Speaking of Women's Rights: 07/10

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Women In The Mix:
Paving the road to music production for the next generation of girls.

For most intents and purposes, I didn’t notice my minority status at Berklee College of Music. Mostly I was in an environment with people who were just like me: obsessed with anything having to do with music. Back in 2002, Berklee’s overall student body was 80% male. It wasn’t as noticeable in vocal labs, since the majority of voice majors were women. But I vividly recall sitting in the back of music theory classes while the boys sat up front, shouting out the answers.

The area with the greatest gender imbalance at Berklee has always been the prestigious Music, Production, and Engineering department. Spots in this program are coveted and only obtained by about 2% of the student body. Of the 100 students graduating with a Berklee degree in MP&E this past May, can you guess how many were women? A whopping three. You might be surprised to learn that this percentage is just slightly below the national average of women in the audio engineering profession (roughly 5%).

Though the ratio of women to men is improving in Berklee’s general student body – women made up 29% of the 2009-2010 school population – the degree with arguably the best chance of landing you a job after graduation (or one outside of the college’s admissions department anyway) - is predominantly bestowed upon men.

Considering this, you can imagine how heartening it was to read about the opportunity young girls are being afforded this week through a day camp called Girls Rock! Seattle. Throughout the week girls ages 8-16 will be forming bands, learning to play instruments, and putting on a finale show together (at Nuemos this coming Saturday). But beyond that, these girls are learning more in-depth information about the music industry. “It’s all about girls becoming familiar with what goes on behind the scenes. You go to a show and see the performance, but then you can go to camp and see how the house sound is run, how to sound check […] you learn how important all that is to running a concert,” says local musician and Girls Rock! Seattle instructor Anomie Belle. Belle teaches a course called “Audio Recording and Electronic Music Production,” at the camp, and is hoping to help girls “take electronic music in their own hands…”

Also encouraging is NPR’s new series “Hey Ladies: Being A Woman Musician Today,” which began with a questionnaire that was sent to over 700 female musicians “ranging from American Idol contestants to klezmer drummers to metal songwriters to opera divas.” The responses have been used to craft radio pieces that began airing recently on the common struggles that women face in the music industry.

More inspiring still is the fact that I could write all day about the myriad projects that have been created with the goal of increasing female participation in music fields usually dominated by men. Listservs for women in the music industry, indie music conferences, and programs like Women’s Audio Mission - a San Francisco-based organization that provides training in the recording arts and audio technology, as well as female mentors for young girls interested in the field - are all striving to create more opportunities for women.

Will all of these programs make a difference? Might the tech-savvy Millennials be the generation to break the music industry gender boundaries? Will new studies that tell girls they’re not inferior in the STEM fields after all be the key bit of info that pushes a greater number of women into the more tech-heavy music professions? We can only hope.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

If that’s shrill, I want to be shrill.

by guest blogger Lindsey Siegel

A friend and I joke about shrill feminist attorneys and how we aspire to be like them. The line comes from a Simpsons episode where famed feminist attorney Gloria Allred shows up at the family’s Thanksgiving. Best known for representing Amber Frey, a witness in the Scott Peterson case, Nicole Brown Simpson’s family in the OJ Simpson murder trial, and most recently Rachel Uchitel, Tiger Woods’s mistress, Gloria has been making waves in the news and advancing women’s rights for decades. In one of her most famous lines, she called the exclusion of an 11-year old girl from the boy scouts “gender apartheid.”

Gloria’s latest appearance came last week when she was interviewed for bigthink.com. In the interview, she explained her philosophy on feminism: “if you are not a feminist, then you’re a bigot.”

I was not too surprised when I started reading the comments to her interview and I saw lines such as “Women have ruined [an] entire generation of fatherless children.” I expect to hear an outcry from those men who’d prefer that women remain second-class citizens—who feel threatened by the power of shrill (read: strong) women. Without meaning to, those men illustrate precisely the point that Gloria is making.

What always gets to me, though, is how many women on these forums seem to be opposed to fighting for equality and who would rather settle for the status quo or even worse, criticize women who are fighting for our rights. My question is: what are these women afraid of? My best guess is that they don’t want to be seen by men as stepping out of line. They’d rather believe the rhetoric, disseminated by such women as Christina Hoff Sommers, that feminism is akin to male-bashing. They’d rather be on the side of those with the power than with the ones fighting for equality.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for the successes of women who’ve come before me—we all owe them great homage. But, like Gloria, I’m not ready to simply accept how far we’ve come and let that be the end of the story. I’d rather keep fighting for women’s legal rights and see where we can get.

