Founded in 1974, the Women’s Center was established to:
Dismantle, from a feminist perspective, all forms of oppression, including but not limited to those based on ability, age, class, ethnicity, gender, race, and sexual orientation.
Advocate for an equitable environment free from violence and harassment based on gender, race, and sexual orientation.
Create an anti-racist, non-sexist, queer-affirmative space where all people can feel valued and safe.
Facilitate and strengthen connections among people across lines of difference through programming and educational campaigns.
Integrate an appreciation of Women's Gender and Multicultural Studies across the disciplines.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

False Control and Being Well

I would really like to take this time to blog about the Occupy Movement's International Day of Action for Education, happening tomorrow. I would, but tomorrow, as part of Eating Disorder Awareness Week, is also Love Your Body Day and I need to blog about that. Not "need" as in I have to for work, but I feel a need to speak to the importance of awareness and intelligent compassion for those who manage their daily lives with eating disorders.

In my four years of high school and going-on-six years of college, I have known over a dozen people with eating disorders, and at least a score (meaning 20) people with anxiety and depression spectrum disorders. EDAW is very important to me personally. I've seen my friends in pain, in despair, in fear and burdened by shame because of their bodies and what they do (or don't) with them.

My understanding of eating disorders is by proxy - people I've known and loved have suffered with, have dealt with, have managed and have survived eating disorders. In my own life, I can speak to the paralyzing effects of anxiety and depression. I understand how it feels to be too depressed and too apathetic to eat regularly. I have, at times, felt like I didn't deserve to eat, to be nourished emotionally, to sleep, to succeed, to be loved, to live a fulfilling life. I still feel that way sometimes.

In my life, I have had days when I didn't eat, or didn't shower, or didn't go to class or work, or didn't finish important assignments, or go to the doctor when I was sick. Why? Sometimes it was because I felt I didn't deserve these things: food, accomplishment, praise, cleanliness, health. Sometimes it was because I felt that by not doing those things I was exercising control over my life. This false sense of control, I have been told, can be a common experience between people like me who manage their lives with anxiety or depression and people like my friends who manage their lives with issues of body image, including the social pressures to be thin - or fit - or muscled - or athletic - or toned - or skinny.

That false sense of control can be comforting, but can also be damning. It was for me. I micromanaged parts of my life, like hygiene (not showering) and food (skipping meals to punish myself) and obsessed about missing class - there were times when I stayed in my room berating myself for missing class and writing out practically minute-by-minute to-do lists of assignments that were already late - only to spend hours recopying the list rather than actually doing the work. Or I just sat there rereading the list until the middle of the night, and then wandered aimlessly around my old campus - plagued by insomnia and shame.

What I know and have experienced has garnered nods and "Yes, I totally get that" responses from some of my friends with eating disorders. I guess what I'm trying to say is that, to some extent, I understand. I know how it feels to be so stuck in your own head, stuck repeating what you objectively know are bad decisions and harmful actions. Since being put on [forced] medical leave from my old school for the second time and basically being told "We love you, but don't come back;" since transferring to Ramapo; since I've finally learned to accept myself for who and what I am and let go of shame, I'm a happier - and healthier - person. Things can change, but you have to want them to. What's more, you need to be ready for them to.

Some days are hard. Some days suck. Some days I ignore phone calls from my best friend because I know she can tell, even from D.C., if I'm telling half-truths. Sometimes I avoid my homework, or showering, just for an hour or a day - so I can feel the thrill of false control. I know it's bad, I know it's unhealthy, but sometimes I still feel like I need that. From what I know, anxiety, depression and eating disorders are not things to be cured - to be medicated and solved - to be put behind you and forgotten. They are obstacles that require daily victories, or at least daily attempts at managing them - rather than being managed by them. I know your mind can be your own worst enemy, but you are always the best person to tell yourself that enough is enough. You are the best person to take charge of your life. Even for an hour. Even for five minutes to pick up the phone and call for help. Or text a friend. Or answer honestly when a family member asks "Are you okay?"

There are resources. There is help. No matter what you're dealing with, you are not alone. Do you hear me? You are not alone in this. Love you for you - scars and all.

I'm still learning to love myself. It isn't always easy, but I refuse to give up on myself. I refuse to trade the calm I feel when I am clean, healthy and on-time with my work for the false thrill of self-deprivation, self-harm, or self-deception. I hope that as Love Your Body Day gets underway tomorrow morning we can all jump into the spirit of the day - of all of EDAW - and embrace healthy self-love and self-affirmation.

I'll try. I hope you will too.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tutorial: Vulva Pins!

So as you may or may not know, during Healthy Love Week here at Ramapo, we held an event called "Emily's Erotic Crafting and Conversation Hour." For the most part, we crafted vulva pins and they were a hit! I made this tutorial so our readers could have as much fun as we did with whimsical crafting.

First of all, gather your supplies. You will need at least two different coloured pieces of felt, a pin finding to glue on the back, a small bead, a needle and thread, and any decorative things you would like (in this picture I have assorted glitter glue).
Decide which colour you would like to be the outer labia. I chose purple! Draw an indented oval on the felt to guide your cut (see the picture for reference). It doesn't have to be perfect or even-every vulva is different!
Draw the inner labia on the other piece of felt-again, it can be big or small and any shape. I'm rather fond of this wavy shape. Cut both pieces of felt out and lay the inner labia on top of the outer.
Now you will need to sew them together. Take your needle and thread (make sure you knot the end!) and do a simple stitch around the edge of the inner labia. Before you tie it off, pull the thread gently to scrunch the felt up. Arrange the layout of the piece in a way that you like, and tie the thread off in the back.

