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!

Book or TV Series: The Handmaid’s Tale is some scary sh*t

By Ann Varner

Last week, the UMKC Women’s Center bought the book The Handmaid’s Tale and less than a week later I finished reading it. My interest, like many others, first sparked when Hulu premiered The Handmaid’s Tale series last year. The second season recently premiered on April 25 which coincided with Denim Day, a national campaign that raises awareness of the misconceptions of sexual assault and rape – a very fitting coincidence. Only a few episodes in, and I already think that this season is more terrifying than the first. Despite the TV series doing a very good job of following the storyline of the book, I did notice a few differences in the TV series that may have been added to appeal to today’s TV audiences.

Many of the differences between the book and the TV series center on the characters. For instance, one of the biggest differences is that in the book, Serena Joy, the Commander’s wife, and the Commander himself are actually a much older couple than portrayed in the Hulu series. In the series, they are a young, beautiful couple. The biggest plot difference is that Janine (or OfWarren) does not give birth to a healthy baby. In the book, the baby dies after a few days; whereas, in the show, the baby is healthy but Janine cannot give it up and attempts suicide and threatens to kill the baby. In the show, this causes Aunt Lydia to try to force the Handmaid’s to stone Janine to death. At the end of the first season, June (or OfFred) refuses to stone Janine and the other Handmaid’s follow. This is the first sign of revolt and the Handmaid’s refusing to follow orders.

Although the first season of the series was a complete retelling of the book, the producers have used the second season to explore the details of June’s character more deeply. For example, the second season addresses June’s affair with her husband who was married when they met. We also learn more about her relationship with her extremely feminist mom who ends up in the colonies. These glimpses into June’s past help to define the choices she makes to survive her current situation.

After reading the book, I am pleased to say that the writers of The Handmaid’s Tale series have done a great job sticking with the story line in the book, but are also using some creative license to expand the plot (with author Margaret Atwood’s involvement). The show is a horror story that I can’t stop watching, but it’s also a grim reminder of why we must continue to fight for women’s rights.

Good Wife, Good Fight: Good Feminist TV

By Ann Varner

The Good Fight is a spin-off of the show The Good Wife. The Good Wife was a wonderfully surprising feminist show. I didn’t expect The Good Wife to be feminist based off of its name, however, it features a strong female lead who goes back to working as a lawyer after 13 years of being a housewife. The Good Wife follows Alicia Florrick as she navigates the male-dominated profession as a first-year associate alongside younger, newly-minted colleagues. She climbs to the top and also finds herself along the way.

The Good Fight premiered two years ago, shortly after The Good Wife ended. The Good Fight does not have Alicia Florrick in it, instead my favorite character is another strong female lead character from The Good Wife series, Diane Lockhart. Diane is a well-seasoned attorney who built a firm but was ultimately pushed out following a scandal. She cannot retire because her money was stolen and needs a new job. Struggling to find a job, she only receives one job offer from an African-American-run firm. She joins the firm and as a partner, the firm becomes predominately women.

A show featuring African Americans and women as leads in professional fields is rare and a breath of fresh air. The show covers many hard topics such as police brutality, the #metoo movement, hate crimes, and rape. The show also shows women and people of color that they are not forgotten and can rise to the top. It is currently my favorite show and I look forward every week to it airing. The catch is that it is a CBS original, so you have to pay $5.99 a month to watch it (it includes all the other CBS shows as well). Because it is an original the show allows swearing and is not as censored, which is great for covering topics that are controversial. I highly recommend this show if you have an extra $6 a month.

Janelle Monáe’s New Music Video is a Tribute to Vaginas, Feminism, LGBTQ+ AND Unity of all People

By: Korrien A. Hopkins

This week Janelle Monáe dropped a new music video for her single PYNK. This is the third song and video she has dropped from her upcoming third solo album, “Dirty Computer” which is set to release April 27.

The video PYNK hit the web earlier this week, featuring only women dancers.  Directed by Emma Westenberg, the video opens with Janelle Monáe and a line of backup dancers wearing pink leotards and what the internet has been describing as pussy pants.

The entire video is pink of course. But in addition to the pussy pants and pink everything throughout the video you can see underwear with slogans like “Sex cells” and “I grab back” among many other womanist phrases.

In February, Monae dropped two songs and videos. The songs are “Make Me Feel” and “Django Jane”. Both are songs that I absolutely love. “Make Me Feel” pays a clear homage to the legend Prince, reflecting on his 1986 video for “Kiss”. “Django Jane” which features Monae’s nice rap flow, is a song that celebrates the strength, courage and beauty of black women. It celebrates black culture while addressing the trials and tribulations of identity in a modern society.

Monae stated, “PYNK is a brash celebration of creation, self-love, sexuality, and pussy power! PYNK is the color that unites us all, for pink is the color found in the deepest and darkest nook and crannies of humans everywhere.”

So, she not only uses Pynk to celebrate black women but to Its celebrate everyone and unify us all.

Like she said, deep inside we’re all pink.

There were concerns that the pants in the video might not be inclusive of women who don’t have vaginas. Monáe and Thompson quickly to address those concerns. Thompson tweeted, “To all the black girls that need a monologue that don’t have Vaginas, I’m listening.”  Monáe tweeted, “Thank you to the incomparable and brilliant @TessaThompson_x for helping celebrate US (no matter if you have a vagina or not) all around the world! We see you. We celebrate you. I owe you my left arm T. Xx.”

I am extremely excited for this album to release later this month. I am truly pleased with her releases thus far.  I am so happy, proud, and so thankful for Janelle Monae’s artistry and how she uses her platform. She promotes and supports those who choose to live their truths unapologetically and does so herself. For that I will forever support her. <3

Checkout her latest releases here:

Django Jane

PYNK

Make Me Feel

 

Walk a Mile in Her Shoes : Take a step toward preventing sexual violence

By Kara Lewis

Our staff is fueled by feminism… and this week, a little more coffee than usual. We’ve been busy putting up fliers, plugging our Facebook event, and organizing crates of high heels.

Our biggest fall event and fundraiser, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, is this Thursday at 5:30 in the University Playhouse. Schools and other organizations across the world participate in different Walk a Mile in Her Shoes events each year. When men register for the march and strap on heels to stand in solidarity with women, they become part of the international movement to end rape and gender violence.

That sounds big, right? Yes, the issue is monumental— according to statistics from RAINN, one in six American women has survived completed or attempted sexual assault. The problem gains prevalence on campus: Women in college stand three times more likely to face this terrifying, inexcusable crime.

Our event Thursday offers an opportunity to start advocating by taking one step, then another, around the University Playhouse. Take this step with the dozens of others who have already registered. Take this step with people who are both long-term feminists and those who are new to the cause.

Take this step for a reason that’s important to you.

I choose to cheer at the event, design posters and write this blog because I believe we are all responsible in building a campus culture that pushes back against sexual violence.

Join me and register for Walk a Mile in Her Shoes. Bonus: Reward yourself with pizza after the walk— 15 percent of your bill at Pizza 51 will benefit the Women’s Center.

Fridays are for Feminism

By Ann Varner

Last Friday, the Women’s Center had a great turn out for the showing of the movie Hidden Figures. There was all the pizza, popcorn, and M&Ms you could ever want while watching this funny and heartwarming movie.

I won’t include any spoilers, but if you haven’t seen it, do it now. You’re missing out.

This event continued our Feminist Friday series. Crafty Feminist Friday returns Oct. 13, and we’ll watch and discuss The Girl on the Train on Oct. 27. These events start at noon—think of them as long, feminist lunch breaks!

As always, stay updated with our events by checking the blogs or watching for fliers on campus.