April, 2011

Badass-Activist Friday presents LATOYA PETERSON of Racialicious

It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! Interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire culture change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to highlight how we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.

Feminism is an wide-ranging movement, and we at WIYL feel it’s so important to include activists working to broaden our perspectives and work in negotiating the complexity of intersectional oppressions, making the voices of marginalised groups heard. For this mini-series, we’ll be focusing on men and women who critique the gender hierarchy across all boundaries – cultures, race, age and medium.

So without further ado…

Here’s Latoya Peterson of Racialicious !

Latoya3

A certified media junkie, Latoya Peterson provides a hip-hop feminist and anti-racist view on pop culture with a special focus on video games, anime, American comics, manga, magazines, film, television, and music. She regularly speaks on topics of race, gender, and social media at conferences like Women, Action and the Media and South by Southwest Interactive.

Latoya Peterson spends her time editing the blog Racialicious.com – the intersection of race and pop culture. She was contributor to Jezebel.com and has written for, amongst many others, Vibe, Bitch Magazine, the Women’s Review of Books, Slate’s Double X, and the Guardian. Her essay, “The Not Rape Epidemic” was published in the anthology Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape (Seal Press, 2008).

She is currently working on projects related to race, pop culture, and video games, and will speak for the third time at SXSW Interactive 2011 on issues of technology and social justice. She is a Poynter Institute Sensemaking Fellow, and one of the inaugural Public Media Corps fellows.

Your work, significantly and admirably foregrounds the intersections of minority experiences, feminism and social media. Can you speak a little bit about how you think the feminist blogosphere is operating in relation to minorities? Do you think we’re moving in the right direction, or do you thing our voices are becoming homogenised?

The blogosphere is a reflection of larger society – a lot of what happens there is a rehash/reworking/retelling of other tensions and conflicts that have been going on for ages and ages. We’re still following the same scripts, hence why we keep coming out with the same films. It’s all so sadly predictable. While I am hard on the blogopsphere, my work in tech has taught me that there is one huge benefit to the blogosphere – that there are just so many folks that are out and around and speaking and writing and thinking publicly, and most of us are searchable. So the whole dynamics of the blogosphere really reinforces what many of us have been saying for years and years – it isn’t that we aren’t around, it’s that you aren’t listening.

I really love your work with videogames and hiphop – what made you attracted to speaking about minority issues in pop culture? Do you think this is helping make feminist issues accessible to a younger generation? Identity politics seems built around addressing the issues that raise the most solidarity – do you position yourself against that stance?

Hmm. Well, for many years, I was just a pop culture junkie. I’ve always liked to read whatever was around (comics, books, magazines, message boards), watched a lot of TV and movies, played a lot of video games. And I was always interested in how the world works, particularly when someone would tell me about something I thought was unfair. My biggest question is always “why?” I just want to know things. So I spent a lot of time at the library reading things, everything from quantum theory to The Sandman. So, when I found Mixed Media Watch, I was thrilled that there was this whole community that was like me and wanted to have smarter conversations about pop culture. I started writing when we transitioned over to Racialicious – then and now, I think I was motivated less by a desire to have a platform for what I was saying and more of a desire to have a community where we could all talk about what we love, but in the same breath go “but you saw that bs they just tried to pull, right?” Community is a lot easier when things are smaller though – when we were a blog with about one or two thousand daily readers, things were a lot more comfortable and familiar. Kind of like a favorite bar, right before it gets popular. Now, we see anywhere from 6,000 to 8,000 people every single day, and the camaraderie has eroded a bit. But even now, where I make my living as a freelancer, and generally sell off most of my ideas, I reserve a lot just for the community at Racialicious. Sometimes, you just want to say what needs to be said, and let your friends weigh in. I write things there that I’d never write on another site, just because I know my community. I know I’m not speaking to a majority audience that believes the lies culture teaches us. So I feel more relaxed, and feel like I can take a lot more risks, talking to the Racialicians. I’m glad folks outside the community can find value in my work though.

I also want to make sure I clarify why I chose to talk about pop culture specifically. It’s a way to communicate with people that makes things like big items of theory more accessible and relatable. For a while, I almost quit talking about pop culture – everyone and their mother claims to do that and a lot of times, running analysis on a show that may be canceled seems like an exercise in futility. But at the same time, it’s one of the ways we were able to amass the audience we did. People make a lot of assumptions about who the Racialicious audience is. People are shocked to find out that we are pretty evenly split between folks with high school educations, college, and graduate level education. We also have a really significant teen population, which surprised me – a lot of folks tell me they started reading in 8th grade, or I’ll get submissions from folks in their sophomore year of high school. People are just hungry for good ideas, presented in a clear way. And pop culture allows us to jump off into deeper conversations that we wouldn’t normally be able to access. So it does matter, particularly when you consider that what is popular ultimately becomes representative of our culture.

I don’t think identity politics are constructed around solidarity, particularly considering how much strife exists within groups. Racialicious is weird because we try to be pan-racial and pan-ethnic which is kind of a Sisyphean task. But I don’t think it’s any different running a site that just focuses on one set of people – our lives and experiences are just so different. Also, solidarity is a tricky thing – everyone has different priorities, so in some ways, you kind of have to lay out your stance, and see who still wants to flow.

Hiphop and videogames are represented by the media as not only part of a male-dominated culture but as dangerous to communities – how do you feel about this? Do you see games like Hey Baby as a kind of activism that should be considered more seriously?

I don’t think anything is dangerous to a community that is media literate. People should be allowed to make choices to consume what the want – we just want more people to critically evaluate the media they consume. Both hip hop and video games are reflections of our culture – they can exemplify what we as a society value. Why does misogyny sell in games and hip hop? Because enough people think that’s cool and want to buy into that image. When people are forced to challenge the messages in the media they consume, it can become harder to justify those decisions. And that doesn’t mean consumers will always make the choice that’s in line with their goals – but if consumers become more engaged, we will definitely see a balance in portrayals.

I liked the idea, concept, and medium of the game Hey Baby, but I wasn’t a fan of it, personally. Overall though, I like the Games for Change movement in terms of connecting games and activism. It’s only in the nascent stages, but this will be more powerful as the years go on. I just want to make sure were are attacking the problem from both the indie sphere and the mainstream sphere since they reach such different audiences.

Are your personal experiences and identity important to your activism? Can you speak a little more as to how or why?

I base most of my activism in personal experiences, but that can be very limiting. When I got to the blogosphere, I wasn’t prepared for how much of a crash course it is in everyone’s issues – and you were already supposed to have done the pre reading. You can see this a lot in my earlier work – I made just about everything about a personal experience that I used to talk about a larger issue. Some of those were the most remembered and most discussed pieces I ever wrote. But there is a huge personal toll involved with mining your life and experiences for blog fodder, so I’ve learned over the years to start inserting professional distance. Still, I struggle with it. Identity is vitally important to activism, but I’ve also seen folks get so wrapped up in their personal interpretations and experience that there isn’t room for anyone else’s thoughts or ideas. The personal is political, but sometimes that leaves much to be desired.

