Refugees and Feminism

After the Paris terrorist attacks, a plethora of US state governors came out against welcoming refugees to their state. This sort of xenophobic isolationism is nothing new, but it is incredibly dangerous. The ability of people displaced by conflict to find safe passage to a safe destination is a moral imperative, and, what’s more, it’s a feminist issue.

The American Immigration Council says there are 10.5 million refugees in the world, and the US 2015 acceptance cap is 70,000. That’s .007% of the world’s refugees. And that’s using the 10.5 million figure for number of refugees–USA for UNHCR lists it at 59.5 million, meaning the US annually accepts only .0001% of refugees.

A woman puts her hand over her face. She is crying. She wears a gray sweatshirt, gray and pink star-patterned headscarf, and wedding band. She is in a park.

HONY quote and image source here.

This is a feminist issue. Gender plays a big role in the precarity and trauma experienced by displaced people. Women refugees have trouble finding work, and face sexual harassment when they do. Physical and logistical structures in the camps put them at risk for gender based violence, and make it harder for them to access resources like food for the family. Financial strain may force women and girls into survival sex or underaged marriages, many of which are not honored by the local husbands–putting girls’ futures at risk as well. Refugees often face sexual harassment from employers, distributors, and aid agencies.

The UNHCR’s summary of gender-related best practices serves as a pretty good point of inference for the problems women refugees face:

Women and girls comprise about half of any refugee, internally displaced or stateless population. UNHCR works to promote gender equality and ensure their equal access to protection and assistance. The integration of a gender perspective cuts across all sectors. For example, shelters should be safe for women and offer privacy, and assistance in construction or maintenance should be available. Food distribution systems should take family roles into account and ensure it reaches all. Sanitation facilities should be accessible and separated for men and women. Women should be able to collect water and fuel without risking rape or other abuse.

UNHCR also uses targeted actions to address specific protection needs. Programmes to increase girls’ enrolment and retention in school can overcome economic or cultural barriers to their education. Initiatives to increase women’s leadership and participation in decision-making help to identify and respond to their protection needs. The provision of sanitary materials improves health and increases freedom of movement. Livelihoods support can ensure women are not forced to engage in survival sex to provide for their families.

Refugees also need access to reproductive healthcare and physical and mental healthcare for survivors of sexual violence.

Essentially, the sexism people face generally in the world is exacerbated and amplified by the vulnerability and upheaval of displacement.

What can you do? Call the Congressional Switchboard to urge your representative and senators to increase the number of refugees the US accepts. Call (202) 224-3121 and they can put you in touch with any member of Congress. You may also want to contact elected officials who have taken a public stance in favor of welcoming refugees, to let them know you appreciate them.

What else can you do? You can donate to organizations that support women survivors of conflict. One of my favorites is Women for Women International.


Women Rabbis in Orthodox Judaism: The saga continues


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This post is written by a guest contributor, Chavie G. 

While women rabbis are fully accepted within the Conservative and Reform movements, the legitimacy of women Rabbis, or even of women taking on roles traditionally associated with those of rabbis, is hotly contested among followers of Orthodox Judaism.  The disagreement intensified when, last week, the Rabbinical Council of America, currently the major Jewish Orthodox rabbinical council in the United States, released a statement forbidding its members from ordaining or employing women rabbis or any women taking on a role that resembles being a woman rabbi.

A quiet-yet-stern backlash ensued from liberal orthodox Jewish communities, with some orthodox Jewish leaders declaring the RCA vote of having been more political than religious.  Others pointed out the importance of women’s formal involvement in legal interpretation within a religion so heavily based upon a traditional legal code.  The controversy continues to reverberate even into this week, and a lot of really good writing has come out of it about the importance of formal opportunities for women’s leadership in Orthodox Judaism, and about the experiences of the women who are forging the way toward new roles for women in Orthodox religion and society. Continue reading

Speak up and stop this shit

Content note for police violence against children of color.

