Tag Archives: United States

Love Your Body Day

October 19 is Love Your Body Day, something I’ve been celebrating since I was introduced to the concept in college at San Diego State University by the courageous members of the National Organization for Women. Erin Matson, NOW’s Action VP had this to say about body image and loving yourself. And while I very much appreciate Meghan McCain’s courage in posing for the NOH8 Campaign and openly discussing body image issues, the photo chosen by Hollywood NOW to showcase their Celebrity Host could not possibly fit any tighter into the media box of what women in America are supposed to look like. Welcome to the 2011 Love Your Body Day Blog Carnival.

Many issues arise when talking about body image, especially for women; and for all we (especially feminists) talk about personality and intelligence and inner-strength being more important than outer-beauty… the truth is, in every society, women are judged on outward appearance.

From men in America and the UK navigating body image standards set up by advertising and the porn industry to transsexuals in Iran fighting stigmas of “abnormality” to young girls in Cameroon being subjected to breast ironing to the more than 100 million girls and women worldwide suffering the effects of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), unfortunately our bodies are battlegrounds.

Eating disorders affect more than 10 million people a year in the US alone, so think twice before you praise someone for loosing weight. Eating disorders affect women, girls, boys and men around the world, with silverchair’s frontman Australia-native Daniel Johns being one of the most recognized male celebrities suffering from anorexia anywhere. Because of the incredibly unhealthy body images fed to us by the media cosmetics is a multi-BILLION dollar industry and rates of plastic surgery to “beautify” everything from earlobes to vaginal labia are skyrocketing.

So, as always, I want to give suggestions for you to improve the world around you. How can we fight the Ariel complex of altering our bodies and loosing our voices to be attractive?What can you do to promote realistic body images of real people? Speak up! Learn to accept that hundreds of body types exist and are natural; don’t give in to media standards fueled by capitalist greed designed to make you spend money; demand that stores carry your size clothes and shoes whether you’re a naturally tiny size 0 or a naturally curvy size 20; look up to real people around you for inspiration, your teachers, parents, and mentors, not airbrushed and nip/tucked celebrities; if someone tells you you’re ugly/fat/unloveable/don’t-fit-neatly-into-the-claustrophobic-boxes-built-by-the-media, tell them to fuck off; and send sexist ads into Ms. Magazine’s No Comment section. Understand that differences, especially body differences like sex, (dis)ability and race, are beautiful!

Finally, what’s the most important thing you can do? Love your body! “The moment we choose to love, we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love, we begin to move toward freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others.”- bell hooks


Am I just paranoid, or…

Just because you’re paranoid don’t mean they’re not after you. – Kurt Cobain

I think that many of my female readers share my feelings of paranoia but if not please let me know I’m just crazy. With this post it is my male readers I hope to speak to. The purpose of this post is in no way to blame all men for the immoral and illegal choices of some men, rather, the aim of this post is to put more fire in the bellies of male allies in the fight for women’s equality. I also in no way mean to diminish or minimize the experiences of men, boys and transgender individuals who have been sexually assaulted or raped. Their traumas are just as real as any woman’s and certainly are not given the weight in our society that they should be. With this post I want you to know specifically what my grievances are, how I feel as a woman on a daily basis, and, most importantly, what you can do to help. With everything in the news lately and all the statistics available surrounding the heinous rates of violence against women and sexual assault and rape around the world, it’s easy for me to feel like women, and our rights, are under attack.

For most of my life I have felt vulnerable simply because I am female, to the point that I’ve taken self defense classes. I’m sure some of this fear comes from having been repeatedly sexually assaulted by male relatives as a girl, but even now, as an adult woman, I find my mind shift to dark thoughts quite often when I am in the company of strangers. To live in constant fear of violence is absurd and ultimately will make you crazy, and I hate that I buy into the rape culture myth that violence against women, especially sexual violence, happens at night when a stranger jumps out from around a corner and tackles you.

Most rapes are committed by someone the victim knows and 50% of all rape/sexual assaults occur within 1 mile of the victim’s home! The Service Women’s Action Network also explains how prevalent rape and sexual assault against members of the US military is in this publication. See previous posts on violence against women including Violence Against Women in the US, The Clothesline Project, Take Back the Night, the V-Day MovementRAINN and NDVH, and others for more information on the situation of women in the US.

Women in other parts of the world are in even more frightening situations. Today Al-Jazeera posted this article explaining why Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, India and Somalia are the top five most dangerous places in the world to be a woman. Reasons ranging from the feminization of poverty, rape as a weapon of war, and harmful religious and cultural practices, to female infanticide and female genital mutilation affect the safety and livelihoods of women in these places.

Back in the US, Republicans are taking their misogyny global by trying to defund Planned Parenthood at home and abroad, using “states’ rights” rhetoric to make abortion unattainable for the most vulnerable women in their districts, and trying to reinstate the Global Gag Rule, which really does just make me want to gag. But women and men are standing up for equality and human rights, including the 373 people who sent in pictures of themselves to NARAL Pro-Choice’s Stop the War on Women video to the US Senate, the fierce founders and participants of the Hollaback! movement to stop street harassment, and the thousands (millions?) of people who have participated in SlutWalks around the world to protest a culture of victim-blaming surrounding sexual assault. SlutWalk deserves its very own post, despite the massive amount of press it’s already received, so look out for that.

I think our biggest issue in victim-blaming comes from our rape culture myth that what women wear or do or say affects their chances of being raped: it doesn’t. Women should not have to protect themselves or change the way they want to appear for fear of rape: People should not rape. Period. Women have been objectified by American society for quite some time and while reinforcing that women are objects to be seen is not ideal, women should be allowed to be seen however they want, and should be able to have sex with whomever they want, without any individual thinking that anything other than clear and sober consent means yes to sex. And in the spirit of Hollaback! what I choose to wear does not give you permission to yell at me either.

So, with all this in mind, am I just paranoid or

-do you wonder whenever you’re in the shower or using a public restroom or having sex with someone for the first time if a webcam is broadcasting your nakedness all over the internet?
-do you also check your backseat whenever you get in your car to make sure a stranger or stalker isn’t waiting to rape and/or kill you?
-do you get nervous when you step into a full elevator, worried that someone might touch you in an unwanted and sexual way?
-do you think twice before going somewhere you are unfamiliar with, in case there are dark corners for bad people to hide in?
-do you feel like you’re being watched in a disgusting, lustful way by men of all ages all the time?
-do you remind yourself that yelling “fire” is more likely to garner help than yelling “rape” when you feel like someone is following you?
-do you carry your keys in your hands, extended between your fingers as you make a fist when you walk home after dark?
-do you avoid making eye contact with strangers for fear that they will misread your friendliness for a sexual advance and then rape you?
-do you wonder, whenever you’re in a group, how many of the people with you have raped someone, or have been raped?
-do you have any idea what it’s like to feel like you’re the constant target of society’s violent sexual urges and need to control?

Ladies? Gentlemen?

But cheer up, there are lots of ways you can help!

-Don’t rape anyone: passed out, drunk, wearing next-to-nothing, came onto you before, had sex with you before, started a sexual encounter and then changed her/his mind, is underage… just don’t.
-If that isn’t clear, read this.
-If you still don’t get it, watch this.
-Don’t tell rape jokes.
-Don’t use the word rape to complain about the way your school, bank, job, or government is treating you.
-Don’t let your friends get away with telling rape jokes. Explain to them why it is hurtful, wrong and dangerous.
-Don’t let your friends get away with using rape to complain about institutions.
-If you hear someone bragging about a sexual assault or rape, call the police.
-If you’re in public and you hear/see someone harassing/assaulting someone else, call the police.
-If you hear/see domestic violence taking place, call the police.
-March in rallies for human rights, healthcare, immigration rights, economic freedom and marriage equality.
-Call or email your lawmakers and tell them to end the backlog of untested rape kits in your local police departments.
-Call or email your lawmakers and tell them to support the International Violence Against Women Act.
-Sign this petition to demand that the FBI change the definition of rape from “The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will” to something that includes date rape, oral, anal and statutory rape, rape with an object, finger or fist and rape of men.
-And share this post, and the many others out there like it written by feminist who are tired of being afraid, with anyone who can and will read it. Thanks for your support!





