Binary

The first time they touched me, their fingers burned
slaps searing like the coffee I refused to relinquish

Engineer or engineered differently?
Should my breasts be bared to validate my womanhood?

Male hands check for me, my back meeting the lab table for the first time
sharply smacking the surface I stand behind proudly in the daylight

Four letters. One plea. You say slut when you hear help from me
if I waved a pure, white flag, would you spot it red?

I eat a cheeseburger, it crawls its way back up; it’s OK.
it wouldn’t have helped to fill the curves you say don’t exist anyway

My plastic safety glasses catch liquid from inside
I leave my hair down, not as femininity, but to shelter me from your breath behind

My teeth rip blood from my lip, mocking what you say you will do to my hymen
Suck it up. Stuttered breaths with no air are all I will suck in.

Girls in engineering aren’t ‘real’ girls,” you say.
Fake girls can be raped.

 

-BV, Poem 2

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Ways the Media Failed Women, or Ways Women Failed Women?

Just this past week, The Representation Project released a video highlighting the ways in which the media has failed women in 2013. The included ads vary from hypersexualization of women in advertising, to blatant misogyny on the news, to Miley Cyrus on the VMAs.

“Imagine a world where the media inspires women rather than degrading them,” they say. However, while over-sexualized representations of women arguably do provide potentially questionable role models for women, the reactions of viewers nation wide revealed further questionable societal behavior.

Comments online included serious  chastisement of the girls in the videos for using their sexuality in ‘demeaning’ manners, comments to other commenters on how the women on the ads chose to use their image sexually and had a right to do so, and comments on the larger debate of sexuality vs. scholastic ability. Despite the point of the video, viewers everywhere have contributed to degradation of women by perpetuating the belief that there is only one right way to be feminist, and that women who do not behave in this singular, appropriate fashion are up for discrimination. It is truly this idea that allows the negative representation of women to continue, a social conception that allows women in the media to be judged upon this nonexistent binary scale.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

Kacey Musgraves, 24-year old rising Country Music star, addresses the Catch-22 issue of feminism that young women

Kacey Musgraves: Country's Femininity Crisis

Kacey Musgraves: Country’s Femininity Crisis

grow up in today. Her album, Same Trailer, Different Park, is currently proclaimed a wake-up call for Country Music’s ‘femininity crisis.’ In particular, the song Follow Your Arrow delivers a rather bold exclamation against what Musgraves calls the ‘damned if you do, and damned if you don’t’ mentality surrounding a girl’s identity today. The lyrics, displayed below, describe how the various factions of Feminism vying for power have created a situation where girls are not entirely able to use their freedom of choice due to the negative judgement they may receive from one side of the spectrum of Feminism or the other.

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Rolling Stone remarks on her work as well as the progressive message she is promoting in a very conservative, ‘red-blooded,’ male dominated genre. In an interview after her CMA Award Winning performance, RS reporter Adam Gold talked with Musgraves about what the 2013 Best New Artist award meant for her [see here]. Kacey happily remarked that “It just feels good to be [working] in a time period there’s room for everyone.” Coming from a small town and into a large spotlight, Musgraves fully experienced the vast variation of values that young women are conflicted with today. As her song says, you cannot be either conservative or overtly sexual as a girl today without a greater movement of Feminism rising up to chastise you for ‘doing Feminism wrong’ and therefore, being wrong as a woman. To Kacey, this is what inspired her to write her album for the new generation to hear and take hope.

“I’m so excited to be part of the women-in-country-music movement,” Musgraves said during a post-show press conference. “I look at people like Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton – songwriters who are sexy and beautiful and also intelligent and humorous – they inspired me, and if I can in any [way be] part of that, carry that on, that’s just the icing on the cake for me, and I feel like I’ve done my job.”

-BV

Interview with Eileen Pollack

Interview with Eileen Pollack on Gender Discrimination in Academia and the Workplace

Interviewer: Lorna Malja
Videographer/Editor: Gabrielle Valentic

[This is a private interview conducted with Professor Eileen Pollack at the University of Michigan for classroom use in English 340: The Historical Hinge. Usage for other purposes is strictly prohibited.]

