h re l a u n c issue
uncsiren.com Contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org EXECUTIVE EDITORS Morgan Johnson Ping Nguyen
DESIGN AND LAYOUT Lisa Dzera Morgan Johnson Meaghan McFarland
COPY WRITERS/EDITORIAL STAFF Rucca Ademola Dana Calloway-Landress Brianna Cooper Wilson Hood Mary Koenig Ben Lineberger Sarah Pederson
Rucca Ademola, Patricia Bajuelo, Alyssandra Barnes, Madiha Bhatti, Blanche Brown, Jordan Budget, Dana Calloway-Landress, Karp Cannon, Kevin Claybren, Ash Conrad, Mars Earle, Keia Faison, Grace Farson, Alayah Glenn, Wilson Hood, Christi Hurt, Aggie Igboko, Garrett Ivey, India Jenkins, Leah Josephson, Thomas Matt, Mary Koenig, Lauren Mayfield, Meaghan McFarland, Bryan Min, Tyler Mofield, Sarah Pederson, Grace Peter, Julia Ramos, Eryn Ratcliffe, Meredith Shutt, Dr. Rachel Seidman, Lindsey Terrell, Rachel Wolf
Contrary to its name, Siren announced itself in 2006 with more of a whisper than a wail. Issues appeared on newsstands irregularly, production values were modest and pages were few. But like the suffragist press from which it can trace its roots, Siren had an ambitious and wail-worthy agenda, imposed by its courageous founder Jordana Adler (’08): “to raise awareness of the inequalities that exist between the sexes” and to ponder solutions. But for a brief period of dormancy, the Siren has for years stood in contrast to—and directly confronted—campus media and other messages that diminish and marginalize women. In articles, essays, and letters, the magazine has addressed sexual assault (well before the Title IX investigation), abortion, body image, global policy, poverty, leadership and more. Paralleling thirdwave feminism, the Siren’s approach to gender has become more inclusive. As editor Samantha Riley (’13) told readers, Siren intended to “make our world a safe home, endowed with equal and universal human rights for everyone.” I have been the Siren’s faculty adviser since 2006 so I have witnessed the magazine change hands, change form and gain prominence. Credit is owed to its exceptionally talented editors: in addition to Jordana and Samantha, Liz Thomas (’08), Anqi Li (’11) and Leah Josephson (’11) developed the magazine in important ways. No doubt audiences can expect great things from the current editorial staff. Siren editors and correspondents are big thinkers who come to the magazine already deeply engaged in the community, and this has long been a source of the magazine’s strength. They labor under staggering course loads, a range of campus and community leadership roles, jobs and other responsibilities to write, edit and produce content. Why? Because like their mythological namesakes, the “Sirens” call, but they are also called to heal the world. Anqi Li put it succinctly: “You can’t be too tired to be a feminist.” And so reconstituted under a new editorial team, the Siren returns to the important, ongoing work of identifying and eradicating gender inequity in all its forms. Congratulations to all the students involved in its production. Barbara Friedman School of Journalism & Mass Communication
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D Dear Reader,
Thank you for picking up our most recent issue of Siren! You are about to read exciting work from our amazing writers and contributors. Be ready to be empowered by our fierce feminism! For the past two years, UNC-Chapel Hill magazine stands have been missing a publication consistently devoted to featuring women’s issues and empowerment. As such, the Siren team was empowered to pave the way for the resurgence of Siren: Womyn’s Empowerment Magazine. Relaunching this magazine almost from scratch is no easy feat. However, in the process of revamping Siren, we found ourselves overwhelmed with support, as well as criticism, for a cause that we so deeply invested in: to empower women and to promote feminist perspectives on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus and our community at large. Reflecting on the process of putting this issue together (and the many nights of lost sleep), we could not be happier to have the first relaunch issue of the Siren on magazine stands around our campus. The revamping of the Siren to UNC is particularly exciting and appropriate given the conversations that have risen surrounding gender identity and inequalities in the past few years. The Siren has helped us learn more about our personal journey with feminism as we have worked with a great number of people to make this issue a success. We are incredibly proud of our staff, their voices, and their passion for transcending the confines of convention that will allow our readers to do the same. For all who have contributed to our resurgence, we deeply thank you. For our Fall issue we are excited to have pages devoted to diverse feminist perspectives around campus community and international community. You will find student perspectives on women and gender studies, as well as perspective on Title IX and Gender Non-Specific Housing, in our campus coverage. Our arts section features student poetry and perspectives on today’s pop-culture influence. Many thanks to all of the students and faculty who contributed to the success of this first issue. Here’s to embracing the feminist in each of us! Love and Empowerment,
Morgan Johnson and Ping Nguyen Executive Editors email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
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uncsiren.com Letter from the Advisor Letter from the Editors
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Finding Feminism at Carolina The Myth of the Angry Feminist Types of -isms Who Needs Feminism? A “Real Woman” is Every Woman On Finding Sisterhood Equality External Formulas to Self Authorship
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CAMPUS Women’s and Gender Studies Education Gold Stars for Male Feminists Walking on Eggshells Got SWAG? Gender Non-Specific Housing Title IX at UNC Calling out Cat-Callers Unveiling Illusions Defeating Shame Losing Faith Erin’s Story
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The Siren is a student-produced publication of UNC-Chapel Hill that promotes feminist perspectives on issues surrounding gender, identity, sexuality and human rights. We provide readers resources for discovering, developing and challenging their self-identities and life philosophies by exposing the daily world to the glaring examination of feminist critique. In this way, we aim to address the challenges of inequality not only globally and nationally, but particularly within the UNC-CH community.
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Pop Culture: A Weapon and a Tool For When No One Walks You Home Artwork It All Starts with Courtney Love MuSICK
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INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVES In the Interest of the Nation Grace Farson Photography In Search of My Mother’s Garden
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MEDICINE The Need for Feminism in Health Care Promoting Women’s Health Midwifery
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In Greek mythology, the Sirens were enchanted creatures sporting the head of a woman and the body of a bird. With their irresistible songs, the Sirens lured sea mariners toward land and rocky graves. We learn in “The Odyssey” that the Sirens’ songs, while deadly, were also full of wisdom. Hearing this, the hero Odysseus decided to try his fate by tying himself to the mast of his ship, but not before having his sailors put wax in their ears to protect them. Courage and restraint enabled Odysseus to hear and learn from the Sirens’ songs. He was then empowered to change his destiny. He made it past the islands safely. We at the Siren want to help change our future for the better as well. At first our message, like that of the Sirens, may evoke fear. The terms feminism, women’s rights, gender equality, gay rights and civil rights may cause many people to turn a deaf ear, like Odysseus’ sailors. But if you take the time to read our stories, you’ll find our songs full of wisdom and experience, too. We wish you good reading and hope our songs might inspire you as well.
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Finding Feminism at Carolina By Morgan Johnson
Gloria Steinem is the founder of Ms. Magazine. Betty Friedan is the author of “The Feminine Mystique” and founder of the National Organization for Women. Angela Davis is a political activist that pioneered in issues related to race and gender. These are the names of women that I often come across when I read about the women’s movement. The curiosity about these women and the women who trailblazed a glowing path for the generations of Carolina women to follow led to learning more about Susan H. Ehringhaus, Patricia Wallace and Mary McRae.
Many students at UNC-Chapel Hill (particularly first-year students) are familiar with Ehringhaus, one of the largest highrise dorms on south campus. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, prohibited sex discrimination in publicly funded education programs and prevented discrimination based on sex in publicly funded education systems. The other two aforementioned names, Mary McRae and Patricia Wallace, were both firsts at UNC. McRae was among the first women admitted to the University in 1897 while Wallace became the first female student body president in 1985. In 1968, the Association for Women Students, an organization to which female undergraduate and graduate students were routinely admitted, was a major women’s rights organization on campus. During the women’s rights movement and throughout the 1970s, the association distributed pamphlets on rape, pregnancy and sexual relations, hosted a career week and three women’s festivals, and published its own magazine, SHE.
UNC Women’s History
Pictures courtesy of UNC Libraries of North Carolina. (top to bottom) Mary McRae with fellow members of the Daily Tar Heel, Karen Parker, and Patricia Wallace
1897: Mary McRae becomes the first female student at UNC-CH. 1925: Spencer Hall, the first female dorm on-campus, opens. 1963: Karen L. Parker becomes the first black woman undergraduate to enroll at UNC. 1968: The Association for Women Students is founded. 1970: Morrison becomes the first co-ed dorm. 1972: Passage of Title IX. 1974: Gloria Steinem speaks on campus as part of AWS’s Women’s Festival. 1976: Women outnumber men for the first time in the first-year class. 1979: Karen Stevenson became the first Carolina woman to receive a Rhodes Scholarship. She was also the first black woman in the nation to receive this honor. 1985: Patricia Wallace becomes the first female Student Body President.
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Some of the notable achievements of the association included hosting Gloria Steinem in 1974 during one of its festivals, providing information on contraceptive clinics and rape centers, and encouraging discussions among men and women about their beliefs on feminism and the movement. The association also encouraged students on campus to lobby and fundraise for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, with the help of campus political groups and the Orange and Chatham County Coalition of North Carolinians for the Equal Rights Amendment. In the 1980s the association was disbanded and SHE folded. The most recent turn of the century awareness about disservices done to women around the world and gender inequalities have brought women and men on campus together, and today there are dozens of organizations students can join in order to advocate for equal rights. Susan H. Ehringhaus, Mary McRae and Patricia Wallace may not be household names like Steinem, Friedan, and Davis, yet they were milestone women in the history of UNC-Chapel Hill. For a little over one hundred years, women on campus have followed in the footsteps of those before them and fought for their rightful spots, giving women on campus the gains that we often take for granted.
Morgan Johnson is a junior Art History and Journalism & Mass Communication double major. morganleighjohnson.com
The Myth of the Angry Feminist By Leah Josephson
“Sorry for the rant, but...” “I know this is a tirade, but...” “I’m not trying to go all ‘angry feminist’ on you, but...” Above are a few phrases I’ve admittedly said before. These modifiers often reduce the strength of my convictions, and I’ve come to realize they weaken my arguments. Now I refuse to use them. If you’re passionate about feminism and have thus frequently dealt with the social stigma attached to its stereotypes, you’ve likely used apologetic framing in discussion, too. I often hear this kind of phrasing around expressions of passion in women’s studies classes, especially the ones cross-listed in other disciplines—the ones where we realize not everyone else in the classroom necessarily identifies as “one of us.” One day, one of my professors stopped a female student in the middle of one of these self-conscious apologies. “Wait—you’re allowed to be angry,” he said. His statement was simple, but it
struck me. We feminists spend a lot of time battling hostilities derived from the angry, man-hating stereotype. We neutralize our passions to more easily explain our stances to outsiders. We make apologies for ranting or expressing anger, when in actuality our passion is well within our rights. Women still make less money than men. We are still underrepresented in Congress, in the leadership of Fortune 500 companies and in our own university’s student government and administration. If we are straight, we likely still perform a disproportionate amount of housework and childcare in comparison to our male partners, regardless of the number of hours we put in at work. We are forced to constantly fight for our reproductive rights and for access to comprehensive, scientific medical information and treatments. Most frighteningly, one in four of us will experience sexual assault, and the majority of us will be secondary survivors. We carry our car keys like weapons at night. We fear walking alone.
Types of -isms
Leah Josephson is a former editor for the Siren and a Development Associate at North Carolina Hillel.
There is more than one way to be a feminist, and importantly, more than one way to be a woman.
By Garrett Ivey
A vast amount of confusion surrounds the preferred terminology used by contemporary feminisms when encapsulating the complete definition of each feminist theory. Usage of modifiers such as anti-, post-, postmodern, and so forth do not provide clear definitions of the theory behind their feminism and leave much room for interchangeability. With the third wave of feminism, the idea has been popularized that there is more than one way to be a feminist, and importantly, more than one way to be a woman. Feminisms are now incorporating all aspects of identity, including race, class, gender, religion, political affiliation,
These facts should anger you. They should resonate, and they do—these facts are why you’re a feminist, even after the second wave improved our society forever. You understand we still have a long way to go. Sometimes I think that if the energy of my mind’s passion could directly actualize real change, it’d be powerful enough to change the world all at once, and I suspect yours would, too. Be angry and never apologize for it. Own your anger, but channel it into productive activism. Injustices are more difficult to recognize in our so-called “postfeminist” world, which means those of us who can identify them don’t have any time to say we’re sorry. We need to work tirelessly and enthusiastically to gain control over our bodies and level the playing field for ourselves and our daughters. Our anger is our power.
and more. Understandably, it is difficult to condense every important detail from each of these areas of feminism into short, neat descriptions. Additionally, incorporating every form of feminism in any work is impossible, so it should be said that the areas of feminism selected for the full online article (uncsiren.com/isms) were not meant to marginalize other aspects of feminism, but are instead used to create a conversation about empowering women and oneself by looking at some diverse areas of feminism.
