Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Immigration as a feminist issue

Working in the UC Davis Immigration Law Clinic forced me to confront issues too easily ignored—too easily ignored by the United States, by mainstream feminism, and by me. 

Before the Immigration Law Clinic, I had no idea how many immigrants the U.S. government detains, or more accurately put, imprisons.  For example, did you know that Congress mandates that the Department of Homeland Security maintains at least 34,000 beds in immigration detention centers across the country?  Or that 9 out of the 10 largest immigration detention centers are operated by private, for-profit companies?  Or that the largest of these private, for-profit detention centers is intended to detain only women and children?

The more I learn, the more I’m disgusted. But the more I’m also aware of feminism's and immigration's intersectionality—an intersection that if recognized gives me hope for positive change and better immigration policies.

As a woman and feminist, it’s sometimes difficult understanding my obligation to women in other countries.  Given concerns about cultural relativism, “helping” women on an international scale sometimes enters into an uncomfortable gray area, harkening back to a colonial past.  But when our national policies are directly responsible for the danger faced by women and their communities around the globe, feminists have a duty to recognize this reality and take action.

The American government’s crackdown on Central American migration is one such example.  In 2014, there was a surge in the number of women and unaccompanied children traveling from the Northern Triangle (Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala) to seek asylum in the United States. Women in the Northern Triangle face some of the highest rates of gendered violence—specifically gender-motivated killings—in the world.  In the presence of such violence, tens of thousands of migrants fled to the United States, seeking protection within its borders.

The United States responded not with open arms, but with policies meant to deter further migration. The Department of Homeland Security began detaining more asylum seekers with the specific purpose of deterring their migration.  Previously, women and children who sought asylum would be quickly released on bond.  But after the influx, migrants were instead detained—often by private, for-profit corporations.  (This practice of denying bond was illegal and later enjoined to enforce a two decades-old settlement.)

Under pressure from, and with the support of, the American government the Mexican government also stepped up its own border enforcement, particularly at its southern border.  As reported by NPR, this crackdown has created incredibly dangerous conditions for migrants.  For example, migrants previously relied on a train system called La Bestia, a transportation network providing relatively inexpensive and quick transportation to the U.S. border.  After the crackdown, migrants were banned from using these trains.  As a result, migrants are increasingly forced to rely on smugglers, travel by foot, and to take longer and more perilous routes to the United States.  Migrants now face a greater risk of robbery, rape, abduction, and even death. Female migrants speak of being forced to sleep with smugglers in exchange for protection and assistance in border crossings.  The NYTimes also reports that migrants have experienced torture, forced prostitution, organ harvesting, and other unimaginably horrendous forms of exploitation—all a direct consequence of American immigration policies.

Recognizing the intersection of feminism and immigration might help address these ineffective and inhumane policies—policies that often harm women in disproportionate ways.  Part of our feminist duty is to recognize the impact of immigration policies as sources of harm and oppression.  Only with this recognition will we seek meaningful solutions.

Surprise, Surprise: The Male Justices of the Supreme Court Don't Understand Women's Healthcare

Many writers have criticized the Supreme Court and its justices for being out of touch with the American public. Many individuals have written articles on the topic which discuss the bench's lack of socio-economic diversity, the lack of diversity of experience, the lack of religious diversity and the lack of educational diversity. All of these factors lead to nine justices who often appear to be unable to grasp the day-to-day lives of American citizens (especially when those individuals are poor, women, or members of a minority). This separation between the Ivy League educated justices (specifically the male justices) and the American citizenry has been especially visible in the past several weeks in the oral arguments for Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt and Zubik v. Burwell.

Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt is a challenge to Texas' HB2 law which supposedly is designed to "protect women" (these quotation marks do not indicate an actual quote but are instead used to suggest the fallaciousness of the government's reasoning). What this bill actually does is close approximately 75 percent of Texas abortion clinics.

Zubik v. Burwell challenges the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate. While many thought that this matter was (wrongly) decided in Burwell v. Hobby LobbyZubik involves religious nonprofits challenges to the current accommodations made by the Obama administration. These accommodations allow religious objectors to opt out of providing coverage for contraceptives in their health care plans by either filling out a form or sending in a letter expressing their religious objections. The challengers claim that even filling out these forms infringes on their religious beliefs.

Both of these cases obviously have great implications for women, and specifically women's health. It is this concept that the male justices often cannot seem to quite grasp.

In Whole Woman's Health, Justice Kennedy questioned the challengers about whether there was any actual evidence that the state law actually imposed true burdens on women. Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito questioned whether there was evidence to show that the closure of clinics was actually related to HB2. So, despite the fact that 75 percent of clinics have closed since the law took effect, apparently several justices are unsure about this correlation, or more specifically, causation. Additionally, at least Justice Kennedy seems to be unable to understand how these laws burden not only the abortion providers but the women of Texas as well (despite how obvious this likely seems to most of us).

In Zubik v. Burwell the male (and conservative) members of the Supreme Court do not understand how the health insurance market actually functions. Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Kennedy and Justice Alito appear to suggest that forcing women to find another way to get their contraceptives covered is not actually that big of a deal because they can access birth control through federal insurance exchanges. "They're on the exchanges, right?" Roberts said. Thankfully, Justice Sotomayor stepped in an explained that no, "[t]hey're not on the exchanges...That's a falsehood." However, even after this explanation that no, there is no such thing as a contraceptive-only policy, Kennedy and Roberts were still unable (or unwilling) to grasp how exchanges work and how they would affect the ability of women to gain access to birth control. Indeed, Kennedy expressed the belief that it is "so easy" and "so free" for women to sign up for a birth control only plan.

