November 16, 2010 § 1 Comment
Jay McDowell, a high school teacher in Michigan, was recently suspended for reprimanding a student who allegedly walked into his classroom and said: “I do not support gay individuals.” (I agree with the linked Queerty writer who doubts that “gay individuals” was the actual word choice; it’s likely that some colorful slurs were used instead.) A 14-year-old student was videotaped speaking in defense of McDowell at a school board meeting. Graeme Taylor (or possibly Graham Taylor — there’s some discrepancy regarding his name, forgive me for the uncertainty), who is gay, delivered a beautiful speech. I’ve transcribed it below.
My father is Kirk Taylor, he’s a teacher at Hartland, and he tells me about things that go on in this area. It seems like a nice community. I myself am gay and I’m a young person, and that can cause lots of trouble. And when you hear of things like Dr. King’s speech that one day he wanted his grandchildren, his posterity, to not be judged on the color of their skin but the content of their character, I hope that one day we too can be judged on the content of our character and not who we love. Howell [Michigan] is the headquarters for the Ku Klux Klan. Does that really sound great on your racism record? The fact that they chose this city to come into? And you probably want to get rid of that. So how would you like more headlines of “Howell denies gays,” “Howell doesn’t protect them.” This teacher, whom I fully support, finally stood up and said something. I have been in rooms, in classrooms, where children have said the worst kinds of things. The kinds of things that helped drive me to a suicide attempt when I was only nine years old. These are the things that hurt a lot. There’s a silent holocaust out there in which an estimated six million gay people every year kill themselves. Is this really the environment we want for our school? Do we really want this on our record? Now, I’m saying that the best thing you can do right now is just give him his pay for that day, and just reverse the disciplinary actions. He did an amazing thing. He did something that’s inspired a lot of people. And whenever, ever, I have a teacher stand up for me like that, they change in my eyes. I support Jay McDowell, and I hope you do too.
October 21, 2010 § 1 Comment
Remember all that hoopla about Male Studies? The “debate” — you know, the debate between progressive gender equity and anxious protection of sacred manly manhood — is still a topic of attention. Still a topic, in fact, at my school. So check out my friend Molly’s article in The Stanford Daily, exploring what she calls “John Wayne’s Masculine Identity Crisis?: A dance-off between feminist studies and the newly emerging male studies.” (Bonus: there may or may not be a quote from someone you might know, in the online sense of the word? Maybe it’s me? Perhaps? Because goodness knows I love to talk about the ladies and the studying.)
October 19, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Trigger Warning for slogans promoting rape and assault.
Members of the Yale Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity have come under fire after members chanted slogans such as “No means Yes” and “Yes means Anal” in a video that went viral. While Yale is keeping quiet about what disciplinary actions the institution may take, the Yale Chapter of DKE is banned from doing any more pledge activities.
I am glad that the Yale DKE has been disciplined by the governing body of the fraternity, but I’m still annoyed that this shit happened in the first place. What I do worry about are the many students who are involved in Greek life, who are smart, judicious, and care about community, who aren’t heard of because “Fraternities/Sororities Gone Bad” stories are all we hear in the media.
I have friends who are involved in fraternities an sororities that defy the stereotypes we have about Greek life. My friend Max is in a fraternity, doesn’t wear popped-collar pink polo shirts, doesn’t treat women like disposable blow-up dolls, and is very active in community events, when he’s not working for the local radio station as a sports reporter. My friends in Kappa Alpha Theta and Chi Omega sororities perform annual blood drives, hold fundraisers benefiting charities that help survivors of domestic violence, and can be seen in T-shirts, sweatshirts, and jeans, rather than anything from the infamous Pi Phi rush dress code.
I think it’s wrong to say “Oh, you’re in a fraternity/sorority? Okay, you’re so not feminist”. I think it’s wrong when Greek organizations permit disgusting behavior, like vandalism, classism in the form of demanding that all pledges wear Tory Burch flats, or perpetuation of rape culture. I think the hubbub around this case is a good opportunity for Greek organizations to come forward, condemn this behavior, and do things that promote them in a positive way, such as partnering with organizations like the Great American Condom Campaign, Men Can Stop Rape, Human Rights Campaign, EMILY’s List, and so on and so forth.
