Sunday, October 19, 2014

Texas Tech University and Rape Culture: #TTUnomeansno

So, there is a lot going on here at Texas Tech University.  This has reminded me how important it is for students – undergraduate and graduate – as well as faculty to engage in activism and advocacy.

Essentially, a fraternity on TTU’s campus had a boat with the slogan “no means yes, yes means anal.”  This boat has been around for at least 6 years and they have similar slogans like this for all their parties (e.g., an ice sculpture with “put out or get out” at an 80s themed party).  They also had a “vagina sprinkler” where a wooden cut out of a woman’s spread legs were attached to a sprinkler at the party.  The image went viral the next day. 

Eleven days after the event a protest happened on campus – women (all of them de-identified – a common experience is fear among women, not just fear of the campus climate, but fear of being punished for speaking out) hung banners around campus with a list of demands.


At this point, the president of the student government – a member of that organization and at the party – is refusing to resign.  Here is his apology.

There is some mobilization on campus, and it is a true pleasure to engage – people participating in the #itsonus campaign, the dean of students is getting involved with FMLA (feminist majority leadership alliance), as well as people speaking out about the student body president.

We’re seeing movement here… but it not enough.  This is not the first university with this experience and not the last.

However, with combined and persistent efforts, we as feminist scholars/clinicians can work with organizations to effectively enact change to make campus environments safer for students.

- Written by Samantha D. Christopher

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Women In Film… Or Not

According to a recent study commissioned by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, with support from UN Women and The Rockefeller Foundation, women account for less than a quarter (22.5 per cent) of on-screen roles in contemporary popular film.Besides being a wildly inaccurate portrayal of humanity (after all, half of the world’s population is female), these stats constitute trends that should be concerning to women and men alike. Women and girls who do make it onto the screen are twice as likely as their male counterparts to be shown in sexually revealing clothing, partially or fully naked, and/or thin. And, they’re five times as likely to be referenced as “attractive.”
Tomes of research from feminist psychology and beyond point to the importance of media in the gender socialization of youth. Documentaries like Dreamworlds – 3  and Killing Us Softly 4 (both directed by Sut Jhally) provide powerful illustrations of media messages and their potential consequences.
What should be done? Increasing women’s roles and addressing the disproportionate sexualization of women would be a start. But it isn’t enough. Consistent with the Bechdel test, the Geena Davis study found that females played only 15 per cent of on-screen high-powered roles (e.g., those of business executives, political figures, or STEM professionals). Is this the message we want to be sending our youth? It’s critical for us, as a society to look not only at how much but also at how we’re portraying women.
-Written by Corianna Elizabeth Sichel

Monday, October 6, 2014

Everyone's Issue

            Over the course of the past month, the media has splashed multiple stories about women’s issues from the icloud photo scandal to NFL football player Ray Rice’s, physically assaulting his wife. In each of these cases, I have found myself frustrated for the survivors of these attacks. In the wake of the icloud picture scandal the media splashed accusatory stories regarding the problems of taking nude photographs. In these articles, the newspapers accused the women of wanting photos to get leaked by merely taking the photos in the first place. In this case, there has been no suspect found guilty of either of the two photograph leaks. In the case of Ray Rice, only after a video leaked, was he suspended from the sport. Until this time, he was only removed from a few games. In both of these cases, the female survivors are blamed, and perpetrators only receive blame when there is visual proof of an assault.

            In the wake of these nude photographs and sexual assaults being splashed across the media, many organizations have begun to express the need for social change. Specifically, Emma Watson addressed the United Nations promoting her new campaign entitled HeforShe. She stated, “Men, I would like to extend your formal invitation to the conversation because gender equality is your issue too.” In her eloquent speech, Ms. Watson refers to her privileges of SES and familial support. However, as a woman, she also faces discrimination. In the wake of her speech, the media attacked her words and began to discuss the potentiality of her having nude photographs. In fact, I believe I saw more negative articles about Emma Watson than positive in the past few weeks. This is a travesty as many Emma’s speech supports gender equality for all.

