The Fight for Domestic Partnership Benefits

The Benefits Committee may have recommended against it, but we’re not giving up! Yesterday afternoon, I received word that the faculty were holding a silent protest outside Wetherby–one of the administration buildings on campus. I tossed my laptop aside and rushed up the Hill.

Courtesy of L. Dowell copyright 2010

WKU faculty silently protest against the benefits committee's recommendation against adding domestic partnership benefits. Courtesy of L. Dowell © 2010

Word has spread across campus, and other events are being planned, in the hopes of convincing the administration to do the right thing. I have heard, but cannot confirm, that the President of the university, Gary Ransdell, is on our side. If he is, that’s great! More visible support is always welcome. Unfortunately, Gary cannot do this thing single-handedly.

Stay tuned!

A Disenfranchised Liberal

I’m but one person. However, I’m part of a group, several groups, in fact: Liberals, feminists, democrats. When people of similar beliefs unite to accomplish something, it’s a beautiful thing. But it’s hard to feel like I’m truly a member of a group when the leaders, and a large part of the membership of these organizations ignore your existence.

Last night I attended a meeting of my university’s chapter of FAN—the Feminist Action Network, for the first time. My feminism has largely been focused in the virtual world, and in on the ground, person-to-person relations. It was a small group, and locally focused. It’s one with few resources, the most valuable and numerous one being its members. Why? Feminist organizations aren’t interested in Kentucky.

Kentucky is a conservative state, located in the South. I’ve always known that those two facts were why these organizations I claim to be a part of, aren’t interested in me. It is the same for other states that fit one of those criteria, or both of them, as the case may be. My state, along with the others, is mentioned only when the organizations lists just how Bad Things Are. Or when something Bad is about to happen, legislatively or otherwise, then these organizations swoop in, with the majority members, to attempt to save the day. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they don’t. Regardless, after the media frenzy is over, the organizations, along with their out-of-state members retreat, and my state is ignored until the next big crisis.

It’s easy to sympathize with conservatives when they ramble about the “liberal elitists” as I ponder this issue. In a way, they have a point. I’m not going to name names, or point fingers, but when liberal (I’m using this as a general term here) organizations focus their efforts largely in majority liberal states, it bothers me. It’s troubling.
It’s easier to get things done in those states. Red-state liberals can easily see that. It is in part because of the majority of the population has registered Democrat. However, it is also because there is a large and established organized effort to push liberal ideals. There is also a large and established support system for the effort. There is no such thing here in Kentucky. Oh, we organize. We push. We donate to causes and politicians. But the large, national organizations that work to pull everyone under a single banner, and the out-of-state support system that exists in blue states does not exist here. So we, I, are left to do our work individually, or in small groups. We do the same work as our blue-state brethren. But we are not as successful.

Cause and effect is not easy to determine here. Do we not succeed because the state is conservative, so the national effort does not waste their resources? Or, do we not succeed because the national effort ignores us, leaving the state to become more conservative?

Every liberal, in every state, is working toward the same cause. Ignoring some in favor of the other hurts more than it helps. The states are becoming more and more polarized—ignoring the conservative states, save in the direst crisis, will only make it harder to push for the change the country needs, when the national effort finally gets around to the red states.

Not Accessible, Unacceptable.

Western Kentucky University is not, by virtue of geography, a disability-friendly campus. Western students are called Hilltoppers for a reason. The joke goes that you can tell freshmen from upperclassmen simply by looking at their calve muscles. Complaints about attending class are often paired with complaints about walking “all the way up The Hill.” However, these complaints are from able-bodied students.

Steep inclines and stairs (lots of them) are not a feature of The Hill, they are par for the course. There’s no avoiding them. That’s part of the problem, but not for the reasons many students, faculty, staff, and administrators would think. Ramps are too rarely seen on campus. If a person, for any reason, must avoid using stairs, it would take much longer for that person to get where they’re going. Ramps are few and aren’t near most main walkways, curb cuts are more common, but too often they are poorly maintained. Where most students could simply take a direct route to their destination, disabled students cannot.

Building access is another issue. Stairs are everywhere. Most buildings on campus have at least one entrance that is completely unaccessible by wheelchair or scooter. Often, the only wheelchair-accessible entrance is on the side, or the back of the building (of course, front and back are relative here). Two out of the three main entrances to the main library (Helm-Cravens) have only stairs. No ramps. The Helm entrance, where one of the coffee shops is located, is one such place. If I were wheelchair bound, I would have to go around to Cravens, through the lobby, across the bridge connecting the two buildings, through the first floor of Helm, and out the door to the coffee shop.

Able-bodied students have four steps.

