Spotlight on The Women’s Center

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Mia MacLean Vernic and Cristina Dezeeuw

         Vanderbilt University offers various different resources for a wide range of students—in need of some sort of assistance. Our campus provides wonderful outlets and organizations for students to seek help—especially women. The Margaret Cunningham Women’s Center in one of these, located right on campus. It supplies female students with a wealth of knowledge, a variety of programs, and many opportunities to conquer personal issues. The general goal of the Women’s Center includes serving the needs of students; in particular, college women are seeking out options to help them with their problems. Margaret Cunningham, who created many programs to serve women, first started the women’s center in the 1970s. It is open to all women around campus and invites and encourages those struggling with, just about anything, to come seek out help from the center.

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            We scheduled a time to go to the center, and interviewed Alex Hollidfild. She is the Program Coordinator and had plenty of insight for us about the Women’s Center. She explained and went into depth when telling us of all the different aspects of the center and what it has to offer. The Women’s Center’s main goal is to celebrate and empower all women. The center fosters this celebration and empowerment for women of all races, sexual identities, and religious affiliations. In current day society, it is still vitally important to reinforce female power and continue to work towards gender equality. A majority of the time, we think that women and men are treated equally, since it’s the twenty first century; however, that is not true all of the time. Women are still discriminated against, whether it is in the workplace, home environment, or they are forgotten victims of domestic abuse. The topic of gender discrimination is still very relevant today. The center reminds women to have an increased awareness of the influences gender has on our everyday lives. There are still gender stereotypes everywhere—but by living out the Women Center’s mission, we can work towards closing the gender gap. The Margaret Cunningham Women’s Center reminds us that it is still imperative that we empower women all over our campus, nation, and globe.

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          Anybody can walk into the center and receive information on anything and everything at any time. One can get resources on women’s health, sexual health, pregnancy, STI prevention, women’s leadership, students with children, eating disorders, body image issues—and much more. The center makes all of this information available to female students, who may not have any way of receiving this information otherwise. There are people in the Women’s Center who are always available to talk with and help Vanderbilt students. The center has created a comfortable environment that is welcoming to women of all identities. The center puts on programs across campus related to all of these goals. Some of the events include VandyIW, Kitchen Table Series, Vandy Sex Ed, Cunningham Lecture and so on. The many programs are alternate ways that the Women’s Center shares their mission with the university. These campus-wide programs continue to increase the availability of information and spread the Women’s Center’s message to an even broader crowd.

Alex mentioned that she has a few goals she hopes to accomplish in the coming years. She stated that sexual education, body image issues, and perfectionism are the main concepts that are affecting women the most on this campus. These are the specific topics she specializes in and believes seriously impact young women today. Being young, college women ourselves—these are definitely pertinent issues our classmates and friends are constantly dealing with. Body image issues are a reoccurring health problem that young girls struggle with everyday. The issues all stem from the unrealistic and unachievable commercial women in the media. The Women’s Center is the perfect resource for girls to go to in order to get healthy and understand their disorder. By providing safe spaces and more opportunities to learn and gain a variety of perspectives, Alex is optimistic that the Women’s Center can make a dent in the lives of women around campus. It is an incredible resource that is extremely inviting and helpful to all women. A lot of young women on campus may be unsure or uneducated on certain topics (they are personally dealing with) and the Women’s Center is able to instantly help these girls.

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            In class, we have talked a lot about norms. This includes gender norms, relationship norms, and sexual identity norms. Since our society has formed these preconceived notions (about everything) in the minds of people all over the world, young people often struggle with being different. If being different is “wrong” or “bad” then why would anybody want to be different? The stereotypical gender roles and heteronormativity in society make anything outside of those standards seem irrelevant and unacceptable. This often puts people on the outside and is the direct cause of depression, body image issues, and a sense of disconnectedness. Many young people who are struggling with sexual identities, gender confusion, and other serious problems feel secluded and distanced from society instead of welcomed and accepted.

