Download PDF here: newsletter_spring2013_revised
This week, my Facebook newsfeed exploded with support for marriage equality, as the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in a same-sex marriage case. I am friends (both in real, flesh-and-blood life and on Facebook) with a number of socially liberal individuals. To illustrate this, I have not read a single post on my own newsfeed that rejects the legitimacy of same-sex marriage. However, I think should engage in the struggle for equality via same-sex marriage, while keeping in mind the number of ways that the institution of marriage undermines other family forms. The marriage equality movement should be mindful not to dismiss the significance and legitimacy of single-parent households, for example; it should not adopt the mindset that creating a traditional, nuclear unit is the only way to be valued as a family. Let us bear in mind the necessity of choice in achieving equality, while also respecting those who uplift entire households on their own -without romantic partners entirely.
The Student Health Educators (SHE) of Amherst College are hosting “Love Your Body Week.” The week invites students to celebrate all that they appreciate about their physical selves. The message is that one should love the body for what it can do, what it represents. Someone’s hands hands might remind him of his grandfather, for instance; a basketball player might love her arms because they’ve helped her reach a scoring high. The SHEs encourage students to look beyond Hollywood’s construction of the perfect body, and embrace everything their own bodies do for them. Across campus are signs like “You are more than your abs,” “You are more than your thighs,” and the persistent, “Don’t judge me by my weight, or my weights.” I think it’s great that the SHEs encourage Amherst students to dismiss artificial standards of beauty and love themselves. Really, I do.
It is disturbing that we need reminders to respect the little houses in which we’ll live until the day we die. At Amherst, like most places, it is difficult to be fat. It is difficult to be differently-abled. It is difficult to have a body that strays from the varsity athlete norm we have established. There is something that makes Amherst unique in its treatment of the body, though. Amherst gets some of the highest-performing students from across the country. We’re the best and the brightest, damn it, and we have not, cannot, and will not fail! We have excelled in academics, and we’ve read all about the horrible things that eating disorders do to the body and the mind. We’re also well-informed about the nasty effects of high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, and -dare I say it -carbs? So when we arrive on campus in the fall of Freshman year, all amped up on acceptance letters and summertime tans, we’re a little caught off-guard by how great everyone else is, too.
Wait, there’s a fifteen year old in my class? That guy has been to Sundance? Holy shit, that girl has won every gymnastics competition in the history of ever. We judge ourselves against one another and become pretty fiercely determined to look like everyone else -everyone else being thin, toned, and athletic. But here’s the next thing. As the best and the brightest, we know it’s bad to change ourselves just to be thin; No, we work out like crazy and live on Val’s Lighter Side chicken breast in order to be “healthy.” Like much of the country, I think Amherst has conflated thinness and health. It’s okay to drive oneself crazy in the dining hall and at the gym, just so long as the pursuit is made in the name of low blood pressure and strong bones. This mindset makes it acceptable to judge Other (read “fat”) bodies because as Amherst students, they should be well-informed enough to keep themselves “healthy.”
The eight Millenium Development Goals are markers of progress in human welfare, and are widely considered a contract between the Global North and the Global South.Through this contract, the industrialized and developing worlds have determined concrete ways to collaborate to guarantee the protection and advancement of human rights globally. The third goal of the eight goals is “to promote gender equality and empower women.” Countless studies examine the ways that women’s education is directly responsible for other achievements in human welfare. Educate a woman, educate a nation. Educate a woman, decrease child mortality. Educate a woman, increase household income. Help her help others, many scholars seem to say. However, fewer scholars have examined educating women for women’s sake. While the utilitarian value of female literacy and education is often celebrated, the intangible positive effects of education for the individual woman are largely dismissed.
One WAGS thesis examines the history, impact, and challenges of women’s education in the Nigerian context -with regard to the advancement of human rights. The thesis explores the ways in which the third MDG promotes female literacy in Nigeria -but perhaps for misguided reasons. Using qualitative interviews with women in Ikenne, Ogun State, Nigeria, It then offers new ways in which governments and NGOs might begin to reapproach the promotion of women’s education.
Each year the on-campus group, The Women of Amherst, performs a show by the same name modeled after Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues. The show highlights stories of love, pain, assault, friendship, growth, joy, and sex -and is entirely written by cast members themselves. The 2012 Women of Amherst production brought issues of rape and sexual assault on the Amherst College campus to the forefront of the school’s consciousness. Many audience members were surprised and deeply saddened to learn about their peers’ traumatic experiences. Some even questioned the legitimacy of some of the pieces.
The start of the ’12/’13 academic year witnessed a tidal wave of survivors’ truths -truths which had been silenced for far too long on campus and in our communities. People began to carve safe spaces to tell their stories of guilt, shame, survival, courage, and strength. It was heartbreaking, and it was beautiful. Survivors, professors, reporters, allies, and bystanders engaged in critical conversations about the past, present, and future of sexual safety at Amherst. The Women of Amherst applaud the broader community for participating in dialogue about issues so relevant to the group and to survivors everywhere. By the same token, however, The Women of Amherst seeks to remind its audience that there is more to sex in college than fear and danger. Women and men can -and often do- celebrate their sexual selves in ways that are healthy and admirable.
It will be interesting to see what the 2013 Women of Amherst production brings.
Danielle Sucher has created a Google Chrome extension which genderswaps the world, and it has a pretty fabulous name: Jailbreak the Patriarchy. When it’s installed, everything you read in Chrome (except for gmail) loads with pronouns and other gendered words swapped. For example: “she put on her most feminine panties” would read as “he put on his most masculine panties.” This is fun!
Danielle writes that “This makes reading stuff on the internet a pretty fascinating and eye-opening experience.” I agree with her. It is one thing to know that we live in a sexist world full of double standards, but it is another thing to see the phrase “momma was a rolling stone” and think about the way we view motherhood vs. fatherhood. As one user commented, “running Jailbreak the Patriarchy for the past few days has already changed my perspective on the world in a way that I find interesting, enjoyable, and valuable.”
Jailbreak the Patriarchy does not trap you “outside the asylum” (there is an off button) but if you feel squeamish about downloading it you could also try regender.com. This website, created by Ka-Ping Yee, works like one of those language translation sites. Just go to regender.com and enter either text or a destination site that you would like them to “translate.” For now I leave you with this: http://regender.com/swap/http://jezebel.com/