#FeministFriday No. 31

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the War on Women.

This Monday, the Senate will take a procedural vote to move forward with legislation to defund Planned Parenthood. The vote will determine whether or not to end debate on a motion to proceed to a bill that would cut off funding for the organization. Republicans are pushing for the bill in the wake of a string of controversial videos about fetal tissue donations.

It needs 60 votes to pass, which is unlikely to happen — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would have to get every Republican and at least six Democrats to back the idea — but that doesn’t mean this will be the end of the defunding battle.

First, some history. I see anti-choice activists around the Internet, as well as people in my comments section often going on about Planned Parenthood being an agency of the devil; how the murderers who work there do nothing but kill innocent children with no regard to the physical or emotional effects on the pregnant person, then turn a profit by illegally selling body parts to shady black market facilities. Nothing about Planned Parenthood is beneficial to our society, unless you think the murdering of innocent children is a good thing.

I must say, the world you assume you live in sounds like a scary place.

Planned Parenthood was founded in Brooklyn in 1916 by Margaret Sanger, Ethel Byrne, and Fania Mindell, and was the first birth control clinic in the United States. All three women were immediately arrested and jailed for violating provisions of the Comstock Act, and were accused of distributing “obscene materials” at the clinic. Their trials garnered national attention and support to their cause, and led to major changes in the laws governing birth control and sex education in the United States. In 1938, the clinic was organized into the American Birth Control League, but the title was considered offensive and “anti-family”, so in 1942 the League became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. By this time, the organization was operating 222 centers and had served over 49,000 clients.

Today, PPFA is a federation of 85 independent Planned Parenthood affiliates around the United States. Together, these affiliates operate more than 820 health centers in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. They are the largest family planning services provider in the United States, staffed by 27,000 employees and volunteers. PPFA serves over five million clients a year, 26% of whom are teenagers under the age of 19. 75% of their clients have incomes at or below the federal poverty level.

Services provided at PPFA locations include contraceptives; long-acting reversible contraception; emergency contraception; screening for breast, cervical, and testicular cancers; pregnancy testing, and pregnancy options counseling; testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases; comprehensive sexuality education; menopause treatments; vasectomies and tubal ligations; and abortion.

In 2009, PPFA provided 11,383,900 services to their patients in the United States, which had the following break down:

  • 4,009,549 contraceptive services (35% of total services)
  • 3,955,926 sexually transmitted disease services (35%)
  • 1,830,811 cancer related services (16%)
  • 1,178,369 pregnancy/prenatal/midlife services (10%)
  • 332,278 abortion services (3%)
  • 76,977 other miscellaneous services (1%)

The organization also said its doctors and nurses annually conduct one million screenings for cervical cancer and 830,000 breast exams.

All that being said, some people reading this will only focus on the number that makes up 3% of all services provided by Planned Parenthood, so I think that it is particularly important to note that due to easily available contraceptives and comprehensive sex education provided by PPFA, abortion rates have actually dropped to an all-time low.


Despite what the anti-choice movement would have you believe, no one at Planned Parenthood responds to a regular unintended pregnancy with, “you should get an abortion.” Abortion is typically given as a viable option to unintended pregnancies, but it is not the only option provided, and there is never pressure placed on the pregnant person by Planned Parenthood to choose abortion. Their goal is actually to have as little need for abortions as possible by providing effective preventative measures and education — something that Republicans also want to block for reasons that are still unclear to me. Because there will never not be a need for them, the PPFA and the pro-choice movement also support keeping abortions legal to keep them safe (legal abortion is currently fourteen times safer than childbirth).

Planned Parenthood has received federal funding since 1970, when President Nixon signed the Family Planning Services and Population Research Act into law. The law had bipartisan support from liberals who saw contraception access as increasing families’ control over their lives, and conservatives who saw it as a way to keep people off welfare. Title X of that law provides funding for family planning services, including contraception and family planning information, which Nixon described as the premise that “no American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition.”

In 2011, total consolidated revenue for PPFA was $201 million, 35% of which was received in government grants and contracts, and another 25% from their membership base of over 700,000 active donors. Approximately 65% of the revenue was put towards the provision of health services, while non-medical services such as sex education and public policy work make up another 16%; management expenses, fundraising, and international family planning programs account for most of the rest of their costs.

By law, no money received by federal funding can be allocated for abortions, and many private donors, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, are specifically marked to avoid funding abortions.

However, opponents of abortion have argued that allocating any money to Planned Parenthood for the provision of other medical services allows the organization to re-allocate other funds for abortion. Several coalitions of national and local “pro-life” groups have lobbied state and federal governments to stop funding PPFA. Legislation has been proposed to reduce funding, and six states have gone ahead with such proposals. In some cases, the federal executive branch has provided funding in lieu of the states. In other cases, courts have overturned such actions citing conflict with other state laws. In a few cases, complete or partial defunding of Planned Parenthood has gone through successfully, which has had disastrous consequences.

Most recently, the allegations that Planned Parenthood is illegally selling fetal tissue for profit has been the springboard for advocating defunding, and was the conception of Monday’s procedural vote.

Unfortunately for anti-choicers, those allegations are false. As the entire, unedited version of the now infamous video clearly shows, there isn’t any illegal activity happening. PPFA isn’t selling fetal tissue, they donate tissue to research organizations and charge $30 – $100 for storage and transportation — which is completely standard and reasonable within the medical community. The tissue is only donated with the written consent of the patient, and due to its ability to create stem cells, can be used to find cures and treatments for many different illnesses.

