Friday, May 29, 2009

The Video Shell Doesn't Want You to See

In an article published on The Huffington Post, Han Shan writes that Royal Dutch Shell (Shell Gasoline) has done everything possible to stop a trial regarding the company’s role in human rights abuses committed in Nigeria. The lawsuit against Shell indicates that the company collaborated with the Nigerian Military to commit serious and sometimes fatal human rights abuses against Nigerian citizens.

The history of these abuses dates back thirteen years. In the Niger Delta Region Ogoni, Shell Corporation, along with the Nigerian military, allegedly conspired to bring about the conviction and execution of Ogoni leader Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight of his colleagues. This raises the question: why is Shell so intimately involved with Nigerian politics and the Nigerian military? Essentially, the plaintiff in this lawsuit contends that the company acted to protect its profits, as local people were protesting and demanding an end to the pollution and harm that Shell and the Nigerian military were causing the region.

The trial was supposed to begin in the United States on May 27, 2009. However, there was a last minute announcement that postponed the trial, though proceedings are expected to commence in early June. Nevertheless, Shell seems to be doing everything in its power to disrupt this case.

Shell filed a motion to stop human rights attorney Paul Hoffman from serving as trial counsel for the plaintiffs. According to Shan, “As standard procedure for a trial of this kind, Hoffman had filed a "pro hac vice" application with the court. The Latin pro hac vice is a legal term meaning "for this occasion," and refers to the lawyer being granted permission to serve in a state where he or she may not hold a law license. In this case, California-based Hoffman was filing to represent the plaintiffs in federal court in New York.” The courts denied Shell’s motion; however, they ruled against the plaintiffs concerning a video appearing on

This video, produced by Rikshaw films, airs Shell’s dirty laundry, portraying the corporation as capitalist murderers who made numerous deals with the Nigerian military resulting in the slaughter of many innocent people. The film suggests that many of the civilians who died wanted only to protect their land and stop the corporation from taking over.

So my question is: why is Shell working so hard to avoid going to trial over these accusations? I received my answer by watching the video that explains the situation on YouTube. Watch the video, and then you be the judge.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Will Sports ever be an Equal Arena for Women?

Fox Sports has created a list describing, in their opinion, the best ten female athletes throughout time. These are female athletes who “prove they can hang with the boys.” I don’t necessarily appreciate that this label indicates that female athletes are a secondary addition to the primary category of the male athlete. Are not all athletes powerful regardless of their sex? When are women going to be treated as athletes for being athletes rather than for being female?

This also brings up the practice of testing women to ensure they are “true” women. Men are certainly not tested to ensure they are “true” men. It is an assumption that they are seen and perceived as men simply by performing up to the standards of a male athlete.

When will it be possible for women and men to be measured under the same EXACT athletic standards? What needs to be done? Until this is achieved, it will be impossible for women to operate to their full potential as athletes without a questioning of their sexual orientation, “true womanhood,” or athletic ability.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Targeting Sarah Haskins (With Admiration!)

Oh, Sarah Haskins, you never fail to make me laugh. Your smart and humorous looks at consumerism's attempts to market products to women are endlessly entertaining. You always say what I wish I had thought of saying, and better than I could have ever said it. And to think, I have the privilege of sharing your first name! And your refined sense of potty humour rivals my own, you Harvard grad, you.

You relentlessly challenge marketing execs’ idea of the “perfect woman”. You fearlessly battle the stereotypes perpetuated by commercials selling cleaning products and dinner foods to the females of the house(s). You show me that I don’t have to fit into the “Supermom” mold when I grow up, and contend that I’m not a fool to expect an egalitarian household!

Thank you for being the voice of the disenchanted. Thank you for entertaining me, as well as inspiring me to closely examine marketing and advertising campaigns.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Bristol Palin: The new face of Abstinence Education