The Damning Effects of Militarization

Militarization is the process of making society believe that violence, especially war, is an effective way to solve conflict to the point that any nonviolent attempt to solve conflict is snidely dismissed as ineffective, liberal, feminine, sissy or a whole host of other derogatorily used terms. The global problem of militarization takes different forms in every country, and even within each community. In Israel and Palestine troops attack women protesting the occupation. In Colombia women are participants and victims of violence perpetrated at every level of society. In Uganda those participating in the Walk to Work protest have been met with tear gas and bullets by the government’s security forces. I should be upfront here and say flat-out that I am very far left in my ideas of effective government: I don’t believe in borders or states. Imagine if the $553 billion defense bill just approved by the House was money spent on education, or healthcare, or ending violence….

Militarization is a gender issue. A gender issue is anything that disproportionately affects men, women, boys, girls and/or intersex or transgender adults or youth. Therefore, because militarization has a hugely disproportionate effect on men, men’s violences, and masculinities, it is a gender issue. It is also a gender issue in that anything defined as masculine can only be defined in opposition to that which is feminine, and because militarization of a given society negatively impacts men’s attitudes towards and treatment of women.

Many right-wing misogynists claim that feminists hate men, or that gender issues are only women’s issues, but militarization is a prime example of the genuine concern for well-being that many feminists around the world have for men who are part of the military. In graduate school one of my most influential professors, Dr. Sara Sharratt, opened my eyes to a reality that is often denied: killing people is not natural for anyone, male or female; men must be trained to kill. And as her work as a psychologist working with soldiers returning from war taught her, many men react negatively to having killed someone. The stress, trauma and horror that soldiers endure in battle is much too high a price for the false promise of “protecting freedom.”

Here in Turkey males are required by law to serve in the military, reinforcing the idea that there is honor in using violence. The belief in the effectiveness of violence is so strong in Turkey that even liberal, feminist groups condone the use of violence in protests and do not see the need or efficacy of strategic nonviolent action. Very few groups speak out against militarization here. One effect of this belief is that, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch, 47% of women in Turkey experience some kind of physical or sexual intimate partner violence within their lifetimes, regardless of education, class, religion, or region and much too few women’s shelters to accommodate the need. Violence between a couple is seen by police, the government, and society, to be a personal problem and victims are constantly told that they cannot expect their partners to be nonviolent.

In the United States there is better enforcement of laws against domestic violence and yet 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men in the US are victims of intimate violence at some point in their lives. Militarization in America is slightly more subtle than in Turkey, but commercials to “Go Navy,” be “Army Strong,” and join “The Few, the Proud, the Marines” constantly inundate television viewers. At the same time military recruiters are present on junior high, high school and college campuses to convince children that the military is their best route out of their hometown. Militarization is therefore a compounded heap of inequalities: class, race, gender, education, location, language, ability, and age.

Militarization in the US is forced on Americans at a very young age, when children at sporting events see the poorly named Blue Angels fly overhead with a roar as a giant American flag is unfurled across the playing field. The idealization of being a servant of war as a good, honorable thing is fed to Americans to serve the greed of the corporate world. We are taught from the time we can talk that America is the best place in the world, the most just, the most equal, the fairest. We have been lied to. We are told these things so that when our Commander-in-Chief calls on us to “protect freedom and liberty” and “stand up to injustice” our first response is to join the military killing machine so we can “serve our great nation.” This idea that the best thing a person can do for his country, the most masculine act possible, is serve in the military totally discounts the experiences of a great number of people in America including disabled men, transgender or intersex men, openly gay or bisexual men, men who believe in nonviolence, and women.

Unfortunately it is only after the damage of war has been done that many of the wide-eyed military recruits become hardened advocates for peace. The brave men and women who understand the error of the US’s ways in using violence and force to fill corporate pockets have formed a number of anti-war groups. Founded in 1985, Veterans for Peace, is seeking signatures for a petition to bring the troops home from Afghanistan. One of the newer organizations, Iraq Veterans Against the War, seeks an end to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and is pressuring the military to provide better care for returning vets. Vietnam Veterans Against the War states “We believe that service to our country and communities did not end when we were discharged. We remain committed to the struggle for peace and for social and economic justice for all people. We will continue to oppose senseless military adventures and to teach the real lessons of the Vietnam War. We will do all we can to prevent another generation from being put through a similar tragedy and we will continue to demand dignity and respect for veterans of all eras. This is real patriotism and we remain true to our mission.”

Cynthia Enloe renowned author and feminist, is one of the voices at the forefront of the anti-militarization effort. This piece nicely summarizes Enloe’s main arguments against militarization and its effects on women. Even non-governmental organizations, international organizations and peacekeeping missions are fraught with problems because of militarization, as Enloe and my professor Nadine Puechguirbal explain in a talk here on Haiti. For me, the most compelling argument against militarization is that violence does not work. It is ineffective! Nonviolent action, especially when used strategically, is an extremely effective tool for change and one that I hope more people will begin to utilize once they understand its efficacy. I will forever be indebted to Dr. Mary King for teaching me the strategy of nonviolence. In the future I will write a post summarizing the ideas behind SNVA.

If you want to do something to help end the militarization that is damaging the world here are a few ideas: teach girls to be strong, both physically and emotionally; teach boys they have a right to feel emotions and express them; teach all children the importance of respectful problem solving and dialogue; teach young people that there are many ways they can serve their country other than military service, including the Peace CorpsAmeriCorps, Job Corps, the Medical Reserve Corps, Citizen Corps, the Civilian Response Corps, and Serve Corps, as well as through thousands of non-governmental and non-profit groups; learn about strategic nonviolent action and then share what you know; and most importantly, practice strategic nonviolent action to bring an end to injustices around the world!


Day 28- (Dis)ability

I apologize for the lateness of my post; I have been traveling today. Although it’s still the 28th in the US, here in Turkey it is the 29th and so I have failed in my attempt to write everyday, but I will write again tomorrow (today) and everyday until the end of the month. Thank you for your continued support!

“Tomorrow I am going to rewrite the English Language.
I will discard all those striving ambulist metaphors
of power and success
And construct new ways to describe my strength.
My new, different strength.

Then I won’t have to feel dependent
Because I can’t stand on my own two feet.
And I’ll refuse to feel a failure
When I don’t stay one step ahead.
I won’t feel inadequate if I can’t
Stand up for myself
Or illogical when I don’t
Take it one step at a time.

I will make them understand that it is a very male way
To describe the world.
All this walking tall
And making great strides.

