Remember to vote…

…but not just for political office.

The Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC), is the largest and oldest rape crisis center in Massachusetts. They serve the metro-Boston area and they do absolutely amazing work. They provide a 24-hour hot line for callers in crisis to reach a trained, caring human being; they also provide advocates to go with survivors to the hospital, to court, talk to police, and so on. They provide outreach into the community, going to schools, events, speaking with law enforcement, etc, helping to educate about the reality of rape and sexual violence. RCCs make such a huge difference in both helping survivors and providing valuable education, and BARCC is exemplary.

The work that BARCC does in our community is very important and very real. They have only a minuscule paid stuff, with a large part of the work (including the hot line, advocates, and community outreach) being done by incredibly dedicated, hard-working volunteers. All of the volunteers go through a 40-hour training program, and they continue to be involved in further training and supervision throughout their time with the center. Running the center is not an inexpensive proposition, and how much they are able to do is directly impacted by how much money they have. The Classy Awards represent an opportunity for BARCC to win some more funding to help them further their mission.

Please go to the Classy Awards and vote for BARCC. They are up for the vote in several categories, so please make sure you check out the whole page and support them wherever they’re up (also support some of the other great Boston non-profits, of course!).

The voting is open through November 5th, so please share this with anyone you may know who would be willing to vote. This is such an important opportunity for BARCC and it will only take a few seconds to cast your vote. Thank you!

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11/02/2010. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

A Weekend In Nerd Paradise

Well, it’s been a while, but I’m finally up and posting again. I’ve been crazy sick for a while now, and today I was finally out of bed again. Hooray for that. Anyways, over Labor Day weekend, I went to Atlanta, GA, for my annual pilgrimage to the geek mecca that is Dragon*Con. Dragon*Con is one of the largest conventions on the East Coast, and I’d argue that we have the most fun. There’s drinking, parties, concerts, incredible programming, and just a whole lot of ridiculous good times to be had.

I attended several amazing panels this year, and as much as I’d love to write a post on each one, I know that I won’t, so I’m going to try to fit my entire D*C rundown into one post. We’ll see how that goes.

Comics in Education: I attended a great panel on Friday in the Dragon*Con Academics track. This panel discussed the use of comics in the classroom. I was so excited about this panel, and while the panelists had a lot of good stuff to say, I was a little disappointed by how they seemed to focus exclusively on college-level classroom use. There was a great discussion about how students can best annotate pages of graphic novels, because that is a significant concern. Bringing images into a normally text-centric classroom definitely requires a different approach. However, in the case of many of us in the audience, we’re coming from the perspective of public high school classrooms, which means that students do not have their own copies of texts, and we cannot rationally ask them to obtain them. So, we have to consider how we can get our students to take effective notes and how much we can supplement with photocopies and handouts. Regardless, there was great discussion going on in the panel (which I regrettably had to leave early due to an obligation to be at a photoshoot), and I can’t wait to see what the track comes up with next year. I’m hoping to get some continued discussion going on through the internet between now and then.

Comics, Gender, and the Body: Another gem from the Dragon*Con Academics track. That has to be my new favorite track, and I’m really hoping to submit when they put forth the call for proposals for next year. Anyways, this panel was just phenomenal. One of the presenters discussed the gendering of superpowers, another discussed why the Invisible Woman is invisible. The discussion that followed was just amazing as well, and we ended up getting kicked out of the room so that the next panel could fill in. What a great panel experience! I’m hoping to look at some of this a little bit more in depth in my “Superwomen, vampires, and cyborgs” class this semester.

