Archive for November, 2010

Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton (SAVE), a collection of groups working to fight sexual assault in Edmonton, Canada announced Friday the creation of the “Don’t Be That Guy” Campaign. The title sounds strange, but the campaign itself is definitely worth looking at.

The ads, which are supposed to target males between the ages of 18 and 24, will be posted in print, on buses, and in urinals in bars. There will be three different ads, and their messages read as follows:

“Just because you help her home … doesn’t mean you get to help yourself.”

“Just because she isn’t saying no … doesn’t mean she’s saying yes.” (This features an image of a woman passed out on a couch.)

“Just because she’s drunk doesn’t mean she wants to f***.”

The messages were chosen after testing among focus groups showed that the messages clearly resonated with young men. The Edmonton police reports that over half of the sexual assault cases it dealt with last year had alcohol as a factor.

The linked article mentions a study in the UK that showed that 48% of men ages 18 to 25 who were polled did not consider it rape if the woman was too drunk to know what was happening. I find that to be incredibly scary–and it makes me think that these ads are not only useful, but necessary. There is often a lot of talk about the ambiguous line of who is to blame for rape when the girl chooses to drink enough to become intoxicated, and these discussions, when respectful, can be interesting and important to have–but it is still important to remember that a woman who is passed out or drunk beyond cognizance cannot give consent. Rather than dealing with this blame game after the fact, this ad campaign is trying to prevent rape from happening by reminding men that consent is still consent, and that even if you can take advantage of a drunk person, you should choose not to.

There are a lot of campaigns out there targeting women and urging them to be uber-cautious when going out with men–and there are people who finds these campaigns to be excessive and dismissive of women’s sexual desires and choices. Personally, I think there’s nothing wrong with reminding women to be careful when they go out, and to make sure that they’re safe–it’s just smart. Telling women to be careful is not equivalent to telling them not to have sex; it is simply telling them to look out for themselves.

That being said, I think this campaign is important because it moves beyond simply encouraging women to look out for themselves and turns to men, the people being accused of rape, and reminds them that consent from women who are unconscious or extremely drunk is not actually consent. It targets them (hopefully) preemptively–and therefore can hopefully lead to a change in the mindset of men who once thought it would be okay to take advantage of an incredibly drunk woman. In order to prevent rape, both women and men need to be aware of how it happens and try to prevent it through their personal actions.


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Happy Thanksgiving!

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to say Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

While Thanksgiving is not a Jewish holiday (there’s an argument among rabbis on whether Jews should even observe it—the majority say we can, since it’s a secular holiday), it’s a significant day here in the United States, even if that just means people eat a lot today. Which it often does.

But, there are a lot of other things that happen on Thanksgiving, too. Like families coming together, and cooking together, and seeing people they haven’t seen all year. So, enjoy whatever tradition you do, and, even though this is kind of trite by now, spend a few minutes thinking about what you’re thankful for. There are a lot of things that are wrong with the world, and this blog ends up being a place to write about a lot of them, but even though discussing issues is important, it’s also important to step back and think about the good that we have in our lives. Personally, I’m thankful for a lot of things, including the fact that unlike many people, I have an abundance of food sitting in my refrigerator today, waiting to be eaten. But even regarding this blog I have things to be thankful for. I’m thankful to be privileged enough to be able to write about gender issues instead of living through most of them. I’m also thankful to have family and friends that support me in all of my endeavors (even those that fail), especially this blog.

So, Happy Thanksgiving!

PS: This is somewhat unrelated to the rest of the post, but I wanted to put it out there anyways. Today is a holiday revolving mainly around food, turkey in particular, and many people believe that without the turkey, Thanksgiving could not be Thanksgiving. However, I wanted to take a cue from Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals and say that we should choose what we want holidays to symbolize. Thanksgiving does not have to just be about turkey—we can create our own customs and personalize the holiday the way we want to. There is a cruel and harmful meat industry out there, one that is not necessarily the best thing to support on a holiday about giving thanks for the good in the world. Not having a turkey on Thanksgiving does not have to seem like something is being omitted—it can serve as a starting point for conversation, for talking about how we want to live our lives in a compassionate and caring way. Millions of turkeys do not have to be killed in order for us to enjoy Thanksgiving; Thanksgiving can be a day for creating personal customs, customs that are more aligned with what we believe and want to teach others. So, even if you’re not a vegetarian and not interested in becoming one, I’d say take time today to think about the food you’re eating, and talk to the people around your table it. Foer talks a lot about how we become attached to food because of the stories we attach to them; changing our eating habits does not have to get rid of these stories, but rather can serve as a chance to create new ones.

