Archive | May, 2013

Asking For It

31 May

Asking For It is a documentary short about the Violence Against Women Act produced by Georgetown University students Elizabeth Buffone, Sarah Moore and Nicholas Strzeletz.

Why Rape Jokes Are Never Funny

29 May

Re-posted from PolicyMic

by Kat Kelley

Rape jokes are not innocuous. They perpetuate rape culture and promote rape myths which consequently invalidate the experiences of survivors and justify the actions of perpetrators of sexual violence.

According to Force: Upsetting Rape Culture, rape culture (or rather, our culture) is a culture in which we are “surrounded with images, language, laws, and other everyday phenomena that validate and perpetuate rape. Rape culture includes jokes, TV, music, advertising, legal jargon, laws, words and imagery, that make violence against women and sexual coercion seem so normal that people believe that rape is inevitable. Rather than viewing the culture of rape as a problem to change, people in a rape culture think about the persistence of rape as ‘just the way things are.’”

Memes or jokes glorifying sexual violence desensitize us, and significantly impact survivors and perpetrators of sexual violence.

I’ve heard statistics on statistics on statistics about survivors, perpetrators, and the acts themselves, but what I find to be most heartbreaking is that only 5% of college women who are raped report it to the police, and 42% tell no one about the experience. Clearly, the legal system isn’t the only problem.

In the past, I served as a sexual assault crisis counselor on a 24-hour hotline. I’d listen to survivors’ and loved ones’ stories, I’d explain their reporting options and the pros and cons of reporting, and I’d help them navigate our center’s services. I learned quickly, however, that survivors didn’t just need to find a counselor or to be tested for STIs. Rather, survivors needed to be told “I believe you,” and to know that whatever they are feeling, however they are (or aren’t) coping, is valid. They needed to take to heart that what had happened was not their fault, as one of the most common symptoms of rape trauma syndrome is guilt.

GUILT. As a society we teach “don’t get raped” rather than “don’t rape.”Consequently, survivors ask themselves “What could I have done differently? How could I have prevented this? Was I not clear enough? I shouldn’t have drank that, worn this, talked to them.”

Rape jokes tell survivors of sexual violence that you are not an ally, that they cannot reach out to you for support, that you will either invalidate their story, or worse blame, chastise, interrogate, or disbelieve them. Rape jokes tell survivors that they need to “get over it,” that their emotions and trauma are not legitimate, because rape is funny. It isn’t a big deal. It isn’t that different from failing a test. Rape jokes often reinforce rape myths, that men just can’t control themselves, or that women are “asking for it” by speaking out, dressing a certain way, or not obeying.

Rape jokes are a major barrier to survivors reporting and consequently a barrier to holding perpetrators accountable. While one in six women experience rape or attempted rape, that certainly doesn’t mean that one in six men are rapists. Rather, most perpetrators are repeat rapists, perpetrating an average of six rapes. That means that our failure to create an environment in which survivors feel safe and supported through the reporting process allows for further victimization.

Rape jokes also teach perpetrators that their actions are normal and acceptable. Rapists don’t consider themselves rapists. They don’t associate their actions with the world ‘rape,’ even if they’ll admit to acts that constitute as rape. (For example, answering “yes” to questions such as “Have you ever had sexual intercourse with an adult when they didn’t want to because you used or threatened to use physical force […] if they didn’t cooperate?”) Through their ability to dissociate their actions from the word “rape,” rapists assume that their actions are normal, that all men are rapists.

And rape jokes reinforce this. Rape jokes tell rapists that their actions aren’t anything different from normal, healthy sexuality. Rape jokes condone rapists’ actions. To rapists, they are a confirmation that other men- those telling the jokes, and those laughing at them- are rapists as well.

Rape jokes are not just insensitive. They are microaggresions, contributing to our rape culture, and sending the message that sexual violence is acceptable, inevitable, the status quo.

We don’t have to tolerate it. It is our responsibility to end rape culture.

Career Advice for College Women

28 May

by Alissa Orlando 

There’s a major deficit of career advice for college women.  There are plenty of quality resources like the Daily Muse and 40:20 Vision for recent grads and young professional women.  But the most popularized piece of advice to college women, even at a place like Princeton, is to find a good husband before graduating.  So as I move onto the next chapter of my life, I want to share some advice with the incredibly talented young women of Georgetown:

1)   Establish a “central theme” and support it with diverse experiences

When someone asks you “tell me about yourself” (an introductory question in many interviews) you should be able to give a succinct answer.  Your activities should be tied together by a central theme rooted in a sincere passion.  For examples of people who have effectively explored their “central passions,” check out the profiles of Rhodes and Marshall scholars (and note the gender disparity especially for the Marshall).