Furthermore, even if everything I just said wasn’t true, this is what most “babies” look like at the time of abortion:


Magnified view of a five week old embryo, originally published in Life magazine in 1965 by Lennart Nilsson

That five-week-old embryo is about 1/4″ long. It does not have viable organs, it doesn’t even have a face. To make claims that PPFA is illegally selling human organs on the Black Market shows a remarkable lack of knowledge on the part of the anti-choice movement. Fetuses that are older than 40 weeks have viable organs that could be harvested, but the only times abortions are given at that stage of gestation are in extreme circumstances — usually if the mother and/or fetus will not survive through the end of the pregnancy.

With all these facts and figures and statistics, it doesn’t make logical sense to defund Planned Parenthood, but it also doesn’t necessarily make logical sense to listen to me about any of this. I can spew facts and figures and statistics at you until my laptop battery runs low, but to what end? I’m a software consultant, not a healthcare worker. I’m a third party provider of information, and though I consider myself better educated about these issues than the average person on the street, I’m also arguably biased. While my biases of being a non-practicing Catholic, left-leaning female with an interest in remaining reproductively healthy may be considered advantageous to the issue at hand, wouldn’t it make more sense to listen to someone with actual experience being in the middle of all of this controversy?

Meet Lois.

Or as I know her, Grandma Lois.

Or as I know her, Grandma Lois.

Born and raised in Fonda, Iowa, Lois is a lifelong devout Catholic. As a wife and mother of two children, she was able to help support her family and pursue her passion of science by teaching high school earth and environmental science for 17 years, before enrolling in medical school at the University of Iowa. She graduated as a Physician Assistant in 1985, and in 1986 began working as a contraceptive clinician at several different Planned Parenthood clinics.

“I couldn’t get a job anyplace else,” she recalled, laughing. “In the Phoenix area I covered clinics in Gelbert, Mesa, and Tempe. Then when they moved me to Maui, I covered the clinics in Maui and they would fly me to Big Island, and I worked at clinics there… After I’d worked there for a while I thought it was really important to provide good care and information for…that segment of our society.”

As a contraceptive clinician, “I wasn’t ever trained to do abortions. I probably could have been, but I was really more interested in the education aspect for the girls who didn’t really have anybody else.” None of the clinics that Lois worked at provided abortions as a service, instead providing thousands of patients with access to “contraceptive information, counseling…clinical exams, and prescriptions for the contraceptives… I gave OB-GYN information, I did breast exams, medical exams for gynecological infections and tests for STDs, which I performed for males as well as females.”

Lois also noted the marked difference between the clientele and community support of the Arizona clinics and the Hawaii clinics.

“[The patients I saw] in Arizona, they were still in high school. Those were kids that lived at home, didn’t have a parent they thought would be understanding to what they wanted to know…they had health insurance, but they didn’t want Mom and Dad to know that they were already sexually active, so they would come to us for a prescription and not have to go through their family doctor. In Phoenix…they aren’t [supportive]. They’re more conservative, Midwest almost…we really kept a low profile. Hawaii was of a much different mentality, much more accepting of people’s rights to make choices… In Hawaii [the patients] were all kids that were on their own…mostly high school graduates, maybe had some college, but sort of runaways, drop outs…none of them had insurance… They came mostly for STD testing and exams. There was a pretty open attitude towards sex there, and with the background I grew up with, which was really, really pretty conservative, it was difficult. The whole relationship with the patient in that type of environment, they had to trust you. And they did…I was kind of strict with them, but evidently it worked because I would get a lot of referrals back from their friends.”

The areas Lois worked in did not have other reproductive health care options available for the patients she saw, and due to the strong Latter Day Saints influence in the Phoenix area, sex education was not widely available for teenagers.

“It seems ridiculous that everyone is so concentrated on abortion when if they would allow those kids to get decent contraceptive information in the first place, nobody would have to worry about abortions…Kids aren’t given information on contraceptives, they have no alternatives whatsoever, and even a lot of schools now aren’t allowed to give information…the girls and women I have worked with, many times…knew if they got pregnant they would be disowned, but they didn’t know how to keep from getting pregnant. Ergo, abortion… It’s such a ridiculous cycle.”

As to whether her own religious beliefs make it difficult to hold the views she does on reproductive rights, Lois simply shook her head.

“The Catholic Church has their heads buried in the sand. They refuse to look at the ramifications the things that they’re forcing to happen when they do this. I still consider myself Catholic, but there’s no way I can sit there and say that people should be forced to do something against their own best judgment. It’s simply not up to the Church, it’s not up to the Pope, it’s not up to a priest, and it’s not up to a bunch of people who try to limit the choices and try to force their opinions onto other people.”

She wasn’t shy about her thoughts on the proposed legislation to defund Planned Parenthood, either.

“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous, and it’s against the law. If they take away the provisions of healthcare and available contraceptive information and medication for that segment of our society, who’s going to take care of the babies that they don’t want? Sure they say they’ll help them, but are they going to be there at three o’clock in the morning when that mother is ready to tear her hair out because the baby won’t stop screaming? No, and I don’t think it’s up to other people, I don’t think it’s up to the law to decide how a person should live their life…they shouldn’t be required to carry a child because the law says they have to, they also shouldn’t be required to get rid of it… we provide good medication for everything else, we should provide good medication and good information for contraceptive care. We’re a rich country, we don’t have to force [anyone] to not have the information they need to make life choices.”

Planned Parenthood is a fundamentally vital organization when it comes to providing reproductive healthcare — particularly to low-income women. It’s time to stop pretending that trying to defund and shut down clinics that provide such important services is pro-life, and it’s time to realize that the legislation attempting to be passed by our lawmakers is an open declaration of war on women.

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

HUGE thanks to my Grandma Lois. Read the whole interview here.

Correction: an earlier version said Lois taught high school chemistry.

#FeministFriday No. 30

Some of you may remember this picture that went viral last year, and caused girls and women everywhere to denounce the feminist movement on social media:


This is Lauren Southern, proud anti-feminist. She recently released a video for Rebel Media, which was promoted by Facebook pages drowning in toxic masculinity, boasting that she completely destroys feminism in just three minutes.

