The Hart of the Matter: The importance of a woman’s voice

This is my very last column of the year, so please indulge me as I make it slightly more personal than my other articles. Each Hart of the Matter has I wrote about was close to my heart and important to my values. This is why my column has been so important to me throughout the year — it allowed me the means to use my voice and speak about issues that matter to me. A voice is a powerful thing.

Ever since I could speak, I used my voice. My voice would let me take control of my surroundings. I was able to speak my mind. In group activities in elementary and middle school, I would take charge, dictating and organizing  While I was called bossy, my male peers were called leaders.

Being a girl and unafraid to use my own voice allowed many such double standards to come to light. I was frustrated that girls are supposed to fit in and be submissive, not take charge of her surroundings. That was for the boys.

I would say something in class or a group, and later a male would say the same thing. He was taken seriously, while I often found myself dismissed.

This is not an experience exclusive to me. Women everywhere have been shamed for speaking up, or talked over in a conversation.

When I started working in student journalism, I found a place where my voice was celebrated. Through journalism, I was allowed the means to develop my voice and publish it. And, more importantly, my words made a difference. Sometimes, students would come up to me and tell me how my articles offered them a new perspective. I got to talk to Principal Giglio about issues that were important to me

Journalism was instrumental in my acceptance of my voice. Being told constantly that I should not be speaking up had me believing such, but once I found a community that encouraged my voice I was able to use it. If I hadn’t, none of those little differences would have been made.

Places like this, where girls can find a community that empowers their voices, are absolutely crucial and so absolutely lacking.

In high school journalism, female students are censored disproportionately to male students, a trend noticed by the Student Press Law Center and later supported by a study from the University of Kansas.

 Despite this, women make up the majority of communications majors in college, according to DataUSA. Yet this does not translate into the workforce; only about 35 percent of newsroom employees or supervisors are women, according to the American Society of News Editors and Nieman Reports. There are always attempts to silence us.

I am not the first to take note of this alarming flip. One of my colleagues on the Epitaph, fellow columnist Thomas Denome, wrote about the issue earlier this year. In better words than mine, he comes to the same conclusion I have as to why there is still a lack of women in the industry: people don’t like tough women.

People particularly do not like the tough women who utilize their voices, which is essentially in the job description of a journalist. Society’s bias against strong women comes from decades of gender roles, as a means to keep women in their supposed place. This is exactly why using one’s voice matters more than ever. A woman speaking up is how change has been made, and how change and progress will continue to be made.

In order to empower future generations of girls, places where women can find a way to build and practice using their voice are essential. I found my place working on a school newspaper. To everyone who supported this endeavor by reading a column, picking up a paper or even writing nasty comments on my web articles, I am forever thankful. I have been incredibly lucky to be able to work in this environment.

Not all are as lucky. Nationally, student journalism programs are getting defunded, along with art and creative writing. Places of expression are shrinking, and girls are still getting censored and told to be less assertive. This is stunting the growth of our society as well as quelling the voices of our future.

 

The Hart of the Matter: Gender disparity affects all

For years now, women have outnumbered men in college. In a patriarchal society, this is hugely significant; knowledge is power.

In 2017, women made up 56 percent of students in college, according to the U.S. Department of Education. While this may not seem like a significant difference, that is 2.2 million more women than men.

The gender disparity, though it favors women, is a product of sexism. Gender norms hurt everyone. Although there are many factors affecting the disparity, such as high school graduation rates or a higher likelihood for men to enter prison, a large factor is unwillingness to enter female-dominated fields.

Women have been entering male-dominated fields at higher rates each year. Since Rosie the Riveter in WWII, women have succeeded in traditionally masculine careers, despite barriers against them. They have become doctors, lawyers, scientists and businesspeople. While these fields may still hold more men than women, women are present and rising, which can be seen in the U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau’s annual statistics.

Meanwhile, few men seek female-dominated careers. Traditionally feminine fields such as teaching and nursing have very few males pursuing college degrees in the subject. This is seen in the workforce — according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 90 percent of nurses were women in 2011.

Essentially, women are expanding in career choices, while men refuse to. As a result, more men opt for careers that do not require a college degree but still fit into the traditional notion of masculinity, such as manufacturing or construction.

