Policing Femininity: Olympic Regulations & Expectations

In terms of the numbers, the 2012 Olympic is a hallmark year for female athleticism, with women consituting over 40% of the approximately 10,500 athletes set to compete at the London Games. The USA has sent more women than men to compete, a testament to the impact of the 40th anniversary of Title IX. And for a first in Olympic history, every participating country is sending female athletes – over 200 countries, including Qatar, Brunei, and Saudi Arabia. Less than 20 years ago at the 1996 Atlanta games, 26 countries did not send women.

While the Olympic Games will arguably give women more equal attention and front-cover exposure in the athletic arena, the games still struggle to reconcile expectations of femininity in the context of athletic prowess.

New York Times Op-Ed Art by Christopher Brand

A recent post by Amanda Marcotte for Slate.com catalogues the abuse and neglect endured by female athletes who don’t fit the ideals of feminine physique or appeal commercially as sex symbols. The double-standards for these women manifest in the form of active ridicule, like the Twitter abuse experienced by young British female Olympic weightlifter Zoe Smith, or the nasty commentary questioning the fitness of four-time Australian Olympic participant and swimming gold-medalist Leisel Jones. It also occurs in the discouragement and sexism overcome by 17-year-old American boxer Claressa Shields or the lack of sponsorship for 275 lb American Olympic weightlifter Sarah Robles, the strongest American competing – female or male.

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Exploring the Academy-Activist Connection: Storytelling & the BCRW 2012 Commencement Day Panel

When I tell someone I work as a student Research Assistant at the Barnard Center for Research on Women, the response I often receive is something like, “Sounds great! But exactly what does the Center do?”

Speakers discuss BCRW Projects at the Commencement Day Panel

The diverse role of BCRW as a national conversation-starter, historic intellectual resource, dynamic programmer, and hub for international activism can be hard to articulate. So I usually encapsulate it all by explaining how the Center performs invaluable work at the rich intersection of feminist social justice and scholarship. It’s a junction of two worlds I found to be painfully separate when I first entered college: the heady, removed theory of the academic and the on-the-street action of the activist. But this was before I started my work at BCRW. Now, I am spending my time exploring and promoting the Center’s fruitful activism-academy partnerships with the BCRW Blog. The ways BCRW acts as a facilitator for collaboration at this critical crossroads continues to surprise and delight me.

For example, in May, BCRW hosted Social Justice Feminism: Where Scholarship and Activism Meet for our 2012 Commencement Day Panel. The annual event aims to introduce the work of the Center to the family and friends of Barnard’s graduating class. This year’s panel featured several women working towards social justice within three different initiatives of the Center: Disability Justice, Transnational Feminisms, and Digital Feminisms.

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Paid Sick Leave: A Feminist Issue

Ai-jen Poo, Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and Shelby Knox, activist and organizer, have an opinion piece in The New York Daily News today calling for the NYC City Council to support paid sick days. From their article:

Nearly a million working people in New York lack paid sick days. Most are women in low-wage, service sector jobs…Especially in these difficult times, no one should be forced to choose between their family’s health and their income.

At Paid Sick Day Rally, Woman holds sign saying "Honk! if you need Paid Sick Days"
Earlier this week, The New York Times reported on a letter from Gloria Steinem and 200 other prominent women calling on NYC Speaker Christine Quinn to support the paid sick leave measure.

Paid sick leave was the number one policy recommendation in BCRW’s New Feminist Solutions report, “The Work Family Dilemma: A Better Balance,” followed by improved access to flexible work arrangements, ending discrimination against those with family responsibilities, and providing adequate childcare for all working New Yorkers. As noted in the 2007 report,

Many New York City workers and a majority of the working poor do not have even a single day of sick leave – 65 percent of poor New Yorkers and 45 percent of the near poor have no paid sick days, and nearly a third (32 percent) of higher-income New Yorkers lack sick leave as well.


Redefining Women’s Leadership for the 21st Century

This week, Forbes published a potent article by celebrated feminist blogger and BCRW’s own Student Research Assistant Julie Zeilinger, examining the complex factors deterring talented young women from embracing their leadership potential. In the guest post, Zeilinger identifies the harsh scrutiny that comes with societal gender double-standards and the crushing psychological pressure to achieve perfection in the personal and public spheres as major factors in why young American women shy away from taking charge:

So, why don’t women want to lead? The answer is in the pages of the magazines we read and now even in the news coverage of the political debates we watch, which promote cultural standards that destroy women’s confidence and prescribe unattainable standards in all areas of our lives. In order for women to lead – for women to want to lead, to feel that we are capable of leading – we we need to redefine leadership altogether. We need to define leadership not as perfection but as intelligence, honesty and doing the right thing. It is also essential that we question and change a society that sets the standard for achievement impossibly high for women and upsettingly low for men.

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You Don’t Need to Know My Name: Sydnie Mosley on Unwanted Flirting

Yesterday, BCRW Alumna Fellow Sydnie Mosley '07 wrote on her blog about how her work on The Window Sex Project has changed the way she interprets unwanted sexualized interactions:
This is what the looks and the comments on the street do. This is what the large, ambiguous category of interaction we've labeled harassment does. It makes me feel uncomfortable. It prompts me to make different choices which aren't true to my own desires. It makes me want to hide - to be invisible.
Above, Sydnie, The Window Sex Project dancers, and Assistant Professor of Sociology and Black Studies R. L’Heureux Lewis discuss street harassment, masculinity, homophobia, internalized oppression and community organizing following a performance of The Window Sex Project at Barnard in April. Related:

New Zines from the Women of Color Zine Symposium

The Barnard zine library once again has some awesome new additions!

