Dropping the F-Bomb

Amanda Shapiro, Resident Blogger (’15, Brooklyn Law School)

How many times has one of your friends started their sentence with “I’m not a feminist, but…”? If you answered “one,” that’s already too many. We [read: self-proclaimed feminists] hear the beginning of that sentence not just from our friends, but from celebrities, professors, acquaintances, and even blind dates. Sometimes, the qualifying “but” isn’t even thrown in; sometimes it’s the conclusory “I’m not a feminist.” A few weeks ago, a fellow female law student told me after class, “I would never call myself a feminist, but pregnancy discrimination has gotten out of control.” Does that mean feminism could finally warm its way into her heart if pregnancy discrimination hit absolute rock bottom? Now, to be fair, some people just refuse to ascribe any labels to themselves [read: hipsters]. But the most common “I am not a feminist” utterer isn’t someone who really doesn’t believe in feminism or hates labels, it’s someone who doesn’t want to be perceived as a feminist, or just does not understand it. I’ve been told “I can’t possibly be a feminist because I like pink and I like to get my nails done.” But when I pressed whether this person believed that there were social and cultural forces that prevented women from achieving equality on par with men, she answered with an unqualified “yes.” So what is it about the F-word that gives people the heebie-jeebies?

Embarassingly, I used to be a feminism-denier when I was an undergrad at Harvard. But there’s nothing quite like being surrounded by scary-rich young men of privilege to turn you into a practicing feminist. It didn’t help my anti-feminism either to learn that many of my friends had been survivors of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault; and apparently, it hasn’t gotten much better. Aside from the traditional, feminist groups on campus where I gained some much-needed perspective, there was also a growing coalition of conservative women. When one of these women (a board member of the campus republicans) was interviewed about her work, she proudly noted that she was a feminist. In response, one of her male, republican colleagues commented “that’s cute that she thinks that.” His comment gets at the source of the ire for the F-word: supposedly, it’s only reserved for certain women – women who don’t shave their armpits, who attend Lilith Fair, who go on diatribes about killing off the male race.

But the crux of feminism is that, as my Women and the Law professor reminds our class, there are many, many feminisms. They don’t all agree with each other. My feminism, for example, has been pulled in so many directions that it now feels like salt water taffy. But they all embrace the idea that something is wrong with the way our society treats women, and it needs fixing. If you can acknowledge that, then you are a feminist. And when you’re ready, I have an extra ticket to the Lilith Fair revival tour with your name on it.

The World is Round, People! Gender Inequity in Hollywood

Ruth Dawson, Resident Blogger (’12, Emory University School of Law)

“…And perhaps those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences. They are not.  Audiences want to see them and, in fact, they earn money. The world is round, people.” – Cate Blanchett, accepting the Academy Award for Best Actress

Earlier this week, Cate Blanchett won the Academy Award for Best Actress, and used her bully pulpit to highlight the film industry’s implicit gender bias. Despite the highly problematic context around Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, the movie for which she won, Blanchett’s statement about women in film rings true at all levels of the entertainment industry.

Women actors, writers, directors, and producers alike face an uphill battle in this town.  This infographic from the New York Film Academy highlights some of the dismal statistics. Perhaps the most shocking number is the most basic: there is a 5:1 ratio of men to women working on films. Another is that the Forbes 2013 list of the ten highest paid actresses made a combined $181 M, compared to the $465 M made by the ten highest paid actors.  Yes, the men made over twice as much from their craft.  In 2014, I have to say this is fairly depressing. I live in Hollywood – in fact, the Academy Awards ceremony took place just a few blocks from my house. So though I am decidedly not in “the industry,” these numbers hit home. Gender justice is at the core of reproductive justice. Women (and other non-male-identified folks, though these numbers don’t reflect this nuance) must be able to work in their industry and support their families, free of systemic discrimination.

The good news is that engaging more women at all levels of the film process isn’t just good for gender equity – it’s increasingly good for business.  As Blanchett mentioned, movies with female protagonists or heroines are increasingly blockbusters.  We just have to get out there and see them.  Despite the uber liberal façade, Hollywood has a long way to go.

Getty Images & The Lean In Collection – There’s Room to Lean Further

Deodonne Bhattarai, Resident Blogger (’12, Northeastern University School of Law)

Last month Getty Images, in collaboration with Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg’s LeanIn.org nonprofit foundation, launched over 2,500 new stock images aimed at depicting “female leadership in contemporary work and life”. As a collection, the images are a beautifully composed collage of picture perfect women, girls, families, and friendship. However, taken individually, some of the images may perpetuate a problematic oversimplification of what it takes for women to thrive in the corporate world.

