Document the Silence: 31 October

The Document the Silence Project aims to end the lack of attention to crimes of violence against women of color in the US. They have an important event coming up on October 31, and I’d urge you to participate:

Recent events in the United States have moved us to action. Violence against women is sadly, not a new phenomenon in our country or in the world, however, in the last year women of color have experienced brutal forms of violence, torture, rape and injustice which have gone unnoticed, received little to no media coverage, or a limited community response. We are responding to:

The brutal and inhumane rape, torture, and kidnapping of Megan Williams in Logan, West Virginia who was held by six assailants for a month.

Rape survivors in the Dunbar Housing Projects in West Palm Beach, Florida one of whom was forced to perform sexual acts on her own child.

A 13 year old native American girl was beaten by two white women and has since been harassed by several men yelling “white power” outside of her home

Seven black lesbian girls attempted to stop an attacker and were latter charged with aggravated assault and are facing up to 11 year prison sentences

In a Litany of Survival, Audre Lorde writes, “When we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive.” These words shape our collective organizing to break the silence surrounding women of color’s stories of violence. We are asking for community groups, grass-root organizations, college campus students and groups, communities of faith, online communities, and individuals to join us in speaking out against violence against women of color. If we speak, we cannot be invisible.

Join us and stand up to violence against women!

Be bold, be brave, be red. Wear red on October 31, 2007. Take a picture or video of yourself and friends wearing red. Send it to: We’ll post it!

Take Your Red to the Streets! Know of a location where violence occurred against a woman of color? Have a public location where you feel women of color are often ignored? Make violence against women of color visible by decorating the space in red. Be sure to send us pictures and or video of your display!

Rally! Gather your friends, family, and community to rally. Check out the Document the Silence website for the litany we’re asking participants to read together on October 31st. Be sure to send us pictures and/or video of the event! You could even gather where you created a display!

For more Information on how to Host a RED Rally, please click on the page “How to Host a Red Rally.”

Share your story of silence. Share your own story of silence by uploading it to the Document the Silence website ( You can send a story in any form you’d like – as a written statement, video clip, movie, documentary, or visual art.

For more information, go here.

Women’s Studies Paper Competition

From an email I just received:

This is just a reminder that the deadline for the 2007 FWSA essay
competition is just over a week away (1 November, 2007).

We are inviting entries from students who are doing innovative and
interdisciplinary work which is ground in feminist theory, and welcome
entries from students from any discipline and at any stage of their studies
at a UK or Irish university. The prize for the winning essay is £200 and one
year’s FWSA membership; the top six entries will be published in a special
issue of the Journal of International Women’s Studies.

Essays should be between 4000-8000 words, and should be submitted
electronically as a single MS Word document, including bibliography and
cover sheet (which can be downloaded from

The deadline for submission is 1 November, 2007 and entries can be submitted at any time between now and then.

We had 40 entries last year, with a good mix of undergraduate and
postgraduate entries, and we would like to achieve an even higher number of
entries this year from across the disciplines. I would be grateful if you
could display and circulate the attached poster as widely as possible in
order to promote the competition. Also, if you are a member staff, please
encourage your students to submit essays or dissertations; if you are a
student, and you have a piece of work that you enjoyed writing and were
pleased with, then please think about submitting it.

For further information about the competition, or about previous winners,
please go here.
or you can e-mail .

We’re looking forward to reading the entries later this year!
Best wishes
Karen Throsby (on behalf of the FWSA executive committee)

Too Many Abortions?

Question for the day: Can/should someone who is pro-reproductive rights/pro-choice say “there are too many abortions”?

Well, here’s an argument (from Ann Furedi, chief executive of BPAS, the UK charity providing abortion and contraceptive care) that such a claim is incompatible with being truly pro-choice:

“There are many positive reasons why abortion numbers can increase – because women are more easily able to access the services they need, because more abortion care is funded by the NHS, and because more women now believe abortion is an acceptable option if they are faced with an unintended pregnancy.”If you are opposed to abortion in principle, these changes will be unwelcome, but if you believe that women should be able to make decisions about their reproductive future, then these are positive changes.”Of course its better to prevent an unwanted pregnancy than to end one in abortion. I’ve never met a woman in a BPAS abortion clinic who didn’t want to not be there. No woman aspires to have an abortion.”But abortion is not in itself the problem. The problem is the unwanted pregnancy and abortion can be the solution to that for many women. There’s no right or wrong number; we need as many abortions as are necessary to solve the problem pregnancies that women face.”

Everything Furedi says seems right. But if it’s true that it’s better to prevent an unwanted pregnancy than to have an abortion, and also true (as I’m sure Furedi would agree) that we could do a better job of preventing unwanted pregnancies through increased knowledge about and access to contraception, then it also seems true that there are too many abortions. Surely we’d be better off with fewer unwanted pregnancies and fewer abortions.

I think this apparent puzzle hinges on what possibilities we’re comparing with the real world when deciding whether “there are too many abortions” is true. Here are two options:

(1) To evaluate the truth of “There are too many abortions”, we should compare the actual world with one in which everything is the same but fewer women get abortions. If that world is better, then there are too many abortions. No pro-choice person should agree that there are too many abortions on this reading– because that would mean it would be better to have just as many unwanted pregnancies and fewer abortions.

(2) To evaluate the truth of “There are too many abortions”, we should compare the actual world with all of the other options that include fewer abortions. If some of those are better, then “there are too many abortions” is true. Plenty of pro-choice people could agree with “there are too many abortions” on this reading. A world with fewer unwanted pregnancies due to better contraceptive access is better than the actual world, for example.

The problem is that when a pro-choice person says “there are too many abortions”, it’s far too easy to be misinterpreted, quoted out of context, and interpreted as wanting to restrict access to abortions. So can a pro-choice person agree that there are too many abortions? Yes, on the right understanding of the claim. Should they do so, strategically speaking? Maybe not, unless explain themselves very well, and they’re very confident that all their reasons will be properly quoted. With an ambiguity this big and important, one needs to be careful.

Interesting reads…

The Guardian this weekend contained reviews (here, here, here and here) of the following books, which looked to be interesting:

  •  The Female Thing
       by Laura Kipnis
  • The Myth of Mars and Venus: Do Men and Women Really Speak Different Languages?
    by Deborah Cameron
    [see post below on this one]
  • Rape: A History from 1860 to the Present
    by Joanna Bourke
  • Virgins: A Cultural History
    by Anke Bernau

Haven’t read any of them, but they’re on the ‘to read’ list! (and if you don’t get round to reading the books, the reviews themselves, linked above, are interesting)

Getting Your Chosen Childbirth Experience

Alternet has an article discussing a survey which shows women in childbirth not being properly informed about medical interventions, and being given medical interventions without their consent.  All bad, I agree completely.  But there’s a trend running through the piece which suggests that if women were able to have skillful helpers for natural childbirth everything would go according to plan.  Take these quotes for example:

unless you are willing to research in depth, shop around for care providers and advocate stubbornly for what you want, you probably won’t have the labor you expect. 

Despite the relative health of women in the United States, many women are not getting the uncomplicated births they might expect.

The fact is that childbirth is inherently unpredictable. Telling women that if they shop around hard enough for the right midwife, and work hard enough on their relaxation techniques and positions they’ll have a great uncomplicated time is SERIOUS misinformation. It’s the sort of thing that makes women blame themselves if something goes wrong and they end up desperately needing an intervention, or if they change their minds and decide they really would like pain relief after all. I’ve read far too many stories of women who feel like failures because of these things. Frankly, I am the only woman I know whose first birth went exactly according to plan, and that was because it was a planned caesarean. (And I have lots of friends who had midwives and doulas.) I strongly believe that women should be given natural childbirth as a real option, and given all the assistance they need for it. But suggesting that if they make this choice everything will be just as they plan is wrong.

Woman as Video Game

Apparently there is now a woman doll which will moan with pleasure only if the human being interacting with it manages to do the right things– which change randomly every time. The idea of using a doll for sex with doll orgasms as one’s goal is a fascinating development of the using things as people theme. It’s not actually clear whether anyone would really do this– the piece is apparently the work of an artist, although it’s being presented at Arse Electronica, a porn and technology event. There’s obviously there’s something nice about emphasising the importance of thinking about one’s partner’s pleasure, and so a part of me thinks a sex toy like this is a nice (though somehow creepy) idea. However, its (male) maker seems to think that it does a good job of replicating female sexuality. One idea he emphasises is that female sexuality is complex and changeable, and that seems true enough. But I’m not so thrilled with the idea that women are just random in their responses, or with this:

He designed Moaning Lisa specifically for Arse Elektronika, with help from conference organizer Kyle Machulis, to demonstrate the videogame-like properties of the human body.  

Somehow human being as videogame doesn’t seem like much of an advance in our thought. Especially since he insists that males are not like videogames:

“Male sex sensors are biased, and not as spread out” over the body, Ganucheau said. “Sure, there are deviances in distribution, but overall it’s not as dynamic as a female. I find that if you go straight for male genitalia, the norm is that you’re guaranteed to get someone off.”This situation, he asserted, would make for a pretty boring game. You grab the genitals and you win every time.  

As Annalee Newitz of Alternet notes, not all men would agree with this vision of their sexuality. More generally, I tend to think that very few people’s sexual responses (male or female) could be accurately characterised as completely random or nearly wholly predictable. Though, of course, all this reminds me of Irigaray’s claims about women having sex organs all over their bodies. (In my cynical and uncharitable moments, I have sometimes reflected on how much more fun this would make such things as twiddling one’s thumbs.) And, finally, I feel obliged to note that the picure below is just kind of icky.Moaning Lisa