Monday, April 29, 2013

The Women’s Equality Agenda

For as much complaining as I do about living in New York, (The taxes! The school systems! The general inanity! ….that also might just be a Rochester thing), there are days I feel really lucky to live here.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo revealed in his State of the State address in January an attempt to step up the efforts to protect New York women, our families and our ability to pursue our lives and interests as equals here. The Women’s Equality Agenda is a gutsy tn-point measure that seeks to remedy many of the points of discrimination women feel every day, more specifically to correct the wage gap, housing discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, human trafficking, reproductive health law and family status discrimination, among others.
I think what is so excellent about this entire agenda is the tacit understanding that these issues are intertwined with each other. It’s disingenuous at best to say the persistence of the wage gap, persistence in discrimination against pregnant women, the inability to afford safe housing for the myriad of reasons that women are unable to afford it and the right to choice aren’t interrelated. Not one of those single ten points can be discussed by themselves, without elements of the others working their way into the conversation.

The convergence of poverty, violence, and discrimination affect many women, and to think that you may not be affected by these things is myopic. Of course, we pay for inequality in our taxes, but we also suffer in the overall quality of life for everyone. Dismissing or ignoring the problems of literally half the population only exacerbates them. Linda Stephens in her op-ed points out that a woman will make 500 thousand less dollars in her lifetime than a man would, and twice as likely to become a single parent living in poverty and to live out old age in poverty. There are consequences to poverty that we’re seeing now, and these agenda will hopefully alleviate them.

Some of them feel icky to talk about— I don’t know a person who’s like, “Hey let’s talk about the perks of domestic violence” or “YES! Drug abuse!” or “HUZZAH perks of being in prison and how that affects your ability to be a member of society when you’re out!” To many who live this every day, the reaction is “Well…duh.” Those are all horrible. That I’m writing them out like that is skeeving me out. But still, they must be talked about, they must be addressed and I think the WEA is a good start in doing all of those things.

We obviously need to have a larger cultural conversation about how we view women. Discussions about why violence against women (and men!) is wrong, about consent, about body policing, about other-izing women and those who do not fit into the rigid gender roles we’ve been socialized to accept need to happen. We’ve internalized a culture that routinely objectifies women and demonizes them for choices that deviate from the “norm.”

The Women’s Equality Agenda won’t change everything that we need to work on, but it gives us the structures and the law that make discrimination unacceptable, and mechanisms to prosecute those who do discriminate. Creation of space and allocation of the resources to make New York more equal is a positive step forward.

I think Jamie Saunders probably sums it up the best: “Isn’t all of this just common sense?... It’s basic human rights. All of us deserve to be safe.” In light of news from other states in regards to women’s equality, I’d say this is one giant step in a positive direction.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

How society talks about rape

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and some interesting things came up at the end of March that definitely fall into the category of “Let’s talk about sexual assault awareness.”

I didn’t want to take the U of R professor’s blog post seriously. I really didn’t. I get the premise, and after talking to a lot of people and doing some reflecting on it, I get the creeps about a thought experiment about rape. At first, I could accept the premises of it – why not analyze our values about rape and why it’s wrong? But we live in a rape culture, and those experiments perpetuate the idea that the violation of rape is somehow acceptable. There is no benefit to be reaped from rape— society gains nothing from that kind of sexual deviant.

There’s also no such thing as a harmless rape. It is simply not possible, even in the land of hypotheticals; at the very least reputations are at stake and with the reported suicides of two more bright young women, I think this only drives that point home.

I also would like to point out that one in four women on college campuses have been raped, so there is a strong possibility that in this professor’s classes, there’s a young woman who has been assaulted. There are better ways to discuss rape, and there are definitely better ways to frame thought experiments in class.

He does bring up consent (and the victim’s lack of it), and I think that has equally as much to do with the situation he describes. There’s been a lot of talk about teaching men not to rape, and not victim-blaming and that’s all awesome. Really. That’s a huge step forward for how we talk about rape.

Jeff Pier, the director of Rape Crisis Service at Planned Parenthood of the Rochester/Syracuse Region (PPRSR) said education about rape and healthy relationships must start young. Campaigns to “not rape” are great news, and have finally come into the conversation at a great time. He’s finding that in his work with survivors of rape and sexual assault, there is still a lot of confusion as to what actually constitutes rape and lack of consent. He says education on consent, healthy relationships and positive life choices are the key to combating rape.

I asked him what he thought about the “don’t rape" campaigns, and the thing that stood out to me the most is the emphasis he placed on the education, and not victim-shaming. The concepts of “don’t victim blame” and “don’t rape” are useless without the education of what they actually mean.

