Archive | February, 2013

By a Novice

28 Feb

by Anonymous

I’ve often found in discussions of feminism and sex, feminists bring up the seemingly inevitable argument of lack of concern on society’s part for women’s sexual health and pleasure. Yet, in all my wonderings I rarely come across an article or really any information that helps women to attain, how shall we put this, an earth shattering orgasm. I address this not just to the feminists out there, but really to everyone; I want to know, how do you make a girl cum?

I tell you right now, google that, and you get a whole lot of unpleasant videos that you didn’t necessarily want to see. I’m really serious though. I’ve seen plenty of articles like this, explaining to “us, girls” that we need to get out and masturbate. Truth is, one of the reasons women don’t masturbate is because it’s not necessarily that easy. Now, before heads start rolling, let me discuss. Look up any study, and it’ll usually cite something like 30% of women are unable to orgasm, a condition called anorgasmia. Articles like WebMD or this explain that a lot goes into a woman’s “sexual response cycle,” or, as you may think of it, a heated build up and a loud and quaking climax. This is mainly the stuff we’ve all heard before. That women’s orgasms are psychological, that they need to feel safe, that they have to be aroused, stuff like that. While most of this is true, it still doesn’t address the problem that a lot of women have when all those things are taken care of. When a girl is down and wet, there should be no problem getting her to climax. So why do so many women fake it? And why all the difficulties with masturbation? I say, lack of education.

The sad truth is, not many people know what’s going on down there. That’s right, not even women, not even your mothers. We’re taught what people think we need to know, how to be safe, how not to ruin your life, and that’s about it. Actually, that’s not it. For the male reproductive system, we’re taught all about the male arousal system, how the penis becomes erect and ejaculates sperm at the moment of climax. But what do we learn about the female reproductive system? Menstruation. We learn about bleeding and bloating. Maybe, just maybe, you lucky few got shown where the clitoris is, but I highly doubt it looked anything near what you would see if you actually looked between a girl’s legs. What sex ed. ever teaches about female ejaculation or arousal? It’s like all they teach us in school is how to get pregnant, how not to get pregnant, and how not to get an STD.

If you don’t already know what’s going on down there, thrusting your hand between a girls legs, whether they be yours or someone elses, isn’t always the most pleasant of answers, yet that seems to be what a lot of people suggest, to “explore your body.” My suggestion, DO YOUR RESEARCH. There are sites that will give you shit like this. Cosmo can be really great, but honestly you could probably learn those same things from a slightly drunken and inappropriate aunt. When I’m doing research, I want to know where to go, what to look for, what to touch, how touch, what to do, what responses to look for, etc. So that’s what I’m hoping to provide you with here. Not making any promises, but if you’re interested in learning some about the female anatomy I’ll be posting more with explicit details. And so you don’t go away too empty handed here’s my first tip. Invest in a vibrator (cheap at first, don’t break the budget on your first one, cause there will be more) and a bottle of lube. If you’re thinking about not doing those two things, seriously reconsider.

Oscar Pistorius is Not a Fallen Hero

27 Feb

by Erin Riordan

By now everyone has heard about the murder committed by Oscar Pistorius on Valentine’s Day. Pistorius had been fighting with his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp when she locked herself in the bathroom. Pistorius then shot Steenkamp through the bathroom door, killing her. The prosecution claims the murder was premeditated, the defense counters that Pistorius mistook Steenkamp for a burglar and that the murder was a tragic accident.[1] Steenkamp’s murder has grabbed international media attention, with headlines the world over proclaiming Pistorius a “fallen hero,” a once noble and admired athlete fallen from grace.

Pistorius is a world-renowned sprint runner from South Africa who competed in both the Paralympics and the Olympics. Nicknamed Blade Runner, he is famous both for his incredible athletic ability, and because he is the first amputee to win an able-bodied world track medal and the first double-amputee to participate in the Olympics. Pistorius has won dozens of medals and awards, and has $2 million U.S. dollars worth of endorsement deals, with companies including Nike, Oakley, and Thierry Mugler. But all this is falling apart now as Pistorius faces a premeditated murder charge. His sponsors have dropped him, and the International Paralympic Committee and South Africa’s Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee have both announced official stances of neutrality on the issue.

