Friday, April 22, 2011

Teen Mom Obsession

            Earlier in American history, being a teen mom was considered taboo and rarely spoken about publicly. Now, many teen-aged women seem to view pregnancy as a claim to fame. TV shows like MTV’s Teen Mom and Teen Mom 2 glorify teen pregnancy and help bring the phenomenon into the mainstream. These shows follow the lives of teen mothers as they struggle to meet the demands of raising children.   While the shows reveal many of the unglamorous aspects of motherhood, they nonetheless romanticize teen pregnancy by making celebrities of the young women whom they spotlight.

            I admit that I watched my fair share of these shows when they first came out—fascinated by the hurdles that women my age face when confronted with the demands of motherhood.  Now, however, I worry that—by viewing these shows—I may have fueled a phenomenon that I find so troubling.  By gawking at the spectacle of young women—practically children themselves—raising their own children, I’m afraid I may have unwittingly inspired the next wave of teen mothers.  While the producers of these shows may have intended to teach young women that being a teen mom is not an easy task, I worry that the shows may impart the opposite lesson.

            In 2010, a survey was conducted to determine the levels of teen pregnancy in America. The results showed that teen pregnancy is on the rise for the first time in over a decade. In recent interviews, several teens teen mothers reported that they considered getting pregnant as a way to get on TV and possibly become famous.  Indeed, many of the participants on the show have become celebrities, gracing the covers of magazines such as People, OK!, US Weekly, in-touch and others.

            So why do we Americans have this obsession with teen mothers? Is it because we want to live vicariously through these people? Is it because we love to see others struggle? Or do we crave a glimpse into an unknown world?  I suspect that each of the more than five million viewers that tune in to show has his or her own, private motivation.  But the collective effect is disturbing.  It may help explain the fact 70% of girls and 64% of boys in America think that teen pregnancy is okay. I think it is important that we teach our young people that pregnancy is not a short cut to fame, but a life-altering experience that should not be undertaken until one is fully prepared. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Teens On Torture

In 1973, the United States made the decision to end the draft, resulting in an all-volunteer military force.  Since then, some critics have argued that subsequent generations of Americans, who have not experienced the draft, are “soft” and “weak”, especially the young men. This may be because many young Americans who have never experienced the draft have begun to take their liberties and privileges for granted, and have never had to prepare themselves to face the challenge of being torn away from their comfortable lives to go to war.  Perhaps this is why a recent study conducted by the Daily Beast reported that teenagers in America “look more favorably on torture”, especially in the war.
According to the study, more than 60% of American teens felt that things like “water-boarding and sleep deprivation” are sometimes acceptable. The support for torture that teens expressed far outstripped the support reported by adults. It is debatable as to whether this is attributable to the end of the draft, or perhaps to the Bush Administration’s decision to normalize torture. When the Commander and Chief makes that argument that torture is acceptable, it can have a profound influence on the values of the nation. Another possible factor shaping the opinions that teens have of torture could be the influence that the media has on the popular perceptions of war. The graphic war images that are so readily accessible today on the Internet, as well as through more traditional forms of media, such as television, could be a factor in making teens numb to the horrors of war.
Another possible source of the tolerance teens show for violence may be the prevalence of graphically violent video games. Through games such as “Counter Strike” and “Call of Duty,” young boys are exposed to violence and gore, and many come to see such violence as normal and even enjoyable. A study conducted by the American Psychological Association noted that when boys play violent video games, even for just a few minutes, they display elevated levels of aggression. The boys who played violent video games reported that they felt like behaving in a more aggressive manner, and wanted to do something violent. Statistics like these make me question why we allow such violent video games to be marketed to young people.
The acceptance that American teens display toward torture is a troubling sign for the future of our nation. The prohibition on torture has been an important principle that has guided our nation throughout its history.  If the next generation is willing to accept torture, and in doing so, sacrifice their freedom from being tortured, what other rights will they be willing to give up?  Should there be more censorship of the media and video games in order to educate our teens as to the importance of civil liberties? If our society decides that tortures such as waterboarding are acceptable, only worse will come after.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


