Human Sex Trafficking

I’m making RNA-seq libraries which means I’m churning through audiobooks. In my view, this is the best way of keeping my mind occupied while processing many samples over countless hours of tedious repetitive tasks. I recently finished a biography of John D. Rockefeller and quickly became bored with a book on brand relevance and decided to delve into a book recommended to me by a high school friend on women’s issues abroad.

“Half the Sky” tells the stories of oppressed women around the world. Slowly but surely we can tear down the systematic and institutionalized oppression of women at home and abroad, where the issues grow in severity from unequal pay and representation to blatant gendericide, denied access to healthcare or education, economic entrapment, rape, and forced prostitution.

I went into instant injustice rage anger and frustration mode when I heard the detailed and personalized story of a young girl coerced at a young age into the industry of human sex trafficking. Many of these girls are sold and then beaten and raped into submission, economically trapped, socially stigmatized, and drugged or kept dependent on drugs to encourage compliance.

Most infuriating moment thus far: in a conversation with a border guard (i think?) one of the investigators asks why not crack down on human trafficking? The border guard responds that prostitution has always existed in every country, always. So why bother? What else are the young men to do between the ages of 18 to 30 when they are married? These girls are poverty stricken young girls from the country side, nobodies. no one cares about them. they are sacrificed so that the ‘good middle class girls’ can retain their virtue. 😡

What are the boys supposed to do? How about control your urges! Channel that energy into production, or fall in love with a girl (or boy) and become a responsible, mature adult committed to that person and building a life for yourselves. Not someone who learns to hate and despise the people you participate in sexual acts with! Talk about set up for marital distress later on. And I can’t even begin to comment on the idea of poor girls from the country being appropriate sacrifices because they inherently lack worth. Disgusting.

I think this is exactly what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was talking about when she said that girls are taught we cannot be sexual beings in the same way boys are, or that we have such a low opinion of men that we think they are incapable of all self control.

If all brothels were run by ambitious, educated, sexually safe and entrepreneuring nymphomaniacs then perhaps my tune would change.

I’m only a few chapters in, so I’ll report back with more.

For more about the book, click here.

For more about the movement and how you can help, click here.


Let’s have a discussion about toy marketing

Last Christmas I was tasked with buying my young cousins (one boy, one girl) some stocking stuffer-esque presents to entertain them during the family get-together. I still feel very much in tune with my kid-self, and I was excited to browse through the toy aisles and consider what I want (er, would want if I was 8). Being the grad student that I am, I naturally procrastinated my one Christmas shopping task until almost too late, and ended up running to Target 30 minutes before they closed the night before the family gathering.

What I found as I drifted through the three aisles dedicated to children’s toys was appalling. I wanted to find a toy for girls that promoted either physical or intellectual activity and was not a toxic shade of pink or purple. I wanted to find a toy for boys that didn’t condone violence. Besides board or cardgames, I had literally zero options in the toy section. I considered school supplies and crafts, but realized that purchasing a tye-dye kit would make assumptions involving spills and mess that I couldn’t vouch for to the kids’ parents. So, I ended up buying gender-neutral gift cards so my cousins could choose for themselves how they wanted to spend the gift, and my aunts and uncles could oversee the purchases.

I left feeling both indignantly angry at the status quo of societal cues about gender norms to kids at such a young age, and disappointed in a market economy that perpetuates these cycles.

Having recently watched all the viral goldie blox ads, and remembering paper ads from when I was a kid for rock crystal growing kits or chemistry sets, I was so excited to see a change for the best in toy aisles. But, like many secluded academics who have to eventually leave their ivory towers to buy toys in the real world, I was disappointed in how toy companies will increase the gender gap and perpetuate horrible stereotypes in order to expand their market.

A couple weeks later, this article summed up my thoughts nicely:

“Children haven’t changed, but adults who market to them have… What do we have to lose, besides stereotypes?”

It’s nice to see some toymakers can actually be creative and socially-conscious  in their market-carving exploits. I hope they find the market amenable to their efforts (this one’s on the adults buying the toys, though).

Average Barbie
Image credit: Nickolay Lamm

 I’m not in a regular toy-buying position, but I feel like a major paradigm shift in (gender based) marketing strategies could not only enact social change but would be extremely well received. Why aren’t we seeing more of this? Why aren’t adults creating this demand? (I’m really tempted to end this with: FOR THE CHILDREN).

Why women still can(‘t) have it all ?!!!

We are back from break.

We decided to reread Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” published in the Atlantic in the summer of 2012.  One of her arguments is that the difference between the maternal and paternal bond is the reason that a woman is more likely than a man to sacrifice career for family.

It is often claimed that “biology” is the reason for the difference between the maternal and paternal bond.  This is only a hypothesis and we don’t see how it can ever be proven.  This is because we cannot separate nature from nurture.

Many factors could be considered as parents decide how to balance their career and family responsibilities.  They might consider career flexibility, career trajectory, and income as well as the preferences of the individuals.  We believe that the construction of gender in our society affects all of these variables and we that this construction is manmade.

[insert title that someone wants and is completely inappropriate]

We are sitting around our breakfast table, drinking warm apple cider and de-stressing with a very intense conversation:

1. Can you be a feminist if you are economically dependent on a man?

2. What if we had artificial wombs? Would it make the world more feminist? Is there something wrong with wanting men and women to be more equal with respect to child-bearing (perhaps somewhat literally)?

3. How do you separate biology from society? Paternal instincts, maternal instincts…how real are these things in modern society?

4. Isn’t it weird that women can’t go shirtless and men can [yes, we know it is weird, but why???]?

5. Do women on average need more positive feedback than men? Is this something to feel ashamed of or need to fix?

6. Would anyone watch Big Bang Theory if Penny was actually a “dumb blonde” male and the lead scientists were all <badass> nerdy women? Why not? [actually, we could totally pull this off….just need to find a dumb blonde male – please post applications 🙂 ]