Monday, May 20, 2013

New PSA Shames Teen Parents

May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, so I thought it would be appropriate to take a look at the New York City's Human Resources Administration's new campaign. The new PSA was released a few weeks ago, intended to combat the high rate of teen pregnancy in the city, though the HRA's message needs some polishing.

The HRA states, "HRA's new Teen Pregnancy Prevention campaign shows the high costs teen pregnancy can have for both teen parents and their children. The campaign features ads with hard-hitting facts about the money and time costs of parenting and the negative consequences of having a child before you are ready." Taking a look at some of the advertisements, I question who the HRA is trying to reach out to.

The campaign features a series of four pictures of toddlers, posed to look neglected and upset. With the exception of one token white toddler, the series of photos are primarily made up of minority children. Coupled with slogans like "Honestly Mom, chances are he won't stay with you", message is pretty clear to me - the HRA is speaking to minority teenage women, the group with the highest rate of teen pregnancy.

I will admit, being a twenty-something Puerto Rican woman and childless is perceived as an accomplishment, but that in no way excuses the blatant racism in these advertisements. These ads are simultaneously shaming already pregnant teenagers, while suggesting those non-pregnant teens will end up barefoot and pregnant if they don't finish high school first. 

Why are we using shame to prevent teen pregnancy? Where's the comprehensive sexual education? Why isn't the HRA offering support and empathy in these ads? I'm surprised that a city as progressive as New York released these posters. Shocked, I sent the NOTNOW text to 877877 to discover "the real price of teen pregnancy". It opened with a choice to play either a young woman or young man and make decisions based on different scenarios that ultimately lead to not becoming pregnant and being successful or becoming pregnant, having a fallout with the parent, and paying the ultimate price for teen pregnancy - which in this case is having a baby, not finishing school, and being poor.

I thought game in the beginning was a little much, but the number does continue to send text messages (until you opt out), providing information and random trivia questions regarding contraceptives and sexual activity - ex. Can you get pregnant while on your period? (yes, you can). The HRA, like most organizations, are trying to reach out to teens using the same social media tools they interact with on a daily basis. I approve of texts following the scenario they played out, but the campaign could definitely use some tweaking. NYC definitely needs to stop these shame campaigns, wagging a finger at someone has not and will never be an effective approach to promoting well-being.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

So it's come to this - Anti-Rape Lingerie

Apparently three engineering students in India have created a bra that electrically shocks predators when they grope their victims. Inspired by recent rapes in India and an attempt to tackle the disgraceful rape culture, the students hope the electric brassiere will discourage sexual assaults. Isabel Wilkinson for the Daily Beast writes, "The garments—named Society Harnessing Equipment (SHE)—have been wired with pressure sensors and equipped with an “electric-shock circuit board,” which delivers up to 82 electric shocks when the garments detect unwanted force. Using a GPS system, the undergarments can also apparently send an alert to parents or police." The students chose to re-wire the bra because studies have shown that it's the first area most likely to be groped by assailants.

Though this is doused with good intentions, the fact that there is a sense of necessity to create undergarments that will condition men to not sexually assault women disgusts me. This new bra is essentially another Bobo Doll experiment. I'm glad that there are individuals out there who are trying to think of inventive ways to combat sexual assault and rape, but at the same time perhaps we should start paying more attention to society and the culture of rape.

An electrified bra implies that this behavior comes naturally to these assailants getting a shock from a bra when you grope a woman is the equivalent to smacking a child's hand out of the way when they reach for a cookie. Breasts are not cookies and you can't just reach for them whenever you feel the urge to. Nip the behavior in the bud, focus on the message we are sending to adolescents by not prosecuting rapists or sympathizing with the college football players who had so much potential before one unfortunate evening. We don't need an electric-shock bra, we need to change our attitude on rape.

Rape and Social Media

It's much easier to rapidly share and spread information with social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. The rapid advancement of social media has improved all our lives, but for all the good it has done, there is a darker side to social media - a side that has been used to do a great deal of damage and bullying.

Selena Ross of The Chronicle Herald, reported the story of Rehtaeh Parsons - a 17 year old girl on life support due to a failed suicide attempt. Parsons attempted to hang herself in the bathroom of her parents house, as a result of post-traumatic stress from being raped and bullied when she was 15 years old. After removing her from life support, her mother shared her daughter's story.

Along with her several others, 15 year old Rehtaeh went to a friends house where she was later raped by four teenage boys. Rehtaeh didn't immediately report the incident to her parents or the police until backlash from her peers ensued. Pictures of her being sexually assaulted that evening quickly circulated and soon people were harassing her for being a "slut". The investigation is still ongoing. Despite the damage it caused the Parson family, Ross also demonstrates how social media can bring people together for a cause. Ross posts videos, photos, and tweets of people sharing their disgust for society's victim-shaming in cases like these and as well as advocating for victims.

