On February 10, 2012, the Obama Administration announced that the preventive care benefits mandated by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) would be interpreted to include contraception coverage. This decision proved controversial from the very beginning and elicited numerous legal objections. Many religious organizations and religious owners of businesses objected to the narrow scope of religious exemptions originally allowed in the mandate. Notably, the Supreme Court ruled in 2014 to expand the exemptions to the mandate to include closely held for-profit corporations with “sincerely held religious beliefs.” At issue in these legal challenges was whether the contraception mandate substantially burdened the free exercise of religion, as it is protected under the First Amendment to the US Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Michelle Jones wasn’t the only applicant to be rejected from Harvard University this year. However, hers is in many ways a special case. While she was initially accepted by the history department of Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, her acceptance was ultimately overturned by Harvard’s administration. This move was in connection to the most interesting part of her case: Ms. Jones was only released in August of this year from the Indiana Women’s Prison after serving 20 years of a 50-year sentence for homicide. Although the legal system considered her sentence to be served in full, Harvard University—an elite academic institution—considered her past conviction as grounds for rejection. What does this say about the notion of reform and rehabilitation in the United States?
For decades in the 20th century, the US, Canada, and Australia took thousands of indigenous children from their families and either put them in residential schools or found non-indigenous adoptive parents for them. These practices ended in the 1970s, but only now are governments in Canada and Australia trying to make amends. Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard apologized in 2013, while the government of Manitoba apologized for forced adoptions in 2015. At the beginning of this month, the Canadian government agreed to pay reparations to victims of the “Sixties Scoop”—the forced adoption of indigenous children in the 1960s and 70s. 750 million Canadian dollars will be paid out in legal settlements.
Secession has been a hot topic in 2017. At least two important plebiscites have been celebrated: Kurdistan and Catalonia. Predictably, both the governments of Iraq and Spain have strongly condemned them as illegal, respectively. Both governments are right: the laws of both Iraq and Spain do not allow for secession in the terms that the plebiscites propose it. But, then again, basically no country in the world (Ethiopia and Canada being notable exceptions) accepts the legality of secession. Yet, throughout history, secessions have happened multiple times. Technically, almost all of them have been illegal. Morally, some of them have been celebrated, some not. What, then, is the criterion to judge the morality of secession? What makes George Washington a hero, but Jefferson Davis a villain (if at all)?
In 2002, the Navajo Nation placed a moratorium on genetic research within its territorial jurisdiction. Among the motivations were concerns about the misuse of data and the potential for privacy violations. Many members of the Navajo Nation were opposed to the moratorium, primarily because of the medical benefits of genetic testing. This month, the Navajo Nation announced that they are considering lifting the moratorium.
“There is not a liberal America and a conservative America—there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America… there’s the United States of America.” These words were pronounced by Barack Obama in the 2004 Democratic Convention. A relatively obscure politician at the time, this speech proved to be momentous, as it struck a chord with American voters, and four years later, Obama was the first African American president elected in U.S. history.
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When Tarana Burke served as a youth worker, she heard her “share of heartbreaking stories from broken homes to abusive or neglectful parents.” A little girl, Heaven, reached out to Burke to talk in private, relaying stories of “her mother’s boyfriend who was doing all sorts of monstrous things to her developing body.” Unable to handle the horror, Burke interrupted and directed the girl to a different counselor. Haunted by her response, Burked reflected, “as I cared about that child, I could not find the courage that she had found. I could not muster the energy to tell her that I understood, that I connected, that I could feel her pain.” Shocked and hurt by the rejection, Heaven walked away, and Burke remembers the moment: “I watched her put her mask back on and go back into the world like she was all alone and I couldn’t even bring myself to whisper…me too.”
