#FeministFriday No. 9

In the news this week, a lawmaker said something foolish. Shocking, right?

Many of you have probably heard by now, Idaho State Representative Vito Barbieri (R), thought that the way to a woman’s vagina was through her stomach. This isn’t a metaphor, he actually thought that.

This interesting understanding of the female anatomy came to light while Dr. Julie Madison was testifying against Barbieri’s proposed legislation to make it harder for women to get abortions.

Barbieri: Can this same [gynecological examination] then be done in a pregnancy? Swallowing a camera and helping the doctor determine what the situation is with the —

Madison: Mr. Chairman and Representative, uh, it cannot be done in pregnancy simply because when you swallow a pill, it would not end up in the vagina.

Barbieri: Fascinating.

barbieri-fascinating

Oh yes, it is incredibly fascinating. It is completely and utterly fascinating that despite having no logical idea of how a female body functions, this man — who sits on the board of a crisis pregnancy center, by the way — is trying to write laws in order to control the female body.

Lawmakers should not be able legislate a human body when they have no understanding of the human body.  

Sadly, Barbieri is far from the first politician to illustrate his complete lack of biological knowledge, or in many cases complete ignorance of the actual medical procedure or pharmaceutical they were attempting to ban.

For example, abortions.

In 2012, Todd Akin (R-MO) asserted that rape survivors don’t need access to legal abortion services because victims of “legitimate rape” can’t get pregnant because the female body “has ways of shutting that whole thing down” and Richard Mourdock (R-IN), stated that women who are impregnated through rape should not have access to legal abortions because their rape pregnancies are “a gift from God.”

In 2013, Ron Mendive (R-ID) compared abortions to prostitution, while Chuck Gatschenberger (R-MO) compared getting an abortion to buying a car. Joe Fischer (R-KY) tried to legally make abortions a form of domestic violence, and John Koster (R-WA) casually noted that he is opposed to legal abortion in cases of “the rape thing” because providing full reproductive rights to women who have become pregnant from rape would only serve to “put more violence on a woman’s body.”

As it happens in the real world, the biology of pregnancy is exactly the same for both consensual and non-consensual sex. The female body is not able to distinguish sperm that results from a sexual assault. Some women who become pregnant from rape want to carry the pregnancy to term, but others can’t imagine continuing their pregnancy — due to the emotional implications of the paternity (the fact that in many states a rapist can sue for parental rights and custody is horrifying), because of their individual financial situation, because they’re already parenting, because it’s dangerous for their body to attempt to support a fetus, or simply because they don’t want to be pregnant.

These are the same circumstances facing the women who end other types of unintended pregnancies, so ranking women’s experiences against each other to decide who “deserves” to have access to abortion — as if women who have not been raped don’t have a good enough reason to need reproductive health care — is a ridiculous policy, as is promoting the misconception that abortions are violent procedures that cause excruciating pain and trauma to the woman.

Logically, since these lawmakers are so set on blocking access to abortion, they should support access to birth control and contraceptives, right? What better way to prevent a need for abortion than to offer ways to prevent pregnancy in the first place?

Nope, because that would be logical and these are politicians we’re talking about.

Spock-sobbing-mathematically

It is common knowledge among Republican lawmakers and anyone who listens to Rush Limbaugh that birth control pills are directly correlated to how much sex a woman is having — that is, the women who have sex more frequently need to take pills more frequently. As Limbaugh said on his radio show in reference to Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law student who testified in favor of Obamacare’s birth control coverage, “She’s having so much sex, she can’t afford her birth control.”

Except that’s not at all true. Women who rely on oral contraceptives need to take a pill once a day, regardless of their sexual activity. Furthermore, it completely ignores the fact that over half of the women who use birth control need it for medical reasons unrelated to sex, such as treatment for endometriosis or ovarian cysts, or even to help control acne. According to the Guttmacher Institue, 58% of women on the pill are using it at least partly for medical reasons, and about 1.5 million American women need it solely for medical reasons.

