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How Seven Words Deny Abortions to Women Raped in War

Ms. Blog - Wed, 08/17/2016 - 18:00

At times it can feel like the U.S. is in the Dark Ages when it comes to a woman’s right to choose, but the situation is actually much worse than most people know. We’re so bad in fact, that we don’t just stop at obstructing the right to abortion access within the U.S., we also deny it to thousands of women and girls all over the world—even victims of war rape. Here at home, there is plenty of blame to go around, from disproportionately vocal anti-choice groups, to state legislators, to idle beneficiaries of patriarchy. For girls and women overseas, however, the obstacle to access is much more singular: President Obama.

via Feminist Campus on Instagram

Congress passed the Helms Amendment in 1973, a law saying that American foreign aid could not be used to “fund abortions as a method of family planning.” Traditionally, the wording “abortion as a method of family planning” was read by lawyers to mean that abortions were permitted where the life of the woman was at risk, or where the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. Enter George W. Bush, whose administration formally reinterpreted the phrase to mean “no abortions for anyone, ever.”

That single decision—the reinterpretation of seven words—has meant that the U.S. does not fund or provide abortions in humanitarian settings for victims of war rape. President Obama could easily undo this decision by issuing his own interpretation that would restore those seven words to their original meaning. But he hasn’t—Obama has left Bush’s abortion restrictions in place.

Far more than being a moral outrage, this policy actually violates international law. U.S. law and policy do not operate in a vacuum; they are wrapped up in a web of highly respected and fundamental international treaties and legal norms that dictate what it is we can and cannot do—especially when it relates to victims of war.

Take, for example, the Geneva Conventions—a series of treaties passed after World War II that established special protections for war victims. Under the Conventions, rape victims have a right to all the medical care they need, as well as a right to be free from discrimination. The current U.S. policy denies both these rights by excluding a necessary medical service that is needed only by women. If a man is raped in war, he will receive whichever treatments he needs. When a woman or a girl is raped in war, she will receive whichever medical treatments she needs—except one.

Some people defend the policy, claiming that providing abortions would violate local law and put doctors at risk. But, as if written with abortion in mind, the Geneva Conventions replace national laws during war, meaning that local abortion restrictions do not apply. The Conventions actually state that doctors treating war victims cannot be forced to exclude specific treatments needed by their patients.

The U.S. policy violates international law in another way: torture. At least two human rights committees at the United Nations have found that the mental and physical harm that comes with denying abortions for rape victims amounts to torture. This is not like waterboarding or other types of torture Americans may be used to hearing about, this is grounded in discrimination: only women must continue medically dangerous or unwanted pregnancies; only women suffer the mental agony and physical trauma of unsafe abortions; only women have to risk their lives because of the intentional absence of a medical procedure—to which they have a right.

That the Obama administration has left the policy in place is not an error of ignorance. Our closest allies have come out against the policy, including the United Kingdom, France, and the European Union. Even the UN Secretary-General and the Security Council (of which the U.S. is a member) have said that the Geneva Conventions require abortion access for war rape victims. Some countries have even gone so far as to specifically recommend to the U.S. that we change this unlawful policy.

Still, it remains. Despite using executive action more than any other modern President and despite his campaign promise of change, Obama has denied war rape victims the medical care they need. This simply cannot continue. Short of getting rid of the Helms Amendment entirely—which would require an act of Congress—the biggest step toward justice Obama could take would be reinterpreting those seven words.

Obama must take action. He must lift the ban. He must fix Bush’s interpretation of the Helms Amendment and deliver on the rights guaranteed to victims of war rape. Doing so would not only correct an obvious wrong but also start a long overdue conversation about including women in the dignity of justice and the promise of equal treatment.

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It Could Have Been Me: Korryn Gaines and the Criminalization of Black Women

Ms. Blog - Mon, 08/15/2016 - 22:53

In a matter of hours, it is possible for an individual with no prior criminal record to find themselves with a criminal warrant out for their arrest for a minor violation. If you are black and a woman, this is a potentially life-threatening situation. There is, without a doubt, a violent trend in state-sanctioned violence against black women. The way in which we are seeing police officers quickly escalate from stern orders to a violent arrest mirrors the polarity of our judicial system. Small violations such as failure to pay a fine or to transport one’s body to a courtroom to appear before a judge can potentially make one a criminal. We saw how this can carry out in the recent killing of Korryn Gaines in her Baltimore home on August 1st. Gaines did not have a criminal record. She did have traffic violations and a warrant for her arrest. Every bone in my body tells me that I could have been Korryn Gaines.

This past May, on my way home from a class in Newark, New Jersey, I ran to catch the light rail, a local train that travels through the city of Newark. As I ran down the steps, the train was approaching. Although I had a ticket in my purse, I didn’t stamp it as is the general rule before boarding the train. When I exited the train there were transit officers there checking tickets. I showed my unstamped ticket and after some back and forth with the officer about whether I was telling the truth or not about what had transpired, I asked him to please get things moving and either issue me a fine or let me go home. He issued me a fine. The officer refused to explain to me how to pay it when I asked. He was belligerent and rude. Shortly after the ordeal, I followed the instructions on the ticket and mailed in a check for $74 to address indicated. The ticket indicated that I did not have to appear in court. Relieved, I put the whole thing behind me.

A few weeks later I received a “second notice” to appear in court. I was confused—I had never received a first notice. I called the number on the letter and the woman I spoke to scolded me for following the directions on the ticket which indicated how to pay by mail. “No one does that,” she told me. I should have paid the fine in person. She told me that it takes a long time to process payment by mail and so it was as if I had never paid it. She suggested I call back on the morning of my court date to see if my payment had been processed. She also told me that if I failed to appear in court, a warrant would be issued for my arrest. I could hardly believe that this was the line of consequence for an unstamped light rail ticket.

My court date came along and I called the courthouse again to see if my payment had been processed now two weeks after I had sent it in. It had not. And so I went to Newark, appeared in court and paid the ticket a second time. Just before paying the ticket again, I sat before a window where a woman told me to run upstairs to the court room to see a judge. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest when she that if I did not, in a matter of hours there would be a warrant out for my arrest.

“Criminal” is a category made up by the state to decide which actions are punishable and the terms of said punishment. I tell this story of my personal experience to show just how easy it is for the state to make a black woman like me into a criminal. I could have been the woman with an arrest warrant whose life was snatched away on a summer afternoon. I could have been Korryn Gaines.

