Minnesota Feminists Speak Out!

The unofficial blog of Minnesota NOW


Leave a comment

I should have been in a theater on Monday night

On Monday night I should have been in a theater watching Invisible War with 116 people who want to fix a broken military judicial system that enables the continuation of pervasive sexual assault. Sadly, MN NOW and our co-sponsors fell 50 people short of the required 117 tickets sold to screen Invisible War.

I first saw Invisible War a couple years ago when Gender Justice organized a screening, and I was so disappointed in how few people showed up. They did nothing wrong in how they marketed the screening. There was no other event that any of us knew about that was drawing away any possible audience. They even lined up an amazing panel of experts to discuss the film and answer questions. To this day, I don’t know why more people didn’t show up, but I was determined to screen it again. But once again, we didn’t get the turnout that the movie deserved. We didn’t get the turnout that the survivors deserve.

So why? Maybe our potential audience was distracted because they were busy with Get out the Vote efforts. The election was on November 4, and our deadline to sell 117 tickets was just three days later on November 7. Maybe, maybe not. I have a few other thoughts about why people aren’t showing up to see this important movie.

A friend tells me that it’s available on Netflix, so why would someone pay for a ticket to see it? I’m glad that it’s on Netflix and hopefully reaching a wide audience, but I see a definite value in screening it for a group. When I saw it, I received the benefit of expert panelists who could address questions from the audience. I attended the movie with a friend who had survived sexual violence in the military, and her insights were invaluable. Additionally, this movie will challenge your heart and soul. It is not easy to watch. I would recommend that you have someone to emotionally support you after watching it.

At my social media seminar today, the organizer pulled up a meme of a baby with a scrunched up face. All of the attendees giggled, and he made the point that he chose that image because all of us in the room had some connection to the image (one pregnant lady and two doting aunties in the room), and that is why it appealed to us. The point of the lesson was that people respond to familiar and appealing images. Perhaps we don’t relate to the experience of the woman soldier on the promotional materials and so we feel somewhat removed from their lives.

I hope that the people who read this will share your thoughts about why people didn’t show up for the viewing, because we are not deterred. We will find a way to screen the movie, because the message is too important not to share.

The isolation that any rape survivor feels is multiplied times ten when it happens in the military. The process of military justice is not conducive to justice for survivors at all. Imagine if your boss raped you, and he was your only means of obtaining justice. Imagine being stationed in the middle of nowhere, and having to work alongside your rapist(s) day after day with no independent venue for justice.

This is why it is important for us to show up in droves to view Invisible War, even if we don’t serve in the military.

Here are some of the truths shared in Invisible War:

“Service members must report rape to their commanders. However, if their commanders take action and prove that rape occurred, they also prove a failure of their own leadership.”- Brian Lewis, who was 20 years old when he was raped while in the Navy.

14 percent of female veterans report experiences of gang rape.

About 40 percent of victims in one study indicated that the perpetrator was their ranking officer.

One-third of victims indicate that the perpetrator was a ranking officer’s friend.

“I was repeatedly drugged and raped by several of my superior officers over a nine-month period. …There was no one I could turn to because, like so many victims of sexual assault in the military, my attackers were in my chain of command. So I kept my mouth shut.” – Testimony of Trina McDonald, who was 18 when she was stationed in Alaska and assaulted.

62 percent of victims who reported sexual assault experienced retaliation.

Heath X reported that he was gang raped, told he was lying, threatened, bullied, assaulted again and tried to commit suicide all during his first month in the service. He left, became homeless, was incarcerated and was diagnosed as suffering “intense psychological pain.” He was taken to a naval jail, and then returned to his post where he had to serve with the “gang of molesters” that had attacked him before. He faced court-martial or dishonorable discharge. He was denied benefits because he was dishonorably discharged. He was 18.

90 percent of survivors of sexual assault in the military are involuntarily discharged.

80 percent of perpetrators and those accused are discharged with honor.

