Saturday, November 17, 2007

Strange bedfellows

In a YDN article on The Owl Shop, Dave Thier '09 writes:

"The Owl Shop, the smoking bar on College Street... feels as if it is from a time before women came to Yale, before Hitler, before Stiles and before lung cancer."

Thanks, Dave. As the 40th anniversary of co-education here rolls around, we've been looking for a catchy slogan for the Women's Center. And you've just handed us one on a plate: "Women Coming to Yale: Better than Hitler. Better than Stiles. Better than Lung Cancer."

Boola boola!

Saturday, October 06, 2007


I am reposting here Chase Olivarius-McAllister's recent op-ed on choice, which, incidentally, is one of the only morally responsible opinion pieces I have ever read in the Yale Daily News. To read it on the YDN website, go to


Chase Olivarius-McAllister

Ann Marie Beckley was born, and not aborted, in 1932. In that year, illegal abortions killed an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 women.

In 1972, Ann Marie Beckley, after seven still-births and five daughters, aborted her thirteenth pregnancy in New York, the only state in the nation in which the procedure was legal. Her Catholic husband had refused to use contraceptives.

Ann Marie Beckley survived the procedure. The greatest injuries that she suffered as a result of her abortion were incurred afterward, in beatings delivered by my grandfather in their New Jersey home.

She felt guilty about the abortion. This was, perhaps, unremarkable, given my grandfather’s habit of greeting her, afterwards, as “the murderer of his only son.” Years later, he called her that in front of the police; the officers saw that Ann needed to be hospitalized, and heard their eldest daughter’s pleas to arrest her father for assault. But they understood, they were men. It was recorded as a “domestic squabble.”

Times change. By 1986, feminism had been declared dead because, its eulogists decreed, its sole purpose — advocating legal contraception and abortion — seemed irreversibly achieved. One feminist (BR ’77) gave birth to a (planned) daughter in that year, and to another (unplanned) in 1989. She told her daughters that feminism was not dead, but that abortion and contraception were indeed irreversibly legal.

Mother was wrong.

In funding, political acuity, and organization, groups that oppose legal abortion are eviscerating the groups that support it. Politicians know it; Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani have spent the past year renouncing their old, recorded, interpretations of civil rights. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards argue that abortion is “a necessary evil” rather than a reason for women’s happiness and a human right from which all citizens staggeringly benefit. The Supreme Court upheld the “Partial Birth Abortion Ban,” a title that Bush’s Congress felt was synonymous with “The Ban of a Perfectly Safe Procedure by which an Unviable Fetus, which is, Definitively, Unborn, is Aborted.” The Court argued, without precedent, and in contradiction to all science (including even the medical findings of Surgeon General investigations begun by multiple Republican administrations because Reagan “had a hunch” that women suffered “Post-Abortion Stress Syndrome”), that abortion wrought psychological damage to the women who had them.

Though legal abortions are safer, medically, than childbirth in America, and though abortion is a relatively non-invasive procedure to terminate a non-human life, the legality of abortion is no longer safe. If a justice dies, if a Republican is elected to the presidency, women’s constitutional right to their own bodies will be further eroded: The government, to protect you from guilt, from infertility, from hell, denies you, kidnaps your body, and your womb is the ransom.

Though the groups opposed to abortion are winning, there is no “abortion debate.” Abortion’s acquaintance with humanity is contemporaneous with pregnancy’s. It was never about abortion. Abortion is true, and human, and regardless of the law will continue to be a human behavior. The current, and false, opposition of “life versus choice” is peculiar to American politics because it is a whitewash, one that obfuscates the two real questions that, despite the spilling of ink and blood, have remained unresolved for millennia.

The first question: Is fact received by God, or the product of secular inference?

The second, though it came first: Is chaos the immutable consequence of women’s freedom?

Accept Eve, or History: The necessity of abortion to women’s integrity, safety and happiness is true whether or not orphanages become better environments, rape ends, and teenagers stop becoming pregnant. While the physical, psychological, and social consequences of intercourse, pregnancy, and motherhood continue to be so disproportionately divided — as though by a drunk — between the sexes, an 80 percent male Congress cannot legislate gynecology. And a social movement that requires female guilt, that reduces the true and uninterrupted misery that women, and not men, experience as “sex” to “God’s plan,” and their choice to abort to a “sin,” words like “baby-killer” should be removed to the shelf that stows apartheid bigotries, and sit next to the word “nigger.”

And the real point that is never made is not about women’s rights, which are fundamental though pathologically qualified: It is that no one has the right to be a parent. We license marriage, driving, ownership of a handgun. But two teenagers can fuck and if a child is the consequence — fine, no problem. That child will somehow be provided for by the children it has for parents. The American government is, right now, aborting lots of 75th trimester Iraqis. When our 75th trimester babies (18-year-olds) are aborted in Iraq, the nation lauds their souls and loyalty and sacrifice but considers their right to life insignificant in comparison to our national interest. The right-wing keeps death row. The right-wing opposes taxes that will pay for better public schools. The right-wing thinks that owning a gun, a weapon that is designed to kill people, is a Constitutional right. The right-wing loves the unborn till they are alive. Parenthood is the only sacred commitment in life, not a responsibility we must expect children, or the unwilling, or the unable, to shoulder when intercourse leads to pregnancy. Protecting unborn life is about ensuring that children are only born, to parents that both want and are able to provide for them. This would require a radical legislative agenda.

But mother was wrong again: Feminism is dead.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A Major Loss in the Fight for Choice

I just wanted to link to this New York Times article that details the shocking decision that was handed down today by the relatively young Robert's court. In short, the 5-4 decision upheld a federal ban on late term abortions (derisively called 'partial birth abortions' by pro-life campaigners, and known medically as 'intact dilation and extraction' abortions). Unsurprisingly, the one woman sitting on the bench, Justice Ginsburg, wrote the dissenting opinion and stated that the decisions fly so directly in the face of earlier decisions that she doubts the decision can stand.

I sure hope she is right. It is a sad day when the Supreme Court works against civil rights.

In Reversal, Justices Back Ban on Method of Abortion

Feminist Art Label is Problematic

I wrote my last 'Broadly Speaking' editorial in the Yale Daily News on Tuesday, so I thought to re-publish the article here since it was, after all, about feminism and Yale (sort of).

Feminism blurs line between art, politics

Broadly Speaking

The art world at large has been abuzz over the past few months about the seeming re-emergence of feminist art. Three weeks ago, the Brooklyn Museum of Art inaugurated its Elizabeth Sackler Center for Feminist Art, which featured Judy Chicago’s feminist sculpture “The Dinner Party” on permanent installation. The same day, the Brooklyn Museum launched a major exhibit titled “Global Feminisms,” which featured a survey of feminist art made since 1990 from all over the world. In early March, another major exhibition of feminist art, “Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution,” opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

These two shows are noteworthy because they are the first shows of their kind to go up in the past 10 years. Feminist art saw its heyday in the 1970s and has largely been overlooked or dismissed in the intervening 30 years. In addition, the exhibits are notable because female artists are so rarely represented in major group exhibitions. For example, in the Greater New York show put up at PS1 in 2006, women artists made up only 33 percent of the artists exhibited, though women make up a majority of emerging artists. In addition, a survey undertaken by the feminist performance art group Brainstormers of the representation of women and men in Chelsea commercial galleries found that over half of the galleries show over 60 percent male artists, some as many as 80 percent or higher.