            As a feminist and an advocate, I find myself frustrated watching the news and/or reading the paper. In fact, I have avoided doing so recently because I needed a break from being angry at the television. As I have grown in my own understanding of my feminist identity, I continue to become far more aware of the gender equality problems evident everyday in American culture. I agree with Emma Watson in this sense, this isn’t a female problem; it is an everyone problem. In his 2012 Ted Talk, Jackson Katz states “people believe the word gender is synonymous with women, so gender issues is equivalent to women’s issues…causing men to be invisible in large measure about issues that are primarily about them. In this sense men are erased from a conversation that is primarily about them.” In this case, gender equality, sexual assault, rape, domestic violence is everyone’s issue and should be treated as such. Think about it.

- Written by Emily L. Barnum, M.A.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Don’t Dominate to Assert Yourself

A couple of months ago, my fiancé shared with me an article about how men can dominate just about every situation without meaning to. It explained how men take on a posture that allows them to physically take up more than the space they really need. Also, the article stated that in conversation, men tend to dominate because their voices are louder, deeper, and more confident. 

Being a woman who constantly tries to shrink herself in social situations, I noted that while the article made a valid point about how men can be more conscious in their interactions with others it has also been my experience that women can be just as guilty of asserting themselves too much.

I cannot even begin to list the number of times I have been in an all-female setting, and felt my voice being lost in the conversation because I am not loud and I will not talk over people. That is just part of my personality. 

Often times, those who are participating in the conversation will not even notice that I have retreated from it. I think this is a problem if women want to succeed as a unit. 

The single basic principle of feminism is equality. If even within that group of like-minded people the introverts are being left-out, feminism has failed its first test. 

I joined the movement to help people like myself, to give them a voice because I know what it is like to be without one. And while I believe that assertiveness is a wonderful quality for anyone to have, it is not a part of my personality and probably never will be, so those who are assertive by nature should be aware of dominating feminist dialogues. 

No, I am not saying that assertive women should cater to those who are less so by altering their communication styles. I am saying that in the same way the article asked men to be more aware of their tendency to dominate in everyday life, so should women who were blessed with that characteristic. 

Self-awareness is a characteristic that everyone can benefit from, because it is important not only to assess your own role in every interaction, but the roles of others as well. We need to adjust our communication styles to fit the interaction.

Outspoken individuals should check themselves to make certain that they aren’t dominating an interaction, especially when the interaction is with someone less outspoken. Quiet folks, like myself, should do the same and make certain they aren’t allowing themselves to be dominated. 

If feminism is not allowing all women’s voices to be heard, then it isn’t helping women as a whole, it is pushing some of us further into the background and, even worse, it is being done to feminists by feminists. 

- Written by Jocelyn Zoe Gibson

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Fear of feminism: 2014 Edition

