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Misogyny in America: It Really is Everywhere

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Following the recent mass shooting in Isla Vista, California, in which a misogynistic shit-weasel killed seven people and wounded thirteen others all because women refused to to have sex with him, the Twitter hastag #yesallwomen went viral. It not only blew up on Twitter, but soon found its way to Facebook and was being discussed everywhere, from CNN to the Huffington Post to Salon.com. While many people responded to the shooting, and to #yesallwomen, by rallying behind the victims and openly discussing the realities of everyday misogyny, many others have attempted to undermine the prevalence of misogyny in our culture by arguing that not all men hate women or that women in this country have made many strides or, in some rare but truly disturbing instances, to not only defend and applaud the women hating diatribe left behind by the shooter, Elliot Rodger, but laud him as an American hero.

As sick and twisted as it is that there are actually people who agree with the entitled, misogynistic ramblings of Rodger, it is nearly as disturbing that there are people who honestly believe that misogyny is not as serious an issue as the #yesallwomen campaign has attempted to demonstrate. I say that it is nearly as disturbing because it illustrates just how pervasive misogyny is in our society; it has become so engrained in the fabric of our culture that it goes virtually unnoticed by those who are not directly affected by it, and almost accepted, if not fully expected, by those who are. This is disheartening, to say the least, because as long as people willfully ignore or excuse everyday acts of misogyny, women will continue to be victims of it. Regardless of whether or not everyone wants to admit it, misogyny, as every woman likely knows, is very much alive and well in America and its time we take it seriously and take action toward ending it.

Misogyny, to be clear, is not merely the overtly and extremely violent hatred of women, as exemplified by Rodgers and his ass-chasing ilk. It is, by definition, the, “dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.” Misogyny, like any form of prejudice, can manifest itself in a variety of ways, many of which seem innocuous on the surface but are, to those who endure it, anything but. As the #yesallwomen campaign has so brilliantly highlighted, women experience misogyny everyday in a variety of ways. From cat-calling to the disgusting way in which we talk about women’s bodies to the numerous political attacks on women’s rights, from health care to wages, misogyny is all around us. 

1) Street Harassment aka “Cat-calling”: As a woman, I have endured this demeaning and extremely annoying act more times than I can count. So often, I’m sure, that if I had a dollar for every time that it has happened to me I’d probably be able to pay off my credit card and have enough left over to celebrate with a delicious steak dinner (to be fair, my credit card balance is only about $250). Most of the time it’s a simple honk and/or a quick, “Wooo! Baby!,” sometimes it’s a more explicit, “I’d like to hit that ass!,” and on a couple of occasions it’s been followed by a, “Fuck you bitch!,” when I’ve ignored the comments as I usually do. While, for the most part, it seems relatively harmless, especially to the sort of men who do it, for women it is insulting and belittling; and in some cases, deadly. To be yelled at by a man, or group of men, as we walk down the street or wait at a bus stop or are sitting in our cars at a traffic light signifies the dim and unsettling reality that, in the eyes of many men, a woman is little more than a thing that exists to entertain or bring pleasure. Yes, before any man bothers to say it, we know that not all men behave this way, but that’s not the goddamn point, a lot of you do; enough, in fact, that every woman at some point in her life will have some jackass harass her as she goes about her day. And how does that make us feel? As this brilliant project by Brooklyn based artist,Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, illustrates, it leaves us feeling humiliated, objectified, ashamed, scared, dehumanized, and powerless. It’s not a compliment, it’s a blatant declaration that you do not see us as human beings to be respected, but as walking, talking sex dolls. To deny a woman the right to freely move about in the world without being verbally harassed is to deny her her very humanity, that is misogyny. Period.

2) Physical/sexual harassment: Unlike cat-calling, I have luckily experienced this less frequently, but the fact that any woman has experienced it at all is just plain disgusting. There’s something deeply and profoundly fucked-up with the psyche of a man who finds it acceptable to grab a woman by the arm and try to force her to sit next him (yes, this happened to me and very recently), or to smack her ass as she walks by (yep, I’ve experienced this too), or to come up behind her as she’s dancing in a club with her friends and grind up to her so closely that she can actually feel his dick on her ass (sadly, I’ve endured this as well, and it’s one of many reasons that I hate going to clubs). Now while my personal experiences with this should be terrible enough, sadly they are relatively benign when compared to other forms of physical/sexual harassment that women have been made to endure. What this form of harassment ultimately succeeds in doing is to tell women is that our bodies are not our own, that we have no right to determine when, where, and how we will be spoken to or touched. Like cat-calling, but to an even larger and more harmful degree, it denies the humanity of women and it is explicitly misogynistic.

