The Rape Myth Problem Within the Judicial System

You probably have heard this before:
“She asked for it.” “She didn’t say no.” “She really meant ‘yes’ when she said ‘no.’” “She looks older than her chronological age.” “She [a minor] was as much in control of the situation as the defendant [her teacher when he raped her].” “Well, you know, this wasn’t this forcible, beat-up type rape.” “Even though she was drunk, she consented and knew what she was doing.” “Well boys will be boys; what else would you expect?” “She just ‘cried’ rape.” “It didn’t happen. She’s lying ‘cause she wants revenge.” “She could have prevented it if she… had only tried hard enough… had fought back more… etc.” These are all rape myth statements that have been heard in the courtroom as well as out in the public arena.
The flowing article was written by me for Pennsylvania NOW on their website.
This article gives an overview of problems in the judicial system when judges and others rely on this form of gender bias in their courtroom. Pennsylvania NOW posted the original of this article on August 31 and Central Oregon Coast NOW reblogged it. Thanks everyone for spreading the word about this problem and showing others what can be done to push back on this form of misogyny in the judiciary.

Central Oregon Coast NOW

stop_rape_by_cloud_a_day_stock-d4aya5m

“She asked for it.” “She didn’t say no.” “She really meant ‘yes’ when she said ‘no.’” “She looks older than her chronological age.” “She [a minor] was as much in control of the situation as the defendant [her teacher when he raped her].” “Well, you know, this wasn’t this forcible, beat-up type rape.” “Even though she was drunk, she consented and knew what she was doing.” “Well boys will be boys; what else would you expect?” “She just ‘cried’ rape.” “It didn’t happen. She’s lying ‘cause she wants revenge.” “She could have prevented it if she… had only tried hard enough… had fought back more… etc.”

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Let’s Talk About the ‘Selfies-Make-You-Appear-Incompetent’ Study

According to Nancy Leong, “When research finds that women pay a price for appearing “sexy” in some way, the inevitable conclusion shouldn’t be that ‘women should change their behavior.’ Instead, it should be that ‘we should all try to change this stupid social attitude.’” Women can be happy and good looking in their own and in other’s eyes. And at the same time be smart, savvy and intelligent. To have researchers and the public say that a woman who “looks good” has to be “dumb” is misogynistic and patriarchal just as Julie Mastrine says in this article.
So the next time you hear someone disparage a woman’s mind because of how she looks, stand up and say something. Challenge that notion that women can’t look “good” and be intelligent at the same time.

Julie Mastrine

selfie_by_AmyMastrine Illustration by Amy Mastrine

There’s a study making the rounds that finds women perceive other ladies who post “sexy selfies” on social media to be “incompetent.” The takeaway for many is that women should just stop posting selfies — but that’s bullshit. This study is really an opportunity to examine societal attitudes toward femininity and beauty.

The headlines alone are the metaphorical equivalent to throwing gallons of gas on the slut-shaming fire:

Study Proves Your Sexy Selfies Make You Seem Less Attractive and Competent, asserts FitFabFun. How Sexy Selfies Are Making You Lose Friends, warns Yahoo! Sexy Profile Pictures Make Women Look ‘Stupid,’ says MyDailyUK.

Over at the Washington Post, columnist Caitlin Dewey warns women that they should be “listening to [their] peers” if they “want to be taken seriously.” Many commenters have gone so far as to say women need to tone down the sexy selfies if they want to be taken seriously in the workplace.

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Repeal the RFRA and Ratify the ERA

ERA words buttonCorporations should not have more religious rights than woman.  With the US Supreme Court’s (SCOTUS) Hobby Lobby decision, women’s personally “sincerely held” beliefs now mean nothing.

The Hobby Lobby decision is not based on the US Constitution.  Instead it’s based on a bill known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act or RFRA combined with the recent Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that granted personhood status to companies. Since there is no constitutional equality for women and therefore no strict scrutiny review for women’s religious and civil rights, this decision eliminating women personal religious beliefs and access to reproductive health coverage occurred.

The RFRA, when combined with this SCOTUS decision, makes women non-persons.

