Monday, March 31, 2008

Having Children

I've been thinking a lot recently about children.  My main exposure to having and raising children comes from my own family.  I have a younger sister and a younger brother.  My parents are divorced and remarried.  My father has two young children.  

I just don't know what I think of the entire affair.  My mom says that without children, life is incomplete.  Implicitly, she means one's own biological children.  Implicitly, she means a woman is incomplete without children.  Since I'm bisexual, technically it's possible that I will have my own biological children.  

But I don't want biological children.  I found my half-sisters adorable when they were younger.  They're still likable now that they're slightly older, but they can also be incredibly rude.  As examples of how children can be a real pain, the older one called me fat and, when she opened my Christmas present to her, threw it down on the ground and said, "I don't want this!"

On the other hand, when my half-sisters were younger, playing with them brought great joy to me.  I just don't want to go through the pain of carrying something around in my stomach area for 9 months then giving birth.  I also don't feel like it's that great to pass on my genes.  What for?  People are people.  Children who are born of me aren't necessarily going to be better than children born of others.

I think the main thing is, I don't have the conventional maternal instinct.  I would say it's a myth, but my mom has it in loads.  For me, the main thing is about caring.  I would move away from the gendered constructions of motherhood and fatherhood.  If I and my partner adopt a child, you better believe the man or woman I love is going to share all child-rearing duties with me, and not based on gendered ideas of what work is most appropriate to men and women.

I think that coming from a divorced household has probably made me wary of perfect and even imperfect images of happiness when it comes to families, thereby laying the road for more unconventional views on having children.  I think also that being bisexual has opened my mind to different structures for caring and loving.

I guess, ultimately, I don't see happiness as being with a partner, surrounded by our children.  I do want a partner I love, who loves me.  I do want to care for this person and for this person to care for me.  I think perhaps we can extend our caring for each other to include one or two children.  It's not to complete me though.  I am complete by myself.  It is instead, somewhat vaguely, to do what humans do, and, hopefully, to do it well and with style.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Sexual Harassment Grievances During War: Military Bases, Rural Places, and Silent Spaces

There have been a number of well-known incidents of women in the military reporting sexual harassment, assault, or rape by superior officers and officers of the same rank in the Military. The most notable of which is the Tailhook convention where 26 women were assaulted by naval officers. This incident represented yet another cover-up, possibly because most organizations do not want these incidents brought to light, but also possibly because of the need to keep morale up for whatever war is currently happening.

Unfortunately, in times of war, the call to war and the efforts needed to promote and support military personnel tend to silence these types of incidents. Because upper level officials tend to “silence” these grievances, it is worth examining the grievance procedure and where there is room for administration “muck up,” or where it is fairly easy to “look the other way.”

In 2007, a survey conducted by the “Veterans Association reported that 30 percent of female veterans had been victims of sexual assault, and 14 percent of those had been gang raped and another 20 percent raped more than once. Sexual assault remains under reported in the military, but estimates based on surveys like this place the rate at anywhere from three to 10 times that for female civilians.” Susan Douglas writes that “various reports indicate that women in the military today continue to endure widespread harassment and even sexual assault; it just happens in tents and outposts instead of the Las Vegas Hilton.” See Douglas article. So why are women vulnerable to these attacks and what is the grievance procedure in general and what are the accommodations for those in remote, rural locations?

Some studies have suggested that the legal restrictions of preventing women from certain “combat” positions contributes to an atmosphere that views women as inferior. Other factors such as attitudes towards gays and lesbians contribute to women’s inferior status. Women who turn down sexual propositions are often accused of being lesbians and sometimes ensuing investigations result, most likely as retribution for the rejection. See Military Issue paper. Since the Iraq war, 37 women returning have sought sexual assault counseling. See Amnesty.

The first problem with the grievance procedure is the chain of command preference for grievances. Generally members who have been harassed have 2 days to file. She can place an informal complaint with a superior officer (who might have been the actor), or medical officer, or chaplain. “If a military member thinks the resolution of her sexual harassment complaint is unjust, a “complaint of wrong” can be filed under Article 138 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The “complaint of wrong” may be prepared with legal assistance, and is forwarded through the chain of command to the person exercising general court martial authority over the commanding officer. The officer exercising jurisdiction conducts an inquiry, takes “proper measures for redressing the wrong,” and forwards a report of the complaint and proceedings to the Secretary of the service department for review and final action.” See Military Issue paper.