Garrett Ivey is a sophomore majoring in Psychology and Women’s & Gender Studies.
By Dr. Rachel Seidman
Alerted by social media that the UNC chapter of Omega Phi Beta sorority was undertaking a Who Needs Feminism photo shoot in the fall of 2012, I walked to the Pit, eager to see how the social media project would unfold on my own campus. I stood in the shade, watching these efficient, organized young women eagerly talking with the peers who approached their table to see what was going on. The Betas provided sheets on which participants could write their own ending to the phrase “I need feminism because…” and took their picture with a professional-looking camera on a tripod. I watched quietly in the background for a while, but eventually I went up to one of the organizers, asked if I could take a photograph of their event, and introduced myself as the professor in whose class Who Needs Feminism had originated at Duke. “Oh my gosh!” she shrieked, giving me a gargantuan hug, “You’re the UNC History Dept. Online one who started the
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revolution!” I laughed at her enormous overstatement, but it was in that very real, in-person moment that I started to understand more fully the impact of this special social media campaign. “Who Needs Feminism” started in a class that I teach as an adjunct member of the Women’s Studies program at Duke University. In that class we study the history of women’s activism, and discuss current obstacles facing women who seek to practice leadership. In the spring of 2012 we were discussing urgent issues in the very political context of the approaching elections—sexual assaults on campus, new legislative restrictions on access to birth control and abortion, limiting constructions of gender. But, when my students tried to talk about these issues outside of class, they were often rebuffed by peers’ refusal to engage in conversation or hostile accusations that they were “man-hating feminists.” Deeply frustrated by the stereotypes they heard and the way such resistance operated to silence debate, the Duke students came up with the idea for a PR campaign that they called “Who Needs Feminism?” They recruited friends and acquaintances, young women and men of all different backgrounds, and took photos of them proudly holding up whiteboards on which they had written in black marker, “I need feminism because.…” “I need feminism because my mother gave up her dreams for a family,” said one young black man. “Because I shouldn’t have to justify my ambitions.” “Because intoxication shouldn’t mean yes.” Having aimed to start a conversation on their campus, the students were astounded when suddenly their project became a global dialogue. Their posters instantly “went viral,” and the project took on national and international dimensions. Today we have over 34,000 likes on Facebook and thousands of young women and men from around the world have sent in their own “I need feminism because” pictures to the Tumblr site the students created. Google analytics shows that Who Needs Feminism has been viewed in nearly every country on the globe. In the early days, watching the numbers of Facebook “likes” ticking upward by the second was incredibly exciting.
The power of a virtual community was played out in front of our eyes, as we saw people who would never meet in person debating and discussing on our Facebook page, and sharing their powerful messages of hope and determination with each other through their Tumblr images. But it was actually in the Pit, watching young people standing in the sun, laughing, and sharing their ideas with each other, that I saw the real potential for this project unfolding in front of my eyes. The excitement of contributing to a “cool” and trendy online project brought these talented women together and gave them a way to reach out to their peers. Not only did they take the risk of standing out in the Pit announcing their feminist beliefs to the very real public around them, but they organized a discussion later that week to reflect on what had happened. They invited me and several students to talk about the pictures that had been submitted, and some of the anti-feminist responses they had received on their Facebook page. In a survey we sent out to project participants, many of them reported on increased networking and important conversations in their communities. A recent article in The
Guardian credited our project with an increase in feminist organizations at schools around the United Kingdom. These kinds of conversations and connections are happening around the world, with Who Needs Feminism serving as the catalyst. That is its real power. Last year I gave a talk at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication on Who Needs Feminism, and Ping Nguyen was in the class. He came up to me afterward, buzzing with ideas. I am delighted to see Siren renewed on UNC’s campus, and take great pride in knowing that the creative energy unleashed by Who Needs Feminism touched Ping and Morgan, which helped inspire them to re-launch this important outlet for feminist views and news. It’s far too soon to lay claim to a “revolution,” but initiatives like this are unfolding around the world. Who Needs Feminism has shown a remarkable ability to connect the speed and global reach that the internet provides with the creativity, talent, and local community-building of real people. Where this will all lead, I’m not sure, but watching the impact of the project at UNC has given me great hope.
Photos Courtesy of UNC Betas
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A “Real Woman” is Every Woman By Tyler Mofield
We’ve all seen the memes: images of the flawless Marilyn Monroe and other gorgeous, classic pin-ups with taglines that read “Real women have curves” and “Real men like curves. Only dogs like bones.” As a heavier woman, who has always had self-esteem issues because of my weight, these images and the sentiment behind them were a welcome boost to my ego—at first. My body, like the majority of fat bodies, has always seemed to exist more in the public realm than the private. Whenever I’m in a public space, the clothes that I’m wearing and how revealing or flattering they are, the foods I’m eating, and the activities I’m engaged in are routinely analyzed by strangers and compared to my size—Is she too fat to wear those shorts? Should she be eating that donut? She’s pretty fast— for a fat girl. To my curvy sisters (and curvy brothers!): you know how it goes. Folks like to make judgments about our life choices because our bodies don’t conform to the socially constructed
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idea of a “healthy” body. Enter the body positivity movement. Like many curvy women, my first understanding of self-love came from the Marilyn memes I’d seen on the Internet. These images told us that we were beautiful, no matter what anyone says. In fact, we were better, more beautiful, more real than the thin women who resembled the “perfect” forms in ads and in the movies. It was as if we had the opportunity to turn the tables: instead of being ridiculed and teased for our bodies, we could do the ridiculing. We could do the teasing. And when you’re young and impressionable, not to mention hurt and angry, it’s easy to take comfort in this “us versus them” mentality. Curvy women or thin women: who is more beautiful? Who is more worthy of love and respect? At a certain point, however, I came to realize that human bodies don’t exist in a binary of fat and thin any more than they exist in the male/female and man/ woman binaries. Every human body deserves equal respect. I remember reading the testimonies of naturally thin women who were constantly being criticized for not eating enough, the stories of women with eating disorders who are slowly learning to love themselves, and the statements of politically fat grrrls who wrote against (left photo) Hair by Ash Conrad
the “Real Women Have Curves” movement in solidarity with their sisters of all body types. This “Real Woman” campaign, when seen from alternative perspectives, could be perceived as nothing more than cyber-bullying— being mean to people in order to feel better about yourself. Curvy women, while shamed by society and underrepresented in media, have no right to shame other body types. Is there anything more hypocritical than “body positivity” that rejects certain shapes? I began to realize that body positivity as a practice was simple—it means being positive about all bodies regardless of their shape, size, or weight, including our own bodies. To be body positive is to treat every size, shape, weight, and person as someone with feelings deserving of respect. Just as it’s impossible to gauge someone’s health by their size, it’s impossible to judge someone’s worth by their size. Authentic self-love doesn’t come from tearing down other people. It comes from a commitment that you make to take care of your body in the way that makes sense for you. Some people have more time and money to do so, others may eat whatever they can afford on a limited income. Of course, there are an unlimited number of ways to take care of oneself, but the important thing to remember is that everyone is just doing the best that they can.
Tyler Mofield is a junior majoring in Communication Studies.
On Finding Sisterhood By Mars Earle
I still remember what it felt like to walk through the halls of a high school and know you were an ugly girl. It always seemed as though every woman was looking down out of the corner of their eye, ranking, affirming, finding a crazed peace in the idea that I wasn’t a threat to their femininity. I still remember ducking my head to keep from looking in the restroom mirror, instead side-eyeing the homecoming queens who catted at each other about boyfriends during lunchtime makeup sessions. In me was a deep fear of a competition I then couldn’t name but understood well, the rivalry I knew I had with every woman to attain a certain level of worth linked to our budding sexuality. Though unnamed and surreptitious, I knew it was a war for the attention of men. I ducked my head and tried not to play. As a student of feminism I have found names for the puppet-master system and its weeds, patriarchy with arms of –isms. In the following years I have moved from abashedly craving and being rejected from the male gaze—which had been implicitly and explicitly reinforced as the symbol of worth—to craving a rejection of the male gaze, to being overwhelmed by the remarks, the calls, the gazes, the lip licking. There are times I want to go back to being invisible; we can’t win. In this we are trapped: either rejected from the male gaze and made to secretly hate the beautiful, or drowned in that gaze and made to be suspicious of the beautiful. Our
relationships with womyn, including ourselves, suffer from the pressure and often remain unfulfilled. In this heterosexist, cissexist system that tells womyn they can aspire no higher than winning the attention of a man, we learn to view our sisters as competitors. Every female relationship threatens the “safety” that society tries to feed us. We are told we cannot all win. We must actively reject this patriarchal definition of our relationships, our sisterhood. We must work to create spaces for ourselves to explore the possibilities in womyn’s relationships. One of my most beloved feminist authors, bell hooks, writes in Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope, “To build community requires vigilant awareness of the work we must continually do to undermine all the socialization that leads us to behave in ways that perpetuate domination.” What value is it to us, as womyn, to prioritize service to maleness at the expense of our own femininity, however it may be expressed? How does the acceptance of and aspiration to be patriarchy’s “ideal woman” stifle our own expression and connection to the world? To find empowerment we must first turn to our sisters and ourselves. When womyn find strength and consciousness in addressing the oppression upon our gender—and in turn race, class, sexuality, ability status, etc.—we can be a greater agent for ourselves in changing a patriarchal system. We must find foundation in ourselves.
When we reject the notions that other women are inherently rivals; that our value in society is based firstly and foremost in our relationships with men, not other womyn or even ourselves; that “maleness” is the standard to which the “best” normalize to; that we must be “not like other girls”, we will find sisterhood. When we reject these stories told to us to keep us apart we will find sisterhood. In this rejection of womyn being defined by men, we lose the sense of fear and apprehension that patriarchy places upon our relationship with other womyn. Through this embrace we can discover a new definition of femininity and build a strong community upon it. In sisterhood we foster creativity and communication; we tend to places deep in us that are kept unlit in other spheres. In sisterhood we will find happiness.
“When we drop fear, we can draw nearer to people, we can draw nearer to the earth, we can draw nearer to all the heavenly creatures that surround us.” – bell hooks Mars Earle is a junior Psychology and Women’s & Gender Studies double major. She identifies as a biracial, queer woman of colour who spends most of her time perched in some corner of campus trying to write about the faces who walk by.
(background photo) Frances
by Ash Conrad (left) jackieO
by Rachel Wolf rachelivywolf.com
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I am asking for equality. I am a strong, feminist woman who wants to promote awareness of the vast gender inequalities within our society and encourage widespread support of equality. I am a woman and I am asking for
By Meaghan McFarland
equality. Almost all people, men and women, get stuck on the word ‘feminist.’ Some people hear ‘feminist’ and consequently discount everything that we feminists say as an extremist point of view, advocating for the takedown of men so that women can rise up and take over the world.
Almost all people, men and women, get stuck on the word ‘feminist.’ If that is what you hear, you are wrong. Men may think that because I am a feminist, I must hate them. I do not hate men. I simply point out the patriarchy and male dominance in our society. Just because I want to make a group of people aware of their privilege and consequently hold that privileged group accountable for their individual and collective actions does not make me a ‘man-hater.’ Other people hear ‘feminist’ and think that all feminists do not ‘believe’ in shaving, wearing bras, or looking ‘feminine.’ If that is what you hear, you are wrong. This sole image of feminism is a stereotype. We
can, and should, look however we want to look. Men who negatively judge and stereotype women who don’t shave or women who don’t wear bras are exhibiting sexism. Within our society, women are expected to spend a lot of time and effort on our appearance, to make ourselves ‘presentable’ and ‘feminine enough’ for men. Women who break these outward appearance barriers make men (and some women) uncomfortable because these women violate clear gender boundaries. Ultimately, it just should not matter how we look to anyone but ourselves. However, most people hear ‘feminist’ and think that feminists can only be women. If that is what you hear, you are wrong. Sexism permeates all aspects of society and affects all members of our society. In our society, sexism affects men by keeping them in a place of privilege and it affects women by keeping them in an underprivileged place. As such, combating sexism with feminism is not a movement limited to a certain gender. You may think I am sitting on a high feminist horse and saying that men are the only ones who reinforce our sexist system. Being honest about society’s faults does not put me on a high horse. Women often reinforce our system as well, but it is the sexist programming and internalized sexism that is responsible for our
own collective disempowerment. Because it is a system reinforced by maleness that affects everyone, feminism is not, and should not be, fought solely by women. My goal as a feminist, which mirrors most feminist beliefs, is to change and transform our society. I am a person and I am asking for equality. I do not want our patriarchal society, which values men as the privileged and advantaged group and devalues women as the underprivileged and disadvantaged group. But, I do not want a matriarchal society either, which values women as the privileged and advantaged group and devalues men as the underprivileged and disadvantaged group. I want an equal society, which values both women and men, providing both sexes with equal opportunities, advantages, and privileges. I am just asking for equality, which is apparently a hell of a lot to ask for.
Meaghan McFarland is a sophomore majoring in Journalism, concentrating in editing and graphic design, and minoring in Women’s & Gender Studies.
External Formulas to Self-Authorship How Feminism Empowered Me By Brian Min One of the first books I read in graduate school was Marcia Baxter Magolda’s Learning Partnerships. In this book, Baxter Magolda introduces the idea of self-authorship and explains how to support students becoming the authors of their own lives. I particularly enjoyed reading this book—even though it left me sleepless many nights—because it let me reflect on my undergraduate life. It brought back many memories, but if I had to pick the most salient one, without a doubt, it would be becoming a Women’s & Gender Studies major. The very first stage of Baxter Magolda’s self-authorship model is external formulas. This stage reminded me of my first year of college, when I took the introductory Women’s & Gender Studies course. I took it because I had to take one more class for credit hours, and it fulfilled a general education requirement. So I thought, why not? At first, I did not know what to think of the class because I was biased against feminism. Why? Because people told me so. It was convenient back then because I did not have to think much about how I know what I know or why I do what I do. Well, feminism brought in a new chapter in my life, and I was never the same after taking Women’s & Gender Studies courses. I quickly found myself at the crossroads, Baxter Magolda’s second stage towards self-authorship. As I started seeing the world from a feminist perspective, I could not go back to where I was before because it challenged me to stop and question ‘it is what it is.’ Countless questions followed, and I did not know how to bear my frustration towards the world. After all, this world ain’t so perfect. What do you do when everything you believed in does not hold the “truth”
anymore? Now that I think about it, I found the “truth” within myself as I got engaged in ending and preventing interpersonal violence against women and girls. The truth was that this gendered world is hurting people and that I need to do something about it. Having many women in my life who experienced violence against them, this was personal to me. As I questioned myself about why interpersonal violence is considered a women’s issue, I realized that it is, in fact, everyone’s issue. This further motivated me to engage men in interpersonal violence prevention. I ended up doing research on the subject and presenting at the United Nations Commission of the Status of Women conferences. There, I felt like I reached self-authorship and came to a realization that this cause is something I am happy to dedicate my life to. I thank feminism for opening my eyes and empowering me to exercise my citizenship and change the world as much as I can. After all, feminism is the reason I am an author of my own life. Now that I am in graduate school for higher education and student affairs, I get to support a new generation of college students to develop as the authors of their lives. Well then, enough about me. How did feminism empower you?
Brian Min is a 2013 UNC graduate, studying Higher Education and Student Affairs as a graduate student at Indiana University.
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UNC, It’s Time You Heard About... The Empowerment of a Women’s and Gender Studies Education By Julia Ramos Public attacks against the Women’s & Gender Studies (WGST) curriculum at UNC and other institutions charged that these programs are unable to produce students with tangible skills, students capable of achieving success in the world in which we live. The curriculum, however, has enhanced the Carolina experience of many students, molding minds that crave analyses of systems of interaction and inequality that shape our past, present, and future. As Women’s & Gender Studies students, we are equipped with unique skill sets that allow us to understand the state of the world and the ways in which it is problematic to the health and well-being of all humans. A few ways in which the curriculum empowers students are listed below with examples relating to everyday life. 1. WGST empowers us to recognize how women’s bodies have been used to objectify and disempower them. Did you know that the vagina is not the correct word to refer to a woman’s external genitalia? The appropriate term is vulva. This misnaming has led to a focus on a female anatomical structure that has historically benefitted heterosexual men through penetrative sex. A woman’s sexual pleasure has therefore been made invisible by this skewed representation of her anatomy, where the vulva and parts of it like the clitoris and labia are unrecognized as points of pleasure. Women, many already estranged from their genitalia, begin to understand their bodies as objects for men’s pleasure, rather than an empowering avenue for them to experience sexual pleasure and identity. 2. WGST empowers us to acknowledge the world through a more critical lens, prompting us to question the unquestioned. Have you ever wondered why the color of our Band-Aids are that color? Or why that color is referred to as ‘nude’ as if all people when naked share this skin tone? The norms and values placed on individuals on the basis of skin color perpetuate inequality. The existence of racism extends far beyond Band-Aid inequality and terminology, but these are items that communicate the extent to which racism is ingrained within our society.
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3. WGST empowers us to understand how language and action reinforce one another in the production of harmful trends rooted in systems of inequality. At least 1 in 4 college women will be sexually assaulted during her academic career. Have you ever thought about who are sexually assaulting these women and why this is not a well-known statistic? Our passive language continues to focus on the victim. “Jane was raped,” instead of “Jim raped Jane,” communicates that rape happened to Jane, rather than placing the blame on Jim who actively raped her. Men commit an overwhelming majority of these sexual assaults, but rarely does public discourse hold them responsible. The “1 in 4” statistic should enrage us, but instead a prevailing rape culture normalizes sexual assault and ensures continued inadequate response to it. 4. WGST empowers us to identify the ways in which class privilege systematically maintains positions of power. Have you ever thought about the classist nature of padding one’s resume? Someone involved in multiple student organizations is oftentimes valued over someone who works full time in order to pay for their higher education. Even if you do succeed in padding your resume while balancing work during the school year, unpaid summer internships—which have become the norm—are only accessible to folks who have the ability to self-pay for summer expenses. This snowball effect of economic inequality makes it incredibly difficult for individuals of lower socioeconomic backgrounds to gain access to opportunities that ensure freedom from economic hardship in the future. 5. WGST empowers us to question the messages that are fed to the public, thereby understanding the impact that they have on shaping the minds of future generations. When you hear the words ‘imagination, inspiration, and creativity,’ does a woman multitasking in the kitchen and doing laundry come to mind? Toy corporations seem to think that play kitchens and laundry machines are the kinds of toys designed for little girls to do just that. Their commercials and advertisements depict toys related to the domestic sphere as the one and only space in which
girls can be inspired, fulfill their dreams, and be creative. This is not to belittle the effort of and the respect that should be given to domestic laborers, but it is problematic that messages like these impact the goals and selfesteem of women at an incredibly early age. These examples represent only a small fraction of the content of a Women’s & Gender Studies curriculum, but together they communicate the curriculum’s holistic nature. The curriculum trains its students to be perceptive; to recognize, question, and understand the systems of inequality that influence our world. The issues above are only tidbits of reasons that people are drawn to this curriculum and why its lessons mean something to capable, skillful, and passionate Women’s & Gender Studies students. The Department is always waiting for fresh minds to engage with the curriculum, so if anything above strikes your interest, take a Women’s & Gender Studies course and welcome its empowerment!
Julia Ramos is a senior majoring in Biology and Women’s & Gender Studies.
Why I’m Tired of Getting a Gold Star for Being a Male Feminist, and Why You Should Be, Too. By Wilson Hood When I’m meeting someone for the first time, no matter who they are, this conversation always seems to happen in one of two ways. Both cases always start when I share my feminism in some capacity— maybe I mention coursework I’ve taken in women’s and gender studies, or talk about what happened at the most recent meeting of a feminist organization on campus, or even just make a passing remark about how much I love the work that my friends are doing on a variety of feminist issues. I then immediately watch the eyes of the person I’m speaking with as they scan me up and down—no doubt taking in the sight of a tired— looking white male college student, usually dressed in a hoodie and some unfortunate pair of shorts— and struggle to register the fact that my gender identity and presentation as a cisgender man and my feminist perspective exist simultaneously. In the first variety of his/her reaction, my conversation partner begins to get defensive and starts arguing various points of feminist politics with me, often trying to start up debates in the dining hall line or on the bus about men’s violence against women, the pay gap, reproductive justice, and so on. While these conversations are important, though usually enraging— I’ve developed a love of Friday Night Lights on Netflix and frozen yogurt as a coping mechanism. The first reaction is not the one I’m concerned
about; it’s the second one. In the second instance, my conversation partner reacts as if Mother Teresa herself has suddenly risen from the grave and is performing a lively tap-dance routine in front of him/her, top hat and all. Many of these folks, and especially women, exhibit a mix of surprise and appreciative awe, telling me what a good person I am or how I’m “fighting the good fight” or that “I’m brave” for being outspoken about my feminist perspectives despite being a man. I understand where this reaction comes from—decades of men’s widespread mockery, rejection, and dismissal of feminist ideas have propagated the stereotype of the angry, bra-burning, ball-busting feminist who seeks to exact bloody revenge on all men who stand in her way. In some ways, feminist men disrupt this image, challenging notions of “man-hating” and causing folks to reconsider stereotypical notions they might hold about feminism. I’ve also heard joyful reactions claiming that my feminism is proof that feminism’s message is “sinking in”; that feminism’s call for justice and healing for the world’s women and girls is finally being heard by those who hold the majority of social and economic power: men. While well-intentioned, these exaggerated displays of celebration for every man who claims the mantle of ‘feminist’ still privilege men’s voices over those of the very
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women who pioneered feminist thinking and organizing in the first place. Think about it—when men engage with feminism, they are often considered “special,” “intellectual” or “progressive.” When women do the very same thing, it’s often considered “expected” and “stereotypical” at best or a threat at worst. Much of the extensive special attention lavished on spotlighting male presence in feminist spaces unfortunately shifts the focus from empowering women and fighting the -isms (sexism, racism, heterosexism, and so on) of our world to thanking individual men for recognizing their privilege and beginning to confront it. Indeed, we begin to waste our energy thanking the king for stepping down from the throne instead of challenging the existence of the throne in the first place. Obviously, I’m not saying that engagement with men deserves no place in a feminist discourse or politics. One of the most powerful aspects of privilege is
its invisibility, so making men aware of their own privilege and challenging them to confront it must be an essential aspect of any group that wishes to disarm and dismantle male privilege. What I’m saying is that men deserve no “gold stars” for identifying as feminists. The question we ask men must now shift from “Wow, why do you identify as a feminist?” to “Why don’t you identify as a feminist?” Men beginning to engage with feminism must do so with historical consciousness, self-awareness of their own privileges, and, above all, personal accountability for their words and actions. The work of responsibly engaging men in feminism does not belong solely to the women who have led and continue to pioneer feminist thinking and organizing. They have much more work to do, and frankly, accommodating men deserves a relatively low spot on the priority list. The responsibility lies instead with feminist
men, many of whom may have to climb down from the comfort of living on a congratulatory pedestal in order to lead the way, both in words and by example. This work we feminist men must engage in is by no means easy, and it will not happen overnight. However, if we’re serious about challenging unjust systems of male privilege, that includes challenging and dismantling the privilege we receive within feminist spaces as well as outside of them, even if it means wiping away the veneer of gold stars in order to reveal the flawed surfaces beneath.
Wilson Hood is a junior majoring in Political Science and Sociology and minoring in Sexuality Studies.
Walking on Eggshells Anonymous Before I dive in too deep, let me preface: this article might be considered vulgar, and you might learn too much about me. But for me, feminism has become something personal and inextricable from my being and from my life. I am speaking from a cisgendered perspective, and what I write may or may not be applicable to experiences of people otherwise identified. Sometime this semester, a male acquaintance made a remark that he promptly qualified with something to the effect of “not in a gay way.” It made me smirk. Not because I found it ridiculous or stupid or offensive. I was truly, purely just entertained. With some prompting on my part, he explained his background—he came from a small town where that sort of behavior is required because of strict social rules for maintaining masculinity, and frankly, I was not surprised. Though let’s be honest. This background of strict rules for behavior is not exclusive to rural locales, as illustrated by the prevalence and popularity of the phrase “no homo.” From things we can “control” like personal fitness to features we’re stuck with like the
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timbre and pitch of our voices, there are (culturally specific) ideals to which we must aspire in order to be “masculine.” Personal emotional, mental, and physical struggles arise in the course of dealing with not meeting—and/or attempting to meet— these standards of masculinity. Okay, so I just made a bunch of claims, but what do they really mean? Bear with me as I attempt to put a face on it and perhaps answer. Though I realize it may come off as very anecdotal, I hope it resonates on some level. I’m gay and also a bottom. If you didn’t know, this means I’m on the “receiving end” when it comes to sex. I’m also fairly skinny, non-confrontational, and a Women’s & Gender Studies major. Each of these characteristics, in their own way, provokes conversation about masculinity and femininity. And even though I should “know better,” there are days in which I must actively negotiate which features of myself I play down and which others I emphasize in order to somehow achieve a manageable comfort level between my male identity and relative masculinity. Let me be frank, it is damn exhausting. I could
be spending my conscious energy on any number of other mental ventures that I might actually enjoy, but instead I spend it tiptoeing around a complicated maze of eggshell pieces lest I step on one and bring unwanted attention to myself. And that is why I think feminism is so necessary—for all people—however they self-identify. Radical feminism seeks to deconstruct these invisible barriers and rigid ideals while giving us the tools to disassociate the traits we use to describe ourselves from the unnecessary categories that we try to put them in. It asks people to change and to imagine a different, better world. A world where my acquaintance does not have to preface his speech to avoid consequences exists, albeit not ubiquitously; a world where I do not have to negotiate aspects of myself is possible; and a world where we can confidently claim and own the patchwork pieces of our identities without worrying about negative repercussions needs to be realized.
By Lindsey Terrell
When I came to UNC this year, I was looking for a way to get involved. To belong. To do something that I believed would make a difference in the world. When I found UNC Students Working for Adequation of Genders (UNC SWAG), I knew I had found a niche. SWAG is a brand new committee within the Campus Y. Its goal is to foster a culture of gender equality, which we believe is not just a women’s issue, as it is commonly presented, but rather an issue of human rights that affects all people. This is a cause that we, as a committee of the center for social justice at UNC, are dedicated to. With the two co-chairs, Izzy Francke and A.J. Karon, at the helm, SWAG has already hosted several events to further this goal, while at the same time tackling the challenges of being a brand new organization at such a large institution. SWAG has been working with Bob Pleasants, interpersonal violence prevention coordinator for Student Wellness, to do a series of events for RVAM (Relationship Violence Awareness Month). These events include a movie series—“Movies with SWAG”—consisting of films that deal with the media’s hypersexualized image of women, the way society has used the impressment of behaviors on men and women to confine us to stereotypes, and other gendered issues. To help incorporate men into RVAM-inspired discussions, SWAG sponsored a panel on the role of men in the relationship violence prevention movement.
One of our main objectives as an activist organization is to engage all voices across the UNC campus in the conversation surrounding gender issues. One of the most important things involved in discussing gender inequality and how to overcome it is to include all voices, regardless of gender. We do not seek to exclude anyone from this discussion and want to facilitate an environment of mutual respect and love that defies the gender binary. We also hope to engage legislators in this discussion to promote advocacy of equal rights by law. It is important to note that despite SWAG being a brand new presence on campus, we have been inspired greatly by what older gender equality organizations have done thus far and would like to make it known that we have nothing but respect for them. We look forward to working with them for years to come to further the cause. Personally, I am so glad I have found SWAG, because it is a group of people that are committed to fostering a global environment of appreciation for diversity and equality—an attainable goal that can start anywhere, namely right here at Carolina—and I am looking forward to being a part of such a promising force of positive change on campus.
Lindsey Terrell is a first-year Global Studies and African, African-American, & Diaspora Studies double major, and hopes to minor in Creative Writing.
A SECOND LOOK... [at SWAG] Anonymous
UNC Students Working for the Adequation of Genders, or UNC SWAG, is a new Campus Y committee in its first year. Although I am sure the group was founded with genuine good intentions, and has and will continue to do good and important work on this campus, this is a brief critique of the politics of the organization’s origins. I am writing this not from a journalistic perspective—I conducted no interviews and make no pretense of being an unbiased observer—but as a feminist explaining my discomfort with and distrust of SWAG. A.J. Karon, one of the founders of the organization, was quoted in a Daily Tar Heel article in April of 2013, saying, “We kind of noticed that there isn’t really a specific group dedicated to gender equality on campus.” This is just not true. Feminist Students United is a well-established campus organization. Similarly, there are several other groups such as Project Dinah that address and work toward correcting gender issues. The dismissal and ignorance of these other campus organizations is disconcerting. What does it mean when a group that has not been previously involved with the feminist struggle on campus—a
struggle that has a long history—decides to push ahead and begin work without building relationships with other groups? It reveals a lack of awareness. It even smacks of arrogance. This is also reflected in the way the Campus Y description presents the “Start Strong” program as a SWAG initiative, when it was founded and continues to be run by the Orange County Rape Crisis Center. I do not think this mistake was intentional; however, this oversight reflects larger issues with how the organization operates. The DTH article also explains that the group plans to target more men to take part in their work around gender issues. One of the founders explains that a lot of men feel targeted by sexual violence awareness campaigns and that this is a problem UNC SWAG hopes to solve. This raises several points of contention. I am personally offended that any sanctioned campus organization could be working to make men feel better about being called out as perpetrators. We need to have campus campaigns on sexual violence because women are literally being violently targeted and attacked. Similarly, although gender inequality affects people of all different gender identities and
expressions, as is explained in the DTH article, cisgendered (gender identity/ expression matched gender assigned at birth) men are already incorporated into dominant narratives. Rather than making feminist spaces accessible and comfortable for men, cis-gendered men should be taking the privilege and space they already have and making it feminist. However, it is true that men are often only addressed as perpetrators of gender oppression and not as victims of such violence. If UNC SWAG wants to focus on including men, they should instead consider working on that issue. Of course, these contentions are based on an assumption that may be irrelevant. UNC SWAG may not consider itself a feminist organization. In fact, I would be surprised if the group did, because it is operating outside of the ethical framework that most feminist theories employ. It is important that what we as feminists address and give voice to concerns we have about on campus dynamics. I hope this starts conversations and serves as a gateway to greater understanding of how we as a student body can work together.
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GENDER NON-SPECIFIC HOUSING Dear UNC System Board of Governors, A Fall 2011 Campus Climate Report examining campus climate and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression provides evidence that harassment is a reality at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Results indicated that lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer-identified respondents were 19 to 32 times more likely than heterosexual respondents to report having experienced verbal harassment or fear for their physical safety. When respondents were asked about the location of their harassment at UNC-Chapel Hill, 11.8% stated harassment occurred in residence halls—the fourth-highest reported site of harassment on our campus. This harassment was typically perpetrated by people who students had not specifically selected as roommates, but who had been placed near them by a random-assignment process based on birth sex. One student reflected on this type of harassment: “I don’t remember the exact first incident because it was continual throughout my first two years at UNC. My masculinity was constantly challenged by other males that were not accepting of alternate forms of masculinity. The continual harassment hurt my self-confidence. Furthermore, it took away any space for me to express who I am as an individual.” As an incoming first-year, this did not sit well with me. In fact, I did not understand why all students were not guaranteed a safe, inclusive, and welcoming housing experience at the University. At the time, I was working as a research assistant under Dr. Terri Phoenix, the director of the UNC-Chapel Hill LGBTQ Center, and I wanted to learn more about the issue to identify potential ways to address the problem. Gender non-specific housing emerged as a possible option for safe housing on campus. Nationally, 33 public institutions and 66 private institutions provide a gender non-specific housing option. Over half of UNC-Chapel Hill’s peer institutions offer a gender non-specific housing option in which students may select roommates based on criteria other than gender. Opponents of gender non-specific housing have said that the option will be exploited by heterosexual couples who want to live together. But Dr. Phoenix contacted several campuses and discovered this was rarely the case. Rather, friends, classmates, and/or siblings with different genders who are not romantically involved typically utilize this option. From these conversations and our research on gender non-specific housing initiatives at
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institutions across the country, we learned just who would benefit from this housing option. There are students on our campus who have been harassed on the basis of their sexual orientation or their gender expression. Personal characteristics such as styles of dress, hairstyles, behaviors, or mannerisms often provide reasons for this harassment, and the mere fear of such treatment by their fellow students engenders feelings of alienation, isolation, and anxiety. No student should fear for their safety in their own home. Gender nonspecific housing offers an alternative for these students, enabling them to feel safer on our campus and to better concentrate on their academic, athletic, and extracurricular pursuits. With this knowledge, Dr. Phoenix and I began to create a coalition of various students, faculty and staff who were tired of seeing such harassment happen on campus and ready to advocate for change. The Gender Non-Specific Housing Coalition worked diligently to collect 2,807 student signatures in support of implementing a gender non-specific housing option and secured letters of support from 55 student organizations, committees, and departments. We sent 450 reasons “Why Gender Non-Specific Housing is important”—all contributed by UNC-Chapel Hill students—to the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees. We organized a Gender Non-Specific Housing Sleep-In that was attended by almost 200 students, illustrating their desire to sleep outside rather than in an unsafe dormitory. These efforts allowed us to give a presentation to the UNC-CH Board of Trustees on November 15, 2012, which resulted in them unanimously approving a resolution in support of a gender non-specific housing option. Next, the Department of Housing and Residential Education set aside 32 spaces for the gender non-specific housing pilot program. Those 32 spaces represented only one third of one percent of the total available on-campus housing. The pilot program allowed students of different genders to share apartments or suites, but would not allow students of different genders to share bedrooms. Students were required to opt into the program in order to participate and the program would have been executed at no additional cost to the University. Yet, on August 9, 2013, the Board of Governors voted to approve a policy stating that “the constituent institutions shall not assign members of the opposite sex to any institutionally owned and operated dormitory room, dormitory suite, or campus apartment unless the students are siblings, parent, and child, or they are legally married.” Peter Hans, the Chair of University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors, stated that “our board believes every student should be safe, comfortable and included, but there are more practical accommodations we can make to achieve that.” This decision has left the students, faculty, staff and administrators at the various UNC system schools to determine alternate ways to address bullying, harassment, and the hostile University climate for people who both are and are perceived to be sexual and gender minorities. This decision removed me from a carefully constructed living environment where I felt safe, included, and accepted; where my various identities were celebrated. Now, I will be living alone on the southernmost region of campus. The lack of light during my long walks home at night has contributed to my overall concern for my safety. I urge the UNC System Board of Governors to talk to the students that gender non-specific housing impacts. Talk to the administrators who support this initiative, and who understand the relationship between student safety and academic success, particularly for those who are most vulnerable in our community. I can assure you that the Gender Non-Specific Housing Coalition will continue our efforts to create a fully inclusive, accessible, and welcoming residential housing experience for all students in the UNC system. Kevin Claybren UNC Class of 2014 Gender Non-Specific Housing Coalition
Title IX at UNC
By Christi Hurt, Interim Title IX Coordinator & Director, Carolina Women’s Center For the past year, much of our campus has been engaged in a major dialogue about the implications of Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972. Title IX protects people in educational settings that receive federal financial assistance from being discriminated against on the basis of their sex, gender, gender identity, or gender expression. Though Title IX has existed for more than forty years, it has sparked the current dialogue because of additional guidance set forth by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) within the Department of Education in 2011. In its “Dear Colleague” letter of April 4, 2011, OCR emphasized the steps that schools need to take in order to end gender-based harassment and discrimination, address their impacts, and prevent their recurrence. In the wake of this guidance, schools across the country are working to determine the best ways to address discrimination and harassment based on gender, including sexual harassment and sexual assault. At UNC we have been working to adapt our policy and response system to meet the needs of students directly. Our Task Force (more information available at campusconversation.web.unc. edu) continues to work to identify both the definitions of different types of prohibited conduct and to make recommendations about how the campus-based response system should work to support
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individual students and create a culture of campus safety for everyone. While the Task Force’s work is ongoing, the individual members of the Task Force have been working tirelessly to bring forward feedback from individuals and groups throughout the campus about what values we want to see embedded in our policy and our practices. Beyond the emerging policy work, our campus Title IX team, including our Deputy Coordinator Ew Quimbaya-Winship and Investigator Jayne Grandes, has already implemented changes to our response protocols. The team is working closely to make sure that reporting and responding students have information about their rights and options within the University, from the time of the initial report through the resolution of the case. The team always highlights the availability of confidential resources, such as Counseling and Psychological Services, the Office of the Ombuds, the Orange County Rape Crisis Center, the Compass Center for Women and Families, and medical services. While we still have work to do, there are systems and services in place that assist students, faculty, and staff throughout the campus community. It is our hope to create a community that is safe for everyone and we will continue our prevention, education, and social change efforts until we reach that goal.
Why the University Gets Involved: Individuals on our campus and in the surrounding community often ask us, “Why does the campus even get involved in these cases? Isn’t sexual assault a crime that should be handled by the court system?” The answer to the question is important and has several parts: Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities operated by recipients of federal financial assistance. If a school knows or reasonably should know about student-on-student harassment that creates a hostile environment, Title IX requires the school to take immediate action to eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects (Dear Colleague Letter, 2011). A single instance of rape is sufficiently severe to create a hostile environment (OCR’s 2011 Guidance). Therefore, schools are federally required to respond to sexual assault cases. Schools have different resources at their fingertips that they can use to support students who report sexual assault cases. Schools can offer to rearrange students’ class schedules, housing assignments, and other logistical needs in order to support students’ safety. Schools have codes of conduct and access to sanctions that law enforcement and/or prosecutors don’t. For example, schools can suspend and expel students who commit acts of sexual assault, and can often do so more quickly than a prosecutor might be able to take a case to trial. It is important to note that students bringing complaints forward can choose to pursue criminal cases and/or university based remedies. Pursuing one course of action does not preclude the other; the student bringing the complaint forward can choose to pursue either remedy or both.