Now it's time to create the clitoral hood! I used the same colour felt as the outer labia, but you can go for a completely new colour if you'd like. Draw a half moon-ish sort of shape onto the felt and cut it out.
Bend it in half and lay it on top of the vulva you made. Sew it on from the bottom (the thinner point) up. At the top, stitch into one side of the felt, string a bead (this is the clitoris!) onto your thread, and stitch down into the other side. If you need to, arrange everything so it lays nicely and tie your thread off in the back.

Now it's time for decorations! You can do whatever you'd like to at this point, or do nothing at all and skip to the next step. I decided to accent the inner labia with pink glitter glue!
Almost done! Flip your piece over and glue on the pin finding. Remember, if you used glue to decorate the front, WAIT until it dries. You will also need to put the pin in a safe place to allow the finding to dry.
Voila! What a beautiful vulva pin! Wear it everywhere, make a statement! Have a great day everybody!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Lesley Kinzel and Eating Disorder Awareness Week
Today marks the first day of Eating Disorder Awareness Week, a country-wide event sponsored by the National Eating Disorders Association. Organizations across the U.S. are doing their part to raise awareness of the issues of body image and eating disorders – the Empire State Building is even changing the colors at the top of the building to blue and green to show their support!

Here at Ramapo, we have a week filled with awesome events: Lesley Kinzel, blogger from Two Whole Cakes and xoJane; Love Your Body Day, featuring activities like yoga, massages, Zumba, and more; and the Body Image Monologues, a performance of student-written pieces about body image.

Lesley Kinzel, keynote speaker of Eating Disorder Awareness Week, describes herself as a “stringer-together-of-words” at xoJane, and a “radical fatass.” Kinzel blogs about loving oneself in the face of rigid societal expectations about the female body. One recent article of hers, What’s Wrong with Fat-Shaming?, discusses what it’s like to be a fat person today, with the constant judgment and shaming from complete strangers. On body-shaming in general, as well as fat-specific shaming, Kinzel writes,
Body-shaming is ubiquitous and abhorrent; it happens everywhere, to pretty much everyone, at one time or another. It is especially levied against women, who are shamed for being skinny, for being tall, for being short, for having big boobs, for having small boobs, for having body hair, for being unfeminine, for being too sexy, for being too prudish, for being smart -- shamed at some point for being pretty much anything while also being female, including for being ugly (and failing to serve a purpose as a beauty object) and for being pretty (which must mean they are vapid or dumb).
Fat-shaming is a specific variety of body-shaming. It is not the only kind of shaming that takes place, but it is one of the more common ones. Lots of folks think fat-shaming is perfectly acceptable. More than that, lots of folks think fat-shaming is actually a good thing, because with shame as a motivator, perhaps those darn fat people will stop being so fat.
It doesn’t work, though -- shame is not a catalyst for change; it is a paralytic. Anyone who has ever carried extreme personal shame knows this. Shame doesn’t make you stronger, nor does it help you to grow, or to be healthy, or to be sane. It keeps you in one place, very, very still.
Essentially, in our image-obsessed world, people have taken to harshly criticizing the bodies of those around them, often framing their comments as helpful, when in fact they are rude, hurtful, and unnecessary – policing the bodies of others just isn’t okay. One of Kinzel’s goals is to spread the concept of health at every size; rather than one ideal being considered the only “healthy” option, with everyone falling above or below the ideal being harshly criticized as too fat or too skinny, Kinzel and others like her believe that health is not entirely size-oriented, but about treating your body well, eating healthy, and exercising regularly.

Lesley Kinzel will be speaking in the Alumni Lounges at 7 p.m. tomorrow, February 28th. Be sure to come by, and come out to the rest of the EDAW events this week!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Straight Not Narrow

In anticipation of the release of The Hunger Games, here is a video of Josh Hutcherson, one of the stars of the movie, advocating for the group Straight Not Narrow; an organization aimed at positively impacting the way teens view and treat their LGBT peers. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Are Rape Jokes EVER Funny?

Like many of my friends, I am sick to death of being told that I have no sense of humor because I don't find jokes about rape funny. I wanted to take a moment to clarify, once and for all, why jokes about rape are (generally) not funny. The best way to do that is by focusing, first, on the exception to the rule...

This clip from the Daily Show, that uses the word rape several times, is incredibly funny (and thank goodness for that, because the source comments are so horrendous that I need Jon Stewart's sarcasm to restore my faith in humanity just a bit.) This clip is funny because the butt of the joke is not the survivors of rape, it is the people who make light of rape and belittle survivors to make a political point. Not funny? Jokes that make the SURVIVOR or the act itself, the punchline.

For example... The other day, through comments of a post on xoJane (a website that has published some POWERFUL posts about rape), I am directed to one of the editor's twitter feeds. On her twitter is a rape joke that she tweeted the day before:

Here's an article about the assault that this joke refers to. The woman in question was robbed, sexually assaulted, and then had her life and the lives of her loved ones threatened if she dared to report the crime. The LAST thing this woman needs, on top of everything else, is people joking about how she probably ENJOYED her rape. 

THIS joke is not funny. As someone who has spent countless hours supporting rape survivors I will never, ever be able to find a joke funny if the punchline is at the expense of the survivor of an assault.

Also not funny? The awful memes about rape that have been popping up on the Ramapo College meme page. I understand that a lot of people call the creepy-looking trail behind Makin and Bischoff the Rape Trail. (I don't do so because I don't find rape funny, nor do I think rape should be used to discourage people from going anywhere... but I understand that this is a shared cultural reference.) However, the rape-memes on this page are not funny to people have survived rape, or to people who have loved ones who have been through this because rape is not a punchline.

