Woman faced with deportation after going in for her gyn appointment

Do you remember the movie Heathers? I doubt it could get made now, but it came out before the modern wave of school shootings, and I watched it over and over again (until my parents got worried and took my copy away from me; then I watched it at my best friend’s house), drunk with the fantasy of a cool boyfriend who offs the popular kids (also, the main character’s name is the mark of a quality story). For that hour and a half, Christian Slater was the cutest boy in the world.

Anyway, there’s a great scene in the beginning when the school’s two king jocks, Kurt and Ram, decide to harass JD (Slater doing his best Jack Nicholson impression), the new kid in town. [content note for homophobic language]

“Hey, Ram,” says Kurt. “Doesn’t this cafeteria have a ‘no fags allowed’ rule?”
“Well,” says JD, “they certainly seem to have an open-door policy on assholes, don’t they?”

That’s what this country’s attitude toward immigration makes me think of. We certainly seem to be OK with home-grown assholes.

Remember doctor-patient confidentiality? It means that unless you represent an imminent danger to yourself or others, what you discuss with your doctors and other health-care providers is between you and them. That way, people won’t suffer and die unnecessarily, contagious illnesses won’t go unchecked, and your doctor can give you the best treatment possible because he/she/ze knows whether or not you, for example, have taken any illicit drugs lately.

Unless you’re in Texas and you’re an undocumented immigrant, apparently, in which case going to your gynecologist and giving a fake ID will get you turned in. They kept her there for hours, people. Hours, so that the sheriff’s deputies could get their shit together and arrest her in a leisurely way. Now her husband, also undocumented, is no longer going to work for fear of deportation and the family, including an eight-year-old daughter, is scrambling for income, while Blanca Borrego faces deportation because she had a fake social security card in her purse, found after her arrest.

Well, that’s great. That’s fantastic. Terrific. It’s not like there’s any reason to want undocumented immigrants to be able to get health care safely. It’s not like they and their families will suffer and die if they avoid doctors for fear of deportation, or that, if their kids aren’t able, for example, to get vaccinations, infectious diseases could spread across any number of populations, maybe even including homegrown white assholes. It’s not like ob-gyn care is essential to a woman’s health.

Oh, wait, it’s exactly like all of those things are true.

And what about the clinic that did this? They can’t comment because, according this article, of patient confidentiality.

Posted in Class, Discrimination, Feminism, General, Health, Immigration, Law, Medicine, Politics, Race & Ethnicity, Racism, Reproductive Rights | 9 Comments

So what went wrong for the slut-shamers?

When a teen is gang-raped and photos of her rape distributed online, the normal human response should be indignation toward her attackers – not toward the victim, for allegedly being a slut who enticed all the boys. Sadly civilisation has a long way to go, but even in the last couple of years, the cultural climate has grown more conspicuously hostile for misogynists who fancy themselves arbiters of women’s sexual worth. Something has changed – but what?

The gang-rape in question happened two years ago, at a time when rape victim suicides were becoming a depressingly regular feature in news cycles.  Rehtaeh Parson’s slut-shaming and death inspired my friend Emily to start her own documentary on the issue, having blogged months earlier on her own experiences in secondary school.

That was 2013. A week ago I suddenly learned she and her team had finished editing UnSlut: A Documentary Film. I’d seen a workprint during its lengthy gestation in postproduction hell – the major question on my mind was how much the world would change by the time the film was released, versus when it was simply an idea two years ago.

But in reality, the premise of her film is as fresh now as it was then. Not because rape culture has necessarily worsened – plenty of observers have argued otherwise – but because more people than ever, from kids to politicians, want to listen. This is not an environment where police can blame rape victims for acting like victims, and expect to escape condemnation.

Of course, cultural winds can change in an instant – just ask Todd Akin and Josh Duggar. So why are said winds blowing in our favour, for now? And why has the national dialogue grown more receptive to our issues?


Three reasons seem likely: 1) politicisation of rape and women’s safety, 2) resulting revitalisation of grassroots feminism, and 3) a presidential administration willing to leverage this into support for tangible action against rape culture.

The politicisation of rape speaks for itself. The 2012 election was the first in U.S. history where rape became a national issue – not because white men like Todd Akin and Rick Santorum suddenly decided they supported rape, but because they foolishly revealed their own party’s platform had been pro-rape for years, with a particular obsession with forcing impregnated victims to have their rapists’ babies.

