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Proposed definition of Harassment is “Objectively Bad”

Written by: Dr. Trish Oberweis, Professor Criminal Justice

In 2011, the Office of Civil Rights sent a policy change to all schools receiving federal funds instructing them that they are required to provide a safe environment for all learners. This was in reaction to a particular (although not unique) study documenting that a quarter of college women are sexually assaulted during their college years (this does not mean raped, necessarily). They created an avenue for sexual assaults and sexual harassment to be handled through the compliance offices already on campus; whether this system would be in lieu of or in addition to the police was to be at the preference of the reporter. This was, in part, done to rectify the utter failure of the CJS to provide appropriate support to women reporters, and to ensure that survivors would not give up their education in frustration or fear.

In the years between then and now, Universities have been mandated to create an internal, parallel, non-police structure for addressing rape, assault and harassment on campus, through their Equal Opportunity offices, often called the “Title IX process.” These structures are new—and therefore not perfect—but always under both improvement and heavy fire from those who believe that men are unfairly being hassled for what too often amounts to a disgruntled or potentially dishonest woman who should simply use the police to report the alleged crime.

Betsy DeVos has been outspoken on her perception of injustice perpetrated on men in these Title IX investigations. Her commitment from Day 1 was greater justice in these processes, by which she meant that the benefit of the doubt must be accorded to the man and the process should mimic the failed CJS process (with counsel, cross examination, beyond a reasonable doubt (BARD) standards instead of a preponderance of evidence standard—although BARD is for those facing imprisonment, and is never the standard in civil processes; Title IX is a civil process, not a criminal one). Title IX can be used for reporting sexual assaults AND for reporting sexual harassment.

What is Title IX?

What is Title IX? Image Credit: http://www.atlm.edu/administration/TitleIX.aspx

 

December 1 or so, Ms. DeVos posted her proposed rule change. She did this on the Federal Register, which is a public comment forum that is required to remain open for public comment for 60 days before she can change policy. Better still, she must summarize and respond to the comments before her proposal can go forward. Evidently to thwart public comments, she opened it at a time designed to overlap with winter breaks and final exams for the nation’s University students—the very people most likely to have comments about the proposed changes. In this way, she is sending a strong message.

United States Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos

United States Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos

She is beginning her efforts to undermine the Title IX mandate by focusing on sexual harassment, rather than assault. Her specific rule changes read nicely: give every credible report a thorough vetting, allow due process to both sides, allow appeals for both sides, or for neither, etc. The key is in her definition of harassment, which will essentially eliminate the need for an investigation at all. She moved to change the definition of harassment to from the well-established “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature” to behavior that is “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive.” I ask: Objective to whom? No reporter will be able to pursue justice or even safety under this definition. A woman in a classroom in which the instructor refers routinely to “cute girls” in the class and is made to feel uncomfortable with the instructor’s constant discussion of these cute bodies, or leering at them, for examples, will have no claim, as such comments or hungry eyes would not necessarily be “objectively offensive.” A woman who is the subject of a veiled threat could be in the same situation—because it isn’t pervasive. A faculty member who brings colleagues or students in a class to strip clubs to socialize would go unchallenged, as strip clubs are not offensive to everyone. Meanwhile, women who feel unsafe or must endure a hostile learning or work environment will be driven off campus and their economic future will be jeopardized.

We must raise the hue and cry and generate a loud set of objections, using the Federal Register. Not only do we need to activate our networks here, but also to send this out to feminists at other Universities and ask them to activate their networks, too. It is crucial to keeping this fledgling system alive. For the record, punishment through this system remains shockingly rare, but nor has it had time to build the trust and awareness that will be necessary for it to provide the necessary measure of safety.

Women lived for generations with the understanding that others would not come to their aid if they were forced to endure harassment or assault, under the rationale that others just don’t get it. The past year or two have left no place for denial: the thousands of women who told their stories have sparked a change in the plausible deniability of bystanders. We, the bystanders, must take this opportunity to demonstrate that we understand the pervasive and damaging behavior of harassers and assaulters and we must stand up for the safety of all future victims. The Federal Register comment period (through January 28) is a meaningful opportunity for everyone to exactly that. Please voice your concern for the well-being of women students and object to Ms. DeVos’ policy change.

