Monday, November 30, 2009

Keeping the Option Part of the Public Health Care Option

The big issue in Washington right now is health care and the public option. Whether or not you are someone who currently has health care, the debate over the public option may or may not have been something you have been following. Unfortunately, the reality is that we should ALL be following the new proposal for health care and the impact it can have for abortion services. The bill would not mandate insurance companies to cover abortion services and could impact current abortion policies. This article from the New York Times gives our generation insight into previous movements to ensure abortion access for everyone.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Next Best Thing... (kind of)

So, once again, I have forgotten to bring my NWSA material. Thus, I figured I should write on the next best thing: Lady Gaga.

Ok, ok, I know that she is not the next best thing… but, considering her rising popularity and openness about being a supporter of the LGBT community, I was interested to find out what her stance is on feminism.

Now, I never thought that Lady Gaga would be a shining example of deep insight on issues of gender equality, but a girl can hope. In fact, Gaga has frequently discussed female empowerment, stating that she is "sexually empowering women" through her music. Yet, in the interview below, it is apparent that Gaga is yet another victim of a distorted view of feminism.

The truly sad part about this interview is that there seems to be a glimpse of hope when she touches on the topic of gendered double standards:

"You see, if I was a guy, and I was sitting her with a cigarette in my hand, grabbing my crotch and talking about how I make music 'cause I love fast cars and fucking girls, you'd call me a rock star. But when I do it in my music and in my videos, because I'm a female, because I make pop music, you're judgmental, and you say that it is distracting. I'm just a rock star."

But with the next question - Are you a feminist? Voids all hope, as she states,
"I'm not a feminist - I, I hail men, I love men. I celebrate American male culture, and beer, and bars and muscle cars..."

Furthermore, in a separate interview she was quoted saying, ''There's a stigma around feminism that's a little bit man-hating. And I don't promote hatred, ever."

Clearly there is a cognitive dissidence between her views and how she labels herself; she seems to feed into the misconceptions regarding feminism. After all, there is no feminist rule book that states that in order to own the feminist label, one must hate men, beer, bars, and muscle cars. Additionally, feminism is predicated on the belief in stopping all forms hatred and inequalities. Feminism is about ending various forms of oppression (including homophobic forms of repression) and promoting political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. One term that is easy to equate feminism to is humanitarianism, which by definition is "a person promoting human welfare and social reform." Ultimately, that is what feminism is all about, just with a greater emphasis on how gender affects a person’s ability to attain the broad goal of "human welfare."

So, even if Lady Gaga has a skewed view of feminism, I know what it TRULY means to be a feminist, and I OWN the label. Unfortunately, it is people like Gaga that perpetuate myths about feminism and reinforce stigmas. Hopefully, others question and critique her statements, and promote the correct definition of what it means to be a feminist.

Woman = Pre-Existing Condition

By Tabi Cooper, WRC volunteer

Health insurance companies are notorious for denying coverage due to “pre-existing” conditions, which can include diagnoses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disease and attention-deficit disorder. According to A Woman is Not a Pre-Existing Condition, it seems that we can also add women to this list. Females pay higher premiums and can be denied coverage based upon sex, because some health insurance companies view the female sex as a “pre-existing” condition.

Women who buy health coverage directly from insurance companies face unfair and discriminatory practices. This includes using gender to set health insurance rates, causing women to pay more than men for the same coverage. Further, it is legal for women to be denied coverage for being a domestic violence survivor in eight states and D.C. Many health insurance companies may even refuse to pay for future Caesarean sections or totally deny coverage because a woman has had a Caesarean section.

For many women, a high percentage of doctor’s visits revolve around reproductive health, whether for an annual gynecological exam, getting birth control, or even prenatal care. Strangely, many insurance companies do not view pregnancy as a medical condition; yet, they will often pay for Viagra, because erectile dysfunction is considered a medical condition.

