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Posted by Meliss Arteaga

In honor of Menstrual Hygiene Day, CEO and co-founder of Ruby Cup Julie Weigaard Kjær took some time to chat with Ms. about the award winning social business which aims to create social change.

Tell us about Menstrual Hygiene Day.

Menstrual Hygiene Day, or Menstrual Health Day or just MH Day as we prefer to call it, was initiated by WASH United in 2013 – a German-based NGO. The idea came about because they realized that there was a need for an advocacy platform around menstrual hygiene management (MHM), one that would raise awareness and bring together organizations from the diverse sectors working in the area. They decided to float the idea by some of their trusted partners, including WaterAid, ZanaAfrica and of course, we at Ruby Cup, to see if it would resonate with our work. We all loved it. MH Day was born.

Every MH Day has a new theme. This year it is “Education about menstruation changes everything.” Menstrual May is marked by events and activities held all around the world, including marches, workshops and product launches, and social media is abuzz with hashtags like #MenstruationMatters, #PeriodPositive and #MenstrualMovement.

One of the women who helped initiate the success of MH Day, Danielle Keiser, has been passionately working to continue this great work beyond just a day. She’s launching the Menstrual Health Hub, a global hub for the exchange of research, education, policy and innovation around the topic. The idea is really to get all the things happening in the period movement into one place. We’re excited to be part of the Founding Circle of the MH Hub and look forward to lots of bloody taboo-breaking in the future.

Menstrual hygiene products are not available to every woman or girl. How do you think this affects their education?

If you bleed and you have nothing to stop the blood with, you can’t go about any of your daily routines, including your school education, which is crucial for girls in order to improve their possibilities in life. Through our work in East Africa with Ruby Cup, we’ve heard countless of stories of desperate girls or women using unsafe methods because they simply have no other choice. Rags, bark and feathers. Girls have told us that they steal their father’s socks or pull out pieces of their mattress. We’ve heard a story of a woman using cooking flour – she puts it in a tin can and sits there the whole day. Having no choice but to use unsafe methods takes away your dignity. You feel ashamed and either you stay home and miss out on school completely or you go to school but you can’t concentrate because you’re constantly scared of leaking.  UNESCO estimates that 1 in 10 girls in Africa do not go to school while menstruating. The World Bank highlights absences of approximately four days every four weeks. Menstruation without access to safe menstrual products deeply affects a girl’s chance of getting an education and as a result also her progress further in life.

Can you talk about a few of your Ruby Cup partnerships and what they do and how they help women and girls?

Without our amazing partners, we wouldn’t be where we are today. It’s through joint efforts and shared experiences that we’ve been able to reach 24,000 girls to date and constantly learn and improve our programs.

We’ve been working with three organizations especially for a long time: Womena, a Danish NGO working in Uganda – excellent researchers and pioneers in menstrual cup interventions. I’d recommend them to anyone needing consultancy on designing a menstrual cup intervention programme. Golden Girls Foundation, a community-based organisation in Western Kenya. They have successfully implemented a Mentorship model, where women of status in each area are connected as ongoing supporters to each school, where girls receive a Ruby Cup. This has resulted invaluable in achieving ongoing high adoption rates. Femme International, Canadian NGO working in both Kenya and Tanzania. They have a power focus on education about menstruation as empowerment and offer both Ruby Cups and washable cloth pads as part of their programmes.

How have the education programs that Ruby Cup helped establish, improved the lives of girls?

To answer that question, I’d like to share this poem we received as feedback from a girl in a school for disabled children in Western Kenya. For me it says it all:

My U-turn Friend:

We fly high
free and in pride
we walk with no worry
for you laid it down
my Ruby friend
Long before
the red moon was nightmare
boycot our school was the system
whenever the season came
the season of shame to the girlchild
It was so cold
harsh with no mood
the winters frozen snow
that came without a warning
the sudden hardship in the queen’s chamber
But on that chosen day
the little saviour came
and took away all the worry
a single light
brought a smile to the faces of many young girls
Thank you my Ruby friend
for giving me the difference
with you by my side
I know I will always smile
for you rescued my sinking joy

To sum up, all the feedback we’ve received from the users, the overarching words are freedom and ownership. Freedom, because the users can attend school, play, do sports also when they’re on their period. Freedom, because a girl frees up a lot of space in her psyche that before was used on worrying and feeling ashamed. Ownership, because the Ruby Cup programs always include sound education about the female anatomy and menstrual care. This empowers the recipients and enables them to make informed decisions about their bodies. Ownership, because now they own a product that they can reuse every month. They no longer have to ask for money to buy pads or use unsafe methods.  

Tell me more about these education programs.

As a general term, we call them Ruby Cup donation programs, especially when we do distributions with our own local trainers in Kenya. But through our work with partners, the programs can have different names: Mentorship Program, Feminine Health Empowerment Program, Menstrual Cup Intervention program. Similar for all programs is the focus on delivering sound education to girls and women about their reproductive health, female anatomy, menstrual care and cup usage. Ruby Cup is a healthy and sustainable period product but it does not create a long-term impact on a user’s life in itself. The educational component is crucial to give a girl a sense of control and ownership of her own body.

Do you think sexual health, reproductive health and self-confidence is being taught enough? 

