Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Women and the solution to the AIDS epidemic

One of my major points of disagreement with the otherwise much beloved John Paul II concerned his rejection of using condoms to curb the AIDS epidemic. This dogmatic move completely ignored the realities of human sexuality, of which the Church should be acutely aware, at least if the priests are not completely asleep in the confessional. But recently, Pope Benedict XVI stated in his book, that "where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection, condoms can nevertheless be a first step on the way to another, more humane sexuality." This came about 18 months after he, too, disparaged condoms as ineffective in prevention of infection by HIV, or may make matters even worse. (Where he got the idea that distributing condoms may aggravate the pandemic, I do not know, but it seemed to highlight the Holy Father's tragic miseducation on the proper use of condoms as prophylactic tools, i.e., that they are supposed to be applied before every intercourse.)  

At any rate, the Holy See's mild change of heart came a little too late for the millions of Africans who were infected with the disease while the Church preached abstinence. (22.4 million adults and children were living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa at the end of 2008.)  As parents of teenagers know quite well, abstinence as the only prophylactic method is a dangerous, ineffective, and incomplete proposition. People are practicing abstinence only until temptation overtakes them, and leaving them without an alternative to protect themselves is irresponsible teaching. But, from a feminist perspective, the major problem with the Church's position on AIDS prevention is that it ignores how little a woman may succeed in practicing abstinence, or control the faithfulness of her partner.

As Michel SidibĂ©, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS said, the AIDS epidemic unfortunately remains an epidemic of women. 16 million women across world are infected with the disease, while another 850,000 die of it every year. It is easy to understand why: The AIDS epidemic has had a unique impact on women, which has been exacerbated by their role within society, and their biological vulnerability to HIV infection. As to women's role in society: in most developing countries today, women do not choose their sexual partners. Their parents choose with whom they are allowed to have sexual relationship, and, when married, their husband controls all the details of their sexual relationship, i.e., the frequency of intercourse, whether she may decline his sexual advances, whether she may use prophylactic, etc. And last but not least, their husband controls whether he has any sexual relations with women other than his wife, while women are enormously constrained in investigating his fidelity. 

Of course, there is an elephant in the room: we also need to get a grip on the population of this planet. The biblical mandate to "go forth and multiply" has been fulfilled splendidly: we populated this planet to the hilt. Nevertheless, the Church will probably continue to deny that there is a real need in our world to increase our responsibility in caring for our existing populations, and to raise the next generations well, with as much love and care as we should.  And preventing our existing population's disease and hunger should be now our primary concern.

For centuries, the Church's preaching for monogamous catholic family life has proved ineffective.  Facing a deadly pandemic is not the best time to engage in more of the same wishful thinking.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Diversity on the bench

Women scored some major victories regarding diversity on the bench lately. With the confirmation of minority Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the United States Supreme Court, and with our new Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court Tani Cantil-Sakauye, it is undeniably a historic time not only for the judiciary, but also for the state and nation.

In the background, with the recent confirmations of two minority judges, Jacqueline Nguyen and Dolly Gee to the Central District of California, we have more minority women serving as Article III federal judges than in any time prior.

What factors may have contributed to the improvement of diversity on the bench in California helping to pave the way for our first female Chief Justice? Perhaps that over the past 20 years law school populations have become more diverse. Additionally, about 20 years ago, the California Judicial Council made a formal commitment to promoting diversity. To give you an idea of the kind of progress that has been made towards a more diverse bench, in 2009 women now constitute 28.8 percent of the bench, and in terms of ethnicity the number of non-whites has increased to 22.1 percent of the judiciary.

Politics also plays a role in who gets to sit on the bench. Some of the recent improvements in diversity may have more to do with Governor Schwarzenegger’s choice of his appointment secretary, Sharon Majors-Lewis. She was the first woman, and first African-American, to hold that post. Due to concerns over the lack of judicial diversity, she revised the judicial application form to include questions regarding non-trial experiences, skill sets such as mediation, administrative and family law. As a result, the governor’s more recent appointments reflect a more diverse bench. Women now account for approximately 33.6 percent of Schwarzenegger’s appointments, and about 23.6 percent have been minorities.

But even with these recent successes at the state and nation level, the diversity of judges lags behind the diversity of the general population.