On top of this, most views of women are socially constructed and often incorrect. For example, women as homemakers who tend to the children and house as their only job is a social construction and stereotype that unfortunately, many people still have today. The Women’s Center is trying to combat these societal assumptions. Women are usually viewed as inferior, weak, and unimportant. Because of these (incorrect) ideas of how women are—many women actually end up feeling like this. Women think that they don’t matter and that their problems don’t matter. The Women’s Center is working hard to put this to and end by providing young student with infinite resources in order to put these stereotypical myths away. The hope to reach as many women on campus and make them feel empowered. The process of educating people about women’s issues is a long one- it has been going on for decades, but it is a process that the Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center has dedicated it’s mission to.

50 Shades of… Sex?

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            Before reading the novel, 50 Shades of Grey by EL James, I had never even heard of BDSM—bondage, discipline, dominance, and submission, sadism, masochism. This concept was more than foreign to me, and to be honest, quite strange at first. I already had many preconceived ideas of what the book was going to be about before reading—a lot of sex and a guy with weird sexual needs (basically porn, as described by many of my friends). Then, after I read the book I did not even realize that BDSM was a real thing, until I got to class the next day (of course). Throughout the novel, Ana is conflicted by Christian’s sexual requests. She often feels uncomfortable with his demands, which is understandable. The book explores the concept of BDSM and portrays what a BDSM relationship may actually entail in real life, including the struggles and successes.

BDSM is an acronym for a bondage, discipline, dominant-submissive relationship. This is a relationship that includes a dominant partner and a submissive partner. The relationship involves the term bondage—so this can consist of any act that attempts to secure a person, whether it be with chains, ropes, or any other creative idea. The D in BDSM, which stands for discipline, applies to when one partner tells the other partner how to specifically behave. When one partner becomes sexually satisfied, by imposing actual and physical pain to their partner, it is considered to be sadism. Lastly, masochism is when one partner reaches sexual pleasure through receiving physical pain. In 50 Shades of Grey, Christian is the dominant and Ana is the submissive. Ana has to obey Christian, since he is the dominant, and he is allowed to punish her when she misbehaves. All of these terms are explored throughout the novel and the story explores the positive and negative sides to a BDSM relationship.

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           When I began to read the book I noticed that Ana, the woman, is the submissive partner. Of course the woman is the submissive. Women are constantly thought of as the obedient, passive, and compliant partner in every heteronormative relationship. In a heteronormative relationship the man is, more often than not, thought of as stronger, has more influence, and more powerful (over the woman). So in the novel Christian is the dominant and has complete power of Ana, literally. She must obey everything on Christian’s set of specific rules, and when she disobeys them, she is punished. Now, obviously I understand that this is all relevant to the BDSM relationship Ana and Christian are participating in, but I also think that this book is contributing to the societal normality of the male to female dynamic. It plays off the stereotypical, yet also somewhat accurate, idea that women are the weaker and more insignificant gender. Most male partners have a hierarchy over their female partners—and 50 Shades of Grey reinforces this popular and widely accepted norm that women are unimportant and powerless in sexual relationships. Each time Ana wants something different than what Christian wants, he is taken back and upset by her feelings. He has a desire to maintain complete control and dominance over Ana—just like how there is a strong sense of male superiority in everyday life.

            The novel basically illustrates every male’s sexual fantasy—a woman, as a sexual object and not an actual person, obeying the man’s every wish. Historically, there has always been gender discrimination against women and even today; this continues to stand true, every so often. This romantic novel, which could also fall under the category of erotica, sexualizes women (Ana) into an object of sexual desire. Ana is the perfect, innocent virgin and Christian comes into her life and everything changes. She falls under the submissive identity due to her inexperience and gender role. Christian is able dominate her in every aspect of their relationship—just like he wants to. I think women read this book and probably have one of two reactions. They, either, love and are entertained by the romantic storyline filled with detailed sexual encounters. Or, they hate it and think it sexualizes women with its accurate display of how women are actually thought of in society—weak and less than men. The opinions on the novel could really go either way, but it most definitely explores a male’s fantasy more than a woman’s fantasy.

