Stepping Away From the Treadmill: Why Women Should Strength Train

Why are most women so afraid of venturing into the free weights area?

I just can’t figure it out: why are some women so resistant to strength training?

For those of you who aren’t much into fitness lingo, strength training refers to lifting exercises that use weights or other forms of resistance to build or tone muscle. Different exercises target different muscle groups, and all will improve strength or endurance of the exercised muscle. We all need muscle to move, and stronger muscles help us to do more, to look better, and to generally have more fun with our fitness.

Yet, go to almost any gym in America. There, you’ll find a remarkable gender self-segregation: boys flock to the free weights and benches while girls congregate at the cardio equipment, running like over-sized hamsters on their wheels. Infrequently, you’ll find women meandering into the free weight section, but those who do can be found clinging to the mini-weights as if any other sized dumbbell will jump up and bite them. Nothing is funnier to me than tiny girls doing bicep curls with 2.5 lb weights.

Those are 2.5 lb weights. This woman is wasting her time, and looking ridiculous while she's doing it.

Here’s some free advice: if you can text and lift at the same time, your weights are too light. In fact, I’m fairly certain that only tiny children, extremely elderly people, or incredibly deconditioned people will benefit at all from curls with 2.5 pounders; anyone else, particularly anyone capable of lifting the weight of their own arms to do things like, I don’t know, hail a cab, should be working with something heavier when doing free weights.

People at the gym do the activities at the gym that they think will help them achieve their goals. Women, for better or for worse, strive to be thin, so they metaphorically and literally spin their wheels trying to burn calories. And because they don’t want to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, they eschew weight training. “Muscles aren’t feminine!”, they proclaim. Never mind that sexy women like Michelle Obama, Demi Moore in G.I. Jane, Michelle Yeoh, Angela Bassett, and Wonder Woman all are beautiful, feminine women with muscle definition. Okay, so that last one is a cartoon, but she’s still got some sexy, toned arms.

Michelle Obama is beautiful, feminine, and she's got great shoulder definition!

But let’s pretend for a minute that we agree that beauty requires weight loss (which I don’t believe): why still do women avoid strength training?

Cardio burns calories, to be sure, but only so long as you are doing cardio. Once you get off the bike or treadmill or elliptical machine, your metabolic rate returns to normal. Since it takes burning over 3,000 calories to lose a single pound, and since most folks burn about 500 calories per hour doing Cardio, it takes six hours of pure Cardio a week to burn a single pound. Less if you’re also dieting, but not by much. That’s a lot of boring wheel-spinning activity.

Strength training, on the other hand, helps to build muscle. Unlike fat, muscle is a metabolically active tissue, meaning that just to exist, muscle burns calories. In other words, building muscle can help a woman raise their resting (e.g. internet-surfing, tv-watching, couch-potato-imitating) metabolic rate, and thereby burn more calories all day, and not just when she’s running. A short thirty minute strength training session twice a week can vastly improve the efficiency of a calorie-burning fitness plan, speed up weight loss, and improve overall health.

What about those fears that strength training will transform a woman into the She-Hulk? That’s all bogus. What’s more, it’s based on vanity. Building muscle is extremely difficult, as any strength trainer will tell you. Even men, who have the benefit of testosterone, struggle to bulk up. What makes a woman think that a few sets on the bench press will magically build the kind of physique that any Mr. Universe would envy? Basically, no one — man or woman — will magically build muscles if they aren’t trying to become a body-builder; there should be zero fears that incorporating a basic strength training regimen into your weekly work-out will make you the next Conan the Barbarian.

It took gamma rays, not a session of bicep curls with 15-pounders, for Jennifer Walters to become the She-Hulk. Seriously.

So hopefully you’re convinced and are thinking about starting a strength training routine. If you are, than here are some basic tips for designing a strength training regimen.

First of all, you need to do strength training at least twice (preferably three times) a week, spaced at least one day apart from one another, to create any sort of benefit and not injure yourself. The basic principle of strength training is to use resistance and simple repetitive exercises to challenge your muscles to their maximum. When your muscles reach their maximum, they are temporarily damaged — but by being damaged, they rebuild themselves a little bit stronger and a little bit better. Not giving your muscles sufficient time to rest and recover will never give them the opportunity to rebuild and become stronger, but giving yourself too much time between each strength workout will cause your muscles to revert back to normal — and possibly cause injury if you push yourself too hard at your next workout (thinking you’ve gotten stronger).