In short, this is the message that insurance companies need to know: Being a woman is not a pre-existing condition. For more information, check out this article on

Friday, November 20, 2009

Bedpan Commando

I do not normally make it a point to watch the History Channel, but their new series WWII in HD is truly amazing. The History Channel has gone to great lengths to find unbelievable footage and awe inspiring survivors to tell the stories of those who bravely fought in WWII. While most of the narrations come from men, one woman from Wautoma, Wisconsin was included. June Wandrey was a First Lieutenant in the Army Nursing Corps and fought in the war for three years. She was described in her bio as “a fun-loving young woman with a fierce sense of independence that is decades ahead of her time.” Upon the U.S. entering WWII, June was among some 70,000 women who enlisted to help fight the Nazi’s and care for the sick and dying. As a nurse she saw the most horrific side of war and was often the last person to speak to so many fathers, sons, husbands and lovers. Her struggle to preserve her sense of self was challenged by all the brutalities of war and seems to be an experience that she is still trying to overcome.

June’s story is one that is not often told. Women’s roles during WWII have mostly been confined to “Rosie the Riveter”, and while that proved to be the jumping off point for women in the work place, June’s story of total emersion in the war deserves just as much attention and contemplation. If you are interested in reading June’s entire story check out her book Bedpan Commando: The Story of a Combat Nurse During World War II and go to to for more details on the WWII in HD project.

NWSA Conference

As Lettie previously mentioned, Kate, Jill, Lettie and myself spent last weekend at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference in Atlanta. The whole conference was a great experience, particularly for me as it was my first NWSA conference. I loved seeing Angela Davis speak, and I got to attend so many wonderful sessions. Here is a brief rundown of some of the sessions I attended.

Ohio Women’s Centers’ Statement of Philosphy
The women’s centers in Ohio have actually created a joint mission statement which reads,
“Women’s centers reflect the unique needs of their institutions and communities, yet share a commitment to historically underserved individuals and groups. Additionally, women’s centers play a leadership role in understanding the changing workplace and preparing members of the University community to engage successfully with an increasingly complex world. Women’s centers are integral to transforming institutions into inclusive environments; through community-building, advocacy, education, support, and research, they encourage the full participation and success of women.”
This session was wonderful as it asked questions such as, “If women’s centers went away tomorrow, what would be lost?” and many others.

Project Red Flag Campaign
Project Red Flag is an initiative sponsored by the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance which is directed at helping college students recognize relationship “red flags.” They discussed how they went about starting the program and what is done with it now.
For more information on the Project Red Flag Campaign please visit the website

How Can Women's Centers and Women's Studies be a Resource for Survivors of Human Trafficking
This was one of my favorite sessions. It covered what human trafficking actually is, how to determine if it is occurring and how to identify a victim of human trafficking. The next portion of the session discussed how to create a response plan for dealing with human trafficking on your campus.
For more information on human trafficking and respond to human trafficking visit the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s website http://

In the interest of keeping this readable I will break this down, look forward to hearing more about the different sessions that I attended the next time I blog!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

This MUST be a Joke…Right?

Last night as I was doing what I do best when I have a monumental research paper due the next day (i.e. procrastinating), I came across a day old episode [originally aired on Monday, November 16, 2009] of “The Colbert Report” that caught my attention in more than one way. Like any American, I have a crush on Stephen Colbert’s witty humor and straight face. So, it was nothing out of the ordinary when I responded with an outburst of slightly confused, half gasping-for-air laughter to his coverage of a seemingly asinine topic: The Washington, D.C. Archdiocese offered the ultimatum that if the proposed same-sex marriage law isn’t changed, they will no longer “be able” to provide social services, including homeless shelters (serve approximately ONE THIRD of homeless population of D.C.), adoption, and healthcare. More of the specifics are covered in this article.