            It seems that it is nearly impossible to go anywhere today and not see someone playing with some form of technology.  Whether it is a sixty-year-old woman fiddling on her new Iphone, or a seven-year-old texting on her new Blackberry, we are all hooked! While most people would argue that these new technologies provide convenient ways to get a hold of your young child or your aging mother, I wonder if perhaps we are too dependent on cell phones and other electronic gadgets.  Are we, as a society, addicted?
Gadgets have wormed their way into every aspect of our lives.  We not only use these high tech devices to call and text people, but we also use them to research things that we want to know the answer to right away. When we try to search something and it takes longer than 5 seconds, we get antsy, and complain that our device is taking too long. While my generation has seen the introduction of the Internet and high-tech cell phones, the problem is especially prevalent amongst the younger generations who have not experienced life without it. Young people today seem incapable of accomplishing anything without the help of technology. Now that cell phones function as mini computers, we have all the world’s information at our fingertips at an instant; in turn, we have all become “instant-aholics”.
Recently, I have been watching young kids at meals and in public settings to see how they interact with their surroundings. I have noticed that the majority of kids, seated at tables with their friends and families, rarely look up from their devices to make eye contact with anyone in their presence. Even walking down the street or hanging out with friends, most of their time is spent on their phones, texting or gaming.  I recently saw a young woman on horseback, texting! While I think that this is diminishing their social skills (not to mention their equestrian abilities), I am also concerned with the fact that kids, immersed as they are in their various devices, are missing all the things that are happening right before their downcast eyes.
According to a study conducted at the University of Maryland by the International Center for Media and Public Affairs, it is challenging for many young people, and, for some, impossible, to go 24 hours without their cell phones and similar technologies. The study was conducted throughout the United States, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and Asia, and asked over 2,000 students to go “unplugged” for the day. The researchers found that the overwhelming number of students struggled with this task, and felt that they had a clear “addiction” to technology, calling it their “drug”. Students reported that, throughout their day without their technology, they felt bored, confused, stressed, and isolated. Many of the participants reported having “hostile” and “jealous” feelings towards people who they saw on cell phones, and felt as though they were experiencing “withdraw”.
A Chilean student stated, “I didn’t use my cell phone all night. It was a difficult day… a horrible day.  After this, I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT MEDIA! I need my social webs, my cell phone, my Mac, my mp3 always!”  Is this the battle cry of the next generation, or a cry for help?
            Based on the data that was gathered in this study, it is clear that our time spent with technology has gotten out of control, and is best understood as an addiction.  If left unaddressed, the problem is bound to get worse. These students were in their late teens and early twenties.  We must consider what will come of the next generation who are experiencing this addiction at a much younger and more vulnerable age. While technology has immense benefits, is it really worth the risk of creating an entire generation that is incapable of making eye contact with the person sitting across the table from them? 

