Category Archives: Herstory


“I believe you can do whatever you want, whenever you want, all the time.  So do it.”

Sadie knows what’s up!  We are all connected – more so now through digital media than ever before.  And through this connection, we have an obligation to support each other.  Lately, I’ve watched a lot of videos with little girls offering positive affirmations for themselves and others, going on about their personal goals in life, and basically celebrating the talents they have.  I think we ought to keep doing this into adulthood.

As the semester closes out, I wish all of you well.  I want you to know that you are fondly thought of as you finish up assignments, prepare to take final exams, and get ready to move on to whatever adventure awaits you this summer. Don’t forget that the Sloss House makes a great place to study and relax between tests!  And we have a kitchen and free coffee!

Penny, our Director here, has us go around at each staff meeting and share a “Smile Sighting”.  A Smile Sighting is something you’ve witnessed in the previous week that made you smile.  We share our sightings with one another as a way to celebrate small things in life.  I think Sadie here is my smile sighting for this week.

As my friends and I start (and continue) job searching, we got into the yucky habit of wallowing in self-doubt and worry.  So we began a new tradition.  Each week, we have to share something we are proud of.  It can be something we did in class, at home, or at work.  But every week, we have to find something to be proud of and share it with someone else.

I guess as things wind up to wind down, I just wanted to leave you with the notion that we should all be doing something we’re good at – something we like doing, we need to find the small things in life to smile about, and we have to be proud of ourselves.  Because certainly, we are talented people.

Liz Steinborn, Graduate Assistant at the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center,


Wheels of Change: How the Bicycle Empowered Women – The Atlantic

As it warms up and the ice puddles have shrunk, some of you may be digging your bicycles out of the garage/shed/storage unit.  After you’ve taken that first ride of spring, check out this awesome article about how bicycles liberated women!

Wheels of Change: How the Bicycle Empowered Women – The Atlantic.

Nellie Bly: Stunt Journalist & Undercover Activist

Identifying as both a journalist and a feminist, one of my ideals has been Nellie Bly, whose real name was Elizabeth Jane Cochran. Ever since I learned about her in my high school journalism class, I knew that was the type of journalist I wanted to be. She was a rebel as both a woman in the 1860s and as a journalist. You see, Nellie Bly was a stunt journalist, who went undercover to bring to light horrible crimes by writing firsthand accounts of her experience.

Unlike the somewhat news shows like To Catch a Predator or old school Sixty Minutes, she didn’t just go undercover because it would create publicity or spark controversy. She went undercover to make sure things would get changes, and that wrongs would be righted.

Her career started when she wrote a letter to the editor criticizing a Pittsburg Dispatch sexist editorial saying that a woman’s place was in the home. Rather than publish the letter, Bly was given a job at the paper because the editor was impressed by her spirit and fieriness. At the Dispatch, she worked on an investigative series on the plight of women in factory jobs, but members of the editorial staff pushed her to write articles on fashion and gardening.

Bored out of her mind writing these articles, she decided to become a foreign press correspondent, at the age of 21. She spent nearly half a year reporting the lives and customs of the Mexican people.  In one report, she criticized the Mexican government, then a dictatorship under Porfirio Díaz when Mexican authorities learned of Bly’s report, they threatened her with arrest, prompting her to leave the country.

But her most famous piece of journalism was getting herself committed to the women’s insane asylum at Bellevue and writing an expose for the New York World.

To get herself admitted she spent a night of practicing deranged expressions in front of a mirror before she checked into a working-class boardinghouse. She refused to go to bed, telling the boarders that she was afraid of them and that they looked crazy. She must have been a good actress as well as a good journalist because the next morning the borders summoned the police. After being taken to a courtroom, she pretended to have amnesia.

Sentenced to the asylum, she felt the first hand horrors of the institution. The food consisted of gruel broth, spoiled beef, bread that was little more than dried dough, and dirty undrinkable water. The dangerous patients were tied together with ropes. The patients were made to sit for much of each day on hard benches with scant protection from the cold. What Bly found most interesting, was the fact that many of women she encountered at the Asylum seemed as sane as she was.

“What, excepting torture, would produce insanity quicker than this treatment? Here is a class of women sent to be cured. I would like the expert physicians who are condemning me for my action, which has proven their ability, to take a perfectly sane and healthy woman, shut her up and make her sit from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. on straight-back benches, do not allow her to talk or move during these hours, give her no reading and let her know nothing of the world or its doings, give her bad food and harsh treatment, and see how long it will take to make her insane. Two months would make her a mental and physical wreck,” Nellie wrote.

