Thursday, July 29, 2010

Shout-Out to our Awesome Student Staff!

It's been a busy week, and I nearly forgot to blog. Although there are a bunch of national and international news stories I could have commented on today, I'm going to take a step back and focus a bit closer to home, or, in this case, work.

When you work in a field like mine - which intersects academia with social justice - it's really easy to get caught up in the big issues of the world along with the day-to-day stuff associated with any job. Although I feel very passionate about reproductive rights, environmental issues, and immigrant/human rights, today I want to pay kudos to the students who work/ed at the Women's Resource Center.

We have had an amazing group of students work at the WRC over the past few years. They are endlessly talented and passionate about the work we do at the Center. If you follow the blog, you've certainly read some of their thoughts. I feel very fortunate to work with such a great group of young feminists and activists, who continue to learn, engage, and push boundaries every day. So, to Lettie, Megan, Joe, Alex, Sarah, Carrie, Jamie, Monica, Jill and Patrice -- as well as Tracy, Marina and Sha'Donna who will all soon join us, you all are amazing and constantly impress and inspire!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Exes and Os

Last Thursday I found myself in one of my favorite restaurants in DeKalb. I was enjoying my BBQ Chicken Wrap (it's like having an orgasm, except it's in your mouth) and chit-chatting with friends. I had met these friends in one of my classes that I’m taking this summer. There were four of us: one woman and three men.

Two thirds of the way through the meal we start talking about our exes; this is never a topic I enjoy discussing with ANYONE. After quite a while of the guys going on and on (and on) about the exes they have laid claim to, they turn to me and they ask, “Hartsoe, what gives? You haven’t been talking at all about your exes…. What? You still a virgin?"

I froze in my seat. My palms started to sweat. MY masculinity had just come into question. I answered in the only way I could, “Why do you care about my exes man?” (clearly the most manly response to the challenge on my manhood...). I know, I know, I shouldn’t have even bothered to engage him in an argument about my former partners. However, this jerk had just stereotyped me, and I wanted to say that I felt uncomfortable talking about past relationships, but saying that out loud was NOT going to help the situation. So I did what I do best: I got defensive, threw him my death glare (if that doesn't scream wuss, I don't know what does), and changed the subject.

Fast forward, on Monday morning, my boss at the WRC sends me this article “5 Stupid, Unfair and Sexist Things Expected of Men” ( about how men in today’s society face sexist expectations.

All of a sudden my frustration and irritation makes sense!!!! The guys at dinner were just fulfilling society’s expectations of them by bragging about how many people they’ve been with and objectifying their partners, positing them as trophies that could be put into their collection….. The fact that this isn’t something I like to do flies in the face of society’s expectations of what it means to be a man. But WHY does that make me less "manly"????? More importantly, HOW do we change it???

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Improving Feminism - I know, you thought it couldn't be done...

NOTE: Before reading this phenomenal blog, it should be known that Kate has posted a fantastic blog right below it. You should definitely read that blog too. Furthermore, you should comment on her blog and give us some feedback, because I am super excited about the prospect of a garden and want it to happen.

Recently, while reading articles on AlterNet, I came across the article “10 Things Feminists Could Do Better.” Knowing that sometimes even feminists can get a bit self-righteous and forget that we are fallible, I thought this list was an excellent reminder that we still have work to be done – even with ourselves. I agree with almost all of the suggestions for moving forward with feminism, except for number seven. I think that sexuality is a huge part of feminism and women’s rights due to its ties with patriarchal norms and misogyny. Nevertheless, I present to you my two favorite suggestions (which were really hard to choose, so you should just read the whole article) from the list thoughtfully created by British philosopher and feminist Nina Power as well as number seven:

3. Feminism should not be misled by the successes of individual women at the top of their professions (politicians, CEOs, etc.). Better than thinking of these women as "tokens," though, we would do well to see them as (sometimes) being "decoys" (as described by Zillah Eisenstein in Sexual Decoys). Which is to say, simply because they are women and successful, the success (and therefore end) of feminism is frequently announced by the media, and their noxious politics are ignored (think of Margaret Thatcher). Feminism would do well to remember how the struggle for real equality and fair income can sometimes be disguised by the purported success of the odd individual woman.

