Archives for posts with tag: feminism

censusgap

Cross-posted from my article in Everyday Feminism

In 2012, women were statistically much poorer than men. And women that were already poor in 2011 stayed that way.

Wait a minute – you say – I’m always hearing that women make up over half of the nation’s workforce and are increasingly becoming the primary (or sole) breadwinner in families with children! Plus, isn’t the Recession over? Shouldn’t people be getting out of poverty by now?

While it’s true that our nation is in “recovery,” that’s not the whole story.

A lot of Americans are still struggling with extreme poverty – and women are getting the short end of the stick on pretty much all fronts.

Every year, the United States Census Bureau releases their findings about poverty, health insurance, and much more in September.

This year, the Census data revealed that one in seven women live in poverty. One in seven. That’s almost 17.8 million women – or 14.5% of the female population. For men, this percentage is lower, at 11%.

These crazy-high numbers of poor American women are nothing new – they are almost identical to the 2011 figures. But they’re still unacceptable.

And certain groups of women are having an even harder time than the rest.

Black, Latina, and Native American women are disproportionately poor, as are women who are the primary breadwinners in a household. And shockingly, women 65 years of age and older got drastically poorer in 2012.

In order to understand why this is happening, let’s first look at these statistics in greater detail – and at what else the newest Census data has to tell us about these different groups of women and how the post-Recession recovery period is treating them.

Women of Color Have Exceedingly High Poverty Rates

Women of Color have not prospered during the economic recovery.

The Census data shows that Black women have a whopping poverty rate of 25.1%, and Latina women come in right below them at 24.8%. Even more drastic is the plight of Native American women – one in three Native women were poor in 2012.

Poverty disproportionately affects all People of Color – not just women. Non-white children and men also suffer from poverty disproportionately across the board. As I explained in this article about American poverty, this inequality is a product of a longstanding structure of racial oppression that refuses to go away despite civil rights advances.

Poor Women Heading Households Are Getting Poorer

Studies show that in today’s working economy, four in ten households with kids under 18 years of age have a woman as the chief (or only) breadwinner.

While that fact is exciting in the sense that women are truly viable players in the workforce and completely capable of providing for their families, it doesn’t negate the fact that almost 41% of the women heading these households were poor in 2012.

Not only that, but this poverty isn’t just affecting the women themselves – it’s hurting their children.

A stunning 56% of poor kids live in families in which a woman is the main wage-earner. We’ll get to just why this is later.

Elderly Women Are Suffering More Than Before

Getting older isn’t easy on anyone, and definitely not on poor women.

Health problems become more numerous and costly, menopause changes the body dramatically, and just getting around becomes more difficult. Andeverything costs.

Luckily, many of us have spent a lifetime saving up for retirement to protect ourselves financially in the face of illness or other issues.

We’ve saved a bit from each paycheck, contributed to a 401K retirement plan, or made investments that will (hopefully) help see us through our old age. And ideally, we have family to back us up and take care of us as well.

But what about women who didn’t have the financial flexibility to save for retirement while they were working – or had to use their savings to help another family member in a time of need?

What about the grandmas who are still helping their children and grandchildren get by because those children are struggling with poverty themselves?

A staggering amount of elderly women are poor – and things only got worse in 2012.

According to the United States Census, the number of women 65 years or older living in extreme poverty increased by 23% last year.

That’s unacceptable. After a lifetime of contributing to our economy and society, our grandmothers should not have to worry about how they are going to afford food.

“Why is this happening?” you are probably asking yourself.

Well, there are plenty of reasons why an unequal number of women are poor.

The Wage Gap Is Partially to Blame

The ever-looming gender wage gap is one big reason.

Thanks to the Census, we know that – just like in 2011 – women who work full-time, year-round are only paid 77 cents on the dollar compared to their male coworkers – and that’s only in reference to white folk.

If you are thinking that a few cents doesn’t make much of a difference, think again.

Let’s look at what that wage gap translates into over the course of a year: Over $11k less in yearly earnings. And thus, a much smaller economic safety net. For a woman struggling with poverty, that $11 thousand could make a world of difference.

