perpetuating rape culture and oppressive objectification towards young women. 

Dress codes are meant to be a fairly innocuous set of rules set in place by the faculty to set guidelines for appropriate apparel for school. In theory this is good, and should keep students from coming to school in clothing that could serve as a distraction for themselves or other students. The priority of school, after all, should be learning.

So why do most dress codes seem to enforce the idea that learning is only a priority for the male students?

In schools, girls are told repeatedly by faculty members that their appearance or clothing is a distraction. I’ve heard accounts of girls being yanked out of class because of visible bra straps, or mandatory girls-only assemblies during school hours to hear lectures by the faculty condemning the wearing of shorts in 100-degree heat.

Why?

Because wearing clothing that shows any skin or hint of an undergarment serves only to distract boys from learning, apparently.

This is a problem for two main reasons. First, it tells girls that their education is not as important as their male counterparts because female students are being forced to miss class time in order to better the male students’ learning environment. A rebuttal to this claim might be, “Well, girls shouldn’t wear something that breaks the rules if they don’t want to miss class.” This would be a fair point, except the rule being broken exists solely to protect the delicate attention span of the boys in the first place. Moreover, the rules themselves are often double-sided; for instance, the visible bra strap example from earlier. Yes, bras are undergarments and yes, undergarments are supposed be covered by clothing, yet I’ve never once heard of a boy being sent to the principal for distracting female students with visible boxer shorts worn under low-sagging pants.

It’s not even limited to high schools and teenagers. A Georgia kindergarten student was changed at school — without her mother’s notification or permission — because her skort was too short and considered distracting. “Who, exactly, is distracted by a kindergartener’s skort?” asked vlogger and YouTube personality Laci Green in a recent video. “According to hundreds of U.S. schools, it’s boys and perhaps even male faculty. That’s…uncomfortable.”

Green goes on to quote inappropriate comments made by school administrators to girls whose clothing was deemed problematic:

“You know, not all dresses look good on certain body types.” – Capistrano Valley High School Principal

“You shouldn’t be showing off your curves. Don’t you want a husband someday?” – Stuyvestant High School Official

“The school’s dress code violators are skanks.” – Oklahoma High School Superintendent

“Boys are bad, and that kind of shirt is going to cause them to misbehave.” – Lakeland High School Official

This leads us to the second main problem. Dress codes perpetuate the belief that the female body is inherently sexual regardless of context, and that a girl is not entitled to respect of any kind if her skin is exposed.

For girls, this often leads to self-objectification, which is when they only see themselves through the lens of the male gaze and forgo their own wants and needs in favor of male desires. Unsurprisingly, self-objectification has been linked to depression, eating disorders, and other mental health issues, and it doesn’t help that most dress code rules go hand in hand with body shaming.

Additionally, this teaches boys that it’s acceptable to be disrespectful and misbehave around girls wearing more revealing clothing. Boys learn that they’re not responsible for their actions; rather, it’s the fault of the girls for dressing that way.

Normalizing this “boys will be boys” behavior is one of the most common ways society lays the groundwork for harassment, sexual assault, and victim blaming.

To be clear, having guidelines is not the problem. The problem is that the guidelines disproportionately target girls, blames girls for distracting boys, and sexualizes the students — most of whom are still minors. Furthermore, punishing a girl for wearing shorts and a sleeveless shirt with anything from public humiliation to detention, suspension, or even expulsion, while allowing a boy wearing shorts and a sleeveless shirt to carry on unencumbered is actually illegal under Title IX. That’s right, the way most schools are enforcing their dress code can be construed as gender discrimination.

I was privileged enough to attend a high school that didn’t have a dress code — it had a uniform. Uniform-issue shorts and skirts worn by male or female students that did not sport a hemline falling within three inches of the knee resulted in a $10 uniform fine. Shirts that were not tucked in, bore the old school logo, or were not uniform-issue resulted in a $10 uniform fine. Visible undershirts and undershirts that were not white resulted in a $10 uniform fine. Pants, shorts, skirts, sweaters, sweatshirts, and fleeces that were discolored, had holes, or were not uniform-issue resulted in a $10 uniform fine. Three consecutive fines earned a detention.

The fines generated from this class alone could probably fund a new wing.

The potential fines in this photo could probably fund an entire new wing.

Granted, some faculty enforced the uniform more than others — a particular Algebra teacher on the 3rd floor springs to mind — but the rules were fair and equally enforced for all students. Classes weren’t disrupted in the event of an untucked shirt, and no one was ever sent home to change for wearing American Eagle pants instead of the horrible uniform ones made of navy blue cardboard.

