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Girls are people (royals) too!

6 May

Cheerio, faithful readers! Did any of you catch the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton last week? Oh come on, you know you wanted to see Kate become a princess! I’m a pretty heartless American and even I couldn’t help but tear up when I saw her entrance into Westminter Abbey. I’ll admit, I wasn’t motivated enough to wake up 5 hours before my alarm to drink tea and eat scones with my roommates, but I enjoyed the post-show. Also, after becoming obsessed with The King’s Speech, the matters of British royal lineage have peaked my interest. (If you haven’t seen it, by the way, do. It’s magnificent.)

Something that was only briefly touched on during the royal wedding shenanigans — but rather important in magnitude — was the potential change in royal law regarding succession to the throne. CNN learned that the British government is in talks to change the centuries-old discriminatory law which overlooks older daughters in favor of the first-born son and bars non-Protestants from assuming the throne, rules introduced in 1701. Gender discrimination and religious intolerance, oh my! Scandalous! … but somehow it worked for 310 years?

CNN understands these discussions also deal with religious discrimination inherent the laws surrounding succession.

If William was Catholic, he could not succeed to the throne. He also could not become king if Kate had been Catholic.

The anti-Catholic clause is a throwback to the 1600s when the Catholic King James II was perceived as favoring Catholics and appointing them to positions of power.

[One expert said] “The reason that’s bizarre is because you don’t forfeit the right to the throne if you marry someone who subsequently becomes a Catholic so the act doesn’t even achieve what it sets out to achieve.

“He could marry any other religion. He could marry a Satanist, a scientologist, a Muslim, a Methodist and that would have no impact whatsoever in his right to succeed to the throne.”

The man behind the bill to outlaw the discriminatory parts of the succession rules, Member of Parliament Keith Vaz, says that the 310 year-old law banning girls from royal ascension is “offensive.” His bill amends “In determining the line of succession to the Crown and to all the rights, privileges and dignities belonging thereto, no account shall be taken of gender.” However, he’s got quite the battle ahead of him. Besides getting the bill through the British parliament, he needs the support of every single parliament in the 15 realms or countries where the British queen is monarch. Right now he has the support of St. Lucia.

"Gender discrimination really gets to me. Oh, that and noisy British military jets."

It’s a long shot, but still, it’s an important step. If the British monarchy can get over this hurdle, hopefully it will set precedent for many other countries to examine their rules of succession and make steps to correct gender, religious, and/or any other forms of discrimination.

Three cups of (fabricated) tea

21 Apr

Let’s be real, philanthropy is kind of my thing. I’ve written about my honors thesis – TOMS Shoes and Millenial Trends in Charitable Giving – in previous posts. When possible, I try to tie my interest in philanthropy to my identity as a feminist, and through this tied passion have monetarily supported womens’ organizations like Susan G. Komen, Girls on the Run, and individual female entrepreneurs through

A lot of international philanthropic money goes toward humanitarian efforts, and most of these efforts directly or indirectly affect women. As Nick Kristof addressed in his book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,

It appears that more girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the battles of the twentieth century. More girls are killed in this routine “gendercide” in any one-decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century. In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality around the world. (Page: xvii; Introduction)

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) summed up the mounting research this way: “Women’s empowerment helps raise economic productivity and reduce infant mortality. It contributes to improved health and nutrition. It increases the chances of education for the next generation.” (Page: xx;Introduction)

Clearly, women’s empowerment is crucial to the further advancement of developing nations. Unfortunately, this just in: Greg Mortenson, failed K2-climber-turned-girls’ education activist is being investigated for money mishandling and fabrication of his story. Three Cups of Tea, Mortenson’s debut novel, depicts his experience building dozens of schools for girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan over the span of two decades with the assistance of his charity, the Central Asia Institute (CAI), and many individual donors. Now, what’s being questioned are loopholes in his story; his introduction to the village Korphe, porters have told 60 Minutes, was much later than he wrote in Three Cups of Tea.

 AbcNews reports:

According to the website of the Central Asia Institute, which was co-founded by Mortenson and Jean Hoerni, the nonprofit has established more than 170 schools and helped educate more than 68,000 students, with an emphasis on girls’ education.

