Tag Archives: Berkeley

Kamala Harris: Violence against Women stops here

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How effective is The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 is the question of 2014? As the layers of sexism become exposed, there are valid questions and more exposure to the fact that the 1994 law was only the beginning of a shift in how women are perceived in sexual assault and what that means.   Statistics show that there has been a decrease is sexual abuse since the law was instated.   But it seems than likely as in the sports world, in the military and in the university reports of assault and rape become known, that it is the reports of sexual assault that have decreased relative to their incidence, and not the number of incidences of assault.

 

The cost of a woman confronting the incidence of her assault is costly, personal and denigrating in many cases if they are even given credence at all once  reported. In the NY magazine Winter 2014, there is a story on student who carries her mattress around campus because her report of being assaulted on campus by a student did not result even in his being expelled from the University.  Only if there are headlines and large figures in the world of professional athletes, the best universities, or the top brass of the military do we find the public awareness pressing in on what might be the current evidence that violence against women has not been fully addressed even with the 1994 law.

 

In recent months NFL football players Ray Rice of Baltimore and Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers assaulted their mates within weeks of each other, and now the world is watching.  There is a demand to change the policies within the sports world to condemn the behavior of these sports athletes, and any others that might follow. There is talk of dire consequences and dismissal from their multi million dollar careers should these athletes fail to meet those standards of not hitting women.  Trained most of the time since high school, these athletes of age early twenties to late twenties are trained to hurl their bodies without mercy onto the fields and the players with different jerseys.   Brutality is an asset; quick moves automatic without consideration for bodily harm-theirs or the player across from them is the game.  A football is the focus, reaching and grasping stretching and extending the body and mind to whatever it takes to get to cross the line to the goal.  Like the ancient gladiators, their spent bodies are of no concern to the sports fans, the producers of the league or the team owners.  Head trauma, broken knees, arms, hips and pelvises that result for these young bodies and minds are being given some attention these days.  Concussions are now being recognized not only for the immediate destructive consequence, but the long range potential consequences of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s as well as the documented link to the conditions of alcohol and prescription drug abuse.  There is the dawning recognition of the cost to young athletes who pay for a lifetime of injury to their physical and psychological damages for the violent use of their bodies in football, and other sports.

For the young athletes who suddenly have huge sums of money offered to them, and fame-they are the winners in the lottery of life. They have little training in how to manage their extraordinary lives.  They are perceived as heroes, and are paid extremely well once professional football players or baseball or basketball.

For the general public the headlines report their car accidents, their fights with other players and their mates, just like other celebrities in the entertainment business.   Just like other celebrities they are public property from which the excitement about them, their lifestyles and their traumatic losses sell newspapers, keep the sports radio shows going, and add to the drama and ticket sales on the football field or sports arena.  For those on the sideline, the justification of the use and exploitation of these young men is that they are paid six figure salaries or more, they drive great cars, and the plays they make on the field are the thrill of their performances.

 

And it is the video of Ray Rice that even brings the conversation to the level of public awareness, and uproar. Men hitting women and the demand for a consequence began with the suffragettes who closed the bars because of wife beating in what they called “bloody Saturday nights.”  In the 1920’s, men lost a good part of their paychecks and then many came home and beat their wives.  The response by the Temperance Union to close the bars was motivated by the safety of women from the drunken assaults. (Suffragettes History)

Since the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, there is the report of a 64% reduction in violence against women.  However, that reduction cannot include what wasn’t reported; women getting hit and not reporting it.  Nor does it include the casual and frequent response of police when called with their position of blaming both parties in an assault by a man situation.  The woman’s state of being, sober or having ingested alcohol, what she was wearing, her history are all weighed, and she is often considered to have conspired with the outcome of assault or even the cause. That was what happened with the police in the case of Ray Rice and his wife.  This video stirred up the recognition that more needs to be done to train those in power to respond with absolute unequivocal effective action.  For the coaches, for the police, for the public the no tolerance for assault to a woman is being called for.  In the realm of testosterone laden football athletes, the demand for managing themselves is being revealed as not an option but a demand that needs to be met by the players, by the coaches and by the commissioners and their responses to assaults by players. In the heat of the video and the embarrassment of Commissioner Roger Goodell, there was that talk. There was also talk of starting to train young men about themselves and their aggression on and off the field in high school – which made the most sense of everything discussed. Will the attention and intention to encourage the punishment of sexual assault be the answer?

