Monthly Archives: November 2011

Should Organized Religion Have More Rights Than Women?

Right now Catholic Bishops, charities, schools and universities are demanding exemptions from new rules requiring that insurance plans cover contraception for women, free of charge.

And President Obama is listening, even as Congressional Democrats object.

The demand for exemptions is based on moral and religious grounds. Religious rights, it’s claimed. But about women’s religious rights? When women’s moral and religious beliefs conflict with the Catholic Church, why should the church win out?

Free contraception leads to healthier babies, too. The Institutes of Medicine recommended free birth control due to compelling evidence that it leads to healthier women and babies.

Women with unintended pregnancies are more likely to receive delayed or no prenatal care and to smoke, consume alcohol and be depressed during pregnancy. Unintended pregnancy also increases the risk of babies being born preterm or at a low birth weight, both of which raise their chances of health and developmental problems.

And when birth control is free, abortion rates drop too.

Then there’s the whole matter of financial survival. Poor women might want to avoid the poverty that can come from extra mouths to feed. And those who are better off might want to have only the number of children that they can afford.

Looking at the country’s finances, free contraception is a good deal, as well. Nearly half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, and one factor is the high cost of birth control. And unplanned pregnancies cost U.S. taxpayers more than $11 billion a year. Because of this, every dollar spent on birth control by California’s Family Planning, Access, Care and Treatment program resulted in approximately $4 savings.

But returning to the question of religion, aren’t we supposed to sacrifice for our own religious beliefs, rather than asking everyone else to sacrifice for our religion?

So I ask again:

Why should organized religion have more rights than women?

Reposted on the Ms. Magazine Blog, Daily Kos, The AlterNetDemocratic Underground and Political Mosaic.

Also republished on Daily Kos by Feminism, Pro-Feminism, Womanism: Feminist Issues, Ideas, & Activism and Street Prophets .

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Petite Woman Stops Big, Muscular Rapist

Monday afternoon, 17-year-old Saba Sohail was catching up on her homework when a neighbor burst into her San Jose apartment, naked and bleeding.

The teenager covered the woman with a blanket and, between sobs, the woman told the teen she had just been raped.

At that moment, the suspected rapist appeared in the open doorway.

Police marveled at what happened next: The girl confronted the half dressed interloper, scared him off and then – wielding two kitchen knives – went back into the woman’s apartment to rescue her two-year-old son.

The rapist was described in the April 2, 2008 San Jose Mercury News as big and muscular. Nevertheless, Saba (all of 5’4) got between the attacker and his victim, cursing and screaming, “Get the hell away from me! I’m not even kidding! What the hell are you doing in my house?” And in that way Saba scared him off with her attitude.

“This young lady went ahead and did something that police train and prepare for,” raved Lieut. Mark McIninch. “It’s extremely impressive.”

At first the rapist was stunned, giving Saba enough time to dial 911. Recovering slightly, the man sat down in a chair, mumbled that he was sorry and then walked out into the hallway.

Police soon caught him hiding on the landing outside the building. He was easy to identify, pantless.

If a woman panics and freezes up during an attack, she should not feel guilty. That is a very human response. But this story does suggest how attitude may aid us in a dangerous situation. Later I’ll post self-defense tips on how to stop a rapist.

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Why Are Men Surprised by Breakups?

Over the years I’ve dated men who’ve ogled other women. Actually, only four men behaved that way, most weren’t so rude. When I told them their behavior bothered me, it had no effect. One responded, “Someday you’ll have a breakthrough and get over it.”

Instead of breakthroughs, I broke up with each of them. They were all shocked.

Sometimes the surprise happens differently, as when men “hear” me say that I like what I don’t.

When I was in college at BYU some of the students believed that although Mormons no longer practice polygamy (only “Mormon Fundamentalists” do) polygamy was the way of Heaven. (A religious instructor said this wasn’t the case. I haven’t been to church in years and don’t know what the common view is now.)

Still, I heard men say they couldn’t wait to have many wives up in Heaven. Put off, I asked men how they felt about polygamy. I told one man that it pissed me off. But projecting his own interest onto me, he was certain that I was as intrigued by the idea of heavenly threesomes as he was. Perhaps he got his sex ed from porn? I was mystified. He was surprised when I broke off our relationship.

Breakups can be harder on men than on women. Partly because men are more likely to be surprised.

Why are they so often surprised?