3) The Wage Gap: As mentioned above, misogyny is, in part, the “ingrained prejudice toward women.” A clear example of this is the wage gap between what white men earn and what women, of all colors, earn. Women in nearly every occupation, despite our level of education, earn less than men. On average, working women earn just 77 cents for every dollar earned by a white male. Surely there are some out there who may be wondering how the wage gap is indicative of misogyny, and the answer is simple: the wage gap signifies that the work of women is worth less than the work of men, which is the result of millennium of both the relegation of women to the domestic sphere and devaluing of women’s bodies. Throughout human history, with very rare exceptions, the primary worth of a woman has been the sum total of her marriageability and her ability to produce offspring; if she could not succeed at both, she was essentially worthless and a burden. Even in our seemingly more enlightened and evolved era a woman who does not reproduce, be it because of infertility or by choice (gasp! I know, some women actually choose to not have children! by gods the horror!), is treated, by both men and women, as if she’s breaking some sacred, universal law that will destroy all of human civilization if she doesn’t flood the world with an endless brood of babies. Now, for the modern woman, the decision to have children lands her in a rather precarious situation because one of the main arguments used to defend the wage gap is that, since women give birth and, assuming she can afford to do so, take time off from their careers/jobs to both nurture their new born children and care for ill children or family members they contribute less to industry in which they work. Ultimately, women are being monetarily punished for both our biological predisposition to child-bearing and the socially constructed expectation to both have them and nurture them. To insist that women must have children and that women must be the primary care-givers to those children and then turn around and punish them for doing that which society has, for forever, insisted they do is misogynistic. And this brings me to the next issue….

it is important to note, because agism,racism, and sexism both play a role in the wage gap, that when broken down by race the wage gap gets worse, with one exception, for women of the non-white persuasion: caucasian women, 78%; african-american women, 64%; native-american women, 60%; hispanic/latina women, 53%; with the one exception being asian-american women, at 87%. moreover, the wage gap expands with age.

4) The attack on Women’s health care: I have written extensively on the issue of women’s reproductive rights here on the blog, and in the two years since I first began focusing primarily on feminist issues the attack on women’s health care has yet to abate. In 2012 there were 916 laws introduced across this nation that attempted to limit not only women’s access to safe and legal abortions but to also limit our choices of and access to birth control. According to a 2013 report by The Guttmacher Institute, a total of 43 laws restricting women’s access to reproductive services were passed and enacted in 2012; each one of them putting the health and welfare of women in serious jeopardy. As if the attack on women’s health care from right-wingnuts wasn’t enough, this year women have had their rights to birth control challenged in court by conservative Christian corporations, which are attempting to deny female employees access to certain forms of contraception under the guise of wanting to protect the unborn. In addition, 2014 has seen the introduction and/or passing of some of the most detrimental laws to women’s reproductive health yet, for example: the Alabama state legislature passed four anti-abortion bills, one of which would ban abortion after the detection of a fetal heart beat, which occurs at about six weeks gestation (never mind that if born this clump of very nearly undeveloped fetal cells would immediately die), making no exception for rape or incest because, as one Alabama law-maker, or in this case rights-denier, put it,  a life is “a life regardless of the painful, painful circumstances;” and South Dakota introduced a bill that would not only ban most abortions, but would put doctors who perform them in prison. The never-ending assault on women’s reproductive rights is entirely symptomatic of a culture built on and plagued by misogyny, as the premises for it’s entire argument boils down to the fact that the primary purpose for a woman’s existence is to conceive and bear children and that the potential life of a clump of developing cells is more valuable than the woman within which said clump will develop. Think about that for a while, I mean really chew on it and digest it: the health, welfare, and agency of a living, breathing person is of less concern and value than something that cannot survive outside of it’s host. Essentially what this boils down to, given the sort of people who are designing and promoting these abominable pieces of legislation, is that a woman is less important, less valuable, less worthy of protection than the seed implanted in her by a man. Anything that aims to deny women’s autonomy, to limit our free agency, to rob us of our dignity, or to strip us of the fullness of our humanity is an explicit and utter act of misogyny.

5) Demeaning women’s bodies: The idea that a woman’s worth is contingent almost entirely upon her looks is, sadly, very much a reality in our culture. It’s also something of which both men and women are guilty, but misogyny is a societal ill and as such it’s going to influence, to some degree, how both sexes view women. The demeaning of women’s bodies occurs in a number of ways from fat-shaming to criticizing women for going out in public without first putting on some make-up to agism. The idea that there is only a single female form worthy or respect and desire is, to put it bluntly, fucking stupid and it stems entirely from the misogynistic perception of women as vehicles of sexual satisfaction.

6) Slut-shaming: As one brilliant #yesallwomen tweet stated, “because the term ‘friendzone’ is attacking a woman’s right to say no and ‘whore’ is attacking their right to say yes.” Female sexual agency is, for many men, something to both loathe and fear; which for women means that we’re damned if we don’t and damned if we do. We here in America, like many other places where one would find vaginas lurking about, have a terribly antiquated opinion about female sexual activity and consent known as the “double standard.” You see, in much of the world, even right here in the land of free, men can pretty much stick their dicks in just about anything and anyone as often as they please with extremely little to absolutely zero negative reaction; in fact he’ll likely be lauded as stallion among men, a god of sex and conquest. However, when a woman dares to enjoy the same uninhibited sexual exploits she’s a wanton, dirty little slut. Every single word in the English language (‘Murican for those who despise foreigners) that negatively defines a sexually promiscuous person is not only used to describe a woman, it is in the very definition of the word itself: whore, slut, harlot, skank, floozy….the list, quite frankly, goes on. The very fact that there are so many words in the English language that we still use to this very day to demonize a sexually active woman not only indicates that our culture stems from a deep seeded root of misogyny, it’s still producing fruit.

