Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Call to Action: Facebook and Gender-Based Hate Speech

As I will be leaving college and entering the dreaded work force I have been contemplating what I choose to share via social networking sites.  I often find myself on Facebook and will find college friends posting drunken pictures.  First I think, wow it looks like they had a fun night.  Second thought, maybe that picture shouldn’t have been shared.  As a person who I think spends too much time on the Internet and in general, Facebook, I find myself thinking about the politics of disclosure.  As social networking is replacing face-to-face conversations I’m beginning to think we are reinventing social interactions and all use social networks for different reasons.  Some want to create Facebook pages for their pets, use Facebook to find a partner, share every day drama, post pictures of their babies, and/or keep in touch with friends and family members.  Why do we share what we share?  Countless times, I have found myself typing a status and end up deleting it because I don’t know what a family member would think.  With hashtags appearing on Facebook and memes are popping up everywhere via the inter-web we are weaving in and out of images, quotes, humor, sarcasm, admiration, news, social activism, and even hate speech.  Scrolling though the Facebook feed is easily done with a click of a button, but what makes us stop in our tracks? 

I’ve chosen to follow feminist media who are on Facebook and that is where I get some of my daily news.  I couldn’t help but stop in my tracks when I was scrolling down my feed and saw a photo that was not removed, but it was blatant hate-speech (Referring to the picture seen here).  If something offensive is posted on Facebook it can be reported, but it may not necessarily be deleted due to their terms and conditions.  On May 21st Women, Action & the Media (WAM), the Everyday Sexism Project and author/activist Soraya Chemaly launched a campaign, call to action on Facebook to take effective action to stop gender based hate speech on the website.  The campaign has over 100 women’s movement and social justice organizations.  Over 60,000 tweets and 5,000 emails have been sent.        

Facebook has responded to the open letter with, “a important commitment to refine its approach to hate speech.”  In a statement, “Facebook addressed our concerns and committed to evaluating and updating its polices, guidelines and practices relating to speech, improving training for its content moderators and increasing accountability for creators of misogynist content.”  It sounds like kudos may be given to Facebook for adjusting their policies.  Yet, it has taken this long for Facebook to refine hate-speech?  They are adjusting policies because WAM, and the Everyday Sexism Project would shame them until it changed.  As social networking websites are changing our social interactions and impact our lives, hate-speech and acceptance of violence against women should not be apart of our exchange of interactions.  As the campaign continues, many companies and organizations have pulled ads from Facebook to show they do not agree or condone hate speech, abuse, and violence against girls and women.  Some companies like Dove, American Express, and Zipcar have not pulled their ads that are displayed alongside hateful, violent, and abusive content.  If you would like to support this campaign, tell the companies what you think via Facebook or Twitter.  Use the hashtag #FBrape on Twitter.         

By Gretchen D. Hawker

Here is the Open Letter to Facebook:

Here is a list of companies that pulled ads:

Break the Silence, Stop the Violence

I would like to take a moment to pause.  Take a moment to breathe.  As we have entered the month of May, I have been reflecting on the previous month, April.  April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.  The WRC and PWCL sponsored Take Back the Night/Bike Back the Night.  It was our final event for the month.  At the event, we shared a safe space in Parkway North in Smith Memorial Student Union.  We came together in solidarity to march and speak out against sexual violence and military sexual trauma.  As we chanted and marched down the streets of downtown Portland having our voice heard, our pictures taken, and people joining us, this overwhelming feeling of solidarity came over me, with a strong after thought—why and how long would we need to hold events like these?      

Take Back the Night is an annual march and event, as a way to take a stand against sexual violence and speak out against such crimes.  The first TBTN event occurred in 1975 in Philadelphia.  Community members came together after Susan Alexander Speeth, a young microbiologist was murdered by a stranger only a block away from her home.  She was walking home alone.  38 years later, people of all walks of life are still focusing their attention, effort, and lives to eliminate sexual violence.  

Sometimes we take one step forward and two steps back.  Unfortunately, quite a few sexual assault cases have made national news showing empathy for the perpetrators.  This is rape culture.  Take the Steubenville verdict; the perpetrators never apologized for raping a girl but only for getting caught.  Rape culture is victim-blaming, slut shaming, and condoning the idea that sexual assault is a “women’s issue.”            

