Archive for the ‘equality’ Category

On being peaceful but not pushovers in a Trump Administration

January 20, 2017

I live in downtown DC and have my windows open this Inauguration Day, and I can hear the whirring of helicopter blades ebb and flow as they circle back and forth to monitor protestors. The pops of flash bangs thrown by the police. Sirens have been breezing past all morning and afternoon. I know most of the protests in DC were peaceful, but the one outside my door unfortunately was not.

I have had a lot of ideas about what to write re: Trump, but this seems top of my mind for me right now: Let’s keep our protests against Trump civil. Throwing rocks at police, breaking car windows, and lighting trash cans on fire in the middle of the street threaten to feed Trump’s desire to show how terrible the country is. By lighting that match, folks are quite literally fueling the fire that feeds into the narrative that Trump is spewing to the public, and we don’t need to be doing him any favors. 

It’s not just that protest downtown that count my eye today. I saw an article in The Washington Post today about a 10-year-old boy who was holding a sign with a picture of an aborted fetus, handing out anti-abortion flyers, who was shoved and taunted by protestors. His dad brought him to DC. An anti-Trump protestor ran over and comforted him, saying she didn’t want his experience in DC only to involve hate. What will this impressionable boy leave DC thinking? That those liberal protestors are horrible and cruel, and he is even more confident and resolute in fighting their agenda? That Trump is right about them? These protestors don’t define all protestors we’ll see this weekend, but how can you carry signs that profanely decry Trump as a monster and then adopt his hateful bullying tactics in the next step?

I know not everyone believes in peaceful protest. I know that liberals have been criticized for bringing knives to gun fights, told they are too soft and not willing to do whatever it takes to win. I don’t think liberals can always take the high road, so to speak, if we want to protect progress.

There’s a lot to be angry about as the next administration and Congressional majorities threaten to take away the Affordable Care Act that has helped the poor, the elderly, the extremely sick; to deport 11 million immigrants, some of whom have called the US home for most or all of their lives; to put more guns in schools; to toss violence against women away as unimportant.

Already, the new administration has scrubbed the White House website of pages relating to climate change and LGBT rights. As we watch the administration eliminate the environment and equality as priorities of the president, and as we anticipate further gutting of issues we think are crucial and important, we cannot be pushovers if we want to preserve the progress we’ve made and still can make. We cannot be silent. We cannot do nothing. But the foundation of our fight cannot be violence, unless we want to set that as a precedent – which I sure hope we don’t want to do.

 

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What do NPH and Beyoncé have in common?

January 16, 2013

Sometimes it’s difficult to tell if people are homophobic, purposely inflammatory, or just actually dumb. Legit dumb.

Conservative website WND reported last week that Neil Patrick Harris, according to some, must be mocking Christians and pushing his gay agenda by mimicking Tim Tebow’s signature eyeblack in promotional photos for the Super Bowl:

I wonder what agenda Beyoncé was pushing when she did a similar advertisement months ago?:

If you want to create inflammatory news stories to push your own agenda, maybe try to make them a little more logically consistent? This is just plain lazy. And of course, WND made no news of Beyoncé’s ad. 

Wait… or maybe… everyone’s mad because NPH isn’t making a kissy face, aren’t they?

VAWA and why 2013 is already a lot like 2012

January 7, 2013

In addition to stressing out less and purchasing a cat condo, another big New Year’s resolution is blogging regularly again. And why not? Politicians haven’t resolved to stop screwing over women, so there’s plenty to write about!

While everyone’s focused on falling off the fiscal cliff, I’m worried about the Violence Against Women’s Act non-passage. VAWA has been routinely passed without a hassle since its inception in 1994 (thanks, Joe Biden!), but this year Republicans and Democrats deadlocked on some of the additional provisions. SUBDUE YOUR SHOCK.

VAWA has been really, really, really helpful for survivors of domestic abuse — it helps them find housing in case their residence is compromised by stalking or abuse, provides legal assistance, provides funding for rape crisis centers and hotlines, and works to improve awareness about domestic violence.

