We know about the gendered wage gaps in the workplace. It’s old news that women are wildly underrepresented in top leadership positions at companies across the nation. And it’s clear that men need to be on board in order to for women to achieve equity in the workplace. Men have a central role in improving the workplace as we move into the future. But to be effective in accomplishing productive solutions, we need to scratch beneath the surface and look beyond salary and the corner office.

Most men believe that all people should have the same opportunities based on qualifications, not gender. What about that guy at the conference table — you know, the one who means well but still puts a sexist foot in his mouth.

Allow me to suggest a few tips to share with co-workers about why gender equity matters and what men can do in taking a lead.

As I explain in my book Men and Feminism, masculine privilege is the idea that society awards certain unearned perks and advantages on men simply because they are male. Sometimes this privilege is really obvious, like the fact that Congress remains overwhelmingly male. But masculine privilege also flies under the radar. Institutional practices and ideological beliefs about masculine superiority seem so normal or natural that we’ve learned not to notice when a man’s opinion is taken more seriously than a woman’s.

And, let’s face it. The workplace is nothing if not an institution.

As Michael Welp explains, it’s to men’s individual advantage to inquire more about others and step back a bit from chronic self-advocacy and self-promotion. Listening more and speaking less can “collectively shift the culture in organizations toward more inclusion.”

If it’s a hard sell to convince folks with power and privilege to step aside and share a bit of that pie, then it helps to remember that gender equity improves a company’s bottom line. Michael Kimmel points out that equality “increases a company’s profitability, enhances its reputation in the outside world, and boosts employee morale.”

Exposing invisible patterns and practices allows us to think critically about the links between gender privilege and sexism. One way masculine privilege operates is in how men (and women) are taught to see sexism as “individual acts of meanness,” says scholar Peggy McIntosh. What’s really going on, though, is that sexism is supported by invisible systems that perpetuate and maintain dominance for men as a group.

What Men Can Do (and Encourage Other Men to Do):

1.    Engage don’t interrupt. Be quiet. Don’t talk-over others. Communication is a two-way street, and some people have been socialized to cross that street more slowly than others. Research shows that women speak less when they’re outnumbered while men are groomed for assertiveness. Simply put: talk less; listen more.

2.    Wait for a response before continuing. Ask more questions and don’t assume you know more than the person you’re speaking to.

3.    Remember: authority, expertise and strength come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and wardrobes. A hot manicure does not preclude a hot IQ as 16-year-old Mensa-member Lauren Marbe can attest.

In my recent book Men Speak Out, a collection of first-person perspectives on gender, sex, and power, Ian Breckenridge-Jackson sums up the issues of privilege in the workplace really well. Ian was part of a mixed-gender volunteer crew working to rebuild homes in the Lower Ninth Ward in post-Katrina New Orleans. “Men would often challenge women’s competence on the worksite, particularly women in leadership positions. For instance, men often assumed women were ignorant about using tools, leading men to inappropriately offer unsolicited advice to women about how they should do their work,” Breckenridge-Jackson explains. And even though he was tempted to step in, take over, do the job himself, and explain to the women how things get done, he had to check himself. “All men owe this both to the women in their lives and to themselves.”

There might not be a perfect solution, but we can certainly start the process, and we can easily commit earnestly to change. Men have a crucial role in promoting this workplace change by refusing to be bystanders to the problem.

First published on www.onthemarc.org.

This interview originally appeared in the Ms. Magazine Blog and is re-posted with permission.

In Part I of my interview with Gail Dines, the self-described anti-porn feminist discussed sexual freedom, coercion, safety and harm. Part II continues the conversation. And this time, porn actors respond.

Shira Tarrant: Your new book, PORNLAND: How Porn Has Hijacked our Sexuality (Beacon Press), is out this month. When readers pick up this book, what do you want them to know by the time they put it down?

Gail Dines: I want people to understand that porn is a business with considerable political clout and the capacity to lobby politicians, engage in expensive legal battles and use public relations to influence public debate. Like the tobacco industry, this is not a simple matter of consumer choice; rather, the business is increasingly able to deploy a sophisticated and well-resourced marketing machine, not just to push its wares but also to cast the industry’s image in a positive light.

These are not fun, creative, playful images that feed our sexual imaginations but instead are industrial products that depict a type of sex that is formulaic, generic and plasticized.