5. Feminism should be wary of believing the fight has been won. Keeping up the pressure on those who would roll back the achievements of the women’s movement (abortion rights, workplace legislation against discrimination, etc.) is a matter of urgency and perpetual vigilance. In Italy, for example, female pay has dropped to 40 percent less than a man’s pay for the same work; at the same time 46 percent of women there are unemployed. Berlusconi’s TV stations spew out endless game-shows featuring scantily clad young women pretending to be stupid. Things can always get worse: the point is to stop them before they do.

7. Feminism should avoid reducing all questions of women’s lives to issues concerning sexuality and sexual behavior. Although the unhappy relation between production and reproduction forms one of the major contradictions of contemporary work, if feminism spends too much time focusing in on questions of sexuality, it risks losing sight of other significant questions -- unequal pay, non-sexual violence, and so on.

Community Gardens -- coming to a campus near you?!

I love gardening. However, when you rent an apartment, and digging in the yard isn’t permissible, you have to be a bit more creative. Luckily, I have a small balcony that allows me to plant a container garden; I’m currently growing tomatoes, peppers, basil, chives, cilantro and parsley. While I’m thrilled with my mini garden, purchasing all of the containers and extra soil made it a more costly endeavor than digging a hole in the earth (not to say that’s easy or cheap, but the earth does supply a lot of the necessary resources). I’m fortunate it enough to have the expendable income, but not everyone has that luxury, and extra cash (or space) shouldn’t prevent people from enjoying fresh, organic, locally-grown food. Thus, we see the importance and necessity of community gardens, which is particularly true for college students who don’t often have access to the space or extra cash.

A community garden provides so many benefits, including bringing people together, educating adults and children about how food grows and the care it takes to transform a seedling into the food we consume, allowing people to eat locally, and expanding palates by exposing people to new herbs, fruits, and vegetables…just to name a few.

The staff of the Women’s Center is looking to introduce a community garden to NIU. The grounds crew won’t give us the bed in front of the office (I know, we’re irritated too!), but they have offered up some space over by the west lagoon. So, we’re toying with the idea of a container garden on our front porch versus the lagoon. Be on the lookout for updates!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Comprehensive Sex Education Controversy

As this article on AlterNet reports, the proposal of a new comprehensive sex education program in Helena, Montana is causing controversy, stirring up opposition, and making national news. The program proposes age-appropriate progressions in the level of education that students are getting regarding sex, STI’s, and relationships, which would lead to students graduating with a more in depth knowledge in these areas than an abstinence-only program could provide.

Some of the proposed curriculum would “recognize that family structures differ” at the first grade level. At the second grade level, students would be taught to “understand making fun of people by calling them gay (e.g., “homo,” “fag,” “queer”) is disrespectful & hurtful.” At the fifth grade level students would be taught to
“Understand that during puberty, many people begin to develop sexual and romantic feelings. Understand that sexual intercourse includes but is not limited to vaginal, oral, or anal penetration. Define STI & recognize transmissions (gonorrhea, syphilis, HIV infection, Chlamydia, genital warts and herpes) Understand abstinence from sexual activity is the only 100% effective way to avoid STIs. Understand anyone can get STIs if they exchange bodily fluids orally, vaginally, and anally. Understand barrier methods of contraception (e.g. male and female condoms, dental dams can greatly reduce but not prevent STIs”

Well, if you’re anything like me you might be thinking, “This sounds great, what could be the problem with this?” Well, according to local pastor Rick Demato, this is an attempt to “eradicate Christian morals in America.” He also claims “the school system is inhospitable to Christians.” He has gone so far as to encourage parents to pull their children out of the public school district and either enroll them in a Christian school or home school them.

Although I respect the right of parents to decide what they believe is appropriate for their children, I don’t think that there is a problem with the school teaching comprehensive sex education. The role of a public school is not to teach according to any certain religious or spiritual belief. It is to provide basic knowledge that is applicable to all persons regardless of their specific beliefs. In my opinion, presenting all the facts and options, is doing just that. It is putting the information out there in the best way that it can to serve its entire population. If in fact, parents do want their children to only learn things that correspond with their own beliefs, (which is their right), then I urge them to look into alternative options, whether a private school or home schooling, whatever the best option is for their family. By catering to any certain religion, spirituality, or set of beliefs, the school would almost certainly be excluding other students.