Speak out! Click here to comment on the Federal Register!

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Drinking From The Same Well: White Supremacy, Misogyny, and the Fight for Justice in Solidarity

Director of Women’s Studies Alison Reiheld, an Associate Professor of Philosophy at SIUE, is on sabbatical leave this semester. Recent events, however, have driven her to think. And write. And keep acting.

CONTENT WARNING: gun violence, racist violence, anti-Semitic violence, gender-based violence. Where possible, images will honor the victims and will only show the faces of the perpetrators if they are obscured.

CONTENT REWARD: this is difficult, hard to read material. At the end, you will find some pictures of cute animals for relief.

“Understand that modern white supremacy, like many historical white supremacies, is anti-black, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, anti-woman, and more. Elliot Rodger, Dylann Roof, and the shooter in Pittsburgh drank from the same ideological well — a well we have to drain.” 

–Nicole Hemmer, tweetstorm on antisemitism and Charlottesville, Oct 27, 2018

Hemmer - white supremacy misogyny same well

Nine years ago on the 20th anniversary of the event, I learned about the massacre at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal. In 1989, twenty-five year old Mark Lepine, armed with a rifle and a hunting knife, walked into a classroom at the university, separated the men from the women, claimed he was “fighting feminism” because it ruined his life, called all the women in the room feminists, and proceeded to shoot all nine women in the room, killing six before moving through the rest of the university where he killed more women and many men. In total, he killed 14 women, injured 10 other women and 4 men, and then turned the gun on himself. He chose Ecole Polytechnique because he had been denied admission and blamed feminists and women for taking a spot that he believed belonged to him by right. While searching his body, police found a suicide note and a list in his pocket of 19 prominent Canadian women including a journalist and a government minister. The note said that Lepine believed there was no place for women in engineering, that women were trying to take over men’s jobs, and that feminists were responsible for higher insurance costs. The Montreal Massacre remains the deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history and led to Canada’s current gun control laws. I had never heard of it.

Montreal Massacre victims

The 14 women engineering students murdered by Marc Lepine in Montreal, Canada at Ecole Polytechnique

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Because it IS an Emergency-The Mensi Project

SIUE Women’s Studies Interim Director Christy Ferguson discusses her motivation for starting The Mensi Project, a menstrual product sharing program for all women’s, family, and non-gender specific restrooms on campus at SIUE. 

Earlier this year, the women of SIUE noticed a change. Suddenly, the menstrual product dispensers that had lived in nearly every restroom, had mostly disappeared. The machines had been replaced by signs directing them to find their emergency coin-operated, backup plan on another floor of the building.

POOF! Gone. No more emergency pads or tampons.

What to do? What to do? Waddle uncomfortably to another bathroom hoping no one notices? Or resort to that final, uncomfortable and ineffective option *GULP* toilet paper? Ugh! No, thank you!

Well, worry NO MORE! In conjunction with the SIUE Women’s Studies program, I have set a plan in motion that not only has the potential to solve our emergency period predicament, but also show the world that in a time when women are under attack for speaking out against oppression, SIUE women are ready and willing to support one another, even in the smallest of ways: The Mensi Project.

A plastic ziplock bag taped to the Peck Hall women's bathroom wall filled with menstruation products. A sign reads "FREE Since we can't all rush back to the first floor when we need an EMERGENCY tampon or pad, feel free to take what you need or add to the stash to help out others!"

I started with what I had in my office: plastic ziplock bags, tape, and a printer. I made bags for the basement, 2nd, and 3rd-floor women’s restrooms in Peck Hall. I filled each with a few pads and tampons and a sign. It wasn’t long beofre I noticed that others had added to the bags and some had been taken. It was wonderful.

