Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Weekly Women's Sports Pitch

I am very excited to present my first guest post.  This post was written by Chaz Vukotich, who is not only an obsessive sports fan and a feminist man but also my boyfriend.  He was very excited to write this post and I hope it will be a recurring weekly topic on this blog.  I see it as variety--I am no sports fan except for college basketball (Go Panthers!) so I hope you enjoy this different perspective on women and the world.  Also, as always, if you are interested in writing a guest post for this blog just let me know.

Hi.  My name is Chaz.  Although I would consider myself to be a feminist, I’m not really knowledgeable about most of things that you’ll typically see on this blog.  So when my girlfriend, the main author of this blog, asked me to write some things for her, I was a little hesitant.  I intend to write what I know, which is sports.  And this blog being what it is, I’m going to focus on women’s sports.  Hopefully, this should be a semi-regular contribution on topics in women’s sports, and if you read them (and I actually write enough of them), you should see some interesting things.

The question I thought most important to answer in my first attempt at blog posting is why women’s sports matter.  First and foremost, women’s sports can be just as exciting as men’s sports.  If you consider yourself to be a true sports fan that question can go out the window.  The bigger part of the question is why women’s sports matter to those who aren’t sports fans.  Rise in athletic participation amongst women and girls has accounted for a number of health and behavioral benefits in high school, collegiate, and recreationally athletic women.  The truth is that if these girls and young women have no role models to look up to they will not continue to participate.  Public disinterest will only erode the benefits that have been gained more quickly.

So for the first installment of this column I’m going to discuss Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS).  Since 2009, the league featured between five and seven teams containing most of the best women’s soccer players in the world, including most of the United States and Brazilian Olympic teams from the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  When you added in all the other foreign nationals who came to the US to play, the league featured some of the most concentrated soccer talent in any league in the world, men’s or women’s.  The average attendance for all games played over the first three seasons was 3,982.  For comparison, the average attendance for MLS (Major League Soccer) was 16,953 for the same period.  The NFL’s average attendance for 2011 was 67,394.

This year, there will be no WPS.

The biggest factor behind the closing of WPS was the behavior of the owner of the MajickJack club located in Boca Raton, Florida.  The team owner refused to follow minimal operating procedures, leading to the club’s eventual folding.  USA Soccer, the national governing body, has rules which state that leagues must have no fewer than six clubs to maintain their standing.  Given all of this, WPS chose to suspend the 2012 season.

You might say that these are all technical issues that have no bearing on the fact that this is a women’s team.  I say that the lack of interest caused an owner to not care whether his team succeeded or failed.  No MLS club has folded since 2001.  The last NFL team to cease operations was the New York Yanks in 1953.  For Major League Baseball, it was eight teams that closed with the folding of the Federal League in 1915.  The only factor that caused the team to fail is that it is a women’s professional team.  That’s the real shame in all of this.  It’s not less interesting, less competitive, or less fun to watch.  And we’re all less fortunate from not having the league around.

So go and support whatever local women’s sports teams you might have, be they professional, collegiate, or high school.  I guarantee you’ll see something worth seeing.  And at the very least, you’ll let someone know that just because it’s a girls’ game, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth anything.


Safe Spring Break

For most major universities, spring break is coming up next week.  Yesterday I helped hand out Safe Spring Break gift bags outside the dining hall at Chatham University and I thought that writing out some tips for how to enjoy your break without catastrophe would be beneficial.  I won't personally be doing anything too fascinating for spring break--except playing the Super Tuesday drinking game--but the rest of you may be and I'm sure you want to return to classes in one piece.

First of all, safe sex is important!  It's not just important to use contraception to prevent pregnancy-though no one wants to say their kids fifteen years down the line that they were conceived on spring break, I'm sure--but also to prevent STIs.  Especially with sexually transmitted infections like HPV and drug-resistent gonorrhea floating around, you can never be too careful.  Use condoms!  They make them for both men and women.  Hormonal birth control methods do not prevent the spread of STIs, so make sure you're using one of the barrier methods.

As far as alcohol goes, enjoy drinking!  It's fun, it really is.  But what isn't fun is ending up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning.  Know your limits.  Absolutely do not drink and drive--you could kill yourself and anyone else who happens to be on the same road as you, and DUIs are not fun in any case.  And for those nasty hangovers?  Greasy breakfast food.  Also, I have a bottle of cake-flavored vodka that I got for my birthday if any of you want to take it off my hands.

