Saturday, March 28, 2009

Attack of the unmarried mothers!

by Laura Smith-Gary

Lock your doors, folks. According to a recent government report , babies born to unmarried mothers now account for 39.7 percent of all births in the country, up 3-5 percent from 2006 to 2007.

This is, as far as U.S. News and World Report is concerned, the most important news in a report filled of interesting information. "Unmarried Childbirths in U.S. Reach Record Levels " the article's title proclaims, with record highs in births by Cesarean section coming in as a subtitle. Halfway through the short article, a few of the other findings of the study are briefly mentioned, including an increase in the number of births, the first decrease in the percentage of low birth-weight babies since 1984 (albeit a very slight decrease), a decrease in the rate of preterm births, and an increase in the number of babies born to teenage mothers for the second year in a row after a long decline.

While I think the U.S. News and World Report is sensationalized, implying that unmarried mothers of all stripes are THE problem with births in the U.S. today and deliberately playing into the "the fabric of American social order is unraveling!" fears of many citizens, the comments are where the real fun begins. Not unexpectedly, commentators discuss only the increased number of unmarried mothers. And by discuss, I mean blither sexist and racist comments as fast as they possibly can whilst bemoaning their hard-earned money being sucked away from them by taxes. (I should say that a few commentators very rightly attempt to point out that unmarried doesn't necessarily mean single OR "bad parent" and that apparently abstinence-only education isn't working out so well, but their voices are largely overwhelmed.)

Comments ([sic] on everything) offer pithy insights on the causes of the uptick of unmarried women giving birth, including, "Clearly, it's all the fault of the illegal aliens," and "Loose women + horny men = babies." "[I]f some of these fast gurls keep their panties up and legs closed, this wouldn't be happening," a commenter tut-tuts. Yeah, those fast gurls who keep getting each other pregnant! One poses what he seems to think are evocative rhetorical questions: "Wonder what percentage of these births are by UNMARRIED BLACK females?....Also, the number of births to ILLEGAL aliens in our country?" One comment, which was deleted, generously informed those blaming the whole thing on Black and Hispanic women that unmarried mothers don't come just from the Black and Hispanic communities, they come from all "trashy parts of society". Another explains from whence come these "child birth criminals": "Desperate women in their 30's to early 40's in the US society falling in the feminist agenda, wake up thinking [does he mean realizing?] they can't be like men. Thus desperate cougars looking for a husband overnight, they don't find him and they CRUCIFY any MALE in their path by sleeping with him unprotected on purpose; and later going to Child Support criminals asking for money." Look out for those crucifying cougars, boys.

Whether commentators think the increase in the number of unmarried mothers is do to illegal immigrants, black people, cougars, or just plain old sluts, they are sure What Will Come Of This. TAXES TAXES TAXES.

The "crucifying of males" guy, for instance, explains that "these child birth criminals, they are hand in hand with corupted lawyers, sucking taxpayers money." Another tells us "All a woman ha to do is pop out an illigitimate kid (they're still called bastards) and Joe Taxpayer is on the financial hook for 18 years......." Yet another howls, "PEOPLE are having babies out of wedlock in order to REAP THE BENEFITS of welfare and tax credits ect......Due to POLITICAL CORRECTEDNESS, we have become a NATION OF TRASH."

DAMN that political correctedness!
Finally, the commenters offer solutions to this ever so dire situation. Most involve shaming the unmarried mothers and their children and a few encourage parents to keep their daughters in check and/or educating them, but some are more creative.

There's the Sharia law option: "Instead of banning abortion - ban pre-marital sex."
There's the sterilize those whores but dear god don't teach them things solution: "Education can only go so far. Need to snip snap up all those girls making babies by the butt load."

There's the tax women those bitches route: "If we are to have a Nation of Fatherless Children we need to tax the women [...]Men already pay non-tax deductible Child support. It is time Women pay their share of the burden for supplying Bad Public Education and Government Handouts."

Finally, a solution I cannot resist quoting in full, the find yourself a domestic servant/marital rape victim route which also manages to condemn all American women for our Elizabeth Hasselbeck aspirations and lack of toast-making ability:

"DEAR FUTURE AMERICAN MEN, with all the MATERIAL GIRL/TV Generation women in the USA, who want everything they see on TV: (to be an AMERICAN IDOL, to be a host on "THE VIEW" big house, sportscar, fine jewelry, clothes, furniture, lobster dinners, an inground pool, gardener, housemaid, + everything,), but they dont even know how to prepare a salad, make toast, operate a dishwasher, or earn any wonder no one will marry them after yourself a favor, marry a nice single/unmarried Latina, from south of the border, they may not get a job, but at least they clean the house do the dishes, clean the floors and windows, make dinner, have sex with you as much as you want, do the gardening 4 u...take it from someone who KNOWS."

Take it from someone who KNOWS, guys. He is not kidding around. about those Cesarean sections?
For a more serious discussion of the report, the Reuters article on it was quite good, highlighting the most significant findings -- teenage birthrate, premature births, and Cesarean sections -- and giving short explanations of why they are important and some possible causes and solutions. To me, the increases in births to teenage mothers is particularly troubling and worthy of discussion.

