Dear men, a PSA


This is a Public Service Announcement to the guys out there. Not all guys mind you. This isn’t addressed to the conservative fuckwits out there. They aren’t open to listening to what I have to say (I mean come on, I’m a black, gay, progressive atheist who advocates for inclusivity, diversity, and feminism…not exactly the kind of person those nincomfucks perk their ears up for). This is addressed to the other men. The moderates, the liberals, the progressives. You know who you are. You’re the guys who are not down with the GOPs racism and its candidates who talk about deporting massive numbers of undocumented immigrants. You’re the ones who have several gay friends whom you’ll go out to gay bars with. And you definitely-DEFINITELY-consider yourself a supporter of women’s rights. Why, when you first heard of the Hollywood wage gap, your exasperation went through the roof! You thought that Hollywood actresses should receive the same compensation for their hard work as their male counterparts. So of course you were pleased as punch when Bradley Cooper decided to help his female co-stars by lending his voice in their fight for equal pay. And I just bet you feel bad for all those times when you were younger and hooted and hollered at women as they walked by you on the street. You feel bad bc you watched the Hollaback video and it opened your eyes to the horrible treatment women and girls endure for simply existing in public. Further, I bet you’re probably one of those guys who believe the allegations of the 55+ women who have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault, rape, and sexual harassment over the course of the last four decades. And you wish that scumbag were in jail where he belongs. All of that is a good thing. You should be supportive of women’s rights, bc you should give a shit about the people around you. But there is one area of women’s rights you have difficulty supporting: abortion rights.

Continue reading “Dear men, a PSA”

Dear men, a PSA

Now how about all the other issues

The high of yesterday has settled in, and while it hasn’t worn off, I’m reminded that there are still a significant number of problems to overcome in the pursuit of equality. Here are some of the many issues facing the LGBT community:

Continue reading “Now how about all the other issues”

Now how about all the other issues

Conservative columnist is egregiously wrong

Conservative ideology is so often based on misrepresentation, half-truths, outright falsehoods, and appeals to mythical sky daddies (and where you find conservative ideology, you frequently find sexism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of bigotry). From their claims that Trickle Down Economics is a reasonable economic concept for anyone who is not uber-wealthy, to their opposition to public assistance programs which keep millions of people from living in far worse poverty than they already are, to their claims that marriage equality will bring about the downfall of USAmerica, to their claims that trans women are really just men who want to attack girls and women in public restrooms, to their warmongering, to their…you get the point by now.

One topic I’ve found conservatives to be consistently wrong on?


Conservative columnist J. Kenneth Blackwell of The Washington Times is no exception. In a recent column, titled ‘Aborting Black America‘, Blackwell complains that the focus of the Black Lives Matter Movement is misplaced.

“Black lives matter” has become the slogan of anti-police protests across the nation, but the target of the protests is so misplaced that the motives of the so-called civil rights leaders behind the movement must be questioned. Do they really care about black lives? Or are they cynically exploiting isolated incidents, such as the death of Michael Brown, to inflame the black population and advance their own political interests?

Today, on the somber anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, it’s time for black leaders to face up to the real danger threatening black lives in America. It isn’t the police. According to an anti-police brutality organization, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, 313 blacks were killed by “police, security guards and vigilantes” in 2013. It isn’t even black criminals, who, as Rudy Giuliani famously pointed out on “Meet the Press,” are responsible for 93 percent of violent deaths among blacks. Sources estimate that between 6,000 and 8,000 blacks are murdered each year.

Blackwell clearly doesn’t understand what the Black Lives Matter Movement is about. While not everyone in the movement shares exactly the same goals (imagine that), one of the primary objectives of the activists is the reform of the criminal justice system. Contained within that are other goals, such as:

  • greater accountability of police officers
  • a significant reduction in police brutality and the use of excessive force
  • a end to racist policies like Stop & Frisk, Broken Windows, and jump-outs
  • greater police transparency
  • sensitivity training of police officers in the hope that they base fewer of their decisions on unconscious stereotypes
  • an elimination of the wartime mentality adopted by many police departments across the country
  • an end to the 1033 program by which police departments acquire military-grade equipment
  • a retraining of USAmerica’s lawyers and judges so that they have a greater understanding of how racial biases against People of Color affect the outcome of courtroom decisions
  • a fairer approach to policing that doesn’t disproportionately target People of Color

(the above is not intended to be a comprehensive list)

Note that none of those goals are anti-police. Given the sheer number of people in the movement, there are bound to be some who are anti-police. Overall though, the Black Lives Matter Movement is not anti-police. Blackwell would know this if he actually researched the topic he’s discussing. If he did, he might turn up something like, oh, this:

I created #BlackLivesMatter with Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, two of my sisters, as a call to action for Black people after 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was post-humously placed on trial for his own murder and the killer, George Zimmerman, was not held accountable for the crime he committed. It was a response to the anti-Black racism that permeates our society and also, unfortunately, our movements.

Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise.  It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.

Alicia Garza (pictured above) is one of three women who created the Black Lives Movement. She is also someone this blogger would like to meet one day.