Then there are emergency contraceptives, which are particularly controversial among conservatives. In her bid for a Senate seat, Linda McMahon (R-CT) tried to woo voters with her promise of passing laws that would allow Catholic hospitals to deny emergency contraception from rape victims, as — ironically — a matter of “separation of church and state” based almost certainly on the belief that emergency contraceptives like Plan B are an abortion-inducing drug.

Again, this is scientifically inaccurate. There’s a pretty big difference between preventing fertilization (contraception) and ending a pregnancy (abortion). A pill like Plan B is the former, functioning like any other contraceptive by preventing ovulation. The ovulation process can take up to 48 hours, and sperm is able to stay alive for several days in the female body, so fertilization doesn’t occur immediately after intercourse, which is why it’s possibly to prevent pregnancy afterwards with emergency contraception.

Congratulations, you effectively now know more about reproductive health than many of the people trying to make laws about it.

Congress is supposed to represent us as a nation, yet in a country that is 51% female, we have a current Congress that is 80% male. Given those numbers, it doesn’t seem coincidental that in the first half of 2013 and the first half of 2014, a combined 1,168 bills were introduced to propose legislation to regulate women’s bodies. Zero bills were introduced to regulate men’s bodies in the same time frame. After all, what would restricting men’s reproductive health care even look like?

In 2012, six female Democratic lawmakers wondered the same thing, and actually proposed some legislation meant to highlight the injustice of such intense regulation of women’s reproductive rights.

The bills sought to prohibit vasectomies:

Thousands of children are deprived of birth in this state every year because of the lack of state regulation over vasectomies.

Force men to see a sex therapist before getting a prescription for erectile dysfunction:

The physician shall ensure that the sessions include information on non-pharmaceutical treatments for erectile dysfunction, including sexual counseling and resources for patients to pursue celibacy as a viable lifestyle choice.

And limit where men can ejaculate:

Any action in which a man ejaculates or otherwise deposits semen anywhere but in a woman’s vagina shall be interpreted and construed as an action against an unborn child.

It all seems outrageous. How oppressive and barbaric would it be to restrict access to things that are simply part of normal reproductive health?

Rather than realizing they’re being ridiculous or simply backing off, lawmakers seem to just be trying harder to justify their sexist stances. Pennsylvania Senate candidate Tom Smith (R) explained his position on denying rape survivors access to abortions by saying he could “personally relate to the situation” because his daughter had a child out of wedlock. Yes, he suggested that an unmarried woman who has a child that resulted from consensual sex and a woman who has a child that was conceived from rape both have a “similar effect” on the fathers of the women.

Because, you know, in the debate about a woman’s reproductive choices, the effect it has on the men in her life is really what’s important.

You may have noticed that every single politician mentioned here hails from the Republican party. It’s no coincidence that all of the proposed legislation came from the right as well. Republicans have actually held training sessions to help teach lawmakers how to better talk to women, but the issue seems to extend beyond a lack of PR savvy. Politicians need to go back to health class, and I think they shouldn’t be allowed to vote on any legislation limiting reproductive rights until they can accurately and effectively explain how the reproduction system works.

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

#FeministFriday No. 8

The Academy Awards are this Sunday — drawing Awards Season ’15 to a close — so I think it’s time to pay tribute to perhaps the most important trend to grace the red carpet:

Actresses are beginning to fight back against sexist reporting, and it’s fantastic. 

It’s commonplace, so normalized that a lot of people don’t even give it a second thought: An A-list celebrity power couple strolls towards an award show venue, only to be stopped by reporters to ask the man about the preparations that went into his work and the prestigious awards and nominations he’s achieved…then ask the woman who designed her dress or to show off her manicure. I understand that in Hollywood fashion is important, so while “Who are you wearing?” isn’t necessarily a bad question, it’s often the only question women are being asked on the red carpet.

