Monday, September 29, 2008

FEM

Posted By on September 29, 2008, 10:22 PM

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With sexual crimes on the rise both locally and nation wide, one Utah group is making a stand against the trend by providing an educational resource to the community.

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--- FEM (Female Empowerment Movement) has become dedicated to the ideal that sexual violence in all forms can be prevented by educating people on everything from gender rolls to sexuality.  With several events planed and a magazine on the way the organization is on the verge of becoming a mainstay in the local culture, while aiming to making a strong difference for women and a dent in sexual crimes.  I got a chance to chat with several members of their staff about the organization, its programs, the upcoming Grrls Gone Radical Fest, and some other topics that came to mind.

Courtney Maguire, Matt Bruce & Shawn Wood
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http://www.fem-utah.com/

Gavin:
 Hey guys, first off, tell us who you are and a little bit about yourselves.

Courtney: I guess I'll go first. My name is Courtney Maguire and I’m the founder of the Female Empowerment Movement. I’m also a student at the University of Utah, studying Gender Studies.

Shawn: My name is Shawn Wood and I’ve been a part of FEM pretty much since it’s inception.

Matt: My name is Matt Bruce, I've also been a part of FEM since its inception.

Gavin: For those who are unaware, what is FEM?

Courtney: FEM is a non-profit feminist group that is dedicated to raising awareness about Sexual Violence and Sexism here in Utah. Not only are we here to raise awareness, but we are also here to encourage our community and our women to be strong and empowered.

Gavin: How did the idea for it first come about, and what did it take to set it up?

Courtney: When I transferred from Northern Arizona University to the University of Utah in 2006, I always wished there was a feminist community here. I mean, feminists existed and I had feminist friends, but we never hung out or did things as feminists. It took until last year where I was sexually assaulted to finally get the courage to start the group and encourage people to join with me and say “enough is enough!” All it took was a MySpace bulletin and the support from my friends and out we came.

Shawn: I think FEM pretty much came out of the lack of and need for a cohesive feminist community in Utah.

Matt:  I couldn't agree more. Most of us involved in FEM are animal rights activists, but we felt that there was a missing piece in the Salt Lake activist community. With FEM I believe we've filled a much needed gap judging from the amount of support we've received.

Gavin: You say that proper education is the solution.  Can you go into detail on that and what can be done to help?

Courtney: Usually when I explain this to strangers, people assume I’m talking about educating women to not wear revealing clothing, to not go to a bar, or walk outside late at night. When I think that those are all myths created to put the blame on the women or the victim. With educating our youth about sexism and gender roles, for example: teaching young girls to be assertive and empowered and young men to not be violent or aggressive and consider girls as equal, can really affect the way they perceive gender.

Shawn: I think one really important part of education is educating people about the fact that sexism even exists. Sexism is such a big part of our culture that I think it really goes largely unnoticed. It’s especially apparent to me in the everyday language people use. When you start to break it down it’s really quite appalling. Example, the word “b!#ch” and terms like “b!#ch slap” “I’ll make you my b!#ch” “which one of you is the b!#ch?” etc. What is a “b!#ch”? I think that most people would agree that the word “b!#ch” is meant to replace the word “woman”. So what does that say about how we view the position of women in our society? What does that say about the term “b!#ch slap” and our culture of violent domination of women? Yet most people say the word b!#ch with no hesitation, which is a good example of our societal ignorance of sexism in general. (For any of you who are wondering why our headlining musician goes by the name “B!#ch”. Well I think the irony of her name is intentional).

Matt:  With the barrage of sexually charged advertising campaigns, the false promises of weight loss cremes, and the feeling of inadequacy that cosmetic companies feed off of, the pressure for a young woman can become unbearable. These influences encourage women to feel like they have nothing to offer but a pretty face and their worth is only skin deep. We feel that education can combat these negative influences and help people be the people THEY want to be, instead of a mold someone else may find appealing. I see this affect women my age, can you imagine the effect on young girls? This is where we think education is key.

Gavin: One of the statistics you state is that 1 in 3 women in Utah will be raped while the national average is 1 in 4.  Why do you believe Utah is more prone to this action?

Courtney: I really wish I knew the real answer to this, but I think it has a lot to do with the way our society deals with sex and sexual violence in general. And that is because we just don’t talk about it.

Shawn: I personally think everyone wants to pretend that everything’s perfect here and that there are no problems. Which just disables people to discuss the reality of rape and sexual assault.

Matt: I think there are several sexually repressive elements in Utah. Part of the problem is in our complete lack of sex education in schools, certain moral obligations pushed on our youth , and various legal restrictions. This kind of ambivalence leads some people to a breaking point where they lose all control. I am in no way excusing blame for those responsible, but I do feel that if proper procedures were in place we would have less of a problem. Like they say, the best offense is a good defense.
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Gavin: I noticed in your pamphlet that you sell mace and advise that it really does work.  Do you believe this to be a better alternative to tasers?  And what do you think of the recent taser-party fad that’s been happening?

Courtney: I was just recently given a Taser's and they are really kick-ass. I think as far as self-defense with a weapon goes, you wouldn’t want to mess with someone whose got a taser.  But I also have pepper spray and I feel very confident with using pepper spray as an effective tool to defend myself. Its unfortunate that I need a weapon to feel safe, but I am strongly for self-defense and doing what you can to protect yourself.

Matt: We promote it over tasers because it is practical and inexpensive. One of our goals is to get women out of compromising situations safely and we see pepper spray as an effective means to that end. I know nothing about taser parties but it sounds like the dumbest thing I've ever heard of.

