Tuesday, December 6, 2011
On the first day of class, I walked in and took a seat around a circle of about 30 women and one other man. While I was not used to having class in which there were very few male students – I went to an “all-guys” high school – I was not bothered by the skewed percentages. After all, it was what I had expected since it was a Women’s Studies class.
While I was getting a few dirty glances from some of the students – those “Why are you here?” stares – my uneasiness only slightly increased; as far as the course material went, it was one of my favorite classes. How can you not enjoy a class where you write your term paper comparing gender representations between two alternative music magazines and a final that analyzes the stereotypes and gendered biases in How I Met Your Mother?
One of the basic principles you learn in a Women’s Studies class: it is unfair to generalize about people based on gender, race, etc. Our class often discussed how the public perceptions of women were based largely around stereotypes and limited diversity among public personas. Women of color were grossly underrepresented, as well as any women that did not fit stereotypical norms of appearance, gender, or sexuality. Similarly, there is not one feminist writer/thinker/perspective that represents all views. Simply, it is problematic and often erroneous to generalize about the “female” or “woman’s” perspective. Another important topic in Women’s Studies is equality; gender equality, sex equality, and just equality in general are always at the forefront of discussion.
In this particular class, however, both principles were violated. Now I am not talking about “man-hating” or anything like that. Certainly this can be a tendency of discussion for a group of young female cohorts, but it is vehemently denounced by most feminists. However, after our discussions that would thoroughly cover the different perspectives on a topic from various women’s points of view, my teacher would turn towards my chair and ask, “So Ben, what is the male perspective on this?”
The first time this happened I was slightly stunned, meekly replying that I felt unequipped to speak for all men. “Right, right okay Ben, can you give us a male perspective?” So I talk about the role of masculinity in my life and the general verbal/emotional abuse that comes with being labeled feminine within the social circles I occupy. Sure, I can represent a man’s perspective. I can add to the many voices that make up men’s perspectives, but I certainly feel no ability to speak for all men, or “the male perspective.”
This question reoccurred time after time. Finally, I went up to my professor and told her I felt it was problematic to be asked for the male perspective in light of our diversification of perspectives of women.
“Well, you are the only one in the class who can provide such a perspective, Ben.”
True enough, but what I am saying is that there is no one male perspective.
“Your insight is very important to this class Ben. I don’t often have too many men in my classes. It is refreshing to have that perspective.”
My former professor’s question is problematic for several reasons. First, it upholds a strict gender binary in its assumption that men and women must have drastically different ideas on the same subject. It also implies that we as men are all the same. I can only speak for myself, but I want to understand other perspectives and I do not think men or women are all the same. A lot can be accomplished from the acceptance of men into the field, especially feminist men with varying backgrounds.
So here’s just one male perspective of being “the guy” in a Women’s Studies class. I expect the questions about why I am a Women’s Studies minor. I expect the questions as to why I took whatever class I happen to be in. I even expect the expectation of others that I am gay – although this is a stereotype in it of itself. But I expect more from my professors and fellow students. I do not represent THE male perspective, as there is no one universal male (or female) perspective and it hurts everyone to generalize about who or what people are supposed to be. So if you do not want to be put into a box of oppressive social “norms,” please do not put others in boxes. But that's just my perspective.
Ben is a sophomore Philosophy/Psychology major and Women’s Studies minor at Saint Louis University.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
However, rape and incest do not seem to phase the candidates. Newt Gingrich was quoted as supporting an amendment to allow states to decline funding for abortions in the case of rape and incest in 1995, and Herman Cain recently announced that he opposes all abortions, including those to end pregnancies caused by rape or incest. Rick Santorum also stated that abortion should be completely banned regardless of the situation; he described abortions as “traumatizing” and thinks that victims of sexual assault would benefit from carrying their rapist’s baby to term. Santorum would not only make illegal all forms of abortion, but if elected, he would try to limit access to contraception: “One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country,” He says, “It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” Hmmm, I wonder if he's aware that more than 99 percent of women, aged 15–44 have used at least one form of contraception...
