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Source: She Knows

Cross-posted from Everyday Feminism (originally posted on November 18, 2014)

Character assassination. Stalking. Rape and death threats – all directed at women in the video game industry.

Over the last few months, violent bullying of female gamers has absolutely exploded in the public eye, creating a media storm and spreading alarm among women who play video games worldwide.

Game designer and feminist vlogger Anita Sarkeesian is one of many women who have borne the burden of this explosive anger – and perhaps the most well-known.

Sarkeesian is the author of Feminist Frequency, a popular video series commenting on women’s roles in various media outlets, including gaming. In her much-discussed series “Tropes vs. Women,” Sarkeesian suggests that gaming could be vastly improved by including more positive and strong female characters – and eliminating the negative portrayal of women as sexual objects to be saved or destroyed.

Seem like a valid argument to you? Not to some.

Although to you and me, this may seem like a reasonable and well-thought out request, she has subsequently been the recipient of terrifying death threats.

Just recently, she was forced to cancel a university speaking engagement about the portrayal of women in video games at because of an Internet threat of a mass shooting on campus, should the college allow her to speak.

So where is this deep hatred coming from? Who does it affect? How long has it existed in gaming? And what can be done about it?

These are questions that many people are asking – questions that deserve answers.

Because instead of ignoring the problem, as it has been ignored before, we have a duty to try to get to the bottom of this war on women in gaming.

Controversial from the Start

Video games and Internet gaming have long been a source of controversy in our society.

From worries that they increase a player’s tendency towards physical aggression to fears that they promote dangerous behavior and risk-taking, there are a lot of harsh critics of the gaming community out there already.

On the other hand, many tech-friendly educators of our digital age take advantage of the popularity of video games to create educational materials that kids will actually want to play. Other proponents argue that gaming creates a social, interactive environment that can actually aide socialization in players.

So is gaming good or bad?

Well, it’s not quite that simple. Nothing is. And no 2000 word essay can justly find a definitive answer to that question.

But regardless of where you stand on the issue, it is worth discussing the more sinister side of gaming that has come to the media’s attention over the last few months in the form of pure, unadulterated misogyny. Because that’s always bad news.

The Nice Boy Nerd Fallacy

It’s hard to talk about misogyny in gaming without discussing the Nice Guy™ concept, which is based on the idea that men who are nice to women should be entitled to romantic and/or sexual access to her.

Men who consider themselves “nerds” – as is often the case in video gaming culture – are frequently stereotyped as nice guys who respect women. In movies, they are generally depicted as sweet, loyal, culturally sensitive, great to women, and hyper smart – a challenge to hegemonic masculinity.

But let’s be honest: “Nerds” are not all nice. Just like “jocks” are not all drunk, chauvinistic, idiotic frat boys. These typecasts don’t often ring true when compared to real life.

And not to mention: Anyone who thinks that their niceness makes them somehow deserving of sex – rather than just, ya know, a decent human being – aren’t very nice. In fact, they’re reinforcing toxic masculinity with their entitlement complex.

Many male-dominated industries – like professional sports, Silicon Valley, and Wall Street – foster a culture of entitlement and sexism. What some people don’t realize, though, is that the gaming industry falls into this category as well.

Sexism in gaming is nothing new. It’s existed since the first games hit the shelves. However, these most recent, very public outbursts of violence and hatred towards women is the first time that activists have been able to bring it into the public eye and keep it there long enough to cause a (legitimate) fuss.

Entitlement in Gaming

Not every gamer hates women – far from it, actually. In fact, a new report shows that women make up about 48% of the gaming population. That’s right – almost half! This number has risen by a dramatic 40% in the last four years. But despite the shockingly high number of female gamers, there still exists a deeply sexist tone in many of the most popular games. It is clear that these games are created for men, by men.

Video games are stereotypically headed up with a male hero with only some games, like Mass Effect 3, allowing the player to customize as a male or female lead. And as the number of women in gaming grows, more female protagonists are appearing in games worldwide: Uncharted’s Elena Fisher and Chloe Frazier or The Walking Dead’s Clementine, for example – which is a huge step in the right direction.

However, women’s roles in video games are much more often subsidiary, subservient, and even frighteningly demeaning.

Whether the goal of a game is to save a beautiful and desirable princess from an evil villain in Super Mario Bros or an option in a game is to have sex with, punch, and then kill a female sex worker, like in Grand Theft Auto, there are innumerable portrayals of women in video games that grossly do not support women’s equality. And in doing so, they also fail to engender respect for women in the people that play them.

This lack of respect isn’t entirely surprising considering that the primary representations of women in gaming are either as sex objects or victims of male violence.

These tropes in video games perpetuate an attitude of entitlement and sexism among many male gamers – an attitude that is culturally imparted on them at birth and then fostered through a variety of means. These tropes help to ensure that gaming remains a “Boy’s Club,” despite the high number of female players and the many non-chauvinistic gaming advocates.

The Double Standard for Female Developers

Video game developer Zoe Quinn is no stranger to Internet harassment. One of the creators of Depression Quest, a free interactive fiction game that focuses on a young adult suffering from depression, she has been receiving threats of violence ever since the game’s release in 2013.

The reasons why are complicated. It seems that people are angry that a game has been created that pinpoints so accurately the fog that depression casts over a person’s life. The player must navigate through everyday life choices while dealing with clinical depression, thus making many options that a “happy” person might choose unavailable to them. Because stigma around mental health issues abounds, it’s unsurprising that a game that accurately depicts depression is receiving backlash.

But no matter what the reason, Quinn has suffered the brunt of this anger. The other creators of Depression Quest, writer Patrick Lindsey and musician Isaac Schankler, have not been subjected to anything as harsh as what Zoe has endured. As men involved in the gaming industry, it seems that they have received a “free pass” on an unpopular game that a woman was condemned for.

This double standard permeates the industry, making it much harder for female developers to reach the same level of respect as their male counterparts.

The Beginning of GamerGate

But there are other reasons why gamers have been threatening Quinn to the extent that she has to fear for her life.

Eron Gjoni, Quinn’s 24-year-old ex-boyfriend, is the man who lit the fuse on the explosive Internet war that is now called GamerGate.

After their breakup last summer, Gjoni wrote a blog post entitled thezoepost, lambasting Quinn and explicitly detailing the problems in their romantic relationship, which he attributes entirely to her.

In culmination, Gjoni accused Quinn of essentially exchanging sex for a positive review of Depression Quest. These claims have not been substantiated, as the reviewer, Nathan Grayson, never actually reviewed the game (let alone gave it a positive review), and only mentioned Quinn briefly in a blog post. Furthermore, the romantic relationship in question allegedly began after the publication of this blog post.

