Virginia Pelley

Pushing Abstinence-Only Education on the World

Ten years ago, at the World Summit for Children, world leaders from all around the planet came together to agree to "protect children and to diminish their suffering; to promote the fullest development of the human potential of every child; and to make them aware of their needs, their rights and their opportunities."

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Campus Spies

You and a friend from class go to an anti-war rally downtown. Arguments flare between the anti-war marchers opposed to the United States military response to the Sept. 11 attacks and some people there who favor it. In the heat of the moment, your friend spray paints "Fuck Bush" on the wall of a post office.

Maybe she's a little reckless, you think -- vandalism is against the law, after all -- but is she a terrorist?

Despite what we understand as our right to freedom of speech, the government could prosecute her as one if new laws go into effect, and that's only one provision of the legislation that could chip away at your privacy and civil rights.

Your permanent record
Both the House and the Senate are expected to vote this week on different versions of anti-terrorism bills ( House PATRIOT bill and Anti-terrorism Act of 2001) that would give law enforcement much broader power in investigating terrorist activities, including giving federal investigators easier access to students' records.

But a survey of universities just released by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers suggests that gaining access to such records is already a piece of cake.

Rooting out terrorism
After the attacks on American targets Sept. 11, members of Congress, like many Americans, rushed to prove that we could fight terrorism and win, so they created what many considered a united front in drafting some tougher anti-terrorism laws.

But many civil liberties activists say they're worried that legislators are willing to give up too many of our constitutional rights so that we can feel safer.

Critics of the proposed changes say that if enacted, the new laws would erode the privacy rights of average citizens, in particular millions of Internet users; reduce the role of the courts in overseeing the activities of intelligence, immigration and law enforcement officials and give police greater powers in pursuing routine criminal cases not involving terrorism.

"The [proposed] legislation is sweepingly overbroad," says Nadine Strossen, president of the national ACLU in New York City. "Their definition of terrorism and terrorist activity would extend to political protests if they involved or threatened harm to people or property. PETA would be labeled a terrorist group if they threw a tomato or a student who threw a rock through a window would be a terrorist."

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Rats

A friend of yours is a big partier. She's starting to do drugs more and more and is adding new, scarier drugs to the mix.

She's even started to bring drugs with her to school. You're getting worried that's she's spinning out of control and wonder if you should tell an adult at your school about her problem.

It's not an easy decision to make. Would $50 or $100 convince you to get her some help? Some schools are wagering that it would.

Across the country, high school administrators are experimenting with paying students to tell school officials if classmates have drugs, alcohol or weapons with them on school property. Kids can also report students who have made violent threats against themselves or others.

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In Love With The Product

Magazine AdA foxy young thing with a fluffy pink collar sits astride a computer monitor with her legs spread. Mark McGrath of the band Sugar Ray sits in front of the monitor and looks devilishly into the camera. On the computer screen, a rocket takes off and shoots upward, directly toward the woman's crotch. Is this magazine ad promoting: a) a porn site b) computer monitors c) a women's fragrance?

If you guessed "c," you're right. The ad was for Candie's Inc., a women's shoe and fragrance company. It's also this year's winner of the "Grand Ugly" award for most offensive print ad given by the Advertising Women of New York (AWNY) this month.

You may have seen this ad before -- and maybe even thought it was cute, sexy and tongue-in-cheek.

But some advocates for women say that these kinds of images objectify women, and are dangerous because they promote unrealistic body images and risky behavior that force women to question their self-worth. "Advertising manipulates our fears and exacerbates our insecurities," said Joe Kelly, founder of Dads & Daughters, a watchdog organization that monitors media images of women. "I am so angry at what this culture gets away with doing to women and girls -- it's time for a lot more of us to start screaming about it," he said.

History of advertising ills

Advertising that uses negative images of women to sell a product have become somewhat of an epidemic, experts say. "Unfortunately, it's worse than ever before," said Jean Kilbourne, Ph.D, the author of several books, including "Deadly Persuasion: Why Women and Girls Must Fight the Addictive Power of Advertising." "There are ads everywhere˜in our schools, imprinted in the sand on our beaches," she said. "With technological advances, ads have just gotten more sophisticated and seductive."

