Want to be a part of the UMKC Women’s Center?

UMKC Women's Center Staff

The UMKC Women’s Center is beginning Volunteer Fridays this summer.  We need volunteers to help staff our front desk on Fridays from 9am to 3pm. There is no experience necessary, just a great attitude and enthusiasm for learning about women’s issues. If you are looking for a way to get involved with the Women’s Center or simply need to fulfill some volunteer requirements, this is your chance!

The Women’s Center is a great place to get involved. Here are some reasons why you should volunteer:

It’s THE place to learn about current women’s issues.

You can help make a difference in advancing women’s equity!

It is a way to get involved in your community and at UMKC.

It’s where the best conversations on campus take place!

You’ll be the first to hear about all of our upcoming events.

You’ll get to know our great staff.

It’s an easy way to get volunteer hours.

You never know who’s going to walk through the door…

It’s air conditioned!

There is an Einstein Bagel right down the hall!

What other place in KC can get 100 guys to walk a mile in high heels?

So, if you are interested in being a part of Volunteer Fridays, go to our website and download the volunteer application. Hope to see you soon!

Where is Your Line?

Image from whereisyourline.org

As is usual for my job I was scanning feminist blogs and websites for news, information, anything that I can share with people who follow the Women’s Center on Twitter or Facebook or read this blog. On my most recent search I came across a piece about how regular women could learn something from the way sex workers negotiate sex. I found the article interesting and an intriguing way to look at how we view sex and how we talk about it. Mentioned in the article was a documentary title The Line and how its maker, Nancy Schwartzman, visited a “brothel” and discussed her own assault and how the workers define their sexual boundaries with clients.  I wanted to know more about the film. So following the links, I read an article about how The Line really raises questions about what happens when someone is assaulted who is not the “perfect victim” and when the assault is not clear cut.  Then I went to The Line’s website: whereisyourline.org.

Now maybe you have heard about the website and the movement, but if you’re like me and you haven’t, I strongly urge you to go to the website and watch the videos and read the blog. It just might change you. It might open discussions or affect the way you think about sexual assault or your own sexuality. The film follows Nancy Schwartzman’s search for answers about her own sexual assault and follows her along her journey to come to terms with the questions she was left with. She interviews attorneys, educators, prostitutes, and another survivor in the 24 min documentary. Although short, the film definitely addresses some key issues that our culture and many cultures struggle with when it comes to sexual assault, like victim blaming and lack of action because people are so quick to dismiss victims if they weren’t “perfect” before the attack, meaning they weren’t drinking or hadn’t had sex prior to the attack and countless other excuses people use to dismiss sexual assault.

In addition to her powerful film, Schwartzman created a movement in the form of a website where people send in photos and write blogs about their experiences. They send in pictures of stickers that they have written on about where their line is. My favorite says: “Have the respect to ask me and don’t judge me for saying no.”

For so many out there it’s hard to talk about sex, to communicate clearly with partners regarding what they will or will not engage in, or to speak up when they feel like they have been violated.  That’s why films and websites like this one are so important. Changing people’s opinions about sexual assault and victims is not something that will happen overnight and it takes the work of all different people, men and women, to facilitate that change. We need to educate people on rape and sexual assault and what is not ok, as well as empowering women and men to speak up for themselves and to not buy into victim-blaming attitudes about sexuality. Everyone needs to define where their line is and to have the strength to not only communicate that, but to also feel secure in wherever their line is; and we all need to respect ourselves and the people around us.

Our Role as Feminists

Image from WordPress

I was having a talk with one of the work-studies at the Women’s Center about “feminists” and how people oftentimes associate this term with “man-hating, angry, loud, dominating, non-shaving” women who are always complaining about the inequalities between men and women.  As we chuckled at this horrible depiction, we did agree that there are still a lot of inequalities between the genders.  Given this truth, why are feminists looked at in such a negative manner?

Believe it not, all feminists are not like the man-hating stereotype.  In fact, I think the objective of most of the feminists “complaining” about gender inequality is to bring the issue to the forefront.  By bringing attention to these issues and being relentless in our fight, conversations begin to happen and policies get changed hat bridge the gender gap and level the playing field between men and women. 