Second, the point of strength training is to push yourself to the maximum. That means, you must choose a challenging resistance and appropriate set/rep combination, even if you’re a woman and you’re afraid of looking like She-Hulk. Reps are the number of exercises you do in a single set before a rest, sets are the groups of exercise; so, for bicep curls, you might do 3 sets of 10 reps — meaning you’ll do a set of 10, then rest, and then do a second set, and so on. To set your set/rep combination, decide if you would rather be building muscle strenghth or muscle endurance. Generally, women want to build less bulky endurance muscles, not bulky strong muscles, but keep in mind that building strong muscles brings with it … well, the strength to do things. In any event, choose a high set/rep combo to build endurance (e.g. 3×10 for beginners, 3×15, 5×10, or 5×15 for the more experienced) or low set/rep combo to build strength (e.g. 3×5). While I’m on the subject, appropriate rest times between sets are 30 seconds if you are doing endurance and 1 minute if you’re building strength — anything longer will cool your muscles down too much.

As discussed above, you can pick a difficult resistance, and you will not walk out of the gym looking like a man; women just don’t build muscle as readily as men, so we can do a fair amount of strength training (and build substantial functional strength) while retaining our feminine shapes. The purpose of strength training is, as I said, to push your muscles to the maximum — only then will they rebuild themselves better. So, to pick your resistance, you need to go to failure — which means, pick a weight that is moderate to do for your first set, challenging in your second set, and very difficult for you to finish in your final set. If you can keep lifting your weight at the end of your last set (even if you can do so with some pain or discomfort), then pick a heavier weight for your next workout, even if you are on an endurance set/rep combo. Cue the reason why 2.5 lb weights are silly — you’d have to exercise non-stop for hours at that weight to reach failure of any kind. To reiterate: failure doesn’t mean “it kinda hurts now”, failure means “I physically cannot do this anymore, no matter how hard I try”. It does take some practice to recognize the difference between “hurt” and “failure”, so keep pushing yourself with successive workouts.

For safety (and motivation) reasons, it is best to work out with a partner. Although cardio is generally a solitary activity, strength training often works best with a buddy — because the purpose is to go to failure, your buddy can spot for you, meaning that they will protect you on your last set, as your muscles fail out. There is technique associated with properly spotting for a friend, but the basic principle is that your spotter must pay attention to you at all times, and give you a tiny bit of assistance if you start to have trouble. They should also be ready to prevent your weights from hitting you if you drop them. Again, talk to a trainer for proper spotting technique.

If you do not have a friend to work with, ask someone at the gym to spot for you, or use a weight machine (rather than free weights) to prevent accidents. The downside of weight machines, however, is that free weights exercise several groups of muscles at the same time; machines target muscle groups, so they are less effective.

Free weights work your targeted muscle group, as well as muscles you need just to stablize the weights in your hand. Machines stablize your weights for you -- which adds safety but reduces the effectiveness of the exercise.

Also, for safety, do a warm-up set before exercising a new major muscle group. So, if you’re starting on arms, do a warm-up set in your first arms exercise, and then you’re good until you switch to legs, even if you’re doing a different arm exercise next. To do a warm-up set, do the same exercise you would otherwise do, but do it with half the normal resistance — this should be really easy to do. The warm-up set doesn’t count towards your other sets, but just gets blood flowing to the appropriate muscles.

As for which exercises to do, the best idea is to take advantage of your gym’s free personal trainer consultation, if you have that option. This will help you tailor your strength training program for your specific desires; there are hundreds of exercises out there, and they all can be placed in different orders and grouped in different ways to achieve a specific outcome. Don’t fall for the myth that you should work out the muscles next to your “fat areas” — fat doesn’t turn into muscle, and muscle will not draw from the closest fat store when burning muscle. There is absolutely no reason to target your thigh muscles to burn thigh fat — but, if you build lots of muscle all over your body, you will burn all your fat stores and eventually work through your thigh fat. One reason to target your thighs, however, might be to increase muscle definition in that particular area. But, overall, if you want to increase your resting metabolic rate, focus on exercises that work on lots of different muscles.