The attack on women’s reproductive autonomy does not stop there. Strangely enough, although these candidates are urging women to “choose life” over abortion, the Republican party is also trying to de-fund services that assist mothers and young children. In September, the Republican leadership released its draft Fiscal Year 2012 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education spending bill, that reduces funding for health care reform by at least $8.6 billion and makes significant cuts to services for low income women and families. Among other cuts, they proposed a $1.8 million reduction for Title V Maternal and Child Health Services, as well as the termination of the Title V Maternal, Infant and Early Child Health Home Visiting Program, the Pregnancy Assistance Fund, and Title X Family Planning grants, which would result in millions of women losing access to basic primary and preventive health care, including lifesaving cancer screenings, birth control, annual exams and STD testing. According to the Guttmacher Institute, publicly funded clinics such as Title X Family Planning programs are estimated to help to prevent nearly two million unintended pregnancies each year, almost half of which would otherwise (ironically) end in abortion.
How can someone who claims to oppose abortion at all costs also show outright disdain of single mothers? Unfortunately, this sort of rhetoric is far too common in the current political dialogue, all conveying the same message: sexuality (especially female sexuality) and female independence is bad, that women are incapable of making good decisions, and that they should not be entrusted with control over their own bodies. With the upcoming elections, women’s issues are at the forefront, with the emphasis on limiting access to family planning and eliminating the right to choose. Now more than ever, it is important to be outspoken about the importance of reproductive justice, to educate our friends, and talk to our representatives about why reproductive choice is a freedom we do not want to lose.
Monday, October 31, 2011
These powerful words, spoken by Ms. Gloria Steinem, reflect not only our struggle in the reproductive justice movement, but also connect to the heart of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Our reproductive justice movement and the Occupy Wall Street movement are more alike than one would think. Certainly, there is some overlap between supporters of both movements, but both share the fundamental principle that “we the people” should be free from the controls of the government – in body, mind, and soul. Like Ms. Steinem said, unless we have the autonomy to govern ourselves, how can we expect to uphold our democracy?
While our movement is a little more straightforward and definitive of goals, the Occupy Wall Street movement has been criticized for being unclear and vague as to what its purpose is. Ask anyone on the street what the Occupy Wall Street movement is, and you'll get a colorful range of answers.
After visiting Kiener Plaza in downtown St. Louis, I have heard more negative reflections on the movement by people who are totally unaware of what the movement actually stands for. So here's the gist of it: Occupy Wall Street participants, who have made themselves more than present in every major American city, protest the notion that money controls everything in our society, especially Washington politics. Admittedly, there is no unifying platform, but they believe that mega-corporations like the big banks are responsible for the economic hardships faced by today's Americans. They represent thousands of Americans, young and old, who believe that the big corporations' influence is so far-reaching and wide-spread that they have infiltrated our everyday lives.
I'll give you an example. Wal-Mart, an Arkansas-based corporation that has become one of the largest names in America, is vilely prolife and anti-women's rights (see my blog on meeting Ms. Betty Dukes.) Wal-Mart is one of Occupy Wall Street's biggest targets, and for good reason. From barring prochoice groups like Planned Parenthood from having bake sales and fundraisers outside their doors (which is what they allow the anti-abortion groups to do) to actively choosing male over more qualified female candidates for better jobs, Wal-Mart blatantly and openly violates federal and state laws concerning gender and racial equality, labor standards, and social practices. But Wal-Mart's executives LOVE politics. In 2004, the mega-corporation ranked as the #2 top campaign donator to the Republican party. By giving such huge sums they are guaranteeing that the GOP promote policies that are anti-woman and anti-labor.
Wal-Mart is not the only common target of the reproductive justice and Occupy Wall Street movement. Koch Industries, News Corporation, the "Big Four" accountancy firms, the oil industry, and, of course, the majority of Wall Street corporations are all responsible for Americans losing rights.