President Obama asked Kamala Harris, Attorney General in California to present to congress that 1 in 5 undergraduates are sexually assaulted, and women who do not attend college have even a higher rate of assault in the age group of 18-24. Sexual assault she mentions is an emotional trauma that maybe a lifelong difficulty and men as well as women are sexually assaulted. To address the underreporting by assault victims, Harris identifies that even with the glare of public light brought on by the Ray Rice Case, in the Universities and military, there are the limiting conditions that reside in the issue of sexual assault. (SF Chronicle 1/26/14) Of concern to Harris are the myths that continue to serve as limitations to women coming forward when sexually assaulted.

“It should go without saying that victims are not, and should not be, on trial, that they bear no burden to prove their own innocence and that our criminal justice system was not created only to serve and protect the metaphorical Snow White.” Women on trial for their sexuality shows up in many forms, and Kamala Harris is directly addressing the residual sexism in qualifying the victim’s complaint of sexual assault by addressing her personal history, her use of alcohol, and burden to prove her innocence. “There does not have to be a perfect victim for a crime to have been committed,” Attorney General Harris commented. The pervasive attitudes of women being sexual beings and attacks on their sexuality persist in the form of questioning her virtue and history. Harris comments on the fact that trauma has the effect of having memory distortions, but women are considered unreliable witnesses often to their own assault because of inconsistencies that are a part of the impact of trauma.

The business of professional sports, the halls of great Universities like Berkeley, the top brass in the military have all been headlined as wanting in terms of addressing the claims of assault with the appropriate gravity that it is due in reference to sexual violence. Women, and men coming forward and reporting sexual violence as the crime that it is will more likely report if they are not attacked, and become the victim of sexual bias.

 

“We must do better” Kamala Harris states, and yes we must. It is decades past women being the choosers in their sexual activity with the ability to assume responsibility for their sexuality. Aggressive campus sexual assault laws are a good start as Attorney General Harris states, but we have a distance to go in making it safe enough for women and men to expose themselves knowing they will be heard and not attacked, second guessed or have their attack minimalized in this, “the most underreported crime of all.”

 

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1960 Feminism and sisterhood

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The history of feminism from suffragettes to millineals is about the women and men who established the measures of women’s rights, civil rights  and living toward equality  and freedom to choose their politics and their sexuality.  Fifty years after the Civil Rights Bill, there is the challenge to reduce those rights, not just a whisper but a roar in forty state bills in process that would limit not just abortion, but birth control in some cases, and as such reducing the power for women to choose the use of their bodies.  The barefoot frontrunners are the women who have led and continue to provide the measures of equality as a reality in daily life.  They step out on unpaved roads and byways to claim equality and dignity for humanity.  As Nelson Mandela, Nobel Laureate stated, “Freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression. ”

Barefoot Frontrunners is about women’s rights, civil rights as lived through,  and makes the claim that  the future of humanity depends on carrying forward the goals of feminism.  Embedded in the Civil Rights Act of 1964,   discrimination due to race, country of origin or sex became unlawful.  But further, the civil rights act provided the affirmative action plan with preferential  access to jobs and education.  Politics was personal, in as much as it was the living day to day in this period of chaos and change that took policy to reality.  A transition for women born in 1940 who came of age at the time of the Civil Rights Act.  Their intimate stories of sexual and political change convey a view of the pattern that is in process world wide.  Significantly, Birth control and women’s right to choose also became accessible to women in 1964, and provided the other side of the equation by which women found their path to freedom and equality.

Barefoot Frontunners argues that the sustainable future the planet needs and wants begins with feminism.   Feminism, humanity and sustainability are wedded in what will have that transformation take place.  Collaboration and cooperation is the future that is sustainable whether we talk about the weather or the economy, and the women of the world are moving toward that in whatever measures are available to them.  Malala Yousafzai, Gabby Gifford are referenced in this work because they both reflect and inspire the spirit of modern feminism by their own steps, they represent the power of their presence in the world.