So, not only do many of the Justices not understand insurance policy markets, they also are unable (or unwilling) to understand the burden this places on women who are trying to access free and affordable birth control (and yet requiring an organization to simply fill out a form is somehow unworkable and inexcusable difficult). The male justices inability to grasp simple facts about insurance and women's health illustrates a larger issue that often appears not only in the judicial branch, but also the legislative and executive branches. When our country's judges and government officials are largely wealthy, white males, they do not have the ability to experience how many of the laws and rulings they enact affect real people's day to day lives. While the Supreme Court is filled with brilliant legal scholars who are able to understand and shape our most complex laws, I also wish that they were able to grasp the more simple and personal results of such rulings.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Word Reclamation and Appropriation Part I: The Genesis of the Word “Bitch” and Why I Stopped Using It

The word “bitch” has become so engrained in our culture speaking out against it might seem radical.

In high school I spent the majority of my weekends working at a dog-boarding kennel. Though my primary duties were to feed, clean and occasionally pet our furry clients, I also helped out with the kennel’s breeding facility. The kennel was owned an operated by a couple that in their spare time bred and showed standard poodles. It was also the first time I heard the word “bitch” used regularly to solely describe dogs. I can’t put my finger on exactly what was unsettling about switching my vernacular from the kennel to high school. The differences in the use of the term on Sundays versus Mondays started to become conscious.

Since the 15th century, the word bitch has evolved from its purest form — a term for “lady dogs” — to a commonly used slang for women. Until the 1920s “bitch” was a rarely used demoralizing term – but when it was used, it was used to degrade women to the level of dogs. However, during the time of women’s suffrage, the use of the word more than doubled in newspapers and literature. As women asserted power, they were more likely to be hurled a sexist epithet. It wasn’t long before “bitch” became an “all-purpose insult for annoying women.”

During the second wave of feminism, activists attempted to “reclaim” the word. Word reclamation occurs when the subject of a derogatory slur reappropriates the word for his or her own use. Advocates of word reclamation argue that when the “slur or insult is used by the people whom it had originally intended to demean, then the word loses all of its malicious meaning.”

In 1974, Jo Freeman wrote The Bitch Manifesto, and declared that “We must be strong, we must be militant, we must be dangerous. We must realize that Bitch is Beautiful and that we have nothing to lose.”

Since then, women have reclaimed “bitch” by both declaring themselves “bitches” and calling other women “bitches” as a term of endearment. Pop culture propagates this message. In 2007, Britney Spears released “Gimme More” and announced, “it’s Britney Bitch” to the word. The song is said to have “revolutionized the B-word” into a term of empowerment.

I feel lucky to be living in a time when women can feel empowered enough to attempt to take back their sex-specific insults. However, men don’t have an analogous term. There is no word for a man asserting his power. Men don’t have to reappropriate a slur to wipe the shame of being a man away.

Yes. It is great for women to be strong. To be confident. To say what they think. To be opinionated. But to do all of these things, do we need to denigrate ourselves to dogs?

No matter the work done to reclaim the word, sexism is still a seemingly insurmountable problem. Not everyone uses the reclaimed definition of “bitch.” We cannot erase the history of the word when it still has so much existing negative usage. Maybe if women actually reclaimed the word, and the power of the insult was gone, I would feel differently. I don’t believe word reclamation is impossible (in a later post I’ll talk about “queer” and difference between reclaiming “queer” and “faggot”).

However, even if the power of insult were gone, I still don’t know if the dog-in-heat genesis of the term would pass muster as a term of empowerment. Just a few days ago Donald Trump released an ad depicting Hillary Clinton barking like a dog. When women in power are degraded to “bitches” in such an obvious and disgusting way, is it even possible to empower ourselves to be “bitches”?

There’s a strong correlation between women asserting power and women being called “bitches” with a derogatory intent. While some might think reclaiming this word lets us take back the power, I think we should closely examine whether we want to be using this word in any context. Shouldn’t we instead encourage women in power? I think this is done by calling women strong, confident, committed, focused, and inspirational - the same words we use to describe men with equal power.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Universities are failing to adequately protect against sexual harassment

Institutions of higher education are expected to provide safe, appropriate learning and working environments. This should include freedom from sexual assault and harassment. Unfortunately, these phenomena continue to be a problem on many campuses across the United States. According to a survey by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), 62 percent of female students reported having been victims of sexual harassment.  Another recent survey involving college students found 23 percent of female students have been sexually assaulted.   

What is more problematic is the manner in which universities have recently been responding to sexual harassment claims. On March 9th, UC Berkeley school officials reported that the Dean of UC Berkeley’s School of Law, Sujit Chaudhry, had been placed on immediate leave following the filing of a lawsuit by Chaudhry’s former executive assistant claiming sexual harassment. That Friday, in the midst of public outcry, Chaudhry resigned from his position.  But all of these consequences against the Dean only occurred because his misconduct became public after the lawsuit was filed. Before the news broke, the Dean’s punishment was a 10 percent reduction of his six-figure salary for a year, that he seek counseling, and apologize to his ex-assistant.

But what happened with the former employee of the Dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law is not an isolated incident for the UC school and pales in comparison to how the school has previously handled such cases. Just last year the school dealt with another sexual harassment claim against their world-renowned astronomy professor, Geoffrey Marcy. The same office that handled the claims against Chaudhry also found Marcy had engaged in inappropriate behavior with students, including groping, kissing, or massaging them. In July 2015, campus officials’ response to Marcy was a mere warning that he could be fired if he harassed anyone again. It was a Buzzfeed article in October 2015 that publicly revealed his misconduct and the university’s poor response.  Ultimately, Marcy resigned “under the pressure from his Berkeley colleagues.

Unfortunately, the failure to properly respond to sexual harassment is not only limited to UC Berkeley. Another UC school, UCLA, is also dealing with sexual harassment issues. Similar to Cal,  UCLA’s faculty is currently pressuring the school to fire a history professor found by the administration to have engaged in sexual misconduct towards two female graduate students. Before UCLA informed the faculty about the professor’s transgressions, the professor’s punishment included a $3,000 fine and a 10-week suspension without pay. 