A mistake that I see a lot of young college women making is having their personal brand be too broad.  “Economic development in Africa” is too broad.  “China” is too broad.  Another problem that I see is that people will claim to be passionate/ knowledgeable about a topic that they have no formal experience in.  You cannot claim to be an education policy expert if you have never worked in a school or on education policy.  Tutoring with DC Reads or DC Schools is not enough. You need a variety of meaningful and diverse experiences for this theme to be convincing.

For the majority of my undergraduate experience, my “central theme” was financial access and literacy, which borders on being too broad.    I worked at a large international microfinance NGO in DC, interned at a locally-run microfinance institution in Tanzania, coordinated the youth delegation to the Global Microcredit Summit, and managed a student-run microfinance institution for low-income DC small business owners.  By the time I entered consulting interviews, I could convincingly say that I was passionate about financial inclusion, which made me a memorable and competitive candidate.   Other examples of young women who have done this well include Joanna Foote (SFS ’13) with immigration and Emily Oehlsen (SFS ’13) with labor economics.

2)   Tell everyone you know what you care about

After you think long and hard about what your central theme will be, tell EVERYONE you know.  Drop it to your professors during office hours.  Mention it to your friends when dining at Leo’s.  Post articles about the topic on Facebook.  Be honest about what you’re looking for and, all of a sudden, you’ve turned your social network into personal opportunity hunters.  And do the same for others – it’s all about reciprocity.  I’ve forwarded opportunities to friends who are interested in subjects like security studies in Central Asia, healthcare policy for low-income families in the U.S., and women’s health in the developing world.  These are memorable “central themes,” so when something shows up in my inbox through listservs or other friends, it’s so easy to just forward the opportunity to the relevant person with the hope (but not expectation) that they will do the same for me. (P.S. – I am now looking for part-time/volunteer opportunities to address the digital divide in the United States).

3)   Don’t look for opportunities. Create them.

Okay – now you have your central passion and everyone knows about it. The next step is to be honest about where your gaps or weaknesses lie and think of innovative ways to address them.  This is especially important when you have just created or shifted your central passion.

What a lot of young college women do it scan the available opportunities and settle if they can’t find something that they want.  A perfect example is studying abroad.  Many will just accept whatever program Georgetown offers rather than critically thinking what they want out of the experience and then crafting an experience that will fulfill that need.  Yes, this is more work, but it’s worth it if an independent study or even dropping out for the semester better suits your professional and personal needs.

When looking for internships, try to optimize for the individual or organization that you want to work with rather than scanning for publically listed opportunities on sites like Idealist. Once you identify the sector leader that you want to mentor you, send a cold email or ideally have someone introduce you.  Briefly state your experience (attach a resume if relevant), why you want to work for that person, and what you bring to the table.  The worst that can happen is that they don’t respond after one or two follow up emails.  For those interested in international development opportunities, I recommend that students reach out to Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneurs, Ashoka Fellows, government ministries, and investments of impact investors like Acumen Fund and Grey Ghost Ventures.

4)   Demonstrate transformational leadership

When McKinsey is asked what they look for in applicants, the answer is “transformational leadership.”  What does this really mean?  It means that you can point out ways that the organization is better when you leave than it was when you joined.  It is not just about reaching the highest levels of leadership; it’s about how you specifically affected the established role.  There are a few easy ways to get transformational leadership experience at a young age: 1) entrepreneurial activity (you can start something yourself or join a young startup) and 2) involvement in low-skill, under-served regions.  If you are in an established role or organization, ASK for the opportunity to lead a project.  If the project already exists, pitch why you are the best person for the job.  If the project is your idea, pitch how it fits into the broader strategy of the organization.  The objective is for you to credit yourself with a specific deliverable that will continue to better the entire organization after you leave.

It is clear that college women need to be better at defining and proactively pursuing what we want.  Do not settle and do not sit down.  Act deliberately and actively seek challenges that feed into your broader narrative.   If you have any questions, would like any help, or care to discuss these ideas further, please feel free to reach out to me directly (Net ID: ao298).

