Record Number of Women Sworn in to 113th Congress

Let’s start the new year off with some good news!

Newly elected members of the 113th Congress will be sworn in today, including a record number of 20 women Senators. In fact, the new Congress is the most diverse in history, in terms of race, gender, sexuality and religion. This infographic from Think Progress highlights the diversity within the new Congress. (It also serves as a good reminder that our socially constructed identities of race, gender, sexual orientation, age and faith aren’t mutually exclusive. After all, the category of “women” includes all of the above, and vice versa.)

Also check out this Washington Post photo series of our newly elected female Senators.

Happy New Year 2013!

How many more Americans have to die from gun violence?

Today’s mass killing of 20 children and 8 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, is now the second deadliest shooting in U.S. history. I find it chilling that I learned of today’s news after walking out of a movie theater – the same type of building that the last mass killing of Americans happened in Aurora, Colorado. (Aside from this past week’s shooting in a mall near Portland, Oregon.)

So tell me. Have we had enough? How many more times do we have to say what a tragedy it was, how we’re praying for the victims and their families? Because I’m angry and I’m tired of hearing how everyone’s praying but no one wants to deal with the problem of gun violence and gun culture. I mean really deal with it. Get off your knees, get righteously angry and act. The answer is not only stricter gun laws but the hard work of changing our culture of violence and making it easier for people to access mental health services than guns. As someone said on Twitter today, “Only in America can gun ownership be a right and healthcare be a privilege.”

Please, please throw away the usual, tired lines when mass killings in schools, houses of worship, malls, movie theaters and workplaces happen. They don’t get us anywhere. We should know by now that unspeakable acts of horror and domestic terrorism can happen in pristine, family-friendly, suburban towns and not only in inner cities where the victims of gun violence usually go unnoticed. I’ve realized this since 1999 when I was a sophomore in high school and Columbine happened. What have we been doing since then?

In a New York Times op-ed, Gregory Gibson, a parent who lost a child 20 years ago today in a shooting rampage at a Massachusetts college, raised a painful truth in our complicity and willingness to endure mass killing after mass killing. After years of advocating for gun control, he gave up, because he realized that,

…in essence, this is the way we in America want things to be. We want our freedom, and we want our firearms, and if we have to endure the occasional school shooting, so be it. A terrible shame, but hey — didn’t some guy in China just do the same thing with a knife?

Gibson goes on to write,

More horrible still — to me at least — is the inevitable lament, “How could we have let this happen?”

It is a horrible question because the answer is so simple. Make it easy for people to get guns and things like this will happen. Children will continue to pay for a freedom their elders enjoy.

As long as our country is willing to cling to guns and defend the Second Amendment at all costs, including our children’s lives, we’ll keep asking this question. We’ll keep saying what a horrible tragedy it was. We’ll wonder how someone can kill at random again. Hug your kids tight, everyone says. Pray for the victims and the families. But nothing will change. Doesn’t that make you angry?

So, I ask again. How many more innocent children and adults have to die from gun violence before we really do something about it?

Rape Culture and Glenn Beck Doesn’t Like Me

I had the privilege of seeing comedian and Citizen Radio co-host Jamie Kilstein perform this critique of rape culture in Philadelphia in November. He totally rocked it. I love a male comedian who’s not afraid of speaking out! Check it out, and listen to Citizen Radio (wearecitizenradio.com)!

I support Question 6!

Early voting in Maryland ends tomorrow, Nov. 2.

Vote early from 8a.m. to 9p.m. and support Questions 4 (state Dream Act) and Question 6 (marriage equality)!

Click here for a list of early voting locations in the state. Happy Voting!

New Evangelical Christian group advocates for family planning

It’s not everyday that I hear evangelical Christians loudly proclaim their support for contraception during a Washington D.C. press conference, and urge other evangelicals to follow their lead. But that’s exactly what happened Oct. 15 at the National Press Club when The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good released its new report, “A Call to Christian Common Ground on Family Planning, and Maternal, and Children’s Health.”

