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Perilous Years For Girls

Elizabeth F. Clayton

In what is only one example of the never-ending influence that American media has on my life, it took the new HBO show Big Love to make me actually think about polygamy. The battle over polygamy has long been one between fringe Mormon-based branch groups and the rest of society. Well, I never thought I'd say this, but fringe religious extremists – make room for one more.

Let's take a moment here to define polygamy. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines polygamy as "marriage in which a spouse of either sex may have more than one mate at the same time," as opposed to polygyny, "the state or practice of having more than one wife or female mate at one time" or polyandry, "the state or practice of having more than one husband or male mate at one time." So polygamy encompasses both polygyny and polyandry, and hence is the term that I'm choosing to use. I'm just as OK with women having plural husbands as I am with men having plural wives.

So why do I support polygamy? Because people should be able to have the kinds of families that they want to have. While gay rights supporters cringe to hear the polygamists use gay rights as a reason for polygamist rights, I have to say that they have a point. The idea that a family consists of a husband, a wife and their children is obviously outdated.

Consenting adults should be allowed to love and marry who they want to love and marry – even if that person is already married to someone else. Notice I said adults – I'm against polygamy, or anything else, being used to allow or force underage teenagers to marry. Obviously, there are cases where polygamy is used to subjugate women or abuse young girls. But hey, that can happen with traditional marriage, too. A man only needs one wife to be a wife-beater. What accepting polygamy is about is accepting people being able to live and love the way that they want to, even if that way is non-traditional.

Polygamy is not for me, and I suspect that it's not for most people in today's society. But for the people for whom it works, and for who it gives the type of family that they want to have? Well, I'm certainly not comfortable saying that they shouldn't be allowed to have their lifestyle of choice. Are you?

Thank Elizabeth for her thoughts or tell her why she's wrong after you read Perilous Years: the blog.

Ms. Clayton is an aspiring nuclear physicist/kindergarten teacher and a Mills senior. The title of her column comes from a 1940s advertisment for Pink Pills, marketed to help teen girls who have "outgrown their strength."She welcomes all comments, concerns and compliments..

Perilous Years For Girls

Elizabeth F. Clayton

My mother had pre-menopausal breast cancer in her mid 40's – a presentation more likely to be caused by genetic factors. Because of this, I have a high risk of getting breast cancer, and am a good candidate for getting the test to see if I carry the "breast cancer gene." But I'm not getting tested.

A few weeks ago a study from University of Washington came out on the problems with the current genetic test for breast cancer, which specifically tests for mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. The study found that the test missed about 12 percent of gene mutations in breast cancer patients with strong family histories of breast or ovarian cancer.

The response in the press was mainly one of horror – a feeling that we need to get a better test out there fast. But one important point was overlooked – that getting the genetic test for the breast cancer mutation might end up being bad for women.

Since genetic testing is still relatively new, no one knows how it's going to be used in the future. If I test positive for a gene mutation a health insurance company could use those results to not take me on as a patient, or call it a "pre-existing condition" and not cover me for any breast cancer treatments. My GYN has discouraged me from getting the test because of this.

Scary, isn't it?

Although my mom survived, and is doing great six years since finishing treatment, I'm anything but casual about the force of the disease. Two of my mom's best friends, both of whom were diagnosed around the same time as my mom, died this past summer after their cancer came back.

Of course, every woman has to make her own decision on this. Getting the test is the right thing for some people. Hell, getting a pre-emptive double mastectomy is the right thing for some women with a strong family history of breast cancer. (I like my breasts too much for this to be right for me, however.) I just hope that all women think long and hard, and talk with their doctors about the pros and cons of getting this test instead of just rushing out and doing it. If we all act as if we're going to get breast cancer and are diligent about watching for it, hopefully more cases will be caught early and more women will survive this devastating disease.

Perilous Years For Girls

Elizabeth F. Clayton

Physical appearance is a topic that often comes up in discussions of feminism. Many feminists feel strongly that they do not want to be judged on their looks, that any acknowledgment of beauty, specifically a more traditional kind of feminine attractiveness, is tied to the objectification and consequent subjugation of women.

But there is a power that comes with attractiveness, and using this power is not contrary to being a feminist. Yes, beauty is something that is not "fair," not everyone gets an equal share of the beautiful pie. Intelligence isn't distributed equally either.

Much has been made lately of discussion of appearances in profiles written about powerful women, specifically profiles from the New York Times. Is someone supposed to write a full-length profile without mentioning how the person looks? Obviously not. And, despite what people say, the same rules apply to men. People like people who are attractive. You don't need to be a six foot tall leggy blonde, but honey, there's nothing wrong with working what you have.

Anyone can make themselves at least reasonably attractive. Get a great haircut. Macy's has a free personal shopper service you can take advantage of. Think about it – if you're interviewing two candidates for a job, both have the exact same qualifications, can you honestly say that you're not going to be biased towards the one who looks more put together?

Some women are offended when men, treat them differently because of the way they look. I have just one thing to say: lighten up. Is it really offensive to have some guy buy you a drink? Or open a door? Or hand you a business card? You have to drive the car you're given, as a friend of mine says. Translation: women have a bum deal. Is taking away one of our major bargaining chips really what we want to do?

I guess what this comes down to is that I don't have a problem being objectified to a certain degree. Maybe this is because I know my own worth – my parents made sure that I never felt restricted by being born a girl. Yes, I realize that I am part of the elite upper-middle-class-white-girl world, and so experience a particular way of being a woman in society. I know that I can I do anything I set my mind to. And most of the time I really don't care if what gets me in the door is some guy staring at my breasts.