About a week after I had appeared in court and paid the fine a second time, I received a letter saying that there was a warrant out for my arrest. I called the court house yet again. They told me there was no record of this in their system. I can only pray that the police won’t come knocking on my door too.

The tragic link between women like Korryn Gaines, Sandra Bland and Imani Perry is their blackness, their femaleness and the swift criminalization of their noncriminal offenses. Each of these women had warrants issued for their arrest and they had horrifying, for some deadly, experiences at the hands of police. What happened to Korryn Gaines was not just a case of a black woman being belligerent; Gaines got caught up in the violent and oppressive wheels of bureaucracy and systemic racism. She was an intelligent and assertive young black woman. She documented every step of her process, the web of bureaucracy and the red tape she had to navigate.

In footage posted on Heavy, Korryn can be heard at the police station where she showed up to ask for hospital discharge papers and a court order from her two-day detainment in police custody. It appears that Korryn may have had a miscarriage while in police custody, yet another layer to the trauma she may have experienced. In the video, she explains very clearly that she needed this documentation in order to work with her lawyer on fighting her case. She explains the time-sensitive nature of her situation: Korryn had meetings with her lawyer and upcoming court dates. In this exchange with a Baltimore police officer, Korryn very clearly rejects the bureaucratic process of the middle man, a process that she knows will not serve her need for timely action. When the officer failed to provide her with a timely course of action so that she could obtain the documents needed for her to make legal steps forward, she said what so many of us black and brown folks know: that the system is not out here for us. “This is the time when I should be sitting with my lawyer and discussing how we’re going to go about this case. You guys are—you’re basically sabotaging my case doing this.” In this sobering moment, Korryn spoke directly to the built-in bureaucratic barriers to justice that precluded her from rightfully defending herself in court.

No one deserves to die because of traffic violations or for not appearing in court or for failure to stamp a light rail ticket or for being difficult or belligerent or non-compliant. No one. The killing of Korryn Gaines and the injury to her son is not unfortunate or sad; it is outrageous. It is a feminist concern, it’s a civil rights concern, it’s a human concern.

When I watched those videos of Korryn saying “They are going to have to kill me,” I heard the voice of a young black woman who has suffered through the trauma of racism and sexism in this country. I heard the voice of Earledreka White shouting, “I’m a woman!” as she is violently assaulted by a police officer. In Korryn’s voice I heard exhaustion and the desire to preserve one’s integrity in a world that tells black women that our bodies are not sacred and that our lives do not matter. There is no way to justify what happened to Korryn Gaines or to the countless other black women who have been harmed at the hands of police officers, friends, or intimate partners. It is time to rally around black women and to fight with vigor.

Systemic injustice is real and it has effected the lives of black people in startling ways. The city of Newark, for example, has large pockets of poor and working class people, many of whom are black and brown. If you receive a parking or light rail ticket and are poor or have unstable living conditions or are forgetful, you can easily find yourself with a criminal warrant for your arrest merely by missing a letter in the mail or not having the money to pay fines. What’s more, the bureaucracy in cities like Newark make it difficult to pay fines. In my case, I had the time to run off to the courthouse on a whim in the middle of the day. I also had the money to pay my ticket twice. I can only imagine how many poor and working class black and brown people have been affected in Newark and beyond by bureaucratic red tape and the unfair process of issuing criminal warrants.

Racism is not only embedded in government policies and practices, it determines how those policies and practices are carried out. On the day that I was fined by the transit officer in Newark, there were two officers checking tickets. Both let several people go unfined before they got to me, some with unstamped tickets and others without tickets at all. I cannot say for sure why I was singled out to receive a ticket but I do know that none of the people they let go were black women. This is one of the ways in which racial injustice works—it takes already problematic policies and applies them unfairly. There has to be an alternative.

Among our many fights is one to push our local and state governments to change the process of issuing criminal warrants for noncriminal offenses. There is an urgent need to challenge the terms under which criminal warrants may be issued and arrests are made. This is something we can and should make noise about. And as we move forward in this fight, Korryn’s life and experiences must be hoisted at the very center of our consciousness as feminists and as advocates for social justice.

This post originally appeared on Weird Sister. Republished with permission.

Naomi Extra is a freelance writer, poet and doctoral student in American Studies at Rutgers University-Newark. In both her creative and scholarly work she explores the themes of agency and pleasure in the lives of black women and girls. Naomi is also a Cave Canem fellow and contributing writer to the feminist publication, Weird Sister. You can find her writings in The Feminist Wire, Bitch, Racialicious, Apogee Journal, The Paterson Literary Review and elsewhere.

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Afghan Women are More Than Victims

Ms. Blog - Thu, 08/11/2016 - 23:59

At home and abroad, Afghan women have been portrayed as weak and voiceless victims of violence. Despite this one-dimensional portrayal, in every corner of the country there are strong women fighting for their rights. In fact, as an Afghan woman, I believe that we have survived the decades of war and tremendous obstacles because we are strong—not because we needed rescuing.

via Wikimedia and licensed through Creative Commons

Being a woman in Afghanistan requires courage. Afghan women face obstacles—familial, economic and social—but continue to live their lives with hope and work hard. From women who work tirelessly on agricultural fields in rural areas to urban women who take risks to go to work or school, every Afghan woman is a symbol of courage and resilience. In our patriarchal society, women are rarely credited for the work they do. (Usually our work is not even considered work—for example, women working in agricultural field are rarely acknowledged or paid.) The fact that Afghan women continue get up and work every day without gratitude or attribution is a testimony to our resilience. Every morning when we leave our homes, we don’t know if we will return, but we are not the “weak willows who tremble with winds” and quit. The obstacles we face have made us stronger.

Most Afghan women have faced discrimination, violence, poverty and cultural barriers from childhood that seek to stop them in their fight for progress and equality. Patriarchal views have led to the creation of constructs such as “honor” to further silence and marginalize women, and they face misogyny and discrimination while having few support systems. In a society where patriarchy is the de facto law, women who stand up for their rights are mocked, insulted and ostracized—if not killed. Even today, cleric often call women “half-brained” and many think that real or perceived physical differences between women and men make women inferior and weak.

How fascinating and convenient it is that for centuries Afghan society has created disproportionate obstacles and used violence to prevent women’s progress, yet folks around the world still see women in Afghanistan as weak and unable to wage their own fights or define their own rights. If a large number of Afghan women are unable to study, work and reach their full potential, it is not because they are weak. It is because our society has placed in their ways the largest roadblocks.