Then of course, he trots out that tired, well-worn cliché of black-on-black violence (I notice he both conflates violence with murder and offers no sources for his 6,000-8,000 figure). It’s more of a myth than a cliché, actually. While it is true that 93-94% of Black victims were killed by Black offenders, 84% of white victims were killed by white offenders. Blackwell dishonestly focuses on black-on-black murders, possibly in an attempt to make it appear as if Black America has some unique problem, while ignoring the fact that murder is intraracial.

Not content to simply misinform his readers about violence and murder statistics in the African-American community, Blackwell decides to show he’s also ignorant about biology:

No, the greatest danger to blacks is found precisely where we ought to be safest: in our mothers’ wombs. In 2010, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 138,539 black babies were aborted.

That should read 138,539 black fetuses (or embryos depending on what stage of development they were in when the pregnancy was terminated). After all, babies are born. Yes, laypeople use the term baby interchangeably with fetus, but from a medical perspective, they are not the same thing. Within the womb of a pregnant woman, the correct term (after 8 weeks of gestation) is a fetus. Once they are born and exist outside the womb (and not infringing on the bodily autonomy of the pregnant woman), they are called newborns, infants, and yes, babies.

This is an image of a 4 week old embryo. Not a baby.
An image of a 20-week old fetus in 2D and 4D. Notice how it’s still in the womb? Not a baby.
Baby. See how this works?

Even Wikipedia gets it right:

An infant (from the Latin word infans, meaning “unable to speak” or “speechless”) is the very young offspring of a human or animal. When applied to humans, the term is usually considered synonymous with baby or bairn (Scotland), but the latter is commonly applied to the young of any animal. When a human child learns to walk, the term toddler may be used instead.

The term infant is typically applied to young children between the ages of 1 month and 12 months; however, definitions may vary between birth and 1 year of age, or even between birth and 2 years of age. A newborn is an infant who is only hours, days, or up to a few weeks old. In medical contexts, newborn or neonate (from Latin, neonatus, newborn) refers to an infant in the first 28 days after birth; the term applies to premature infants, postmature infants, and full term infants. Before birth, the term fetus is used.

Moving on, Blackwell says:

Thankfully, abortion is on the decline in America, down 3 percent between 2007 and 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Strikingly, the number of surgical abortion clinics has plummeted, from 2,176 in 1991 to 551 today. Nevertheless, the CDC report that in 2010, a staggering 765,651 abortions were performed in the United States. Black women continue to have the highest abortion rate of any ethnic group, with a gruesome 483 abortions for every 1,000 live births.

Note his use of the emotionally loaded term gruesome. He’s clearly pandering to his audience, a readership that likely agrees with his views on abortion. I wonder if he’s aware that onerous regulations placed upon abortion clinics by anti-choice politicians have been the reason these clinics have closed down? In Texas alone, more than 80% of abortion clinics have been forced to close in the last few years thanks to laws ostensibly meant to protect women and children, but which, in reality make their lives increasingly more difficult. Even if he knows about statistics like that, I imagine he’s happy. After all, we’re talking about someone opposed to abortion and who doesn’t care whether a woman wants to be pregnant or not. Oh, and if Blackwell is so concerned about African-American women terminating their pregnancies (which he really shouldn’t be, that’s a medical decision between the woman and her healthcare provider, it’s none of his goddamn business), then he should look into the reasons why Black women are seeking abortions.  According to a 2008 Guttmacher report:

This much is true: In the United States, the abortion rate for black women is almost five times that for white women. Antiabortion activists, including some African-American pastors, have been waging a campaign around this fact, falsely asserting that the disparity is the result of aggressive marketing by abortion providers to minority communities.

The Issues4Life Foundation, for example, is a faith-based organization that targets and works with African-American leaders toward achieving the goal of “zero African-American lives lost to abortion or biotechnology.” In April, Issues4Life wrote to the Congressional Black Caucus to denounce Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) and its “racist and eugenic goals.” The group blamed PPFA and abortion providers in general for the high abortion rate in the African-American community—deeming the situation the “Da[r]fur of America”—and called on Congress to withdraw federal family planning funds from all PPFA affiliates.

These activists are exploiting and distorting the facts to serve their antiabortion agenda. They ignore the fundamental reason women have abortions and the underlying problem of racial and ethnic disparities across an array of health indicators. The truth is that behind virtually every abortion is an unintended pregnancy. This applies to all women—black, white, Hispanic, Asian and Native American alike. Not surprisingly, the variation in abortion rates across racial and ethnic groups relates directly to the variation in the unintended pregnancy rates across those same groups.

Black women are not alone in having disproportionately high unintended pregnancy and abortion rates. The abortion rate among Hispanic women, for example, although not as high as the rate among black women, is double the rate among whites. Hispanics also have a higher level of unintended pregnancy than white women. Black women’s unintended pregnancy rates are the highest of all. These higher unintended pregnancy rates reflect the particular difficulties that many women in minority communities face in accessing high-quality contraceptive services and in using their chosen method of birth control consistently and effectively over long periods of time. Moreover, these realities must be seen in a larger context in which significant racial and ethnic disparities persist for a wide range of health outcomes, from diabetes to heart disease to breast and cervical cancer to sexually transmitted infections (STI), including HIV.

