Monthly Archives: March 2010

Notes from the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Young Feminist Leadership Conference

The weekend of March 20-22, 2010 was the Feminist Majority Foundation’s National Young Feminist Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C.  The conference targeted young feminists of high school and college age who were interested in learning more about the feminist movement, how to become active in their communities and on their campuses, and becoming more informed about various women’s rights issues. Young women and men were educated on subjects such as birth control access, abortion, human trafficking, women in the media, women’s health, fake pregnancy clinics, Title IX, queer feminist issues, sexual assault, women and the economy, and funding feminist policies.

The conference included outstanding speakers such as Eleanor Smeal, President, Feminist Majority Foundation; Alexandra Arriaga, senior advisor, task force on CEDAW; Gail Cohen, Chief Economist, Joint Economic Committee for the U.S. Congress; Alison Friedman, Senior Advisor, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons; Jehmu Greene, President, Women’s Media Center; Daphne Jayasinghe, Women’s Human Rights Advocacy Director, Amnesty International, and many other powerful women in all areas of feminist issues and research. The weekend ended with a day of Congressional lobbying on Capitol Hill, as well as a trip to the Sewall-Belmont House, the historic home of Equal Rights Amendment author Alice Paul and home of the National Women’s Party.

Two undergraduate interns from the Women’s Law Project’s western Pennsylvania office attended the conference, and thoroughly enjoyed both the conference and the city itself. They found the conference to be both inspiring and informative and especially enjoyed the day on Capitol Hill. After the conference they contacted many of the speakers to gather more information on their areas of expertise. The event was especially informative for high school women and men interested in the feminist movement and eager to get more involved in their communities and on their campuses.

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PA Senate Judiciary Committee to Vote on Constitutional Amendment Banning Same-Sex Marriage

The PA Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on SB707, a joint resolution which proposes amending the state constitution by adding a definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.

Lesbian and gay couples deserve full legal protection and the opportunity to have the thousands of benefits that flow from civil marriage.

What is shocking is that Pennsylvania law already denies same-sex couples the right to marry. In fact, the 1996 Pennsylvania Marriage Statutes defines marriage as “between one man and one woman.” Furthermore it states that out-of-state marriages of two people of the same-sex will not be valid in the Commonwealth.  And there is also the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [PDF] passed by the U.S. Congress in 1996, which states that the federal government will honor only marriages between one man and one woman. It further stipulates that no state, territory, or possession of the United States or Indian tribe can be required to recognize a same-sex marriage performed in any other jurisdiction.

With state and federal laws already on the books that specifically prohibit same-sex marriages, why is the Pennsylvania Senate wasting time and resources trying to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution?  Certainly there are more pressing problems facing the Pennsylvania Senate than this fabricated threat to the sanctity of marriage.

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Filed under Equality, LGBT, Pennsylvania

WLP and Flaster/Greenberg Represent Female Student-Athletes at Delaware State University in Title IX Lawsuit

The Women’s Law Project and Flaster/Greenberg have filed suit against Delaware State University on behalf of fifteen female student-athletes seeking reinstatement of the school’s equestrian team. The university recently announced that the team will be eliminated at the end of this academic year.

Many of the students gave up scholarship opportunities at other schools to play for the equestrian team at DSU, and several students were recruited by the university to play on the team. Plaintiff Amanda Hotz says that “the equestrian team was my sole reason for attending Delaware State and I expected to ride for four years.”

Abbe Fletman of Flaster/Greenberg, WLP’s co-counsel in this case, notes that the university has a long history of noncompliance with Title IX. And WLP managing attorney Terry Fromson says that the elimination of the equestrian team, a team added only four years ago for the express purpose of addressing the university’s known non-compliance with Title IX, only increases the existing inequality in athletic opportunity.”

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Filed under Equality, Sports, Title IX

International Olympic Committee Looking Foolish

In January we discussed how the International Olympic Committee’s refusal to include women’s ski jump in the Winter Olympic Games is a gross example of sexism. Last week, IOC president Jacques Rogge may have come down with another case of foot in mouth syndrome, this time targeting women’s hockey.

On the day of the women’s hockey gold medal contest, Rogge threatened the sport’s continuation in the Olympics, citing a lack of depth. The IOC president ominously warned, “We cannot continue without improvement.” The problem he sees is that two teams, U.S.A. and Canada, continuously dominate the competition. Rogge has proposed to allow another four to eight years for the sport to spread or else it will be cut. This gives the sport 20 years (it was introduced into the Olympics in 1998) to spread across the globe, a fraction of the time to build that men’s hockey had. For nearly 40 years the Canadians won all but two gold medals in men’s hockey. This is not gender equality. This is not the IOC giving women’s hockey a real shot at developing.