Friday, April 8, 2011

Violence Against Women

In American society today, we have come quite a long way when it comes to women’s rights and justice for women. However, we still have far to go. Over the last few weeks, the number of stories that I have seen related to rape of women is jaw dropping. According to RAINN, the largest anti-sexual violence organization, every two minutes someone in the United States is sexually assaulted, and one out of six women has been the victim of rape. In a 2003 survey, nine out of ten rape victims were female, and 17.7 million victims of rape have been women. The fact that fifteen out of sixteen rapists will never spend a day in jail proves that the safety of women is not enough of a priority in our society today.
When I as a woman, looks at the statistics above, I can’t help but wonder why there are not more efforts being done to prevent rape or make the dangers and effects of rape more known by the public. This is a universal problem and greater efforts need to be made around the world to prevent violence against women.
Recently, there has been wide media coverage of a Lybian woman who was raped by Qaddfi’s soldiers. In places like Lybia, it is rare that a woman comes forward to claim that she has been raped due to the fact ,that not only do women have few rights, but when a woman does come forward to say that she has been raped, her family and friends often disown her due to shame and humiliation. For this woman in particular, it seemed that she wanted to do what she felt was right and make sure that the men who committed this heinous crime against her were punished for it. One would have thought that running into a hotel full of journalists would help someone in a situation like hers; however, she was taken at knife point and thrown into a car by the hotel staff who were trying to protect Qaddfi’s regime. Later she was accused of being “drunk and mentally ill”, and it was claimed that the reports of abuse and rape were her “fantasies”. While the Lybian police are holding her in custody and claim that she is being treated fairly, only time will tell if this is true.
Many people think this is a story of how low foreign troops can go, as to rape, intimidate, urinate and defecate upon, beat, and verbally abuse an innocent woman; but it is not. While this story does show the dark side of rape, we must be aware that this is not a problem that is limited to Lybia; it is a universal problem that is felt all over the world. At the same time, this horrific story occurred in Lybia, a similar case happened in Texas, the heart of America. This did not involve Qaddfi’s people; these were normal people, including a star high-school basketball player, proving that this issue is universal.
In a recent article posted by the Digital Journal, an eleven-year old girl was raped in Texas and is now being blamed for it due to her provocative appearance. Eighteen young men have been arrested for allegedly raping this eleven year old girl in Texas a few months ago. In the beginning, this case was taken as a rape case that “no one denies happened”, but it is now gaining further attention due to the fact that the young victim is being accused of “wanting this to happen” to her.
The defendants and their family members are stepping into a territory that to me is shocking; stating that the victim should be blamed because she dressed provocatively and “may” have lied about her age. A woman from the Texas area said to reporters about the case, “She lied about her age. Them boys didn't rape her. She wanted this to happen. I'm not taking nobody's side, but if she hadn't put herself in that predicament, this would have never happened."
According to the victim’s mother, the young girl still “loves stuffed bears”. To me, it is shocking that people would stoop so low as to try to blame an eleven-year-old girl for being raped in an abandoned trailer by several young men. Who would want this to happen to them? Because this incident occurred in such a small town, and in turn affected so many people, there is a huge amount of blame and denial directed towards the victim.
Rape and violence against women occur everywhere. So why isn’t more attention paid to this issue? There is no place that is safe from rape, and no woman is beyond its reach.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Every Woman Counts

