Women & Homelessness: Three Points to Ponder

By Tressie Kamp and Simone Harstead.

Shelter is a basic human right. Regardless of gender, age, or race, homelessness is a frightening reality for too many people. The impact of homelessness, however, likely varies depending upon an individual’s gender or other demographic factors.

The Wisconsin Women’s Network invited attorney and Dane County Supervisor Heidi Mayree Wegleitner to present on November 2, 2015, at our monthly “Women on Topic” Brown Bag. In addition to sharing information about the decline in federal funds to address homelessness, Heidi encouraged the group to think about the unique impact of homelessness on Wisconsin’s women and children. The list below is by no means exhaustive, but is meant to remind readers of the less obvious ways that homelessness may be more chronic or difficult for women.

1) Summer daycare:

The process of finding and paying for daycare is daunting to all parents. School and after-school resources provide some relief during nine months of the year, but summer is a different story.

For a variety of reasons, homeless rates are usually higher in the summer. Heidi reminded attendees that shelters, friends, and family feel more comfortable denying a warm bed to a homeless person or family when conditions outside are friendlier. Landlords might also be reluctant to kick a tenant out during the winter. Additionally, parents most likely don’t want to move their families during the other seasons so that their child has a completed academic year.

The combined lack of school care and higher probability of spending nights outside means that summer months may prove especially difficult for homeless parents. Therefore, if a mother is the primary caregiver for her children, little to no time is left to search and apply for jobs, seek more reliable shelter, or take other actions to lift a family out of homelessness.

Some resources exist for homeless families, like summer camps that are aimed specifically at homeless children. Places in Dane County like East Madison Community Center, Inc. and Cambridge Area Youth Center offer summer day camp programs that are free of cost and help support families that may not be able to care for their children full-time in the summer.[1]

2) Feminine health & hygiene:

Many of us take for granted our ability to make a quick stop in the nearest pharmacy or convenience store for feminine hygiene products or pain relievers. Imagine adding two layers of difficulty onto this scenario: first, access to these products is clearly more difficult without reliable financial means. Second, it may be a full-day process to figure out transportation and other logistics when a homeless woman needs to go to a particular location to get free or low-cost hygiene products.

There has been significant coverage on this in the media with many news organizations reporting on this previously ignored problem. A year’s worth of tampons for one woman is at least $70.[2] Menstruation is stigmatized and therefore women have not been able to receive subsidized tampons. Many organizations addressing this issue have recently emerged, like Girls Helping Girls. Period, The Period Project, and Tampon Tuesday.

Again, if it takes the whole day to meet basic health and hygiene needs a woman is left with inadequate time to take the actions she wants to in order to help her and/or her family out of homelessness.

3) Gender-specific shelters:

Heidi also reminded the attendees that not all shelters serve the entire homeless population. Having a gendered space usually creates positive and negative effects on a situation. Gendered shelters can be exclusive; many reject transgender people instead of letting them use their self-identified gender.[3]

Furthermore, male-only shelters avoid the safety issues, cost and other complexities that come with co-ed shelters or shelters that serve the more specific needs of children. Heidi discussed the fact that the number of shelter beds available to women, particularly in the Madison area, don’t correspond to the female percentage of the homeless population. Without safe shelter beds, women are exposed not only to the elements but also to the risk of sexual assault.

On the other hand, gendered shelter can be positive in situations where someone needs gender sensitive support. For example, homeless women are at a much greater risk of sexual assault, human trafficking, and violence.[4]

WWN thanks Heidi Mayree Wegleitner for her thought-provoking presentation and for her service as a Dane County Supervisor.

The “Women on Topic” Brown Bag is a monthly series offering members and the public a unique opportunity to hear the timely perspective of women leaders from a variety of fields as we promote the advancement of women and girls in Wisconsin. For upcoming topics and dates, visit www.wiwomensnetwork.org.


[1] https://www.unitedwaydanecounty.org/documents/AgencyProgramDirectory.pdf

[2] http://kristof.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/01/28/helping-women-and-girls-period/?_r=0

[3] http://www.transequality.org/blog/win-hud-tells-homeless-shelters-to-respect-self-identified-gender

[4] http://lotushouse.org/understanding-the-need/special-needs-of-women/

Why We Celebrate National Family Caregivers Month

by Lacy Fox, WWN Policy Committee Member.

In November, we celebrate National Family Caregivers Month as a way to honor those who support their loved ones affected by illness, injury, or disability. Each day, family caregivers are challenged with not only meeting their own needs but also the needs of loved ones they care for with dignity and respect. Caregiving is a selfless act of love, compassion, and sacrifice.

Sixty-five percent of older adults with long-term care needs rely exclusively on family and friends to provide assistance. Care provided by friends and family often determine whether or not an individual is able to remain at home and out of costly institutions.

Women provide the majority of caregiving to spouses, parents, parents-in-law, friends and neighbors. Approximately 66 percent of caregivers are female and, although men also provide assistance, female caregivers may spend as much as 50 percent more time providing care than male caregivers. The average caregiver is a 49 year old woman, caring for her 60 year old mother who does not live with her. She is also married and employed.

In Wisconsin, there are about 578,000 family caregivers who provide $7 billion worth of unpaid care. Each week, the average caregiver provides 18 hours of assistance to a loved one. Almost half of these caregivers perform medical or nursing tasks, such as complex medication management and injections. Strengthening our policies to support family caregivers would be a tremendous help to individuals across Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin Women’s Network is lucky to have the Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources, Inc. (GWAAR) as a member organization. GWAAR works tirelessly with aging units at the county and tribal level to enhance the quality of life of older adults and ensure they have the opportunity to thrive. aging units and Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRCs) are an invaluable resource to caregivers in need of support services. GWAAR recognizes that, for caregivers, taking care of a loved one when they are unable to care for themselves can be difficult, especially if the caregiver doesn’t know where to turn for help.

As a partner with county and tribal aging programs, GWAAR provides up-to-date information, training, and technical support that helps provide information and assistance to caregivers and their families. One such resource is the National Family Caregiver Support program, which is located in every county and tribe in Wisconsin. This program helps caregivers overcome challenges in providing care to their loved one, such as transportation services and respite care. The National Family Caregiver Support program is available to family caregivers (including friends) who care for individuals over 60, or who have Alzheimer’s disease regardless of age.

Additionally, the Wisconsin Association of Area Agencies on Aging (W4A) has created a website, designed specifically for Wisconsin caregivers, to help caregivers navigate different supports and services available to them. The website can be visited at www.wisconsincaregiver.org. For more information about GWAAR, visit their website at www.gwaar.org.

The Wisconsin Women’s Network and its many member organizations advocate daily for policies at the state and federal level that will enhance the wellbeing of women and their families. Many caregivers rely on workplace flexibility and reasonable accommodations in order to provide care to their loved one. Therefore, the Wisconsin Women’s Network supports legislation aimed at providing this flexibility. One such policy is the Wisconsin Family Medical Leave Insurance Act, which is currently proposed legislation – circulating for co-sponsorship from other state legislators – that has not been formally introduced to the Legislature. Ensuring workers have access to paid leave provides our workers compassion and understanding and promotes Wisconsin’s shared family values. Wisconsinites should not have to choose between taking care of a family member and keeping their job. The Wisconsin Family Medical Leave Insurance Act is designed to help families in a time of need and allows employees to take family leave to care for a family member.

Another bill that has been introduced this legislative session is the Care Act – Senate Bill 19, which will help to make sure caregivers know what their loved one needs after a hospital visit by providing guidance to those who will be caring for them, which will likely prevent return visits to the hospital. Under the bill, if a patient designates a caregiver, the hospital must notify the caregiver of a patients discharge, and prepare the caregiver for aftercare assistance. Simple changes can make a world of difference to ease the strains and challenges caregivers face when tending to the needs of loved ones who’ve fallen ill and this bill would be a step in the right direction to that end.

If you are a family caregiver, it’s important to remember you are not alone. Wisconsin has a strong group of organizations that work tirelessly to provide education, respite care, financial assistance and so much more to Wisconsin caregivers. There are also support groups available that give people a chance to talk and connect with other caregivers who may be dealing with some of the same issues. Remember to take time to care for yourself as it will help you to take better care of your loved one. If you need help finding assistance, please do not hesitate to contact the Wisconsin Women’s Network, we would be happy to connect you to services in the community to help you on your journey as a caregiver. Find our contact information, here.

What are your tips as a family caregiver? Share them in the comments section below!


AB310 Limits Healthcare Access for Thousands of Wisconsin Women and Men

By Emily Claypool
WWN Reproductive Rights Task Force

On September 24th, the Wisconsin State Assembly passed a bill which will further cut funding to Planned Parenthood and community health centers, and will allow healthcare providers to refuse to provide patients with life-saving family planning, birth control, and cancer and STI screening services. The freedom for men and women to access healthcare is at stake as this proposal moves on to the State Senate.

The reality is that defunding Planned Parenthood threatens lives in underserved communities by preventing the most vulnerable among us from receiving life-saving preventative health care. In fact, preventative care makes up 99 percent of Planned Parenthood services. Eliminating Title X funding for patients who access care at Planned Parenthood and other safety net health providers means more barriers to cancer screenings, pregnancy prevention, as well as testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Assembly Bill 310 is not just an attack on Planned Parenthood; it is an attack on the communities who depend on these services. Planned Parenthood services a total of 60,000 women and men in Wisconsin and 2.7 people nationwide each year.1 in 5 women will depend on the quality services of Planned Parenthood in their lifetime, including 400,000 Pap tests, approximately 500,000 breast examinations and almost 4.5 million tests for sexually transmitted illnesses (including HIV). At Planned Parenthood no one is turned away from receiving services due to their inability to pay.

The Title X family planning program is an essential national program dedicated to ensuring all people can access the health care services they need regardless of their age or income. Planned Parenthood has effectively administered the Title X grant in Wisconsin for over 35 years to ensure women and men across Wisconsin can access essential preventative care. Ending Title X funding as proposed in AB 310 without a new plan to administer the funding would mean 50,000 individuals in Wisconsin will lose access to services like cancer screenings, Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) tests and treatment and birth control services.

While the bill’s author, Senator Kapenga, suggests that adolescents, women and men can seek healthcare elsewhere, there are few viable options. Primary care clinics and community health clinics do not have the infrastructure to support the underserved and underinsured populations that Planned Parenthood serves. These “other options” often do not have a sliding payment scale, accept only a small percentage of Medicaid patients, and do not serve patients who are undocumented. If Planned Parenthood is defunded, these politicians need a plan to ensure women and men in Wisconsin maintain access to these essential health care services.

Assembly Bill 310 comes at a high cost and puts the lives of adolescents, men and women who need the essential health care support of Planned Parenthood and other Title X community health clinics at risk.

The Hancock Center Rises for Safe Bodies and Safe Relationships

By Karen Meulendyke,
WWN Public Policy Committee.

The Hancock Center is Wisconsin Women’s Network’s newest member organization. The Center is a Madison-based non-profit that began in 1983 by one of the founding members of the American Dance/Movement Therapy Association, Deborah Thomas. As quoted from their website, the Hancock center “provides dance/ movement therapy services and health and wellness education on-site and in the community.” The Center serves women and men, adults and children in individual therapy as well as groups. Therapists at Hancock host an array of different programming, from violence prevention with children in schools to movement/meditation workshops to family-based dance/movement therapy. In addition to a menu of diverse programming, the Hancock Center is a model organization for workplace flexibility. The Center’s employment model is one that emphasizes relationships as the centerpiece in women’s lives. For their mostly-female staff, this mode of operation is supportive in their ever evolving family and work lives.

Earlier this month I sat down at the Hancock Center with dance/movement therapist, Ann Wingate, and had a wonderful conversation regarding the Center and its many efforts. She taught me that dance therapy works to transform the way we think about our bodies, and society’s beliefs about our bodies and movement. Dance/movement therapy is a process that can be used to teach children and adults how to feel safe in our bodies and our relationships. A specific effort where this mantra is especially clear is in the Center’s work against sexual assault. Beginning in the late 80s, Hancock understood what the healing power of dance/movement therapy can do for survivors of sexual assault. Women’s therapy groups began and were led for years by therapist Grace Valentine. Today, Ann co-leads an organized effort to raise awareness about sexual assault and work with survivors of sexual assault through flash mob dances with Dianne Brakarsh of Moving from Within, in the Madison area. Yes, that’s right, flash mob dances!

The global effort Ann and Dianne joined and brought to Madison is called One Billion Rising. One Billion Rising is a campaign that calls people to action and speaks up against sexual violence. The campaign is an accessible outlet for people to be with others, allow for personal expression and raise awareness of the issue that over one billion women and girls in today’s population of 7 billion will experience gender violence in their lifetime. Ann and her colleagues present their work at summits, conferences and in workshops to work with people who have experienced sexual assault as well as advocates for ending violence by using dance and movement as self-expression and healing.

One Billion Rising uses the song, Break the Chain by Tena Clark, and a choreographed group dance as vehicles to lead the healing and raise awareness. Through workshops and summits, the group dance is taught and then preformed in a public place with signs and information for onlookers. This peaceful demonstration has been witnessed at the State Capital, Hilldale mall, and where I had the pleasure of witnessing it last Valentine’s Day, outside the city of Madison’s municipal building. Prior to this year’s globally organized Valentine’s Day flash mob dance, organizers of the One Billion Rising campaign challenged participants to think about why they were rising. The Hancock Center’s response to why they were rising, for safe bodies and safe relationships, a key component that is taught in their work every day.

You can learn more about the Hancock Center and available programming through their website at www.hancockcenter.net. Join the One Billion Rising campaign, through the One Billion Rising Revolution website at www.onebillionrising.org.

The Hancock Center is Wisconsin Women’s Network’s newest member organization. The Center is a Madison-based non-profit that began in 1983 by one of the founding members of the American Dance/Movement Therapy Association, Deborah Thomas. As quoted from their website, the Hancock center “provides dance/ movement therapy services and health and wellness education on-site and in the community.” The Center serves women and men, adults and children in individual therapy as well as groups. Therapists at Hancock host an array of different programming, from violence prevention with children in schools to movement/meditation workshops to family-based dance/movement therapy. In addition to a menu of diverse programming, the Hancock Center is a model organization for workplace flexibility. The Center’s employment model is one that emphasizes relationships as the centerpiece in women’s lives. For their mostly-female staff, this mode of operation is supportive in their ever evolving family and work lives.