ST: I know you’re concerned about harm to women. In Pornland you describe on-the-job injuries sustained by some porn actors–for example, HPV, genital bruising and HIV. All forms of work involve exploitation and risk, whether it’s dying on an oil rig, developing carpal tunnel syndrome or being exposed to asbestos–what makes risks in porn any worse than other workplace dangers?

GD: HPV or genital bruising are generally not listed as job hazards. Women who do porn talk about anal prolapse and surgery [for repair]. The injuries in porn leave long-lasting emotional impacts. The level of abuse and violence to women in porn stands out. There is the psychological trauma of having one’s body treated in this way. It is a very intimate form of abuse. Articles from the porn industry press reveal how difficult and demanding the job is and that women can’t last that long in the industry because of injury.


I asked folks in the porn industry for their responses to Gail Dines’ claim that porn physically traumatizes women. Beth Brigham disagrees. (Brigham was formerly Dines’ research assistant and worked in porn.) She reports:

There’s no emotional trauma from a sex act that you’re prepared for. If you know in advance what you’re going to be doing, you are ready. If I have a day where I’m doing seven penetrations, I know what to do to insure that my body remains healthy. Sex acts don’t happen by accident in porn and you know how to deal with them in advance.

April Flores, a BBW adult actress, adds:

“There is no doubt porn is a very physical job. However, it is also a very individualized profession. Each performer is responsible for their own physical health. A performer always has the choice of not doing something they are not comfortable with. All of my peers are doing work they feel proud of and that enhances and expands on their own sexuality. Gail Dines thinks all performers are victims and this couldn’t be further from the truth.

I also need to point out that many people outside the industry are having rough sex by choice. I’ve heard quite a few stories of people [in the general population] going a little too hard and hurting themselves.

Dines worries about increasing rates of anal sex caused by men who watch gonzo and convince women to bend over–never mind the missing data, non-het sex or women’s sexual agency. It’s unclear that porn is behind this alleged trend, and the tone implies there’s something wrong with human proclivity.

Then there’s the matter of spanking, teasing, topping or switching. Here’s what Dines says:

Pornographers are controlling sexuality. Sexuality is coming out of an industry not imagination. Porn contributes to more BDSM because [it] appeals to bored and desensitized porn users. This isn’t about sex but about corporatizating desire. It’s not an accident that there’s more BDSM activity now.

Again, there’s the question of evidence. And didn’t Dines say that private sex is a personal matter?

By phone, Dines tells me that what people do sexually is none of her business. “I’m not talking about constraining sexuality, but creating sexuality that is based on respect and equality. I’m not against sex,” Dines says. Her concern is about “the business of porn, not the practice of private pleasure.” But perhaps that line is blurry.

To be continued in Part III …

Above image: “Three Nudes and Reclining Man” (1934) by Ernst Kirchner, public domain. From Wikimedia Commons.

Hooking up is getting lots of video and academic attention. Plus, it’s Spring — and Spring Break — so it seems timely to re-post the following (with permission from the Ms. Magazine Blog).

The days are finally longer. Birds are chirping and green leaves are starting to bud. This can only mean one thing. Spring Break! And with Spring Break comes hook ups.

Some folks are freaking out about this “new phenomenon” of hooking up, but I’d argue it’s hardly new — check the lyrics from those 1975 disco heroes, KC and the Sunshine Band:

baby, babe let’s get together
honey, honey me and you,
and do the things, oh, do the things
that we like to do.

oh, do a little dance, make a little love …
get down tonight…

Translation? Hey, shorty, let’s hook up.

The 1960s had Free Love. The 1980s was about the cazh (as in casual sex). Today we can knock boots, hit it and quit it, find an FWB or a ONS. Call it what you want, it’s still consensual sex outside of a committed relationship. And while the language may change, the moves remain the same.

What is new on the sexual landscape are debates about whether casual sex is all about fun and free will, or if hooking up is linked to sexual assault and women’s objectification.

The fact is that young adults ages 18 to 24 who have casual sex do not appear to be at higher risk for psychological fall-out compared to their partnered peers. In so many words, Score! says Jaclyn Friedman of Yes Means Yes. Research from the University of Minnesota “reveals the truth that neither Hollywood nor the Religious Right want you to know: Casual sex won’t damage you emotionally. Not even if you’re a girl!”

