Tag Archives: sexuality

Being an ally

In the wake of the horrific events at Pulse in Orlando this weekend, I’ve been trying to be thoughtful about ways to be a good ally to my LGBTQI friends. The list below is compiled from several lists I’ve read as well as ideas from friends. This list is ordered in a way that makes sense to me, but I think different actions and priorities will make sense and work better for different people. In other words, this isn’t a directive, but it might be helpful–it’s been helpful to me in thinking through this.

  1. Shut up and listen. I am not the victim here; it is not my time to talk. I will try to be an ally without taking rhetorical space from my LGBTQI friends. Many who are hurting right now need someone to hear them.
  2. Speak up when appropriate. If I witness someone doing something homophobic or sexist or otherwise mean/inappropriate, I have an obligation to say that this behavior is not okay with me. It contributes to a culture where things like Orlando happen.
  3. Pay attention to affiliations. Religious, political, commercial, whatever. I will be paying close attention to the rhetoric and actions of any church I attend and any politician I am thinking of voting for, and I will not support people or institutions who engage in hate.
  4. Stay focused on the real issues and work to have hard conversations. A friend recently posted this WSJ project that juxtaposes items from “liberal” and “conservative” Facebook feeds to demonstrate how social media can function as an echo chamber that tells users what they want to hear. I will, instead, seek information from many perspectives and try to engage people with a diversity of opinions. (Check it out: http://graphics.wsj.com/blue-feed-red-feed/)
  5. Respond to physical needs as well as emotional ones. If you see a friend suffering, check in to make sure they’re okay. Take them out for lunch, or make a dinner to drop off. Here’s a practical one: Give blood. Since Red Cross policies prevent many queer men from giving blood, this is a need that feels (and is) especially real right now.

The Genderbread Person

Some friends just told me about this, and I think it’s a wonderful way to get people to think just a bit harder about what gender means. I’m borrowing the image below from this page to provide a preview, and I myself am going to need to buy this author’s book (The Social Justice Advocate’s Handbook: A Guide to Gender) very, very soon. More coming when I do.


Oh, the irony

I recently taught a course on Women, Gender and Society. As part of my prep for that class, I did some research on the ways mass media images are digitally altered. I found great resources, including some excellent videos like this one:

And I also found, you know, other stuff. Like the pop-up ad on the bottom of this video (this is a screenshot image). We have a ways to go.

Screen capture of misplaced advertisement

Screen capture of misplaced advertisement

Re-branding Merida

When Disney came out with the movie Brave, I loved it. That’s probably not surprising. I identify with the heroine, Merida, on the levels of appearance and heritage, for one thing. But, more importantly, writer Brenda Chapman is from my home county of just 30,000 people. And, even better, this is one of only a few “fairy tales” I’ve ever witnessed where the heroine’s ultimate happy ending does NOT come in the form of a guy.

And then THIS happened.


This image showing the sexualization of Merida is borrowed from Monika Bartyzel’s story in The Week, which is linked below.

I liked her so much better when she was spunky, independent, and NOT oozing sex appeal.

Continue reading

Paying (critical) attention to advertising

Just some food for thought for today.

Mapping the Margins

Just some quotable smartness and some of my reflections as I re-read Crenshaw’s “Mapping the Margins”:

From Page 1:

“The embrace of identity politics, however, has been in tension with dominant conceptions of social justice. Race, gender, and other identity categories are most often treated in mainstream liberal discourse as vestiges of bias or domination—that is, as intrinsically negative frameworks in which social power works to exclude or marginalize those who are different. According to this understanding, our liberatory objective should be to empty such categories of any social significance. Yet implicit in certain strands of feminist and racial liberation movements, for example is the view that the social power in delineating difference need not be the power of domination; it can instead be the source of social empowerment and reconstruction.”

What would it mean to empty an identity category? What might radical feminists (those who advocate complete cultural restructuring) say about this?

From Page 2:

“I should say at the outset that intersectionality is not being offered here as some new, totalizing theory of identity. Nor do I mean to suggest that violence against women of color can be explained only through the specific frameworks of race and gender considered here. … My focus on the intersections of race and gender only highlights the need to account for multiple grounds of identity when considering how the social world is constructed.”

I suspect that I and others need to be really careful about invoking intersectionality. In order to avoid making it into the totalizing theory Crenshaw warns against (and in so doing rob this idea of much of its value), we must be very careful in describing the particular kinds of intersectionalities we are interested in when engaging in a particular kind of work.

From Page 4:

” . . . [W]omen of color occupy positions both physically and culturally marginalized within dominant society, and so information must be targeted directly to them in order to reach them. Accordingly,rape crisis centers must earmark more resources for basic information dissemination in communities of color than in white ones.”