These three sexual harassment cases demonstrate that it takes BOTH public revelation of a faculty member’s sexual misconduct towards its students or staff AND faculty protests over the misbehavior in order for these institutions to take any meaningful action to address incidents of sexual harassment. This is horrible. This sends the message to students and university employees alike that they cannot count on their academic institutions to protect their safety and their right to be free from sex discrimination when the alleged perpetrator is a high level administrator. 

Unfortunately, the consequence of such messages to women in academic institutions is clear.  In an Op Ed for The Daily Californian, UC Berkeley professor Ellen Simm perfectly states what happens when universities fail to properly address sexual harassment: victims will not report the problem. Not one student who complained to [her] about an incident of sexual harassment has ever been willing to file a formal complaint.” And when there are no complaints, perpetrators of sexual harassment are likely to continue to engage in such conduct in the future with total impunity.  Already sexual harassment and sexual assault incidents have a tendency to go unreported. In fact, the Department of Justice found sexual assault to be the most unreported crime on college campuses.   

So how can universities prevent the sexual harassment and sexual assault of women on their campuses when recent events have shown that they refuse to or cannot properly handle sexual harassment complaints? 

Fortunately for the victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 provides them with another opportunity for justice when an academic institution fails to properly protect is students. Victims can directly file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR). Title IX bans sex discrimination in any educational institution that receives federal funds. However, it can take a long time for victims to get to this point and can likely be a painful process. It shouldn't have to be this way.  Not in 2016.  

Stop Telling Women to Smile

Even if it feels like it's a circus of constant conflict, the 2016 election season has done a lot to get the American public to talk more about gender. The latest piece of news to catch my attention in this regard came on Tuesday, March 15, when Hillary Clinton won big in Florida, Ohio, and North Carolina. By Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, all of my newsfeeds were abundant with complaints that male commentators had been calling for Clinton to "smile" and look happier about her victories.

Needless to say, many male commentators and audience members couldn't understand what the big deal was.

Catcalling women is a huge issue, but the explicitly crude remarks aren't all that is sinister. I remember walking around the Bronx in my Catholic grade school uniform, having older men telling me to "smile." Intuitively, something about that interaction didn't seem okay. You grow up hoping you're as polite as your parents raised you to be, and being told to "smile" doesn't seem bad, at least not on its face. But even when you're young, something about it that you can't explain feels wrong.

What was worse was that I ended up internalizing this kind of attitude as the right thing, and I too expected women to smile, though I couldn't explain why I expected it. I too took part in the "Why doesn't Kristen Stewart smile?" jokes. Again, I wondered, "Isn't smiling the polite thing to do?" and spent many years being part of this problem.

Now, I naturally have a vaguely surly demeanor, so imagine how both annoyed and relieved I was to discover one of my favorite truths:

Women have no obligation to smile for anyone but themselves.

I eventually realized that compulsory smiling wasn't necessarily about being "polite." After all, if a guy doesn't smile, he might be "dark," "broody," or "mysterious." If a woman doesn't smile, she has "resting bitch face" (there is supposedly a male equivalent of this, but I would argue that it's not used with nearly the same frequency). Telling a woman to smile is just one of many forms of appearance and behavioral policing of women to make others more comfortable (one sociologist called this "emotional labor," and rightfully so). It's emotionally exhausting to fake a smile, and that's just one exhausting thing on top of other ways that systemic misogyny is already exhausting.

As I often argue, one important way to remedy these attitudes is by remaining aware of what we teach kids and how they are expected to behave. If we can tell more little girls that smiling is not compulsory (especially when weird older men tell them to do so) we empower them sooner than later. One mom titles her post on the NY Times Parenting Blog, "I Do Not Want My Daughter to Be ‘Nice.’" The writer is happy that, instead of feeling forced to smile for others, her daughter is "deeply kind, profoundly compassionate," and ethical, while only smiling if she is "genuinely glad to see you or you're telling a joke" that she finds genuinely funny.

Oddly enough, I found this article because my stepmother shared it on Facebook (to which I commented, "Congratulations - you have succeeded because this daughter of yours is definitely not nice"). It feels around twenty years too late for her to impart this knowledge on me, but I'm definitely grateful that such teachings are becoming increasingly normalized.

What do we gain when we teach the next generation that women don't have to smile? For starters, we could get powerful women running for the country's highest office without having to sit through men trying to police her demeanor. We could get to the real issues much more quickly.

That's definitely a world I hope to live in soon.

More media coverage of abortion access in Texas, but with a focus on metropolitan women

Abby Goodnough reported in the NYTimes yesterday under the headline, "Texas Abortion Law Has Women Waiting Longer, Paying More," in a story that features more metro centric coverage of the current state of abortion availability in Texas following the implementation of Texas H.B. 2.  (Read more here and here.)  The piece focuses on abortion access in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metropolitan area, featuring the story of a woman who lives in that conurbation.  The story includes barely a mention of rural women, who are even more disserved by the law, though it does talk about the great distances that some women are traveling--say from El Paso into New Mexico--to procure an abortion.

The Texas law, passed in 2013, has closed so many clinics that the remaining abortion providers now have long waiting lists for women seeking the procedure.  What gets little mention in this story or in the recent oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt is that the women who live farthest from the handful of providers able to remain open--all in east and north Texas, along the I-35 and I-45 corridors--not only face those same long waits, they must traverse great distances, sometimes multiple times, to reach the clinics.  Here's the little bit that Goodnough did include about women living outside major metropolitan areas:
Other patients at the [Fort Worth] clinic that weekend had driven from Lubbock, about 300 miles away, and Odessa, 320 miles away.
Odessa, with a population of just 100,000, is in west Texas, and Lubbock is somewhat north of there, with a population of about 250,000.  Lubbock previously had an abortion provider, and there was also a provider much closer to Odessa, in Midland, before the first phase of Texas H.B. 2 went into effect a few years ago.

