Cheers to This Outspoken Youth

I found this video featuring a 14- (then 13) year-old speaking about “slut shaming” in a way more thoughtful and articulate than I have heard pretty much anyone talk about it ever.

Here is her YouTube Channel, in which she talks about many things, sadly, not too much about sexuality or sexual health issues. Though we are lucky enough to get her take on Georgia’s abortion laws.

How can we support youth like this so that they can continue to think critically about how sexuality is portrayed in our country, and others?

Siri as moral "guide"

According to Apple’s website, Siri is the “intelligent personal assistant” that accompanies a person’s iPhone, that uses voice recognition to, among other things, answer questions about location resources, or basic information. For example, you can ask Siri where the closest sushi restaurant is, or how far it is to the nearest hospital.

However, there’s a critique of Siri’s limitations that has gone viral, because many are challenging the reasoning behind its faults. Apparently, Siri is not capable of offering results that will direct a person to a birth control clinic or the nearest abortion services, but it is perfectly fine addressing needs for Viagra or Pregnancy Crisis Centers (which are anti-abortion). In fact, in some instances, those who ask for an abortion clinic are directed to Pregnancy Crisis Centers, when in fact there are nearby places that provide abortion services.

It’s unclear as to whether Siri’s limitations and flat-out mistakes are purposeful or just the result of poor programming. Or, as my esteemed colleague Shelagh Johnson hypothesizes, maybe it’s a matter of terms like “birth control” or “abortion” being so absent from general discourse, that they are not readily available in Siri’s lexicon. Johnson is also asking great questions such as “is Siri gay-friendly?” and how it reacts to questions related to HIV testing (note, the link I provide for Shelagh Johnson does not go to her critique of Siri, but to a series of interviews about her work. Her inquiry into this issue has, for now, been limited to Facebook).

For now, all we know is that Siri is not too helpful for those seeking certain reproductive health services. Let’s hope this flaw is corrected with newer versions or a patch. After all, I would not be surprised if young persons will rely on Siri for the answers to very important questions that will have long-term impacts on their health.

A new "sting" operation

With technology available to almost everyone, in a sense we all can become journalists or investigative reporters. Remember what made the 1991 Rodney King story so compelling was that a bystander was able to film the entire thing — excessive police force and all. The incident could not be boiled down to a “he said/she said” battle (with the person with less power — King in this case — usually losing); there was documentation to support the story for all to see.

Fast-forward to 2009 where pictures and even video can be captured on a phone. Most computers come with webcams, and sites enable people to upload their images –their story (or their version of it) for free.

That is exactly what anti-choice UCLA student Lila Rose did. She and a team of supporters are engaging in a series of stings on Planned Parenthood — posing as underage girls impregnated by adults and recording what happens. Her videos reveal that sometimes Planned Parenthood staffers ignore the age of the father when discussing pregnancy options, which is illegal as cases of child abuse and/or statutory rape potentially are being discovered. According to the article in the LA Times about Rose, her objective in posting these sting operations is to “undermine legal abortion by showing that Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of abortions in the country, abets sexual exploitation by counseling pregnant minors to lie about the ages of their adult boyfriends.”

Anti-choice activists have been accusing Planned Parenthood of failing to report suspected statutory rapes for years. But disseminating the evidence using new media is the new generation’s way of doing things. The videos — five minutes each and accompanied by ominous music and fast cuts heighten the story they tell. Representatives from Planned Parenthood accuse Rose of editing out some key portions of the encounter in order to serve her cause and exacerbate blame.

So, is this journalism? Cause for an investigation? Or just a student project? It remains to be seen. And stories such as this, as well as that of the ill-fated To Catch a Predator, will only become more common as even us common folk are able to tell our stories to the world (or to anyone whom will listen).

Like through this blog.

So Much for Truth in Advertising…

Based on a lawsuit brought on my an anti-abortion Christian group, Google is now allowing religious organizations to use the keyword “abortion” in their ads, according to the New York Times. This means that the sponsored links of these groups will be called up much like those from secular groups, doctors offering abortions and resource sites like Our Bodies, Ourselves. According to the article, Google will only allow “ads linked to abortion from religious groups as long as they were determined to be factual, and not graphic or emotional ads.” Hmmm. When was the last time I saw a factual anti-choice web site? Like, never. That’s when.

Rulings like these make it more important to teach media literacy to all people — young and old. Everyone needs to know how to assess a web site for quality information, and be wary of all sites that come up in the sponsored links, but not very high up in a regular search. This needs to be taught in the schools as soon as kids start to surf the net all the way through college. This resource is a great one for young people. Created in the UK, it takes a person through a series of questions designed to determine whether a web site’s information is reliable and accurate. If we all took the time to think about the information we are reading, and the biases behind it, I wouldn’t be so concerned about this latest news article.

Rewriting the Dictionary

Apparently, I am leaving all the “on topic” posts to Sarah, while I vent on issues that are at least somewhat related to this blog. I guess I can get away with it since I started it :-).

Many people ask me how and why I got into this field (broadly speaking, adolescent development, and more narrowly adolescent sexual health, and then of course there is the focus on technology that is supposed to drive this blog). One of the reasons is that I had a crappy adolescence. Another reason is that I am a research nerd, and I get very upset when people ignore established findings and instead go with what they think “feels right.” And the majority of our sex education and approach to young people’s sexuality dismisses research and educated theory and instead leans towards moral righteousness and panic. Example: I get mad when I hear about abstinence only curricula and policies mandating its implementation because there is no evidence that abstinence until marriage changes young people’s sexual behaviors. Another example: I am frustrated with the panic about the alleged dangers of social networking and how they are destroying young people’s relationships (though see this article which provides evidence of the benefits of social networking).

So you can imagine how I feel when people take the liberty of changing the definitions of words in order to suit their needs. This is what I read about today. According to the New York Times, Bush has decided that “abortion” means “any of the various procedures — including the prescription, dispensing and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action — that results in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation.” That definition is completely wrong. According to the medical professions an abortion is “when the fetus is expelled from a woman’s uterus” (yes, a “miscarriage” is just a more delicate way of saying “spontaneous abortion”). Here is the key difference: an abortion can only occur if there has been implantation. Bush seems to forget that essential component and instead broadens his own special version of the word to incorporate anything that interferes with a fertilization.

I understand Bush is anti-choice. I understand many people are. That is not what is at issue here with me right now. What I am concerned about is when politicians decide to redefine words in order to suit their own wishes.