Saturday, December 3, 2016

The outright insult of being told you do something “like a girl”

The #LikeAGirl, a movement brought about by Always, aims to redefine the blatant insult associated with doing something “like a girl”. This video, orchestrated by the company who design sanitary towels, displays the varying opinions that doing something “like a girl” entails, specifically comparing the answers of young, prepubescent girls with those of young women. A very strong message portrayed by the advertisement is that the girls whose self-esteems have not yet been affected by growing up have such greater confidence in their abilities than the girls that are that bit older. The New York Times reports that, in a study conducted by the American Association of University Women, 60% of girls in elementary school are confident in themselves. This figure drops to a mere 29% by the time they reach high school. Why the massive decrease in self-assurance?

Adolescence is a time when girls become women. They develop breasts, menstruate for the first time, and grow hair in places they were used to being bald. This period of great change (excuse the pun) can be very distressing for a young woman and they end up looking to others for acceptance. The unfortunate aspect of this is that the characteristics that are approved of by society are often those traditionally attributed to men. If society is only going to value the male characteristics then of course to do something “like a girl” would be taken as an insult every time. 

The insult is usually directed at a boy who has, by some misogynistic standard, acted in a feminine manner or carried out some manly task poorly. For example, the boy in the playground that cries after falling over is told to “stop crying like a little girl” or the boy at practice that is shamed by his coach for “throwing like a girl”. What bothers me about these insults that are used in such a non-chalant manner is that they are not directed at those to whom they are said. They are, instead, directed toward all females. Young girls are growing up in an atmosphere where they are taught that to behave “like a girl” is wrong and something of which they are to be ashamed.

While on the topic of throwing like a girl I would like to touch on this light-hearted Mythbusters episode where they tackle the same subject. They carry out a number of experiments studying the way in which boys and their female counterparts throw a number of balls at a target. The conclusion of these trials demonstrated that overall the girls performed no poorer than the boys!

I believe the Always campaign to alter the meaning of what it is to do something “like a girl” is exactly the kind of reform for which society is begging. There are almost 7 billion people in this world, 50% of whom are females, 50% of whom are talented human beings, fully capable of achieving equally to their male counterparts, 50% of whom are doing things “like a girl”.


Friday, December 2, 2016

Teaching's 2%: part 2

Last time I wrote about the lack of black men teaching in America.

I learned in my research that the trouble with the lack of diversity isn't just that we view teaching as women's work.  When black men are in teaching jobs, they report feeling underappreciated for their pedagogical knowledge, and overappreciated for their disciplinary skills.  The Secretary of Education, John King, Jr., identifies a “invisible tax” on minority teachers.  They are expected to spend more time disciplining and building relationships with their students than white teachers are.  Many black male teachers report being asked to help take care of problem students more often than any of their colleagues.  They also felt like they had to counter stereotypes about how black men act—often by themselves.  


This was a part of the story I had never heard before, and it really got me thinking.  If I were a teacher, would I reach out to a male colleague to help with a “problem” child?  Probably.  Disciplining students sounds like it would be the hardest part of teaching.  I can imagine having trouble with a boy in class and asking a male colleague for help, thinking he would have insight. 

I think the situation that men, and black men in particular, face when they do try to break stereotypes is a great example of how we all need to constantly assess our own biases.  Consulting a co-worker on a difficult situation is not wrong, but only ever consulting that co-worker when you want help with disciplining children might be.  

As we face down a new year with new uncertainties about social policy, it's important to remember that we can only truly control ourselves.  I encourage us all to be open to learning that some of our habits have unintended and harmful consequences.  Let's be kind to each other.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

How to Respond to this Election - Part II "Get Legal!"


In part I of this post, I showed a great amount of my chagrin and sorrow about the election. I still doubtless feel those things, but at this point, it's more important for me to discover avenues of hope and empowerment. In order to do so, I look to the women that I love.

There are a few women I know that are nearly unperturbed by this election. It has impacted them, but they have not missed a beat. In fact, their urgency to work hard is only rising. I was curious as to how these women could be so stalwart; how they could be so disappointed in the election, but resist feeling disheartened. Then something occurred to me. These women have the most faith in the US legal system of all the women I know. I wanted to find a door into the Church of Legal Faith, myself. So here goes.