Another large step forward, The Violence Against Women Act that recently passed again, now includes Native Americans, and LGBT survivors.  VAWA also keeps judges from being able to rule in rape cases that the victim was allegedly “asking for it.”  Rape culture seeps into news broadcastings, TV sitcoms, politics, college campuses, workspaces, etc. Needing a law to prevent legal victim blaming is rape culture.  We need to keep a steady progression against rape culture, against sexual assault, against rape.  Is it a choice of picking battles or is it a matter of always interrupting oppression? 

By: Gretchen D. Hawker

Friday, March 8, 2013

What is Rape Culture?

Sexual Assault Awareness month is nearly approaching.  I find myself asking what exactly is rape culture?  How did this enter into people’s vernacular?   What does it mean to be living in a rape culture? 

A crucial aspect of the definition of rape is the absence of consent.  Culture has many meanings.  I’ll define it as a full range of learned behaviors and patterns.  The degradation of women becomes the norm through acceptance of misogyny.  In a rape culture images, conversations, and laws validate and perpetrate rape.  Validating rape culture in the media excuses rape and reinforces myths about rape and/or sexualizing rape.  Shaming and silencing survivors of rape allows the perpetrator to ignore the actions and the survivor is left with guilt and shaming.    

Viewing mass media daily through images and advertising becomes naturalized going unquestioned.  This leads to people asking, “Violence against women is still an issue?”  In a rape culture majority of people think this is the way it is and no one can change it or people ignore that it occurs daily at an astonishing rate.  Re-examining advertisements, music, television, laws, macho-masculinity, speech and language are steps that need to be taken. Being surrounded with these images, ideologies, and laws can seem overwhelming and shaming.  Re-examining, creating self-awareness, and naming the problems need to happen to end rape culture.  Instead of teaching girls to not get raped, there has been a shift on telling men to not rape.  What made him think this was acceptable and okay to commit rape?  This is removing the blame on women.

By Gretchen D. Hawker

I came across this article “Ten Things to End Rape Culture.” I suggest you take a look at it:

Friday, March 1, 2013



Alone, I close the door behind me
And let the image scatter
Let go of the smile, and the frown
Let the mask relax
It has no purpose here
Beyond words and expressions
Only me
Peel back the layers one by one
And let them fall to the floor
Back before this body
Before humanity
Before good and evil
Through naked primal forces
To when there was only blood.
The hot water falls red with it
It is the reddest thing I’ve ever seen
The original, universal, stark against white
Screaming its vitality as it flows toward the drain
I don’t know if it is unclean or powerful
No difference
If it is birth or death
The blood pushed out with a healthy newborn
Blood pumping from a man’s chest as his eyes stilled
I’ve seen both, and it looked the same
In this time, for this moment of every day
Such distinctions do not exist
Unity running red down my legs
The pain I have suffered, the pain I have caused
The gifts I’ve been given
And the gifts I have to give
All are embodied here
My life
Not draining out of me
But effusing from me
Too filled with passion to be contained
I let the heat engulf me, drum out the tension
Flow over me until the water runs clear
And step out feeling

-Lucille Tower

Monday, February 18, 2013

Reflections on Lauren Faust's defense of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

I'll admit something here that may sound a little silly. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic reminded me of something very important to Feminism: Female capability can take many forms. It's extremely harmful to the progression of womankind to degrade another female for not being "The right kind" of woman. This was especially important to me because I was wont to look down on other women for being too "cutesy", writing them off as shallow and pedantic.

Which is why I was agog when I heard that Ms. Blog (the online component of Ms. Magazine) ran post claiming MLP was "homophobic, racist and smart-shaming": (My Little Homophobic, Racist, Smart-Shaming Pony) for which the creator of the show, Lauren Faust, wrote a rebuttal (My Little Non-homophobic, Non-racist, Non-smart-shaming Pony: a rebuttal)
(If you only have time to read one, read the second one- Faust makes a lot of great observations about modern feminism and what she calls the "Token girl syndrome" in TV where a female must be everything everyone wants in a women and ultimately makes for a terribly boring character.)