Holy factual information Batman!

Do you mean to tell me that if African-American women had greater and easier access to contraception the need for abortion services might not be so great? Someone let J. Kenneth Blackwell know so that he working tirelessly to ensure African-American women have access to affordable contraception, thereby reducing the number of abortions, something he is clearly worried about.

Blackwell continues with:

The bottom line? I’ll say it again: 138,539 black babies, nearly one baby in three, were killed in the womb in 2010. According to the CDC, between 2007 and 2010, innocent black babies were victimized in nearly 36 percent of the abortion deaths in the United States, though blacks represent only 12.8 percent of the population. Some say the abortion capital of America is New York City. According to LifeSiteNews, the city’s Department of Health reported that in 2012, more black babies were aborted (31,328) than born (24,758). That’s 55.9 percent of black babies killed before birth. Blacks represented 42.4 percent of all abortions.

He really is worried about the number of abortions African-American women are having. I wonder how much he actually cares about these fetuses though. Does he support paid maternity leave so that pregnant women can take time off after they give birth and not stress about a lack of income? Does he support universal child care so that new mothers can reenter the workforce and provide for their children while having the comfort of knowing that their child will be cared for? Does he support a robust social safety net so that low-income mothers who are jobless can provide for their children? Does he support vaccinations for children? There is far more to supporting women and children than whining about the termination of fetuses.

If I sound a bit callous with regard to fetuses, it is, to a degree, intentional. I support the right of all women to make their own decisions regarding their reproductive health. That means I support a woman who chooses to carry a fetus to term (in which case, I hope for the best for both the woman and her fetus) just as much as I support a woman who wants to end her pregnancy (in which case, I’m not concerned about a fetus). My primary concern (as should everyone else’s) is with the needs of the woman in the situation. She is an existing person. She has hopes, dreams, fears, desires, emotions, intelligence, and all the other markers of being a human person, which is something that a fetus does not have. True, a fetus is biologically human, but it is not a human person. None of the qualities of personhood apply to a fetus. Nor should they. When anti-abortion advocates call for fetal personhood measures they either don’t know or don’t care (I suspect the latter) that a living, breathing human being will be forced to carry a fetus to term. They don’t know or don’t care that such personhood measures mean that the needs and desires of the pregnant woman would become secondary to the “needs” and “desires” of a fetus. Since fetuses are not self-aware and have no needs and desires (not in the sense that an extant human being does), who is going to determine what is best for them? A bunch of male politicians (and a few female ones too) who think they have the right to determine the conduct of a pregnant woman?! I find that loathsome.

Now, where were we?

Legalized abortion is working out exactly as Margaret Sanger intended. Sanger, the founder of the nation’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, was part of the eugenics movement back in the 1930s. Her goal was to use abortion to cull what she considered inferior races from the human gene pool. According to Sanger, “Colored people are like human weeds and are to be exterminated.” She opened her first abortion clinics in inner cities, and it’s no accident that even today, “79 percent of Planned Parenthood’s abortion facilities are located in black or minority neighborhoods.”

Searching for the source of the Margaret Sanger quote turns up a 2006 book (available on Amazon) called The Pivot of Civilization. Not having read the book, I can neither confirm nor deny that she actually said that. If she did, then yes, that’s pretty fucking racist.  If she didn’t then this would be another case of a conservative fabricating information to fit an agenda (or perhaps taking information out of context). That comment aside (because it isn’t relevant to whether or not African-American women should have access to abortion services), Blackwell’s comments sound eerily similar to remarks made by former USAmerican presidential candidate and all around asshole, Herman Cain (actively working to make the lives of other human beings worse is a textbook definition of an asshole to me, and Cain tries very hard to do that). In a 2011 interview on CBS’ Face the Nation, Cain said:

Schieffer: … you said that it was not Planned Parenthood, it was really planned genocide because you said Planned Parenthood was trying to put all these centers into the black communities because they wanted to kill black babies –

Herman Cain: Yes.

Scheiffer: — before they were born. Do you still stand by that?

Cain: I still stand by that.

Schieffer: Do you have any proof that that was the objective of Planned Parenthood?

Cain: If people go back and look at the history and look at Margaret Sanger’s own words, that’s exactly where that came from. Look up the history. So if you go back and look up the history — secondly, look at where most of them were built; 75 percent of those facilities were built in the black community — and Margaret Sanger’s own words, she didn’t use the word “genocide,” but she did talk about preventing the increasing number of poor blacks in this country by preventing black babies from being born.

Regarding the claims by Blackwell and Cain about the locations of past (or present) Planned Parenthood clinics, well, surprise, those claims are not true:

Cain also claimed that “75 percent of [clinics] were built in the black community.” But we found no evidence that that was true in Sanger’s time, and it’s not true today.

