Tag Archives: Politics

The Evolving Electorate

The November 2012 election was a cacophonous backlash against the Republican War on Women. While 47,000 women annually around the world are dying from being denied abortions, Americans made it clear that politicians have no place playing doctor. Women and men across the United States let it be known that misogyny and religion have no place in politics–and cast their votes for (and against) some very influential people and laws.

The “Legitimate Rape” Republicans this year saddled the American people with an onslaught of outrageous policies like demanding proof that a disabled rape victim show evidence of physically fighting off her attacker. From suggesting women should be paid less, to not reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, to voter fraud, to flat-out denying abortions to raped women in war and raped women soldiers, to the party platform calling for a constitutional ban on abortion, to calling conception from rape a gift from God, to denying birth control on the basis of religion, to claiming breast milk “cures” homosexuality, to making it legal to kill abortion providers the GOP really went off the deep end. The joke has made its way around the internet since November 6th but it’s true: When someone says, “The rape guy lost,” and you have to ask, “Which one?” your party is in trouble.

Romney lost not only the debate to women but women cost him the election too. With the last House Democratic hold-out finally signing on to co-sponsor the Respect for Marriage Act in September, Dems were paving the way towards equality in the months leading up to the election. Their commitment to human rights, (including President Obama’s stated support for marriage equality campaigns in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington, with WA, ME and MD successfully voting for equality), reflects the fact that 51% of Americans support marriage equality. Obviously there’s a long way to go for full equality for the LGBTQAI community since it is still legal in 29 states to fire someone for being gay and legal in 34 states to fire someone on the basis of gender identity, but with 7 LGBT representatives in the 113th Congress at least some states are making progress.

This election was one of many firsts. Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin is the first openly gay (lesbian) Senator to be elected in US history. Another Tammy, newly elected Illinois Congressional Representative Democrat Tammy Duckworth, a mixed-race double amputee Iraqi War veteran helicopter pilot, has got to be a first as well. She easily triumphed over imbicil incumbent Joe “abortion is never necessary to safe a woman’s life” Walsh. Meanwhile in Arizona a shining spot of hope became reality when Democratic Representative Kyrsten Sinema was elected as the US’s first openly bisexual member of Congress. Other firsts include the first Asian-American woman (and Hawai’i’s first woman) Senator, Democrat Mazie Hirono, and North Dakota’s first woman Representative ever, Senate Democrat Heidi Heitkamp.

Perhaps most exciting is New Hampshire’s first– the first all-female delegation ever elected! Two female Representatives, two female Senators and America’s only female Democrat Governor make the Granite State one of the most progressive in the nation. New Hampshire serves as a sign of hope that eventually one day gender won’t matter in elections, or in life. But for now gender does matter, and women made up 53% of the electorate in this election, were elected to at least 77 Congressional seats and now serve in 20% of Senate seats– the most ever in US history. Here at Feminist Activism we’re also thrilled that Democrat Elizabeth Warren beat incumbent Republican Scott Brown to the Senate in Massachusetts and that Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill was re-elected and legitimately shut down Tea Party Republican Todd Akin.

As Emily’s List’s Impact Project shows, having Democratic women in office hugely affects the issues that are of most importance to constituents. It’s safe to say that a majority of women in the United States breathed a sigh of relief when Obama’s re-election was announced. Hopefully his Supreme Court Nominees will ensure that we don’t have to worry about Roe v. Wade being overturned in our lifetimes. And with the United Nations declaring access to contraception a universal human right, maybe the feminization of poverty that results from so many unplanned or unwanted pregnancies around the world will start to dwindle.

Despite some a lot of rampant sexism throughout the election season there were many shining moments for the advancement of gender equality as well, including the This Is Personal campaign Your Reproductive Health is No Joke and the You Don’t Own Me PSA. If you want to keep up pressure on our government and ensure that access to safe, legal and affordable birth control and abortion are protected, draw the line and sign the Center for Reproductive Rights’ Bill of Reproductive Rights, and tell President Obama to protect women’s reproductive health! Keep up the good fight voters, let’s have the next Democratic Convention in Denver!