My grandfather prevented my mother from going to school because he was against educating girls. As a result my mother often felt lacking. I remember her telling me that she felt blind because she can’t read and write. Even though we must continue the fight for girls’ education in areas like Afghanistan, illiteracy does not mean helplessness.

It was possible that because she had never had the chance to get an education, my mother would not understand its importance and prevent me from going to school—but instead, all my life, my mother advocated for my right to be educated. It was her hard work and my father’s support that ensured my siblings and I went to school. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, my mother insisted on doing household chores by herself so that my sisters and I could focus on our studies and pass our exams. When our family was struggling economically, my mother used to iron men’s suits and clean pistachios in exchange for measly salaries just to buy us school uniforms and shoes.

My mother is extraordinary, but her story is not exceptional. Many Afghan mothers have sacrificed everything they had to ensure a better future for their daughters. Even though the majority of women in my mother’s generation never became literate because of war and discrimination, they are staunch advocates for the education of their daughters.

There is no doubt that if my mother and women like her had been given the chance to learn and participate in the society, economy and government, Afghanistan would be a different nation. Experiences of women’s participation from Rwanda to Bosnia to Tunisia show that when women are actively engaged in society, peace is more sustainable and communities move forward.

Afghanistan is no different. Afghan women are no different. What we need from the rest of the world—and our own country—is the opportunity to participate in bringing about change.

Marzia Nawrozi is a contributing writer for Afghan Women’s Writing Project and Free Women Writers. She advocates for Afghan women and girls while she is pursuing her MA from George Mason University.

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NEWSFLASH: Activists in Wichita Are Mobilizing Against Anti-Abortion Extremists

Ms. Blog - Fri, 07/15/2016 - 17:00

Anti-abortion extremist group Operation Save America has organized back-to-back demonstrations in Wichita this week commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Summer of Mercy—a 1991 six-week mass protest led by Operation Rescue in which protestors blockaded a clinic run by Dr. George Tiller. The Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) has launched a multi-platform campaign pushing back against the influx of anti-abortion groups coming to Wichita.

FMF is encouraging activists to sign on to a petition demanding that Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback denounce the groups and protect the clinic, which was opened in the same space as Tiller’s former clinic by his mentee Julie Burkhart and is one of the clinics targeted by this week’s demonstrations. They’ve also launched an interactive ad campaign in the Wichita Eagle to mobilize city residents and educate them about OSA’s extremist tactics.

Operation Rescue’s national headquarters moved to Wichita in 2002 and led a seven-year campaign to harass and target Tiller and his staff. In May 2009, Scott Roeder, who frequently participated in Operation Rescue protests, shot and killed him in church. The focal point of anti-abortion extremist groups’ tactics this year is the Trust Women South Wind Women’s Center, now one of only two abortion clinics in Wichita.

“Wichita residents deserve the facts about who is coming in to their town this summer,” said FMF President Eleanor Smeal. “Some of these extremists embrace the use of force, advocate the killing of clinic works and doctors who provide abortions and want abortion providers and women who have abortions penalized like murderers. We encourage residents of Wichita to take action by calling on Gov. Brownback to denounce the dangerous and inflammatory tactics of anti-abortion extremists.”

FMF’s National Clinic Access Project, which was launched in 1989, leads efforts nationwide to reduce anti-abortion violence, to keep women’s health personnel and patients safe, to keep clinics open and to bring violent anti-abortion extremists to justice. Its 2014 National Clinic Violence Survey shows that 51.9 percent of abortion clinics experienced threats and targeted intimidation and one in five women’s health clinics experienced severe anti-abortion violence.

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All-Woman Exhibition Explores Art as Activism

Ms. Blog - Fri, 07/15/2016 - 15:00

In this turbulent time of political changes, women’s rights, social, racial, gender and economic inequality, global conflicts, cultural instability, reproductive choice/health care issues, and environmental challenges of overconsumption and resource scarcity–how do we effect positive change through art?

In the exhibition “Vision: An Artists Perspective,” self-identified women artists responded to this question.

J Howard, “Drowning In Emotions” via Gutfreund online gallery

UniteWomen partnered up with Gutfreund Cornett Art to create a space for self-identified women artists to engage in a dialogue about major social themes and how we can envision an empowering future. Vision: An Artists Perspective is rooted in a strong feminist foundation: the exhibition uses art to advocate for political, economic, and social equality for all. The culturally, ethnically, and generationally diverse breadth of artists allows each piece to offer a unique perspective on social justice issues. These artists explore topics like violence against women, reproductive rights, identity and gender roles, beauty and sexuality, aging and illness, empowerment, and the human condition.

While spanning genres and artistic mediums, all of the art in Vision communicates raw emotion – but then, makes you step back and think about the implications of your immediate response with an activist framework. Pieces can be subversive, jarring. They can also be cheeky and humorous. Art ranges from pieces like “Disorder” by Lynn Dau, a metallic sculpture that is a violent explosion of kitchen appliances, to “You Stupid Cunt” by Spooky Boobs Collective, a Charlotte-Gilman-inspired Victorian wallpaper decorated with vulva shaped patterns and the decoratively scripted word “cunt.”

Of the 35 pieces, here are the six that received Special Recognition:

In the pamphlet for “Vision,” the curators discuss their purposeful choice to use the term “self-identified women artists.” They explain that this term is connected to the feminist core of the show:

This term acknowledges that gender identification is not limited to biology. By sharing our perspectives and experiences, divisiveness can grow into solidarity, understanding and strength amidst all of the myth and muddiness of social policies, press and statements from misogynist organizations.

The curators also explain the present-day relevance and need for women-only art shows. There is still a major lack of gallery representation for women artists. While there has been some progress after American art historian Linda Nochlin asked “Why have there been no great women artists?” in 1971, women artists are still vastly underrepresented in art history and in the contemporary art world.

Min Kim Park, “Contrived Spectacle” via Gutfreund online gallery

The slight movement forward for women artists is manifested in H.W. Janson’s most recent edition of History of Art, the widely accepted art history cannon (which has been criticized for including Euro-centric art by really only Western, white men); out of nearly one thousand pages, the number of women represented has risen from zero in the 1980s, to only 27 today. In addition, a recent study focusing on the top contemporary galleries around the world found that the average amount of representation is 30 percent women to 70 percent men.

