July, 2011

Peer Pressure

“Given the college hook up culture it can be easy to succumb to peer pressure at parties even though you’re not fully comfortable with that level of intimacy. “

Badass Activist Friday Presents: Andrea Plaid

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 cultural change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to higlight how e can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.

Today’s fabulous activist is Andrea J. Plaid, who’s currently a blogger at Racialicious.co, where she wears the hat of sexuality correspondent. She has also written, among other blogs and newspapers, for Bitch magazine, Penthouse.com, AltnerNet and The Root. Additionally, she’s been quoted in the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune.

Let’s hear what she has to say!

You cover a variety of topics in your writing and activism – race, sex, gender, culture -. Can you explain to us where you see the interactions between all of these topics? Is there one that is particularly dear to your heart, or do you find them all inherently interconnected?

I wish I could say that there’s one that’s dear to my heart, but society won’t let me forget that they’re all intertwined! ::Shakes fist at sky::  Seriously though, I like to say I get to write about the lovely knot of race, sex, gender, and pop culture—and where that knot shows up in all of its ridiculous contours is in people’s sex lives. It’s the place where all that we may know about race, gender, sex, and culture connect, collide, meld, and separate.  It’s both tiring—especially when people want to use “identity” (race and ethnicity, sexual identifcation, religion, you name it…and then some!) to police other people’s sexual lives–and fascinating.

How did you get started with the work you are doing now? Was this the path you wanted to take from the start, or did it develop over time?

It’s been a meandering journey and an underlying theme in my life.  It really started, I think, when a neighbor raped me when I was five.  That crystallized the dynamics of sex and power for me.  Then I was always looking at my late father’s porn magazines when I went to visit him (he and my mom divorced when was 4 months old.) He’d buy Playboy, Penthouse, Players, Hustler, among the titles I distinctly remember. The couplings fascinated me, and those magazines developed my ideas around porn.

I was brought up in a rather moderate African American home, with my mom—who is and prides herself on being a “proper” Black woman—modeling a certain way that she believed that Black women should behave in this society: it’s cool to have sex (or as she would say, “I enjoy being a woman”) but in certain circumstances. Those circumstances: openly affectionate with your husband or fiancé (and behind a locked room for the actual sex) and more discreetly with men who weren’t your fiancé or spouse. Oh yes—and the sexual partner, my mom said in a variety of ways, should be Black. A Black Christian would be a plus, my mom implied.

So, my “rebellion”—I think my mom would call it that–was to be sexual and interracial in my dating options. Though I “lost my virginity” at 21, I did it as part of a neo-pagan ceremony. I didn’t have a partner at the time, and I felt I wanted to celebrate that act as a ritual.  And my partner was white. And I told Mom.  She didn’t speak to me for a week.  (See what I mean by my mom’s thinking about this?) All of that crystallized the ideas of sex, community, identity, and race.

I was also pro-choice at a very early age. I remember watching a news report about abortion at the age of 10 (I’m 42 now), and I thought that, yes, a woman should not have to have a child because she has sex. (Another point my mom and I vehemently disagree on.) And if abortion is a method to prevent that, then I’m all for it.  Add to this my believing feminism—which I formally called my own in my 20s–as a way for women to figure out and address the structures that are keeping them down. With that, I help start the first HIV/AIDS awareness group on my campus in my undergrad days (at the time we understood the condition to be a mainly an STI).

I’ve worked at abortion clinics (one of them being Planned Parenthood), marched in Washington for reproductive justice (by that point my ideas around “abortion rights” started morphing into reproductive justice). When I went to graduate school, my “thesis” (at my librarian school, we didn’t have the option to write theses as with other programs), was founding and operating a sex-positive library. Yes, my library would have subscriptions to Playboy, Penthouse, Players, and Hustler. ::laughs::

You are currently blogging for Racialicious.com, where you are the “sexual correspondent”. Can you tell us a little bit about what that entails? What sorts of stories catch your attention, and what do you want your readers to take away from your writing?