A number of the images play with the work/life balance motif, showing thin, stylish women in contemporary work and home office settings.  In an interview with NPR, Getty’s Pamela Grossman discussed how these images were intended to present an updated and more dynamic vision of motherhood.

“The older model would be that … the mother looked incredibly harried, and she would be juggling a dinner plate in one hand and a baby in the other. Sometimes even more arms would be Photoshopped onto her to show just how indeed she was juggling it all.”  Grossman compared this outdated model of a multitasking mom with that depicted in the LeanIn Collection, “They really feel like they have contemporary style, and they’re engaged and energetic.”

Although the intent behind the collection is admirable, it is hard not to question whether this contemporary view of working mothers may be setting an unobtainable bar for those of us contemplating or trying to balance motherhood with a career.  In a country where income inequality continues to grow and women face a wage gap of $.77 to every dollar earned by a man, where most lack access to paid maternity leave, where the glass ceiling and maternal wall are still very much intact for women pursuing corporate leadership, and where female attorneys represent less than one-third of lawyers at law firms (a number that has actually been dropping for the past four years), the new Collection presents a picture that is hard to reconcile with the reality working mothers face.

Many of the images of working mothers show them sitting at their immaculate desks, working on their laptops while young children balance on their knee or sit serenely nearby. How do these women manage to keep their children from grabbing at the laptops, pouring coffee over the keyboards or pulling on their dangly earrings and perfectly coiffed hair?  Where are these women supposed to be?  Certainly not at work-I have no data on this but I bet there are more dog friendly offices in the U.S. than child friendly.  So are these mothers supposed to be representing the women who are fortunate enough to have a flexible working schedule that allows them to work from home? If so, they must be wealthy enough to afford housekeeping because their offices are immaculate with few or no toys in sight for their perfectly behaved children.

Although the collection does include women of various ethnic backgrounds and ages, it fails to move past the model thin and designer dressed. The idea of a more “contemporary” working mother is nice, but at the end of the day these are stock photos used to depict artificial scenarios in order to sell a product or service, or to communicate a point of view or sentiment..

To claim that the Collection serves a loftier dual purpose is an overreach and I question whether these images of the “contemporary” working mother are actually an improvement upon the traditional multi-armed multitasking mother. What woman can possibly live up to the unrealistic standards these images depict while trying to succeed in a world where working women continue to be discriminated against because they are mothers. The Collection’s embrace of the unrealistic while touting it as “empowering,” left me feeling just the opposite – how will I ever be able to obtain such a lifestyle while balancing my legal career with the needs of my family?

Stock Up: Ridding Preposterous Images of Women from Stock Photography

Amanda Shapiro, Resident Blogger (’15, Brooklyn Law School)

It was a pleasant surprise to wake up the other morning and see a positive move towards gender parity. Leanin.org announced that it would be partnering with Getty Images to improve the representation of women in stock photography. That’s right, heels will soon be back in style for walking instead of stepping on men, or hanging off of disembodied legs. I’m not too crazy about Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In thesis: that women must learn to adopt characteristics like “assertiveness”  to succeed in this maniverse, rather than dismantling it. But Sandberg aptly described the need for this project as, “you can’t be what you can’t see.”

And what we’re seeing these days is pretty abismal. Advertising is gravitating towards more objectification of female bodies than ever before. It’s not difficult to imagine the toll this imagery takes on young women and girls: depression, eating disorders, and lower self-esteem, to name a few ramifications. But we hear less about the implications these images have for young men. One peer-reviewed study found that men were more tolerant of rape myths and sexual harassment after they viewed images of sexually objectified women. The effects became more pronounced as the exposure to objectifying imagery increased. And if the stock images out there aren’t offensive, they’re just downright ridiculous. This project won’t rid the world of women posing as beer bottles, but it will more accurately depict the “working woman;” she’s leaving those man-stomping heels at home this time.

Lady Parts

Mangala Kanayson, Resident Blogger (’15, Emory University School of Law)

Dear LSRJ Blog Reader,

Lady Parts (LP) is a student-run production that highlights the issues surrounding gender, sexuality, and identity, as pertaining to women. Through a series of monologues, LP aims to educate, enlighten, and empower both women and the surrounding community in order to accept, advocate, and celebrate.

