Tuesday, November 22, 2011


This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for many things: my job, my house, my amazing partner (who wore a 'Yale Feminist' shirt to Harvard/Yale!), and my family, to name a few. I am thankful that I can pay my bills and my rent and still have plenty to eat. I am thankful for homemade pumpkin bread, butternut squash soup, and apple cider on cold, wet fall nights. I am thankful for the crunching sound that golden leaves make under my feet.

But I am also profoundly sad and angry. I'm sad that the war on women rages on decades after Roe v. Wade, that so many people are unemployed, and that so many people are hungry and homeless. I'm angry about the brutal treatment of Occupy protestors by police around the country. I'm disgusted by and angry about this:

(In case you have any doubt about the peaceful nature of the Occupy UC Davis protest, watch this longer video of the event from different angles, which clearly shows that the police pepper sprayed a bunch of students sitting on the ground.)

I'm angry that police at UC Davis opened a peaceful protestor's throat and sprayed pepper spray down it.

I'm angry that a woman miscarried after being sprayed with pepper spray and hit in the stomach by police.

I'm angry that a protestor, and three-tour veteran, was beaten by police and left with a lacerated spleen (video).

I'm angry that police pepper sprayed this 84 year old woman at an Occupy Seattle protest.

This brutality has to stop.

Stay strong, Occupiers! Because this year, thousands of people are thankful for you.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Parks and Recreation: Women's Studies

In this clip, Andy of Parks and Rec discovers the amazing-ness that is Women's Studies. It reminds me of when I sat in on my first WOST class and thought, "Why would anyone ever study anything else?!"

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Are You Going to Lose Access to Birth Control?

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is campaigning against no cost birth control. And Obama might actually give in to their demands. If the administration doesn't, nearly one million people who work at Catholic hospitals and approximately two million people who attend or work at Catholic-affiliated colleges will lose contraceptive coverage they already have.

Why does this matter to you if you don't work or attend school at a Catholic institution? Well, I for one am very, very uncomfortable with seeing a President cave to the extremist demands of a bunch of old men instead of standing with women and supporting basic human rights (remember this recently released UN report?). Furthermore, religious extremists, including the USCCB, have made it clear that the war against women doesn't just mean restricting access to abortion, but restricting access to things like birth control as well. I know lots of "good Catholic women" who are anti-abortion but use birth control and/or support access to birth control (97% of Catholic women will use birth control at some point in their lives). Well guess what?! If you think that religious extremists are going to stop at restricting access to abortion and leave you and your birth control alone, you are wrong.

That is because, as I've long suspected, the anti-abortion argument isn't solely about the "right to life" or the rights of fetuses. It is also about women having children - lots of them. If these people really cared about reducing the number of abortions, they would make sure that birth control was readily available. But they don't! Because they view women as baby making machines and think it is a travesty when they care about other things, such as their career or their own health. Religious groups that fight to end access to abortion also have a gender ideology that says women are inherently different than men and belong in the home raising children. That gender ideology isn't distinct from the anti-abortion fight, it is intrinsically related to it.

All women and men should recognize that the "pro-life" movement isn't really pro-life, it is anti-woman and extremist. And the USCCB's attempt to eliminate access to birth control proves it.

Take action! Tweet @Whitehouse and @BarackObama to resist the USCCB's demands. Use the hashtag #bcrefusal. You can also sign NARAL Pro-Choice America's petition.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sam Harris - The Truth About Violence

Sam Harris has written a blog post outlining 3 principles of self-defense. It is really great, and I highly encourage you to check it out. 

I know this might seem like a slightly random or paranoid posting, but the truth is that we live in a world where violence happens, and if you are a woman the chance of experiencing violence is much, much higher. In his post, Harris claims that in 2010, there were 403.6 violent crimes per 100,000 people in the United States. The average American thus has a 1 in 250 chance of being robbed, assaulted, raped, or murdered each year. Harris does not have gender disaggregated data, and I can't seem to find gender disaggregated data on the FBI's website (although the FBI does formally define rape as the "carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will," so that data is gender specific - because male rape doesn't exist, FBI?!). But given what we know about domestic violence, a woman's chances of experiencing violence are way higher than 1 in 250. Let's take a look at the data:

-- One in every four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime.
-- An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year.
-- Almost one-third of female homicide victims that are reported in police records are killed by an intimate partner.
-- One in six women have experienced an attempted or completed rape.
Harris' post seems to revolve mostly around stranger danger, while most violence against women occurs at the hands of someone they know - not a stranger. But Harris' post is still worth checking out, and much of his advice could be useful in the case of intimate partner violence.