No. Good quality education in this area is in urgent need of improvement. Of course the level differs enormously across the globe: I’m from Denmark, the first country to release porn and promote red noses as humor against AIDS. My teacher did put a condom on a banana in front of the class (girls and boys together) and gave us the details with the only interference being a little giggling. But we were not encouraged to ask questions or create a dialogue. In Kenya, it is a mandatory part of the educational curriculum but it’s rarely done properly. The girls might be told nothing or simply be told: When you get your period, you can have kids – not a word about that they’ll actually start bleeding. Promoting abstinence only is also part of silencing an open dialogue. Abstinence is recommendable and the safest method towards avoiding STIs and pregnancies but it has to be a part of a more holistic education that promotes options and choice. The teachings have to fit reality and abstinence is not it. Many of the girls receiving Ruby Cups are already sexually active, so telling them to abstain is not going to help them make informed choices when they engage in sex.

What are some ways Ruby Cup helps empower women and girls?

We believe that information is power. We also focus a lot on sustained support after the distributions of Ruby Cup. It takes time to learn to use a menstrual cup, so when you get around to the time of your period, you might not remember everything you were taught in the first educational workshop. It’s crucial for a beginner to have someone to ask for help once you start using the cup. If no one is around, you might be too nervous and never give it a try. From our programs we know that sustained support yields continued adoption rates of 80 to 90 percent versus sometimes only 30 percent uptake if there is no support and that means the cups go to waste. It’s a requirement from our side that any partner conducting cup programs have resources for sustained follow up in place. The impact and empowerment has to be sustainable and long-term – this is fundamental to us.

Have you received feedback from women and girls who have been helped through Ruby cup? What was the most memorable?

A poem from a girl saying thank you to us once brought tears to my eyes. Another girl once told me in an educational workshop that she menstruated for two years without knowing what was happening to her body. She thought she was going to die just because she lacked information. Another girl once told us that after receiving Ruby Cup, she no longer had to ask her “boyfriend” for money to buy pads. What this means very often is that the girl will go to older men and engage in transactional sex to get money to buy pads. This can lead to the girl ending up with HIV or an unwanted pregnancy – all a vicious circle that education and safe products can break for the better.

Is there anything else you would like to add or let us know about surrounding Menstrual Health Month?

A call to action to everyone, who would like to support a girl in need with education and a Ruby Cup: To celebrate Menstrual Health Day and Month, we are doubling our efforts with the Buy One Give One program in May only: This means that for every Ruby Cup you buy, we will donate two Ruby Cups to girls in need. If you’re not a menstruator or do not need a cup, you can also simply donate a Ruby Cup in our online shop. 1 donation purchase means 2 cups given to girls in need. The #Buy1Give2 campaign runs until May 31st.

#Buy1Give2 Menstrual Health Day 2017

2 out of 3 girls in Kenya can't afford menstrual products when they need them. In May, for every Ruby Cup you buy, two will be donated to girls in need. This is our 2017 Menstrual Health Campaign. We want to double our efforts and raise awareness about how the simple act of giving a menstrual cup can change a girls' future. Join in and take action: http://rubycup.com/menstrual-health-day-2017/Share this video to make this issue heard!#Buy1Give1 #MenstruationMatters #MHDay

Posted by Ruby Cup on Monday, May 1, 2017

And a thank you, thank you, thank you! To everyone who’s already supported the campaign.

The post Q&A: Julie Weigaard Kjær on Menstruation and Empowerment appeared first on Ms. Magazine Blog.

Lesbian Duplex 122: An Open Thread

Sunday, 28 May 2017 09:00 am
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Posted by Libby Anne

It’s time for another Lesbian Duplex thread! If you have a link or article or interesting thought that’s not relevant to an ongoing thread, you can share it here. If a conversation on another post has turned entirely off topic, you can bring it here also. Every so often, as the number of comments on a given Lesbian Duplex post becomes unmanageable, I put up a fresh post.Click through to read more!

Saturday Printable: A June Calendar

Saturday, 27 May 2017 01:30 pm
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Posted by Lola N.

As the academic year ends, we can leave school stress behind and take on the new season with a bright attitude. The flowers are in bloom, and so is your potential! Print this June calendar and gaze into the future:

Happy summer break! ♦

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Posted by Gretchen Gales

As I watched MSNBC for coverage about the Manchester bombing, which left 22 dead after an attack at an Ariana Grande concert, one correspondent mentioned how ISIS will “turn away recruits” because of their targeted attack on young girls and women. Another reporter expressed confusion over how ISIS could possibly achieve “the heart of their crusade” by attacking at an Ariana Grande concert. It is clear by their statements how little they understand the world’s demonization of young girls and women, and specifically the often-gendered aspects of terrorism.

The Manchester bombing could have easily happened at another venue, another concert, another night. But instead the attackers picked Ariana Grande “Dangerous Woman” show—for the purpose of punishing girls for admiring someone who they view as a strong female role model.

It is not divisive to say so, but necessary to combat societal violence on women.

Yet when outlets like Bust attempted to discuss the gendered aspects of the attack, they received criticism. Commenters condemned Bust for “pushing their agenda” after the tragedy. “This isn’t a gender-biased crime,” said one. “It’s an atrocity against humanity crime.” It seemed that folks like that commenter don’t see the significance of Grande’s event being chosen as the backdrop for this atrocity. And besides implying that violence against women isn’t enough to be categorized as a crime against humanity, the user also did not take Grande’s primary demographic—including a wide age range of women and girls—into consideration.

