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Monday, March 9, 2015

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6 Shitty Things (And Even Worse Excuses) Straight Women Have Experienced in Relationships, But Would Be Criticized for Doing to Men

Still from the film Guess Who, featuring Zoe Saldana and Ashton Kutcher.

Every now and then you'll hear a story from a friend or family member about something not so great that a woman experienced in a relationship with a boyfriend or a husband. Maybe he cheated, or maybe he has unrealistic expectations of her that are beginning to cause problems in the relationship. The people sharing these stories with one another have their own ideas on the matter. Everyone has their own relationship wisdom. Many people have what they feel is quality advice to give. The problem with us talking about these things and giving one another advice is that often, we're making excuses for the shitty things that some straight men do to straight women. Society says things like, "Boys will be boys," or "Well, biologically speaking, men are inclined to (insert shitty behavior here)." These excuses aren't good enough. These excuses tell women to accept less than what they deserve in a relationship. These excuses would never be applied to the woman if the situation were reversed.

All of the following behaviors were inspired by real-life situations that I have witnessed in relationships among friends, family members, classmates, and coworkers. All of the excuses are excuses that I have actually heard people use to justify those behaviors. The following shitty things that women have experienced in relationships with men are a direct result of society's strict gender roles. In many cases, these behaviors displayed by some men are related to feelings of entitlement, and their ideas regarding traditional masculinity and traditional femininity. The excuses attached to these behaviors are related to society's blind acceptance of these roles. Try to think to yourself as you're reading, "If a woman did this to her boyfriend or husband, would people make excuses for her?" The situation will be reversed at the end of each scenario so you can see the double standard.

Not all straight men in relationships engage in the following six shitty behaviors. Many straight men don't engage in any of the following behaviors. And those men that don't are the men that most women really want to be with. Unfortunately, however, most women have experienced at least one of the following in a relationship:

Shitty Behavior # 1: Speaking or acting out of jealousy.

Other men who aren't your boyfriend or husband exist in the world. You will work with them, have classes with them, run into them at the grocery store, receive comments from them on social media, or hang out with them while you're out with your friends. Interacting with men is unavoidable. Sometimes the men you are interacting with will be inappropriate, but you're not interested in them, and what's more, you're in a relationship; so you make these things clear to the inappropriate ones.

Some boyfriends or husbands tend to get jealous of these other men that happen to exist near you. He might accuse you of flirting or cheating or unintentionally leading another man on. His jealously might start an argument between the two of you. Maybe his jealously compelled him to yell at you about these other men and make you feel guilty for interacting with them. Perhaps he confronted the other man. Perhaps he left a passive-aggressive comment on a photo of you that another man commented on, effectively embarrassing you in front of all of your family and friends on social media. Maybe he even made a spectacle of the both of you while you were out at the bar, starting an argument with you or a fight with the unfortunate man who had the audacity to converse with you.

Common Excuse for Shitty Behavior #1: "Men are territorial."

Oh, are they? Okay, let's pretend for a moment that excuse isn't complete bullshit. Although, pretty much every animal is territorial. Cats, dogs, elephants, geese, and even women and men. But, what does that have to do with you? He is not an animal. He is a human with the ability to reason. You are not some territory to be fought over or defended. You are not his property. He cannot be territorial with you. And he knows all of this already, but he's acting like he doesn't.

Jealousy that is anything other than normal jealously, in which rational people have an irrational jealous thought and quickly dismiss it as silly, is unhealthy. Maybe he made you feel guilty for talking to another man in a social situation. Conversations with other men are, and always will be, a part of your social reality. Maybe he posted some passive-aggressive comment on a photo, clearly aimed at another male who commented before him, which was so obvious that it embarrassed you in front of your family and friends on Facebook. He is not allowed to embarrass you like that. You shouldn't have to explain your significant other's actions to anyone.

He is not entitled to you and your undivided attention at all times. None of this behavior is acceptable.

Shitty Behavior # 1, Reversed: 

If a woman left a passive-aggressive comment on her boyfriend's Facebook photo following another woman's comment, his friends would likely say, "Wow, your girlfriend's crazy." If she accused her boyfriend of flirting because he was talking to another woman at a party, it would probably be something like, "She's clingy, man."

Shitty Behavior # 2: Being envious of, or intimated by, her success.