Reporter: You look beautiful! Emma: Oh, thank you, that's the only thing that matters.

Reporter: You look beautiful!
Emma: Oh, thank you, that’s the only thing that matters.

It even goes beyond award shows and red carpet pre-shows to actual “serious” interviews. At a press conference promoting The Avengers in 2012, Scarlett Johansson famously called out a reporter for asking her male counterparts “really interesting, existential questions” while she was asked to speak about her diet regime and other “rabbit food questions”. Similarly, Anne Hathaway shut down Matt Lauer for praising the emaciated look she achieved for her role in Les Misérables, stating she didn’t want to give out tips to look sickly in a society that values thinness to an unhealthy degree.

Perhaps worst of all is when reporters do manage to ask questions that venture beyond the realm of dieting, they tend to favor inappropriately invasive inquiries. The same interview with Matt Lauer began with him asking Hathaway about a recent wardrobe malfunction by confronting her with a photo of her own vagina. At another press jun-cit for The Avengers, Johansson was questioned about her undergarments and if she was able to wear any with her Black Widow suit. Both actresses didn’t bother with the questions, Hathaway deftly turning the interview back to Les Mis, and Johansson calling out the reporter’s sexism while keeping an almost bored demeanor that would have made Natasha Romanoff proud.

Wendy: Tell us about your implants! Laverne: Off camera, I can talk to you about it. I’ve chosen not to talk about any of the stuff I’ve gotten done, because I think so often when trans people’s experiences are talked about, far too often we focus on surgery and transition. So I don’t talk about that, but I’m very happy with the situation.

Wendy: Tell us about your implants!
Laverne: Off camera, I can talk to you about it. I’ve chosen not to talk about any of the stuff I’ve gotten done, because I think so often when trans people’s experiences are talked about, far too often we focus on surgery and transition. So I don’t talk about that, but I’m very happy with the situation.

It may seem innocent, or even complimentary, but only asking these women about their appearances sends one overlying message: your looks are more important than the talent it took to get you here.

Generally speaking, reporters should avoid asking women anything that they wouldn’t ask a man, like “how long did it take to do you hair today?” or “what do you have in your pockets?”. Perhaps the best example of this, however, is asking about balancing career and family. When asked how she balances work and her personal life at a premiere last fall, Kiera Knightly didn’t hesitate to ask if they were asking all the men that question; Jennifer Garner recently noted that nearly every reporter asks her about spending time with her kids, yet no one asks the same of Ben Affleck — despite the fact that they share the same children.

Camera: *slowly pans up and down Cate's body* Cate: Do you do that to the guys?

Camera: *slowly pans up and down Cate’s body*
Cate: Do you do that to the guys?

Most of the women attending these events have a lot more interesting things to talk about, anyway. It would be great to see Reese Witherspoon show off her production company to reporters instead of seeing the incredibly creepy “glam cam” show off her dress. I want Kerry Washington to talk about financial abuse instead of her post-baby body secrets. I would love to have someone ask Amal Clooney about her human rights work, or literally anything other than the questions the press has asked her thus far.

Reporter: I think you're going to walk home with more than just a trophy tonight. I think lots of men. Taylor: I'm not going to walk home with any men tonight.

Reporter: I think you’re going to walk home with more than just a trophy tonight. I think lots of men.
Taylor: I’m not going to walk home with any men tonight.

Female empowerment groups like Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls at the Party, encourage critical thinking and supporting female celebrities as more than designer clothing on a photo-shopped body. Alee-o Blanco, a representative from Smart Girls, implores the discussion to continue. “It’s so easy to get wrapped up in it and let it be done once the night is over and the [awards] season is over,” says Blanco. “[But] we see these kinds of questions not just during awards season. For example, when Elena Serova, the first Russian cosmonaut in 20 years went into space, she was asked at a press conference about hair and makeup tips in space and how she would deal with that.”

mayimbialik

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

#FeministFriday No. 7

The subject of this week’s #FeministFriday will probably come as no surprise to most of you, considering the volume of similar articles I’ve seen floating around the bloggersphere in the last week or so:

Don’t see “50 Shades of Grey” for Valentine’s Day. Don’t see “50 Shades of Grey” as a joke. Don’t see “50 Shades of Grey”.