Therefore in order to place women back on equal footing with men (and the “personhood” of corporations as this activist Court has mandated), we need to do two things:

    1. Ratify the ERA — the Equal Rights Amendment — and put women into the US Constitution so that women WILL be equally treated as people and not as objects to be pushed around by the will of corporations and by gender bigots.
    2. Repeal the RFRA  –  The Freedom From Religion Foundation placed an ad in the New York Times entitled Dogma Should NOT trump Civil Liberties that in part states:

In Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people. Now, the Supreme Court asserts that corporations have “religious rights” that surpass those of women.In the words of Justice John Paul Stevens, “Corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings,no thoughts, no desires” — but real women do. Allowing employers to decide what kind of birth control an employee can use is not,as the Supreme Court ruled, an “exercise of religion.” It is an exercise of tyranny.

I agree.  Repeal the RFRA and put women into the US Constitution.

The repeal of the RFRA would require an act of Congress. That means we need to elect new members to Congress who respect and will stand up for women. So we all need to register to vote and then vote.

We only need three more states to ratify the ERA to make it the 28th amendment to the US Constitution. Illinois is halfway there; their Senate ratified it and we’re now awaiting the vote in the state House.  Just two more states and then we can proudly say:

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

 

War on Women in Pennsylvania: At Least a 20-Year Happening

Last week, Governor Tom “Just Close Your Eyes” Corbett signed into law Act 13 of 2013, also known as HB 818.  This newest attack in the War on Women denies women the ability to use THEIR OWN FUNDS to purchase coverage for an abortion within the new healthcare exchange that Corbett decided to fob off onto the federal government.  Although the state couldn’t be “bothered” with running this exchange, they have no problem in denying women the ability to purchase coverage for an abortion even in cases in which her life is endangered.

At the time of final passage of the bill I sent out an email to several friends listservs. Here are some of the comments I received back:

What is going on in PA?  It’s beginning to sound more & more like a North Dakota or a Kansas [or a Mississippi or an Arizona or a Wisconsin or a Texas or any other state that’s been taken over by misogynists and racists].  Terrible!!

If women aren’t allowed to spend money on their healthcare the way they deem medically necessary, then it’s time to face the fact that we’re not even citizens in our own states.

I agree with all of these sentiments.  Yet, these types of legislative actions have been going on in Pennsylvania for a long time, despite Pennsylvania having an ERA in our state Constitution and having already ratified the national ERA.

Bit of history of the War on Women in Pennsylvania.  We’ve been battling this War for over two decades in our legislature.  The battles started with attacks on reproductive justice and have now spread to other areas of women’s lives.

Reproductive Justice Battles

The Pennsylvania General Assembly has basically been co-opted by the radical right-wing on both sides of the aisle.  The Democrats do have more pro-choice people than the Republicans.  The Senate is a bit better than the House of Representatives.  And this has basically been true since the late 1980’s.

  1. Which is why Governor Bob Casey, Sr. (D) pushed through Pennsylvania’s Abortion Control Act that initially mandated parental consent, spousal consent, a 24-hour waiting period, and a state-mandated script about the “detriments” to health in abortion procedures.  Planned Parenthood contested the law that went all the way to the US Supreme Court in a case called Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey. Decided on June 29, 1992, the Court threw out spousal consent as an “undue burden,” but upheld the rest of the law. This was one of the first battles partially won by the emerging War on women.  That was 21 years ago this week.
  2. Which is why Title X and state Family Planning monies are split 50/50 each year in the state budget between crisis pregnancy centers and legitimate family planning clinics.  And this has been happening for over a decade now. And in 2012, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R) proposed eliminating ALL funding for family planning for Planned Parenthood or any other clinic that provides abortion services.
  3. Which is why we are losing stand-alone abortion providers due to the TRAP (Targeted Regulations on Abortion Providers) law passed in December 2011 following “Dr.” Gosnell’s arrest and guilty verdict for murdering 9 live-born infants and one woman in a filthy, rat-infested facility that the state had not inspected despite complaints from legitimate providers for about 10 years.
  4. Which is why we almost had a transvaginal ultrasound law last year.  And for Governor Corbett’s “Just close your eyes” statement (Corbett’s comments on the ultrasound bill start at 14:28).  The main reasons I think it ultimately died in committee is thanks to the activists in VA who created the uproar there and because so many people, including doctors were outraged by the invasiveness of this bill and for Corbett’s insensitive statement (of which he is becoming more or more well-known for – he’s his own worst enemy).