But I think the sports world needs to do more. Violence committed by athletes is by no means a new or surprising issue. Many professional and collegiate athletes have been convicted of sexual assault, and many more face charges that are frequently laughed off or deemed illegitimate, especially at the collegiate level. Even some athletes who are convicted of rape still enjoy successful careers, as in the case of Marlon King, who after serving 18 months for sexual assault charges was released and signed with a new team.[2] The sports world cannot only react to instances of violence and sexual assault when the instances are particularly violent or happen to attract the attention of the international community. We need to take seriously every case involving violence and sexual assault that professional athletes are involved in, and there need to be real consequences for these crimes.

While records and accounts are somewhat murky, it does appear that Pistorius had a history of violence. In 2009 Pistorius was charged with assault against a 19-year-old girl, though a month later charges were dropped.[3] And despite the fact that Steenkamp was murdered with Pistorius’s gun, police also found a bloodied cricket bat in his house that is now considered a key part of the murder investigation.[4] Several confusing reports from Pistorius’s neighbors and police indicate that issues of domestic disturbance were not unique at Pistorius’s residence. While this is by no means a complete picture of Pistorius’s past, and it is difficult to draw any conclusions from events prior to Steenkamp’s murder, this history of ambiguous violence should have given everyone who painted Pistorius a hero pause.

I am not suggesting that Pistorius should have always been painted a monster or violent and abusive, especially with such previously inconclusive evidence, but when choosing to elevate someone to the status of hero, when choosing to make them an icon, I think it is important to be conscious of all elements of their character and their life. We need to be careful whom we present as role models for our children, who we anoint superstars. There is such a wide expanse between hero and villain, and that is where Pistorius should have lived in our minds before he murdered Steenkamp. If we had seen him, and every other athlete, as human rather than as a beyond human super athlete, perhaps we could have recognized his violence sooner, and perhaps Steenkamp’s death would not have come as such a shock.

The world of sports needs to pull its head out of the sand and take account of the behavior of the athletes it places on pedestals. Too much violence is forgiven and granted a free pass in athletics, which only perpetuates violence and sexual assault, and creates a culture where violence is ok. We do not need more athletes like those at Steubenville or the football player at Notre Dame, and so many other high schools and universities, who think it is ok to behave however they want, that there will be no consequences or a price to pay. There is a price, and that price is the lives of women like Elizabeth Seeberg and Reeva Steenkamp, a price that should not be forgotten or ignored or swept under the rug just because it is our heroes and idols who are responsible for these tragedies.

The MILF Diet

26 Feb

by Kayla Corcoran

Let me begin by writing that I am a lover of books. It’s the first prerequisite for being an English major, and I am a highly indiscriminate reader. So please understand that I am serious when I write that there are not of lot of books that I dislike considerably (and by dislike considerably, I mean despise with a burning passion). Up until now, in fact, I wasn’t sure that any book existed that I couldn’t find a way to like just a little bit. But then I found Jessica Porter’s The MILF Diet. And it made me want to gouge my eyes out with a rusty spoon.
Naturally, I’m now going to share it with you.

The full title of the cookbook is The MILF Diet: Let the Power of Whole Foods Transform Your Body, Mind, and Spirit…Deliciously (2013). Well isn’t that a mouthful. First, for those of you who don’t know what a “MILF” is, I’ll let Ms. Porter explain: “These days, ‘MILF’ has become a compliment. While other names for sexy women have remained stuck to the brothel floor, ‘MILF’ has picked itself up, crawled out the door, and marched with pride into the local health food store.” Wait, I’m sorry. When did that happen? Porter continues, writing, “What’s best about ‘MILF’ is that the term was generated by men, for men. It’s not some politically correct label we’re trying to shove down their throats. Perhaps the term ‘MILF’ is evidence that a healing is going on in our newly minted males…Maybe it’s because there are just some very sexy mothers out there, pushing their carts at Whole Foods. No matter its origins, I’m suggesting that we co-opt this term and wear it with pride.”

Like the word “MILF” itself, there is so much going on with Porter’s description. I admire her ability to see the silver lining of the “MILF” cloud, but I hardly think the word’s best feature is that men thought it up. Porter misses the mark on this one by several yards. Men did not invent “MILF” to empower sexy mothers: men invented “MILF” to objectify women. And if “MILF” is “evidence” that men are “healing,” why do women need to “co-opt” the term and reclaim it if it’s already so great?