Yes, tomorrow I am going to rewrite the English Language
Creating the world in my own image.
Mine will be a gentler, more womanly way
To describe my progress.
I will wheel, cover and encircle.
Somehow I will learn to say it all.”
Tomorrow I’m Going to Rewrite the English Language by Lois Keith[1]

“Disability is a physical, social, mental or emotional condition which may or may not be handicapping.”[2] Many women who identify as disabled would agree that “people’s attitudes… are most disabling.”[3]

Maura Kelly explains how people’s assumptions about women with disabilities can be damaging “…what if I said I believed that prejudice expressed in subtle acts of misguided, uninformed “kindness” was not only equal to [hateful attitudes towards those of a particular race, religion or sexual orientation], but potentially more damaging and probably more difficult to change? …People can be so focused on my being in a wheelchair that they don’t even hear me saying I don’t need any assistance. This is the part that is so demoralizing…. I resent the people who feel the need to help me so much–though I am clearly not struggling–that I must wait and allow them to assist me, just to make them feel better…. Many of the people I come into brief contact with–it is clearly written on their faces–put me in an altogether different category than they do other people.”[4]

Kelly’s feelings clearly illustrate the need for women to be able to name their own identities and to group or separate themselves as they see fit. Judgments and assumptions based on physical traits–ability, skin color and sex–and not on merit or actions, have no place in an American society that touts democracy and freedom, yet they happen everyday.

The concept of passing, usually used with regard to race or sometimes sexuality, is based on these visual assumptions of physical aspects and can also be an issue in the disabled community. Kelly says, “Recently I was asked if I had trouble ‘passing’ since, other than being in a wheelchair, I don’t seem disabled…. I always associated [passing] with race or sexual orientation…. Usually the trouble is in getting people not to make assumptions about how little I can do.”[5]

Often women with disabilities are seen as doubly vulnerable because they are women and because they are disabled but many have proven their strength by organizing with the disability rights movement and by bringing information and support to others with disabilities.

Activist Anna Sullivan, after having her house blown up, was questioned by the police, “I tell them what I think, that it’s the work of the fascists…. Because of my anti-racist activity the fascists have threatened to kill me many times, now they have destroyed a part of me.”[6] While the blast did not physically harm her at the time, the trauma and stress of the event contributed to her condition- Myalgic Encephalomyelitis- making her vulnerable later in life to viruses and psychological illnesses.

Vulnerability, though not always present, can be a reality for women with disabilities as author Lois Keith shares, “I’m always nervous about going somewhere new. This anxiety is rarely a social one, it isn’t about meeting new people or feeling shy. I had thirty-five standing up years to deal with that one. This ‘normal’ anxiety is displaced for me by the sheer physical concern of going to a place I haven’t been before. Of finding a place to park, worrying about whether I can get out of the car straight on to the pavement, whether there will be kerbs [sic]. It’s anxiety about asking a total stranger (if there is a stranger to ask) to help me in some way. It’s the fear that there will be some obstacle no one has told me about – a step, a bollard, a pothole, a locked door.”[7]

Some women defy the vulnerable disabled woman stereotype, like Janice Pink, “When I was sixteen, nearly six feet tall, and still in pain, I went to another doctor…. Obviously, if you’re disabled, you should look fragile, which I didn’t then and never will now.”[8]

Other women who were involved in strategic nonviolent action when they were nondisabled may find it difficult to participate in the same way after becoming disabled but groups like the Disability Caucus of the National Women’s Studies Association can help ease the transition.

Lizard Johnson explains, “I had thought everything was possible, right down to nonviolent revolution. In moments of enthusiasm, I thought I could start the revolution by myself. Now I think: can’t do that by myself, can’t do this by myself. Certainly can’t start the revolution by myself.”[9] Relearning how to participate in activities that previously did not have to be given any thought can be very challenging for people who become disabled later in life.

These challenges can be exacerbated by other aspects of women’s identities as well. Carol Anne Roberson navigates the complex paths of disability, gender and race everyday as a white, quadriplegic woman with mixed-race (black and white) children. Hermina Jackson is another example of the intersection of gender, race, class and ability and proves that even though sexism, racism, classism and ableism are still in place, with hard work they will eventually be eradicated. She is working to do just that as a black, quadriplegic woman. As a member of a number of organizations in her local community that deal with the issues faced by women, black people, and disabled people, she shows that one person can be all of these things, and overcome the isms she faces daily.

“As a member of the Black United Front, Hermina is interested in the issues and needs of women, especially women with disabilities. She aims not only to get information for women with disabilities… but to educate the community about disabled women and what they need and how they feel.”[10]

Civil rights investigator Adrienne Asch, a blind woman who helped write legislation in New York to include protection from discrimination against disability in hiring practices, explains how her role as an activist helped to change her role as a disabled woman, “Had I not had a history of political activism, in civil rights for blacks and in opposition to the Vietnam War, I might not have been so ready to fight for my rights as a person with a disability. I realized I would have to take the energy I had put into social change for other people’s benefit and use it to benefit myself or other disabled people.”

Asch goes on to explain how her disability relates to other aspects of her life, “Disability is neither at the center or the periphery of my life. It’s just sort of there. I’m not saying blindness isn’t an important fact about me or that it doesn’t affect a lot of things, but it’s not part of my self-definition. If it’s part of the world’s definition of me, that’s the world’s issue.” [11]

The overwhelming message disabled women have for young women and girls who are facing a disability is not to ignore it or dwell on it, and to be realistic about how it will affect what kind of work one wants to do, but not let it be the only consideration. Anna Sullivan admits, “The rise of fascism again, and the many terrible things that are happening in the world, make me feel that I should be out and about organizing, but I know that I can’t do it any more.”[12]

It is true that some things are more difficult for disabled people to do but the kind of disability a person has greatly influences the ease or difficulty of a particular task. A common assumption about physically disabled people is that they are also mentally disabled and so infantilized as if they are not capable of thinking for themselves. Part of the work feminist groups must do in organizing any kind of event, from a rally to a phone bank, is to make sure that the venue is accessible for all kinds of women and to properly value the identities of all the women (and men) who will participate.

Not Dead Yet is one such group of disabled and nondisabled people that utilizes “shouting slogans, singing songs, blockading doorways, [and] being rude to cops” to protest physician-assisted suicide. Another activist group is riot grrrl, which awakens many young women to “the interconnectedness of all forms of oppression.”[13]

One of feminism’s greatest virtues is that it does value every woman’s experience, and thus should learn from every woman about how to make society more inclusive. Teacher Kate Bromfield, after battling Multiple Sclerosis for years, found hope, “I’m beginning to feel again that I can function as a responsible adult, in spite of illness, that my lifestyle can be as viable as anyone else’s.”[14] And lifestyle greatly depends on one’s ability or disability; deaf women may have no problem navigating a flight of stairs but it may be nearly impossible for someone with arthritis. A woman in a wheelchair may be able to read to her child at night but a woman with a learning disability may not be able to.

The one universal thing that disabled women are assumed not to be able (or have any desire) to do is have sex. That disabled people in general, and disabled women in particular, are often seen as asexual beings[15] may seem surprising at first, but makes total sense in the hierarchy of patriarchy: disabled women may not be able to function in some ways as nondisabled women do and therefore are demoted from the “normal” status of women in American society of sex object to something even more passive.

Author of Disabled, Female, and Proud! Harilyn Rousso explains, “One of the myths in our society about disabled women is that we are asexual, incapable of leading socially and sexually fulfilling lives. When I was growing up my parents and I accepted this myth without question. We simply assumed that because I had a disability, I could not date, find a partner, or have children.”[16]

Oddly, the possibility that disabled women may be physically weaker than nondisabled women is often cited as a reason they should not be mothers (even though the reality is that this bias is an extension of seeing disability as a barrier to sexuality and taking away agency from those who have a disability), yet being physically weak (compared to the able male norm of reference) is expected of all women.

See this story and previous posts regarding sexuality and violence for more information on the imposed horrors disabled women face at the hands of cruel people.