So, how does it work? It is simple. Look for the brightly colored fabric bag hanging in the campus bathroom. If you need a tampon/pad/liner, take what you need, free of charge. Have extra or two in your purse? Consider sharing and leave them in the bag for the next possible period emergency. It is that simple. No money. No waddling to another floor. No worries.

The overall goal is to encourage women to be more mindful of each other in everyday situations. Although SIUE women’s studies will be continually collecting donations and using those donations to fill the bags as much as we can, the goal is for women to share amongst themselves. YOU can fill that bag! You can help whenever you can and wherever you are! You can donate one pad or 100! It is all up to you.

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Men, Power, and Everyday Feminism

An SIUE alum now in grad school elsewhere reflects on the assumption that men are entitled to women’s attention whether they are reading, mourning, taking a train ride, talking with friends, or just not interested. Because of the charged nature of the comments, and the possibility of local retaliation in the current environment, the author wishes to remain anonymous.

TW: Discussion of rape culture, violence against women, Kavanaugh hearings, Bill Cosby sentencing, etc

Hi, everyone! Brevity is not my strong suit, but I will try to be brief. That said, I have multiple stories that I would like to share with you. I am currently pursuing my second a Master’s degree and, like other places and campuses across the country, my place has been buzzing about the recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh and the allegations of sexual assault brought against him by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a psychology professor at Palo Alto University and, as of this writing, at least three other women. Among other news traveling through the campus grapevine are the trial and subsequent conviction of Bill Cosby for drugging and then sexually assaulting many women.

It was in this context that, just two days ago, I was standing in line at a local cafe when I overheard a young, early-20-something undergraduate discussing the Kavanaugh debacle in a very disturbing way. He was conversing with a fellow undergraduate, a young woman who looked to be about the same age. He claimed to not understand “what the big deal was” and that “stuff like that” (the activities that Kavanaugh participated in as a high school student in the 80s) happens “all the time.” There were also claims that Brett Kavanaugh and co. were “young kids.” A week prior to this encounter, I’d overheard another, very similar account–this time in regards to fraternities on our campus which endorsed sexual assault not unlike the famous Yale fraternity that chanted “No means yes, yes means anal,” a chant that was later echoed by fraternities across the country including at Texas Tech.  The overarching sentiment it seemed to me was “What’s the big deal? This is so commonplace that it isn’t noteworthy. Get over it. Let them be kids.”

Around the same time that I’d heard the comments about Theta Tau, I witnessed another incident on campus. I’d been walking from my house to the CVS that’s a couple blocks from my campus. As I was walking down the promenade of campus, I passed two girls about my size (quite short). They were clearly friends, and one of them was talking to another friend on her phone. As they walked past me, two guys about their age—they were all white and looked to be late teens, early 20s—approached them.

A man in a grey suit and hat, smiling, leans over the back of a bench inside a train car. He is leering or smiling at a young blong woman dressed all in black as though in mourning clothes. She is not smiling, and is looking directly at the viewer.

“The Irritating Gentleman”, by Berthold Woltze, painted in the late 1870’s. Dudes demanding women’s attention? Not new. The young woman, dressed all in black, could be in mourning. She is certainly simply traveling along on her own agenda. She is looking somberly directly at the viewer.

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Favorite Feminist Heroes Part 4: Linda Nochlin

Our final installment in our Women’s History Month mini-series on Favorite Feminist Heroes comes to us from SIUE Art & Design Professor Katie Poole-Jones.  

Poole-Jones selfie

Prof. Katie Poole-Jones at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in front of Adelaide Labille-Guiard’s “Self-Portrait with Two Pupils” ca. 1785 (the painting, not the selfie)

It is not a stretch to say that I am art historian, not to mention a feminist art historian, in large part thanks to Linda Nochlin. Although I never had the privilege of meeting her in person, her groundbreaking 1971 essay, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?,” left an indelible mark on a then impressionable college sophomore and forever changed the way that I would engage with (and later teach) art history. Stressing the institutional over the individual, Nochlin called attention to the implicit bias of the question posed in the title of her essay, imploring us to curb our knee-jerk reaction to offer up the names of the “greats” – Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, Artemisia Gentileschi – in response, as doing so would validate its misguided premise. Her challenging of the patriarchal value system of Western art and her insistence on exposing the educational and cultural barriers that kept women from greatness was an eye-opening and thrilling way to engage with the discipline that would become my life’s work.