I’ve seen more articles pop up from different corners of the Internet about this than any other singular pop culture event or social justice issue. They’re all protesting 50 Shades, all for different reasons, all for different agendas.

One of the most common protests I’ve seen is simply due to the lewd and pornographic nature of the story and the apparent immorality of S&M. The story itself is quite pornographic, and it does contain a lot of elements of BDSM — though there is something to be said about a sex positive movie in which the female protagonist doesn’t end up dead.

Personally, I think whatever consensual, legal activities people get up to in private is their business, and really doesn’t concern the rest of the world. This includes the BDSM lifestyle.

Unfortunately, 50 Shades is a complete misrepresentation of an actual BDSM relationship. I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve seen this point stressed repeatedly. A healthy BDSM relationship places great importance on mutual trust, consent, and proper aftercare. The Christian-Ana version forgoes all those things, and adds insult to literal injury by insinuating that the only way someone could actually enjoy BDSM is because they’ve suffered past trauma in their tragic back-story.

Essentially, 50 Shades does as well of a job accurately depicting the BDSM lifestyle as The Big Bang Theory does geek culture. After all, why would E L James bother doing actual research when she can bore readers with lengthy passages of the vaguely-described and wholly uninteresting main character’s “inner goddess” dancing a merengue and the Dance of Seven Veils?

The writing itself is atrocious, and the acting in the trailer looks wooden at best (and passionless at worst). The press tours with the lead actors have revealed a Robert Pattinson level of self-loathing for their career choices, as well as painfully forced interviews where heavy sighs accompany most of their answers. There’s been a lot of comparison to Twilight, both because of their mutual terribleness and because 50 Shades was originally (unsurprisingly) a smutty Twilight fan-fiction.

The press hype, terrible source material, and wide-spread dissatisfaction with the movie’s existence led to a superb observation from my favorite child actor turned excellent human being and anti-50 Shades advocate, Mara Wilson:

marawilson

Bad acting and worse writing aside, I really have no problem with a story about two adults doing adult things (though I do prefer when they don’t completely misrepresent a subculture). However, I do have a big problem with romanticizing a physically, emotionally, and sexually abusive relationship and normalizing it into a pop culture icon. 50 Shades of Grey isn’t terrible because it has graphic depictions of sex or even because it has graphic depictions of sex with handcuffs; it’s terrible because Christian Grey is a manipulative and abusive waste of printer ink, and he’s being marketed to young women as the perfect relationship.

I’m calling 50 Shades of Nope on that bullshit.

Some of you may recall that my #FeministFriday from two weeks ago was about abusive relationships. Reading down the list of warning signs of abuse is like reading a character description for Christian Grey, and it’s sickening.

Christian is described as a dark hero – brooding, mysterious, exceptionally handsome, and impossibly rich. He’s stubborn and set in his ways, but he changes because of his love for Ana.

This is an incredibly dangerous precedent to set in the minds of impressionable young women. He’s not a tortured soul that will prosper into goodness with the help of unconditional love; he’s a violent psychopath.

Just a few frightening characteristics displayed by Christian Grey towards Anastasia Steele include:

  • Stalking
  • Possessive Tendencies
  • Intimidation
  • Manipulation
  • Extreme Mood Swings
  • Kidnapping
  • Controlling Behavior
  • Threatening Language
  • Refusing to Communicate
  • Guilt Tripping
  • Forcefulness
  • Constantly Demanding Attention
  • Isolation
  • Coercion
  • Public Humiliation
  • Disregard for her Feelings and Wishes
  • Physical Assault
  • Sexual Assault

And all of those things happen in the first ten or so chapters, before Ana ever agrees to enter into a relationship with him.

Is this really the goal to which our relationships should aspire? He stalks me because he cares, he threatens me because he loves me, he hits me because he had a crappy childhood, and I stay with him because (spoilers!) I get a diamond and a house and a baby out of the deal.

This cannot be the standard because not only does it send the message that it’s normal for abuse to occur, it tells the victim that there’s something wrong with them if they don’t like it.

Don’t see 50 Shades of Grey for Valentine’s Day. Don’t celebrate a romantic day with your loved one by supporting intimate partner violence.

Don’t see 50 Shades of Grey as a joke. If you just want to laugh at how terrible it is with your friends, be socially responsible and find a pirated copy online.

Don’t see 50 Shades of Grey. Take your $8.50 (or more) and donate it to a women’s shelter or sexual assault center or to an organization like the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Use the two hours of your life that you didn’t waste at the movie theater to attend volunteer advocate training so you can help victims of abuse and assault.

At the very, very least find yourself something smutty that doesn’t glorify abuse and doesn’t read like a literary catastrophe.

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

#FeministFriday No. 6

Real men don’t rape.

Real men don’t hit.

Real men don’t buy girls.

Real men don’t eat quiche.

Real men don’t — Stop it.

What, exactly, is a real man? I see this concept everywhere, particularly in testosterone fueled advertising campaigns, and it creates an interesting question of gender roles, as well as raises an important matter:

Real men are a real issue.

The assertion that “real men don’t” needs to stop because the last time I checked, the men who are abusing women and breaking the law and eating delicious cheese pie things aren’t fictional characters.

According to pop culture and marketing, a real man

  • Can defend himself
  • Is the head of his household
  • Doesn’t settle for handouts
  • Is chivalrous
  • Lifts
  • Grows thick facial hair
  • Eats meat. Lots of meat
  • Like almost a ridiculous amount of meat
  • Is athletic
  • Mainly cares about sex
  • Drinks beer
  • Enjoys using power tools
  • Hunts or fishes to assert his dominance over nature
  • Needs male branded soap in order to clean himself

Even if you don’t take into consideration that by this default anything feminine is inherently weak, this idea of a real man is ridiculous. We are told collectively from the time we are small that men and maleness are strong and tough and resilient, but apparently masculinity is so fragile that it can be shattered with a plate of quinoa.

real men

This Google search was wild.

As a result, I see men not only react defensively towards perceived “unmanly” things, but also towards people identifying as women or other genders “encroaching” in their manly territory. It’s a common, sometimes angry rhetoric, that being a man doesn’t mean the same thing that it used to — back when men were MEN! Yes, because a woman can learn to use a power drill and become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, men can no longer be men.

Toxic masculinity, everyone. As far as anyone should be concerned, if you identify as male, congratulations, you’re a real man.

Yes, a man can have a majestic beard and make all of his furniture by hand, but a man can be the survivor of abuse. A man can crave chocolate and drink daiquiris. A man can have a vagina. A man can be an amazing human being. A man can be a monster. None of those things make him any less “real”, or mean that society should write him off as a fluke or a phony.

All men are real, and so are their problems. Ignoring them doesn’t solve anything, it just allows other people to feel superior because they’re different.

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

#FeministFriday No. 5

As most of you are probably aware, the Super Bowl is this Sunday. I’m not sure if I’m going to watch it.

Yes, it has come as an insult to many a red-blooded American that I chose not to support the NFL this year. I’ve been increasingly annoyed by several things over the last couple of seasons (looking at you, Washington), but the proverbial straw that broke this TV viewer’s back was how Ray Rice’s assault of his wife (then fiancée) was handled. I have been told more than once that this is a ridiculous overreaction.

Given the rather large upcoming football game, I find this week’s #FeministFriday to be outstandingly appropriate:

One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.