Goodnough also illustrates the distance challenge--but again in relation to a metropolitan woman--with a young woman who had traveled from El Paso to Albuquerque (about four hours) to get an abortion.  Although an abortion clinic in El Paso remains open for now (it will close if the Supreme Court upholds the Fifth Circuit's determination of H.B. 2's constitutionality), the El Paso woman was not able to have an abortion there because her pregnancy was at 16 weeks by the time she could get an appointment, and that necessitated a trip to a clinic that performs abortions in the second trimester.  For the woman in El Paso, that meant either Albuquerque or San Antonio, and the former was closer.

Meanwhile, over at Slate.com, Laura Moser reports under the headline, "Long Road Ahead" in a story that, as the headline suggests, attends somewhat more to the distance/transportation issue, but again from a metropolitan perspective.  Here is an excerpt with some cold hard facts about the consequences of H.B.2:
For women whose nearest clinic closed (38%), the mean one-way distance traveled was 85 miles, compared with 22 miles for women whose nearest clinic remained open. … [M]ore women whose nearest clinic closed traveled more than 50 miles (44% vs 10%), had out-of-pocket expenses greater than $100 (32% vs 20%), had a frustrated demand for medication abortion (37% vs 22%), and reported that it was somewhat or very hard to get to the clinic.  
The focus of the Moser story is an organization, Clinic Access Support Network, that provides transport to get women to and from abortion clinics, primarily in greater Houston.
Angie Hayes, who started the organization in August 2013, was volunteering as a clinic escort when she noticed a number of women showing up and leaving in cabs (since, of course, you cannot drive yourself home from an abortion). ... She started organizing an informal network of volunteer drivers, and it snowballed from there: CASN now has about 36 volunteers and drives about 150 Houston-area women per year.
* * *
CASN isn’t getting calls from the abortion desert that is the Rio Grande Valley yet, but women are requesting rides from Texas A&M, 100 miles away (the abortion clinic in Bryan, a town 10 minutes from A&M, closed in 2013), from 85 miles away in Beaumont (its only abortion clinic closed in 2014), and 75 miles away in Brenham. But most calls come from inside Houston, a city so sprawling that 25 Manhattans could fit inside it.
Cross-posted to Legal Ruralism.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

I Just Learned About "Incel"...And it's Terrifying

What would you say if I told you that there is an entire online following of men who consider Elliot Rodger, the anti-feminist 22-year-old who murdered 6 people in Santa Barbara in 2014, a "hero" and a "courageous" crusader for men’s rights? What if I told you that some members of this following decline to call Rodger a hero, only because he killed too many men and not enough women? And what would you do if I said that some of these men blame society for not equipping Rodger with the skills he needed to attract women, his sexual frustration ultimately leading to his killing spree?

It was only recently that I learned the term “incel,” which is shorthand for a particularly disturbing faction of the men’s rights movement who are self described as INvoluntarily CELibate. At first glance, this community and its many online forums appear to be quite simple and mostly sympathetic. Many forums explain incel in terms of “datelessness” or “love-shyness”, a truly relatable problem for many adults. These online groups and blogs purport to provide information, resources and support to the incel community. Many incel bloggers feature a number of posts with dating advice, and tips to secure an intimate relationship.

However, as you dive beneath the surface of this virtual reality, you quickly discover that the world of incel is far from innocent. Rather, discussion boards and blogs are littered with woman-hating, anti-feminist, misogynistic, and often violent, rhetoric. For instance, just take a look at a few definitions generously provided by the blog, Rants of an Incel:
MGTOW – men going their own way. Men who do their own thing and try and avoid women at all costs, except for banging hookers, and just using women for sex (if they can). We do not believe in paying taxes, since most of that money goes to feminist causes, and we earn only what we need to survive, pay for hookers, and fund our hobbies, as the more we make, the more gets stolen by the guberment, which goes to support women. 
The Cunt – the female collective.. There is little difference between one woman and the next. They all behave the same way and they are all attracted to same dumbass, useless men (the badboy), making useless spawn which my tax dollars are stolen from me to fund. This is why they love liberalism/socialism/communism, it is hypocrisy at its finest. It can do everything a man can do, yet it needs my tax dollars. How much of my tax money goes to men’s services? Compared to women, virtually none. 
Nagina – male feminist/white knight/pussy whipped male. These guys should be hated even more than feminists, as they should know better. These guys consider themselves “real men”, and are the ones who shame incels since we cannot get women into our lives. This is derived from “mangina”, but this type of male and “man” should not exist in the same word together, as manginas are not real men.
One of the most upsetting articles I came across while delving into the incel blogosphere was featured on the website A Voice for Men in 2010, and titled “Challenging the Etiology of Rape.” The article now cautiously provides a disclaimer indicating that it was meant to be provocative, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the entire men’s rights movement. Even so, the author takes the notion of “victim blaming” to a whole new level:
In the most severe and emphatic terms possible the answer is NO, THEY ARE NOT ASKING TO GET RAPED. 
They are freaking begging for it.
Damn near demanding it. 
And all the outraged PC demands to get huffy and point out how nothing justifies or excuses rape won’t change the fact that there are a lot of women who get pummeled and pumped because they are stupid (and often arrogant) enough to walk though life with the equivalent of a I’M A STUPID, CONNIVING BITCH – PLEASE RAPE ME neon sign glowing above their empty little narcissistic heads.
In a way, it is at least conceivable how any number of socially challenged, sexually frustrated men could be drawn to this community, which conveniently places the blame for their celibacy and inability to develop romantic relationships squarely on women. As one Jezebel article puts it, “It's the oldest story in the book: Person Who Hates Women Can't Figure Out Why He Can't Get a Date With a Woman.” But I certainly don’t need to tell you how UTTERLY AND COMPLETELY wrong that is. In fact, I would go so far as to say that is it terrifyingly f***ed up.