Is a Career Really More Important Than Love?

20 May

Or “How Even Asking if Women Can ‘Have it All’ Perpetuates the Patriarchy.”

by Kat Kelley

“But is that really more important? Is a career really more important than love?”

I sat straight up in my chair, unnerved by his simple, rational inquiry. It was the most unassuming and yet jarring question I had ever been asked.

An ambitious seventeen-year-old, I sat in the front row of my Introduction to Sociology course, hand always poised, ready to rise, as I dreamed of east coast colleges. I craved to be cultured, to use my SAT vocabulary lackadaisically over coffee, and to leave my sleepy beach town to “see the world.”

I craved success, and I was quite certain that men were merely obstacles.

After endless exposure to cinema (romantic comedies), veritable love advice (from Seventeen or Cosmo), distinguished literature (Twilight), and insightful melodies (Taylor Swift), I was under the impression that I was my own arch-nemesis. My feminine, irrational emotions made me vulnerable. Men, I had been told, were the ultimate fatal flaw of all (heterosexual) women.

Yet, in all my musings, I had never asked myself such a question. I spent my life internalizing the belief in the total necessity of my independence as a woman, that I never stopped to ask myself if a career is really more important than family or love. I mean, I wanted to have, to be, everything, but I assumed love would come naturally, in due time, and that foremost, I had to be vigilant to ensure I did not compromise my career.

Which is quite reasonable, given the persistence of the patriarchy and dominance of gender roles. However, understanding “success” merely in the context of a career, and valuing such success over all else, is absolute bullshit.

Our notions of success have been warped by our assessment of masculine roles as superior to feminine roles. Thus when we speak of “having it all,” we demand redress for the women who have not been able to achieve their professional pursuits, but spare no sympathy for men who have not been able to attend their child’s little league game or debut in the school play. When we speak of “having it all,” we speak of the capability to pursue roles and achieve success in ways that are characterized as masculine. And as “having it all” has become the holy grail of feminists, we have forgotten that relationships aren’t about personal attainment or achievement, but rather compromise.

Sheryl Sandberg, feminist extraordinaire, author of Lean In and C.O.O. of Facebook, asserts that “the single most important career decision that a woman makes is whether she will have a life partner and who that partner is.” She gets it, in a way that Anne-Marie Slaughter fails to. The conversation should not be reserved for the feminist blogosphere or book clubs, but rather we need to define what “it all” means for us as individuals, and engage in active, evolving communication within our relationships to ensure that we can live with the inevitable comprises we will make.

Stay-at-Home Moms

17 May

by Claire McDaniel 

My mother is one of the smartest people I know. She’s strong, brave, and has so wicked of a fashion sense that I steal her clothes. She’s moved from continent to continent to hold our family together, she’s given up so much to even have a family, and she even laughs at my dad’s corny jokes. I wish I were as brave as she.

Her story is, minus some transcontinental moves, pretty typical. My mom worked her ass off and earned her J.D. from Indiana University, meeting my dad in the process. She gave up practicing law to become a law librarian when she was pregnant with me and, once we moved to Switzerland, gave up her profession all together.

It’s that last part that drives me to write this piece. All over the internet, the TV, even the front page of The New York Times, are people definitively stating that there is only one true way of being a mother and, thank the good Lord, we’ve finally found it! Well, until the next week, anyway.

I won’t claim to have the answer to the debate on whether a mother’s role is to stay at home or work, although I will say with certainty that the term ‘mother’s role’ is maddening. Frankly, I don’t think there is a good answer to the debate. Every role is reality for one family or another, and yet the world keeps on turning.

Young women in our generation look at the ongoing struggles over what it means to be a mother, and what it takes to be the perfect mother, and we walk away more confused than when we initially scrolled down to the comment thread on that one article. We’re told that to make the choice to stay home means we’re anti-women and anti-feminist. But God forbid we go back to work, because then we hate our kids. The whole thing is ridiculously stupid.

Let’s be real here, there are wrong ways to be a mom. Maternal neglect, abuse, and even worse haunt the headlines of the leading papers and cause nightmares. But I highly doubt that a mother who agonizes over the decision to work or stay home, no matter which she chooses, will be a bad mother. Anyone devoted enough to care that much will continue to care.