This national spotlight on politicians’ beliefs, along with their obsession with politicising birth control and women’s bodies, probably had something to do with the electoral massacre that followed. See what happens when you politicise millions of women into realising why they might still need feminism?

This alone didn’t turn the tide against rape culture. What it did provide was human fuel for a seemingly unrelated development – grassroots feminists who, after appealing to the Bush Administration for nearly a decade for help with addressing campus sexual assault, found a new White House that was willing to at least stop obstructing them.

Granted the Obama Administration has been largely supervisory in its approach to sexual violence. Its biggest action to date has been to clean the Office of Civil Rights of political hacks, and staff it with professionals who returned the OCR to its historic role as nonpartisan investigator. This was a noticeable improvement over the office under Bush, who had ordered the OCR to scale back its focus on Title IX, which bans gender discrimination on campus.

Intentionally or not, the Obama Administration set events into motion by re-tasking the office with doing its job. In 2011, the OCR issued a “Dear Colleague” letter to universities, reminding them that refusing to take sexual violence seriously was a form of gender discrimination. At the same time, survivors who’d been trying for years to hold their schools accountable were networking online, sharing and discovering recurring themes in their cases, and organising to file lawsuits. The OCR’s letter was a sign that someone on a federal level was finally willing to enforce the law, if survivors pursued legal options.

With lawsuits came stories. With stories came outrage. With outrage came national conversation around why this was happening. The politicisation of rape back in 2012 had already set the stage for dialogue, for people to connect the dots between society’s contempt for women and the way it treats survivors. We have a long way to go, but the groundwork has been laid – more media than ever treat attacks on women’s sexuality as a serious issue, and blaming girls for being sexually harassed is roundly condemned, rather than treated as serious discourse.


It’s about momentum, the swing of the pendulum. It’ll keep swinging our way if we keep the conversation going.

From our past conversations, I know Emily and her mates made UnSlut: A Documentary Film so they could contribute to the broader, on-going conversation around rape culture. None of us knew if a documentary would still be relevant by the time it was done. I think it still is, and I encourage anyone interested to take a look and even consider organising a screening.

If you have questions for Emily, on her journey to the final cut or thoughts on online feminism’s future, comment below – we’ll follow up in a future Q&A!

Posted in Movies, Rape Culture, Sexual Assault | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Racism, Representation, and Children’s Literature

I teach children’s literature, specifically Golden Age children’s literature (1865-1926), aka Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to Winnie-the-Pooh), and you might notice that those dates in the parentheses coincide with the height of the power of the British Empire. So while students may register for the class expecting light reading about happy children, what they get is heavy reading and detailed discussions of racism and imperialism and its manifestations in the Empire’s children’s literature, including some of the classics we still read today.

One of the books we talk about is J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, originally published under the title Peter and Wendy in 1911. I loved this book as a child—I read my copy to shreds. I’m talking literally; my childhood copy is now held together with packing tape. I still love many things about it: the quality of the writing, many of the things it has to say about childhood and adulthood, the ambiguity of the narrative voice. And it is racist as fuck. And its racism is both unacceptable and inextricable from what it has to say about childhood and adulthood, and the racist ideology on which it rests is a large part of what justified—and continues to justify—the genocide of Native Americans. What is a Native American kid supposed to think about this book, about its status as a classic? When I was in sixth grade, my elementary school staged the 1950s musical as the school play, calling the Indians “Leaf People” in an absurd effort to mask the racism. What was a Native American kid supposed to think about that, that one of the best public schools in NYC would do that? And what did it teach the rest of us? It taught me that adults couldn’t actually address what was going on. Not once did any of the teachers try to engage us in any discussion about how the play portrayed Native Americans.

Questions of representation, particularly in children’s literature are never just academic. And one blogger I particularly admire who always maintains that thought front and center, is Debbie Reese, a Nambe Pueblo Indian woman, who is a founding member of the Native American House and American Indian Studies program at the University of Illinois. She’s taught at public elementary and Indian schools and on the university level. She holds a PhD in education and has earned numerous honors for her publications, teaching, and other achievements, and is a consultant for groups that wish to improve their understanding of and approach to NA issues and texts. She runs the American Indians in Children’s Literature blog, and is as kind as kind can be. On this blog, she specializes in promoting children’s and YA literature that has accurate, respectful, nuanced portrayals of Native Americans, often written by NA authors. She also engages in cultural criticism, discusses classics that are still read and recommended for children, like Little House on the Prairie, and critiques contemporary children’s and YA literature that perpetuates the harmful anti-NA stereotypes and ideology that justify genocide, that contribute to, well, let me give the floor to Debbie and quote from AICL:

