To Bra, or Not to Bra: That is My Choice

By Ann Varner

About a year ago, I was sunburned so badly I had second degree burns on my back. The burns were so bad that I had to wrap my back in gauze to cover the open wounds from the blisters, and could not wear a bra due to the area where the burns were. At first, I was horrified that I would have to go without a bra. I still had to work and not wearing a bra made me terribly self-conscious. The entire time I was working, I was crossing my arms trying to cover up my unsupported chest. But after a few weeks of freedom from my bra, I found I was infinitely more comfortable without a bra. I really started to love being braless and couldn’t care less about what people were thinking.

Thanks to that sunburn, I have been liberated from my bra and the pressure to always wear one.  I have made the choice to go braless or at least only wear a simple bralette with no underwire and no padding. It’s enough to hold up the girls when I need the extra support, but that’s it. It’s comfortable, it’s what works for me, and it’s my choice.

Some women prefer bras for various reasons. And that’s okay. For instance, if you have a large chest, wearing a bra can help relieve back pain. Wearing a bra can also hold things in place while exercising. Those are fine reasons for wearing a bra. Those are also choices that a woman can make herself and that’s why I’m writing this blog. I think wearing a bra should be a choice, not a necessity.

Over the years I’ve heard comments from both men and women directed towards women that they notice who are not wearing bras. These comments are mostly critical about braless women being too “lazy” to put one on. I’ve heard people say, “She was so lazy she wouldn’t even put a bra on” and “I can’t believe she couldn’t take two seconds to put on a bra. That’s lazy.” I’ve even had my own friends direct similar comments toward me and my choice to go braless. For the record, friends: I am not too lazy to put on a bra. I am making a choice!

Being braless does not equal laziness. Choosing to wear a bra or not is a woman’s choice to make, and women should not feel ashamed or embarrassed if they make that choice. But why do people still think that they are entitled to have an opinion about a woman’s choice to wear a bra or not?

According to the online women’s health magazine, the bra wasn’t even invented until the 1900’s. Women went centuries without binding their chests in spandex and polyester. A woman named Mary Phelps Jacob came up with the first idea for a bra, which consisted of two handkerchiefs and a pink ribbon. However, it was a man named Frederick Mellinger (a.k.a. Fredericks of Hollywood) who created the first padded and push-up bra in 1947. He soon built a business of highly sexualized bras and undergarments. Mellinger’s bras helped bring focus to women’s breasts as objects covered in satin and fancy lace and coyly hiding one of the woman’s most titillating body parts – the nipple. Social rules of modesty have demanded that women must cover up their nipples, yet men have always been free to display theirs in any public setting without scrutiny. (The #freethenipple campaign is working to bring equity to the issue.) So because women’s breasts (and nipples) are seen as objects of sexual desire, the bra has become a tool to control that desire and a woman’s ability to control her own sexuality. A braless woman with her free wielding breasts and nipples sends the message that she is in control of her body and sexual desires, and that can make some people – especially men – uncomfortable.

I wholeheartedly believe that women should always be in control of their own bodies and I encourage you to make your choice to wear a bra or not based on what’s comfortable for you. After all, you were not put on this earth to make other people comfortable.

Don’t Know Much About … Women!

By Chris Howard-Williams

It has been a truly educational summer for me. As part of my Couples and Family Counseling program at UMKC, we are required to take a course on sexual counseling.  Here is my personal paraphrase of what I’ve learned so far:

Men – When you encounter sexual issues, rest assured that there are volumes of articles and studies that have been done on many levels, including biological, physiological, psychological, and psycho-social ones. We have pills, positions, therapeutic techniques, and support groups available for you to tackle any problem that comes your way!

Women – (shrugging) Um … we really haven’t studied you that much.  Have you considered asking your husband if he will let you get a vibrator?

It has been eye-opening to me to see the disparity between the attention that we have given men and women just regarding their sexuality. I was appalled to learn in class recently that we put a man on the moon and created the Internet before we had a full understanding of the biology of the clitoris. Heck, it was another 10 years after that discovery before we could even scientifically determine how it worked! Women, I know you don’t need me to say it, but I’m going to anyway… it’s about time we devoted the attention to studying you as we have to studying men for centuries now!