This is unacceptable. The Hill is no reason for Western Kentucky University not to be a physically-disabled-friendly campus. There is no reason that every entrance to every building cannot be accessible. Every door should be automated. My fellow students should not have to speed up, calling for the person in front of them to hold open the door for them. My fellow students should not have to take a wide, circling, “scenic” route to get to class. My fellow students should not have to circle a campus building to find an entrance they can use.

It is unacceptable. Hilltoppers can do better than that.

Beware of Assumptions, Not Monsters: Part 3

In the third part of my Beware of Assumptions series, I’m going to discuss “self defense.” If you’re a woman, you know what I’m talking about. Every time we bring up violence against women, inevitably, some dopey-grinned asshole cheerily suggests taking a self-defense class.

Yes. Let’s recap what we’ve gone over so far: 1) women have no common sense. 2) We’re supposed to avoid danger. And now, 3) women are to prepare themselves for Danger by spending time and money on self-defense classes and mace.

Growing up, little girls are taught, over and over, that aggressiveness in girls is bad. Girls don’t fight—no. If another child picks on a little girl, we expect the little girl to run tearfully to her parents or teacher, and not to tattle. No one likes a snitch. They’re to run tearfully to the nearest adult to be comforted. Little boys are taught to fight back, and are even chastised and punished for crying and tattling.

All grown up, we’re only allowed to defend ourselves. Strength-building? Martial arts? Boxing? Hell no. To prepare us for the Big Bad Stranger jumping out of the bush, we’re taught in our segregated self-defense classes to poke eyes, scream, twist our wrists free, and kick testicles. If you ask me, the lessons fathers give their sons on how to fistfight are more advanced. But women couldn’t handle that.

One of the milestones of boyhood is his first pocketknife. There is no such equivalent in girlhood. The first hunting trip is the same: a milestone for boys, unheard of for girls. Indeed, as a knife-carrying female, I’m considered an oddity. Just last week, my grandfather made my (all-male) cousins the butt of a joke challenging their manhood, and all because I was the one to whip out a knife to cut open a sealed box.

Even as we discourage aggression and fighting in females, we, as a society collectively mock girls and women who do fight, and only use such skills as are familiar to them: scratching, hair-pulling, and slapping. They are mocked because they don’t know how to fight properly, like men.

And yet, when the Big Bad Stranger in the bushes comes up, it’s spoken as a matter of course that women should know how to defend themselves. We are taught throughout childhood, adolescence, and adulthood that vagina-possessing bodies do not, cannot, and should not know how to fight. Save for this one, special, particular situation. With a lifetime of discouragement and disdain for female aggression, it is no wonder that Jenkins’ self defense classes are not as popular as he thinks they should be.

Is it any wonder that we don’t?

Yet, Jenkins assumes this is solely and completely the fault of the woman who cannot or does not fight back sufficiently enough to deter her attacker. She should have paid for and taken all the time necessary for one class that teaches basic and inadequate skills, to match the training men receive throughout their lives.  Let’s make an outlandish comparison using Guy World™ examples: It’s like a professional MMA fighter versus a high school wrestler. More experience and more training will win out more often than not, Mr. Jenkins.

This isn’t even going into weaponry. Most men have used a pocketknife throughout their lifetimes, and so are skilled with a knife. Many have experience with guns. Compare these fine weapons with… pepper spray. Or a taser.  There is no comparison. When you add years of training in said weaponry use to little to none in inferior weaponry, you get “Are you SERIOUSLY trying to compare the two? Really? Really?”

More and more, it’s looking like, “Mr. Jenkins, are you SERIOUSLY blaming women for being attacked? Really? Really?

Let’s go Republican for a minute: Blame the bad guys. The bad guy who jumps out of the bushes, perhaps? Yeah. Considering he’s the one breaking the law and hurting another person, it really does make sense.

Part One, Part Two

Back From Break

Hello everyone! I apologize for no updates the past week–I was on spring break, and unfortunately I have no internet access back home. I bring an offering of peace and amusement:

The Big Red Tool

The Big Red Tool is an anonymous satirical newspaper, based out of Western Kentucky University. Right now its main feature is a piece on the domestic partnership benefits issue that I’ve spoken about before.  Check it out!

Beware of Assumptions, Not Monsters, Part II

If we continue with the logic Jenkins followed that I began to detail in this post, it must follow that, since women have no Common Sense, and cannot discern danger, then it is our obligation to avoid anything that might harm us. This too, is supposed to be news to women. Jenkins believes not only have we never been taught Common Sense, we have also never been told to Avoid Danger. This is the second of those nasty assumptions Jenkins has made in the process of writing his “Beware” column.