A few nights ago, I received a picture message from a friend of mine in Chicago. The image sent was a meme of Amy Poehler, the hilarious female actress, speaking to women who renounce feminism. She stated, “That’s like someone being like, ‘I don’t really believe in cars, but I drive one every day and I love that it gets me places and makes life so much easier and faster and I don’t know what I would do without it.” This message speaks to a long-standing issue that I have come across as a young woman today. The first issue being that this meme was sent to me directly because, in my belief, pro-feminist messages aren’t always well digested within the larger social media community. Sadly, the truth of the matter is that social media is simply a reflection of what exists within the larger culture.
The Amy Poehler meme then reminded me of a piece I read as an undergraduate written by Lisa Marie Hogeland called Fear of Feminism. Hogeland used the words “of course” to acknowledge the blatant stance that women have taken regarding feminism when she stated, “Of course young women are afraid of feminism.” (Hogeland 722) After all, “It is far easier to rest in silence, as if silence were neutrality, and as if neutrality were safety. Neither wholly cynical nor wholly apathetic; women who fear feminism fear living in consequence.” (Hogeland 724) I believe that Hogeland makes a valid point about feminism being dangerous by stating, “We do young women no service if we suggest to them that feminism itself is safe. It is not.” It is not easy to question and “stand opposed to your culture, to be critical of institutions, behaviors, discourses.” (Hogeland 725)  We find it much easier to stand silent and agree with terms because of subconscious cues that enhance our gender consciousness. If a young woman were to question the limits put on her and wanted to challenge these very norms, this ironically could cause her to limit herself further because this “limits the options of who they might become with a partner, how they might decide to live…feminist identity puts them out of the pool for many men.” (Hogeland 723)  I am aware that comment endorses a heteronormative attitude, and therefore also hope that women who identify as a sexual minority will not experience the same set of limitations. Limiting a woman with her partner options shouldn’t be such a great risk, but in fact it is. This is due to the fact that “our culture allows women so little scope for development, for exploration, for testing the boundaries of what they can do and who they can be, that romantic and sexual relationships become the primary, too often the only, arena for selfhood.” (Hogeland 723) Here we see women in a double bind, which is not surprising. The concept of limiting women strikes me as a recurring theme. I view women’s silence and  inaction as further reinforcement to self-limiting behaviors. However, this should come as no surprise considering social norms value women who stay silent, although this form of behavior continues to perpetuate these oppressing cycles.
However, that is not the issue today. Instead, I am saddened to say that we are worse off. Women are not staying silent about their oppression as before. Instead, women are screaming out loud and running in the opposite direction. I believe that we are dealing with a different beast today. After coming across an article in the Huffington titled “9 Photos That Prove These 'Women Against Feminism' Still Need Feminism” and receiving many reactive comments to my status as a feminist, I have realized that the beast we are dealing with today is simply the lack of understanding about the word feminism and what it means to be a feminist. It seems as though Derrick Clifton, the author of the Huffington post article, caught onto this issue by stating his first sentence as, “Anti-feminist woman. Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it?” The truth is, yes. The sad truth is that today many women are not subject to the dangers of protests; this is not the second wave feminism era. We are not starving ourselves and being force fed through tubes in a jail like Alice Paul in order to fight for the right for women to vote. Although these things sound treacherous, they created meaning and value for the word feminism for women. Instead, women are fighting the horrific battle of being called the ever so nasty word; feminist. The word feminist has caught such a rancid connotation that it is used as an insult.
The reality is that many people, including women themselves, are not aware of the actual definition of feminism. Feminism poses equality for all, including women themselves. How could one knowingly choose to stay oppressed? The concept itself goes against everything we know to be evolutionarily true about humanity. Of course the discussion has been presented many times where women may state that women’s right to vote was a political movement and should not be identified as a feminist movement. But they stand unaware that it was women who worked together to attain the right to vote because “the personal is political” and at that time the inability to exercise that right was personal to women and eventually became a political issue. Then to add insult to injury, the next statement usually follows as such, “Well, we can vote now. So who still needs feminism?” The actuality is that more times than not feminism and its purpose is not understood correctly and that if it were to be accurately comprehended, it would only seem sane to grant yourself the desire to want equality. Instead, we as a culture are stuck and fixated on the falsely created narrow conceptualization of a word. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Most of the time feminists are women and men who simply would stand against the misunderstandings of culture and fight to see equality.
I would love to say that the issues we face today are issues of value and honor, or existing due to binds where women are stuck in the role of a martyr as Lisa explained in her beautifully written piece. But the truth of the matter is that today our issues with feminism can’t be reached because we can’t get past the false connotation of the word itself to actually do honorable work. We are nothing like Alice Paul. We are not starving ourselves protesting for the right to vote. Instead, we are on Facebook and Tumblr protesting about how much we hate being called a feminist.

 - Written by Sevan Makhoulian, B.A.





 Clifton, Derrick. 9 Photos That Prove These 'Women Against Feminism' Still Need

            Feminism. Huffington Post. 20 September 2014        
Hogeland, Lisa Marie. "Fear of Feminism." Women’s Voices Feminist Vision.
            Susan Shaw. Janet Lee.   New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2009. 722-725


Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Culture of Domestic Violence in the NFL

I’m a football fan. I’ve been watching the Patriots play since Drew Bledsoe was the model of the stiff-legged quarterback, and I’ve recently carved out a spot in my heart for the poor, poor Browns. So when I begin this post with a title that declares the NFL to have a culture of domestic violence, it is not from a place of malice towards an out-group or of ignorance of a culture. Instead it is from a place of pain and with a sadness in my heart that I admit that this thing I love, this part of so many of us, has an attitude of passivity towards the violent behavior that players impose upon their families.

