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On Gender Parity in a Clinton Cabinet

Tue, 07/12/2016 - 01:59

With the presidential election now in full swing, the Ms. Blog is excited to bring you a series presented in conjunction with Presidential Gender Watch 2016, a project of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation and the Center for American Women and Politics. They’ll be tracking, analyzing and illuminating gender dynamics during election season—so check back with us regularly!

This month, the New York Times published a report on Hillary Clinton’s plans for her first 100 days in office, relying on interviews with advisors, friends and insiders to the campaign. Among the top goals mentioned was a plan to “tap women to make up half of her cabinet.”

Copyright Jenny Warburg

While reference to this plan for gender parity did not come directly from Clinton, she has described it as a goal in multiple interviews to date. In April, when asked by Cosmopolitan if she would commit to having at least 50 percent women in her cabinet, she answered:

“That is certainly my goal. A very diverse Cabinet representing the talents and experience of the entire country. And since we are a 50-50 country, I would aim to have a 50-50 Cabinet.”

A few weeks later, Rachel Maddow asked Clinton a similar question, to which she reaffirmed:

“I am going to have a cabinet that looks like America, and 50 percent of America is women, right?”

Both questions were prefaced with comparisons to Canada, asking Clinton if she —like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau—commit to, and make good on, selecting a gender-equal cabinet upon taking office. Both a stated commitment to gender parity and a cabinet with at least 50 percent women would be unprecedented in U.S. presidential politics. Even globally, the presence of true gender parity cabinets remains relatively rare. However, multiple scholars have observed and sought to explain the shift away from all-male governments worldwide. As Mona Lena Krook and Diana O’Brien detail, Finland, Norway and Sweden–who each had parity cabinets in the 1990s–have been joined by countries like Chile, Spain, Switzerland, South Africa and Canada at the start of the 21st century. Moreover, research by Escobar-Lemmon and Taylor-Robinson demonstrates that, unlike in early appointments of women, women are increasingly likely to hold high-prestige and high-visibility posts in government, becoming “power players at the highest levels of the executive branch” worldwide. A gender parity cabinet in the United States could contribute to these trends and build upon the (relatively recent) progress of women’s leadership at the presidential level.

According to the Center for American Women and Politics, 48 women have held a total of 54 cabinet or cabinet-level appointments in the history of the U.S. If we limit our count to solely those posts designated as cabinet, only 30 women have served in that capacity in all of U.S. history. Only 10 presidents (of the 44 we’ve had to date) have appointed women to cabinet or cabinet-level positions. While Frances Perkins became the first woman cabinet appointee in 1933, it was not until 1992 that the proportion of women appointed by any one president exceeded 20 percent. That same president, Bill Clinton, came closest to gender parity in his cabinet and cabinet-level appointments, with 41 percent of appointees being women in his second term. But no U.S. president has ever hit 50 percent in cabinet appointments, and doing so would not only make history, but also make an important statement about both women’s political advancement and a president’s commitment to gender inclusion in their administration.

The goal of gender parity in presidential appointments is not a new one, however. In 1976, the National Women’s Political Caucus launched their Coalition for Women’s Appointments – which later became the Women’s Appointments Project – to advocate for greater gender equality among presidential appointees including and below the cabinet. Their model took hold in some states throughout the nation who launched appointments projects of their own to urge incoming governors to keep an eye to gender parity in their selection of key staff and appointments to boards and commissions. The Massachusetts Government Appointments Project (MassGAP) got presidential attention in 2012 when Republican candidate Mitt Romney mentioned the “binders full of women” he received as governor of that state in 2002. It was MassGAP who provided those binders of vetted women applicants for gubernatorial appointments, resulting in Romney’s new appointments being 42 percent women by 2004.

The point is that women’s advocacy organizations have long believed in the benefit of increasing women’s representation in government beyond elected offices, and Clinton’s comments on creating a more representative cabinet appear to align with those beliefs.

