Author Archives: freethinkingfeminist

About freethinkingfeminist

College Professor, Feminist, Atheist. Bachelor's and Master's in Social Work, and PhD in Social Welfare. Expert on the topics of sexism, violence again women, intimate partner violence, family violence, social and economic justice

Declaration of Occupation

Declaration of Occupation:


As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.

As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.

They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.
They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.
They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices.
They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.
They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.
They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.
They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.
They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.
They have sold our privacy as a commodity.
They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press. They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.
They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.
They have donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible for regulating them.
They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.
They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives or provide relief in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantial profit.
They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.
They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.
They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.
They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad. They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.
They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts. *

To the people of the world,

We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.

Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.

To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal.

Join us and make your voices heard!

*These grievances are not all-inclusive.


Intimate Partner Violence

From a feminist theoretical framework, Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is defined as a pattern of behaviors (i.e. coercive control) used by one partner in an intimate relationship to exert power and control over the other partner (Almeida & Durkin, 1999).  Common tactics used by perpetrators of IPV include emotional abuse, verbal abuse, economic abuse, sexual abuse, and physical violence. Unfortunately, IPV is a social problem that has gone largely unacknowledged until the last 30 years. Even now with its widespread recognition, IPV continues to be underreported for several reasons including feelings of shame and guilt among victims, the prevalence of victim blaming attitudes in society, inadequate police and criminal justice response, and sexist attitudes that devalue women and perpetuate women’s reduced status and power in society. Among the general population, a primary question about IPV is “why do women stay?”.  The answers to this question have become evident through the countless and horrific stories told by individual survivors in their efforts to gain safety and access resources.

IPV occurs from male to female, female to male, male to male, and female to female.  However, the statistics on IPV indicate that 95% of the victims of women with perpetrators being primarily male.  While I agree that IPV evolved out of sexism and violence against women, I also know that many men suffer very similar kinds of abuse at the hands of their female intimate partners.  I write the following using “her” to indicate victim and “him” to indicate perpetrator.  These are generalizations and men can certainly be victims and women can certainly be perpetrators.  I think the rates of female perpetrators and male victims are largely incorrect however, men rarely report their female intimate partners to be abusive, even when they are. Although women often do not report abuse either, they report it more often than their male counterparts, primarily because female victims have so much less power in the relationship than male victims do, they also suffer much more significant and life-threatening injuries.  

There are several kinds of power and control tactics/ forms of abuse that abusive partners use to manipulate and control their intimate partners.  These include verbal abuse, emotional abuse, economic abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and spiritual/religious abuse.

Verbal abuse–  Verbal abuse is the use of name calling, yelling, public humiliation or shaming, etc…It comes in a variety of forms but the goal of verbal abuse is to make the partner feel terrible about themselves.  When women are abused, they are called stupid, fat, lazy, whore, bitch, cunt, horrible mothers, etc… In public, women are  ridiculed and embarrassed by their partners.  Verbal abuse is certainly a form of emotional abuse, but emotional abuse can happen without the use of words so I will talk about the two forms of abuse separately. Although most abusive partners are rarely explicitly abusive in public settings, many  use verbal and emotional abuse in public settings without “outsiders” fully recognizing what is happening.

Emotional Abuse– Emotional abuse can be a little more difficult for some people to recognize and may be the most damaging of all of the different power and control tactics.  There are many forms of emotional abuse.  They include:

Subjecting a partner to reckless driving

Giving a partner the silent treatment

Leaving the house and refusing to come home or answer phone calls after an argument

Denying a partner affection and/or sex as “punishment”

Extreme jealousy, 20 questions every time she goes anywhere without him, strip searching her, going through her phone, purse, email, texts, etc…

Isolation – isolating a partner from their friends and family so that they lack social support needed to understand and cope with the abuse, and leave if they need to.

Abandoning her in dangerous places (i.e. making her get out of the car during an argument and leaving her stranded on the highway)

Gas lighting (Crazy Making)- A form of emotional abuse that makes the victim question their sense of reality; It often comes in the form of denying something that happened, especially abusive incidents; It creates a sense of doubt in the victim that makes them begin to feel like they are “crazy” and “confused” and can’t figure out who is to blame, themselves or the perpetrator.

Screaming, yelling, threatening, injuring pets, punching holes in walls, tearing doors off of hinges during a rage, destroying HER property (never his-unless she gave it to him).