Gohar Kordi, a blind Iranian immigrant, tells of feeling her son’s pain at her disability, “He wants me to be like other mothers in his school, sighted, English.”[17] She is one example of the intersection of ethnicity and ability. Suna Polio exemplifies another intersection, “To the public eye I looked an unlikely candidate for motherhood. The wheelchair disqualified me.” She goes on to explain how her lesbianism and her disability intersect to unnecessarily complicate her life even further.[18]

Some disabled lesbians explain that where their lesbianism and their disability activism meet is to see “that the whole is really greater than the sum of its parts and that a better situation for everyone is possible if we see our interdependence.”[19] Not until April 15, 2010 was this interdependence starting to be recognized by the federal government. That is when same-sex partners earned the right in the United States to visit their partner in the hospital.

President Barack Obama issued a memorandum stating, “…gay and lesbian Americans… are often barred from the bedsides of the partners with whom they may have spent decades of their lives — unable to be there for the person they love, and unable to act as a legal surrogate if their partner is incapacitated. For all of these Americans, the failure to have their wishes respected concerning who may visit them or make medical decisions on their behalf has real consequences.”[20]

While corrective rape for lesbians seeking treatment for mental illness is no longer practiced in psychology in the United States,[21] disabled lesbians in the United States still face difficulties unique to their situation. Many women who identify as lesbian feminists, like Lizard Jones, have fought for the better part of their adult lives for economic and social independence, but adding disability to their identities makes life entirely more complicated.

Jones poses, “Maybe the struggle for lesbians with disabilities is categorically different from many other disability struggles because we have to convince our chosen families not to let us out, but to take us in.”[22] Social worker Joyce Peltzer admits, “It took me longer to deal with my feelings about being a lesbian than about having a disability….. All ‘isms’ are alike and you have to struggle with the internal attitudes developed by living in our culture. To be an integrated person, you have to accept your wholeness. We cannot be compartmentalized people. I had to integrate everything. I am a person who happens to be a lesbian, who happens to have a disability, but most importantly, I am a whole person.[23]

Vicky D’aoust, a deaf lesbian activist who uses a wheelchair, summarizes the disability and LGBTQAI rights arguments nicely: “I want to be who I am without fighting every step of the way…. We need actual change in how communities think, behave and act. Perhaps the biggest obstacle of all is that… attitudes are what prevent us from being whole.”[24]


[1] What Happened to You? Writing by Disabled Women Ed. Lois Keith. The New Press: New York. 1996.

[2] Restricted Access: Lesbians on Disability Eds. Victoria A. Brownworth and Susan Raffo. 1999. Seal Press

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Keith, 1996.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Brownworth and Raffo, 1999.

[10] Disabled, Female, and Proud! Stories of Ten Women with Disabilities Harilyn Rousso. Exceptional Parent Press: Boston, MA. 1991

[11] Ibid

[12] Keith, 1996.

[13] Brownworth and Raffo, 1999.

[14] Ibid.

[15] See “Loss” by Anne Macfarlane in Keith, 1996.

[16] Rousso, 1991.

[17] Keith, 1996.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Brownworth and Raffo, 1999.

[20] Obama, Barack. 15 April 2010. “Memorandum for the Secretary of Health and Human Services.” Federal Register. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House: Washington, D.C. 9 June 2010. http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/04/15/2010rightspatients.mem.final.rel.pdf

[21] Until the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV was published in 1973, homosexuality was considered a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association and women who were diagnosed as lesbians were sometimes raped to “cure” them of their homosexuality. This practice is still common in some parts of the world, especially South Africa.

[22] Brownworth and Raffo, 1999.

[23] Brownworth and Raffo, 1999.

[24] Ibid.


Day 27- Sexuality in the US

Disability is one of the few factors in women’s lives that can overcome racist assumptions about their sex lives. Nondisabled black women are very often compared to or pictured with animals in advertising[1] and this idea that black women will be wild, animalistic lovers is in the back of many people’s minds. But, if a black woman is in a wheelchair, most people will see the chair and assume asexuality before they make any association to her skin color. Neither assumption is correct but it is interesting how one aspect of a person’s identity can overshadow everything else.

Physical appearance is extremely important to American society and the superficiality of the media directly affects all people but has the direst consequences for women. In the hierarchy of patriarchy the closest women can get to the top is when they are young, thin, nondisabled, white (blond), straight and pretty looking. To be clear, women do not actually have to be any of these things but to be successful, especially in the media,they must appear to be all of these things.

Visibly disabled women are automatically excluded from this cult of beauty, as are women of color, normal-sized and heavy women, transgender and lesbian women, and older women. The male/female dichotomy has such a stranglehold on aesthetics in the United States that even when someone who does fit this description, like actress Julia Roberts, forgets to change something natural about her body (shave her armpits) she is publicly chastised and ridiculed for not conforming to the beauty ideals of Hollywood.

The four Killing Us Softly documentaries with Jean Kilbourne best explain how dangerous being bombarded by these images can be for women. American women are expected to be nearly hairless, have flawless skin, long, silky hair, no fat or cellulite, a small waist and big breasts. The beauty industry in the U.S. is a multi-billion dollar per year business and has a big interest in challenging women to be flawless, knowing they will never achieve perfection but will spend lots of money trying.

Even women who have slightly masculine features can be discriminated against and face violence, especially if they are assumed to be lesbian. Obviously the male/female dichotomy is most dangerous for transgender and intersexed individuals who have the courage to confound gender stereotypes and live according to the aspects of their gender identity that they are most comfortable with, but even internationally acclaimed athletes are facing the consequences of being accused of not being feminine enough.

Caster Semenya, a world-record-holding Olympic runner, was forced to undergo sex testing to see if she is “female enough” to compete against other women. In accusing female athletes of not being entirely female the The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are not concerned about fairness to all involved but rather about their own public images.

The co-founder of the IOC’s Olympic Science Academy and of the Sports Science Institute in Cape Town, South Africa, Tim Noakes, claims “As many as eight ‘intersex’ women may have been expelled from athletics in the past and I gather that they were warned that if they made a fuss, they would be exposed. So it seems it’s not about athletic advantage, it’s about keeping the Olympics free of ‘intersex’ athletes, free of unwanted complications. It sends the message that women must do what men say and if the eight previous athletes had to be sacrificed, so be it….”[2]

Noakes contends that athletes suspected of being intersexed are not treated with respect. Whether or not Semenya is found to be intersexed or not, he feels she should be allowed to compete stating, “You can’t exclude ‘intersex’ athletes and there is growing consensus… that whatever gender you were assigned at birth, that is your gender…. There is no single test that will show whether you are more male than female.” He goes on to argue that “some genetic variants” are allowed in sports and if they are “linked to gender, so be it.” Because the implications for forcing gender conformity are so widespread the LGBTQI community must come together to fight against discrimination on the basis of sex.

“As long as dependence is seen as a personality flaw in the lesbian community, our ability to be a truly diverse and inclusive force to be reckoned with is nonexistent…. As long as we think some of us are going it alone and others aren’t, we are ignoring the very real facts of social structure. The possibility of going it alone is just an illusion that distracts us from organizing. You are either successful on someone else’s back, or arm in arm with her. Your choice.”[3]

In a similar way that Asian-Americans are pointed at as being “model minorities” so too are lesbians singled out of the larger LGBTQAI movement. Well, not lesbians, per se, but actions that traditionally would have been classified as lesbian. And it is not because American culture suddenly woke up and decided to be more inclusive; it is precisely to continue dividing minorities and to pit them against each other so that they cannot fight together.“That’s the capitalist stake in keeping us divided. If we’re tied up fighting each other, we won’t be struggling together against the real enemy.”[4]

More and more heterosexual women are engaging in activities that twenty years ago would have had them classified as dykes: publicly kissing, touching and fondling other women. Some would argue that this shows a greater acceptance of gay culture in the United States. While acceptance of homo- and bisexuality has grown greatly over the past decades these straight-but-seem-bi women are using the heterosexual male lesbian fantasy to their advantage while simultaneously reinforcing gender inequality. Katy Perry, a popular U.S. performing artist, took this advantage to the extreme with her multi-million dollar record deal showcasing her not-really-lesbian behavior. Again, the labels one chooses to use to identify herself are extremely important personally, and politically.