Kori Cioca was serving in the US Coast Guard when she was raped by a commanding officer. He also broke her jaw, leaving her with lifelong pain and serious depression. When she attempted to bring him to justice, she was informed by her commanding officer that she’d be court martial as a liar. The commanding officer admitted that an assault happened, but said it didn’t include rape. As such, he was only restricted to his base for 30 days without pay for a short time.

By the terms of the current military legal code of justice system a general’s decision to overturn a jury verdict is the final word.

If you find these truths to be disturbing, I encourage you to see and hear them directly from the survivors’ mouths. MN NOW will continue our efforts to screen this movie again in the Twin Cities, with your help.

~Beth Johnson, MN NOW President

This is dedicated to my dear friend, who passed away last year from injuries related to a serious drinking problem. She drank to numb the memory of the rape committed by her training officer while she was serving our country.

~The chances of a female veteran developing PTSD are nine times more likely if she has been sexually assaulted.

~Military victims of violent assault or rape are 6 times more likely to attempt suicide than service members and veterans who have not experienced sexual assault and rape.


Leave a comment

Let’s Talk About Sexual Violence in the Military

The American military is an institution founded in patriotism and shrouded in the mystique of brotherhood and love of country. I’m grateful for the important and life-threatening responsibilities that the men and women of our military undertake on a daily basis. I also know that it’s something I could never do. The aim of this post is not to question the bravery of those who serve our country but to express my anger with how the U.S. military handles instances of sexual assault.

I read an alarming statistic the other day in my research about sexual assault in the military — a female soldier is more likely to be assaulted by a fellow soldier than killed in combat. Also, women make up 15% of armed forces, but 47% of sexual assault cases. Although women are ‘allowed’ to serve in the military along side men, in terms of their own bodily autonomy they are certainly not equal.

Soldiers — both men and women — who report sexual assault are subjected to lifelong consequences that affect their physical and emotional wellbeing as well as their career. Ninety percent of sexual assault survivors in the armed forces are involuntarily discharged. The perpetrators of these crimes aren’t usually punished in any way. In fact, 80% of those accused are actually discharged with honor.

I recently rediscovered an article in Huffington Post that lists 50 powerful and eye opening statistics about sexual assault in the military — and links to the original articles and research for your reference. I found that reading these statistics and other studies and watching “The Invisible War,” has made me realize how frequently sexual assault occurs in the military and that it’s a huge problem we have yet to solve.

We’d love to hear feedback from anyone who has served in the armed forces about their experiences with sexual assault — whether it was something you witnessed, experienced, or came across while you were serving. If you have something to contribute, please sound off in the comments or Tweet to us at @Minnesota_NOW using the hashtag #NotInvisible.

We are co-sponsoring a screening of the Invisible War on November 17th at St. Anthony Main Theater, and hosting a discussion with a panel of experts after our screening. If you haven’t seen The Invisible War, or even if you have, I highly suggest you make the time to watch it with us — we need folks from all perspectives to truly create a well-rounded discussion.

Get your tickets here!


Leave a comment

Paycheck to Paycheck and Economic Justice

Economic justice is one of Minnesota NOW’s core issues, a term that encompasses a number of concerns including education, livable wages, job discrimination, pay equity, housing, childcare and more.

On Tuesday, October 21st, Minnesota NOW’s Economic Justice Committee hosted a screening and discussion of the film Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert. The film follows Katrina Gilbert, a mother of three who experiences numerous setbacks in her struggle to secure economic stability for herself and her children.

Katrina works as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) where she makes $9.49 an hour. Similar to many single mothers living in poverty, she is forced to make hard choices about things like which bills to pay and what healthcare services to forego so that she has enough money left to provide the necessities for her family. She wants a better life for her kids, and decides to go back to school to help her achieve that goal, only to have her financial aid application rejected.

Katrina is one of millions of single mothers living in poverty in the United States. Stories like hers are not uncommon, even here in Minnesota. Below is a selection of statistics from the economics section of the Status of Minnesota Women and Girls report (2014):

  • Women make up the majority (60%) of low-wage workers in Minnesota, many of whom do not have access to paid sick days.
  • Sixty-seven percent (67%) of female-headed households in rental housing and 49% of those who own their home are paying costs that exceed the recommended 30% of their income.
  • Minnesota has the third highest cost in the United States for quality childcare, making it difficult for working mothers and families to balance the responsibilities of work and family.
  • There are more than twice as many Minnesota elder women living in poverty than men (38,463 compared to 16,915).