Nochlin image

Linda Nochlin

I always look forward to assigning Nochlin’s essay to my Women in Art students as it routinely produces some of the most engaged and passionate discussion that I see in my classroom. When I taught it once again this past January, a few months after her death, it was with a bittersweet tinge, but also with an increased desire to carry on the legacy of this amazing and inspiring feminist.

To learn more about Nochlin, check out these links:

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Favorite Feminist Heroes, Part 3: Rachel Held Evans

Part 3 of our Women’s History Month series on Favorite Feminist Heroes comes to us from Instructor Darci Schmidgall of Sociology, also a SIUE graduate.

Darci Schmidgall

Darci Schmidgall doing her favorite activity, crossfit.

I am a self-identified Jesus freak sociologist, and Rachel Held Evans is one of my favorite feminists because she is taking on the white evangelical patriarchy. Her writings debunk the popular use of colorblindness by contemporary Christian leaders, acknowledging the institutionalization of racism both inside and outside of western Christianity, and calling for a concerted effort by those who identify as Christians to engage in racial justice activism.

Rachel Held Evans.jpg

Rachel Held Evans

She has been very vocal in the Trump era that the need to stay true to Christ’s teachings supersedes the desire of the Religious Right to seize political power by following a particular candidate whose words she points out are not only overtly racist and sexist, but clearly anti-Christian. Rachel has also been willing to openly deconstruct the engrained sexism behind the predominant Christian ideology of gender complementarianism, and constructive of gender egalitarianism as an accurate rendering of Christ’s prescriptions for gender relationships. This is her homepage: https://rachelheldevans.com

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Favorite Feminist Heroes, Part 2: Gloria Anzaldúa

Our second installment in our Women’s History Month miniseries on Favorite Feminist Heroes comes to us from SIUE Director of Women’s Studies and Associate Professor of Philosophy Alison Reiheld. Don’t miss Part 1 from Sociology Prof Kiana Cox, and keep reading for more!

10-6-17 laughing

Alison Reiheld

My favorite feminist hero is Gloria Anzaldúa, who has been a big influence on me as a as my thinking has developed. Her identity as a queer Chicana feminist born and raised in the Rio Grand Valley on the US side of the border is reflected in her writing. Perhaps her most famous work, and certainly the one that most deeply affected me, is Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. Another one not to miss is the anthology she co-edited called This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of ColorNot long ago, she even got her own Google doodle.   Anzaldúa considered the impact of crushing heteronormativity, of being perceived in America as Other, and the ongoing impact of colonialism on the lives of Mestiza women whose heritage includes both native peoples and European colonizers. She also worked from her experience of growing up with a chronic medical condition and provides food for thought for folks working in disability studies. As a result of these many intersecting identities, she felt that she lived in many worlds at once.  Rather than seeing this as a source of a fractured self, Anzaldúa developed the concept of border-crossing and bridge-building as metaphors for a productive way of existing in a diverse world with people from other groups and also across multiple group memberships. Border-crossing means being in deliberate contact with people who are different from oneself and working to understand their lives and needs, being able to live and be in community with many people.  Of course, there is a lot more to it than this, but we could all use a little mental border-crossing and bridge-building skill in this world of ours.

If you’re interested in how Anzaldúa’s work continues to live on after her death, check out the cool Podcast “Anzaldúing It” (“2 best friends + queer Latinx woes. Powered by echale ganas, tacos, cochinita pibil and Selena. Episodes come out every other Week!”) or this sweet half-hour long NPR show commemorating her work.  

