December, 2009

Carmen’s New Year’s Resolutions!


My last days at school were nothing if not thoughtful. It had been a rough ‘n tumble semester, but I found time once again for my feminism. I began at the American Democracy Institute’s Pathways to Power Conference.

Women at the conference were frustrated with workplaces in which their work was seen as unimportant. Women wanted resources, support, and purpose: on their terms. And only when they were respected and trusted by their colleagues and superiors did they feel truly valued.

I hopped from that conference to a Day of Action against the Stupak Amendment, where I was volunteering with the Feminist Majority Foundation. The amendment, which would strip women across the country of the ability to control their own bodies, caused young people from all over the country to congregate in a building where I slapped stickers on their chests and pointed them to free food and signs. They were speaking loudly, and they were harmonizing with the women I had met earlier that week, demanding the trust and respect of their government.

In the spirit of the week, I skipped out on studying one night to sit in on Cleve Jones, the founder of the AIDS Quilt, while he was speaking on campus. His words, provoking, moving, and dripping with strength, culminated in a question nobody in the room could answer: where is the anger? He said young people today seem to lack the urgency and fervor that formed the various movements he organized for, and continues to passionately work on behalf of.

Angry may be the wrong word, but to deny this generation the labels of passion and ambition would be crass. I know that young people today are ready to make waves and wreak havoc- and watching adult and young women alike work for trust and respect resonated with me as proof that the goals of the feminist movement are not always generationally fractured.

So the keywords, then, are trust, respect, and worth. (And if they don’t sound familiar after perusing this very blog, something is wrong.) I walked away from the semester assured that I am worth respect and worth listening to, and that my voice is important, whether it’s expressed in the bedroom or the boardroom. The best part of this knowledge, of course, is that it is true for you, too.

And so, I have drafted a New Year’s Resolution fit for every person, for everyone who demands respect, craves to be trusted and works to earn trust, and wants the ability to control their direction– to be louder, to be braver, and to continue to stand tall. And to stop allowing others to overlook our voices.

To truly speak out, and to make sure our voices are heard.

Who's Afraid of Bears?


Social Media / Working Films

Photo: I’m a Woman

@thelinecampaign: Sex. Consent. Power. Pleasure.
The Line is a film. The Line is a movement. The Line is up to you.

“THE LINE is about building a world where people are free to be sexual beings without being used or mistreated. Hookup culture disempowers even its bravest soldiers with “dude, I’m gettin’ some tonight;” even when women play the game, we’re expected to obey someone else’s rules.”
From: “Next time, text me back: I was the Grrl du Jour” (Author: Carmen)

“I applaud Ronan’s speaking out about his struggle as a male person negotiating “Manhood” with a commitment to social justice… As a male person who grew up with and fully defensive about all but class privilege, I understand that coming to a place of recognition without defensiveness and learning from the discomfort is difficult and it’s a process that requires a courage and strength much more meaningful than the traditional “Manly” version.”
From: “Responses to: Sexist Boyhood in Urban New Jersey” (Author: Ronen, Comment Jonathon Grove)

The Line is a 24-minute documentary, challenging ideas about sexual consent, negotiation, and boundaries. It is told from a personal point of view in a compelling, engaging style suited for a college-age audience. It is the first film of its kind to address the topic of consent in a direct, sex-positive voice, while examining a sexual assault where part of the act was consensual and part of it was forced.  The film asks the question: where is the line defining consent?

The biggest challenge for this outreach project, was taking the topic of sexual assault and creating a space for non-polarizing, accessible, and non-judgmental conversation that emphasizes communication, personal responsibility and pleasure. Our goal was to create an educational, interactive and multi-media campaign that fosters dialogue about sexual boundaries and consent, and empowers young men and women to discuss complex scenarios about healthy relationships and sex.

Photo: OMG, Yes, Please ETC.