Sexual relationships between women in the United States are generally seen in one of four ways: as an arousal tool for heterosexual men, as harmless (i.e. not cheating for a woman in a monogamous heterosexual relationship), as a threat or an abomination against God, or less often, as legitimate loving relationships.

The first two analyses of lesbian relationships are closely linked; they assume that women loving women poses no threat to the heterosexist patriarchal machine because women are valued less than men. The “joke” is still made that some women are only lesbians because they have not yet had sex with the “right” man.[5] This patronizing of women’s sexuality takes away agency and shows that often women’s opinions and feelings are not respected even when they are clearly voiced. The other side of this coin is that many men feel that if their monogamous female sexual partner engages in sexual activity with another woman it is not cheating, while if she were with another man it would be, once again showing how little value is placed on women owning their own sexuality.

This criticism should in no way be seen as a disapproval of polyamory, or love between multiple consenting adults, but rather as a critique of the sexist and misogynistic way in which women’s sexuality is viewed by the American culture at large.

The third view of lesbian relationships is the most overtly harmful because people who view women loving women as a threat to their way of life are more likely to act out against it by pushing for discriminatory legislation or in the form of hate crimes. Real opposition to lesbianism often comes from the Religious Right in the United States that has a strong interest in maintaining the patriarchal hierarchy. Because lesbians generally operate outside the normal sphere of “woman depending on man” this weakens men’s power over women, something the Church sees clearly. The lesbian community has often been an example of the strength of women and many heterosexual women have learned from lesbian communities that there are alternatives to depending on men.

Bisexualwomen, while they face some of the same discrimination as lesbians, also face discrimination that is unique to their situation. Biphobia–the fear or hatred of people who identify as bisexual–exists both in the heterosexual community and the homosexual community.

Everyone in America is brought up seeing the world through dichotomies: black/white, male/female, good/bad, straight/gay, etc. This socialization is just as effective on homosexuals as on heterosexuals and is often responsible for the polarizing of butches and femmes in the lesbian community. People who see the world only in pairs of opposites lack imagination and are made uncomfortable by anything or anyone who does not neatly fit into the good box or the bad box, as dichotomies always result in one side being clearly more valued than the other.

Bisexuals are discriminated against by heterosexuals who can only see that they love people of the same sex. They are further discriminated against by the homosexual community who see them as traitors to the cause for loving people of the opposite sex. Bisexuals are often seen as indecisive, confused, oversexed and/or dangerous. This exclusion can lead to both physical and psychological health problems; a recent survey found that bisexual women have the poorest health of all women. The LGBTQI community has poor overall health in general–a direct result of being marginalized by society.

“Compared to heterosexuals, gays, lesbians, and bisexuals…were more likely to be tense or worried, to smoke, have asthma, abuse drugs, or be victims of sexual abuse. Bisexual men and women were also more likely than heterosexuals to say they faced barriers to getting health care, had higher cardiovascular risk, felt sad, and had contemplated suicide in the past year. Binge drinking was more common among bisexual women than heterosexuals.”[6]

Bisexuals were also more likely to be poor and bisexual women reported the highest rate of sexual assault among all sexuality groups. Most bisexuals do favor one sex more than the other but are openly attracted to both men and women. Some bisexuals explain that they are attracted to certain qualities in people and it does not matter what sex the person possessing those qualities is. While bisexual is the most commonly used term for people who are attracted to more than one gender, other terms may be more appropriate to individuals’ situations such as pansexual, fluid, or omnisexual, as these terms do away with the male/female dichotomy that the term bisexual reinforces. Again, naming one’s own identity is an important step in political action.

Slowly bisexuals are becoming more accepted within the LGBTQAI movement, as is apparent that people rarely forget the ‘B’ in the alphabet soup, but the people behind the letter are still rarely visible. Women of all sexualities must be included in the campaign for gender equality in the United States and around the world.

The LGBTQAI movement has long been visible in the United States and has paved the way for Pride Movements around the world. The determination of the politically active sexual minorities within the U.S. can be felt all the way to the White House. Only last year, in 2010, did LGBTQAI individuals earn the right to visit their partners in the hospital and make medical decisions for them if they are the appointed guardians. Nation-wide legalization of same-sex marriage is still a ways off, at least until California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, gets to the Supreme Court.

“It’s not possible to know whether the final ruling in this case will broadly confront the overarching denial of equal protection and due process created by prohibiting one segment of society from entering into marriage. The Supreme Court has, in different cases, called marriage ‘essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men’ and a ‘basic civil right.’”[7]

Other legislation is also in the works to guarantee civil rights for the LGBTQAI community. On May 20, 2010 Senator Al Franken introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act to the Senate, the bill “would prohibit discrimination in schools on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.” According to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) more than 85% of LGBT students have been harassed and more than 60% feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation.

Moreover, one-third of LGBT students “missed a day of school in the past month because of feeling unsafe, five times higher than a national sample of students.”[8]Despite the advancement of rights with this legislation LGBTQAI students in New Jersey will still not be able to find books in their school library with which they can identify. The school board took the liberty of banning “gay-theme books” from a local high school.[9]

Just days before Senator Franken introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act, the Human Rights Campaign reported that the Minnesota governor had vetoed a bill that would have given same-sex couples the right to take charge of their partners’ remains after death and also to sue in cases of wrongful death.[10]

In many ways laws regarding the rights of same-sex couples, or sexual minority individuals, follow the “two steps forward, one step back” rule. The most visible battle currently is to reform the United States Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which the Obama administration historically has decided not to defend.

And very recently the US finally overturned the military’s policy of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) regarding sexual orientation of service members. Under this policy those service members who were found to be homo- or bisexual or who disclosed their sexual orientation to anyone could be discharged from the military. Even though this policy was supposed to apply equally to all serving in the military those serving who filled a difficult position, or were much needed by the military, were generally overlooked in the witch-hunt. “In 1994 Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer, winner of a bronze star in Vietnam, won reinstatement in the Army Nurse Corps after being discharged for admitted homosexuality.”[11]

The ban disproportionately affected minorities and women. The latest data, compiled by the gay rights group Servicemembers United from Defense Department numbers, showed that in 2008, 45% of troops discharged under ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ were minorities, while minorities were 30% of the service. Women accounted for 34% of the discharges but were 14% of the military.[12]

Highly vocal spokesperson for the repeal of DADT, Lt. Daniel Choi, an openly gay Korean-American man whose skills as an Arabic translator made him too valuable for the Army to let go, was reinstated while DADT was still ineffect, after being discharged because of his sexual orientation. He and other military activists took direct action to overturn DADT, including handcuffing themselves to the White House fence, and fasting.

Autumn Sandeen, a disabled transgender Navy veteran who handcuffed herself to the White House fence, was disrespected and harassed while in custody because of her gender identity. Federal law enforcement officers referred her to as an “impersonator,” “shim,” and “it,” degrading and dehumanizing terms that do not reflect the federal government’s duty to protect and honor all American citizens.

In an eloquent and telling letter to President Barack Obama she wrote, “I personally approached this civil disobedience action with honor, courage, and commitment — the core values of the U.S. Navy — and my honor, courage, and commitment was met with disrespectful and dehumanizing epithets by your representatives in the Park Police and U.S. Marshals.”[13]

Inclusion of a clause disallowing discrimination based on sex or gender in the Constitution would provide grounds on which Sandeen’s case could be taken to the federal level. As has been seen with legislation regarding homosexuality, individual laws are not striking forcefully enough at the inequalities faced on a daily basis by a considerable number of Americans.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon in American society for women in general to be disrespected or dehumanized. One of the cruelest examples of this is the lack of Reproductive Justice (RJ) available to so many women in the United States. Because women’s opinions are not valued their autonomy and decision-making abilities are frequently called into question while men’s decisions are considered sound and logical.