If nothing else this image, and the resulting comments, means that I could never feel comfortable talking to the three guys who commented because their comments indicate that they find rape trivial at best and funny/enjoyable at worst (especially: "Lol!! I guess when going down the rape trail, one then becomes the ultimate rape master.") I suspect that, if pressed, the people who made/commented/liked this image would emphatically claim that they do NOT support rape. I'm sure they have a leigon of people who could tell me what good guys they really are.That doesn't matter though, because when I am looking at a rape meme you made or reading a comment you wrote in support I don't know anything about you other than, in this moment, you think rape is a funny joke instead of an awful, painful thing that happens to people every day. Yes, even people on your campus.

Jon Stewart's piece is funny because the punchline is making fun of the ridiculous individual who claimed that military women were being raped "too much" (as opposed to "just enough" rape?) In this context the idea of rape is seen as abhorrent, unacceptable, awful... as it ought to be. In the instance of this tweet, however, the survivor of the rape is the joke. The example tweet and meme are not funny because they belittle the experiences of real survivors by telling them that their assault is funny and, therefore, their pain is invalid. 

 This is what makes it so hard for people to feel empowered to report their rapes in our society. This is what empowers rapists to hurt people, secure in the knowledge that their crime will likely not be taken seriously at all. This is what makes me sick to my stomach. So maybe I frown just a little more often than people who don't care about rape jokes... I'd still rather frown than hurt another human being with my laughter.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Quick Comparison

On Facebook last week I saw a "Coffee with Jesus" comic posted by a friend. When implored by a faithful believer for advice about finding a reliable, unbiased news source, Jesus suggested the BBC. I laughed out loud at the line "Bonus: they don't yell." Unfortunately, I couldn't find a copy to share (feel free to link one in the comments!), but it did get me thinking about the news we read in the U.S. versus the news read by many in European countries, in Canada and Mexico, in Latin and South America, in the Middle East, in Asia, in Australia... You know, everywhere else.

So I decided to do a quick comparison:

CNN lauds itself as "The Worldwide Leader in News" - so what news does CNN share with us? On the International Edition main page this afternoon, the following were presented as the two most prominent stories (based on page placement):

Dozens Killed in Argentina Train Crash

Deaths of journalists in Syria highlight dangers.

These were featured further down the page: a small collection of stories on the "Crisis in Syria" and Occupy London loses eviction fight. In the second row of stories in the middle of the page was this: Kenyan teens groomed to fight for Somali terrorists.

Not a bad spread.

On the default U.S. Edition, the two most prominent stories were:

Obama: Slash corporate tax breaks and rate

Five things to watch for in tonight's [GOP] debate.

Hmm, okay. Well, it is the U.S. edition, so national news is on top. Okay, I can live with that. Down on the right were a similar collection of stories on Syria. Sorry, on the "Slaughter in Syria." Now, don't get me wrong here - what's going on in Syria is absolutely slaughter, but why was it a crisis in the International version and a slaughter in the U.S. one? Americans like more sensational headlines?

Moving on. In that collection of stories on Syria was this one, What the world owes the slain journalists. Again, don't get me know - the international community owes a great deal to the journalists who have died to bring the murder and razing of he Syrian people to our attention, but we owe more to the Syrian's themselves.

In the same location as the International edition story on Kenyan teens was this video about shoes. Yeah, shoes.

So let's review:

CNN International
Argentinian train crash
The Occupy movement
Somali terrorists

Political moves over taxes
The GOP primary race
A more sensationalized Syria

I may be making a mountain out of a mole hill here, but the default version of CNN for U.S. users is, obviously, the U.S. version. So the default news many Americans get includes U.S. politics instead of fatal train crashes, the GOP debates instead of global movements against capitalism and greed... and shoes instead of terrorists. Am I alone in thinking CNN needs to adjust its domestic priorities a little bit? At least give us the chance to choose the entertainment and consumer stories over international news. Let us decide to be arrogant and read about the Republican race rather than the death of thousands of innocent Syrians. Don't make the choice for us.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

70 Years Later

This past Sunday marked the 70th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which authorized the forced internment of Japanese American citizens living on the Pacific coast of the U.S.A. This often-ignored part of our country's history speaks volumes about how racism and xenophobia have been commonplace within the U.S. government, and frankly the country seems to have not really changed all that much in this regard in the past 70 years. Although the federal government formally apologized more than forty years after the fact, admitting that the order was based on "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership," the reparations offered did little to remedy the fractured lives of the citizens when they needed it most. It also did nothing to really address how the government has systematically attacked racial and ethnic groups for sometimes awful, more often irrelevant reasons as a solution to a perceived problem (I.E. the Chinese Exclusion Act, forced Native American removal, Jim Crow laws, to name a few).

In the present day, the new group being targeted is people of Latino heritage as part of the hysteria over "illegal aliens." From laws like Arizona SB 1070 which requires police officers to attempt to determine if someone is an undocumented immigrant based on what essentially amounts to racial profiling, to presidential candidates saying they would build an electrified border fence to keep out immigrants and receiving thunderous applause in response, it is clear that Latinos are the new scapegoat for government policies and a target for people to project and vent their problems onto rather than addressing the root causes of the issues the United States is facing today.

The U.S.A. has often created an "Us vs. Them" mentality that allows for the passage of laws that are racially biased and negatively impact large portions of the population. Although that phenomenon is not unique to the United States, for a country that calls itself the land of the free to continue to have such policies is unacceptable and a betrayal of its core principles, and it shows we have not yet learned very basic lessons from the past.

