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Archive for the ‘Sexism’ Category

My friends and I have a lot in common, but there is one word that often leads to abrupt disagreements: the f-word. No matter when I say it or to whom, the frequent response is a shudder of the shoulders. Like the other f-word, the sound of the word “feminist” sends chills down others’ spines.

Bethany Imondi spoke about student loans and the pay gap at an AAUW panel in November.

Negative stereotypes of feminists — like bra burning, unshaven underarms, and man hating — perpetuate false assumptions and distract from the true goals of the feminist movement. At its core, feminism simply strives to establish equal opportunities for women, and yet many women today hesitate and feel embarrassed to classify themselves as feminists.

Despite women’s significant gains over the years, including the recent news that a record number of women will serve in the next Congress, other glaring issues of inequity remain. Women may outnumber men in higher education and earn more degrees than ever, but women still earn less than their male peers earn — a significant pay gap exists for women just a year after college graduation. Climbing the corporate ladder remains difficult for women, and positions of leadership continue to be dominated by men.

These dismal facts should be enough to motivate all women to embrace the progressive ideals of feminism. Any person who believes that women deserve equal opportunities is a feminist. Bra burning is not a prerequisite; voting for pro-women’s rights candidates, volunteering at a local women’s shelter, or working to protect women from sexual assault are just a few examples of advocacy on behalf of women’s equality.

Many women my age seem ashamed or embarrassed to identify as feminists when they should be embracing their beliefs. The challenge today lies in convincing women, particularly young women, that there is more to feminism than the backlash of stereotypes that emerged after the activism of the 1960s. In 2012, gender discrimination still exists. It is imperative that today’s generation of women continue the fight their mothers and grandmothers initiated to shatter the glass ceiling. It might not be the sexiest term, but the f-word is one all women should proudly claim, not only to transform the stereotypes but also to promote a more promising future for women of all ages.

This post was written by National Student Advisory Council member Bethany Imondi.

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National news coverage this month has been dominated by the exposure of the extramarital affair of Gen. David Petraeus, former director of the CIA. But a more intense spotlight has focused not on Petraeus but on his mistress, Paula Broadwell. And it’s been ugly.

Since the affair was uncovered, reporter after reporter has written vivid descriptions — or arguably indictments — of Broadwell’s professional résumé, body, and clothing choices. Is Broadwell a kind-hearted philanthropist or a conniving social climber, they ask. A soccer mom or seductress? Broadwell’s name has been smeared across the front page of every major newspaper, dirtied in what can only be described as scarlet lettering. But as Broadwell’s personal and professional character is ripped apart, Petraeus’ public image remains comparatively intact. These stories expose not her guilt but rather the intensely unequal scrutiny and castigation women receive in response to sexual transgressions.

How did the director of the CIA make such a colossal mistake? When the press tells the story, the answer is clear: He was seduced. For example, Broadwell flaunted her “toned arms” and wore “tight shirts and pants” while working with Petraeus in Afghanistan. By painting a picture of Broadwell’s appealing physique, youth, and confidence, the media tells us that Petraeus was helpless: He simply couldn’t resist cheating on his wife, jeopardizing his career, and endangering the nation.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for the media to draw inferences about a woman’s behavior from the way she looks or what she wears. There has been no suggestion that the Petraeus-Broadwell affair was anything but consensual, but the media echoes many of the same narratives that incriminate women on the basis of the amount of makeup they wear or the shortness of their skirts.

On the other hand, the media’s attitude toward Petraeus has been mostly neutral, even sympathetic. As Jezebel’s Lindy West points out, Petraeus is frequently depicted as an “illustrious military man who made a natural, unfortunate but anomalous ‘screw-up.’” According to Col. Peter Mansoor, who served as a top aide to Petraeus, “He had a good relationship with the president and national security team, and he threw that all away … due to a personal failing. He is very, very down right now.” There is no mention of the unequal power dynamic between Petraeus and his mentee and no scrutiny of his looks or his body — although the same cannot be said of his wife. And while many speculate that Petraeus’ career is recoverable, Broadwell’s has been described as nothing short of “toast.”

Though the Petraeus affair has underscored the deep-seated sexism present in contemporary public life, the ensuing media coverage has obscured a more serious issue: the U.S. military’s horrific rape epidemic.On Wednesday, the military will release a report on a sexual abuse scandal that has been called one of the worst in its history. Nearly 50 female recruits have made allegations of sexual misconduct at the Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. The Lackland scandal marks the latest chapter in a long-standing history of sexual abuse. Reports indicate that 1 in 3 military women have been sexually assaulted, including some 19,000 cases in fiscal year 2010 alone.

