Why It’s So Hard To Break the Silence

Image from Flickr.com

By Emily Mathis

Recently Eve Ensler, the creator of the Vagina Monologues and V-day spoke out about the victim blaming that causes people, especially women, to stay silent about being abused. In her article on HuffingtonPost.com Ensler talks about the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case dismissal and how it shows that victim-blaming is still happening all the time.

For those of you who don’t know about the Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexual assault charges go here. And for information about the victim blaming that went on in the media, go here or here.

It seems that lately there has been a lot of victim blaming going around. I shouldn’t say lately because it has been happening to victims for a long time. But recently the maid who accused DSK was dragged through the mud so to speak by the media and a girl in Missouri was expelled after she was raped. Ensler and others, myself included, say that this has got to stop. Victims, be they female or male, should not feel any more scared than they already do when they speak up. They shouldn’t have to be scared that someone is going to accuse them of lying or of “asking for it”.

As Ensler said in her piece “It’s a long road. Justice does not come fast or easily.” So why do people make it that much harder on victims? It’s already hard enough to speak up. The last thing someone should do when confronted with someone reporting that they were sexually assaulted is ask them “what did you do?” Or “why were you there?” Or “what were you wearing? Were you drinking?” Our first and only response should be to say “It wasn’t your fault.”

Tragically, so many women and men find themselves victims of sexual assault; with 1 in 6 women having been a victim of a completed or attempted sexual assault. By now we should know better and understand how hard it is to come forward.

Ensler understands how hard it is to talk about instances of abuse so in her article she announced that V-Day is creating a safe place to talk openly about your experiences, it’s called the V-Report and you can get to it here.

I think that the V-Report is a great idea for women and men to be able to share their stories without having to worry about be shamed or blamed. If only the rest of the world would catch up.

Saudi Arabian Women Are Given the Right to Vote

By Bonnie Messbarger

This weekend King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia announced that he was going to grant women the right to vote and run in future elections. This is a major win in the fight for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. The New York Times calls it, “the biggest change in a decade for women.” The last big change being a woman’s right to obtain her own national identification card back in 2001.

However, even with these new developments, Saudi women are still not allowed to go into public without a male chaperone (which is usually a male relative), they are not allowed to drive, and men generally prevent them from participating in any legal activities. Along with social acceptance, these things would still hinder women from being able to vote or run for election. Just as in the 1960’s when public education for women was introduced; it took years for it to be acceptable among the Saudi people.

So, how much is granting them the right to vote actually going to change when they are still under complete public control of men? If your husband, brother, or father refuse to take you to vote, or run for election, how are you to accomplish this on your own? While the right to vote, and run for election is a huge step in the right direction, there is still so much to do. We need more rights granted to these women. Something as simple as being able to drive a car, or go into public alone, which we in America take for granted so often, could be a huge turning point for these women in their journey for equality.

While the bigger picture looks a little bleak, the women of Saudi Arabia appear to be hopeful. The New York Times said, “Despite the snail’s pace of change, women on Sunday were optimistic that the right to vote and run would give them leverage to change the measures, big and small, that hem them in.”

We wish for more change to come sooner rather than later for these women. We will continue to root for you overseas!

The White House…a “boy’s club”?

Image from Flickr.com

By Kristina Gardner

 It came out this past weekend that women in the Obama White House felt excluded and ignored during his first couple years of presidency. Christina Romer said she felt like she was treated “like a piece of meat”. The women that work in the white house feel as if they are outsiders in a “boys club”. One woman doesn’t believe that Obama is doing it on purpose, but other high ranking women say that they feel like Obama has just as much responsibility as the next guy for excluding women. It seems questionable that Obama, a man with a very strong and independent wife that he has to go home to every night and answer to would do something like this. Obama aides claim that this is completely false, and that these women are making unfounded claims, and were feeling “sidelined” for no reason.  So this begs the question:  Is the Obama white House being sexist? Are they being elitist? Is Obama’s white house the first to do this?

Personally, I think that it seems like a stretch that this is happening on purpose, to these women. But if they are feeling alienated, then something needs to be done about it. If it were any office and women made such a claim; there would be investigations, and things would have to be done about it. It seems like the things that plague the White House are things that plague us every day America women. Not getting called on for opinions, not really having a say in meetings, not getting promotions, and the like. It seems sad that these things still go on; but this coming out of the White House is just a sad reminder that this is still a daily challenge that women are trying to overcome. Although, now that Ms. Romer has said something about it, I’m sure things will begin to be fixed… The American women will be sure of it.

Did You Miss These?

Check out this movie MissRepresentation.

According to a new UN report, the gaps between girls and boys widen as they get older in developing countries.

A new Testosterone study came out with some interesting results.

VP Joe Biden’s 1 is 2 Many campaign is still going on. Make sure you get your voice heard!

2012 World Bank report on gender equality shows women are still oppressed.  

Ms. Magazine has a piece about Facebook not taking down pro-rape pages.

New article about Latinas and unemployment.

Hillary Clinton promotes Women’s Rights treaty.



The End of My Journey at the Women’s Center

By Nikeisha Fortenberry

As I finish my last week at the Women’s Center, it amazes me to know that three years have gone by. It seems like only yesterday I was interviewing for a work-study position, and now, I am transitioning into a different chapter of my life—leaving memorable moments behind here.

I can write about so many experiences I had (and trust me, there are many); however, I will only share a couple of memories and keep the rest dear to my heart. One of my fondest memories is the evolution of my feminism. During my undergraduate studies, I had taken a Women’s and Gender studies course that discussed first-wave, second-wave, and third-wave feminism. The course did provide good insight about each aspect of feminism; however, I did not know how it applied to me. I did not know what it meant to be a feminist.