No matter how offended and disturbed I am by the teachings of the incel community, I am not one to advocate for the stifling of free speech. Surely my feminist rants offend someone, somewhere, some way, and I would hope for the respect to voice those concerns in whatever way I please. However, the notion that I most grapple with, and the thing that I actually find dangerous, is the overt assumption that men are entitled to sex, and thus women have some kind of innate duty to provide sex. This concept not only dehumanizes and objectifies women, it fuels the violently misogynistic fire that continues to burn its way through the World Wide Web and beyond. I fear for our exceedingly interconnected generation, where it is all too easy to spread hateful, and potentially lethal, discourse that demonizes all women.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Why Aren’t We Doing More to Stop Workplace Harassment?

News broke last week that Sujit Choudhry, Dean of UC Berkeley’s law school, was being placed on indefinite leave after his executive assistant filed suit alleging sexual harassment. Two days later, after a vocal outcry from alumni and the public, Dean Choudhry resigned. The details of Berkeley’s apparent mishandling of the incident were explored by the SF Chronicle in some depth yesterday in an article tellingly entitled, “UC Berkeley has history of tolerating sexual harassment.” When the harassment was first reported, Choudhry was given a one-year, ten-percent pay cut and ordered to write his victim a letter of apology (oh, and pay for counseling on his own dime) – all in secret. The leave and subsequent resignation did not occur until the executive assistant filed suit, thereby making the story public. Michael O’Hare, a Professor of Public Policy at Berkeley, put it best when he wrote that the school’s initial punishment “might as well be an open letter to women on campus telling them ‘if powerful people around here mistreat you, we will protect them and punish you if you complain.’”

The incident stirred up many personal feelings for me. When I left my chemical engineering career for the law, I hoped that I was also leaving behind the misogyny of the male-dominated engineering field as well. Surely, I thought, attorneys who learned all about the law in school would understand better than anyone the problems of discrimination and harassment, especially in the workplace. It turns out I was wrong. One survey has found that thirty percent of women in the legal field report facing sexual harassment, only one percentage point behind science/tech/engineering/math (aka the “STEM” fields). As horrifying as these numbers seem, they pale in comparison to the harassment faced by women in the service industry. A 2014 survey by non-profit Restaurant Opportunities Center United found that of women working in the restaurant business, 66% had been sexually harassed by managers, 80% by co-workers, and 78% by customers.

Sexual harassment is an incredibly important issue for women in the workplace. While I am lucky enough not to have been a victim myself, I have seen it happen to others and I know the trauma it can cause. Addressing the problem requires serious leadership from workplace managers and supervisors. So why do we keep trying to fix it with terrible, cheesy, and downright offensive sexual harassment training videos and sessions? Until we start treating sexual harassment as a serious issue, rather than just an annual mandatory hour you have to spend watching a video from the ‘90s, I don’t see the problem improving anytime soon. Another problem is that these training videos typically seem to focus on blatantly obvious examples of harassment. The videos that I’ve had to watch at schools and workplaces all failed to recognize the micro-aggressions that are just as problematic, and far more frequent.

A video went viral a few years ago when a woman simply filmed herself walking through the streets of New York City, documenting the constant street harassment women face every day. Surely the generation of Twitter, Tumblr, and memes can come up with something better than the horrible sexual harassment training videos we get now. (And please, let’s fix it before I have to take the undoubtedly terrible sexual harassment training that I was told last week I have to take as a UC employee…ironically in an email sent the same day the Choudhry lawsuit was filed).

Monday, March 7, 2016

Republican Presidential Candidates Are Bad For Women (Yes, Even the "Moderate" One)

We have hand lengthy discussions both in class and on this blog about whether Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton is better for feminists. However, what we have not discussed is which of the Republican presidential candidates is best for women and women's rights. In this blog, I largely focused on the candidates' views on family leave, reproductive rights, and how they talk to and discuss women. 

Donald Trump
It is difficult to pin down exactly why Donald Trump is bad for women (other than the fact that he is a misogynist who somehow still believes he is God's gift to the world and to women) because it is stunningly hard to actually know where he stands on policy issues. Indeed, even the "Issues" section of his own website is incredibly vague. His "Issues" pages include videos on: "Competent Leadership," "Live Free of Die," "Political Correctness," "Unifying the Nation," and "The Establishment." 

Honestly, I could not bring myself to watch any of the videos because I do not want to watch or listen to Donald Trump for that long nor do I want to give him the satisfaction of another viewer. 

Sadly, news articles and even his own speeches do not clarify his position on women's rights issues. There have been articles about Trump being the "Best Republican PresidentialCandidate on Women's Health Issues" or, conversely, articles about Trump being the "Worst Candidate for Women's Rights." In his Super Tuesday speech, Trump said, "I'm going to be good for women, and women's health issues." However, almost immediately following this (baffling) statement, Trump went on to say that he intendeds to defund Planned Parenthood. This statement itself contradicts Trump's previous statements praising Planned Parenthood for the work they do for women's health (minus their providing a place for safe and legal abortions of course). Additionally, Trump has stated that though he is pro-life he does support abortion exceptions in instances of incest or rape or if the life of the mother is in danger.

When asked about his thoughts on paid family leave, Trump yet again gave a typical noncommittal answer: "Well it's something that's being discussed, I think we have to keep our country very competitive, so you have to be careful of it. But certainly there are a lot of people discussing it." 

So, essentially I have no idea where Trump stands on any issue, let alone issues largely effecting women. However, what I do know however, is that Trump consistently treats women with disrespect and condescension while simultaneously sexualizing and belittling them. A man who has no real position on any issues and who seems incapable of treating others with basic human decency is not a president who will be good for any of his constituents, and especially not for women. 