During its investigation, “60 Minutes” said it found that several of the schools CAI said it had built and funded were empty or built by others, while several school principals said they had not received money from CAI in years.

Mortenson has declined interviews, but in a statement released Friday through CAI, he began to point some fingers. As reported by AbcNews:

Mortenson also pointed to sexism in the countries where his organization had built schools as a cause of the controversy. “Afghanistan and Pakistan are complex places, torn by conflicting loyalties, and some do not want our mission of educating girls to succeed,” he said.

I don’t disagree with this perception; truly, the struggle for girls’ education is a battle fought by many countries, facing lots of opposition against tribal patriarchal systems. However, many of Mortenson’s testimonies seem to be of the “poor-me” type, and whether or not these claims are found to be true, let’s not forget who the truly afflicted are: the girls whose schools lay in jeopardy as the American public loses faith in Mortenson and donor dollars decrease. We often put figures like Mortenson on a pedestal and label them with titles like “savior” or “angel.” This inflamed popularity can swell their heads and cause the focus of the organization to stray from its real purpose (girls’ education or empowerment)  to making money or selling books. What’s more important is not putting these figures on a pedestal in the first place.

Mosharraf Zaidi over at National Post takes a different stance:

No matter how important their contribution may be, however, charity and philanthropy cannot service the needs of a country that has more than 70 million children between ages of 5 and 18. Only a state-financed education system, with serious oversight and accountability instruments built into it, can address the challenge here. Mortenson may have been wrong to tell lies and make up tales. But those who believed he had the answers to Pakistan’s problems were not fooled by Mortenson. They were fooled by their own thirst for easy solutions to cold, hard, and complex problems.

The warmth of our emotions will never solve public-policy problems of the magnitude and scale that exist in Pakistan. Only an effective and accountable state will. Fact or fiction, Mortenson’s cups of tea were never going to deliver such a state. Only the Pakistani people can do that.

Ideally, in Zaidi’s view, a perfect government would be one which takes accountability for the education of its girls. So, maybe more humanitarian efforts should be geared toward changing governments. In the meantime, grassroot work like Mortenson’s, however flawed, is what we’re working with in the moment.

So, what’s a bleeding-heart philanthropist to do? (yeah, you can be one, too! It’s not just a label for oil barons or heirs to the tobacco industry or other, Southern old-money types. I’m lookin’ at’chu, girlllll.) My thesis literature review showed that millenials (the 18-22 age demographic) are one of the most responsive demographics to charitable giving. So if you’re a student looking to make a difference whether through a $10 donation or a $500 donation, where should you turn? Zaidi suggests:

So what are the lessons from all this? There are a few. The first is that giving to charity without reading the fine print is tantamount to throwing your money away. Charity and philanthropy have an important place in a post-global world where our interconnectedness, from Kalamazoo to Karachi to Kyoto, is undeniable. Charity humanizes us and (hopefully) humanizes the recipients of our magnanimity. But you have to read the fine print.

So the next time you’re about to pick up a copy of the next big bestseller, do a little research into the sponsor’s cause. Don’t buy stories at face value. By being an educated consumer, you can also become an educated philanthropist and spend your hard-earned feminist dollars wisely!

I leave you with Nick Kristof’s suggestions for female-focused charities, for your perusal.

Happy Thursday, JMU Feminists!!

Seeing Things from “His” Point of View

3 Apr

Recently, a lot of my time has been consumed by interviewing college students for a leadership program. Candidates range from first-year students to juniors, males, females, African Americans, Caucasians, Latinos, Asian Americans, and students of all sexual orientations. It’s a nominally diverse group for a school whose most numerous minority population is Asian American at only 5%.

What I have enjoyed seeing is the diversity in answers to the get-to-know-you questions. One question the applicants have the choice to answer is “what character from TV/film/literature would you change places with and why?” Most answers have played along celebrity lines: men from the Twilight saga, girls from Glee, etc. Earlier this week, however, I had an applicant tell me that she couldn’t pick a celebrity and instead would rather switch places for a day with… a (any) boy.