May I say that the SC gig was the brainchild of Latoya Peterson, the new owner of Racialicious? Yes, I’ll state that for the record. ::laughs:: That came about from my responding to an open submissions call from Latoya. My pitch: why aren’t there people of color with sex-advice columns on the levels of Dan Savage, Rachel Kramer Bussel, and Betty Dodson? Latoya and the former owner, Carmen Sognonvi, loved the idea. After the submission, Latoya, with a hint of mischievous glee, said, “I want you to be the Racialicious Sexual Correspondent.” I laughed and accepted.

What does it entail? My getting to untangle The Lovely Knot. I’ve written about interracial swinging cruises, images and realities of interracial BDSM—which lead to my interviewing the incredible “race play” expert Mollena Williams. I co-wrote a humor piece about White Male Celebrities that are approved by The Black Race™. I’ve written about White Female Privilege and the nexus of beauty and sexuality that undergirds it.

What I want readers to know is that sex is messy and sometimes that can be a point of exploration in light of fighting racism and other oppressions.  But that doesn’t mean we should approach sex and race—and the power dynamics knotted into it–completely uncritically. Such as with what’s happening with Naffisatou Diallo’s case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn and how race plays into her credibility as an “acceptable rape victim” in the media and court.

While we’re on the subject, is there a recent event/new-story that particularly grabbed your attention? Anything that really got your blood boiling? Or, better yet, anything that you got really excited about?

My soul’s been absorbed with Diallo’s case.  I’ve worked as at domestic worker—I cleaned houses as a job and as a start-up business–as have my aunts, one who has died and another who’s 82 now. So, the stories they and other Black women who’ve done that occupation over the decades told of white male homeowners and their wives stuck with me. Also, as someone who survived rape and have seen, experienced, and read how Black women have been stereotyped as “unrapeable”…this unfolding event just tears at me.  What pushed my upset to outrage is the New York Post’s now-found-libelous story about Diallo working a as prostitute.  So, I started an open letter at Change.org—with major support and guidance from Women’s Rights Director of Organizing Shelby Knox, Editor Alex DiBranco, and filmmaker Aishah Shahidah Simmons–demanding that NYP retract the story and apologize to Diallo in a full page ad. Both SisterSong NYC and Women’s Media Center—thanks to the advocacy of SSNYC’s leader Jasmine Burnett and WMC’s Jamia Wilson—support the letter. Individuals from SlutWalk NYC support it as well.

When I started the letter, I looked it as the mission statement of a coalition of people who, understanding the racial dynamics of NYP’s story, formed a coalition to support Diallo and any victim or surivor of sexual violence—thus the name Coalition to Support Sexual-Violence Victims and Survivors (CSSVVS)–and to stand against what the newspaper did and, to this day, refuses to apologizes for. When I posted it, I expected a couple of hundred signatures. We’re up to 1,251 people standing strong–and each letter drops in the editors’ inboxes. We—and they–can always use more!

I also took that energy and joined SlutWalk NYC, which is holding its event on October 1 as well as a rally in support for Diallo on August 23, when a hearing about Diallo’s case will happen. I volunteer as a speaker and a media contact.

We’ve been talking a lot about SlutWalk in the blogosphere, and what it means for feminism. There’s been some disagreement on whether we can or should reclaim the word “slut”, and on whether SlutWalk is a positive development or one that’s actually detrimental. What say you?

Honestly? I get the arguments and squeamishness about SlutWalk, especially in terms of it not speaking to women of color categorically—I was on the fence about it myself.  However, I think that some people are allowing, to use the cliché, the perfect to get in the way of the good. Truth be told, quite a few of us women of color may not have been called a slut, but we have been called names intended to punish us for our being sexual and having a gender that’s not respected. For example, in my African American communities, folks use the words “’ho,” “fass” (meaning a woman who’s viewed as sexually “fast,” or promiscuous), “loose.” Latinas have and have had the word “puta” hurled at them.  Those words mean the exact same thing as “slut” as far as connotation and intention! And, it is women of color, especially trans women of color, who have the highest numbers as sexual-violation victims and we are also the ones who underreport—and get underreported in stats—the most.  And, as much as we don’t like to talk about this in fear of “airing dirty laundry in front of white folks,” our perpetrators are people of our own racial and ethnic groups. That’s real, and we need to have open—even public—conversations about that. So, if a woman of color sees SlutWalk as a way to help her have that conversation, then righ on! But I think we need to move away from who SlutWalk speaks to categorically.  Apparently, it’s speaking to some people… and worldwide.

