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New Year, New House: Understanding the 116th Congress’s Adopted Rules and What they Mean for the Freshman Class

By Rhian Lowndes

A new year and a new Congress. With 102 women sitting in the House of Representatives and 25 in the Senate, the United States is seeing unprecedented female power in our national government. Nancy Pelosi calls new members a “transformative Freshman Class” with over a third of House Democrats identifying as people of color and a (marginal but auspicious) growth in religious diversity as well.

With new faces comes change; the House of Representatives has adapted to its new found pluralism by adopting some rules and modifying others to ensure safety and opportunity to all members–maybe I’m giving away my naivety by saying I was surprised that a few of these regulations hadn’t already been established. Still, the following directives are a good sign for the 116th Congress.

  • Banning Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity. While discrimination by any Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, officer, or employee of the House is already disallowed, the House has specifically extended the ban to consider prejudice based on sexual orientation or gender identity, creating a safe space for a new generation of representatives.
  • Banning Sexual Relationships Between Members and Committee Staff. Sexual relationships between members and their employees are not tolerated by House rules, but this now includes a prohibition of relationships between members and staffers who are not their direct employees, hopefully eliminating at least some ethical ambiguity surrounding power dynamics in these affairs.
  • Service of Indicted Members in Leadership and on Committees. To avoid leaving corrupt people in positions of power, the House has stated that indicted members, and those charged with criminal conduct for a felony offense punishable by at least two years in prison, should abdicate caucus or conference leadership roles and step down from any committee positions.
  • Requiring Members to Pay for Discrimination Settlements. Members have to pay the Treasury back for any settlement related a violation of sections 201(a)[1], 206(a)[2], or 207[3] of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995. This makes members more accountable for their own actions within their government positions.
  • Mandatory Anti-Harassment and Anti-Discrimination Policies for House Offices. Each office within the House has to adopt an anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policy by April 1st.
  • Office of Diversity and Inclusion. The House has created an Office of Diversity and Inclusion. The Speaker and Minority Leader will select a Director (with recommendations from the Committee on House Administration) and within 150 days the Office must submit a diversity plan for approval. The diversity plan has to include:
    • “(1) policies to direct and guide House offices to recruit, hire, train, develop, advance, promote and retain a diverse workforce; (2) the development of a survey to evaluate diversity in House offices; (3) a framework for the House of Representatives diversity report; and (4) a proposal for the composition of an Advisory Council to inform the work of the Office.”

A House of Representatives diversity report at the end of each session of Congress is also required.

  • Title II. Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. The House is creating a Committee to investigate and develop recommendations on the modernization of Congress. By “modernization” they mean they intend to develop a more efficient Congress, taking into consideration scheduling, recruitment, and technology, but it also means the preservation and advancement of diversity.

There’s much more to peruse among the legislation set for consideration in the new year, but it’s good to see that the House is making way for change. Hosting a vastly different staff from previous Congresses means the House is in a position to make an America for women and minorities, as well as groups who have prospered more easily in the past. Hopefully, these regulations will make that task easier, and we’ll see the difference in months and years to come.

 

https://www.usnews.com/news/politics/slideshows/116th-congress-by-party-race-gender-and-religion?slide=5 https://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20181231/BILLS-116hresPIH-hres6.pdf

https://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20181231/116-HRes6-SxS-U1.pdf

 

[1] prohibiting discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin,… age,…[or] disability”

[2] prohibiting the discrimination of veterans and/or denying them employment or benefits if they are eligible employees

[3] prohibiting the intimidation of employees who participate in hearings or proceedings

“The Hunting Ground”: A Horror Pseudo-Documentary on a Serious Issue

By Sabrina Schnurr

Summary

CNN’s The Hunting Ground focuses on the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses in America and the way colleges neglect to address it. The documentary seeks to highlight the roles that money and reputation play in college administrations’ choices while chronicling the journey of Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, two former students at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who filed a Title IX complaint and sparked a movement against sexual assault on college campuses. The film criticizes schools’ actions while also examining the culture of fraternities and college athletes. The Hunting Ground includes testimony from many student victims of sexual assault, as well as interviews with psychologists, authors, professors, administrators, police officers, and parents. Lady Gaga recorded a Grammy-nominated original song, “Till It Happens to You,” for the film.