Earlier this month I sat down at the Hancock Center with dance/movement therapist, Ann Wingate, and had a wonderful conversation regarding the Center and its many efforts. She taught me that dance therapy works to transform the way we think about our bodies, and society’s beliefs about our bodies and movement. Dance/movement therapy is a process that can be used to teach children and adults how to feel safe in our bodies and our relationships. A specific effort where this mantra is especially clear is in the Center’s work against sexual assault. Beginning in the late 80s, Hancock understood what the healing power of dance/movement therapy can do for survivors of sexual assault. Women’s therapy groups began and were led for years by therapist Grace Valentine. Today, Ann co-leads an organized effort to raise awareness about sexual assault and work with survivors of sexual assault through flash mob dances with Dianne Brakarsh of Moving from Within, in the Madison area. Yes, that’s right, flash mob dances!

The global effort Ann and Dianne joined and brought to Madison is called One Billion Rising. One Billion Rising is a campaign that calls people to action and speaks up against sexual violence. The campaign is an accessible outlet for people to be with others, allow for personal expression and raise awareness of the issue that over one billion women and girls in today’s population of 7 billion will experience gender violence in their lifetime. Ann and her colleagues present their work at summits, conferences and in workshops to work with people who have experienced sexual assault as well as advocates for ending violence by using dance and movement as self-expression and healing.

One Billion Rising uses the song, Break the Chain by Tena Clark, and a choreographed group dance as vehicles to lead the healing and raise awareness. Through workshops and summits, the group dance is taught and then preformed in a public place with signs and information for onlookers. This peaceful demonstration has been witnessed at the State Capital, Hilldale mall, and where I had the pleasure of witnessing it last Valentine’s Day, outside the city of Madison’s municipal building. Prior to this year’s globally organized Valentine’s Day flash mob dance, organizers of the One Billion Rising campaign challenged participants to think about why they were rising. The Hancock Center’s response to why they were rising, for safe bodies and safe relationships, a key component that is taught in their work every day.

You can learn more about the Hancock Center and available programming through their website at www.hancockcenter.net. Join the One Billion Rising campaign, through the One Billion Rising Revolution website at www.onebillionrising.org.

WWN Honors Dairy Month and Women in Agriculture

By Tressie Kamp, WWN Public Policy Committee Member

Whether we do so knowingly or as a happy coincidence, many of us celebrate June by sharing ice cream or a cheese plate with friends and neighbors. It’s fitting that June is National Dairy Month, which WWN celebrated on June 1st by convening a panel on “Wisconsin Women in the Dairy Industry.” The panel featured five women who contribute their research, marketing, economic and legal expertise to our state’s dairy industry. Jenifer Cole, WWN’s Vice Chair/Chair-Elect, organized and led the panel, which was co-sponsored by the Cornell Club of Wisconsin-Madison. She noted that while women’s participation in the dairy industry has increased, promoting the advancement of women working in dairy and agriculture in Wisconsin aligns with the WWN’s mission. Jen also stated that The WWN’s brown bag “Women on Topic” was “an excellent forum to connect women in one of Wisconsin’s leading industries and to hear about the challenges and triumphs these women experience in a field traditionally dominated by men.”

Even for WWN members and blog readers, women may not be the first demographic group to come to mind when we think about Wisconsin’s dairy industry. But when I called Lisa Kivirist, Coordinator of the MOSES Rural Women’s Project, our conversation quickly shifted toward the boom of women in the field of sustainable agriculture. Here’s a quote from the Project’s website:

“According to the 2012 USDA [United States Department of Agriculture] Agriculture Census, 30% of farmers in the U.S. are women, the majority launching organic and sustainable operations for raising fresh, healthy food for local communities.”

USDA statistics also demonstrate the aforementioned rapid expansion of the community of women that work in sustainable agriculture. This growth is reflected by media coverage. Subscribe to a general Google alert on Wisconsin agriculture and you’ll receive frequent articles discussing women in agriculture. For example, I was recently notified that a national group, the American Farm Bureau Federation, is holding a “boot camp” for women in the agriculture industry to sharpen skills such as public speaking and media relations. On an international scale, I also enjoyed reading this article from BBC News back in April about a female choir in Norway singing to support the future of farming in their country.

Here’s the less happy news. As far as Lisa and I are aware, there is no federal or state-level funding source specifically for—or even geared toward—supporting women in agriculture. Instead, women are grouped by the United States Department of Agriculture into a “historically underserved” category. Folks like Lisa are encouraged by the expanding, local organizing efforts that support women in agriculture, although Lisa was quick to stress the need for more national policy efforts for the same purpose.

For more on this topic, visit the MOSES Rural Women’s Project website and for a broader policy perspective check out the website for REAP Food Group. If you’re a female farmer that finds yourself in what Lisa calls “beginning farmer boots,” don’t think twice about reaching out to your peers and to groups like the Rural Women’s Project. Finally, for those of us who aren’t farmers, don’t forget that we can exercise our spending and political powers to support women in our state’s agricultural industry. Here’s hoping you all find a way to celebrate women in agriculture during the rest of National Dairy Month!

Tressie Kamp

Member, WWN Public Policy Committee

Women’s Education and Equity: Title IX

by WWN Communications Intern, Julia Mroczkowski

Title IX is a major civil rights law that has been instrumental to changes in gender equality in the United States. Title IX is a portion of the Educational Amendments and became effective June 23, 1972.[1] The act states that if an institution receives federal funding that institution cannot discriminate against individuals based on their sex. The statute influenced the Disability Act of 1973 and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, which ends discrimination for individuals with disabilities and elderly. Title IX increases equality among men and women in education, as well as athletics, and has decreased the educational gap between men and women by increasing the enrollment of women in college’s and universities. Title IX has positively impacted women’s access to advanced education since its adoption, but Title IX fails to protect women who attend universities from sexual assault.

Women have fought to gain educational equality in America. Title IX protects women who are married, pregnant, or parenting from discrimination. For example, until 1996, Georgetown University did not allow married women to attend.[2] Today, women have been granted the constitutional right of equal opportunity to education and any other activities in federally funded institutions. The constitution still has not adopted the equal rights amendment that would end sex discrimination. Before Title IX, women with a high school diploma had lower rates of attendance and completion of a college degree. In 1970, 8% of women who graduated from high school obtained a college degree; whereas, in 2009, 28% earned a college degree.[3] Now, women are no longer the minority but the majority of students that receive a four-year college and masters degrees. Women are also receiving more degrees in business and law. The increase in access to education is a considerable factor for women in the workforce. The positive social changes such as women involved in athletics and nontraditional fields are a result of Title IX.

Women are facing higher numbers of sexual assault, denying their civil rights and limiting equal access to education because colleges and universities are not providing services to handle sexual assault cases. A survey released July 2014 investigated 440 colleges and universities and found that 40 percent of schools have not investigated any cases of sexual assault in 5 years.[4] Resources and education need to be provided to schools on how to approach sexual assault cases. According to the National Institute of Justice, one in five women will experience rape in college.[5] Women are more likely to be victims of sexual violence or assault on campus than men. Research has shown that women are the victims of 90-95% of on campus assaults. Title IX holds college’s responsible for individual consequences of sexual assault. Of those found guilty of perpetrating on campus sexual assault, only 10-25% of those individuals are expelled from their colleges. Currently, 71institutions are being reviewed for possibly violating federal law on sexual violence complaints. [6] The funded institutions are not being held accountable for upholding Title IX because they are not punishing those who assault women. Title IX is not providing equal access to education for both sexes when women are assaulted on campus and there is no retribution. An increase in media attention has caused a focus on the issue of sex discrimination and sexual assaults at colleges and universities. Women are seeking support from the public to make positive changes on their campuses.

Title IX has provided women equal opportunity in receiving education and has influenced other laws that prohibit discrimination. Title IX positively affected women when it was first introduced in 1972, and continues to do so today, as women are receiving more advanced education than ever. Many colleges are not effectively implementing Title IX to protect women from sexual assault and provide equal education. The government needs to take this issue seriously so that women do not have to face sex discrimination for attending college.

[1] Title IX amends the Higher Education Act of 1965, the Vocational Education Act of 1963, the General Education Provisions Act, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, Public Law 874, Eighty-first Congress, and related Acts, and for other purposes.

[2] Title IX: A Sea Change in Gender Equity in Education. (n.d.). Retrieved December 6, 2014, from https://www2.ed.gov/pubs/TitleIX/part3.html

[3] (n.d.). Retrieved December 17, 2014, from http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/edu/documents/titleixreport.pdf

[4] Web. 16 Jan. 2015. <http://www.mccaskill.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/SurveyReportwithAppendix.pdf&gt;.

[5] Campus Sexual Assault Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved December 6, 2014, from http://www.gillibrand.senate.gov/campus-sexual-assault-stats

[6] U.S. Department of Education Releases List of Higher Education Institutions with Open Title IX Sexual Violence Investigations. (n.d.). Retrieved December 6, 2014, from http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/us-department-education-releases-list-higher-education-institutions-open-title-i

Women in Government

By WWN Communications Intern, Julia Mroczkowski

“Women’s history is the primary tool for women’s emancipation.” –Gerda Lerner[1]

In 1980, Lerner started a women’s history program at the University of Wisconsin, and then established similar programs throughout the United States. She firmly believed that liberating women helps improve democracy so that there is equal representation of the genders in government. Women first began to have political representation in Wisconsin when three women were elected to the legislature in 1925: Helen Thompson, Helen Brooks, and Mildred Barber.[2] Since then women in Wisconsin have made some gains towards equal representation of in state government. In the 1950’s, women held four seats in the Wisconsin legislature; nine women in the 60’s, fifty-one women in the 70’s; and since 2001, 230 women have held a seat in the state legislature. Thompson, Brooks, and Barber paved the road for women to take part in the public decisions that effect women’s lives. Exemplary women such as Wisconsin’s first woman state senator, Kathryn Morrison, Wisconsin’s current U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, and Congresswoman Gwen Moore, who currently serves Wisconsin’s 4th District, continue the legacy started by Thompson, Brooks, & Barber. Women need equal representation in government to increase women’s rights, to advance gender equality, and empower women. Without equal representation gender discrimination will continue, and decisions about women’s issues will be continually be made by men.

The Wisconsin legislature did not have a woman senator until 1975. Currently, in the Wisconsin legislature there are a total of 132 members consisting of 33 senators and 99 assembly members. [3] According to the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, only 126 women have held seats in the legislature since 1925. Former Senator Kathryn Morrison was the first and only woman to represent Wisconsin’s 17th senate district. [4] From 1999 to 2001, 11 women served in the Wisconsin senate, the greatest amount of any historical term. In 2003, the Wisconsin legislature consisted of 37 women, setting the record for number of women representatives in Wisconsin. Currently, 34 women serve in the Wisconsin legislature, 25 in the assembly, and 9 in the senate.[5]

Wisconsin’s first woman U.S. Senator, Tammy Baldwin, and the first woman to represent Wisconsin’s 4th district, Rep. Gwen Moore, are both advocates for equality and especially women’s equality. These two women were not in support of the recent Wisconsin Voter ID law because they want all of their constituents to be able to exercise their right to vote.[6] Senator Baldwin is not only a representative for women, but is also the first openly gay woman elected to the U.S. Senate. The main issues that she supports are education, health care, and an economic recovery that ensures a strong middle class. Rep. Moore, serves not only Wisconsin’s 4th district, but also serves as an advocate for Wisconsin’s African-American population. Congresswoman Moore promotes women’s rights and has a strong focus on the community by creating jobs. These women have been working together to ensure that women in Wisconsin are guaranteed their rights. For example, they both were against the voter identification requirement and wrote a letter to the U.S. attorney general approving of his stance on the bill. They also have been sending letters to Governor Scott Walker since 2012, insisting that the state adopts the Affordable Health Care Act of 2010, which would allow Wisconsinites to have health insurance.[7] Sen. Baldwin and Rep. Moore focus on social issues that have the most impact on women and children and represent their needs.

Looking forward to Wisconsin’s representation in government it would be best if more women were elected in order to promote gender equality. Wisconsin women representatives have been increasing since 1925, but still have a long way to go for equality among the genders. Encouraging young girls that Wisconsin needs women representatives will increase gender equality. Rep. Gwen Moore[8] and Sen. Tammy Baldwin[9] are serving on committees that support women’s rights and diversity. Within the last ten years women have gained more representation in the Wisconsin legislature and women’s issues are now being decided on by both genders. Women throughout history have struggled to gain representation in government, and unless Wisconsin encourages girls to become political leaders women will remain underrepresented.

[1] National Women’s History Museum. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2014.

[2] Keane, M. (2013, January 1). Wisconsin Women Legislators-A Historical List. Retrieved November 12, 2014.

[3] http://legis.wisconsin.gov/

[4] Keane, M. (2013, January 1). Wisconsin Women Legislators-A Historical List. Retrieved November 12, 2014.

[5] Women in State Legislatures for 2014. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2014.

[6] Congresswoman Gwen Moore : Press Releases : Baldwin, Moore, Kind and Pocan Send Letter to U.S. AG Applauding his Voter Protection Efforts. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2014.

[7] Congresswoman Gwen Moore : Press Releases : Kohl, Baldwin, Kind, Moore and Pocan Encourage Governor Walker to Implement State-Based Health Insurance Exchange. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2014.

[8] Working for Women. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2014, from http://gwenmoore.house.gov/working-for-women/

[9] About Tammy | Tammy Baldwin | U.S. Senator for Wisconsin. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2014, from http://www.baldwin.senate.gov/about

Wisconsin Women Vote


By WWN Intern, Julia Mroczkowski –

On November 4, 2014, all Wisconsin voters will be able to exercise their freedom to vote, a civil right, and fulfill a civic duty. Under current state law, qualifying Wisconsin residents can register to vote on Election Day at their designated polling locations. Visit myvote.wi.gov to find your polling place. Same-day registration has been active in Wisconsin since the fall election of 1976; in turn, less provisional ballots are issued because of the Election Day Registration. Provisional ballots are only counted once the proper voter registration is complete. Recently, voting rights have been threatened in Wisconsin, a right for women passed ninety-four years ago. Wisconsin’s voter identification law that was proposed to the Supreme Court would be a definite threat on women’s right to vote. The Wisconsin Women’s Network and several other organizations continue to fight for voting rights, as well as advocate the importance of voting.