I was surprised by her answer, not because it wasn’t a valid answer but because she hadn’t gone the celebrity route. She explained herself, roughly paraphrased: “I just think it would be interesting to see things from a guy’s point of view… you know, how he perceives others’ actions, what he thinks about the things I think about, you know.”

I’m not going to lie, my first reaction (that I kept to myself) was “well, what differences would there be? The only difference between you and a boy is your chromosomes and genitalia.” Then I mentally smacked myself. Duh, gender socialization! Of course there would be differences, but I’m not convinced that those differences are innate to one’s being; I believe more strongly that those differences arise from nurture, not nature. A boy will look at a girl (let’s call her the “subject” in this example) dressed in a dress and heels and think one thing and a girl may look at the same girl and think something totally different. It would be gender stereotyping to say that a straight guy would automatically think of the subject’s sexuality  and attainability and that a straight girl would look at the subject and think about gender/sex competition. I’m hesitant to even draw these comparisons because of the generalizations they assume. But, to a large degree, I believe that the differences in human thought processing by gender are only so because of how the genders are raised and socialized and not because of the chromosomes you were given.

I also have a hard time buying into the concept of the gender binary and the dichotomy which this candidate assumed. I don’t fault her for assuming the this-or-that nature of gender; let’s be real, she and the majority of the rest of us were raised to believe in gender polarization. But I have a hard time not challenging the assumption that thinking as a male would be completely different from thinking as a female. You are who you are. I’m the same innate being whether I’m in sweats or a dress. I realize that my personal style is hardly a perfect metaphor for the differences in one’s thought if they were to switch genders, but it’s what I’m stuck on right now.

Also food for thought: this piece at Glamour, on one transgendered female’s journey. I wish I knew more about her story — I really wish I could sit down with her and probe her thoughts about thinking (ironic, eh?) — but as best I can from the information given, her way of thinking did not change radically with her hormone therapy and ensuing physical transformation. Maybe my candidate would say that Amy, the young woman featured, is not a “real she” because she was not born with female genitalia. Regardless, I think it’s immensely important to begin thinking of the binary not as such but instead as a continuum.

What are your thoughts on gender-specific patterns of thinking/consciousness?

You’re a Woman, So You’re Eating a Salad to Lose Weight

26 Mar

For my human resource development leadership lab, we wrote an 8-10 page paper on our identity and how it affects us as leaders. The paper was a lot of me, me, me, so I was glad to see my classmates yesterday and hear their perspectives. One subject that came up is body consciousness. Females and males alike expressed body shape shame and we explored a little into how our society sets expectations (though different expectations) for both genders to adhere to fitness and nutrition standards.

Those of you readers in the JMU community know this to be true by simply visiting UREC. The downstairs weight room? For the boys. The elliptical/aerobic training room? For the girls. I’m being snarky, but truly, have you ever noticed how disparate the ratio is of men:women (or women:men, depending which room you’re in).

As young adults, we tend to judge fitness in two ways: physical prowess and weight. Generally speaking, if a guy can bench-press 200 lbs, no one is going to mock his weight. And if a girl is “skinny” enough, no one will question what ends she goes to to maintain that figure. In reality, neither non-FDA approved protein powder (to build muscle) nor hours upon hours on a treadmill (to lose weight) sound like appealing options to me to fit others’ expectations of what I should look like.

To some degree, I don’t believe in letting my weight control how I feel about my body if I have decent cardiovascular endurance. About a year ago, I started ignoring the number on my scale and instead focused on the BMI, figuring that as a height-to-ratio it had to be somewhat more accurate that purely my weight. As NPR reports, however, I may have been wrong to measure myself this way. I had spent many minutes a month logging my weight and height into an online BMI calculator without thinking about all the information that those numbers failed to represent. The extra weight I carry around my middle… my strong bones, thanks to years of drinking two glasses of milk a day… the genes I carry from my dad, an 80-year-old with multiple nonagenarian siblings… THOSE are the facts that give a more accurate representation of how healthy I am, not a 200-year-old formula created by a man who wasn’t a physician, but a mathematician.