You have your life together. You are young and you have a college education. You have your career in place. You just got an offer of employment which comes with a major pay raise. You're moving into your first apartment or buying your first house. Congratulations! Well done! You tell your boyfriend about these things, however, and he has very little to say. In fact, he seems to be in a worse mood than he was ten minutes ago, before you shared your good news. Perhaps you arrange a night out to celebrate your great news with both him and your friends, and he's sulking the entire time. You just don't feel that happy anymore, as his bad mood has completely ruined your great mood.

Common Excuse for Shitty Behavior #2: "You're making him feel emasculated. He's supposed to be the breadwinner, but here you are doing better than him at..."

Are people serious when they say this? Unfortunately, yes. Some people believe that men have the right to feel emasculated and upset, and thus take away from the happiness that you've gained from your successes, because they feel like they're supposed to be making more money than you, or have a better education than you, or have a larger apartment than you. In essence, some people feel that his right to a masculinity-crisis-induced hissy fit is more important than your right to revel in your bliss for a bit. This "you're making him feel emasculated" thing is probably true, but that doesn't make it right, and it certainly isn't an excuse. These feelings of emasculation are a symptom of the patriarchy, which both makes him feel entitled to these things that you've obtained but he hasn't yet, and also makes him upset with himself for not fulfilling his traditional gender role as the breadwinner. Basically, he may feel emasculated, but he needs to get over it. You deserve a partner who will share in your happiness when you're successful. Who deserve someone who will kiss you and hug you and say, "Congratulations!" and possibly even offer to throw you your celebratory night out. What you don't deserve is someone who can't handle your good news and sulks around like a toddler who dropped their ice cream cone face down in the dirt.

Shitty Behavior # 2, Reversed:

A woman is envious because her husband makes more money than she does, or her boyfriend has a larger, nicer apartment than she has. She feels that, as the woman in the relationship, she should be able to provide for him. People would ask, "Does she think she's a man?" The woman in the relationship is envious that her boyfriend or husband was offered an amazing new job, because she's stuck in a job she doesn't like, and she pouts through the entire celebration with him and his friends. People would say, "Wow, she's a real bitch."

Shitty Behavior # 3: Being unfaithful; or acting as if they would be or desire to be unfaithful.

From, a website that helps married persons
cheat on their spouses. Advertising is geared toward men.
Very often, one hears stories about a man who cheated on his wife or girlfriend, or was caught on a dating website or at a bar flirting it up with other women. The stereotype of men being the primary cheaters in a relationship is a thing of the past. As reported by Women's Health in an editorial which claims that 19% of women in a study admitted to infidelity in a relationship, in comparison to 23% of men. Men are still more likely, but only slightly. In fact, Women's Health claims that cheating among both men and women are on the rise. Unfortunately though, macho law still often insists that men appear to be interested in as many women as possible, even if they're in a relationship. Maybe your boyfriend or husband cheated. Maybe you somehow found out that he's on a dating website. Maybe he was out with his friends attempting to flirt with women or buy them drinks. Maybe he wasn't actually going to cheat, but he was in the process of conversing intimately with another woman.

Common Excuses for Shitty Behavior #3: "Men need reassurance that they can still attract women." "It's in their DNA - men love the chase."

This excuse for their shitty, unfaithful behavior is absolutely ridiculous. First of all, everybody needs reassurance that they are attractive and desirable, and if they have a partner, that is the only person they should be seeking that reassurance from. Secondly, everybody loves the chase. The chase is why the beginning stages of a relationship are always the most exciting. The chase is the part of the relationship where we realize that we want to be with someone. And both men and women engage in the chase. Both men and women are sometimes the one chasing and sometimes the one being chased. But eventually the chase is over. The chasing phase is followed by the honeymoon phase, and eventually that phase is over, too. Just because these phases are over doesn't mean that you suddenly have free reign to cheat, flirt, or otherwise seek reassurance elsewhere. Chasing women is not in a man's DNA. Cheating is unacceptable. Going on dating websites is unacceptable, even if he's not actually planning on going on a date. Acting like he's going to find a new girl at the bar when he's out with his friends, but not actually doing it, is still inappropriate, even if it's not exactly cheating. If you've both agreed to monogamy, he needs to be  physically, emotionally, and mentally monogamous within the relationship. If he can't do that, you can find someone who will next time you're ready for a relationship.

