Monthly Archives: August 2012

Government Takeover of Our Bodies

  • Obama supporters want to relinquish individual choice. Romney supporters stand upon the principles of individual freedom.
  • Republicans want to erase a woman’s right to choose. They seek to deny abortion even in cases of rape, incest, or when a woman’s life or health are at risk. Beware who you vote for! It concerns the well-being of your mothers, sisters, wives, daughters and granddaughters.

Those sentiments come from two letters to the editor, which appeared one after the other.

Which side is for freedom?

Really, it’s a question of whose freedom is at stake.

Paul Ryan loves liberty, he says. But not women’s.

Ryan wants to prevent women from even controlling their own bodies. He backed a “personhood” bill which would have prevented women from using many forms of birth control. Miscarriage could have become grounds for criminal investigation. And abortion would have been banned even for victims of rape and incest. Ryan voted for the Blunt Amendment, which would have given employers control over a woman’s access to contraception. And he co-authored a bill with Todd Akin (victims of “legitimate rape” don’t get pregnant) to narrow the definition of rape to “forcible rape.”

What is non-forcible rape, anyway?

Paul Ryan doesn’t want freedom for women. He wants a government takeover of our bodies.

But he does want freedom for the One Percent. In fact, he seeks to reduce Social Security and Medicare benefits for the middle class in order to give many in the One Percent a 1% tax rate. They will then have the freedom to buy more big homes and big cars and big boats and big vacations. Some Wall Streeters buy gold-filled hamburgers so that they can literally shit gold.

But will Ryan’s budget bring more freedom to the middle-class? The New York Times reported that focus groups found the plan so cruel that they “simply refused to believe any politician would do such a thing.”

Does greater liberty arise when some can no longer afford both food and medicine? Or when they are ill and can’t get medical care? Or when they die? The hungry, sick, and dead don’t have a lot of freedom.

The Hunger Games comes to mind as the rich have their fun while the hungry poor die.

Paul Ryan believes in freedom. For the powerful and privileged. But he’s not so keen on freedom for the rest of us.

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Battered and Bruised is Beautiful?

By  @ Ms. Magazine Blog

Treating women like dirt is hardly a new tactic for the fashion industry, with its long history of objectifying the female body, idealizing physically impossible beauty types and glamorizing violence against women. Bulgaria-based 12 magazine, however, has hit a new low with an inexplicable photo spread in its latest issue titled, “Victim of Beauty” [TRIGGER WARNING].

The six images are all close-up portraits of young, attractive white models sporting various gruesome injuries: one boasts a black eye, another a slit throat and a third sports a split lip and a bruised neck. Scrolling through this montage of burns, bruises and gashes, it’s easy to forget you’re looking at a “fashion” photo shoot; the images more closely resemble police files of horrendous domestic violence.

Were the magazine spread a deliberate attempt to raise awareness and generate conversation about our society’s failure to prevent and punish widespread violence against women, it might be possible to salvage an argument in its favor. But the spread contains no words or explanations to contextualize it, plus editors-in-chief Huben Hubenov and Slav Anastasov have actually gone on record arguing the photos can be interpreted as “beautiful”:

We believe that images such as ours can be seen from various angles, and we think that exactly that is what is beautiful about fashion and photography in general – that anybody can understand it their own way, and fill it with their own meaning. Where some see a brutal wound, others see a skilful (sic) work of an artist, or an exquisite face of a beautiful girl.

With these blithe words, Hubenov and Anastasov have not just admitted to cheapening violence against women but to actively eroticizing it as well.

We’re so accustomed to seeing the female body stripped, arranged in demeaning poses and digitally manipulated in fashion shoots that few even question what scantily clad, emaciated women have to do with selling a clothes. But the descent into sexualizing violence against women to hawk a few magazines is a truly dangerous trend. In Bulgaria, 12 magazine’s country of origin, one in four women suffers violence at the hands of a male partner. Its neighbors Turkey and Serbia have even worse rates of domestic violence (40 and 54.2 percent of women, respectively). Yet magazine editors think we need to look beyond the injuries and start seeing “beauty” in a maimed female face?