Other Battles in the War on Women in Pennsylvania

And on other issues – similar actions have occurred.

Increasing Conservatism in the Legislature and Governorship

In 2010, the Tea Party and the radical right swept into office an even more anti-woman legislature and governor here in Pennsylvania.  The War on Women went into full swing.  Both houses of the General Assembly became even more heavily conservative, with the House switching from a Democratic- to a Republican-controlled majority and the state elected an anti-choice, anti-woman, and in my opinion, racist governor – Governor Tom Corbett (R).

To highlight how conservative the Pennsylvania General Assembly has become, just look at the 2012 ratings of legislators by the American Conservative Union.  They indicated that 51% of members in the combined Assembly are solid conservatives; 105 or 42% are given a score of 100 and an additional 22 or 9% are rated at 63 or higher.  The entire leadership of the majority party in both houses and thus those with the power to deny women, people of color, people with disabilities and people living in poverty their basic rights are listed in their report as so-called “Defenders of Liberty” or “Conservatives” because of their rating of, respectively, either 100 (13 of the 16 leaders) or 80 (the remaining 3 leaders).

Attack on Hate Crimes Protections

An updated hate crimes bill was initially passed in 2002 that added gender, gender identity, national origin, disability, and sexual orientation.  Because the radical right didn’t want to vote against adding sexual orientation coupled with disability and gender and thereby anger multiple constituencies within their district, a member of the House, proposed a late-night, end of session amendment in the 2001-2002 legislative session that substituted the hate crimes bill for an agricultural crimes bill.  The vote was overwhelmingly in favor, mostly because the legislators didn’t want to appear to be supporting hate crimes via a no vote (prior to this the then Republican majority had refused to bring up the bill for a committee vote). The radical right-wing appealed saying that this substitution violated the state’s constitutional mandate that any amendment has to be germane to the original intent of the bill.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed in July 23, 2008 that this procedure (but not the underlying intent) was unconstitutional and threw out the law.  It has been reintroduced every session since then with no hearing or vote in any committee in either house.

Attacks on Marriage Equality

In addition to having a state-based mini-DOMA (a state-level Defense of Marriage Act) on the books, Pennsylvania has had several attempts at adding this form of discrimination to our state constitution introduced every session for the last decade.  The major reasons they have not passed is that the House is even more conservative than the Senate and the two houses can’t agree on how extreme to make it.  There is another one that has been introduced in the General Assembly this year, but due to increasing support by the public for civil unions and marriage equality (almost 2/3 support throughout the state), they haven’t yet held any hearings.

Budgetary Attacks

One of the spears attacking women, families, and people of color since the takeover of our legislative and executive branches of government here in the state is the budget.

We have had severe cutbacks in state funding for education, health care, and human services since 2011.  According to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, spending on these three areas in the final budget for 2012-2013 that ends this week was either flat-lined (“welfare” programs) or reduced by 0.3% (for public school education), 15.9% (for higher education), and 37% to 45% (for Medical Assistance inpatient and outpatient care).

The proposed budget plan for 2013-2014 continues these cuts. Here are a couple of examples of this budgetary war:

Attacks to Eliminate Equality for All

In the very first budget introduced by Governor Corbett, every advocacy Commission in the Executive branch was eliminated in the 2011-2012 budget – this includes the Pennsylvania Commission for Women (which I served on until it was abolished), Latino Affairs, Asian-American Affairs, and African-American Affairs.  As you will see from the links to these commissions, there is no public information on who the commissioners are nor is the any information on the services any of these commissions provide.  Prior to the elimination of these commissions in 2011, the Commission for Women, for example, had an extensive web presence which included our mission (the only thing that now remains), hotline contact information, copies of reports written by the Commission, information on the advocacy being conducted by the Commission, and links to programs and services to broadly assist women.  Transparency has disappeared; this is another spear in the attacks with the War on Women here in Pennsylvania.

