Thursday, September 18, 2014

Feminism in the age of Michael Brown (and Eric Garner, and Trayvon Martin, and Kimani Gray, and Ramarley Graham, and Kendrec McDade, and Timothy Russell, and Ervin Jefferson, and Patrick Dorismond, and Ousmane Zongo, and Timonthy Stansbury Jr., and Sean Bell, and… )

In the wake of this year’s UCSB Isla Vista shooting, after 22-year old Elliot Rodgers killed six people, his manifesto was circulated widely through the nether-realms of social media. Clearly the accumulation of defensive and painful rationalizations from a disturbed young man who may have benefited from better mental-health care, this document wretched with a too familiar narrative: women have all the power in sexual relationships, women are cold and unfair in declining the propositions of men; in short, women are at fault for the violence enacted upon them.

In many ways, Elliot Rodgers was not a lone gunman. He was the inevitable conclusion of the ideology of Men’s’ Rights Activism (MRA), of libertine pickup artists and neg-hitters, and of every movie and tv show about a nerdy, down-trodden guy. In Rodger’s mind, he was entitled to “win the girl;” failing this was a great injustice.

In a welcome break from the lone misogynist com monster narrative, thousands of women took to the internet to express outrage toward this ideology. The #yesallwomen campaign gave a voice to the sexual aggression most women face every single day for their infuriating crime of walking around in public space. With #yesallwomen, and in many more forums, outrage was directed not at Elliot Rodgers, but at the rape-culture in which he was raised; at the constant social violence toward women that is denied as often as it is committed. 

Still, the term “culture” fails to fully encapsulate the way systemic power works. Discussing the Isla Vista shootings, activist Jen Roesch writes, “sexism is the set of ideas that both flow from and serve to justify the unequal status of women.” In other words, ideology is born from already unbalanced power relationships, and then serves to reinforce or maintain those in power. It is no accident, for instance, that the “Mommy Myth” (of idealized motherhood) soared in popularity at the conclusion of each World War when men came home to reclaim their position in private production, or that Weight Watchers was created in tandem with the Women’s Liberation Movement.

Behind every lone-gunman is a cultural ideology, and behind each cultural ideology stand the institutional and systemic forces of oppression. Pointing to the ideology is a good start, but ultimately we must address our social institutions. In the case of Isla Visa, this means demanding change from the universities that stage mock-trials in their own kangaroo courts, the police precincts that fail to process rape kits, and the criminal justice system that is somehow still completely beguiled about how to take victim testimony seriously.

And women are not the only people who can’t walk down the street without being harassed. In 2012 alone, 136 unarmed black men were killed by police officers and security guards. From then to now, an unarmed black man has been killed every 28 hours – and that’s just the body count. Let us not forget the constant barrage of micro-aggressions experienced by people of color on a daily basis: being followed, being stared out, being touched without consent – these last examples will sound familiar to #yesallwomen.

And just like Elliot Rodgers, the police officers implicated are not lone gunmen, but the result of institutional and systemic oppression. In this avalanche of murders, such systemic oppression includes the discriminate policing of black neighborhoods, suspension of basic civil rights at the discretion of law officers, and failure to prosecute police or “white on black crime.”

And yet, in remarks uncomfortably similar to the ugly idiom “she was asking for it,” last week, the New York Times published an article claiming Michael Brown “was no angel.” 

This is just one of a many of strains of ideology that holds people of color responsible for the way they are treated by the police. The ideology insists that black culture creates young men that don’t know how to behave themselves (a myth, by the way, that has been debunked by social scientists more than once), and in turn, are killed for their own insubordination. “If he hadn’t demonstrated aggression…” “If he hadn’t talked back…” “If he had just dropped his cell phone...” …he’d still be alive. But rest assured: he was no angel.

Angels don’t exist; neither do monsters. Many of these young men have been defended by their families and communities who exonerate their characters. And even if a single one was not a total pillar of community and goodness, was not a followed by an ethereal orb of light to alert all passersbys of his saintliness; even if any one of the young men killed was, I don’t know, a real human teenage boy, then murder is as justifiable a consequence for copping an attitude as being raped is for wearing a low-cut blouse.

So, what about feminism in the wake of Michael Brown? The proponents of women’s rights must consider not only the interests of all women; we must consider the interests of all people. Like untying a knot made from multiple strings, to set one loose, you must untangle the others. Concerning one social justice movement in the interests of another is the quickest way to see past the lone-gunman, past the ideology, and onto the social institutions that are invested in subjugation of both women and people of color in order to maintain the status quo of current power relationships. 