These statistics, and the full report linked above, show how far we have left to go in the fight for economic justice.

Legislation like the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA), signed into law during the last legislative session, is a good start. Minnesota NOW will continue to fight for economic justice, and we’d love for you to join us.

  1. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and share with your friends.
  2. Join our Action Committee. We’re got big plans for 2015, and we need a team of fired up advocates to help us out!
  3. Make a donation. We are a volunteer run organization, and make the most of every dollar.

To learn more about Minnesota NOW and to become a member go to our website.


Leave a comment

Equality & Safety: What the ERA Means to Me

As a self identified feminist, and an outspoken one at that, I often find myself in conversations concerning the validity of ‘modern feminism’. Many people think that women are ‘basically equal’ to men now, so there’s no need for feminism. That is absolutely not the case. Not only are women economically unequal to men in this country, but our rights aren’t even solidified in the constitution. This means that our rights can essentially be repealed by court decisions and in Congress if they so choose. So I thought in light of the upcoming Women’s Equality Day, I would like to take a minute and write about what constitutional protection through the ERA means to me and why I find it important.

First off, the ERA or Equal Rights Amendment reads as follows:

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

When I first heard about the ERA, I assumed it was going to be a long and drawn out packet of information. As you can see, it is not. The fact that the ERA is one sentence is symbolic for me. We’ve been trying to get this passed since 1923. One sentence added to the constitution would give all women equal constitutional rights, and 90 years later we’re still struggling to make it happen.

Women’s equality in this country still has a long way to go. Ask any woman who regularly goes out in public and I can guarantee you she’ll have at least one ‘street harassment’ story to tell you. It is unsafe for women to go for a run or jog alone at night, to walk to their car, or even to walk home after a night out because of the underlying threat of violence. And if that violence does occur, it is often the woman and not the attacker who is blamed because of what they were wearing, what they were drinking, or a litany of other offenses that you ‘should have known better’ than to do.

On top of that, women still make anywhere from 75-85 cents on the dollar (average is about 77 cents) to what men make in comparable roles with comparable experience. This gap is even more severe for women of color, who average 55-64 cents for each dollar. That’s economic inequality, and despite legislation that expressly forbids that kind of discrimination, it still happens. Passing the ERA will give teeth to the laws we already have in place, and will formally recognize the rights of women as equal to the rights of men.

These are just a few examples of why the ERA is important to me. Can you think of other reasons why you think it’s important? Leave them in the comments or Tweet them to us @Minnesota_NOW!

By the way, if you want to join us in a discussion about the ERA, join us on August 26th at Urban Growler! See the details here.


Leave a comment

Interview – Maya Dusenbury – Feministing.com Executive Director

By: Colette Hayward

Maya Dusenbury is a former Minnesota resident who now lives in the South and works for Feministing.com as the Executive Director of Editorial and Operations. I was able to get in contact with her because my professor, Van Dusenbury, is an Anthropology professor at Hamline University and we happened upon the topic of feminism one day in class. I was especially excited to interview Maya because I often look to Feministing.com for current news about women both locally and around the world. Maya actually wrote a short piece on Andrea Kieffer’s comment, which is where I found out about the whole incident Interview – Andrea Kieffer. I wrote up a list of questions for Maya to answer before we had our phone interview and I received a lot of great feedback!

I began our interview by asking her about her responsibilities as Executive Director of Editorial and Operations, and she had a lot to say. Her responsibilities include behind the scenes development, fundraising efforts, deciding what content is put on the site, editing the other bloggers’ pieces, and of course writing her own posts (at least one lengthy one per week). As I began to write my first blog I struggled with the topic, so when I asked how she decided what to write about she said she goes through many different email threads as well as posts about the things that Feministing’s readers want to know more about. Maya said that she would like to continue to work at Feministing.com until it is sustainable, but ultimately she wants to continue working on her feminist writing and hopefully one-day write a book or two.

Since women around the world have an amazing variety of topics that they are fighting for I also wanted to know what the hot topics were right now. In Minnesota many people worked hard to get WESA passed, and on Mother’s Day 2014 Governor Mark Dayton signed the bill into a law. The topics on Maya’s radar included abortion, reproductive rights, sexual violence, rape culture amongst young people, the work/family/life balance issue, lean-in conversations, and policies supporting family life, just to name a few. I also asked Maya what were a few things a “good” feminist should make sure they do and she provided me with a short list. “They should make sure they check Feministing everyday, along with knowing where they stand on Women’s Rights issues,” she also added, “Be humble and empathetic, really listen to others. Remain open-minded to the things you encounter, and always remember your privilege and try to understand other people’s perspectives”. I love all the things she listed because I think they are things I have improved on as a women’s studies major.

We wrapped up our discussion after talking a little about her parents’ role in her life as published anthropologists, and it was exciting for me to hear. Maya spoke very gracefully and had a lot of beneficial information to share with me. I will once again say how much I appreciate her and others taking the time to talk to me when I know they have busy lives going on. I would love the opportunity to talk and possibly collaborate in the future with Maya, Feministing, and organizations like these to help me further my knowledge and love for equality and progress. We may not be able to change the world over night, but there are powerful women and men out there who are helping this generation of feminists to be all that they can be and to help make their dreams a reality. Take a moment today to thank someone who has made a difference in your life, however small.I know there are many times where I couldn’t do it without them.


1 Comment

Interview – Representative Andrea Kieffer

By: Colette Hayward

Andrea Kieffer is a Minnesota Politician and is currently serving in the House of Representatives. She is a member of the Republican Party and represents District 53B, including cities in Washington County. A University of Minnesota Alum, she is seen as an active figure in her community with many people having positive things to say about her. Representative Kieffer was also one of only four Republican House Representatives who voted to legalize same-sex marriage back in May of 2013.

In March of 2014 I attended my first legislative hearing; part of my internship involves public policy and I was excited to attend and see what all a hearing entailed. I researched a little bit of information about what I should expect and later that week I sat in on the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA) committee hearing. If I’m being totally honest I wasn’t 100% sure what was going on the entire time, but it was interesting to listen to the brave souls who attended so they could share their stories in favor of the bill. When I was conducting my research, I read an article about a comment from Representative Andrea Kieffer regarding women that ended up becoming national news. Although I don’t think she intended for the comment to be taken so negatively many people did take it that way and that is when I decided I wanted a chance to talk with her.

Now, for the record, I will say that the purpose of this blog is not to shame her but rather to address the comment that was made and clarify her thoughts. Representative Kieffer was quick to respond to my emails inquiring about an interview and followed up with a phone call. Representative Kieffer made the point that there are two sides to every story, and as with almost everything in life, this is a thought to live by. If you haven’t heard exactly what she said the quote is, “We heard several bills last week about women’s issues and I kept thinking to myself, these bills are putting us back in time. We are losing the respect that we so dearly want in the workplace by bringing up all these special bills for women and almost making us look like whiners”. Now I can personally agree as a women’s studies major that a statement like this is insulting to women and coming from a woman in a power position it is hard – if not impossible – to swallow. When I questioned Representative Kieffer about this comment she said she, “still firmly believes it puts women back in the workforce,” but that it was early in the morning and she shouldn’t have used the word whiners.

We discussed a few other legislative topics and there were several aspects of the WESA bill that Representative Kieffer agreed with. She also discussed the minimum wage increase with me and made some interesting points. Regarding the WESA bill, she said that we need to remember the difference between equal pay and comparable pay, and what WESA asked for is comparable pay. I understand that equity pay is already common law, but I don’t think men and women are paid equally. She said the numbers are exaggerated when people say the pay gap is around 15%-20%, and that the reality is actually closer to 5%-6%. Whether the numbers are exaggerated or not a 5% pay gap is still one worth fighting for and I think that it is still an area that should be prioritized by politicians. Representative Kieffer sent me the clip of the hearing so I could hear for myself what she and others had said. I did listen to it and it helped solidify what I would put in my blog.

