International Women’s Day

The earliest Women’s Day commemoration took place on February 28, 1909, in New York City. It was organized by the Socialist Party of America, which was a rising force in U.S. politics, and was intended to honor a strike the year before by the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, one of the largest labor movements in the country and one of the first with primarily female membership.

In 1910, an International Women’s Conference was held in Copenhagen, Denmark with 100 women from 17 countries in attendance. They discussed various social and political issues affecting women and society as a whole — from suffrage to public education — and agreed on holding more rallies and demonstrations across the world to bring attention to women’s universal rights.

The following year, on March 19, 1911, the first International Women’s Day was held, involving over a million people across Europe. The Austro-Hungarian Empire, one of the most patriarchal and authoritarian countries at the time, saw 300 such rallies alone. Among other issues, women demanded that they be given the right to vote and to hold public office and for the end to sex discrimination in the workplace.

The breakout moment for IWD was March 8, 1917 in the capital of the Russian Empire, Petrograd (now Saint Petersburg). Women textile workers spontaneously managed to take over the whole city in demand for “Bread and Peace” – an end to the First World War (which Russia was badly losing), an end to food shortages, and an end to czarism. Seven days later, Emperor of Russia Nicholas II abdicated and the provisional government that followed granted women the right to vote.

IWD was predominantly celebrated by the socialist movement and communist countries until it was adopted in 1975 by the United Nations, where it has since taken on a broader political and social context.

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The Best Countries to be a Working Woman

According to The Economist’s latest “Glass Ceiling Index” — which draws on data from a variety of sources, such as the OECD, European Union, and the International Labor Organization — the following are the best (and worst) developed countries to be a working woman, as determined by several weighted indicators ranging from educational attainment to paid maternity leave. Continue reading

The Countries With the Most Women Legislators

Happy International Women’s Day everyone! As the world celebrates the achievements and continued struggles of 51 percent of the population, let’s take a moment to review how much progress women have made in attaining political representation, as determined by their level of participation in national legislatures.

According to a World Bank study cited by Vox, as of 2015 only two countries had legislatures that were majority women: Rwanda (64 percent) and Bolivia (53 percent). Runners up were a mixed bag that included Cuba (49 percent), Seychelles (44 percent), Sweden (44 percent), and Senegal (43 percent).

screenshot-www.vox.com 2016-03-08 19-26-17

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Early Humans Had Considerable Gender Equality

From The Guardian:

A study has shown that in contemporary hunter-gatherer tribes, men and women tend to have equal influence on where their group lives and who they live with. The findings challenge the idea that sexual equality is a recent invention, suggesting that it has been the norm for humans for most of our evolutionary history.

Mark Dyble, an anthropologist who led the study at University College London, said: “There is still this wider perception that hunter-gatherers are more macho or male-dominated. We’d argue it was only with the emergence of agriculture, when people could start to accumulate resources, that inequality emerged”.

Dyble says the latest findings suggest that equality between the sexes may have been a survival advantage and played an important role in shaping human society and evolution. “Sexual equality is one of a important suite of changes to social organisation, including things like pair-bonding, our big, social brains, and language, that distinguishes humans”, he said. “It’s an important one that hasn’t really been highlighted before.”

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Mary Edwards Walker — Only Female Medal of Honor Recipient

Mary Edwards Walker (1832 – 1919) was an American feminist, abolitionist, and surgeon who became the only woman, and one of only eight civilians, to receive the Medal of Honor.

Mary Edwards Walker I

She worked as a teacher to pay her way through Geneva Medical College (now Hobart College), where she graduated as a medical doctor in 1855, the only woman in her class. She married fellow medical school student Albert Miller set up a joint practice in Rome, New York. It failed to take off, largely because female physicians were generally not trusted or respected at that time. Walker briefly attended Bowen Collegiate Institute (later named Lenox College) in 1860, until she was suspended after refusing to quit the all-male school debating society.

