Tuesday, June 30, 2009

American “Family Values”

Recently, I have been reading T.R. Reid’s The United States of Europe, a book on the European Union and European culture. I got to a chapter on the European Social Model, and I couldn’t help but blog about some of what I had read (don’t worry; this DOES have to do with the overall theme of the blog.)

In this chapter, European Family values are discussed. Many European governments support parents by providing them with benefits and payments following the birth of a child. As evidence, Reid quotes the EU minister for children and family affairs who stated, “We have decided that raising a child is real work. And that this work provides value for the whole society. Americans like to talk about family values. We have decided to do more than talk; we use our tax revenues to pay for family values” (152-53).

As a contrast to the European model, the American government is not nearly as empathetic to parents. From the lack of benefits, to limited or non-existent maternity/paternity leave, our government just doesn’t seem to support parenthood. Governmental ambivalence toward parenthood seems to have infiltrated general societal views on parenthood, often in the form of animosity. Reid notes that some US mothers receive a monthly check to help with the living expenses of a child (sounds a bit like the European model, no?). Yet, we (the general population) have dubbed those women as “welfare moms” (153). Why is it that we stigmatize parents that receive public support while Europeans publically and personally embrace social welfare programs that support children?

In America, parenthood just doesn’t seem to have the same ring to it, and many people today are opting out of children all together. What does this mean for the future of “family values” and politics? Will America ever catch up with the social welfare trend? Personally, I have no desire to be a parent - maybe the lack of empathy has gotten to me :) -, but I can honestly say that if I did want children, I would be moving to Europe before starting up a family.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

My Long and Winding Path to the WRC

The simplest way to summarize my trip down "Feminism Lane" begins with three words: sex, gender, and power. When I deemed it necessary to downsize to 12 credit hours my sophomore year at junior college, I was strongly considering dropping "Sex, Gender, and Power" over "Astronomy," because it didn’t fulfill my science requirement. "I think you would be making a huge mistake by dropping that class," my mom told me over the phone my first week into class. She must have known something I didn’t. In fact, I recently dug up a note she wrote me later that year, which expressed excitement over my new class selection that would, no doubt, "expand my mind."

"Sex, Gender, Power" was an incredible path of self-discovery, frustration, and revelation. Why was it possible for a husband to rape his wife? Why do marriage ceremonies still convey traditional notions of women as property? Furthermore, why had I never been taught about gender inequality in other places (i.e. high school, my parents, etc)? I was fortunate enough to have a magnificent teacher who made the entire experience a worthwhile venture that changed my outlook, my education (I FINALLY decided on my major after taking this sociologically-based class), and ultimately...my life.

My transfer to NIU only aided in increasing my desire to pursue classes, clubs, etc. which were related to equality, namely relating to women. I felt a Women's Studies minor would perfectly compliment my Sociology major, and, thus, began taking courses with relevant themes such as women in history, women in contemporary America, and the like. Though I wasn't always the most intelligent student in the class, I nevertheless enjoyed the dialogue and felt I had found my NIU niche. Despite the fact that I had participated in events with a few women-themed groups on campus, I wasn't exactly settled or committed. Eventually, however, I received an alert indicating that the Women's Resource Center was searching for volunteers. I jumped at the opportunity, which felt so strangely....right.

My first week as a volunteer at the WRC was a breath of fresh air, a revitalization if you will. My volunteer coordinator expressed the appreciation and welcome attitude I had been searching out for months. I was fortunate enough to be offered the position of student worker for the following semester, which I gladly accepted. I couldn't help but think of what my sister had told me after reading The Secret: if you want something bad enough, it will come to you. New age philosophy aside, I was thrilled beyond belief, and was more than excited to create and present my first educational outreach programs (FeminINK, Faith and Feminism). Each semester gets progressively better, but I can't help but wonder where I would be if my mom hadn't been a guiding light of encouragement. The WRC is family. The WRC has been a source of much needed support and education. The WRC has opened more doors than I can acknowledge. To name a few (I'm not typically a "bragger," but one must give credit where credit is due): an internship with Planned Parenthood, an invitation to speak at a Young Women's conference, the opportunity to re-present "Faith and Feminism" within the community, the appointment as a peer instructor, experience with the university hiring process, programming skills (creating, implementing, advertising, etc), and exposure to LOTS of fantastic people.