Kilbourne also said that through advertising, women learn that everything depends on how they look and that the idealized images they see are literally impossible for a human woman to achieve. That's because, these days, almost every photo is digitally enhanced -- or airbrushed -- to make the model appear flawless.

"One of my favorite quotes is when Cindy Crawford said, 'I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford,'" Kilbourne said. "Computer imaging has gone way beyond airbrushing in making us feel inadequate."

You're never too cool to buy this

The ever-growing sophistication of ads includes the "anti-ad" approach, which is especially used to target media-savvy Gen I. "These companies will have campaigns like, 'You're way too sophisticated to be influenced by ads, you're really hip, so buy this,'" Kilbourne said. She described an ad by the clothing company F.C.U.K that ran print ads that said, "F.C.U.K advertising," for instance.
"Advertising manipulates our fears and exacerbates our insecurities."

Shock me, baby

Kilbourne also pointed out how violence has entered the mainstream in advertising, thanks to advertising agencies who need to look farther and farther to find shock value. An ad in The New York Times Magazine, she said, showed a silk tie bound to a bedpost and a woman's hand with a leather cuff on her wrist, reaching for a paddle on the bedside table. The copy read, "The right tie can make any evening memorable."

"Ads encourage us to trivialize relationships with people and to focus on relationships with products," she said, mentioning an ad for toilet paper that said, "Bath tissue is like marriage," and another that compared switching soft drinks to switching boyfriends.

Advertising around the clock

Agencies want to get their clients' message across to their desensitized, media-weary consumers faster and more memorably than ever before, said Catherine St. Jean, partner and chief operating officer of Judy Wald Partners, Inc., a creative recruitment agency for the advertising industry.

"Fifteen years ago, commercials were 60 seconds long -- now you've got 15-second commercials, [but] a lot more of them, since commercial breaks are longer than ever," St. Jean said. "People are bombarded [by ads] 24 hours a day," she continued. "It makes it harder for companies to stand out."

In the case of the Mark McGrath ad, Maria Dolgeta, public relations manager of Candie's, Inc., said that the ad has been getting positive responses from their target audience, 14 to 24 year-old women. "They think it's funny; they love [Mark McGrath]," she said. "They stop flipping through the magazine when they see him."

But not everyone's pleased. "We've gotten a handful of responses by mail by people who were offended by it," Dolgeta continued. "Mostly by girls' mothers who found it inappropriate."

The good, the bad and the ugly

There are organizations out there such as Dads & Daughters, that are keeping negative ads on their radars and punishing their creators publicly.

The Advertising Women of New York, a professional organization, looks for the best television and print ads to, for and about women that are creative as well as effective. The ones that don't satisfy those criteria end up competing for the "Grand Ugly" award or become runners up for the "bad" list.

Both lists are publicly announced.

St. Jean, who co-chaired the judging, said that the ads they considered bad -- like the Palmolive "Spring Sensations" TV ad, in which women dance around a kitchen with glee, so delighted are they to be cleaning with Palmolive dishsoap -- are often more silly than malicious.

And although the ads continue to be pervasive, she also said that some agencies are getting the picture. "Some agencies have evolved in how they talk to women and many clients have, too," she said. "Economically, talking down to the consumer and insulting their intelligence is not going to make them buy your product."

Testosterone University

Beer, babes and boobs.

This is important stuff for men to consider when choosing a college, according to Men's Health, a national magazine for men.

This month's "special report," the "Best and Worst Campuses for Men," sounds innocent enough at first, until you read the magazine's criteria for rating what they call "antimale" schools that "demonize" men:

Schools with strong womens studies departments. Schools that comply with federal laws requiring equal funding for womens and mens sports teams. Schools with defined sexual harassment and date rape policies that require men to get verbal consent from sex partners.

But wait! There's more!

Two smiling, female models in tight jeans accompany the "male-friendly" college list.