We can be better than this.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Military women should expect to be RAPED!

Fox News commentator Liz Trotta say that women in the military are complaining that they have been “raped too much.” Women in the military have campaigned for the chance to serve in the front lines among men in the military for quite a while. The Pentagon’s new rules mostly catch up to the realities of the battlefield while keeping the ban on women serving in combat in place. Advocates for women in the military had hoped for more. Trotta's angry comments arose in response to this plan of changing rules.

Women in the military are requesting safety in the force and for the opportunity to be protected as they are protecting their country. Trotta states in her argument that we as a country should be more worried about protecting the country than protecting the women fighting. What an infringement on women's rights to not be eligible to be protected by the country they serve. It seems that we are good enough to fight for this country but not good enough to be protected from sexual assault. A women's body to Trotta must be more useful as an offering for men in combat than to be respected for their noble actions.

Trotta went on to say that the military is now spending $113 million a year to address sexual assault in the ranks — spending she says is unwarranted because women in the military should “expect” to be raped. The U.S. military has seen a 64 percent increase in violent sexual assaults since 2006. "I can’t imagine another employer, government or private, who would tell female employees they should not expect the same safety protections and civil treatment as male employees," says the members of the San Fransisco Editorial Board. It is a high costs which many can agree with but it is not the women asking to be sexually assaulted. There may also be men who are being sexually assaulted but because it is not socially acceptable to state such an issue it seems as all the money is being used for women alone. This is not an excuse to state that they should expect or are asking for rape when dedicating their lives to combat. I am flabbergast by this concept she believes in and it is truly sad to see another woman state such toxic statements about other women.

Watch the video for yourself and listen to the absurdity of this women who is degrading military women.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Child Fed Up with the N Word

Last year in February 11 year old McCoy came up with the idea, when at a loss for words, to write about the n word for a an oratorical competition at his church, and he won first place. This moving speech has gained national focus for his desire to abolish one of the most controversial racial slurs in America. This controversial term is debated by those who claim to be taking it back by saying this term to their friends or by those who just find it racist and distasteful. This young boy announced that the word was never a term of endearment or something capable of being reclaimed. It was a term to claim black people economically, politically and socially disenfranchised. Why as a people, whether you are colored or not, would we describe or refer to each other in such a word? It is not cool, hip, or reclaiming; rather, it is historically discriminatory and hindering to the growth of diversity.

We need to stand not only within the African-American community but as well as a nation in general to not let this odious term surpass and continue to cage us.

You can also see Jonathan McCoy on CBS news interviewed by Byron Pitts reports from Atlanta referring to his reasoning to creating this speech and why he has used it as a fuel to send a message nationwide. Click here to watch the video!

If you are AGAINST the N word SIGN THE PETITION here.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Thoughts on Chris Brown *Trigger Warning*

As a big music fan, I have been very disturbed by the recent response to Chris Brown. His recent appearance at the Grammy Awards has been met with a mixed response that really downplays and at times outright disregards the severity of his physical abuse towards Rihanna. Brown himself has done nothing to demonstrate that he has any remorse or has learned anything about why what he did was so wrong, and the fact that people are so willing to forget or brush off his history of rage and violence shakes me to my core. Even when, three years ago, clear documentation of his violence towards Rihanna (Which was released without her consent, another issue in this case) was released and STILL people were not quick to condemn him. I suppose that given the refusal to hold him accountable after it happened I shouldn't be surprised how quickly people have put his abuse behind them, but the response he has gotten has been alarming to say the least.

For example, take a look at this list of Twitter updates about Chris Brown; how people can think that what he did was not only acceptable at the time but that the possibility of it happening again is not a big deal is absolutely stunning to me.

As if the fan response was not bad enough, an executive producer for the Grammy Awards said, "I think people deserve a second chance, you know. If you’ll note, he has not been on the Grammys for the past few years and it may have taken us a while to kind of get over the fact that we were the victim of what happened." YOU were the victim of what happened? Not the woman who got violently assaulted by her intimate partner? Outrageous.

People have done awful things like blame Rihanna for provoking Chris Brown into assaulting her or the aforementioned forgiveness for a man who has demonstrated how little he has learned by refusing to acknowledge what he has done as a serious crime (Including a violent outburst when the topic was brought up). He has allegedly even begun joking about the abuse as a pick-up line, which again shows how little he thinks of what he did.

I am so deeply saddened by the fan response to Chris Brown and upset with the way the music industry has been so willing to welcome Brown back into the fold with no repercussions for his actions. Everyone deserves a second chance, but Chris Brown has obviously not learned from his mistakes and clearly thinks he has not done anything wrong. I can only hope that people learn to hold abusers accountable for their actions not just in this case but in all cases, because until we all do so we will be doing a huge disservice to survivors of interpersonal violence.

Healthy Love Week: Consent

Tonight's event (the last event of Ramapo's first ever Healthy Love Week!) is all about communication, so I figured our Healthy Love FAQ of the day should be about the same...

What is consent, really?

Consent is simply an affirmation from anyone involved in a sexual encounter, that they want to be involved in everything that is happening/will be happening. In order for this to really mean something they can't be in a chemically-altered state (because alcohol/drugs can alter one's behavior and even leave them with little to no memory of giving consent in the morning) and they cannot feel pressured to say yes (this has to be THEIR decision.)

