Plan C: Why We Need a New Way to Talk About Birth Control

In the last few years, the topics of sexuality, birth control, and abortion have been making headlines in the mainstream media. Fiercely debated, hotly contested and often misrepresented, facts about women’s health are so often obscured by moral judgment and urban legend. This past Thursday, the New York Times front page featured an article entitled “Ready Access to Plan B Pills in City Schools,” written by Anemona Hartocollis and Michaelle Bond. The piece reports on the availability of the Plan B One-Step pill, an emergency contraceptive, in New York City schools in the wake of the Obama administration’s allowance of over the counter availability of the pill to women of any age (well, sort of).  While the article does not outright condemn the federal decision or New York City’s preexisting provision that students in high school can have access to emergency contraception, its ostensibly neutral tone on the issue is fraught with hints of shaming young women who utilize this option and the institutions that make it available.

Image of hand picking up box labeled "Morning After Pill" next to tampons on a shelf

While relaying important information about these policies, the article problematically plays into the media shock value of teenage sex and the possibility of schools condoning such activity. Since the piece highlights the rebellion of young women throughout, the authors distort the reality of why Plan B and other birth control methods need to be available in schools, and instead emphasize a desire to protect deviant young women. For example, the article briefly mentions the fact that the majority of research has demonstrated that emergency contraception does not increase rates of sexual activity, but taking up far more space in the piece are the opinions of others who believe that emergency contraception does increase “risky” sexual behavior, including a single teenage girl who thought teens at her school were having more sex since Plan B became available.

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BCRW Presents: The BCRW Ephemeral Archive (A Sneak Preview)

During my post as research assistant at the BCRW for the past couple of years, I’ve had the opportunity to delve into one of the best hidden historical collections on campus: the BCRW archive. The library at 101 Barnard Hall is home to a wide-ranging collection of ephemeral feminist documents, mainly materials from the 1980s and 1990s, but also with a large array of documents from the 1970s, that the Center has accumulated since its inception in 1971. In an effort to render the ephemeral collection more visible and accessible to the University and to the public, I have jumped on the tail end of a multi-year project to digitally index the ephemeral collection. As the first major step in the archiving process approaches its conclusion, below is a sneak peak of just one example of what the collection contains.

Image of scrolls on shelves

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Reflections in Justice: The Trayvon Martin Protests

Today I would like to share my thoughts on the protests that took place yesterday in Harlem and Union Square in New York City.  Although there were many, these were the two I chose to participate in.  I did this for two reasons, 1) to be in the presence of like minds who shared the pain and outrage I felt regarding the not-guilty verdict of George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin and 2) to get any information that may come out of these events around collective action moving forward to exact justice for Trayvon Martin, whose name has been added to a long list of young black men who lost their life too soon due to an over-zealous cop or wanna-be vigilante.  What I saw yesterday both frightened, angered and disappointed me all at once.

Trayvon Martin Rally in Union Square

First stop, Harlem! I was part of a very small crowd, gathered on the corner of 125th Street, structured so that everyone who wanted to speak had a fair chance with the bullhorn.  There was talk of racial profiling, stop and frisk, racism, discrimination, and the consistent murder of our young black men.  Union Square provided the same platform; however, the crowd was much larger, and the structure was a bit different.  The “human mic,” indicative of the “Occupy” way of community protests and activism, was in full effect, allowing those in the rear to hear and know who was speaking and more importantly what was being said.  The same language was being touted from the platform hailing discrimination, racism and economic divestment from Florida.

I got all that, but for me, it was more personal.  I have a son, 16 years old, and I am scared to death that he will be among the large percentage of black youth who are singled out because he has on the wrong outfit, is in the wrong area, or he “looks suspicious.”  These reasons have been given time and again as to why black men have been stopped, frisked and often arrested.  I dread the day I get a phone call and my son has been detained because “someone got it wrong!”  I also fear that the anger and resentment that has sparked these protests and calls for action will become background conversation and Facebook posts with the “SMH” caption.  I want action.  Collective action.  I want economic divestment and sanctions in Florida and ALL other states that support laws that are vague and leave too much room for confusion.  I want this unequal-ness to end.  I’m tired!  But I know that, sadly, we must continue to fight for our civil rights so that one day we actually will be “judged not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character.”

Pamela Phillips works at the Barnard Center for Research on Women, volunteers as Vice President of the North Bronx Council of Presidents’ Executive Board, New York City Housing Authority’s Resident Association and the Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club in the Bronx.  She has a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from CUNY-Lehman College and is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Urban Policy Analysis and Management at The New School of Public Engagement.


To the Beat of My Own Drum: Why Gender Amplified Matters to Me

“Is this a gift for someone?” I was posed this question by a sales associate at a music supply store in 2008, while looking to purchase some Vic Firth American Jazz Drumsticks at the recommendation of my drum teacher. At the time, I had been playing drums and percussion for six years and wanted to start playing more jazz. So, no, the sticks were for me, not a gift for what I imagine the salesclerk  thought was some man in my life. The salesclerk’s inability to conceptualize me as a drummer was frustrating (he responded to my answer by asking if the sticks were for the video game Rock Band), but not surprising. At that point I was accustomed to these realities of being a woman in the male-dominated field of drumming: from the assumptions of people who had never heard me play that I was not skilled, to being assigned the supposedly less challenging auxiliary percussion parts by a section leader in school band instead of the more difficult parts that I knew I was capable of playing.

woman playing drumset

Subsequently, it was in school band where I learned to speak up and advocate for myself (two valuable life skills for a young woman) in order to play the parts I wanted. In fact, I often think my experience as one of the few female drummers at my school facilitated my discovery of feminism. Although I’ve stopped playing since high school, as a woman drummer, I still feel a sense of solidarity with other women musicians, especially those playing instruments typically played by men. It comes as no surprise, then, that I was pumped when I found out about the upcoming Gender Amplified festival, which celebrates women and girls in music production. Like percussion, the music production and sound engineering fields are predominantly occupied by men, in part due to the lack of encouragement young women and girls get towards working with technology. Organized by producer Ebonie Smith ‘07, the BCRW’s current Alumnae Fellow, the Gender Amplified movement promotes female producers and sound engineers as another avenue for getting more women and girls into STEAM fields. Currently only 5% of music producers are women, and the number of women in other tech industries is also disappointingly low. Bringing together lots of women and girls interested in music production and sound engineering, the Gender Amplified Music Festival in September 2013 will bring exposure to women in the field and provide some hands on experience for those who are new to it. The festival, which is cosponsored by the Barnard Africana Studies Program, the Clive Davis Recorded Music Institute at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts,, the Hip Hop Education Center, and the Female Music Producers Association, will have performances, panels on music production and gender, and instructional workshops for young people interested in pursuing music production and technology.

Hands of girls DJing

As Professor Janet Jakobsen said about the festival, the opportunities for experience with music production that Gender Amplified will provide will most definitely inspire young attendees to pursue a career or hobby they may have never considered before. It’s time for young women and girls to start seeing themselves as  music producers, sound engineers and many other tech professionals, and for women and girls to feel support and solidarity within those fields. Dina Tyson is a Summer Research Assistant at BCRW and a 2013 graduate of Barnard College who majored in Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies.  Related: