Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Thoughts on the Election

Ooof Election Day and the emotional rollercoaster than ensues, amirite?  I don't know about you folks, but I have some pretty intense feelings about the impact this election could have on women's rights.  Here in Illinois, I, like many others I associate with, felt pretty darn comfortable with our chances.  Illinois is where Obama is from!  Solid blue state for years!  All of us who know how important so many of these social issues that are up for grabs are going to rally and would never EVER let anyone get in the way of our rights!  Right?!  Not entirely true.  Although the Dems lost the Governorship, it looks like the referendum on women's access to birth control after the "Hobby Lobby" decision will be safe and sound, as Illinois voted in favor of maintaining that access.  This doesn't necessarily ensure we will have access to it by law, but at least our voices have been heard (I hope).  The other good news is that the state overwhelmingly voted to improve funding for mental health services.  It seems like every time election day rolls around, I am still optimistic, particularly with regard to women's rights in our country.  ESPECIALLY after all of the publicity that "feminism" is getting these days (of which the commercialization and comodification is fodder for another post), I had high hopes that women would rally behind each other and our allies to elect politicians that would support us and our right's to our bodies.  How cool would it have been if Wendy Davis (of 11-hour-filibuster-warrior-for-abortion-rights fame) had been elected in Texas?!  Although not surprising, still super disappointing, especially with everything that is going on with abortion access/rights (or lack thereof) in Texas.  But it's not all for nothing.  At least places like New Hampshire, Arizona, and Hawaii are moving and shaking, electing women that have a chance to stand up for women's rights.  
This being said, I know that talking about politics is a touchy subject and the discussion can get heated.  I personally believe it's a bummer in general that we only get two sides to stand on (for the most part), and that the way the system works is inherently flawed.  Whichever side you choose, bottom line is the United States is ranked at 54 out of 142 countries with regard to political empowerment and the gender gap, according to the World Economic Forum's report for this year, which seems to me to be shockingly low considering our technological, educational, and economic resources.  I have a feeling the vast majority of you won't disagree when I say MORE WOMEN SHOULD BE IN POWER.  This invisibility is a shame and a disservice to all genders.  Let's hope that there can be some true bipartisanship with this round of newcomers and we can all work together and support each other.  

- Written by Haran M. King, M.A.

Cat Call: The "Compliment" That Leaves You Feeling Icky

As a clinical psychologist in training I've seen many of my female clients struggle to balance the pressures to represent both innocence and sex.  As a result, these women feel obligated to objectify their bodies but then shamed for doing so. Such a cycle leaves women to vacillate between feelings of guilt and shame, which as we know, is a recipe for depression and anxiety.  Everywhere we look women are bombarded with images boasting what society tells us we should value most, our bodies.  Advertisements break us down to our most valued body parts, or depict us as animals or objects existing solely for a man's pleasure. Internalizing societal views cause many women to sexualize themselves, measuring their worth based on the amount of "attention" aka harassment they experience. Hollaback, a movement to end street harassment powered by a network of local activist around the world, recently released a video of a woman experiencing 100 instances of street harassment in one day. As I watched the video I unfortunately was not surprised.  What was even more disturbing- I feel I have become numb to it.  As a woman I should NOT expect to be harassed when I walk out my front door, but I do.  To understand why we must first reflect on the fact that in our society, it is perfectly acceptable for a man to objectify me, telling me my "ass looks fat." In fact, such a statement may be viewed as a compliment, meant to boost my self-esteem and express my local gas station attendant's approval of my body. (Gee Thanks, consider me fulfilled).  It is beliefs such as these that must be changed.  Men in our culture are not all heartless chauvinists, rather they are our brothers, fathers, and partners who have been conditioned from the time they were born to believe they have the right to a woman's body.  Like myself, many women may also have become numb to our harassment, leading to suffering in silence and accepting this as "just the way it is." Hollaback hopes to change this point of view and invites women around the world to join the conversation.  Just talk about it.  Talk about it with your friends, sisters, and mothers, but more importantly, talk about your experiences with your brothers, fathers, and partners.  

