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This Blog Has Moved

Effective July 21, 2010 the UMKC Women’s Center blog has moved to You’ll find new posts (and all of our old posts) there. Please update your bookmarks, RSS feeds, etc.!

The NHAS Strategy is on Its Way to Stopping HIV/AIDS

On July 13, 2010 President Obama delivered the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS).  This strategy is designed to restrain the spread of infection and to allocate treatment resources that are lacking around the nation.  In Obama’s speech, he asserted three primary goals for the NHAS:

  1. To reduce HIV incidence
  2. To increase access to care and optimizing health outcomes
  3. To reduce HIV-related health disparities

Obama and his Administration developed the NHAS strategy with hope that it will reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS.  The strategy will be executed through providing research, prevention, and education efforts.

Historically, the HIV/AIDS catastrophe was first associated with urban, gay, white men, but recently, there has been a transition that changed the focus from urban, gay, white men being the largest community affected, to putting the focus on Black women.  Some research  shows that African American women are 12 times more likely to contract AIDS than Caucasian women.  Additionally, AIDS/HIV is the leading cause of death for African American women ages 25 to 34.  This disease among Black women has grown rapidly due to various reasons such as having unprotected sex, residing in impoverished neighborhoods, and sharing dirty needles while using illegal substances.  For these reasons also, HIV/AIDS is a major concern for Black women today. Of the 33.2 million people globally who are living with HIV or AIDS, Black women make up the largest portion of this population.   

In the United States, roughly one million people live with HIV or AIDS.  This disease not only destroys the lives of the person infected, but it affects the lives of those around them, their communities, and, if nothing is done to stop the spread of this disease, will continue to have lasting effects on our society, too.  This is why President Obama and his Administration are taking a stand with the NHAS strategy because, clearly, the numbers reveal that HIV/AIDS is not a problem that individuals can solve alone.  It is a global problem that needs governmental attention.  

UMKC students can be HIV tested for a fee at UMKC Student Health and Wellness located at 4825 Troost.  If you are not a student and would like to get tested for HIV/AIDS and are not sure about any sites in your local area, please contact the CDC National AIDS Hotline at (800) 342-2437 for English or (800) 344-7432 for Spanish.  This hotline can answer any questions about testing, and can refer you to any testing site in your area.

Rape in Congo: It’s Not Part of Their Culture… It’s Wrong and Needs to Stop

Image from AFP/Getty Images

“You don’t consider rape a security threat…Rape here is so common…It’s cultural.”  

After reading that quote, are you stunned?  Well, if your reaction is a blank stare, a furrowed eyebrow, and a thought somewhere along the lines of, “who in their right mind would think rape is cultural,” you are thinking clearly and, might I add, correctly.

The comment above was made by a European woman who was working for the United Nations to convince refugees residing in Tanzania that it was safe to return home to Congo.  While she encouraged Congolese women to return home because it was “safe,” she was only referring to foreign militias being gone, and not the looting or rapes that were still happening to women and girls in eastern Congo.  As a matter of fact, she indicated that rapes and looting were not considered attacks. WOW…really?  I beg to differ.

First, let me say the numerous rapes occurring in Congo should not be labeled “cultural.” This violence is considered among the worst on the planet.  According to a recent article, the United Nations approximates that there have been hundreds of thousands of Congolese women gang-raped, tortured, and held as sexual slaves since 1998.  That number daily for women rape victims estimates to around 40.  How can such violence be so imbedded in a society’s traditions that it is considered culture?  Clearly, this is not a part of Congo culture, but rather it is a crime being perpetrated on innocent women and girls and committed by Congolese soldiers everyday who go unpunished.

As a result of the constant rapes in Congo, many women and girls are living in fear everyday within their own communities. Fear in your own community, your own home, should not be part of your culture.  In another  recent article, many women stated that fear of the Congolese soldiers and their surrounding neighbors are their primary concern.  Consequently, this fear often manifests itself in these women and girls as serious mental and physical health problems.

Rape, terror, and violence against women and girls should not be deemed part of any country’s culture.  To do that implies that it is inevitable and it creates barriers that keep others from getting involved and making a change.  After reading many articles regarding women in Congo, it makes me further understand why it is imperative to stand up against sexual violence.  Sadly, rape and sexual violence is affecting thousands, if not, millions of women around the world.  We all need to get involved to not only bring attention to the issue, but to make sure action is taken to stop the violence.  Then people like the European woman mentioned earlier will no longer dismiss the atrocities like the rapes in Congo merely cultural, and see them for what they really are – crimes.