In the Catholic Church priests are not punished for sexually abusing children over decades while one nun was excommunicated for allowing doctors to perform a life-saving abortion on a woman in a Catholic hospital.[14]When women make the choice to terminate a pregnancy they are vilified by right-wing conservatives who only proclaim to be pro-life until they themselves need an abortion.

One blogger explains, “Women are talked about, and legislated upon, as though having the organs in question disqualifies women from the discussion.”[15]But abortion, and legal, geographical and financial access to it, is not the only concern of the RJ movement.

SisterSong explains that Reproductive Justice “is the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, economic, and social well-being of women and girls, and will be achieved when women and girls have the economic, social and political power and resources to make healthy decisions about our bodies, sexuality and reproduction for ourselves, our families and our communities in all areas of our lives.”[16]

Demands for RJ can include accurate sex education for all women, including disabled women and lesbian women; economic and legal access to birth control and emergency contraception; the right to choose and form a legal commitment to one or more partners; and the right to become pregnant and adopt. Some of these ideas, especially recognizing same-sex marriage and the right to become pregnant, are still fairly radical but are imperative to ensuring that all women in the United States have equal rights.

Sexologist Bianca Laureano of Reproductive Health Reality Check questions the medicalization of women’s sexuality (and the “selling” of female sexual dysfunction) in the United States from a RJ perspective:

“When people discuss “comprehensive sexuality education” what do they really mean? Because when I discuss it I’m not just talking about sharing options in contraception, birth control, consent, etc. but I also include race, class, national origin, dis/ability, immigration status, and the criminalization of certain communities. Who decides what “comprehensive” means and includes/excludes?
Why is the U.S. sexuality and sexual health field so racially White, able-bodied, English-speaking, doctorate degree having, and older…still?!…
Why not mention the big elephant in the room: that FSD is focused on people whose sex assigned at birth is female and does not include transgender people or people who identify as intersex? How do we continue to “Other” and medicalize bodies that do not conform to what medical professionals have classified as “normal”?
How does a disability framework complicate, challenge, or affirm the medicalization of sexual dysfunctions?
What about working class and working poor people? Is sexual dysfunction just a illness of the middle and elite class who may have health insurance to cover such medications, procedures, access to entering into a trial, or the time to seek out specialized care?”[17]

As Laureano’s questions show, there is much work to be done to ensure that women are not discriminated against just for being women. All American women, LBTQAI, straight, disabled, nondisabled, Arab, Asian, black, Latina, Native, mixed-race, immigrant, and white of all classes, religions and ages must work together in strategic nonviolent action to include women in the Constitution and make sure discrimination on the basis of sex is no longer legal.


[1]Kilbourne, Jean (Producer). (2010). Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising’s Image of Women [Motion picture]. Northampton, MA: Media Education Foundation.

[2] Borland, Ken. 19 May 2010. “Eight athletes secretly banned over gender doubt.” National Post. Johannesburg, South Africa. 10 June 2010 http://www.nationalpost.com/sports/story.html?id=3047610

[3] Brownworth and Raffo, 1999.

[4] Alaniz and Wong, 1999.

[5] An idea that springs from “corrective rape.”

[6] Cooney, Elizabeth. 10 June 2010. “Survey: Bisexual women in poorest health.” White Coat Notes. Boston, MA.

[7] “Marriage, a Basic Civil Right.” 11 June 2010. Editorial. The New York Times.  p. A30.

[8] Presgraves, Daryl. 20 May 2010. “Franken Introducees Student Non-Discrimination Act in Senate to End Anti-LGBT Discrimination in Schools.” 10 June 2010 http://www.glsen.org/cgi-bin/iowa/all/news/record/2579.html

[9] Marinelli, Louis. “Gay-theme books banned from high school.” 10 June 2010 http://www.protectmarriagesite.com/nj.html

[10] Warbelow, Sarah. 17 May 2010. “Update: Minnesota Gov. Pawlenty Vetoes Domestic Partner Funeral Rights Bill.” 10 June 2010 http://www.hrcbackstory.org/2010/05/update-minnesota-gov-pawlenty-vetoes-domestic-partner-funeral-rights-bill/

[11] Celebrating Women’s History: A Women’s History Month resource book Ed. Mary Ellen Snodgrass. 1996. ITP: New York.

[12] Bello, Marisol. 27 May 2010. “‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ affects women, minorities more.” USA Today. 10 June 2010 http://www.usatoday.com/news/military/2010-05-26-dont-ask_N.htm

[13] Spaulding, Pam. 26 April 2010. “President Obama: A Transgender Veteran Is Not An ‘Impersonator,’ ‘It,’ Or ‘Shim.’” 10 June 2010 http://www.dailykos.com/story/2010/4/26/860860/-President-Obama:-A-Transgender-Veteran-Is-Not-An-Impersonator,-It,-Or-Shim-

[14] Bradley Hagerty, Barbara. 19 May 2010. “Nun Excommunicated for Allowing Abortion.” National Public Radio. 10 June 2010 http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126985072

[15] Presley, Katie. 14 May 2010. “3 Main Ways Right-Wing Legislators Control Women’s Bodies.” Ms.blog 10 June 2010 http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2010/05/14/3-main-ways-right-wing-legislators-control-womens-bodies/

[16] Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice. 2007. “What is Reproductive Justice?” SisterSong. 10 June 2010 http://www.sistersong.net/reproductive_justice.html


Day 25- SisterSong

To the readers who know me personally, the lack of discussions surrounding sex and reproductive rights and health has probably been puzzling. Sex, sexual rights, and sexual health are some of the areas about which I am most passionate. As Jean Kilbourne states in Killing Us Softly, sex is both more important and less important, than the advertising industry shows. I have not delved into sex/sexuality yet because it is such an intense topic and I have to be mentally prepared for it. Sunday’s blog will go in depth into the fight for sexual/reproductive rights in the US.

Today I want to introduce you to SisterSong, an amazing organization that is “building a movement for reproductive justice.” Reproductive justice is one of my favorite phrases in the English language. Put simplyRJ is “the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, social, and economic well-being of women and girls, based on the full achievement and protection of women’s human rights.” In other words, reproductive justice explores women’s sexuality and reproductive health while fighting for individuals’ rights to make fully-informed decisions regarding every aspect of life from education to employment to the environment.

SisterSong is a Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. I know that all sounds really hippy feminist, and it is, but hear me out.  Let’s break it down: women of color includes any and all women who are marginalized by the imposed, socially-constructed racial heirarchy in the US, usually anyone who is not or does not appear to be white and does not benefit from the privileges of whiteness; reproductive justice, again, is a social movement that seeks to teach an understanding of sexual and reproductive health and rights issues as it relates to the framework of oppression women face in the US, including poverty, racism, ableism, ageism, and homophobia, in addition to sexism; finally, collective underscores the need for solidarity amongst women to not fall prey to the imperialist tactic of divide and conquer, as SisterSong explains: doing collectively what we cannot do individually.

The Goose Story explains members’ clear committment to the work they are doing and how vital a community of support can be. The SisterSong community includes Southern RJ Activists, the Latina Encuentro, Trust Black Women and these member organizations. SisterSong also produces Collective Voices, “the only national newspaper addressing reproductive health created and distributed by and for women of color….” They also recommend these publications and articles.

July 14-17 this year SisterSong will host its 2011 Let’s Talk About Sex Conference in Miami Beach. The theme this year is Love, Legislation and Leadership. Sistersong also offers three different levels of RJ training which are aimed at audiences of 10-20 people.