With support from The Fledgling Fund, and collaboration with Melissa Gira Grant we launched where is your line? a group blog on consent, sex, pleasure, and ways we all can ask for what we want. Through shared stories, photos, and comments, we invite the audience to become participants, and to dig deeper into the questions raised by the film. Using the online/social media tools popular with college students and activists, — blogging, Facebook, internet video, and Twitter, we solicited entries from people with large networks, jumped onto message boards, and cross-posted our content as broadly as possible. Once we started generating stories, the thornier the better, we enriched the experience by soliciting comments from educators and sexperts, who would eventually become our non-profit partners.

We wanted to launch the website with a splash, and the opportunity came our way in the form of Tucker Max and the release of his film “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell“. Facebook, twitter and feminist blogs were lighting up in anger about the sexist, misogynist and racist content of the film, and the truly nasty ways his camp was responding to protesters using video and photo-shop. In less than two days, we cut together a PSA-style video piece, sticking to our message that good sex is consensual sex, and reminding frat boys everywhere that Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. We posted the video on our site and throughout our networks, and it got picked up on, which in turn got picked up on Tucker Max’s site, which directed more folks back to us. Being part of the media response to Tucker helped us get established, and helped his film bomb at the box office!

Photo: When does a guy become “That Guy”

Working Films has always emphasized long-standing and far reaching relationships with non-profit partners to maximize the impact of your film. We have tested the waters using our online networks, and have now identified the right organizations to collaborate with on a concrete level, with tangible and attainable mutual goals. Using the Working Films summit model, we look forward to bringing The Line and The Line Campaign into hundreds of classrooms and community groups nationwide.

Alcohol + Consent, a G-chat

Rishauna: hi nancy–are you available to give your perspective on a work related question?

me: yes i am. what’s up?

Rishauna: i was thinking about my workshops tomorrow…part of the usual cycle of Teen relationship abuse, sexual violence, and healthy relatshps
(all of course in like 40 min periods)
and i tried something recently in linking the end of the sexual violence component (myths and facts) to talk about consent as a prevention piece and also as a link to a part of healthy relationships which is where i go next before fitting in their post test
me: ok
Rishauna: and they were asking the question today about what if both people were drunk
me: yes. good, hard question.
Rishauna: during sex and if it is rape and what not
me: alcohol and consent is tricky
Rishauna: and we had talked about how when one is intoxicated, its not possible to fully give and understand consent, if its being given
me: yup — the law states, basically if you have sex w/someone when they are “incapacitated”, it is against the law
Rishauna: and i talked about how in the moment perhaps people weren’t reading signals, communicating limits, etc but the next day if one person wakes up feeling violated…there’s obv a bigger issue
(thanks for the legal there!)
me: what was their question? because there is a BIG MYTH that people wake up the next day and feel guilty or ashamed (which is valid, since we do put so much shame on sexual behavior) so then they call it rape. false reporting – that doesn’t usually happen.
Rishauna: and so i was thinking about those situations..the ‘unintended’ sexual violence i guess…vs. when someone is clearly knowing what they are doing and all about the power and control
me: although, being drunk is dangerous (and simply not good sex!) for both parties i don’t really know if I believe in “unintended” sexual violence. how about checking out: they have some posters and stuff about that.
Rishauna: and its not necessarily to be used in the workshop, but i wondered what you thought about most cases of sexual violence…if the majority are about people trying to force and violate and the cases of drunken, unintended is less…same, more but then i wonder if this is a pointless question of mine since if the results are the same… it just should never happen and we can’t let the perps off the hook wiht the alcohol excuse
me: i don’t believe in “unintended sexual violence” — you can say as a teacher, you get drunk, and don’t rape people, or force them, or whatever so really, “being drunk” doesn’t enable or cause this behavior.
Rishauna: mmm
me: people shouldn’t drink and drive, so they shouldn’t drink and fuck – because it is risky all around.
sexpostive wise: 1) you’re more numb when you’re drunk 2) your dick doesn’t work 3) its not good sex.
and “unintended” sounds to me like bullshit. you need to ask before you do something.
if your partner is blacking out, passed out, puking, stumbling, she/he is incapacitated
and if you’re pressuring him/her consistently, and they’re just trying to pass out and they fuck you to shut you up — that’s not really consent, either.
Rishauna: yeah i think i was thinking about how when you use the consent angle its all about preventing ourselves from being perpetrators…and so like there is this empathy created i guess on how to notice signals, ask, communicate etc…and how if we did that we could prevent the assaults from happening…
but i guess that assumes an honest and well meaning person
me: exactly.
Rishauna: and those people who would care about giving consent are perhaps not the people who ‘drunkenly unintend to rape’
me: we are talking about honest, well-meaning people. there used to be a “code” (remember even Omar on the wire has a code!) but the code was, if  lady was drunk you didn’t go there. that simple.
Rishauna: (Love your 1, 2, 3!)
me: yes, you’re totally on it — thx re: #s
me: you could also pose them a bunch of questions about why they drink before sex… we’re trying to “navigate” and “explore” you’re kind of stumbling into shit when you’re drunk. is it bc we’re told “you’re a slut” if you like sex, and ask for it, when you’re sober? like consciously go there?
try asking and getting sex when you’re sober. its fucking THRILLING. scary + amazing.
thx re: mom. there was more to it (i got sorta mad at how she and my pop didn’t believe me when i told them statistics) x
Rishauna: those are good q’s re: alcohol n sex…the why’s and the fear of the slut thing
me: yea, those are good q’s. and deep ones. not often posed, i think.
Rishauna: yeah i think i kinda messed up..
i think i implied that by not being able to read consent when drunk was somehow understandable…i mean i said being drunk renders inability to consent….but i think i was too soft on it
(re:parents! ugh that sounds so frustrating! i hate when parents just dont understand!_)
Sent at 4:46 PM on Thursday
me: yea. well, you can always revisit the topic and clarify, after much thought. and you can say that you talked to your friends — it is really complicated in general, even for folks your age.
how do i copy this chat??
Rishauna: yeah! it is!
Rishauna is typing…