But Occidental College professors Lisa Wade and Caroline Heldman might disagree. Their forthcoming article, “Friends with Benefits, Without the Friendship Maybe?” points out that college hook-up culture often involves drinking — a known factor in sexual assault. Young women and men alike say the sex is often unpleasant and meaningful connection is elusive. Many students offer harrowing descriptions of assault, sexually transmitted infections, emotional trauma and gendered antagonism. Yet hooking up — with its risks, missteps, and possible mistakes — is still a chance to explore sexual boundaries.

Determined to get to the hot-and-bothered heart of the matter, Heather Corinna from Scarleteen.com is launching a new study on multigenerational experiences with casual sex. Corinna hopes to find “a more diverse, realistic and non-prescriptive picture of people’s sex lives and ideas about sex.”

Yet, according to Salon.com’s Kate Harding, “the problem that needs solving isn’t hook-up culture, but the intense pressure on girls and women to focus on getting and keeping a guy, rather than on getting and keeping whatever they want.” Documentary filmmaker Therese Shechter of The American Virgin gives a nod to this point:

What’s actually bad for women and girls is treating us like victims who need protecting [and] ignoring that our sexual experiences, good or lousy, can contribute to our growth and development as human beings.

“I’m all for sexual freedom as long as you’re safe,” says Jacob Levy, an 18-year-old student at California State University, Long Beach. “[But] there should be a warning label on hooking up,” adds 20-something Stefaney Gonzalez. “Something like WARNING: proceed with caution.”

As Nancy Schwartzman documents in her gripping film, The Line, there is potential for both pleasure and peril with sex, casual or otherwise. Hooking up doesn’t happen in a vacuum, but against the backdrop of crime rates that show one in six women (and one in 33 men) statistically likely to face sexual assault in their lifetime.

Hooking up also has a gendered hue when girls are taught that being sexy is about performing instead of about self-pleasure and expressing what feels good. It’s what philosophers call “illocutionary silencing” — when girls and young women fail to say what they want. As Heldman wrote in Ms. magazine, self-objectification has serious impacts on girls’ political efficacy and sexual pleasure. Getting off becomes tied to seeing oneself through the eyes of someone else, or through the lens of an imaginary porn camera.

The issue isn’t imaginary porn cameras, though; there are lots of items that clutter the sexual imagination. But here’s a thought, and it’s not a new one: Reducing sexual harms like assault, coercion, and slut shaming means maximizing sexual pleasure. Let’s kick forced power disparities and nonconsensual objectification out of our everyday lives in the bed and beyond. That’s when the girls will really go wild. On our own terms.

Photo courtesy of: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gaelx/ / CC BY-SA 2.0

This interview originally appeared in the Ms. Magazine Blog and is re-posted with permission.

Move over dot-com, dot-org, and dot-gov. There’s a new domain on the block: dot-xxx. With 370 million sites and $3,000 spent for online porn every second, the industry’s revenues surpass earnings by Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, Apple and Netflix combined.

This is author Gail Dines’s point: Porn is about profit, not pleasure. Some people make a buck; many more are harmed, argues Dines in her new book PORNLAND: How Porn Has Hijacked our Sexuality (Beacon Press).

Gail Dines calls herself an anti-porn feminist, but she is quick to clarify that she’s not anti-sex. Unlike Dines—and in the interest of full disclosure—I am not anti-porn. I oppose censorship and unproductive arguments pitting sex-positive feminists against anti-porn activists. This keeps rival groups in far corners of the Sex Wars boxing ring. We need more conversation—not less—which means asking tough questions across ideological divides. To that end, I interviewed Gail Dines, curious about our agreements and differences on The Porn Question.

Ms./Shira Tarrant: You wrote Pornland for a mainstream audience. What is your primary hope for this book?

Gail Dines: I wrote Pornland to raise consciousness about the effects of the contemporary porn industry. Many people have outdated ideas that porn is pictures of naked women wearing coy smiles and not much else, or of people having hot sex. Today’s mainstream Internet porn is brutal and cruel, with body-punishing sex acts that debase and dehumanize women.