As far as unmarried mothers are concerned, neither article mentioned that the largest increase in births to unmarried women came in the 25-39 year old mother bracket, a statistic I think is important. The report itself did not distinguish between unmarried mothers who were single and unmarried mothers in committed relationships, and while it did break down births by age and race it did not break them down by income level. In my opinion, those changes would allow the report to be a better tool in discussing and addressing problems in prenatal and natal care, public education, government assistance to low-income mothers, child health care, and so on.

Or we could just focus on how babies are being born to unmarried mothers and how it's unraveling the fabric of society.

Quick hit: more wisdom on beauty from the media

by Chloe Angyal

Right now, Vanity Fair's website is showcasing "a decade's worth of drop-dead gorgeous portraits," including Scarlett Johanssen, Giselle Bunchen, Anne Hathaway and Lindsay Lohan.

A quick glance through this slideshow reveals that, of the 22 women who appear, 21 are white, and 20 are in their mid-thirties or younger. All of them are airbrushed, and most of them are in some state of undress.

What does this retrospective tell us about what it takes to be "drop-dead gorgeous"?

Women and men and the many ends of life

by Chris Moses

Jade Goody and Sandra Day O’Connor: I can’t think of a more unlikely juxtaposition of character and personality. One a young English reality TV pop-star made famous by her brash lack of common knowledge and unapologetic lust for media attention, the other a mature, sober jurist and brilliant thinker recently retired from the US Supreme Court.

But in the past week they shared a common cause—bringing attention to the frailty of human health, to the impact of gender on medical treatment, and to the stark crises of end-of-life care we confront as a rapidly expanding, aging world.

Jade Goody did so with her own death—a minor footnote in the American media, but a story of multiple days’ front-page headlines and endless television coverage here in Britain. From crowds of every-day people who mourned her death to the Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the country took a deep breath to reflect on a loss that begged most of all the question of why everyone had been so captivated by this most unlikely of celebrities.

Sandra Day O’Connor spoke before Congress along with other distinguished political and medical leaders, announcing the report of Alzheimer’s Study Group before the Senate Special Committee on Aging. She has played an ever increasingly role promoting awareness of the disease since her husband first received his diagnosis, perhaps most famously sharing the story of how in his mental regression he had found loving companionship with another dementia patient.

Goody’s own illness—she died from cervical cancer—led to a wave of much-needed attention for women’s healthcare. In the weeks after she announced her terminal prognosis, clinics around the UK saw a tremendous surge in the number of patients requesting the basic smear test needed for early detection of the disease. Goody also took the glitz and glamour of her celebrity status to its fighting extreme, selling the media rights to her death-bed wedding and using every possible marketing opportunity to ensure a financially secure future for her two sons. She may have become famous through glaring ignorance (believing Rio de Janeiro to be a person) and crass racial comments (like referring to an Indian woman as the food ‘Poppadom’) but in the end she turned her fierce savvy into a golden parachute billowed by tragedy.

For O’Connor and the Alzheimer’s Study Group, the matter had no individual hero or heroine. To the contrary, their report’s drama came from the enormity of the problem and the unthinkable scale of the costs that lie ahead. ‘Unless we take decisive action now,’ the Group finds, ‘the Alzheimer’s crisis could very easily surpass even the current economic crisis in the damage it inflicts on individuals and our economy.’ For instance, the Federal Government already spends over $100 billion a year on the disease, and Alzheimer’s absorbs over 94 billion hours of uncompensated labor from care-giving family and friends. In forty years that figure could well be ten times higher – a trillion dollars annually. That makes today’s bailouts and stimulus look like chump change, nor does it account for the human suffering and emotional costs born by patients and families alike.

In their profound differences, these two cases demonstrate how appallingly little attention is paid to the way we die. From individual experiences of death to our own cultural practices and social understandings, the subject is taboo. Masked in grief, formality and ritual, deep questions remain unspoken. Rightfully so, the trying emotional confusion that marks all loss deserves whatever space and comfort it might be able to find. But this cannot be an excuse for collective denial of a problem that none of us will ever escape. Far beyond clichés of immortality or ‘man’s fear of death’ our ways for exiting life are as complicated and costly as anything else we do as human beings.

I have written before of my own personal struggles as my mother died from Alzheimer’s, but here I want to raise a number of more direct issues that I hope will raise awareness and provoke debate. As a matter of feminist action, the need to retrieve death from blank-faced stoicism or battle field heroism is just a starting point. Misogynist biases in health care so easily seen around birth control and abortion also pervade the way women receive end of life care and structure male-dominated scientific and medical research cultures. Paranoid debate about childhood sexual education in turn enables lifetimes of ignorance about personal health across genders. And politicization by all sides tends prioritize righteousness, identity and self-expression over understanding, empathy and the admission that much about our minds and bodies remains unknown.

So to close with a few points of consideration:

• Have you ever spoken with your parents about death? How do you tackle the flip side of birds-and-bees?

• What length and level of care can we afford for extensive terminal illness? Who should bear the social, financial and environmental costs of first-world death?

• How do expectations for death and dying differ between and for men and women? Across different sexualities? Between hetero- and same-sex couples and their families?

• Why does ‘health education’ focus so singularly on sexual maturation as life’s primacy and herald reproduction as human fulfillment? How can we better teach and learn about the patterns and cycles of life?

