In support of a rape-free campus

Editor’s Note: The author, Tammy Giovannini, is a student in the spring 2011 Women’s Studies Program Feminist Theory course at The University of Akron.

UA students at the first Take Back the Night event on campus, April 12, 2011, to help raise awareness of sexual violence and allow women to "take back the night."

Rape is a serious crime.

We live in a society where boys from a young age are encouraged to be sexual creatures. They are taught and encouraged to participate in sexual activities as a way to demonstrate their manhood.

But rape is not about sex. It’s purely about dominance. Rape is a man’s way of showing his victim and others that he’s in charge.

Do rape-free campuses exist?

Recently I took a class on violence against women. We looked at an article that featured the difference between a rape-prone and a rape-free college campus. It made me wonder if one could truly exist.

In a rape-prone campus, women are dehumanized. They are seen as sex objects, rather than women. In a rape-free campus, crimes such as rape and other forms of sexual discrimination are not tolerated, and the college community shuns those who participate in such activities.

Colleges should refuse to offer their services to those who commit rapes on campus. No one should have to worry about their safety when at college.

Where colleges fail

But one thing schools fail to do is provide victims of sex crimes with enough support. These students can go to campus police for help. But more times than not, the matter is not pursued.  Also, most colleges don’t provide victim assistance programs, such as medical care (available 24 hours a day, even if that means someone is on call) or psychological help.

Victims of such crimes are reluctant to get help because they feel as though they are being judged or revictimized by the system. When someone is raped, she is questioned by police, stripped down by a nurse and physically examined, and often samples are taken. And then the victim is sent home.

Every detail about the victim is put into a report: Was she drinking? What clothes did she have on? Did she know the person?

Don’t repeat the victimization

Campuses need to provide their students with support. Students need to feel safe when reporting a crime. They need to feel as though they are not being revictimized.

I understand that crucial evidence is taken from a victim of a rape at the hospital, but it shouldn’t feel as though she is being violated all over again.

Rape is a serious crime. It needs to be addressed, especially on college campuses.

Why we need comprehensive sex ed

Editor’s Note: The author is a student in the spring 2011Women’s Studies Program Feminist Theory course at The University of Akron.

I was a senior in high school the first time I had sex.

I remember making the conscious decision that I was ready to move to the next level with my boyfriend of two years. I also remember thinking, “This is it?!” afterwards, when I did not feel any different and nothing had really changed.

I had sex. So what?

While my experience is nothing out of the ordinary, it is criticized by a large portion of America, fueled by the activism of the Right. Though media and culture promotes sex, actually having it before marriage is condemned.

This ideology has worked its way into our public school systems; under the leadership of George W. Bush, abstinence-only education is the only type of sex education that receives any federal funding. The curriculum “ensures that a generation of young Americans has been indoctrinated with messages about how wrong, dirty, and immoral premarital sex is, but also with subjective — and false- information” (Valenti, 2009: 102).

Luckily, I got “the talk”

I was lucky. I had a mom who insisted on having “the talk” with me when I was around 11 or 12. She made me sit and listen as she spelled out what sex was and how it would affect me. While her very traditional nature still shined through (I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone I was on birth control at 14, even though it was to correct a medical problem and not for sex), she made sure that I had real information and didn’t have to rely on friends or what they were going to teach in schools.

As awkward as that discussion was, in retrospect, I’m glad we had it.

Signing the pledge — or not

In the seventh grade, a faith-based organization came in to talk about STDs and sex. I don’t remember a single thing they said about the STDs, but I do remember the Virginity Pledges they passed out at the end of their presentation. I was supposed to sign the back of this card and pledge to God that I would save my virginity for my future husband.

While my most of my classmates immediately signed, I refused. Even my seventh grade self knew that something was not right about the process.

These actions permeate modern day culture. Such a high price is placed on virginity, while personal attributes are ignored. As Jessica Valenti claims, when young girls are taught about sex, “there’s not often talk of compassion, kindness, courage, or integrity. There is, however, a lot of talk about hymens (though the preferred words are undoubtedly more refined — think “virginity” and “chastity”): if we have them, when we’ll lose them, and under what circumstances we’ll be rid of them” (“No such thing,” 2009).