In the article, “Why Bristol Palin Really is the Perfect Ambassador for Abstinence Education, ( it discusses how on May 7, 2009, the former candidate for Vice President’s (Sarah Palin) daughter, Bristol Palin was announced as a new NATIONAL (yes put emphasis on that) ambassador for teenage abstinence. When I first read this, I thought how in the world did that happened! How did Bristol Palin, the 17 year old girl who got pregnant and just recently had a son, become the spokesperson for abstinence education!
Seeing how she was educated in a school system that taught abstinence education and still managed to get knocked up, she is a clear example of how abstinence education does NOT work! On February 18th of this year, Bristol told FOX news that abstinence was "not realistic." So go figure to the people that allowed her to step in this position of being an advocate for abstinence.
Another reason why I do not think that Bristol would make a good ambassador for abstinence is because I do not think Bristol has a clue of what it is truly like to be a “single mother”. It is true that she had this baby out of wedlock, but Bristol has not experienced any downside of having this child. Her mother, Sarah Palin has even gone on to say that the child was a welcomed member of the family. Maybe I am crazy, but I am wondering what advice is Bristol going to share with the girls she tries to advise not to get pregnant. I imagine her talking to the girls she encounters like this: “Yes I had a baby out of wedlock, yes my family supported my decision to have a child at 17, but don’t have sex because it isn’t right!” How is that going to be effective at all? I do not think Bristol’s life draws an accurate picture of what it is like to be a teenage mother and for her to even be considered an ambassador for abstinence education is just another publicity stunt gone wrong for her family.
Abstinence in theory is a great idea, but when you live in a world full of sex and the rates of teenagers becoming parents is at a steady incline, I think it is fair to say that it just doesn’t work. Instead of telling these teen not to have sex, I think it is time for everyone to deal with the reality that teens are having sex and getting pregnant, and teach teen how to protect themselves, not only from pregnancy but from all of the STD’s that are out there as well.
So, the moral of the story is that in my opinion, Bristol being selected as the ambassador for abstinence is perfect, because she is proof that abstinence doesn’t work.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Filling the Gap: Teenagers Seek Out Own Sex Education

Earlier this month, The New York Times published an article outlining a multitude of state-funded organizations that specialize in anonymously answering sexually related inquiry texts posed by curious and otherwise uniformed teenagers. This is one of the newest attempts to reach young persons who are self-seeking sexual education. The participating organizations ensure that a “competent,” educated adult provides an unbiased, medically sound response to sex questions posited by inquiring teenagers.

These questions range from the basic (“If you take a shower before you have sex, are you less likely to get pregnant?”) to the more alarming (“If I was raped when I was little and just had sex, was it technically my first time when I was raped or when I recently had sex?”). Answers must fit the following guidelines: “No medical advice — urge questioners to speak with a doctor. Do not advocate abortion.”

While some see this as a means for educating America’s youth about activities in which they may already be participating, others view such actions as contradictory to the abstinence-only education policies upheld by many states. Many of the anonymous texters who answer those posed questions are continually alarmed by the indoctrinated ignorance. One respondent admits that “Girls and boys alike ask about anal intercourse: Will it prevent pregnancy? Let a girl remain a virgin?”

Though there is much controversy regarding the validity of this service, I feel that until all states offer comprehensive sex education and/or parents take a more active role in educating their children, it will be necessary for young people to fill in the remaining gaps. The development of sexuality can take a lifetime of questioning and exploration, and a texting service that provides unbiased answers to some of the questions plaguing today’s youth is but one means for allowing a healthy maturing experience.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Freedom of Choice, Freedom of Voice - How "Purity Balls" Inhibit Both

When reading this article, which is an excerpt from Jessica Valenti’s book The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity Is Hurting Young Women, I was baffled by the mention of a recent phenomenon called “purity balls”. Started by a Christian pastor and his wife, Randy and Lisa Wilson in 1998, they have since become quite popular, with 1,400 purity balls held in 2006. These ceremonies integrate the notion/promise that “True Love Waits” with Daddy-Daughter Dances.

The purity ball is a formal affair. The fathers pledge to protect their daughters’ purity, and, in turn, promise to be men of integrity. The daughters, however, make no verbal commitment; they sign the pledges, and lay down a white rose as a symbol of their commitment.

I am bothered by the fact that the young women don’t verbally pledge their dedication to chastity at the purity ball. It reeks of a “women should be seen, not heard” mentality.

Jennifer Baumgardner attended one of these purity balls and wrote an article entitled “Would You Pledge Your Virginity to Your Father?”. She says of the young women who participate: “These are girls who may never find out what it means to make decisions without a man involved, to stand up for themselves, to own their own sexuality”. Part of growing up and becoming an adult is exploring one’s identity, and part of exploring one’s identity is developing and defining one’s sexuality. If your father signs a purity pledge which can only be “broken” by your husband, where is there room to create and shape your own sexual identity?

Choosing to wait until marriage to have sex is a fine choice, if it is indeed based in an individual woman’s choice. Young women should be given room to make those decisions themselves, and be free to form their own sexual identities. Fathers should not strip young women of their voices and agency as they develop their sexual identities.