For example, many of the issues that feminists support pertain to women’s legal rights, such as voting rights and property rights.  Where would women be today if our first wave feminists hadn’t fought for these rights?  Feminists have also been effective at challenging the media’s influence on negative body image and promoting healthy, self-awareness and self-esteem for women and girls.  Additionally, many feminists have championed causes to create policies to protect women and girls from domestic violence, sexual assault, and sexual harassment.  And finally, feminists have led the fight to bring equity to the workplace including equal pay and ending sex discrimination. 

 So you see not all feminists come together to hate men or to burn their bras or whatever other false accusations that are being spread.  We are here to be a voice for women’s issues and concerns and to achieve equality with our male counterparts.  Don’t misunderstand me, I clearly see the need for men in our society, but I want society to recognize that, although we need men, we also need women.  Both sexes are equally valuable to society.  Until society completely accepts that, feminists will continue to speak up for women for as long as it takes.

Plastic Surgery Shouldn’t Be the Answer

Image from Vanityfair.com

I don’t know if you can pinpoint exactly when plastic surgery became all the rage. Maybe it was when The Girls Next Door became a hit on E!, showcasing three very blonde and surgically altered women living the life of luxury in the Playboy mansion. Or maybe it was when shows like Extreme Makeover came on the air, giving one lucky person a chance to undergo numerous procedures to drastically alter their appearance. But maybe the most recent trend of young women getting plastic surgery is a result of the young Hollywood starlets like Ashlee Simpson and Heidi Montag going under the knife.

I don’t doubt that in every culture women do something that they think makes them look better or helps them fit their culture’s idea of beauty.  But when I think of doing something to improve your appearance, I think of maybe trying some new diet or exercise fad or buying new makeup or the latest trend in fashion to try and fit in; I don’t, however, think about electing to have surgery to alter my appearance permanently.

That seems to be the trend though – young women getting plastic surgery, some as young as 18. According to reports, an 18 year old from Australia recently elected to get a tummy tuck, a boob job, and vaginal rejuvenation after the birth of her child.  Apparently she did it to “feel her age again”. There are more articles that talk about how many young women (under 25) are opting for plastic surgery, from the less invasive Botox to breast implants and nose jobs. And some have multiple procedures done.

What’s so disturbing about young women who undergo multiple surgeries is the reason that they have for needing them. Take Montag for example, she had a reported 10 surgeries this last go around that ranged from a brow lift to additional breast implants to “back-scoping” and liposuction (that’s not including her first trip under the knife to get a nose job and breast implants). She now says that she is the “ideal woman”. Whose ideal is she referring to?

So many young women are electing to have plastic surgery to modify themselves to fit what they think is the “ideal” woman. Putting aside arguments that everyone can chose what they do with their body, which is true, you have to wonder why they believe that surgery is going to instantly fix their body issues and make them beautiful? Somewhere along the line it became acceptable to change yourself surgically rather than to accept yourself as you are and embrace that which makes all of us beautiful. This problem goes beyond just lack of self-esteem and clearly highlights the need for a change in our world’s standards of beauty and lack of teaching young women to love themselves and to embrace individuality.

If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say…

Image from Psychology Today

I am sure we all remember being told at some point during childhood that if you didn’t have anything nice to say then you shouldn’t say anything at all. Apparently that particular lesson didn’t stick very well. More and more I am noticing people’s casual use of demeaning words like “slut”, “whore”, and “ho”. Not just men but women. What’s most disturbing about this trend is that women get angry when men call them names or degrade them but they seem just fine to do it to each other.

I just read an article on the Choices Campus Blog, about women’s use, and especially our generation’s use of derogatory terms and how they have become so common in our society. In her article, Jacqui Logan, talks about how the continuation of using these slurs is creating problems like reinforcing the idea that gendered insults are okay. Logan raises some really good points and after reading her article, I kept thinking about how much my generation uses terms like “slut” and “bitch” and some other creative terms that wouldn’t be appropriate for this blog.