But what are those benefits? Comparative scholarship has tried to measure the policy effects of having women in cabinet positions, though it proves particularly difficult to isolate policy influence in countries like the U.S., where cabinet members do not initiate legislation. Moreover, U.S. cabinet members are frequently constrained to the policy agenda of the president under whom they serve, posing hurdles to policy entrepreneurship. However, cabinet members importantly provide counsel to the president and advocate to the president on priorities and positions in their policy portfolios. Those priorities may be shaped by distinctly gendered perspectives, as was evident when Hillary Clinton pledged in her confirmation hearings to become Secretary of State that she would “view [women’s] issues as central to our foreign policy, not as adjunct or auxiliary or in any way lesser than all of the other issues that we have to confront.” She went on to create the Office of Global Women’s Issues at the State Department, making true on that promise. While possibly the most overt example, Clinton is unlikely the only woman appointee whose influence was not at some point shaped by her experiences and perspective as a woman in America.

Beyond representativeness and perspective, there are two other reasons why it might matter to have gender parity in the next presidential cabinet. First, research shows that having more women running for and serving in political office increases engagement among the public, especially women. More specifically, Lonna Rae Atkeson and Nancy Carillo find that increasing women’s representation in state legislatures and state executive offices promotes female citizens’ sense of political efficacy – or perception that government will be responsive to them. Perhaps these findings would translate to federal executive representation. At a more basic level, seeing more women testifying to Congress, standing at governmental podiums or sitting alongside a U.S. president, may alter long-entrenched expectations of who can and should lead America’s political institutions.

Lastly, increasing the numbers of women presidential appointees builds the bench of women who will be rumored, tapped or who choose to run for the presidency. While it represents just one route to presidential candidacy, cabinet service is among the credentials that often stirs speculation about presidential aspirations and bolsters perceptions of qualifications to serve. Creating more opportunities for women to take this route to the Oval Office might help to ensure that future presidential campaigns’ representation of women is more than 9 percent of candidates who run.

Should she win in November, will Hillary Clinton make good on her promise to aim to appoint women to more than half of her cabinet positions? Research reminds us that U.S. presidents have actually fewer hurdles to doing so than other chief executives throughout the world, with greater discretion over who they select and without being limited to individuals already elected to office. The pool of eligible women appointees is large and growing, creating no shortage on the supply side. As a result, the goal of gender parity among the next president’s top appointees is surely achievable, but time will tell if the political will remains (for Clinton) or emerges (for Trump) to make it happen in their first hundred days.

Kelly Dittmar is an assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University and a scholar at the Center for American Women in Politics. Find her on Twitter @kdittmar

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Beyond Ghostbusters: How Gender Reboots Perpetuate Hollywood’s Sexism and What We Should Do About It

Mon, 07/11/2016 - 21:15

Ghostbusters opens July 15, starring Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, Kristen Wiig and Kate McKinnon in  a reboot of the male-dominated 1984 comedy hit. Though the prospect of any action movie starring a strong woman is exciting, are female-led reboots really the best solution to Hollywood’s discrimination problem?

via Ghostbusters

Representation is important. In 2015, less than 25% of top-grossing films featured a female lead. Women of color are 11% less likely than white women to be featured as major characters. Hollywood is in need of a change, and the Ghostbusters reboot is an important part of that change as well as a part of a recurring pattern: Reboots and remakes that recast films starring men with mostly or all women.

Through reboots and remakes, the industry has begun to take tentative steps toward progress in terms of sex equality. Last year, Women and Hollywood revealed studio plans for an all-female version of Ocean’s 11, with a cast rumored to include Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling and Jennifer Lawrence. (Director Gary Ross has announced the title of the upcoming film as Ocean’s 8.)

In a recent social media campaign, actors Gillian Anderson and Priyanka Chopra were both suggested as possible replacements for James Bond following Daniel Craig’s retirement from the role, with Anderson herself re-tweeting a fan-made image in favor of such casting. Even more recently, sources have stated Oscar-winning actor Brie Larson is in the running to play superhero Captain Marvel in the film, currently slated for a 2019 release. But when filmmakers take a traditionally male role like James Bond and tailor it for a woman, what is lost and what is gained?

