“Injustice on Our Plates: Immigrant Women in the U.S. Food Industry”

To coincide with the Thanksgiving holiday, the Southern Poverty Law Center has just released a paper titled Injustice on Our Plates: Immigrant Women in the U.S. Food Industry.  The paper concerns the exploitation of mostly undocumented immigrant women who work in the U.S. food industry and is based upon interviews with 150 women.  The women talk about having to subsist on poverty wages, being subject to wage theft, and being sexually abused.  As is well-known, the women generally do not report the abuses because it would mean that they would lose their jobs, be reported to the immigration officials, and/or be subject to even more abuse.


The Executive Summary of the report says:


Fifty years ago this Thanksgiving, CBS broadcast “Harvest of Shame,” an Edward R. Murrow documentary that chronicled the plight of migrant farmworkers. Murrow closed the program with this commentary: “The migrants have no lobby. Only an enlightened, aroused and perhaps angered public opinion can do anything about the migrants. The people you have seen have the strength to harvest your fruit and vegetables. They do not have the strength to influence legislation.”

Not much has changed.

Unfortunately, it is obvious that not much has changed in 50 years.  The SPLC report has some recommendations for Congress, the Department of Homeland Security, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Department of Labor, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the states.

While you are enjoying the Thanksgiving food, remember the plight of the many immigrant women who have worked hard to bring you the food.  Also remember their plight if you happen to get into any conversations with an anti-immigration xenophobe.




Minnesota GOP: “Democrat Women Are Dogs”

Well, this is classy:

The Republican website for a Minnesota Senate race posted a video, highlighting the latest reason you should vote for a GOP candidate this election cycle: Republican women are hot; Democrats are dogs. The YouTube clip shows photos of Republican women in flattering glamorized poses (frequently in bikinis), juxtaposed with purposely unflattering– often photoshopped– photos of Democratic women. Tom Jones’ “She’s A Lady” plays in the background for the former; “Who Let The Dogs Out?” plays for the latter.

I’d expect an immature video such as this to circulate among newly politically-aware college frat boys on Facebook– not to be given legitimacy by a front page spot on a State Senate website. This is offensive to both sides, as once again a woman’s most significant characteristic is her physical appearance.

Republican House candidate Kathy Lohmer, as well as District 56 Senator Kathy Saltzman have spoken out against the video, pointing– rightfully so– to sexism. Lohmer called for the resignation of the website manager, who admitted to posting the video. Without apologizing, the webmaster explained he found the video funny, and asked why it even mattered.

Why does it matter? Because it’s a tiresome, sexist tactic that detracts from real issues and logic, and leaves women as the butt of the joke. Because women’s ability to participate fully in society and politics still hinges on being taken seriously for anything other than physical appearance. Because your own party’s candidates are offended, and it would behoove you to listen to them. But wait. You’re too busy staring at them.

USA Swimming Names 36 Who Were Banned For Molesting Female Swimmers

In March, the Women’s Rights section of change.org had an article about the decades-old pattern of male swim coaches molesting female swimmers.  The article said that:

A suit filed in California alleges that the the governing body of U.S. competitive swimming has failed to address widespread sexual abuse of young girls at swim clubs across the country. According to the Associated Press, the suit alleges that “more than 30 coaches nationwide have engaged in sexual misconduct with young females, and says there is a culture in competitive swimming of condoning inappropriate relationships between coaches and swimmers.”

This suit has come about in large part because of 1972 Olympic champion Deena Deardurff Schmidt, who, over a 4-year period in the 1960’s, was molested by her coach.  When Schmidt reported the abuse to the national swimming organization in the late 1980’s, she was turned aside because of the organization’s rules that a complaint must be filed by an active swimmer or the person would have to find a coach who would back up her story.  So her complaint went nowhere.  Then, in  2005, when she learned that the coach who had molested her would soon be inducted into the Swimming Hall of Fame, she reported the abuse again. No investigation came of it, and the abuser is now in the Hall of Fame.

Now, the national organization, USA Swimming, has finally taken some public, belated, though far from adequate, action.  Last week, the organization “revealed” a list of 46 people who have either received lifetime bans or have permanently quit the organization.  36 of the 46 were “punished” for “sexual misconduct or inappropriate sexual behavior.”  “Revealed” is the operative word.  It is not that the organization just now banned the officials.  Rather, the oldest “suspension” took place in 1991, most occurred in the last decade, and 11 occurred since the beginning of 2009.  The biggest name revealed was Everett Uchiyama, who was the former director of the national team, and was suspended in 2006.  (The article does not say if any action has been taken against Deena Deardurff Schmidt’s coach.)

Thus, even when USA Swimming took some action, it had been trying to cover up the offenses.  It tried to keep the names under wraps.  It sounds awfully similar to the lack of responses by the Catholic church to the sexual abuses and then the cover ups.  Let’s hope that the lawsuits bring more attention to this issue and result in proper “punishment” to the swimming organization and coaches.  Let’s also hope that the organizations take actions to prevent these abuses from happening again.  At least some steps are being taken: “At its regular May board meeting, USA Swimming approved four steps to deal with the problem, which included publishing the list of banned coaches. Members also voted to authorize the startup of a hot line and counseling service, create an athlete protection committee with experts from both inside and outside the sport, and set up staff positions to focus on athlete protection.”

Israeli Man With 23 Wives and 59 Children Charged with Sexual Assault, Rape, Sodomy and Enslavement

There’s a horrible story out of Israel that I somehow missed when it first hit the news a month ago.  Today, Goel Ratzon, 60, was charged in a Tel Aviv court with having 23 wives and fathering 59 children.  The charges were  multiple counts of sexual assault, rape, sodomy and enslavement.  The charge says that he lived in a compound with the 23 wives, having convinced them that he was omnipotent.  It also says that he “captured the women in a ‘pseudo-family’ structure that revolved around the worship of his image, making the birth of his children a supreme goal that the women must aspire to, and all this was to glorify him while serving and fulfilling all his needs.”  There are allegations of “rape and sodomy of two of his daughters, sexual assault of another daughter, and rape, assault and sodomy of four other girls.”

Other than the horrendous acts themselves, another bad part about this story is that Israeli authorities knew about Ratzon’s “cult” for about 10 years, but thought they had no legal grounds to do anything about it until six months ago and did not arrest him until about one month ago.  According to the officials, the events that occurred to allow them to arrest Ratzon were that they were finally able to convince one woman to file  a complaint and that there was a recent enactment of law against human trafficking that allowed them to pursue enslavement charges.

It sounds strange that there were not any other means for them to pursue an arrest.  Knowing about these alleged offenses for ten years and allowing them to continue is abhorrent.

And finally, note how the CNN story talks about Ratson’s “wives.”  That appears to be sloppy reporting, as there is no indication that Ratzon was legally married to any of the women.  (And if they were legal marriages, how did that ever happen?)  In contrast, the Huffington Post article doesn’t use the term “wives,” but, more accurately (but offensively), refers to the women as a “harem.”

Rape is not Sex: Nassau Jail Edition

A prison guard in Nassau County has been found guilty of raping and sexually assaulting at least 3 female inmates. According to this article, he was charged with:

…three counts of rape, three counts of forcible touching, six counts of promoting prison contraband, 10 counts of sexual abuse and 35 counts of official misconduct…

The officer apparently threatened the inmates if they did not succumb to his advances. He either verbally or physically forced himself on them. And yet, apparently every news story I found about this man contains the word “Sex” in the headline– not “Rape:”

I’m tired of journalists using the word “sex” to mean “rape,” because it’s not the same thing. Sex requires consent, and by using the two terms interchangeably, we’re softening the crime. If the man is being tried for rape, there’s no need for a more innocuous term.

Sen. Schumer calls Flight Attendant “Bitch;” Republicans Invoke…Feminism?

Yesterday on a flight to DC, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer apparently called a flight attendant “bitch,” under his breath. The flight attendant had asked him to turn off his cellphone, and when she turned around, he muttered the insult. He has since apologized.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was apparently seated next to Schumer at the time. Because of this, she’s now under fire by the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Why? Because she hasn’t made a public speech dissecting the incident– beyond the fact that she agrees that Schumer “did the right thing by apologizing.”

Schumer should not have called the flight attendant a “bitch.” The power dynamics involved with a man (especially a man in position of power) using that word for a woman are still serious and problematic, despite an argument that came out of this Jezebel thread (‘Has The Word “Bitch Lost Its Bite?’). Yes, women have started to reclaim the word, and I think that’s great– but that doesn’t make it okay for a male senator (or any man for that matter) to say that to a woman.

However, it’s ridiculously disingenuous for the NRSC to attempt to blame a completely uninvolved party– Sen Gillibrand. When the Republicans seem ‘genuinely’ interested in using feminism to make a political point (hell, I’m wary when most Democrats do it), it’s very frequently disingenuous (and hypocritical). But of course the onus must fall on the woman to illuminate the masses on the dangers of the word “bitch”– even though she had nothing to do with the original incident?

Then there’s, of course, the unacknowledged fact that a junior female senator speaking out against a male senior senator will clearly have personal and political consequences for her. Anytime a woman speaks out in general (i.e., Hillary Clinton during her campaign, or Barbara Boxer’s “ma’am” incident) she is told to “calm down” or faced with opposition because she is “playing the victim.” Of course in a perfect world this wouldn’t be true, and Gillibrand could feel free to speak openly on the issue– but this isn’t reality.

Schumer was at fault here, but apparently the NRSC brushes past this fact, and barely even comments on his actions. The NRSC goes straight to the only female senator who happened to be on the plane. The NRSC writes:

It’s our hope that those womens’ rights organizations that have already endorsed her campaign for the Senate will ask Kirsten Gillibrand why she believes it’s acceptable to call a female flight attendant a “bitch.”

Right, because Gillibrand has somehow shown that she finds this behavior “acceptable?” She has publicly stated Schumer’s apology was the correct thing to do, which leads one to believe she found his initial action unacceptable.

When a man makes a sexist comment to a flight attendant without involving another woman, it is not that woman’s responsibility or fault– it is still the man’s.

What Ever Happened to John Van de Walker?

I have never blogged about .  The Ft. Hood shootings were so tragic and it was, of course, being covered by all the news media.  However, as I write below, there is one failure of the news media that has continued to bother me.

Immediately after it became known that Hasan was a Muslim, there was fear among other Muslims that the shootings would be used to increase the ant-Muslim discrimination in this country.  (For instance, see this Christian Science Monitory article of November 22 about some of the steps taken by the Muslim community so they would not “feel new heat.”  )  That was similar to what happened immediately after the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007, when the Korean-American community rightly was concerned that the actions of one Korean-American would be used to generalize negative feelings to all Korean-Americans.   It became worse for Muslims when the media began to report about Hasan’s religion and his “radicalization.”

But, probably especially because of the large amount of coverage of Hasan’s religion and “radicalization,” it has continued to bother me that there has been almost a complete lack of coverage by the media (other than immediately after the shootings) about the U.S. soldier who had harassed Hasan because of his religion during the weeks and months before the shootings.

The AP reported the following on November 6, one day after the shootings.   Hasan lived in a small apartment complex.  He filed a report with Killeen police on August 16 that said that Hasan’s car, while in the apartment complex, had been “keyed” and had suffered an estimated $1,000 damage.  The manager of the complex said that the person who did the keying was a U.S. soldier named John Van de Walker and that Van de Walker had also removed and tore up a bumper sticker that read “Allah is Love.”  The apartment manager said that “Van de Walker had been in Iraq and was upset to learn that Hasan was Muslim.”

The apartment owner believed that Van de Walker was responsible and evicted him.  Police arrested Van de Walker on October 21 and charged him with criminal mischief.  He was discharged from the Army on October 21, the same day he was arrested.  The media were not able to reach Van de Walker in the days after the shootings, but his mother said that Van de Walker suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and that he had accused Hasan of harassment because “[Hasan] got into John’s face and said that Islam is the answer and that Christians suck.”

So here we have a blatant act of discrimination by Van de Walker that occurred in August and resulted in the arrest of Walker On October 21, 15 days before the shooting.  And yet there was almost no news coverage of it.

I did a simple google news search for “John Van de Walker.”  As far as I can tell, there were a very few news articles (like the ones above) a day or two after the shootings.  (See also this CNN article on November 7 and this from Yahoo News India on November 9.)  The last article I saw was on  November 13 that added that Van de Walker had apologized to Hasan (which I imagine led to Hasan saying (see below) that he forgave Van de Walker) and that the police had not charged Van de Walker with a hate crime.  But that is all of the coverage I could find.

It is, of course, likely that the incidents with Van de Walker had little or nothing to do with Hasan’s mind set at the time of the shootings.  In fact, another apartment complex resident said that she had spoken with Hasan about the keying of his car and that “Hasan didn’t seem too upset that his vehicle was scratched.  ‘He said it was Ramadan and that he had to forgive people. . . He forgave him and moved on.”

But with all of the investigation done by the media, you have to wonder why the possible impact of the incidents with Van de Walker were not written about.  At the very least, if there was media coverage of Van de Walker’s blatant bigotry, it could have drawn some attention to the fact that acts of bigotry can have consequences not just to the person who is discriminated against, but to many others.  In addition, it could have again pointed out that the military has not done a good enough job of caring for returning soldiers and, in particular in this case, of trying to decrease discrimination against Muslims by returning soldiers.