Monday, May 18, 2009

When the Government and the Porn Industry Collide

This week, as I was pursuing AlterNet, I found and interesting article on the porn industry bail out (click here to read the article).

In this harsh economic time, it is no surprise that the porn industry is suffering just like everyone else. I do not feel that the porn industry will ever get a "bail out," and, frankly, I don’t think it should get one. If there was some form of federal funding that was devoted to the porn industry, I think it could be a great opportunity to re-vamp certain aspects of the industry, such as initiating the proposed condom usage bill (as noted in the article). Nevertheless, I think it would be impossible to federally fund porn with satisfactory results. For example, funding film that promotes violence against women is absurd; yet, on the flip side, regulating what can be portrayed would restrict personal freedoms.

I am all for freedom of speech and freedom to express yourself, but the porn industry, in my opinion, does a little too much expression of the degradation women. I am not opposed to porn in general. I am opposed to the material that is produced by the mainstream porn industry. Next semester (Fall ’09), the Women’s Resource Center is holding a screening of The Price of Pleasure (click to see the preview); be sure to join us for a lively and engaging discussion.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

An End to Abstinence-Only Sex Education?

Gwyneth Doland blogs about Obama’s 2010 budget that aims to replace abstinence-only education with comprehensive, ‘evidence-based’ sex education. Supporters of this measure argue that abstinence-only education is ineffective and unfounded. Contrastingly, those against such budget alterations assert that this won’t put an end to abstinence-only education since it is funded with more than federal money, but also that abstinence-only education teaches children to avoid morally compromising situations.

Though there are many ways to approach sex education, I believe that the conversation should revolve around education and the valuing of accurate information. How effective is abstinence-only information? What is the role of religion and morality in determining America’s sex education agenda, and is this an appropriate means for communicating effective and accurate information?

In a report released by the Associated Press (MSNBC), studies show that in most cases, a lack of ‘evidence based’ sex education leads to higher rates of unplanned teenage pregnancy and spread of STDs/STIs. It is further stated that “U.S. teen birth rates are higher than in comparable industrialized countries, which may be partly due to greater access to contraception in some countries, the report said.” This same article also discussed the ways in which inaccurate information regarding contraceptives increases the likelihood that individuals will not practice safe sex (e.g. using condoms, etc).

Only time will determine if Obama’s federally regulated switch from abstinence-only to comprehensive sex education will make a difference in the overall pregnancy rates and health of America’s youth. It is, however, important to consider that dispensing accurate, evidence-based information is an important step in educating American youth about sex.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Makin’ Vaginas Look Pretty

Before continuing read this.

I originally wanted to start this post by examining the relationship between vaginal rejuvenation and female genital mutilation (FGM), but the article: In Search of the "Perfect" Vagina: Women Spend and (Spread) to Achieve Porn Ideal, did that briefly near the end. So I have attached a link to the World Health Organization’s website so that you can read more on FGM. That said, I feel that vaginal rejuvenation is essentially a westernized version of FGM. The quote by Dr. Tiefer makes this relationship between vaginal rejuvenation and FGM eerily clear: "I do not condone doctors having free reign to advertise labiaplasty without scientific evidence of its benefits and lack of long-term harm. Nor do I condone doctors having before-and-after photos on their websites because of the lack of popularly-available information about the range of normal labia (Zylbergold)." Vaginal rejuvenation a relatively new procedure with little to no research having been done of its effects, so allowing it to be performed is comparable to allowing FGM, which also has had little to no research. Both FGM and vaginal rejuvenation have similar causes: “social pressure to conform to what others do,” (WHO).

Neither procedure has any tangible “health benefits.”For the many proponents of vaginal rejuvenation who claim that there are mental health benefits (i.e. the surgery makes them feel better about their body) to the surgery, the same argument has been applied to FGM. Additionally, there would be no need to repair any mental distress about how our vaginas look without social constructions of what a vagina is supposed to look like to begin with.
If one played the devil’s advocate for FGM, he/she could even argue that maybe if it was more widely accepted, modern medical resources could be devoted to the procedure and it would become a safer practice. This would eliminate many of the health risks associated with it (i.e. infection).

I think that after comparing the two it really makes western imperialism visible. I do not understand how we are able to justify vaginal rejuvenation while we work to stop FGM in other countries. I think that westerners like to claim that they know what is best for others while not looking critically at our own customs.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Friday Afternoon Fun at the WRC!!

