Saturday, April 25, 2009

Human rights

by Emily Sullivan

I’m currently talking a course called Human Rights here at Princeton. The cases we have covered are all cases of ethnic or nationalist conflict resulting in genocide. What is missing from the syllabus is the cadre of human rights abuses women face every single day.

Countless acid burnings, genital mutilations, rapes, honor killings, and other atrocities occur without any international condemnation. We accept cultural relativist excuses for our lack of action, and ”cultural sensitivity” legitimizes our neglect of women all over the world. A single statistic makes this painfully clear: since the instatement of China’s One Child policy, 16 million females are missing - “aborted because they weren’t boys.” This number dwarfs the toll of any of the genocides we have studied—11 million during the Holocaust, 1 million in the Armenian genocide, 2 million in Cambodia, and 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda.

Women are shipped as sexual cash crops from Thailand to New York’s brothels, and burned on their husbands’ funeral pyres in India—along with their husband’s other possessions. Women are saleable and exploitable by their husbands or fathers. Women are disposed of, like yesterday’s garbage—aborted, left on a roadside, starved in orphanages, “stillborn”—solely for being female. Battery, rape, sex slavery, and the silence that surrounds the atrocities that women face every day led Catharine MacKinnon to ask, “Are Women Human?” She asked this question a decade ago. With the most recent news surrounding the pro-rape law in Afghanistan, which denies women the right to deny their husbands sex, the answer is still a resounding “No.”

Of the 30 articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 24 speak of rights denied to women based on their gender. Women do not have access to the means to fight their own abuses, for men run the governments, write the laws, and choose when and how to enforce them. Protections that are relevant only or predominantly for women—such as protections from unwanted pregnancy, domestic violence, and sexual violence—are simply left out of the written laws.

If we accept freedom from starvation as a basic human right (Article 25), how do we view human rights in light of the fact that 70% of the world’s hungry are women and girls? If education is a basic human right (Article 26), how can we claim human rights include women when 2/3 of children in the world who are not in school are female? If all humans, regardless of gender, have a human right to equal pay (Article 23), why do women earn 75 cents to a man’s dollar and do more than 2/3 of the world’s unpaid labor?

Women’s human rights do not get enforced because there is no one state or entity that can step up against all the rest—no states hands are clean in this arena. We ignore women’s rights abuses on an international level because we ignore them on a domestic level. Abuses that are common—like rape—are given no attention because they are so familiar. The torture and disappearance of women has existed beyond public radar because it has been a relative cultural constant, whereas genocide was organized into fast-acting campaigns. This does not make the gradual decimation of the female population in China any less real. To claim that these facts translate into an inability to act, however, is simply not true. Of course we could act. We could start by changing the laws in the U.S. so that rape and domestic abuse laws are actually prosecutable—we simply choose not to.

We operate on a completely different idea of justice when it comes to women. Women’s deaths, shamings, rapes, burnings, or torture do not register with the international collective the same way men’s do. Nationality, ethnicity, race, and religion are all categories which merit protection against human rights abuses, but not gender. It is a bizarre omission, and one that is has resulted in devastation for women around the globe.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Are you a single woman? PUT THE GUN DOWN.

"Just play by these rules, and your first date will turn into a second divorce in no time. Good luck!"

Back to God

by Chris Moses

The hard core of the hard right’s social movement has gotten caught with its pants down. In the past weeks gay marriage strode forward with the sort of common-sense normalcy it deserves. Now Iowa and Vermont now join Massachusetts and Connecticut with partnerships truly equal and accessible for all, regardless of sexual orientation. New York’s efforts may yet stumble in their Senate, but nonetheless Governor David Paterson has given it prominent and concerted attention.

Amidst this the GOP brought us nothing more than their tea-party tempests in a tea-pot of faux grass-roots action. Worse, former McCain strategist Steve Schmidt spoke out prominently in favor Republican Party support for gay marriage. Contrasting the issue with what he takes to be a morally defensible stance for anti-abortion positions, he told Log Cabin conservatives that "it cannot be argued that marriage between people of the same sex is un-American or threatens the rights of others."

Quite remarkably, Schmidt continued: "On the contrary, it seems to me that denying two consenting adults of the same sex the right to form a lawful union that is protected and respected by the state denies them two of the most basic natural rights affirmed in the preamble of our Declaration of Independence – liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That, I believe, gives the argument of same sex marriage proponents its moral force."

However anathema traditionalists may be to up-and-coming ideas, the forces of change cannot be stayed. The godly must enroll in History 101: "we should understand that traditions do change over time in every society." So it goes.

Change yes, but of a certain sort. This is the Great American Trajectory, the telos towards fundamental rights and limited government that have been the lifeblood of the right since the Reagan revolution. So too it’s a quiet attempt to get religiously driven conservatives to align their own sense of divinely ordained history with one more palatable to mainstream Americans who have seen more in Obama revivalism than fire-and-brimstone condemnation of sodomite heathens.

Liberals need to be cautious. Anyone committed to a progressive social agenda need be skeptical, critical, and deeply aware of what are as much realignments and fortifications of rights-limiting positions as they are signs of crisis or enlightenment.

Why now?

It’s the economy, stupid. The free-market liberty with which we were all to breath more deeply and clearly no longer works as a bread-and-butter position for conservatives. Anyone not on the regulation bandwagon is having a sad, sad day. So marriage can stand in as a more palatable free-market arrangement.