Ted Cruz

Cruz's website has a much more detailed "Issues" sections than Trumps, which makes his stance on certain issues much more well defined. According to his "Life, Marriage and Family" page, Cruz believes that life is a precious gift from God which "[e]xtreme leftists" are trying to "extinguish." The site then states that if "Ted" is elected president on his first day in office he will instruct his Attorney General to investigate Planned Parenthood (even though his own home state of Texas has already cleared the organization of any wrongdoing). The page then goes on to list Cruz’s “accomplishments” including: fighting to take away taxpayer dollars from PlannedParenthood, leading the charge for 13 states to ban "partial birth abortion" (medically known as "intact dilation and extraction"), and defending New Hampshire’s parental-notification laws.

For someone who is so pro women having children (even when the pregnancy is a result of rape) Cruz does not support a federal family leave policy, though he does seem to support the concept personally.

Marco Rubio
Surprisingly, Marco Rubio does appear to be in favor of paid family leave and he actually lays out a plan which would allow for a 25% non-refundable tax credit for businesses that "voluntarily offer" a minimum of four weeks paid family leave.

Rubio was a cosponsor on the legislation introduced to defund Planned Parenthood. He was also one of the senators who introduced the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which moved to repeal the free contraceptives women could receive as part of the Affordable Care Act. He defended his “pro-life” position by saying "One the one and is the right of a woman to choose what to do with her body - which is a real right- and on the other hand is the right of an unborn child to live... As a lawmaker I must choose which one of these two sides takes precedence and I have chosen to err on the side of life." Thus dismissing a woman's legal right to her own body. Though this position makes more sense when you hear that apparently Rubio believes there is scientific "unanimity that human life begins at conception" (which many a doctor would obviously vehemently disagree with).

So, essentially, Rubio supports women making less then men, not having access to contraceptives, getting pregnant because they do not have access to free or affordable contraceptives, not being able to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, and giving birth. But hey, at least he will maybe, potentially, encourage some employers to give you four weeks of maternity leave. 

John Kasich
According to his website, as Governor of Ohio, Kasich helped to provide for state funding for rape crisis centers. However, the site also goes on to say that during his eighteen years in Congress, Kasich regularly opposed federal funding for abortions and voted to ban “partial-birth abortions.” Just this past week he signed a bill which prohibits Ohio from "contracting for health services with any organization that performs or promotes abortions." Such a bill will almost certainly have a devastating effect on women's access to health services.

Additionally, Kasich believes that it should be up to employers to determine if their employees get paid family leave. The only solution he has really offered to address this issue it giving women the flexibility to work from home and telecommute. While this suggestion has merit for some parents, it completely ignores those who work in industries were this is either impractical or impossible. 

Kasich also recently made the blunder of saying that he was elected to office in part because “women…left their kitchens” for him.

So, none of the Republican candidates appear to actually be "good" for women. In deciding between candidates, Republican voters who are concerned about the rights of women can only choose the least terrible of the candidates.  

Sunday, March 6, 2016

“Dead Gays for the Straight Gaze” (or "Death to the 'Dead Lesbian' Trope!")

I have a confession to make: I am an absolute sucker for any fictional show that will give me a female/female romantic pairing (and for some reason, they always come in the form of a blonde and brunette). That’s a really great way to get me to start a show. It’s great that today, I do have a handful of these pairings from which I can choose. Brittany and Santana on Glee, Clarke and Lexa on The 100, Callie and Arizona on Grey’s Anatomy, etc. It’s wonderful.

However, a persistent problem with these female/female pairings, and the stories of the characters as individuals, is that they often suffer one of two fates: bad writing or really gruesome endings. The latest tragedy comes from the popular CW show, The 100, where (spoiler alert!), queer lady Commander Lexa, leader of the 12 Grounder Clans, badass warrior, dies not valiantly in battle but because of a stray bullet. The Dead Lesbian trope strikes again!

Some argue that death and suffering are just the nature of whatever show these characters are on. That may be true, but it’s become so prominent that it’s been a trope (“Bury Your Gays”) for decades (the rationale decades ago being that if a book featured a queer character, the queer character had to die or somehow be punished at the end in order to sell or be deemed acceptable). To emphasize how pervasive this issue is, AfterEllen has articles titled “Please Stop Killing Us! The state of lesbians and bi women on TV” and “The 35 Most Horrifying Lesbian/Bi Character Deaths on Television” (the sad part is that the latter article was written about 2 years ago and even more women who love women [wlw] characters have been killed since then).

The fictional dead lesbian body count is really high and, if they live, oftentimes, they continue to live miserably or with confused and inconsistent writing. This treatment is often worse compared to how queer male couples are treated on the same shows (I could compare how, on Glee, Kurt and Blaine as queer men were treated better than Brittany and Santana, two queer women, but that’s a whole other topic for another blog post).

Media representation comes with a great weight of responsibility. Writers need to be more cognizant of the impact that their writing has. When I was growing up, I saw very little of myself as a queer female represented on television. Representation of underrepresented, oppressed minorities is so important. I have had the privilege of growing up in urban, progressive areas with supportive family so that coming out was not as much of an issue. But the queer girl in rural America who can’t come out to anyone is lonely and craves to see people like her, and sometimes television is the only thing that can reach her.

But what happens when television is just as glum as reality?

What kind of message does that send to queer women viewers? It signals to us that we’re unworthy of being represented in a mainstream narrative on the same level as heterosexuals and gay men. When we are represented, we die. The even more gruesome part of this when it comes to Lexa’s death is that the way the episode was edited, her death scene immediately followed a scene where we saw her happy and expressing her love for the show’s (female) protagonist, Clarke. Again, what kind of message does this send to queer women viewers? It signals to us that, sure, perhaps you find happiness one day as a queer woman. And then something terrible happens immediately after and you die. The high prevalence of depression and mental illness among queer women is not a shock in an atmosphere such as this one. Such a persistent mental and emotional crippling of queer women everywhere inhibits these women from thriving and making change in society at large.