These numbers get a lot worse when you’re talking about Women of Color. Black and Latina women earn, respectively, 64 cents and 54 cents on the dollar compared to White, non-Latino men.

This inequality is a heinous relic of an oppressive, racist culture that seems to be hanging on for far too long – and yet it seems like no one is even talking about it.

The GOP is Waging a War on Safety Net Programs That Help Women

Republicans and Tea Party members in Congress and in-state chambers across the nation have their sights set on dismantling the programs that provide government assistance to needy women and families.

Nutrition aide for babies and pregnant or nursing mothers in the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is on the chopping block.

So are early learning programs for kids and desperately needed food assistance for poor families.

Nothing is actually safe when it comes to the safety net – no matter how many times these programs are proven to lift millions of people out of poverty and save lives.

When these programs are cut, women and their families take the hit.

Pregnant women who lose their WIC benefits don’t get the proper help they need. Single mothers with hungry children have their food taken away from them. Mothers who rely on childcare assistance to be able to work and earn money for their families are forced to stay home.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, is a prime example.

The Census data revealed that SNAP helped 4 million people out of poverty and reduced hardship for millions of others in 2012 alone. Simply put, it is a highly effective program that made tens of millions of people less poor last year, as it does every year.

Despite these proven benefits of the program, all SNAP recipients will lose about $30 from their monthly food allotment starting November 1, 2013.

This decrease comes on top of many other cuts to the program driven by government sequestration and the threat of a $40 billion cut in the House’s proposed farm bill legislation.

Women and children will directly suffer from these cuts to SNAP. If pursued to fruition, it is very likely that next year’s Census data will disclose even more severe poverty rates for women.

With so many politicians seemingly working to keep low-income women and families in poverty – and so many other factors negatively affecting low-income women – what can be done?

Educate, Proliferate, Infiltrate!

For starters, you can share this information with everyone that you know.

I truly believe that a big reason that people vote for politicians who want to cut government assistance to the poor is that they just don’t have the facts.

If they knew who they were taking food, education, and medical services from –infants, young children, struggling families, seniors – I have a hard time believing that so many people would still agree with stripping the safety net bare.

Also, remember that the poverty data revealed by the Census is proof that low-income women are struggling – and that things are not getting much better as the economic recovery continues.

When naysayers try to tell you that the government can’t give any more money to food stamps because there are more people enrolled in the program than ever before, remind them that this is the direct result of the Great Recession.

It’s simple when you think about it.

More people fell into poverty because of a recession = more people were hungry = more people became eligible (and signed up for) nutrition assistance programs.

And since we haven’t fully “recovered” as a nation, these numbers have yet to drop back down.

Back up your arguments with facts and people will have a much harder time shooting you down.

Educate your community.

Post about these important poverty statistics on social media, e-mail articles about the Census findings to your family and friends, tweet at your members of Congress asking them to support safety net programs, or write an op-ed for your local newspaper. The Op Ed Project has some great guidelines to get you started on writing your first article.

Volunteering at community organizations that work to secure funding for low-income women is another good way to combat women’s poverty.

Look at a comprehensive volunteer site like VolunteerMatch.org to find opportunities in mentoring, educational services and much more across the country. You can also check out your local chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) for more ways to get involved in supporting anti-poverty measures for women.

You have the facts. Now go out there and do something about this inequality, with the whole force of the Census data backing you up.

Don’t let partisan politicians take necessary assistance away those who need it most.

Show them that you will fight to protect needy children, mothers, and grandmothers from falling deeper into poverty.

shaming
Photo from Voice of Russia

So, there is this disgusting, misogynist, homophobic loser website called Return of Kings, and their contributor “Tuthmosis” (oooh, big man, using a fake name and all!) wants to educate us all about how you can tell if a girl is a “slut” or not in his article “24 Signs She’s a Slut.” I won’t degrade my blog by linking to it and giving him more web traffic, but a few of the most memorable “signs” include:

  • Having a tattoo, non-ear piercing or dyed hair follicles
  • Using swear words
  • Having divorced parents
  • Not being ticklish (because, of course, that means that she has been HANDLED by a lot of men)
  • Calling herself a feminist

This is what he SHOULD have written, because this is what he really wants to say:

How to Tell if She’s a Slut

Is she female? Then, boom! You’ve got your answer – she’s a slut.