Like every other state, Pennsylvania has a commission that monitors, reviews and adjudicates alleged acts of discrimination; here in Pennsylvania that is the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC). Severe budgetary cut-backs have occurred in the funding for the PHRC in every budgetary cycle since 2011.  An individual who works within the PHRC told me last month that as a result of these cuts, they are down 50% in staffing and that long-time civil rights advocates in the agency have either retired (some early) or left for other work.  And it’s not getting any better. The PHRC is flat-lined in this year’s budget.  We don’t yet know if this will still be true once the budget is passed, which theoretically must be done this week since our state constitution requires passage by June 30 of each year.

Gerrymandering

Gerrymandering is part of the War on Women due to its impact on legislation directly affecting women’s lives. Gerrymandering here in Pennsylvania, aka the “Gerrymander of the Decade,” has entrenched the right-wing Republicans in both the General Assembly and the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation.  This, despite the fact that there are many more registered Democrats than Republicans in the state.

Being a Democratic legislator, as we all know doesn’t guarantee concern for women’s rights (think Senator Bob Casey, Jr. and his father, former Governor Bob Casey, Sr.). But in these days and times, it’s less likely to cause a problem for us than do the Tea-Party dominated Republicans.

The most recent vote in the General Assembly is a clear example of what gerrymandering has done to the legislature.

Gerrymandering, combined with the elections resulted in the passage of HB 818/Act 13 this month. Tea Party Republican conservatives won many of their races in 2010 and 2012, taking control and leadership of both houses in 2011.  In the House there are 111 Republicans and 92 Democrats.  On April 24, 2013, all but 2 Republicans (98%) voted against and all but 32 Democrats (65%) voted for women’s reproductive justice. In the Senate there are 28 Republicans and 22 Democrats. On June 5, 2013, all but 2 Republicans (93%) voted against and all but 5 Democrats (77%) voted for women’s reproductive justice.

State and Federal ERA

Another comment that was made when I sent out my email was about passing the federal Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The person said,

This is the reason we need to be included in the Constitution of the United States!  One of main ways to stop bills like this is to pass the ERA and thus be admitted as full-fledged citizens of the US.

Before the War on Women started, Pennsylvania passed a state-based ERA that was voted on by the electorate and placed into Section I of the Pennsylvania Constitution in 1971.

Yet even with this state-based ERA, the War on Women is being raged here in Pennsylvania.  Sometimes the state ERA works and sometimes it doesn’t.  It worked back in the 1980’s when Pat and Twiss Butler worked with Pennsylvania NOW to get gender-based auto insurance rates eliminated.  But it didn’t work in 2008 when a woman sued her employer using the state ERA based on sexually offensive comments made by her supervisor but not stopped by the company.

Many people, in frustration have made statements or created nicknames to replace the official monikers of “City or State of Brotherly Love” and the “Cradle of Independence.”  A couple of the pejoratives include “Pennsyltuky” and “Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in the middle” (this latter one is attributed to James Carville)  The progressive parts of the state (for the citizenry, but not necessarily the full legislature) are currently Philadelphia and SE PA, the capital Harrisburg (to some minor extent) and Centre County where I live.  Pittsburgh is still itself progressive, but Allegheny County (where Pittsburgh is located) has become very, very conservative and thus more like the “T” (the term used to describe the rural part of the state outside of the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia regions).

Yes, it is frustrating.  But as a “cock-eyed optimist” (something I’ve often been called), I continue to push back and sometimes we get things that are a bit better than they would have been otherwise.  Much of our work is being done in coalition these days.  I won’t stop my push-back against this War on Women.  I will continue my multi-decade work and will continue to shout from the mountain top whenever and wherever needed.  As will others (see for example, an article in Politico about the War on Women battle for the Pennsylvania governorship gearing up here in Pennsylvania).

Be a “cock-eyed” optimist.  Get the ERA passed and stop this state and national War on Women. As Margaret Mead said,

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Good Start on Facebook Guidelines, But More is Needed

This morning, the Huffington Post posted an article about yesterday’s statement from Facebook.  Facebook has agreed to take the following steps to reduce online violence against women and children on their pages:

  • We will complete our review and update the guidelines that our User Operations team uses to evaluate reports of violations of our Community Standards around hate speech.  To ensure that these guidelines reflect best practices, we will solicit feedback from legal experts and others, including representatives of the women’s coalition and other groups that have historically faced discrimination.
  • We will update the training for the teams that review and evaluate reports of hateful speech or harmful content on Facebook. To ensure that our training is robust, we will work with legal experts and others, including members of the women’s coalition to identify resources or highlight areas of particular concern for inclusion in the training. 
  • We will increase the accountability of the creators of content that does not qualify as actionable hate speech but is cruel or insensitive by insisting that the authors stand behind the content they create.  A few months ago we began testing a new requirement that the creator of any content containing cruel and insensitive humor include his or her authentic identity for the content to remain on Facebook.  As a result, if an individual decides to publicly share cruel and insensitive content, users can hold the author accountable and directly object to the content. We will continue to develop this policy based on the results so far, which indicate that it is helping create a better environment for Facebook users.
  • We will establish more formal and direct lines of communications with representatives of groups working in this area, including women’s groups, to assure expedited treatment of content they believe violate our standards. We have invited representatives of the women Everyday Sexism to join the less formal communication channels Facebook has previously established with other groups.
  • We will encourage the Anti-Defamation League’s Anti-Cyberhate working group and other international working groups that we currently work with on these issues to include representatives of the women’s coalition to identify how to balance considerations of free expression, to undertake research on the effect of online hate speech on the online experiences of members of groups that have historically faced discrimination in society, and to evaluate progress on our collective objectives.

What I don’t see in this Facebook statement is an agreement to be more transparent in their monitoring process. I would like to see them report how many and what types of pages/ads that they have monitored, shut down, and/or contacted for possible violation of their regulations.  In addition, in their efforts to “balance the consideration of free expressions,” I believe they need to provide to the public upon request reasons they allow or disallow a particular ad or page that allegedly violates the new anti-rape policy from remaining online.
There were several petition sites where you could raise your voice to call on Facebook to follow through on this statement to end their misogynistic rape ads that they have called “humor.”  The one that gathered the most signatures was called Demand Facebook Remove Pages That Promote Sexual Violence.  It is now closed.  This petition collected signatures that were sent to Facebook. It successfully called upon Facebook to do several things (others are listed on the petition page itself), including

  1. Make a public statement that rape is never acceptable; that promoting sexual violence and violence against women is repugnant; remove content that advocates rape, sexual violence, and violence against women; and that the terms of service/community standards will be updated to specify this.
  2. Be transparent about the content monitoring process; to state publicly if and how many pages are removed that promotes sexual violence or violence against women.  (Note, this was not part of Facebook’s recent statement, but I believe should be part of their new policy).

Since the second issue of transparency was not covered in Facebook’s statement, I would suggest we continue making comments to Facebook about the need for more transparency.  There is another petition on Change.org. It is still open and allows you space to comment on this issue.  In that comment box, you can make your suggestion for more transparency as they craft this new policy.  Here’s what I wrote to them in that comment box:

Thank you for issuing your statement to review and update your policy on any type of hate speech that allegedly condones or promotes violence against women including domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault (whether it is in ads or on pages).  And thank you for agreeing to “establish more formal and direct lines of communications with representatives of groups working in this area [of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking], including women’s groups, to assure expedited treatment of content they believe violate [your new] standards.”
However what I don’t see you your agreement is a willingness to be more transparent about this issue to the public.  I am therefore asking that your efforts to “balance the consideration of free expressions,” that you to provide to the public upon request reasons why you either allow or disallow a particular ad or page that allegedly violates your new anti-violence policy from remaining online.

Nel's New Day

MySpace was a popular social network several years ago, but it was quickly taken over by Facebook and pretty much disappeared. Now, the most popular social network is showing very bad judgment.

Last week, protesters boycotted Facebook advertising because the network permitted images of domestic violence against women at the same time that it banned ads about women’s health. Companies that pulled their advertising include online bank Nationwide UK, Nissan UK, and J Street. Dove, a Unilever brand running a “self-esteem” ad campaign for women, faces pressure on Twitter although Procter & Gamble responded, “We can’t control what content they [our advertising] pops up next to. Obviously it’s a shame that our ad happened to pop up next to it.”

Zappos replied that users upset by an ad appearing next to a date rape image “click the X to delete the ad.” Zipcar is still advertising but “expressed to Facebook…

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