I have had the great privilege of contributing to APA's Convention blog over the past few days. I decided to repost a few of the entries here. Be sure to check out all of the convention blogs.
'But How Do I do It?' Application of Theory to be Focus of Revised Mulitucultural Guidelines
Only 20 percent of doctoral degrees in psychology go to students of color, despite the fact that 40 percent of Americans are people of color, according to Nayeli Chavez-Duenas, PhD. Even with the shifting demographics in the United States, studies have demonstrated low levels of cultural competency among psychologists. The proposed revisions to APA's multicultural guidelines are designed to address this problem by offering concrete suggestions for preparing psychologists to become multiculturally competent.
The current guidelines were approved in 2002 and have been studied in most psychology training programs, providing important direction about preparation of psychologists for working in a diverse world,
"Addressing culture within psychology requires complex thinking," said Patricia Arredondo, EdD, one of the lead scholars working on the proposed revisions. This comment reflects the spirit of the revisions, which will seek to build on the current guidelines by maintaining the core principles, while emphasizing ways to operationalize and apply the values.
I regularly teach our required diversity/ multicultural competence course to master's students and one of the questions they often as me is, "But how do I do it?" Getting buy-in for the importance of multicultural competence is a needed first step for some students but even those who fully embrace the idea in theory struggle to learn how to put it into practice. The proposed revisions offer strategies for just that.
The new guidelines would offer ways to deconstruct and increase self-awareness about one's own ethnic identity, said Hector Adames, PsyD. They provide specific recommendations about developing awareness about various aspects of identity (such as one's identity as a white person), while encouraging psychologists to "use multiple lenses to understand complex processes, especially complex human experiences and identities, " according to Adames.
I am especially enthusiastic about the proposed recommendations for skill development, including how to engage in dialogue and behavioral change.
Although the revisions are not yet available (they are undergoing the approval process within APA), I am excited to take what I have learned back home with me. I will certainly be integrating some new ideas as I prepare my fall syllabi in the coming weeks.
Marriage equality is now the law of the land in the USA. I have to admit it is a bit surreal to even write that statement. Over the past few years I have regularly turned to the Human Rights Campaign website for updates about legal battles regarding same-sex marriage, as it has been challenging to keep track of court cases in each state. They have an interactive map that allows one to easily select a state to find more information about the specific laws that apply, using a helpful color-coded scheme.
Red: marriage-related ballot measure
Yellow: authorizes same-sex marriage
Blue: prohibits same-sex marriage
Grey: does not authorize or prohibit same-sex marriage.
I checked the website yesterday and saw that the entire map was yellow.
My eyes filled with tears. Of course I knew about the Supreme Court decision and cognitively understood its implications, but there was something so powerful about seeing it visually. The United States, united by marriage equality.
It really is a day that many people doubted would ever come.
For many years I have worked in agencies dedicated to sexual violence prevention and treatment. While I was in graduate school, I was a victim advocate and therapist at the Sexual Assault Victim Advocate Center in Fort Collins, Colorado. I am currently a member of the board of directors for Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (PAAR) and have worked on sexual violence prevention and treatment on a number of college campuses. I have often told people that the main goal of these organizations is to work themselves out of a job. PAAR’s mission is to Respond, Educate, and Advocate to End Sexual Violence. I wholeheartedly believe it is possible to eradicate sexual violence. But I am doubtful that will happen in my lifetime. So I continue to contribute to prevention and treatment work, helping the organization plan for the future.
What would happen if the day came that such services were no longer needed?
I can only imagine what it is like for the employees of organizations who have dedicated their hearts and souls to fight for marriage equality. Of course they are wondering what is next for them. Numerous non-profit organizations are debating if they should close their doors now that marriage equality has been achieved. There is no doubt that legal challenges remain for the LGBTQ population and that the culture war against homophobia is far from over.
Change can be scary, but it can also be good. Yes, there is more work to be done.
Let us not forget the amazing victory that has been achieved. Let us not get lost in our future-oriented approach to life and neglect to celebrate, revel, and soak up the justice!
