Saturday, October 3, 2009

Short Rom Com in which the Pregnant Girl Actually Gets an Abortion

...and doesn't regret it.

You have to see this short film (below) by director Gillian Robespierre (posted on Jezebel and Bitch Magazine). It's funny. It's cute. It features a totally quirky main character, Donna (Jenny Slate), who faces an unwanted pregnancy (like Juno and Knocked Up) but who decides that single-handedly raising the byproduct of a thoughtless fling just isn't right for her (unlike Juno and Knocked Up):

Obvious Child from Gillian Robespierre on Vimeo.

Sure, the acting is a little cheesy, and obviously there's nothing wrong with women who choose not to abort. But it's important for films to show that abortions do happen and women can feel fine about them afterwards – especially considering that nationwide support for abortion has fallen slightly since Obama's election. When huge films (like Juno and Knocked Up) gloss over the abortion option, the process – which only takes a few minutes, by the way – becomes a scary mystery, a Big Deal that it doesn't have to be. What I like about this short: Donna goes through with the abortion, her friend and mother (who had an abortion herself) support her, the procedure isn't depicted as torture, and she still gets a cute, sappy ending.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Sarah Haskins: You need special tactics to get those "hot chicks"

"Would a regular woman come to your room to watch Bride Wars? No. Bride Wars is a very bad movie."

Judged for her appearance: a feminist "click" moment

by Kelsey Zimmerman

The women’s rights movement has made great strides in the last century. However, traces of sexism still linger in everyday life. This was shown most clearly to me during my junior year of high school. My history class would regularly hold debates, pitting two presidents against each other in some imagined competition to get the students to try to remember the specifics of their terms better. One chilly March morning, we happened to be discussing Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, the legendary Democrat against an iconic Republican. I have no recollections as to the specifics of the debate, except for comment a guy in my class used in his closing argument. He finished his rebuttal against FDR’s politics with a comment something to the like of “and that would be as appealing as Eleanor Roosevelt in a wet t-shirt contest!” The whole class burst into raucous laughter while the guy received numerous high fives from his friends, hooting and hollering.

I remember sitting there for a moment, generally amused by the whole debacle, until a curious realization struck me. Eleanor Roosevelt is regarded as a monumental historical figure who did a great deal of charitable work while supporting her crippled husband during his presidencies. Suddenly, I was insulted that her physical appearance came into the matter at all. Her achievements and her work towards helping society were trivialized in that moment in a blasé comparison because she was not perceived as attractive. Many men in history who have done notable deeds would never be judged in that way.

Why? Because it doesn’t matter: why would anyone care if this guy was fat or had a crowbar mustache? He helped the world and that’s the bottom line. Sadly, important women from the past are not given the same courtesy. The fact that it is socially acceptable to make a joke about a woman’s appearance when the woman in question did so much for society, to me, is similar to the Ku Klux Klan members cracking racist jokes about Martin Luther King, Jr. during his public speeches. The people in my class didn’t see what was wrong with the joke, and I didn’t at first either.

But looking back, it shows how in our country, women are still judged on their appearance while men are scrutiny-free. Consider the recent presidential election, when the more personal and vicious media attacks were directed towards Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton, in particular, was often mocked of for her looks. None of the other male candidates received anywhere near the same amount of media scrutiny because of their appearance.

In the last century, we have made a lot of progress in women’s rights. But we have much further to go.

What if God is a Woman?

by Nick Cox

Gender is everywhere—isn't it amazing? On Wednesday I had a surprise encounter with it during a seminar on Ethics, the magnum opus of 17th Century Dutch-Jewish philosopher Benedict Spinoza. In it, Spinoza makes the controversial claim that "everything that is, is in God, and nothing can be or be conceived of without God," whom he conceives of as "a being absolutely infinite." This idea was so controversial in its time in part because it went against the dominant understanding of God as a creator. Creation, as it is commonly understood, requires the creator and that which is created to be two separate entities. If the world simply exists in God, it could not have been created by God—and, indeed, Spinoza explicitly argues against this paradigm of God as "creator."