Recently, at a talk at my school, Kathleen Hanna lamented the lack of face to face interaction in activism, because of social networking and recommended we start ‘putting up flyers’ again. How important, or effective do you think social media is for current activism? Is it helping or hindering us?

It’s not an either/or thing. People seem to want to embrace the glory days of activism, not realizing that the rules of the game have changed. I’m probably jaded because I live in Washington, DC, which is where EVERYONE comes to stage a protest. There are literally hundreds of marches, protests, and everything, but many of those demonstrations fail to accomplish anything measurable. Activism has to adapt with the times and look at what is really happening. Van Jones advocates hard for activists to stop shying away from politics and get into elected office. I can see that. I don’t think elected office is for me, but my activist work focuses on mass culture. Flyers, ‘Zines, protests all still have their place – but so does blogging, petitions, tweeting, tumbling, sticker bombing, graffiti, economic plans, academia, everything. The point of activism is to change minds and hearts. Some people respond to art. Some respond to logical, reasoned articles. Some want to read a large muckracking magazine piece or book. Some will only respond to a change in demographics or a change in buying power. I think instead of lamenting the fact that people don’t do what they used to do, we find ways to engage with people now.

The feminist blogosphere can get, like much of the internet, antagonist and unnecessarily personal – the recent slew of feminist commentors criticising Jezebel.com’s editor-ship and the commodification of the ‘feminist’ demographic is interesting. How do you feel about this flip side of feminist blogging? How can we make sure we are participating as respectfully as we can?

Eh. People on the internet are nasty. Claiming allegiance to a progressive cause doesn’t prevent that. There’s a lot of cruelty and bullying, because a lot of people feel much more empowered behind a keyboard than they do in real life. I’m not sure how to answer this question exactly. In general, it’s a good idea for people to stop, take a breath, and realize they are speaking to another person when they are typing. In general, I’d like to see people engage in good faith, be willing to enter into conversation, and learn to respectfully disagree. I’d like to see people work to depersonalize their criticisms, and approach people the way they would like to be approached.

But my early experiences totally jaded me in this regard, along with all the time I spend in gaming environments, which are hostile. I used to get really wound up over how people approached me or treated me, but now I really just don’t care. However they are acting is their problem. (And trust me, I know from experience that those words are cold comfort.) I realized, a long time ago, I spent a long time agonizing over the words and actions of people who could care less about me as a person. I mean, think about real life? Do we move through the world expecting that everyone will be our friend? Do we sometimes encounter people we don’t get along with? Do we sometimes have to work with or deal with people we don’t like? Yes! So why would the online world be different? Looking back at old battles and conflicts now, I wonder why I wasted so much time on that. That time could have been spent on things with my blog, or time with my boyfriend and my dog, or time with my family, or seeing my friends who I don’t get to see often enough because of all the time I spend online. Once I embraced that, I was able to let things go.

The only person you can change is you. So, I took Jane McGonigal’s advice to heart. I watched her presentation at SXSW, and she said something that stuck with me: be a contagious vector for awesome. So that’s my new focus. I’m not gonna worry about all the interpersonal crap. I have things I want to say. I will provide clarifications if I am not clear, will thoughtfully consider arguments – particularly those highlighting where I may have failed in being inclusive or practicing anti-oppression principles- and apologize when I am wrong. But that is all. I have a rule I tell my friends who are in similar fields on how I evaluate who to listen to/what to engage with:

1. Is this person signing your checks? Do they provide money so that you can eat/clothe/shelter yourself, or are they the gatekeeper to those who do?
2. Is this person someone you love and want to keep in your life?
3. Is this someone who you respect? Do you value their opinion and their work?
4. Is this person speaking from a position of authority? Are they highlighting something you can’t see from your vantage point in the world?

Those are the folks you need to consider heavily. Other folks, I am not so concerned about.

Life is short. Years fly by faster as you get older. I’m only 27, but I feel like some how I leap frogged from 19 to 23 to 27 and I feel like I blinked. I feel like I wrote things recently, then look them up and realize I wrote it back in 2007. So I’ve become a lot more mindful about how I spend the little bit of time I have on this planet.

I don’t want to sound flippant, or like I am dismissing the very real toll that online bullying and backbiting can have on a person. I don’t think I know a single blogger that hasn’t broken down in tears, or dreaded going online some days, or spent whole days stewing about something some random commenter said. We’re human. Things hurt.

But where I am in my life, I realized I wanted to put my energy toward other things. I hope more of us begin practicing self-love and self-care – way too many great bloggers I started with left the sphere because of all the pressure and infighting. I almost burned out, but switched my mission so I feel a lot less invested in the petty disagreements and more investments in realizing broader goals. But I think we all need to start evaluating where we put our energy, and how we feel about spending that kind of time.

Do you feel like a conversation about consent and sexuality can marginalise? How can we ensure this doesn’t happen?

Oh yes. Talking about sex and sexuality is one of the hardest things to do. It’s something so intensely personal, and yet has such huge implications. I dreamed up Love Anonymously, and sent it to 52 of our closest blog-buds and contributors. And let me tell you, everyone shied away from doing it initially. It’s so hard. And of that, writing something publicly means putting your work up to be judged, and people on the internet are not kind. In addition, there are levels of protection. I approached three transpeople and asked them if they wanted to contribute – they all said no, two of them citing concerns over personal and psychological safety. Yet, if you don’t publish something, people wonder why you are erasing them. Also, since sexuality is so personal, something that is so obvious to one person can be completely overlooked by another. I never, ever thought about the idea of consent outside of a sexual context before I started reading blogs written by people with disabilities, who would write about medical violation. I never thought about the intersection of sex work and ability until I read about people who generally do not receive anything but clinical touch, and paid sex workers to provide them with sensual touch. I never heard of or thought about asexuality. There are just so many things we think are normal that just…aren’t.

It’s hard to be inclusive of all people, all the time, but I think most of us can be more conscious of who we invite to the table, and do a lot more planning. We are going to start back up again with Love, Anonymously soon and something I’ve started doing is playing with ways to make people more comfortable in talking about being themselves and allow them to write about what they want. I don’t want anyone to feel tokenized, and many of the most compelling stories come from places you had no idea about. But another piece of that is people have to use their voices and not just to complain – you have to step up. Many of the folks who criticized the writers in Love, Anonymously wouldn’t dare to be so bold and post their own experiences for others to judge. So realize, that creation is equally as important as critique in trying to affect change.