The Occupy Wall Street protesters are not today's "hippies," bums, dropouts, whatever. Many of them have college degrees (and NOT in English, like I had originally assumed). In St. Louis, many of them are veterans who are fed up with big corporations receiving bailouts while their earned benefits are being slashed. These are our neighbors, our plumbers, our teachers, our doctors, and our freedom fighters who believe that their voices have been lost among the wealth and power with which Washington politics have become obsessed.
In a country that so values its rights and freedoms as a democracy, how ironic is it that our government indiscriminately takes them away? No longer are we the America our Forefathers and Foremothers envisioned, where everyone was equal regardless of the amount of money or influence they possessed. Nay, our government is controlled entirely by the wealthy, who pour millions into the system to ensure their agendas are fulfilled, without any regard as to who they trample, impoverish, and constitutionally violate.
Returning to Ms. Steinem's words, I ask this of you: how do we get our government to respect "we the people"?
We rise up.
We do what the first patriots did, what the abolitionists did, what the suffragists did, what the civil rights leaders did, what Arab Spring did in Africa, what the Occupy Wall Street protesters are doing now. We who care about women's role in society, about personal autonomy, about the right of every person to make the families of their own choosing, must also rise up because, as a people who have lost our ability to govern our own bodies, our own minds, and our own activities, we have nothing to lose.
We cannot hope to change the anti-woman tide of events by complaining to our prochoice
friends. Nor can we hope to change things by writing letters to Congress. Neither party is listening. We must show that we are a force to be reckoned with.
I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes by Thomas Jefferson. I ask you to consider it, with respect to the reproductive justice movement and the Occupy Wall Street movement: "When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty."
Our government no longer fears us. Washington politicians have grown comfortable because we have allowed ourselves to become so passive. But for my generation’s sake, and those who follow me, rise up.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
My first assignment as an intern at Faith Aloud was to participate in a peaceful presence demonstration at a women's health clinic in Granite City that performs abortions. Our purpose is to show the women that come for abortions that there is an alternative voice to the Christians that are shouting that God hates them.
As a part of the demonstration, we are instructed to remain silent. The idea of this concept is that we can get our point across without needing to scream at others. Instead we hold signs that express our thoughts. The sign I chose said, “Jesus did not shame women.”
When I arrived, I was nervous because I had no idea what to expect. Abortion is a very heated topic for many people and can even lead to violence. About an hour into our demonstration a man from the protesters side came right up to the building and confronted me about my sign. Following the rules, I chose not to respond to him. When one of the clinic employees noticed what was happening, she came over and informed the man that he had to leave clinic property. He did leave but not quietly. The entire time, he was shouting back at me “are you proud of this?!”
The rest of the morning went by without incident until we started to leave. The same man decided to follow us to our cars. He shouted, “Are you proud of what you have done here today and how can you call yourself a Christian?” Although, it was hard, I decided to ignore his comments-- getting into a confrontation would not show my idea of who God is to anyone. My understanding of God as loving and forgiving does not need words to convey. Silence sometimes speaks louder than words, and I believe that simply being present can be just as powerful for the people I am supporting.
The “shouting man” (as I will call him) and I have a very different view of God. The “shouting man” sees God as Judge and feels the need to convince the women that if they have an abortion they will receive God’s judgment. He feels that his job is to “lead” the women away from “sin.” As frightening as it seems, the “shouting man” believes that he is doing the will of God.
I believe that we both see these women as neighbors in need, but the heart of the matter as I see it is that I want to embrace the woman entirely as she is and the “shouting man” wants to change her, and make her conform to his personal ideals.
The women that come to this clinic have had to make a difficult decision that will change their lives, and they need to be nurtured and cared for emotionally and physically. They have the right to be loved and valued unconditionally. My greatest fear is that the women who come to this clinic will see people like the “shouting man” as the only representative of the church; my fear is that these women would see the “shouting man” as the only church that there is. My need is to communicate to the women having the abortion that they are not being condemned by this decision and that God loves them completely. I want them to know that the God of judgment that the “shouting man” represents is not the only voice for God that Christianity has to offer.
To me, Christianity is about unconditional love, and true acceptance of people means going to wherever they are on their journey.
Friday, October 21, 2011
The Ku Klux Klan. Church of the Creator. Ranch Rescue. Aryan Nations. The YMCA.
Question: What do these organizations have to do with each other?
Answer: They all were either totally or nearly bankrupted by the Southern Poverty Law Center because of a civil law suit.
Most of the cases mentioned above were racially-charged, but go with me on this one: what if they were based on gender and the right to privacy? According the US Census Bureau, women make up 50.7% of the American population, making them the largest targeted demographic for gender-based hate organizations like Operation Rescue, Youth Ministries, Inc., Lambs of Christ, and even the local Small Victories. These terrorist groups aim their hate speech, fists, guns, and bombs at women, their doctors, and their rights, yet they somehow manage to avoid being criminally prosecuted.
I have a crazy thought - what if we held these organizations, linked to assault, battery, harassment, arson, and murder, to the same standards held to the KKK, Christian Knights, and other organizations of the like? As in, we go for their pocketbooks, just as the SPLC did to take down racism in the South. Civil lawsuits do not always end in loads of punitive damages, but a handful of them end up in social change. For an example, see Brown v. Board of Education, any case about creationism being taught in public schools, and of course, Roe v. Wade. Few end up with huge awards, like the crown jewel of the SPLC's legal repertoire, Macedonia Baptist Church v. Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, which resulted in the largest civil damages award ever in the amount of $37.8 million. Obviously, this bankrupted the KKK in South Carolina, which was forced to give up all property holdings and its headquarters to barely make a dent in the awarded damages.
I'll give you a very relevant example, VanDuyn v. Smith (Ill. Appellate Court, 1988). Margaret VanDuyn, a director of an ambulatory surgical treatment center that offered first trimester abortions, who filed suit against Pro-Life Action League activist Gerald T. Smith in 1988. Smith had followed Ms. VanDuyn in her car, to her home, to the airport, and to work, in addition to picketing in front of her house and outside of her workplace (admitting to violating Illinois state law). Smith also posted "Wanted" posters around Ms. VanDuyn's neighborhood and gave them to her friends, family, and acquaintances. Smith publicly accused Ms. VanDuyn of killing more than 50,000 "children" for profit and included false information about abortion procedures, none of which were performed in the medical center.
Ms. VanDuyn, as a result, suffered severe emotional distress, experiencing panic attacks, irregular hypertension, insomnia, and hospitalization. She brought a suit against Smith, and was able to successfully prove intentional infliction of emotional distress as a result of the defendant's actions against her. The court reasoned that, since Ms. VanDuyn was not a public official or figure, she had a reasonable expectation of privacy which was blatantly violated by Smith and the pro-life movement. Ms. VanDuyn's suit was for $15,000 - which is money that a lot of pro-life organizations don't have. Unfortunately, Ms. VanDuyn's National Health Care Services Clinic was firebombed in 1993, but you better believe the ATF and FBI had a good clue as to who was behind the terrorism (http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-4192176.html).
I can tell you exactly where the pro-choice movement has it all wrong: we rely too much on the police and the government to intervene and assert our rights and protections as American citizens. But guess what. Abortion is still too touchy of an issue for anyone to have the chutzpah to step up and stand for women's rights. This is where we take our fate into our own hands, and file civil suits against these misogynist, criminal bullies.
Now, I will issue a disclaimer that just because you take some photos or video footage doesn't mean you have a guaranteed case. No lawsuit is ever guaranteed, no matter how solid the evidence. But with a fed-up clinic employee, a passionate lawyer, and some sound logic and proof, you have the potential for a strong case. And never, ever incite violence or retribution. Just like the KKK and other domestic terrorist organizations, pro-life groups want our protesters to "violate" their civil rights. We in the pro-choice movement must always take the high road.
To me, this whole issue is full of irony and hypocrisy. Pro-lifers can infiltrate our legislature, assault and bomb their way to the top, and pass laws that restrict our legal right to autonomous decisions, but heaven forbid if we step on their toes a little bit to assert that right.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
On the sidewalk outside the clinic, a crowd of at least 70 protesters gathered to sing and preach and scream at the women walking into the clinic. They told the women they hoped when they went to hell, they’d have to look into the face of the fetus they aborted and hear it’s screams for eternity. How horrible is that? Even worse, they were especially hostile towards the African American women walking into the clinic-- accusing them of being racist by aborting a black baby (yet this was not an argument they used for white women). They tried every tactic, getting as personal as possible in order to get the woman’s attention. Several times they got personal enough to hit a nerve, and the woman they targeted burst into tears. And when there were no women to harass, they started in on us.
When I woke up that morning I was feeling as emotionally strong as I ever have. Yet driving home from the clinic, I found myself feeling sad and dejected, and I didn’t know why.
I asked myself:
“Do I whole-heartedly believe in a woman’s right to choose?”
“Do I think the women coming into the Clinic were doing something wrong?”
“Do I feel like I was doing something good by being at the clinic and supporting the patients, staff and doctors?”
So why do I feel so bad right now?
The fact is, even when you whole-heartedly believe in your cause, being screamed at is awful. Even when you know the words that are being screamed at you are not true, having that much hate directed at you hurts. After three hours of being emotionally bullied, those negative comments do make you feel like crap.
This especially made me feel for the women there for an appointment. Honestly, I don’t know how I would be able to deal with all that hatred if I were already feeling emotionally strained from the stressful experience of an unplanned pregnancy-- a time when I know any unkind word would be especially hurtful and damaging to my ability to cope with the situation. It especially made me feel for the many women who grew up attending a church that spouted similar condemning rhetoric, but still found themselves needing abortion care.
As I watched woman after woman being yelled at, approached, and even getting her picture taken by the protesters, I kept wondering, “How in the world is this legal?” Many clinics have attempted to protect their patients with criminal lawsuits against protesters. But unfortunately, by invoking their first amendment, most of the protesters have gotten away with what I see as very un-American, intolerant behavior. I do believe in freedom of speech, but I don’t believe in freedom of abuse. And the words spoken by the protesters was nothing short of abusive.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Tomorrow there will be a similar Town Hall Meeting in Springfield, MO. If you are anywhere near Springfield or have any friends in the area who might be interested, I encourage you to attend-- it was a very moving and informative experience for me, and this case has very important implications for the future rights of LGBT citizens. If you cannot attend, we urge you to follow the case, talk about it with your friends, and send letters to your representatives letting them know that the equality of all citizens is an important issue to you.
For more information about how the ACLU is taking on the case, check out their website: http://www.aclu-em.org/legal/legaldocket/currentcases/glossipvmissouridepartment.htm
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Betty Dukes is the Rosa Parks of our generation, and is exactly the kick in the pants that our country needs. A humble, working-class woman from California, Ms. Dukes was scraping by off the multi-billion dollar megacorporation's meager minimum wage salary. She loved her job, and performed well. There were no legitimate cited reasons from the defendant Walmart that would indicate why Ms. Dukes would not receive a promotion or pay raise. But she didn't. So she fought back
And that woman fought hard. Ms. Dukes made connections with Equal Rights Advocates to represent her, won at trial court level, at the appellate level, and so on- then took her case all the way to the Supreme Court.
Until Walmart reared its ugly, discriminating head and made Ms. Dukes' case into something so far off-base from its original claim. Walmart said that Betty Dukes' case violated the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and its guidelines on class action suits.
Never mind that she was making minimum wage while the Walton family squandered its wealth. Forget that she was denied job promotions, pay increases, and project assignments. And ignore the fact that Walmart uses sweatshops, undercuts competitors, destroys jobs (and lives), and violates EPA and labor guidelines. Instead of owning up to the fact that the Arkansas-based mega-corporation violated multiple federal laws, Walmart's lawyers turn the tables in true lawyer fashion and make the issue about something that has absolutely nothing to do with the issue at hand.
The turned-around, newly-dubbed "Walmart v. Dukes" redefined that federal standards for class-action suits, making it harder for the middle-class worker to file suit against his mega-employer.
And the four conservative, anti-women, anti-labor, anti-rights judges agreed with Walmart, and somehow got Kennedy to agree with them.
