Occupy Wall Street and Feminism

As the Occupy Wall Street movement continues to gain traction both in New York City and around the country, one question keeps popping up: is this a feminist movement? After all, in its energy, audacity, and sense of limitless possibility, OWS is reminiscent of the feminist movement some forty years ago.

On the Ms. Blog, Daphne Muller argues that OWS is indeed a feminist fight. “I realized that Occupy Wall Street is galvanizing because the ire is feminist, anti-colonialist, anti-racist and anti-patriarchal,” she writes, adding that Code Pink was very visible at the New York protest site that she visited. But while she praises the diversity on display at Liberty Plaza, Muller does acknowledge that men have dominated both intra-movement discussions and mainstream media representation.

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French feminists to “Mademoiselle”: “au revoir!”

French feminists are really on fire these days. Coming off the whirlwind of visibility they generated following the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal and investigation, French feminists are taking on a new issue: the title “Mademoiselle.”

The goal: ban the word from state and corporate paperwork.

Why? French feminist organizations, which have launched full-blown campaigns against the term, argue that it is “sexist and condescending.” Origins of the word range from “silly girl” to implications about a woman’s virginity, and most officially whether or not a woman is married. And although similar English terms are more closely associated with martial status in America, in France “Mademoiselle” is associated with a woman’s age, thus making it a term actually preferred by many women.

Surprisingly there is currently no French equivalent to the term “Ms.”

Feminists in France are taking to the streets to create awareness about the movement in a similar way that American feminists pushed for the acceptance of the term “Ms.” in the 1970s. It took years for the effort to be seen as important even by many feminists, but it eventually became one of the most poignant symbols of the women’s liberation movement. Fair pay acts, widened educational opportunities, abortion access and greater legal protection for women quickly followed.

There are those who criticize feminists for making something like this a priority. Terms like “Mrs.” “Ms.” and “Mr.” are such a regular part of every day life that they almost become invisible and it is hard to see where the impact takes place. However I would argue that it is this pervasiveness and the actual simplicity of the issue itself that makes it so vitally important for women.

Something as closely related to a person’s identity as their name has significant, even if indirect consequences on an entire society. Requiring a woman to choose between two terms forces her to be instantly recognized by others by her relationship to a man instead of a whole and complete individual in her own right.

Bravo to French feminists for taking this issue on and I send you all the well wishes in the world. And a friendly reminder to my American feminist peers: always insist on being referred to as “Ms.” Be bold, go as far as to correct those who use it. By doing so you are taking an important stand about how women should be viewed and treated.

Pro-choice News Roundup

Push for ‘Personhood’ Amendment Represents New Tack in Abortion Fight. New York Times.

Do U.S. Abortion Restrictions Violate Human Rights? Huffington Post.

Romney chastised woman for getting life-changing abortion. Feministing.

New York’s Comprehensive Sex-Ed Mandate: The Radical Notion our Kids Might Learn Facts. RH Reality Check.

Mississippi Politicians Seek to Amend Women’s Rights

Sometimes when I’m having a stressful day at work, I’ll spend five (or fifteen) minutes looking at pictures of adorable dogs on The Daily Puppy or Cute Overload. If I happen to be working at home on a particularly stressful day, I go one better and spend an inordinate amount of time staring at, playing with, and generally annoying my perpetually sleepy and rumpled Shih Tzu. But look at that picture – can you really blame me?

After reading about Mississippi’s proposed Amendment 26, which would define a fertilized egg as a legal person, I had to wonder if that state’s legislators were taking a similar routine a bit too far. After all, babies are cute, and staring at pictures of babies is a fun distraction from a crappy economy, so why not just talk about babies and hypothetical babies all the time instead of actually working to improve our country’s myriad problems, pretty much none of which have anything to do with private decisions about pregnancy? [Read more...]

“Let Women Die Act” Advances to Senate

Last week, Sarah wrote about the passage of the “Protect Life Act” in the House– or the “Let Women Die Act,” as it’s known among pro-woman advocates.  Sadly, I don’t think any of us were surprised by this news; the House has proven time and again that it is more concerned with what’s happening in my uterus than creating jobs. But, the Senate has been a different animal. As Sarah pointed out, cooler heads typically prevail there.

That may change.

Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has introduced a nearly identical bill (S.877) in the Senate and to date, 33 senators have already co-sponsored it.  There are 46 anti-choice senators currently in office, which gives us pro-choicers a slim margin of hope. But we can’t risk being content. If any Democrats cross the aisle, as they did in the House, we’re screwed. [Read more...]

Whatever Happened to Rock for Choice?

I recently caught Cameron Crowe’s documentary on Pearl Jam. It’s an excellent film, but one of the things that really jumped out at me was just how pro-choice the band was (and probably still is, but I’m just going by the archival footage here). Eddie Vedder playing “MTV Unplugged” with the word “pro-choice” inked down his arm in thick black letters? Pretty frickin’ awesome. Vedder wearing a Rock for Choice t-shirt in a promo picture for one of the band’s appearances on “Saturday Night Live”? Just as awesome – and hey, whatever happened to Rock for Choice?

Organized by the band L7 and music journalist Sue Cummings,, the first Rock for Choice concert featured Nirvana, Hole, L7, and other bands that supported the pro-choice movement. During the ten-year period between 1991 and 2001, dozens of Rock for Choice shows around the country raised awareness about reproductive rights issues, including abortion access and violence against abortion providers, and other political issues like voter registration. The concerts also helped fund the work of the Feminist Majority Foundation, specifically the organization’s Campaign to Save Roe.

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Pro-Choice News Roundup

San Francisco Crisis Pregnancy Center Law Targets Anti-Abortion Groups. Huffington Post

To Curb Abortions, Opponents Focus on the Supply-Side. NPR.

French feminists say “au voir” to mademoiselle. Christian Science Monitor.

Abortion Drug bill In Oklahoma Blocked by Judge. Associated Press.

Ottawa Woman Streams Birth of Son Live on Internet. Huffington Post.

Anti-Abortion Groups Push ‘Heart Beat’ Bills in 50 States. Think Progress

Anita Hill Hearing Woke a Generation of Feminists. The Root.

The FBI Moves Toward Updating Definition of Rape

Earlier this week, an FBI subcommittee met to discuss expanding the current definition of rape used in the agency’s Uniform Crime Report. That definition, which has been in use since 1929, classifies rape solely as “The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” A number of organizations, including the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) and the Women’s Law Project, have long been lobbying for a new, expanded definition; and yesterday, the FBI agreed with them.

The Uniform Crime Report Subcommittee of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services voted unanimously to change its definition. The proposed change would define rape as, “Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” A final recommendation will be presented in December, after which it will go to FBI director Robert Mueller for final approval.

This week’s vote is a huge victory for all victims of rape crimes. As Eleanor Smeal, President of the FMF, said, “This will ensure the crime of rape is measured in a way that it includes all rape, and it essentially becomes a crime to which more resources are allocated. It’s intolerable the amount of violence against women, and we feel this will have a significant impact.”

If you’d like to add your voice to the hundreds of thousands that are asking the FBI, Mueller, and attorney general Eric Holder to count the experiences of all rape survivors, check out theRape is Rape petition.

The House of Representatives Doesn’t Like Pregnant Women

Pop quiz: what’s worse for a pregnant woman than finding out that the pregnancy is threatening her life? Dying anyway because her hospital won’t perform a medically necessary abortion.

Last week, 236 Republican and 15 Democratic members of the House of Representatives voted to make such a horrible situation a reality. The so-called “Protect Life Act” would allow any hospital or healthcare provider that receives government funds to refuse to provide abortion care, regardless of the circumstances. In addition, the act would ban federal funds from going to any healthcare plans that cover abortion services and make it very difficult to prevent funds from going to health organizations that do not support abortion – so hospitals could legally refuse to perform abortions that would save women’s lives.

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Why a New Definition of Rape is Important

Since 1929, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, which records all of the crimes reported to local law enforcement officials every year, has defined rape as “The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” In 2010, the UCR reported that there were 84,767 sexual assaults in the United States. But the real number is likely to be higher, and not just because a shocking number of sexual assaults are never reported at all – but because the current definition of rape excludes a large number of sexual assaults that don’t fit within the narrow boundaries of those eleven words.

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