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I just wanted to share this video, Advice for Young Girls from a Cartoon Princess: The Little Mermaid. It’s incredibly funny and sarcastic, and touches on all the absurd things that Disney princesses are essentially preaching at small children. Now, I personally find Disney movies to be fun and enjoyable–who doesn’t enjoy it when people break out in song? However, I do think it’s interesting/important to think about the messages that Disney movies are actually sending. Even thought about Aladdin’s orientalist undertones? Or the fact that it’s completely forgivable for the male characters to be ugly (the Beast), but never the female ones? Yeah.

Some gems:

“Don’t ever talk to a man until he kisses you on the lips first. Then, as a woman, you’re allowed.”

“If you have a father that loves you, run away from him!”

“Never be comfortable in the body that you’re given. If you don’t like how you look–snip, snip, nothing wrong with that! I’m an ordinary human instead of being a beautiful princess mermaid, and I love that.

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A friend of mine sent me this article, a question and answer session with Kelly Valen, author of the new book Twisted Sisterhood: Unraveling the Dark Legacy of Female Friendships about female friendship, based on a survey completely by more than 3,000 women across the country. What interested me more than her actual book, however, was the story behind the book: the article links to a New York Times article back in 2007 that was supposedly her inspiration for creating the survey called “My Sorority Pledge? I Swore off Sisterhood.” It’s sad and somewhat disturbing: the author describes joining a sorority and being encouraged to lose her virginity, losing her virginity through the process of what was essentially public rape, and then being shunned by her sorority sisters until eventually being forced to leave. Because of this traumatic experience, she found herself avoiding female friendship at all costs, but having no problem with men, as the boy who raped her apologized and his frat brothers made his life miserable. The author lived her life this way, void of female friendship, until finally, one day, she ran into one of her ex-sorority sisters in a store and was faced with a smiling, friendly woman who wanted to laugh at the past as friends–and all of the anxiety, shame, and anger she felt at 18 came rushing back. While she had moved on with her life and become a lawyer, gotten married, and had children, the memory still hurt her, and forced her to think once again about cruelty among females, and inspiring her book.

Now, I find the article to be disturbing for a few reasons. First, the seemingly offhanded way that the author deals with what was really rape—she says that the offender apologized and the blame was put on him, and so she moves on, rather than attributing any of her shame to him rather than to the women around her. (And there is very little condemnation of “Ledge Parties,” the frat ritual of having public sex with an unknowing girl). More importantly, I think, is this: the fact that her story is real is disturbing in its sadness. It upsets me greatly that women do these cruel things to one another, or really, that anyone does these cruel things to one another. I’m part of the generation that grew up watching “Mean Girls,” I know, but it still gets to me (read it–how can it not?)

Besides simply caring about other women and their friendships, as I’ve blogged about before, I think a lot of my initial visceral disgust at reading about what happened to the author comes from the fact that it is so foreign to my own life. While for most of my life I’ve considered myself a “boy’s girl,” preferring to have male friends than female, I recently have come to terms with the fact that I have a group of very close female friends without whom my life would be completely different–for the worse. My grade in school went on a trip this weekend that ended up being emotionally trying and tumultuous, with half of the people there, especially the females, crying and revealing personal and intimate details about their lives (it sounds a little weird/cliche in retrospect, but so do a lot of things, after all.) After the weekend was over, I came home and realized that unlike a lot of the people there, my friends and I had, and really always do, have each other to turn to for anything and everything, from advice about boys to people to discuss politics with to people to hold our hands when we need someone–and for that we are incredibly lucky.

At the same time, however, I do know that for a lot of women and girls, what the author describes is a reality; perhaps not necessarily involving the same gruesome details, but definitely involving the same feelings of isolation, loneliness, and anxiety. Women can be incredibly cruel to one another. But a part of me, and this is just my own personal instinct, feels uncomfortable simply saying that women can be cruel–people are cruel. Men hurt women, and women hurt women, and men hurt men, and women hurt men; to me, at least, it seems that the author was particularly hurt by the women because they were the people she expected support from–not necessarily because they were women. It seems that what hurts the most, more than female gossip or exclusion, is betrayal by the people you consider your friends. I’m not trying to argue with the author (she’s gotten a lot of negative feedback from a lot of people, and her pain is certainly legitimate); I’m simply putting it out there that instead of emphasizing how we can become better girls, perhaps we should focus on how to be better friends–that rather than talking about “Mean Girls,” we should talk about fake friends and backstabbing, and teach children of both genders the importance of loyalty and trust.

