YWCA Blog

The YWCA Knoxville advocates for women from all walks of life and follows cultural trends and legislation that impact our clients and community. You can keep up with some of the issues we care about by subscribing to our blog.

We encourage dialogue, so please feel free to comment.

Are we there yet?

Guest Blogger: Alexandra Brewer

The changing political and social status of women in the US could be likened to a very long car ride. We began the journey at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, where Elizabeth Cady Stanton made the first public pronouncement for women’s suffrage, declaring “that all men and women are created equal.” Supporters faced frequent impediments because they challenged the traditional 19th-century belief that a woman’s proper role was limited to the home and family. Despite these obstacles, women manifested their grievances into a highly organized social movement that spanned for a generation and ultimately won women the vote.

After the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, women continued to organize and collectively challenge aspects of US law and society that they perceived to be unjust or oppressive. Their efforts resulted in victories such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prevents discrimination in employment on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, or religion; the formation of the National Organization for Women; Title IX of the Education Amendments, which prevents discrimination on the basis of sex for educational programs  receiving federal funding; and the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973, which extended a right to privacy under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to a woman’s decision to have an abortion.

Women have made huge inroads in strengthening their political status and autonomy, but the journey, far from complete, hit several bumps in the road in the last year. The Senate failed to secure the 60 votes needed to advance the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have strengthened protections of both the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. Despite the passage of these bills, women continue to earn 77 cents for every dollar that men earn. The Paycheck Fairness Act would require employers to demonstrate that pay discrepancies for the same work are not related to gender; give women more time to sue their employers for pay inequity; prevent companies from retaliating against women who share salary information; and train women on how to negotiate a fair salary. The bill promoted the financial security of women and families, especially in households where women are the primary, or only, breadwinners.

Congress may also vote to limit or withdraw assistance to victims of domestic violence. The Senate recently reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, adding protections for minority victims. The Act was reauthorized amid little controversy in 2000 and 2005 with bipartisan support in both chambers; however, the House of Representatives recently passed a considerably diluted version that would partially dismantle and downgrade resources for the Office on Violence Against Women, impose costly paperwork on agencies, roll back existing provisions that protect minorities, and remove the requirement that victims be notified of housing rights before eviction. Congress must now reconcile the two competing versions. If the House’s bill prevails, it will be a giant step backward for women’s rights.

In addition to these legislative setbacks, women have struggled simply to be heard on issues regarding their own health. Lisa Brown, the state representative for Bloomfield, Michigan, was barred from the state house of representatives after she uttered the word “vagina” during a debate over an anti-abortion bill. Jim Stamas, the floor majority leader, claimed that her usage violated house decorum, and she was silenced for the rest of the debate. During a Congressional hearing in Washington, DC, women were prevented from taking part in panel discussions concerning reproductive health. The panel at the hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reforms concerning the contraceptive coverage rule was entirely composed of men. Senator Patty Murray said that seeing the all-male panel “was like stepping into a time machine and going back fifty years.”

This image reflects a more fundamental problem: the lack of female representation in politics. Although women constitute 51% of the US population, they make up only 17% of Congress, making the US 91st in women’s elected representation worldwide. The political atmosphere continues to thwart women’s political ambition. A report from American University’s Women & Politics Institute found that the gender gap in political ambition is virtually the same now as it was a decade ago because women are more likely to perceive the political environment as hostile towards women and to believe that they are less qualified to run for office than their male counterparts.

Women must collectively overcome their fear and trepidation in order to achieve political equity. In the past, fearless leaders like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, and later Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem stepped forward to improve the status of women despite personal costs. Women need such bold leaders now more than ever to protect progress and make new inroads. Voting is the easiest way to make a difference by supporting politicians who advocate for our rights. We must organize and participate in the political process. Even though the journey is far from over and there are times when we have made a wrong turn at Albuquerque, we are well on our way. As Senator Barbara Mikulski exclaimed on the floor of the Senate, “Put on your lipstick! Square your shoulders! Suit up, and let’s fight for this new American revolution where women are paid equal pay for equal work and let’s end wage discrimination in this century once and for all.” It’s about time….

