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Feminist Bio: Meghan Cytacki

meghan   June was LGBTQ+ Pride Month, and to honor that, our Feminist Bio comes from an amazing, brilliant, PROUD LGBT feminist!
Written by: Meghan Cytacki

 

How did you become a feminist?

I guess you could say that my parents raised me to be a feminist, probably without them knowing. Since I was my dad’s only child, I got to do the stereotypical boy things like play catch, learn about woodworking and handyman tasks, and joke around with his guy friends. On the other hand, I learned traditional women’s roles like cooking, cleaning, and sewing from my mother. Though I learned most of my gender roles from my parents, they never restricted me to doing only girly things. My mom always instilled in me the necessity to be fiercely independent and never failed to remind me that I “didn’t need a man in my life” because I was too busy for one. My dad was more focused on me participating in sports and doing well in school than whether or not I had a boyfriend or wore pretty dresses.

My point is that I had a strong foundation for being a feminist before I entered college without even knowing it. The official “transformation” in to a feminist was a gradual process and my first Women and Gender Studies class at Grand Valley State University spearheaded that. Freshman year was a confusing time, as it is for many. During the winter semester I decided to take Introduction to Women and Gender Studies, mostly because it fulfilled a general education requirement and looked more interesting than the other options.

I don’t mean to sound cheesy, but that class changed my entire perspective on life and the world. Everything that my (amazing) professor said just clicked. I couldn’t get enough from that intro class so I changed my major at the end of the semester to WGS and Psychology. After joining a sorority and other student organizations I found even more people that shared my passion for social justice. Grand Valley formed a little feminist bubble that I was able to grow in and become the confident social justice fighter I am today.

 

Why do you identify as a feminist?

Being a feminist means to be a part of a community of like-minded people all working towards a common goal of changing the world for the better. I identify as a feminist because I firmly stand for the improvement of human life through major systemic change. Whether that’s eradicating sexism, defeating homophobia, tearing down the patriarchy brick by brick, or ending rape culture. With all of the horrendous events that have taken place recently, especially the UCSB shooting, women are under attack and need more recognition and voice.

Not only as a woman but also as a member of the LGBT community, it’s doubly important to fight for the right to be heard and treated with respect. After I came out during my senior year in college as bisexual, I knew that it would be tough at times. Friends, family, and acquaintances that had known me for years as straight were apparently shocked so I was bombarded with questions. “When did you first know?” “Do you think you’ll end up with a man or a woman?” “Do you still believe in God?” “Which one’s the man in your relationship and which one’s the woman?”

The questions, though mostly harmless, were annoying. On the other hand, other interactions with curious or ignorant people were less civil and more violating. It was as if my whole being had changed because I had finally opened up about whom I felt attracted to and had the capacity to love. If I was straight, I doubt I would have experienced many of the situations I have had after coming out. That’s a major part of why I find it important to be a feminist; because my sexuality doesn’t fit the heteronormative standard, I’m forced to endure awkward encounters and rude questions. And that’s not right!

 

How do you embody feminism in your everyday life?

Most of how I live my life everyday as a feminist is through education; in a good portion of my conversations with people who react negatively either to my sexuality or to feminism the issue is that they’re uneducated or misinformed. Many people have an idea of what it means to be a feminist built up that is, for the most part, not true. Some people can’t see past their own privilege, or even acknowledge that they have privilege. Having a conversation with someone that leaves an interaction with me slightly more open-minded is extremely rewarding to me.

 

How do others react to you being a feminist?

Honestly? Most people aren’t surprised and have already assumed that I am-which is one assumption I’m proud to have people make about me! I have a lot of feminist connections where I’m able to express and share my opinions in a safe space. A lot of my friends like to joke and say that I’ve “trained” them to be more conscious of what they’re saying and often let me know of situations where they spoke up against an ignorant, sexist, etc. comment.

In the past, occurring less due to the liberal crowd I surround myself with, there would be a wrinkled nose or a grimace when I mentioned feminism. Unfortunately it comes with the territory because of the terrible name that people have placed on it. It has sparked some very interesting and heated conversations, which have either been pleasant or not-so-pleasant, but nonetheless a memorable experience.

July 4th, 2014 | Published in LGBT Rights


SCOTUS Puts Employers Rights Above Women’s Rights: Thoughts from the NOW GR President

SCOTUS-Puts-Employers-Rights-Above-Women’s-Rights 

-Dani Vilella, President, NOW GR

When major issues occur, I prefer to wait a day to write about them. I want to get a feel for the news coverage and the debate happening amongst people online. After reading the full ruling and dissent, scotusblog, umpteen articles from all sides of the issue, and following the online debates surrounding the Burwell v Hobby Lobby Case, there seem to be some prominent issues, misunderstandings and problems here. Before I delve in, here is a brief synopsis of the case:

On Monday, June 30, the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) issued a ruling on the Burwell v Hobby Lobby case. This case was a battle between the rights of women to receive contraceptive coverage granted in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Contraceptive Mandate and the rights of employers to deny benefits to employees based their on religious beliefs.

In a 5-4 decision, (the five being all men) SCOTUS ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby (and Conestoga) and the implications could be far reaching. The ACLU of Michigan has provided a brief synopsis of the findings:

    • The government should grant closely held for-profit corporations them the same accommodation it already provides nonprofit organization objectors.

 

    • Closely held corporations cannot be required to provide contraception coverage to employees.

 

  • Closely held corporations (not including publicly traded corporations) are “persons” for purposes of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

 

Now that we have the gist, let’s talk about a few problems with this case. (All quotes by the court below are taken directly from the SCOTUS ruling. You can read the full text of the ruling, including the Dissent here.

 

The Contraceptive Problem 1: Denying the Science

The case was brought by Hobby Lobby because the Green Family, the owners, object to 4 methods of birth control covered by the ACA Contraceptive Mandate that they believe are abortifacients. The Supreme Court stated that, “the owners of the businesses have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients.” (Ruling p 2)

The problem? These four contraceptives are NOT abortifacients. Abortifacients are medications that terminate pregnancy. The 4 methods that the Green Family objects to are Plan B and Ella (the two available forms of Emergency Contraception) and Mirena and ParaGuard (the two available forms of Intrauterine Device or IUD). These are birth control methods and do not function by preventing the implantation of a fertilized embryo but by preventing the fertilization from occurring to begin with.

The Court, in allowing the religious beliefs of the Green family to trump the science of how these methods, approved and regulated by the FDA, actually work is a dangerous step. Believing that medicine works a certain way does not make it true. A religious belief against abortion or taking birth control is fine, but to have the Court legitimize that, what you believe to be true regardless of the science behind the medicine is grounds for denial of access to that medicine, is absurd.

