Superwoman Revisited: How one Mexican mayor stood against corruption, and paid the price.

Maria Santos Gorrostieta, former mayor of the Mexican town of Tiquicheo, was known not simply for being a major politician and mother of three, but for her unabashed stance against corruption and crime during her time in office from 2008-2011. She survived two assassination attempts, one of which claimed her husband and left her with dramatic scars, and still continued to fight against the cartels which dominate many Mexican cities. Recently, the cartels decided to exact their revenge.

It may sound like a Hollywood plot, but these events were all too real for Gorrostieta, who was recently cornered by thugs while driving her daughter to school, pulled from her vehicle, and beaten in the street. Begging her attackers to spare her daughter, she got into their white van without protest, and wasn’t seen again until several days later, when her mutilated body was found in a ditch a few days later. According to the New York Post:

Parts of Mexico have become a no-man’s-land, where legal authorities fear to tread and death comes cheap. Over the weekend, 19 bodies were found in the northern border state of Chihuahua, including those of eight people who had been tortured and killed on Friday. Many of the dead have been victims of the drug cartels, which have increasingly included elected and appointed officials. Since Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched a war on the cartels six years ago, about two dozen mayors have been murdered.

Gorrostieta was one of at least seven women who were willing to serve as mayors or police chiefs. Two of them, Hermila Garcia Quinones and Silvia Molina, were assassinated. A third, Erika Gandara, was kidnapped and is feared dead, and a fourth, Marisol Valles Garcia, 21, left her job and fled to the United States.

Obviously, it is an utter tragedy that the spirit of chaos reigns supreme in Mexico. One must wonder if the security detail and police escort, which were pulled after Gorrostieta left her position, would have saved her life. It is a shame that a woman so fearless essentially had to choose between WitSec and death, all because she refused to be bullied by local crime lords. She stands as an example of integrity and courage for all world leaders, and, in fact, for all of us.

Design Elements in FAQ Pages

Ah, the FAQ page. The forgotten runt of the web design litter. Almost as overlooked as the 404 Error page, it often sits alone in a dark, little-used corner, stripped of individuality and flair. Users who hit up the FAQ page are usually looking for help, and only stay until they’ve found what they need. But does that mean that these pages somehow don’t matter, or don’t need to be concerned with elements and principle of design? Not at all! Here are three strong examples:

  1. Youtube.
    YouTube’s page is straightforward and intuitive, with a search bar on the top, categories in a sidebar differentiated by a grey gradient, and answers provided in convenient drop-down style boxes. This, in my opinion, is critical. It’s extremely distracting to send your users away from your page with every single answer you provide, and YouTube avoids this problem with clever coding.
  2. Vimeo.

    Vimeo is perhaps the world’s most elegantly designed video website, built in the spirit of aesthetic minimalism. Their FAQ page is no different, with helpful categories linking to well-written tidbits answering common questions. It also wisely offers other resources, including forum topics and tutorials for those seeking extra help.

  3. Woot!

    Woot! is the quirky king of the online shopping world, offering one-day-only sales on novelty items, t-shirts, and electronics. Their FAQ page is a mixed bag: it features large blocks of text that don’t skim easily, and lacks a search bar. On the other hand, however, it demonstrates a critical component of the design process. The infusion of personality, something many web designers and copywriters often forget, is the crux of their brand, and their writing shows it. It’s clever, playful, and successful despite the construction of the rest of the page.

Prof Encourages Student Snitches to Monitor Laptop Use

If you’ve been in a college classroom in the last five years, you’ve more than likely seen it before: a student sits down for the lecture, opens their laptop, and… logs into Facebook. 20 minutes later, they still haven’t opened their notes; now they’re watching a Youtube video of a fat kid attempting a backflip and failing miserably. A few people around them chuckle in unison. Microeconomics is no match for the power of the Internet!

Many professors have been frustrated by this trend of distraction, and have opted to ban laptop use in classrooms in order to maintain order and focus. Unfortunately, this also means repercussions for students who use their laptops to take notes or look up context for lecture material. One educator, however, went a different route. At York University in Toronto, professor Henry Kim has begun asking students to snitch on nearby laptop users’ browsing activities when he suspects they aren’t on task.

“There’s not an ounce of scientific evidence that students can actually multi-task and learn,” argued Kim, who is not against technology in learning… “but our addiction to technology is like a powerful drug…”

“It’s not meant to be punitive — it’s almost like a thought experiment, and the whole point is to create a new social norm in my class,” said Kim, “where using the laptop in distracting ways is embarrassing not just for you, but for other students who may be asked to report on you.”

This method strikes an interesting balance between allowing technology in the classroom and controlling its use, and creates new questions about the nature of privacy in educational settings. No professor could get away with asking students to read aloud the content of other students’ notebooks or describe their doodles, but would certainly call someone out for reading a magazine during class; does the new highly-connected medium mean that students forfeit the right to content privacy? Though perusing Facebook, Pinterest, and Youtube during class is absolutely rude to the professor and potentially distracting to nearby students, I’m not sure it’s worth the interruption and humiliation created by asking one student what another is doing with their class time.

A better method, I think, would be to divide class seating between laptop users and non-laptop users, or suggest that students move away from those by whom they may be distracted. Because the real problem here isn’t what students are doing with their time- if they want to waste it, that’s their business- but the way it affects the learning environment. Either way, policing methods are at least better than the alternative of banning laptops altogether, a practice which is both archaic and impractical.

Is pregnancy the new “fig leaf”?

In his recent article, The Guardian columnist Jonathan Jones addresses the recent nude portrait of celebrity Sienna Miller by painter Jonathan Yeo, which was recently unveiled for an exhibition in Berlin. In the painting, Sienna is depicted entirely nude, and just weeks before giving birth to her daughter, Marlowe. He remarks:

…pregnancy has become the modern equivalent of a fig leaf, making nude images of women acceptable to all sections of society and all divisions of the media… There is nothing new, in other words, in the artistic celebration of the pregnant body. It has simply become a way to soothe our worries about the naked depiction of women.

Regardless of the quality of the painting or the intentions of Miller herself in posing for the piece, I find it difficult to criticize this painting, or nudes in general, as pieces of misogynist culture. Such an attitude only continues to define women and their bodies by their position relative to men. While famous nude painters of antiquity often aimed only to arouse the attention and sexuality of men, to vilify every female nude as an object of male attention is to essentially say that there is no way for women’s bodies to be their own.

Don’t Denounce Feminism if You Don’t Understand it

Recently, I stumbled upon The Thinking Housewife, a conservative-minded anti-feminist blog with a name so ironic, it hurts. Operated by one Laura Wood, the content of this corner of the web ranges from archaic (“Is College Necessary for Women?“) to downright ridiculous (“Feminism is a movement among men, to indulge women with more authority in the determination of public life”). Through the din of negativity and mind-boggling ignorance, I found a recent post that was not written by Wood, but by one of her readers. In it, the reader explains that her 17-year-old sister received a poor grade on an essay in a class on feminism, supposedly because she expressed views contrary to those of her teacher. Prompted by the semester’s topic, “Gender Oppression in the Modern Age: Is Feminism Still Viable in Modern Society?,” her essay concluded:

…I understand when I hear it said that feminism is no longer viable. I understand when I see that I have to wear tiny skirts and publicly visible underwear to reclaim my sexuality… I understand when I see women stuffed into business suits, irritably peeling the clinging fingers of their wailing children from their pinstriped skirts and ushering them into the waiting arms of daycare staff… I understand that feminism has no place in my life.

Both the student’s mother and the commenters on the article seemed to think that the poor grade was a personal injustice perpetrated because the girl dared to oppose the “teacher’s viewpoint.” They praise the girl for her good sense and accuse secondary education of being an “indoctrination machine”:

After extensive research on the subject (said ‘research’ being mostly whining about the poor, poor women), each student was to write an essay discussing in detail the subject, and what it means to her personally… As my sister has had a traditional upbringing… hers was by far the most interesting, most honest, and, of course, the lowest marked essay of the class. The teacher went so far to suggest that she have ‘catchup’ classes to better comprehend the topic.