Abstinence-only education a failure

Many sex education programs separate the girls from the boys. The boys receive messages which reaffirm their traditional masculinity, while the girls hear the abstinence-only message, which defines them only in terms of their virginity (or lack thereof).

It’s clear that the current system of abstinence-only education is failing our youth. Abstinence until marriage was realistic when kids were hitting puberty at 15 and getting married at 16. Now, when girls are hitting puberty as young as eight, and the median age of marriage is in the late 20s, waiting so long is unlikely.

This came up in the 2008 presidential race, when Sarah Palin’s daughter Bristol said “the best option is abstinence,” but added that she didn’t think that was “realistic” (“Bristol Palin: Abstinence,” 2009). We know that kids will have sex; why is it we insist on using fear and misinformation instead of arming them with facts and information to be safe and make better decisions?

Hope for comprehensive sex ed

There is some hope on the horizon. A bill called the “Repealing Ineffective and Incomplete Abstinence-Only Program Funding Act” was recently introduced in Congress. It would do exactly what its title states: repeal the earmarked dollars for abstinence only education and reallocate it for a more comprehensive program.

While it will face a number of challenges, especially by those on the Right trying to defund family planning organizations like Planned Parenthood, the bill is the first step towards eliminating the defunct abstinence only message — the same message that values a woman based only on her virginity.

Works Cited

  • Bristol Palin: Abstinence for all Teens ‘not realistic’. (2009, February 17). Retrieved from
  • No Such Thing as Virginity, Author Says. (2009, April 22). Retrieved from
  • Valenti, J. (2009). The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press.

Connecting the unconnected through Womanism

Editor’s Note: The author, Kat Bengston, is a graduate student in the spring 2011Women’s Studies Program Feminist Theory course at The University of Akron.

Feminism has never been an easy subject. From mythical bra burning to the infamous Betty Friedan-dubbed “Lavender Menace,” feminists have spent as much time combating stereotypes as they have working for social change.

Modern Americans have even gone so far as to call our world “post-feminist” despite a lack of constitutional equality for women. Every day, women reap the benefits of their foremothers’ deeds, and every day, women shy away from being called feminists.

This perception of feminists as little more than a hoard of shrill, unshaven lesbians is fascinating and depressing. These stereotypes, wholeheartedly embraced by the public, reinforce the idea that feminism is entirely without in-fighting or debate. In fact, feminism is constantly changing and incredibly flawed. Although the importance of the feminist movement cannot be contested, feminists are guilty of many of the same types of oppression as the patriarchy, such as the marginalization of African American women.

Making a Black Feminist statement

While many feminists were well aware of the holes in feminist theory regarding the experiences of African American women, these issues long went largely ignored in the larger feminism movement. As a result, black women left and formed their own movement, generally called black feminism.

One black feminist group, the Combahee River Collective, created “A Black Feminist Statement” in 1974. This essay summarizes the goals of black feminism, why black feminism is integral to the success of women’s equality and highlights many of the problems in the white feminist movement.

Alice Walker and Womanism

The statement greatly influenced Alice Walker, who in 1983 published In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens. This compilation of essays suggested a new form of feminism called “Womanism.” In the book, Walker defines a Womanist as

A black feminist or feminist of color. From the black folk expression of mother to female children and also a woman who loves other women, sexually and/or nonsexually. Appreciates and prefers women’s culture. Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female (xi)

Womanism addresses the experience of black women and its relevance.

Black feminism, Womanism and “white” feminism differ because of differing perceptions on how women’s equality can be attained. Black feminists believe that equality is impossible without an analysis of how race, class and oppression are intertwined. Even if women attain equal rights, those rights will not be available to all women if racism still exists.

These two groups split during the Second Wave, when feminists pushed aside most of the issues black women were most concerned about because they underestimated or simply did not acknowledge the importance of the obstacles facing black women.

Where race and gender intersect

While all women face oppression, black women face discrimination not only because of their gender but also because of their race. Racism makes it far more difficult to obtain equality for all women because the question remains: Who exactly are women attempting to be equal to? Therefore, black feminists and Womanists are correct in stating that racism needs to be addressed alongside women’s liberation.

In modern times, white feminists are attempting to bridge the gap between the two movements. This is a slow process, as the exclusion of African American women’s experience was not the only mistake the feminist movement made. Women across all cultures outside of the West have also been neglected. Bringing the movements together requires a re-evaluation of how feminists view the world.