7) Rape and Rape Culture: In case you’re living under a rock or are just willfully oblivious, we live in a rape culture. By that I mean that we live in society that teaches women to not get raped rather than one that teaches men to not rape. By that I mean that we live in a society that, when women say we’ve been raped or sexual assaulted, asks us what were we wearing, where were we going, what were we doing in the place where it happened, were we drinking, or did we give any indication of being at all interested in the man who violated us; despite the fact that a woman is more likely to raped by a man we know, who feels a sense of ownership over us, than by a stranger, but facts be damned because clearly the sheer act having a vagina means that we’re responsible for it being violated against our personal will. By that I mean that we live in a society in which 31 states grant paternal rights to rapists. By that I mean that we live a society in which one in six women will be the victim of an attempted or completed raped, in which 9 out of 10 rape victims are women, and in which 97% of rapists go unpunished. Rape is not about sex it is, as this article accurately points out, about control; control over a woman’s body, and what we’re wearing or whether or not we’ve feigned even the slightest interest in our attacker has nothing to do with it. Those who rape or assault see a woman’s body as something to be claimed, a rapist does not see the victim as person but as an object over which to take ownership and do with as the rapist sees fit. Rape is about sexual domination, not sexual gratification. Not only do rape and misogyny go hand in hand, but so does the way in which our society talks about and treats rape victims. When society lays the blame for being raped or sexually assaulted at our feet, it is accusing we women of being vile temptresses and is essentially implying that, on some level, the rapist is the victim of the uncontrollable lust that we women evoke in the loins of men, which in turn legitimizes the objectification of women. Putting the blame for being raped at the feet of women is, beyond any rational doubt, misogynistic.

8) Domestic Violence: While both women and men can be victims of domestic violence, women are far more likely to not only be victims of physical abuse but to die as a result of it. According to the CDC, 1 in 4 women have been victims of physical abuse at the hands of an intimate partner, compared to 1 in 7 men, and, in 2010, 1,095 women were murdered by their domestic partners, compared to 241 men. According to the American Psychological Association, three or more women are murdered by their partners everyday and nearly half of all women (about 49.4%) have reported experiencing some form of physical violence from an intimate partner in her lifetime. According to the FBIs 2011 Supplementary Homicide Report, of the 1,601 women murdered in 2010, 1,509 of them were murdered by a men they knew, and most of them were murdered during the course of an argument. As with rape/sexual assault, physical abuse is about power and domination. Abusers abuse typically to exert control over their victims, abusers see their victims as property as opposed to a person. Given the fact that the majority of domestic violence victims are women, and that the majority of aggressors are men who have laid claim to said women, domestic violence is an act of misogyny. Men who beat women do so for a variety of reasons, but all of them boil down to one underlying social problem, men have been acculturated to believe that the women in their lives belong to them. One cannot view another person as property and still respect them as a person. Men who abuse women do not view us as fully human, they view us as things to be owned and controlled, and even something to fear and hate; which is, by very definition, an act of misogyny.

Sadly, for women, misogyny is all around us. While it is true that not all men are misogynists who disrespect or objectify women, and while it is true that not all men hate women and seek to own, control, marginalize, or abuse women; it is true that all women experience acts of misogyny. Every. Single. Day. That is the point to #yesallwomen. Every woman, everywhere, everyday is a victim of misogyny. So of those men who are not, by their own account, misogynists we ask you: Don’t ignore it, don’t dismiss it, don’t downplay it’s prevalence; rather, listen to us and take our experiences seriously, acknowledge and admit to the fact that misogyny is both endemic and systemic within our culture so that we can eradicate it together.

 

Chick-fil-hAte: Religious Freedom Has Nothing To Do With It

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By now we’ve all heard about Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy’s stance on gay rights and the subsequent outrage in response to that stance. For many of us the anti-gay beliefs espoused by Mr. Cathy and his company came as a bit of a surprise. Out of nowhere, or so it seemed, social networks, like Facebook and Twitter, were abuzz with posts and comments about Dan Cathy’s statements to The Baptist Press regarding the company’s support of  “the biblical definition of the family unit.” For others, this news was far from out-of-the-blue. In March of last year, the LGBT rights group, Equal Matters published a report about the fast-food chain’s support of adamantly anti-gay groups, like Focus on the Family and Family Research Council, the latter of which is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. In May and September of last year,  LGBT rights activists protested the opening  of Chick-fil-A restaurants in Chicago and Hollywood, respectively; and in February of this year, students at NYU petitioned the university to close its Chick-fil-A franchise.