The concept of “women’s studies” is relatively young, its birth as a formal study being in the early 1970s.  A quote from a USA Today College article gives a brief history of the evolution of women’s studies:  “In 1971, early women’s studies courses focused on women’s roles in economic and political institutions, and they also analyzed women’s roles in history, literature and equality movements. In the 1980s, courses emphasized cross-cultural perspectives of women and how humans identify gender, and by the late 1990’s, women’s and gender studies courses included topics on race, feminist thought and the socialization of women.”

So why do we need women’s studies courses?  The obvious answer is equity. For too long, our study of the world and everything in it has been dominated by the world of men. This biased focus does not give women the voice or the attention they so richly deserve. Beyond this, there are many more benefits than this already long blog can cover, so here’s a link to a great article instead that covers the bases pretty well.

On a more personal note, why do we need women’s studies? Because despite the progress that has been made in recent years, there is still a staunch resistance to erasing the imaginary barriers between the sexes. I have worked the Women’s Center information table at just two UMKC orientations now, and both times I have witnessed multiple variations of the same event: a parent walks by our table with their son to glance back at him and say, “Oh, you don’t need anything there!”  I’m here to say: You do, guys!  You need women’s studies.  You need feminism, and you need to get past this idea that some things are for boys and some things are for girls. It’s time to look at the world in a whole new balanced way!

If you would like to learn more about UMKC’s Women’s & Gender Studies programs, feel free to visit their website at http://cas.umkc.edu/wgs, or email them at wgs@umkc.edu.

How Listening Led to Speaking Up

By Chris Howard-Williams

In my last blog, I started exploring the lessons I need to remember as I learn what it is to be a male feminist. My first lesson was a reminder to avoid mansplaining. In an effort to practice that by keeping quiet and choosing to listen, I decided to ask my female Facebook friends for their opinions. I wanted to know what they felt were the important things that men need to know or learn in order to support and promote feminism. Interestingly enough, the one answer that caught my attention the most was a simple bit of advice from my good friend and “adopted” sister – speak up!

We live in the age of the #MeToo movement. I’m sure there are blogs on this website that explain it more eloquently than I could, but in case you need a refresher, here is the Wikipedia article about that movement. In response to the women who raised their voices under that movement, Benjamin Law, a Sydney-based writer, started his own movement – #HowIWillChange  “Guys, it’s our turn,” he tweeted out to his followers. “After yesterday’s endless #MeToo stories of women being abused, assaulted and harassed, today we say #HowIWillChange.” What followed were personal commitments to the changes he would make in order to step up and speak against all forms of sexual assault and harassment he personally encountered as well as a charge for other men to follow suit.

So, what can we do?  According to Michael S. Kimmel in an article for the Harvard Business Review, many men engage in sexual harassment and assault simply because they feel they can get away with it. He argues that this presumed support, especially tacit support in the form of not calling other men out, is a reason the problem persists. “When men remain silent, it can be taken as a sign that we agree with the harasser, that we think the behavior is OK, and that we won’t intervene,” Kimmel says. “Men are complicit in a culture that enables sexual harassment, so it is up to us to actively, volubly speak up and let the perpetrators know that we are not OK with what they do.”

So, right after learning that I need to keep quiet and stop “mansplaining”, I’ve learned that raising my voice at the right time is just as necessary. As another online article puts it, I need to speak up swiftly against any man who practices sexual harassment/assault as well as against anyone who tries to retaliate or victim-blame when a woman reports it. It is not enough to ignore it any longer, and calling it out needs to happen at the earliest signs of harassment as well. Lewd comments about and derogatory comments against women will not be tolerated anymore. I am going to speak up, and that’s #HowIWillChange.

Sexism in Colors – Why is Pink for Girls and Blue for Boys?

