Archive for January, 2013

The difference between homosexuality…and murder by Gregory Allen

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has been traveling to promote sales of his new book, but has drawn more attention toward his antiquated attitude toward homosexuality. Scalia’s most divisive comments were given in a speech made at Princeton University, “If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against other things?”

According to Geoff Mulvihill of The Huffington Post, “Scalia said he is not equating sodomy with murder but drawing a parallel between the bans on both.” Despite the attempt to disguise his intolerance as philosophical pondering, Scalia is drawing connections between consensual homosexuality and non-consensual attacks against other persons.

The “slippery slope” argument being used by Scalia to defend his obstinate and degrading views on homosexuals is without reasonable justification. There are distinct motivations to be opposed to murder, which is harmful and against the will of everyone who suffers it. (more…)

An Optimistic Year for Women’s Sports in America by Gregory Allen

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

Despite losing the WPS, an elite league for women’s soccer, one of the few professional sports leagues for women in the United States, the year has been filled with bright spots and landmark events for female athletes.

The 2012 London Summer Olympics had female athletes compete in every event for the first time in its history. The United States also sent more female athletes than male to the competition for the first time.

Rhonda Rousey, the first American woman to win a medal in Olympic Judo, became the first female fighter to sign with the UFC.

ESPN writer Josh Gross explains, “The UFC had long balked at the prospect of adding women into its fold because of the perception that there wasn’t enough depth to create meaningful weight classes. Rousey’s rising stardom had a significant impact on the way White viewed the potential for female fighters in the UFC.”

Skier Lindsey Vonn is attempting to enter a men’s skiing event in Canada to find stronger competition to develop her skills against. Vonn told the associated press, “I am just trying to push myself and push my skiing forward to where the men are.”

Vonn isn’t the only female athlete challenging men in traditionally male-dominated sports, internet sensation Samantha Gordon has also gained significant attention for her phenomenal football athletics and has drawn many to consider the future women have in the contact sport.

Republicans Lose 2012 War on Women by Gregory Allen

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

Republicans spent 2012 trying endlessly to defund Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides health services like cancer screenings to women in need. The GOP’s efforts were also focused on finding ways to evade laws which prevented employers from denying insurance coverage for birth control based on a belief that women’s reproductive rights are choice only men could possibly understand.

In 2011 and early 2012, the Republican primary debates appeared across the country the country as a traveling circus of candidates featuring a homophobe (Rick Santorum) who believes states have the right to outlaw birth control, an ironic misogynist (Michelle Bachmann) and cowboy (Rick Perry) who hope to ban abortions in all circumstances including rape and incest.

Surprisingly, Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate who failed to remove himself from this train wreck of sexism, homophobia, and intolerance toward minorities, lost the presidential election and the vote among these mentioned interests which proved well sufficient to send Barack Obama to a second term. (more…)

Upcoming Miss Representation Screenings and Events by Gregory Allen

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

On November 13th at 5:00 PM in the Woodland Commons, the Center for Women, Gender and Sexuality will be hosting a screening of Miss Representation, a 90 minute documentary about how women are presented in the media to mainstream culture and how this affects women’s role in society.

According to www.missrepresentation.org, the official website of the documentary, “While women have made great strides in leadership over the past few decades, the United States is still 90th in the world for women in national legislatures, women hold only 3% of clout positions in mainstream media, and 65% of women and girls have disordered eating behaviors.”
As of 2012, Women hold only 16.8% of the seats in the American Congress, and only 23% of positions in State Legislatures, according to the Center for American Women and Politics, Eagleton Institute of Politics, at Rutgers University.

The documentary was selected to participate in nine different film festivals, including being an official selection at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. Miss Representation was written, directed, and produced by Jennifer Siebel Newsome, and contains interviews with Condoleezza Rice, Nancy Pelosi, Katie Couric, Rachel Maddow, Margaret Cho, Rosario Dawson and Gloria Steinem.
The Center for Women, Gender and Sexuality, along with aid from the UMass system, Zuckerberg award, will be starting a pilot program using this documentary, in which the film will be shown at each of the UMass schools. Students who attend screenings will then be invited to a social justice/feminist media literacy conference to become facilitators of the film, and help share the film with high schools across the state.
The goal of the screenings coming up on November 13th at UMass Dartmouth, March 5th at UMass Boston, and March 12th at UMass Amherst, and also at the high schools and middle schools over the following two years, is to educate students on women’s role in the media, how women are portrayed in our society, and how we can work for change.
According to Miss Representation’s website,“The film challenges the media’s limited and often disparaging portrayals of women and girls, which make it difficult for women to achieve leadership positions and for the average woman to feel powerful herself.”