Based in Tennessee, the New Evangelical Partnership (NEP) is an organization that espouses a Christian advocacy and public engagement that cares for the good of humanity by standing for human rights, Muslim-Christian dialogue and nuclear disarmament, among other issues. The organization views itself as an alternative to the culture-war evangelicalism that damaged the American church’s evangelism. Partnering with public health experts, the NEP wrote the new report to create discussion among evangelicals at home and abroad on the importance and significance of family planning. It lays out the argument that contraceptive use is linked to, and necessary for healthy families, maternal and child health and abortion reduction. For feminists and women’s rights advocates outside of the evangelical community, this is a well-known position. Promoting contraceptive use is also a good common ground where religious communities, feminists and women’s rights advocates can meet.

Dig deeper into the report’s framework, and there are some major stumbling blocks to creating more common ground, particularly in determining who should use contraceptives, the definition of family and the marginalization of abortion. It’s expected that as evangelical Christians, the NEP’s report acknowledges but doesn’t condone pre-marital sex, narrowly defines marriage between men and women and understands sex as “intrinsically procreative.” The report doesn’t include abortion in its definition of family planning. (In response to an audience member’s question on the topic during the press conference, a doctor on the panel unequivocally stated that contraception is not abortion. Thank you, doctor, for publicly setting the record straight!) As another selling point for wary evangelicals, the NEP links the use of contraceptives to preventing and decreasing abortion.

It’s clear that the NEP’s report defines and condones women’s contraceptive use within the confines of the heterosexual and married family. The language of “family planning” instead of “contraceptives” or “birth control” underlines its family-centric, procreative focus. I could go on about why limiting contraceptive support within heteronormativity and marriage is not good policy and healthcare. What’s troubling me more about this report is the marginalization and complete erasure of abortion as a necessary and legitimate part of women’s reproductive health care and maternal health. It’s understandable and acceptable that abortion for some religious people goes against their faith. You have your beliefs, I have mine. However, whether you condone it or not, abortion, like pre-marital sex, exists and is connected to the complicated reality of women’s lives within their families, relationships and communities. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 6 out of 10 women seeking abortions in the U.S. already have a child. They’re mothers and many describe themselves as religiously affiliated. Women have abortions for many different reasons, from finishing school to being unable to financially support another child, to rape, incest and to save her own life. Not discussing abortion because of the fear of further alienating evangelicals from supporting contraceptive use further stigmatizes abortion and hurts women’s access to a safe, legal and necessary medical procedure. Supporting women’s right to only prevent pregnancy (not during) is not giving women full control of their bodies and denies them autonomy as persons. It’s simply irresponsible and callous to ignore abortion when tens of thousands of women around the world die from unsafe, illegal abortions. Here in the U.S., women are finding that their right to a safe, legal abortion doesn’t mean much if they can’t access it because the closest clinic shut down, the cost is too high, the state’s mandatory waiting periods are too long or some GOP lawmaker wants to legislate transvaginal ultrasounds.

Considering the consistent, virulent attacks on birth control in the past year –  from Rush Limbaugh’s slut-shaming of Sandra Fluke to Catholic bishops opposition to healthcare plans covering contraceptives – it’s refreshing to see a religious community voice full-throated support for birth control. It reaffirms that some religious communities in the U.S. are willing to stand up for women’s rights. As feminists and women’s rights advocates, we should support them for taking a controversial stand in their communities. But it’s not enough. Advocating for contraceptive use is a basic, elementary position. Progressive-minded evangelicals must continue to push the envelope on women’s reproductive health, including abortion, no matter how difficult and painful it is within the evangelical community. Women’s lives depend on it. What’s also desperately needed and not discussed is evangelical support for comprehensive, scientific sex education in schools. Without education, women and men will not know how to use contraceptives, plan the size of their families and reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions. Talking about one part of the picture (contraceptives) is not enough. It’s just a start in the right direction toward the common good of all women and men.

No One Wins a (Tug-of) War on Women: From Uteri to Personhood, Why Feminists Must Reframe the Debate

Yesterday, Fem2pt0 published a piece that I co-authored with my colleagues at Feminist Friends!

Click here to read the article, “No One Wins a (Tug-of) War on Women: From Uteri to Personhood, Why Feminists Must Reframe the Debate.”

We worked collaboratively on the piece for months through many edits and interviews with Maternity Care Coalition, a reproductive health organization in Philadelphia, and Steph Herold, founder of IamDrTiller.com. The response has been positive and we at Feminist Friends couldn’t be more excited.

Let us know what you think on Twitter (@FeministFriends) and be sure to follow us!

Want some sexism with your glass of wine?

This is a real wine label. For a “sweet white wine,” mind you.