“The real reason women need to be represented properly in the art world is so the world can be fully represented in art,” says art critic Jonathan Jones in a review for an all-women show.

Vision: An Artists Perspective will be showing at Kaleid Gallery in San Jose, California until July 29.

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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Our Policing Problem is Also a Diversity Problem

Ms. Blog - Fri, 07/15/2016 - 05:07

Before Philando Castile and Alton Sterling were shot by police officers within days of each other, and our country erupted yet again into complex conversations about race and police violence, I called all of the largest local police departments in the country to compile data on the gender and race breakdown of their departments as part of a research study for the Feminist Majority Foundation.

via Mato and licensed through Creative Commons 3.0

What I found corroborates published research on the subject: Women of color and other minority officers are significantly underrepresented in these departments. According to the Bureau of Justice statistics, only 27 percent of all police officers in local police departments in 2013 were racial or ethnic minorities. Women of color are even more underrepresented, accounting for only 4.8 percent of full-time sworn personnel, according to a 2001 study from the National Center for Women and Policing. The most recent Bureau of Justice statistics on the breakdown of gender in the largest local police departments were published in 2008, and they range from 9 percent female officers in the Las Vegas Metro Police Department to 27 percent female officers in the Detroit Police Department.

Why is this a problem? Well, let’s consider the recently released audio recording, taping the two officers who shot Philando Castile. The taping suggests that they pulled Castile over not because of a broken taillight but because he matched the characteristics of an armed robber due to his “wide-set nose.” This information is disturbing to say the least. It indicates that Castile was stopped and subsequently shot not because he was committing a crime but because he was racially profiled by two white police officers.

Violence is what we have come to expect from a police system that hires primarily white men, who are proven to be more violent and to commit more crimes than their female and non-white counterparts. In order to change police culture, we must improve hiring practices and recruit more women officers and more officers of color.

In 2014, President Obama convened a taskforce on 21st century policing, which released a report that recommended “creating a workforce that contains a broad range of diversity including race, gender, language, life experience, and cultural background to improve understanding and effectiveness in dealing with all communities.” This is because diversity in police departments encourages community policing.

When the racial composition of the police department matches that of the community, citizens are more likely to trust and cooperate with police officers. Diversity in police departments also increases the likelihood that the officers can understand the perspectives of the communities they are committed to serving. We need officers who understand the perspectives of the citizens they are serving—who have lived in their communities and know their culture.

We also need police officers who are skilled in mediation and conciliation—and studies show that minority and women police officers do better than their white and male counterparts in these areas as well. A 2002 National Center for Women and Policing study found that while women comprised 12.7 percent of all sworn personnel in large local police departments, they were indicated in only 5 percent of all complaints of excessive force and 2 percent of sustained allegations of excessive force.

A more recent national study published by the U.S. Department of Justice corroborated these findings, concluding that 95 percent of police crimes are committed by men. Furthermore, reports find that mostly white officers commit police killings. White officers were responsible for the deaths of 68 percent of people of color killed by the police.

We need justice for all of the African American men and women who have died unjustly at the hands of police officers—and diversifying police forces is part of that justice.

Justice is when officers are prosecuted and convicted for these crimes. Justice is starting a conversation about what institutional racism looks like, and how we can dismantle these systems of oppression. And, most importantly, justice is a commitment to hiring officers that reflect the communities they have sworn to protect and serve.

Shelby McNabb just finished her first year at UCLA, where she is getting her Masters of Public Policy. In her free time, she co-hosts and co-produces a podcast, the Left Ovaries, with her best feminist friends. She is also working on a project to provide incarcerated women with access to feminine hygiene products by donating menstrual cups.

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Still Revolutionary: Inside the Sister Chapel Revival

Ms. Blog - Fri, 07/15/2016 - 02:07

In 1978, IIise Greenstein, along with 12 other painters, conceived of the Sister Chapel—an art installation featuring 11 panels that represented contemporary and historically significant women, mythological figures and conceptual heroic women.

The Sister Chapel was created as a pun on Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and was meant to similarly create a space of contemplation and reflection—but it was also a commentary on gender roles and the disenfranchisement of the feminine in history and culture.

Greenstein had studied the Vatican fresco and in a 1983 interview for the Oral History Library of the American Jewish Committee raised the question “Where was woman in man’s relationship to God?” On that famous ceiling we observe that God and Adam almost touch hands, but there is no Eve in sight. This was less a religious question than a historical one.

Now, after 37 years, this revolutionary installation has been resurrected. At the behest of professor Andrew Hottle, author of the 2014 book The Art of the Sister Chapel, it was on display at the Rowan University Art Gallery in Glassboro, New Jersey.


In the original exhibition, each monumental figure occupied a nine-by-five-foot canvas in a 12-sided space, into which viewers were invited to enter and to imagine themselves in the company of these historically significant figures. Greenstein painted a circular abstract ceiling, and the chapel was to be enclosed in a tent-like nylon and velvet structure by Maureen Connor—but due to cost constraints the final product only included a model of her design. It has been created for this new exhibit according to her plans.

Everything else is intact—except Sharon Wybrants lost piece “Self Portrait as Superwoman”—but it has been re-imagined. The portraits on display featured Italian Renaissance great painter Artemisia Gentileschi, feminist leader Betty Friedan and legendary soldier Joan of Arc.

The strength of The Sister Chapel is found not only in the imagery, but the commitment to sistership and transformation that lies at its core. As women grow in influence, the enemies of the feminine have fought back and cried out. This exhibition is a testament to how long we have heard those cries and pushed on anyway.

The Chapel is a celebration of women by women that invites viewers to reconsider familiar and often unconscious presumptions about gender roles and feminine power. Nearly 40 years later, it remains a perfect time to witness its power.

Private appointments to the exhibition are available through the month of July.

Nancy Cohen-koan a writer and artist. Her work has appeared in various galleries, including Longview, Kwok, and Tribes; she’s also made three documentaries and had her short musicals produced for the stage. She writes for Huffington Post, NotJustAboutSex and Snake Magazine. 

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Bridging Lives and Homelands

Ms. Blog - Fri, 07/15/2016 - 00:41

While Trump is talking about closing borders and deporting Muslims and Brexit begins to take shape, a women’s migrant organization in Greece offers Europe and the world a startling alternative: solidarity. A center for refugees called Melissa (honeybee in Greek) is a place where Syrian and Afghani women can take free yoga, art and Greek language classes; sing in a choir; access legal and counseling services and—unlike the camps where many have spent weeks or months—experience a small slice of home.