I Want It!


9. Don’t Forget: You Can’t Have Sex with Someone Unless They Are Awake!

500_KateHYesterday, my Mom emailed me CNN’s article “Rape Victims Offer Advice to College Women” chock full of helpful tips about how we women can avoid being raped while attending college. The article highlights the study put forward by the Center for Public Integrity about rampant sexual assault on college campuses, and how most often schools fail the victims. The study reveals a lack of transparency on campus, and a culture of secrecy combined with barriers to reporting.

So we’ve moved beyond blaming the victim to blaming the institution? Sorry, folks, that’s just not good enough. I replied to my Mom’s email with:


Nowhere did this widely circulating article mention preventing violence before it happens. How’s about a little prevention education for teen boys, prevention education for freshman boys, prevention education for football stars, prevention education for film students, prevention education for fratboys, prevention education for valedictorians, prevention education for nice Jewish boys, prevention education for student body presidents, or good old prevention education directed at those who initiate sexual activity and perpetrate non-consensual sex?

My Mom hearkened back to a bygone era captured in film:

In the Philadelphia Story with Katherine Hepburn, there is a marvelous scene:

Kate has gotten drunk the night before her wedding to husband #2 and gone swimming (with a suit on!) after midnight with a handsome reporter.  She is so drunk that he has to carry her to her room. At the time of the midnight swim Kate is being plagued by memory of being called cold and unfeeling, almost not human.

The handsome reporter tells the fiancé to simmer down, nothing happened. Kate explodes asking, “why am I so unattractive?”

Now the good part.  Handsome reporter replies, “you were drunk and there are rules about that!”

Somewhere we have forgotten the rules. Love MOM

*Sigh* Yup, but not all of us have forgotten the rules,  Men Can Stop Rape, PreventConnect, SAFER, White Ribbon, Byron Hurt and many more are working diligently to reach out and educate young men to end gender-based violence against women.