I found it compelling that Rehtaeh's mother used social media to share her daughter's tragic story. Ironic, yes, but it demonstrates how social media can effectively be used for good. It's very easy for anyone to create a profile and start spreading slander, it has made bullying that much easier and anonymous. It's important that we don't turn social media into a weapon of mass destruction.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Rape, Racism, and the Law - Denials and Accusations of Rape based on Race

Just as the second wave feminist disregarded the plight of minority, working-class women, so did the law regarding rape. It’s very unsettling to think of a time in our government when the rape of an African American woman was legal and race was used as direct evidence for the rape of white women. Jennifer Wriggin begins her article, Rape, Racism, and the Law, discussing the focus on alleged black offenders and white victims of rape; in the eye of the law, all a white woman needed to do in the late 1800s to early 1900s was say a black man raped her and he would be convicted. Bestial behavior has been closely associated with African Americans since the beginning of slavery, making rape a crime assumed to be committed by African American men. In a time period when Emmett Till was brutally murdered for being too friendly to a white woman and his white assailants were found not guilty, it wasn't surprising to discover in Wriggin’s article that all a white woman needed to do was call fowl and the case was closed. What’s worse is that the rape convictions for black offenders still remain much harsher when the victim is white, oppose to vice versa.

In addition to this course, I’m also enrolled in a Race and Ethnic Relations course this semester and my professor summed up the objective of white segregationists as protecting the purity of their white women. It’s a pretty adolescent summation of white oppression, but is evident in Wriggin’s article. Taking a look at the Central Park Jogger case, Wriggin’s claims hold true. The case involved four African Americans and one Latino put on trial for allegedly raping an affluent white woman in Central Park. The five teenagers didn't commit the crime but were influenced to plead guilty which was disproved years later through DNA testing. The harsh convictions of alleged black offenders is just one side of the race issue, the race/rape issue takes an ugly turn when the alleged offender is white and the victim is black.

Twana Brawley, a fifteen year old African American, was found unconscious in a dumpster and later accused six white men of rape. Tawana’s case was highly publicized, with much controversy due to inconsistencies in the case. Whether Tawana’s accusations had holes or not ceases to be the issue at hand, the mere fact that this person’s race and the race of her attackers determined how the case was handled and how the media reported it illustrates the institutional racism that exists in the courts. If Tawana was a white teenager, the emphasis wouldn't have been on whether or not she was telling the truth, but more on her attackers – who would more than likely be assumed to be black.

With every highly publicized case of rape, comes the awful reminder of the rape culture that exists in our country. The extent to which law enforcement investigates a person’s accusation should not be determined by gender or race. Victim shaming and harsh convictions with lack of evidence are all too common and race is the underlying determinate in both instances. Wriggin’s suggest we rid the legal system of racist ideologies and look at sexual assault for what it is rather than who committed it. The belief that African American men behave like beasts and African American women are hyper-sexual does not excuse behavior or sexual assault and should not determine conviction. Sexual assault is a crime, regardless of race.

Given the media coverage on recent sexual assault cases, do you think there will ever be a time in our culture and legal system where rape convictions won’t be founded on gender, race, and class of both victim and offender?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Do We Like Christine Quinn?

Ever since Christine Quinn's mayoral candidacy was announced, I've been debating with myself whether she's someone I would vote for. I'm still undecided on the matter and it appears that I'm not the only one. Cara Giaimo's article, Christine Quinn: Because Just Being Gay Isn't Enough To Deserve the Gay Vote for Autostraddle explores the pros and cons of Christine Quinn's policies and political agenda.

What I found most interesting about Giaimo's article was her mention of the effects of the Stop and Frisk policy on the LGBT community. Very rarely is sexuality in the headlines regarding the Stop and Frisk policy, but a quick Google search led me to Arrests by the Fashion Police, a New York Times article detailing the issues trans people face with the Stop and Frisk policy in NYC. Apparently, trans people are being targeted by police and often arrested for allegedly being prostitutes. What evidence do these officers have? condoms in the pockets of those being stopped and frisked.

Image from The Daily News
Most of Quinn's political agenda has left me on the fence; I don't entirely agree with keeping Ray Kelly on as police commissioner and her lack of support on issues that directly concern women and the LGBT community contradicts her alleged stance on those issues, often citing the timing just isn't right. Giaimo remains diplomatic, concluding her article with "Overall, politics is politics." Quinn is just one of many candidates that have contradictory political practices and in some cases even sketchy ones.

Am I going to vote for Quinn? Still too early to tell, but Giaimo's article did inspire to me to delve deep into every candidates political agenda as well as their past and current support for policy change. I guess the fact that Quinn is an out lesbian woman drew me to her and made me want to support her, but I realize it takes more than an image of a disfranchised community to earn my vote - I need action.

Go to Autostraddle to read Cara Giaimo's full article: Christine Quinn: Because Just Being Gay Isn't Enough To Deserve the Gay Vote

For more information on the Stop and Frisk LGBT discrimination, read The Village Voice's Profiled by NYPD, Transgendered People in New York Fear Carrying Condoms and the New York Times' Arrests by the Fashion Police

Friday, April 19, 2013

Marry the Man Today!