ISIS’s gender-specific violence has been well-documented, from executions to forcing girls and women to become slaves who endure rape and have their identities, ethnicities and homes erased. While terrorist recruits each have their own specific motivations for joining ISIS and similar organizations, ISIS’s stance on women is made clear, and all who join have agreed with that stance. Of course, violent attacks on women are not an ISIS-original concept.

The 1989 École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal, for example, resulted in the murder of 14 women by Marc Lépine. Lépine claimed he was “fighting feminism” after specifically separating male and female students before killing the women. He left behind a suicide note claiming that feminists had ruined his life. While this example more blatantly expresses a hatred of expressing pride in femininity, it is important to understand Lépine’s own hatred is a fatal symptom of a world that degrades anyone and anything feminine in nature.

But violence toward women isn’t just the product of random terrorism. It is, unfortunately, a part of the fabric of our lives. RAINN reports that every 98 seconds, someone in America alone is sexually assaulted, particularly those under the age of 30. 1 out of 6 women have experienced an attempted or completed rape—with over 80 percent being girls and 90 percent adult women.

Grande herself has been the target of sexism—and has spoken out against it. In late 2016, Grande fired back at a male fan that approached Grande and her boyfriend Mac Miller to congratulate him on “scoring” her. “Ariana is sexy as hell man,” he said, “I see you, I see you hitting that!!!” In response, Grande wrote a note declaring that she was “not a piece of meat that a man gets to utilize for his pleasure” but rather “an adult human being in a relationship with a man who treats me with love and respect.” She fumed about how she dresses does not invite degrading commentary towards women. Overwhelming feedback from social media criticized Grande for using her sexuality as a part of her act and then having the audacity to assert that she is a human being. The fact that Grande’s sexuality is considered a threat on any scale is, at best, absurd, and it is also a clear indicator of systemic oppression.

Ignoring the overwhelming evidence of the Manchester Arena bombing as gender-based prevents progress from continuous oppression against women and girls alongside other marginalized groups. If you can recognize that the Pulse shooting was a hateful attack on the LGBTQ+ community and that the Charlie Hebdo attack was a threat to free speech and journalism, then you can easily understand how the horrific bombing on Manchester was very much purposefully an attack against women and girls.

Gretchen Gales is managing editor and a staff writer for Quail Bell Magazine. She was  honored in Her Campus’ “How She Got There” segment. Her work has also appeared in The Establishment, The Huffington Post, Bustle, Yes Poetry, Yellow Chair Review and more. See more at writinggales.wordpress.com

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The post The Manchester Bombing Was an Attack on Women and Girls appeared first on Ms. Magazine Blog.

Dear Diary: May 26, 2017

Friday, 26 May 2017 11:00 pm
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Posted by Amil Barlow

“Now that I graduated high school I have a lot of responsibility. I wish I prepared for college sooner, but thankfully I have all summer to get my stuff together.” —Amil


This is the first time in awhile that the thought of The End—of many things—has left me feeling hopeful. Read More »

Life Soundtrack: Ruth B.

Friday, 26 May 2017 10:00 pm
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Posted by Ruth B.

Illustrations by Anna White.

We met Canadian R&B singer and Vine virtuoso Ruth B. last year, when her single “Lost Boy” was showing up on our summer of ’16 playlists. Ruth released her first full-length record, Safe Haven, earlier this month; in honor of that milestone, we asked her to send us a list of her favorite-ever songs.

1. “To Zion” by Lauryn Hill feat. Carlos Santana

I really love Lauryn’s ability to tell a beautiful story using really lovely melodies. I felt everything she said in this song.

2. “Lego House” by Ed Sheeran

This is one of the first Ed Sheeran songs I ever heard, and I fell in love immediately. The story in the song made perfect sense to me.

3. “The Reason” by Said the Whale

I love the sound of this song. Very classic, and I love the mood it sets.

4. “Close Your Eyes and Count to Ten” by Group Love

One of my all-time favorite songs. This has the perfect production/lyrics/vocals for a perfect summer day.

5. “Jesus Walks” by Kanye West

Probably the first rap song I ever made a point to memorize.

6. “Blackbird” by the Beatles

This was the first song my brother learned how to play on guitar, and we used to sing it all the time. This song has always felt like home.

7. “Waiting on the World to Change” by John Mayer

I love these lyrics and the message. It always made me feel OK with not being OK sometimes.

8. “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson

I love when music makes you think. This song has a very simple but powerful message. Plus, it’s Michael. The greatest.

9. “Someone Like You” by Adele

The perfect song for a relationship gone wrong. This song was always there for me.

10. “Without You” by Lana del Rey

I really relate to this song. I used to listen to this on all my flights to New York, and it made me feel so real and honest. ♦

Tinder Loving Care

Friday, 26 May 2017 09:38 pm
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Posted by Austin Faulds

All is quiet in the Atlas Ballroom bar in Bloomington, Indiana. It’s Saturday, but at 2:30 in the morning, it’s closer to “Piano Man” than “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting).” Stools and chairs creak as they are lifted upside-down onto tables and bars above them. Music is played softly enough on speakers so even the shyest whisperer could be heard from a 15-feet distance. About 10 customers are sitting down, while hordes of students are staggering by the bar outside with wasted grins on their faces, bathing in the faint blue lights projected from devices resting at their fingertips.

At a table near the entrance, a young man and woman sit together semi-attempting to make chitchat after an undetermined number of hours together. Clearly more sober than her date, the girl absentmindedly nods while he tells her about his upcoming internship in Dallas and fake laughs at most of his drunken jokes. Sometimes, she will even lift up her head to look at him, the boy with the navy blue chino shorts and the red and white striped button-up. But all of her focus is on Tinder, and her process of elimination seems to come down to one of the oldest in the history of the human race: hot or not.

