Author Archive

The “Privilege” to Get Away with Rape?

Monday, October 25th, 2010

We need to stop treating plagiarism as a more serious act than rape. When institutions are so willing to make excuses for rapists so they can remain matriculated, but do not think twice about expelling someone for cheating even if is just “one person’s word against another” we have colleges that have created yet another line of attack against reproductive justice.

Gawker wrote a story uncovering a rape complaint filed against Republican California gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman’s son Griffith Rutherford Harsh V, who ended up graduating three years after the school’s investigation deemed that there was not enough “evidence” to hold Harsh accountable. The story of the assault was like many that happen to 25% of college-aged women – except in this case the victim woke up with a black eye and bruises on her face. Many survivors of campus sexual assault don’t even have any telltale physical injuries in the aftermath; most just have to deal with the emotional scars of a confusing situation and a school that fails to take it seriously.

Maureen O’Connor highlights some very interesting facts about Griffith Harsh that are sadly very relevant to the likelihood of justice for a rape survivor. The year that Harsh applied to Princeton, Meg Whitman announced a $30 million donation to build a new residence hall which was named after her. The summer after his sophomore year (the time of the incident) the residence’s construction was still not finished. Even without the huge donation on the table, Harsh still had the resources of a mother who is a billionaire, which is a fact that the rape victim took seriously. She avoided going to the local authorities or to the local hospital to file a report or get an evidence collection kit done. Even though turning to Princeton to handle this egregious violation of her body enabled the situation to be addressed more quietly, she still had to deal with the inherent unequal access to justice that occurs when one is assaulted by someone who has a lot more power.

When looking at Harsh’s final statement to the Princeton disciplinary committee the victim-blaming and lack of knowledge that he is responsible for avoiding sex when the other party not capable of giving consent is glaring. Why is it when one unknowingly cites something incorrectly they’re still punished for plagiarism or when we’re caught breaking a law we didn’t know existed we can still be arrested? His statement admits there was sexual relations and any claims that he could not tell that she wasn’t able to consent does not do enough to change the fact that someone woke up violated.

Reproductive justice is also about people being properly educated. It seems like either Princeton’s Faculty-Student Committee on Discipline is not properly educated about what sexual assault is, or they were more conscious about keeping the possibilities of hefty donations after $30 million residence hall open. Was the rape survivor clearly taught the options about the aftermath of sexual assault (i.e. she could have gotten a ‘rape kit’ done for the student judicial process)? Was Griff Harsh properly educated that it isn’t a person’s fault if they can’t remember being sexually assaulted?

While many may not realize that sexual assault is intrinsically tied to reproductive justice, this case shows how economic status, sexual health education, and institutional bureaucracy all can affect access to it. We need to look closely at why we let so many unrelated factors (so what if Harsh’s mom is a billionaire? Who cares if the victim’s friends say she didn’t seem drunk earlier that night?) make us so hesitant to hold those who violate the rights of others accountable for their actions.

CNN Misses the Mark on Third Wave Feminism

Friday, June 4th, 2010

Carol Costello of CNN had a segment a few weeks ago that is supposed to explore “what could be the ‘third wave’ of feminism, and why that’s troubling.” They invited Jaclyn Friedman, the co-editor of Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape, to come in and interview for the video. Sadly, the end result is a very short segment titled “Bad Girls a Dangerous Trend?” complete with an inaccurate interpretation of a female pop artist’s song that supposedly “celebrates promiscuity and drinking until you pass out in a stranger’s bathtub.”

(You can read a transcript at Shakesville.)

The segment does not address third wave feminism (or any feminism) at all (if the title and introduction didn’t already give it away). It is a 2.5 minute clip that talks about a pervasive “raunch culture” that is creating violent “bad girls” who curse and drink too much. CNN misquotes Friedman to give the impression that a reputable well-known feminist agrees with the sentiments they’re trying to pitch (to read Jaclyn’s response to the segment and what she really said during the interview, click here).

CNN provides a tired, sexist narrative that seems to make its round regularly on mainstream media. Reporters shake their hands in disbelief of this “new” trend of young women who drink “too much” and say that this causes them to be raped. When Jaclyn was approached with this sentiment, she says that everyone should be encouraged to drink responsibly, not just women. Instead of bringing real information or a “new” point of view into the spotlight, Costello jumps on the bandwagon of victim-blaming and finding scapegoats.

While blaming feminism for imaginary outbreaks in promiscuity from women is not new, I was surprised that CNN wasn’t even aware of the third wave of feminism. I thought a part of journalism is being well-informed and I pause to wonder how the network managed to miss a decades-old movement for so long and then interpret the Wikipedia article of the Third Wave as “bad girls who drink alcohol, curse and get themselves raped!”

I hope that someone will want to break free from the mainstream media’s affinity for ignoring feminism 90% of the time and mislabeling it or straight-up lying about it 10% of the time. Should we wait for that day to come when feminism won’t be demonized on the likes of CNN and FOX? Do we try to place feminists, womanists, activists, social justice enthusiasts into the major newspapers, magazines, and TV channels? Or should we continue with creating our own media, where we blog our hearts out at Shakesville and interview the Hulk about his feminism?

The Future of Feminist Blogging

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Melissa recently pointed me towards a post titled “The fabulous future of feminism and social media” where the author of the post, Ronak Ghorbani, asks a panel of community-feminist workers about their opinions of feminist blogs and their inclusiveness. Jessica Yee (the executive director of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network) hosted the panel, which had of members of the Miss G Project as well as the YMCA Girls’ Council. Ronak asked the panel about their view of feminist blogs and whether they think the blogs are inclusive enough. The panelists did not shy away from expressing their views about the shortfalls of the feminist blogosphere.