I really believe that more emphasis should be put on eating healthy and exercising regularly. They’re not quick fixes, but for many people, these tactics work. So, I try to alternate my Festival pasta-special days with my Mrs. Green’s salad bar days. However, one of the most frustrating experiences for me is to be asked if I’m dieting simply because the asker sees me eating a salad. What is it about being female and eating salad that links me to dieting? Yes, I realize that many individuals (men and women alike) eat salads as a way to get their veggies. Yet, to assume that I, as a woman who tries to eat healthy, am trying to get rid of the body I have is annoying and falsely assumptive. Do not place me into a category because of my gender. Sometimes I just want a little supple avocado or crunchy carrots in my day, mmkay? Not all women are eating salads because they’re unhappy with their bodies. For many of us, it’s about trying to put clean energy in so we can maximize our energy production later in the day. To look at my plate and make a judgment about my lifestyle, my self-consciousness, and my goals is unfair.

Why is there so much shame around salads? Since when have salads gotten such a bad rap?

…It’s a toss-up. HA!

But really, it’s not just salads. There is often split focus on “healthy” foods (salads, for example) vs. “unhealthy” foods (an ice-cream cone). Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, really. If you’re a woman, eat a salad and you’re dieting, eat an ice-cream cone and you’ve given up hope on your body. Why is there such a dichotomy?

Let’s get one thing straight, dear (past, present, and future) dinner companions: I wear size 12 or 14 jeans, depending if I’m shopping at Old Navy or Target. I’m 5’9″ and I weigh between 164-168 lbs. My BMI (which we all know now isn’t an accurate measure anyway), at my heaviest, puts me at the upper end of “normal” weight. No, I’m not trying to lose weight; I’m trying to get fit. I’m trying to get to my goal of running a half-marathon in June. And you know what? Somedays I like salads. Some days I like a cone from Kline’s. The last thing I need from someone I invite to eat with me is a critique on whether I’m not eating enough calories or too many. Presumably, since you agreed to dine with me, you like me enough to sit in on an hour-long critique of topics ranging from Rebecca Black to JMU’s DisABILITY Awareness Week to the political situation in Libya. My eating patterns (and as a result, my weight and fitness) are of no relevance to me as a human being in relation to you. Crunch on THAT!

So now to you, gentle (and hungry) readers: are there any foods that you dislike eating in public? And/or, how do you measure your physical fitness?


18 Mar

Oh, but haven’t you heard? Yesterday was Thursday and tomorrow is Saturday… and after that is Sunday! Thank you, 13-year-old Rebecca Black, for keeping us in the loop…

I first saw this video Tuesday night at the prompting of my roommate. At first, I laughed off how mundane the lyrics are (“Kickin’ in the front seat / Sittin’ in the back seat / Gotta make my mind up / Which seat can I take?”). Then I tried to ignore Rebecca’s robotic-looking facial expressions and voice (reminiscent of a bad anti-drug commercial, no?) And then I tried to forget how creepy and voyeuristic I felt watching young teenagers “party”. Despite all these aesthetic deterrents, something brought me back to watch this trainwreck again and again.

Even now, three days later, something about it still gives me the creeps. First, there’s the unnamed Usher look-a-like rapping in his car. I realize that many of today’s pop videos feature young female singers with older male guest-rappers. Still…who is this guy and why isn’t he claiming any sort of fame on a video that’s garnered 2.2 million views? My best guess is that it’s Clarence Jey (below right), co-founder of L.A.’s Ark Music Factory, the producer of this video.

No, really, mom, they said I'll be Miley 2.0!

What really makes my skin crawl is the fact that parents are willing to pay up to $20,000 to allow their daughters to make a short-lived music video, the essential purpose of which seems to be to inflame their vanity. Something tells me Rebecca Black would’ve been the first one on Toddlers & Tiaras if only it had existed a decade ago.

Says BlackBook,

Their [the founders of Ark Music Factory] business model is simple: give them money and they will produce a formulaic pop song for your 13- to 17-year-old daughter, complete with video, and then your daughter will become a famous music star like she (you) has always dreamed.