The only true answer is the one that every mother comes to individually. It takes courage, it takes having a strong sense of your own personal compass, and it takes a lot of thought. In the end, I don’t think it matters what mothers choose to do with their own lives. It’s that they choose that makes the difference.

I look at my mother and I know that she made a choice, a difficult one, and I respect her more for it. Her strength, resilience, and ability to deal with my annoying little brother make me wish I could be so tough. The best thing a mother can be is a role model, whether she stays at home or works full-time, or something in between.

Part of me, the same stubborn streak that made me refuse to eat broccoli, wants to complain that staying at home instead of working shows weakness. Being dependent on someone, even if it’s my goofball and loveable dad, seems to go against my near-innate sense of independence. But I look at my mom and everything that she’s done for our family, everything that she’s sacrificed, and I know that she’s not weak. She’s the strongest person I know, and seeing her bravery has made me who I am.

I walk in the same steps as my mother. I struggle to keep my eyes awake during a late night study session in the library. I balance my life as a student with my often-overwhelming extracurriculars, and even call home from time to time. I love my family. I don’t have one of my own, and I don’t know what choices I might face if I get around to it sometime in the very distant future. All I know is that I wish I, and all women, have the courage to follow their own moral compass once they do.

I look around me in the world, and I see real problems. Women are paid less, work less prestigious jobs, are discriminated against, and are sexually harassed—if not assaulted—every single day of the week.  These are incontrovertible facts. These are the issues that define the feminism of our day and age, not what a mother decides to do with her life. Really, it’s as simple as that.

Believe Me: You Are Not Inadequate

14 May

by Morgan McDaniel

“I never feel good enough,” my classmate said. “I always feel like my friends are doing more impressive things than I am.  No matter what I do, I always feel inadequate.”

It was the last session of class for the semester, and the tone had become intimate and confessional. The professor nodded.  “Okay. Who else feels that way?”

I raised my hand and timidly looked around me.  The class was mostly women, including ones I greatly admired – women I had compared myself to before raising my hand.  Every single hand was raised.

At that moment, I felt both huge relief and deep sadness.  Relief in realizing that I wasn’t alone, and sadness that so many others must feel the same overwhelming pressures that I did to meet an unreachable standard.

The second semester of my junior year, coming back from a semester abroad and feeling isolated, I found myself caught in a spiral of self-doubt and self-blame. I was overwhelmed by the feeling that, despite my internships, past leadership positions, and an impressive GPA, I had already failed myself.

I felt worthless.  The self-confidence I had carried without a second thought, back home in high school when I was a big fish in a little pond, crumbled.  Any accomplishments I made quickly seemed trivial compared to what everyone else was doing.  If I were good enough, I would be the president of some organization, preferably one I had started myself.  I would have my academic work published. I would have a Facebook-photogenic group of friends who went out together every night and did fun, cultural things on Sunday afternoons in the spring.  I would run half-marathons.  I would be working too hard to get enough sleep, but it wouldn’t matter because of how engaged and passionate I would be.

I tried to ignore the feeling and make it go away.  But that just made me feel worse, because of course it didn’t go away.  It made me unmotivated, unable to command the energy to take on new projects, and so I hated myself for sleeping eight hours a night and numbly watching TV instead of “being productive.” Some nights, the despair went so deep that it was all I could do to call my mother at two AM, sobbing without a reason – sitting on the cold tiles on the bathroom floor with the door shut, so my roommate wouldn’t know.  By the time I realized there was a word for what I was feeling – depression – the semester was over and it was time to pack up.

Only too late did I find out how many people feel this way, even though no one talks about it. It shocked me to realize that I wasn’t the only one going through this, that even the peers I admired most felt inadequate, that the façade I measured myself against ruthlessly and mercilessly didn’t actually exist.  In real life and on the internet, we’re plagued by the Facebook effect.  Everyone’s accomplishments are public but their insecurities are invisible.  It creates a vicious cycle.  We are all fueled by each other’s successes, trying to race against a receding horizon we cannot reach, which just makes us feel less worthy.