Still, the damage had been done.

And thus was born GamerGate, a disturbing battle against women in gaming.

Anonymous threats of violence and rape flooded Quinn’s e-mail inbox, and in August, all of her personal details (including her address) were exposed, forcing her to flee her house in fear.

The very fact that it is Quinn, not the male reviewer who supposedly violated ethical codes of reviewing, who is receiving death threats and has had to leave her own home, paints a clear picture of the double standard at work.

This is about threatening women in gaming; it’s not really about ethical standards, as has been claimed.

Whatever happened in their personal relationship, and no matter what we may think about either Gjoni or Quinn’s personal failings, there is absolutely no justification for the deeply misogynist backlash against Quinn and other female gamers and designers from the gaming community, culminating in such terrifying calls for physical violence.

GamerGate Is Misogyny at Work

GamerGate has morphed into an all-out war against women in the gaming community, reaching further than just Quinn, out to other female gamers like Brianna Wu (also forced into hiding due to threats of rape and murder) and Anita Sarkeesian, the author of Feminist Frequency and the victim of the mass shooting threat previously mentioned. Says Sarkeesian, “There’s this huge drive to silence us, and if they can’t silence us, they try to discredit us in an effort to push us out.”

And the intimidation is only becoming more pronounced.

The person who threatened to enact “the deadliest school shooting in American history” at Sarkeesian’s speech at Utah State University purportedly stated in an e-mail that “feminists have ruined my life and I will have my revenge, for my sake and the sake of all the others they’ve wronged.” Sarkeesian asked police to search lecture attendees for firearms, but was told that state law allows the carrying of concealed weapons.

Pause. Do we really think that if any male politician or public figure were to have their life threatened in such a way, that some preventative measures wouldn’t have been taken by police? Talk about a culture steeped in misogyny. Resume.

But after the media attention on GamerGate and violence towards female gamers, there’s no denying what is happening.

According to Sarkeesian “[I]f you’re involved in gaming in any capacity, you can’t help but see what’s happening in terms of women being driven out, women being attacked, being silenced, having horrific harassment and assault done to them.”

Although admittedly a simplification and not portraying the true severity of the threats involved, Sarkeesian’s statement that “GamerGate is really a sexist temper tantrum” rings true in many ways.

Everyday Female Gamers Suffer, Too

It’s not just the high-profile female developers that suffer from sexism in gaming. Everyday female gamers experience it, too, although usually to a less pronounced degree of violence.

In order to avoid sexual harassment, verbal abuse, and gender-related mistreatment, many female game players actually mute their microphones and avoid revealing their gender to their fellow players.

In “Playing with Privilege,” Josh McIntosh of Polygon, a gaming news site, explains how his male privilege affects his gaming experience. Says McIntosh, “I will never be asked or expected to speak for all other gamers who share my gender… When purchasing most major video games in a store, chances are I will not be asked if (or assumed to be) buying it for a wife, daughter, or girlfriend… Complete strangers generally do not send me unsolicited images of their genitalia or demand to see me naked on the basis of being a male gamer.”

These are just a few everyday examples of what some female gamers experience when they make the simple choice to play a game.

Of course, not all female gamers are harassed or condescended to. Many women experience friendship and camaraderie in gaming. But the fact that they even have to worry about these issues is indicative of the staggering double standard that exists in casual gaming.

Change Will Come – If We Keep Pushing

This is a fight against the patriarchal hold of a Boy’s Club mentality in gaming – and it can be overturned. Like any social justice advocate, I have to believe in the power of positive social change through action and intention.

Here are a few suggestions on how to fight back against misogynist gamers and GamerGate.

1. Speak out when you witness misogyny in gaming.

If you see people making sexist and/or violent statements while playing games, in chat rooms, or on gaming forums, call them out.

The Internet allows for something called the “online disinhibition effect,” which essentially means that hiding behind a computer screen enables people to do and say terrible things without feeling the true repercussions of them or having to feel guilty for their nastiness. This is something that comes from habit, but the more these assholes get called out for their sexism, the less they will be able to hide.

The Internet is not a closed book or a private journal. It is a public record of indiscretions. Simply reminding people that “we see you and your despicable hatred of women” is a step towards making these cowards stop in their tracks.

2. Share this open letter to the gaming community with everyone you know.

Although now closed to further signatures, the message is simple and clear: “We believe that everyone, no matter what gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, or disability has the right to play games, criticize games, and make games without getting harassed or threatened. It is the diversity of our community that allows games to flourish.”

The letter also encourages gamers to take action when they witness sexist or violent commentary or interactions in their community.

3. Spread awareness about male gaming privilege.

Ask your male gamer friends to read McIntosh’s entire post chronicling daily examples of male privilege in gaming. Hell, everyone should read it (it’s brilliant)!

If more male gamers learn about their own privilege, it will be much easier for them to recognize it and fight against it while playing.

***

Ultimately, this is not just a gaming problem, but a societal one.

The more that feminist and equal rights activists speak out against atrocities such as those committed against Sarkeesian, Quinn, and Wu, the more that people will pay attention and stop sweeping the issue under the rug.

The more that developers include strong female characters in their games, the more women will feel integrated into the gaming community.

The more that smart, introspective male gamers like McIntosh take steps to realize their privilege in gaming – and expose it to the rest of us – the less power that privilege will hold.

The gaming community by no means needs to remain an unsafe space for women. With cooperation from game designers, activists, and more education of the public, there is a bright future for an inclusive, respectful gaming community.

Because when my future daughters play video games, I hope they will be able to reveal their gender without fear of harassment – and that the games they are playing will include dignified representations of women. I’d like them to damn well know that they have other options besides “sex object” and “victim of male violence.”

Gaming is supposed to be fun, after all.

https://i1.wp.com/images.elephantjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/smashing-patriarchy-feminism-comic-hammer.gif

Cross-posted from Everyday Feminism (originally posted on September 4, 2014)

Lately, I’ve noticed a frightening Internet trend. It’s the #WomenAgainstFeminism movement.

And it’s essentially exactly what it sounds like: women blogging and tweeting about things that they believe are in line with the feminist movement and then proclaiming that they are not feminists.

Then there are celebrities like Shailene Woodley, the young female lead in movies like Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars, who have publicly decried feminism in the media.

Of course, it is completely valid for someone not to identify as a feminist. That’s their own personal choice.

But an important question remains: Do these anti-feminists really know what they’re talking about? Do they understand what feminism is, or are they ascribing their beliefs to antiquated or invented stereotypes about the movement?

And more importantly, how can we talk to non-feminists and anti-feminists about feminism in a non-confrontational, healthy way?

The ‘F’ Word

Feminism can be a scary word for some people.

