August, 2011

On Thinking About Consent as a Queer Woman

 

We love the article that our former intern Carmen posted over at Autostraddle, where she talks about consent and what it means for her as a queer woman.

Here’s a small taste:

You may have never been told before that you can initiate, desire, and seek out sex as a woman. But you can. And you may have never really envisioned yourself being in the driver’s seat of your sexual experiences. But you are. Consent fills us with a new power to talk about desire without shame, to talk about pleasure without fear, to seek out sex without danger.

Check out the whole post: How I Learned to Talk (In Bed): Why this Queer Woman cares about Consent.

New Mandate requires Sex Education for NYC Students

This month marks the passing of a new sex-ed mandate in NYC public schools strengthening the existing health education requirements for middle and high-school students. Much advocacy work from groups like the HIV Law Project and The Sex Education Alliance of New York City has gone into the push for improved sex and HIV education for students leading to the new legislation.

As might be expected, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York has already reacted to the passed legislation arguing sex education is a matter to be handled by parents rather than schools. Under the new legislation parents who object to the mandated sex education are given the option to opt out.

A New York Times article outlining the new legislation further explains the mandate as well as the current state of sex education in America:

Nationwide, one in four teenagers between 2006 and 2008 learned about abstinence without receiving any instruction in schools about contraceptive methods, according to an analysis by the Guttmacher Institute, which studies reproductive health. As of January, 20 states and the District of Columbia mandated sex and H.I.V. education in schools. An additional 12 states, New York included, required H.I.V. education only, according to a policy paper published by the institute.

New York City’s new mandate goes beyond the state’s requirement that middle and high school students take one semester of health education classes. The city’s mandate calls for schools to teach a semester of sex education in 6th or 7th grade, and again in 9th or 10th grade, suggesting they use HealthSmart and Reducing the Risk, out-of-the-box sets of lessons that have been recommended since 2007. A city survey of principals last year found that 64 percent of middle schools were using the HealthSmart curriculum.

A shout-out is definitely due to those who have committed significant time and energy in working towards the passing of this legislation for NYC students. As explained by Alison Yager of the HIV Law Project in a recent post, since 2006 a dedicated group of HIV positive women have been working to make a difference for a young students.

Resolved to make a difference, they formed the Steering Committee of HIV Law Project’s Center for Women and HIV Advocacy, and together decided to commit themselves in a more deliberate way to the fight for comprehensive sex education. For one year this dedicated band of women met weekly at our offices with an organizer from CHAMP, the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project, who guided them through the process of building an advocacy campaign, and taught them essential advocacy skills.

After this first year, the group continued meeting weekly, and later bi-weekly for a total of four and a half years. Over the years they stood on street corners and talked to their neighbors; they gathered signatures and sent postcards and letters to City, State and federal leaders; they made phone calls, and visited elected officials and local PTAs sharing their message. Their resolve to make a difference was truly inspiring.

Indeed this work is inspiring, and the newly passed legislation in NYC is a very necessary and welcome achievement. In a country where some school districts still teach abstinence only education, the passing of improved mandated sex-education which will at the very least educate students in the use of condoms and discussion of appropriate age for sexual activity is no small measure.

Much work remains to assure the legislation is enforced in a meaningful way  that will truly impact students of New York City to both empower and educate them in making healthy decisions in their personal sex lives.

Two on Consent

Taken from www.thecampussocialite.com

Since it seems to never rain but pour, the past week has landed us with not one but two instances of mansplaining on the topic of sexual assault with a particular emphasis on giving consent while drunk.

First up is an opinion piece by Peter Berkowitz published in the Wall Street Journal on the 20th. In it, he discusses a letter issued by the Obama administration and addressed to colleges and universities that details guidelines for dealing with sexual assault accusations. The letter, among other things, encourages schools to take allegations more seriously, discourages direct cross-examination of the victim by the accuser, and requires that the allegations be reviewed by a disciplinary board consisting of faculty and administration.

To any rational thinking human being, this sounds like a major step forward. Sexual assault and rape are ridiculously underreported, and campus police forces in particular have a sketchy track record when it comes to appropriately responding to reports of rape and assault. This directive would foster an environment in which victims would feel more inclined to come forward, and would have a higher chance of being heard.

But that’s not the conclusion that Berkowitz draws. For him, this directive is not a means to make the college experience safer for everyone, but an evil plot schemed by radical feminists to ruin the lives of unsuspecting men. To do this, he makes quite a few astounding leaps (not the least of which is the idea that the Obama administration likes to cater to radical feminists).

Berkowitz writes,

“The consequences for a wrongly convicted student are devastating: Not only is he likely to be expelled, but he may well be barred from graduate or professional school and certain government agencies, suffer irreparable damage to his reputation, and still be exposed to criminal prosecution”.

Truly, it would be horrific for anyone to have to deal with any sort of a false criminal accusation. However, Berkowitz addresses this point without ever considering the thousands of rape survivors who have never received any justice (and consequently the thousands of rapists who got off scott free). For someone who claims to be so concerned about justice, that seems like an odd point to neglect. He reveals the basic flaw of his argument when he writes this:

“Where are the professors of history, political science and law who will insist clearly and in public that due process is a fundamental component of American political institutions and culture, a cornerstone of our legal system, and indispensable in a free society to the fair administration of justice?”

To Berkowitz, clearly, this directive presents a slanting of the judiciary process towards the victim and their allegations. However, the point he seems to miss is that this directive is meant to correct a currently existing bias towards the accused. This directive is not meant to ensure that countless innocent college students will be punished for crimes they did not commit. It is meant to ensure that countless violated college students will have a better chance of receiving the justice they deserve.

What increases Berkowitz’s concern is what he sees as an ambiguity in the matters of consent when it is combined with alcohol consumption. He writes,

“On campus, where casual sex is celebrated and is frequently fueled by alcohol, the ambiguity that often attends sexual encounters is heightened and the risk of error in rape cases is increased”.

In this misunderstanding of what consent means, he is not alone, but is joined by, amongst others, one Roland Hulme who wrote an article entitled Alcohol & Consent: Why the Double Standard.

In his opinion piece, Hulme muses on recent tabloid stories involving celebrities having drunken sex. One example was the discussion over Bristol Palin’s description of her first sex in her autobiography, which was (quite aptly) interpreted as rape by some. Hulme however makes the argument that, as long as you are still conscious, you are still responsible for your own actions and thus can be taken at your word when you say “yes” to sex (or, don’t say “no”, or don’t kick and scream … whatever).

“In fact, in almost every aspect of life, being blacked-out, stumbling drunk does not relieve you of responsibility for the actions you take or the decisions you make; except in this ridiculous double standard of sexual consent.”

The problem with this argument is that Humle is talking consistently and exclusively of the personal responsibility of the person getting ridiculously wasted, and NOT of the person choosing to take advantage of them. While, yes, it would have been a smarter idea to not get drunk, or to at least not get drunk around people you cannot trust, that does not give anyone else the permission to abandon their own personal responsibility to not take advantage of others. If you are choosing to sleep with the person who’s slurring their words and can’t walk in a straight line, you are choosing to engage with someone who is clearly in an altered state of consciousness and who may not be able to make decisions anymore.

All philosophical waxing aside, many States in the US have actual laws in place that state that someone who is intoxicated cannot give consent. So even if you are sure that the drunken person in front of you really, really means it when they say “yes”, you may still want to hold off on sleeping with them.

What Hulme is doing, underneath all of the appeals to rational thinking and personal responsibility, is buying into the same old thinking of victim-blaming that we are surrounded with daily: if you don’t want to run the risk of getting raped, don’t get drunk. I wish we could finally turn this around, so it says that if you don’t want to be accused of rape, you shouldn’t rape. If the person in front if you cannot remember their own name, leave it be – they probably cannot give meaningful consent. And this is not about party-pooping, ruining the lives of male college students or about declaring women unfit for drinking. It’s about understanding what consent is and what it is not, and about always making sure to get and give enthusiastic consent.

 

 

Badass Activist Friday presents: Cory Silverberg

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 we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.

Today’s Badass activist is Cory Silverberg. Cory is a certified sexuality educator, researcher and author, and he is the sexuality guide at About.com. He also serves on the board of ISIS, is the co-author of The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability and conducts workshops on various topics surrounding sex.

I actually had the pleasure of meeting Cory in person at last spring’s Sex::Tech conference in San Francisco, and I can personally attest to the fact that he’s super awesome, and I’m excited that he agreed to do this interview with us. Here’s what he had to say:

You’re the “sexuality guide” at About.com. That’s pretty broad as far as job definitions go. How do you choose what topics to write about? Do you cover recent news events? Go where reader questions take you? Indulge your own curiosity?

It’s definitely all of the above. There are two main kinds of writing I do for About.com. What they call long form articles which mostly come from my curiosity and reader questions (and which, it should be said, aren’t actually very long), and blogging. Blogs are obviously even shorter, and those are almost always tied to something timely or from the news. One of the most amazing parts of my job with About.com is the editorial freedom they give me within my topic area which is just about as broad as you can get. I can write anything related to sexuality, which means in one week I might b reading research on erectile dysfunction, preparing for a 17-part series, while also reading a galley copy of African Sexualities: A Reader both for my own education and the possibility of reviewing it, and at the same time scanning news, and god help me, entertainment media for pop culture stories related to sexuality. I do all this while also reading a lot of what other people are writing online about sex, which is another source of inspiration. In terms of what gets published, I try to balance my writing so that readers who come to the site aren’t exposed to only one way of thinking about sex.  So some of my articles respond to the pervasive medical modern approach to sexuality, other writing is more grounded in identity or social justice frameworks. And the best of it is a mix.

You’ve co-authored a book called The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability. How did you come to write that book? What do you think we can all learn from viewing sex through different lenses?

So as I think you know, I’m currently non-disabled, and the work I do around disability I usually do as an ally (although apropos of multiple lenses, I also come to the topic as a friend, partner, and family member). As someone who doesn’t have lived experience of disability it’s obviously very important to be mindful of how my voice may be, or may even appear to be, speaking for others, particularly others who tend to be silenced in conversations about sex. I wanted to say this because while I love thinking about different lenses we use to understand things through, I find myself talking about the lens of access more than the lens of disability, just to be really clear about what I’m representing and what I’m not. This stuff is so fraught, so I don’t mean to suggest there’s one way of doing this or talking about this. But I feel it’s important to at least try and explain how I do things, if I expect others to share how they do things with me.

The question about what we can all learn from anything is such a big one that I don’t think I’m really able to answer it briefly. For me, thinking about access – whether I’m writing or teaching or trying to have sex – means throwing out most of what I learned growing up and starting by considering some basic questions about bodies and desire. To think about access in something other than a token way requires us to challenge identity politics and to challenge our own experiences of both privelege and marginalization. Ultimately if my goal is to engage in pleasurable/entertaining/educational/meaningful exchanges with other people, access is the way to get there. I’m not sure if any of that makes sense. But I can also share that I find almost all mainstream, so-called comprehensive, sex education to be painfully exclusionary of both people with a wide range of experience of disability and also those of us for whom Disability and Deafness (both with intentional capital D’s) are a part of our lives.

About.com is an online service, but you also conduct in-person training for sex educators. What are some of the differences in your approach when it comes to online vs. in-person work?

In my experience, there’s no comparison when it comes to working online vs working in person. The experiences are fundamentally different. Being with people physically and being with people virtually can be equally powerful, painful, fun sexy, wierd, interesting, etc … But they sure aren’t the same experiences. But I wouldn’t say one is better than the other. I love doing bot. While they are different experiences as an educator I’m not sure my approach changes much.

In all my work the challenge for me is to offer people something substantial and meaningful, without requiring to define themselves any more than they want to I don’t think any of us should have to choose a gender, or orientation, or desire, or value in order to get support in thinking through our questions and experiences of sexuality. This is usually expected of course, “If I want the advice-columnist-sex-expert-vlogger to answer my question, I’m going to have to say my problem is X, and my experience is Y”. Dealing in absolutes is a trade off many make either out of necessity or because they happen to think in absolutes themselves. And it’s what allows a lot of people to say something coherent about sex in 400 words. I appreciate these kinds of exchanges but they don’t work for me. I don’t think that way, I don’t feel that way, and as a result there’s nothing I find interesting or satisfying about interacting with people in such an all-or-nothing way. That’s equally true online or in person. So I end up having to communicate differently in person vs. online, but the differences are more about techique than approach.

How do you feel, in general, that technology and the internet have impacted sexuality? I was born in the mid-80s, and I can barely remember not being online. The first thing I did when I started to question my sexuality was to go on Yahoo and search the topic, and I don’t know what I would have done if I had not been able to find support from the safety of my own room. At the same time, these developments in technology have also brought us  the “sexting-panic” and relationships started and conducted entirely on Facebook, and there is more misinformation about sex on the internet than you can shake a stick at. So is it a mixed bag, or do you view it as an overall positive development?

I’d argue that technology is neutral. Of course it’s impact on our lives is anything but neutral. But computation technologies (whether we’re talking about mobile social networking, teledildonics or texting) cannot, I would argue, reasonably be said to be “good” or “bad”. I wouldn’t say this is true for all technology of course, but with most sex technologies I believe it is. I can’t spend too much time focusing on individual sex panics as a problem of a particular technology because there have been sex panics tied to technology probably since humans figured out how to produce fire (the stoneage headline read “Invention of Fire Brings More Outdoor Sex, Communities Scandalized”).

But there are plenty of questions I’m interested in around sex and technology. I’m interested in thinking about how new technologies are being developed and whether or not they are being developed in ways that will increase or decrease our access to sexual expression and exploration. Technology may be neutral, but the people who make it aren’t. So I wonder about how capitalism, the system within which all computational technologies are developed, inserts itself in our sexual options and our access to basic sexual rights. I’m also interested in thinking about how sexuality professionals can play a role in the development of new technologies.

Are you working on anything specific right now? Have a project you are excited about or an issue that’s on your mind a lot? Please share it with us!

Yes! I’ve actually got two things I’m working on that I’m extra excited about. The first is called the Sexuality and Access Project. The purpose of the project is to facilitate more discussion of issues around sexuality and disability particularly in the context of attendant services (sometimes also called personal support work). The project began with a survey of over 400 people who use attendant services and people who provide attendant services about the many ways that sexuality intersects with using and providing what some people refer to as attendant care. From that we developed some amazing documentary video tools and are doing our first trainings in September. If people are interested they can find out more on our Facebook page, or they can always send us an email at sexuality.access@gmail.com

The other project is a book for kids about sex.  Actually it’s a series of books. The first is written and I’m just trying to figure out whether to try and work with a publisher or publish it myself. I have so many friends who are now having kids and who want books that reflect their lives and experience, so I started by writing a book for the son of a friend of mine, and then I started reading it to other kids and it was both fun and challenging. It’s been a long time since I did something that I then had to go out and tell lots of people about, so I’m having mixed feelings about how to put something out in the world in a way that takes up some space, but still feels ethical and doesn’t scare me too much. But I’m committed to doing something with it in 2012.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 


“Whose Body is it Anyway?”

All over the world, people are still marching in SlutWalks to protest sexual violence and rape culture. A friend of mine in India excitedly reported to me from the SlutWalk in Dehli, and last weekend I finally attended a march in Germany’s first round of SlutWalks.

Aside from all of the arguments about whether or not we can or need to reclaim the word “slut”, there is one thing that the SlutWalks have definitely done for all of us: they have shown our connections across the world, they have shown us community, they have shown us how powerful and strong we all are.

One beautiful expression of this is Aishah Shahidah Simmons’ speech which she delivered at SlutWalk Philadelphia. My favorite part of an all-around awesome speech:

Again, I ask where do we draw the lines of who can and can’t be assaulted, harassed, and/or raped? As long as there is any group of people including but not limited to adolescent and teenage “fast” girls, women, trans people, queer people, and sex workers who are marginalized, then all of us are vulnerable both because it’s all subjective; and the lines of the margins shift all of the time. Who’s acceptable today may not be acceptable tomorrow.

Check out the whole speech on her blog here.

“Gloria: In Her Own Words”

Don’t know yet what to watch on TV tonight? Let us help you out! HBO is premiering a documentary about Gloria Steinem tonight. Featuring archived footage as well as new interviews, the documentary chronicles Steinem’s journey from a journalist to one of the most prominent champions for the women’s movement.

Check out the HBO Trailer for more information, and tune in tonight to watch at 9:00/10:00 ET/PT.

Badass Activist Friday presents: Marilla Li

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.

We are particularly proud to present today’s activist, as she is one of our own: Marilla Li is a former intern for the Line Campaign and she is still on of the regular contributors to our blog.

Currently Marilla works as the Youth Services Coordinator at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center in New York City.

Let’s hear what she has to say!

In your first post on the blog, you talked about some of the labels that you use for yourself and how you feel about them. How would you describe yourself now? Where are you now on your journey as a feminist/activist? And can you tell us a little bit about where you started out from?

First, let me acknowledge how honored I feel to be featured in the Badass Activist Friday series. I was reading through the list of past interview subjects – Heather Corinna, Andrea Plaid, Sady Doyle – and had a very dramatic feminist geek-out moment that, sadly, no one else witnessed.

Anyway. When I wrote that post in January 2010, I was in a very different place. I was graduating from Barnard College, wrapping up my senior thesis project, starting an internship at The Line Campaign, and participating in multiple student campaigns all at once. Everything was gaining traction and I felt like part of a major movement for change. I equated this movement to feminism and activism and, in the process, mistakenly laid down some assumptions about them.

I’ve been out of college for over a year now. These assumptions about feminism and activism no longer fit into my current surroundings. When I argue with people now about social injustice, in their eyes I am not being a feminist or an activist, but rather “radical”, “critical”, “angry”, or simply “difficult”. In this sense, Barnard sheltered me and my peers. It made an institutional choice to flaunt feminism and activism, throwing the term around freely on signs and posters, in texts and syllabi. It felt ubiquitous, secure and all-encompassing. Beyond college, however, feminism and activism feels like identifiers that need to be actively maintained.

My partner described my current state succinctly. He said, “You are a feminist and activist because you make these things a lifestyle. You never change the lens through which you view things.” To me, feminism is the desire to be treated as a person, an entire being, rather htan just a woman, and activism is the effort I take toward making this desire a reality. That said, feminism and activism make up a lifestyle that runs the risk of being very insular and alienating.

My feelings about my own labels have shifted a lot in a year. Instead of just being frustrated by people who don’t understand these labels, I step back, let the frustration pass, and focus on what to do in order to educate and empower those people. If I could talk to the person who wrote that blog entry a year ago, I would say, “You are right. Your peers are overthinking themselves into an identity-based paralysis. That’s frustrating. You’re smart. You’re proud. You’re fierce. But you’re also naive. You’re impulsive. You aren’t doing enough to empower the people who don’t have the same intellectual vocabulary you do. They haven’t been given the tools to build their identity the way you have. What are you going to do about it?”

You work at a community health center, where you program events to improve the health literacy of the Chinese immigrant population. How did you find your way into this job?

That’s an interesting story. For my senior thesis project, I researched the many ways that pharmaceutical marketing shapes (and is shaped by) different women’s attitudes toward oral contraception. My major was Anthropology, so part of my thesis required fieldwork. I spoke with my college’s health services staff for research. They referred me to the Charles B. Want Community Health Center, which is a non-profit, federally qualified health center. There, I met the Director of the Women’s Health Department. We only had one interview for my thesis, but that conversation blew me away. She told me about the community of undocumented Chinese immigrant women whose lives I had never touched, whose perspectives I had never once considered. She told me, ” Before these women came to the U.S., they lived under a one child policy, and were required to use long-term birth control methods like the IUD. What should they care about how the pill is marketed? The advertisements aren’t even written in a language that they understand.”

I remember being very shook by this initial conversation with this Director. I started thinking very hard about my own ignorance to the communities that exist under the radar. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. After my project ended, I emailed the Director of Women’s Health and said, “Here’s my resume. I want to work here. I don’t care what job you have available. Just give me something.” Bad career development tactic aside, I remember feeling at the time that if I didn’t start working at the health center, I wouldn’t be giving back and therefore wouldn’t be fulfilling my personal definition of activism.

How was your former position (working in women’s health) different from your current position (teen health)? How has the demographic you are addressing influenced your approach?

Without getting into too much detail, I will briefly explain that my transition from the former field to the latter was unplanned. I attribute the decision largely to someone upstairs, due to a combination of the federal budget cuts, hiring freezes, and poor management decisions. Sound familiar?

One significant difference between the women an the teens I serve is their set of priorities. Chinese immigrant women are unique in that they work long erratic hours, watch children and keep their families afloat (in the city and across the country) all at once. Women like these are machines of efficiency. At the health center, they arrive on time, register, hear a ten minute health education session, get the doctor’s advice, grab a prescription, and run. The teens, on the other hand, have to get dragged to the health center. They are much more preoccupied with fitting into their pre-existing social circles, with friends and at school. They are much less willing to come into the health center. In teen health, programcs have to reach youth in settings that they already know, which is why the Pediatric Unit implements more alternative activities in sports or in the arts. I’ve only worked at this unit for a moth, but I’ve seen Pediatrics program more interesting events – open mic talent shows, basketball clinics, public theater groups – than Women’s health would in a year.

Also, another significant difference is that I used to think that the women I served always felt stigma towards discussing health. When I speak to some of these women privately, however, they share some of the most amazing stories. For example, I once accompanied a pregnant patient on a hospital tour. While we waited, she shared that she had only been in the U.S. for a month, there was no one to support her through the pregnancy, and she was facing immigration problems because someone screwed up her medical records. “I don’t know who can help me,” she said. “If I don’t get a visa in the U.S., I’ll get deported after the baby is born, and the baby will have no one.” I wish I had more space to share more stories like these, but the reality is that every patient I meet has one. I’ve had a much harder time trying to build this kind of trust with youth, especially in a clinical setting such as at the health center. With that said, once I know the story, it’s usually just as compelling a story as the women’s. Building trust is always important and it is usually the first thing I try to do with individuals.

You conduct many of your workshops in Mandarin Chinese. Does this add another dimension to the work you are doing? How do you feel that your heritage influences your feminism, and vice versa?

This is a really hard question. It makes me feel obligated to explain the history of my learning Chinese as a second language. So I was born and raised in Ohio and later New York, but also spent some years studying and going to school in Beijing. Because of that education, my spoken Mandarin has no accent, but I can’t tell you how many times I have begun workshops or health education sessions and felt immediately categorized as “other” due to unspoken cultural markers. Most of my coworkers who aren’t from the U.S. call it a difference in “attitude” or “sensibility”. According to them and others I’ve asked, these discrete “attitudes” and “sensibilities” are discernible in subtle gestures such as a greeting or a facial twitch.

I think that anyone who is multilingual or who has studied linguistics understands and agrees that language is very wrapped up in cultural values. I read an ethnography detailing a society that considered cows to be a crucial element. The ethnographer realized the significance of this when he realized that the society had a million words to describe the cows by size, shape, color, hoof size, and so on. I haven’t done a lot of research ( anyone who knows otherwise, please correct me): but I don’t think that the concept of feminism exists in the Chinese language. If it does, it isn’t commonly used. I never once learned how to say “feminism” in Mandarin Chinese, at home or at work. I don’t know what this means. Is it substituted instead by “women’s rights” or “empowerment”?

This goes back to what I said before about recognizing one’s own privileges and ignorance, particularly the ignorance that comes from being unaware of one’s own intellectual vocabulary and identity-building tools. I’ve been trying to draw something productive out of recognizing these things. The fact that my job requires me to engage in a different set of cultural values certainly adds another dimension to who I am as a feminist and an activist. If feminism and activism are about communicating the concept of equality, then working with populations that faces so many communicative barriers inevitably calls those forms into question.

This isn’t a complication so much as an interesting challenge to one’s ability to communicate creatively. In order to reach people like those I work with now, I need to rely on more than spoken or written words. I also need to rely on emotional and visual markers to get my message across. Perhaps this is why media is such a powerful tool. It uses the visual to cut across very difficult barriers, such as culture or language, and creates emotional resonance with people who might otherwise live in isolation and estrangement.

Are you involved in any other projects that you’d like to tell us about? Particularly excited about a blog/movie/article/etc? Particularly upset about something going on in the world today? Please share!

I just listened to the 200th episode of WTF with Marc Maron, which is a really great podcast done by a very neurotic comic. I feel so connected to his podcast, which is both a validation and exacerbation of my own neuroticism.

Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services accepted new guidelines from the Institute of Medicine that will dramatically improve women’s health services.

Next month, a group of friends, some new and some old, and I will be submitting a zine on Asian women’s bodies to the Baltimore Zinefest.

Also, after submitting this entry, instead of watching preseason football, I plan to Google women’s rights groups in China as well as the Chinese word for “feminism”.

I remain excited about all these things.

 

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

SlutWalk Tucson

In April of 2011, I stumbled upon a surplus of powerful images of beautiful women bearing signs. The signs demanded the naive to see that rape is caused by rapists- not by a perceived sexy appearance, not by how much one has had to drink, not by sexual orientation, not by where one is located or the time of day. The signs demanded abolition of misogyny. The movement moved me.

Tucson is a relatively liberal city in Arizona. Friday, May 13th 2011 at 5pm an estimated 150 women and men gathered in front of the Tucson Police Department for SlutWalk Tucson. I had been anticipating that day from the moment I saw those images. I had promoted the event, the message behind it, begging everyone I knew to attend.  I arrived there late with a group of friends, disappointed due to how I was originally planning to be there alone and early.

We walked just a bit behind. About five minutes into it, I received a phone call from a close friend in New York. She was crying. She told me a story. A girl had been openly raped at a party, and no one did anything about it. My friend was left in shock, utterly disgusted at her city, at a loss of hope when her peers told her “it wasn’t their place to say anything.” Despite what they said, she approached the girl, telling her she felt for her. The girl raged at her and pushed her. Was it that no one wanted to do anything about it? Did they not know what to do about it?

My friend did not know where I was, but as I was walking, it’s was as if I belly-flopped into a hot, steamy reality. I was incredulous, but suddenly I understood exactly what we were all doing here.

This is for us.

We are human and this is us being human.

I was angry. As the phone call ended, I arrived at the main library to find the participants gathering to tell stories over the megaphone. The group was small, and in my state of disbelief, I was sickened with my city for the event not being larger. It made no sense to me not to be here. I gathered myself and stood at the front with strangers, watching them cheer, marveling at their bravery as they told their stories.

This is for us.

We are human and this is us being human.To say we would ever ask to be raped is completely illogical! Awful! What are our morals anymore? This was for us. We must gather ourselves. Now we know where we stand, and now we figure out how to expand. SlutWalk Tucson opened us up, and now we can see we must keep moving together.

After SlutWalk Tucson, I attended the follow up meeting. With help from HollaBack! Tucson now has Safe Streets AZ and just recently we began Nightlife Safety Project Tucson. The programs are both very young still, but with no doubt subject to grow. The movement moved Tucson.

 

Wake up Feminists? Wake up Erica Jong!

 

Erica Jong’s recent New York Times opinion piece “Is Sex Passé?argues that her daughter’s generation idealizes monogamy and seeks control over the sexual freedom explored during her mother’s generation.

Dragging young feminists into the debate, Jung continues:

Lust for control fuels our current obsession with the deficit, our rejection of passion, our undoing of women’s rights. How far will we go in destroying women’s equality before a new generation of feminists wakes up? This time we hope those feminists will be of both genders and that men will understand how much equality benefits them.

Kudos for recognizing the need to welcome and incorporate men into the feminist cause. But does a desire for greater sexual control really mean a loss of lust or destruction to women’s equality?

Feminists are currently confronted with a landscape where women are constantly told have sex, enjoy it, but do it on your own terms. Understandably, in a world where girls are constantly taught how to be sexy but rarely sexual, this a confusing prospect. Men are told that no means no, but not given many more words of wisdom in navigating sexuality that isn’t mechanical in nature.

Our generation still enjoys one night stands and sexuality in the way boldly characterized in the pages of Jong’s 1973 novel Fear of Flying. I know plenty of lesbians who have hooked up in bathroom stalls on ladies nights and were quite proud and thrilled by the experience. Shows like “The Real L Word” open up the door to queer sex and sexuality for many who may not have any insight into that world. Katha Pollitt’s explains in her response to Jong’s article in The Nation,

there is really no evidence that young women, of whatever class, educational level or ethnicity, married or single, mothers or not, are less interested in sex than comparable women were in 1973, let alone in the 1950s.

It’s now a common expectation that both partners should be enjoying sex and exploring their own sexuality. Finally LGBT sex is becoming part of the conversation in a measurable way. The right to say yes, no, where and how sexually is among one of the rights most hard fought for by feminists.

And control is the key to communicating these desires. Control isn’t boring, or stale but rather it’s what allows for trust and growth. Control allows both partners to know their lines and to speak them, whatever they may be. For some control is a word used in BDSM play. For some control is discussing which body parts are sexually off limits during a time of physical transition.

Repression of reproductive rights is a terrifying move by those who are greatly opposed to allowing women and their partners control of their own reproductive decisions. Freedoms for women hinge largely on their ability to control and communicate own their choices and actions.

So to Erica Jong I say: young feminists are awake, thankful for the work that has been done by those before them and building a future with even more feminist freedoms.

 

 

Using Culture to Change Culture

Ahhh, the world of advertising: a world where false “ideals” that have long been outgrown by our progressive, intelligent minds are still shamelessly perpetuated; a world where, because brevity and memorability of the message is tantamount, offensive stereotypes serve as shorthand and run rampant; a world where political headway can be usurped and hard-won power can be coopted for marketers’ gain.

Such is the case in a recently released series of advertisements for Summer’s Eve douches entitled “Hail to the V.” Wrapped in a shiny veneer that seems to celebrate the vagina, a body part once so taboo its mere mention would be considered distasteful, a woman might at first find the galvanizing tone of these ads to offer a refreshing perspective. That is, a woman who is less media-literate than we readers of the WIYL blog. We sex-positive feminist-theory-informed critical thinkers know better, don’t we? We know full well that the true intent of these ads is to create and heighten anxiety about the (un)cleanliness of a self-cleaning body part. We know full well that the depictions of warring men and the passive female onlooker propagate absurd stereotypes and reinforce outdated sexist narratives. We know full well that the different versions of the ad produced for African American women and for Latina women are laden with racist assumptions that patronize the various facets of their target market. And we know full well that Summer’s Eve, owned by the C.B. Fleet Company, cares not for women’s triumph over the shame of naming and celebrating our vaginas, but rather for the dollars raked in by sales of a useless and unhealthy product.

But every once in a while, an advertisement breaks the mold. In a mere 30-60 seconds a message can cut through the crap through the use of humor, satire, edginess, and just plain bad-assness. And so, for my first blog post for Where Is Your Line, I’d like to highlight an ad that does just that by depicting a young woman drawing her line : Greatest Condom Commercial Ever

This ad rocks for so many reasons. Okay, so it’s not exactly an ad, but it delivers the same punch and shows the potential impact of thoughtful advertising. Its intent as a public service message is to encourage MTVs audience of teens and young adults to insist on wearing condoms when engaging in intercourse. It strikes me from time to time how strange it is that MTV can get away with speaking frankly about sex (and other taboo subjects) directly to young people in a way that educators are strictly forbidden from. When our institutions of learning are prohibited from keeping up with our media, it’s no wonder young people are confused. For its forthrightness about safe sex, I give this ad a major thumbs up.

And what’s even cooler? The empowered agent in this scenario is the woman! Although a young woman, perhaps college-age if I were to guess from the visual clues, this woman delivers the speech of a lifetime when she tells her potential sex partner no holds barred that his bullshit excuses for not wanting to wear a condom cost him the distinct privilege of getting it on with her! Can you imagine what a fabulous world we would live in if more young women actually exhibited the sex positive sex smart attitude this young woman demonstrates? How many times do I wish I had had the ovaries to give a speech like that?! But nobody was teaching me that skill when I was her age. Not my media, and certainly not my sex education curriculum.

Ahhh, the world of advertising. One mustn’t underestimate its role in creating and reflecting our culture and its values. Call me a wishful thinker, but I wonder if perhaps this short little snippet of a message, packing a punch with its fearless and funny portrayal of a shame-free sexual young woman, could be among the first of many examples of we feminists using culture to change culture. Founder and CEO of Breakthrough Mallika Dutt, who I had the privilege of seeing at the recent Women and Power Retreat at the OMEGA Institute, is the queen of this technique in India. Ignoring naysayers she embarked on an innovative mission to produce music videos for popular consumption that embody anti-domestic-violence messages. For real! And they are amazing. Her music videos, advertisements for the album Mann ke Manjeere: An Album of Women’s Dreams are also stand-alone artistic and social statements, and they have received widespread acclaim. The album even won the 2001 National Screen Award in India for best music video. Speaking the language of the populace, the videos are getting important messages out into the culture to CHANGE the culture by USING the culture’s mass medium.

For the love of Goddess, America, let’s get on board with this concept! It’s about time we harnessed the outlets to which people pay attention, and we have important work to do. It can begin with a funny portrayal of empowered female sexuality, and as Dutt has proven, it can even be effective to bring domestic violence into the public dialogue in a productive and heartfelt way. There will still be ridiculous attempts to usurp messages of female empowerment, like “Hail to the V,” but fortunately, we are smart enough to know the difference between social good and commodification. We can outsmart the media, use the very tools that have been used against us, and we can change our culture.

All Posts from August, 2011