When we say “don’t victim blame,” that means:

·         Just listen. And listen without judgment.
·         Believe the person who is telling you that they have been raped.
·         Assure them that they are not alone, and that it’s not their fault.
·         Don’t blame what they were wearing.
·         Don’t blame their assault on how much they had to drink. Or where they were, or what they were doing, or anything else that one can think of that in some way would make it the victim’s fault.
·         It is NEVER the victim’s fault.

When someone comes to you and says that they have been raped, or tells you “I don’t know what happened,” say “I am so sorry that this happened to you; I’m here to listen to you.” If you are unable to do this, direct them to the person that can.

PPRSR has a phenomenal Rape Crisis Service team in Rochester. Their job is to help victims ascertain what exactly happened to them, what steps legally can be taken, what medical steps should be pursued and offer counseling to help start the healing process. It’s also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Literally, whenever you need someone, they are there for you.

Conversely, do not ask “Well, why didn’t you tell anyone?” “Why were you there so late at night?” “What did you think was going to happen?” “Why didn’t you fight back?” Rape is hard enough to talk about without judge-y questions. It’s also natural to want to know more. Resist the urge to put your curiosity/ need to know above the emotional/mental/physical needs of the person who is coming forward and telling you about what happened to them.

Don’t rape is a little trickier. Posters like this mean well enough:

Consent is awesome, for sure. But there’s more to “not raping” than that

When we talk about “don’t rape,” this is what we are talking about:
·         Obtaining consent. Bluntly stated, this means that the person who you are attempting to have sex with has consented to having sex with you, and continues to consent throughout the entire act.
·         Passed out unconscious does not mean yes. No does not mean yes. She said yes, and then changed her mind to no does not mean yes. Telling you they don’t want to/ are uncertain/too tired/whatever is not consenting.
·         If you see someone with another person who is clearly incapacitated and unable to consent, DO be that person who steps up and intervenes to ask if he/she knows them, and actually wants to go home with them. Bystanders can be tremendously powerful in preventing rape, and in making it socially unacceptable to take advantage of those unable to consent or make their wishes known.
·         We should teach our young men and women to see women as completely autonomous creatures with desires and minds of their own. These desires and whims should be respected as the autonomous decisions they are.

That’s what makes these examples so compelling; those are real situations people find themselves in.

Perhaps one of the most powerful things we can do is create safe spaces for victims to come forward and share their experiences. Rape is something that was not talked about for a very long time, especially if the victims were children when the abuse was happening. As it stands right now, approximately one in four children under the age of 18 are sexually assaulted by someone they know. This statistic is almost certainly higher than that, considering how underreported these crimes are. The statistics for other kinds of rape similarly suffer from this kind of distortion, because it is so difficult to get justice and to face the stigma in one’s community.

It’s easy to get someone to agree that raping someone else is wrong, because duh, yeah, bodily/mental violations and things. It’s much harder to unlearn destructive behaviors that lead to rape. It’s possible. The education and outreach teams here at PPRSR do some great things within the community, but it’s possible to do more, and it might be as simple as letting the people around you know that you’re safe person to come and talk to. Healing is obviously a more involved process than that, but giving someone the space to speak up is a tremendous start. 


Wednesday, April 3, 2013


“Down there? I haven’t been down there since 1953. And no, it had nothing to with Eisenhower.”

This essential sums up my approach to getting tested for STIs/ going to the doctor in general. It’s willful ignorance, really. Do I honestly want to know what’s down there? I totally should. I get it, I volunteer at Planned Parenthood, which is, like, y’know, a huge proponent of getting yourself tested and knowing what’s what with yer “down there”… and… yeah.

I don’t have a great excuse. But you know… I’m really busy; I’m poor and can’t afford the co-pay; my dogs need to be let out; I have homework; getting tested is weird; but really I don’t want to know; but really, I’m fine. Any of these sound familiar?

I’m a champion of making excuses to avoid getting preventative anything done.

April is Get Yourself Tested month, and Planned Parenthood has literally dozens of ways to get information, literally get yourself tested (do as I do, and get thee to a health center!) and get treatment if something does come up.

Many of our services are free or low cost to people who qualify as income eligible, via the Family Planning Benefit Program. Even better, dudes can get tested too, so there goes that excuse of “dunno where to go do that thing at the place.”

Everybody has time for that. Srsly tho.

