Jessica Valenti is a feminist writer and blogger. She is the founder and editor of the popular blog and online community, Feministing.com, and the author of three books: Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters, He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut…and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know, and The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women. She is also a co-editor of the anthology Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape, which was named one of Publishers Weekly’s Top 100 Books of 2009.
Question: What would you say to people who are turned off by feminism?
Jessica Valenti: You know, something I say a lot when it comes to anti-feminist stereotypes is that they exist for a reason. The stereotypes of feminists as ugly, or man-haters, or hairy, or whatever it is -- that's really strategic. That's a really smart way to keep young women away from feminism, is to kind of put out this idea that all feminists hate men, or all feminists are ugly; and that they really come from a place of fear. If feminism wasn't powerful, if feminism wasn't influential, people wouldn't spend so much time putting it down. Something you hear a lot is that feminism dead. But if feminism is dead, why do people try so hard to kill it? Something just isn't making sense there. So I think when young women hear like, hey, someone's trying to get something over on me, you know, someone's trying to deliberately keep me away from a movement that could make my life better, I think that really resonates with them. And I also think that when they meet other feminists, you know, when they see the Feministing writers or when they see women in their own lives who identify as feminists, and the realize they're not these scary, horrible people, that makes a big difference.
Question: Should feminists try to appeal to conservatives?
Jessica Valenti: That's a really great question. I do -- part of the goal of Feministing and part of the goal with a lot of the writing that I've done is to make feminism more accessible, and definitely to make feminism more mainstream, because I do think that more people are feminists than they realize. You know, people hear the word, and they don't want to identify as feminists, but they believe in feminist values, you know. They believe in equal pay for equal work. They are upset to see rape statistics and the statistics about violence against women. They believe in reproductive justice. But I am really hesitant to kind of open up the doors and say, well, whatever women do is feminist because they're women and they're doing it. You know, I get nervous with that sort of thing.
And I'm also really aware of how feminism and feminist rhetoric has been appropriated by the right. There's a lot of anti-feminist organizations out there, like the Independent Women's Forum and Concerned Women for America, that will use feminist language, that will use words like empowered and even say we're the new feminists -- you know, the way that people talk about Sarah Palin sometimes as a feminist. I think that's really dangerous. I mean, it goes to show the power of feminism that people want to use the language of feminism, but I do fear that it'll kind of get turned into something that's absolutely unfeminist. You know, people ask me a lot, well, can you be pro-life and be feminist? Can you be conservative and be feminist? And I think that yeah, maybe personally you can be those things. But I think if you're advocating for legislation, or if you're fighting to limit other women's rights, then you can't really call yourself a feminist.
Question: What is feminism?
Jessica Valenti: You know, I always go with the dictionary definition of feminism, which is just social, political and economic equality for women. And that's kind of a strategic thing on my part, because I think that it's the hardest definition to argue with. You know, who doesn't want that? Everyone wants equality for women.
Question: What are the most damaging myths about modern feminism?
Jessica Valenti: Like myths about feminism, or just -- I think there are a couple of dangerous myths surrounding feminism. I think the idea that feminism is dead is dangerous because it leads women and men to believe that (1) they don't have to do anything; the work has been done, and that everything is okay now; and (2) it leaves them kind of alone, I think, in a struggle, and that's something I've seen a lot when I go to colleges and I speak to young women. They know that something is off; they know that the world is a messed-up place. They know that the world is a sexist place because they've had experiences in their own life; they see things happening to their friends, to their parents. And -- but because feminism isn't widely accepted, because they don't necessarily have access to feminist thought or to feminist groups, they don't necessarily have a language to put behind the feelings and the thoughts that they're having. And they certainly don't have a support system to let them know like, hey, that's okay; you're right, that is screwed up. And I think that's really a terrible, horrible thing, and that's part of the reason why I think making feminism accessible to more people is so important.
Question: What does making feminism “accessible” mean?
Jessica Valenti: Just letting people know that it's out there, you know. Letting people know that it's out there, but also -- I think it's really a shame -- you know, I grew up definitely a feminist, but I didn't call myself a feminist until I took my first women's studies class in college. And I think it's really a shame that so many young women come to feminism that way, that they come to feminism so late, first of all, and that it's really something that is -- it's a privileged institution; it's a privileged movement. For a lot of women who don't go to college, or for a lot of women who aren't in New York or D.C. or someplace where there's like a large feminist organization they can get involved in, they may be doing feminist work, right, like locally or with a grassroots organization or in their own lives, but if they don't have that support system and if they don't have that availability to feminist language, I think we're missing out on something.