There are a lot of myths about what it means to be a feminist – that feminists hate men, eschew “girly” things like dresses and heels, look down on stay-at-home moms, and want to take all the world’s power out of men’s hands.

And none of them are true – at least not universally.

Sure, there are outliers that fit the stereotype of every group. Some people who call themselves feminists certainly hate men. And yes, some feminists do not want to wear four-inch heels that make their toes bleed. But man-hating, power-hungry, totalitarian nastiness is not what feminism is about.

Personally, I like Sam Killerman’s definition: “to create a society in which individuals’ genders don’t restrict them from an equitable shot at success and happiness.”

What people often get confused with feminism is misandry, which means the hatred of men. Like I mentioned earlier, there are some misandrists who also identify as feminists. But they are the minority.

I know that. You probably know that. But how do we explain that to non-feminists without coming off as defensive or insulting?

To be honest, it’s not easy. But we have to try.

Real change will not come unless we engage the opponents of our ideals in meaningful, centered, and realistic discussion.

So how do we do that when it seems like the very people we are trying to reach have been completely brainwashed by the patriarchy and society?

Maybe, before we can answer that question, we need to look at our audience.

Ignorance Is Not Bliss

Back to the question of whether anti-feminists are educated about what the movement really stands for.

Based on my research and experience, it appears that the answer is no. Most anti-feminists seem to be gravely uneducated about what feminism actually is.

Instead of despairing upon this realization, I look at it as a positive. Instead of shaming uneducated anti-feminists for not agreeing with us, we should make educating them and clearing up misconceptions a top priority.

So, how do we do this without alienating or antagonizing the very people we are trying to have a discourse with?

Using tweets and posts from the Women Against Feminism movement as a sample, I have divided common anti-feminist responses into a few key themes (all quotes below are taken word for word from the Women Against Feminism blog and Twitter feed).

Let’s look at each of these themes and discover how best to approach them from a feminist standpoint – without being condescending and without scaring off our audience.

Theme #1: Utter Confusion

Many anti-feminists claim that they are in search of values that are already clearly in line with feminist ideals. Take equality, for instance: “I don’t need feminism because I believe in what they stand for, like equality and respect for all people.”

Instinctually, my initial reaction would be to roll my eyes and say, “Wait, what? So you are saying that you don’t believe in feminism because you already believe in what it stands for? Think that over one more time…”

However, this response will inevitably lead to the recipient becoming defensive.

A better way to approach this situation is explain exactly how feminism does encompass their beliefs.

This way, even if they still don’t want to identify as a feminist, they will at least come to the realization that they have some common thread with the movement.

It’s a step in the right direction.

Theme #2: Misinterpretation Based on Imaginary Ideas of Feminism

Some anti-feminist women have obviously heard misconceptions about feminism before, but probably have never taken the time to find out what it really means, such as the woman who proclaimed, “I don’t need feminism because I believe in equality, not entitlements and supremacy.”

Another common theme were comments such as “I like my husband” or “I’m not a lesbian, so I don’t hate men.”

Even Time Magazine quoted Shailene Woodley saying, “I think the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the men away from the power’ is never going to work out because you need balance.”

Okay, let’s take a step back. Take a moment to breathe. And remember just to state the facts.

Go back to the core definition of feminism, and take it from there.

You might try:

“The feminist movement does not, and has not ever, acted as a mechanism to depose men of all power. This is simply incorrect. Feminists fight to divide the power more equally.”

“Enjoying the company of men, having male friends, or loving men does not make you any less of a feminist.”

Speak calmly, but firmly, and suggest that they take a look at Jessica Valenti’s book Full Frontal Feminism or one of your favorite Everyday Feminism articles.

Theme #3: Jokesters 

Others choose to make the whole concept into a joke.

For example, one woman tweeted, “I don’t want men to treat me like equals. Have you seen how men treat each other?”

In these types of situations, it’s good to have some key facts in your back pocket – and try to jumpstart a discussion.

In response to the woman above, I would say, “Why yes, I have seen how they treat each other. They award 23 cents more on the dollar to their male coworkers over females, for exactly the same work. I’d like to get in on that extra cash! Wouldn’t you?”

If nothing else, this might start a conversation, instead of letting the topic die off with a joke.

Theme #4: Combative Language

Many others espouse incorrect – and sometimes extremely strange – versions of feminism that are so whacky, I can barely believe they are real.

One woman on the Tumblr site says, “I don’t need feminism because…feminists think that sex workers like me deserve to be raped and murdered for collaborating with ‘the patriarchy.’ They fight to pass laws that put sex workers in danger to punish us.”

Or there is this skewed logic: “I am a permanently disabled veteran — because of what feminists did to the U.S. Military. We can’t do all what men do.”

And some assertions are downright crude, like the following statement mocking feminist affirmations: “I need feminism because I need an excuse to be a drunk slut and cheat on my boyfriend.”

Sometimes, people say things that are so off-base, so outlandish, and so offensive that they make you want to tear your hair out. But don’t. You have better things to do with your time.

So what can you do when confronted with someone who is just spewing untruths at you without remorse or consideration for the truth?

This one is particularly hard.

The thing that I take issue with is not only the ignorance, but the lack of attempt at educating oneself. When abusively putting down a worldwide movement that stretches across all nationalities, genders, sexual orientations, ages, and religions, at least know what you are talking about.

As fellow Everyday Feminism writer Melissa A. Fabello explains in her article “The Pain of Being Feminist in an Anti-Feminist World,” sometimes the best option is just to walk away.

There are some people who you are just never, ever going to get through to. In these cases, your energy is simply better spent elsewhere.

Not to mention that you shouldn’t have to endure ridicule and disrespect from someone who is not willing to even consider your point of view. It’s okay to practice self-care and just walk away from an antagonist to save yourself the time and effort.

Everyone Has the Right Not to Be a Feminist

Look: Everyone has the right to be who they are and to believe the things they want to believe. This is a core value of feminism itself.

And especially because of the history of racism in the movement, many Women of Color choose to eschew the feminist label in favor of another descriptor for the gender equality movement.

Furthermore, as hard as it may be for some of us to believe, there are women out there who are educated – who understand perfectly what feminism is about – and still don’t agree with it. So if someone really, truly does not ascribe to the principles of the movement – provided they actually know what those are – then they have every right to proudly proclaim “I am not a feminist!”

And guess what? We should all respect their right to do so.

That, I believe, is one key to helping anti-feminists understand the openness and beauty of the movement. By allowing compassion for those who do not believe the same way that we do, we can demonstrate what feminism truly means.

It’s hard. Believe me, I’ve struggled with it. But the plain truth is that some people are raised in a way that simply gives them a different mindset than you – and nothing you can say will change that.