A really good analogy that I've heard for consent is that it is like the water in a pool: you need it to be there when you dive in, of course, but you also need it to be there for the whole time that you are swimming. If someone starts feeling uncomfortable and withdraws their consent in the middle of an encounter, that encounter has to stop right away (just as you'd stop swimming if the water was suddenly gone!) This might sound like a buzzkill, but consent is important because it is what allows you to be sure that you are not taking the risk of hurting your partner(s).

How do I get consent without ruining the mood?

When you think of consent as an enthusiastic affirmative (silence is not enough to gage consent!) then, suddenly, it becomes pretty awesome. Don't you want to have sex with someone who is telling you YES, I want that and YES, I want you?

What would feel best for you?
Tell me what you want me to do for you...
How about I do x to your y right now...

These are just a few examples of sexy ways to ask for consent! The bonus of all this is that it gets you talking to your partner(s) about sex which will allow you to discover new things about each-other (like what you like and what you don't like) that will make your sex even better!
Check out the Consent is Sexy Campaign for more information & ideas about consent!
The Yes Means Yes Blog is also a great resource for this topic. 

Also, please consider coming to Post Secret: Sex & Relationships TONIGHT in the Alumni Lounges at 9:30pm. We have sleepover-style snacks (like YooHoo!) and we will be building a blanket fort to hang out in while we submit anonymous secrets and questions to talk about. Join us for this cozy & safe conversation about relationships and sex!  

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Most Preposterous Thing...

Allow me to tell you a short story. In 1994, Congress and America in general decided it was no longer cool to stand idly by while victims of domestic abuse and other violent crimes were silenced (because really, that never has and never will be cool). They passed the Violence Against Women Act, which provided money to support the investigations of violent crimes, ensured mandatory restitution on those convicted, and basically filled in a lot of the holes that had previously made conviction and sentencing difficult. This Act was simply so AWESOME that it has been reauthorized wholeheartedly every year since 1994. Now for the dramatic twist...Chuck Grassley, along with EVERY other Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, voted against the reauthorization of the Act this year. They are not opposed to the VAWA as a whole, but certain provisions that protect minority groups. Over the years, the Violence Against Women Act has been amended to protect a wider range of victims, including folks of the LGBTQ community and more. It also now allows undocumented immigrants who have been victims of violence to have greater access to visas. Grassley and his supporters would abolish the provision that bans discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation, the provision that protects undocumented immigrants, as well as the provision that allows Native American tribes to prosecute violent crimes.

Regardless of an individuals status in any one of these respects, violent crimes are inexcusable. All people deserve to be treated with compassion, not scorn, in these situations. These Senators are using this Act to attack the rights of marginalized groups in new ways. Perhaps they believe their actions will go unnoticed, or perhaps they would simply like to strip minorities of rights on all fronts. Either way, the possibility of losing an Act of protection because some Senators refuse to acknowledge that ALL people have equal rights is absurd.

I'd like to note that women are not the only victims of violent crimes. Anyone can be a victim, and all people deserve the same protection.

Healthy Love Week: The Perfect Vagina

In honor of tonight's Healthy Love Week event, Emily's Erotic Craft & Conversation Hour, I wanted to share a multimedia answer to a question that we received at a recent Healthy Love Party:

Can you talk about vaginas, and how they all look different but that's okay?

This question made me smile, because just last semester we'd been looking at pictures of vaginoplasty in my Love & Sexuality class and it was been quite disheartening to hear so many of my classmates insisting that the "after" pictures just objectively looked better. They didn't. At least, not in my opinion, and I was so happy to know that someone else shared my belief.

The pictured parts looked fine before and, yes, they looked fine after too... but what was the point? I don't know, maybe I'm just being too sensitive, but something about that area is just so personal & intimate that it makes me shiver to think of inviting a plastic surgeon to cut it up and sew it into the shape that society has deemed appealing.

Anyways, there is a lot to say about this topic, but rather than saying it myself I want to share with you all this awesome (FREE!) documentary that looks into the issue:

The perfect vagina from heather leach on Vimeo.

Also, fun fact... did you know that the area on the outside that you see (and sometimes get cut up for the sake of beauty) is called the vulva? The vagina is the internal canal that leads up to the cervix!

If you want to eat some delicious food, make a vulva or penis pin, hang out with some cool people, and  talk about the documentary (or any of the lovely topics that Emily has been looking up!) then check out Emily's Erotic Crafting and Conversation Hour TONIGHT in the Women's Center (C220) at 9:00pm. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Give Your Valentine the Gift of Safe Sex!

For today's Healthy Love Week FAQ we're going to talk about protection from Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) because nothing is more romantic on Valentines Day (or Palentines Day!) than protecting your partner(s) and/or friends from contracting an STI!

So, what is the best way to prevent getting an STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection)?

Barrier methods (like condoms and dental dams)! While the birth control pill, IUDs, Nuvaring, etc. are all great for pregnancy prevention - they do NOT work to prevent STIs... the only option for that, really, is some sort of barrier. Luckily for us all there's a wide range of options to choose from!

External Condoms (Often referred to as "male condoms" despite the fact that they can be used on both penises & sex toys) are what people most commonly think of when they think about safer sex. At the Women's Center we sell a variety of external condoms for just 10¢! We have ribbed, pleasure tipped (bulbed at the top to create friction), snugger fit (which does NOT mean smaller, its just a different cut... like a skinny jean vs. a boot cut jean),  assorted colors, and extra large (a bit wider in the band!) We also have latex free condoms for people with allergies!

Some people don't like external condoms, because they feel that they ruin the sensation/mood. If you're one of those people, ask yourself a few questions:

1) Is the condom too tight? Maybe you need to try an XL condom.