Colbert’s snarky, pseudo biblical text response was “after all, Jesus said: If you wish to be perfect, sell your possessions and give the money to the poor...unless a couple of dudes register at the Pottery Barn, in which case, f*ck the poor.” I was caught off guard but was nevertheless in disbelief. Even now, I can’t really process it. While I recognize this is but one Archdiocese and it’s not an official message issued by the Pope, I can’t help but be alarmed by the seemingly childish antics. Democratic due process is there for a reason, is it not? Shouldn’t the people of D.C. be able to vote without being “morally” coerced and bullied into a limited line of thinking? Maybe that’s just me. Then again….I keep thinking this is some cruel joke.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

My Dad is a Feminist, and I Dig It

I came across this article on Alternet, and it got me thinking about the rare, wondrous creature that is a male feminist and my own experiences with them.
I immediately called my father (he is retired, and therefore usually easily reachable). You see, my parents raised my sisters and me to be strong, independent people. My father never expected any less from us because we were female; he was always quick to inform us “When I was your age, I was (in Vietnam, living on my own, doing any number of actions he perceived applicable to the situation at hand)”. Therefore, I assumed he was a feminist, but wanted to make sure.
Me: Hi, Dad, I’m writing this thing for work, and I just have to ask you something. Are you a feminist?
Dad: Well, see, I don’t know about that. Doesn’t that mean that they [feminists] want more rights than men?
Me: No, actually, that isn’t true. A feminist is someone who believes that men and women are equal, and should have equal rights.
Dad: Well, if that’s what it means, then I guess I am a feminist. You can put that in your report.
Me: Great, thanks.
Dad: But, you know, the wording is off, they should change it to ‘femanist’, so it sounds more equal. [Guffaws]
Me: … Bye, Dad.

So, you see, feminism runs in my blood. And is frequently misunderstood (which isn’t breaking news, by any means). Imagine how our ranks could swell if people really understood what we’re all about!
Thank you, feminists male and female alike, wherever you are. You make this world a better place.
[Uh, the guy in the picture is totally not my dad, but my dad is an older gentleman, and owns some pipes.]

Monday, November 16, 2009

NWSA Conference

This past weekend was the National Women’s Studies Association’s annual conference in Atlanta, GA. Some members of the office staff were fortunate enough to attend, me included.

The conference was a feminist’s dream, with workshops ranging from eco-feminism to position papers on stem call research to feminist teaching practices. One of the highlights of the conference was keynote speaker Angela Davis! Davis spoke on issues such as exploring intersectionalities, the future of feminism, and politics.

This conference was a great opportunity to reinvigorate my feminist views and learn about what issues are at the forefront of the field. It is also a great place to network with like-minded people and have discussions about issues that are not commonly addressed. Hopefully in the next few weeks, I will be able to go into further detail about all the sessions that I was able to attend (I left all my notes at home; so, think of this as the teaser).

Friday, November 13, 2009

If Looks Could Kill...

Can’t walk out the door without your favorite lip gloss and a swipe of mascara? Do you know what’s hiding in those flirty pint hues? Recent studies have shown that many of the trusted cosmetics we use every day may contain harmful chemicals. Even products that claim to be organic may contain carcinogens or mutagens. Bring your fave beauty products and, together we’ll find out what you are really putting on your body and what beauty companies aren’t telling you.

Date: Wednesday, November 19

Time: 7:00

Location: Women’s Resource Center

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Newspaper Sex Columns: College-level Sex Education?

College newspaper sex columns remain a very unfamiliar concept here at NIU, and, according to an article published by, it’s no wonder. “’Sex is one of those red-flag subjects,’ especially on conservative or religious campuses, whether in the form of sex columns, explicit pictures or other writing about sex,” reports Alex DiBranco, in this article originally published by The Nation. Reflecting back on my first-hand experience with the intricacies of NIU’s student governmental response to sexual “political” issues, I can only nod my head in agreement with the previously mentioned assertion. A student organization surrounding reproductive rights was nearly unimaginable at NIU, let alone a sex column in a paper that is reluctant to take a progressive stance on issues related to women, gender, and sexuality.*

Operating under the assumption that sexual health education increases the likelihood that students will make informed and safe decisions, it is surprising that college newspaper sex columns are relatively uncommon. Heather Strack asserts, "A sex column is a significant statement of female rights. Not only am I a female columnist, but I am writing about a topic considered taboo and improper for a woman." While some sex columns do reinforce a heteronormative mentality, many more promote a healthy exploration of gender and sexuality. Furthermore, studies indicate that “sex columns influence the rest of the newspaper by ‘getting sex out of the closet.’ National and campus sex and sexuality issues, such as LGBT rights, gender identity, abortion, birth control, STIs and sexual assault, gain recognition as significant, acceptable topics.”

Examining the pages of the Northern Star, it is hard to imagine that a sex column, especially one that has potential to influence acceptance of related issues would be embraced, accepted, or plausible. Why not? Though I’ve certainly encountered a few seemingly more liberal, energetic journalists from the student paper, it would be very difficult to infiltrate an editorial board that appears to pride itself on conservative politics and reporting. Why not me? Despite my rough track record with the Northern Star, I can’t help but be inspired by the idea of an informed and educational sex column on campus. I’m no expert, but the article states that sex columns provide women with the ability to assert themselves against mainstream patriarchal sexual messaging which is so especially prevalent in popular publications such as Cosmopolitan and Glamour. “Isabel Murray, feminist columnist for the Free Press, takes Cosmopolitan to task for its heteronormative, male-pleasure-oriented approach, while pointing out that it and similar women's magazines are nonetheless the only non-campus media addressing female sexuality” reports If this genre of magazine is one of the only types of publicized means for men and women to obtain information about sex and what constitutes healthy sexual relations, it’s no surprise that the sexual double standard is alive and kicking.
Assuming that most NIU students have likely been exposed to inaccurate information provided by parents, peers, and abstinence-only education, it seems as though an informed and educational, college newspaper sex column could be the key to this perplexing paradigm of misinformation that continues to plague the nation.

* Jessica Valenti touches on the role of conservative religious aims, the myth of virginity, and its impacts on women in her book, “The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women”(Check it out!).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

World War for Women's Health

In many people’s minds, a stereotypical AIDS patient is homosexual or African. Now, we can add female to that list.

The World Health Organization has declared that “the AIDS virus is the leading cause of death and disease among women between the ages of 15 and 44”, according to this article.
Several risk factors include: unsafe sex practices, the inability for women to obtain contraceptives, and iron deficiency.

This information was released in a 91-page report by the World Health Organization yesterday in which they tried to illustrate the inequality women face in health care. For example, diseases that affect only females are given little attention, as women are viewed as second-class citizens in some countries.

The fight for reproductive rights and access to health care is still a battle for the women in the United States. Imagine the magnification of such a problem in countries where women have fewer rights and freedoms.

A co-worker of mine presented a program about feminism last week. She showed a video where people discussed their reasons for identifying as feminists. A quote from that video really struck me; one woman said “Being a feminist to me means I’m connected to every woman on the planet”.

Women around the world need access to information, health care, and contraceptives. We must wage a “World War” for the lives and well-being of women around the globe.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Perpetuating Gender Roles

Gender roles are reinforced everywhere we look; whether it is in the toys that are marketed to children, or the types of vodka we are told to drink. One place that we hope to be free from such gender reinforcement is from parents. Of course parents will perpetuate certain norms (e.g. dressing their children in gender appropriate clothing), but one would hope that parents would treat their children fairly and equally regardless of gender. But it appears that this is merely wishful thinking. Highlights magazine polled children asking how many performed household chores. The results revealed that significantly more girls than boys had chores. Thus, not only are parents abiding by conventional gender norms, but they are enforcing them in less overt ways than one might assume.

So, as a call to action, breaking down restrictive and oppressive gender roles start in the home, in the most basic ways. If we all adjust to how we interact with our children or children around us, we can influence how gender roles are embodied in future generations. Distributing chores fairly and allowing kids to be kids and play with whatever toy they please, rather than the toy associated with a particular gender, can inspire change.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Rihanna Speaks for the First Time

Rihanna is speaking out for the first time about her violent encounter with Chris Brown. Thursday morning a portion of her interview with Diane Sawyer aired on Good Morning America and the rest will be revealed in a special report on 20/20 tonight.

Shortly after pictures of Rihanna’s bruised and battered face surfaced, the country was quick to rush to her side and support her as a victim of domestic violence. But, when Rihanna decided to go back to Brown she was quickly turned on by many who had ignorantly concluded that she either wanted to be abused or deserved it by going back.

