Monday, May 21, 2012

The War on Black Women's Bodies Again

Tonya L Jones
           So, about a week ago I am doing my morning ritual of scrolling the newsfeed of my Facebook page.  Instead of watching TV news, I like to find out about what’s happening in the world via social media. I have “liked” many groups on Facebook that I feel provide a better alternative voice for people who are often marginalized in mainstream news (POC, the poor, etc). My favorite page What About Our Daughters (a blog dedicated to the empowerment of Black girls and women), posted a scathing review on an article that had just been published in the New York Times.  The article was called “Why Black Women Are Fat” written by Alice Randall (a self-identified Black woman).  The article seemed like a well-meaning discussion on the issue of obesity in the black community, yet in the end it was just another mainstream piece to publically shame black women (it’s a known fact that the BMI is racially biased).  If Ms. Randall was truly concerned about the plight of “fat” Black women why not discuss it in a Black woman’s magazine like Heart & Soul (dedicated to the health of Black women). The mainstream newspapers don’t care about fat OR skinny Black women (I mean I haven’t seen any articles about missing Black women, have you?)
The writer of WAOD noted, “We get it, we’re Black, we’re a fat, we’re all gonna DIE!” I could relate to WAOD’s frustrations. Within the last year there seems to be a media obsession with all things Black women and not in a good way. We can’t get any man to marry us (as if that’s our biggest goal in life), we have the highest rates of herpes (the CDC had to retract that statement after claiming they “made a mistake” in their research), we only have $5 dollars to our name, and we are considered the ugliest of women (Psychology Today’s “Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?”).  Dealing with issues of weight can be hard for Black women as we have to struggle against two standards of beauty, outside AND within the black community.  
Just as Eurocentric beauty standards can be damaging to a Black woman’s psyche (skinny, blonde, etc) so can black standards of beauty (if you don’t look like Beyonce or if your butt isn’t THIS big). It’s not surprising eating disorders are actually increasing with Black women (Google: “Breaking the Silence: Eating Disorders in Black Women”). I’m sure some of you have heard about the young black woman that recently died in surgery because of a desire to have a bigger bottom (Google: “Tragic bottom implant girl thought having illegal injection would make her a hip hop star”). Black women are being pressured to fit into two contradictory body types. While I will always bump Jennifer Hudson’s song “Spotlight” it’s becoming quite disconcerting to flip the channels and see her hollering at me to join Weight Watchers (as well as Mariah Carey and Janet Jackson). It seems Black women have become the new target to make money off of and what better way than to remind us about how undesirable we are.  
So, what’s my advice to Black women regarding weight? I feel you have to do what’s best for you. It’s a personal journey. If you feel it’s time to start being healthier then do it. If you are just concerned about living your life then do that too.
Michael Steen
Men in the Movement Action Team
Tuesday, May 22, 6-9pm in the lounge of PSU's Women's Resource Center the Men In The Movement Action Team and PCC's M.A.V.E.N. (Men Against Violence Education Network) will host a screening of THE BRO CODE: HOW CONTEMPORARY CULTURE CREATES SEXIST MEN. We always have an interesting dialogue in response to sexist media and would love to hear your thoughts.

Come join us in becoming part of the solution to ending violence against women!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Empowerment VS. Exploitation. Where do we draw the line?

By Megan Coleman
Student Projects Assistant
Office of the Dean of Student Life
Enrollment Management and Student Affairs
Portland State University

I am currently taking the senior capstone “Sexual Assault Education Theater,” it’s a really fun class and I would highly recommend it. While in class we were discussing the media’s representation of women, and how that representation drives what society thinks women “should be”. During the presentation the Lingerie Football League, or LFL, was brought up. I had heard of the LFL before and knew that it was a real thing but I had never actually seen any of the games. All I knew was that the LFL portrayed women in minimal padding running around playing football.

We were shown a promo video for the league that was framing the athletes as strong women who where kicking butt, they even mentioned that this was “breaking down barriers”. I’m not saying that these women aren’t strong independently minded people who love what they do. If these experiences are empowering in their minds more power to them, but let’s really think about the motivations here. What barrier is a lingerie football league really breaking down?