One of the messages contained in the film is that people cannot be something which they are not shown lies ahead as a possible achievement. When media shows women in derogatory roles, or absent prominent ones, such as in legislature or intellectual roles, then women are dissuaded from trying to strive for positive positions in society.

LGBT Civil and Spiritual Rights to Marriage By Gregory Allen

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013
The popular opinion on marriage equality is shifting and becoming more tolerant, with the Supreme Court expected to weigh in on the issue and more potential states looking toward legally recognizing same-sex marriages. Opponents, however, still provide obstacles for those wishing to practice a cultural tradition in their private and public life.
The most vocal opposition to marriage equality recently has been from organizations citing religious faith and practice as their motivation for denying the rights of others. Brian S. Brown, the president of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) has appeared on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC.
Despite many public media appearances, the group does not represent every member of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or any other organized religion; nor does NOM speak for a majority of the American population, religious or secular.
However, their justification for why marriage should be limited from certain parties and available to others is drawn from religious tradition and supported by passages in religious texts.
It is important to note this, because religious justification and defenses of marriage directly imply the LGBT community is not experiencing religion correctly, or by sharing a same-sex lifestyle, incapable of practicing certain religions genuinely.

 

NOM provides several religious defenses of “traditional marriage” across its website. On behalf of Catholic tradition, the site proclaims, “For Catholics, marriage is a sacrament. A loving, faithful, permanent union of husband and wife mirrors Christ’s sacrificial love for us; through marriage we also experience his grace.”
NOM’s website also provides further support, drawn from its Protestant section, “Most Christians know from the Bible that marriage is part of God’s original order.” This is followed by quotes from Genesis (2:18) and Mark (10: 6, 7, 9), while further elaborating on the ties between marriage and a family unit previously kept reserved from same-sex couples because of reproductive implications.
A Jewish justification of why marriage should be limited to heterosexuals is also present in NOM’s online propaganda, “In Jewish tradition, the joining of a man and woman in marriage is known as kiddushin, from the root kadosh, or holy.” Immediately after this, the group’s webpage declares marriage is a means of mimicking Adam and Eve.
A religious definition of strictly opposite-sex marriage applying to everyone, regardless of what or any faith they practice, is an ignorant insinuation; and directly opposed by religious groups who do recognize LGBT rights. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism (as well as other religious denominations) contain groups that identify as LGBT and consider themselves genuine members of these traditions.
Believe Out Loud, The Evangelical Network, Dignity USA, Integrity USA, and numerous other Christian organizations believe sexual orientation does not limit one’s ability to understand or follow the messages of Jesus or Christianity.
Islamic organizations like Salaam Canada, CALEM, Al-Fatiha Foundation, Muslims for Progressive Values, and the Masjid Al-Nural Isslaah mosque in Washington D.C. welcome Islamic LGBT community members and recognize their faith. Jewish groups like Keshet and Nehirim also support Judaism’s LGBT followers.
Members of religious groups are not privileged to decide who is and who is not a member of a particular faith based on whether they agree with their lifestyle or oppose the differences between them.
While religions often attempt to define marriage, they only present one particular style. Members of religious organizations are entitled to practicing their traditions, but only in a manner which does not inhibit others from doing the same, regardless of the source of practices or ideals.
The United States government does not represent any one style of religion, and its purpose is to provide all of its citizens with opportunities for happiness. If every person is created equal – the Declaration of Independence identifies this truth and our right to pursue happiness – then all persons deserve equal opportunities and rights.

Common myths and misunderstandings about contraception By Gregory Allen

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013
An undercover study, “Pharmacy Communication to Adolescents and Their Physicians Regarding Access to Emergency Contraception”, published by the journal Pediatrics found that 19% of American pharmacies are illegally preventing young women from obtaining the morning-after pill. The pill is legally available without a prescription to women 17 and older.
The study, conducted by Dr. Tracey Wilkinson and other doctors from Boston University, found that women received incorrect information from 19% of pharmacies and were denied access to Plan B. Doctors seeking permission for their patients, however, were given the correct information from the same pharmacies 97% of the time.
When false information is intentionally spread regarding contraception, it’s done so to deter people from using legal contraception some parties feel should be outlawed or made unavailable because of private personal beliefs. Obstacles like misinformation and denying access are designed to make the time-sensitive medication irrelevant.