For beginners who are just getting started, try this workout (all at 3×10, 1 minute rest in between working down to 30 seconds, in this order):

  • Assisted pull-ups (or pull-downs) — works back and arms
  • Chest/bench press (or push-ups) — works chest and arms
  • Squats — works legs and butt; or Lunges — works legs and butt. Choose based on strain to your knees.
  • Dead lifts — works lower back and legs
  • Sit-ups (or your favourite ab exercise) — works core

I’ve found that this combination of exercises all involve complex movements, which means they work several muscle groups at once, and give you the most bang for your buck. At 3×10 with 1 minute rests, you can also easily accomplish this workout in 30 minutes or less. Finally, it’s ordered in such a way as to work from the top of your body down, and minimizes the need to warm up before each exercise — you only really need to warm up for the first and third exercise in this regimen. As you get more used to strength training, you can then swap this work-out out for one that is better tailored to your body; for example, I now have more focused arm exercises because, as a wannabe triathlete, I get sufficient strength training on my legs with my weekly cardio, but need to build strength in my arms and back to improve my swim performance.

As for how to do these exercises, again the best bet is to talk with a personal trainer who can check your form. Always be aware of form when doing strength training, because poor form leads to injury. But, most of us don’t have access to a personal trainer. Thankfully, there are many websites out there that can teach you to do these exercises, and include video to help you correct your form. This website,, has a nice directory of exercises, and includes video to show how each is done. Another resource is, of course, YouTube. The key is to be aware of your body — dull pain on your last set is expected as you fail, so don’t stop lifting if you experience some discomfort. But sharp pain at any point in time is not right — if at any time you feel a sharp pain, safely and carefully stop what you are doing and consult a trainer or doctor (there are trainers on staff at most gyms) for help or advice about what you might be doing wrong. Most certainly, do not resume that particular exercise until you have figured out the source of your pain.

This is bad form. Do not do pull-downs behind your head -- it is an easy way to injure yourself. For a quick cheat sheet on form, check out the stickers on the weight machines, most give you tips on how to use the machine correctly.

(Incidentally, Googling “woman strength training machine” pulled up pages of women working with the pull-down bar incorrectly. Which just goes to show you how few women are encouraged to strength train effectively.)

Personally, I like including a mix of strength training and cardio training in my workouts. Strength training is paced completely different than cardio training, so it’s kind of fun to go to the gym and move from machine to machine, rather than be tied to my hamster wheel for an hour and a half. Unlike when I do cardio, strength training lets me interact with my lifting partners, people watch, and interact with more machines. Also — and I’m not going to lie here — there’s a thrill associated with being a 5 foot girl who’s able to out-bench some of the beefy guys in the free weight area.

And, that sure as heck ain’t gonna happen with those silly 2.5 lb weights.

I don't know what's sillier about this picture: those 2.5 lb weights, or that ridiculous I'm-too-athletic-to-wear-pants exercise get-up. If you're smiling this big after your sets, YOUR WEIGHTS ARE TOO LIGHT!

Kamala Harris Wins CA Attorney General Race

Kamala Harris is California's first Asian American, African American and woman attorney general.

After weeks of vote tallying, a winner in California’s tightest attorney general race has emerged: Kamala Harris, a Democrat, has bested opponent Steve Cooley for the state’s top law enforcement position. Harris’ victory, narrowly eked out with a margin of less than 50,000 votes, makes her the first woman, the first Asian American, the first African American, and the first Indian American attorney general of California.

Despite Cooley having declared victory moments after polls closed on Election Night, the outcome of the race has been uncertain for weeks, with Cooley and Harris trading leads as precincts have reported in. This week, however, Harris’ lead widened as only 150,000 votes remained to be counted. Earlier this morning, Cooley conceded the race to Harris, and his campaign consultant told media, “the margin is just too great to be made up with the votes that remain to be counted.”

Congratulations to Kamala Harris and her ground-breaking victory in California! Since I’m in Arizona, where the Republicans all but swept the state-wide offices, I’m delighted to see a little more sense in our neighbours to the West.

No Shame for Smart Girls

I'm not going to be embarassed of my brains...