“Migration always entails some sort of rupture, especially for women,” Nadina Christopoulou, a co-founder and Greek anthropologist, tells Ms. “When they experience this journey of migration a lot else is broken—not only their roots but their support networks. Their mothers may not be with them; their social circle that surrounds them and supports them through the different rites of passage in one’s life may not be there.”

But helping Syrian and Afghani women wasn’t the center’s initial purpose. When the center opened last summer, the vision was to create a network for migrant women who were already living in Greece. The co-founders—leaders from Greece’s Nigerian, Filipina and Eastern European communities—wanted to unite 24 or so established women’s groups into one network. More could be done, they reasoned, if they sought solutions in common.

Deborah Carlos Valencia, a longtime activist in the Greek Filipina community and someone who helped engineer significant changes for Greece’s Filipina community—including a successful micro-loan program for domestic workers and, perhaps even more impressive, a change in Greek law allowing domestic workers a path toward citizenship and legal documentation—knew there was a need.

“Migrant women are always under migrant men in terms of the leadership,” she says. “So we said let’s create a network. Even women we had never heard from before came. Bangladeshi women. Eritrean women. There are many. So we were surprised when over 30 countries came to our first meeting. Women are the integrators, the change makers. We see all the details that the men don’t.”

Shortly after that initial meeting the network found itself grappling with a whole new reality. “When we actually managed to open our center,” says Christopoulou, “the refugee flows had started, and there was no way to ignore it. It was just outside our doorstep.”

The network immediately began responding to the needs of its newest arrivals: women from Syria and Afghanistan. “We started volunteering at the park, cooking meals, making breakfasts for the kids, and preparing care packs for the journey,” Christopoulou says. “Solidarity from a woman to another woman, from a mother to another mother.”

But handing out care packs is not the goal anymore, especially since borders north of Greece have closed and many immigrants find themselves living in Greece indefinitely.Instead, Melissa sees itself today as helping migrant women integrate into Greek society.

“At some point we said enough is enough with humanitarian aid,” Christopolou adds. “You know you can only do so much. Today’s refugees are going to be tomorrow’s neighbors.”

Maria Ohilebo, another co-founder of Melissa and the vice president of Nigerians in Diaspora, describes the evolution of Melissa as a series of steps. “So now the borders are closed. You see it’s like one step to the other. Most of them they want to stay but they cannot stay if they are not integrated into the system. One way for them to get integrated is to learn the language.”

One of Melissa’s central offerings are its Greek language classes. Each morning approximately fifteen students take the morning session and then in the afternoon, the same number take the second class. Both are free and on-site day care is provided.

Vicky Kantzou, one of Melissa’s language instructors, says teaching at the center isn’t a draining experience. It’s not what people expect. “It’s not depressing or austere,” she tells Ms. “My student are happy to be in Greece and happy to be safe.”

While Melissa has always felt safe and welcoming, the neighborhood where it is located has not. Deliberately situated in an area considered a stronghold of Greece’s far right group, Golden Dawn, a group famous for its slogan “Greece for Greeks” and for giving Nazi salutes at rallies, its neighbors haven’t always been receptive. But that is changing, too. “We have pensioners coming to us now,”Christopoulou says, “and saying ‘I get my check next week and I want to buy something for you.'”

When I visit Melissa, the space is light and airy. There are two classrooms, a back balcony filled with plants, a welcoming reception area and comfortable nooks to sit and relax in. Members float through the rooms setting up a lunch buffet of home cooked adobo and greeting visitors. With the help of an Arabic translator, I meet a soft-spoken woman from Syria named Heba who, like so many others, arrived in Greece by boat.

Heba’s boat was overcrowded and with little air, and at some point people began to try and escape and the vessel started to sink. Two people drowned in the tumult but her and her young son survived. What motivates Heba now is the prospect of reuniting with her husband in Germany. Currently, she lives with a Greek family and says they are welcoming. When I ask what she most values about the center, she says the chance to learn Greek, then adds, smiling, “I also like the atmosphere here.”

While Greece has a long tradition of helping uprooted communities, there are still many barriers.

Adeola Naomi Aderemi is a Nigerian migrant and youth activist who teaches yoga at the center. In 2012, she qualified for Greece’s Olympic team but because she was not a Greek citizen—Greek born children of immigrants are not recognized as citizens—she was unable to participate. She says she understands what her students, many of whom are Filipina, are going through. She moved to Greece when she was only 15. She didn’t speak the language and so no one talked to her. But eventually she learned Greek and went on to graduate high school and attend a Greek university. “Even though I was also the only black person in the entire university” Aderemi says, “it was good because I could speak the language and they took me as just one of the guys, just a different color.”

The class Aderemi teaches is unique. “We built up together a series of yoga classes called Warrior Women,” she explains, “which for me it was inspired from a program the UN did for children soldiers from Rwanda to have rehabilitation through yoga. So it inspired me to just use the same sensitivity and knowledge that I have with migrant women in Greece to have a yoga class totally tailored towards their needs of self-esteem and self-worth…”

There are many issues that hold migrant women back. Still, support leads to strength.

“If you are here, whatever you are going through, you can talk to each other,”Aderemi says, “and I like that after class we sit down and drink yogi tea, like good yogis that we are, and we talk about life and what they are going through and they open up to each other.”

Melissa has over 250 members from 45 countries, and although it doesn’t aspire to become a huge organization, it does hope to expand. The center’s dream now is to open a communal kitchen downstairs, where communities can take turns making and selling food. “I grew up in a small community in Greece, in a women’s household,” Christopoulou explains. “It was an open household where the door was never locked. The meals were on going. It was also a place where the stories never stopped. You always knew there was this wisdom that you could draw on when needed. And there was support. And there was understanding and an open ear for whatever problem you had. So this is what we believe in here.”

They want the center to become an income generating place for women, a way they can start earning a living and rebuilding their lives. Kitchens have long been the center of women’s community, so it seems fitting for Melissa to help create income generating projects related to food and cooking.

“This is our vision now,”Christopoulou says, “to really open our arms and to welcome these people and not treat them as aid recipients, help them to be active and to take on the responsibility of their lives … and to restore hope and a sense of dreaming about the future, to start making plans again.”