On occasion, you can say all the right things, introduce all the right literature, and have them meet all the right people – and you still won’t change their minds. And that means that it is time to let go and concentrate on making a change where you can be more helpful.

***

The common ailment that we, as feminists, must fight against is a deep ignorance about what feminism actually stands for – especially how feminism is rooted in equality for all people. And because so many people out there are uneducated on the subject, there’s a lot of work to be done.

If you had asked me if I was a feminist ten years ago, I’m honestly not sure how I would have answered. But I’ve learned so much from my peers, from studying feminist texts, and from learning the history of the gender equality movement. And for me, it’s been transformative.

You can all make that same difference in someone’s life.

I want to use this platform to challenge each and every one of you to have a meaningful discussion with just one person who is conflicted about, or even dead-set against, feminism in the next month.

You never know – you could change someone’s life forever.

slut-a-woman-with-the-morals-of-a-man

Originally posted in Everyday Feminism

How would you describe that low-cut, tight dress you just bought for your best friend’s party? Would you call it sexy? daring? fun? Or would you use a more negative term like “slutty?”

And that fun one-night stand your neighbor had last weekend – would you describe her actions as adventurous or “skanky?”

The word slut is a common slur in our modern day vernacular. No doubt, it still carries weight if said with malicious intent.

But in recent years, the word has become deeply ingrained into our culture to the point where people say it too easily and too casually.

As innocuous as using pejorative terms may seem when used in reference to clothing or the activities of others, they undoubtedly still imply negativity surrounding female sexuality.

And using them just validates the societal standard of a perfect, virginal-until-marriage, demure woman as an ideal.

I’ve often asked myself “What can we do about this nasty, negative word choice that is so standard in our culture?” Maybe learning more about the word itself – and more empowering words we can use instead – is a good start.

What Are We Really Saying?

Many of us have been called a slut at some point in our lives — or have thrown the epithet at someone else. But what does it really mean?

The word “slut” originates in Old English, meaning a “messy, dirty, or untidy” woman or girl. Because of this, it was frequently used as a term for kitchen maids and servant girls. By the 15th century, the word took on the meaning of a “promiscuous woman” as well.

Think about it: Have you ever called someone a slut, whether in jest or seriously? What did it mean to you? And what do you think it meant to the person it was directed toward?

Slut-Shaming: Are You Guilty, Too?

To slut-shame means to “degrade or mock a woman because she enjoys having sex, has sex a lot, or may even just be rumored to participate in sexual activity.”

Most of us, whether we realize it or not, have judged or degraded someone (usually a woman) for being sexual, having one or more sexual partners, acknowledging sexual feelings, and/or acting on sexual feelings outside of marriage.

It happens all the time. That young celebrity who wears something more daring than her usual attire is automatically described in terms of “her slutty side.” We see a beautiful woman who is wearing heavy makeup and comment on how she is lovely, but she looks like a stripper. We condemn our sexual thoughts as slutty instead of explorative.

As a culture, we are quick to use words that paint female sexuality as disgraceful – even if we don’t realize that we are doing it.

Think: Have you ever called yourself (or someone else) a slut when your true feelings weren’t ones of disgust or disapproval?

Did you even consider using an alternative word? Or was slut the first thing – almost the natural thing – that came to mind?

And more importantly, what consequences do your words really have?

Slut-Shaming Can Have Serious Repercussions

For some young women, the stigma of “slut” is so hurtful that it leaves their lives in ruins.

Take Rehtaeh Parsons of Canada, who was allegedly raped by four boys who distributed photos of the attack online. She was afterwards bullied and slut-shamed mercilessly by her peers to the point where she decided to take her own life at 17 years of age.

Her mother, Leah Parsons, told Canadian news source CBC, “She was never left alone. She had to leave the community. Her friends turned against her. People harassed her. Boys she didn’t know started texting her and Facebooking her, asking her to have sex with them. It just never stopped. People texted her all the time, saying ‘Will you have sex with me?’ Girls texting, saying, ‘You’re such a slut.’”

This story is a modern tragedy, fueled by cyber-bullying and slut-shaming. The girls and boys who taunted Rehtaeh so cruelly probably had no idea how deep their words cut until it was too late.

Why did so many of her peers turn on her? Why did other girls – some of whom conceivably had endured similar experiences (because hell, they live in this messed-up society, too) – call her a slut and disown her as a friend?

While the blame for the crime rests on the shoulders of the alleged rapists, it is possible that if Rehtaeh hadn’t been labeled a “slut” and endured the cruel bullying that she did, she might be alive today.

Tragically, this type of cyber-slut-shaming is not uncommon among the younger generations.

Imagine how it would feel to be that teenage girl who everyone is whispering about in the halls. To have hurtful names like “slut,” “whore,” and “skank” assigned to you by people who barely know you. To be judged harshly and without caution for engaging in sexual activity, as most curious teens do.

These young women were intensely slut-shamed, and had their very traumatic experiences invalidated by judgment from their peers. Their very worth was brought into question because people chose to side with the rapists instead of the victims.

Slut-shaming is rape culture, plain and simple. And for some people, it is utterly life-destroying.

Slut-Shaming Doesn’t End Just Because We Grow Up

Whether in the dating world, the professional arena, education, or in friendships, adult females are not immune to slut-shaming either.

Women are not only the favored targets of slut-shaming, but very often the perpetrators as well. Due to generations of internalized sexism, women often reject their sexually promiscuous peers as worthy companions or friends – even as adults.

A Cornell University study puts this theory to the test, revealing that college-aged women are much less likely to form deep friendships with promiscuous women.

When most of us have spent our childhoods being taught that gaining male validation is the route to power, and even happiness, it is not surprising that many women will view their sexually explorative peers as threats. This may cause women to lash out against other women in an attempt to rise above the competition.

And this isn’t the case only in heterosexual dating either. Many bisexual women are considered “greedy” or “slutty” for the mere fact of their bisexuality.

Is any of this fair? No.

Is it valid? Hell no.

Does it hurt women of all races, ages, and sexual orientations? Yes.

Internalized sexism is a disease, and by carelessly throwing around sexist, hurtful epithets like “slut” and “skank,” we all act as the carriers.

Sluts Versus Studs

The double standard remains: Why is it that a girl who has sex is a whore/slut, but a boy who has sex is a stud/player?

In movies, on television, in magazines, and in our communities, people throw around the term “slut” willy-nilly when talking about women. But men are held to a very different standard.

As a society, what are we teaching our children? that a girl or woman is a dirty, unclean, and unworthy because she has sexual desire? that because she is female, she should save herself for marriage or she is a whore? that women should ignore or otherwise not act upon sexual desires even though men should and do?

