Tag Archives: empowerment

Gendered value

29 Jan

Italian women partisans

For many years, American women have served in the United States Armed Forces, in many different capacities: in both Iraq and Afghanistan women served in ground combat troops. Despite the fact that a female soldier was not technically allowed to be in combat troops, this prohibition never meant that women were not involved in on-the-ground battle, saving lives and risking their own.

However, because of the continued ban, the recognition the women received for their duties and their abilities to move upwards in the Armed Forces chains-of-command were severely limited.  Last week’s decision to lift the ban, basically allowing women to enter into all echelons-upper and lower-within the Armed Forces provoked delight and satisfaction in women in the military.   


Colonel Ellen Haring was one of the two women whose lawsuit provided the final nail in the ban’s coffin. Haring was interviewed last week on NPR, and spoke of the many opportunities she saw bypass her; 80% of the highest position general officers were taken from people (men) in the combat specialities units that women were barred from joining. This structure could not be integrated unless the ban was revoked.

Does this mean that women in the military are now on a fast track to equality? Of course not. Sexual assault in all of the armed forces is only now finally being seen as the epidemic it is. More women in more places will not make this disappear, but it will almost immediately make finding an administrative ear somewhat easier.

In the above interview, Colonel Haring was asked whether the decision would make her more likely to hesitate if her daughter approached her about joining the military, seeing as how now there would be no impediment to her serving in the most dangerous elements available.

Haring replied that she has one daughter and two sons, and would be fearful and hesitant for all three of them. “I don’t think you can place more value on one of your children versus the other simply because of their gender.”

Haring brings up an excellent, contradictory, thorny point. For as long as “women and children first” has been stated, as long as women and children have been counted as casualties of war and men mentioned afterwards, and the idea of Chivalry has been considered infallible, the female sex have been deemed to be of more “value” than the male.

This “value” is by no means monetary, it instead refers to a kind of sacredness that the female embodies. She must be protected, guarded, defended. This type of value is that of the negative: for it is what she is not, what she cannot do, that renders her of value. She is weak, she must be protected. To no longer see her in this light the spell is broken. If she does not need male protection she is no longer weak. If she can protect herself, the historically male duty to protect, defend, and guard becomes no longer male.

To not “value” a daughter more than a son, is to perceive one’s children as equals, in ability, potential and possibility.


Iran begins universities’ semesters with bans on female students

24 Aug

As of the fall semester, many Iranian universities have installed a ban on female students in 77 different courses and degrees.  The courses range across the subjects of English literature, English translation, hotel management, archaeology, nuclear physics, computer science, electrical engineering, industrial engineering and business management; spanning the disciplines from the humanties to science and technology, the bans’ lack of subject specificity signals a desire to shrink female college attendance overall.


Female students greatly outnumber male students, with the number of females approximately 65% of student bodies. The Science and Higher Education Minister, Kamran Daneshjoo, has claimed that the bans answer the need to achieve equality and a balance between the sexes in education, implying that the male student population is somehow suffering from its lack of parity.

Human rights lawyer and Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi has written to the United Nations Secretary General and High Commissioner for Human Rights demanding an external investigation, claiming “[T]he aim is that women will give up their opposition and demands for their own rights.”

With education and exposure comes open-mindedness, enlightenment, and a requisite desire for more of it: freedom, in other words. With these bans, the Iranian male religious elite is attempting to cut the power-source of such demands at their roots, thus stifling the potential before it is even glimpsed or realized.

P.S. (As of Sept. 25) Online Slate Magazine just published additional information regarding the ban, centering on 77 programs, notably concentrating on degrees generally related to business and entrepreneurship.


These recent attempts coincidentally dovetail with the Ayatollah Khamenei’s August declaration urging Iranian adults to focus more on the family, and the subsequent decrease in government support for birth control and family planning.


The 2 words that never belong together

20 Aug

In a televised interview this weekend, Missouri Republican Todd Akin defined his opposition to abortion in the strictest of terms, and including in cases of rape. Akin further hedged his bets with the following claim: 

“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”  


“legitimate” and “rape”: by stringing the words together Akin would seem to imply that rape isn’t always illegitimate; he further undermines the catastrophe of rape with the use of the word “legitimate” itself. Rape is devasting, violent, horrific, tortuous, and any other synonym available. It is not legitimate or illegitimate. “legitimate” is defined as lawful, valid, just. When considered thusly, the word itself should never be strung with “rape,” for a rape is never valid or just; whether or not it is lawful, is a confused term: does this mean if it is persecuted? or if a judge deems it actual? Where does the woman herself figure into this?

Further, by asserting that if it is “legitimate”/actual rape, the victim’s body will engage in a kind of “natural abortion” implies disastrous notions about the act of rape itself, and complete ignorance as to how the female sexed body actually functions. So, if the body of the victim doesn’t naturally abort the pregnancy, that then implies that an actual rape didn’t occur. Such confused magical thinking can be likened to the witchcraft trials that occurred centuries ago: if a woman accused of witchcraft drowns, she’s innocent.

And another further, Akin’s claims that the rapist should be punished, not the child, demonstrates the same muddled conception of biology and reproduction that I critiqued in last week’s post on Paul Ryan’s anti-abortion position. There is no child. There is a woman’s body with fertilized eggs at conception. Akin, like Ryan, does not even mention the woman in the equation here, the potential mother, without whom a fetus could not develop.

The Romney camp initially issued a tepid response, distancing itself from Akin. With the growing outcry however, Romney publicly stated his disagreement with Akin’s views. He should probably look over to Ryan and wonder wherein lies the disagreement…


Voting and living in Libya

20 Jul


There is a saying that a Libyan woman faces 5 problems: her father, her brother, her husband, her son, and the working man.

This is to say that the problem is being a woman while living in Libya. However, are there signs that this problem might be dissipating?

45% of the voters in the July 7th elections were female, and because of an invoked requirement mandating that all parties maintain a “zipper system” of alternation between female and male candidates, women numbered around 45% of the candidates.

After tally, 16.5% of the 200-member transitional government are women. This number is extraordinarily positive, considering the fact that the number was previously zero, and that women historically have had little presence in politics or social activist organizations.

In the United States Congress, women hold 16.8% of the seats. Given that the United States has not just emerged from a decades-long dictatorship, given that the United States does not supposedly suffer from entrenched male-dominated home, work and cultural life, given that American women have been able to vote–and thereby run for office–for almost 100 years, what’s our excuse?

The trial of Pussy Riot: “Mother Mary, drive Putin away”

20 Jul


The three young Russian women above–members of Pussy Riot all–have been sentenced for another 6 months of  pre-trial imprisonment in a Moscow court. The women have been imprisoned since February, and were arrested after storming the stage of the Christ the Savior Cathedral and staging an anti-Putin prayer. In January of 2013, they will stand trial on charges of hooliganism and face another 7 years of prison if convicted.

The band members are accused of  “a malicious, carefully planned act to denigrate the feelings and beliefs of the many Orthodox Christian worshippers and to belittle the state’s spiritual foundation.” Although Russia seemingly considers itself a secular nation, charging artists with blasphemy is definitely not in line with a non-religious state structure.

However, perhaps the true blasphemy at issue here is against Russia’s self-appointed god, Vladimir Putin. It cannot be argued that Putin is devoted to stamping out national blasphemy and non-religious attitudes; but it is undeniable that Putin is devoted to eradicating non-believers of his religion.

Pussy Riot is a sprawling collective of young female artists. Generally dressed in short skirts and tights, their faces always sheathed in balaclavas, the women have performed in the Red Square, on the tops of buildings, at anti-Putin protests, and in Moscow streets. While only three of its members are on trial, their arrest must serve as a warning to their bandmates and other vocal critics of the Putin regime.

The prayer to the Virgin Mother to protect her Russian children from an atheist dictator has not been answered.

P.S. July 30: The accused members of Pussy Riot were again in front of  a judge where they still pleaded “Not Guilty,” with the following caveat: “We are admitting that we made an ethical mistake, but an ethical mistake should not be punishable as a crime.”

This change in response might be attributable to the intense scrutiny and severe imprisonment the women have faced, or a relative admission of contrition. It is difficult to speculate. The women are most definitely uncomfortable and upset regarding their situation, so their words of contrition must be taken at least partly as the result of such conditions. Whether singing  in protest on the dais of an Orthodox church is “unethical” is another issue entirely. How might a passionate prayer of protest against an evidently authoritarian leader be deemed unethical? Could it not be argued that to live in compliance is itself a breach of community ethics?