The question that exhibits of this kind raise is whether it is productive to promote a division between political or feminist art and all other types of art. Do these exhibits allow often-overlooked artists a forum? Or do they further ghettoize the works of politically conscious artists by constraining them to such a specific category?

Moreover, art shows with such an explicit curatorial focus promote an overly simplistic reading of the art, both by creating a rigid framework with which to view the works, as well as ignoring a lot of subtly feminist art. A show that features feminist art implicitly suggests that making work that deals with issues of gender, sexuality and womanhood is somehow different from any other art that responds to and is drawn from our cultural environment. All art is indebted to its artistic and historical context, yet we don’t pigeonhole Picasso’s work as being about only World War II, David Hammons’ work as commenting only on poverty in New York City or Diego Rivera’s very political murals as addressing only socialism.

Most feminist art shows would dismiss the works of minimalist painter Danielle Mysliwiec because nothing in her paintings obviously advances a feminist cause. Rather, Mysliwiec’s feminism is embedded in her minimalist undertaking — minimalism is a traditionally male-dominated area of art — as well as the delicate allusions to lace and other feminine objects found in her works.

My fear is that feminist art shows only look for feminism on the surface of the work and give little or no credit to the great deal of feminist rigor that serves as a foundation for many female artists. Making art as a female presupposes a certain level of feminism. Though women constitute the majority of art students, the commercial art market and elite arts institutions remain boys clubs. The Yale University Art Gallery serves as a good case study: Jennifer Gross, curator of the Modern and Contemporary Department, is often considered a feminist art curator because she exhibits and collects an equal proportion of male and female artists, even though she never does so with a consciously women-friendly intent.

The other critical consideration when thinking about this type of art is whether the art is made in service of a political message, or whether the political agenda is simply an outgrowth of the art. For example, posters made by the Guerilla Girls are art, yes, but more importantly, they are meant to be aggressively political. The artistic and aesthetic elements of the posters are only in the service of advancing a very particular goal. A sculpture artist like Betye Saar would argue that the politics explicit in her art are a natural extension of her assemblage process.

I don’t mean to condemn the efforts of the Brooklyn Museum or of MOCA. It is important for artists who consider themselves feminist to show their work and to have a platform to organize and network. Furthermore, it is about time that a major arts institution installed a show that focuses on contemporary women artists. But this should not encourage the art world to prescribe certain working methodologies to women artists or essentialize women artists as feminist artists. Women can and should make art about whatever they choose and be judged on the aesthetic and social value of their work.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Some Words from a Guest Blogger

this probably should've been a post but here i am.... maybe i will make it one...

excellent comments andom; most especially because they highlight the role our-ever friendly media plays in devaluing racism.

but in truth, what's a woman who thinks, well i do remember hearing

Smack that, give me some more
Smack that, 'till you get sore
Smack that.

and akon's "smack that" doesn't even include "ho".

there's also snoop dog's interesting response to being compared to don imus, which is problematic in its own right, but an interesting comment nonetheless:

"These are two separate things. First of all, we ain't no old-ass white men that sit up on MSNBC [the cable network home to Imus] going hard on black girls. We are rappers that have these songs coming from our minds and our souls that are relevant to what we feel. I will not let them mutha-----as say we in the same league as him."

interesting. several questions which i'd like to debate:
if one ought to take care and consider the nature of media representations when discussing internal injustice, how does one proceed to create interior justice if not in the public sphere, if not in bringing to light these cultural internalizations of systemic oppression? where is this so-called private, black-only sphere where black identity can heal itself from colonial assumptions of heteronormativity?
and do we not paternalistically presume that our community is too weak to acknowledge internal discrepancies and then to proceed with an equally public movement away from misogyny, an example of progress?

it is a testament of our capacity to represent blackness not as a stringent category of identification, to demonstrate its capacity for morphing, for evolution. perhaps the question is not whether specificity of viewpoints in the black community contribute to division, but rather how do we develop a rhetoric that uncategorically demonstrates us as unified against white supremacy and at the same time, incontestably human in our capacity to express viewpoints that alternate from brother to brother, sister to sister. we are not a political party with one ideology to which we march (though perhaps some might argue we ought to be), we are a people, in the multivarious forms that the word "people" takes.

is it also not possible to reject don imus' and his likes while also stating, 'we categorically reject hip hop's perpetuation of misogyny which sustains heteronormativity, a system of power upon which white supremacy often rests?' - or something along these lines.

it would be a shame to shy from this discussion and alienate our women from our identity on grounds that race as it relates to our relationship to the white public takes precedence over gender discourse within the community.

what's more, i am **accutely** sensitive to the historical legacy of white colonialism (in its wondrous, multivarious forms) use of women's positions in other cultures to attack these communities as primitive, backwards etc., a reason to mutilate cultures. i think the discourse of feminism in the Middle East currently testifies directly to this.

but i am concerned that this acute awareness of how these cultural critiques from the "enlightened" eurocentric lead us to great susceptibility to 1. perpetually imbue female bodies with the role of cultural representatives such that these discussions about race necessarily occur through our bodies, once more encouraging the silencing of women as mere bodily representors of idealism - does she or doesn't she wear a veil, does she or doesn't she wear her culture's garb, does she or doesn't she cook X food, doesn't she or doesn’t she use birth control, is she or isn't she raising our children in this way, etc (has any one heard black female view points? maybe i've missed this but it appears as though men are once more speaking in the place of women) 2. accentuate one form of injustice over another.

so perhaps someone can answer for me where this private sphere for black judgment occurs, and why we cannot reclaim justice as a heterogenous community rather than one that necessarily presents a monolithic front; in short, why in at once condemning don imus' racist comments, there can't be a more nuanced and yes, public critique that acknowledges hip hop's perpetuation of not merely gender injustice but equally problematic, race injustice by so vividly and so often reflecting the rhetoric of white heteronormativity (though perhaps in a more verbose manner than white sexism's great capacity to be insidious)? why when we critique hip hop's gender injustice we cannot also publicly denounce the *continued* unequal pay of women across the US, the many unjust applications of rape laws, the eroding access a woman has to birth control let alone abortion, the absence of day care to ensure women's actual capacity to enter the work force, the appalling number of women tenured as professors despite the steadfast, growing number of females graduating university compared to their male peers.

it's not right, i concede, that the black community must both bear the brunt of racism as well as be the solutions to these injustices. but i am deeply concerned when one form of injustice and its resolution take precedence over another because we find ourselves in the public and often oppositionary eye of the other. i am beginning to understand the dangerous cost of this double consciousness, this perpetual acknowledgment of the white perspective on blackness.

it’s our difficult to move forward with change by taking hold of the rhetoric and calling internal critique of blackness not an instance of division but a representation of another assault on whiteness, where we refuse to perpetuate power structures which have and will continue to uphold racial, gender oppression so long as we choose to not tear down the both simultaneously.

we are fortunate enough to historically know how women have been sidelined in and for race politics ( – let’s not make the same mistake twice.

so be equally insulted that black women were referred not only in racially derogatory terms, but at the absurdity of reducing our amorphous and profound sexuality to an apparatus for lust.

i won’t choose to be more upset as a woman or a black person in these comments. i’ll thunder that i’m made to choose, as though sexism and racism were not cut from the same cloth. so snoop can talk from his soul as much as he wants and don imus can reveal his true colors, but neither’s masculinity or blackness is enough a shield to protect him from my anger.