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Happy Women’s Equality Day

A good friend of mine reminded me of an anniversary I should have remembered: on this day in 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed, prohibiting any citizen from being denied the right to vote on the basis of sex. This was a culmination of the women’s suffrage movement in the United States, which for decades fought at both state and national levels to achieve the vote (indeed, the amendment had first been introduced by suffragist leaders Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton many years earlier in 1878).

Prior this amendment,  suffrage for women varied across the country, as the U.S. Constitution allows states to determine qualifications for voting. Since the nation’s independence, only New Jersey had allowed a limited form of women’s suffrage, which was revoked in 1807; the majority of states did not start granting some form of suffrage until the turn of the 20th century, not long before the Nineteenth Amendment was passed.

In 1971, Congresswoman Bella Abzug introduced legislation designating August 26 of each year as Women’s Equality Day; since then, every president has issued a public proclamation for the commemoration.

The full text of the resolution is as follows:

WHEREAS, the women of the United States have been treated as second-class citizens and have not been entitled the full rights and privileges, public or private, legal or institutional, which are available to male citizens of the United States; and [3]
WHEREAS, the women of the United States have united to assure that these rights and privileges are available to all citizens equally regardless of sex;
WHEREAS, the women of the United States have designated August 26, the anniversary date of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, as symbol of the continued fight for equal rights: and 
WHEREAS, the women of United States are to be commended and supported in their organizations and activities,
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that August 26 of each year is designated as “Women’s Equality Day,” and the President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation annually in commemoration of that day in 1920, on which the women of America were first given the right to vote, and that day in 1970, on which a nationwide demonstration for women’s rights took place

The U.S. was among the earliest nations to allow women to vote, but not the very first. Several polities that were briefly or questionable independent had allowed women suffrage for a time, including the Corsican Republic (1755), the Pitcairn Islands(1838), the Isle of Man (1881), and Franceville (1889). Moreover, there were some localities within particular realms, such as in Sweden and Colonial America, as well as among Amerindian groups like the Iroquois, that allowed some form of political participation for women.

But to keep it simple, we will start with what most scholars consider to be the first country to grant women suffrage: New Zealand, then an autonomous British colony, which granted allowed women the right to vote in 1893. It was followed two years later by fellow self-governing British colony South Australia; when Australia was formed in 1901, it allowed female suffrage one year later.

The first European country to introduce women’s suffrage was the Grand Duchy of Finland, then part of the Russian Empire, which elected the world’s first female members of parliament in 1907. Norway followed, granting full women’s suffrage in 1913. It was not until after the First World War that many European, Asian, and African countries allowed women to vote, including most of the Western Hemisphere. Several countries did not adopt such measures until the mid to late 20th century, including France in 1944, Italy in 1946, Greece in 1952 ,Switzerland in 1971, and Liechtenstein in 1984.

Among the most recent nations to join the trend are Namibia (1989), Samoa (1990), Qatar (1997), Bahrain (2002), Oman (2003), and finally the United Arab Emirates (2006, although suffrage is limited for men and women alike). Saudi Arabia remains the only country — unless you count Vatican City, the seat of the Papacy — where women cannot vote nor run for office, although it will presumably allow for both in 2015.

In any case, we have come a long way, even though voting is hardly the only area of concern for women’s rights. Check out this Atlantic article to see where women stand in various metric of well-being — from longevity to reproductive rights — across the world.

PSA: Your Default Narrative Settings Are Not Apolitical

shattersnipe: malcontent & rainbows

Victorian Women SmokingImage taken from tumblr.

Recently, SFF author Tansy Rayner Roberts wrote an excellent post debunking the idea that women did nothing interesting or useful throughout history, and that trying to write fictional stories based on this premise of feminine insignificance is therefore both inaccurate and offensive. To quote:

“History is not a long series of centuries in which men did all the interesting/important things and women stayed home and twiddled their thumbs in between pushing out babies, making soup and dying in childbirth.