These are big and uneasily answered questions. Start small, combat morbid depression, and recognize that awkward misunderstanding and strained relationships will be infinitely easier now than in the actual moments of death and its aftermath. Between Jade Goody and Sandra Day O’Connor, a vast expanse exists for such urgent contemplation.

Friday, March 27, 2009

What will happen when you SNAP?

"Some people think that 'Snapped' isn't the most positive portrayal of women, because it makes us all out to be killers. But fear not, this is just one of the many complicated aspects of a woman's personality that the Oxygen channel likes to explore."

Classic Sarah. Love it! Happy Friday!

Boys and girls together?

by Elizabeth Winkler

In the last few weeks, the New York Times has featured several articles on the debate surrounding single-sex education in public schools. Based on somewhat inconclusive research, principals at several struggling city schools have opted to experiment with splitting boys and girls’ classes in the hope that the change might improve test scores, as well as overall behavior. The opportunity to make – or at least experiment with – these changes was brought about by a 2004 federal regulatory change that granted public schools the freedom to separate the sexes.

The potential advantages of single-sex education have been widely debated and yet conclusive results are hard to come by. In NYC public schools, test scores have not seen dramatic improvement, though teachers do report noticeably better behavior on both sides of the gender separation. The idea, of course, is that boys will focus better without female distraction, and that girls – often quiet and slow to participate in co-ed environments – will gain confidence in their own academic and leadership abilities.

Kim Gandy, president of NOW, notes that the problem with this system lies in its potential to reinforce gender stereotypes: “A boy who has never been beaten by a girl on an algebra test could have some major problems having a female supervisor.”

In fact, some troubling teaching methods already seem to be arising in P.S. 140. In the NYT article, Mr. Napolitano, the math teacher of 23 fifth-grade boys reports the benefits of being “more stern” with an all-boy class: unlike with girls, he can “get in their face” and yell, “You – let me see you trying! Come on, faster!”

Compare this with the female teacher and her pupil across the hall: “This is so sloppy, honey… Remember what I spoke to you about? About being the bright shining star that you are?”

Mr. Napolitano is a strong advocate of the single-sex system: “There’s an aspect of male bonding, a closeness that we wouldn’t otherwise have… I feel more like I am teaching them about right from wrong than I might have normally.” While the “morality” factor mentioned here is not offensive, it certainly seems a little strange; one would think that issues of honor and integrity can easily bridge the gender gap. But then the kind of “right” and “wrong” Mr. Napolitano is referring to becomes clear: it’s about teaching the boys “part of being a young man.”

Asked to comment on the advantages of an all-boys class, one boy responded, “I am learning how to be a man.” In the girls’ classroom, there was no mention of “learning” how to be a woman. In fact, there was no mention of “women” at all. In fact, instead of the male-bonding reported in the boys’ classroom, the girls comments focused primarily on what the 11-year-olds referred to as “drama.” (This, in the form of catty, exclusive behavior.) The NYT reporter comments on the idea of a “sisterhood,” but the evidence from inside the classroom indicates the presence of little sisterly bonding.

The article ends on a hopeful note (a teacher notes, “even when there is an argument brewing, they can get past it”), but it in fact contains much more disturbing information than the reporter seems to notice, let alone question and discuss.

First there’s the in-your-face yelling at boys versus the sweet, “honey” talk to the girls. Then, the idea of “teaching manhood.” This implies that it’s both something constructed and somehow artificial (not the organic process of maturation), and that boys have to harden-up (through all the yelling and tough-talk) in order to reach the point of noble, hard-headed masculinity.

But what struck me most was the subtle, underlying association between morality and masculinity, knowing “right from wrong” and “being a man,” that found absolutely no correlation in the female setting. While the idea of being a man carries all sorts of connotations of honor, respect, moral fiber, etc., the idea of being a woman is weak and sexualized at best. There’s no notion of teaching the girls to “be a woman,” since, of course, one wonders whether that is really a positive thing at all. (I.e.: You might teach them honor, but what association does that have to being a woman? In this context, the ideas are almost – and this might be arguable – but they are spoken of as if contradictory.)

Instead of teaching the girls an honorable notion of womanhood, single-sex education is aimed at helping them keep up with the boys and remove them from the boys’ sight in order to lessen that oh-so-insidious female distraction. In fact, Mr. Napolitano remarked that having the girls absent actually added to his ability to teach moral issues to the boys.

The problem here is not so much single-sex education itself (as the product of an all-girls, Catholic school, I can attest to its benefits), but the way it is being discussed. And the way it is being discussed uncovers the very problems that the notion of single-sex education was formulated to address. As long as it simply transplants and distills these divisive, gendered ideas, one wonders if single-sex education is really transforming education, or simply fueling dangerous stereotypes in an even more concentrated environment.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Can you say "double standard"?

There's an article in the Washington Post today about the HPV vaccine, Gardasil, which Merck is now trying to get approval to market to men. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that strikes about 10,000 women each year and kills about 3,700. For males, the vaccine is aimed at protecting against genital warts and penile and anal cancer (also cancer of the mouth and throat). The virus causes at least 250,000 new cases of genital warts and an estimated 7,500 cancers in males each year, causing around 1,000 deaths. And, very importantly, vaccinating boys and men would also help prevent the spread of the virus to their sexual partners. So mostly, this is a good thing.