A collaborated effort of organizations encourages you to pledge your vote, promote voting, and advocate for other issues that effect women. First, Ask.Learn.Vote.org is a resource that provides information about candidates in each district of Wisconsin. The coalition website shares information on voting rights and laws that protect and ensure that your vote is counted. The Wisconsin Women’s Network has partnered with AskLearnVote to promote women’s voting rights and ensure that women’s voices are heard. Another organization that advocates for voting and voting rights is the League of Women Voters. This nonpartisan group does not support specific candidates; however, they do have certain issues they advocate for. The League of Women Voters focuses on citizens’ rights and equal rights, and more specifically defending voter’s rights and educating and engaging voters. Active participation in elections helps increase the representation of women, and fighting threats to voting rights, while simultaneously advocating that voting is a way to participate and promote constitutional rights. The 19th amendment allows women to vote, granting us access to make positive changes for our health, safety and economic security. Lastly, the efforts made by Get Out The Vote have succeeded in motivating citizens to cast their ballots. This organization specifically focuses on increasing voter turnout during elections. Get Out the Vote conducted a study imitating elections held in the 19th century and made them more festive to attract more voters, which they found to be effective at increasing voter turnout. An important program, First-Time Voter Education is used to mobilize voters and inform young voters about being part of elections and how their vote matters. Statistically there is an increase in young voter turnout when Rock the Vote ads are shown on television. Research done by Get Out the Vote, based on their mobilization experiments, has increased the number of voters, which is important because everyone’s voice matters.

Wisconsin’s general election is on November 4, 2014 and it is important to ensure that your vote is cast. Women have been fighting to protect their individual rights, and in order to make economic, health, and equality changes women must vote. The Wisconsin Women’s Network promotes equality for women and voting rights give women the opportunity to gain equality.

April Brown Bag: ‘Abortion, The State, and Public Shaming Through the Centuries’

By WWN Intern Rachel Cohen

Last Monday at WWN we had the pleasure of hearing from Natalie Deibel, an academic who studies women in early modern European history. Giving a talk entitled ‘Abortion, The State, and Public Shaming Through the Centuries,’ Deibel introduced us to some facts and myths about European women from 1500-1750 BC. 

At the simple fact of the female body, women were considered to be defective. The female body was considered a deficient form of the male body, as seen in the lack of terminology for female reproductive organs. Ovaries were referred to as female testes and the uterus was thought to be an inverted and enlarged scrotum. Looking at images of what they believed male and female genitalia to look like, the two were almost indistinguishable (and neither were close to correct). 

An early modern drawing of male and female reproductive anatomy
An early modern drawing of male and female reproductive anatomy

There is also misunderstanding in the present. We tend to think of historical women in terms of their marriages and their children, but in actuality about a fifth of women never married, and of those that were married, many did not have children either because of their own or their husband’s infertility. Also contrary to popular belief, most women did not get married particularly early. The mid-20s were most common for marriage, with only the upper classes afforded the luxury of marrying earlier.

In legal terms, there wasn’t really a discourse of rights yet. And even what might be considered legal privileges were not afforded to women. Though they were technically citizens, bound by the law, they were afforded none of the benefits of citizenship. Instead women were property of their fathers and then their husbands. This led some early radical feminists to suggest that they should not be bound by the law considering they enjoyed none of the privileges of citizenship.

In regards to reproduction, before the birth there was actually quite a bit of wiggle room. Women practiced contraceptive methods such as the rhythm method, abstention, and herbal abortifacients. Pregnancies were not considered true until quickening, or when one could feel the fetus move, so for the first several months of the pregnancy, miscarrying (either intentionally or not) was generally accepted. Women relied on each other for help in ending unwanted pregnancies. 

Mugwort, an herbal abortifacient
Mugwort, an herbal abortifacient

When women couldn’t end pregnancies though, they often faced trouble. Though birth has become a private affair in current time, then it was public knowledge. Birthing women were surrounded by women in the community and the birth was known throughout the town. These public births served as proof of paternity, for women to prove that the child was the child of their husband. For unmarried women though, a child could be a death sentence. They would be shunned by their community and disavowed by their parents. Likely the child would be taken and put into the poorhouse to work and the mother would no longer be able to get any employment besides sex work. Therefore, if single women were unable to abort their pregnancies, some would choose infanticide as the only way to maintain their lives. Infanticide was treated very harshly with 96% of convicted women executed. The law stated that any woman whose child was found to be dead and who had given birth privately was guilty of infanticide. The private birth was a sure sign that the birth was supposed to be concealed.

Act to prevent the Destroying and Murthering of Bastard Children

Of course fathers were never convicted of infanticide though surely they were often involved. This leads to the conclusion that both these women, and their children, were property. Depriving a man of his property is much worse than getting rid of your own property. 

Deibel concluded by drawing parallels between the lack of maternal choice then and the increasing lack of maternal choice in present state laws around the country. Drawing from the South Dakota law contested in Planned Parenthood v. Rounds, that spread medical misinformation, it was clear that even today, maternity is often not viewed as the sole prerogative of women. It is something to be manipulated, controlled, and made into property. 

The Guttmacher Institute's overview of state abortion laws today
The Guttmacher Institute’s overview of state abortion laws today

Going forward with this knowledge I maintain that we must renew our commitment to the right of all women to make their own choices concerning maternity. This doesn’t just mean access to birth control and abortions. It means providing affordable health care and child care so that all women may have children, not just the rich. It means educating our daughters about their bodies and teaching them that only they get to decide what happens to it. It means respecting the decisions of other women whether they decide to have or not have children, regardless of our own opinions. 

For far too long women’s bodies have been the property of others. If we only address this superficially, with empty rhetoric and action that only focuses on the right to avoid pregnancy, we are failing. We can learn from the women of early modern Europe, and women in the US today, that bearing children is not always treated as a right. Deibel spoke about women who were shamed into dangerous abortions because they would be ostracized if they bore children, the same is happening today. For our society to truly support women, this must not be allowed to continue. 

For more information, scroll down for a reading list Deibel gave us on women in early modern Europe. In the comments tell us how you support women’s maternal choice. How can the choice movement get better? What changes do we need to make and what is the movement doing right?

Reading List (care of Natalie Deibel)
– Merry E. Wiesner, Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe
– Sara Mendelson and Patricia Crawford, Women in Early Modern England 
– Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris, “The Chirurgien’s Apprentice” (website)
– Olwen Hufton, The Prospect Before Her: A History of Women in Western Europe, 1500-1800
– Keith Wrightson, Earthly Necessities: Economic Lives in Early Modern Britain
– Susan Moller Okin, Women in Western Political Thought
– Peter C. Hoffer and N.E. H. Hull, Murdering Mothers: Infanticide in England and New England, 1558-1803
– William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law


Celebrating the Selfie

By WWN Intern Rachel Cohen

Last week, as a student at UW Madison, I was on spring break. Seeing as how this is our last spring break of our undergraduate career, my friends and I figured we should go big and spent our week in Las Vegas. While this is surely not the place for details of my trip, I would like to comment on something that I heard time and time again while out at about the Strip. 

This song:

While this song is indeed ridiculous, it accounts for a phenomenon that seems to have become a distinct marker of my generation, the selfie. More specifically, girls of my generation are known for taking copious pictures of themselves. When Snapchat (a selfie based app) rejected Facebook’s offer of a whopping $3 billion, it became very clear that the selfie was here to stay. While the selfie is a prolific and pervasive trend, it is also one that has come under great fire.

We millenials are often categorized as self-obsessed and self-centered, with our love for selfies as a prime example of such.  Here, in the New York Times, Dr. Jean M. Twenge describes millenials as the “Me Generation.” The act of not only taking pictures of ourselves, but sharing and posting them frequently seems to suggest that today’s young women are self-absorbed and narcissistic, that we believe that of course everyone must be interested in what we look like multiple times a day. The selfie is so ubiquitous that this blog, Selfies at Funerals, (it’s exactly what you think it is) is on the first page of results when I googled the word ‘selfie.’

Yet when I look around, I do not see a world that promotes female narcissism. I see ad after ad for beauty products to make me look better, models with bodies I will never be able to attain, and constant messaging telling me that good looks are one of my most (if not the most) important trait I can possess. This realization that women and girls are surrounded by an atmosphere of unhealthy and unattainable images is not new. While there are new campaigns promoting body positivity and self-love, they are far outnumbered by photo-shopped images telling us we are not good enough. 

So when I see a selfie, I do not see it as a marker of vanity. A selfie says “I think I look good, and I want to share that with everyone.” A selfie is a statement of confidence, an act of reassurance, and a proclamation that rejects the self-hate force fed to girls. Sure, maybe when I put a closeup of my face that I clearly took myself, cast in the beautiful filter that is Valencia, marked with #selfiesunday, I am acting a bit self-absorbed, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

If selfies mark confidence in our own bodies then all hail the selfie! Instead of giving in to the marketing that tells girls that they are not good enough the way they are, let’s celebrate our faces and share that love with the world. I encourage everyone reading this to take a picture of yourself, proclaim your self-love, and share it with others. For inspiration here’s me at the WWN office:


Now go take a selfie and love your face!

Wisconsin Elder Economic Security Initiative Featured in the WJS

Last week the Wisconsin Women’s Network’s (WWN) report, Wisconsin Elder Economic Security Initiative (WiEESI), was featured in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by Guy Boulton here.

Our report details the precarious financial situation of seniors living in Wisconsin. A key part of the initiative is a calculation of the Wisconsin Elder Economic Security Standard Index (Elder Index), a measure of an Elder’s income needs in regards to routine expenses, housing, and healthcare. The resulting Elder Index may then be used to better determine and address the needs of Wisconsin’s Elders.

WiEESI is a part of a national campaign, the National Elder Economic Security Initiative, with WWN spearheading the Wisconsin section. The initiative strives to not only assess the economic status of elders, but to combine research, organizing, and advocacy to further the prosperity of our nation’s aging population.

As individuals get older, income tends to decrease, and health care costs rise. Depleted pensions and decreasing savings lead to a higher dependence on social security payments. In Wisconsin, 7.5% of those 65 and older are below the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). Income threats are even greater for senior women with 5.3% of senior men below the FPL and 9.2% of senior women. Even those at or above the FPL may be struggling. The Elder Index determined by the report has shown that the actual needs of Wisconsin elders far exceed the Federal Poverty Level as well as the average Social Security benefits of many.

This gap is not temporary. America’s largest generation is entering their sixties and will certainly be facing economic hardship at new levels. This is a policy issue that will surely be of utmost importance in the years to come.

In Wisconsin, the WWN is using data from WiEESI to better understand and advocate for a better future for Wisconsin Seniors. WWN is working to preserve the Wisconsin Homestead Tax Credit and tie the credit’s income limit to the Consumer Price Index, and to increase access to Senior Care and to food assistance.

For more information and sources check out our website where you can download the full, updated 2013 data that Boulton reported on and I have referenced.

The Diversity Gap in the Academy Awards

By WWN Intern Rachel Cohen

After watching the Academy Awards last week, I came across this infographic laying out the severe diversity gap affecting nominees and recipients of Academy Awards. For more information, check out the original blog post at Lee & Low Books. What do you think about these gaps?

International Women’s Day

By WWN Intern Rachel Cohen

Looking for an excuse to celebrate women and have some fun this weekend (as if you need one!)? Fret not, for once again International Women’s Day is upon us! Though this March 8th holiday is rarely acknowledge here in the US, my celebration will include having fun with my best female friends and writing multiple papers for my gender and women’s studies classes. In the words of the incredible Donna Meagle:

A short history on the holiday, care of the UN:

1909: The first National Woman’s Day was observed in the United States on 28 February. The Socialist Party of America designated this day in honour of the 1908 garment workers’ strike in New York, where women protested against working conditions.

1910: The Socialist International, meeting in Copenhagen, established a Women’s Day, international in character, to honour the movement for women’s rights and to build support for achieving universal suffrage for women. The proposal was greeted with unanimous approval by the conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, which included the first three women elected to the Finnish Parliament. No fixed date was selected for the observance.

1911: As a result of the Copenhagen initiative, International Women’s Day was marked for the first time (19 March) in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, where more than one million women and men attended rallies. In addition to the right to vote and to hold public office, they demanded women’s rights to work, to vocational training and to an end to discrimination on the job.


1913-1914: International Women’s Day also became a mechanism for protesting World War I. As part of the peace movement, Russian women observed their first International Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February. Elsewhere in Europe, on or around 8 March of the following year, women held rallies either to protest the war or to express solidarity with other activists

1917: Against the backdrop of the war, women in Russia again chose to protest and strike for ‘Bread and Peace’ on the last Sunday in February (which fell on 8 March on the Gregorian calendar). Four days later, the Czar abdicated and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote.

iwd-women-protesting-cost-of-food-1917Russian Women Demonstrate For Bread, 1917

Since those early years, International Women’s Day has assumed a new global dimension for women in developed and developing countries alike. The growing international women’s movement, which has been strengthened by four global United Nations women’s conferences, has helped make the commemoration a rallying point to build support for women’s rights and participation in the political and economic arenas. Increasingly, International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.

via: UN WomenWatch

While IWD has a rich history of demonstration, pride, and appreciation, it is not celebrated as such in the US; it is largely ignored here. What I love about this holiday is that it moves beyond the rest of Women’s History Month and looks forward. It gives us a chance to see what we still need to do to ensure the success of women around the world. The international aspect of this holiday is also unique. So often in women’s movements in the West, we take our own ideals of what women want and need and attempt to enforce them on other women, often without their input. International Women’s Day has largely been celebrated in different ways all around the world. In this way, it addresses the issues important to the women celebrating it; it doesn’t enforce foreign ideas of what is right for women on those who think differently.

If you’re looking for some local Wisconsin events to attend, here are some opportunities across the state:

Annual International Women’s Day Dinner

When/Where: March 7, 2014, 5:00pm, St Mark’s Lutheran Church, 605 Spruce St, Madison

What: Dinner, Speakers, Entertainment

Who: Sponsored by the Meals for Madison, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Wisconsin Women Library Workers, and the Women’s Int’l League for Peace & Freedom Madison Branch

For more information:  Check out the facebook event

International Women’s Day: “Inspiring Change!”

When/Where: March 8, 2014, 11:00 am – 4:00 pm, Covenant Presbyterian Church, 326 S. Segoe, Madison WI

What: An event to bring together women of all backgrounds to celebrate International Women’s Day. The theme this year is Inspiring Change.  Many women have been engaged in improving the lives of women locally, nationally, and internationally. They work in areas such as education, health, development, and women’s empowerment.The event hopes to identify areas where change is needed locally, nationally, and internationally and to develop an action plan for the identified areas for change. Free lunch will be served; please wear something purple.

For more information: Emilie Songolo, (608) 217-6497, esongolo@africaide.org

International Women’s Day Celebration

When/Where: March 8, 2014, 5:00-8:00pm, 5700 6th Ave, Kenosha, WI

What: The Kenosha Art Association is celebrating International Women’s Day with an evening of art, poetry, and music.