History is actually a long series of centuries of men writing down what they thought was important and interesting, and FORGETTING TO WRITE ABOUT WOMEN. It’s also a long series of centuries of women’s work and women’s writing being actively denigrated by men. Writings were destroyed, contributions were downplayed, and women were actively oppressed against, absolutely.

But the forgetting part is vitally important. Most historians and…

View original post 2,546 more words

Sex Sells…But Not For Social Causes?

Given all the attention levied at social justice groups like PETA and FEMEN — both of which are notable for their use of female nudity during protests and campaigns — one would think the tactic has merit. After all, these and other groups are obviously trying to garner attention, and raising awareness is central to addressing any number of causes.

However, Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon points to some research from Australia that confirms what many critics — even those sympathetic to these causes — have long pointed out: that the use of sex does little to further these campaigns, and if anything harms them:

Two new University of Queensland studies on “Using Sexualized Images of Women” have found that when subjects view sexy PETA ads, “Intentions to support the ethical organization were reduced for those exposed to the sexualized advertising” and “that behaviors helpful to the ethical cause diminished after viewing the sexualized advertisements.” In one of the studies, researchers found that men who viewed the ads were likely to report arousal (shocker), but that they were no likelier to support the cause itself. Renata Bongiorno, the lead researcher on both studies, says, ”There’s a negative link between dehumanization and the treatment of others, it reduces concern.… If you are using images that are dehumanizing, it’s likely to backfire.”

Williams goes on to note that merely gaining attention isn’t enough, and that social justice groups need to lead by example or find other creative ways to raise awareness besides realizing on (mostly) female nudity.

But attention is not support. Headlines don’t end animal cruelty or cure cancer, or, in the case of Miley, increase public sensitivity to say, breastfeeding mothers. “Awareness” is a self-serving, largely meaningless term, a rationalization for petty, demeaning stunts. This new research supports the nagging feeling many of us have held for years – that rather than filling people with warm helpful feelings, the true byproduct of using women’s bodies as window dressing appears to be boners.  Advertising consultant Jane Caro tells the Canberra Times, ”Sex only sells if you are trying to sell sex.” You want to sell ethics? Try using ethical behavior.

Do you agree? What are your thoughts?

The Cold War Fought By Women

The New York Times has a great piece that explores the nature of female competitiveness, which has long been poorly understood due to the widespread notion that competition is an innately male trait. My time is sadly short, so I’ll just leave you to read the core elements of this interesting piece, particularly the parts I’ve bolded for emphasis. As always, share your comments and reactions below.

The old doubts about female competitiveness derived partly from an evolutionary analysis of the reproductive odds in ancient polygynous societies in which some men were left single because dominant males had multiple wives. So men had to compete to have a chance of reproducing, whereas virtually all women were assured of it.

But even in those societies, women were not passive trophies for victorious males. They had their own incentives to compete with one another for more desirable partners and more resources for their children. And now that most people live in monogamous societies, most women face the same odds as men. In fact, they face tougher odds in some places, like the many college campuses with more women than men.

To see how female students react to a rival, researchers brought pairs of them into a laboratory at McMaster University for what was ostensibly a discussion about female friendships. But the real experiment began when another young woman entered the room asking where to find one of the researchers.

This woman had been chosen by the researchers, Tracy Vaillancourt and Aanchal Sharma, because she “embodied qualities considered attractive from an evolutionary perspective,” meaning a “low waist-to-hip ratio, clear skin, large breasts.” Sometimes, she wore a T-shirt and jeans, other times a tightfitting, low-cut blouse and short skirt.

In jeans, she attracted little notice and no negative comments from the students, whose reactions were being secretly recorded during the encounter and after the woman left the room. But when she wore the other outfit, virtually all the students reacted with hostility.