While, on the surface, the official position of Chick-fil-A and Mr. Cathy regarding gay-rights is, in the opinions of many, antiquated and unethical; dig a little deeper and that position moves from out-dated and wrong, to down-right fucking crazy-scary. Dan Cathy doesn’t just believe in the concept of traditional marriage (whatever the hell that means), he believes that we, as a nation, are inviting the wrath of his God for having the audacity to offer equal protection under the law to all of our citizens regardless of their sexual orientation. Or, as he puts it, for our “prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is.” Dan Cathy isn’t one of those misguided but otherwise benign Christians who is simply of the personal opinion that marriage should be between one man and woman until death parts them…No. He is one of those sinister and twisted Christians, like Robertson and Falwell, who honestly believes that there is some vengeful, wrathful force in the universe that will destroy us all for daring to treat people who differ from us with respect and dignity. That’s some scary shit right there, folks. Scary shit.

Now, to take matters from the scary to the mindbogglingly terrifying (yes, I am this freaked the hell out by this next bit), Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A are not merely funding groups that oppose same-sex marriage, (oh if only it was that bad) the two are funding a group that appears to support the systematic murder of homosexuals. In 2010, Family Research Council (FRC) gave $25,000 to lobby Congress to vote against a resolution, dubbed  “Res.1064Ugandan ResolutionPro-homosexual promotion” by FRC, that would denounce Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill. Now, it would be disingenuous to insist, without irrefutable evidence, that Dan Cathy or the rest of the company knew about the FRC’s efforts to influence Congress’ vote on the resolution; but given that FRC is on the SPLC’s list of hate groups and considering that stories about the FRC’s lobbying efforts have been on the internet since 2010, it seems unlikely that Dan Cathy was unaware of it.

Contrary to what some people, particularly supporters of Chick-fil-A, might think, the outrage being expressed does not merely pertain to Dan Cathy’s statement to The Baptist Press, nor is the boycott indicative of an anti-Christian plot to destroy religious freedom. Yes, for those of us who understand that sexual-orientation is neither a sin nor an abomination, the position of Chick-fil-A and its president is offensive; but our outrage actually goes deeper than that. A lot deeper. We’re not just angry that some religious, rich dude disagrees with same-sex marriage, we’re angry that he thinks the rest of us need to agree with him. Dan Cathy believes that same-sex relationships and our support of them are going to cause his God to destroy this nation. Dan Cathy believes that his religion should get to define marriage for us all. And Dan Cathy and his company have provided substantial financial support to organizations that not only aim to impose theocratic laws on us all, but that appear to support policies in foreign countries that would kill gays and lesbians.  This is why we’re outraged.

We’re not telling anyone to change their opinions, we’re telling them that under no uncertain terms do they have the right to use their personal beliefs to dictate how other consenting adults live their lives. Just as they want to be free to believe whatever’s floating around in their head, so too do those of us who have different beliefs or positions. If one expects one’s personal beliefs to be respected and protected then that person *must,* as a member of a democratic and secular society, extend that same respect and protection to everyone else.

I want to make something perfectly clear to the religious right, to Dan Cathy and his ilk, and I’m asking the rest of the reasonable people in America to join me in saying it: We don’t want your world; it’s a sad, lonely, hateful place. Personally, I don’t give a flying-monkey’s ass what anyone believes or thinks. Have at it, it’s your life. I do, however, care when your ilk tries to tell me and those whom I love and respect how to live their lives. Then and only then do your beliefs become my problem. Your beliefs are your beliefs, nothing more and nothing less. Keep it that way.

It Shouldn’t Be About “Having It All,” It Should Be About Having Our Fair Share

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“’Empowering yourself,’ [Lisa] Jackson said, ‘doesn’t have to mean rejecting motherhood, or eliminating the nurturing or feminine aspects of who you are’…If women are ever to achieve real equality as leaders, then we have to stop accepting male behavior and male choices as the default and the ideal. We must insist on changing social policies and bending career tracks to accommodate our choices, too.” ~ Anne-Marie Slaughter, Why Woman Still Can’t Have It All. 

Before I begin, let me first say that the following is not a critique of Ms. Slaughter’s article, rather it is a response written in full agreement with her. She is a highly-intelligent, articulate, and inspiring woman. I admire her very much. I highly recommend, that upon finishing my post, you read the article linked above as it is fantastic. With that said, I think that not only can’t women have it all, we should neither want nor feel the need to do so.

Why should women be pressured to “have it all?” This is not a scripted movie and we are all not Sarah Jessica Parker (this is a reference to “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” which I have not seen but judging by the trailer it is playing into exactly the sort of myth that Slaughter discusses in her article), rather this is real life. And in real life time is limited, bodies can only work so hard, and human relationships can only endure so much stress before they break. Moreover, why is this unattainable expectation to be successful professionals, wives, mothers, and homemakers placed upon women?

Granted, this is beginning to change as more men are taking on larger shares of household labor and more active and involved parenting roles, but it is occurring slowly and women still get the short ends of both the career and homemaking sticks. Women still earn less than men. White women earn 22 cents less per hour; black women, 31 cents; and Hispanic women, 41 cents. As Slaughter points out in her article, “women hold fewer than 30 percent of the senior foreign-policy positions [across the government, the military, the academy, and think tanks].” Women are still more likely than men to work two full-time jobs, one out-side of the home and one making the home. And studies show that women, as this article discusses, are expected by employers and colleagues to work twice as hard as male co-workers in order to prove that they have what it takes to make it in the “working world.”