There has been a lot of talk about marriage recently, particularly when women should marry. There was some backlash when Susan Patton, dubbed "the Princeton Mom" gave her advice to young female Princeton students to find a husband on campus, claiming it's one of the few opportunities they'll have to pick a mate that is an intellectual equal. There has also been a some commentary on the recent "hookup culture" and the absence of seriously defined relationships among young adults and college students.

I have a lot of friends who are involved in this so-called "hookup culture", but not because they feel like they have no other choice in the matter. It's not necessarily peer pressure that forces young women into these undefined relationships, dating has evolved from intense courtship to casual relationships with an emphasis on physical and intimate attraction. I believe the most young women are coming into their own and realizing they don't need to worry about finding a husband in their early to mid-20's, something that is being misconstrued as pressure to conform to purely physical relationships. Suggesting that most of these young women are being forced into this "hookup culture" strips them of their independence and suggests they're following the all too familiar trend of allowing men define their relationships and who they are.

As long as there is a mutual understanding, no harm is being done to either party. So why are people like Julia Shaw, in her article Marry Young, suggesting we're wasting our time not looking for a husband? Shaw suggests young women are waiting for security stating that "marriage doesn't require a big bank account, a dazzling resumé, or a televised wedding—it requires maturity, commitment, and a desire to grow up together"... that sounds similar to most out-of-wedlock monogamous relationships, the ones attainable without a marriage license .

Maybe it's because I don't share the same religious sentiment as others and for those reasons, I'm in no particular rush to get married. In my personal opinion, marriage is just a legal contract that allows partners to get a tax break and share property as well as that beloved health insurance. I don't own property, I'm covered under my parents health insurance for a few more years (thanks ObamaCare!), and I already get a break from being a down-and-out college student with a menial job.

So what's all the hullabaloo about rushing to get married or even finding a life partner in your twenties? Some, like the Princeton Mom, claim that college, surrounded by  intellectual equals, is the prime time to snatch up a husband. She may have a point, if intelligent men is your bag, than an ivy league college is a treasure trove. I once had a professor jokingly suggest that if your looking for a man who is smart and makes good money, become a physicist - her reasoning being barely any women are in the field and you can have your pick of anyone of them. There are a lot of "sad, but true" points being made by both my professor and the Princeton Mom. There aren't enough women working in the sciences, rarely are they put into a position where they have access to intellectual equals. Most people rely on friends of friends as well and school and job circles to meet eligible partners, hence contemporary dating sites like Coffee Meets Bagel.

I am totally fine with living in sin with my significant other until marriage is something I can benefit more from. I am, however, a traditionalist in the sense that I would prefer to be married before having a child. Am I going to preach that all women should wait to get married before having children? No, so this pressure for me to bite the bullet and get hitched is not appreciated. I am confident that I can be in a mature, committed relationship without a piece of paper legally defining it. Not to mention all this hetero-normative talk about women finding husbands completely disregards the LGBTQ community entirely. Perhaps the push for women to marry should be redirected to a different cause, like... marriage equality!

Tracy Moore says it best in her article for Jezebel, "Please Stop Telling Us When to Get Married" Stop suggesting we're husks of women, void of emotions because we're conforming to these physical relationships that will have us doomed to a life of spinsterdom. Stop making young women feel bad about not conforming to Princeton Mom and Julia Shaw's ideals! Marry when you want! Date who you want! And sleep with whoever you want (just use protection)!

Image from
More commentary on "the hook-up culture" can be found on Nerve and The Atlantic

Follow the links for Amanda Marcotte's article on the Princeton Mom and Julia Shaw's article Marry Young as well as Tracy Moore's response to both articles on Jezebel

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Getting Married in Order to Get Ahead

Marriage in Western civilization has evolved into a more nontraditional union as oppose to marriage in countries like China. Marriage in China is a union that benefits both spouses and extended family, providing financial support and security to both. In a recent article for Women in the World, Eveline Chao compares marriage in China to that of a business merger, largely because most husbands and wives often go into business with one another. From mom and pop shops to big e-commerce companies, like DangDang, it's not at all uncommon in China to see husbands and wives running companies together.

So why aren't husband/wife run corporations a trend in America? Chao suggests the huge economic boom in China may have attributed to the partnership, stating companies like DangDang started small and grew quickly with the help of China's exploding economy. Additionally, women are largely excluded in corporate America, evident in both their under-representation and the gender wage gap. Of course, mixing marriage and business can get complicated, Wu Yajun, once the richest woman and chairwoman of Longfor Properties, lost 40% of her shares when she divorced her husband.

It's indisputable that the union of marriage in China still upholds traditional values as well as other conservative norms, Chao mentions Chinese culture still looks down on women who consume alcohol and cigarettes. So are husband/wife corporations a traditional or modern practice? If modern, why aren't more American women going into business with their husbands?

Perhaps, husband/wife collaborations could be a solution to the gender wage gap and under-representation of females in corporate America or maybe it will continue to foster the belief that women cannot succeed on their own. One thing is certain, mixing business and pleasure is a gamble either way.

Read more on husband and wife business mergers in China at Women in the World