I believe that these seemingly innocent books actually play a significant role in the lives of Native children. Dr. Stephanie Fryberg, a research psychologist, has conducted studies of the effects of stereotypical images on the self-esteem and self-efficacy of Native students. She’s found that these images have a negative impact on Native students.Research studies on the graduation rates of Native students show that Native students drop out of school at greater rates—and increasingly greater rates—than other population groups. Dr. John Tippeconic and Dr. Susan Faircloth published a study in 2010 in which they state that over the course of their years in school, Native students gradually disengage from school. In their discussion, they suggest this happens because Native students do not see themselves reflected in the school curriculum. More recently, studies have shown that Native youth commit suicide at much higher rates than white students. As I write, many tribes are launching initiatives to address the sky high rate of suicide among Native students. Given these studies, I believe the books Native students read in school play a significant role in how Native students fare.

One of the things that has always struck me about Debbie’s site is how positive it is, and how she is always open to dialogue with the authors whose work she praises and/or criticizes. When authors respond, she always elevates their comments to the body of the blog post, so that the reader has immediate access to the author’s perspective. She is unfailingly generous of spirit, in my opinion, anyway.

But voicing objections to racism make you a target, and Debbie’s come in for her share of targeting. Authors in particular can be incredibly publicly defensive about their work, and she’s been called “too angry,” told she has “too much power.” Sound familiar? Any time a woman, a PoC, a Native American takes issue with white supremacist or patriarchal ideology, we’re “too angry.” Criticizing texts is read as “attacking.” And “too much power”—what power is that? The power to speak up and on occasion, be heard? Merely not being silent is too much power. This reads as projection to me, and always has: Disproportionate anger, attacks, unjust power—whom do these qualities really attach to? Who are the real aggressors here? The representatives of a settler state/way of life or the NA woman bearing witness to what is happening?

Here’s another example of a NA woman refusing to be silent about NA genocide. Despite her behaving like a model student: doing research, citing facts, and disagreeing intelligently, civilly, and firmly with what her professor had to say (I have no problem with a student disagreeing with me as long as they are doing so based on research and/or textual analysis rather than gut feelings), her professor found her voice so threatening that he dismissed the class, accused her of “making him look like a racist,” and tried to expel her from the course. What an embarrassment to a profession that is supposed to be about intelligent debate! I don’t say this often, but I hope he isn’t tenured, because there are any number of deserving scholars who don’t fear a smart, passionate student and who could make the most of that position. I daresay some of them are Native American.

So this is a post in support of all the NA women—and men, and children, and all NA people—who keep fighting the genocide of their people and the lies used to justify genocidal policies and actions. Even speaking up is hard.
I also admire Debbie’s teaching. You can read an article in which she and an equally excellent colleague, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, talk about ways of teaching problematic texts. I’m a very traditional teacher—it’s me, a blackboard, chalk, a book, and talking for an hour and fifteen minutes after I take attendance. I deeply admire teachers who are more inventive than that.

Me, I barrel ahead with the direct method. I assign a relevant chapter from Kate Flint’s The Transatlantic Indian, about Edwardian ideologies about Native Americans and how they dovetailed with the genocidal policies of the US, and we discuss the way those ideologies support Peter Pan’s narrative about childhood. And I try to always keep in mind whom I’m teaching for. I teach Peter Pan the way I do so that when the NA students Debbie is thinking of get to college, if any take my class, they’re not driven away from or alienated by the education they’re offered. And because the way I teach Peter Pan gets to an important truth of the text, too. There’s a hard truth in there about how our classics are often underpinned by the ugliest, the worst our society or culture or nation has done, and I don’t want to be one of those adults who can’t discuss it.

Posted in Discrimination, Education, Literature, Politics, Race & Ethnicity, Racism | Tagged , , , | 17 Comments

Dragon Con followup: Female heroes and femininity

On Saturday, I sat on a panel in the American Sci-fi Classics track at Dragon Con, talking about female heroes in classic sci-fi. One question from the audience stuck out to me as being insufficiently addressed in the time we had available, so: Young woman in the front row, stage left, ’bout three seats from the end, if you’ve followed me here (which is totally cool and appreciated), here’s the answer you deserve.

Question: Seeing as how “femininity” is really just a social construct, don’t we need to see more heroines who eschew traditional signifiers of femininity?

Short answer: Kind of, and yes, and both, and also.

To begin with, the extent to which gender as a whole is socially constructed, and the extent to which it’s biological in nature, has been and will be debated until what we know as humanity has evolved into a uniformly neutral gender that can only be described using German words. The general, although certainly not universal, consensus seems to be that it’s a little bit of both, although how much of each is yet another subject debated. On top of that is femininity, generally accompanying but by no means inherent to the female gender, and certainly the way it’s performed is heavily socially influenced, particularly where things like fashion and beauty trends come into it — but then there’s also the urge to perform that femininity (whether or not you actually identify with the female gender), and then there’s societal pressure to “act like a lady” or “look like a lady” whether you want to or not, and then there’s the matter of accepting a woman’s agency in choosing (or not choosing) femininity for herself even in that environment of pressure, all of which adds up to a solid “Kind of, and yet also kind of not.” (Let me know if I can vague that up for you some more.)

All in all, society tends to be both extremely insistent upon and extremely hostile to expressions of femininity. On the one hand, there’s definitely pressure to embrace it — starting as early as preschool, the conventionally pretty girls and the ones in dresses and pigtails receive preferential treatment to that of the “tomboys” and less-pretty ones. In some fields, skirts, heels, and/or makeup are still seen as necessary parts of a professional wardrobe for women, and going without is viewed as an outright protest rather than an appeal to practicality. Last year, the cosmetics industry in the U.S. was pushing $60 billion in gross revenues. (Also, the Lingerie Football League is still a thing.)

On the other hand, though, society is also terribly derisive of those exact displays of femininity. Case in point: the popularity of the “no-makeup” makeup look, wherein women are expected to wear enough makeup to look appropriately youthful and pretty, but not enough that you can tell that we’re wearing it, because actually following the beauty standards that are pushed on us is seen as shallow. Cupcakes, handcrafts, and pink stuff are pushed on us, and then immediately derided as “girly shit.” Toddlers are placed in tiaras, because cute! and then laughed at, because stupid! Industries that started in the home and are generally performed by women only really gain prestige when they’re performed by men — cooking for your family just makes you a housewife, but cooking for other people makes you a chef, a position so esteemed and so male-dominated that women struggle to break into it.

On a very serious hand, consider, for instance, the impact that these kinds of expectations can have on LGBTQ people: that a lesbian who eschews the trappings of femininity is frequently criticized for it by society at large, but one who embraces it is frequently dismissed as a surface-level lesbian who could easily be “converted” if she just found the right man, and a feminine-looking bisexual woman practically has to carry around a notarized statement from a female partner to be respected as such, and not just as a straight woman with adventurous tastes. And God help a trans woman who does perform femininity, but not to some subjective societal standard, or who performs it to the point that she’s accused of trying to “trick people,” or who chooses not to perform it and has to face people who deny her womanhood entirely. Sometimes, there’s just no approach to the performance of femininity that insulates women from criticism or worse.

It’s a big old mess, is my point. (Which I made at greater length than I’d really intended to.)

So with all of that in mind, it definitely is important to see heroines who don’t go the traditionally feminine route. We need to see displays of female strength that are accepted as valid despite not being accompanied by performances of femininity. We need to see that it’s acceptable to be strong — whatever your definition of “strength,” in this case, and we certainly discussed a number of different definitions on Saturday — without also putting on lipstick and heels to show that it’s okay, we’re not so strong that we’ve forgotten our place. A lot of what we’ve been exposed to in popular culture does follow that strength-plus-lipstick model — comic-book superheroines in ridiculous costumes and heels to make sure they’re still sexy even when they’re saving the world, tough female TV cops who go home at the end of a long day to cry and eat ice cream in pink pajamas to show that they still have a feminine side and that there’s still a woman under that stiff uniform.

So however one feels about Mad Max‘s Imperator Furiosa, she can definitely be seen as a character who is allowed to be extremely strong without the trappings of traditional femininity. And as a fan of Person of Interest, I always appreciated that Taraji P. Henson’s Joss Carter got to do her job in trousers and flat shoes — not that she wasn’t attractive and feminine, but that she wasn’t forced into high heels and smoky eye makeup to make up for being smart, assertive, physically capable, and effective at her job. (Of course, that also brings up a discussion of popular media’s attitudes toward the femininity of strong WOC, which is enough for its own entire post.) Whether they’re women who fully skew toward traditional concepts of masculinity or ones who simply choose not to perform femininity at some level or another, heroines like that are important to see.