I’m all for women taking control of their sexuality and adopting whatever words they believe best fit that project, but let’s consider the implications of “MILF” a little more closely before we jump on the adoption bandwagon. “MILF,” which stands for “Mother I’d Like to Fuck,” implies that there are certain mothers with whom one would have sex and others with whom one would not. In other words, some mothers are sexy and some mothers are not. Let me make this clear for the record: pregnancy is a beautiful and miraculous act. To suggest that any woman who has given birth is anything less than sexy is to ignore the fundamental miracle of the woman’s ability to carry and conceive a child. Giving birth imparts its own kind of transcendent sexuality upon mothers, and that sexuality is far and above any kind of surface distinctions of what it means to be “smoking hot.”

But, fine. Let’s concede for a moment that Porter might have some semblance of a good idea operating in her cookbook. Encouraging women to embrace their sexuality can never be a bad thing. Unless, of course, you define exactly what that sexuality must look like and how women should get there. What kind of sexuality are we talking about anyways? It’s a certain “feminine je ne sais quoi,” Porter writes, that comes from being a “soft and receptive force.” “Remember, you radiate a powerful, womanly, nourishing force. Your very essence makes a man feel strong and alive.” The sexuality that Porter encourages women to embrace is the same misogynistic sexuality that society has been imposing on women for centuries. Why is it that a woman’s essence must make a man “feel strong and alive”? A woman’s sexuality is for no one but herself, and that means it may look nothing like Porter’s idea of sexuality, which is apparently something like being the “head pom pom waver on Mother Nature’s cheerleading squad.”

In case you do want to be a “card-carrying member of the Yin club,” make sure you buy lots of whole grains. They are the only way of becoming a true “MILF” because they are where “the female body finds its peaceful home again.” Porter wisely advises us that “sea vegetables will make your skin all dewy and your hair stronger and shinier. Bye-bye, tracksuits! Hello, cute tennis outfits! Your DILF won’t know what hit ‘im.” I am one hundred percent for healthy eating. But I cannot get behind Porter’s advocating for healthy eating as a disguised attempt to force all women into a narrow box of what it means to be sexy (you are only allowed to wear tennis outfits, apparently). Yet again, Porter concludes her argument with how the man will feel about a woman being healthy. Not how the woman will feel (only how she will look).

There is so much wrong with this cookbook. Not only does Porter include a recipe for DILF fried rice, but she encourages women to embrace their sexuality even as she rigidly defines for them what that sexuality is allowed to look like. The most fascinating and frustrating part of the entire charade is that Porter does this all in the guise of Feminism. Porter’s cookbook, which has received rave reviews on Amazon, promises that the MILF diet will help you “find your own inner balance and a whole new dimension to your feminine power.”

Feminine power? There isn’t one ounce of Feminism in this cookbook, and the entire project is an embarrassment to those critical works that have done so much for the Feminist movement. Emily Bestler Books released The MILF Diet on January 1st of this year, making Porter’s book an almost direct descendent of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, which was published fifty years ago on February 19, 1963. It is disconcerting that the very “je ne sais quoi” problem which Friedan’s provocative piece took as its subject in 1963 becomes something to be eagerly sought after and worshipped in Porter’s modern cookbook.

Let us remember that ordinary objects are not exempt from their influence on Feminism and how we think about gender. Conscious consumerism can help eliminate these types of ridiculous products in the future. For now, we’re left with Porter’s “sexy and vital” cookbook and a faint hope that The MILF Diet contains a recipe for gouged-out eyeballs.

Why do we blame the victim?

25 Feb

by Kat Kelley

Sexual assault is never warranted.

Straight forward, right?

In theory.

In practice, this is not how our society responds to cases of sexual violence. Our society tends to teach “don’t get raped,” as opposed to “don’t rape.” Everyone (read: all women) is assumed to be a potential victim, but nobody a potential perpetrator. Great. I’m all about giving people the benefit of the doubt, but while we’re at it, let’s give survivors of sexual violence the benefit of the doubt.

Survivor’s stories are treated with disbelief, wholly invalidated. Asking a survivor if “maybe it was a misunderstanding?” is offensive. No one is confusing sexual violence with embarrassing hook ups. Losing your autonomy, having your control and choice stolen from you- is not even in the realm of regret or embarrassment. Sexual violence is not a sexual act, but an act of power.