 

The Contraceptive Problem 2: Going Beyond the Scope

To those who are saying that this case only applies to 4 methods, you are wrong. Hobby Lobby’s owners stated that they have no religious objection to the other 16 forms of birth control methods covered in the ACA Contraceptive Mandate. I will set aside for the moment the odd fact that these devout Christians do not have “any problems” with all other forms of birth control and focus for a second on the irrelevancy of their opinion. The Court, not the owners, decided in this case, that regardless of the fact that the original premise of the case dealt only with the four aforementioned methods, ALL birth control was at issue in this case and their ruling states that “under the standard that RFRA prescribes, the HHS contraceptive mandate is unlawful. The contraceptive mandate, as applied to closely held corporations, violates RFRA” (Ruling p. 49). This strikes down the full contraceptive mandate for closely held, family owned corporations, and as such means that all birth control methods are subject to this decision. Family owned corporations will no longer be required to provide ANY birth control coverage to their employees if they believe that it violates the owner’s religious beliefs.

 

The “Benefits” Problem:

This case also raises an interesting question about the concept of “employee benefits” in this country. At what point does the compensation provided by my employer become mine. Benefits are not a freebie handed out to workers because of the generosity of their employers. They are part of the overall compensation package provided to employees – just like disability and wages. Compensation earned for work performed. When do they move from being the property of my employer to my property to do with as I choose? If my employer is able to decide what medical treatments I should have access to because it is “their” money that is paying for part of the insurance, why can’t they decide how I spend my wages? After all, if a Hobby Lobby employee were to get an abortion and pay for it with money earned at their job, isn’t that still the “owner’s money” going to pay for a medical procedure that is contrary to their religious beliefs? It may sound ridiculous, but I think this case begs the question.

 

The Two “Corporation” Problems:

Many of the articles and arguments happening online are focused around the issue that this ruling will apply only to small, family owned companies. While the Court only recognized the specific rights of these closely held, family owned corporations, this is a slippery slope. As Justice Ginsburg, in her Dissent, states: “The Court’s determination that RFRA extends to for-profit corporations is bound to have untoward effects. Although the Court attempts to cabin its language to closely held corporations, its logic extends to corporations of any size, public or private” (Dissent p 19).

Some commenters and journalists are even claiming that family owned companies are not “really” corporations. I do not know where the idea that a company owned by a family is not a corporation has come from but please read the definition of a corporation:

 

“Definition of ‘Corporation’

A legal entity that is separate and distinct from its owners. Corporations enjoy most of the rights and responsibilities that an individual possesses; that is, a corporation has the right to enter into contracts, loan and borrow money, sue and be sued, hire employees, own assets and pay taxes.
The most important aspect of a corporation is limited liability. That is, shareholders have the right to participate in the profits, through dividends and/or the appreciation of stock, but are not held personally liable for the company’s debts.” -Investopedia

 

This definition (and many many others like it….google it) brings up the second part of the Corporation Problem with this case. The reason that people incorporate companies is to create a distinct and separate boundary between themselves as individuals and the company that they own. People incorporate their companies in order to create a separation between themselves and the company – both financially and legally.

Throughout the SCOTUS ruling, the lines between the owners’ entities and the entity of the corporation are convoluted – with the language going back and forth between the two. It may seem logical that a company is an extension of its owners, but our laws say that this is not so. In order for this ruling to stand, the Supreme Court had to declare that corporations are people in regard to religious freedom. So, what are the qualifications for said corporations to be “religious”? Does the company attend religious services? Does it need to have a certain percentage of its profits go toward tithing? Must it clients be made aware of its religious beliefs when utilizing its services? What are the standards for a “religious” corporation?

 

The Ethical Problem:

It is also interesting to me that the definition of a corporation limits the financial liability of the owners but apparently does not limit the moral liability of the owners as the SCOTUS briefing examines: “The beliefs of the…Greens implicates a difficult and important question of religion and moral philosophy, namely, the circumstances under which it is immoral for a person to perform an act that is innocent in itself but that has the effect of enabling or facilitating the commission of an immoral act by another.” (Ruling p5).

I will ignore, for the moment, the incredibly biased and inflammatory assumptions made by that statement, and focus instead on the fact that corporate law recognizes the limited legal liability of owners in regard to the consequences of actions taken by their corporations (please remember the banking fiascos of the last few years) but this Court seems to believe that limited liability does not apply in cases of sin by association – namely that if I give you access to something that you choose to use to commit a sin, I am as guilty as you are and since my religious beliefs forbid that sin, I am exempt from having to give you the option at all.

The Court is correct in its assertion that this is a “difficult and important question,” but incorrect in its assertion that the court has a role in determining the answer.

 

The Problem of Unintended Consequences:

In light of the recent impacts we have seen in the political arena based on the last case where the Supreme Court decided that corporations are people (Citizens United 2010) and the fact that the job of the Supreme Court is to establish legal precedent that often has far reaching consequences well beyond the scope of the original court case, I have some questions about this ruling.

SCOTUS limited the scope of this ruling to cover only birth control benefits. Why? Why is birth control special in regard to religious beliefs? How does the Supreme Court think that they can provide special exemption for providing contraceptive coverage but not exemptions for other religiously controversial benefits? For example, Scientologists refute the use of antidepressants. If I were a Scientologist who owned a company, do I now have the right to deny my employees insurance coverage for their Zoloft or Wellbutrin? If not, why not? Why is that religious belief not as significant as a ban on birth control? And if so…then where does it end? As Justice Ginsburg stated in her scathing dissent of this ruling,

“Hobby Lobby and Conestoga surely do not stand alone as commercial enterprises seeking exemptions from generally applicable laws on the basis of their religious beliefs. See, e.g., Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises, Inc., 256 F. Supp. 941, 945 (SC 1966) (owner of restaurant chain refused to serve black patrons based on his religious beliefs opposing racial integration), aff ’d in relevant part and rev’d in part on other grounds, 377 F. 2d 433 (CA4 1967), aff ’d and modified on other grounds, 390 U. S. 400 (1968); In re Minnesota ex rel. McClure,370 N. W. 2d 844, 847 (Minn.1985) (born-again Christians who owned closely held, for-profit health clubs believed that the Bible proscribed hiring or retaining an “individua[l] living with but not married to a person of the opposite sex,” “a young, single woman working without her father’s consent or a married woman working without her husband’s consent,” and any person “antagonistic to the Bible,” including “fornicators and homosexuals” (internal quotation marks omitted)), appeal dismissed, 478 U. S. 1015 (1986); Elane Photography, LLC v. Willock, 2013–NMSC–040, ___ N. M. ___, 309 P. 3d 53 (for-profit photography business owned by a husband and wife refused to photograph a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony based on the religious beliefs of the company’s owners), cert. denied, 572 U. S. ___ (2014).

Would RFRA require exemptions in cases of this ilk? And if not, how does the Court divine which religious beliefs are worthy of accommodation, and which are not? Isn’t the Court disarmed from making such a judgment given its recognition that “courts must not presume to determine . . . the plausibility of a religious claim”? Ante, at 37. Would the exemption the Court holds RFRA demands for employers with religiously grounded objections to the use of certain contraceptives extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions? (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations (Christian Scientists, among others)?31 According to counsel for Hobby Lobby “each one of these cases . . . would have to be evaluated on its own . . . apply[ing] the compelling interest-least restrictive alternative test.” Tr. of Oral Arg. 6. Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision.” (Dissent p. 32-34 – italics mine)

 

And Finally…The Religious Freedom Problem – RFRA and its Application:

The Court decided, out of all of the different levels of consideration in this case, that ruling would fall in favor of Hobby Lobby (and Conestoga) based on their interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (an assertion vehemently disputed by the Dissent).

