All My Single Ladies

The single women portrayed in pop culture are not reality, but rather exist in a dream world.  Like Sex and the City, these professional single women ‘have it all’ yet are consumed with their looks and are dependent on male attention and pleasure for happiness.  Now that women in their twenties are entering their professional careers in singledom, it only makes sense that the media should match.  The media has not caught up with the new direction of women’s independence. Who, then, are the real single women?

As I was flipping through the glossy pages of Cosmo magazine, I couldn’t help but notice the glowing, perfect pictures of girls modeling bikinis. Their flawless tanned skin, glossy beach hair, and cellulose-less legs were almost laughable to me.  The Photoshopped girls in the pictures resemble Barbie—cold, hard, and fake.  Now I do not mean to discredit these models and the hard work that went into reaching their skinny physique, but I find it hard to believe that they do not have so much as a blemish somewhere on their body or an ounce of fat to speak of.  What good is the newfound independence for women if it is only deemed valuable if it comes in Barbie packaging?  
Fortunately, Julia Bluhm, a 14-year-old middle school girl, has led a campaign againstSeventeen magazine to leave the body shapes of the models alone and to use Photoshop only for blemishes, stray hair, or a peeking bra strap.  The petition she created calling out the magazine’s over-use of Photoshop went viral and was signed by over 84,000 people.  This week, Teen Vogue is in the line of fire.  Time will tell if they too will join on the peer pressure bandwagon to reduce Photoshop and airbrushing.
Television, like magazines, also creates a fantasy picture of single women.  As author Rebecca Traister cleverly remarks, Sex and the City is not a show about single women, but rather about white gay men.  Sex and the City paints this picturesque ideal of being a single woman in New York, yet Carrie, for example, is very materialistic.  She is interested in consuming sex, clothes, jewelry, shoes, all while living off a salary as a weekly columnist.  This is hardly the reality of a single woman in New York.  Although there is some progress with shows such as Girls and New Girl that bring to light the awkwardness of reality, they do not go far enough.  They are homogeneous in painting a picture of white privileged women whose biggest struggles include not having the right shoes to wear.
I want to see more magazines that feature women succeeding in non-traditional job sectors, such as science, technology, mathematics, and engineering.  I want to watch more shows whose characters portray real women, and not just the pigeonholed lens of rich, white skinny women who somehow have it all.  In seeing women with more diverse life experiences in the media, we can finally find the real independent single women.

Wall of Silence

I didn’t know that sexual assault actually happened. I didn’t know it occurred with someone you love or someone that you have met before.  I thought a rapist was some stranger—the boogieman—in a dark parking lot with a ski mask on that only happened every once and awhile.

So many battles of sexual assault are hidden in our country, and the statistics are tough to embrace.  One in three Native American women suffers sexual abuse. One in five women in the military is sexually assaulted while in the military.  One in five women is the victim of rape or attempted rape on college campuses.

This week, I worked on a summary of Legal Momentum’s National Judicial Education Program two-day program, Understanding Sexual Violence, at the Tulalip Tribal Court.  In the Tulalip Tribe of Washington, among other Native American reservations, of the small 15 percentage of rapes reported, there is a tremendous protection of rape offenders. In the rare instances that perpetrators are held accountable, the highest sentence that they can receive is limited to one year in the Tribal Court, yet oftentimes there is no conviction at all.  Even after the Vice Chairwoman of the Tulalip Tribes, Deborah Parker, revealed her harrowing experience of sexual assault as a victim of molestation, the House of Representatives still wants to remove the Native American Protections in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  Who is against violence against women anyways??

At Lincoln Center last week, I saw The Invisible War, a documentary on military women and the hidden battle of sexual assault that they faced in the military.  These women who fight for our country have been subjected to sexual assault and rape, yet nobody is doing anything about it.  Nobody is fighting for them.  The military is a severely flawed infrastructure so much so that military women are more likely to be raped by a fellow solider than killed by enemy fire.  Since all cases are dealt from within the military, the perpetrators rarely make it to court, viewing rape as an ‘occupational hazard.’  The military oftentimes even turns on the victims, blaming them for adultery, for example, as if the rape was consensual sex.  The nature of a rapist is that they are repeat offenders. Since they are not punished, the rapists learn how to rape better and know that they won’t be caught.  Even more disgraceful, these serial rapists are now moving up in comman.  For example, one survivor’s perpetrator won the Military Professional of the Year Award during her rape investigation—oh what a twisted reality we live in.  During The Invisible War, I couldn’t help but think of my female friends in ROTC at Duke.  Will they be subjected to sexual assault?