Hubenov and Anstasov do scramble to state that they “do NOT support violence of ANY kind, and this is NOT a shoot glamorizing or encouraging or supporting violence against women.”

But being part of an industry which refuses to take responsibility for constantly spewing out misogynistic images, they would say that, wouldn’t they?

Reposted with Permission from the Ms. Magazine Blog

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Using Insults to Pick Up Women

Men may have success using insults to pick up women — if both the men and the women involved are misogynists, say researchers.

This particular chick magnet strategy was made popular by Neil Strauss, who checked out a workshop run by an aspiring magician named Mystery when his book editor asked him to explore the community of pickup artists. The resulting manual, The Game, reads a bit like the frog-turned-Prince tale of Crazy Stupid Love.

Some tips involve misogyny, others don’t. “Approach a woman within three seconds of seeing her so you don’t lose your nerve” and asking “What’s your sign?” or “What’s your type?” seem nontoxic enough.

But men are also told to isolate “the target” from her friends and subtly insult her to lower her self-worth. That’s called “negging.”

For instance: ignore the girl you want and flirt with one of her friends instead. Or, briefly disqualify yourself from being a potential suitor:

I go to blow my nose and I look at her and I say, “What, are you gonna watch?” I’m disqualifying myself as I’m blowing my nose in front of her!

Mystery explains that if “the target” is especially beautiful she’ll wonder why she’s being ignored and assume the man is highly selective and accustomed to beauty. Next, she will admire his status and want to win him over.

In another “neg,” Mystery suggests men ask unflattering questions like, “What have you got going for you other than your looks?” Or, “I like your hair, is that your natural color?”

This takes the woman off-guard and makes her question her value. So, of course she wants to win the guy over.

But really, why would anyone be drawn to such men? A woman attending a seminar hoping to get an inside scoop was puzzled by advice to ogle other women:

Despite the theory that what is unavailable becomes more appealing, and the fact that at times, it may seem true, there is absolutely nothing sexy, alluring or seductive about obviously looking at other females while talking to a woman… It’s just rude. Period. And if a guy can’t maintain a two-minute conversation, what’s he going to be like on an actual date, let alone in a relationship?

Exactly! I’ve always broken up with guys like that. And the “neg” advice didn’t work in a documentary I saw on speed dating when a couple of guys tried it.

Yet studies show that it can work – for those who are sexist.

In two different studies University of Kansas researchers found that the more negatively women viewed women, the more receptive they were to these techniques. These women were more likely to accept male privilege and to like aggressively dominant men.

And the more negatively men saw women the more likely they were to use the techniques.

A match made in heaven – or hell.

Forewarned is forearmed.

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Beat, Rape… Whatever It Takes To Control Women

A teenage girl stepped outside an Indian night club after an evening with friends when:

A group of 10, perhaps 15, men surrounded the girl, beating and stripping her for the next 20 minutes. By the time the television crew and the police showed up, the mob had grown to about 40 men.

The attack resembled this 2008 Mumbai scene:

Two women were alleged to have been attacked by 14 men as they left the Marriott Hotel with their friends. When the police arrived, the mob assaulting the women as they lay pinned down on the ground had grown to more than 50 men.

The New York Times explains that these sex crimes are a tool to rein in women’s freedom in India.

Several stories point to that common theme.

Consider the police response to sexual assault. When a female journalist was shot and killed while driving home women were warned against driving late at night without escorts. And when another woman was raped the municipal administration recommended that women not work after 8 p.m.

Some village leaders banned young women from using cell phones and wearing jeans.