Last week in South Carolina, a white school officer, Deputy Ben Fields — or officer slam, as he has been known among the school’s students prior to this incident — attacked a non-resisting, silent teenage girl by violently throwing her from her seat, causing her multiple physical injuries and emotional trauma.  Her crime?  Earlier in the class period, she did not immediately comply with a teacher’s request to put away her cell phone.  Additionally, she was black.

Fortunately, one of her classmates took out his phone and videotaped the encounter.  In the video, as many have pointed out, it is clear that the officer made no attempt at intervention, other than to move the girl’s laptop off her desk, indicating that he had decided to attack her (which is the proper verb for when an adult man throws a teenage girl onto the ground) from the very beginning of the encounter. Continue reading

Hi I’m a Trans Person Please Stop Reminding Me I’m Different

Sometimes I like being different. Sometimes it gets very, very tiring. Recently, I started living in a house full of trans people. Three out of five of us are trans. Living in an atmosphere of people who get it makes me even less patient with people who don’t. Kinda not sorry about that. But because I’m one o’ them accomodatin’ transsexuals* I’m going to give you some educational tips.

Here’s a list of things not to say to trans people.

  1. “Biological male” see also: biological female
  2. You pass so well!
  3. Don’t do that [gesture/movement/dance move], it makes you look less feminine/masculine.
  4. “No, shake my hand harder, like a man would.”

Here’s a list of things that will clue us in to the fact that you’re not seeing us as the correct gender:

  1. Telling us we should smile more when we’re male identified (note: telling women to smile is sexist and also bollocks, but telling a trans man to smile is sexist AND identity-denying)
  2. Referring to our bodies/body parts by words that we don’t identify with. This goes for everyone but especially sexual partners and doctors.
  3. Obsessively praising our outfits or makeup.

Here’s some things you can do to make us feel included:

  1. Invite us to events for the gender we identify as. Don’t invite us to events that are specifically for a gender we are not.
  2. Family restrooms.
  3. If you’re going to use gendered honorifics and words like brother, madam, mister, etc…use them naturally and don’t over-emphasize them.

Thanks for flying with Trans Airways. Enjoy your stay in Houston.

*note: I can say this word to refer to myself. You cannot say it about me or other people.

A brave new world

Content Note: Aftermath of abuse, related feels

It’s been a while since I’ve written about my history with intimate partner violence.  It was my first post for the blog and came at a very intense time in my life when I was still in the throes of working my way out of that relationship.  A lot has happened since then.  A lot of struggles, but a lot of good things.  So many good things that I wrote a post about how I wanted to stop writing about the bad things.  And by and large, that does reflect my focus now — going forward, trying not to look back.  Taking each day for what it is.

But a lot of the things that I most appreciate about my life right now are things that I appreciate precisely because of the things I’ve been through — though let’s be clear, that is not to say that I am grateful for those events.  If I could arrange to have not gone through those things, I very often think that I would choose to have not experienced them.  Still, many of the things I’m currently so grateful for are tiny details whose significance makes no sense without the context of the things that came before them.  So for this post, I’d like to share some of those small victories with you, dear disruptors, especially for those of you who are in an abusive relationship or who may have just left one.  Or who have left one long ago, but still sometimes get those painful feelings tugging you back in a direction that you’re trying not to go. Continue reading

Intentional Sex: When saying yes is only the beginning


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You know how the story goes. Two characters have a something, the heat in their eyes when they look at each other, the occasional flick of the gaze toward the other’s mouth. Eventually, they give into their desires and fall in bed together, and we get the movie’s climactic sex scene.

Note that the characters don’t really talk before or during the sex scene. They just exchange a heated look and they know the time has finally come for sex.

Contrast this typical sex scene from movies, TV shows, books, video games, etc., to the passage below, from the short story “Make Tonight a Show” by Rose Serrano*:

“Simon,” she says, very seriously. “You might not be interested in the kind of things I want.”

“What, like Fifty Shades type stuff?” He tries for a laugh; she catches his eyes and pins him with her gaze. He drops his voice and leans in. “Look, I’m kinky.” He’s probably a lot kinkier than her, to be honest. “I’m almost definitely into whatever you’re into.”

She matches him beat for beat, mimicking his posture until she’s in his personal space, her lips just inches away from his. “I’m almost definitely into being on top.”

