While the constant battles over reproductive rights might bring us down, let this SNL clip brighten your day. Condoms rock. -Jen Kaltveit
While the constant battles over reproductive rights might bring us down, let this SNL clip brighten your day. Condoms rock. -Jen Kaltveit
There’s a great article up at The Guardian right now about sex workers and the idea that when a man is patronizing a sex worker he is “buying her”. The article points out that in fact many people use their bodies for their work, but that we don’t consider them to be selling themselves. Similarly, it argues that we should accept that sex workers may use their bodies for their work, but that is not inherently demeaning, nor does it mean that they themselves are being bought and sold.
I personally find the topic of sex work to be a difficult one. I often find it hard to understand how a woman could allow someone to buy sex from her without feeling as if she is demeaned or as if her body is objectified, and those are both things that I aim to stop (demeaning and objectification of women). However I also realize that many women within the sex industry have used the only means available to them to be able to retain financial independence, and that some women find it empowering or practical. This article is a good reminder of the positives of sex work, which are often forgotten amidst guttural reactions against the business. I don’t want to advance any position about the inherent goodness or badness of sex work here, but I hope this article might open up some discussions. How can we challenge our stereotypes of sex workers? Is it empowering to be able to control your own future, or is it demeaning to sell your body? Should we be working to end prostitution? Should prostitution be illegal? I’d love to hear thoughts in comments.
"GOP Vows Congressional Action to Overturn Obama Administration Decision on Birth Control"
Republicans vowed Wednesday to reverse President Barack Obama's new policy on birth control, lambasting the rule that religious schools and hospitals must provide contraceptive coverage for their employees as an "unambiguous attack on religious freedom in our country." For the full story visit StarTribune
"Score One For Marriage Rights - Federal Court Strikes Down Prop 8"
The Ninth Circuit Court recently ruled Proposition 8- which made same-sex marriage illegal- as unconstitutional. One more step towards marriage equality. Read more on the Ms. Magazine Blog
"Federal Judge Says He Can't Block Texas Sonogram Law, Says Higher Court Forced Ruling"
On Monday, a Federal judge upheld the Texas law requiring women to have a sonogram before having an abortion. The law requires doctors to show women images from sonograms, play fetal heartbeats and describe the features of the fetus at least 24 hours before the operation. Find the full story at the StarTribune
"Komen Foundation Struggle to Lure Back Donors"
After announcing that it would withdraw funding from Planned Parenthood screening programs last week, and then reversing the decision, the foundation is now left with the challenge of restoring its image and gaining back much needed supporters and donors. Check out the story on MPR News
"Still Fighting for Women in Combat"
The Department of Defense recently released a statement recommending that women be allowed to serve closer to the front lines yet still advises that women be barred from ground combat. For the full story visit Ms. Magazine Blog
Did you know waffle is slang for vagina? Interesting. I never would have thought of a vagina while eating waffles. It's quite nonsensical as slang terms go; which is fitting because the newest "STD" on the radar is equally nonsensical. Information about "blue waffle disease" has apparently been circulating around the internet since 2010 - but I just caught wind of it this weekend by reading an article from the Women's Health Foundation.
What, might you ask, is "blue waffle disease"? I thought the best definition was on UrbanDictionary.com, but essentially it is a (FAKE) STD which can only be passed from females to males, manifests mainly through blue bruises on the vulva, and is a result of bad vaginal hygiene. It is also worth noting that most people who believe this disease is real are pre-teens or teenagers who are seeking sexual health information from illegitimate internet websites like this one or this one.
When I originally read the article I was concerned about misinformation and the pitfalls of sex education in America. I wasn't overly concerned with the misogynistic or patriarchal implications of this fabricated disease. Misogyny and patriarchy were present (one day everyone will understand vaginas are not dirty) but the ever present "dirty vagina" idea was less a concern for me than the fact that kids across the country actually believe in this STD. That was until I started my own mini-research on blue waffle disease and realized the whole STD is apparently an excuse to put women in their place sexually while simultaneously getting them to emulate what I will call the "vagina of the patriarchy".
The vagina of the patriarchy is white, hairless, perfectly symmetrical, doesn't have any discharge, and exists for the purpose of heterosexual intercourse - but not too much heterosexual intercourse. Oh, and let's not forget about the tones of slut shaming and sexual violence present in the "information" about this disease. Here are some samples (and those typos are not my own):
"The disease is typically observed in prostitutes and whores who indulge in activities of Unsafe sex, who use of sex toys and prostitution are the main cause of disease."