Some highlights:
-- You are under no obligation, for instance, to give a stranger the benefit of the doubt. If a man who makes you uncomfortable steps onto an elevator with you, step off. Victims of crime often sense that something is wrong in the first moments of encountering their attackers but feel too socially inhibited to create the necessary distance and escape.
-- Do not defend your property. 
-- Do whatever you can to avoid a physical confrontation, but the moment avoidance fails, attack explosively for the purposes of escape.
-- Anyone who attempts to control you—by moving you to another room, putting you in a car, tying you up—probably intends to kill you (or worse). And you must understand in advance that your natural reaction to this situation—to freeze, to comply with instructions—will be the wrong one.  Any attempt to move you, even by a few feet—backing you off a sidewalk and into an alley, forcing you behind a row of bushes—is unacceptable and should mobilize all your physical and emotional resources. The time for listening to instructions and attempting to remain calm has passed. It will get no easier to resist and escape after these first moments. The presence of weapons, the size or number of your attackers—these details are irrelevant. However bad the situation looks, it will only get worse. To hesitate is to put yourself at the mercy of a sociopath. You have no alternative but to explode into action, whatever the risk. Recognizing when this line has been crossed, and committing to escape at any cost, is more important than mastering physical techniques.
-- When you commit to using force against another person, your overriding goal is to escape. The moment it is clear that an assailant wants more than your property, you must escape.

Harris recommends that you be aware of your surroundings, and mentally prepare for a variety of scenarios to the point where they become instinctual. He also recommends learning a few good self-defense moves to help you escape. Finally, he recommends preparing and planning with your family about what to do in a variety of scenarios. Doing so, he claims, is not paranoia, but reasonable emergency preparedness that can actually make your family safer.

I have to admit that for me, many of the things Harris talks about have become instinctual. I grew up with a flight attendant mother who constantly goes into "flight attendant mode." I'll be flipping through the television channels in a hotel room and she'll ask me, "Where is our closest exit? Would you know where to go if there was a fire and you couldn't read the sign because there is no power, or because your eyes have swelled shut from the poisons in the air?" Or sitting on a plane, "What would you do if the plane was taken over and we were hostages?!" Growing up, my mom used to tell me that no matter what - you should not get in the car with someone. Even if they say they are going to shoot you if you run, you run. If they get you in the car, they'll likely rape and/or torture you to death. It is unlikely that they will actually shoot you if you do run, but even if they do, you'd rather be shot than tortured.

Sometimes I used to think that all of this was ridiculous and paranoid. But now that I'm older and live in a not-so-safe city (I still love you, New Haven!), I'm profoundly grateful that these sorts of things have become reflex-like. I realize that my mom wasn't trying to terrify me, but making sure that I knew both how to be properly aware of my surroundings, and have an instinctual self-defense plan. You only have seconds in a situation to act, and you need to know what to do, because you don't have time to think about what you should do. For example, re: the get-in-the-car-or-I'll-shoot-situation, I've been told so many times to escape that I wouldn't have to fight an instinct to comply - my instinct is to escape. Or just the other night, while leaving a grocery store in a less-safe part of town in the dark (I normally would never do this, but I shopped too long and forgot that the sun goes down so early these days), some men started making inappropriate comments and I went to grab my keys, because I knew they were the sharpest thing I could use for a weapon in the middle of the parking lot. But I didn't have to grab them because they were already in my hand and ready! I had my thumb on the panic button and the key in between my fingers ready to go. I had seriously been taught so many times that when in a parking lot - especially at night - you should be ready to press the panic button and use a key as a weapon that I had just done it, and gotten it ready without even really realizing it.