 

Plan B One-Step is not the only contraception slandered and mislabeled, but it’s one of the most prominent. Some who oppose pills like Plan B One-Step do so because they feel the medication is equivalent to abortion. But, science does not support this perspective.
Scientific research reveals pills like Plan B One Step and Next Choice contain the hormone progestin, which is found in birth control. These pills do not prevent fertilized eggs from attaching to the uterine walls, as many antagonists advertise.
Plan B prevents eggs from detaching from the ovaries. Morning-after pills delay ovulation and thicken cervical mucus to prevent sperm from reaching eggs. This research was recently validated by International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics, who declared Plan B’s ingredients “impair ovulation,” and “do not inhibit implantation.”
Many myths stick to birth control. According to Dawn Stacey M.Ed, LMHC who wrote for About.com, one of the most frequent misunderstandings regarding birth control holds “the pill is not safe and causes birth defects.”
While all medications may produce side effects, those related to the pill are rare, and according to Stacey, “It is actually safer to use the pill than to have a baby.” Stacey also cites there is no evidence currently linking the pill to birth defects, and is “one of the world’s most researched and prescribed medications.”
Stacey also identifies other myths, like “the pill makes you gain weight” and “long term use can affect infertility” as lacking any genuine support. On infertility, Stacey cites “There is NO connection between taking the pill and infertility.”
Opponents often insist abstinence is a safe alternative to using the pill; abstinence is a highly ineffective replacement, and those who take abstinence pledges seem to miss the point.
Jessica Valenti explains in her book Full Frontal Feminism, “Recent studies have shown that teens who take virginity pledges are actually more likely to have oral and anal sex.”
Valenti provides other interesting statistics about misinformation regarding women’s health rights, “A 2006 report showed that 87% of ‘pregnancy crisis’ centers – which have received more than $30 million in federal funding – provided false or misleading information about abortion.”
Abstinence and deterring myths also disregard the medical benefits the pill provides. These benefits well deserve attention, as the pill can have many positive effects not related to contraceptive purposes.
Stacey supports this, “About 100 million women worldwide use the pill. For many women, their quality of life is better while taking the pill than when not.”
Data provided by Planned Parenthood illustrates birth control pills help “reduce menstrual cramps” and “make periods lighter,” as well as prevent against “acne, bone thinning, endometrial and ovarian cancers, serious infection in the ovaries, tubes, and uterus.”
For those interested in using the pill or Plan B, and those avoiding them because of misinformation, it’s important to consult doctors and physicians who have access to scientific and medical data regarding contraception, rather than rumors spread by figures in popular culture, news, and media.

Representation and the Importance of Voting By Gregory Allen

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013
Elections in the United States, such as the presidential election in November, are designed to appoint representatives that will reflect the opinion held by those who voted; essentially legislating and acting on behalf of the majority or prevailing perspective.
However, when candidates win a popular election (or via Electoral College) having been selected by the minority perspective, the design of fair representation is undermined. Unfortunately, the loudest voice that might appear in voting ballots this November may not represent the majority or be seeking steps toward tolerance when they cast their vote.

Stephen Colbert shared a survey on his Comedy Central television show The Colbert Report that identified the growing progression of tolerant and secular beliefs among young voters. The survey found that 63% of millennials (persons born 1981 or later), also known as Generation Y, favored same-sex marriage.

The survey also showed declining support directly corresponding to an increase in age.This survey, conducted by Pew Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, Feb 7, 2012, was not the only one Colbert shared with his audience.

Colbert also cited Dan Merica’s CNN article “Pew survey: Doubt of God growing quickly among millennials” which, based on a Pew Research Center survey, explained of millenials, “Thirty-one percent disagreed with the statement ‘I never doubt the existence of God.’”
Gallup has also published poll results regarding changing American beliefs. In 2011, a record 53% of Americans favored legalizing gay marriage. In May 2012, Gallup reported that 50% of Americans still supported recognizing same-sex marriage. Despite a drop, the majority opinion is still identified as only 48% opposed gay marriage.
These views may not be reflected in the election results in November, as several conservative states are seeking to implement voter registration laws to censor and disenfranchise opposition. According to Pam Fessler in her NPR piece “The Politics Behind New Voter ID Laws”, Democrats claim in the effects of these laws, “students, the poor and disabled — those most likely to vote Democratic — will be hurt the most.”
Not surprising considering growing secular beliefs among young voters, religious states like Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina – four of the top ten most religious states according to Gallup – are also pursuing voter ID laws.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law; a record ten states are seeking these restrictions, and ID laws will force more than ten million potential voters – 500,000 who do not own transportation – to travel more than ten miles to register
Much higher than the data reported by Gallup, support for gay marriage among African American voters is now 59% (poll produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates). As the poor will face the most adversity from voter registration laws, it is relevant to provide the unemployment rate and poverty discrepancies in America.
Information given by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows African Americans face an unemployment rate of 14.4%, compared to white Americans 7.4%. And from the U.S. Census Bureau, 27% of African Americans live below the poverty line, while only 9.9% of white Americans do.
Proponents insist identification is free to obtain; however, offices that provide identification might only be open as little as one day a month as Rachel Rose Hartman for Yahoo News explains, also citing voters face challenges when she quoted Attorney General Eric Holder who said voters will “have to pay for the underlying documentation necessary to obtain the photo identification.”
Motivation behind these laws is not to prevent rare cases of voter fraud or enforce questionable Republican claims of preserving honest elections, but to dissuade voters who may vote in larger quantity against one group’s outnumbered beliefs.
Registering to vote is still easy, although this may not be a complete solution to divisive voter registration tactics. The United States Election Assistance Commission provides for download a National Mail Voter Registration form on their website, available to all U.S. citizens. This also includes state specific voting policies.
Massachusetts residents may find registration information and forms via http://www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/eleifv/howreg.htm. The deadline for Massachusetts residents to vote in the November 2, 2012 State Election is Wednesday, October 17, 2012.
Voting ensures a fair perspective, one mirroring majority opinion – whether liberal or conservative – is represented in those passing legislation that will affect all citizens. Leadership should be decided by the majority, by the voices of those being led, not by the loudest or most aggressive opinion.

