header image at National Organization For Women: Greater Grand Rapids Chapter (NOWGR)

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


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

The Indecency Delusion

Women’s History Month is not only a time to celebrate women, but is also a time to recognize that despite all of our successes in regards to the women’s rights movement, we are still fighting to defend other very important parts of our livelihood: the right to choice, bodily autonomy, and living in a world free of sexual and domestic violence; lesbian, queer, and trans rights; and being represented more fairly and equally in politics, mainstream media, and society in general — especially women of color, LGBTQ+ women, and women with disabilities. These issues are not only in the U.S.; countries all over the world are also fighting these issues, among others that are related to their culture and society. Today is International Women’s Day. In this piece, the anti-pornography bill that was just signed into law in Uganda will be discussed, and how the women and people of Uganda are striking back in protest. Women’s issues do not end at home; they are international, and women globally are fighting against the injustices they face, no matter where they live. This piece is the second articles in the series, A Celebration of Self-Identified Women!, for Women’s History Month.

A woman protests against the new anti-pornography and dress code legislation.

Lizabeth Paulat
Kampala, Uganda

There is a cause and effect to everything. Currently in Uganda, where I live, the government signed the anti-pornography bill into law. In effect this bill prohibits anything that purposefully causes arousal including dirty pictures and videos. At the bills inception, the Minister of Ethics and Integrity, Simon Lukodo, discussed arresting women for wearing miniskirts.

“Any attire which exposes intimate parts of the human body…if a woman wears a miniskirt, we will arrest her,” he stated in April. “Men are normally not the object of attraction; they are the ones who are provoked”. He later clarified his stance, “We know people who are indecently dressed: they do it provocatively and sometimes they are attacked. An onlooker is moved to attack her and we want to avoid these areas. He is a criminal but he was also provoked and enticed.” Lukodo was also videotaped by Stephen Fry for his documentary “Out There” where he calls the rape of young women “natural”.

When the final version of the act was made public and signed into law in February, it contained no mention of miniskirts. It did however ban anything that “reveals the thighs, breasts, and buttocks…dressing indecently in a manner to sexually excite”. Men, who had not read the bill but merely interpreted Lukodo’s words for their own liking, formed mobs and began undressing women in ‘immodest’ clothing around Kampala and the surrounding towns. Gangs of men, not at all averse to having their faces captured on camera during these moments, laughed as they surrounded women and forcefully disrobed them. Over 30 instances of forceful undressing have occurred in Kampala, Iganga, and Mbarara. And these are only the instances that were either seen or reported.

A group of concerned Ugandans quickly set up a Stop Miniskirt Harassment page on Facebook where they rallied, held a press conference, and demonstrated against the lack of police protection for women in Uganda. They encouraged the women to come in miniskirts, however some complained of harassment by police officers when entering the demonstration site. Later that evening, at the Feminist Meeting of Kampala women also donned their shortest skirts. A woman riding on a motorcycle taxi was grabbed; another had her bottom touched within hours of the meeting.

This is what happens when government leaders tactically endorse assault. When I first came to Uganda, years ago, these attitudes were considered abnormal. While rape and assault has always been high in East Africa, women walking around in short dresses and heels would make their way from club to club at 2am without much concern. Coming from Kenya, where after dark the streets clear of pedestrians, Uganda felt like a haven. I could walk through my neighborhood to my market at night. Numerous times, without ever being bothered, I’ve lugged groceries through dimmed roads without so much as a glance in my direction.

But times have changed. Men now feel empowered to assault women with impunity. This weekend, when a friend of mine objected to having her ass touched in a club, the man got aggressive. I’d never seen anything like it. He shined his cellphone flashlight in her face and shouted “Fuck you” as the bass line rolled through the building. I stepped in, and for some reason two women against him that was enough. He slinked back off into the dancing bodies pulsating around the club.

This is the slippery slope many of us feared when the anti-pornography bill first emerged. When others waved us off and told us that, “It’s just another unenforceable bill”. Now women’s groups are calling on citizens who see forced undressing to document it and involve the police. There is a chance this could lead to crackdowns on violence against women.  But there is an even greater chance that the women of Uganda will continue to pretend that how we dress can mitigate a man’s actions. I watch as a friend of mine as she puts on multiple layers for a five minute ride to the market. It was us, the women surrounding her, who encouraged her to do so. We just want her to stay safe, and now that we feel helpless, we grasp for control in any possible way, even if it does feed a particular delusion.