My learning process if far from over. Still, I remain grateful for my position at the WRC and for the passion of that one teacher who changed my life. I know everyone who has been affected be feminism has their own story and own path to discovery, but I can't help but share mine because it is a constant and bittersweet reminder of how far I've come and what I hope to one day become. Want to know what's so great about the WRC? Check out our website or stop in and see for yourself. Want to know what's so great about feminism? Check out some of the eye-opening reading materials from our ever-expanding lending library, as well as a more recent, personal favorite Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti.

If you ask my why I'm a feminist, I'll tell you. I do it for my mom, in hopes that I might acquire the knowledge I wish she had discovered and that she might be proud of my accomplishments and what I've become. I do it for all oppressed persons who need a voice, a chance at equality, and a reason to know they deserve such. I am a feminist because I enjoy the challenge, and because I value its ability to capture the interconnectedness of the struggles of women, LGBT persons, those in the racial "minority," and anyone and everyone in between. I claim the title of feminist because it is a little bit edgy, because it challenges you to think, and because it contains a lot of spunk...just like me. I am a feminist because "Sex, Gender, and Power" helped me find my "calling," and turned me on to a world of wonderful people who care enough to fight for equality some only dream of. I am a feminist because I hope to someday make a difference in someone else's life.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Yes, David Bowie, the Women’s Resource Center is making some ch-ch-ch-changes to our already-lovely space. During the 2008 fall semester, we got the chance to paint all of our upstairs rooms. We were extremely pleased with the results, and longed to “spread the awesome” to our downstairs rooms. We’ve gotten the go-ahead, and can’t wait to bathe our walls in delicious greens and/or blues and browns.
While we patiently await the arrival of paint samples, we’ve made a couple of pilgrimages to IKEA. We’ve got a great new couch and table which makes our front area much more home-y. And the addition of some comfortable and cute office chairs made me especially happy. The old rickety, squeaky red one we had been subjected to was the bane of my existence. We also got new bookcases, which we hope to fill with our 30th anniversary library donations.
People at the WRC have worked hard to make our space a welcoming one. We want people to feel comfortable here- not just at our (awesome, cutting-edge) programs, but whenever someone wants to just hang out.
Stay tuned for more updates on our aesthetic progress. Or, better yet, stop by and see it with your own eyes.

Photo: (Left to right) Jill, Alex and myself enjoy our new front area decor.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Bruno Stereotyping or Satire?

Sacha Baron Cohen's newest film Bruno is getting a lot of attention, and criticism and it hasn’t even been released yet. Cohen’s previous works include Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan and Da Ali G Show. Cohen is infamous for going “undercover” as a character and interviewing unsuspecting politicians.

Bruno is a film about an Austrian homosexual reporter. The film is meant to be a satire and expose homophobia in America. Bruno (the main character, played by Cohen) is portrayed as a flamboyant, gay male; critics claim that this portrayal enforces stereotypes and harms the gay community.

I have yet to see the film, but the trailers seem to give good insight to the overall tone of the film. Admittedly, Cohen’s character is over the top, but isn’t that the idea? After Borat premiered, there didn’t seem to be nearly this amount of outrage at Cohen for portraying a “stereotypical” foreigner. I think that whether or not the film is stereotyping or satirizing it can encourage discussions about stereotypes, allowing people constructively criticize, dissect, and pull some good from the film.

I am excited to see the film when it is finally released in early July because of all the controversy and varying opinions; I think that it will be great springboard for discussions about the way in which media depicts sexual orientation.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

That "time of the month" again? Consider this...