There is a certain historical narrative with women not being allowed to play sports, specifically the more violent sports like football. So in that sense, yes having a women’s sports team that is nationally recognized is a great thing (even though there is already an independent women’s football league….). I find it hard to believe, however, that this is the true intention. The promo ads are certainly framing this league as a step forward in women’s rights but the videos of the fans of this sport would suggest otherwise.

My favorite video, linked below, shows a reporter at a tailgate party for the team Chicago Bliss asking the fans about the upcoming game. All the fans are incredibly excited and pumped for the game but when the reporter starts asking about their favorite players, who they think will win or anything about the actual sport they were unable to answer. It soon becomes clear to the reporter that the fans are not there for the game but for the view.

So if the fans themselves aren’t recognizing the sportsmanship happening on the field, what is the point? It was clear by the commentary of the fans that it was about watching women in lingerie not football. A few people in my class compared it to mud/jello wrestling or other such activities. I have a hard time being convinced that this is an attempt to bring credibility to female sports when most of the fans have no idea what is actually going on. The LFL website says its mission statements is, “The Lingerie Football League has become the Ultimate Fan-Driven Live Sports Phenomenon - Blending Action, Impact and Beauty." They even refer to the league as “true fantasy football” not really a compelling argument for a truly progressive idea.

There has been a lot of debate over whether or not the portrayal of women scantily clad is a form of empowerment. The “slutwalk,” where women protest the idea that dressing provocatively makes your to blame for any sexual assaults that may occur is just one example of how women use their bodies to make a statement. Many, but not all participating in the slutwalk dress provocatively to protest the idea that the way you dress puts you at fault for other people’s actions.

I think, honestly, it comes down to motivation. The people in the slutwalk are dressing in a dramatized way in order to protest a particular statement about sexual assault survivors. The LFL athletes are dressing in a particular way, from what I can gather, to sell tickets. To me there is a big difference but I think it’s a grey area that will have to be taken one case at a time. I am personally not convinced that there are any barriers being broken down by the LFL or that it is about female sports at all. I think that there is a huge difference between the ladies who play for the Independent Women’s Football League and the LFL. One is about the game and the other seems to be mostly about the exploitation of women.

Video Links:
LFL Fans:
Website Links:
Independent Women’s Football League:
Portland Shockwave, Oregon’s IWFL Team

Photo Shop – Off the Page and Leaking into our Lives

By Megan Coleman
Student Projects Assistant
Office of the Dean of Student Life
Enrollment Management and Student Affairs
Portland State University

I have to admit that I am a bit of a reality TV junky. Not all reality television mind you, mostly the competitions; American Idol, The Voice, and most recently American’s Next Top Model. I love seeing all the fabulous photo shoots and the crazy things they do with hair and makeup. The show overall is probably not the best show in the world, and they’ve done some things in the past that I really didn’t agree with but this season something came up that I thought was interesting.

In episode 6 of the current season they were told that their weekly competition would be to create a music video. In order to do their best in the video they were given dance lessons by Tyra Banks. They were told to put on something called “the booty tooch”; which is pretty much spanx with extra padding so that you look like you have a bigger butt.

One contestant, Az, who is known for her androgyny decides to pass on wearing the butt pad. Tyra Banks told Az that if she didn’t wear the butt pad that she could not participate in the challenge and had to leave. Az then decided to leave and it created a lot of tension in the group. The other girls than went into an in depth tutorial about the do’s and don’ts of sticking your butt out in music videos. Later on in the episode Az almost gets eliminated because of her bad attitude and apologizes for not being up for the challenge. Now I’m not a model, and I have heard you have to be up for some weird things when it comes to your photo shoots but where do we draw the line?

There has been a lot of controversy about the media and the amount of photo shop that is used make images “more appealing”. The constant drive toward a homogenized version of beauty is leaking off the page and into our everyday lives. If you go into almost any department store that sells women’s clothes there is a whole section of “body shapers”. Tight spandex to suck in our stomachs and thighs, bras with more padding than the actual cup size we are and now butt pads? Where do we draw the line?