In case you were wondering why this blog has been silent over the last couple of days, here’s why: last Friday, I defended, and (unofficially) “received” a doctorate. (FYI, it’s official when I turn in my revised dissertation next month.) Unofficially, I’ve gotten as far as higher education can take a person. Unofficially, people have been calling me “Dr. Jenn” for the last three days — and it’s the most giddy, most awesome, most rewarding, and most unsettling feeling in the world.

This whole being a “doctor” business has left me contemplating what it’s like to be considered, by your peers and by the world, one ‘o them “smart ones”. In particular, what does it mean to be a “smart” woman?

On my Twitter feed this morning, I caught a re-tweeted post from the blogger at BougieLand, recounting her own thoughts on being a “smart girl”: No Country for Smart Girls? Do we dumb down for dates? In brief, the blogger, Chele, recounted a dinner party with friends where she was asked to throw a game of Scrabble in order to stroke the ego of her girlfriend’s New Man.

After briefly humouring her friend, and discovering that the girlfriend’s boyfriend was too dumb to even win a thrown game, Chele gave up. On her post, Chele laments:

Do women do this? Lose games so their men feel big and strong? Do men want us to do this? Am I seriously emasculating a dude if I beat him at Wii Golf? Can a Scrabble game make or break a relationship? I gotta downgrade my vocabulary to “Cat in the Hat” levels to get a husband? For real tho? Is it really No Country For Smart Girls? Do we truly have to dumb down to catch and keep a man?

My first reaction to Chele’s blog post was: “No, the guy was just a dumbass.” But, it occurred to me that I’ve encountered many young single women in the sciences whose first reaction is to dumb down for a first date. I’ve heard stories of women who disguise our profession as researchers or doctors-in-training, telling folks they are nurses or technicians, because men at bars seem intimidated by a woman who is better educated than themselves. I’ve heard of women who bite their tongues during dinner conversation so as not to appear smarter than their new boyfriend. And, how many of us have watched ordinarily intelligent, rational, level-headed young women turn into unabashed, hair-tossing, giggly ditzes when they flirt?

We don’t live in a society that prizes intellectualism. For heavens’ sake, we just elected a bunch of Tea Partiers to the Legislature, because yet again we prefer a leader we can drink beer with instead of one whom we know is smarter than us. ‘Cuz that worked so well for us in 2000.

But even in this anti-intellectual society, it seems like Girls with Brains may be expected to be particularly ashamed of themselves. Society apparently still cling to this antiquated notion that men should be breadwinners: intellectually and financially superior to their female mates. Earlier this year, a Cornell University graduate student found that men who earn five times less than their wives are significantly more likely to cheat.

If I were a single “smart girl”, I would confess that this would make my romantic future look a little bleak. I’m simply not the kind of woman who will throw a game to stroke a man’s ego. I’m not going to pretend I’m not smart just to make some idiotic guy feel like less of a moron. Thank God I’m not single.

But I also think that “smart girls” shouldn’t be ashamed of being smart. We needn’t “dumb down to catch and keep a man”. The answer is really quite simple: don’t pursue an insecure (misogynistic) man. The right man for a “smart girl” will believe that smart is sexy. The right man will be inspired, not driven to insecurity, when he is bested by his partner. A true loving relationship means equality — and that includes loving a partner who is as smart as you. If a man needs you to coo when he plays the word “coat” (on a triple word square) in Scrabble, he is not the right man for you. He’s also an asshole.

Less than fifty years ago, women didn’t have the opportunity to integrate and be educated, or to make an income even in the same ballpark as men. Men were the breadwinners; women were expected to be the housewives and mothers. During my grandmother’s generation, women weren’t expected to be literate. Consequently, female pioneers of all backgrounds clawed and scrabbled our way to the position we’re at now, where we even have the opportunity to be “smart girls”. It’s been a struggle to elevate women to the roles of doctors, lawyers, business owners, and scientists, and to simultaneously accept women as beautiful, sexy, and brainy wives, mothers, sisters and daughters.

I am thankful for those “smart girls” who paved this road before me. To be ashamed of my own “smart girl” identity, now, would be an unforgivable insult to those incredible women. And I’m certainly not about to pretend to be a bubble-headed idiot and throw a board game just to “keep” a man who, if he needs that kind of thing, is clearly not worth my time. 