Economic Abuse– Economic abuse is usually done by controlling the partner’s access to finances and the ability to access or have money.  Women are often prevented from working (or fired because he harasses her so often at work) so that they lack financial independence, making it nearly impossible for them leave an abusive partner.  Even when women do work, many abusive men deny access to bank accounts by keeping her name off of the accounts, keeping her from having a checkbook or bankcard, giving her an “allowance”, keeping cars and homes in the abusers name so that she thinks she doesn’t have a “right” to them if she decides she wants to leave….  Sometimes women do have financial independence…these women are often sabotaged financially by abusive partners.  They steal their money, spend it frivolously, wipe out savings accounts, run up credit cards, etc….When women are abusive to male partners, they often use this kind of economic abuse.

Physical Abuse– Physical abuse is almost impossible to use as a power and control tactic without the use of verbal and emotional abuse.  A person can be a victim of IPV without ever having been physically abused by their partner.  Physical abuse almost never happens without verbal and emotional.  Alternatively, verbal and emotional abuse can be used forever without he use of physical abuse.  Verbal and emotional abuse create a situation where an abusive partner can use physical violence without much threat that the “victim” will leave.  If a woman feels horrible about herself and questions her sense of reality, it becomes really easy for an abusive partner to blame her for the attack.  After he hits her, he says “I’m sorry, baby.  You know I love you so much.  If you wouldn’t _____________ then I wouldn’t have ever hit you.”  And she believes him.  Partially because she wants to believe him, partially because she is really confused at this point and believe that she caused the attack.

Sexual Abuse–  Accusations of unfaithfulness while being unfaithful themselves; forcing her to have sex when she doesn’t want to (marital rape); nagging her into having sex when she doesn’t want to; criticizing her body and performance; forcing her to engage in any sexual activities that she doesn’t want to engage in; forcing her to watch porn and then “play it out” with him; forced sex with people he brings home to the house (his friends, lovers, etc…) forced sex with animals or objects,  denying sex as punishment.

Spiritual Abuse– Using (and misusing) scripture or religious texts as a way to control her; denying her requests to attend the church of her choice; forcing her to attend his church or convert to his religion; making fun of her religious beliefs/values; etc…

This list is not comprehensive but it does include all of the generalized categories of abuse/power and control tactics and probably provides enough examples of each for readers to identify each.

Characteristics of Abusive Partners

1. Jealousy & Possessiveness – Becomes jealous over your family, friends, co-workers. Tries to isolate you. Views partner and children as property instead of as unique individuals. Accuses you of cheating or flirting with others without cause. Always asks where you’ve been and with whom in an accusatory manner.

2. Control – Partner is overly demanding of your time and must be the center of your attention. He controls finances, the car, and the activities you make engage in. Becomes angry if partner begins showing signs of independence or strength.

3. Superiority – Partner believes he/she is always right, always has to win or be in charge. Justifies his actions so he/she can be “right” by blaming you or others. A verbally abusive partner will talk down to you or call you names in order to make himself feel better. The goal of  the abuse is to make you feel badly about yourself so they can feel powerful. Abusers are frequently insecure and this power makes them feel better about themselves.

4. Manipulation – Tells you you’re crazy or stupid so the blame is turned on you. Tries to make you think that it’s your fault he is abusive. Says he/she can’t help being abusive so you feel sorry for him and you keep trying to “help” him/her. Tells others you are unstable.

5. Mood Swings –Partners mood switches from aggressive and abusive to apologetic and loving after the abuse has occurred. Often describe as Jekyll and Hyde personality.

6. Actions don’t match words – Consistently breaks promises, confesses loves and then abuses you.

7. Punishes you – An emotionally abusive partner may withhold sex, emotional intimacy, or plays the “silent game” as punishment when he/she doesn’t get his/her way.

8. Unwilling to seek help – An abusive partner doesn’t think there is anything wrong with them so they often refuse to seek help or acknowledge faults.  Often blames behavior on childhood or outside circumstances.

9. Disrespectful towards women – (For Abusive Men) Shows no respect towards his mother, sisters, or any women in his life. Thinks women are stupid and worthless.

10. Has a history of abusing partners and/or animals- Batterers repeat their patterns and seek out partners who are submissive (or who will become submissive) and can be controlled.  Men who abuse animals are much more likely to abuse women also.

11. Drug and/or Alcohol Abuse- Although substance abuse does not cause IPV it can escalate the severity and frequency of abuse.