All of this must change, certainly. But the change must begin within ourselves. We women have got to stop believing that we have to “have it all” in order to be considered successful and equal to men. Men don’t worry about this, at least most of them don’t. I have never, in all my working life, seen my male colleagues fret about leaving work because their child is sick or about taking a personal day to attend a child’s game or recital. One former co-worker, who had an agreement with his wife that they would take turns missing work to fulfill parental duties, after receiving a call from his daughter’s school that she was ill and needed to be taken home simply walked into our supervisor’s office and said, “I need to take a half day, my daughter is ill,” and then left to pick-up his ailing daughter. Yet whenever my female co-workers found themselves in a similar situation they would worry and begin trying to think of excuses that would sound less unprofessional. This was, in no small part, because in their homes the bulk of the parenting fell on them rather than their husbands and they found themselves often taking off days or leaving part-way through a shift to deal with family issues.

What “having it all” for women really implies is doing it all. It means bringing home a paycheck, perhaps after having earned a degree in some profession, and doing most if not all of the following: keeping the house clean, doing the laundry, tending the garden, taking care of the children, keeping the finances straight, and making sure dinner is made/served and everyone eats it. If, on any given day, something does not get done we are made to feel, either by ourselves or those around us, that we have neglected our duties. How many men do you know (be honest now) who are expected to do so much? Aside from my husband and my dad, I don’t know many.

Women have to start demanding more participation from our spouses (unless of course they’re already helping out, in which case thumbs-up to you) and insisting that they respect and appreciate what we do. This will certainly cause arguments, but if you’re tired and stressed out all of the time, perhaps a little arguing is needed. Also, if your spouse loves you and respects you then he will eventually listen. After all, you’re supposed to be partners.

We women must start demanding not asking for the same respect and opportunities as men because asking suggests that we are not entitled to these things by virtue of the fact that we are human-beings and active members of society. We deserve fair pay. We deserve career advancement. We deserve time off to tend to ourselves, our children, our spouses, or our parents when need be. We deserve the same as men because we work just as hard, in many cases harder, and we are equal to them in nearly every possible way.

We, both women and men, need to raise our children, our boys and our girls, to recognize the difference between gender constructs and sexual physiology, and encourage them (encourage, not push) to defy them. Gender expectations, like war and poverty and pollution, are man-made and thus can and should be changed or all-together eliminated. They do no good for anyone. They limit our choices, pigeonhole both men and women into careers and social roles that they might not want. If a man wants to be a stay-at-home dad while his wife, who desires a career, works then he should do so because this is will be far more personally fulfilling to each of them. Gender roles force each of us to define ourselves, and our children, along arbitrary lines: girls are supposed to like pink and princess and want to be nurturers, while boys are supposed to like blue and super-heroes and want to be defenders. But, not all children want these things, nor do all adults for that matter.

I wasn’t all that into pink or princesses when I was little, nor was my sister. Sure, I had Barbies and I loved them; but my Barbies were adventuring   archaeologists like Indiana Jones, top-notch spies like James Bond, or explorers of Time and Space like the good Doctor. The room I shared with my sister was littered with toys of every kind: Ninja Turtles, Spider-Man, He-Man, She-ra, Barbie, dinosaurs, trucks and cars, and all of the ancient treasures (mostly just dirty rocks) that Barbie and I had discovered on our numerous archaeological digs around the neighborhood. I loved digging in the dirt. I loved catching frogs and little garter snakes. My Dad, who was a bit more of an involved parent than my mother, never discouraged our ways of play and never raised my sister and I to behave according to strict gender roles. We learned to throw baseballs and footballs as well as any of the boys in our neighborhood.  He taught me to throw a good right hook, just in case I ever needed to defend myself. As I grew and expressed a desire to be everything from a space-explorer to double-O-7 when I grew up, while others would tell me that I could not be these things because I am a girl, my Dad would tell me that I would make an awesome whatever-it-was-that-month. When I was a little older, I fell in love with history and knew that someday I would be an historian, another career dominated by men, and I couldn’t be happier than doing what I love and defying gender roles as I do it. It’s an opportunity that we all deserve, the chance to find ourselves and to able to do so free from the restraints of socially constructed concepts of boy’s play and girl’s play, of men’s work and women’s work.  Each person, male and female, should be allowed to construct their own identity.

