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

Bentham Science Publishers "Elimination of Violence Against Women"

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.
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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 normally 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 (cultureindevelopment.nl)
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.

A Korean Shaman Woman (blogs.reuters.com)
Of course, as with the women involved in Kenyan rituals, there is thought to be a sexual undertone to 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.
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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 http://hdr.undp.org/en/statistics/gii/
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 http://hdr.undp.org/en/reports/global/hdr2010/summary/gender/

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.  

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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.  In the past week or two, I've seen the following memes all over friends, and friends of friends, Facebook pages - all of whom were women:

I suppose because I didn't like all of the above slut memes, I'm just a whining slut. Yes, that must be it.

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.

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Consent and Rape Culture (March to End Rape Culture)

Earlier today I attended the absolutely amazing and inspiring March to End Rape Culture, presented by SlutWalk Philadelphia and a feminist activism group called Pussy Division.  We marched for two miles chanting things like, "No means no," "A dress is not a yes," and "Yes means fuck me, no means fuck you!"

As has been the case with previous Slut Walk's, some of the participants were hardly dressed to contribute to the point that we were all trying to make - that rape is never the fault of the victim.  Between the outrageous outfits and the loud chanting, we received quite a bit of attention from onlookers (which, of course is what we wanted).  Some people looked shocked, others smiled at us, and one man even danced to our chanting.  It was a wonderful way to make a statement and also a great deal of fun, but we weren't there to have fun - we were there to march against rape culture.  The fun was just a bonus.

The march ended at 15th Street and JFK, directly across the street from where it began in Love Park, and it was time to get serious again, to discuss the problem that we as feminists are fighting so hard to abolish.  A series of speeches commenced, the first of which discussed consent and rape culture.  In the video here Dr. Jill McDevitt, sexologist, explains consent and offers her thoughts on rape culture, which is something I believe everyone (not just feminist activists) should see.  She sums it up quite nicely, so I'll leave the rest to her:

If you would like to stay updated on the fight against rape culture in the Philadelphia area, please "like" SlutWalk Philadelphia and Pussy Division on Facebook, and feel free to check Cheryl Anne Molle on Facebook for more photos from this event.  Most other major cities also have Facebook pages for Slut Walk events.
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Criticizing Raunch Culture and Slut-Shaming

Image taken from april-fool-mam.blogspot.com

The issue of slut-shaming is an important topic of discussion in modern feminism.  It would appear that most feminists agree on a standard definition of slut-shaming (below) and similarly agree that the practice of slut-shaming is harmful to women. 

"Slut-shaming, also known as slut-bashing, is the idea of shaming and/or attacking a woman or a girl for being sexual, having one or more sexual partners, acknowledging sexual feelings, and/or acting on sexual feelings. Furthermore, it’s 'about the implication that if a woman has sex that traditional society disapproves of, she should feel guilty and inferior' (Alon Levy, Slut Shaming). It is damaging not only to the girls and women targeted, but to women in general and society as a whole. It should be noted that slut-shaming can occur even if the term 'slut' itself is not used."
- Finally Feminism 101, "What Is Slut Shaming?"

Once you have a working definition, the concept is quite simple. In my mind, slut-shaming is comparable to victim-blaming in that both assume that the level of respect that a woman deserves is based on her outward appearance and/or behavior.  That assumption is generally rejected by feminism.

After the sexual revolution of the sixties, seventies and (arguably) eighties, it seemed that the "issue" of female sexuality disappeared from the spotlight for some time. Granted, the underground debate between anti-pornography feminists and open-sexuality, or sex-positive, feminists did live on, but it took quite a while to grab our attention again.