Except that she doesn’t. Like, at all.

She makes several points that seem like interesting, thoughtful critiques of the feminist movement and includes official sounding statistics as back up.

Unfortunately, most of these “critiques” are based on long-standing misconceptions of feminism that could be easily disproved with a quick Google search, not to mention most of her statistics are either veiled misinformation, or complete bullshit.

The heart of Southern’s assertion that she is not a feminist is that she believes “both genders should be treated equally.” Setting aside the false assumption that gender can be reduced to a simple male/female binary, that is literally the definition of feminism. If you believe people should be treated equally regardless of their gender, congratulations! You’re a feminist!

You can’t claim to support the main goal of a social justice movement, but refuse the label because you don’t like the connotations; that’s not how words work. To paraphrase Aziz Ansari, it would be like a physician who primarily focuses on the epidermis, but rejects the term “dermatologist” for being too harsh of a word. It doesn’t work that way.

However, Southern is adamant that she is not a feminist, so let’s break down why.


“Why don’t we see equal representation [by feminists] of both gender’s issues?”

I had to pause the video at this because my eyes rolled so far back into my head I could actually see my own brain cells dying.

Once again side stepping her ignorance when it comes to the number of genders that exist, is she really asking this question? Feminism was born from the women’s rights movements – the ones that gave us the right to vote and own property (rather than be property) – so the roots of feminist activism come from a challenge to the inequality of women.

Modern feminism exists as a conglomerate of past and present efforts to address forms of inequality and inequity facing women, including:

  • The inability of women to be recognized as full citizens
  • Women’s lack of protection from violence in their homes and on the streets
  • Women’s lack of rights over their own bodies
  • Women’s unique experiences of violence in times of war
  • The restriction of women to pursue the same opportunities as men
  • The gendered norms that constrain women from freely expressing their genders, personalities, and bodies
  • The lack of attention and respect given to women’s voices and experiences
  • The devaluation of women’s labor
  • The assumption of female heterosexuality
  • The absence of women in arenas of power that make decisions about the lives of women
  • The pervasive inequalities shaped by race, ethnicity, colonialism, citizenship, gender identity, sexuality, ability, language, religion, body type, etc., that work alongside gender
  • The fact that it is 2015 and there is an actual need for me to write this article

I could go on. These issues remain persistent sources of inequality for women; therefore, addressing how they operate in the lives of women remains at the center of the feminist movement.

None of this means that feminists hate men, or that we don’t care when men are harmed, or that we’re somehow sexist towards men (which, again, isn’t actually possible). There are serious inequalities that women continue to face, and it isn’t unreasonable for a movement for gender equality to focus on those problems.

For perspective, would you go to a charity event for Alzheimer’s and be upset they weren’t raising money for diabetes research? They’re both important issues that need attention, but a venue that’s specific to one of them doesn’t take away from the importance of the other.

That being said, feminists actually focus quite a bit on issues that impact men. Gender regimes that create adversity for women also negatively affect men, and feminism offers a variety of tools to challenge them together.

However, this doesn’t mean that feminism is only important and legitimate when it is also useful to men. There are very serious issues of security, freedom, and equality that uniquely affect women, and if you are only willing to support these movements when they also benefit men, you’re completely missing the point.


“There are more men raped in prison than women, but feminists remain silent on the issue.”

Sorry, false. Actually, not sorry, do your research.

First of all, feminists fought at the forefront to change the federal definition of rape to include male victims (as well as other forms of rape like statutory and marital). The Feminist Majority Foundation and Ms. magazine launched the Rape is Rape campaign that culminated in changes to the old definition (which completely excluded men).

Second, feminists led the broad coalition advocating for the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, which works to protect all prisoners from sexual assault – the majority of whom are men. On a related note, women and feminists have also fought front and center to challenge rape in the military, which also affects many men.

Prison rape remains a serious issue that affects thousands of people, and deserves more attention than it receives, including from feminists. However, among those who are fighting the issue, feminists are there and we are not silent.


“Almost half of all domestic violence victims in the U.S. and Canada are men.”

Southern didn’t cite her source for this one, so I’m not entirely sure where she came up with that statistic. That being said, depending on where you look, the numbers may differ dramatically. Some studies show what Southern describes, a near symmetry between men and women. Others show that it is largely women experiencing intimate partner violence.

The reason behind the different numbers is based largely on the samples and measures used to collect the data, as well as the recognition that different types of intimate partner violence exist in our society and are reflected in these samples. Based on hundreds of different studies, it is apparent that both men and women are violent in intimate partner relationships, but the type of violence perpetuated by men and women differs greatly.

There are a few important, but different, types of intimate partner violence:

  • Coercive Controlling Violence:
    This is what most people envision when they think of domestic abuse. CCV is used to control the partner through multiple forms of coercion (economic threats, leveraging children, blaming, isolation, sexual violence, emotional abuse, intimidation, and physical violence).
    This type of violence is more likely to result in serious physical injury or death, and while men can be victims of this type of violence, it is overwhelmingly perpetrated by heterosexual men against their female partners.
  • Violent Resistance:
    This type of intimate partner violence accounts for some people responding to CCV with violent resistance (akin to “self-defense”, but different in legal context). The vast majority of violent resistance is done by women against male coercive controlling partners, but charges are sometimes filed in these cases and contribute to the patterns in the statistics. Unlike the coercive controlling partner, violent resistance is reactive and the intention is not to control.
  • Situational Couple Violence:
    This is by far the most common type of intimate partner violence, and is perpetrated by men and women nearly equally, though male perpetration is still slightly higher. SCV generally results from the escalation of an argument between partners, but is not representative of chronic violence, intimidation, stalking, or other symptoms of CCV. While SCV is serious and can be lethal, it tends to involve more minor forms of violence (pushing, grabbing), and is less likely to result in serious injury.