All of this comes after queer female fans of show repeatedly made the writers of The 100 aware of the dead lesbian trope for several months, and yet the creator, Jason Rothenberg, insisted that queer female fans should keep tuning in because he intended to treat Clarke and Lexa differently than the tropes we were used to. One review of the show, titled, “The 100 let down a great character and a vulnerable queer audience,” sums up the issue perfectly:

Lexa’s intricate slow-burning relationship with Clarke was something that queer viewers — many of them young and seeing a queer relationship of this magnitude for the first time — latched onto as hope that maybe they had finally found the well-written, well-developed representation they were looking for. Maybe Clarke and Lexa, who were set up as two people destined to come together, would be one of a very small handful of engaging queer stories that didn’t end in tragedy. The more the writers discussed in interviews themes of love, hope, and forgiveness around Clarke and Lexa, the more it seemed a female/female couple would actually be the most prominent pairing on a show, and that it would receive the attention, care, and promotion that popular heterosexual couples regularly receive.

So much for that.
The sarcasm, defeat, and hopelessness in that last line perfectly captures the mood that queer women must carry with them every time the Dead Lesbian trope strikes. It happens often and yet it never gets easier.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

This is personal

Note: The title of this blog is in part referencing the National Women's Law Center's reproductive policy public awareness campaign, but also serves as a warning that this blog entry is over saturated with personal experience, opinion, and reflection as opposed to hard facts and analysis. 

Tomorrow, March 2, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt. The case will decide the constitutionality of Texas law HB2, which requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and the clinic facilities to meet building standards for ambulatory surgical centers. For previous coverage of this topic, see "How a million (mostly rural, poor) Texas women became constitutionally irrelevant." If HB2 goes into effect, Texas would be left with less than ten abortion clinics to serve 5.4 million women of reproductive age. Amy Hagstrom Miller of Whole Women's Health, voices her concern with HB2:
Unfortunately, it is our low-income women, women of color and rural women that bear the brunt of these harsh laws...Texans are now forced to undertake multiple, unnecessary visits to clinics that are now farther away; they take more days off of work, lose income, have to find childcare, and arrange and pay for transportation for hundreds of miles.
I grew up in Texas. I love Texas. I will probably move back to Texas. Yet sometimes (many times), Texas is not the best. Texas is definitely not the best when we're talking about abortion access. At the beginning of college, I began volunteering and later worked for Jane's Due Process, a group assisting minors in obtaining a judicial bypass. In Texas, a minor cannot get an abortion without parental consent. A judicial bypass is a legal procedure through which a minor sits in front of a Judge (generally and old, white male) and explains why it is in her best interest to have an abortion and why she is unable to get her parent's consent.

A major part of counseling these young women was helping them locate a clinic and finding a way to get to the clinic. If she lived in a major city and there was a provider near by, there were still multiple issues to face, such as figuring out if and how public transportation could get them to the clinic (many teens didn't have access to a vehicle), or how to get to the clinic without missing school and work (usually not possible). Then, she must do it all over again because Texas requires a waiting period and requires that a minor has an ultrasound by the same physician that will perform the abortion.

However, many young women I worked with lived in smaller towns and more rural communities without any access to an abortion provider. For them, simply reaching a clinic could be the deciding factor in the trajectory of their lives. HB2 brought these issues into the national spotlight, not just for minors, but for all Texas women.

For me, HB2 is much more than part of an upcoming supreme court case. It's been one of the most emotional rollercoasters of my life.

In the summer of 2013, the Texas Legislative session was coming to a close, but not before Governor Rick Perry called a special session to introduce the abortion restricting House Bills 16 and 60 (which later became SB5, and eventually HB2). Immediately, people began organizing a citizens filibuster. Later that night, on Thursday, June 20th, more than 700 people showed up at the State Capitol to protest the new bills. I texted my mom around 11:30 pm, letting her know I wouldn't be home until much later and not to wait up.

About 200 women were allowed to read their stories to the Committee, until the session officially closed a little before 4:00 am. This was the first time I felt like I was ever part of a movement, of something larger than myself. This was what I read about in history books. I felt like a cliche, but I also felt like every single person I met that night was a personal hero. All these women had stayed at the Capitol almost all night, on a work night, to speak out for the rest of the state. I was overwhelmed with the public support of something that had been such an intimate issue for me. As news spread of the citizen's filibuster on twitter and other news outlets, people from all over the world were placing orders for pizza and cookies to be delivered to the women at the Capitol.

On Sunday, I returned to the Capitol to watch the House debates. By now, everyone was wearing orange and the media campaigns had coined the phrase "Don't Mess with Texas Women." I rotated in and out of the gallery as people took turns watching the debate for the next two days. Time went on, and the next thing I knew, Wendy Davis began her 13 hour filibuster in the senate. After an amazing day of filibustering by Davis, right at midnight, the senate began to hold a vote. It was almost impossible to count the vote because the senate gallery and all the protesters outside were literally shaking the Capitol with applause. See the emotional finish to the filibuster here:

In spite of the success of the filibuster, seventeen days later the senate approved HB2. By then, thousands of protesters in orange were surrounding the Capitol, multiple women had been arrested, and security was confiscating tampons at the Capitol's entrance--though guns were still allowed.

Now HB2 is at the Supreme Court and all eyes are on Texas. All my friends and coworkers have flown to DC to attend rallies and demonstrations, bringing out their orange "Don't Mess with Texas Women" shirts, but I'm out here in California at law school. Following the HB2 case taught me a lot about civil procedure and con law as I followed it throughout 1L, but I can't help feeling like it has also shown where I want to be and what I want to do with my legal education. I want to go back into the community, advocating for people who were throwing tampons at the Lieutenant Governor. I don't want to be the attorney sitting in an office in New York City, though I acknowledge the necessity of both of those roles. In the meantime, I'll be here, sitting in a study room trying to stream news coverage of the oral arguments between classes.