Let our joy feed our souls and keep this movement moving!
Britney G Brinkman, Ph.D.
This week one of my colleagues stopped into my office and asked if I had a few minutes to talk. She had recently watched the video of Sandra Bland being arrested and was struggling with the abject horror of it and all its implications. I had delayed watching it myself, worried that I didn’t have enough emotional resources for it. I have since watched it and it is as terrible as I expected.
My colleague and I shared our feelings of sadness, rage, disappointment, and powerlessness. I shared how much I cried while watching the video of a police officer in McKinney, Texas brutally shoving a Black girl to the ground and pulling his gun on teenagers at a pool party.
We also talked about the fact that we know as White women that we cannot begin to imagine the impacts on our friends, neighbors, and allies in the African American community. We know that we benefit from the oppression of people of color and we struggle with our own feelings of guilt while trying to use our privilege to bring change.
I worry that when I speak out my voice will be heard because of the color of my skin. And I fear the ways that recreates the very same oppression I want to fight.
I worry that if I don’t speak out my silence is perceived as agreement and acceptance of a racist system.
So, I try to find ways to use my voice while also supporting the voices of people of color. I bring issues of police brutality into my classroom so my students are aware of what is happening in the world. I encourage them to examine their own biases and to consider the ways they can integrate advocacy into their future identity as counselors and Psychologists. I continue to challenge myself to be aware of my own biases and commit to owning up when I commit microaggressions. I look for ways to engage in small advocacy in day-to-day life.
And I feel like there must be more we can do. I feel that all my small contributions are not enough when what we need is such massive change.
But perhaps right now we have to just stay in the fight. We have to talk to each other, support each other, own our rage and sadness, speak out, shut up and make room for other voices, stand tall, cry, and keeping moving forward. We have to not let ourselves grow numb to the overwhelming injustice. We have to fight for peace and justice. We can only dismantle a system based on greed, fear, and hate with love, humanity, and an open heart. And we sure as hell can't do it alone.
Britney G Brinkman
In case you hadn’t noticed, I have been on a bit of a blogging hiatus. I have the best/worst excuse—I have been writing my first book (the content of said book will be the topic of a future blog…). The book writing process was exciting, terrifying, stressful, and fulfilling. But above all, it was time consuming. So while I maintained interest in my blog I just didn’t have the time or energy to work on it.
However, I often found myself thinking about the blog—I would hear a news story on NPR or read something on Facebook and think, “I need to blog about this!” Then I would sit down and work on my book.
Doing so much writing on the book also got me thinking a lot about writing, and creativity, and criticism. Although this will be my first book, it is certainly not my first published piece of writing. But this process has felt substantially different in a number of ways, one of which being my worries about how the work will be received. I realized during the past six months that typically when one of my articles is published I just never think that much about who was reading it or what they thought about it. If I was being really honest with myself I would admit that in some part of my brain I just assumed that no one was reading the articles I wrote! Which of course is incredibly silly and would be ridiculous and a shame if it were true. Why put all that work into conducing a research project and getting the results published if it is not going to be useful for anyone?!
Nevertheless, working on my book has forced me to face the (reasonable) terror that comes with creating something and unleashing it into the world for others to evaluate.
Unfortunately, during this time I came across stories that raised my terror alert level from orange to red. In the January 2015 This American Life episode “If you don’t have anything nice to say, SAY IT IN ALL CAPS” Lindy West, a former staff writer at Jezebel, tells her story of dealing with internet trolls. She actually interviews one particularly vicious former troll who had used the death of her father to hurt her. He basically explains that he felt threatened and angered by strong outspoken women.
Then there was this:
Feminist writers are so besieged by online abuse that some have begun to retire
One of my personal feminist heroes, Jessica Valenti, shared her experiences of being trolled, harassed online and off, and receiving death threats. She concludes in the article that if she could do it over she would only write anonymously. That the emotional and psychological toll of the backlash she has faced is just not worth it.