**and may i just add that these moments of internal critique need to be buffered with the role of the media which uplifts misogynistic rap while giving little to no play to rappers like lupe, dead prez, talib, roots, and so many others who have returned to rap's original *revolutionary* role as a voice of dissent and a voice of UPLIFT. there's a reason why hip hop has taken root around the world, from senegal with the amazing didier awadi rapping against neocolonialism to the banlieus of paris against france's hypocritical reputation as race-heaven to palestinians against the israeli occupation to female middle eastern MCs rapping about american cultural hegemony.

so i say: rap is beautiful.
let's bring it back home.

ps for someone notably more eloquent than myself, the black law feminist kimberly crenshaw has written on this not-so-new issue. y'all should check out her article:

pps tns doing loving internal critique…

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Online Misogyny: Does the Internet Make Sexism Easier?

By now I'm sure many of you have heard about the scandal at the Yale Law School. As the Yale Daily News and the Washington Post have reported, three female students at Yale Law School have claimed to be the victims of slanderous comments on an online discussion, AutoAdmit, which allows posts by undergraduate students about schools, job offerings, etc. One of the three students believes that the offensive posts damaged her career chances, since the discussions are among the first hits of a Google search.

I read through some of the comments, and I was shocked. The posts are lewd, aggressive, even violent; there are speculations about her sexual health and threats of rape. I know that some will say that these threats are not to be taken seriously, but it's truly horrifying to think that people can voice such thoughts on a public forum anonymously and not fear legal action. Similar phenomena have occurred elsewhere online: recently, a female blogger became so frightened by gruesome death threats that she canceled speaking engagements (read more about this story here).

I am also thinking back to last year when Della and Sabrina received a barrage of hateful comments in which the words "bitch" featured prominently. Is it easier to hate women electronically? It seems that this kind of hate speech is tolerated online in a way it would not be in a print forum or in everyday conversation. Perhaps the anonymity of message boards eliminate the filter between thought and speech . . . or perhaps I just don't notice the expression of these sentiments in other arenas. I realize that posters can attack a wide variety of people in vicious ways, but it is particularly disturbing that women are often the victims of these attacks and that the slander is of a sexual nature. For all of those people who claim that sexism is gone and that feminism is unnecessary, these disgusting posts prove otherwise.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Whoa, Women's Crew!

On an incredibly positive women-note, the Yale Women's Crew team made a ridiculously funny, ridiculously critical video about their relationship to food ("This has 3,000 calories, this has 3,000 calories, let's eat it!") where they spoof the now famous internet video "Shoes." Amazing. Thank god for women being funny and making light of the ridiculously stringent eating habits athletes have to adhere to! Way to put your intellect and comedy and femininity to use. This video is brilliant. There, I said it.

Also, they are wearing mustaches for much of the video. I love the women's crew team.

Take a look.

(Reblogged courtesy of Ivy Gate)

Naked Women, They Sell Everything

I have been meaning to complain about the above poster since I first saw it heralding me from outside of the Yale Rep. My vigor was re-fueled last night when walking by the poster and my friend asked me if I wasn't surprised that The New York Times refused to run the image as an ad for Yale's production of Lulu.

No, I am not surprised, in fact I totally agree with The New York Times' discomfort, although admittedly my objections may be more political than proprietary.

I find this poster offensive. Not only is the body headless, armless and for most purposes legless (ie really it has a vagina, the only important part of a female body), the body is deathly white and totally hairless. No landing strip here boys. Go right on in. I worry that there is this mentality among intellectual institutions, people, and theatrical organizations (apparently) that because we are conscious of the tradition of misogynist imagery we are accessing it's alright for us to mine it.

It is not alright. Lulu is a play about sex and abuse and prostitution and the degradation of women. The play is incredibly violent. Grotesquely violent. The poster image relates only in that it degrades women and is sexual yes, but the apple? The virginal, death-like, obectified body? Tangential at best. Really, its an easy, simple poster that took little to no talent or ingenuity to come up with and which employs a wonderful, rich history of sexist imagery to deliver a quick, sexy punch. Do better Yale Rep, I am sad to see you disappoint.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

New Header Image

Apparently the only way to get a header graphic is to first host it. Apologies for this useless post.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Black Justice Blog at Yale

If you have a moment, you should check out the brand new Black Justice Blog, which focuses on issues of black justice at Yale.

That's all.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Want to write for Broad Recogntion?

Sadly, Basha, Maggie and I are all graduating this year and though we would love to keep writing for Broad Recognition forever, we think it better to pass it on to the next generation of Yale feminists. And that is where you come in! Are you a Yale feminist who is interested in blogging for Broad Recognition? If so, please email us at, or, and we can go from there.

Staying critical of the Feminist conversation about work and family

I was recently invited to speak for a symposium for a group called RESPECT, which is part of the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore. The topic of the event was "Economics of the Gender Divide." My talk was called "Staying critical of the Feminist conversation about work and family," and here it is (know that this was written to be spoken, hence all the use of the first person):

Before I start, I would like to make two disclaimers. First, I want to be straightforward about the fact that my thoughts about the issues that encircle gender and race in the workforce, are based on my experiences as an undergraduate woman at Yale University, which is arguably one of the most elite of elite academic institutions and definitely a place of enormous privilege and I want to recognize what is important about the perspective that being educated at such an institution affords me, and also address what is problematic about that perspective.

Second, I want to mention that what goes on at institutions like Yale, or Harvard or Princeton, is given an unfair weight in terms of the national media discussion about various political issues. I think that the media maelstrom that followed Larry Summer’s comments at Harvard about women in science, and the attention that every move that Shirley Tilghman, the first female president at Princeton, makes are two good examples of this. And I think that this fact is why it is all the more important to be critical of the form the discussion takes at these institutions. The project of my talk today, and of my columns in the Yale Daily News is to make sure that we are aware of the many biases that skew the discussion in certain directions.

I would like to start this story at the very beginning, which in this case I locate in the Fall of my freshmen year, which was the Fall of 2003. In October 2003, the New York Times magazine ran an article by a columnist named Laurie Pickens, who at the time and to this day write a column for the Times about work and family called “Life’s Work,” the name of the article was “The Opt-Out Revolution” and it was an in depth look at what Pickens was positing as a cultural trend of highly educated women, many of them with multiple degrees from Ivy-league institutions, choosing to stay at home and care for their children rather then pursue successful careers.

This article had an enormous impact on the discussion among female students and female faculty at Yale, because in many ways it countered everything that we held dear about our status as female students at this institution that is the very bastion of white, male patriarchy. And what it threatened was our belief that the shift that had occurred in our culture on the level of secondary education, which is that the second wave of feminism had opened those doors to women, we believed that it had also occurred in the workforce, meaning that once we graduated we would be able to rise to highest levels of power and prestige, unencumbered by the glass ceiling that had prevented generations of women before us from succeeding. But what the women represented in the article were saying was that not only did women continue to face gender specific challenges in the workforce, but many of the women were actively choosing to stop working rather then continue to work and change the work environment to something suited women’s needs.