Why do we accept sexual exploration from our sons but not our daughters?

It’s simple: The word slut is a decidedly female insult, and using it enhances gender discrimination.

Dumping the Word Itself

We may not be able to change the way that others talk to each other right away, but we can start by presenting an example with our own behavior.

This is why I encourage everyone to eliminate the word slut from their vocabulary.

I have spent the last few years working on this: if I catch myself about to describe myself, one if my choices, or even my outfit, as slutty or skanky, I make a concerted effort to replace that language with something more empowering.

For example: The other night, my friends and I were talking about one of our favorite TV shows and discussing how the characters have changed over the seasons.

One of my friends mentioned a female character who started out as a virgin, and has embraced her sexual side throughout the show by having various partners and experiences. Unsurprisingly, my friend simply said: “She’s gotten really slutty.”

I refuse to accept that ideology, even in casual conversation. There are so many sex-positive alternatives that we can use.

  • She was exploring her newfound sexual desire.
  • She was experimenting with what she likes and doesn’t like.
  • She was taking a defined step into adulthood.
  • She was opening herself up to new possibilities.
  • She was – simply – trying something new.

I stand by my next statement: No harm can come from being more sex-positive and less chauvinistic in our speech patterns. I dare each and every one of you to give it a try.

***

Next time you want to call a girl a slut, rethink your choice and start chipping away at the double standard by using positive descriptive language.

Try to remember that everyone has a personal choice. While you may not lead a similar life to someone else, it is unfair and unjust to ascribe your values to their character.

And moreover, it sets a terrible example for future generations.

Some women wear sexy dresses and choose to have multiple partners. Others wait until marriage and dress demurely. And some are in the middle.

That doesn’t mean that Group A are sluts, Group B are prudes, and Group C have hit the perfect moral high ground. All choices are both fabulous and individual.

Let’s take the word slut out of our vocabulary – not as a solution to a social epidemic, but as one small step towards eradicating patriarchal double standards.

CS

Cross post from Everyday Feminism.

Hookup culture. Everybody’s doing it.

Most of you have already heard – or used – this term many times. But for those left in the dark, Urban Dictionary describes hookup culture as “the era that began in the early 1990s and has since prevailed on college campuses and elsewhere when hooking up has replaced traditional dating as the preferred method of heterosexual liaison.”

The American Psychological Association offers a more clinical description of “brief uncommitted sexual encounters between individuals who are not romantic partners or dating each other.”

But for the sake of brevity, hookup culture can be defined as “casual sex.”

And it’s on the rise91% of college students say that hookup culture dominates their lives.

But let’s take a step back and think about how – and who – this upward trend in casual hookups is affecting: Is it healthy? Is it fostering equality between the sexes? Is it mutually beneficial for all sexes? Or does it continue to uphold patriarchal memes?

There are two main schools of thought – one says that hookup culture supports women’s sexual empowerment by giving them the ability to have casual sex on their own terms; the other states that it helps sustain sexist double standards and disempowers women by depriving them of emotional connection.

By looking at both sides, we may be able to shed more light on the matter – or at least work towards a better understanding of each point of view.

Casual Sex in History

Historically, men who engage in casual sex or extramarital affairs have not been ostracized from society – rather, it has been almost (if not entirely) expected of them.

Women, on the other hand, have suffered punishments ranging from banishment to stoning to death for any sexual activity outside of the marriage bed.

Hell, just look at the Tudors.

King Henry VIII kept at least 12 mistresses during his married years and was decidedly sexually active before he was wed, while two of his six wives were beheaded because they wereaccused of sexual activity – including activity that took place before their betrothal to the King.

See the contrast between the sexes? One got to sleep around all he pleased while ruling a powerful world empire, while the other lost their heads for youthful sexual exploration.

Henry VIII is a common and well-known example of historical sexual discrimination, but these values used to be commonplace and routine in society.

And not much has changed.

The Dreaded Double Standard

We’ve come a long way since the 16th century in terms of gender equality and the way we view sex, particularly in the Western world. But there’s no question that most of Western society still gives men a “free pass” when it comes to sex outside of relationships, while women are much more likely to be judged, disliked, or called sluts for having noncommittal sex.

Studies show that this double standard leads to more hookup-related depression and anxiety in women than in men, and my personal experience supports this.

While there are anomalies, my female friends (and myself) invariably have a harder time dealing with the repercussions of casual sex than the dudes I know because they are more worried about what other people will think.

And why wouldn’t they be, considering how detrimental casual sex can be to a woman’s reputation? (Thanks, society!)

Hooking Up Today

While there is no question that Western society maintains an unfair double standard for men and women when it comes to casual sex, there are many individuals of all sexes who choose to engage in hookup culture on a regular basis – and enjoy it.

A lot of women say that casual hookups relieve them of the pressure that comes with trying to balance a career or educational path with a committed, time-consuming relationship.

In Kate Taylor’s New York Times article “Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game Too,” one young woman talks plainly about the “low risk and low investment costs” of casually hooking up.

In another defense of hookup culture, author Hanna Rosin argues that casual hookups actually benefit women, giving them the opportunity to focus completely on their career goals without having to sacrifice having their sexual needs met.

And that’s just the question, isn’t it? Do casual hookups actually meet women’s needs? Let’s explore.

Are Hookups ‘Good’ for Women, Too?

That might all depend on what you think the end goal of casual sex is.

If it’s an orgasm and an orgasm only, then we have a problem. Simply put, women are just less likely than men to climax during a casual sexual encounter.

According to research conducted over a five-year period involving 24,000 students at 21 different colleges, twice as many men as women reached orgasm during their last experience with casual intercourse (80% of men versus 40% of women).

However, this same survey yielded very different results for women in committed relationships, about 75% of whom said that they had orgasmed the last time they had sex.

These numbers seem to lend credibility to the Masters and Johnson theory, which states that women need an intimate emotional connection with someone in order to reach orgasm.

However, most modern human sexuality experts believe that the real answer is more complex than this. In fact, many of the possible reasons why women don’t have as many orgasms during casual sex have little to do with emotions.

Investigating ‘Plain’ Sex and Orgasms

For starters, let’s get something out of the way. Guys, good old-fashioned penile thrusting simply doesn’t get a lot of women off.

A compilation of studies conducted over three-quarters of a century and compiled by Dr. Elizabeth Lloyd indicate that only about 25% of all women reliably reach their climax during “plain” sex (vaginal intercourse with no “extras”), while about one-third rarely or never have orgasms from intercourse at all.

Many women are, however, more likely to climax if they engage in other sexual activity with their partner, such as oral sex or manual clitoral stimulation.