In 2013,  Emory Law Students for Reproductive Justice, in partnership with the corresponding student organizations at the Public Health and Medical Schools, brought Eve Ensler’s play “The Vagina Monologues” to the Emory Graduate community for the first time. This year the show has progressed toward new goals. In the interest of creating a more diverse and inclusive show this year’s production will be featuring monologues written by Emory students about the modern day triumphs and hardships of being a woman. We are particularly interested in exploring the intersectionality of other aspects of identity (age, race, orientation, class) with womanhood and how our experiences are both shared and different.

If you’re in the Atlanta area and interested in acting or would like to learn more about the production, please click here and get involved. The show is on March 20, 2014 at 7pm in Tull Auditorium. We look forward to seeing you in March! If you’d like to support us but are unable to do so in person, please consider donating to our beneficiary SPARK on behalf of LadyParts here.

XOXO, Emory LSRJ

Anniversary Reminds Us Not To Turn Back

S J Chapman, Resident Blogger, (’12, Northwestern University Law School)

To mark the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Center for Reproductive Rights is producing a series of PSAs urging Americans to stand up for reproductive rights.

The latest features Tony and Grammy Award winner Dee Dee Bridgewater, sharing the harrowing account of her 1968 pre-Roe abortion.  I was struck by the candor and poignancy of Dee Dee’s story, which epitomized the lack of dignity that accompanies government restrictions on abortion: “I remember being very humiliated… to the point that today I haven’t thought about this for years; thinking about it makes me want to cry.”

The PSA encourages people to take a stand against governmental intrusion into reproductive decisions.  As Dee Dee asserts, “I don’t think its right that our politicians can choose for women what their reproductive choices are … you are the one who should decide what you will do with your body.”

I urge everyone to take a few minutes to watch Dee Dee’s video.

Once you’ve seen Dee Dee’s story, you might also want to see the first PSA in the series by reproductive rights advocate Mark Ruffalo, who shares the story of his mother’s pre-Roe abortion experience.  It shocked him to learn that to get an abortion, women had to “search out doctors at night, miles and miles and miles away from their home, in a closed-down doctors office or motel room.”  He concluded by saying “I can’t stand aside with two beautiful young girls of my own and accept that we are going to return to those days.”

Let’s follow Dee Dee and Mark’s examples by working together to ensure our reproductive choices are ours, not the government’s.

The Rape Apologist

Amanda Shapiro, Resident Blogger (’15, Brooklyn Law School)

As a TA for a criminal law class this past semester, I witnessed some pretty scary comments about sexual assault from law students.  Those comments were the inspiration behind this post.

A “rape apologist” is someone who sympathizes with the rapist (The onion has summarized this affliction oh-so-well.)  Here’s how to identify and treat the symptoms of such a person:

  1. The raised eyebrow at the mention of rape. Treatment: pretend you were talking about rate…s of inflation in this country. Get out while you still can!
  2. Outlining his perfect rape apology scenario: “So things are getting hot and heavy between a girl and a guy. She decides she’s not into it, but she just lies there, and doesn’t say anything. And the guy still thinks it’s great, so he keeps going. How can you blame him when she doesn’t say anything?” Treatment: “Does that sound like good sex to any reasonable human being? You make sure your partner is properly lying like a frozen, dead fish, you don’t speak, and you just continue? LADIES: GET IN LINE, THIS GUY JUST CONTINUES.”
  3. The proper allocation of blame: “The ‘victim’ [read: air quotes] needs to ask what she was doing to cause her rape.” Treatment: “Sir, I believe you are speaking to personal responsibility. You know what’s a good barometer for personal responsibility? Simply asking your partner, ‘is this ok?’
  4. “Science” that conveniently apologizes for rape: “Besides, science says that men are biologically predisposed to commit rape. So, come on: science…” Treatment: “I believe you are referring to Thornhill and Palmer’s A Natural History of Rape, which can be summarized as: ‘male scorpionflies seem to rape, therefore male humans obviously need to rape.’ You should read Besteman and Gusterson’s book, Why America’s Top Pundits Are Wrong. They are leading anthropologists who de-bunk biological determinism. But I understand if you’re too busy reading… Reddit…?”

If you or someone you know suffers from rape apology, there is still hope. Call that person out on it today!