So what’s there not to like about a program that educates citizens, law enforcement, and the judicial branch about domestic violence while also providing much needed resources to victims?

One of the criticisms — and pardon me if my brain actually implodes from typing this bullshit nonsense out — is that same-sex couples are not legally recognized by the federal government as couples, so LGBT peoples shouldn’t be covered. Ah, yep, I think my brain melted a little bit because that is just absolutely asinine and illogical — the “w” = women, thought that was pretty clear and inclusive.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) calls it a “side issue” that should be based on how the government decides to categorize same-sex couples. Heaven forbid reality — that same-sex couples can be in abusive relationships — dictate the law so people get help they actually need. 

Also, there’s the proposed law’s expanded jurisdiction to Native American tribes. Rapes among Native American women and the total lack of resources — both legally and socially, in the form of education throughout the community — leave sexual assault scarily as the rule rather than the exception.

Read this article about the topic. It’s troubling that both the DOJ and tribal governments don’t do much to make women feel safe in reporting sexual assault or justice in convicting those who do it.

So… why are we still selectively protecting women’s rights? Just when I’m all excited that birth control is free thanks to Obamacare and Planned Parenthood isn’t going to be erased from the planet by a new president, 2013 serves a swift kick in the ass — and a much-needed reality check that there’s still plenty to be done on the equality front.

But perhaps there’s a glimmer of hope from the last round of elections and all the failed candidates who felt obligated to talk about rape as if it was a blessing/deserved/not that big of a deal. Voters didn’t agree. Voters don’t like violence against women. Maybe it’s time to listen to the constituents?

Teen Mom: Only women wear engagement rings

August 22, 2011

On this week’s episode of Teen Mom,  Catelynn and Tyler discussed how things would be different for them now that Tyler has officially graduated high school and will start college classes while Catelynn continues to finish her high school classes. One of Catelynn’s concerns was the ladies who Tyler might meet at college, and she half-joked but half-seriously suggested that he wear an engagement ring to let them know he was taken. His response? He doesn’t have to wear an engagement ring, but Catelynn does because she’s a woman.

Engagements and weddings are littered with patriarchal undertones, and Catelynn was right to question why Tyler didn’t wear an engagement ring. Catelynn wears a ring around her finger 24/7 that lets any passerby know that someone else has staked his claim, yet Tyler isn’t expected to — and doesn’t see a purpose — in doing the same for Catelynn. She is merely asking for equality, but Tyler shuts her down with the old standby of “that’s just tradition.”

Just because something is tradition, though, doesn’t mean it’s logical or the best way to do something. Is the best way to show a mutual commitment to each other that only the woman wears an engagement ring? Not really, especially when the woman is vocal about not wanting to be the only one in the relationship doing so. But Tyler completely disregarded her arguments anyway, unwilling to entertain them because it’s easier to keep with tradition than break the mold.

And it might be easier to keep with tradition than field questions about why he’s wearing an engagement ring even though he’s a dude, but they plan on getting married — shouldn’t he be most concerned with his partner’s feelings as opposed to society’s feelings? It’s times like these when we really need to think critically about our actions. When your response to a question is, “Because that’s just how it’s done,” then you need to step back and ponder, “But why is it always done this way? Is that motivation something I believe in?”

Though Catelynn’s motivation — so that girls will know you’re engaged and won’t talk to you — doesn’t exactly exemplify trustworthiness, the bigger problem in this argument was that Tyler so quickly aimed to end it with, “You’re a woman, so deal with the inequality.” It’s times like these that couples could and should think critically about a solution or compromise that satisfies them both, rather than rely on a tradition that will leave someone — likely the woman if we’re talking heterosexual relationships — feeling unheard and unfulfilled.

Ideal wedding gift: People keeping their two cents?

July 14, 2011

Facebook engagements, wedding invitations, bridesmaid duties — I’ve reached the age where marriage is common and constant. GOOD associate editor Nona Willis Aronowitz’s article “I Wish I Wasn’t Married,” however, looks at marriage from a different perspective — one where she discusses getting married to get her boyfriend insurance and all of the social antics that followed.