As far as the media perpetrated idea that it’s all about white women in lingerie strutting around and calling it feminism: feminism has utilized many methods to gain the attention to their messages. The women who do wear the lingerie  and other sexy gear—and, mind you, not all of them are white, since SlutWalk have taken and are taking place around the world, including places with sizable populations of color—are using the gear as a form of street theater as a direct response to a police officer implying that women who “dress a certain way” can expect to get sexually assaulted and, more indirectly, to societies worldwide that faults victims for their violations. The media is being salacious in an attempt to dismiss the very real problems.

What SlutWalk NYC is saying it that it doesn’t matter who you are, where you work, how you flirt, how you identify, or what you wear, no one has the right to put their hands on you without your consent—not verbally, not physically, not legally, not journalistically.  Full stop.

Do you have a project that you are working on currently, anything that you want to alert our readers to, or a cause that you want to drum up some support for?

Latoya, who also is my mentor, always tells me to use the forums you have the chance to speak in to give shout-outs. So, my first shout-out is a paying back: I encourage your readers to swing by Racialicious!

I also encourage the readers to be a part of SlutWalk NYC and help us end sexual and gender violence in all of its permutations. For more information, please check out our Tumblr, Facebook  pages, and Twitter  for updates and contact us at slutwalknyc@gmail.com.

Of course, I’d love to have more people stand with Diallo against the New York Post’s defiance about retracting their story about her: Please check out the letter here.


Thank you for your time and your wonderful answers, Andrea!

Meet the New Managing Editor!

My name is Joey, and I’m the new managing editor at The Line Campaign’s blog!

I’m excited to be working for the Line Campaign because I find that discovering and negotiating boundaries and understanding, seeking and giving consent are some of the most important and difficult aspects of sexuality.

My interest in the field of sexuality and sexuality education was born in my freshman year of college, when a lot of different things came together for me and started to make sense. Thanks to therapy, I had finally come to terms with having been raped. I was taking my first women’s studies class. And I discovered Heather Corinna’s wonderful resource, Scarleteen.com.

It was not an easy time. Most of the people around me reacted negatively to my budding feminism. They wanted to know if I was going to stop shaving my legs and start hating men. Accepting the reality of having been raped made me feel profoundly unsafe and led me to question whether I would ever be able to trust a partner again. Will anyone want to be with me once they learn? Will I ever be able to have sex? And can I even be a feminist if I like nail polish and the color pink and if my favorite author is Ayn Rand?

All of that was over six years ago by now. In the time since, I’ve learned that there was no code of conduct for feminism, and that anyone can join who believes that all human beings are fundamentally equal. I’ve discovered that I don’t need to be afraid to say the f-word, and that I don’t need friends who say “really? You don’t look like a feminist”. I’ve come to love sex, and I’ve found partners who respect me for who I am, history and all.

The most important lesson in all of this was that everyone needs boundaries. I get to define what I want an what I need, and I get to voice those wants and needs, and I deserve to have them respected. This is true for friendships as well as relationships, one-night-stands as well as long-term-relationships. That doesn’t mean that setting boundaries is easy. Quite the opposite: it can be really, really difficult.

It is complicated by the fact that we live in a culture that makes it a practice to blur and obscure those lines. We are taught so many different conflicting messages about sexuality and about what we “should” want or do, that it can be hard to sort out your own authentic feelings from the cacophony.

This is the reason why it is so important for me to be working for The Line Campaign. I hope that during my time here, I can help provide the tools for all of us to get a little bit better at understanding boundaries and consent.

(When I’m not blogging for The Line, I’m volunteering at Scarleteen.com and working towards my dissertation on travel and transition in contemporary queer texts. I hold an MA in Intercultural Anglophone Studies and a BA in English from Bayreuth University, Germany. I love to write, read and cook, and I watch too much TV.)


Badass Activist Friday Presents: Margaret Lucas

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 cultural change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to higlight how e can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.