Battlestar Galactica: I went to one of the several BSG cast panels during the weekend. They were all amazing (I watched many of them when they were re-broadcast on the Con TV station), and the one I attended was just exceptional. There were brilliant questions about gender, politics, and religion, and the cast was intelligent and fun. One of the most interesting moments, though, was when someone brought up a moment in Season 4 when Chief kills Tori. Aaron Douglas, who plays Chief, commented on how everyone always flips out about that and he gets criticized for celebrating violence against women. First off, I don’t feel that’s accurate–the motivation behind the murder is revenge for Tori having killed his wife. The violent act was performed against a woman, but it wasn’t motivated by her being a woman; it was motivated by his desire to get revenge for his wife’s murder. It was irrelevant whether Tori was male or female. There were several instances of gendered violence, however, and those were almost always portrayed in a very negative light. I’m actually a huge fan of how Galactica portrays gender and gender relations. It’s far from perfect, but I also think that was part of the point; they make the point over and over throughout the series how flawed humanity is and how much we need to improve, and I often see evidence that issues of gender is one of those improvements they want us to look at. I’m hugely biased in all this, though, as I’m such as BSG fangirl and I hope to someday write a dissertation on the show. Anyways, after Aaron Douglas brought that up, Edward James Olmos, aka Admiral Adama, mentioned that any time we portray any violence on TV, we are in effect elevating and glamorizing/celebrating it, and that’s something we should always keep in mind. Brilliant. Such a fantastic panel!

Plus there was an adorable public proposal that was just too cute. 🙂

Anyways, this year’s Con was just huge.  There was also a college football game going on in Atlanta and tons of football fans decided to crash the D*C party. So this year there was an exceptionally high rate of women having problems with unwanted attentions, and some women even had to resort to physical retaliation to get men off of them. I myself had some experiences that really surprised me, as D*C is generally very much a safe space–we’re one big family of geeks and we’re good to each other. For the most part, the “problem people” were not wearing con badges.

So, the really cool thing that’s happening because of this is some grassroots activism. On assorted D*C related forums, people are talking about it. Someone printed up a ton of ribbons to attach to con badges that are brightly colored and say “back up!” so that next year, women can attach those to their badges to indicate to other people that if they’re having problems with inappropriate behavior, they can signal a back up badge person and they’ll come over to help. People have been writing (very polite, considerate) letters to Dragon*Con staff and the host hotels, and people have been writing back. There’s been a huge push of awareness, support within the community, and responsiveness on the part of the “powers that be.”

It’s really inspiring. I’m so happy to be part of a community that is so caring and active. This year’s Con was great, and I know next year’s will be even better. I can’t wait to wear my ribbon with pride and hopefully present at the Dragon*Con Academics track. Power to the geeky people!

Ed. Note: I’ll probably post a lot more about D*C in the coming weeks as I recover from being sick, so please accept my apologies for this poorly written post, but sometimes you just gotta go with what you’ve got!

09/14/2010. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized. 4 comments.

The Foursquare Conundrum

So here’s the thing about the internet–it’s not a particularly private place. Everyone knows better than to put lots of personal information out and readily accessible, and websites using particularly sensitive information are heavily encrypted and put us to very rigorous password standards. This is basic security precautions, just as we lock our houses or cars when we leave them. There are assholes out there in the world who have no regard for decency. We take it as our responsibility to protect ourselves, insomuch as we are capable, from the malicious vagaries of modern life.

When do we move from wanting people to be responsible to crossing the line into victim blaming, though?

A recent post on Jezebel talks about the dangers of cyberstalking becoming real life stalking courtesy of Foursquare. The article mentions examples of real women being approached by people that they did not know because those people had figured out where they were via the internet.

So, first off, I dislike the Foursquare concept, so I’m biased here. My privacy is very important to me–I don’t even like informing close friends, family, or significant others what I’m up to all the time, no matter how innocent it is, because that’s just how I am. My Facebook and Twitter accounts are both locked to the fullest extent possible, and even then, I hesitate to share details. Unless you recognize me from my photo and are in Boston, there’s (I hope) no way to get much information about me off this blog. My obsession with maintaining my privacy and anonymity means that I find Foursquare to be several levels of repulsive. So, I’m biased.