By Maleigha Michael

When I was younger, I learned the colors of the rainbow through the mnemonic, ROY-G-BIV (red-orange-yellow-green-blue-indigo-violet). It was a color rule that has stayed with me since and helped me understand the relationship of colors. As I was growing up, I also learned another color “rule”: Pink is for girls and blue is for boys.  This is something we all heard growing up. Why though? Who got to decide this? What impact does this have on society? And how come so many of us abide by this rule so strictly?

I did a lot of reading on the history of these two colors, and it turns out there’s a lot of history behind them. It all started in the 19th century when pastel colors started becoming popularized for babies. The two colors were first chosen because of how they complimented hair and eye colors. Blue was meant to go with blue eyes and/or blonde hair, and pink for brown eyes and/or brown hair. Then, blue was actually the color that was assigned to girls, because it was seen as a dainty color, and pink was seen as a stronger color, so it was assigned to boys.

Okay, that actually sort of makes sense. But how then did pink become a color for girls and blue for boys? In my further reading, I found that girls were reassigned with pink because it was close to red, a romantic color, and women were seen as more emotional. But by the 1960’s during the women’s liberation movement, women challenged this social norm and threw gendered colors out the window. However, this did not last long once prenatal testing came out, which led to parents pre-planning for their babies and retailers realizing that they could capitalize on selling specific content tailored for each gender. So we’re back to square one.

Lately, the advent of “Gender Reveal Parties” has reinforced the “pink is for girls, blue is for boys” rule. Although parents have been getting more and more creative with their reveals, pink and blue have remained the two dominant colors that people use to show the sex of their babies.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Who cares? So what if pink is for girls and blue is for boys? What’s the big deal?” Well the answer I have for you also happens to wrap up what the point of this whole thing is about: Feminism.

Assigning colors to babies enforces a role that they are supposed to grow and fit into. There are only two colors, also enforcing that there are only two genders you’re allowed to claim. If you’re a girl, you have to like pink, and that also means you’re girly. If you’re a boy, you have to have blue, and you CANNOT like pink, or else you aren’t manly enough. If you’re a girl and you like blue, you’re a tomboy, and you aren’t seen as a strong female, but instead as a girl who doesn’t know how to be a proper girl.

Obviously, this is all completely invalid and shouldn’t have ever been applied to our society back then, and shouldn’t be applied now. I know that not everyone sticks to this rule. There are plenty of parents, more recently than ever before, that refuse to stand by this ridiculous code, and some who even take a few progressive steps further as to let their kids dress themselves however they want, such as a allowing their sons to wear dresses.

In summary, gendered colors are totally outdated, and we should stop pushing colors on children if we want a world with less stereotypes, less sexism, and overall less prejudice. As I learned when I was young, there are seven colors in the rainbow, so let’s not neglect the OYGIV of ROY-G-BIV!

I’m Changing My Last Name… But Not For The Reason You Think

By Ann Varner

Lately I made the decision to change my last name to include my mother’s last name. My current last name is Varner, and I will be changing it to Parsons-Varner. My mother raised my sister and me as a single mother from the time my sister was two-years-old and I was four. It makes no sense to me as to why I shouldn’t carry the last name of the strong woman who taught me to be the person I am.

When I announced my name change to friends and family, most were supportive; however, some could not understand. I was met with comments like, “why would you go through all this trouble now when you’ll just be getting married and changing your last name to your husband’s anyway?” When I responded, “If I do get married, I won’t be changing my last name,” they were shocked.

Why is this so shocking? The best answer I can come up with is because not taking you husband’s name goes against tradition. I think that most women in America are still changing their name when they get married. And when they don’t, some people find it disturbing. But this is 2018, and I think there is no longer a need for a woman to take her husband’s last name.

Historically, women had to take her husband’s last name because they had no legal independent identity. An article in Seattle Bride Magazine explains that there once was a time when women could not own personal property or real estate, enter into litigation, participate in business, enter into contracts, or vote. Women were considered one with their husband and part of that was to acquire their husband’s last name. Yes, very sexist and oppressive, I know! While women still have major issues with inequality today, we are fortunate enough to have moved away from many of those oppressive rules and we no longer need a husband’s last name in order to survive.