I cried reading this article. Where would feminism be without Feministing.com and its Daily Feminist Cheat Sheet? Would Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters have been as impactful if it had been written anonymously?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not critiquing Valenti for her statement, but rather am lamenting the state of the world in which she (and others) have experienced such debilitating harassment. I admit that I wondered if I should just walk away from this blog. It was on hold anyway—should I even return?
And yet, here I am.
Perhaps I find comfort in my awareness that I am no Jessica Valenti and reassure myself that I probably won’t become a troll target.
But the truth is something bigger and more complex than that.
When I sent my book to the editor for the final stages of production I thought, “Now I just hope that no one reads it.” Which I suppose is not really true. I want people to read it. I want it to HELP people. I just don’t want people to make it about me.
I suppose in this process I have uncovered my own personality paradoxes. I am an incredibly open person with people I know, but I am also private. Sometimes I think that if I hadn’t been a Psychologist I would have become a park ranger, living in a quaint cabin in a national park, spending my days hiking and reading and enjoying a quiet life with a small group of close friends.
I have always felt called to speak out against injustice. Even if that means disturbing my potentially quiet and peaceful life. As a child that meant standing up to bullies, challenging teachers who made sexist comments, and speaking up for what I believed in. And it meant being misunderstood, disliked, (sometimes admired from afar), and often a bit lonely.
As an adult it means pushing students to unpack privilege, it means challenging colleagues when they make racist and classist assumptions. It means writing a book about identity-based bullying, and it means writing this blog. It means facing the inevitable criticism that will accompany publicly challenging patriarchy and advocating for social justice.
But what else is there to do? As long as black men are killed by police officers, LGBT youth are bullied relentlessly in schools, women are raped on college campuses, children are living in poverty, and people defend symbols of oppression (confederate flags and native mascots) there can be no quiet life in the woods.
No one is free when others are oppressed.
So—I guess all I can do is buckle in for the ride. Here we go.
Britney G Brinkman, Ph.D.
Just a few days after my wedding in the summer of 2012 I decided to go for a run through the neighborhood while my husband slept in. I wasn’t gone for long, but I returned to my street to discover that it was blocked off by police. A crowd of people were standing near the blockades and when I asked what was going on, someone said that a young man carrying a gun was walking up and down the street. The street right in front of my home, where my new husband was resting. I didn’t have my phone with me (the point of running is to leave some things behind…) but luckily I was able to borrow a phone and called my husband to learn that he was safely upstairs. He didn’t know what was going on, but there were cops in front of the house. A few minutes later a neighbor who lived on a different street showed up to fetch me—I spent the next hour or so hanging out at their house, playing games with their young daughter.
That hour ended with a loud bang. After about a 90-minute stand-off, a police officer shot and killed 19-year-old Odell W. Brown.
We slowly learned about the facts of the case as they unfolded in news reports. Brown was distraught over a recent breakup. Someone called the police when they saw him in the street with a “gun” that later turned out to be a pellet gun. Brown refused to drop the weapon and eventually aimed it a deputy who then shot him.
“Suicide by cop” they called it.
Those three words haunt me.
The fact that a young African American man was so certain of the police’s response to him that waving around a fake gun was an effective means of suicide says something profoundly disturbing about the state of racism in our country. The fact that I had never before heard of “suicide by cop” says something profoundly disturbing about the privilege I am afforded by my whiteness.
On Sunday, a 12-year-old African American boy was shot and killed by police officers in Cleveland, Ohio while he was playing at a rec center playground. He allegedly had a fake gun that the officers mistook for a real one.
Last night, the grand jury in Ferguson, MO decide not to indict police officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown—a black, unarmed 18-year-old.
I could go on—listing story after story of young, unarmed, black men being killed. One study by the Malcom X Grassroots Movement found that in 2012 alone, 313 African Americans were killed by police officers, security guards, or self-appointed vigilantes (think George Zimmerman).
There is a problem in this country and it is not a Pittsburgh problem, a Ferguson problem, or a Cleveland problem. It is a problem that every single one of us need to face and take responsibility to change.
