Throughout this trimester in my high school feminism course we have explored the ways in which women are neglected and omitted from our society. We have realized and analyzed the ways in which this treatment is connected to everything, from race to class and even sexuality.
Today, this imbalanced use of power in the hands of men who create unfair and sexist policies towards women is now known by many as the war on women. This war on women ranges from the attempt to eliminate abortion and contraceptives to re-defining rape to the lack of respect for women in the military.
That’s why I’m grateful for feminist media like Ms. Magazine, which bring these issues to light. Reading articles from Ms. Magazine, I was particularly struck by one article titled “So you want to change the world?” By Michele Tracy Berger, the article went in depth on the development that women’s studies has had in higher education. In recent years, women’s studies has become increasingly popular and is now celebrating forty years as part of college curricula.
The article demonstrates that there is a clear link between the students that take these courses and the engagement they have in making change within communities. According to the article, women’s studies is appealing more and more to not only young women but also queer men, who find a secure environment in which they are able to share their thoughts and experiences about sexuality. Even straight men, who since birth are pressured to be smarter, stronger, and in a higher position than women, find a place in women’s studies classes to examine masculinity.
These courses also provide students tools to read the media and have a critical lens on society. These courses “empha[size] critical thinking translating learning into practice and, interdisciplinary training defines women’s studies”; in addition, “students in the field are uniquely self-reflective, invested in their communities and in making a positive impact on the world.”
These students are learning skills and transferring them into the real world to change issues they see present in their lives. These tools are not only incredibly useful but are the ones that will transform society radically that will allow young people to “conduct research that matters in the lives of women and men around the world.”
I can relate to all these points because by taking this high school feminism course this year, I have learned skills that have been incredibly helpful to me, and I have begun to “be the change you wish to see in the world,” as Mahatma Gandhi has said.
The second article “From Slum to Statehouse” specifically spoke to me about India. It featured a woman called Bharati Singh, who comes from one of the poorest and largest slums in the Indian state of Orissa. Singh became Bhubaneswar’s deputy major. After having spent so much of our class time talking about India and the Indian feminist movement, I believe that this article struck me because it gave me more hope about women around the world. This change is one that has been quickly increasing and has already brought India great results in that Singh has successfully managed to represent women and poor people living in the slums.
The article also hits on a very sensitive topic, the known fact that in India like in many other countries “women would just vote however their husbands tell them to.” This is something that needs to be changed. Even though this article was specifically about India, women’s lack of representation in government is an international issue. According to the film Miss Representation, only 64 countries have had women presidents or prime ministers. This may seem like a lot, but compared to the 193 nations recognized by the United Nations, even if not all countries are democracies or republics, 64 is still an extremely small number.
Another example is right on our doorstep. The United States is not one of those countries that has never had a woman leader at the top of the helm. Only in this year’s 2012 election will we have had the most women serving in Congress, with at least 20 women Senators. As said in the Miss Representation documentary, “you cannot aspire to become something you can’t see.” The only way that girls and young women can dream to become someone is to look up to someone similar to them, someone they can relate to.
Women in America make up 51% of the population. In the United States senate there are only 20 women Senators, the most the United States Senate has ever had, and there are 100 senators overall which means that women only make up 20% of the senate. This really makes me think about the meaning of democracy in our country. Because it means that more then half of our population is not properly represented in politics and does not have an equal say as men, even in topics and decisions that effect their lives and not men’s.
The third article that I read in Ms. Magazine was titled “Fighting the War on Women.” As I have mentioned before, the war on women is a phrase used to describe the policies that limit women’s rights, especially those created by the Republican party. These rights include coverage for birth control and protection against misleading and inaccurate definitions about rape.
These violations to women’s rights have been excused with the justification that doing so protects religious liberty. Being a woman and a Catholic myself, I am appalled by this insinuation. Living in a patriarchal society such as ours is a predicament that is not going to be easy to disrupt.
In the article, reproductive-rights advocate Sandra Fluke talks about a friend of hers, who was denied coverage for contraceptives even if they had been prescribed to prevent a cyst. She had to pay for contraceptives from her own pocket and when she couldn’t anymore, not only did it lead to a cyst “the size of a tennis ball growing on her ovary . . . but also had to have the entire ovary removed.”
This all happened because “the assumption is [women] are lying about those symptoms to try gain access to coverage. Such distrust and suspiciousness is not only uncalled for but an issue that leads to events as that of Fluke’s friend. And as Fluke has repeatedly stated, “Ours is not a war against the church. It is a struggle for the access to the health care we need.”
These events should not be happening in a developed country and world power like the United States.
Lastly, the fourth article I read that touched me and probably impacted me the most was “Court-Martialing The Military,” which focused on rape and sexual assault among the women that join the military and the ways in which “fellow soldiers” who rape them rarely face consequences for their actions.
This article stunned me because “nearly one out of three women are raped during their service.” If the military is supposed to protect and represent us, and if soldiers are supposed to reinforce the law, then why is this happening?
The issue of rape is not a new one to the American military. Even though the United States Department of Defense has made attempts to change the protocol and efficiency of the persecution of the offenders, it has not yet been made as efficient as it should be.
Cynthia O. Smith made a point I particularly agreed with, “one sexual assault is one too many.” Since 1948, when women were first allowed to join the military, “500,000 military women have been sexually assaulted, many stepping forward only after leaving the service.”
I think about all the women who never found the courage to even step forward and all the ones that had to spend days, weeks, months or even years facing their rapist while in service. It is completely unjust. Another issue many of these women face is that, one too many times they are not allowed to transfer, having therefore to remain in the same setting in which they were assaulted and in the presence of the person who violated them.
Attorney Susan Burke courageously helped women file three major lawsuits against the military. But even her lawsuits only brought minor changes to the system. Barely “half the crimes reported are deemed ‘suitable for possible disciplinary action’ and less then six percent of those result in conviction.” This leaves something like approximately one out of three convicted sex offenders treated as if they had never abused a basic human right.
The article also explores a new movie called Invisible War that looks at heartbreaking stories of the effects the abuse has on the women themselves and their families, such as a husband who had to prevent his wife from killing herself and called 911 and a father who had to reassure his daughter that she is still a virgin after being raped. These are stories that should not exist, and we should ask ourselves why they do.
Why do these men rape their fellow women soldiers? I believe that the hyper-sexualization and violence the media exposes us to has some real effects, making rape acceptable, and even cool. Even outside of the military, 12 percent of rape survivors are under the age of twelve and there has been shown a direct link between the violence the media exposes us to and the behavior men and boys have towards women. If they are shown that to behave violently is ok, how can we expect them to respect their own fellow soldiers or the women and children they come across in war zones?
The media an extremely important part of our society. Feminist media, such as the magazine Ms. and the documentaries Gloria: in Her Own Words and Miss Representation help women move forward because they bring forth issues such as economic inequality, international women’s issues, and issues such as sexism and racism.
These are issues that mainstream media strays away from and that are considered often taboo. I believe this is why Miss Representation challenges mainstream media; it is a film that provides the viewer with the facts and features actual women who speak out.
These are problems and issues that the American media and public have, in my opinion, become too comfortable ignoring. I believe it could lead people to take action and bring forth actual change. I believe this because that was the feeling I was left with when I watched the film, and because I saw the impact it had on my classmates.
I think that the film Miss Representation is one that could make a change and could play a huge role in advancing the conversation about women and girls within our culture, media, and politics.