Common Sense for Preventing Sexual Assault

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So much of the advice out there about how to prevent sexual assault is usually directed towards the victims who are mostly women.  Something about that seems backwards. Why is all the responsibility still being put on women to “prevent” getting assaulted? I think that more of those conversations need to be directed at the perpetrators, who are mostly male, on how not to commit a sexual assault, what ‘no’ means,  the definition of ‘consent’, and the knowledge that no woman is ‘asking for it’.

A recent article provides an interesting, slightly humorous, informative, male version of “Ways to Prevent Sexual Assault” that more people need to see:

Sexual Assault Prevention Tips Guaranteed to Work!

1.       Don’t put drugs in people’s drinks in order to control their behavior.

2.       When you see someone walking by themselves, leave them alone!

3.       If you pull over to help someone with car problems, remember not to assault them!

4.       NEVER open an unlocked door or window uninvited.

5.       If you are in an elevator and someone else gets in, DON’T ASSAULT THEM!

6.       Remember, people go to laundry to do their laundry, do not attempt to molest someone who is alone in a laundry room.

7.       USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM! If you are not able to stop yourself from assaulting people, ask a friend to stay with you while you are in public.

8.       Always be honest with people! Don’t pretend to be a caring friend in order to gain the trust of someone you want to assault. Consider telling them you plan to assault them. If you don’t communicate your intentions, the other person may take that as a sign that you do not plan to rape them.

9.       Don’t forget: you can’t have sex with someone unless they are awake!

10.   Carry a whistle! If you are worried you might assault someone “on accident” you can hand it to the person you are with, so they can blow it if you do.

                And, ALWAYS REMEMBER: if you didn’t ask permission and then respect the answer the first time, you are committing a crime – no matter how “into it” others appear to be.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Image from WordPress

The previous blog mentioned the Women’s Center’s upcoming book discussion this fall on Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy.  I just finished reading the first book in the trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and I can’t wait to read the other two books.  Larsson’s development of the character Lisbeth Salander is brilliant.  She’s mysterious, yet direct; serious, yet passionate; troubled, yet ingenious.  Larsson unveils her character gradually, only mentioning her in random chapters and paragraphs through the first parts of the book.  You are left curious and almost doubtful of whom she is, but then at one heroic moment in the book, he unveils her true nature as a survivor.  No longer wondering who Lisbeth is, you are only left wondering why – why is she someone who lives most days on her survival instincts?

Lisbeth is described as a frail, anorexic-looking, young woman with harsh features and a wardrobe that harkens back to the 1970’s Brittish punk rock scene – leather jacket, tight jeans, combat boots, and t-shirts that make sharp, sarcastic statements.  Lisbeth makes up in inner strength and intellect what she lacks in physical presence.  She is often quiet but always very present.   A feminist heroine she is; woven into a plot that involves violence against women, sexual assault, family drama, and murder.   Lisbeth is a feminist, a heroine, and a survivor.  Of what?  Hopefully, that will be revealed in Larson’s subsequent books in the Trilogy.  If not, oh well.  Lisbeth’s character is not one that commands the readers’ sympathy for whatever happened to her in the past, but their support and applause for who she is now.

I plan to start reading the next book in the Trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire, tonight.  If you haven’t started reading the series, there’s still plenty of time left this summer.  Then join us on Oct. 26 in the Women’s Center to discuss Lisbeth Salander.  I can’t wait to talk to you about her.

Need a Break From Twilight?

For all of you out there that may be a little tired of all of the Twilight hype, I thought I would suggest some alternatives with some feminist flare.

If vampires are what you like, consider reading the Vampire Academy Series. This series has 5 books currently, and the 6th and final one will be released on December 7th. The main character, Rose Hathaway, is as anti-Bella as you can get. Rose is a butt-kicking, no crap taking, says and does what she wants heroine.  The author of the series, Richelle Mead, created a world very different from that of the sparkling amber-eyed Twilight vamps.

In the Vampire Academy series there are two different types of vamps: the Moroi which only feed on humans voluntarily and are not immortal, and the Stigoi which kill humans and are immortal. Rose, the heroine of the novels is a Dhampir–half Moroi vamp, half human. Dhampirs are trained from childhood to protect the Moroi. Rose’s best friend is Lissa, a royal Moroi, and together they navigate their way through senior year at St. Vladimir’s Academy, a vampire school. Throughout the books Rose goes through normal teenage ups and downs of friendships and relationships, while also fighting the Stigoi, figuring out her bond with Lissa, and trying to figure herself out.