2) Have you put lube on the inside of the condom? Seriously, if you haven't... do it. A drop or two on the inside of the condom reduces friction on the penis and makes it feel less like something is there.

3) Are you using enough lube on the OUTSIDE of the condom? Many times condoms will break because things are not lubricated enough and, as a result, too much friction is being created. If you are facing constant breakage (or it just isn't comfortable) think about your lube situation! (We sell lube for 10¢ in the Women's center too!)

Internal Condoms (which are sometimes called female condoms) can be used for both vaginal or anal sex.

Internal condoms are cool because they give female bodied people more control over STI protection for them and their partner(s), they can be inserted a little while before things heat up (as opposed to external condoms, which require an erection to put on), and it is made of nitrile, which can be used with both water based and oil based lubricants (external condoms and oil based lube do NOT mix!)

Here's how you put one in:

Here's some more information about the internal condom & an article about its usage for anal sex!

If you want to try a female condom stop by the Women's center and let us know, we can order some for you & answer any questions you may have. 

Finally, dental dams are great for protection if you're performing or receiving oral sex on a vagina or an anus (if you're giving oral sex to a penis, just use an external condom... we even have fun flavors, just for oral!) (Seriously, JUST for oral... never stick a flavored condom in a vagina or an anus... you could wind up with a yeast infection!)

Dental Dams are thin, sometimes flavored, sheets of latex that separate the mouth from the orifice to prevent contact with potential STIs on either end. Some of them come with sticky material on the sides to hold them in place and some (like the ones we have here for 25¢) require you to hold them on your face (like a ninja!) or hold them in place over the orifice.

Some people prefer to use saran wrap (the non-microwavable kind or else its going to have tiny purpose-defeating pores that will let STIs float right though). Saran Wrap is a great option because you can choose whatever size you want, it is easy to stick in place, you can add things to flavor the side that the person giving the oral is using, and you can see what you're doing because saran wrap is CLEAR! Plus, the convenience factor: you likely already have some in your kitchen!

For more fun information about safer sex, and to learn about/win some awesome sex toys, check out the VALENTINES HEALTHY LOVE PARTY, happening TONIGHT in the Laure Hall 1st Floor Lounge at 9:30pm! Join us to learn how to properly put on an external condom, get your (anonymous) sex questions answered, play sex catchphrase, and MORE!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Not your average holiday...

So I’ve been thinking about Valentine’s Day a lot. Now, before you stop reading, I’m not talking about it in a “Woe is me. I’m a lonely, single lady… whatever will I do on February 14th” kind of way. I think there is something great about a day where you take a break and show the people you love most in the world how much you really care because, as we all know, doing it year round would be EXHAUSTING. Joking aside, I think that a day about love is something great for this world.

What I don’t agree with is the idea that the love that is celebrated on this day has to be in the context of a monogamous relationship. As the 14th grows closer, I hear more and more grumbles around campus from my single peers who might not have someone to go out with on Valentine’s Day. I just want to say to all of them, and you, that that is totally okay! This Valentine’s Day, I do have a date- a date with some of my closest friends here at school.

I got this idea while watching an episode of Parks and Recreation (If you don’t watch it, START). In the show, Leslie Knope creates a holiday called Galentine’s Day. It’s a holiday on February 13th where you celebrate all of your girlfriends. I was watching this, and I thought, “Hey. That’s kind of great.” I know it was supposed to be a cheesy joke, but it was actually kind of a cute idea. To make a long story short, I decided to tweak their idea to make it a little more inclusive.

That’s when I thought of Palentine’s Day: a holiday that you spend with your pals, and you remind all the people in your life that you love them. Maybe you already have plans with a significant other or someone new on Valentine’s Day, but if your February 14th happens to be open, you can join us in starting Palentine’s Day.

We had a lot of fun here at the WC making up rhymes and photo shopping Palentine’s Day cards. Feel free to print out some of our cards and make your own to remind your friends just how much you care about them!

Healthy Love Week: The Purity Myth

Today marks the kickoff of the Women's Center's first ever Healthy Love Week! Tonight we will be hosting a screening & discussion of the Purity Myth, a documentary based on the book by Jessica Valenti. The event will take place in J.Lees... snacks will be out by 9pm and the film will start at 9:30pm!

Check out the documentary preview:

Going along with the Purity Myth, we decided to share with you some Healthy Love Q&A Questions that relate to virginity!

Is there any sure-fire way to tell that someone has lost their virgnity?

In short: no. Most people know that there is no physical marker that can show you if a male bodied person (someone with a penis) has "lost" their virginity... nothing changes on the penis after it has been inserted into a vagina (or an anus, or a mouth, etc.)

What most people don't know, however, is that they hymen (the membrane that stretches and partially covers the vaginal opening on some female-bodied people) cannot be used to measure female-bodied people's virginity either. Some women are born with hymens that do not cover the vaginal opening at all, meaning that it does not stretch or tear when they first have vaginal intercourse. This stretching or tearing is sometimes referred to as having your "cherry popped" since, if it does happen, blood can be present.

However, a blood-less first time is not a surefire indicator that someone has already "lost" their virginity. The hymen can stretch without tearing and bleeding, it can stretch during other activities (like bike riding or gymnastics), it could be so small that it doesn't need to stretch at all... the possibilities are endless.

So wait, you mean virginity isn't real?

