Consent, Violation, and Indigenous Peoples

February 8, 2010

I spend a lot of time thinking about rape and sexual violence.  These are topics that I am particularly interested in as a feminist and an activist.  Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about the use of the word “rape” to mean something other than, well, actual rape, and I haven’t been quite sure where I come down on it.  I just read something, though, that parallels this discussion, and I think is particularly relevant when we’re thinking about how to conceptualize rape and, more broadly, consent and violation.

In her book, Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide, Andrea Smith talks about the many (many, many) ways native people in North America have been seriously fucked over by colonialism and modern (especially U.S.) government policy.  She includes a quote from a Native woman who belongs to a tribe that the government non-consensually experimented on by placing a nuclear reactor on tribal lands to see how much environmental radiation people can safely take in through “food, water, milk, and air.”  The woman describes the harm to her people, principally in the form of cancer cases, and then says “Is this what it feels like to be raped?”

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Feminine Feminism? Part I: Challenging Definitions

November 17, 2009

This is Part 1 of 2 on challenging our conceptions of feminism and femininity. Stay tuned for Part 2 in the next day or so…

I read an article the other day that I found through Feministing that has brought to mind a lot of questions about femininity. The article written by Karen Salmansohn is titled ‘Are You a Feminist, or a Feminine-ist?’. The title of the article immediately set off some warning bells, but I gamely read on. Salmansohn is basically highlighting her theory behind and solution for the modern discomfort with the word feminism. Here’s how I read the article:

“…Almost from the introduction of the word “feminism” into our world, the definition has become corroded to mean something less than complimentary than its original intent. Somewhere along the line, to be a feminist started to mean a woman who’s basically unattractive both in looks and spirit.”

Okay, I would strongly disagree, but I understand that this perception exists…

“I find this negative connotation to be shameful and highly unhelpful. Women could truly benefit from finding a more inspiring word than “feminism” to stand by, as well as stand for, when seeking to become our most powerful and successful selves.”

Really? I agree with the unhelpful negative connotation, but ‘feminism’ is pretty damn inspiring to me…

“We don’t have to make a choice between feminine or powerful and successful. We can be all those things.”

OOH! OOH! Bingo! I definitely agree with this point! Okay keep going…

“With this in mind, I’d like to put forth that starting today, the word ‘feminism’ be updated to become the new word ‘feminine-ism.’”

Wait, WHAT!?!? Eff that.

And so the article goes on. I mean, I understand where the writer is coming from. In our exploration of independence as women, the sacrifice/rejection of traditionally feminine things was necessary at times in order to challenge society to redefine its norms. It also opened up incredible new avenues for women who felt restricted by these gendered roles and images. Today, we are in a much better place to reclaim some of these so-called ‘feminine’ practices. Read the rest of this entry »

On Feeling “Safe” Traveling

October 22, 2009
Andando en bicicleta en San Francisco

Andando en bicicleta en San Francisco

Bicycling goes hand in hand with empowerment in my life. Whether I’m coming home alone, late after a night out with friends, commuting or heading somewhere I have never been before, my mode of transportation—my blue Cannondale roadbike Baby affords me a sense of safety and freedom that I have been taking for granted the past two years.

Whenever I’ve talked about how “safe” San Francisco is, my opinion has been that it is a very friendly, safe place for anyone in comparison to other places.

It wasn’t until I decided to go visit New York City in September that I realized just how scary being a pedestrian female traveler can be. Read the rest of this entry »

Roundtable: On Discovering Feminism

October 10, 2009

This week’s roundtable will feature each of our feminist origin stories – how we came to identify as feminists and how it has impacted and shaped our lives. One of my favourite parts of meeting other feminists is hearing all the many, many paths that lead women to take on this identity. Some have always known, and others took a longer journey. It’s interesting to see what varied backgrounds we have to bring to the movement, and I think its a testament to our strength that all these women and male allies can identify with something that has a slightly different meaning for each.

So, read on and enjoy our stories, and leave your own in the comments!


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An Amusing Turn-Around on Sexual Assault Prevention Tips

September 23, 2009

About a year ago, when I was still a law student at the University of Iowa, I received an infuriating e-mail in my inbox from the university’s Department of Public Safety.  The department sends out regular “Crime Prevention News” e-mails, all of which you can see on their website here.  I get the feeling someone else must have complained, since the most recent update on safety in downtown Iowa City specifically says that both males and females should follow their tips, but it’s still gendered, referring to male-on-male violence (which in my opinion makes it sound like men are the only one who need to be concerned about non-sexual violence downtown).

The e-mail that I received while I was in attendance is the April 2008 newsletter, focusing on “Personal and Residence Safety.”  Though the newsletter isn’t as bad as it could be at targeting women, the header makes it clear who the target audience is.  “Over the past two years there have been several assaults on women in the Iowa City area. Please remember the following safety tips from the University of Iowa Police.”

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