Taking the Morality out of Abstinence

Mangala Kanayson, Resident Blogger (’15, Emory University School of Law)

In our quest to destroy the virgin/whore dichotomy by de-vilifying those who do not conform to or believe in the idea that abstinence equates with inherent moral worth, we may inadvertently alienate those who do happen to conform to (but not necessarily believe in) this ideal. This presents the danger of continuing to play into the dichotomy while simply switching the moral values assigned to each role instead of destroying both roles completely and allowing women to assign moral worth to themselves on their own terms.

Perhaps because abstinence is so often considered an ineffectual waiting period rather than a tool (like a condom or an HPV vaccine) that one uses to acquire and maintain a level of security while achieving one’s goals, it is easily glossed over in conversations about sexual health and as a result is presented as a non-option for “normal” and “sexually healthy” individuals.

One harsh result of this inadvertent oversight is that aside from reiterating the media’s insistence that having sex must be our primary concern (billboards in a major city or ten minutes watching television will confirm this), it teaches those who have ever had a previous sexual encounter, whether consensual or not, that continued sexual activity is always the healthy course of action moving forward. Reclaiming one’s sexuality in the case of rape or other sexual trauma takes various forms as unique as the individual doing the reclaiming, but here the dismissal of abstinence as a valid and affirming decision actually limits the choices of survivors.

As much as we want to be sex-positive, we must not forget to affirm the importance of choice. The type of birth control a person chooses to use should not define her worth as a person, and the decision not to have sex should be just as validated as the decision to be sexually active. It’s high time we stopped aiming for extremes and began focusing on aligning in the center, away from competing notions of sexual liberation versus sexual repression. Let’s take the morality out of abstinence.

If I Were Ruth Bader Ginsburg…

Amanda Shapiro, Resident Blogger (’15, Brooklyn Law School)

Last week, I watched in horror as the Fifth Circuit approved a Texas law that will prevent one third of abortion providers from performing much-needed services. I had two thoughts: (1) I was reminded of the saying in Austin, TX, “The problem with Austin is that once you leave it, you’re in Texas;” and (2) if this gets appealed to SCOTUS (it did), and I were Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG), what would I do? If I (RBG) don’t grant certiorari,Texan women will face almost insurmountable barriers to abortion access and let’s face it this is just the latest terrible attack on access to reproductive health services; but if I do, I risk making the Texas law a model move in the war-on-women playbook.

After pondering RBG’s thoughts, I began to think about the cultural climate that produced anti-abortion sentiments today. We have movies like Juno and Knocked Up (recall “shmashmortion”) that gloss over unplanned pregnancies, and that refuse to entertain abortion as an option. But remember the ‘70s? Abortion wasn’t a bad thing. Remember Fast Times at Ridgemont High? That movie had an excellent abortion scene. Stacy has a regretful sexual encounter, she gets pregnant, and the guy (Damone, ugh.) refuses to help her pay for the abortion. But she gets one, and there’s no uproar. The outrage is correctly directed at Damone (ugh.) for just sucking overall. Let me be clear, Fast Times—the movie that features oral sex on carrots, and Sean Penn as a greasy-haired, Hawaiian-shirted stoner—handles abortion better than most of the country today. I don’t know what I would do if I were RBG, but if I were Harvey Weinstein, I would be getting at least one of my leading ladies out of maternity clothes, and into the abortion clinic.

Enough with smooshing already! (Part 2)

Melissa Torres-Montoya, Resident Blogger (’11, University of California, Berkeley School of Law)

Earlier this week I wrote about the merits of the film Don Jon; it was entertaining and delivered a meaningful but not preachy social commentary. While Don Jon brings to light the struggle viewers of pornography face in determining its role in their journey to sexual individuality (or lack thereof), it’s important that we not forget about the real people upon which the pornography industry is based and the public health challenges they face.  The same month that Don Jon was released three performers in the pornography industry tested positive for HIV.  Despite federal workplace laws that should mean pornography actors wear condoms on set, condoms often are not used.  Actors have even expressed fear they would be out of work if they ask to use condoms on set.  The pornography industry has reacted to the most recent HIV-infections by stating they will conduct more frequent STD testing.  However, testing costs fall on the actors.

Regardless of your view on pornography or its role in your sexuality, it’s a lucrative industry that will continue to thrive.  The pornography industry must be pushed to implement workplace practices that protect their employees’ health, including requiring that actors wear condoms.   Learn more about the public health reasoning for advancing policies that safeguard the sexual health of these actors here.