This statement makes me nervous, and I’m having trouble figuring out why. I think it’s because it sets up marginalization as being dependent upon a person’s inaccessibility by (rather than to) seats of power. (That is, if communicators with power have trouble reaching someone, that person must be marginalized. I’m not sure I buy this.) Maybe the communities of color mentioned above have their own ways of dealing with rape and don’t want the intervention of the rape crisis centers? Or maybe I’m romanticizing communities that I know nothing about. Food for thought.

From Page 5

“The concept of political intersectionality highlights the fact that women of color are situated within at least two subordinated groups that frequently pursue conflicting political agendas.”

Important! Further on, Crenshaw also points out that women of color experience racism differently than men of color and sexism differently than white women. This suggests that feminism+antiracism isn’t enough to deal with the situation of women of color; they are facing a problem that is entirely different. It’s greater than the sum of the parts.

From Pages 10-12

In the case of the Latina woman who was denied access to a shelter because she could not prove she was English-proficient … Are there more issues of intersectionality going on here than race and sex? Where does gender fit in? How about language? Status as a mother of a teenage son?

From Page 14

“Historically, legal rules dictated, for example, that rape victims had to have resisted their assailants in order for their claims to be accepted. Any abatement of struggle was interpreted as the woman’s consent to the intercourse under the logic that a real rape victim would protect her honor virtually to the death. While utmost resistance is not formally required anymore, rape law continues to weigh the credibility of women against narrow normative standards of female behavior. A woman’s sexual history, for example, is frequently explored by defense attorneys as a way of suggesting that a woman who consented to sex on other occasions was likely to have consented in the case at issue. Past sexual conduct as well as the specific circumstances leading up to the rape are often used to distinguish the moral character of the legitimate rape victim from women who are regarded as morally debased or in some other way responsible for their own victimization.”

Obviously, cultural understandings of what constitutes “good” behavior for a woman are at play here. Any woman whose behavior falls outside that narrow spectrum essentially receives less protection from the judicial system. Since women’s behavior is dependent upon their own cultural backgrounds, and since public perception of women depends upon their race (and trends of public exoticization of particular ethnicities), this situation is a problem for all qomen and can quickly become an intersectional problem for women of color.

From Page 21

In regard to the 2 Live Crew case: “Where Will saw a misogynistic assault on Black women by social degenerates, Gates found a form of “sexual carnivalesque” with the promise to free us from the pathologies of racism.”

For me, this argument brings forth the larger issue of where cultural relativism and social justice collide. How do we draw and justify that line? (And who is “we”?)

From Page 27

“It is  helpful in this regard to distinguish intersectionality from the closely related perspective of antiessentialism . . . One version of antiessentialism, embodying what might be called the vulgarized social construction thesis, is that since all categories are socially constructed, there is no such thing as, say, Blacks or women, and thus it makes no sense to continue reproducing those categories by organizing around them. . . . But to say that a category such as race or gender is socially constructed is not to say that that category has no significance in our world.”

From Page 28-29

Regarding Anita Hill: “Caught between the competing narrative tropes of rape (advanced by feminists) on the one hand and lynching (advanced by Thomas and his antiracist supporters) on the other, the race and gender dimensions of her position could not be told. . . . [T]he problem is not simply linguistic or philosophical in nature. It is specifically political: the narratives of gender are based on the experience of white, middle-class women, and the narratives of race are based on the experience of Black men.”

This leaves me feeling rather depressed. What action can I take? (My uncertainty about action, by the way, is a critique of myself, not Crenshaw.)

From Page 29

“Recognizing that identity politics takes place at the site where categories intersect thus seems more fruitful than challenging the possibility of talking about categories at all.”

Preventing Child Marriage: A Complex Cultural Battle

The following is a mini-paper written for my Women in Criminal Justice class. This is the first time I’ve done any research on–or, to be honest, really been aware of–the problem of child marriage. I didn’t have space to really deal with this in the rich, complex way I would have liked to (limit of 5 pages) … but  I’d love to find some more sources that deal with the cultural difficulties involved with working against child marriage as an institution.


Preventing Child Marriage: A Complex Cultural Battle


This paper argues that child marriage constitutes a significant act of international violence against girls and women and that action is necessary in order to protect girls from the consequences of being married as children. Recently, child marriage and its implications for girls and women have become more visible in the popular press. For example, Essence and National Geographic magazines have both published pieces on the devastating effects of child marriage in the past five years (Amber, 2008; Gorney, 2011). However, child marriage is still largely invisible in that it gets little attention relative to the enormity of its effects. This paper suggests that child marriage is a significant international problem. Specifically, this paper argues that child marriage is a human rights violation targeting girls in three particular ways: Child marriage causes girls to be denied education, it makes girls vulnerable to abuse, and it increases girls’ risk of serious health problems. Further, this paper makes recommendations for actions by international governing bodies to deal with the problem of child marriage.