Gavin: I understand you’re working on some projects for schools and defense classes.  What’s the progress on them?

Courtney: Because we are so new, we haven’t really incorporated our projects yet as much as we would like to. Our biggest project is the magazine, which we’ll talk about later and the festival coming up this Saturday. We’ll eventually start getting into self-defense classes for women and speaking to students about gender violence and how they can prevent it, but for now we need to get settled in.

Matt: We will also be having an instructor from the United Studios of Self Defense at our event on Oct. 4th at the City Library. She will be teaching practical methods to avoid violent sexual encounters. Also, we are currently working on presentations for schools, so if anyone would like us to talk to their students please visit our website.

Gavin: You also have meetings every Monday.  Where can people find those and what do you usually talk about?

Matt: We meet EVERY Monday at COFFEE CONNECTION at 7:30pm. Coffee Connection has been one of our sponsors since the beginning and we like to show our appreciation by meeting there and supporting them in turn. We discuss upcoming projects, new approaches to old ideas, and outreach to other like minded groups and people.
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Gavin: You’re starting up a magazine soon as well.  What can people expect to find inside?

Matt: We here at FEM understand that everyone has their stories so we're setting up the magazine in a way that lets people vent, rant, and discuss the way they feel about matters relating to gender equality and abuse. Essentially a soapbox. The submissions will be free of editing on our part, so if your story is included it will remain unaltered. We will also have regular contributors speaking out on social issues and how it relates to us as feminists. Our primary goal for the magazine and the group is to build a community of supportive individuals. People support what they help create and we want everyone involved!

Courtney: Our first issue will include articles written by local feminists ranging from topics like motherhood to sexism in the skiing industry. We will also provide music/movie/poetry columns that are either in support of our movement or against it. We’ve had an amazing response from the community about the magazine, so we know a lot of people are looking forward to it.

Shawn: I’d also like to add that if anyone reading this would be interested in contributing to the magazine in any way please contact us!

Gavin: Do you have a release date yet, or are things still being worked out and planned?

Courtney: Our original goal was to have this magazine out by October 4th, which is just so impossible due to the amount of planning we had to put into the festival. So our next goal is by December, which is more realistic.

Gavin: Do you work with any other groups in Utah or are you more of a stand alone organization?

Courtney: Oh yes. We mostly work with the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA) who has really opened major doors for FEM. They are an amazing organization and we will continue to always work with them in the future. We have also worked with South Valley Sanctuary which is a domestic violence shelter for women and children in the South Valley. They’ve put on a number of amazing events such as the NOMAS conference and the Utah Artists Against Domestic Violence fundraiser. We are also affiliated with Salt Lake Victim Services, Planned Parenthood and Synergy for Single Moms.  Without the support of these amazing organizations, we wouldn’t be where we are today.

Matt: We also work with the Rape Recovery Center, The National Organization for Men Against Sexism (NOMAS), The Brown Berets, The Feministas, and The Salt Lake Animal Advocacy Movement (SLAAM). We have a wide range of supporters and we are thrilled to work with them all.

Gavin: What are your thoughts on the way Utah law works to prosecute sex offenders?

Matt: Life without parole for repeat offenders, offenders restricted from places where children may be, increased sentences for enticing minors online, what more could you ask for? 28% of Utah's prison inmates are sex offenders (53% of which are serving life sentences), compared to California's 9%, I think we're doing something right.

Gavin:  Is there anything you believe could be done to make that system better?

Matt: Yeah, more convictions!

Gavin: Are there any points our local government should be looking into to help?

Matt: Keeping a closer eye on certain hotspots where this kind of activity takes place. The authorities know where these places are and some extra measures should be taken. A little can go a long way.

Gavin: This Saturday you have the Grrls Gone Radical Fest.  Tell us about the event and what you’ve got planned for it.

Courtney: Grrls Gone Radical Fest will be held Saturday from Noon to 10PM outside the Downtown Public Library. We’ve got so much amazing things planned like self-defense workshops, group discussions, speakers on community activism and great performances from amazing artists, all hosted by UtahFM’s Babs Delay. At the end of the fest there will be a candlelight vigil for those whose lost their lives from domestic and sexual violence in the last year. This isn’t just for women either, it’s for everyone. So please come have a good time and help support.

Gavin: What can we expect from FEM the rest of the year and going into next?

Courtney: The magazine, for sure, and we will be hosting a Take Back The Night event in April of next year. We are finding more local and active ways to get the word out so we’ll be running through your neck of the woods soon enough. Just remember to constantly check our website to see more updates and where we will be next.
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Gavin: Is there anything you guys would like to plug or promote?

Courtney: After the festival, The Trapp Door will be holding a benefit party for us as a “well done” gift. The entire staff will be there and we will still be accepting donations and having a great time doing it. So if anyone would like to go and help support the party starts right after the festival from 10PM-2AM.

Matt: We would like to thank our major sponsors for all their help and support, SLUG magazine, Tom Wood’s Custom Drive Shafts, UCASA, LUNA Bar, South Valley Sanctuary, Planned Parenthood, Cakewalk Baking Company, The Trapp Door, DJ/DC and Dance Evolution, Ian Brandt with Sages Cafe and Vertical Diner, Coffee Connection, Este Pizza, Eleventh Street Electric Tattoo Gallery, Oni Tattoo Gallery, and Iris Piercing. These companies stand by all of us in our fight against sexual violence, please support them!!

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