12.  Escalates the pace of the relationship – Wants you to move in or get married early in the relationship, usually within first few months.

13.  Wants to spend ALL of their time with you – Partners who want to spend all of their time with you want to control who you see, who you talk to, and what you do.  It’s not because you’re so fantastic that they cannot stand to be away from you.  No healthy person wants to spend all of their time with ONE person, nor can any person get all of their needs met through one relationship.

14.  Overly Charming – Charming = manipulation.  Think of charming as a verb and not an adjective.  People are charming so that they  can distract you from who they really are; manipulative, selfish, controlling, and mean.

15. Maintains Rigid, Traditional Gender Roles for Men and Women – (For male to female IPV) Man is the head of the household, in charge.  Woman is subservient, passive, dependent, cares for children, etc…

Institutionalized Sexism

On the first day of my sexism course, I present students with what I call the “Tree of Discrimination”.  A gigantic tree that I display on an easel at the front of the classroom.  I divide up the students into groups and hand out laminated paper apples.  On the apples, I ask students to write specific forms of sexism and violence against women that they can come up with.  Then the students put their “apples” onto the tree and describe the examples they came up with. The examples generally include pay inequity, the “glass ceiling”, sexual assault, rape, woman battering, female genital mutilation, femicide (sex-selective abortions), prostitution, human trafficking, etc…

Then I ask students to identify the attitudes and beliefs (in the trunk of the tree) that must be present in order for the specific acts of sexism and violence against women to persist.  These attitudes and beliefs generally include things like women are stupid, crazy and emotional and need to be controlled; women belong in the home caring for children and husbands; women need to get married- if they don’t,  something is wrong with them; women are responsible for pleasing men (in many ways- especially sexually); women are more moral than men; women are pure; women are unclean (ironic eh?), women are responsible for the “Fall” of humankind- I could go on here but I don’t really think that I need to.

After completing the trunk, we move to the roots of the tree where I ask students to identify the “roots” or origins of the attitudes and beliefs they just listed.  One of the most challenging lessons to teach about sexism is that sexism originated primarily from religion.  Patriarchy and capitalism are also fundamental components of sexism. In almost every major religious text, women are oppressed.  “God” is always male, women are devalued and given little to no power.  This form of institutionalized sexism in the church is responsible for the Witch Burnings in Europe, where hundreds of thousands of women were burned at the stake for being “convicted” (actually usually just accused) of being witches.  Women were burned for being midwives, unmarried, for talking back to their husbands, for drinking too much, for going out into public without their husbands or fathers, for mental retardation, for the infertility, etc…. Unfortunately, the church supported it.  If you don’t think religion is oppressive to women, flip through the pages of your bible.  Women can be stoned to death for talking back to their husbands. Women are not allowed to ask questions in church.  Daughters are rape-worthy but sons are not.  Eve ate the apple; it’s her fault that Adam and Eve were evicted from the garden.

As an institution, religion is one of the primary roots of oppression for ALL groups who are oppressed and it is dangerous because religion dominates nearly every other institution; education, government, corporations, culture, society, and families.

Deny women the right to attend college and you keep women out of virtually every powerful position in society- doctors, lawyers, educators, government officials, etc….

Deny women the right to vote and you prevent women from having any input into the oppressive, sexist government and laws that women are being forced to live by. Women only achieved the right to vote in 1920.

Deny women equal pay and you deny them the ability to earn a living wage; a wage on which they can live, without a man. Deny women equal pay and you deny them the ability to leave an abusive partner.  Deny a woman equal pay and it becomes almost imperative that she stay home to care for her children because working and paying for daycare takes almost her entire salary.  Deny a woman pay equity and you remove her power within the structure of her family and marriage because the money then, belongs to “him”.  Keep a woman home and out of the workforce, and you guarantee that she won’t collect enough social security in old age to meet her basic survival needs.

Our founding fathers didn’t give women anything.  The constitution of the United States gave white men all of the power.  If that’s not sexism (ahem- and racism by the way), I don’t know what is.

Karl Marx believed that capitalism would result in a system that was sexist and racist.  Capitalism combined with religion and patriarchy has created exactly that.