What I Learned From DFA


I recently finished Democracy for America‘s online activist training “The War For Women” in the hopes of combatting current Republican efforts to undermine women’s rights in the United States. To see the series of events that set off the need for this training watch this depressing video and refer back to this blog. Even Al Jazeera is exploring America’s feverishly religious abortion debates. The training was entirely virtual (and entirely FREE–thanks DFA!) and took place once a week for an hour; because of the time difference this meant I tuned in from 3-4AM to participate but, as any good student will tell you, sleep deprivation is a small price to pay for knowledge. This highly interactive War For Women training consisted of six topics, each featuring experts in their respective fields and downloadable action kits full of ideas, links and practical information for activists wanting to get their hands dirty in the fight for justice. What follows is my take on each session.

1) Heath and Reproductive Rights
Inhabiting the same (albeit virtual) space as Cecile Richards (President of Planned Parenthood) was a little overwhelming. Her fervor and success in fighting for women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights is inspiring. The furor with which the religious right-wing is attacking women’s sexuality and bodily autonomy is terrifying, maddening and outrageous. Check out this timeline of reproductive justice that takes us up to October 2011 before the onslaught of War on Women legislation this year. Because of my extensive background in SRHR much of the factual information presented I was already familiar with, but the action ideas for fundraising house parties and creating more community dialogue and support for Reproductive Justice will be useful for even the most seasoned activist. Check out this session’s action kit here. Its 14 pages are full of useful ways to make sure women’s reproductive health and rights are not diminished by the government. Other downloadable tools for this topic include a Planned Parenthood Action Fund Toolkit, a WAW Volunteer Sign-up Sheet, an Obama/Romney Contrast graphic, and a WAW Pledge Card.

2) Victory Over Violence
Violence against women was one of the first topics as a young woman that enraged me, and consequently pushed me into feminism and activism. The highly successful and extremely established presenters of this session (Debbie Tucker, the Executive Director of The National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence and  Susan Celia Swan, the Executive Director of V-Day) likewise have devoted their lives to combating gender based violence in the US and around the world. A considerable portion of the presentation is devoted to getting trainees up to speed on the sickening recent delays in passing the Violence Against Women Act. The hands-on training is facilitated by Ruby Reid, DFA’s spectacular Online Training Organizer who also emcees the other five sessions. Reid takes activists, step-by-step, through the proper etiquette for successful lobbying of elected officials. Lobbying should always be the first action those wanting to make change take; when lobbying fails, however, there are a host of strategic nonviolent actions to fall back on. Reid and Tucker share best practices for contacting supportive/undecided/non-supportive legislators, a great To Do/Not To Do list for lobbying, and tips on organizing a successful (and media flooded) rally. There are useful tips in the training for men who want to take action against violence against women too! The Victory Over Violence action kit can be found here.

3) The Economic Gender Gap
The feminization of poverty happens all around the world and in the United States the issue of equal work for equal pay is somehow still contentious. Host of The War Room, former Governor of Michigan Jennifer Granholm ties the whole War For Women together in a four-and-a-half minute video explaining how the underrepresentation of women in politics and science, and how injustice in reproductive health all affect women’s earning power and thus the economy of the United States. Shockingly, if all women in the US were paid equally it would add $523,900,000,000 to the consumer economy!  This session gives lots of other surprising and outrageous information about how unequal pay affects women’s lives, but the focus of the action-training is on branding. The “friendraiser” Jennifer Daniels, an expert in messaging, takes us through how to craft an effective narrative that addresses issues that affect you. The detailed and useful information here builds on the lobbying training from the second session and comes into play again in the fourth session. Here is the 13-page action kit for the Economic Gender Gap which includes an extremely useful tool for any strategic nonviolent activist: Creating a message that resonates.

4) Women and the Media
Used in conjunction with previous subjects like how to craft an effective narrative and how to be successful in lobbying (and because of the overwhelming importance of media coverage and access and how few women are represented in the decision-making processes of media,) this training may be the most important. The trailer for the 2011 documentary Miss Representation opens this session and a short analysis of how representations of women in the media affect everyone’s ideas of what women can and should be follows. MSNBC Analyst Karen Finney leads a discussion of how women can be seen as authority figures and effective leaders in the media across the spectrum of topics. She also addresses the fact that a woman has not anchored a presidential debate in the past 20 years. Since the training took place it was announced that CNN anchor Candy Crowley will moderate a town hall-style debate. Kimberly “Dr. Goddess” Ellis addresses what she learned from  the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and the unequal and sexist coverage of the Olympics in the US. Her major point is that we must support women in media by watching women, supporting/funding women who are trying to make their way into the media and not tokenizing women or people of color. John Brougher, Founder of the blog Male Feminists, addresses how women’s allies can use their personal and political power to work for women’s progress. DFA’s Communications Director, Linsey Pecikonis, leads the training in earned media, explaining the differences between (and how to use) press releases and news advisories and how to make pitch calls to media outlets. The action kit for Women and the Media, including templates for news advisories and media kits, is available for download here.