I've thought sometimes about whether this was too much preparation, and about whether this way of thinking somehow victimizes and/or disempowers women in particular by teaching them that they are unsafe and need to be constantly alert and on the lookout for danger. But I've never felt disempowered by such preparations, I've only felt stronger, more assure of myself, and safer. I avoid dangerous situations when I can, and know that I have as good a game plan as any to protect myself if I find myself in a bad situation. Moreover, I think this type of stuff shouldn't just be taught to girls, which is why I'm glad, in a way, that Harris didn't make his self-defense post gender specific. Finally, I do think self-defense should be taught to children, even if it is kind of ominous and scary. Kids need to know what to do in an instant, and if they don't know what to do, question what you tell them, or complain about it - their lives could be in very real danger. And since kids, both boys and girls, are more vulnerable to violence, and young women between the ages of 20-24 are more likely to experience violence than at any other time in their life, they need to be prepared about what to do while they're young. Given what we know about intimate partner violence, it is also a good idea not to just prepare children for "stranger danger," but intimate partner violence as well.  My mom and I had (and have) a code word to use in case I was ever being abused or in danger. I could call her and sound like everything was fine, but she would know something was wrong if I used "the word."

It is empowering to know that you have the skills, the resources, and the mental preparation to help keep yourself safe - no matter what your age or gender.

P.S. Did you know that if you have children, you shouldn't teach them to go find a police officer to help them if they get lost? There are too many incidents of people impersonating police officers, and it can be confusing for children to know who is a police officer and who is just a man in some type of uniform. You don't want your child, alone, to admit that he is lost and vulnerable to some random man, or maybe even to a man in general (including a police officer). Instead, you should teach them to find a woman with a stroller and children, and ask her to help you find the police or your parents. My mom always threw in "a smiling, nice-looking mom." Women commit crimes too, so it isn't perfect, but your child is arguably safer approaching women with children than seeking out authoritative looking men.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I love Elizabeth Warren!

and this Karl Rove-backed anti-Warren ad makes me laugh.

Wtf is up with the whole "they attack police" bit? As if it isn't the police that have been attacking OWS protestors all over the country. And I'm pretty sure OWS is happening in part because there are no jobs, not as some sort of separate, distracting issue.

You are awesome Elizabeth Warren. I hope you run for President someday soon!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Eggs Aren't People!

Yesterday in Mississippi, people voted on Proposition 26, which intended to include fertilized eggs in the state's definition of personhood. In my opinion, the whole thing was ridiculous because people do not look like this:
Source: Science! and The Radical Housewife
Furthermore, women are not just walking baby incubators. They are people! Who have rights! Whose decisions, bodies, and autonomy should be respected.

The bill was problematic, in part, because it meant women who miscarried could possibly be charged for involuntary manslaughter. This has already happened in Utah, so it isn't even hard for me to imagine it happening in Mississippi if Proposition 26 passed.

But it didn't!!!


Which is the way it should be.

For a fantastic theological perspective on Proposition 26, and on being a Christian who is pro-choice (and pro-life in the real sense of the word), check out my friend Katelyn's perspective on her blog!!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Compassionate Bear Family

Check out this awesome Lakota version of the Berenstain bears, a project of the Indian Country Today Media Network. What a great way to help children and their parents learn the language!

P.S. November is Native American Heritage Month!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Women Against the World!

I love this picture of women in Iran, who gathered to show their support of the Occupy Wall Street protests in the United States.

Image via
#OccupyIran #OccupyWallSt.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

What Are You Going to Do With Your Last Name?

According to a recent study, 50% of Americans still believe that a woman should be legally required to take their husband's last name when they get married. Because we are, apparently, living in medieval times.

I know that today, the majority of women still change their last name when they get married. In fact, a 2006 article claimed that 80% of American women still choose to participate in the tradition. This number is much lower for academics, which I know from personal experience (I can only think of one female professor at Yale who even hyphenated her last name) and from a study that I can't find now that said only 30% of female academics change their last name.

The sexist symbolism inherent in the assumption that women will change their last names when they get married is left over from the days when US law followed the doctrine of coverture. This doctrine meant women had no legal rights; their father was legally responsible for them until they got married, when the husband took over. Who had coverture of a woman, including all of her property, was indicated by her last name, either her father's or her husband's. (Fun fact: Because women legally couldn't have property, husbands not only had to leave property to their sons in their will, but had to give custody of their children to a male relative - not the mother. If your husband died when you had a child that was, for example, five years old, that child became the "property" of one of your husband's male relatives, and not you).

Some people are content to say that since the US no longer abides by the doctrine of coverture, changing your last name is just a tradition. A nice tradition that enables you to share a last name, make it easier for people to know you're married, and for both of you to have the same last name as your children. But why is it the woman's responsibility to ensure all of these things? Why is it still the woman who has to change her last name?