Let’s take a moment to examine the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. We will set aside the title of this legislation which implies that Religious Freedom was apparently lost at some point prior to 1993 and needed to be restored. The Act itself was intended to go further than the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment by claiming that “laws ‘neutral’ toward religion may burden religious exercise as surely as laws intended to interfere with religious exercise” (Read the Full Bill Here. It’s short – go on, take a look). The law goes on to state that government may not burden a person’s religious beliefs unless there is a compelling government interest and then must do so in the least restrictive way. In 1997 SCOTUS ruled this Act unconstitutional at the State Level and since then it has applied only to federal legislation. In the three years between the passage of the law and the 1997 decision, 337 court cases were filed based on the RFRA ranging from land use to the religious rejection of social security numbers because they are the “mark of the beast” from the bible. To say that this Act has had a significant effect on our understanding of law and religion in this country would be an understatement and now the Supreme Court has ruled that, not only do people have rights under the RFRA, but incorporated entities do too.

According to Justice Ginsburg,

“Until this litigation, no decision of this Court recognized a for-profit corporation’s qualification for a religious exemption from a generally applicable law, whether under the Free Exercise Clause or RFRA.13 The absence of such precedent is just what one would expect, for the exercise of religion is characteristic of natural persons, not artificial legal entities. As Chief Justice Marshall observed nearly two centuries ago, a corporation is “an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law.” Corporations, Justice Stevens more recently reminded, “have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires.” Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n, 558 U. S. 310, 466 (2010) (opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part)” (Dissent, p. 13-14 – italics mine)…Indeed, until today, religious exemptions had never been extended to any entity operating in “the commercial, profit-making world.” Amos, 483 U.S., at 337.16 The reason why is hardly obscure. Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community. Indeed, by law, no religion-based criterion can restrict the work force of for-profit corporations” (Dissent p. 15-16 – italics mine).

 

I think it is obvious from the problems listed above that I do not think that this case is about birth control at all. Yes, it is another blow to women and their rights to reproductive freedom and choice in this country. Yes, it is discrimination against women in the workplace. Yes, we should be outraged. But…the issues raised in Burwell v Hobby Lobby go far beyond the issue of whether or not your employer should have a say in your medical decisions (they should not!).

This case is far more important because it raises the issue of how we have come to view the idea of religious freedom and the separation of church and state in the US. It is important because it is another example of bigotry and control thinly veiled beneath the guise of religion. It is important because the Supreme Court stated that science doesn’t matter, fact doesn’t matter, our understanding of for-profit versus non-profit doesn’t matter. What matters, as of June 30, 2014 is the “sincerity” of a corporate owner’s religious beliefs, the fact that they view their work as god’s work, the fact that they feel that medicine works in a particular (and incorrect) way and that their beliefs give them the right to discriminate against and penalize people who work to earn them money.

The religious right is correct in their assertion that religious freedom is being eroded in this country. They are, however, wrong about how that is happening. When my for-profit employer is allowed to determine my medical care based on the belief that my medicine violates their religious views, and that trumps my rights to engage in medical practices that may comply with my religious views (or lack thereof), I would say that freedom of religion is more than eroded. Its singing its swan song.

This is a complicated case, sure to have far reaching implications and it will be interesting to watch the consequences of this decision play out over the next few years. This article barely scratches the surface of this issue and smarter minds than mine will seek to study and analyze it in the future. What is important to remember here is that this decision will have real consequences for thousands, if not tens of thousands of women and their families and that it sets a dangerous precedent that opens the path for further discrimination and progressive rationalization down the road.

 

Suggested Further Reading:

Please take a moment to read Justice Ginsburg’s Dissent (begins on page 60) It is WELL worth the read!

Court rules in favor of for-profit corporations, but how broadly? In Plain English

Wider impact of Hobby Lobby ruling?

5 myths about the Hobby Lobby case, debunked

 

July 2nd, 2014 | Published in Federal, Government, Health Care


GO BOLDLY Campaign!

 

NOW GR is proud to support the Go Boldly campaign, created by Grand Rapids photographer, Bri Luginbill. We love our bodies, our minds and our hearts! We celebrate who we are, love who we are, and affirm others around us. Luginbill spurred this movement as a response to the Go Confidently plastic surgery billboard advertisements. We want to encourage a conversation in the Grand Rapids community as to what true beauty is and also who defines beauty. The following is a description of the Go Boldly campaign, written by Bri herself! There is even information on ways YOU can take action and participate in this amazing movement, so read on!

Go Boldly is a positive body image campaign. It first came about as my response to billboard advertisements I saw along the highways of Grand Rapids. The ads seemed to play off of women’s (and men’s) insecurities as to advertise for plastic surgery. They had photos of women or men and the words “Go Confidently” across the billboard. Underneath that slogan were tag lines like “experts in tummy tucks” or “experts in Botox” While, they may have been trying to get a positive message out, I felt like it was not communicating a positive body image message. So, Go Boldly was born on March 17th, 2014.

I asked as many people as I could to pose for me in a white t-shirt and jeans and displayed the words “Go Boldly, Love Your Body” across their photograph. We posted these on Facebook and it got much response locally and internationally! We have people from Virginia and event Israel contacting us! To date, we have photographed over 100 people from ages 6 months to 65 years old. We’ve photographed children, women and men.

Currently, we are trying to raise money to buy advertisement space locally and internationally. Our goal is to combat photoshopped, unattainable and unreal images with natural, real people. These ads are to show that EVERY person and EVERY body is beautiful. We should love and accept the body we are in and not feel pressured to be anything else but ourselves. So far we have raised around $400. Ad space can be expensive, so we need to keep raising funds in as many ways as possible.
Ways YOU can participate:

1) Come get your photo taken for $50. You’ll receive one digital image without any text to use as you wish. This is our thank you for being a part of this movement!
2) Purchase a t-shirt. They are $15 each and $5 for shipping. www.booster.com/goboldlygrandrapids
3) Make a donation by going to our website and clicking the DONATE button www.goboldlygr.com

Thank you for your support!

June 12th, 2014 | Published in Empowerment, Fundraising, Love Your Body Day, LYB


Feminist Bio: Holly Seymour

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How did you become a feminist?

I remember having a strong sense of social justice and an interest in challenging social norms from an early age. I became a vegetarian at the age of 14 and did a lot of things in high school that rejected traditional gender ideals like shaving off my hair and wearing men’s clothes from resale shops.  Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly Homecoming Queen material. During that same time, my mom went back to college and eventually graduated with her bachelor’s degree when she was 50 years old. She worked her tail off and I saw her become more confident and independent. It really made an impression on me.