In a 2009 empirical study, conducted over a twenty year period, called “Myth of the Color-Blind Judge” by Professor Pat Chew and Robert Kelley of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and Carnegie Mellon, out of 805 active judges in the federal courts, judges of color constituted only about 19% of the bench. Merely 11% of judges were African Americans, 7% were Hispanic and less than 1% were Asian Americans.

The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law did a study regarding improving judicial diversity, looking at the magnitude of the problem and how courts are trying to become more effective at appointing women and racial minorities. Some of the findings with regard to gender are as follows:

  • Although women make up approximately 50% of the population, state judiciaries are predominantly male at almost every level.
  • Only about 26% of state court judges are women.
  • White males are overrepresented on state appellate benches by a margin of nearly two-to-one.

Some research suggests that, with the demise of Affirmative Action programs, the situation for African-Americans have worsened. For example, enrollment of African-American students in law school has decreased. Additionally, the number of African-American judges has decreased because they are retiring at a rate quicker than they are being appointed.

Diversity is important for the bench, not only because there is -- or sould be -- a moral imperative to include people of different genders, ages, sexual orientations, races, and economic and professional backgrounds. We also need judges that do not have a homogenized or predetermined view of the world. As Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote: The life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience. That is the reason why female and/or minority judges may reach a better result in more of the cases.

So, while we celebrate the historic event of the first female Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court Cantil- Sakauye, let us also be reminded that there is still much work to be done.

Distorting the women's rights movement


This article is extremely disheartening because it represents the ease with which people can co-opt the women's rights movement and distort everything it stands for with just a little revisionist history.

Friday, November 26, 2010

When a "Hello" is not just a "Hello"

The effect of patriarchy on one's life varies greatly depending on race, class, ability, gender identity, and other personal identities, realities and privileges. Even though misogyny affects everyone, the ways in which misogyny plays out in our lives are as diverse as our personal narratives. One oppression that reaches into the lives of all of us though, at least all of us who participate in the public world, is gender based street harassment.

I bet every person that reads this has either experienced gender based street harassment or, has witnessed it happen to someone they know or a stranger near by them, at least once in their lives if not on multiple occasions. For many women, it is multiple occasions every week, or every time they go outside their home at all. If you don't know what I mean by street harassment, this comic in an article about street harassment in Sociological Images gives a good image of the varieties of verbal harassment that women face on a regular basis.

Gender based street harassment also happens to gender non conforming people who don't identify as women but who are still experiencing misogynist violence. For example, when I get fag bashed in public, I get harassed because I am appearing too feminine or markedly queer while being a man. This is a form of gender based harassment that evolves from misogynist values about what a man should be, should look like, and so on. Men and other persons who may not experience gender based street harassment themselves directly are subject to the effects of being witness to the street harassment of those around them. It really does touch the lives of everyone.

For an oppression so widespread, there exists little legal remedy for street harassment. Multiple studies from all over the world show that often the majority of participants (if not 100%!) had experienced street harassment ranging from annoying but benign commentary to physical assault. Despite its overwhelming prevalence in daily life, the legal avenues of accountability for street harassment are limited. Unless the encounter meets the definition of lewd public behavior (which many quite offensive and threatening street harassment encounters don't fall within) or is violent enough to be considered assault or battery, there usually will be no legal avenue to hold perpetrators of the street harassment accountable.

This lack of legal accountability is especially frustrating considering the strength of the sexual harassment accountability movement in the workplace and schools. Anti-sexual harassment legislation in the public spheres of work and school became the Federal norm in 1964 and 1972, respectively, with the passing of the Civil Rights Act and Title IX. More than 40 years later there is no equivalent for street harassment, nor do I believe there will be any time soon.

A recent example in New York City brought up the tensions of why legislating against street harassment has such a tense and unsuccessful history. The City Council heard from an organized group of activists proposing new city regulations attempting to create accountability for street harassment. As addressed in this New York Post article about the meeting, the most common concerns of opponents of street harassment legislation are the practical realities of enforcement and the possibility of First Amendment violations.

Personally, I also have concerns about enforceability. My concerns are that this would be another tool for police to oppress otherwise already marginalized and targeted classes, like men of color and homeless persons. I also struggle to ever limit free speech (the First Amendment concern). I don't consider street harassment to be protected free speech however; street harassment borders more on assault where words become acts. If a person is making a repeated unwanted statement and coming closer and closer to my body, and I am afraid they will touch my body, this is usually getting closer the legal situation for assault, not an expression of someone's right to free speech. Where does the perpetrator's right to free speech end and womens' right to be free of unwanted harassment in public space begin? Further, how do you address the subtleties of street harassment, like how to define when a "hello" is not just a "hello"?

While the mainstream legal remedies lag behind, there is much that can be done personally to address the street harassment that is around us all most of the time. Grassroots projects like Hollaback! provide victims of street harassment with a venue for voicing their anger, their responses, their strength and for receiving solidarity and support. Similar grassroots anti-street harassment projects and maps have been developing all over the world. Activist's like those at Stop Street Harassment are creating ideas for accountability for cities to implement, like the proposed No-Harassment zones in NYC.

One thing we can all do everyday to address street harassment, is to stand up for those around us who are being harassed. The silence of social shame is one of the reasons this kind of behavior continues to thrive. If the (mostly) men who perpetrate street harassment are protected by free speech, then we should all be using our free speech protected voices to protect the bodies of those being harassed. This violence marks all our lives but we all have the power to create immediate accountability while it is happening. Even the youngest among us can create this change. I will end this post with this video made in conjunction with Stop Street Harassment project by a young artistic fellow who understands that his voice, even as a kid, is a powerful tool for addressing misogyny in the streets.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Women Wednesday

I was browsing the web this weekend and came across an interesting quote by Canadian singer-songwriter, Alanis Morissette. I thought it would be a great quote to share because it would stimulate a great discussion. Please feel free to share you thoughts, feelings and impression.

“I see my body as an instrument, rather than an ornament.” ~ Alanis Morissette

The problem with the double standard is this: that it exists, period.

My mother constantly lectures me on the fact that she believes I’m not “ladylike” enough and is afraid I’ll repel men with my “manly” attitude. Double standard, much? I admittedly am somewhat of an abrasive person – while I love wearing heels, jewelry, and have an unhealthy penchant for dresses (especially ones with pockets – love!), my attitude rings different from my preference for a more arguably “feminine” attire. I curse like a sailor at times, I am loud, I am too verbose for my own good at times, and often the things I say come out completely and entirely unfiltered, which has caused problems for me in the past, especially in a more professional setting. This somewhat aggressive behavior of mine also reminds me of an instance where I’d gotten into a rather frustrating fight with my younger brother – it escalated to the point of me shoving him in the chest, and him letting me throw a few light punches at his shoulders before he stormed out of the room.

I learned later on that my brother was fairly distraught about the fact that our fight had gotten physical. While he had no desire to actually place a hand on me, he was upset about the fact that I “took advantage” of the situation, because I was a female and it was viewed as more socially acceptable for me to hit him rather than vice versa. I would never intentionally hurt anyone in my family, and while I could justify my actions and chalk them up to just something that occurred in the heat of the moment, I had to think long and hard about this incident and ask myself if I maybe I was still in the wrong? In that same vein, it was acceptable of me to throw a fit and to react the way I did – a little dramatically and for the purposes of being cathartic, but if my brother were to do so, my parents would have probably just told him to “man up” and to not be a baby.

The list runs miles long for each gender if we want to trade stories and experiences where one respective group has felt like they were being held to a double standard. To build off Bijorn Turock’s earlier post introducing the issue of the double standards the media portrays, I’d like to address and probe further into the deep-seated issues that come from following double standards.

I’m assuming that on the feminist side of the fight, a constant goal of ours is to squelch whatever we are held victim of: all the seemingly negative double standards that are out there – the discussion we had a few class sessions ago about falling into certain gender roles in a heterosexual marriage comes to mind. Another to consider is the age-old notion of only the female being promiscuous and “slutty” if she engages in sex too often, while a male would more likely be praised by other his male colleagues. Others that we’ve encountered and discussed in the class range from issues like the fact that a woman is expected to be thin as a standard of beauty while men not so much, the fact that women are expected to know less about topics of politics, law, and business than men, and the fact that women are restricted from combat engagement, while men would be serving their country in doing so.

On the other end of the spectrum, though, and recently sparked by remembering that specific fight with my brother - is it right for us to claim oppression from certain double standards, while honing others as okay, just because they happen to instill privilege in us while possibly oppressing others? I don’t remotely intend to claim that we are not deserving of privilege – such as doors being opened for us and to be physically abused (or, well, at all, of course), but it is rather contradictory, purely based on principle at least, to not acknowledge that men face similar issues of being held to a different set of standards when it comes to certain things. Like my brother in this instance in feeling somewhat victimized as I immaturely tried to attack him physically. Another issue men face that women are unfamiliar with is feeling emasculated just because of their more obvious preference for things as basic and simple as hygiene.