Casually, she will “swipe left,” meaning she rejects the potential date offered through the app, about between 10 and 15 times before finally finding someone worth a “swipe right,” meaning she accepted him. Eventually, she lands on a young man named Mark, age 23 with a decently large beard and a Ramones-styled Kilroy’s Bar and Grill T-shirt. She pulls up his profile and goes through his photos.

Back to reality, the boy standing across from her at the table suddenly asks her if she would like a place to stay that night. She assures him she will be will fine and that her roommate will be picking her up at the bar before it closes. She encourages him to leave soon, however, considering that all the bars in town will be closing soon. They say goodbye to each other, and he leaves the bar. As he’s walking out, the young woman bites her lip and swipes right on Mark. The screen changes. It reads: “It’s a Match!”

Shinichi Higashi / Creative Commons

With more than 50 million active users as of 2014, Tinder is undoubtedly the undisputed champion of social media dating apps on the market today. Unlike its competitors OkCupid, Grindr and Hinge, Tinder has created a system that not only works, but can be entertaining for users. It has become such a staple to the culture of social media that it has been discussed and parodied in recent television shows like Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On and Master of None.

The app itself, which was founded in 2012, is almost like something out of a science-fiction story. In a country where the president allegedly assaults women, gender pay gaps still exist, Planned Parenthood’s funding is being threatened and nine out of 10 rape victims are women, the rise of an app where you choose your future dating or sex partners based on their photos and short bio only seems like an almost natural progression. Suddenly, the sex-fueled dystopia presented in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, a society that manages to have recurring orgies while remaining infertile, only seems to be around the bend.

And why not? Only a few years before Tinder was first available to download, Uber was already hitting the market and has since become a serious threat to taxi services. Perhaps it was the mindset of many Americans, young and old, that if they are willing to enter a car with a stranger, why not the bedroom as well? A surprising number of young adults, and couples of all ages, have reported finding healthy relationships, both romantic and physical, through the app.

With that said, Tinder also has its fair share of problems. Since its initial release, it has gained the reputation as a “hook-up app” and is often cited as reinventing millennial hook-up culture. Instead of burdening themselves with the effort of forming long-term relationships, users can simply use the app for one-night stands with whomever they match that particular night. Therefore, it has become standard for men, who are typically expected by women to begin the conversation after they match, to message with a pick-up line or an inquiry for sex. Often, the two options collide with lewd pick-up lines, usually involving oral sex or the like.

With such a variety of options, it can be easy to match with someone who may not be right—or even safe. As Indiana University junior Toby Klein says, “No love story ever starts with Tinder.” Klein deleted her Tinder account in April after multiple online harassments from men with whom she matched. One man—Carlos, 31, who Klein believes had a child—received Klein’s Snapchat because he “seemed normal enough.” He began the Snapchat conversation with “Would you give me some head?”

When Klein didn’t respond, Carlos proceeded to call her “ugly” and a “cunt” and that the size of her breasts were the only things she could possibly offer someone. She deleted him afterwards. “Guys can go from wanting to marry you to wanting to stab you and call you a disgusting whore in literally zero-point-two seconds,” she says.

In the spring of 2015, then-20-year old Chelsea Cook had recently matched with Austin Prather on Tinder, and almost immediately there was chemistry between the two. For about six hours, the two talked in detail about their individual tastes in music and their past and current issues with anxiety. The bond was short-lived, however.

Prather displayed a behavior Cook was unable to articulate beyond “sending [me] some weird-ass vibes.” He would make attempts to annoy Cook’s friends, as well as linger around even after being asked multiple times to leave. One weekend in Cook’s hometown Terre Haute, Indiana, Prather wandered around the town drunk, asking strangers if they knew of Cook’s whereabouts. She woke up the next morning with texts on her phone from unknown phone numbers, which Prather used to try to reach out to her.

Once Prather finally left, she blocked him from all contact just to distance herself from him. Despite this, Prather continued to try to stay in contact with Cook. He left messages, each “about seven lengthy paragraphs,” on her second Facebook page. The one message that disturbed her most was where he was pleading her to be his girlfriend because, as he wrote it, “I want to have you. I need to have you. I will have you.”

Dr. Jessica Strübel, an assistant professor from the University of North Texas who studied the psychological effects of Tinder for the past couple of years, weighed in that this harassment has existed long before Tinder. However, it is her personal opinion that social media apps like Tinder, which leave your image and personality on display 24/7 for “constant critique and validation,” only fuel the dissatisfaction one could feel and the risk involved with using the app.

Last year, a study was released by Strübel and fellow UNT researcher Dr. Trent A. Petrie about the possible correlation between Tinder, self-esteem and personal body image. More than 1,000 women and about 300 men participated in the study, which was in the form of a questionnaire asking related to topics like the participant’s use of the app, body image, psychological well-being and possible objectification.

According to the survey, approximately 10 percent of the survey pool reported using Tinder. Of this percentage, it showed that users of both genders reported low satisfaction with their appearance. Male users, however, were the only ones who reported below-average self-esteems. This came as a surprise to the researchers because body image research traditionally points to more dissatisfaction among women than men. It is mentioned in the study that Strübel and Petrie believe the cause for this lowered self-esteem is because women tend to be more finicky with those they match with than men, who typically are looking to match with any pretty girl they find. Two very distinct ways of approaching usage of the app can lead to feelings of rejection, which may play into what the researchers found in their study.