And this brings me to my last point, one that is crucial to achieving everything else: We women must stop being so critical of each other. The battles between stay-at-home moms and working moms, formula-feeding moms and breast-feeding moms must cease immediately.  The way I see it is that whether you are willing and/or able to be a stay-at-home mom or breastfeed or you are, either by choice or necessity, a working woman or you formula-feed that is your business and it is not a matter of debate or judgment for anyone outside of your family. We all have choices to make and needs to fill, and more often than not these choices and needs are ones with which only women are expected (thanks to antiquated and arbitrary gender expectations) to face. The last thing any woman needs is to be harassed by other women – who, whether they admit  it or not, have been backed into the exact same gender corner- and to have her choices/needs unfairly and unnecessarily judged by the very group of people who should understand the position in which she finds herself. We women must re-learn what feminism (to use an out-dated term; a new one is needed, I think) is really about. Feminism is not about being like men, it is about embracing, celebrating, and nurturing our womanhood and determining for our individual selves what that means. It is about being true to ourselves as individual human beings. Whether or not we choose to have children and/or pursue careers, we are each still a woman. We are strong physically, emotionally, creatively, and intellectually. Feminism does not mean, despite the way in which it has been depicted in the past, that women have to have it all by doing it all; rather it means that women should stand up and demand their fair and equal share of the society that we, right along side of men, have helped build. When we can stand together, women united in the common cause to have the right to choose the path that is right for each of us as individuals and respect each others choices, then we can finally stop trying to do it all and start being the people we want to be.

A Brief Observation on Ethics

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My observation about ethics, is that determining what we as a society ought to do requires skills in critical thinking, logic, and reason. Without such skills we are in danger of thinking in arbitrary absolutes and of over-generalizing the issues society faces. If we fail to explore other options, see things from alternate perspectives, or challenge our personal paradigms, we create an ethical vacuum and risk building individualistic pseudo-moralities from which we judge the rightness or wrongness of an action based solely upon whether or not we do such actions ourselves.

It is just this sort of faulty logic, this pseudo-moralistic judgment, that leads some people to feel that it is acceptable to condemn certain lifestyles or actions, such as homosexuality or prostitution: “I’m not gay, so being gay is wrong.” It also enables us to feel apathetic toward the rights of others who are different from us or live in different circumstances: “Gay people are different from everyone else, so they should just deal with homophobia and hope it goes away;” “I respect my body, so prostitutes clearly have no self-respect;” or, “I/people I know work hard and aren’t poor, therefore poor people must be doing something wrong.”

Our determination of ethical behavior should be based less on what we would or wouldn’t do personally, and more on whether or not we would like to be treated/judged in the same manner in which we treat/judge others. Moreover, the rightness or wrongness of an action should be judged less on how much we personally like or dislike something and more on the amount of goodness or harm it brings to others. For example, regulating business practices to ensure workers are well treated and the planet isn’t being polluted bring more goodness to more people than allowing business to do as it pleases; whereas, dictating the individual actions of consenting adults typically leads to oppression and marginalization, thus causing more harm to more people.

Therefore, a large number of us need to get off of our high-horses, stop trying to dictate who is screwing whom or who is smoking what, and start to really evaluate the ways in which our thoughts and actions affect the whole.

What’s In A Name?

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I recently read an article on the Huffington Post about changing one’s surname upon marriage. The article, by Anne Peterson, raises an interesting question about the tradition of taking on the man’s name when getting married. It has become more popular for a woman to hyphenate or, in some rarer cases, keep her own family name rather than follow tradition; although, tradition is still the norm by a substantial degree. I even read once of couples choosing entirely new last names, something that would be theirs instead of his or hers. I find nothing wrong with any of the afore mentioned options.  Why? Simple really. It’s just a name.

I must admit, that when I married I felt a twinge of loss for my family name. The name of my dear and departed Grandpap, my Uncle, and my Dad (three of the people most responsible for raising the woman I am today; believe it or not, I am a feminist largely because they taught me that I could be anything I put my mind toward being). I still, in part, think of myself as my maiden name. But why? It’s not really as if my DNA and my name have anything to do with each other. Am I not still, by birth and the bonds of love and memory, my father’s daughter regardless of the last name I now I bear? Am I not, regardless of what name I sign on documents and receipts, the wife of my husband and the mother of our child? Am I not, regardless of surname, still my own person? Of course I am.

While I still cannot help but think of myself as my maiden name (at times), I think that this is in large part because I was raised to think of myself as such; I am no more or less my maiden now than I am my married name. Why? Because it’s just a name. It does not define who I am, it does not alter my DNA. If a biologist was to view a sample of my DNA, he/she would not see my maiden name or my married name imprinted there.  And, honestly, what matter is it if I have one man’s surname over another’s? Either way, it is still a patrilineal marker, a means by which a man shows the world that this is his wife and his children…Is it not?

Therefore, I for one choose to believe that, regardless of the last name on my driver’s license, I am still me. I am still my own person. I still have my own goals, my own opinions, my own mind, and my own flaws.  The only difference is that I am now bound, by both birth and marriage and by the bonds of love and memory, to three families; the one into which I was born, the one into which my husband was born, and the one that the two of us chose to create together.

After all, what is in a name anyway?…Exactly.

Why the Death Penalty is Immoral

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As those who know me are aware, I typically see the world in various shades of gray. Very rarely is there anything that can be classified as strictly right or wrong; for example, most people would agree that stealing is wrong. But, in the case of a parent, who, by no fault of their own, has found him/herself unable to provide food to their starving child and steals food out of desperation, I think it is safe to assume that most people would agree that this instance of stealing does not bear the same ethical weight as, say, robbing a bank at gun point.