We at WIYL believe that blogging is the best way to encourage young feminists to get interested in and inspired by activism – do you have any words of advice for them?

Advice for young feminists? Do something else besides feminism. I’m serious. The feminist blogosphere is oversaturated in my opinion. Please, find something else you love and take feminist theory there. It gets lonely over here in tech and video games – I have a great crew of other feminists but we are a little island in a vast sea. We need more feminist minded business bloggers, feminist theory wielding finance bloggers. Labor organizers with a feminist lens blogging. Can you imagine what Deadspin (the sports blog) would look like with a feminist on staff? Restructure writes about science, tech and feminism – join her! Publish a blog doing literary criticism with a feminist lens! Take on the NYT! Talk about class issues and feminism. Whatever it is, apply your feminism in a different space.

Now that that’s off my chest…

Make friends. Hone your craft. Get used to criticism and rejection, especially if you dream of doing writing and commentary for a living. Work on web design and coding skills. (Trust me, this will be useful.) Read things outside of the feminist bubble. Remember there is more to life than what’s on the internet. Smile. Be happy. Try to tidy up the world a bit for the next folks who come through. That’s it really.

Know your line in the bedroom and on the street

street-harassment

Just a week ago I was walking home from a yoga class, sweaty and wearing a sweatshirt over my yoga pants. I thought nothing of the middle-aged man walking toward me until he looked me up and down and simply said “Nice.” I looked around. It was unmistakably directed at me. And I didn’t know what to do or say. As he walked past me I gave him a quizzical and then angry look. But should I yell? Curse him out? And call more attention to myself? As soon as I decided to turn the corner and just walk home, the shame and embarrassment flooded me. Should I be walking around in tight yoga pants? Did I open myself up to that? How can some man on the street feel such ownership over my body as to issue a passing grade on it?

I’ve been working against a culture of harassment against women that blames them for the harassment for years and years. But it was easy to zoom right past all of these things I knew logically and feel that shame blossom deep inside my psyche. The first thought right after “How dare he” was “Maybe I shouldn’t wear these clothes.” And it made me realize that while I may know where my line is when I’m alone with a man, I may not know what it is when I’m walking down the street.

Rape culture doesn’t end when you leave your bedroom and head outside – that’s where it may in fact start. Street harassment is one of those things that women are expected to simply cope with. We all have stories. This was one of my more subtle ones. Worse ones involve the men I caught masturbating while staring at my body on two separate occasions, the man who grabbed my ass hard as he walked behind me in a crowded department store, the litany of comments that followed me as I walked alone to the subway on Friday nights. Over at the ACLU’s blog, Robyn Shepard shares her own story of being smacked on the ass in public – and doing something about it. She writes that she ran after the perpetrator, confronted him, and called the cops on him. They didn’t end up finding him for the arrest, but it’s heartening to hear that law enforcement took her seriously. While we clearly haven’t gotten past blaming rape victims for their assaults, we have barely begun to address the victim blaming in street harassment. To the point that I do it to myself.

In her blog post, Shepard makes a crucial point: “Sexual assault doesn’t always necessarily mean something as horrible as rape.” In fact, it can be the smaller, subtler acts that are the most culturally pernicious. Over at Hollaback, they state: “Street harassment is one of the most pervasive forms of gender-based violence and one of the least legislated against… [I[t is rarely reported, and it’s culturally accepted as ‘the price you pay’ for being a woman or for being gay… Sexual harassment is a gateway crime that creates a cultural environment that makes gender-based violence OK.” And they’re doing something about it. By using crowd-sourced data and creating a space to share stories, they’re working to make this problem visible enough to mobilize against.

One is a stepping-stone to another. When men feel they can yell whatever they want about a woman’s body and get away with it, that they can touch her body in public and get away with it, why wouldn’t they think they can go further? Any form of gender- or sexual orientation-based harassment or assault is unacceptable, be it on the sidewalk or between the sheets.

Sexual Assault Month: It’s time to take action!

We at WIYL believe that the whole premise of our campaign is to inspire people to be the change they want to see in the world - by listening to their stories, and giving them the opportunity to tell them. Cheesy as it sounds, in this world (and by world I mean internet) where we’re bombarded by all kinds of news and activist possibilities every day, all day, it’s difficult not to sit and stare in ADD mode. Where do I start? When? Is it hard? Will I make a difference? What’s most important? And the problem is that that strange overwhelmed-feeling can lead to no action at all.

The Line Campaign is based on successful feminist campaigns online – such as the Pink Chaddi Campaign in India to raise awareness of sexual harassment, wherein thousands of activists used Facebook to recruit individuals to mail pink panties to neo-conservative anti-women’s groups. We want to engage audiences deeply, and inspire them to turn that information into action. By posing provocative questions that intersect with women’s lived experiences, we hope that we inspire you to take a moment to implement the kind of change that affects your own life, and the lives of so many others. Because when you take action, we win.

So, although information-overload can be scary, or intimidating, it’s important to remember how much change we can implement by just clicking a button, or standing together in solidarity for a single cause. For the final week of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the folk of the Women’s Rights team at Change.org are hosting a Sexual Assault Week of Action, spotlighting the kinds of activism that, when we win this fight, will mean justice for individual sexual assault survivors and changes to existing, inefficient policies, and more importantly, inspire you to action. Every day, they’ll be blogging about different campaigns that fight the good fight against sexual assault that need your help!

You can check out their homepage at any time for 10 important petitions to sign to end sexual violence against women, campaigns that will be updated and rotated throughout this awesome week of action! Challenge law enforcement about their covering up police sexual assault and intimidating victims with false charges! Rally young women on college campuses whose safety is at a higher risk than ever before!

There’s so much more to be done in the fight against sexual assault, and this week of action isn’t about guilt, or making you feel inactive, it’s the opposite. It’s about reminding you that you make more of a difference than you think – and these are some awesome ways in which it’s totally possible for you to do so. One in four American women will encounter sexual assault in their lives, and one in three worldwide. We can fight this, but we need your help! Make this week the week to get involved, and be the change you want to see in the world. Listen to other stories and tell your own, because everything you do, it matters. It matters a great deal.

Visit change.org for more information of how to Just Start Doing, or check out #saamchange on twitter!

WIYL Badass-Activist Friday presents: NANCY SCHWARTZMAN (our fearless leader)

It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! Interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire culture change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to highlight how we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.

Last night, The Line and Hollaback! celebrated their collaboration with The Right to be Sexy in the Bedroom and on the Street! at the Museum of Sex in New York City. In a fabulous panel that included Emily May of Hollaback! Twanna Hines of Funky Brown Chick, Andrea Plaid of Racialicious, Tara Ellison of Third Wave Foundation and NOLOSE, as well as our own Nancy Schwartzman,

Ladies, we gotta fight for the right to be sexy and know that with our efforts, one day sexual assault and harassment will finally bite the dust. Because we all know when our line has been crossed and by defining this line individually, we can take back control and turn victimisation on its head.