As I thought about these two seemingly irreconcilable understandings of God's relationship with the world, it occurred to me to ask: so, what if God is a woman? Does that change anything? As I thought about the prospect of a female God, I was immediately struck by how much more sense it made than the Judeo-Christian patriarch we're accustomed to. In the Bible it says that God—the male God—created the world. How does a man go about creating something such as, say, a house? First he draws up the blueprints, then he gathers the materials, and then, using his hands, he builds the house on the site that he selected. At no point during the whole process is there ever a question of where the man ends and his creation begins, and he is in control the entire time. If God is male, then he must have made the world more or less in that way, because that is the way men make things.

Obviously, women can make things in that way just as well as men can. But women can also make things in a way that men cannot and (let's be realistic) probably never will: women can bear children. Bearing a child is nothing whatsoever like building a house: there are no blueprints, no tools, and no control—not directly, at least. More importantly, the ontological status of the mother with respect to her unborn child—that is, the extent to which the mother and the child qualify as separate existences—is a point of contention. All the furious controversy over abortion ultimately reduces to disagreement over this ontological question. The other sort of creation does not cause this sort of confusion.

Now answer this: what is the world more like, a house or a child? The world is not a rigid, static structure such as a carpenter might have built—it is constantly changing and developing just like a living organism. In light of this, the idea of a female God giving birth to the world rather than creating it—which appears in many non-Western religions—makes a whole lot more sense. It also is much more in line with Spinoza's scrupulously de-anthropomorphized understanding of God, a "substance of consisting of infinite attributes" that contains the whole world.

People who believe in Intelligent Design often cite the complexity of the world as evidence supporting their belief; the world, they say, is too complex and perfect to have arisen on its own, and must have been designed by someone. This erroneous argument rests on a ludicrous overestimation of design. It seems to me, if anything, that the opposite should be true: the complexity of the world suggests that it must have developed organically. Creationism's confidence in the omnipotence of design betrays a hidden sexism: it trusts design, traditionally the domain of men, over and above the sort of creation that only women are capable of. If the God that Creationists believed in were a woman instead of a man, they might not find the idea of evolution so problematic. It's interesting to think about what else might be different, in philosophy and elsewhere, if God were allowed to be a woman.

Prehistoric sexism: speculation about gender roles and "Ardi"

by Brenda Jin

The biggest news in the study of human history this week is the discovery of 4.4 million year old fossil of a female human ancestor, “Ardi”. Now scientists have fossil remains that pre-date Lucy and have a closer glimpse at the origins of bipedalism, especially because Ardi represents a transition phase in human history; her pelvis was not yet fully adapted for upright walking. These fossils have debunked previous speculation about a number of conditions from which bipedalism arose. The team working to reconstruct Ardi’s fossil remains did an excellent and thorough job of collecting other remnants of the environment in which she lived, pointing to the fact that was a woodland creature, and the very beginnings of upright walking started in the forest instead of where Lucy lived on a savannah.

But another interesting and speculative discussion has arisen about the origins of walking. Jamie Shreeve from National Geographic has recently written a blog post titled “Did Early Humans Start Walking for Sex?”. He writes about Ardi's discoverers' analysis based on chimpanzee social structures in which non-alpha males can gain mating advantages by bringing gifts to females. Drawing from the researchers' insights on Ardi, Shreeve applies this structure to our early ancestors, writing that perhaps the rise of monogamous relationships led males to walk upright in order to facilitate carrying food and gifts to females.

To add insult to injury, Shreeve proceeds to write:

“But there is one other, essential piece to this puzzle that leaves no trace in the fossil record. If the female knew when she was fertile, she could basically cheat the system by taking all the food offered by her milquetoast of a provider, then cuckold him with a dominant male when she was ovulating, scoring the best of both worlds. The food-for-sex contract thus depends on what Lovejoy calls “the most unique human character”—ovulation that not only goes unannounced to the males of the group, but is concealed even from the female herself.”