We found this little cutie in our garden today. It was a one-way ticket to Adorable Town.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Tales of Gym Classes Past

I’m a fan of British English. I think “behaviour” looks much more sophisticated than “behavior”. And you don’t have to have a sense of “humour” to appreciate that I feel like more of an adult putting my “trainers” on to go to the gym than slipping on some “tennis shoes”. I’m not much of a tennis player; my brief experience with it occurred during gym class my junior year of high school. The only memorable thing about the sport for me was my disgust at the behaviour of the gym teacher at the end of a game between a learning disabled boy and his unenthusiastic opponent. The teacher asked the former what the score of the game had been, and received an answer of “I don’t know”. The teacher brashly replied, “You don’t know? So YOU LOSE”. Unfortunately, I was too timid at the time to speak out, which I regret.
But I wasn’t always silent in gym class. Before a trip to the weight room, my senior year gym teacher warned us that if he caught us being lazy, we would make up for it with extensive laps around the track during our next class. My friend and I headed to the elliptical machines and began our usual barmy dialogue. During the course of the gym class, a large group of blokes had gathered around their mate to watch him lift some heavy weights. It was a right testosterone fest, and the odours of masculine efforts filled the room. One of the girls on an elliptical machine next to us dismounted and sat on a mat on the floor, as the blokes cheered for their strongman mascot. The girl sat and rested for a moment, and stretched. The gym teacher must have thought she was being lazy, and told her to get back to work. I yelled across the weight room, “Oh? So you can only stand around if you have a penis??!”. The gym teacher sheepishly glanced at me, and hurried over to tell the strongman spectators to disperse. It bothered me that the gym teacher had overlooked the group of boys standing around for several minutes, and had singled out the girl who had rested for a moment. I can only hope that my outburst really made him think about the double standards of the weight room.
I didn’t hold the incident against the gym teacher, though. He was, on every other occasion, fair and reasonable and appreciated effort more than athletic prowess. He was my favourite- he once borrowed my remote-controlled fart machine and hid it under a sweatshirt to startle his pupils as they ran laps around the football field. I have an (unfortunate) appreciation for toilet humour, so I forgave him the weight room episode.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Men Still Know What is Best for Women

After seeing the clip above on, I was in a state of disbelief… I actually thought that it just might be a SNL spoof; unfortunately, this is a real preview for a real show. So, now that the validity of the commercial is established, let’s look at everything that is wrong with this commercial, and I must say there is A LOT.

First of all, what is with the creeper? The beginning starts off more like an ad for how to be a stalker- “I watch their every move… I dig through their lives.” I don’t care if this is for a show or not. The woman clearly is not consenting to this invasion of privacy because in the commercial she is oblivious to his presence. This commercial perpetuates the idea that stalking is not a crime and not so bad. In reality stalking is a serious issue.

The end is what really is amazing. The husband and the stalker (who is apparently some weight loss expert—which, mind you, is never stated) confront the woman when she walks in the door carrying food. There are so many things wrong with this, where do I start? -There are two MEN who are confronting this woman who is presumed to be overweight because of some deep-rooted personal issue…

First, this is outrageously sexist, that a husband, or partner, would apparently seek out some outside intervention to stalk their significant other to essentially say- “you are no longer good enough as you are… so we have decided to take control of your life. Because you clearly don’t have the right to own your body, and we know what is best for you because we are the so called experts.” Throughout the commercial the woman has no voice and is never given any power of decision over her body.

Second, this is reinforces the belief that women who are overweight all have some secret past that is causing poor eating habits. America is the known for having the highest obesity rate, but this couldn’t be because of fast food restaurants and lack of healthy eating education. No no no, it’s because we are all mentally unstable women.

So, if we didn’t have enough media shaping our perceptions of what women should look like from ads and TV in general, now we have that extra push that shoves us over the edge. This show essentially shouts, “Well, women, we have tried- all the skinny models and faultless actresses were not enough and frankly we are just not impressed with your lack of self-esteem, clearly, it should be a lot lower so that you can try and fill an impossible ideal. So, we’re here to save your life even though you never asked for it to be saved.” This commercial is absolutely outrageous. Women do not need men controlling their bodies or their eating habits. We certainly don’t need to be told that we are overweight because we have some unresolved mental issue. For all we know this woman could have just had a baby. This show is the embodiment of everything that is wrong with patriarchal media and we shouldn’t permit men or the media to define women’s beauty.

Really what is overweight? Why does there have to be a mental reason that we are heavier? Why do we all need to be skinny? Why do we need men to tell us that we have a “problem?”