Shitty Behavior # 3, Reversed:

The woman in the relationship is actively cheating, has cheated once in the past, is on a dating website, or is out with her friends at bars looking for men to flirt with in order to feel like she's "still got it." What would people say? One word: "Slut." The advice he'd receive from friends, even without the actual, physical cheating would be, "Leave her."

Shitty Behavior # 4: Not approving of you wanting to keep your last name when you get married.

Still from the film The Graduate.

There's not much explanation needed for this particular shitty behavior. Some women do not conform to traditional gender roles, or simply like their name as it is, and have decided to never change their last name should they get married. Well, you have had your name your entire life, and at this point you're used to it. Upon discussing marriage for the first or even fifteenth time with your significant other, he tells you that he wouldn't approve of your decision to keep your last name should you two ever get married. Perhaps he tells you that he wouldn't marry you at all unless decided to take his last name.

Common Excuse for Shitty Behavior # 4: "It's a tradition."

And? There are plenty of traditions that are simply outdated or downright offensive, and shouldn't even be considered anymore, let alone followed. Bridal blackening and foot-binding come to mind here. Something being traditional within your culture does not mean that you have to accept it. You can easily break the tradition. The only reason that a wife taking her husband's last name is traditional is because marriage used to mean the wife becoming both the husband's property and a fixture in the husband's household. She becomes a part of his family. It's not about family, though, it's about ownership. Taking his name is not a symbol of your love for him, it is a symbol of his ownership over you. Your name is how you identify yourself. Changing it is like changing your identity for him. You shouldn't have to change anything for him. If he wants to marry you, there should be no conditions. He's clinging to traditional gender roles, and chances are, he doesn't even know why. He probably doesn't even really think that he's trying to take ownership over you by insisting that you change your last name, but that is where the tradition comes from. You've had your last name for a long time and there's no need for you to change it. 

Shitty Behavior #4, Reversed: 

When discussing marriage, the woman in the relationship reveals to the man in the relationship that if he doesn't want to take her last name, she's not going to marry him. What would happen? She probably won't be getting married, unless he really, really hates his last name to begin with.

Shitty Behavior # 5: Criticizing, or attempting to change her mind on, her reproductive health care choices.

Family planning is a subject that each person involved in the relationship should be heard on. The decision to have children with your significant other should be made after careful consideration, open conversation, and mutual agreement. If the woman in the relationship decides that she is not ready to have children, but the man in the relationship is ready to, there is no mutual agreement, and the discussion should be had at a later time, after both people think about it more. You, the woman, are not ready to bear a child. Maybe you never want to have a child. You choose an oral contraceptive, an IUD, tracking your ovulation, a hysterectomy, or some other method to ensure that you do not bear a child. Maybe you got pregnant and had, or considered having, an abortion. Maybe he tells you that if you ever got pregnant and considered an abortion, he'd no longer want to be with you. Your significant other disagrees with your decision to either not have a child right now, or to never have a child, and he makes it known. He criticizes your method of birth control. He tries to talk you out of the hysterectomy.

Common Excuse for Shitty Behavior # 5: "Men are biologically inclined to want to 'spread their seed' and your birth control method is taking that away from him." 

Let's not get into biology here, because from an evolutionary standpoint, everyone should want to have children to ensure the survival of the species. But we know that's simply not how it works. If you two have discussed children before and you have expressed that you are not interested in ever having children, or that you don't want to have children for many years to come, he has no right to an opinion on your reproductive health care choices. If you haven't discussed it yet, and when you finally do you find that you both have different opinions on the matter, it's time to either part ways or come to an agreement. If the agreement involves waiting, that's what the both of you will do. No man should ever attempt to convince a woman to have children if she does not want to, or to start a family before she feels prepared to. A man needs to respect the reproductive health care choices of the woman he is an a relationship with. He does not reserve the right to team up with her parents at dinner and make her feel guilty for not being ready to have kids. Finally, let it be known that tampering with a woman's birth control pills is a form of abuse.

Shitty Behavior # 5, Reversed:

The woman in the relationship wants to have children but the man does not. He wants a vasectomy, and she begs him endlessly not to have one. He'll probably have one anyway. Maybe he wears condoms to prevent her from getting pregnant. She asks him to stop wearing condoms because she wants a baby, right now. That would very likely end the relationship. Maybe she starts poking holes in the condoms so she can get pregnant. When he finds out about this hole-poking scheme, what does he think? "She's insane."

Shitty Behavior # 6: Expecting the woman in the relationship to do all of the cooking, cleaning, and/or event planning.

