On Ageism and Social Justice: An Introduction, and Women That Are Doing It Right

October 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

by KATIE E

I recognize the general mouthfull-ness of the title, but trust me, it’s all in here.

How often do you think critically about ageism? How often do you think about how it intersects with other forms of oppression? How often do you consider it one of your privileges/things that oppress you, and, to bloggers, how often do you write about it? How often do you refer to comment trolls as “acting like a bunch of children” as an insult, and how often are you amazed that something written here/The Fbomb/Zero at The Bone/Teenagerie/any other young woman’s space was written by a teenager?

I think about those things a lot. I suppose it’s inevitable. I don’t want this series to be all about me and my experiences, but I’m sixteen, I write for a medium-ished sized social justice and feminism blog that aimed at young woman, and I frequently read and participate in discussions on various womanist, feminist, and gender/social justice blogs. I am completely open about and own up to the fact that I am, by all legal and dictionary definitions, a child. I’ve seen ageism happen. I don’t think it is the biggest issue affecting the social justice (I’m still talking about all of the types of blogs I’ve listed before, but for the purposed of the series, I’m going to abbreviate it to social justice. This does not mean I don’t care about and want to acknowledge all of the varieties of social justice out there, it means I have mild carpal tunnels syndrome) by a mile. There are a few posts I’ve read and gone “Wow, that was completely offensive to teenage girls like myself, or to age group X that I don’t belong to,” but ageism does show up in the SJ blogosphere, and I see it typically manifesting in three ways:

1. Word and Phrasing Choice

2. Silencing

3. And, most importantly, Neglect of Issues

I plan to begin a series addressing these matters, from the viewpoint of a ver young woman. Ageism is a unique form of oppression in that no one is really immune. It is not 100% an us vs. them thing. For example, a thirty-five to forty-year-old woman will have her opinion respected than a lot more of other woman of much younger or older ages, but if she chooses not to be married, she will face ageist attacks. A forty-five to  fifty-year-old man will be treated like he has a lot of valuable life experience, whether or not he truly does, but will be attacked if he chooses to act or dress in a typically “young” way.

However, I will not deny that there are factions of ageism that are an oppressed vs. oppressors kind of thing, and this series will focus on the fact that people under the legal age of majority are oppressed, and the ones doing the oppressing are the adults. I do plan to write about how younger people oppress older people eventually, but for the time being, I am choosing to write about something that has deeply impacted my life, opinions, and writing.

I’d like to begin this series on a positive note. I’m going to share with you five posts by social justice bloggers who wrote about teenaged women in a respectful, positive way. These are all by legally adult women, as seeing a grown-up person write in this manner is much rarer than seeing a young person do so, and I offer my greatest thanks to these writers, and I hope they will continue to write in this manner. I’m sure there are many more, and I’d greatly appreciate links in comments, these are just five posts I remembered reading recently.

Teen Pregnancies on The Rise for The First Time In Over A Decade, by Miriam, Feministing.

Despite what the title might make you think, this is not your typical “let’s prevent this horrific tragedy” moral panic piece. Miriam does an excellent job actually acknowledging that some teenagers want to be pregnant, especially when there are class and/or racial issues involved, and that they, along with pregnant teens in other situations, deserve our upmost respect. She also states, and I quote “I don’t think being young makes you a bad parent,” which should not be even remotely considered a radical statement, but in our society, unfortunately is, and I applaud her for making it and sticking up for it, despite the extremely ageist remarks in the comments section.

It’s Not About Me, by Guest Blogger Jay, Feministe

Five beautiful words: Parent denying ownership of child. Thank you Jay, for reminding us that nobody is entitled to anyone else’s uterus, even when the uterus in question belongs to your nine-year-old daughter.

Bill Cosby Tells Black People Off Again, by Renee, Womanist Musings

This post is not entirely about ageism, or even mostly about it-and that’s 100% fine. I commend Renee for pointing out the ageism in a statement made by Bill Cosby, along with many other problematic things about it that are correct, something that many bloggers may have ignored. She acknowledges that young woman are affected by slut-shaming in a completely different way than older woman, something that, again, I frequently see ignored.

Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project: A Counter Response, by Ms. Jacks, The Bitter Buffalo

This is a brilliant argument supporting point number two about ageism: silencing. Young women’s voiced are so often cut off in favor of what older people think they should feel, and Ms. Jacks points out to use that we need to cut that out if we want to be effective social justice advocates.

Teenage Girls and Internalized Sexism, by Rachel McCarthy James, Deeply Problematic

Beautiful. I love this post. Someone acknowledging that they have thought negative things about teenagers and is trying to stop is, again, something that shouldn’t be radical, but is. This is one of the few posts I’ve seen a self-identified feminist adult write entirely about ageism, and it may be the only one confronting personal ageism. An internet standing  ovation for RMJ, who is probably my favorite social justice writer.

I really hope you read these posts, and think about the questions I asked in my opening paragraph. Coming up soon will be part two, on how language and phrasing choices can promote ageism.

Hate Twilight. Hate it, hate it, hate it.

October 6, 2010 § 7 Comments

Hey readers, we have a dope new contributor. Please welcome Janey! (Read about her here.)

by JANEY

The Twilight series was recommended to me by well-meaning friends who felt that, as a sentimentalist, I couldn’t possibly dislike these very sappy and romantic books. And I have to admit, I expected to like these books. As a shameless Buffyhead, I am a huge fan of the Buffy-Angel relationship, and therefore fully expected to fall in love with the very similar Bella-Edward relationship. But after reading the series, I was left completely cold. These books are unabashedly anti-feminist, and set the women’s movement back about twenty years.

The series follows the romantic relationship between Bella Swan, an “average” teenage girl, and Edward Cullen, a member of a family of reformed vampires who do not feed on humans. The first glaring flaw in the novels is the rampant sexism in the dynamics of the central relationship itself. Even though Stephenie Meyer attempts to indoctrinate the reader in the notion that Bella and Edward are soulmates with all the subtlety of a whac-a-mole hammer, I couldn’t get attached to their saga. The milestones in the beginning of their relationship consist solely of him saving her. She’s almost hit by a car, she faints at the sight of blood, she’s almost raped (and so on and so forth), and her knight in shining armor rides in with impeccable timing and an annoyingly smug attitude. Throughout the entire series, he has the audacity to believe that he has the right to make decisions for her as long as he’s trying to protect her, going so far as to pay his sister to kidnap her for several days while he’s away because he doesn’t think that she can survive a weekend without him looking over her shoulder. And of course he’s a better driver than she is, because where would a piece of sexist propaganda be without that stereotype?

Although there is no excuse for Edward claiming to love Bella while he clearly doesn’t respect her, Bella is not the easiest character to respect. She essentially has zero personality; she doesn’t think about anything besides Edward and, later, Jacob. She has no hobbies, no interests, no mannerisms besides being clumsy, and no goals besides being with Edward for the rest of her life. She claims to be an independent person, and yet she would sacrifice her identity and humanity in a heartbeat for a man who emotionally abuses her. And although they occasionally bicker, Bella’s never truly angry with Edward when he takes it upon himself to control her life. She even allows him to manipulate her into marrying him, against which she was originally vehemently opposed.

« Read the rest of this entry »

Things to Consider…

October 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

by PHOEBE

  • 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.

NYC High School Students…

September 24, 2010 § Leave a comment

by MIRANDA

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.

A Review: AlcoholEdu and Sexual Assault

September 3, 2010 § 1 Comment

by MIRANDA

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”?

And this:

Rate how much you agree, on a scale from 0 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree):

  1. Women should take responsibility for avoiding sexual assault by drinking less alcohol
  2. 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
  3. A person who was sexually assaulted should never be blamed for what happened
  4. A person who forces himself sexually on another person should always be blamed for what happened
  5. Many cases of so-called “acquaintance rape” are nothing more than an unfortunate misunderstanding between two people
  6. Without exception a person who forces himself sexually on another person should face legal consequences
  7. 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.

Determining Consent

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.

Jezebel: Still Not Progressive

September 1, 2010 § 1 Comment

by KATIE E.

Nope. Unless your idea of busting the kyriarchy involves heteronormative, classist, ageist, woman and sexuality shaming, pro-rape bullshit.

Overall, the entire piece fails due to its insistence that the only “real virginity” is man’s penis into women’s vagina. It makes no reference at all that might not be true for people who are trans,  non-gender binary conforming, bi/pan/asexual, lesbian, gay, and/or queer identified. Plus, it effectively erases people who simply choose not to have PIV sex, or don’t want to count it as “losing their virginity” due to rape/assault/other trauma, or the belief that oral/anal/something else was their “first time.” And what about people who can’t or can’t comfortably have PIV sex due to sexual dysfunction or a similar condition?

None of these people exist in Jezebel-land.

You know who else is apparently a figment of my silly feminist imagination? Twenty something virgins. Instead of respecting the fact that someone couldn’t or didn’t want to do it before they hit 21, let’s talk down to them and insist they need a “a solid core of female friends to guide you through the first-time sex experience” or “Get out of town. Preferably Paris, France. Pick an attractive, mysterious European stranger who doesn’t speak a word of English and is totally inappropriate for your real life, but perfect for this occasion.” You know, I really have no problem with one-time sex with someone you don’t know, even if it’s your first sexual experience. Nothing wrong with that. But doesn’t the idea of picking someone who can’t understand the language you speak scream with consent issues and sound a little like rape? Or actually, sound exactly like rape because that’s what it is?