But then, I guess, that’s why I love that electroman is totally okay with losing to me at Scrabble…

“Yes On 107”: Battered Women’s Shelters Should Be Open to Men

Yes on 107 reveals their true colours on battered women's shelters. (Sorry for the crappy Photoshop job above.)

Things that disturb me definitely include having a registered ballot proposition group follow my blogging actions so closely as to post not one, but two, response pieces to my writing within 24 hours of their publication. Me? Really? Shouldn’t you be canvassing or fund-raising or something remotely — I don’t know — political on the night before Election Day, and not fanatically pestering some random blogger with attempts to start blog beef?

In this case, in response to my piece on Proposition 107 and battered women’s shelters, Yes on 107 (aka Intellectual Conservative Arizona) labels me a “Chicken Little” for laying out exactly how battered women’s shelters and breast cancer screening programs are threatened by Proposition 107.

Let’s lay this one out, shall we?

Yes on 107 trots out the same tired argument that I originally, and explicitly addressed in my post:

First of all, the language only bans government preferences in hiring, contracting and higher education. Domestic violence shelters and breast cancer screening programs do not fall within those areas. 

Hmm, arguing against my post by simply re-stating your position? This is the blogging equivalent of repeating your argument, only louder, as if the increase in volume suddenly adds logic to your point. My post, How Proposition 107 Threatens Battered Women’s Shelters and Breast Cancer Screening Programs, already laid out how in California, expansion of the scope of Prop 209 beyond “hiring, contracting and higher education” opened the gates up to other state-funded programs. I wrote how it’s true that the language of Prop 107 doesn’t relate to public services, but I also explained how because its language is vague and subject to legal interpretation, that a lawsuit would be necessary to establish the law’s true scope. In California, that lawsuit was Connerly vs. State Personnel Board.

 Yes on 107 dismisses the fact that lawsuits will need to be filed to establish scope, hanging their entire “Chicken Little” characterization on this bizarre assertion. Yet, any scholar of state law knows that lawsuits that establish scope of new legislation is par for the course. Yes on 107 should be particularly well-versed on this fact: it was their leader, Ward Connerly, who filed Connerly vs. State Personnel Board

Then, Yes on 107 says:

Secondly, any program in risk of being eliminated just has to open its services up to men. 

Which, again, is true. If shelters for battered women opened their doors to men, they absolutely wouldn’t be threatened by Proposition 209 or Proposition 107.

The argument almost makes sense — if you have no understanding of the plight of abused women, who have been raped, assaulted and otherwise psychologically and emotionally tormented by their male partners, and who are seeking a male-free safe space to recover from their trauma. It almost makes sense, if you ignore the fact that the very male-free nature of these shelters is what makes them a viable option for women who have recently been raped and assaulted by men. But, sure, Yes on 107: you’re welcome to claim the “Pro-Psychologically Torturing Battered Women” side of this particular argument. Have at it.

Heck, Yes on 107 even reveals their true colours when it comes to battered women’s shelters:

Would it be unfortunate if some men’s rights groups filed lawsuits to attempt to stop these kinds of services from operating? It might not even cost taxpayers any money, since a judge could choose to require the men’s groups when they inevitably lose to pay costs and fees, based on them losing in the past in California.

Y’know, I — honestly — wouldn’t have even thought to accuse any side of this argument of not being interested in protecting battered women’s shelters from damaging lawsuits. But, you really can’t make so damning and so cavalier a statement up.

For the record, I do think that supporting a men’s rights group’s actions to stop the operation of battered women’s shelters is “unfortunate”. Also, I would say “devastating” to the many silent victims of domestic violence who look to these shelters as their last hope for escape and recovery. I think it’s immoral and unprincipled to even suggest that these shelters — which save lives of abused women every day — aren’t important to our community.

By contrast, Yes on 107 apparently doesn’t find it all that “unfortunate” if men’s rights groups threatened battered women’s shelters with lawsuits, even if they “inevitably” (or not so inevitably: there’s no guarantee that Arizona judges will decide as California judges did in a similar case) lose.