60 years ago. Times have changed.
Your birthday is coming up and you have to plan the activities and invite everyone. His birthday is coming up and you have to plan the activities and invite everyone. You get home earlier than him most nights and you're the one cooking dinner, despite the fact that you woke up earlier than him and are likely more tired by the time you get home. You don't make dinner one night, and that's the night you two order a pizza. You do laundry often, so you throw all of his dirty clothes in while you're at it. But after a while you realize that he hasn't done a single load of laundry in months. Let's face it: you're the one doing everything around the house. You're the one initiating all of the social activities. You're the one making an effort to stay in touch with all of your mutual friends and each of your close family members. Thankfully, this doesn't happen often in relationships anymore. But when it does, just know that he is being lazy and selfish and he's taking advantage of your willingness to make him happy.

Common Excuses for Shitty Behavior # 6: "Men just aren't good at cooking/cleaning/planning." "Baby, you do it so much better than I do."

Wrong! That's the patriarchy talking. The only reason for this type of behavior is that the man in the relationship clings to old, tired, traditional gender roles. Maybe this is how he was raised, seeing his mother handle all of these things, rather than witnessing his father taking some responsibility around the house. Luckily for you, it's 2015, and you don't have to live like that. Maybe he thinks that his time and energy are more valuable than yours, and feels that he simply cannot be bothered with such tasks. Maybe he really isn't a good cook, isn't great at cleaning, or has never planned an event before, but he can learn. No matter the reason, he's showing a lack of appreciation for you and your time. He needs to put in just as much effort as you are.

Shitty Behavior # 6, Reversed:

The man in the relationship does all of the cooking, cleaning, and event planning. He keeps in touch with all of their mutual friends and close family members. He gets home earlier than she does and cooks dinner every night. He does all of the laundry regularly. Furthermore, she expects all of these things from him. She simply can't be bothered by it. His friends would ask, "Are you a woman?" or make some ridiculous whipping sound effects.

It's not okay for women to do these things. It's time to stop making excuses when men do. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

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Feminist Poetry Takes Command, by Charles Bane, Jr.

Quietly and without fanfare, feminist poetry reached a tipping point with the awarding of the Philip Levine Prize in 2011 to Ariana Nash; it was, in my view, the moment when feminists established their primacy in contemporary poetry. And that it should be so now seems almost inevitable: gender studies had become acute. Silenced voices of women, long buried in Western literature were being unearthed. The women's movement became more acutely allied with the struggle for gay rights, both under siege. Women writers were being ignored by major publishing houses, increasingly conglomerate, and incestuously tied to the major media outlets promoting commercial authors. The industry was and is, male dominated.

But in a sub culture of growing strength, new literary journals and small presses were springing up, solely devoted to women. Poets like Briget Pegeen Kelly ( born 1951) had already forged a genius of anticipation, so that when Millennial feminists found poetic voice, it was propelled like cannon shot ahead-- as Plato always knew of poets- ahead of history.

The potency of social media, where women are united, globally, in protest against misogyny as the root of rape culture, face-veiling, genital mutilation, unequal pay, domestic assault,--and mass shootings-- can't be overstated. World faiths might have been pivotal as a buttress for social justice, but only institutionalized homophobia and misogyny as a spiritual force.

And so , feminist poets turned away from patriarchal faiths and searched for an intimacy of spirit:


by Ariana Nadia Nash

The stars are all the skin
I’ll never touch. They are
the bright points of years
I have not lived, the names

I do not know. They speak
to worlds inside myself
I will not learn. They shock—
this spread of stars, these motes

of fireballs, this milky
conflagration. In their depth
and beauty, they are

the most intricate map
of the unknown, the most
wild moan of silence.

But this is not enough: a new wave of feminist poets began to reinterpret the antique past and recast it in new---and modern terms:

You Be the Skipper, I'll Be the Sea

by Cassidy McFadzean

This time of year, Agamemnon’s
tomb is swarming with Beliebers.
If I was your boyfriend, Clytemnestra...
What’s the theme of this one, teacher?

Like gold-leaf masked talismans,
we raised our iPhones in the dark.
Our ringtones were a Greek chorus
calling from the hive to lion guards.

Said: I'm a novel with the pages uncut.
Someone flipped me open and had enough.
Now reading me rips me in two.
What’s a poem for? What’s it to you?