            BUT the aspect to BDSM relationships I do think is very positive is the fact that there is complete and total consent. Both partners have to agree upon the rules and actions within the relationship. The two partners are very open with on another and talk over the rules and guidelines. So although the woman may be submissive, most of the time, she is consenting to it and not being taken advantage of. In 50 Shades of Grey, Ana does agree to partake in her relationship with Christian, after thoroughly reading over his contract and discussing it completely, with him. She was not forced into doing anything she did not want to participate in. BDSM relationships retain a power exchange within the relationship—meaning the relationship is consensual and negotiated upon. I think the novel portrayed women in a bad way, making females seem helpless and entirely compliant to men. But in reality, I do think people enjoy BDSM relationships. Nothing is being forced upon a partner because there is complete honestly and full consent.

 

Works Cited

 

“To the Women of America: 4 Reasons to Hate 50 Shades of Grey – The Matt Walsh

Blog.” The Matt Walsh Blog. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2014. <http://themattwalshblog.com/2014/07/25/women-america-4-reasons-hate-50-shades-grey/&gt;.

“Get My “TOP 100 BLOGS” Book For FREE. Subscribe Today:.” The Producers

Perspective. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2014. <https://www.theproducersperspective.com/my_weblog/2012/09/50-shades-of-play.html/attachment/1155824&gt;.

“Why Are Women Reading 50 Shades of Grey?” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 15 Oct.

  1. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3Xylm_lm28&gt;.

“50 Shades of WTF.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2014. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o92hv7La9Sk&gt;.

Should Prostitution Become Legal?

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When anyone hears the word prostitute, it is immediately thought of in a negative connotation. The term carries with it; health issues, an “unclean” image, stereotypes, and ideas of human rights. In the United States, prostitution is obviously, currently, illegal. But what if it wasn’t? In other countries, there are different laws surrounding prostitution. Some countries, such as North Korea and Sudan, consider prostitution to be punishable by the death penalty. In a few European countries, Germany and Belgium (for example), prostitution is legal, but brothels are not. In most parts of Africa, prostitution is illegal, yet widely practiced—just like in the United States. This common practice of an illegal work is due to the large percentage of poverty in Africa (so many women turn to sex work). This is one of the most common motivations for women to turn to prostitution—but why not for men? There is something about current day society that objectifies women—constantly tuning them into sexual objects. Clearly the global view on prostitution is very divided, different, and conflicted. There seem to be many different opinions and feelings towards sex work and why (or where) it is originating from and if it should be practiced or not.

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In the documentary film, Buying Sex, by Director Teresa McInnes (2003) the idea of legalizing sex in Canada is discussed. It is an interesting topic I had never really thought about before. Prostitution has always been illegal (in the United States) as long as I have been alive, and I have never even considered the idea of it becoming legal. When I actually think about what prostitution and sex work is it makes me mad. Men are buying women and almost, in a way, owning them. They are basically dehumanizing the woman body and paying women for sex. The male population already significantly sexualizes women’s bodies and prostitution continues to encourage it and makes objectifying women the norm. However, if Canada were to legalize prostitution, sex workers could potentially hire body guards, drivers, and (obviously) perform their work without restraint. So while the country is encouraging prostitution, the sexualization of women, and it’s legalization, sex workers may become more protected and safer from the violent and dangerous nature of their job. But are both sides of the spectrum equal?

