Why Are So Many Women Veterans Going Homeless?

womanvetI just read a headline that blew my mind: “Women veterans becoming the fastest-growing homeless population in the U.S.”

There are so many things troubling about that, it’s hard to know where to begin. Let’s start with the fact that veterans in general are increasingly more likely to wind up homeless or in severe poverty once they re-enter civilian life. TheCenter for American Progress cites that 1 out of 7 homeless adults are veterans. And while the end to the war in Afghanistan is most certainly a good thing, it will bring an estimated 100,000 veterans home to live lives they may not know how to handle. Physical and mental injuries are all but guaranteed for most of them, yet social programs that support assistance such as mental health care, extended disability insurance and job training are quick to wind up on the Congressionalcutting room floor. Oh, and the VA can’t find their application forms anyway.

Female veterans are in this plight with their male colleagues, but staying on trend with all-things-woman, they are dealt an even more offensive blow. In addition to lost limbs and soaring rates of PTSD, many, many women in uniform have also endured sexual assault. The U.S. Department of Defense released a giant, damning report that reveals that women in combat are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed in the line of duty. This is not the sacrifice these women signed up for.

President Obama got pissed, sure, but how long do we have to go before we find out if the problem can be fixed? Do we have to wait for another survey?

It’s already too long for the women who have already served and suffered. We didn’t protect them then, and we’re not doing a very good job of supporting them when they come home (yes, we. We vote for politicians who make these rules). There is a highly promoted women’s site on the VA homepage now, but searching through all the benefits listed, nowhere is there anything specific about sexual assault, harassment, parenting or family planning.

Yes, this, too, is about reproductive rights. A woman who was raped in service or gets pregnant while recovering from a crippling injury or emotional trauma may, in fact, want an abortion. President Obama signed a law at the beginning of the year that killed the military’s long-standing rule of only providing health insurance for abortions if the woman’s life was at risk. Go, Obama! But, the DOD is slow to promote this policy shift. The VA’s benefits package still explicitly states that abortions are not covered.

Of course, not all female veterans returning home have been assaulted or need an abortion or even have an injury. But they’re winding up on the streets anyway. Being homeless is a tragedy for anyone, but it seems particularly harrowing for women. Where do they sleep? Where do they pee? What’s happened to their children? Are they more vulnerable now than they were on the front lines?

The new documentary, “War Zone/Comfort Zone” provides much-needed context for this growing problem. It follows the crusade of two women working to open the first transitional housing for female veterans in Connecticut, and chronicles the lives of several female servicewomen from their discharge to homeless life. It airs on PBS May 30 and can bestreamed online here. We all owe it to our veterans, our communities, and ourselves to listen to these stories, absorb their impact, and then act.

Why I Loved ‘Behind the Candelabra’

behind-the-candelabra-michael-douglas-matt-damon1Most critics reviewing HBO’s Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra mentioned director Steven Soderbergh’s brilliant decision to temper the flamboyance of Liberace’s life with a gritty and unflinchingly realistic framing of the story. Even the slightest tic toward taking the movie over the top could’ve felt like farce, and besides, there was plenty of over-the-topness in the story — the sets, the costumes, the plastic surgery. Maybe Soderbergh overcompensated a little, thus sapping a bit of the joy Liberace clearly took in sparkly and ornate things. But I liked his approach more than the alternative.

Because he shot it like any straightforward, serious biopic, he instead brought out both the intimacy and the intensity of Liberace’s relationship with Scott Thorson. He also, through that relationship, focused on the politics underlying their lives, and thus the lives of many gay men in the ’80s. The closest they could get to being married was for Liberace to adopt Thorson, a bizarre realization that ought to send everyone running to do whatever we can to get gay marriage legalized. And how heartbreaking to see people still trying to pretend, even after Liberace’s death, that the great love of his life was a woman! There’s something so devastating about not being acknowledged for your place in your great love’s life — even as an ex-spouse, you get some recognition at the funeral for your loss.

And, oh, the vanity! Being gay and famous made Liberace, and thus Thorson, as vulnerable to the pressure to be beautiful and young as women are. I loved the brutal cosmetic surgery sequences — I couldn’t even watch them, which I think is a good thing. We too rarely acknowledge how painful cosmetic procedures are — calling them “nips” and “tucks,” cutesy names that make us forget that this is major surgery. Not to mention that this is the creepy end result. Something about seeing men go through this on screen makes a difference, too, highlighting the inherent weirdness of it all because we’re not as used to it.

Most of all, the film normalized even a rather bizarre relationship between two men, something we could stand to see more of as we march toward the (hopefully) inevitable breakthrough of legalized gay marriage.

Revisiting Queen Latifah

QueenLatifah-219x300When I first met Queen Latifah, I called her “ma’am” and got a lecture.

“Who you calling ma’am? My mother is not around.”

I was mortified. I was a newbie entertainment journalist who scored the dream of talking to one of my heroes. It was in 1999 when Latifah launched her (short-lived) eponymous talk show. I couldn’t figure out what to call her and show both respect and knowledge of her influential career. Do I call her Dana? Ms. Owens? Latifah? The Queen? (For the record, it’s “Latifah.”) I got nervous and fumbled, but quickly redeemed myself by gushing about how I grew up with her TV show, “Living Single,” and most of all was changed by her music. She told me, “You’re all right,” which I so wish she had written on a napkin so I could have framed it and looked to it in moments of self-doubt over all these years.

