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Showing posts with label guestpost. Show all posts
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21 December 2014

Guest Post: Roxane Gay on Today’s Feminism: “Better is Not Good Enough”

Nearly three hundred bad feminists gathered at the Chicago Temple on December 10 to hear New York Times best-selling author Roxane Gay discuss issues around feminism, inequality, and the struggles that 21st century women still face at an event hosted by Women Employed. Gay’s commentary and criticisms on Wednesday were in line with those found in her recent book Bad Feminist—incisive and insightful, covering a broad range of topics with her signature quick-witted sense of humor. Some highlights from the evening:
On the wage gap: “Women have compromised enough! 77 cents is a compromise. Pay me a dollar, you asshole!”
On burning out in social services and activism: “Self-care is a priority. You must decide how much self care you need. If you burn out, then you’re not doing anything. If you’re not here, you can’t do any good in the world.”
On not always having an opinion: “Sometimes it’s Tuesday and I’m thinking about macaroni and cheese.” 
On privilege: “Saying that you have privilege does not mean that you do not have suffering.”
On intersectional feminism: “Feminism is so much more complicated than just gender. If good feminism is only about middle class white women, then I don’t want to be a part of that feminism.”
As Gay points out, there are̶—or at least there should be—as many different kinds of feminism as there are different kinds of people. A problem emerges, however, when one type of feminism comes to stand in for all types of feminism—when one approach or perspective claims to authoritatively represent all perspectives. Broadly speaking, mainstream feminist movements have left behind women of color, low-income women, and LGBTQA women. As Gay writes, feminism is certainly flawed, but it is flawed because it is a movement powered by people who are also inherently flawed.  At its best, feminism has the potential to offer a way to navigate our shifting cultural climate and to help women find their voices, which is what we find in Gay’s work.
Bad Feminist is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year. Gay’s writing is accessible and her tone approachable, yet her criticisms are articulate and pointed, as she never waters down the complexity of her arguments. In fact, one of Gay’s greatest strengths as an author and speaker is her ability to personally connect with her audience, allowing her to present highly sophisticated and nuanced social critiques without alienating anyone through the use of jargon-laden language, as may be the case with fellow academics (Gay is a professor at Purdue University). After all, what good is critical cultural commentary if someone needs a PhD to understand and respond to it? We need clear and discerning voices like Roxane Gay’s to serve as models and encourage us all to look much more critically at the world around us. Furthermore, the breadth of issues that Gay addresses in Bad Feminist speaks to the landscape of today’s feminism—complex, rapidly developing, contested, and above all, still necessary. 
Sure, things have improved for some women, but they have not improved enough, particularly not for women who are not highly educated, straight, middle-class, able-bodied, documented, and white. When women hold less than 20% of seats in Congress, when popular music boasts lyrics like “I know you want it,” when 1 in 5 women are raped or sexually assaulted in college, when there were over a thousand bills proposed in 2011 that intended to limit women’s ability to access an abortion (200 of which passed), when white women earn 77 cents, black women 64 cents, and Latina women 53 cents to every man’s dollar, how can anyone really say that feminism is irrelevant? At this point, we should not be questioning the relevance of feminism, but rather, we should be rolling up our sleeves and asking, “Where do we even start?”
And this is no easy question. During the question and answer at Women Employed’s event, an audience member asked Roxane how to know when to pick your battles. After all, the problems are complex and numerous, and most of us only have a finite amount of time, energy, and resources that we can dedicate to the causes we believe in. Gay’s advice was simple, but powerful: 
Use your voice where it will do the most good.
You can’t do everything, but you can do something. No matter where you live, what you do for a living, or how much time or money you have, there is a unique way that you can contribute to social change. Do you have a bit of financial flexibility? Make a donation to a women’s nonprofit (such as Women Employed). Do you have expertise in your field? Mentor younger women or donate your time and knowledge by serving on a council or board. Even more importantly: do you have a voice? Speak up, and do so as often as you can. Do you have ears? Listen to others who have experiences and perspectives different from your own. If nothing else, be proactive and stay informed about what’s going on. Sure, things are better than they were a generation or two ago, but as Gay aptly puts it, “Better is not good enough, and it’s a shame that we would settle for so little.”
Here’s the truth: all feminists are bad feminists. We’re imperfect, and our feminisms are imperfect. As individuals, we each have limited perspectives. We contradict ourselves. We make mistakes. We’re human. But does that mean we abandon feminist causes? Definitely not, because then we’re really in trouble. We do the best we can with what we know, we get challenged when someone disagrees, we pay attention and remain open to new perspectives, and then when we know better, we do better. We may all be bad feminists, but it’s up to bad feminists to keep fighting the good fight.
Rachel Clark studies Women’s and Gender Studies at Carleton College in Northfield, MN. In December, she had the opportunity to intern with Women Employed, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that advocates for increased educational and employment opportunities for working women. She aspires to one day be a professional feminist. 

14 August 2014

Guest Post: Reflections on Anita Hill, Twenty-Three Years Later

VLF welcomes Lauren Miller's guest post about a recent viewing of "Anita: Speaking Truth to Power."Lauren is a Chicago-based womanist impassioned about all things related to holistic wellness for marginalized women. As Engagement Coordinator at Women Employed, she energizes young professional women online, and offline, to promote practices and policies that support real change for America’s working women.

“I was raised to do what is right. And can now explain to my students, first hand, that despite the high cost which may be involved, it is worth having the truth emerge,” asserts Anita Hill in 1991 to a crowd of familiar faces in Oklahoma.

This moment, and the power of those words, were experienced yet again to a sold-out crowd of professionally diverse women of all ages during an event hosted by Women Employed on August 5th. The eyes of Chicagoland’s foremost women lawyers, political leaders, and advocates of Women Employed were transfixed on the screen displaying one of Chicago’s only screenings of Anita: Speaking Truth to Power. The film highlights the important narrative from twenty-three years ago when one woman’s raw testimony, broadcast in the international spotlight, emboldened millions of women to tell the truth and ushered in major changes in sexual harassment policy and female representation in politics. Anita Hill's 1991 testimony before the Senate judiciary committee, in which she accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, sent shock waves through every office in America and brought the important issue into the open.

This new documentary, directed by Academy-award winning filmmaker Freida Mock, illuminates the disgrace of America’s political leaders’ inability to authentically listen to and engage with sexual harassment. An experience now more widely acknowledged within our contemporary moment, progressive women have always recognized sexual harassment as stitched in the very fabric of what it means to exist as a woman in a patriarchal society. From cat calls and street harassment to the prevalent male gaze and more strange, graphic, and lewd sexual violence, we’re no strangers to sexual harassment. Sure, we can examine the statistics, but talking directly with our mothers, sisters, and girlfriends provides more visceral stories that empower many of us to speak out and act.

However, as Anita: Speaking Truth to Power reminds us, the truth is not easily digested by those unwilling to engage with it—those socialized firmly within a patriarchy that promises, among other things, to allow an otherwise rightfully deserving man to continue toward the prize he has earned. When Anita spoke out, many questioned, “Why could she not simply keep her mouth shut like she had done for so many years?”. One patronizing query from a member of the judiciary committee was, “Why in God’s name” would you ever speak to him again, Anita? This is wounding to listen to.

As Hill reflects in the film, twenty-two years after the hearings, “[t]he more I understood about sexual harassment, the more I understood that it was only part of the problem. Sexual harassment is just part of a larger issue of gender inequality.” Blaming the victim is an archaic sexist remedy with “dealing” with sexual harassment —putting a band-aid over a festering, infected wound that hasn’t been treated or even looked at truthfully and with compassion. If every woman were to not speak to or engage with her perpetrator, society would indeed look dramatically different—it would be far more quiet.