I went away to college at Michigan State in the early 90’s. I lived in a house off campus with three female friends who I am still very close with. It was my first time away from home and I was experiencing independence and freedom like I never had before. The four of us would hang out all the time and have charged discussions about sexism, racism, classism and religion. We were learning about those issues in our college classes and it was awakening new ways of thinking for all of us. We started challenging the messages that we heard growing up and examining how those issues played out in our daily lives. Our “soundtrack” at the time reflected this. We were coming of age during a time when things were changing for women in the underground music scene and it was really exciting. I didn’t consider myself a Riot Grrrl back then but we were rocking out to bands like Bikini Kill, Heavens to Betsy, Spitboy, and 7 Year Bitch. We even created a ‘zine. It is kind of embarrassing to look at now because we were so young and earnest but we had a blast making it. It was called “Dry Weave” after the Always brand maxi-pads.  This was before the internet so our ‘zine had cut-out magazine pictures of ultra-thin “waif” model Kate Moss who was very popular back then. We hand wrote sarcastic things about being on lettuce-only diets and included poetry that we wrote about the lives of prostitutes. We stayed up late and ran copies at Kinko’s. I didn’t know it then, but I was beginning to form my identity as a feminist.

I don’t think I called myself a feminist until after I began volunteering at MSU SafePlace as a Dating Violence and Sexual Assault Educator in 1994.  The statistics I heard in the volunteer training blew me away. I was sickened to learn about the prevalence of violence against women and how the legal system often re-victimizes rape victims who risk everything to come forward. This was at a time when the use of date rape drugs was exploding on college campuses. It floored me how many people looked the other way and wanted to believe “that doesn’t happen here.” All of it ignited a fire in me. The volunteer position led to an internship which eventually turned into a paid position at Council Against Domestic Assault (now called Eve, Inc.) in Lansing. I was involved in planning Take Back the Night and candlelight vigils for victims who had lost their lives at the hands of their abusive partners. I created dating violence programming for teens and trained volunteers on how to support callers on the 24 hour crisis line. I loved it. After finishing my graduate degree, I headed to Chicago where I lived for about eight years. I continued to work at various non-profits including a 42-bed domestic violence shelter on Chicago’s west side. The shelter eventually was forced to close because of funding issues. It was an extremely challenging experience that had a lasting impact on my life. Today, I am the Program Director at Center for Women in Transition and feminist work is a part of my daily life–personally and professionally.
Why do you identify yourself as a feminist?

It is just common sense to me: Women should be afforded the same opportunities and rights as men. It is ludicrous that we are not there yet.

How do you embody feminism in your everyday life?

I embody feminism in everyday life on a personal level by making choices that empower me. It is an endless struggle to separate your own desires and choices from the cultural messages you get bombarded with everyday: how you are supposed to look and act, the choices that you are supposed to make, what your family should look like. For example, my partner of 13 years is a thoughtful, hilarious, insightful and intelligent man. He is 39 and I am 40 and we do not have children. I get questions about it all the time. People have even asked if there is something physically wrong with me that has prevented me from getting pregnant- really personal stuff! I am supposed to be a mother because that’s what all women are supposed to want –but it isn’t. It shouldn’t be weird or worrisome to anyone that having children isn’t a choice that is right for us.

Media messages at their worst send out signals that make us believe that being thin and beautiful is the highest achievement a woman can attain; that the way women dress makes men rape and that if women weren’t so bitchy or insecure they wouldn’t get beaten. To protect my sanity, I do my best to separate myself from mainstream culture. I don’t buy magazines that have negative messages about women. I don’t listen to music or watch movies that glorify traditional gender roles or violence against women. I spend a lot of time in nature because it re-energizes me and reminds me what is real. I try to fill my life with people who challenge me on an intellectual level and don’t buy into the B.S. I am extremely lucky to be able to work with amazingly intelligent and confident women as a part of my job. I also take part in the positive changes that are happening in my community and I take action on issues that are important to me. Activism can be much easier than most people think- just sending a quick email to your representative or volunteering at an event is activism. It doesn’t have to require a huge commitment and it can be a great way to meet people that share your interests and values.

How do others react to you being a feminist?

I think by now the fact that I am a feminist is not a shock to anyone in my life but I know that a lot of people are still scared of the term because they don’t understand it. This is nothing new. People mistakenly think that only women can be feminists and that feminists are full of hate-hatred toward men in particular. For me, feminism has way more to do with love than hate. It means working toward an egalitarian society where relationships aren’t about power and control, where your body belongs to you and you have the right to decide what happens to it, and where it isn’t rare for girls to aspire to grow up to hold elected positions and for boys to want to grow up and be awesome Dads. It is about opening up options so everyone can realize their potential. We all win.

June 5th, 2014 | Published in Bio, Feminsm


Mother’s Day, As A Feminist

mothersdayWritten By Lydia Stubbs

 

I am an F E M I N I S T and I have always lived my life as one. Equality is a very important piece of who I am.  All people are equal. Some might have more education or money, some people might have been given more authority due to their careers, but in the end we are humans and are equal. We all have the same amount of time each day, 24 hours – nobody has more or less than others.

I am a feminist and I have given birth and raised four daughters. They range in age from almost 17 to 26. My husband, Roger, and I helped our daughters grow up without limits on the things they could do.  While thinking about writing this piece, I did ask my daughters what their thoughts were on being raised by a feminist and I will share a few examples of their replies throughout this essay.

“Female empowerment affected my upbringing”

“I think that your feminist view has led me to live an open minded life. There was nothing in my life that I have come across that I felt I couldn’t do because I was a girl / women.”

At the beginning of my life as a mother, I did not spend a lot of time thinking about being a feminist. It was always understood that gender did not matter in a child.  All our girls had plenty of trucks and tutus, dinosaurs and dolls.  They were expected to do well in school, and find a profession that makes them happy.

 “Growing up, I played with dinosaurs, cars, did karate, and went to a shark dissecting camp…..things mostly little boys do. I also played with Barbie’s, and dress-up and put make up on and do little girl things too. I got to use my creativity and explore all kinds of interests. This is how I ended up getting a degree in biology by being really interested in sciences and experiments and sharks.”

“I was taught no career was off limits, as a student I excelled in math and sciences and was encouraged to explore these fields. While I ended up changing my direction I never once questioned if I belonged in those areas of study.”

Being physical was another very important aspect of raising my girls.  Everyone learned at a very young age to swim and ride a bike. Climbing was always encouraged and for many, many years the tree out front was the gathering space for the girls. The tree was the place to hold meetings and do homework in. At some point during their growing years, we thought about putting a ladder against the tree, or some boards to make a tree house, but nobody really pushed for it. They just climbed up and lived on the limbs – well into their middle school years. The girls were and still are athletes and ended up participating in school sports teams. Sometimes it seemed like we were a completely sports driven family. I remember that we dealt with four different teams during a specific year, one in high school cross-country, one in middle school cross-country, one in elementary school basketball and one in dance. Not sure how many practices and meets we attended during those seasons.

“Both genders are capable of competing, setting goals and remaining active. It has encouraged me to keep running, biking, swimming and going to the gym. It never fazed me to not be involved in sports and I was always encouraged to choose a sport or two to be part of, no matter what it was.”