So how does this relate to hookup culture? Simple. Casual hookups usually consist of vaginal intercourse and a focus less on other activities that help women reach orgasm.

Add what we already know, that women are more likely to orgasm from oral sex or an oral/vaginal combo than vaginal sex alone, to this fun fact: women are much less likely to get oral sex during casual sex. During casual hookups, men get it about 80% of the time, while women are on the receiving end of oral less than 50% of the time.

Benefits of Casual Sex Outside of the Big O

So we’ve already established that there are some roadblocks on the road to orgasm for women who have sex casually. But does having an orgasm have to be the goal of a hookup? Absolutely not.

Indiana University scientist Dr. Debra Hebernick believes that many women get sexual satisfaction and emotional benefits from intercourse that doesn’t lead to orgasm. Sometimes, according to her research, casual sex works wonders merely by providing a sense of intimacy for both partners involved.

Self-Centered Sexual Tendencies

What else is it about casual hookups that even further lessen a woman’s chance at climaxing?

Perhaps another answer lies in the interaction between the men and women who are participating in hookup culture, and in the indoctrinated societal messages that women absorb throughout their early lives.

Casual sex is usually more spontaneous, less emotionally-charged, and often experienced by partners who don’t know each other extremely well. Because of this, there is a much lower chance that women will ask their partner for what they want.

Not only this, but studies demonstrate that most men will admit to not trying as hard to please a partner that they do not have a deep emotional connection with. Some men say that it is awkward to ask a new partner what they like, and many even admit to being focused primarily on their own satisfaction.

Just Another Reason Why the Patriarchy Sucks

The cherry on top of the proverbial bad sex sundae is that despite how far we’ve come with gender equality and sexual liberation, society still judges women more harshly for being sexually promiscuous.

It’s not uncommon for women to express feelings of guilt or shame for hooking up casually – talk about a mood killer!

When women grow up being told to keep their number of sexual partners as low as possible, to only have sex inside the context of a relationship, and to stay virgins as long as they can, we end up with a problem: the difficulty of balancing a healthy casual sex life with a lifetime’s worth of slut-shaming.

It may very well be that this fucked-up socialization prevents many women from reaching orgasm in casual sex due to an underlying fear of disgrace.

***

In conclusion, I don’t think we can’t say that hookup culture is strictly bad or good.

Hookup culture can be, in my opinion, both harmful and helpful to women’s empowerment. Casual sex is an individual decision, and has individualized results for different people. There isn’t a “one size fits all” answer for this debate.

But I’m damn well sure of one thing: Patriarchal views that look down on women who participate in casual sex are hurting us. They are just another vestige of a long-gone time, like Henry VIII-era sexual discrimination and injustice, watered down and tied up in a pretty package that pretends to be equality.

Casual sex should be only a personal choice, free from society’s judgment and condemnation– whether you are man or woman, black or white, straight or gay, young or old.

Only when this is true for everyone – and I mean everyone – will I be able to answer the question of “Was it good for you?” with a resounding yes.

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Originally posted in Everyday Feminism. Photo of me, circa 1989.

 

I didn’t have a “normal” childhood.

I didn’t play video games, or ride the bus, or have recess. I never rode my bike around the block or played with neighboring kids. I didn’t have a functioning television, let alone cable.

In fact, I spent the greater part of my childhood exploring an eleven-acre plot of farm land and forest and reading books about strong women from history, while tucked into the corner of a sagging red couch in our 100-year-old farmhouse.

I was homeschooled.

And up until I entered public school in sixth grade, the people I spent by far the most time with were my younger sister and my parents.

That’s not to say that I didn’t have friends – both girls and boys – or that I didn’t get a wonderful education. In fact, my third grade educational assessment showed me at tenth grade levels in many subjects.

But my early years certainly didn’t fit the mold of the typical American childhood.

My birthday parties always had historical themes about struggle and hardship; my feet were covered in calluses from walking barefoot through the rocky forest paths.

Homeschooling is certainly not for everyone.

It is also only available to those privileged enough to have a parent who is able – and willing – to stay home from work to teach their children. But it is a valid and wonderful option for some families.

This article is not a critique of homeschooling.

Rather, this is an investigative journey into discovering how being homeschooled affected some of my relationships – in particular, my relationships with men – and what this says about growing up in America, even without an average introduction to society through public school.

The conclusions drawn will certainly not be universal; if anything, they are personal. But I hope that by investigating together, some light may be shed on how the young female mind develops with (and without) societal norms.

Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Also

Unlike some young women, I didn’t grow up buying into the notion that women can only do certain types of jobs, that women are less capable in science, math, and construction – or anything, for that matter.

With the only other student to compare myself to being my sister three years my junior, I was not exposed to gender stereotypes in the same way that many kids are. I was not interacting with a large group of kids, so I didn’t see people breaking off into interest groups based on gender.

When I got together with friends, it wasn’t girls versus boys. My most gender-biased activity, in fact, was a club that my sister and I started called the “Brave Women’s Club,” which essentially entailed taking adventures and spying on the neighboring farms.

All of my Barbies had professional jobs. They were pilots, professors, farmers, or business people. They had career aspirations beyond looking pretty. I was indignant when I received a doll that spouted out lines like “Let’s go shopping again!” and “Let’s make cookies for Ken.” I couldn’t understand why in the world this chick didn’t have better things to do with her time.

And when the evil mastermind Barbie caught some of the others in one of her diabolical schemes, it wasn’t Prince Charming who came to save the day. It was a collaborative group of friends who thwarted the evil plan that was endangering their pals.

Maybe this was because I wasn’t so constantly exposed to the rhetoric of princesses necessitating handsome princes to save them.

I think the semi-isolation of farm life and homeschooling made these themes less constant in my life. Additionally, I didn’t have cable programming drilling these falsehoods into my forming brain.

In this way, I believe I dodged the societal mindfuck that women can only do certain types of jobs well, and that they can’t be the saviors. I saw myself as an open book with career possibilities ranging from oceanographer to firefighter to historian.

But it wasn’t all positive.

Men as the Ones to Impress

Because of my limited contact with men (besides my family members and a handful of wonderful male friends), the male species was something of a mystery to me.

And because I didn’t have a brother and spent most of my time in the company of females, I grew to view men as elusive and special – as the ones to impress.

Yes, I knew that I could do anything I wanted in my life, but I also felt a deep sense of need to be the Perfect Girl. I felt that it was utterly crucial to impress the men that I came into contact with – to please them so that I was well-liked, despite my alternative upbringing.

Sadly, this grew into a deep-seated fear of confronting men in later life.

For years, I struggled to understand why I couldn’t stand up for myself when strange men groped me or tried to take advantage of me. Most of my female friends, almost all of whom had much more varied contact with males in their early lives and more traditional childhoods, would become exceedingly frustrated with me for just these reasons.

