Saturday, December 31, 2011

Follow Up Post: Gender Construction & Violence

As a follow up to my last post, I wanted to draw your attention to a news story aired earlier this month.  The title of the story alone, "Brooke Fantelli, California Transgender Woman, Allegedly Tased in Crotch by Imperial County Desert Rangers," elicits great anger in me.  Not only does this behavior demonstrate violence, but it is a clear example of both prejudice and discrimination (which often lead to violence, hatred, close mindedness, inflexibility, etc. in the first place). Quick reminder: Prejudice is a negative attitude based on faulty generalizations about members of a selected group (usually protected classes), whereas discrimination is an action demonstrating the attitude. They are not mutually exclusive however. For example, an individual may act out a negative or hateful behavior, but not really believe the premise upon which the actions are predicted. Perhaps the person fears loss of friends, a job, etc. if s/he does not perform the behavior. Regardless, these terms are something to keep in mind as we go through life--prejudice and discrimination.

The news story about Brooke Fantelli (there is also a video on the linked news story) and the discrimination she experienced as a result of her status as a transgender woman is horrific. Because her biological sex does not match with her gender presentation she is tazed in the genital region. Really? And, Ms. Fantelli clearly identifies as a female, yet the ranger chose (key word) to use "sir" and "him". I think this is the exact type of story from which I based my last post. Until we achieve a more open, accepting, and supportive society/environment, hate and violence will feed off of our close mindedness. If we do not stand up against such behavior, such perpetrators may believe their actions, their words, and their violence is acceptable. I think a previous comment from the earlier post is right on. Tolerance. While I understand individuals have different views, beliefs, etc. we do not have the right to enforce our own beliefs on others. While I am presenting one view here and explaining my frustration and hoping to educate, I recognize that everyone may not agree with me.

As a last note, while I've merely presented one example of violence above, let us not forget the many, many others who experience similar forms of hate, discrimination, and intolerance. For a further examples, read Angie Zapata's story, and Gwen Araujo's story, and watch a short video about Angie's life below.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Gender Construction: Impacting ourselves, our children, and our society

When I teach Introduction to Sociology, we always talk about sex and gender. Of course the first piece of business is to differentiate between the two. Sex relates to ones biological makeup and sexual organs, while gender is the performance and/or presentation of sex. Notably, the two do not need to match. One may present a gender different from his/her sex.  Keeping these in mind, today I'd like to discuss gender construction. That is, how, as a society, we dictate the ways one should look, talk, behave, and work to present his/her assigned gender.  While this post is not dedicated solely to the ending of violence against women, it is dedicated to ending discrimination based on gender (of all people).

What does all this mean? Let me show you.

Things like color have been socially constructed to represent certain genders. Pink=girl; blue=boy
If you attend a baby shower, you may purchase a gift matching these designated colors. What if you don't know the sex of the baby? How can you assign the gender if you don't know the sex? Chaos, right? How can you tell if a baby is a girl or boy if the color, or a bow on the head, or a baseball and bat on the outfit, don't tell you? It doesn't have to be that way.  And, what is the consequence for failing to meet gender norms? Bullying, hate, discrimination, violence. So, let's take a note from this little girl, Riley:

I think Riley asks some great questions. Why is pink marketed to little girls? Why aren't super heroes marketed, gifted, acceptable for little girls? Don't we all need super heroes in our lives? Granted I was the little girl who played with soldiers and semi trucks in addition to barbie playhouse and My Little Ponies. But really, have you stopped to think about this? Have you questioned the way we socialize our children through the toys purchased and/or the clothes provided (even if you do allow the child to choose out of those clothes)? How your nieces, nephews, cousins, are gendered?

So, you say you'd still like your little girl to wear pink and your little boy to wear blue? That's okay. I'm not the judge and jury here. I'm simply trying to make you think, question, and investigate our world.  I encourage you to think also about the ways you might/do react to individuals, even very young (children) who break gender norms. Look at the below links (video and online postings) and think about how you would react. Think about how you would explain it to your children. Better yet, what would you do if your own child came to you requesting to dress the opposite of his/her assigned gender?  And, as a side element, I'd like to discuss further the difference in biological male children wishing to meet female gender norms and biological female children wishing to meet male gender norms. It seems to me that little boys wishing to live, dress, act, or talk like little girls are more strictly policed and criticized. Why is this? So, as you read through this, read other articles, watch videos, it seems to me the problem is with adults, not with kids.

