When I was abroad in England, I came across the word “partners” a lot. Everyone I met seemed to call their significant other their “partner” (except for one woman, who called her husband her “better half”). I came from a context where it seemed most people who called their significant other their “partner” were in same-sex relationships. So for a while, I walked around thinking everyone I met in England was gay.
I soon found out, however, that “partner” is the more colloquial term used in England, even in heterosexual relationships. This small shift opened my eyes to what I could learn from other cultures, and was not the only cultural difference around sex and relationships I learned about while traveling abroad.
When I went to Amsterdam, I went to the Red Light District, where brothels, “coffee shops,” (legal weed dispensers), peep shows and sex shops abound. The name of "Red Light District" comes from the red neon lights that spotlight the 300 windows where women are working. There’s even a museum about the history of Amsterdam's sex-work industry, called Red Light Secrets, complete with testimonials, exhibits, and confessionals. I learned about the reasons people go into sex work (some do it to pay off student loans), and about the difference between voluntary sex work and exploitation.
Though sex work is still illegal in my home country, the United States, in Amsterdam people are incredibly open about these services. Women literally advertise their services by dancing scantily clad in the windows of buildings (they’re called “window prostitutes”).
Since October 2000, window prostitutes have been allowed to legally offer their services. Today, sex workers in the Netherlands also pay taxes. Since prostitution is now a legal profession, the Dutch government ensures that all sex workers have access to medical care and can work in better conditions by regulating and monitoring working practices and standards.
Though I’m not sure how day-to-day interactions go when these women tell people they are sex workers, it seems that the practice de-stigmatizes sex as taboo and gives women a full sense of their autonomy. The women are respected; their work is seen as a job. It is illegal to harass or take pictures of the women in the windows as well.
Something interesting about the Red Light District is the rising number of male prostitutes. While historically, women have far outnumbered men in Amsterdam’s sex work industry, that is starting to change. However, the only male prostitutes available in the Red Light District are for gay men. My immediate reaction to this fact is that I find it unsettling that women’s bodies are monetized and objectified for men, while the reverse is not true. It seems that the male gaze is always present, and the idea of a market existing in which women were the customers is not taken seriously.
But perhaps I need to remember that this is a choice for the women who engage in sex work, and many have found ways to draw empowerment from it. Additionally, this practice revealed to me that in the end, there is nothing mystical or magical about women’s bodies. As long as what they are doing is consensual, there is nothing wrong or dirty about it.
I learned a lot from this experience. I had already learned that as a feminist, it’s important to support sex workers and the decriminalization of sex work. To see a culture where that ideal is put into action, however, altered my perspective. I began looking up ways to educate myself further and support sex workers. If you want to learn more, check out Sex Workers Outreach Project-USA, a national social justice network dedicated to protecting the human rights of sex workers and ending violence and stigma through education and advocacy. The best first step is educating yourself, and then supporting measures that decriminalize sex work (which is very different from legalizing it). Fun fact- Washington, D.C. may soon be the first place in the United States to decriminalize sex work!
I’m still working out what I think about sex as a job. But wandering the streets of Amsterdam, and learning about what legalized sex work really looks like, I was able to think critically about the ways I still subconsciously associate sex with something sacred and “dirty” at the same time. Even as I grapple with these conceptions of sex work, I walked away from the Red Light District with a new understanding.
So I implore you to do the same. Think about your own conceptions of sex, sex work, and sex workers, and ask yourself if you know fully what “my body, my choice” really means.
By Caitlin Panarella
Reports offered that 51 percent of the wage gap narrowed in 2018. Despite these numbers, researchers still project that factors such as political empowerment, educational attainment, and health are growing at a backwards rate, stifling the wage gap and causing women to fall short to their male counterparts.
According to The Columbus Dispatch, the city’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion reported increases in the city’s investment in women-run businesses. As of 2017, the city saw the highest rate of contracted companies with women as their heads in recent history. The department is said to be working closely with local businesses to focus on implementing diversity training, but some groups are questioning how much change these tactics are bringing about.
Women in law firms are reporting that a grey line exists with sexual assault committed by clients seeking counsel from law companies. Many women working at these firms note that they are too afraid to report any inappropriate behavior committed by clients because they fear their claims will be overlooked.
In an alarming studying conducted by the Times UK, researchers found that people are more likely to recommend a male counterpart for a job when asked to think of a recommendation. This, the study finds, is due to the fact that women have been socially stigmatized as knowing less and holding familial roles.
The MLB’s Diversity and Inclusion team has set out to involve more women in the industry. The team’s initiative is to bring a larger amount of diversity to the table in hopes of showcasing different talents throughout the MLB company. Sixty women, with experience in both baseball and softball, were invited to a two-day event where they are able to showcase their talents in either playing, coaching, or scouting.
After 25 years of friendship, Judith Balcazar and Anne Davidson joined forces to create a pair of underwear for women post bladder surgery. Balcazar, who recently had bladder surgery, felt that other women might share her insecurities and decided to create what are known as “Giggle Knickers” for women who experience post-surgery complications.
Naziya Basharmal was keen on starting her own tailoring business in the Kandahar province despite having only 800 dollars to start up her company two years prior. Her persistence kept her company alive amidst the conservative providence, pushing herself to go beyond gender barriers established in her community.
GIGO: Garbage In, Garbage Out. A common concept often used in computer programming. Now though, it has been coined by sociological analysts to explain a common phenomenon in business: if something starts off with bad information or intentions, it will ultimately end up going to bad places.
Chelsea Whelan is Tasmania’s first woman to enroll in a bricklaying apprenticeship. After working in many different fields, Whelan decided that her original goal was what she needed to be investing her time in. Late last year, Whelan enrolled in her apprenticeship where she follows in the footsteps of her father and grandfather before her.