“If you know you’ve swiped right on 100 girls in one day and you get zero response, what are you going to think?” Strübel says. “We take things like this to heart and start assuming it is a reflection of who we are, of how others perceive us. It is a form of rejection.”

There’s no clear way of knowing whether the lowering of self-esteems for the men was caused by usage of the dating app, as specific questions regarding the correlation weren’t made during the survey. However, Strübel speaks confidently that there is indeed a connection and even offered an alternate, feminist perspective for why women are more selective than men when choosing on whom to swipe right.

“Maybe women are changing,” Strübel says. “Maybe the Millennial generation is rejecting traditional gender roles and expectations of being the passive half. Research has shown that women are becoming more discerning with their mates because they can. A position of power affords a woman more control over the choice in her partner. The codependency on men is almost a thing of the past.”

Strübel and Petrie have already completed a second study about Tinder, which included more participants and physiological measures, such as depression and dietary intent for those who suffer with eating disorders. The findings of this study will be presented in August at the 125th annual American Psychological Association Convention in Washington. D.C.

Strübel is glad she is no longer a part of the dating world. While she certainly sees the benefits of social-dating apps, and fully appreciates Tinder as “the future of dating,” she does not believe she could handle how “dehumanizing” she perceives it to be. She also thinks being able to simply find a possible romantic partner has trickled down the thrill of dating.

“Where is the challenge?” Strübel says. “I understand how technology has, in some instances, made our lives easier, but when you are presented with a smorgasbord of choices, whether it be shoes, music or even potential dates, you become almost anesthetized due to the shear amount of choice.”

Female Tinder users have also found ways of using the app for personal gain. Such was the case for IU sophomore Milly Cai. At the end of the fall semester of her freshman year, she ran out of meal points—a type of currency used on university campuses to purchase food—and decided to use Tinder for guys she matched with to take her on dates and buy her meals. Over the course of two weeks, she managed to trick a dozen men into buying meals for her. She said one of these men paid about $200 for a single dinner.

Describing the men as “the most racist people I’ve ever met,” she said many of her dates would admit to having an “Asian fetish,” in reference to her ethnicity. These sorts of comments made Milly less sympathetic whenever she would “scam” her dates. “Usually, I would wait like two dates because you run out of excuses why you can’t go back to their place or whatever,” she says. “So like after the second date I’d just have like a checklist of all the rude shit they said to me and confront them and cause a scene and just leave.” Cai never hooked up with any of the men, and the only thing she gave in return for the meals was “my witty commentary and my time.”

Indeed, this massive variety has taken the fundamentals of speed-dating and hyperbolized it into a singular app. Perhaps if Tevye the Dairyman were born in the 21st century, his daughters’ song would sound a bit more like this:

Matchmaker, Matchmaker,
Swipe me a match,
Swipe him to right,
And I’ll swipe back.
Matchmaker, Matchmaker
Look through your app,
And swipe me a perfect match.

Austin Faulds is a student studying journalism at the Indiana University and a feminist-fueled filmmaker. Coffee, cats and punk rock are some of his favorite things.

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Australia Must Address Domestic Violence

Friday, 26 May 2017 09:15 pm
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Posted by Paulina Rau

Judging by our domestic violence rate, women are not “mates” in Australia—and never have been. The statistics go something like this: One in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence. One in five women over 18 has been stalked. One in five women have been harassed at work. One in four children have been exposed to domestic violence. And one woman a week dies as a result of domestic violence.

And the intersections of racism and sexism stop us from finding our way out of it.

Michael Coghlan / Creative Commons

Indigenous communities suffer disproportionately in this epidemic. Indigenous girls and women are 35 times more likely to be hospitalized due to family violence than non-Indigenous women. Death by star picket is not uncommon in the Far North, but white observers are quick to blame the “grog” rather than address educational and employment opportunities for people living in remote districts. (Remote, that is, from so-called “civilized” urban Australia—where woman die at the hands of their husbands, often with children present.)

When we do hear about the domestic violence epidemic in Australia, too often the stories are told to amplify racist notions toward refugee and migrant communities. Of course it is popular at present to vilify anyone from the Middle East or North Africa and make the illogical assumption that they are all Muslim and abuse is a cultural hangover. It is easier for the media and the public in general to categorize Iranian or Sudanese communities for their treatment of women. It is harder to hold white men to count and to say that their behavior is not localized, but cultural. That kind of statement is liable to get you into hot water.

Footballers have a high profile in Australia and some have begun talking to groups of school children about how men should behave. This is the tip of the iceberg—but at least it’s a tip. We must begin talking about it, and we must begin to address that it happens in all of our homes—not just the homes of “the other.”

Our resistance to talking about domestic violence makes it impossible for us to solve it. And our silence is having devastating effects.

It is widely accepted that domestic violence is the leading cause in Australia of homelessness—yet the Turnbull government intends to cut funding to support to the tune of $34 million over three years. Beginning July 1, 30 percent of Community Legal Aid Centers will receive less funding. Petitions abound to stop this trend in a society once touted as the lucky country where the sun shines every day.