In some ways I feel as if it has become so normal to call each other “bitch” (in a mean way or casually) or to label someone a “slut” or a “whore” because of what they were wearing or how they were acting that we don’t really think about what it means. I can’t tell you how many times while talking to a girlfriend they would say that some girl was a “slut” because she was wearing a skimpy outfit or they would refer to their own behavior as being “slutty” because they made out with a random guy while at a party. Why do we do this to each other and ourselves?

In terms of how some woman dresses, aren’t we trying to get across the message that no outfit condones derogatory behavior or sexual assault but then we continue to call each other “sluts” for the exact same thing? Or how about some girl hooking up with a guy? Why do people call her a “slut”? If you think about it there isn’t a male version of that insult. Part of fighting for equality includes fighting for the abolishment of double standards especially when it comes to sexuality. With society perpetually pressuring women to be virtuous and to not engage in sex as freely as men having been doing for centuries or at least not to openly talk about it, you would think that instead of buying into the “slut”/“whore” labeling we would stand up for each other and embrace our own and our friends sexuality.

No woman should be made to feel ashamed of herself, demeaned, or be called any type of derogatory slurs, but it happens. But perhaps instead of doing it to each other and giving a bad example for society, we should choose our words more carefully. Call me crazy but I believe that we as women face enough challenges without creating division and competition between ourselves and hurting each other.

We Can’t Remain Silent Any Longer

Image from Scienceblogs.com

For the past week now, I have been training with MOCSA to become a volunteer assisting victims of sexual violence.  MOCSA, Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault, is an organization which serves individuals who suffered from any form of sexual violence.  Their mission is to lessen the ill effects of sexual assault and abuse through prevention, education, treatment, intervention, and advocacy.  While in training, I learned many ways to support women and men, but more particularly women who have been raped.  My role as a victim advocate ultimately is to be there for the victim through their difficult experience, and to address an issue that many victims resort to which is self-blaming.  As a victim advocate and a survivor of sexual assault, I strongly believe no fault should be on the victim for being sexually violated. 

My group had the opportunity to listen to three sexual assault survivors who had similar, yet unique stories.  We even had one survivor tell her story for the first time.  Each story was very heartfelt, and gave me more reason to help bring more awareness to this issue.

One woman survivor mentioned that her immediate family knew what was happening to her by her stepfather, but remained silent suggesting that “this situation should not be discussed and that we should continue with life—like nothing ever happened”.  She also voiced that she told her pastor, and her friend’s mother, but still nothing was ever done to her stepfather.  In fact, she informed the group that he is still alive, and sadly, is still married to her mother.  This particular woman survivor was sexually victimized beginning at the age of five until 15 because she stated that at that age, she stopped it and couldn’t take it any longer.  She was 47 years old when she spoke up about her situation because of a MOCSA luncheon she had attended just to “fill the table”.  Her victimization occurred well over 35 years ago, but if you just think about it, women and men are going through what she experienced a long time ago right now. 

In case many don’t know, most victims who are sexually assaulted know or have encountered their perpetrators.  According to some statistics, approximately 90% of victims know the person who sexually assaulted them.  Of the survivors on the panel, two were sexually assaulted by their stepfathers, and the other survivor was assaulted by a stranger.  Stranger assaults do occur but are not as common as assaults by perpetrators the victim knows.

This is what struck a nerve and made me realize too many victims’ stories are not getting told. Silence is bestowed upon the victim to not even mention they were sexually violated.  According to a news article, one of four female college students are sexually assaulted at some point, and one of seven women has been the victim of a serious or physical assault.  Although sexual assaults are very prevalent, sadly only one in ten women reported their stories to the police.  Many women in the news article indicated they did not report because of feelings of embarrassment or self-blaming.  Other reasons were they did not want to get their perpetrators in trouble, or that they were afraid that no one would believe what they had to say. 

 Another article on male survivors indicated that roughly 10-20 percent of all men will be sexually violated, but the odds of men reporting their sexual violence is slim to none.  Again, this underreporting is the result of feeling guilty, fear of being ignored, laughed at, appearing to be weak, or fear of others questioning their sexuality.