And now, the biggest warning of all.  I am absolutely not going to say "Don't go out alone or you'll get raped!" or "Don't dress that way because you'll get raped!" or "Don't drink because you'll get raped!"  That's ridiculous and just untrue--women get raped in a variety of situations that have nothing to do with who's with them, what they're wearing, and what they're doing. Just a few things to remember: Don't set your drink down and go back to it or let someone else pour your drink (in case it's been drugged).  Remember that the majority of sexual assaults are perpetrated by people who know their victims, not the dark-back-alley violent image we usually get.  Also, if you feel you have been raped, call 911 or go to the hospital immediately.  You will be able to get a rape kit faster and take the morning-after pill faster if you choose to, thus significantly increasing its chances of effectiveness at preventing pregnancy.  And remember that there are a lot of resources out there to help you get through initial--and continuing--recovery.

If you're going somewhere warm this spring break, wear sunscreen. 

And, once again, have fun.  That's really the important thing.  But ending up in the hospital or a police station or with really bad sunburn doesn't tend to be very fun.  And really, if you want this cake vodka, all you have to do is ask. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Politics of Everyday Choices

We make hundreds of individual choices every day, big or small.  You decide what to eat, what to wear, to study for a test or watch DVDs of Community...and we make these choices because we can.  For the past almost 92 years, women in America have been choosing whether they want to vote or not because they can.  Same with abortion, since 1973.  And we have many more minor and seemingly superficial choices than we used to.  I have always, to an extent, ascribed to the "I choose my choice" mentality--the idea that we have the freedom to make the choices we want to make without scrutiny because that's what feminism gives us.  But there is another popular school of thought as well--"the personal is political"--and it is not entirely incorrect.

"The personal is political" basically means that the choices that we make as women do have a societal responsibility to make feminist choices because our actions have larger consequences.  I don't believe that these two ideas have to be entirely at odds with each other all the time.

There are a lot of choices that qualify for this discussion--the choice to wear makeup, or high heels, the choice to shave any part of your body, the choice to change your last name upon marriage, your choice to go to pro-choice or pro-life rallies, the choice to work or stay home and keep house, the choice to use words like "bitch" or "cunt", and a hundred other seemingly minor or instinctual choices.  On the one hand, these are things that are no one's business but yours.  You have been give the option to make hese choices and that right has been fought for by our mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers.  On the other hand, these choices require some personal reflection about why you make them, and what will be the consequences of them.

Take, for example, the question of wearing makeup.  On the one hand, what's the big deal about that?  Everyone does it a lot of the time, and it's a minor and entirely personal choice.  It also gives women--and men, of course--the ability to look the way they want to look.  It's not cool to tell people how they should look or what they should wear or apply to make them look that way.  But, on the other hand, there is the fact that most people use makeup to make themselves look conventionally attractive and closer to the impossible standards of beauty we have thrust upon us (I mean, come on, can anyone's lips REALLY be that shiny?).  Continuing that construct isn't beneficial to us as a society.  So it becomes a difficult line to straddle.

How can one reconcile "I choose my choice" with "the personal is political"?  Well, firstly, let me say that that decision is entirely up to you--naturally.  For me, it comes with realizing that the decisions I make have a political impact on other people.  I haven't always made perfect choices, both personally or politically, and those choices have had negative effects on people.  So my new policy has become to consider what causes me to make my choices and what effect they will have on me, the people around me, and the world at large.  There is nothing wrong with staying at home instead of working or wearing makeup or not shaving your armpits or using words like "cunt" as long as you're doing them for your own reasons and you know what those reasons are.

This is important because it's going to spell out the rationale for a lot of what I will write on this blog.  of course, these are all just my ideas and beliefs--I would love to hear yours, too, readers.

Oh, and those of you at Chatham University, the Feminist Activists Creating Equality organization, in conjunction with PEACHes, will be giving away Safe Spring Break gift bags to anyone who stops by outside Anderson Dining Hall.  I'm going to have a post with some safe spring break tips later on tonight.  Also, check out this International Women's Reproductive Health Panel at Pitt Thursday night.  It looks really fantastic, I know I'm going to go! 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Feminist Relationships: The Last Name Conundrum

This is the first of what I hope to be many installments of a weekly Feminist Relationships series.  This week's topic has been on my mind for the past couple of days since Jezebel linked to this study about how people in the Midwest are more likely than they were 20 years ago to judge a woman for keeping her last name when she gets married.  Apparently, ladies, this means that we aren't as "committed to our husbands" as name-changers if we choose to stick with the name we were born with.  Which I think is pretty unfair.

I have my mother's last name, which is not a common occurrence.  Sure, it was just because she got to the birth certificate before my father and they were unmarried, but it was still a point of contention for years.  I love my last name--it's unique and interesting, and I plan to have it for the rest of my life.  And if I were a man, I wouldn't even need to explain this.

