By: Emily Wang
In March of last year, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service launched an investigation into “Marines United,” a private Facebook group which shares explicit photos of women in service.
This social media group, which was comprised of 30,000 active duty and retired male Marines, Navy corpsmen and British Royal Marines, began its targeting of female soldiers in 2015; its revolting actions were finally uncovered when a retired Marine Corps sergeant, Thomas Brennan, immediately contacted the Marine Corps headquarters after discovering the Facebook page. The posts not only revealed pictures of servicewomen in various stages of undress, but also contained derogatory language and slurs towards these female victims, with comments like “take her out back and pound her out.”
Days after Brennan reported his findings to headquarters, members of the Facebook group who found out that they had been exposed quickly moved their photos to other websites -- Dropbox, Google Drive, and Anon-IB -- in an attempt to scavenge and preserve the nudes.
Unfortunately, this incident is not the first of its kind. In 2012, an Army sergeant at West Point was discovered secretly videotaping women in bathroom and shower areas. Although he pleaded guilty and received a sentencing of 33 months in jail, his actions reveal that this intentional violation of basic human rights to privacy is not limited to just the Marine Corps, but extends to all military service branches.
These actions, though disturbing, are just a branch stemming from the tree of rape culture rooted in military history. Having commenced as institutions for boys only, these service academies began admitting females only a few decades ago, with the United States Military Academy at West Point admitting its first class of female trainees in July of 1976. As such, many men are predisposed to viewing women in an “us versus them” lenses, with some even being told to stay away from female soldiers -- “don’t talk to them, don’t sit near them in the mess, don’t breathe near them” -- in fear of getting into trouble.
In fact, a Rand Corporation study estimated that over 20,000 service members had been sexually assaulted in 2013 -- but beyond mere statistics, the more disconcerting issue lies with the response of the military. Instead of punishing sexual predators, the military often discharged victims who filed complaints regarding sexual harassment, finding it easier to side with the perpetrator than to aid the victim to recovery.
This incident of photo-sharing could hurt recruitment of women into service academies and blacken the name of anyone associated with the American military if this situation is not handled properly. As of now, the military is taking steps to punish the offenders in an attempt to change the misogynistic culture of the military. Since May of last year, 30 Marines were identified by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service for online misconduct that were not labelled as felony crimes. Even more, five Marines have been punished in connection with the investigations, receiving nonjudicial punishment for their actions. Is this enough? Will it be effective in changing military culture? Voice your thoughts on this.
In addition, Representative Martha McSally introduced a bill in May to prevent these actions from happening again. Passing through the House on a vote of 418-0, this bill would prohibit non-consensual distribution of intimate images in the military in the aftermath of the Marine Corps’s nude-photo-sharing scandal. By amending the Uniform Code of Military Justice to punish violators by court martial, Congress hopes to send a message about the importance of immediately reforming the culture of sexual violence that pervades the military.
Military leaders have also voiced their concerns. James Mattis, a former general and the Secretary of Defense, states, “We will not excuse or tolerate such behaviour if we are to uphold our values and maintain our ability to defeat the enemy on the battlefield.” Even more, Robert Neller, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, states that "for anyone to target one of our Marines, online or otherwise, in an inappropriate manner, is distasteful and shows an absence of respect."
In order for this “respect” to be reestablished, or in some cases, built, the military must no longer cover up acts of indecency and must collectively regulate and punish those who deliberately choose to infringe upon the rights of others. Females who serve work equally as hard and sacrifice their lives for the same objective as their male colleagues: to protect the freedom of the country. They cannot be treated as second-class citizens. Simply put, members of the military must work to combat the invisible enemy of sexual discrimination and erase the normalized culture of female degradation within service.
By Emily Wang
When I ask you to think of the ideal Internet, your mind probably immediately defaults to the image of a worldwide communication network brimming with speedy websites that can open with a single quick click. However, this idealized notion of the Internet can easily vanish with the repeal of one single protection: Net Neutrality.
This two-worded term, first coined in 2003 by a Columbia University media law professor, means exactly what it seems to describe: the right to be treated equally on the Internet. Sadly, the freedom of the Internet--a precious right that many take for granted--is at risk of being taken away. In fact, on December 14, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission voted to gut Net Neutrality protections, granting major companies the power to kill the open Internet.
Net Neutrality is the principle that all Internet service providers--AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon, to name a few--must not discriminate on the Internet through speeding up, slowing down, or blocking any content their users attempt to access. Additionally, when put into action, this law would prevent Internet Service Providers (ISP) from creating “fast lanes” for those who pay them more money. These protections ensure that all Internet users receive equal access and treatment no matter which site they visit.
For most, the enforcement of these regulations seems like common sense. These protections may seem so obvious, so fundamental, so innate to the purpose of the Internet’s creation, that some may even wonder why they exist in the first place. Isn’t it given that all Internet users should be treated equally? In truth, the mere existence of these protections implies that these rights to the Internet have been violated in the past--when given too much power, many companies seek ways to expand their revenues through mistreating their customers. Take, for example, the well-known telecommunications company AT&T: In 2012, it was caught disabling access to FaceTime for users who did not pay for their expensive new data plans. No one should be mistreated simply because others paid more money, much less be forced to pay for something they cannot afford or do not need.
Net Neutrality is a basic protection that all Internet users have the right to receive; repealing this fundamental right signifies the deterioration of freedom in something designed to expand our freedom. Help preserve your ideal version of the Internet by preserving Net Neutrality.
By Emily Wang
All the stories follow a similar pattern: Harvey Weinstein deceiving an actress to meet in private to discuss film opportunities, all while dropping suggestive comments and eventually attempting to engage in sexual activities without consent.
From Angelina Jolie to Cara Delevingne to Rose McGowan, approximately 80 women from all areas of the entertainment industry have begun to voice their unfortunate experiences with this infamous film director. By stepping into the national spotlight of female empowerment and facing an eager audience comprised of shocked and concerned citizens, these women and their powerful stories have begun to chip away at the seemingly-polished statue of Hollywood masculinity. While most women rejected his advances, some were forced to stay silent after their assaults out of fear of losing their careers or fame, while others spoke out but were ignored or shut down; however, a few who immediately spoke out were heard by others.
Gwyneth Paltrow, a former American actress and singer, was one such woman. Being an entrepreneur now, she is no longer dependent upon Weinstein to secure her next acting role. Unfortunately, she was a lot more vulnerable when she was still an aspiring actress: at the age of 22, Weinstein sent her an invitation to meet him at a hotel to discuss her upcoming schedule. Seeing that the invitation was sent via the Creative Artists Agency, a legitimate organization that represented her, Paltrow suspected nothing as she opened the door into the hotel room. Immediately upon entrance, Weinstein attempted to give her a massage and invited her into his bedroom--hearing his words, Paltrow was shocked and disgusted, as she had thought of him as her “Uncle Harvey”, not a potential romantic partner. She immediately left the hotel room and related the inappropriate encounter to her then-boyfriend, Brad Pitt, who promptly warned Weinstein to never touch his girlfriend again. Even after that, Weinstein contacted Paltrow again, screaming at her for telling others about their private meeting; however, Paltrow remained firm in belief of maintaining a professional work relationship. Although she appeared to maintain a respectful relationship with Weinstein to the public, she gradually distanced herself from him, eventually cutting off contact with him altogether.
After multiple accusations like Paltrow’s, Weinstein attempted to defend his actions against a wave of public anger. In his statement published on New York Times, he blamed the sexual culture of the entertainment industry set by his predecessors--in his opinion, he was only a follower of the crowd. Even more, in a letter to many CEOs and moguls whom he begged to have their support, he questioned the legitimacy of the accusations, stating that “a lot of [them] are false”. Furthermore, he shifted the blame away from his own character, instead pushing it onto a mental health disorder he called “sex addiction”; however, many experts state there is a clear dichotomy between compulsive sexual conduct and violating consent in sexual relations, suggesting that blaming a scapegoat is not a moral or effective way to avoid the consequences of Weinstein’s actions.
Even when the abused actresses survived these dreadful encounters, many were completely changed by their experience with Weinstein. Not only did the corrupted nature of the entertainment industry cause many actresses’ interests in the entertainment industry to severely dampen or diminish altogether, but many others were also traumatized by their experience (remember, the majority of them were in their early twenties). In fact, many actresses were so affected by their experiences with Harvey that they started to harbor feelings of mistrust and uncomfort towards the opposite gender. Many began to doubt the potency of their acting abilities because it was masked by their identity as females. As the audience watching the women bravely tell their stories underneath a national spotlight, our reaction to these women is crucial in redefining how our society perceives and consoles discrimination. We should not avoid their movies as a way to punish the salacious film director, as punishing the director would also undermine the effort that these struggling, suppressed females underwent to create the film; instead, we should not avoid the movies, but watch them with a new understanding of the courage these females displayed in the face of adversity.
Hollywood presents the public with a facade of glamor and excitement, yet the industry is corrupted with fear and a hierarchy of fame and power, with the wolves preying on those who are unable to defend themselves--time and time again, the howls of the powerful quell the whispers of the weak. Only when the voices of the weak unite do they begin to be heard: in the same way, the culmination of female accusation has finally broken through the tough shell of the male-dominated industry. These women are not only speaking to seek justice for themselves, but are also standing up for others that are in a similar crisis as a symbol of hope, reminding them that voicing the injustices they face is not an act of shame, but rather, a deed of courage.
Although all the stories may have had a similar beginning, the next chapter of the story rests entirely on how the public reacts to sexual harassment and its perpetrators--will we choose to let this chapter dictate the mood for the rest of the novel, or will it transform their novel into a story of courage and perseverance?
By Emily Wang
A recent shooting at a Sunday church service once again brings to light the debate over gun control in America. Although undercovered by the media, this attack remains central to the issue of gun control laws throughout the affected nation.
On September 24th, a mass shooting occurred in an unlikely place: the quiet town of Nashville, Tennessee. During the weekly Sunday service, a masked man carrying a .40-caliber handgun shot a woman who was on her way to her car in the church parking lot. He then proceeded to enter through the back door of Burnette Chapel Church of Christ and shot six other victims before a church usher tackled him down prompting the shooter to accidentally shoot himself. Currently, Samson faces a state murder charge, and the FBI and U.S. attorney's office in Nashville have opened a civil rights investigation for the Tennessee attack.
The gunman, Emanuel Kidega Samson, was a seemingly innocent person, having even attended services at that particular church a year or two ago. However, similar to most mass shootings, this attack was not an impulsive decision made during the spur-of-the-moment, but rather, a deliberate act of violence that had been planned for quite a long time.
Even though investigators have not officially identified the motive behind the shooting, police found a note in the attacker’s car that suggested that he may have been attempting to avenge the 2015 shooting at Emanuel AME, a black church in Charleston. In that particular shooting, a white supremacist fatally killed nine black victims, with no public remorse for his devastating act of violence. As a U.S. citizen who immigrated from Sudan to the United States during his childhood, Samson’s quest for revenge holds validity: Samson was trying to avenge his people. He even stated in an earlier Facebook post that “rage is my preferred state of mind.” However, his shooting is not justified regardless of his motives, as he took out his anger on an innocent and unsuspecting group of people. Even more, although the majority of Emmanuel AME Church was black, the Burnette Chapel Church had a diverse congregation with a myriad of ethnicities, further proving that he had no justification for his violence.
This mass shooting, like many others, brings to light the issue of firearm safety in America. Before taking sides, it is crucial to understand the role of guns in the attack. After the shooting, investigators discovered four guns that were bought legally from in-state retailers: the 40-caliber handgun allegedly used in the attack, a military-style AR-15 rifle found in a case in Samson's car, and a 9mm handgun found in the church. As a result, many claim that handguns should be banned, as they were the sole cause for the numerous amounts of innocent deaths; however, it is important to take into account the entire scene of action, similar to the way in which the jury attempts to thoroughly understand both sides of the case before making a verdict. In reality, the church usher who grappled with the shooter was successful due to his possession of a gun. As the two men struggled, the gunman accidentally wounded himself, giving time for the church usher to retrieve his own weapon and hold the gunman back at bay. Evidently, without a handgun to stop the attacker, the shooter may have killed even more people.
Because guns can be used for both self-defense and attacks, guns themselves cannot be labeled as either good or bad; the ethical implications of owning a handgun is entirely premised upon the person who uses the gun, not the gun itself. In truth, it is not so much the issue of handguns being a harmful tool as it is the issue of gun control laws. While that debate over gun laws continues, Congress is increasingly pushing for the passage of the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017, which would allow an eligible person to carry a concealed handgun in any state where it is legal.
Although attacks like these traumatize the nation, it serves to reshape the American view on safety, urging all citizens to unite together to not only overcome life-changing obstacles, but to stand even stronger in the face of adversity.
By Emily Wang
Though seemingly a local issue, the devastating effects of Flint’s contaminated water revealed a widespread epidemic that many had not even come to recognize. After the federal emergency in Flint, Michigan, in which the city’s contaminated drinking water caused many children to suffer from lead poisoning, the safety of water has become a national concern.
In Flint, the source of the drinking water was changed from the Detroit water system to the polluted Flint River in order to reduce costs. Unfortunately, the already contaminated river water ran through lead pipes, causing severe lead contamination in the water for those without water filters-- namely the lower-income population.
This dangerous water not only caused health problems for the low-income community, but it also infected local schools’ drinking water. This issue is also prevalent in many schools nationwide: dangerous lead levels have been reported in schools in Ithaca and Binghamton, N.Y., and in Howell, Mich. Due to poor school water infrastructure and lack of funds to further examine the detrimental effects of aging water delivery systems, more and more children are becoming diagnosed with lead poisoning. However, Flint only comprises a small piece in the larger puzzle of dangerous drinking water; research indicates that there are roughly 3,000 locations in the United States in which the amount of lead in the water was more than double that of Flint’s.
Lead poisoning is especially risky when it comes to children, as their bodies are still growing; even in small doses, it can greatly affect organs such as the brain, kidneys, and nervous system, which in turn affects hearing, brain development, attention span, and behavioral mannerisms. However, it is not just water that contains lead-- in fact, the main source of lead poisoning for children does not come from water, but from paint. Even though it was banned in 1978, lead-based paint is currently being used in about ten million homes nationally. Oftentimes, children may accidentally get chips of this toxic pain in their mouths, making them even more prone to lead poisoning.
It will take about an estimated $542 billion to help schools reach the health, educational, and safety requirements. Because the problem of aging water infrastructure occurs in less-funded school districts, and these schools do not have the budget to actually fix the system, this resulting cycle of poverty will only cause endless devastation to its helpless victims. The lack of federal funding for public schools’ infrastructure forces them to turn to the state and local level for help, but many states do not provide funding mechanisms, limiting schools’ options even more. If this issue cannot be resolved soon, analysts predict that in a few decades, this widespread contamination of water will affect almost people of all socioeconomic statuses.
Fortunately, the situation in Flint is improving: on March 17, 2017, the EPA awarded Flint $100 million to upgrade their drinking water infrastructure, and roughly two weeks later, a federal judge approved a $97 million settlement that allowed Flint to replace their lead or galvanized steel water lines.
Even though financial aid seems to be capable of allowing recovery from the effects of the lead problem, it does not account for or completely resolve the reason for why the problem existed in the first place. In fact, simply providing funding is like sticking a bandaid on a massively bleeding wound-- it cannot heal the injury because it does not address the reason for the wound, and is, at most, a temporary solution; the root of this issue lies within the discriminatory and neglectful manner in which society treats its poorer inhabitants. Health threats that occur in lower-income communities and communities of color often take longer to be acknowledged, and take even longer to fix. Take, for example, Porter Ranch, California, a city which suffered from a massive gas leak in 2015 that caused severe headaches and nosebleeds for many of its citizens, especially schoolchildren. Compared to the predominantly white Porter Ranch, the public officials in the predominantly black Flint not only took a lot longer to respond to concerns of local citizens, but even at first tried to dismiss the pleas of Flint’s citizens to fix the deadly water crisis. As such, it is important to first acknowledge our mistreatment of lower-income populations and strive to satisfy their needs efficiently and effectively.
Although change is slowly happening, this water crisis reveals that as a society, we must recognize and attempt to remediate the various issues that plague less fortunate communities. Our systematic neglect of the low-income areas is not only morally wrong, but also leads to more dilemmas in the future, as revealed through this water crisis.
by Emily Wang
Disney princesses are breaking female stereotypes, igniting a feminist fervor across the globe.
With a box office of more than $1 billion, Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast has come to not only dominate the movie realm, but also to influence controversial topics in the real world. Ever since its first release in 1991, Belle is seen as a nonconformist to normal “princess” standards: her deep infatuation with books and education and her refusal to marry based on appearance showed her as the embodiment of a female who defies gender status. Lately, the newly-released 2017 version of the renowned fairy tale includes even more feminism than ever before.
The story is simple: a bookish girl helps a beast come out of his shell, simultaneously removing a witch’s curse that was placed on him and his household objects. Simple, right? Actually, not at all. In reality, there are a myriad of hidden aspects in the new version of the movie that appeal to the feminist viewer.
For example, while Belle adored books in the 1991 film, she turned that passion into action by teaching a young girl to read in the 2017 version. In the original movie, Belle was an assistant to her inventor father; contrastingly, the new film transforms her into an inventor to make it clear that intelligence-- rather than beauty-- is her greatest asset. The 2017 film also reveals that Belle does not accept her fate as a permanent prisoner of the castle; on the first night of her captivity, she begins to construct a long chain of dresses in order to aid her eventual escape. Later, when a supernatural cupboard dresses Belle up in luxurious clothing, she immediately frees herself of it, defiantly claiming, “I’m not a princess.”
The story emphasizes the notion that inward beauty outweighs outward appearance; by removing the stereotype that women have to be beautiful, females are given the space to experience a greater sense of literal and figurative freedom. Belle’s emboldened actions and her determination to overcome gender-based barriers affirms her standing as a defiant feminist.
Some may argue that Beauty and the Beast is not a feminist film, but instead, promotes anti-feminist viewpoints. For example, some recall that the only big change Disney claims to have made to Belle’s character is her inventing a washing machine-- even her intelligence is used for domestic purposes, a symbol of pervasive patriarchy. Others claim that while the Beast’s curse is merely his physical appearance, Beauty’s curse is to overcome her prejudice against the ugly; this is problematic, because it makes viewers think that Beauty alone must do the changing, and the Beast is blameless.
Although the movie is not perfect, it represents an enormous step forward in the feminist movement by setting a precedence for future Disney movies. Reform is a continual process to which many devote their entire lives to, meaning that it is difficult for one movie to immediately cause a mindset shift in society; instead, movies, like other cultural entities, is one brick that is added to the foundations of the struggle for equality. By starting conversations regarding the role of females in the modern society, Beauty and the Beast is actively contributing to the feminist movement.
We, like Beauty and the Beast, have the power to use our voice in order to influence those around us. The only question is whether we are willing to do so.