Ray Rice was seen dragging his fiancée by the hair through a casino. The NFL did not pursue additional information, including the tape that was later obtained by TMZ.  Instead they ignored it and banned Rice for two games. It was only when their hands were forced that they instituted a serious ban. Adrian Peterson was known to be facing charges of child endangerment/child abuse. He was allowed to play for his team until a warrant was put out for his arrest. Greg Hardy’s domestic violence case was also not a surprise. These are not small time players, and this is not a couple isolated incidents. These are some of the NFL’s biggest stars and This. Is. A. Problem.

Like many young men, I played football in high school. I had been watching the sport for years and I saw a chance to do something that seemed ‘manly’, that showed toughness. How is abusing your children manly? How is dragging your unconscious fiancée around by her hair being tough? Protip: these actions are neither manly nor tough.

NFL teams’ responses have been as poor as the league responses. Two of the three players mentioned above are currently on the NFL’s “exempt/commissioner” list, a designation that is rarely used but was intended to give players time to address “off the field issues”. Both Peterson and Hardy, by the way, are still being paid their salary while they are on “leave”. That’s over $700,000 per week for Hardy. Past NFL players who have been placed on this list include Michael Vick, who was sent to prison for his role in a dog fighting ring. Basically it’s a way for teams to take their legally troubled players out of the limelight and off the field until the trouble blows over.

This statement leads me back to the problem I mention in my first paragraph, the problematic attitude of passivity towards domestic violence that the NFL has exhibited. Perhaps passivity is even too weak a word. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that that the NFL chose not to act, chose to turn a blind eye to the domestic violence problem that it has, and in doing so tacitly encouraged this culture of violence in the home. The NFL estimates that over 40% of its fan base in female. Mr. Goodell, how can you encourage the abuse of women when they make up over a third of your fan base? How can you encourage the abuse of children, who may want to grow up to play the very game that has in some way influenced they violence they faced in their own lives?

A post by Angela Barney was featured on this blog a couple weeks ago highlighting the lack of initial punishment in the Rice case and focusing on the sometimes appalling responses to the case from some ESPN and other news anchors. Ms. Barney’s post covers those topics better than I could hope to, and articulates some greater societal problems that we have with the issue. As an entity that provides role models for millions of children, as an intrinsic part of American culture, the NFL needs to do better. Roger Goodell’s apology for choosing to ignore evidence and suspend Rice only two games is not enough. The new policy is a step in the right direction, but it is still not enough. The NFL needs to take responsibility for its actions. It needs to admit that it was wrong, and that it has been ignoring what is truly a problem that is faced by its players and those they love. It needs to step up and get help for all those involved and implement programs to educate players and prevent these problems from occurring in the first place. Until then their fans, their sponsors, and the world will be left wondering whether football is the same American staple is has been, or whether it will cease to be a place where role models and good work ethic can be demonstrated and extolled.

I close this post as I opened it, a fan of football waiting for Sunday to watch my teams play. I hope that is not a decision I find myself regretting.

- Written by Eric R. McCurdy

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Othering Locs in the Military

Over the past 12 years, my locs have grown into a very noticeable feature. Strangers frequently ask how long I have been growing them and compliment me on their appearance. When I wear them down, they almost reach my butt. I am known to refer to my locs as The Hair. They have evolved into at least a portion of my self-identity, and I cannot imagine my life without them.

It was not always this way. When I decided to go natural, it was during my undergraduate years when I became fascinated with Afrocentric spoken word venues, racial concerns, and generally learning to become proud of my Blackness. I do not believe I ever was not proud, but developmentally, my early 20s were times of discovery and acceptance. (I prefer to refer to my teenage years as my stage of chaos and confusion.)

I stopped putting relaxers in my hair, and eventually cut it off altogether. As a result, I wore a very low boy’s cut for some time. My hair wasn’t even long enough to comb out into a mini Afro. I often wore variously colored wraps over my hair when out in public. Needless to write, I have no pictures of this very awkward time period when I felt very good about my decision while also being conscious of how the rest of the world would view a woman with no hair.

My awkward, just beginning to grow out my natural hair phase was short. Eventually, the hair became long enough to twist and after that moment, it was just the patience of allowing them to take on their new form. And without the chemicals found in relaxers, my hair grew quickly, long, and dare I say it…beautiful. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I don’t concern myself with persons who don’t find natural hair beautiful. Who are they to judge?