If prostitution is to be legalized everywhere what would happen? It is hard for me to even pick a stance on this because the concept makes it somewhat confusing to pick a side. There are a lot of serious aspects to take into consideration. If sex work is legal I think it would subject women to much more sexualization from men than there already is. Also, women would perhaps experience even more abusive and violent relationships or behavior from males. If it becomes the “norm” for women to sell their bodies for sex and become even more of a sexual object and piece of property, I think that men would take advantage of that… in a bad way. Alongside these negative sides to legalizing prostitution, I think the legalization could also make prostitution a seemingly much more normal job and lifestyle. Although this would mean the term would become decriminalized, young women all over the world may begin to see prostitution as more acceptable and a normal life to live out. While it would be good that prostitutes would (maybe) not be discriminated against, I don’t know if society would want the sex work force to grow larger and larger due to it becoming more widely acceptable. Do we really want the younger generation of women to grow up thinking that all they are capable of becoming is a sexual object?

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If prostitution is illegal everywhere what would happen? Sex work already embodies a bad image. Society typically thinks of prostitution as dirty, grimy, and impure. If it is to stay illegal and become illegal everywhere, this negative association will become even more prevalent. There is a mass amount of discrimination within the image of prostitution—mainly because it’s illegal, and therefore bad and wrong. But on the other hand, women should be able to do what they want with their own body. Many women turn to prostitution for various different reasons. For some it is money struggles, family issues, sexual curiosity, and others it’s because they want to. Despite which reason motivates a woman to become involved in sex work, it should be up to her to make her own decisions. Prostitution provides women with a stronger sense of agency and more power, although it can also bring about large amounts of danger as well. If prostitution is illegal in all parts of the world, young girls may potentially stay away from that type of sex work. Instead of turning themselves into a sexual object for men, women will find work somewhere else that is more empowering and less demeaning. Although it takes away a woman’s right to choose how she wants to use her body, it would affect women in positive ways and encourage a healthier lifestyle not dominated by a male presence. Along with all this, prostitution is already illegal in the United States, but that obviously has not stopped women from practicing. Sex work is extremely common all over the U.S. and the fact that it is illegal has not stopped anybody so far. Therefore, if it continues to stay illegal, I don’t think much will change. I feel like men will continue to treat women the same exact way and prostitution/sex work will maintain it’s disapproving image.

Works Cited

“World News: Canada Making Prostitution Completely Legal.” Rant Lifestyle. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2014. <http://www.rantlifestyle.com/2013/12/20/world-news-canada-making-prostitution-completely-legal/&gt;.

“Legalize Prostitution to Fight Sex Trafficking? Sex Workers Say “Yes””YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2014. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9oLC2mA1i30&gt;.

“DVD Review: Buying Sex.” Wellington Daily News. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2014. <http://www.wellingtondailynews.com/article/20131211/BLOGS/312119953&gt;.

“DVD Review: Buying Sex.” Wellington Daily News. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2014. <http://www.wellingtondailynews.com/article/20131211/BLOGS/312119953&gt;.

What’s Sex Got to do With… Being Unbeatable?

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In class on Tuesday, October 14th 2014, I visited the fine arts gallery on Vanderbilt’s campus. The current exhibition is a collection of photographs labeled, I Am Unbeatable. The photographer, Donna Ferrato, has created a campaign against domestic violence. She has always been a social activist, as she has been photographing abused women and domestic violence for years. Her photographs all tell a story and hopefully will encourage women to stand up for themselves.

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Donna Ferrato’s newest work, I Am Unbeatable, is about the life of a young woman named Sarah. When she was thirteen years old, her current boyfriend at the age of eighteen, forced Sarah to move away from her family. She left her home, friends, and family to go move in with him and start a family. After he pressured her into having sex with him, she became pregnant with her first son. Sarah continued on to have another son, meanwhile staying in an abusive relationship. Her boyfriend would beat her for just about anything—changing her hair color, getting a new ear piercing, or for no reason at all. He would also beat up Sarah’s two boys. Eventually, after Sarah’s boyfriend sat on top of her, punching her face so horribly that he broke her jaw, she decided to run. She took her boys and left the abusive relationship for good.