Even discussions of these assaults revolve around questions of:

How far women’s freedoms should extend. What kinds of jobs or working hours are considered respectable for a woman? Can a woman go to a bar or restaurant with friends without inviting censure or sexual advances? If a woman is out in a public area after dark, is she, to use a term that often crops up, a “loose” woman? The question of how much freedom a woman should have, and who should control that freedom, underpins the debate over sexual violence.

Sex crimes have also been used against women fighting for democracy in the Arab Spring, with female journalists (symbols of power) and protestors, alike, assaulted and beaten.

But women can be punished and controlled over nothing. In Afghanistan a 22-year-old woman was killed in the name of purity for being sexually involved with two men, “either through rape or romantically.” In fact, she was tortured and killed to settle a dispute between the two men. As the shots rang out a crowd cried, “Long live Islam. Long live Mujahideen (holy warriors).” Men may do whatever they wish. Women may not.

In South Africa lesbians are attacked with “corrective rape” as men shout, “You are not men” – implying that women do not deserve male privilege – including rights over their own bodies.

Similar attitudes exist in the U.S. where rape is about men feeling dominance over women. Next, the community may blame women for their rapes – they were drinking or dressing immodestly or staying out late at night – acting as though they were free.

Constraining reproductive rights works the same way. “Pro-lifers,” who don’t care if women (or the poor) die, assert that men – and not women – must control women. Keep them barefoot, pregnant and dependent so that men may more easily stay in charge.

Yes. There’s a common theme.

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Education Will Shrink a Woman’s Uterus?

Classes have begun for many this week. In honor, I’ll ask this question: Does education shrink a woman’s uterus?

At one point this was a real worry. In 1873 Edward Clark of Harvard voiced his concern. In 1889 the renowned scientist R.R. Coleman cautioned university women:

You are on the brink of destruction… Beware!! Science pronounces that the woman who studies is lost.

Scientists fretted because the more education a woman gained the fewer children she bore. They hadn’t imagined the most obvious cause: That educated women simply put off marriage and childbearing.

Who knows how many women were discouraged from education from such silly concerns.

Worries about weak minds were accompanied by worries about weak bodies: Some 19th Century doctors explained that corsets were needed because women’s bodies were too frail to adequately hold themselves up.

Uneven bars were invented for women gymnasts, who were thought to need rest between each move.

Moral of the story:

Don’t make judgments, scientific or otherwise, that assume biology lies behind social patterns and stereotypes.

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Can Men and Women be Friends?

Harry told Sally that men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way. The question remains.

Short answer: Yes, they can.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be romantic undertones; in fact, there usually are. Typically, “he” starts a relationship hoping for sex, but “she” isn’t interested. Yet he stays friends because he likes her. And he’s often expecting that more will come of it.

Naively, I’ve been in cross-sex friendships without noticing the “underlying attraction” part.

Before I married I had more male than female friends. I now realize this was simply because I’m an introvert (I gain energy from being alone) and am perfectly content reading, writing, painting, or biking. But men would call to chat or get together for lunch or a movie. With these guys there was no physical affection, no kissing or handholding. We talked of nothing romantic. I just thought they enjoyed my company as much as I enjoyed theirs. Until each eventually made a move and I pulled back. Yet we remained friends.

After I married and lost my men friends I realized I’d actually have to take some initiative to have women friends. It was all so disorienting, and I’m still not consistently good at it. I was lucky to have my men friends.

In some ways cross-sex friendships mirror same-sex friendships, but they’re different, too.

These relationships can offer an “insider” perspective on the opposite sex. Especially when all involved are unconcerned with charming each other and can let their hair down and tell the truth about their own sex.

They are strong in trust, respect, acceptance and enjoyment. But they are less satisfying, maybe because they don’t fulfill the underlying sexual tension that is so often present.

And intimacy can be hindered when friends create space to protect against romance, since sexual involvement becomes a threat to the relationship. Over time, sexual tension wanes.

Yes, men and women can be friends. But as Harry warned, the sex part can get in the way.