The first “#MeToo,” Burke started the movement and also founded JustBe Inc., “a youth organization focused on the health, well-being and wholeness of young women of color.” Last weekend, Actress Alyssa Milano posted on Twitter, rekindling the movement: “Me too. Suggested by a friend: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” The movement resurfaced as the cascading allegations of Harvey Weinstein’s perpetrations of sexual assault flooded in by the dozens. Spreading rapidly across social media platforms, the movement quickly came to life: “On Facebook, there were more than 12 million posts, comments and reactions in less than 24 hours, by 4.7 million users around the world, according to the company. In the U.S., Facebook said 45 percent of users have had friends who posted ‘me too.’”
Anna Walsh, writer for The Washington Post, notes that there have been many hashtag movements like this one, listing #YesAllWomen in 2014 and #NotOkay in 2016, when then-presidential candidate Donald Trump dismissed his conduct in a video that emerged — in which Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women — as “locker room talk.” When “Trump’s surrogates attempted to discredit the women who said Trump had assaulted them,” people responded with a new hashtag, #WhyWomenDontReport. Yet many people, like Walsh, are frustrated by the lack of a male response. Despite the surges of female activism and expressions of pain, culminated in the national #NotOkay and #WhyWomenDontReport, Donald Trump still became the president of the United States, defeating a woman. We still have need for hashtags like #MeToo.
Ann Friedman, writer for the LA Times, expresses her disappointment with the lack of a male response to the #MeToo movement in her powerful article, titled “Want to be a male ally to harassed women? Stop ranting about Harvey Weinstein and put your friends in check.” Weinstein’s extensive and horrific history of sexual assault is terrible. But to only acknowledge his crimes within his industry is an oversight. With millions of women posting #MeToo, sexual harassment and assault is far from only Hollywood’s problem. Friedman supports the men who have come forward on social media, admitting to be a part of the problem: one male actor posted, “Used to be, when I got drunk, I’d get HANDSY” with an apology. According to CNN Entertainment, Quentin Tarantino regretfully expressed his inaction for not speaking up about Weinstein’s abuse, “I knew enough to do more than I did.”
Yet overall, mostly female voices have carried the #MeToo movement. Men cannot treat assault like it is none of their business. Why are many men hesitant to deem themselves feminists? Why is sexual assault a women’s issue?
Taking a look at where we receive our information and social cues — news outlets, movies, political leaders, and books — can help breakdown why certain issues become gendered. Who has the power? Or more importantly: who is telling the stories?
On average, a 2013 survey reported that — among reporters, copy editors, layout editors, online producers, photographers, and videographers — “[m]en have 63.7 percent of the gigs, while women have 36.3 percent.” Determining what stories to report to the public, the media has the potential to greatly influence public perceptions. With the gender imbalance, male and female concerns may not be equally represented.
In Hollywood, the industry currently in the spotlight, “Women comprised just seven percent of all directors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films in 2016. That figure represents a decline of two percentage points from 2015’s nine percent.” Men dominated the important positions in the film industry: “Women accounted for 13 percent of writers, 17 percent of executive producers, 24 percent of producers, 17 percent of editors and nine percent of cinematographers.”
Weinstein perpetrated violent crimes of power. Yet other men in the industry benefit from the same power that silenced the survivors of Weinstein’s sexual assaults. Not only do the executive men in Hollywood gain wealth, social status, and the ability to shape art and popular culture from their positions, but they also have the power of an audience — a listening audience that women posting #MeToo are desperate to reach.
In her article about women’s representation in politics, Danielle Kurtzleben, a political reporter for NPR, provided a useful visualization that compares professions based on the rates of employed women within a job: preschool and kindergarten teachers being the most popular at 96.8 percent, to carpenters being the least, at 1.8 percent. Female state legislators (24.5 percent) are roughly equivalent to the rates of female farmers and ranchers; female congress members (19.4 percent) practically align with female clergy; female governors (12 percent) fall 1.4 percent short of female sheriff’s patrol officers; while female president remains unparalleled at zero. Kurtzleben comments that “Several large American religious denominations . . . for the most part do not allow women to be ordained. Lawmaking of course has no such restrictions, but Congress’ women’s share is still stuck where it is among clergy.”