I’ve never been much of a "ranter," nor do I typically choose to affiliate with one company over the next. Still, I’m not afraid to admit that I am a huge fan of the menstrual cup or, more specifically, the Diva Cup. This must seem so stereotypically feminist…trying to love my body by using safer products, but I can’t help it. Diva Cup manufactures a great product that is female-friendly, environmentally savvy, and economically viable (approx. $30-$35 each). "It is latex-free, BPA-free, plastic-free, and contains no dyes, colors or additives," reports Luna Pads. What’s more, the Diva Cup can be worn for up to 12 hours and can hold approximately 10 pads or tampons worth of blood. One of the other nice perks is that is there is no string to hold back when you are relieving yourself. I could honestly go on and on about how great the Diva Cup is, but it might be more effective to refer to FAQs or testimonials. I’m not kidding, it is a mind-blowing product, and, believe it or not, I’m not even paid to speak well about the company! They are THAT wonderful. If you don’t trust the FDA of America, trust Canada. Diva Cup is the only menstrual cup they will market and sell.

Still, if you don’t like the idea of inserting something (not a tampon fan?), consider trying the equally environmentally friendly Luna Pad. They are "reusable" pads that can be purchased in mass quantity so you have multiple options for each day of your menstrual cycle. Sure, it might be a bit of an adjustment to use reusable pads; however, after they are presoaked, they can be thrown in the washer. Moreover, they are softer and come in a variety of aesthetically pleasing colors and patterns. They also make panty liners that nicely compliment the Diva Cup…fancy that. The Luna Pad website also provides lots of other interesting and fun products, such as (but not limited to) pStyle and postpartum liners. Luna Pad is a great company that has a mission of providing women with safer "alternatives" to typical sanitary products (I feel they should be primary and pads/tampons should be the alternative). Their mission is to "help women have healthier and more positive experiences of their menstrual cycles, and by extension, their bodies overall."

Not convinced yet? Conduct your own research. The last straw that convinced me to switch to the Diva Cup was a list of "Pros" and "Cons." The only con? You have to be intimate with yourself. Really? It was almost like a challenge. I wanted to challenge all those who taught me that menstruating is something you should be ashamed of, something that should be as quick and painless as possible. Adopting the Diva Cup has been an overall learning experience that has taught me a lot about myself as a person. Thus, here is my challenge to you: Do your research. Question the products you are exposing your body to, feminine hygiene or otherwise. You deserve the best and so does your body. I give you the "Diva Cup Challenge." Good luck and happy searching!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

As If I Needed Another Reason to Boycott A&F

When I was in high school, music and clothing trends defined the norm. I was never one to jump on the Dave Matthews “Band-wagon”. I hated Britney Spears and the entire boy-band phenomenon. I never shopped at Hollister or Aeropostale. I was the weirdo who made tablecloths into skirts and proudly wore my homemade denim arm cuffs. I scoured the Salvation Army for sweet deals, and wore men’s ties long before anyone ever hear Avril’s “music.” And I most definitely never wore Abercrombie and Fitch clothing, which was extremely popular at my mostly white small town high school.

My well-intentioned mother once bought me several Abercrombie articles of clothing one year for Christmas. I snuck up to my room under the premise of trying them on. I remember sitting on my bed and thinking how it would be easier to just wear the damn clothes. I’d spare my mother’s feelings, and would “fit in” better at school. They didn’t have that telltale thrift store smell, and they were the correct size for my body. They didn’t have any strange patterns or look out of the ordinary, like my usual outfits. I quickly snapped out of my self-betraying thoughts and ran back downstairs. I told my mother they didn’t fit, and she returned them to the store.

I’m especially proud that I have still never worn a piece of Abercrombie and Fitch clothing. They have developed a nasty reputation. They are most recently in the news for banishing a girl with a prosthetic arm to the stock room because she didn’t meet their ideal “look.” They paid 40 million dollars to black, Asian, and Latino employees and job applicants to settle a 2004 lawsuit that “accused the clothing retailer of promoting whites at the expense of minorities,” according to a USA Today article.

My personal style has definitely become tamer as I’ve gotten older. I still like finding funny T-shirts at thrift stores, but I’m definitely less creative than I used to be. But I’m glad I’ve never contributed to the coffers of a company like Abecrombie and Fitch.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Somebody's Daughter?

So, through my internet surfing I stumbled upon this video that was linked to the Bitch Magazine website. After watching it, I could not help but go to the Somebody's Daughter website advertized at the bottom.