When I was given the opportunity to work at the Women’s Center, one of the first pieces of information I learned was the mission. The Women’s Center mission, to “advocate, educate, and provide support services for the advancement of women’s equity on campus and within the community at large,” continues to stay with me. Eventually, I realized that feminism applied to me because I had the responsibility of understanding the importance of advocating for women’s issues and advancing women’s equity through programming, collaborations, and research. But most importantly, I found real value in listening to women’s stories and learning about their many contributions to helping women in their own communities. Through my time here, I learned that being a feminist meant not only being a strong woman, but it also meant being dedicated to educating the community about the importance of women’s issues. I tried to convey these meanings through the programs I chose to create while an intern here, such as the “Love Your Body Day Fashion Show,” “Is America Obsessed With Body Image,” “Everybody is Beautiful Week”, and the “Rock Who You Are Fashion Show.“ All these events focused on dispelling the myths about body image created by the media and hoped to promote positive body image in everyone. I also created the event “Throwing Like A Girl Since 1972,” a panel discussion about the history and impact of Title IX.

As my own feminism evolved, I moved from someone with a lack of understanding (and someone afraid to say the F word out loud) to someone with a personal passion to proactively advocate for women’s issues and promote gender equality, who was no longer afraid of the word “Feminism.”

In addition to the discovery of my feminist identity, the other memories I will always cherish from my time at the Women’s Center are the relationships I made with each person on staff. I was very fortunate to work with such passionate people that were filled with knowledge about women’s issues. Also, I definitely enjoyed all of the parties we had. The food was yummy, but the laughter that we all shared showed that we were not only co-workers, but we all very good friends.

It saddens me to go, but I will always remember that my time at the Women’s Center was a life-changing experience for me. Thank you for the opportunity. Although my journey ends at the Women’s Center, I will continue to keep hold of the mission to advocate for the advancement of women.

Rethinking What Feminism Means

Has feminism become a dirty word? And if it has, why? Feminism is defined by dictionary.com as: “The doctrine — and the political movement based on it — that women should have the same economic, social, and political rights as men.” This is a very accurate definition of the word Feminism. Yet, if you ask people you might be surprised to find that not many would identify as a “feminist” even though some do believe in equality of the sexes, the foundation of Feminism.

Where did the negative connotation come from? Somewhere along the way “feminism” has gotten a bad rap. For instance, on UrbanDictionary.com there are many entries under Feminism, and most of them are not favorable.  Scroll through the first couple of pages and you will begin to see a pattern of misunderstanding as to what “Feminism” means and what it stands for. Perhaps the best example of this is the number two definition under Feminism: “Feminism is a federally funded, politically correct, special interest hate group.”

It’s sad that people think this way. And yet it seems to be a trend. I know even in my life I have seen the attitudes of people or ideas that are identified as “feminist” as a negative thing. But if you ask those same people who think Feminism is bad, if they believe in equality of wages and not discriminating against someone because of their gender, a lot of them will say they agree. In fact, a lot of people hold ideals and values that are apart of Feminism but they still won’t use the word for fear of the negativity associated with it.

Why are people scared to be called a “feminist”? I proudly say that I am a feminist. To me, that does not mean that I hate men, rather it is just another way of saying that I believe in gender equality. I wish we could reverse the negativity towards the Feminist movement. It doesn’t mean you have to burn your bras or that feminism means that being a stay-at-home mom is bad. Actually it’s the opposite. Feminism is about choice and standing up for everyone’s right to decide what they want to do and the right to equal opportunities and for the respect of their choices. If women want to stay home and take care of their kids, then they should be able to do that without judgment. If a woman wants to be a CEO then she should get that shot and expect the same respect and pay as her male counterpart.

It seems that this animosity towards the idea of Feminism has gotten significantly worse in my generation, those of us in our 20s.  In the blog, “The F Word” , Emma Cosh discusses how women in their 20s have become fearful of calling themselves “feminists”. The blog talks about how even if they believe in gender equality and all that feminism stands for, they don’t want to be labeled a “feminist” because somehow that idea has become linked with being different and the possibility of being outcast in certain areas of our lives. The blog ends with a dead on observation:

“The most significant barrier to gender equality is not the actions of others, but our own. The reason that many of us are afraid to call ourselves feminists is that doing so would separate us from the crowd. We are afraid that the friendships and networks which we value could not withstand the strain; secretly we’re afraid that neither we, nor our friends are up to the challenge.”

Are we up to the challenge? I think so; but in order to achieve and sustain the gender equality that should be in place, we have to be okay with being labeled a “feminist.” Not only can we decide to proudly wear the Feminism badge but we can also help redefine the idea of Feminism. Somewhere along the way we lost what Feminism really means.

Feminism doesn’t have to be a dirty word. Standing up for the belief in equality of the sexes isn’t a bad thing, in fact it is a great thing. So, if I chose to classify myself as a feminist, I shouldn’t be worried that someone will judge me based on that. Maybe its time we took back the word and made Feminism positive once more.

What do you think?  Join the discussion on Tuesday, February 23 at 8pm in room 147 of the UMKC University Center at The “F-word” and Women’s Leadership.  The conversation will be led by Dr. Brenda Bethman, Women’s Center Director and UMKC Women’s & Gender Studies Acting Director, and explore what the “f-word” is and how it relates to women’s leadership.