Other stories are treated with accusation and suspicion. There is no benefit to false reporting. The Department of Justice estimates that 2% of sexual assault reports are false. Two percent. That means 98% are true. And my god, why would someone lie about that. Revenge or regret? I don’t think so. As is, so few perpetrators are convicted- a perpetrator must merely insist that the survivor consented to invoke reasonable doubt.

And the worst- blame. What were you wearing? Excuse me. What was the perpetrator wearing? Or does anyone ever ask the victim of mugging what they were wearing?

And if you don’t think victim blaming is a thing, here’s a couple of extreme examples. Those are extreme. But here’s the thing. These are real. This is what makes the news, these are the cases that are hyperboles of a very real and prevalent problem. Victim blaming is institutionalized. It is endemic.

Survivors’ attire, behavior, sexual history, and alcohol consumption are all brought against them. Right, because no one has ever been raped in sweats. Because flirting with someone gives them the right to have sex with you. Let me be clear- no one is ever entitled to another’s body. Not in a relationship, not if they are in your bed making out with you. You always have the right to say no, and you must always respect someone’s “no,” (or their lack of affirmative consent).


Why do we do it? Why is it considered acceptable? Why is it so endemic?

Societal Indoctrination. In our society, women are taught that we are responsible for preventing our own assault. Don’t be alone at night, dress conservatively, walk in lighted areas, etc. Yo- I love safety tips, but women are taught, or rather drilled these tips as “prevention” methods against sexual sexual assault.

Right, because someone can entirely prevent themselves from being sexually assaulted. They can “reduce their risk,” but the only person who can prevent assault is the perpetrator. Plus, as these tips prevent against stranger assault, which comprises less than 1/3 of accounts, they are of questionable utility.

So this schooling puts the onus on the survivor- which guides both survivors and those who hear their stories to respond in kind.

However, there is another reason we blame victims, and thats because the truth is terrifying. If you truly internalize the stats- this world, even this campus, loses any sense of safety. So victim blaming is in some way a defense mechanism. It’s comforting to think that if we follow these tips, if we do all the right things, we won’t be at risk.

While we must quit the habit, we also cannot live our lives in paranoia. So women- don’t let the threat of sexual assault restrict your lifestyle. Be safety smart, but don’t push that body conscious dress to the back of your closet in the name of prevention. You have every right to dress, act, and live as you like- and we need to acknowledge that whatever that entails, whatever one’s choices or actions are, sexual assault is never warranted.

(Sorry for the heteronormative language- it is based on me taking issue with heteronormative sexual assault myths). Additionally, if you find anything in this article triggering, please know that resources and support are available.

Heavy Lifting

25 Feb

by Meghan Ferguson

Let me paint a scene for y’all – it’s a weekday night, you’re at Yates and as you’re running or elliptical-ing, cursing that big lunch you had at Epi, you survey the local wildlife.  On the one side of the gym there are people doing cardio – a good mix of men and women – and then you look to the left to the weights and suddenly, it’s a sausage fest.  The weights section is filled with guys pumping iron and trying to bulk up, and there isn’t a single woman.  Maybe you’ll get the occasional woman, but in that case she’s using super light weights and isn’t there for long before crossing back to the other side.  It’s like there’s an invisible forcefield separating the two sides, and no one tries to cross it.
Our culture has decided that while men have to be jacked and have more muscles than they know what to do with, women – while being skinny and perfectly toned – cannot have muscles, or at least not very big ones.  Any women who transgress this standard do so at the risk of being called ‘un-feminine’ (ooooh, so scary), ‘butch’, or ‘dyke’.  As an athlete, and a rugger at that, I lift a lot because it’s what I have to do to stay in shape and because I straight up enjoy it, and yet when I lift to get strong many people do not recognise it as that.  My mother told me once that I shouldn’t lift too much because then my arms and legs would get too big and that’s not attractive; someone else told me that women with really muscled arms look kinda weird; I’ve also been told that obviously I’m just trying to ‘butch up’.  What I do at the gym has very little to do with my appearance or trying to fit into a stereotype, and yet society assumes that it’s the case because I’m a woman and, well, what else do we ever think about?  Even having said all this, when I do lift at Yates, every time I cross over that magic line it still feels weird, like I’m somewhere I’m not supposed to be no matter how frequently I go there and no matter how much I know what I’m doing.
On a larger scale, look at something like the Olympics, specifically weightlifting.  While I personally do not find the sport particularly riveting to watch (you’ll find me watching Rugby, Women’s Beach Volleyball, or the US Women’s soccer team), I think it’s incredible how much those people can lift and how much training went into getting there, men and women alike.  Despite my level of respect for these athletes, the rest of the world can’t quite seem to get on board and instead like to focus on women’s appearances.  For example, Sarah Robles is an Olympic lifter for the US – and a damn good one at that – but struggled to get a sponsor so she could afford to make it to London for the Olympics simply because she doesn’t look like society’s idea of an attractive woman.  Nevermind the fact that she is good at what she does and worked hard to get there, all her training and achievements are thrown out the window because of how she looks.  A super-built man does not face the same challenges, and in fact the more muscled a man is, the more acclaim he gets.  There’s a reason there’s a competition every year for the world’s strongest man and not one for women.  When men have the build of a heavy lifter, no one bats an eye because it is socially acceptable for men to look like this, because being strong equates with being more masculine.
Most, if not all, of this goes back to the whole issue of the gender binary and society’s expectations for what a “real” woman and “real” man are, and a complete lack of respect for women’s physical achievements.  As for the Yates divide, I don’t know if that is particularly unique to Georgetown because we are such a gender-normative campus, or if this is how most other gyms are, but regardless, it is still indicative of a much broader issue.  Women are strong, and we should be able to look the part too and be proud of it.