Think about how your responses to these questions *may* affect the perpetuation of strict gender norms and may contribute to hate, prejudice, discrimination, and bullying.

I've ordered her book and plan to read it. I think the struggles she faced/continues to face are normal. I also think she's doing an extraordinary job allowing her child to be who he wants to be. But, some great questions are introduced. What do you think?

Article to check out: 'Genderless' Baby--Baby Storm

Then there is the below ad from J. Crew (which received quite a bit of scrutiny ad criticism):

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Science vs. Politics: Plan B Initiative Rejected

You may be wondering why I've placed this picture on the blog today. If you read the fine print at the bottom it states: "He's hot, he lights you up inside, you can't switch it off and before you know it, the sparks are flying...
The thing is, we see more women with an unplanned pregnancy in January than any other time of the year. We don't want you to be one of them. Getting hold of a morning after pill over Christmas can be difficult so it's useful to have it before you need it. bpas is giving away FREE morning after pills in advance throughout December."

Today's post is all about Plan B and the current controversy over whether there should be age restrictions on it's over-the-counter availability.

Since 2005, Plan B (commonly referred to as the morning after pill) has been in the middle of politics. Now it seems the dispute is between the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the government. On Wednesday, the FDA recommended Plan B be made available over-the-counter with no age restrictions. The decision was not made lightly. Margaret Hamburg, the FDA Commissioner, took 10 months in making her decision. The FDA is supposed to base their decisions entirely in science, and she found that Plan B is safe and effective.

Following this decision, however, an Obama administration official, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, used her veto authority and rejected this initiative, instead contending that the age restriction was necessary. Sebelius argued that adolescents may not have the "behavioral maturity" to know how to use Plan B. She said there is not enough evidence to be sure adolescents can understand the instructions on the label. It doesn't seem that hard really. It's a pill. Put it in your mouth, rinse around with water. Swallow.

Plan B is a hormonal contraceptive found to be 89% effective at safely preventing pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of having unprotected sex. Acquiring this drug is easy for individuals 17 and older (ask a pharmacist for the drug); however, individuals who fall in the 16 and younger category must get a prescription from their doctor in order to get Plan B.

While it might be easy, you think, to make such a decision. I would argue there are quite a few things to consider on the side of both opponents and proponents.

First, does Sebelius have a point? Young people are choosing to engage in sexual intercourse younger and does providing Plan B (just as is the argument about condoms and abortion) suggest to these young people that this is okay?

Also, as a society we have seen a massive increase in the number of teenage mothers and fathers. I've mentioned before that I assisted in a research project on this very topic. In many of the interviews, the teens stated they didn't know their options, didn't know how to access their options, or didn't feel they could talk to anyone (especially their guardians) about their options for preventing pregnancy. So, is our abstinence-only message really working? I think not. Is the solution Plan B? Perhaps society should be more open about providing condoms? Education?

I've got two questions for you. The first is whether Plan B should be available over-the-counter at all. And, the other is about the issue in this blog regarding age restrictions.

There are many other arguments (which I'd be happy for you to tell me about in my comments), but in the end, I am asking you, do you think Plan B should be provided over-the-counter without age restrictions?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Criminal Justice System & Women

About a month ago, I received a notice for jury duty. I was scheduled to report today. I have to admit, as a criminologist, I was a bit excited. I never expect to get chosen for the actual jury, but I enjoy observing and experiencing the process of jury selection.  Specifically, I like to analyze the challenges (challenge for cause and peremptory challenges) that are made.  Challenges for cause are not limited and are made when a prospective juror shows s/he has some bias or legal disability. Peremptory challenges are the removal of prospective jurors for no specific reason (these are limited, but vary by jurisdiction). In Colorado, ten peremptory challenges are allowed in capital cases, five in felony cases, and three in misdemeanor and civil cases.