            FACT: Every minute a woman dies during childbirth or pregnancy somewhere in the world.
Maternal mortality affects people worldwide. It is most common in developing countries, but it still occurs at alarming rates within disadvantaged populations in the United States and other developed countries. Over half a million women die each year, leaving over a million children motherless and vulnerable. Many privileged Americans have trouble relating to this issue, because here in America, the incidence of maternal mortality is relatively low. Most American women have the ability to drive to a nearby hospital when they go into labor. In most American hospitals, women are put up in a nice room, with round-the-clock medical care for both mother and child, as well as private bathrooms and televisions.
Now, flash to a pregnant woman in a developing country. She doesn’t have these luxuries. She is forced to give birth in a field by herself, with no medical help or tools to ensure her safety as well as the safety of her child. This doesn’t have to be the case. Through education and awareness, we can drastically reduce maternal mortality.
Many Americans are unfamiliar with the maternal mortality crisis. Maternal mortality refers to the death of a mother due to complications during pregnancy or child birth. While many people think that such deaths are unavoidable, the fact is that nearly all of the maternal mortality deaths are easily preventable. Most women die simply because they are not close to educated healthcare professionals who can assist them through the birthing process (WRA). 
A handful of organizations are working to address this issue. The White Ribbon Alliance is a leading organization that focuses on putting an end to maternal mortality globally. According to the WRA, “Pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death and disability for women in developing countries” (WRA). This is shocking when on considers that such deaths are so easily preventable. The victims usually come from underdeveloped countries throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In Niger, a woman has a 1 in 7 chance of dying due to birth related causes, while a woman in Sweden has a 1 in 17,000 chance of dying due to birth related causes (WRA).
When a mother dies giving birth to a child, she leaves that child and any others she may have without their primary caregiver.   Motherless children are more vulnerable to threats such as hunger and disease, and their chances of reaching adulthood decrease. Motherless children are 10 times more likely to die prematurely than children who have not lost their mothers. (UNFPA). Thus, the death of a mother affects the entire family, and can have a negative impacts that stretch for generations.
Maternal mortality can be addressed through the proper allocation of financial resources and medical expertise. As stated previously, death during childbirth occurs because of preventable and avoidable complications during pregnancy and labor. Ending  maternal mortality requires money in order to provide educated nurses, doctors, and midwifes to ensure safety of both mother and child during pregnancy (CARE). Medical complications such as uncontrolled bleeding, obstructed labor, infection, and high blood pressure can all be addressed with proper medical care.  But many of the women who are at risk lack the most basic medical facilities.  Some are forced to give birth in cornfields or beside roads, with no sanitary tools to assist in a safe delivery of the baby and safe and proper care of the mother (UNFPA). Many of the villages in which these women live are hours away from the closest hospital, so by the time a woman enters labor, the likelihood of reaching a hospital in time is slim to none. There are also various societal factors that contribute to women dying in childbirth. Many women face gender discrimination, cultural stigmas, legal and economic hurdles, and logistical barriers that prevent them from receiving lifesaving health care (WRA).
             In order to achieve a significant reduction in maternal mortality, there needs to be a commitment, both nationally and globally, to fight to end it. Resources must be dedicated to teach skilled health workers how to properly take care of the mother and child throughout the three stages of pregnancy: before, during and after. Young women across the world should be taught proper family planning strategies, to make sure that young girls postpone their first pregnancies until they have the resources to have their babies safely. It would only cost, on average, $1.50 to send an expectant mother in a developing country a maternal health services package, which would help her  deliver a her baby safely (Huffington Post). The United Nations Millennium Development program has sought to address maternal mortality, and has made their Goal #5: “to reduce maternal mortality by 75% and to achieve universal access to reproductive health services by 2015” (WRA). Unfortunately for the UN and for the victims of maternal mortality, this goal is still far being realized.
            Organizations such as White Ribbon Alliance and CARE have done tremendous work in creating awareness of the issue of maternal mortality, but far more remains to be done.  Maternal mortality is global problem that requires a global solution. According to the White Ribbon Alliance, the United States, with its vast resources, has the potential to make a tremendous impact on this issue.  Just as the U.S. has made great strides in combatting HIV/AIDS by placing the disease on the President’s Emergency Plan, the U.S. can play a key role in diminishing maternal mortality.  Every American can make a difference by becoming aware of the issue and pushing for change. By supporting this effort, you can save a woman’s life. You can prevent her death. You can be the change.
If you yourself want to help, you can donate to charities such as the White Ribbon Alliance that will use your money to promote awareness, provide the proper birthing tools and medical supplies, and educate nurses, doctors, and midwifes to ensure the safety of mothers throughout the world. (VIDA)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Voice for All

             In a move he must have thought would strike an inspiring blow for freedom of speech, Orange County District Attorney Tony Wrackaukas filed criminal charges against eleven students for . . . speaking their mind and fighting for something they believed in.  The occasion for this outrage?  A speech in February 2010 by Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, which the eleven apparently disrupted. 

The District Attorney's actions are absurd.  Since when has expressing one's views become a crime in America? The prosecution of the students is an attack on the most precious of American liberties--the freedom of speech.  By silencing the protestors, we undermine the essential freedoms upon which our country was founded. 

In February of this year, eleven of the protestors were formally charged by the Orange County District Attorney for the misdemeanor crimes of conspiring to disrupt a meeting and actually disrupting a meeting. If convicted they could face fines and a jail sentence of up to six months. Their arrest and prosecution have sparked a debate in Orange County and beyond.

            District Attorney Wrackaukas’ decision reflects poorly on his office, Orange County, and the United States as a whole. Conspiring to disrupt a meeting and actually then disrupting the meeting should not be illegal and definitely not something one should end up in jail for; especially in a nation that has been founded upon free speech. The students were in fact trying to have their voices heard in a country that often tends not to listen to the Muslim perspective.

            According to District Attorney Wrackaukas, students deserve to be prosecuted for having prevented Ambassador Oren from having the opportunity to speak. "In our democratic society,"  Mr. Wrackaukas said with no sense of irony, "we cannot tolerate a deliberate, organized, repetitive and
collective effort to significantly disrupt a speaker who hundreds assemble to hear." 

When it comes to what Wrackaukas says, freedom of speech means ‘shut up and listen’.

This argument sounds thin to me, as it probably would have to our founding fathers. Would Mr. Wrackaukas have tolerated a “deliberate, organized and collective effort to” dump tea into the Boston Harbor? It seems likely that he would have prosecuted our founding fathers in the name of King George.

            Above all other freedoms, our four fathers value the freedom of assembly, and the freedom of speech. They recognize that these freedoms were essential for a democratic society. It is through free speech that abuses can be identified and grievances can be expressed peacefully. It seems that the Muslim students at UC Irvine have a better grasp of this fact than does the District Attorney.

            Freedom of speech is often most important when that speech is unpopular or threatening to the powers that are in place. With the ongoing wars between the United States and opposing forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and now Libya, many Americans are not receptive Muslim voices. In this post 9-11 era, many Americans feel threatened by Islam and would like to silence Muslim voices. They see Muslim voices as “un-American”, nothing could be farther from the truth.

As a nation of immigrants, America has continually been reinvigorated by waves of immigration from every corner of the world. Immigrants from Europe, from Asia, from Africa, and the Americas, have come to our country and brought their own perspectives and raised their voices to push America farther down the road of freedom and equality.

 We have in our nation more than six million Muslims, and they represent a large and growing percentage of the worlds population. Their perspective is valuable here in America, and its expression will help America to behave responsibly within the larger world community. To silence the Muslim voice in America will undermine our democratic society and our standing in the world.

            By respecting Muslim voices in America we will not be committing a radical departure from traditional American values, instead we will be returning to the values upon which our nation was built.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Free Speech

            The United States Supreme Court recently upheld the rights of members of a Baptist church to protest at the site of funerals of American soldiers. The justices ruled 8 to 1 that the protestors were allowed to shout statements such as  “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “AIDS cures fags”, based upon the First Amendment. While such statements may seem hateful and unjustified, enduring offensive speech is the sacrifice that we must make as members of a free society.  
            At first glance, the angry slogans of the Baptist church members may seem like the sort of vicious attack that should be outlawed in a civil society. After all, the soldiers who were being buried at these funerals were young men and women who had made the ultimate sacrifice in order to protect the freedom and values of their country. Their families had gathered to honor their sacrifice, and they did not deserve to have these ceremonies disrupted by vicious and bigoted attacks. However, had the Supreme Court banned the protester’s right to free speech, they would have jeopardized the very values for which these young soldiers died.
            Freedom of speech was so important to the founding father’s that they dedicated the First Amendment to its protection. The founding fathers lived much of their lives within a society that did not allow free -speech—a society in which members were persecuted for speaking against the tyranny of the British king. The founding fathers had the courage to speak against the king despite the risks, and eventually forged a new society in which citizens were allowed to speak their minds and have their voices heard without penalty. To ban free speech—even speech that may seem misguided and hateful—would be to break with the traditions upon which this nation was founded.
            It is in this light that we should view, with some skepticism, the passage of laws that bans “hate speech”. Laws against hate speech in the United States generally ban verbal or written statements that insight hatred or violence against individuals based upon their race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, etc. These sorts of laws put two of America’s core values into conflict; tolerance, and freedom.  America is a diverse country, composed of immigrants from all corners of the world.  It is important that we learn to respect our differences. But this tolerance may at times conflict with personal freedom. America has always prized individual freedom, granting citizens the right to free speech, free assembly, the pursuit of happiness etc. As a society, we must acknowledge that we cannot always have it both ways. If you have truly free speech, people may at times say harsh, intolerant things, and if we ban such statements, we limit the freedom of people to express themselves. Given this dilemma, it is best to follow the wisdom of our founding fathers and protect the First Amendment and the right to free speech.
            As traumatizing as it may be to listen to verbal attacks at the funerals of those who have fought for our country, it is the price that we all must pay as members of a free society. As Chief Justice John Roberts stated in the hearing, "Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and—as it did here—inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker".  By tolerating hateful speech, we protect the liberty of every citizen to speak his or her mind.