Back in April, there were several headlines asserting that banning loc hairstyles, as found in newly published professional appearance standards for persons in the United States military, is racially biased. However, the banning of locs is not some new phenomenon, as can be exemplified from the following excerpt dated at least 5 years ago:

Dreadlocks (unkempt, twisted, matted individual parts of hair) are prohibited in uniform or in civilian clothes on duty. Army Regulation 670-1  

I am not aware of any petitions concerning the above regulations 5 years ago. However, when the revised manual was released essentially banning locs (I prefer the term locs to dreadlocks, but that is an entirely different blog), twists, and large cornrows, there was considerable criticism and pushback. My guess is that the goal of neat, maintained natural hairstyles struck the right nerves and the right number of advocates managed to gather enough supportive momentum to reach the resulting policy-changing media frenzy. 

Recently, military regulations (the Marine Corps remaining an exception) have been revised to expand their definitions of acceptable hairstyles to include cornrows, braids, and “other hairstyles.” Of importance, the phrase “matted and unkempt” is being eliminated as recognized offensive language. The chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus has publicly stated that the traditional hairstyles worn by women of color are often necessary to meet unique needs, and do not reflect less professionalism or commitment to high standards as expected within the armed forces.

This is a win…for natural hair wearers generally, but not necessarily us loc wearers. Allow me to read between the lines. Cornrows and braids specifically are named as acceptable. This means twists and locs are discretionary. Moreover, the elimination of “matted and unkempt” makes the natural hair wearers feel more accepted, but this acceptance separates the natural hair wearers from the loc wearers. Here is a news flash. Some loc wearers prefer their hair matted and unkempt, and do not find it offensive for others to believe it so. Again, who are these people to judge?

My problem and frustration with this dialogue of banning locs are the many misconceptions that surfaced as a result. Yes, certain celebrities have made locs popular to the non-Bob Marley influenced crowd in recent years, but the hairstyle itself has never been a fad. Locs did not start with Bob Marley or Jamaica. Bob Marley made them popular, yes, but locs were worn all over the country a very long time before Marley was born. What do you think people of (more directly) African descent did before relaxers?

The fact of the matter is that African Americans have different hair. I know we’re in a country where a melting pot is the ideal, but I am not going to pretend I can just hang out at a beach for a week at a time without hating my hair by day 2. It takes forever to wash bits of sand out of hair locs. I cannot just shampoo and rinse after a day at the beach. Trust me on this one. I also am not going to pretend like the many years I spent relaxing my hair each month and changing my hairstyle each week was a walk on the beach. It takes hours in a hair salon for an African American woman to meet European hair standards. I know this from personal experience.

I concur that natural hairstyles are appropriate for the unique needs of African American women’s hair. I spend almost no time in hair salons now. However, I do not judge African American women who do not wear their hair in its natural form. The stigma that locs are not professional or somehow substandard is a pervasive, identity challenging experience that starts in infancy when complete strangers as well as family members coo over “baby hair” and chastise “nappy roots.”

We cannot always be babies. We must grow up.

We must start interacting with the outside world where European beauty reigns in the media and everyday social interactions. I am in the professional world. When I show up to work with unkempt locs rather than neat freshly retwisted ones, there are whispered discussions from my co-workers. These co-workers are of African descent and even some are natural hair wearers. I dream of a world where I do not have to constantly groom my locs in order to fulfill my everyday work tasks without someone else’s opinion of my personally accepted appearance.

As far as military regulations go, I say if the hairstyle does not impair work performance, let it be. If it does, then follow the appropriate procedure in terms of performance review and allow the person to make the decision. It would be silly to wear certain hairstyles while in active combat, but the military is full of work positions that do not involve specific performance demands that might be impaired by certain hairstyles.

As far as my hair being extreme or a distraction…that is an opinion – not a fact. My hair is different, but I don’t find it extreme nor do I find it to be a distraction. If someone unfamiliar with locs is awestruck, that is a reflection of how stagnant we are as a country regarding cultural differences. It does not make it an inarguable fact.

Long loc wearers like myself aren’t joining military ranks in large droves anyway so this really is a minority of a minority perspective. Still, I must note that as a long loc wearer in the process of obtaining a needed professional degree that does not require the restrictive uniform of someone in combat, it is the United States military’s loss not mine.

 - Written by Sy Pryor