It seems as though this internal, destructive drive towards perfection is more of a female phenomenon.  Granted, maybe it’s because I’ve mostly spoken with women about it, and this isn’t to say that men on this campus don’t suffer from anxiety, depression, and the overwhelming pressure to achieve, because they do.  But it’s women who are taught to be pleasers from day one, and it’s women who somehow are never able to say no. Courtney Martin captures this in her book, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, in a quote that gave me chills the first time I read it:

We are the girls with anxiety disorders, filled appointment books, five-year plans. We take ourselves very, very seriously. We are the peacemakers, the do-gooders, the givers, the savers. We are on time, overly prepared, well read, and witty, intellectually curious, always moving…We pride ourselves on getting as little sleep as possible and thrive on self-deprivation…We are relentless, judgmental with ourselves, and forgiving to others…We are the daughters of the feminists who said “You can be anything” and we heard “You have to be everything.”

Speaking to more women on campus, I’ve realized how closely their experiences mirror mine.  Yes, we understand that people need to take time for self-care – to sleep, eat well, take time for themselves to relax when the stress is too high – but that’s something other people need to do, not us.  If we were as strong as we pushed ourselves to be, we could keep going.  Instead, we drink too much and walk home from yet another guy’s house in the morning.*  We hope no one notices how many meals we skip or how much time we spend at the gym.  But we still don’t live up to the standard, and it doesn’t make us feel better about ourselves.

We need help, but we don’t know how to ask.  The reason I never asked my friends for help wasn’t because I was afraid they would say no.  I do think that we want to care for each other, and the spirit of community service extends to those closest to us.  That wasn’t it.  It was because I didn’t feel I could ask, when they all were so busy with such impressive, important things.  I didn’t want to be a drag or a buzz kill, and I didn’t want them to think I couldn’t handle the pressure.

We need to talk about this. It’s hard to ask for help because that means we have failed at the basic goal we have aspired to for years – self-sufficient, effortless perfection.  Asking for help, and accepting that it is okay to do so, means rejecting that framework entirely, and accepting that we can be valuable people, worthy of love and friendship, even if we didn’t score the internship or win the election or get the A.  It’s incredibly hard to do, and I wrestle with it every day.

We are already accomplished and compassionate social justice leaders – we know how to be kind to others.  We need to be kinder to ourselves.


*This is not to say that drinking alcohol or having casual sex is inherently bad or unhealthy.  Personal context is key.


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The Portrait of a Feminist

12 May

by Kat Kelley

Age 3. My mother is so round, and they tell me I’m going to have another sibling. I ask the perennial “where do babies come from?” My mother does not shy from the question. She sets an early precedent; she will not teach me that sex is shameful, taboo, she will teach me that she is safe, a resource. She returns from the library with age-appropriate picture books and explains just where babies come from.

Age 8. It takes about four reminders from Mom before I clean the bathroom floor. The dogs haven’t been walked and you can’t really see Rose’s floor. It doesn’t bother my father so much. My mother caves- for her it is easier to clean up herself, than to keep harassing us. Until it isn’t. She goes on strike for two weeks. Refuses to clean a single plate. We laugh, I think we even mock her, but now that Mom isn’t picking up the slack, Dad quickly tires of the dirty dishes. The eye rolls stop, and we hurry to start our chores.

Age 11. School is over, and we all walk to the library. They sit us in a quiet room in the back, all of the girls in the 6th grade. We eat our snacks as my mother places the recording into the VCR. We watch Oprah– an episode on eating disorders. She leads the conversation, and we talk about eating disorders, about our bodies, we talk about the pressure to be thin, the pressure that has already affected us at this age.

Age 14. I am devastated, but I want to be stoic, just like Mom. From being a diesel mechanic to dominating every sport, from her audacity to surviving a childhood in Dorchester, she defines tough, which I’ve always admired. But today, she teaches me that it’s okay to not always be tough. We rent Beaches and Steel Magnolias, oscillating between laughter and tears.

Age 17, 19, 20. I’m off to Egypt/Oman/India for the summer, and I realize I’m not as much of a grown-up as I pretend. I call my mother and she says all of the right things. She simultaneously helps me appreciate my experience, while validating my loneliness and frustrations. She understands, truly. I say just a few words and she takes all of the feelings I have and explains them to me, reminiscing on her days of adventure. She recites the Forgotten Poem and I know that thousands of miles away, she is here.

Age 21. She tells me she’s so proud that her daughter identifies by the “f-word,” a feminist. She comments on my blog, and refers to Eve Ensler as a “shero.” She travels to D.C. to watch me perform in The Vagina Monologues. I call her when I’m down and she makes it all okay. I call her when I’m up and I can hear her lips rise into a smile. I imagine her by my side as I walk the streets she once roamed.