Today’s interview features Margaret Lucas. Margaret is a former youth marketing manager at ISIS, the Internet Sexuality Information Services, and now she works as a consultant. I spoke with ehr about her work, and the intersection of activism, sexual health and new media. Here’s what she had to say:

Tell us a little about the work you are doing now, and why you are doing it.

I am in the process of starting my own consultancy company and commentary blog called The Viral Voice – that creates social media-based partnerships between community organizations and media for-profit companies as a response to the drastic cuts in government funding for nonprofits.  I want to provide a service that is authentic and agile that can change with the trends and emerging technology to serve and empower youth, people of color and LGBTQ communities.  I also want to be a role model for girls and show them that you can be an entrepreneur and make a difference at a young age by stepping up and being the solution to problems in your community.

Can you talk about the importance of networking/social media to feminism and sexual health? Where do you see the unique opportunities of a combination of in-person out-reach and online interaction?

Social networking and social media has become a powerful component of sexual health and feminism by bringing groups of passionate advocates together to redefine these issues.  Growing up, feminism was a far away movement that didn’t seem applicable – a remnant of the 60’s – but over the last 5 years young women (and men) across the world have come together via social networking sites and social media to create a modern, inclusive, multi-cultural, multi-generational feminism that reflects the struggle of our current culture.

Social media and social networking sites have created ways for everyone to access accurate, comprehensive sexual health information that was otherwise hidden in dusty library books or obscured by awkward conversations with the family doctor.  When people are more informed about their sexual and reproductive health, they find it easier to express them self to potential partners and health care providers.

How have efforts to promote sexual health changed with the advent of, say, Facebook or Twitter, or text-in services?

The efforts to promote sexual health have become more public with Facebook, Twitter and mobile.  Social networking sites are replacing static billboards and pamphlets and are the new space for outreach messages. You can like a Cause on Facebook or follow blogs dedicated to activism via RSS or Twitter and be plugged into the issue.  It’s a way for people to stay informed, connected and engaged with their chosen causes by integrating them into their everyday lives.  More often than not when someone supports an issue on a social networking site, it spreads through their network, further engaging their peers.

In my work on Scarleteen, we’ve noticed that a lot of the time, especially when it comes to sexual abuse, this is the very first time that users are talking about it, often years after the fact. The fact that our service is anonymous and online clearly gives people the opportunity to reach out and ask for help in a way they perceive safe, and it gives us the opportunity to direct them towards in-person help. What do you think about the ways in which the internet complements in-person providers? Do both benefit each other, or is there some redundancy or over-lap? Do you think there are some down-sides to the vast array of services provided by the internet (such as people self-diagnosing via Yahoo answers)?

Information found on the internet should never be viewed as a replacement for in-person counseling from a licensed professional nor should it be used for self-diagnosis. However the web can be an invaluable tool for empowerment through education and can lay a framework for dialogues with peers that leads to in-person counseling.

Because so many people aren’t getting accurate sexual health education in schools or from their peers, I think that the more avenues that they can receive correct information and talk about what they’ve learned is definitely beneficial.  I also believe the internet can support in-person providers by keeping them up to date with advancements in the field like new conferences and innovative ways of supporting their patients like recommending Facebook groups for additional support.

How do you think people can be best reached? Different services use a variety of approaches (online static content, public message boards, e-mails, text-in services); do you have any data or experience on which approach yields the best results? Or do they just serve different demographics?

Unfortunately, there isn’t one method for reaching people.  There are different delivery methods for different communities and demographics. When creating an outreach strategy you have to research the platform and the messages that will best reach your target audience.  For example, if you determine that your primary audience is on Twitter, you have to ensure that 140 characters will allow you to get your message across.

Do you have any examples or personal experiences of the use of technology and/or social networking making a huge impact? (I’m thinking personally of the #mooreandme campaign as having really underlined the way in which we can use technology to organize and truly make a difference.)

The It Gets Better Project definitely springs to mind as an example of simple technology and social networking making a huge impact.  The videos were so simple yet full of wisdom that many LGBTQ teens experiencing harassment and bullying needed to know before they contemplate suicide. The campaign took on a life of its own on Twitter with the #itgetsbetter hashtag and even jump-started discussions about teen bullying and the resulting suicides in the White House with President Obama.  The It Gets Better videos from celebrities were okay but I was surprised by the moving stories submitted by regular people who had experienced and overcome bullying and harassment and felt compelled to share because of the campaign. I attribute part of the campaigns success to the inexpensive and accessible technology it used.