So, today, I thought we would celebrate our Fearless Leader, Nancy Schwartzman herself, who’s been the driving force behind spreading the word about consent and highlighting the importance of discovering our own Lines for ourselves.

Nancy has also just completed her second documentary, XOXOSMS about love and relationships in the technological 21st Century! Check it out.

There is a special student discount for the DVD of Nancy’s documentary, The Line. Buy one and have a screening party. Start a dialogue on your own campus with your peers! Email thelinemovie@gmail.com for more details!

300_Nancy Bio Pic

Without further ado, here’s her Inspirational Interview, with The Pixel Project!

I’ve known survivors of date rape and many of them do not confront their rapists, preferring to suffer in silence instead. How did you come to decide that you needed to confront him?

I spent a lot of time talking to survivors about what they lost after an assault, what had changed for them in their lives. The more questions I asked, the more one question rose to the top: Why? Why did this happen? Why did he do it? I knew that he was the only person who could answer that question.

Was there a particular reason that you chose to document this in the form of a film (first and foremost) instead of other media?

I worked briefly in documentary photography and I caught the film bug right at the time when digital cameras got small and affordable. I had produced a friend’s thesis film and thought “hey, I’ll make my own film!” I had no idea what that meant, or what that would entail. I started gathering footage, but then, unrelated to the filmmaking, I was assaulted. So whatever I was exploring on camera stopped mattering, and that was the story I needed to tell through filmmaking.

Tell us about your crew. How did you find them, and what drew you together towards making ‘The Line’?

The Line was a labor of love. In the beginning, it was just me! I had a wonderful friend who helped film my confrontation, found me the best hidden camera and microphone, and supported me emotionally. I brought in a handful of really talented editors into the process to help me make sense of the footage I was gathering, and who gently empowered and helped me tell my story. When I flew to Nevada to interview sex workers about consent, I cast a wide net looking for a cinematographer. It was the first time I hired anyone to shoot for me, and I knew what was most important was the feeling that person gave me in my gut. The person I hired made me feel calm and confident, and later became my husband!

On the Whereisyourline.org website you mentioned that you conduct workshops on activism to confront and transform rape culture, highlighting especially the need to work and prevent burnout. It took you years to produce ‘The Line’ – what was the drive that kept you going during rough times?

The drive that kept me going was hearing the countless stories just like mine. I’d visit college campuses and show a segment of the film to students and they would flood the front of the room following the screening. Every time a film fund would turn me down, essentially saying “your story isn’t important” students would tell me “this story is important, because it is my story.” I was privileged enough to have access to film equipment, so I felt the responsibility to make the film.

In ‘The Line’, you highlighted the difficulty of rape survivors seeking justice through the legal system. What do you think can be done by ordinary men and women who wish to see a change in legal systems when it comes to addressing rape?

Ordinary men and women can express their outrage and get informed. On the peer to peer level, learn the laws, learn the lawmakers who support justice for rape survivors, vote for them. Raise awareness among your friends, call out sexism, point out victim-blaming. For those who work outside the system –educate. Encourage your school to teach violence preventation in school, focus the dialogue around sex education to highlight pleasure and respect. Most men are allies in this work, charge them to learn more, and stop being bystanders, and show them men in the field doing this work.

I am a Malaysian woman and there are a number of things in the film, especially in relation to the understanding of a female body’s sexuality among conservative women in Israel, that I can empathize with – the higher the standards of demure behaviour is, the easier it is for women to fall from the image of the ‘perfect victim’. Do you have any advice for women who may be facing condemnation (directly or indirectly) because they do not comply with the image of the ‘perfect victim’?

There is no perfect victim. Societies that do not hold perpetrators accountable for their behavior will find any way imaginable to blame the victim. If you are demure, you may be too pretty, or from the wrong class, or riding the wrong bus, or outside during the evening. There is no shortage of excuses societies invent to avoid what is unquivocably true: if you were raped, it is because you were unlucky enough to be in the presence of a rapist. No matter what you were wearing, where you were walking, what you did in the past, present or future.

Has ‘The Line’ been screened outside of the United States? If it has, how has response been among audiences of these countries?

The Line has screened in Dakar, Dhaka, Istanbul, Ankara, Toronto, Liberia, Taiwan and Israel. I had a very supportive audience in Israel and a very spirited one in Ankara! We had a lively discussion about women’s rights in a global context. I did not attend the other screenings, but wanted to!

On a similar note, how has audience reaction been like from the different screenings of ‘The Line’ that you’ve attended?

I was nervous to show the film in Turkey, outing myself as both a Jewish and promiscous woman, but the conversation was marvelous, and went on for two hours! Women and men engaging in the debate, not afraid to call out each other’s biases. In Omaha, Nebraska it was so quiet in the room I thought tumbleweed was blowing through. Culturally, midwestnerners don’t discuss these matters, so getting that conversation going was a challenge. Over all the reaction is the same – people have a lot to share, and questions for how to best support survivors. I think the Where is your line? stickers are a great way to make the conversation interactive.

If someone is faced with the need to help someone who has experienced date rape, what advice would you give him or her?

I always tell people to listen and listen without judgment. Even an innocent question like “why did you go home with him?” or “why did you go out so late?” will sound like you are blaming the victim. Listen and get informed. Where are the advocates and help centers in your area? Where is the hospital or victim’s center? What is the hotline number? Let them know what resources are available. Believe them. Don’t tell them they have to do anything – but whatever they want to do, you’ll be right there with them.

This interview initially appeared at The Pixel Project

Sexual violence on campus: Entertaining violence.

Columbia Spectator, we applaud you! With campuses being one of the the highest-risk areas for young women in terms of date rape and assault, it is imperative that college media offers female student support by acknowledging incidents of violence and disrespect without victim-blaming.

Sadly, this isn’t often the case – last year, a writer at the Eagle, American University’s newspaper claimed that women too often make false claims of rape and sexual assault due to excessive drinking:

Let’s get this straight: any woman who heads to an EI party as an anonymous onlooker, drinks five cups of the jungle juice, and walks back to a boy’s room with him is indicating that she wants sex, OK? To cry “date rape” after you sober up the next morning and regret the incident is the equivalent of pulling a gun to someone’s head and then later claiming that you didn’t ever actually intend to pull the trigger.