Listening to her music offers an equal ego boost.

Today she’s a Cover Girl and an Oscar-nominated actress, but when the world first met Queen Latifah, she was nothing short of a feminist revolutionary. Her debut album, “All Hail The Queen,” tackled topics such as black-on-black crime, socialized poverty and pretty much every pertinent feminist issue–from rape to domestic patriarchy–in the iconic single, “Ladies First.” Her flow–on par with LL Cool J and Chuck D–was as penetrating as her message: Look at me, respect me, listen to me–and bow down. The album sold more than 1 million copies. She was 19. 

There were plenty of female pop icons in 1989, but none exhibited the confidence that Latifah oozed. I remember watching her videos, admiring her regal, African clothing and flawless skin and thinking: She is such a badass! I wanted to be Madonna, but I wanted to listen to what Latifah had to say–which was a lot.

Social issues dominated her lyrics, and feminist anthems were a natural. After “Ladies First” came “U.N.I.T.Y.”, which takes on sexism in music lyrics (often those of her peers), sexual harassment, domestic violence, and female misogyny:

I bring wrath to those who disrespect me like a dame/That’s why I’m talking, one day I was walking down the block/ I had my cutoff shorts on right cause it was crazy hot/I walked past these dudes when they passed me/One of ‘em felt my booty, he was nasty/I turned around red, somebody was catching the wrath/Then the little one said (Yeah me bitch) and laughed/Since he was with his boys he tried to break fly/ Huh, I punched him dead in his eye and said “Who you calling a bitch?”

Latifah could compete with the boys of hip-hop but she never pretended to be anything but a woman. She not only sang about female empowerment, but she wrote about being a woman–from the insecurities we sometimes feel to the nirvana of being in love. Sensuality and femininity were always as important to her as strength.

Captivate my soul, hold me/When I’m down I need your love to console me/ Some weakness tells me when the morning comes/ It’s hard for me to try to see you’re not the one/ For the love of you I just might just do most anything – “Give Me Your Love”

Latifah lives her feminism as well. Just two years after her debut album, she became the chief executive of Flavor Unit, which put her in the position to foster young, female musical talent. She built a brand on her image, which was one she never apologized for, despite the fact that she in no way fit the typical celebrity mold. She modeled because it was always a dream of hers. She made jazz records because she always loved the music. She has always been undeniably herself, which is the thing I admire most about her still to this day.

Latifah actually means “delicate and sensitive” in Arabic. But make no mistake, The Queen is all powerful.

Do You Have To Be Coupled To Give Good Dating Advice?

dating-300x186“Why should I take dating advice from you? You’re single.”

This is a comeback I’ve heard many times for the six years I’ve been writing my advice column, And That’s Why You’re Single.  Apparently, in order for a woman who writes about dating to be taken seriously, she needs to have a man to trot out or cite as evidence that she knows of what she speaks.

My answer to this pointed question is quite succinct. I don’t need a man in my life in order to practice common sense and critical thinking. People throw the fact that I’m single (as far as they know) in my face to try and discredit me.  This one query reveals quite a bit about the person posing it. Namely, that they consider a woman’s ideas and opinions invalid unless she has a man by her side to validate them.

This question isn’t really a question. It’s an attempt to minimize my thoughts. The point of the inquiry is to shame me. Apparently, a woman who isn’t constantly looking for excuses to talk about her relationship is considered suspect. 

What’s funny is that I never hear the same types of criticisms directed at single men who write about dating and sex. In fact, I think single, male relationship writers like Dave Zincenko and Michael Thomsen tend to get more of a pass from their audience. Men aren’t viewed with the same critical eye for being a certain age and still single. They’re supposed to be playing the field and exercising their options, especially if they write about sex. In a case like that, the more experiences the male author deconstructs, the better he is perceived. And not just by his male readership.

I’m not sure whether many women will agree with this, but I tend to believe that a man with an impressive roster of sexual experiences is considered more desirable. His female readers may outwardly act outraged at his admissions, but I think internally they find him more attractive than a man who admits to dating one or two women before marrying his high school sweetheart. What I really think makes the man more sought after is that, because of his “vast” list of lovers, he is seen as a challenge. Men don’t bother to slut shame him. They’re too busy trying to replicate whatever tactics this guy employs to score so easily and often. The women that these writers date don’t see him as a liability. They consider him a catch, if only because of the potential bragging rights that come with “taming” him.

Now imagine a woman using her own Black Book as a source for her writing. If she’s liberal with her sexual admissions and beliefs, many folks see her as a threat. A big portion of her female readership will see her as a traitor because they’re being encouraged to examine their own insecurities that revolve around men and sex.  If she can’t manage to find anybody to settle down, she’s too picky or damaged. The insults and accusations consistently revolve around three things: her looks, her age and her relationship status. Those are considered a woman’s Achilles Heel, and men and women will do whatever they can to sever it. When Candace Bushnell’s marriage dissolved, you could almost hear people running to the Internet to mock her. “Fifty Shades of Grey” author E. L. James repeatedly had to endure comments about her weight and looks, as if she didn’t deserve to be so successful because she wasn’t a size two.