When in need of legal-lady-power, I often look to one of my heroes, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She must be particularly aggravated with the fact of our new President Elect, whom she deems inconsistent and egotistical —I second that motion, Justice Ginsburg, and despite your graceful apology, we all know where you stand— but in the aftermath, she continues to be a rockstar on the bench and off. Perhaps this is because RBG originally became interested in the law during a time I liken very much to the milieu of our nation today: the Red Scare (there is some agreement about this comparison). In a heartfelt interview with NPR's Nina Totenberg (podcast version on What It Takes), Justice Ginsburg spoke of an undergraduate constitutional law research assistantship at Cornell in the early 1950's. For her RA position, Justice Ginsburg was tasked with reading transcripts of hearings before the House Un-American Activities Committee and the Senate Internal Security Committee. She told Totenberg:
"[F]rom those transcripts I saw that there was no one standing up for these people reminding our Congress that we have a 1st amendment guarantee of freedom of speech and we have a 5th amendment guarantee against self-incrimination. So I thought that was a good thing to do; that a lawyer could have a professional career, could have paid job . . . and also volunteer services in hard times to make things a little better. That’s when I had the idea that I would like to be a lawyer."
Amen, Justice Ginsburg. These are definitely hard times. I therefore intend to look to the lawyers who, in the face of a Trump Presidency, are planning to do exactly what inspired RBG to become an attorney: make things a little better. Here are my heroes of the day:

1. The Southern Poverty Law Center: SPLC has been doing amazing work lately, particularly around the surge of hate speech and violence that has arisen in the wake of the election. In their publication Ten Days After: Harassment and Intimidation in the Aftermath of the Election, they urge the President Elect to "do everything in his power . . . to reach out to the communities his words have injured" as opposed to "feign[ing] ignorance." They have also been collecting extraordinary amounts of data: observing that 867 hate incidents have occurred nationally since Trump's election. In addition, they continue to fight hate through impact litigation such as Southern Poverty Law Center, Inc. v. United States Department of Homeland Security, et al. where their complaint argued that Department of Homeland Security and ICE violated the Freedom of Information Act by withholding information on raids that targeted over 100 women and children in Texas.

2. California's likely new Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who recently tweeted: "#DREAMers are some of the most courageous people I’ve ever met. We stand with you & are ready to fight for you", says he intends to fight to retain California's liberal clean energy, environmental, criminal justice and immigration policies. If he does so, he might lead California into being "the tip of the spear for state-based resistance to Trump and the Republican party’s inhumane vision for our country."

3. National Center for Lesbian Rights: NCLR has updated its blog several times regarding the election, including informational posts about Transgender Rights, consoling its constituents that marriage equality will hold strong due to stare decisis, and campaigning against Jeff Sessions' nomination. In addition, NCLR continues Equality Utah v. Utah State Board of Education, the case they filed on October 21st, 2016, challenging state laws that ban positive speech about LGBT people in Utah public schools.

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/opinion/article118333013.html#storylink=cpy

4. The American Civil Liberties Union: There was very little that buoyed me up on the days following the election, however, the ACLU's homepage made me smile every time I clicked. Trump's face was plastered it with bold words hanging in the air beside him: See You In Court. The ACLU leveled up from that rallying cry, calling the President Elect a "one man constitutional crisis" and, wasting no time, released a 27-page brief entitled the "Trump Memos" that brilliantly displayed the unconstitutionality of Trump's policies regarding mass deportation, large-scale surveillance, profiling, and attempts to overturn Roe v. Wade. Yesterday, the ACLU lived up to its promise and joined with the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood. They filed simultaneous lawsuits concerning unnecessary abortion restrictions in Alaska, Missouri, and North Carolina. Their message was clear: "we'll see [people like] you in court" before you even take the Presidential Oath, Mr. Trump.

I may still be a Legal Faith agnostic, I can't lie. But these warriors of the legal system have encouraged me, and more than anything, reminded me why I am am joining the Profession. Thank you, SPLC, the State Government of California, NCLR, ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and Center for Reproductive Rights. I'm grateful. 