Our very own Carmen Rios of (con)sensual at AU retaliated swiftly by turning his rhetoric on its head:

Let’s get this straight: any person who heads to a party and drinks five cups of the jungle juice is unable to provide consent. To justify manipulating someone who is inebriated, taking advantage of someone with physical threats, date-rape drugs, and coercion, and/or disregarding someone’s ability to enjoy or consent to sex is the equivalent of pulling a gun to someone’s back and shooting it in the dark.

Walker Harrison, of the Columbia Spectator, on the other hand, has called readerly attention to how violence against women and assault is invisible in popular culture and media because of the cult of celebrity. Unflinchingly, he argues that sexual violence is inexcusable and should be better addressed on campuses – and should never be brushed off.

We at Where Is Your Line commend Harrison and the Columbia Spectator for calling out sexual violence and disrespect as they see it, and insisting on change at the source of the problem. We can only hope media on other campuses will follow in their footsteps.

Harrison’s article below

Sexual violence on campus: Entertaining violence.

A quick glance at a sports section from this past weekend would most likely reveal headlines on the upcoming NBA playoffs, the threat of an NFL lockout, and the revival of legendary golfer Tiger Woods. The subjects of these articles are all incredible athletes performing at the height of their profession. But another more disturbing, less-acknowledged common denominator for many of these individuals is alleged sexual assault and domestic violence. Yet even the most alarming of these allegations, charges, and convictions tend to be ignored in the larger-than-life world of popular culture.

Two of basketball’s best teams, the Lakers and the Mavericks, will be led by their star players Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd. Bryant was accused of raping a 19-year-old during a rehabilitation trip in 2003. Kidd has been accused of multiple counts of sexual assault and domestic violence with multiple women, including his ex-wife. People afraid that the NFL is facing a lockout next year will fondly remember its last game, Super Bowl XLV between the Packers and the Steelers. Last summer, seven Packers were investigated in a sexual assault case, of which one was charged, while Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been acccused with not one but two cases of sexual assault in the last 20 months. Lastly, Woods was at the center of a highly publicized case of possible domestic violence between him and his supermodel wife, Elin Nordegren, which elucidated his countless sexual transgressions.

The pattern is also apparent in the equally influential music industry. The top music videos on iTunes feature Chris Brown, who beat then-girlfriend and pop star Rihanna (whose song, ironically named “S&M,” tops Brown’s by four spots in a slight instance of poetic justice). Also on the list is a song by Lil Wayne, whose crew was accused of sexual assault during one of Weezy’s recording sessions just a few weeks ago. Further down the list are the artists Snoop Dogg, who was accused of rape in 2003; Eminem, who was charged with domestic violence and whose songs often allude to physically harming females; and Waka Flocka Flame, who was investigated for sexual assault in 2010.

The point isn’t to shine light upon the rampant cases of sexual assault and domestic violence in our favorite forms of entertainment, but to show how easily and quickly we brush off these charges and allegations. With some backward calculus, we forgive perpetrators because of their hit singles and three-pointers, as if professional feats balanced out criminal tendencies. I myself turned a blind eye to my beloved New York Jets’ sexual harassment case—the victim of which, female reporter Ines Sainz, was later labeled as “asking for it” by Fox sportscaster Brian Baldinger—when they began winning game after game.

And do not think that the prestigious Ivy League is above these occurrences. Pledges from the fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon at Yale marched on Old Campus last October, chanting, “No means yes, yes means anal.” Two months later, a Columbia professor was charged with sleeping with his own daughter.

Our inclination to dismiss cases of sexual assault and domestic violence calls for a better, smarter effort when it comes to Columbia and Barnard’s Take Back The Night. The reality is that the members of the community will not understand the gravity of the issue unless it’s brought to them. Marches, speeches, and movie showings are attended by the people—mostly women—who already recognize the prevalence of sexual assault and domestic violence on college campuses. But the people who need to be informed are the potential victims and offenders, who will most likely only consider these initiatives as nuisances.

So, instead, target sexual assault at its source. These incidents often take place during socializing hours, late at night and on the weekends, when alcohol is involved. Thus, the best way to combat sexual assault and domestic violence is to declare a safe, sober weekend. Ask fraternities to postpone parties, or request that local bars hold off on special events. Have students sign up to sacrifice one of their precious weekends and pledge not to consume. The result—quiet Friday and Saturday nights—would pack more potency and remind more students of the issues at stake than noisy marches through campus—because in our fast-paced universe, where the roar of a crowd at a game or a concert drowns out the reality of sexual assault, calm silence might be the ultimate reminder of our better selves.

The author, Walker Harrison, is a Columbia College first-year. This post initially appeared in the Columbia Spectator, and is cross-posted with their permission.

A revolution between the sheets

Nan Goldin, Simon and Jessica Kissing in the Pool, Avignon, 2001

To current and future lovers: I do not need to be coerced into having sex.

I know what you’ve been taught your whole life about gender roles and sexuality because I was taught the same lies.  Women never want it and men can’t get enough of it, right?  So this date is basically a game whereby you play your cards right and hopefully convince me to, well, give it up.  And women aren’t supposed to like sex anyway, so why should you care if I get off or even have a good time?  Then you win something and I lose something because that’s all sex is, right?  A zero-sum game or just an exchange of quantifiable goods, the act of one person conquering another, colonialism between the sheets… right?

Well, I don’t accept that.  It’s lazy and hopelessly antiquated – and dangerous.  Too many of our cultural narratives surrounding sexuality help to confuse sex with rape, and I see that crystallized in context more and more when I date casually.

Every time a new (usually cis male) partner tells me they’re surprised by how self-assured I am in my sexuality, I am reminded that our culture pretty much sucks at providing us with the tools we need to first recognize and then express what we actually want and enjoy from sex.  It’s not enough to assume consent to sex in the absence of opposition: if you don’t actively confirm that your partner is fully comfortable and enjoying every aspect of sex play, you’re doing it wrong.

I recently did something really outrageous, something I’ve never done with a partner before.  On a lazy rainy Sunday, we camped out in bed and created “Yes/No/Maybe” lists categorizing our comfort levels with different aspects of sex play.  I’m an adventurous kinda girl and I figure that, under the right circumstances, I could potentially be up for trying just about anything – which is obviously very different from saying I’m up for everything all the time.  So almost all of the sex acts on my list went under “Maybe,” which gave me and my partner an opportunity to talk about comfort levels for each act and explore fantasies surrounding those acts we’d never tried.  We discovered new intimate details about our selves and each other thanks to this amazing conversation about the fluid nature of consent and pleasure.

And readers, let me tell you that it was totally hot.

We have to talk about what makes sex great in order to have great sex.  It took me years to find a partner who asked me flat-out, “What turns you off?  What turns you on?  What gets you off?”  Great sex can be as simple as laying it all out at the beginning of a sexual relationship. Until I really thought about it and discussed it with someone who actually wanted to make me feel good, I didn’t realize how critical the basic question of pleasure is to healthy, consensual, great sex.