The video and website are clearly products of the male religious right perspective on the sex industry, so it makes sense that they would juxtapose women with family ownership. The tagline of the video is “somebody’s daughter.” The viewer watches a series of young women going through different life events (i.e. graduation) and the video and tagline imply that her value is dependent upon her connection to her family, rather than her identity as an individual. She is “somebody’s daughter,” conveying the message that you should not exploit someone’s property. This song strips (pun intended – I know I’m clever) women of their autonomy, and gives control to a woman’s parents. The song (besides being completely sappy) could have been more empowering for the man who drives through the rain, and also the women that the song is geared toward, if the song focused on the woman’s rights, empowerment and/or struggles.

The website attached to this song is even worse. The most concerning part about the site were the rape and divorce calculators. The tickers appeared to jump without any scientific method. I am unaware of how many rapes or divorces are a product of porn (if any truly can be traced back), but I am pretty sure that the makers of this site are just as unaware. I think it is irresponsible for people to make up their own numbers considering the severity of the situation. I am not trying to argue for or against the sex industry. Regardless of my positions on the matter, I feel that this particular organization forgets and even dismisses those affected most by the industry, the women.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Japanese Rape Video Game An Affront to Female Gender

Sex is a wonderful part of the human experience. But sex without consent, or rape, is a traumatic event that has devastating effects on both a psychological and physical level. It is the stuff of nightmares. Now, thanks to a Japanese company called Illusion, rape is the stuff of video games. In 2006, Illusion released a game called RapeLay in Japan. According to a Carnal Nation article, the point of the game is to stalk and rape a woman and her 2 daughters, with “the ultimate goal of ‘rape-training’ them to enjoy and even crave the assaults. The game offers a selection of sexual positions to choose from; if the mother or one of the daughters gets pregnant, the player has to force them to get an abortion.” The main character “teaches” the females in the game to be his devoted sex slaves by raping them repeatedly. Also, the game keeps track of how many times the rapist ejaculates inside his victims. In the beginning of RapeLay, the character, controlled by the player, molests and gropes a young girl on a subway. This is especially shocking considering that 64% of Tokyo women surveyed in 2004 had been groped on a train.* The Japanese even have a name for subway gropers; they are called chikan.

The game recently garnered attention in the US because it was found for sale on Amazon by a third-party reseller. It was quickly pulled from the website, and is not available in any stores in the US. However, an English-language version is only a few mouse-clicks away on the internet.

Unfortunately, this game is not an “isolated incident”; instead, it is part of a growing underground genre of erotic video games known as “eroge.” The Illusion company has released additional titles in eroge style, such as the “Battle Raper” two-part series.

What kind of a world are we living in where rape is fodder for entertainment?

Some feel that RapeLay is a Japanese problem, as it is banned in the United States. But this game is an affront to the female gender; it is a HUMAN problem, not a geographic one. We cannot condone the exploitation and denigration of women for the sake of entertainment. Sexual assault is a very serious and traumatic affair which has long-lasting and detrimental effects on its victims. We cannot allow these very real and horrific events to be the plot of a video game. It is disgusting and dangerous. The normalization and trivialization of such a serious and distressing event is detrimental to women everywhere.

*statistic from this ABC news article: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/International/story?id=803965&CMP=OTC-RSSFeeds0312

Can feminists be hilarious? You bet.

Jessica Valenti, you are like the funny, feminist best friend I never knew I was missing. Your book, Full Frontal Feminism, has been a much needed breath of fresh air that caught me off guard with its ability to make me laugh out loud, reconsider my identification as a feminist, and question (as promised) "where do I start?" The last time a book captured this much of my undivided attention, I was in junior high. The book? Harry Potter, of course (I’m just a sucker like that).

Perhaps the most captivating idea presented in Full Frontal Feminism is based upon the concept of "consciousness behind your decisions." Valenti relates the concept to the Girls Gone Wild empire. Valenti states that although the actions popularized within the Girls Gone Wild realm are viewed negatively by many, in some cases, such actions may act as a step in the development in one's sexuality. Why are you flashing your breasts? Is it a result of your own personal desires or the culturally constructed desire to get the attention of a man? It's also interesting to apply consciousness to seemingly non-feminist topics. For example, tattoos can be judged with consciousness as a criterion. Why did you get the tattoo? For whom? What’s your story? Furthermore, I feel this idea is not only relevant, but also quite useful for relating to and viewing others through a non-judgmental lens.