However, there's some controversy about the marketing of Gardasil, which is showing the usual double standard in worrying about promiscuity for women, but not for men. When the vaccine was marketed to women three years ago, the main question was: is the vaccine going to encourage young girls to have sex? But now, because it's focused on boys, we're asking, "Is it worth the money, and is it safe and effective enough?"

"We are still more worried about the promiscuity of girls than the promiscuity of boys," said Susan M. Reverby, a professor of women's studies and medical history at Wellesley College. Double standard? Damn straight!

The WaPo says, "Federal health officials, Merck and others say they are confident that the vaccine is safe. But some experts said they are concerned that there is insufficient evidence about how long Gardasil's protection will last, whether serious side effects will emerge and whether the relatively modest benefits for boys are worth even the small risks associated with any vaccine." So it may be a while before this is approved for men. But until then, we need to think about whether there's something wrong in the way that we're thinking about gender and Gardasil It's a vaccine, for God's sake! We should be worried about safety and affordability for both men and women.

Let's talk about sex!

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

Last night, I was very excited to attend a meeting of about fifteen students who were gathered to begin what will hopefully become a campus-wide conversation. We were there because we felt that the way students are talking about sex - or rather, not talking about sex - is unproductive and, inevitably, damaging. The conversation that we're having now, mostly conducted in the opinion pages of The Daily Princetonian, is based mostly on assumptions about what Princeton students want from sex, or what other students think they should want from sex, or what our school's particular social norms tell us we should want from sex. We're looking for a consensus about sex that doesn't exist, and in doing so, we're not listening to each other. Instead, we all agreed that we need a safe space to talk about sex - without judgment, a theoretical overlay, or group affiliations - and events that question the student body's conceptions of sex (no pun intended!).

This new group is very much still in the planning stages (we're still nameless, so if you have name ideas, shoot them over to me!) and if you're interested in facilitating, inspiring or participating in this conversation, let me know! We want as many people as possible to be involved. My email is, and the only requirement is that you should be willing to talk about subjects that might make you blush.

Some shameless self-promotion

We're featured in the Daily Princetonian! Check out the interview here. But we would like to clarify that Chloe Angyal '09 was the founder of EW, and a co-editor until recently, when she had to depart to work on her thesis - just to give her credit for all her inspiration and hard work!

Thoughts from Anna Rose, Part 1

I’m twelve, and I get my period, a brown stain on the bed on Thanksgiving Day.

I try to put in a tampon, smear a little Vaseline on the top. It doesn’t go in. I search for the right hole, wonder if I even have it. Something stings a little. I stop, scared, stuck somewhere between girl and woman.

Sixteen, and ready to try again, for maybe the fifth time. I mentally brace myself, and read on the little pamphlet that virginity can’t be lost to a tampon. I smear some Vaseline on, and mimic the line-drawn woman in the diagram, one leg up on the toilet, mirror at the ready. I examine the picture, and it seems like the tampon is some alien invader, piercing her where no hole should be, hard and stern in her soft system.

Mom says if I do it right it won’t hurt. Cringing, eyes on the mirror, I find the hole. The blood comes from somewhere, I must have the hole, even though I can’t put my fingers inside at night. Don’t know why. My body just won’t let me.

When the tampon is next to my skin and I press, it stings, and I inhale hard, but keep going. Soon the tampon is in, and the sting stops. I exhale, body loosening, which I guess makes it easier. I leave the bathroom proudly, knowing in two hours I’ll be able to do it again.

Only sometimes I can and sometimes I can’t. They hurt to put in, and sometimes I can’t do it unless I make myself a little wet first. It always hurts. Sometimes I stand up, almost scream with the way it seems to burn, and take it out and start over.

It hurts when my boyfriend tries to put his tongue inside me. Laying in the dark, naked in front of a boy for the first time, he doesn’t know what he’s doing, but it still feels good, I guess, unless he tries to put his tongue inside me. I ask him not to twice, three times. I don’t know why he doesn’t listen. But he says he’s not doing it at all. He says he's barely touching me. He's concerned.

Maybe it’ll feel better once I have sex.

A week into nineteen and I’m ready, I’ve loved my college boyfriend long enough, and feel some inner stirring asking for recognition and fulfillment. I ask him to put his fingers inside me, he’s the first person to make me come and the fourth to try, I just want to feel all of him, and it hurts a little, probably because his fingers are salty.

I lose my virginity that night. A half hour it takes him, and for maybe twenty-nine minutes it is all pain. But in the last one the pleasure is there, everything I’ve heard about that makes me want to do it again. It’s tender and loving and even though it stabs I feel loved and cared for. I am loved and cared for.

A few days later we do it again. It still hurts at first, but it’s better, and there’s more pleasure in it. It hurts when he takes himself out of me. We joke that my body just wants him in me all the time. But I barely ever let him put his fingers in me anymore, and never for more than a minute or so.

Penetration hurts every time, and that’s all there is to it. After a while, I finally just have to admit that.

I just have to get through it to the good part, and I know he hates that it hurts me, his big green eyes fill with concern, a pain of his own. I try to be strong. But it hurts. I ask my best friend if it ever hurts her, and she says sometimes. But not really. I have no one else to ask.

Sex hurts every time. It hurts like a knife wound, massaged by insensitive hands. Every time, ever.

I am a patient of pelvic floor dysfunction, one of the many disorders that causes chronic pain during intercourse--a phrase that sounds so technical, for something that comes with so much emotion. I get asked stupid questions, and a lot is assumed about me, by people who just don't understand and have never heard of such a thing. It's no wonder that they haven't, since no one's talking about it. Most doctors don't even know these disorders exist. That's why I'm talking about it.

Before I continue, I encourage you to please post this article, and any in my seven-part series, anywhere you like. You may know someone who's suffering, someone who isn't talking about it, and doesn't know there's anything she can do, or anyone who understands.

For me, sex is an experience of masochism, and I am by no means a masochist. Every time it starts with pain, and sometimes the pain just keeps going. There's guilt and failure in stopping, agony in continuing, fear in not starting at all. Sometimes the pain lets up, and when I first started having sex, that's what I banked on. Once the pain stopped, I could actually enjoy sex for a while, till I got too sore to continue, which doesn't take long.

I learned later that the release from pain is something called the Gate's phenomenon: The nerves in pain get so tired of fighting that they just shut down. I suppose I could have lived with that for a while, but eventually, the rest of my body started to rebel. Before sex, every time, every muscle in my lower body would involuntarily clench up, and so I developed a new and different pain.

My journey through the medical labyrinth began eight months after I started having sex, and it's been about as much fun as the sex itself. Now, as I write this, I think I'm about to come out on the other end. I've just turned 24, so it's a full five years that I've suffered.

This is the first in a series about my experiences, and what they've taught me, which I'm sharing to open the door for others to share their own. I want to spread information and sympathy. I don't want to give advice, since to me, advice always seems vapid and irrelevent. I know that no matter what advice I give, someone who reads this will find that the opposite applies to her, and that's just shitty to read. I want to hear your impressions, your experiences, your thoughts and reactions, and if you really want to share some wisdom, that's great too. Success stories, and stories of full healing would be awesome. I know I'd love to hear some.

The only advice I will give is this: If you have chronic pain during intercourse, and you know that you are not a survivor or rape or incest, and you don't have huge anxiety about sex, you most likely have a real physical pain disorder. Go see a doctor you trust. There are cures for many such disorders. If you are a survivor, or have serious anxiety, you may have one of the psychological disorders that can lead to such symptoms.

Stay turned for my next post, on the different types of disorders themselves.

Anna Rose

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

When Dr. Phil fails, try a hot chick!

by Emily Sullivan

Forget Abby - ask a hot chick, man! I’m not kidding. is a website featuring videos of hot chicks giving about 25 seconds of relationship and dating advice. Below a sexy thumbnail photo is a Cosmo-style question…”What is the biggest mistake guys make when it comes to women?” or “Why do girls like bad boys?” and the like.

There are a million advantages being attractive gets you—more jobs, better pay, better service in any given store. Tack this to the list—apparently, being attractive can substitute for a psychology degree. It totally legitimates any advice you have to give. Shit—if this is the case, why are so many of my professors balding white guys? So that’s why America’s Top Model gets better ratings than CSPAN—we want to learn from truly reliable sources.

But the site makes sense, right? Don’t good looking women go on more dates? They must know what they’re talking about—practice makes perfect.

I’ll take a cue from Carrie Bradshaw, Sarah Jessica Parker’s character from Sex and the City—“Men who are too good looking are never good in bed because they never had to be.” I don’t mean to imply that good looking people are bad at dating, but c’mon. Good looks do not an education make. My advice if you’re desperate to figure out the complicated inner workings of woman-kind, ask your mother!

Using females, using feminism

by Laura Pedersen

After a full semester and a half of the year-long Humanities Sequence (Western thought’s greatest hits from Homer to Nietzsche) I’ve accustomed myself to a certain level of misogyny in the texts we read in the course. Accept? No. Coexist with? Uncomfortably.

But it’s not the authors that have been bothering me recently. It’s the commentators.

Harold Bloom’s introduction to Paradise Lost was easily the seventh to suggest that the author of the work was a feminist. Plato was a feminist (sometimes you have to squint, but it’s there…). Cervantes was a feminist. But Milton? The man who writes an Eve who is literally second tier to Adam, an Eve who is foolish and narcissistic even before falling to temptation, and who defers her opinion time and time again to Adam? Only Adam is permitted a direct relationship with God; Eve must go though Adam to develop a relationship with the divine. Their reciprocal desires for love as control and submission to control starts to resemble a mindset present in abusive relationships.

So why is Milton a feminist?

Bloom claims it is because he has Eve step up to the plate and take the blame for corrupting humanity. This act matures her, he says, by expanding her role in the story. In doing so, she leaves for all the females who follow her an equal portion of the respect and significance her act of humility wins for her.

Paraphrase: women win respect by accepting the blame. Women, once again, are taught to own society’s expectations of them.

This is no feminism from my point of view.

I appreciate that so many scholars have attempted to address the issue of gender inequality in the texts they write about and are thinking in new and provocative patterns about the issue. Some of them even strike gold; the claim for Cervantes’ feministic presentation of women is entirely justifiable.

What I do not appreciate is having feminism used as a kind of ornament to embellish an essay that seeks to define the work in question as ahead of its time or remarkably modern. Western literature spends enough time manipulating and subjugating female characters; let’s not have that same manipulation applied by today’s scholars to a movement trying to undo what centuries of misogynistic writing helped make possible.