When we communicate with our partners about consent and pleasure, we create a precedent, and not just between us, also between the people with whom we have sex in the future.  When we talk about how to have great sex, we’re talking about how to not rape.  If I’m with someone new and the conversation seems more difficult, I always say that this is a learning experience for both of us.  And if they don’t agree, they’re just not ready.

Unlearning those lies about what sexuality should mean and what sex is supposed to be can feel impossible.  Defining your line and creating your own unique narrative about sex is a process of self-exploration.  It takes time, endless patience, mindfulness, constant movement, and speaking truth to power.

There are few things more empowering than knowing that you own your sexuality, and the journey is truly revolutionary.

Badass-Activist Friday presents: LORI ADELMAN of Feministing and International Women’s Health Coalition

It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! Interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire culture change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to highlight how we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.

Feminism is an wide-ranging movement, and we at WIYL feel it’s so important to include activists working to broaden our perspectives and work in negotiating the complexity of intersectional oppressions, making the voices of marginalised groups heard. For this mini-series, we’ll be focusing on men and women who critique the gender hierarchy across all boundaries – cultures, race, age and medium.

So without further ado…

Here’s Lori Adelman of Feministing and International Women’s Health Coalition !

lori

Lori Adelman is a writer, blogger, and advocate for global health and rights. She works as an Associate at the International Women’s Health Coalition, where she edits and writes for Akimbo, the IWHC blog, and helps develop and implement communications strategies to influence international policy and build local capacity in Africa, Asia and Latin America. She is also a regular contributor at Feministing.com and TheGrio.com. Prior to joining IWHC, Lori worked in the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, where she lent support to a U.S. tour that raised awareness about the obstruction of access to legal abortion after rape in Mexico. You can find her on Twitter, handle @Lori_Adelman.


We’ve faced many challenges to our reproductive health over the past couple of weeks – and it’s hard to imagine a world wherein women’s rights to their own bodies aren’t challenged. Can you talk a little about your work with IWHC, particularly how you work to progress sexual and reproductive rights more globally? Why is this important?

I feel both consumed with rage about attacks on women’s health and autonomy (which have been getting lots of attention recently but are certainly not new), and ridiculously privileged to be able to work to counter them, in my day job as an advocate and also as a blogger and writer.

The International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) is this amazing organization that I discovered out of college. It works to promote and protect sexual and reproductive rights and health (SRRH), particularly in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. And it does so by employing a unique model of partnership with grassroots organizations who are doing this work all over the world at the local, regional, and international level. So it’s a “coalition” in every sense; a movement, really.

I feel so lucky to be part of this transnational, progressive, feminist organization that practices what it preaches. The work is so important and dear to my heart because of what you mentioned in your question- the opposition we face is strong, unrelenting, and highly organized, so we need to be even moreso. Everybody deserves to live a free, fulfilled, healthy life. I don’t think I would be able to feel that I myself was living a fully self-realized life, as a woman, as a person of color, unless I was working to help others achieve this ideal as their reality.

Cultural relativity is an issue that is difficult to deal with, particularly when trying help achieve rights for women internationally. Can you speak to how you feel about this issue, and if you have any qualms with the way advocacy operates – does it follow a westernised ideal?

This is a great question, and one I spend a lot of time thinking about.

I think it’s really easy for activist spaces to fall in line with and begin to mirror the structure of oppressive systems that exist in the rest of the world. That’s why it’s so important, as activists, as advocates, and as feminists, to work and speak with communities, not for or on behalf of them. IWHC supports local leaders so they can implement what they know works best. Our support helps partners to more effectively distribute and implement their own message, not some westernized version. And at Feministing, we’re constantly working to provide a platform for others to share their own stories, and to be heard. I’m not saying I have all the answers, or that I’ve found a secret way to engage with people that completely eliminates all traces of systematic coercion or discrimination of any kind. Because the history there goes back a long way. But I’m saying that I believe it’s crucial to derive strategy and demand meaningful participation from the communities and people whose health and lives are at stake, and I try my hardest to live and work by that.

Are your personal experiences and identity important to your activism? Can you speak a little more as to how or why?

Absolutely. In its earliest stages, as is the case for many people, my own feminism was very much tied to my local surroundings: my hometown, my friends, my high school.

I went to a big public school, where I was very alone in my feminist beliefs, save for a few close friends of mine. And I’ll never forget, in 9th grade, experiencing my high school’s version of “sex ed” which consisted of, among other things, being asked to consume a bag of Cheeto’s, then gulp up a glassful of water, swoosh it around in my mouth, and spit it back into the glass. As my classmates and I looked at the unappealing orange flecks that had been transferred to the water, we were matter-of-factly told that when you have sex, you are exchanging bodily fluids, and the more partners you have, the more flecks you pick up in your “glass of water”. Though I found myself reeling at the image along with my classmates, a part of me questioned the foundation of the exercise and wondered how such an abstract and shaming image could help give me the tools I needed to navigate my sex life safely and pleasurably.

Since high school, I’ve learned that although of course our experiences at the local level, in our own communities, are our own, they do not exist in a bubble. I am just one small part of an entire global movement of people mobilizing for change around issues related to health, rights, and justice.

Feministing is a wonderful online community where you get to make feminist issues more accessible to internet-savy feminists, particularly youth. Do you think blogging and social networking technology is particularly important to feminism right now, and why?

Feministing, and particularly the writing of Jessica, Vanessa, Courtney, Samhita, Perez, and Ann, had so much to do with my evolution as a writer and activist. So I’m totally honored to be able to write for the site on a regular basis now. And to answer your question, yes, absolutely: blogging and social networking technology is particularly important to feminism right now because of the role it plays in consciousness raising. There was a time when “the problem with no name”- the problem of injustice- was experienced uber-personally, almost shamefully, often alone and in secret or in small groups of women. Now it’s named, discussed publicly, and countered in some of the smartest, funniest, most interesting and most culturally relevant ways imaginable on a daily basis, for all to see. That doesn’t mean these issues are automatically solved, but it’s certainly an important step forward.

The feminist blogosphere can get, like much of the internet, antagonist and unnecessarily personal – the recent slew of feminist commentors criticising Jezebel.com’s editor-ship and the commodification of the ‘feminist’ demographic is interesting. How do you feel about this flip side of feminist blogging? How can we make sure we are participating as respectfully as we can?