This series could not be more different from Twilight.  Although both have vampires and are each being made into movies, that is where the similarities end. Rose is strong, brave, and independent, which is the very opposite of Bella’s clumsiness, fragileness, and constant need to be saved. While the series still lacks some diversity, I feel it does a better job of presenting relationships and what it can mean to be female.

If vampires are not your thing, there is a series out there for you too: Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. The Trilogy includes: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Written originally in Swedish, they have been translated into English and are making quite the splash over here. One of the main characters, Lisbeth Salander, is being called a modern day feminist heroine.

This series is mysterious and suspenseful, with twists and turns that will keep you hooked, along with family dramas, love, and adventure. These books have been made into three very successful Swedish films that are already being released in the United States.  As if all of this isn’t enough of a reason to read the most talked about series in the country, the Women’s Center will also be hosting a discussion of the books in October! So read them now and come join us to discuss Lisbeth Salander as a feminist heroine.

While some of you may want to just watch the movies and skip the books, I would have to tell you that you would be missing out. Everyone knows the books are always better than the movies.

Feminist blogging, a marketing ploy?

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Is feminist blogging legitimate or just another marketing tool? That seems to be a question getting tossed around the blogosphere.

 It all started because of a post by Emily Gould about Jezebel and similar sites. In her post Gould asserts that these sites are not helping women but are still perpetuating female insecurities to generate ad sells and page views. She also goes on to state that open and honest discussions about major female issues can’t happen online stating that:

 “It’s certainly important to have honest, open conversations about the issues that reliably rake in comments and page views—rape, underage sexuality, and the cruel tyranny of the impossible beauty standards promoted by most advertisers and magazines (except the ones canny enough to use gently lit, slightly rounder, older, or more ethnic examples of “true beauty”). But, it may just be that it’s not possible to have these conversations online.”

Reading through Gould’s piece, I couldn’t help but be frustrated that she was suggesting the very blogs that are trying to spread the word about women’s issues and the need for change are doing it for unseemly reasons.

 In my time here at the Women’s Center I have read my fair share of feminist blogs and news articles about women’s issues. I have to say that most of the time I find them informative, and sometimes I am relieved that someone else is talking about issues that I care about. I feel a little less alone and less like I am the only one who cares about the issues, in short it makes me feel like there is a whole big world of “crazy feminists” (sorry couldn’t resist) like me. That being said I am not immune to sometimes rolling my eyes at posts and thinking that they are making something out of nothing. But Gould took it to a whole other level by making it seem like the legitimacy of the sites is in question.

 Gould’s main point about sites just looking for views and comments was spurred on by the ruckus that Jezebel has made about The Daily Show and calling the show and Jon Stewart “sexist” and saying that Olivia Munn didn’t get hired for her political views and wit, but for her large male following. Many females who work at The Daily Show responded to all the hype in their own letter that basically said that they love it there and The Daily Show is a female friendly place to work, but who’s to say that Jezebel was completely off base with their piece? There have been only 2 female correspondents (including Munn) on the show in 7 years. In addition to the Daily Show conundrum, Gould references other posts on Jezebel about body image being like all the magazines out there that use female insecurities to get a following:          

 “Ergo, more provocative posts tend to generate far more page views, and the easiest way for Jezebel writers to be provocative is to stoke readers’ insecurities—just in a different way. Instead of mimicking the old directly anxiety-making model—for example, by posting weight-loss tips and photos of impossibly thin models like a traditional women’s magazine. Jezebel and the Slate and Salon “lady-blogs” post a critique of a rail-thin model’s physique, explaining how her attractiveness hurts women. The end result is the same as the old formula—women’s insecurities sell ads.”

For Gould to assert that the writers of Jezebel and other feminist blogs are just looking for anything that will get them page views and comments and aren’t actually trying to promote female equality and are just playing off women’s insecurities is a bit of a stretch.

 The feminist blog Feministe fired back at Gould’s piece saying that online communities and blogs that are feminist driven are a great way for women to experience “sisterhood” and to stay informed about issues and get involved in progressing women’s equality.