"Blue waffle is a vaginal abnormality caused by severe beatings at the hand of the man-stick, excessive ferocious poundings can results in grotesque flap growth resembling a waffly versatile potato waffle but also taking on a bluey-green colour. Often covered in sweaty fur as a result of the skanky mess who owns the vagina being crap at personal hygene.. mingers."
Because whoever wrote the first quote is likely an ignorant moron let's assume they are talking about street prostitution - not one of the many other types of prostitution (i.e. call girls). See, women who practice street prostitution do not indulge in unsafe sex. Usually, they are forced either economically or physically to engage in prostitution. It is not a choice or a reflection of their character but a method of survival. Oh, and fun fact: female street prostitutes are disproportionately of "lower" socioeconomic statuses. But the men who visit them typically represent every socioeconomic status. Hmmm....street prostitutes wouldn't be "indulging" if there was no one to do it with. Perhaps the problem is not with the supplier but with the demand.
Now on to the second quote, which is slightly more disturbing and problematic because of it's blatant promotion of violence against women. Apparently "severe beatings at the hand of the man-stick" and "excessive ferocious poundings" is code for sex. In reality, if your vagina is getting "beat by a man-stick" it's probably sexual assault. But in this quote, instead of offering the sexual assault survivor aid, they continue on to blame them for being a whore and allowing all those men to give them blue waffle disease. Funny how the men are inflicting the pain and disease here but the woman is getting blamed.
One purpose of these examples is to define female sexuality in negative terms: good women do not have multiple sex partners, they do not use sex toys, and they do not have hair on their vulva. The other purpose is to frighten women into behaving according to these narrow patriarchal standards. The second quote blatantly describes sexual violence and effectively blames women for its repercussions.
So, what I originally thought was just a bad case of some idiot making up a disease and misinforming a bunch of teenagers actually turns out to be a huge hurdle in regards to sexual violence and positive female sexuality. You know what a thirteen year old girl will think if she comes across this "information"? Hint: it's not going to be a complex analysis of patriarchal definitions of sexuality and incidences of sexual violence.
So spread the word - let's defeat "blue waffle disease" in all it's patriarchal glory. -Jen Kaltveit, Hamline University
Jezebel has an interesting article up that gives some of the stats on why teen moms didn’t use birth control: as expected, many of the reasons are pretty atrocious and seem to stem from bad sex ed and harmful attitudes about sex. #1 is that they didn’t think they could get pregnant. Read that again. The #1 reason that teen girls get pregnant while not using birth control is because they think they can’t get pregnant. Girls deserve access to full information about their bodies and their lives so that they can make informed choices about how to treat their bodies and take care of themselves. This information illustrates that we owe more to our young people. But what took me aback even more was the fact that a quarter of teen mothers got pregnant simply because their partner didn’t want to use a condom. This is a hugely important issue: we should be teaching our young women that they can say no if their partner treats them in a way in which they feel uncomfortable, and that they shouldn’t risk their own health for the sake of someone else’s brief pleasure. More than that, we should be teaching young men that they are also responsible for birth control. Yes, the female has to bear the brunt of the repercussions, but that does not mean that she should exclusively be responsible for making sure she doesn’t get pregnant. Sex is a joint effort, and safety in sex should be a joint effort as well. This study illustrates clearly that we need to adjust the way we tell our young people about sex: clearly they’re not understanding the concept of mutual respect, or even the basic way their bodies function.
"Pregnancy Centers Come Under Fire for Abortion Info"
NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota released a report this week which chronicled the types of information given to women who seek help at crisis pregnancy centers. Get the full story from the Star Tribune.
"Birth Control for Men?"
Ms. Magazine's blog takes another look at what new birth control methods developed for men might look like. For the full story see the Ms. Magazine Blog.
"Duluth Joins Campaign to Defeat the Marriage Amendment"
The Duluth City Council just announced they voted to formally oppose the Marriage Amendment which will appear on the ballot in November. Check out MNUnited.org or the Duluth News Tribune for more information.
"Taboos Undercut Nepal's Marital Rape Law"
Some women in Nepal are trying to figure out how to handle marital rape and domestic violence. Get the full story at WomensENews.org.
"Pittsburgh's Milk Truck Breaks for Nursing Moms"
A new organization is blooming in Pittsburgh. Figure out why it might soon be easier to breastfeed on the streets from WomensENews.
