May, 2012

Justice for my Sister

Want to pitch in and help fund a documentary about gender-based violence in Spanish-speaking communities? You can!

Check out this video by our new friend Kimberly Bautista, read about her work here, and vote for her project here.

 

Self Care & Finding Your Line

The Line Campaign is committed to helping young people take action to make the world safer from sexual violence. When it comes to consent, what is your line? At what point is a person comfortable with engaging in intimate activity? This could be a kiss, holding hands, or sexual intercourse. This question is designed to help us discover what we are comfortable doing and what we’re not into right now (or never), and it can help us feel more empowered in the process. “What is your line?” is a question that can also be asked for others areas in your life.

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Hanne Blank: Badass Activist Friday

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

Our Badass this week is Hanne Blank. Hanne is a  historian, a writer and a public speaker.  She taught at the university level and has since retired to write full-time. She has written and edited several erotica stories and anthologies, and she is the author of a number of non-fiction books, her most recent being Virgin – The Untouched History (2007) and Straight – The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality (2012).

And here is what she had to say!

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Reader Question: Looking for the Line in “GIRLS”

We often find amazing comments and questions from readers in our inbox. One e-mail we received today was particularly thoughtful and timely, dealing with discussions (or lack thereof) around consent in the new HBO series GIRLS. Since this is a very astute question, and we are curious to hear what everyone else thinks about this, we are putting the question up for general discussion. So take a look, and then join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter (mention @thelinecampaign or use #TheLine)!

Our reader asked,

I’d really like to hear about your impressions about what happened in the last episode of GIRLS on HBO. Hannah is about to have sex with a guy from back home in Michigan. He’s all concerned about consent. She’s asking what he likes best about fucking her, which he says he cannot answer as he hasn’t yet. It’s supposed to set the scene for an attempted juxtaposition between crazy NYC and boring Michigan, which is also followed up later in the episode. But what happens next is something which, it seems to me, is very relevant for the main question of “the line” – what is implied in consent and what not, and what is an innocent mistake and what is sexual assault or rape. So Hannah lies down and while he’s getting ready to go missionary, puts a finger in his butt. He’s upset, and tells her to stop, which she does, and she replies with – “you didn’t tell me what you liked!” So she jumped from making out to anal fingering. While he just wanted to have “sex”.

What do you think? Is anal fingering included in the implicit consent given to “having sex”? Should this have been explicit? Would you, in real life, consider something like this to be sexual assault? Or merely something like a physical “negotiation disagreement”… “honey, I don’t like that, do it differently, please”

Children’s Rights and the Trapped Campaign

The Line Campaign board member, Jillian MacLearie notified us about the terrific Trapped campaign, which highlights the experiences and perils of foster children in the United States. The Trapped social media campaign and blog tells stories of foster youth, discusses much needed changes to the child welfare system, and advocates for the rights of children.

What’s exciting about this campaign is that it uses elements of gaming to put the visitor into the shoes of foster youth, creating an emotional experience on multiple platforms while educating about the cause. You can check out their Facebook page and take part in the interactive question-and-answer feature, that gives you a very personal look at what life in foster care can look like.

For more information, you can also take a look around their blog.

Emily May: Badass Activist Friday

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

Today’s Badass Activist is Emily May. Emily co-founded Hollaback! in 2005 and is now the executive director of the organization. The aim of Hollaback! is to give women and LGBTQ people the tools to respond to street harassment, and to work towards eventually ending street harassment altogether. Just this year, Emily was named one of 20 women leading the way by the Huffington Post, and one of 12 women to watch in 2012 by the Daily Muse.

So without further ado, here are Emily’s answers to our questions!

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Chloe Angyal: Badass Activist Friday

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

Today’s Badass is Chloe Angyal. Chloe is a blogger and freelance writer based in New York City. She writes at her own blog, and is an editor of well-known feminist blog Feministing. Her work has also appeareed in various online and print venus, including Slate, Salon, Jezebel, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Christian Science Monitor. In her writing, Chloe has covered a variety of topics, including body image, pop culture, women in politics and reproductive rights.

Here are her answers:

When was your feminist/activist awakening? Did you know you wanted to be doing the kind of work you are now, or did it come as a surprise to you?

Like a lot of people of my generation, I grew up with feminism in the water. My mom was a Second Waver who did feminist public health work her whole life. My dad did my hair for ballet on Saturday mornings and certainly identifies as a feminist. I was really lucky to grow up in that kind of environment. And there was a watered-down, commercialized feminism in the cultural water when I was growing up, too. I came of age in the “girl power” era in pop culture – I think the first Spice Girls album was one of the first CDs I ever bought myself.

But I didn’t explicitly start identifying as a feminist until I was about fifteen. I went on a three-month exchange to France, and I stayed with a traditional family in a tiny town in Brittany. For the first time, it occurred to me that my parents’ arrangement: two careers, two last names, sharing parenting duties (and, it should be noted, hiring a fair bit of outside help to make those two careers possible), was unusual. And, to me, vastly preferable. I remember being really annoyed when my host dad came home, plonked down on the couch and watched TV until dinner was ready, then went back to the TV after dinner as my mom cleaned up after the meal she had just cooked. I recently found my diary from that time and I wrote something like, “I’m so confused, isn’t France the birthplace of Simone de Beauvoir and modern feminism?”

That trip was significant for other reasons. I went from taking four dance classes a week to doing no exercise and eating a lot of rich French winter food. I gained a lot of weight, and I really hated it. I hated going home and being so much bigger than when I left, and feeling like my classmates and my family and friends were all judging me as some kind of failure. I hated how angry and inferior that made me feel – and I hated that something as trivial as two dress sizes could make me feel all those things. But then I read The Beauty Myth and I realized that it wasn’t actually trivial; it was political. And it wasn’t just me, either. Say what you will about what Naomi Wolf has said and written since that book (and believe me, there’s a lot I want to say about that), that book changed my life.

I didn’t know I wanted to do this kind of work. I wanted to be a dancer, actually. I’ve been a performer my whole life, and I really wanted to do that professionally, but my parents very wisely insisted that I finish college before attempting that. They wanted me to have a great education because, you know, ankles break, or in my case, spinal discs herniate, and that can end a dancing career. I think they were secretly hoping that during college I would find something more stable, and lucrative, than dancing. I found feminist writing, which is one-eighteenth of a modicum more stable and lucrative than dancing. Suckaaaahs!

But yes, it comes as a surprise to me, a happy surprise, that I get to do what I do. I have always loved to write, and I feel so grateful that I get to use that talent in a way that, hopefully, helps people and makes the world a better place.

You joined the Feministing team in 2009. Do you remember when you first started reading the blog yourself? What has it been like working with some of the pioneers of feminist blogging?

I started reading the blog in the spring of 2008. I was a junior in college, and I was in the eating disorder awareness and prevention group on my college campus, and we brought Courtney Martin in to speak. I was assigned the task of introducing her before her talk, so I started reading Feministing for a little bit of background. And I was totally hooked. I started reading it daily, and then it was my home page, and then I started reading Shakesville and Shapely Prose and a bunch of other great feminist blogs, and by the end of that semester I had decided that our campus needed its own feminist blog. I started it when I came back to campus that fall.

What has it been like working with some of the pioneers of feminist blogging? It’s been like a goddamn dream. I wish me from the spring of 2008 could see this. Past-me be so excited. Past-me would also wonder when and why future-me finally caved and started wearing skinny jeans, but that’s another story.

You are writing your dissertation on the portrayal of women, gender and sex in Hollywood romantic comedies. What led you to this topic? What is your favorite “good” romcom? What is the most distressing one you have come across?

The thesis grew out of a year-long series I did at Feministing. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the genre for a while, and in 2010 I decided I wanted to take a closer look at contemporary romantic comedies, so I saw and reviewed every single rom com that came out that year. About half way through I realized that I wanted to keep writing about them, and that I wanted to learn more about their history and their development. I wanted to figure out exactly how we ended up with the spate of particularly sexist rom coms we got in the last few years. And I’m certainly not the first scholar to write about popular culture or even about romantic comedies. There’s a whole body of literature on romance novels, and when I was doing my literature review, some of the most interesting stuff I read was about gender in horror movies.

There’s no such thing as a perfectly feminist rom com. There’s no such thing as perfectly feminist pop culture. But there are elements, glimmers of hope, in a lot of movies. For example, I love Emma Stone’s character in Easy A. I like that she’s smart, and observant, and self-aware, and imperfect. I love her relationship with her parents. I love their relationship with each other. The movie isn’t perfect, but it’s got more glimmers than your average rom com.

The most distressing rom com I’ve come across is Kate and Leopold, which stars Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman. It pains me to say this, because Hugh Jackman is a gentleman and a scholar and a countryman and a total babe. But that movie is the worst. At the end, the educated, professionally successful independent woman goes back in time, giving up her family, her career – not to mention the right to vote, contraception and indoor plumbing – to be with the man she loves. It’s horrendous.

Earlier this year, you started the Tumblr “Men who Trust Women”, as a response to the increasingly anti-woman discourse around birth control, abortion and sexuality in the US. Can you tell us why you chose that name and what you hoped to achieve with the Tumblr project? How has the reception been so far?

The name is a reference to the late Dr. George Tiller’s motto, “trust women,” and to the original subtitle of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, “men who hate women.”

I was really dismayed by the fact that most of the men who were speaking publicly about reproductive health were anti-choice. There were some exceptions: Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Martin O’Malley, Garry Trudeau. Bless those men, I’m so glad they stepped up.  But they were few and far between. With the exception of those few men, you could be forgiven for thinking that there weren’t any pro-choice men out there. So I wanted to create a space for those men to make themselves known. But, I didn’t want to use the phrase “pro-choice” if I could help it, because while I identify that way, and while I really value that term and that movement, that term is highly politicized, and I didn’t want this to be about red-blue left-right politics. I wanted it to be about what it’s about at its core: women are human and humans have rights. I wanted to make it as simple as I could: do you identify as a man? Do you trust women to make their own choices about their own bodies? Are you a man who trusts women? No labels, no barriers to entry. Trust women.

So far, the reception has been great. We had hundreds of men submit their stories, and now I’m working with a young filmmaker, Alexandra Steinmetz, to turn a couple of the stories into documentary shorts, which is so exciting. Alex doesn’t know this, but I’ve already bought a megaphone and a floppy old-timey director’s hat, like in Singin’ in the Rain. It’s going to be awesome. On a more serious note, I’m excited to put faces and names to some of these remarkable stories. Now we just need to raise the money to make it happen!

Do you have any new or upcoming projects that you would like to share with us? What are you working on and thinking about these days?

I’m really focusing on my dissertation, and my book, right now. At some point I’m going to have to lock myself away in a room like a monk and get them both done. Maybe I’ll buy myself a nice brown hooded robe for that. But that would look pretty weird with the floppy director’s hat.

 

Thank you for your time, and good luck with your thesis!

Rachel Kramer Bussel: Badass Activist Friday

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

Today’s badass is Rachel Kramer Bussel. Rachel works as an author, editor and blogger and she has been published in a variety of publications, including The Hairpin, The Huffington Post, The Village Voice and Salon. She has also edited numerous publications of sex writing and erotica, and she conducts reading and writing workshops. You can read all about her and her work on her website.

Let’s hear what she has to say!

You have degrees in Political Science and Women’s Studies, and now work as an author, editor and sex educator. Was this path clear for you when you started out, did you always know you wanted to do what you are doing now? How did you get started and what motivated you?

I never would’ve thought I could make a living with words, although back when I was in college I briefly toyed with going to journalism school. At the time I thought law school was the right path, and in a way, it was, because it led me to reading and writing erotica, albeit indirectly. I started writing erotica because I was experiencing a lot of new sexual adventures and wanted to have a way to write about them, and getting published was such a high that I’ve been doing it ever since 2000 when my first story was published. I’ve always written, but it was only during law school, which coincided with my moving to New York City, that I started writing about sex, and that has led me to all sorts of career possibilities I couldn’t have dreamed of. I feel like I got to the point of doing what I do in a way, which is a mixture of editing, blogging, public speaking and writing fiction, essays and journalism, that feels accidental but serendipitous, and continues to evolve as I figure out how to be self-employed and stay as interested in the process of erotic writing and editing as I was when I first started.

Also, just to be clear, I’m not a sex educator and have never claimed to be. I think it’s interesting that if you write about sex in any form, whether erotica or journalism, it’s assumed that you are a sex educator or expert in some way. There are plenty of amazing sex educators out there who I respect and admire, but I never want to claim to be something I’m not.

You write regular columns, publish your own erotica stories and have put together several anthologies as an editor. What ties your work together? What is your common aim in what you do, and what do you hope to achieve?

It’s not something I’ve consciously thought about, but all of my various types of writing and editing have evolved pretty organically over the last twelve years and I think what they have in common is self-expression. That sounds a bit obvious, but touches on my point above; I’m not a sex educator, though I’ve certainly learned a lot about sex in my time writing about it. But the one thing I hope people take away from all my work is the honesty, whether relating things that actually happened or erotic fiction that is based in emotional honesty. I think curiosity—about myself, my lovers, other people, the world around me—is what drives all my writing and draws me to any given piece of writing, from personal essays to interviews to erotica. I love taking a theme and seeing where I can go with it, and how the initial idea for a piece often morphs into something entirely different.

I wouldn’t say I have an aim or agenda other than to continually push myself in new directions and to publish work that speaks to people’s sexual curiosity and hopefully entertains people. I am honored that I get to publish so many authors new to erotica, and for my upcoming book of short short orgasm erotica, I’m saving half the slots for authors who’ve never been published in my books (the deadline is June 1st, and guidelines are at http://www.rachelkramerbussel.com/submissions.php).

I love the solitary freedom of writing and immersing myself in a story, but I like that at the end of the day, so much of what I do as an editor and what I did with my former reading series In The Flesh is about collaborating with other people and hearing/reading other people’s voices. That inspires me creatively and makes my anthologies well-rounded and certainly teaches me, every day, about how vast and varied sex is. Sortof like my other obsession, cupcakes, there’s always something new to consider and think about.

You reveal some very private details in your articles. What sort of policy do you have when it comes to privacy? Where do you draw the line in terms of what to reveal and what not?

I don’t have a specific line or policy; I consider each topic I’m writing about on a case by case basis. Usually I write about things or people or events that I feel like I can’t not write about. The ideas will haunt me, sometimes in my sleep, until I sort them out on the page, and I’ve found that even the most embarrassing or disturbing or out-there thing I might tackle in my writing, when I write about it, I feel better about myself and, more importantly, I learn about myself.

I don’t want that to sound like I don’t care about other people’s feelings or reactions, because I do, but I think that your own story and your own approach are always yours to tell. You own that and no one can take it away, and anyone who would try to tell someone not to write about something is, I believe, acting selfishly. That’s not to say that I would love to be written about (and I know, because it’s happened a handful of times), but I think potentially winding up in my work is part of being in my life and hopefully most people understand that. Sometimes it’s opened up communication that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. Danielle LaPorte quotes Jack Kerouac as saying “If you tell a true story, you can’t be wrong” in her book The Fire Starter Sessions, and I think that’s a good rule to live by. Someone will always be offended or put off by your ideas and words, true or not, so it’s up to you to make sure you are living up to your own ethical code.

The only real rule I have is to never make anyone identifiable to the general public; obviously if I’m writing about someone I’m dating there are going to be friends who know who that person is, but in all likelihood they’ve already heard the story I’m telling. I’ve also learned that often I can be the most honest in fiction, where I get to fully explore the kinds of truths about sex that might come out stilted or overly serious in nonfiction. I try my best to push myself to analyze my own actions as rigorously as possible and to write about my own dark places, both for catharsis and so that it’s clear I’m not simply trying to work out my personal issues with someone on the page. I make sure I’m not putting words in someone else’s mouth (unless it’s fiction) and when writing about things like age play or sex with a Top Chef contestantI strive to focus on my own personal takeaway, which is the only thing I can be an authority about.

I always keep in mind something Jeannette Walls, author of my favorite memoir, The Glass Castle, told me, which is that memoir should be universal, and I think the more specific you are in your personal details and unearthing of your own drama, the more people, no matter how removed from the particulars of your life, will relate. It’s certainly a tricky balance and always will be, but I can’t imagine how I would make sense of my world without writing about what happens to me.

Your most recently published anthology is Best Sex Writing 2012, a fascinating and inspiring book that brings together various articles and essays on the topic of sex and sexuality. They run the gamut from prostitution to circumcision and come from a variety of mediums and authors. How did you select the texts that appear together in this anthology? What was your criteria? Did you have a favorite article, one that is closest to your heart?

I try to tackle topics that have been prevalent in the news cycle, such as Amanda Marcotte’s “Sluts, Walking,” and Marty Klein’s which is original to the book, as well as include pieces about topics I didn’t necessarily have in mind at the start but that speak to the state of what’s going on with sex. I especially like “Adrian’s Penis: Care and Handling” by Adrian Colesberry from his memoir How to Make Love to Adrian Colesberry, which is told as an instructional manual to future lovers/memoir and, while utterly humorous, is extremely brave. He chronicled every single sexual encounter of his life in his memoir and I don’t think many people are up for that level of rigorous honesty. As a whole, he wowed me with his approach and because he wasn’t apologetic about his sexual quirks. He was basically saying, “This is who I am and what turns me on and how my body works.” I don’t see a lot of male writers expressing themselves so boldly and baring so much of their inner workings, so that piece stood out. I like to mix up styles so it’s got some more literary writers like Kevin Sampsell and Lidia Yuknavitch and the more political pieces. It’s important to me to have both journalism and personal essays, because each speak to how sex is both very public and very personal. I’m proud that the book reprints pieces from an array of publications, ranging from Ms. to Playboy to Reason to Salon to The Village Voice. I’m always on the lookout for sex writing where you wouldn’t expect to find sex writing.

Are you working on anything new right now? What is your current project?

I’m wrapping up my December anthologies, Best Sex Writing 2013 and Best Bondage Erotica 2013, reading for my orgasm erotica book and an anal sex erotica book, and working on my first collection of my erotic short stories and hopefully a longer work of fiction, and brainstorming new ideas for anthologies and articles. I edit the weekly sex diaries for New York magazine’s Daily Intel website , so I get a peek into all sorts of people’s sex lives.

 

Thank you for your time and your answers!

What can you do to make a difference?

 

We at the The Line Campaign encourage you to speak up about your sexuality: your desires, your boundaries and your right to pleasure and safety! Speak up without shame, and we will listen to you without judgments.

Bring Nancy to your campus to spark this conversation where it most needs to happen!

Roll Call: The Truth about VAWA

We are re-posting this great Op-Ed from Roll Call from our friend and colleague, Lori Weinstein of Jewish Women International and co-author, Patricia Martin is president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. We think the powers that be listened!

Rates of domestic and sexual violence in the United States have amounted to a crisis that must be urgently addressed. Nearly one in five women has been raped in her lifetime, while one in four women has been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner.

These devastating figures require a strong response — and the immediate reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act is an important first step.

S. 1925 is a strong, bipartisan, filibuster-proof bill that will reauthorize VAWA for another five years and build on effective programs to meet the changing needs of victims. This legislation, introduced by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), has 61 co-sponsors, including eight Republicans. Senate leadership is bringing VAWA to the floor this week, demonstrating Congress’ commitment to ending violence against women and girls.

But many well-intentioned Members of Congress have heard misstatements about VAWA, and opponents are developing an alternative bill that will undercut the spirit of the law. It is imperative that we address these inaccuracies so every Senator understands what VAWA really does in communities across the country and so every Senator can support S. 1925 without harmful amendments.

VAWA saves lives and money — $12.6 billion in its first six years alone. VAWA-funded programs have improved the national response to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. The lion’s share of VAWA funding, about $400 million annually, ends up in local communities supporting law enforcement, prosecution, courts and victim services. Since its passage in 1994, all states have strengthened rape laws and the number of individuals killed by an intimate partner has decreased by 34 percent for women and 57 percent for men.

Critics allege that VAWA grantees misspent millions of dollars and S. 1925 lacks strict accounting policies. But a letter from Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich explains that concerns about the grants in question have been successfully resolved.

Advocacy groups and victim service providers support the bill’s audit provisions, which are almost word for word the accountability provisions developed by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) in the Victims of Trafficking Act.

Critics claim the Leahy-Crapo bill gives immigrants a new way to enter the country. However, provisions to protect immigrant victims have been in place since 1994. Any immigrant victim seeking a U visa under VAWA not only must provide evidence of victimization but also must obtain a signed form from a law enforcement officer or prosecutor certifying that the immigrant victim cooperated with officials and assisted in bringing the perpetrator to justice.

Critics claim S. 1925 contains provisions that would force all domestic violence and sexual assault programs to serve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender victims or be charged with discrimination. In reality, S. 1925 has a provision that tells states they may fund services specifically targeted to LGBT victims. These targeted services are badly needed. Only 1.5 percent of all victim services in this country are LGBT-specific, and a majority of victim service providers working with LGBT clients report that their clients have been denied services because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

The Justice Department reports that one in three Native American women will be raped in her lifetime and that Native American women suffer from violent crime at a rate three and a half times greater than the national average. Yet critics say S. 1925 violates the Constitution by giving tribal courts the authority to punish non-Native Americans for committing domestic violence on tribal lands. In fact, S. 1925 requires that any tribal court exercising jurisdiction over non-Native Americans must show that it offers similar constitutional protections afforded to defendants in state criminal courts.

The passage of S. 1925 sends a strong message to victims throughout the country whose lives have been forever changed: We will never return to the pre-VAWA world where there was no help and no hope. A vote for the Leahy-Crapo reauthorization bill says unequivocally to all victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking, “We will help you wherever you are and whenever you need help.”

Patricia Martin is president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. Lori Weinstein is executive director of Jewish Women International.

All Posts from May, 2012