So, yes, Southern was right that men are also victims of intimate partner violence. Men and women commit violence in heterosexual and same sex relationships (and any variation thereupon). All of this violence matters, but in the context of systematic violence rooted in fear and control that results in serious injury, the vast majority of assailants are men and the vast majority of victims are women.

At least one third of all female homicide victims in the United States are killed by male intimate partners, compared to just 2.5% for men.

Gender symmetry in intimate partner violence tends to be at lower levels of violence, and Southern’s statistics don’t distinguish severity, frequency, whether an attack was in self-defense, or if it was part of a pattern of fear and coercive behavior. It should also be noted that men are more likely to call the police on their partner, more likely to press charges, and less likely to drop charges.

It’s not that feminists don’t care when intimate partner violence happens to men, or that we don’t want men to be protected – we do. That being said, given the realities taking place when you examine the numbers closely, it shouldn’t be surprising that most feminist energy aimed at intimate partner violence is focused on women facing controlling coercive violence.

Additionally, consider the ways that intimate partner violence is still shaped by systematic, legally-enshrined patriarchy in this country. It wasn’t long ago that men had the legal right to beat their wives, and as recently as the 1980s police would delay responding to domestic violence calls. Wives often had no legal recourse to demand protection from the state, as well.

It is also important to add that Southern’s claim of men not having access to victim services is incorrect. The Violence Against Women Act, which was championed by feminists in 1994, legally protects women and men (in heterosexual and same sex relationships) who are victims of domestic violence, and offers male victims all of the same services and protections that are available to women.


“Feminists remain silent on the issues of male suicide, male workplace deaths, male combat deaths, and male homicide deaths.”

Ah, actually, nope, nope, nope, and nope.

Feminism has a long history of gender analysis, which gives us some pretty profound insight into a lot of these male deaths. Particularly, feminists demonstrate how norms of femininity and masculinity enforce ideas about appropriate male and female behavior, which deeply shapes the condition of these male deaths.

Take combat deaths, for example. There are extensive feminist writings about gender and war pointing to how norms of masculinity are deeply implicated in producing a society in which men are expected to embody sacrificial stoicism, physical strength, and masculine virility. Women, meanwhile, are expected to be weak, passive, and in need of (male!) protection.

One feminist author, Iris Marion Young, called this “the logic of masculine protection,” writing, “In this patriarchal logic, the role of the masculine protector puts those protected, paradigmatically women and children, in a subordinate position of dependence and obedience.” Feminists have long challenged this logic of protection in multiple contexts, point both to how this robs women of independence, as well as how it shapes male participation in war, and their subsequent injuries and deaths. Another feminist author, Cynthia Daniel, wrote extensively about the way male soldiers handle injury — specifically injury of their reproductive health — and shows how ideas of masculinity contribute to the lack of medical help men seek for such injuries.

A final note on Southern’s comment toward male combat deaths: part of the reason combat deaths are disproportionately male is due to the sexist policies of the United States military; women soldiers have historically been barred from combat roles. Equality in the military has been debated and written about in great detail by feminists like Megan MacKenzie and Carol Cohn (among others), who dismiss the myth that women can’t fight and challenge the exclusion of women from combat positions.

As for Southern’s other examples of male death — workplace death, suicide, murder — feminists are talking about those, too.

A graduate student at Penn State, has examined masculinity’s effect on worker safety in the (mainly male) natural gas workforce of Pennsylvania, illuminating how notions of masculinity shape labor forces and the willingness of workers to use safety equipment and follow procedures.

Miles Groth describes in his book, Boys to Men: The Science of Masculinity and Manhood, how stereotypes about what it means to “be a man” impacts high suicide rates among young men. Groth argues that feminist efforts to abolish restrictive gender norms offer vital pathways to address this problem, and several other studies agree.

Stereotypes of masculinity also lend themselves to gang culture and crime rates. Dr. Melissa Wright wrote about gang murders of both men and women in Mexico while illustrating ways feminism is helpful in understanding male murder statistics.


“Feminists place a blanket statement on all men that they are privileged, and that all women are oppressed.”

Yeah, if you read feminist doctrine through a fun house mirror; this is a completely warped characterization of what feminists argue.

Feminists do argue that being a male in a male-dominated society has certain privileges — whether it’s being paid more, having greater representation in seats of power, having your voice privileged in many spaces, etc. — but feminists do not assume that all men equally benefit from these systems of privilege, nor do they assume that all women are equally marginalized.

The complexity of privilege and oppression is exactly why feminists use the notion of intersectionality. Most feminists realize and understand that not all women are marginalized in the same ways, and the privileges that come with being white or wealthy can play a huge part in how or whether someone might feel oppressed due to their gender.

The assertion that all women are oppressed is one of the very issues that galvanized postcolonial feminists and feminists of color in their critique of second wave feminism. There has always been a tendency by white feminists to characterize women of color and Third World Women as universally oppressed by their cultures and men, and were therefore in need of white feminists to rescue them or to speak out for them. Obviously this is not, nor ever has been the case. Having insights into that now is a cornerstone of what is generally considered Third Wave Feminism, which Southern claims is only about universal oppression.

Yes, feminists talk about the way that patriarchy and sexism overlap with other structures of race, class, sexuality, and nationality to produce unique challenges in women’s lives, but it’s far from Southern’s characterization that we believe all men are natural aggressors and all women are natural victims — a view that is inherently anti-feminist by nature.

ben wyatt


“As a woman, I will almost always win custody in a divorce case.”

Well, yeah.

Except you can’t claim this is oppressive towards men without recognizing that the reason for this is the gender norms enforced by our society that assume women (not men) are natural caregivers and naturally nurturing. The issue of women being more likely to be granted custody is the same issue that asserts women’s primary and most important role is motherhood. By contrast, men in our society have historically been thought of as the breadwinners and the productive citizens.