Describing Child Marriage

Child marriage occurs when a person under age 18 is married (Nour, 2006). Although both boys and girls are married as minors around the globe, child marriage disproportionately affects girls; in Mali, for example, just one underage boy is married for every 72 underage girls who are married (Nour, 2006). Child marriage has recently become more visible on an individual level, largely because of the cases of two Yemeni girls. Arwa Abdu Muhammad Ali, 9, and Nujood Ali, 10, both came forward to accuse their husbands of maltreatment (Worth, 2008). Ali’s courage resulted in a precedent-setting legal case when she was granted a divorce. Such cases aid feminists and activists in describing the individual consequences of child marriage because they help put innocent faces to an otherwise largely invisible institution.

The Contexts of Child Marriages

Child marriages occur most commonly in South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East (UNICEF, 2010). In a 2005 study of women aged 20-24, UNICEF found that the highest incidences of women being married as minors were in Niger, Chad, Mali, Bangeladash, Guinea, and Burkina Faso; all these countries had child-marriage rates of higher than 60 percent (UNICEF, 2005). Appendix A shows a map and a bar chart to help visualize the geography and prevalence of child marriage. However, these figures are estimates. Child marriages are often conducted in secret or at the least are not officially recorded. Scholars report that child marriage is closely connected with human trafficking of minor girls, and investment in covering up this criminal activity further distorts efforts to understand the prevalence of child marriage (Ghosh, 2009; Mikhail, 2002). For example, only 490 cases of child marriage were reported in India for the five-year period preceding 2006, although experts believe “the percentage of under-18 marriages of girls in the country has increased from 34% in 1998–99 to 45.6% in 2005–06” (p. 723). Most sources estimate that around 60 million currently living girls and women are victims of child marriage (Terkel, 2010; UNICEF, 2010).


            This paper argues that three main effects of child marriage are troublesome. Child marriage causes girls to be denied education, makes girls vulnerable to abuse, and increases girls’ risk of serious health problems. It is unsurprising that child marriage disproportionately affects girls; it also disproportionately results in serious life problems for those girls as compared to boys who marry prior to age 18. Child marriage, for girls, “leads towards inadequate socialization, discontinuation of education, physiological and psychological damage to girls due to early and frequent pregnancies, and quite often an early widowhood” (Nagi, 1993, p. 2). Raj, Saggurti, Balaiah, & Silverman (2009) found maternity-related complications including higher incidences of repeat childbirth in under 24 months, unwanted pregnancies, abortions, and sterilization in women who had been married as children. Girl brides also face issues including sexually transmitted infections, HIV/AIDS, and increased chances of cervical cancer (Nour, 2006). In addition, one factor that consistently correlates with child marriage is a low level of education (Nour, 2006). Less education and consistent sex-related health complications both mean that child brides have less opportunity—in terms of fewer resources and more complications—for escape, leaving them extremely vulnerable to all types of abuse.

Troublingly, child marriage primarily impacts girls from rural and poor families, who may see girl children as an economic burden (Kamal, 2010; Singh & Kapur, 2005). In some cases, families marry their daughters early in hopes that they will have better lives with a husband than the family could provide (Gorney, 2011; Worth, 2008; UNICEF, 2010). Whatever the reason for the prevalence of the underage marriage of girls, child marriage certainly correlates with many different identities. Religion, ethnicity, class, nationality, and other factors affect child marriage, making the issue ripe for third-wave feminist analysis and intervention (Van Wormer & Bartollas, 2010). Feminists should be particularly invested in preventing child marriage since it perpetuates generational cycles of inequity, disempowerment, and poverty, all of which already affect women in greater numbers than men. Indeed, feminists and other scholars have proven that child marriage causes girls to be denied education, makes girls vulnerable to abuse, and increases girls’ risk of serious health problems. Thus, child marriage is a serious category of international violence against girls and women.

            However, establishing this belief cross-culturally—a first step toward preventing child marriage—is not easy. Child marriage is “linked to social and economic expectations … [child marriage is affected by] conflicts and pressures to maintain social and gendered behavioural norms” (Gangoli, McCarry, & Razak, 2009, p. 428). Gangoli, McCarry, & Razak found that the difference between an arranged marriage and a forced marriage is often blurred; girls are socialized into wanting to please their parents and adhere to their home culture, making it extremely difficult for them to refuse an arranged child marriage even if they live in a country where legal help is available to them. The age of consent is also a controversial issue (Bunting, 2005). Further, Gorney’s reporting shows that families often believe that marrying girls protects them from sexual predation because their husband will protect them from rape—at least, he will protect them from rape by men besides himself. In most cases, local cultural resistance to the criminalization of child marriage occurs for many reasons and is extremely strong.