Freedom of favorable speech by Gregory Allen

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

[youtube]http://youtu.be/VRh_wMrbLZI[/youtube]

 

NFL linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo received caustic criticism recently for his support of marriage equality. Maryland pastor and state house of delegates-member Emmett C. Burns Jr. (D-Baltimore County) wrote the following of Ayanbadejo’s exercise of free speech, “‘I find it inconceivable that one of your players, Mr. Brendon Ayanbadejo would publicly endorse Same-Sex marriage, specifically as a Raven Football player.'”

The letter was obtained by WBAL-TV and referenced by Dan Wetzel in his Yahoo! article “Maryland politician out of line for attacking Brendon Ayanbadejo’s support of gay marriage.” Wetzel cites that Burns attempted to force the Baltimore football franchise into silencing its player and depriving him of his First Amendment rights, writing, “Burns went nuts last week, firing off a letter on Maryland House of Delegate letterhead to Ravens owner Steven Bisciotti seeking action against Ayanbadejo.”
Wetzel isn’t being overly-dramatic when claiming the pastor’s words are out of line, indeed they are. The pastor has some manner of public recognition, so following his offered logic, Burns would have to forfeit his constitutionally protected religious beliefs because of his own manipulation of celebrity to share them. But few, if anyone, would suggest such a personal intrusion seriously (except of course, Burns).
Burns makes clear his intentions for censorship in the following quote, “‘I am requesting that you take the necessary action, as a National Football League Owner, to inhibit such expressions from your employees and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions. I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing.'”As Dan Wetzel reminds readers, New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow has defined his professional and collegiate career wearing his Christian faith and beliefs publicly.

But, the Baltimore Ravens’ player may have a more diverse history of controversial remarks, as the Yahoo! News article cites his history, “He’s written columns for his hometown paper, the Santa Cruz Sentinel. He’s fought for federal legislation requiring schools to monitor kids’ physical activities and promote proper nutrition. He’s worked relentlessly on environmental sustainability issues.”

Wetzel also provides the following, and conclusive information: as Maryland has recently approved same-sex marriage, and that it now faces a ballot in November elections; Burns is desperate and biased – as he himself helped approved the coming ballot to try and overturn Maryland’s step toward marriage equality.

If a professional athlete’s actions are “inconceivable” in these matters. . . it’s because he’s actually taking the time to care about issues that may not directly involve his image or in fact be placing it in the unfavorable views of others to support a greater good.

Brendon Ayanbadejo does not sacrifice his freedom of speech because he has attained celebrity as a professional athlete. He does not have to sacrifice his right to free speech because it is unfavorable to the opinions of another. Free speech used to support freedom should, however, receive special attention, and Ayanbadejo’s use of his time and celebrity to draw attention to issues that affect others is far more honorable than it is reprehensible.

Has controversial television gone extinct? by Gregory Allen

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

The Dick Van Dyke Show first aired on television October 3, 1961. Immediately, the show began challenging cultural traditions, most noticeably gender roles. Rob Petrie (Dick Van Dyke) frequently happened upon satirical situations involving his strong-willed wife Laura (Mary Tyler Moore), and the show found a chance to provide genuine criticism on American culture in Rob’s unorthodox reactions.