I also have a response post for Tuthmosis:

How to Tell if You’re a Clueless Asshole with Shit for Brains

Did you just call someone a slut based on your own personal chauvinistic views of gender roles and pathetic ideas about how women should behave? BOOM BOOM! You’ve got your answer! Automatic Asshole. (Congrats!)

I know it makes more sense to simply ignore sad misinformed losers like this dude and everyone who contributes to the ROK website (which, coincidentally, also features articles entitled “All Women Are Sheep” and “How to Control Your Woman’s Diet”). But there’s something about the way it was written that made me stop. And that worries me.

It’s just that I can imagine a large number of people I know – both men and women – reading this and not being bothered. Not that I think they would wholeheartedly agree with his 24 Signs of Sluttiness (some of which are just SO ridiculous it’s hard to believe he didn’t write the post as a parody) – but that they might not see how wrong it is foster this type of sexist, slut-shaming mentality in the first place.

I’ve said it once before, and I’ll say it again. STOP slut-shaming! Shaming women for their sexuality is counter-productive. It leads to lower self-esteem for everyone. It perpetuates archaic gender stereotypes. It takes away any semblance of free will and choice that women have in their sexual lives and unfairly labels them as either a Madonna or a Whore.

That’s why I’ve stopped using the word “slut” entirely.  If you ever hear me slip up, please notify me. It’s a word that serves no helpful purpose in our society and only works to keep misogyny alive and well.

I mean, really…if YOU aren’t comfortable with SOMEONE ELSE’s sexual behavior, shouldn’t you be looking at yourself and wondering why what they are doing makes you so freaked out?

Why can’t you just go about your life the way you want and let others do the same, as long as they aren’t causing harm to anyone?

Sounds like a personal problem to me.

Cat-Calling Sucks

This morning two men in a truck honked, stared and yelled things at me as I walked to work.

Saturday a male stranger in the elevator called me sweetheart and another man on the street asked if I would go home with him.

Last week one of my male colleagues yelled out “va-va-voom” when I walked into a board meeting.

Last month a parking attendant outside my office building told me that he wanted to marry me and that he would stalk me until I broke up with the fake boyfriend I told him I had in order to ward him off.

Last summer three men walked past me on the stairs of a bar. One turned around and grabbed my ass, squeezed hard and guffawed. All three proceeded to laugh uproariously and continued on their way. I was too stunned to say or do anything so I just stared as they left me there on the stairs. A few weeks later a strange man in a club came up behind me while I was dancing with a girlfriend and pulled my waist towards him, pushing his crotch into my behind. I turned and demanded an explanation. His answer: “You backed into me.” Bullshit. Straight out lie.

These aren’t the worst examples of street harassment, just a few that come to mind. I am cat-called almost every single day of my life, no matter what I’m wearing or who I am with. But mostly when I am alone, walking to or from work or home.

Worse: I’m not an anomaly. This happens to most girls. All. The. Time. Cat-calling is not a compliment – it’s degrading, humiliating and demoralizing. It limits our ability to walk down the street without fear – even in broad daylight while wearing professional attire.

The featured quote says it all: I may be walking through a public place, but my body is not public property. I am a individual person with rights to my own body, not a sexual toy/object inviting your comments, stare or touch. Please consider this and apply it to ALL people as you move through your day.

Here are some great resources for people who are looking to learn more about how to identify and combat this type of harassment:

HollaBack! You Have the Power to End Street Harassment
Stop Street Harassment
Meet Us On The Street*

*Anti-street harassment week was April 7-13, 2013. Visit this website for news about next year’s event and additional resources.

rehtaeh

When I heard about the suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons, I was devastated. We’ve lost another young girl, who – after being allegedly raped by four boys who distributed photos of the attack online – was bullied mercilessly by her peers to the point where she decided to take her own life at 17 years of age.

