PTSD and The Effects of War

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Courtesy Fibonacci Blue

Although war might seem like a distant event taking place overseas, the effects of war reach beyond the front lines affecting citizens alongside soldiers. Within our own country, war enters the home long after ceasefire in the case of PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In the work, The Impact of War on Mental Health author Evan D. Kanter notes that the concept of PTSD arose in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. But only recently has the medical and public health community permanently recognized the long-term mental health effects of war. Then in 1980, PTSD was formally entered in the lexicon.

Most of the associations that have been made with PTSD occur between Troops and live combat. But PTSD has also been associated with sexual assault within the military. Especially with female soldiers. Kanter notes that up to 30% of female military veterans reported rape during their time in military service. And because sexual assault within the military is most often kept in secrecy, victims experience aggravated psychological symptoms. Although the first step in treatment is educating victims and their families on PTSD so that no one is alone and bewildered by the experience, these crimes against women in the military need not to be kept in secret. Female soldiers should not have to worry about the attacks they may incur from comrades while serving in the military.

Family members are affected alongside their veterans suffering from PTSD and although the treatment is available, not nearly enough military personnel seek treatment for their symptoms. But how can we reach our veterans? Like much of the difficulties explored within the intersections of media, gender and race – reaching out for help doesn’t necessarily come so easy. One must have the capabilities to do so. And when recovering from the traumas of war, it might not be so simple to come forward. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers treatment, but more importantly, the individual needs to recognize the symptoms. And the military must provide a safe space where Veterans can come forward.

Sex Education

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Courtesy Robotclaw666

From the film Juno to the series Teen Mom to Bristol Palin to Here Comes Honey Boo Boo – teen pregnancies, fictional or not, are commonplace within American society. And although the U.S. teen birth rate declined 9 percent from 2009 to 2010, reaching a historic low at 34.3 births per 1,000 women aged 15–19, teen pregnancy still happens.

So how do we learn about sex and teen pregnancy in America? If you were like me, you probably learned about sex before you were exposed to the visually disturbing photos of syphilis in your high school health class. Maybe a sister, brother, friend or maybe, just maybe a parent informed you of the birds and bees from an extremely skewed perspective. From there you probably figured it out by piecing together snippets of Hollywood blockbuster sex scenes and heresay.

I did not take this said health class until my junior year of high school. It was only a semester-long class and was a graduation requirement. We learned about “sexual health” for about two weeks towards the end of the semester. Basically we were shown pictures of various warts and diseases and watched an outdated less than made-for-TV movie about a promising young man who got a girl he somewhat cared about pregnant and had to work in an ice cream shop for the rest of his life.

This teaching format was a joke for more than the obviously reasons. My hometown (Pueblo, Colorado) has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates per capita in the country (60.4 per 1,000 women aged 15-19). So while I was forced to see grotesque pictures in class, the fear of sex and pregnancy was doubly compounded by seeing bumped bellies walking my high school hallways. Once in the public eye, either in classrooms or on television screens, teen pregnancy becomes just another scare tactic.

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Obviously scare tactics and “just say no” tactics fail as forms of prevention. But they succeed in ascribing the female individual who “failed” in some way by not abstaining from sex at a young age. Our society utilizes biopower to make visual examples out of the bodies of these teenage mothers. When, in actuality, our society is failing by not providing these individuals with the necessary education they need to protect themselves, and then publicly shaming and ridiculing them for their ignorance.

Yes, sometimes pregnancy accidentally happens to informed people. But it is preventable, and needs to be addressed in the public school system. It is part of our health education. I learned about how to brush my teeth in kindergarten. A dentist came into the classroom and taught us how to brush and floss. I shouldn’t have had to wait 11 more grades to learn how to put on a condom.

Women of Color’s Bodies in the Media and Online

How are women of color and their bodies portrayed in the media and online? Do you often (if ever) think of this question? Throughout the years, women have worked diligently to gain representation or even just be seen within the public sphere. The fight over gender equality and representation to be seen as something other than a object or stereotype is one that far from over. Within this battle, we notice the subset intersections of race and gender and must stop to think about how these intersections are presented within our society?

With millions of women logging online and tuning into media outlets everyday, our social world is expanding and connecting us at a rate in which we have never seen before. There isn’t just one idealized type of woman who can log on or tune in – so why are we seeing so many stereotypes and misguided representations of women of color and their bodies in the public media sphere?

Especially within the marketing world, women of color find themselves caught in a homogenous grouping of racialized, stereotypical, and often false representations of self and race. They have been whitewashed to conform to an idealized conception of what it means to be beautiful, or extremely stereotyped in order to appeal to their specific racial demographic. Either way, women of color are extremely homogenized in both cases. So where does the individual go?