Who said size don’t matter lied.
The shaft of the cistern in the hillside
had me on my hands and knees.
I lapped up clay with my teeth.

We were catamarans in my last fantasy,
moved in this world like a stone over sea.
You stole me away from the treasury.
Freedom, Siri, was a machine.

About a year ago, I phoned Richard Wilbur, 94 but very sharp, to ask him to blurb my new book. Wilbur can rightfully be titled the Dean of American poetry: Past U.S. Poet Laureate, twice-winner of the Pulitzer Prize and Chairman Emeritus of the Academy of American Poets. We traded harmless gossip. The phone call came to an end. " Read the women", he said.

Recommended reading:

Poems: Song and the Orchard, Briget Pegeen Kelly, Carcaret Press, Ltd. 2008
Corridor: Poems, Saskia Hamilton, Graywolf Press, 2014
Instructions for Preparing Your Skin, Ariana Nash, Anhinga Press, 2013
Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, Patricia Lockwood, Penguin Books, 2014

About the Author: Charles Bane, Jr. is the American author of The Chapbook ( Curbside Splendor, 2011) and Love Poems ( Kelsay Books, 2014). His work was described by the Huffington Post as "not only standing on the shoulders of giants, but shrinking them." Creator of The Meaning Of Poetry series for The Gutenberg Project, he is a current nominee as Poet Laureate of Florida.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

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The Past, Present and Future of the Violence Against Women Act


Violence against women is a chronic public health issue in the United States, hurting millions of women each year. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 1994 was the first policy of its kind to address the issue of gender-based violence at the federal level of government, forcing the issue into public consciousness. Twenty years after the Violence Against Women Act, however, gender-based crimes remain a reality of everyday American life. Several reports indicate that as currently amended the Violence Against Women Act is insufficient in combating violence against women in a society where contempt for women is a learned, pervasive cultural phenomenon. The Violence Against Women Act serves as an important piece of women’s rights legislation, but it must be amended to prioritize gender-specific violence prevention over criminal justice.

An Introduction to Violence Against Women

The term “violence against women” refers to acts of violence that are primarily committed against women, such as spousal abuse, dating violence, rape, sexual harassment and other violent crimes. The violence is gender-based and generally targets women simply because they are women. The various crimes that fall into the category of violence against women serve as an illustration of gender inequality. These crimes include rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment, domestic violence (also known as intimate partner violence) and dating violence, and forced prostitution and sexual slavery. These crimes are often considered hate crimes. According to the United Nations violence against women may be viewed socially as a means to impede the progress of women in comparison to men, allowing men to dominate women through violent acts and thus maintain the subordination of women to men.

In the United States violence against women can only be described as a public health epidemic. In 1994 the Violence Against Women Act was introduced to combat this epidemic and led to the implementation of a number of state and federal programs that have since shown some positive results in the reduction of violence against women throughout the nation. Despite the progress, however, violence against women remains widespread today.

Looking Back at Policy History

Violence against women is not a new cultural phenomenon. It is well-known to have occurred throughout world history and has been well documented for millennia. A look at policy history shows that there were no national programs addressing gender-based violence until 1978 when the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence were formed. Aside from several amendments to VAWA, there have been no large-scale federal level initiatives on the issue since the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (the Congressional Digest's 2012 report on this matter can purchased here).

The Violence Against Women Act Today

Today, the Violence Against Women Act links together the social service system, the criminal justice system and the nonprofit sector in order to better respond to cases of domestic violence and sexual assault throughout the United States, by providing funding to rape crisis centers, battered women’s shelters and other nonprofit programs and by encouraging state and local governments to create laws addressing gender-specific violence. Since the implementation of the Violence Against Women Act, statistics from the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence show that as of 2004 states have passed nearly 700 laws to address rape and sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking, and the United States has seen an approximate eleven percent increase in domestic violence reports. In addition to the criminal justice response to violence against women, as of 2013 the Violence Against Women Act supports violence against women with disabilities, elder abuse, transitional housing and campus programs.

A close look at VAWA shows that the criminalization of violence against women and the prosecution of perpetrators of gender-based violence are its main goals. As recently as the VAWA Reauthorization of 2013, $222 million in funds have been set aside solely for STOP (Services, Training, Officers and Prosecutors) Program grants, which primarily seek to improve policy, investigation, prosecution and legal assistance for victims (Office on Violence Against Women).