After ten days, she was released from the asylum after her coworkers bailed her out. After her report, which was later turned into a book, was published, it caused a sensation as physicians tried to poorly explain themselves. A grand jury launched its own investigation into conditions at the asylum, inviting Bly to assist. The jury’s report recommended the changes she had proposed, and its call for increased funds for care of the insane prompted an $850,000 increase in the budget of the Department of Public Charities and Corrections.

Bly was not just a journalist, but an activist of change. She pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable behavior for women; she made sure that voices suppressed were heard. Her writings led to social change.
Nowadays, Bly’s stunts would be under scrutiny, or considered “poor ethics” by some journalist and it would be hard to do the same type of stunt without a backlash To me, I think she did what need to be done to make sure that the story got out and that change was made.

I wanted to go undercover like Bly, and to see if what people said matched what they actually practiced. I want to expose corruption and change society one story at a time. I wanted to the Bly of the 21 century.

That was three years ago, now I am moving to earning a degree for public relations in the non-profit sector, where I think I can do just as much good. Journalism just wasn’t my calling, but I still work at a paper as a feminist opinion columnist. While my goals in life have changed since when I first heard of Nellie Bly, I still hope to have her passion to creating change and by helping those whose stories have never been told fairly.

By Abby Barefoot: Vagina Warrior and volunteer-extraordinaire at the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center.

International Women’s Day

Last year on this day, I got flowers delivered to my office.  Now, this is no ordinary thing for me.  I wasn’t dating anyone.  I hadn’t recently accomplished anything great.  I read the card and it said “Happy International Women’s Day. We’re proud of you.”  (Side story – the card wasn’t signed by anyone… so I went several days wondering who sent me flowers, later to find out the flower company just forgot to add “Love, Mom and Dad” – thanks for the mystery, flowers company!).  This gesture by my parents meant a great deal to me.  To be honest, I never really thought about myself as a woman leader.  I could see them sending me flowers on my birthday or even Valentine’s Day, but I never would have imagined them sending me flowers on International Women’s Day. So it got me thinking – why would they do that? Why this day? They must see something in me as a woman that I don’t see in myself.

This year in the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program, I’ve had the opportunity to explore this part of my identity even more.  I was still struggling with why this was an important part of my identity, and this is one reason I wanted to engage in a practicum at the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center.  I wanted to figure out what difference it makes to be a woman in a male dominated world.

Looking at our history, women have had to and continue to overcome many obstacles.  In the U.S., we weren’t granted to opportunity to vote or run for public office until 1920 (and there are still some countries in the world that don’t have women’s suffrage, such as Saudi Arabia).  And still, the gender gap in public office is wide – in the House, there are currently 360 men and 75 women, and in the Senate there are only 17 women compared with 83 men.  There are five times as many men making decisions that affect both sexes equally.  And Iowa is one of four states to never elected a woman to congress.

We’re still working on closing the gender pay gap, the number of women in STEM fields, and, according to CNN Money, in 2006, there were only 10 women running Fortune 500 companies, and only 20 in the top 1,000.  We have a long ways to go.

So, we celebrate the progress we have made, and we are reminded of the work that needs to yet be done.  International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women in the past, present and future. It honors the work of the Suffragettes, celebrates women’s success, and reminds us of inequities still to be addressed.

Who is a woman who has impacted your life?  Who is a woman who is quietly making change, without even realizing it? Recognize that person today… a simple “thank you” or “keep up the good work” can go a long way.

Amanda Martin is doing a practicum in the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center. She can be reached at


Celebrating Women

Welcome to March: Women’s History Month.  I was trying to find some profound youtube video about the impact women have made in history, but youtube left me wanting.  So I started looking around for videos that inspired me as a woman.  And because of the political climate’s hostility toward women, I wanted something to bridge the gap.

What I found was a wonderful interview with former Secretary of State Madeline Albright.  She’s witty and brilliant (and sassy, which immediately charmed me to her).  She has an amazing outlook on being a woman in the United States.  Take a look at what she has to say about her experience as Secretary of State as well as her outlook on the importance of women globally.