A year-long investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was closed when it was decided that “there was insufficient evidence to lay charges.” Insufficient evidence– although many people saw the photos taken of the rape (which occurred when she was only 15), knew of the attack and witnessed Rehtaeh being bullied at school.

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.” Things got so difficult that the Parsons moved to another city, but the bullying had taken its toll. Rehtaeh’s parents watched their once lively and high-spirited teenage daughter become increasingly depressed and withdrawn. After the move, Rehtaeh made some new, more supportive friends and heard from some of her old friends, who relented and decided to stand by her. But it wasn’t enough to undo the damage. Last March, she checked herself into the hospital for suicidal thoughts. And then on April 4, she hung herself in her parents’ bathroom.

Since her death, the police have reopened the investigation based on new evidence and a witness who is willing to verify the identity of the suspects and cooperate with investigators. Cyber-activist hacker group Anonymous has also claimed to have evidence that one of the attackers has admitted to raping Rehtaeh although he knew she was too intoxicated to defend herself.

Everything about this story is tragic and misguided – from the crime itself to the police’s handling of the case. But what also stands out to me is the bullying – the girls and boys that taunted Rehtaeh so cruelly that she ended her life. “People texted her all the time, saying ‘Will you have sex with me?’” says Leah Parsons. “Girls texting, saying ‘You’re such a slut.’” Teenagers aren’t exactly known for their maturity and this level of harassment is (sadly) not surprising. But why did so many of her peers turn on her? Why did so many other girls – some of whom may conceivably have endured similar experiences – call her a slut and disown her as a friend?

Undoubtedly, the blame for the crime rests on the shoulders of the alleged rapists. But if Rehtaeh hadn’t endured the bullying that she did, she might be alive today. The National Education Association estimates that 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students.  According to Yale University studies, bullying victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims. And technology such as cellphone cameras and social media have made bullying that much easier for teenagers. Snap a picture, and it can be distributed to the whole school with one click.

This type of cyber-bullying is not uncommon. A few weeks ago I wrote about the Steubenville case: the rape of a 16-year old girl; photos of the night gone viral on the internet; months of constant bullying from her peers; and the subsequent conviction of two star football players for the crime. Steubenville garnered a lot of attention. But what about Audrey Pott, a 15-year old Northern California girl who killed herself after allegedly being sexually abused by three young men who released explicit photos of the rape on the internet? She committed suicide just days after the photos went viral.

How does it feel to be that teenage girl who everyone is whispering about in the halls? To be called a slut/whore/skank by people who barely know you? To be judged for engaging in sexual activity, as most curious teens do? For some girls, it is utterly life-destroying.

Most people, whether they realize it or not, have slut-shamed before – shaming and/or attacking a woman or a girl for being sexual, having one or more sexual partners, acknowledging sexual feelings, and/or acting on sexual feelings outside of marriage. I’ve seen people do it countless times. Sadly, I’ve done it to others in the past, and even to myself. But I want to change that. 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” in reference to women willy-nilly. But how many of them think about what their words imply? That a girl or woman is a prostitute 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/not act upon sexual desires even though men can/do? Why do we accept sexual exploration from our sons but not our daughters?

Next time you want to call a girl a slut, rethink your choice and start chipping away at the double standard. If we support one another – and remember that we are all human beings just living, learning and changing over time – we just might succeed in changing this societal mindfuck.

Sign this Change.org petition to get justice for Rehtaeh by launching an investigation into the RCMP’s handling of the case.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Image

Photo Credit: MomsRising.Org

Today, April 9, is Equal Pay Day. It’s the day in the 2013 calendar year through which women have to work in order to earn the same amount as men did in 2012 – for the exact same work.