- Written by Samantha Brustad

Monday, November 10, 2014

Expanding the Discussion on Gender Pay Gap

In a recent article in the Money section of CNN’s website, Kottasova (2014) highlighted the world’s gender pay gap. As was articulated in the article, pay equity, whereby women and men are paid equally for doing the same job, does not currently exist in any country. And TheGlobal Gender Gap Report 2014 posits that the closing of the gender gap will take at least 81 years. So where does the U.S. rank in the world’s unequal compensation for the same work? And how will this continue to affect women, especially those women graduating college with substantial student loan debt?

Currently, the U.S. has a wage gap of 66%, which means the women earn approximately two-thirds of what men earn for comparable work. As such, wage equality in the U.S. ranks 65th out of 142 countries. It is this wage gap that continues to oppress women, especially women of color, through economic disenfranchisement. Further, women continue to devote substantiallymore time to household and childcare responsibilities than men. Therefore, women are continuously devalued due to the time and energy spent in ‘unpaid’ work versus the time men give to ‘much better paid’ work. This insidious pay discrepancy under the dominant discourse of alleged gender ‘equality’ restrains women to their marginalized social location, of which women receive society’s message that they should be content ‘in the home.’

Granted, taking a dichotomous view of gender limits one’s understanding of the complexities that genderqueer and sexual minority individuals face in regards to wage disparity and household responsibilities. Therefore, more discussion is needed to investigate the consequences of a heteronormative society on queer households and gender transgressive and sexual minorities in the workplace. It could be postulated that individuals in queer relationships that assume the socially determined ‘feminine’ responsibilities of childcare, household chores, and caretaking are also those who are disenfranchised within their partnership; possibly even earning less in their ‘paid’ work. As such, discussing ‘gender’ pay gap goes far beyond cisgender heterosexual partnerships.   

So we can see, the gender wage gap negatively affects the lives of women and those sexual and gender transgressive minorities who assume caretaking roles in ‘paid’ and ‘unpaid’ work. However, the ‘student loan crisis’ also has an excessively more negative affect on women’s lives?

I recently attended a lecture by iconic feminist, Gloria Steinem, at Case Western Reserve University. It was during her talk on why the women’s movement, or “revolution,” has just begun that she mentioned the importance of the U.S. recognizing how student loan debt disproportionately affects women. Steinem noted that the U.S. is the only ‘advanced’ country that burdens its university students with such excessive debt during the time when they should be most free to explore opportunities, identities, and the world.

Although the burden of loan debt is weighing down on men and women alike, women (or genderqueer individuals who adopt ‘feminine’ roles) will be most affected due to the gender wage gap and caretaking responsibilities. More specifically, Steinem noted that women earn approximately $1 million less in their lives than men, which decreases their ability to repay student loans. Now couple women’s disproportionate difficulty repaying student loans with the added cost of childcare, which has now exceeded the average cost of college education. It is no wonder then, why women are struggling and failing to meet the requirements of gendered loan ‘forgiveness’ programs; programs that are best suited to support men’s social location of having more economic and social power.

Therefore, when politicians, academic institutions, and professional organizations, such as the American Psychological Association, start the dialogue of student loan debt, we need to remain cognizant of how women’s needs are not being met when the standard of student loans is based on the male experience.

Again, it is important to note that although women are mostly affected by the gender wage gap and the added burden of caretaking, the complexities of a genderqueer analysis opens the possibilities to explore how gender transgressive and sexual minorities are also impacted by gender wage gap and student loan debt if they adopt the more ‘feminine’ caretaking role in their partnerships.

However, focusing only on how gender pay gap negatively affects women who have accrued student loan debt ignores those who are so economically and socially disenfranchised that they cannot attend university (e.g., racial/ethnic minorities, urban and rural communities, those who are undocumented, persons with disabilities, etc.). In such social locations, the reality of unequal pay becomes a heavy burden to carry, particularly for women and single mothers, and perpetuates marginalization. 

 - Written by Brittan Davis

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

All Sides of Your Halloween Self

Boo!! Halloween is next Friday, so two lingering questions await.  First of all, what type of candy should I buy to give out to children (read: eat myself)? Secondly, what costume should I wear? Answering the former question tends to be easier for me.  My strategy is to walk into the depths of the candy aisle at the grocery store and buy whatever strikes my fancy.  Though effective, this strategy is also expensive and tends to lead to a stomach ache.  Answering the second question is definitely more complicated.