And, their silence would do what, exactly? It would neither create healing nor effectively “shame” the perpetrator into feminist, equitable actions—a responsibility that is not just on women, and shouldn’t be.

What Hill encourages us to do with these words is examine the larger issue. Her story invites us to interrogate gender inequality and the particular nuances of being both female and black. In the film, years later, reflecting on the sensationalized trial, Anita mentions that “[i]t was really the combination of my race and my gender and it changed the dynamics.”

In the face of a decisive and divisive panel of all white, all male political leaders, Anita remained steadfast. She spoke the opening words of this blog post within days of her testimony against then-Supreme Court justice nominee Clarence Thomas. As she speaks them, the calm yet strong Anita appears extraordinarily self-assured—something notable for a woman who faced, head on, the politics of Washington and all of the messy, and messed-up, dynamics related to being both woman and black. That Thomas was already hand-picked by George Bush, Sr. to be the next conservative Supreme Court justice and that, for that administration, he would also be the justice of color, albeit token, mattered. That Thomas recognized the elephant (read: blackness) in the post-Civil Rights era room and, after Hill’s detailed testimony with several witnesses who spoke additional truth to power, intentionally chose to victimize himself as casualty of “high-tech lynching for uppity blacks” mattered. Thomas understood the weight of that statement in planting fear in the minds of the panel who would rather avoid “racist” label in the early ‘90s. That the panel of deciders was all white and all male matters. All of this matters.

And what matters for us–what we must keep in perspective about this story’s relevance for us today—is that this story illuminates institutionalized dynamics of race, power, sex, and control in the United States. It’s dangerously easy for us to look at this narrative in isolation. It’s easy for us to demonize a man, especially a black man, for being hypersexual, degrading, and violent towards a woman. Yes, what Thomas did is unequivocally horrendous. That being said, it’s harder for us to critique everything surrounding this story: the nearly missed opportunity and near-refusal for a hearing; the sheer lack of preparedness of our politicians when listening to Hill’s experiences; the way that Hill quickly became the one “on trial;” the endemic nature of sexual harassment for a patriarchal society, and therefore the obvious nature of all that occurred within the hearings. That this turned into a spectacle is both disturbing and shameful, but it ultimately illuminated the prevalence of sexual harassment and racial and gender tensions within our nation’s very fabric.

21 February 2014

Guest Post: Mad Men Workplace Policies and Leaky Pipelines: Women Journalists Talk Gender Bias

Viva la Feminista welcomes, Ambar Mentor-Truppa as a guest blogger today! Ambar is a Chicago-based feminist and public relations executive committed to cultivating the next generation of women leaders. As a board member and chair of Women Employed’s Advocacy Council, Ambar mobilizes young professional women to advocate on behalf of all working women and families. 

“I lived through the Mad Men era!” That’s what author and trailblazing journalist Lynn Povich told the crowd gathered for a panel discussion co-hosted by Women Employed on February 13th.

The audience listened attentively as Povich continued, sharing the story of how she and her female colleagues confronted the blatant sexism at Newsweek in the 60s. When they were told that “women don’t write at Newsweek,” the women not only didn’t accept it; they fought against it. In 1970, Povich and 45 other women sued the magazine for sex discrimination.

“We loved Newsweek—we just wanted Newsweek to be better,” Povich explained. She and her Eleanor Holmes Norton, now a D.C. congresswoman. Their landmark victory sent ripples through the entire news industry, paving the way for sex discrimination lawsuits against the New York Times and the Washington Post. One measure of the suit’s success is that just five years later, Lynn became Newsweek’s first female Senior Editor.

Joining Povich at the panel discussion was recent Newsweek writer Jesse Ellison, who co-authored a Newsweek article on the 40th anniversary of the landmark lawsuit questioning how much has actually changed for working women. The two remarkable female journalists answered questions posed by moderator Peggy Davis, a nationally recognized lawyer who serves as the Executive Director for the Chicago Committee where she advances racial and ethnic diversity in the legal profession.

While Povich spoke about how she and the other women experienced blatant sex discrimination, Ellison described the more subtle forms of gender bias in the workplace today. In the 2000s, she and her fellow female journalists at Newsweek watched as men around them were given plum assignments, raises, and promotions, while they were left to “walk in place.” They had been raised to believe that they could do anything, that our society had achieved equality—so it took them a long time to identify what they were facing as gender bias. “Today, it takes longer to say something is sexist,” Ellison told the crowd. “It’s a watered down version” that is consequentially “harder to pinpoint.” It was only after Ellison and her female colleagues began sharing their stories that they realized they were facing a collective problem in a flawed system rather than individual failings.

The women discussed the ways this more subtle gender bias plays out in today’s workplace. Povich described how although there are women with the experience and skills to lead, they still aren’t getting ahead. Povich called this a “leaky pipeline” problem: our workplaces aren’t structured to allow women to both be good mothers and good bosses, so many of them either opt out or are forced out of upper management positions.
fellow plaintiffs won the lawsuit with the help of the ACLU and their attorney,

During the Q&A session, the discussion touched on many of today’s hot topics for working women, ranging from the confidence gap outlined by Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In to the evolution of feminism and the women’s movement. “Our feminism was a very visible feminism,” Povich told the audience, describing the sense of sisterhood and united purpose created by the women’s, civil rights, and antiwar movements. “Today, feminism is online.” She mentioned the recent article in The Nation, Feminism’s Toxic Twitter Wars [ed. VLF's response]. Ellison also spoke about the divisions among women today and how she and her co-authors faced backlash from other women for publishing their article on the 40th anniversary of the sex discrimination lawsuit. One of her hopes for the future is that women and men can overcome some of their differences and join together to fight against bias in the workplace.

The evening finished on a hopeful note: the message that Povich says she wants people to take from her story is that “it is possible to change the system from within.” It may not be easy, but as her own story testifies, it can happen. And what should that change look like? “The workplace has to be restructured for working parents. This isn’t a women’s problem—it’s a societal problem. And I’m hoping young men, who are far more involved in raising their children than my father’s generation was, will come together with their female colleagues, who still bear most of the responsibility for child rearing, and demand that their workplaces change.”

Watch the video below to hear Lynn Povich and Jesse Ellison talk about making change at Newsweek.

27 November 2013

Guest Post: Where do we go from here? The ERA in the 21st Century

The question of where the ERA fits into the feminist movement is one that I wrestle with a lot. I got word that there was a conference on the ERA coming up, but since I couldn't attend I was all, "BOO!" Thankfully an attendee sent me this to share with y'all: 