Growing up Female in a Misogynist Society- Psychological Wounding

What happens to girls and women who grow up in a society where girls and women are devalued and even detested?  Psychological wounding refers to the emotional and psychological damage that happens to girls and women as the result of growing up in a culture that devalues anything feminine. Consider the message (and harm done) to little girls when they hear fathers say to sons, “don’t be a sissy”? Understanding the message takes no great insight or intellect.   The message is clear:  don’t be like a girl because girls aren’t worth a shit.  Virtually anything that is considered feminine in our society is devalued.  Regardless of biological sex (or gender) if you are nurturing, emotional, cooperative, compassionate, excitable, relational, expressive, passive, artistic, etc…then you are devalued.  For men who have these attributes, they are shamed into being more “masculine” by being called gay or faggots.  However,  girls and women are socialized to have all of these attributes and are then devalued for the same feminine attributes they were “forced” by families and society to adopt. Talk about a double-bind.

Women grow up in a culture where they have never seen a female president. Where they  only recently earned the right to vote. Where history books only document men’s history and religious books condemn women as being unclean, unfit, unholy, unworthy, the property of men, and the blame for humanity’s fall from grace.  Women learn that no matter how hard they work, pay equity is something they are unlikely to ever achieve.  Little girls learn that they have little to no value except for their physical beauty; be pretty, not smart. They learn that men get to interrupt women in conversations but women do not get to interrupt men.  They learn that society does not trust them to make rational decisions regarding their own health or about their ability to carry and provide for another child. Girls learn that standing up for their bodily integrity, what they believe in, or their basic human rights will likely result in getting called a “Bitch”.  Girls learn that when they are molested, beaten, and/or attacked that they must have done something to provoke it; regardless of their ability to fight back or resist.

However, when women reject what is feminine because they are trying to play the “game” by the rules and the rules only allow white, straight, Christian men to get ahead, they then get labeled as “Dyke”, “Lesbian”, “Man-hater”, “Femi-Natzi”, or worse.  These double binds for women create circumstances where women can NEVER win.  When women act feminine they are devalued.  When women act masculine they are devalued.

Consider Hilary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign.  She was berated for wearing pantsuits and then berated for wearing something a bit more feminine.  She was berated for being aggressive (taking a stand) and too masculine and then berated for crying after losing a long, heart-felt, and hard-fought battle. She was berated for not leaving a cheating husband but blamed for his unfaithfulness. The examples are literally countless. Many girls and women spend their lives trying to figure out what the rules are.

The only answer is this.  Be who you are.  People’s attributes are neither male nor female; they are simply human.  Each of us has within us the ability to have “male” and “female” qualities.  To deny any or all of those is deny ourselves and others the right to be fully, authentically who we are. I choose the truth. What will you choose?

Double Binds

A double bind can be easily explained with the old adage:  “You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t”. Sexism and sexist gender socialization create many double binds for girls and women. Gender expectations for girls and women are lengthy, detailed, and impossible.  In order to be a “good” woman, one must possess most, if not all of the following “feminine” qualities:

Be quiet, be passive, be selfless, be dependent on a man, don’t use profanity,  be nurturing, be moral, be pure, be proper, get married, be a “good” mother, be responsible for the success of all of your relationships, be sexy but not sexual, be pretty, be thin, and the list goes on almost indefinitely.

Double Binds for women arise out of the standards I have described above (which is by no means conclusive).  Women are socialized to be “feminine” and “good” through shaming for nonconformity. Each of the expectations has an opposing negative identity attached to it. Some examples: Be passive or you’re a bitch. Get married or you’re a lesbian.  Be feminine or you’re a dyke (which has a very negative connotation in the South-not so much in the North). Be pretty and thin no matter what the cost; literally and figuratively.  Each of these expectations/identities has other problems as well. Adhering to them increases women’s oppression and the likelihood of being victimized.  Be passive but don’t be a victim. Women are taught not to be aggressive and not to yell.  Women are silenced as children and then when they are victimized as adults (and as children) they are too afraid to yell and scream or fight back; even when they need to protect themselves from death.  When women are raped and survive they are often blamed for provoking the attack.  Why didn’t she scream?  Why didn’t she say “No”? Why didn’t she resist or fight back?  Because she’s been socialized not to and because she’s been told by the media that she should cooperate so that her attacker won’t kill her (I will cover this in much more detail under the Sexual Assault page/post).

We socialize women to get married and stay home and be dependent upon a husband. However, when women can’t support themselves financially outside of marriage and become dependent on welfare, they are shamed for being dependent.  When women are successful in careers and have financial independence, they are accused of sleeping their way to the top. There is virtually no way to “win” as defined by society’s standards.  You must define your own.