I’m not making the statement that men fall victim to the double standard, as well, I am making the statement that the double standard is problematic, period. Despite being unable to come to terms with whether or not I’m completely comfortable with preferential treatment and specific privilege as a female, I am very much aware and affected by the wonderful men in my life and in order to stray away from the very stereotypical “man-hating” view that comes with the feminist stereotype, I think a better focus would be, simply put: equality.

The first rule of the first date: break it.

As a modern-day, twenty-something year old female who grew up in the metropolitan, I’ve done my fair share of dating in the past decade or so. Just over the span of those few years alone, there has been a fairly vast progress made in the world of romantic relationships. While stigmas are still very much unfortunately attached to ideas embedded in the dating world such as online dating, the female approaching the male (in a heterosexual relationship), open relationships, gay relationships, and etc, I personally believe that they have slowly begun to thaw and loosen a bit. And, if a direction were to be chosen in terms of these less traditional means, it would be toward the norm more so than the taboo sector or as being considered unacceptable.

With that said, I’ve still noticed that what has yet to remain alarmingly and seemingly archaic and traditional is the first date. Yes, the first date. My very progressive, liberal, and seemingly-feminist guy friends, if out on (again, heterosexual) dates will always be the ones to pick the girl up, showing up at her door with a gift (expectedly) – maybe flowers or chocolate, will open all doors, pull out all chairs, and pay for everything on the an outing – even if it’s one that they both mutually agreed upon. Furthermore, my girlfriends – my fairly contemporary and progressive girlfriends at that, on the “receiving” end of things have come to expect this equation themselves.

While I myself don’t fall entirely into the bulk of that group, I do admittedly expect this on some level, still. I have no qualms or issues with splitting the dinner check - I have my own money, and I'll spend it how I want to - thanks. I also don’t mind if my date doesn’t show up with a gift or if we both meet up separately - I don't care for flowers, anyway, and I do enjoy driving. Also, as a fairly liberal person when it comes to sex, I don’t think it speaks entirely of one person’s character if the physical interactions go beyond just a peck at the door and I don't mind if they do, either. While I am comfortable with not engaging in an old-fashioned traditional date, obviously, I admittedly still kind-of-sort-of . . . shamefully expect it, myself. Yes, I'll 'fess up - I can easily type out right now, as a removed person from the situation currently, that I don’t mind if I have to pay or drive myself. But would I prefer to? I can’t fully stand behind the fact that I don't, unfortunately.

In an attempt to unpack exactly why that is, I pose the question of whether or not it’s simply based on the fact that the first date is usually the first formal impression that’s made in the course of a romantic relationship, and if two strangers who are initially bound together through a first date had to use any uniform testing procedure to assess the situation, it would obviously be the most traditional, archaic, most set-in-place one. The formula and standard that’s the easiest to memorize and apply, since we can't gauge the other's personality and quirks based on what little we are able to gather during merely an hour-long dinner and awkward movie watching session. Because the traditional first date is one that has been instilled in place for decades, if not centuries, through societal expectations, media portrayals, and personal encouragement from one’s peers – it seems to be the only one that’s withheld the test of time when stood up against any other version of a first date.

Now that I’ve realized this unfair expectation that I have instilled me, and as a fairly modern-day, liberally progressive person, I’m eager to change this. If society has come to the point where we can meet the love of our lives over the Internet and where a relationship doesn’t necessarily need to involve only two people, then we should be able to get past the fact that the male has to play the role of the dominant-male character who provides for the dainty female as a means of treating her well and ultimately impressing her enough. There is something entirely too animalistic and old school about that when we’ve come so far.

I can only speak, if at all, for heterosexual relationships, however, being a heterosexual female myself. So, while rather unfamiliar with struggles and realm of gay, lesbian, or transgender dating, I do think that at the very least, the world of heterosexual dating needs to change their game already.

There's a new Chief in town...

Last week, I had the honor of being in the audience as newly-confirmed Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye spoke to our Judicial Process class. Our teacher, Judge Lawrence Brown, introduced her as "one of those people who needs no introduction" but emphasized that she is well-known for being a down to earth and "decent" individual. Not only can you tell from the way Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauya presents herself that this is true, but many others that know her have said the same, including Professor Clayton Tanaka and Justice George Nicholson. She gives lawyers a good name, and is a shining example to others in the legal profession.