Lindsey Siegel is an intern at Legal Voice and a law student at the Washington College of Law.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Did you know…

by guest blogger Katherine McMahon

Did you know that just a few months ago ABC and Fox refused to show a commercial unless it was censored because they found it gross? Ashley Graham, a plus sized model, was featured in a Lane Bryant lingerie ad. Lane Bryant purchased a time slot during a Dancing With The Stars episode, but it did not air. As part of an assignment for school, I conducted an interview with Ashley, and when I asked her how she felt when she discovered her commercial had been banned she said, “I immediately heard it was because there was too much cleavage and skin. But then that would be a HUGE double standard, considering all the Victoria’s Secret commercials and skin we see all over the television! So therefore, I assumed they (FOX and ABC) were prejudice against a fuller figured woman. But at the end of the day it didn't hurt my feelings because I've been dealing with people who are like this all through school."

I asked Ashley a few more questions;“What goals do you have as a plus sized model?” and in return she offered, “To get people to stop calling us plus size. In the modeling industry we are all models. So why do I have to be labeled as a 'plus size' when I'm not even plus? The skinnier models aren't called skin and bone size.” I think she’s right. Why are people labeled skinny or over weight or plus sized? We are all the same on the inside, and that’s what matters most.

Take a look at the Lane Bryant video...

Now view the latest Victoria's Secret Nakeds commercial. See the similarities?

Now tell me, what does the Lane Bryant commercial show that the Victoria’s Secret commercial does not? That’s what I want you to think about. There is no difference – and the Victoria’s Secret commercial has enjoyed a successful TV run.

I wonder if any of you saw the Glee episode where Mercedes, a high school student, was asked to lose 10 pounds to make the cheer squad. One thing that really stood out for me was a scene from the end of the storyline when Mercedes asked her classmates. “how many of you at this school feel fat, how many of you feel like maybe you’re not worth very much or you’re ugly or you have too many pimples and not enough friends?” Why did people raise their hands? Maybe because they feel inadequate. Maybe because media portrays women who are in their 20s and 30s as 14-year-olds,, my age! Or maybe because the average ‘Super Model’ weighs 108-125 lbs, my size! When I see those models on the television or in magazines or catalogs I think they are very pretty but I wonder if they are healthy. The clothes make them look glamorous but underneath they must be skin over bones. I wonder if they feel inadequate too.

Ashley Graham lives and works in New York City and will be getting married in August 2010.

Katherine McMahon is an incoming eighth grader at Seattle Girls’ School. When she is not blogging, she is dancing.


1. Personal communication with Ashley Graham, May 5, 2010

2. Ashley Graham | Model for Lane Bryant nearly banned by TV

3. SoYouWanna be a model?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Counteracting Hate
One Exhibit, One Project, One Postcard at a time.

I nearly lost it yesterday when I came across an article in the New York Times about a list of supposed illegal immigrantsthat had landed in the hands of law enforcement and media outlets all over the state of Utah. The list caused widespread panic among the Hispanic community and a wave of outrage across the country. An accompanying letter – sent by something called the “Concerned Citizens of the United States” called for deportation of the individuals on the list as well as the publication of their names in the media. It’s hard to say exactly which part of this whole debacle is creepier, the fact that many of the names were accompanied by privileged medical information, or the quote from the end of the letter: “We will be listening and watching.”

Sometimes it seems that the hate in this world is taking over. But then I hear stories about people who are doing really brilliant and beautiful things to counteract all of the hate. Here’s my short list for you: A bunch of people who are not letting the negativity get them down, but instead, using their frustration to fuel efforts to make the world a better place.


Artist Eroyn Franklin recently took on the task of depicting the Northwest Detention Center, located in Tacoma and home to immigrants who are waiting to find out whether or not they’ll be deported. Though Franklin was not allowed to photograph the inside of the center, she spent 6 months after her visit there illustrating what she had seen. The Seattle-based artist’s goal was to "… show people what it looked like, what it felt like inside these places." The exhibit is currently showing at Gallery4Culture in Pioneer Square.