How does a woman achieve being sexy but not sexual? Can a woman be sexy or sexual and still remain pure?  These are impossible standards because “pure” originates from the religious usage of the word which relates to not being sexual. In fact, women are considered to be impure by Christians simply because they menstruate. These are impossible standards that no woman can meet.  Now it becomes easy to hate women (as a group) because no woman can achieve the standards so all women must be bad.  Women hold other women to these standards and they hold themselves to these standards. Women can be as sexist or more sexist than can men.  And now, women dislike/oppress themselves and other women because they cannot see that the standards are sexist and oppressive.

Consider the phrase “A lady on the street and a freak in the sheets”.  This is the bind about sexuality for women. How does a person maintain two sexual identities or sexual standards? A woman can’t act like a “whore” if she believes that whores are bad because then she is forced to believe that she’s a bad person.  Generally speaking, people like to protect themselves from feeling shameful and shame is the feeling that you are a bad person; unlikable for some reason.

The following is a link to a performance of “Girl Exploded” by Lauren Zuniga.  It’s an excellent illustration of sexist gender socialization and double binds for women.  You’re missing something monumental if you don’t watch this video.  It’s 3 minutes…just do it.

The Sexism Continuum

The following is a progressive (because they build on each other) list of the many forms of sexism and violence against women and how they create a “web” of oppression.  The many forms “non-violent” sexism work to create circumstances that severely restrict and reduce women’s lives.  I will cover each of these in more detail in their own posts later.

Institutionalized Sexism– Women’s status among the institutions like government, religion, home, society, marriage, corporations, etc…

Psychological Wounding and Gender Socialization– The result of growing up in a culture that hates and devalues girls and women.  Consider the “like a girl messages”…Don’t act like a girl because girls are weak, of less value, stupid, crazy, bad athletes, etc… Anything that is considered to be feminine is devalued.  Men and women are socialized in VERY different ways. Women are socialized to be “feminine” and men to be masculine, but then women are devalued for all of their feminine qualities.

Gendered Language/Communication– The usage of androcentric (male-centered) language in religious texts, text books, everyday language, etc…

Controlling Women’s Bodies– Medical bias towards women; controlling women’s access to birth control and reproductive services.

Economic Assault– Pay inequity; “feminine professions” are devalued and paid significantly less, the glass ceiling; women’s unpaid labor; women’s “role” to care for children and stay home with them; social security; the feminization of poverty; women in old age.

Sexual Harassment – Educational bias towards women; sexual harassment in the workforce

Pornography, Prostitution, and Human Trafficking– The harm done to women by certain kinds of pornography; the harm done to women who appear in pornography; Prostitution as a “legitimate” profession; most women are “forced” into prostitution as a result of all of the other forms of sexism and violence against women.

Sexual Assault; Rape – Self-explanatory….but stats about sexual assault against girls and women;

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) – The use of coercive control, usually by a male intimate partner, to threaten, control, intimidate, etc…their female intimate partner.  IPV exists in heterosexual and homosexual relationships and can also be used by women to control men, but there are some very important distinguishing factors that must be considered.

Global Violence Against Women – Femicide, female genital mutilation,

Identity Tree

Identity Tree

For many women, one of the most difficult parts of leaving an abusive relationship is letting go of their current identity and the values and beliefs that come with it, primarily socially enforced female gender role expectations.  In my original interpretation, the tree represented the possibility of a new identity, One that would allow every woman to be the person she wants to be: without guilt, without shame, and without abuse. I use the tree to represent “the self” because trees have many of the same qualities that people do.  These qualities help us to move forward in our lives despite tragic losses.

The tree has the ability to grow and change with the seasons, to adapt to changing conditions, to sway in the breezes of life without breaking, and to regenerate after devastating loss.  The tree is beautiful in many ways, primarily for its many imperfections. For people, these differences make us more human, more relational, more empathic, more unique, and more beautiful. Trees cannot stand alone though.  They must be firmly rooted in a solid foundation, just as people must be firmly rooted in their connections with others who are loving and supportive.  We must also be firmly rooted in a sense of identity that does not require us to sacrifice ourselves on the altar of social acceptability and allows us to reach our maximum potential.

Kendra Pennington-Zoellner


The picture of tree was not created by me and does not belong to me.  I found it on the internet without credit to the artist.