by Colleen Giles
Last weekend I attended a conference at Roger Williams University titled "The ERA in the 21st Century." The conference brought together accomplished scholars, national activists, and twenty-something feminists like myself that are still learning to navigate their own paths to equal rights.  The conference aimed to open a dialogue about the place of the Equal Rights Amendment in American culture and politics.  The ERA galvanized the Second Wave feminist movement, though it failed ratification in enough states to become an amendment in 1982.  The ERA has also been a part of Third Wave feminism, with Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards naming it as an essential component of a feminist future in Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future (2000). However, most people of my generation do not know anything about the ERA, its history, or its relevance to their lives.
The truth is, there are myriad reasons why the ERA is important today. The most basic of these reasons is that the 19th Amendment is the only Constitutional protection that guarantees women’s rights in the United States. The 14th Amendment—which so many people believe protects against sex discrimination—is subject to judicial interpretation.  In 2010, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia argued that sex discrimination was not protected by the Constitution. All of the current legislation (including Title IX and the Civil Rights Act) are vulnerable to roll back—something that is painfully evident in the current climate in which campus sexual assault is an epidemic, pay equity is stalled, and abortion rights are becoming more restricted making it nearly impossible for some women to access a federally“protected” right.
I was at the conference to hear about how we could move forward. I was blown away by the feminist star power of the women in the room— within a span of eight hours I got to talk about abortion rights with Jennifer Baumgardner—one of my feminist idols—and was able to eavesdrop on a conversation between two of the strongest feminist voices in the country, Ellie Smeal and Terry O’Neil.  It seemed likely that given the guest list, some decisive game plan was going to be presented. But by the end of the second day of the conference, I was left more confused than empowered.
Despite rhetoric to the contrary, there is a divide between feminist generations. The Keynote Speakers, Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards, who are recognized as leading voices of the Third Wave, encouraged young women to find their way into feminism from whatever vantage point inspired them.   The ERA was one of those potential entry points, but they acknowledged that young feminists might be more inspired by more tangible goals: marriage equality, trans issues, abortion rights, campus safety. During the audience Q&A, conference goers nearly completely ignored what had been said during the Keynote Address, an Address that spoke to me loudly and clearly, and instead used the time to assert themselves in telling us why the ERA was of paramount and central importance: period.  Perhaps the audience expected a concrete pro-ERA message. But the ERA’s heavy hitters alienated their young audience by failing to bridge their agenda with ours,which was something that could have been accomplished via the messages presented by Baumgardner and Richards. They missed out on a great opportunity to gain insight into what the important issues for today’s young feminists, like me, look like.
During an “ERA Roundtable,” Baumgardner’s suggestions about how to galvanize young women were overwhelmed by another panelist’s insistence that they need to be told that they inherited a poor deal. Educating the younger generations is important, but telling them what issues they should care about is not; there is power in offering them the tools to seek out the issues that speak to them the most.  That is what will engage them in grassroots efforts for feminist change and, ultimately, equal rights. I felt worn down and discouraged by this disconnect, that really seemed to coalesce around age, and I remained silent during the discussions because fear of being targeted by movement elders who are not open to criticism.
Young feminists are the future of the movement and we have ideas and opinions that have value and deserve respect. While I truly appreciate and understand all of the tireless efforts put in to advance women to where we are now, I also see that the climate of feminism is changing and we have a lot of work to do if we want to mobilize toward any kind of real feminist activism in our future.  We need to start over, because the tactics that have been used for the past forty years aren't going to work for today's young women.
I have three takeaways from this conference.  First, there is a divide between feminists and it is being perpetuated from within the movement by a lack of respect and understanding for each other.  Second the ERA is an important piece of legislation that would write equality for women into the Constitution in a way that cannot be subjected to judicial interpretation or legislative rollbacks.  And third, young feminists need a toolkit for future action, not a lecture about the failed actions of the past.
About Colleen Giles
Colleen is founder of Bahjingo.com, a blog and collection of activists who work within their community to engage young people in gender inequality issues. She has worked with the Women's Center of Rhode Island, a domestic violence resource center and women's shelter for over a year. She has also fundraised for several other domestic violence awareness initiatives within Rhode Island and Massachusetts.  Colleen is particularly interested in the role law and policy plays in achieving justice for survivors of domestic violence. She graduated from Roger Williams University in 2012 and plans to pursue graduate education in Women’s and Gender Studies.

14 December 2012

16 Days Guest Post: A Step in the Right Direction

Thanks to BoricuaFeminist from Boston, MA for this 16 Days post. Again, this is late due to my schedule, not anything she did! You can reach her at Twitter.

Last weekend my best friend, my boyfriend and I participated in the Hot Chocolate Run in my hometown of Northampton, MA. The Hot Chocolate Run is an annual fundraising event where people run a 5k, or in my case walk 2 miles, to raise money and awareness for Safe Passage. Safe Passage provides, “shelter, peer-support, counseling, education, advocacy, legal support and community education,” to women and children who are domestic violence survivors.

It was an amazing sight to see 5,500 participating, and more community members observing, in an event to bring awareness to the issue of domestic violence. Many walkers/runners wore stickers with the names of loved ones they had lost due to domestic violence. Domestic violence is still silenced in many homes and communities. It is powerful to see women, men, children and families give voice to those who may not always have the power to speak up. It is important for organizations to raise money in order to continue to provide services, but it is also important to raise awareness and bring visibility to the issue as well. In a city with a population of less than 30,000 people, such a large turnout sends a message of support to those affected by violence in our community.

There is always more work to be done. Institutional barriers around gender, race and class are deeply intertwined with gender violence. However, the fight is vital and we must continue to bring awareness to gender violence in our communities. Gender violence is not a private issue, as demonstrated by the stickers worn by the walkers and runners, its affects are widely felt. Even though the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence ended on December 10th, I will continue to make my voice heard on this issue throughout the year. I encourage everyone to do the same.

13 December 2012

16 Days Guest Post: Commercialization of Domestic Violence Awareness

Thanks to fellow Chicagoan, Ann Santori of Half-Way to a Mid-Life Crisis for this post in commemeration of 16 days. This is posted late due to my fault not Ann's. You can reach Ann on Twitter & Tumblr.

According to a 2005 World Health Organization study, at least one in every three women across the globe will be abused physically and/or sexually at least once in her lifetime. The UN designates November 25th as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and December 10th as International Human Rights Day. Since 1991, the intervening sixteen days have been designated for the 16 Days Campaign, which focuses on awareness of gender-based violence.

The 16 Days Campaign, by its nature, is critical in thought and tends to focus on the specific factors that create a culture of violence. This year’s theme, for example, “highlights the role militarism plays in perpetuating violence against women and girls” as the amount of small arms in private ownership rises and “research shows that having a small arm in the home increases the overall risk of someone being murdered by 41%; for women in particular this risk nearly triples.”

However, other anti-domestic violence projects are not always so evaluative. Indeed, it seems that the trend is a troublesome commercialization and sensationalism. The Avon Foundation, for all the awareness it raises around the issue, still maintains two product lines (No More and m.powerment by mark) as part of its fundraising initiative.

Much like feminist sentiment surrounding the ‘Pink-ification’ of breast cancer, Avon’s lines present a thorny moral dilemma. On the one hand, there is a benefit to being able to contribute quickly and easily on a micro level (sometimes very micro – with certain products only bestowing cents of their total retail price to the cause) to larger social campaigns. On the other, not only is the commodification of a social ill ethically questionable, it can contribute to a buyer’s sense of complacency. Why, after all, if I’ve bought an m.powerment necklace or a pink vacuum cleaner, surely these ladies will be feeling better in no time!

Likewise, while it certainly raises awareness, sensationalizing gender-based violence can both turn the viewer away and instill him or her with a false sense of reality. France’s ad agency BETC Paris recently launched its campaign, entitled “Bruises,” a combination performance art and print work. On November 25th, dozens of women painted with realistic facial bruises dropped to the floor near the Pompidou Center in Paris under a banner that read, “In a single year, 122 women die after experiencing domestic violence.” The published images of the campaign that accompanied the performance depicted close-up views of bruises captioned in imitation of formal art pieces – “Grave Green,” “Booze Brown,” and “Rape Red.”

While extremely viscerally powerful, the BETC campaign remains simplistic and devoid of the complexities that surround domestic violence prevention strategies. Where is the discussion on how to spot an abusive relationship before it turns physical, the resources to escape such a situation before it’s too late. Reducing women and their stories to fodder for a shock campaign is, again, ethically troublesome to say the least.

So, are any campaigns getting it right? While they can receive criticism (as we all know that men are not the only perpetrators and women not the only victims), the recent trend of targeting sexual violence prevention campaigns towards men (see the following campaigns: My Strength is Not For Hurting; Real Men Know The Difference; Don’t Be That Guy, etc.) is certainly a step in the right direction. Here we do have an exploration of the ‘grey areas.’ Is drunken consent actual consent? Is there such a thing as spousal/relationship rape? Can consent be withdrawn? (The answers, for all that are following along, are resounding (a) NO, (b) YES, (c) YES).