•••

The film opens like a blockbuster thriller: a montage of high schoolers and their families happily opening college acceptances immediately sets the scene for the emotional rollercoaster to come. Even the title itself establishes fears in viewers. Dramatic images of a doorknob and bathroom tile resemble that of a crime scene remake on a television drama, and voice-overs telling terrifying stories contrast with their corresponding montages of beautiful campus scenery. All in all, the film is hard to watch. Images of fraternity signs reading “sexual assault expected” and “thank you for your daughters” land a giant knot in viewers’ stomachs, and specifically, one father’s account of his daughter’s suicide is heart-wrenching and almost impossible to listen to. In this regard, the film does what it was made to do: draw an emotional reaction from audiences.

However, this emotional reaction is then irresponsibly paired with a quick hero-ending and a weak focus on the facts. Almost instantaneously, two students at UNC transition from broken victims to national heroes taking on Title IX to solve college rape; the ending segment presents a suddenly uplifting montage of women standing up. A quick cut between the national map of reported campus sexual assaults and the nearly identical homemade map hanging in the students’ apartment serves as comforting, but irresponsible closure. While these young women may have started a movement, this ending segment credits them — and solely them — with “solving” college sexual assault.

After this quick transition, women are suddenly shown strongly standing up and taking action, and administrators (formerly pessimistic about the future of the issue) suddenly see an optimistic solution. Footage of President Obama giving an address on the issue and a montage of new federal investigations into colleges make it seem as though these national achievements were a direct result of only these two students’ mission. Visually, this creates a false cause-and-effect relationship, in which the middle step is never shown. Where is the mention of Emma Sulkowicz, the student who started a movement in 2014 after carrying her mattress around campus after being assaulted? What about all the administrators, politicians, families, reporters, and students that played a role in this movement (a movement which started long before these young women even started college)?

The journey of the two students at UNC did not happen in a vacuum, but they are portrayed as if they did. Gillian Greensite, director of rape prevention education at UC Santa Cruz, notes that the first peak of activism in the rape-crisis movement occurred after the Civil War. Considering how these incidents are analyzed in isolation, the film lacks a rational evaluation of the then-current state of discussion about sexual assault and consequently, does these victims a giant disservice. Its happy ending also does not leave room for future discussion of this issue. Sexual assault is a dynamic problem in the United States; recently Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that the administration was formally withdrawing Obama-era campus sexual assault direction.

In addition, it has been argued that many of the statistics used in the film are outdated or merely inaccurate. Slate’s Emily Yoffe, who also writes for the Atlantic, spoke to Alyssa Keehan, director of research at United Educators — a higher education insurance group that recently released a study of 305 sexual assault claims they received from 104 schools over three years. Keehan noted that the “most common narrative you hear” — institutions not caring about sexual assault — might not be true. Their data found that when a formal complaint is brought against a student, he is found guilty 45 percent of the time, and when that happens, the attacker is given the “most severe penalty available” (expulsion or suspension) over 80 percent of the time. Nonetheless, while the choice of statistics used in the film can be arguably biased or inaccurate, it can hardly be debated that some are outdated. Specifically, in a portion of the film discussing student athletes as the prime attackers who get away with assault, two statistics are held onscreen; these statistics date back to 1993, over twenty years before the film was released. In using this data, the filmmakers ignore how college culture has changed tremendously in the past twenty years and continue to deny the viewer of a fully-informed, unbiased discussion on college sexual assault.

Any documentary has a responsibility to be fact-based, and in conveniently excluding major pieces of the investigations noted, the film loses its legitimacy and sabotages its powerful message. For example, a large piece of the film focuses on the rape allegation against Jameis Winston, a former Florida State University quarterback who was found not responsible after a criminal investigation. His accuser, Erica Kinsman, went public saying that after drinking a shot at an off-campus bar she started feeling strange and was “fairly certain there was something in that drink.” However, the filmmakers fail to note that two toxicology reports found that she had no drugs in her system nor do they reveal that at the December hearing, Kinsman did not insist that she was drugged or unconscious. Granted, these young women are beyond brave for speaking out about their experiences; sexual assault on college campuses is a real problem that needs to be addressed. Yet while testimony from real victims has raw, emotional power, it isn’t enough. If the students are looking to inform the public about this very serious issue, an ethical stance of fairness does not leave room for picking and choosing what critical pieces get included.

Ultimately, The Hunting Ground does its viewers a disservice by focusing on passion over information. In a world where the media rules our daily lives, documentary-makers have an ethical responsibility to provide fact-based films. However, some could argue that the pushback from schools on the accuracy of things mentioned in the film perhaps proves the film’s point: colleges do not want to put their reputations on the line by addressing this very real issue. Yet, in terms of the film itself, it poses serious questions about bias and our consumption of media. Can a documentary still be a good documentary if it only presents one side of the story? Additionally, Emily Yoffe brought up an interesting point in an NPR interview: what does this mean for CNN? This news network is attempting to present the film as a “fair exploration of an important subject,” but it very easily might not be “fair” at all.

 

Featured image by Christopher Serra, courtesy of the LA Times.

Curls

Originally published in our Spring 2018 Reader, Dev Blair’s poem “Curls” is one of two prose poems that “tell a part of the story of a young femme wrestling with the ways in which they meet the world and the ways in which the world meets them.”

In their abstract, Blair explains that:

“In Curls, I draw parallels between my hair’s relationship to relaxers and my relationship to men, using the comparison to analyze the ways that I’ve been mistreated by the men in my life. While the terms “queer” and “non-binary” don’t feature in the poem itself, the experiences I describe within are inextricably tied to those parts of my identity, by virtue of how these things influence which men I interact with and how I am seen by them.”

If you are interested in buying a physical copy of the reader, email hoochie@bu.edu ! We are selling them for $5.


[ Content warning: for mentions of depression ]

Curls

by Dev Blair

For a long time, I didn’t quite understand the term “natural.”

See, I knew that curls grew from my scalp naturally and I also understood that I could see my curls intertwine and loc beautifully—if I ever stop tryna cop Britney’s ’‘07 hairdo every time I have a breakdown.

But what I didn’t get was how we could name our curls—something so deeply personal and meaningful—”natural,” as if to make them sound normal, mundane, or palatable.

See, I don’t want my curls to be something you can stomach, another vaguely ethnic dish for white eyes to consume.

My curls are something your combs cannot tame, your brushes cannot beat back, your razors cannot cut down.

My curls are twisted and kinky and they like to play rough.

Relaxers hide their faces in shame when they see my curls, gettin’ clowned on in their workplaces for lack of game, their own failure to play aces, ultimately to blame for their inability to run bases and tame my militant curls.

Like men disappoint me, so too do relaxers disappoint my curls. Inviting them in with promises of beauty and a future, they leave them desolate and lifeless after extracting every ounce of magic and joy from their being. Slinking down the drain, they take my curls’ hopes and dreams and parts of themselves with them.

Capitalizing on my curls’ labor and my curls’ abuse, relaxers are like men to me, suitors that preach and preen over how faithful they’ll be, only to treat our “unruliness” as a liability.

White cream slathered on black curls, like white men slobbering over black girls, suffocating them with their emotional unavailability, then leaving them a little more broken than they were found, even though it’s been years since they were chained and bound to Eurocentricity’s straight and narrow Middle Passage.

Postcolonial as in post relaxer as in post heart break post break up postmodernism, this is a poem posted like a notice on every door and Facebook wall saying that I’m better off without them. And so are my curls.

My beauty is achieved, not defaulted. My strength is earned, but not exalted unless it can be used to turn a profit.

My pretty smells of hard work and healthy routines learned from unhealthy habits and a history of hurt. My curls shine with a radiance not natural nor innate but learned from every trial that turned out to be a mistake. She must learn to love themself, because others don’t care to take the time to learn how to love me.

My curls have got it on loc because when I unlocked my heart for you, instead of with it you ran away with the key and so now only rage spills out, with no kiss to fix it or stop it up.

With each beat of my thoroughly disappointed heart, the rage rushes to my ears, breaking every part of myself I curated like fine art. As I crumble into sadness, the blood pounds with the barking madness of hell hounds bounding after their-query for you: “did it feel good to waste my time?” Before the answer can be found, my innocence dies like the Virgin Hairy, killed by sounds in my head of “you’re undesirable,” and “you’ll never marry,” and I am left limp and wet and barely recognizable.

Solange wrote a catchy song about it, so y’all get it already, right?

But see, you don’t. Because my curls are not just the feelings I wear, but the product of the pain I bear and the parts of myself I refuse to share and the things that I talk about in prayer.

I am not natural. Neither are my curls. We are more than you could ever hope to call natural—after all, what is natural about a body ravaged by the politics of desirability?

See, love is a battlefield and my body is the site of war. Y’all come into my life, fuck shit up, then call me whore so now I can’t sleep. I can’t rest or lay down and neither can my curls, and girls, that’s how we all got our razor-sharp edges-from pain so intense, we can’t even weep. That’s why I shave my head like I’m shearing a goddamn sheep, so if you want my curls, know that the price is steep. Don’t hurt me so deep that I can’t keep myself together. If you can avoid that and ease my bleeding heart, help me heal from the times I fell apart, then and only then do you deserve to look at my curls.

The Ultimate Move of BU’s Lady Pilots

By Priest Gooding

It is often with reproach that Feminism is received in contemporary conversation—c, a rebuke is made against the (usually false) idea that feminism is an Unterdrücker of men. There are various self-described “meninists” and intellectuals alike who reject the idea of feminism and the pursuits of feminists, often under the aforementioned pretense; even classical feminists (those of the second-wave cloth) often meet contemporary (so-called third-wave) feminism with contention. Certainly there exist those extremes of feminism which do fall under the pretense of Unterdrücker; however, these are, as stated, extremes. Nonetheless, the very volatile environment in which feminism exists today demonstrates the need for critical and dialectical conversation. Especially if feminism wishes to achieve its ends, there must be a social discussion (indeed, such is required to define the exact ends themselves of the movement!) of feminism. Lo! This is the exact stance (or purpose) of Boston University’s “Women’s Ultimate (Lady Pilots)”and their dialectical series of “Why I Need Feminism”, which includes women and men.

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In the vein of those so-called “meninists” and anti-feminists who seem to have popularized the posting of photos on the internet which display them holding signs which state why they do not need feminism, Boston University’s “Women’s Ultimate” have begun this series by having females and males post photos in which the individual presents a sign explaining why they do need feminism. The ultimate (pardon the pun) goal of this project is, according to the group, to help “people understand the definition of the word and movement of feminism, [which] is: the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women EQUAL to those of men.” It is, thus, a project dedicated to dispelling the myths of feminist oppression, as well as those extremes of feminism, the Hasserinnen, which often become the embodiment of feminism for those against the movement.

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This organization, then, represents the necessary feminist dialogue in the pursuit of defending feminism from its often misguided detractors and misguided proponents. But what are the merits of such dialogue? Not only does such a project provide a counter to the “Why I do not need feminism” proclamations, it also demonstrates an intersectionality which is often absent from the extremes of feminism—that is, it presents the ultimate goal of feminism qua itself: the equality of man and of woman. This is a meta-project, then, which demonstrates feminism qua feminism, and feminism in terms of its merits and ideals—a sure way to initiate the very necessary discussion of feminism as a movement.