Four-time Olympian Angela Ruggiero, recently elected by her peers to the IOC’s athletes’ commission, sees the disparity. “Just giving our sport more time to develop is the important thing,” she said. “A lot of sports have had that opportunity. Certainly on the men’s side there was a long growth period from the ‘20s and the ‘30s to what you’re seeing now and how competitive that sport is right now.”

Interestingly, the official website of the Olympics reports that women’s hockey is a “hit”. The article also quotes Rogge as saying, “Women’s hockey is a young sport…, But no doubt in the future, women’s hockey will be a hit.” Oh really, Mr. Rogge? Might this be an attempt to remove your foot from your mouth and give these phenomenal athletes the respect they deserve?

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Filed under Equality, Sports

Sexting: Potential legislation on teen offenders could unfairly punish girls

House Bill 2189 in the Pennsylvania legislature is a proposal to make “sexting,” the act of electronically sending or receiving nude photos, illegal for minors. While it sounds as though the bill is simply an adherence to child pornography laws and an effort to prevent teenagers from harming their futures, its consequences may be much more harmful than beneficial. As the Patriot-News editorial board notes:

Proponents suggest they want to help youth avoid felony prosecutions under existing child pornography laws, but HB 2189 does not prevent prosecutors from charging children with child pornography. Instead, it exposes kids to an additional crime, thereby widening the net and potentially bringing thousands more kids into the juvenile justice system, risking permanent criminal records, removal from their homes and disrupted educations.

In addition, implementing harsh laws and punishments for sexting means children ages 13-17 could lose eligibility for things such as the military, college loans, and future employment endeavors because of the felony charge on their record.  This seems like an unduly harsh punishment for teenagers experimenting with sexuality via modern technology. And it would affect a lot of teenagers:

Recent research suggests that up to 20 percent of all teenagers have consensually sent or received some form of sexual message via text or e-mail.

Under HB 2189, 20% of teenagers will not only run the risk of their sent or received images becoming public (and thus causing embarrassment or worse), but will also compromise their future plans in many ways.  This will not be an effective deterrent for teenagers – we all remember the days of disregarding authority and ignoring potential, vague consequences.

Instead, some organizations are focusing on educating teens about sexting and the potential consequences. MTV has started an initiative, A Thin Line, to promote awareness and education about sexting. A Thin Line features teens explaining why they sexted and how the picture came back to haunt them.  Straightforward and often humorous commercials such as these are a much better avenue to a teenager’s mind and behavior, whereas the distant threat of legislation and prosecution will likely do nothing to dissuade them.

This legislation comes on the heels of a few court cases prosecuting girls for “sexting” while not punishing the teenage boys disseminating the message amongst themselves. Examine, for instance, Miller v. Skumanick, in which twelve-year-old girls accused of sexting were made to choose between a “re-education course” designed by the district attorney of Wyoming County, George Skumanick (which included writing essays, taking “courses” designed by Mr. Skumanick on “what it means to be a girl in today’s society”, etc.), or face possible felony/child pornography charges. All of this took place over images of the girls wearing jeans and bras taken by a female friend. Parents of some of the girls involved in this case contacted the ACLU and obtained a restraining order against further action by Mr. Skumanick; the case has been heard before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit.

Interestingly, none of the boys involved in the case received this ultimatum from Mr. Skumanick or any threat of punishment whatsoever. Is this a case, then, of an adult male forcing his own personal morals and beliefs about what is or is not “appropriate” behavior for teenage girls? Pennsylvania’s ACLU blog post states:

Ultimately, that’s what this case [Miller v. Skumanick] comes down to: one man’s view on how a young woman should conduct herself. The boys who traded the photos bear no responsibility and require no re-education. Instead the girls are threatened with felony charges and life-long registration as sex offenders. To apply such a penalty, designed to protect minors against exploitation, is a grotesque misapplication – and that’s once again assuming that the photographs in question could possibly be construed as pornographic… as ACLU of Pennsylvania legal director Witold Walczak puts it, “prosecutors should not be using heavy artillery like child-pornography charges to teach that lesson.”

Sexting legislation cherry-picks whom it will punish and in what way—unfairly exposing girls to over-the-top threats and possible charges while maintaining the “boys will be boys” mantra. Unless some form of coherent and standardized legislation is developed, it will continue to harm young girls.