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Breaking Molestation’s Chains

Kristen Cunnane

Kristen Lewis Cunnane is associate head coach of the UC Berkeley women’s swim team. But as a teen her own swim coach molested her, with the abuse continuing into adulthood.

It all began in 1993. Kristen and other middle school swimmers looked up to Coach Julie Correa. And Julie took a special interest in Kristen. The two secretly left campus to get Slurpees, Julie gave Kristen gifts, and Kristen began confiding in Coach Correa as she became one of her closest friends.

After several months, the relationship crossed a line. Kristen remembers mentally escaping into a painting of a Labrador Retriever as she was raped on a bedroom floor, but being startled back into reality when her back scraped the carpet.

Julie controlled Kristen by carving out a section of a dictionary, putting a cell phone inside, and insisting Kristen carry it at all times. She also used Kristen’s fear against her:

Your parents will never understand. If they catch us, I will take care of them. This is your fault. I wanted to wait until you were older, but you made me.

When another middle school teacher killed himself after a molestation charge, Julie used that to further intimidate Kristen, telling her that they would both be dead, like him, if anyone learned about them.

Love eventually brought Kristen courage. When she met her future husband, classmate Scott Cunnane, she threw out the hidden cell phone, but not without fear. Kristen expected to die after her 18th birthday, when she finally told Julie to leave her alone.

I no longer cared if she killed me. It’s hard for me to describe to people, but I just hated her so much that it being over was more important to me than living.

When Kristen ended things at a hotel, she called Julie a monster and threatened to run to the hotel clerk. She was surprised that the warning ended the abuse:

The chains I felt around my heart and wrists, they weren’t real.

But, “When I got rid of her, I got rid of the part of my brain that knew that happened.” In 2010 when a USA Swimming abuse scandal broke the memories flooded back and she became anxious, even avoiding her kitchen, afraid of sharp knives.

She reported the abuse to police and then secretly taped a confession. At trial Kristen was surprised that staff from her high school defended her attacker. But Julie eventually confessed and was convicted.

Kristen’s story resonates with experts who explain why kids don’t report abuse. The Hero Project says that children are used to obeying adults and doing things they don’t understand. They may be threatened or they may be ashamed of what they worry is their fault. And they may not have the words to explain what is happening.

Kristen hopes that by telling her story other abuse victims will come forward.

Molestation’s chains melted away, first as a little girl became a young woman who learned that others don’t have as much power over you as you think they do, and later when her courage restored the balance of justice for herself and, she hopes, others.

The complete story can be found in the San Jose Mercury News.

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Is Beauty A Worthy Goal?

Last week I wrote about 14-year-old Nadia Ilse, who had gotten plastic surgery to stop kids from bullying her. Her ears were pinned back and her nose and chin shortened.

Over at The Nation Jessica Valenti wondered whether beauty is a worthy goal in the first place. At best, beauty is a short-term solution. And not much of a solution at that, if the sole focus is a one-dimensionality that keeps us shallow.

Plus, Valenti says,

We create a trap where anything that makes a girl feel better about her appearance, no matter how harmful, is a reasonable solution. (How many times has plastic surgery been preceded by an “I’m doing it for me!” explanation?)

Throughout history women have been convinced they must have various physical characteristics or accessories that harm their health: tiny waists, small feet, high heels, girdles, corsets, boob jobs…

All at the expense of extreme discomfort, scrunched vital organs, pulmonary disease, varicose veins, a lack of vital nutrients, crippled feet and knees, deadened erotic sensation, a block to cancer detection, death…

It’s all made worse by calling variation from beauty norms a “deformity” – just to make a buck. Doctors have told some of my students that they needed corrective surgery for their breasts. And that’s how Nadia’s doctor described her “need” for an operation:

She wasn’t picked to have her surgery because she was bullied. She was picked because of her deformities.

No wonder Valenti groaned,

This is our culture now: teen girls thinking that the slightest perceived imperfection—any deviation from what they see in magazines—is tantamount to deformity and in need of surgical correction.