It is also the second of his assumptions that have been wrong. Avoiding Danger is a large part of the gender policing that women specifically face. Parents teach their little girls from the time that they are able to walk that they not to take risks. Conversely, taking risks is an integral part of boyhood. It is encouraged—adventure, risks, even injury—this is the way parents teach their boys. Little girls are put in dresses, not only to teach them that they are to look pretty, but because it is harder to play, be adventurous, and take risks in a dress. Do we encourage little girls to climb trees? No, we chastise them. Little boys are encouraged to explore the world, and are given the freedom to do so. Bands of little boys on bikes are given free reign over the entire neighborhood. Little girls are not afforded the same freedom. They might get kidnapped! So little girls are kept under close supervision—parents take the responsibility of Avoiding Danger for their little girls until they are taught just how dangerous the world is.

First little girls are taught of Stranger Danger. Kidnapping. Strange men with candy, trying to lure the white, curly-haired, dressed girls into those Scary White Vans. Those Scary White Vans are everywhere—in movies, commercials, stranger danger literature. You can’t kidnap a little girl without a white van.

Next, little girls are taught to fear adults that are close to them. Not related? Then no adult male is to be close to a girl child. Little girls watch their parents, and see the suspicious looks their teachers, bible school teachers, and family friends get when little girls offer a hug. Parents awkwardly give “the talk.” No, not the sex talk. The child molester talk. Don’t let anyone touch your pee-pee place! Appropriate anatomical terminology allowed. And never, EVER, tell the girl child why. Only that she must Avoid Danger.

As she reaches adolescence, she is finally taught to fear her peers. Boys only want one thing. Avoid danger, avoid being alone with a boy. Don’t let a boy touch you. Don’t believe a boy when he says he likes you. Boys are predators, only out to put you into Danger, and make you do things you don’t want to do. The why, again, is never explained.  Additionally, beware of females. They’ll try to get you to do Dangerous Things, and no one wants to do Dangerous Things, right? Something Bad might happen.

Women aren’t only taught to Avoid Dangerous People, (which is nigh everyone by this point, isn’t it?) we’re also taught to Avoid Dangerous Places. And things. Women are taught to avoid being anywhere alone. In a parking lot, a street, we’re even told to avoid living alone. Don’t forget about those scary alleys! An alley, especially after dark, is so Bad and Scary that if we don’t avoid them at all times, then we’re asking to be robbed, raped, beaten, killed, cut up, and eaten.

Women are taught to avoid social gatherings. Parties are to be avoided. There are three levels of avoidance of parties. The number one, hence the most dangerous, is a gathering hosted by someone the woman does not know. The second is gatherings where the woman does not intimately know every attendee. The third, and least dangerous, though still worthy of Avoidance at all costs, is one where men are present. Beverages, and even food, are to be avoided in public. Someone Scary might spike it, and then something Really Bad Will Happen. Bars are also to be avoided. Men gather in bars specifically to prey on women, all having drugs to slip in the drink of an unsuspecting, no Common Sense-holding women.

So far we have all the people and places that women are taught to avoid. We’re not yet done. Women’s schooling in this area isn’t complete without learning to avoid the Dark. That especially scary time of day when nothing good happens, every woman is taught to avoid being out after dark. After dark, a woman should be in a safe place. A woman is safest at home, but not alone, and never without all the doors and windows locked, with a home security system (or a buzz-in system and a security guard, if a woman dares to live in an apartment with those Scary Stairwells and Elevators) , and a Benevolent Man close nearby.

As you can easily see, if a woman avoided everywhere that was deemed dangerous, she would literally be unable to exist. There is, evidently, no safe place for women to exist without danger. Yet this is what every woman is taught—by her parents, by police, teachers, and the numerous classes, seminars, and videos that claim to teach women how to be safe. These expectations quite literally set women up to fail at being safe. These expectations also set women up to be blamed for anything that might be done to us. Seeing these lessons that are taught throughout a woman’s life, all in one place, shows the absurdity of it all. And yet, this continues.

In his column, Jenkins’ assumptions are numerous and contradictory. Women supposedly have no Common Sense, yet are supposed to know every person and place that might be dangerous. If we’re so lacking, Jenkins, how are we to know? Yet, we do. Women know well that the world is dangerous, and we know that these expectations are absurd. Women know that living a full, rich life is impossible if life itself is avoided. Women do not “take risks” by living. Women are not “reckless” and “irresponsible” for living our lives.

Every woman has been forced to fear people, places, and times of day because of people and attitudes such as Jenkins. Living in constant fear is not healthy, by any means. I challenge Jenkins, indeed, every man, to live a day or two constantly looking over your shoulder. Brace yourself every time a stranger comes within twenty feet of you, or makes eye contact. Reach for your keys or your pocket knives every time you find yourself in a secluded area with one other person. Spend every day constantly alert, never daydreaming, never talking on the phone or listening to music. It is an exhausting, stressful, and unfulfilling life to lead. Live it, then ask yourself if you would ask another to do the same, every day.

I can guarantee Jenkins has never lived such a life. I can guarantee that he has never lived a life as a woman. His column is, again, condescending. He presumes to know better than women, how we should live our lives, and believes that by writing that single column, that he would open the eyes of women everywhere, and singlehandedly prevent Bad Things From Happening.