Barefoot Frontrunners seeks to establish the debt owed by all women to those who have come before us, the gains they have made, the ground they have established as they lived through and brought forward the measures of equality we work with today.  The history of how the rights, privileges and legal changes came to be is a history unknown to many women today, and it is important to recognize and carry forward the goals of feminism.

Barefoot Frontrunners  sounds the alarm that those rights and privileges achieved primarily by having the birth control and choices available to women in how they have children and when although legal for over 50 years, there are grounds for concern about the  serious challenges in state legislation to reduce those rights.  The so called War on Women is evidenced and provided in daily the work of the GOP congress is to reduce women’s rights and reduce the power women have shown in their impact on the changes underway.  Politically and  economically, there is a committed effort  to take women back not forward to a future of their choosing.  The context for modern feminism is to carry forward the work of the previous generations to achieve equality and dignity, and to encourage and support education and choice for women around the world who strive to achieve that for themselves.

The Interviews

The women age 70 who were interviewed tell their story of living through the sociopolitical changes of their lives 1940-2014, where much of the  transformation to sexual and political freedom took place.  These women  responded to an email invitation to share their story:  how they  found themselves consistently  had much to do with finding each other from Seneca Falls in 1848 through the fifty years, it has been about a few women who opened the conceptual doors to freedom for many.    The barefoot frontrunners interviews, for instance, came through a woman’s circle that has met for over 35 years in the San Francisco Bay Area.  The group meets on the 3rd Thursday of the month and is hosted by one of 4 women who have been the hosts for this length of time.  There are women who have come only once or a few occasions over these years,  and some who have become regulars, but most have attended no more than three times.  The population is mixed in education, income, marital status and age and race.  There was a large response of over 50 requests by women to participate in this research for barefoot frontrunners.

WOMEN’S GROUPS

Every woman interviewed brought up the value of women friends and women’s groups.  The past fifty years of personal and political passage with economic and legal ground established provided the path to equality as a concept and a context through which the range of choices for these women in day to day was their individual process. 

 Born in 1940,  when it was illegal to have a book on family planning by Margaret Sanger in a book store, each new freedom with each change in the culture and in the world around them reflected in the laws provided both opportunity and challenges.  What they chose an how they chose provided new dilemmas and new responsibilities for them. They were the frontrunners, leading themselves down unknown trails often trial and error being the means to take on the new roles that resulted in the home and workplace. These women were the barefoot frontrunners, in as much as  there was the breaking from the known to the unknown of new identities and responsibilities.  It is safe to say that those who responded were interested and motivated to tell their stories because they were happy with their passage.    Easily several hundred women received the email offer to be interviewed for this research, consistently the ones who participated reported the positive end of the spectrum:  good health, vitality, enthusiastic about their current life and optimistic about the future.    Those who self selected participation would seem to reflect a positive deviance sampling,

We will talk specifically about the fact that for many women coming through the years of change, there was little or no direct experience with those who led the issues and practices of feminism.  In fact, for some there was a total lack of identification and a sense of strong alienation to the images they saw on television or read about in the newspapers to the strident representatives of feminism and social change of the 60’s.


Let’s start with the interview with Carol in the same woman’s group for over 33 years, as well as what she calls now her Palm Springs  golf group.  Jean brought up the women who sustained her after her husband’s passing with annual trips abroad.  Mother’s groups of decades was commonly reported long after there were no children in the lives of the women who participated.  There were many reports and descriptions of how women have relied on each other through periods of transition and  changes.     Consistently through the stories they told, the comfort and creative aspect of being with other women to face life’s changes was a familiar theme  of the women who came forward for an interview.  Sexuality, vitality and enthusiasm for their lives was the consistent finding of these women who elected to respond happy to tell their stories and pleased with the outcome of their journey to the modern context of feminism.

The conditions for change always included alliance with other women in the reports that were given.    For women, growing up in the family of origin, there were changes in location, marital status or career that set up the need for change.  Often the dynamic was unexpected and nor welcomed.  In the face of a crisis and chaos, new choices were presented and with that, shifts in identity and lifestyle.  A disruption to the status quo provoked discomfort and painful departures from the expectations assumed to be what the future was to be.