The response in Ferguson last night was understandably one of anger and frustration. And yet, today I keep hearing more about the responses to the decision than the injustice of the decision itself. Obviously, I don’t think looting, causing fires, or throwing objects at people is the best reaction here. But it seems that those who want to avoid conversations about racial profiling, the prison industrial complex, and police brutality are using the bad behavior of a few individuals to justify their own denial. They seek to minimize, suppress, and ignore the thousands of voices of protesters around the nation who are asking for answers and demanding justice and change.
Enough is enough. It is time for white Americans to stop relying on the tired rhetoric of “equality” and instead engage in a heartfelt (and probably heart wrenching) assessment of the entrenched inequities and systems of oppression that persist in this country. It is time for white anti-racists to step up—there is much we can do.
The first step is to listen.
Hands up, don’t shoot. Hands up, don’t shoot. Hands up, don’t shoot.
Have you ever had one of those moments when you were watching something and thought “surely, this must be a Saturday Night Live skit?” You know that feeling I am talking about. On some level you are fully aware that the media you are consuming is intended to be serious, but it is so ridiculous that a tiny part of your soul is hoping it is really satirical. If only to restore your faith in humanity…
Well, I had that experience a few weeks ago while visiting my family in Salt Lake City. My dad was watching television and I entered the room just as this commercial was airing:
At first I couldn’t figure out what the ad was for. It was weird and creepy—that much was clear. When it became evident that this was an anti-Obama add (and not some commercial for a new dating website, a PSA for interpersonal violence, nor sadly, an SNL skit) I was disgusted.
The commercial—put out by Americans for Shared Prosperity—basically portrays President Obama as bad romantic partner at best, at worst as a controlling and abusive partner. Which is troubling on so many levels. First, everything about the ad screams of a lack of respect for Barack Obama as president. Second, it undermines work being done to raise awareness about intimate partner violence. Finally, it implies that women don’t know the difference between voting and online dating and the only way they could possibly assess a politician would be to treat them like a potential date.
Really?!? Is this how the GOP thinks they are going to attract women voters?
Just in case you thought it couldn’t get worse—it does.
That’s right. The Rick Scott campaign is trying to capitalize on the popularity (?) of the show “Say Yes to the Dress.” Because everyone knows that choosing a candidate to vote for is SO TOTALLY EXACTLY like picking out a wedding dress, am I right? And since all women LOVE shopping for wedding dresses, this spin is the perfect way to attract women voters, right? What could possibly go wrong?
Other than everything.
TIME Magazine dubbed the “dress” ad the “most sexist republican ad of the year.” If these ads convey what some members of the GOP think about women when they are actively trying to reach out to them, what could they possibly think about women when that they are not saying? Frankly, that thought terrifies me!
There’s a really important election around the corner. The fact that some republicans seem to think that the best way to attract women voters is by using sexist, patronizing, and insulting messages is sad and shows just how out of touch they are. Women care about real issues and make informed and thoughtful decisions about which candidates to support.
If Republicans want to attract more women voters they should start with the basic premise of treating women like people. Just a thought.
Luckily we don't have to just watch this videos and roll our eyes. We can use our political will to send a message about what women really care about. Use your voice. Get out and vote on November 4th.
Britney G Brinkman, Ph.D.
Occasionally something happens in the world that gets so much buzz it seems to be talked about everywhere. Last week, that included Emma Watson’s address to the UN about her new campaign He for She. Articles with clips to the video were all over Facebook—being posted by the news sources I regularly read and reposted by friends who were excited about it. A few friends at work were talking about it at a meeting the next morning—numerous people said they played the video in class.
But not all of the talk was positive.
First, there was the ridiculous response which included threats that 4chan would leak nude photos of Watson as “punishment” for her feminism. Although this appears to have been a hoax, it served mostly to prove the point that there continues to be a need for feminism. This negativity only makes me want to support Watson even more.
Some of other not-so-positive responses have come from within the feminist movement. These are the responses that have given me some pause and have made me wonder how we can do better as a movement to find ways to support multiple feminist perspectives and inroads.