However, there is one issue in particular in which I can find no gray area, no way by which to justify or excuse its existence. And that is the death penalty.  The very idea of a method of punishment that kills people who kill people because killing people is wrong is, to put it bluntly, stupid. It is irrational, illogical, and barbaric and it has no place in a civilized society. Moreover, the margin for error is too great. Far too often, innocent people, like Troy Davis, find themselves on death row for crimes they did not commit. Now, proponents of the death penalty might argue that this rarely happens or that improvements in modern technology will eliminate the occurrences of  such instances of injustice. To them, I have a few points that I would like to make:

1) Human error.
Sure, it is true that advancements in modern technology have improved the ability of forensic teams and crime scene investigators to test DNA samples and better determine if the evidence can be linked to the accused. Furthermore, thanks to these improvements many falsely accused and wrongfully convicted individuals have been exonerated. According to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), since 1973 more than 130 people on death-row have been exonerated as a result of DNA evidence; most of these have been between 2000 and 2007, at an average rate of 5 per year.

As good as that might sound, it becomes less impressive when one considers the sheer volume of appeals cases that have been found to contain such egregious errors that the accused were given entirely new trials. According to a 2000 study by Professor James Leibman of Columbia University Law School, from 1973 to 1995, thousands of capital sentences were reviewed and of them sixty-eight percent , about seven out of every ten cases, were discovered to contain serious prejudicial errors. The study goes on to state that in the cases in which death was the punishment, “courts threw out 47% of death sentences due to serious flaws” and “a later federal review found ‘serious error’ – error undermining the reliability of the outcome- in 40% of the remaining sentences.”  

Furthermore, technological improvements are not infallible and human error will still occur. From mismanagement of the crime scene to mislabeling the evidence to improper storage; all of which can contaminate or damage the evidence, leaving it useless or leading to inaccurate results. Moreover, DNA evidence is not always available and, as this ACLU report states, in many cases “because of the nature of the crime, DNA evidence cannot identify the murder.” Whats more is that at this time, post-conviction DNA evidence is  not admissible in all states , and some states only allow it in certain circumstances. Therefore, the claim that improvements in DNA testing will eliminate false convictions is, as DPIC states, simply not true.

2) Mistaken Identity.
As stated above, DNA evidence, when available and put to use,  is not fool proof and, despite improvements, innocent people are still wrongly convicted.  In the instances in which DNA is not available or simply not used, one thing on which investigators and prosecutors rely is eye-witness testimony. Unfortunately, this is one of the least reliable methods for determining a person’s guilt. The reason being is that our visual memories are just not as dependable as we would like to think they are. Numerous studies have been done on the accuracy of eye-witness accounts of events and have found that, well, people pretty much suck at remembering details.

According to a 2009 report by 60 Minutes‘ Lesley Stahl, of those convicts who have been exonerated by DNA evidence, nearly three-fourths of them were initially sent to prison based solely upon the testimony of an eye-witness. This is what happened to Ronald Cotton, the subject of the CBS report, who was unjustly convicted of raping two women in 1984 based upon the testimony of one of the victims, Jennifer Thompson. Since the report is provided above I will not go into much detail about it; suffice it to say: Thompson made a conscious effort to memorize every possible detail about her attacker, from his facial features to the sound of his voice and still she managed, unintentionally, to identify the wrong man and, ironically, to fail to recognize her actual attacker, Bobby Poole, even when he sat before her in a court room three years later. The reason for Thompson’s error resulted not from any flaw of character on her part, but on the fact that the human memory makes mistakes. It is fallible, prone to suggestion, and easily manipulated.

As this 1999 report by the Stanford Journal of Legal Studies, by Laura Englehardt, which was based upon a lecture by Barbara Tversky, Professor of Psychology, and Law Professor, George Fisher demonstrates, human beings have a “propensity to remember erroneously events and details that did not occur.” The report references a study done in the 1970’s by Elizabeth Loftus, Professor of Psychology at the University of Washington, in which test subjects were shown images of cars at either a stop sign or a yield sign. The test subjects were then asked a series of questions about the images they had seen. During the questioning, experimenters purposely substituted “yield sign” when questioning those test subjects who had been shown the stop sign, and vice versa. What resulted was the test subjects reported having seen the wrong image. In other words, the people who saw a stop sign reported seeing a yield sign, and those who had seen a yield sign reported seeing a stop sign. However, as the report goes on to state, even without the interjection of false information from third-parties, our memories are distorted from the moment they are made and, as we recount those memories, they become more and more distorted.

For this reason, mistaken identity is a real and serious problem and, as mentioned above, results in false convictions more often than not.

3) Justice is blind.
There is a reason that Lady Justice is depicted as she is: blind-folded, holding balanced scales in one hand and sword in the other; it is meant to be a symbolic representation of that act of justice itself. A system that is supposed to be firm but fair, and always objective and impartial. Sadly, for many, symbolic is all it is because the reality of the legal system is one of blind bias, unfair conviction rates that disproportionately affect non-whites and the poor, and of cruel and unusual punishments handed down by people, who far too often have only partial information.