This school district is certainly not the first to have negative responses to attempting to institute comprehensive sex education; they also will almost certainly not be the last to face this issue. However, it is important to remember that these schools are doing exactly what they should be doing. As we are supposed to have separation of Church and State, this shouldn’t be an issue of Christian morals; this should be an issue of what is best for the students and what will best provide them with the tools that they need to be safe and make well informed decisions about their life. Kudos to this school district, along with others for trying to better educate and prepare their students for the decisions ahead of them.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Half-Naked: Having What it Takes to be a Waitress.....

I was in the office working with one of our AWESOME volunteers on a project. Now, Sam (our WONDERFUL volunteer) and I are talking, and she tells me of this job interview that she had not that long ago. The job was with a company who was interested in hiring two employees to waitress. In my mind, nothing scandalous or upsetting about that, right?

Now, at this point I feel obligated to step up and say that Sam is a personable, kind, and attractive individual (not to mention extremely intelligent, which of course, counted for nothing at this job interview). All of that aside, Sam was looking for a part-time job that would help pay the bills and get her through her last year in school. My questions is: at what cost should she go through to pay her bills...according to the company she was applying for a job...her body.

Of course, the restaurant expected all female employees to wear Belly Shirts (basically Bras made of cotton) and shorts that would fit so tight that not only would a woman’s butt be defined and very little would be left to the imagination, but half her butt would be popping out if she had to bend over and pick something up. My question: Would you go to a restaurant which required men to dress the same way(See the picture above? Would you want this guy serving you dinner??)??? Wait. What? You mean you wouldn't want to see a guy's junk flopping around as he brings you your meal or half of his butt popping out of his shorts when he bent over to pick something up (surprise, surprise…).

So, please remind me again: What makes it O.K. to require women to dress this way ANYWHERE (even at restaurants)? Because men get pleasure from this (do we really? I know I don’t go to a restaurant just to stare rudely at the waitress)??? Because women want to run around half naked (as if)??? Because society has said it’s O.K to objectify women in this way….. (No, I’m sorry, I do not buy that excuse).

We can do better. These are people: real life daughters, sisters, mothers, and friends that we take so much pleasure in objectifying. What’s wrong with a little respect and decency???

***My name is Sam, and I approve of Joe's usage of my story in this blog.***

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Beginning of Pro-Choice Media

All too often, we pro-choicers are left out of mainstream media. T.V. shows and movies that address the issue of unplanned pregnancy usually feature a character who makes the decision not to terminate. However, recently that trend has started to shift. This Alternet article references a series of recent movies and television shows that take on the issue of unplanned pregnancies in a more balanced way, allowing women to consider abortion as an option. The main difference between these shows/movies and the ones that preceded them Is that we are finally seeing diversity in the decisions made by the female characters.

It is awesome to see that Hollywood is finally getting the memo that the world is ready to see abortion tackled in popular media in a pro-choice manner. Of course, we still have a while to go before it is truly in the mainstream (I had not really heard of the shows in the article, and, to my knowledge, Greenburg wasn’t exactly a blockbuster), but we are making progress.

In the article, in case you didn’t get a chance to read it, there is also an awesome short pro-choice film that is the ideal future direction of pro-choice media. The film below, Obvious Child, is a great and HILARIOUS take on a romantic comedy that confronts the issue of abortion head-on. It is only 20 minutes and definitely worth the time. I beg you to watch it.

Obvious Child from Gillian Robespierre on Vimeo.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Mama Grizzlies. Palin's Take on Conservative Women

Sarah Palin’s political action committee (SarahPAC) recently released a video intended to stir conservative women to action. In “Mama Grizzlies,” Palin likens conservative women, specifically women who are mothers, to the mother grizzly bear. Suggesting that the U.S. is heading in an ominous direction (my word, not Palin’s), she contends that a “mom awakening” is taking place. You see, in Palin’s view, “moms kinda just know when something is wrong” and can tell when something/someone is going to “attack their cubs.” And, according to Palin, you “don’t wanna mess with the mama grizzlies.”

