The Myth of “Innocence”

*Author’s Note: This article focuses on the experiences of women because the author is a female, and so has direct experience with that perspective. This is not intended to say that men do not also suffer from related issues, but that this specific problem is primarily felt by women.

The dictionary defines innocence as “freedom from sin or moral wrong; harmlessness.”  This is the traditional meaning of the word. Society has created a second meaning; An “innocent” girl is one who is not sexually active. This second definition is incredibly prevalent in school communities, like Friends Academy; Female students that are not perceived to be sexually active are seen as innocent and good.

Why is a woman’s worth so directly tied to whether or not they are sexually active? And why is a woman who isn’t sexually active seen as superior to one who is? These misguided and outdated beliefs likely stem from a variety of issues, such as a lack of comprehensive sexual education in high schools and media sources that reinforce the idea that women who are sexually active are “sluts.” But it boils down to the fact that society as a whole continues to maintain that sex is bad…if it’s a woman who is sexually active.

The cold, hard truth is that a woman owning and even *gasp* being proud of her sexuality scares people. Women who engage in consensual sex, especially while in high school, often get a reputation among their peers as “slutty” or “promiscuous;” Yet, men who are sexually active are applauded for their actions. Furthermore, women are encouraged to retain their virginity and remain “innocent”, whereas men are applauded for losing their. Why are women shamed for doing the same thing men do? Why do we still buy into this horrifyingly sexist double standard?

As a society we should be striving to be progressive, and to be fair, we have taken steps in this direction. But no society can honestly call itself progressive while it still enforces this double standard for men and women. Unfortunately, these sexist beliefs are so deeply ingrained in our culture that we do not notice even when it affects our behavior. We give women this ideal of innocence to strive for in order to be seen as “good.” In this way society reinforces the harmful notion that women should be ashamed of their sexuality.

Innocence itself is not the criminal here. It is a word, and a word only has the power that we choose to give it. But this word is far too often used to praise women who are not sexually active, helping society to maintain a sexist double standard. Someone’s “goodness” should not be based on whether are not that person is sexually active. All women should be respected, regardless of their perceived “innocence.”

A Global Education Problem- For Girls

Millions of girls don’t go to school. Globally, 77.6 million girls are currently not enrolled in either primary or secondary education. Almost half of these girls are in Sub-Saharan Asia, with a quarter in South Asia. Furthermore, of the 163 million illiterate youth in the world, more than half- 63%- are female. Girls are disproportionately affected by poverty, with 250 million adolescent girls living in poverty around the world. When international development funds are allocated, less than two cents of every dollar is directed specifically to girls.

This is a major problem. Girls around the world are not guaranteed an education. They are losing out on opportunities that could give them a chance at a better life. They are kept in poverty, in turn keeping their communities and countries in poverty. By not educating girls, we are doing half of the world’s population a disservice.

Still not convinced that educating girls should be made a priority? By not educating girls, sixty-five low- and middle-income countries are losing approximately $92 billion per year by failing to educate girls to the same standards as boys. An extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10-20%. An extra year of secondary school will boost girl’s wages 15 to 25%. If we increase the number of girls in one country who go to school by just 10%, that country’s GDP will increase approximately 3%.

Furthermore, when a girl in the developing world receives seven or more years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children. By educating young girls, we teach them that they are worth more than what a man sees in them. We empower young women to strive for something other than marriage. But, when an educated woman does want to have a family, her children will have a better chance of surviving past the age of five: almost twice as likely. Her children will also be more healthy; a young woman who completes basic education is three times less likely to contract HIV, and women who are educated are 50% more likely to immunize their children.

By choosing to not educate young women in developing countries, we do them and the entire world a disservice. Everyone deserves to have an education- especially young women.

What You Need To Know About the Wage Gap

First things first, lets get one thing straight: the wage gap is a real thing. No matter how many people try to tell you otherwise, it exists, it’s thriving and it affects all women.

The wage gap is defined as the difference between male and female earnings. Report after report proves that women are consistently paid less than men are paid over their lifetime- 78% less, to be exact. What’s worse is that this pay gap has barely budged within a decade.

Women in every state experience the pay gap, but some states are worse than others. The best place in the country is Washington DC, where women are paid 91% of what men are paid; so, it’s still not perfect, but it’s a lot better than the worst location in the country: Louisiana. There, women are paid just 66% percent of what men are paid. How much the wage gap affects you also depends on your race. While white women make 78% of what white men earn, women of color earn even less (64%), with hispanic women coming in last with a measly 54%.