Sanger’s first clinic, opened in 1916, was in Brooklyn in a neighborhood called Brownsville, which was 80 percent to 85 percent Jewish in 1910 and 1920, according to author Wendell E. Pritchett’s “Brownsville, Brooklyn: Blacks, Jews & the Changing Face of the Ghetto.” Cathy Moran Hajo writes that the neighborhood was “populated largely by Italians and Eastern European Jews” in “Birth Control on Main Street: Organizing Clinics in the United States, 1916-1939.” She says that Sanger didn’t choose to open her first clinic in Harlem, where infant and mother mortality rates were similar to those of Brownsville.

In fact, early birth control clinics didn’t welcome black women with open arms, Hajo writes: “In the 1920s and early 1930s, African Americans had far more limited access to birth control than did white women. Not only did many clinics discriminate against black women, but the regions with the largest black populations had fewer clinics.”

Sanger opened a clinic in Harlem in 1930, and, as mentioned, the “Negro Project” began in the late 1930s.

That doesn’t support Cain’s implication that Sanger’s “objective was to put these centers in primarily black communities,” or that “75 percent” of clinics were in such neighborhoods. It should also be noted that these early clinics were focused on providing birth control, and Sanger herself warned of the dangers of abortion. “While there are cases where even the law recognizes an abortion as justifiable if recommended by a physician, I assert that the hundreds of thousands of abortions performed in America each year are a disgrace to civilization,” she wrote in her 1920 book “Woman and the New Race.”

Cain’s claim also isn’t true today. Tait Sye, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood, told us in an email that “73% of Planned Parenthood health centers are located in rural or medically underserved areas.” Not all of those would be predominately black communities.

Also, the Guttmacher Institute reported this year that 9 percent of abortion clinics in the U.S. are in neighborhoods in which 50 percent or more of the residents are black. That’s according to the group’s “census of all known abortion providers.”

Blackwell could have easily dug up this information rather than parroting more right-wing talking points, but well, he is a conservative asshole with an agenda. Let’s continue looking at that agenda:

We mustn’t forget that babies aren’t the only victims of abortion. Sadly, more and more of the mothers are suffering and dying as well. Though many people continue to deny it, the link between abortion and breast cancer has been amply documented, and this deadly consequence of abortion is plaguing greater and greater numbers of black women.

Oh golly, the dreaded link between breast cancer and abortion. Note that despite this “ample documentation”, Blackwell provides no credible source for this assertion. In point of fact, he is WRONG. There is no causal link between abortion and an increased risk of breast cancer. This is a flat-out lie. J. Blackwell could have found this out easily if he actually did his homework.

His article continues its descent into a feces filled toilet with the following distortion:

Sanger relied on black ministers to act as Judas goats leading their sisters to abortion mills. According to LifeSiteNews, Sanger wrote in 1939, “We do not want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten that idea out if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.”

When placed within the correct context (rather than removed from it as Blackwell has done), one can easily see that Sanger had no intentions of “exterminating the Negro population”:

Sanger, who was arrested several times in her efforts to bring birth control to women in the United States, set up her first clinic in Brooklyn in 1916. In the late 1930s, she sought to bring clinics to black women in the South, in an effort that was called the “Negro Project.” Sanger wrote in 1939 letters to colleague Clarence James Gamble that she believed the project needed a black physician and black minister to gain the trust of the community:

Sanger, 1939: The minister’s work is also important and he should be trained, perhaps by the Federation as to our ideals and the goal that we hope to reach. We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.

Sanger says that a minister could debunk the notion, if it arose, that the clinics aimed to “exterminate the Negro population.” She didn’t say that she wanted to “exterminate” the black population. The Margaret Sanger Papers Project at New York University says that this quote has “gone viral on the Internet,” normally out of context, and it “doesn’t reflect the fact that Sanger recognized elements within the black community might mistakenly associate the Negro Project with racist sterilization campaigns in the Jim Crow south, unless clergy and other community leaders spread the word that the Project had a humanitarian aim.”

It goes on to characterize beliefs such as Cain’s as “extremist.” The project says: “No serious scholar and none of the dozens of black leaders who supported Sanger’s work have ever suggested that she tried to reduce the black population or set up black abortion mills, the implication in much of the extremist anti-choice material.”

Funny how removing the proper context transforms the quote to suit Blackwell’s needs. Such dishonesty on his part.

Blackwell concludes with:

Abortion is the greatest threat to black lives in America today. People who claim to represent the black community while also abetting the black holocaust — abortion — are hypocrites. Any “civil rights leader” who genuinely believes that “black lives matter” should be working to see that every black baby is accorded the very first civil right — the right to life.

As I said above, if he is so concerned with African-American women terminating their pregnancies, then he needs to support efforts to bring affordable contraception into the hands of the Black women who want and need it, rather than complaining about all the dead fetuses. In doing so, and in using distortion or outright lies to support his position, Blackwell demonstrates he has no interest in dealing with facts and reality. Which pretty much sums up the GOP.