Confronting these myths by being brave enough to suggest that gender-based violence thrives on a culture of hyper-masculinity can be the beginning of a critical and crucial evaluation of the behaviors that have created a culture of placid acceptance of both the myths and realities surrounding this violence.

05 December 2012

16 Days Guest Post: Stop blaming women for VAW!

Thanks to Erin McKelle from Ohio and Fearless Feminism for today's post.

Gender based violence is such a huge problem in communities everywhere and it infuriates me that most refuse to acknowledge it. 1 in 3 women will be victims of domestic violence in their lifetime, 1 in 3 will be the victims of sexual violence and 1 in 4 the victims of sexual assault.
Women are told by society to be careful. To not be one of these victims, to protect themselves. We are told to not dress slutty and not get too tipsy. We are constantly being blamed for our own victimization. This message is seen everywhere and is internalized to make us fearful.

I think most women would agree that there is some level of fear going out alone at night or going to a rough neighborhood by ourselves. This comes from the media telling us to always be scared. That crimes happen randomly to women and that you'd better watch your back. The consequence is that women are living in constant fear and uncertainty. Their presence is made smaller, since they don't feel the freedom men do to come and go as they please. It is almost like we in the United States do live like those in what we consider to be gender oppressive countries (taking the spotlight away from our own) where women have curfews and can't be out past a certain hour. While this may not be a formal structure put in place, isn't it an informal one? If you see a woman alone walking down the street at 1 AM, doesn't it arose some sort of curiosity? Doesn't it make you wonder, at least a little?

We need to stop doing this to women. Making them the victims of our societies aggression problem is causing the deep-seated stress and fear in women everywhere. We need to wake up and realize we don't live in a progressive gender-equal society. If we did, we wouldn't have to tell women how to behave because there would be no fear of anyone getting hurt! Women would be women and men would be men and we'd be treated with the same respect and all have the same expectations from society. It's really as simple as that.

If you would like to submit a post for 16 Days, please use this handy dandy form. Thank you.  

04 December 2012

16 Days Guest Post: Home is not always a safe house

Thank you to R. Femme (mistakenly credited for yesterday's post...sorry) for this touching post about violence within one's family.

As I have never posted about such a personal topic on the internet before and this is my first involvement in the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, I hope that those who read this can appreciate my attempt to tell my own story as well as take a stance against gender violence.

I grew up in a dysfunctional household; my father was extremely abusive, not only to my mother but to myself, my sister and my brother. We never knew exactly why my father was angry but when he was, we all felt his wrath; he would scream, throw things, and all to often hit one of us. My mother was brave enough to protect us for the most part; she often put herself in between us and my father when he went into his spontaneous and uncontrollable rages. I lived with my father until I was fourteen when my mother decided to finally leave him; my mother and I moved in with my grandmother, while my brother and sister decided to remain with my father.

I was happy to be in a house with hot water and heat and a sense of normalcy which I had never experienced before. When I was ten or so, my father had decided to rip the insulation out of our walls and at the same time decided not to pay the heat bill, instead spending his paychecks on marijuana and his precious motorcycle. I no longer had to wear my winter coat inside or go to the community center for a hot shower.
Unfortunately at the same time, I was suffering from kidney disease and found out that I had to have major surgery that year. I was trying to maintain a relationship with my father, hoping that he would change because at that moment I needed him. He drove me to my appointments at my mother's behest but often complained about the trip and we were almost always late. When I went into surgery, my mother waited for the six hours in the waiting room while my father decided his time was better spent elsewhere. He came to visit me a couple of times during my recovery but never stayed long.

After my surgery, I maintained a relationship with my father for almost a whole year before the whole family fell apart. Upon finding out that my mother had moved on, despite having rejected her only months ago when she had begged him for a reunion, my father had my mother arrested on false abuse charges. I was interrogated at the local station about my parents' relationship and I told them as much as I could through my tears. As I left the station with my grandmother, I saw my father and I became very angry and didn't talk to him for almost three weeks.

When I eventually did talk to him, he only insulted my mother and blamed me for not telling him and I left for good. My brother and my sister were angry at me for different reasons upon my excommunication of my father; my sister didn't understand how I could "abandon" my own father, and my brother had been manipulated into believing every lie my father told him. Despite this tension, I was able to maintain a relationship with my siblings and still do to this day.

It has been over four years since I have talked to or seen my father; I moved away with my mother and I am attending university. My sister now understands why I have chosen to leave although she still lives with my father who still demeans her, but she refuses to leave him. My brother doesn't understand me though, he acts like my father and I am sad that he is going down the wrong path. My mother is the most important thing in my life and we have been through everything together, I also have a new sister who I love very much.
I grew up a witness and victim of gender violence in my household as well as a blatant sexist for a father; someone who believed women belonged in the kitchen and that a man had an obligation to punish. I have been told that I am destined to be abusive myself by various people; that I am like my father on the inside and that I have "run away" from my problems.

It is something that has shaped who I am today; part of the reason I am where I am, a part of my feminism, and a part of my whole family. Why I try so hard to help those in similar situations, the reason I want to be a good role-model for my baby sister, and the reason I am writing this right now.

I have encountered many people who believe that domestic violence is something of the past, something that doesn't happen anymore, but I want those people to be aware of reality. I want my story to be a part of that awareness, awareness that leads to action, action that leads to justice for all victims of abuse.

If you would like to submit a post for 16 Days, please use this handy dandy form. Thank you.  

03 December 2012

16 Days Guest Post: Walking a Mile in Her Shoes

Thanks to JennaMurphy47 from Ontario, Canada for this guest post.  This post is especially poignant coming so soon after the murder of Kasandra Perkins. 

I could spend days, weeks and even years discussing my outrage about acts of gender violence in my home country of Canada, as well as other countries all over the world, but I would like to talk frankly about an issue that is affecting my community right now.

I live in a small city in South Western Ontario and we are about to embark on our first annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes® men’s march to stop rape, sexual assault and gender violence. Over the past few years I have been an active volunteer with my local women’s emergency shelter and when they had discussed launching this event in 2013 I couldn’t have been a stronger advocate.

My first experience with gender violence in my community was in 2002 when a 21 year-old woman was stabbed to death 58 times by her ex-partner in her parking complex. I was a young, naive 15 year-old girl at the time and while I was saddened by this murder, I was also too young to be aware of the misogynistic undertones of the comments that others were making about it. The murderer was a popular young athlete who had put our unassuming little hamlet “on the map” which led many to defend and make excuses for him. Murmurs around town, to this day, harken back to victim blaming and shaming that was characteristic of our culture decades ago. I have heard respected members of the community blame the victim because she was supposedly “unfaithful”, “an addict” or even that “she hit him too, ya know!” It wasn’t until I began my sociology program in University that I discovered how detrimental these attitudes were to the community and the cause.

The second experience occurred only two months ago when a woman was murdered by her estranged partner while her two children hid upstairs. This particular tragedy touched me in a very deep way. It caused me to dive in to my volunteer role with more feverous passion than I had ever felt before. This happened to her, to us, to our community and I wasn’t going to let it be another instance of victim blaming. I decided that in order for me to contribute to ending gender violence I would have to go out in to the community and TALK about it. I would talk to anyone and everyone who would listen and was willing to talk with me. Words are power, naming things is power. I wanted to delve deeper than saying in passing, “what a tragedy about that woman and her children.” It WAS a tragedy. It was devastating. Now let’s talk about why it happened and how we can prevent it from happening again.