 

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Favorite Feminist Heroes, Part 1: Maria Miller Stewart

It is Women’s History Month, and so time for a miniseries here on the SIUE Women’s Studies Blog!  In previous years, we have had a miniseries on gender and media and of course our most successful miniseries: our 15-day series on Feminist Songs with individual entries written by feminists from all over North America about songs from all over the world. It began with Loretta Lynn’s “The Pill”, included Peggy Seeger and Nancy Sinatra and Laura Mvula and Ani DiFranco and Beyonce and Palestinian rap group DAM, and ended with a SNL comedy song-sketch . Today, we kick off this year’s Women’s History Month miniseries on Favorite Feminist Heroes with an entry by SIUE Assistant Professor of Sociology Kiana Cox.

Kiana Cox

Dr. Kiana Cox

My favorite feminist is Maria Miller Stewart.  She is important to me for several reasons.  Often, feminism is viewed within various aspects of black nationalist ideology as a white invention; as something that is foreign and inconsistent with black freedom movements.  Likewise, popular stories of women’s political history in the U.S. often start with the “first wave” at the end of the 19th century.  However, Maria Miller Stewart was a free black woman living in Boston in the 1830s and the first American woman to give a public lecture on social justice issues to mixed race and mixed gender audiences.  This is important, given that elite black women of her day were consigned to literary or temperance societies if they wanted to do political work.  Stewart is important because she becomes a forerunner of the black feminist tradition that we usually locate in the 1960s and 70s.  In 1831, she published “Pure Principles of Morality” in the ladies section of William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist newspaper “The Liberator”.  (Note that Stewart knew and worked with Garrison in the abolitionist movement a full decade before Frederick Douglass met him).  In “Pure Principles”, Miller speaks directly to black women of her day, imploring them about the need for them to be leaders. She stated, 

Maria Stewart Miller

Maria Miller Stewart

Possess the spirit of independence. The Americans do, and why should not you? Possess the spirit of men, bold and enterprising, fearless and undaunted…   Continue reading

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Walk a mile in our shoes ….by learning about our actual experiences

Recently (yesterday), SIUE participated in the national event known as “Walk A Mile in Her Shoes.” As is typical of such programs across the nation, and as described in a press release from SIUE earlier today, “Men crammed their feet into red high heels and walked on the campus of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville on Tuesday,  Feb.13 to support women and to bring attention to gender-based violence.” While a post-event session offered by SIUE’s Prevention and Education Advocacy Center (PEACe) offered much more depth and a chance to really learn about being active bystanders and preventing violence, the event is often reduced in the public perception to being about the red shoes walk, itself. Our own Prof. Saba Fatima (SIUE Philosophy Department) reflects on this  public perception of these kinds of events–not necessarily the SIUE event itself–in a blog entry authored before the event took place. Note that this public perception is reflected in the way that the University’s press release covered the event even though the event itself contained a much richer opportunity to explore issues of gender, sexual harassment, and other aspects of sexism.

Walk a mile in her shoes 02-13-18 high heals

Men in pants stand on one foot and stick out the other, linking arms in a semicircle in front of the Cougar statue outside of SIUE’s Morris University Center. They are wearing bright red high heels. This is the public perception of what the event is about. This is also the image taken from the SIUE press release about the event. The picture was taken February 13, 2018. Shown in the center is Jeffrey Waple, vice chancellor for student affairs at SIUE, who led the march.

Across US campuses, men get involved in “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event an effort to raise awareness for violence against women. So on Feb. 13th SIUE men walked in high heels to literally experience what it feels like to walk in a woman’s shoes. The idea is an event that is a “playful opportunity for men to raise awareness in their community about the serious causes, effects and remediations to men’s sexualized violence against women.”

The whole point of ‘Walk a Mile Her Shoes’ is to get a glimpse of what women experience. The walk is generally followed by providing productive information that focuses on raising awareness about sexual violence. I think everyone that organizes & participates in it has their heart in the right place, but perhaps we need to rethink specifically the ‘high heels’ activity that accompanies this intent. I cannot help but think that there is something off about men walking in high heels to experience women’s experiences. Here are a few thoughts on it:

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Cool Video: The year feminism fought back

Pretty cool retrospective of 2017. What’s missing? Whose missing? Whose issues are missing?  Say up in the comments!

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