Feminists have challenged these ideas for decades, as they profoundly restrict the options available to women. These views also make contributions towards stigmatizing women who don’t want or cannot have children, the devaluation of work inside the home such that it need not be treated as productive, lower pay for women working outside the home (since their income is simply supplemental to their husbands’), and the characterization of women who don’t embody the “norms” of caretaking as “pushy”, “overly assertive”, or “bitchy”.

Men who are invested in reshaping ideas about their male parental rights may be surprised to find that gendered assumptions about women’s inherent nurturing also translate into how society perceives men as parents. In terms of changing gendered expectations about child rearing, feminist goals include advocating for many policy changes that benefit men, including the Family and Medical Leave Act and paternal leave policies.


“As a woman, I will actually have my rape and assault claims taken seriously.”

So not only does Southern not know how to Google simple things, she’s also apparently never seen how rape cases are treated in this country.

Women are consistently blamed for their own rapes.

What were you wearing?

You shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

You drank too much, you should have been more responsible.

You led him on, what did you expect?

Are you sure you’re not just being dramatic?

This is particularly true for women of color, who are even less likely to be taken seriously, and often face the risk of being accused of prostitution by police.

There is such an incredible amount of documentation of women’s rape allegations not being believed that Southern’s claim here goes well beyond ignorant and lands smack in the middle of super disturbing.

As is the fact that she has another video titled “The Falsely Accused are the real Victims” which, no. Okay? No. The odds of a man being falsely accused of rape is 2.7 million to 1. Because 1 in 33 men will be raped in his lifetime, an American man is 82,000 times more likely to be raped than be falsely accused of rape. Stop derailing the conversation with your victim blaming bullshit.

In the United States, feminists have fought for Title IX legislation on college campuses, which offers protection from sexual harassment and assault for all students, including men.


“As a woman, I won’t be laughed at for not being manly enough.”

This begs the question of whether or not Southern is actually too naive to think that she wouldn’t, as a woman, be laughed at for not being feminine enough, or for being too feminine.

Crossing borders of acceptable gender behavior can be difficult for both men and women, and there are a ton of feminist resources that will help with the language, strategies, and support needed to confront and challenge the harms experienced by both men and women due to gender norms.

Additionally, there’s the glaring fact that while it’s acceptable for women to adopt some masculine characteristics, such as clothing (flannels, hoodies, etc.), a man wearing a dress in public is seen as a joke or disgrace. It’s almost like femininity is considered shameful and beneath men.


As a parting note to Southern, though I can’t really understand why, if she truly believes she doesn’t need feminism, that’s fine. But before you go, here’s what I think she and any other anti-feminist woman need to know:

You’re insulting every woman who was forcibly restrained in a jail cell with a feeding tube down her throat for your right to vote, less than 100 years ago.

You’re degrading every woman who has accessed a rape crisis center, which wouldn’t exist without the feminist movement.

You’re undermining every woman who fought to make marital rape a crime (it was legal until 1993).

You’re spitting on the legacy of every woman who fought to be allowed to own property (1848). For the abolition of slavery and the rise of the labor union. For the right to divorce. For women to be allowed to have access to birth control (Comstock laws). For middle and upper class women to be allowed to work outside the home (poor women have always worked outside the home). To make domestic violence a crime in the US (it is very much legal in many parts of the world). To make workplace sexual harassment a crime.

In short, you know not what you speak of. You reap the reward of these women’s sacrifices every day of your life. When you grin with your cutesy sign about how you’re not a feminist, you ignorantly spit on the sacred struggle of the past 200 years. You bite the hand that has fed you freedom, safety, and a voice.

In short, kiss my ass, you ignorant little jerks.

Libby Anne Bruce

Sorry it took me more than three minutes.

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

#FeministFriday No. 29

As a feminist and purveyor of social justice issues, it is important to recognize that I am not an authority or expert on many of the topics I write about. I have many privileges — I’m white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, and neurotypical. I was raised by two college-educated parents, in a supportive family environment, practice a sect of Christianity, and have always lived comfortably within the middle class. I have known for a long time that all of these privileges have played a role in my life, and have — sometimes unfairly — given me advantages. I try my best to keep all of that in mind while understanding that other people have not and do not come from the same experiences, and that I often cannot hold others in society to my own standards.

There’s one other privilege that I have, that I didn’t really recognize as a privilege until fairly recently. This may be due to my own ignorance, but the attitude of normalcy given by society to the mistreatment of those who don’t have this privilege is also a probable factor.

I’m talking about thin privilege.

I have always been skinny — I was a short, scrawny kid with knobby knees and bony elbows that grew into a teenager comprised mostly of sharp angles and pants that never fit right. At 16, I hit 5’6″ and was 100 lbs. soaking wet. I remember the distinct horror of putting on my strapless dress for my senior winter formal and watching it fall straight down onto my bedroom floor because I’d had my period when I tried the dress on in the store, and the three lbs. of water weight were enough for me to fluctuate an entire size. In college, people constantly teased me for being skinny, telling me to eat a burger if I had chosen salad that day, or marveling that I was able to eat a whole Chipotle burrito in one sitting. Jokes that I would blow away in a strong wind, or get snapped in half by the weight of my backpack were common, despite the fact that I never found them funny.

I’m sure at least some of you were rolling your eyes during that last paragraph, thinking something along the lines of, “poor little skinny girl, life must be so hard for you,” or something equally as sarcastic. Honestly, you should have been. Being thin in our society is not a difficult way to live. Sure, I occasionally had a concerned guidance counselor gently question me about my eating habits, and I’ll encounter people who think it’s hilarious to insist that I need to eat more, but I also have acquaintances and even complete strangers compliment my figure on a semi-regular basis (which, side note, I find a bit weird and have yet to think of an appropriate response that isn’t an awkward smile and noncommittal humming noise). I’ve never had strangers at grocery stores feel the need to comment on the food in my shopping cart, or been openly laughed at or mocked by strangers in public. I’ve never been avoided or gawked at by retail workers in stores that never carry my size, and no one has ever made it known that they were displeased to be sitting next to me on an airplane or a bus.