5) Women as Voters
Celinda Lake, President of Lake Research Partners and prominent strategist and pollster, uses research to oust incumbent Republicans from office. Her video highlights what issues have historically been important for women voters, how disparities in voting affect women and how to get women back to the polls. The NAACP National Training Director, Jessica Pierce, tackles the intersectionality of oppression and how voting affects issues that are critical to women, people of color, the working class, etc. She also addresses recent voter suppression efforts and how the NAACP is using all kinds of media and outreach to get more people to vote all over the country. The activist training portion of this session, lead by Ruby Reid, covers tried-and-true get out the vote “GOTV” tactics that work for women. Women as Voters action kit includes great tips on how to register voters and how to identify supporters and contact voters. The National Mail Voter Registration Form (which can be used in every state except New Hampshire and Wyoming) is also there for download.

6) Women as Candidates
With women representing an abysmal 17% of Congress, the importance of women running for office could not be clearer. Check out Emily’s List‘s Impact Project to see how important it is to have women in office. Jennifer Granholm is back in this session to share her experience as a candidate and encourage us to build bridges between women in office and those women who are considering running. The 2012 Project, with its tagline “Don’t get mad. Get elected.” is working “to increase the number of women in Congress and state legislatures by taking advantage of the once-in-a-decade opportunities of 2012.” Debra Shore, of the Illinois Water Reclamation District, takes us through practical aspects of running for office for the first time including crafting your narrative, the importance of fundraising, the impact of running on personal relationships and finding support in unlikely places. Angela Zimmann, a candidate for Ohio’s 5th Congressional District, shares her experiences as a candidate and how to overcome dismissive detractors and feelings of inadequacy. Erin Molchany, Candidate for State Representative in Pennsylvania’s 22nd District, explains what made her campaign successful: hard work, inclusivity and accessibility to voters.  Regina Schwartz, Deputy Director of the Analyst Institute, shares her very interesting work in understanding how voter outreach affects elections, how to make campaigns as effective as possible and more successful GOTV tactics.

Overall these six sessions were very enlightening and worthwhile. Take six hours of your life and watch each webinar video, then take another three and go through each of the action kits to make yourself the most effective activist possible in the War For Women. If you’d like to participate in any of the upcoming virtual or local DFA trainings, contact them here. To contribute to their very important work and make trainings like these more accessible for everyone, go here. Thanks for reading, now go out and change the world!


Misogyny and Masculinity in the US Military by Jacob Steele

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has been repealed. So we are now allowed to be as misogynist and violent as they are. Well, good job. We can now hate women and outside cultures as good as the next man. Just don’t call me “fag,” or I’ll kick your fuckin’ ass.

We’re now allowed to serve the military machine, the clearest and finest example of patriarchy our country has to offer. Is this really a step forward? African-American men were allowed to serve in all specializations some time ago. Women of all races could serve fully in 1981 (just not in combat, because women can’t kick ass or take names like a man can). And now women and men of whatever sexual orientation, in 2011. Have those oppressed groups that went before us, integrating into the military, changed the institution from the inside? Have they made it a less oppressive, less violent expression of the hegemonic masculinity? Or have those souls who have already been admitted only been subverted into that masculinity themselves?

Fully a third of military women will be sexually assaulted or raped during their time on active duty. Of those, a mere 8% of their assailants will be brought up on charges, and basically none of those that are actually charged will be convicted or face penalties stronger than a short-term pay cut. And this is how we treat our own soldiers! Imagine what happens to those that are labeled “enemy.”

But this is the institution that we can now serve, outly and proudly. As this bill—the culmination of years, even lifetimes of work on the parts of many of us—goes into effect, it’s past time to think about what we’re asking for when we ask to be part of the old boys’ club. What exactly will membership get us? And what, precisely, is the price of that membership card?