One source of unwavering support came from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence who noted that “[r]easons for staying in or returning to an abusive relationship are more complex than a statement about the victim’s strength of character. For most of us, the decision to end a relationship is one of the most difficult we will ever make. A battered woman’s emotional ties to her partner may still be strong, supporting her hope that the violence will end. Also, it is extremely common for battered women to return to their abuser multiple times before she leaves for good. Gaining strength, relinquishing hope, or letting go of someone we love is very hard and takes time even when violence is not present.”

I am happy to hear that Rihanna is taking steps toward becoming a survivor of an abusive relationship and I hope the interview tonight will provide a new prospective into dating violence and will not prove to be a publicity stunt calculated to generate interest in her new album. Also keep a look out for Glamour magazine’s Woman of the Year issue which has chosen this year to honor Rihanna.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

"Taboo" Provides Look at Body Modification

The other day I was flipping through the channels when I came across a show called Taboo on National Geographic. The show’s website provides this description of the show, “Taboo takes you on a journey beyond the comfort zones and cultural borders to explore rituals and customs that are acceptable in some cultures, but forbidden, illegal, or reviled in others. Understand seemingly bizarre and shocking practices from around the world.”

The particular episode that I watched was titled “Body Modification.” The show covered procedures and customs that people underwent in different cultures with the purpose of altering their bodies. First, it covered the long-necked women of the Kayan tribe in Thailand who wear brass rings around the neck, which, overtime, elongate the neck. The show also talks about the surgery which people undergo in China where the legs are broken and lengthened. Finally, the show covers the subculture of corset-wearers.

After watching this show, I was thoroughly disgusted. How could people do all this to change their bodies? Then I thought about the plastic surgery phenomenon in the US, and, as the show pointed out, the Western practice of attaching metal to teeth and twisting and moving them around (braces). Although I am not personally a proponent of plastic surgery (as many are), I have never thought of braces as something unnatural or wrong. So why do we normalize some types of body modification and cast off others? What makes one practice “ok” and the others wrong? Furthermore, why do we have such an obsession with changing our bodies?

I hope that this blog is thought-provoking and helps to open dialogue on the subject of body modification. Also, kudos to National Geographic and Taboo for bringing different cultures and topics to light in a way that many shows do not.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Marriage Name Changing: a Mandate or Choice?

After stumbling across an article published in August 2009 entitled “Should a Woman Change Her Name When She Marries? 70 Percent of Americans Think So” on, I couldn’t help but feel compelled to expand the search. As evidenced by the title, 70 percent of Americans think women should change their surname after getting married, with 50 percent feeling it should be mandated by law. Perhaps it is important to first examine the reasons as to why a woman might feel obligated or compelled to change her name. An article on Suite101 outlines potential reasons and the pros/cons of various name changing options:

“1) Woman Takes Her Husband’s Name: It’s the most socially acceptable option. It’s the easiest bureaucratic option. Naming the kids is easier. Family cohesion.

2) Women and Man Both Keep Their Names: Feminist concerns. Changing your name is a pain. Career concerns. Easier than hyphenating. Attachment to a name. If you get divorced, you don’t have to change your name back.

3) The Hyphenated Name: Compromise. Both partners can hyphenate. It’s not as hard as it used to be.

4) Woman Adds on Her Husband’s Last Name: Compromise. Easier than hyphenation. Honoring your family. Career concerns.

5) Woman Changes Name, Uses Maiden Name Professionally: Best of both worlds. Less confusion at work.

6) Couple Creates a New Name: Design your own name. Perhaps the least patriarchal option.

7) Man Takes the Woman’s Name: Nonconformity, but with the benefits of having just one name. Family cohesion. A way for a man to honor his wife.”

**YES, a MAN taking his wife’s name. It happens more than most people would think, as reported by USA Today.
“'Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought it would have caused as much of a stir as it did,' says Mike Salinger, 27, of Seattle, who was married in November. 'We knew people might be surprised, but we figured they'd say 'Huh' and get on with it…Three months later, I'm still taking (flak) from one of my college roommates.'"