The reason for that, of course, is because most women are expected to wear the fact that they have a boyfriend as though it’s a badge of honor. The act of doing so was ingrained in us as young as our early teens. Being able to say that you had a boyfriend was considered the end all be all. We’d find ways to shoehorn mentions of him into conversations about biology lab or what we ate for dinner. Sharing that you had a boyfriend somehow elevated you over the heads of your peers. It meant that you found a boy that found you attractive.

You’d think that this sort of intra-gender competition would cease after high school. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Read the comments of any article that revolves around dating – specifically the author’s dating woes – and you’ll be treated with numerous stories that start off with, “Well, when I met my boyfriend…” A quick tour of these threads will make you feel like you’ve been transported back to your high school lunchroom. I recently got into it with a commenter over at XOJane. Rather than actually argue the valid points I raised, my opponent snarked back, “You can disagree without being mean. Just sayin’ (oh, and btw, and that’s why I’m NOT SINGLE). hugs.”

In these situations, a woman will trot out her relationship (no matter how new it is) to bolster the validity of her insight. That is what truly makes behavior like this so unfortunate. For years women have struggled to be independent from men. Yet there appears to still be some underlying need to prove to other women that we have male approval. It’s as if some women believe that the ability to utter the words “my boyfriend” grants them access to some kind of higher ground.

I don’t think it’s a conscious action. I think it has been burned into our brains to think that, without a partner, we don’t deserve to have an opinion on certain matters.  Mainstream media, TV and movies don’t help us break out of this thinking, either. I recently bemoaned the cancellation of my guilty pleasure TV show, “Smash,” complaining that all the lead female characters had to be attached to a man, a couple even fighting over one. Olivia Pope from ABC’s “Scandal” has to be tied to the simpering, brooding Fitz in order to make her more interesting. We’ve been conditioned to try and one-up our peers where men are concerned. There’s this subversive need to prove to other people that we are desirable. And the way many of us prove that is by trotting out our partners. Social media feeds are clogged with references to boyfriends and dates. While some of these mentions are expressions of genuine happiness, I think many others are revealed strictly for the benefit of the reading audience. “Look at meeee! Somebody thinks I’m pretty!”

Originally, my decision to keep the details of my love life out of my writing was one of self-preservation. The personal memoir writing format has birthed a popular subsection that I affectionately refer to as the Oversharing Trainwreck. There’s this misguided belief out there that a woman who writes about sex and dating has to exploit her own experiences in order to be considered “brave” or “real.”  The core of any good relationship is intimacy. Taking to the web to spill my guts made it difficult for any man to trust or feel safe with me. Now I choose to keep my love life status to myself to avoid being defined by my ability to get a man.

No woman should be made to feel as though she needs to prove value or intelligence in this manner. Her work–and her life–should stand on its own, regardless of whether or not she has a man by her side. — Christan Marashio

Christan is an NYC-based writer and columnist.

5 Funny Women To Watch Online

Funny women are bringing it on TV lately. “The Mindy Project” is kicking ratings ass. “Veep” = Julia Louis-Dreyfus is still on TV (Dear JLD: never, ever, ever stop making television)! And Comedy Central just gave its first sketch show to a woman. “Inside Amy Schumer” gets to make as many sex jokes as every other comedy show–and this time the penis doesn’t dominate. Woot!

KatieGoodman-300x199But sometimes we want our funny-woman fixright now, or at least when we’re not near our DVR. Luckily, the Web is full of comedic women. Here are five of our favorite sources for female funny.

“The Mindy Project” webisodes. Mindy Kaling’s show about a love-drunk OBGYN is one of our favorite things on television, ever. It’s both as comforting as a romantic comedy and as feminist-centric as “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” At the end of every episode, we instantly want more. These bonus bits, available online for free, help to satiate while waiting for the next new show.

“Modern Lady” on Current TV. This Infomania segment picks up where the brilliant “Target Women” left off. Host Erin Gibson gives tongue-in-cheek commentary on everything from “building the perfect wife” to undergoing ear stapling to get skinny.

The Reductress. Take all the genius satire of The Onion, add a heavy dose of feminist sarcasm and you get this brilliant site. From the “funniest period tweets” to a primer on self-love “slut talk,” browsing through Reductress is like enjoying a never-ending inside joke–only this one has a brain.

Katie Goodman. This wildly talented singer/songwriter/actress leads the feminist vaudevillian troupe, Broad Comedy. But if you can’t make it to a live show, there is tons of goodness online: A podcast, music videos and feminist snark galore. It will make your day.

The Blogess.com. Writer Jenny Lawson lets it all hang out on this uncensored blog of all things woman. She writes about motherhood, depression, she swears a lot (and in all the right places), she celebrates other woman constantly, and she tries to stop nitpicking her flaws for the sake of feminism, even though that is really hard. All of it makes you laugh till you pee a little.