Yes on 107 also supports the National Coalition of Free Men’s argument that breast cancer screening programs should also provide preventative screening services to the same degree for men as they do for women. Never mind that men make up less than two percent of all breast cancer cases, Yes on 107 and NCFM sees prejudice in public screening programs that focus on the women who make up 98% of breast cancer diagnoses, and would rather that these programs shut down than to continue targeting women for prevention and treatment. 

(Also, never mind that Proposition 107 doesn’t provide additional funding to either battered women’s shelters or to breast cancer screening programs in order to handle the additional case loads introduced by catering to both genders. I guess Yes on 107 thinks that money grows on trees — which, if you’re financially backed by a wealthy Northern California political action fund, is pretty close to the truth, I suppose.)

Yes on 107 asserts that breast cancer screening programs might constitute an example of a bona fide sex difference. Yet, even in their very post, they underscore the basic problem of Proposition 107: we have no real idea what the true scope of Proposition 107 actually is. Yes on 107 writes:

Same goes for breast cancer screening programs, and those would probably have even more likelihood of being permitted to remain as women-only, since they likely constitute a bona fide sex difference between men and women. 

Note the words “probably” and “likely”. There is no certainty there. This is, in a nutshell, the problem with Proposition 107: there is deliberate vagueness in the wording of the proposition. If public services programs are outside of the scope of Proposition 107, why the quibbling over whether or not breast cancer screening programs might, or might not, constitute a “bona fide sex difference”? Better yet, how can people who authored this piece of legislation, who call it “carefully crafted and precisely worded”, not really know whether a breast cancer screening program constitute a bona fide sex difference?

The truth is that proponents of Proposition 107 know exactly how vague the wording of this ballot measure are. They know that passage of this ballot proposition is only step one; and that step two is to file a lawsuit, as they did in Connerly vs. State Personnel Board to expand the scope of the ballot proposition beyond the voters’ original intention. They know this, because this is exactly what happened in California.

Finally, Yes on 107 argues that the costs of such lawsuits isn’t so great.

It might not even cost taxpayers any money, since a judge could choose to require the men’s groups when they inevitably lose to pay costs and fees, based on them losing in the past in California. The men’s groups may file lawsuits like this anyway, with or without Prop. 107 being in existence, citing other parts of the Constitution, as they did in the California lawsuits. 

It’s true that NCFM lost their lawsuit, and that a frivolous lawsuit might cost a group like NCFM the cost of legal fees for both sides. Yet, what Yes on 107 isn’t telling you is that in Connerly vs. State Personnel Board, Ward Connerly successfully lobbied to have the state agencies pay the legal fees associated with this case. This decision was upheld by the California Court of Appeals. I couldn’t find the total amount that Connerly vs. State Personnel Board cost the state of California, but I’m guessing it’s somewhere in the ball park of “a lot”.

Why isn’t Yes on 107 letting you know about that cost to taxpayers, let alone the strain that this will put on Arizona’s legal system?

In addition, Yes on 107 complains that my original post depended on a fair amount of “if’s” — yet, this is the very argument that they use to suggest that the lawsuits won’t cost taxpayers money. In fact, my “if’s” aren’t if’s at all; they are based on verifiable legal precedent that took place in California. On the other hand, Yes on 107 relies on an “if” statement to suggest that taxpayers won’t be saddled with a hefty bill with Proposition 107’s passage: IF a group files a lawsuit that fails to win, and IF a judge elects to penalize that group with attorney fees, only then will taxpayers not have to pony up. But, what about all those lawsuits that actually find a state agency or program in violation of the ballot measure? Proposition 107 doesn’t inform you that, as taxpayers, you will be paying for the inevitable lawsuits that will be sorting those issues out, and nothing but tax money will be able to cover the costs of hearing those cases.

Yes on 107 spuriously says:

This time the left wing  Blog for Arizona is claiming that domestic violence shelters and breast cancer screening programs for women could possibly be eliminated. 


This is just another Chicken Little “sky is falling” attempt to come up with the absolute worst possible case scenario, which isn’t going to happen based on prior history in states where this initiative has passed. 