There are ways in which the concept of a reboot starring women itself could be rooted in the glorification of male behaviors and ways of thinking. When our understanding of gender reboots depends on the flawed interpretation of man as originator and woman as imitator, viewers are left with little more than a contemporary spin on the creation myth. Why are some traits considered inherently masculine, and why is the idea of women doing them seen as more subversive than, say, an original film starring women? What does it mean when we say things like “female Ghostbusters?

There have been several successful female characters who were originally written as men. Salt, Flightplan and the American remake of The Secret in Their Eyes all began with screenplays featuring a male lead only to be altered after casting. Though still in development, The Gray Man will star Charlize Theron in a role originally intended for Brad Pitt. A 2015 Vanity Fair article reported that crew members in the 1979 horror sci-fi film Alien were conceived as male characters, with the movie’s screenwriters noting prior to casting that “all parts are interchangeable for men or women.”

When we take into account that from the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans going well into the 17th century, the majority of theatre performers were men, we realize that even if women were to play 100% of the roles for the next century it’s unlikely we’d be caught up. Following the announcement of a hypothetical female Bond, several male acquaintances of mine complained that women (all women? women in film? their mothers?) were “taking away” men’s historical significance in film and argued that women would cry out en masse if men did something similar with iconic female roles. “What if they remade Erin Brockovich starring a man?” one man asked. Another mentioned the 2009 biopic Amelia and yet another threw out the possibility of John of Arc instead of Joan.

At first I was laughed at how arbitrary their examples were. The women in each of the examples listed were actual historical figures, while James Bond remains a fictional creation. But then, it hit me: These were the examples men provided because they were the only iconic female roles these men could think of.

How do we solve the problem of sex discrimination in Hollywood and to whom should we look for strong female characters? We could start with women filmmakers. The numbers don’t lie: according to a study done by CSWTF, in movies with at least one female director and/or screenwriter, women comprised 37% of all speaking characters. This was contrasted with films with exclusively male directors and screenwriters, where women made up just 28% of the speaking characters. Female actors in films directed by women were also 10.6% more likely to appear on screen, and when both the director and screenwriter are women this number jumped another 8.7%.

None of this isn’t to say that Hollywood isn’t taking steps toward progress. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its new class of 2016 is 46% female and 41% people of color. Founded in 2012 by the Sundance Institute and Women in Film Los Angeles, the Female Filmmakers Initiative works to foster equality for women behind the camera which in turn contributes to equal representation onscreen. In addition to researching the issues of systemic sex discrimination, the organization is taking steps to implement a mentoring program beginning in fall of 2016 which seeks to “nurture emerging talent in the entertainment industry by connecting members with established professionals who can offer advice and guidance.”

But lasting change requires continuous effort. Filmmaker and feminist Elisabeth Subrin, on her recent film, A Woman, A Part, sought out women for each role in production. “The status quo will never change on its own, which is why I had to go out of my way to find women,” Subrin said in an interview with IndieWire. “When I look at what films are in the festivals, when I look at the statistics of what is in the festivals, and when I look at the 2016 statistics, it hasn’t changed. I just want to see other stories.”

As consumers, we can and should commit to supporting women in film. By actively countering the problems of inequality within the industry, we begin to break down barriers and create much-needed change. So go ahead, go see Ghostbusters. Let’s just make sure we keep pushing for more for women on screen than simply stepping into men’s shoes.

Juliette Faraone studied digital media and film at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College before earning her BA in comparative literature from the University of Evansville. In addition to being an editorial intern at Ms., she is a staff writer for Screen Queens. Her work has also appeared at Lesbians Over Everything, Slant and The Zusterschap Collective. In her spare time, Juliette watches Netflix via Skype with her girlfriend and three cats.