Yep, that is exactly what I am saying! Well, kind of. Virginity is a social construction which means that it is real but only because we collectively come together to make it real. If that doesn't completely make sense, just think about money: there is nothing that physically makes a $100 bill more valuable than a $1 bill. The ink is the same, the paper is the same, etc. Yet a $100 bill is 100 times more valuable than a $1 bill because we all collectively buy into that fact.

Virginity works the same way: we decide that penile-vaginal intercourse (which is what we usually mean when we say "losing your virginity") is the be all and end all of sexual activities, and that the first time a person engages in that activity they lose their virginity/purity and they are changed forever on.  This is not a physical or biological rule, it is a social rule that we have collectively agreed upon and can decide to change at any point if enough people agree on a new construction!

Check out this article on Scarleteen for some more information!

Do you like the current construction? Do you think we need a new one? Feel free to discuss in the comments or head on over to the Purity Myth Screening & Discussion tonight in J.Lees (movie starts at 9:30pm!)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Standing up for what you Believe in

This is a video of 19 year old Zach Wahls, a University of Iowa student speaking at a public forum in the Iowa House of Representatives about gay marriage. Wahls came to oppose legislation that would ban civil unions in the state of Iowa, and he did an awesome job to say the least. Take a look:

I have so much respect for Wahls because I know that it had to have taken a lot of courage to stand up in front of the whole Iowa House of Representatives. For such a young person he has a lot of wisdom that I think we can all learn something from him.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Gay Marriage in Washington

Washington state legislators voted Wednesday to approve a bill that would allow gay marriage after it was approved by the state senate last week. Now, the bill must be signed into law by the governor (who is expected to do so), making Washington the seventh state to allow gay marriage.

Currently, our home state of New Jersey has bills in process that are aimed at legalizing gay marriage, but given that we have a governor who has pledged to veto any sort of marriage equality bill we have a lot more fighting to do. One NJ senator has introduced a bill that would decide the issue simply by a ballot decision rather than through a bill, but this is not necessarily good for NJ because it would establish an amendment to the state Constitution banning gay marriage if the majority voted as such. This is problematic because people's basic rights should not be decided upon by votes; they should have these rights the same as anyone else. Newark mayor Cory Booker sums it up better than I can, though:

Hopefully one day very soon we as a state and as a country can wake up and realize that no one deserves to be discriminated against based on sexual orientation.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Project Unbreakable - Trigger Warning

"In October of last year, Grace Brown began a photography project called Project Unbreakable. Grace uses photography to help heal sexual abuse survivors by photographing them with posters that hold quotes from their attackers. Rape survivor and advocate for victims of sexual abuse, Yvonne Moss, describes the project as a way for victims to take the power back of the words that were once used against them."

This is the description for the Project Unbreakable Tumblr. Brown's incredible mission is just that, incredible, and her dedication is inspiring. In response to one reader's comment to "Never, ever, stop" Brown replied:

"This fills my heart with so much gratitude. I don’t plan on stopping. It would take an army of millions to even make me think about stopping."

There are scores of difficult-to-read but wonderful submissions from women and men, and each page of submissions is interspersed with comments and questions from readers. I think this one is my favorite:

"Anonymous asked: Hi. I am 16 years old and male and I want to share this with someone. I have had desires towards my half sister who is 4 years old, and I hate myself for it. I am able to maintain common sense, empathy, and logic, and I would NEVER follow through with what I sometimes feel. I wanted to share this because it's not something I can say to anyone that I know personally. It sickens me that someone might think it's something that can't be controlled. I am so thankful that I can control it. Thanks."

I read this three or four times before I processed it fully. This young man is trying to understand himself and better himself, to keep his sister safe and (thought maybe not consciously) rebuke the notion that we are ruled by our bodies and our sexual desires. I can't claim to understand his experience, but I applaud him for seeking help. Men are not born to be abusers. Neither are women. Women are not born to be victims. Neither are men - at the hands of other people or our own minds.

We can all move past victim blaming, past harmful gendered assumptions, past a society that silently condones violent, non-consensual sexual acts. We can do it together. We can do it by supporting the efforts of Project Unbreakable and activists like Grace Brown.

Here's the video that clued me in to this wonderful movement:

Also, if you're so inclined, check out the shiny Donate button the Project Unbreakable site and help fund Brown's travels so she can photograph more survivors and add to this brilliant visual display of strength and resilience.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Prop 8 Ruled Unconstitutional!

Today, by a slim margin of 2-1, a federal court in California ruled Prop 8, a ban on same-sex marriage in that state, as unconstitutional. This is just the first step, as the case will now have to move on to the Supreme Court. However, I see it as one giant step in the right direction.

Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote, "Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples."

Unfortunately, same-sex couples are still unable to marry despite the ruling. Stay posted as the case travels all the way to the Supreme Court!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Happy Post-Superbowl-Sweat-Pants Day!

After a full day of gorging myself on fried delicacies, screaming at athletes who can in no way hear what I’m saying, and watching adorable puppies play with a toy football, it might be time to talk about what was really important last night: The commercials. It was once again made abundantly clear how the people in charge of advertising think their viewers value women. Yes, I get it. They are catering for a certain demographic, and that demographic is pretty much anyone of the male persuasion. However, isn’t it time to also cater to men who, I don’t know, value women beyond their body? Also, as a woman who watched the game, it would be nice to see a commercial that doesn’t make me feel invaluable because of my size and my not-being-a-supermodel-ness.

Nevertheless, it was just commercial after commercial of sexualized women talking about domain names (Yes, I’m talking about you Go Daddy!) or telling men that they’d exchange sex for flowers. M&Ms went a slightly different route by replacing a scantily clad supermodel with naked M&Ms… it was still weird, but at least that one was funny.