What?! So, if we’re to read between the lines, which is a necessity when it comes to Palin and her preference for hyperbole and euphemisms rather than concrete ideas, we see that the country is under attack by liberals and their “fundamental transformation” of this country (the latter seems like a pretty good thing to me). In order to protect their children and grandchildren and this great nation, conservative women (who all must be mothers, if we’re following the call to all “mama grizzlies”) are going to need to band together (like a herd of elephants) to ensure that politicians “respect the will of the people.”

Oy vey. Here are some of my major concerns:

1. Palin only respects the “will of the people” when it matches her ideology. Apparently the fact that Obama won the majority vote doesn’t actually reflect the will of the people.

2. Look at the people featured in the film. These “mothers” Palin speaks of are almost exclusively white women. Again, the will of the people apparently only applies to certain people.

3. Palin seems to presume that conservative women are all mothers, and that all mothers have “natural” instincts and always make decisions based upon the well-being of their children and grandchildren. Because, once a mother, that becomes a woman’s most defining identity. Eek.

4. Her reliance on the animal kingdom to connect with her supporters is expanding from infamous pit bull in lipstick references to the mama grizzly, while ending on the note of a “whole stampede of pink elephants” storming Washington. The animal jargon is belittling and offensive. Give people a reason to vote for you, not messages that make them feel defensive and urge them to live in fear of unnamed threats.

This video doesn’t surprise me, though it does irritate me. With that said, since I’ve clearly pulled a few quotes from the video, it may seem like I’m not fairly or fully representing Palin’s message. However, if you watch the video (only a minute and fifty seconds), the entire thing is filled with this mother bear jargon and little else. I’d challenge Palin to start using the SarahPAC dollars a little more effectively. Perhaps it’s time to communicate what the Republican Party will do and how it will differ from Democratic leadership, rather than treating supporters as defensive, reactive people who operate solely on animal instincts instead of informed logic.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Birth Control Excluded from "Preventive Services" List

If you have been following the health care reform debate in the news, you’re probably aware that the White House is expected to reveal the list of preventives services that will be covered under new laws regulating health care.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, “Cancer screenings, including mammograms and colonoscopies, as well as obesity prevention services, immunizations, blood pressure screenings and tobacco cessation services are among those that will be available to consumers without a copayment or other direct costs for consumers on new health plans after Sept. 23.”

Guess what is missing from that list. Just guess. If you guessed birth control you would be correct. According to that list, birth control will not be included in the preventive services. However, there are a different set of regulations specifically pertaining to women’s health that have yet to come out. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America is working hard to ensure that birth control is included in these regulations. You can learn more about their work here.

We all know how important it is to ensure that everyone has affordable access to birth control. Having birth control allows women to exercise a choice to wait to have children until they are ready, or not have children at all. Birth control remains a key factor in freeing women from being viewed purely as incubators. It allows women to go to school, work outside the home, and live life according to their plans, not an expectation that they will simply grow up, get married, and continue to reproduce for the rest of their lives. Birth control is important; so I urge you to push for it to be included free of cost in preventive services in any way that you can, whether through volunteering with a campaign, writing letters, or talking to a friend or family member about birth control and sharing your story. We must ensure that women are allowed to make a choice about their reproductive options. Together we can make a difference.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Getting the "Low" Down

So if the truth is told, I was caught off guard. Here I was sitting all alone at the Holmes Student Center attempting to complete my American Sign Language (ASL) homework. When all of a sudden, it struck me…..ALL of us have intersecting identities!!! (They may not always be a minority identity but their identities none the less).

I was researching individuals in Deaf culture who have made a significant impact on what is known as the hearing world (essentially everyone that is not Deaf or Hard of Hearing). I found Juliette Gordon Low, referenced as one of the influential figures that my assignment asked me to identify. Low may not sound like a household name, but amongst personal hardship and a life full of troubles (not only was she Deaf but she was divorced and ill with breast cancer toward the end of her life), she still found a way to make a difference in the lives of others.