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LISTEN: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Gender and Police Violence

Mon, 07/11/2016 - 17:00

The #SayHerName Movement was bolstered this week by Making Contact, an award-winning weekly radio program which, on July 6, aired an episode entitled “#SayHerName: Black Love in Action.” It comes at a time of incredible relevance as the country is once again shaken to its core by instance after instance of police brutality against African Americans, this time taking the lives of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.

via Rose Colored Photo

Issues of racial injustice and policy brutality are gaining widespread media attention, and at the forefront of the battle for equality is the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. BLM spans across state lines and across media forums, uniting the power of social media and online advocacy with protesting to create a fully-fledged movement to demand reforms in policing and the justice system that disproportionately shape the lives of African Americans. In May 2015, the African American Policy Forum launched the #SayHerName Movement to call attention to how police violence against black women and girls— which is just as pervasive as police violence toward black men—often goes ignored.

At the center of this Making Contact episode are the questions that make the #SayHerName movement so important: Who are the women impacted by police violence, and why don’t we ever hear about them or march in their names?

The episode begins with an interview of Jamison Robinson, sister of Yuvette Henderson. Henderson was killed by police officers in February 2015 after being accused of shoplifting outside of Home Depot. Henderson’s name and story live on as a chilling example of the violence routinely perpetrated against African American women by police, as well as the lengths that media outlets and law enforcement personnel alike will go to in their efforts to make murders seem justified or even deserved.

That segment is followed by an interview with Manolia Charlotin of The Media Consortium and Cat Brooks of Oakland’s Anti Police-Terror Project, two tireless advocates for BLM and #SayHerName who possess an intricate understanding of racial politics. The women shed light on the need to recognize and address police brutality against black women and the importance of forming a movement that centers women in the narrative of racial injustice. They also discuss the intellectual underpinnings of the systemic violence against and hatred of black men and women in our country.

This is a deeply moving, informative work that deserves a listen from anyone who finds themselves confused, disturbed, or saddened by the prevalence of racial violence in our nation. It highlights the gender disparities that can exist even within a movement for equality and justice and exemplifies intersectional feminism. Tune in:

Natalie Geismar is an Editorial Intern at Ms. and a rising sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis, where she double majors in International and Area Studies and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She is an ardent feminist with a passion for human rights work and advocacy of all varieties and hopes to become some combination of international lawyer/activist/journalist/Amal Clooney in the future.

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Feminist Artist Natalie White Wants the ERA Now

Thu, 07/07/2016 - 19:00

“I couldn’t sit back and be silent,” Natalie White told Ms. “I have a platform with my art. If I don’t use it to fight oppression I am taking the side of the oppressor.” The feminist artist’s latest project, Natalie White for Equal Rights, which centers on ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), launched with an exhibition at WhiteBox Art Center in New York City and ultimately ends with a two-week march to Washington, D.C. led by White herself.

The exhibit includes pieces across mediums that center on womanhood and play with patriotic imagery: A bronze statue of a nude White holding an American flag. Self-portrait double exposure polaroids of the artist. War flags featuring slogans such as “Sisters of Liberty, Demand Equal Rights.” On Friday, White embarks on her march to the nation’s capital purposefully timed around the upcoming presidential and congressional elections. Her goal with the Natalie White for Equal Rights Project is both to inspire folks to take a stance and join the fight for equality and to spark a national conversation that centers on the need for ERA ratification and electing officials to government positions who support women’s rights.

“When I made revolutionary war flags into feminist flags I wanted to channel the need for freedom from oppression that people already could relate to,” White told Ms. “When I made the Giant Polaroid installation of the American flag out of my nude body painted red and white with red, white and blue backgrounds, I wanted to convey the message that women have fought for this country, make sacrifices everyday in this country—and we are the majority so we need to demand the rights we deserve.”