Conservative columnist is egregiously wrong

Feminist Link Round Up 12.14.14 (Trigger Warning)

A round-up of links related to the ongoing global battle for women’s equality.

Continue reading “Feminist Link Round Up 12.14.14 (Trigger Warning)”

Feminist Link Round Up 12.14.14 (Trigger Warning)

Feminist Link Round Up 10.15.14

SCOTUS blocks Texas law that from shuttering abortion clinics

The Supreme Court has blocked Texas from enforcing key parts of a 2013 law that would close all but a handful of the state’s abortion facilities.

In a 9-3 vote, the justices suspended a ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that allowed Texas to enforce a rule that would make abortion clinics spend millions of dollars on hospital-level upgrades if they were to remain open.

In so doing the U.S.’s highest court granted a requests filed by abortion providers as part of  a courtroom battle that has passed through various jurisdictions.

The appeals court’s had earlier suspended an August decision by U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel, who found that such upgrades being demanded by the state were less about safety than about making access to abortion difficult.

This is a very good thing. In 2011, there were 44 abortion clinics in Texas. After the closing of 2 clinics in March, that number fell to 24.  There were significant concerns that a new, restrictive abortion law that was to take effect in September would close all but 6 abortion clinics in the state. Thankfully SCOTUS made the correct decision.  Abortion is an issue of reproductive freedom for all women, and they should all be entitled to it.  It doesn’t matter if a fetus is a person with the same rights as every other human being. No human has the right to use the body of another human being-and that includes a fetus feeding off of a pregnant woman. If the woman does not want to be pregnant it ought to be her right to end that pregnancy and there should be no restrictions. Anti-choice advocates (they are NOT pro-life advocates), if they had their way, would make abortion illegal throughout the United States, which would not end abortion, it would just cause a rise in unsafe abortions as well as maternal deaths. If they truly wanted to diminish the number of abortions, they would ensure that women have easy access to contraception, because contraception use prevents the need for an abortion.  But then anti-choicers/forced birthers don’t want that either. They don’t want women having abortions, nor do they want women using contraception. They want women to have sex-but only in the context of a marriage with a man, and only for the purpose of conceiving. They hide this agenda behind their anti-abortion activism, but it’s not hard to see through their rhetoric because they aren’t consistent in their views.

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Dove’s Real Beauty campaign paved what is now a very well traveled road of female empowerment-focused advertising. It’s a special genre of content (slogans and short doc-style videos) in which the messaging (you are more beautiful than you think you are! stop using gendered double-standards in the workplace!) takes center stage while the company name appears as an afterthought; products sold often go unmentioned.

But does this kind of advertising actual increase brand recognition and sales? According to lifestyle site SheKnows, it does. After surveying 628 women about the “fem-vertising” phenomenon, 52% of respondents said that they had bought a product specifically because they liked the way the company portrayed women in the ads, and 56% of those respondents were in the key millennial demographic. Adweek reports that 46% of those polled then followed a brand on social media because of that messaging. (Yes, people do follow advertisers by choice.)

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As a parent of three teens, I am accustomed to the routine. As I wrote in a June essay for Slate, my youngest daughter was dress-coded two years ago, when she was in sixth grade. Her offense: shorts that didn’t meet the school’s dress code (which requires that shorts and skirts must “reach to the fingertips of the extended arm”). She spent the day donning an oversize shirt to cover her body as a punishment.

Predictably, my article raised a lot of questions: Do I see what these girls are wearing? (Yes.) Would I dress that way for work? (No.) Do I think the school is entitled to set limits? (Yes.) Do I place my daughter above following the school rules? (No.) Trust me, I know the drill.

The rules applied across the country, however, go well beyond short shorts. For example, a school in North Dakota recently banned skinny jeans, leggings and yoga pants. What these examples tend to have in common is the targeting of girls — and not just of bare skin but of the female silhouette itself.

The trend has created a new front in the dress code wars. Refusing to be shamed, girls are instead raising their voices. They are demanding to be treated with fairness — as more than the sum of their body parts and more than a classroom distraction to boys. Students at Tottenville High School in Staten Island, New York, and Bingham High School in South Jordan, Utah, have recently walked out of classes, protesting strict and unfair dress code enforcement.

A group of girls from our community in South Orange have launched a social media campaign, #IAmMoreThanADistraction, on Twitter and Facebook. The hashtag has unleashed an outpouring of personal stories from their peers nationwide. The world is listening. Various domestic and international media outlets, including the BBC, “Good Morning America,” Le Monde and Al Jazeera America have featured the perspectives of these students and their parents.

The controversy has raised a key question for educators nationwide: What should an ideal dress code policy look like? In our New Jersey school district, a coalition of parents and students is working with district leadership to create a fairer policy. In June student-led advocacy forced South Orange Middle School to change its discriminatory swimsuit policy, allowing girls the option to wear two-piece suits to school swim events (which had been banned). This is a step in the right direction.

But more needs to be done. Our coalition is seeking a change of perspective and focus away from the culture of punishment, blame and shaming and toward one of equality and respect. Our goal is to create a districtwide policy that ensures equal treatment of girls, including fair messaging to and expectations of boys. We hope to promote a healthy dialogue among students and faculty about sexism and stereotypes. In consultation with district leadership, we formed a task force this fall to help gather input from the community and provide feedback to and meet regularly with the local school board, district superintendent and school principals to establish a new, collaborative and appropriate dress code policy that will be in place by spring 2015.

These are some of the concerns and questions we have identified:

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The benefits of publicly funded family planning services 

Publicly funded family planning programs help save taxpayers billions of dollars each year by averting costly medical expenses, according to a new analysis from the Guttmacher Institute. It’s the latest data point in an overwhelming body of evidence illustrating the societal benefits of expanding access to affordable birth control.

It’s not hard to understand why that’s the case. Low-income women are at the highest risk of unintended pregnancy, largely because they don’t always have access to medical resources like contraception. But, when publicly funded programs like Title X help those women get affordable birth control, it can make a big difference. Guttmacher researchers estimate that the care provided at publicly funded family planning clinics helped prevent 2.2 million unplanned pregnancies in 2010.

With so many fewer pregnancies among this population, appropriating funding for family planning works out to be very good deal for the government. It eliminates a significant amount of potential Medicaid spending, since states don’t have to pay as much for abortions, for miscarriages, or for maternity and infant care. “This investment resulted in net government savings of $13.6 billion in 2010, or $7.09 for every public dollar spent,” the researchers conclude.

And investing in women’s health can influence more than pregnancies. Title X clinics also provide screening and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, something that helps prevent patients from transmitting those infections to their future sexual partners. Guttmacher estimates that helped reduce chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV infections by 99,100 cases, 16,240 cases, and 410 cases respectively. Plus, providing resources for low-income women to get tested for cervical cancer helped identify 3,600 cases early enough to prevent more than 2,000 deaths.

“This analysis quantifies, for the first time, many of the myriad benefits of publicly funded family planning services beyond enabling women to prevent unintended pregnancies,” the lead author of the new report, Jennifer Frost, said in a statement. According to Frost, the research provides “the most comprehensive portrait to date of the value of taxpayers’ investment in these services.”

Despite the well-documented benefits of family planning programs, states continue to slash funding in this area as women’s health issues have become a politicized issue. Title X has been cut by more than $23 million over the past two fiscal years, and back in 2011, Republicans in the House of Representatives voted along party lines to defund the program altogether. Plus, recent attempts to attack Planned Parenthood clinics have left some low-income women — particularly in Texas, where the family planning infrastructure has been devastated — without any access to these services at all. Indeed, according to previous research conducted by Guttmacher, publicly funded clinics can’t keep up with the demand.

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 A guide to the laws and policies concerning street harassment around the world