Now I’m no archaeologist, evolutionary anthropologist, or scientist, but this article seems quite speculative to me. If males and females had the same size canines and if our male and female human ancestors were about the same size, then how do we know that males were physically dominant and that females were not responsible and less capable of gathering their own food? And, since Ardi is less biologically similar to a chimpanzee than scientists previously imagined, why are we still comparing her to a chimpanzee?

Let us not exclude the possibility of a matriarchal society when speculating about Ardi’s social life. Perhaps we should be more careful about our patriarchal assumptions about Ardi’s world.

Care about LGBT rights?

Do something about it.

Be part of a historic movement: March in the National Equality March (the largest LGBT rights march in over a decade)

Who? ANYBODY who cares about LGBT equality (perfect opportunity for allies to get involved)

Why? Be involved in a movement, make a difference, learn what it means to be an activist, meet other passionate individuals, and of course, have fun

When? Sunday, October 11, 2009

How? Bus leaving from Princeton at 6 am, returning at night - you must RSVP to

Facebook event here.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Female university students are "perks of the job"?

by Kaite Welsh

University women's groups in Britain are up in arms after a leading academic referred to female students as "perks of the job." In a Times article titled ‘The Seven Deadly Sins of the Academy’, Vice-Chancellor Kealey of Buckingham University claims, “Most male lecturers know that, most years, there will be a girl in class who flashes her admiration and who asks for advice on her essays.” To add insult to injury, he assumes that he is speaking to an all-male readership. Presumably the female academics of his acquaintance were too busy swooning over his alleged charms - or filing sexual harassment suits.

Despite enjoying the position of power he has over all these nubile young women, Kealey insists that teacher/student relationships are in no way an abuse of power – or rather, it's those damn women offering sex for good grades who are abusing their position. He even goes as far as to say that “[t]he fault lies with the females.” And here I was thinking that one of the prerequisites for an academic career was the capacity for original thought! He compares female students to strippers at the notorious London club Stringfellows and concludes with the reminder that it, as in that esteemed establishment, extracurricular desire should go no further than admiring from a distance, mysteriously admonishing the reader that “You should have learnt by now that all cats are grey in the dark.” What he means, I’m not sure. That all women are interchangeable? Maybe so. After all, it isn’t their brains he is interested in.

As both a former student and a fledgling academic, I was left feeling profoundly discomfited by his remarks -, and by the fact that a well-regarded academic newspaper felt that they were worthy of publication. I don’t want to worry about what I wear to class, in case my lecturer finds it provocative. I don't want to have my interest in someone's research misinterpreted as romantic interest. If we cannot be valued for our minds at university, we may as well give up now.

I am not a perk to be enjoyed. If I seek your approval, it is because of my ideas, not my cleavage. If I gaze at you intently during a seminar, it is because your words inspire, frustrate or confuse me – or, as happened during my undergraduate days, because you have egg salad on your tie.

I feel sorry for the poor student who arrived at Vice-Chancellor Kealey’s office hours to be met by a seduction rather than any academic support. Then again, given the quality of his prose, perhaps she was better off.

New study on women's sexuality reaches startling conclusion: women are complicated

by Jordan Kisner

Two psychologists at the University of Texas at Austin have spent the last three years conducting extensive research on the subject of women’s sexuality, leading them to a conclusion that, for most of us sexually active women, seems obvious: women have sex for lots of different reasons. “It turns out that women’s reasons for having sex range from love to pure pleasure to a sense of duty to curiosity to curing a headache,” notes the CNN article.

It turns out, huh? Who’da thunk it.