Besides, how many twenty-somethings (or anybody, really) can afford random European vacations? Not a whole lot, yet the piece  normalizes it and doesn’t offer solutions for the many people who can’t do it.

The entire piece just perpetuates the culture of  shaming women for not having their first sexual experience go a certain way, something that conservatives are regularly called out on. Jezebel would refuse to publish a piece telling women the best way to have first-time sex is after the wedding, but they are fine telling women they need to have a party or be drunk. While their isn’t a huge culture of shame forcing their advice, it’s still the same concept: telling women they don’t know how to handle their own sexuality. It’s time that all of us-conservative, progressive, or somewhere in between-trust women enough to know if, when, and how their first sexual experience will take place.

This Lady, Right Here

August 26, 2010 § 1 Comment

by MIRANDA

Remember this epic fail of an article from back in April, in which Newsweek posited that young voters, women in particular, are “lukewarm” on pro-choice politics and think abortion rights “don’t need defending”?

Ugh. If you’d forgotten, I’m sorry to bring it up.

The article relies heavily on commentary from Nancy Keenan, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. To be fair, there are not many direct quotes from her, but there are monumentally disheartening paragraphs like this:

NARAL president Nancy Keenan had grown fearful about the future of her movement even before the health-care debate. Keenan considers herself part of the “postmenopausal militia,” a generation of baby-boomer activists now well into their 50s who grew up in an era of backroom abortions and fought passionately for legalization. Today they still run the major abortion-rights groups, including NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and the National Organization for Women.

Ahem. Emphasis on the “they still run.” Young women, and particularly young women of color, are systematically kept out of the boardroom and away from leadership positions in non-profit and advocacy groups. Latifa Lyles’ campaign for president of NOW is a perfect example of this. Notes from the campaign in June 2009:

Both contenders [Latifa Lyles and Terry O'Neill] expect the election to be close, and both are promoting themselves as best able to bolster NOW’s membership.

“We are not the strongest grass-roots movement we can be — we both agree on that,” Lyles said. “The question is how we deal with that.”

Noting that she contrasts with NOW’s mostly white and over-40 membership, Lyles said she could help give NOW a new image of youth and diversity that would appeal to younger feminists and reinvigorate the broader movement.

“The profile of NOW is just as important as the work we do,” she said. “There are a lot of antiquated notions about what feminism is.”

Lyles, a 33-year-old black vice president of the organization, was edged out by 56-year-old white activist Terry O’Neill, despite an enthusiastic endorsement by NOW’s then-president Kim Gandy. Qualified, passionate, well-recommended… but not elected. Clearly it’s not for lack of interest that young women aren’t running the pro-choice show.

Back to Keenan and NARAL.

These leaders will retire in a decade or so. And what worries Keenan is that she just doesn’t see a passion among the post-Roe generation — at least, not among those on her side.

THIS SHIT IS OUTRAGEOUS. MY PRO-CHOICE GIRLS GOT PASSION RUNNING OUT THEIR EARS. For me, the cherry on top is that I have been volunteering at NARAL Pro-Choice New York, the state affiliate of the national NARAL, for years.

I just don’t know what we have to do to be seen and heard. Online activism isn’t taken seriously, apparently — even though groups like NARAL certainly rely on blogs and social networking sites to get the word out. But it seems that the hundreds of hours of in-person volunteer work that this lady, right here has contributed — collecting petition signatures for the Reproductive Health Act, calling voters in support of pro-choice candidates, distributing condoms and information about emergency contraception, blah blah blah — aren’t taken seriously either.

Jessica Valenti was so fucking right on when she wrote of this debacle last summer:

Who do you think has been making your photocopies and volunteering and organizing for these big organizations all of these years?

The work of the mainstream pro-choice movement is built on younger women’s labor — unpaid and underpaid — who do the majority of the grunt work but who are rarely recognized. And I don’t know about you — but I’m sick of working so hard on behalf of a movement that continues to insist that we don’t exist.

Where would NARAL Pro-Choice America or NOW be without the work done by younger women?

Who would do their outreach? Who would volunteer? Who would take unpaid internships? Who would carry their action items on blogs and forward them by email, Facebook and Twitter? Who would Blog for Choice?

Seriously, what would happen if young women decided they had enough of being ignored and started simply decided to stop working for these organizations? Even if for a month young women boycotted the organizations that refuse to acknowledge their hard work — the movement would fall on its ass.

And there’s the rub — young women don’t want to forsake this movement. We don’t want to let it crumble to the side of the road, because control over our own bodies is infinitely more important than “postmenopausal militia” doubt about our commitment. Dropping out of the race is counterproductive. We’re still running, we’re still working damn fucking hard, no matter what any president says.

Check out all the other entries in the THIS IS WHAT A YOUNG FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE blog carnival over at Fair and Feminist.

Edited for clarity on August 27.

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