People do look up to Greek organizations, so if they set a good example about safer sex, what consent really means, promoting equal rights, etc, others just might follow suit.
As a side note, once Yale resolves this current controversy with the fraternity, I’d like them to continue on a more pressing issue: Actually providing scholarships to their graduate students. Come on Yale, you have more money than God. It’s wouldn’t’ kill you to spend some of it on your students.
October 2, 2010 § Leave a Comment
- On September 21, the Senate failed to pass a bill that included the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.’ They were four votes short, despite the Democratic majority.
- On September 22, gay college student Tyler Clementi jumped from the George Washington Bridge to his death after his roommate Dhuram Ravi twice posted videos online of him making out with another man.
- On September 9, Billy Lucas, a 15-year-old high school freshman hung himself in his family’s barn after intense bullying for his perceived sexual orientation from his classmates. In interviews, his principal, the person that’s supposed to have the best interest of all students at heart, said that Billy sometimes created “that atmosphere [of teasing] around him… Kind of like a little tornado because he went around doing things that made dust fly, I guess.” After Billy’s suicide, hateful and accusatory remarks were posted on his memorial page.
- The cases of Tyler Clementi and Billy Lucas are not anomalies.
- Andrew Shirvell, Michigan’s Assistant Attorney General, has decided to take a voluntary leave of absence after getting nationwide attention for creating a website devoted to the shaming and bashing of University of Michigan’s openly gay student assembly president, Chris Armstrong. Despite the fact that Shirvell has clearly expressed his bias against a significant group of people–not to mention an oppressed minority that is in need of defense–when a large part of his JOB DESCRIPTION is to uphold the rights that everyone is granted by the constitution, Attorney General Mike Cox has refused to discipline or dismiss him.
- According to a ten-year study by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, 9 out of 10 LGBT students are harassed in school. 72.4% of students hear homophobic remarks such as “faggot” or “dyke” frequently at school. In the last month 29.1% of LGBT students missed a class at least once and 30% missed at least one day of school due to safety concerns.
Have I depressed you enough? The list goes on and on and on.
What, if anything, can we take from all this? America has a serious problem. A problem of heteronormative expectations about sexuality and gender expression and a problem of viciously attacking those who don’t fit into these norms. While this problem is damaging to everyone, it predominantly affects young people. From the White House to the playground the message is clear: You’re icky, you’re different, you’re wrong, you’re not like us. We wish you’d go away.
So what do we do? Do something! Do anything! Post on Dan Savage’s It Gets Better youtube channel. Attend an upcoming event. Start a Gay-Straight Alliance at your school. Support GLSEN, The Trevor Project, Matthew’s Place, Angels and Doves and Stomp Out Bullying! Participate in Ally Week.
Be active, be kind, and be hopeful. Hope is what we need more than anything. To use the eternally relevant and powerful words of Harvey Milk: You’ve gotta give ‘em hope.
September 24, 2010 § Leave a Comment
…apply to be a part of this ABSOLUTELY DOPE program!
Teen Outreach Reproductive Challenge (TORCH) is a program of NARAL Pro-Choice New York that will pay you to teach other students about sexual health.
TORCH is a nationally recognized peer education program that trains high school freshmen, sophomores and juniors who are interested in reproductive rights and related topics to give presentations to other youth groups throughout New York City.
Participants must be available to attend trainings in our Manhattan office from 4-6 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays from December through June.
TORCH provides young people with a community in which to build their self esteem, learn leadership skills, discuss reproductive health issues, and educate themselves and others to make intelligent decisions.
The application deadline is October 18, 2010 so APPLY TODAY!
I truly wish I had known about TORCH before I got too old to apply. I encourage you to take advantage of this amazing opportunity! Apply here.