Pornland looks at how porn messages, ideologies, and images seep into our everyday life. Whether it be Miley Cyrus in Elle spread-eagle on a table dressed in S&M gear, or Cosmopolitan telling readers to spice up their sex lives with porn, we are overwhelmed by a porn culture that shapes our sexual identities and ideas about gender and sexuality. Pornland explores how porn limits our capacity for connection, intimacy and relationships.

ST: What is it about Miley Cyrus in S&M gear that bothers you? Is it her age? Or simply that she’s wearing pseudo-bondage gear?

GD: The problem is that women in our culture have to conform to very narrow definitions of femininity and it’s defined by porn. Miley Cyrus’s performance is not about creativity but dictated by capitalism. She aged out of Disney and this is the carefully planned-out launch of the new Miley Cyrus.

My issue is about the market and about how pornography frames femininity. Women are either fuckable or invisible. Miley Cyrus wouldn’t make any money [with an unfuckable image].

ST: Are you opposed to consensual BDSM sex in real life? Or do you see this as a harmful and exploitative relationship?

GD: What people do outside corporate forces, or outside capitalism, is none of my business.

I’m critiquing the commodification of sex. That gets confused with the idea that I’m telling people what to do in the bedroom. It’s a much easier argument to make [but] it’s a refusal to take seriously a radical feminist critique of the culture.

ST: Some people working in the business argue that porn is a legitimate way to earn a living. I know you disagree, but that keeps us stuck in an us-versus-them sex war. Do you see a way to move past that stalemate?

GD: The industry frames the work as a choice, because otherwise that would ruin porn. Choice is built into the way men enjoy porn. Men I interviewed are convinced the women in porn really choose this and enjoy their job.

Increasingly, women are drawn to porn by the glamorization of the industry. Some women have made porn work for them—Sasha Grey, Jenna Jameson. Jenna Jameson was on Oprah, who was gushing about her. Oprah went to her house and showed the audience Jameson’s expensive cars and private art collection. This looks attractive to women with limited resources. Capitalism can only succeed if there are people around who will do the shit work. Women with law degrees are not lining up to do porn. The vast majority of women doing porn don’t make it and don’t get famous. They end up in low paid work as well as the brothels of Nevada.

We need a world where women have real options to make a living. This is a class issue and a race issue. To talk about choice is to ignore how people are constrained by their social and economic situations.

To be continued in Part II …

Above: pornographic film set, 2007. Photo by Larry Knowles for The Naughty American website licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

I recently blogged about hooking up at the newly launched Ms. Magazine Blog. I end the piece by saying that when it comes to sex:

Reducing sexual harms like assault, coercion, and slut shaming means maximizing sexual pleasure. Let’s kick forced power disparities and nonconsensual objectification out of our everyday lives in the bed and beyond. That’s when the girls will really go wild. On our own terms.

Writer-artist Karen Henninger wrote me to say she’d love to share some insights, experiences, and history about hooking up. It seems Karen and I don’t quite see eye to eye on the issue of casual sex among consenting adults. So, in keeping with the theme, I thought it would be cool to — yes — hook-up across blogs to keep the conversation lively. With that, I introduce our Girl W/Pen guest blogger who writes the following:

Are you aware that the Women’s Movement at the turn of the 20th century started with the idea of Free Love?

Free Love goes beyond “sex without commitment.” In the late-1800s the issue included marriage, women’s lives, and freedom from government control. Since the 1950s, especially, there has been success moving toward free love rather than forced love. But we won’t even know what is possible until we are given political freedom to live as we choose when it comes to sexuality and love.

I am for Free Love and Free Sexuality but this requires treating people without harm. I watch others go down the same old patriarchal road in their relationships over and over while I scratch my head thinking, Wow, there’s another way that is so much better for everyone.

No only is love free, but it is abundant. Love can’t really exist if it isn’t free. What makes hooking up harmful is the way it is done. The same goes for marriage and everything in between. Harm comes from the abuse of power and control. Love is simply freedom from harm. Yet harm is so entrenched in our everyday lives that we see it as normal. And then activism becomes necessary to experience something different.

Karen Henninger is a visionary visual artist, writer, and independent scholar. She holds a degree in Letters, Arts and Sciences from Penn State University and a Related Arts degree with concentrations in English and Women’s Studies from Kutztown University.