Don’t get me wrong. I think there is a lot of merit in most of the criticism. First, I wholeheartedly agree with concerns about Watson's lack of recognition of intersections of identity and criticism about racism within the feminist movement. I am glad that so many people celebrated Watson’s speech, but do think the contrast of public responses to Emma Watson and responses to Beyoncé is disturbing. Despite Beyoncé's numerous public displays of her support for feminism, she has been met with almost endless responses criticizing and minimizing her.
I also appreciated critiques of Watson’s “formal invitation” encouraging men to join the movement, as though men have just been waiting around to get word that they are welcome...
I think it is important for us to be willing and able to engage in self-reflection and offer constructive criticism. But I want to see that happening in a way that supports voices and encourages people to go further, rather than approaches that simply criticize and dismiss.
Yes, it seems so basic for Emma Watson to tell the UN the true definition of feminism. But, as much as I wish it were not true, many stereotypes about feminism persist. If there is anything we have learned from social media campaigns, it is that some people continue to believe the stereotypes. Feminism by many is considered the "F-Word." A little clarification about it can't hurt. For some, Watson's speech was exactly what they needed to hear.
I am a feminist, an activist, and a psychologist. Each of these parts of my self inform the work I do. In this case, I think it is my training as a therapist and teacher that has helped me the most. I accept the fact that people are not all in the same place. They haven’t had the same experiences, and may not all be open to the same messages. If I want to reach as many ears, minds, and hearts as possible I have to be willing to meet people where they are.
Look, I get it. I get frustrated too when men say they can’t be feminist or they are not welcome in feminist spaces. Yes, sometimes that is just a BS cop-out for men who would rather not risk losing any privilege in the process of examining inequality.
But sometimes men say that because it is their very real experience of the world. Now, maybe that is their experience because FOX news told them feminists hate men. And maybe they have been told that they are unwelcome in some women-only spaces. Or maybe that is their experience because they are so used to having male privilege that the discomfort they feel when they enter a room of powerful women is so foreign to them they assume that they are unwelcome in the space. But whatever the reason, getting pissed off at the men who don’t feel welcome probably isn’t helping. Instead, welcome them into the dialogue. Then discuss why exactly it is they needed a personal invitation. And talk about how it feels to experience privilege. And talk about how it is reinforcing stereotypes to expect women to provide a safe and emotionally supportive space in which to have these conversations. And then call on those men to invite more men into the movement. I am not saying that we shouldn’t challenge the assumptions that may accompany a request for an invitation—I’m just saying that we may still have to extend to the invitation for anyone to show up to the party.
I am so grateful for organizations, magazines, and individual scholars/activists who push me and challenge me to grow in my own feminist awareness. Sometimes I need to be in a space where people accept feminism as a given and offer important critiques to keep the movement moving forward. These spaces energize, motivate, and inspire me!
But--introvert that I am-- I want to see those spaces grow. I want more people to come to the table, to engage in important conversations about inequality, and to find a home in the feminist movement.
Maybe our journeys won't all look the same, but when our paths cross I hope we find ways to help each other along. Challenge, support, invite, make uncomfortable, welcome, critique, celebrate-every one of us needs each of these things at different points.
So, can we PLEASE stop insisting that everyone’s feminism has to look the same? I mean, isn’t that kinda part of the goal here? To create a world where people get to be themselves, instead of only having access to resources and social capital if they fit into some cookie cutter mold that the patriarchal system finds to be appealing? How in the world can we possibly dismantle this system if we are insisting there is only one “right” way to do it?
I have never been what you would call a “sports fan.” When I got my current job and told people I would be moving to Pittsburgh I was told that the only thing I needed to know about the city was that is has three seasons: football season, hockey season, and baseball season. I quickly learned the truth of this statement. I walked into one of my first sessions of a night class to discover that the majority of the students were wearing Steelers shirts. At first I thought I was in the wrong place. Surely this was some type of football club, not a counseling psychology graduate course. The students quickly reassured me that I was in the right place—there was just a big game that evening. In the five years I have lived in Pittsburgh, I have really come to appreciate the love of sports here. For many people, supporting the city’s teams is a way of supporting the city itself—people take pride in a place that has struggled economically and worked its way back to (mostly) secure financial footing. I have come to love this city and call it home, and I enjoying seeing such enthusiasm for the place.