White’s work often utilizes her own body as a subversive tool for empowering messages about gender and equality. She started out as a young model—serving as the muse for many photographers, artists and magazines—which led her to an art career of her own, one in which she promotes female empowerment and self-affirmation. A past exhibit, “Who Shot Natalie White?” presented photos featuring her as the muse as a form of artistic reclamation of her body. “It felt powerful,” she said. “Like I was finally in control.” Natalie White for Equal Rights similarly harnesses the artist’s sexuality to bring awareness to and express the ideals that matter to her. Her celebration of the female body in a society that prefers women be ashamed of their bodies rather than proud is a key part of her message. “I feel empowered by using my body in my artwork,” White told Ms. “I make it for me … If the intention is empowerment you are being empowered.”

The Natalie White for Equal Rights exhibit was inspired by the artist’s observations of how interconnected women’s oppressions were, and how slow progress had been on many dimensions of women’s rights. As she said to us, it’s not just time for the ERA—”It’s way past time.” White learned more about the persistent wage gap in America and the unique ways it hits women of color even harder. She discovered the U.S. had fallen to 28th place on the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report. She began seeing sexism all around her. She had had enough.

“I believe that this generation of feminism will be known for legislative change and finally passing the Equal Rights Amendment,” White told Ms. “We owe it to the feminists who have come before us and sacrificed their time fighting for the movement and really paved the way for all of us to be able to accomplish passing the ERA.”

You can get involved with White’s project by learning more about the march’s events and stops or donating to support her.

Maeve Barry is an editorial intern at Ms. and a student at Occidental College studying Gender Studies and Critical Theory and Social Justice. She also co-founded a group focused on body positivity for high school girls called Clear Image. Maeve loves writing, surfing and her two dogs Buddy and Maddie.

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A Play Called “Roe”

Wed, 07/06/2016 - 15:00

When Oregon Shakespeare Festival commissioned playwright Lisa Loomer to write a play about a moment of change in American history for their American Revolutions Cycle, she chose Roe v. Wade.

Photo by Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

“At first, I was hesitant because I did not want to write about a court case,” Loomer told Ms. “My plays are not docudrama, or even terribly realistic–there’s usually a theatricality to them in terms of style. But I started to do research, and, once I had a sense of how the stories of the lawyer and the plaintiff involved in Roe began to … diverge … after the case, I started to see how a play called Roe might begin to look at the larger cultural divide in this country for which this issue is a lightning rod.”

The play, called simply “Roe,” begins just before Sarah Weddington, the lawyer who will argue the case before the Supreme Court, meets Norma McCorvey, the soon-to-be plaintiff Jane Roe. It follows them through the rise of the pro-choice and anti-choice movements and into the present—where the right to abortion is still not as sound as the 27-year-old Weddington who brought the suit hoped it would be. Though some might question Loomer’s decision to pit two women against one another in telling a story of women’s rights, her play adheres to history in revealing the conflicts that existed between these two central figures—and thankfully, the conflict between them does not overwhelm the chronicling of this landmark feminist event.

Julie Felise Dubiner, Associate Director of the Revolutions project, rightly praised Loomer’s signature blend of politics and drama. “I don’t think Lisa Loomer could have written a different play about these two women and this story,” she said, “much less the issue of abortion and reproductive rights itself.”

Photo by Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

In the process of writing the play, Loomer certainly did her research. In an interview in the magazine, Prologue, Loomer says the play draws on books by McCorvey and Weddington and that she traveled to the University of Texas at Austin to attend women’s studies classes. In fact, the level of detail in a play whose subject matter spans 45 years is quite impressive: It stretches from the minute decisions that shaped Roe as a historic case, illustrates the rise of anti-choice extremism, and even connects to the ongoing contemporary fight to uphold abortion access.

The play isn’t the only way audience and community members at Oregon Shakespeare Festival are learning about Roe v. Wade and abortion. The theater issues about 20,000 hard copy issues of their magazine Prologue to subscribers. Another magazine, Illuminations, is given free to approximately 4,000 members at the Donor level and above and is also sold all season long at the Tudor Guild Gift Shop. Both of these publications as well as the Playbill provide different kinds of background on McCorvey, Weddington, the case and the history of abortion through the present.