Each woman provided a description of their process, and the changes that came as a result.   The path for women  born in the 1940’s who passed through the counter culture social revolution of the late 60’s and early 70’s, the choices and options available to them were part of those shifts.  While these women were living their lives, change was underway.  President Kennedy in 1961 brought together a group of women who were educated and experienced from the campaign that elected him to take on the role he offered them to change history for women.  They were the Commission on the Status of Women, and they came up with what they termed “injuries of sex” to women at home and at the work place.  When these women could not get a response to the need for change within the government as a Commission, they left the government and became the powerful source of change within the Woman’s Movement that stirred the nation to recognition of the need for social change.

In 1964, two significant game changers occurred as well.  First,  the  1964 Civil Rights Act prompted granting women more preference in entry to college and jobs through Affirmative Action.  Birth Control in 1964 and Roe VS Wade in 1973 granted choice and access where none existed before.     For the women who told their stories for barefoot frontrunners, their experience of the changes around them were mixed.  Each of their histories relative to the changes underway were shades of recognition and access to college entry, womens studies, and new views of what was available  to them in their lives.  They married, had children, divorced, many crossed the country to get to Northern California.   California was the mecca for those who aspired to the the counter culture presented on television and the magazines as the New Society.

Many of those interviewed said explicitly ” I didn’t  want a life like my mother,”   and yet they had no roadmap for the new choices, the new responsibilities they would encounter.  The transition was trial and error to some extent, and there were many women who looked askance at their sisters and mothers and daughters and decided they wanted no part of the revision of the roles for women.  Tension between the women who chose the path of uncertainty inherent in this new conception of living life, and those who stayed with the traditional was real and expressed in leaving behind family members who no longer spoke as reported by some of the women.

As Anne, 72, described it:  I didn’t want my mother’s life or to be like my mother, but I had no idea how to do my life otherwise.  And every time I failed at some part of my life-my marriage or my kids or my kid’s school, or a job and money, I compared my life with my mother’s and felt a failure.”   It was the peers, the women who were making an effort to go back to school, advocate and support change who found comfort with each other in moments of loss and confusion as reported by the women interviewed.

Jane, 71,  spoke of it as “the consistent challenge to be a free woman to make my own decisions, to deal with my mistakes.  It was hard to learn how not to feel like a failure when I fell short of where I thought I should be.  It was hard to get back on track sometimes when I really didn’t know  where I was going.”

SUPPORT SYSTEMS

“Counter culture Explosion” is how the period of the late 60’s are described by Sylvia born in 1941.  She, like others, found the life she could not have dreamed possible and as she navigated her way through college, graduate school,  the work she wanted as an artist she was fulfilled. The women friends with whom she shared her intimate fears and passions were her consistent support system.  “Family is just not something I’m good at,” Sylvia says.  Today, her broken relationship with her family in the midwest and her daughter  are the only regrets she has in having taken her life full on defining her own terms. “My friends are my family,” she says and the sense of loss that she still carries that is evident.

CURRENT RELATIONSHIP STATUS

Of the sample of 100, serial monogamous relationships were reported by most of the women:  6 never married, 18 married once, 29 married twice,  4 married three times; 19 currently divorced with no  partner, 21 living with other than partner, 3 widowed.

THE WOMEN AND THEIR CHOICES

 Phyllis, 72, worked 32 years for a government agency.  She has a pension and her social security.  Her retirement allows for travel with her golfing buddies on a regular basis to Palm Springs.  She is well set, more so than her male friends with whom she has lived in a serial monogamy situations, never married.  Active in her younger years in  Women’s Liberation, she now has a Ladies golfing group who plan getaways three times a year that gives her a life design that works for her.  Still she feels the empty place where “something might have been” that she can’t actually describe, but still has a longing for.  It might be the ‘road not traveled blues’ that she describes in not having had a family or a marriage, but overall she sees she is in a stronger position than her women friends who married, many of whom are single now either as widows or as divorced.