The male role seems to be in play. Men are less likely to monitor their relationships and they often learn that they’re not supposed to listen to women. Plus, taught to constrain their emotions, men are less able to read the emotions of others.

Women are commonly objectified, too. When men see women as objects, sex toys that exist for their pleasure, men lack empathy and can’t feel women’s pain.

Additionally, men often have more power in society and in relationships. How could this hurt them?

The Wall Street Journal reported studies showing that power decreases empathy.

People moving up the ladder of success are typically considerate, outgoing, agreeable and extroverted. Nice “guys” do finish first.

But once in power, things change.

One researcher compared the effect to brain damage, saying that people who hold a lot of authority can behave like neurological patients with damaged orbitofrontal lobes, an area of the brain that’s crucial for empathy.

I’m not saying all men behave this way, but it’s an interesting observation and something to consider since men typically have more power in relationships, and in society, generally.

So it’s interesting that even limited experiments, like asking people to describe a time when they felt powerful, could make them more egocentric.

Power keeps people from hearing points of view that differ from their own. So when a woman says she’s unhappy, and her partner feels she shouldn’t be, he may not sense her suffering even as she tells him about it.

Power diminishes empathy. Lacking empathy, some misread their partner’s feelings.

Then its surprise! Bye, bye baby.

Women, if you’re having issues, perhaps this will help you to understand what’s going on. Maybe you can have a conversation (if he’ll make an effort to listen to you.)

Men, if you want to keep your relationships strong, recognize women as full partners. Be attuned and listen to them. And be empathetic and alert to your partner’s emotions.

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Yo, Mama—These Jugs Make Milk!

By Elizabeth Hall Magill @ Yo, Mama

Breasts are fun. They’re so fun that we’ve named them funbags, squeezeboxes, jugs, hooters, racks, boobs, and tits. They’re fun to look at, fun to touch and squeeze. They bounce. Men like them, and that is a good thing.

Breasts can be fun to own. They give a woman pleasure, and that is a good thing. They are an important part of a woman’s body—emblematic of her femininity, her sexuality. When a girl begins to develop breasts, it is her body’s way of saying she will one day be a woman, and a girl listens to that. She listens as the growing pains shoot through her chest, she listens as her mother and grandmother talk about finding a bra. Breasts are such an important part of the transition from girlhood to womanhood that we sometimes call them girls.

Breasts can be a total drag to own. You have to figure out what to do with them—hike ‘em up, pump ‘em up, flatten ‘em out, air ‘em out, cover ‘em up. They’re sensitive, and if one of them gets kicked or pinched or squashed it hurts like hell. Growing them hurts too. Sometimes they grow too fast, and a girl hates being teased for it. Sometimes they grow too slow, and a girl wonders when she will look like other girls. Breasts always grow just right, but girls don’t always know that. It’s confusing to grow breasts.

It’s confusing to own breasts, because breasts are great at selling things. They are FABULOUS at selling beer… a cheeseburger, a car, some soda, a TV show, a video game, or most anything a man could want. Oh, yes, and bras. Breasts are good at selling bras.

It’s confusing to own breasts, because on a deeply subconscious level (or maybe not so subconscious) a woman has to wonder—if breasts are so great at selling things, does that mean the ones on her body would be? What if the ones on her body are smaller than most of the ones that sell stuff—or bigger? What if they bounce less, or more? What if they’re not simultaneously perky and exceedingly large—is that natural, and sexy? Yes, the cultural interest in breasts can be confusing to a woman.

Of all these breasts we see, very few are ever doing what they were made to do: feed children.

There are periodic outcries against women who breastfeed in public. Sometimes women are made to feel ashamed—asked to cover up, as if they were doing something indecent. Facebook has removed pictures of breastfeeding women, labeling them obscene. Breastfeeding has been, in a variety of contexts and for many years, seen as obscene. However, using breasts to sell beer or cheeseburgers does not violate any societal code of conduct. Breasts are for fun, silly. Not for food.

Why, in the name of all that is pleasurable and seductive, do we freak out when a woman wants to feed her child in public, but we don’t freak out when she wants to use her breasts to sell something?

Moving along, then—the breast can be pleasurable for a woman (and for a man), and the breast can feed a baby. If exhausted, overwhelmed, sometimes shamed nursing mothers can figure this out, I think it’s about time we asked the question:

How, in the name of all that is vulnerable and resilient, can we continue to pretend that the breast is anything other than what it is—a beautiful part of a woman’s body that can and sometimes does help another human being to survive, and even to thrive?