The same article also discusses the idea perpetuated by some that a man who takes his wife’s name should “turn in his man card.” I can’t help but ponder the idea of a woman being told to “turn in her woman card” if she took her husband’s name. It would no doubt be cited as irrational and confusing. I recognize that a woman taking the man’s last name is dictated by certain religious texts, but considering that many other traditions have been tossed aside to accommodate the demands of society…why isn’t it more common for a woman to keep her name? Sure, feminism has certainly made it more acceptable, and, in certain instances, more expected (to be a truly liberated woman/feminist) for a woman to keep her name, but if female name changing still remains at the heart of what it means to be an American family, how can woman truly feel comfortable making a decision that isn’t given the same prestige and equality as the norm?
With all these options in mind, why is it that so many women elect to change their last name following marriage without first considering all alternatives? Not to mention, the hassle of changing information for credit cards, social security, insurance, and the like. There are many variables to consider when deciding whether to keep, change, or recreate one’s surname following marriage, as outlined by Alternet contributor, Jill Filipovic, in the previously mentioned article (READ IT!). An organization called Lucy Stone was originally created in the 1920s with the belief that “a person’s name is fundamental to her/his existence, and is therefore dedicated to: Equal rights for women and men to retain, modify and create their names and equality of patrilineal/matrilineal name distribution for children and equal actual frequency of name retention, modification, and creation between men and women at marriage and throughout life.” To many, these ideas and this notion may seem a bit radical and unnecessary, but to me they represent just another way in which feminism continues to ensure that women AND men are given the same opportunities to express themselves and relate to one another in bonds of equality.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Business of Cherry Popping (Round 2)

Hello all those in the blogosphere. I know you all probably missed me last week, because I was unable to get a blog out. BUT, not to worry, this week I have found something completely outrageous to blog about, and it definitely makes up for last week. So, prepare yourself…


Artificial Virginity Hymen. Oh yes, and you thought the only way to reclaim your virginity was through Christianity. I stumbled upon this new sex device (if you can call it that), in an article on Alternet. And, to be quite honest, when I began reading, I was already infuriated with the product. Here is the product description that the distributor, Gigimo, posted on its website:

"No more worry about losing your virginity. With this product, you can have your first night back anytime. Insert this artificial hymen into your vagina carefully. It will expand a little and make you feel tight. When your lover penetrate, it will ooze out a liquid that look like blood not too much but just the right amount. Add in a few moans and groans, you will pass through undetectable. Its easy to use, clinically proven non-toxic to human and has no side effects, no pain to use and no allergic reaction."

This Artificial Hymen reinforces all of the repressive standards about women’s sexuality. Jessica Valenti wrote a whole book about all of the misogyny that surrounds a woman’s virginity called The Purity Myth. Women have long-been sexually oppressed, and products such as this further reinforce the crappy idea that women are supposed to be "pure." There are so many things wrong with this product; I do not know where to begin. Between the vaginal rejuvenation craze and this artificial hymen, it seems that vaginas are never quite up to snuff. Taking a lesson from the Vagina Monologue play-book: for all the women out there worried about the state of their vagina, instead of being insecure, you should be angry about all the injustices being imposed on your vagina and others like it.

-End Rant 1-

As I stated, when I began reading, I was furious with the product. But, as noted in the Alternet article, there are some positives for this product. Although this product reinforces many senseless, archaic stereotypes about women’s sexuality, there are still places in the world where a woman’s virginity can be a matter of life or death. If this product is truly convincing, and its use might prevent a woman from being murdered over her virginity (which might I add there is no medical definition for virginity), then by all means it should be used. BUT, being realistic about who is using this product, it is likely not women in life and death situations. After all, the product is sold online for 30 U.S. dollars; therefore, it is not exactly easily accessible to the women who really need it.

-End Rant 2-

So, if my feelings are not exactly clear, I think this product is ridiculous, and it reinforces a restrictive view of women’s sexuality. However, there is potential for it to be used in extreme cases, like when a woman’s virginity is a matter of life and death (which I feel is an unlikely scenario).