But, my post was not based in wild conjecture, nor do I even suggest that women’s shelters will actually be eliminated. In fact, in my post, I explicitly state:

It would be non-factual to say that with passage of Proposition 107, women’s shelters and breast cancer screening programs would cease to exist in Arizona; this is not the argument I am making, nor would such an argument be supported by the fact that California statutes, independent of Proposition 209, protect funding for women’s health. Let’s be clear: California still has domestic women’s shelters and breast cancer screening programs.

As I write in my post, Proposition 107 threatens women’s shelters and breast cancer screening programs by targeting them with punitive legal fights that strain the resources of that otherwise allow them to operate. The financial and political costs to these programs are high, as are the dangers to women who might be discouraged from seeking out the services of these programs as a result of the legal battle. And, as Yes on 107 so kindly pointed out for us, supporters of Proposition 107 really don’t mind if battered women’s shelters close their doors as a result.

Nowhere do I “imagine” a “worst case scenario”. I present to you, as readers, the actual history of lawsuits that has taken place in California as a result of Proposition 209’s passage. You, the voter, deserve to hear all the facts surrounding this ballot measure, which includes simple facts from California like: after Proposition 209 passed, several key lawsuits were filed that threatened the funding of breast cancer screening programs and domestic violence prevention programs and shelters.

The worst case scenario, in this case, is not make-believe: it’s documented. We have the case law from California to prove that the worst case scenario is exactly what supporters of Proposition 107 want to have happen here in Arizona.

Oh, and as an aside —  in the many assertions that Yes on 107 gets wrong in their rebuttal, they got another big one wrong. I am not “the Proposition 107 opposition”. I am not, in fact, affiliated with any No on 107 group. I am not part of some blogosphere-wide conspiracy to launch some “last-minute” effort. I’m just a concerned Arizona resident who writes about politics. So, just so you know — it’s not one great big conspiracy: bloggers really just don’t like Proposition 107, and they’re writing about it.

Please vote No tomorrow on Proposition 107, because apparently the other side just doesn’t believe battered women’s shelters should be protected. And no, I wouldn’t have even made that shit up, but sometimes the other side just hands you a quote you can’t pass up.

Cross-posted: Blog for Arizona

How Proposition 107 Threatens Battered Women’s Shelters and Breast Cancer Screening Programs

The operation of domestic violence shelters will be threatened by Proposition 107, and this post explains how.

There’s one consensus that both sides of Arizona’s Ballot Proposition 107 can agree on: the effects of passing this ballot proposition will be widespread. However, what the “Yes on 107” folks won’t tell you is exactly how widespread those effects will be.

Not only will Proposition 107 eliminate public education, public employment and public contracting programs that promote affirmative action programs that benefit women and minorities, but passage of Proposition 107 will threaten many public service programs that our community need, such as battered women’s shelters and breast cancer screening programs.

As evidence, again, we need only look at a few important lawsuits that were filed in California in the wake of Proposition 209’s passage. Most of you should remember that Proposition 209 is California’s version of Proposition 107, and was passed by our neighbours to the west in 1996.

Both Prop 209 and Prop 107 say that they will only affect “public employment, public education, or public contracting”, which suggests that women’s shelters and breast cancer sceening programs — targeted public service programs — will not be affected by Proposition 107’s passage. Indeed, this is the argument that the “Yes on 107” side makes.

Measures like Prop. 107 are carefully crafted and precisely worded. The language clearly applies to government employment, contracting, and education, with the purpose of preventing the government from making race or sex a job or admissions qualification.

However, what “Yes on Prop 107” won’t tell you is that the scope of this ballot measure remains, in legal terms, unclear and subject to further interpretation. While we intuitively know what constitutes a “public employment, public education or public contracting” program, those definitions aren’t explicitly stated in the law. In other words, Proposition 107 is “carefully and precisely worded” — to allow for a vague and open interpretation, which is exactly how its backers want it.

Yes on 107 dismisses these concerns in regards to domestic violence shelters and breast cancer screening by saying, “Domestic violence shelters don’t fall into [the categories established in Prop 107]. Even if they did, Jennifer Gratz told me, there would be an exception [in Prop 209] for bone fide qualifications based on sex.”