Alexandra Brewer is a PhD student in the Department of Political Science at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She is a research assistant at the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy and holds a Master’s degree in comparative politics from American University. Her research focuses on collective action, social change, and public policy. 

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Ultimate role models

My mom. My second-grade teacher. My undergraduate thesis advisor. The nonprofit director of my first job out of college. Novelist Alice Walker. Suffragist Alice Paul.

These are just a few of the women who have made a big impact on my life. Some I’ve known intimately and others only on paper.

On August 18, we celebrate the 2011 YWCA Tribute to Women at the Bijou Theatre in downtown Knoxville. This signature event recognizes East Tennessee women who have overcome barriers and helped others overcome—women who embody empowerment, equality, and transformation. The ultimate role models.

One such example is Mary Lou Horner, this year’s recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. She became one of Knox County’s first female commissioners, headed a local paper, and has served on at least a dozen boards, transforming local politics, business, and media at a time when women’s voices were still confined to the private sphere. Thankfully, Ms. Horner would not be confined, and she paved the way for other women.

Some of us have been lucky to know Mary Lou Horner well, while others have learned from her work or followed in her footsteps. But what happens when you don’t have strong women to guide you? Many YWCA clients have never had positive influences in their lives. As a result, they struggle with low self-esteem, have difficulty trusting people, and lack the tools to make healthy decisions. That’s where the YWCA comes in. We give them those tools and show them their potential. And that’s similar to the job of a mentor.

Exposure to role models and mentoring increases self-efficacy. As Kathy Korman Frey of George Washington University frequently points out, research indicates that we need five mentors for “advice, support, problem-solving, coaching, and networking.” If you don’t have a relationship with a mentor and are having trouble finding one, Frey says written mentoring works too. Take my examples of Alice Walker and Alice Paul. After reading the former’s fiction and learning about the latter’s struggle for the vote, I saw the world, and myself, differently. Or check out Frey’s Hot Mommas, which provides exposure to role models by posting inspiring vignettes from women all over the world.

We all need mentors, and we can all be mentors. You don’t have to be at the top of your career to be a role model. Mentorship is about empowerment, and there is always someone behind you needing a hand. Grab that person and take them along with you!

The YWCA is looking for male and female mentors. If you are interested, please contact Hope Robinson, volunteer coordinator, at hrobinson@ywcaknox.com or 865-523-6126. For more information about the 2011 Tribute to Women or to purchase tickets, please call Danielle Benson at 865-523-6126 or visit our website.

–Sara Baker, YWCA Director of Women’s Advocacy and Written Communications

Sara Baker holds an MA in English with Writing Concentration and a BA in English and Religion. Her lifelong commitment to women’s issues includes volunteer work with the Alliance for International Women’s Rights, American Association of University Women, National Conference on Community and Justice, National Network of Presbyterian College Women, University of Tennessee Women’s Coordinating Council, University of Swansea Club W, and Maryville College Sisters in Spirit. Sara has studied African-American women’s literature, women’s roles in world religions, and the status of women in North Indian culture. Through her work at the YWCA, she researches women’s rights, violence against women, women and poverty, and girl empowerment.

How girls’ push-up bras bring us all down

When I was a kid I hated wearing dresses. I wanted nothing more than to live in jeans and a t-shirt, so I could run around, climb trees, and slide into home base. Sure, I played dress-up with my mom’s old clothes, and I could spend hours picking out Barbie’s wardrobe, but I didn’t care what anyone thought of my appearance at nine years old. I didn’t try to look like Barbie in my everyday life because I understood that I was a kid and Barbie was a plastic grown-up who didn’t resemble any actual grown-ups. And I liked being a kid.

Now there are people who look like Barbie (even though they might be more plastic than human), and kids are encouraged to follow suit. Yesterday I heard a small child complaining that a particular dress would make her look fat. I’ve seen string bikinis for toddlers, push-up bras and high heels for seven-year-old girls, insultingly sexual t-shirt slogans, and lots of shorts that stop just above the behind. (Girls, if you’re wondering if you’re hanging out of these shorts, you are!)