What is significant about Juliette Gordon Low (in the center of the picture to the left) is that she founded what is known today as the Girl Scouts. Low, amidst personal struggles, gave girls in the United States (for the first time I may add) an outlet to help them realize their potential and their true ability in contributing to and shaping society. I applaud and thank Low, because it is the actions of individuals like her that make it possible for the advancement of ALL people.

With this in mind, I had several thoughts…..

First. are achievements of this magnitude occurring today? Are women and other minorities out doing now what Low did decades ago that would impact the future of the country? If I’m completely honest, I don’t see the type of achievements of women like Low in today’s society. I wonder if that’s because the media is not interested in highlighting the achievements of women or if we as a society have become so complacent with the status quo that we see no need for empowerment of women (in my opinion this is so NOT TRUE).

My second realization was that most people possess some sort of intersecting identities. Like Low, who was a minority by being Deaf and a woman, I too possess intersecting identities. I wonder if all people can, like Juliette Godron Low, reconcile their intersecting identities for the sake of advancing equality and strength for all.

Monday, July 12, 2010

You Can't Always Make Lemonade

Until now, I have stayed out of the partisan debate over Sharron Angle (R), the U.S. senate candidate from Nebraska. I had heard of her far-right views and her association with the tea party movement. Naturally, I, being of the liberal persuasion, was not a fan of her politics. My disagreements with her were somewhat superficial considering that I had not done personal research on any of her positions; my concerns were based on partisan/ideological differences.

However, after reading a recent report, I now see what the controversy over Angle is all about. Angle recently stated in an interview that a young girl who was a victim of rape by her father could simply (and rather insensitively) turn lemons into lemonade. It is terrifying that a woman with extreme anti-women (and child) views could be a viable candidate for the senate. I now understand why she has been the focus of so many news reports lately, and why it is SO important to follow these elections. If Angle wins the election, it could mean a huge step back for women’s rights.

In the essence of full disclosure, I feel that I should state I am pro-choice. But, I think that many “pro-lifers” would agree that Angle takes her views on access to abortion too far. After all, according to the 2004 General Social Survey, 76.2% of the population believes that abortion should be legal in the event of a rape. More importantly, 86% of the population believes that an abortion should be legal in the event that a woman’s health is seriously endangered by the pregnancy. Both of these factors played a role in the pregnancy that Angle was referring to, and one can only guess how these percentages would change taking into account that the rape was the result of incest.

From now on I will surely be paying more attention to elections, particularly when candidates speak to issues of importance to me.

This article, courtesy of, has some more interesting information on Angle's views on the situation.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Operation Fail

If you can't tell by now from reading this blog, WRC staff members are regular consumers of pop culture. But in our defense, almost all of us are also avid NPR fans."I heard a story on NPR today..." can often be overheard in our office, as can a streaming broadcast of NPR programs during the day.

Yesterday, I overheard a colleague relaying a story she'd heard on NPR right before a meeting about how women don't receive equal or adequate medical care at VA hospitals when they return home from serving in war. Her story kept bouncing around in my head, so I looked up the NPR story to listen online. You can hear the story here. The interview is with a woman who did a Time Magazine article on VA services for women veterans, which is where I found the picture accompanying this post.

This story made me so mad for so many reasons. #1 - What message are we giving women veterans? You're good enough to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, but not good enough to merit keeping doctors on staff who can see to your medical needs? #2 - Women veterans don't get taken seriously when they have trauma because they don't serve in direct combat? You tell me where anyone (civilians, even) are safe from combat and direct fire in Iraq then. #3 - We will keep VIAGRA in stock, but not birth control pills?

I could go on and on. But listen to the NPR story and read the Time magazine article yourself and I promise you'll be mad enough to spit. I was.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Dear DC Comics: Wonder Woman's Makeover Sucks!