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Domestic violence is something that continues to astonish me everyday. I think it’s impossible for anybody to comprehend it at all. One of the saddest things is that Sarah’s two sons thought it was normal that their father beat them and his mother up—they didn’t know anything better. When people become involved in abusive relationships, there often seems to be no escape. It becomes what is normal for victims of domestic abuse and it is hard for them to run away from their abuser. Many times, the victim has no place to go because they are solely dependent on their abuser. This exhibition was eye opening. I hope that young women everywhere will hear about it and Sarah’s story. I think it will empower women to speak out and stand up for themselves, their children, and their actual lives. I hope that women everywhere will declare themselves to be “unbeatable” and successfully get away from domestic violence.

 

Works Cited

“THE STORIES Archives – I AM UNBEATABLE.” I AM UNBEATABLE. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2014. <http://www.iamunbeatable.com/category/the_stories/&gt;.

“THE STORIES Archives – Page 2 of 2 – I AM UNBEATABLE.” I AM UNBEATABLE. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2014. <http://www.iamunbeatable.com/category/the_stories/page/2/&gt;.

“Images from Donna Ferrato’s “I Am Unbeatable” at the Vanderbilt Fine Arts Gallery.” Vanderbilt News. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2014. <http://news.vanderbilt.edu/2014/08/ferrato-images/&gt;.

 

 

“Yes” Means “Yes”

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Columbia University senior, Emma Sulkowicz, was raped on the first day of her sophomore year of college. She, like many rape victims, didn’t say anything at first due to a traumatic experience and for emotional reasons. Then, a few months later decided to speak up, but instead of helping her, Columbia University managed to do close to nothing at all. The University supplied her with unhelpful and incapable lawyers and investigators. Eventually the court labeled her case with too little information to be continued and the charges and prosecutions were immediately dropped. Emma’s rapist is still a student at Columbia and he will be graduating with her this year. As her senior thesis, and a way to make a bold statement about rape, Emma Sulkowicz plans on carrying her mattress around campus as long as her rapist is still attending Columbia—so maybe until graduation. It symbolizes the weight that she has to carry with her every single day, which comes hand in hand with the fear she now is constantly burdened with. So far, the community around her has provided her with support and is beginning to speak out about rape culture on college campuses.

The rape culture surrounding college campuses around the U.S. is getting out of control. It is something that has continuously been increasing and nothing has been done to put it to a stop. With all the partying, alcohol, and drug use going on inside of college parties, the idea of consent is seemingly nonexistent. The notion that “boys will be boys” has always been and still is unacceptable. Men are constantly sexualizing women, aggressively trying to pick up women, and prove their manhood by “getting” lots of girls. The culture of our generation has gotten worse over time. Emma Sulkowicz explains that her rapist had also raped a few other girls at Columbia as well—so he is a serial rapist. The fact that he has raped multiple women, and gotten away with it is not okay. It is clear that our society needs to take action and start changing something—because obviously there are serious problems with the way rape and rape culture, in general, is being handled.

Just last week, the California law called, “Yes means Yes” was passed. When a woman says “no,” she is not playing hard to get—she really does means “no.” The state of California has taken a step in the right direction towards protecting women. Instead of a person just saying “no” to sexual activity, now both partners that are about to engage in the sexual activity must consent and agree—“yes” and “yes.” The law also states that consent does not count if a partner is drunk, drugged, unconscious, or asleep. Some people think that this law is unfair for men because men are presumed to be guilty no matter what. This is interesting because just like racial profiling, gender profiling can exist as well. If a woman accuses a man of some sort of assault, ten times out of ten, the man will be assumed to be guilty—whether he actually is or not. Although men feel like it may be easier for them to be accused with this law in act, the law will also protect women against rape and provide them with the justice they deserve. Now when alleged rape survivors go to their universities with sexual-assault accusations the victim is no longer asked how forcefully they said no to the rapist, but instead if there was consent between both partners. If the victim said no—or said nothing at all, that is not considered to be consent. This law will hopefully encourage women to be more open with how they feel about participating sexually with certain people. If colleges are going to make consent mandatory, then both female and male students will be forced to state how they feel and what they want. Women typically are taught to hold in their sexual feelings and not admit that sex pleases the female too. But with the “Yes” Means “Yes” law, now women can openly talk about sex, what they want, and what they do not want. I think this law is exactly what our society needs in order to work towards lessening sexual assault on college campuses.