The answer already seems clear. From the personage of Lt. Dan Choi, who was the de facto figurehead of the movement until the bill was passed earlier this year, to the ongoing efforts of Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the main thrust of the movement has been to prove that gay men and lesbians are just as good, just as hard, just as military, as their heterosexual counterparts. Lt. Choi, for example, once challenged a friend of mine to a push-up contest at a speaking event—but the self-styled leaders of our movement lack a critical lens at much deeper levels than this sort of machista bravado.

The masculinity that dominates the military and seeps into every aspect of our culture is itself pathological and destructive. This is borne out statistically, as above, and anecdotally, by thousands of stories of men soldiers’ violence against their wives and girlfriends, against women soldiers, and against other men. By pushing so hard to have the same rights that those straight white men take for granted, we have underplayed our hand. The question has not been and should not be “How can we get the same rights as them?” but “How did they ever get the right to rape, to batter, to destroy?”

Hopefully, the LGBTQ movement entering openly into the military will shed light on the fact that, right now, military men (and many non-military men) have those rights—rights which no one should ever have or want. Hopefully, our serving in the military will change the masculinity displayed by so many military men into one that is less violent, less misogynistic and (more obviously) less homophobic.

I fear, however, that our military service will only make those that are serving more violent, while the institutions we serve gain an air of “tolerance” and openness. I fear that gay men and lesbians will come to be seen as “normal” not because of an embracement of diverse sexuality in the public sphere, but because gay men and lesbians serving in the military will become closer to the norm—that is, violent and misogynistic. It’s up to us to not let the repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell (and, soon, Defense of Marriage Act) be the end.

It’s up to us to keep living and discovering and activisting a new masculinity, to keep calling out, in the streets and in the courts and in our homes, the pathology of the dominant masculinity. And it’s up to us to explore, become, and teach ways of being men that exclude violence as a legitimate way of interacting with our world in the day-to-day, and certainly, at the least, exclude perpetrating sexual violence in any of its myriad forms. It’s up to us.

Jacob discussing life with una vieja in a 'retirement home' in Nicaragua as a member of the NGO Project HOPE, where he a group of sailors from the hospital ship USNS Comfort and other civilians were doing maintenance to the infrastructure of the retirement home

Jacob Steele is a former Navy Officer and veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom. He holds a Master’s degree in Media, Peace and Conflict studies from University for Peace, Costa Rica, and is currently rediscovering his native United States by motorcycle, bus, and car. He is 29.

Hijacking the Political Gender Discourse by Sven Schulte

Sven celebrating the success of UPMUNC 2010

The following article aims to shed light on the forms of structural violence against women within the realm of German right-wing extremism and how this is reflected in the political program of one party with the result of them hijacking the political gender discourse.

When considering female participation within the largest German right party NPD, Peter Marx accounts that the party currently prides itself with 27%, which is inter pares to the percentage in other parties. Moreover, around half of new members are girls and women, indicating the demographic change within right-wing parties.

Consequentially, more topics related to the gender discourse, such as day care centres, leave of absence for childbirth, child support etc. have permeated the rigid, male-dominated discourse of right-wing politics.

Yet the logical deduction that a higher percentage of women translated into inclusion of affiliated topics into the political discourse is a fallacy.

Rather, right-wing parties are more successful in capitalising on such themes in order to lure female support.

It is a twisted plot of male structural violence against women to ensnare them into bastardising their own cause.

That is because the underlying reasons for these political campaigns are not to advance the status of women or to contribute to equality.

Gitta Schuessler , President of the RNF (Ring of National Women) accounts that gender mainstreaming is first of all unnecessary, because in essence “all equal rights are fulfilled”, citing the right to vote, education and choice of profession.

That there are severe inequalities of payment between male and female in Germany or women significantly underrepresented in key positions in industry and science are negligible impurities in her view that are no cause for concern.

Moreover Schuessler identifies gender mainstreaming as an undesirable “re-educational project which wants to reshape innate gender identities”. This anachronistic image of distinctively separated gender identities is in turn based on nationalistic credo seeing women as mere birth-givers, rather than emancipated women.

That is because the path to female self-actualisation is becoming de-individualised and embedded in right-wing ideology.

It is postulated that true female happiness can only be achieved by producing offspring and caring about family, instead of individual pursuit of strengths to form careers of their own.

Henceforth, the political gender discourse becomes hijacked, as the underlying reason of equality becomes substituted by a bastardised right-wing dogma about female rights and responsibilities.