Elizabeth Clayton is an aspiring senator/diva and a Mills senior. The title of her column comes from a 1940s advertisement for Pink Pills, marketed to help teen girls who have "outgrown their strength." Write to her at

Perilous Years For Girls

Elizabeth F. Clayton

The right to control your body is one that is inherent to being human. It's something we're all taught as children; you have the right to say who does or does not touch you where. Our bodies are our own personal realms, spaces that belong to only us. Why then, do we abandon this belief when it comes to women?

That's exactly what the anti-abortion movement says: if you're female, then we know better than you do what choices you should make about your body. There are plenty of reasons that make women feel they are unable to have a child (or another child.) Hell, sometimes maybe a woman just doesn't want a child. Do we really want more kids being raised by parents more worried about, well, anything, than they are about their children's well being?

Even the terminology used in this debate is anti-woman. Take "pro-life" for example. I think that abortions should be legal and accessible, does this mean that I'm "anti-life"? No, it just means that the "life" I'm concerned with is the life that's actual, not the hypothetical life of the fetus (yell all you want about life beginning at conception, but I'm sorry, if it's smaller than a goldfish it definitely does not have the same rights that I do.)

As tired as we may be about listening to the abortion debate day after day, we have to keep fighting the good fight. Because it matters. It matters to the 14-year-old high school student, the welfare mom, the corporate executive with no time or desire for a child. It matters to my unmarried great-great aunt who shot herself in 1930s rural Alabama when she became pregnant and felt that the shame she would bring on herself and her family was worse than death. And it matters to my grandmother, who was seven when she found her favorite aunt dead on the back porch that day when she came home from school.

As Bill Clinton famously said, abortions should be "safe, legal, and rare." Having an abortion is not a travesty, but having one can be mentally, physically and financially challenging to women. Of course, the best way to prevent abortions is to prevent pregnancies, which requires access to birth control and education about how to effectively use it, something that most people in the anti-choice movement are also against. A girl just can't win with those guys.

Elizabeth Clayton is an aspiring astronaut/soccer mom and a Mills senior. The title of her column comes from a 1940s advertisement for Pink Pills, marketed to help teen girls who have "outgrown their strength." Write to her at

Perilous Years For Girls

Elizabeth F. Clayton

Last week, my editor and I sat around the office trying to come up with a name for this column. She was sifting through the Internet looking at ads for women's products from the 40s, and one headline jumped out at us. Though we continued brainstorming, we just kept coming back to it: Perilous Years for Girls.

I liked the idea of taking a title from something from that time-a time when my grandmothers were young, when being a woman meant a very different thing then it does today. Women had fewer opportunities, but seem to have possessed a lot more glamour. "Seem" is the key word there, because having your hair set weekly, rarely being able to work outside the home and having to wear stockings and dresses everyday was probably not actually that glamorous.

More importantly though, we are in a period in history where things are looking mighty perilous for girls. Sure, we've come a long way – women hold public office, run big companies and graduate from every top ranking school in the country. Hell, we even have our own pro basketball league. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go. The achievements we've made still aren't enough, and some of them are under attack every day.

In 2004 women were still making only 75 percent of what men were making. Over a lifetime, 75 cents on the dollar is a lot of money not being made. While we have female senators and congresswomen, they make up less than 16 percent of congress. Women work for every Fortune 500 company, but few are CEOs. The two newest members of the Supreme Court are both men, and both have anti-choice records.

At the same time, women continue to attack each other. Feminism is becoming a dividing force, not a uniting one. Women who choose to stay home to raise families are derided for not "supporting the movement."

We need to approach that big F word – "feminism" from a new angle. New voices need to be added to the din. It's happening already. Melody Berger, a Temple University student, started a new zine called "The F-Word.", a liberal media giant, started a new blog-style feature, "Broadsheet," covering women's issues from abortion to fashion magazines.

So, I dare to add my own voice. Hopefully I'll be able to bring something new to the discussion. My personal brand of feminism is close to what's now being called "choice feminism," but is something I haven't quite defined yet. I feel myself caught between issues. I want, and plan on having, a successful career, but just as much as I want, and plan on having, a spouse and children. How I'll balance the two? I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. But if a choice has to be made? Well you know what they say about no one on their deathbed ever wishing they had spent more days at the office.

I'm adamantly, no restrictions pro-choice, but still believe that abortion is murder. (What?! Did she just say that?) Yep, that's what I think. Having an abortion is ending a life, but I'm OK with that. The rights of the born rank higher than the rights of the unborn. However, before you think I'm just a totally callous bitch who supports murder, let me tell you that I am adamantly against the death penalty, under any circumstances.

I am pro-housewife, househusband, and working parent. I don't think that staying home to raise your kids yourself is a waste of your education or potential, even if you have a PhD in nuclear physics from Harvard or a law degree from Princeton.

I think that as women we are objectified by the media, men and ourselves. I'm pro-stilettos, fishnets and shirts that show off your breasts as long as that's what you want to wear, not what you feel like you have to wear. I'm pro-traditional gender roles. I embrace the title "Mrs" because if being married is something about yourself that you want the world to recognize, then go ahead and throw that "r" in there. I'm also pro-non-traditional gender roles. You go to work and wear a suit and your life partner stays home, takes care of the kids and decorates cakes? Rock on.

I embrace the word "girl," even though there are those who think it's condescending. Hey, if someone wants to be condescending, they can do it while calling me a woman. Girl is a word (like chick, which I'm also a fan of) that carries with it a state of mind, some of the connotations of how mind blowingly incredible it is to be young and full of promise and potential. I embrace that potential, and all the strings and challenges that come with it.

Some would call me contradictory, but I'm not. I want to look at the big picture, figure out how all of us girls can find some common ground to stand on, create a banner that we all feel comfortable waving. Whatever that is may not end up being called feminism; the term may indeed be dead, but whatever it ends up being called, sign me up now.