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Cultural complacency is a dynamic in which people participate in a social agenda against their own will—so rape culture is included. But when people are involved in rape culture, it tends to involve objectifying women. The fact that society thinks it is acceptable for men to sexualize women and objectify them is the main factor leading to rape and sexual assault. I think that a few things will happen with the new law in act. First off, men are not going to be able to get away with rape as easily as they have in the past—especially in the college setting. With the new consent rule, _______. Second, women are going to be more open about how they feel. If expressing your consent is necessary, then women will be forced to talk about what they really want. This will lead to less confusion when it comes to sex between two partners. In conclusion, California’s “Yes” Means “Yes” law is going to go a long way. Hopefully more states will adapt the law and college campuses will become safer and less prone to sexual assault.

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Works Cited

“Home.” Carrying The Weight Together. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Oct. 2014. <http://w

ww.carryingtheweighttogether.com/6p2c0m2i8btmgs14h30dl78812g5x1>.

“Students Help Emma Sulkowicz Carry Mattress to Class in First Collective Carry.”

Columbia Daily Spectator. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Oct. 2014. <http://columbiaspectator.co m/spectrum/2014/09/10/students-help-emma-sulkowicz-carry-mattress-class-first-collective-carry>.

Friedman, Ann. “Oh Yes Means Yes: The Joy of Affirmative Consent.” The Cut. N.p.,

n.d. Web. 03 Oct. 2014. <http://nymag.com/thecut/2014/10/oh-yes-means-yes-the-joy-of-affirmative-consent.html&gt;.

Digital image. Black Press USA. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Oct. 2014.

<http://www.blackpressusa.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/tumblr_mes8e6BiIU1qheakio1_500.jpg&gt;.

What’s Sex Got to do With… “Orange is the New Black”?

Everyone has either seen, heard of, or become obsessed with the popular and relatively new Netflix series—Orange is the New Black. The excitement filled show entails a woman’s experiences once she is sent to jail. While there, the main character, Piper, encounters a wide array of new friends. The infamous T.V. show portrays lesbians, homosexual behavior, and even trasngenders. The show introduces these people to society and the series has brought about more acceptance and equality.

Most people I talked to about the show, when it first aired, all had similar reactions. At first the lesbian sex scenes were weird to watch, but then people got used to it and began to love the show. Maybe this makes a little sense… but why? Heterosexual sex scenes don’t seem to make people feel uncomfortable, so why should homosexual sex scenes? Society makes homosexuality appear as different and unusual. Even today, in a world where homosexuality is growing and becoming widely accepted, there is still an aspect about it that makes it dissimilar and unlike the “norm.”

Laverne Cox, who is a transgender woman in real life, plays a transgender woman, Sophia, on Orange is the New Black. Throughout the show, the audience is able to see her struggles as she fights back against inequalities she’s faced with in jail. She is the first openly trans woman that has ever been nominated for an Emmy—this is awesome! Transgender men and women, although still discriminated against, are becoming more established and welcomed into society—as they should. Laverne Cox has really made a name for herself and for all transgender people. Society is coming closer to growing apart form a heteronormative culture and becoming more accepting towards “other” sexualities—which shouldn’t have to be labeled as “other” in the first place.

 

 

 Works Cited

Digital image. Welcometothebronx.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Sept. 2014.                 <http://www.welcome2thebronx.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/ORANGE.png&gt;.

Orange Is the New Black- Opening Credits- NetflixYouTube. N.p., 10 July 2013. Web. 22 Sept. 2014. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fBITGyJynfA&gt;.

Laverne Cox Reveals AMAZING Secret Behind Filming As A Man | HPL.YouTube. N.p., 26 July 2013. Web. 22 Sept. 2014. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Elkyk9YSub0&gt;.