They stared at her, looked her up and down, rolled their eyes and sometimes showed outright anger. One asked her in disgust, “What the [expletive] is that?”

Most of the aggression, though, happened after she left the room. Then the students laughed about her and impugned her motives. One student suggested that she dressed that way in order to have sex with a professor. Another said that her breasts “were about to pop out.”

The results of the experiment jibe with evidence that this “mean girl” form of indirect aggression is used more by adolescents and young women than by older women, who have less incentive to handicap rivals once they marry. Other studies have shown that the more attractive an adolescent girl or woman is, the more likely she is to become a target for indirect aggression from her female peers.

“Women are indeed very capable of aggressing against others, especially women they perceive as rivals,” said Dr. Vaillancourt, now a psychologist at the University of Ottawa. “The research also shows that suppression of female sexuality is by women, not necessarily by men.”

Stigmatizing female promiscuity — a.k.a. slut-shaming — has often been blamed on men, who have a Darwinian incentive to discourage their spouses from straying. But they also have a Darwinian incentive to encourage other women to be promiscuous. Dr. Vaillancourt said the experiment and other research suggest the stigma is enforced mainly by women.

“Sex is coveted by men,” she said. “Accordingly, women limit access as a way of maintaining advantage in the negotiation of this resource. Women who make sex too readily available compromise the power-holding position of the group, which is why many women are particularly intolerant of women who are, or seem to be, promiscuous.”

Indirect aggression can take a psychological toll on women who are ostracized or feel pressured to meet impossible standards, like the vogue of thin bodies in many modern societies. Studies have shown that women’s ideal body shape is to be thinner than average — and thinner than what men consider the ideal shape to be. This pressure is frequently blamed on the ultrathin female role models featured in magazines and on television, but Christopher J. Ferguson and other researchers say that it’s mainly the result of competition with their peers, not media images.

“To a large degree the media reflects trends that are going on in society, not creates them,” said Dr. Ferguson, a psychologist at Stetson University. He found that women’s dissatisfaction with their bodies did not correlate with what they watched on television at home. Nor were they influenced by TV programs shown in laboratory experiments: Watching the svelte actresses on “Scrubs” induced no more feelings of inferiority than watching the not-so-svelte star of “Roseanne.”

But he found that women were more likely to feel worse when they compared themselves with peers in their own social circles, or even if they were in a room with a thin stranger, like the assistant to Dr. Ferguson who ran an experiment with female college students. When she wore makeup and sleek business attire, the students were less satisfied with their own bodies than when she wore baggy sweats and no makeup. And they felt still worse when there was an attractive man in the room with her.

“Sexual competition among females seems to increase due to circumstances that tend to be particularly common in affluent societies,” Dr. Ferguson said.

In traditional villages, people married at an early age to someone nearby, but young men and women in modern societies are free to postpone marriage as they search long and far for better options. The result is more competition because there are so many more rivals — and there’s no longer any scientific doubt that both sexes are in to win it.

Five Reasons Why Sexual Assault is So Pervasive

Courtesy of Soraya Chemaly of Salon

First, sexual assault on college campuses happens in environments of overwhelming cultural and institutional tolerance that support discriminatory double standards.  While the overall rate of sexual assault in the US has declined since the late 1970s, it has stayed constant on US campuses.  The Center for Public Policy and the Department of Justice estimate that 95% of college sexual assaults are not reported because victims, regardless of sex, gender or sexuality, do not have confidence that they will be believed, that their schools will help them and that they won’t be humiliated and shamed. Our culture essentially gives rapists the message that they’re entitled to be believed and respected; their victims aren’t.

Since women’s basic right to bodily integrity seems to confuse some people, let’s talk about sexual assault that involves men and boys.  Decades of Catholic Church sexual abuse tragedies, the Boy ScoutsPenn Staterape in correctional facilitiessexual assault in the military, recurring episodes at high schools around the country are all examples of entitlement to rape in the face of institutional tolerance.