Loomer finds a way, without slowing down the action or becoming didactic, to emphasize the way Roe cemented women’s progress but also fell short of protecting abortion rights from right-wing attacks. All of this is laid out in rapid-fire dialogue in a short scene in which Weddington is told of the components of the decision, responding presciently to what they portend as she both bemoans and celebrates the news. In doing so, Loomer links Roe and the historic second-wave fight for safe and legal abortion to today’s ongoing fight to protect those gains—and what steps must come next.

“Roe” is also purposefully intersectional. In its 2.5-hour running time, the play never lets white feminists off the hook for continually erasing the circumstances of poor women and women of color from their agendas. Though Weddington’s character would have you believe that the central conflict between her and McCorvey is one of commitment to the truth, the play makes clear that their class difference is what divides them. Weddington’s peers in the white, second-wave feminist movement are even sidelined in favor of characters like McCorvey’s long-time lesbian partner, Connie Gonzalez—“an even handed Tex Mex dyke with enormous patience and few words”—as well as Afro-Latina and African American undergrads and graduates, famed Black feminist Flo Kennedy and other women of color.

Photo by Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Though the play is not inflammatory, the topic itself is volatile, so the theater wanted to be prepared for anything. They sought and received a grant from the General William Mayer Foundation to bring in a trainer to talk to everyone who is the public face of the show about how to deal with patrons if they have a bad, or merely big, reaction. The trainer, Anne Kellog, helped the theater put protocols in place for protestors and interruptions, but thus far, they haven’t had to use them.


Dubiner credits the play itself for that:

I think we’re not getting as much pushback as we braced for because the audience is not getting a pro-choice screed, they are getting a story. Part of what it makes it feminist is that Lisa has very actively written a play that doesn’t want to be a part of that polarization, it wants to be a part of a conversation. It says, ‘I want to talk to you about this! I don’t want to just yell and come in and be comforted in my own opinion! I want to be a part of a conversation with you!’

“Roe” runs through October 29 at Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, from January 12 – February 29, 2017 at Arena Stage in D.C, and from March 3 – April 2, 2017 at Berkeley Rep in Berkeley.

Holly L. Derr is a writer, director and professor specializing in the Viewpoints and the performance of gender. Her most recent productions were Comedy of Errors at Saratoga Shakespeare Company,and Harry and the Thief by Sigrid Gilmer at The Know Theatre of Cincinnatti. Holly is also a feminist media critic who uses the analytical tools of theater to reflect upon broader issues of culture, race and gender. Follow her @hld6oddblend.

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These 10 Quotes Exemplify the Feminism of “Gilmore Girls”

Tue, 07/05/2016 - 22:25

The Gilmore Girls Netflix revival is hopefully coming soon to a computer screen near you. (Have you added it to your list yet?) Although specific details about what’s to come have yet to come to light, one thing is clear: A Year in the Life will follow in the path of the original Gilmore Girls series in its unabashedly feminist focus on the complex and empowered women of Stars Hollow.

In an early review of the show for The New York Daily News, Eric Mink declared that “in the small-town-Connecticut universe created by executive producer Amy Sherman-Palladino, women rule.”

Emily, Lorelai and Rory—three generations of Gilmore women at the center of the show, each rich with complexity, independence and wittiness—transcend one-dimensional female tropes on television. Paris Geller, Rory’s former enemy and friend, is relentlessly driven, unapologetic and outspoken. Rory’s best friend, Lane, is inspired by her passion for music to become a drummer and start a band that actually goes on tour—all despite her mother’s blatant disapproval of rock n’ roll. Miss Patty, the beloved town dance instructor, is a boisterous middle-aged woman who talks shamelessly about her lusty attraction to younger, handsome men. A women named Gypsy is the trusted town mechanic. These women truly shatter female stereotypes of submissiveness and passivity.

If you pay close attention, Gilmore Girls is also jam-packed with more subtle feminist undertones. Rory hangs Planned Parenthood and NARAL posters in her dorm room at Yale. Lorelai and Rory challenge the 1950’s definition of the “perfect housewife” while watching The Donna Reed Show. Rory reads feminist literature like The Awakening by Kate Chopin, Bitch:In Praise of Difficult Women by Elizabeth Wurtzel, and short stories by Dorothy Parker.