Families often fall into patterns and we were no different. My husband was the main money earner for us, and I stayed home with the girls for a number of years. During those times, the term feminist did not often enter the conversation, but it was always understood that gender was never a factor in deciding who did what; all family members took part in the routine tasks of running a household. Roger is the dishwashing buff, I am the main cook and the girls were encouraged to help around the house.

As the girls got older and we really started to have discussions, it was always fun and interesting to see the topics that came up. Nothing was off limits. Once in a while it caused some awkward pauses but I hope they never felt they could not bring up a topic. I tried to instill in them a sense of openness to all things, and that they certainly had a right to their own opinions.

“I was never told I couldn’t do something because I wasn’t smart enough, or it was too unrealistic or I was girl. This helped me in my relationships, and making sure I put my dreams first and didn’t compromise who I was for a guy.”

“I was taught that my body is my body and I own my sexuality. I have never been fearful to discuss health concerns with my mother and have never felt any body shamming in my own household. My mother never encouraged me to look or dress a certain way and allowed me to make these personal decisions myself. “

“I also was taught that a woman is in charge of her body – no one else. This means that any woman has the right to say no and that it is wrong if that no isn’t respected. It also taught me the importance of choice and knowledge when it came to sex education and so on, leading me to be a believer in sex education and a pro-choice advocate. “

Thinking about my life, it is very clear that I was born a feminist. I championed for equal rights while growing up in a small, male domineering town in Germany. Even as a little girl, I did not accept that one should be treated differently because of ones gender. At that time, I did not have the vocabulary for my displeasure but I always fought for equality. As a very young adult, I met Roger, and we hit it off right away, as he accepted me the way I was. We certainly had our ups and downs in the past 30+ years but I am always able to be myself. I lost a little of my independence at the beginning of our adventure with a new life in the USA. I did not know the language or the quirks of living in America and had to depend on Roger for many things. This lasted only for a short while, and as we added children to our family, the old fierce I was back.

Becoming a mother made me live more as a feminist because gender equality is a given right in my opinion. The world was my girls to take, and I was going to help them conquer it as best as possible. My job as their mother is to guide them to become as independent and self-sufficient as they could.

“Being raised by a woman who believes in independence and equality has encouraged me to be independent and advocate for my wants and needs”

“I was taught the importance of financial independence that I should strive to make the life I want for myself through my own personal achievements”

The world will be a better place as more strong independent women are in power, and mothers all over the world have a chance to help make this happen. Raising four wonderful strong daughters has changed me in many ways, reinforcing my belief in feminism.

May 11th, 2014 | Published in Empowerment, Feminsm


My Body, My Rules (Or So I’m Told)

ask before you touch me  Written by Jessica Krebs
Legislative Action Chair, NOW GR

This past Fall, I was walking downtown Grand Rapids to meet a friend for coffee. Although it was a nice day with the sun shining in a cloudless sky, it was still brisk and chilly, so I wore a coat over my dress, cardigan, and leggings to stay warm. As I stopped at a crosswalk to head across the street, a group of seven men started saying loudly, “Hey there, pretty lady.  Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes?” I glanced over at them and realized it was me they were talking to. “What are you up to?” “Wherever you’re going, can I come with?” I had glanced away and was ignoring them, but it only encouraged their catcalls. “Sure lookin’ good today.” “You should really slap a smile on that face.” “Hey, look over here when we’re talkin’ to you.” Now they were angry. “Why are you ignoring us?” And finally: “Slut.” “Stupid whore.” “Bitch.” “Cunt.”

Dear Men: Just so we’re clear, I am not expected, as a woman, to respond to your advances or catcalls just because I am in your male presence.  I do not exist for your pleasure, visually or otherwise. And really, how do you expect me to respond to this behavior? Walk across the street, thank you for calling me a “pretty little bitch” (another term of endearment said to me on a different occasion), and ask you to take me home with you? Or are you not really wanting any other response than for me to stand there, continue to “look pretty”, smile, and maybe bat my eyes at you if I’m feeling generous – passive and quiet, but still obviously there for your satisfaction? Patriarchy: Teaching men from a young age that this is normal behavior, and teaching women that they should accept it quietly.

This was not the first time such harassment has happened to me before, and certainly will not be the last, as this common behavior and prevalent attitude that women and their bodies are strictly for male pleasure is normalized in our society. This is an aspect of Rape Culture: The concept that we accept as a society through attitudes and practices that sexual assault and rape can be excused, condoned, trivialized, made fun of, and tolerated. This culture is rife with the most incredible victim-blaming – She was drunk; she clearly wanted it because of what she was wearing; she has had sex before; she has had many previous sexual partners; she is in the sex work industry, so she obviously cannot be raped when she has sex for a living; she never said no, so of course that means yes; we are in a relationship and sex has always been a big part of our relationship, so she cannot turn it down when I want it; we started having consensual sex but if she decides she wants to stop halfway through, she shouldn’t be allowed to because she already said yes.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men will report that they have experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. If this statistic doesn’t shock you, it should. There is a wildly prevalent belief that sexual assault is a rare occurrence or only happens when the perpetrator is a stranger. In reality, the 1 in 6 and 1 in 33 statistics are only based on what has been compiled from actual reports; sexual assault is severely underreported due to shame or personal guilt; and fear of not being believed, being inflicted with further violence, victim-blamed for what happened to them, fired from a job, or outed as LGBTQI+. Furthermore, the majority of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim already knows.

I could go on with story upon story of sexual harassment and assault against me and my body. In middle school, “friends” of the opposite sex invented games which resulted in the loser (which, coincidentally, was always me or another girl) having to lift their shirts up to reveal their bare chest. In high school, I had my ass slapped and grabbed, the back of my bra snapped open in the hallways, and was pressured to engage in sexual activity even with no hint of enthusiasm or consent on my part. Walking downtown Grand Haven one day with my best friend, we noticed a large black pick-up truck had been following us down the street. It would slow down next to us as we walked down the sidewalk, the man’s penis visible on the other side of his rolled-down window as he masturbated for us – and any other passerby – to see.

I have had a former male co-worker follow me in the walk-in cooler of the restaurant we worked, stick his hand up my shirt, and grab my breasts. I’ve had multiple men grab my ass at work, including both co-workers and customers. One male customer, a well-known Dentist in the area, told me that I had great teeth – but stared directly at my breasts while “complimenting” me. As a restaurant server, I’ve been called pet names by customers, such as Babe, Sweetheart, and Pretty Little Thing, all in the same breath as being told that I would make an excellent wife someday because I can serve so well – while these men check out my body from head to toe, with an extra long look at my behind. I have been massaged by a former manager at my job, right on the floor where customers could see, as I was casually bending over a table talking to another co-worker.

For a couple of years, an adult male in my life had inappropriately made jokes and asked probing questions regarding sex, masturbation, my body, and my (perceived) sex life; touched and groped me with the complete and utterly privileged assumption that there is nothing inherently wrong with the unconsensual touching of another human being. I was young – just beginning high school, and unsure of what everything really meant or how to deal with it. These particular instances are why I consider myself a sexual assault survivor, and what propelled me into activist work.