But we also have to remember how often strength and femininity are seen as mutually exclusive, and how often a woman is expected to shrug off any femininity in order to be respected and seen as strong. With that in mind, the Peggy Carters of the world, and the Buffy Summerses, and the Olivia Popes, are also important to see. Young women who choose, or feel obliged, to perform that kind of femininity need to see figures who are still perceived as strong even without shedding their feminine qualities. They, just as much as young women who don’t perform femininity, need to see reinforcement that they are capable of strength exactly as they are, without abandoning parts of themselves that they either see as essential to their sense of self or, frankly, required for their protection in a hostile society.

On top of all of that, of course, we also have to look at different kinds of behavior, and different aspects of strength, as they’re associated with masculinity and femininity — seeing physical strength (and, yes, even a capacity for violence) as something that women are still capable of having, but also seeing non-physical aspects (more frequently associated with femininity) like intelligence, reasoning, and empathy as equally valid forms of strength, even if they’re generally associated with kicking metaphorical, rather than literal, ass. The Jadzia Daxes, Tasha Yars, and Beverly Crushers* of the world, if you will, and the Deanna Trois and Nyota Uhuras.

Tl;dr: Society’s idea of femininity — and the way(s) it’s performed — arises from a number of different sources. And the way each of us performs (or doesn’t perform) femininity arises from a number of different motivations, some voluntary and welcomed, some enforced, unwelcome, and fought against. So it’s important to see “smart” and “competent” and “independent” and “sympathetic” and “assertive” and “dignified” (and all of the other qualities we discussed as aspects of “strong”) represented across a range of different types/levels/performances of femininity — not just for the women who need to see themselves represented, but also for society in general to be exposed to the great diversity there really is in that area.

And it’s also important that we recognize end-of-the-day ice cream as a gender-neutral universal positive, regardless of the color of your jammies.

Hope that helps, YWITFRSL’BTSFTE. Thanks for coming to the panel.

*Name-dropped here because they were discussed on the panel: Beverly Crusher inspired one of the other panelists to a career in science; Tasha Yar was my first platonicrush and inspired me to one really unflattering haircut; and Terry Farrell was actually there on the panel, and yet I was able to make complete sentences.

Posted in Entertainment, Gender, Literature, Movies, Popular Culture | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Quick link

A great article at Al Jazeera by Treva Lindsey on state violence against black women and girls.

Posted in Gender, Law, Politics, Race & Ethnicity, Racism | Comments Off on Quick link

Math disparities the result of unconscious teacher biases

So, here’s a report from Israel via NPR demonstrating pretty conclusively that disparities in math achievement in school between girls and boys are an artifact of sexism, not any innate differences between the sexes. Turns out that if teachers who know the students grade sixth-grade math exams, girls do worse than boys. But when those same exams are graded by outside teachers who don’t know the genders of the students, the girls in fact do better than the boys. However, the lower scores seem to discourage girls from pursuing mathematics at higher levels.

It’s always good to have hard data bearing out feminist analysis.

Another thing to note: as an English teacher, I’m often told by students that my grading is “subjective,” not like the “objective” grading of math and science, where an answer is either right or wrong (in English essays, it’s either well-supported and well-written or not). But this data seems to show pretty conclusively that math grading, even on the elementary-school level, is subjective as well.

Posted in General | 14 Comments

Q&A: Dating When You’re Fat?

Can you imagine a society where 75 per cent of folks are gay, yet society is still as homophobic as the Duggar clan? That’s pretty much what fat people deal with every day, so we’ve made this far-reaching topic the crux of the last episode of this summer miniseries…


three-quarters of Americans are obese or overweight. yet society still tells us fat people are ugly.
society especially stigmatises fat geeks. one of them asked us how to date girls if you’re fat.


at our weekly LAN party, we formulated 5 tips for anyone, female or male, saddled with fat baggage.


“i don’t think losing weight will help. weight is likely not the biggest reason for your bad love life.”
“lack of confidence is usually a bigger factor. being thin but insecure will still mess up your love life.”
“like i always say, practising your social skills is more important than your appearance. level up.”