For further reading

Why doesn’t the U.S. offer paid maternity leave?

The author, Jennifer Dolly, is a student in the spring 2011Women’s Studies Program Feminist Theory course at The University of Akron.

For a working mom-to-be, deciding when to go on maternity leave, for how long, and if she can afford it, can be very challenging.

Most employers in the United States do not offer paid maternity leave, so the mom has to research all of her options in order to figure out how long she can be gone and the amount of pay she will receive while she is away from work taking care of her newborn.

Having a baby is supposed to be one of the most exciting events in a woman’s life. Unfortunately, most working women in the United States face unnecessary stress when it comes to taking time off work to welcome their baby into the world and into their lives. They are faced with the difficult decisions of how much time to take off, how they can afford it, and if their job will be available upon their return.

How the U.S. compares to the UK

The United States has fallen well behind other developed countries in the area of paid maternity leave. Paid maternity leave is actually the norm in most developed countries. Mothers-to-be in the U.S. have to use a combination of short-term disability, sick leave days, vacation, personal days, or unpaid family leave, and all of this usually determines how much time the mother will have to welcome her baby before she returns to work.

The Family Medical Leave Act (FLMA) of 1993 guarantees only unpaid leave, up to 12 weeks. Mothers who receive short-term disability get only a portion of their pay, usually half or two-thirds of their normal earnings.

In the United Kingdom, women are entitled to 26 weeks of paid maternity leave, called Statutory Maternity Pay. The new mother receives 90 percent of her normal earnings, and she is entitled to this Statutory Maternity Pay no matter how long she has worked at the company. Fathers-to-be also get Statutory Paternity Pay that entitles them to two weeks of paid leave at 90 percent of their normal earnings.

Vive la difference!

The situation is different — and even better — in France. All women workers receive paid maternity leave, their job is protected during their entire leave, and the leave varies depending on which child the mother is giving birth to. If it is her first or second child, she gets to start her leave six weeks before she is due, and she can return 10 weeks after the child has been born.

If it is her third child, she gets eight weeks before her due date and 18 weeks after the baby has been born (and more time off is allowed if she is expecting multiple children or it is her fourth or subsequent baby). All of this maternity leave is mandatory.

She can also take a parental leave until the child is three year old, with a guarantee of the same or a similar job. France also provides high quality, affordable daycare because they believe, as a society, that preschool is important for developing a child’s vocabulary, communication, and social skills.

Why so behind?

Why is the United States so far behind other developed countries when it comes to paid maternity leave?

Unfortunately, I cannot answer that question, but I have a theory. Companies in the U.S. are too concerned about making money and not concerned enough about the welfare of their employees.

Why should a company pay a woman to sit at home for six months to recover from the birth of her child? Most companies are owned or run by males who cannot fathom the physical, emotional and psychological changes a woman goes through when she has a child.

What’s worse is they don’t seem to care.


Feminist theory and prostitution

Editor’s Note: The author, Andrea Clark, is a student in the spring 2011 Women’s Studies Program Feminist Theory course at The University of Akron.

I decided to write about feminist issues in prostitution. This seems like an interesting issue that people may not necessarily think about when thinking about feminism. However, there are many forms of feminism and each one has at least a slightly different view on the issue.

I will start by quickly breaking down what each ones thoughts are on prostitution. Radical feminist believe that it is completely degrading. They also believe that it “Furthers the power politics of the male gender,” (Bromberg, 1997). They are making a moral statement. Women should not be willing or even consider selling their bodies to men for money.

Prostitution as an economic transaction

Liberal feminists, on the other hand, view prostitution as a “private business transaction.” Women should be allowed to make up their own minds and have the power to make choices. Women have fought for their personal freedoms, and not allowing them to act out freely constricts this. It was said that, “Liberal feminists believe that personal “rights” should predominate over concerns for the social good” (Bromberg, 1997).

Marxist feminists are more in-depth about their views on prostitution. They oppose any action that encourages enslavement and oppression of any workers. They go on to say that, “Prostitutes may feel that they are free, but looking at the larger economic picture in Marxist terms, they are in reality oppressed workers reinforcing and perpetrating an exploitative capitalistic scheme” (Bromberg, 1997).