We often think of women’s history in the past-tense (as history is often found in the past…), but I challenge you to find a woman this week who is making history today.  Maybe you’ll find her in the mirror.  ~Liz (

If you haven’t visited, you are missing out.  TED, as their website states:

a small nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design.

They videotape their conference presenters and share it in videos on their site.  The idea of sharing knowledge in this way is powerful, and I highly recommend spending some time getting to know their website.

the girl effect

Because I cannot bear to talk about the many incidents of backlash women are experiencing in regards to health care and rights, I wanted to share something positive and powerful with you today.

The Girl Effect should empower you – share this with a girl you know who can change the world.  So share this with any girl: because all of them can change the world!

Monday Feminist

Sojourner Truth gave her famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech160 years ago.  She was on fire!  Sadly, many of the words she speaks so long ago still ring true today.  But feel empowered and challenged to be so bold to speak out!

The Vagina Monologues!

Well friends, we are officially in V-Season!  The Iowa State ({2011}) V-Day campaign to end violence against women is in full swing.  For those of you unfamiliar with The Vagina Monologues, do we have a treat for you!

Here’s a sneak peak from the playwright herself, Eve Ensler:

Since 1996, The Vagina Monologues have been shocking and delighting audiences across the globe.  The Vagina Warriors at Iowa State are proud to perform this year’s show.  For the past month, we have been talking about vaginas, creating paper vaginas, selling chocolate vaginas, and rehearsing monologues about vaginas.  Through the sisterhood of the cast, we are excited to bring you a show that not only promises to entertain, but raises awareness about the very serious topic of domestic and sexual violence.

The mission of the V-Day campaign is at the heart of each Vagina Warriors:

V-Day is an organized response against violence toward women.

V-Day is a vision: We see a world where women live safely and freely.

V-Day is a demand: Rape, incest, battery, genital mutilation and sexual slavery must end now.

V-Day is a spirit: We believe women should spend their lives creating and thriving rather than surviving or recovering from terrible atrocities.

V-Day is a catalyst: By raising money and consciousness, it will unify and strengthen existing anti-violence efforts. Triggering far-reaching awareness, it will lay the groundwork for new educational, protective, and legislative endeavors throughout the world.

V-Day is a process: We will work as long as it takes. We will not stop until the violence stops.

V-Day is a day. We proclaim Valentine’s Day as V-Day, to celebrate women and end the violence.

V-Day is a fierce, wild, unstoppable movement and community. Join us!

Performances in the Memorial Union Maintenance Shop:

Thursday, February 10th @ 5:30pm – Join us for a brief discussion after the show to learn how you can work to end violence throughout the year.

Friday, February 11th @ 6:00pm – We are proud to provide American Sign Language interpreters at this show!

Friday, February 11th @ 9:00pm

Tickets are on sale at the M-Shop.  Students pay $12 with an ISU i.d. and community members pay $15.  Chocolate vaginas will be available for purchase at all shows.  Visit us in the West Student Office Space booth on Monday, January 31; Tuesday, February 1; Thursday, February 10; and Friday, February 11 to purchase “I Respect Vaginas” t-shirts and chocolates.

All proceeds from the show go to benefit the Ames Assault Care Center Extending Shelter and Support (ACCESS).  Last year we were able to raise $5,000.  Help us surpass that this year!

Questions? Contact Liz Steinborn at the MSWC:

Sloss House Preview

If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to stop by and see the Sloss House, you can view this video, produced by the Iowa State Daily!

Thank you to everyone who made our reopening such a success!  The Sloss House has been re-warmed with over 70 people in attendance yesterday and we would like to invite you to spend more time with us at the house.

Door prizes from our drawing were awarded to:
Teresita A.
Chris P.
Gail F.
April W.

Congratulations and thanks again for showing your support at the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center!

News of Note

Check out this insightful article found in the Iowa State Daily newspaper on Friday, January 7th.

Did you miss the special MTV did on teen abortions called “No Easy Decision” during winter break? You probably did, considering MTV did not promote the special that aired after the “16 and Pregnant” reunion special in any way whatsoever. They even put the special in the after hours graveyard spot of 11:30 p.m. eastern time.

So what’s the big deal? Well, the fact that it wasn’t promoted or advertised gives in to the popular idea that having an abortion is something not to be talked about and something to be ashamed of. If their own network is afraid to tackle promoting this difficult subject, how are women who had abortion supposed to feel?