My point is, even with whatever handful of negative experiences I’ve encountered, having thin privilege is incredibly advantageous in a society that is so completely and utterly fatphobic.

Fox News, keeping it classy.

Fox News, keeping it classy.

Body shaming in general is wrong and can be harmful, but I’ve seen a lot of people claiming that skinny-shaming is just as bad as fat-shaming.

Fun fact, it isn’t.

Just like racism towards white people and sexism against men aren’t real things, the difference between someone’s feelings being hurt and actual discrimination, dehumanization, and denial of rights is found in systemic prejudices that are ingrained in our society.

Body shaming fat people is openly practiced in central institutions of our society — schools, the workplace, hospitals, and even the legal system.

Various studies have found that overweight people face discrimination at work; they’re more likely to be fired or suspended, tend to earn smaller salaries in comparable positions, receive fewer promotions for comparable performance, and are less likely to be hired in the first place.

Another study reported that 54% of doctors believed physicians should have the right to withhold treatment from overweight or obese patients. That’s right, over half of the professionals who have taken an oath to heal think it’s fine to deny healthcare to people who are seeking healthcare.

Virgie Tovar, a nurse who developed a workshop for fat patient care, created a survey for people to anonymously share their fatphobic experiences with healthcare professionals. Many of them are horrifying, and some turned out to be life-threatening.

“At the time, I was a size 8, hovering around 150 pounds at 5’5”. I had recently spent the past year losing 50 pounds. I was also a vegetarian. When I went in for an annual checkup, my insulin, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels were high, which didn’t match my diet and exercise regime (I exercised at least 4 times per week), Instead of looking into the problem further, my doctor simply told me “to stop eating so much meat and work out more,” even though I didn’t eat meat and worked out a great deal! A few years later, one doctor put all of the “clues” together to discover that the reason for my abnormal lab results was Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and an extremely elevated level of DHEA-S in my system. The first doctor simply refused to believe me because (a) I still wasn’t within BMI standards of “health” and (b) I had been fat before.”

“I was told that my runny nose and scratchy throat was due to my being overweight, and could be prevented if I lost weight.”

“Someone asked me repeatedly if I was “sure” that I didn’t have diabetes, despite the fact that 1) they had my medical record open in front of them, which listed the (normal) results of my most recent blood tests, and that 2) I probably eat more healthfully and exercise more than the average person in the US…I just happen to be fat…”

“I had a gastroenterologist who actually yelled at me when I tried repeatedly to tell him ‘no’ on a severe weight loss regime… a couple of weeks later I almost died of sepsis from un-diagnosed appendicitis because he was more concerned with my weight than abdominal pain.”

“After ages of severe pain and issues with my period, I finally broke down and went to a gynecologist. The first one I saw was very clearly uncomfortable with me the minute I walked in the door… She was in such a hurry to get through our visit in fact, that she neglected to take a sample during her exam to biopsy and check for abnormalities… A year later after continued issues I finally got up the courage to seek out another gynecologist and discovered I had Stage 3 Uterine Cancer.”

These injustices stem from conscious and unconscious biases against fat people. Thinness has long been the standard of beauty, but it has somehow evolved into a false gauge of health, wellness, energy, cleanliness, ambition, intelligence, and morality.

This is especially true for overweight women. Studies have shown that girls as young as four are affected by beauty standards and show symptoms of poor body image. Thin women are disproportionately shown as the norm in the media, and if you’ve been anywhere near the Internet, you probably already know that the consensus for the worst, most disgusting thing a woman can be is fat.

I’ve had more trolls try to void my arguments by saying, “whatever, you’re probably just fat and bitter” than I have any other type of comment — positive or negative — combined. As if someone’s weight could in any possible way invalidate their opinions.

The Internet has never been shy about opinions, but the media has to be more careful. Television networks are so against showing fat women, I can only think of five television shows that have prominent female characters that are overweight (Roseanne, The Drew Carey Show, Mike & Molly, The Office, and Parks & Recreation), and of those only one character (Donna Meagle, Parks & Recreation) isn’t constantly the butt of fat jokes.

True, another overweight character from Parks & Recreation, Jerry/Larry/Terry/Gary (depending on the season) Gergich, is constantly the butt of fat jokes, but he also lends himself to one of the most common tropes in television and movies: the fat, dopey guy married to the smoking hot thin woman.

See also The Simpsons, Family Guy, King of Queens, etc.

See also The Simpsons, Family Guy, King of Queens, How I Met Your MotherModern Family, Arrested DevelopmentLouieHitchAs Good As It GetsKnocked Up, literally every Adam Sandler movie ever, etc.

The issue with the “Man with varying features/body/face” + “Woman with slender figure and above-average attractiveness” formula found so often in the media is that we allow variation in the male character body types, facial features, heights, balding patterns, beer bellies, and more — but we still expect the women to be virtually flawless and fit the conventional standards of beauty and thinness.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about diversity and varying body types in the media, but keeping it one-sided for the men and dismissing women’s variations tells society a couple of things:

  • Men of all wonderful sizes, shapes, heights, and features should expect to get an unbelievably attractive woman
  • In order to be desired by any man, regardless of his body type or looks, a woman must conform to a very small set of acceptable standards
  • Women who are sizes or possess features that do not fit these acceptable standards will never get “the hot guy” and it would be silly for them to even try

And yes, these are examples and messages sent to us from fictional mediums, but this has clearly bled into real life because Dad Bod is a thing. The Dad Bod is heralded by the media as the latest trend for the male physique. It’s described as “a nice balance between beer gut and working out…it says, ‘I go to the gym occasionally, but I also drink heavily on the weekends and enjoy eating eight slices of pizza at a time.’ It’s not an overweight guy, but it isn’t one with washboard abs, either.” The physique is argued to be a hit with women because it’s non-threatening, comfortable to cuddle up with, and honest in the sense that it probably won’t undergo any drastic transformations within the next 20 years.