In an election year long on anti-immigrant rhetoric but short on constructive ideas, Melissa’s women-centric message of support and assistance couldn’t be timelier. Or more refreshing.

Leslie Absher is a personal essayist whose work focuses on women’s lives, growing up with a CIA father and her childhood in Greece. She is currently  traveling the world with her partner. You can find her at

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Vision Not Victim: Changing Possibilities for Refugee Girls

Ms. Blog - Thu, 07/14/2016 - 02:54

Amani, a 10-year-old refugee from Syria, wants to be a pilot when she grows up. To an outsider, this may seem unlikely. She and her family have fled the deadliest conflict in the world. She lives in a region where girl’s roles are often placed upon them rather than created by them. The closest she’s come to a plane is when U.S. and Jordanian aircrafts pass to Syria each week. Still, she has reason to be hopeful, stopping to look up when planes fly overhead.

via IRC / Meredith Hutchison

Amani is part of the Vision Not Victim project, a mentorship initiative in collaboration with the International Rescue Committee. “Women and girls in conflict zones are usually portrayed as powerless,” says Meredith Hutchison, age 30, the program’s founder and principle photographer. “We rarely see photos of a Syrian woman who has experienced trauma and faces challenges but also has agency. Women have ideas about how to create solutions and how to build peace. I wanted to find a way to capture powerful images and make the process itself empowering.”

Founded in 2013, Vision Not Victim takes photographs of refugee girls in their dream jobs, to help them regain control of their narratives. It has invested in 75 girls so far, from three regions: Jordan, The Ivory Coast and The Democratic Republic of Congo. The girls selected are already part of existing IRC programs for vulnerable youth. This means that before a camera comes out, participants and their families have attended trainings on safety, community leadership and girl’s education. IRC staff will be with them before and after the project is through. Once selected for Vision Not Victim, the girls are invited to weekly meetings to imagine their future.

“In most places where we work, girls are never asked what they want to be when they grow up,” Meredith says. “Approaching the question is a new concept for them. Professional women from the community—teachers, lawyers, businesswomen, artists, doctors and politicians—help by speaking about their careers. Many are former refugees themselves.”

From there, the girls are asked to create concept drawings, visualizing their dream job. They are asked: what would it look like? Who would be there? What would you be wearing? What would you be saying? Weeks later, the sketches are recreated in a photo shoot in an actual location. Girls who want to be doctors find themselves touring hospitals in a camp, shadowing medical professionals and looking at X-rays. Amani always wanted to be a pilot.

via IRC / Meredith Hutchison

The project is knowingly ambitious. Being able to walk alone safely in a camp can be unrealistic for these girls, let alone running a business one day or flying a plane. They are part of the 65.3 million displaced persons in the world—a demographic where young women are prone to child marriage, sexual violence, lack of education and harassment. Still, Vision Not Victim is committed to taking the girl’s dreams at face value.

When a little girl in Zaatari refugee camp said she wanted to be a lawyer, IRC staff drove her out of the camp to see courtrooms and meet with female lawyers and judges in Amman. When a shy 11-year-old in the Ivory Coast said she wanted to be a mechanic, there were no female mechanics to call upon. But the IRC still found a garage willing to teach her. Soon, she was standing on a cinder block leaning over the hood of a car, looking into the engine. She was smiling and laughing, learning from hulking male mechanics four-times her size.

via IRC / Meredith Hutchison

Meredith recalls a teenage girl who said she wanted to be a hairdresser early in the program. Vision Not Victim set up a shoot for her in a salon, but a few weeks later, the girl quietly re-approached them. “I said I wanted to be a hairdresser because my brother and father said it’s the only thing I could ever be,” she confided. “I know now that’s not true. What I really want to be is an architect.” They re-did the shoot with her as an architect.

via IRC / Meredith Hutchison

The project requires fierce imagination: from the girls, their families, their communities and the world watching them. Everyone is asked to imagine and work toward a better trajectory. After receiving printed photos, one father sat in the corner of his house, silent and smiling, staring at the image of his daughter as a doctor. The daughter had been promised in an arranged child-marriage but after seeing the photo, he decided to call it off. Today, she is continuing with her education instead.

via IRC / Meredith Hutchison

The IRC is already seeing results and is hoping to expand the program to more locations, including work with refugee girls resettled in the United States in the fall. With a goal of raising awareness and further funding, the pictures have been exhibited around the world: hanging in Istanbul, London, Washington D.C. and New York.

The pictures are also hanging in places like Zaatari refugee camp. Some of the girls have taped them up in small housing containers—their family’s only private space—beside a cut out window and mattresses on the floor. Jordan is home to millions of refugees, including Amani, that smiley 10-year-old future pilot.

Amani doesn’t know it yet, but female pilots in different countries have seen her picture and felt inspired. She’ll be receiving videos this week with women standing in their uniforms encouraging her. She’ll be opening packages with their wings and textbooks. She’ll read notes saying they believe in her, saying her dream is absolutely possible. “This is not about playing pretend,” says Meredith. “This is about letting them step into a moment in their future and giving them the tools to get there.”

Emily Sernaker is a writer and activist. She holds an MSc equality studies and currently studies creative writing at Pacific University. 

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15 Years Later, Elle Woods is Still One of Our Favorite Feminists

Ms. Blog - Thu, 07/14/2016 - 02:52

It’s the 15th anniversary of Legally Blonde—and we should all still be giving this movie some big feminist snaps. Protagonist Elle Woods is an intelligent, compassionate, fabulous woman who challenges countless stereotypes about women and proves there is no such thing as a “dumb blonde.” Although it’s continuously dismissed as “just another chick-flick,” Legally Blonde was a film with a multi-dimensional female lead who was fun, smart and feminist.

Although the movie begins with Elle following her ex-boyfriend to Harvard Law School, it ends with her having stared down sexism time and time again without so much as breaking a nail. Her parents tell her she’s too pretty for law school. She’s accused of being “not serious enough,” dumb and weak. She’s called a ‘skank’. She’s falsely accused of sleeping her way to the top. She faces sexual harassment. Again and again, she’s reduced to her breasts and blonde hair. But throughout it all, she remains true to herself. She proves that her bubbly personality and love of the color pink do not make her inferior—that her femininity is an asset rather than a disadvantage.

Elle overcomes countless adversities in the pursuit of academic excellence and an established law career, all while wearing a pink suit. That’s definitely something still worth celebrating.