All too often women have been told to dress differently, look out for strangers and not hitchhike—but clearly the danger lurks inside the home. As social media increases the normality of dating online, the threat to women will grow. The stigma of embarrassment at being victimized by a male aggressor, meant to be a loved one, continues—supported by government policies largely framed by men who have “bigger fish to fry.” Stiffer penalties might be the answer, I hear you say, but that tends to clog up the courts while under-staffed police stations cannot successfully maintain surveillance of men likely to kill. A new leave allowance was introduced for women who had been beaten by their husbands, but this domestic violence leave will need to run the gamut of a society which is inclined to demean it as a luxury item.

Meanwhile, the Safe Steps family violence support group has registered an increase in calls. In March 2017 it received 10,293 calls from distressed, endangered women. Why aren’t we learning?

Recently, an Australian politician uttered the words “the things that batter” in relation to his party’s policy on domestic violence—as a kind of pun meant to entertain. It didn’t. But it epitomizes a culture, doesn’t it?

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In a Country Where Widows Are Witches

Thursday, 25 May 2017 09:00 pm
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Posted by Orji Sunday

Christiana, 49, had been traveling from one forest to the next for the past three days. Her water gourd was now light, and her feet wearily ruffled heaps of dry leaves trafficking in the dark surface of the forest floor. With her was her 14 year old son.

Her sight fell upon bones hanging on the branch of the tree bearing flock of talking parrots. There was, on the floor, the skull of a man. The chaff of his perished flesh gave a fetid smell. The skull had a hollow and maggots walked to and fro through the inlet in the door of its eyes.

That was her husband. He committed suicide four months ago. She knelt beside the bones and buried herself in grief. That was in 2014.

“For those months, we traveled from one forest to another looking for my husband,” she recalled. “We never knew he could do this.” She spoke slowly and a brief hiss came after each sentence. A ring of coughs trailed her tears.

In the week in which her husband left their home without leaving a message, his kin summoned her. It was like facing a crowd of judges without a lawyer. She stood lonely in that crowd, which threw questions at her. They wanted evidence and a proof that her husband did not die of her own act of witchcraft.

“They said that I killed my husband,” she told Ms., “and declared me a witch.”


In Nigeria, widows face numerous challenges that have root in cultural practices. Many traditions still make the women take an oath to prove her innocence from witchcraft-related activities that could be responsible for the death of her husband. While others confine the widow in place for specific mourning period and others shave her hair, yet others insist that the widow drinks the water with which her late husband was washed. Some are given to the brother of the deceased.

Legislation protecting widows is lacking in many states in the country, and in regions where the laws exist implementation is far from convincing. Hence, the fate of widows in Nigeria is largely left to few human right groups who find the enormous task almost overwhelming.

Christiana was sitting on a wooden bench under the cover of an orange tree that fluttered above her head next to the house her husband left for her and their six children. It was like a cottage that missed out on a finishing touch. The floor was earthen. There was a nail by the wall and from that nail hung a lamp with a blurred glass globe.

Christiana’s husband, Eze Ori, left Akanu, a village in Onicha, four months earlier. He left no message. He never returned. “The first few days were sad,” she recalled, “but we never knew that there was this difficult moment ahead.” She said and seemed completely determined to create the details of those moments with her fingers swirling in the air after each word.

After facing the community, Christiana returned home exhausted with her children. Over time, the fact that she had not received any feedback from the kinsmen took away her peace. Her way of life got away from her. She stopped going to the farm or shop. One morning, she saw from her doorstep, through the distance, hurrying feet and red caps and potty stomachs. The crowd drew closer. It was the community emissary.

“We have resolved that you would bring #20,000 (around 55 dollars), a goat, a bushel old rice and ten crates of beer,” they declared. “This is for accepting you back into our fold again.”

Christiana was confused. For days she refused to take her bath. She kept her thoughts unspoken. There were moments when she spoke, but those talks were directed at little, weeping children. She thought of the love she shared with her husband. She thought of her rising debt. She thought of the weeping, tender children. She thought of suicide.

Christiana’s suffering went on for months. The other women in the community provided her with small acts of support—albeit secretly, for they feared sanctions. A night before she wanted to carry out the suicide, with her seven-year-old beside her in bed, she began to cry. She imagined her children as orphans. That love killed her decision to die. She decided to live for them.

There are many major drivers of these harmful widowhood practices in Nigeria. Cultural factors, religion, poverty, lack of education, entrenched inequality, weak legislative frameworks and enforcement, gender discrimination and lack of alternative opportunities for widows, lack of education and enlightenment, fear—a myriad of elements contribute to the longstanding problem.

Nigeria is estimated to have about 15 million widows. With the activities of Boko Haram insurgents and high male mortality rate, the number is predicted to rise.

On a sunny morning, Christiana and her eldest son searched for her husband once more. They had done this for three consecutive days—walked from one point to another. They discovered a bone hanging from a tree. That was her husband. He had in his pocket #37,000—around 100 dollars.

After discovering her husband’s corpse, her children and a few friends helped create a grave. Christiana picked up the skull and placed it in a mat. She searched for his bones, put them in their place and stood over the skeleton. She wept. She rolled up the mat and packed the bones into the grave.

Christiana and her six children live away from the community now. And there are millions like her in this country.

Orji Sunday is a freelance journalist based in Nigeria. He contributes to international and local publications such as African Arguments, This Is Africa, Ynaija, The Sun, ThisDay and The Nation covering politics, economy, health and development issues in Sub-Saharan Africa. You can find him on Twitter.

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The post In a Country Where Widows Are Witches appeared first on Ms. Magazine Blog.

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Posted by Rachel Davies

Portrait by Ann Zhao.