Another campaign that uses social media to make a difference and that I’m a part of is MTV’s A THIN LINE that combats cyber bullying and digital discrimination. The campaign uses social media to examine the kind of online behaviors that cross boundaries, to highlight what young people are doing to end digital drama and to provide a space for teens to share their digital experiences and learn from others. Check out the rest of the A THIN LINE street team and weigh in here:  http://act.mtv.com/posts/meet-the-a-thin-line-street-team/

Thank you, Margaret!






How a Rape Case Went Off The Rails

Anna North over at Jezebel.com has posted a shocking two-part article chronicling the struggles of a student at the University of Iowa, Rebecca Epstein, to bring her rapist to justice.

In this first part, How a Rape Case Went Off the Rails, she describes Epstein’s interaction with the police, as well as with her own rapist, in an effort to be heard.

In the second part of the series, Why a Rape Doesn’t Get Prosecuted, North explores the reasons why Epstein’s rapist gets to walk away. Epstein says that the Assistant County Attorney cited Epstein’s mental illness – she has bipolar disorder – as one factor. But it is not the only one at play here. It seems that Epstein, like so many women, is not “a perfect victim”. Our very own Nancy Schwartzman is quoted in the article:

“When it comes to sex crimes or sexual behavior, the average person/jury member can’t seem to comprehend nuance. If you are raped, you should diligently scream and struggle in just the right way, call the police, collapse in a ball, and never have sex again. If you deviate from this script or course of action, well, you didn’t fight hard enough. You weren’t actually raped”.

Go ahead and read the whole series. It’s as powerful as it is depressing.

The Line Campaign is looking for Bloggers and Interns!


Where is your line?

Are you a student interested in empowering young leaders to end sexual violence through film, social media and education?  We are looking for a talented and motivated INTERN to work in close partnership with filmmaker and activist, Nancy Schwartzman and team to learn how to make a film make social change in the world. This Intern will be vital in helping us building our campaign outreach and programs.

Email us for a full description, and please include your resume and references: thelinemovie @ gmail. com

Are you passionate about sexual health, sex education, equality and talking about consent? Do you have stories you’d like to share with our community? Opinions on politics, current events and the media that you’d like to voice? We’d love to hear you!

If you would like to contribute to the blog, and are dedicated and able to write for us on a schedule, please send us an email at thelinemovie @ gmail. com and tell us a little bit about yourself.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Letter to my futute rape prosecutors

Dear future rape prosecutors,

Since as a woman I have about a one in six chance of being raped in my lifetime, I thought I would save you the trouble of rooting through my personal history if and when that occurs. Herein you will find all of the things that will discredit me as a witness and my potential allegation against whoever assaults me.

I’ve lied in the past. I once told my mom I was sleeping at a girl friend’s house, when really I went to a party at a boy’s house. I also threw a party at my parents’ house but told them I didn’t – a pretty bad lie, I’ll admit, since all of their liquor was gone. I even lied about coming home after my curfew had passed. It’s true that I pretty much immediately got caught in all of these lies – I’m an awful liar, to tell you the truth – but I know that doesn’t change the fact that I have not always stuck to the hard facts.

I’ve had dealings with some pretty shady characters. I knew at least one drug dealer in college. I’ve probably hung out with some since I graduated. In high school I spent time with some people who liked to funnel beers, which clearly shows a lack of judgment and character on their part. I’m pretty sure someone on my block smokes marijuana from time to time. I myself have even had dealings with the law! I got two speeding tickets within the space of one month once.

I’ve had sex with multiple men. I know, I should have thought about the potential for this case and held myself back. I’m not terribly religious, either, as I was raised by two hippies. So I make a pretty poor picture of a pious, chaste victim. Sorry about that.

In conclusion, I express my heartfelt apologies for my past wrongdoings and the damage they do to my case.


