Archives for posts with tag: sexism

confused

Cross-posted from my article in Everyday Feminism.

Morning: a man shuffles out of a cab in last night’s rumpled suit, holding a pair of dress shoes in his hands that have begun to pinch. The neighbors stare. This is the walk of shame.

Afternoon: a man skips lunch and pops three aspirin before heading into the waxing salon, preparing to endure searing pain for a clean, hairless nether region. This is the beauty routine.

Evening: a man leaves work to attend his kid’s school play; his all-female management team judges him for “putting parenting before work” (even though many of them have kids too). This is the double standard.

…Just kidding.

In reality, the man gets a high five from his doorman, drinks a beer while enjoying his lunch break, and rests easy because he knows his coworkers won’t criticize his work ethic just because he’s a dad.

From unrealistic beauty standards to slut shaming for promiscuity, there are a lot of things that women think about every day that men have never once had to consider. From the workplace to relationships, simple by being male, men experience privilege that makes their lives easier –and that they (usually) don’t even notice.

So we call out that privilege.

Not to castigate men for being born into it, and not to shame them for benefiting from this privilege—but to make them aware of how it affects their everyday lives and the lives of the women with whom they interact.

Because it’s not their fault that they aren’t conscious of it. Our patriarchal society works extra hard, day-in and day-out, to make sure that men aren’t aware of their privilege.

Let’s look at some examples of questions men don’t need to ask themselves – and how they make a difference in our lives.

1. Why am I expected to spend exorbitant amounts of money and time on my looks? And why do I get condemned as vain and superficial for doing so?

“Now every girl is expected to have: Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits.”

While this quote is satirical and full of stereotypes, Tina Fey has a point. Women are held to ridiculous beauty standards that are impossible to meet.

And if she spends all that money, works out relentlessly, shuns fattening food, and achieves something akin to the patriarchy’s idea of “perfection?” Well, then she’s just vain and self-obsessed.

On the other hand, if she doesn’t choose to meet these standards, she’s a slob and doesn’t care about herself or her appearance.

There’s really no way to win, is there?

2. If I smile at people, will they interpret my friendliness as a sexual invitation? If I don’t, will they tell me to lighten up?

On a regular basis, many women have to deal with catcalls and degrading sexual offers from men as they walk to a meeting, the grocery store, the gym, the mailbox—you name it.

If she smiles or appears friendly, these offers and salutations will usually become more pronounced and gratuitous – almost as if she is expected to follow up on a simple smile with a blowjob.

But if she walks with her eyes forward and no smile on her lips? Then men will tell her “smile, sweetheart,” or “you’d be so much prettier if you smiled.”

How many men are told on a regular basis that they should smile? Especially by perfect strangers?

Not many, that’s for sure. In our patriarchal society, men are allowed the choice of how to portray themselves to the world – without the same level of judgment that women receive.

3. If I wear something that shows skin, will I get harassed?

From an early age women are taught to be ashamed of their bodies—men, not so much. Therefore, men don’t grow up believing that in order to be virtuous, they must cover up – or pay for it with degrading comments and behavior from others.

And although some men get criticized for their style of dress, it is much less likely that they will be sexually harassed for what they are wearing – I mean, men can walk around without even wearing a shirt and no one blinks an eye.

Conversely, women who choose to reveal skin are consistently sexually harassed, slut-shamed, or fat-shamed for showing off their bodies.

Simply put, society does not police men for how much skin they show. Unlike with women, the decision of what to wear is left up to them, not considered fodder for public discussion.

4. If I wear sexy clothing and enjoy partying, will people accuse me of provoking sexual harassment and/or assault?

“Why was she wearing such a short dress?” “Why was she out so late?” “How much did she drink that night?” “Why didn’t she know better than to hang out with those people?”

When we discuss a burglary, we never assign blame to the victim by saying that the beautiful garden in front of her house “tempted the robbers in.” Obviously, that would be ridiculous. But in the case of a woman being sexually harassed or raped, people often justify the crime by putting the onus on her provocative appearance, level of intoxication, or “improper” behavior.

Men aren’t held to these same standards (although sadly, they deal with an entirely different degrading patriarchal construct involving sex and consent).

As mentioned above, men aren’t criticized for showing off their bodies –and conversely are encouraged to drink to excess by the ingrained fraternity culture of our society.

5. If I have sex with him, will everyone think I’m a slut?

No one calls a man a slut for having sex. But women run the risk of being called sluts just for kissing a guy.

It’s simple: the sexual double standard still rules in America. Men can have promiscuous sex and be congratulated for it. Women who are sexually promiscuous are rarely viewed in a positive light.

6. If the condom breaks, will I get pregnant? If so, what then?

This is a no-brainer. No cis man has ever wondered this – and barring some very intense scientific advances, no cis man will ever have to. They will never have to worry about having to choose between aborting the child or having their whole world change as their body accommodates a new life.

Before anyone gets up in arms, let me state: this is biology, and no one would ever blame cis men for not being able to conceive. But it’s just one more example of how sexual choices affect cis men and cis women very differently.