Today. Taylor Swift’s Best Day begins on my iPod, and as with all Taylor songs, it’s too cliche to not relate. The words “I love you for giving me your eyes / Staying back and watching me shine” remain on my lips. Reminiscing, I know just where my brand of feminism came from. She taught me that being a feminist never meant “having it all,” but rather making intentional choices and defining what “it all” means for you at that time of your life. For my world traveling, labor organizer of a mother, having it all meant not having it all, but instead taking a part-time job to coach U-10 soccer and lead the girl scout troop, and for that I am eternally grateful.

In and Out in the Classroom

7 May

by Amy

I’ve never been out in an Arabic class.  Sure, working on Pride board took over my life for a semester. And, yes, I did wear my “I am” shirt often. Of course, I also participated in Day of Silence.  I even wrote essays about Glee and EM Forster for class.  But still, I could not get myself to say anything that outright implicated myself as LGBTQ.


Maybe I was concerned that my Arabic professors were less tolerant than the rest of campus.  Maybe it’s that I have enough trouble finding the words to properly label my sexuality in English.  Maybe it’s that most words in Arabic for “gay” roughly translate to “sodomist” or worse.  It doesn’t matter why I didn’t want to be out in my language classes, I should not have felt the urge to be in or out of the closet while in class.


But I was, because of the language classes that queer students dread: “What are you looking for in a boyfriend/ girlfriend?”


I spent about 5 minutes- that felt like 30- wondering: to use or not to use the taa marbuta (the feminine identifier).  Technically, neither way is completely lying for me.  But neither is it telling the truth.  For many reasons and my own reasons, I chose to be straight in class.  And I was never comfortable with that.


This dilemma is not unique to me or to Arabic.  Most languages that people can study here at Georgetown have gender distinctions.  These can easily make many conversations uncomfortable for those who do not identify as heterosexual and cisgendered.


How do we solve this problem? Do we cut out this conversation completely?  Do we chose alternative personas that do not require others to learn our own sexual orientation? Do we introduce our preferred pronoun when we introduce our name?  Can professors simply make it clear from the first day that they are accepting of all sexual orientations and gender identities?


I don’t have the answer, but I do think that this is something that language departments and individual professors should consider while preparing for such classes in the future.

I’ve got news for you…you’re a feminist.

2 May

by Alissa Orlando

Are you a feminist?  When men and women are confronted by this question, they are frequently uncomfortable.  Most men and some women will deny that they are feminists.  In an interview with Makers, a PBS documentary about the women’s movement, Marissa Mayer said, “I don’t think that I would consider myself a feminist.” Other very public figures such as Katy Perry and Taylor Swift have echoed similar sentiments and actively distanced themselves from the “feminist” identity.

I was sipping Bailey’s with some of my closest girlfriends before a Saturday night at Tombs.  One is going to Teach for America, another to Germany on a Fulbright, and another to a leading law firm, deferring her acceptance at Georgetown Law School.  However, only two of us self-identified as feminists.

When strong, accomplished women purposefully disassociate themselves with the feminist movement, it makes me want to scream.  If feminism were not elevated to part of the mainstream conversation, we would not have the opportunities that we do today.  Feminism is not a dirty word.  Identifying as a feminist does not mean that you hate men or stay-at-home moms or bras.  All feminism means is that you believe in equal rights for men and women in the professional and personal spheres.  Is that really so scary?  Is that something that you want to disassociate yourself with?

“But I don’t want to come off like a crazy, militant man-hater!”

You are apparently in good company.  Marisa Mayer does not identify as a feminist because she disagrees with what she perceives to be the movement’s style and believes “there’s more good that comes out of positive energy around than negative energy.”  I completely agree with this sentiment.  So how can you convey that you’re for equal rights instead of the end of men?  SIMPLE. RECLAIM THE TERM.  Next time someone asks if you’re a feminist, respond “Yes.  By that I mean that I believe in equal rights for men and women. You’re not a feminist by that definition?”  If you want to add a few extra caveats like “I’m pro-life,” by all means do so!  It is SO IMPORTANT that rational, intelligent, accomplished women regain control over the term so as to inspire other and future women to embrace feminism and not fear the stigma of becoming outspoken and proud advocates of equal rights for men and women.

“But what if identifying as a feminist hinders my success?”