A second problem with the grievance procedure is that in rural or combat areas, there might be fewer people to voice a formal or informal complaint to. In the event of “command rape,” the only superior officer to report to might be the perpetrator. In rural areas, there might not be a chaplain or medical professional to file a complaint with. In an Amnesty report, entitled "Camouflaging Criminals," At Camp Udairi, a rural training facility in Kuwait, close to the Iraqi border a soldier related her story with reporting her rape. "A rape examination was performed, but she received no treatment for the injuries to her head, back and knees, she said. After the exam, a commander drove her to another camp, where she was allowed to stay. She was interviewed for about three hours, she said. For the first few days, she said, a fellow woman soldier from her old camp remained with her. Then the woman had to leave to resume training, and Danielle was left alone. Her supervisors denied her requests to see the chaplain, and she was not given counseling for sexual trauma, she said." She was eventually granted leave and put in for medical discharge, after help from a civilian advocate.

However, for those whose grievances were not addressed, those returning for 2nd tours might experience PTSD resulting from not only those experiences of war, but also from rape or sexual harassment. For some, the only option is refusal leave facing court martial. See. Suzanne Swift.

These cases tend to favor the idea that in rural areas, responsible officers will look the other way from sexual harassment grievances. Unfortunately, the message to women soldiers in combat and rural areas is: isolated areas and combat zones will only make the grievance process more difficult, the military is less likely to follow administrative justice procedures in isolated areas.

Many keep quite until after they leave the military.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

California Panel Adopts Health/Sex Ed Curriculum

California Panel Adopts Health/Sex Ed Curriculum
From the Contra Costa times (article includes a link to the actual standards):

I was interested in this news item because I wrote a paper last year about including rape/sexual assault education under comprehensive sex-ed laws.

My research indicates that teens face a double risk: the risk children face of sexual abuse within the home and the risk of so-called "acquaintance" or date rape. How are we preparing teens to deal with the fact that a sexual abuser or rapist is most likely to be a person they know? And what can we do to empower them despite their status as minors?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

So much to say that I've (almost) been rendered speechless

I told the Feminist Forum at UCDavis about 10 days ago, at their annual "Why Feminism?" event, that a great deal has been on my feminist heart and mind lately. Events of the past week or so have only weighed me down more. Where to start? Well, not necessarily in the order of priority or gravity . . .

Why judge Silda Wall Spitzer for appearing at the press conferences with her disgraced husband? Who knows what any of us would do if we were in her shoes? I liked Dina Matos McGreevy's thoughts on the matter. After all, she's been "in those shoes," although I was skeptical that she "stood by her husband" when he was governor of New Jersey for the sake of their child.

I have been glad to see some intelligent commentary challenging the notion that prostitution is a victimless crime. Maybe it should be decriminalized, but would that mean that there are no victims when men pay women for sex? What about the statistics showing that most women who engage in prostitution have been sexually absued before turning to it?

All I have to say about the news that a quarter of teenage females (aged 14-19) have a sexually transmitted disease (that's one half of African American teenage females) is that we have surely been dis-served by abstinence-only sex education.

Finally, I commend to your reading today's Op-Ed piece: Postfeminism and Other Fairy Tales by Kate Zernike in the New York Times. Here's a short excerpt:
But the politics of the last few months have certainly opened a spigot on the question of where exactly society stands on gender matters. Weren’t we in what some people have long called a postfeminist era, when we thought the big battles were over, or at least that the combatants had reached some accommodation? And wasn’t the younger generation less hung up on the stereotypes and issues of the sort Mrs. Clinton taps into among older women?
Assuming Zernike is correct, I'm not sure why it's taken a very high profile marital infidelity -- of all the awful things happening to women in this country and in the world (e.g., sexually transmitted disease among our teens!) -- to revive interest in feminism. I am, however, proud of you all for claiming the feminist label before it again became so obviously appropriate (or necessary) to others.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Teaching Professional Responsibility

From Barbri MPRE preparation materials:

Q: "Judge Jarmon's staff includes an attractive young woman, attorney Lightner. When Lightner is present in chambers during the judge's conferences with male attorneys, the judge invariably makes lecherous comments about her. He does not make such comments in open court or in other public places. May Lightner report Judge Jarmon to the appropriate authorities?"

A: "Yes. A judge must maintain high standards of personal conduct, both in and out of the courtroom".

Some concerns:
(1) In no other part of the book do the authors refer to the physical appearance of one of the characters. In only one other case was age referred to. There, it was a conflict of interest between an attorney and client over a piece of real estate that they owned together as joint tenants with right of survivorship. Is the woman's age or normative appearance necessary to answer the question? If not, what does it suggest about the authors' assumptions about sexual harassment?
(2) The answer was one of the shortest (although it did cite two cases), and usually they include some description of the reasoning behind the rule or underlying law (for example, it might tell you about the evidence code or some aspect of criminal law outside of the Model Rules). Is sexual harassment an issue of "personal conduct"?
(3) The “when Lightner is present” clause suggests that these comments have to do with her presence in front of the judge. What work does linking her presence to the judge’s lecherous comments do in sustaining the logic behind the comments themselves?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Climb Wyoming: Empowering single moms to pull themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps

A story entitled "A New Job Track for Single Mothers in Wyoming" brings together my two key interests: women and rurality.