P.S. August 1: Pussy Riot’s imprisonment has been followed by the recent imprisonment of opposition blogger Alexei Navalny on charges of government theft in 2009:


Navalny is unsurprised by the arrest, considering it a correlative of a repressive regime intent on authoritarian rule.

It is interesting to consider the arrests of punk rockers Pussy Riot and blogger Navalny as acts on a continuum stretching outside of the political confines of Moscow and into far more nebulous regions of art, speech and the internet. With the advent of the anti-Putin protests last December, it must have been increasingly clear to Putin that he had to respond. However, responding pre-election would have appeared too reactive, his actions too clearly reflecting the charges levelled against him by the protesters. By biding his time, he provided an illusion of tolerance. By now focusing his intimidation on 2 of the more vocal and popular factions, he is able to create a more pressing climate of fear of dissent amongst the common protester;  the latter will be tempted to think: ‘if a group now made famous by their acts and the state’s aggressive response is forced to remain in prison, what might happen to a lesser known, “unimportant” member of the White Ribbon campaign?’

Science: it’s a girl thing. Or, what do test tubes have to do with lipstick?

25 Jun


Do outreach projects aimed at increasing the numbers of females and non-whites in a particular field work?


The recent attempt spearheaded by the European Commission to increase the number of female scientists in the European Union and beyond has come under fire by just about everybody. The project introduced itself with a short, flashy video where 3 girls strut towards the camera, wearing short skirts, strappy shoes, and safety goggles. The girls are glimpsed looking through telescopes in fancy outfits, striding through a laboratory with a smart haircut and a knowing smile.

The tagline–“Science: It’s a Girl Thing”–is written across the screen in lipstick, the “i” in Science an opened container of lipstick. This is confusing, to say the least, for it would appear that the project is aimed at the science of cosmetology over and against the hard sciences of biology, chemistry or physics.

Does the European Commission believe that the only way to get girls interested in science is to treat the field like a game of dress-up, using the set design of a Miss Universe pageant?

5 most dangerous countries in the world to be a woman

15 Jun

1. Afghanistan

2. The Congo

3. Pakistan

4. India

5. Somalia

Thomson Reuters has just published the results of its survey on the physical, emotional, legal, political and cultural safety of women throughout the world. The survey can be found in its entirety through TrustLaw, its non-profit international organization founded to assist in the proliferation of women’s rights everywhere:                                      


India’s placement at 4th most dangerous country to be a woman is quite shocking considering its billing as the largest democracy on earth, and more importantly, that it remains the only country of the 5 who has been relatively free of violent conflict with both other countries and its own citizens. Its placement here emphasizes that war, starvation, religious turmoil, and a history of inherent violence are not the only precursors for placement on such an ominous list. Extreme poverty must be added to this cycle, and it is due to the ongoing catastrophe of poverty throughout India that the country appears within such an inglorious grouping.

The trading of young girls into marriage, the still-present custom of sati- the burning of a widow on a pyre, rampant female illiteracy, the prevalence of sexual slavery and prostitution in its major cities, the very common and culturally accepted use of ultrasound technology in the serviec of sex selection (i. e. the detected female fetus is often aborted), all of these components coagulate into a kind of unmoveable force against female progress, even in a country struggling to maintain and improve its democratic structures.  And then, even something as simple and overlooked as peeing becomes an overwhelming issue in such a poor and populous place:


It is estimated that in some slums there is one public restroom for 300 people; male restrooms and urinals outnumber female restrooms by anywhere from 35%-90%. The budding Indian “Right to Pee” movement is attempting to revolutionize the public restroom structure, but in the meantime the average urban Indian woman withholds the amount of water she drinks, goes in packs at dawn to defecate, and holds it in as long as she can.

Living in the Western world, it is easy to forget how the simplest parts of daily life have the possibility to become so much more arduous when the structuring element of poverty enters. Not being able to have regular bowel movements, having nowhere safe to pee at any given time, risking one’s health merely by having to crouch over a hole somewhere: these remain daily hurdles for the average Indian female in the 21st century. In addition to everything else…