It is time that we take hold of community events like Walk a Mile in Her Shoes® to get people talking and get people engaged. Domestic violence and sexual assault are NOT a private problem, they are a public issue. My organizing and recruiting efforts to date have been well received but I want you to open you ears not your wallets. Put yourself in her shoes and change your attitudes, beliefs and behaviors so that we don’t pass on a sexualized, patriarchal, misogynistic view of women and subsequently domestic violence to our future generations.

If you would like to submit a post for 16 Days, please use this handy dandy form. Thank you.

25 October 2011

Book Review: Mothers On Trial by Phyllis Chesler

Review by Trish Wilson 

Dr. Phyllis Chesler has updated her groundbreaking book Mothers On Trial for the twenty-first century. Revised with seven new chapters, a new introduction, and a new resources section, this book is required reading for any mother going through a child custody battle. Chesler lays out the groundwork proving it's a myth that mothers have always had custody of their children. That myth is one reason I wanted to review Dr. Phyllis Chesler's revised edition of "Mothers On Trial" since I heard she was writing it a few years back. In the nearly thirty years since she wrote her first edition, things have gotten much worse for mothers. Mothers retain custody of their children only when fathers do not make an issue of it. When a mother and father go to court to fight for custody of their children, the father usually gets it even if he had been absent, neglectful, never married to the mother, controlling, absent for many years, a felon, or simply not the children's primary caregiving parent. Chesler states this is the case not because the mothers ire unfit or were not the primary caregivers, but because mothers are held to much higher parenting standards than fathers.

For fifteen years, I worked as an activist and writer investigating the father's rights movement and I worked on family law and motherhood issues. When I started, the father's supremacist movement was beginning to take off on the internet, in private homes, and in church basements. It was not nearly as organized and as powerful as it is now. Chesler was one of the few experts aware of that backlash against women and mothers in particular that the father's supremacist movement represented, and she spoke out against it. I have since ceased my activist work and I've moved on, but I occasionally choose projects in the field that I feel are important. Reviewing this book is one of them.

Chesler includes information she covered in her first edition, including historic and contemporary overviews of mothering, family law, and custody issues. In the fifteen years I'd worked on these issues I've seen mothers lose a great deal of ground. It was both reaffirming and disheartening to see Chesler voice and expose so much of what I, "good enough" mothers, and motherhood activists had experienced and observed in this decade and a half. While this book covers many vital issues, I want to focus on Chesler's chapters describing what had happened over the past thirty odd years, and where "good enough" mothers stand now.

Chesler bases her findings on years of painstaking research, hundreds of interviews of both mothers and fathers, and international surveys about child custody arrangements. She argues for new guidelines to resolve custody issues that protect children as well as end the backlash against mothers in the midst of contested custody cases.

Suffice to say, things not only aren't going well today for "good enough" mothers. Mothers are in danger of losing custody of their children now more than ever.

Below are highlights that I believe are especially important to today's "good enough" mothers and those who support them.

This is my area of expertise since I started out my activist work following the father's supremacist movement since the mid 1990s, shortly before the father's supremacists became involved in welfare reform and the politically savvier groups quickly became endorsed by the U. S. government. Chesler nailed it when she described the reaction patriarchal men have to women having any advantages over them at all even in motherhood as feeling "persecuted". Father's supremacists love to describe themselves as victims, and there is nothing they hate more than to be told they whine. Family law was one area where many men experienced for the first time not getting their way, and Chesler describes the resentment these men felt over not getting their way for once in their lives. Groups such as the National Congress of Men formed as a backlash reaction against these entitled men feeling that courts, judges, lawyers, and ex-wives discriminated against them at that their ex-wives controlled and economically enslaved them through the children. These men started out suing their ex-wives and the courts both individually and as groups for discrimination against men.

Other groups covered in the book are Fathers 4 Justice, American Coalition For Fathers And Justice and RADAR. These groups encourage the passage of anti-woman legislation that reinforces patriarchy and abusive treatment of women and children.

Chesler also tells the truth about joint custody – now called "shared parenting" although parenting has little to do with it. She correctly identifies father's supremacist's support for joint custody – and that means joint physical custody, not joint legal custody – as being all about wanting to get out of paying child support and continuing to control their exes through the children, with permission and encouragement from the courts. With a joint custody award comes a lower or completely eliminated child support order. Money, not doing right by their children, is a primary motivation in the eyes of father supremacists, and Chesler points that out.

Some individual men want to do better by their children but father supremacist groups don't help them to do that. They encourage anger and resentment rather than healing. These groups harm fathers' relationships with their children.

Other truths voiced by Chesler are listed below:
* When a mother makes allegations of incest lawyers, judges, and mental health professionals are not only reluctant to believe her, they may give visitation or even full custody to fathers, although these same professionals say they are not in favor of raping children.
* Even when incest is documented by Child Protective Services, court personnel often refuse to believe the mother's allegations.
* When mothers make allegations of incest, other forms of child abuse, domestic violence, or simply dig in their heels on the father's demands they stand a good chance of losing custody and/or being accused of Parental Alienation Syndrome.
* She rightly identifies mediation and parenting coordination as divorce-related cottage industries.
* If a mother is seen as too emotional (tears, anxiety, anger), she risks losing custody for being overly-enmeshed or overly involved in her own case. She's accused of imagining serious problems, fabricating them, or over-reacting. Woe to the woman who is outspoken about the way the court system and her ex treat her and the children! She's too uppity to deserve custody. The stoic father is seen as more stable and therefore gains custody.
* Abusive and controlling men are able to use the court system as a weapon against the women they used to love. Chesler shows how these mothers were hounded, exhausted financially and emotionally, and crushed – all with perfectly legal uses of the courts. Nothing these men had done is illegal.
* Referring to joint custody as "post-divorce patriarchy", she demonstrates how joint custody has risen over the past 30 years to replace the primary caregiver presumption. Chesler accurately describes reasons why some fathers want joint custody, such as wanting to control their exes lives and wanting to avoid paying child support.
* Mothers stand a strong chance of losing custody of their children if they are deemed mentally ill.
* "Good enough" lesbian and bi-sexual mothers stand a good chance of losing custody of their children to the fathers because of their sexual orientation, even if the father had been absent, neglectful, abusive, controlling, or simply not the primary caregiving parent. One judge awarded custody of a child to his father because he wanted to save the boy "from the stigma of being raised by a lesbian mother." This same judge had harangued the mother for a solid hour about her lesbianism, saying he would not be "dictated to" by a bunch of "women's libbers".
* Regarding surrogacy, Chesler accurately describes the moral quandary of turning poor women into incubators for the rich who are perfectly capable of bearing children but for reasons such as not wanting to put their bodies through the stress and strain of pregnancy (and lose their youthful figures), they choose surrogacy instead. She describes how these cases turn the definitions of "mother" and "father" on their heads.
* Sadly, a fair proposal for a gender-neutral primary caregiver presumption has been rejected in favor of politically correct and male-supremacist joint physical custody (shared parenting).


I wish there was mention of the more generalized forms of parental alienation brought up by proponents such as Dr. Richard Warshak. This more generalized, less medicalized, and supposedly gender neutral version of alienation is yet another one of those cottage industries Chesler identified In the book. Also, alienation proponents have been fighting hard to get it listed in the upcoming DSM-V but so far have been unsuccessful.

I would have liked to have seen more mention of ridding the courts of those divorce-and-custody-related cottage industries, which would go a long way towards ridding the system of problems mothers experience such as alienation claims and petitions for joint custody. There's money to be made in divorce and custody cases and that monetary pipeline needs to be plugged.

I highly recommend this book for both divorcing and divorced mothers as well as single and lesbian mothers going through custody battles. The issues are the same for all. What these women have in common is that they are mothers and father's supremacists have been waging war on them for over thirty years.