Reclaiming Pro-Choice

23 Feb

by Haylie Jacobson

January 22, marked the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion nationwide.  Even before Roe the terms pro-choice and pro-life were used to politically frame a point of view regarding abortion rights. In the last 40 years, however, those who believe that abortion is a purely moral issue have distorted these labels. For many of us who support a woman’s right to make decisions about her body, this distortion is troubling. Where once pro-life meant the opposition to legalized abortion, it now seems to encompass anyone who, for personal reasons, disagrees with the concept of abortion. This transformation is clearly demonstrated by the fact that while a majority of young Americans label themselves as pro-life, two-thirds of the same group agree with the decision of Roe v. Wade. While these statistics appear contradictory, they actually reveal that somewhere in the last forty years the pro-choice movement got lost. Rather than being associated with individual freedom and trust in the decisions of our fellow Americans, the pro-choice movement has come to be viewed as radical and marginalized. I refuse to accept this misguided transformation of what it means to be pro-choice.

As a result of the aforementioned statistics and the increasingly distorted meaning of pro-choice, many organizations and individuals have decided to abandon the label and move towards a name-less gray area. This shift represents a seeming lack of conviction that this movement, given the countless attacks it has undergone in the last few years, simply cannot tolerate. Not only does renouncing pro-choice appear to be a concession on the issue, but it also gives the impression that those who are anti-choice, those who oppose legal abortion, have succeeded in seizing the movement and redefining it on their own terms.

Instead of deserting pro-choice we must reclaim it. While there are those who argue that the labels pro-life and pro-choice are too black and white, this is simply not the case. In actuality, pro-choice is the gray area, because it allows individuals to practice their own beliefs, without imposing those beliefs on others. Pro-choice means that, regardless of personal values, moral or otherwise, we trust in the right of men and women to make decisions for themselves and for their bodies without unnecessary outside imposition or restriction. Pro-choice means that we respect the situations and circumstances of other individuals. Pro-choice means that we not only recognize a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion, but also her right to make that decision independently or with the help of those she trusts.

In addition, it is incredibly important to recognize, especially here at Georgetown, that, while pro-choice includes the issue of abortion, it encompasses many more decisions that both men and women make throughout their lives. These include, but are certainly not limited to: the decision to have sex, the decision to use contraception, the decision to be tested for STIs and many more.

However, Reclaiming pro-choice here at Georgetown is no easy task. There is a stigma that is attached pro-choice, and many other women’s issues, across this campus. This stigma silences students, rather than promoting “serious and sustained discourse among people of different faiths, cultures, and beliefs” as the Georgetown Mission Statement advocates. To reclaim pro-choice at Georgetown we must reclaim this university as a space where diversity of opinion is valued, where students, faculty and staff are encouraged to speak up and not be censored, where we engage “Cura Personalis” by holding a “distinct respect for [one’s] unique circumstances and concerns,” and where the pro-choice label is something to be proud of, not something to shy away from out of confusion or fear.