Personally, I do not want to take the last name of a potential future husband because I do not want to feel as though I am property. I like the name I’m changing to, and if I decide to get married, the person I marry will have to be okay with it. It’s totally fine if someone wants to change their last name when they get married. I respect the decisions others make when it comes to name changing; however, know that we no longer need to change it in order to function in society. I cannot wait to change my last name to include my mother’s last name, because, in my opinion, she is the only person in my life worth doing it for.

Read My Lips: No “Mansplaining” Here!

By Chris Howard-Williams

Image from Flickr

So, I have a confession – I’m a little intimidated to be working in the Women’s Center.  Being a man, I am keenly aware that many of the difficult issues women face today are a result of mistreatment by the male gender. To this end, my goal this summer is to further my knowledge of feminism and women’s rights so that I may be counted as an ally. I want to know what I can do as a male feminist to support the many wonderful women in my life as best I can.  My first commitment?  No mansplaining!

The term “mansplaining” is thought to have its creation due to an essay called “Men Explain Things to Me: Facts Don’t Get in Their Way”, written by Rebecca Solnit in April 2008. In the essay, Solnit recounts a story where, while at a party, she began to discuss a book she had just written. She had hardly begun when she was interrupted by a man who began sharing about a book he had heard about on the same subject. As it turns out, he was talking about Solnit’s own book, but it took her friend interrupting him about four times, saying, “That’s her book,” before it sank in and he stopped talking. This is the essence of mansplaining.

An online article titled “6 Subtle Forms of Mansplaining that Women Face Every Day” further explains that mansplaining is not simply when a man is legitimately explaining something to someone.  Rather, it’s those times when a man purposely interrupts a woman to explain things she already knows because he assumes he knows it better than she does.  This can be as obvious as Steven Santagati insisting during an interview on CNN that he knows how the female host and guest of the program would respond while being catcalled, or it can be as subtle as the man who insists that you try something you know you don’t like, such as food or drink, because he “knows you’ll like it.”  The point is, the man knows best and you need to listen – mansplaining.

So, my first goal working in the Women’s Center is to keep it a Mansplaining Free Zone!  Instead, I want to listen.  I want to hear the stories the people in the center have to share.  I want to learn what I can do to further my stance on feminism and the fight for equity.  I want to share what expertise I have while acknowledging and respecting others’ expertise.  In short, I guess I want the opposite of mansplaining, which means I’ll make an effort to keep my lips sealed and my ears open.  No mansplaining here!

Kate Spade: The Woman Who Helped Young Women Enter Adulthood

By Ann Varner

My first Kate Spade bag was a bright blue, square-shaped purse with green polka dots on the inside. I still have this bag as it’s my favorite. The color and shape are so unique that everywhere I go I receive compliments and the question “where did you get that?” I usually tell them my secret – the Kate Spade surprise sale. This sale was the only way I could afford a Kate Spade bag. All the clearance items would be an extra 75% off. I could always get a bag for under $100 that was big enough to hold everything I needed it to. My Kate Spade bag gave me all the confidence in the world when I was 20-years-old and learning how to navigate life. I had just moved to a city where I knew no one and was figuring out what to do with my life, and this bag symbolized my quest to find myself.  I was learning what it meant to be an independent woman in today’s world and that bag helped me grow from adolescence into young adulthood.

Many young women like me felt the same way. According to a recent article in The New York Times: “Buying a Kate Spade handbag was a coming-of-age ritual for a generation of American women. The designer created an accessories empire that helped define the look of an era. The purses she made became a status symbol and a token of adulthood.” No truer words have been written.

Kate Spade, with her husband Andy Spade, launched the Kate Spade label in 1993. Her bags were quirky, much like her smile. They had bright colors and fun designs that made people smile. Unlike other designer bags, Kate Spade bags were affordable and women of all different economic classes could afford to have one of their own. All Kate Spade bags have their own personality, and it was easy to find one that matched your own. Unlike many of the male purse designers in the world who created neutral colored purses with large logos, Kate Spade knew what women wanted to carry around. She became one of the first women entrepreneurs in the fashion world with a high rise to success. A great quote in the Atlantic sums up what Kate Spade did for women:

“Working in an industry largely run by men, Spade didn’t invent the idea of the professional woman who also cared about style; she was just responding to the reality of what women were already doing…she solved the problem of what women wanted without elitism.”