While uniforms and monetary fines are an extreme and improbability for many schools to adopt, this is the mentality all schools need to embrace: rules that apply and are enforced for all students, regardless of gender. Otherwise, they’re guilty of violating Title IX, perpetuating rape culture, and just generally being shitty to their female students.

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

 

 Also, check out Laci Green’s video here. She rocks!

#FeministFriday No. 15

Author’s Note: This post was supposed to be published Friday, April 10. Due to work being a bit hectic, I forgot to schedule it and it’s been sitting in the drafts folder for over a week. Whoops. 

As promised, this week’s #FeministFriday is all about Purvi Patel. You may know her as the 33-year-old Indiana woman who was charged with feticide and felony neglect and sentenced to twenty years in prison last month.

Legally charging pregnant persons for the premature end of a pregnancy — regardless of how it occurred — is not a protective measure, but an incredibly dangerous precedent to set. 

In July 2013, Patel was admitted to the Emergency Room at St. Joseph Hospital in Mishawaka, Indiana. She was bleeding heavily, and told doctors she had a miscarriage, and threw the stillborn fetus into a dumpster. Doctors believe she had been 23-24 weeks pregnant, and that the lungs of the fetus were not developed enough to breathe.

She was arrested shortly thereafter.

purvipatel

During the trial, the prosecution claimed that Patel was between 25 to 30 weeks pregnant, took abortion-inducing drugs in an attempt to terminate the pregnancy, and gave birth to a live baby, which she then abandoned.

A toxicology report failed to find any drugs in Patel’s system, and medical examiners found no evidence that the fetus was alive for more than a few seconds after birth.

Obviously this is a fairly gray moral issue, but regardless of what actually happened, the fallout from this ruling has the potential to be a new revolution against human rights.

If Patel did induce an abortion — a claim there is no evidence to support — it could be argued that she deliberately took a human life in a premeditated fashion. Coincidentally, that’s the legal definition for first-degree murder. I understand this is an argument anti-choice activists like to use, the whole “abortion is murder” bit that you see on those flashy signs milling around in front of Planned Parenthood. Catchy; however, not factually accurate simply because a fetus is not yet an autonomous alive person.

By this “abortion is murder” logic, the door opens to charge a pregnant person who suffers from a miscarriage with manslaughter. Yes, a manslaughter charge usually involves criminally reckless conduct, but if we’re at a point where we’re incarcerating a woman for feticide — which isn’t even a real word — without physical evidence, it seems pretty realistic that a pregnant person accidentally falling down the stairs might have to defend themselves in a court of law.

Actually, it seems incredibly realistic because it almost happened in 2010.

Furthermore, why stop at murder charges for abortions? If someone dying of renal failure finds out I’m a match, but I refuse to donate one of my kidneys — which I’m allowed to do by right of bodily autonomy — am I guilty of murder or felony negligence if they die?

On the other hand, if Patel had a miscarriage, she’s now facing twenty years in prison for a bodily function that was beyond her control. Read that sentence again and tell me that isn’t terrifying. She went to the hospital to seek medical care and support, and instead she received a murder charge from the state of Indiana.

While Patel is the first person to be sentenced under Indiana’s feticide laws, Bei Bei Shuai, a Chinese American woman, faced feticide charges in 2011. Shaui was suffering from severe depression and attempted suicide while pregnant. She survived, but the fetus did not, and rather than receiving support and counseling, she was held in prison for a year before the charges were dropped as part of a plea deal.

Deepa Iyer, Activist-in-Residence at the University of Maryland’s Asian American Studies Program and former director of South Asian Americans Leading Together, says it’s important to note that the only two women charged with feticide are Asian American since women of color often lack access to basic health care, counseling, and other reproductive health resources, as well as the fact that Asian American youth report the strongest amount of stigma around sex and reproductive health of any group.

Additionally, the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law’s 2013 study on arrests and forced interventions on pregnant women in the U.S. found that approximately 71% were low-income women and 59% were women of color.

For many pregnant people, the additional fear of arrest could prevent them from seeking critical and necessary physical or mental health care during their pregnancy, or in the event of a miscarriage.

No person should be afraid that life-saving medical care will lead to jail time. Full stop.

So please, tell me again how any of this is pro-life.

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

 

Sources:

Purvi Patel Could Be Just the Beginning (NY Times)

Arrests of and Forced Interventions of Pregnant Women in the United States, 1973-2005: Implications for Women’s Legal Status and Public Health (Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law)

Homicide: Murder and Manslaughter (Law for All)

Claiming Our Power: South Asian Americans Leading Together

National Advocates for Pregnant Women