Marriage is a patriarchal tradition in itself, what with it being a way for fathers to transfer their daughters from their property to their new husband's property back in the day, but that doesn't mean it isn't still relevant.  It's so relevant that legalizing gay marriage has been a massive and passionately-fought fight and is finally starting to be accepted in a number of states (way to go Washington and Maryland!).  I think that gay marriage's mere existence may help to take some of the patriarchy out of marriage--hold your horses, conservatives, that's a good thing--and make it a more egalitarian tradition.  So many things about weddings and marriage leave the two people involved on non-equal footing based on sex, and maybe that can change now.

The name change is the first symbolic act of submission in a long line of real acts of submission a woman is expected to perform within a marriage.  She is literally her husband's now; he didn't have to take her name to prove that he was hers but she sure had to prove she was his.  As awesome as my boyfriend's last name is, it's not mine and it never will be.  And fortunately, he could care less about that.

Yes, it's a red flag when your man cares about the keep-or-change question.  I know Cosmo will tell you that you should never bring up marriage on the first date, but for me this one's a dealbreaker.  Even if it's asked as an entirely hypothetical question, I tend to bring up the name change question on the first couple of dates because it is indicative of so much more than what's on the surface.

Anecdote redacted as requested by the person it's about. Let's just say I know someone who felt pressured to change her name against her instincts.

Now, I'm not saying that changing your last name upon getting married is bad.  I am a strong believer in the "I choose my choice" school of feminism, and if that is what makes you feel good about yourself you change that name.  I considered taking a previous boyfriend's name if we ever got married simply because it was so damn cool.  The problem comes when you change it because you're bowing to pressure from your future husband, his family, your family, or anyone else you know.  They can judge you all they want, it makes you just as committed to your marriage as any man should ever be considered to be.

Of course, as a last thought, this leaves open the question of who gets to give their last name to the kids.  I have made a hard-and-fast rule that boys can have the husband's last name and girls ca have mine and that's fine with me.  Lots of people go by the coin-flipping method.  A lot of people hyphenate, which is great but which would never work wit my already four-syllable-long last name.  I like the idea of leaving it up to equal 50/50 chance who gets to pass on their name.

I'm going to talk more about feminist weddings next week.  In the meantime, there are some interesting articles on this site about that very topic that you should check out.

Oh, and lastly, the boyfriend and I saw CMU's production of Sweeney Todd last night.  I would highly recommend it, if you get the chance you should definitely go see it!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Pennsylvania Jumps on Abortion Restrictions Bandwagon

Okay, I promised some less-serious material today, and I will provide it after this one last quick thing. 

Many of you may have heard about the Virginia state legislature pushing through a bill that would require ultrasounds for women seeking abortion.  Pennsylvania's state house is about to do the same--and in some ways even more insidiously.  The new bill about to be passed--HB1077--would require a woman to have an ultrasound 24 hours before seeking an abortion and for the screen to be pointed in her direction. 

The creepy part of this--and the Virginia bill as well--is the 24 hour waiting period.  There is no medical reason for a 24 hour waiting period after an ultrasound.  If the only reason for conducting the procedure was to be certain the woman was pregnant it could be done moments before and fulfill the medical requirements.  This is a sort of "Now you do this and sit and think about what you've done!" measure that assumes women can't make these choices in their own minds.  It's dangerous and it's becoming more common.

So take a moment to sign the petition and tell your friends to do the same.  Thanks for your time.  I promise some fun stuff is coming later this afternoon!

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Language Of The Abortion Debate

Abortion--and reproductive rights in general--have been pushed to the national spotlight over the past year in a way we have not seen in decades.  State legislatures all over the country, and even the national Congress, have been proposing legislation and having debates that would limit the reproductive freedom of women.  One of the most interesting things about this, to me, is the language that has been used to describe and define the people--usually the vocal people--on either side of the debate.  None of it seems quite right.

There are a variety of monikers for those on both sides of this issue: pro-choice vs. pro-life, pro-choice vs. anti-choice,  pro-abortion vs. anti-abortion...the list goes on.  Some of the most heated debates I have seen in the past year have not necessarily been about the issue of abortion.  Oftentimes the people arguing are filled with rage that the other person defined them in a certain way, and implied something about their position, by calling them something they felt to be inaccurate.  The truth is that they are all inaccurate in some way.

First, let's take the entire legal aspect out of the equation and stick to the philosophical for a second.  I am even surprising myself by saying this, but I can understand why someone would think that life begins at conception.  Perhaps it is because I grew up with a family that thought this way, but there is no denying that a reasonable person could hold that belief.  There is absolutely no way to be 100%, scientifically certain that life does not begin at conception.  It becomes entirely about the personal belief of whomever you're talking to.  I have spent years considering, and researching, and discussing, and I have formed my own opinion--that life begins at birth.  This makes sense to me.  It is difficult for me to believe that two cells that are entirely invisible to the naked eye could be considered a life simply because they would be entirely incapable of surviving on their own.  But I would not laugh in the face of someone who believes otherwise--as long as they left me alone about it.