There needs to be more awareness regarding sexual assault in our society.  First, people need to stop remaining silent when they discover someone they know, whether it is a daughter, son, cousin or any other close individual, has been sexually assaulted.  Rather than a victim feeling helpless and believing something is wrong with them, they should have the support of others to reassure the victim they are safe by acknowledging that 1) you are safe, 2) it is not your fault, 3) I am here for you, 4) we are going to fight together so that he or she will never harm you are anyone else, and 5) it will be difficult, but your road to recovery is starting, and you are very brave for coming forth with your experience. 

There are people who don’t believe sexual assault victims.  Many will know someone that has been sexually assaulted, but “brush” their situation under the rug as if nothing ever occurred.  Well I want to be the first, but not the last person to say that it is time to speak up.  We can’t remain silent any longer.

If you or anyone you know is a victim of sexual assault contact MOSCA’s 24-Hour Crisis Line at (816) 531-0233, or you can also contact Michelle Kroner, who is the Victim Services Adjudication Advisor through the Women’s Center Violence Prevention and Response Project at (816) 235-1652.

The Women’s Words

I am a bookworm. A bibliophile. A lover of the written word. If given the choice between going to a party and staying in with a good book, 98% of the time I will choose the book. I read all types of books from sci-fi/fantasy to historical fiction to young adult novels to contemporary fiction, but lately I have noticed that books I read that are written by women or about women don’t seem to get taken as seriously.

For some reason female-driven literature has gotten the term “chick lit”. If you haven’t heard that term, it is basically the same thing as calling a movie lead by a female a “chick flick”. Neither term is particularly flattering. However, in terms of literature, the term “chick lit” is used to categorize novels written by women about women. Sounds pretty broad, right? It is.

In an article published on the Women’s Media Center website, writer Courtney Young looks at how we talk about “women’s lit” or “chick lit”. The article talks about how some in the publishing world get sick of the amount of women writing about grief, rape, or dealing with divorce, and that some have begun categorizing those books as “misery lit”. The article did a great job of refuting the notion that too many female author’s are writing “misery lit”, by quoting music journalist Jessica Dutchin:

“Most women writers who want to be perceived as tackling themes beyond the buying of high-heeled shoes and the seduction of Mr. Perfect loathe the concept of chick lit—which is a marketing phenomenon more than a literary one—and don’t want their work to be mistaken for it,” she wrote. “Therefore we have resorted to the tactic of choosing themes that are as dark and miserable as possible.”

Young’s article articulates what I think a lot of female readers have felt for a while, there is a certain amount of sexism in the book world. Not just in the fact that we discuss “women’s lit” as a subcategory of fiction instead of in the same league as male authors but there is also sexism in the book lists and awards. The article finishes up touching on everyone’s favorite topic, the Twilight series, and how bad an example that is for the young adult genre and the sci-fi/fantasy one as well and that there are better examples of both genres out there.

I would have to say that as a feminist and a book lover, it frustrates me that there is still such a divide in how we discuss women-written literature, that it is in such a way that it appears to be taken less seriously than the male counterparts. Terms like “chick lit” only increase the divide. While the debate on how we talk about literature may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of achieving gender equality, it’s a tangible illustration of the differences of how society, the media, and scholars perceive men’s contributions versus women’s contributions.

A Disturbing Trend

Image from The Los Angelos Employment Attorney Blog

In a recent column in the New York Times, writer Maureen Dowd discussed a group of young men who were setting up a “fantasy draft league”.  However, this league was not for football or basketball, but for young girls in their community.

Apparently the boys set up a ranking system for how “hot” a girl was and then placed each girl in categories such as “Southside Slampigs”, which means they thought the girls would be fun sexually.  The boys then proceeded to concoct ideas about having “sex parties” in which they would score points based on sexual conquests. How is it that the nation became aware of this? The boys published their “league” on the Internet, along with many sexually charged comments on the girls, who were reportedly from neighboring prep schools.

 The league was caught before it could go any further.  According to one school official:

 “It was a regrettable and hurtful activity,” Neil Phillips, head of the Landon Upper School, said through a spokeswoman. “As educators, our role is to help boys learn from their mistakes and make better decisions going forward.”

 Will that be enough?