Two years later, this time in the Fall of my junior year, a second article was published, this one written by a Yale school of Management student named Louise Story. In this article, published in September of 2005, and titled “Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood” Story interviewed current students at Yale and Harvard, and found that a surprising number of the female undergraduates were planning on leaving their careers once they had children to be stay at home mothers. As you can imagine this article was not well received by most of the female undergraduates at Yale who felt that it grossly misrepresented their future plans, and ran counter to the conversation that the Opt Out Revolution article had spurred.

A number of panels ensued, where professors, administrators and students including Louise Story convened to look at whether this really was a trend among Yale students, or whether the women Story interviewed were exceptions. That year the Yale Women’s Center undertook a study to comprehensively assess the prevailing ideas among Yale college women and men regarding negotiating between work and family. The results of this study were much more affirming in that they found that the psychology of students was much more advanced then what seemed to be an antiquated model being propagated by the women interviewed in the Times.

What that study found was that the vast majority of undergraduate women had every intention of staying in the workforce after having children, in fact only 4% responded that they would stop working, and that the undergraduate men actually had surprisingly high expectations of being able to modify their careers to accommodate taking care of their children.

These results, though positive, didn’t entirely negate the effect of The Opt Out Revolution article, because what many of the women in that article professed was that they had never expected to choose to leave their jobs, and yet they were finding themselves doing just that. A panel of female alumnae organized by the Women’s Center reinforced that idea. Each one of the women who spoke on that panel, titled ‘Life After Yale: Negotiating Work and Family,’ talked extensively about how as undergraduate women they had expected to blaze the trail to success hot on their fellow male student’s heels and be women who would succeed in a man’s world. What each one of them found, however, once they entered the work force was that they had obstacles to overcome and problems to deal with that they were faced with only because they were women. And many of these issues, problems, concerns and hurdles had to do with negotiating their careers with taking care of their children. And what they told us, female undergraduates, was that they wanted to come back and talk to us about how they had handled those questions so that we would go into the workforce truly prepared for what was to come.

So this is all to say that this phenomenon of highly educated, privileged women choosing to stay at home and take care of their children in lieu of pursuing their careers full time, has been a major cause of worry and concern among my friends and fellow female students during my time at Yale. And of course, what is particularly frustrating is seeing that these issues don’t even seem to register with the male students.

Ok, so given that this is the tone of the conversation at Yale, what can be learned, or what is significant about this?

Well, first its disappointing to see that the feminist movement really hasn’t come far enough in terms of addressing the many complex factors that pull women out of the workforce. Though in her article Belkin suggested that this all may be due to the fact that women really don’t want to work, and given the opportunity to leave take it, this doesn’t hold true if you start to look at the trends of working women in other countries. For example, if you look at Sweden, a country that has done much more then the United States in terms of institutionalizing maternal and paternal leave, as well as institutionalizing childcare, you find that highly educated women are much more likely to stay in their jobs after having children, and that there are almost as many men take time off when they have children.

In effect, the tragedy of this trend is that the women who have the most access to privilege and prestige and power, who are poised to make the largest scale, substantive changes in terms of institutionalizing childcare, maternal and paternal leave, creating flexible work schedules in the United States, and really affecting the entire structure of the work environment to accommodate people of different needs are those opting out.

What we gain from knowing about this conversation at Yale, is the understanding that a lot of work continues to need to be done, and hopefully my generation of college graduates can enter the workforce ready to tackle these problems and bring about the substantive change that the generation before us was unable to accomplish.

But the other thing that I want to highlight about the way this conversation has developed in the national media and at Yale, is that it has focused entirely on the experiences of the very top echelon of working women—those with the most prestigious degrees and the economic status to have the choice to stay at home. At the end of the day, though an unattractive choice, the ability to stay at home is a privilege allotted to very few. Choosing to leave your career is an option available only to a class of women with incredible economic privilege, those who can rely on their spouses (in fact, you must have a spouse in order to this) to make enough money to support the family on one salary.

If my education as an African American Studies major has taught me anything, it is that this idea of the oppressed woman who was forced to stay at home with her children in the 1950’s, or the oppressed woman who chooses to stay at home with her children in 2007, has no cultural resonance with the experiences of most minority women. Black women, for example, and I would argue most women minorities, have always worked because their economic status for most of American history did not afford them the privilege of staying home.

Thus, once again you have a situation where a major, powerful feminist conversation is failing to take into consideration the lives and experiences and circumstances of the majority of women in this country: those women who either because of race, economic or marital status could never even entertain the idea of leaving their jobs. They have to work because they have to eat, they have to pay for their housing and clothe their children. The women that most of the initiatives of the Annie E. Casey Foundation are looking to help.

So what do we do?

Well, to look back at the Opt Out Revolution article, the most important point that Belkin makes comes so late in the article that it seems like an afterthought. She writes that women’s willingness to leave the workforces is not a reason why women shouldn’t be working, rather:

“This, I would argue, is why the workplace needs women. Not just because they are 50 percent of the talent pool, but for the very fact that they are more willing to leave than men. That, in turn, makes employers work harder to keep them.”

She continues by highlighting all of the changes that have occurred in terms of job flexibility, parental leave policies, etc. because of employers attempts to retain female workers. And critically, these changes are dramatically changing the way that men work in our culture. The salient point here is that the presence of the other (be it women or minorities) in the workforce is absolutely crucial because they are the only ones who have the perspective to know what their needs are and ask that those needs be accounted for so that they can continue to contribute their invaluable talent. And that in the end, benefits everyone in the workforce.

Ironically, I am about to borrow a Reagonomics terms and apply it to something that could actually help women, but please bear with me.

If we can think about the women agitating for women’s interests at the top of economic and power structures as creating a “trickle down effect,” in that they can help enact the major sweeping changes to the structure of the workforce, then I want to posit that in addition to this trickle down model, what we need is a trickle up model.

Now what does that mean?

Once again I want to look at examples that exists outside of the United States, and what I want to look at is the example of the Grameen Bank and the success of micro-credit in Bangladesh as a way to combat poverty. I am sure that many of you are familiar with Muhammad Yunus and his work in light of him winning the Nobel Peace Prize this Fall, but I just want to briefly discuss his project and look at why it is relevant to our discussion.

The story, as Yunus tells it, is that in the 1974 he was an economist working in Bangladesh trying to figure out an innovative solution to the incredibly profound poverty that plagued the country after a major famine. After talking to people he realized that one of the major problems facing the poor was the callousness of the loan sharks, who would lend to people and then charge ridiculously high interest so that the recipients of the loan were immediately trapped in a vicious cycle of debt. When talking to a group of 42 people about their debts, Yunus thought to ask how much they owed to these loan sharks, and to his surprise he found that the entire group only owed $27 American dollars. So he decided just to lend them the money form his own pocket and set them free from their debt.

He then went to a bank and asked if the bank couldn’t start lending money to the people instead of the loan sharks. The bank responded that they could not, because the poor people were unworthy of the money and could not be trusted with it. Yunus, bristling at this suggestion, decided to take out a loan under his own name which he then divided into smaller loans which he lent out. Every penny was quickly paid back and this experience led him to create the Grameen Bank which offered small loans to the poor to do with them exactly what they saw fit, such that the bank was enabling the people to create their own solutions for their poverty and meet the needs of their community as they understood them, rather then imposing solutions form the outside.