Simply because you are a woman, you earn less than your male counterparts. While it may not seem like that big of a deal on paper, think about how much more you have to work just to earn the same amount as men. Women work, on average, approximately 60 extra days to earn what a man earns in a year.

One argument brought up against the gender pay is that women make choices that affect their earnings. The Pew Research organization found that women were more likely to say they had taken career interruptions to care for their family, which in turn had an impact on long-term earnings. Approximately 39% of mothers have taken time off from work (with 42% reducing their work hours) to care for a child or other family member. 27% say they have had to quit work entirely to take care of these familial responsibilities. The problem here isn’t that women are choosing to take care of their families but rather the fact that they are being forced to choose between earning a fair, equal wage and honoring familial responsibilities.

It’s time for the wage gap to be closed, once and for all. We should be paid for the work we do, without that number being affected by our gender, our race, or our familial/marital status. We don’t want 78%- we want one. hundred. percent.

Women’s Equality Day

Yesterday (August 26th) was Women’s Equality Day. We as a society have made massive strides since the inaugural Women’s Equality Day, in 1971. The number of women in Congress is at an all-time high, and women are continuing to break down barriers- just look at the two kick-ass women who were the first females to ever graduate from the Army Ranger school. While this is obviously something to celebrate, we are by no means finished. There are certainly people who disagree, but the following facts, gathered by Huffington Post, consistently prove that men and women still aren’t equal.

Fact 1: In the US, there are more male CEOs named John than woman CEOs.
Only 14.2% of the top five leadership positions at S&P 500 companies are held by women. So, while its great that women are even getting to hold leadership positions, there are still far too few women.

Fact 2: Women are a minority in the Senate and the House.
The legislative body making decisions about our country- Congress- is 80% male and 80% white. This is wholly unrepresentative of our nation’s population, meaning that the average person’s interests and beliefs are not going to be represented in the laws created. Furthermore, there has never been a female president. Women have never been given the opportunity to lead this country, so who is to say that they wouldn’t do a good job?

Fact 3: Women are more likely to experience domestic violence.
While it is true that anyone can experience domestic violence, and any domestic violence is horrible, it is overwhelmingly women that are the victims. 1 in 4 women have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime. It negatively impacts their health, with victims being 80% more likely to have a stroke, 70% more likely to have heart disease, and 70% more likely to abuse alcohol.

Fact 4: Women are more likely to be in poverty.
The National Women’s Law Center states that nearly six in ten poor adults are women. Nearly six in ten poor children live in families headed by women. Poverty rates disproportionately affect single mothers, women of color, and elderly women living alone.

Fact 5: Women are more likely to be sexually assaulted.
The CDC has estimated that 1 in 5 women in the US have been raped in their lifetime, compared to 1 in 71 men. While we should aim to end all sexual assault, there is a massive discrepancy in the gender of victims. Addressing this issue will help to reduce rates of sexual assault.

Fact 6: The pay gap is real.
Despite the many, many people trying to claim that the wage gap does not exist, women make approximately 78 cents for every dollar a man makes. This discrepancy is even worse for women of color- black women earn 64 cents for every dollar a white man makes, and Latina women earn a mere 56 cents.

We can’t rest on the laurels of the accomplishments women have made. Every accomplishment we make should be celebrated- and should add fuel to the fire, to make society strive to further reduce gender equality. As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said, “Achieving gender equality requires the engagement of women and men, girls and boys. It is everyone’s responsibility.” We need everyone to sit up, and pay attention. It’s time for everyone to join the movement. And we can start by educating ourselves, and educating society. Gender inequality is real, but it’s up to us to end it.

What You Need To Know About the Planned Parenthood Controversy

Planned Parenthood is a reproductive health care provider that is “dedicated to offering men, women, and teens high-quality, affordable medical care,” according to its website. The organization also “believes in the fundamental right of each individual, throughout the world, to manage his or her fertility … regardless of the individual’s income, marital status, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, national origin, or residence.” The organization provides many vital services, like contraception, breast exams, cancer treatments, and treatments for STIs/STDs. They also provide abortions.