Tulalip and the military, although seemingly different, are very similar in their silence that encompasses sexual assault, similar too to colleges and universities. In university ‘court systems,’ the perpetrators are not often held accountable.  Although the most severe punishment is expulsion, a perpetrator rarely receives this punishment–and my home university of Duke is no different. To my knowledge no one has ever been expelled as a result of a student conduct hearing related to sexual misconduct.  Students have been expelled for plagiarism. Is plagiarism more serious than sexual assault? Perpetrators too often get a slap on the wrist for their crimes, a ‘boys will be boys’ if you will.

At Duke, a newly reformed statute of limitations states that a victim must report within one year of the sexual assault or rape if the student wishes for a conduct hearing.  When victims are dealing with PTSD, depression, school, anxiety, and healing, the added pressure to report only benefits the rapist.  Since most rapists are repeat offenders, what is the motivation to stop raping? When does this vicious victim-blaming cycle end?

Rape is not unique to college campuses, the military, or Native American reservations.  The reality is that perpetrators and survivors are everywhere.

There is hope, though.  The creation of the documentary The Invisible War, Legal Momentum’s work with the Tulalip Tribal Court, along with all the work of Duke Student Government, Develle Dish, and Duke’s Women’s Center demonstrate that there are people that care. There are people that seek justice for these atrocities.  The reality is that we are not made to be silent.

I only hope we can break the silence.


Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, Pro-??

Colleen is a rising junior interning at Legal Momentum for the National Judicial Education Program (NJEP) in Manhattan. NJEP educates judges about gender inequities in the courts and the ways in which gender bias factor into civil, family, juvenile, and criminal law, and how to prevent it.

I feel in conflict with two very important identity markers—my Roman Catholic religion and my identity as a feminist. There is this war raging on about abortion both in my head and in the world around me. ­­As I trekked on the subway down to Queens on Friday afternoon, I was silenced by the unexpected.  I was on my way to Choices, a women’s health clinic that provides abortion services.  My little knowledge about abortion clinics included the HBO episode of Girls, when Hannah, Marnie, and Shoshanna are waiting for hours in the abortion clinic after Jessa decides to have an abortion, although Jessa is too frightened to go to the clinic herself.  Abortion is something rarely talked about, rarely portrayed in the media because it is considered ‘too controversial.’  It is as if there are only two polar sides of the argument…but what about the grey area in between the two extremes? Can I be religious and pro-choice? Can I be a feminist and pro-life?

Upon first arriving to the clinic, I felt a lump at the back of my throat and I was too squeamish to stand still.  My eyes wandered around the room to see patients waiting with their children seated by their side, a loved one holding their hand, or a few were sitting solitary and alone.  For some reason I had not thought about seeing actual patients, and my mind flooded with thoughts of how these women might be feeling, of what their stories were.  We were escorted back to Merle Hoffman’s office, the woman who created the whole clinic with her own personal funds, not wanting to accept money from anyone so that she could keep her vision of Choices intact.

As we settled around the table, Merle asked us expectantly, “So who here has ever had an abortion?” Silence. I felt my mind imploding, thinking, did she really just ask us that question? Is she expecting someone to divulge on such a personal subject as if she was asking who wanted a piece of gum? After the shock of the question subdued, I realized that Merle was making a political statement, whose paradigm is to drag the concept of abortion out of the deepest, darkest, dustiest corner of the closet.  In her question, Merle was normalizing the term abortion, putting it on equal footing with other types of procedures, such as a root canal or Lasik eye surgery.  She was erasing some of the stigma by repeatedly using the word ‘abortion’ and in doing so, desensitizing us to it.