I understand where Az was coming from, I thought the entire challenge was a bit ridiculous to be honest and I wouldn’t want to wear a butt pad either. Women are being pressured into looking a certain way so they buy these “enhancers” to help but what happens when the shapers come off? We are hiding our true beauty in order to blend in better and I think it’s sad.

So where do we draw the line? We are outraged when they photo shop the wrinkles off an older celebrity or when they take an extra 20lbs off the swim suit models, but what about our push up bras and spanx? I’m definitely a girlie girl and I love to straighten my curly hair and put on makeup every day. I could make the case that I do it because I like to do it but what are my underlying motivations? We live in a world where we are constantly trying to enhance or improve upon one thing or another and it’s definitely got me thinking.

I’m not saying I’ll stop doing my hair or playing with make up because I think those things are fun but I definitely think that we should evaluate why we are making the choices we are, and how it could be affecting our self-image. We are all beautiful in our own way and we shouldn’t be trying to hide what makes us individuals. I know that I’ve struggled in the past with my self-image and I haven’t always been happy with it but It’s something I strive for. In the worlds of John Mason, “You were born an original, don’t die a copy.”

12th and Delaware

Shilpa Esther Trivedi
Last night the WRC's Reproductive Justice Action Team screened 12th and Delaware. And though I've seen this movie several times, I still walked away from it once again oscillating between moments of despondence and anger. I wanted to share a few thoughts I had about this film, and why it deserves critical attention.
12th and Delaware is an HBO documentary by Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing, the makers of Academy Award-nominated Jesus Camp.  The film purports to show an unbiased view of two sides of the abortion debate. It focuses on the intersection of 12th and Delaware in Fort Pierce Florida, where on one side sits a Pro-Choice Women's Health Care Clinic, and on the other a Pro-Life Crisis Pregnancy Center (CPC). The film took over two years to make, but much of the footage in the film was shot during the summer of 2009, when Dr. Tiller was murdered. I am personally pro-choice and was interning at a pro-choice organization that summer. The fear and sadness that permeated the movement at this time continue to persist today as things become increasingly worse for women’s reproductive health in this country.  While I will give a brief rundown of the facts and legislation surrounding the film later in this post, I think it is more important to consider the human side  shown in this work.  The most striking aspect of this documentary is how both the pro-choice and the pro-life sides passionately believe in the work they do.  Moreover, this film offers an honest look at women facing unintended pregnancies and how their lives are permanently affected by the ideological war waged around them.

For me, the most difficult scene to watch in 12th and Delaware occurs when a young mother of two who faces an unintended pregnancy confesses to the director of the Pregnancy Care Center, Anne, that her partner is abusive. Anne’s response to this information,  “The baby might change him.”

Later, at the A Woman's World clinic across the street, the director, Candace, discovers that another young girl has been misinformed by Anne concerning how far along she is in her pregnancy, and has to break the news to the teen that it is actually closer to ten weeks.  As the girl leaves, Candace tells the camera, "They lie to patients about how far along they are, because clinics go to ten to twelve weeks, and that's it."  Later she rhetorically asks of the Pregnancy Care Center volunteers, "Why are you messing up these girl's lives? Why are you playing around with them like that?"