Again, Jenkins: stick to writing what you know.

Note: Part three of this series is available here.

“Beware” of Assumptions, Not Monsters.

Logan Jenkins wrote this column, in an attempt to advise women on how to avoid being attacked while running. Jenkins’ first assumption paves the way for his other erroneous assumptions: the idea that women have no idea that men prey on them.

Women are indoctrinated from birth of two things relevant to his erroneous assumption: that we are the weaker, submissive, preyed-upon sex, and that we must have Common Sense in order to protect ourselves.

As children, women are told that we’re not strong as men. Little girls are chastised for wrestling with their brothers, kept from playing little league baseball, basketball, or football. Parents put their little girls in dresses, and then keep the dressed-up girls from playing outside in the dirt and mud with the boys. They don’t want to get their pretty dresses dirty, do they? Boys get to play; girls get to look pretty. Toys that imitate strength and physical prowess are color-coded blue, and advertized solely with little boys: tool sets, guns and swords. Sure, children are children, and they play with the toys they want to play with, and participate in the games they want to participate in, but the message is sent, and received. Gender policing begins. Little boys tell the indignant little girl that girls aren’t supposed to play cowboy and Indian or football.

Pinkified packages of dolls and kitchen sets are gifted to girls in droves. Trunks full of tiaras and mommy’s old dresses are supposed to amuse the girls while the boys get to rough-and-tumble it outside. Indignant little girls are only indignant for so long—eventually they begin to believe what everyone is telling them—that girls can only do certain things, and that everything else is left to the boys.

As adolescents, girls are kept on a shorter leash than their male peers—the ten year old boy can walk to the next block alone to play with his friend, but his ten year old sister must have someone watching her, or must walk with her brother. All children are taught basic safety precautions: look both ways before crossing a street, don’t talk to strangers, and come home before dark. Girls are given a much longer list, with the same short leash not clipped to her brother, but aren’t told why. Because I say so. Because something Bad Might Happen (but not to your brother). Here begins the serious schooling of girls that the world is out to get you, so Never Exist Alone, especially With Strange Males.

For every milestone in a girl’s life, there is another list of safety precautions to consider. There is also another list of bad things that might happen to you. Kidnapping is a constant threat used to frighten girls into compliance with the ever growing List of Safety. From the first day of school, to the first time a girl walks to a nearby friend’s house alone, to her first time home alone, to the first overnight school trip, the first car, etc. etc. a girl is lectured on what bad things might happen, how to avoid them, and what to do, Just in Case.

I remember my parents making me watch a special program on what to do if you were to get kidnapped. My brother didn’t have to watch it. The show detailed how to break someone’s grip on your arm (twist toward the thumb), how to catch attention if you’re locked into a trunk (peel back the carpeting, knock out the taillight, and wave your arm frantically), and how to escape being shot while running away (run in a zig-zag pattern).

To the world-at-large, this List of Safety is known as Common Sense. While humans of the male or male perceived variety get a crash course, and updates as needed, girls and women have their PhD’s in Common Sense, cultivated over a lifetime—seven days a week, from parents, peers, news media, women’s magazines, movies, and books. Everyone feels obligated to School the Girl. However, if there were to be standardized testing of Common Sense, girls would be excelling, and being titled Winners of Life.

But here comes the interesting part: if our vast knowledge were to be tapped in a casual setting, Others (also known as men, parents, peers, and online commenters) would gape and gawk. It would first be whispered, then openly stated, that you, Woman, Are Paranoid. On the other hand, were a woman to have been caught in a situation where Common Sense coulda, woulda, shoulda, maybe, but maybe not implemented, we would be schooled, again, on Common Sense and the List of Safety.

I can only speculate as to whether Jenkins’ has thought, assumed, or called a woman paranoid for taking precautions, for Using Common Sense. Having lived life as a man, and certainly not without women in his life, I would say the odds are quite favorable that he has. But here, with this condescending column of his, he has publicly attempted to school women on Common Sense. Considering the schooling we undergo from childhood, the world we live in, and the multitude of other presumptive men who have undertaken to publish their advice on Common Sense to women, I would say that Jenkins comes off rather clueless. For the guru of Common Sense that he styles himself to be, I would say that his Situational Awareness is sorely lacking.

I would like to give Jenkins some advice, as a writer, rather than a woman: Jenkins, the first and most important thing to keep in mind as a writer: write what you know. You, as a man, cannot have any idea what it means to live as a woman. As for your attempt as being an advice columnist, two things: be sure you know about the topic you’re attempting to advise upon, and don’t attempt to advise someone who is better educated than you on the subject. Remember, a PhD beats a crash course every time.

Note: Part two of this series is available here. Part three is here.