If you would like to support the work SisterSong does to end racial oppression and sexism you have a few options: you can register for their training sessions so that you will be more prepared and able to discuss RJ with anyone who will listen; you can donate to Trust Black Women to help continue the fight against racist billboards aimed at shaming black women into not asserting their right to choose; you can donate to help preserve Mother House, the historic home offices of SisterSong in Atlanta, Georgia; or you can donate to SisterSong’s Women of Color Scholarship Program to ensure that “women of color, working class communities, immigrant communities, and young women and students” have access to information and services surrounding SisterSong’s work.


Day 23- Activism Surrounding the Prison System

I have to admit that I am somewhat ambivalent about the death penalty and I welcome any and all arguments for or against it as long as you are civil to each other. Also, most information I have regarding prisons is US-based so any information about prisons from other countries is welcomed, too.

In the United States, the country with the highest documented incarcerations in the world, there are many organizations that are working to reform the prison system as well as some that advocate the abolition of the prison system because of the horrendous conditions prisoners face including rape, injury, illness and even death.

The racism behind the prison system in the US is blatant and damaging to every aspect of society as shown by the Prison Policy Initiative. This list of political prisoners compiled by The Prison Activist Resource Center shows the severity of the impact of racism on minorities in America– roughly 70% of inmates are not white while minorities only make up 35% of the total US population. According to the U.S. Justice Bureau 1 of every 32 adults in the US is either incarcerated (in prison or jail), on parole, or on probation. This number does not include the more than 90,000 children held in juvenile facilities.

Nearly 93% of inmates are male but despite blacks making up only 12.4% of the total population, black men outnumber white men in prison 6 to 1, and most people who are incarcerated have not been convicted of violent crimes. The November Coalition is one organization fighting for the reform of drug policy in the US. The rape of prisoners is one of the biggest concerns of human rights groups such as Los Angeles-based Just Detention International, while such reputable organizations as Human Rights Watch also address the conditions under which prisoners are held, reforming drug policy, and class issues as they relate to inmates. The issues surrounding the use of solitary confinement in prison were outlined in Law & Order: SVU (Season 11, Episode 3). Prisoners of the Census is another organization that fights the immoral gerrymandering of political districts based upon census figures that count prisoners where they are incarcerated rather than where they are from.

HIV+ inmates make up at least 1.7% of the incarcerated population and face specific challenges and discrimination within the prison industrial complex, including an infection rate of 5-10 times that of unincarcerated people, but some groups do exist within prisons to help prevent the spread of HIV and offer support to those who are HIV+ such as ACE (AIDS Counseling and Education) at the maximum security women’s prison Bedford Hills in New York. Here is a brief history of the fight against the spread of HIV and AIDS within the prison system. LGBTQAI (especially male-to-female transgender) inmates are almost certain to face violence, and rape, while imprisoned. This long piece explores the history of “Queer Encounters in Gay and Lesbian Prison Activism.”

The US drug policy “has become a war on women,” and a staggering 58% of women inmates were victims of violence before being incarcerated. Women in prison face challenges their male counterparts do not, but often their experience is invisible. From these statistics we learn that 60-67% of female prisoners are black or Hispanic in the US, while only 24% of the total US population is black or Hispanic; women are 33% more likely to be incarcerated on drug charges than men; 64% of women enter prison without having graduated high school and women in prison are 12 times more likely to be HIV+.

The health and well being of women is not one of the US government’s priorities, neither are eradicating racism, ending poverty or improving education, therefore it is clear that women in prison may constitute the most vulnerable group in American society as the isms of patriarchy are suffocatingly piled on them.

Jailing pregnant women has recently gotten much press with many women being shackled during childbirth. The Rebecca Project for Human Rights’s Anti-Shackling Coalition has been very vocal in its opposition to this inhumane treatment. The Prison Doula Project is another group working to improve conditions for pregnant inmates. Pregnant women are not only being sent to prison for violating real laws, but are also subject to “pro-life” sheriffs and judges locking them up for potentially breaking laws.

Other activism for women’s rights in prison includes The Advocacy Project which “believes that incarcerating women is an inappropriate and ineffective response to profound social problems such as poverty, racism, childhood sexual abuse, and mental illness,” The California Coalition for Women Prisoners, and the amazing, highly-recommended Women + Prison which also takes on the issue of incarcerating women who use violence against their abusers. All of these inspiring organizations utilize a feminist perspective in their activism. The International V-Day Movement also raises awareness of issues specific to women in prison with productions of the play Any One of Us: Words From Prison and screenings of the film What I Want My Words To Do To You.

In related news, the death of a prominent prison rights advocate in Greece caused an uprising in women’s prisons there. For just a few poignant references to the prison system in pop culture listen to “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash, “Locked Up” by Akon, and especially “Prison Song” by System of a Down. If anyone knows any good songs in this light by female artists I would much appreciate a heads-up. To support prison reform (or abolition) and fight for human rights check out any of the organizations mentioned above and consider volunteering, donating, writing to your representative, or even just educating yourself (and those around you) more about this normally-hidden issue.


Day 21- Violence Against Women in the US

Whether it comes in the form of emotional, financial, physical, or sexual abuse, a significant portion of women in the United States face violence everyday. Violence, and the fight against it, may be the one unifying factor women across all sectors have in common other than their sex. Race, class, age, sexuality, gender identity, and ability all affect the type of violence women experience but none of these factors protect women from violence.

“Violence in the name of power, conquest, dominance, and submission are the cornerstones of”[1] the hierarchy of patriarchy in the U.S. Perhaps the most disturbing fact about violence against women in the United States is that most women are hurt by someone known to them, and the most dangerous place for women is a private home.

Luckily, help is available for victims of violence. “On September 15, 2009, 1,648 out of 1,980, or 83%, of identified local domestic violence programs in the United States and territories participated in the 2009 National Census of Domestic Violence Services,” conducted annually by the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV).[2]

This survey[3] found that 65,321 victims, (41,097 adults and 24,224 children) were served and 9,280 needs were unmet due to lack of resources and/or funding in one day. On that day four women were killed by their intimate partners and seven children were killed by their fathers.

Although the survey did not take into account how many men or women were served or what age group victims generally fell in–confidentiality issues can take precedence over sex- and age-disaggregated data–one in nine men and one in four women will be victims of domestic violence at some point in their lives.[4] Sixty per cent of unmet requests “were from victims seeking emergency shelter or transitional housing.” Insufficient funding for needed programs and services was cited by 40 percent of program respondents as a reason they were unable to provide services while “limited funding for translators, bilingual staff, or accessible equipment,” was cited by 11 percent of programs. In Texas alone, with 87% of shelters reporting, 2,988 adults and 2,443 children were served while 784 requests for services were unmet.[5]

Figures for the most underreported violent crimes–sexual assault and rape–are equally disturbing. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) estimates that one of every six women in the United States will be a victim of sexual assault in her lifetime.[6] Sixty percent of these crimes are not reported to the police. Domestic violence is also underreported.

“Language barriers, distrust of authorities, and fears of the legal system can deter reporting. Many immigrant women are reluctant to report domestic violence to authorities out of fear that they would be deported. Non-English speakers, migrant workers, or victims with disabilities may face specific obstacles in reporting….

“Traditional expectations in some cultures that demand silent subservience of women make it harder for battered women to report the abuse and deprive those women of community support. In traditional Navajo culture, for example, ‘peacemakers’ who informally adjudicate claims of battering may try to restore harmony by encouraging women to remain in abusive relationships.