Do you really want to work at a company that is not willing to honestly reflect on how to improve gender equity at the workplace?  However, if you are going to be critical of a company’s current policies, you must be able to provide constructive solutions.  Management should WANT to hear your opinion on how to make their company a better place for women, and therefore everyone, to work, as they will be able to better attract, develop, and retain talented women leaders.  However, these efforts cannot affect your job performance, and you must continue to excel professionally.  As one of my friends put it, “The only reason people listen to Sheryl Sandberg is because she is the COO of Facebook.”

Speaking up for what you believe in is always a risk.  But we will never be able to pay back the women who created opportunities for us, so we have to pay it forward.  You can change the world.  Contrary to what some people, both women and men, think, there is still a great deal of work to be done. Universal parental leave.  Cross-gender mentoring programs at top firms.  Mid-career entry points for parents returning to the workforce.  The fact that men dominate the top positions in corporate America, Congress, and academia is not something that will dissipate with time alone. Yes, the new generation of leaders will be more amenable to gender equity but without vocal activism and women AND men willing to identify as feminists, the structural factors inhabiting women’s progress will continue into the foreseeable future.

We Are Accountable

2 May

by Erin Riordan 

Over 400 people died when a factory collapsed in Bangladesh last week, with over 1,000 injured and several hundred more still missing. This is the most deadly event in the history of the garment industry. We are responsible for these deaths, and we are accountable to the workers and their families in Bangladesh, and every other place in the world where goods we consume are produced. Our demand for cheap, fast fashion has created a demand for even cheaper labor, a demand that is responsible for abominably low wages, unsafe workplace conditions, and death in Bangladesh and many other countries around the world. We have a duty to change our behavior and call upon companies to take responsibility for their workers and their conditions, wherever in the world those workers may be located.

Bangladesh is the world’s biggest source of cheap, low-wage labor, and is the second-largest exporter of apparel. Workers there are paid just 18 cents an hour and often work very long hours. Workplaces violate many safety and health standards, and workers routinely face unsafe conditions, as they did in the now collapsed Rana Plaza factory. Workers who attempt to organize or form a union face aggressive, harsh intimidation. Just last year Aminul Islam, a union organizer in Bangladesh, was brutally murdered just weeks after winning an incredible international victory for workers. The conditions in Bangladeshi factories are unconscionable, and it is ever-growing demand for cheap products made with cheap labor that allows this system to continue, unchecked.

Bangladesh regulates its factories and buildings, however political corruption allows men like Sohel Rana, owner of the Rana Plaza factory, to violate building codes and ignore health and safety standards. Workers in the factory noticed large cracks forming in some of the lower floors the day before the collapse, and while the factory was initially evacuated and ordered closed, the owners of the building and four factories within it ordered their workers back to work the next day, under threat of losing their employment. A system in which workers risk life and limb simply by their presence at work each day, and where they are paid poverty wages for their long hours worked, is a broken system, and it needs to be reevaluated and redesigned. Considerations of justice and human dignity must play into how we conduct our business not just here in the U.S. but wherever we are conducting business around the world.

The companies who subcontract out to these factories need to join Bangladeshi labor groups and the government in stepping up regulation and safety standards at factories there. Currently most companies do not allow or require independent monitoring of their factories. The distance and complexity of the supply chain means companies often do not recognize their responsibility to workers in overseas factories and often deny production or involvement at factories where tragic fires and collapses have happened, even when clothing bearing their label or order sheets their name are found. This must change. Earlier this year Wal-Mart, Gap, and H&M rejected a 2011 plan that would have established an independent group of inspectors to monitor factories with the power to shut down any unsafe factories. The companies claimed the collective $500,000 a year it would cost to maintain the program was too costly and thus rejected the proposal. This focus on the bottom line and profit over people must change, and consumers have a role to play in demanding that these companies be accountable to the people making their products.

We as consumers have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with the people who make our clothes. While people in Bangladesh take to the streets and demand reform, we must as consumers turn to companies like Wal-Mart and Sears and require them to take action to improve working conditions in factories where they subcontract. These companies need to agree to the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement and work with groups like the Workers Rights Consortium to ensure that every effort is being made to reform a supply chain that exploits workers for cheap products at an extraordinary cost. Every worker has dignity. Every job has dignity. To ensure that justice is upheld and that the rights and lives of workers are respected, we must reassess how we conduct business and we must take real, responsible action.