- Written by Victoria Silva, MA

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Janay & Ray Rice: Victim Blaming and Ignorance of the Cycle of Violence

*trigger warning*

Ray Rice, a former running back of the Baltimore Ravens, was originally suspended for two games for assaulting his wife, Janay Rice. The first video released to the public was one which captured Ray Rice dragging his unconscious wife from the elevator. At the time that the first video was release, it was reported that the NFL had viewed a second video capturing the incident which took place inside of the elevator. At some point last week, TMZ released the second video, and leading up to that people were mad at the two game suspension of Ray Rice, which may have pushed forth the public video release. However, following the release of the second video NFL officials began denying that they ever saw the second video.  Whether or not they viewed the video, people were making a constant comparison between the length of game suspicions of players who tested positive for THC and Ray Rice, who assault his wife. For players who tested positive for THC received a 4 game suspension whereas Ray Rice originally only received a 2 game suspension.  Ray Rice has since been released from the Ravens and suspended from the NFL indefinitely.  Some people are calling for members of Raven’s upper management as well as the NFL commissioner.  Another troubling result of this assault is that NFL has made a new rule which states that for a first offense of assault that a player will be suspended for 6 games.  First offense? Only 6 games? And that is only if the NFL officials become aware of the incident and even then it seems to be unsure whether or not they would acknowledge an assault incident as such.

What I have found most interesting has been the coverage and disturbing opinions of this incident. For instance, Stephen A. Smith from ESPN First Take commented on the Ray Rice incident by saying that he of course doesn’t agree with domestic violence of women but women should learn that they should not “provoke men.”  This statement essentially blames women for incidents of domestic violence and seems to suggest that if women don’t want to get abused, then simply don’t give men a reason too. However, this statement is not only disturbing for women but for men as well.  This statement portrays men as beasts ready to pounce, reduced to tigers in a cage and women are the ones poking them with sticks.

Stephen A. Smith’s response to the assault was unfortunately a common one. Victim blaming statements pervaded a majority of the news coverage as well as public opinions shared on social media sites. For instance, I sadly came across a Youtube video entitled, “Ray Rice is the bigger victim of domestic violence.”  Also, following the report of the incident on Fox news, the respondents responded that the take away message should be to “take the stairs” and to remember that “when in an elevator there is a camera.” This statement not only failed to address the true severity of the situation that is domestic violence but seemed to suggest that the abuser should carry out the violence in private.  Another incident which essentially condoned the act of violence against women was when an individual called into Limbaugh’s radio show to share that if women want to be on the front line and treated equal they should be able to take a punch. Limbaugh then comments that feminist are wrong and feminism is “artificial” for men and women aren’t equal and that the assault is a clear demonstration of such.  This statement said by the caller and supported by Limbaugh was used as an attempt to rationalize domestic violence but bash feminism with Ray Rice’s assault of his wife.

Many people were arguing that Janay “got what she deserved” because she had initially started the incident by “lunging” and “antagonizing” Ray Rice. Some people even used the same language of Stephen A. Smith in saying she “poked the bear.” However, physical abuse is wrong and is against the law. No one ever deserves abuse!  Janay Rice was also reticulated for staying with Ray Rice following the incident. Leaving an abusive relationship is never an easy choice. Victims feel responsible for assault and will defend the abuser.  Leaving an abusive relationship can be the most dangerous time for an abused woman.  Also, it is important for individuals become familiar with the cycle of abuse. Abusers know who to take power and control in the relationship and over their partners.  Now, this is just an assumption but Ray Rice is the primary financial holder, and therefore may have all the economic control within the relationship. Janay may not have the financial resources to the leave the abusive relationship.  Furthermore, there is many psychological tactics which the abuser employs on the victim including denial of abuse or justifying their acts through accusations of infidelity or in Janay’s case, her hitting Ray Rice first.  

But what I feel is more important is that everyone is wanting to discuss why Janay didn’t leave the relationship when we should be discussing why Ray Rice felt it was acceptable to abuse his wife. By having people caught up in the discussion of why Janay didn’t leave the relationship it distracts individuals from the true issue of domestic violence.

Although this incident is a truly disturbing one it has brought domestic violence into the spotlight. Survivors of domestic violence have come forward sharing their #whyIstayed stories, where they share the reasons why they stayed, after Janay Rice received criticism for staying with Ray Rice. Also, a story was shared were a father altered his children’s Ray Rice jerseys to say “be nice to girls.” There have also been an increase number of calls to The National Domestic Violence Hotline, for women in abusive relationships came forward wanting to receive help after seeing the incident.   

Assault is NEVER justified, regardless of one’s gender! And stop showing the video! Survivors of domestic violence and others do not want to see the disturbing act of violence. The fault of the incident should never fall on the backs of the survivors of domestic violence. Domestic violence should be put to an end.