7. If I reveal my gender, will I receive the same level of respect?

In an experimental Yale study, a group of scientists were given the same application to review for a lab position. Half of the scientists received the application under a female name, while the other half received the exact same application with a male name attached.

Across the board, the scientists rated the “male” applicants higher in competence and hireability, and offered them higher starting salaries than the “female” applicants.

For the exact same application.

And that’s just one small example.

Because of the myriad ways that women are discriminated against in professional, academic, and social circles, some women take to hiding their gender in order to be accepted into the “boy’s club” and to receive more respect from male counterparts.

Especially in the professional world and academics, but also in other online forums, women often have to work twice as hard to earn the same respect as men, because of society’s gendered expectations.

8. If I become upset at work, will they blame it on PMS?

We’ve all heard it a million times: “We can’t have a [cis] female President because she might go bomb Russia when she has PMS!

As ludicrous as this idea is, it’s still talked about.

Here’s a little dose of reality: Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) does not make us irrational.

Can PMS make a woman feel more moody? Sure. Physically uncomfortable? Hell yes. But hands down, PMS does not change a woman’s brain chemistry enough to make her irrational or less competent.

Because cis men don’t menstruate, they don’t have a recognized equivalent syndrome that their rash behavior can conveniently be blamed on. On the contrary: when men display anger or intensity at work, they are often thought of as “strong,” “alpha,” or “dominant.”

9. Will I have less of a chance of being hired or promoted because of my gender?

The good news is that sex discriminationwhich involves treating an applicant or employee unfavorably because of that person’s sex – is illegal in the US.

The bad news is that it happens all the time anyway.

Studies show that the majority of industry managers (especially in male-dominated industries like Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and STEM fields) tend to look for masculine stereotypes when hiring and awarding promotions.

Because of these male-biased hiring and promoting practices – which spring partly from a lack of diversity in the industries themselves – it is often extremely difficult for women to excel and move up in the company.

10. If I don’t do well at my job, will people take it as a sign that people of my gender shouldn’t be doing this line of work?

Sometimes the system keeps women from succeeding at their jobs.

For example, women working in male-dominated industries are often subjected to huge amounts of pressure to conform to the same masculine traits exhibited by their male counterparts. If they don’t, they are usually viewed negatively and kept from advancing in the company. And as we already know, the system – from hiring, to awarding raises and bonuses, to achieving managerial status – is stacked against women, making it much harder for them to rise to the top.

Sure, there are certainly individual women – just like there are individual men – whose particular talents aren’t suited for these jobs.

But using a couple of examples as reason to write off an entire gender is foolish, uneducated, and sexist – and fails to acknowledge the success of female leaders everywhere.

11. If I do well in my company, will people say that I slept my way to the top?

When men in high-power jobs succeed, it is generally presumed that they worked their asses off to get there. But women who reach the same level of success are often accused of sleeping their way to the top, despite the falsity of the claims.

This is because society often dismisses a woman’s hard work and perseverance, and reduces her to an object only valuable for bringing sexual pleasure to others.

12. If I have kids, will people assume I don’t care about my career anymore?

For years, studies have shown that working moms are discriminated against in ways as small as being left out of meetings, to as substantial as losing promotions – or even their jobs.

In September 2014, the federal government reached a $5 million settlement with Wells Fargo over allegations that the banking giant discriminated against pregnant women, new mothers, and women on maternity leave.

Studies also show that working fathers simply do not deal with this level of discrimination. But because many people still believe that a woman’s place is “in the home,” they pigeonhole working mothers and discriminate against them unfairly.

13. If I don’t want a family, will people assume there’s something wrong with me?

Barren. Cold. Unloving. The crazy cat lady.

People make a lot of judgments about women who decide not to have children or get married. This is probably because the belief that women exist to be mothers lives on to this day in the assumption that a childless woman must be lonely, or unhappy, or that she should be pitied for not having been able to find “the right man.”

When a man decides to do the same, there may be some similar pity – but he is also likely to be venerated as a successful bachelor who “can’t be tamed” (think George Clooney).

In reality, having a family is entirely a personal choice – and there is no reason why men and women should be judged differently in relation to that decision.

***

These are a few examples of male privilege at its most insidious – patriarchal norms working below the surface to uphold sexist double standards in society.

Yes, everyone has a different life experience, and some men may, at some point in their lives, ask themselves some version of these questions. But that does not negate their male privilege.

We can all learn more about how patriarchal structures perpetuate this privilege. And the more we know, the better we can change how people respond.

Because even though men don’t generally have to think about all the things on this list – and so many others – they should.

Just by acknowledging their male privilege, men can start chipping away at it. And that’s a damn beautiful thing.

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.

FashionVictim

Cross-post from my article in Everyday Feminism

Author’s Note: I wrote this piece for Everyday Feminism back in August but forgot to include it on my blog. I thought I would share it now for those who are interested.

Today in the United States, only 18% of Congress, 24% of state legislatures, and 10% of state governors are female.

Fortunately, this number is increasing as greater numbers of women join the workforce and obtain higher education degrees, but the United States still ranks low on the list of nations with the most women in the national legislature, at number 93. (The study lists the US as number 77, but after accounting for ties with other countries, we lose out to 92 other nations in actual number of women in the national legislature.)