Prostitution as oppression

Socialist feminist thoughts are related to Marxists thoughts on prostitution. However, they do not think that the economic factor is the main source of oppression. Socialist feminist “sees the oppression as having psychological and social roots,” (Bromberg, 1997). They feel like a broken down society is to blame to driving people into prostitution. We recognize class distinction and degrade and objectify certain classes. (Bromberg, 1997).

There seem to be a variety of different reasons people become prostitutes. I have read that, “Prostitution, a metaphor for American penetration and exploitation of the Third World, is an inevitable consequence of the clash of interests, wealth and cultures,” (Todd, 2008). Prostitution is at higher rates in bigger entertainment areas as well.

Unfortunately, prostitution will never go away. It is on the same line as drug use and even abortion. Whether it is legal or not, people will still participate in it for their own reasons.

Prostitution and the personal

That is not necessarily a bad thing. However, it does not matter how much a person knows on the subject at hand; it comes down to them and what they want. No one can make a person change, only suggest change if needed.

These different forms of feminism all make valid points, I believe. Who is really to say what is right or wrong for someone to do with their own body? I see how it can be so degrading and wonder how a woman could literally pull herself together and go through with having sex with someone with no emotions, thoughts, or feelings, just for the money. It is against the law for a reason.

However, I can see where women would want a say in their own personal and sexual life.


Screw the media: I am beautiful!

Editor’s Note: The author, Amy Schneider, is a student in the spring 2011 Women’s Studies Program Feminist Theory course at The University of Akron.

Every face is beautiful.

It seems that media has been portraying women as something that is not realistic forever. Flipping through a magazine can be so hurtful to a girl of any age.

The models who are shown are not always white, but generally speaking they are. They have flat stomachs, no stretch marks, no cellulite, perfect skin and a slender body with a perky chest. How many women actually look like this? I’d say not a lot.

Airbrushed beauty isn’t real beauty

When you look at these photos, you really don’t stop and think that it has been airbrushed and changed so many times that the result is not that woman. Young girls look at these magazines and see these women and think, “Wow, they are pretty. I want to look just like that.”

At this age, self esteem isn’t at its highest, and the adolescent years are when people try and fit in and figure out who they are. When they see that society loves women who look pretty and sexy, they will try and imitate that; even women who are older try and look like this because they do not want to seem ugly, and if you are ugly nobody will like you.

The adult magazines and pornography have women looking like Barbie Dolls. Huge, fake boobs, dyed hair, lots of makeup, big asses, tiny waists, and tan skin are some of the things I think of when I see these girls. These women are also portrayed as dumb girls. They are the bobble heads in society with no brains. If you want to be sexy you must be this way. Guys like when girls are this way? That’s what it seems like to women.

Media pressure harmful to young and old

Television shows are incorporating more sexually risky scenes to expand their viewers. Secret Life of the American Teenager is a show that makes it look okay to have sex at 14 and have a baby. Don’t worry everybody else is having sex and having babies too. Girls watching shows like this think well these girls have sex on here and it is cool, so why not just go with the social norm?

Younger and younger girls are starting to have sexual relationships. In schools I work with, I have heard girls in the fourth grade talking about oral sex. ORAL SEX at NINE YEARS OLD!?!? It is happening.

Women are so pressured to lose their virginity and perform oral sex on guys to get them to like them, but it leaves them feeling empty and sad. Most guys are in it for the sex and if you give it up to them for free why would they stick around and actually form a relationship with you?

The pressures women receive from the media create this idea that we are not beautiful the way we are. It turns women against each other because when we do see a woman who is pretty, we immediately think to ourselves how we hate them or we look for flaws. It is because we feel threatened by them. We think that men will choose them over us because of our looks. It leaves women in a constant competition with one another.

Beautiful as we are

We think we must change ourselves to make people like us. For example, since I am 5 foot 3 and weigh 145 lbs., I think that I am overweight and need to lose weight however I can, whether it be through starving myself, puking after I eat, or taking diet pills. And since I am so short, I have to wear heels to make my legs look longer. Since my skin is pale I must tan myself to look sexier. When I have a blemish I will have so many choices in make up to hide my flaws, but how come men don’t have to hide their flaws?