Who: Kenosha Art Association

For more information: Check out the facebook event

Inspiring Change: Connecting our Voices

When/Where: March 9, 2014, 1:30 pm, Bradley Pavilion by the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, Milwaukee, WI

What: Speakers, cultural performances, and refreshments will come together for an afternoon of highlighting the contribution of women in our communities to create a positive, safe and nurturing environment for their families, co-workers, friends and neighbors. Cultural attire is encouraged, participation is free!

Who: Organized by the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Association

For more information: Susannah Bartlow, (717) 713-0278, susannahbartlow@gmail.com

Queer Women’s Sexuality is Not Up For Grabs

By WWN Intern Rachel Cohen

If you’re like me and you think that sleep is for people without internet access, you perhaps saw a tabloid-esque ‘news story’ about Miley Cyrus kissing Katy Perry at the former’s concert a week or so ago. While my interest in whom they both choose to kiss is relatively non-existent, this does remind me of an issue that is particularly bothersome to me. The phenomenon of straight girls ‘playing gay’ for attention is not something I will be fan-girling over. As an openly queer woman, I do not appreciate the use of my sexuality for a moment of attention. Though it may seem relatively harmless, behavior like this contributes to the incredibly prevalent fetishization of queer women.

To some it may seem as though the media is more accepting of queer women than of queer men, but I’d suggest that using female queerness as a sexual object for straight men is not a sign of acceptance but of commodification. Because my sexuality is so fetishized, when those who do not identify as such act out my sexuality for male attention (think straight girls making out at bars for free drinks) it reinforces the idea that queer female sexuality is a commodity for men. When I kiss my girlfriend it is not for the benefit of others, and using that sexuality for such purposes only encourages the fetishism I combat every day.  I see this fetishization regularly, in advertising, in everyday encounters where my sexuality is revealed, and on TV.

Straight women acting out queerness for male attention is also harmful to me because it contributes to the myth that bisexual and other queer-but-not-lesbian women don’t really exist. The idea that our sexuality is a ploy for attention is commonplace and pervasive. It is honestly shocking how often I’ve heard people claim that my sexuality does not really exist, and that I just want attention. While I’m not going to get into a complicated explanation of my personal sexual orientation (that would take up a few more pages *le sigh*), let’s go ahead and say that personally I am somewhere between gay and straight, but certainly not at either end of the spectrum. When straight women act out queerness for the male eye, it supports the idea that sexual fluidity is just for male attention and not a true identity, which I assure you, it is.

In conclusion: Next time you’re at the bar and think you might be able to score a few drinks and some attention from the guys by making out with your friend, refrain. You are actively contributing to a culture that fetishizes and discounts my identity. Thanks.

For related but differing reading on the subject: The Fetishizing of Queer Sexuality. A Response.

March Brown Bag: Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

By WWN Intern Rachel Cohen

Today at the Wisconsin Women’s Network we were lucky enough to enjoy the company of Nancy Graham, the President of the Madison chapter of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), one of our member organizations.

WILPF’s vision is for:

“a transformed world at peace, where there is racial, social, and economic justice for all people everywhere—a world in which:

  • The needs of all people are met in a fair and equitable manner
  • All people equally participate in making the decisions that affect them
  • The interconnected web of life is acknowledged and celebrated in diverse ways and communities
  • Human societies are designed and organized for sustainable existence”

While here, Graham discussed how the US has still failed to ratify the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). CEDAW “defines discrimination against women as ‘…any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.’” The only nations besides the US that have failed to ratify this landmark international convention are Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Iran, Palau, and Tonga. Clearly the US has some catching up to do. Graham suggested that if this is an issue you care about, you write your Senators (Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson) to express your support. You can find a great fact sheet on CEDAW here, from Amnesty International.

Graham also discussed the wide array of issue areas that the Madison branch works on including CEDAW, the grasp big corporations have on the US, nuclear disarmament, environmental and food issues, and women’s vision for foreign policy. Members can get involved in any of these areas.

To learn more about WILPF, there are several events coming up where you can meet members and learn more about their work!

Join Madison WILPF for a free dinner in celebration of International Women’s Day! Though the holiday is officially March 8th, WILPF will be gathering at St. Marks Lutheran Church (605 Spruce St.) from 4:30-8:00 pm on Friday, March 7th for food, networking and singing. All are welcome!

Madison WILPF hosts the monthly Jane Addams Book Club every month at the Goodman South Public Library where they discuss fiction and non-fiction, members and non-members welcome! For more information about upcoming books and meetings call 358-5100.

Like our Facebook page for upcoming information about our next Brown Bag talk in April!

Sources: WILPF, UN.org

Women in the Olympics

By WWN Intern MaryBeth Zins

Since 1900, the Olympics have been a platform for change in human rights issues, including women’s rights. The first female athletes were allowed to compete in the 1900 Paris Olympics in lawn tennis and golf events. More recently, the London 2012 games were the first ever to have a female competitor from each participating country. The 2012 games were also the first year that women could participate in boxing and 2014 was the first year for women’s ski jumping.

However, women are still treated as second-rate athletes compared to men in Olympic events in some aspects with little to no media coverage on most events. Because of the lack of publicity that female athletes receive for their athletic talents, endorsements and sponsorships are hard to come by. To subsidize the difference in revenue between male and female athletes, a growing number of female athletes have taken to modeling and playing up their sex appeal to generate publicity. Olympic skiiers are found in bikinis posing in the snow on the front of magazine covers.  The Olympics only happen once every four years, leaving a narrow window for these women to capitalize on media exposure and endorsements to fund the next four-year training cycle. Female athletes feel the pressure to look beautiful and sexy to compete for endorsements, as it’s absolutely a necessary part of the game. This holds especially true for events that have typically been seen as feminine, like figure skating.

Female athletes are also torn between the polarized ideals of athleticism and being seen as beautiful and feminine. This is perpetuated by what little airtime that women’s sports receive. She may either be seen as a gladiator or America’s sweetheart. Whether or not they personally identify with either of these values, a female athlete has more criticisms and expectations to live up to than the typical male athlete. Female athletes who spend the majority of their competition covered by a mask or helmet might spend up to 30 minutes applying makeup and getting ready for a close-up shot that is just seconds long. Not to say that there is anything inherently wrong with wearing makeup if that’s what she so chooses to do, but it’s 30 extra minutes that male athletes have to prepare themselves for an event. Skill is not enough, with looks catapulting women to fame just as much as performance does. Conversely, a woman may also be shamed for being too beautiful, with accusations of whether or not she deserves to be on the team constantly being called into question.

It is evident that looks still hold a place in athletics. Are these female athletes empowered or objectified by sexy magazine endorsements? Regardless of the answer, it’s important to remember that the Olympics are still largely a man’s world that the female athlete is just living in. In the field of women’s athletics, is any press still considered good press? Let us know what you think!  Check out some more resources here.

Street Harassment: A Bystander’s Guide

Street Harassment: A Bystander's Guide

By WWN Intern Rachel Cohen

In my post about the 2014 Super Bowl commercials I mentioned street harassment several times in connection with the Hyundai commercials. While browsing the UW PAVE (Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment) tumblr I came across this great graphic for bystanders, via hollaback. Check it out for tips on what you can do when you witness street harassment!

How To Be A Better Trans* Ally

By WWN Intern Rachel Cohen

Once a month, the Wisconsin Women’s Network hosts a “Women on Topic” Brown Bag discussion. These are great opportunities to learn from leaders in our community; if you haven’t been to one, join us next month on Monday, March 3 to hear from Nancy Graham of the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom. On February 4th, we were lucky enough to hear from Katherine Charek Briggs, Assistant Director of the LGBT Campus Center of UW-Madison (LGBT CC). Giving a workshop called Trans* 101, they discussed the transgender umbrella,  the use of proper pronouns, the spectrum of gender, and tips for being a good ally. This workshop inspired me to write about being a good ally. I am not transgender; I am cisgender and cannot write first hand about the experiences of trans* people. Instead, I hope to be the best ally to the trans* people I can be, and would like to share some information about how to be a great ally from the UW LGBT Campus Center. All the information I present here is adapted from the LGBT Campus Center’s handout “Action Tips for Allies of Trans People,” which can be found here.  The Wisconsin Women’s Network is made up of a coalition of organizations who work to support women, and we believe that in order to support women we must support all women, including trans women. So let’s take a look at how the cisgendered among us can be allies.

Before going into specifics, I think the first thing to note is that you do not become an ally (for any group, not only trans* people) just by calling yourself one. We must consistently work to cease the oppression that we are a part of, to realize the privilege we hold, and to listen to the voices of those we want to be allies for. We will inevitably mess up at times. It is important that we acknowledge our mistakes, apologize, and fix them. Being an ally is more of a process than a title one can secure.


  • We cannot assume to know how anyone else identifies. There are certainly stereotypes about how trans* people look, but many do not fit this mold. Do not make assumptions about someone’s gender identity because of their gender expression.
  • Make sure to separate sexual orientation from gender identity. Just like cisgendered individuals, trans* individuals may identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, asexual or any other number of sexual orientations. The gender that one identifies with is not a basis for assuming whom they are attracted to.
  • Just because a trans* person has entrusted you with their trans status does not mean that they are ‘out’ to everyone. Gossiping about the trans* status of others can not only be hurtful and invasive but can have serious consequences. Trans* people can lose their friends, housing, or jobs if outed. Gender identity is for everyone to disclose for themselves.
  • If you don’t know what pronouns to use in regard to someone else’s identity, just ask nicely and politely. Concurrently, when someone asks that you use a certain set of pronouns or a new name, use it. It is not our job to decide what other people should be called, we must be respectful of their identities and preferences. People can label or identify themselves and it is not anyone else’s job to tell them who they are.
  • Don’t assume that all trans* people are moving towards surgery or hormone therapy. There are many ways trans* people may choose to express their identity. It may be through surgery or hormones, but it may also be through how they dress, how they wish to be addressed or many other things. Do not assume that trans* people are homogenous.

Inappropriate Questioning

  • A trans* person’s “real name” or gender history is none of an ally’s business. If someone wishes to share that information, that is up to them, and it is not okay for allies to pry. Birth names and gender histories can be “a tremendous source of anxiety, or…simply a part of their life they wish to leave behind.”
  • The state of someone’s genitals is also not okay to ask about. I know I would find it incredibly rude and invasive if someone asked me about my genitals, and that doesn’t change for trans* people. Just because we don’t know and are curious does not give us as allies the right to ask about the state of someone’s genitals or about their surgical status.
  • Do not ask trans* people how they have sex. Just like asking about someone’s genitals, it is not appropriate to ask anyone, cis- or transgendered, about their sex life.

Putting in the Legwork

  • It’s common to use the acronym LGBT these days, but before you do, think about what it means. Are lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and trans* people being represented and included? Don’t purport to support trans* people if that is not actually the case. All cisgendered people, even queer people, must challenge our own ideas about gender and transgender people. No one is exempt. We cannot be true allies without reexamining ourselves and how we support trans* people.
  • As allies we will never be able to completely understand experiences that we have not had. If there is something you don’t know, do some research and find out. In order to be a good ally to trans* friends and family we have to keep learning.
  • Perhaps the best way to be an ally is to listen! Trans* people know far better than cisgendered folks about what kind of support they want or need. If a trans* person tells you you’re doing something wrong as an ally, or let’s you know you’ve messed up, listen and correct yourself.

For more information about how you can be a great trans* ally, check out the UW Madison LGBT Campus Center, Transwhat?’s guide to allyship, or Tranifesto’s ‘Five Attributes of Trans Allies’. Last but certainly not least, if any of our trans* readers have found something that they think should be changed or added, please let me know!

2014 Super Bowl ads: The good, the bad, and the even-worse-than-the-Broncos

By WWN Intern Rachel Cohen

Though the Super Bowl two Sundays ago lacked real competition (what with the Broncos scoring less than the puppies in the Puppy Bowl), there was a great spread of commercials vying to be the most talked about ad on Monday morning. Unfortunately, they were not all great for women. I’ve watched a few of the most popular ads from Sunday’s game and graded them for gender-friendliness. The grades are base only on my gut reaction–if you disagree, feel free to voice your opinion in the comments!

Goldie Blox

In my opinion, the best commercial for female football fans was the Goldie Blox commercial. By marketing engineering toys for girls, the brand breaks the mold of the uniformly pink, home economics-style toys one usually sees on the market. Goldie Blox is changing the face of what ‘girl-toys’ are and hopefully starting a new trend in children’s toys all together! They even managed not to get in a legal battle with the Beastie Boys this time!

Grade: A+


Though I’ll admit I definitely chuckled when I first saw this commercial, re-watching it I see definitely see women being objectified. The protagonist, dejected and mournful, watches his high school crush dance with Sean. While this is a tragedy I’m sure most can understand, the way he completely neglects to acknowledge the fact that perhaps this girl has her own opinions on the matter is obvious. Comparing the Super Bowl to the girl, she is ‘stolen’ from him, as if this sad young man with questionable peach fuzz has some sort of ownership over her. It reminds me of the eternal ‘nice guy’ who laments being left for someone else, even when he is clearly such a nice guy. Maybe your team isn’t in the Super Bowl because they screwed up; maybe the girl is dancing with Sean because he does have better moves. Either way, let’s not refer to women as stolen goods, and equate them to football games. Thanks.

Grade: C+


Though this commercial is not specifically about women, I think it says a lot. I loved that it starred Ellen DeGegeneres. As a queer woman, I don’t see too many other queer women on TV that aren’t being shown as sexual objects for male consumption. It’s nice to see an openly queer woman being treated as any other spokesperson and not being objectified either through her gender or her sexuality. (The dancing bear wearing a shirt with a hibernation pun didn’t hurt either!)

Grade: B+

Hyundai Genesis

While this Hyundai Genesis ad starts out adorable and does seem to advertise a pretty great feature, the main moment where the boy nearly crashes after seeing a pretty girl walk by really irks me. Women are subject to street harassment on a regular basis. Though he may be enjoying the view of a beautiful girl, I would bet that most real girls would not love the opportunity to be stared down and ogled by a random passerby. It often seems as if just being female in public somehow gives others the right to comment on your appearance, stare, and harass. This commercial reinforces the idea that of course boys can’t help but stare. Ugh.

Grade: C


Again, I was super excited to see diverse representations on the screen Sunday night. Interracial couples are rare on television, so this was a refreshing change from the usual. Women and their relationships are numerous and varied, and this was wonderful! Check out an older post on the blog from Gethsemane Herron that discusses an older Cheerios commercial featuring the same family.

Grade: A


I never expected to see a GoDaddy commercial that didn’t seriously upset me, but by George, I think they’ve done it. They seem to have moved past their years of commercials that are seriously sleazy, and changed their apparent policy on only showing women if they are next-to-naked. While I was pleased with this change of advertising, I still can’t help but think that this is all a part of a larger strategy. First they used shocking, offensive advertising to gain name recognition, and now that they have it, they can show commercials with more widespread appeal so as to repair their reputation, but keep their fame from the older commercials. So while I commend them on the new style, I most certainly will not forget their old commercials.