They didn’t understand why I couldn’t give the asshole who slapped my ass at the bar whatfor. To be honest, I couldn’t explain it either. I just felt an innate need not to create a scene – not to be a problem, to be good, and to impress. Even if it left me feeling used, hollow, and twisted.

I don’t know if this is a common problem among young women that have been homeschooled. I only know about my own experience. But when I finally realized what was going on in my mid-twenties, I was shocked.

How could I – someone who believed so deeply in the power, independence, and equality of womankind – have been playing into entrenched gender roles so deeply?

I don’t think I’ll ever fully know the reason.

But I think that without enough early contact with the boys who would become my peers as adults (causing me to search endlessly for their approval), and because I took social cues from what I knew of “classic” behavior for women, I fell into the trap of submission and docility. And it took decades to crawl back out.

It was clear: Despite spending my formative years outside of the public education system and eschewing standard norms, patriarchal views of women’s inferiority had somehow managed to seep into my consciousness.

Society Plays Its Hand

Whether or not my theories about homeschooling’s role in the matter are correct, I am certain of one thing: American society messed me up early, even though I was cut off from it in many ways.

It only took one year in public school for me to start despising my body, to start feeling the intense pull of pressure to be thin and beautiful. And I hung onto those ideals as the way to make men like me.

Despite being at the top of my class in high school, many people thought I was a complete ditz. I know, because when people found out what classes I took or my GPA, they would say, “No way! I didn’t know you were smart.”

And I am beyond certain that most of this was due to the way that I presented myself.

When you feel like looks and “being fun” are the things you have to give, they become a huge part of your identity – and the part that you play up. Instead of talking about my interests, goals, or passions to guys that I liked, I’d just wear a low-cut shirt and talk about the crazy shit that happened at last week’s party.

I’m still guilty of this today at times. I still catch myself avoiding intellectual conversation and sticking to what I came to believe early on was “my selling point.”

The Patriarchy Is Nobody’s Friend

The patriarchy affects more than just women.

It affects men when it tells them they need to like football, lift weights, hook up casually without feelings, and eat red meat – and that if they don’t do these things, they are weaklings. It rejects men who cry when they are sad, like watching ballet, or care about fashion.

The patriarchy is nobody’s friend.

It serves no helpful purpose in our society. And yet many of us are still beholden to it.

But that’s one of the reasons why feminism exists – to help everyone become more tolerant and to look at the differences among us as assets to be valued instead of shameful secrets to be hidden.

Fighting societal gender bullshit is no easy task – which I’m sure you know yourself.

Whether you are male or female, and whether you had a conventional education or not, cutting through the mess of lies and hypocrisy that our society presents us with on a daily basis is downright tough.

But it can be done.

***

If I do anything in my life, I hope I can help some other girl struggling like me realize that she has more to offer the world than her beauty and her body – that the people she really wants to associate with will value her for quirkiness, kindness, passion, and talent. Or for her mad Frisbee skills. Or simply because she speaks her mind.

We can all be part of dismantling the patriarchy. But we need more people to become educated about why it is hurting us.

We need more people to read Everyday Feminism, more people to teach their kids to defy classic gender roles, and more legislators to pay attention to gender pay inequality.

It’s for all of these reasons, and so many more, that we all fight the patriarchy every day.

I envision a better tomorrow, in which a young girl who is struggling with self-acceptance and self-worth won’t have to fight tooth and nail to be respected for more than her appearance.

Because each and every one of us is more than just a pretty face, despite what society wants us to believe.

Farmworkers Harvest First Spring Crops In Southern California

 

Originally posted in Everyday Feminism. Photo credit: NBC Latino.

Ever wonder who harvested the berries in your smoothie? Or who took the effort to pick that big, juicy apple that you’re about to bite into?

Probably not.

And chances are, it was a farmworker. There are currently approximately one million farmworkers employed across the United States.

So how come we never hear about them? And who are these farmworkers exactly?

Most are immigrants working at low-paying agricultural jobs on big farms that sell produce to our supermarkets and restaurant chains: apples, tomatoes, cherries, avocadoes, potatoes, strawberries, pears – you name it.

They harvest the food that we eat. And yet they are one of the most hidden and underrepresented population subgroups in the nation.

The public knows very little about the conditions under which farmworkers work or the injustices that they face. But some of us know – and it’s not easy to forget once you learn the truth.

Farmworker advocates believe that we should all be aware of how our food is getting to us – and who is being hurt along the way.

Farmworkers Are Being Mistreated in America

Many farmworkers in America have their basic human rights violated every day.

Whether due to unsafe housing provided for them while they harvest, unethically low pay, unsanitary and hazardous work conditions, illegal child labor, rampant abuse of power, the pervasiveness of sexual assault, or a slew of other alarming problems, there is no doubt that farmworkers do not receive the same treatment and legal standing as most American workers.

This fact from the Bureau of Labor Statistics takes my breath away: Every day, at least one farm worker dies on the job, and hundreds more are injured.

The lack of basic knowledge about farmworker conditions in our country may be one of the reasons why these injustices are allowed to continue.

So just how bad are things? Let’s take a look at some of the issues that farmworkers face on a daily basis.

Farmworker Living Conditions Often Lead to Sickness

Some farmworkers are able to live in shared housing with other families offsite of their farms. But many others have to live where they work – on the farms themselves.

The circumstances in farm labor camps vary by location across the nation. Some camps are merely crowded. Others suffer from moldy walls and dilapidated or deteriorating construction.

In some cases, conditions are far inferior.

Reports show multiple families live cramped next to one another with little privacy even for bathing or using the toilet, vermin and cockroach infestations, employer surveillance and intimidation, toxic residue in dwellings, and contaminated drinking water.

These living conditions not only make maintaining a clean and secure lifestyle difficult; they can also cause serious health problems for the workers who experience them.

Overcrowded living quarters contribute to the rapid spread of disease, as does the lack of adequate sewage or garbage removal.

Pesticides carried in on the clothes of workers, sprayed by the landlords for pest control purposes or blown in on the wind from fields and orchards surrounding farmworker housing have been shown to cause serious neurological complications in workers, and especially in their children.

It’s common for adult farm workers to suffer from tuberculosis, skin infections, respiratory illnesses, or intestinal parasites as well. Because of the lack of sanitation and the extremely crowded living situations in their housing, these illnesses are passed from one family to the next in rapid succession.

Migrant farmworkers travel long distances to make money working in the harvest, and living in a farm-provided labor camp will boost their meager earnings.

And despite their hard work, they rarely make enough to move out of labor camps into private apartments with better accommodations.