Calling Out Cat-Callers
How Street Harassment Hurts People and What You Can Do To Help By Sarah Pederson The widespread and insidious nature of street harassment dawned on me a couple of weeks ago when my friend, Liz Hawryluk, posted a Facebook status about some guys who “catcalled” her, shouting terrible words at her like “ho,” as they drove past her walking back from volunteering at the Orange County Rape Crisis Center. My first initial thought was: Damn, that’s SO clearly wrong. Why do guys do that and how do they get away with it? I then realized that I’m not the only person who has had to deal with harassing words from men I don’t know—and men I do know. I’m not the only person who changes my outfit based on where I plan to walk that day, who plans my route to avoid places where I’ve been harassed before, who has become hyperaware of my surroundings, who has been conditioned to fear men as threats to my safety. These are actions and thoughts I engage in almost subconsciously—they have become a normalized part of my daily life. Acknowledging the sexism and misogyny still ever-present in our society is half the battle—these are painful realities that we try to bury deep. We minimize harassment and pretend that it isn’t as much of a problem as it is. Yet most women—and many men—feel fear and discomfort simply while walking down the street. I think of myself as a strong woman, and I used to think that meant I shouldn’t let something like “catcalling” get to me—that if I simply ignored such actions, they couldn’t hurt me. But being a strong person is about standing up for yourself and others who have been hurt. It’s about asserting your rights and dignity as a human being. It’s about calling out people who aren’t being held accountable for their actions. I’ve tried to avoid people, places, and the problem of catcalling. Now, I want to reclaim my right and everyone’s
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right to a life free of fear, intimidation, and harassment. Why Harassment Makes Us Worse People Let’s begin by examining the common word used to refer to street harassment— catcalling. Catcalling is a word I’ve used before to describe experiences of unwanted, public attention directed at me, in all cases by men, that have made me feel humiliated and threatened sexually and/ or emotionally. But the last time I checked, I’m a human, not a cat. Why am I using this term that implies that I belong to some sort of subhuman category? I want to begin my petition for a life free of fear, intimidation, and harassment by calling catcalling what it really is: street harassment. Calling harassment “catcalling” trivializes the harm and pain inflicted by harassment. It allows men a free pass to humiliate and exert control over women in public, because “catcalling” sounds like a silly part of our culture, not a serious problem that demands to be addressed. Myth: Street harassment is just about giving someone a compliment. Street harassment is not about giving someone a compliment. You give a friend a compliment (Cool shoes!) or compliment someone you’ve struck up a conversation with (You have such an interesting perspective on feminism). You give people compliments to empower them, show them respect, or enter into a sense of community with them. Street harassment, on the other hand, is a social tool used to assert dominance and control over others in public spaces. This is the opposite of a compliment—
the target of harassment feels inferior, disrespected, and unwelcome. The relative freedom of women to move about in public spaces is actually a fairly recent phenomenon. The mobility of women is still severely restricted in parts of the world today. Taken in context, street harassment is part of a series of daily micro-assaults in the lives of women meant to remind them of their “true place” in the social hierarchy. It is important to recognize that many men who engage in harassment may not be aware of the harm they cause by saying something as seemingly benign as “Smile, you’re beautiful!” Despite any good intentions, men who engage in such behavior deny the harmful impact of their controlling actions and need to seriously examine the roots of their motivation to tell another person what to think of her appearance and express her emotions. Furthermore, we need to cultivate a greater consciousness around the culture of male entitlement that street harassment perpetuates. These are not isolated events that exist in a vacuum, but rather actions connected to a wider societal permissiveness towards gender-based violence. Myth: “Catcalling” is just one individual’s choice to act inappropriately. According to Holly Kearl, the author of Stop Street Harassment, 87% of women have been harassed in public by age 19. But how often do we talk about street harassment as a widespread problem that reinforces other forms of genderbased oppression? Why aren’t we asking ourselves why so many men engage in these behaviors? Why do we frame this issue in a way that makes incidents of street harassment appear isolated, ignoring systemic societal violence directed toward women by men?
We hosted an event for our photo campaign, “Calling Out Cat-Callers”, in the Pit, during which I benefited from many conversations, in particular with male students, who had never thought about street harassment as an issue before. One male student told me that he thought street harassment was “hilarious” and that it wasn’t a big deal. I then realized the vast differences in how we experience reality based on social categories such as gender, race, and sexuality. This male student has probably never experienced threats of violence from a woman, and therefore he may be able to laugh off a female stranger’s harassment as a joke. However, for most women, gender-based violence, or the threat of it, is a reality in their own lives—if they haven’t experienced it personally, they’ve been instructed since birth to avoid male violence through their dress and actions. A crucial component of activism lies in bringing awareness to diversity and how it shapes our perceptions. So while harassment may just seem like a joke to someone who benefits from male privilege, it’s important for men to not only recognize this privilege but to also recognize that other members of society experience harassment in much more devastating ways. Gender-based violence exists on a spectrum; telling a woman how to express herself or her emotions connects to more extreme actions of violence such as sexual assault. While men commit acts of violence and harassment in different ways, the common center of this violence is a need for control. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We must search for justice in all matters because ultimately, all forms of oppression are related. Gender-based violence will not end until perpetrators of street harassment are held accountable for their actions, educated about the harm street harassment causes, and forced to examine the root motivations for harassment and violence.
Sarah Pederson is a junior majoring in Public Policy and Anthropology.
For more photos visit: uncsiren.com/catcalling
Embodying Feminism, Embodying the Veil By Dana Calloway-Landress Most feminists do not like labels. Labels promote the tendency to apply one’s own understanding of the world to those who have very different ideas about what it means to operate in a larger social system. Yet Western women often simplify and stereotype women who choose to veil. In failing to recognize the veil’s complex and multiple meanings, Western women not only reduce the headscarf to a political or religious symbol, but also hinder the advancement of thoughtful and inclusive feminism. As Dr. Banu Gökariksel, associate professor of Geography, explains, “We are presented with social and cultural systems wherever we are. The ways that we dress and the ways that we conduct ourselves are shaped by those kinds of values and norms. I would argue that all women, and all men, too, are constrained by a lot of things. We operate within a given society—the societies that we live in.” The veil, in its varied and intricate meanings, can be liberating and empowering. As a symbol of humanity, the veil is a physical representation of the contradictions between a woman’s individual thoughts, desires, and commitments and the labels that society places on her. In assuming that Muslim women are forced to veil, and by passively offering up sympathy for their supposed lack of political freedoms, Western women inherently contribute to their oppression, instead of actively working to understand the multiplicity of contexts in which the veil functions.
Politicizing the Veil To have a deeper understanding of the headscarf ’s role as a political symbol, a marketed commodity, a religious custom, and a method of liberation, one can look to understand the geopolitical context of veiling in Turkey following the turn of the millennium. The veil became particularly politicized following the headscarf ban, which took root in 1984 among Turkish university students and was strictly enforced after Islamically oriented political parties were removed from power. Veil scholars also emphasize the importance of the postmodern coup in 1997 and the regime change that followed after the current Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, recited a nationalist poem. His imprisonment led to a time of staunch secularism. Some political parties argued that the ban promoted the secularization of the state while other politicians believed that the ban should be lifted out of respect for religious custom. Still, women were not included in the national conversation. Women were “tired of hearing the same male politicians talking for women or making decisions for women.” This was problematic because women had no forum to discuss the ban and its effects on them. What did the ban mean for women who chose to veil?
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How did it shape interactions in the community?
The Economics of Veiling Fashion Although many scholars agree that women choose to veil primarily for religious reasons, in the past decade, the emergence of a global veiling fashion industry has greatly influenced the economy. Headscarf styles change every season as designers coordinate colors, textures, and patterns with the chic industries in Paris, Milan, and Rome. Women change veils depending upon place, time of year, popularity, and the type of events they are attending. Arguably, the purpose is not necessarily to coordinate Western and Eastern fashion styles, but rather to change outward perception about the veil. Following September 11, there was some organized effort among Turkish women to stop wearing dark colors. Instead, many Muslim women opted to wear brightly colored hijabs in order to seem less threatening to outsiders. With an established market base, retail stores began to commodify the hijab. In this process, space played an important role as it influenced consumer accessibility. As Dr. Gökariksel explains, “There was the growth of a wealthy, Islamically-oriented, more conservative group of people, and they came to the malls, but there were few stores to cater to them. Those stores were located elsewhere in Istanbul. So women have to go to different neighborhoods to find the kinds of clothing they want.” Thus, there exists some intersectionality between the veiling fashion industry and the economic ramifications of mass consumption.
The Feminist Behind the Veil So, can women who practice veiling also be feminists? Are the two mutually exclusive? The ability to define one’s own worldview and the choice to veil seem deeply interconnected. Dr. Sahar Amer, professor of Asian Studies, believes that, while many Muslim women do not feel oppressed, they do feel “societal pressure to act in a particular way or to speak for an entire population of Muslim women.” Some choose to wear their hijab as a statement of modesty. Others prefer to express modesty in a way that better suits their own lifestyle. A compelling argument made by many Turkish feminists is that the veil focuses attention not on a woman’s physical appearance, but rather on her thoughts and actions. In this sense, veiling is liberating because interactions are focused on her character and her thoughts rather than on her appearance.
Conclusion Although we are all products of our own societies, as women, we must recognize when the norms that we perpetuate contribute to a loss of individuality. When
“What’s in a woman’s head is a lot more important than what’s on it.” -Sherifa Zuhur “The Outer- from the Inner Derives its Magnitude.” -Emily Dickinson
Photo by Shantanu Biswas, 2012. Used with permission.
women lose the right to define their individuality, they consequently lose an integral part of their humanity. Beneath the veil, there is an individual. There is a woman. And her life and the ways in which she sees the world are both unique and important. Her veil is a sign of her own challenge to operate within a complex society. As students, as friends, and as community members, we must strive to define the women not by what they wear, but by their thoughts, their words, and their actions. We must recognize the multiplicity of contexts under which the veil functions, in order to recognize the humanity inherent in our own struggles. In this way, we do not lift the veil; rather, we work to understand it in the context of personal choice, identity, and femininity.
The Siren Global Women’s Committee would like to thank Dr. Sahar Amer and Dr. Banu Gökariksel for their thoughtful contributions to this article. Dana CallowayLandress is a sophomore History and Peace, War, & Defense double major.
My Story of Trans-Attraction
(Originally published on weavenews.org)
By Thomas Matt
As a man, I never thought I would have to “come out” about being attracted to women. It is simultaneously funny and sad to me that I have to come out about being heterosexual. I do not see anything different about my sexual orientation, but most people do. About four years ago, I was an exchange student in Thailand, a country known for its large, open transgender population. While most men seemed to treat trans-women as if they were people to avoid, I saw no difference between them and cisgender women (women-identified individuals who were born biologically “female”). After realizing that I was attracted to people that identify as women, whether they are trans or cisgender, the next three years of my life were full of confusion and shame. The heteronormative world in which we live had successfully convinced me that being attracted to transgender women meant I had a fetish. I began questioning my sexuality and even my masculinity. For three years I did not even know what to call my sexual orientation. Finally, one day after hours of searching I came across two terms that I thought could describe what I was feeling. Neither one is official or widely used, but their use is growing due to the increasing demand for a way a categorize people that are attracted to transgender people. Trans-attraction and trans-orientation were the words that I discovered. A feeling of relief washed over me as I realized that the existence of these words meant I was not alone. I don’t always describe myself as trans-attracted, but the label helped me feel like I had a place in the queer community and it helps others understand my sexuality. After spending my junior year of high school in Thailand, it became a second home for me. I eagerly returned last spring for a study abroad semester and was able to see my host family and friends for the first time in three and a half years. During this second trip to Thailand, I was re-exposed to the very open transgender community there. Again, I started thinking about my sexuality almost every day and the inner conflict re-arose. That was when I started reading queer theory. Julia Serano, a transgender
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activist and writer, pointed out that it is not acceptable to consider attraction to trans-women a fetish, because that reduces them to fetish objects—treated as if they are not worthy of love. In her speech titled “The Beauty in Us,” she said, “Because our culture deems us undesirable, our lovers and partners are often expected to explain why they choose to be with us.” After reading that powerful speech as well as the works of many other queer theorists, it was heteronormativity, transphobia, and the shaming of transattraction that began to look backwards and ridiculous— not my sexual orientation. However, I was still not ready to be open because I was not yet aware of the desperate societal need for me to do so. I did not realize just how damaging my shame could be to trans-women. It was not until I fell for a transgender girl in Thailand that the prison bars of my own silence finally melted away. When we met I thought that she might be transgender, but I was not sure. Regardless of what might be between her legs, I found her confidence, independence, and grace inspiring. We started seeing each other. We met three times before she told me she was transgender. It breaks my heart when I remember how nervous she was. She was afraid to tell me for two reasons. One was fear of rejection. It must be so painful to be turned away and shunned by someone you like because they do not see you as a “real” woman, whatever that means. The other devastating fear that she had to deal with was fear for her safety. I could have exploded into a violent, transphobic rage and responded with my fists, or even a weapon. This happens to transgender women all the time, often when all they are doing is searching for love. According to Trans Murder Monitoring, an organization that collects and analyzes reports of homicides of trans people worldwide, there were 265 trans people murdered in 2012 alone. Somehow, facing these fears, she mustered the amazing strength and courage to tell me. I watched relief washed over her face when I told her that I didn’t care. It’s a strange world that we live in when two people who are attracted to each other have to come
out to each other. Later that evening, she turned to me and said, “I feel free.” Finally being open about my sexuality was liberating for me, too. So why bother coming out? I could easily hide this since I am attracted to cisgender women too. I decided to be open about it because of how few openly trans-attracted people there are in the world and how this silence contributes to stigma about trans-people and sexuality. Although transattraction is hardly a rare phenomenon, it remains hidden because almost all trans-attracted men are in the closet. As a result, the common assumption is that men who date trans-women are desperate and simply “put up with” the fact that the woman is trans. The truth is that we are not just okay with it; we are just as attracted to trans-women as we are to cis-women, regardless of their biological sex. In September 2013, DJ Mister Cee, a prominent figure in the hip-hop community, was “caught” with a transgender woman. After being outed and admitting to being attracted to trans-women, he was so ashamed that he resigned from his job at the radio station Hot 97. His trans-attraction was turned into a scandal. The only thing
that should be considered scandalous is the fact that he had to hide his attraction in the first place. I want to be open about my sexuality because I have had enough of this shaming of trans-attracted men and the damage this does to trans-women. It has created a disgusting culture of transattracted men using trans-women for sex, but never forming a committed relationship with them. Most trans-attracted men are only trans-attracted at night. Then during the day they run back to their heteronormative relationships with the cis-women of whom they are not ashamed. Even men who are in committed relationships with trans-women will often tell those women that they could never introduce them to their friends or family. Imagine a woman that has been to hell and back trying to transition into who she really is only to be told by her lover that he is ashamed to be with her. The hardship that trans-attracted men go through does not even come close to what transwomen have to go through in their day-to-day lives. That is why it is so important for trans-attracted men to start coming out of the closet. Personally, I am proud to be attracted to women who are so strong.
Moxie Project the
The Moxie Project is a collaboration between the Carolina Women’s Center, the Southern Oral History Program, the History Department, and the Office of the Provost. The Moxie Project is a combined academic and community engagement project that aims to place UNC students who have completed coursework in women’s activism with community organizations for summer internships to help them develop their own sense of activism and community engagement. In additional to an internship project, students will gain training in oral history will collect a series of oral histories about the creation and early work of local organizations in order to inform the Southern Oral History Program’s work on women’s movement in the south.
for more info, visit
Organized by: Students United for Reproductive Justice
Losing Faith By Alayah Glenn
I never knew Faith Hedgepeth. I was never graced with her warm smile, nor was I familiar with the optimistic spirit and joy she brought to those who remember her. Yet, from Cape Town, South Africa, news of her September 2012 murder moved me. More disurbing than the shocking few details that were revealed about the crime was my presupposition of how the investigation would be carried out by Chapel Hill law enforcement. I feared that, as a woman of color, justice for her life would be a slow and arduous process. More than a year later, I am disappointed and sadly unsurprised by the merit in my prediction. On its own, the history of marginalized communities in the United States reflects a deeply rooted and persistent failure of the criminal justice system to uphold standards of equality and retribution for crimes committed against them. However, when gender is a factor at play in the investigation of a crime, the gears of justice seem to turn ever slower and in favor of male perpetrators of victims who hold certain identities. For women of color who navigate the American system of retributive justice, the intersections of race and gender are more than contemporary complications. They reflect a historical context of compounded racial and gender marginalization through apathetic treatment from law enforcement. When one considers the often gendered nature that describes the crimes of rape, sexual assault, and violent homicide, critical social analysis would suggest the presence of male privilege and perceived male entitlement to the female body as motivation for such actions. Yet,
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these cases are tried in a predominantly male court system, and often with an investigation of the female victim. Rather than exploring and challenging the crime committed against the woman, the patriarchal system instead fixates on the propriety of the woman in her dress and recreational activities. This trend is not only reflective of the legacies of historically masculine standards of womenâ€™s roles, but continues to support the neutralization of the autonomy of women as independent actors. The casual nature with which the United States criminal justice system approaches marginalized identities intensifies with the consideration of race. The history of communities of color in America, and particularly throughout the Jim Crow era, describes sincere indifference toward crimes committed against black and brown bodies. Gruesome public lynching, execution-style homicides at gunpoint, burnings, and bombings met white male juries, prejudiced judges, and mock trials heard with impunity for guilty perpetrators. What is so critical about the power of the legal system is that it not only sets the standard for crime and punishment, but it also dictates social views and values. When certain groups are historically and especially mistreated by the law, society is left to interpret that message as a mandated human hierarchy. If the law conveys that women of color are subject to poor treatment in the justice system,
Photo of Faith Hedgepeth. 2012 Facebook.
society will mirror that devaluation of black and brown women by continuing in the mindset and performing the actions that subject women to the criminal justice system in the first place. Furthermore, for women of color who are left to navigate justice in the American system, the intersections of their race and gender compound into an experience that highlights a certain privilege for victims of crime in majority groups. Our own Chapel Hill community has been a witness to this phenomenon in the disparate treatment of the crimes against the Native American Faith Hedgepeth and the white Eve Carson. Consider that while Eve Carsonâ€™s investigation drew multiple state agencies and saw suspects arrested 9 days after the crime following a high-profile communityinclusive search for information, Faith Hedgepethâ€™s case continues to lie in the sole jurisdiction of the Chapel Hill police department, which has revealed precious little details in a year since the incident. While the Carson family
benefited from the closure of seeing their daughter’s killer brought to justice in the span of a year, the Hedgepeth family lives in a state of constant irresolution. In no way is this a suggestion that the justice received in the homicide of Eve Carson was undeserved or unfair. In fact, the means by which Eve Carson received her due justice serve as a model of the criminal justice system working fairly and with its true intention. Yet this same model has failed when it comes to Faith Hedgepeth. The Eve Carson case ought to be the standard for every woman and every victim of injustice, not a privilege afforded a select few as a result of their color and socioeconomic status. In totality, this is not a story about Faith Hedgepeth. This is not a story about her tragic homicide over a year ago. This is not a story about how few details have been released or determined by Chapel Hill law enforcement. This isn’t a story about how a year has passed with little news or hope for her family and friends. This is not a story about Eve Carson, either. This is not a story about her tragic homicide and the details that were released about her potential perpetrator within days of the crime. This is not about how, over a year later, Eve Carson’s perpetrators were arrested, charged and convicted of their crimes. This is a story about the loss of faith that communities of color are having in a system that is sworn to protect them. This is about the devaluing of bodies of color and the undermining of humanity that communities of color and the women within them are forced to endure, historically and to this day. Finally, this story is a wake up call for our legal systems and law enforcement to treat every Faith Hedgepeth like Eve Carson—to be truly just and eternally gender-neutral and color blind.
Alayah Glenn is a senior double majoring in African, African-American, & Diaspora Studies and Public Policy.
Erin’s Story By Jordan Budget
According to the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UNC-Chapel Hill, nearly 50% of all pregnancies in the United States are classified as unintended, and approximately 48% of all women ages 15 to 44 have experienced at least one unintended pregnancy. In the prime of their lives, college students represent a portion of the 48% of pregnancies that are unplanned. It is a misconception that these women must put their life goals on hold in order to raise their child. In today’s society, young mothers have defied this misunderstanding by proving that pregnancy, while a life-changer, isn’t a goal-changer. The gradual modification of a young collegiate mother’s body will force her to grow up, and fast. But in this case, one thing is still certain—graduation. Erin Cobb is a sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill. She is double majoring in English and Exercise & Sports Science, and although she is expecting, she is confident that she will turn her tassel with her class in 2016. “It’s really a blessing, but it just happened at a funky time,” Cobb said. “I guess some of my friends and family members were worried about me graduating,” she said. “And I know it will be hard, but it is definitely possible.” Due in December, Cobb plans to use Christmas break as a time to recover from giving birth. She hopes to only have to take off six weeks during the spring semester, and then get back into her academics. To support herself and her child, Cobb will continue working two jobs on campus. She will take the daytime as an opportunity
to work and go to classes, while a nanny takes care of her child at her off-campus apartment. The afternoons will be spent with her daughter. “I really admire her confidence and attitude,” said Cobb’s club gymnastics teammate Dylane’ Davis. “I think when you’re faced with this situation at our age, it is important to stand up for yourself.” “I have decided to name her Gracelyn, which means the love for all mankind,” said Cobb. “And her middle name will be Makai, which means ‘one who resembles God.’” Most would consider pregnancy at her age a burden, but Cobb affirms that her unborn daughter has been her saving grace and more of a motivation to graduate.
Jordan Budget is a junior majoring in Journalism & Mass Communication and Global Studies.
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A Weapon and a Tool By Mary Koenig Let’s talk about Miley Cyrus. No? How about the new Fifty Shades of Gray movie? Amanda Bynes’ twitter? Erm… Have you tuned out yet? Please, don’t! Pop culture events are happening, and you’re not immune. In fact, you’re a part of it. You just can’t help it. Don’t feel bad, though—between social media sites, Netflix, billboards, TV, the news, and general water cooler gossip, so is everyone and everything else, at least in the U.S. Feminists, anti-feminists and everyone in between may find it easy to write off pop culture as trivial. Is it? Perhaps. Is it sensationalist? Almost certainly. But does this make it unimportant? Absolutely not. Whether we like it or not (and no matter how sick we are of hearing about baby bumps), pop culture surrounds and affects us. Eric Weiner put it one way: it is “the sea we swim in—so pervasive, so all-consuming, that we fail to notice its existence until we step out of it.” And, usually, we don’t step out of it. We put faux distance between ourselves and the “trashy” mass culture that is somehow “below” us. We could talk about the possibly classist and/or racist elitism inherent in dismissing certain things as “trashy pop culture” and holding others up as “high culture” (and who decides which is what in the first place but those in power?) but the problem extends beyond that. Dismissing pop culture as vapid and somehow below other forms of art, invention, or political expression excuses it and allows it to exact its sociocultural damage without resistance. This makes pop culture a weapon. And especially for those who think they don’t participate in its consumption it’s a secret weapon. Unless you’re a hermit or Henry David Thoreau, it is literally impossible to avoid popular culture almost by its
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very definition (oh, and by the way, the only reason you understood what I meant when I said “Henry David Thoreau” is because of pop culture). Mass culture is everywhere: billboards, magazines, TVs, the latest fashions, politics, world and local news, music, et cetera. It is intended for mass consumption. When we consume it without being aware of the messages we’re absorbing, we can unknowingly and unintentionally become channels for maintaining an oppressive status quo. But we are not just passive consumers: we are also creators of mass culture. This makes pop culture events, and their audience’s reactions to them, a lens through which we can see where our priorities and values lie as a society. Why do we care about Taylor Swift’s love life? Why are trans* characters always played by cisgendered actors? Why was Katniss (of The Hunger Games) played by a white woman when in the books she’s olive-skinned? Is Beyoncé a feminist? Can I acknowledge the grooviness of Justin Timberlake’s “20/20 Experience” while also leveling with those who find the “Tunnel Vision” video problematic? And the question that’s been weighing most heavily on my mind lately: Is finding “the answer” more important than simply having these conversations? People who might not otherwise “tune in” to a conversation about feminist issues may engage when the issues are presented in the context of pop culture topics that they identify with. Along the same lines, if we, as feminists, “tune out” from the things we have in common with those who haven’t read The Essential Feminist Theory & Philosophy Reader, there may not be a conversation. In this case, the “conversation” can be something as simple as questioning things
that usually go unchallenged in everyday life. In doing so, systems of privilege and oppression can be uncovered and pulled out of the woodwork to be addressed for what they are. Enjoying pop culture doesn’t have to be a “guilty pleasure” (for those of us who consider ourselves academic, or feminist, or just “above it all”) and pop culture itself doesn’t have to be an excuse for the ignorance of “this country” or “this generation.” It can, in fact, be a forum for activism. Engaging with pop culture opens avenues for conversation about slutshaming, sexism, racial oppression, class issues, stereotyping or typecasting with that one family member you only run into at Thanksgiving, or that suitemate you might never see again, or your best friend. You may even realize you have more in common than you thought. It’s not a crime or a waste to pay attention to pop culture. It is, after all, the sea we all swim in, and a metric of social life. The next time you’re tempted to dismiss pop culture as meaningless, don’t miss out on a great opportunity to start a dialogue. Social connection through shared experience is a part of what it means to be human. As feminists, we may as well use it to share and advocate for gender liberation! Mary Koenig is a senior majoring in Psychology and minoring in Sexuality Studies and Social & Economic Justice. Twitter: @maryekoenig
For When No One Walks You Home By M
I tell my Lovers: be safe Clutch their palms around my heart and press, Watch their backs until my eyes are strained. There have been too many bodies robbedHaunted in every hallway of their self, Coughing on words that always sounded bittersweetFor me not to warm myself with worry in their absence. I tell my Lovers: be strong Lace their fingers through mine and pray; Two lambs to face the wolves. We are vestal sluts, Wrapped in skin that serves as soft armor, And a target for touches. We are born to be drowned. I tell my Lovers: you have my heart Cross their jeweled eyes, glossy from fatigue, with mine, And remind them I can be home. There are too many splinters in the sides Of the houses around us, Monsters wrapped in sheets, To forget to hold them tight. I tell my Lovers “be safe.”