In 2005, DPIC released its study on the problem of juries deciding life and death cases with only partial or faulty information. The report found several flaws with juries, among which was the way in which juries are selected and, of course, the quality and accuracy of the information that they are presented. According to the report, the sex and race of a potential juror are key factors in whether or not they are selected to serve on the jury in capital punishment cases. The reason for this is that blacks and women are more likely to oppose the death penalty. Those chosen to serve on such cases are more likely to be “pro-prosecution and conviction-prone,” while those who are not chosen are rejected based upon personal beliefs against the death penalty. This, of course, is problematic because it weights the jury in favor of the prosecution thus denying the accused his/her Constitutional right to a fair trial.

Equally problematic, and for the same reasons, is the other finding stated in the report, that of purposefully withheld information and failed investigations. According to Section II of the report (see page 8), prosecutors sometimes deliberately withhold critical information from jurors and defense attorneys fail to investigate. From 2000 to 2005, such misconduct lead to 121 instances of convictions being overturned and the accused exonerated of all charges. In 2000 alone, thirty-seven people were released from death-row; misconduct by the court was cited as the reason in sixty-two percent of those cases.

4) It is unconstitutional.
This one requires little discussion as it is matter of fact. As per the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution, the law of our land, no one shall be made to suffer cruel or unusual punishment. There are few things more cruel and unusual than institutionalized death.

In conclusion, as a civilized society, which is what we would like to believe ourselves to be, we can certainly devise a better way by which to punish truly heinous crimes. Life imprisonment being one of them. Furthermore, if we are indeed a nation built upon Christian principles as so many people, many of whom advocate the death penalty, claim then we absolutely cannot allow capital punishment. As Jesus himself said, “let you who is without sin cast the first stone.” This is not a call to be non-judgmental as so many people wrongly interpret it to mean, but a direct command against the death penalty because that is what stoning was under Biblical law, a death sentence. Furthermore, killing a killer because he/she killed someone robs the person of their opportunity to seek redemption and find salvation; and isn’t that the whole point to Christianity? Salvation of all? (hint: the answer isn’t “no”).

Do not misunderstand, I sympathize completely with the victims of heinous crimes, and with their families. I dread the thought of serious harm being done to those I love. But killing the person who may or may not have done the crime will not bring back those lost, nor will it truly alleviate our pain. And, even if we can decrease the margin of error to such a point at which for every one-hundred or one-thousand people who are correctly convicted, one conviction is false, it is still a price too high to pay. Isn’t it enough that an innocent life, that of the victim, was lost and their loved ones are grieving? Must we, for the sake of satisfying our own desire for vengeance, sacrifice more innocents and cause more loved ones to grieve?

No. Vehemently and unapologetically I say, no! The death penalty is wrong. Period. As the evidence shows, the potential for error is too great and occurs far too often to justify its existence. It is time to dispense with the brutality and find a better, more civilized way.

Something that makes me go, “Hmmmm?”

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Below is a brief highlight of what was a rather lengthy conversation about homosexuality and societal acceptance. The conversation took place between a couple of random chicks and me in my Lit class after the Professor posed a question about coming out in the workplace when one lives in an area in which being gay *will* get you ostracized:

Chick 1: I think that gay people should just kinda, you know, deal with it…Society is changing and things are getting better, but I think it’ll just take time…Why do they have to come out at work? It’s like “don’t ask, don’t tell,” I feel like they’re there to do a job and should just do the job and then be themselves at home…

Me: Wait a minute…You’re asking people to deny a part of who they are simply because some people in society might think it’s icky? You expect the gay person to pretend to conform, never allowed to discuss their relationships with their co-workers?

Chick 2: Well, I personally think people shouldn’t discuss their private lives at all at work. It’s unprofessional.

Me: I agree, but that point is moot because people *do* discuss their private lives at work. The question is, should gays be forced to keep silent out of fear of repercussion?

Chick 2: *shrugs*

Me: (directed at chick one) Going back to your statement about the military, why should soldiers in the military be expected to keep their relationships hidden? Especially when they’re stationed far from home, most likely in a combat setting? What about when they’re overseas and everyone around them is having conversations with their significant others, but the gay persons have to pretend they’re just talking to a friend? What about the civil rights issue? Is it not a violation of their first amendment rights? You realize that under DADT, a gay person cannot come out at all, right?

Chick 1: Well, they don’t have to be in the military. They could do another job…

Me: You know, they used to say the same thing to women…Not just in the military, but to women who wanted to do anything that was considered *men’s work,* this included voting…Should women have just dealt with that?…

Dude in class: (interjecting) I think it’s wrong to keep gays quiet…I, for one, think they’re born gay…

Chick 1: Well, I agree. I think they are, too…

Me: So, then why would you put the burden of “just dealing with it” on the person who is born the way that they are…they have no choice, it’s literally who they are…and not on the bigot who has chosen, via willful ignorance, to be a judgmental tool?

Chick 1: *nods and shrugs*

I still want an answer to that last question: Why is the burden of acceptance always placed upon the marginalized and not upon the marginalizers? Why is it that the oppressed are always expected to just “deal” with it? Should it not be the other way around? Moreover, in keeping silent do those who disagree with bigotry not lend a measure of credence to that bigotry?