The If Project began while Seattle Police Officer Kim Bogucki was running programs for children whose mothers were incarcerated. Noting that children whose parents are in jail have a 70% change of ending up there themselves, it occurred to her that the inmates may have ideas about how to change things for their kids. So she posed this question: “If there was something someone could have said or done that would have changed the path that led you here, what would it have been?” Since the question was first asked, Bogucki has received more than 240 essays. Though the If Project focuses on finding ways to “break the chain of felonies that have brought them all here, in the hopes of preventing others from doing the same,” it also gives these women a chance to be heard, which is something they don’t often experience. You can hear one woman’s story of how the If Project has touched her life on NPR HERE.


New on the scene, Team Up For Nonprofits views music as the ultimate way to tap into the philanthropic leanings of the Seattle’s younger generation. Its goal is to produce great shows that benefit a particularly deserving local nonprofit organization. Their first endeavor – a show at the newly minted Hard Rock Café featuring Common Market’s Ra Scion, DJ B-Mello, Project Lionheart, and Sol and Dice, benefitting Seattle Against Slavery – was a great success. It makes good sense: awesome shows + money for great causes = everybody wins.


Lambda Legal has tried a more kitschy approach to fighting fear and hatred. After Linda Lingle vetoed Hawaii’s civil unions bill last week, the organization has taken to sending her postcards in Classic-Hawaii-Tourist-Camp style that read “Equality: Wish You Were Here.”

You see now? The world isn’t such a bad place after all. The media will always overwhelm us with tales of injustice. But I like to think that for every ignorant action there is person out there fighting for what’s right.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

8 ways women have benefited from “losing freedom”

During confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, Senator Tom Colburn theorized that Americans are less free than they were 30 years ago.
Have you ever contemplated the idea of what your freedom was like 30 years ago and what it is today? Well, I want to tell you a lot of Americans have, and I certainly have. There's a marked change in this country from when I was 20 and now that I'm 62 […] a lot of Americans are losing confidence because they're losing freedom. They're losing liberty.
Senator Amy Klobuchar’s response later in the hearing was a classic (and very professional) smackdown. In the video after the link, she wonders aloud about the year 1980 -- a moment when the number of women on the Supreme Court and in the Senate Judiciary Committee was precisely zero. How, exactly, were we more free under those circumstances?

In fact, over the three decade “loss of freedom” bemoaned by Senator Colburn, women have experienced a bunch of changes that look suspiciously like gains in freedom.

8 ways women have benefited from “losing freedom”

Sitting on the Supreme Court
Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman named to the US Supreme Court in 1981; Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined her in 1993, and Sonia Sotomayor was confirmed last August.

Going to outer space
In a crushing blow for American liberty, Sally Ride rocketed out of the Earth’s atmosphere in 1982 – the first woman to do so. Just a few months ago, there were four women in space at the same time.

Getting elected more and more frequently in the U.S. …
Since 1980, hundreds of women have been elected to the United States Congress, along with thousands more at the state and local level. These election victories are thanks in part to organizations like EMILY’s list, which is dedicated to getting women elected. During Colburn’s allegedly dark, freedom-losing decades, we’ve seen the first female candidates for Vice President (Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin, notably), as well as the first female U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (Jeane Kirkpatrick in 1981) and the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Senate (Carol Moseley-Braun in 1992).

… and all over the world
Benazir Bhutto became the first woman prime minister of a Muslim nation after winning parliamentary elections in Pakistan in 1988. In Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has been president since the 2005 election – she is the first woman to hold the office. And just a few weeks ago, Julia Gillard became Australia’s first female prime minister.

Winning at pretty much any sport they try
In 1985, Libby Riddles of Teller, Alaska, became the first woman to win the Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race. Australian Kay Cottee was the first woman to sail solo, unassisted and non-stop around the world in 1988. And thanks to Title IX, girls’ participation in high school sports has increased 940% since the early ‘70s.

Continuing to serve in the U.S. military
Women served in combat for the first time in 1990, during the Gulf War, but it wasn’t until a Supreme Court ruling in 1996 that the historically all-male Virginia Military School was required to admit women in order to receive public funding. The tide continued to turn in 1999, when Nancy Mace became became the first woman to graduate from the Citadel.

Getting paid what they’re worth
Though the wage gap persists, victims of pay discrimination are finally starting to get their due. In 2009, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which improves the ability of employees who are paid unfairly to file complaints and seek amends.

Demanding justice when they’re subjected to harassment and violence
In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court found that sexual harassment is a form of illegal job discrimination. And in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act increased funding for services for survivors of rape and domestic violence; it also provided for special police training and increased penalties for sex offenders.

Given the huge improvements in women’s rights over the past thirty years, I have to wonder… what would more freedom look like to Senator Colburn? And how do I help prevent that vision of freedom from becoming a reality?