(above) Self Portrait—Anonymous (left) Banne by Emilie Kadhim (right) Riveted Rosie by Eryn Ratcliffe
It all starts with Courtney Love Photo by Tyson Elder, 2013. Used with permission.
By Meredith Shutt It all starts with Courtney Love. Flailing down a rabbit hole of lost concert footage and forgotten interviews on YouTube, I found Courtney’s 1995 interview with the esteemed Barbara Walters. In a flurry of shoulder pads and cigarettes, Courtney and Barbara discuss the public perception of Love as uneducated and dirty, the widow who manipulated her now-dead husband and former Nirvana frontman into marriage and musical partnership. The sad truth of Courtney’s life is that she was extremely talented and possessed genuine ability and prowess as a writer and performer. As principal songwriter of the alt-rock band Hole, Love’s heavily emotive and introspective songs from 1994’s Live Through This speak of inherently feminine issues such as motherhood, domesticity (“I don’t do
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the dishes/I throw them in the crib”), and body image (“They say I’m plump/ But I throw up all the time”). The explicit feminist slant of the album— and its impressive artistry—is often lost in the writing of rock journalists who tend to focus instead on Love’s marriage to Kurt Cobain. Critics point to the similarities between Live Through This and Nirvana’s Nevermind as indicative of Cobain’s role in Love’s music, thereby diminishing Love’s individual talent and legitimizing it only with the aid of her husband. Courtney isn’t perceived as an artist, mother and dynamic figure. Instead, she’s a dangerous harpy, the reason the angelic Cobain killed himself—at least according to mainstream media. Media uproar also surrounds the release of any new Taylor Swift album. Countless blog posts and thoughtful articles analyze Swift’s lyrics not for
their potency, but for their allusions to former or current boyfriends. Stevie Nicks is a goddess, the Queen of Rock. Her voice is gold, her songs instant classics. Few would speak poorly of Stevie, but discussions of her never fail to mention her tumultuous relationship with Fleetwood Mac bandmate Lindsey Buckingham. Each of these powerful and ambitious artists has been pigeon— holed, thrown into a box labeled “female songstress” that offers limited outlets of perception. What’s shocking and even more disturbing is the difference in control artists like Love, Swift and Nicks have from current pop stars who co-write their songs with a team of industry moguls. The idea of the singer/songwriter, penning her words to song and speaking with clarity of the female experience, is a longforgotten ideal that never truly existed,
h y e
except possibly during the ‘90s (see: Alanis Morissette, Tori Amos). I had night terrors at age 4. My dad solved the problem by giving me his portable cassette player, headphones and Steve Earle tapes. Every night I slept peacefully to the melodies of Copperhead Road, knowing nothing of the moonshine and Vietnam referenced in the songs. As I grew, my musical tastes varied from rock to folk but always remained in the androcentric vein. I related to Bruce Springsteen in Born to Run and Bono in The Joshua Tree. Female artists were a snakeflanked Britney Spears or Katy Perry in a cupcake bra. I viewed myself with a seriousness not reflected in my perception of female artists. It’s only been in the past two years that I’ve explored the power of Adele, of Taylor Swift and Beyoncé. My love of Nirvana led to an obsession with
Hole, with the discovery of the Riot Grrrl Movement. I’ve forced myself to confront the fraud of the ‘guilty pleasure,’ to experience artists and genres I once regarded as unworthy, silly. Sixteen-year-old Meredith would be absolutely dumbfounded to learn twenty-year-old Meredith’s favorite summer albums were Kanye West’s The College Dropout and Ellie G o u l d i n g ’s Halcyon. Feminism seeps into everything, changes the way books are read and albums heard. The stories told in song should represent varying perspectives, should resonate with marginalized communities. Women who create work reflecting the truth of the female experience should be praised for their honesty, acknowledged for their labor and valued for their talent.
I viewed myself with a seriousness not reflected in my perception of female artists.
Meredith Shutt is a junior English major with minors in Creative Writing and Women’s & Gender Studies. She is currently studying abroad at King’s College London and desperately fawning over Jay-Z’s Magna Carta…Holy Grail album. Twitter: @meredithfrances ardentlydispassionate.tumblr.com
“So I heard this song the other day That objectified women in every way That doesn’t narrow it down much But it was pretty depraved The feminists are probably still rolling in their graves It reduced people to parts, objects to be acquired Turned hearts and minds into mere things to be desired And as parts of my body were assessed and sized I thought, “what a way to be dehumanized,” These artists seem to be playing a game Of how many times they call us the wrong name...” Hear more of this spoken word:
uncsiren.com/musick Madiha Bhatti is a junior double majoring in English and Biology and minoring in Women’s & Gender Studies.
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INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIV In the Interest of the Nation By Alyssandra Barnes In less than two months, Chile will be voting for a new president. The streets of Santiago are plastered with signs and advertisements for the candidates, who hope to sway the undecided before the November 17th election. The red, white, and blue of the Chilean flag are proudly displayed behind all nine presidential hopefuls who have already won the primaries. The forerunner, a former Chilean president, stands high above the others. This candidate has charisma and intelligence as well as one trait that’s completely unprecedented in the U.S.: she’s a woman. Michelle Bachelet became Chile’s first female president in 2006 and stepped down in 2010 as the Chilean Constitution doesn’t allow consecutive terms. In a country that is overall staunchly Catholic and notably socially conservative, her election was considered by many to be a momentous occasion—a revolutionary turning point in a country trying to shake off the shadow of a strict dictatorship during its Pinochet era, which ended in 1990. While Chile has long been hailed as a beacon of democratic light in a continent rife with political oppression, during the 1970s and 1980s many human rights standards were violated when the democratically elected socialist President Salvador Allende was overthrown in a coup d’état in 1973. Bachelet’s father, a Brigadier General in the Chilean Air Force and a loyal supporter of Allende, was tortured when he opposed the military coup and died a short time later. Bachelet and her mother were exiled and spent the following years in Germany. At end of the 1980s, Pinochet
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decided to shift back to a democracy and stepped down from office in March 1990, succeeded by Patricio Aylwin. Chile began exploding with growth. Today, of all the countries in South America, it is the most prosperous: the water from the tap is drinkable, unlike in many other areas in other countries in South America, and the capital city of Santiago has one of the continent’s only metro systems. Becoming an increasingly competitive country over the past 20 years, Chile has established itself as a leader on a global scale. With its the newly established identity, Chile began to have the democratic freedom to establish norms that reflected their society. Returning to her native country, Bachelet, a social democrat, won the heart of Chile’s voters in the mid-2000s and became president. In a mere 16 years after a renewed sense of democratic freedom, Chile accomplished what the United States has yet to do in 225 years of elections—they broke the presidential glass ceiling for women. Bachelet left office with Chile’s highest approval rating in history at 84%. Chile was not the first South American country to elect a woman to its highest office. By the time Bachelet donned the red, white, and blue presidential sash, Isabel Peron had already become the first female president of Argentina in 1974. She governed for two years before a coup d’etat forced her out of office. Wasting practically no time, the rest of Latin America followed Argentina’s example. Before the turn of the millennium, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Panama either elected a female president or appointed a female interim president in times of political
disruption. But looking into the past for strong female leadership in South America isn’t necessary. Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is the current president of Argentina and Dilma Rousseff is the current president of Brazil. Even though it’s not part of South America, it’s worth noting that Costa Rica is currently under the presidential guidance of Laura Chinchilla. And that’s just the presidential positions. For women to successfully achieve such high office, it follows that it is not uncommon for women to also be in other important political roles, such as vice presidents, senators and representatives. In fact, Bachelet’s main competition for the 2013 election is economist Evelyn Matthei, a former Minister of Labor and Social Security. During her presidency, Bachelet seemed to be aware of the cultural legacy she would leave for women all over the world, especially in her home country. Previously, Bachelet was also the country’s first female Defense Minister, where she was active in calling attention to and encouraging others to reach for gender equality. Once she completed her term as president, she focused more time on continuing the empowerment of women. Shortly after she left office, Bachelet became the inaugural executive director of one of the United Nation’s newest groups, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women (UN Women). Her service began in 2010 and continued until early 2013, when she formally began to campaign for presidency. In Chile, education is becoming less expensive and more accessible.
VES Standards of living are increasing, meaning more people can dedicate themselves to their passions, rather than focusing on survival. There are slowly but surely fewer roadblocks to success for most Chileans. And thanks to the work of Bachelet and thousands of other independent women, the young men and women of South America are developing with a more balanced view of gender roles than most countries in the world. Most ingrained societal sexism is subtle, and in the United States, it’s quite common. In U.S. political races, the clothing style of female contenders is an important topic of discussion, even though what one wears has absolutely nothing to do with personal capabilities. In U.S. television shows, mainstream female characters usually fit into one of four character categories: the frail victim, the iron lady, the sex object, or the pet. In the majority of popular films, many women aren’t named and only have conversations about men. This sexism is still a real challenge even in Chile, but as more and more women are reaching the top, other young women and girls are made more empowered than the last generation. One of the wonderful consequences of the broken presidential glass ceiling is that these strong, independent women can serve as role models for young women and girls in Chile. These role models exhibit what they can hope to accomplish. Total equality is not a reality, but the steps that are being taken toward it are strong. Countries like Chile are leading by example, encouraging the world to change by tackling sexism and striving for equality in all aspects of social life. Alyssandra Barnes is a recent graduate from UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She is working in Chile and aspires to be a traveladventure journalist. alyssandrabarnes.wordpress.com
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EXPERIENcEs the Center for Global Initiatives gets unC students to go global with their studies and passions though global internships, service, and research. Whatever your major is, wherever you come from, and wherever you want to go in life, we can help you on your way.
cgi.unc.edu Photo by Jonathan young ‘11 Carolina global PhotograPhy ComPetition Winner
“My love of travel started young and became a reality at the age of 16. At 16, a friend and I packed a bag and left for Peru for the summer. From then on, I knew I wanted to live a life in pursuit of experiencing life in new places. I’ve spent most of my time in South Asia, in particular Nepal and India, and know that I will continue going back for the rest of my lifetime.” Grace Farson is a junior majoring in Communication Studies. She is a Yoga Alliance certified yoga teacher. Travel, lifestyle, and photography blog: gracefarson.wordpress.com 36 uncsiren.com | Fall 2013
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In Search of My Mother’s Garden A Personal Reflection By Ping Nguyen
During the spring semester of my junior year, I took four different Women’s & Gender Studies classes and all four placed a heavy focus on feminist literature and theory. Although I enjoyed reading feminist literature and learning new skills and language to formulate my own feminist thought, I could not help but wonder about the practical aspect of these theories, and more importantly, how will my “butt get jobs?” Over the past summer, I had the opportunity to intern for Children of Vietnam (COV), a non-profit organization that is working to lift single Vietnamese mothers and their children out of poverty through economic support and social empowerment. This was also a chance to visit my home country after twelve years of living in the United States. As an intern, I worked closely with two COV staff members to capture the living conditions of 80 womyn and their children and to create case reports of their needs and aspirations. Using these reports, COV and Women’s Union, a governmental womyn’s organization, will work to create comprehensive plans to provide healthcare, scholarships, and economic support to improve the lives of these womyn and their children. Although I met each individually, I realized that none of them had met each other. As single mothers, they often spent their time working tirelessly to provide support for their family. So as a final project, I proposed an empowerment training. This training provided these womyn and their children with the resources to spend a day congregating and building a community. In reconnecting with my people and giving service back to my motherland, I found a group of forgotten, yet powerful, Vietnamese womyn. To them I attribute all my respect and admiration. In a small way, this experience reminds me of Alice Walker’s experience when she was trying to unearth and describe the historical contribution of African American womyn’s work to feminist theories. In searching for my Vietnamese mothers’ gardens, I found my own feminist identity and my future career goals. I want to continue to sharpen my feminist thought with our wonderful Women’s & Gender Studies department and work to improve the lives of womyn globally, especially Vietnamese womyn.