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This project is a rather stunning achievement, both of feminism and of college-age feminists alike. We look to the Boston University “Women’s Ultimate” with hope that they may ignite the passion of others, and that we may begin a serious and critical discussion on feminism and all that it represents. Let us be reminded of those great words of encouragement: “To the daring belongs the future.”[1]

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[1] Attributed to Emma Goldman

Source of pictures: https://www.facebook.com/buladypilots/?fref=ts

Feminism for Anti-Feminists

Check out some great writing from our own Cecilia Weddell, a BU senior, writing for BU Culture Shock.Boston_University_seal

When I see former acquaintances, teammates, and even friends speaking against feminism—speaking against their own worth as equals to men—I am sad. I see these women as patriarchy’s biggest victims. They are women who have been convinced to fight against their own right to equality, and who truly do see their value in the terms of whether or not they have attracted the attention of a man. And it makes for an odd question of choice: should I cut this sort of thinking out of my life, unfollow, and move on? Should I try to understand and to educate, to explain the real values of feminism while risking further misunderstanding and ruin of what once was a friendship, or at least a mutual respect?

Read the rest of the article here!

Geena Davis, Represent!

Geena Davis received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University and the Bette Davis Foundation last Friday evening, March 28. The ceremony marked the opening of “Geena Davis: Actress and Advocate,” an archival exhibit detailing Davis’ Academy-award winning career in film, as well as her advocacy for equal gender representation in media.Geena_Davis_at_the_2009_Tribeca_Film_Festival

Davis, 58, graduated from Boston University’s College of Fine Arts in 1979 to pursue acting. She won an Oscar for Best Actress ten years later for her role in “The Accidental Tourist.” She is also known for her work in “Beetlejuice,” “A League of Their Own,” “Stuart Little,” and was nominated for another Academy Award in 1992 for her character in “Thelma and Louise.”

“I always wanted to play characters who were in charge of their own fate,” said Davis in a press conference at the event. “When [“Thelma and Louise”] garnered such a big reaction from women it made me think much more consciously about what the women in the audience would think about my characters.”

Davis started the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media in 2004 after watching family movies with her daughter, who’s now twelve, and noticing a severe under-representation of female characters. The non-profit research entity studies gender representation in film and television, particularly media aimed at young audiences. It works to reduce stereotypes of women by bringing attention to disparities in family films. Research from the last decade showed fewer than 1/3 characters in family films are female, and more than 95% of C-suite characters are male.

“I think it’s incredibly important, the images of women that we see,” said Davis. “If we’re showing kids female characters that are stereotyped, sidelined, or highly sexualized or not even there, we’re sending a message to kids. It’s basically saying that women and girls aren’t as important as boys.”

The institute is now the leading source of research on gender depictions in media. In 2013, it partnered with the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality for a global study that will be presented at the Second Global Symposium on Gender in Media in the Fall of 2014.

“The ratio of male to female characters in film has been exactly the same since 1946… things just haven’t changed,” said Davis. “I’m hoping that finally this last year where “Hunger Games” was number one and “Frozen” was number four, we actually might get some momentum.”

THURSDAY: The New Soft War on Women

When: this Thursday January 30th, at 4:00

Amazon.com
Amazon.com

Where: COM room #209

What: Book signing and discussion of Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett’s new book, The New Soft War on Women: How the Myth of Female Ascendency is Hurting Women, Men and Our Economy

Book Description:

For the first time in history, women make up half the educated labor force and are earning the majority of advanced degrees. It should be the best time ever for women, and yet… it’s not. Storm clouds are gathering, and the worst thing is that most women don’t have a clue what could be coming. In large part this is because the message they’re being fed is that they now have it made. But do they?

In The New Soft War on Women, respected experts on gender issues and the psychology of women Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett argue that an insidious war of subtle biases and barriers is being waged that continues to marginalize women. Although women have made huge strides in recent years, these gains have not translated into money and influence.

Link to Purchase Book on Amazon

Equality or GTFO!!!!