In a conversation with high school athletes at Santa Barbara High School in California, female firefighters encouraged young women to enter the public service career path. Specifically, the Montecito Fire Protection District suggested that women look into working on the firefighting force to increase female leadership in public safety.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is taking initiative to expand their college of business for female entrepreneurs. Currently, their business school is only 33 percent female, following the historically old trend of male dominance in business. Women in the college are speaking out from all ends, from deans to first-year students, they are working to highlight the extensive research and dedication done by women involved in the program. Students are commending the college for making sure women are represented across the board. Women sit as recruitment advisors, associate deans, and esteemed researchers. Kathryn Warner Brightbill told Daily Nebraska of her troubles with gender and career, while also highlighting the successes she’s seen in progressiveness. Warner Brightbill stated that her accounting department is one of the most progressive she’s seen, with women at the forefront of every aspect. She stated that the university and her female colleagues inspired her to keep working on expanding female involvement in the college.
Girl scouts in Connecticut are engaging in various workshops showcasing different kinds of construction or development jobs after high school graduation. Building trades in the state are working to include women in the construction industry by exposing young girls in girl scout organizations to electric work, metal cutting, and carpentry. The event was initially reserved for boy scout troops, but with the female representation in these occupations at only 3.2 percent, the state decided to open the workshop to local girl scout troops. The troops are exposed to different tasks required from the jobs, and also provides virtual simulations for more hazardous tasks like crane use. Young girls remarked that the workshop was empowering because they were able to meet with women in the job.
The famous car service Uber partnered with the wildly popular company Girl Boss to put more women in executive positions. Girl Boss works to inform and empower women everywhere by providing podcasts and information on women’s accomplishments around the world. This October, the companies held a contest where women were invited to submit business ideas on a ten slide pitch deck. The idea stemmed out of the hit show Shark Tank and aims to close the entrepreneur gap in gender. Women who are finalists in the contest are flown out to New York City where they are invited to pitch their idea to a panel of big-name investors. Jen Rubio is said to be the judge of each business idea and will help find more investors and executives to grow the winner’s business. Uber donated the prize money to finalists in hopes of helping them start on their journey into the C-Suite.
As only the third woman in history to receive a Nobel prize, Donna Strickland yearns for more woman, like herself, to earn the honor. Strickland’s initial reaction to finding out she was only the third woman in history to receive the award left her dumbfounded and sparked a conversation about women’s underrepresentation. She told Now Toronto that she did not put her gender into account when following her dreams and stuck to her work ethic and drive while doing rigorous research. According to the article, women are paving a path for young women in a number of fields but are not being acknowledged for their hard work and determination. The belief that older generations must mentor and guide more young women in their fields is important to Strickland and her work.
Research conducted by the Chicago Tribune shows that women in the workplace are experiencing increased discrimination and wage loss because of breastfeeding. Women have been speaking out about this issue due to the implementation of pods for women to breastfeed in and the accommodation of men’s discomfort over women’s comfort. NPR producer Alexis Diao states that there is an “intense pressure” to prove that women are working at the same level as they were before childbirth and breastfeeding. The “unforgiving culture” in the workplace causes a big increase in the wage gap for women bearing children. An incompatibility with breastfeeding and maternal responsibility is hindering women’s chances to succeed in the workplace after choosing to have a family. Past studies have shown that women who breastfed their children less or not at all experienced a smaller wage loss than those women who breastfed frequently.
Earlier this week, India took initiatives to promote workplace safety for women. Sexual harassment in the workplace has become a central issue in the country’s legislature, and officials are keen on mending this problem. The law states that a current female staff member in a senior executive position acts as an officer to the women in the office to provide a safe, consistent voice if need be. This officer is joined by a committee of women in the workplace who are committed to and passionate about keeping their co-workers safe. Any female employee is allowed to confide in the committee or officer about any uncomfortable behavior or harassment she may experience.
At a conference in Hong Kong, 50 female scholars from around the world gathered to speak about oppression in their career paths. The male-dominated engineering industry is reaching out to interested young women in hopes of encouraging them to pursue careers in the field. The conference focused on helping young women succeed in any male-dominated industry related to engineering. Many women came forward with stories about their career paths and how being married or having a family were main concerns from their personal mentors. The conference secured that six top ranked universities would pledge to diversify their programs and also hold themselves accountable for the retention rate of women in these specific majors.
A new study conducted by Market Watch found that the distribution of small tasks around the office exacerbates the gender wage gap. In an interview, researchers found that women are more likely to be treated like interns or asked to do menial tasks when reporting to male authority figures. The research team also used an app called Hive that encouraged women to track their daily tasks and describe their workplace. This highlighted the study’s initial finding of women being left to do things like “grunt work” and “non-promotable” projects. For privacy, the app left off the names of the companies but assured researchers that the results show gender barriers in the workplace as a multifaceted issue. A number of women came forward after the results to share their own stories. One woman noted that it was an “unspoken” rule that she clean up after her male counterparts, even their own personal workstations, after other employees left work.
The Guardian recently highlighted successful women in the construction industry. In interviews, the women noted that the construction sector of the workforce is becoming more female friendly, as uniforms become more accommodating and leaders encourage more women to pursue the career path. Women in STEM and engineering roles have been going to schools to talk to young women about the culture shift in construction and how they can get involved. These women believe it is important for the younger generation not to fear going into the industry because of social constructs surrounding the job. One woman, Dimitra Koutsi, noted that she wants young women to understand the satisfaction of the job and how they can impact people's lives. She said that construction changes people’s quality of life and that pride exudes from this type of labor.