Kathryn BigelowSunday, February 28, 2010. I wake up, brew a pot of coffee, and sit down to read the Los Angeles Times. Then my world shifts ever so slightly.

On the front page of the Calendar section I see the headline, “Redeploying Gender.” Jumping off the page this time around, the gender in question is masculinity. Finally, splashed across the corporate page of a mainstream publication, gender is no longer code for women! I read this and it feels damn good.

The article in question is about film director Kathryn Bigelow’s war movie and Oscar-award front-runner, The Hurt Locker. More than just a blow-’em-up extravaganza, journalist Reed Johnson suggests that Bigelow’s film “shakes up traditional ideas of what men are and how they act.” Bigelow likes the big bang in her movies — guns, explosions, a rough-punch to the gut. And in The Hurt Locker, there’s plenty of that rugged, isolated individualism that so often defines modern manhood. But Bigelow is more deeply interested in the warrior codes of masculinity that are intertwined with men’s fears and feelings, and their conflicted impulses around loyalty and leadership, posturing and parenthood.

“Kathryn,” I want to say out loud (as if she were in my living room), “So am I!” And so are other writers thinking deeply about masculinity, like Jackson Katz, Judith “Jack” Halberstam, and Sinclair Sexsmith, just to check a few in the genre.

My caffeinated heart beats a bit faster with excitement and I continue reading the Times.

The article is quick to note that Kathryn Bigelow’s perspectives on masculinity should not be labeled “feminist” and even quicker to comment that a feminist label can be a death knell for women working in Hollywood. But as my eyes skip to the right-side of the page, I see film critic Betsy Sharkey has also invoked the F-word in a companion article, this time in reference to director James Cameron’s exploration of “what women want, how they define themselves,” and — to me, a key point — “how society values [women’s] worth.” It’s troubling that while Bigelow (and other women) face professional risk for getting labeled a feminist, Cameron stands to benefit. It’s a jarring juxtaposition.

But, this problem notwithstanding, Johnson counterposes that Cameron and Bigelow’s partially intertwined careers suggest a growing fluidity and flexibility in how gender perspectives function in film. [The italics are my added enthusiasm.]

Did I just see this right? This beautifully written, politically trenchant, gender-astute sentence — on the pages of the Sunday Times? With write-ups like this and more projects on the horizon (Michael Kimmel’s popular book Guyland is optioned by Dreamworks), the day is looking even brighter here in sunny SoCal.

Still, there’s a ways to go in cracking the celluloid ceiling.

As Jane Fonda comments on Huffington Post, there are great moments in film this year, thanks to women in Hollywood. Five years ago, Fonda, with Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan, founded the Women’s Media Center to keep pointing out that “women are not only assets but requirements for a truly democratic media, and for strong, innovative entertainment.” We need to improve the numbers of women and people of color among the Hollywood players. But it helps that directors like Bigelow are shifting images of gender and masculinity in our everyday movie faves. This, too, is an important step toward gender justice.

Oh, and postscript. Thanks to Reed Johnson, I have a clever new phrase that I plan to use in a sentence today: Stealth Feminist. Brill!

On February 4, 2010 John Carroll University, a Jesuit school in suburban Cleveland, was the site of an LGBTQ protest that interrupted a basketball game. At issue is the university’s refusal to provide anti-bias protection employment policies.

University officials are letting LGBTQ colleagues hang out to dry. These officials defend their decision stating that employment policies are based on state and federal laws. Since state and federal law doesn’t include sexual orientation or gender identity and expression protections, they argue, the university doesn’t have to, either. But, as Bridgette P. LaVictoire reports on the blog LezGetReal, this explanation conflicts with an official university statement:

Rather than rely on the limitations provided under current federal and state law, the university strives to achieve a much higher standard based upon its Jesuit and Catholic mission and teachings.

Backpedaling JCU President Robert Niehoff says the policy should not be changed because it would go against “traditional Catholic moral teaching.”

Don’t let us down, John Carroll University! We expect more from an institution of higher learning. Don’t we turn to universities to lead the way in advancing knowledge and eradicating injustice? That’s the idea, anyway. In the meantime: JCU, we’re watching you! And so is Perez Hilton who tweeted, Awesome! RT Watch: Jesuit Students Stage Gay Rights Sit-in at College Game.