So while I have yet to fully embrace any of these sports, I have learned to better appreciate others’ love of the game(s). Unfortunately, the events that have unfolded around the NFL over the past few weeks have reminded me of some of my concerns related to professional sports.
Two high profile domestic violence cases have spurned on lots of debates about how the NFL handles players who commit such crimes. Ray Rice (formerly of the Baltimore Ravens) had his contract terminated after a video was made public in which he punched in girlfriend until she was unconscious. Adrian Peterson (of the Minnesota Vikings) has been suspended from play pending an investigation regarding whether his discipline of his son constitutes child abuse.
Sadly, these two cases are not isolated. Although they have perhaps received greater levels of publicity than other incidents (possibly because of the release of the video of Rice), NFL players have been involved in numerous other domestic violence cases, as well as cases of sexual assault. And it is not just the NFL. One need only reflect for a moment to bring to mind numerous occurrences of athletes engaged in violence against women, girls, and children. Think: Steubenville, Ohio; Penn State; the Duke Lacrosse team. I could go on, but I won’t. This list is depressing enough.
Now before I hear a bunch of cries of “not all men!” or “not all athletes” let me say I am well aware that not all men nor all athletes engage in violence. In fact, most research suggests that a small percentage of men commit a large percentage of the violence against girls and women. The point here is not that all (or even most) male athletes are committing violence, but it is about examining the culture around sports that may lead to the perpetuation and dismissing of violence.
Critiques about the ways in which football (and other sports) promote messages of hypermasculinity in which violence is not only tolerated but celebrated, are not new. Scholars like Jackson Katz (a former football player himself) have been speaking out for decades about ways in which sports may perpetuate cultures of violence and the need to reexamine messages about masculinity. While some amazing work has been done on this front, clearly we need to do more.
We also can do a better job as a society of not tolerating and condoning violence through inaction and silence. Much of the public outcry surrounding the recent cases in the NFL has been less about the specific individuals involved in the allegations, and more about the ways in which coaches, owners, and the NFL commissioner respond to these events. Although the NFL seems to be responding to pressure from the public and advertisers to take domestic violence seriously, in the past the policies have often amounted to a “slap on the wrist.” It is unclear whether these dismissive approaches were the result of a genuine belief that domestic violence is not a big deal, whether they stemmed from a perception that “boys will be boys,” or if the inaction is linked to men’s own fears about the repercussions of challenging the code of masculinity. Regardless, they allow violence to continue instead of creating structures which demand change and support individuals in getting help to do so.
We all can play a role in shifting cultural norms about masculinity, whether it is by putting pressure on a system like the NFL to approach things differently or changing our own interactions with the boys and men in our lives.
The use of violence to prove oneself is a dangerous aspect of traditional masculinity. But the tacit support that results from the code of silence is perhaps more deadly.
Come on, men. It is time to speak up.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a tipping point as being “the critical point in a situation, process, or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place.” Lately I have found myself wondering what it will take for our culture to reach the tipping point to eradicate sexual violence.
I recently joined the board of Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (PAAR) and during orientation all of the new board members shared a bit about their reasons for joining. I have been involved in the sexual assault prevention and intervention work for many years, working as a volunteer doing prevention programming, staffing a crisis hotline, and even doing individual and group therapy at a sexual assault victim advocate center. In doing this work I have found that individuals often (but not always) get involved because of a personal connection to someone who has experienced sexual violence. For many people, one’s personal “tipping point” seems to involve putting a face on something they might otherwise wish to avoid.
But how many small changes and publicized incidents are needed to create larger, more systemic change?