The legislative session of 2011 was fraught with ridiculous attacks on reproductive rights. Limiting access to abortion is a hot issue right now - and abstinence only education is (and likely will be for the foreseeable future) a problem in regards to how people are educated about sex.
When you feel so strongly about an issue it can be difficult to see clearly when people constantly attack it. Reproductive rights are such an intense topic for everyone because they are so personal. I cannot imagine someone telling me I can't have access to birth control or adequate information about sex. And those who are not so liberal as I can't imagine talking about such a holy and personal topic as sexuality in the public realm. Personal, right? This issue goes right to the core of almost everyone's personal behavior and identities. It makes sense for people to be so passionate.
But with passion comes problems. Problems like not looking at an issue from all sides. Problems like not considering several opinions and understanding (though not necessarily agreeing) with opposing viewpoints. Some people struggle to maintain a logical standpoint and argument to back up that standpoint. And here's the thing - lately I see my pro-choice comrades falling into that "passion trap". We're under attack - and it doesn't just feel like our ideas are being attacked - it feels like our bodies and our reproductive freedom is being attacked. It's quite the unpleasant situation. I understand why people feel the need to protect reproductive rights more than ever before - it's scary to think some of the bills being proposed could become law (remember the Personhood Amendment?) but that is no excuse to become narrow minded, even if it is on the pro-choice side of things.
It started in the blogs I read, then it showed up in my classes, and now it's appearing in pop-culture analysis. It's an intense attitude of disdain for women who exercise their right to choose. The women who are scorned (whether real or characters in a book, TV show, or movie) either become pregnant and decide to have the baby or decide to opt for a birth control method like Natural Family Planning. And they are scorned implicity or explicity for not having an abortion or not using birth control. See, I was under the impression pro-choice was about having access to the choice. Being able to have an abortion safely and using birth control or not having an abortion and using (for lack of a better word) "natural" methods of birth control. As pro-choicers we CANNOT scorn those women who do not make the choices we would have made. Pro-choice should not end at access to birth control and safe abortion. It needs to include resources for women and men who choose to remain pregnant or practice Natural Family Planning.
It is narrow minded, and frankly, detrimental to the fight for reproductive rights to scorn women and men who do not use birth control or abortion. What everyone does with their body is their business. We need to recognize that the pro-choice movement could fall into a narrow minded, birth control filled black hole. We need to stand strong and form bonds with those who believe in personal freedom - but perhaps don't make the same choices in regards to their person as you would. We need to be the real embodiment of pro-choice. -Jen Kaltveit, Hamline University
Been keeping busy enjoying winter break? Here are some snippets you might have missed while you were busy watching bad reality TV and enjoying the lack of homework:
"Employed Students Workload Puts Studies at Risk"
Women are attending college in record numbers and in Minnesota students are working more than ever before to help finance their education. Check out how college students are doing double duty - work and school - in this MPR article.
"Why There's No Such Thing as 'Reverse Racism'"
Our society still struggles with institutions that support domination and discrimination. For an excellent analysis of power structures in society definitely check out this article on Daily Kos.
"Yet Another Huge Comprehensive Study Finds that Abortion Doesn't Cause Mental Health Problems"
While reproductive rights were vehemently attacked in the last legislative session, we can rest assured that legitimate research is on our side. Ms. Magazine Blog reports on a new study regarding the long term effects of abortion.
"Bachmann Ends White House Bid"
After the Iowa caucus earlier this week Rep. Michele Bachmann formally announced the end of her presidential campaign. For more details check out the full article.
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month
Last weekend (November 4-5) I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to attend the Midwest Feminist Conference in Iowa City, Iowa. After a five hour drive on Friday afternoon, I and two other lovely Hamline students arrived just in time to hear the keynote speaker - Feministing.com's very own Courtney Martin.
The talk was based on Martin's latest book: Do it Anyway: The New Generation of Activists. I have to say, after this semester - in which I feel as though I have literally discussed every social problem on Earth - it was extraordinarily refreshing to have someone tell me that saving the world is an overwhelming and unrealistic goal. Martin profiled several activists who do fabulous, beneficial work close to home and built upon their own lived experiences. The take home message seemed to be: do what you love, and do what benefits others and yourself. The talk was most inspiring and I cannot wait to read the book it was based upon.
On Saturday I was psyched - empowered with the knowledge that I was not a bad person if I failed to find a solution to all the world's problems - I prepared to attend a series of workshops on various topics. While all the workshops were beneficial, two in particular stuck out to me. So, instead of boring you with summaries of all (even if I did think they were awesome), I shall discuss my two of choice.