The Missing Piece

VAWA has indeed improved the lives of many women by creating public awareness of gender-based violence, encouraging the reporting of violence, funding shelters and encouraging the creation of hundreds of laws at the state and local levels of government aimed at protecting women. However, the Violence Against Women Act is inherently flawed because it fails to realize that the most logical way to combat violence against women is stop it before it begins by implementing effective prevention programs. In fact, of the $222 million in annual funds allocated to the STOP Program only five percent of those funds are authorized to be used nationwide for aiding prevention and educational programs, according to the OVW's 2013 summary of the act.

VAWA initiatives focus primarily on what happens after the violence has taken place, rather than the ways in which violence against women can be prevented. The harmful impact of this flaw in the Violence Against Women Act is illustrated by the fact that currently 1 in 4 women will become the victims of intimate partner violence, 1 in 6 women will become the victims of rape or sexual assault, 1 in 12 women will be stalked, and 1/3 of all female murder victims will die at the hands of their intimate partner (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence). Prevention and educational programs are critical in addressing violence against women in the United States, and yet they are severely lacking (National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence).

Moving Forward

Based on the evidence of the current prevalence of violence against women in the United States, despite the existence of VAWA, further action is absolutely necessary. Many studies suggest that rape prevention programs, if implemented on a larger scale, are likely to significantly reduce the occurrence of rape and other gender-specific violent crimes. Two such studies include Longitudinal Effects of a Rape-prevention Program on Fraternity Men's Attitudes, Behavioral Intent, and Behavior by John D. Foubert, PhD and Sexual Assault Programming on College Campuses: Using Social Psychological Belief and Behavior Change Principles to Improve Outcomes, by Lisa A. Paul, PhD and Matt J. Gray, PhD. In the video to the right political analyst and rape survivor Zerlina Maxwell expresses her similar opinions on rape prevention, for which she came under enormous fire from conservative media websites. It would be prudent to shift the focus from criminal justice to community education and prevention programs. This can be done in two different ways: by lobbying for and receiving additional grant money from the federal government to add to VAWA STOP Program grants to be used solely for prevention programs, or by redistributing the current VAWA STOP Program grant funding, taking money away from prosecution initiatives and investing in education and prevention initiatives instead. In order to be truly effective in eliminating widespread gender-based violence in the United States, the Violence Against Women Act must begin to invest in rape and violence prevention programs that target men or young boys, nonprofit organizations such as Men Can Stop Rape and Men Stopping Violence, educational programs that teach gender equality, consent and the effects of violence in elementary schools, middle schools, high schools and on college campuses, and counseling and training for both victims and perpetrators. The only hope we have of significantly decreasing the number of violent acts committed against women is to prevent them through a combination of educational, psychological and social anti-rape and anti-violence programs.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

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Women in Religion: A Cross-Cultural Comparison

The institution of religion undoubtedly has a significant impact on many societies throughout the world. Religious beliefs can influence the values and morals that are held by a society, as well as the ways in which societies are structured. Women and men in all societies tend to experience their religions quite differently. In many societies outside of the Western world, religion can provide women with a valuable source of power and prestige. Thus at times religion may be a key source of strength for women, depending largely on the political and cultural atmosphere in which the religion is practiced.

In Western European and American cultures, women are often not heavily involved in, nor empowered by involvement in, religious activities. Obviously, this is not to say that women are not formally involved in religion, as some undoubtedly are, but rather, that Western women do not participate in religion to the extent in which Western men do. Though women in predominantly Anglo-European societies hold religious meetings and have their own female-centered faith groups, religious women in these societies are often constrained by the hierarchal nature of the organized religions of the Western world, in which men dominate and women are subordinate. Furthermore, religious doctrine in popular Euro-American religions, such as Catholicism, prevents women from assuming any positions of true power in regard to their faith. Throughout the rest of the world, however, religious women are not always as constrained as their Western counterparts.

Janet McIntosh, the author of “Tradition’ and Threat: Women’s Obscenity in Giriama Funerary Rituals” illustrates how Kenyan women perform sexually explicit songs and dances during death rituals, albeit in a society that nor
mally confines the sexuality of women. In these death rituals, the women’s sexually explicit performances are used as a type of coping mechanism for facing the realities of life and death. In a sense, as McIntosh notes, a funeral becomes the “last wedding of the deceased” through this type of obscenity. The death services last for several days, and the songs that the women sing during them seem to relate death to the end of one’s sexuality, with lyrics like, “I will die and stop screwing.” The lyrics themselves may not be extremely sophisticated; however, they succeed in tying together two very real and important aspects of life: sexuality and death.