Women have to be activists for their issues, because in a male-dominated Congress, they do not have the seats to make the changes themselves. For so long, feminism has been considered a controversial term, a sort of taboo. Defined as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes,” feminism may indeed be a dangerous term for the people who benefit from political, economic, and social inequality.
Usually introduced to children earlier than the news and politics, books can have a great effect on young Americans. From children’s books to classic novels, stories have the power to construct gender roles and shape people’s perceptions of society. What they include or what they leave out can be as equally harmful. In her TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” Chimamanda Adichie, a novelist from Nigeria, shares that she grew up reading British and American children’s books. As she began to write at the age of seven, she realized, “All my characters were white and blue-eyed, they played in the snow, they ate apples, and they talked a lot about the weather, how lovely it was that the sun had come out.” Adichie’s characters did not look, eat, or talk like her. Though she was very fond of those books and they sparked her imagination, Adichie claimed, “I had become convinced that books by their very nature had to have foreigners in them and had to be about things with which I could not personally identify” until discovering African writers.
In the United States, this lack of representation in the literary world is apparent in schools’ reading lists. Under “Popular High School Reading List Books,” Goodreads lists predictable books that high school graduates have most likely read, including The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Catcher in the Rye. Out of the top fifty suggestions, only nine authors were female, with only one woman of color.
Assigning only “the classics” of a patriarchal literary history teaches high school girls and boys to sympathize with only male characters and see through a male-centric view of the world. We need to teach girls and women that they have a place in our society and the right to vocalizes their stories; they have the right to say #MeToo; and they have the right to be heard. We need to teach young girls of color that they make up more than just 2 percent of our country’s voices, history, pain, potential, and value; and thus they deserve much more than a dismal 2 percent of our literature. Women should not be forced to aspire to limiting role of supporting characters, plot necessities, and conflict drivers. We need to teach women that they can be the protagonists, strong-willed characters, and authors.
Feminism Transcends Gender
In another one of Adichie’s TED Talks, We should all be feminists, she contemplates societal perceptions of gender. Adichie reflects on her initial encounter with the word “feminist” — her young male friend directed the term toward her derogatorily — and culminates her talk with her own definition — “feminist : a man or a woman who says, ‘Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today, and we must fix it, we must do better.’” Though she delivered her TED Talk five years ago, her talk readily applies to the male response — or lack thereof — to the #MeToo movement. Discussing how challenging of a conversation gender can be, Adichie prompts her audience to consider: “Some of the men here might be thinking, ‘Okay, all of this is interesting, but I don’t think like that.’ And that is part of the problem. That many men do not actively think about gender or notice gender, is part of the problem of gender.” Understanding, acknowledging, and discussing the gender imbalances in the media, politics, novels, and certain professions is a place to start.
Friedman, the LA Times journalist, also challenges the fact that sexual assault has societally become a women’s issue like feminism, claiming that “survivors should be supported by everyone in their community. For men, that means doing what women have been doing privately for a long time: reaching out, offering support, and taking women’s words to heart.” She asserts that men “have to want to know the truth”: “It haunts me to think that I have given social approval to serial harassers or worse because of what I didn’t know. Men should feel the same way.”
Tracing gender to its roots, Adichie acknowledges the fact that physical strength once made men more natural leaders for survival purposes “a thousand years ago,” but the world has changed: “The person more likely to lead is not the physically stronger person, it is the more creative person, the more intelligent person, the more innovative person, and there are no hormones for those attributes. Stuck in a societal stasis, “We have evolved, but it seems to me that our ideas of gender have not evolved.”