More than that: marriage is a poor person’s best-deal bundle of legal and economic privilege. It affords security and shared benefits that let everyday people fortify their position in the world. A trip to city hall and a couple bucks gets you a hell of a lot, from paternity rights and hospital visitation to shared health insurance benefits, from favorable inheritance laws to genuinely private communication and the right not to testify against one’s spouse. Some of these benefits can be achieved through legal arrangements outside marriage, but it’s a costly, arduous and in many ways still a contingent effort.

In a time of hardship, it becomes even more inexcusable to deny people’s basic means of defense—social integration and kinship versus alienation and atomization.

Yet isn’t this another way of strengthening that sacramental institution against the secular evils of state support? Better to sully it at the margins than to collapse its central role in undergirding family values and a culture of life.

Love-dovey aside, and however heretical it may sound, I would rather have a world of social protections available to everyone—regardless of partnership—than a regime of papered-up marriage for all. I deeply respect the fundamental importance this issue has for gay and straight alike—symbolic, emotional, cultural and more. But these values must come with victory in a battle waged for a solid foundation on which the broadest range of benefits may rest.

Pause partnership for a moment. Imagine instead universal health insurance, equal opportunity employment and equal pay regardless of gender. Imagine reproductive rights for women and men chastened to see not a fairer sex as object and possession, body and conquest, and rather as people no more or less than themselves. Imagine an educational system and set of social services that challenges poverty and promotes personal fulfillment, creativity and self-sustaining independence. Child care, living wages, mobility, support and protection in old age—imagine it without any rings on your finger.

However people want to do it, let them have the choice. Restart partnership as possibility rather than retreat—strong relationships, families, communities and more.

For the right marriage remains a matter of salvation, however expansive they may allow it to become. Indeed they might well have woken up and realized that its expansion promises to do more for its future than a rear-guard effort to limit its scope. But this is no deal with the devil. As conservatives regroup in these troubled times, we’re far from a moment of backs-turned. This is a straight-away attempt to find the quickest and most enduring path they can to their Christian paradise—watch out, this is back to God.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Allen Andrade convicted for the murder of Angie Zapata

by Laura Smith-Gary

In July of 2008, Allen Andrade murdered 18-year-old Angie Zapata by bashing in her skull with a fire extinguisher because he found out (by sexually assaulting her, grabbing her crotch without permission) that she was transgender.

At his trial, Andrade's defense attorneys admitted he'd killed her, admitted he'd killed her because she was transgender, and argued that the fact that she was "really a man" had caused him "trans panic," and that she was at fault because she'd "deceived" him about her gender. That is, they argued that her very existence as a transgendered person was provocation enough for him to brutally, remorselessly murder her.

On April 22nd, the jury deliberated for just two hours and convicted the bastard of first-degree murder and hate crimes. He has been sentenced to mandatory life without parole.

This can hardly be regarded as a victory -- a young woman is dead. Still, it is important that the jury apparently rejected out-of-hand the defense attorney's sickening suggestions that any reasonable person who discovered a date was transgender might be liable to deliberately and systematically bludgeoning them to death. That might seem like a no-brainer, but murders of transgender men and women have often been ignored, justified, or even endorsed by public officials and private citizens alike. Anrade's conviction -- and the rejection of the trans-hating defense -- was necessary.

This story has been pretty thoroughly covered and discussed in the blogosphere, and I strongly encourage you to read at least some of these posts. JusticeforAngie is a twitter feed that gives a blow-by-blow account of the trial. Cara discusses the fight for justice, trial and conviction at Feministe and The Curvature (her post about the murder is linked above). Questioning Transphobia has a number of excellent posts covering all aspects of the story, so many that I'm just going to link to the whole blog. News stories can be read here (the Greeley Tribune) and here (CNN). Be aware that outside of discussions that are explicitly trans friendly many comments and even stories are filled with vile, triggering trash -- be careful.

For those who are new to trans issues I highly recommend the Trans 101 section at Questioning Transphobia. Please refer to that if you're genuinely confused about things like why referring to a trans woman like Angie as "he" is offensive -- I'm pretty new to trans issues myself, and the articles they link to explain it much better than I can.

Note for anyone leaving comments: I am very open to discussing the legal aspects of this case, the social implications, and so on. At the same time, I don't have moderation privileges but by God if you leave transphobic comments on my post I will get you deleted so fast your head will spin. Don't even think about it.

Thoughts from Anna Rose, Part 5

This is the fifth in a series of posts about my experiences with a sexual pain disorder, and my journey toward a cure.*

His fingers move to the elastic at the top of my sweatpants.
“I feel like you should know something about me,” I tell him. Too dramatic? What else do I say?

“I have a disorder that makes penetration hurt.”

If men's responses to this piece of news were a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, the choices would be:
1) Okay.
2) Does your clit still work?
3) That's a relief
4) Are you a virgin?
5) Can I still have a blow job?
6) What if I wear a condom?

It's clear that some of these guys were expecting sex. I don't know what led them to that expectation, but my guess is it was past experience with one night stands. That leads me to assume that there are a good many women having sex when they hook up. I had a lot of encounters with many different men. While each was different, one thing remained the same: I couldn't have sex with any of them. They couldn't even put their fingers inside me. It would always hurt. So I told them that (I use the past tense here because the nature of my current relationship leads me to believe that I won't be having anymore random hookups. Stay tuned for my next post, which will cover serious relationships and pain disorders).