I must ask: How many examples must one person give to get others to listen and realize that sexual assault is absolutely not a joke? That as survivors, we are not making it up or “crying rape”? That we need to be believed, supported, and helped if and when we choose to seek justice? That we are never guilty because of what happens to us? That it is never our fault, even if this victim-blaming Rape Culture tells us otherwise? That if it’s my body, it’s my rules? Rape and sexual assault are not trivial. It matters, damn it – a lot. Thinking back now on the opening paragraph of this piece, I had described what I was wearing prior to mentioning the street harassment I endured. I felt like I had to excuse any part of my behavior and dress in order to “prove” I actually did nothing wrong to deserve the slurs that were hurled my way, even though it didn’t matter what I was wearing, nor would it have mattered if I was in a tank top and mini skirt. As survivors, and women in general, we are constantly having to prove we didn’t choose, welcome, or encourage harassment or assault. Which, I hope we can all agree on by now, is complete bullshit.

Sexual assault is not black and white. It refers to any unwanted sexual activity that is against another person’s will and consent. It is considered an umbrella term, meaning that it covers many types of unconsensual sexual activity. It crosses all racial, sex and gender, class, and ethnic boundaries. It victimizes people of all ages, to those in relationships and marriages, to those in the military and in prison, and in the LGBTQI+ community. It is violence, even if not inherently physical, that strips victims of bodily autonomy, choice, independence, and control over their own bodies and consensual sexual choices. It is a hate crime that leaves victims with a host of effects to deal with throughout the aftermath of the harassment, assault, or rape; the recovery from being a victim; and the transition to becoming a survivor.

If we were truly honest with ourselves, we would speak up more about this issue without embarrassment or hesitation. If we were truly honest with ourselves, we would hold campaigns and rallies and walks as huge as the national efforts to combat cancer, Alzheimer’s, and alcohol and drug abuse. It’s not an unfair assumption to believe that everyone you know would attend Relay for Life, but even less would go to a Take Back the Night or Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event. We wouldn’t stop organizing, creating awareness, educating, passing laws, and following through to uphold them. If we were truly honest, we would recreate a society with true bodily and sexual autonomy, enthusiastic and unwavering consent, comprehensive sex education, sexual assault education in schools, and accessible crisis centers. Of course, in order to do this, we also need to continue to dismantle sexism, transphobia, racism, homophobia, Rape Culture, misogyny, and patriarchy. That being said, this isn’t impossible, but we have some work to do – and I hope you passionately join in on the fight.

 

If you are interested in learning more about sexual assault, please join NOW GR and the Center for Women in Transition (CWIT) at our Sexual Assault 101 presentation on Wednesday, April 23rd from 6:30 – 8:30pm. Holly Wilson, the Clinical Coordinator at CWIT, will be educating the community on victim blaming myths, bystander intervention, myths and facts, statistics, and consent. NOW GR is asking for a $5 donation if you can, and/or a feminine hygiene product that will be donated to CWIT. Visit our Facebook event for details and to RSVP.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can seek out these resources:

Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN): https://www.rainn.org/
RAINN National Phone Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE
RAINN Online Hotline: https://ohl.rainn.org/online/
YWCA (Grand Rapids, MI): http://ywcawcmi.org/
Center for Women in Transition (CWIT) in Holland, MI: www.aplaceforwomen.org
Children’s Assessment Center: http://www.cac-kent.org/

April 19th, 2014 | Published in Consent, Sexual Assault


Looking Forward: Addressing the Sticky Floor

equal pay Brittany Dernberger
Assistant Director, GVSU Women’s Center

This is the fourth and final piece in our series, A Celebration of Self-Identified Women!, for Women’s History Month.


Women’s History Month: A time to look back and celebrate those who fought for changes that have resulted in greater gender equality. Thought Leaders have a long history of passing women’s suffrage, creating access to reproductive health care, and providing more opportunities for women outside of the home. We’ve checked these off the list. But we’re not done. Significant areas of inequality persist, including pay inequality and the lack of a living wage. Let’s celebrate Women’s History Month this year by looking forward to build a workplace that supports all women and their families.

Pay Equity

Women earn a mere 77 cents for every dollar that men earn in the United States[1]. This inequity shows that we clearly still have work to do! In Michigan, women make 74 cents for every dollar men make.  Michigan ranks 45th in the U.S. for its earnings ratio of men to women,[2] not a good ranking for our “Pure Michigan” home which seeks to attract the top talent from the nation to work, live, and play here.

However, these figures are based on only full-time employment; if women’s part-time, intermittent lifetime employment is taken into consideration, women make only about 38% of what men earn. This adds up to a difference of almost half a million dollars in a fifteen-year period[3].

The Sticky Floor

While women have entered the workplace in droves in the last 30 years, equity in pay and benefits has not been achieved. Often, those engaged in gender justice work focus on shattering the glass ceiling. This is needed: out of the 500 CEO’s of Fortune 500 Companies, only 21 are women, and only 2 of those 21 are women of color[4]. However, when we focus all of our energy on dismantling that glass ceiling for women at the top of the corporate ladder, we ignore the many women who are on the “sticky floor” of our workplace – in low-wage, hourly jobs that do not have opportunities for advancement. Women make up just under half of the national workforce, but about 60% of the minimum-wage workforce and 73% of tipped workers[5]. Women in these jobs on the sticky floor do not have health care benefits, paid time off, flex time, or sick leave they can use when a child is ill.

This disparity in pay contributes to the fact that women are more likely to be poor: the feminization of poverty. For young people ages 22-35, 13% of men and 20% of women were living below the poverty rate in 2011[6]. These issues are interconnected: women are more likely to be living in poverty because they make up the majority of workers on this sticky floor of minimum-wage, hourly jobs. Individuals working full-time minimum wage jobs do not make enough money to support themselves and their families, as this recent New York Times article illustrates.

Supporting Women in the Workplace: a Living Wage

What would have the biggest impact on workers and address the feminization of poverty? Ensuring that all individuals earn a living wage. A living wage is the hourly rate that an individual must earn to support their family if they are the sole provider and are working full-time. In Kent County, a living wage for a family consisting of 1 adult and 2 children is $22.44/hour, a far cry from our current minimum wage of $7.40/hour. Curious? You can look up the living wage for different household compositions on this Living Wage Calculator. If all individuals who worked on the “sticky floor” had their incomes increase in order to meet a living wage, the impact on women and families would be tremendous, allowing many of them to move above poverty level. While families would not suddenly be wealthy, the impossible decisions – having to choose whether to pay the rent or utility bill; using your last tank of gas to go to work or get to school – would be alleviated.

While the concerns of small business owners about the challenge of raising wages need to be taken into account, it’s important to recognize how this would impact our communities overall. It will ultimately be more efficient to structure our workplaces in a way that provides a living wage instead of spending funds on the back-end through entitlement programs such as cash assistance and the supplemental nutrition assistance program (commonly known as food stamps). Furthermore, ensuring everyone is paid a living wage aligns with the American work ethic which seeks to reward those who are working hard and striving to earn a living that can support their families. 