The other important decision Yunus made very early on in the creation of his micro-credit bank, was that he privilege women over men in the loan program. He saw that women were much likelier to make choices that worked to benefit the entire community with their money then men were, and much less likely to spend the money on alcohol, gambling or prostitution. In other words, giving women the agency to improve their situation had enormous dividends for the community at large.

What this example makes clear is how ensuring that women, minorities, or those under-represented, are a part of the conversation is the only way to accomplish major structural change that reforms the system, and that there is no adequate way to impose those changes from the top down. In other words, we need the women at the top to push for improvement (trickle down) but its just as important that the women at the bottom of the economic and power hierarchy are empowered to make the changes they see fit because they are the only ones who understand exactly what needs to be done for the improvement of their lives(trickle up).

Thus, I would like to recognize that the perspective that I have as a Yale student, even given that I have been very involved in a heated four-year feminist dialogue about work and families, is inevitably limited by the limits of Yale experience. And that is true of everyone. I can’t account for the challenges that women in another set of circumstances face, so it is vital that I (and all of my female and male cohorts) remember that though we can ascertain that certain things in the work force need to shift to accommodate our needs, those changes are only a portion of a greater movement that needs to take place so that everyone is given the ability to flourish in their respective career, and able to make the choices that are best for their lives. And that allowing other people to partake in this conversation, and at times ceding decision-making power to them is the only way to productively move forward.

There is nothing in my opinion that represents a greater respect for another human being or group than respecting their autonomy to make the right decision.

As my father loves to say, a culture that oppresses 50% of its workforce (or more!) doesn’t advance very quickly.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Point/Counter Point: Initiative helps women on path to leadership

Two women who run the Women's Leadership Initiative here at Yale felt compelled to respond to the editorial that Basha and I wrote ("Society, not choice, encumbers women" Feb. 19) by expressing the aim of the WLI. I think their words are interesting and thoughtful and I want to link to their editorial in an effort to continue this as a dialogue.

Basha and I will both be posting further comments soon.

Initiative helps women on path to leadership
Tamara Micner and Allison Pickens

Saturday, March 03, 2007

"Unfettered years of casual sex?"

Yesterday, in an attempt to procrastinate, I read the New York Times' review of Session Stepp's new book, Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both. Ms. Stepp reports that "hooking up" has largely replaced dating among high school and college aged women. The phenonmenon of "hooking up" has harmful emotional and physical effects on young women, perhaps even leaving them unable to "forge meaningful relationships."

The article continues on to focus the article on a debate about feminism. It may be a "throw back" to envision or idealize young women in committed relationships as the healthiest form of sexual play; however, it seems clear Ms. Stepp conceptualized her intentions as feminist, rather than anti-feminist. Frankly, I don't think it is feminism's job to tell me with whom I can have sex, and how--but Ms. Stepp seems to want to engage in an act of demystification (that casual sex is harmful more often that it is not) rather than strong-arming women to acquiesce to a particular type of femininity.

I want to make it clear that I have not read her book, and thus, my criticisms and observation sare based soley off the aforementioned article.

Her critique appears to be gendered, and as such, perpetuates, rather than dismantles, an unfortunately gendered power dynamic in sexual relationships. The article all but ignores that men, too, feel pressures in the casual hook-up culture: pressure to perform, long and hard, to call, not to call, to care, not to care, to brag, etc. Their experiences can be just as alienating as women's--and to ignore that fact is to accept a vision of sexuality defined on male terms. The problem is not that I am sitting here waiting for "Mr. One Night Only" to call; it is that I am sitting here, and he there and we don't have the vocabularly to communicate, to say: I like you, or I don't, or let's do that again, or let's be friends, or maybe we should get to know you better, maybe we could be something, someday, when we're both ready...

These are chicken-and-egg arguments, hard to pin down, impossible to understand causality, because culture is nebulous and ever-changing and different from place to place. Rather than blame "casual sex" for emotional disconnectedness and misplaced desire, I think that the rhetoric of ease around casual sex constitutes a huge problem, rather than the existence of "unfettered years" of casual sex. Sex is hard, be it casual or not -- albeit hard in different ways--and the expectation that casual sex will be easy should go out with the bathwater. And of course, we should all assess our own levels and limits of comfort, not engage in actions that seem to us repulsive merely for social acceptance, and engage in whatever type of sexual activity we see fit.

If we talk about "hooking up" more, as a society, a community, or amongst friends, we can develop a vocabularly, an understanding that it is deep and profound and complex and murky for all parties involved--but can also be enjoyable, and safe, and even, dare I suggest, beautiful.

The article even quotes Ms. Stepp as saying: “This is what I love about the bloggers . . . They haven’t been out there interviewing young people for 10 years. They’re talking about their own college experience. Everyone’s had some sort of sexual experience and they all think they’re experts on it.” Perhaps I have fallen victim to the sin of hubris, as I am, undoubtedly, talking about my college experience, and have not spent 10 years interviewing young people. Indeed, I would probably even defer to expertise that young women (and men?) find casual sex more harmful than they had expected; that being said, I firmly, firmly believe that the answer is to understand the phenomenon and engage with it more intelligently, rather than advocate another, oftentimes equally pernicious and detrimental, form of sexual interaction. Is it really worse for us to sit by the phone waiting for "Mr. One Night Only" than to pin our hopes and dreams on one person at a young age, before having experienced more, before pursuing goals for ourselves? I really don't think I can ascertain any normatively desirable course of actionfor anyone save myself, but I do think grappling with the difficulty of relationships, casual or serious, together will do us good.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Institutional Responsibility: Yes YOU!

Paddy Johnson, feminist art critic, wrote a great blog post today on her blog Art Fag City nailing The New Yorker for the gross under representation of women in the New Ideas conference. Of 24 speakers, 3 are women. Apparently, women just have nothing of value to contribute, right?

I wanted to link to this post because it looks at a very specific example of the sexism that goes on in these elite educational/intellectual institutions (ahem, nothing new there) and also because it picks up on a thread that Basha and I addressed in our editorial. The thread being that its incumbent on the institution, thats right, YOU the organizer/leader/dictator to find those people who can offer well-considered, diverse opinions, because you are in charge of your organization and its in your interest to diversify. Stop blaming it on other people.*

* The conference organizers are refusing to take responsibility for the lack of women because apparently they invited a lot of women, though they must not have made it a priority.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Posting Notice/The Vagina Monologues

I would like to apologize for the dearth of posting going on here at Broad Recognition. Unfortunately, all three of us are in the throes of senior year, and I can say that I at least spend all my time in the library thinking about black masculinity and sculpture. But these are no excuses to put down the feminist banner!

So, while you wait for us to get our act together I would like to encourage you to check out this year's production of:

Eve Ensler's
The Vagina Monologues
THIS Thursday and Friday
8PM, Branford Common Room
Tickets are $3 each, and the proceeds will be donated to VDay, a global campaign to end violence against women.

Also, look forward to upcoming posts about the politics of lesbianism, the politics of the single vs. not single gal, LTTR (lesbian art collective), and a review of The Blow, who played at Toad's.