“Lesbians and gay men may be reluctant to report intimate violence to avoid disclosing their sexual orientation, or they may fear police hostility. If gay men or lesbians use physical force to defend themselves from their battering partners, police may assume that two men wrestling is a ‘fair fight’ or think that two women struggling is a catfight or quarrel. If lesbians who are battered by their partner seek refuge at a shelter, their partners, who are also women, can gain access to them.”[7]

The result of underreporting and a judicial system entrenched in patriarchy is that on average three women are killed every day by an intimate partner[8] and only about six percent of rapists ever spend a day in jail.[9]

“Women are still being criticized for what they were wearing at the time of the rape and where they were when it occurred, and questioned why they were there in the first place–all of which would be unthinkable if the crime was, say, a mugging. As law professor Taunya Lovell Banks says, ‘No one ever questions if a person consents to other types of assault. Nonsexual victims don’t have to say “I didn’t consent to be hit with that crowbar.”‘”[10]

In 2008 the Federal Bureau of Investigation reports that 89,000 “forcible rapes” took place[11] while only 22,584 arrests were made for “forcible rape.”[12] The Center for Disease Control found that in 2007 sexual assault was the leading cause of nonfatal violence-related injuries for females age one to nine years old, while for all other age groups of females, including those younger than one year old, “other assault, struck by/against” was the leading cause of injury. Much of the physical violence in the report can be attributed to domestic violence and child abuse.

Sexual assault was the second most frequent cause of nonfatal violence-related injury for females under one year of age and those aged 10-14. It was also the number three ranking cause of injury overall and for women ages 15-34.[13] Citing the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Institute of Justice & Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, RAINN found that 90 percent of rape victims are female, and while white people make up 80 percent of all sexual assault victims, minorities are more likely to be attacked.

The lifetime rate of rape or attempted rate is highest for Native American women, at 34.1 percent. In America 24.4 percent of mixed raced women, 18.8 percent of black women, 17.7 percent of white women and six-point-eight percent of Asian women will be victims of sexual assault. Also, 80 percent of sexual assault and rape victims are under age 30 while a staggering 15 percent of sexual assault and rape victims are under age 12, and girls 16-19 are four “times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault.”[14]

Violence and abuse towards children is rampant in the U.S. but is even more common towards disabled people and is compounded by other identity factors. “‘Special ed’ classrooms have been, and still are in some school districts, a dumping ground for poor kids, kids of color, particularly those who don’t speak English, and kids with a variety of disabilities, all of whom learn more slowly or differently than kids in ‘regular’ classrooms.”

Thus, while most children, like most adult victims of sexual assault or familial violence, keep quiet, disabled children and adults are even more likely not to report abuse. Abuse has become institutionalized as “women still are being abused in some mental hospitals. In some cases, other patients and hospital staff have abused the women, and no one believes them because they are labeled mentally ill.”[15] One woman explains why disabled people are chosen as targets of abuse:

“There are the ones who are chosen because they cannot speak of the horror. There are the ones who are chosen because they cannot run away, and there is nowhere to run. There are the ones who are chosen because their very lives depend on not fighting back. There are the ones who are chosen because there is no one for them to tell. There are the ones who are chosen because no one has even taught them the words. There are the ones who are chosen because society chooses to believe that, after all, they don’t really have any sexuality, so it can’t hurt them.”[16]

Disabled people, especially those with mental illness or developmental disabilities, are often seen as being unaware of their surroundings and therefore treated as subhuman, creating an environment in which abuse against them is more normalized. One author found that “abuse is the rule, rather than the exception, in the experience of disabled people.”[17]

Forced sterilization and sadistic medical experiments still take place on individuals with developmental disabilities.[18] Other groups that have battled for their right to bodily integrity and against forced sterilization include Native American and Latina women and women in the prison system, especially drug addicts. Native American boarding schools, the prison system, and retirement homes are also infamous for their high rates of institutionalized violence. Elder abuse is one more example of violence that often goes unreported due to fear and unpunished due to lack of concern.

Fortunately, numerous avenues have opened up to fight sexual and domestic violence in the past 40 years, largely thanks to the women’s movement of the 1970s. From recognition of the existence of marital rape to the passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 1994, 2000, and 2005, women who are victims of violence now have more recourse to seek justice. There are also a considerable number of programs aimed at raising awareness of and preventing violence against women.

In addition to RAINN and NNEDV, Take Back the Night,[19] The Vagina Monologues/V-Day Movement,[20] The National Domestic Violence Hotline,[21] The National Sexual Assault Hotline,[22] and INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence[23]–co-founded by Cherokee activist Andrea Smith, are all non-governmental organizations whose work fights to prevent violence and help those who have suffered recover.

The United States government has also joined in the fight; in addition to VAWA, the federal government also operates the Office on Violence Against Women under the Department of Justice,[24] and includes resources for victims of violence through the Office of Women’s Health under the Department of Health & Human Services.[25]

Also, every state and U.S. territory has at least one organization dedicated to victims of violence, most of which provide shelter services in emergencies. Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, the Virgin Islands, Virginia, and Wyoming all have one statewide organization that addresses the needs of victims of sexual and domestic violence. All other states and Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam have at least one organization to address domestic violence and one to address sexual assault and rape.[26][27]

Many large cities throughout the U.S. also have local shelters and organizations to deal with high rates of violence. The presence of so many organizations working to prevent violence against women has helped; the annual number of reported rapes, sexual assaults, incidents of domestic violence, and intimate partner homicide have all fallen in the past 20 years, but, there is still much work to be done before patriarchy stops using violence to try to control women.


[1] Rowland, Debran. 2004. The Boundaries of Her Body: The Troubling History of Women’s Rights in America. Sphinx Publishing: Naperville, IL.g

[2] National Network to End Domestic Violence. 2009. “Domestic Violence Counts 2009: A 24-Hour Census of Domestic Violence Shelters and Services.” NNEDV: Washington, D.C.

Click to access DVCounts09_Report_BW.pdf

[3] See the full 2009 report in Appendix 4.

[4] The National Domestic Violence Hotline. “Get Educated.” 12 June 2010. http://www.ndvh.org/get-educated/abuse-in-america/

[5] National Network to End Domestic Violence, 2009.

[6] Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. 2009. “Who are the Victims?” 12 June 2010. http://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/sexual-assault-victims

[7] Levit, Nancy and Robert R. M. Verchick. 2006. Feminist Legal Theory. New York University Press: New York.

[8] The National Organization for Women. 2009. “Violence Against Women in the United States: Statistics.” 7 August 2010. http://www.now.org/issues/violence/stats.html

[9] Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. 2009. “Reporting Rates.” 12 June 2010 http://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/reporting-rates

[10] Dusky, Lorraine. 1996. Still Unequal: The Shameful Truth About Women and Justice in America. Crown Publishers, Inc.: New York.

[11] Federal Bureau of Investigation. 2009. “Table 7: Offense Analysis United States, 2004-2008.” 12 June 2010 http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2008/data/table_07.html

[12] Federal Bureau of Investigation. 2009 “Table 29: Estimated Number of Arrests United States, 2008.” 12 June 2010. http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2008/data/table_29.html

[13] Office of Statistics and Programming, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. 2010. “10 Leading Causes of Nonfatal Violence-Related Injury, United States: 2007, All Races, Females, Disposition: All Cases.” Center for Disease Control. 25 July 2010 http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/wisqars/nonfatal/quickpicks/quickpicks_2007/violfem.htm

[14] RAINN, 2009.

[15] Brownworth and Raffo, 1999.

[16] Keith, 1996.

[17] Keith, 1996.

[18] Pilkington, Ed. 4 January 2007. “Frozen in time: the disabled nine-year-old girl who will remain a child all her life.” The Guardian. 7 August 2010. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/jan/04/health.topstories3

[26] Ibid.

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