Why is it that when I age and get wrinkled there are hundreds of different anti-wrinkle creams waiting for me? When my hair turns gray, why must I color it? Why can’t gray be beautiful too? Age is something frowned upon. Being young and thin and flawless isn’t all that it’s cracked out to be. Plastic surgery, Botox, teeth whitening, diet pills, hair coloring, calorie counting, how fun does that sound?

Check out these websites to find out more information on how the media affects women:

There’s nothing wrong with being fat

Editor’s Note: The author, Amy Campbell, is a student in the spring 2011 Women’s Studies Program Feminist Theory course at The University of Akron.

Feminism is about a lot more than just fighting sexism. Sexism doesn’t exist by itself; often there are many forms of oppression linked together that work to keep people out of power and under control.

It is commonly acknowledged that feminism also includes the fight against racism and homophobia, but there are many other issues that feminism’s fight for equality can help solve. I am referring to the fight against sizeism, known as Fat Acceptance or Body Positivity.

So what’s wrong with being fat?

The use of the word fat is particularly important because it encompasses the movement’s insistence that there’s nothing wrong with being fat. Using euphemisms like chubby, curvy and overweight simply avoid the issue and try to hide it.

By denying that I was fat, I was contributing to my own oppression because I was telling myself that there was something wrong with being fat and it was negative, and that isn’t the case. It’s just like being tall or having a certain hair color.

These issues commonly slip under the radar because society seems to tolerate the shaming and ridicule of fat bodies, whereas now blatant instances of sexism and racism are usually addressed as such. Body shaming can also fall behind “helpful” advice because misinformation and scare tactics have led the country to believe we are in an “obesity epidemic” and that fat people are a public health crisis, when this is really not the case.

Mania based on BMI

Most of the mania surrounding the obesity epidemic is based on the body mass index (BMI), which has been shown to be an inaccurate predictor of overall health (Devlin, 2009). The fact remains that even if these people were unhealthy, and the numbers of drastically unhealthy people in the United States were rising, they would still deserve to be treated like humans and not a problem to be solved.

Feminism has faced criticism for not addressing issues that relate directly to sexism, like class and race. When you ignore these other factors, you aren’t addressing the issue itself in a meaningful, realistic way because in all practical applications it is impossible to untangle these different levels of oppression.

This is also true when feminists choose to ignore instances of sizeism. There are many problems that come with being a woman, being a person of color, being a person with a disability, being non-heterosexual, being fat, and many more. When you fit into multiple categories, the problems only increase.

For some fat people, even the right to simply exist is questioned. Such as in the case of the blogger Margitte, who was repeatedly questioned about why she was fat, and she was not left alone until she could provide an answer. Would you question someone about why they were tall? Would you think that you had a right to question their body at all? It seems unlikely.

Another issue is when people mistake their fat-phobia for “concern” for others. It is imperative to remember that you can never assume anything about anyone’s health simply from their physical appearance. While, yes, it is important to keep active and not eat junk food all the time in order to be healthy, this does not mean that everyone who looks fat eats donuts and sits on the couch all day. Many people who look thin do not exercise and eat food that is terrible for them, but no one ever scolds them for being unhealthy because this misleading line between “obesity” and health has been drawn.

Well-meaning “fixes”

Many attempts to help “fix” the nation’s current state of affairs have been mostly well-meaning, but not very well realized. For example, Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” Campaign, meant to address childhood obesity. The campaign comes from a good place, but it may cause more harm to actual fat kids by shaming them and hurting their self-esteem instead of helping. The campaign exaggerates the crisis, exaggerates kids’ laziness, conflates fitness with thinness and underestimates the impact of body shame and fat hatred on the very kids it is trying to help (Harding, K. 2010).

While it is very common to find feminists criticizing fashion and media for creating false images and expectations of beauty that are impossible to live up to, these “healthy” campaigns are doing the exact same thing by valuing thin bodies over fat ones, without actually looking at any other indications of health.

Most importantly, Fat Acceptance isn’t about valuing fat bodies over thin ones, and it isn’t about telling people how to live their lives. It’s only about recognizing that all people are valuable for who they are and what they achieve, not what they look like. Fat or thin, male or female, black or white, it shouldn’t make any difference. As long as inequalities between these groups exists, feminism should be there to fight against oppression, and make this world a better, equal place for everyone.