Grade: B


Many have probably already heard controversy over this ad regarding it’s representation of women. As Elizabeth Plank at Policy Mic says, “Are all engineers old white dudes? Apparently Volkswagen thinks the answer is yes. Unless of course you’re a hot engineer babe. Then you get to be the butt of a sexual harassment joke!” As you can tell by the grade, I agree.

Grade: D

Hyundai Elantra

What’s that you say? I’ve already complained about Hyundai for making street harassment seem okay? Well I’m going to have to do it again because they, too, have done it again. In this one, a female driver is pestered and followed by Johnny Galecki, simply because they both have the Elantra. Though she rejects his advances verbally and even tries to kill him with explosions that look like they belong in a video game, he does not retreat. This is not okay. Again, simply by existing as female in public, this woman is subject to the overwhelming, unwanted attention of a man. Stop this.

Grade: D


This commercial about the friendship between a Labrador puppy and a Clydesdale didn’t really have anything to do with gender, but it was the most adorable thing I have ever seen, therefore I put it on this list. JUST LOOK AT THAT PUPPY. HOW COULD I NOT?? Seriously though, I think I can die happy now.

Grade: A++

I wish I could Teach You to be Safe in Your Body

By Gethsemane Herron

I don’t know myself.

“I should be safe in my own body”. I heard this quote recently and it chilled. Spoken with such passion from a teenage girl, it vibrated in both our bodies like a scream off a canyon, like a shout in a psych ward.

I know exactly what she means. That I should be able to visit relatives without comments on my hair, my skin, my clothing, my choice in name, my weight. I should be able to walk without concern of being followed. I should be able to travel without horror stories of the travesties women face. That these stories exist. That I should be to exist without the constant warnings about clothing, travel, attitude etc. because women should be able to exist without threat.

There are amazing things about being female bodied and woman identified. I am often grateful for this skin. It isn’t all dreary.  Being a woman in the United States is grand and small and contrary and adornment and plainclothes. It’s the fight for equality, the fight to be your own person or to be someone else’s person. It’s a snowflake life, different for everyone and brief when the time comes.

Lately, I’ve been reading and seeing women’s bodies in every word I absorb .  Just as Egyptian pyramids signaled to grave robbers “Hey! There’s a ton of valuables here.  Break in and they’re all yours! That’s how I feel about my body right now. That in my resting place , there are assets of value. And just resting here, just by being inside a body or a pyramid, people read being female as a neon sign to break in and take what isn’t there’s.

I long for a guard. My guard, I mean myself using my autonomy to make sure that laws to protect women are enforced and the thieves not vilified, but asked why they are thieves.  I long for a revamped sexual education system and gender system that ultimately sees bodies not as buildings of wealth, but of the souls resting inside it. How do you all think this will happen?

I have no doubt that it will happen; it must happen. Because we deserve to be safe in our homes.  In our resting places.


If you want to to know of groups that deal with  how unsafe  our bodies are, please check out “My Body Is Not an Apology at http://thebodyisnotanapology.tumblr.com/ to learn more about radical self love!

What do you think? Do you know any methods to help someone feel safe in their body? Please comment below, or share this article!

“Because I have Been Brainwashed”: A Response to Typical Beauty and Missing Out

“Because I have Been Brainwashed”: A Response to Typical Beauty and Missing Out

By Gethsemane Herron

This summer I have been doing some deeply personal research about the physical presentation of women.  The question I’m exploring is whether or not  we can be celebrated as phenomenal without any regards to appearance . Rather, how does beauty, whatever it may be reflect on my ethnicity, my people and how does it intersect with my idea of what a woman is. Why people are tripping about Marion Bartoli’s  appearance  (http://feminspire.com/can-we-focus-on-marion-bartoli-winning-wimbledon-not-her-looks/) and not for winning Wimbledon. Or an acquaintance waxing poetic about a talented woman he knew, yet not being able to resist throwing in a few statements on her beauty. But how did that add to her character?

Today I saw a video by Dustin Hoffman on  his character Tootsie. In it, Hoffman reminisces on the 1980’s film for the American Film Institute about the life changing role in which he played a man who adopts a female persona to get work. It’s like a pre-cursor to “Juwanna Mann” only not terrible.

Anyway, Dustin discusses the physical transformation he underwent at the hands of the makeup team. But upon asking he be made beautiful and being told that he couldn’t be,  Hoffman mourns for the incredible people that he missed out on because they weren’t beautiful enough.  If you have not seen it, here it is below.

It took embodying a woman  for Hoffman to understood the pain of not fitting beauty standards, of being someone who could not be made beautiful. He tears up  at this revelation and my thinking cap is lit.  I think about all the times  I observed people express their ideas of what female beauty should be and they ways women either meet it or fail it. The thoughts fall from my brain, heavy as frogs and dainty as rose petals. They include:

  1. The ex-interest who told me that it was great that I was 5’8 to his 6’2. That it was good that I was not taller when I expressed the (joking) desire to be so. “Any taller and it would be a turn-off”. Years later, when we are just friends , I am regaling a story of the expensive time consuming process primping for a date can be. The scrubbing, the buffing ,the hair removal. He was shocked- didn’t I remove my hair regardless? When I answered no, he seemed disgusted. “It’s just not feminine” he stated. I argued that body hair was neither feminine nor masculine, but human as it exists in both genders. He didn’t hear me though. In that moment, my body without editing was disgusting to him.

  2. The friend who sometimes comments on how fat others are, when it has nothing to do with the topic at hand. He admitted he had never been attracted to a fat woman.

  3. The other friend whose Tumblr is surrounded with pictures of women. Rather, attractive women. Rather made-up, curvaceous with small waists or long legs or body hair free women or breasts covered in ice cream and sprinkles. Or close-ups of their butts , breasts, painted lips- cutting off the other parts of their body, highlighting and placing on a pedestal When I pointed out the objectification and the ice cream post, he remarked “that is so old”. As if it’s age somehow diminished its impact and what it communicated. When talking about body hair, he too found disgust at the thought of a woman with hair. When I started ranting at him, he stated “Well, that’s just my choice, my preference”. When the conversation ended, I thought that this was his socialization- did he really choose this? Or was it chosen for him?  The conversation ended.

  4. The great uncle that I do not know well commenting on how beautiful my mother used to be, not on how beautiful my mother is.

  5. The whole group of men who visibly shuddered at the mention of female armpit hair. “It’s not attractive”

  6. The aunt who took me into the bathroom when I was 10 and shaved my pits for me because it was ugly. The other aunt who commented that I should lose weight. The grandmother who said my hips were too big. The self same aunt fawning over me when I had lost weight. Her silence when I said my body was perfect before. The other aunt who said I had “lost” my pretty curls on my head and didn’t I want a texturizer?

  7. The makeup girl who tries to sell her product on me. Who said  I’d be so pretty with it. I walked out of the store.

  8. The unease when a fling commented on how fine I was, how I had the “curves of a goddess” (true story guys, I can’t make this up) and how I had put some spell on him. The part of me that was pleased because my previous boyfriend had no qualms about telling me how I needed to go to the gym, how I was a 6 on the beauty scale, that my  butt was too soft and being harder was superior. The sadness because I had heard this before, and that he was enamored not of me but how I filled a pencil skirt. That when my humanity, my fear and severity and my unpretty things were to reveal themselves, these curves would not be enough for him to stay.

  9. The adult woman who confides she cannot wear a skirt with leg hair showing (I’m fascinated by body hair, can’t you tell)?

  10. The friend that I interview who states “a lot of people think I’m really pretty”. And it’s true, a lot of people do. Then I ask her why she is pretty and she answers with thinness and symmetry. Then I ask her why those things are pretty and she has no answer.

I have so many other examples about missed signals and missing out. That appearance, that beauty when it comes to women, is perpetuated with no real understanding on how it ‘s constructed and how it affects people. The smiles I’ve received when I’ve worn lipstick or gotten a haircut and people being unaware that their interaction with me has changed; it is not that I’m treated poorly without these things but with the inclusion of these things instigates a change that my personality did not ( I promise I don’t become magically more pleasant when I had those things and that sparked their change).

 We miss out on beauty when it does not look like this equation, straight lines and evenness. I argue that unevenness is pretty. That scars are gorgeous.  That everyone is beautiful just because they are, not because they fit or don’t fit some physical standard of beauty.  And it’s a shame others don’t know that.

Dry your tears, Dustin. Tootsie was beautiful, you made her so.

What do you think readers? Have you ever seen something similar in your own life? For any male identified individuals, have you ever had an AHA! moment like Hoffman’s? Did you cry? Perhaps Kanye shrugged? How did you feel everyone?

“Loving” in a “Post-Racial World”

“Family Portrait” Episode 401
“Family Portrait” Episode 401

As of late, it seems that interracial couples are all over the television. And as a black girl who has been in interracial relationships, I’m full of mixed feelings.


By Gethsemane Herron

Like many a college student, the first weeks of summer are the blissful utopia where school has ended, the new job hasn’t started yet, your parents are spoiling you rotten because they miss you and responsibility is a good three weeks away. You can read what you want to read. It’s incredible. It’s a sloth’s Shangri-la.

I don’t own a television in my box of an apartment and I am too cheap to spend money on Hulu or Netflix; that’s a happy hour or an expensive turkey burger. But oh, let the summer enter its infancy and I risk my laptop dying a viral death by streaming all the TV and movies I can.

While I sat there in my birthday suit surrounded by take -out (HEAVEN GUYS) , I notice a pattern. Since when did all these interracial couples pop up on TV? Specifically, when did all these black women/ white men interracial couples pop up on TV? There was the family filled, Berkeley existence of  Crosby and Jasmine Braverman (Dax Shepard and Joy Bryant on NBC’s Parenthood), to the power-filled dynamics of Olivia Pope and President Grant (Kerry Washington and Tony Goldwyn on ABC’s Scandal) to the steamy of Hank and Kali (David Duchovny and Megan Goode on Showtime’s Californication) they seemed to be everywhere.  My first thoughts were those of appreciation of the authenticity and variety of the relationships demonstrated. There was the friend with benefits pining for her partner ( Yaya DaCosta and Mark Ruffalo in 2010’s  The Kids Are All Right), to- the- too- scared and scarred- to- make- it- work (Rutina Wesley and Sam Trammel in HBO’s first season of True Blood) to the complexity of explaining ethnicity to a mixed race child (Parenthood).  My first thought, oddly, was of the empire of Tyra Banks.

Banks, if you are unaware, is a model turned media mogul. She was well known from transitioning into high fashion to becoming the first black woman on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in 1996. She then became a Victoria’s Secret Angel for eight years before starting Bankable Productions and becoming a talk show host (The Tyra Banks Show) and a reality television  mogul. In short, with hard work and a marketable beauty, she has become, what some refer to as, a young Oprah.

Though I am not always a fan of Banks, I appreciate the way she has spoken about how black women are often perceived in this country.  Banks stated “Black women have always been these vixens, these animalistic erotic women. Why can’t we just be the sexy American girl next door?”

As a black girl who has been in interracial relationships, I watched these shows with mixed feelings. As I watched the various TV couples argue, writhe, have babies, and form families on the small screen of my laptop, Banks’s quotation hit me hard. Part of me thought that finally, perhaps we were being seen as more than these animalistic vixens Banks referenced. Here were completely different women from all walks of life, presented in many different ways; they were career focused and accomplished,  artistic,  free-spirited, damaged, sexy. I felt that for once we finally being portrayed as full people, not as angry society blamers, sexless mammies, or sexed up Jezebels. Free to feel, to be sexy girls next door.

But on closer examination  the Jezebel seemed to never be that far away. After all, Olivia Pope from Scandal is  a high profile mistress, Kali (from Californication) was the philandering girlfriend of a rap star, Jasmine was engaged to a black doctor before she cheated on him and heads back to Crosby. It seemed that part of allure, our place on television, was that self-same eroticism that has always been a part of our narrative in this country.

Part of me thought of male entitlement to a female body, a black female body. My friend Murktarrat and I once spoke of what it was like being black girls on predominantly white campuses. My braids or afro or fade turned the head of many a white male on this campus, claiming  they “liked my style”. I was called a “Nubian Queen” or followed blocks by drunk white men hoping to get me to spend time with them at a bar. On a different coast, my friend was dealing with the same thing. “It’s like they feel entitled to every woman’s body, like they want to have all of us”.

Is this surge in interracial relationships the result of a grown-up white male entitlement? Sexual attraction of white men to black women  and vice versa is nothing new in this country. In his 2003 book “Interracial Intimacies: Sex, Marriage, Identity, and Adoption , Randall Kennedy explores the long history of persecution for interracial relationships, including a Virginia man sentenced to death in the 1600s for sleeping with a black person.

Sexual and emotional abuse on black women from white men was no secret, but actual relationships and marriages were illegal and possibly dangerous. As race relations change in the country, the stigma associated with interracial attractions varies. As a teenager I grew up in a mostly privileged, multicultural liberal DC, interracial relationships were no big deal. They were everywhere. Sure, there was the occasional person who was uncomfortable with it, but they were obviously parroting someone else.

That was until the recent uproar over a Cheerios Commerical helped demonstrate how poor race relations still are in this country and how insulated my environment was in DC. In case you haven’t seen the commercial, it features a  little biracial girl who consults her white mom out of concern for her dad’s heart health. Please check out the link attached the article.  While there was a bevy of supporters for the adv, there were several blatant ignorant posts such as “Why are we celebrating race traitors and ugly monkey children?”  How cheerful, how inclusive.

A multiracial friend one described the self same idiocy he dealt with every day, such as being called a mulatto by white girls in pizza places, being approached on the street because his fro was too curly and his eyes too blue. His existence was genuinely confusing to others on an everyday basis.

I wondered what a commercial like that meant to him and other mixed kids. To finally see yourself in your own image, a family like yours being acknowledged and accepted on television. I thought about my own struggles with interracial love–with my first white boyfriend asking me if I was ashamed of him or the black girl on my floor stating “I knew when I met you that you were an interracial dater.” It was said in the tone that implied I was on the level of a pedophile . But she later backtracked; it was only because I was dating a white man that made me so low; the next man I had feelings for was Mexican. That was ok. That was still brown, still a minority. I became a traitor when I dared to love a white man.