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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Imported to Care

Ms. Blog - Wed, 07/13/2016 - 23:17

Chances are if you live in the United States, you might know, work with or employ someone who has traveled from overseas to work in the United States. Many of these workers are women, and many of them work in “care” jobs such as housekeeping or child and elder care.


Quite often, your neighbor’s nanny, the people who take care of your kids, or the people who maintain your school gardens and clean your offices are from the Philippines, El Salvador, Nepal or Bangladesh. Nurses trained in Jamaica and Ghana, doctors from India and health technicians from the Philippines attend you or your loved ones in hospitals and in urgent care.

Across the world women are in motion, leaving families and communities behind to work elsewhere in wealthier nations. They leave because jobs are available elsewhere; they come because there is a growing demand for their services. As more women enter the labor force in wealthier economies they have less time to fulfill traditional caring roles, such as staying at home to care for children and aging parents.

The Migration Policy Institute reports that as of 2015, nearly one in three U.S. doctors (physicians and surgeons) were foreign born. In 2010, women accounted for three of every four foreign-born health care workers. Nearly one-third of foreign-born women employed in health care occupations in 2010 worked in health care support jobs as nursing, psychiatric or home health aides. Yet a 2010 study showed that almost one-quarter of foreign-born workers employed in these health care support jobs lack health insurance themselves, and worked without access to affordable health care when they, or a loved one, became sick.

Data tells us that in the U.S. immigrant workers make up 47 percent of the workforce in health care and social services. And the U.S. Census Bureau tell us that 25 percent of all immigrants—compared to 17 percent of all native workers—were in some type of service occupation in 2014. Many of these services are personal services in care work and the majority of these workers are women.

Care work is often seen as a women’s job, a natural extension of the role women have in society. In fact, it’s hardly questioned that care workers are disproportionately women. And because care work is perceived to require few skills, there is a belief that anyone can do it. As a result, care work commands little monetary value. In most cases, migrant workers in the ”care economy” work in jobs that earn low wages and that typically do not come with benefits and workplace protections—particularly when the work takes places in our own homes and communities.

Even when this care work is hired-in to the home, these jobs sit firmly in that blurry terrain between formal and informal work, and since much of the service rendered is about demonstrating care and affection, it is easy for the cared-for—and sometimes for the carers themselves—to devalue this work. And therein lies one of the biggest ironies of care work: so many of us depend on others who perform care work, who are increasingly migrants, that we do not question if they work long hours for low pay or that they have few opportunities to earn pensions and have paid vacation and lack the right to health care themselves.

This begs the question: How can we resolve this apparent conundrum that care work is valuable, important and increasingly in demand yet is too often is rewarded with low wages and associated with poor working conditions and long hours? It is a tough puzzle to solve, but not one that is impossible.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide an excellent opportunity for us to tackle this problem to ensure that care is valued and that care workers have the rights they deserve. The SDGs are a set of universal goals that the international community has signed on to in order to guide their investments in development assistance and to reduce poverty and inequality worldwide. To date they have been seen largely as commitments that are relevant for foreign aid to the poorer countries and not as universal principles that will need to be reported on and monitored within the national boundaries of the wealthier nations.

One of these commitments is to “recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate.” This goal is acutely relevant to all countries where entrenched gender inequalities mean that women specialize in caregiving while men tend to specialize in paid work. This goal is also particularly relevant in contexts where migrants densely populate care work and the care sector in host countries, including right here in the United States.

These commitments provide a new opportunity to raise concerns about the need for better care options for families and more quality jobs in care for those seeking employment. They provide a new opportunity for citizens to ask the government to provide services such as after-school programs for children or to offer tax credits to put income in the hands of families so they can purchase in-home help or send an aging parent to senior care or a child to child care. This would make care options more affordable and accessible for many and would provide an opportunity to increase the value of care work. Further, it would ensure that caring jobs are good jobs and that minimum wages and legislation about hours and conditions of work are upheld.

After all, although we need care, we want good quality care for our loved ones and that usually goes hand-in-hand with good quality jobs.

Sarah Gammage is the Director of Gender, Economic Empowerment and Livelihoods at the International Center for Research on Women. She has more than 25 years of experience as a researcher and a feminist economist, providing policy advice and supporting strategic advocacy on gender equality in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

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6 (More) Apps Every Feminist Needs

Ms. Blog - Wed, 07/13/2016 - 02:36

The number of women in the U.S. with smartphones has risen to over 66%, making smartphone technology one of the top ways for women to stay up to date on important matters in their lives. App developers have been quick to realize the feminist potential of apps as tools of change. Back in 2014, we told you about 6 Apps Every Feminist Needs. Since that time, numerous apps have been developed to target issues which challenge women’s equality in the U.S. and globally. Below are six (more) innovative apps we love.

via Roel Wijnants and licensed under Creative Commons 3.0

Circle of 6

How it works: Designed as a personal safety app, Circle of 6 lets users connect to up to 6 personal contacts. The app has different notifications its users can tap to alert their contacts should the need arise. Reasons for alerting contacts can range anywhere from needing a safe ride home to feeling at risk while traveling alone or as part of an unfamiliar group. Additionally, Circle of 6 connects users to proper local authorities during emergency situations.

Availability: Google Play and iTunes
Cost: Free
Rating: 4 of 5


How it works: Hollaback was developed in 2005 as a way for users to monitor incidents of street harassment in real time and submit them to their local council members. The app has undergone serious redesigns since then, now includes a simpler method of sharing as well as the option to review past stories.

Availability: Google Play and iTunes
Cost: Free
Rating: 4 of 5


How it works: LemonAid is a new app designed to help users obtain birth control and other prescriptions safely and easily. With LemonAid, users answer a series of questions and upload a photo of themselves to the app. A doctor reviews all responses and, if the provided information meets approval, sends a user’s prescription to a nearby pharmacy for pickup. Currently only available in California, Florida, New York, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington, LemonAid’s developers hope to expand their services into other states soon.

Availability: Google Play and iTunes
Cost: $15.00
Rating: 4.8 out of 5

Eve by Glow

How it works: Eve is a health app and period tracker for women who want to exercise control over their reproductive health. Eve helps its users better navigate things like birth control, contraception, PMS, menstrual cycle symptoms, ovulation, fertility, and overall health trends over time.