The peaceful demonstrators staged a sit-in while the university band played “Hot Stuff.” Police hovered nearby and the protesters were escorted from the floor without incident. You can watch the whole thing here.

P.S. Many thanks to Kate Arons for tipping off Girl With Pen about this issue!

In January, tragedy struck the Los Angeles suburb of Manhattan Beach.

Investigators believe that 24-year-old Michael Nolin killed his girlfriend, 22-year-old Danielle Hagbery, because Hagbery was breaking up with him. Apparently, Nolin then committed suicide.

This murder-suicide story is tragic all the way around. We hear about situations like this all the time. But while the details of this case might still be fuzzy, one thing is for sure: The report published in The Daily Breeze perpetuates the worst of victim-blaming and misguidedly frames the issues.

The story headline reads:

Police believe romantic break-up fueled Manhattan Beach killings.

But romance and break-ups don’t cause murder. Violence and aggression do. Let’s revise and edit, shall we?

An accurate story headline would read:

Police believe violent aggression fueled Manhattan Beach killings.

But the problem doesn’t end with the headline. The article quotes Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department’s Lt. Dan Rosenberg who provides so-called tips to women on preventing their own assault.

I would insert a snarky “yawn” if the issue wasn’t so absolutely critical!

Daily Breeze reporters Larry Altman and Andrea Woodhouse quote Los Angeles Sheriff Department’s Lt. Dan Rosenberg as saying:

“Danielle Hagbery’s death should serve as a warning to other young women that they need to look out for themselves — such as not going to the boyfriend’s home — when a relationship goes sour.

“This is one more tragic end of a dating relationship where these young women should be aware of it,” Rosenberg said. “Ladies need to be vigilant when things go sideways with boyfriends.”

Seriously. Really?

I’m willing to accept that Lt. Rosenberg was well-intentioned but seriously misguided. And, if so, then Altman and Woodhouse are complicit in their equally misguided decision to include these “tips” in their article.

Badly informed comments such as Rosenberg’s perpetuate a serious problem: Blaming the victim for her own death. This profoundly shifts the attention from the real issue. Presuming it’s true that boyfriend Michael Nolin killed Hagbery before turning a gun on himself, the warning must not be directed toward victims.

Ladies don’t need to be vigilant. Murderers need to not kill.

If this was in fact an instance of “one more tragic end of a dating relationship,” then men need to be aware of their own potential for violence and prevent it from happening. The best way to end violence is for the violent person to stop. Prevention is the real solution.

On February 1, 2010 I sent a letter of concern to eight Daily Breeze editors and reporters, and to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. This letter called out the newspaper and the sheriff for what violence-prevention educator Jackson Katz calls linguistic shape shifting, where language obscures men’s responsibility for violence.

The letter of concern includes signatures from authors, professors, public speakers, advocates, and community activists, experts across the country who work in preventing gender-based violence and sexual assault.

The letter concludes by offering support: “There are plenty of community-based resources and educational materials on the subject of preventing male violence against women. Please do not hesitate to be in touch if you would like to avail yourself to our services and resources.”

To date, not one of the individuals or agencies receiving this letter have replied. The silence is deafening.

This month The Man Files welcomes Sam Bullock writing his first guest post for Girl With Pen. In this personal account, Sam explains what happened when his Mormon religion collided with feminist politics.

My professor assured us there was no reason to fear The F-Word.

I was taking Intro to Ethics at a community college where we were assigned to read An Invitation to Feminist Ethics by Hilde Lindemann. It was my first experience with feminist theory.

The book is a basic overview about sexism, gender roles, homophobia, neo-liberal globalization, and stories about gas lighting and rape. Unlike other books, I couldn’t dismiss this one as “just another philosophy.” I couldn’t toss this book aside as I went about my daily life. It was consciousness-raising. Life-changing.

From reading this book I realized I wanted the freedom to choose what made me happy. I didn’t want to be constrained by psychological factors that may have been the product of early—and intense—gender socialization. And I knew that women deserved the same freedom.

Unfortunately, these feminist arguments clashed with my worldview: I was raised Mormon. For Mormons, gender roles are divinely instituted (for the most part) and homosexuality is always a moral evil.