This article originally appeared in The Hoya.

Why Politicians Should Care

22 Feb

by Zoe Mowl

If you asked me about two years ago, I would never have identified as a feminist. Now I consider it an integral part of who I am- I am a feminist and extremely proud of it. Yet, it seems that too often when I mention this in front of polite company who do not already know me, they look at me with bemused expressions and sometimes stop to ask why? Why do I identify as a feminist when women in this country already have equal rights to men? Why do I want to bring a dead fight back to life? Why do I wish that more politicians would identify as feminists and support more legislation that empowers women? The short and simple answer to all of these questions is because I believe in equality, and I think that any representative of this country should as well.

I will be the first to admit that extraordinary progress has been made for women in the past one hundred years. They have gained the right to vote (shout out for the nineteenth amendment), seen the passage of Title IX, and achieved the right to purchase birth control pills within their home state (yay for Griswold vs. Connecticut).  In more recent years, have seen the passage of Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and the Violence Against Women Act (although the latter’s renewal is currently being stalled by House Republicans).  Yet, there is still so much work that needs to be done before equality between men and women is fully realized, and I believe that our lawmakers have a duty to fight for it.

Overall, women in the United States workforce are estimated to only earn 77 cents for every male counterpart’s dollar. This statistic is abysmal and it only gets worse if a female professional chooses to become a mother. Then, she will earn an estimated 59 cents per male dollar and she will be 100% more likely to not be promoted because of perceived outside duties. Additionally, only 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Numerous studies will point to the advantages of having a larger and more powerful presence of women in the workforce, yet all of the aforementioned numbers point to the inherent patriarchal setup of the United States workplace, one that is in desperate need of reform. Clearly, the past thirty years have shown that the reform is not going to come from inside the market, but rather has to be forced onto the market by the government.

Lawmakers also have the duty to uphold women’s rights to their own bodies and the decisions they might make with them. That’s right, I am talking about birth control and abortion. The landmark Supreme Court case of Roe v. Wade just recently celebrated its fortieth anniversary; yet, across state legislatures and indeed in the halls of federal government, certain lawmakers seem intent on limiting this choice for women. I do not wish to start a debate over the morality of abortion but just wish to point out that maybe instead of fighting for those who are not yet born (or even conceived), lawmakers should fight to help women who can barely afford to care for the children they already have (an estimated 20% of women and their children live in poverty in the United States).  Or politicians can help women obtain easier and cheaper access to contraceptives through their health insurance policies through the Affordable Care Act, instead of arguing whether a woman should be forcibly held hostage to her employer’s personal beliefs- after all, studies show that women who have access to contraceptives are less likely to be faced with considering an abortion.

A final argument for why I am still a feminist and why I believe that all lawmakers should continue to fight for women is because the United States is still a relatively violent place for women. Domestically, one in four college women will be sexually assaulted, and one in six women will be raped. The Center for Disease Control and the Department of Justice estimate that 22% of women will be physically assaulted by an intimate partner during their lifetime. In fact the costs of the consequences of these violent acts, the US economy loses $1.8 billion in lost earning and productivity. These numbers are too high and frankly, as a country we should be ashamed.

Clearly, as a country, women have a long ways to go until actual gender equity is achieved, and that is why I am a feminist and why our politicians should continue to care about women.

Fabulous Feminist Fridays: Why do you think we still need feminism?

22 Feb

In honor of Fabulous Feminist Fridays, we present select responses to the question: What is one issue or example of why we still need feminism? 

“We need feminism because women’s bodies are entirely their own.”-Nora West

“Because when I ran for class president in 7th grade, I was told I wouldn’t win “because I was a girl””-Nicole Chenelle

This. This is why we need feminism.” -Jenna Sackler

“We need feminism because Ke$ha can make music with cheesy lyrics and people will consider her stupid and a terrible musician, but Justin Timberlake can make equally banal lyrics and people won’t care.”-Johan Clarke

“We need feminism because there are people who are still afraid to call themselves feminists. We need feminism because some people think it is radical to advocate for women’s issues, whether they be reproductive rights, the wage gap, gender based violence, or even the ability of women to walk down the street without being harassed.”-Erin Riordan

What is one issue or example of why you think we still need feminism? Leave your responses in the comments below. 