It’s not exactly a secret that half of adult Americans will get an STI before they’re 25. An estimated three million Americans are infected with chlamydia every year; roughly one in six has herpes. About 50,000 new HIV/AIDS infections occur each year, with an estimated 1.2 million people already living with HIV. Additionally, more than 50 percent of sexually active people will get HPV at some point in their lives. An estimated six million new cases occur each year, with at least 20 million people already infected.

We also don’t really talk about older people, those who cannot get pregnant and eschew condoms and other forms of contraceptives, because who needs em? Well, good sirs and dames, you should, because your age bracket currently faces an increasing STI rate.

Just because you can’t have kids doesn’t mean you can’t contract something else. According to the CDC, roughly 2,550 cases of syphilis among adults ages 45 to 65 were reported in 2010, up from 900 a decade earlier. And cases of chlamydia among that group of Americans jumped to 19,600 in 2010, compared to 6,700 in 2000. To which I want to say “yes!” to getting it on, but for the love of gravity as a constant, be safe!

There’s definitely a stigma in talking about getting tested (it’s awkward!) and finding out that you may have something (I don’t know a single person who would enjoy that conversation). It’s normal, but the more we address the issue and stop making everyone feel bad about the weird things our bodies do/contract, the easier it becomes to identify, treat and prevent it. There’s no doubt that untreated STIs can wreak havoc on your physical and emotional well being. So let’s chat, and get down and get tested. PPRSR, hold me to it!

It comes down to this: getting tested means being responsible, taking care of yourself and your sex life. That’s pretty flippin’ sexy.

Some wonderful resources beyond the awesome that is Planned Parenthood:
Go Ask Alice

The STD Project 


Monday, April 1, 2013

Women's History Month - Dr. Grace Murray Hopper & Biddy Mason

Image via
Dr. Grace Murray Hopper was one of the earliest computer programmers and a leader in the field of software development concepts. In 1928 she graduated from Vassar College with a BA in mathematics and physics.

While an instructor at Vassar, she earned an MA in 1930 and a PhD in 1934 at Yale, one of four women in a doctoral program of ten students. In 1930, she married Vincent Foster Hopper. (He died in 1945 during World War II, and they had no children.) She joined the United States Naval Reserve in 1943 and was assigned to the Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project at Harvard University, where she worked at Harvard's Cruft Laboratories on the Mark series of computers. She also served as a senior mathematician, and as consultant and lecturer for the United States Naval Reserve.

She was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer, and developed the first compiler for a computer programming language. She conceptualized the idea of machine-independent programming languages, which led to the development of COBOL, one of the first modern programming languages.

Hopper is credited with popularizing the term "debugging" for fixing computer glitches. After retirement from the Navy in 1986, she became a senior consultant to Digital Equipment Corporation, and continued working well into her eighties. Basically she helped write the basis for the languages that we, as consumers of digital media, take for granted and know exists…because the internet! And cats! Cats on the internet!

Oh, and in 1973, she became the first person from the United States and the first woman of any nationality to be made a Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society.

_ _ _ _ _

Biddy Mason was a freed slave who did the majority of her social work in California. She was owned by a man named Robert Smith, and was freed by a judge as Smith moved to Texas, a state that still allowed slaves. Mason wound up in Los Angeles, and worked as a nurse and midwife.

She was one of the first African Americans to purchase land in the city. She also amassed a small fortune of nearly $300,000, which she donated much to other charities. Interestingly enough, part of the lot of land that she initially bought would be developed into the THE hub of commercial activity in Los Angeles. Biddy also fed and sheltered the poor, and visited prisoners.

Called by many, "Auntie Mason" or "Grandma Mason," she also was crucial in the foundation of a black children’s elementary school, and was a founding member in 1872 of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, the city's first black church. The organizing meetings were held in her home on Spring Street, and she also donated the land on which the church was built. 


Wrapping up Lauren's series on Women who ROCK for Women's History Month.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Women's History Month - Valentina Tereshkova

Image via
Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova was the first civilian woman to go into space. She became interested in parachute jumping at an early age and it was her expertise in parachute jumping that led to her selection as a cosmonaut.

Tereshkova was a textile-factory assembly worker and an amateur parachutist when she was recruited into the cosmonaut program. Under the direction Nikita Khrushchev, four women were selected to be trained for a special woman-in-space program.

She was the only one to complete a space mission from her group.

Tereshkova was launched aboard Vostok 6 on June 16, 1963 and became the first woman to fly in space. During the 70.8 hour flight, Vostok 6 made 48 orbits of Earth. Tereshkova was honored with the title Hero of the Soviet Union.

Although she never flew again, Tereshkova did become a spokesperson for the Soviet Union, and received the United Nations Gold Medal of Peace. She served as the president of the Soviet Women's Committee and became a member of the Supreme Soviet, the USSR's national parliament, and the Presidium, a special panel within the Soviet government.