The feminist blogosphere is growing all the time with blogs that range from teenage feminists to moms blogging about women’s issues to bigger sites like Feministing. Some might even call this blog a “feminist driven” blog. I think that Gould is way off base in her piece. Blogs and feminist sites are a great way to spread awareness and to inform people of ongoing issues and a way to connect people and provide a sense of community. And to say that these sites are reinforcing women’s insecurities or are simply posting things even if they are way off base just to get hits is ridiculous. Sure some of the comments can get out of hand and sometimes Jezebel and the like post things that even a feminist like me rolls my eyes at, but that’s just a part of having people with different points of view contributing to the sites. We all have different opinions and put varying levels of importance on issues, it all depends on where you are coming from.

I would say that like any information you take in, you have decide for yourself what is important and what is sensationalized but to say that feminist sites are playing off women’s insecurities and that they don’t help open up discussions is far from true. The important thing is that these blogs get us talking about and aware of the issues out there.

July Celebrates Women’s Motorcycle Month

In May, Harley Davidson celebrated Women Riders Month and now during the month of July, Nationwide Insurance has teamed with the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum to celebrate Women’s Motorcycle Month. The month is to celebrate women motorcyclists, both present female riders and women riders of the past who paved the way.

While this sport has been male-dominated in the past, women are taking to the open road on a motorcycle now more than ever.  In fact, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council, there are nearly four and a half million women motorcycle riders on the road today.  Actually, one out of every 10 motorcycle owners is a woman, and that number continues to be on the rise.  These ‘motorcycle women’ continue to break down barriers and stereotypes.  For example, women motorcyclists tend to be much more affluent, mature, and highly educated women. In addition to being well rounded women, they are also safety-conscious and are very knowledgeable about their motorcycles.  About one-third of women motorcycle riders complete a Motorcycle Safety Course (MSC), which is an intensive training that teach both women and men about motorcycles and how to ride safely.  According to MSC, more women than men complete the training. 

Motorcycling is another great example that women can do anything men can do and that prevailing gender stereotypes don’t have to continue.

Australia Makes Body Image History

Image from Dove's "Real Beauty" campaign

In the past week, Australia announced the first body-image initiative in the world. According to a recent article, the initiative is a voluntary code that media and modeling agencies, as well as others, can choose to adhere to.  This code includes guidelines that promote healthy body image, such as limiting the amount of altering that is done to photos, as well as not hiring ultra-thin models. By doing this the companies and agencies will be recognized as being “body image friendly.”

This initiative is just one step toward the changes that need to take place to improve how women feel about their bodies. Taking on media, according to the article, was the first part of the Butterfly Foundation’s outline in a comprehensive plan to take on poor body image. The Butterfly Foundation is an Australian eating disorder awareness and prevention group who partnered with the government on the initiative. They had also outlined the need for changes in school programs and also suggested getting communities and parents involved in implementing changing how they talk about appearance in order to promote a better body image. The Voluntary Code Initiative is one of a kind for its outlook on addressing body image: “Negative body image and associated issues of low self-esteem, poor self-confidence and eating disorders are serious health and societal issues that need to be addressed in a comprehensive way across our society.”

I think this Australian initiative is a great idea. I wish the U.S. and other countries would support something like this that could make a difference on a large scale. The initiative is voluntary which leaves room for non-compliance but just imagine what would be possible if other governments got behind something like this? Maybe we wouldn’t Photoshop already tiny models or perhaps we would require greater diversity in people used in advertising as well as greater varieties in clothing sizes.

It looks like Australia is taking a great step forward in combating media’s negative influence on women’s and men’s body image, while the U.S. or at least one of the U.S.’s leaders in the fight against body image problems is taking a step back. Recently, the New York Magazine published Dove’s casting call for models for the new add campaign, which says that they only want “real women.” It seems, however, that their definition of “real” is lacking:

Well groomed and clean…Nice Bodies..NATURALLY, FIT Not too Curvy, Not too Athletic

Great Sparkling Personalities. Beautiful Smiles! A DOVE GIRL!!!
Beautiful HAIR & SKIN is a MUST!!!

This is a sad and frustrating development, seeing as how Dove had been a huge advocate for diversifying models as well as promoting healthy body image through their campaigns and by sponsoring camps around the country. While, this ad does not completely wipe out all the good work they have done in the past, I can’t help but feel disappointed that even companies who are supposedly committed to changing the way we think about beauty, are falling short. It seems like we have something to learn from Australia’s example.