… We should tell girls the truth: “Beautiful” is bullshit, a standard created to make women into good consumers, too busy wallowing in self-loathing to notice that we’re second class citizens.

And in fact, being called ugly can be useful. Jessica was teased before she grew into her face, as she put it. But,

In a lot of ways I’m glad I was considered unattractive as a kid—there is an upside to ugly. I developed a sharp sense of humor, a defense against the taunts. I thought more deeply about how good and bad people can be. I started writing. I found feminism.

Some who commented on my first Nadia post had similar experiences:

I was teased relentlessly when I was her age for my big ears, flat chest, and the amount of body hair that I had. Today I am grateful for a mother who didn’t care that I was being bullied for such superficial things and did not allow me to make permanent changes to my body to escape bullying. Eventually I grew into my body and in the meantime, while it was painful, I found people who didn’t give a shit about those things, and now most days I feel completely comfortable in my body and my own unique beauty.

Some come to understand that the tauting isn’t about them but about the taunter.

I suffered bullying when I was a kid, and I discovered that people who do this kind of thing usually are trying to move attention from them; they usually have self-esteem problems.

Instead of agreeing that beauty is worth having, Valenti suggests we should be warning that a culture that demands as much is toxic.

Or, as another commenter suggested, maybe we can expand our notions:

I used to have a pretty narrow definition of beauty until at age 15 I started drawing the faces of the people I saw around me, often on the city bus on the way home from school. That is when I began to see a new world of beauty everywhere I looked.

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If Sports Were Covered Like Women’s Beach Volleyball

In case you missed this… interesting contrast between photos of men’s and women’s beach volleyball. For men you find tough, competitive guys:


And for women:



Oh, and here’s a woman actually playing the sport. In that outfit she stays sexy!

Interestingly, there are a number of pics of women listed under “men’s beach volleyball” but no men on the women’s list.

When Nate Jones, over at, innocently searched for pics of women’s Olympic beach volleyball, he was left asking, “What if every Olympic sport was photographed like beach volleyball?” Here’s a sampling of what that would look like (you can see all his pics by clicking here):

As the camera hones in on women’s body parts and ignores men’s, you can see why all of us – men and women – come to think of women as the sex objects in our society. Even the fact that women volleyball players wear such a skimpy outfit doubles down on the whole, “women as sex object” thing.

And so ignored men’s bodies leave us ignoring men-as-sexy while the women’s body-focus makes them all about sex. And actually, that’s not very good for our sex lives – or for well-rounded lives. For more on that, see the posts below.

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Getting Plastic Surgery to Stop Bullying

Fourteen-year-old Nadia Ilse got plastic surgery on her ears, nose and chin so kids would stop bullying her. She told Good Morning America:

I felt horrible. I felt like I was like dirt. They said that I have the biggest ears that they’ve ever seen. They called me ‘Dumbo,’ ‘elephant ears.’

Over time the bullying escalated. School became a nightmare, and she got so she couldn’t bear to look at herself in a mirror as she began to believe the slurs.

All this raises questions.

Like how the world seems to think that beauty – a plastic, superficial part of us — means something real. Like how moving a few millimeters of skin, bone and cartilage here and there makes all the difference. A few tweaks and kids go from bullying to accepting. And Nadia goes from crying herself to sleep and having suicidal thoughts to just going about her day.

Why do so many of us see the world in such superficialities?

I would like to ask the bullies if they would judge a person unworthy on such flimsy grounds if they were the ones whose ears were a bit large.

What if there is a God who purposefully creates people who go against beauty norms? What are we supposed to get out of that? Are we to develop empathy and compassion? Are we supposed to move away from the surface and superficial to see what really matters? Should we learn about what is real and what is ridiculous?

And should we really care what ridiculous people think?

Gore Vidal once said:

Don’t care about what others think of you. What matters is what you think of them.

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