And lastly, here are two feminist-y links for your enjoyment:

I Blame the Patriarchy
: this is a great blog written by a radical feminist living in Austin, TX. She wrote an especially prescient post recently called 'Sisterhood,' which looks at conflict between women. A stellar quote:

"When women hate women, it is only men hating women by proxy."

ARTNews: Feminist Art The Next Wave

Learn more about the recent resurgence of feminist art in ARTNews' latest magazine. You can read a couple of the articles online, including Phoebe Hoban's article "We Are Finally Infiltrating."

More to come!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Belle Jar

This post comes to you via the ivy-league blog, IvyGate, which means that I am re-blogging this information, which is about a blog, which is to say that I am on the verge of exploding the meta levels of the blogosphere. Watch out.

The Belle Jar is a new sex column published on The BWOG, a blog run by The Blue and White, an undergraduate magazine at Columbia. In a word, this sex column is being written by an anonymous, self-professed lesbian feminist, who is interested in writing honestly and forthrightly about sex in the Ivy League. I am not going to agree with the writers of IvyGate who slathered The Belle Jar with as much praise as they could muster in one blog entry, but I will say that the column is well written, pithy and certainly held my attention. This girl makes great observations about neediness and people's difficulties with being single--I especially love her remarks about Angelina Jolie--but the jury is still out on the whole feminist part, so I will keep reading and give an update (next week's column promises to be on cunnilingus, which seems somewhat promising).

Also, her column should be a good primer for an ongoing conversation Basha and I have been having about how politically we believe in being lesbians. An edited version of that extended conversation is forthcoming. Get ready.

HPV Vaccine Petition

Please visit this website, to sign a petition to ask University Health Services to subsidize the cost of the HPV vaccine, Gardasil for students. This vaccine is really expensive, but HPV
causes 70% of all cervical cancers in women.

The petition is apparently being organized by an organization called Colleges Against Cancer, which is an subsidiary organization of the American Cancer Society. I have to admit that I am not sure who they are working with her on-campus, Maggie, is RALY involved?

Also, I do want to make a disclaimer that the HPV vaccine is not without controversy, yet it seems pretty reasonable to support YUHS making it available at a reasonable cost to students.

Broad Recognition Editorial

Today in The Yale Daily News is running an editorial that Basha and I co-wrote. Originally, all three Broad Recognition bloggers had planned on writing this editorial (on instituational responsibility) last semester, but we never got around to finishing it until yesterday when Basha and I hastily smoothed out our rough brainstorm and submitted it for my bi-monthly column. Feel free to give the YDN website some traffick love by reading the article there, or simply enjoy the editorial here, where I have given it a much better title.

Women are not the problem

Adda Birnir and Basha Rubin

Last semester, we were concerned with the way that discussion about women in prominent positions — or the lack thereof — at Yale played out in the campus media and public discourse. The Yale Daily News, the Yale Herald, the Women’s Leadership Initiative and people speaking in general conversation asked why more women don’t seek prominent positions of leadership on the editorial page, in the boardroom and on the college council. Though we appreciate that Yale students are thinking about the absence of women in these activities on campus, and beyond, we found the framing of the discussion usually unproductive and alarming, in that it is often implied that something is wrong with Yale women.

The problem with how this discussion has been framed is that everyone keeps asking why women don’t seek the opportunity to write editorials, to run for Yale College Council president, or to work for major investment, banking or consulting firms. Everyone seems bewildered that women do not seem eager to pursue these opportunities when they are the publicly recognized positions of power, and since Yale women (alongside Yale men) should be interested in gaining power, they ought to be equally represented. Few have taken into consideration that these opportunities may not be truly open to women. By not examining this possibility, we unfairly blame women for their lack of interest rather than considering why the culture of these institutions may not encourage or perhaps may even discourage female participation.

Much of this is due to how women look at these issues. Many ambitious women subscribe to the fear that pointing out an inequality requires one to accept a status of victimhood, as if this inequality does not exist until it is acknowledged — and as if to recognize it disables one from moving forward and succeeding in one’s given field. Ironically, the opposite is true. The only way to succeed, to navigate the tenuous territory of being a woman in male-dominated fields, is to look honestly and critically at the way in which gender and race do affect one’s status in almost any undertaking. The only true way to engage and harness your agency as a woman in the minority is to recognize and expose the structures of power that are limiting you.

When the majority of writers, political leaders and bankers are men, maleness becomes the norm and women are uncomfortable, unwanted and subject to a higher degree of scrutiny than their male counterparts. Assuming a leadership position as a woman has a whole host of implications that do not apply to men in similar positions. Successful women often are considered exceptions, unfeminine or just lucky. Here we notice an important intersection between race and gender. A woman or minority is successful either in spite of her race or gender or because of it. A woman must choose to harp on her gender or forsake it, such that her gender becomes inextricably linked to her work, and her work is often not recognized on its own merits.

We firmly believe that focusing on women’s choices, and not the institutions that shape their choices, is an inadequate response. Lots of women at Yale are qualified for positions of leadership, and it is a problem for the institutions, and within the institutions, that women aren’t banging down their doors. Campus media outlets and administrative bodies are losing out because of their lack of diversity, and the onus should be on them to figure out why and make the changes necessary so that they can benefit from having the most productive, qualified, diverse participants possible.

If one of the stated goals of Yale College is to bring together the best and the brightest, and to give them an incubator in which to educate themselves on all fronts — academically, politically and socially — while developing skills that they can apply as leaders in the future, this goal is predicated on creating an environment that truly makes use of the incredible diversity of opinion and experience present in our undergraduate population. Diversity of gender, race, ability and economic class of the individuals participating in a given activity brings a diversity of experience and perspective that will carry us into a more progressive future, and push us away from simply replicating the patriarchal, racist, classist power hierarchy that has in so many ways kept us students, and American society as a whole, from being as productive as we could be.

Adda Birnir is a senior in Morse College. Her column appears on alternate Tuesdays. Basha Rubin is a senior in Timothy Dwight College.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Women Rockers Come to Toad's

As a woman who loves music, especially music of the indie-rock persuasion, I find my feminist self often frustrated by the deplorable lack of women working in the field. Sure, there are the alt-folk/indie rock love children, including notable female stars such as Regina Spektor, Cat Power, Vashti Bunyan, Beth Orton and Nellie McKay, but sometimes, after seeing four all-male bands play in row, you don't want a girl singing a pretty song, all you want is one woman (one woman!) armed with an electric guitar.

Ah, for the days of Sleater Kinney, Riotgrrls, and Blondie...

Fortunately, we still have Kim Gordon. Last Thursday night I had the pleasure of seeing Sonic Youth play at Toad's (I have never known Toad's to be so crowded) and all I could think as I watched Ms. Gordon pound downstrokes and dance in her metalic silver dress was: the search is over, I have found her!

Any of you not lucky enough to have seen Sonic Youth, can still catch a some other awesome female led bands who will be at Toad's in the near future.

Mirah and The Blow will be playing next Tuesday, February 27th. Both groups are on the K-records label, a progressive, women friendly rock label based out of Olympia, Washington which also produces the German Performance Art/Music Collaborative Chicks on Speed (also warriors in the small army of female rockers).