We also took a tour of the clinic.  Walking around, I felt like I was invading the most intimate details of these women’s lives.  I even examined a surgery room, imagining how frightened, alone and scared I would feel with my legs on those stirrups, gripping the hand of an employee that I had just met.  I think most importantly, Merle showed me that women’s health clinics are all about providing women with choices. Like Shoshanna, Marnie, and Hannah in Girls, I learned that women’s health clinics support women in the right to choose how they want their future to pan out, through pre-natal care, ob/gyn services, and most obviously, abortions.  We came upon one of the surgeons, and it was a true out-of-body experience to hear about the unnaturalness of the abortion process in removing the uterine lining.  It seemed so barbaric to have to then search the tissue for the embryo, to be shipped off to some lab as if it were a science experiment. Although my mind wanted to defend women in their right to choose, my heart was telling me that this procedure felt wrong.

The whole afternoon I was thinking about Barbara Kruger’s work, Pro-life for the unborn, pro-death for the born.  The art provoked me to consider the woman who has to make the tough choice between abortion and giving birth.  I considered a pregnant teenager, either ostracized for being pregnant or outcast for having an abortion, a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation. The unborn baby may have to grow up in extreme poverty, malnourished and unloved by their single mother that is barely scraping by.  Who would want a child to grow up in these conditions?  Is an abortion a better alternative?

Although my mind is still fuzzy on reconciling the two polar extremes on abortion…maybe it doesn’t have to be so black-and-white.  Maybe I can be pro-life for my body personally, but pro-choice for the 12-year-old girl who was raped by her brother or for the woman who already has two children and would not be able to handle the financial burden and emotional taxation of a third child.  My feminist identity wants women to be able to have control over their own bodies and have the abilities to make these tough choices by themselves, yet my Catholic identity could not bear to end the potential to life and love.  Abortion is complicated. Although the war is still waging in my mind, it’s time to have more open, honest conversations about abortion.


I think it is about time.


Once Upon a City…

Colleen is a rising junior interning at Legal Momentum for the National Judicial Education Program (NJEP) in Manhattan. NJEP educates judges about gender inequities in the courts  and the ways in which gender bias factor into civil, family, juvenile, and criminal law, and how to prevent it.

I glance at my watch—12:30 am.  The mixture of hot dogs, cigarette smoke, and urine combined with the flashing lights from all directions hyper-stimulate my senses.  Absorbing these alien smells, sounds and sights dull the throbbing pain running through my feet.  I head back to my dorm on the trek  from Chelsea Piers with Deja and Sunny and think: how is the girl in front of me wearing four-inch stilettos and still standing?  While Giselle-girl glides on her stilettos down the street, I look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame—bent over my wedged heels with a slow crawl forward and a very distinct limp, a scowl on my face.  By this point, Deja has her shoes off, preferring the cool sidewalk to ease the pain in her aching feet despite the mysterious stains on the sidewalk.  I look around me as people briskly walk past us.  If the city never sleeps, how come people aren’t limping around like me or roaming the streets barefoot?

In the past two days I have moved in to my NYU dorm, cooked dinner in Brooklyn (successfully taking the subway thanks to the Hop Stop app on my iPhone).  I have met the inspirational group of Moxie interns, jumped into work at my internship for Legal Momentum.

I also volunteered at the Sanctuary for Families benefit at Chelsea Piers on the Hudson River, wearing my winning smile in hopes to sell raffle tickets in support for the organization, while also eating from the decorative rock candy centerpieces to keep my blood sugar high.

I also got asked for directions to the nearest Forever 21—how’d I manage to fool them?

Finally, I’ve walked. Blocks on blocks on blocks.

Arriving to my new home a little after 1:00 am, I sit on my bed to examine my feet.  On my left foot I spot a blister the size of the coin dollar.  You know, the one with Sacagawea on it.  This new growth on my foot is impressive.  It represents my immersion into city life.  Although my feet are not used to the fast pace, my blisters will soon heal to be replaced by tough, calloused skin.  I am ready to hit the streets and start my bucket list of activities to do around the city.  Goodbye Hunchback of Notre Dame, hello foxy blonde!