But perhaps the defining element of Gilmore Girls was the dialogue, and the conversations between characters were as feminist as their backstories and sub-plots. Here are what I think are 10 of the best feminist quotes from the women of Stars Hollow—so far.

Juliette Luini is an editorial intern at Ms. and a global youth advocate for The Representation Project. She is also a Comparative Literature major at Middlebury College, where she is a contributing writer for the student-run blog Middbeat, a yoga teacher and a participant in The Consent Project. Juliette is a Los Angeleno (with equal adoration for Vermont), a lover of languages and a travel and road-trip enthusiast.    

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NEWSFLASH: UN Human Rights Council Ramps Up the Fight for LGBT Rights

Tue, 07/05/2016 - 21:00

Last week, the United Nations Human Rights Council appointed its first Independent Expert on violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. The role of the Independent Expert will be to assess existing international human rights legislation and advocacy efforts concerning the protection of LGBT individuals and identify and address causes of violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

via distelfliege and licensed through Creative Commons 3.0

The Human Rights Council, which consists of 47 member states, voted 23 in favor and 18 against to pass the Western-backed measure with six abstentions. The decision, which came after hours of heated debate and 11 separate amendments were proposed, is in line with a broader initiative by UN bodies to embrace LGBT rights as human rights that has taken place in recent years.

In 2011, the Human Rights Council adopted its first resolution on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, along with its first official UN report on the issue. Prevention and elimination of violence against members of the LGBT community has been emphasized in a wide swath of official speeches and statements made by UN officials in the past six years. In a time when violence against LGBT individuals is running rampant, it is crucial that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is recognized as an international human rights crisis.

16 nations, including China and Russia, came out swinging in opposition to the measure, often claiming it would impose Western values that ran counter to their cultural identities and unduly interfere with the affairs of sovereign states. Saudi Arabia attempted to pass a no-action motion to prevent a vote on the measure, which was rejected after Mexico asserted that “closing the dialogue should not be an option to hinder progress on human rights protection.” Some members of the 57-state Organization of Islamic Cooperation declared that they opposed the measure on religious and cultural grounds. Pakistan argued that “the Council had to respect each culture and its particularities.”

Countries supporting the resolution argued that violence on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation is an important and distinct type of discrimination that mandates a direct response from the Council, which already works to combat myriad other forms of abuse and human rights violations. Supporting countries emphasized the need to recognize and combat the reality of violence against LGBT individuals, holding that it was the responsibility of the Council to address the issue. “This Council regularly–and rightly–passes resolutions on racism, women and children,” argued British Ambassador Julian Braithwaite, “Yet, on this issue, we often hear of culture and tradition as reasons to justify violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.” 

Brazil argued that the legislation must be passed to ensure that, in the course of protecting human rights around the globe, we “[leave] no one behind.”

Though Western countries in UN forums often openly call for protective measures for LGBT individuals, it is worth noting that many of them have only just begun to pass progressive measures addressing queer and trans rights—and violence on the basis of sexual orientation and gender remains a very grave concern worldwide. Mexico called upon other members of the Human Rights Council to remember the mass shooting at a gay club in Orlando in June as they cast their votes on Thursday’s resolution.

Moving forward, it is important to recall the words of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in a speech on Human Rights Day in 2010:

As men and women of conscience, we reject discrimination in general, and in particular discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. When there is a tension between cultural attitudes and universal human rights, rights must carry the day.

Natalie Geismar is an Editorial Intern at Ms. and a rising sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis, where she double majors in International and Area Studies and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She is an ardent feminist with a passion for human rights work and advocacy of all varieties and hopes to become some combination of international lawyer/activist/journalist/Amal Clooney in the future.