Now the prime minister and attorney general are talking about recalling the law for a thorough review of its implications. However, for the women who are being continually assaulted, it’s too late. When all is said and done, Lukodo is still in his office, and women live in fear of sexual assault and personal blame.


Paulat is a freelance writer in Uganda, where she lives with her two dogs. She has also published articles for USA Today, Living in Kampala, Care2, and Persephone Magazine. She enjoys writing about International Travel, Global Development, and Women’s Rights.

March 8th, 2014 | Published in Bill, International, Politics, Sexual Assault, Women's History Month

Women’s History Month: A Celebration of Self-Identified Women!

sleeping women wake
Jessica Krebs
Legislative Action Chair

March is Women’s History Month! To celebrate, NOW GR has put together a special series of articles written by women, about women, and will be showcased each week for the month of March. To kick-start this series, the following timeline highlights the history of women’s rights and specific historical women in the United States. It is jam-packed with information you don’t want to miss, so read to the very end to become more educated, enlightened, and empowered by the fight for women’s rights, led by incredibly brave and intelligent self-identified women!

1600’s – 1800’s
During this time, African women experienced high rates of rape, forced sterilization, and forced separation of families. Further, in a “population control effort”, thousands of Native American women are raped and murdered.

Women have nearly no legal rights.

The first Women’s Rights Convention is held in Seneca Falls, New York. Elizabeth Cady Stanton writes “The Declaration of Sentiments”, and essentially sets the agenda for the future of women’s rights activism.

The first ever National Women’s Rights Convention is held in Worcester, Massachusetts. Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass are among the hundreds of attendees, and a strong alliance is formed with the Abolitionist Movement.

Sojourner Truth, a former slave, delivers the memorable and momentous speech, “Ain’t I a woman?”, at a women’s rights convention in Akron, Ohio.

U.S. Congress passes the Married Woman’s Property Bill, which now allows women the right to sue, be sued, make contracts, and inherit and bequeath property.

During the Civil War, efforts for the suffrage movement are temporarily put on pause during the Civil War when women instead begin to put their energies toward the war effort.

The American Equal Rights Association, an organization dedicated to the goal of suffrage for all people regardless of gender or race, is created by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Parker Pillsbury publish the first edition of The Revolution. The infamous motto, “Men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less!”, originally came from this periodical.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony found the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), a radical organization with the goal of achieving the vote through a Constitutional amendment, as well as push for other woman’s rights issues.

The periodical, The Woman’s Journal, is founded and edited by three women’s rights activists: Mary Livermore, Lucy Stone, and Henry Blackwell.

Victoria Woodhull goes before the House Judiciary Committee to argue for women’s voting rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Many women try to vote illegally in the presidential election and are either turned away, arrested, and/or brought to trial, including Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth.

Due to the efforts of Abigail Scott Duniway, Oregon passes legislation granting rights to married women to be able to start and operate their own business, control the money they earn, and the right to protect their property if the husband leaves.

The “Declaration of Rights for Women” is presented to the Vice President during the official Centennial program at Independence Hall in Philadelphia by Susan B. Anthony and Matilda Gage.

In an effort to promote women’s advancement in society, the National Council of Women in the United States is established.

NWSA and AWSA merge and the National American Woman Suffrage Association is formed, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton becomes its first president.

Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and Frances E.W. Harper among others found the he National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs.

The Women’s Political Union organizes the first suffrage parade in New York City. 

La Liga Femenil Mexicanista (The League of Mexican Women) is founded by Jovita Idár, and is its first president. She also founded La Cruz Blanca (The White Cross) to provide care to the wounded on both sides during the Mexican Revolution.

Women’s suffrage is supported for the first time at the national level by a major political party: Theodore Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party.

Jeanette Rankin is the first woman elected to the House of Representatives.

President Woodrow Wilson states his support for a federal woman suffrage amendment.

American women win full voting rights on August 26.

1930’s – 1940’s
White women take over men’s jobs in the public sector during WWII. During this time, over 100,000 Japanese Americans are imprisoned in internment camps, and many of the women suffered forced sterilization. (When the war ends and men begin returning home, women leave their jobs and are “sent back” into the home.)

Amelia Earhart becomes the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

Frances Perkins is appointed as Secretary of Labor by President Roosevelt, and is the first woman ever to be a member of a presidential cabinet.

Alicia Montemayor is the first woman in the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) to hold a national office originally not designated for women.

Christine Jorgensen is the first American whose sex reassignment surgery became public. Her surgery caused an international sensation, and for many, she was the first visible transsexual in the media.

Rosa Parks boards local bus on December 1st after a long work day in Montgomery, Alabama; sat in the section reserved for white people only; and refused to give up her seat. The Montgomery Bus Boycott is soon organized to challenge transportation segregation laws.

In San Francisco, the first lesbian rights organization in the U.S. is established, called the Daughters of Bilitis.

Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic female astronaut, served a mission on the Discovery Shuttle.

The Civil Rights Movement, the nation’s first sexual revolution, the infamous Stonewall Riots, and rise of the Second Wave of Feminism all occur during the ‘60s.

The Pill is federally approved for contraceptive use in the United States, allowing women for the first time ever full control over their fertility and sexual freedom.

Transgender pioneer Virginia Prince published Transvestia, one of the first transgender magazines.

Congress passes the Equal Pay Act.

Trans women take a stand against discrimination and police harassment during the Compton Cafeteria Riots.

Pauline Small is the first Cheyenne Indian woman to be elected in the Crow Tribe to serve as vice-secretary of the tribal council.

Betty Friedan founds The National Organization for Women (NOW).

Seminole Betty Mae Jumper, the first of the Florida Seminoles to graduate high school, was the first woman to serve as a Seminole leader when elected head of the tribal council.

During the Stonewall Riots, trans women including Sylvia Rivera and Marcia P. Johnson are among those who clash with police in what is commonly acknowledged to be the birth of the modern LGBT movement.

Unmarried persons are granted the right to possess contraception on the same basis as married couples.

Title IX of the Education Amendments bans sex discrimination in public schools resulting in the substantial increased enrollment of women in athletic programs and professional schools.

Katherine Graham of The Washington Post becomes first woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

In the infamous Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade on January 22, the landmark decision is made to legalize the right to access safe and legal abortion.

Congress prohibits housing discrimination against women.

The Pregnancy and Discrimination Act is created, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

Congress passed the Hyde Amendment that banned all abortion funding from comprehensive health care services provided by the federal government, disproportionately affecting poor women and women of color.


New York Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Renee Richards, professional tennis player and trans woman who fought in a case against the U.S. Tennis Association to gain the right to play professional tennis as a woman.

Jeane Kirkpatrick is the first woman to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and  Sandra Day O’Connor  becomes the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Global Gag Rule policy is established, stipulating that international non-governmental organizations receiving financial assistance from the U.S. cannot use U.S. funds to inform the public for the need to make safe abortion care available, provide legal abortion services, or give advice on where to get an abortion. This policy can either be established or rescinded with each new president.

Congress proclaims March as National Women’s History Month.

Wilma Mankiller became the first woman to be elected chief of the Cherokee Nation. She was later awarded with The Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a civilian can receive.

Dr. Mae Jemison, American physician, is the first Black woman to travel in space.

Cheryl Chase founded the Intersex Society of North America (ISNA), which creates and spreads awareness and offers support to Intersex people.

President Bill Clinton appoints Janet Reno to serve as the first woman U.S. Attorney General.

France Anne Córdova becomes the first woman – and the youngest person – to hold the position of Chief Scientist for NASA.

Ada E. Deer of the Menominee tribe served as head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs from 1993 to 1997.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) tightens federal penalties for sex offenders, funds services for victims of rape and domestic violence, and provides for special training of police office.

The National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) is founded by female Asian Pacific Islander activists, focusing on the issues and concerns of API women and girls in broader social justice movements.

SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective is formed to ensure reproductive justice and securing the human rights of all, especially Indigenous women and women of color.

Madeleine K. Albright, former U.N. Ambassador, becomes the first woman U.S. Secretary of State.

Coretta Scott King, widow of Martin Luther King, Jr., calls on the civil rights community to join the struggle against homophobia.

Melinda Whiteway was appointed co-chair of the National Lesbian and Gay Law Association on October 17th, making her the first self-identified transgendered person to co-chair a national gay and lesbian organization.

Hillary Rodham Clinton becomes the only former First Lady ever elected to the United States Senate.

Linda Chavez is nominated to Secretary of Labor and is the first Hispanic woman to hold a U.S. Cabinet position.

Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Maathai is awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, becoming the first black African woman to win a Nobel Prize.

Condoleezza Rice becomes the first African-American woman appointed to Secretary of State.

Trans woman Kim Coco Iwamoto becomes highest-elected trans official in the U.S., elected to the Hawaii Board of Education.

Nancy Pelosi becomes the first woman elected to Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Hillary Clinton becomes the first and only First Lady to run for president.

President Obama signs the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law on January 29th.

Sonia Sotomayor becomes the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice.

Under the new Affordable Care Act, health insurance companies must now cover birth control with no co-pays.

New HUD rules go into effect on March 5th barring employment discrimination against gay and transgender people.

Michigan State Rep. Lisa Brown, used the word “vagina” in a speech on the house floor, sparking outrage from Rep. Mike Callton who claimed the use of the word was offensive and vulgar.

In June, Texas senator Wendy Davis rose to national prominence during a 13-hour filibuster protesting SB5, a bill that would further restrict abortion access in Texas.

The Stand Against Violence and Empower (SAVE) Native Women Act was introduced to Congress on February 15th. The purpose of the bill is to combat violent crime against Indian women, including crimes of sex trafficking, domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and dating violence.



Info Please
TG History
Trans Timeline (PDF)
Bloomsburg University
Diversity Inc.
Pow Wows
National Women’s History Project
Daily Kos: Native Americans
Daily Kos: Asian and Asian Pacific Americans

Michigan Legislation’s Anti-Abortion Care Antics Now Passed

Abortion Legislation

Jessica Krebs
Legislative Action Chair, NOW GR


In 2013, Right to Life of Michigan formed a committee called Michigan’s Voice, which was intended to create a petition drive in the hopes that it would spur legislation that would ban all abortion coverage by insurance companies in Michigan – even in cases of rape, incest, and health of the mother. This measure was created as a direct parallel of S.B. 137-139 and H.B. 4065-4066, two extreme anti-abortion bills introduced in early 2013. The petition began on June 3rd and needed a total of 258,088 signatures in order to be certified. The drive ended with over 316,000 signatures on October 4th, and by December 2nd was signed into law by extreme conservative House and Senate legislators with votes overwhelmingly in favor for this disastrous bill.

Planned Parenthood and pro-choice partners worked diligently for months in order to put an end to this bill that was not only a direct attack on women’s rights, but an attack on women’s health, as well. Unfortunately, the overwhelmingly positive responses to the petition drive by anti-choice and Right to Life supporters defeated our efforts to curtail this initiative from becoming law. Now, all public and private insurance companies in the state of Michigan are no longer allowed to provide coverage for abortions. This includes if the pregnancy is a direct result of incest and/or rape, or the health of the mother is on the line – for example, if the woman had an intended, wanted pregnancy but then finds out that she has cancer, she will no longer have the insured option of deciding to terminate the pregnancy in order to pursue chemotherapy treatments.

Now, according to the bill, if a woman wishes to have an abortion, she must purchase an abortion rider. However, there is a catch: Michigan insurance companies do not have abortion riders. They are literally non-existent, and even if they did exist, one would have to purchase this rider ahead of time. Meaning that you must purchase a rider prior to the hypothetical event of rape, your health is at risk during a wanted pregnancy, or you decide to not have a child for any multitude of reasons.

Critical women’s health care is now on the line because of this punishing bill, one of the most restrictive in the nation regarding abortion and access to women’s health care. This bill came less than two months before the 41st Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that made safe access to abortion care legal in the United States. Yet in recent years, we have seen some of the most restrictive bans diminishing access to abortion and women’s health care in history – including over 200 restrictions since the year 2010. Even though there is a long road ahead of us, the National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood, and women’s rights social justice activists throughout Michigan and nation-wide will not stop fighting for the indispensable rights of women. Remember this law, and remember the legislators who passed it, when you put your vote to use this November. Your vote will count, and will tell our legislators that we mean business: Women’s rights are fundamental rights, and that includes access to safe and legal health, reproductive, and family planning care.

March 3rd, 2014 | Published in Abortion, Bill, Legislative Update  |  1 Comment

Black History Month 2014


By Arielle Brown
President, Black Student Union
Communications Director, Women’s Issues NOW
Grand Rapids Community College


As a child, my mother would tell me that I have three things fighting against me in life. She would say, “Arielle, you’re black, you’re poor and you’re a woman. You have to fight for everything you want in life.” It was not until I got much older and received a great deal of education that I understood what she meant. Without the passion to be heard, myself and many other women would be swept under the rug. For years women have been misrepresented, but for years women and men have fought to guarantee women gain the equality they deserve.

Civil Rights groups and the National Organization for Women both fought for equality in American society on behalf of underrepresented and misrepresented groups: people of color and women. The hard work, dedication and successes of those who fought for our rights began celebratory practices, such as, Black History Month and Women’s History Month. Those who fought for African Americans and Caucasian Americans to sit together in school and work without conflict and those who fought for women and men to be seen as equals in and out of the work place, are the very people who we celebrate not just during these two months of the year, but every day of our lives.

Though great women like Susan B. Anthony, Betty Friedan, Shirley Chisholm, Faye Wattleton, and Angela Davis, began the fight for equality, it is up to our generation to continue this ongoing battle. We have to ensure that the blood, sweat and tears shed by those before us will not be forgotten. We have to continuously remind ourselves of the forces that may be against us and push harder. We must continue to fight for what’s right.


February 27th, 2014 | Published in Empowerment, Equality

NOW GR Bios [Valentine's Day Edition]: Feminist Couple

Sarah and Jeremy Feminist Couple Bio

Why do you identify as a feminist?


Although I’ve been politically interested (and opinionated) since my early teens, it took me a while to really understand and embrace what it means to be a feminist. The birth of my daughter, an honest look at the way I and other females are treated in society, and–believe it or not–conversations with my then boyfriend (now husband) made me realize what feminism is (and isn’t) and understand that I absolutely am a feminist.


I care deeply about the women (and girl) in my life, and the idea that they should be considered “less than” because of their gender is abhorrent to me. I think it is important as a male that I outspokenly identify as a feminist, because there is still a notion among some that a feminist is just a man-hating woman with a chip on her shoulder. Anyone can be a feminist; they just need to believe in equality.

What does feminism mean to you personally, and in terms of your relationship?


For me, feminism means fearlessly challenging inequality. In our relationship, it means being united in that mission. I can’t imagine having to take on my significant other’s view on my rights as well as the rest of society’s. Home is a place where I know I will be understood and respected. That is extremely important and precious to me.


Feminism means that women are afforded the same opportunities as men. It means that they are paid the same wage for doing the same job. It means they have access to the healthcare they need without roadblocks put in place by politicians with a religious agenda. In my relationship with Sarah, it means we have a partnership in which we are both equals.

How do you handle having different interests?


This past year I made the decision to return to school. I am pursuing a degree in social work with the ultimate goal of becoming a victim’s advocate, and I started my college education essentially from scratch. Meanwhile, Jeremy has been doing stand-up comedy for the past couple of years. These things are very important to each of us individually, and they’re both time-consuming. I am enormously appreciative of his willingness to take our daughter to all of her evening activities when I have night classes, and of course I do the same when he has open mics. Occasionally, there is a scheduling conflict, but we always figure it out.


We support each other the best we can and make sacrifices so we can pursue our individual goals. For me, that means having increased responsibilities at home while Sarah goes to classes and is bogged down with homework for a good portion of the day. For Sarah, that means having to listen to me tell a lot of bad jokes without losing her mind. I probably got the better end of that deal.

In what way(s) do you think your relationship is strengthened by your shared feminist values?


Relationships between people with very different political/ideological positions can work; I’ve seen it. That said, I am so glad we don’t have to deal with that in our relationship! Jeremy and I attend rallies together, we support the same organizations, we are a united front. I’m a long-time volunteer for Planned Parenthood, and Jeremy has been involved with many of the activities right alongside me. I always feel supported.


Mutual respect is absolutely essential to a healthy relationship, and feminist ideals are conducive to mutual respect. More than that, though, feminism is something that we both deeply care about, and sharing that brings us closer together.

How does feminism influence your parenting?


Obviously this is very important to us, having a 10-year-old daughter. We both want her to grow up believing that she can accomplish anything her male peers can. It’s also important, I think, for her to value her female relationships and try to lift up her friends. It is not easy. It’s amazing how much negativity there is to be found directed at young girls from body image stuff in “beauty” ads, to the casual misogyny in movies and video games, to the very scary and sadly enduring rape culture our girls have to grow up in. I think Jeremy and I are both very dedicated to bringing her up to be strong and to challenge injustice where she finds it. That’s the hope, anyway.


There are some people, in the public school system and elsewhere, who still seem to hold onto the notion that girls should be seen and not heard, that they should be quiet and demure and passive while boys are expected to be loud and aggressive. That does a disservice both to boys and girls. Our daughter is not quiet and demure and passive; she is passionate and outspoken like her mother. That is not appreciated by everyone, but it is appreciated by us.

Need a romantic gift today? Give the gift of a NOW GR membership! Use this link or shoot us an email at membership@nowgr.org, and we will even send a special Valentine to your loved one!

February 13th, 2014 | Published in Bio

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

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