Current Law and Recommendations

International bodies, most notably the United Nations, have expressed disapproval toward child marriage. The UN has opposed child marriage since 1948. “Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that persons must be at ‘full age’ when married and that marriage should be entered into ‘freely’ and with ‘full consent’” (Nour, 2006). Despite this international statement, national legislation has proven difficult to pass even in the United States. Republicans in the House of Representatives successfully blocked the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2010—even after it passed the Senate—because they believed it would lead to increased abortions (Terkel, 2010). In addition, legal and social policy opposing child marriage meets with overwhelming opposition in countries where child marriage is the cultural norm. In effect, laws against child marriage actually contribute to the invisibility of its victims as they cause child marriages to increasingly take place in secret.

Gaffney-Rhys (2011) argues that, while law is important for establishing understandings about child marriage, national and local social programs are better for preventing it. This paper suggests that social policy is now far more important in working to prevent child marriage than legal policy. Social programs like those discussed by Erulkar & Muthengi (2009) would support awareness and education about child marriage in countries where early marriage is the norm. Such programs could help girls and their families gain access to alternatives in cases where girls are married for protection. Further, aggressive and culturally sensitive social programming would significantly impact the steadiest indicator of child marriage: education. Better education for girls will likely have the result of decreasing the prevalence of child marriage. Finally, at the very least, social programs could provide girls with more knowledge about how to take care of themselves in the instance that they are married and facing health complications or abuse.


This paper argues that child marriage constitutes a substantial act of international violence against girls and women because of its prevalence and its negative consequences for girls’ health and education. In addition, it puts girls at significant risk for physical abuse, including sexual assault. This paper further suggests that privileged organizations and nations such as the U.S. have an obligation to fund and organize social programs to educate girls and their families in affected regions about the dangers of child marriage and about other viable options for girls’ social success. Such programming stands to improve the situation of girls and women on a global scale.




Amber, J. (2008, Nov.). Child brides. Essence, 145-150 and 184-185.

Bunting, A. (2005). Stages of development: Marriage of girls and teens as an international human rights issue. Social & Legal Studies, 14(1), 17-38.

Erulkar, A. S., & Muthengi, E. (2009). Evaluation of Berhane Hewan: A program to delay child marriage in rural Ethiopia. International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 35(1), 6-14.

Gaffney-Rhys, R. (2011). International law as an instrument to combat child marriage. International Journal of Human Rights, 15(3), 359-373.

Gangoli, G., McCarry, M., & Razak, A. Child marriage or forced marriage?: South Asian communities in North East England. Children & Society, 23, 418-429.

Ghosh, B. (2009). Trafficking in women and children in India: nature, dimensions and strategies for prevention. The International Journal of Human Rights, 13(5), 716-738.

Gorney, C. (2011, June). Too young to wed: The secret world of child brides. National Geographic, 219(6), 78-99.

Kamal, S.M.M. (2010). Geographical variations and contextual effecton child marriage in Bangladesh. Pakistan Journal of Women’s Studies, 17(2), 37-57.

Mikhail, S. L. B. (2002). Child marriage and child prostitution: Two forms of sexual exploitation. Gender and Development 10(1), 43-49.

Nagi, B. S. (1993). Child marriage in India: A study of its differential patterns in Rajasthan. New Delhi, India: Mittal Publications.

Nour N. (2006). Health consequences of child marriage in Africa. Emerging Infectious Diseases 12(11). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol12no11/06-0510.htm.

Raj, A., Saggurti, N., Balaiah, D., & Silverman, J.G. (2009). Prevalence of child marriage and its effect on fertility and fertility-control outcomes of young women in India: A cross-sectional, observational study. Lancet, 373(9678), 1883-1889.

Singh, K., & Kapur, D. (2005). Law, violence, and the girl child. Health and Human Rights 5(2), 8-29.

Terkel, A. (2010). House Republicans block child marriage prevention act. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/17/house-republicans-block-child-marriage-prevention-act_n_798382.html.

UNICEF. (2005). Early marriage: A harmful traditional practice. Retrieved from http://www.unicef.org/publications/files/Early_Marriage_12.lo.pdf.

UNICEF. (2010, Sept. 23). Child protection from violence, exploitation, and abuse: Child marriage. Retrieved from http://www.unicef.org/protection/index_earlymarriage.html.

Van Wormer, K. S., & Bartollas, C. (2010). Theoretical perspectives on women and the criminal justice aystem (3rd ed., pp. 3-26). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Worth, R. F. (2008, June 29). Tiny voices defy child marriage in Yemen.  The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/29/world/middleeast/29marriage.html.