More importantly, this Friday, February 23rd, Toad's will have the honor of hosting the one and only, the legend, the oft-photographed by the Robert Mapplethorpe, Patti Smith. Over the course of her long career Smith has made it all: performance art, music, painting, and poetry. Its unclear what we can expect at the concert, but something interesting for sure. Patti Smith is someone who has been very actively political in progressive politics (she was an active supporter of Ralph Nader's 2000 campaign for the Whitehouse, for example) but more importantly, she is a crazy, zany female artist whose career is an amazing example that sometimes, women can break every mold in existence and be reasonably successful doing it. I'll be there, swooning, everyone should join me, if only for the spectacle.

Broad Recognition Goes Tyra

I find myself quite surprised to be setting about to write a post lauding Tyra Banks for her women friendly activities, but yet here I am doing just that. Usually, I would consider Tyra Banks to be marginally better then the average, terribly image conscious, shallow, misogynist fashion industry person. Although her involvement in the totally sick (albeit entertaining) 'America's Next Top Model' reality show, might push her right over the edge and into being on-par with all of the rest of the people in the fashion industry who help manufacture our consumption obsessed beauty culture.

But I have to give credit where due, and recognize that Tyra Banks has helped widen the scope of what we consider beautiful (if only because she is not an emaciated white teenage girl), and she is brazen.

Recently, Tyra Banks has received a sizable amount of attention for what appears to be her weight gain of approximately 30 lbs. You may remember a magazine cover, featuring this illustrious photograph of the model.

Tyra Banks, unlike other supermodels who would be mortified to see such a photograph of themselves, decided to fight back against the negative media attention, namely, she got on tv (as is her wont) and gave the weight obsessed media world a piece of her mind. Check it out, its pretty great.

(This post was made possible by Nikita and her very funny blog, Break Up Or Get Married)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Students Protest for Compassionate Care

Last Friday, a group of students from Yale College, Yale School of Medicine, and Yale School of Nursing protested in front of St. Raphael's Hospital in order to call attention to the need for compassionate care for rape victims. You can read the Yale Daily News report on the protest here. They targeted St. Raphael's because the hospital will not provide emergency contraception to all rape victims who request it. There is currently a bill in the state legislature that would require all hospitals that receive state funding (and St. Raphael's does receive some state funding) to provide emergency contraception to all rape victims, regardless of the hospital's religious affiliation. Emergency contraception, a high dose of birth-control hormones, can prevent pregnancy up to 120 hours after unprotected sex; clearly, it is should be an essential part of treatment for women who have suffered sexual assault. St. Raphael's has also intimated that if the compassionate care bill passes, they will stop treating rape victims so as not to violate the new law. This response would be unconscionable. I hope that the protest on Friday showed St. Raphael's that their policies do not go unnoticed. I also hope that those who saw the protest or heard about it will contact their state legislators in the hopes of getting the compassionate care bill passed. As the protesters on Friday made clear, women deserve compassionate care.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Chase Olivarius-McAllister recently wrote an incredibly well written, well thought out article in the Yale Daily News all about virginity and how our culture (writ-large, as well as at Yale specifically) struggles to deal with virginity and female sexuality. With her permission, I would like to reprint the editorial in its entirety, in an effort to use this blog as somewhat of an archive for all feminist discussion that happens in the public sphere at Yale. If you want to read the piece on their website, go here.

Today's women can reject virginity myth

Chase Olivarius-McAllister

"Virginity has been one of humanity’s sorrier obsessions. Daphne ultimately preferred existence as a laurel tree to intercourse with Apollo. This seems more reasonable when one considers what met women who lost their virginity in unsanctioned circumstances. In Persephone’s case, loss of virginity resulted in forced marriage and three seasons in hell for eternity.

Christian feminists insist that Christ intended a world in which both men and women were virgins until marriage. But in practice, the worship of the Virgin Mary has exacerbated the conflation of women’s virginity with women’s moral worth. This fusion, or confusion, only increased the invidious paranoia in Europe’s approach to the intersection of women and sex. Thus “virginity,” as a facet of Europe’s greater social misogyny, meant that the average woman was less literate, more likely to be beaten or burned, and unlikely to have any agency over her sexual or marital choices.

But virginity in women was not just a proximity to God, a physical state and a moral decision; it was also a fact of family life and of the economy. Prostitutes were paid to take it away from boys, and the payment of dowries — a significant transaction in the economies of European towns — was contingent on the virginity of the bride-to-be. The European commercial tradition largely dismissed the value of male virginity. Literature has reflected this double standard. Tess of the d’Urbervilles testifies to what met unmarried Victorian girls who lost their virginity, consensually or not: destitution, depression and death.

Our times seem saner, on this count, than many that have preceded them. Some part of the 50 million records that Britney Spears has sold may be credited to the still-present belief that virginity is valuable in women, and the renaissance of “promise rings” throughout Midwestern high schools indicates that the fashion of chastity belts has not dissolved, merely changed. But the social power of virginity has generally declined as the most obvious patriarchies have been dismantled. Few women were killed in America in the last century because they were unmarried but not virgins. Few bed sheets stained with blood are seen outside New Haven windows. And even the traditional definition of “virgin” as one who has not had heterosexual intercourse is now dated.

But that the politics of virginity are no longer atrocious does not mean that America’s understanding of virginity is healthy. The sexual double standard persists. Anecdotally, we are aware of men who have waited for love or marriage, or lost their virginity to older women; we have also heard of women who have had sex for the first time, happily, with men they did not love or date. However, the loss of a woman’s “innocence” is still a subject of higher anxiety than the loss of a man’s. For whatever reason, there remains a glamour in female ignorance and a necessity in male knowledge. Modern-day virgins may resent the language that is available to describe their first experiences: virginity is “taken” or “lost” — not “given.” But really, where does it go when “taken”? The burden of the countless bits of advice that friends, family, religions, popular culture and political organizations feel qualified to give on how one should “lose” one’s virginity is great.

Sex is amazing, liberating and a power to be exerted over others. The first time is to be “gotten over with,” in the expectation of greater joys. Yet virgins are also told that sex is somehow immoral, base, salacious and meaningless if it isn’t within a marriage or a relationship. Lastly, the virgin might define “tedious” with the following question: Do you feel pressured to have sex?

This is the real grievance of virginity in our times: The discourse on virginity is neither sexy nor diverse, nor reaching, but incomprehensible, boring and fetishized. It is a cultural lie, through which we deal ineptly with our views on sex. The loss of virginity is not the moment you lose your innocence. It is the moment when you start to reinvent, and fail, at sex. Nothing is taken from you. You join the conversation. Culture hasn’t wanted women in that conversation, and certainly not women who have sex casually. Boys are supposed to rush into the conversation and conform to its assumptions. And the conversation is toxic; virgins wise to avoid it. It exists within an ethical vacuum, where men are supposed to be big and screw women hard, and women are supposed to like it and fake their orgasms and everyone pretends to be good at sex, to enjoy it, and no one’s son ever forces a girl to have sex with him, and no one talks about whether women enjoy being objects, and everyone knows that most boys are bad in bed yet your friends never date those boys. The conversation has got to get better, everywhere and on this campus. Because the conversation as it stands is like three seasons of hell for all eternity and virgins fidget, tempted by the laurel tree.

Chase Olivarius-McAllister is a sophomore in Branford College. She is the political action coordinator for the Women’s Center."