If you’re familiar with Maryland wine and have attended the Maryland Wine Festival last month in Westminster, you might have seen this wine at Knob Hall winery’s booth. I happened to see this label on Facebook recently and stopped myself from angrily/sarcastically commenting on the photo.

Why, you might ask? The answer is tricky and a full disclosure is necessary: I work part-time in the Maryland wine industry, and have worked in it for the past three years. I really enjoy my part-time job. I know and like Knob Hall’s winery owners and I always stop by their booth to say hello at wine festivals when I’m also working. I also visited their winery in Clear Spring, Md., in January, tasted their wines, bought and enjoyed them. Maryland wine is a small, interconnected community of wine makers who have a passion and dedication to their craft. It’s a long, hard process to make a bottle of wine (and cider) and their work should be properly appreciated and enjoyed.

I’m not writing this post to shame Knob Hall or to create a petition to get the wine maker to change or remove the label, or call for a boycott of the winery. (I’ve already made Knob Hall aware of my position that I find this label offensive. If you also find this offensive, let them know.)

For me, this label is a perfect example of how we don’t have to look very far to find sexist images of women that are used to sell alcoholic beverages. This gold digger trope is widely accepted and visible in our pop culture with reality TV shows (ahem, The Bachelorette). She’s often portrayed as a superficial, beautiful and not very intelligent woman who values money over love. The gold digger doesn’t want to independently make her own money. Her manipulative, scheming goal is to marry a rich man for his money. (Get that, men? Don’t trust women. They’re only after your money, which, by the way, determines your manliness and self worth, because you’re not a man if you’re not providing financial security for her. After all, you’re supposed to be the breadwinner.) The gold digger stereotype and the gendered, sexist roles for men and women that it generates is disconnected from our reality today, since women make up 50% of the workforce and earn more bachelor’s and master’s degrees than men. The majority of American families would not survive on a male breadwinner model alone. Women’s professional and economic contributions are absolutely essential and often determine a family’s survival.

But as a woman in American culture, I’m bombarded with ads and commercials for alcohol that perpetuate harmful gendered norms of women and men. It’s not only big, corporate beer and liquor companies that do this. Corporations sell nearly everything using some sort of female image, likeness and/or body. If you’re a feminist or if these images simply bother you, you let these companies know you’re not buying it. These types of sexist media are more like small gnats flying around my face, annoying me. I swat them away then mostly forget about it until a big event like the Super Bowl comes around again, chock full of expensive, sexist TV commercials that make my jaw drop.

But if it’s a small business in an industry in which I work that’s creating the sexist media of women in order to sell their product, then it becomes personal and impossible for me to ignore. Because I know they can do better. Most Maryland wineries don’t rely on insulting, offensive stereotypes based on gender, race, class and sexuality to sell their product. It’s entirely possible to be successful and consciously avoid pissing off a big chunk of your customer base, which happens to be women. According to a recent Gallup poll this year, among adult drinkers, 52% of women prefer wine compared to 20% of men. Women also account for nearly 58% of wine buyers in 2011, according to The Beverage Information Group. Wine makers are sitting up and taking notice of this trend and marketing their wines to women, although many stupidly pander to women’s roles as mother/wife with wine names such as “MommyJuice” and “Mad Housewife.”

It’s also hard for me to ignore the Gold Digger label because I know the people who are ultimately responsible for making these business decisions. If they’re creating sexist images of women, then it’s visual proof that sexism is more deeply embedded in the local communities we inhabit and personally invest ourselves in everyday, even if they appear to be woman-friendly and innocuous. Being aware of the Gold Digger wine connects my own little fun Maryland wine world with the bigger picture. It makes real the problem of sexism in advertisements and media. It is these realizations that moved me to write an email to Knob Hall and to publicly blog about it.

The Gold Digger label and my experience in the Maryland wine industry reminds me of many feminist “aha!” moments that women have over and over again when they connect the dots between their personal experiences, sexism and gender politics. The funny thing is, these “aha” moments haven’t stopped for me, 10 years after I first started calling myself a feminist. I don’t expect every woman who sees the Gold Digger wine to experience the same outrage as I did. A cursory glance at the photo’s Facebook comments of customers gushing about the wine tells me otherwise. But we need to sober up and start thinking critically about the media images of women we consume on a daily basis! Especially those that are right in front of us in our own communities. Let them know we’re not buying it.