Although not something that set off red flags, I also found it unsettling to watch a video featuring “actors” we can safely assume are between the ages of 13-16. But of course, THEN I found it unsettling that I was unsettled by watching actual young teens play young teens! Think about it — all the roles in tween/teen movies are given to much older actors and actresses…

For example, the cast of the CW’s Gossip Girl:

When the show debuted (in September 2007), the majority of characters were set as high school juniors. In reality? Blake Lively, the protagonist, was 20. Chace Crawford, another star, 22.
I realize the legal issues behind having teenagers (under-18s) act. But some of it HAS to be pressure from the Public Relations teams behind the CW and other networks. Otherwise, they couldn’t run promos like this:

Or this…

Or this!…

What?! Who said that sex sells?

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Quick Hit: the Target Women Series

1 Mar

There’s nothing I like more than sassy videos about gender stereotyping! Enjoy the one below, and watch the others in the Target Women series if you’ve got time. Whodathunk that feminists are humorous?

My favorite line?

“the gray hoodie: the ‘I have a masters but I got married’ look”

From Women’s Studies to Humanity Studies: Men and Abortion

1 Mar

I took WMST 200, Introduction to Women’s Studies, as an elective credit last semester. I knew from my social work classes that women and girls were a population I wanted to work with professionally and figured an intro class was the way to jump into the field. And it worked — here I am, writing for ShoutOut!JMU.

My class was composed of something like twenty women and three men. The first day, I mentally applauded the men in my class for being there, for having the guts to be minority students in a class focused on studying a marginalized (and unfamiliar to them) part of society. All of them had different reasons for being there. One said “my mom called me a misogynist and said I should take this class to try to like women more” (you think I’m kidding. I’m not). The other two quickly disaligned themselves with this perspective, and were valuable contributors to group discussions on gender. At the end of the semester, I had a great deal of respect for them; they restrained themselves from making reflexive comments for the sake of protecting majority culture. They really did their research on the subject matter and were empathetic listeners when class time became “rant against patriarchy” time. (Snaps for you, feminist men!)

One of our main discussion themes centered on what constitutes a feminist. Naturally, there are many different definitions of the word – how do you take an entire movement of diverse people and create a common profile? The definition we finally agreed upon was “someone who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the genders”. By this definition, can men be feminists? Heck yeah! Men can be feminists, women can be feminists, and individuals fighting the gender binary can be feminists. Feminism (defined in context of the general movement) isn’t about women “taking over” in retribution for thousands of years of male domination; rather, mainstream feminists look to bring women to the same level of equality as men. No more and nothing less than that.

By this definition, many of us likely know men who are feminists (and whom maybe don’t even realize they’re feminists). I can understand the reluctance of many men to claim the title; the majority of Americans still imagine “feminists” to be the stereotypical hairy bra-burners (note on grammar: that’s bra-burners who are hairy, not burners of hairy bras. Hairy bras…eww) . But whether men claim the title or not, there is one field of activism where female feminists could use “a few good men” : the abortion debate.

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quick hit: winner of most adorable feminist

22 Feb

Found this on the Interwebz. I’m glad to see this young girl indulge in and promote the idea that she can a) get married, b) have a job, or c) have both. (I’m imagining the simultaneous ringing of church bells and the cha-ching of a cash register. Melodious stuff, lemme tell ya!) Most importantly, I’m glad that she sees (even from a 5-year-old standpoint) that she has the power to assert herself over her decisions without allowing a partner to make decisions for her. You rock, baby girl!