Kate Spade is a Kansas City native. Born and raised in Kansas City, we are proud to call her our own. She also contributed to the Brain Injury Association of Kansas and Greater Kansas City after her friend suffered a traumatic brain injury. Her impact on the fashion world showed that a girl from the Midwest could become a fashion mogul in New York City.  Her red lipstick and smile will be dearly missed. I encourage you to not focus on how she passed away, but on her successes in life.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, we urge you to get help immediately. Go to a hospital, call 911, or call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433).

Former Teacher Joins Women’s Center Staff for Summer

By Chris Howard-Williams

Hello!  My name is Chris Howard-Williams, and I am delighted to be joining the Women’s Center as a work study student for the summer term!  I am currently a student at UMKC pursuing my Master’s in Couples and Family Counseling.  This has been a dramatic career shift for me as I spent the 15 years prior to becoming a student at UMKC as a 4th grade teacher in the Olathe (KS) school district.  It has been an exciting journey to transition from teacher back to student, particularly when I realize I’m not responsible for grading papers anymore!

During my time in the Women’s Center, I hope to deepen my understanding of what feminism is and the important role it plays in our society.  I come into this position as a true learner, knowing that I have much still to learn and yet being eager to do so.  I have a special interest in challenging “societal norms,” particularly in the areas of gender and sexuality.  I also enjoy working with youth to accept their interests even if (and most especially if) they do not match with our society’s norms.  Beyond that, I’m also really hoping that I get to learn how to knit as I hear the director of the Women’s Center, Brenda Bethman, has a real penchant for knitting!  Oh, and by the way … yes, my hair is really blue in that picture!  Feel free to stop in and see what crazy thing I’m doing with it next!

Summer Intern Works for Equity in the Arts

By Maleigha Michael

Hi, my name is Maleigha Michael. I’m from Parkville, which is within Kansas City and only about half an hour away from UMKC. I have just finished my first actual year at the University of Missouri where I am planning to major in Art History and minor in German.

I chose to apply for this internship because I wanted to gain experience in the Art History field through the Her Art Project, and learn and promote women in the art industry. Through MU, I joined the sorority of Kappa Alpha Theta, the first Greek letter fraternity for women. Our focus is on empowering other women and encouraging them to take leadership positions within their community. Being exposed to so many leading women this past few semesters has lead me to want to influence positive change and progress for women.

I’m very excited to have the opportunity to work in the Women’s Center over this summer of 2018! I hope to create a more positive environment that pushes equality around UMKC, to learn about gender representation in the art world, and to gain skills that I will be able to take with me after this internship is over.

Emmy Rossum Had No Shame Asking for Equal Pay

By Ann Varner

Emmy Rossum is the unsung hero in Hollywood right now after she demanded, fought for, and receive equal pay of her co-star, William H. Macy. One of my favorite shows is Shameless. The show is set in south side Chicago with Macy playing a dead beat dad with six children. The oldest of the children is Fiona (played by Rossum) who is truly the center of the show.

When Rossum began the show 9 years ago she didn’t have the equivalent experience as Macy, so the unequal pay wasn’t an issue to her. However, 7 seasons later and after directing many of the shows herself, she decided it was time to ask for equal pay.  Due to the extensive negotiations about her pay, production for the 8th season was put to a halt. Fortunately, Rossum got what she wanted and deserved and is now beginning filming for the 9th season.

While finding articles about her equal pay fight, I was pleased to find that Rossum had major support behind her fight for equal pay, including support from Macy: “It’s show biz’s job to get us for as cheaply as they can – and our job to say no…It’s unconscionable they would pay a woman less for the same job.”

Regarding becoming a champion for equal pay, Rossum stated: “This is across the board in every industry, how women are paid versus how men are paid. And then you take it further, that kind of bias extends not just to gender but to race, ethnicity, religion.”

Emmy Rossum is a role model and exactly who we need to inspire more women in Hollywood and the real world to demand their equal pay.