Still, while reading, it is important to keep in mind the overarching theme of the book: feminism can be a bomb. I have come to discover this on a personal level after attending a party or two and dropping the "F" word. Turns out, feminism has the ability to abolish friendships if not prescribed correctly. Yet, Jessica Valenti has found a way to approach feminism in a way that defuses the stigma, establishes legitimacy, and challenges the reader to spread the word. I can only hope that I’m not the only one who knows about this.

For more on Valenti and Full Frontal Feminism, read this:

Friday, June 5, 2009

Male Contraceptive Injection Offers More Choices and Equal Responsibility

The quest for alternative forms of male contraception has been a long one. Experts in China are close to developing a reliable and “potent” male contraception injection. Fertility doctors in Beijing completed an extensive study consisting of 1,045 males aged 20-45 years. All of the men who participated in the study were fertile, and had fathered at least 1 child. During the 1.5 year study, the male participants were injected with a 500mg testosterone formulation each month. There were no serious side effects reported by the participants. The shot proved to be 98.9 % effective throughout the duration of the study. Obviously, this rate isn’t as high as one would like; however, it is a good start.

With a male contraceptive shot close to becoming a reality, certain questions need to be asked. Who is responsible for preventing unwanted pregnancy? The female pill, invented in 1960, has put the brunt of contraceptive responsibility on women. And some maintain that because only women can become pregnant, it is up to them to prevent it. However, in a true egalitarian relationship, both partners would take responsibility to prevent pregnancy.

In some relationships, there is a lack of conversation regarding sex, with even less discussion devoted to conception prevention. The creation of a male injection opens the door for more dialogue, and provides couples with more options. Plus, having more ways to prevent pregnancies could eventually mean fewer abortions and fewer children up for adoption.

The concept of “choice” in reproductive health is a beautiful thing, as is having more contraceptive choices and the diffusion of responsibility.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Terrorism on American Soil?


This past Sunday, a prominent supporting doctor of the “abortion wars” was gunned down and killed in his church. His name was George Tiller. He performed late-term abortions for women who had life or health threatening pregnancies, but also for women who had fetuses with severe abnormalities. As a result, his life was constantly threatened; he was once shot, his clinic was bombed, and most importantly, he became a common target on anti-choice websites. Such websites published information related to the specifics of his family, where he conducted business, and his everyday whereabouts. He took precautionary measures, including bullet-proof vests, armored cars, and advanced home security systems, to protect himself and his family.

In the article published on AlterNet, Jill Filipovic draws comparisons between this act of violence (as well as many others over the years) and terrorism. She writes that “since 1977, there have been at least 17 attempted murders, 383 death threats, 153 incidents of assault or battery and three kidnappings committed against abortion providers in North America.”

Anti-Choice groups don’t claim direct responsibility for the murder, but do allude to the idea that “abortion is murder” and that Tiller himself was a “mass murderer.” The individual believed to be responsible for his death was closely affiliated with Operation Rescue, which maintains the mission of ending abortion in America. That said, I believe it is important to consider how it is possible for an organization that prides itself on “saving life” to enable and encourage an individual to murder a doctor who was performing legal and potentially life-saving procedures. “Far from a random extremist, he appears to have been fairly entrenched in the anti-choice movement,” writes Filipovic.

Furthermore, anti-choice groups openly celebrated Tiller’s death with blog headlines ranging from “George Tiller has killed his last baby” to “Tiller the Killer Killed.” Filipovic argues that although the responsibility for his death is upon the individual who pulled the trigger, the pro-life groups who provided the assailant with the resources necessary to locate Tiller hardly have “clean hands.”

Overall, Tiller’s death illustrates but one instance of a larger looming movement, fueled by radical anti-choice supporters, that promotes violence. The common discrepancy between pro-life and pro-choice supporters is their definition of life and their supposed “valuing” of life. The high prevalence of support for war and death penalty by pro-life supporters would suggest that abortion is about much more than the value placed on a single life (unborn or otherwise). Do war and death penalty not cause death? With this in mind, I have to question the true motivations of the pro-life movement.