"Hotline Bling" and the "Soft" Patriarchy

Recently in seminar, we talked about the pervasive sexism that women still face in developed nations. While it seems that the patriarchy has stepped away from blatant and obvious inequality in many ways, the reality of the structure still exists. In thinking about the ways I have encountered this more subversive form of the patriarchy, I almost always think of Drake’s 2015 hit “Hotline Bling.” From the second I heard the lyrics of this song, I was almost the most offended I have ever been by pop culture. There are two things I want to further explore – first, the fact that this, of all rap songs, offended me, and secondly, what is so problematic in Drake’s whiny ballad.
Writing this post and thinking about “Hotline Bling” makes me aware of my privilege, and in many ways, fortunate chance in life that I have never encountered severe abuse. I don’t want to point out “Hotline Bling” as a new form of sexism and misogyny that is replacing more overtly gendered violence, because that’s completely false. There are many women who face those traumas, so I am in no way suggesting that my encounter with patriarchical ideas is prototypical of the American woman. I do, however, think it is pervasive and common. While violence, oppression and overt sexism demand our attention, I believe this “softer” form of the patriarchy does as well – because it reinforces the ideas that lead to blatant abuse and discrimination.

Offensive rap and R&B lyrics are nothing new. Many rap and R&B artists embrace sexist imagery, tone and messages in their music. The genre is known for being unapologetic, and I found many articles outlining “Most Offensive Rap Lyrics” that I don’t want to link here because I don’t want to give them a further forum. However, “Hotline Bling” departs from the expected misogyny to paint the picture of a lonely boyfriend that misses the good girl he used to know. Drake mourns the loss of the girl that used to call him up when she was lonely, even as he takes credit for her sexuality, decides she doesn’t belongin places she wants to go, and takes issue with her making friends he hasn’tmet and traveling without him. In short, he is acting like almost every high school boyfriend I had or observed who wanted his girl to act a particular way to make him feel comfortable – with no parallel response expected on his end. “Hotline Bling” perpetuates gender stereotypes, while at the same time telling girls they should be “good girls” and allowing boys to expect that. Good girls apparently only have friends their men approve, don’t travel alone, don’t make decisions for themselves, and keep their sacred bodies pure and covered for their man’s eyes only.

I guess I expected more outrage about this song, but all I heard was people making fun of Drake’s dorky dance moves in his music video. I am not sure whether this reflects apathy, whether no one finds it as offensive as I do, or whether people just think we have more important problems to focus on. We certainly have many battles to fight – but I think confronting the “soft” patriarchy is one worth considering. 

Justice Scalia & lessons from character theorists

Character theory asserts that women’s values and psychological processes are inherently different from men (see Carol Gilligan’s book In a Different Voice). While men emphasize independence and justice, so the theory goes, women emphasize nurturance, caring, and interdependence. As many critics have already expressed, this ideology pigeonholes women into traditionally feminine, caretaking roles and fails to recognize the diverse experiences of women.

When I first read about this feminist strand, it seemed outdated and generally unable to meaningfully contribute to critical theory. But then Justice Scalia died. And Americans, particularly within the legal community, erupted into a fierce debate about Scalia’s “principled” and often controversial approach to the law. Shockingly, many people in the legal community came out of the woodwork to commend Scalia’s originalist approach on the bench, regardless of his particular positions or their consequences. 

This was readily apparent in the many eulogized tributes to Scalia. In one such homage by the Washington Post, aptly titled “Justice Scalia’s principled fight for representative democracy,” Scalia is quoted:
The non-originalist judge who decides what the modern Constitution ought to mean—perhaps by applying his favorite principles of moral philosophy, or perhaps only by applying his own brilliant analysis of what the times require—escapes the application of any clear standard, by which we may conclude that he is a charlatan.
The greatest charlatan of all is one who shrouds his own moral determinations in a falsely objective analysis. Originalism is simply another tool for determining what “the modern Constitution ought to mean.” And by denying this truth, originalists cunningly exploit a patriarchal emphasis on objectivity—an exploitation captured by character theory.

Although I don’t celebrate anyone’s death, I also don’t absolve the dead of their sins. Scalia spoke and wrote hateful things. These hateful opinions were often veiled in a moral authority that I abhorred. In reading the eulogized perspectives commending Scalia’s work on the Court, a common narrative developed claiming that regardless of whether or not one agrees with Scalia’s opinions, he should be respected for his unwavering commitment to a particular constitutional philosophy. 

But his opinions weren’t just opinions—his “opinions” helped set the social and political trajectory of our nation, and in this context, how could the results of his opinions play no role in analyzing his legacy? 

That people would be so willing to ignore the impact of Scalia’s decisions, and to latch onto the notion that his approach was objective and just, made me think of character theory’s discussion of patriarchy’s claim to justice. In explaining the different ethics of men and women, character theorists recognize that traditionally feminine ethics have been devalued. Carol Gilligan’s work on character theory claims that women’s morality is fundamentally distinct from men—a claim I personally dispute. But because of patriarchy and the dominance of masculine standards, feminine moral reasoning has been devalued. The result is that our legal system preserves male-defined values—like objectivity—and dismisses traditionally feminine values—like acknowledging interconnectedness and nurturance.

Although character theory has serious flaws, acknowledging some of its conclusions may help move forward our conception of justice and a legal analysis that considers the actual human impact of decisions. Because Scalia’s approach on the bench failed to do so, I will not miss his presence on the Court. I don’t respect Scalia. And I’m not a terrible person for saying so.