That’s not how it should be. I am still full of mixed feelings but I am glad that people who are more brave than I was can choose to love who they love. Form families with whom they choose. In the 46 years since Loving vs. Virginia ruled it legal for white and non whites to marry, things for these couples have changed. I can still be a black girl, as sexy or unsexy as I want to be. We can love who we love, and it’d be our choice. We can eat cereal in the mornings with our families. In the words of Mildred Loving, the black woman who fought for her rights to marry the love of her life,

“ I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.”

Perhaps the writers of television shows are still eroticizing black women. Perhaps we are women, who make mistakes and are as strong as we are weak, as gentle or as fierce as we want to be- and as erotic. Though our portrayal on television is still charged with this eroticism, what I am seeing is black women being portrayed as individuals. Forming bonds with the partners we wish, even if they don’t look like us. There is indescribable power and validation from seeing your own image in a country that is so good at othering. So kudos to these couples, and their families for putting a face to the millions of families who fit no clear racial box.

Pending Legislation, Pending Impacts on Women

The last couple of weeks in Wisconsin have been a whirlwind of legislative activity as policy makers in the Capitol prepare to finalize the state budget. State legislators have also proposed a long list of bills sure to have an impact on how Wisconsin women access health care, receive public services, and much more.  Here is a list of some of

"Forward" at the Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo by James Steakley.
“Forward” at the Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo by James Steakley.

the pending legislation you should be aware of, the current status of these bills, and links to resources/discussion on their impacts.  Whenever possible, we will update this post as the status of these bills changes. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates as they happen.

Wisconsin State Budget: Passed the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee on June 5th and will now go on the Senate and Assembly floors for debate and passage.

Bills Related to Access to Reproductive Care

Senate Bill 206 Mandates ultrasounds on women seeking abortions in Wisconsin. Also requires that clinics providing abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within a 30 mile radius of the clinic.  Status: Passed the State Senate on June 12th; passed the State Assembly on June 13th. Now goes to Governor Walker for signature. Related:

Assembly Bill 216/SB 202 – Bans insurance coverage of abortions for employees on the state group insurance plan. Allows employers to deny insurance coverage of contraception for religious reasons. Status: Passed the State Assembly on June 13th; public hearing held on June 5th for senate companion bill, SB 202; Senate has not voted on this bill.

Assembly Bill 217 – Allows for civil liability and penalty in instances of sex-selected abortion. Status: Passed the Assembly on June 13th.

Bills Related to Domestic Violence:

Some good newsIn aftermath of spa shooting, Assembly discusses domestic violence bills

Not-so-good news: AB 183/SB 179 – Permits landlords to evict victims of crime if a crime occurs on their property. The Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence has raised concerns that this could silence victims of domestic abuse or sexual assault. Status: AB 183 passed the Assembly on June 6th and was referred to  Senate Committee on Insurance and Housing on June 11th.

Please share anything we may have missed in the comments.

Stop Sexual Assault with Awareness!

SAAMApril is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), a time to work together as a community to stand against violent sex crimes. This month provides a special opportunity to support victims of this crime by becoming educated on the devastating impact of assault as well as the preventative measures we can implement to prevent future assaults from occurring. The theme this year is, “It’s Time… To Talk About it!” By participating in SAAM events and starting a network of conversations that spans our whole state, we can make the most of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month is a relatively new development, having been established in the late 1980’s by the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NCASA) as the ideal time for activists to focus their attention on sexual violence. Between 2000 and 2001, SAAM events became more concentrated in the month of April. As a result, in 2001, April was
nationally recognized as Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Understanding the destructive effects of sexual assault is vital to helping survivors cope in our state and beyond. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), every two minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly one in five women and one in 71 men in the United States have been raped at some time in their lives.

Our family, friends, and neighbors of all ages have been hurt by these crimes, and unfortunately, these statistics are underestimates because many of these crimes go unreported. Having open conversations about sexual assault encourages victims to report crimes that adversely impact our community. Any stigma associated with assault can be mitigated through conversation, helping victims to seek out the care they need to begin healing.

At the local level, a joint venture between Children’s Hospital and the Sojourner Family Peace Center was recently announced in Milwaukee. The plan involves the construction of a Family Justice Center to serve families and victims dealing with domestic violence. I fully support this project believing it to be consistent with the spirit of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The Center’s completion is anticipated to be in 2015 and I look forward to witnessing its promotion of health and safety for families in Wisconsin.

Those who are looking to learn more about how to prevent sexual assault as well as help victims cope, please consult the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. NSVRC provides details on how to promote healthy sexuality, and “better identify risks, support healthy boundaries and challenge negative messages.” They also regularly add updates about SAAM events including the SAAM Day of Action on April 2, 2013

Body Image Starts at Birth

Young Girl PlayingThis wonderful editorial on Jezebel beautifully illustrates how the seeds of a negative body image are planted in the minds of young girls from an early age. The prevalence of extreme fad diets is well documented on websites directed at young and adult women, but the concept of a diet for young girls is relatively foreign. Apparently, diets have now been extended to children as young as seven. Young bodies still in the process of development are called fat and forced into change to accommodate the aesthetic sensibilities of our society.

The points discussed in this article promote the healthy mentality that seems to be lacking in most mainstream publications and websites. The author says about her daughter:

“Seriously, her body is incredible. Her heart pumps blood. Her lungs oxygenate that blood. Her fingernails and toenails grow and her hair is thick and the synapses in her brain are doing these unbelievable miracles 24 hours a day that help her develop language and reasoning skills and spacial recognition and so much more. She can feel pain and build muscle and grow. Her tiny little bones are strong enough to support her body, and she can twist and curl and bounce and hop. All of our bodies are these amazing things, even when they don’t work perfectly, and I want her to be excited about the fact that she has a body that transports her from place to place so that she can interact with the world and with people in a vivid and intense way. That’s what our bodies are for–to take us into and help us experience the world–and that’s why we should celebrate them. They also happen to be really beautiful. If I can help instill into her the kind of love and respect for her body that I have for mine, she’ll have a better chance of having a healthy attitude toward that body, no matter what she weighs.”

This is what we need to be saying to our daughters, mothers, friends, and neighbors.

Equal Pay Day: Celebrate by Educating

Credit to YWCA
Credit to YWCA

Every April on Equal Pay Day, we as a society are reminded of how little we have to celebrate. Don’t get me wrong, women have taken astounding strides forward in the workplace, but the fact that women are still demanding equal pay is absolutely ridiculous. Institutionally sponsored sexism is pervasive, and every year we watch as women are paid less for performing the exact tasks as men. Perhaps equal pay is still an issue because the inherent injustice of what our society promotes has not been stated in a simple enough manner: Businesses are discriminating on the arbitrary basis of anatomy. Preference for a certain type of genitalia overshadows work experience, skillset, and personality in determining wages. Studies have shown that all things equal, men are paid significantly more simply because they are men.

So to “celebrate” Equal Pay Day, here are some of the best resources to educate yourself and illustrate where substantial change must still be made:

Gender Wage Gap For Immigrants

Seven Steps to Close the Wage Gap

What Causes the Gender Wage Gap

Wage Gaps by Occupation

Removing Barriers for Women Means More Productivity


Fast Facts

What Women Could Do With a Closed Wage Gap

Time to Talk About Bias in Science

Women in ScienceThe fact that women are profoundly underrepresented in the STEM fields is not a new revelation. However, coverage of this phenomenon predominantly focuses its analysis on what women are doing wrong rather than the factors that are inhibiting them from achieving success as a scientist or engineer.

In Periodic Tables, Gender Bias and Stereotypes, Ainissa Ramirez explains how women are doomed from the moment they submit an application:

“Last year, an elegant study performed by Yale scientists reported in PNAS.  The researchers used blind tests by giving potential employers similar resumes of potential candidates.  The resumes were the same, but one was affiliated with John and the other with Jennifer.  (There were no Johns are Jennifers harmed in this study, they were false names on false resumes.) Additionally, the candidates were not stellar candidates. They were ‘good-enough’ scientists but not future stars. The data came back and John was always rated higher than Jennifer.  John was also offered more money. Ouch!”

The data provided by the Yale study is vital to enacting change in the STEM fields. Definitive proof of bias against women will serve as a no excuses wake up call for companies and universities who are neglecting to hire otherwise qualified women on the basis of their gender.

Eradicating bias is also a necessary component of cultivating a positive work environment for women. Tales of sexist jokes told at board meetings or inappropriate jokes at tech conferences are pervasive and completely counterproductive to the promotion of equality.

In the workplace, it seems that as per usual, the first step towards equality is judging a woman by her qualifications and performance rather than body parts or outfits. Not a particularly profound concept, but far more difficult to implement that many could have anticipated.

Why Gay Marriage Does Not Mean Equality For All

Credit to HRC
Credit to HRC

As we are in the midst of  Supreme Court arguments concerning California’s Prop 8 and marriage equality, there is no better time to revisit this thoughtful piece by Samuel Huber for the Yale Herald. “Marriage, Disavowed” illustrates that even as our society takes tentative steps towards equality for homosexual couples, monogamous marriage is widely propagated as the norm.

As Samuel eloquently states, “I also worry that our affirmation of marriage not simply as one kind of acceptable and fulfilling relationship but as an inalienable right precludes too many queer children from imagining their own best futures.”

Accepting gay marriage is the first of many changes that must be made to mold our culture to accommodate the vastly differing goals and preferences of its residents. Imagine living a life or having a preference that is considered “atypical.” When monogamous marriage is the “default” and every contrary lifestyle choice is the “other” we are alienating our friends, family, and neighbors.

Equality is a slippery slope. Once it is advocated in one realm, it seems foolish and hypocritical to neglect to apply it in others. Limiting one’s conception of marriage (to a man and a woman) and relationships (to monogamous) is comparable to exclusively defining a woman’s “role” as that of the traditional housewife.

Regardless of how you feel about gay marriage, the message of “Marriage, Disavowed” is a simple one. Once equality is determined to be an integral element of society, it must actually be integrated so that it applies to everyone. Until that consistency is achieved, discrimination, feelings of inadequacy as well as alienation, and conflict will remain.

No Health Without Safety

Author Lily Grant
Author Lily Grant

By Lily Grant

If I had been born 50 years ago, my life would have been incredibly different. I would have had predominantly male doctors who were under no obligation to inform me of any side effects or contraindications of medicines they prescribed. My likelihood of finishing

college would be about 40% (Special to CNN), and I would have no right to a safe and legal abortion. Undoubtedly, women’s lives have improved by leaps and bounds even in as short a time as 50 years. It’s important to recognize these achievements, especially during Women’s History Month, but we can’t lose sight of the ground that still has to be covered.

When I first set out for college, I heard from everyone that the undergraduate years are a time for exploration and learning, an opportunity to test your understanding of the world and see if it holds true. In my first two years here at UW-Madison, I’ve tried to do just that: I’ve attended debates, tried subjects I would have ignored in high school, and made an attempt to get in touch with the community around me. My four semesters here have taught me a great deal, but there is one unavoidable truth that remains in the background, one that appears unlikely to change any time soon: I am not safe. None of us, my friends, classmates, and relatives, none of us are safe.

Everyone knows the tips college-age women are supposed to follow in order to avoid rape: don’t walk alone at night, never leave your drink unattended, have a rape whistle or a can of mace on you at all times. I’ve heard these repeated by UW staff and Madison police. These standards reinforce the myth that rapists are strangers, crouching in a dark alley waiting to pounce as you walk by. In a society like ours, where 62-84% of women are acquainted with their rapist (oneinfourusa), asking a male coworker or casual friend for an escort home may actually put a woman in more danger.

This is not to say that any and all men are potential rapists, but the fact that the majority of rapists are violating women they know is important. It points to an overall trend that women’s bodies are not seen as their own property, even by men who know them. This was appallingly clear in the recent Steubenville rape case, when two young men drugged a sixteen-year-old girl and carried her unconscious body from party to party, where she was repeatedly sexually assaulted in front of witnesses who mostly remained silent (The Atlantic).

This case is an extreme example, but the twitter feed and the video from that night that were released to the media bear striking resemblances to other portrayals of women’s bodies in the media.  Recent cultural events like the Oscars spread the message that women’s bodies don’t belong to them–with gags like Seth MacFarlane’s “We Saw your Boobs” song, calling actresses out for topless appearances in movies (some from rape scenes) in order to humiliate and degrade.

Closer to home, the new fad of confessions pages on Facebook has brought these attitudes to light; the page for the UW is peppered with jokes-that-aren’t-jokes like “no means yes, yes means anal,” which has gained almost 100 “likes” from other viewers of the page. Anyone who protests is shouted down by the claims that these comments shouldn’t be taken seriously. This attitude perpetuates the misconception that jokes are meaningless, but in reality jokes reveal a great deal about the cultural context that creates them. In this case, the underlying attitudes are that women don’t get a say in what happens to their bodies, and violations of their personal space make for an amusing story to be posted on a public page.

Clearly, despite the best efforts of the sexual assault awareness groups on this campus and elsewhere, a frightening number of students (men and women) aren’t getting it. They don’t understand what rape is because they aren’t analyzing the attitudes that allow rape to persist.

There is another serious problem with providing students checklists to avoid rape: it places the responsibility for preventing rape squarely at the feet of women. Aside from being stressful, restrictive, and practically impossible, it means that there is no accountability for rapists. Think about it; it is extremely rare to hear the words “don’t rape.” Obviously, the implications are harmful for survivors, especially because this unilateral responsibility to end rape perpetuates victim blaming. If it is a woman’s job to avoid rape then it must be her fault if someone manages to rape her. However, this practice is also detrimental to men; they are afforded almost no chance to learn not to rape. Our popular culture almost never makes them take responsibility for their own actions, or empowers them to intervene in a situation like Steubenville, even when they know it’s wrong. There are rape prevention programs on every university campus that teach these skills, but none of them are mandatory, so their scope is limited. Additionally, programs like Coaching Boys into Men and Men Can Stop Rape focus on violence prevention through self-respect and respect for others. They’re fantastic organizations that focus on male role models teaching boys and young men how to stand up in a peaceful way. Again though, these groups can only reach a certain number of people and can’t teach everyone who could benefit from learning. Furthermore, male rape victims are invisible in this culture or, at worst, are taunted and accused of lying. They also deserve protection and recognition, but the services for them are even more limited.

Knowledge is the first step to prevention, and I honestly believe that if all people were taught the reality of rape, how it happens and why, then more of them would make the right choices.

If we really want to take a stand on this issue, and challenge the subtle attitudes that allow rape to persist, then we first have to make it clear that respect is vital; rape wouldn’t be an issue if the right to one’s own body was universally respected. For my part, I think a strong start would be to make Gender Studies a General Education requirement here at the UW. If any university makes the statement that learning about gender inequality in our society is just as important as physics, biology, or literature, it might be easier for the students to put themselves in the shoes of survivors and those in danger, and really think about the consequences of their actions.