Reflecting on how even though sex requires more than one person, it is masculinized whereas virginity is feminized, Adichie comments on how female sexuality is globally repressed: “And so, girls grow up to be women who cannot say they have desire. They grow up to be women who silence themselves. They grow up to be women who cannot say what they truly think. And they grow up — and this is the worst thing we do to girls — they grow up to be women who have turned pretense into an art form.” Referring to the public’s response to a gang rape in her home country, Nigeria, Adichie comments about how people “have been raised to think of women as inherently guilty,” and thus they may instinctively blame the woman by questioning “what is a girl doing in a room with four boys?” Instead of focusing on the men’s horrific violent crime of power, people wonder what the woman did to provoke them until she believes it to be true: “We teach girls shame. ‘Close your legs. Cover yourself.’ We make them feel as though being born female they’re already guilty of something.”
We cannot keep blaming women, repressing their ambitions and sexuality, and promoting men’s careers, art, and futures while excusing their behaviors at the cost of women’s respect and safety.
Courageous women will keep pouring out their pain again and again with new hashtags until men listen. If survivors of assault are brave enough to speak up, everyone else cannot remain silent while people dismiss rape culture as hookup culture, share their damaging attitudes toward women, and boast about sexual assault. We cannot ignore the problem with half of our population sharing a fear. We must speak up since an American is assaulted every 98 seconds —roughly nine times since you began reading this article.
The #MeToo movement will not end here.
It cannot end until a high school boy says, “I see myself in these books,” and the girl next to him can reply, “me too.”
Until a man confronts his social circle and says, “This is my business. I will not let you treat, touch, or talk about a woman like that.” And the others nod their heads, “me too.”
Until a woman can say, “I have been president,” and other women can raise their hands, signaling “me too.”
I am hopeful for the moment in which we can reclaim the phrase. But for now, all I can say is
As America grapples with another mass shooting, this time at a concert in Las Vegas, the arguments put forth by both sides have not exactly tread new ground. There have been some encouraging signs of progress, namely the growing consensus around a ban of the bump-fire stocks the shooter used to simulate automatic fire and kill 58 people. Yet much of the debate remains couched in appeals to public safety and evocations of constitutional rights, doing little to address the deep intractability that marks the gun control debate.
On October 12, when actress Rose McGowan tweeted about her sexual assault perpetrated by Harvey Weinstein, her Twitter account was shut down. McGowan’s tweets and accusations follow the accusations of several other women in Hollywood, who spoke out to various journalists.
By now, all of us have been touched in some way by the opioid epidemic in the United States. While there is ample medical science, social science, and political science to explain the phenomenon of addiction, our anecdotal personal experience shapes our ethical judgments. Is addiction a choice or a disease? If it is a disease, is it acquired because of voluntary behavior, or caused by biological or societal factors? Can addicts simply stop using drugs?
The labor of scientists has benefited society tremendously. Advancements in medicine and technology have improved both the length and the quality of human lives. Scientific studies have been and continue to be a crucial part of that process. Science, when done well, is indispensable to a healthy, happy, curious human race. Unfortunately, science isn’t always done well. When done poorly, studies can have disastrous effects. People tend to trust claims made by scientists, and that trust turns out to be unwarranted if something has gone wrong with the research.
In Kenya, a grand experiment in a radical approach to foreign aid and poverty alleviation is about to get underway. Instead of the predominant approach to foreign aid of providing in-kind donations to poor people (such as housing, food, and health care), the charity Give Directly plans to give money directly to poor people with no strings attached. The concept of a universal basic income (UBI) behind the charity’s experiment “is a specific type of cash transfer” that is “unconditional,” “universal,” “enough to cover basic needs,” and “guaranteed for a recipient’s lifetime.” Critics of UBI claim that recipients will waste the money they receive on things like alcohol, or will stop working because of the new income. Give Directly wants to test these claims to build evidence for UBI as a more efficient and effective approach to poverty alleviation.
On October 5, The New York Times released a report detailing various instances of sexual assault perpetrated by Hollywood director and executive, Harvey Weinstein, on many of his female colleagues. The allegations span over a period of 30 years, as Weinstein’s power in the film industry protected him from consequences. “Movies were his private leverage,” the report reads, as Weinstein often offered promotions and bonuses to his female colleagues in exchange for sexual acts, and silenced those who spoke out with payments that ranged between $80,000 and $150,000.