“you really think fat folks can’t date? you must not have seen fat couples shopping at Walmart.”
“look, 75 per cent of English-speakers are fat. yet we’re still managing to mate, reproduce and marry.”
“being part of the fat majority may suck, but finding love isn’t a lost cause. you can make it work.”


“don’t just assume everyone wants to date thin, simply because you mostly see thin people on TV.”
“ask yourself this. if thinness is so popular, why are porn sites full of curvy, even BBW models?”
“clearly a lot of folks are into big and curvy. i guarantee someone out there appreciates your body type.”


“yes, you’ll be rejected often. but how you act when that happens is as important as when you score.”
“don’t sulk when someone at the party rejects you. be prepared with ingenious, clever comebacks.”
“cleverness shows  confidence. others see or hear you? they’ll be impressed, and maybe attracted.”


“if you truly believe losing weight will aid your dating, then date others with the same goal.”
“join a running group, for instance. it’ll show you’re committed, plus you’ll meet others like yourself.”
“having support will boost your confidence. and that will help your dating game more than anything.”

Agree or disagree? Post away in the comments.

By now most of you have figured out we plan to start a long-term series of feminist game reviews this winter. One reason we did this summer miniseries was to beef up our experience – you can find a summary of lessons we learned in our latest Tumblr post, though it’s a bit geared toward professional designers. But this excerpt is worth some food for feminist thought…

Often we’ve scratched our heads, wondering how to debug an encoder so it would stop crashing the rendering engine, and we’ve asked ourselves, “If we were feminists doing our first video project, and we were dealing with these arcane technical issues, would we have the patience to keep trying to fix them? Or would we throw in the towel because frankly even experienced editors might not know where to start, much less novices who haven’t spent years on analysing the macroblocking effects of different codecs, like we have?” We suspect the latter has occurred to many aspiring female YouTubers who don’t get the same training or encouragement male counterparts receive from their mates or mentors.

Are we selling girl YouTubers short? Do you have women friends who’ve encountered roadblocks when trying to build themselves on YouTube? Let us know what you think.

(And to show we’re not blowing hot air about our plans, here’s a screenshot of what we’ve been working on lately. Enjoy.)


“Q&A” is an on-going effort to bring more original content to Feministe, via conversations with other feminists. If you wish to send hate mail, please direct to the Republican Rape Caucus.

Posted in Dating, relationships | 16 Comments

You never should’ve opened that door…

Employers can refuse to provide coverage for contraception on moral as well as religious grounds.

My reaction to this is slightly more complex than it might be normally. I certainly am in favor of demystifying and debunking the idea that religious beliefs have a special centrality and fervency and we atheists simply can’t imagine as we go about our stolid, prosaic, immoral lives.


I’m in favor of doing that not by elevating every moral belief one might have to the protected status that articles of faith currently hold, but by holding the devout to the same standards the rest of us have to meet. And I still find it absurd to say that companies, or even not-for-profits can hold moral or religious beliefs. They’re not human entities. They don’t have consciousness. They don’t have rights. The end. I find it almost as absurd as I find this quotation:

[The group] opposes methods of contraception that it says can amount to abortion, including hormonal products, intrauterine devices and emergency contraceptives. Many scientists disagree that those methods of contraception are equivalent to abortion.

One of these groups is qualified to make statements about how contraception works. One of these groups’ positions is, therefore, correct. The NYT bending over backwards to avoid making a fact-based assertion–and the courts’ refusal to take actual facts into account–is deeply disturbing to me. Contraception does not cause abortion. Vaccines do not cause autism. The world is not flat. There are such things as facts.

And when a humanities professor has to make that point, you know we’re in deep shit.

Posted in General | 13 Comments

Climate Change Hits Women Harder

I found this article, about how natural disasters, and therefore climate change, have significantly greater negative effects on women fascinating. (The article is from March–I have a backlog of stuff I bookmarked to blog about. Most of it does not necessarily seem interesting enough to resurrect several months later, but this piece did to me.)

The statistics are startling. According to the article,

natural disasters on average kill more women than men — 90 percent female fatalities in some cases, prevent girls from going to school, increase the threat of sexual assault.

The article lists numerous reasons for this upsetting disparity: men are more likely to own cell phones, so women are less likely to receive early alerts; girls rather than boys are in charge of fetching fresh water, often at the expense of their schooling and/or safety; women are less likely to be able to swim or climb trees. And natural disasters increase the rate at which girls are married off as well. The article also suggests ways of helping women and girls, some so staggeringly obvious that I’m gobsmacked that they had to be developed rather than be default: asking women and girls what they need/want, for instance, and providing gender-segregated restrooms in shelters so women feel safe going there.