Lily Grant is a volunteer at the Wisconsin Women’s Network and a student at UW-Madison.

Stay at Home Moms, Gun Rights, and an Attack on a Culture of Women’s Consent

An interesting article from buzzfeed today, addresses and debunks an article from New York Magazine focused on stay at home moms. While there are well-educated women who are choosing to stay at home, the vast majority of women who do so are doing it out of necessity rather than choice. Most stay at home mothers actually live on a household income of less than $25,000 a year and stay at home because they cannot afford child care. Read all about it here.

In other news, an article from the New York Times discusses the relationship between gun violence and violence against women. Read about it here.

Finally, is the recent Steubenville rape an example of a greater degradation of the culture of women’s consent in America? The rapists blatantly recorded their crime via Twitter and other social media, seemingly indicating they were unaware they were doing anything wrong at all. Read about it here.

The Cost of Being a Woman

Credit to Ashley Tyler
Credit to Ashley Tyler

An interesting article from Jezebel discussing the costs, both fiscal and otherwise, or being a woman today. Titled “A Cost/Benefit Analysis of Modern ‘Womanhood’” the article details the pros and cons of the choices women are expected to make.

When a man grooms beyond a basic shower he is exceeding expectations. A woman who does a comparable amount of grooming is, especially in a professional setting, unforgivably sloppy. The cost of makeup is obvious. In any given woman’s lifetime, she will spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on daily beautification measures. More than that however, applying makeup every morning or before every night out is conducive to an extreme loss of time. The article states, “By some counts, you spend an average of one hour and 12 minutes per day, or three whole years of your life getting ready. That’s a full day-and-a-half per year. More conservative looks estimated 136 days out of a lifetime spent doing the lady dance.”

On a day-to-day basis, taking the time to accommodate social expectations of femininity seems manageable. However, 136 days to three years amounts to an insane amount of time that could be spent learning, travelling, or just having fun that doesn’t require large amounts of makeup.

Read more here

Sex Education: Not a Place for Politics

Marquette UniversityDespite numerous studies unequivocally touting its benefits, sex education is somehow still controversial. Female sex workshops, a medium to discuss everything from sex and anatomy to domestic violence have been increasing in popularity. And the idea of women gathering, openly discussing sex, and repeatedly saying the word “vagina” have people all in a tizzy. These workshops are so controversial that they have compelled Ethan Hollenberger of Marquette University in Wisconsin to take action against what he calls, “a debased and anti-Catholic view of sex and desire.”

To be fair, Mr. Hollenberger on principle isn’t opposed to FemSex, the now defunct Marquette sex workshop designed to, “encourage participants to develop empowered, informed relationships with themselves and others.” The conflict over this issue is ostensibly concentrated in the fact that Marquette, a Catholic University, initially chose to sponsor FemSex upon its inception. Mr. Hollenberger’s opposition is in direct relation to his belief that female sexual empowerment and the Catholic Church are mutually exclusive entities. He states, “Defenders of FemSex would undoubtedly argue that the beliefs of the Catholic Church are archaic and no longer applicable in the modern world.”

Marquette graduate student Claire Van Fossen said, “FemSex “does not teach any curriculum, push any agenda, condone any behavior, or act as therapy.” She added, “At its core, FemSex is about introspection, discussion, exploration, and self-empowerment.” Now, compare that with one of the mission statements of the prominent group, Catholics for Choice: “Supporting evidence-based, comprehensive sexuality education policies that enable people to feel comfortable [and/or] confident about themselves, their partners and their sexuality.” Perhaps this is a misinterpretation, but FemSex and Catholics for choice have almost identical conceptions of female sexuality.

So if there is so much common ground between a large Catholic organization and a female sex workshop, why does Mr. Hollenberger care? It all comes down to this comment:  “If not for watchful conservatives, FemSex might be officially sanctioned today.”

Sex education is supported by a majority of this country, Catholics included. Once it becomes clear that FemSex doesn’t contradict Catholic beliefs, you have wonder why Mr. Hollenberger opposes the workshop. The problem here is “conservatives.” In this instance, religion is being utilized to push a subjective moral and political agenda. This isn’t about sex conflicting with religion. This is about Mr. Hollenberger being personally uncomfortable with females discussing sex.

Attempting to keep sex and domestic violence education out of any environment, regardless of its religious affiliation, practically benefits no one. Mr. Hollenberger represents an ideological, vocal minority that insists on asserting its archaic notions of what constitutes female sexuality on the whole population. Restrictive policy dictated by a loud minority is not conducive to fairness, only to satisfying a select few.

The Marquette Administration, a religious entity, took no issue with this program until Mr. Hollenbereger chided them for not being Catholic enough. What Mr. Hollenberger actually meant to say is that the Marquette administration was not adequately catering to conservatives. In being so vocal about a program that would have immeasurable impact on the lives of women and absolutely no impact on him, Mr. Hollenberger is illustrating the presumptive nature of his actions. He correctly assessed that regardless of the lack of public support for his position, he would be able to end FemSex if he provided loud critiques and invoked religion.

Today, people like Mr. Hollenberger would have you believe that supporting the Catholic Church means supporting Republicans, anti-feminists, and anti-sex measures. Catholicism and female empowerment do not have to be mutually exclusive. Catholicism is primarily about respect and love for your neighbor. It isn’t a political affiliation and it certainly doesn’t prohibit sexual and domestic violence education for women. If you are uncomfortable with women in a position of equality or empowerment, simply say so. Stop wasting time claiming misogyny is supported by the Catholic Church.

21 States Ban Insurance Coverage for Abortion

Credit to the ACLU
Credit to the ACLU

Until recently, insurance coverage for abortions was not only accepted, it was expected. It was assumed that if a woman needed an abortion, she could turn to her insurance provider as she would for any medical procedure. The insurance side of the abortion debate only became subject to controversy when President Obama put America’s health care policies under a microscope.

Since its introduction almost three years ago, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), often referred to as Obamacare, has managed to remain in the news almost constantly. This massive, perpetually contended legislation has introduced an astounding amount of legislative nightmares. Now, states having the right to ban insurance coverage for abortion can be added to that list.

“The 2010 Affordable Care Act requires states to set up health insurance marketplaces called exchanges by October of this year. Through exchanges, people who don’t have health insurance through the government or an employer can buy health insurance.

States that set up their own exchanges can set the rules for insurers who take part.” Due to exchanges, 21 states have passed legislation to stop insurance companies from covering abortions. In 8 states, no one can get a plan that covers the procedure.

The Hyde Amendment, a measure which denies abortion insurance coverage for poor women, Native Americans, and government employees has been cited by states as precedent for singling out abortion from other reproductive health procedures. The exclusion of abortion creates the impression that it is somehow worthy of special treatment under the law. Once an undisputed facet of women’s health, abortion is quickly becoming unavailable for large portions of the American population.

This is simply another blatant attempt to criminalize abortion. Politicians are disregarding public opinion and constitutional law for the purpose of imposing a subjective morality on their constituents. Laws banning insurance coverage for abortion are not reached by public consensus, but by a loophole in Obamacare. To claim these developments represent the will of the people is deceptive at best.

Localizing the decision of whether insurers can ban abortion does have one advantage. Increasing the voice of local politicians in creating abortion policy gives them a chance to stand up for women. The adverse impact of anti-choice policies is clear at the local level. Ideally, partisan politics will give way to rational choices when local representatives are making this decision not just for their constituents, but for their friends and neighbors.

Monday Link Mania!!!

It might be a day late, but it’s the thought that counts and knowledge is useful any day of the week!

One of Alfred Palmer's pictures of women working during World War II
One of Alfred Palmer’s pictures of women working during World War II

An interdisciplinary look at why gender inequality is pervasive and the gap is widening

A sad reminder that domestic violence transcends socioeconomic status, impacting women of all backgrounds around the world

More invasive efforts to stop abortions masquerading as “concern for women’s health”

Women comprised 33 percent of the roles in the top 100 films of 2011

Traditional families and patriarchal structure are declining and so is crime!

Efforts to defund Planned Parenthood are taking their toll: Four locations in Wisconsin close

How sexism destroyed the reputation of Margaret Mead

Who’s Paying for Birth Control?

As of late, the question of whether birth control can be obtained through an employer’s health care plan has been increasingly contentious and ambiguous. Hoping to shed some light on the role an employer’s religious beliefs would play in providing birth control, the Obama administration revised its birth control policies under the Affordable Care Act. Unfortunately, the news release only adds confusion to the already convoluted issue.

When it comes to religiously inclined employers, it is unclear if insurance companies, the government, or even a third party organization will pay for coverage. Access to no-copay birth control is still very plausible in most circumstances, the only factor that has changed is the provider.

Here is a simplified look at who will be paying for your birth control and how that will impact you:

Credit to the Nation
Credit to the Nation

Weekend Link Roundup

Credit to Feministing
Credit to Feministing

NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin releases an alarming report detailing the deceptive practices of Wisconsin crisis pregnancy centers

Wisconsin Law creates more stringent restrictions for medicated abortions which adds delays and significant danger to the abortion process

New anti-choice legislation pushing to make abortion illegal in the case of rape since the fetus would be evidence

With February being American Heart Month, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services is raising awareness about the leading cause of death for American women

A study conducted by Wisconsin researchers dispels the popular idea that women are leaving engineering jobs in order to start a family. Unsurprisingly, it actually has something to rampant sexism and condescension.

Infographic shows Wisconsin to be one of the more anti-choice (see links one and two) states in America

Study Shows Economic Downturn Harms Women More Than Men

Credit to Icons in Medicine
Credit to Icons in Medicine

With the world in an unprecedented state of economic decline, countless individuals and families are struggling to survive. Nations are taking numerous steps to amend this crisis, but little attention has been granted to the group in need of the most assistance: women and girls.

According to a report from Plan and the Overseas Development Institute, a NGO that studies economics in developing countries, the global economic downturn has taken the greatest toll on women. Combined with the pervasive gender inequality in many societies, women are at a significant disadvantage when compared with their male counterparts. The disadvantages put women and girls at a greater risk for alarming dangers.

“It is little surprise that the most vulnerable suffer more in times of austerity but to see the impact in higher mortality rates, reduced life expectancy, less opportunities and greater risks for girls and boys is stark,” Nigel Chapman, Plan Chief Executive Officer, stated in the report.

In order for females to succeed despite their underprivileged status, Chapman emphasizes the need for more education, jobs, and social programs to be directed towards women. He says the way things are now, “The world is failing girls and women.”

The sacrifices women are making to preserve their family or conform to social expectations are discussed in the study. Specific examples include, “Nicaraguan women who reduce their food intake; Cambodian girls who are forced to drop out of school and become domestic workers; and an unemployment rate of 67 percent for young Greek women, compared with 44 percent for men in 2011.”

A Cambodian woman is quoted in the study commenting, ‘“While cooking, I try to use less rice…I always try to make sure that the male members have enough to eat. They are working hard and they need food to perform their laborious jobs. Then I try to feed the children. We [the female members of the family] eat the remaining food. Well, this is not enough. But what can I do?”’

Improvements have been made in the last few years however they are fragile in light of major economic upheaval. Research has shown women and girls to be more inclined than ever to take abusive jobs and participate in child labor. These risky professions render women vulnerable to abuse, only solidifying the pattern of gender inequality.

To end the trend of inequity, the report proposes solutions such as, “promoting local sustainable food production and programs that meet the needs of girls, and incentivizing families to keep kids in school and subsidize child care.” Programs such as Concern Worldwide are attempting to make these programs a reality, but it is only a first stride in a long effort to support women around the world.

A Look at America’s Shocking Surgery Trend

Credit to Brittany Bower
Credit to Brittany Bower

The last few decades have seen a steady rise in the prevalence of plastic surgery. Cosmetic Surgery has widely become more acceptable for both men and women. Unsurprisingly however, studies indicate women are overwhelmingly more likely than men to seek out procedures with ninety-one percent of cosmetic surgeries in 2011 being performed on women. Plastic surgery has consistently evolved to accommodate the perpetually in flux standards of beauty imposed on women. So with $5000 breast augmentations and butt implants becoming fairly commonplace, what remains for the “cutting edge” of cosmetic surgery today?

In a not so shocking move, plastic surgeons have developed a surgery to modify the only body part that has generally been excluded from cosmetic changes. That’s right, it’s time to put the phrase “vaginal rejuvenation” in your vernacular! Vaginal rejuvenation encompasses several procedures, with the most controversial and troubling surgery being the Labiaplasty.

The Labiaplasty is a relatively new procedure, with the first occurring in 1984, and it acquiring notoriety in the late 90s. The procedure “trims the labia minora (the inner lips of the vulva) to fit neatly within the outer lips” with the purpose of creating a “neater” looking vagina. More shocking is the extreme version of the Labiaplasty aptly titled “The Barbie.” To create the “Barbie look” the surgeon excises the entirety of the labia minora, so that the outer lips appear closed. The aim is to eliminate all protrusions, fashioning a perfectly smooth, “clamshell” aesthetic.

The factor behind this sudden surge in Labiaplasty surgeries is not a mystery. Doctors, psychologists, and writers all concur that women today are more than ever, transfixed by the idea of the “perfect vagina.” Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly people who are in desperate need of this surgery due to discomfort from sex or athletic activity. Still, none of those women would require a procedure even slightly resembling “The Barbie.” It is abundantly clear that a vast majority of Labiaplasties seem to be performed on women in pursuit of a “designer” vagina.

The International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons estimates that 5,200 Labiaplasties are performed annually. This number, combined with the number of annual breast augmentation surgeries (300,000), is indicative of how passing ideas of beauty are permanently modifying large portions of the population.

Kirsten O’Regan’s expose on the field of cosmetic gynecology, highlights how doctors utilize beauty trends to reinforce female insecurities and compel their patients to undergo vaginal rejuvenation. She writes:

“The escalating pathology of the vagina is just one manifestation of a fairly ubiquitous desire to deny natural variations in female anatomy by casting them as aberrations. Alinsod and Alter speak with enthusiastic distaste about female genitalia-“this big, fat pad”, “like a golf ball”, “she has a fatty majora”-and they don’t necessarily consider it a doctor’s obligation to advise patients if they are within normal range. Interestingly, a 2011 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine shows that male physicians are more likely to recommend cosmetic labiaplasty than their female counterparts.”

The demand for Labiaplasties may be increasing, but recognition and validation from the medical community is still lacking. O’Regan comments, “In 2007, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology opined that vaginal rejuvenation procedures ‘are not medically indicated, and the safety and effectiveness of these procedures have not been documented.’ They concluded, ‘It is deceptive to give the impression that… any such procedures are accepted and routine surgical practices.’” The idea that any vagina is “unnatural” is a disturbing one that only enforces female body shame. Hopefully this trend will follow a different trajectory than breast augmentation and butt implants, and fall out of fashion before this becomes the norm.