The greater theme overshadowing this exchange is the Feminist Movement and it's identity crisis.  Richter seems to think all the ponies ought to look angry to show they're formidable- But really, should they look angry? Does not appearing defensive mean that they'll be easily bowed over and rendered incapable?

In the past, it may have been necessary to that all Feminists appear on edge- ready to defend their cause - because there was a good chance that their very right to be anything other than a subservient vessel for pleasure or pleasantries would be challenged at any moment. But is that defensiveness necessary now? Maybe. But not toward everyone. Being hostile probably won't win any sympathizers to the movement.

I remember an exchange I had with my estranged mother when she told me that her childhood Mormon mantra for womanhood was "be sweet", and was shocked when I was not particularly offended. Sure, it's not ideal, but sweetness doesn't necessarily bar you from capability. It isn't anymore progressive to say women must be aggressive than it is to say they must be docile. We ought to stop building new boxes for femininity and learn to accept women and girls for who they are.Varied human beings.

-By Elle Kelsheimer

P.S. Another related article:

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"What if your mother..."

By Shilpa Esther Trivedi

It was in the not too distant past that abortion, while a still a divisive issue, was not consistently divided among party lines. Believe it or not, groups like Republicans for choice and the WISH list still played a role in elections. Republicans like Olympia Jean Snowe, whose open letter concerning her decision to retire may be found here, still served as example for me as to what a politician and a strong woman ought to be, even if I do not personally agree with all of her policies. 

As recently as 2008, I spent some time campaigning and talking to pro-choice Republican women about why they should consider voting for Obama because of his record on supporting women. Many of these women were older, and they remembered the days prior to Roe v. Wade and the consequences of a world where woman do not have access to safe and legal abortions. The stories they told me were horrifying. One in particular, about a friend who was raped by her father as a teen and then was forced to marry an older friend of the father when she found herself pregnant, still makes me shudder.  But there were others: friends who were socially ostracized after procuring illegal abortions, cousins who were forced to adopt out children against their will.  (For anyone interested in reading about adoption in this era, I’d suggest reading Ann Fessler’s “The Girls Who Went Away”). 

Unfortunately, since 2008 this country has been overtaken by a huge rise in anti-choice legislation, which has almost exclusively been introduced by Republicans.  And when the Republican Party meets next week for their national convention it is likely they will agree to support a constitutional ban on abortion without exclusions for rape or incest.  This news is, while not entirely surprising in our current political climate, disheartening, to say the least.  More than 40 Republican House and Senate candidates currently support a ban on all abortions with no exceptions for rape or incest, including representative and current vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.  Voting Republican now means casting a vote against women’s access to abortion, and the implications of that are frightening. Just this week a pregnant Dominican teenager passed away from cancer because she had to wait over 20 weeks for her government to debate the morality of allowing her to obtain an abortion prior to getting the chemotherapy she needed.  Just like China’s controversial one-child policy and recent stories of forced abortion, this is another clear illustration of what happens in the modern world when we allow government to interfere in a woman’s right to make personal decisions about her own body and reproductive health. News this week concerning reproductive health has been especially emotionally jarring, from absurd comments on how “legitimate” rapes do not result in pregnancy because women’s bodies have ways of preventing this (see Rep. Todd Akin R-Mass) to the pro-life activists who waited outside the home of a Planned Parenthood CEO in Florida to verbally attack her. I just want to scream. I’ve said it before on the Shesheet and I’ll say it again, we can never entirely know what another person is going through or what the best course of action may be for them when they are facing any impending major life event, including but not limited to a pregnancy. All we can do is support women and empower them by respecting their choices and defending their fundamental right to make these choices without outside interference. 

With all of this floating around in my head, I recently passed a church billboard with a sign that read, “What if your mother was pro-choice?”

It is an argument I’ve heard thousands of times over.  Before I ever volunteered or worked at pro-choice political organizations when I was a high school student at a diversity and leadership training, I heard a girl tell me that she was anti-abortion in all cases because her mother was raped and her mother’s family wanted her to abort.  Had her mother chosen abortion, she informed me, she wouldn’t have been here now. In my response I emphasized that I didn’t think her mother’s family should have tried to pressure her into an abortion, and that I absolutely supported her mother’s choice to have her. I pointed out that thousands of things can influence a child’s coming into this world or becoming the person he or she is today.  But that was all I said.  I don’t agree with the logic that just because something was right for one person’s particular situation that it should be the rule for others, so I couldn’t find the words to articulate a personal story—only one of the many stories about why women need access to abortion.