Yet the discussion of Lackland has been pushed aside in favor of Broadwell’s tight-fitting blouses, and the devastating harm caused by the sexual abuse of military women is left woefully underreported. Ultimately, coverage of the Petraeus affair reveals a trend of the media shaming women rather than supporting them, and it must be stopped.

This post was written by AAUW Media Relations Intern Renee Davidson.

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Last week, AAUW hosted a panel discussion at our national office on our groundbreaking research report Graduating to a Pay Gap: The Earnings of Women and Men One Year after College Graduation. In addition to a live audience, the panel reached viewers at more than 60 watch parties across the nation during the live webcast. These events were hosted by AAUW student organizations, college and university women’s studies departments, groups of students and faculty on AAUW college/university partner member campuses, AAUW branches, and individuals interested in the report. Students at these watch parties also joined the discussion by tweeting questions for panelists using the hash tag #GapAndGown.

George Mason University students watched the live webcast of AAUW’s Graduating to a Pay Gap panel discussion.

The Women and Gender Studies Center at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, hosted a watch party on campus for 11 attendees, including undergraduate students, graduate students, and members of George Mason’s Feminist Student Organization. Marisa Allison, graduate assistant for the Women and Gender Studies Center and organizer of the watch party, said students were shocked and “appropriately distressed” by the findings of the research report because they now know that “the gender wage gap is something that will affect them as soon as they graduate.” Students at the watch party found the panelists’ suggestions for what students could do (like negotiate salaries) to combat the effects of the wage gap as they move into the job market to be particularly interesting and useful. Other students were happy to have the report as a resource “to turn to when others argue with them about the existence of the wage gap.”

Students at the University of California, Merced’s watch party found the report insightful and eye-opening, as many of them did not know that the pay gap exists. Amanda Lee, a student attendee, said, “Before this event, I believed that when I’m done with my schooling, I would receive a good paying salary from the career I want.” But because of the research, Lee realized that she might be affected by “a pay gap that has nothing to do with my abilities or skill.”

We hope that other campuses and students join George Mason and UC Merced in using

George Mason University’s Women and Gender Studies Center used flyers to promote their watch party.

Graduating to a Pay Gap to spark conversation about fair pay. The report and panel discussion can also be used to encourage women students to take initiative to curb the effects of the pay gap on recent graduates. Here are a few suggestions for ways to get out the information from the report on campus.

  • Host a watch party of the panel discussion webcast, which is available online.
  • Write an op-ed or letter to the editor for your student or local newspaper.
  • Use the research report in class.
  • Start conversations with friends.
  • Use the report for your next book club pick.
  • Share information on Facebook and Twitter.

If you were not able to join us for the live webcast, you can watch the recording online.

This post was written by AAUW College/University Relationships Intern Courtney Douglas.

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It’s no secret that white men dominate the film industry — women make up only 5 percent of directors, and women of color are even more scarce. So it’s no wonder that the number and representations of women are warped, disappointing, and damaging. Since this tendency intersects with the often problematic onscreen portrayals of people of color, black women characters rarely anchor films. As a result, black women’s experiences are ignored and erased from our cultural memory — aside from the persistent tokens and stereotypes that so many lazy writers rely on.

Middle of Nowhere, which premiered in limited release last weekend, breaks with these Hollywood traditions. Written and directed by Ava DuVernay, the film earned buzz at Sundance, where it earned DuVernay the best director award — the first time a black woman has ever won that distinction. The film tells the story of Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi), a smart, resilient nurse who puts her dreams of medical school on hold when her husband, Derek (Omari Hardwick), is incarcerated for selling guns. Ruby prioritizes her marriage — making sure she has the time to be at home to receive his phone calls and to take the long bus ride to visit him each week — despite Derek’s and her mother’s protestations.  When, after four years of this, Derek’s parole eligibility is called into question, Ruby starts to emerge from the emotional stasis she has been in.

In the process of Ruby’s transformation, we see her complicated and heartbreaking relationship with Derek evolve without demonizing either character. The audience ends up deeply invested in a couple whom we only see together in flashback, in a prison visitor’s room where physical affection is verboten, and in the loneliest scenes you can imagine — where Ruby imagines her husband is with her as she wakes up in the morning or walks to the bus for her night shift.