While no one should feel forced to attend college, men should not feel pressured into any career because of gender roles. The disparity in college attendance is one of many examples of the ways sexism hurts men. Males are conditioned by society to fit into the idea of masculinity, which is a very narrow and fixed concept. Even the traditionally feminine gender roles set for women have wider bounds allowing more freedom.

The point of feminism is not that more women should be in college than men, or more men should be in college. It’s not even that there should be an exactly equal amount of each gender in higher education. There shouldn’t be any societal barriers stopping anyone from pursuing what they truly want.

The Hart of the Matter: Domestic violence and female homelessness heavily connected

Homelessness is a massive issue plaguing the United States, but it is rarely looked at as the complex and multi-faceted problem it truly is. One such overlooked factor of the homelessness issue is the role of violence against women.The U.S. Department of Justice reported that one in four homeless women are on the streets because of violence inflicted against her.

This isn’t a problem that solely affects women, but children as well; Among women who experience homelessness and have children, over 80 percent had previously experienced domestic violence, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty.

This isn’t just domestic violence in the far past with coincidental homelessness later on. The sheer amount of homeless women who have experienced domestic violence already contests this, but also, in an examination of twelve studies, the Family and Youth Services Bureau found that between 22 and 57 percent of women report that domestic violence was an immediate cause of their homelessness, with numbers varying depending on location.

Countless studies and reports have shown that domestic violence is a huge determinant in homelessness among women. And this only contributes more to violence against women.

Homeless women are significantly more likely to experience any type of violence than non-homeless women. This is partially because homeless people on general are prone to becoming victims to violence, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. However, homeless women are more likely to experience intimate partner violence than homeless men, showing how the issue of domestic violence against women continues into vagrancy.

Victimized homeless women very rarely report such instances of violence against them, the U.S. Department of Justice reported, and when they do rarely get legitimate response from the authorities.

When domestic violence and homelessness meet, it creates a brutal cycle of assault against women with little way out. The National Network to End Domestic Violence conducted a nationwide study in 2015 in which ninety-three percent of domestic violence programs participated in. In just one day, over 31,500 people escaping domestic violence went to a shelter or program for such victims. Over 12,197 requests were not met due to lack of resources.

More resources for victims of domestic violence are necessary now. Not only is support for victims of domestic violence something we should uphold as a civic duty to them, but it will also address a huge contributor to homelessness.

The Hart of the Matter: Homophobic comments and sexist ideals are intertwined

Emma Gonzalez, survivor of the Parkland shooting and one of the faces of the current movement for gun control, has been under attack by many who oppose her values. While this is normal for someone leading a wave of change, some politicians, such as Leslie Gibson, have crossed a line in their criticisms.

Gibson, a GOP candidate for the Maine state House, called Gonzalez a “skinhead lesbian,” according to the New York Times. He has since withdrawn from the race, but his comment is an example of the way sexuality is used to insult and invalidate powerful women.

Often, when a woman steps into a leadership position, men have trouble taking orders from her. We are socialized to see men as leaders and women as followers. When a woman exhibits the qualities of a leader, she is often labeled as bossy and overbearing, while a man would be considered ambitious and confident for the same actions.

While I speak from experience, this has also been proven by countless studies. A comprehensive report by the American Psychological Association states that men are perceived as more effective leaders than women and rate themselves higher than women tend to, while in specific examinations of leadership skills such as organization and encouragement, women scored higher.

Gonzalez, in leading a nationwide movement against gun violence, is obviously a leader. She is in a position that is perceived to be for masculine people, and has since been called genderless or gay simply for exhibiting strong qualities.

Calling her a lesbian was an obvious attempt at an insult, rooted in the way society perceives leaders. When Gibson made the statement and others echoed it, the intent was to shame Gonzalez. That being said, the comment wasn’t false. Gonzalez is openly bisexual, and often speaks about how gay activism is linked to her work against guns. It is not an insult; it is who she is.

Still, despite the fact that Gonzalez is openly part of the LGBT community, the term “lesbian” was used with the intent to discredit her. In using the word as an insult, Gibson implied that Gonzalez should be respected less because of her lack of heterosexuality.