A longer version of this piece was originally posted on Yo, Mama

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Miss Representation: Girls are Pretty, Boys Are Powerful

Powerful Man                                              Pretty Woman

Girls get the message that what’s important is how they look. And boys get the message that what’s important about girls is how they look. That’s one of the observations made in the film, Miss Representation.

Girls and boys both buy into this belief system. And then boys become men, step into power, and perpetuate a social order that favors them. Most CEOs are male, most of Congress is male, most publishers and editors are male, and we’ve never had a female President of the United States. Girls become women and go with the flow, too. Yes, there are many exceptions. But these large patterns remain.

Our world incessantly whispers – or shouts: women are more body than brain. Women are emotion, not rationality and action. Women are sex.


And sex sells, they say. Sex sells products. Sex sells the message that women are all about sex.


Now add demeaning and violent images.

The message: men are powerful, and better than women.

And when women try to move out of the box to gain power?

Well look what happens on conservative networks like Fox, where men dress conservatively while female anchors wear plunging necklines, short skirts, and say things like, “Hillary Clinton looked so haggard and, like what? 92 years old?!” Or Greta Van Susteren asks VP candidate, Sara Palin, whether she has gotten breast implants. When women aren’t co-conspiring, Rush Limbaugh complains that no one wants to see a woman age in office.

Even when women do become powerful a headline runs, “Condi Rice, Dominatrix.”

Condi Rice, dominatrix

Condi Rice, dominatrix

Perhaps alongside an ad for a nutcracker shaped as Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton nutcracker

Hillary Clinton nutcracker

Any wonder 51% of Americans are women, but only 17% of Congress members are?

Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Miss Representation’s writer-director says this is unfortunate since research shows that:

The more diversity and more women you have in leadership, both in government and business, the greater the productivity, the creativity and the bottom line.


There’s this new transformative leadership that’s embracing empathy, collaboration, empowerment… those are more feminine qualities and those are now more associated with success in the global landscape than the traditional sort of command-and-control male leadership traits. So I think we’re going to start to see a shift.

Let’s stop misrepresenting women and their potential. We all lose out when the talents and vision of half our population are stifled. Women and girls are not less important than men and boys.

Newsom urges us to empower both young women and young men to create an equitable society together, making sure that girls are mentored and have a plenty of good role models.

And as Miss Representation points out:

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.

—   Alice Walker

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Being Sexual vs Looking Sexual

Is “beauty” really sex? Does a woman’s sexuality correspond to what she looks like? Does she have the right to sexual pleasure and self-esteem because she’s a person, or must she earn that right through “beauty”?

–           Naomi Wolf

A lot of women and men confuse looking sexual with being sexual. We look at an attractive woman and think, oh, she’s really sexual. Then we see a not-so-pretty woman and suppose she’s not.

But “pretty” and “sexuality” are actually two different things. Sex is all about feeling, not the surface experience of just existing, however beautifully.

But as Naomi Wolf points out in The Beauty Myth, too many women don’t enjoy sex because they think they don’t look sexy enough. And since a lot of women think they don’t look sexy because of their body type, age, or low self-esteem, a lot of women miss out on great sex.

Because a woman’s ability to enjoy sexuality can be so closely tied to how she looks, many cut their breasts to get implants just so that they can experience eroticism. Even when their partners don’t want them to. As Wolf put it, “In a diseased environment, they are doing this ‘for themselves.’”

And about one-third of women lose sensitivity in their nipples, post surgery, becoming less capable of enjoying the sensations of the breast.

And even then a lot of “hot” women spend their time thinking about how they look and not experiencing how they feel. So there you have pretty sex objects who don’t enjoy sex.

Women think they need to look a certain way because men are hardwired to be visual. Yet it’s not true. In tribal societies women walk around nearly nude, and no one cares. Those men aren’t visually attuned to the breast as erotic. In our culture men learn to be aroused by breasts through the strategic revealing and covering of them, creating the allure.

Wolf says beauty is not the same as sexuality. Instead:

Wherever we feel pleasure, all women have “good” bodies. We do not have to spend money and go hungry and struggle and study to become sensual; we always were. We need not believe we must somehow earn good erotic care; we always deserved it.

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Rape Culture and Penn State

A man sexually assaults children. Witnesses are appalled. But no one tells anyone outside their tight circle. The assailant is eventually accused of attacking eight boys. Yet members of the community rally around the perpetrator and those who protected him.