One of the show’s most blatant criticisms can be found in “The Bad Old Days” (1.29). Rob is confronted by a friend with an article claiming the American male is in decline, corralled to impotence by dominant women. Rob is rendered insecure and refuses to participate in domestic responsibilities, avoiding chores commonly assigned to women, despite normally aiding in these tasks without conflict.

Rob convinces himself he desires the “good old days”; a time when women were docile, unquestioning, adopting opinions and orders from their husbands. During his sleep, Rob is visited with a dream that reminds him of the reality of demoting one gender to the role of servant and the tyrannous role played by the counterparts imposing this unequal condition. Rob wakes, realizing his dream was a nightmare.

The Dick Van Dyke Show presented ideas that were controversial because they challenged common opinion, forcing the audience to consider new ideas they might not have practiced, rather than simply seeking to entertain and preserve the show’s following. Questioning gender roles became a recurring theme throughout the series.
Challenging in similar fashion seems absent many modern television shows; shows that instead pander to shock in trivial fashion. Ideas about gender and sexuality that were controversial and provocative have been desensitized and then transformed into entertainment by glamorous editing.
Game of Thrones receives attention for its use of sexuality and violence, but this material is not controversial or ahead of its time. Depicting female characters as rape victims, prostitutes, and treacherous fiends who betray men presented as warriors obsessed with displays of physicality and sexual prowess is not original; and provides viewers with much titillation but little reflection.
Game of Thrones presentation of rape and male dominated sexual perspectives does not make ethical statements about these practices, but rather idealizes these gender roles to entice viewers into following the show and allowing its profitable production to continue.
Mad Men is often praised, but the show provides little reflection of 1960’s times when sexist ideals prevented women from working and participating in society. Admiration for the show’s presentation of misogyny is only a fascination with its depiction for the purposes of stimulation. The show is essentially American Psycho without teeth: Mad Men is appreciated only for nostalgia because it lacks critical narratives.
Controversial topics like social equality or the lack of genuine female/LGBT representation in media and government are seldom driving forces on television, all too often only appearing as means for stealing attention in the same way nudity and sexuality are exercised by stale producers.
Unfortunately, challenging issues won’t likely recur in a television series until America accepts them first; and those who provide controversial themes will always risk displeasing audiences and condemning themselves to cancellation or censorship.

After Penn State, what next for America? by Gregory Allen

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013
Penn State’s sex abuse scandal takes a step toward concluding and disappearing from the media spotlight with the NCAA’s decision to levy substantial penalties against the university. According to the Associated Press and The Huffington Post, the punishment includes a $60 million dollar fine (representing one year of football revenues), and that “These funds will go to child sex abuse awareness programs.”
The punishment also includes “a postseason ban, and loss of scholarships and previous wins” as well as placing Penn State on a five-year probationary period “with the NCAA reserving the right to implement further punishments.” The sex scandal and the punishment has garnered Penn State significant media coverage, not unlikely connected to the case’s proximity with the popular football program.
Penn State can now begin taking steps forward to correcting problems of sexual abuse on campus, but what steps will other American universities take going forward? Penn State University is not the only American campus dealing with significant sexual abuse, as Crisis Connection reports a rape is committed on an American college campus every 21 hours.

Media obsession fell on Penn State and its punishments, but rape and sexual abuse and violence on college campuses remains a larger, more frequent problem. Feminist.Com supplies the following:
  • The National College Women Sexual Victimization Study estimated that between 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 college women experience completed or attempted rape during their college years (Fisher 2000).
Other statistics indicate that one in twelve college men admit to completing or attempting rape, 47% of college rape victims also suffer external physical injuries, of college women who are raped only 10% report the attack, and 90% of all college rapes occur under the influence of alcohol.
Also disturbing is the lack of prosecution for those who commit rape; according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) only 9% of rapists face prosecution, and a mere 3% of rapists ever spend a single day in jail. 97% odds of evading jail time are not significant enough to deter sexual violence.
Even Penn State University’s Center for Women Students lists the following on their website, “Rape is a significant problem on college campuses across the nation, where most victims are acquainted with their assailants. At Penn State approximately 100 students sought assistance for sexual assault during the 1996-97 academic year.”
While the punishments and consequences given to Penn State are a significant and appropriate reaction to the traumatic and poorly responded to sexual abuse experienced there, media and popular attention should not drift into apathy until another serious case emerges.
A welcome reflection in the conclusion of Penn State’s case includes considering the problems of college sex abuse across all college campuses. Serious questions should arise, as Penn State is not alone in dealing with sexual violence.
What steps will American’s take to change the culture and environment that allowed these horrific acts to occur? What will be done to create a better college environment? Will alcohol abuse on campus, the lack of prosecution, or other contributing or non-deterring factors be corrected?