But until then, here are some handy tips GUARANTEED TO PREVENT SEXUAL ASSAULT, brought to you by the Feminist Law Professors:

1. Don’t put drugs in people’s drinks in order to control their behavior.

2. When you see someone walking by themselves, leave them alone!

3. If you pull over to help someone with car problems, remember not to assault them!

4. NEVER open an unlocked door or window uninvited.

5. If you are in an elevator and someone else gets in, DON’T ASSAULT THEM!

6. Remember, people go to laundry to do their laundry, do not attempt to molest someone who is alone in a laundry room.

7. USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM! If you are not able to stop yourself from assaulting people, ask a friend to stay with you while you are in public.

8. Always be honest with people! Don’t pretend to be a caring friend in order to gain the trust of someone you want to assault. Consider telling them you plan to assault them. If you don’t communicate your intentions, the other person may take that as a sign that you do not plan to rape them.

9. Don’t forget: you can’t have sex with someone unless they are awake!

10. Carry a whistle! If you are worried you might assault someone “on accident” you can hand it to the person you are with, so they can blow it if you do.

It’s Implied… + Here’s Why!

My line is “It’s implied”. That means that I am responsible for my own actions.  Broadly speaking, my words and actions convey a meaning from which people will naturally draw my intentions, without my always having to be explicit. In terms of interpersonal relationships, even indirect actions and statements go a long way in defining where I am and where I want to be. The underlying assumption is that we are all social beings, and that we understand the meanings behind specific behaviors.

Take body language.  Body language is often a very accurate gauge for testing the waters and making or communicating sexual decisions & desires. Flirting, hair tossing, and preening can be effective, obvious, and above all, natural ways of communicating what is left un-verbalized.  We don’t just approach strangers and say “Hey, because I’m attracted to you I’d like you to notice my lips, arms, chest…and by the way I’m [probably] available; what’s your name?”  Our intentions are often conveyed as much by what we don’t say as what we do say.

It can sometimes even be a dangerous thing to rely completely on expressed statements.  People may say and avow things they’re unsure about because they feel that it’s appropriate to the circumstances or because they feel pressured. Basing sexual decisions on implied actions and meanings entails being attuned to everything about the encounter: the context, the person, the surroundings.  “It’s implied” is a rallying call for going deeper into all the elements that comprise a sexual situation.

A person shouldn’t always have to say “I’m comfortable” for me to be aware that they’re comfortable.  They may express it verbally and that can be great, but shouldn’t I be able to detect when there is a level of discomfort without it being made explicit?  Shouldn’t I be able to react in a responsible and mature way if the issue of discomfort is raised either expressly or implicitly? Could we even consider that keeping our eyes open to lines of implied consent may add to the overall sensual experience? For example if your partner is responding, bodily or verbally, and you’re in turn responding to that, isn’t that a bit more natural than if at every instance, everybody was expressly making sure that everybody was “cool” and everybody is expressly reassuring to everybody else the same?

Here’s what “It’s implied” should never be: it should not be the excuse for “s/he was asking for it”. Any argument for consent based on implied behavior should fall flat against an expressed “no”. This point, of consent and implicit behavior, where actions and expressed words may appear to converge or diverge, is the trickiest aspect of modern sexuality. It is where moral responsibility, socialization, gender, sexual dynamics, and other legal, social considerations merge, jostle and collide; but l think it’s appropriate to make some concrete observations here.

The word “Implied” as used in this sexual context of consent is not a simple concept. And furthermore, the idea that sexual consent is always “expressed” is also problematic. In fact, for a sexually & socially responsible individual it should not be always true that “the line of consent” is equated with an expressed “yes”. Many people can verbalize a sexual “yes”: what about women whose spouses or partners have abused them in the past if they do not comply with sexual demands?; or teenage girls with older adults, perhaps adults who are authority figures of some sort; or even prostitutes with abusive handlers and pimps; and of course, drunk or incapacitated adults may say “yes” as well. Although a expressed “no” trumps everything else, I believe a responsible sexual decision should be derived from the whole situation and not just that affirmative syllable “yes””.