In November, Lorna and I had the distinct privilege of interviewing Professor Eileen Pollack, the first woman to ever earn a Bachelors of Science in Physics at Yale University. Professor Pollack, author of “Why Are There Still So Few Women in the Sciences?, spoke with us regarding the existence and propagation of discrimination against women in academia and the sciences. Within a discussion prompted by Lorna’s interviewing skills, a particularly interesting theme arose: women could not be both attractive and display high intelligence in scientific fields.

“If you cross your legs, everybody stops talking and looks,” Eileen laughed sadly (2:00). “The culture is not conducive- You can’t dress in a traditional feminine way or you’re not taken seriously as a scientist (2:40). And then if you start dressing like a guy, you don’t feel good about yourself as a woman. And then there are the questions whether anyone will date you once they find out you’re a physics major!”

Eileen touches upon a startling reality for today’s young female generation. Girls today are faced with the choice in how they want to be viewed, as attractive, or highly intelligent. This dilemma directly influences what they choose to identify with, their femininity or their education, as if it is a binary choice. Women must be careful not to be too attractive, or academic respect is tainted, but they must also be careful not to be too intelligent, or they must therefore have lost touch with their femininity. Professor Pollack describes dating as a female scientist with some humor, “I was surprised that so many women of your generation that I talked to had that same impression… They were going, ‘Please tell us that some guys will ever want to date us.’ And these were really attractive women, fashionably dressed. You would think that any guy would be after them!” She continued to say that she still to this day withheld the full extent of her intelligence on dates. “Even today when I go out on a date, it’s several dates before I usually feel comfortable enough to reveal this ‘terrible secret’ that I have a Physics degree.” (7:10) .

amy-farrah-fowler-picture

“Amy Farrah Fowler” – The Big Bang Theory

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Mayim Bialik – Actress playing Amy on The Big Bang Theory

Who then is enforcing these lines of judgement? Eileen thinks she knows. “Where is it coming from? Is it individual men? That’s hard to document. But if you look at the culture, when is a woman ever shown as a scientist? As someone attractive?” (5:53). She discusses how it is a very recent thing to portray a woman as both an intelligent scientist and an attractive feminine woman in shows like CSI. However, in the most popular sitcoms, women are still portrayed along the lines of the binary intelligence or attractiveness distinction. Her primary example of this is The Big Bang Theory, on which Amy, holding a doctorate in Neuroscience, is displayed as “homey” or “dowdy.” Eileen expresses frustration at this, questioning why the producers have to make Mayim Bialik, the attractive actress who plays Amy, seem less beautiful and feminine than she is in reality. While the ‘why’ remains a powerful, unanswered question, the effects of this conflict remain clear in the social conception that women who are both attractive and intelligent, particularly in a scientific manner, are simply unrealistic.

If you’re interested in reading more on how this issue directly affects education access issues for women, check out Lorna’s blog here for the original posting of this video and more discussion!

-BV

Control

He plays the music, casting his gaze over his shoulder at her
Her hair obscures the light from her expression
She looks into his cup.

He takes the cup from her as she walks away, the angle cuts her face
The shadows of the fading day follow her into the kitchen
She looks into her cup.

She dances for him, the focus is on her, back, forth, coming close, but not quite near
The light is absorbed by her dark clothes, reflected in her hair
He looks after her, eyes tracking her retreat

The rays from the setting sun lit a sparkle in her eye
The glow off her blonde head lights the scene
He looks up the slit in the back of her shirt

Chipped nail pointed towards him, rebuking, reminding
He laughs, sinking deeper into the couch, conniving
His eyes never leave her

She dances in place, never moving, never looking
She gazes absently off to the left, the light dims.

-BV, Poem #1.1

“Girls in Engineering aren’t real girls”

Full Article Here

Think for a moment about the University of Michigan. What are the first things that come to mind?

Diversity. Opportunity. Equality.

Those used to be the three words that I thought of and heard most often. On the 29th of October, 2013, all three of those words were shaken. At the beginning of November, it came to the attention of all students attending the University that a former Material Science Engineering PhD candidate was suing the University on grounds of unresolved cases of sexual harassment. At first, I shook my head, believing that the girl was likely crying wolf against a male faculty member that had so much as looked at her chest, her likely overly exposed chest. A few paragraphs into her story, I was sickened by not only my own discrimination as a woman against Jennifer Dibbern, but by the University’s academic response to her blatant suffering.