Tomorrow Night at Boston University:

“The Boston University Feminist Collective and Video Game Society invite you to join us for a discussion about the gendered minefield that is the online world. We are fortunate enough to have feminist and media critic, Anita Sarkeesian, join us to facilitate the discussion and speak to her own experiences of how gender intersects with online spaces.

Anita is the author of the video blog “Feminist Frequencies” and the video series “Tropes vs. Women” where she explores the tropes of the depiction of women in pop culture. In 2012 she started a Kickstarter campaign to help her create a new series entitled “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” and experienced harsh online harassment from some members of the gaming community. This backlash furthered her message to include an exploration of the overwhelming amounts of online sexual harassment of female identifying gamers. In 2012 Anita was a speaker at the TEDxWomen conference where she discussed online sexual harassment and how influential it is in the online world. You can see that talk here: – [X]

Thursday November 7th, 7-9:30pm

New England Women’s Center Conference

When: Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013
Where: Photonics Building 8 Saint Mary’s St, Boston,MA

Boston University’s Center for Gender, Sexuality and Activism (CGSA) is hosting the New England Women’s Center Conference.

The conference “will be hosting speakers and organizations to discuss the importance of communities in the area that foster safer spaces for all individuals regardless of gender. We aim to do so by deconstructing the intersections of oppression and privilege in our communities and cultures.” – facebook page

Register at newcc2013.eventbrite.com and go to newcc2013.org for details

Support My Rack (Because the Rest Doesn’t Matter?)

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Everyone knows that. October is also Halloween. Everyone knows that, too. Some lesser known holidays that occur in October include Adopt a Shelter Dog Month, National Popcorn Popping Month, Clergy Appreciation Month, and Sarcastic Month, just to name a few.

Slogans such as “Save the Ta-Tas”, “I love boobies!”, and “Support My Rack” are used all year-long to raise money for breast cancer awareness and research, and have proven to be successful marketing strategies for various foundations. But how do these slogans affect us, and what do they mean?

During October it seems like we can’t escape phrases that sexualize breast cancer and breasts in general. Using euphemisms like “rack”, “boobies”, or “ta-tas” reduces women to one aspect of their bodies. Breasts are not neutral territory in our culture, but rather a part of the human body that is already highly-charged. Breasts have a long history of being fetishized by some, revered by others, or used as a mechanism of oppression. Who are we “Saving the Ta-Tas” for– the patriarchy or ourselves?

Pink Everything!

The color pink has become synonymous with breast cancer, but pink also represents love, romance, nurturing, and understanding. This non-threatening color has been completely co-opted by corporations to represent breast cancer and breast cancer awareness. Susan G. Komen has an entire online store dedicated to the sale of pink objects. And 5-Hour Energy, the 4-calorie, caffeinated energy shot, has a “Pink Lemonade” flavor, whose proceeds support the Avon Foundation for Women Breast Cancer Crusade. These foundations are capitalizing upon a medical illness that affects real people with real experiences, whom we know and love. Supporting breast cancer awareness and research is trendy.

Breast cancer is most commonly found in women, but also occurs in non-female-bodied individuals. It can occur regardless of your biological sex, but you wouldn’t know that from the marketing campaigns. The rhetoric surrounding breast cancer is pink, frilly, welcoming, and inherently feminine, alienating “non-traditional” breast cancer survivors as well as survivors of other types of cancers, who may feel unsupported as breast cancer takes up so much public space and discourse.

This month, try to be cognizant of the sexualization of breast cancer. Try to alter your language to honor the experiences of survivors, and to internalize that breast cancer affects everyone. Think about the notion that breasts are a powerful symbol in our culture, but that they are also just a part of the human body. Organizations using slogans such as “I love boobies!” have made great strides for breast cancer awareness and research, but a little attention paid to rhetoric surrounding this cause can go a long way in making Breast Cancer Awareness less of a seasonal trend and more of a socially-responsible, feminist statement.

*Many thanks to the Feminist Collective at Boston University for the discussion and thoughts that contributed to and inspired this post.