September 3, 2010 § 1 Comment
So! I am going to college very, very soon. In four days, actually. My school was one of many to assign the AlcoholEdu program to its incoming students. The website is a kind of alcohol orientation that combines videos, instant message chat, animations, and text to prepare you for a final exam. If you fail it, you have to complete the program again. The site describes itself as “an online alcohol prevention program used on more than 500 college and university campuses nationwide… designed to challenge students’ expectations about alcohol while enabling students to make healthy and safe decisions.”
AlcoholEdu has been the butt of many jokes among my peers. It’s true that its attempts to appear hip and relatable are nauseatingly earnest (really, an IM chat with your parents’ friend who is a doctor?) – though the creators seemed unconcerned with using actors who might be more relatable to students of color.
I expected the program to be rather tedious, and it definitely came through in that regard. What I didn’t expect was the site’s more-or-less-feminist, no-nonsense approach to sexual assault and its relationship to alcohol use. I was deeply gratified and relieved to discover this, because of, you know, the epidemic of assault on US college campuses.
The program started with lots of survey questions to assess our current knowledge. (My understanding is that one’s answers to the survey questions affected the presentation that followed; for example, if your survey responses indicated confusion about Blood Alcohol Content, the lesson that you were directed to would include more information about that topic. But, I’m not sure if this is entirely true. The program was not very transparent in terms of who was directed where.) The survey included questions like these:
When you drink, how likely do you think you are to: “be taken advantage of sexually”?
When you drink, how likely do you think you are to: “take advantage of someone sexually”?
Rate how much you agree, on a scale from 0 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree):
- Women should take responsibility for avoiding sexual assault by drinking less alcohol
- It really isn’t fair to charge a man with sexual assault if he was drinking at the time and his actions were not premeditated
- A person who was sexually assaulted should never be blamed for what happened
- A person who forces himself sexually on another person should always be blamed for what happened
- Many cases of so-called “acquaintance rape” are nothing more than an unfortunate misunderstanding between two people
- Without exception a person who forces himself sexually on another person should face legal consequences
- It really isn’t fair to charge a man with sexual assault if the other person was drinking at the time and led him on
Then, later on in the program, I was directed to these explanations regarding the question: “How does alcohol affect a person’s ability to give sexual consent?”
Alcohol and Consent
Consent is what a person says or does to give agreement for sexual contact, including sexual intercourse, to occur.
Alcohol can create a lot of confusion when it comes to interpreting whether a person has actually given consent. Because alcohol affects judgment, decision-making, and the ability to communicate clearly, drinking can seriously affect someone’s ability to give clear consent. Alcohol can also make it difficult for the other person involved to understand whether their potential partner has given consent or is even capable of legally doing so.
In order to be sure that consent has taken place, people should keep in mind the following four standards:
Both parties should be unimpaired by alcohol or drugs: Both individuals should be able to control their own thoughts and know what is going on around them.
Both parties should be able to act freely: Both individuals must be free to change their mind at any time, and a person’s silence should not be misinterpreted as consent.
Both parties should clearly communicate their permission: Both individuals should discuss their willingness to have sex well in advance of sexual activity.
Both parties should be honest about their desires: Both individuals should be 100% honest about their feelings, and they should not convince their partners to have sex by being dishonest about their feelings or intentions.
Source: Berkowitz, A. B., (2002). “Guidelines for Sex in Intimate Relationships.” Campus Safety & Student Development. 4 (3), 49-50
Let me just say it: Hooray. I’m so glad that this was included, though kind of depressed that I was so surprised.
Later, I was shown a video addressing how to “intervene” if you witness “inappropriate” behavior. At a party, two guys were trying to get a girl drunk so they could “get her back to [their] room.” I was pleased to notice that a fat actress was chosen to play the target of this behavior — this choice directly counters the ridiculous cultural meme that only conventionally attractive women are “rapeable.”