An obvious answer as to why “lesbian” is used as an insult is homophobia, which leads people to see those of the LGBT community as lesser. But sexism and homophobia are deeply linked.

A woman’s worth is often linked to her ability to attract men, which is why women are taught to value appearance. Attractiveness goes beyond physicality; it has to do with what a woman says and does. Women are taught to be friendly and accommodating, and above all, non-threatening. This is why so many young girls have heard the phrase “you’ll never get a man talking like that” when speaking about feminism or something bold that potentially will intimidate men.

If a woman does not care for the attraction of men, men lose that power over women. The notion that has silenced women for so long is invalidated, as a woman is beyond what she is taught defines her worth. In addition, since she is not fulfilling her supposed duty of being the object of attraction, she is therefore seen as inferior.

The example of Gonzalez is one of countless others; women are devalued with attacks to their sexuality regularly. It comes from a place of systemic sexism that taught them to value gay women less. Women are powerful, no matter who they are attracted to, and society should catch up to this fact.

Khanna hosts youth focused town hall on gun control

Parkland student, Golden State Warriors coach spoke alongside Khanna

Newark Memorial High School hosted Rep. Ro Khanna’s (D-CA) town hall meeting on March 12 to give teenagers a platform to speak about gun control.  Khanna was accompanied by Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr and Matt Deisch, a student activist from Parkland.

The event began at 3:45 p.m., with a line around the building beginning an hour before. High school students were allowed immediate entry inside the school gym, while adults waited outside. Inside, the gym was set up with chairs and cameras from various news outlets.

Mission San Jose High School student Sonia Tasser said she attended the meeting because gun control is something she’s very passionate about.

“To have the feeling that you’re not safe at school is something that should never happen,” Tasser said.

The meeting began with opening remarks from Khanna, followed by speeches from Kerr and Deisch. Then the floor was opened for students to ask questions to Khanna, Kerr or Desich, with press questions after. Congressman Mike Thompson, who chairs the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, closed the meeting with final remarks.

The entire meeting emphasized the importance of youth involvement.

“Your title doesn’t matter,” Khanna said. “What matters is your authenticity and passion.”

Kerr compared today’s movement for gun control to the civil rights movement and Vietnam war protests, both of which were led by students.

“For the first time it feels like something is happening,” Kerr said.

Other subjects addressed included bipartisanship, arming teachers and the Second Amendment.

When Deisch spoke, he focused on means of action for students to take. After sharing his experience with the Parkland shooting, he asserted the need for youth to demand actions from leaders.

“Register to vote, take this to the ballots, so we can have leaders that care about us and not their wallets,” Deisch said.

Deisch also mentioned the march against gun violence on March 24. There are 3.5 million people registered to march so far, he said.

When Congressman Thompson concluded the meeting, he cited multiple organizations, such as Brady Campaign, Giffords Campaign, Everytown USA and speakforsafety.org, to get educated from and involved with.

Deisch said using resources to receive more information is important, and to keep learning more about the cause.

“They don’t want us to talk about it, they want us to forget … I promise you we won’t,” Deisch said.

Hart of the Matter: The power of hair, or the lack thereof

Recently, I shaved my head, and while I was met with overwhelming positivity, I witnessed a lot of shock as well. I was asked why I did it countless times, sometimes out of sheer curiosity, but sometimes tainted with a tone akin to accusation. “Why would you shave your beautiful hair?” I was asked.

Looking back at history, I realized this shock came from years of placing a woman’s worth in her hair.

Women shaving their heads goes back to ancient times, starting in Africa, where Egyptians would shave their heads to cope with the heat and would cover their heads with wigs. This was a utilitarian practice by  both genders.

Elsewhere, however, women with shaved heads were seen as symbols of shame and victims of punishment. It was common in Europe during the Dark Ages to shave the heads of women accused of adultery, according to the Guardian, which was the same punishment later used in World War II against French women accused of having relations with German soldiers. These practices were used to strip the women of their femininity.

Religiously, shearing a woman’s locks as punishment was also used. St. Rosa of Lima shaved her own head in an attempt to destroy her own beauty, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, and was known for self-inflicted punishment out of devotion to God. Nuns at the House of Mercy, a reform school for rebellious women used in the 1890s, threatened misbehaving women with removing their hair, according to the New York Times.

While women who shave their heads are no longer symbols of shame, hair is still valued as a large factor in a woman’s beauty. This is seen in commercials, images of traditionally beautiful women, and even the stereotypical obsession with hair all women supposedly have.

A woman’s beauty is still viewed as a symbol of her worth, so actively removing her own hair is subconsciously seen as an act of cosmetic sabotage. Obviously, no one who was taken aback at my hair thought that I was trying to be ugly. However, the meaning behind the tone of the question does relate to our cultural value of hair. And, yes, the chop was surprising, but it would have been less surprising if I was male.

Our culture does value men’s hair as well. It is becoming more and more common for men to use as many styling products as women. But if a man shaved his head, it would be less dramatic than a woman doing so. While men do place beauty in hair, their worth is not based in attraction. Society sees beauty as one of women’s contributions to society, something to base importance on. Men are based on monetary worth, often, and skill. Shaved heads, with their many practical benefits, are not surprising for men, who have practical worth.

I shaved my head because I had wanted to for a long time, and because when I mentioned it to others, I was often met with bewilderment and a laugh telling me not to. I wanted to rebel against these people and society in general, but I held myself back because I was scared. What if I was uglier without hair?

I made the decision to shave my head because of this fear. I wanted to show myself that my worth is not in my beauty, and my beauty is not in my hair. As I took the razor to my own skull, I thought about the people in history who abused women through manipulating their hair, and felt the empowerment of my decision to have control of my own appearance despite ages of people stealing the power from women before me.

‘Black Panther’ soundtrack lives up to same hype as film

Not only does Marvel’s upcoming film “Black Panther” host an incredible cast, but the movie’s soundtrack brings musical icon Kendrick Lamar to the list of creatives working on the highly anticipated movie.

Lamar announced his role in producing and curating the soundtrack on Jan. 4, when he dropped “All the Stars,” a collaboration with SZA, which is a featured song on the album. The entirety of the soundtrack was released on Feb. 9.

Kendrick Lamar shows his raw genius in producing the “Black Panther” soundtrack.

The album presents songs from and inspired by the “Black Panther” film, which is to hit theaters on Feb. 16. The movie has created a wave of hype, as it is anticipated to be a fresh blend of superhero action and social commentary. More tickets were sold in advance than any previous superhero film, according to CNN.

A large part of the excitement surrounding “Black Panther” is the fact that it is the first Marvel film directed by a black person and one of the only blockbuster superhero movies with a predominantly African-American cast. The movie shines a light on African culture, something often ignored in Hollywood, especially in action features.
Lamar’s album reflects this same culture from the movie. Not only does the soundtrack host some of the most prominent black artists of the industry, such as The Weeknd, Khalid, SZA, Anderson Paak and Travis Scott, but the sounds and lyrics of the album offer a range of perspectives that emphasize the values of the film.

There is a huge spectrum of variety in the soundtrack. Each featured artist is allowed to express their own style under the theme of the film, with songs ranging from the pop-inspired R&B in “The Ways” to the intense hip-hop of “X.”

Lamar keeps the album cohesive in subtle nods to his own style heard in every song. His ability to tie such a broad range of songs together into a united format shows his musical prowess. His choice to allow participating musicians such freedom in expression strengthens the message of the album through diversity.

Due to the expanse of style, it is unlikely that one person will love every single song on the soundtrack. Personally, I disliked “King’s Dead” because I am not a fan of trap rap. However, I adored the reggae-rap style of “Seasons.” These are matters of taste, and despite mixed opinions on certain songs, the album as a united work is a genuine masterpiece.

“Black Panther” is already set to break records and set new expectations as a superhero movie, and in this same manner, Lamar’s accompanying album expands possibilities for what a film soundtrack can be.

The Hart of the Matter: Women in athletics deserve better representation

The 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games recently began, and my eyes have been glued to the television ever since. I wanted to ignore the politics and just “ooh” and “aah” at every perfectly executed triple axel, but the reality of the way the international competition is run cannot be hidden.

I grew up seeing the Olympic season as a time of wonder and amazement, marvelling at the most talented athletes in the world.

The Olympics were also a time whenI saw people like me. Throughout the rest of the year, screens around me were always showing men’s football, men’s basketball and men’s baseball. During the Olympics, I got to see women taking center stage, inspiring me to pursue athletics.

My wonderment towards the Olympics made it hard to recognize its fundamental issues. There is a real gender disparity within the international competition, and it breeds a hostile environment towards women.

Women make up almost half of the athletes in the Olympics. This fact is touted as a success as a representation of sexism within sports disappearing as we progress towards equality.

While the gender ratio among  athletes is close to equal, the Olympics as an organization is not. Women only make up a fifth of the members of the National Olympic Committee Executive Board, a fourth of the International Olympic Committee Executive Board and 15 percent of the International Federation Executive Board in 2015, according to the official Olympics website.

The fact that a group of only 20 percent is representing a group of almost 50 percent is a red flag in itself, and the the issue manifests into situations such as the Larry Nassar scandal.

Nassar was a doctor for the U.S.A. gymnastics team who was recently sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison on criminal sexual assault charges, according to TIME magazine. He was accused of the offenses by over 100 athletes, most of whom were underaged. His abuse was brought to light by high-profile Olympian gymnasts from the U.S., such as Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney, whose testimonies dated back through years of abuse.

Assuits were taken out against Nassar himself by his victims, those who endured his abuse also filed lawsuits against USA Gymnastics, for lack of sufficient action in regards to the reports of sexual assault.

After the Nassar trial, the chairman, vice chairman and secretary of the board of USA Gymnastics resigned, according to the New York Times. Kerry Perry is the new CEO and president.

“New board leadership is necessary because the current leaders have been focused on establishing that they did nothing wrong,” the United States Olympic Committee’s chief executive Scott Blackmun said in a statement. “The Olympic family failed these athletes and we must continue to take every step necessary to ensure this never happens again.”

Larry Nassar’s years of inflicting abuse are a product of what happens when female athletes are represented by a board of men. USA Gymnastics and the Olympic committee made the correct decision in  replacing  these complacent men with a Perry, woman who understands the issues that women face.

However,  Larry Nassar is not alone, and his years of molesting are not an isolated event. Until the Olympic Committee Boards are equal, the Olympics are not equal.  

The Hart of the Matter: Marching towards progress

It has been almost 365 days into the Trump presidency, and it would be a fair statement to summarize the previous year as absurd and disheartening.

However, it is also almost the one-year anniversary for the Women’s March.

As the second Women’s March nears, its value has come into question. The gathering of people to chant with signs is not necessarily the peak of modern reform, but there is an importance to the march.

Last year, the march took place on the first full day of Trump’s presidency to create a statement that not everyone in the United States aligns with the values in the White House. It was likely the largest organized protest in United States history, according to the Washington Post.

One of the most damaging aspects of Trump’s presidency is that his disrespectful, unprofessional and impulsive and behavior is normalized, paving the way for the same behavior to continue in politics. Take the example of the Greg Ginaforte, a Republican who ran for a congressional seat in Montana. According to the Washington Post, Ginaforte grabbed a reporter from The Guardian by the neck, slammed him to the ground and punched him repeatedly. Ginaforte won the election the next day.

The Women’s March is the anti-Trump; it is a march for everything he is against, a reminder that not everyone accepts his bigotry.

When I attended the protest last year, there was an air of community. I met hundreds of people throughout the march, coming up with chants and discussing politics and the weather along the way. Every single person I talked to was holding a different sign for a different cause, but each person was friendly and positive. It was a breath of fresh air after the general hostility that followed the 2016 election.

The march was integral in building positivity and community, showing the world that Trump was not America. And, sure, it’s one thing to say that something is supportive and encouraging, and another to suggest it actually makes a difference.

The Women’s March organization did make a difference, by channeling the energy created by the five million people across the world who attended a march into legitimate change.

The organization gained a significant following after the marches across the world occurred, and used this influence to promote a campaign called “10 Actions for the First 100 Days.” This campaign encouraged people to send postcards to their representatives about issues that they care about, introducing the concept of contacting representatives to many unaware of such an act.

Since the “10 Actions” campaign , groups with the focus of helping the average citizen send their representatives messages have become more and more popular. There are numbers to text and websites to use to make the process as easy as possible, such as ResistBot or contactingcongress.org.

The Women’s March organization also created initiatives like Empower, which is dedicated to offering resources in order for youth to build groups that benefit their communities. They also started Power to the Polls, a voter registration tour. These initiatives have gained momentum through the popularity of the march.

The Women’s March is a collection of people across the country coming together for a day to juxtapose the bigotry in the White House and inspire everyday people to participate in government. It may not have an obvious major impact, but it is an accessible action to take, with many positive effects.

The Hart of the Matter: Gender disparity in ADHD diagnosis and treatment

About 6 million children in America are diagnosed with ADHD, according the Center of Disease Control in 2015. Yet as diagnoses, awareness and research grow, an entire group of affected individuals is neglected girls.  

Boys are almost three times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls, according to the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. This isn’t because three times as many boys have ADHD than girls; it is an issue of male-dominated research and stereotyping affecting a diagnosis.

Girls and boys present symptoms of ADHD in different ways. Boys tend to act within the stereotype of how a child with ADHD functions; they are very hyperactive, impulsive, lacking focus and show those issues with physical signs such as restless movement. Girls typically have more accentuated symptoms regarding the attention-deficit part of the disorder, seeming withdrawn and inattentive, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). When girls do show hyperactivity, it is not usually a physical manifestation, but instead verbal.

These differences in behavioral tendencies can play a part in creating the gap in diagnoses because the typical behavior of a boy with ADHD ties into the more publicized idea of ADHD is, a fault that comes from the fact that majority of research regarding ADHD is focused on males. In studies that do include females, girls are compared to boys, with male data acting as a baseline, according to the APA.

In addition, gender stereotypes heighten the barriers keeping girls from proper recognition of their ADHD. The way girls tend to present symptoms are simply dismissed as traits of being female. When a girl cannot hold focus and is inattentive, she is seen as spacey and unintelligent. When a girl has verbal hyperactivity, she is merely a chatterbox. These stereotypes of girls being talkative airheads furthers the gender disparity found in the amount of diagnosed children.

The lack of diagnoses for girls is a significant issue because without a diagnosis, a child cannot get help. When ADHD is left untreated in a girl, she is at a higher risk for anxiety, depression, chronic low-self esteem, teen pregnancy, early drug use and underachievement in school, according to the APA. As an adult, lack of treatment can lead to substance abuse, unemployment, eating disorders and severe stress.

Currently, more research focusing on girls with ADHD is being generated as awareness to the issue increases. With more inclusive research and less stereotyping of young women, more females will be able to receive diagnoses for ADHD instead of being dismissed, as society so often does to women and girls.

The Hart of the Matter: The Boyfriend Loophole

Illustration by Lily Hartenstien

With a mass shooting occurring almost every day in America, it’s not a reach to say that gun control in this country is a hole-ridden disaster. One such pitfall has been coined the “Boyfriend Loophole,” a defect that has managed to increase the already paramount danger that comes with being a woman in the U.S.

The “Boyfriend Loophole” regards the fact that Congress defines domestic abuse in terms of marriage, cohabitation, or having children. This excludes boyfriends, leaving a gap for men to more easily abuse women without penalty from the law. This loophole has been around for roughly 20 years, dating back to 1996, when Congress decided to limit access to guns for those who have committed acts of domestic abuse.

This makes sense, considering that the presence of a gun in a domestic dispute increases the chance of homicide by 500 percent, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

When Congress tried to take action on these issues, there was concern that innocent people’s gun rights would be taken away under false claims of domestic abuse. The definition of domestic violence was shifted to focus on couples that have married, lived together or had children.

Thus, the “Boyfriend Loophole” was created. Congress’s definition forwent the fact that domestic abusers really have no regard for their marital or living situation when they begin beating their partner.

Not to mention, the law still allows known abusers to keep the weapons they already have and does nothing to prevent abusers from skipping background checks by purchasing guns from private sellers.

The giant holes in the 1996 law render it almost completely useless. The issue of domestic abusers having access to guns is still rampant today.

In a study from 2009-2014 by Everytown, a nonprofit organization which focuses on issues of gun control, it was found that 54 percent of mass shootings were committed by domestic abusers. For instance, in the case of the 2016 shooting at Pulse nightclub, shooter Omar Mateen had a history of beating his wife.

Not only is fixing the law important to protect victims of domestic violence, it also may slow the daily increase of mass shootings in the United States.

The themes of domestic abuse and mass shootings are eerily connected, and the law in place as a means to thwart this connection is a dated, flimsy piece of legislation with gaping holes. These holes must be fixed through new, solid lawmaking. It is already dangerous enough to be a woman in America, and the government has a duty to limit this peril.

The Hart of the Matter: A woman’s word versus a man’s word

Thanks to victim blaming, rape culture and our society’s general distrust of women, taking down a man who has sexually abused someone is a nearly impossible feat. That is, if you’re a woman.

Society values the word of a man significantly more than the word of a woman, an issue indicative of the sexist tendencies of our culture as a whole.

Illustration by Lily Hartenstein

It took over 50 women to take down Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and over 60 female accusers to bring Bill Cosby to trial. At least 16 women spoken out about President Trump sexually harassing them during the 2016 presidential race, yet he still won the election.

Even abusers who are not famous can easily get away with acts of sexual assault or harassment. According to a mass study by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), which collected data from the Department of Justice and the FBI, 99.4 percent of perpetrators of rape go without convictions. This is because only 31 percent of such crimes are reported, only 5.7 percent of cases lead to arrest and only 0.6 percent of cases lead to incarceration.

Essentially, if you are a woman and a victim of sexual assault or harassment, there is a very low chance anything will be done about such an atrocity unless you have a couple dozen fellow victims by your side.

However, women are not the only victims of sexual assault. According to the Department of Justice, roughly one in ten rape victims are male. The U.S. Department of Justice predicts that only 20 percent of male rape victims report their abuse, and that only included male victims of ages 12 or above. The reason even fewer males victims come out about sexual assault is due to the social stigma regarding men and rape, tied into notions of toxic masculinity and homophobia.

However, should a male overcome such social barriers and come out publicly with an accusation, especially against a male abuser, they are much more likely to be believed.

Take the case of Kevin Spacey, a large public figure with a similar scale of fame to Cosby and Weinstein. One male came out against Spacey, actor Anthony Rapp, about attempted sexual assault. Instantly Spacey’s hugely successful career, came under fire. Since then, more actors have spoken to Spacey’s aggressive advances towards them, but it took the word one of person to bring Spacey’s empire crumbling down.

Spacey absolutely deserved every criticism and punishment he has recieved since the allegations of Rapp, and then some. However, it should be noted the differences in Spacey’s case as compared to cases such as Weinstein or Cosby.

Where it takes upwards of 40 women to bring a male perpetrator under fire, it only takes one man’s word. This indicates the massive disparity of how society values the word of a man to the word of a woman.

Of course, the Spacey scandal is not exactly the same as the Weinstein or Cosby scandals. While all revolve around rich, famous male perpetrators, Spacey was accused of assaulting children, as Rapp said that Spacey attempted to assault him when he was 14 years old. Perhaps the age of the victim is the determinant here, instead of gender.

In that case, an accusation of sexual assault on a young girl should lead to similar instant outrage and the death of the aggressor’s career. However, if we look at past cases of the sexual abuse against girls, this is not the case.

Take R&B singer R Kelly for example. Kelly was accused by Jerhonda Pace for statutory rape and physical abuse when she was 16 years old. Previously, Kelly had gone to court regarding the creation of child pornography, a case in which he was acquitted. This should only have helped Pace, as Kelly was not only accused of sexually assaulting a minor, but had a history of being accused of pedophillia.

Yet, Kelly’s career has remained relatively unscathed. Very little public coverage of the accusations was shown, especially in comparison to the media blowout in the wake of Weinstein’s scandal.

Age is not the deciding difference between the Weinstein, Cosby and countless other cases of sexual assault in Hollywood and beyond compared to the Spacey scandal. Instead, the prime difference is gender, highlighting the huge bias society has towards the word of a man versus the word of a woman.