Well, my number ended up being excluded from the prospective jurors, so I wasn't part of the experience this time. However, I recently received an article about a female rape victim who was pardoned after she was imprisoned. It made me think about how women are treated within the criminal justice system at large. In this case, a woman was imprisoned for having sex outside of wedlock--the sex was rape at the hand of a relative. She was viewed and treated as the offending party.

This can be explained in a number of ways.  First, we must acknowledge that honor killings are a phenomenon present in not only our own country, but more often in Islamic and Arab countries (as is the case in this article).  In many of these places, women have limited sexual freedom or decision-making power and extramarital affairs (with little consideration of the circumstances) are the responsibility of women.  So, while the woman is punished for her "moral crime" by being sent to prison, this incapacitation is also meant as a sort of protection. If a woman is not "protected" through incarceration, she faces a great likelihood of death by a family member for dishonoring her family (honor killing) through her behavior.

Back to the criminal justice system itself.  While many women seek protection through going to prison, it is not uncommon for prison personnel to refuse to house female offenders who have dishonored their families. Instead, they will send the women home (knowing they face a serious chance of honor killing). While I by no means support the current system or ideology functioning in these locations, I do want to pose a question. If the system and ideology is to stay the same (honor killings of women will continue and women will be deemed responsible for their own rapes), should prisons serve as protection for these women? Is it the responsibility of the government (prisons) to protect these women? Do prisons have the right to send women away from incarceration (acknowledging the prison knows punishment at home is likely)? Again, we must acknowledge the belief system in place.

So, here is my second poll of the series.

The article I read focused on an interesting element. To avoid her continued incarceration (a 12-year sentence for being raped) and to avoid facing being killed for her own rape (a reason for an honor killing) this particular woman had agreed to marry her rapist. That's right. The criminal justice is set up in such a way that women are faced with impossible choices. Their freedom is limited from day 1 simply by being born as a woman; the criminal justice reinforces this.

Read the full article that I am referring to here.

NOTE: I'd love comments and thoughts about this. And, if you mark "Unsure" in this poll, let me know what information might help you to make an educated decision. I'll be sure to follow up with a comment or another post.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day. While I know this issue is certainly not specific to women and girls, I certainly want to bring attention to the day and I am going to write a bit about how AIDS specifically affects women.

This day is dedicated to raising awareness and joining in activism against the pandemic that is AIDS. The number of people living with AIDS is staggering and we all should be educated. Check out the below table for some statistics.

We can see from the above that women represent half of adults living with AIDS at the end of last year. This is partially due to the position of women in our world.  What I mean is that the roles we assign to women (plus some biological differences) make us particularly vulnerable to AIDS.  Women are at greater risk for contracting AIDS during unprotected heterosexual encounters. This is exacerbated due to the lack of control/ability to negotiate many women, in many countries, have regarding sexual protection (esp. condom use). We must remember that in a number of societies women have few, if any, rights regarding their sexuality and/or their intimate relationships more generally. 

Globally, HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age. Did you catch that? The leading cause!  While this disease is not curable, it is treatable. However, many individuals are unable to afford treatment. And, again, women face additional challenges when trying to attain treatment due to the inequality faced socioeconomically.  

Finally, I want to talk a bit about the other ways HIV/AIDS affects women. First, we must note that women are primarily the caregivers in households. And, in some areas where palliative care is limited, women hold the sole responsibility of care. For example, in Africa, where we know there are extreme numbers of individuals living with HIV/AIDS, women are caregivers for 2/3rds of those living with the disease. And, let's not forget that this is not their only responsibility. Women are often still charged with caring for healthy children, perhaps bringing in an income, and taking care of household cleaning, cooking, etc.  

Another element we need to acknowledge is mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HIV/AIDS through pregnancy, labor, delivery, or breastfeeding.  This is important to discuss because it recognizes the extra responsibility placed on women, but also speaks to the spread of the disease.

Want more info? Check out this and this.