// //

The stand alone special featured three teens — including Markai, who gave birth to another child on the show “16 and Pregnant” — and their decision to terminate their pregnancies and the emotional aftermath. While the special did a good job showing abortion in a fair light, the lack of promotion hurt its chance to be helpful to teens struggling with abortion decisions.

Nearly one-third of all teen pregnancies end in abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, yet “16 and Pregnant” does not feature any teens who chose this option. Then again, this is the same show where very few mothers have chosen to give up their child for adoption. What does it say when a “reality” TV show refuses to show all of the options, mainly abortion?

On the “16 and Pregnant” reunion special that was aired before “No Easy Decision,” Markai talked with Dr. Drew about life after her baby was born. Not once was her abortion discussed at all, but was the main story on the special. Even when discussing birth control and plans for having another child, her abortion was ignored.

Of course the reunion was highly publicized on MTV and was expected to have a high viewership, unlike “No Easy Decision” which you watched only if you stayed long enough after the reunion to care.

MTV isn’t the only one to shy away from the abortions. Movies such as Juno, “Knocked Up” and “Waitress” all feature unplanned pregnancies but talk little about abortion or use the word. In “Knocked Up” it is called “taking care of it” or a “Rhymes with Susmortion.” In “Waitress” it was simply “the other thing” In “Juno,” Juno goes to the clinic for one, only to be change her mind when learning the baby has fingernails.

Even in the ever cheesy Canadian Show “Degrassi” when they did an abortion two-part episode, the American channel The N, refused to show it due to it controversial content. This same network had no problem showing teen pregnancy, drinking, STDs, school shootings, but abortion is controversial. Especially since the show has many plots dealing with sexuality that puts characters with an unplanned pregnancy.

Why is it that while Roe v. Wade case decision turns 38 this month, that abortion is still looked down upon, or not talked about at all in television?

Why is the media so scared to show abortion as a reasonable choice for women? Sure it is controversial, and not a simple choice to make, but it is happening. By not publicizing it doesn’t mean abortion will magically go away.

TV seems to feature abortion plots more than movies, but never in an even slightly positive light. If a character does have an abortion or is thinking about on in a movie or television show, there are several options for her:

1. She magically miscarries before she has an abortion such as on “Dawson’s Creek” and “Beverly Hill’s 90210.”

Because while miscarriage does happen, there is a slim chance that by wishing you don’t want the baby it will magically happen.

2. She is very much distressed with and turns to alcohol drugs or other bad behavior, or she dreams about dead babies, like in “Six Feet Under.”

While I think it is safe to say that abortion can cause emotional stress, it does not mean that all women react the same way. So why does our media show only the worst possible scenario?

3. You die. This occurs after the abortion, when after backlash from people who find the plot controversial and boycott your show and then screen writers decide to kill off the character to appease them. This happened in the short lived “Jack and Bobby” series.

Because higher forces will punish you by death for having an abortion regardless if you believe in them. I’m sure Planned Parenthood says otherwise.

4. At the last possible minute she will change her mind and keep the baby. Naturally everything is turns out okay, such as in a plot in “Sex and the City” and more recently “Private Practice” and the god awful “Secret Life of the American Teenager.”

While abortion is not the right choice for everyone, these shows send the message that it’s not the right choice for anyone.

Friday Night Lights” is the only show I can think of that recently did a good job with this topic, with Becky clearly stating why she wanted it. She was in the 10th grade with no money and knew she couldn’t raise a child. After having the abortion she thought she made the right choice. We shall see if screenwriters and advertisers allow her to keep this decision.

In the 1970s, there was one show that portrayed abortion in a fair light, “Maude.” While Maude was upset about it, she didn’t die, change her mind, or turn to drugs. In the end she was okay with her decision and moved on. That was 30 years ago, and we have made little progress since then.

There might be more abortion friendly plots I am missing considering I don’t spend all day watching TV, but the fact is they are few in number, and if they are there they are narrow in their views.

What do I want to see in 2011? An abortion storyline on television portrayed in a fair light, where while the decision was difficult they feel like they made the right choice. Oh and for it to be shown at a decent hour.

What happened to the days where TV was more progressive than the movies? Where they pushed the envelope on what you can see on TV and were advocates for social change? It seems now days they are too worried about backlash and loss of advertisements dollars to do anything outside the box.

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