The first time I saw Mitski in concert, I spent the day after walking around Toronto calling all my friends, my mom, and my sister, telling them how unbelievable the show was. I had been moved by shows before–mostly huge, performative ones, like Kanye West in a stadium, or Broken Social Scene at a so-carefully curated music festival. I went to see Mitski with people I hardly knew, and these people got a glimpse into my personality’s bedrock—my layers were removed by Mitski’s incomparably moving music. On the walk home with these four near-strangers, I was glad that I was with people who didn’t have any expectations for our conversation. I was free to be speechless. The next morning, practically working as a telemarketer for Mitski’s music, I was far from it.

Over the course of her career, Mitski has released four expansive studio albums. Each of her songs feels precisely assembled thanks to touches such as the distinct pace of notes played on the bass guitar, or the skillful use of unlikely metaphors like, “I want a love that falls as fast as a body from a balcony.” Puberty 2, her most recent album, coming up on its first birthday, is filled with songs as emotionally forthcoming as their predecessors, but with instrumentation more adventurous than ever.

This week, I called Mitski while she was on a short break from tour. We talked about pop-music appreciation, trusting your collaborators, and saying exactly what you mean.

RACHEL DAVIES: You’ve talked and tweeted about how intimate your songwriting is–that, for example, the lyric “Texas is a landlocked state” from your song “Texas Reznikoff” isn’t literal but it makes sense to the person it was written for. Has this changed as you’ve gained a larger audience?

MITSKI: Regardless of audience, my songwriting has just evolved as I continue to do it. As an artist, I don’t want to keep talking about the same things. I change as a person, I grow up, I experience more things, and so my songwriting has become less about very specific details. Like “Texas is a landlocked state.” That doesn’t make sense in the context of the song. It just makes sense to me. I’ve started to do less of that, only because I’m branching out into storytelling. With “Dan the Dancer,” there is no Dan. I’m not Dan. It’s a story, but it expresses an emotion I had. So as I evolve as a songwriter, I’m starting to create narratives that serve the emotion that I’m trying to deliver without including those weird details. But it’s not really about an expanding audience. It’s about me as a songwriter finding that I’m growing and learning new things about how to write songs.

Do you write songs while on tour?

Whenever I have an idea or a glimpse of a song, I write it down, or record it on my phone, but I’m not really able to write whole songs on tour. I don’t have the amount of time and space to finish songs, so if I get an idea I’ll quickly jot it down and save it for when I’m off tour. When I go off tour, I’ll go through all of my ideas and organize them.

You originally trained as a classical musician but then, if what I’ve read is correct, picked up a bass quickly later on and made Bury Me At Makeout Creek. You also play some of your songs interchangeably, like “Class of 2013,” which sounds just as good on guitar as it does on the original piano. How do you decide on instrument choice with a song?

You know instruments, no offense to all of the instrumentalists out there, are not as important to me as the core composition, which is to me the words and the main vocal melody. I grew up moving around, where I didn’t know what I would have. I’d be in one place and have a piano, but then I would move to another place and I wouldn’t have a piano. I learned not to rely on the instruments in order to make music. It’s secondary to me. They’re interchangeable. A song could be played on the piano, or the guitar. I want the songs to be able to stand on their own. But it depends on the artist. That’s the way I work, but for a lot of people the instrument is the integral part of the composition.

Do you have any advice on acclimating to different places or feeling comfortable with moving around?

The hardest thing about moving around is that you only have your friends for [awhile]. Then you move. There is social media, so you can stay in touch, but it’s realistically really hard to maintain long-distance friendships, not just romantic relationships. I’ve learned that just because you won’t be able to see someone next year, doesn’t mean that your friendship with them doesn’t count. Every single year of your life counts. Every single relationship can be deep and meaningful, no matter how short or long they are. I used to close myself off because I didn’t want to develop relationships that were going to end anyway, but I learned that right now is what matters most. If you have a great friend right now, then there’s no need for you to close yourself off. You can always think about the goodbyes later. Right now you can just enjoy your friendship.

You’ve worked with a lot of great visual artists on merch and tour posters, as well as great directors for your music videos. I could be wrong, but it seems like you give visual artists just enough room to interpret your music as they will, while still staying true to your music’s message. How do you go about picking artists to work with?

I just find an artist who I think is good, and say, “Here’s the budget, do what you want.” I tend to gravitate toward artists who already know what they want and know what they like, so they’re able to handle that kind of pressure. It is a kind of pressure to be told, “Do whatever you want.” But with really good artists, I find that they work best when you trust in them, and when you let them make what they want to make. Then they actually put in the work to try to make something they like, and it ends up being a really good piece of work. Also, I think of the music video not as a representation of the music, but just a different aspect of it. I don’t really expect it to represent me. I more want it to represent that artist who made it. Same with a shirt. It might have my name on it, but I want it to represent the artist who made it. Just because it has my name, doesn’t mean that it’s what I’m all about. With artists, what’s best is when they’re given freedom and space. At the end of the day, I just want something good.

Do you feel the same way when working with someone more closely, like with Patrick Hyland who you’ve collaborated with on your albums?

