Friday FREAK OUT! ‘Rape Insurance’ law passes in Michigan…can we find a new hashtag for this?

20131213-153630.jpgThis past Wednesday, Michigan lawmakers passed legislation that bans insurance companies from covering abortion services, even if a woman’s life is in danger. Women who want abortion services to be covered would have to purchase a separate rider. This legislation, “Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act”, has been labeled ‘rape insurance’ by opponents because a woman would purchase the rider ahead of time in anticipation of the possibility of being raped. Michigan Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer shared her own story of sexual assault, calling attention to the needs of survivors.

This is not the first time the legislation has been proposed- last year Governor Rick Snyder (R) vetoed it. But this year it’s different because it’s a citizen’s initiative, having gotten over 300,000 signatures on a petition. Right to Life of Michigan and other proponents of the bill argue that the legislation stops taxpayers from subsidizing the cost of other people’s abortions. In reality, this legislation is just another iteration of attempts to limit access to abortion services- something that many states, like Virginia and Texas, have faced this year.

Much of the media attention regarding this particular legislation is focused on the need for a separate insurance rider in the case of rape (inspiring a significant freak out), but Jessica Valenti makes an incredibly valid point:”

the term “rape insurance” does a disservice to women—and to the reproductive justice movement. It is not just sexual assault survivors who need their abortion covered. Yes, there is an added dimension of cruelty when you’re talking about denying women who get pregnant as a result of rape care and coverage. But we cannot create a hierarchy of “good” and “bad” abortions. Or of “deserving” women. One in three American women will have an abortion, and the circumstances behind that pregnancy is none of our business—and it certainly should have no bearing on whether or not women can afford to access care.

Yes, this legislation is abominable. Yes, it limits access. Yes, there is a reason to be concerned about victims of rape who get pregnant and wish to terminate a pregnancy. In no way do I want to minimize the experiences/needs of someone who has been raped- but is it really rape insurance? While it may not generate quite the freak out that #rapeinsurance has, framing the discussion around access to services and limitation of rights more fully captures the broader issue at hand. So the call to action is finding a hashtag that will gain the attention we need to influence legislation to INCREASE access.

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Sexuality educators can use this as a lesson in both rights to services and health care, and the power of framing an issue. To tease out this concept of framing, use the following questions for discussion:
– What do you think of when you hear the term, ‘rape insurance’?
– How can framing abortion legislation in the context of rape/assault change the dialogue?
– What would be an effective hashtag/tagline that would more fully represent the issue of abortion access?
– What would you say to legislators that were considering a bill that limits access to abortion services?

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Friday FREAK OUT! #lookadouche gets called out by some gutsy Texas teens

OK, so picture this. You’re in high school, and you and your classmates are shepherded to an assembly. In your head you’re thinking, I could get a solid one-hour nap in, or sit next to my latest crush, or maybe, just possibly LEARN something. Instead, you are subjected to old-fashioned misogynistic views on gender and relationships. You are so outraged, that you turn to Twitter to express your opinions:

https://twitter.com/nirvanaerendali/status/400689296278966273

That’s right, the student body was clearly upset over speaker Justin Lookadoo’s presentation, and their commentary on Twitter using the hashtag #lookadouche captured national attention. NY Mag makes an excellent point right off the bat: “There’s nothing like a bunch of righteous teens to make you believe in the democratic power of Twitter again.”

So the high school students are freakin out, the parents are freakin out, the media is freakin out, the Richardson High School administration realized they should have been freakin out, and why? Because this guy should never have been giving his presentation in the first place, especially not with public dollars.

20131115-230907.jpgOne glance at his previous publications and website will reveal what many are calling sexist, creepy, religious leanings. Lookadoo is being strongly criticized for content on his website, such as his Datable Rules, such as, for girls, “Be mysterious. Dateable girls know how to shut up. They don’t monopolize the conversation. They don’t tell everyone everything about themselves. They save some for later. They listen more than they gab.” For the guys, rule No. 1 is, “Being a guy is good. Dateable guys know they aren’t as sensitive as girls and that’s okay. They know they are stronger, more dangerous, and more adventurous and that’s okay. Dateable guys are real men who aren’t afraid to be guys.” (I hope you’re freakin out just reading that!)