A friend of mine was fed up with her tween stepdaughter’s push-up bras, so she took her shopping for more age-appropriate undergarments, only to find that they don’t exist. A quick look at Target’s website shows a wide variety of girls’ demi-bras. This is a type of bra that emphasizes cleavage and allows women to wear low-cut tops. So why do ten-year olds need them? Or sixteen-year olds for that matter?

I don’t know when it became the norm for girls and women of all ages and sizes to wear push-up bras, but we’ve gone far beyond that by sexualizing little girls. Aren’t we a society that abhors pedophilia? Don’t we believe that girls can do anything? That they don’t have to rely on men to provide for them? So why are we pushing them to be sexy at such an early age?

On CNN.com, LZ Granderson blames parents for buying these clothes, and Jennifer Moses has mixed feelings on the subject in the Wall Street Journal. Is it a mother-daughter bonding thing? Are parents acting like best friends instead of parents? Are they living vicariously?

Studies by the American Psychological Association reveal that early sexualization negatively affects cognitive function, eating disorders, low-self esteem, depression, and sexual health in girls. It can ultimately lead to serious social problems, including “an increase in sexism; fewer girls pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); increased rates of sexual harassment and sexual violence; and an increased demand for child pornography.”

So what can we do? Stop buying these products, for one thing. Check out businesses such as Pigtail Pals, which aims to “redefine girly,” and campaigns like Let Girls Be Girls. More importantly, instead of taking your daughter shopping this weekend, read together. Go to a museum. Balance your checkbook while she does her math homework and say, “Work that quadratic equation, girl!”

Written by: Sara Baker

Sara Baker is the director of outcomes/grant management and the Big Read coordinator for the YWCA Knoxville. She holds an MA in English and Creative Writing from the University of Tennessee and a BA in English and Religion from Maryville College. She has worked as a writer, English instructor, and AmeriCorps VISTA. Sara grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and has lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Swansea, Wales; and Wroclaw, Poland. Her lifelong commitment to women’s issues includes volunteer work with the Alliance for International Women’s Rights, American Association of University Women, YWCA Knoxville Y-Teens, National Conference on Community and Justice, National Network of Presbyterian College Women, University of Tennessee Women’s Coordinating Council, University of Swansea Club W, and Maryville College Sisters in Spirit. Sara has studied African American women’s literature, women’s roles in world religions, and the status of women in Northern Indian culture. Through her work at the YWCA, she researches issues affecting women, such as homelessness, domestic violence, leadership, and empowerment.

Did you know that strangulation is not a felony?

In Tennessee strangulation is a misdemeanor, which shocks people every time I say it. But it’s true.

At least 26 states have passed tougher laws regarding strangulation, and many others are following suit. This afternoon the Tennessee Senate Judicial Committee will consider SB 0476, introduced by outgoing Senator Jamie Woodson. The bill “adds attempting or intending to cause bodily injury by strangulation to the definition of aggravated assault.”

Studies show that non-fatal strangulation is a major risk factor for homicide of women. One survey of women who were victims of domestic violence revealed that 68% experienced strangulation from their abuser. Half of the time there are no visible injuries.

It’s possible to survive strangulation, think you’re fine, and then die weeks later because of brain damage due to lack of oxygen and other internal injuries. Symptoms such as difficulty breathing, hoarse voice, coughing, difficulty swallowing, swollen tongue or lips, drooling, nausea, vomiting, hallucinations, headaches, dizziness, and miscarriage may be indications of an internal injury such as swelling, bleeding, fractured larynx, seizures, or pulmonary edema.

Obviously, there are ethical reasons for preventing strangulation, but the financial argument is also compelling.