Well, with that it gets a little more complicated. I’ve had to teach myself to let go. When it comes to the actual creation of my music, I get a little more neurotic, and a little more controlling. But again, I’ve taught myself to trust in Patrick, and trust in the people I’ve worked with. It’s important in that process to make clear what your intentions are and what you want so there’s no confusion about it. For example, in the studio, if I don’t make clear what I want, and let Patrick do whatever he wants, if I don’t like the result, I can’t tell whether it’s because it’s not what I wanted, or because it’s not good work—you know what I’m saying? But if I’m decisive and make my intentions clear in the beginning, and the result is not good or not what I wanted, then I can say, “Oh, this isn’t what I like, and this isn’t what I want, because these are my intentions.” It’s just another example of giving someone space to make good work. People don’t really make good work when they’re smothered, but you also have to make clear what your intentions are and what you want.

You’ve covered pop songs, performed pop covers live, and just reviewed Harry Styles’s album for Talkhouse. Could you talk a bit about your relationship to pop music?

I’m passionate about pop because that’s what I grew up on. I didn’t have any idea about a DIY scene. I didn’t know anything about independent music at all until I got to college and I saw other people my age performing rock music. I was like, Oh, there’s this whole other aspect to music that’s not pop. I was very much a pop child. It has to do with being abroad, and you know, I grew up without the internet, for a while anyway. What I had access to was what was on MTV, or what was on the one English-speaking channel, and that was usually the Top 40 stuff. The reality is, all that most people in the world have access to is the major label stuff. We can discount it all we want, but the reality is that it affects many people’s lives. It’s important to look at it, and talk about it, and listen to it.

Since you now have listeners abroad who may not speak English as a first language, and you grew up abroad, too, do you feel that language affects your songwriting?

The thing is my music is so heavily lyrics based. So much of my intention in the songs are expressed in the lyrics. It does make me feel good that people who don’t speak English still like my music because, to me anyway, it would probably mean that they genuinely enjoy the music itself, and that’s an area that I’m still not very confident about. I’m more confident about my lyrics, and my actual songwriting, than my actual music. When people who don’t speak English tell me they like my music, I’m like, “Oh, wow! You really do like the music!” But it is a different dynamic, especially when we’re playing shows. You can sense that people are getting something different out of it.

When I spoke with Ellen Kempner of Palehound, she said that guitar has always been a vehicle for songwriting for her. When you were first making music, was that also the case for you?

Yeah! Well, first of all, Ellen shreds but I feel the same way. I just needed a way to get the lyrics and my songs out there, and it takes a lot of guts to go out and sing your songs without an accompanying instrument. Most people don’t listen, so I quickly learned that I needed something to play in the background. For me, it started with piano, and I found the guitar later on.

What did you study exactly at SUNY Purchase?

I studied studio composition. I went to SUNY Purchase not because it’s an incredibly great school, I hate to say, but they had a specific program called studio composition that not only taught you music composition, but also taught you how to work in studios.

Had you ever worked in a studio prior to going there?

Not really! My senior year of high school, I sort of got into a studio, but that was because my part-time job was to do English language text books. It was a great gig, to be honest. I went in, they gave me a script, and I read it for people who were learning English and needed an audio guide. So that was my experience in a studio, but I hadn’t really worked behind the board in one before.

Are there any lyricists, poets, or writers in particular who inspire you?

There’s a Japanese [musician], but the lyrics are Japanese so it might not make much of a difference to Rookie readers. Her name is Shiina Ringo. What I get from her lyrics is that sometimes being specific and descriptive is really important. Describing a scene is really important in describing a universal emotion, so it’s more effective to be descriptive rather than saying platitudes. That’s what I learned from her. I also like people like Johnny Cash and Iggy Pop, people who have very, very simple––almost stupidly simple—lyrics. It’s actually very hard to express everything you want to express in five words or 10 words. I look up to them for that because it’s actually very difficult to be simple and effective. I don’t know who said it, but someone said that truly intelligent people, people who truly understand their subject, can describe and explain it to a five-year-old, or a six-year-old. That’s important for me to keep in mind. I want to take really complex ideas and describe them in simple enough terms for everyone listening to understand.

Do you have any advice for young songwriters?

There’s so much that goes into writing a song, it’s hard to think about just one thing. This is more abstract, but it’s important to think about…I know this sounds very obvious, but you have to think about what you’re saying means. For example, you can describe a scene that happened in your life word for word as it happened, but you need to understand why you’re describing it, and why it’ll be important to the listener. What is significant to you might not be significant to the listener. What I’m trying to say is, if you’re trying to express something through a scene or through a description of how things happen, you need to get to the point of the matter. I know I’m being long-winded for someone who’s talking about getting to the point, but when you think about the scene you’re describing you have to think about why it’s important to you, and why you want to express it to someone. Otherwise, unfortunately, everything that matters to you may not matter to the listener. That may sound really discouraging, but I’m trying to stress how important it is to be a good communicator. It’s not prose. It’s not like you have pages and pages of space to grab someone’s attention. You have to make sure that everything you say matters and has a point. That’s a more succinct way of saying what I’m trying to say. ♦

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Posted by Roger E. Olson

Eventually, when I am able to, I will review here the documentary “The Mask You Live In.” I am watching it on Amazon; I’m not sure whether it is available elsewhere. Google for it or check Youtube. As many of you know, I believe one of the biggest social problems America faces is distorted masculinity [Read More...]
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Posted by Roger E. Olson

Dear Blog Friends (and Others): There are times throughout the year when, for a period of time, my schedule changes dramatically and I am simply not able to keep up with my blog. I apologize if that causes anyone any distress or consternation. This is one of those times. But I do still usually find [Read More...]
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"This is my prayer: that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best."
-- St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians 1:9-10

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