I’m talking, of course, of community support for Penn State’s coaching staff, particularly Head Football Coach, Joe Paterno, who was fired for protecting Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who now stands accused of 40 counts of sexual abuse.

Shockingly, it’s not especially unusual for communities to rally around perpetrators over victims.

At least when the perps are powerful.

And it all reflects what’s typical of rape culture.

In 2008 a 16-year-old high school cheerleader said she was raped at a post-game party by Rakheem Bolton, a member of the basketball team. He and two friends forced her into a room to commit the assault. When others tried to get into the room the men fled. Bolton left clothing behind and threatened the homeowner when he refused to return them. Bolton eventually pled guilty to a lesser charge.

School officials responded by asking the cheerleader to avoid the school cafeteria and homecoming activities. And then they kicked her off the cheerleading squad for refusing to root for her rapist. She sued the district attorney, the school district and the principal, but an appeals court ruled against her.

In the summer of 2004 three varsity members of the Mepham High School football team were sexually abused at training camp. The young men were sodomized with pine cones, broom handles and golf balls which had all been coated with a mineral ice that causes severe pain.

Many of the witnesses felt terrible about what had happened. Yet they kept silent.

When the national press broke the story, the community defended the players and coaches. Parents of the abused boys were threatened with death if they pressed charges. Campus rallies were held for the team. When the school administration cancelled football season, Mepham students felt that they had been victimized.

A culture of entitlement, silence, and protection lies behind all of the above, says Michael Kimmel, one of the nation’s leading researchers and writers on men and masculinity.

Sports stars are prone to feeling entitled with schools, coaches, professors, and even the police covering for their mishaps and crimes. After all, if the team is damaged, so is the school. And people’s identities are closely tied to their teams, so just hush up about it.

Who cares if a few lives are damaged? It’s all about me! And how I look!

And so when the Penn State Board of Trustees announced Coach Paterno’s firing, fans became incensed:

  • You said Coach Paterno was fired “in the best interests of the university.” Can you define in the best interests of the university?
  • Why was Coach Paterno informed about his firing over the phone?
  • Was any consideration given as to how this would affect the football program?

Allen Barra over at Salon has an answer:

The football program? The football program?? Are you serious? A former assistant coach was just indicted for over 40 counts related to sexual assault on a child… crimes against humanity — against children — took place in the university’s athletic facilities…

So don’t worry about the football team. Worry about the fact that from now on, whenever the name of Penn State is mentioned, people all over the country — make that all over the world — will be sneering, snickering or spitting. Worry that a long period of penance and healing must begin, and that your actions are delaying this process.

Here we have selfish and shortsighted people who can only think about themselves, and not the pain of others, but who actually work against their own interests in the process — both in terms of how they look and the state of their souls.

So long as we continue our culture of entitlement, silence, and protection, we continue our culture of rape.

Cross-posted @ Ms. Magazine, Daily Kos and Political Mosaic

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Corporations Are People; Women Not So Much

Mississippi’s measure seeking to grant a fertilized egg the status of “person” was defeated at the ballot box last week. Unfortunately, personhood advocates still plan to put the matter up for vote in five more states. Perhaps the next step should be granting women personhood.

Because as it is, personhood advocates feel that fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses should have more rights than women.

If a fetus threatens its mother’s health and she aborts (in self-defense) to save her life, she should be called “murderer”? But if the fetus is linked to her death, that’s okay? Why not prosecute fetuses, too?

Factories have excluded women from earning a living so that no harm will come to an embryo. But if a woman starves from lack of income, that’s all right?

And why are women prosecuted for poor nutritional choices if pregnancy ends in stillbirth, yet when actual women lack proper nourishment, many of the personhood advocates back cutting nutritional assistance?

Why must a woman be forced to undergo surgery for the sake of her fetus, and risk prosecution if she doesn’t, yet if she can’t afford surgery to save her own life, well, too bad?

When a fetus, embryo or a fertilized egg’s rights conflict with a woman’s, why does she lose?

A pal of mine who goes by the name, lineatus, recommended that women regain control by incorporating their uteruses. The Supreme Court has declared that corporations are people. Why not women?

Plus, “It would be easier to get insurance,” lineatus continued. “You could get a nice group rate for your corporation, rather than the extortionate individual plan.”