However, one Richardson High School student is right: Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, including Justin Lookadoo, regardless of the extent of our disagreement. Her post provides an excellent summary of why Lookadoo’s presentation was so egregious, but I think she was a tad forgiving at the end. We should judge him for presenting his opinions as information. Sure, he was sharing his opinions (and per the assembly agreement did NOT mention his dateable rules), but from the students’ accounts of the assembly he presented his opinions and ideas as factual statements in the context of an educational presentation on relationships and dating violence, and from what I have gathered from the other articles, he made blanket assumptions about an entire gender rather than providing examples of individual experiences. In contrast, a mindful, effective educator should present actual facts and engage their audience in critical thinking about cultural assumptions while also affirming individual expression of gender and sexual identity within a diverse range of experience. Granted, this is tough to do in a one-hour, school-wide assembly, so the complimentary recommendation is to engage youth in smaller groups so that meaningful discussion can help individuals come to their own conclusions about the topic. Take-home message for schools and educators: assemblies are not an effective method of learning about a complex topic such as relationships.

Props to those students for standing up, walking out, and calling this guy out. This is an excellent example of how freakin out can make change happen…people are calling for the cancelation of Lookadoo’s upcoming presentations, and I bet he doesn’t have another assembly any time soon.

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Friday FREAK OUT! Access to abortion services in Texas CUT OFF

Late last night, three republican judges (all appointed by former president George W. Bush) at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated legislation that requires Texas clinics offering abortion services to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles in order to perform abortions on-site. This ruling comes on the heels of the news on Monday that Judge Yeakal ruled that that part of the law was unconstitutional.

What does this mean? That abortion clinics are calling up patients and canceling appointments, and many clinics will be forced to close completely. Only 5 clinics out of the 42 in Texas meet the requirements of the new legislation, meaning that women will be forced to travel far to get the services they need. Some fabulous organizing efforts have already been put into place, such as Fund Texas Women, which is raising money to help give financial assistance for bus tickets and hotel stays for women. Texas Equal Access Fund (TEAFund) also helps women financially, and they are keeping us updated on closures and the status of clinics on their twitter feed and Facebook wall.

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While I am all about prevention and education, sometimes I have to turn my attention to policy, advocacy, rights, and services. You bet I’m freakin out about this one, and I hope others are too. Part of me wants to pack up my bag and join the efforts in Texas to elect Wendy Davis and help women regain their rights. I am so glad that women ARE mobilizing.

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So the takeaway for educators is that young people need to know how to access services, and what to do if those services are limited. One experiential educational activity could be giving each student a ‘profile’ of someone who needs a particular reproductive health service (including, but not limited to abortion), a city and state (not just Texas but maybe a variety of locations), and some life details (in school, job, health insurance coverage). Then assign them the task of finding a service provider, the cost of the service, the hours that they are available, the distance they will have to travel, the transportation method and cost, if they will need hotel/housing (and cost of that, too!), and how that will impact the rest of their life (do they need childcare for a child already in the family? will this force them to miss class? how will this affect their job?). This person could be a woman, or a man- maybe it’s the boyfriend, the brother, or the father of someone who needs these services. After they have found the information, pair up with another person and compare notes. In having to find the information, the participants will learn not just what services are (or aren’t) available, but HOW to access them. Just remember, the goal isn’t to scare them or make them afraid of needing an abortion, it’s to prepare them for accessing services they (or someone they know) may need in the future. They will also hopefully learn the value of laws that ensure ACCESS to reproductive health services. (BTW, this may already be a more polished lesson plan that someone has written and published. If that’s the case, please share that info!)

Texas isn’t the only state affected by these egregious laws, but it’s certainly getting lots of attention. I hope that we can use this opportunity to bring to light the negative impact of all sorts of TRAP laws that reduce access to vital reproductive health services across the US.

Friday FREAK OUT! Why Vaginas are Important

This year, students at Connecticut College are trying for a new angle raising awareness for their February 2014 production of the Vagina Monologues: men telling the world why they think vaginas are important.

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You can watch nearly 7 minutes of video with 100 Conn College men sharing their responses to the question, “why do you think vaginas are important?” They said things like…

Because without them, I wouldn’t be here.

They look good in cartoons but better in real life.

They are key in the process of consensual love.

Vaginas make the world go round.

They give women a power that no one else can have.

Vaginas are all different and beautiful and wonderful.

Vaginas are all about peace and love and happiness.

They are the original honeycomb hideout.

I care about people, and quite a few people have vaginas.

Vaginas are powerful.

Balls are weak, vaginas are strong

Vagina is the best thing ever made. Everyone should cherish vaginas.

Vaginas have stories to tell.

They’ve helped me to become an advocate, an ally, and a better man.

Thank you to all the vaginas!

And it’s working! The video has shown up in several places on the web, including Huffington Post, Jezebel, and Dailylife.com. Much of the commentary points out that the young men in the video often appear awkward and uncomfortable, however, by the end of the video it’s clear that they all became a lot more comfortable simply saying the word vagina- one big step forward for them, I bet. The exercise in and of itself helps normalize the use of female anatomical terms that are often considered taboo. (Although, I wonder if these young men know the difference between the vagina and the vulva.)

However, this video deserves a good freak out. Not because vaginas are something to freak out about (don’t get me wrong, we should FREAK OUT about a lot of body parts in lots of ways-good and bad), but because this video demonstrates that many young men value women. A lot of men get a bad rap for disrespecting women (especially college boys), and a lot of women are the ones hatin’ on men. It’s always a pleasure to see and hear men articulating the importance of women in their lives. I applaud efforts to recognize the importance of both men and women working to end violence, and respect each other. Violence is a societal problem, not a women’s problem. And until we can honor and respect anyone and everyone no matter their sex organs and gender identity, we will likely continue to face gender-based violence. It’s time for men to respect women, and women to respect men. Now, do you think there’s a group of students willing to make a video about the importance of a certain male body part?

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Friday FREAK OUT! Chris Brown

20131011-233601.jpgLast Friday, the Guardian published an exclusive interview with r&b pop star Chris Brown, who is best known as the violent abusive boyfriend in the Chris Brown & Rihanna ‘show’ from February 2009. This article shows a personal side of Chris Brown, and explores some of his childhood. In particular, the article reveals a significant milestone in Chris Brown’s life:

He lost his virginity when he was eight years old, to a local girl who was 14 or 15. Seriously? “Yeah, really. Uh-huh.” He grins and chuckles. “It’s different in the country.” Brown grew up with a great gang of boy cousins, and they watched so much porn that he was raring to go. “By that point, we were already kind of like hot to trot, you know what I’m saying? Like, girls, we weren’t afraid to talk to them; I wasn’t afraid. So, at eight, being able to do it, it kind of preps you for the long run, so you can be a beast at it. You can be the best at it.” (Now 24, he doesn’t want to say how many women he’s slept with: “But you know how Prince had a lot of girls back in the day? Prince was, like, the guy. I’m just that, today. But most women won’t have any complaints if they’ve been with me. They can’t really complain. It’s all good.”)

However, the article does not point out what many others have: That Chris Brown was in fact raped.

It does not seem as though Chris Brown sees it that way, but Virginia law is pretty clear about the definition of rape, where the age of consent is 18. And although his confession was an admission of victimization, this fact seems to be overlooked, possibly because so many people dislike him.

What is interesting is that Chris Brown uses this experience as a way to demonstrate his sexual prowess, rather than a way to gain sympathy or understanding. Which is maybe exactly what he needs. The truth is that men can be sexually assaulted, and raped by women, as is described in a thoughtful article posted on CNN. I am not by any means saying that Chris Brown be let off the hook for his previous acts of violence, but maybe he could use some support. I’m not sure that his court-ordered anger management program really provided that…

He says his court-ordered 52-week programme of anger management helped him learn to keep his temper. But then he adds, “I think the actual class I went to was a little bit sexist.” What does he mean? “It was beneficial because it made me cater more to a woman’s thoughts and a woman’s needs, and how to handle situations. But the class itself, no disrespect to the class, but the class itself only tells you you’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re wrong.”

So what does this freak out, or non-freak out according to many, remind sexuality educators to do?
-Be gender neutral in your discussions of sexual assault when talking about both victims and perpetrators because anyone can be affected.
-Emphasize the definition of consent- both the legal definition and what it means in a sexual encounter.
-Encourage the examination of all sides of the story without getting into a debate.
-Focus on behaviors, which can be changed, rather than putting down a person.
-Be compassionate towards all individuals, even if it’s someone you dislike or disapprove of their actions.

If we are too preoccupied hatin’ on Chris Brown, we’ll overlook the support and understanding he needs. And we might miss some wise words that can be an important lesson…

“No, I’m not going to walk around every day of my life depending on the opinions of other people. Because if I do that, I’ll just be trying to please everybody and that’s not what I’m here for.”

Friday FREAK OUT! Miley Mania! Coming to a sex ed class near you

Miley Cyrus, formerly known for her character Hannah Montana,

20131004-003848.jpghas received a LOT of media attention lately, and has been largely criticized for what people are calling highly sexualized antics. A few examples that people cite include…(some links are not necessary safe for work-NSFW)

Twerking with Robin Thicke at the VMAs.