While it’s true that Proposition 107 includes a caveat that prohibits “bona fide qualifications based on sex”, this is what I like to call a “political” exception, not a legal one. In other words, it’s included in Proposition 107 to give its political backers some wiggle room while trying to get the measure pass by saying that certain beloved programs would qualify for an exception, but legally, it is not clear exactly what a “bona fide qualification based on sex” actually means. There is no certainty that domestic violence shelters and breast cancer screenings would fall under this exception; in fact, following Proposition 107’s passage, lawsuits would be necessary to determine how Arizona would interpret Proposition 107 and the exceptions it outlines.

Don’t believe me? This is exactly what happened in California with Proposition 209, which is worded exactly the same as Arizona’s Proposition 107, and which includes the “bona fide qualifications based on sex” caveat. Despite having this caveat in Proposition 209, domestic violence shelters and breast cancer screening programs were still subject to lawsuits.

Following Proposition 209’s passage, a lawsuit was filed against the state of California by Ward Connerly, whose California-based political action group organized and funded both Proposition 209 and Arizona’s Proposition 107Connerly vs. State Personnel Board challenged the constitutionality of several state programs and was intended to have California’s Supreme Court decide the true scope of Proposition 209 and exactly what sorts of publicly-funded programs fall under its purvue. And, that was despite the fact that Connerly’s group crafted this “precisely worded” ballot measure. 

In Connerly vs. State Personnel Board, the judges decided that (as summarized here) “Proposition 209… prohibits discrimination against or preferential treatment to individuals or groups regardless of whether the governmental action could be justified under strict scrutiny.” Strict scrutiny essentially refers to specific cases where the state government deems racial or gender classifications to be necessary to achieve a very narrow and specific purpose. Although Proposition 209 itself only applied to public employment, public contracting and public education, the court’s decision established that California would interpret Proposition 209 as superceding any instance where the use of racial or gender classifications was appropriate under strict scrutiny. In short, this single statement expanded the scope of Proposition 209 beyond its original writing.

In the wake of this decision, two cases were filed against battered women’s shelters that limit their services to female victims of domestic violence: Blumhorst vs. Haven Hills and NCFM LA vs. State of California. The second lawsuit, additionally, challenged state funding for breast cancer screening programs that target women. NCFM stands for the National Coalition of Free Men, and is a group dedicated to “men’s rights”, and they have challenged anything they deem as preferential treatment for women, including women-only bathrooms on airplanes. In the case of domestic violence shelters, limiting entry to female victims is intended to protect those women — many of whom are recovering from recent rape or assault — from their abusive husbands, and from additional psychological trauma. Although both lawsuits failed to eliminate female-specific battered women’s shelters or breast cancer screening programs in California, this was due in part to California statutes explicitly establishing protection for such programs; I’m not aware that Arizona has similar legal protections for women’s health programs in this state.

Further, the financial and political costs of such legal wrangling was damaging both to the state of California and to the specific programs in question. Correct me if I’m wrong, but with passage of Proposition 107 here in Arizona, a similar history of legal wrangling would be required to establish this state law’s exact scope. Arizona would be at the mercy of state judges to determine exactly what constitutes a public education, public employment and public contracting program, and how Proposition 107 will be applied to other state-funded programs. A decision by Arizona judges that might broaden the scope of Proposition 107 could, as it did in California with Connerly vs. State Personnel Board, open other state-funded programs to further lawsuit.

It would be non-factual to say that with passage of Proposition 107, women’s shelters and breast cancer screening programs would cease to exist in Arizona; this is not the argument I am making, nor would such an argument be supported by the fact that California statutes, independent of Proposition 209, protect funding for women’s health. Let’s be clear: California still has domestic women’s shelters and breast cancer screening programs.

But, simply put, Proposition 107 will, like its predecessor in California, invite years of additional legal debate and wrangling to establish the measure’s specific scope and interpretation. Arizona can ill-afford to go through such a litany of lawsuits, both financially and politically. Each of these lawsuits means thousands, if not millions, of dollars spent by the state in defending themselves in court. In addition, each of these lawsuits invite another public relations nightmare for a state that has already been characterized so negatively in the national media when it comes to civil rights. 

And worst of all, Proposition 107 will open women’s shelters and breast cancer screenings to criticism and scrutiny that could hamper their mission and day-to-day operation.

Please protect the health of women in Arizona and vote no on Proposition 107 tomorrow.

Cross-posted: Blog for Arizona