A Giriama Dance Troupe (Culture in Development)
Great emphasis is placed on funerary rituals in Giriama, and therefore women’s extensive involvement in these rituals illustrates a deep connection that females in the society seem to have with nature. Giriama women are seen as influential, powerful forces of nature during funeral services. Many women join in the singing and dancing during these funerary rituals in Kenya, embracing sexuality while simultaneously saying goodbye to lost loved ones. Giriama, like the rest of Kenya and the majority of sub-Saharan Africa, is usually extremely strict with women’s sexuality, forbidding them to express it in most circumstances. It is therefore both empowering for these women to be involved in such an important spiritual ritual as a death ceremony, as well as liberating to be temporarily granted the right to express themselves as sexual beings during these rituals.

“Shaman’s, Bodies, and Sex: Misreading a Korean Ritual” by Laurel Kendall illustrates yet another society in which women are able to gain immense satisfaction, empowerment, and authority through religious ritual. In Korea, women often experience great religious honor by becoming shamans and healers. By holding positions of such high esteem in Korean society, these women are able to directly challenge their oppression. Religious rituals may serve as a way for Korean women to not only compliment the tasks of their male counterparts, but also to have an expressive religious outlet. Shaman women in Korea are often called upon by others to perform divinations and hold prayer ceremonies. Shaman women may also summon spirits in rituals such as kut, in which they dress elaborately and call upon the gods, allowing themselves to be possessed by gods and spirits of ancestors during the ceremony.

Of course, as with the women involved in Kenyan rituals, there is thought to be a sexual undertone to
Korean Shaman (
Korean women’s involvement in spiritual practices; however, unlike the women in Kenya, Korean women’s spiritual modes of expression address much more than issues of sexuality and death. For instance, Korean women often become healers, a position that requires a great deal of trust from other individuals in Korean society. That is not to say that female shamans in Korea are not sexual in their spiritual rituals: they are, but the sexual expression seen in their rituals is often simply an expression of differences between gender, as well as a reflection of a deep relationship that the women have with their gods. Nevertheless, some Korean women, whether they are expressing themselves sexually or acting as healers, they are undoubtedly able to challenge oppression through religious practices in their society. Korean women, as well as Kenyan women, are empowered by their spirituality

It is worth noting that although the religious practices that Kenyan and Korean women take part in may seem extreme to Westerners, they are nevertheless important aspects of these societies. There are many differences between Western and Eastern ways of life, and these differences extend into the realm of religion and spirituality. European and American women, perhaps because they have more political and professional opportunities than African and Asian women, often do not place as great a stake in their religious rituals as women from some other areas of the world do. Nor do European and American women tend to come together and challenge the patriarchal order of religions such as Christianity or Judaism. On the contrary, some African and Asian countries have a reputation for their harsh mistreatment of women, ranging from the denial of education young women to clitoral excision. Yet in their religious institutions, many African and Asian women hold significantly more power than their Western counterparts.

If anything can be taken from these comparisons, it should be that in societies that are generally very restrictive to women, religion is often used as a way for women to express their autonomy and challenge oppressive institutions. In contrast, in societies that tend to give women at least some social and political power, religion serves as a way to curb that power. In this sense, women are limited to either some social and political status or some religious status, but rarely if ever do they possess social, political, and spiritual power simultaneously.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

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UNDP's Gender Inequality Report

Worldwide, the basic truth is that women are treated as lesser than men in every society, whether it be an industrialized nation or a third-world country.  Women are generally represented less in politics than men, earn less for a living per year than men, are the target of violent crimes such as rape or domestic violence alarmingly more often than men are, and in many countries, are not afforded the same educational opportunities as men.  Even in the wealthiest nations in the world, though one might logically assume that such countries would give women the same opportunities as men, gender inequality persists.  (See: Annalyn Kurtz, CNN, "U.S. lagging behind on gender equality.")

Every year, the United Nations Development Programme releases the Human Development Report, which measures human development in different nations using criteria such as quality of healthcare, percentage of the population in poverty, and inequality.  One measurement of inequality is, of course, gender inequality, which the United Nations Development Programme measures by the Gender Inequality Index, also published yearly.  
Image taken from UNDP, at
As illustrated in the above chart, the Gender Inequality Index measures gender inequality by the following three dimensions: reproductive health, which includes maternal mortality and adolescent fertility; empowerment, which includes political representation and educational attainment; the labor market, which includes participation in the labor force.