I have two main issues with the Dad Bod. First, as someone who literally never lets a pun get away unnoticed, whoever coined the phrase missed an absolutely golden opportunity to call it the Father Figure.

Second, and more importantly, everyone is applauding the Dad Bod as a positive way to appreciate curvy men, and an achievable look for the guy who maybe put on some sympathy weight while his wife was pregnant, and is too busy chasing his kids around to really stick to a workout routine. I don’t draw issue with that specifically, but I do draw issue with that being acceptable for dads, while this is apparently the only acceptable standard for moms:

mom bod

So what can we do? Like anyone who benefits from a privilege, you can be an ally to those who don’t have that luxury. In this case, being an ally means finding effective ways to help fight fatphobia.

1. Educate Yourself About Health

Modern classifications of “overweight” and “obese” are derived from the Body Mass Index (BMI) Scale.

Except the BMI scale is inaccurate, misleading, and contains a lot of limitations and shortcomings.

Studies by The British Medical Journal have found that “the determination of the categories of normal, overweight, and obese is entirely arbitrary and at odds with the underlying evidence about the association between body mass index and mortality, a fact that destroys the index’s scientific pretensions and diagnostic value.”

While physical activity and nutrition positively affect good health, body weight does not. You cannot tell how much someone exercises or how nutritiously someone eats by their body size. Furthermore, most people (including doctors!) are woefully uneducated about nutrition, to the point that it’s commonplace for medical professionals to promote crash diet books that do nothing but mess up your metabolism and leave you in danger of gaining more weight than you had to begin with.

2. Reassess Your Intentions

So you can’t make assumptions about people. The question remains, though, even if someone were unhealthy, why is it any of your business in the first place?

The media likes to use buzzwords like “epidemic” when they talk about obesity, but just like weight is not an indicator of health, obesity is not in desperate need of a cure; even if it did, fat people still deserve to be treated like human beings.

People who fat-shame typically defend themselves by saying they have good intentions, and they just want to help. They care about healthy lifestyles and the well-being of others.

Think about it for a minute, if you truly wanted to help someone make a healthy lifestyle choice, do you really think that shaming and dehumanizing them will work?

It is someone else’s body and someone else’s health, so it’s really none of your concern and you have no right to shame them. You never get to define the value of another human being.


3. Call Out Concern Trolling

Briefly mentioned above, concern trolling is fat-shaming commentary poorly disguised as good intentions:

  • “I’m just concerned about your health!”
  • “You would be so pretty if you just lost a few pounds.”
  • “Obesity is a huge issue in our community, and I think it’s important to address it.”
  • “For your own good!”
  • “I don’t hate fat people, but…”
  • “I’m with you, but…”
  • Actually, pretty much any comment that hinges on a “but…”

These comments are unhelpful, harmful, and just plain rude.

If you hear someone concern trolling, intervene where you can. Throw out some health facts that complicate the picture. Let them know, especially if they’re close to you, that what they’re saying is oppressive and harmful. Ask them why it’s any of their business.

If all else fails, concern troll their concern trolling:

  • “I’m just concerned about your manners!”
  • “You would be so pretty if you weren’t so narrow-minded.”
  • “Rudeness is a huge issue in our community, and I think it’s important to address it.”
  • “For literally no one’s good!”
  • “I don’t hate fat people, but you clearly do.”
  • “I’m not with you.”
  • “…but you’re being an asshole.”

4. Understand the Intersections

I’ve been talking about privilege, and privileges and their consequences apply just as much in the fat community as they do anywhere else.

A white cis heterosexual man who is fat has a very different life experience than a fat black trans bisexual woman. Fatness is stigmatized on all bodies, but on certain bodies it adds a greater burden.

Furthermore, people who struggle with eating disorders may feel that the words “thin privilege” are upsetting because it is not a privilege to experience marginalization and ableism from an eating disorder.

It is so important to remember that oppressions are intersectional; privilege in one form does not cancel out oppression in another form, nor does oppression in one form cancel out privilege in another.

5. Humanize

How do you think we, as human beings, should treat one another?

Do you really think that arbitrary definitions of health or misconceptions about where our tax dollars go are more important than someone’s humanity?

Do you think your experiences and biases as a privileged person are more important than a marginalized human being’s dignity?

Seriously…do you?

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

#FeministFriday No. 28

This week on the blog, a topic most of you probably never thought I’d write about: sports.


I’m not what you would call an “avid sports fan” or “knowledgeable of athletics” or “able to discern what’s happening at all times during any given match or game”. Most sports are not, in fact, what you would call “my cup of tea”.

That being said, I understand the cultural impact sports have on most human populations, and how important teams can be to their fans, though I’m still a little fuzzy as to why covering yourself in paint and strapping a chunk of latex cheese on your head in public is a socially acceptable way to fan, but wearing my Black Widow costume in public is not.

I digress. I’m not here to air my grievances from the adult version of the clichéd nerds vs. jocks story line, I’m here to talk feminism.

As a traditionally male-dominated field, athletics are steeped in such a huge amount of sexism, that it’s almost laughable. In fact, it is laughable, I literally laughed out loud while doing research for this piece, because I didn’t know how else to react. Some of it is that ridiculous, and the sad thing is, none of it was even a little surprising.