Unfortunately, what this student and her supporters failed to divine is that the low grade most likely wasn’t given because the professor was offended by a 17-year-old’s point of view, but because the essay fails to fulfill both the criteria of the assignment and standard expectations for writing mechanics and essay structure at that grade level. Although compelling in language, it has no thesis statement, houses no facts, and neglects to offer even the slightest bit of objectivity in its description of the movement it so vehemently denounces. In a course whose purpose is the discussion of feminism and gender issues, Lucy Cat’s essay is tantamount to taking a class on the culture of Islam and submitting a paper describing the faith as a monstrous conduit of hate and jihad. It’s ridiculous.

Most importantly, it is obvious that she lacks any grasp of what feminism actually entails. She lists endless examples of what she apparently believes it to require: dressing provocatively to “reclaim sexuality,” dancing “like a stripper,” “children eating canned soup alone because Mommy is working late,” and “the downtrodden man” who is the victim of an independent wife’s lifestyle. But the purpose of feminism is not to mandate women to abandon their families, or to enforce a dress code, but to promote the shocking notion that women are individuals capable and deserving of making their own choices. For some, yes, this may mean business suits and long work hours- but they are no more villainous for that than any man who makes the same choice.

In the first half of her essay, it seems like she really gets it. “I understand [oppression] when I read of complaints that women are told how to act to be accepted, and I hate it,” she writes. Unfortunately, she fails to see that she is part of the oppression she rails against. Her judgment against working women, women in the military, women who don’t look feminine enough for her convenience, and even girls who want to play football, is scathing, ignorant, and more aggressively oppressive than any career path or wardrobe choice.

She cries that “Barely a day goes by when [she is] not oppressed, suffocated, smothered and pinned under a stifling oppression,” but she’s not the one being told to leave her job, abandon her personal preferences, passions, and opinions, and forsake her individuality for the sake of a being accepted by a system.

The Feminist Five: Take III

  1. Who Needs Feminism? Started by 16 female students at Duke University, this Tumblr features images submitted by readers explaining why they need feminism:

  2. Tattoos aren’t just for sluts. Daily Mail writer Liz Jones recently spilled about her new tattoo and explained that, to her, “self-indulgent decoration always seemed a bit dirty, a bit slut-like. And, as we all know, I am the very opposite of a slut. I could never take part in one of their protest marches (against justifying rape on the grounds of a woman’s appearance): all fishnet tights and exposed bras, messy make-up and loud opinions.” FemInspire writer Becci Yare calls her out on her misogyny.
  3. “Blow minds, not guys” is really bad advice.

    This image has been circulating like wildfire on Facebook and Tumblr, implying not only that being well-read/intelligent and promiscuous are mutually exclusive, but also that “opening legs” and “blowing guys” are inherently wrong and shameful.
  4. Why Women Need to Stop Apologizing for Everything. Ever noticed a tendency to apologize for everything, even if you’ve done nothing wrong? Personally, I am Queen Gratuitous Apologizer Extraordinaire. But this habit is prevalent among women, and suggests a deeply reinforced feeling of uncertainty, submissiveness, and inferiority.
  5. And finally, an XKCD comic touching on the misogynistic nature of pickup artists and and related bar scene pickup lines. Oh, snap.

The First Five: 5 Feminism Links to Get You Started

This semester, I’ll be blogging about… *dramatic pause*… feminism. Yes, feminism. I can practically hear the groans of protest and confusion already, which is exactly why this topic is so important. So, without further ado, here are some basics to get us started.

  1. Don’t have any idea what feminism is, or why it’s important? Do you cringe whenever you hear the word? Feminism 101 is a excellent compilation of explanations and answers!
  2. Still not convinced that feminism is relevant to college students? What if a female professor started breastfeeding in class? Adrienne Pine, professor at American University, did just that when she had to bring her feverish baby to work, and it became quite an “incident!”
  3. Speaking of incidents, here’s a first-hand account of how misogynistic expectations come into play more often than you’d think. If you were reading alone on the subway and this happened to you, how would you react?
  4. Touching on the wider implications of feminist issues, FemInspire examines the glaring gender inequality in news media and reporting. Especially with so many matters of reproductive rights and gender equality at stake in the upcoming election, the lack of female commentary is rather troubling.
  5. And finally, you may have already seen the popular Feminist Ryan Gosling meme, so here’s Feminist Barack Obama. The cherry on top? These are actual quotes.