If you're not fired up yet, you're not paying attention. Your purchase at Walmart has cost a qualified woman a pay raise, a job promotion, and so on. Those bananas that cost you $0.89 just cost a woman her ability to feed her children. You could have spent $1 at a farmer's market or local grocer. Is someone's rights worth the $0.11 deficit? That's what you do, that's how your Walmart purchases, are helping to bring America down.
I love my country. I truly, honestly do. But our nickel-and-diming to save a few bucks at Walmart and other mega-retailers have cost us dearly. I've heard from many conservative friends and family members that "ObamaCare" is cutting jobs. Well guess what. Increasing national healthcare coverage doesn't kill jobs; your shopping at Walmart does.
Friday, August 26, 2011
Last weekend, Chelsea and I packed our purses full of Faith Aloud merchandise and excitedly headed to the 24th annual Equality Day Brunch at the Crown Plaza Hotel. There we munched and mingled with our fellow feminists while we heard rousing speeches from the incredible women who have worked tirelessly to protect our rights. We had the very special opportunity to hear an inspiring speech from Betty Dukes, the woman who sued Walmart, the largest private employer in the world, in the largest class action lawsuit in America's history. Dukes, like the 1.5 million female Walmart employees she is representing, had been denied raises and equal opportunity to promotions simply because she is a woman. Unfortunately, in a 5-4 decision the Supreme Court voted in favor of Walmart, but Betty reminded us that the fight is not over. Only someone like Betty can turn a loss into a source of drive and inspiration.
In a strike of fortune, we got the opportunity to talk to Betty Dukes herself. I felt humbled and awed at the prospect of meeting the woman who dared to take on Walmart. Betty is sweet, charming, and feisty (a winning personality trio I've noticed in many of the self-proclaimed feminists I work with). She grasped my hand affectionately and said, "It's so good to see some young people here." She looked around the room and laughed, "So where are all your friends? Where are all the rest of the young people?" She had a point; of the 200 people at the event, Chelsea and I were the youngest by at least 20 years. Although Betty's comment was only meant as a good-natured jab at the aging status of her cohorts, this simple question has been nagging me ever since. Seriously, where are all the young people? Hearing all those amazing women talk about fighting tooth and nail to get the privileges I take for granted made me wonder, what has happened to the women's movement? As I have learned from working at Faith Aloud, there is a wonderful network of pro-choice organizations that work their butts off. But where are the average, everyday pro-choice people?
NARAL's poll from 2010 reports that 59% of young people identify as pro-choice (8 points higher than the average for all ages). Yet why don't I feel like I'm part of the majority on this issue?
Pro-choicers tend to be quiet. Since we support a view that a woman should be trusted to make her own reproductive choices and do what is best for herself and her family, it makes sense that we'd take a laid back approach. We're not standing on street corners shouting at passersby or wielding signs that say, "Women better be able to exercise their reproductive freedom, or else!" ... But maybe we should be.
In the last ten years abortion has become one of the most controversial political issues in our country. And as a result, abortion has become a taboo topic amongst my generation, even for people who support reproductive rights. No one wants to talk about it openly because they don't want to invite the attacks of a very loud and very intimidating anti-choice opposition. Until I started working at Faith Aloud, I myself was largely silent about my feelings on the issue, mostly because I didn't want it to be something that unnecessarily divided me from my pro-life friends. I was also cautious about talking about abortion to people whose political stance I wasn't sure about, for fear that they may start quoting the Bible to me (yes, thank you, I've read it too, you don't need to tell me about it). I agree that it is much more comfortable to just be a quiet supporter of women's rights. However, with the constant barrage of anti-choice bills that keep ending up on the senate floor, and as the religious opposition gets louder and louder, our silence on the topic may end up costing us our freedoms. Therefore, I think it's about time we start coming out of the pro-choice closet, so to speak.
So today, on Equality Day and the 91st anniversary of women gaining the right to vote, I, Allison Pikaard, am ready to shout from the metaphorical rooftops of social media:
I AM PRO-CHOICE AND I AM PROUD!!!