She spoke about her legal career, the challenges of being a woman and trying to advance in her legal career, and how she has dealt with these challenges. Below are a couple of the topics she discussed.

Justice Cantil-Sakauye's career began at the Sacramento District Attorney's Office as a prosecutor. She then moved on to become a Deputy Legal Affairs Secretary to Governor George Duekmejian, where she worked under the governor's advisor, now Justice Vance Raye. There, whenever people called to talk to Raye, they would reach her first, but did not wish to speak to her. Thus, she could not do her job. When she conveyed this to Raye, he told her to let these callers know that he REFUSED to talk to them, thus EMPOWERING her to do her job.

She was then appointed by the governor as a judge at the Sacramento Municipal Court at the young age of 31. She realized there that she was treated differently than a male judge would be. The way she dealt with this was to remind herself that this treatment was unintentional. She considered this treatment to be a product of our society and culture, and not directed personally at her, and that "made all the difference in the world." She was confident in her capabilities and knew she was a prepared and fair judge. I feel that adopting this outlook was a wise decision and career move in that it probably kept her from over-analyzing the actions and intentions of people in her court room, and kept her from doubting herself.

Now that she has been nominated and confirmed as Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, many have criticized her as being nominated based solely on her minority status as a woman and a person of color. How does she respond to this? She believes that this criticism is very uninformed, as she had to go through an intense investigative process in order to be found as qualified. In fact, she received the highest rating from the State Bar Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation: “exceptionally well-qualified.” She had to build a new reputation every time she changed positions and had an excellent reputation throughout her career. In addition, she has broad experience from being one of the few lawyers to dabble in the legislative branch, as well as being a prosecutor, a judge, and a justice. "I like to be underestimated," she says. To those that take the time to look beyond her race and gender, they will see that she is truly brilliant and will without a doubt do great things for our state and justice system.

As a student of King Hall, I think I speak for all of us when I say we are so proud to come from this excellent school and to stand among such accomplished graduates as California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye!

An open letter to the Victims' Rights Movement

To all who masquerade through the political sphere as "tough on crime," "law and order," "victims' rights advocates": We are tired of how you ignore the cries of rape victims.

As this article in U.S. News discusses, a large number of rape kits are still unexamined for DNA evidence because of lack of funds. The report states that New York City had, at one time, 16,000 unexamined rape kits sitting on warehouse shelves.  Houston had 4,000 untested kits, Birmingham 2,000, and Phoenix 4,100. Detroit also had 16,000 untested kits, which led to closing the lab there and turning all the evidence over to the already-swamped state facility.

Famously, Rudy Giuliani announced in September of 2000 that New York City would be the first jurisdiction in the country to fund the outsourcing of untested kits. It was part of his wide-spread crime-elimination strategy, whereby he attacked wisely those crimes where a small investment of funds and energy would yield big results. (A chapter of SuperFreakonomics, which I referred to in this blog post, details the phenomenon of "small fixes." Testing rape kits is one of the small fixes: as most rape aggressors are also often aggressors of other violent crimes, such as murder, by examining these kits, more such criminals could be reprimanded. Furthermore, rape aggressors usually commit multiple rapes before they get caught. The U.S. News report writes:
The rape evidence collection kit backlog is a national tragedy. The federal [DNA] databank now has more than eight million DNA profiles, each genetic fingerprint capable of identifying a violent criminal. Every dust-covered kit that sits untested in storage holds the key to solving scores of old cases—these assailants are believed to commit eleven rapes for every one to which they are formally linked. Even more powerful is the fact that by finally matching offenders to the old evidence and taking them to trial, crimes like rape and murder can be prevented.
The National Center for Victims of Crime has a DNA information website, where they offer a quiz about DNA myths and reality, and provide the latest news on the forensic DNA testing. Attorney General Eric Holder said that "DNA evidence is one of the most powerful tools available to the criminal justice system." At the same time, politicians on the left and right side of the aisle voice their concerns for victims' rights. The victims rights movement, however, mostly comprises of three elements: victims' participation in the proceedings; ensuring financial compensation of victims; and efforts to secure more certain and harsher punishment for perpetrators. While the examination of rape kits fits into the third prong, it is almost never mentioned in the political debates over which candidates have a better record of being "tough on crime." Even candidates on the left ignore rape victims when running for office.  For example, listening to an NPR interview with Kamala Harris, this aspect of being a tough prosecutor was notably missing from Ms. Harris' arguments, although comments on NPR's blog indicate that listeners were indeed interested in hearing about where her spending priorities would lie as Attorney General for California. One commenter said:
Steve Cooley has squandered millions of L.A. County dollars by prosecuting death penalty sentences rather than going for life without parole. That money could have been used for more homicide investigators, to run the warehouse of untested DNA rape kits, or other programs that would actually make the public SAFER.
While feminists are routinely accused of viewing women as victims, in the case of rape, the victims are mostly women. If you, Gentle Reader, are a candidate for elected office, please take heed.  Women are listening.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sexual pleasure and the Third-Wave