According to the Human Development Report's "A new measure of gender inequality" page, there is an obvious correlation between gender inequality and unequal distribution of human development.  The page specifically states:

"Gender inequality varies tremendously across countries—the losses in achievement due to gender inequality (not directly comparable to total inequality losses because different variables are used) range from 17 percent to 85 percent. The Netherlands tops the list of the most gender-equal countries, followed by Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland.

Countries with unequal distribution of human development also experience high inequality between women and men, and countries with high gender inequality also experience unequal distribution of human development. Among the countries doing very badly on both fronts are Central African Republic, Haiti and Mozambique."

Here is a visual representation located on that same page: 
Image taken from UNDP, at

Let's examine countries where the Gender Inequality Index is high, based at least partially on the fact that women in said country are rarely well-educated and/or are generally not members of the labor force.  It could be suggested that if roughly half of the population (the female portion of the population) were better educated and were also participating in the labor force, and therefore contributing to the country's economy, the country would be further developed than if roughly half of the population (again, the female portion of the population) were not receiving education or contributing to the economy.  

There are a few important things that we can take away from UNDP's Gender Inequality Report.  First and foremost we must realize that total gender equality has not been reached anywhere on the globe.  Not one country in the report has a gender inequality index of zero.  Secondly, the correlation between the unequal distribution of human develop and gender inequality could very well suggest that gender inequality is one of the causes for a lack of human development.  Finally, there is an actual loss of achievement associated with gender inequity.  Nations where men and women are relatively equal tend to see more progress in overall human development.  

For more information about UNDP's Gender Inequality Index, please read the 2012 FAQ page.  

Thursday, October 24, 2013

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Stop it with the slut memes! Especially you, ladies!

It's a reality for women.  We've all been called sluts or hoes at one point or another, whether it was because we actually took part in some sexual activity that others disagreed with (which is usually not the case), because we wore something that showed off our legs (which is sometimes the case), or because we made somebody angry (which is usually the case).  I know every time I piss a guy off in some way, that's usually the go-to insult.  Just a few weeks ago I got into an argument with a man, or rather a 27 year-old boy, who when he had nothing left to say about the subject we were actually discussing, proceeded to call me a whore and then said, "Eat a dick, trick." Don't worry, I did compliment him on his wit and originality with these one-of-a-kind insults.

It's sad enough that this behavior should be expected from teenage boys, and of course from twenty-something year old men who still act like teenage boys, but I'm seeing it more and more from women.  I see status updates saying things like, "I don't know why guys always date sluts when there are so many good girls out there - like ME! - who can't find a good guy."  Hmm, maybe it's because these guys aren't judging the women they date on the way they dress or how many partners they've had, and considering how you are doing just that, it seems like he's better off not dating someone as closed-minded as you, the "good girl."  In addition to the slut-shaming status updates from "good girls," there are of course age-old slogans like "Can't turn a whore into a housewife" as well as the new internet meme phenomenon, which has moved away from putting funny quotes on cat pictures to making women feel like shit about themselves.  It absolutely disgusts me that some of my "friends," especially my women "friends," on Facebook and Twitter find slut memes to be so hilarious.

Now, I'm going to make one thing abundantly clear to the women that are posting status updates and memes about sluts, hoes, tricks, or whatever else they like to call it: you are a fucking disgrace.  There are large groups of women out there fighting every day against this mindset that judgments should be made about us based on our perceived sexual behaviors, an issue that affects you personally.  Yet here you are perpetuating the idea that it's okay to make judgments like these.  You are making things harder on yourself and all of the other women out there who don't want to be called a slut or a hoe.  You're making men think that it's okay to call you or another woman a slut whenever they want to.  Statements like "She's a slut anyway" or "It's her own fault for dressing like a whore" are part of the reason that so many rapists walk away free.  So fucking cut it out, already.

In closing...
Women, you look like complete assholes when you share slut memes or comment "LMFAO" on slut memes that your friends have shared, especially if you're the same woman having a fit or crying when the term is thrown at you.  You seem extremely judgmental and self-righteous, and nobody likes people like that.

As for men, you sound like a huge idiots when you get angry and call us sluts. We know that you only used that insult because you weren't clever enough to come up with anything else to say.