On October 1, a gunman opened fire on a country music festival in downtown Las Vegas. Almost immediately following news of the shooting, prominent politicians such as Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders tweeted pleas for stronger gun control. These tweets drew harsh criticism regarding the politicization of mass shootings. Such criticism appears in the wake of mass shootings, as people assess when it is too soon to start discussing gun control, and what can be done in the future to prevent such tragedies. Continue reading “Politics and Respect in the Wake of Mass Shootings”
In a Time Magazine opinion piece, “How to Fix American Stupidity,” the philosopher Steven Nadler laments what he sees as a creeping intellectual stubbornness afflicting American citizens and offers some ideas about how to cure it. He calls this cognitive pandemic stupidity. As evidence of our country’s stupidity, Nadler cites the growing denial of anthropogenic climate change, denigration of Islam, and repudiation of evolution by natural selection.
Last month I made my first visit to Australia and was continually struck by the how different the country is from the US. The scrubby outback, the bouncing marsupials, people saying “no worries” constantly—they all reminded me that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore (or in my home state of Texas). But there was also a difference in what was on the news. Australia’s marriage equality vote was a constant topic, which seemed peculiar; peculiar because the vote was taking place now, when same-sex marriage was legalized in the US two years ago, and peculiar also because of the role of voting. In the US, a Supreme Court decision established marriage equality in 2015.
Since the first atom bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, pop culture has imagined and re-imagined apocalyptic narratives. From the “atomic pop” that proliferated on the radio in the 1940s and 50s, to the 2008 and 2016 releases of post-apocalyptic video games Fallout 3 and Fallout 4, this recurring theme exemplifies how ingrained the apocalyptic narrative is in Western culture. However, a shift can be seen from apocalyptic fears in the years after the bomb, to the post-apocalyptic heroic narratives told today in video games like Fallout. Although the apocalypse was once seen as the ultimate end, post-apocalyptic narratives make room for life afterwards, a life inherently fraught with ethical dilemmas about how to rebuild society. Where did apocalyptic narratives shift from ultimate annihilation to a heroic narrative about rebuilding society, and how does Fallout provide a moral compass for navigating the post-apocalypse?
At an Alabama rally on September 22, President Donald Trump criticized the NFL and NFL team owners for not taking harsher action against players who protest during the playing of the national anthem at games. He is quoted referring to players who protest as “sons of bitches,” and claimed NFL owners should fire them for protesting. Trump also called out NFL fans, adding that if they would “leave the stadium” in the event of a protest, then “things would stop.”
There is no debate about the mistreatment of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar. However, there is an ongoing struggle to figure out when the international community should step in. It is important to know who are the Rohingya people, and why the stories about this group are becoming primetime news. Continue reading “In Myanmar, A Failed Test for the International Community”
Last month, according to the Los Angeles Times, a court ordered Johnson & Johnson, purveyor of several household health and beauty products, to pay $417 million in damages to Eva Echeverria, a 63-year-old Los Angeles resident who claims the company failed to warn her and other consumers about the cancer risk of their talc-based products, such as their baby powder.
Since May 2011, around 5.1 million people have fled Syria and the Assad regime. Additionally, another 6.1 million people reside as internally displaced peoples (IDPs) within Syria. Because of this, many of the surrounding countries have fronted many of the refugees, including 3 million in Turkey, 1 million in Lebanon, and another 660,000 in Jordan. What are the moral complexities surrounding these nations and what responsibility does the rest of the international community have in this crisis? Continue reading “The Moral Complexities of Helping Refugees”
On September 7, the front page of the New York Times business page flashed an enormous, sharp-toothed, red tomato. This monster tomato strangled popcorn in its powerful vines as it rose from the tempestuous seas, with a timid skyline cowering in its backdrop. Continue reading “The Cinematic Populism of Rotten Tomatoes”