-Written by Angela Barney 

Building a Better Future

When I was a little girl, my choice of toys was rather gender neutral. Of course, I had the requisite Barbie “girl” toys, but I also got to enjoy Matchbox and LEGO “boy” toys. Before the Nintendo Entertainment System came out, those were my favorites. As I got older, my interest in Barbie and Matchbox disappeared but to this very day, I still love LEGO. It’s something much more than nostalgia because I don’t reminisce when I put together a new set. It’s not just a toy, it’s a new experience. For me, putting together a LEGO set is my version of building a ship in a bottle. The more complex a set is the more pride I feel from completing it. Yeah, I’m a professional woman in my 30’s who loves playing with LEGO. My most recent vacation included a trip to LEGOland California where I basked in brick glory and purchased more LEGO sets than I probably should have. It was worth it.

My relationship with my hobby has changed and matured as I have. It’s no longer playing, it’s a project. When a project is finished, I don’t disassemble it and place it back in a box. I proudly display it on a shelf like a treasured artifact alongside family heirlooms and vacation mementos; proof of the history and adventure of living. Essentially, LEGO is a component of my personal identity. My personal identity has been shaped and molded by my experiences and over time my personal convictions about gender norms and feminism have become more pronounced. I have never been a fan of prescriptive gender roles and stereotypes. The marketing gender divide in the toy industry is probably where I got my first taste of them. LEGO has been personally congruent for three decades and when LEGO introduced their “Friends” line of “girl” products I had strong feelings about it.

LEGO products have been primarily marketed to boys throughout my childhood and into my adulthood. In January 2012, LEGO attempted to market to girls by creating the Friends line of sets and received sharp criticism from consumers. The Friends sets were largely pink and purple pastels, themed with stereotypically “female” interests (baking, hairstyling, caregiving, and homemaking), and essentially segregated LEGO products by gender. This gender segregation is nothing new. Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency produced a two-part video series about LEGO and gender which highlighted marketing used to sell gender stereotypes to both girls and boys. Many “boy” sets have a focus on weaponry and violence. Such marketing reinforces gender segregation in play and has not always been LEGO’s marketing focus. From the 1940’s to 1980’s, LEGO advertising featured girls, boys, and parents building the same, gender-neutral sets cooperatively and creatively. The emphasis was on building and creativity, the hallmark features of LEGO, not shooting things or getting your hair done.

LEGO has promised to do better. In September 2013, LEGO released a female lab scientist minifigure (minifig for short), which was a small step in the right direction. Now, in June 2014, LEGO announced plans to release the Female Scientist Minifigure set, which features three female scientist minifigs and accompanying accessories signifying the professions of astronomy, chemistry, and paleontology. The minifigs are of classic LEGO design and avoid extreme gender stereotypes. One problem, however, is the homogeneous “yellow” skin tone of most minifigs. Historically, there have been variations in minifig skin tones but they are largely yellow. There has been criticism of the lack of varying skin tones in minifigs but it is largely overshadowed by the call for more gender diversity and equality. LEGO really shouldn’t forget the other forms of diversity.
LEGO in the non-brick realm of marketing has also been impacted by gendered marketing. The LEGO Movie was released in February 2014 and Chris McKay, the film’s director, admitted it does not pass the Bechdel Test. Promisingly, he stated a desire to do better by female characters in the upcoming sequel and expressed that filmmakers have a responsibility to examine the culture of gendered stereotypes and create films with characters with more depth than stereotypes.. This is progress but it is not the end of the tunnel. LEGO, and consumer culture in general, has a way to go to include better representations of women, gender non-conforming people, people of color, sexual minorities, and people with disabilities. However, these considerations help to build a better future.

LEGO Portrait of the Author

-Written by Victoria L. Wu, MS


Some of my Favorite Blogs

Julia Serano's Whipping Girl

Mia McKenzie's Black Girl Dangerous

- Posted by Jessica A. Joseph, MA

Saturday, June 28, 2014

2013-2014 Campus Representative Events

Please join me in congratulating this year's Campus Representatives on their amazing organizing!

Click here to see what they've been up to.  

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Changing through Reframing or Wabi Sabi: Finding Perfection in Imperfection

We all know it when we see it: billboards advertising simple and affordable weight loss procedures, commercials encouraging ladies to fit into their bathing suits for summer, TV shows with golden bronze beauties, the customized facebook ad for the best bra for perkiness. They’re just ads, it doesn’t mean I have to believe it. I tell myself all the time. But then I’m going through my daily life, putting makeup on, looking in the mirror, trying on outfits to go out, trying to get my hair just right before an interview. And my mind gets caught up in it … I wish I could get more tan than red in the sun, I wish I didn’t have that little scar on my left cheek, I wish my hair didn’t get so oily by the end of the day, I wish my stomach was flatter.

How do you restrict yourself? Judge yourself? Criticize? In our world, and in my profession (psychology), it is easy – even encouraged – to look for laws. Look for imperfections. What don’t you like? What needs to be fixed? What can you change?