The word "rural" is not used in the story, and the dateline is Cheyenne. Nevertheless, Wyoming is a largely rural state with a total population of just over half a million (ranked 50th in the nation) and a population density of just 5 persons/square mile. The story reports on a job training program, which extends beyond Cheyenne, that responds to some of the particular challenges that women face in the context of rural job markets, where women are much more likely to be channeled into low-paying service jobs.

Here's an excerpt from journalist Kirk Johnson's piece about a program called Climb Wyoming:

But Climb Wyoming’s real core insight is female solidarity — that the group, trained and forged together more like a platoon than a class, will become an anchor of future success. New skills can go only so far in changing a life, the group’s trainers say; sometimes it takes a sisterhood.

While this story is set against the dramatic economic disparities to which gender is linked in rural places, there is more to it-- namely the tremendous solidarity among women in a program that actually seems to be "working" by getting for women some of the good blue-collar jobs that tend to be so dominated by men in places like Wyoming.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Miss America

Does anyone even watch Miss America anymore? Some people tell me they remember watching it growing up but I don’t ever recall a group of my girlfriends calling me up on a Monday and saying “Hey, Jules, we’re getting together to watch Miss America. You should come over!” They do that for Desperate Housewives or American Idol, but never Miss America.

In an era when we have an entire cable channel devoted to reality programming, and a nationwide talent contest that draws more voters than the presidential election, the idea of having young women show off how they look in swimsuits and evening wear while twirling a baton or singing their favorites songs from “Oklahoma,” just seems a bit old-fashioned. And not because of the attitudes, but because of the entertainment value.

But some feminists seem to have a big problem with Miss America, and I really don’t understand it. From what I can tell, the Miss America Organization is basically around to provide money to further education, and the pageant is just sort of its showcase event. And after learning al little about how the system works (from my brother who judges pageant is his free time), I think it is actually a good thing.

The Miss America Organization promotes community involvement and scholastic and social responsibility in young women. The winners, if you actually bother to pay attention, are typically women planning on executive careers who are extremely intelligent and driven. This is typically the point where people point out recent scandals involving racy pictures or not knowing where Iraq is on a map, but these contestants have all come from Donald Trump’s Miss USA system, which is completely different in its approach. What I am talking about here is Miss America.
So in an era when the only real role models young girls are perpetually exposed to are drug-addicted party girls who have done little to become famous, role models like Miss America are still relevant. If a little girl aspires to be the girl she sees helping her community while furthering her education, she is much better off than getting her influences from TMZ.

Gender and political identity in the race for the Democratic nomination (and other things women seek)

In the run up to the Texas and Ohio primaries, the media seem to have a taken a coupla' days break from writing Hillary Clinton's political obituary. What a relief. In today's New York Times, Robin Toner offers us some incisive analysis on the question that remains much on my mind: is the turn in this race about gender or is it about Hillary herself?

Toner reminds us of what the polls show: Male voters prefer Obama by a significant margin, while female voters tend to be split equally between Clinton and Obama. Toner queries whether this is due to Obama's extraordinary attractiveness to male voters--or something else. Toner then reports the observations of several commentators. One of them is Prof. Kathleen Dolan of the political science department at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, who argues that gender is at work in the "visceral" reaction many men have to Hillary. Dolan says, “You could say men are just really captivated by Obama. But I’m not willing to say that’s what it is.” Toner writes, quoting Dolan:

From Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign on, she noted, Mrs. Clinton was confronted with a series of controversies around gender roles and stereotypes - from hairstyles to “co-presidencies” to “standing by her man” against charges of infidelity.

“The notion that she is a Rorschach test for where we are on gender issues was true on day one, when we met her, and it’s absolutely true today,” said Ms. Dolan. “So when people say, it’s just her, I don’t buy it.”

In short, she sees difficulty in separating the "candidate" from the "woman" (the topic of other posts here and here). One thing is for sure -- as Toner suggests -- long after this race is over, we'll be ruminating over whether it was "gender" or whether it was "Hillary."

The same is true, of course, in other arenas where a woman's leadership is at stake. How will my male colleagues respond if the Chancellor names one of the two women candidates to be dean of the law school? Will they be able to fall in behind a female leader? How do students respond to female professors who fail to live up their maternal (or, for younger women, sexualized) expectations? Is gender the problem, or is it just that individual woman's (1) lack of experience; (2) lack of intelligence; (3) personality (read that "bitchiness") . . . you fill in the blank.