 Patricia, 71, in her interview also relies on her friends for company in her life travels.   She was told as a freshmen when she came to study law in college that the courtroom was not the place for women, and was encouraged to choose anthropology instead as an undergraduate.   There is still the sense of bitterness as she tells this story, even though in the end over time she got her Ph.D in Psychology.  She views her work as a means to encourage people to choose what works for them and has been successful in her work as a coach.    The mother of three children, she expresses strongly that her only regret is her choices in terms of the men she married.  She is single by choice, and happy about it.   She meets monthly, and has done so for 34 years  with a group of professional women with whom she feels consistent support and intimate contact through the years.  As she describes her life, she expresses enthusiasm for the fact that just in recent years she is much more confident about herself than she has ever been in her life previously, lives with a boyfriend of 12 years.

Catherine, 71, a retired Stanford Ph.D in Electrical Engineering still has lunch every week with Alice with whom she worked in Cupertino in 1996.  She was the only woman in her physics lab and struggled for two years behind the overt preference the professors gave to the rest of the male students.  This was 1975, and the belief that men were the primary support for families she feels is why the professors openly gave  preferential treatments to men, a frustrating part of her academic history.  After a severe and painful setback academically relative to the “second class”  status she endured in her physics department, she took leave and  some time for herself with her sisters in Santa Barbara.  Once she had recovered and was well again emotionally and physically,  she returned and did complete her Ph.D which to this day she feels was one of her biggest accomplishments.

She has officially retired from her lab work position that resulted from completing her doctorate, and is satisfied with the career that left her comfortable and well set for her retirement.  Although she is looking for another job because even with retirement and social security, she finds it hard to live the life she wants within the confines of a budget. She lives alone, never married and no longer looking for a partner.

Anna, 74, in her interview reveals what many women  saw in entering a new path emerging for women.  With a family of 4 children, she entered Laney College and explored a new world she had never considered at  Esalen in studies with Claudio Naranjo, becoming a follower of his work and community.  She found her place in that communal living in the 70’s and is still resides  with that group.  Claudio Naranjo, known for his work with MDA in rehabilitating people to get past their fears and limitations had a powerfully positive effect on Anna.  Although her experience in the 70’s was a long time ago, she feels the presence of the impact of those days on her today she shares.  The group changed significantly when Claudio Naranjo left the group she reports.  She is quite happy with her life and has just begun a new relationship with a new boyfriend after being single for seven years.

SEXUALITY

With few exceptions, the women interviewed stressed their ongoing interest and enthusiasm for sex.  It would be interesting to study the level of interests of women prior to the sexual liberation shifts in attitudes of the 70’s to see if the interest in sexuality is the same or different.  But for most of the  women over 70, even if currently inactive,   sexual experience, good experiences of intimacy and a trust with a valued partner were all acknowledged as very important.  For those single, they specifically spoke of their desire to find that special relationship in a partner relationship, not necessarily to be married.  In this group, those in a relationship, married or cohabiting made it clear they were there by choice and not obligation.

Sarah 74 spoke of her days of exploring her sexuality as a young woman, leaving one lover for another and the marriage she entered into only 14  years ago.  Her husband now has Alzheimers and she said in a confidential tone that these are the sweetest days of their lives together.  “He lives in the moment, and this has resulted in our having the best sex we’ve had in all our years together.”

Dianne 72 as well as four others mentioned the fact that because of their partner’s medication, sex as they knew it was no longer an option.  Dianne said that she and her husband just “don’t go there” and have pretty much forgotten about that part of their lives, and continue to enjoy each other in different ways.  They have a Sunday social group that they have been part of for years, enjoy the Berkeley Rep matinees and are happy with how their lives have evolved.

THE ROADS CHOSEN

It seemed that for these women and the many who reported their lives similarly, they were at varying levels of awareness of the changes that were underway for them in the 60’s.   They had the benefit of choice in childbearing and marriage after 1964, having experienced the world without choice in their earliest years.  They made changes in  life partners, had children and navigated the waters of choice with ups and downs, wins and losses not without significant doubt and worry about their lives outside the script of their parents’ lives.  Measuring their success was a variable that changed over the years.  Only one reported real regret in choices that she made, and that was the men she had married.