I have been blogging about violence against women the duration of the semester. And although it is a painful and depressing topic, it is something I am both deeply familiar with and deeply passionate about. But it is time to discuss one of the joyful sides of womanhood - sexual pleasure and sexual self- awareness, risky as it might be.

Third- wave feminists advocate for girls and women taking charge of their own sexual fulfillment. In her essay, Lusting for Freedom, Rebecca Walker discusses the need for sex education for girls. She says:

The question is not whether young women are going to have sex, for this is far beyond any parental or societal control. The question is rather, what do young women need to make sex a dynamic, affirming, safe and pleasurable part of our lives?

Third-wave feminism recognizes that sexual pleasure is a central part of women’s lives and doesn’t hate on women who know how to achieve it without guilt or regret.

This is in stark contrast to feminists like Catharine MacKinnon who see women as sexual victims of men. She describes sexuality as something that happens to women, not something that women are genuinely capable of embracing for their own personal fulfillment. For me, there is something that fundamentally does not resonate with me about her interpretation. I will admit that with the right person and one that is skillful, I am more than capable of embracing my sexuality and enjoy sexual pleasure. I am not alone in this thinking, even as a mature woman.

MacKinnon would be critical of women like me. She would question the extent to which my desires are authentic:

All women live in sexual objectification the way fish live in water . . .Women seem to cope with sexual abuse principally by denial of fear . . .Women who are compromised, cajoled, pressured, tricked, blackmailed,or outright forced into sex (or pornography) often respond to theunspeakable humiliation, coupled with a sense of having lost some irreplaceable integrity, by claiming that sexuality as their own. Faced with no alternatives, the strategy to acquire self-respect and pride is: I chose it.

In stark contrast, men and women describe their personal experiences of a "new feminism" in a collection of essays called To Be Real: Telling the Truth about the Changing Face of Feminism. Rebecca Walker, who edited the essays, claims this is:

... like a welcome sign to my generation of young women, allowing us toat once differentiate ourselves from our feminist mothers and at the same time achieve mainstream power in our careers and love lives. It allows us the self-righteousness of being political activists without the economic sacrifice or social marginalization that has so often come along with that role. It is a feminism no longer on the defensive, without a fun, playful aesthetic that acknowledges the erotic and narcissistic pleasure women receive from beautifying themselves, a pleasure not to be denied.

Our new generation of feminism embraces beauty and the power of women's sexuality. Sexual pleasure is a human right. By challenging the forms of sexuality and sexual pleasure that reinforce masculinity, it should be possible to imagine sexual rights that are based on sexual equality. We third-wave feminists, advocate for women's equality with men, but at the same time we also celebrate women's differences from men.

I can honestly say that women’s needs for sexual pleasure and sexual self-awareness evolve as we pass through different ages and mature. The bad news is a University of Chicago study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, said half of sexually active Americans aged 57-85—male and female—reported bothersome sexual problems. Not surprising, the biggest issue for women was the lack of an able partner, because of death, divorce or erectile dysfunction (in spite of Viagra).

Scientists once thought men and women experienced sex identically. There was a straight line from desire to arousal to orgasm. Now they see female sexual progression as a circle, with many interrelated factors—emotional intimacy, arousal, emotional and physical satisfaction and desire. Men can take a pill to stay aroused and enjoy sex as they get older, but women's responses are far more complex.

Now the good news: those same University of Chicago researchers found that women over 50 who were sexually active had intercourse about as often as much younger women. So to all my younger female law buddies my advice is this: in a decade or two, you should ignore all the cultural messages and advertising that say you have to look like you are 20 in order to be sexy. Actress Helen Mirren is my personal role model. She is 65 and proud of it. She is fabulously sexy and still rocks a bikini.