The answer is simple, yet heartbreaking: because Anne is pro-life, she believes that she has a duty to prevent a women from choosing to have an abortions at any cost and regardless of that woman's personal circumstances. Over the past two decades thousands of Crisis Pregnancy Centers like Anne’s have been set up across the country.  Often mistakenly listed as abortion services and given names designed to sound like reproductive health care clinics, these centers appear to provide the full range of comprehensive services for women facing unplanned pregnancies.  They do not.  Instead, these clinics are often not even licensed medical facilities and have no trained healthcare professionals on site. Often they are religiously affiliated, but few disclose this information. They also are not always subject to the same confidentiality laws that govern professional medical facilities. They sometimes target their advertisements towards young women in low-income areas. Their primary mission is to dissuade women from having an abortion. Occasionally they accomplish this by providing some minute financial support or aid in connecting women with adoption services. But more often their tactics are far more deceitful than helpful, and support usually ends the second women give birth. The film shows some of these harmful tactics; for example the brochures in Anne's waiting area contain information about the so-called "harmful" effects of abortion, but in order to ensure  medical accuracy Anne verifies these "facts" with a priest rather than a doctor. We have several of these crisis pregnancy centers here in Portland.
NARAL Pro-Choice America warns that:
“These centers may not give you complete and correct information about all your options — abortion, adoption, and parenting.  They may try to frighten you with misleading films and pictures to keep you from choosing abortion; they may lie to you about the medical and emotional effects of abortion. They may tell you that you are not pregnant even if you are. This may fool you into continuing your pregnancy without knowing it. If your decision is delayed, it could make abortion more risky. It could also keep you from getting early prenatal care. They may discourage you from using certain methods of birth control that are very safe and effective. Crisis pregnancy centers often pretend to be real health care providers — but many are not. These fake clinics often trick women with false advertising. They may make women think they will be offered unbiased information and a full range of health services.”
In response to increasing concerns about harmful crisis pregnancy center practices on a national level, NARAL Pro-Choice New York conducted an in-depth undercover investigation into New York’s crisis pregnancy centers.  In 2010 they released “ ‘She Said Abortion Could Cause Breast Cancer:’ A Report on the Lies, Manipulations and Privacy Violations of Crisis Pregnancy Centers.” Spurred by this report, Local Law 17 was passed by the New York City Council and signed into law by Mayor Bloomberg. This law  ensures that every woman who visits a CPC in New York City knows whether she will receive comprehensive options counseling, including referrals for abortion and birth control, whether she will be seeing a licensed medical provider, and ensures that her private, personal information will remain confidential.  However, a judge blocked the law from going into effect in 2011.  Politically progressive reproductive health organizations in other states have also begun working on tactics to curb some of the more harmful practices these centers engage in, but like many issues concerning women's healthcare these days, it is an uphill battle.
So what can you do about this?  You can come to the Reproductive Justice Action Team Luncheon on Monday, May 14th from 12-1 pm in the Women’s Resource Center, where we will be discussing how people can get involved in community activism around reproductive justice (i.e. lobbying, rallying, volunteering with our action team and talking about ballot measures that are coming up) as well as why  action is so urgently needed right now.  You can also become familiar with the local organizations that do provide comprehensive aid to anyone facing an unintended pregnancy.  Backline, for example, is a talk line here in Portland which provides support for whatever options a woman may consider for her pregnancy. ( You can also recognize that the situation of every women facing an unintended pregnancy is different, you cannot know where someone else is coming from,  regardless of your personal beliefs it is important to ensure that all women receive comprehensive and fact based medical care and strong support around whatever option they decide is best for them. Using manipulative tactics towards any women facing the decision of when to when not to become a parent is demeaning to women everywhere.  We ought to be empowering women to decide what is best for them.
Here is the trailer for the documentary:

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

By Angie Hartlove
Chair of the Women Veterans Outreach Action Team
at the Women's Resource Center

The Women Veteran Outreach Action Team, a part of the WRC’s Empowerment Project, is as pro-student veteran groups.  Free from association with any religious beliefs, political ideology, or military traditions, we endeavor to provide a space where women veterans and their allies can socialize, support one another, and get the help they need to succeed in college and at life.  Even if you’re not a veteran, you may be interested to know you can still serve in a valuable role as an ally!  What does it mean, to be an ally to veterans?

Understanding how to be the best ally starts with understanding more about veterans.  Veterans are a special class of students here at Portland State.  Firstly, it’s important to remember that veterans are male, female, and culturally and economically diverse.  We must make room for all their voices and consider all of their unique needs.  But veterans are diverse in more ways than may meet the eye: some are proud of serving, some are morally distraught.  Some who didn’t serve in combat feel lucky, and some feel ashamed.  Many veterans have strong feelings about their military experiences, and some cannot feel at all.  Treating each veteran as a unique person, respecting difference, and not categorizing veterans all in one ‘group,’ is very important.