Thank you, someecards, for this link.

social activism from the most “intimate” of places

21 Feb

The title is punny, but I promise, it’s got a purpose. :)

As some of you may know, I’m a social work major and love to geek out about it. It combines an academic focus (theories, important figures and movements) with a hands-on approach to solving social problems. We look at privilege and oppression, gender bias, role theory, and many other themes. (In fact, it’s a very feminist-friendly major, so check it out if you’re searching for one!) Our code of ethics stresses six key tenets to the profession: service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, the importance of human relationships, integrity, and (cultural) competence. Like most social work majors, I’m a bleeding heart liberal and a sucker for Sarah McLaughlin shelter-animal videos (come on, ShoutOut! community, you cry at those, too!). I used to feel at a loss for how to contribute to solving these social problems. Without much disposable income (holla at your Ramen noodles!), I realize that it’s hard for many college students to write charitable checks. I once tried donating $20 to one charity each month and found that I didn’t feel as enriched or empowered by charitable giving as I had hoped. Yes, I realized that my money was going to good causes, but I couldn’t feel much pride behind a 30-second PayPal donation. Maybe the online nature of my giving lent my attempt at philanthropy less permanency than writing a good, old-fashioned check. After all, once I closed the web browser, all traces of my good deed-doing were gone. I realized that my money, however small the amount, was making an impact but I wanted to hold my donation in my hands. I wanted to know tangibly what my contribution was.

I forget exactly how I found the Free the Girls campaign, but regardless of its source, I was immediately attracted to the idea. Spring semester was about to begin and with it, the beginning of spring cleaning fever. When I got back to school, I looked through my bras and found two sports bras and a strapless bra I hadn’t worn recently. Those three bras were taking up a ton of space in my drawer. Let’s be real. I’m not working out seven days a week and don’t need seven sports bras. So why was I holding on to so many? (Let’s be real, if you’ve seen me, you know that I probably don’t need to wear a bra at all…but bras as a tool of patriarchal oppression is a better theme for a later-in-the-week post, no? It’s only Monday. We’ll start here).

Logging onto my Facebook page, I quickly realized the power of a good mass email or Facebook message and came up with a game plan: email all the women I was close to and ask them if they had any bras to donate to the cause. I had also just read on that January was declared National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month (good work, President Obama!) so it seemed like perfect timing to start a bra drive. (Also, props to my roommate for sitting on my bed while I formulated this idea whilst running around my room, tearing my drawers apart and ranting about American consumerism; snaps to her for having the patience to a) listen and b) put together a baller Lady Gaga Grooveshark station for us to take dance breaks to).

So, I threw three of my bras into a cardboard box and sent a mad punny (“if your cup is half-full, consider donating!”; “bras before bros!”) email to 24 friends.  Little could I have anticipated the reaction I would get… (click to enlarge!)

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Rape jokes: No place for old NOR young men (nor old or young women, really!)

13 Feb

Even though I’m not exactly surrounded by a feminist cult (though, with 60% women at this university, we certainly could form one…hmm…whaddya think?), I do often forget that not everyone I meet self-identifies as a feminist. These a-ha moments occur most frequently when my friends end a flippant or seemingly thoughtless comment with “…but, don’t get mad at me for saying that,” because they think that’s one way to shut the Feminist Friend up.

Most recently one of these self-awareness moments — where I realized how fundamentally different my friends and I are  — occurred in my friend’s storytelling of her weekend adventure to see her new (2+ weeks) long-distance boyfriend. To preface this story: I have never had a friend or acquaintance admit that they are the survivor of a sexual assault, though the probability is good that I unknowingly am friends with one. So as much as I believe that I am not hyper-sensitive to rape jokes, I realized that my position as a feminist makes me more conscious of politically correct phrasing when it comes to sensitive topics, like rape.

So, Friend A went to visit her boyf last weekend and over the course of their time together they had an intense make-out session in a steamy bathroom while she was waiting for her shower to heat up. After ten minutes of being pressed against the counter, making out and groping each other, the boyfriend apparently looked at her and said “You’d better get in the shower now before I have to stop myself from raping you.” As she relayed this story to Friend B and I, Friend B saw the slack-jawed look on my face (really, I was trying to hide it) and commented “and trippingonsunshine [she used my real name, obviously] is NOT amused…” They both chuckled and rolled their eyes at the idea that I might find fault with what he said, that I might take it TOO seriously, that I might take it TOO far. And they were right — I did take it seriously, but I would disagree with the “too” part. ‘Cause the truth is, I’d be more than a little freaked out by a boyfriend who made jokes about raping (or not raping) me…

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