The article made me wonder if the same dynamic was present in, say, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the US.

Surprise, it was. According to this piece, the recovery period showed that rates of violence against women quadrupled in the wake of the hurricane, and due to women’s mobility being limited by childbirth, responsibility for children and elderly relatives, and by making up a higher proportion of the elderly themselves, women are significantly more vulnerable during disaster in the US as well. I also found reviews of this book, told by the women who survived the hurricane themselves and highlighting gendered components of their experiences.

So, it seems that in multiple locations around the world, natural disasters, far from making us all equal, exacerbate existing inequalities. I wish I could be surprise.

Posted in General | 1 Comment

Quick hit: Malala Yousafzai aced high school, naturally

Malala Yousafzai survived a gunshot to the head from the Taliban in retribution for her passionate activism about education for girls starting when she was just eleven. She started a nonprofit to promote and enable education for girls, including those threatened by the Taliban in her native Pakistan. She won a Nobel Prize at age 16. She’s spoken to the UN. She’s traveled the globe to speak with world leaders. She’s also declined to speak with world leaders when it would conflict with her high school class schedule, which is why her grades are better than yours.

Even after winning a Nobel peace prize, with glittering invitations to speak to presidents across the world, education activist Malala Yousafzai always had one priority: her schoolwork.

And the Pakistani pupil’s dedication to her studies has paid off, according to her father Ziauddin Yousafzai, who tweeted that the 18-year-old had achieved six A*s and four As when the GCSE results were released on Thursday.

With her grades, and probably a few letters of recommendation and good extracurricular activities, she’s likely to get into Oxford — her first-choice school — with little difficulty. From there, she’s likely to continue to inspire millions, lead positive change, promote full education for girls, build schools in war zones and refugee areas — you know, same old same old — and I suppose maybe learn to row, since I hear that’s a big thing there.

She plans to remain in the UK for the remainder of her education. “I want to get my education — a good university education. A lot of the politicians have studied in Oxford, like Benazir [Bhutto, who Malala states is her role model]. My dream is to empower myself with education, and then it is a weapon.”

(In all seriousness, this is both awesome and not at all surprising, so congratulations and wow and best of all things to her.)

(Oh, also, she has a movie coming out in October, He Named Me Malala, so that’s another thing that she’s done while still getting top grades.)

Of course, this raises a question: Did Ziauddin Yousafzai first look at her grades and say, “Six A’s? Why aren’t they all A*?” and then pretend he was kidding before she could start crying? Because I’m pretty sure all dads are required to do that.

Posted in Education, Religion, Terrorism | Tagged , | Comments Off on Quick hit: Malala Yousafzai aced high school, naturally

Quick hit: Duke freshman refuse to, can’t wait to read Fun Home

On the one hand: Several Duke University students have publicly announced their unwillingness to do the suggested freshman summer reading. They refused to read Fun Home, Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir about her experiences with her father and her relationship with her sexual identity, because it offends their Christian values. Freshman Brian Grasso took issue with the “graphic visual depictions of sexuality” and said that “[he] would have to compromise [his] personal Christian moral beliefs to read it.” Others said that while they might have been willing to read it in plain print, the graphic format was unacceptable, with one saying it would “violate [his] conscience due to its pornographic nature.” Some students found it offensive that the book was included on the reading list at all.

Although the book selection has prompted valuable discussions for some first ­years, others said it changed their perception of Duke.

“I thought to myself, ‘What kind of school am I going to?'” said freshman Elizabeth Snyder-­Mounts.

Grasso noted that he felt the book choice was insensitive to people with more conservative beliefs.

“Duke did not seem to have people like me in mind,” he said. “It was like Duke didn’t know we existed, which surprises me.”

On the other hand: Other students, not locked into a fearful, fundamentalist view of the world around them, are excited to read Fun Home and gratified to see it on the reading list. For some, the book and subsequent discussions have been their first exposure to the lives, experiences, and identities of LGBT people. For others, just the fact that Duke included the book on the freshman reading list, and invited Bechdel to speak on campus, is a gratifying sign that they might feel accepted on a welcoming campus.