A group called Raise Michigan is currently advocating to increase the minimum wage in Michigan to $10.10 by January 2017. The increase would be slowly incremented over three years. This coalition also wants to increase the minimum wage for tipped workers, which is currently $2.65/hour[7]. While raising the minimum wage is a great start, it still does not meet the threshold for a living wage, which would have the most impact on women working on the low end of the corporate ladder.

As you celebrate Women’s History Month this year, I challenge you to think about the women on the sticky floor. Our gender justice work is not done. We need to continue looking forward and implement a living wage, which would have a significant impact on the lives of women and families.

  

Brittany Dernberger is the Assistant Director of the Women’s Center and teaches in Women & Gender Studies at Grand Valley State University. When not engaging in feminist antics, she enjoys running, traveling, and inordinately spoiling her cat Winston.

 


March 31st, 2014 | Published in Economic Welfare, Equal Pay, Equality, Women's History Month


Feminist Bio: Samantha Fine

Samantha Fine

How did you become a feminist?

I do not have a memory of the moment I became a feminist, but I do have a specific memory of when I realized I was a feminist. I prefer to believe that I have always been a feminist, but have only recently felt informed enough to wear the label. My support of equal rights and social justice does not begin, nor does it end with women. It was because of this ideology that I always hesitated to call myself a feminist, fearing that the label would cause others to think that I only supported women without regard for other populations and cultures. It was during a criminal justice course with Professor Patrick Gerkin that I learned what it truly meant to be a feminist. During one of our class periods Professor Gerkin first asked the class if anyone identified as a feminist; no more than three hands were raised. He then asked if anyone knew the definition of “feminism;” silence fell over the room. He then proceeded to tell the class that he, a male, identified as being a feminist. He stated that the definition of feminism is “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.” He then repeated his previous question, asking who identified as a feminist; every hand in the room was raised.  My reason behind stating that I have always been a feminist, just not always aware is because I believe everyone, every minority, and every individual who is slighted of certain rights and respects deserves equality. It was Professor Gerkin who made me realize that I had been a feminist all along, and after being informed, I now proudly wear that label.

Why do you identify yourself as a feminist?

I identify myself as a feminist because I believe in equality. I believe that men and women are equals and should be treated as so. I do not mean to sound too far-left, but I believe that in this day in age, in the year 2014, to treat people unequally or in a dehumanizing manner is a form of cruel and unusual punishment, condemnable by our country’s constitution. To label a woman as being domesticated and emotional and a man as being strong and courageous is outdated; adjectives such as strong, sensitive, hardworking, and brave are associated across the gender spectrum and thankfully are becoming increasingly recognized as a description of an individual, not their gender.

How do you embody feminism in your everyday life?

I feel that there are multiple ways that I attempt to embody feminism on a day-to-day basis. For example, standing up to those who oppose equal rights, educating individuals on equal rights, and how they do (or do not) apply to women today. I will make sure to vote for policies and individuals that will represent a concept of equality in a governmental setting. I will also, potentially most importantly, stay proud. I will be proud of my gender and our forge to be treated equal as a citizens of the United States.

How do others react to you being a feminist?

Often people associate being a feminist as being a “bra burning” “man hating” culture of women; angry at the world, and looking for revenge on men. I must be honest, and a point in my life I thought very similarly in regards to feminism. It is important to keep in mind that the media is only a fraction of the truth, if that. That yes, feminists support equal rights for women, but that does not limit our support to being only from women, or mean that we hate men. It means we support equality, plain and simple.

March 26th, 2014 | Published in Bio, Feminsm


More Than Just Soccer

morocco

Kirsten Zeiter
Peace Corps Volunteer, Morocco

This piece is the third in our series, A Celebration of Self-Identified Women!, for Women’s History Month.

For a girl who wants to play soccer in rural Morocco, the opportunities are very slim. Though soccer is the national sport in Morocco, loved and watched by all, playing the sport remains almost entirely in the realm of men and boys. That’s largely because girls’ sports – especially girls’ soccer – are viewed as anywhere from a waste of time at best to inappropriate or even shameful at worst. There are many reasons for this, chief among them the sharp divide that remains between the public sphere (the realm of men and boys) and the private sphere (the realm of women and girls). Moreover, strong cultural beliefs about female modesty mean that girls are often discouraged from engaging in much physical activity where they can be observed by men. As a result, many people believe that girls should be indoors, safely studying or helping their mothers, rather than being outdoors, running in sport clothing out in the open in view of men. Make no mistake, it’s not that girls don’t want to play soccer – ask any young girl here and she’ll tell you – but that their attempts to do so are too often thwarted, by everything from lack of supportive adults, lack of team opportunities, cultural pressures, lack of supplies, harassment, and more.

After hearing so many of the girls they work with express a desire to play soccer, a number of volunteers in Morocco have started or supported girls’ soccer clubs in their sites. At a regional brainstorming session, a number of us recognized the need for bolstering girls’ soccer throughout the Souss Valley region of Morocco through some sort of collaborative activity that would increase soccer skills, bring together like-minded girls, and provide positive role models for young girl soccer players. We wanted a way for the girls to feel supported and empowered in standing up to a culture that frowned upon their playing soccer, on a much broader scale than any single volunteer could accomplish. A few minutes of conversation later, the idea for the Souss Girls’ Soccer Camp was born.

The Beginning

Our first few months working to organize the camp were rough, despite initial support from local officials. After months of waiting for an answer, our government partner agency denied our request for securing a field and lodging, despite a longstanding partnership with Peace Corps in coordinating camps for youth. Our counterparts at the local level dropped out after that piece of bad news, and we were left frantically searching for community partners and a space to hold the camp with only a few months to go until the planned dates of the camp. Despite the overwhelming obstacles, we pushed on; the girls’ enthusiasm was too inspiring to allow us to give up. The breakthrough occurred when we met with a local association focused on youth activities in a nearby town, who agreed to be our partners and soon secured both the field and lodging for the camp. Though girls’ sports were not their typical area of focus, they helped with all elements of camp planning and implementation from that point forward, from logistics to staff to Arabic translation. They were intrigued by the novelty of the idea, and inspired by hearing about the girls we knew who were defying the status quo to play soccer in their conservative towns.

Around the same time we were looking for space, I contacted AMJAD, the women’s professional soccer team based in nearby Taroudant. From the very first meeting I had with AMJAD, sitting in a circle on their soft turf field after their Friday practice, they were overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the idea and more than willing to help. From that point onward, I was continually amazed by AMJAD’s trusting, steady, no-questions-asked commitment to help with the camp. They offered to send their entire team, along with all of their supplies, to the camp at no cost, in order to act as coaches and mentors to the girls. From our first meeting, I knew for sure that AMJAD would be solid support for the camp, and when we finally began a few months later, I saw just how amazing AMJAD would truly be.

The Campers Arrive

A few short, frantic months of planning later, the camp began. The forty-eight campers were from four burgeoning soccer teams from four small towns in the region, some of whom traveled hours on mountain passes to reach the site of the camp. Some girls had a decent amount of soccer experience, and had even played as part of a team before, while others were just starting out as soccer players. Some girls were more confident than others, and some came from more conservative or liberal families than others. Some had soccer outfits and good shoes to play in, while others were making due with what little they had. What all the girls had in common, though, was a strong desire to play soccer, and a general lack of opportunities for them to play in their communities.