In my gratitude, I'll leave you with the words of NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell:
"Together, we fight on and we fight back. We must harness our grief, fear and outrage and serve justice. Onward. . ."

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Are you a feminist?

For our first class of the semester, our professor requested that we come equipped with answers for the following two questions: “are you a feminist?” and “what does feminism mean to you?” I recall mulling over my answers in the days leading up to first period. I knew I was going to answer "yes" to the first question but was unsure as to what my reasoning would be. Now, some fourteen weeks on, after our many discussions, readings and documentaries, I feel confident in answering these questions with clarity and force.

I have become acutely aware of the gender issues permeating our society. I find myself critiquing the media more harshly, particularly when women’s physiques are addressed. The materials discussed in class e.g. the documentary “Missrepresentation”, have prompted this shift of mindset.

I used to not think twice when looking at women’s magazine covers, almost all of which advertise some ‘diet-tips’ or ‘exercise regime’ article. I now see through the transparency of these journalists and recognize that their sole desire is to target vulnerable women in the hope of boosting magazine sales. I have also gained insights in to my classmates’ similar mindsets through their well-articulated blogposts on these issues.

I particularly took offense to the “locker room talk” scandal which surfaced in the media towards the end of Trump’s presidential campaign. Had I been reading the reports back in my home country, Ireland, I most-likely wouldn’t have felt such intense outrage.  I would have deemed myself to be far-removed from the matter and thought it not to have warranted much contemplation. However, considering my knowledge gained throughout this class and hearing what my peers had to say on the matter, I felt more personally involved in the harm perpetuated by Mr. Trumps comments.

I decided to ask a few of my friends (other international exchange students here in Davis) the same two questions I grappled with in the beginning of this class. I was curious to see if their views reflected mine. The answers are given from three females and one male, all of whom have never taken a gender-studies class. (I have given my friends pseudonyms to protect their anonymity.)

Q1. Are you a feminist?
Q2. What does feminism mean to you?

Mary:
1. Sort of, depending on how you define feminism.  
2. To me it should be the equality of men and women, particularly in terms of career opportunities and expectations. However, I do not support some radical feminism that goes against men to the point that it becomes sexist. Also, when it comes down to it, men and women are biologically different and feminism needs to understand this. Men will always be better at some things and vice versa.

Martha
1. I believe I am a feminist but I hesitate to classify myself as such because of the stigma attached to it
2. Feminism means equality for everyone. It strives for equal opportunities for men and women in all aspects of life.

Mandy
1. I believe I am a feminist in a way but I am not a radical feminist
2. Feminism represents the belief that men are not superior to women, that everybody is equal and women are not stereotyped into one specific role/category in life.

Mark
1. I am a feminist because equality is the right thing to do
2. Right now feminism is associated with man-hating which is not something I’m on board with so sometimes I prefer to distance myself from the term ‘feminist’.

The above answers are not wholly dissimilar to the ones I gave. Much like my friends, I was only able to address feminism in vague terms. I shied away from discussing the topic in depth to avoid appearing frigid or being labelled a ‘man hater’. I can now take pride in announcing that I am feminist and can articulate my views with confidence. I believe that a large part of being a feminist is giving other women the freedom to make choices which I may not necessarily make myself.


These past fourteen weeks have benefited my legal education and enhanced my personal development. I now feel the obligation to pass on this enlightenment to my friends and family, encouraging them to push the boundaries which they may have sub-consciously set in their own minds surrounding the feminist movement.

Navigating Donald Trump's Election as a Nepali American Woman (Part I)

Looking back on my life, there have been many moments where my identity of being a mixed-race woman with an immigrant family has come to the forefront of my consciousness. From the frequent question of "what are you?" that I have learned to brush off over the years to the more shaking, like when a truck of men yelled at my family and I to "go home!" in the wake of 9/11. Most recently it has been the election of Donald Trump and the conversations that society and my peers are having in the election's wake. 