Jessica felt that feminist bloggers only speak to the same audience, which is problematic. Laurel Mitchel of the Miss G Project noted the “barriers and privileges” that leads to some blogs being more popular than others.

However, all the opinions were not negative. Jessica also had something positive to say about blogging that she thinks is often overlooked. She said, “often people who read blogs or write blogs are people who do have privilege to do something.” Sheetal Rawal of the Miss G Project shared how finding Feministingthrough Google was integral to her shift into a “new feminist conscience.”

Despite the shortfalls of feminist blogging, it is crucial to remember its benefits. Jessica and Sheetal brought up two important positive aspects that show that feminist social media can and does contribute to social justice. Personally my engagement in feminist blogs have given me amazing insight into many issues of which I was not aware and introduced me to an amazing community of people who are passionate about similar issues.

While most feminist blog readers are most likely feminists, I think it is still important to highlight that not all are. I know current feminists who came to to identify as such because of feminist social media. As a result, they, too, joined the community of people who actively work towards social justice. Working towards social justice can feel like a daunting task, but social media can serve as a form of encouragement through fostering a sense of community.

Social media also is a great tool in generating awareness. It introduces stories and issues often ignored by the mainstream media and offers alternative views. Through expanding the reach of certain topics, more people who have the resources and privileges to make change learn where and how they can put their efforts.

It is unfortunate that feminist blogging excludes those without internet access, but  it does help the community online and off. And due to the community engagement that it fosters, I do believe that its power to create change reaches far from the computer screen. So while I don’t know whether feminist blogging is here to stay, I definitely think it can be an important part to the social justice movement for years to come.

Celebrating Ada Lovelace Day

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Jahajee SIsters, Third Wave grant partnerMarch 24th is Ada Lovelace Day, which is “an international day of blogging to draw attention to the achievements of women in technology and science.” This day was created in honor of one of the world’s first computer programmers, Ada Lovelace. To learn more about Ada Lovelace Day and the woman herself, you can check out this blog pledge page and Wikipedia. I’m honored to contribute to this day and to acknowledge some unsung heroes that contribute to a field that is oft prone to leaving out women — especially young women and women of color. For this celebration, I want to write a little bit about one of our grant partners, Jahajee Sisters.

Jahajee Sisters is a movement-building organization committed to building solidarity and fostering empowerment of women in the Indo-Caribbean community. They are working to introduce the concept of reproductive justice to young women in their community, and to cultivate the leadership potential of the next generation so they will work for change in the future. As a stepping stone to achieving this, they have held a Young Women’s Summer Leadership Institute, which includes media training for the participants to learn how to effectively use technology to raise awareness of reproductive justice within their community. With these skills, Jahajee Sisters wants their constituents to be able to stimulate dialogue around reproductive health and rights.

I find this organization to be particularly amazing because this is a young organization that recognizes and addresses the needs of a marginalized community. In the 21st century, community organizing techniques have grown immensely to include new technologies for community engagement. I applaud Jahajee Sisters by not ignoring this facet of organizing and empowering their girls by teaching them how to be self-sufficient and learn how to use video on their own to reach justice in their community. They even provide the girls in their programs Flip Cams, giving them equipment which may have been inaccessible for them due to socioeconomic status.

Technology is not just about sitting in front of computers and creating complicated code. We can make technology accessible for all women and use it to bring social change and justice for all.

Young Women’s Empowerment Project: Resistance & Resilience

Monday, February 1st, 2010

The media and women’s funding world is inundated with stories about girls in the sex trade, but how often do we get a chance to learn from girls in the sex trade themselves, about their needs, and about their whole lives? On Friday, January 29th, Third Wave grant partner Young Women’s Empowerment Project came to New York and presented findings and recommendations from their groundbreaking participatory action research project, Girls do what they have to do to survive: methods used by girls in the sex trade and street economy to fight back and heal.” I had the opportunity to attend this event and to share some of the highlights.

While YWEP’s research and work may concentrate on girls who are in the sex trade, it is easy to say that a lot of what they say could be easily applied to other groups and individuals in different points of their lives. By looking the tactics and methods of survivors, we can further improve the knowledge about best and effective practices for people to heal.

One thing that stuck out to me from the research is the demographic information that they collected from the girls who participated. Out of 205 responses, 109 of the girls were classified as “African-American.” That is more than half (53%). Thirty-one were Latina and nineteen were mixed. I’m sure a number of them would be perceived to be “black” by the outside world, which connects to my question that arose after some reflection – how much did the race of the girls impact the amount of institutional violence experienced?

It was saddening to hear about the high levels of mistreatment by the systems that were created to help girls that ended up only serving to further hurt them. In their “Bad Encounter Line” – where girls from the street economy and sex trade would share their bad experiences with a certain hospital, organization, police station, etc – I was shocked to see that about two-thirds of the accounts were about mistreatment at hospitals.

I know that racism is very alive in the country – not only from the actions and beliefs of individuals, but also on an institutional level. If the statistics about black girls are true across the board in Chicago alone, imagine how the institutional mistreatment adversely holds back the physical health, mental health, and overall well-being of African-American women? And this is just one part of the population – there are many other ways institutional racism holds back and hurts people of color.

Another piece of the work that YWEP does that stuck out to me is their choice of words. YWEP are meticulous in their word choice and their reasons for arriving at a decision for what to call their experiences. They refuse to judge girls in the sex trade and street economies and clearly work to fill a huge void in the needs of girls. I only wish that there were more organizations out there to do this across the country and throughout the world.

I urge you to go to YWEP’s website (even the web address name is amazing) and read the full report.