And while farmworkers earn money during harvest, the seasonal nature of their employment demands that they save every dime for the months they will be without work.

They are financially bound to living in substandard conditions and dealing with the dangerous practices of their employers.

Farm Work Affects Entire Families

Despite the stereotype, farmworkers are not all able-bodied adult men. They are grandparents, women, infants, and growing children as well.

Entire families who come to farms in hopes of finding employment often work and suffer together under miserable conditions.

Farmworker children may suffer the most from the poor conditions in many farmworker camps.

Because of the pesticides that their mothers ingest day in and day out in the fields, many babies are born with mental and physical disabilities.

And if not encountered in utero, kids growing up in camps are still subjected to these same toxins as their brains and bodies develop during childhood.

Some children, whose parents’ farms do not provide housing, are forced to sleep in the beds of trucks or on hard dirt floors under tarps for entire harvests seasons.

Federal child labor laws forbid farm owners from employing children under 12 years of age, and yet there are constantly reports of underage kids in the fields on some of America’s top agriculture farms.

Such backbreaking work is fundamentally dangerous for growing children. Instead of attending school or being able to socialize with friends, farmworker kids often work alongside their parents, spending long hours harvesting in the blistering heat, operating heavy machinery and being exposed to pesticides.

Domestic Violence, Sexual Abuse, and LGBTQIA+ Discrimination Are Prevalent Among Farmworkers

Tragically, farmworker women are more than likely to be victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence. Most live and work in a patriarchal system with traditional gender roles and an entrenched social acceptance of sexual violence.

A 2010 survey of 150 farmworker women in the California Central Valley reported that 80% of the women had been sexually harassed at work.

It is not uncommon for female farm employees to be preyed upon by their supervisors, who spend long days in the fields with them and who have the power to order them into isolating situations on a whim.

Advocates also report that LGBTQIA+ farmworkers are subjected to extreme amounts of workplace violence and discrimination – not only from their peers, but also from the management in some cases.

Most frightening of all, says Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regional attorney William Tamayo, is the staggering amount of victims who do not even come forward in the first place.

Fear of Retribution

We know that many farmworkers suffer abuse by their employers, supervisors, and landlords who take advantage of farmworkers’ poverty, cultural structures, gender roles, housing situations, immigration status, language deficiencies, or fear of law enforcement to wield dominance over them.

But why don’t they speak out against the abuse?

Most commonly, because they are afraid of retribution from their bosses.

Government officials and police are more likely to investigate work camps and agricultural employers if they receive an official complaint.

However, because many workers fear that speaking out about problems at work will result in their eviction, deportation, or firing, most farmworkers keep silent.

Maricruz Ladino, a farmworker who was bullied and raped by her supervisor in 2006, told NPR why she did not come forward for seven months after her attack:  “I saw my choices,” she said.“I lose my job, I can’t feed my family.”

After finally speaking up, Ladino was expeditiously fired by the management at her farm. Even after winning the civil suit she eventually filed against them (with the help of a legal assistance organization), her former employers were never punished nor identified, and her rapist faced no criminal charges.

Immigration status is a huge player in the equation as well.

With over 50-60% of farmworkers being undocumented, sometimes all it takes is a threat to call immigration enforcement officials to put workers at an egregious power imbalance with their employers or landlords.

These are harsh realities.

Although both state and federal laws do exist to protect workers whose contracts have been violated, who are being intimidated, or who are subject to dangerous working or living conditions, there are many barriers that prevent farmworkers from discovering their rights in the first place.

Moreover, the existence of these laws does little to stop them from being broken by many agricultural employers.

The Language Divide

To make matters even more difficult, the majority of farmworkers also have to contend with a language barrier.

Most do not speak English as their first language. Some do not even speak Spanish as their primary language, but are instead fluent in any number of indigenous languages common in Mexico or other nations in Central and South America.

To be specific, 81% of farmworkers speak Spanish, 18% speak English, and 2% speak other languages, including Tagalog, Creole, and Thai. A stunning 60% of farmworkers not born in the United States cannot speak or read English at all. And only 35% are able to speak a minimal amount of English.

This lack of basic language ability makes it unquestionably hard for farmworkers to get legal help when they face poor treatment from employers. It makes receiving the necessary medical care for injury or illness near impossible. And it isolates victims of domestic violence and sexual assault from community services that can help.

Purchasing for Change

Now that we know a bit more about the injustices in farmworker employment, is there any way that we as consumers can change the market by purchasing strategically?

Animal advocates have fought to set high standards for what food can be labeled as humanely raised. And there are strict rules for which food products can be called certified organic.

The only equivalent for worker treatment in America is the fair trade movement.

Organizations such as Fair Trade USA and the Fair Trade Federation have created standards for companies to qualify as fair trade. Products that earn the organizations’ logos must come from farmers and workers who are justly compensated. Income from sales of Fair Trade USA products go to teaching disadvantaged communities how to use their free market advantage.

Check out the Fair Trade USA website for a list of certified fair trade products and partners and to learn more.

However, unlike the organic label, there is not a huge call for fair trade products from the general populace, in part because farmworkers are such an underrepresented population.

Awareness must increase for Americans to realize that purchasing fair trade matters – and why it does.

Farmworkers Need a Voice

American farmworkers are undoubtedly a marginalized population who lack proper legal and social representation.

National organizations like the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs, the National Center for Farmworker Health, Farmworker Justice, and the National Employment Law Project advocate to get farmworkers the representation that they need.

By providing well-trained legal staff that speaks Spanish and other languages, they bridge the looming linguistic divide in order to represent workers in legal cases against abusive employers.

By presenting opportunities for farmworkers to get basic healthcare needs met, they mitigate the dangerous conditions in which these workers live and toil.

Not only this, but farmworker advocacy groups offer farmworker education, as well as information about and access to job training and safety programs for workers.

Overcoming the lack of awareness among the actual farmworker community about these resources is a huge struggle. Most farmworkers don’t have access to the Internet. Most don’t have a great deal of education, and many haven’t even graduated from high school. In fact, studies conducted by the National Agricultural Workers Survey indicate that the average completed educational level for farmworkers is seventh grade.

Without ways to access information about programs and organizations that can help, farmworkers remain stuck.

***

Take a moment to reflect on how you might react to this article if it were your own family getting up at five o’clock in the morning to pick berries for twelve hours at a substandard wage, to suffer from supervisor intimidation and manipulation, to live in crumbling homes with no privacy, and to fear for their safety every day at work.

The situation won’t get better if no one knows about the injustices that farmworkers suffer.

Encourage your friends to think about where their food comes from. Hopefully in doing so, they will be inspired to help us bring farmworker exploitation out of the darkness.

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