Modesty is Misogynistic

21 Feb

by Amy Wiggington 

There are unwritten rules about what women should and should not wear. Many of these rules are wrapped up in a single idea: modesty. People have been using modesty as a reason to shame women and their bodies and their lifestyles for millennia. If you don’t cover enough, you don’t deserve to be respected, it says. You don’t even respect yourself.

But no matter how many religious communities and media sources tell me otherwise, what and how much I wear is not an invitation for judgment.  It will not tell you how much I respect myself, how sexually active I am, or how religious I am.

Modesty is based on the idea that sexuality shouldn’t be expressed in public.   Thinking about or- God forbid- talking about sex is taboo and wrong.  And somehow avoiding this is entirely the responsibility of women.  If men see you as a sexual object, it’s your fault for wearing whatever it is that you have on.  Because it must be something that uses mind-control powers to cause them to forget that you are a human being, deserving of respect and dignity.

Every person feels comfortable and confident in clothes that cover a certain amount of his or her body.  This amount naturally varies between people, between seasons, and between different contexts.  The concept of modesty, however, claims that there is one level of coverage that should be maintained for everyone.  If you choose not to maintain this standard of dress, you are labeled as “slutty.” When you are disrespected, people consider it to be understandable.

I don’t understand, though.  Adding another foot of fabric to my skirt doesn’t make me more human.  Putting on a sweater doesn’t earn me respect.  I should be able to walk around town in a bikini if I want and not worry about being harassed, because I am ALIVE, I am HUMAN, I have FEELINGS, and I have inherent DIGNITY.  What I wear and why is my business and mine alone.

I saw a great Jordanian ad about this topic a few months ago (see below). It says, “Those who see you as meat without the hijab, see you as meat under the hijab.”  If someone thinks that the amount of clothes I wear should determine the amount of respect I deserve, the problem is with them.  As a society, we need to get used to the idea that we are all different and that each person should be able to choose what he or she feels comfortable in.

The concept of modesty- the idea that a certain amount of my body needs to be covered in order to be “appropriate”- needs to disappear.  If my dress gets you hot and bothered, remember that I am a person, not a sex object.

Stopping Street Harassment

20 Feb

by Erin Riordan

Sometimes as I walk down the street I forget to be cautious, to be constantly aware. I forget to adjust my actions, my motions, and my mannerisms to attract less attention, to blend in more. I forget that public spaces aren’t my own, that I am not safe there, that I need to be on guard.

Last week I was getting brunch with a friend in Dupont. I was in a fantastic mood- I hadn’t seen my friend in a few months and we got to catch up for two hours while eating delicious food. I left the restaurant feeling great, on top of the world. As I walked down the street I had a grin on my face. Then the man on the corner took a step towards me, and grinned back at me saying, “You are so cute. Thank you for your smile honey.”

I recoiled, my smile immediately wiped off my face. In an instant, I felt self-conscious and gross and weird and unhappy. My smile had been totally about me and my experience, but this man made it about him. This man, easily my father’s age or older, had no problem whatsoever with leering at me on the street, and passing judgment on my appearance, my demeanor, and how I was presenting myself to the world. This stranger had no problem establishing ownership over my body, as if it were not my own, but instead some form of public property subject to evaluation by whomever might like to pass judgment, establish ownership, exert power over my body and by extension over me.

The thing is, this is normal. That this instance of street harassment caught me off guard is really what makes this experience stand out. The first time I remember being street harassed I was all of 11 or 12 years old, walking in my neighborhood to the local pool with a friend. We were wearing our bathing suits and carrying towels, and as we walked along the sidewalk a pick-up truck drove by and a grown man leaned out the passenger side window, wolf-whistling and looking back at us as he drove off.

My friend and I were immediately confused. We were both in the midst of going through puberty, uncomfortable with our bodies and not ready to have them sexualized, and certainly not by a stranger on the street. I remember feeling uncomfortable and unsure, and somehow felt very separate from my own body, a stranger in my own skin. I didn’t know how to react, how to respond, how to feel about what had happened. I had no skills for how to handle street harassment, had never been warned that this would happen and would become a regular part of my life.

And street harassment is a regular part of life, and I still struggle to find a response to it. While studies on street harassment are somewhat limited, the best information out there indicates that between 80-99% of women[*] experience street harassment at some point during their lives. This can range from leering, honking a car horn, and whistling, to groping and sexual touching, public masturbation, and, at its very worst, assault. This and other research has indicated that for women and members of the LGBTQ community street harassment is a regular part of everyday life, something that is the norm rather than the exception.