As a woman, I feel bombarded with the pressure to only be sexy for Halloween.  It seems that the entire world of Halloween costumes is not geared towards women, and the sexy costumes that are designed for women are often deemed “slutty.”  To be clear, women should absolutely feel free to be sexy, sexual, and sensual, but we should also feel free to be scared, gross, ugly, and weird!  

Herein lies my perennial frustration with Halloween.  Is Halloween just a holiday on which women are scripted to be sexualized, or can we be free to express ourselves as lumberjacks, athletes, and tacky 80’s prom dates? 

One of my favorite Halloweens was Halloween 2009.  In 2009, my partner and I dressed up as each other.  He was a muscular, solid 6’ 2”.  I was half a foot shorter with long red hair.  Besides the hilarity that we experienced poking fun at each other all night and acting silly, the highest compliment that I was paid that evening was when men and women thought I was a man.  I still glow with pride as I think of how I effectively fooled dozens of our friends into thinking that I was a man. 

An important memory I took away from Halloween 2009 was the widely positive reactions I received from friends and fellow-party goers when I was dressed as an over-masculine man.  It was nice to be affirmed in my costume choice despite shirking Halloween’s unwritten rule of sexualizing women.  As stated previously, I encourage women to explore their sexiness; however, don’t be limited by your sexuality or reduce yourself to only a sexual being.  We are funny, smart, independent, creative, and sexual beings.  

So whether you spend this Halloween as Catwoman, a tandem horse, a bloody zombie, or a sexy nurse, embrace all sides of your being.  Moreover, do not let others reduce you to just sex.  Be sexy, smart, sassy, and beautiful.  Or dress up as a man with a fake 5 o’clock shadow and a dirty-brown shaggy wig…

Happy Halloween!

- Written by Katy Owen 

Halloween - Let's Discuss!

Halloween is my absolute favorite holiday. 

There are many reasons for this and here are some:  

1. CANDY, 
2. Caramel apples, 
3. fall air 
5. Horror movies 
6. My husband and I began dating and 
7. Dressing up

As I was thinking about what to be for Halloween, just as I do every year, I wonder what ridiculous costumes I will find in stores. Of course, I run across this on Buzzfeed  and this at Huffington Post.  I have difficulty determining how I feel about the issue of “sexy costumes.” One time I dressed up as a “school girl,” but to combat the “sexy school girl female stereotype” I decided to make the costume bloody and look like a zombie. Last year, I created my own Red Riding Hood costume, which was an easy, comfortable costume, yet fun. This year, I am planning on making my own costume with a cool dress I found at Hot Topic. I found a cool Pinterest idea for a DIY costume.  I am not completely against wearing sexy costumes. I just have a debate within myself and have not decided where I fall on the topic. For me, the debate is between empowering female sexuality and body pride versus society’s sexualizing of females and perpetuation of stereotypes. I think that females should be proud of sexuality and should not have to hide it. I also think women should be proud of their bodies and not feel ashamed. However, on the flip side, I feel that society sexualizes women and sometimes reduces women to “sexy” or body parts. Many times, people are more concerned about females’ looks than intelligence, strength, or other characteristics.  Also, many of the costumes perpetuate stereotypes. I have not seen an engineer or scientist costume for women (they may really be out there somewhere), but I see plenty of nurse and maid costumes everywhere. I also think people should have a choice and determine if they want a sexy costume or not and when I go to the Halloween store, there never appears to be any costumes that are not sexy, but are still fun. I think choice is a key word for me. Another big deal to me is that women are choosing to show their sexuality for themselves (empowerment) and not just because of someone else or because they feel it is necessary for society (sexualization). Also, sexy does not have to be skimpy. It can be, but doesn’t have to be. And I hate paying $100 for less material or a costume that does not fit my body type. I seriously cannot even fit into most of the costumes anyway.

I would love to hear opinions and comments on this and whether or not others have the same debate. Please be respectful of those with differing opinions because there really is not a right or wrong answer here, just opinions. I would also like to know what others think can be done to change how people think about costumes or change what types of costumes are available (make a greater variety).