This Guide outlines the legal recourse available to victims of street harassment, which
varies significantly from country to country. Thanks to the work of Hollaback! and other
campaign groups, governments, organisations and individuals around the world are
increasingly aware of and willing to tackle street harassment using legal means.
For example, prosecutions for street harassment have been rare in Argentina in the
past. However while this report was being compiled, a man who improperly touched
and said obscene words to a woman in the street in a Southern province of Argentina
faced criminal charges for sexual harassment after being captured by the police minutes
after the act. He faced a penalty of 6 months to 4 years of prison. In Belgium, there is
now a specific system for fining people that cause trouble, mainly in public places. Since
June 12, 2013, the city of Brussels imposed 69 fines for sexual remarks towards women
and same sex relationship abuse. In Canada, one-off incidents have led to prosecutions
for criminal harassment such as in the 2009 case where an offender jumped out from
behind bushes to block a stranger jogging in a residential neighbourhood at night,
chased her to a house and stared at her while she waited for someone to open the door.
In Nepal, police have the right to immediately arrest a person suspected of committing
street harassment without a warrant.
There remain significant legal barriers to successful prosecutions of street harassment.
In some jurisdictions there is no clear definition of unlawful harassment, although
jurisdictions including Colombia apply a number of general laws in cases of street
harassment. Prosecution may be discretionary or may result only in a minor punishment.
In contrast, other places do have very specific legal protections against harassment. For
example, in the state of Iowa, USA a comprehensive and specific law against harassment
exists under which a perpetrator was successfully prosecuted for making an obscene
gesture and grabbing the victim’s baseball bat during a heated discussion.
One key practical issue is that it is often difficult to identify the perpetrator where
they are previously unknown to the victim. In Ireland, it is recognised that even if the
reporting of a specific incident may not lead to prosecution and conviction in that case,
the information may help combat harassment in future. Therefore the police, An Garda
Síochana, log all complaints and are able to collate reports of a similar type to establish
patterns and detect repeat offenders. This issue has also been addressed in England
through British Transport Police’s (BTP) anti-harassment strategy on London’s transport system. Project Guardian was launched in 2013 and Hollaback! representatives were key
advisers to the BTP. The project includes several measures to identify offenders such as
the use of technology including CCTV tracking, data analysis (identifying harassment
hotspots) and text-based reporting services. It also includes targeted “weeks of action”
in which extra uniformed and plain-clothes officers patrol London’s transport network,
gather intelligence and communicate with the public, with the aim of sending a
message to harassers as well as achieving an increased number of actual arrests.
Even where perpetrators are identified, lack of witness and other evidence is a
significant barrier to successful prosecutions in many jurisdictions. In countries such
as Germany and Turkey, the principle of “when in doubt, for the accused” may apply,
meaning a defendant is unlikely to be convicted by the court when it is simply a case of
the victim’s word against the defendant’s and there is no other evidence. It is therefore
strongly recommended that where possible, victims of street harassment collect any
evidence that is available to them, including taking photos. Victims should also take
down the contact details of any witnesses and in cases of any physical harm, should
attend hospital as soon as possible and obtain appropriate medical reports about any
injuries they have sustained.
Many places recognise that the reporting of harassment can be a difficult process itself
and that victims require support and assistance. Croatia gives specific legal protection
to those who report harassment: there is a separate misdemeanour under which it is
unlawful to discriminate against any person because he/she reported harassment.
In New Zealand, victims have certain rights in relation to the way they are treated
and can complain if they are not treated with courtesy and compassion or are not
properly advised of services that are available to assist them. In South Africa, victims
of harassment are able to apply in the Magistrates Courts for a protection order (an
order that is enforceable by the police that prevents the person you are complaining
about from harassing you) and every Magistrates Court has a dedicated clerk trained
to deal with victims making such applications. The Jacksonville Police Department in
North Carolina, USA, has a victim assistance program that offers confidential services
free of charge to crime victims, including crisis intervention and short-term counselling,
information on the status of an investigation and an explanation of the criminal justice
system and the victim’s role in that system.
Other places recognise that the ability to report crime anonymously can eliminate
intimidation. In Australia, crimes can be reported on an anonymous basis until the
matter goes to court. The Czech Republic permits anonymous reporting of crimes
although this may affect the credibility of the allegations. Metro Crime Stoppers (a volunteer organization actively supporting law enforcement agencies in solving crime in
the City of Baltimore, USA) gives Baltimore residents the ability to anonymously report
crime tips to the police and potentially earn a monetary reward.
Some jurisdictions use civil or administrative laws as a tool to prevent street
harassment. In Lima, Peru, fines can be levied against those guilty of inappropriate STREET HARASSMENT: KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
behaviour (defined as unwanted sexual advances, obscene gestures, sexual jokes,
touching, etc.) in public commercial establishments or construction sites. In Poland, if a
victim feels that his or her moral rights (in particular honour) have been violated by the
perpetrator’s unlawful behaviour, under Polish civil law a victim of street harassment
can demand that the perpetrator apologise in public (also in the form of a newspaper
announcement) for his/her actions.
A key practical step in the fight against street harassment is making transport systems safe. Since 2012, the French railway company SNCF offers women travelling overnight
the option to reserve a bunk bed in a women only compartment. In Atlanta, USA the
MARTA Code of Conduct prohibits people who are using public transportation from
engaging in “disorderly or inappropriate conduct that is inconsistent with the orderly
and comfortable use of buses, rail cars, or transit facilities” and violators can be
prohibited from using public transport. In India there are provisions such as reservation
of seats in public transport including buses and separate ladies only compartments for
women in local trains. Mumbai, India also has special ladies only local trains operating
at different times during the day.
A number of private companies and institutions are also taking practical steps to
combat street harassment. In Rome, Italy there is a women-only discounted taxi
service that ensures passengers are safely inside their home before leaving. In Israel,
universities and many public institutions have their own anti-harassment policies.
Of course, a legal framework is but one element required to tackle street harassment.
Public awareness, changing attitudes, enforcement and prosecution are a number of
other components which are also needed.
It is our hope that through contributing to this important resource for Hollaback!
individuals and communities alike will be more empowered to take action against
street harassment.

Feminist Link Round Up 10.15.14

Another day, another new blog of interest

This one is different though. It’s called Gender & Society and is a peer-reviewed journal focused on the study of gender.

Gender & Society is a peer-reviewed journal, focused on the study of gender. It is the official journal of Sociologists for Women in Society, and was founded in 1987 as an outlet for feminist social science. Currently, it is a top-ranked journal in both sociology and women’s studies. Gender & Society publishes less than 10% of submitted papers. Articles appearing in Gender & Society analyze gender and gendered processes in interactions, organizations, societies, and global and transnational spaces. The journal primarily publishes empirical articles, which are both theoretically engaged and methodologically rigorous, including qualitative, quantitative, and comparative-historical methodologies. Gender & Society also publishes reviews of books from a diverse array of social science disciplines.

Here is a sample of a few recent posts:

What do Americans know about abortion and other reproductive health topics?