Because it is a sexist tradition, a symbol that reinforces gender stereotypes and women's inferiority. I've heard many a (conservative) religious person argue that women should change their last names because doing so recognizes the man's headship of the family. And while I disagree with them that the idea of male headship is a great, necessary thing, I do agree with them that that is exactly what a name change implies.

I've spent a lot of time obsessing thinking about what to do with my last name when I get married. For me, the traditional route is simply not an option. I don't like the sexist implications, and I don't like what it says about the equality of me and my (future) partner in our (future) marriage. I am 90% sure that I will not change it or hyphenate it; that I will just stay "Shannon Hill." I like that I get to keep my last name, and symbolically demonstrate that we are distinct equals. I also like that I wouldn't have to spend any time, money, or energy on changing my last name on any documents.

A small part of me, however, does kind of like the idea of having the same last name as my partner. If I marry my current partner, pretty much nothing will change when we do get married because we will have already lived together for who knows how many years. It would be kind of nice to have some sort of symbolic change to represent our marriage. And it would be kind of nice to have some sort of symbolic, "oh hey world! we're a team!" throughout our lives. If we went this route though, he'd have to change his name too. We would become a team together; it wouldn't just be that I'm jumping on board Team Brett. Ideally, in this situation we would both end up hyphenating our last names, so I would be Shannon Hill-M and he would be Brett Hill-M. Sometimes, I actually think that doing it this way is more progressive, because the idea of a man changing his last name for a woman is even more unheard of then a woman just keeping her own. Additionally, then our names would match our children's, because our children would have Hill-Maiden as their last name regardless of whether or not I keep my maiden name or we both hyphenate them. (Although, honestly, I'm not too worried about this. I went through childhood having a mother whose name was Joanne Hill, then Joanne Maiden Name, then Joanne Step-Father's Name and no one ever got confused over who my mother was).

Another very small part of me wants to somehow incorporate my mother's maiden name into the equation somehow, because I love her and I hate patriarchy.

So, I would love to know, what do you think you will do with your last name when you get married, and why? If you're already married, what did you do with your last name, and why? Was it not important to you to break with the tradition? Or do you have a fun, creative way of disrupting the system that you'd love to share?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Don't worry! She's not a feminist or anything!

I randomly came across this article today (don't ask).

The author bemoans the fact that there are so many single Christian women who want to get married:
Go to almost any church and you’ll meet mature, intelligent, attractive Christian women who want to get married and virtually no men to pursue them. These women are often in graduate programs and may have started a career already. But they aren’t feminists. They are eager to embrace the roles of wife and mother. Most of the women I’ve met don’t object to the being a helpmate. There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of mates to go around (emphasis mine).
Ugh! He is seriously using "they aren't feminists" as a way to clarify that there isn't something "wrong" with these women.

I hate it, because it essentially says, "Don't worry, she has no self-worth, she doesn't actually think she is your equal."

In fact, that is precisely what they mean. If you understand the author's theology, you know that women aren't supposed to think they're men's equals. Thinking such a thing means there is something wrong with them, that they're not good wife material.

And any such ideology that so blatantly proclaims women's inferiority is, my friends, fucked up.*

*pardon my language, this type of theology really gets me mad!
*Sometime soon, I will write a much more articulate post on why this kind of theology is harmful to women. 

Love Chooses Us

I was touched by this article on relationships, and how "love chooses us."

This paragraph, in particular, struck a chord in me:
Maybe that’s why I clung to him in that particularly embarrassing way that young girls sometimes do, why I wanted so much for things to work out. Why I let myself turn into someone I didn’t really like when I was around him. Why I was willing to forgive his arriving hours late on the night he met my parents at a restaurant in New York. 
I think most young girls turn into someone they don't like for a boy, at least once. And yet, it is precisely that experience that makes many a girl say, "never again," and refuse to change for the next one; to stand firm in who she is.

And, like in this author's case, refusing to be something you're not - someone you're not - is often what helps you find "the one."

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

What the Hell is Going on Down There?!: The Media's Negative Depictions of Childbirth

Today, the NYTimes' Neil Genzlinger wrote an analysis of birthing scenes on this season's tv shows. His conclusion: there is a lot of birthing scenes happening right now! And the networks all make them seem excruciatingly painful, gory, and terrifying.