Sometimes it seems that we are treading water (at best) or taking steps backward. The much publicized “anti-date rape” nail polish (called Undercover Colors) has received a lot of media attention, with some supporters praising the group of four men who developed it, but others criticizing the underlying approach to rape prevention. The nail polish is intended to change colors if exposed to drugs that are commonly utilized in “date rape.” While the group of inventors likely has good intentions, this product seems to be another in a line of approaches that emphasize ways that women are supposed to avoid sexual assault, rather than an attempt to actually prevent sexual assault. Unfortunately, these messages can lead to victim blaming—questioning women after an assault about whether they did “enough” to keep themselves safe.
But I want to be hopeful that the tide is changing. The White House has put together a task force to address sexual assault on college campuses, with the Not Alone campaign designed to provide recommendations, resources, and support to students and universities. California passed what is being called the “yes means yes” law—a law that changes the standard for what is considered consent to sexual activities. The new law requires an active form of consent rather than relying on antiquated policies which asserted that the absence of a clear “no” implied consent.
Some days I just wish that someone could tell me what it will take to change hearts and minds on a massive level. Until then, I find hope in the small changes. I take heart in the community response at Columbia University, where a group of students have joined one rape survivor in her campaign to raise awareness on campus about sexual assault and to demand better responses by the administration.
When she learned about Emma's project, fellow student Allie Rickard responded with a call to action. She urged others to help Emma carry her mattress around campus.
Help her carry this weight as a survivor, ally, supporter, activist, artist, advocate, or friend.
It is movements like these--movements where the community comes together to support survivors and demand change that just might be what we need to push us over the edge. If we all carry the weight of sexual assault, it just might tip us over.
Today is the 94th Anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment which gave white women in the United States the right to vote. Just in case you forgot. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like much is being done today to celebrate or recognize this date—so many seem to take this right for granted.
My earliest memory of learning about the 19th Amendment occurred when I was 11 years old. Our social studies teacher decided to do a “mock” election at school that day to see who we would vote for if we could: Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, or Ross Perot. I did not vote. I cannot remember exactly why—I was not taking a stand against voting. A few people in my class decided not to vote. I can remember watching the debates with my dad who was at the time a supporter of Bush (at least according to my memory…). Maybe I didn’t want to publicly vote against my father (the votes were by show of hands). I certainly remember thinking Ross Perot was kind of a joke. But I don’t really remember why I decided not to vote. It just didn’t seem that important.
When I got home from school that day I told my mom about what had happened and she was appalled. I think my assessment that it didn’t matter because it was just a school activity anyway might have upset her most of all.
That was the first time I remember learning about women’s struggle for the right to vote. Maybe I knew before that day that there was a time when women couldn’t vote, but it didn’t mean much to me. But that afternoon, my mom explained to me how much it meant that women had won the right to vote and how important it is. She told me that I should ALWAYS exercise that right—even in a silly classroom activity.
I have thought about that day a number of times since then—mostly during times when I wondered if my vote mattered. Times when I felt pessimistic about our electoral system. Times when I questioned whether my voice had any chance of being heard. Those are the times when I need to hear that voice in my head, when I need to remember how crucial the right to vote really is.
So many things are going on within the USA today that remind me why my vote is needed. Voter ID laws have popped up around the country, making it more challenging for the elderly, minority and low-income individuals to vote. Anti-choice laws are making their way through state legislatures, slowly but surely whittling away women’s rights to control their own reproductive health. The gender wage gap continues with many estimates indicating that women make 77 cents on the dollar of what men make. Attempts to address this disparity (like passing the Paycheck Fairness Act) have been unsuccessful.
The 19th Amendment was an important marker on the road to women’s equality in this country, but we have much further to travel. It is easy to feel overwhelmed and to question whether any one person's vote can make a difference. But it matters who we elect to make, amend, and enforce our laws. Let's celebrate today the battle that was waged to win the right to vote, and honor that battle in our continued work to protect, cherish, and exercise that right.
-Britney G Brinkman, Ph.D.
EMPOWERTAINMENT aims to take a critical look at media in regards to how gender and women/girls are portrayed. From popular articles, videos, and websites, to original submissions, we want to not only examine the media and its relation to gender, but help shift it.