In the Mormon Church, only men are allowed to have the priesthood. Women are effectively barred from positions of authority. No women bishops, no women apostles, no women prophets. Women can fill positions of leadership that are in line with traditional gender roles like young-women leaders, children’s group leaders, and relief society leaders (an exclusively female group).

I was told that priesthood, the power to act in God’s name, depends on individual worthiness. Every man can have it. The traditional Mormon rejoinder to any sort of criticism of this unjust stratification is that “women can bear children.” So … women can’t become priests because babies gestate inside of them? This argument is sheer nonsense.

The sexism of the Mormon Church became more and more apparent. In one discussion about parenthood, I dared to suggest that I was willing to be a stay-at-home dad. I was instantly assaulted by thoroughly archaic views about women. I was told that women were more virtuous than men and this virtue would be lost in the cut-throat business world. Working women were destroying the fabric of society (I actually heard this more than once). Needless to say, I was horrified.

At a different meeting, the discussion topic was female modesty and appearance. The bishop leading the group suggested that women needed to dress modestly because men couldn’t control themselves—or something to that effect. Really? Huh.

The bishop continued, saying that women should wear make-up because even an old barn could use a paint-job. The huge double standard leaped out at me. Male “barns” were not expected to paint themselves, so why should female “barns?”

As the sexism became crystal-clear, I attempted to reconcile my two conflicting worldviews. I tried to rationalize away the sexism, making arguments like, “the Church isn’t ready for gender-equality yet“ or “this sexist doctrine is not of God.” I looked for support online and found it at various feminist Mormon blogs including Feminist Mormon Housewives and The Exponent.

Enter California’s Proposition 8. Here, the second of the big offenders came into focus: homosexuality. In the Mormon Church, homosexuality is a sin. One can be an openly gay, but must remain celibate or enter a heterosexual marriage. Neither is a particularly happy option.

When Proposition 8 (opposing gay marriage) was on the California ballot, Mormon Church leadership endorsed it, and encouraged members to aid in its passing. This led to call centers, special meetings, and Photoshopped pictures of Book of Mormon prophets holding “Yes on Prop 8” signs. Most disturbing was the rhetoric. We were told that homosexuals were like drug-users. Homosexuals were destroying society. They were corrupting our children, our freedom of religion, and our schools. Homosexual-equality was Satan’s idea, an attempt to lure people down the path of destruction.

I am ashamed to admit that in high school I believed this nonsense. I distinctly remember telling a friend that I voted for Bush because he was against gay-marriage. I even wrote a letter to Bush celebrating his wise choice.

But fast-forward and feminism allowed me to see the Church rhetoric for what it was: homophobic, fear-mongering attempts to maintain a cultural hegemony. I still rationalized away the homophobia as yet another doctrine “not of God.” That is, until I read about Stuart Matis, a gay Mormon who committed suicide because of homophobic Mormon doctrine.

I could see the suffering so clearly. I could no longer rationalize away the Church homophobia. A crack had formed in the edifice of my beliefs. Mormons were not inspired by God to pass Prop 8. There was no Satan, no tempter out there trying to trick me into believing evil things. This was merely the ultimate fear-mongering device, a tool designed to silence dissent.

Into this small crack rushed my entire philosophical training, all of my religion classes, my ethics classes, and my critical thinking classes. I no longer saw any reason to believe that Joseph Smith saw God when he founded the Mormon Church. I no longer believed that Jesus was the son of God, or that God even existed at all. My beliefs were gone. I was an Atheist.

I guess the message of this story is that feminism is undeniably powerful. It can alter consciousness. It can foster equality. It can even dismantle an entire worldview. And I would say these changes are for the better.

Sam Bullock aspires to be an attorney with hip jazz-piano chops, and is a self-proclaimed feminist atheist.

I am so pleased to bring another important and insightful post to Girl With Pen from our regular guest blogger, Shawna Kenney.

The world hears much about women in the Middle East from Western media. Most stories are told from a human rights perspective, about women; rarely do we hear from the subjects themselves. Yet there are fierce young women working from within media structures in countries not especially known for their equal rights policies. As a journalist and educator, I have been blessed to encounter many lately. These brief profiles-in-courage are just a sampling of the work being done behind cameras, within newsrooms, from boardrooms, and in day-to-day life.