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Filed under Equality, Girls, Government, PA Legislature, Pennsylvania

Another Anti-Choice Step in Restricting Abortion Access

After being approved by a majority of Utah’s House and Senate, Governor Gary R. Herbert must decide whether or not to sign into law a statute criminalizing illegal abortions. This legislation would give significant powers to prosecutors to inquire about a woman’s intentions toward her unborn child and ultimately give the state the right to question the intent and responsibility of a woman’s reproductive decisions.

If enacted, this law could also potentially throw into question every miscarriage in Utah. Driving accidents may give state authorities reason to hold women liable for criminally ignoring the safety of her fetus. A law that sits so clearly in the eye of the beholder is clearly unacceptable. The New York Times reports that laws in other states that had previously been used primarily to create additional penalties when a pregnant woman is killed or assaulted may now be used to punish women.

Just last month in Iowa, for example, a pregnant woman who fell down the stairs at home confided to emergency workers that she was not sure she really wanted to have her child. Though the woman did not immediately miscarry from the fall, she was arrested anyway under a state law that makes it criminal to harm a fetus. She was released after two days in jail, and the charges were dropped.

This bill gives prosecutors a lot of discretion to determine what role a woman had in any loss of a fetus and to what degree it was “intentional, knowing, or reckless.” Holding people culpable for things they do on purpose is an acceptable role of our legal system, but this is merely a misguided attempt to further restrict abortion laws and punish the women who are desperate to end their pregnancies – like the unnamed 17-year-old girl in eastern Utah that paid a man $150 to beat her up hoping to induce a miscarriage last May.

It is incredible that, through their votes, 59 members of the Utah State House and 24 Utah State Senate members found themselves compelled to speak for an unborn child, but almost no one is speaking for the targeted women. As Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, asks in the Times article, “Why would a young woman get to a point to such desperation that she would invite violence against herself? Anybody that desperate is not going to be deterred by this statute.”

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Filed under Abortion, Government, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights, The New York Times, Women's health

iMisogyny: Apple Pulls Sexually Explicit Applications

Certain applications, called “apps,” available for download on Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch have been pulled from circulation. Apple has decided to respond to complaints from app store users that certain apps depicting highly sexualized women are inappropriate. These apps are extremely popular with consumers: as of today, two of the top ten free applications on iTunes are a “Sex Positions Game” and “69 Positions Lite.” While apps such as iWobble and iBoobs have been included in the ban due to sexually explicit content (showing scantily clad women bouncing around, and the bouncing controlled by the app user), apps from Victoria’s Secret, Playboy, and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition remain.  Philip Schiller, the head of Apple’s marketing department, stated:

It came to the point where we were getting customer complaints from women who found the content getting too degrading and objectionable, as well as parents who were upset with what their kids were able to see.

Sex-themed applications make up about 5 percent of Apple’s 140,000 applications. Apple may be worried about their worldwide squeaky-clean image, but some analysts and app developers are worried about Apple’s censorship of these applications:

Fred Clarke, co-president of a small software company called On the Go Girls, which made Sexy Scratch Off, said that as of Monday all 50 of his company’s applications were no longer available. They included an application in which a woman wearing a swimsuit appeared to wipe finger marks from the iPhone’s screen with a rag and spray bottle. “I’m shocked,” said Mr. Clarke, who said the company had not had a problem with its applications since the first one went on sale last June. “We’re showing stuff that’s racier than the Disney Channel, but not by much.”

The iPhone’s ten “sexiest” applications include iGirl, an app which allows its user to command a “virtual girlfriend” who will “do everything you say, from talking to dancing”, iJigglyBikini, the Hooters Calendar, and Bikini Blast.

Applications that received initial rejection from Apple include BeautyMeter, which allows the user to rate naked girls on a scale. Apple refused to put this app on the market because of their inability to control the girls’ ages. However, the iGirl application, approved by Apple, is by far the most disturbing. The screen clip of the application I witnessed depicted an animated woman’s body (not showing her head). This objectification of women is, as always, disgusting and demeaning. The idea of a woman being used as a toy and physically controlled by an app user is reminiscent of troubling realities for many women.

However, Apple’s reasoning behind the elimination of these degrading apps is a huge concern—they are worried the apps are accessible to children and teenagers. While this is a legitimate issue, let us note that there is no comparable “iBoy” app in which women can boss a man around. Apple seems unconcerned about depictions of violence and derogatory behavior towards females as it affects adult women and men. And the fact that Apple is holding on to companies like Hooters, Playboy, and Victoria’s Secret could show that their reasoning is monetary rather than based on substance.

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