I feel wary of this “flip side”. It is off-putting, insular, and counter-productive. I recently wrote a piece called “How to Respectfully Disagree with Naomi Wolf” because I was so upset over how she was being attacked over the whole Assange/Wikileaks fiasco, even though I thoroughly disagreed with her stance. As I mentioned in that piece, I think it can be easy to get carried away as a feminist blogger and get lost in expressing solely rage, indignance, and outrage. Certainly those feelings are valid, especially with some of the things that are going on in today’s world. But as bloggers like Sady Doyle have so eloquently exposed, those aren’t the only things that should drive our activism. Being a contrarian may invite controversy and generate traffic, but is that the ultimate goal? If we truly want to push the agenda forward, we have to hold each other to a higher standard.

How does your work at IWHC inform your work as a blogger? Are there areas where these are incompatible, or where one is at odds with the other?

I blog both for the IWHC blog Akimbo as well as Feministing, and I also write for TheGrio.com, a news site geared towards an African-American audience. They are all drastically different spaces! I love being able to be a part of all three, because blogging for an organization’s blog is completely different than blogging for a large media corporation, which is completely different than blogging as part of a non-hierarchical self-described group of independent activists. Each of these spaces has its place on the internet, and I’m lucky to work with people who support my involvement in each of these spaces.

We at WIYL believe that blogging is the best way to encourage young feminists to get interested in and inspired by activism – do you have any words of advice for them?

Be courageous with your story. I truly believe in the radical, subversive, powerful, and progressive nature of being honest and thoughtful about race, class, identity, and politics in public.

The Republican attempt to control women’s sexuality

Good news! Our government was able to get itself together just in time to avoid closing its doors. Literally at the 11th hour, minutes away from the first government shutdown in 15 years, what could have possibly been the sticking point keeping lawmakers from reaching a deal? Was it funding our 2.5 wars? Investments in education or infrastructure? What to do about our unemployment crisis?

Nope. It was whether or not to allow a rider (a.k.a. an attachment to the bill) that got rid of Title X funding for Planned Parenthood. But in a fight over the budget and trying to save the government from spending too much money, getting rid of this funding will do exactly the opposite. Planned Parenthood’s services help prevent unwanted pregnancies that are a cost to taxpayers, not to mention providing preventative care to millions of women and men, helping them root out cancer early and stay healthy. And Planned Parenthood is able to offer these services in a cost effective way; if the government has to provide them on its own, rather than contract with Planned Parenthood, it will simply have to spend more money.

And while the GOP and the media talked about this as a fight over abortion, it wasn’t about that at all. After all, the Hyde Amendment prohibits Planned Parenthood from using any federal money it receives to pay for its abortion services. Not to mention that such services makes up for a mere 3% of what it does. What’s the rest of it, you ask? Four million STD tests, one million pap smears, 830,000 breast exams, and providing 83% of all clients with things that prevent unwanted pregnancy in the first place. The rider also stripped funding from UNFPA, which isn’t allowed to use federal funds for abortion either. Rather, its mission is to avert maternal and infant mortality in developing countries.

So this wasn’t about money and it wasn’t about abortion. Why exactly has the GOP targeted Planned Parenthood so heavily? Author Ellen Chesler points out that part of it is political: get rid of Planned Parenthood and you eliminate an organization that effectively mobilizes women who vote against Republicans. Amanda Marcotte explains that it’s also about Republicans deciding that poor women who have sex don’t deserve government money.

It’s also about controlling women’s sexuality. Any woman can get it on without severe consequences because she’s empowered with contraception and sex education and, good heavens, the choice to terminate and unwanted pregnancy. By denying women the tools to have safe sex when and with whom they choose, the GOP is looking to put up limits. The idea that a woman could have sex for pleasure, do it out of wedlock, and not suffer the wrath of God in the form of an STD or an unwanted pregnancy clearly irks them.

The GOP’s bait and switch on abortion was also evident in HR3, the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” which was from the start redundant, as the Hyde Amendment already takes care of this. But beyond that, Republicans managed to include a provision that changed the definition of rape to only that which is “forcible.” This has nothing to do with abortion, but everything to do with attacking women and their sexuality. It put the blame on the woman who “asks for it” or is “too drunk” or “too flirtatious” rather than on the rapist where it belongs. It’s one more way of punishing women who don’t wear iron clad chastity belts. They may claim that this is about saving the lives of fetuses, but when it’s clearly not about abortion and rather about sex and rape, it’s hard to take them at their word.

And even though the facts are clear these fights aren’t really about abortion, the GOP drums up the perception that they are. Anti-abortion fever is also about controlling women who have sex. As Ann Pellegrini puts it: “Abortion conjures raced and classed images of an out of control female sexuality. An unwanted or unplanned pregnancy, which can happen for so many reasons—including failed contraception or a failure to educate young people about contraception at all (hello, abstinence-only sex education)—is instead recast as a woman’s failure in self-discipline and sexual morality.”

When girls and women are denied the tools to make healthy choices about sex, no one wins. But the point for Republicans is to attempt to put walls around women and their sexuality, denying them the ability make their own choices and casting them as immoral.

Badass-Activist Friday presents: EMILY HEROY of Gender Across Borders

It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! Interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire culture change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to highlight how we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.

Feminism is an wide-ranging movement, and we at WIYL feel it’s so important to include activists working to broaden our perspectives and work in negotiating the complexity of intersectional oppressions, making the voices of marginalised groups heard. For this mini-series, we’ll be focusing on men and women who critique the gender hierarchy across all boundaries – cultures, race, age and medium.

So, without further ado…

Here’s Emily Heroy of Gender Across Borders!

Emily Heroy is the Executive Editor and a founder of Gender Across Borders, an international feminist community and global feminist blog, created in April 2009 out of her interest in international development work and feminism. In this community, issues of gender, race, sexuality, and class are discussed and critically examined. It embraces people of all backgrounds to come together to voice and progress positive gender relations worldwide. In March 2011, Emily was named one of the top 100 ”most inspiring people delivering for girls and women ” from the NGO Women Deliver.

Gender Across Borders is an acclaimed blog that suggests gender relations can be progressed worldwide through critical inquiry. Admirably, it is particularly aware of its position of privilege as from the dominant, US perspective. Can you talk a little about why you started the blog and why this awareness is especially important?

This blog was started back in April 2009, when there were no feminist blogs dedicated to highlighting international issues. It is extremely important for us, as global feminists, to continually acknowledge privilege in the fight for gender equality. Not only does it not only engage more with international readers, but we don’t want our U.S. readers to be in the dark about the position of power we have.

Gender and sexuality based oppressions are intersectional ones and often locate themselves within other forms of oppressions such as race/ class/ ability. How do you think your work in Global Feminism and broadening western feminist perspectives can help advance discussions about addressing inequality abroad// inform foreign aid campaigns.