I’ll leave you with a video of what might be my favorite commercial of the night. After all, when you objectify women, it’s quite easy to confuse them for a car:

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Feminist Ryan Gosling

So I found this awesome blog called 'Feminist Ryan Gosling' today and I think I'm in love. A college student came up with the idea to put all of the feminist theory she was learning in her college women's studies course onto flashcards. To make studying the flashcards easier and more enjoyable, she put different pictures of Ryan Gosling on them! Sounds like a great study tool, right?! One thing led to another, and now there is a whole blog with feminist theory quotes alongside the beautiful Mr. Gosling. So without further ado, click here to check out some of the masterpieces!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Feminism For The Cure!

To whomever hacked the Susan G. Komen website and posted this hilariously truthful banner,
Thank you.

Hackers changed the ad promoting the Komen Marathon to ask donors to help them "run over poor women on [their] way to the bank" this morning. This is just one current example of online feminism, and I love it.

Pro-Choice Theatre at Ramapo!

Next Tuesday, The Women's Center is working with Professor Mandy Restivo to bring the play Words of Choice to Ramapo! Words of Choice is a play that depicts twelve short scenarios of individuals, couples, and families facing the decision of whether or not an abortion is an appropriate or available option to them. Some stories are empowering; others are heartbreaking. All are very realistic depictions of struggles that occur in the lives of hundreds every day. Tickets are free at Roadrunner Central! Come out and see this performance!

This play, in my opinion, perfectly embodies the purpose of the arts in social justice. It takes the creative energies of a few people and uses them to channel the anger that many activists feel into a work of art more palatable to the public. A play about reproductive justice, if well publicized, could have just as much of an impact as a rally would. In fact, I would say artistic means of protest and activism are more well-recieved in general. If a person feels passionately about issues of social justice and possesses some level of creativity, I believe artistic forms of outreach can raise awareness and rally folks to the cause.

A few recent developments on the topic of reproductive justice include the withdrawal of sponsorship from Planned Parenthood by the Susan G. Komen foundation. Despite the other services offered by Planned Parenthood, all funds were withdrawn because one of the recently appointed board members identifies as pro-life and does not support access to abortion. Read more about this event in the blog Lexi posted yesterday!

The national initiative, Repeal Hyde Art Project, will introduce the first Day of Action on February 10. This encourages college students and other groups dedicated to social justice to color birds (the original art idea) and display them in an art installation in public. Photographs of the installations will be sent to representatives to encourage them to cease reinstating the Hyde Amendment annually. Learn more about the initiative at the Repeal Hyde Art Project website.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

"Don't Take Away My Cancer Sceenings"

In this race for the presidency, women’s rights, especially reproductive rights, seem to have become the hot button issue. Week after week, in every debate, candidates are discussing birth control, abortion, and ultimately, morality (because there seems to be some belief that these are all related) as an easy way to prove that they are more conservative than the other candidate.

As a female-bodied person, I find this not only stifling but also infuriating that anyone feels like they have some say over my own reproductive rights.

The newest snafu isn’t directly connected to the presidential race, but I can’t help but think that the political climate regarding women’s health has something to do with it. The Susan G. Komen foundation, the nation’s leading breast cancer charity, announced that it would be cutting ties with the organization Planned Parenthood because of their opposing opinions of abortion. This means that because PP refuses to stop helping women who want abortions, they will lose a huge amount of money in grants that would go towards health care, especially breast screenings.

By pitting two of the biggest women’s health organizations against each other, a gross amount of underprivileged women will suffer from this lack of funding and access to much needed health care. I guess in this race, the Republican candidates aren’t really concerned with poor women’s votes. Personally, I think it’s time to remind them that women, especially middle and working class, are in fact the majority in this country. Our rights and voices matter, and its time they finally recognize this instead of abusing it.

We've Got A Long Way to Go *Trigger Warning*

This past week, threatening messages directed at the queer community were found at Montclair State University. While not outright directed at specific individuals, messages stating that gay students would die on February 7th were found in a bathroom and in a note left at the campus LGBT center. MSU president Susan Cole stated in an email to the campus, "These actions are grossly unacceptable in our community and a clear violation of university policies, as well as the basic tenets of human decency."

It is sad that in this day and age we still have people who are targeting LGBT members within their community, especially on a college campus where people are supposed to learn to challenge and expand their world views, not propagate hateful ignorance. As if this was not enough, reading the comments left by readers on the local news site I read this on disturbed me. Readers posted such things as:

"LBGT center......really, they need all of that? Sounds like a tough place to be a straight guy.....yuck."

"Oh my god someone offended the gay community everybody watch out."

"Whoever did this is guilty of vandalism for writing on the wall, that's it. There's no hate/bias crime here. The freedom of speech applies to all not just oversensitive gays. Why doesn't Montclair State have a Heterosexual Center, I mean they have a LGBT center? Sounds like the university is discriminating against heterosexuals."

"Do we have a 'normal center'?"

"Hey, if they die, than they die.. who cares really."

These are just a few of the many comments left that leave me astounded at the sheer number of people who are so wrapped up in hatred and ignorance that they would take the time to actively condemn members of the queer community who have had to deal with death threats at their university, a place that is supposed to be their home. The Ramapo College Women's Center's thoughts are with MSU, and we hope that the students there can find peace and security in the face of these hateful messages. We've got a long way to go, but we will get there together.

For anyone at Ramapo College who has been particularly affected by this incident, our confidential queer support group meets Mondays at 9:30pm in the Women's Center, and our staff is always available for peer listening should it be needed.