The camp was 6 days long, beginning with the girls’ arrival on a Sunday afternoon and ending with the girls’ departure the following Saturday morning. We had a full-sized soccer stadium reserved for our use for the week, as well as the Dar Talib (boarding house) next door, where the girls ate and slept. Each day started out with morning soccer training on the field followed by a workshop on soccer strategy, both led by AMJAD. The afternoons consisted of a health workshop lead by PCVs, followed by a second training on the field, and some free time for the girls. In the evenings, the counselors put together various fun activities for the girls, such as games, songs, and talent shows.

The Mentors

Although the girls seemed to enjoy all of the activities, it was clear that AMJAD’s contribution was by far the most successful part of the camp. Although we knew they would be great as coaches for the girls, our expectations were blown away when we saw how animated, enthusiastic, and creative they were throughout the camp. The soccer training sessions they led were incredibly organized and well-run: Each training session consisted of warm-ups, calisthenics, and drills to focus on specific skills, such as passing, control, shooting, etc. AMJAD also brought all of their gear with them, so the trainings were complete with plenty of balls, cones, jerseys, and nets. They were serious, thorough, realistic soccer trainings – the first that most of the girls at the camp had ever been a part of. It was an inspiring sight to finally see the girls and their soccer skills taken seriously by a group of people, especially in such a conservative region that consistently frowns upon girls’ sports in general and girls’ soccer in particular.

Though they were serious coaches on the field, AMJAD could always be found singing, drumming, starting chants, joking, and generally having a blast with the girls after practices, during free time, at meals, and in any other spaces in-between. Though they’d never done it before, it turned out they were natural camp leaders and youth developers! The girls quickly fell in love with AMJAD, as evidenced by the applause and chants of “Olay AMJAD Olay!” that the girls greeted them with any time they walked into a room. In addition to being great coaches and friends, it was clear that the AMJAD players were role models to the girls, most of whom had never before met a woman who played sports professionally. In fact, one of the sessions the girls were the most excited about was on the first night of camp, when the AMJAD players hosted an open question and answer session with the girls about soccer, their lives, and women’s soccer in Morocco. It was clear that the girls loved the chance to get to know and pick the brains of women who had not only gone against the norm and played soccer, but had gone so far as to do it professionally.

A Deeper Meaning

As I watched the girls, dressed in color-coordinated practice jerseys, concentrating on weaving their balls through cones, the constant encouragement of their AMJAD coaches nearby, I couldn’t help but think about the stark contrast with the soccer practices we hold in my small town: Though it is an accomplishment that we play at all, we are sadly relegated to the weed- and rock-covered side field next to the main field; we only have 1 ball, which the youth center director neglects to properly inflate; we have no cones, jerseys, or nets, and make due with rocks for goal posts. All of this goes on while the boys play next to us on the main field, decked out in uniforms and with multiple balls, nets, whistles, everything they need. On top of it all, the girls and I frequently get harassed and mocked while we play, by young boys and grown men alike, who apparently aren’t comfortable with the idea of girls playing soccer at all, even if on a disheveled side field with no equipment. The entire scene sends a strong message to the girls: you are not welcome here. You are not taken seriously, especially not as soccer players. Nobody cares. Week after week, that scene has broken my heart. But that week, at the Souss Girls Soccer camp, with AMJAD coaches, a full field, equipment, and serious training sessions, the girls were finally given the opposite message: We take you seriously. We care about you. We want to see you play well. We want to see you have fun. You matter. And that simple fact illustrated the entire reason why this camp was worthwhile – and about more than just soccer.

By the end of the week, it was clear we had accomplished something amazing with the Souss Girls’ Soccer camp. As they played their final matches, the girls were visibly more confident, skilled, and enthusiastic about soccer than they’d been on the first day. Girls from different towns who had just met days before walked around arm in arm like sisters. When AMJAD pulled out their drums and started playing, the girls felt the freedom to let loose and dance freely in a space they felt they owned. Perhaps most indicative was the number one question asked by the girls on the last day: “When will next year’s camp be?”

Looking Forward

The collaborative, community effort of the soccer camp not only facilitated soccer and leadership skills for the girls, but has also sparked greater awareness about the importance of girls’ sports. The camp set off a ripple effect of positive changes for girls’ soccer in multiple towns in the region, and the momentum seems to be building.

AMJAD has already begun to plan for a similar camp next year. Though they are working with another Peace Corps Volunteer again this year for support, they have expressed interest in eventually taking complete ownership of the project and building it into their yearly program.

After observing the camp, a group of organizers in the town where the camp took place were so inspired by what they saw, they set out to start a new association completely devoted to girls’ soccer. They raised money, organized teams, bought supplies, and recruited coaches for a local girls’ soccer team. They got in contact with other burgeoning girls’ soccer teams in the region, and developed a girls’ match schedule for the region, the first of its kind. And last month, in the same stadium where the camp was held, we watched girls from the town play their inaugural match, against girls from a city dozens of kilometers away. There were uniforms. There were referees. There were supplies. There were trained coaches. There was even a small but enthusiastic audience for their match.

Most importantly, there was the new, yet growing, belief that girls’ can play soccer, too; that girls’ can spend their time honorably and joyfully outside the home; that girls’ priorities, passions, and skills matter – no matter where you are.

 

Kirsten Zeiter has been serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in rural southern Morocco since March 2012. During her service, she has worked with women’s and girls’ groups in her community to advance opportunity and empowerment at a grassroots level. This summer, with the help of other volunteers and her community partners, she created a girls’ soccer initiative that led to a groundbreaking region-wide girls’ soccer camp. The story of the girls’ soccer camp is an inspiring example of a small group of activists uniting for girls’ rights,, and a testament to the power one small action can have on broader social change within a community.

March 14th, 2014 | Published in Empowerment, International, Women's History Month


West Michigan Rises Flash Mob : A call to end ALL forms of domestic violence and sexual assault


Check out West Michigan’s video, a part of the One Billion Rising Movement in ending violence against women. The video was filmed and edited by NOW-GR member, Brittany Grooters.
West Michigan RISES! – On February 14, 2014 students, community members, and organizations from two counties came together on the Grand Valley State University campus in Allendale, MI as part of the One Billion Rising movement. The event included three dances in two locations on campus, an informational table, a banner with signatures, and a celebration reception for participants. We RISE to call for an end to ALL forms of domestic and sexual violence so that NO ONE is victimized. We can work together in our local communities and on college campuses to promote respect and healthy relationships, to educate ourselves and others about domestic and sexual violence, and to support ALL victims and survivors. West Michigan RISES! was organized and sponsored by Center for Women in Transition, GVSU Women’s Center, GVSU Eyes Wide Open, Kent County Health Department, Grand Rapids Chapter of the National Organization of Women, and Girls Incorporated at the YWCA West Central Michigan. Thank you to the supporters, dancers, choreographers, videographers, and volunteers who made this event possible.
March 12th, 2014 | Published in Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault


About National Organization For Women: Greater Grand Rapids Chapter (NOWGR)

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