Dibbern was enrolled as a graduate student from 2007-2011. In that short time, she experienced verbal harassment, dismissal of her intelligence, accusations of lying, and multiple accounts of promised sexual assault and actual physical abuse. Starting from the very day of her program, she was accosted by a hostile environment of gender-based discrimination. One of the first things her predominantly male classmates said to her was,

“Let’s be honest, the girls in engineering aren’t real girls—no guy would look at them that way so we need more real girls to study with, date—something to look at in class. Real girls. There’s something wrong with the engineering girls.”

This academic-social belief that women in engineering were not ‘real girls’ would color her entire experience at UofM, from classmate to faculty. The unchecked propagation that the reason so few women were enrolled in engineering stemmed from something distinctly wrong with either their femininity or their intellect created an environment which allowed Jennifer to not only be verbally, but physically harassed. The belief that she was not a ‘real woman’ allowed male cohorts to treat her with harassment that would incur legal retribution in any other setting. Here are but a few of the verbal lashings she suffered daily:

  • “Engineering women are different—they’re not normal. They aren’t like real girls. Not normal at all. Even if they are around, no one considers them women.”
  • “We need more cute girls in engineering to study with and more options for dates. It’d be great because if we let them in—you know real girls who were honestly, probably not smart enough to hack it—it wouldn’t matter if they couldn’t cut it. If we let them in and helped them study, skim by in classes, maybe there would be girls in engineering who were pretty.”
  • “You are a walking cliché. Everything you do is because you are a woman. Just learn and admit it.”
  • “Suck up . . . Or did you just suck to get a better grade.”
  • “You know you were let into MIT because you’re a woman. I applied several times and got rejected because less qualified—come on, be honest–less qualified women like you were let in to meet their quota.”

Looking at these comments, it is clear that Jennifer was either viewed as a woman admitted because she lacked femininity, or admitted because she had used her femininity to ‘overcome’ a lacking in intelligence. Regardless of which view was predominant, the absolute danger of this social conception was realized in the terrifying sexual harassment Jennifer experienced.

Jennifer experienced physical assault from her male classmates when she refused a sexist demand for a cup of coffee she had just purchased. The classmate slapped her, with no interjection from other classmates standing by, and continued to do so when she stood her ground. Following this, two male students approached Jennifer in the study lounge and graphically explained how they were going to rape her, discussing who would go first, and how easy it would be as they knew where she lived. After all, she wasn’t a ‘real girl,’ so how could their actions be wrong? Finally, a fellow student attempted to make good on his threats, cornering Jennifer in her own lab and attempting to force himself on her three times before she pushed him away successfully.

As if this was not sickening enough, the response from the University faculty was downright appalling. Faculty advisors told Jennifer that “these things happen” and that she needed to “get over it” and “not let it happen again” or interfere with her course and lab work. Jennifer’s attempts at preventing her own assault were then held against her academically. SAPAC authorized alternate examinations, suspension of late night work schedules, and notices to change her address were disregarded and used as reasons to dismiss Jennifer from her program. She was charged for “lack of commitment” to her degree per the following:

  • (1) the two week leave Ms. Dibbern took in April 2008 (immediately following the attempted rape)
  • (2) her incompletes in coursework (as a result of rescheduling following the attempted rape)
  • (3) coursework outside of MSE (arranged so to avoid her sexual harassers)
  • (4) a 10 hour per week research job in the School of Natural Resources and Environment (appointment with Professor Edward Parson who also teaches at the University of Michigan Law School; Ms. Dibbern met Prof. Parson while taking a law course outside of her department so to avoid her sexual harassers).

Jennifer Dibbern is a casualty of an extreme result of improper social conceptions of sexuality vs. scholastic achievement in women. No matter who was wrong or right in this story, the entire travesty could have been avoided had proper resources for the awareness and repercussions of gender discrimination been made available. Jennifer was accused of false reporting on the basis that “some women can’t take a joke” and report on inconsequential basis, a reality that does unfortunately exist beyond this case. If the many divides within Feminism have contributed to this ideology at all, it is the duty of all Feminists to take a second glance at the beliefs they propagate and to remember Jennifer as a victim of a nonexistent binary distinction of women as sexual or scholastic in nature.

-BV