“True,” I interjected, “And if women were people like corporations, and were thought to require the same level of freedom that extreme right-wingers think markets do, then women could finally be free.”

If corporations are people, and if some are struggling to make fertilized eggs people, shouldn’t women be recognized as people, too?

Crossposted @ Daily Kos and republished by Feminism, Pro-Feminism, Womanism: Feminist Issues, Ideas, & Activism and Abortion

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Whipping a Daughter. Good Dad? Bad Dad?

By now you have probably seen or heard about the YouTube video showing Texas County Judge, William Adams, mercilessly whipping his 16-year-old daughter with a belt. Hillary Adams made the video public in reaction to her father’s history of abuse.

The punishment was meted out for pirating videos and music off the internet. But does the punishment fit the crime? Or is the crime an excuse for punishment?

It all reminds me of another man, a pastor, who beat his daughter for such infringements as falling grades. After deeming a paper unacceptable he’d command, “Bra and panties!” Meaning go upstairs to your bedroom and strip down so I can beat you. Why the lingerie garb was necessary is unclear—or maybe it is clear.

Interestingly, these men’s wives responded similarly to moms who fail to stop incest. They let things be. Typically, incest occurs when wives/mothers are powerless. They may be physically or mentally incapacitated, or they may be absent. But sometimes they disempower themselves, believing their husbands are the head of home and, really, King of the Castle. Their job is to obey. So they don’t step in.

Except on this video Hillary’s mom not only supported the beating, but joined in, taking a turn at bruising Hillary, herself. “Bend over and take it like a grown woman,” she ordered.

Makes you wonder if Mom had heard that phrase before. On “Today” she said she had left her husband, saying she had been “brainwashed” by a cycle of abuse and dysfunction.

After Mom took her turn whipping her daughter, Dad told Hillary to submit to him.

This notion that women should submit and accept beatings is troubling to say the least.

Just speculating, but when you add it all up the whole scene resembles a sadistic fantasy. You have to wonder if Mom took over from Dad hoping he’d exit for good and take his focus off “the other woman” — but then punished her daughter for “provoking” (in her mind) Dad’s prurient interest. Or did Mom get a sadistic thrill, too? Or was she just being a good parent? Ok, not the last one.

When women are seen as mere things to satisfy urges — whether sexual, or a drive to dominate and belittle in hopes of feeling bigger, more powerful, or whatever…

The wrong person is being punished.

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Pleasuring A Woman

Men get much of their sex ed from porn, which has little to do with pleasing actual women (porn stars are acting ecstatic, after all, and the focus is often on pleasing the man). So WebMD asked reputed sex educators, Tristan Taormino and Lou Paget, to talk
about some common sex mistakes men make. Go here to see the full text. We’ll also look at research from Cindy Meston and David Buss, who researched and wrote, Why Women Have Sex.

Men imagine that women feel something parallel to what they feel, says Paget, leaving a “huge disconnect” about what feels good to women:

When a man has intercourse with a woman, and his penis goes into her body, that sensation is so off the charts for most men, they cannot imagine that it isn’t feeling the same way for her. It couldn’t be further from the truth.

The vagina is actually less sensitive than the clitoris and the surrounding parts for most women.

And a vibrator can help. So don’t be insulted, thinking something is wrong if that’s what she needs, say the authors. “Some women can’t have an orgasm with less than 3,000 rpm, so think of a vibrator as your assistant, not your substitute.”

But many men continue to believe that women should be able to reach orgasm from vaginal penetration. Taormino says:

I still get letters from people who say things like, my wife can’t [orgasm] from intercourse unless she has clitoral stimulation — please help. I want to write back and say, ‘OK, what’s the problem?’

And then there’s the myth that bigger is better. It all depends. Length is great for women who enjoy having their cervix stimulated, say Meston and Buss. But the same stimulation can be painful for other women. And if the penis is too long, “it feels like you’re getting punched in the stomach,” Paget explains. “It makes you feel nauseous.” Still others feel neither pleasure nor pain—and often not much of anything.

Generally speaking, width is more important than length. But depending on the woman, some prefer larger and some smaller.

And men should not assume they know what a woman wants based upon what other women have wanted. Taormino points out that:

You develop a repertoire as you mature sexually, but you should never assume that what worked for the last person is going to work for this person.

So open the lines of communication. But consider: If you constantly ask her if she’s coming, do you really think she will? The badgering can move her from erotic to just feeling pressured. So don’t overdo it.

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