Again with the overreacting! What does that actually have to do with football? Well, Ray Rice aside, in 2006 an eleven-year study concluded that the most drastic increases of reported domestic abuse took place after Monday Night Football in the city of the losing team.

But yes, I’m overreacting.

Domestic violence is the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior perpetrated by an intimate partner against another. It affects individuals of every community, regardless of race, economic status, religion, educational background, nationality, or age.

An estimated 1.3 million women and 435,000 men are the victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year. Females who are 18-24 years of age are at the greatest risk of nonfatal intimate partner violence, nearly triple the national average.

Violence against women is often accompanied by emotionally abusive and controlling behavior, as part of a systematic pattern of dominance and control, and the consequences of domestic violence can cross generations – boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults.

abuse

ncadv.org

 

One of the biggest challenges of preventing abuse and helping victims is that most cases of domestic violence are never reported to the police – it is estimated that only one-quarter of all physical assaults, one-fifth of all rapes, and one-half of all stalkings perpetuated against females by intimate partners are reported to the police; however, nearly one-third of female homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner each year. It’s estimated that even less cases are reported by male victims due to the social stigma of being battered by a woman, though 86% of adult men who reported being physically assaulted were assaulted by another man.

What are the warning signs of a potential abuser?

Please note that while these warning signs are written with male pronouns about a heterosexual relationship, they apply to every gender and type of relationship.

  • He speaks disrespectfully about former partners
    • Very focused on his bitterness
    • Brings it up inappropriately early in the relationship
    • Is condescending or degrading when describing other women
    • Characterizes himself as a victim of false accusations of abuse
    • Says no one else has every understood him the way you do
  • He is disrespectful towards you
    • Puts you down
    • Sneers at your opinions
    • Is rude in front of others
    • Excessively sarcastic or cutting
  • He creates a sense of indebtedness
    • Does favors you don’t want
    • Puts on such a show of generosity you may feel uncomfortable
  • He is possessive and jealous
    • Dislikes you interacting with other men
    • Displays anxiety about time you spend away from him
    • Attempts to control conversations while you are together with others
    • Expects you to change your habits and relationships to make him more comfortable
  • He is self-centered
    • Does most of the talking
    • Listens poorly
    • Chronically switches the topic of conversation back to himself
    • Doesn’t understand or respect things that are different from what he does or is used to
  • Nothing is ever his fault
    • Blames something or someone for anything that goes wrong
    • You become the target of blame with increasing frequency
    • Makes promises he can’t keep
    • Always has multiple excuses for disappointing you or behaving irresponsibly
    • Constantly complains about “unfair” facts of life
  • He gets too serious too quickly about the relationship
    • Jumps into planning your future together without taking time to get to know you
    • Pushes for commitment very early on
    • Won’t respect your wishes to slow things down
  • He pushes to isolate you
    • Comes up for reasons not to see your friends or family
    • Badmouths your friends or family in front of you
    • May cause or get into altercations or arguments with your friends or family
  • He uses sex as a weapon or a threat
    • Doesn’t respect your feelings
    • Pressures you for sex
    • Says sex is the only way to prove that you really love him
    • Uses “playful” force during sex
    • May refuse to use or prevent the use of proper birth control
  • He intimidates you when he is angry
    • Gets too close, puts a finger in your face, or pokes you
    • Pushes you, blocks your way, or restrains you
    • Says that he’s just trying to get you to listen
    • Raises his fist, towers over you, shouts at you, or behaves in any way that makes you flinch or feel afraid
    • Makes vaguely threatening comments like, “you don’t want to make me mad”
    • Drives recklessly or speeds
    • Punches walls or kicks doors
    • Throws things around, even if they don’t hit you
  • He has double standards
    • Gets angry or upset when you do certain things, but insists on doing similar things
  • He has negative attitudes toward women
    • Displays stereotypical beliefs about gender roles
    • Believes traditional gender roles are rigid and non-negotiable
    • Regularly makes sexist remarks or uses misogynistic insults
  • He treats you differently around other people
    • Puts on a show of treating you like royalty in front of others
    • Is rude and cold when alone with you
  • He appears to be attracted to vulnerability
    • Attracted to women much younger or at a different maturity level, or to women that have had a recent traumatic experience
    • Offers himself as a figure of support and guidance

It is severely important to understand that this is not an all or nothing scenario. Someone exhibiting one or two of these behaviors may be just as hazardous as someone with all of them.