Raunch Culture: 
"Raunch culture refers to the over-sexualised culture of the United States which not only objectifies women, but also encourages women to objectify themselves in the (false) belief that this is a form of female empowerment...encourages girls and women to strive to be the 'hottest' or 'sexiest' rather than the most intelligent or accomplished...Levy argued that it wasn’t 'liberated' or 'feminist' to learn to pole dance, wear a T-shirt saying 'porn star' or have lots of no-strings sex 'like a guy', but rather it was a trick created by men who were twisting the idea of 'liberation' for their own ends."
Cover of Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs
- Wiki Gender, summary of Levy, "Raunch Culture and Feminism"

"Raunch culture" became a matter of concern within the mainstream feminist community in about 2005, when Ariel Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture was released.  I must admit that until fairly recently, I haven't really looked into many feminist criticisms of "raunch culture."  Maybe it didn't seem that important to me.  Maybe I lean more toward the sex-positive school of feminist thought, and therefore didn't feel the need to research any anti-raunch arguments.  Well, now I've done a fair bit of research.

Above, I have provided two working definitions - one for slut-shaming and one for raunch culture.  A great deal of my peers will accept the two definitions and conclude that slut-shaming and raunch culture are problematic.  This is where my problem starts.  When I read the two definitions, I'll admit that without much thought each argument sounds legitimate in its own right.  But when I take a moment to compare and contrast the two issues and place them in the context of feminist discourse, I cannot help but feel that I would be a complete hypocrite to agree that both slut-shaming and raunch culture are the problem.  In fact, I have to pose the following question: Isn't criticizing raunch culture and the women who participate in it essentially the same thing as slut-shaming?

Feminists often condemn society for telling young women to simultaneously be both virginal and sexually experienced, to encompass both the Madonna and the whore.  Yet, by speaking out against slut-shaming while concurrently denouncing raunch culture, aren't feminists sending young women that same contradictory message?  I would certainly argue to my peers that some of them are being blatantly hypocritical, if only when it comes to arguments regarding female sexuality.

On one hand, women are told not to be ashamed of being "slutty" or promiscuous, that the number of sexual partners they've had does not define their worth, that they are free to express themselves sexually.  On the other hand, women are hearing that raunch culture is bad, that they should never take that pole dancing workout class, watch pornography, or have casual or promiscuous sex.

Well, which one is it?  Should I feel free express my sexuality however I want, or should I picket in protest outside of the nearest strip club?  I do have my own opinion on the matter, but I'm not going to share it in detail.  The point here is to make my readers think -  clearly I've already thought about it.  I will, however, say that I find slut-shaming to be a more important societal issue than raunch culture.  My reasoning?  A large part of me feels that if women are to be equal to men, they cannot be held to different standards of sexual behavior than men are.

We shouldn't have to debate this, and we certainly shouldn't be so hypocritical about it.  Feminists and non-feminists alike must move away from the idea that women's sexual behavior need be critiqued at every opportunity.  These sexual standards, many of which we are creating for ourselves, are becoming evermore contradictory and restrictive.  They are not liberating women - they are confining and confusing us.  Or, if we cannot stop critiquing and restricting women's sexuality, let us at least spend the same amount of time and energy on assessing the sexual conduct of men.
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You're Taking A Walk...

Image taken from economydecoded.com

It's eleven o'clock at night.  You had a long day at work, came home and ran a few errands, and suddenly you're famished.  You could really use a snack but there's nothing appealing in your refrigerator, so you decide to walk to a convenience store nearby.  It's somewhat late and you'd like to go to sleep soon, so you simply throw on a sweater, put some cash in the pocket of your jeans, and walk out of the house.

It's a peaceful summer night, not too quiet or too loud.  There aren't many other people outside tonight - you've only spotted one or two people and a couple of cars driving past.  You're three minutes or so from the store and you hear another car, thinking nothing of it.  

Suddenly, that car is driving slowly beside you.  The driver rolls down the passenger side window, yelling something that you didn't hear very well, but you know that he called you "baby."  You ignore him and start to walk a bit faster, hoping that he'll go away.  He doesn't.  He continues to drive alongside you as you're walking alone.  He asks, "How you doing, baby?"  You reply with, "I have a boyfriend," even though you really don't.  Surely he'll drive off now that he thinks you're unavailable, right?  

Apparently not.  He continues to drive beside you.  He tells you how "good" he'd "give it to you."  He asks you to come over to the car.  Again, you tell him, "I have a boyfriend. No."  But he isn't stopping.  Your next thought is, "I'm such an idiot, I should've just stayed home. How could I forget my pocket knife?"

You're scared.  You think that this man is about to stop his car and physically assault you, possibly even rape you.  You're hoping that he'll finally leave, but you're also beating yourself up inside for not bringing along some sort of weapon.  You think that if something happens, you're never going to forgive yourself for forgetting the damn pocket knife.

He calls you "baby" and tells you that you're "sexy."  You ignore him and begin to walk faster.  He says, "What, you can't talk now?"  You don't reply.  The car stops and you think, "Fuck. This isn't good."  Once you look up you realize that he stopped because he had a stop sign.  "Fuck you, whore," he yells and quickly turns the corner.

The convenience store that you were on your way to is now within your line of vision.  You walk toward it, let out a huge sigh of relief and think, "That was close."

She knows exactly how you're feeling:
"The Green Lanes Experiment" by Vile Films, for a 2011 Anti-Street Harassment campaign.

This happens every day to hundreds of women.  And just like "you" in the above scenario, they think that they're foolish if they didn't take precaution, if they wore a tight shirt, if they ran to the store too late.  I mean, of course, being a woman you should expect to be harassed and nearly raped, and you're an idiot for not carrying any pepper spray.  (What?) You should be expecting men to invite you into their cars and their beds, and if they try to force you and you don't have a knife, that's your own fault. (Seriously?)

I hate to challenge misogyny and all (well, not really), but I'd like to tell you something - it's not your fault if you get stuck in the scenario described or the situations in the video above.  Dressing down wouldn't have prevented it.  Going for a walk a few hours earlier wouldn't have either.  Sure, carrying a knife or pepper spray might help, but wouldn't having to use them be a bit traumatic?  You shouldn't have to develop PTSD because you and those female body parts you were born with went out for a walk.

Men don't leave their homes thinking, "Let me make sure I have a weapon on me, just in case someone tries to sexually assault me."  Women shouldn't have to think that way either.

You didn't ask to be harassed, you were just going for a walk.

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Let's Define Consent

Image taken from SlutWalk Philadelphia via SlutWalk Chicago

con·sent  [kuhn-sent]
Verb (used without object)
1. to permit, approve, or agree; comply or yield (often followed by to  or an infinitive): He consented to the proposal. We asked her permission, and she consented.
2. Archaic. to agree in sentiment, opinion, etc.; be in harmony

con·sen·su·al  [kuhn-sen-shoo-uhl] 
1. formed or existing merely by consent: a consensual transaction.

sex  [seks]
1. either the male or female division of a species, especially as differentiated with reference to the reproductive functions.
2. the sum of the structural and functional differences by which the male and female are distinguished, or the phenomena or behavior dependent on these differences.
3. the instinct or attraction drawing one sex toward another, or its manifestation in life and conduct.
4. coitus.
5. genitalia.
Verb (used with object)
6. to ascertain the sex of, especially of newly-hatched chicks.
Verb phrases
7. sex up, Informal.
a. to arouse sexually: The only intent of that show was to sex up the audience.
b. to increase the appeal of; to make more interesting, attractive, or exciting: We've decided to sex up the movie with some battle scenes.
8. to have sex, to engage in sexual intercourse.

Consensual sex.  There you have it.  It's not so hard to understand, right?  Now that we have a few definitions readily available for anybody to refer to, I expect it to be understood that sex and consent go hand in hand.

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On the Titanic: An Ancestor's Encounter With A Notable Feminist

Photograph of Margaret (Molly) Brown
"'In passing up the stairs at noon, on the day we were rescued, two tall men stood aside for me to pass. Looking up, I saw the face of the man and his friend who had told me to get my life preserver ... I asked to whom I was indebted for my life and safety. He handed me their cards, reading ‘Calderhead and Bough, buyers for Kimball Brothers, New York.’