Question: Why do people resist feminism?
Jessica Valenti: I think people resist feminism because they're scared. I think for women, they're scared of being picked on or of being called out. I hear from a lot of young women, you know, I don't want to call myself a feminist because I don't want to get in an argument with someone. And it's just not cool; like it's not a cool thing to be associated with. There's no benefit to saying that you're a feminist. But you do kind of get a nice patriarchal pat on the head if you say, oh, I'm not like that, like I'm not one of those crazy feminists, which is something that happens a lot, where young women or young men will express some sort of feminist ideal, will say, you know, I think it's crap that Wal-Mart won't give out emergency contraception, but I'm not one of those crazy feminists. You know, there's always that caveat there. And it's really unfortunate, I think, that people are missing out. Whether people identify as feminists or not, if they're doing work that furthers a feminist cause, I think that's wonderful, like if it works for me, right, it works for the movement. But I do think that personally they're missing out. If you don't identify as a feminist, you're missing out on this whole community that's out there that could really help you with your work, help you with your personal life, and just give you support.
Question: Do you find breaking feminism into waves productive?
Jessica Valenti: I don't find the wave model very productive, because I think it kind of serves to fan the flames of generational tension, or make it seem like there's more generational tension than there actually is. And it also makes it seem as if there's a beginning and an end to each of those movements, or it seems much more connected to me than anything else. I mean, don't get me wrong; I'm glad that we have a history at all and that we can talk about feminist history. But I do think that it doesn't really pay attention to the complexity and the nuance that is feminist thought. And it also tends to privilege kind of the mainstream movements, right? So for the second-wave movement there was all sorts of feminist work being done, but when you think about second wave, you think Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, and you don't necessarily think about maybe some of like the other women who were doing feminist work or smaller organizations. So I think we run the risk of not paying attention to all of the work that's being done.
Question: Who are your major influences?
Jessica Valenti: The biggest thinker that's influenced my feminism is definitely Bell Hooks, who's a feminist cultural critic, because of her accessibility but also just because she's a genius. But one of the things I really like about doing work online, and the thing I like about the work I'm doing now, is that I get to meet feminists all the time and I get to read new feminists every day on the blogosphere. And it's really that kind of diversity of thought that informs me more than anything else these days. It's just kind of learning something new all the time. And I kind of love that there's not really a feminist canon; or maybe there is, but it's being changed, that it's a constantly moving canon in the feminist blogosphere. I love that.
Question: How can research on biological gender differences be reconciled with feminism?
Jessica Valenti: That's a really difficult question. Yeah, there's going to be biological differences between the genders. There's going to be biological differences between two women or two men. There's biological differences between all of us. My concern is, why are we so concerned about it? Why are we so worried about it? Why, whenever a study comes out about men do this one way and women do this one way, or men's brains and women's brains -- why are we so interested in that? You know, what makes us so fascinated by differences between the sexes? And I think more often than not that interest is deeply embedded in sexism. You know, the studies about differences between the sexes that you see kind of get propped up in the media are more often than not denigrating women in some way, saying that women really don't have any spatial understanding, and that's why they can't park. You know, it always comes back to something like that.
Question: Has blogging changed feminism?
Jessica Valenti: I think that blogging and the Internet has completely changed feminism for ever, I think. You know, it used to be, 10 years ago, if you wanted to have a strong, influential voice in the feminist movement, you really needed to be part of this New York/D.C. elite group of feminists, or part of a mainstream feminist organization. And now it's kind of an amazing thing that you can just start a blog and put your voice out there and build your readership. I know I certainly wouldn't be writing books if it hadn't been for the feminist blogosphere, and I think that's a really amazing thing. And just the sheer power of outreach I think is incredible. It used to be that if someone was to get involved in feminism, it was probably because they were already interested. They were already interested in feminism; they were already interested in being an activist, and they found their way to like a NOW meeting or to a consciousness-raising group or something like that.
What we find a lot on Feministing is a lot of our readers kind of came to us by accident. A story I tell a lot because I think it's so interesting is a couple of years ago this teenager wrote me an e-mail because she had found the site after doing a Google search on Jessica Simpson. She was a big Jessica Simpson fan. And she ended up on the site because I think I had written something about Jessica Simpson's father and a virginity pledge and something like that, and just really the sexism behind that. And she got to the site, and she wrote me this e-mail saying, you know, I thought all feminists were older and hated men and weren't funny; I couldn't believe that this was what feminism was about. And she stuck around and she became a regular reader, and we got -- I mean, we continue to get a lot of e-mails like that, so just kind of stumbling upon feminism by accident; and having this kind of subversive outreach I think is a really incredible thing.