Yet despite the astounding prevalence of street harassment, I have no good response to it. I have never been taught how to handle it, and have no skills or responses that I know to be effective in confronting street harassment. I would love to run up to each man who street harasses me and yell in his face, demand respect, demand dignity and common courtesy, challenge his misogyny and belief that I am less a person and more so an object to comment on. But I never do this. I never feel safe or secure enough, and I am left feeling infuriated and powerless and weak. Street harassment makes me feel that public spaces are not my own, and that when I walk down the street at any moment someone might objectify me, reduce me to an object that gives someone else sexual pleasure or a feeling of power. So instead of confronting it, I walk by, head cast down, hoping to end the situation as quickly as possible.

Conversations with my peers do not make me feel any better about street harassment. Outside of my circle of fabulous feminist friends, so many people dismiss experiences of street harassment. I mentioned one instance to a friend and started to talk about why it bothered me so much, only for her to respond by rolling her eyes and saying, “Oh God, not another one of your feminist rants.” Another time I was speaking with a friend about a man in Safeway who approached me while I was shopping and made inappropriate comments that made me feel uncomfortable. My friend told me that rather than taking offense and feeling disgusted I should have “taken it as a compliment” and “felt validated by it.” Yeah, thanks but no thanks. Street harassment is not validating, it is harassment, and it is a serious issue. By making comments like these and brushing the issue aside, it is devalued and delegitimized. This is part of the process of normalization that allows street harassment to be such a prevalent part of life.

For so many people, and according to statistics especially women and LGBTQ individuals, street harassment reinforces the notion that at any given moment we might be subject to harassment, objectification, threats, stalking, or even violence. Street harassment establishes and reinforces public ownership of women’s bodies. It reinforces the notion that women do not exist for themselves, but for others, namely men (see male gaze). It declares power over women’s bodies so as to disempower women and intimidate them. Street harassment is an expression of misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia. Harassment of LGBTQ individuals can be a means to challenge the legitimacy of LGBTQ identities, and is an attempt to reinforce heteronormative and gendernormative norms. Street harassment is inherently oppressive, and constrains the lives of people experiencing street harassment with consequences including depression, anxiety, PTSD, reduced sense of safety, and reduced access to public spaces. The consequences of street harassment are real, and it is a serious issue.

Beyond that, street harassment is a form of sexual assault, and needs to be acknowledged as such. Many instances of street harassment are microagressions that perpetuate systems and experiences of oppression. Then there are the 20% of women whose experiences of street harassment include assault.  It is not unthinkable, and often very easy, for a catcall to escalate to a grope to escalate beyond that, to escalate to rape. This past summer, Liz Gorman, a photographer living in D.C., was walking through Dupont Circle at 3:30 in the afternoon. Seemingly out of nowhere a man rode up behind her on a bicycle, reached his hand under her skirt and inserted a finger through her underwear into her vagina, and raped her. He rode off laughing without a backwards glance.

After sharing her story in a blog post, Liz Gorman received responses from women all across the District indicating they had similar experiences with street harassment. Many other women reported being assaulted by a biker in a similar fashion to Gorman. Other women had experiences of assault that mirrored Gorman’s experience in other ways. Ultimately what this shows is that experiences of sexual assault and street harassment are common, and for many women are tied together. By allowing a culture of street harassment to exist, we normalize and make easier a culture where sexual assault is common and normalized.

The prevalence and acceptance of street harassment is problematic and has serious consequences for everyone, especially women and LGBTQ individuals. There are an increasing number of activist organizations rising up to challenge street harassment and change the culture it exists in. Hollaback! and Stop Street Harassment both do great work that includes research, activism, and awareness, as well as the development of practical tools to help combat street harassment. There is also a Shit Men Say to Men Who Say Shit to Women on the Street video that promotes awareness and encourages men to challenge the behavior of their peers who engage in street harassment. These are all strong examples of actions people can take to combat street harassment and destabilize a system that oppresses so many people, because ultimately it is everyone’s responsibility to not just refuse participation in the practice of street harassment, but when feeling safe, to challenge it as well.

[*] I did not include statistics for how many men or transgender people experience street harassment because I could not locate any statistics that detailed this information.