The National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) created Equal Pay Day in 1996 as a public awareness project to educate people about the wage gap between men and women. It is always the second Tuesday in April – Tuesday also signifying how long into the next week women have to work to earn one week of a man’s salary in the same position.

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Fair Pay Act, one of the first pieces of legislation in history to discuss wage inequality based on gender. He called it a great first step of progress that affirmed “our determination that when women enter the labor force they will find equality in their pay envelopes.” 2013 marks the half-century mark since that statement – in which time, women have come to represent 47% of the American workforce. In 2009, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a law that allows women an appropriate window of time to pursue claims of gender-based unequal pay in court. As incentive for employers to not use discriminatory wage practices, companies are also liable for back pay to workers who can prove that they have been unfairly underpaid.

And yet, despite these legal measures and changing statistics – women still earn twenty-three percent less than men. On average, women today earn 77 cents for every dollar that men earn — which is only a 17 cent on the dollar increase since the Equal Pay Act was enacted 50 years ago. And even worse off are African American and Latina women, who are paid only 64 and 55 cents on the dollar compared to men, respectively. As the National Women’s Law Center points out, “the wage gap occurs at all education levels,  after work experience is taken into account,  and it gets worse as women’s careers progress.  Women are paid less than men in nearly every occupation.  One study examining wage gaps within occupations found that out of 265 major occupations, men’s median salary exceeded women’s in all but one.

I recently had a man tell me that women don’t deserve equal pay because, in his opinion, “women don’t work as many hours as men.” Infuriating, incorrect and uninformed, yes. But it seems that there are people out there who think this is true – or at least don’t care enough to try to do something about it. So how do we change the backwards thinking and policies that seem to have clung on since the Mad Men era?

Advocates look to the Paycheck Fairness Act as a huge step towards pay equality. This measure amends the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and updates the Equal Pay Act by creating stricter penalties for discriminatory employers, better mechanisms for data collection on pay equity, funds for a women’s salary-negotiation training program, and incentives to employers who work to close the wage gap.  Despite its promise, the Paycheck Fairness Act was defeated last summer on party lines, with all Republican Senators voting against it.

Women who are underpaid often have families to support, and their children are the ones who suffer because of gender discrimination. “It is not a women’s issue. It is an economic issue for families” points out Representative Rosa DeLauro (D – CT), cosponsor of the bill. There is hope that the US Senate, with a current record 20 female Senators, will be able to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act this year – but as of today, no vote is scheduled.

So what can YOU do today? Stand with all American women and send a letter to Congress informing them of your disappointment in their inability to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. And next time someone tells you why women shouldn’t be paid equally to men for the same work, help them get their facts straight.

JRcigar

“Given the choice between a woman and a cigar, I will always choose the cigar.” – Groucho Marx

My friend Jean encountered this ad for JR Cigar at the bus stop the other day. She was offended, as every woman should be. This quote perpetuates the idea that men should think of women as dispensable possessions. That they are only “real men” if they don’t need/respect the women in their lives. In what could be seen as a challenge to their masculinity and independence, the ad practically shouts “Fellows! How many of you are man enough to say the same?”

This isn’t the only sexist thing that Marx ever said in relation to cigars (in another famous quote, a woman who told him that she had eleven children was given the response “Lady, I love my cigar, but I take it out of my mouth once in a while”) – but the fact that JR Cigar thought it was an appropriate quote to use in a public advertisement is just plain gross (not to mention very misogynistic).

I checked out JR Cigar’s Facebook page, and was unsurprised to find numerous pictures of “hot chicks” and celebrity women smoking cigars in sports cars, images that elicited hundreds of creepy and sexist comments from their middle-aged male patrons. I can only image how JR’s female customers feel about all this.

JR Cigar, I know you’re trying to run a business, but be more careful about what how you advertise.  A true man respects women and doesn’t treat them like second class citizens. And he can still enjoy a good cigar if he so pleases.

Oh, and follow Jean on Twitter: @jxchung. While you’re at it, follow me too: @duckyfem (so far my following is abysmal, but I only started my account last week…I know, I know – so late for the Twit party).