One of the things that really struck me was the judgment that Willis Aronowitz received from family, friends, and co-workers when she publicized her marriage on Facebook:

Suddenly, I had become a blank slate for others’ fantasies and judgments, an unwitting recipient of advice, wedding proposal stories and even a source of visible jealousy. Now that my relationship was public and state-sactioned, people felt they could freely weigh in on it.  My world was divided by two reactions: “Amazing, you’re married!” and, “Are you serious?” My New York friends and family were just perplexed, remembering my years-long, non-tragic bouts of singlehood. Other friends were surprised I made the move after my outrage only weeks before at California’s upholding of Prop 8.

Those comments were countered by delighted, almost relieved reactions. My coworkers from the suburbs had been hard-pressed to find anything to talk to me about, but now they were fawning all over me. Buried in their generic “congratulations!” were little epiphanies—they’d finally found a way to relate to me.

Relationships generally bring a lot of unsought advice from third parties (as does being single), but marriage seems to attract even more commentary. Sure some of the response to the author’s marriage can be attributed to a shotgun wedding, but friends showing disappointment that you sold out? Co-workers admitting that you weren’t socially approachable as “girlfriend” but now are as “wife”? People getting jealous? These aren’t specific to shotgun weddings, these permeate all types of nuptial talk.

The selling-out accusation really caught my eye, as marriage is a divisive topic among feminists. As a feminist, your viewpoints will likely either cause criticism from non-feminist-minded family and friends who don’t understand why you don’t want to get married, why you don’t want to take your husband’s last name, why your wedding isn’t going to have [insert traditional but patriarchal element here], etc. — or you’ll hear criticism from feminist-minded family and friends who want to criticize you for getting married, taking your husband’s last name, incorporating [traditional but patriarchal element here] in your wedding, etc.

Part of the problem here is people’s natural tendency to be gossipy and critical. Another part though, as Willis Aronowitz suggests at the end of her article, is the narrow definition that exists for marriage. I believe that you can change the institution from within, change the social expectations and implications of marriage by example, and the same with choosing not to get married. So though I understand the motivation for calling people out, it also just reinforces the traditional, rigid view of marriage and prevents it from evolving (in a social context — laws defining marriage as only between a man and a woman obviously are the major legal roadblock to redefining “traditional” marriage).

And this judgmental attitude spans beyond feminists to pretty much everyone — I do not envy people who are engaged or married and constantly fielding unsolicited advice about how their wedding should be, what they’re doing wrong, why they shouldn’t get married, why their potential spouse is a dud, etc. Generally, we should be glad when our family and friends have found happiness and want to share it with us in whatever way is most comfortable for them, but instead we often bludgeon them over the head with our opinion of what would really make them happy and what they should be doing.

The lesson? Before interjecting your two cents, try to respect the people and the relationship you want to criticize, and consider that them doing things differently than you would doesn’t mean they’re doing them wrong. And if there is a ceremony, you can hope the officiant will ask if anyone objects and then you can go to town.

P.S. I hear it only gets worse when it comes to parenting.

Gaga saying “retarded” contradicts equality-driven persona

April 21, 2011

Lady Gaga, why are you trying to piss me off so much lately? Specifically, why do you keep using derogatory language in song lyrics and interviews? As someone who wants to define herself as a leader in the social justice movement and a champion of equal rights, why do you use language that is intended to make people feel unequal? As someone who acts as a “mother monster” to the “little monsters” who are taunted, ridiculed, and not accepted by society, why are you othering people even more? WTF?

Let me explain. Lady Gaga said this in a recent interview, in which the interviewer asked about the accusations that Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” was a ripoff off Madonna’s “Express Yourself”:

No. Listen to me. Why the f**k? I’m a songwriter…Why would I try to put out a song and think I’m getting one over on everybody? That’s retarded. If you put the songs next to each other, side by side, the only similarities are the chord progression. It’s the same on that’s been in disco music for the last 50 years. Just because I’m the first f**king artist in 25 years to think of putting it on Top 40 radio, it doesn’t mean I’m a plagiarist. It means I’m f**king smart. Sorry.

Really Lady Gaga? REALLY? I despise the word “retarded” when used as a synonym for stupid, moronic, dumb, etc. It makes me cringe; it makes my blood boil. And I never thought I’d see the day when Gaga — maven of the people who feel left out, who feel othered, who feel like they don’t belong, who are ridiculed, who aren’t “normal” by society’s standards — would use a word that synonymizes being disabled with being a moron. That’s ableist language — language that implies that if you have a disability, you are less of a person. (Go here for a fantastic description of ableist language and why it’s problematic.)

But it’s not the first time that Gaga’s language has made her fans feel uneasy. In February, Feministing posted an open letter to Lady Gaga that outlined why words she uses in her song “Born This Way” — “chola” and “orient-made” — were racist:

Maybe you know people who refer to themselves as “Cholas”. And that’s fine for them. It’s called “reappropriating the pejorative” – the same thing as what you do with the word “bitch”. But you can’t reappropriate if you’re not part of the group that the pejorative is applied to. So you can call yourself a “bitch” or “guidette” as much as you like – but use the word “Chola”? Not so much.

The author of this blog gave Gaga the benefit of the doubt, as “chola” has different meanings depending on where you say it geographically, and many people don’t know “oriental” has racist undertones. It was instructional rather than an attack, meant as a lesson for a 24-year-old young woman who might not be aware that in some circles those words are hurtful.

I get that people can’t be politically correct 100 percent of the time, but I hold Gaga to a higher standard. As someone who has built her career as the voice for the outcasts, as someone who was called a freak, as someone who was bullied, as someone who wants to make equality a reality, I expect her to live by those words. But when she freely throws around the term “retarded,” it makes me think she is full of bullshit.

And it’s not just her — throughout social justice movements, people focus on causes that affect them and don’t pay enough attention to the other inequalities around them. There were/are sexists and homo/transphobic people in the civil rights movement; there were/are racists and homo/transphobic people in the feminist movement; there were/are racists and sexists in the gay rights movement; there are ableists in all these movements, and some of these -ists are in the disability rights movement. Sometimes they aren’t malicious, but just ignorant. It hampers unity within and among movements, which can hamper their ability to achieve their goals.

It’s frustrating to see Lady Gaga follow this path of advocating equality for some while actively perpetuating inequality for others. Is she just naive? Does she think she is above scrutiny? Does this speak to her own privilege? I don’t know; it’s probably a combination of all three. But recognizing your own privilege and learning about what privilege other people lack is an integral part of the social justice movement — especially for someone trying to be a leader in it. I’m waiting to see if she responds or apologizes. Until then, I’m questioning her “Mother Monster” persona — inclusive for some outcasts, but not for others.

Update: Lady Gaga has apologized for the remark, saying:

I consider it part of my life’s work and music to push the boundaries of love and acceptance. My apologies for not speaking thoughtfully. To anyone that was hurt, please know that it was furiously unintentional. An honest mistake, requires honesty to make. “Whether life’s disabilities, left you outcast bullied or teased, rejoice and love yourself today.”

This apology is meh to me. Maybe I’m just still annoyed about the whole thing … maybe it’s because quoting song lyrics you wrote to prove you aren’t ableist seems even worse. Almost like, “Hey, I’m not racist, I have a friend who is [insert ethnicity here]!”

Immodest clothing isn’t the cause of sin, sexual harassment

April 6, 2011

One frustrating aspect of street harassment and sexual assault is the myth that women must take some responsibility, because whatever they were wearing must have sent the wrong signal and women know what signals they’re sending with their clothing choices. Here’s an easy rebuttal to this myth: research shows that what women wear has absolutely no correlation to their propensity to be sexually harassed or assaulted.

What has recently infuriated me is two links, the first being to a video aimed at women, asking them to dress more modestly to help men overcome the sinful temptation they have inside of them to lust after women. It paints a portrait of anguished men who can’t even walk down the sidewalk without being overwhelmed with temptation, proclaiming that women should know better than to tempt the already sinful minds of men, and it asks women to have Dad screen clothes to make sure they are appropriate.

The second is a blog (brought to my attention via an anonymous commenter) about decrying Toronto’s “Slutwalk” — which was a protest against a Toronto cop who told students that to avoid being sexually assaulted, women shouldn’t dress like “sluts”  — in which a woman in her 20s explains that women know what they’re doing when they dress provocatively, and they should be aware of the consequences of wearing certain types of clothing:

I have, like pretty much every 22-year-old girl, gone out looking like a slut occasionally. And I got a significantly higher amount of leers, cat calls, and uncomfortable attention. I was not surprised; I had no one but myself to blame for the sudden nervous feeling that flared up in my stomach as I walked passed men checking out my shape in my revealing dress. I don’t dress like this anymore for that very reason. I want men to look at me and have thoughts other than, “I could have sex with her tonight if I wanted.”

The problem is that these both miss the point and blame women for something they shouldn’t be blamed for. The first blames women while acknowledging that men are the ones with sinful minds; for a religious-based video, this doesn’t make much sense — shouldn’t men be working to fight this temptation themselves? Isn’t lust a sin? Instead of hoping the temptation disappears and things are easier for you, aren’t you supposed to be challenged and be able to overcome temptation by yourself?

And with the second link, the blogger who says she had no one to blame but herself for feeling uncomfortable: really? You had no one else to blame? How about the guys who were treating you like a piece of meat instead of an actual human being who should be respected? That nervous feeling, I can totally identify with it — but no matter what I’m wearing, I get that feeling whenever I’m walking alone past a large group of guys — because guys don’t catcall you based on what you’re wearing, they do it as a power play. You’re alone, you’re vulnerable, and they feed off that.

Studies have shown that clothing doesn’t make a difference in whether someone is sexually harassed or assaulted. Another blogger has done a great job of addressing this myth, and linked to an article from Psychology Today that explained why provocative clothing isn’t the sexual assault magnet people describe it as:

But studies show that it is women with passive, submissive personalities who are most likely to be raped—and that they tend to wear body-concealing clothing, such as high necklines, long pants and sleeves, and multiple layers. Predatory men can accurately identify submissive women just by their style of dress and other aspects of appearance.

This isn’t to say that all women in modest clothing are targets for sexual assault — it is to say, however, that people think they know what type of clothing invites sexual harassment or assault, when really it’s not just about what she’s wearing. A guy who wants to harass or assault a woman isn’t looking for the girl to politely accept the “invitation,” thinking a girl in a skirt wants the attention or will unquestionably have sex with him — he’s looking to feel powerful, to dominate, and to feel superior, regardless of whether the girl is wearing a skirt or a sweatsuit. And that’s not a myth, that’s a reality.

P.S. If you think that Western dress just isn’t modest enough and that’s what is breeding sexual harassment and assault, think again. Women in Cairo are harassed regardless of what they are wearing. As one Egyptian woman recalls:

“At 15, I was groped as I was performing the rites of the hajj pilgrimage at Mecca, the holiest site for Muslims. Every part of my body was covered except for my face and hands. I’d never been groped before and burst into tears, but I was too ashamed to explain to my family what had happened,” said journalist Mona Eltahawy in a July 27, 2008 article for the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.

Expulsion, abandonment not the solution for teen pregnancy

March 24, 2011

I don’t understand the “if you put pregnant teens on the streets, it’ll teach them a lesson” mentality. In response to a letter to the editor in The Washington Post that discussed what schools can do to reduce teen pregnancy rates, one commenter illustrated that mentality and had this to say:

It is not the place of the schools or of my tax dollars to support “teen moms.” Girls who get pregnant should be expelled from public schools as an example. If we’d stop coddling this trash and supporting them with our tax dollars, the problem would solve itself. There’s a reason that the problem has gotten worse with the creation of the welfare system.

What great arguments: (1) schools are NOT a place to support children; (2) pregnancy should be punished; (3) pregnancy is on the same level as other reasons for expulsion; (4) helping them get an education is “coddling”; (5) the problem will solve itself if we just throw kids out on the street and ignore them; and (6) the welfare system worsened teen pregnancy, not the fact that teen moms will need to use welfare more when you take away their education and tools for advancement in life.

This mentality never ceases to amaze me. Schools are a place where children need to be supported — and it’s also a place where they should be educated on things like health and sex, but many people still don’t want to embrace comprehensive sex education — people still believe that telling kids not to have sex will be good enough, or if we teach them about it then it’ll pollute their minds, and then when they get pregnant because the school system hasn’t actually educated them about sex, we punish the students for not knowing any better. There is social culpability there.

The Guttmacher Institute is loaded with statistics about teen sex education and pregnancy. Most teens are taught about abstinence, HIV, and STIs, but one-third aren’t taught about contraception. About one-fourth of teens who learned about abstinence didn’t learn about birth control. About 86 percent of the drastic drop of teen pregnancy rates since 1990 is because of better contraceptive use. The statistics scream that education about how to properly use contraception leads to results, yet the statistics also show that not all teens are getting that information.

And really, pregnancy should be punished with expulsion? Here’s one example of what kids get expelled for, which is pretty characteristic of most schools: bringing a dangerous weapon to school; bringing alcohol or drugs to school; assaulting a school employee; or being charged or convicted with a felony. Really, pregnancy is on the same level as bringing a weapon to school or assaulting someone? Those are activities that are endangering other people at the school — plus, why should it be within the school’s jurisdiction to police premarital sex?

And then we arrive at the welfare system argument. This commenter’s desire to restrict teen moms’ access to education would leave them without the tools necessary to go to college or get a decent-paying job — so when she must turn to government assistance, the commenter wants to complain about that, too, even though the reason she needs welfare is because her education was taken away from her. Sounds like the people who want to tell women they can’t have abortions and then complain when they need government assistance to raise those babies. If you’re going to take away women’s choices, don’t be surprised when they don’t have many options or opportunities to choose from.

Instead of focusing on how much they disagree morally with whatever action (which isn’t criminal in the eyes of the law) and wanting to punish them on moral ground using the tools of the state, people need to separate the two and do what’s best for the women who are pregnant. And using them “as an example” is not what’s best for them — it’s what is best for serving the selfish purpose of people who want to punish them. And for teens who aren’t going to know about safe sex unless someone tells them, it’s better for them to be prepared and know about contraception. Teens are always taught that abstinence is the only way to 100 percent prevent pregnancy — but they need to know that if they don’t choose to abstain, there are still other ways to prevent pregnancy.

And of course, the one thing lacking from this commenter’s assault on pregnant teens is that only the pregnant teens should be expelled — what about the fathers of these children? Should they be expelled, too? After all, they must’ve been involved in the act, so shouldn’t we be taking away their ability to provide for themselves and advance in society, too? I’m sure it has nothing to do with the double standard that women are shamed for having sex outside of marriage, while men are expected to do so and therefore escape punishment on the “boys will be boys” ticket.

Coal miners shouldn’t have to sacrifice safety for paycheck

January 21, 2011

This story from NPR is tragic — it is an interview with the sister of Dean Jones, a coal miner who was killed in the Upper Big Branch mine explosion that killed 29 people on April 5, 2010, and it outlines not only the importance of safety precautions in coal mining, but the exploitative nature of the job because of the poverty and lack of jobs in Appalachia.

Dean’s sister Judy said he was obsessive about safety for his workers (Dean was a section boss) but Massey Energy — the company that ran the mine — wasn’t as concerned. In fact, Dean’s mother-in-law testified before Congress that, after stopping a mining operation because of safety concerns, the higher-ups threatened to fire him:

Jones stayed on the job, his sister says, because his son has cystic fibrosis, and might be difficult to insure if his dad switched jobs.

Dean wasn’t alone in worrying about the safety of the mines — many of Massey’s coal miners made similar complaints to family and friends about the poor ventilation and other safety concerns, but said they were afraid to speak up because it could mean losing their jobs. Some were even afraid of violent retribution for bringing up safety concerns — the wife of Michael Elswick, who was killed in the April explosion, said that her husband “always told me, ‘I know too much. If I get killed, it will not be my fault. If I get killed, hire a lawyer.'”

Steve Morgan’s 21-year-old son Adam was killed in the explosion, and Adam often confided in his dad about the terrible conditions. When he finally did tell his boss, his boss “told him if he was that scared, he needed to rethink his career.” And that attitude — the attitude that this is just the way things work, and if you can’t take it then get out — keeps Massey rich and workers quiet. They keep quiet because they need the jobs — the highest poverty and unemployment levels in Appalachia are in the areas with the most coal mining.

It is absolutely terrible and unjust that a company can exploit workers this way, and make them risk their lives to make a living every single day when those safety precautions exist and can be implemented. This is why the environmental justice movement exists — people are forced to work or live in toxic conditions, and their opposition often goes unheard or unsaid because they are poor and can’t afford to lose their jobs. Again, with the lack of jobs in Appalachia, for every person who wants to speak out about the safety conditions, Massey knows there are plenty of unemployed workers who would gladly replace that person.

The average number of coal-mining-related deaths per year seems to hover around 30, and no doubt, Massey sees such deaths as chump change — and I mean that literally, as I’m sure whatever profit it gains by working instead of stopping production to fix safety problems makes up for the settlements it doles out to families of the coal miners who are injured or killed because of those safety problems. It’s unfortunate for a company to view its workers this way, but the demand for cheap, coal energy is so high that it knows it can get away with view its workers that way.

The government has been right to conduct surprise and seemingly more thorough inspections, as with previous safety inspections at Massey mines, the second an inspector came, word went out and workers were instructed to make unsafe conditions momentarily look passable. According to Gary Quarles, who has 34 years experience in the coal mines and lost his son in the April explosion, workers also often felt out of place reporting safety violations after inspections:

In fact, for a miner working for Massey, the feeling is, “If an MSHA inspector fails to say anything about all these safety problems, what right do I have to say anything about them?” he said. “And I definitely would be terminated or retaliated against if I said anything.”

These surprise inspections are definitely necessary, as is some kind of protection for whistleblowers. The Mine Safety and Health Administration now has a hot line (877-827-3966) that people can call and leave anonymous tips concerning Massey safety problems. A safe working environment should be the rule, not the exception, and coal miners don’t deserve to be blackmailed and put in danger simply because Massey knows they can’t afford otherwise.

For a list of news articles concerning the Upper Big Branch mine explosion, visit http://www.wvgazette.com/News/montcoal or http://www.npr.org/series/131960177/massey-mine-investigation

Bullying has led to a suicide epidemic at my alma mater

October 8, 2010

Reading that bullying is so bad at Mentor High School, my alma mater, that suicide has become an epidemic makes me feel a wave of emotions — shock, sadness, anger, frustration, confusion. Initially I can’t believe that four people in the last few years have killed themselves because bullying at Mentor High is so bad — but after thinking about it for a bit, the atmosphere there is ripe for intense and unregulated hate.

If you aren’t familiar with Mentor, it’s a suburb of Cleveland that has a little more than 50,000 people. It’s mostly white — and when I say mostly, that’s an understatement — Census data show that it’s 97.3 percent white. The second highest ethnicity in Mentor is Asian, with 1.2 percent. Mentor is not a diverse place — it’s a place where if you’re different, you stand out — whether it’s your ethnicity, your class (median income is $57,230), or your personality.

Mentor High is gigantic — it used to only be grades 10-12, and there were more than 2,000 students there. Now it’s grades 9-12, with almost 3,000 students. My graduating class had 831 people in it. Not only is this crowd of teenagers very one-dimensional, but it’s also huge — not fitting in becomes exponentially more noticeable, and the pool of bullies becomes larger.

Bullying in school is unfortunately common, but bullying at Mentor High is out of control. I wasn’t bullied at Mentor High — I was picked on in elementary school and junior high, but never to the extent that these teens were. People didn’t throw food at me, push me down the stairs, smack me, or knock books out of my hand. But I don’t chalk that up to Mentor not being a place where bullying thrives — I chalk that up to mostly taking AP or honors classes where everyone was a nerd and becoming good at fitting into the crowd.

Each of the teen’s story is a little different — one was being called a slut, one was being called gay, one was being bullied for her learning disability, and one was enduring name-calling. Two of these teens killed themselves within three weeks of each other. What they all have in common is that, even though half of them had been pulled out of school in favor of online classes — the bullying was so intense that it made these young people’s lives unbearable.

My mom works at the cafeteria of a local community college where Eric Mohat took classes (many students took post-secondary education classes in high school that would transfer to college). She remembered he would always come in and order an entire pepperoni pizza, probably because his nickname was “Twiggy” and he looked too thin to be able to eat the entire thing.

When she found out he had shot himself, she was extremely upset. She recalled that on the day he killed himself, he came through the cafeteria line as always, but when he went to pay for his food, he just had a drink. She thought this was bizarre, since he always got the pizza, and she noticed that he looked especially down. She lamented to me that she should have said something to him, and wondered if she could have done something to brighten his mood and stop him from taking his own life.

But it shouldn’t be up to my mom or other strangers to these kids to stop the bullying or convince these kids not to kill themselves. If a total stranger can be intuitive enough to see that Eric was distraught, why aren’t teachers and schools more aware? Probably because large class sizes make it more difficult for teachers to notice students individually; teachers and all education workers are overworked and underpaid; the Internet — particularly Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter make bullying even more prevalent, viral, and embarrassing (and unseen in schools); and schools aren’t equipped to deal with bullying, or perhaps have decided it is kids “just being kids” — the rule rather than the exception.

It’s important to note that, unfortunately, Mentor High exemplifies, rather than serves as an outlier for, suicides among young people. There have been four recent suicides because of gay bullying, which came to light after Tyler Clementi, a student at Rutgers University, jumped off the George Washington bridge in New York because his roommate outed him online, live streaming video of Tyler being intimate with another guy. One of the Mentor students was very publicly bullied because people thought he was gay, and people suspected another of the students was also gay but it’s unclear whether she was bullied because of it.

Mentor is a breeding ground for bullying, and anyone who denies it is either living in denial or was of the crowd that fit in to the preppy, white, middle-class atmosphere. You’re not a terrible person if you didn’t get bullied — but if you did the bullying, then yeah, you are a terrible person. It’s disgusting how teens treat each other, and the age at which I hear about teens killing themselves keeps getting lower and lower — some don’t even make it to their teens without committing suicide to escape the bullying.

Yes, teenagers are hormonal. Teenagers are awkward. But they shouldn’t be feeling so trapped in the bullying and the negativity that they feel the best solution is to just stop living. Bullying needs to be more heavily punished. Teachers and counselors and aides need to be trained to spot bullying and catch it before it consumes these kids. These kids need to feel like they have someone to talk to, that their complaints won’t be ignored or just lead to more bullying.

Parents need to be more involved — and I mean the parents of the children who are doing the bullying. Parents of the bullied can only do so much, the most extreme being home-schooling or online classes. But what about the kids doing the bullying? It shouldn’t be up to the person being bullied to just leave because they don’t fit in — what kind of message does that send to the student? That the only way they’ll find peace is being alone? How does that help them?

This blog might jump around, but I’m writing it fueled by the emotions that I described initially. I know so many people, my peers, who could’ve been these people. I watched them get bullied, heard about them get bullied, and myself even would gossip about them. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, but peers standing up and against the bullying helps those being bullied feel less alone; bullies getting stricter punishment helps; schools taking bullying more seriously helps; parents taking their kids as bullies more seriously helps; and not enabling the behavior by expecting it to happen helps.

Like Ellen said in the video I linked to above, “One death lost in this senseless way is tragic. Four is a crisis.” The Mentor school system can’t ignore that suicide is a big problem, and it needs to be addressed immediately — especially at the high school. And just because students aren’t killing themselves doesn’t mean other school systems should breathe a sigh of relief — everyone should be on alert for bullying, because people can still harm themselves without ending their lives.