First and foremost, women are not taken seriously in the sports world. They’re seen as intruders in a man’s world, and are coddled as they pretend they’re just as good as the boys. They’re hesitantly given second-rate playing times, practice spaces, and equipment, but are seen as ungrateful when they complain, because they should be thankful they’re given anything at all for their “talent”. To quote a tactless acquaintance of mine, “Women’s professional sports are the longest running practical joke in American history.”

ESPN and other sports networks often show hours of tournaments for things like golf, poker, or NASCAR, while sports like dance and cheerleading rarely have coverage or recognition, if they’re even considered sports at all. I don’t mean to suggest that golf or NASCAR or even poker aren’t difficult, or don’t require a certain amount of skill and talent to be successful; however, dance and cheerleading are extraordinarily physically demanding activities, and can produce world-class athletes, yet are belittled and ignored because they are traditionally feminine.

The attitudes on women by actual professionals are pretty clear, as well. Holger Osieck, manager of the Australia National Soccer Team, has been quoted multiple times stating that “women should shut up in public.” Andy Gray, leading soccer analyst and commentator on Britain’s Sky TV was caught on tape saying “someone f***ed up big” by appointing a female match official. Salvo Sports Apparel received backlash after it was discovered a line of their jerseys included the following message on the tag:

Washing Instructions: Give this jersey to your woman. IT'S HER JOB.

Washing Instructions:
Give this jersey to your woman. IT’S HER JOB.

In 2013, Chicago Blackhawk defenseman Duncan Keith, openly mocked a female reporter who asked about a questionable call. In a comment that sounds startlingly like the Fake Geek Girl allegations, Keith said, “Maybe we should get you as a ref…first female referee. Can’t probably play either, right? But you’re thinking the game, like you know it?” In 2014, the Blackhawks were in hot water again, with an online petition calling for the team to drop their long-standing tradition of playing “The Stripper” during the second intermission of every home game, as well as changing the female uniforms for the “Ice Crew” to match the far less revealing male uniforms.

19-year old Eugenie Bouchard made history in early 2014 by becoming the first Canadian to make it to the semi-finals of the Australian open in over three decades, and was immediately asked by a reporter, “You’re getting a lot of fans here. A lot of them are male, and they want to know: if you could date anyone in the world of sports, of movies — I’m sorry, they asked me to say this — who would you date?” Obviously that is the most important question to ask a world-class athlete following a historic win; no assessment of her skills in the match, inquiry into her training regime, or how she felt about winning — nope, we’re just interested in who she wants to sleep with. Perhaps the most upsetting part of that exchange, however, was that the reporter asking the question — former British tennis player Samantha Smith — clearly understood how absurd the question was and chose to ask it anyway.

Historically speaking, men have always been quick to divert attention or credibility from female teams or athletes that posed a threat to their boys clubs. Women playing organized soccer in England, for instance, dates back to the origins of the game in the country. Women’s soccer was quite popular in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century, some matches drawing crowds upward of 50,000 spectators. This rise in popularity was quickly staunched in 1921 by the Football Association of England, which published an official statement declaring, “Complaints have been made as to football being played by women, the Council feels impelled to express their strong opinion that the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.”

Similarly, there’s the story of Jackie Mitchell, the left-handed pitcher with a sinking curve ball, who was signed to the Chattanooga Lookouts on March 28, 1931. Five days later while playing the Yankees, the 17-year old struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig back-to-back with seven total pitches. Attempting to nurse his bruised ego, Ruth told the New York Times, “I don’t know what’s going to happen if they begin to let women in baseball… They are too delicate. It would kill them to play ball every day.” Unfortunately, baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis echoed Ruth’s sentiments, and declared women unfit to play the “strenuous” game of baseball, which led the Lookouts to void Mitchell’s contract just days after their game with the Yankees. Women were officially banned from the MLB in 1956.


Perhaps the best contemporary example of sports misogyny was nearly everything that happened with the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015, which concluded just last week. It started with the Turf War, which was the legal complaint filed by a group of female soccer stars when FIFA announced the women’s tournament would be played on artificial turf rather than natural grass like the men’s tournaments always are. The players alleged that the artificial turf posed an unnecessary risk for injury, raised the field temperature 20-30 degrees, and would adversely affect game play. FIFA, meanwhile, claimed the cost of having natural grass in optimal playing condition in Canada was just too high, which is an interesting assertion coming from an organization that had a high-ranking official renting an apartment in Trump Tower just for his cats.

FIFA president (and Swiss Lizard, according to John Oliver), Sepp Blatter, also cited a lack of interest in women’s soccer as a reason for decreased spending and attention on the tournament. He went on to suggest that women’s soccer could increase its popularity if the players would, “play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball. They could, for example, wear tighter shorts. Female players are pretty.” Blatter later claimed himself the “godfather of women’s football” during an interview with the BBC.

Then there’s the perfect sexist ending to the perfect sexist story: The Women’s World Cup concluded Sunday with the U.S. defeating Japan in the championship game, earning the team’s third World Cup. Combined with all the World Cups won by the U.S. Men’s team, the United States has won a total of three World Cups. In case you’ve forgotten, the U.S. Men’s team was knocked out of the 2014 World Cup in the first round, and received $8 million from FIFA. The U.S. Women’s team, winners of the 2015 Word Cup, received $2 million from FIFA.

There is a nearly endless supply of examples of sexism in the sports world, to the point that every single anecdote in this post came from my very first precursory Google search of “sexism in sports“. It’s everywhere, and people are aware of it, and talking about how it’s terrible, and we need to change…yet nothing changes. We throw billions of dollars at sport franchises every year and agree to put our tax money into building massive state of the art stadiums and arenas, and we can’t even be bothered to pretend like women’s sports teams are worth having around. Female athletes work just as hard as their male counterparts and ask for nothing in return. They deserve our respect, and they deserve our support.

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

#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.


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.


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.”


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!