Now, to add another layer to it, we can split those who believe that life begins at conception or some phase of gestation into two groups: the first that believes that that is exactly the way it is and that abortion should be illegal, and the second which realizes that they have a personal belief that should not affect how others live their lives.  How common is it to hear someone say "I would never have an abortion but I'm not going to stop anyone else from doing it"?  These are reasonable people who could easily be considered to be "anti-abortion" but who are not on the same side of this issue as people who stand outside abortion clinics telling women that God hates them, or even people who write letters to their congressperson telling them to pass a Personhood amendment.

  Debunking the term "pro-abortion" is even easier: no one is pro-abortion.  No one.  No one wants to go into OB/GYN offices throwing flyers for clinics in the air and yelling "ABORT!  IT'S SO MUCH FUN!"  No one goes on a weekend vacation to an abortion clinic.  No one relishes the opportunity to terminate a pregnancy, whether they actually do it or not. 

"Pro-life" is also problematic for a number of reasons.  A month or so ago, I was watching a "debate" on Fox News featuring the then-five GOP presidential candidates.  A man in the audience stood up to ask Jon Huntsman (who was still in the race at the time) a question.  It basically boiled down to "How can you call yourself pro-life when you believe abortions should be okay in the case of rape, incest, or danger to the mother?"  I nearly threw a shoe at the TV.  How this man could not see the irony in the fact that he would not allowing Jon Huntsman "pro-life" street cred because he wouldn't let a pregnant woman die I will never know.  This is an extreme case, obviously, but it also implies something more sinister.  The opposite of pro-life is pro-death, obviously, and people who believe abortion should be legal are not that.  It's unfair to call yourself pro-life because no one can disagree with that term-it's like saying you're pro-kittens.  Even if your position is entirely noble, pro-life is a bit too saintly a badge for anyone to wear.

This leaves us with "pro-choice" and "anti-choice", which I think are probably the most fitting.  They are two sides of the same coin, not bringing confusing second ideas into the equation the way "pro-choice" and "pro-life" do.  Not to mention that you can still be anti-abortion and pro-choice; I know plenty of people who are.  Being pro-choice just means that you acknowledge that, legally, your opinion is not the supreme one and whether you think abortion is murder or not is irrelevant in the grand scheme.  It's about allowing other people to have the ability to form those beliefs for themselves.  It's about having the freedom to have no children or 21 children if that's what you want.  Making choice the center of the debate is crucial, because that's what it's really about. 

It might seem nitpicky but language matters.  Again, if an uninformed person hears "pro-choice" vs. "pro-life" they are going to think, "Hmmm, life is better than choice."  It frames the whole debate and grounds it in certain fixed terminology, and the importance of that cannot be emphasized enough.

Tomorrow I'm going to get away from this really heavy stuff and have a couple posts that are on the lighter side along with some links to awesome things you should read.  In the meantime, here is a kickass Ani DiFranco song about the important of choice. 

Welcme To The World We Live In

Hello, everyone!  I hope that you will all enjoy this blog and what it has to offer, and I hope that you will each contribute to it in some way.  I wanted to talk briefly about why I created this blog and some of the issues that are currently inspiring my feminist activism. 

Us Pennsylvanians were unfortunately aware of the existence of Rick Santorum long before he slithered onto the national stage.  Now that he is a competitive candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, I find myself ducking under a chair in shame every time he mentions he is from this area.  It continually amazes me that he was so successful in southwestern Pennsylvania, and it amazes me further that he is doing so well now.  He's doing really, really well, as it turns out--even with women.  57 percent of conservative women approve of Santorum, according to an ABC-Washington Post poll conducted this past week.  This is disregarding the fact that Rick Santorum disapproves of abortion, birth control, amniocentesis, sex outside of the context of procreation, and single parents.  I would like to dissect the reasons women would approve of Rick Santorum, but that will have to come at a later date.

Besides the GOP race, which is at this point becoming a contest to see who hates women's rights the most, we have the continual hatred of Planned Parenthood, birth control access, abortion rights, the rights of women as autonomous human beings, slut-shaming, and victim-blaming to inspire our ire.  I hope to explore all of these topics soon--one or two of them later today, even--and I would love to hear what everyone else has to say about them.  Thank you very much for reading!  I hope you will all contribute to this blog in one way or another.