The moral of this interview is that we need to remember to listen to both sides of the story. Whether or not you still feel the same way after hearing both sides is irrelevant, but at least you are informed. I appreciate Representative Andrea Kieffer taking time out of her day to have an interview with me, and although we may not see everything in the same way, I can at least say I know both sides of the story. I hope this was beneficial for others as well and with WESA being signed into law I hope this blog post will help you better understand how discussions regarding the bill were framed.


Leave a comment

Selfies – Part 2

By: Colette Hayward

Part 2:

I recently wrote my first blog post on selfies discussing some of the problems I have seen in social media recently. As a person who does not take selfies regularly, I have a biased opinion because I am somewhat opposed to the idea. After some discussion with my Women’s Studies advisor, the point was raised that there are actually benefits to selfies. Selfies are taking over the world and I will elaborate in the next few paragraphs about the benefits rather than the faults as I had previously discussed in this blog post, Selfies – Part 1.

Typing “selfies” into Google will bring up a wide array of articles, blogs, and photos of people, many of which are of half-naked women. However, I also was able to find an article exclaiming that selfies are empowering women everywhere. Twitter and Instagram feminist users are using #feministselfie to label these photos and many bloggers are discussing the idea. The argument here is that individuals who might not fit into the typical white, thin, heterosexual societal norms are able to take a picture and post it online for millions of people to view if the individual so wishes. For people in minority categories, this is a huge step in the right direction. I see it as a way to tell the world, “This is who I am. Accept me or don’t, I don’t care either way.” Women who fit the beauty ideals of western culture might not understand the struggle other women have with taking photos and accepting their physical appearance as beautiful. I am a white female, but I am not thin. In fact, I think I would be considered obese if I asked a doctor. I have struggled with my weight for a long time and still have a hard time considering myself beautiful when I take a photo with my “skinny” friends. Feminism has been a way for me to escape the beauty standards and it has helped me realize I am beautiful even if I don’t look like the celebrities in magazines and on TV. On the blog Bustle, Amy McCarthy wrote, “take your selfies peeps—they’re one way to say ‘fuck you’ to the body standards that have made us miserable for so long.”

Recently, feminist website Jezebel wrote an article claiming that selfies are “a cry for help” and it created quite an uproar on the internet with women explaining how wrong selfies are. Jezebel’s Erin Gloria Ryan wrote that selfies are further forcing girls to conform to society’s beauty standards. This is the point over which people argued. I agree to some extent with Ryan because I don’t think the majority of selfies are taken spur the moment and posted online. Some of them are edited while others were preceded by twenty “bad” pictures. However, when used in the right manner, for instance the way Amy McCarthy does, selfies are absolutely not a cry for help. I appreciate what Ryan was trying to say but I think that she chose to stereotype all women and failed to see the groups of women who are using selfies to boost their self-esteem and feel more beautiful. The claim that women are the only people who take selfies is also absurd. I know plenty of men who take selfies and thoroughly enjoy it. Many of the outraged bloggers labeled Jezebel’s post as a form of girl-hate, which is something we are trying to eliminate not encourage. I think Jezebel could have written a piece that wasn’t so angry and the point would have been equally as clear!

The final point I am trying to make here is this: selfies are not going away anytime soon so accept them for what they are—a form of self-expression. If you aren’t a fan of the trend then don’t participate in it, but also remember it is unnecessary to shame other women who do enjoy them. Society already has so many other oppressing forces for women to face, why attack something that is helping some people feel better about themselves. If you really can’t get over the selfie trend then I think you should take a look at a new term, the “belfie”. I am wrapping up this post now, but before you type that word into Google just know it is a butt selfie, and many women are taking part in it. I think this is much more degrading for women and I also think it is centered around the beauty ideals that feminist women fight so hard to eliminate. The belfie is a new trend and I hope it isn’t here to stay because I would much rather get a selfie of my friend’s face than a belfie of her butt, or her new underwear, etc. Until next time…

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.