There were all the usual practical and emotional reasons why I didn't want to have sex with someone I didn't know. But we can only learn from our own past and our own bodies, so pain was the reason I always gave. Since any kind of contact or penetration hurts, I figured had to tell them anyway.

Yet, some of my lovers' responses led me to believe that other of my fellow females aren't having sex on the first encounter. These guys knew how to take no for an answer with grace and fluidity. So I began to wonder: What do other women hide behind when they don't want to have sex? If they don't hurt, what's their excuse?

The way I worded that thought to myself the first time I had it made me realize that I was, in fact, hiding behind my disorder. Even though I hated it, even though it had ruined a relationship and given me more misery than any other part of my life ever, it kept me safe. It gave me something solid to stand on that I couldn't possibly be talked out of, and made any guy who pushed a truly supreme asshole. I used my disorder to hide from intercourse, and I used it to hide from other acts: If I couldn't have sex, then oral was as far as I could go. That made oral take on a more emotionally charged role, or so I told a few guys, so they could hold their breath for that.

My thought pattern continued: If I was using my disorder to hide from sex, what would I have been up to if I were healthy? Would I have thought differently about it, and had more of it? As it stands, I've been sexually active for five years and I've made love with two people, both of whom I was in love with at the time of said sex. I've never had a real one night stand. I've always wondered what spontaneous sex is like. Who knows if I'd have had it, if I could. My disorder has taught me to appreciate the deeper nuances of sex. To me it's not about penetration and pleasure, but about the way sex reminds me of how animal I really am, and how that connection to my planet, which I believe to be a breathing organism, in turn makes me spiritual. It's an intense revelation of the interconnection of all the parts of us. Since I can't possibly feel casual about it, I've never had casual sex, even though the idea appeals to me.

But would I, if my experience of sex had been different? In some ways I'm glad it wasn't, because I'd know less about sex in general. But would I have had more of it? And would that have been worth it? Would I have had more fun?

Or would I have felt more pressure? I know there are women who have sex because they think they should, or because it's just easier than trying to get out of it. I could never be one of those women. I cannot be talked into sex. I've avoided several potentially dangerous situations by being invulnerable to persuasion or attack.

But there are plenty of women who say no, and their excuses are the fear of pregnancy or disease, or the simple lack of desire. Given the persistence of some men, it almost shocks me that a simple "no" could be sufficient safeguard. What do you back it up with? What if the conversation becomes so persistent that you're just completely turned off? How do normal people do this?

I realize that it's probably sick to even feel like I need to protect myself. I wonder if I hide behind my disorder because it makes me feel like there's a reason I have it after all. I wonder if I do it because it's easy. It's the only easy thing about my sex life. Maybe I do it because in some way it makes me unique. I could just as easily say no. Maybe I do it to gain some semblance of control. There's no guidebook to this disorder, no support group or role model to set an example or give suggestions. I'm making it up as I go along.

So I used it as an excuse. I did what I could, and ostracized myself from what I couldn't. I made it a non-possibility. At times of especially bad pain or trauma, I've done it in relationships too. Sex scared me, so my disorder kept me safe. It was a cycle so twisted it became a Mobius strip.

Anna Rose

*If you have chronic pain during intercourse and you know you have no history of sexual violence, you may have a pain disorder, and you should see a doctor. Get opinions from several different kinds of doctors, especially non-conventional if possible.

A panel on balancing family and career

Women's roles in our modern society are certainly becoming ever more fluid, which is great for expanding women's options and opportunities. At the same time, as women's roles become increasingly layered and complex, some women fear that their multiple roles, responsibilities, and desires may conflict, even to the point of precluding the achievement of one goal in favor of another. A question we often hear bantered around is: can women have it all?

Today (Thursday, April 23), the Anscombe Society and the Women's Center are hosting a special panel: Princeton Alumnae: Balancing Career and Family Life. Five Princeton University alumnae will speak at 4:30 in Robertson 002 about the myriad of roles they have embraced as modern women and how they personally find balance between their chosen careers and their chosen families. There will be some great discussion going on, so come out and join us! And if you have pre-frosh, they're more than welcome too!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Plan B now available for 17-year-olds!

There has always been a lot of controversy around Plan B, or the "morning after pill," a form of emergency contraception. It only recently became available over-the-counter to people over the age of 18 (although some would argue that at $40, it's too expensive). The drug can prevent pregnancy within 72 hours of sexual intercourse, and it is completely unrelated to the abortion pill, RU-486. Now, after a court ruling, the FDA has lowered the age at which both men and women can buy Plan B by one year - so now 17-year-olds have access.

The New York Times reports that "The agency’s decision came after Judge Edward R. Korman of Federal District Court in New York ruled last month in a highly unusual case that the agency’s decision to limit easy access to Plan B to those 18 and older was driven by politics, not science." This is an important decision, because it's crucial that women have easy access to Plan B after having unprotected sex - the pill can help prevent pregnancy up to 5 days after intercourse, but it's far less effective after 72, and works best when taken as close to intercourse as possible.

This is exciting news! Although Plan B has not noticeably affected either abortion rates or teen pregnancy rates since it became available over-the-counter, it's still good to give younger women access to it. Now, we just need to educate them about its benefits. Shockingly, even women who are given the medication free often fail to take it after having unprotected sex. So this step in the right direction needs to be accompanied by a heavy dose of education. James Trussell, a Princeton professor in the Office of Population Research, admits that this is something of an uphill battle. "There is not going to be a cheap cure to the unintended pregnancy battle in this country," he told the NYT. But I think we can all agree that this is somewhere we should be putting our money, because Judge Korman is right - this is a public health issue, not a political one. And this increase in access to Plan B is definitely cause for celebration.

Take Back the Night

by Jordan Kisner

The orange bubble has burst. Last week, one act of ‘public lewdness’ and one act of sexual assault – both perpetrated by adult men not affiliated with the university against female undergraduates — have forced the Princeton community to recognize the unfortunate reality that sexual harassment and sexual assault do happen here.

For the first time since I have been a student here (four years), women – and specifically women — are being exhorted by the university not to walk alone at night, or to stay in academic buildings after hours. For the first time in recent memory, I felt compelled to wait for my male friend to walk me home from the street rather than just leaving alone when I felt like it.

We are no longer safe at night.

Of course, this shift is more symbolic than actual. It was probably never a great idea to traipse alone around deserted areas of campus at 3 a.m. (something I have done, many, many times), and sexual assault is still a crime that, on this campus, happens mostly in dorm rooms, not on dark pathways, with people the victims know, not lurking strangers.

What has changed is less our actual safety than our sense of security. Sexual assault, which we always knew to be a possibility, now seems to be lurking around every corner. Whether a response to an actual loss of security or a symbolic loss of innocence, this newfound fear is real and it is not something to which we can resign ourselves.

This year’s Take Back the Night event (happening this Thursday at 7:30 on the Frist South Lawn) will be a crucial step in reclaiming our campus from the events of last week, and from the far more frequent incidents of sexual assault that go unpublicized. It is imperative that we come together as members of this community to take a stand against sexual assault in all its forms, to stand in solidarity with survivors, and to commit ourselves to creating a campus where we do not have to be afraid. This is the first step toward healing and change.

Be there.

What's that about well-behaved women?

by Shannon Mercer

During the course of one of my weekly e-mail purge sessions, a recent message from my Aunt caught my eye. Below her lengthy description of the bird-feed that she had just made from scratch, there was a quote:

“Well-behaved women seldom make history”

I’d seen the quote before on various myspace profiles, but I’d never given it any thought. This time, there was something I couldn’t put my finger on; something that was bugging the hell out of me.

Perhaps what threw me off was the fact that my 50-year-old aunt had suddenly decided to begin misbehaving, and perhaps I was just upset because the quote wasn’t attributed to anyone and my Princeton-honor-code-bound conscience decided to step in. Despite the viability of my last two suggestions, the real problem I had with this quote was with the assumptions that have to be made in order to find it even marginally inspiring.


1) Women who misbehave have historically…well…made history

2) A woman MUST misbehave in order to be important

3) Women who are well-behaved haven’t made history

Ok, first of all, I need to address this word “behave”. What does it mean to misbehave? And…let’s be honest…does this quote rely on sexual connotations attributed to “female behavior”? I picture a sensual, dark-haired woman, let’s say Mata Hari, staring deeply into a French Officer’s eyes, thinking, “Well-behaved women seldom make history, banzaiii!”. The originator of this pearl-o-wisdom was obviously not talking about a woman in 1887 who, in rebellion against her father, chose to burp at the dinner table. So what was this person implying?

I disagree with the idea that a woman must work against the system in order to succeed. I am a (fairly) well-behaved woman and it’s gotten me pretty far in life. Am I supposed to understand that, despite my success, I won’t get much farther? Well, this is a glass ceiling I never expected to hit! Why can’t I have it both ways? I want to conform to socially acceptable behavior AND I want to change the world. Those are not unreasonable aspirations.

So, after some research (approximately 0.29 seconds on google) I uncovered the origins of this quote: Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a Pulitzer Prize winning author and a professor of American History at Harvard University coined this phrase in the 1970’s. Ulrich explained the meaning of the quote (and the book she was in the process of writing around the time of this lecture) to the Loyola University newspaper “Loyola Today”.

She says:

“If you want to make a difference in the world, you can't worry too much about what other people think”

This is true. I agree with this, but giving these instructions explicitly to women in a quote that has somehow endured for 40 years is a bit marginalizing, dontcha think? In a way, saying that ‘women who misbehave make history’ creates a dichotomy in the perception of female behavior; a woman can be one of two things: completely out of control or totally compliant.

Ulrich makes it very clear that this was not her intention, “ ‘Are empowered women wild women? No, that's an old idea’ Ulrich warned that we run the risk of dichotomizing women of history ‘into bores and renegades who are going out there to save the world’ ” (Loyola Today). She says that her goal is not to “lament these women in their oppression…but to give them history. Serious history gets beyond good and bad”.

The clarification of her point of view makes things slightly different, but the fact that this slogan has become, as the Loyola Today deemed it “a universal slogan for independent women across the globe”, is something I find hard to explain.

I can understand the appeal it carries as a mantra of sorts. Misbehaving is dangerous and dangerous is exciting. Women want to be dangerous and exciting and moreover, this dangerous and exciting behavior leads to importance. But at a certain point this becomes an excuse rather than a statement of historical observation.

Does the prospect of historic immortality justify disobedience? No, only if the disobedience leads to a greater obedience to the values of “good” and “right”. Example: Rosa Parks

No one should care about “what other people think” when they are standing up for what they believe in. And not EVERYONE in history misbehaved in order to be remembered. None of this is specific to women and to those who find the memory of delinquent spies and harlots inspiring, fine. But don’t hold me to those standards...and if you do, well, I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to try for some fire code violations every once in a while. I’ll keep you posted.


Shannon Mercer does not intend to violate any fire code, be it of the University or enforced by the Princeton Borough. Thank you for your patience.

Date rape or drunk sex?

by Emily Sullivan

Two weeks ago, I attended Drunk Sex or Date Rape: Can you tell the difference?, a presentation by attorney Brett Sokolow. I know that I'm a little late in getting this on the blog, but I think it's important enough that we think about his presentation, regardless of the timing. Sokolow went through the facts of an actual case, allowed the audience to ask any questions we wanted, and then had us decide: Date rape or drunk sex? I was startled to see 25% of the audience say not guilty. I didn’t think it was ambiguous—the victim was raped. She was clearly incapacitated, and therefore unable to consent, when the perpetrator had sex with her. See what you think. Here are the facts:

Amy—5’4’’, 125 pounds, and 20 years old—went to a house party at 11 P.M. When Todd arrived an hour later, she’d had five beers and was slurring her words. He estimated she’d only had three, and to catch up, downed three himself. Despite being a large athlete, that was all Todd would drink that night, because he “wanted to be sober for whatever was to come.” That didn’t stop Todd from bringing Amy Everclear Jell-O shots; after 5, she had to run outside and throw up. Scarcely able to stand up straight, she asked Todd to “walk” her home.

Once there, Amy asked Todd to come in. After getting her some water, Todd headed to the door, but Amy stopped him with a passionate kiss. After fooling around for a while, though Amy got up to vomit again. When she came back, Todd smelled toothpaste on her breath, so he figured she was lucid, and they continued. As things got closer to sex, Amy stopped him, saying she was “too drunk right now.” A minute later Amy passed out.

Clad only in his boxers and socks, Todd remained on her couch, “to make sure she was okay.” Twenty minutes later, Amy woke up and told Todd—in slurred speech--she was a whole lot better. They engaged in what Todd identified as “highly participatory” sex. At 6 A.M., Todd wrote a note with his name and number, and left her room. Five hours later, Amy awoke with no memory of anything after the second shot. Puzzled upon reading the note, she called Todd to ask what happened. She hung up the phone in tears after finding out that she’d lost her virginity, and remembered nothing of it.

Todd, in his defense, claimed that he didn’t know that the shots were Everclear shots, or even that they were stronger than normal. He pointed out that he made no attempt to have sex with her for twenty minutes while she was passed out (bravo...not.) He had tried to leave, and she had kissed him. He also thought enough alcohol had passed through her system that she was no longer incapacitated--a few hours had passed and she’d thrown up twice. Todd was a bartender, so he knew about alcohol—he said he probably would have served her in his bar.

Here’s a kicker: the night before the party, Todd and four friends made the Jell-O shots. The shots were not served until Todd and those four friends were alone in the house with five young women. The guys served the shots to the ladies without consuming any of them themselves. How this did not register in my peers minds as predatory?

What did the actual jury decide? It convicted Todd of second degree sexual assault. Second degree sexual assault means technically consent was given, but the victim was incapacitated by drugs or alcohol and the perpetrator knew this to be so. Incapacitation means you are so drunk or drugged that it is like you are asleep. He was sentenced to two years in jail, and served 18 months of it

Let’s get back to the statistic: 25% of Princeton students thought he was not guilty? This case is not ambiguous. Amy had thrown up twice and passed out in front of Todd. By Todd’s (incorrect) estimation, the 125 lb. Amy had consumed three beers and five Jello shots over the course of a few hours (she had actually consumed five beers and five Jello shots). Amy was clearly incapacitated, and Todd absolutely knew this to be so. Todd engaged in sex with Amy when she was physically incapable of giving consent. End of story.

Was Amy responsible for her drinking? Absolutely. Does this IN ANY WAY imply that she deserved to be raped? Absolutely not. I may be blackout drunk and asking you to punch me in the face, but it still wouldn’t be okay for you to punch me. Why, then, is it excusable to sexually violate a person’s body when they are drunk?

A Boston University study did a survey of college-aged men. 7-8% of those surveyed said they would probably act the way Todd did. Of those who had done what Todd did, the average amount of times they had done it was 6.

This is scary. It is scary that it happens so often, and scary that some of us can look at this case and question whether it was wrong.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Of sheiks and attorney generals

by Jordan Bubin

You know what Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh and Wayne Anthony Ross, Palin’s almost-Attorney General, have in common? They’re both fucknuts.

Al-Sheikh is the shmuck—grand mufti or not—who declared that girls “aged 10 or 12 can be married,” and that to say they “too young” is unfair to the girls themselves. This, of course, was in response to the international debate over the judge who refused to annul a marriage between an 8-year-old girl and a 47-year-old man, one which occurred because the girl’s father was in debt to the other man—who promised to reduce the girl’s father’s debt by $8,000 if he sold him her hand in marriage. Even by al-Sheikh’s twisted logic, eight is less than ten, and so he ought not be defending the marriage…but that’s fine, I suppose if you’re in the underage meat market eight is great, and justifications be damned.

Ross, on the other hand, is all-inbred American brand of jackass. Sporting a thirty-year record of newspaper editorials and public comments such as “If a woman would keep her mouth shut, there wouldn’t be an issue with domestic violence,” and denunciations of gays as “degenerates,” he drives a Hummer which sports his own initials on the vanity plates—because WAR is awesome, lolz!

I admit, this came out last week, but I move slow in the post-thesis period; when I read this last week, in conjunction with the story about the 8-year-old girl, my response was a bit of “Is this satire? Or is this guy for fucking real?”, followed immediately by—“How do you deal with the problems in other countries if you have members of the Elite Grand Order of Douchebags in our own land?”

At the time, I thought that the best thing to do—or at least the most immediately gratifying—would be to punt Ross in his underused scrotum. Like many middle-school bullies, Ross seems to rely on the threat of violence as a response to criticism; he reportedly responded to reporters’ questions about public criticisms of him with the eloquent “if anybody said that to me, we'd have a little confrontation because that's a bunch of crap.” And like many middle school bullies who never seem to graduate from that emotional level, Ross looks the part of a fat emphysema-stricken man who is hopefully nearing a heart attack. So why not take him up on his seventh-grade bluster, stoop to his level for three seconds, and see if his ticker goes?

Then Alaska made history, voting down for the first time ever on an appointed attorney general, 35-23. Go Alaska (except for the whole electing-insane-governors thing)! Ross’s failure aside, though, the question is still in my head—how do you act in order to have the most effect? Rail against injustices in foreign countries, or start at home? Before you remove the misogyny from the neighbor’s eye, cleanse the problems from your own, right? And to not be so simplistic, I’m sure you can push on both fronts at once—but what balance do you give to your efforts?

Tomorrow is denim day!

Denim Day – Wear Jeans with a Purpose

In 1998, an Italian Supreme Court decision overturned a rape conviction because the victim wore jeans, reasoning she must have helped her attacker remove them. People all over the world were outraged. Wearing jeans became an international symbol of protest against erroneous and destructive attitudes about sexual assault.

Denim Day is a global rape prevention education campaign, where we ask the community to make a social statement with their fashion statement and on this day wear jeans as a visible means of protest against misconceptions that surround sexual assault.

Denim Day this year is Wednesday, April 22. So wear jeans tomorrow, everyone!

Sex ratios seem to vary by latitude

This is an interesting tidbit from the New York Times today - although more boys than girls are born all over the world, the ratio seems to be smaller among people living nearer to the equator. And no one is sure why. There are obviously many factors that influence the skewed sex ratio, but latitude is interesting because it's purely natural - it's not a cultural or economic factor like diet, selective abortion, or war.

Strangely, the researcher conducting the study found that "African countries produced the lowest sex ratios — 50.7 percent boys — and European and Asian countries had the highest with 51.4 percent.The effect of latitude persisted across wide variations in lifestyle and socioeconomic status. There were large differences in sex ratio between tropical regions within 23 degrees of the equator and the temperate regions 23 to 50 degrees north or south, but no difference between the temperate regions and the subarctic north of 50 degrees." And apparently, data that might have been changed by abortion or the killing of baby girls was excluded.

The scientists say that it may have something to do with evolution - or that it might have something to do with the quality of sperm at different temperatures. And some scientists pointed out that it's virtually impossible to tease out the effects of poverty and other conditions, so the study may be fatally flawed. But if it's true, it's an interesting puzzle - what do you think?

Monday, April 20, 2009

The EW comment policy: safe space and open discourse

In the past few weeks, the feminist blogosphere has been buzzing with controversy about transphobia after blogger voz_latina called for a boycott of Feministing and Feministe due to their marginalization of transgendered people. Since much of this discussion was about comment moderation and the responsibility of blogs to maintain a safe space for oppressed classes, I think it's important that we turn to our own comment policy here at Equal Writes.

As it stands now, the comment policy is this:

Equal Writes is a place not only for discussion among feminists and allies, but for reaching (rational, not hateful) people who may not agree with every word we write. However, we require that discussion in comments should be respectful and be directed toward the ideas and argument, not the person. All comments with hate speech, personal attacks,or offensive language will be deleted immediately, as will any comments that contain anti-feminism or misogyny. We require that you use your own name when commenting on posts; everyone who joins our discussion should be prepared to be held accountable for what they say here. If you don't use your name, we will not publish your comment.

Basically, we require a name (theoretically a real name, but this is all but impossible to enforce on the internet), and we reject comments with hate speech, personal attacks, offensive language, anti-feminism, or misogyny.

Although hate speech, personal attacks, and offensive language are reasonably straightforward, anti-feminism and misogyny are more problematic. Here at Equal Writes we have worked under the assumption that there is more than one feminism; thus, what seems antithetical to the core principles of one feminism may be a legitimate argument from another viewpoint. What exactly does anti-feminist mean, besides the rejection of feminism simply for being feminism? Misogyny is a legitimate concern on a feminist blog, yet sometimes the line between misogyny and a crudely worded complicating critique of feminist ideas is blurry. I'm wary of accepting too many mildly misogynist ideas by casting them in some vague light of poststructuralism, but I also think that sometimes a closed attitude towards certain criticisms of feminist thought merely drives people to profusely self-identify as feminists or grossly overuse apologetic and contexualizing phrases; the discourse of offense that sometimes descends upon issues as important as those that we discuss here at EW can stifle interesting conversations.

On the other hand, I understand the demand for a safe space. The communities that I have been a part of have always placed a high value on absolute intellectual freedom and free speech. Even if 'absolute intellectual freedom' is an idealistic fantasy, I still believe strongly that open dialogue is essential to empowered citizenship, and feminism is no exception. However, I realize that open dialogue is a consistently positive experience for me because, as a heterosexual white male who attends Princeton University, I can expect to be taken seriously almost all the time. I accept that the experience of oppressed classes can be filled with deep suffering, and it seems more than appropriate to accommodate that here on EW.

I want to bring this up now so that we can start a discussion about the kind of community we want EW to be. Writing almost exclusively as Princeton students, we present an idiosyncratic viewpoint characterized both by a bias towards academia and the myopia of our relatively privileged experiences. Nevertheless, I think that it is possible and necessary for us to work towards developing an understanding of a broad range of experiences, thereby contextualizing and enhancing our awareness of gender in our own lives.

So I want to leave this as an open question: what do you want EW to look like?

Student discussion with Linor Abargil

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

This year's Take Back the Night has an amazing speaker: Linor Abargil, a former Miss World contestant from Israel who was brutally raped 2 months before she was crowned Miss World. A documentary crew, headed by a Princeton alum, will be conducting student discussions with Linor before and after TBTN, focusing on the struggle to convince rape victims to break their silence. Linor has used her spotlight to inspire women to speak out about their traumas, and helped foster a crucial conversation about sexual assault that is, sadly, rarely held. In light of the events this past weekend, I think it's especially important to have open conversations about sexual assault, and I am very excited that Linor is coming to Princeton. I'll be attending the discussions, and I strongly encourage you to attend as well - this is an issue which affects all of us, and one which needs to be discussed as openly as possible.

Linor has some very moving words about her hopes for the documentary:

"Figures indicate that 80% of rapes are unreported. One of the main reasons for this is the lack of support from a rape victim’s family and friends. I know from experience how alienating it can be. The people closest to a rape victim treat them differently when she needs them the most.

The film is based on my personal story, but also on the reality of the rape of women throughout the world. I will try, during the film, to share how I coped with my own trauma, while reaching out to women around the world and encouraging them to rise up and press charges. To speak out. Not to hold your silence.

Most significantly, throughout the film, I hope to meet other women who have been raped, those who have spoken but also those who have stayed silent to this very day. I will share my experience, and in doing so try to give others the courage to break their silence. Together we can try to understand what happened to our lives after that trauma, how the course of our lives changed, the self accusation and the fears, and how we can rise up, rehabilitate and take care for ourselves."

Linor will be meeting with students for a group discussion on Thursday, April 23rd from 5:30 - 6:30 pm in the Albert Einstein room at the Nassau Inn. She will also be at the Nassau Inn after Take Back the Night, from approximately 9 - 10 pm, to answer any follow up questions from her speech and to meet with students informally. Whoever is interested in attending or joining in the discussion is welcome at either time. The website for the documentary on Linor is

Again, I hope to see you there. Take Back the Night is about breaking these silences.


by Kelly Roache

This past week, Judith Warner’s Domestic Disturbances blog featured a piece condemning the usage of terms like “gay, ” “fag,” “queer,” and “homo” as insults. It would seem as if this were nothing new, and an argument most reasonable individuals could come to a consensus on, except for the spin that Warner puts on the issue: her argument is not that these terms are symptomatic of homophobia, as protested by myriad gay activist groups, but rather something else. “Being called a ‘fag,’ you see,” she writes, “actually has almost nothing to do with being gay. It’s really about showing any perceived weakness or femininity…It’s what being called a ‘girl’ used to be, a generation or two ago.”

Warner’s hypothesis – that is, that boys carry with them an arresting fear of appearing emasculated – raises a disturbing question in light of the success of the feminist movement. Why has the spectrum of femininity broadened, while that of masculinity has remained ironclad? “It’s weird, isn’t it, that in an age in which the definition of acceptable girlhood has expanded, so that desirable femininity now encompasses school success and athleticism, the bounds of boyhood have remained so tightly constrained?” Why do university programs create special provisions to attract women engineers and scientists, while male nurses are still snickered at (whether in Meet the Parents or daily conversation)? This nearly compulsive reaffirmation of traditional masculinity is galvanized by CNN’s “bromance” article from last week; defined as “a close, non-sexual relationship between two heterosexual males,” the bromance proved to be a cause of chagrin to the female author’s interviewees. While one “nervously stammered…and made it a point to profess his love for women repeatedly,” another said he would only tell his male friends that he loved them “if I was drunk.”

Such comments serve to support Warner’s argument. It’s not that attraction to members of the same sex is problematic, bur rather the perceived feminine characteristics that come with it. Why do high-school aged girls embrace playful allegations of their friends as “lovers,” while boys follow any questionable comment with the qualifier, “no homo”? More than just being puzzlingly exclusionary, when we shun anything outside of masculine norms, everyone loses. As said Paul Rudd, star of the recent bromance-depicting film I Love You, Man, “Sometimes buddies hold a mirror up to the way you behave in ways that relationships with the opposite sex don’t.” By “policing” each other’s behavior with anti-gay language, men deprive themselves of practical emotional exchanges. I think most women would agree that having men who are more open about their feelings is good thing, too.

Throughout history, there has never been an authentic “masculism” movement, maybe because it was never needed to maintain the status quo. But as feminism blossomed in the 19th and 20th centuries, our complacency about the male role festered into today’s ever more narrowly defined condition. With the advent of metrosexuality, where a growing contingent of men are more comfortable grooming, manicuring, and accessorizing, and the bromance pop-culture craze (Scrubs? How I Met Your Mother? Superbad?), maybe it’s time for masculism to make its debut. It’s time to end the double standard; just as we face the pressures of “having it all,” men are told to be masculine, yet sensitive, successful in the workplace, yet with copious time for their families and for us. And maybe, in a way, the struggle for a broader definition of masculinity brings the problem back to feminism. If men are shunned for displaying distinctly feminine characteristics, it is only because these traits are still seen as inferior. Still relevant, feminism and vigilance against misogyny will be critical tools in masculism’s broader quest for equality.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Susan Boyle: inspiration, or exception?

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

The first thing that's mentioned when talking about Susan Boyle is her age and unattractiveness - and how shocked the viewers of "Britain's Got Talent" were last week when she turned out to have an extraordinarily lovely voice. Boyle's rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" made her an instant sensation, despite the fact that she lives alone with her cat, is unmarried (and unkissed, as she told reporters) and unemployed. She is also unfashionable and not conventionally attractive, and the judges and audience of "Britain's Got Talent" were more than ready to dismiss her, until she began to sing. Her story has been touted as the triumph of talent over ageism and sexism, and almost a kind of Cinderella story. But I'm not sure how inspiring her story really is. Yes, it's amazing that she has so much talent that was almost ignored - but how many Susan Boyles are there out there, dismissed because of their failure to conform to standards of attractiveness or age, who have hidden gifts? More than just one, that's for sure.

Basically, I think we're guilty as hell about our propensity to judge men and women for their appearance rather than any other merits, and we love any opportunity to congratulate ourselves for "getting past" this stumbling block. But really, the fact that we're making such a huge fuss over Susan Boyle for triumphing over adversity proves that we haven't made any progress at all. If the social unacceptability of the life that she's chosen wasn't a factor, we wouldn't be talking about it, and we certainly wouldn't be swamping her with this kind of media attention, which persists in calling attention to her strangeness - and how she has talent anyway!

Last week, I blogged about French Elle's new issue, which features actresses who haven't been made up or airbrushed, and I was among the voices who praised the magazine for its courage. But honestly, I think it's the same kind of problem - making Monica Bellucci our ideal for beauty, regardless of whether she's wearing makeup, is pretty unrealistic. And it is a small, small step to admit that she's beautiful without being airbrushed. I'm glad that Susan Boyle is getting a chance to finally sing in front of a large audience, which she told the BGT judges was her dream before she blew them away. But I think if we're going to make her a celebrity, we need to be doing it because her voice was extraordinary because her voice was extraordinary, not in spite of her "ugliness" or age or nontraditional lifestyle. Then we'll really have made progress.

Why pornography perpetuates sexual inequality

by Lauren Brachman

Last week I was having dinner with a few of my friends in Wu Dining Hall. We were sitting around eating pasta and corn on the cob and so, of course, the conversation turned to porn. I forget how it came up, but I immediately mentioned how uncomfortable I felt after watching the first 2 minutes of Who’s Nailin’ Palin, the only portion of pornography I’ve ever seen. My friend countered that while she might not watch it everyday, she liked porn and it never made her uncomfortable. I immediately reacted by jumping down her throat: “How can you, a self-proclaimed feminist, be okay with porn?! It’s entirely predicated on the objectification of women!”

While my response might be more common, is there something to be said for my friend’s opinion? She believes that, as a sexual being, she has a right to like and be stimulated by porn. It’s an interesting way to look at it, from a raw, sexual perspective. And frankly, I can’t see any feminist, a believer in women's sexual liberation, taking offense to her logic.

But after some thinking I realized that that is only the case when ignoring the actual practice of porn. Yes, in theory, allowing both men and women to look at porn maintains equality. However, the production of porn only intensifies gender biases in our society, biases that run much deeper than the simple objectification of women or men on film.

A more thought provoking, yet less discussed, aspect of porn is the differences generated when marketing to men vs. women. Directors create different films for men than they do for women, and these variations reflect outdated gender stereotypes. The idea that porn for women has to have a romantic story arc, that women cannot enjoy sex without love could have been pulled right out of the 1950’s. And it is not just women who suffer from these gender stereotypes. When male porn focuses primarily on sexual acts it assumes that men only use sex to satisfy basic, animal needs. I would go so far as to say it upholds the stereotype of men as animalistic, sexual predators. Both types of porn reinforce the idea that a man’s sexual prowess is stronger, more intense, and more natural than woman’s.

So even though my friend’s point was interesting, I’m not convinced. In my opinion, partaking equally in a system that is inherently unequal does nothing to promote gender equality.