Why has this legal torture been allowed for so long? Patriarchy is a reason. Money is another. There is a great deal of money to be made in divorce and custody cases. Custodially-embattled mothers and their supporters must stand up to these trends or things will only get worse for mothers and children. And yes, they can get worse. Much worse. Chesler has updated her ground-breaking book and it is vitally important court personnel and those who work on the behalf of "good enough" mothers read it, learn, and act. The abuses will stop only if people affected take a stand.

Trish Wilson is a writer/researcher who has written about feminism, divorce and custody, domestic violence, and the father's rights movement for over a decade. Her articles have appeared in Alternet, Feminista!, Sojourner, On The Issues, Domestic Violence Report, XY Online, Ms. Magazine's blog, and American Politics Journal. She has provided well-researched and in-depth testimony related to family law and domestic violence bills for legislators in California, Maryland, Massachusetts, and other states. 

Thank you to Trish Wilson for this guest book review. Interested in reviewing books for Viva la Feminista? Email me at veronica*dot*arreola*at*gmail*dot*com

02 June 2011

Guest Post:: School Sexual Harassment Tips for Parents

By Mandy Van Deven

Today’s guest post is part of the Hey, Shorty! Virtual Book Tour. Check out this link to find out how you can support the 25-date nationwide tour!

In the spirit of transparency, I find it necessary to let you know that I am not a parent. I am a person who has children in my life whom I care deeply about and who has worked with parents and children for a number of years; however, I understand the parameters of my experience only extend so far and there is a limit to the usefulness of my knowledge when it comes to real life practice. I say this because it is important to note that the information I have about how parents and caregivers can intervene in and respond to sexual harassment in schools is either observed or secondhand, and I encourage those who are raising children to add your own expertise to the comments of this post. Learning from each other is crucial and there are so few places where parents come together to talk about sexual harassment in schools.

There are many reasons to be concerned about the state of education in the United States, and for many, sexual harassment doesn’t receive a rating on the scale of what’s most important. But as we’ve seen in the media lately, the mistreatment of students can have severe effects. Poor grades, depression, and unhealthy decisions (e.g., drug use, eating disorders, suicide) can be the result of social interactions happening at school, and it is the responsibility of the school system to do its best to keep every child safe. Unfortunately, this is not a luxury every student is afforded.

Parents and caregivers should feel secure about sending their children to school every day, but it can be difficult to determine what is going on in the hallways and classrooms of your child’s school. It can be particularly for those who find it challenging, or impossible, to take on extraneous activities at your child’s school because of barriers to participation you face – including working multiple jobs or jobs with evening hours, familial responsibilities, disabilities, and health issues, all of which understandably take priority and can leave a parent feeling powerless and frustrated. Although it may be a struggle, it can be a great relief to join (or start!) a group for parents and caregivers where you can share their frustrations with one another, gain support from peers, and work toward solutions. Email is a good way to do that when you can’t show up in person.

For those who don’t have the option to participate in this way, here are some strategies from the newly released Hey, Shorty!: A Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment and Violence in Schools and on the Streets that parents can implement in their daily lives to help prevent sexual harassment in schools:

— Encourage your child to discuss school life with you, including grades, sports, extracurricular activities, and friends. Let your child know you are interested and available to talk, no matter what the topic.

— Use language that is inclusive of both genders and avoids stereotyping individuals based on gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, or other characteristics.

— Raise your child’s awareness of other people’s feelings. Fostering a sense of respect, empathy, and compassion will help prevent your child from hurting others.

— Take advantage of “teachable moments.” When an incident of sexual harassment occurs in your presence (whether in the school, on the street, or in a store), seize the opportunity to raise your child’s awareness about sexual harassment and openly communicate to your child that such behavior is unacceptable, hurtful, and illegal.

— Encourage your child to speak up for him or herself. Promoting self-confidence in a child is the first step to prevent him or her from becoming victims of sexual harassment or other types of abuse.

— Request a copy of your child’s school’s sexual harassment policy. Keep it on hand as a reference. If your child’s school does not have a sexual harassment policy or has a policy that is confusing or inaccessible, talk to the school administrator or a school board representative.

— Discuss the school’s anti-discrimination policy with your children. Let them know that you are aware sexual harassment is a problem in schools, and that you are available to talk about it.

— Create and distribute materials to help other parents and their children discuss issues like sex education, gender equity, and sexism.

Viva la Feminista encourages you to purchase your copy from indie bookstores or Powells.com.
* Book links are affiliate links. If you buy your book here I could make a very small amount of money that goes towards this blog.

23 October 2010

Guest Post:: New Documentary from Rachel Maddow: "The Assassination of Dr. Tiller"

This was originally posted at Blog for Choice and reposted with their permission. 

The murder of Dr. George Tiller in his church on May 31, 2009, caused great sadness and profound anger for all of us who hold the values of women's right to privacy dear. This heinous murder made headlines at the time, but we must be vigilant in making sure Americans don't forget.

One journalist has not allowed the story to be forgotten: Rachel Maddow. She just announced that she'll air an hour-long documentary on the murder of Dr. Tiller and the latest developments in the investigation. "The Assassination of Dr. Tiller" will broadcast on Monday, October 25 at 9 p.m. ET on MSNBC

Dr. Tiller was a tireless advocate for reproductive health who urged society to "trust women" to make the personal, private decisions that are best for them and their families. Anti-choice extremist Scott Roeder was convicted of Dr. Tiller's murder, and a grand jury is investigating whether Roeder acted with accomplices.

We hope you tune in to MSNBC on Monday, October 25 at 9 p.m. ET to watch Rachel Maddow's documentary. 

27 September 2010

Guest Post:: Anti-Choice Blogger Cruelly Mocks Women's Experiences by Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America

NARAL Pro-Choice America is made up of pro-choice women and men across the United States who come together to protect a woman's right to choose. These individuals are our backbone, and their stories remind us of why we do this work. Behind every statistic or heated argument about abortion is a real woman's experience. 

On our website, ProChoiceAmerica.org, we offer a safe space for people to share their stories because sharing stories is a way for our supporters to connect. Our Women's Stories page gives powerful and heart-felt accounts of women's personal lives and the difficult decisions they've made. As someone who talks with women about what it means to be pro-choice, I understand the courage it takes to share a story with us and the world. 

That's why I was deeply disgusted and outraged when I discovered that an anti-choice blogger mocked these personal stories through a series of "Parody Testimonials" blogs

The blogger crudely and cruelly mocks the circumstances behind these women's stories, even in situations where women's lives and health were in danger. 

Dawn, 40

I got pregnant in the summer of 2008. My husband and I were thrilled. We had been trying for about 6 months and it finally happened.

At 11 weeks of gestation we found out that our son/daughter had anencephaly. We were devastated. We thought we wanted this child. We murdered our son/daughter two days later in a building which looked like a hospital (but where they murdered people instead of cared for them). A spineless, life-hating, unprotective man who had a Medical Doctorate in gynecology dilated my cervix and proceeded to cut my son/daughter up into several pieces. After this, the nurse informed him that all of my son's/daughter's body parts were present and accounted for. The "doctor" considered this a "condition not compatible with life" AND WHO WOULD after being cut up into so many pieces?!


I have worked for groups which favor the murder of unborn babies for the worst part of my life doing a variety of volunteer activities (lying, deceiving, coaxing, betraying my fellow woman, hating men and the babies that they helped us conceive... did I mention lying?) as well as giving money to spill more blood. I support murdering unborn babies in all circumstances (yes, especially those which are forced in China and other countries since they have more melanin than I do).

I got pregnant in the summer of 2008. My husband and I were thrilled. We had been trying for about 6 months and it finally happened.

At 11 weeks of gestation we found out that the fetus had anencephaly. We were devastated. This was a very wanted child. We terminated the pregnancy two days later in a hospital. My OB performed the D&C. The doctor considered this a "condition not compatible with life."