This week the following article ( gained a lot of critical attention, compelling me to again I revisit the “What if your mother” conversation.  In this thoughtful post, Lyn Beisner addresses those pro-lifers who call themselves survivors of abortion by describing how it would have been better for her mother had her mother had access to an abortion.  It is not that Beisner wishes she had never been born, only that she loves her mother and, detailing a childhood filled with poverty and horrific abuse, knows her mother would have had a better life had she opted to terminate her pregnancy while as a teen.

The attacks against Beisner have ranged from commentators asking her to kill herself, to a nationally recognized pro-life blogger who, without the qualifications to do so, diagnosed Beisner as clearly clinically depressed and suffering from feelings of low self worth based entirely off that blogger’s interpretation of the article. In one comment, a woman told the story of how she was walking home from school and was invited into an older man’s home.  This commentator said no, and, according to her therefore avoided an unwanted pregnancy.  According to this commentator, if you want to avoid getting pregnant as a result of rape, it is that easy: “Girls just need to learn to say no.” These are the constituents who the Republican Party seems to be listening to when they claim to be somehow supporting women by taking away their options.

So, with all this going around in my head this week, I wanted to share a personal story, or rather my mother’s personal story. 

Before I was born my mother and father were married and celebrating a very wanted pregnancy. Unfortunately my mother became very ill and needed to have an abortion to save her life. Without the legal right to that abortion my mother would not have lived.  Period. Yes, she would not have given birth to my brother and me. She also wouldn’t have spent years as a social worker working to do an incredible amount of good in a variety of communities. But what she did after, and even my existence is irrelevant here, the point is she would have simply been yet another woman sentenced to death because a bunch of strangers thought they had the right to dictate what would be best for her and many other women like her. My mother is ardently pro-choice.  For her, this means she wants all women to have access to comprehensive reproductive health care (or, for that matter, any form of health care they may need).  This means she trusts them to make decisions about their own bodies and that should any woman face an unintended pregnancy, she will support their right to decide to keep it, or not.  I feel incredibly lucky and thankful that my mother is pro-choice.  Not because she chose to keep me, but because I know she supports my right to make my own decisions. That is all that being pro-choice means, and I cannot imagine what it would be like were she anything else.

I keep driving by that church billboard and wishing that I could tell them that my mother is pro-choice, and that I am exceptionally thankful she had the legal right to make that choice, regardless of what happened to her afterwards.  I wish I could find the words to explain that if they really want to prevent abortions, the best way of doing so would not be to attack or make assumptions about another person’s situation. These same pro-life activists who are so against abortion are also often against making birth control available and affordable or providing safe sex education. They are also often against universal health care. Currently an unintended pregnancy is the number one reason why women fall into poverty in this country.  In other countries where universal health care is the norm, women are able to take longer maternity leaves, they don’t face the consequence of losing their insurance should they need to leave a job, and should a child be born with developmental difficulties, they have the guarantee that that child will receive medical care for their entire life. It seems so simple.  And yet a major political party just announced that women who get pregnant, regardless of the reason, should have their options dictated to them by strangers. They are telling us that women are not capable of deciding when to become pregnant, when not to be pregnant, and by extension how best to parent. Women do not deserve legislation that patronizes them, controls them, abuses them or trivializes their experiences. Too many of us unfortunately already know from personal experience that avoiding rape or an unintended and unwanted pregnancy is not as simple as just saying no. And it is time for us to stand up and remind the out of touch GOP that we are simply no longer going to stand for having our rights taken away. A famous woman who fought for our right to have a voice, Susan B. Anthony, once said, “no self respecting woman should wish or work for the success of a party that ignores her sex.”  Please remember that as we near fall 2012.

In closure, I want to draw your attention to the following open letter to Representative Trent Franks, which I strongly suggest everyone read: