Thursday, November 28, 2013

When Representation Isn't Representative: An Argument for Women in Politics

This is not your average plea for gender parity in politics.

I'm not going to tell you about women's empathetic, flexible leadership style or their flair for compromise. Nor will I pigeonhole women by saying they are invariably interested in issues like education and domestic violence, or that they will vote on women's issues in a monolithic bloc.

I believe it is insulting to women to insinuate that they must follow traditional gender roles and make progress in the arenas of education, healthcare, and other so-called "feminine" arenas. But it is no better to insist that women must adapt masculine, assertive leadership qualities in order to survive in their careers. Ideally, our political system could welcome a diversity of women: those who are masculine, those who are feminine, those who are gay or transgender, those who are racially or ethnically diverse, those who have disabilities.

Anyone who has tuned into Fox News knows that not all women support affordable, accessible reproductive healthcare for other women or for themselves. Not all women agree on environmental issues, or on the subject of marriage equality, or on gun regulation. Some women are racist. Some women are ableist. This is why I stress that all women's voices are important, and that in combating a dire lack of women in politics, we must elect women who represent diverse (and sometimes intersecting) backgrounds.

In the United States, the numbers are not on women's side: 
  • As of January 2013, women make up only 18.3% of Congress (this is the highest percentage in U.S. history)
  • About 24 percent of state legislators are women 
  • Women serve as mayors of only 12/100 of the largest U.S. cities
  • This year, the U.S. came in 77th place in a worldwide ranking of female leadership
(The National Women's Political Caucus)

I wish that these numbers alone were enough. I wish that anyone reading the previous bullet points would stop for a moment, and realize that, on principle, women's voices have value in the political realm. Unfortunately, arguing the ethics of women's under-representation is not always enough. 

The strongest argument I can form, if justice and morals alone are not enough, lies in the words "representative," and "democracy." According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, a democracy is, "a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation." Without women in the picture, how accurate is that supposed representation?

A representative, according to the same source, is characterized by "standing or acting for another especially through delegated authority." In this case, representatives stand and act for civilian constituents. The issue lies in the fact that cisgender men in politics, who (in theory) ought to stand for women and their rights, often do not.

Therefore, in order to be a true representative democracy, women leaders must be elected to represent the views of their constituents - half of whom are women, many of whom are minority women and many of whom support progressive changes to better the lives of women. Electing women because it's the right thing to do is a good enough argument for me, but if you disagree, please take a closer look at how you define representation.

Kai Niezgoda

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Fixing Her Hair: Representations of Transgender Women in Media

It’s the opening of a movie or a book. A tall woman with long, beautiful blonde hair enters the scene. She’s fixing her makeup, tousling her hair and adjusting her flowing, fashionable dress in the mirror. It’s only afterward that you look back with scrutiny - her build was pretty muscular, wasn’t it? Her makeup was on just a little too thick. You tell yourself that you saw “the signs” before the big reveal - the woman you’ve just witnessed is transsexual.

Why is this a scene that plays out so often in film and literature? In Whipping Girl, author and activist Julia Serano coins the concept of “effememania,” which explains this phenomenon in terms of sexism against women (129). Effememania involves a fear of femininity, especially when transgender women or gay men express femininity. For many, masculine or feminine traits are assumed to be natural and related to one's sex. To those who promote traditional gender roles and expression, it seems unnatural for males, who inherit privileges related to their masculinity, to “lower” their status by “choosing” to live as feminine and/or female.

In this way, the lives of transgender women are sensationalized. Femininity, unlike masculinity, is exploited in mainstream media - and this only intensifies with a lack of understanding when it comes to gender diversity. Transgender women are assumed to want to portray traditionally feminine characteristics, displayed often in movies and books that contain extremely feminine transgender characters. But just like cisgender (non-transgender) women, transgender women can be girly or androgynous or even masculine; they can paint their nails or paint buildings; they can have long, flowing hair or short, choppy locks. Assumptions about femininity in transgender women promote a narrow view of what it means to be transgender and a woman.

It is my belief that these kinds of perceptions are popular because they display normativity – that is, they appear “normal” enough to make people comfortable with them. Viewing transgender women as exclusively feminine reinforces gender roles, just like only portraying cisgender women as feminine does. It's my hope that media will soon reflect our uniqueness and diversity as individuals. More and more, people are accepting that long-held assumptions about gender can be wrong. When gender diversity is represented fully in our media, we will be one step closer to ending gender oppression.

Kai Niezgoda

Monday, October 7, 2013

Violence Against Women

The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women defines violence against women as “…any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”

Violence against women can include, domestic violence, intimate partner violence, dating violence, family violence, sexual assault, rape, stalking, sexual harassment, trafficking and slavery.  All of these assaults can be perpetrated by people of any gender, and can be committed against people of any gender.

Here are some shocking facts that you may not realize:
  • Around the world, at least 1 in 3 women has been beaten, forced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime.
  •  According to the National Violence Against Women Survey (2000):
    • Approximately 1.5 million women are raped and/or physically assaulted by an intimate partner each year.
    • Nearly 25% of women have been raped and/or physically assaulted by an intimate partner at some point in their lives.
    • One of six U.S. women and 1 of 33 U.S. men have experienced an attempted or completed rape.
These numbers are terrifying. 

Join Oakland/Macomb County NOW, Turning Point and HAVEN on a discussion of violence against women and what you can do regarding.  Information on the event can be found here.  Bring a friend.  Bring all your friends, of all genders.  

This is important.  

Christina Soliz
Oakland/Macomb County NOW Intern

Facts found in the lecture "Violence Against Women and Its Effects on Women's Health" by Dr. Lisa Martin, at the University of Michigan-Dearborn

Sunday, September 22, 2013


The Institute for Women’s Policy Research released important research this past week – the gender wage gap is projected to close!  IN 2058.  Does that make you furious?  Because it should.  It should make you furious because this year marks the 50th, let me repeat that, THE 50TH anniversary of the Equal Pay Act.  In those fifty years, the gap has closed by a whopping 18 cents.  On average today, women are paid about 77 cents for every dollar paid to men.  The gap widens for women of color.  In Michigan, women make about 73.8 cents for every dollar that men make, African American women tend to make 67.8 cents to every dollar of white man, and Hispanic women make 55.2 cents for every dollar a white man makes.  This should enrage you, or at least make you think, “hmm, that’s weird.” 

So, what can you do to help close the gap?  Support the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act.  The Paycheck Fairness act would require employers to prove that pay disparities exist for real, job-related reasons, protect against retaliation for discussing salaries with colleagues, and more.  Call your Senators and tell them to support and vote for this legislation, help them get the ball rolling.  In addition, you can talk about these facts to friends, family, colleagues, and anyone.  Talk about the facts.    

Christina Soliz
NOW Intern


Institute for Women’s Policy Research:
IWPR analysis of data from DeNavas-Walt, Carmen, Bernadette D. Proctor, and Jessica C. Smith. 2013. U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, P60-245, Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2012, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, Table A-4
National Women’s Law Center:
Overall figures calculated by NWLC are based on 2011 American Community Survey Data. Figures for African American women and Hispanic women calculated by NWLC are based on 2009-2011 American Community Survey Three-Year Estimates. State minimum wages from Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, "Minimum Wage Laws in the States – January 1, 2013". Minimum wages for tipped workers are often lower.

The Paycheck Fairness Act:
"Fair Pay." Fair Pay. National Partnership for Women and Families, n.d. Web.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Get Tested!

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), young people ages 13-29 years old account for 39 percent of all new HIV infections in 2009.  HIV is an infection that could turn into AIDS if untreated.  In the U.S., HIV is spread by having unprotected sex-anal or vaginal- or by sharing drug-use equipment with someone who is infected.  The 2009 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that many youths begin having sexual intercourse at a young age.  46 percent of high school students have had sexual intercourse, and 5.9 percent reported having sex before the age of 13.  A question on the survey asked if the respondent had had intercourse during the three months before the survey, and 34.2 percent of the students did.  Of that number, 38.9 percent did not use a condom.  Similarly, data from the CDC has shown that young gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM), especially minority MSM, have high rates of new HIV infections.

So, what can be done about the increasing amount of HIV infections?


The only way to avoid HIV is to abstain from all sex and drug use, but we need to realize that this is not a reasonable method for adolescents.  Adolescents need accurate information on HIV and AIDS, they need to know how to reduce or eliminate the risks of getting HIV, they need to know how to talk to their partner about safe sex, how to properly use a condom, and where to get tested for HIV.  We need to take away the stigma of HIV and getting tested so that young people are not scared to ask for help if they need it.

To find an HIV testing site, go to:

Christina Soliz
NOW Intern

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Women's Equality Day

August 26, 2013 is the 93rd anniversary of the certification of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote.  My grandmother was 29 years old at the time, and it was the issue of her generation.  Her dedication to voting lasted all her life. 

Today women serve in government and business leadership roles nationwide, however the numbers are troubling.  Women comprise 51% of the U.S population, yet according to a Rutgers University study Women Officeholders, women hold only 10% of the Governor seats, 20% of the US Senate, 18% of the US House of Representatives, and 24% of the seats in State Legislatures across the nation.  Is it any wonder that women’s viewpoints are ignored when policy issues regarding women are discussed?  I’m reminded of the 2012 photo of all men sitting before a US House committee meeting setting birth control policy. 

In 1985, I worked for a defense contractor. Employees were not allowed to discuss salary with other employees.  I supervised a group of about 10 production engineers, and shared an office with another supervisor of a similar group.  “John” and I were the same age (32), we both held engineering degrees, and we had equivalent work experience. Once I inadvertently saw John’s pay stub and learned that he was making more than 20% higher salary than I was.  When I asked my manager about the difference his response was “John has a family.” 

Well, I had a family too.  My husband was a post-doctoral fellow making very little money while he did heart research at a major university.   Today he is a well-know scientist in his field. My first child was born while I worked at that company. Not only could I not talk about or negotiate my salary, the system was rigged against me from the start.  Lower salary has meant lower retirement earnings.  John could accumulate much more from those years than I did. Whether John or I had a family should have had no bearing on our salary. Whether we were married or single shouldn’t matter, either.

A generation later the statistics aren’t much better.  Women in the same jobs make 77% as much on average, as men.  Source: Women's Pay Gap 1951-2011.  All families suffer for the inequity.  More single-parent families are led by women than by men, and most two income families rely on the income of a woman.  The antiquated idea that a woman’s income is “extra” hurts us all.

If employers paid women equivalent to men, billions of dollars would be added to the economy, by some estimates 3-4% annually. WageGap/Economic Stimulus.  That’s why, on Women’s Equality Day, I support Equal Pay for Equal Work.  It’s fair, it’s good for the economy, and it’s long overdue. For more information on the gender Wage Gap, visit AAUW-The Simple Truth.

Gwen Markham

Vice President, National Organization for Women Oakland-Macomb Chapter