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Absence of the Vagina Monologues

For the first time since I arrived at Yale in 2003, no group of students will perform the Vagina Monologues during V-Week. It is an unfortunate oversight, to be sure. When Even Ensler first presented the Monologues in 1996, they were truly revolutionary, and as such, deserve our respect. The Vagina Monologues gave us a vocabulary to discuss our vaginas, and a forum to recognize our shared experiences and fears.

That being said, however, the Vagina Monologues make me uneasy, and I have always been apprehensive about sharing my sentiments publicly. Indeed, I have been complicit in perpetuating the problem I have with how we discuss the Vagina Monologues--which is that I find in self-proclaimed feminist circles the Vagina Monologues often stagnates rather than promotes dialogue. Talking about vaginas is important, no doubt, and the Vagina Monologues occupy a critical space, giving the voiceless a voice, the uncomfortable comfort.

I am not sure, though, that I want to talk about my vagina in the same way that men praise their penises. I should certainly have the opportunity and the social freedom to shout and rant about my vagina until I'm blue in the face without shame or condemnation; however, without more sophisticated, dialogue surrounding cultural manifestations of sexuality, it simplifies complex issues.

I worry that in conversations I have had after watching the monologues, both here and elsewhere, that many women tacitly accept that the male ideal of sexuality and seek to emulate it rather than change it. Indeed, I feel similarly about issues surrounding work and family: the acceptance of the male ideal of work to the detriment of family is not an inherent good.

I want to acknowledge the passing of a year at Yale without the Vagina Monologues, without an important tribute to a watershed moment of the intersection of theater, activism, and feminism, with great sadness. My criticism is, perhaps, more about the rhetoric surrounding the monologues rather than about some intrinsic quality of the monologues themselves. In the next week, however, when women the world over are reclaiming cunt, orgasming on stage and lamenting about the gynocologist, maybe we can all try to envision incarnations of sexuality that empower us. The Vagina Monologues should open discussion rather than close it.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Responding to Roe

I am unsure of how to respond to Roger Low's column in the YDN yesterday. Low strongly supports a woman's right to choose based on the right to self-determination that I talked about in my recent post on the abortion speak-out; however, he also decries Roe v. Wade as a poor example of judicial decision-making and suggests that it be overturned and, furthermore, that pro-choice advocates should be the ones who attempt to do so.

As a pro-choice activist who participated in the celebration of Roe v. Wade's 34th anniversary, my initial reaction is to disagree with Low's argument. Overturning Roe v. Wade would erase the federal protection of a woman's right to choose and almost guarantee that about half the states in the nation would make abortion effectively illegal. This would be a disaster for women all around the country and a huge step backwards for the women's rights movement. I have to admit though, that I agree with Low's reasoning, even if I disagree with his suggested course of action. I believe that abortion rights are about self-determination, not privacy, and though I am no legal scholar, I have heard many times from those who know more about the law than I do that Roe v. Wade is a flawed decision and thus is particularly vulnerable to assault from the anti-choice movement. I wonder if I should be supporting the ruling, which has long symbolized reproductive freedom, if I know about its weaknesses.

Unlike Low, I believe that there must be a federal law protecting a woman's right to choose; I just don't know anymore if Roe v. Wade is the right legal foundation.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Virginity in the Women's Center

Come to the Women's Center at 9pm tomorrow to discuss virginity--how we experience it, why we value it, if we should value it, cultural representations of it, religious and pop-culture depictions of it, and anything else that seems relevant... There will also be Indian food.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Do Women Photographers not TA?

Art Schools are stereotypically female heavy, and Yale is no exception. This is particularly true of the photography department, where of 18 photographers, 12 are women. There are a lot of issues that arise, because most of the faculty and critics who visit the department are male, creating an odd dynamic where most of the time a group of men is critiquing a female students.

What I realized today when I saw my TA Thomas walking down the street, was that of seven photography classes I have taken, I have only had one and a half female TA's. I say one half, because this semester a second year female student is sharing a TA position with a first year male student.

I of course have no idea what causes this discrepancy, I just know that almost every male student in the department has held a TA position, and apparently very of few of the female students do so.

The problem with this, and again, I have no idea if this represents some sort of institutional discrimination, luck on my part, or a general disinterest towards teaching felt by the female students, but regardless, I have not had the benefit of hearing a female perspective on photography (something I yearn for) and female grad students miss out on the opportunity to gain valuable teaching experience and the relationship they could develop with the art professors. Sad.

Yale Women Speak Out about Abortion

Last night I sat on the floor in a packed room in HGS and listened to Yale women recount their abortion experiences. While I had heard similar stories in different settings, I had never been part of an event like this. The "rules" of the speak-out were that only women who had personally had an abortion could speak to the group and that we would wait up to ten minutes after each speaker in order to give everyone who wanted to speak a chance to do so. The event was very well organized, thanks to the coalition of groups - Nursing Students for Choice, Med Students for Choice, and the Reproductive Rights Action-League at Yale (undergraduate group) - that sponsored the event. The audience (yes, mostly women, but a good number of men as well) was supportive, patient, and encouraging. The speakers ranged from confident to hesitant, matter-of-fact to overtly emotional, but each women who told her story was treated with respect. Many speakers expressed their gratitude for having the opportunity to speak in an environment like this; they hadn't really talked about their abortions before, and they found it truly empowering to do so.

I expected the event to be powerful and moving, but I didn't anticipate the overwhelming sense of community that I felt in the room last night. As one speaker said, women who undergo abortions often feel like they are completely alone, like no one has ever done this before. These feelings of isolation don't reflect the reality of abortion in this country, since approximately one-third of women will have had at least one abortion by the time they are 45, but the stigma surrounding discussion of abortion experiences reinforces such misconceptions. It is important for women to talk about their experiences, both in order to guide other women who have to make choices about their reproductive health (as many noted last night, abortion services remain a mystery to most women who need them) and to process the experiences themselves.

As I see it, though, the speak-out purposes were not solely practical or therapeutic. The opening speaker expressed the importance of talking about abortions in personal, human terms instead of in terms of politics or ideology, but I would also note that speaking out is inherently a political act. To refuse to be shamed into silence, to break free from sexist social dictates, is a powerful self-assertion. The speak-out reinforces a central argument for women's reproductive freedom that is often overlooked in debate on these issues: a woman's right to choose is a civil right; it is a crucial component of her liberty. To determine when and how and with whom to bear children are decisions that shape an individual life. If we deny women the right to decide whether or not to become a parent, then we are revoking their right to self-determination. Most of the women who spoke described how having a child at an earlier time would have radically changed the course of their lives and prevented them from living the lives they wanted to live. Reproductive health and reproductive freedom are crucial components of women's social and political equality.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Adda's First Column!

You should all check out Adda's column in the YDN -- Sexism's Power Struggle Mirrors Historical Racism.

That's all.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Speak Out: Abortion

Happy New Year!

Look out this week, Broad Recognition will be starting up again with brand new posts on new and old topics. Also look for us in the Yale Daily News, where Basha and Adda will be co-writing a bi-monthly editorial, running on Tuesdays.

In the meantime, check out the many events planned for RALY's Roe v. Wade Week at Yale, to celebrate the 34th anniversary of the landmark supreme court decision that legalized abortion in the United States. Make sure to attend the Speak Out, Tuesday night at 8 pm in HGS Rm 119.