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“Agent Carter” Mattered Because Representation Matters

Tue, 07/05/2016 - 19:00

Agent Carter, a television series based on Captain America: The First Avenger character Peggy Carter, was canceled by ABC in May after two seasons on the air. Almost immediately fans reacted, trending the hashtag #saveagentcarter and starting a petition to revive the series on Netflix, which received over 100,000 signatures in nine days. While devoted fans rallying behind a beloved show is not an uncommon occurrence in today’s age, the passion behind Agent Carter is notable less for its enthusiasm for the show itself but for the importance of what it represents in current media.

via Disney / ABC and licensed through Creative Commons 3.0

Agent Carter is one of [the] only solely female-based shows on the air of the superhero variety,” one petitioner wrote. “By cutting Agent Carter, ABC is only adding to the stigma that women cannot act a lead role and be powerful by themselves that is often preached by media standards.”

Given that we live in a superhero-saturated market and yet are still waiting for a woman-led film, Agent Carter at least represented a step in the right direction.

The team behind Agent Carter seems acutely aware of the show’s importance on this front, with actress Hayley Atwell recently claiming Marvel was working hard to revive the show and that she would even work weekends to help make it happen. Marvel has significant incentive to continue the show, not only because of Peggy Carter’s important role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe but also to help mitigate some bad press its recently received for its lack of merchandise featuring female characters. Furthermore, the canceling of Agent Carter comes at a time of increasing awareness about not only the gender pay gap in Hollywood but the dearth of female roles in general, a point commented on recently by Captain America himself.

Outside of the very important role Agent Carter has played in promoting female protagonists, particularly in the male-dominated superhero genre, it has also helped highlight the forgotten role of women agents in World War II. War time has always led to a relaxing of gender roles, and WWII arguably challenged norms more than any other as women entered the workforce in large numbers and were trained as switchboard operators and mechanics by the newly formed Women’s Army Corp (WAC). Yet while we have happily embraced the image of Rosie the Riveter or the code breakers of Bletchley Park, we still often scoff at depictions of women in the field as unrealistic or ahistorical.

These women, however, did exist and played a large role in overseas operations. And while Agent Carter takes place in a world of super soldiers, Norse gods, and alien invasions, it depicts the work of real-life women through its portrayal of Peggy Carter. In the show’s second season, a young Peggy is shown being recruited into the Special Operations Executives (SOE), a British organization often referred to as Churchill’s Secret Army or the Baker Street Irregulars. The SOE actively recruited women with dual language skills to act as secret agents in Nazi-occupied areas. The SOE believed women were better able to blend in than men and could transport both documents and explosives without raising as much suspicion. Female agents received training in firearms, silent killing, and parachuting and were tasked with operations ranging from couriering secret messages to sabotaging and derailing trains. It was dangerous work and many agents were killed before the end of the war. Those who survived were often forgotten and left unacknowledged for decades.

Agent Carter embraces this legacy of SOE agents whole-heartedly while also exploring both its systematic erasure in the post war years and the overt sexism women faced when they returned. Set a year after V-Day, it shows Peggy working for the fictional Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR), where she is relegated to answering phones, filing, and taking the lunch orders. She is repeatedly excluded from briefings and, as the sole woman in the SSR, told she is only there because she was “Captain America’s girlfriend.” Not only is she undervalued at work, her own wartime contributions are shown as being concealed from public memory through her depiction in an in-universe radio serial called “The Captain America Adventure Program,” where she has been recast as a helpless nurse whose sole purpose seems to be being captured and rescued by Captain America.

The intensity of fans’ feelings regarding the cancellation and potential revival of Agent Carter stems from its importance as a reminder of women’s role in history and the challenges they have faced as much as for the contemporary relevance of its positive depiction of a strong woman hero. In the words of Peggy Carter herself, when faced with yet another instance of her contributions being overlooked and credit for her work given to another, “I know my value. Anyone else’s opinion doesn’t really matter.” In a world that continues to undervalue women and their contribution, let us hope we can all take inspiration from Agent Carter’s stance.

Kelsey Hanf is a writer, educator, and proud geek. A graduate of Wellesley College, she currently lives in Boston and travels every chance she gets.

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