If you recognize any of the above warning signs in your partner, or the partner of a loved one, seek support. Abusive relationships are rarely black and white, and are difficult to get out of, but 62% of women who reported having an abusive partner said that having the support of a friend, family member, or coworker helped them get through the relationship safely.

IF YOU NEED HELP

For more information or to get help, please call:

The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233

The National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673

The National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline at 1-866-331-9474

The National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453

Text HELP to 22522 for support from LoveIsRespect

Text TELLNOW to 85944 to make a $10 donation that will go toward keeping a domestic violence hotline open.

There’s a statement I’ve seen many times online by men attempting to undermine feminism, which goes along the lines of: “So if you want equality does that mean I can hit girls now?”

60% of women under the age of 25 have experienced violence at the hands of an intimate partner.

You’re already hitting us. The point of feminism is we’d like you to stop.

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

 

Sources: 

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, www.ncadv.org

LoveIsRespect, www.loveisrespect.org

The Facts: Relationship Violence 2011 Statistics, www.glamour.com

Illegal Contact: Does watching football lead to domestic violence?, www.slate.com

#FeministFriday No. 4

This week’s #FeministFriday comes to us from news headlines everywhere:

The media needs to define women by ability, not fertility.  

I recently saw a story about Rona Fairhead, a woman who was named the preferred candidate for the role of trust chair at the BBC. I always love hearing about women moving into powerful corporate roles, but in this case I was a bit distracted by the title of the article:

“Mother of three poised to lead the BBC?”

When I saw the headline, my initial reaction was, “Oh, good for her!” However, this thought was followed closely by several others, including irritation that the focus seemed to be about Fairhead’s gender rather than the position, but also that I had absolutely no idea why she might be right for the job. Rather than referencing anything from her more than likely extensive set of credentials, the only qualification I knew she had was that she wasn’t staying home with her three children.

“Oh, but maybe she’s really proud of her family!”

I’m sure Fairhead is an excellent parent and is very proud of her children, but the article isn’t about her family, so why define her by it? I have yet to see an article titled “Father of two attends leadership summit” because regardless of how much of a family man Barack Obama is, that headline would be considered ridiculous.

This isn’t an isolated incident, and no women seem to be immune. JK Rowling has been heralded as a single mother who rose out of poverty nearly more times than she’s been recognized for her actual work. Local newscasters name nameless victims as “new mother” or “mother of five” hoping to add just a bit more drama to a 30-second tragedy on the six o’clock news every night. While interviewing Hilary Clinton last year, Matt Lauer tried to bait a confirmation of a 2016 bid for the presidency, then skipped past any policy questions to ask if a job at the White House would hinder her job as a grandmother.

Considering that the overwhelming majority of Presidents this country has had thus far have been fathers and/or grandfathers while holding office, and not a single one was questioned as to how running a country would affect their familial relationships, this seemed like a wildly inappropriate question from Mr. Lauer.

It’s 2015. If the only way a reporter can think to refer to a woman is as a “mother of” that reporter should perhaps consider a different career, unless those words are followed by “dragons”.