Although she got the spelling of the names wrong, it is clear she meant [James R.] McGough, who was a buyer for Gimbel Bros., along with Calderhead and Flynn. Thus it is now clear that McGough was one of the men who did go to Molly’s cabin to alert her to the danger. McGough says he alerted a lady in a cabin opposite his, and Molly mentions a man alerting her. Other descriptions from her account, as we have seen, without a doubt place her on E deck; and considering all this it is safe to assume that the lady McGough refers to is none other than Molly Brown."

- Molly Brown: Mystery Unravelled, by Daniel Klistorner, 21 July 2002. 

Notable feminist Margaret (Molly) Brown was born in the United States in 1867 to an Irish immigrant family named Tobin.  She later married James Joseph Brown and moved to Colorado.  Though the film Titanic recognizes Mrs. Molly Brown (Kathy Bates) as an outrageous and carefree woman, that portrayal is somewhat inaccurate.  It may capture her personality in some senses (though even that is most likely inaccurate), but the film doesn't do much justice to her legacy.  For her time perhaps Brown was a bit outrageous, for all of her involvement in feminism; however, she was a devout philanthropist and human rights advocate.  

According to Encycolpedia Titanica's biography of Mrs. Margaret (Molly) Brown, she can be credited for helping to establish the Colorado Chapter of the National American Women's Suffrage Association, as well as the Denver Woman's Club, a society dedicated to suffrage and human rights.  Apparently nobody during her lifetime referred to her as "Molly," as this nickname was seemingly an invention of the writers of Titanic.  Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Margaret Brown was heavily involved in the women's suffrage movement, human's rights advocacy, and various forms of philanthropic work.  She is said to have volunteered in soup kitchens and even on the battlefield in France during World War I.

Enter: my ancestry project.  As I was researching family names, I came across a James Robert McGough.  The name was impossible to escape in the history records through which I was searching, so I looked further into it.  After a ton of websites, birth and death records, and a great deal of ancestry.com searching, I asked a family member about this James Robert McGough person.  This family member confirmed that he is, indeed, a relative of ours.  James R. McGough was my great-grandmother's uncle.

I was eager to find more information on James, and thus to go further back into my family's history, so I continued my research.  But something stopped me.  

I found a webpage (linked above under the quotation) that tied my relative, James Robert McGough, to the famous feminist Margaret (Molly) Brown.  Miraculously enough, not only were they both on the Titanic during its fateful voyage in 1912, but both survived the shipwreck.  Accounts from Brown and McGough mention in some detail how my ancestor, James McGough, warned a woman, Margaret Brown, about the imminent danger aboard the Titanic and prompted her to don a life-jacket.

My ancestor, James Robert McGough's Passport Photo

"It was our intention to go up on the promenade deck, but before doing so I rapped on the door of the stateroom opposite mine, which was occupied by a lady, and suggested to her that she had better get up at once and dress as there was apparently something wrong."

- From the United States Senate Inquiry, Day 18, Affidavit of James R. McGough  
Needless to say, I was thrilled by all of this information.  I am so very thankful that an ancestor of mine played a part in ensuring the safety of such a notable feminist.  I was so happy to learn all of this that I found it to be worthy of a post.  

The post is not just to celebrate my ancestor, but also to remember a tragic event in history, and to shed some light on the life of Margaret Brown, a remarkable feminist whose legacy has sadly become somewhat distorted over the course of time, which is so often the case.  Margaret Brown was not simply a big woman with an ahead-of-her-time attitude, as she was portrayed as in Titanic - she was a key player in the First Wave of Feminism.

*Thanks, Uncle James - you really know how to make a feminist proud!  Thanks for alerting this astonishing woman to the danger of the sinking ship.  She lived on to do many great things in the name of women's rights!
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