I was also shown a video about how to help a friend who tells me she has been assaulted. The narration encouraged me to “believe her right away,” to “let [her] make her own decisions about how to handle reporting the crime,” and to “encourage her to seek counseling.”
In both of these videos, the viewer (me) was cast as a woman, the friend of someone in trouble — ostensibly because I’d indicated that I’m female at the beginning of the course. I’d be interested to see what the men on the site were shown: which videos, which statistics. I’m not sure how I feel about male and female students being shown different content, although I did appreciate the footnote attached to the question about gender identity:
* We recognize and appreciate that not all individuals identify within these binary constructs. The purpose of this question (and similar questions that will appear throughout the course) is to calculate your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC), which is based on physiological variables specific to your biological sex and not related to your gender identity.
Overall, I was pleased with the way AlcoholEdu addressed alcohol safety issues, particularly sexual assault. However, I’m sure that a lot of students forgot what they’d learned as soon as the exam was over. I sincerely hope that the lessons introduced online are continued during orientation, ideally with a real-life, interactive workshop. I hope this isn’t the last that my peers will hear about these important issues.
Check out Jamie’s take on the site, too.
August 24, 2010 § 1 Comment
Before I transferred to SCAD, I attended a small college in Missouri called Stephens College. A friend of mine (a student at the University of Missouri — the school next door to Stephens) sent me a link to a recent story, in which an anonymous alum has pledged to donate one million dollars, if school employees collectively lose 250 pounds or more.
I think that linking a charitable donation to an institute of learning with weight loss is a bad idea. Especially at a place like Stephens, which is a women’s college.
Because many women are bombarded with so many images in the media, telling us to do this/buy that in order to lose weight. There are many competition style shows, in which contestants try to win money by losing weight. Jillian Michaels has garnered a great deal of money and fame by being the head screamer on The Biggest Loser, and her own TV show whose name I cannot remember, but would be best titled Jillian Michaels Really Enjoys Screaming at Fat People.
During my time at Stephens (Fall ’07-Winter ’08), it seemed like many of my classmates were in a never-ending weight loss competition with each other. One girl complained that it was “unfair” that a girl who was larger than her was a better, more flexible dancer. Another girl tried out the “Master Cleanse” with her friends: They spent a weekend consuming only a drink made from lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and maple syrup. They did lose weight, but only because they spent their entire weekend in the bathroom, suffering from severe nausea/diarrhea. During my seven-week summer intensive, it seemed like I was the only person who wasnt freaking out about “getting fat” — we spent our mornings in an intense dance/aerobics class, followed by acting class, lunch, and time spent either in rehearsal or in the shop.
The most popular majors at Stephens (performing arts, dance, fashion) are majors that do place a great deal of value on traditional standards of beauty (thinness, conventional beauty, etc). Several professors in the performing arts department told some of my friends that they should lose weight, or otherwise alter their appearance (another was told that her muscles were too prominent). « Read the rest of this entry »
July 27, 2010 § Leave a Comment
via Citizen Orange
On Tuesday, July 20th twenty-one undocumented youth were arrested while staging sit-ins in Washington, D.C. I can’t believe there hasn’t been more coverage of these 21 brave individuals. But then again, there has barely been any coverage on the DREAM Act itself. In case you haven’t heard, the DREAM Act is a bi-partisan legislative effort to provide “qualifying undocumented youth” a path to citizenship by completing either two years of college or two years of military service. For more information on the DREAM Act and to find out whether you qualify, visit the DREAM Act portal.
(Photo from Citizen Orange)
April 15, 2010 § Leave a Comment
This video, made by Sasha (a good friend of the blog) and featuring many of my friends and classmates, explores that question. I’m terrible at embedding, but please go watch it. Like Amanda’s impromptu birth control quizzes, these conversations are eye-opening.
Fun (read: terrifying) fact: public schools in New York City have no mandated sex education. Yikes.