 You might wonder why something that happened last summer is making so many headlines recently.  That would be because the school in question, Landon, is also the alma mater for George Huguely V, who just this past month was charged with the murder of his girlfriend, Yeardley Love.

 These are not the first times that the Landon school has had troubles. According to a recent article in the Washington Examiner, there was a scandal involving 10 Landon students who cheated on their SATs.  Another incident in 2007 involved a Landon graduate who was at Duke University, also a lacrosse player like Huguely, who was accused of rape.

 Reading these articles and seeing the tragedy of Yeardley Love’s death, makes you wonder why this school’s alumni seem to have trouble differentiating between right and wrong and treating women as people not prey? In my view, paying 28,000 dollars a year for prep school should mean paying for a well-rounded education that included teaching these young men that girls are not “fantasy” sex objects. It seems that Maureen Dowd was right when she wrote: “Time for a curriculum overhaul. Young men everywhere must be taught, beyond platitudes, that young women are not prey.”

Miller Lite Wants You to “Man” Up

Miller Lite has created two commercials advertising their beer product.  Unfortunately, the commercials are very sexist towards women. They assume women don’t care about the taste of beer and actually insinuating that beer is a ‘man’ thing.  After looking at this commercial numerous times, this is clearly a misrepresentation of all women.  The fact of the matter is women do care about selecting a particular alcoholic beverage and we don’t like being used as an insult.

This commercial feels like it isn’t just to promote Miller Lite’s beer, but it is also putting down women by using femininity as an insult for the men and assuming females don’t care about things like how beer tastes.  The truth of the matter is, being a woman is an awesome thing and society needs to quit turning being a ‘woman’ into an insult. It’s sad that masculinity is still considered the ultimate trait and femininity a bad one. Miller Lite and society need to stop making being ‘female’ the ultimate insult.

“Real” Women, Body Image, and the Media

I was talking to a friend recently and we were discussing how we had both put on weight since high school (when we met) and one remark that she made really stood out for me: “I know that I should feel really bad about how I look and I should want to lose weight but I like having curves and being bigger, but I know that guys and society don’t like me like this.”

Body image and dieting is an inescapable topic with women and I am sure that we all get tired of hearing about it, but when everywhere you look there are images and products that are selling you this ‘ideal’ beauty, how do you escape it? Everything you see starts to make you feel like you should look a different way or you should wear this style of clothing or you should lose weight or you should emulate the model in the magazine if you want someone to like you.

Whether it’s clothing brands that sell certain “ideal” people in their ad campaigns or the massive amount of diets and magazines geared at telling you how to get the “perfect” body or TV and movies that the majority of the time only cast people who exemplify a stereotypical, and unattainable beauty, images of society’s “ideal beauty” are all around. It’s no wonder that when a plus size company, Lane Bryant, tries to air a lingerie commercial in the same time slot that a Victoria’s Secret ad gets aired, only the plus size one is turned away as showing too much cleavage.  It’s because of this constant choice that media and society makes that only promotes one type of body as being acceptable or one skin color or sexual orientation. And in cases that a different choice is made, say casting a ‘plus-size’ actress, the person is usually shown in a stereotypical way — the ‘butch’ lesbian, the overweight best friend/side-kick, or the array of racial stereotypes in the media.  Somehow these choices have become accepted in the media, but these choices to show only one “ideal” for a beautiful woman, mainly a tall, skinny, white woman, has lasting and negative effects on all women, but especially young women.

I came across the above video on Jezebel.com that was made at Santa Monica College that briefly shows some staggering and sad statistics, like 1 in 4 women in college have an eating disorder.  It also goes on to interview some “real” women about how they feel about the images they see in society and the media.  Some of the women talk about their own struggles with body image because of what they see or don’t see in the media as well as some of the extreme measures they have gone through to mold themselves to those images.  The video talks about how all of the images we see in the media can really affect our self-worth and how we see ourselves, when really shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t our media reflect us?

The video ends with all the students who participated in the project standing in front of the camera and saying “This is what a real woman looks like”. None of the women look the same or fit one ideal of beauty; some say it in other languages, showing that we all are different, from different backgrounds, and all women are beautiful. Now if only the media could catch up to us.