One healthy thing we can do is change our minds. As a feminist therapist, I encourage my clients to change their thoughts through reframing. We can feel empowered by not adhering to what society, our friends, our families, or even we expect, want, and think. But this exercise of reframing can be easy to forget and hard to do when we’re caught up in just day-to-day living. And I’m guilty, myself.

That list of what I “wish” for came too easily, now that I think about it. And especially since these are things that I just can’t change – my skin tone is out of my control, that scar is permanent, I can’t (and don’t want to) wash my hair multiple times a day, and while I could work out more and eat healthier, my stomach will most likely never be like this.

So reframing is something that I’m trying to do more of in my life. And I was inspired after reading this article, “How I Learned to Love My Muffin Top (shout out to Traci Lowenthal for the facebook post!). The author, Arielle Ford, shares before and after pics (not the kind you think of), her personal story with weight, and her discovery of “Wabi Sabi” – finding perfection in imperfection. (Which sounds much more attractive than reframing, in my opinion.)

Now I’m trying to practice Wabi Sabi whenever I find myself frustrated, angry, worried, or scrutinizing anything that is out of my control. My skin doesn’t need to tan because I have my beautiful freckles that symbolize my bubbly personality (and who doesn’t want to have “sun kisses”?). That scar on my cheek usually isn’t even noticeable (thanks again to my freckles!), and everyone bears scars of some sort – whether they are visible or hidden inside our hearts, because we are all human. My hair gets oily because that’s exactly what my body is supposed to be doing, and it’s a sign that everything is working. And my stomach is so soft when it’s not perfectly flat, and as Arielle Ford puts it, reminds me that I “get to eat delicious, nourishing food,” usually made by my loving husband Collin. J

It’s harder, and is a much slower process, than thinking of flaws and imperfections. But that’s because that’s not what we’re used to, and that’s not what we’ve been taught to do, and that’s why we have to train our minds and practice it. Like everything, it will come easier with time and practice. Not having my mind preoccupied with negative thoughts allows me to live in the moment, loving others, and enjoying life. Loving ourselves comes first, then we can focus on what we can change in our lives with confidence. And think of the difference we can make, telling our stories, spreading the word, and having countless people practicing wabi sabi and ultimately changing the standards of perfection.

 Written by Elisabeth Knauer-Turner, M.S.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Feminism, Empowerment, and Rewriting the Subjective Script of “Sexy”

Lately, this question occurred to me: If mainstream media portrays a limited and narrow view of what is considered attractive, sexy, “hot”…then how do women begin rewriting their own accounts of what is subjectively experienced as sexy? When the repeated messages tell women that tight, short skirts, revealing tops, high heels, and fake tans are sexy, how do we learn to experience that feeling for ourselves, defined in our own experiences, aside from that stereotype? Can I claim my womanhood and feel secure enough in my femininity to go without shaving my legs, just in the same way that a straight man can wear a pink shirt and display platonic physical affection towards male friends while feeling secure in his masculinity? Maybe eventually, these longings will evolve into confidence in our individuality and preferences rather than merely existing as strong but unstable inclinations to counter current cultural gender norms.
These questions begin to parallel to me what it means to be a feminist in that it has a lot less to do with thinking, acting, appearing, and developing in the ways that are expected of me, even by other feminists! Even feminism runs the risk of forming a status quo of what is expected of women, particularly those who choose to identify themselves as feminists. Can a feminist be politically conservative? Pro-life? Religious? A stay-at-home mom? Will Feminism permit her that? If feminism advocates for equality in all spheres of society, then this should encompass the respect for choice to believe in and be what is personally important.
Ultimately: Feminism should be about empowerment- empowerment for women to be the people they want to be whether it’s norm-breaking or not, whether it coincides with mainstream feminism or not. I believe that is what it means to be a feminist. Women should be able to embrace whatever it is that makes them feel attractive, powerful, and valuable, regardless of what current societal standards are. Women should be empowered to self-actualize, as is congruent with Rogerian theory, and feminism should not only present improved ways for women to exist, but also support women who use value systems that in and of themselves are adaptive and healthy, even if they run counter to mainstream feminist beliefs. So, hypothetically, if I want to shave my head, jump-start my own business, let my husband take the lead, wear sky-high heels, be a housewife, tout a gun or a Bible, or dominate the political arena, I should be able to so without a sharp retort of “that’s not ladylike,” “that’s not sexy” “that’s cheap” “that’s not what a woman looks like” or even “she’s not a real feminist.”
At some point, one must recognize the truth of, “With great power comes great responsibility.” When we empower ourselves, we must also embrace the responsibility it entails. I suspect that this notion of responsibility is inextricably linked to the essence of feminism, whether recognized as such or not. While this responsibility is often devoted to oneself to, women can also perceive that responsibility being due to other women, the greater community, and to future generations.

Written by Nina Silander