These cases all involve situations where people, usually men, with uncontested power use that power to abuse more vulnerable people.  Their victims are vulnerable not only because they are smaller or younger, and certainly not because they are drunk, but because they lack cultural power – the power to be believed or have their rights of bodily integrity respected by society. Sometimes, those people are children; other times they’re men. Much more often, however, they are young girls and women.  Alcohol only highlights deeply rooted ideas about who has the right act with impunity.   As Jaclyn Friedman explained five years ago, drinking “is not a risk for nearly half the population. I’ve never met a straight man who worried about being raped as he contemplated a night of debauchery. Vomiting in public? Yes. Getting rejected by sexual prospects? Sure. Getting in a fight? Maybe. Getting raped? Come on.”

A false accusation of rape is, indeed, a fearsome prospect. But the likelihood of being falsely accused of rape are no different from that of being falsely accused of any other crime. And women are far more likely to be raped than men are to be falsely accused. The insistence on treating the two as equally prevalent issues is ….an entitlement.

Secondly, sexual assault on campus is related to high rates of other forms of gendered violence on campus.  Gender-based violence includes not just sexual assault, but intimate partner violence and stalking.  College-aged women are at highest risk for all of these forms of violence.  Decades of research and work clearly reveal that the defining characteristic of perpetrators of these crimes is entitlement. Perpetrators are people who believe they are “owed” something because of who they are or what they’ve done are the most likely to commit difference-based violence.

Third, people arrive at college with ideas and experiences. According to a study released earlier this month, one in ten people between the ages of 14-21 have already committed an act of sexual violence. Boys are more likely to have been perpetrators, although the older girls get, the more likely they are to become perpetrators too. However, 80% of victims in the study were girls — 18% were boys and 5% were transgender youth. Three quarters of those admitting to using coercion or physical pressure targeted someone they knew or were in a relationship with.  15% said they used alcohol to do it.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the study however was that these children felt no sense of responsibility for their actions. What does this have to do with entitlement? The likelihood of perpetrating sexual violence was not equal across all groups.  The teenagers with the highest propensity to sexually assault a peer were white kids from higher-income families.

Fourth, we cannot talk about sexual assault and broader violence in schools without discussing athletics, both before and during college. While male student athletes make up 3.3% of the U.S. college population, they are responsible for 19% percent of sexual assaults and 37% of domestic violence cases on college campuses. In the wake of the Steubenville rape case, but before so many others, like the more recent case in Maryville, The Nation’s Dave Zirin called for a serious questioning of “the connective tissue between jock culture and rape culture.” The core characteristics of high-status boys’ sports – violence, dominance, power, specialness and impunity – are married seamlessly to the marginalization and sexual objectification of girls and women as trophies and playthings. It is possible to cultivate a healthy sense of fraternity without the denigration and victimization of girls and LGBT youth, but that’s not what’s happening.

For the last 25 years, while the incidence of rape has declined, gang rapes by younger and younger men have been on the rise. And perpetrators now derive even greater power and status from photographing and sharing evidence of their assaults. What does entitlement look like, if not being so confident you’ll get away with a crime that you crow about it on social media?   Sports participation does NOT turn boys into rapists. However, participation in high-level, all-male sports cultures is correlated with sexual assault and intimate partner violence.

Fifth, people come from families and families are riven with similar problems and not talking about them. Boys and girls are being sent off to college without parents ever discussing critical dilemmas, double standards,  power imbalances, cultural entitlements,  or even what it genuinely means to be empathetic.  It’s not just parents who themselves are struggling with alcohol, abuse and dysfunction that are a problem. It’s parents whose reluctance to speak openly about serious issues with children who also enable these problems to thrive.  People arrive at school with complicated histories shrouded in silence, shame, anger and incoherence. Our reluctance to extend our concepts of justice to include the family spills over into other institutions every day and college is one of the places where this is most evident.