On the "antimale" page, the same models frown and look angry. One is suddenly wearing glasses. And their hair, once flowing, is pulled back into severe ponytails. Their fitted jeans have been replaced with sweatpants.

One even holds the book, "The Stronger Sex."

The premise of the story is that "male bashing" is "part of the air up in the Ivory Tower," and that college men need to protect themselves from schools with "hostile environments."

"On our male-friendly list," Laurence Roy Stains writes, "the traditional male point of view is appreciated socially and academically."

But Stains' rationale is silly at best, and at worst is as dangerously misleading and erroneous as it is misogynistic, his critics said.

"The level of vitriol embedded in this article suggests to me that these guys have an agenda," said Jackson Katz, a speaker at colleges across the country and the creator of an award-winning video, "Tough Guise: Violence, Media, and the Crisis in Masculinity."

"Its obvious that theyre weak men who are threatened by strong women," he continued.

Horrifying for who? Among the list of antimale horrors stated by Men's Health are Brown University's "sexual harassment policy [which] discourages unwelcome 'flirtations.'"

At Columbia University, Stains writes: "men find themselves on the defensive beginning at freshman orientation, which has included an improv session about date rape."

The University of Michigan's short list of crimes includes the fact that, "the campus womens center has a heavy schedule of outside speakers."

The "vibe" at Oberlin College in Ohio requires "mandatory mental vasectomies," presumably because the school has "an elaborate sexual-offense policy," according to Stains.

Meanwhile, the magazine's kudos-to-college list implies that the co-eds at the male-friendly schools are cuter than the ones at the schools that males should avoid.

Of California State University at Long Beach, Stains writes, "The undergraduate male/female ratio is 42-to-58, which, by our count, means almost 17,000 tanned coeds."

"We've never met an ugly girl from Texas A&M," Stains writes.

Of Washington and Lee University in Virginia, Stains quotes a junior there, who enthuses, "Theres a testosterone atmosphere here that permeates the whole environment."

Myths and Reality

Mens Health also overstates the danger of being falsely accused of rape.

The magazine ran a sidebar describing the "horror stories" experienced by three men who were suspended or had trouble getting their diplomas because of rape accusations by female students.

"For any campus where a man's reputation is unfairly tarnished [by a false accusation]," Katz said, "you can go to that same campus and find dozens of women who were raped and didn't report it."

Perhaps the worst thing about the Men's Health story is that it dismisses the statistic that says that one-in-four women have been the victims of rape or attempted rape as "feminist myth."

"It's amazingly irresponsible of Men's Health to say that the "one-in-four statistic is 'a long-discredited feminist canard,'" said Jennifer Pozner, a director at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a New York-based media watchdog group.

Pozner said that in a 1993 report, FAIR addressed what they concluded were flawed attacks on Kent State University psychologist Mary P. Koss's 1987 study from which the one-in-four statistic Men's Health refers to came from.

Pozner also points out that in 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published very similar findings that corresponded to the "one-in-four" statistic published ten years earlier.

"The Centers for Disease Control found that one-in-five college women reported having been forced to have sex, not including attempts," she said.

"More than a decade [after Koss's study], they came up with the same finding," Pozner said. "To say that [the 1987 study] has been 'long-discredited' is crap."

When asked about the article, Men's Health features editor Ron Geraci said, "We're not doing any more interviews about that story. Were moving on to the November issue now." Geraci refused to discuss the article or the editorial direction of Men's Health, even generally. Nor would he provide contact information for either the story's writer or editor (Geraci said he did not edit the piece).

Instead, he referred me to public relations spokesperson Karen Mazzotta. When asked if the magazine had gotten a new editor-in-chief since "Best and Worst Campuses for Men" ran, Mazzotta said: "For starters, yes," but she wouldn't elaborate.

However, a receptionist for Rodale, Inc., the magazine's publisher, said that Greg Gutfeld, editor-in-chief of the September issue, has since been replaced by David Zinezenko, who presumably is trying to control the damage he inherited by Gutfeld's publication of this controversial story.

"This has been a tricky one for us," Mazzotta conceeded.

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