February 10, 2010 § 2 Comments
Two years ago when Miranda and I started a feminism club at our liberal high school in Chelsea, we had chosen a faculty advisor, our global history teacher who openly incorporated feminism into the curriculum. Then, we walked into our English class and our teacher came up and asked us if she could be our advisor too! We celebrated the beauty of two awesome feminists, one who teaches of a patriarchal world with a critical eye and the other who teaches loquacious poetry written by unheard women. It is true that both teachers were in the humanities and it would be awesome to find some feminist science teachers to round out our school, but the point is that we had educators vying to teach feminism and we know that’s a rarity.
Too often, academic feminism is restricted to the college classroom. In Girldrive, Nona Willis Aronowitz articulates her well-deserved skepticism,
We realize its power, but we’ve also noticed how academic feminism alienates young women from concepts they would otherwise be down with…. All we want is conversation and if academic feminism really has become so removed from personal experience that it’s caused emotional paralysis, then we are determined to change that.
Here’s the thing: academic feminism can get so wrapped up in theories and generalizations that it gets disconnected from reality. That reality is that women and men experience sexism conditionally, based on all the intersections of their lives – their personal lives. The academic must be personal in order get young women and young men down with concepts they can relate to. And for the academic to be personal, intersectionality must be acknowledged, celebrated, and taught in the mainstream. And that’s especially hard when there’s such a clear socioeconomic gap between women’s studies curricula at various universities.
Next year, I plan to attend super-liberal and well-to-do Wesleyan University. Currently, Wesleyan offers 19 women’s studies courses and offers a major in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. And they better offer this many courses, seeing as Wesleyan costs $54,000 a year. I was also considering SUNY Geneseo, a public small liberal arts college with roughly the same number of students as Wesleyan, though it costs $48,000 less. SUNY Geneseo currently offers only three women’s studies courses. Unfortunately, there is a direct correlation between the escalating tuition of higher education and the number of women’s studies classes offered.
This is a problem. A dramatic disparity between the number of women’s studies courses offered at private versus public institutions means that only a certain part of the population is being educated on feminism. And let’s face it – those who go Wesleyan are already pretty knowledgeable on feminism whereas those who attend public universities come from a much wider range of backgrounds and need this education the most. Sure, it’s easy to celebrate intersectionality at a university that is known for being politically correct, but what about in a university that actually has a ton of students from backgrounds that provide the means for intersectional discussions? Shouldn’t that university offer courses devoted to such conversation?
I propose a solution. Academic feminism, as confined to the campus bubble, is nice and safe. It’s hard to pinpoint patriarchy as it affects us on a personal level when we sit in a classroom with around twenty women and one man in a college that is made up of mostly women in a town so crummy that quads have become the most immediate society we interact with. Of course Nona’s critique of the removal of academic feminism from personal experience occurs. There is little personal experience to draw from in such a setting. That is why feminism must be taught before the university bubble is blown, way before it is to be popped a few years down the road, academic feminism potentially leaving its students defenseless in the real world of personal experience.
Feminism must be taught in K-12 classrooms. And not just in yuppie high schools in Chelsea. Feminism must be taught in inner-city schools where students have personal experiences with domestic violence and rape. Feminism must be taught in Catholic schools where girls are taught to be chaste and purity rings are celebrated. Feminism must be taught in Jewish Day Schools where the religious classes are taught almost exclusively in a male lexicon. Feminism must be taught in all schools where, to quote the blog Equality 101, “history courses continue to obliterate women who have made marks on society and culture.”
To teach feminism in the classroom not only gets more students to identify as feminists, but it broadens the spectrum of whom a feminist is. When a feminist can be a kindergarten student who is genuinely pissed off that her arithmetic talents aren’t being as valued as that of her male peers, we are making progress. In the K-12 classroom, the academic is inherently personal. Us high school students deal with sexism daily – at home, work, school, extra-curriculars, the books we read, with friends…just fill in the blank. We need a feminist teacher revolution to incorporate equality into the curriculum. Why is this basic concept, one that promotes inclusion of personal experience, so revolutionary when it comes to the classroom, the youth that represent our future?