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Her video for Wrecking Ball, which shows Miley swinging on a wrecking ball in nothing but work boots (among other things).

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Her interview with Rolling Stones that got Sinead O’Conner riled up enough to write an open letter to Miley, in which O’Connor states,

“I am extremely concerned for you that those around you have led you to believe, or encouraged you in your own belief, that it is in any way ‘cool’ to be naked and licking sledgehammers in your videos. It is in fact the case that you will obscure your talent by allowing yourself to be pimped, whether its the music business or yourself doing the pimping.”

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Most recently, Pics showed up on a blog that show her topless and doing sexually suggestive things with soda cans.

So why are people freaking out about Miley so much? In part it’s because she’s going to great lengths to change her image from a Disney poster child, to her own individual performing artist. It’s not easy to change how people perceive you- first impressions are often lasting impressions. Did anyone else look forward to going away to college so you could be someone different? I couldn’t wait for a fresh start with new people that didn’t have a picture of me with buck teeth as a kid!!

So the media captured an image of Miley as sweet, young, and mainstream. She’s now claiming an image as tough, mature, and edgy. And sexual. I think people are uncomfortable seeing Miley blatantly displaying her sexuality, especially when they have always seen her as innocent. I’m not necessarily in the Miley Cyrus camp, but I do think that the media attention is both encouraging Miley’s behaviors and judging a woman’s attempt to assert her individuality.

Miley Mania will likely end up in sexuality education classes, just as it has infiltrated the media. When it does, take a few moments to explore the participants’ perceptions of her. Ask questions such as,
– What do people say about Miley?
– What does it take to change people’s perceptions of someone?
– What kind of image do you think Miley wants to maintain?
– What messages do her performance at the VMAs and her Wrecking Ball video send about sexuality?
– Why are some people saying that the media is slut-shaming Miley?
– What do we need to consider in order to both accept Miley’s individuality but also hold her to high moral standards?
– If you had a conversation with Miley Cyrus, what would you want to talk to her about?

Just be mindful that as you engage in this discussion, if we judge Miley harshly, we potentially ostracize individuals who are in the Miley camp. Encourage the participants to think about all sides of the coin, and not just make a snap judgment.

Friday FREAK OUT! Revenge porn

This week there’s been a lot of talk about revenge porn. What is revenge porn, you might ask? Urban dictionary provides a good definition: “a nude photograph or video which is publicly shared online (most frequently by an ex-lover of the subject’s) for the purpose of spiteful humiliation.” There are apparently an abundance of websites that cater specifically to exes everywhere wanting to post the sexy pics they took of their previous partners. A few popular examples include isanyoneup.com and submityourex.com.

While revenge porn has been part of modern day culture since the dawn of the internet, it’s gotten a lot of attention lately because of a law suit against the website Texxxan.com. The NY Times highlighted the lawsuit in an article on Monday. This comes alongside legislation being considered in California to criminalize revenge porn. In only one state, New Jersey, is it a crime to distribute images without the subject’s consent. Since it’s not illegal, the posters, the websites, and/or the web hosts (such as GoDaddy.com) are not at fault for posting these pics. (They may not be at fault, but they are jerks. I guess being a jerk isn’t against the law. yet.) The call for criminalization legislation is spearheaded by endrevengeporn.org.

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Emily Bazeon’s piece in Slate makes an excellent point: Why do we tolerate revenge porn?

But while legislators are pushing for laws that criminalize the act of revenge porn, what can we do to help prevent it in the first place?
– Talk about the risks of sharing nude photos
– Talk about the responsibility of having nude photos
– Talk about what it might mean if those photos are shared publicly
– Talk about how it might feel for someone to be a victim of revenge porn
– Talk about how society both applauds and abhors revenge porn
– Talk about how if someone voluntarily seeks out and consumes revenge porn, that’s a way of promoting and encouraging the behavior
– Talk about how it’s really all about consent- the poster is sharing something without the consent of the subject
– Talk about how to cope with loss when a relationship has ended, and how to channel negative feelings about an ex into healthier behaviors that don’t involve violating someone’s privacy

We should have a no tolerance policy when it comes to doing things that are nonconsensual, and we also need to help individuals realize that revenge porn is at the end of the day, an unethical, and downright jerky thing to do. And no one wants to be a jerk.