Bryce Covert

Today in Rape Culture (on sugabutta): Dominique Strauss-Kahn

We like to shoutout to our young feminist bloggers doing good work on social networks such as tumblr, speaking out, taking names, and insisting on being heard. A new blog, sugabutta, run by well-known tumblr personalities Laura and Glossy, wants to ‘build an easy Internet space for feminist conversations that fit with our voice. Snarky, intelligent, and concerned with everything from pop culture and media to politics to chicken nuggets, with a clear eye on sex, gender, race, and class issues. A witty body-positive (no matter what that body looks like) voice that’s also okay with watching Say Yes to the Dress. Real feminism from regular people who are just doing their best to navigate the world.’ Girls who write what they want to read, and hope others follow suit – we love it! Check out their their take on DSK, and rape culture below!

News is moving quickly on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case today. Vague information is drifting in the media concerning information about the accuser which apparently has warranted Strauss-Kahn’s release. Let’s have a look at this hot fucking mess, shall we?

TRIGGER WARNING: sexual assault

The attack took place at the Sofitel Hotel in New York City in May, where a housekeeper alleged that she had entered Strauss-Kahn’s room to clean it when Strauss-Kahn emerged from the bathroom naked, chased her, attempted to rape her and forced her to perform oral sex on him. Forensic evidence has been found, but it’s unclear what that evidence reveals. The woman, an immigrant from Guinea, managed to flee and alerted the authorities, and Strauss-Kahn was arrested later that night on board a plane bound for France. Since then the case has blown up in the media, and now the defense states that they have information that would damage the woman’s case. It’s worth noting that from all the articles I’ve read so far, I can’t quite tell if we’re just talking about information that would damage her credibility, or information that would damage her account. They cite connections to criminals, including an incarcerated man who she spoke to on the day of the attack and discussed the benefits of pursuing charges, and large amounts of money traveling into and out of her account.

I’d also like to point out here that as an immigrant from Guinea, as a woman of color and as a working class woman, the language surrounding the victim has been fascinating and depressing. For example, almost every article I’ve seen has referred to her as “the housekeeper”, not “the victim” or “the accuser”. We know her by her financial and also her racial and non-American status, by her otherness to the towering figure of DSK.

Now I get to the real kicker, the moment when I stopped reading and started breathing shallowly and trying to control my anger. A quote from the NYT article:

“In recent weeks, Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers, Benjamin Brafman and William W. Taylor III, have made it clear that they would make the credibility of the woman a focus of their case. In a May 25 letter, they said they had uncovered information that would “gravely undermine the credibility” of the accuser.”

So now, I ask you: do we really think rape cases are ever about anything but the credibility of the woman, or of the victim? The moment a victim reports a sexual assault, they will inevitably face an intense examination and scrutiny of not just a victim’s account, but the entire fabric of a victim’s life. From the clothes you wear to the way you walk to your connections to anybody in your life, criminal or not, more often than not, the case against a rape victim hinges on uncovering that perhaps they have lied or even forgotten something once in their life, as if because a person lied once, they are therefore lying about this. And, of course, the same rules do not apply to the person accused of rape. We are challenging their credibility insofar as where they were at the time of the assault, or why they were attempting to board a plane after the assault. Innocent until proven guilty is, in this case, true for the accused, while the victim is guilty of being not 100% innocent in every single aspect of their life and therefore possibly guilty of being assaulted, or lying about being assaulted.

I’m starting to think that part of the problem is that the justice system requires a kind of black and white conclusion that is extremely difficult to find in situations of sexual assault. If your neighbors didn’t hear shouting, just how loudly did you say “no”? What was your body language really saying? If you don’t have any bruises, did you really fight back? If you were flirtatious at the bar, how do we know you weren’t just as happy to bring him into your house? This is the logic, and goddamn if even writing those questions out makes me feel nauseous. But until there’s security footage of every location where a person could be assaulted, until the culture we live in no longer says that a woman who wears a short skirt is asking to be fondled on the train, until we try to prevent violence by targeting attackers and not victims, I’m not sure there can be true justice for victims of sexual assault.

This post initially appeared on sugabutta and is reposted with the permission of the author. Laura is a graduate student in NYC – read more, and persue .gifs here.

All Posts from July, 2011