It’s a pretty well documented fact that girls don’t enter STEM fields at the rates that guys do, for various reasons. Which is shame, because literally, there is a universe waiting for adventure.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Women's History Month - Isadore Gilbert Mudge

Isadore Gilbert Mudge wanted library patrons to be able to access reference books and learn independently. She devised the phrase “material, mind and method,” and thought all reference librarians should know the materials they dealt with, be intelligent with an excellent memory and be able to answer clearly answer, including the source of material they were using (consequently called the Mudge Method).

Constance M. Winchell, Mudge’s protégé, said, "Probably no other one person has contributed so much to raising the standards of reference collections and reference service in the libraries of this and other countries."

Anyone who has ever done research at a library can thank Mudge that we have a wide variety of resources to use, and that our librarians know what’s what in helping us figure out where to look and how to utilize them.

She also found time to write A Guide to Reference Books, which went through four revisions; two articles for the Library Journal; a Thackery Dictionary; as well as the bibliography for Henri Bergson’s published works. Oh, and she found time to teach part time, in between all of that researching.

Whoever said women couldn’t handle the stress of rigorous research obviously had never met this woman.


(Lauren is writing about Women who ROCK in honor of Women's History Month.) 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Implications of Steubenville: Talking about Rape Culture

Did you know that every two minutes a person is sexually assaulted in the United States? Or that one in three women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime?

If you’ve been living under a rock the past month or so, or just haven’t been paying attention to the news cycle (it happens to the best of us!), and haven’t heard about Steubenville, I would direct you firstly to the Atlantic’s very thorough article that details the entire situation.

Even now that the verdict is in, Steubenville has tremendous implications for how Americans talk about rape amongst themselves, how rape is reported (especially rape committed by acquaintances) and how we deal with changing the perspectives on a culture that allows these crimes to happen in the first place. 

Two thirds of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows and 38 percent are committed by someone close to them. Perhaps it’s not so shocking then that only 54 percent of rapes are reported to the police. Three percent of rapists will spend a day in jail, and so in some ways a guilty (delinquent) verdict, and the notice of a convening of a grand jury, is justice for Jane Doe. 

Perhaps, and this is a very wishful thinking Lauren, this case will open a larger sustained conversation about victims, how we support them and how we can include men in the larger discussion of “don’t rape.”

It’s not constructive to tell victims that it’s their fault they didn’t think quickly enough; they weren’t defensive enough; their skirts were too short; their heels too tall; whatever it was that they were doing “wrong” (conveniently enough, we’re to do these things in an attempt to conform to the ideal of a “perfect woman”).  This implies it was the victim’s fault and if they had learned how to defend themselves in the first place, it wouldn't have happened. The radical idea that yes means yes, and anything less than consent (if they’re passed out, and not saying yes, you should not pursue) is a radical one in a culture that routinely tells us our choices and desires are not as valuable. But still, it must be taught.

Women already live in fear of being attacked, that the guy who follows down the street will attack us, or that the guy at the bar who didn’t get the hint the first time he grabbed at you won’t get it a second time or a third time. We worry that the people making crass remarks will actually follow through with those comments, and are then told that those comments are actually positive attention and we should be so lucky to be receiving it.

These are the contours of what is deemed acceptable behavior, and woe unto the woman who fails to toe these lines. Rape has a purpose, and that is to silence and to shame those who do not follow the rules so explicitly laid out for them. It’s also intellectually lazy at best to assume that men are not able to control their actions, and not rape. It’s insulting to good men that we know to assume that all men in their natural state are rapists. At the end of the discussion, the onus is on men not to rape, and not on women to avoid being raped.

Don’t think it’s possible to unlearn many of the lessons that we’ve been to accept about consent and interpersonal relationships? Canada’s “Don’t Be That Guy” campaign wound up reducing the rate of sexual assaults by 10 percent in Vancouver, and has proven to be successful enough that it’s been made even more inclusive, and includes representation of the LBGT community, acknowledging that sexual violence occurs in all communities. 

I want to tell you I’m sorry for talking about rape culture all day, every day. So, sorry you’re uncomfortable? Sorry you’re not willing to engage in the kinds of conversations that will lead to the changes that will make it possible for me to NOT have to talk about rape culture? I guess I’m saying I’m really not sorry. That my community and I will continue to talk about rape and rape culture until it changes.  

And that’s really my hope for Steubenville: that the rage it generated is sustainable for change and that Jane Doe can move on, and go on to do awesome things.