Significant was the fact that these women were self sufficient only by how they chose to live their lives, having scaled down with social security being the principle means of support.  Alternative senior groups around Berkeley and Oakland accounted by some the means to live life as well as they did due to shared expenses.  Only three reported a pension that allowed more choice in lifestyle.  For sure, those who were cohabitating or married , or widowed.  Very few did not mention the need for extra income that they met by making small amounts of money through creative ventures, like house sitting, dog sitting, driving and shopping for others, or other services in the community for which they were paid.   The women who chose to be interviewed would seem to represent the positive deviance of the aging unmarried or widowed woman challenged and active in determining the means to maintain their lifestyles.  They were all in good health, two having recovered from breast cancer years before.  They presented an enthusiasm for their lives, and enjoyed the opportunity to talk about their lives.

The power of relationship  was consistent in all the reports made by these women in telling their stories.  Through their women friends and groups, church groups, travel groups and interest groups,  the paths they described sustained them emotionally and physically.  Most had shifted careers as they shifted identities over the course of their lifetimes.   Only two  reported the issues of sexism deeply in bedded in some workplaces.

THE POWER OF CONNECTION

Over the sewing circles of the 30’s or currently,  or in more current times, the women who gather to work together at for instance Hackermoms  in Berkeley, there is evidence that women have always come together to  inspire, conspire, and encourage each other’s desires.   Their shared  interpretations of how they want to live and the choices that are available to define their life’s course have been a source of reference for most. Women, as opposed to men,  seem more flexible in terms of willingness to be led and to lead others to to life choices and identity.  The thread throughout their lives and the lives of women throughout history is  connecting, with each other and in the process expanding the notion of who we are as women.

LONGEVITY

We know demographically  that women live longer than men, or have in the past but there are indications that women are gathering along with their increased participation in the work force, the medical problems seen as a result of work and stress.  But the skill of connecting and socializing are emphasized as one of the reason for women’s longevity exceeding men’s.

It is a well known fact, that senior women have better skills for maintaining and creating connection and community than men, attributed to their roles based on competition and isolation and independence that have often been their orientation on the job.  The women interviewed for Barefoot Frontrunners by virtue of the self selection  brought chose to participate, and represented the choice of connection and community in their responses.

For the women who lived through the fifty years since the Civil Rights Act, it began often with breaking the rules that had been unselected in their growing up, and finding the right path.  Discomfort, confusion and pain were definitely accounted for in their process.  Being good, being pretty, not being bold or bossy, waiting for one’s turn-all of these social skills needed to be reconsidered and that process was often accounted for in the interviews.  Often these women, as barefoot frontrunners, had to rely on their intuition and inspiration rather than social approval or access.  It could be said that the response to pain in the world is from those experiences of marginalization and intimidation many women experienced in the workplace or academic environment.  Affirmative Action got them in the doors on jobs and college campuses, but the process of individuation they encountered was difficult and painful as reported by some.  The Barefoot Frontrunner’s response to the pain in the world is to take the step out and towards a place lacking support, guidance or protection.  The indignities and injuries of the world are made visible by those who see and feel the inequity and exclusion because of their own experiences.  By simple acts of courage over the years of change and transition in the 70’s and 80’s, these women interviewed through small and large acts witnessed and participated within their lifetime, a full shift in what it is to be a woman.  By how these women have  lived their lives, their daughters and granddaughters have the power to determine the choices brought forward to them.   Born of a social revolution and civil rights bill in the 60’s, those rights and legal principles are the law of the land but under severe challenge now in congress.  How will this generation respond?

The women’s movement, the Anti War movement, the civil rights movement  stimulated the polarity of views that allowed for social change and change in how women were perceived and how they perceived themselves. .   The civil rights act of 1964, Affirmative Action all created the opening through which many women passed to get the education, the job and the life of their choosing.

Fifty years of civil rights and women’s rights has brought change in western civilization.  It’s a bell that cannot be unrung.  It is the promise for all civilization as we learn over and over again that all women, all people deserve the life of dignity and choice.  And that all societies who take into account the value of equality for true prosperity and growth will be the future.  Economies that account for the underpaid woman or man doing the same job are the future.  An ecology that brings sustainability to the resources we share as a planet we share-that is our future, that is the context of modern feminism.

 

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