I have worked for pro-choice causes for the better part of my life doing a variety of volunteer activities as well as donating money. I support choice in all circumstances.

We can't let the actions of an anti-choice blogger intimidate or shame women into silence. Please take a moment to support the women who bravely shared their stories with us. Read some of our Women's Stories and pick the story that you find most compelling. Share it with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, or whatever social media you use. Share it here at BlogForChoice and on other blogs you visit. When you post the story, please say, "I stand with [NAME] and here is her/his story."

Together, we can stand up for these brave women and against hate.  

07 July 2010

Guest Post:: Gail Dines, PhD discusses the pornification of youth

Dr. Gail Dines is a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College in Boston, an internationally acclaimed speaker and author, and a feminist activist. I invited her to guest blog here as I await the arrival of her new book, Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked our Sexuality. Her work fits right into many of the concerns I have about how women and girls are portrayed in the media. That said, these are her words and I welcome all constructive critiques as well as high praise. ~veronica

Watch MTV, flip through the pages of popular women’s magazines, or just glance at billboards, and you’ll see slight variations on a theme: a heavily made-up, young, attractive, technologically perfected woman devoid of body hair, cellulite, age lines, or physical disabilities. She’s minimally clothed, with a seductive look plastered on her face. Whether it be an almost- naked Britney Spears writhing around on stage or a Victoria’s Secret model clad in a plunging bra and thong, women and girls today are bombarded with images of  themselves as sex objects whose worth is measured only by their “hotness.”

This image didn’t appear from nowhere—it’s a logical outcome of living in a society that has become increasingly swamped by pornography. The prototype of the objectified, dehumanized, hypersexed female that is central to porn has now seeped into pop culture to such a degree that media representations today look like soft-core porn from ten years ago. It has so crowded out competing images that girls and young women see few alternative ways of being female. A quick look at pop culture will show you that I’m not exaggerating.

These images have a profound impact on how girls and women view themselves as sexual beings. As cultural beings, moreover, we are affected by the messages that the culture sends us, and there is no escaping the power of these relentless images.

In this hypersexualized culture, we are sexualizing our girls at an earlier age than ever. The person who best explained this to me was not an expert in women’s studies, but an incarcerated child rapist whom I shall call “John.” During an interview in a Connecticut prison, John told me how he had methodically and strategically groomed his ten-year-old stepdaughter into “consenting” to have sex with him, and then casually mentioned that his job was made easy because the “the culture did a lot of the grooming for me.”

As John has been through many years of therapy in prison, he had the lingo down pat, and in his eagerness to show off his knowledge to me, he used the word “groom” many times. This is a term psychologists use to describe the way predators socialize, seduce, and manipulate their victims into accepting—and often “agreeing”—to sexual abuse. John explained how, in his “conscious desire to desensitize her,” he used the questions she would ask (What is a blow job? What does a penis taste like?) as an entrée to introducing her first to adult porn and then child porn. John was very clear that the sexualized pop culture images his stepdaughter had been exposed to from an early age, as well as the sexualized conversations that such images generated in her peer group, developed a precocious sexual curiosity that “made grooming her easy.”

While this is one extreme example of the effects of a hypersexualized culture, an American Psychological Association study on the sexualization of girls found that our culture is affecting girls’ development. According to the researchers, there was ample evidence to conclude that sexualizing girls “has negative effects in a variety of domains, including cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, sexuality, and attitudes and beliefs.” Some of these effects include risky sexual behavior; higher rates of eating disorders, depression, and low self- esteem; and reduced academic performance.

As feminists we need to be critical of the increasing pornification of the culture and not confuse it with sexual empowerment. The pornographers are not out to sexually liberate us but rather to make money, and their plasticized, generic, formulaic images of women are stultifying and repressive. Feminism fought for women to be liberated from these images, not to capitulate to them, so for the sexual and psychological health of our girls we need to build a movement that resists them.

Gail Dines is a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College. Her new book is Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked our Sexuality.

09 April 2010

Guest Post: Interview with Julie Zeilinger, teenage editor of top feminist blog, the Fbomb

This is reposted from b-side chats with permission. I decided to repost this awesome interview because when the fbomb launched I was so damn busy that I didn't have time to help promote it. Plus it's awesome....

We had the opportunity to talk to one of the busiest (and youngest) bloggers on the web, Julie Zeilinger, sole founder of the Fbomb, a feminist blog for teenagers. Let us rephrase: while the blog may be run by a teenager and posted from a teenage perspective, the content is relevant for any feminist young and old.  Zeilinger attracts an international array of young feminists while posting from Pepper Pike, Ohio. In this interview, she tells us how her feminist outlook was shaped,  juggling school, the blog and the way her peers and parents view her.

What made you start the Fbomb?
I started the FBomb after reading a lot of other feminist blogs, like Feministing and Jezebel. I loved those blogs but I thought that the teenage perspective on the issues was really missing. In addition, I really wanted to create a community for teenage feminists where we could come together, share our ideas and offer support and advice. It was important to me that this wasn’t created by an adult or a corporation, but that this was really a peer-driven group. I called this blog “the FBomb” for feminist - but the fact that the FBomb is also known as a swear word wasn’t a coincidence. I created the FBomb for girls who are socially aware and want to share their emotions and experiences with a greater community.

Do you run the blog yourself?
I am the only one running the blog in the sense that I created it and control all the mechanical aspects of it (posting, moderating comments, etc.), and I write about half of the posts. However, the other half of posts are written by people who submit their own writing and that really is a huge part of the FBomb. Even though I technically run it, I really don’t consider it my blog - it’s a community that’s largely composed of submissions and comments written by its visitors.

How do you manage being in high school and running the Fbomb?

The FBomb does take a lot of time to manage - between writing my own posts, moderating comments, organizing submissions and working on social networking it can be a lot. But doing all of those things are really enjoyable for me - working on the FBomb is pretty much my favorite thing to do- so it’s pretty easy to find the time between school, homework and other activities. I also drink a lot of coffee.

What has garnered your interest in feminism?
My parents had always raised me with feminist values, but I first became interested in calling myself a feminist in 8th grade when I had to give a speech to my entire middle school. I found an article about female feticide and infanticide (where parents kill their babies for the sole reason that they are female). I was so shocked that such a misogynistic practice existed. But mostly I was disturbed that such a thing was occurring that I didn’t know about and more people weren’t concerned. It made me wonder what other misogynistic things were happening without my knowing. That’s when I started to research women’s issues on my own and started to learn more about the feminist movement. When I got to high school, my advisor was also a young and active feminist. She gave me a bunch of feminist books to read, and we’ve had many feminist discussions since.

Do you get a lot of criticism? How do you handle that?
I don’t get much criticism about the FBomb itself - most people really like the idea and support its mission. I’ve gotten criticism on some of the posts I’ve published, which have varied from sexist comments attacking feminism in general to other feminists disagreeing with me. At the beginning it really did bother me because I took each negative comment as a personal attack. As I’ve continued to write, though, I’ve accepted that people are going to have different opinions than me and this is a good thing. A lot of good debates have come from commentators who disagree with me. I basically ignore the straight up sexist comments just because they’re often not worth wasting energy on. Overall though I’ve been really lucky as the majority of feedback I get is positive.

What do your parents think about it?
My parents have been completely supportive. They actually think it’s really cool and love to hear about the experiences I’ve had through the FBomb. They do read it and even like to talk about the posts with me. My mom always tells me when I’ve made spelling or grammatical errors and makes me go back in and change them.