Photo credit: The unnamed

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Casting Call:
Female Superhero wanted.
Must Kick Ass. Pants Optional.

As Glee’s Kurt Hummel says “every moment of your life is an opportunity for fashion.” I couldn’t agree more. Except, of course, when women are reduced to it, ala Michelle Obama, Elena Kagan, and – oh, I don’t know – every. other. freaking. female. who has risen to prominence in recent history. It seems that no matter what a woman is capable of, her worth still lies in the ability to rock the perfect outfit.

And here we go again…

It seems that our original knightess in shining armor – or bestarred leotard, if you will – is about to undergo a makeover. That’s right, nearly 70-year-old Wonder Woman is no longer hip enough for the new generation. Bloggers all across the web are frowning upon the addition of pants, the size of her bust, and her lack of muscles. Ms magazine seems to be the only publication in favor of the change, pointing out that Halloween has just been made easier for dozens of girls. Phew! Thank goodness.

Must everything surrounding women come down to fashion? Will we ever be able to do anything that upstages the clothing, makeup, or hairstyle that we do it in?

And while everyone is so busy discussing Wonder Woman's wardrobe, what's not being discussed is this: With the leaps and bounds we’ve made in the field of women’s rights, why is there still only one lead female superhero? Sure, you’ve got your Power Puff Girls, and your token X-Men characters (the umbrella of “X-MEN” making my point all the more clear). But where are the leading women among the potpourri of male comic book heros? It seems that though we’ve been chipping away at stereotypes around breadwinning, and in other roles previously monopolized by men, this one is here to stay.

Of further interest is the fact that the creator of Wonder Woman’s new look has said that he wanted her to look “strong, without screaming, ‘I’m a superhero.’” Yes, because no one likes a woman who screams anything too loudly. It’s hard not to see this change as the quieting of a great feminist icon. And really, looking at the pictures side-by-side, that’s what I DO see. But then, maybe I'm falling into the same old trap of judging a woman by her boots and leggings...

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Searching for Answers -- and Equality

It’s fun watching great athletes: Serena Williams smashing a serve on the tennis court; Lauren Jackson driving and scoring on the basketball court; Danielle Lawrie throwing killer pitches, then hitting a home run in the next half inning. And given how concerned we all should be (and increasingly are) about obesity, we ought to be doing everything we can to get more girls and women to emulate these three and so many other fabulous, magnificent athletes. If we could understand how they attain the levels of excellence they do, perhaps we could help more women and girls reach those heights.

So it was a disappointment, if not a surprise, to see an article today that not only noted the differences between how exercise affects men and women, but also how little research and knowledge there is about those differences.

The lack of surprise stems from studies and reports dating back more than ten years noting the paucity of number, type and longevity of scientific and medical studies of women, compared to men. That disparity continues, and not only hampers progress in promoting women’s health, but also can have an injurious effect on women’s health: for example, it took years (decades, really) before the medical establishment fully understood that women experience heart attacks and heart pain differently from men. In that interval, thousands of women were not treated properly, resulting in heart damage, death, decreased longevity, and lesser quality of life.

The justification for the disparity is . . . well, there isn’t one. While researchers in the past claimed ignorance of possible differences, it really has to do with the view that men are the ‘standard’, the model, and that women are just mini-men. Not true, in so many very obvious ways. But even if there is no justification, there are probably multiple explanations in addition to ingrained patriarchy and willful ignorance.

A recent review and summary by the American Association of University Women of eight gender equity in science studies suggests several of the reasons: the persistent stereotyping of women as less apt in science in math, the perception or reality of bias against women in those fields, the possible stigma of entering a ‘masculine’ profession.

In a semi-benign category is the theory that people often are moved to explore issues relevant to their own lives and experiences, and for most of the history of scientific research, the vast majority of researchers have been men. That’s still true to some degree, though it has improved. And it’s great to see groups dedicated to doing and advocating for research on women’s health. These improvements are nice, but not enough, and the progress is impeded, or perhaps even derailed in some circumstances, by that oldie-but-goodie, pay disparity.

They say money makes the world go ‘round. Maybe so, but it certainly establishes a nasty catch-22 when it comes to advancing women’s rights, women’s health and women’s economic equality: we need more women advocates and academics, but those striving for success still get stymied by opposition, bias, and the inability to prosper, so they can’t go forth and do research, make a difference, improve the lives and representation of women, and in turn foster more women leaders.