My encounter with Maria helped to shape my interest in knowledge about reproductive health, because I wondered how many other people shared her concerns and were making decisions about women’s health and well-being with partial information or misinformation. Together with my co-authors, I set out to investigate what Americans know about abortion. We carefully reviewed the literature for the scientific consensus on different aspects of abortion and other reproductive health topics, then we created a survey that asked respondents to evaluate statements based on best possible evidence. We administered this survey to 639 randomly selected men and women aged 18–44 via an online survey.

We found that Maria (who was not included in this survey) was not alone in holding misinformation. Of the 14 items about knowledge of abortion, contraception, pregnancy, and birth in the survey, only four were answered correctly by a majority of respondents. Only one question – whether or not abortion until 12 weeks gestation is legal – was answered correctly by more than two-thirds of respondents, and 17% of respondents couldn’t answer it correctly. (Seven percent mistakenly thought that abortion until 12 weeks gestation was illegal, and another 10% didn’t know if it was illegal or not). Surprisingly, women were no better at answering questions about the health risks of abortion than men. In fact, women were less likely than men to know that the health risks of abortion are less than those of giving birth.

Disney’s ‘Frozen’-A lukewarm attempt at Feminism

Most of the arguments about Frozen’s progressive gender representation revolve around a few key themes and occurrences in the movie. These are: 1) Disney rejects the “happily ever after” heterosexual romance trope in this movie, 2) Elsa is a powerful idol of women’s empowerment with a message of independence, 3) Anna is another strong woman role model who is independent, adventurous, and brave. Is Frozenreally as progressive as these arguments claim?

According to the first argument Disney is mocking its earlier versions of princess stories by portraying the idea of falling in love at first sight as foolish especially since Hans turns out to be a scheming prince. But is the heterosexual romance trope missing? Certainly not. Most of the movie revolves around Anna and Kristoff’s relationship, and we do see it culminate in a kiss. Further, it seems that Anna and Kristoff haven’t known each other for more than two days! Thus, Anna and Kristoff’s relationship certainly falls within Disney’s previous versions of romance.

The next argument is framed around Elsa, who is seen as a powerful and independent woman who learns to love her power instead of concealing it. Yet, her storyline undermines that message. For instance, we see that once Elsa goes into exile, she unleashes her power, which is symbolized by the fantastic ice palace she builds for herself. However, we see shortly after, that her power and independence start to turn her evil. This is evident when she nearly murders two men—by almost impaling one, and trying to push another off the mountain, and when she sends a snow monster after Anna. It is only when she returns to her village and uses her powers for people’s entertainment (by building an ice rink), that she is in fact accepted by people. This is a version of femininity that is soft, safe and selfless; it is about pleasing and nurturing people, and not about building monuments that celebrate one’s power.

The final set of arguments for the progressiveness of Frozencenter on Anna. Anna is adventurous and brave. However, Anna is never supposed to be taken seriously by us.  She seems adventurous because she doesn’t seem to know any better, not because she is a capable young woman. The comic relief most often comes from her being child-like, and not physically capable.

Over the past few weeks, I have been poring through the spate of social media (here, here, here, and here, for example) focusing on debates and tensions between anti-feminism, trans-exclusionary radical feminism, and trans feminism about who gets to count—as women, as feminists, as radical, and as lesbians. The fact that these debates coincide with the latest iteration of the contentious Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival only makes them more timely and salient. During this same time, I learned that some of my own published research (here and here) on cisgender women partners of transgender men had been cited extensively by Sheila Jeffreys in her latest work (here). Within this text, Jeffreys frequently misgenders the partners of my research participants as women and refers to them as “transgenders” or “female-bodied transgenders” (p. 114). Jeffreys poaches verbatim quotes from my research participants and frequently writes “[sic]” in instances where participants use “he” or “him” to refer to their trans partners. When Jeffreys does use pronouns such as “he” or “him” to refer to the trans partners of my research participants, it is always surrounded by shudder quotes. These editorial gestures reveal Jeffrey’s appraisal of trans men’s illegitimacy as men. In one instance, Jeffreys describes the gender identities of the partners of my research participants as “carefully constructed myths” (p. 118). Jeffreys cherry picks my data for quotes to bolster her claims about the hurtful potential of gendered (and especially transgender) identities, omitting all context—particularly that which does not square with her claims.

The Gendered Metropolis

In the course of conducting research for my new book (here), I discovered an astonishing diversity of queer spaces. Researchers, however, emphasize the experiences of gay men, and in doing so, they erase the lives of lesbians. To set the stage, consider the words of sociologist Manuel Castells. “Lesbians, unlike gay men,” he says, “tend not to concentrate in a given territory.” He thinks that they “do not acquire a geographical basis.” Gender differences between men and women are to blame. “Men have sought to dominate,” Castells continues, “and one expression of this domination has been spatial.” On the other hand, “women have rarely had these territorial aspirations.” For gay men – as men – “to liberate themselves from cultural and sexual oppression, they need a physical space from which to strike out.” Lesbians – as women – “tend to create their own rich, inner world and a political relationship with higher, societal levels.” This perspective leads Castells to conclude that “they are ‘placeless.’”

I disagree.

Lesbian geographies exist.

Another day, another new blog of interest