In the video posted above, we chose to further examine some of the ways in which women of color and their bodies have been publicly portrayed online and in the media. What we found was that women of color, have constantly been seen for their color and that is the form of identification which supersedes all others. These women are not only seen as women, but Black women, Asian women, Latino women… And whereas racial individuality should be recognized and celebrated, we see it played out as a ridiculous stereotype within the public sphere.

Fortunately, we live in an age of social media and can revoke these forms of racial inequality amongst women of color and their bodies to demand a more equal form of representation via personhood.

Not-So-Vintage Sexism

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Courtesy Digital Sextant

Sexism is everywhere. We constantly see images, hear phrases, and read words that disrespect, demean, or undermine women. What’s scary is that many women are taught to believe that sexism is a thing of the past. That is is vaulted and sealed up with ancient black and white images of housewives beaming phony smiles over a pot roast. But is sexism really so ancient? Or have we just been conditioned into accepting sexism into our lives?

There is a short and easy answer to this leading question and that is a simple “no”, sexism is not a thing of the past. And within our ever evolving social media world, conditioning is inevitable because this media content (images, video, sound, celebrity gossip) is omnipresent.

One recalls the exceedingly ridiculous amount of sexism employed against Hillary Clinton throughout the 2008 Primary Election. Everything from Clinton’s dress to her voice were criticized, and in a Primary where examples of sexism and racism played out in the media, it was evident that sexism is still very much an inequality within our society.

Or think back to the backlash Kristin Stewart received after admitting to an affair with her married director, Rupert Sanders. The married Sanders, was hardly slammed as hard as Stewart in the tabloids.

Fortunately, we have organizations like Women’s Media Center, that are dedicated to fighting sexism in the media. Founded in 2005 by Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, and Robin Morgan as a non-profit progressive women’s media organization, WMC aims to make women visible and powerful within the media. The organization also employs media campaigns to hold individuals and other organizations accountable for sexist behavior.

Media is great space where we can start to reshape the images of women portrayed in the media, as well as bring into existence new images of women who challenge sexist ideals (transgender, LGBTQ, and women of color). It is equally important to bring this challenging work into the physical, public sphere to broaden our awareness of everyday sexism and fight to end the conditioning and socialized sexism within our communities.

In and Out of the Blogosphere

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Courtesy digitalrob70

Over the recent years, blogging has become a tool for marginalized individuals who wish to connect and identify with those similar, as well as utilize the blogosphere as a space to promote advocacy and change. The speed with which the internet can reach individuals and gather information is unlike any tool we have worked with in the past. But has the internet been able to democratize and promote advocacy in the public sphere? Are we collectively moving as fast as the internet and recognizing cyberspace as a legitimate space for advocacy and change?

In her work The Reality of Virtual Reality: The Internet and Gender Equality Advocacy in Latin America, author Elisabeth Jay Friedman examines ways in which the internet can democratize gender equality advocacy in Latin America. Friedman explores the lived experiences of those individuals utilizing the internet to promote social change and illustrates the importance of both boundaries and structure to determine the effects the internet has on advocacy communities. “The term boundaries refers to questions of inclusion and autonomy in civil society. Structure means the ways advocacy gets done: the forms of organization along with the strategies employed in them” (Friedman, 4).

The internet can enhance the way gender advocates work because it promotes a nonhierarchical form of interaction. Queer and trans groups within the LGBTQ community have employed such strategies to advocate for inclusion and advocacy. As Friedman notes, a lesbian feminist group in Mexico City (Lesbians in Collective) distributes information to 150 contacts via a free account. With little to no mainstream media outlets, these groups which Friedman points out are free to advance goals for gender equality and transformation.

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Courtesy Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

But what of the groups who fall into an even smaller marginalized group? If larger demographics, like feminist organizations, struggle to gain equality what does that say for groups consisting of intersex and trans individuals? And how are they using the internet to advocate for change? In her work The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female Are Not Enough, Anne Fausto-Sterling explores the complications encountered within Intersex groups. Fausto-Sterling, upon exploring the concept and the history of Intersex individuals, simultaneously imparts knowledge and awareness concerning this issue.

Fausto-Sterling shares stories of advocacy passed on through individuals who have tried to radicalize the medical industry by speaking out against the concept of a two-sex society, shedding light on both the psychological and physical, surgical effects of a two-gendered system. Fausto-Sterling writes: if the state and the legal system have an interest in maintaining a two-party sexual system, they are in defiance of nature.

Another individual who has sought to radicalize the gender system is Kate Bornstein, a transsexual person who underwent a male-to-female sex change in 1986. Kate dedicates herself to educating others about what she feels is the inherent oppression of a binary gender system which forces individuals to conform to one of only two gender options. As an trans advocate in the blogosphere, Kate uses her blog to impart knowledge, promote her lesbian feminist writings, and connect with a demographic of marginalized individuals.

It is important here to acknowledge the intersections of both the social and medical worlds when advocacting for change amongst marginalized groups. For to gain medical advances (especially for trans and intersex individuals) we must first recognize these individuals within the social sphere. Through blogging and the use of the internet in general strides are being made in the battle for equality. But no matter how fast the cyber world moves, time is needed to counteract generations spent in social oppression.

Patriarchy, Biology and The World of Drag

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Courtesy bjornerlingurfloki

Today when we think of drag, images of fake eyelashes, wigs, glitter and Kylie Minogue rapidly come to mind. But this is the patriarchal world of drag. And yes, regardless of one’s biological sex, a life in drag is not easy – one must walk the fine line of passing within society, either extravagantly like the images above, or quietly as reiterated in the film Paris Is Burning below.

Within the Pop Cultural world, we see superstars like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj adopting drag culture into their larger than life stage personas. We seem to have adopted this playful mentality with the world of drag.  But the overall most “shocking” drag moment of these said artists, was when Lady Gaga performed in male drag during the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards. Why so shocking?

Beyond the wigs of drag, we enter the dangerous world of trans where things become a little more serious. Here we can start to explore the dynamics and differences between biologically ascribed sexes. Within the film Southern Comfort, we meet a man named Robert who is dying from cervical cancer. Yes, Robert is trans. As Robert discusses his sexual/gender orientation, we see that he does not identify himself as gay but as a heterosexual male. Despite this, Robert was married, had children and even lived as a lesbian in his ascribed self “Barbara” for ten years. But after Robert underwent surgery and started living as “Robert” instead of “Barbara” more than the obvious changed. Robert’s parents grew distant. They didn’t understand why Robert couldn’t just remain female.

While watching the film, I started to think about drag and trans communities in the public sphere, and couldn’t help but notice a sizable imbalance between the biological sexes. Aside from Chaz Bono, there are few biological women turned trans or even drag within the public sphere. Why is this? And could this fall in line with the familiar rhetoric we have heard regarding “wasted femininity”? In the trans community, when a biological woman chooses to become a man, what are the implications of this? A wasted uterus? A wasted woman?

So is this just another example of patriarchy? Or has drag culture integrated itself within our society? Maybe drag will become a gateway path for trans men and women, and hopefully our society will become more accepting of these groups. But beyond this hope, I ask that we look at who’s drag culture has been integrated and where. Yes, this is a patriarchal world and we have television series like RuPaul’s Drag U where male drag queens revamp biological women with an extra dose of femininity. These shows are fun and entertaining, but what exists for women who identify themselves as men? What can offer them?

The Identity of Hair

What does your hair say about you? Is it long and free like an earthy bohemian? Or short and bobbed like a roaring flapper? Perhaps your head is shaved – that could really say something about you. Just ask Britney Spears.
For centuries, much of a woman’s identity has been tangled up in her hair. From First Corinthians 11:15 to the Victorian Era to Goldilocks, we find examples of women who are intimately associated with the quality of their hair. Hair says something about women – after all, who would Goldilocks be without her yellow coiffeur, or Kim Kardashian without her dark tendrils? Women are willing to go to painful and expensive lengths to achieve ultimate hair status. And if our hair can speak volumes of our health, our class, our social status, how far will we go to get a superior head of hair?
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Today, the hair business is booming. According to the 2008/2009 Census, The salon and spa industry is a vibrant and growing component of the U.S. economy, with more than 900,000 total establishments and annual sales of nearly $40 billion. Martha Gill at NewStatesman, writes of members of the Hindu religion in India shedding their egos by shaving their heads whilst peddlers gather the remaining hair to auction off to eager Americans. Some auctions earn as much as $27,000,000 a day.

So what is it about hair that will cause us to drain our wallets and to sit for hours in a salon chair? Actor Chris Rock asks these questions in the documentary Good Hair, as he takes a comedic look into the hair industry within the African-American community. Although humorous, this documentary illuminates the extremities women (and a few men) go to in order to alter their natural hair. Interestingly enough, the language of “relaxing” natural hair brings to mind the familiar dance of passing within an American society. If hair is changeable, albeit expensive and abrasive to change but changeable, then it could be employed to pass by minorities within this American Society. Through this lens, we understand the importance and the identity of “good hair” even if we aren’t quite too sure what exactly that is.