Mai Yacoub Kaloti has been a reporter with Al–Quds newspaper for almost a year. The 25-year-old Palestinian says she chose her field “to open up minds and reveal the truth about what’s happening” in her part of the world. Kaloti chose the print journalism field despite her father’s wish for her to be an accountant. Now she proudly signs her “full name” to every story and says that he is just as proud of her bylines. When people tell her women shouldn’t work in war zones, she says it’s her job and that she intends to do it right. “Women in the Middle East are just like all women on earth: they deserve respect, love, and care. They work in different fields, defend their country with pen and weapon, raise children with a sense of responsibility and good manners.”

30-year old Mozn Hassan is the Founder and a member of the Board of Directors for Nazra for Feminist Studies in Cairo, Egypt. While most of her time is spent partnering with local and international organizations in promoting women’s rights, she also answers “nonstop questions from neighbors, colleagues and even the guard of [her] building” about why she is unmarried, why she travels abroad alone, and why she chooses to live in an apartment with her sister rather than her parents. “As an Egyptian feminist I see customs and culture here which govern the mentality of Egyptians. The hardest obstacle we face is that most Egyptian men are occupied by patriarchal ideas.” Still, she fights on. “I think this field is one of the most sensitive and important issues that must be tackled openly and critically in my country. The issues of women’s rights opens lots of discussion on all of society’s problems, and in my opinion it is impossible to reform our society without tackling gender issues.”

Muna Samawi is a 25-year-old Program Officer working for the Freedom House organization in Amman, Jordan. After earning a Bachelor’s degree at St. Lawrence University, Samawi dedicated herself to working in the field of human rights. “I was fortunate to live, study and work in a foreign country for 6 years where I was able to express myself without hesitation, and practice my freedom of expression.” She has since worked with at-risk youth and organized exchange programs focused on including journalists, lawyers, bloggers, and human right defenders from the Middle East. Her activism is not always encouraged. “Political and societal pressures are placed on any activity in the Middle East that is sponsored from foreign agencies, so some eyebrow raising occurs from time to time,” she shares. “As a young woman working in development, I do not always get the recognition or support needed, but my family’s support is sufficient to sustain and push my personal goals to higher levels.” She stresses that advocacy for women’s rights and feminism are “growing movements” in the Middle East—more than most people know.

Marianne Nagui Hanna is a producer at a large news support corporation in Egypt. The 29-year-old describes herself as a “news junkie” who works 14 hours a day in this field she loves. She says her work environment is multicultural and multinational, but that managers tend to assign field missions to men, and has been told “it wouldn’t be cost-effective sending one woman with a team of men, being that she’d need a room to herself instead of sharing.” She takes it in stride and says she wishes the world knew that women in the Middle East “can actually achieve things. We are not all backward housewives from the Middle Ages. We do live in the Middle East in very tough circumstances, in a culture that doesn’t hold much respect to women and considers them second-class citizens, yet we are able to successfully work and gain respect. We don’t ride camels, we don’t live in tents .. and for sure, the harem is no more.” In her bit of spare time, Hanna maintains her blog http://resstlesswaves.blogspot.com/

22-year Hana Al-Khamri is a Yemeni woman from Saudi Arabia living in Denmark to study journalism. Her passion has pushed her to study in another country, due to laws and social pressure. “It is illegal for women to study journalism,” she says of her choice to leave Saudi Arabia. “Second there is a huge social pressure to marry and quit working. Third, I often faced hostility (writing for the ‘women’s section’ of the paper there), especially from older conservative men. I have been refused entry to press conferences only because of my gender. Fourth, I am dependent on men for transportation since I am not allowed to drive a car. And finally, media in Saudi Arabia is under strict government control and censorship, and when you are as open-minded and openmouthed as I am, you are bound to get in trouble.” In her opinion, it is tradition, not religion, that oppresses women in the Middle East, and though her career choice is one not supported by her government, she calls her path in line with God’s will. “My faith is a liberator, not oppressor. I can change my community through my pen,” she says.

Shawna Kenney is an author, freelance journalist and creative writing instructor. Her essays appear in numerous anthologies while her articles and photography have been featured in the Florida Review, Juxtapoz, Swindle Magazine, Veg News, the Indy Star, Transworld Skateboarding, and Alternative Press, among others. She also serves as the Language Editor of Crossing Borders Magazine. You can read more about her work at http://shawnakenney.com/.