Back in August I traveled back to Seattle to visit my family, and the moment I got off of the plane and was in the car with my father he started talking about the impending election. Khizr Khan had just given his moving DNC speech, and my father could not stop talking about it. My father finally had someone speaking up in politics that shared his reality - a brown immigrant who loved the United States and the inclusive democracy it was supposed to stand for. However, even with the happiness of seeing Khizr Khan speak my father expressed how concerned he was over the election and his place in the country. I tried to reassure him that Trump had no chance of winning but he told me wearily "Joanie, the people that hate guys like me are the guys that will vote for Trump". 

Post-election my father's words now hold a sense of foreboding that I did not grasp at the time. My father's belief then, that if Trump were elected it would be because of animus and distrust of minority and immigrant communities, has been a topic highly discussed in media outlets in the aftermath of Trump's election. The media has also focused on something else which my father could not predict: that a majority of white women voted for Trump

Many different authors and articles have tackled the question of why so many white women chose to vote for Trump, a candidate who had been accused of sexual misconduct and had been recorded making comments saying he engaged in actions that would constitute sexual assault under the law. The Pew Research Center found that 62% of rural white women voted for Trump. This high percentage may be attributed to the appeal of Trump's populist message that hit home with a rural population, which the Center's previous study showed were concerned with a lack of jobs and financial anxieties prior to voting in the November election. What about the women who lived in large cities who did not feel the same financial pressures that the women in rural America did? The Atlantic looked at this question, and found the answer may lie in a multitude of explanations from party loyalty to a desire for change. But there is an explanation for a Trump vote that would cover all white female voters, "and that, of course, is a racist view of the world that privileges white supremacy over every other issue". 

Every white woman who voted for Trump had their own set of daily realities, problems, and ideas that motivated their choice. Some, maybe many, may not have done so because they actively hated immigrants. However, I am left with a pang of sadness in my heart. While animus may not have motivated a Trump vote, rhetoric that disparaged minorities and policies that threatened immigrants were not enough to stop them from voting. This has left me feeling disconnected from the country, realizing the majority of the United States does not fathom the issues I face as a mixed woman with an immigrant family. Or maybe they do realize it, and they just don't care. Soon I would face the harsh understanding that many of my peers and those at my educational institution were no different from the country at large that I now feel so removed from.


*Please stay tuned for Part II of this blog post where I will go into the conversations I encountered in the wake of the election at law school, and why I think intersectional feminism can be a helpful and guiding force in the future! 

Teaching's 2%: part 1

Think back through all of the teachers that you’ve had in your life.  For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume that you had one main teacher for every year of schooling from kindergarten to 12th grade, that’s 13 different people.  How many of them were women? How many were white? If were like most American school children, those numbers would be 10 and 11 respectively. 

In undergrad I was friends with a handful of future teachers, and one night one of them invited me to a movie screening that the Black Students Association was hosting about systemic racism in public education.  I had a casual understanding of most of the information that the movie presented, but one statistic jumped out at me, and I haven’t been able to shake it in the years since.  Only 2% of America’s teachers are black men. 

75% of America’s teachers are women, and 83% are white.  Along with nursing, teaching is one of the only professions to be dominated by women.  These used to be some of the only fields women were able to go into if they wanted to make a career for themselves.  As such, it came to be seen as women’s work.  This seems like a victory for feminism, but is it?

In the last few weeks of class we’ve been focusing on some of the outlier effects of a patriarchal society.  The documentary The Mask You Live In reminded me of that other documentary I saw back in undergrad.  Specifically the teacher, Ashanti Branch, talking about being there for his students and helping them learn a different type of masculinity than the one presented in popular culture. 


Black boys are in the center of a tension between that view of masculinity that the film explained to us and the way that students are expected to act by their white educators.  Black students are 3 times more likely to be suspended or expelled thantheir white counterpartsBoys are morelikely than girls to be suspended in low performing schools.  Black men in teaching roles would likely help to close these gaps.  There are many examples of such men offering understanding and grace to students who remind them of what their own schooling was like.  There is evidence that children do better academically when they have ateacher that is their same race.  

While I still believe all children should be taught how to learn from people who are not like them, I don’t think that value should disproportionately affect minority students.  And if there’s a chance to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline, shouldn’t we give it all we’ve got? (https://www.aclu.org/issues/juvenile-justice/school-prison-pipeline)