We all love quizzes!

So how much do you really know about women's history? Test yourself with this quiz! And if you're especially brave, tell us how you did!

1. In 2009, women make up what percentage of the U.S. Congress?
A. 3%
B. 17%
C. 33%
D. 50%

2. How many CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are female?
A. 12
B. 28
C. 59
D. 84

3. Who was the first First Lady to create her own media presence (ie hold regular press conferences, write a daily newspaper column and a monthly magazine column, and host a weekly radio show)?
A. Eleanor Roosevelt
B. Jacqueline Kennedy
C. Pat Nixon
D. Hillary Clinton

4. The Equal Rights Amendment was first introduced to Congress in:
A. 1923
B. 1942
C. 1969
D. 1971

5. Who was the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature?
A. Phyllis Wheatley
B. Alice Walker
C. Toni Morrison
D. Maya Angelou

6. What percentage of union members are women today?
A. 10%
B. 25%
C. 35%
D. 45%


1:B, 2:A, 3:A, 4:A, 5:C, 6:D

The patriarchy?

by Josh Franklin

"Patriarchy" is one of the wonderfully trendy words that gets thrown around in most of what's posted here on EW. In fact, it makes a prominent appearance in the title of one of the "sites we love": I Blame the Patriarchy. The blog sells itself as a beacon of radical feminism, where its author rails angrily against patriarchy, "which invisibly persists as the world’s most popular social order..." Describing her blog, the author writes that she

"envisions a post-patriarchal order free of male privilege, rape, misogyny, theocracy, corporatocracy, gender, race, deity worship, marriage, discrimination, prostitution, exploitation, godbags, the nuclear family, reproduction, caste, violence, the oppression of children, the oppression of animals, poverty, pornography, and government interference with: private uteruses, non-abusive domestic arrangements, drug habits, lives, and deaths."

There is clearly a lot that author Twisty Faster is angry about. I was once talking to a friend about feminism, and he posed the question: if there's some huge conspiracy against women that all men are part of, then why didn't anybody tell me? The answer, clearly, is that a privileged class is not aware of its privilege; men don't understand all the ways in which society automatically gives them power and oppresses women. The power involved in gender violence in our society emerges in a complicated, diffuse way. That's why it makes me a little bit uncomfortable that the blog's title refers to the patriarchy.

If we blame the patriarchy, we conjure up the image of a vast conspiracy of men, which holds monthly meetings to discuss how to abuse women. While societies have varying degrees of male power built into their organization explicitly, the pervasive--and far more pernicious--form of male power is, as Twisty implies, the invisible kind. I think this distinction is one that's important to draw.

The more worrying--and personally insulting--thing about I Blame the Patriarchy is the little bits of misandry. I hesitate to point this out, because it's an unfair and widespread perception that feminism itself amounts to man-hating. After searching through guidelines for would-be commenters on the blog, I found two instructions for men (those who identify as men?) who want to post: "Male persons who wish to leave comments on this blog are strongly encouraged not to" and "But really, it would be better if men just didn’t post in the first place. Really."

I think this is counterproductive and a little bit upsetting. What do you think?

Sprint presents: "freewheeling", stressed-out moms

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

I was confused, to say the least, reading the New York Times' description of the new show "In the Motherhood," which premieres on ABC tomorrow night. I've never heard of it, but apparently it's not a new phenomenon - there have been web episodes since 2007, when Suave and Sprint teamed up to create a show based around product placement, with "real-life" stories of mothers neatly packaged around the advertising. The "real-life" stories were procured from the "In the Motherhood" website, which is now causing some consternation from the Writers' Guild - and the producers will now have to stop soliciting for stories from mothers for the TV show (although they're still welcome to post them on the website).

My problems with the fact that mothers' stories about their children were used as a way to sell shaving cream and cell phones aside, the TV show itself sounds really maddening. The show stars Megan Mullally, Cheryl Hines and Jessica St. Clair as women who try to "juggle motherhood, work and love lives in an overly complicated modern world." That sounds all very well and good, but reading the description, I was shocked and irritated by this description of supposedly "normal" modern motherhood. Megan Mullally plays a woman who is essentially irresponsible (the show's word is "freewheeling") and single (although she has been married several times before), but who - somehow - is raising a son who is far more responsible than she. Hines is recently divorced and trying to keep her career balanced with her two children, so she hires a "manny," who believes that he has a "special connection" with her eight-month-old - he thinks the baby is the only person who really "gets" him. As for St. Clair, she plays a former model and "super-mom" who "takes parenting as seriously as any mother could" - which means keep a home which is a "work of art" and tending to her husband and two children.

All of the men in this show are somehow more responsible than the women, except for St. Clair, who fills all the traditional heteronormative housewifely roles. The other two women are kept afloat by male figures, and one of them is portrayed as flighty and irresponsible, despite the fact that she is raising a son on her own. I don't like the portrayals of men or women on this show, and I'm disappointed that the producers could be looking at real-life stories of motherhood - something that could be a hilarious subject - and coming out with more boring sitcom garbage. And what about "In the Fatherhood"? Are Sprint and Suave assuming that men wouldn't be drawn to a show about an essential part of their lives? Or just that men don't want shaving cream and cell phones, so why bother?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

So much to do tomorrow night!

There are two great events happening tomorrow night (Wednesday, March 25), and it looks like they're spaced so that you could go to both of them!