He couldn't be more right!

The media makes giving birth appear categorically horrible. I've long noticed that there isn't a single positive depiction of childbirth in film or on television (if you can think of one, let me know in the comments!). The woman is always screaming, there is always blood, and something almost always goes wrong. Seriously, the whole your-regular-doctor-couldn't-make-it-for-some-mysterious-reason-so-I'm-taking-over-even-though-you-don't-know-me-and-apparently-hate-me plot is so overdone. And the woman always acts sooooo surprised that the doctor is different, and goes crazy over some strange thing like the doctor's hair or age. I am no experienced birther, but I am willing to bet that most women know that their regular doctor might not be available if they go into labor suddenly, and that they have been prepared for such a situation. I'm also willing to bet that most women, even if they are a little uncomfortable or nervous with a new doctor, don't hate the doctor that is standing in or act like a verbally abusive maniac.

These stand-in doctors are almost always depicted as steering women away from their original birthing plan. These birthing plans usually tend to be on the natural birth side of things, and the woman is almost always depicted as being an uptight, crazy, hormonal thing because she gets upset that the new doctor is ignoring her wishes. It takes a man - husband, boyfriend, whatever - to talk some sense in to her and get her to forgo the plan. Thank goodness we have rational menfolk around to do that for us! They know so much better than those hormonal, crazy screaming ladies about what is best for their bodies and the baby. I always find this plot line ironic given the U.S.'s penchant for inducing women's labor with drugs that may or may not be safe and performing caesarean births (32% of births in the U.S. are performed via c-section, one of the highest rates in the world). Of course, there are times when it is necessary to have a c-section, but I worry that this frequent depiction of childbirth conveys the message that women should just shut up and listen to the doctor because they are being (comically) irrational by doing anything other than that.

Along the same lines, I am irritated by the fact that men almost always appear like the calm, rational, and in-control half of the "birthing couple." Even though they do have reason to be more calm - they aren't, after all, pushing a person out of their vagina - media depictions of childbirth tend to infantalize women and be very patronizing. The man is in control, the woman is out of control and hysterical, and the man needs to soothe her, pet her, etc. to get her in control and successfully bring the baby into the world.

Finally, the people that make these shows must not have a very thorough knowledge of childbirth or human anatomy, because as Genzlinger points out, there are so many references to "down there" that I'm pretty convinced no writer or producer has ever actually uttered the word "vagina." Everything that happens during tv childbirth happens "down there" like it is some dark, terrible place. "Down there" is also a place that no living person should ever look at, lest they be traumatized by the sight. The message is clear - that is some disgusting stuff going on "down there!"

Strangely, I realized that the media's depiction of childbirth is overwhelmingly negative when I watched Kourtney Kardashian give birth on tv. It sounds ridiculous, but this video totally changed the way i thought about childbirth. Watch it!

Another awesome video of childbirth is this one. It always makes me cry. I love how calm and in tune with her body the woman seems, and how supportive and sweet the man is. Also - midwives! I will give birth with midwives at my side. I <3 midwives. Although I'm not so sure about the whole birth in an inflatable pool thing. What temperature is the water? Would I get all prune-y? My former roomie Margaux always said she was going to do this. Hurry up and get pregnant Margaux so I can see what it is like!

Anyway, the point is that it doesn't look fun or pleasant, per say, but it isn't the horrifying, screaming, bloody mess that is tv childbirth.

So why the negative media depictions of giving birth? Why do they all follow the same tired plot line? It is because viewers love gore? Love drama? Because men in the film and tv industry view themselves as the heroes of the delivery room?

I would argue, without going into an in-depth explanation or analysis here (it is past my bedtime!) that society as a whole expects childbirth to be a horrible, painful, agonizing, categorically negative experience. Women are supposed to find it painful. It goes back to the whole Genesis 3:16 curse, where (so the story goes) women are told by God that childbirth will be painful because they are sinful. And perhaps men, and arguably some women, want to keep it that way. Because without the pain and terror that surrounds childbirth, women are just left doing the awesome thing of giving birth and bringing new life to the world. Without the constant media message that childbirth is something they should fear, women might think more positively about their body, its amazing capabilities, and how incredible childbirth really is.