A while back, there was a website called Please Rob Me, that did a real-time stream of updates of people who aren’t in their homes because they have checked in elsewhere on Foursquare. Of course, part of Foursquare is checking into your home, thus putting your address out there (I’m glad none of my friends use Foursquare, as I have heard of people “checking in” to friend’s houses, and thus throwing that address onto the web without the friend having a say in the matter). The website was intended to be tongue in cheek, while pointing out the danger inherent in broadcasting where your location is. However, even in this instance, the context was the danger of belongings, the potential for being robbed. I don’t think that “well, he/she put on Foursquare that the house was empty!” is a valid excuse in court for robbing a house.

And that’s the thing. Just because you CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD. Just because you know that a house is empty and therefore ripe for the robbin’ doesn’t mean that you SHOULD rob it. It is not the victim’s fault that they occasionally leave their house. No one would suggest that someone whose house has been robbed should never leave the house because then it is their own fault if they are robbed.

However, when it comes to female bodily integrity, we always sing a different tune. What a woman wears means she’s “asking for it” (check out this great Scottish PSA on how skirts are not ever a request to be raped), if she’s walking alone at night it’s her own fault, if she accidentally drinks too much then she brought it on herself.

And now if her cyberstalker can find out where she is in the real world, it is her own fault if he shows up and starts harassing her (after all, that nice man was just being so good about taking care of the silly little girl and keeping her safe from her own childish stupidity!).

I am so violently against victim blaming. It’s one of the few things that can push me to seeing red and wanting to become literally violent. Do. Not. Blame. The. Victim.

But this Foursquare thing makes me uncomfortable. At what point is it common sense to cover your tracks, and at what point is it patronizing scare tactics? I don’t know. I really don’t know. But this is an instance where I lean toward erring on the side of caution. Women should not stop doing things in order to avoid assault, and they should not change how they dress or act or speak or anything. The responsibility is not on women to not be assaulted. The responsibility is on the would-be assaulter to not assault.

However, I fear the way Foursquare would be treated in court. I fear that it would be held up by a jury as a woman contributing to her own victimizing, even though in a sane world that shouldn’t be something someone would say. But the thing is, we don’t live in a sane world, and a lot of people really underestimate how easy it is to get information about them from the internet. When Blizzard’s RealID proposal was first making waves, it was over and over pointed out how dangerous putting people’s real information on the web could be. Blizzard had the best of intentions–make the game environment safer and with lower instances of harassment–but the reality is that the more people know about you, the more they can put together online. Check out this post about how one Blizzard user was able to demonstrate this in a very real and frightening way; lucky for the person he demonstrated on, he was benevolent.

A lot of people aren’t benevolent. A lot of people are malicious.

We are not responsible for the actions of others.

However, the world is full of fuckwads and we all know that. We know that they’re out there and on the internet and victimizing people–it happens often. There is a constant dialogue going on about how to protect your identity, your privacy, your reputation, etc. I don’t think that employers should look up the Facebook accounts of potential employees and judge them based on that, but they do. So we all do our best to keep our Facebook accounts work-safe, at least to the public eye. I don’t think that women should have to worry about men showing up at places that they’ve check into on Foursquare and demanding their attention, but they do. To what extent is this different?

I don’t know. I am so deeply against victim blaming, so the idea of saying that using Foursquare is bad and opens women up to all kinds of potential violence makes me uncomfortable, because it smacks of saying that if a woman is harassed or assaulted because of Foursquare that she is in some way responsible for that. I don’t stand by that at all. But I do stand by the fact that I think women–and, hell, everyone–should be wary of the danger of any kind of internet presence linked to your real self, but particularly one as direct as Foursquare.

Am I losing feminist cred for this? Please share your thoughts. I’m pretty divided about this whole fracas.

07/29/2010. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. 1 comment.

What we need more of…

…is BDSM.

Hear me out. There’s a fantastic post over at Yes Means Yes! about the safe call. A safe call, in essence, is a pre-scheduled check in with a friend that BDSMers arrange when they’re going to meet someone. While stereotype dictates that BDSMers are up for anything and there’s nothing they won’t do, it turns out they’re a normal bunch–they too have lines, and People With Less Than Honorable Intentions lurk amongst them. So, when you’re going into a situation where you are going to be agreeing to things that have the potential to be Not Okay, it’s important to look out for your safety.

Slight tangent: basically everyone is familiar with the concept of the safe word these days, another safety precaution put in place by the BDSM community. Since BDSM relies very heavily on trust, making sure that participants feel safe is essential. Therefore, the safe word.

And, tangentially, the safe call. You’re putting a lot of faith in a stranger or casual acquaintance when you agree to engage in BDSM play with them–however, is it any less scary to engage in casual sex with a stranger of acquaintance? Rape is rape whether you’re tied up or not. Rapists can hide out in any community–the trappings of BDSM are not required to get into a circumstance where a rapist can easily find a target.

However, BDSMers are used to putting in safety precautions, such as the safe word (also, have you ever seen actual BDSM gear? I’m not talking Cosmo-said-it’d-be-hot-to-tie-up-my-man-so-I-bound-his-wrists-with-his-tie, I’m talking the stuff that people buy specifically for this purpose. It’s all designed with safety and preventing harm in mind. There’s quick releases, there’s padding, there’s material with give and breathability, hell, there’s candles with wax that won’t actually burn your skin. Sex is a sport, so always use proper safety equipment!). The safe call is a natural offshoot of that. I’ve fielded safe calls for friends, and I think they’re great.

As is covered in the linked post, this isn’t about making a person responsible for not being raped. It’s about giving the rapist a more hostile environment. It’s empowering, because it means that we can go out and have our hookups, regardless of how vanilla or kinky they may be, and we can know that we’re looking after ourselves, our friends can know that we’re safe (because believe it or not, we friends worry about you friends when you’re out!), and we can both know that if something DOES go wrong, we’ve got someone to fall back on and we can try to get the rapist caught.

I don’t think a safe call will necessarily STOP a rape. I don’t think it should ever enter into a rape trial that by NOT making a safe call, a victim had become responsible. That’s not the case at all. I think of a safe call as using a condom or setting a designated driver–have your fun, but make sure you do it safely! That’s all.

And, to be honest, I think almost all relationships should have a safe word (as well as a “go” word or signal–one of my friends had a necklace that she would put on whenever she wanted to hint to her boyfriend that she wanted to get busy. I think there’s something really sexy about that. The spontaneous jumping-your-bones is fun, too, but sex can be so much more than that!). The thing with a safe word is that you’ve agreed that it is an absolute.

There was a debate on a women’s health forum recently where a girl was repeatedly flicking/smacking her boyfriend’s face. He kept saying “stop that” and “if you do that one more time…” and finally after her doing it about ten times, he smacked her back and she got really upset. There was a strong division in the response. Some people were ready to pull out the axes and go after his head. Others took his side–she was all “I was just teasing him!” while commenters (myself included) said “So what? He was telling you to stop and you didn’t. While responding with a smack is not the best response, it was a visceral reaction of frustration that you wouldn’t listen to him.” And she insisted that when he was saying no, it was joking.

Sometimes, you need to make it clear to your significant other how you feel. Even if it’s just that they’re doing something that they think is cutesy flirtation (and I personally don’t think that there’s anything cutesy and flirtatious about hitting someone you love, regardless of the gender), if you want your partner to stop, they need to know your serious. Hence, safe word. Is it weird to pull that out in random situations? Maybe at first. But isn’t it kind of weird to exclaim, “PLATYPUS!” during sex? Well, yeah. But that’s the point–it’s out of context. It grabs attention. You stop. You consider what’s going on. You ask your partner what’s going on, and the two of you solve the problem at hand.

Because we do teasing things, and our culture is full of situations that can get messed up in translation. Friends flirt, and sometimes that leaves partners feel uncomfortable. What we think is harmless teasing can actually hurt. What starts out as “oh god I’ve had such a long day let me rant for a second” can turn into too much yelling. What we think is sexy nails-down-the-back might actually be drawing blood that wasn’t supposed to be drawn. Regardless of the context, sometimes we need to have a “hold up!” button to push.

For some of my friends, that “hold up!” button comes in the form of calling me. The good news is that no one has ever needed it, but it makes me feel good to know it’s there, and I hope it makes them feel good too.

Anyways, because I like to end Fridays on a good note, here’s a couple other things:

God I wish Sassy still existed. I don’t care if I’m too old for it. Which reminds me, I should really get around to reinstating my subscription to Bitch.

Speaking of Sassy, check out Thurston Moore’s dating advice to teenage girls. Punk rock boys, you make the rockin’ world go round.

And finally, lest we forget what is TRULY dangerous in this world, here is a reminder: it’s farting. “Listen sweetie, if you can’t control your ass, we’re going to have to get a divorce.” Aahh, if I had a dollar for every time I said that…

Tomorrow is Free Comic Book Day! Get a comic book. Love it, squeeze it, call it George. And make sure you get your comics from one of them rockin’ locally owned places!

04/30/2010. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

On Community

A brief thought:

Tonight, I was biking home along Brighton Ave when I noticed a bike laying in the street and a Jeep stopped and honking aggressively. There was a guy standing in front of the Jeep on his cell phone. A few cyclists were stopped nearby, whether a few cars away, on the adjacent sidewalk, or even on the other side of the avenue. I swerved around the Jeep, stopped, and walked my bike back to find out what was going on.

In short, the Jeep had been harassing the cyclist (who had been cycling legally), and it ended with the passenger getting out of the car and throwing the bike into the parallel parking and the driver using his car to hit the cyclist, who ended up standing in front of the Jeep to try to keep him from driving away. The driver was honking and yelling, as was his passenger.

It’s a beautiful day, so there were a lot of cyclists. We were collecting, surrounding the Jeep. The more he honked, the more cyclists stopped and boxed him in. He tried to yell out his window to other drivers to help him out, but then all rolled their eyes and kept going.

Our impromptu bike gang, looking out for a fellow cyclist, kept the Jeep where he was while the cyclist who had been harassed was able to call the police and file a report. Once they had the information and dispatched an officer, we wished the cyclist good luck and dispersed. A community of people who share a common threat came together, without prompting, to protect and help one of their own and do what they could to see justice served.

Why don’t we do this when we see women being harassed? Why do we have this idea that it’s “not our business?”

03/17/2010. Tags: . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Education: We Can Build It Better, Stronger; We Have the Technology!

To me, feminism is about empowerment–empowerment for everyone, regardless of gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, race, class, nationality, etc. My grounding point, the center from which all of my equality-focused mentality springs from, is admittedly women’s issues, but I see that as the Archimedian solid place to stand from which I will move the world. I approach things from a feminist frame, but ultimately, I am focused on empowerment and equality as a universal experience (it’s all tied together, anyways).

I am a graduate student of education. In May of 2011, I will receive my masters degree and be thrust out into the world to teach high schoolers English (and hopefully sex ed). In my mind, education is power. I am not horribly concerned about whether or not my students get chills down their spines when I have them read Virginia Woolf or if Langston Hughes makes them want to cry. That would be the icing on the cake. Ultimately, I am concerned with giving my students literacy–the ability to make themselves heard, to have a voice.

Margaret Atwood wrote, “a word after a word / after a word is power.”

Countless studies have traced violent behavior to a sense of powerlessness–people will fight to feel that they aren’t powerless, and I can’t blame them. Who hasn’t wanted to scream or shake someone when you felt they weren’t paying proper attention to you? Infants cry to exert power over their parents. We move past crying, but not necessarily as a move for the better.

The ability to express yourself, to make your voice heard, is power in a most elemental form. We do not elect presidents because they come to our neighborhoods and punch us; we elect them because they communicate with us. Musicians stir us because their songs resonate with us. Books and films have incited social change. The internet carries words, whether written or in a YouTube video or any other format. Speech–communication of ideas and experiences–is a fundamental piece of humanity. Communication is power. English education, in its most basic form, is education in obtaining agency.

I’ve been told by many people that I am “wasting my talents” by pursuing a career in teaching high school, that I could be doing far more important things, like social research. I say piss off to that–isn’t it time we started giving people a voice, instead of speaking for them? Damn skippy we should!

The education system we have in place right now is failing us. Aggressively. Students are dropping out, and even those who are graduating aren’t necessarily coming away with skills or competencies. They don’t necessarily have confidence in themselves or any heightened sense of power and agency. School, to most students, is a waste.

How do we change that?

I don’t know. I’m scared. I’m absolutely terrified of what awaits me in September of 2011. If I’m lucky, the world WILL end in 2012 and I won’t have to face more than a year and a half of crippling failure as a teacher. But since I really just don’t think that’s going to happen, I’m trying to learn how to help others learn.

I also think a lot about how I can be a good teacher in the Boston Public School system–I’m a white girl from southwestern Connecticut. I’m coming at this from a wildly different background. As was discussed on the BARCC blog, how do I empower groups that I am not a part of without being patronizing? How do I remain aware of my privilege and still affect positive change?

I want to build up my students to think of themselves as talented, capable individuals. I don’t want to spend my time policing grammar worksheets or drilling vocabulary. I know there will be some of that, but what else can I do?

For my first project in my Graduate Research Methods course this semester, I considered the potential of utilizing NaNoWriMo in the classroom. NaNoWriMo, short for National Novel Writing Month, is an unofficial program that challenges participants to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. As a eight time participant (oh god), I can assure you, that is a lot of writing. It’s a HUGE challenge. Three of those years, I didn’t finish. Some of my finishes are really just exceptional crap. But it’s a skill-building and self-esteem bolstering experience–even though I wrote a whole lot of truly shitty prose, I did it! Do you have any idea the kind of high you get? The way the confidence in your writing ability shoots through the roof? (And, as one participant I surveyed for my study pointed out, after writing 50k words in a month, a 5 page paper for school doesn’t really seem daunting at all anymore.) Plus you have to practice time management, self-discipline, and goal setting. You learn planning and outlining and how to think on the fly while you write. It stretches your creativity. You don’t have to love writing fiction to get an incredibly useful experience out of NaNoWriMo.

Strikingly, during my survey, one of the questions I asked was what the negatives of the experience are. I interviewed 13 people, of whom 3 said that they could see no negatives, and well over half of the remaining participants included vehement mitigating defense of the drawbacks that they saw. 100% of respondents said that they will do NaNoWriMo again, and several included extra notes on how they feel that it is an important, valuable experience, and that everyone should try it at least once.

Am I onto something here? I don’t know. NaNoWriMo has launched the “Young Writers Program,” which provides classroom resources to help teachers implement the program in their classroom, opens up discussion forums for students, and provides resources for the students participating. I think it’s a great idea. I think it’s innovative, unique, and infinitely more pro-student than a battery of tests and papers.

Will every student come out of November feeling empowered and with a greater sense of their own potential? I don’t know. Should the fact that “it’s barely been done before” stop me? Oh fuck no. Our education system isn’t working. I’m excited to try something new, to shake things up a little and see what else we can do for our students to bring their voices to the forefront of the classroom experience. Education should be about empowerment and encouragement, not regurgitation of information. Can I help my students feel more confident, more capable? Can I use my lessons to impart ideas of power that don’t center around violence? Can I use literature to challenge traditional notions of violence and gender? What if I could help my students see power as communication, not force? Is it possible that I could help turn the tide of domestic violence and sexual violence?

I know it sounds like I’m holding myself to exceptionally high standards, and I can assure you, I have a very cynical view of how much of an impact I’m really going to have, especially in the first year or two while I’m still learning. But if we don’t go into education with a bit of ridiculous pie-in-the-sky dreams, what will keep us going? It’s certainly not the respect we get (why yes, Man With A PhD Who Told Me On Our Date That I Am Pursuing A Pointless Career, that actually didn’t thrill me) or the admiration of our society, and it certainly isn’t the appreciation of our students. I’m not even going to touch on the salary issue. No, going into education is like throwing yourself against a cement wall repeatedly. We can know that we’re probably only going to make small cracks on it. But I’ll be damned if there isn’t part of me that refuses to give up the belief that if enough of us throw ourselves against it together that we’ll break through and it will be awesome.

It has been shown again and again that education leads to all kinds of great things. Open minds, higher salaries, better living conditions, lower crime rates… Education should absolutely be viewed as a feminist issue, a gay rights issue, a racial equality issue, and ultimately, a human rights issue.

The power of education is not in question. The question is how to unlock that power.

Alright class, that’s the bell. You can put away your notebooks and proceed to your next class. But for homework, please review this New York Times article on improving teaching, and for extra credit, look into this book on better pedagogical methods. I’ll see you all tomorrow for our next lesson.

03/08/2010. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. 2 comments.

Hilarious Safe Sex Video

Oh man. This video is freaking hilarious and awesome.

I’m all about funny, self-aware safe sex campaigns that don’t demonize human sexuality or make it sound like having sex is guaranteed DOOM DOOM DEATH. Sexuality is fun and healthy, as long as you use safe sex practices. That is cute, funny, and fun to watch, and that will help it spread as well as stick in peoples’ minds. Those are all great attributes for a successful sexual health campaign.

Good job, whoever made this spot!

02/18/2010. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Dudes: Now Slightly Safer To Try At Home

I have to admit, “how recently he’s had a needle in him” isn’t normally one of the first things I contemplate when considering a potential partner. This might change, though.

The FDA has approved the Gardasil vaccine for men and boys!

The vaccine, given via three doses over a six month period, will cover males ages 9 to 26, protecting against HPV types 6 and 11 (the kind that manifest as genital warts). I’m a little bummed that the vaccine only covers types 6 and 11 in men, when the vaccine for women covers 16 and 18 as well, which can lead to precancerous lesions and cervical cancer. I’d like it if my men were non-precancerous for my pleasure. However, it’s still exciting to see the vaccine approved for use for men, and I hope to start seeing men going out and getting it.

On the other hand, this is WAY overdue. Gardasil for women was initially approved in June of 2006. It should not have taken nearly four years to expand the vaccine to cover men as well.

From a purely selfish standpoint, now most of my friends don’t qualify. 4 years ago, when I was just shy of 21, it seemed like 26 was a perfectly reasonable ceiling. Now I’m only a year out from 26 and most of my friends are over that age mark, yet the majority of us are not in committed monogamous relationships, so an HPV vaccine would be really great. (For those who don’t remember or aren’t in the know, HPV is one of those STDs that isn’t fully prevented by condom use, even if you practice “perfect condom usage.”) We’re talking about a vaccine that can help prevent women from getting cancer–it shouldn’t have taken 4 years to get the vaccine approved for men, and they should be constantly expanding the age range of who can get the vaccine.

I’m happy that they’ve finally got approval for men; I was worried for a while that this would be like the elusive male birth control pill, which keeps getting promised, but never happens (because let’s face it, since us girlfolk have the uterus, it’s totally 100% our responsibility to keep from getting knocked up. The penis is basically irrelevant!). Men and carrying HPV, and if anything, it’s extra important to vaccinate them, because they are less likely to show any symptoms; genital warts represents only a tiny fraction of HPV cases, whereas huge numbers of women will get abnormal pap smear results from HPV. HPV is so prevalent that about 50%–half!–of all sexually active Americans will contact it at some point in their lives. Therefore, it’s absolutely integral that we do what we can to minimize the damages done. In the majority of cases, HPV will be cleaned out by the immune system and you’ll never even show any symptoms, but with such a high percentage of carriers, do you really want to risk ending up with a strain that leads to warts, lesions, or cancer?

Like I said, I’m happy that Gardasil is approved for men. However, it should have happened sooner, and it should be covering more strains. Let’s get on that second part, and while we’re at it, let’s expand the age range of both men and women who can get the vaccine. Then, for the icing on the cupcake, let’s make sure we give access to the vaccine to as many people as possible.

Now that’s a sexy world.

02/09/2010. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Women’s Clinic in Afghanistan

Thanks to my friend Andrew, I got sent this link about a women’s clinic in Afghanistan. How amazing is that? 3 female soldiers have begun a free clinic in Paktika, Afghanistan, to help the local women who are too impoverished to afford the healthcare they need.

I am so impressed, and I absolutely cannot wait to read more!

05/21/2009. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized. 2 comments.

My Strength is for Defending

I’m pretty excited to be writing this post right now. The weather here in lovely Boston is absolute crap, I’ve been sleeping like absolute crap, and I just had to pay an absolute crap electric bill. Are we sensing a trend here? So, upon receiving good news this morning, I am extra happy.

Sexual assault in the military is a huge problem (wait, this is good news? Bear with me, it’s coming). However, as April is Sexual Violence Awareness Month (that’s a different rant altogether), the Department of Defense has partnered with Men Can Stop Rape to run a campaign to raise awareness about sexual violence in the military and foster a “culture of prevention.”
From the press release:

The DoD SAPRO campaign will reach all branches of the military with the theme “Our Strength Is for Defending…Preventing Sexual Assault Is Part of Our Duty” and will include educational materials for all media, including print, television, radio, digital, and posters. Emphasizing the importance of supporting survivors of sexual violence and defusing situations that might lead to sexual assault, the materials will be disseminated to every U.S. military installation throughout the world.

Personally, I think that’s a great theme. It’s a good approach to take to the issue–making the concept of preventing sexual violence into an aspect of being a service member. Make it into an identity, and attach pride to it. I think that’s a great idea.

Patrick McGann, MCSR’s Project Director for the development of the DoD campaign adds, “While the realization of a culture of sexual assault prevention is still off in the distance for the military and for us all, we take hope in what the Department of Defense and all of us are doing starting in April’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month and throughout the year to prevent sexual assault.” (Emphasis mine.)

Ain’t that the damn truth, Mr. McGann. Thanks for recognizing it, though. I’ll award you one Internet High FiveTM for that one. In all seriousness, though, the lack of acknowledgment that sexual assault is so pervasive in the military is part of why it has continued for so long. Assaults are common place and nothing is done against them; female service members generally do not report assaults, and when they do, backlash, often severe, comes around to ensure that no more reports are made.

In a study done in 2003, 79% of women veterans reported sexual harassment, with 54% reporting unwanted sexual contact and 30% reporting one or more rapes. God damn. And of these, 75% did not get reported. Extra god damn.

So what we’re looking at is a nearly blanket experience of sexual assault, a 1 in 2 rate of sexual contact, and 1 in 3 rate of completed rapes (note: the study asked about completed, not attempted, rapes). Often times this behavior is carried out by a superior officer, which leaves the victim in a nearly impossible to deal with situation, or multiple members of her unit are involved, leaving her again in a situation that is very difficult to navigate. Female cadets are often warned that they should expect this kind of treatment, so when they are assaulted, they feel a bit nihilistic about reporting–why bother? It’s to be expected.

It’s a horribly depressing topic, over all, especially as more and more people are turning to the military for employment with our economy looking so very frail. Come for the career opportunities and college tuition assistance, stay for the rape! I sincerely hope that this campaign is just the start of how the DoD and the military branches will be acting on preventing sexual assault. For now, though, at least it’s a start, and right now, that is fucking great news from where I’m standing.

Check out the posters, or TV spots one and two.

I have mixed feelings on the posters, and I think the TV spots could be better, though #2 is pretty good. But like I said, it’s a start–breaking the silence is a huge step.

04/03/2009. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.