First, Moving through Issues between Trans and Feminist Communities (presented by stef shuster) lead to one of the most intense, and headache inducing discussions I have ever been a part of. It was not headache inducing in a bad way, but in a "how are we ever going to get through this?" way. While posed as dealing with specifically feminist and trans communities, this workshop lead to a discussion about gender pronouns, micro-aggressions, and assumptions about gender. A handful of individuals carried the discussion and I did not contribute at all, but rather chose to listen. I was definitely out of my depth in this workshop - primarily because of my lack of knowledge about the culture of the Trans community. How would I have contributed to a discussion about Trans issues when all I know is what I have learned in a sociology class? Another problem was I did not particularly agree with one ideology, which was a theme throughout the discussion - the idea that you should never assume a person is a certain gender. Essentially, what people were saying is because some people do not identify as a man or woman, it is micro-aggressive to make assumptions about someone's gender.
Now, to be clear, everyone has the right to identify as any gender they please, and I will gladly respect and support anyone's choice to do so. But, I think it is important to note that never assuming someone is a man or woman requires a complete tear down of the current gender system. THAT IS A REALLY BIG PROJECT. I do not know how to approach this issue - do I want the current gender system to stay? Do I want it to go? Am a prepared to take sides? How can I be an ally to people who do not identify within the current gender system if there is no language for a new system? See the headache? It's coming back just thinking about it! And the thing that really got me was even the people who so adamantly carried the discussion had no solutions, or potential solutions, or starting points. Was this discussion illuminating and valuable? Absolutely. But I wish I knew where to go from there.
The second workshop that stuck out to me was The Year of the Uterus. Fabulous name, yes? This workshop focused on all recently passed and currently proposed legislation in regards to reproductive rights. Overall, it was a good, informative presentation. But the part that stuck out to me most happened while information on later term abortion (often referred to as "partial birth") was being presented. I was unfamiliar with the procedure for later term abortion, having only received any information about it in a pro-life religion class, so I raised my hand and asked what the procedure entailed. The response was totally alarming. No one knew. Not one of the presenters had an answer until an audience member offered, "It’s similar to dilation and extraction." That was the extent of the answer I was given.
This concerns me because the presenters were promoting later term abortion and they could not even explain what it was. That is a definite problem. As feminists, we are responsible for fighting for gender equality, but we need to be informed. We cannot just pick issues and promote them without deciding if we agree with the argument on a personal level. Feminists as a group are constantly fighting backlash and being uninformed just adds credence to ridiculous claims. We should not be afraid to refuse to support issues we do not agree with - what we need is informed, thoughtful participation is this wonderful movement we call feminism, not blind followers.
Overall, the conference was a valuable experience. Joining feminists my own age and watching other students present was awesome. There are times when I forget how many other feminists are out there and I began to despair, but gathering in Iowa City reminded me that there is a whole Midwest full of feminists! And, after seeing just the tip of what they have to offer I can tell we - us Midwest Feminists - are going to do awesome things. -Jen Kaltveit
On Tuesday, Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota’s (PPMNS) Board of Directors voted unanimously to oppose the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage that will go before Minnesota voters next year.
As you know, in May of this year the Minnesota House voted to place a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage on the 2012 ballot, even though Minnesota law already bans same-sex marriage. If voters approve the ballot measure, discriminatory language against same-sex couples will be enshrined into Minnesota’s Constitution.
Planned Parenthood works everyday to ensure the health and well-being of all Minnesotan families because we know that strong families are fundamental to strong communities. But, communities can only flourish when their members are treated equally with fairness and respect. We believe that people should be free to make life’s most profound choices about health care, childbearing and relationships – and that all people, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, have fundamental human rights that must be respected and responsibilities that must be exercised.
If you agree, consider writing a letter-to-the-editor (LTE) for your University or College paper saying so! Together we can spread the word that the majority of Minnesotans don’t approve of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and the legal recognition of same-sex couples.
LTEs are a quick and easy way to make your voice heard in your community. Want to write and LTE but not sure where to start? Write Sam at firstname.lastname@example.org and she would be happy to send you sample letters and talking points.
Together we can make a difference!
The Minnesota Women's Consortium is the largest statewide network of women's groups in the nation, currently serving 170 member organizations. The Consortium's purpose is to achieve equality and justice for all women and girls by connecting organizations and individuals that share that goal.