Yet the message that is transcended to the people is “We care about women and children” which in turn lures women and girls to support such right-wing extremist parties, recalling that half of new members of Germany’s extremist NPD party are girls and women. It is a dangerous vicious circle.

The real treason to the emancipatory cause of it is barely detected by the gullible souls that are preyed upon by the male perpetrators of structural violence and their female henchmen that steal and bastardise the political gender discourse in order to sway more women into mindless devotion to renounce themselves.

Sven left Germany at the age of 16 to study at an International School before embarking on studying International Relations and Peace & Conflict Studies in London, UK. He currently holds one MA in Environmental Security and Peace (UN-mandated University for Peace) and is a candidate for an MA in Peace, Development, Security and International Conflict Transformation. Scientifically questioning power structures and structural suppression, his methodology is influenced by the multitude of nuanced analysis that the gender paradigm offers.

Patriarchy and Misogyny in Politics Pave the Way for Violence Against Women by Fabrice Gernigon

I must admit that writing about gender issues is not the easiest task I have been given. And it is exactly because I don’t feel comfortable with that subject that I felt it would be interesting to dig a little deeper.

My feeling is that I am not the only one not to be at ease, because in France there is a huge gap between the progressive speeches politicians give to the media and the reality. The reality is that every three days a woman dies because she has been hit by her husband. This year more than 650,000 women reported that they had suffered from physical violences, and in their own home for half of them.

Despite the fact that this is a huge issue, I have to admit that I have never been directly exposed to it in my country. However I am convinced that even though violences against women are of course denounced by most men, they are deep-rooted in the customs of our society that is traditionally, and despite all appearances, still patriarchal and misogynist.

I think that the political arena is in a way a good caricature of our society. The French parliament, for example, is highly dominated by a male presence. Despite the fact that we had some very popular women in politics, most of the previous French Prime Ministers have installed women in their governments (as they had promised strict parity during their campaigns), to later replace them by men.

I am convinced that the lack of female representation in politics, or the difference of salaries between men and women who have the same level of experience and education, are facts that necessarily help maintaining, on one hand, the feeling that women are inferior, and on the other hand, that the place where they belong is at home!

A very interesting NGO (called La Barbe-which literally means The Beard but which is also a phrase that we sometimes say in France to say “That’s enough!”) pointed out that issue through their different actions. The women who work at that NGO went to high political or cultural institutions (such as the Parliament or the French Academy). Their actions consisted of breaking into these highly respected places, in silence, with fake beards. By doing that they pointed out the fact that there was almost no female presence in these institutions and their message was basically “Unless you are bearded there is almost no way you can have a place in these institutions.”

I am conscious that there is a difference between misogyny and physical violences against women. But what I want to point out is that misogyny often ends up justifying these violences.

A few months ago, the head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss Kahn, (who was close to starting his campaign for the French presidential elections) was accused of the rape of a hotel maid in New York. There has been huge media coverage over this event in France since this man was seen, by most of us, as the next French president. Therefore, a lot of politicians and journalists started debating over what happened in room number 2806.

Despite the fact that nobody really knew what happened in that room, that “underground misogyny” suddenly came back up to the surface in the words of some politicians and journalists. Even though DSK was accused of rape, one of his political allies (Jack Lang) said that this man should be released because he had paid a large fine and because “He didn’t kill anybody.” It is a way of saying that rape is not a big deal after all, since nobody died.

A journalist called Jean-François Kahn said his impression was that there was no violent attempt to commit rape but that there was an “imprudent action.” He later specified by saying that DSK just lifted the skirt of a servant.

I think that through the DSK scandal, we have clearly witnessed that tendency to put rape into a favorable perspective. This is for me a sign that misogyny is not as innocent as we (men) want to think it is. And part of the solution to violence against women will come from getting rid of that very old-fashioned habit.

Fabrice Gernigon: I started my studies with a Bachelor of Arts in Information, Communication and Cultural Mediation. As I was interested in journalism, in 2007, I studied Political Sciences with a major in “Media, Society and Globalization” at the French Press Institute in Paris. Then I decided to focus my studies on the role of Media in conflict prevention and peace building at the University for Peace in Costa Rica. I later did an internship at the Head Office of UNESCO in Central America, with the Public Information Office. Back in France in 2011 I worked as a news coordinator for a French news channel called BFM TV.

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