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.