In all seriousness, while the reporting on the results seems a little fatuous, the study deserves some attention, not least because it was inspired by the desire to understand female sexuality on its own terms. “We do bring in men occasionally by way of contrast,” says David Buss, who co-led the study with colleague Cindy Meston, “but we wanted to focus exclusively on women so that the complexity of women’s sexual psychology was not given short shrift.”

If this last comment were not enough to make me leap from my seat in celebration, the nuance and evenhandedness of the results would do the trick. Meston and Buss found that, yes, some women suffer blows to self-esteem due to sexual experiences, but that many others reported that “their sexual experiences provided the soaring height of euphoria and made them feel alive and vibrant.” The study also notes that many young women are defying the social pressure to be more chaste than their male counterparts, and that, female arousal relies on a much wider array of psychological and physical factors than it does for men. The element of the study that I suspect will prove most relevant to a feminist discussion is the conclusion that women’s interest in their own pleasure during sexual encounters seems to decrease with age and emotional attachment to their partner (though I wonder why CNN decided to make this their closing remark).

Most of all, the study seems inspired by a respect and genuine curiosity for the complexity of female sexuality, so hip hip hoorah for Meston and Buss, and may many other promising psychologists follow their lead in giving women equal attention in the study of sex and sexuality.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Jon and Kate plus 8 (and minus Jon)

by Shannon Mercer

To follow Gracie Remmington’s article posted yesterday I felt it appropriate to bring up another moderately intriguing television development: The Learning Channel’s cash-cow reality show “Jon and Kate plus 8”, a show that follows a family with two sets of multiples -- a pair of twins and one set of sextuplets -- has recently let go of part of its previously fruitful equation. The show experienced unprecedented levels of broadcasting tumult when Jon Gosselin, father, allegedly cheated on his wife (Kate) of ten years. Audiences have since been following the Gosselin couple through divorce proceedings, emotional upheaval and the all around unpleasant adjustment these 8 children have had to make.

After a painful few months of filming around the messy divorce, TLC has decided to put an end to ambiguity and to own up to their family’s new living arrangements. This next season will be titled, simply: “Kate plus 8” and will focus on Kate’s struggle as a single mother (“raising 5-year old sextuplets and 8-year old twins” ala The network also hints at the development of a special “Kate” project, shifting the emphasis off of the children and onto their mother and her new found fan base.

If you’ve never seen the show before it’d behoove you to know that the relationship dynamic between Jon and Kate was the centerpiece of every episode. While the projected arrangements are still unclear, CNN speculates that Jon will have a "reduced role” in the show, subtly changing gears on viewers and moving the focus off of the adulterous husband and back on to the adorable tots and their outspoken mother.

There are several reasons why I bring this all up:

- Under these new circumstances one finds a large opportunity to foster dialogue about the issues of living as a single mother.

- This potential could easily be wasted if this show’s producers choose to capitalize on the soap-opera set up that has miraculously fallen into their laps. This could easily morph into a tragedy that no television channel should be allowed to take advantage of.

- What about the kids? (This question is the prompt for a much longer post)

Hopefully TLC harkens back to its educational roots instead of sticking to its less-than-impressive recent repertoire, a list that includes: “Toddlers & Tiaras” and “What Not to Wear”. It may be in the better interest of this (highly unusual) family to be left alone but that is a judgment call that I am not qualified to make and the high-profile nature of this programming makes the opportunity to share in and learn from the Gosselins' life that much more tempting. There is a huge pool of emotionally invested individuals who have followed this show since its inception and if these new arrangements open the doors to talking about single parenting and relationship issues in households that would otherwise have shunned such conversation then we are better off for it! Maybe there is space for a few reality TV shows in modern educational programming.