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In a way, I think I’m lucky to be writing about “Living the Legacy” as a student. It’s a new free online curriculum created by the Jewish Women’s Archive to explore the role of American Jews in the Civil Rights Movement, including both the men that are usually studied and women who are sometimes overlooked in order to create a “gender inclusive history.” Looking through the website, the lesson plans and teaching strategies look completely familiar to me: jigsaw discussion groups, a mix of Jewish and secular primary sources, and use of technology to enhance learning, among other elements. Having attended a Jewish day school for my whole life, “Living the Legacy” seems to me to be another unit in Jewish history class.

Not that that should belittle it in any way–I think that “Living the Legacy” is an incredibly rich, thorough resource, and one that teachers, especially in schools like mine, should consider taking advantage of. It is clear that Rosenbaum put immense effort into the planning of lessons, as she has succeeded at creating a diverse curriculum that encourages analytical thinking rather than portraying Jews as consistently benevolent and without fault.

Take Unit 3, Lesson 2: Growing tensions I: Black-Jewish Relations, about the tensions that began to sprout with the inception of the Black Power movement as many whites, and therefore Jews, were forced to leave many civil rights organizations, and Jews accused blacks of anti-Semitism and began to resent affirmative action, for example. The lesson plan starts out with a discussion about the similarities and differences between black slavery and Jewish slavery in Egypt. Next, groups of students in the class are assigned primary sources to read and discuss, followed by a class discussion about the similarities and differences between Jewish and black involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. Following this, the class watches a clip from PBS’ Jewish Americans about slavery, immigration, the Ocean Hill/Brownsville school boycott, and Julius Lester’s radio show, and then discuss a long list of questions. Finally, the lesson concludes with students participating in a poetry slam. Ignoring the fact that this seems to be a lesson plan long enough for three classes, what I like about this lesson is the fact that it encourages students to empathize with both Jewish and black people rather than simply Jews.

I guess what I like best about “Living the Legacy” is that even after attending a Jewish school for 13 years, I’ve never really spent time studying specifically Jewish and black relations, so this is a topic that I can honestly say I’d be interested in learning about. Which I think is a good sign, seeing as the curriculum is aimed at students in grades 8-12. Overall, I’d say that “Living the Legacy” is definitely worth exploring, even if you’re not an educator or student, because of the vast quantity of primary and secondary sources it has on file and the thought-provoking questions it raises. And, of course, the fact that it brings up a lot of female figures who are sometimes overlooked in other curricula.

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Get Out and Vote!

I know, I know, second post in one day, but this isn’t really a post. All it is is this: Go out and vote!

Voting matters–this is an important election (aren’t they all, really?) and you have a chance to shape the leadership of this country. Take advantage of that opportunity!

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In my English class in school, we’re currently reading Interpreter of Maladies, a collection of short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri. The first is about a couple and the growing distance between them after the wife gives birth to a stillborn child. It’s beautiful, and incredibly sad, and I, as I am prone to do, began to cry as I read the husband’s confession that while his wife was asleep, he had held his son in the hospital, something his wife had never gotten or expected him to do, and that pained them both immensely.

When I told my English class the next day that I had cried during that passage, everyone laughed–I’m known to cry a lot. And then one of my friends, joking, asked me how I could care so much about a dead baby if I’m so pro-choice–and I realized it’s something worth talking about because many people see the two as mutually exclusive, even if not my friend.

When I heard his question, I immediately thought of this quote that I had read in a pamphlet created by the National Abortion Rights Action League called Why I Provide Abortions by Dr. Liz Karlin. She said “Women have abortions because they have a sense of what it is to be a good mother.” To me, that quote really strikes a chord in that it exemplifies how an abortion is not simply a selfish act on the part of the woman, but an act based on her idea that she is not ready to be the mother, and does not want to bring a child into the world without the kind of mother he or she deserves. A woman who has an abortion knows that the baby she would have would becoming at the wrong time or in the wrong place or from the wrong person, and does not feel right about giving life to something under those conditions.

And yet hearing about a dead baby makes me cry. Why? Because babies that are wanted are beautiful things–they light up a couple’s life, provide infinite fulfillment (and fights and struggles and other tasks of parenthood), and, simply, bring life to this world. The loss of a wanted baby is, to me, one of the saddest things in the world, as it is a loss of a being who, before even being born has been the object of so much love, care, and attention–it is tragic, and deserves to be cried about.

I guess what the dichotomy comes down to for me is my faith in trusting women to decide for themselves if they’re ready to be mothers or not. Women who get abortions don’t take take the decision lightly, as they shouldn’t–but it’s important that they, as women, be able to make the decision based on where they see, or don’t see, parenthood fitting into their lives. An unwanted baby is a tragic thing, too.

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