For more of O’Regan’s insights, read her article.

Monday Link Mania!!!

Here are some of the stories you may have missed, accompanied by another favorite installment from Danielle Henderson’s amazing Tumblr, Feminist Ryan Gosling (as if you needed further indication of the worthiness of these links)!

Ryan Gosling Revolutions

An illuminating interactive map detailing global maternity leave policies. This map is one of many reminders of how far behind America is in the effort to promote gender equality.

A thoughtful piece suggesting we reframe the abortion debate in such a way that the pro-choice option is also the “moral” option.

The Invisible War, a powerful film that exposes the staggering number of unprosecuted sexual assaults occurring in the U.S. Military every year, was nominated for a “Best Documentary” Academy Award.

In spite of daily protests and outrage surrounding the deadly gang rape of a 23-year-old student in India, another rape has occurred, leading to some much needed questioning of India’s victim shaming practices.

Costa Rican women gathered to protest/publicly breastfeed after Patricia Barrantes was admonished for breastfeeding in a mall.

The Facts of Abortion

Many anticipate 2013 to be a politically divisive year, especially for reproductive rights. With that in mind, there isn’t a better time to become acquainted with the political, racial, and economic factors surrounding abortion in America. These infographics by the Guttmacher Institute shed light on the widespread implications of abortion policy while refuting common misconceptions about women who have had an abortion. Only by demystifying the “stigma” of abortion can our nation promote pro-women policies that will foster greater health and wellness for women of all backgrounds.

Congress Fails the Violence Against Women Act

House Minority Leader Eric CantorIn a sad testament to the increasing prevalence of anti-women legislation, for the first time since its passing in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has failed to be renewed by Congress. This bipartisan bill is regularly reauthorized without any debate or fanfare, however this development is not surprising in light of the multitude of attacks against women in 2012.

The newfound controversy surrounding VAWA is attributed to added provisions which aim to extend protections for 30 million LGBT individuals, Native Americans, and undocumented immigrants. Republican leadership in the House comprised the opposition of the bill with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) saying they, “would not bring it up, just like they wouldn’t bring up funding for Sandy [hurricane damage].”

In April, the Senate passed a bipartisan VAWA with the extended protection for the three aforementioned groups. This version of the Bill was met with opposition by Republicans in the House who felt the extended measures for these groups were “politically driven.” As a response to the revised, Senate sponsored bill, the House passed VAWA without the additional provisions. Yet in the weeks prior to the VAWA renewal deadline, several supporters of the provision-less House VAWA stated they, “would now support the broader Senate bill — and predicted it would pass if Republican leaders let it come to the floor for a vote.”

In refusing to address the issue in the final hours before the bill was set to expire, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) inhibited the passing of either the revised or original versions of the bill.

So what specific element of VAWA created both a polarized Congress and a schism within the Republican Party? While Democrats and a sufficient amount of Republicans support all components of the enhanced VAWA, House Republican leaders such as Eric Cantor put the bill negotiations at a standstill over one topic. Apparently, it all comes down to the section pertaining to Native American Women.

Statistics have revealed the shockingly high frequency of rape and sexual assault in Native American tribes. These women experience sexual assault at a rate of over twice the national average. Of these assaults, over eighty-six percent are committed by non-Native American men. Due to a lack of law enforcement resources, crimes committed on tribal lands usually go unaddressed, so there is no legal recourse for victims.

To combat this problem, the Senate’s provision in VAWA grants tribal courts limited jurisdiction to address violence committed against Native women by non-Native men. Throughout negotiations, Cantor was adamant that tribal jurisdiction remain out of the renewed VAWA. His stance is surprising as the provision has the backing of the Justice Department, with its assurance that Constitutional Law would not be circumvented.

Lacking what many Democrats deemed to be a substantive reason for opposing the measure, Cantor’s tactics infuriated supporters of the Bill. The re-authorization of VAWA was believed by many to be an opportunity for Republicans to demonstrate their concern for women’s issues. When not even Joe Biden’s last minute efforts at reigniting negotiations could get VAWA off the ground, members of both parties shared their disappointment with women losing their voice in politics.

Of the Republican Leaders, Sen. Murray states, “They have the opportunity to take up this bill and show women and men that they understand that women’s rights are important.” If the Republican Party is concerned about its relationship with women, she added, it should “put that concern to action.”

Women: A Year in Review

Women In PoliticsIn 2012, far more than any other year, women secured a prime position in National and Global news. While some refer to 2012 as the “Year of Women” a complete examination of the year’s developments yields a more nuanced perspective. It seems that in the news, every positive piece of legislation or female accomplishment was negated by a minority population who remains intent on quashing female empowerment. For that reason, it seems fitting to compile a list of victories and loses for women in 2012. These successes show how far we have come as a society while the failures serve as a constant reminder that sexism and misogyny are far too ingrained to disappear in one year.

5 Reasons to Celebrate:

  1. PM Julia Gillard of Australia presents probably the best, most blunt diatribe against sexism that politics has seen in quite some time.
  2. Women dominated the Olympics, comprising more than half the team and winning 29 of the 46 Gold Medals.
  3. In the most recent election, women broke records in both the Senate and the House, with women gaining three seats (from 17 to 20) in the Senate and the most female House members since 1992. And Tammy Baldwin shattered one of the highest glass ceilings for women in American politics, by becoming the first woman ever to represent Wisconsin in the U.S. Senate.
  4. Sandra Fluke eloquently spoke out against Rush Limbaugh for the slut shaming tactics he and numerous others employ.
  5.  The Affordable Care Act ensures that private insurance companies provide birth control and other preventative care services without co-pay.

5 Reasons for a long sigh and shake of the head

  1. Women are still behind in education, seen as second class citizens by the law, and generally unsafe in most parts of the world.
  2. While Olympic success story Gabby Douglas was widely praised for her accomplishments, she could not escape criticism of her hair.
  3.  In spite of gains in Congress, women are still woefully underrepresented in American politics relative to almost all nations in the world.
  4. Despite Sandra Fluke’s public incrimination of slut shaming, it is still prominent on the internet on anonymous, sexist websites.
  5. Pro-Women legislative steps have been taken, however our nation is lagging on one of the most important steps: Equal Pay Laws.

Going into the New Year, there are undeniable reasons to be optimistic about the state of women. Yet, in putting together these lists, I had no difficulty thinking of additions to the “long sigh” component. In fact, it was disappointingly simple to look around and clearly identify regularly occurring instances of sexism. For me, the realization that on a yearly basis, women are forced to contend with far more negativity than positivity was a sad one. Ideally, every individual will have this realization in time because it inspires action and ensures that someday women won’t be struggling to make their gender a positive attribute.

New Topic, Old Conversation: How the Zika virus discourse still ignores the rights of women

By Simone Harstead, Beloit College

The Zika virus, officially a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, has become a commonly known health problem.  However, it has been identified as having a “silver lining,” because it can further the fight for reproductive rights by helping women gain access to contraception and abortion, but the current discourse will not result in creating meaningful change.

The virus is fueling international controversy around the strict abortion bans and lack of reproductive rights that affect women’s lives every day.  Recently, the Pope suggested the usage of contraceptives in order to combat Zika while he was on a trip to Mexico, although it was not a very concrete voice of support because the Vatican later released a statement reiterating the ban on abortion.  Most Catholic leaders have insisted that the spread of the virus does not change their opinion on banning contraception and that instead, women should abstain from sex or use family planning techniques.

There is no denying that the Zika Virus has been the cause of numerous health and social problems for many people, such as pressure to not get pregnant until 2018 and the potential of microcephaly for newborns who contract the disease.   However, the virus has also generated necessary discussions about the lack of reproductive rights for women living in Latin America. These discussions are causing the religious leaders who continue to ban contraceptives to appear more antiquated, and women seeking out contraceptives and/or abortions are receiving more positive representation in the media.

It is extremely important that people see the benefits of making abortions and contraceptives accessible. However, the problematic thread in all of these conversations is that these initiatives are only generated when the health of a fetus or infant is in danger, rather than to address a woman’s needs.  A woman’s right to an abortion should not solely depend on the child’s chances of contracting a virus. It is her fundamental right to choose what she wants to do with her body.

Responding to questions about the Zika virus, the Executive Director of U.N. Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka expressed that “‘it’s important to rethink the extent to which the rights of women in those countries, reproductive rights of women need to be advanced because it could provide us with the solution, not only because of Zika but also because it’s the right thing to do.’”  She understands that the need for reproductive rights goes far beyond the Zika virus, and can be questioned on a much deeper level by addressing the oppression of women that is felt around the world with or without the virus.

There is extensive data available on maternal health and the importance of reproductive rights.  A 2012 study, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, estimated that 342,000 women worldwide died of maternal causes in 2008, and that 272,000 deaths were prevented through their access to contraceptives.  The study also shows that through satisfying the unmet needs for contraception 104,000 deaths could be prevented every year.  Illegal abortions are costly, too: 47,000 women die from complications of unsafe abortion every year, and many more are left injured and/or disabled.

We need to change the discourse of the current conversation to address reproductive rights as a necessity beyond the reach of the Zika virus.  A woman has the right to contraceptives and abortion, not solely because there is a risk of her spreading a virus to her unborn child, but because she deserves autonomy over her body and choices for her future.

Imagine a future in which women are granted more reproductive rights in reaction to the Zika virus, causing the virus to lessen as a threat.  The religious and political elites will then be able to retract those gained rights because fetuses will no longer be at risk.  How can women be ensured reproductive rights for the future when those rights are based solely off of the virus?  There will be sustainable, long-term change if reproductive rights are granted on the basis of women’s rights, and not just a current health scare.

So what are the next steps?  It is still very important to take immediate action that will alleviate the potential damage that the Zika virus has done and will do.  The affected fetuses and children deserve any and all medical care, and women in Zika-affected areas should receive the appropriate contraceptives and abortions necessary.  However, in order to entrench the rights of women, it is imperative to line arguments for reproductive rights with cognizance of women’s health and autonomy to create sustainable change.

Sexual assault on college campuses and institutional initiatives to combat it

By: Simone Harstead, student at Beloit College

Last fall, the Association of American Universities conducted a national survey of 150,000 students from 27 colleges and found that 27.2 percent of women on college campuses are victims of unwanted sexual contact. 13.5% of respondents experienced unwanted penetration, attempted penetration, or forced oral sex.

This has been a longstanding problem and one that has only recently been addressed, but few numbers reported have been as high as those in the study. At some schools, such as Yale and the University of Michigan, the rates of sexual assault against women are above 34%.

A main concern of the study is the 19% response rate, a percentage that is particularly low. This has led some critics to claim that only those who have experienced sexual assault would answer, creating a problem for advocates. Another criticism is that what some may deem as sexual assault, such as light touching, is not universally agreed upon, and that the numbers are inflating the actual problem because of it.

Even if underreporting is present, one cannot deny the legitimacy of this problem that has become entrenched in our culture. Regardless of the number of college or university sexual assaults, the issue is severe and should not be trivialized.

Recently, there has been an unprecedented national pushback on campus sexual assault and an increase in media coverage. Under the Obama Administration, the first ever White House task force on college sexual assault was created, and therefore indicated the severity of the problem. Campuses are beginning to address sexual assault more to reflect the needs of their students and communities.

I go to school in Wisconsin, where there are many new initiatives to combat the rampant sexual assault on campuses. UW-Madison, a state university nearby, was one of the schools that participated in the survey.  They reported that 27.6% of women undergraduates experienced sexual assault while attending the institution. A large and significant component of sexual assault on their campus is alcohol. Women reported that in 76.1% of penetration by force incidents, the offender had been drinking alcohol.

In the past few years, UW-Madison has taken steps to combat this issue. Since last fall, a prevention program required for undergraduates titled “Tonight” addresses sexual assault, consent, and dating violence. Most recently, the university police department started a campaign, “Don’t Be That Guy,” focusing on the fact that perpetrators of rape and sexual assault are most usually people that know the victim and not the stereotypical serial rapist in the bushes. The campaign also urges students who know perpetrators to speak out and be an ally instead of silently condoning sexual assault.

Many other areas and schools have been responding to the presence of sexual assault. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a Take Back the Night event was organized by students after a fraternity was suspended for slipping date rape drugs into drinks at a party. At Marquette University, various fraternities have been warned after reports of sexual misconduct and were required to undergo training through student misconduct channels. Many universities have included freshman initiatives, like UW-Madison, that outline consent and the sexual activity policy on campus.

After researching other universities, I became interested in the institution I attend, Beloit College. National conversations about sexual assault at small colleges are rare, and with a student body of 1,400, Beloit will most likely not be involved in nationwide surveys. Because the statistics aren’t as shocking or the school as well-known, the media is not as interested; however, sexual assault still happens everywhere. At my school, the topic has become ubiquitous and clearly something that needs to be addressed.

I spoke with Christina Klawitter, Beloit’s Dean of Students, about sexual assault on the campus. We looked into the most recent crime reports of the school, and there have not been more than nine rapes in a year in at least six years. Although that can appear to be a relatively low number, Klawitter expressed that in reality, it may be an underreported number and that she would rather see the numbers reported go up in order to gauge the prevalence of sexual assault and then be able to address the issue more effectively.

The Beloit College administration and community has put significant amounts of time and energy into combating this issue. About 20% of Klawitter’s time is dedicated to it, and she has helped with many new projects. She is currently teaching a class that I am enrolled in, What is sex for?, with the intention of analyzing the idea of a healthy sexuality and how we navigate it in college. Additionally, the Title IX Coordinator and Task force have begun an initiative that offers a developmentally based curriculum that fosters students’ sense of sexual agency, examine the relationship between alcohol and sexual assault, increase bystander awareness, and create an environment that is more effective when faced with sexual assault.

Students have integrated their own ideas as well: Caitlin Paterson, an honors-term student at Beloit College, founded Men Against Sexual Violence, which creates an environment with less sexual assault through discourse, education, and events. Students organized Take Back the Night events, conversations on sexual assault, and held a lecture with Jackson Katz, a speaker who emphasizes the importance of  intervention by men as bystanders to assault. There are now many spheres within the college that not only publicize the fact that there is a problem on our campus, but also how to eradicate it.

The Association of American Universities’ reports are undoubtedly alarming, but they the potential generate meaningful responses in our communities. Through the initiatives at Beloit College, and other universities in Wisconsin and around the nation, there will hopefully be short-term and long-term change that helps make campuses, and communities, a safer place.