Do your classmates read it?
I think a few do. My friends definitely do - they’ve even written for it. Many have thought that the concept of me running an internationally read blog is very cool but not as many have expressed actual interest in reading it. I live in Ohio, and while we’re more open minded here than some other places, feminism is more often than not a word that high school students here have little to no understanding of. I’m trying to change that though.

How do you think the web is shaping your generation?
I think it has completely changed the way we interact socially for the better and worse. While we’re able to effortlessly keep in contact with friends and able to find outlets through blogs or other web communities, we’re also bringing bullying to a new level and making it easier for ourselves to get in trouble by posting inappropriate pictures or talking with people we shouldn’t be. However, I can really only speak accurately about my experience with the web and that has definitely been a positive one. Because of the FBomb I have been able to reach teen feminists in 193 countries and have found a community of like-minded peers to share ideas and experiences with. Also, girls from countries where they’re not really allowed to have voices have been able to speak out through submitting to the FBomb. One girl from Jordan has submitted several articles about what it’s like to be a feminist in such a conservative country several times - she uses a fake name because she’s afraid of what will happen to her if her family finds out. This aspect of the web - the power it has to internationally connect like minded people so that they are able to better achieve a goal and find support - is one that is definitely shaping my generation for the better.

What is your plan after high school?
No matter what, I want the FBomb to continue long after I’m a teenager. I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to go about this - whether I’ll pass it on or edit it or what - but it will definitely continue.

Do you have any surprising attributes?
I’m obsessed with Indian culture. I’ve studied Hindi independently for 3 years and am almost fluent. I went to India alone when I was 15 and stayed at the Mahindra United World College in Pune and worked with local female entrepreneurs amongst other local organizations. I’m especially interested in Indian feminism and the way feminism intersects with Indian culture.

Want to write for the Fbomb? Send submissions to Julie at juliez@thefbomb.org.

25 February 2009

Guest Post:: It Takes a Nation of Cowards to Prove Eric Holder Right

With permission from Rinku Sen (ok, her agent) I am reposting her fab post on race & America:

Attorney General Eric Holder's speech to Justice Department employees urging the country to suck it up and have those hard conversations about race generated the predictable accusations from the pundit crowd, both conservative and liberal. Why is he still trying to make white people feel guilty?! We just elected his boss! The media reaction largely proves Holder's point. Rather than actually talking about the causes and consequences of our racial divide, the story has been that this speech has created the latest "controversy" for the Obama administration, starting with the AP article highlighting the "nation of cowards" quote. Apparently, there's only room for one black man at the highest levels of government taking the nation to task on race, and that man can do it once a year at most.

Smartly, Holder noted that our goal should not be to move beyond our racial past, and for the press to turn a blind eye to racial realities is the wrong way to go. He focused instead on raising the question of whether the nation's attitude toward its diversity will give us strength or take us down. I especially loved his note about how we manage to get along in the workplaces, but as soon as we can, we retreat to our racial corners on the weekends. That's because the diverse people of this country hold unequal power, which often dictates where and how we live.

The word 'coward' is a strong one, but the reality is that because we have such wildly different perspectives on why racial disparities exist, and because they continue to exist long after explicit racism has been outlawed, discussion of racial issues requires a high degree of tolerance for conflict, both intellectual and emotional. In my work reporting on the lives of everyday people and the institutions that shape their lives, I can see how our current rules and structures continue to produce disparities, even when no one intends that outcome. Understanding how the structures work - which has little to do with whether individuals intend to be racist - helps to lower the heat level significantly when these conversations do take place.

The flipside of cowardice is courage - something we all could use a little more of if we truly want to deal with our past and present racism, while we create a future that works for all of us.

Rinku Sen is the President of the Applied Research Center and the publisher of ColorLines, the magazine on race and politics. AND a member of the 2009 Progressive Women's Voices program. I am seriously glad that I got in when I did. No way I could have competed with her!

11 February 2009

Guest Post:: What stimulus could mean if it included the formerly incarcerated

By Seth Wessler

Fourteen months ago, Vincent, a slim 46-year-old Black man with a youngish face and a pressed plaid shirt, worked as a maintenance technician in Detroit. He’d been with the company for almost three months, but five days before he would have become eligible for full-time hire and benefits, his employer ran a criminal background check, and told Vincent to pack up.

“A lot of times, they cut you out of the job before they hire you in [full time],” Vincent said, sitting at a diner near the temporary worker center where he waits for work from 8 am to 6 pm every day.

Vincent has had a few temporary jobs since but hasn’t found even a day of work in recent weeks. A breaking and entering conviction from 25 years ago follows him everywhere. “It’s real hurtful to know that your chances are so broke down to zero,” he said.

I met Vincent last month while traveling the country to explore the hidden impacts of the recession for my job at a racial justice think tank. Dozens of people told me how criminal background checks punish them indefinitely by imposing life-long barriers to successful employment and housing. The policies make reentry an uphill battle, negating the criminal justice system’s putative aim of rehabilitating prisoners. They also block our collective need to get people working in this economic crisis. Inequitable rates of joblessness and poverty are bad for all of us.

Millions of people leave jails and prisons every year and that number is about to grow. Citing unconstitutional health conditions, a panel of federal judges on Monday told the state of California to reduce prison overcrowding by 55,000 people, about a third of the total state prison population, over the next three years.

If the ruling holds up to appeal, tens of thousands of people, overwhelmingly Black and Latino, could return to their communities. But, like Vincent, these men and women will find themselves with no real chance of getting a job, having a place to live and supporting themselves – in short, the situation that Vincent is in.

The White House has appropriately put creating and saving jobs at the center of the stimulus plan. But for people with criminal records, the prospects of inclusion in the national recovery are dismal. It’s not enough to create a job when a quick criminal background check will result in so many people losing it or not getting it at all. Those with prior convictions will be excluded from the game before the starting whistle sounds.

Communities of color experience higher rates of joblessness. This is due in part to the damning mix of the stigma of having a criminal record, the assumption that ex-prisoners can never redeem themselves, the ensuing ban on public employment for people with felony convictions and the practice of employers doing background checks.

According to Princeton sociologist Devah Pager, joblessness among former prisoners after a year is somewhere around 75 percent -- three times the level among the same population before incarceration. The trend toward never-ending punishment, even after people have served their time, infects communities of color, especially Black people, with particular venom.

So why does it matter to white people in places like Orange County, California or Flint, Michigan that three quarters of formerly incarcerated people in places like Oakland or Detroit can’t get a job a year after prison?

Because racial inequity eventually hurts us all.

Consider, for example, the subprime mortgage crisis. It could not have occurred without a whole population of people of color whose economic and political vulnerability made them easy targets for exploitative loan products, which eventually spread out to other homeowners and took down the entire mortgage industry. And that kind of inequity is growing. In January Black and Latino unemployment was 12.6 and 9.7 percent respectively, compared to 6.9 percent for whites. Black and Latino poverty is close to 3 times that of whites. To get this economy moving again, we need people working, spending and paying taxes.

Fixing inequity is a prerequisite for constructing a healthy and just economy. As historians tell us, massive inequity preceded and contributed to the Great Depression. Removing concrete barriers to employment is one step in that direction. As we are implementing this stimulus plan, we should at the very least expunge the records of people with non-violent convictions, as the state of Illinois did in 2005. We should also severely limit employers’ rights to conduct criminal background checks, especially in situations like Vincent’s, whose employer routinely used them to keep the workforce temporary and insecure.

At the diner in Detroit, as the waitress dropped our check, Vincent said, “I look at myself every day that I get up and I actually wonder if it’s going to be the day that things totally fall apart.” It’s up to us to prevent that, starting with changing the rules that now sentence people to a lifetime of punishment.

Seth Wessler is a research associate at the Applied Research Center. Cross-posted from RaceWire.

If you are interested in guest posting at Viva la Feminista, please feel free to contact me!


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