First, you should go to Feminisrael. It's is happening in Frist 307 at 8 pm, and it's featuring Dyonna Ginsburg, who is currently the Director of the Israeli NGO "Bema'agalei Tzedek" (In Circles of Justice). Bema'agalei Tzedek is a group of yount social entrepreneurs that strive to createa more just Israeli society informed and inspired by Jewish values. She previously served as the International Director of Yavneh Olami and is currently on both the Yavneh Olami and PresenTense Board. Come hear her speak about Socioeconomic Issues in Israeli Society and the Entrepreneurs Who Tackle Them. There will be some snacks (always delicious) and we hear that she's a great speaker!

Then, you should check out the Roundtable, which is at 9:30 pm in the Wilcox Seminar Room (B208). It's a new student discussion group that brings together students of different beliefs and backgrounds to talk about difficult issues, something that I think we can all agree this campus needs. Each week, they discuss one resolution after a quick introductory briefing by two speakers, one representing each side of the resolution. This week's subject is that tricky consent issue that we've discussed on Equal Writes in the past couple of weeks. Their resolution is: Having sex with a person who is drunk should be considered rape.

Sisterhood? What does that mean?

When most people in our generation think about sisterhood, it has something to do with a group of teenage girls sharing pants, not the powerful catalyst for change that second-wave feminists imagined.  But that original vision of sisterhood is something that we need to remember.  Our wonderful editor emeritus, Chloe Angyal, just had an op-ed published in the Christian Science Monitor about the "electrifying power" of sisterhood.  She points out the animosity that often characterizes relationships between older and younger women, and calls for a return to one of feminism's key values: sisterhood.  It's a really wonderful piece, and it points out something that I think we often forget - in a world that silences women, we can't afford to ignore each other.  It may sound like a platitude, but those women in the '60s were right - sisterhood is powerful.  And even when it seems like women are judging or demeaning others, it's something that we have to remember - this is bigger than Meghan McCain or Laura Ingraham.  And there are still plenty of problems around - problems that women need to tackle together.

New series!

We're excited to announce that Equal Writes will be hosting a series of posts from an outside contributor over the next seven weeks. The posts will explore chronic sexual pain, something which is relatively unknown to most people. We'll be putting them up weekly, on Thursdays, so stay tuned for this fantastic series!

Here's an introduction from the series' author, Anna Rose:

When I was nineteen, I was diagnosed with a chronic sexual pain disorder. I was shocked to discover that such a thing even exists, but it turns out there are several of them. They can be physical or psychological, they can be the result of trauma or of nature, and if you let them, they can be crippling. The worst thing about them is that no one's talking about them. Most doctors don't even know they exist.

In the five years since, I've learned a lot--about sex, medicine, healing, and myself. This series is the story of my journey towards treatment and my experiences therein.

Horrible news of the day

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

This is horrific. Last April, Eudy Simelane, the former star of South Africa's female soccer team, was found in a creek outside Johannesburg, raped and murdered. She had 25 stab wounds in her face, chest and arms and had been gang-raped. This is just one example of the extreme homophobic violence that has been sweeping South Africa - Simelane was a strong advocate for LGBT rights and was one of the first people in her community to live openly as a lesbian.

Simelane's death is referred to as "corrective rape" - committed by men who want to "cure" women of their lesbianism. And although the numbers of these crimes are rising, the South African government is doing virtually nothing to stop it. Research released last year by Triangle, a leading South African gay rights organisation, revealed that 86% of black lesbians in the part of South Africa where Simelane lived said they lived in fear of sexual assault. The group says it is dealing with up to 10 new cases of "corrective rape" every week. And although it isn't said explicitly, the implication is that these killings are also racially based.

The Guardian has a great article about this - they asked lesbians who live in Johannesburg and Cape Town about the threat of violence in their lives. The responses are shocking.

"Every day I am told that they are going to kill me, that they are going to rape me and after they rape me I'll become a girl," said Zakhe Sowello from Soweto, Johannesburg. "When you are raped you have a lot of evidence on your body. But when we try and report these crimes nothing happens, and then you see the boys who raped you walking free on the street."

The article goes on to describe the possible reasons for this rise in horrific crime - apparently an increasingly macho political establishment which is not prosecuting sexual violence is partially to blame. Human rights campaigners are hoping that the publicity surrounding the trial of Simelane's assailants, which will begin in July (other men have been charged, but only one convicted - the judge claimed, during the sentencing, that Simelane's sexual orientation had nothing to do with her murder). Let's spread the word - this is a terrible breach of human rights and the South African government needs to start addressing these crimes immediately.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Quick hit: Are we relevant?

A Princeton freshman, Emily Rutherford, has an interesting take on the relevance of feminism (something I know we all struggle with) on her personal blog. Take a look - she raises some important questions about why we can't make feminism apply to all women, and what feminism ideally should be. Are we liberated women? What on earth does liberation really mean? And does feminism actually have the power to liberate? I just had a conversation in a lunch discussion about the intersections between race, class and gender, and we came to the conclusion that feminism needs to integrate these issues before we move forward - but how the hell do we go about doing that? At Equal Writes, we know feminism is (or should be) a big tent - but how can we make other people feel that way?

These are big questions. Feel free to comment.