Zephyr Farah, a first year student who attended the Bechdel lunch on August 20, described to us the “surreal” feeling she experienced when finding out “a book that talked so frequently and so deeply about being a lesbian was assigned [as] summer reading for school.” Farah grew up in places as far apart as Qatar, Angola and Texas, and was shocked at the openness she found when she got to campus, based on discussions of Fun Home. Marveling over the moment when she had the chance to shake Bechdel’s hand, Farah remarks, “It wasn’t the basketball, the school spirit, or the enormous Brodie Gym that excited me about Duke; it was the acceptance, the advocacy and the willingness here to treat people as people. Fun Home is a symbol of that for me.”


It is unfortunate that the Duke Chronicle did not reach out to some of these students, LGBTQ or not, who have engaged so thoughtfully with Bechdel’s work. For example, Duke student Jasmine Lu told us that she was glad that Fun Home was selected as recommended reading because she had “never familiarized [herself] with the very common identity crisis that lesbian women go through.” She points out that while she appreciates the book for how it opened her mind to thinking about the difficulties that face LGBTQ people in coming to terms with their identities, what she got most out of the book was a meditation on how Bechdel’s relationship with her father had shaped her life. Lu wrote to us, “It was [Bechdel’s] revelation to us on how much of a mystery her father was even after all the facts of his life came out that really resonated with me as I’m sure it could with almost anyone. [… S]o while I respect the others’ choices to not read the book, I’m also sad that it wasn’t able to touch them as it had touched me.”

tl:dr: Some Christian students at Duke believe that anything depicting sexuality in a visual format is by definition biblically condemned wank fodder and are offended that their summer reading list was not crafted around their delicate sensibilities; other students acknowledge that college will likely be full of challenging ideas and that sometimes the things that offend them are the ones they most need to understand, and embrace the opportunity to learn something.

Bonus Bechdel: Unrelated to Christian sensibilities or Duke’s reading list, Bechdel has said that while the test that bears her name did appear first in her comic strip, the actual standard was created by her friend Liz Wallace and should really be called the Bechdel­-Wallace test. Adjust future movie analyses accordingly.

Posted in Education, GLBTQ, Literature, Religion | Tagged | 24 Comments

Women’s suffrage (on paper)

On this day in history, 95 years ago, Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed a proclamation amending the U.S. Constitution to guarantee a woman’s right to vote — after a fashion — with the signing of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Said Alice Paul, of the National American Woman Suffrage Association,

August 26 will be remembered as one of the great days in the history of the women of the world and in the history of this republic. All women must feel a great sense of triumph and of unmeasurable relief at the successful conclusion of a long and exhausting struggle. The suffrage amendment is now safe beyond all reasonable expectation of legal attack. This opinion was secured from high legal authorities by officers of the National Woman’s Party who devoted their efforts after the signing of the ratification proclamation to discover what further steps, if any, would be necessary to protect the amendment. Pending injunction cases were automatically thrown out of court by the signing of the proclamation according to the consensus of legal opinion.

And it was a momentous day, and we should celebrate it. So… let’s do that.

But let’s also not forget that Paul’s statement that “all women must feel a great sense of triumph” wasn’t necessarily accurate, and that many of the women who fought for women’s suffrage wouldn’t be able to enjoy it themselves for another four decades. In much of the country, black women had been excluded from the women’s suffrage movement. Many Southern suffragists felt that women’s suffrage should only be extended to white women, and celebrated feminists including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were explicitly willing to throw black women under the bus in the interest of gaining equality for white women. At Paul’s Woman Suffrage Parade of 1913, black women were welcome to stand in favor of women’s suffrage but were expected to do so from their segregated position all the way at the back of the parade. Between political actions by states and personal actions within communities, black women remained disenfranchised in a way that wasn’t addressed in any substantive, legally enforceable way until the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965 — for which they had to much of the fighting themselves.

So yes, the passage of the 19th Amendment was an important and historical day, and it was a long time coming. But as we acknowledge that, we can’t let ourselves fall into the handy rhetorical trap of saying that the 19th Amendment guaranteed the right to vote for all women, because that just isn’t accurate. At best, women’s suffrage was passed without respect for black women, and at worst, it was passed on the backs of black women. The image of Ida B. Wells at the parade in 1913, forced to stand at the back but working her way through a crowd of thousands to march among the white women of her state’s delegation, is sadly representative of the fight for all women’s suffrage, and we need to remember that.

Posted in History, Law, Politics, Race & Ethnicity, Racism | Tagged , | 5 Comments