In 2010, 76% of YWCA Victim Advocacy Program clients were low income or extremely low income, which means they were unlikely to have insurance. Since many would have been on TennCare, strangulation resulting in medical services would be a direct cost to the state. Without the abuser going to prison, in most cases it can be extremely difficult for the victim to leave, which means repeat abuse and repeat medical services. Health care costs not covered by TennCare are an indirect drain on the state because high out-of-pockets costs leave individuals less to spend on products and services, meaning a decrease in sales tax revenue. In 2004, the TN Economic Council on Women estimated Tennessee’s DV-related medical and value of life costs to be $87,157,848.

When one parent kills the other, children are left behind. The minimum cost to place a child in state custody and provide basic counseling and testing is $5000 per month. And the ripple effect is huge. Such children are likely to continue the cycle of violence by becoming victims or abusers themselves, and mental illness and behavioral problems such as school dropout, addiction, and criminal activity are common. Sadly, up to 93% of US youth entering the juvenile justice system annually experienced trauma prior to incarceration (such as witnessing violence or losing a parent) compared to 14-34% among all children. Children in homes where domestic violence occurs are physically abused or seriously neglected at a rate 1500% higher than the national average.

Since strangulation is likely to lead to homicide, it’s important that we look at how murder affects the US economy. A recent Iowa State study shows that the average cost per murder exceeds $17.25 million in terms of victim costs, criminal justice costs, lost offender productivity, and public willingness-to-pay costs.

That’s a mighty hefty community problem, and strangulation is part of it

Written by: Sara Baker, Director of Women’s Advocacy and Written Communications

Sara Baker holds an MA in English and Creative Writing from the University of Tennessee and a BA in English and Religion from Maryville College. She has worked as a writer, English instructor, and AmeriCorps VISTA. Sara grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and has lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Swansea, Wales; and Wroclaw, Poland. Her lifelong commitment to women’s issues includes volunteer work with the Alliance for International Women’s Rights, American Association of University Women, YWCA Knoxville Y-Teens, National Conference on Community and Justice, National Network of Presbyterian College Women, University of Tennessee Women’s Coordinating Council, University of Swansea Club W, and Maryville College Sisters in Spirit. Sara has studied African American women’s literature, women’s roles in world religions, and the status of women in Northern Indian culture. Through her work at the YWCA, she researches issues affecting women, such as homelessness, domestic violence, leadership, and empowerment.

Holiday Shopping on a Budget

It’s that time of the year again. Time to buy the gifts and spend the money that us college students don’t have. Every year I face the dilemma of how to buy my friends and family great gifts while still being able to afford to eat during the month of January. Believe it or not, there are great ways to save money throughout the month and still give great gifts.

A couple of years ago, my friends and I decided to start doing a Secret Santa Christmas. Secret Santa is a great way to bring everyone together for a good time while only having to buy one gift. This way, it is easier to spend a little bit more money on that one gift for your friend instead of buying a gift for everyone. Secret Santa is fun and affordable and one of the best ways to save money during the holiday season.

Because college students are often times in a hurry to get shopping done, we don’t want to take the time to seek out the discounts and sales going on around town. However, the newspaper and local magazines always have coupons and advertisements for sales that are currently going on. If you take about 20 minutes out of your morning to browse through the paper, it is easy to locate where the good deals are. Also, don’t forget to look on the stores Website. Many stores have amazing online discounts that you can’t find in the store. It is easy to buy in bulk online and, a lot of times, you can find free shipping during the holidays. Another tip that I find helpful when shopping on a budget is to always make a list of what you are looking for before you head to the mall. If you go to the mall without any idea of what you are looking for, it will take more time and the chances of spending more money are very high.

Lately, I have been consumed with “Do It Yourself” blogs. They have awesome ideas and concepts for holiday decorating and gift giving. DIY projects are fun and usually cheaper than buying the finished product in the store. Even if you are not a crafty person, these Websites have step-by-step directions to the projects. Not only are these gifts fun to make and give to people, but by making it yourself, it has more sentimental value attached to it. There is always a feeling of accomplishment after taking the time to make your own gifts to give to family and friends.

Holiday shopping on a budget can be scary but it is do-able, and you can save money without skimping on quality. By taking the extra time to find sales and discounts, you can save a bunch. For great DIY ideas for gifts, visit http://www.creaturecomfortsblog.com or http://www.pepperdesignblog.com. And don’t forget to make your own Christmas cards for everyone!

Devon Turner, YWCA Public Relations Intern
“I am currently a senior at the University of Tennessee and I will receive my Bachelor of Science degree in Communications with a major in Public Relations with a minor in French. I am originally from Charlotte, North Carolina but I have lived in Knoxville for four years. I love to travel around with my friends and family and make memories that will last forever.

When I graduate, I plan to move back to Charlotte for a while then I would love to go explore the West Coast. I love dogs, surrounding myself around good people, and listening to interesting music.”

YWCA Tribute To Women Honoree Highlight

2008 Human Service Tribute Honoree


Name: Loida C. Velázquez
Job Title: Program Director (retired)
Company Name: University of Tennessee

Activities: Board Member United Way of Knoxville; Knoxville Museum of Art Trustee; Board Member Regional American Red Cross Knoxville Area Chapter; Founding Board Member of The Race Relations Center of East Tennessee; Board Member First Tennessee Bank Community Council; Member Nine Counties One Vision Diversity and Human Relations Committee; HOLA: Hora Latina President (2005-2006); Chair Education Committee 2008; Faculty Advisor Lambda Theta Alpha Sorority, UT Chapter.
Affiliations and Honors: Selected Honorary Chair for the YWCA 2007 Race against Racism,; Leadership Knoxville 2004 graduate; Received Service Award after completing three year as the President of the HEP and CAMP Association 1998-2001; Outstanding Adult Education Student 1994; Received the 1994 National Rural Education Dissertation Award.

Loida C. Velázquez, Ed.D.

Loida C. Velázquez professional life has been dedicated to the service of marginalized populations. It started in her native Puerto Rico with her participation in the establishment of one of the first Head Start programs in the island and culminated at the University of Tennessee as the Principal Investigator and Project Director of a federally-funded program serving migrant and seasonal farmworkers in North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. In between, there were stints as a counselor and Vocational Manager at the Knoxville Job Corp Center and as the East Tennessee Coordinator for the state agency providing advocacy to people with disabilities. A member of the first wave of Latinos settling in the South, she naturally assumed the role of leader and role model to the new immigrants populating the region. A graduate of Leadership Knoxville Class of 2004, she in turn prepared leaders within the Latino community as coordinator for the UT Institute for Public Service Leadership Plenty classes in 2006 and 2007. But the role that she enjoys best is that of grandmother because it gives her the opportunity to connect her 5 grandchildren with her Latino culture.

Living a healthy lifestyle during your college years

In college, it becomes increasingly hard to maintain a daily exercise schedule and a healthy diet. Females are constantly being faced with pressures to look good and be in good physical shape. I think the question every woman faces, including myself, is how do you find time and money to eat healthy and work out while facing the everyday challenge of classes, schoolwork, and a job?

It is so easy to hit the snooze button on your alarm clock in the morning, but I find that when I get up early in the morning to work out, I have more energy and I am generally happy the rest of the day. While sleeping in everyday is tempting, it usually leaves you feeling lethargic and is even harder to get out of bed.

A good work out does not have to be running five miles with the track team. Going on a brisk walk for thirty minutes around your apartment complex or around a local park is all you need. Anything to get my blood flowing and raise my heart beat a little always makes me feel better. Also, as you get into a routine with this, you can easily work your way up to running a few miles instead of walking.

You should also set attainable goals for yourself, such as, only working out three days a week then working up to four, five, even six days. It is always important to let your body rest at least one day a week, so choose your favorite day to be lazy and don’t work out!

Now to the fun part, food! First things first: stop eating out every day. This will not only help you save tons of money, but it will decrease the amount of calories you unknowingly intake. Go grocery shopping and stock up on delicious, healthy food. Buy things that you know you will want to eat later. What I like to do is buy a bag of frozen chicken breast, put them all in individual baggies, and sauté the chicken with vegetables and my favorite sauce for dinner.

Don’t underestimate the importance of breakfast. Breakfast jump-starts your metabolism and gives you energy for the rest of the day. Cereal, oatmeal, scrambled eggs and fruit are all tasty options for breakfast that will easily satisfy your breakfast craving and get your metabolism going.

Keeping a healthy lifestyle in college can definitely be a challenge but I think that with these easy tips, you can work your way into a good routine that will be manageable through your college years. You should also check out this website that I found specifically for women’s health: http://www.youngwomenshealth.org/college101.html.

Devon Turner, YWCA Public Relations Intern
“I am currently a senior at the University of Tennessee and I will receive my Bachelor of Science degree in Communications with a major in Public Relations with a minor in French. I am originally from Charlotte, North Carolina but I have lived in Knoxville for four years. I love to travel around with my friends and family and make memories that will last forever.

When I graduate, I plan to move back to Charlotte for a while then I would love to go explore the West Coast. I love dogs, surrounding myself around good people, and listening to interesting music.”

Are We Stepping into ‘The Age of Women’?

Are We Stepping into ‘The Age of Women’?

After a long history of inequality, women may surpass men afterall

While women have struggled for centuries to have equality with men, some wonder if women will surpass men in modern postindustrial society. The question, “What if equality isn’t the end point?” was posed by Hanna Rosin in a provactive article in The Atlantic Monthly. According to Rosin, for the first time in U.S. history, women became the majority of the workforce earlier this year.

Legendary biologist Ronald Ericsson, who’s claim to fame is the creation of the first scientifically prove method for choosing the sex of a child, said people are now requesting children of the female sex, a dramatic shift in age-old human history. Ericsson said, “Women live longer than men. They do better in this economy. More of ‘em graduate from college. They go into space and do everything men do, and sometimes they do it a whole lot better. I mean, hell, get out of the way- these females are going to leave us males in the dust.”
The shift in gender preferences is not just in the U.S. Rigid patriarchal societies, such as South Korea, have seen a rapid and immense advancement in women in the workforce. Where women were once ostracized for not bearing sons, daughters seem to now hold the cards to success.

Rosin brings up a trying question: what if the modern, postindustrial economy is simply more congenial to women than to men? Moreover, what if the economics of the new era are better suited to women? Currently, women dominate the majority of job categories projected to have the most growth in the next decade.

You can access Rosin’s full-length July 2010 article in the archives on The Atlantic’s website. She delves into stereotypes and trends, all while posing some good food for thought.

Written by: Katherine Neunaber, YWCA Senior Public Relations Intern

Racism in Staffing of Essence’s Fashion Director: Yes or No?

The traditionally Black magazine, Essence, has hired a White Fashion Director, Elliana Placas. Not a big deal? Many of the loyal readers think it is. Fashion media personality Najwa Moses asked, “How can a White woman dictate and decide what style and beauty is for the Black Woman?” according to a Huffington Post article.

Is this an issue of racism? Or are there grey areas to be considered? Tell us what you think.

Double Beauty Standards

When was the last time you saw a fit, attractive man with a chubby and witty wife on a TV sitcom? Do you ever wonder why women in the spotlight are expected to be skinny, beautiful and charming? Why aren’t men expected to hold the same beauty standards as women? It seems our society is obsessed with ideal female beauty, while standards for men fall short.

Newsweek published an interesting article discussing this very issue. Playfully written, the article goes into a set of grooming “rules” for men. Weekly forearm waxing, tummy tucks and ab work, heel or leg extenders for short guys and many more entertaining yet unsettlingly accurate points are addressed for the men’s new “rules.”

Beauty maintenance is just one more aspect about gender inequality in society today. Though not as serious of an issue as others, it holds as an interesting discussion.

Read the full Newsweek article: http://www.newsweek.com/2010/07/19/man-up.html

eliminating racism. empowering women. ywca knoxville.