Ugly Betty and ugly stereotypes

by Chloe Angyal

Like many women, I have a love/hate relationship with Ugly Betty. I think the show has done an amazing job at critiquing normative beauty standards and I love the way it satirizes the absurdity of the fashion industry. But I also have my objections. Last week’s episode, “The Sex Issue” threw around some really old, tired and just plain ugly stereotypes about women, men and sex.

For those of you who didn’t catch it, here’s a quick summary: Betty is dating this awesome new guy, Matt, and decides that it’s about that time in the relationship where she would think about sleeping with him. After several failed seduction attempts, she has an accidental couple’s session with his therapist, and finds out about Matt’s promiscuous past. Apparently, Matt “used to use sex to connect with people,” and with his therapist’s encouragement, has pledged not to sleep with any one until he feels a real connection with them first. Betty goes from being concerned that Matt doesn’t find her attractive to being concerned that she’s “just a number” and that sex with him will no longer be “special.” In a seriously disturbing scene that feels like it was pulled straight from an abstinence-only “education” video, Betty imagines being surrounded by women wearing t-shirts with numbers on them, indicating where they fell in the succession of the apparently hundreds of women Matt has slept with.

This whole disaster of a plot line is problematic for several reasons. The first is that it perpetuates the idea that if a man doesn’t want to sleep with a woman, it’s horrifying, relationship-dooming and totally unnatural. Betty assumes that because Matt doesn’t want to have sex with her, there must be something wrong with him (because, you know, men are insatiable beasts who want to sleep with everything that moves, and are only waiting for your go-ahead to strip you naked and pounce). Worse, she assumes that something is wrong with her, and with the relationship (because if a man doesn’t want to sleep with you, you’re clearly worthless, and the relationship can’t possibly survive without sex).

Now, sex can be used as barometer for the health of a relationship. If you’re having regular sex with a partner and suddenly notice that you’re having a lot more or a lot less than usual, you might want to talk about what brought on that change, and what the consequences of the change itself might be. But Betty’s assumption that the relationship, or the people in it, are fatally flawed because one of them is not yet ready for sex, reflects a focus on the physical that is really unexpected for her, and for the show in general, which is usually so sensible about these things.

Secondly, the whole “our relationship isn’t special because he’s been with so many other people” trope is, frankly, bullshit. To suggest that because you’ve had sex in the past means that you can’t have a meaningful relationship in the future is insulting to second (and third) spouses everywhere, and awards sex far too much significance in a relationship. Yes, sex can be a beautiful and meaningful way to form and reinforce bonds in a loving relationship, which is why some people choose to save it for marriage. But as we all know, that’s not the only purpose of sex. By suggesting that Betty and Matt’s hopes of having a meaningful or “special” relationship have been dashed because Matt has had so many previous sexual partners, the writers at Ugly Betty are playing in to the idea that having too much sex makes you somehow less worthy or capable of love. And that idea, seeing as it’s total crap, really needs to die.

Thirdly, the idea that because your boyfriend has slept with a lot of women, you are somehow less special, is indicative of a double standard in how we think about men and women’s sexual behaviour. Notice the use of “boyfriend” and “women” in the above sentence, because gender really matters here. Betty doesn’t think that Matt is less special because he’s had sex with a lot of women (nor does the question of sexual health or STI testing come up at all). She’s concerned that it makes her one of many, instead of thinking about what Matt’s past sexual behaviour says about him. In other words, it’s women who pay for men’s promiscuity.

Imagine if you will, a situation in which a man finds out that the woman he’s been dating has slept with a lot of men. Chances are, his first thought isn’t “man, I feel less special now.” Nor is his first thought “wow, those men must have been real man-whores.” His first thought is “that’s a little slutty of her. I wonder what her problem is.” At some point down the line, he might try to justify this totally sexist thinking by adding, “oh, and I feel less special now.” But that won’t be his first concern. For him, as for the writers over at Ugly Betty, and for our society in general, the first order of business is to judge and shame women for having sex – and think of a reason later.

The shame tactics are further demonstrated by the creepy attack-of-the-slutty-numbered-women scene, where the girls lick their lips suggestively and wink, signalling that they’re “up for it.” To put it plainly: Matt has slept with lots of women, but it’s the women who are demonized for his behaviour. Matt can have as much sex as he wants, and the women he sleeps with will be labelled (literally, with big numbers) as sluts. He, on the other hand, will be coddled and coached in the art of intimacy by his psychiatrist, and by his super-understanding girlfriend.

So, what have we learned from this uncharacteristically regressive episode of Ugly Betty? Men who like sex = normal, good. Women who like sex = slutty, will come after you like horny zombies.

Condom riots outside Notre Dame?

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

And you thought that I felt strongly about the Pope's recent comments about condom use in Africa! Take a look at this - there were 11 arrests in Paris yesterday as activists protested the Pope's statement outside Notre Dame Cathedral. The protesters distributed free condoms and carried portraits of the pontiff, labeling him an "assassin."

A spokesman for the protest said: "More than 20 million HIV-positive people live in Africa. Tell people in Africa that condoms make AIDS worse, that's not possible, it's an insult for those who suffer from AIDS."

There's an interesting discussion happening on my original post about the Pope's comments, but I thought I'd throw this into the mix. Apparently the Pope's popularity in France has fallen significantly over the past weekend.