Billboards about sex and rape: unfit for children's eyes?

by Jillian Hewitt

A local Fox news station in Florida ran a segment last week about a very scandalous new move by the Florida Department of Health; they put up billboards in 16 Florida cities that read “Sex Without Consent is Rape.” The sign also encourages readers to “Talk About It, Prevent It!” As you might’ve guessed, there are lots of parents who are outraged about the billboards. Most of the arguments put forth by the people interviewed in this Fox segment center around the fact that the billboard “forces” them to explain what rape is to their children and that they as parents have the right to decide when and how they want to talk about rape to children. Apparently a billboard—unlike media outlets such as radio, tv, newspaper, and computer—prevents the parent from making this decision. Please allow me to run through a couple of the ridiculous fallacies and hypocrisies found in this three minute video…

One of the main complaints about the billboard is that children of a certain age are not prepared to deal with the “rape” conversation. I’m not going to get into what the “right” age to have such a conversation is, but I think we can all agree that this is a valid claim: children under a certain age obviously can’t understand the concepts of sex, rape, harassment, etc. However, to jump to the conclusion that the billboards are upsetting, unnecessary, or inappropriate because kids of a certain age aren’t “ready” for the conversation is ridiculous. How often do children ask their parents questions whose answers are too complicated or inappropriate for the child’s age? (Mommy, Daddy, where do babies come from?) And how often do parents come up with an answer that they think is appropriately tailored to the child’s maturity level? If a parent is really that uncomfortable discussing a topic with their child, they’ll find a way to avoid the discussion someway or another. And obviously, I’m not saying that they should—I’m just trying to discredit this assertion that “we can’t have these billboards! My kids are too young!” At what age are children too young to be told “if somebody does anything to you that you don't like then it is simply wrong and most of all, not your fault.” I can remember being extremely young and having my dad tell me that if I was ever in an uncomfortable situation with a boy—with anyone—that if anyone ever touched me in a way that I didn’t like, that I should scream and get away as fast as possible. Maybe I didn’t know the definition of the word “rape,” but it didn’t go over my head.

And while we’re on the topic, if their minds aren’t ready for the topic of rape, shouldn’t we be raising hell about all manner of other billboards too? How do these moms feel about anti-drug billboards? Ones that warn against drunk driving? I mean, these topics are just so far over their heads. And how about billboards like these? Would these women have the same concerns about a billboard that encourages parents to talk about virginity?

I want to bring up (and shut down, of course) one more argument about the billboards, which is that—unlike other forms of media—a billboard cannot be escaped. It cannot be changed to another channel; the volume can’t be turned down. This is true. I get it. But the thing is, other media outlets can’t be escaped either. One of the women in this video—Pat Neagle Close, Tampa mom—claims that the billboard is especially offensive because she is able to regulate all other forms of media that her child is exposed to. I have a hard time believing this. In your own home? Maybe, though even there it would be difficult. But unless we’re keeping our kids in solitary confinement at home, they’re going to be exposed to things we might not be comfortable with. No matter what we do, they’ll see things we wish they hadn’t. They’ll ask questions we wish they hadn’t. So let’s ask ourselves, does a billboard that encourages us to speak openly about the problem of rape really fall into one of those categories? If so—and I think many would say that it does—we need to seriously consider what makes rape a more offensive, more inappropriate topic than drugs or violence.

Workshop tonight on creating healthy sexual boundaries

Tonight, Let's Talk Sex will be holding a workshop with Amy Jo Goddard, a fantastic sex educator from New York, who will do an interactive workshop on those two little words, "yes," and "no," and how to integrate them into your current or future sex life.

Women and men will work to get in touch with what they want sexually, what they don't want and how to communicate clearly so they get their needs met while developing a healthy sexuality and healthy relationships.

The workshop will be at 8 pm in the Frist Multipurpose Room. See you there!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

New NBC series on "contemporary women"

by Gracie Remington

Color me moderately intrigued: NBC will devote a significant portion of its news broadcasting time to the evolving roles of contemporary women. These broadcasts will focus on a study conducted by Maria Shriver on the consumer behavior of women. Shriver, a former NBC correspondent (and current spouse of California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger), will appear on the October 18's broadcast of "Meet the Press" to kick start the programming, and will serve as a "guest editor" for the entire series, which will encompass not only NBC but CNBC, MSNBC, Telemundo, and the website iVillage. The project is billed as an attempt to "educate the public on the current state of women in America". Coverage pertaining to the study will be broadcast over the course of a full week on NBC's evening newscasts as well as three morning segments on the channel's "Today" show.