Today I read this on Alternet, and I must say I was quite disappointed. The article details a recent makeover that Wonder Woman has undergone “to toughen her up and give her a modern sensibility,” says J. Michael Straczynski, the new head writer for Wonder Woman (according to this New York Times article). The makeover corresponds to a change in Wonder Woman’s history that seems to detract from some of her power. Now I must say, I have never been really into either comic books or superheroes; however, for a time in my childhood, I did enjoy Wonder Woman, and I think that I have always appreciated her strong feminist nature. Therefore, I am not a fan of Wonder Woman’s new makeover. She has gone from being someone who is clearly strong and a force to be reckoned with to someone who could be easily overlooked.

This is part of a larger problem though – there is such a shortage of really strong female role models. And, to me, this just makes it worse. Sure, Wonder Woman was a character in a comic book, but she is also a fairly accepted part of pop culture. As the article reports, “(new)statistics from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media pertaining to female role models for young girls. In G rated movies, just one in three speaking roles is female and in PG and R rated films, about 73 percent of the characters are male. While there are notable exceptions, like Dora the Explorer and the girl superheroes in The Invincibles, young women are still hard pressed to find pop culture role models that look and sound like themselves.” In a time when TV is dominated with shows like 16 and Pregnant and the media is full of stories about young celebrities and sex scandals, eating disorders, and drug and alcohol abuse, who are girls and young women supposed to look up to now?

While this is a perplexing question with seemingly no answers, we do know one thing: we need to create a place in pop culture and the mainstream media for more strong women to become easily accessible to girls and young women as role models.

P.S. Please revert Wonder Woman back to her original look and story!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Dear John, Please Fix the Half of My Heart

O.K. This past weekend was 4th of July (aka America’s birthday). This meant a weekend of celebrating our freedom from oppression and loving democracy. For me personally, this meant a 5 hour car ride (which took 8 and ½ hours – thank you lousy road construction in Indiana) and plenty of time scanning radio stations trying to sooth my desire to flip off the jerk that waited until the last possible minute to cut everyone off and merge left, thus, almost causing an accident.

Anyway, as I was driving back from Michigan I came across radio stations playing John Mayer’s "Half of My Heart" approximately 40 million times. I LOVE that song. Naturally when the radio personality informed me that it was in fact a duet between John Mayer and Taylor Swift, excited doesn’t even cover how much I really wanted to see the music video for this song.

So, I hurried home with the intention of finding this song on YouTube and playing it over and over again. What I found on YouTube, however, was a music video that got me asking some serious questions. First of all, where is Taylor Swift? In the music video she is singing along with John but she is never shown. Do we really live in such a male dominated society that when women work on projects they don’t even have the right to be seen and recognized fully for their contributions???

Furthermore, if you look at a vast majority of John Mayer’s songs, including "Half of My Heart," you will notice a vivid pattern. This pattern generally involves a guy who falls madly in love with a woman who, towards the end of the song (or maybe even sooner), breaks his heart into a million pieces and makes it so that the man is not able to love anyone ever again. At this point, I hope that readers can see the over dramatic sarcasm in my writing because it’s not like a woman has EVER had her heart broken by a man before….

My issue here is not that John Mayer makes songs about love, despair, and heartbreak. What bothers me is the fact that in almost every song he sings, it’s the woman who walks out on the wedding or destroys the perfect love that the charming couple once had. Where is the man in all of this??? Oh that’s right, he’s in the corner sulking about his broken heart… Wouldn’t that time be better spent trying to work out any problems in the relationship or just moving on?

Bottom line: John, you have perfect hair and a beautiful voice; now, let’s work on some good old fashion equality, shall we?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Rape Myth Awareness in Scotland

Recently, a Scottish group, Rape Crisis Scotland, has released a PSA that dispels a common rape myth –that women who are raped are “asking for it.” This myth is victim blaming and harmful when trying to understand and prevent rape.

Here is the video:

The PSA is a part of Rape Crisis Scotland’s “Not Ever” campaign.The campaign was developed in response to a study that showed that a large minority of Scottish people believed that in some circumstances women are at least partially responsible for being raped.

I absolutely love this PSA. I think it’s a wonderful first step in dispelling prevalent myths and getting accurate information out there about rape. I hope that this campaign can inspire more like it. Although I’m not sure how likely it is, I would love to see a PSA like this here in the U.S.!

*Edited to include: Check this awesome campaign, also by Rape Crisis Scotland.