Not all veterans enjoy attending veterans’ events.  Rather than being upset by this, it’s important to respect that for some, events are painful reminders, and some veterans are uncomfortable in crowds or with their veteran status.  We must accept where they are right now, and remain available for them.  Many veterans struggle with health issues: physical, mental, emotional, these issues can long outlast someone’s official involvement with the military and are very often not immediately evident.  Besides offering resource information for treatment of these issues, it’s important to expect the unexpected, especially in regards to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other military stress.  For example, we may need to offer a veteran a seat at an event which provides easy exit and a view of everyone in the room.  Or we may need to hold our meetings in a room with windows.

As an ally, it’s important to not be overly-eager to tell a veteran, “I understand.”  Few who haven’t experienced military service can understand the experience.  Few who haven’t experienced war can understand the experience.  It is essential to be a witness, to just be quiet and listen.  Allow veterans the space to tell you what they want and need to share.  Offer your attention, affirm that they are not alone.  Ask questions, but be cautious to use words to benefit the veteran and not your own ego.  Allies are an important part of our student groups, helping support and heal, and encouraging the success of our veteran population at PSU.

If you’d like more information on how to get involved with the Women Veteran Outreach Action Team, please contact me (the action team chairperson) Angie Hartlove at,  or our outreach coordinator Britni Childs at

Overpopulation: China’s One-Child Policy

By Danielle Huxley
Chair of Women of Color Action Team

at the Women's Resource Center
(and soon-to-be WRC Volunteer Coordinator)

The consistent expansion of the human race is an issue that many want to discuss but few want to tackle. The top three countries with the most infringing growth are India at “17 million”, China “7 million” and the United States coming in third with “3 million” new additions each year; the concern is warranted (

So what ideas are in play? Because of the sensitivities surrounding the subject most experts do not offer profound futuristic endeavors. However, a few countries are doing something about it, but their methods are controversial due an undercurrent of sexism and gender bias that are deeply rooted.  For the purposes of this report I am going to keep the focus on one country, China.

Women are consistently oppressed in various aspects of life; reproductive labor is one of them. Those that reside in China are under a contemporary pressure that involves their procreative roles with an underlining of it helping the planet in some form. Every year, millions of hopeful mothers in China are forced to undergo abortions or sterilizations under the One-Child Policy.

When I examined this strategy I found a website titled, “All Girls Allowed”. The site serves as an advocate for the women in China where the focus on sustainability towards population is directly placed on the shoulders of women. The Chinese government is encroaching upon the private lives of women married and unmarried, removing unborn children and then sterilizing them afterwards. The government conducts random searches and if a woman is found pregnant with a second child and no birth permit has been issued the unborn child is considered out-of-quota.  Their pregnancies are then terminated curtly and usually against the mother’s will, full term or not. There is an underlying tension and panic within the female population of China. Understanding the issue with overpopulation and depleted resources; it is comprehensible to want to limit the amount of new individuals coming into the world. However, this methodology that China is employing is considerably invasive. The fact that the women are targeted as opposed to the men is a direct result of a population enriched with patriarchy. These women did not get pregnant by themselves yet only they are faced with this type of brutality. Rarely are the men forcibly sterilized. The burdens that these women face are causing new effects to emerge.

According to All Girls Allowed, “500 women commit suicide each day in China, making it the only country in the world where women eradicate themselves more than men”. Additionally, it is the number one cause of death in women ages “15-34 and 56% of the world’s female suicides occur in China, but only 20% of the world’s population lives in China”.
Compulsory abortion rates are exponential as well. There are 13 million each year which averages to be approximately 35,000 abortions a day. Children that are born out-of-plan are not allowed to enjoy remuneration for a period of 15 years, parents of out-of-plan children are not authorized for employment at village-run enterprises, or granted documentation.

China is doing something about future populations’ issues more so then other countries but what is the means to that end? There is an imbalance of equality and natural reproduction is rendered obsolete. What would an ethical theory of population control consist of? Can ethics play a role in overpopulation?