"The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything," is a non-government based study modeled another study conducted during the JFK years, spearheaded by Eleanor Roosevelt (JFK was Shriver’s uncle). While the scope of the current study is vaguely referred to as an investigation into female consumer behavior, buying power, and their respective impact on advertising and the marketplace, Lauren Zalaznick, the president of NBC Universal Women and Lifestyle Entertainment networks called the study "eye-opening." Steve Capus, the president of NBC News, said that he had not yet seen the results, but that it "seemed like a natural idea to do news stories that look at these issues."

While both the study and its potential findings intrigue me, the focus on women's consumer behavior slightly rubs me the wrong way. Purchasing power is of incredible importance, undoubtedly, but focusing on spending in a time of economic crisis (and when there are so many other gender-based injustices that go under-discussed and unnoticed) seems to be in poor taste. Regardless, it will be interesting to see what Shriver has found with regard to women and their spending habits and how it can prompt advertisers and the market to change their behaviors towards female consumers. I'll be tuning in.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Reproductive health and the public option

by Thomas Dollar

The better part of this country’s political energy this summer has been consumed by the debate over health insurance reform. As one of the 47 million uninsured Americans, I have been following this debate quite closely—especially the contentious proposal to provide a public health insurance option. Opponents of the public option have employed a “kitchen sink” approach to defeating it, stoking people’s fears of death panels, rationing, and—the classic trump card—Socialism. This not being enough, opponents have tossed another controversial issue into the mix: abortion.

Since 1976, the Hyde Amendment (brainchild of the late Rep. Henry Hyde, famed adulterer, Clinton impeacher, and Savings and Loan profiteer) has banned Federal funding of abortions, except in cases of rape, incest and endangerment of the woman’s life. Most states also place these same restrictions on their own Medicaid funding. Still, most private health insurers cover comprehensive reproductive health care (in some states by law)—including abortions. If the public option is meant to be a meaningful alternative to private health insurance, it would have to offer the same medical coverage as private plans—including reproductive care. The public option would not be a Federally funded plan like Medicare. Like private plans, it would be funded through by employer contributions and insurance premiums. Not one dime of Federal money would go to pay for abortions (or anything else). Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood, points out that “individuals who oppose abortion will not be forced to pay for abortion services.” The president has said the same.

So why do the falsehoods persist? In part it’s to add another poison pill to kill meaningful health insurance reform. But it also represents a larger shift among anti-abortion activists, who are increasingly targeting contraception and other non-abortion reproductive health care. Though the vast majority of Americans approves of contraception (even most of those who call themselves “pro-life”), coverage of birth control has come under attack. The Federal Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 already sent subsidized birth control to the chopping block (though this “budgetary oversight” has recently been corrected). Last fall, voters in Colorado defeated ballot initiatives that would have defined personhood under the state consitution—with all the rights and guarantees thereof—as beginning at the moment of conception. Unfazed by this defeat, its backers are pushing a similar initiative in Florida. This law would prohibit not only abortion, but the morning-after pill and the regular old Pill too. (Under a strict interpretation, it would also criminalize menstruation, as up to two-thirds of fertilized eggs never implant. One wonders how they intend to enforce this.) These initiatives blatantly conflict with the US Constitution (not to mention basic standards of reasonability), but are meant to erode reproductive health care with a barrage of attacks. Cutting reproductive health coverage out of a public insurance program would go one step further toward a health system that delegitimizes women’s health care as non-essential.

President Obama and pro-choice members of Congress face a great deal of pressure to make compromises to pass some sort of health insurance reform. But reform should not come at the expense of reproductive health care, and no compromise should be made to placate people who won’t vote for any reform bill anyway. The Planned Parenthood Action Center has more information on the different bills wending their way through Congress, and what you can do to help safeguard reproductive health care.

Whatever happens with health insurance reform, it won’t resolve the problem of the Hyde Amendment. Having legalized abortion is completely meaningless if women cannot access it. The Hyde Amendment establishes a two-tiered health system: freedom of choice for wealthy women with private insurance, tough luck for low-income women and women in the military. (As Justice Ginsburg noted last spring, women of means can always get an abortion if they want to—here and everywhere else.) Congress renews the Hyde Amendment every year, and pro-choice members of Congress have so far been unsuccessful in removing it from budget negotiations. But with a pro-choice president and majorities in both houses of Congress, there is hope for positive change. The proposed Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) would overturn the so-called “Partial Birth Abortion Act” and codify Roe v. Wade into Federal law. Obama has expressed his support from FOCA, but so far the loudest voices on the issue have been in opposition.

I understand that some people object to their tax money being used to pay for abortions. I object to my tax money being used for lethal injections, cluster bombs, and subsidized logging in the Tongass National Forest. But individual taxpayers are not given a line-item veto over Federal appropriations. The Supreme Court has ruled that our Constitution’s guarantee of due process gives women the right to make fundamental decisions about their bodies. That right means nothing if it’s not backed up by a health care system—public and private—that covers reproductive care.

Roman Polanski arrested Saturday in Switzerland

There has been extensive writing on the subject of Roman Polanski's arrest in Switzerland on Saturday night throughout the internet world today, some of it mine (you can read my post on here - I would post it in full here but it violates some kind of contractual agreement). Roman Polanski, if you don't know, is a renowned film director (you may know him from Chinatown, Rosemary's Baby, or The Pianist, to name just a few) who was arrested in 1978 for raping a 13-year-old model during a photo shoot. He had given her Quaaludes and champagne, and they had sex that the model later described as "not rape, but not consensual" (which I think means that it was rape). Polanski was sent to prison for a little over a month for a psychiatric evaluation, but as soon as he was freed, he fled the country. He has not set foot in the United States since, although he won a Best Director Oscar in 2003.

There have been a variety of reactions, ranging from outrage at Polanski's supposed victimhood (this, I don't mind telling you, I think is bullshit) to cries for immediate punishment (which seems less than feasible to me, considering that the case is more than thirty years old). I come down somewhere in the middle, among those of us who are just not sure how to fairly punish Polanski at this point, but it's extremely interesting to see what people are writing, and how it relates to how rape is written about generally in the media. It's certainly something that has caused a lot of emotion - which was visible during the 2003 Oscars, when the audience gave Polanski a standing ovation in his absence. That was not the right message to send.

Some articles of interest:

What Jezebel thinks about "The View's" analysis this morning
Attempts to understand Polanski through his films by a HuffPo blogger
Kate Harding reminds us that Polanski raped a child
Amanda Marcotte thinks that we need to show that power or celebrity doesn't excuse rape
Some common defenses of Polanski refuted

What do you think? Should Polanski be punished, allowed back into the United States, extradited or released?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Kavita Ramdas talks about Princeton and global women's issues

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

I got an email a few days ago that I really couldn't believe - a friend, who coordinates events at Princeton's Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding, had sent out an invitation to an informal brunch with Kavita Ramdas, the president and CEO of the Global Women's Fund. The Global Women's Fund is the largest grant-making foundation in the world focused exclusively on women, and during Ramdas' tenure, the foundation has more than tripled its assets and the countries in which it has made grants. It turns out that Ramdas attended Princeton for grad school (she has an MPA from the Woodrow Wilson School), and is now on the board of trustees. I probably should have known this, but I've always made the (perhaps unfair) assumption that the board of trustees is entirely composed of old white men. Sorry, Princeton, for jumping to conclusions. Maybe some things are changing.

The brunch was this morning, and it was one of the most pleasant and interesting meals I have had in a long time. Ramdas is incredibly charming and articulate, and she talked a lot about both her experiences at Princeton for graduate school and her work with the Global Women's Fund. As a feminist activist at Princeton, I have a lot of trouble with the fact that people seem much more willing to attend a fundraiser for microfinance in Asia than to engage in honest conversation about sexism on our own campus (why, for example, all of the eating club presidents this year are male). This unwillingness or inability to critically engage with the shortcomings of our own culture is something that I wrote about when the New York Times published its issue on women, an article that was problematic because it seemed like a crusade - save those poor third-world women from abusive third-world men! - when in fact helping women in developing countries is far more complicated. Ramdas brought up many of these issues, including her thoughts on Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn's new book, Half the Sky, which I'm about to start reading.

She talked openly and honestly about some of the challenges of working with a foundation, including the ethical gray area surrounding where one gets money (is there a point at which the funds become "dirty" - can you justify taking money from a company that engages in environmental destruction, for example?). And she pointed out the essential hypocrisy of putting on a superhero cape and flying to save women in the developing world when maternal mortality is still an issue in the United States (and black women are 3 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women). One of the central tenets of the Global Women's Fund is that women hold many of the solutions to problems of global poverty and environmental destruction. But it doesn't help to look at women in the developing world as an "other" - or to pity them, which amounts to the same thing. Instead, we have to accept that our culture isn't perfect, and work to continue to fight gender-based injustice within our own country, while treating women in other countries as partners and equals.

Conference on women in theater raises important questions

by Jordan Kisner

This weekend, Princeton hosted a conference titled Women in Theater: Issues for the 21st Century. Jill Dolan, Princeton professor of English and Theater and new Director of the Program for the Study of Women in Gender, organized the conference and succeeded in putting together one incredible group of artistic directors, playwrights, directors, administrators and artists. Emily Mann (artistic director of the McCarter) spoke alongside Paula Vogel (Pulitzer Prize winning playwright of How I Learned to Drive) and Gigi Bolt (former director of theater at the National Endowment for the Arts); Lisa Loomer (screenwriter for Girl, Interrupted) shared the stage with upcoming actress and playwright Danai Gurira. It was a stage all-stars, all convening to discuss a single problem.

Women are drastically underrepresented and underpaid in American theater. The information cited by panelist Julia Jordan indicate just how bleak things seem for women in the theater:

  • Plays with female protagonists are demonstrably more likely to meet with commercial success (tours, productions in regional theaters, etc.), and seven out of the ten most recent Pulitzers had female protagonists, but shows about women are demonstrably less likely to get produced. The most produced plays are written by men with male protagonists, followed by shows by men about women, then by women about men, then, finally, by women about women.
  • As a result, it is much harder for female actors to get work. Only 30% of the roles in shows at New York City theaters (99+ seats) are female roles, indicating that men are more than twice as likely to get financially sustaining work at an actor.
  • According to the U.S. Census, women working in theater (in any job, not just acting) still work in a "nontraditional profession." In this classification, women who work in theater are joined by female machinists, movers, and manual laborers.
As another panel member noted: "Women are wildly underrepresented on American stages. End of discussion. The only thing to talk about is what to do." So, there was much of that, much strategizing about how to change these numbers, how to reimagine and reinvent the theater industry so that women's voices can be heard. But, to my mind, the most interesting comment of the afternoon came from Susan Jonas:

We can talk all we want about how women want a voice in theater (or in politics, finance, culture, the world), but what will we have to say when we finally achieve the parity that we're seeking? We're on the edge of a huge cultural moment, we're at the precipice of whatever will define the 21st century, and what will women, what will feminists have to contribute when our contributions are finally valued equally? In the fight to be heard, let's not forget to think about what we want to say when we finally get the stage.