My statement that “It’s Implied” is really an emphasis of individual’s responsibility to examine and understand the breadth of a sexual situation in order to make a decision. People can verbally acquiesce to, and even request, activities that can be hazardous to their well being, with or without a fully-formed capacity to understand the implications of such decisions.  In forming a responsible idea of consent, I think we have to be very aware of the role played by implicit understandings communicated and made evident through circumstances, statements and actions. These are the building blocks of consent that must be part of a responsible sexual decision.

It’s Implied?

Hmm. I ran into an old friend from Grad School outside our office the other day. He was with a young lawyer, and they both worked for the New York City non-profit, housed in our building. We started talking to the lawyer about the law and consent; where does it start? where does it end? all that good stuff. We gave him a sticker.

He dropped by yesterday and gave us his response, but we missed him.  Not sure how I feel about his response. Implied how? Through body language? Trust? Past experience? Verbally?

I think that lets the door swing wiiiide open. Not necessarily in a good way. Will have to find him for an explanation.

Oh My God- YES!


Truly Free Film

I’m about to get all film geek here, but lately (especially after certain drunken 2am round tables with students), I can’t shake the feeling that a feature film is growing out of conversations sparked by THE LINE. A feature film means years of work, so I’m trying not to get in over my head like I did with the first one… but I am getting excited and itchy to build on what’s there, and start teasing out something new. What’s exciting is how accessible media tools are, and how they lend themselves to collaborating with subject-audience-filmmaker.

This is an excerpt from the blog Truly Free Film, by indie film producer Ted Hope. Ted is part of a cohort of mainstream film professionals that have fully embraced digital and hybrid media distribution, as well social media and networking tools as the wave of the future, and a way to save and enhance indie film production. I’m happy to see a lot of the advice about “producing the distribution” has been applied to our strategy with THE LINE and campaign. The underlying message to filmmakers seems to be, make sure there is a need for the conversation you want to create. Here are some things to think about before you get started:

  1. Recognize it is about audience aggregation: Collect 5000 fans prior to seeking financing. Act to gain 500 fans/month during prep, prod., post processes.
  2. Determine how you will engage & collect audiences all throughout the process. Consider some portion to be crowd-funded — not so much for the money but for the engagement it will create.
  3. Create enough additional content to keep your audience involved throughout the process and later to bridge them to your next work.
  4. Develop an audience outreach schedule clarifying what is done when — both before and after the first public screening.
  5. Curate work you admire. Spread the word on what you love. Not only will people understand you further, but who knows, maybe someone will return the good deed.
  6. Be prepared to “produce the distribution”. Meet with potential collaborators from marketing, promotion, distribution, social network, bookers, exhibitors, widget manufacturers, charitable partners, to whatever else you can imagine.
  7. Brainstorm transmedia/cross-platform content to be associated with the film.
  8. Study at least five similar films in terms of what their release strategy & audience engagement strategy was and how you can improve upon them.
  9. Build a website that utilizes e-commerce, audience engagement, & data retrieval. Have it ready no later than 1 month prior to first public screening.
  10. Determine & manufacture at least five additional products you will sell other than DVDs.
  11. Determine content for multiple versions of your DVD.
  12. Design several versions of your poster. Track how your image campaign evolves through the process.
  13. Do a paper cut of what two versions of your trailer might be. Track how this changes throughout the process.
  14. Determine a list of the top 100 people to promote your film (critics, bloggers, filmmakers,etc)
  15. Determine where & how to utilize a more participatory process in the creation, promotion, exhibition, & appreciation process. Does it make sense for your project to embrace this?
  16. How will this project be more than a movie? Is there a live component? An ARG? An ongoing element?
  17. How can you reward those who refer others to you? How do you incentivize involvement? What are you going to give back?
  18. What will you do next and how can you move your audience from this to that? How will younot have to reinvent the wheel next time?
  19. What are you doing differently than everyone else? How will people understand this? Discover this?
  20. How are you going to share what you’ve learned on this project with others?

All Posts from December, 2009