Ping Nguyen is a senior majoring in Women’s & Gender Studies. Ping got his nickname from Mulan.
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The Need for Feminism in Health Care By Rucca Ademola
During the summer of 2013, I had an opportunity to volunteer as a public health counselor at the Carrboro Community Health Center. Through the guidance of Student Health Action Coalition (SHAC) an organization comprised of UNC health professional students who utilize the health center on Wednesday nights to deliver free clinical services, I facilitated brief counseling sessions with patients. The health professional students I volunteered alongside came from fields including—but not limited to social work, nursing, medicine, and pharmacy. Ideally, the system of health professional students volunteering through SHAC operates in a collaborative, harmonious fashion. Once medical and pharmacy students retrieve information from
patients and execute a course of action designed for treatment, they relay what they have deduced to the public health and social work volunteers, who then administer counseling sessions and refer patients to suggested social services. My experience at the Carrboro Community Health Center didn’t exactly embody the model and principles presented during orientation, nor the volunteer information page of the SHAC website. On many occasions, I, as a volunteer public health counselor, never got the chance to see some of the patients. The simple rationales provided by the medical students in particular were, “He or she [the patient] just left, I’m sorry, I totally forgot to tell them to wait for the public health counselor.” Or, “Oh, I just told the patient they could leave, I didn’t think they would benefit from seeing the public health counselor— I’ve already told them everything they needed to know about their health.” I guess my role as “the rookie” at the health clinic prompted me to refrain from vocalizing responses to these comments. The “hierarchical vibe” I sensed from
the comments and demeanors of some of the medical students was uncomfortable and problematic on many levels. During “down times” at the clinic, volunteers read novels for leisure, sent and read text messages, or simply conducted conversations with one another. Small talk often transformed into gossip sessions about the patients, primarily among the medical and pharmacy students. I recall one conversation I overheard at the clinic when a female third-year medical student was expressing her repugnance at the sight of a patient she was attending to. Based on the content of the conversation, a female patient pulled out her breast, as the medical student was going through the patient’s history, to breast feed her newborn baby. To this day the question the medical student addressed to her colleagues still rings through my ears: “This woman pulled out her boobs in front of me! Is that normal?!?” I recall another account when I overheard a male fourthyear student talking to other volunteer medical students about a patient who came into the clinic “complaining about a foot fungus that supposedly could have been taken care of by visiting a local drug store.” I presume that from the perspective of the medical
Artwork courtesy of Ash Conrad. Ash is a junior studying Biology and Studio Art. She is interested in pursuing scientific illustration and finds particular inspiration with the body, especially the female form.
student, the patient wasted his time in that health professionals play in addition to the medical student’s time. the healthcare setting is essential The more I reflect on these to delivering the best service and incidents, the more I regret not utilizing treatment to patients. the feminist resources I have acquired Constructing and ultimately in many of my Women’s & Gender establishing a sense of identity is a Studies courses to central task highlighted speak out on the in feminism. Learning Feminism is applicable wrongdoings of some about yourself of the medical and in nearly every arena. through the service pharmacy students of others epitomizes at the health clinic. a way in which Erasing hierarchical associations, individuals can come to a thorough particularly those attached to understanding of their existence. “differences” (i.e., differences in race, Gossiping about patients, especially in gender, and sexual identity), has been a negative manner, is not reflective of and continues to be a critical element a path towards genuinely creating or in promoting feminist ideologies discovering oneself as a human being. within social interactions and relations. No matter what situations healthcare Considered a patriarchal tool within the providers encounter that may appear feminist sphere, hierarchy perpetuates “out of the ordinary,” or in reference social inequality and devalues the to the female medical student who rights of marginalized groups. encountered a patient breastfeeding Applying this concept to healthcare, her baby, “abnormal,” it’s important to it remains absolutely imperative to exhibit respect for all patients, whether dismantle the hierarchical implications in their presence or not. It is responses placed on medical students, pharmacy and reactions in those situations that students, social workers, and public actually have a significant impact in health counselors. This is necessary in shaping one’s identity. promoting an egalitarian healthcare Feminism is not an ideology that environment. After all, each role is exclusively embedded in women’s
groups, the LGBTQ community, or reproductive rights organizations. Feminism is applicable in nearly every arena. As a matter of fact, it is desperately needed everywhere, especially in the context of healthcare in the United States. As I wrap up my journey here at Carolina and enter “the real world,” I vow to use what I have learned in my Women’s & Gender Studies courses to transform my inner thoughts into verbal language that moves us toward social equality and the preservation of human dignity in healthcare and other assorted settings. Rucca Ademola is a senior majoring in Women’s & Gender Studies and African, African-American, & Diaspora Studies. She is also completing a minor in Medical Anthropology. Upon graduation, Rucca hopes to pursue a career of service by attending to the healthcare needs of underserved populations. email@example.com
“Breast Cancer” (left) For more work by Ash Conrad, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Entrepreneur’s Mission to Promote Women’s Health By Keia Faison
With all of the recent advancements in medicine, such as our increased and developed knowledge of predisposing factors regarding health, genetics, and behavior, it is safe to say that all the members of the human race are on an equal playing field when it comes to our physical, mental, and social well-being, right? Wrong. The undying truth of the matter is that as long as there are disparities and inequities in our society, people will need programs that cater to socially disadvantaged groups. Health is globally and cross-culturally linked to axes of identity, such as literacy, education, socioeconomic background, race, ethnicity, and gender. Different components of identity intersect and interact to form an individual’s perception of and access to health. Specifically, in the United States, health issues are most often linked to socioeconomic status, education level, and gender. People of a higher socioeconomic status typically have more opportunities to learn about healthy eating practices and personal healthcare. They also have the means to
ensure that they, and their families, are able to see doctors on a regular basis. These advantages create a discrepancy in the health habits practiced by people of means. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), women are disproportionately represented in the impoverished population within America, meaning that these inequities affect them at a higher level. Camille McGirt, a recent graduate from the UNC-Gillings School of Global Public Health and a current Health Corps coordinator, wants to address these inequities and close the gap. She has made this mission her own by creating Healthy Girls Save The World (HGSW). “Healthy Girls Save the World promotes healthy lifestyles for girls ages 8 to 15 in North Carolina by providing them with free events where they can learn about
nutrition, engage in physical activity, and develop positive relationships with mentors and peers. Our pilot program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has grown incredibly quickly. I’ve put together a team of 8 students to help with event planning, communication with parents, social media, and program logistics. We have leveraged the abundance of resources available on a college campus, with over 40 passionate volunteers, Camille McGirt subject matter experts, great athletes, and athletic recreation facilities. This resourceful model makes it easy to replicate the program. And we hope to do just that. We are currently developing a toolkit to help students across the country launch Healthy Girls Save the World at their own Universities. Specifically, the toolkit will include outreach strategies, activity guides, and a number of evaluation tools such as knowledge acquisition tests and parent and teacher surveys to help achieve measurable results.” Camille came up with the idea of
HGSW while interning with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) in the summer of 2011. She developed her platform based on the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign and used her athletic background, coupled with her passion for community service, to launch the program: “While serving as a White House intern, I wanted to make the First Lady’s message tangible for girls on a local level. While interning with the CBCF I wrote a ‘Community Action Plan’ and in that instance HGSW went from an idea to a written plan. When I got home that summer I decided to put my plan to action and the concept of HGSW was realized. As a former college athlete, creating a program centered on nutrition, fitness, and mental resilience definitely hit home. HGSW is my passion and I am absolutely thrilled to have such a strong positive impact on so many girls!” HGSW hosted a variety of events throughout the 2012-2013 school year. In the summer of 2012, the organization hosted its first three-day long summer camp on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus for 50 girls. The participants learned about physical health and partnered with female athletes from UNC’s volleyball team, gymnastics team, soccer team, swim team, and basketball team. Additionally, the School of Public Health faculty provided nutrition enrichment workshops for the participants. “The summer experience was three days of jam-packed exposure. We pride ourselves in providing free events for our participants. Many of our girls have never set foot on a college campus and at an age of 8 or 15 years old we’re allowing girls to actualize going to college and exposing them to athletes and speakers that
will help them learn about sports and nutrition and to build selfconfidence. Over the course of three days, our girls learned so much and fell in love with UNC’s campus—one of the parents even called our summer experience life-changing.” In addition to meeting some of the nation’s top athletes, the participants got a chance to tour campus, visit the planetarium, and listen to some of the brightest minds in health and nutrition. Camille and her team are making a lasting impact in this community and want to help solve a national obesity problem that affects our health care system and economy by targeting women and young girls. As HGSW continues to grow, they want girls to change their health habits.
Keia Faison is a senior Biology major and Chemistry minor from Durham, North Carolina. “I think may have more Carolina T-shirts than the Student Stores itself. I love a good T-shirt!” Twitter: @kai_fai
Midwives Reclaiming Maternal Health Rights By Aggie Igboko
What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when you hear the word ‘midwife’? For me, it was outdated homebirths and ‘70s hippie women. With the medicalization of the birthing process in America starting as early as the late 18th century, obstetricians began to replace midwives in labor and delivery. The birthing process, a nonmedical progression, became pathologized by biomedicine and depicted as a problem. The idea of birth as perilous and baleful spreads in areas where biomedicine dominates. The result has been the normalization of and reliance on medical technology and the authority of the physician during the birthing process. Women have come to fear pregnancy and the birthing experience, as well as lose trust in their body’s intrinsic capabilities. My feminist nature pushed me toward midwifery and away from medicine. To me, the experience of giving birth is incredibly empowering and inspiring. Every pregnant woman deserves the right to information, resources, and support. As such, she has the agency and the autonomy to make informed decisions about her birthing process. Midwives are healthcare professionals that provide prenatal, labor and birth, and postnatal care to low-risk women. They are dedicated to informing women of their options, involving them in decisionmaking, and providing them with holistic care. Women cared for by midwives, rather than obstetricians, are less likely to have invasive interventions or surgeries, such as a caesarean section or episiotomy (an incision of the perineum to enlarge the vaginal opening). Here, the midwifery model of care focuses exclusively on the natural aspects of birth and aims to lower rates of intervention. In contrast to the midwifery model of care, the medical model relies on technology for labor and birth and has higher rates of intervention. The difference between the two models comes down to a contrast in ideals, norms, and practices. Due to
conflicting ideals and practices, midwifery has been depicted in popular culture as insufficient and old-fashioned in comparison to obstetrics. If midwifery is so “insufficient” or “oldfashioned,” why might a woman choose a midwife as her maternity caregiver rather than a medical doctor? I found the answer to this question in my interview with Lisa Hampton, my teaching assistant for an Anthropology and Women’s & Gender Studies class, “Gender and Culture.” Hampton is the mother of two girls, aged 4 and 9. Both of her girls were birthed in her home. She shared that she appreciates the fact that the midwifery practice is based on the philosophy that birth is a normal physiological process. She values the person-focused, individualized care that midwives are reputed for providing. Hampton’s experience reflects what most recent evidence-based maternity care research shows: that the midwifery model of care has many favorable outcomes for mother and baby. For instance, women attended by nurse-midwives are less likely to experience the birth of a baby with low birth weight, the death of their baby in the first four weeks of life, and the death of their baby in the first years of life. Additionally, women who are cared for by midwives also have a lower chance of labor and birth interventions. So why does it matter? After all, there are some women who choose to have a caesarean section. One reason is that C-sections are expensive. In America, it costs about $20,000 to have a C-section, while vaginal births cost $11,500—a C-section is nearly double the cost! Secondly, C-sections carry significant risk for most women. For example, low-risk women who have unnecessary caesareans are more at risk for experiencing hemorrhaging, blood clots, and bowel obstruction. These women
Photo by Mark Ovaska, 2007. Used with permission.
are also at risk for future complications in pregnancy, such as uterine rupture and placenta issues. In their future pregnancies, their babies face risks such as respiratory distress, asthma, and obesity. Lastly, C-sections and other unnecessary medical interventions rob women of their agency to give birth naturally. Women who have little knowledge or say on medical interventions lose trust in their bodies and their strength. I strongly believe that it is a woman’s right to know all of her options, so she can make informed decisions about her birth plan and give birth to her child according to that plan. I aspire to be a nurse midwife so that I can advocate for these specific rights of women. Whether it is solely caring for low-risk women or comanaging high-risk women with medical doctors, as a midwife I can help optimize the birth experience for mothers. With the renormalization of birth processes, women can reclaim and embrace the power that has been lost in the hype of biomedicine in the United States. Midwives serve as maternal health advocates who seek to reclaim the autonomy that women rightly deserve.
Aggie Igboko is a senior majoring in Global Studies and minoring in Women’s & Gender Studies.
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