- Written by Savannah LeBarre

Masculinity, Objectification, and Advertising

My original idea for this post was going to be about ways to integrate men into feminist spaces.  I was going to talk about how once a man enters a feminist space and wants to talk about his experience, the reaction may feel like he is being slapped on the hand.  Though we want men in the space, feminist activism inherently deconstructs power structures in the dominant culture, one of which is the male voice as the voice.  This is often experienced as feminists being dismissive of men’s experiences, which seems hurtful and elicits defensiveness.  But the thing is: that is their issue to deal with.  We are not obligated to rush to them and listen intently, as our socialization might tell us that we should.  So I dug a little deeper and came to the conclusion that my greater concern is not whether or not men listen to me when I talk about my experience as a woman (I know it’s there, I live it every day).  What I do care about is how men listen to each other when they talk about the experiences of women.

I asked my spouse for some input on this one, and he told me a story from a few years back at his old job.  He worked in the restaurant industry, and a male co-worker was making very objectifying remarks about a female customer.  My husband, being the feminist he is, told the co-worker to cut it out.  The co-worker then called my husband a name, intending to insult his sexuality.  My husband informed him that what he just said could get him fired and that he really needs to educate himself about how to treat people or else he will be in serious trouble down the road, and the co-worker apologized (for real!).

This story got me thinking: what is the deal with the straight cisgender male?  Why do so many (read: not all) resort to insulting sexual orientation when given feedback on their objectifying behavior?  And, why do they objectify women anyway?  The sexual orientation piece has been unpacked before.  Having any sort of attraction to another person who is not a cisgender female suggests a man is less of a man.  In that way, sexual orientation is an insult to other men in the face of the insulter’s insecurity about being called out.  Done and done.  But, what about the objectification of women?  Where does that come from?

Drive down any interstate or watch TV for 30 minutes, and you are going to see chiseled men and women being used as sex objects to sell…well, anything.  It’s in our brains now: sex sells.  The reason it works is because it gets your attention, stimulates you.  You are going to spend more time looking at it, thinking about it, remembering it so that when you are in the store, you will buy it.  And, that strategy works for business, but it’s bad for our society.  The downside of this phenomenon is that we compare ourselves to these images.  Men and women see themselves portrayed this way and begin to think of it as ‘normal.’  Then, we start looking at each other, projecting these images on to people in real, non-photo-shopped life.  Thus, when someone calls you out on objectifying behavior, you think that person is being ridiculous, because you’re just doing what normal people do.  That may be true if you are talking about the majority of people, but it’s actually allowing yourself to be manipulated by advertisers, who make money off of making people feel a certain way so that they buy things.

The bottom line of this thought is that seeing people as people rather than as objects takes some level of mindful awareness.  We have to see our objectifying thoughts, recognizing that they are part of a culture that uses objectifying language and images to sell products.  It does not have to be who we are, though.  We can see each other as people and not tie our womanhood, manhood, or personhood into a dominant cultural narrative of objectification.  Advertising is not about reinforcing masculinity, it is about separating people from their money, and the two should never be confused.

- Written by Teresa Young

Recently, I attended a conference in the New England region. This conference not only 
enabled me to present my own poster on children with Autism Spectrum Disorder in China but 
also it had led me to learn from the posters that were presented. One of the posters that were presented focused on substance abuse and eating disorders among college females. The presenter Dr. Dunham addressed the issues of enabling responses, attitudes toward and knowledge about substance abuse and eating disorders. 

As I was listening to her presentation, I thought about its relationship to feminist psychology. The psychology of female college students has a lot to do with perception of others and role taking. As a result, these factors contribute to the development of cocaine abuse, bulimia, and alcohol abuse. 

Through the study, it shows that enabling behaviors are associated with abuse. For example, the process of providing money to support the abuse and making excuses for the abuse are part of the enabling behaviors. Enabling behaviors can not only negatively impact the person choices, but also can distort the person’s perceptions about the world.  For example, a college female would see alcohol abuse to be a normal when others are supporting her behaviors. 

This poster points to future directions of research in drug and alcohol preventions. Both females 
and males are in danger of enabling behaviors on campuses across the country. In terms of 
future research, perceptions of others are an important factor in relation to alcohol and drug abuse.

- Written by Shengyong Zou (Sherry)