Khaleesi

Khaleesi

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

#FeministFriday No. 3

Once upon a time at Youth Group Camp, we were taught a very interesting lesson about sex. Our teacher took out two chocolate bars and told us one represented Meghan, and the other represented Sarah. The teacher unwrapped Meghan’s chocolate bar and passed it around the class, inviting all the boys to take a bite. After four or five passes, it became soggy and disgusting, and no one else wanted a bite. The teacher took it back, then offered both Meghan’s gross partial bar and Sarah’s still-wrapped one to one of the boys, explaining he could keep whichever one he chose. The boy of course chose Sarah’s bar, and the teacher told us that if we had sex with multiple people or before marriage, we would end up like Meghan’s chocolate bar, but if we kept ourselves pure until marriage, we would remain whole and find good husbands.

This baffling and incredibly sexist lesson is the inspiration for this week’s #FeministFriday:

Sex education is frighteningly inadequate. 

Our government representatives are evidence of this alone, but even ordinary people are wandering around uneducated. I live in a state with some of the top-rated schools in the country, and had a mixed experience of attending both public, and private Catholic schools. Yet somehow, I still managed to miss out on a lot of important information, including why any cognitive adult thought a chocolate bar was an appropriate representation for human sexuality.

Sex education is extremely important, but most programs either preach abstinence and ignorance, or think that tossing handfuls of condoms and scientific terms with little explanation is enough to suffice. It’s not. In fact, my entire K-12 formal sex education can be condensed into two points.

Things I learned about sex in my public middle school health class:

  • Getting your period means you’re not pregnant

Things I learned about sex in my Catholic high school health class:

  • Every conceivable disease you can catch from having it
mean girls

Plus a whole bunch of teen pregnancy statistics.

This is the absolute bare minimum amount of data you can provide and still consider the class sex ed. Furthermore, the actual health part of health class was completely lacking apart from learning the ABCs of STDs. The education system failed to educate me about my own body.

Things I never learned in any health class:

  • The different methods of effective birth control.
  • The blood loss from your period can make you anemic.
  • When you’re on your period, your lower back hurts because your hips are contracting and spreading apart slightly to make room for the lining of your uterus. Essentially, your body is going through a mild labor to push out the dead insides of one of your internal organs.
  • Viagra has a higher mortality rate than abortions.
  • The necessity of regular gynecological exams.
  • What to expect at the OB-GYN.
  • What constitutes consent.
  • How to withhold consent.
  • How to respect your partner’s lack of consent.
  • How to report rape or abuse.
  • Anything about homosexual, asexual, or transgender identity.
  • What Plan B actually does.
  • Girls on their periods are not simply untouchable rage monsters.
  • Condoms are only effective at preventing pregnancy and disease about 82% of the time.
  • The services offered at Planned Parenthood.
  • Antibiotics, migraine medication, ascorbic acid, St. John’s wort, and even some types of dandruff-treating shampoos can interfere with the effectiveness of birth control pills.
  • Pubic hair is normal on everyone.
  • Girls aren’t actually supposed to bleed the first time.
  • Period cramps hurt more than “mildly” and many forms of birth control can alleviate cramps and other symptoms of PMS.
  • How to talk to your partners about STDs.
  • Masturbation is normal, and female masturbation exists and is also normal.
  • Homosexual safe sex practices.
  • How to prevent Urinary Tract Infections.
  • How to handle a pregnancy scare.
  • How to perform a self-breast examination.
  • Anything about the female orgasm.
  • The range of normalcy for appearances of genitals.
  • The anatomy of genitals.
  • Using “feminine hygiene products” kills off naturally occurring bacteria, leading to a pH imbalance and yeast infections.
  • The difference between sex (biological) and gender (social construct).
  • Sexuality and sex drive is normal and should be a source of curiosity and exploration.
  • Having consensual sex doesn’t make you a bad person.

There are probably a lot of things I missed on this list pertaining to cis male practices and anatomy, but I never learned those, either.

There are countless debates about sex education and what information is and isn’t appropriate to expose children to, but each year there are 750,000 teen pregnancies, and 9.1 million reported cases of STDs in people under 25. It’s a scary topic to talk about, but hushing everything up about it doesn’t make it any easier. Withholding information — any information — that will keep young people healthy is irresponsible.

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