Availability: Google Play and iTunes
Cost: Free
Rating: 5 of 5

SPARK Women on the Map

How it works: SPARK Women on the Map works in tandem with Field Trip, a mapping app that alerts users when they approach important historical sites. When a user opens Field Trip and enables SPARK’s Women on the Map feature, their phone will sound as they approach locations where women made history. According to their site, SPARK Movement is “a girl-fueled, intergenerational activist organization working online to ignite an anti-racist gender justice movement.” SPARK Women on the Map is a great way to highlight women’s accomplishments throughout history.

Availability: Google Play and iTunes
Cost: Free
Rating: 3.8 of 5


How it works: Hey! VINA was designed to help women find Platonic female friends in and around their neighborhoods.  Whether a woman just moved to an area, is going through a major life transition, or is just looking to make new friends, Hey! VINA helps by pairing users with similar interests in hopes of building lasting friendships. Hey! VINA is still being tested for improvements, but we think this app sounds promising!

Availability: iTunes
Cost: Free
Rating: 3 of 5


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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Can More Gender-Neutral Toys & Apps Lead to More Diversity in STEM?

Ms. Blog - Wed, 07/13/2016 - 01:07

Is your daughter BFFs with Emma yet? She may be now that girls are playing with LEGOS in higher numbers. The toymaker has found success with its lines that are specifically designed for girls and include girl figures like Emma.

via Bill Ward and licensed through Creative Commons 3.0

Compared with 50 years ago, most toys are targeted to either boys or girls and are rife with gender-stereotypes, as is certainly the case with LEGO and has even been attributed to the success of these newer ‘girly’ lines. But more problematic, there are more toys marketed to boys that could expose them to skills they could use as adults in paying jobs, like computer science and engineering. Meanwhile, despite 57% of women working outside the home, toys marketed to girls still largely focus on the domestic realm, like dolls, clothes, kitchenware and even toy vacuums.

Outcomes from the differences in toys become visible at a young age. A new study suggests Disney Princess culture, which is marketed to girls, can influence preschoolers to be more susceptible to potentially damaging gender stereotypes. These may be limiting in the long term for young women if they lead to less confidence or interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. For example, research in teens confirms gender-based differences in digital literacy and stereotypical distributions in areas of interest and use of digital technologies.   

The impact is seen into adulthood. Combined, women only hold 29 percent of jobs in STEM fields. Fostering diversity in STEM has been gaining more traction in recent years and it can start with broadening the kinds of games our kids play, including by engaging youth in creative ways.

Girls today have more choices of toys that promote STEM concepts, but usually in a context or color scheme that meets female stereotypes – examples include Project MC2 dolls, and building toys Roominate and Goldiblox.  These are great advancements and may be effective for some girls, but what about for children who don’t identify with traditional gender stereotypes or may not even identify with their biological sex?

Because children’s interests and skills so clearly can be shaped by the toys with which they play and the media they consume, recently, the White House released a fact sheet suggesting that toys and media must stop promoting gender stereotypes.

Gender-neutral toys show great promise. A study of more than 100 toys found that gender stereotyped toys were “less likely to promote cognitive development” than gender-neutral toys. While the Discovery Store, Marbles The Brain Store, and Fat Brain Toys have many gender-neutral offerings, they are often expensive. 

The reality is that today’s children turn to technology for entertainment. The average age now for getting a first smartphone is 10.3 years old and even children under 4 years old are frequently using mobile devices. We, like most parents, see our children, aged 6 to 11 years old, using apps more and more.  

Although our expertise comes from the seemingly disparate fields of Chemistry and Gender and Sexuality Studies, we realize a similar vision in believing apps are one logical area for more gender-neutral offerings. Especially as using apps on mobile devices is an encouraged and socially acceptable form of play.

App development that is gender-neutral and focused on curiosity and creativity enables open-ended play that fosters dynamic and imaginative thinking.  But it also can help expose all children to STEM and build their self-efficacy in these areas.  This may be particularly important for girls. It’s also important to all children from many marginalized communities or, even tomboys and “emotional” boys and any other child that doesn’t feel she or he fits a traditionally ‘brainy’ stereotype and, therefore, may not think they are cut out for STEM. 

Let’s consider three examples of apps that do this. Kids play with Toca Blocks by creating and exploring anything they can imagine using whacky blocks. In Tiny Bop’s Robot Factory, children design robots from various pieces and then test them in obstacle courses. Tynker exposes children to computer programming, including building their own apps, through game-based exercises that include both gender-neutral options and ones more aligned with traditional gender-based interests. All of these programs can be used at home or on mobile devices and some are increasingly being integrated into school-based curricula. 

Among their many benefits, these apps can increase users’ self-efficacy in STEM and increase the likelihood of a STEM-related career choice. By being gender-neutral, they have the potential to build these traits in a more diverse population of children. Apps have the possibility to not only disrupt gender stereotypes and access but also to allow kids not to submit to race and class stereotypes. Ultimately, this may help our STEM fields become as diverse and imaginative as our country.

Relying on app-based solutions to improve STEM diversity requires that we bridge the ‘participation gap’ of inequities in digital access and literacy that exist in underserved communities.  The MacArthur Foundation’s program on Digital Media and Learning aims to address this issue. It funds organizations such as Digital Youth Network, who are working to understand and support ‘anytime and anywhere’ learning opportunities for all.

And of course, toys and apps won’t solve everything. Many prospective elementary school teachers, for instance, already hold biases about kids and math, presuming that girls don’t like it. These biases in primary school are shown to affect girls permanently—in middle school and high school girls are less likely to take advanced math classes. So we need educators to be aware of their biases and work to change them.  But giving elementary school aged kids free range to develop their passions through technology could be a solution.

Let’s start now to provide for really inclusive technological engagement. If that’s one of the key desired features, then the future of STEM would be so much more interesting.

Jillana Enteen is assistant professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies at Northwestern University. She is currently researching trans medical tourism and trans surgeries in Thailand. She is a member of the Op-Ed Project’s Public Voices Fellowship at NU.



Shannon Haymond, PhD is a clinical chemist at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. She is a member of the OpEd Project Public Voices Fellowship at NU.

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On Gender Parity in a Clinton Cabinet

Ms. Blog - 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

Ms. Blog - 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

Ms. Blog - 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

Ms. Blog - 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”

Ms. Blog - 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”

Ms. Blog - 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

Ms. Blog - 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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