Pink Zine Cover titled "Women of Color: How to Live in the City of Roses and Avoid the Pricks," with drawings of roses

This time, librarian Jenna Freedman attended the Women of Color Zine Symposium and came home with a variety of awesome finds, including:

…and more! One zine, Emi Koyama‘s Understanding the Complexities of Sex Work/Trade and Trafficking : a Companion Reader to War on Terror &  War on Trafficking, is even available as a free PDF online. Check out the full list of new acquisitions over at Jenna’s post.


Connecting Scholarship and Activism as a BCRW Research Assistant

As graduation nears, it is time to admit that I must soon leave BCRW, a place that has come to represent the perfect example of what I wish to do with my life.

6 Barnard Center for Research on Women staff (many wearing "Dare to Say the F word - Feminist" T-shirts) pose with Mamphela Ramphele

I remember being very excited to work at BCRW, but not really understanding exactly what sort of activities and projects I would be involved in. I would soon learn that one isn’t bounded to a single project, but rather given the choice to partake in a variety of things. My very first project was to sift through boxes of materials on sexual harassment, including reports and clippings about the first cases against sexual harassment from the 1970s and 80s. As I started taking note of the materials in the collection, I learned how recent the idea of sexual harassment as a crime was. Oftentimes, the Second Wave of the Feminist movement seems so far away from our lives that it was a genuine shock to read about cases of sexual harassment in college settings that were first discussed only a few decades ago! Although I was initially hesitant in my enthusiasm for this project, due to my general interest more in transnational feminist issues, I learned so much about the actors, schools and organizations involved in starting the conversation against sexual harassment at work and in school that I soon forgot that this wasn’t something I’ve always been curious about.

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Challenged to Change Ourselves

This post by Dr. Laura Brumberg is part of a series of reflections on the 37th annual Scholar & Feminist conference, held March 3rd, 2012 at Barnard College. This year’s theme was “Vulnerability: the Human and the Humanities.”

Rachel Sapery James presenting an image of fish in Papua New Guinea

At the lunchtime workshop on Environmental Justice, someone asked about how those of us living in less vulnerable communities could help those of us who lived in more vulnerable ones. The answer was to build a presence and a change within our own communities, a force allied with these others in spirit, and eventually to be ready to assist where needed in practice. It makes sense, to look to our own communities for the change we want to see in the world, but I would take it one step further. Let us look to ourselves for the change we want to experience outside of ourselves. For those of us who believe that the macrocosm reflects the microcosm, that “As above, so below” has true meaning, the outer world will always be a reflection of the inner world.

When we see injustice, we need to look to ourselves and where we have either experienced or perpetrated injustice in our lives. When we see deceit, the same holds true; where have we deceived others or allowed ourselves to be deceived.  Victor Frankl, M.D., Ph.D., neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor is quoted as saying:  “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

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Smart Girls Have More Fun

This month, actress, writer, and comedian Amy Poehler continues to explore the intersection of new media and feminism with Season Two of her tween-oriented digital series, Smart Girls at the Party. Poehler uses a traditional talk show format to interview pre-teen girls "who are changing the world by being themselves," featuring "bite-sized and positive" episodes that highlight passionate young ladies discussing hobbies like gardening, robotics, boxing, yoga, and cooking. Produced by Poehler and her two close friends, Meredith Walker and Amy Miles, the show features "world-famous" 20-second rock songs, dance parties, and a lot of earnest enthusiasm.  A self-proclaimed feminist, Poehler designed the show to celebrate female friendship and the unqualified ambition of young girls, as she discussed in a recent AlterNet interview:
The idea came out of us wishing we had a time machine so we could go back to the younger versions of ourselves and let them know it was gonna be ok. We wanted to do a show that we would have wanted to watch at that age. And we knew we wanted to have a dance party at the end. We basically started with the dance party and worked backwards... Our culture can get so snarky and ironic sometimes and we kind of wanted Smart Girls to celebrate the opposite of that.

Home-Care Workers Aren’t Just ‘Companions’

Domestic Workers protest

On July 1, The New York Times published an Op-Ed by Barnard Alumna and BCRW contributor Jennifer Klein about domestic workers’ rights in America. Klein and her co-author Eileen Boris historicize the legislative marginalization of in-home work and address President Obama’s proposal to revise Labor Department regulations on home attendants and aides by placing domestic help under the Fair Labor Standards Act:

Establishing the legitimacy of care as productive, necessary labor — a real job — would recognize the realities of both our aging society and our service economy. It would also begin the long-overdue work of updating labor standards for the workplaces of a new century… This fight isn’t simply about the ability to earn the minimum wage or slightly more for working even longer hours; that would still keep home-care workers poor. Its deeper possibility is the potential to re-establish some notion of labor standards, rights and security after decades of gutting them.

Klein and Boris delve further into the history, growth, and activism of the home care labor sector in their book, Caring for America: Home Health Workers in the Shadow of the Welfare State.