Gender and sexuality cannot be discussed without addressing issues of race/class/ability/religion/etc. When it comes down to it, feminists want equality for all. However many movements have failed to address intersectionality. For example, the Feminist movement in the 1970s and even today ignored and continue to ignore black women’s rights—and this implies inequality. That’s why we talk about other issues that feminists face on GAB—racism, classism, ableism, immigrant rights, etc. Without discussing these forms of oppression, we’re putting feminism on a pedestal and saying that all other movements and issues aren’t as important.

Some western feminists seem to think that feminist issues outside of the U.S. aren’t as important local feminist issues. At GAB we’re trying to show that gender issues live “across borders.” For example, my issue of abortion rights in the U.S. may vary in content from a Moroccan woman’s issue of economic power, but we’re both dealing with a similar kind of inequality because of our gender. Solutions to our problems will not be the same, but just like intersectionality, we have to be inclusive in our end goal: equality for all.

Are your personal experiences and identity important to your activism? Can you speak a little more as to how or why?

I am a white upper-class woman from the U.S. My family traveled a lot when I was younger—Egypt, Morocco, Czech Republic, Germany, France, England, Italy, Austria, etc. From that I got a sense of cultural awareness– something that I realize not many Americans have (because of lack of funds) or value. My family is somewhat politically middle-of-the-road but more importantly, fiscally conservative. I think that because of this, I didn’t have a sense of politics until I got to college in 2003.

Once I got to college, after a year or so, I declared my major in Gender and Sexuality studies and declared myself a feminist. I interned at small nonprofits in New York City (where I went to college) where I could work with underprivileged girls. I wanted to combine my interest in international cultures and feminism—so I traveled abroad in the summers between my years in college doing international volunteer work in India, Brazil, Peru, and Thailand—mostly working with women and children. After college, I joined the U.S. Peace Corps in Morocco to further my interest in international development and feminism.

I don’t think I would identify as a “global feminist” had I not had these experiences both abroad and in the U.S. Working with different groups of women and girls, those who are less privileged than I am, put my own experiences into perspective.

How has technology helped with your activism? Considering the use of technology is an economic privilege, to some extent, do you think the online activism that has been lauded as being far-reaching/ global in fact necessary marginalises certain groups? How can we address this?

Technology has helped with my activism—I’m able to connect with other feminists around the globe more easily. I want to also stress that blogging is not activism—it does spark change and can grow into activism, but it is not activism in it and of itself.

I do agree that technology is an economic privilege. While almost everywhere, for the most part, is connected to the internet—it certainly doesn’t mean everyone is able to use the internet. Especially in underdeveloped countries, the majority of people using the internet are men, because after all in these countries, families cannot afford computers at home or internet connectivity. There are internet cafes all around—which are great, don’t get me wrong, but some women in these countries just don’t go out of the house very much. Or many countries have issues with power—power is not reliable and goes off frequently. Or they don’t know how to use a computer.

Some of these problems can be answered with better infrastructure—countries don’t have the money to spend or the politicians to implement developing a more internet-accessible country.

We’ve recently faced many challenges to our right to reproductive justice – but this is a fight that’s remained largely US centric – how do you feel about the dominant perspectives of feminist activists nowadays? Do you feel they are limited?

I think there are a few feminists out there who think that one issue trumps the other. Reproductive justice is currently being attacked from just about everywhere in the U.S.—from Republicans and Democrats, to prolife interest groups to evangelical Christians, which is why it’s the center of the movement here, and I understand that we as feminists must band together to defend our reproductive rights, but there are so many equally important issues and problems at stake in terms of gender equality. As feminists in the U.S., we need to make every issue important and at the forefront of feminism. I feel like we are only limited because of what we limit ourselves—we need to branch out to other people and other groups to let them speak, discuss, and voice their opinions on gender equality.

We at Where Is Your Line are all about sex positive education and consent – and hope to continue disseminating our message internationally. But cultural relativity can be tricky when it comes to issues of sexuality. What are your thoughts?

I agree—cultural relativity can be very tricky in terms of talking about sexuality. I remember back when I was living with Morocco a few years ago, some Peace Corps volunteers had organized a women’s health seminar where they went around to local villages telling them about safe sex. Because of the social conservative culture, all men were asked to leave the room during the seminar and we weren’t allowed to hand out condoms to the women. How do you promote positive sex education without handing out condoms? The least we could do was discuss condoms and tell them how they worked and why they should use them. Not the best sex education, but in this instance, women were very curious about condoms as most of them had never used them or knew what they were. I’d like to think that bringing up the issue of safe sex allowed for some sort of acceptance that condoms were okay, even in a small conservative village in Morocco.

But when it comes down to it, the way you approach sexuality in the U.S. is very different from approaching sexuality in other countries and cultures. Being cognizant of the culture is first and foremost when teaching about positive sex—for example, in Morocco, some women expressed that they didn’t want to have as many kids as their mothers did. We used that to our advantage—in telling them that condoms also prevent pregnancy. But I also think that there are limitations within conservative cultures, and you can’t overstep that boundary.

How can we best continue to raise awareness of a global feminist perspective in this age where information can be too overwhelming and people have more of an eye towards home?

There’s more to global feminism than technology—which, with the internet, makes the dissemination of information very overwhelming. We can truly raise awareness of global feminism with discussions between people, face-to-face. While much of this discussion happens online, it’s important to take this discussion offline—connecting at a local level, and relating how these local feminist issues are similar to the broader feminist movement internationally. How do we expect to achieve gender equality without banding together with women across the globe?

“Sucker Punch”: What Else Is There to Say?

Dear Sucker Punch,

You took such a beating when you came out last week that I almost feel bad piling it on now, so I’ll be brief:

…what, exactly, were you trying to be? I’m all for genre-crossing and switching things up, but the combination of your complete commitment to video game aesthetics (read: explosions, zombies, schoolgirl uniforms!) and half-assed attempt at feminism (read: rise up against the evil male machine!) left me cold.

Unsurprisingly, critics and audiences agreed; I’ve never seen such vicious reviews. What’s more, the nature of the vitriol sent your way confirmed that what I found to be your greatest fault was true: Sucker Punch, you think you’re a lot bigger, a lot more important in the grand scheme of things than you are. While you included attempts at rape, physical violence against women and even a lobotomy presumably in the name of Wronged Feminism, it all read more like, “protect your virginity lest you become a scraggly, brunette urchin in a corset!” Not progressive, really, and also, boring.

Sure, you had a mostly female, multi-ethnic cast, and yes, the women banded together throughout your three(?) realities, but if I have to see another movie in which one gender is painted as The Embodiment of All Things Evil one more time I may actually scream. Frankly, I’m a little sick of applauding media for deigning to include prominent women characters when I want to be applauding it for including women characters that are three-dimensional, more than literal “babydolls” swaying in pain.

I know it’s a tall order, Sucker Punch, but what can I say? I’ve got high standards…and sadly for us all, you failed to meet them.

All Posts from April, 2011