“Well, I’m almost definitely into being hurt,” he whispers, and closes the gap. It’s a light kiss, nearly chaste, but Leila grabs his hand and digs her nails in – yeah, just as good as he imagined, better than any kiss could be.

What’s the difference?

Both scenes are consensual. The sex is very much desired by everyone involved (though in the first scene the consent is implicit in their body language, because no one actually says “yes.”) But the first scene has these young women, Megan and Graham, coming together wordlessly. Even though they clearly both want to have sex, they don’t discuss what they want from the sex, what they like, what their boundaries are, or what kind of relationship they want with each other. The sex just… happens. An experience that comes along and sweeps them up in its intensity.

Sex can definitely be like that in real life, especially in an established sexual relationship. You can read your partner(s)’ cues, you can tell they’re as hot and bothered as you are, you know what’s going to get each other off, and you just go for it.

But realistically, especially if you’re having sex with someone for the first time, sex isn’t just something that happens. It’s something you create intentionally with your partner(s). After all, saying yes is just the beginning. Maybe you want to have sex, but for completely different reasons. Maybe you’d like to feel powerful during sex, while your partner would like to feel tender. Hopefully, you can find a way to have sex that lets everyone have the experience they want. This is what makes sex between every two (or three, or more) people unique.

No matter how much you love each other, you can’t know your partner’s feelings and intentions about the sex you’re going to have unless you talk about it. Without that conversation, you could end up with all kinds of misunderstandings. Take Simon and Leila from the passage above. Simon thinks at first that he’s a lot kinkier than Leila. When he talks to her, it turns out he’s wrong. Think what would have happened if they’d just fallen into bed together without discussing what they like first. Both of them would have missed out on the kinky sex they really wanted to have.

It’s that conversation about feelings and intent before sex that makes more spontaneous sex between established partners possible. You already know what your partner typically wants from sex, so you can have it on a whim and feel confident you’ll give them an experience they’ll like.

Even so, people who’ve been together a long time can still benefit from sharing their feelings or intentions before sex. When I’m with a partner, I like to say things like, “I’m feeling tired today, so I’d rather do something that’s a bit lower-energy,” or “I really could use some stress relief. Can we think of ways for me to blow off steam when we’re in bed?” so my partner knows what to expect.

So if intentional sex is so important and beneficial to a healthy sexual relationship, why do we never see it? Why doesn’t anyone seem to talk about it?

I included the sex scene from But I’m a Cheerleader because for me it really highlights this contradiction. But I’m a Cheerleader is a movie from the 1990s about young queer people at a “pray the gay away” camp discovering their identities and sexualities in an environment that tries to brutally erase them. The movie is very much about false, forced sexuality as opposed to good, authentic sexuality. In the scenes where Megan and Graham are forced to act straight, their wants, desires, and consent don’t matter. In this sex scene, their consent is present and clear. But their specific wants and desires are still unspoken and invisible. And for two young lesbians having sex for the first time after years of repressing themselves, clearly communicating their desires would seem to be especially important.

The best I can figure is that there’s a cultural assumption that good sex, proper sex, should be such an easy and natural experience that no words are necessary. The lovers should just know, through the power and purity of their love, exactly how to please each other.

But in the real world, there’s no way to intuitively know what your partner wants in bed, no matter how strong a bond you have. Even if you think you just know, it may turn out that you don’t, and you’re missing out on better sex and a better understanding of a person you care about.

On the rare occasions you do see intentional sex in the media, it’s in situations where sex falls outside of cultural definitions of “good” and “normal” sexuality. My example from “Make Tonight a Show” is about a couple having kinky sex. In Lois Bujold’s novel Beguilement, the main characters have a deep discussion of boundaries and capabilities before sex because one of them is disabled and the other is a survivor of attempted rape: disability and survivor status introduce “problems” to otherwise normative straight sex, which the characters resolve in conversation. In Star Trek: Voyager, B’Elanna Torres and Tom Paris only explicitly discuss their feelings about sex when B’Elanna is in a Klingon blood rage (clearly an obstacle to right proper sex).

B'Elanna and Tom negotiate their sexy feelings


None of this is to say that it isn’t great to see representations of intentional sex, as rare as they are. But the thing is, straight able-bodied cis vanilla people can benefit from intentional sex just as much as anyone else. Good sex isn’t just something that arises naturally from doing sex the “right” way with the “right” kind of partner. It’s something that you and your partner(s) build together, by finding the ways your unique likes, dislikes, and passions intersect.

What I’d really like to see is people modeling in-depth discussion of sex, before you get down and do it, as an important part of normal, healthy sexuality, not just a way to fix problematic sexuality. Then we can all learn more about how to have sex on purpose.

* From the short story collection Between the Shores: Erotica with Consent. I highly recommend it.

† A notable exception is erotic fanfiction, which is mostly written by and for women; here, intentional sex is downright common. Comment if you’d like to learn more.


Ready or Not? The Scarleteen Sex Readiness Checklist (a guide to how to be emotionally as well as physically ready for sex with a new partner)

How to Have Sex on Purpose

Five Family-Friendly Feminist Fights


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Let’s talk about family values, y’all. I’m not talking about the so called “family values” pushed by the religious right. This isn’t some anti-marriage-equality Focus on the Family nonsense that keeps families from accessing legal rights. And it’s not about pressuring hetero couples to maintain gender norms for the good of the children, nor is it about taking reproductive choices away from people. No, the anti-feminists have falsely laid claim to the political realm of the family for too long.

Families are important, and family values, real family values, are feminist values. To prove it to you, here’s a list of five family-forward policies feminist are pushing for and taking action on–and way that you can join in the work.

It's a cute baby in a ruffly dress, kinda sad or confused facial expression, tongue slightly out of mouth

Please enjoy this marginally relevant stock photo of an adorable baby.

Continue reading

Disrupt for Planned Parenthood


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Hello Dear Disruptors,

A lot of fun things happened this past week.  The U.S. Congressional House’s decision on Friday to stop funding Planned Parenthood for a year was not one of them.  That funding enables approximately 2.7 million people to access free and affordable healthcare, enabling both women and men in low-income areas to control their reproductive health, as well as providing other needed healthcare services.  Infuriatingly, the move to deprive these people of access to these services was grounded in a slew of inaccuracies, and the claim that low-income individuals can readily access these services elsewhere is simply not the case.

That brings us to this week’s Promote a Petition.  Except instead of just a petition, we’re calling on our community of disruptors to step up to the plate and promote Planned Parenthood in whatever way we can.  This issue — all people’s right to reproductive healthcare regardless of gender or income — is at the heart of intersectional feminism.  It gives women and people with gestational anatomy the rights to their own bodies, provides healthcare to people who cannot afford it, and promotes upward mobility by preventing girls, women, and people with gestational anatomy from having to choose between parenthood and their education / financial stability. Further, it helps prevent survivors of sexual assault from having to deal with further trauma as a result of the violence that they have already experienced.

Even though each of us individually may feel that our efforts don’t matter, when we band together, they most assuredly do.

Planned Parenthood Logo. Slogan reads "Care. No matter what." Continue reading

Musings of a dead salmon


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Soooo it’s happened again.  There’s another pop science article arguing that there are “real differences” between “female and male brains” and citing hormones as the root of gender differences in cognitive ability.  There are so many of these that I usually just scowl at them as they go by, but every so often there’s one so blatantly terrible that I can’t help but swing at it.  This recent Slate article was one such doozy.  Get out your baseball bats.

The Synopsis

According to the initial report of the study that the Slate article is writing about, these researchers took pictures of the brains of 18 trans individuals undergoing hormone therapy as part of their transition to living as male.  Over the course of 4 weeks, these researchers found statistically significant decreases in the gray matter of two brain regions involved in language processing.  They also found significant increases in the white matter connecting with these areas, which they say they found “surprising” — translation: “does not support our conclusion.”  Their conclusion, of course, is that hormones, specifically testosterone, may contribute to gender differences in verbal ability. The pop science article extends this to imply that hormones could totally explain all such functional gender differences.

We’ve got great stuff to work with here. Continue reading


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