This minority of women in leading political roles faces a tough battle – one that comes with unique challenges like being constantly asked how, as mothers and wives, they balance having a family with their career.

Many male politicians are fathers and husbands as well – but are they asked how they balance those commitments with their lives? Not often, that’s for sure.

But there is something else lurking below the surface that is making things even tougher for women to get – and stay – elected. And it’s hiding behind a friendly grin: that casual comment about the outfit she’s wearing or that mention of her hairstyle.

Simply put: Discuss a female candidate’s appearance in the media, and you steal some of her political credibility.

Research Says: Media Sexism Hurts Female Candidates

Intriguing new research from the Women’s Media Center and Celinda Lake has proven that even mentioning what a female candidate is wearing hurts her political future.

It doesn’t matter if the media is criticizing her attire or saying she looks great; either way, mentioning her appearance makes her drop like a rock in the polls.

And this phenomenon is not caused by (or specific to) conservative media sources.

On the contrary, nonpartisan and left-leaning media commentators and well-meaning supporters who chime in about a politician’s new hairstyle or bright colored shoes are doing just as much to hurt female politicians as anyone else.

Why is Mentioning Appearance So Bad?

The second media coverage moves away from discussing a candidate’s qualifications, policies and strategies and instead starts discussing the dress or pantsuit she is wearing, the less likely voters are to take her seriously.

And that’s because the focus has been moved from her intellect and merit to her appearance.

You don’t vote for someone because they are fashionable. You vote for them based on their politics.

So is there something wrong with liking the outfit your Senatorial candidate is wearing at her press conference?

No, absolutely not.

But concentrating the public dialogue on her ensemble instead of her policies does her a deep injustice and encourages media sexism.

Wendy Davis and the Pink Shoes

Recently, Texan Senator Wendy Davis wowed the world by performing a 13-hour filibuster of an anti-abortion bill that succeeded (for the moment) in halting its passage. The bill closes almost all of the abortion clinics in Texas and prohibits abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

It couldn’t have been easy for Davis to stand on her feet for 13 hours straight without bathroom breaks, wearing a back brace to stay upright, and battling relentless pro-life advocates. But she did it with grace and determination.

The media world applauded Senator Davis for her bravery, strength, and perseverance.

And then they talked about her shoes.

Most articles written about the event included at least some mention (and/or pictures) of the pink running shoes that Davis wore during her filibuster.

While it is clearly uncommon to see a politician speaking on the floor while sporting athletic gear, the overzealous emphasis on Davis’ shoes distracted from her political message and demeaned her efforts.

Most likely, none of the thousands of individuals who wrote witty comments on the Amazon.com review page of Davis’ Mizuno Wave Riders meant to harm her political standing.

In fact, they were trying to stand with her and support the feat that she accomplished.

But describing Davis as “a disrupter in pink running shoes” isn’t the way to do it if they want to see her get elected again.

Is There Anything We Can Talk About?

The media is constantly commenting on and critiquing the actions of politicians. Take the Marco Rubio water bottle incident for example.

No one is arguing that we can’t discuss what our elected officials and political candidates do or say. But it’s the unparalleled focus on women politician’s attire that makes this particular situation a problem, because it doesn’t go both ways.

When was the last time that a male candidate’s newly shorn hair or sparkling cuff links were mentioned by the New York Times?

Gee, I can’t remember.

Men’s attire is not a likely topic of debate in political articles – as it shouldn’t be.

Now the key is making sure that female candidates get the same fashion-backwards treatment.

How to Change the Status Quo

Get in the Know

Organizations like She Should Run, Name It Change It, and Emily’s List work to create powerful social change by encouraging women to run for public leadership positions and speaking out against media sexism.

Join their e-mail listservs to get alerts on sexist media coverage, opportunities to take action, and information about the way to correctly support and encourage female candidates.

Educate Others

This topic simply hasn’t been broached much in American media.

Therefore, people may not even know that they might be affecting their candidate’s chances to win by deliberating on her appearance.

What better way to stop this trend in its tracks than to let people know that it’s a problem and why?

The more people who recognize the damaging effects of making a female politician a “victim of her own fashion,” the less likely people will be to make these types of comments (or so we hope!).

Report What You See

Name It Change It has a special function that lets everyday people report sexist coverage of female candidates in the media by filling out a simple online form.

Hear a news clip about White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler’s “fabulous” manolos instead of her outstanding legal work? Report it.

Read an article that focuses on Michelle Obama’s bangs instead of her healthy childhood efforts as First Lady? Report it.

Calling out media sexism helps to get the attention of major news sources that don’t want to be thought of as sexist and lose their female audience.

It’s a fine line that advocates of feminism and the media will have to walk together.

But if we’re not going to write endless articles mentioning Boehner’s green ties (okay, so there are a few of those), we shouldn’t be consistently discussing Hillary Clinton’s scrunchies either.

It’s a simple change we can all help make, but it could mean a world of difference for the future of women in political leadership.

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.

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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.

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“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).