Question: Is the current wave of feminism global?
Jessica Valenti: Yes, I think feminism has always been global. I think there's feminism everywhere throughout the world. I think, though, for Western feminism and for American feminism, it not so surprisingly continues to center Western feminism and American feminism. And I think the biggest hurdle American feminists have in terms of taking a more global approach is that too often when you hear American feminists talk about international feminism or women in other countries, it kind of goes along with this condescending point of view like we have to save the women of such-and-such country; we have to help them. And -- when more often than not they're already helping themselves in some other way. So I think that it's incredibly important that we're actually paying attention to the feminism that's going on on the ground in different countries and see what we can do to support the work that's already going on, as opposed to kind of assuming that we know best for women in other areas.
Recorded December 11, 2009
Between negative stereotypes and conservatives appropriating feminist language, there’s plenty to contest.
Get smarter, faster. Subscribe to our daily newsletter.
The COVID-19 pandemic is making health disparities in the United States crystal clear. It is a clarion call for health care systems to double their efforts in vulnerable communities.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated America's health disparities, widening the divide between the haves and have nots.
- Studies show disparities in wealth, race, and online access have disproportionately harmed underserved U.S. communities during the pandemic.
- To begin curing this social aliment, health systems like Northwell Health are establishing relationships of trust in these communities so that the post-COVID world looks different than the pre-COVID one.
COVID-19 deepens U.S. health disparities<p>Communities on the pernicious side of America's health disparities have their unique histories, environments, and social structures. They are spread across the United States, but they all have one thing in common.</p><p>"There is one common divide in American communities, and that is poverty," said <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/about/leadership/debbie-salas-lopez" target="_blank">Debbie Salas-Lopez, MD, MPH</a>, senior vice president of community and population health at Northwell Health. "That is the undercurrent that manifests poor health, poor health outcomes, or poor health prognoses for future wellbeing."</p><p>Social determinants have far-reaching effects on health, and poor communities have unfavorable social determinants. To pick one of many examples, <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/09/27/913612554/a-crisis-within-a-crisis-food-insecurity-and-covid-19" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">food insecurity</a> reduces access to quality food, leading to poor health and communal endemics of chronic medical conditions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified some of these conditions, such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes, as increasing the risk of developing a severe case of coronavirus.</p><p>The pandemic didn't create poverty or food insecurity, but it exacerbated both, and the results have been catastrophic. A study published this summer in the <em><a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-05971-3" target="_blank">Journal of General Internal Medicine</a></em> suggested that "social factors such as income inequality may explain why some parts of the USA are hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than others."</p><p>That's not to say better-off families in the U.S. weren't harmed. A <a href="https://voxeu.org/article/poverty-inequality-and-covid-19-us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper from the Centre for Economic Policy Research</a> noted that families in counties with a higher median income experienced adjustment costs associated with the pandemic—for example, lowering income-earning interactions to align with social distancing policies. However, the paper found that the costs of social distancing were much greater for poorer families, who cannot easily alter their living circumstances, which often include more individuals living in one home and a reliance on mass transit to reach work and grocery stores. They are also disproportionately represented in essential jobs, such as retail, transportation, and health care, where maintaining physical distance can be all but impossible.</p><p>The paper also cited a positive correlation between higher income inequality and higher rates of coronavirus infection. "Our interpretation is that poorer people are less able to protect themselves, which leads them to different choices—they face a steeper trade-off between their health and their economic welfare in the context of the threats posed by COVID-19," the authors wrote.</p><p>"There are so many pandemics that this pandemic has exacerbated," Dr. Salas-Lopez noted.</p><p>One example is the health-wealth gap. The mental stressors of maintaining a low socioeconomic status, especially in the face of extreme affluence, can have a physically degrading impact on health. <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/index.cfm/_api/render/file/?method=inline&fileID=123ECD96-EF81-46F6-983D2AE9A45FA354" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Writing on this gap</a>, Robert Sapolsky, professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, notes that socioeconomic stressors can increase blood pressure, reduce insulin response, increase chronic inflammation, and impair the prefrontal cortex and other brain functions through anxiety, depression, and cognitive load. </p><p>"Thus, from the macro level of entire body systems to the micro level of individual chromosomes, poverty finds a way to produce wear and tear," Sapolsky writes. "It is outrageous that if children are born into the wrong family, they will be predisposed toward poor health by the time they start to learn the alphabet."</p>Research on the economic and mental health fallout of COVID-19 is showing two things: That unemployment is hitting <a href="https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/09/24/economic-fallout-from-covid-19-continues-to-hit-lower-income-americans-the-hardest/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">low-income and young Americans</a> most during the pandemic, potentially widening the health-wealth gap further; and that the pandemic not only exacerbates mental health stressors, but is doing so at clinically relevant levels. As <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7413844/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the authors of one review</a> wrote, the pandemic's effects on mental health is itself an international public health priority.
Working to close the health gap<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc5MDk1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTYyMzQzMn0.KSFpXH7yHYrfVPtfgcxZqAHHYzCnC2bFxwSrJqBbH4I/img.jpg?width=980" id="b40e2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1b9035370ab7b02a0dc00758e494412b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Northwell Health coronavirus testing center at Greater Springfield Community Church.
Credit: Northwell Health<p>Novel coronavirus may spread and infect indiscriminately, but pre-existing conditions, environmental stressors, and a lack of access to care and resources increase the risk of infection. These social determinants make the pandemic more dangerous, and erode communities' and families' abilities to heal from health crises that pre-date the pandemic.</p><p>How do we eliminate these divides? Dr. Salas-Lopez says the first step is recognition. "We have to open our eyes to see the suffering around us," she said. "Northwell has not shied away from that."</p><p>"We are steadfast in improving health outcomes for our vulnerable and underrepresented communities that have suffered because of the prevalence of chronic disease, a problem that led to the disproportionately higher death rate among African-Americans and Latinos during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Michael Dowling, Northwell's president and CEO. "We are committed to using every tool at our disposal—as a provider of health care, employer, purchaser and investor—to combat disparities and ensure the <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/education-and-resources/community-engagement/center-for-equity-of-care" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">equity of care</a> that everyone deserves." </p><p>With the need recognized, Dr. Salas-Lopez calls for health care systems to travel upstream and be proactive in those hard-hit communities. This requires health care systems to play a strong role, but not a unilateral one. They must build <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/news/insights/faith-based-leaders-are-the-key-to-improving-community-health" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">partnerships with leaders in those communities</a> and utilize those to ensure relationships last beyond the current crisis. </p><p>"We must meet with community leaders and talk to them to get their perspective on what they believe the community needs are and should be for the future. Together, we can co-create a plan to measurably improve [community] health and also to be ready for whatever comes next," she said.</p><p>Northwell has built relationships with local faith-based and community organizations in underserved communities of color. Those partnerships enabled Northwell to test more than 65,000 people across the metro New York region. The health system also offered education on coronavirus and precautions to curb its spread.</p><p>These initiatives began the process of building trust—trust that Northwell has counted on to return to these communities to administer flu vaccines to prepare for what experts fear may be a difficult flu season.</p><p>While Northwell has begun building bridges across the divides of the New York area, much will still need to be done to cure U.S. health care overall. There is hope that the COVID pandemic will awaken us to the deep disparities in the US.</p><p>"COVID has changed our world. We have to seize this opportunity, this pandemic, this crisis to do better," Dr. Salas-Lopez said. "Provide better care. Provide better health. Be better partners. Be better community citizens. And treat each other with respect and dignity.</p><p>"We need to find ways to unify this country because we're all human beings. We're all created equal, and we believe that health is one of those important rights."</p>
The next era in American history can look entirely different. It's up to us to choose.
- The timeline of America post-WWII can be divided into two eras, according to author and law professor Ganesh Sitaraman: the liberal era which ran through the 1970s, and the current neoliberal era which began in the early 1980s. The latter promised a "more free society," but what we got instead was more inequality, less opportunity, and greater market consolidation.
- "We've lived through a neoliberal era for the last 40 years, and that era is coming to an end," Sitaraman says, adding that the ideas and policies that defined the period are being challenged on various levels.
- What comes next depends on if we take a proactive and democratic approach to shaping the economy, or if we simply react to and "deal with" market outcomes.
A new MIT report proposes how humans should prepare for the age of automation and artificial intelligence.
- A new report by MIT experts proposes what humans should do to prepare for the age of automation.
- The rise of intelligent machines is coming but it's important to resolve human issues first.
- Improving economic inequality, skills training, and investment in innovation are necessary steps.
1. Increase private sector investment in skills and training<p>The group pinpoints the importance of private sector investment in training employees, especially with the purpose of increasing the upward mobility for lower-wage and less-educated workers. This will particularly affect minority workers, who are overrepresented in this group. The report estimates only about half of employees get training from their employees in any given year. </p>
2. Significantly increase federal funding for training programs<p>The report advocates getting the government to fund training programs that can help lead to middle-class jobs for workers who don't have a four-year college degree. </p>
3. Support community colleges<p>The research team thinks community colleges should be supported by the federal government's money and policies to advance programs that connect employers to the education being received by students. The policies should be aimed at raising degree completion rates at community colleges. </p>
4. Invest in innovating training methods<p>Demonstration and field testing programs that work out new retraining and reemployment ideas should be given particular focus, according to the MIT scientists. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Innovation improves the quantity, quality, and variety of work that a worker can accomplish in a given time," <a href="https://workofthefuture.mit.edu/research-post/the-work-of-the-future-building-better-jobs-in-an-age-of-intelligent-machines/" target="_blank">wrote</a> the report's authors. "This rising productivity, in turn, enables improving living standards and the flourishing of human endeavors. Indeed, in what should be a virtuous cycle, rising productivity provides society with the resources to invest in those whose livelihoods are disrupted by the changing structure of work.</p>
5. Restore the real value of the federal minimum wage<p>The report spotlights the growing economic disparity between low-paid workers and the rest of society. Compared to Canadians, for example, low-paid Americans earn 26% less. Government policy should make sure people in traditionally low-paid service jobs like cleaning, groundskeeping, food service, entertainment, recreation, and health assistance get adequate pay and some economic security. To that end, the researchers propose that the minimum wage should be raised to at least 40% of the national median wage. This value should also be indexed to inflation. </p>
6. Modernize and extend unemployment insurance (UI) benefits<p>Several measures are recommended to improve unemployment insurance and extend it to workers that aren't usually covered. The report suggests allowing workers to count their most recent earnings to determine eligibility, determining eligibility based on hours rather than earnings, dropping the requirement that unemployed seek full-time work (because many hold part-time jobs), and reforming partial UI benefits from the states. </p>
7. Strengthen and adapt labor laws<p>Labor laws need to be both improved and better enforced, states the report. Contraction of private sector labor unions makes it harder for rank-and-file workers to bargain for wage growth that matches the growth of productivity growth. How workers are represented needs to be innovated as much as the technologies. Current U.S. laws "retard the development of alternative approaches," write the researchers. For example, due to racial politics during the New Deal, sectors of the American workforce like domestic workers and agricultural workers are unable to participate in collective bargaining.</p>
8. Increase federal research spending<p>In a proposal aimed at fostering innovation and making sure its benefits are experienced by workers, the MIT group thinks it's key to increase government spending on research, especially in areas not addressed by the private sector. These tend to involve longer-term research that addresses the social impacts of new technologies, zeroing in on major national problems, climate change, human health and similar larger research topics. Investing into research on human-centered AI, collaborative robotics and the science of education should be a part of this approach.</p><p>Small and medium-sized businesses should receive targeted government assistance to allow them to increase productivity via the new tech, advises the MIT team. </p>
9. Expand the geography of innovation in the United States<p>Innovation is increasingly "concentrated geographically," think the researchers. For a country that has so many universities, entrepreneurs, and workers that are spread throughout, the benefits of innovation should be made available not only to more workers, but also to more of the country's regions. Each state can have its own Silicon Valley.</p>
10. Rebalance taxes on capital and labor<p>Innovation is necessary in the tax law as well, according to the report. It's important to change the manner in which the current tax code "unduly favors investments in capital" by eliminating accelerated depreciation allowances, applying corporate income tax equally to all corporations, and instituting an employer training tax credit.</p><p><a href="https://workofthefuture.mit.edu/research-post/the-work-of-the-future-building-better-jobs-in-an-age-of-intelligent-machines/" target="_blank">Read the full report here.</a></p>
Philosopher Nick Bostrom's "singleton hypothesis" predicts the future of human societies.
- Nick Bostrom's "singleton hypothesis" says that intelligent life on Earth will eventually form a "singleton".
- The "singleton" could be a single government or an artificial intelligence that runs everything.
- Whether the singleton will be positive or negative depends on numerous factors and is not certain.
Want to Retain American Jobs? Stop Blaming Globalization<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="oxK8j1xN" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="2cf425d7b91ed2a6fc4fe19d065f3408"> <div id="botr_oxK8j1xN_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/oxK8j1xN-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/oxK8j1xN-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/oxK8j1xN-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
The rites we give to the dead help us understand what it takes to go on living.
As the coronavirus pandemic hit New York in March, the death toll quickly went up with few chances for families and communities to perform traditional rites for their loved ones.