We also see the difficulty of navigating the justice system when money is tight. And we get a glimpse of the family dynamics that oscillate between emotional support and tough love for Ruby, who has the potential to escape the economic hardship that her mother and sister experience.

Amazing acting, beautiful cinematography from Howard University film school graduate Bradford Young, and subdued colors make the events of Middle of Nowhere seem like they’re happening around the corner to your good friends. The mellow soundtrack and succinct dialogue alternate with punctuated silences that bring Ruby’s internal struggle between loyalty and frustration to a slow boil.

Audiences and critics have made Middle of Nowhere one of the most talked-about indie films of the year. And the new distribution model that is bringing the film to audiences nationwide could be fostering a 21st century LA Rebellion for black independent cinema. This is what happens when new voices have the opportunity to tell their own stories. In a film culture that doesn’t do much to foster black feminist filmmaking, audiences have to demand and support the rare films that address women’s issues or that feature underrepresented voices. Otherwise, we’re leaving our cultural imagery and narrative priorities to the fellas.

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On October 9, I had the honor of hearing Lilly Ledbetter speak on my campus, St. Cloud State University. Ledbetter’s story is an inspiring one. After 19 years of working at Goodyear Tire and Rubber in Alabama as a production manager, a note was slipped into her mailbox revealing a startling pay gap between her and three male colleagues in the same position. Despite knowing that taking the corporation to court would be a long, uphill battle that would likely not lead to the compensation she was owed, she sued Goodyear. “It wasn’t about me anymore,” she said. “It was about my daughter, my granddaughter, and the women and families in this nation.” Her case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and in 2007, after nine years of fighting, she received the final verdict. She lost because of an unreasonably short statute of limitations that would have required her to file suit years before she even knew she was being paid unfairly.

But her story did not end there. Ledbetter became the namesake for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which was the first bill signed into law by President Obama in 2009. The bill righted the wrong of the Supreme Court decision by allowing the statute of limitations to reset with every discriminatory paycheck.

As I sat in the audience listening to this strong woman share her story, two things happened to me. First, I was humbled by how much women in the past have achieved to guarantee me certain rights. Second, I was inspired to do the same for future generations of women. I think that my generation often does not take the time to learn about the influential women in our country’s history. I feel that young women believe the struggles of the past are over, when in fact they are far from complete. Even today, women’s median earnings are still only 77 percent of men’s, which accounts for huge losses in income, retirement savings, and Social Security benefits over a lifetime of work. But Ledbetter’s speech appeared to raise students’ awareness. Through the question-and-answer session following the speech, you could hear people expressing their outrage at what happened to her and their demand to change what is still occurring today.

St. Cloud State University has been making great strides to bring inspiring programming to young women. At the SCSU Women’s Center, where I work, we strive to empower women, increase awareness, and develop programming to support those principles on our campus. Our mission statement speaks to these ideals: “With passion and purpose to end sexist oppression, the Women’s Center promotes a safe, inclusive, and engaged community through advocacy, education, alliance-building, and women’s leadership.”

My hope is that by bringing speakers like Ledbetter to campus, our generation will have a greater appreciation for past struggles and those who fought them. I also hope that when someone from my generation is faced with a situation where she has to decide whether to stand up for herself, she will think like Ledbetter: “I knew that the only choice I had was to stand up for myself and do what was right. I understood the risk I was taking. It would surely be the hardest fight of my life, and there were no guarantees I’d win. … But as I ruminated, I realized I had no other choice.”

This post was written by Bre Moulder, a St. Cloud State University sophomore majoring in political science and women’s studies. St. Cloud State University is an AAUW college/university partner member.

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“Eighteen years ago today, the landmark Violence against Women Act was signed into law. It was founded on the basic premise that every woman deserves to be safe from violence, and since its passage, we have made tremendous strides towards achieving that goal. But we still have much work to do.”
— Vice President Joe Biden, who drafted the original Violence against Women Act, on September 13, 2012

“Every minute this house chooses to delay the reauthorization of VAWA is another minute these women are victimized.”
Sen. Patty Murray, September 13, 2012

“There is no good reason that we can’t work together and see that #VAWA, a life-saving law, is reauthorized immediately.”
— Sen. Patrick Leahy, September 13, 2012 (@SenatorLeahy)

AAUW couldn’t agree more. The Violence against Women Act is due for reauthorization this year, but political maneuvering has stalled the bill in Congress. AAUW has long supported “freedom from violence and fear of violence in homes, schools, workplaces, and communities.” Since its enactment in 1994, VAWA has saved lives and saved money. VAWA is credited with contributing to the dramatic increase in the reporting of domestic violence. The rate of homicide by an intimate partner has decreased by 65 percent for women and almost 50 percent for men since the statute was enacted.

AAUW is a strong supporter of the bipartisan VAWA reauthorization bill passed by the Senate. The bill takes steps to make college campuses safer for women. When campus environments are hostile because of sexual harassment, assault, or violence, students cannot learn, and they miss out on true educational opportunities. AAUW’s own research revealed that two-thirds of college students experience sexual harassment. In addition, a 2007 campus sexual assault study [BH2] by the U.S. Department of Justice found that around 28 percent of women are targets of attempted or completed sexual assault while they are college students.

While AAUW supported the Senate’s VAWA reauthorization bill, we opposed the House’s bill because it did not contain necessary provisions to improve the safety of college campuses. Additionally, the House bill expressly rejects protections for men and women who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, making it difficult for them to find services in their communities. The House bill also eliminates strong protections for women and children who are beaten or abused on tribal lands by perpetrators who are not members of a particular tribe, and it removes a key requirement that would more easily allow victims to move from one subsidized housing program to another in order to avoid an abuser.

The Violence against Women Act should not be a political pawn in election-year gamesmanship. We urge the House to follow the bipartisan lead of the Senate and AAUW’s membership: Put aside the rhetoric, move quickly to pass the Senate version, and once again do the right thing for all victims of violence.

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This post was written by AAUW Membership Intern Taylor Blackwell.

Bikinis. Skimpy. Attractive. Skirts. Sex.

Am I reading headlines in a fashion magazine? No. I’m reading Olympic coverage on women’s sports. Women were first invited to the Olympic Games in 1900, and 112 years later, their dress code is still being debated.

Courtesy of Flickr user Martin Hesketh

Saudi Arabian athlete Wojdan Shaherkani competed in judo in London.

Though they were given the right to compete more than 100 years ago, not all women actually can participate in the games.For example, some Muslim women are prohibited from dressing in the revealing outfits that some sports require. This year, for the first time in Olympic history, Saudi Arabia sent two female athletes to the games — on the condition that they adhere to the country’s strict religious dress code. The International Olympic Committee has reached an agreement that allows the women to compete wearing some form of headscarf in place of their hijabs. One will compete in judo, the other in track and field.

In women’s weightlifting, athletes are now allowed to wear full-body, tight-fitted unitards during competitions thanks to a Muslim athlete from Atlanta who wanted to participate in competitions but still dress modestly.

“Weightlifting is an Olympic sport open for all athletes to participate without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, age, or national origin in accordance with the principles of the Olympic Charter and values,” International Weightlifting Federation President Tamas Ajan says. “This rule modification has been considered in the spirit of fairness, equality, and inclusion.”

Olympic officials also have allowed a changein the beach volleyball dress code to accommodate countries that have restrictions on women revealing their bodies. Volleyball players will be able to wear more than just bikinis for the first time in Olympic history. Seems like a good move to me.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Adam Care

In London, beach volleyball players had the option to wear uniforms with more coverage than bikinis.

Also consider the story of the new badminton dress code — I assume many people thought it must have been a joke. To create a more “attractive presentation,” the Badminton World Federation in 2011 required that players on the elite level wear skirts or dresses in place of the traditional shorts or pants. Officials said that the dress code was put in place to make female players “more feminine and appealing to fans and corporate sponsors,” but many women felt that the sport was becoming too sexualized, as do I. The organization withdrew the rule in May prior to the Olympics.

Female boxers recently shot down an attempt to make them wear skirts in the ring. Skirts? All the better for Olympic-level combat … right? The idea, proposed by the Amateur International Boxing Association, was supposedly suggested to help TV viewers distinguish women from men.

Gloria Peek, the Olympic women’s team coach who struggled for years to gain respect in the male-dominated sport, was livid over the proposal. “This is a pugilistic sport, a combative sport,” she says. “And you want to put sex into it? For what reason? The skirt equates to sex; it equates to nothing else. How are you going to take that and put it into a gladiator sport? And what does that have to do with it?”

As a compromise, female boxers are allowed to wear skirts, but it won’t be mandatory. Claressa Shields, a 165-pound middleweight, isn’t planning to change her competition attire anytime soon. “If you want to wear skirts, go ahead,” she says. “But if you don’t, just let us be normal. I’m not gonna wear a skirt!”

I can’t wait until the next fashion show — I mean Olympics — in 2016.

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