Pro-life supporters, particularly Republican politicians and representatives, have historically vehemently opposed the organization for this reason. Recently, however, some proposed a bill to eliminate federal funding for the organization — a bill that just barely failed to get the 60 votes needed to bring the bill up for debate (the vote was 53-46) earlier this month.

The bill was spurred by videos leaked in order to discredit Planned Parenthood, including one that claimed the organization profits from fetal tissue and organs taken from abortions without donors’ consent. Selling fetal tissue and organs is certainly an action worth opposing. However, Planned Parenthood doesn’t do this. If and only if women consent, Planned Parenthood donates stem cells from aborted fetuses for research.

“Patients sometimes want to donate tissue to scientific research that can help lead to medical breakthroughs, such as treatments and cures for serious diseases. Women at Planned Parenthood who have abortions are no different,” the vice president of communications for Planned Parenthood said in a statement. “There is no financial benefit for tissue donation for either the patient or for Planned Parenthood. In some instances, actual costs, such as the cost to transport tissue to leading research centers, are reimbursed, which is standard across the medical field.”

In fact, the Hyde Amendment — a law passed in 1977 — made using federal funding to pay for abortions illegal. Planned Parenthood, therefore, does not use the federal funding they receive for abortion services but for the free healthcare services they provide. In fact, 97% of Planned Parenthood’s services are unrelated to abortion. 80% of their services are devoted to preventing unwanted pregnancies — a goal pro-lifers should seemingly support, since fewer unwanted pregnancies means fewer abortions. Denying Planned Parenthood these funds, therefore, would serve a major blow to the organization’s ability to provide these services — services on which countless women (many of whom are low-income and unable to obtain these services elsewhere) depend.

The fact that the bill failed, therefore, is encouraging. But the hard truth is that Republican Senators and Representatives have threatened a government shutdown in September unless another bill, with the same purpose, passes. Remember what happened the last time the government shut down in December 2013, due to the federal budget? It wasn’t good. Travel abroad wasn’t possible, because TSA personnel are considered non-essential during a shutdown. Employees for Social Security and Medicaid are not considered essential either. Public institutions, like national parks and museums, closed their doors.

We cannot essentially let a Republicans throw a temper tantrum over not being allowed to legislate women’s reproductive rights. As President Barack Obama said, “We shouldn’t have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are men, making healthcare decisions on behalf of women.”

The Privilege of Being a Woman

The term “female privilege” is thrown around a lot, specifically in efforts to discredit feminists. Since this term isn’t going away anytime soon, lets talk about the “privileges” that come with being a woman.

When I’m walking back to my dorm at night, I’m not enjoying the fresh air or listening to music. I’m alert. The hair on the back of my neck is raised. I have my phone in one hand, set to speed dial to 911, and my keys in my other hand. Every shadow makes me flinch, every noise frightens me. I see a man walking behind me, and I start sweating. I change my route home just in case he’s following me. I duck around a corner and hide until I’m sure he isn’t there anymore. This is the privilege of being a woman.

When I go out dancing with my friends, I get unsolicited comments about my dress. I’m unaware that men have approached me until they have grabbed my hips and began grinding on me, without my consent. I pull away and I’m mocked, called a “prude.” If I want a drink, I keep it in my sight at all times or throw it out, in case someone put a roofie in it. I can’t go to the bathroom by myself without men making crude comments at me right out side the door. This is the privilege of being a woman.

When I am justifiably angry or upset about something, I’m asked if its my “time of the month.” I’m told that my period is “disgusting” and “gross,” and that no man wants to be near me during that week. While I’m sitting at home with cramps, in pain, the men in my life refuse to buy me much-needed tampons or pads, because it would emasculate them. This is the privilege of being a woman.

When I wear clothing that exposes my bra strap, I’m told that I’m distracting the boys. I’m told that I either have to change or be sent home, because a boy’s education is worth more than mine. If a boy exposes his boxers, he is seen as “cool” or “hip. This is the privilege of being a woman.

If I am catcalled, sexually assaulted, or god forbid raped, I am told that it is my fault. I am asked what I was wearing, was I leading him on, did I just regret having sex. I am blamed for a man’s actions, when I was doing nothing other than existing. I am told that I exist for a man’s pleasure, and my body is an object. If I get mad about these things, I get called a man-hater and a “feminazi.” This is the privilege of being a woman.

Do these things sound like privilege to you?